Articles focused on the various facets of biblical leadership.

The Courageous Example of John MacArthur

It’s been impossible for me to miss the controversy that’s been brewing in Southern California between Governor Gavin Newsom and Sun Valley’s Grace Community Church as led by their pastor-teacher, John MacArthur.

As a former member of Grace (and custodian), and graduate of The Master’s Seminary, it’s been interesting for me to consider his recent refusal to comply with the governor’s unconstitutional (and therefore, illegal) order against gatherings in places of worship. His boldness and courage are a stark contrast to the myriad of evangelical leaders who kneeled at the feet of the social justice mob just a couple short months prior and are criticizing him for taking a stand on the lordship of Jesus over human government.

This entire situation has me curiously pondering: What is it that makes a “John MacArthur?” What keeps him from the mad rush to find the middle ground on every issue? What has caused him to take stand after stand over the past fifty years yet remain unmoved because “the Bible says so?” I remember him saying once that he’s never once cared about what people are going to think about him—how’s that even possible?

Examples in the Past

As I consider these questions, I am reminded of church history class and the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (1978). A beloved college professor of mine made us memorize paragraphs from that statement.  After he died in 2002, his wife gave me his audiocassettes of that council.  The names on those tapes are a “who’s who” of the glory days of 20th-century evangelicalism—men like J.I. Packer, Norman Geisler, Gleason Archer, Edwin Yamauchi, John Gerstner, R.C. Sproul, James Montgomery Boice, Francis Shaeffer, and almost 300 others.  Many of the signatories were giants in the church of their day.

As one of those who signed it, John MacArthur (at that time, a 39-year-old pastor) is in their rarified air. He is one of the last men standing of a fading generation who knew the truth, loved the truth, defended the truth, and were not at all afraid to contend for it either.

His life has made me wonder: Who is alive today that will take his place in evangelicalism? At over 80 years old, who will fill the leadership vacuum when he’s taken to heaven? Where are the leaders who are ready and happy to take the social media mob head-on, both inside and outside of the church, and refuse to back down? They do not exist, as far as I know. He is the last of a dying breed I’m sure many are happy to see go, but I’m terrified to lose. Far too many of our 21st century evangelical leaders are better at being politicians or motivational speakers than they are at being warriors, and this is at a cultural moment when we have a desperate need for warriors.

This, again, causes me to ask, why? I think it’s because those men grew up in an era before relativism had the cultural dominance it does now. They lived in a world where right was right, wrong was wrong, the truth was the truth, lies were lies, and sin was sin. These faithful men saw it on the horizon and warned Christians against its potential to undermine every single thing evangelicals believe.

Emptiness in the Present

That is not our world at all.  Evil is good; good is evil (Isa 5:20). Nothing is right or wrong except what our politically correct masters tell us is. The intent of an author is impossible to determine. Power is oppressive. Feelings determine our decisions. Truth is not objective; it is merely a personal or societal construct. Lies and hypocrisy are useful tools that help advance one’s agenda. The ends justify the means. In the church, we baptized the fear of man (also known as co-dependency or peer-pressure) and turned it into a ministry philosophy, assuming that, “If the non-Christian world likes us—thinks we’re helpful, cool and relevant—they’ll like Jesus too.”

Everything leftover is considered “gray area,” as if non-essential doctrines for salvation mean “unimportant” for the faithfulness and courage of a church leader. Where conviction was once found, we now found deflecting or straw-man sentiments like:

  • “There are good people on all sides.”
  • “They may be in error but they are such a nice person.”
  • “I want to be known by what I am for, not against.”
  • “It must be nice to have all the answers.”
  • “My truth is my truth. Your truth is your truth.”
  • “The Pharisees were good at pointing things out too.”

This is the cultural air that I’ve breathed since I was born.  Most adults my age (43) and younger consider relativism “just the way it is.”  As Allan Bloom once said, denying it is like trying to convince people that 2 + 2 isn’t 4 (which was embarrassingly attempted recently).

Emasculation in the Future

In a culture where relativism reigns, a culture without reality, without truth, without right and wrong answers, pastors will have a hard time going beyond, “Well, there are 4 views on that.”  Without doing the hard work of determining which views best match the Bible through exegesis and logical argumentation, pastors simply do not have the tools to do what MacArthur’s doing now. Instead, they’ve become convinced that the only stand they should take is not taking a stand (unless it’s a stand the culture approves of) and standing against anyone who does. So, I predict we’ll see more and more Christian leaders cave to the culture, call it heroic, get affirmation from their cheering section for being relevant or shrewd or loving or reasonable, all while assuring their deadened consciences that they’ll take a stand when it “really matters.”

