The Value of Service – The Danger of Presumptive Leaders

Me10There is a terrible evil in our world and it is often called leadership. But the core value of many who lead, is the root belief that they know better where you should go, what you should do and how you should act than you do. They are masters of Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They define for us, make laws over us and create systems of control to make us like their solution to ‘our problem.’ But in the end it does not resolve problems, their solution is ‘the problem.’ As Ronald Regan said, “Government is not to solution to the problem, it is the problem.”

 

Adam and EveCome back with me for a moment to the Garden of Eden, and the fall of man. Adam and Eve had a close personal relationship with God, walking and talking with Him in the Garden. But along came Lucifer and, in effect, convinced Eve that if she only knew the difference between good and evil, she would be as God, and would be able to have power over her own life and decisions. And the rest is history.

 

It would appear that we got a good deal. We get to know the difference between good and evil, make quality decisions, do good things, know the future by postulating the effects of good and avoid tragedy by avoiding that which is bad. What a deal! The problem is, we lost the context. We lost the presence of the Eternal, and we are far too limited in knowledge and understanding to chart a course through the universe. We are not omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. We are human. And that is the problem with the world.

 

When we are led by the infinite mind of God, we can live within the safety of principled leadership. But when we live outside of that context, we are vulnerable to the shifting sands of popularity, philosophical nonsense and personal egocentricity. Yes, there are always those who define their world view with their self in the center and everything else in concentric circles outward from there. They are important. They are leaders. They know what is best. They will show us, by imposing it on us and by saving us from ourselves. (Sarcasm intended!)

 

CalmIt does not matter the context, whether it is a club, a church, a political party or our national government. When the leader does what they want without constraint and tries to convince us that they know what is best for us, we are in trouble. Egocentric leadership is dangerous. Very dangerous indeed. The arrogance of the superior mind will destroy not only itself, but the rest of us as well. That mindset, is from the root of evil, from the rebellion against God and the leadership He provided. God’s leadership involved making His infinite mind and power available to us – every one of us. His government structure is simple, to have a personal relationship with every individual. It is this concept of man in relationship with God that our Founding Fathers discovered when they said that we (each individual) is endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights… So God’s government structure is that He is personally connected to every human being, and because of that personal relationship, we are free from the need for an intermediary. Anything that gets in the between God and the individual is evil.

 

But along comes Lucifer and tells us, “No, God is lying to you. He knows that if you have the right information, you do not need Him any longer. It will be like being a God yourself.” And so we have leadership – at least some call it that. We have those who have accumulated more data, information or insight than we do and they will solve our problems, direct our course and lead us to the promise land. But look, the Garden is not ahead of us as we are being led to it, it diminishes in visual size behind us as we move away from it and the principles it provides. We were sold a lie.

 

It is a lie, because, by buying into the promise that someone of power can solve my problems and give me what I need, I am removing myself from the responsibility to get that supply directly from God Himself. Junior Gods do a poor imitation and always, yes always, fail to accomplish what they promise.

 

Why then do we vote for those who promise the most? Because we fail to understand the premise – they cannot do what they promise. They are lying. The supply for all things is in God alone and He has already given the supply to us, if we but had the wisdom to understand that.

 

Next election, how about voting for the person who promises little, but envisions much. How about looking for a leader, not who will solve all of your problems but who will be an encourager and coach in the process of your harvesting the answers for yourself out of the bountiful provisions of the Creator. In this sense, leaders should never take the place of God but always the place of serving those that they lead. They are not the answer, they are only ministers to support and encourage our progress and growth in our own personal accomplishments and freedom.

 

In January, 2000, I retired from my service as Pastor of one of the Great Churches of America. It was great, not because it was famous, or because it had political power. It was great because of the people who came and gathered to worship God and follow His purposes.

 

After two and a half decades of service there, in communicating my resignation, I wrote the following letter to the congregation. Please read it through. I just did and believe that I learned leadership from them. I came to change them and solve their problems. In the end, I was the one who was changed.

 

Here’s the letter:

 

It was about 45 years ago, at the age of 15 that I felt the Lord asking me to come to Reno to minister. I was a child and incapable of stepping out at that early age, but I never forgot the sense of being called to a place and to a purpose. It was from that simple encounter with God, that my life’s plans unfolded. Now, the years have gone by and we are about to celebrate our 25th anniversary of ministry to this community and beyond. It is rewarding to look back and see the path of divine destiny, the circumstances of Divine provision and the resulting history of His grace.