No, they won’t! This is wishful thinking at best and self-delusion at worst for one overwhelming reason: John MacArthur can do what he’s doing because he has convictions, but relativism makes convictions impossible. In a world where there is no truth, there’s nothing to take a stand on. Oh, people will have convictions—don’t get me wrong—but instead of coming from the truth (John 17:17), they will come uncritically from their upbringing, a hierarchy they trust, heroes they admire, or the cultural overlords who are all too ready to choose their convictions for them.

Without convictions that are well thought out and deeply rooted in the bedrock of Scripture, pastors cannot have courage. We’ll never have the bravery we’re seeing in John MacArthur. Truth leads to convictions and convictions produce courage. Without convictions, the church will continue to be led by “men without chests” (C.S. Lewis) who genuflect before the mob, who won’t have the fortitude needed to stand in these dark days, but who will feign courage by passionately criticizing nobody but those who have it. Wavering and weak, many will seek to insulate themselves from ever being a target of the world’s hatred, something Jesus told His followers to expect and embrace (John 15:18-20). In Christ’s mind, it seems that we have a choice to make: we can be faithful or popular.  All of us, sooner or later, will be forced to choose and we can only choose one!

In the end, you may not agree with John MacArthur, but he doesn’t care, and neither should you. What you should be asking about John MacArthur is not, “Do I agree with what he’s doing?” Instead ask, “Will I have his courage when it’s my turn to stand?” Courage is the lesson young pastors (and a ton of older ones) should be learning from John MacArthur right now. Thank God for him.

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Jon Benzinger (@jonbenz) is the Lead Pastor at Redeemer Bible Church in Gilbert, Arizona (@rbcgilbert). He has a passion for teaching God’s word and has been doing so in both the local church and academia for nearly twenty years. He lives with his wife and three children in Queen Creek, Arizona.

Navigating Different COVID-19 Convictions

If there is one word to describe how we must navigate re-gathering amid COVID-19, it’s this: grace. 

A friend of mine who happens to be the Vice President of a prominent seminary and no stranger to the challenges in leadership recently tweeted words that accurately predict the current (and coming) landscape in homes, families, and friendships.

Charles Smith wrote: “Prediction: one of the most challenging aspects of the #COVID19 recovery will be disagreements over acceptable post-COVID social norms between friends and family. Hurt feelings will abound if we’re not careful. Extend lots of grace. Everyone is different.”

He couldn’t be more right. This reality is especially going to hit hard for pastors — starting with the dynamic between staff and leadership teams.

I believe one of the ways that the enemy will seek to divide our ranks within the church is by tempting us to use our opinions against each other. If the Devil has his way, we’ll be throwing stones of accusation from all sides, calling the cautious people “soft,” labeling the optimists of being “reckless.” More than that, the enemy especially loves when we cement ourselves in political corners; adding opinionated fuel to the already tumultuous fire of conflict.

Things can get ugly — very quickly.

This is a new frontier of ministry for an entire generation of leaders. We must recognize the challenges and begin to determine how we will face COVID recovery before it erodes valuable relationships.

Navigating our varying COVID convictions is a non-negotiable for any leader who desires not only a physically healthy organization, but an emotionally healthy one too.

We’re Going to Be Different

The pastoral staff I am a part of is one example of taking differing approaches to COVID quarantine and ministry, and that’s okay. Our different approaches have even become helpful because we can diversify our ministry efforts like different members of the body should (1 Corinthians 12:12). Further, we are sharpened in our ability to love one another regardless of unique circumstances. One of our pastors has vulnerable family members and works exclusively from home. One had a baby during the crisis and needed others to carry the added load while he went on paternity leave. Another can serve more openly in the community right now, while another endured unexpected back surgery and is mostly bound to bed during recovery time. It takes a great deal of sensitivity and understanding to navigate how each member of our team is approaching the scenario. It will continue to require such understanding as we approach re-gathering with friends, family, and our church. The reality is, we are all a unique blend of experiences, vulnerabilities, preferences, tendencies, and talents.

Perhaps you relate to one or more aspects of the following COVID-19 profiles:

Cautious: Those who primarily work from home, follow every aspect of CDC regulations, and prefer to stay conservative about their re-gathering plan.