 

I remember driving into Reno with the moving truck stacked full of treasures, furniture and plain old stuff. It was an adventure of life changing proportions and frankly, I was scared. Today, I sense that same excitement and fear. What if…?

 

The future can be projected and planned but the element of uncertainty is always present. The best-laid plans of mice and men, we are told … Yet, for each of us, life holds both the unknown terror of night and the un-experienced dawning of days of wonder. We are always required to walk through the night to find the dawn. The challenge of change and adventure always has an element of risk.

 

So, we strike out on a new adventure. Twenty Five years of pastoral care has been one of the most rewarding experiences in our lives and we hold that experience with fondness of memories, as a truly monumental experience. It has not been easy. There have been battles, conflicts, dangers and the presence of the dragons of despair. But that is not the end of the matter, it is only the context in which good things have happened. Some testify that our presence has benefited them, but that is not a judgment I can make. I can only judge whether or not the experience was of value to me. It certainly was.

 

One of the illusions of ministry, if we are not careful, is the assumption that I am capable of changing other people or a congregation or even a community – you know ‘let’s take this city for Jesus!’ The subtle temptation is to assume that we as leaders in the church, are capable of knowing what is best for people and of leading them into it. Little do we understand, until later in life, that the issues of ministry was not the city, the congregation or the other people we presume to know what is best for, but the issue all along was – ME! God was after me and was using the ministry as His means of changing me into His image and likeness. I thought I was headed for fame and glory. God urged me on toward crucifixion – “to which you are also called,” – Paul wrote. I looked for the rewards of success and the symbols of accomplishment. God brought me to the realization of my need for Him and the beauty of knowing God. I honed my skills and sharpened my tools for conquest but He drew me near to Himself in times of bitter confusion and whispered in my ear the security of His love and the passion of His heart.

 

No, I have not taken the world for Jesus, not even Nevada, and not even Reno. What I have experienced is the subtle shift to God’s perspective as I prayed, “Give me this city,” He answered by giving me to the city. While I asked for strength to work for Him, He made me increasingly aware of my weakness without His abiding presence. While I clamored for the rewards of success, He gave me desperate people whose need for God was so great they pressed me into God and into the security of His everlasting arms. When I demanded justice, He provided grace. When I stirred the people for need of activity, He responded with peace and rest. God has been good – very good to me. I have served, but I have lost nothing in the giving of my life to this calling. I have been the benefactor and the student.

 

And so, as I conclude this phase of my life and move on into new forms of ministry, I do so with great thanksgiving. I thank those who have faithfully been a part of our lives for these many years. They have made it all worthwhile. I thank those who thought to reject us, even at times to be our enemies. They have pressed us to assessment, change and the grace of God. I thank my family for putting up with me, my schedule and my activities. They have proven to be my inspiration and valued counselors. I thank this community for allowing me to practice ministry on it and for surviving all of my good ideas. There are so many arenas of life that comprise the context of life and make us what we are. I am thankful for a context that has both challenged me and rewarded me. I am the better for having been here.

 

Lastly, and most important, I thank God for His eternal love, His abiding presence and His unchanging purpose that marches incessantly forward, slightly out of our focus and totally without our consent. It is God who rules in the hearts of men and who ultimately works all things after the counsel of His own will. To God be the glory – great things He has done.

 

Pastor Dave

 

 

“MEGACHURCH – Because it is more important than feeding the hungry….”

I’ve had this conversation with several over the past year, and in fact, before. I am not sure exactly where is all started but some of it started with some of the more traditional pastors defining what is and what isn’t ‘kosher’ doctrines and practices for the church. Their aim was obvious, targeting some of the names already mentioned in this discussion. The definitions elevated from categorizing of the better gospel as opposed to the watered down version, and the war was on. So far the war is one sided, those who are the targets seem to be relatively silent as their attackers proceed and gain some adherents.

So, let me start by defining my experience so you will know my bias… Of course most of us will not admit to a bias, we are the balanced ones, speaking truth without any personal taint! Right? OK, you’re laughing aren’t you? Sure we all are subjective along with what we hope is our objective side.

I am a classical theologian, holding a TH. D. degree. I was Director and Dean of a Bible college for many years before pioneering a church and serving as Pastor for almost 30 years. Our church was in a small community, as populations go, yet it was the largest church in our region for almost all of the years of our serving as pastor. So, we were not a mega church, but I did get some flak from other churches for various reasons, most of which were, in my own subjective mind, justification for their not being larger than they were and our being larger. It was sort of a need to point out how we had short circuited the gospel, and they, by contrast, had not, therefore they were smaller than we were.

Frankly I never started out to have a large church, and gave zero thought to how to appease people to get them to come. They just came and I have no idea why. I suspect it was for a variety of reasons and a thorough study by a research team would find as many reasons as there would be members of the team. So I have been in the middle of this stuff for a life time and that may give me an unfair disadvantage. <grin>

So, I have had this discussion before and I suppose I will have it again, unless I decide that it is not worth my time. Well, to some degree it is not, but I do fear that there are others who are embroiled in the issues and possibly I can help with some thoughts that will allow you to move beyond it.

Many years ago there was a fellow on the radio who was quite popular. His ministry consisted of defining what the true gospel was and what was false. He named names and labeled many as cults. While I think I hold fundamental doctrines and am evangelical in my foundations, the fellow bored me. First of all, he became the judge and jury and refocused a large group of listeners on being against those who preached Christ, but not to his liking. Secondly, he reduced the gospel to an intellectual level, where having right facts saved one, rather than a true spiritual conversions experience. Yes, little children, idiots and people with diminished capacity love Jesus too and are forgiven and bound for heaven. That has to be a fact, because as we grow in grace and in the knowledge of God and our relationship with Christ, we change our view. Maturity has, at its very foundation, the requirement that we also learn and change, both our behavior and our thinking. So if being right is the issue, we are all suspect and in big trouble.

Now let’s focus back on the controversial issues of those under attack today. I am retired and the church I pastored was not world famous, and I did not make a lot of money, so I am safe. Besides, my background in teaching theology allows me to escape – no one wants to argue with me, usually. <grin>

Prosperity

Yes, there is a brand of Christianity that proposes that you can command God and make him into a big Santa Claus and get anything you want if you have enough faith. It can be extreme and it, in my opinion, can reduce faith to being a commodity we have to barter with God and overcome His reluctance. But we do not live by our feelings of faith but by His faith. Faith is a gift from God not an emotion we generate. You cannot measure one’s spirituality by their possessions of net worth.

But the opposite can be extreme also. Why do we teach moral behavior, ethical positions, and responsibility in our marriage, churches, and communities and in the work place? Why do we apply for promotions at work or ask for a raise or… So we can live at the lowest possible level of economic outcome? Nonsense. We do so to get ahead. Come on now, we all want to prosper and be creative and productive. It is part of our created nature, created, I might add, by God.

So I doubt that anyone would construct a contrasting doctrine that measures spirituality by ones poverty. No, we do not try to gain poverty for the sake of some reward from God. In fact, God is involved in every area of our life, if we allow Him to be, and economics is a big part of life. I have a couple of good friends who are wealthy, well, not just making a good living, they are filthy rich, if rich can have filth associated with it. They are good people, love God and live moral lives. They do good things with their wealth and cannot be described as stingy, corrupt or immoral. I wonder what it is in the human framework that makes us suspect of those kinds of people and makes us want to demonize them? We do so politically, we do so emotionally, and if we are not careful, we do so spiritually. They are successful, so they owe the rest of the world which is not?????? How do we come to that conclusion? Is their learning how to do certain things that brings rewards essentially evil?

Sound Doctrine

I was a critic of a ministry in Southern California that was very successful, had a TV ministry and the pastor wrote a lot of books and made a lot of money from their sales. One day a group of us were standing together talking about this ministry and its ego driven profile. Each person chimed in with their criticism and all agreed the whole thing was ego drive, ego focused, ego this and ego that. Finally, one young man, who had said little, took a step forward into the ring of conversation and said, “Ya, it is all ego and no one should have one of those, should they?”

In an instant a curtain of conviction covered our gathering and we all knew we had been chastised. If ego is, what I have studied in class, then it is simply our concept of self, our view of ourselves, and if so, then everyone has one. The question is not do we have one or not but is it healthy, productive or is it insecure and needing to downplay others so we feel better about ourselves.

Following that little conversation I was invited to attend a conference at that church with a friend. The pastor talked about their doctrine, their practice and laughed about his public persona. He saw himself, not as the point of the ministry but as a means of getting people’s attention so they could convey the gospel to them. The more he talked the more I was convicted for my critical viewpoint. I was wrong – dead wrong. His doctrine was as sound as my own but I had presumed that it was weak and misleading.

I would not be too sure that large churches have a franchise on bad doctrine or poor motives. It may be that the entire process of living under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, produces definitions, counter definitions, defensiveness and conflict. Religion, as opposed to Christianity, is the epitome of right and wrong, good and evil, contrast and comparisons. It is the opposite of the Tree of Life and the central focus on love that a relationship provides. Religions, all of them, produce self-righteousness. Relationships produce love. Christianity is therefore not a religion in these terms but a personal relationship with God, through our Savior, Jesus Christ. That is the substance of the matter, the style is another thing. I will contend for good substance, but will refuse to criticize the style. As Paul writes:

Philippians’ 1:15 Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will:

16 The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds:

17 But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel.

18 What then? Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.

19 For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,

20 According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Sound Focus:

The issue of focus is also a catch 22. That is we are conditioned by culture to accept certain assumptions about ministers and the church. The church is supposed to feed the poor. Yet, we know that unless the poor learn a way out of poverty they will be poor forever and feeding them, while admirable for the moment, does not address their real need. We have to do more.

To teach people how to live and how to make Christ real in their discipline, habits and attitudes goes a long way to lifting them out of poverty and into a productive life. But here again, we could interpret that as preaching the prosperity gospel and become critical…. See the problem. In the end, I have to say God bless those who lift people from where they are to a better place in life. After all, the challenge of the gospel is not just to get people to repeat the sinner’s prayer and give them a ticket to heaven. It is to be instruments of His creative power in bringing redemption to the planet and presenting unto Him the reward of His sacrifice. The church has lost its way and forgotten its purpose. We have a great and high destiny in Him, that we are instruments of His power, His glory and of His plan for this earth. We are here to reign in life by one Christ Jesus.

Romans 5:17 – For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.

Finding our Focus:

I have decided that I am not against other churches even those who – “notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” I may not want to attend some or recommend others, but that probably has more to do with style than substance. Some personalities are not pleasing to me, but that is my flesh. God uses people that I do not care for and I think I will let Him.

So, I have decided to find my focus in dealing with real issues, not matters of difference and degrees of accuracy. We live in a world that is falling apart. Our political world is an absolute mess. Our economy is bankrupt, but no one has announced it yet. We are still ignoring the reality of our spending and looking for new ways to print national governmental credit cards. Violence it alive and well in the Middle East, Africa, Russia, China and let’s not forget Chicago, Detroit and Washington DC. We have major problems in our world that we, the church, are commissioner to address. It is the effects of the fall and the result of sin. We are at war with evil and we need to be serious in our focus.

With all that said, may I suggest that the size of the church across town and their style is not the real enemy. If 100,000 drug addicts get saved and delivered from their pain in any one of the churches mentioned, I will probably thank God and aspire to do as well, at least within my sphere of influence.

And that is the context of focus. I cannot be any one of the more famous ministers. I can only be me. That will bring some success and will have its built in limits. I am not responsible for others, but I am for myself. Self-acceptance in Christ releases us from the competitive spirit that contrasts. If we are called to lead, then we should do so. Whatever the results are is up to God and, well, maybe the personality He gave me. I will accept that I cannot do more than I can, but should never accept doing less than I can. How many people follow is up to them and to God.

A young man came to me years ago asking for my help in finding him a church to pastor. He had graduated from Bible College and was ready to go. I mentioned a home group in a neighboring city who wanted a pastor. He said he was not interested. He was called to pastor a large church not a home group. Then he asked how he could get there. I told him to go outside and start walking…. Then to look behind him occasionally to see if anyone was following. If they were, he was a leader. If they were not, he was just out for a walk. The size of the following is of no consequence.

Well, that’s my take on the Mega-churches and their critics. I do not desire to pastor a church larger than the one I retired from. I will not criticize those who do!

Pastor Dave