Confident: Those who don’t wear a mask, spend greater amounts of time with people outside their home and don’t mind tight proximity, obey the law but don’t necessarily worry much about going the extra-mile with precautions, lean towards re-gathering now regardless of the news, and some think this crisis may be blown way out of proportion.

“Cauti-dent”: Those who find themselves doing and feeling a little bit of everything in both the cautious and the confident profile.

There are certainly a few more profiles that could be added here, including those who have strong opinions about churches holding services online instead of gathering physically, obedience to government instructions, and conspiracy theories about numerous aspects of the crisis, but those views do not necessarily help us navigate re-gathering.

It’s Okay to Be Different

The temptation is to look at these profiles and let your opinion dominate your perspective.

For highly confident optimists, others are much too conservative. Perhaps, some would even accuse others of living by fear and not faith — which can be true of all of us at times.

For cautious types, confident optimists may be too relaxed as the “what ifs” begin to creep into their minds. They think, what do we gain by re-gathering so quickly? Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?

As the spiral of opinion leads you downward, you must formulate a game plan that takes you upward. It’s okay to be different! To have a healthy family, a healthy team, and a healthy church there must room for different opinions and experiences. These differences often stretch us and help us grow together and learn from each other. We need to respect one another and realize that everyoneis navigating a new frontier.

A healthy relational ecosystem allows for “different,” and even leverages it to help us make decisions.

Attitude Determines Altitude​

You may have a healthy culture in your church, organization, or family. Conversely, you may be seeing tension rising and anticipate this issue being a major challenge. Whatever the case, your attitude is going to determine your altitude. In other words, whether or not you lead yourself and others above the fray and towards a higher perspective depends on attitude.

Here are 4 attitudes for COVID-19 re-gathering that will strengthen your ability to navigate differing views and approaches:

1. Optimistic people are a blessing to my life. It keeps me hopeful about the future and enables me to embrace uncertainty as opportunity.

2. Cautious people are a blessing to my life. It keeps me sensitive to the needs and concerns of others and enables me to make prudent decisions.

3. Different gifts and approaches make us all more effective. Pride demands that everyone do things the way we demand. Read 1 Corinthians 12 and celebrate different gifts.

4. People matter more than my opinion. Being in healthy relationships with people is a privilege that requires me to love others above myself. When I am highly opinionated, I can needlessly hurt others.

Choose Love

In the end, these attitudes prepare our hearts and minds to do one thing above all else: choose love. Preserving valuable relationships and developing healthy teams, churches, and families is more important than winning arguments, or being (more) right.

Look, when this crisis begins to wind down, there will be plenty of people who got some things right, and plenty of people who got some things wrong. There will be those who blew things out of proportion, and those who didn’t take things as seriously as they should’ve. Some will take longer to come back to the office, others will rush in (or are already there).

What will it matter if we re-gathering only to end up “socially distant” again not because of a virus, but because of our inability to love others who approach COVID-19 differently than we do?

Choose love.

***This article was originally published by “For the Church” here.

Leadership Lessons from Nehemiah

God has an ultimate agenda for His people that brings glory to His name and joy to their hearts. He doesn’t have to, but He most often uses human leaders to unravel His plans.

Much like today, there were leaders throughout the Bible who used their positions of power to abuse and exploit people for their own gain. And, much like today, there were leaders throughout the Bible who used their position as for good. Nehemiah is one of the most prominent examples of spiritual leadership that viewed authority as God-given privilege — a responsibility, really — not a mandated right. Nehemiah held a job as the king’s cupbearer (Nehemiah 1:11), and later as governor (5:14), and used his position of influence to carry out God’s agenda. Warren Wiersbe’s strikes the heart of leadership challenges when he writes, “In our day of public scandals in almost every area of life…how refreshing it is to meet a man like Nehemiah who put serving the people ahead of gain for himself.”

Simply put: we need leaders like Nehemiah. He’s a model worth emulating and one that we should pay close attention to.

Here are five qualities that Nehemiah possessed, though the list could be much longer. As you read through, take notice that these are not things a leader is naturally born with. These are qualities that every leader in the body of Christ can strive for and obtain by the grace of God.

Nehemiah was a man of prayer

After learning about Jerusalem’s distress, Nehemiah’s response proves much about his leadership. He gave himself to “fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (1:4). Nehemiah was no priest but sought the Lord on behalf of the people with the priestly passion (1:5-11). When we come face-to-face with troubling circumstances, our first response says a great deal about our leadership aptitude. Do our knees hit the floor with a sense of ownership and confidence? Do our hearts break for those in bondage? A passionate prayer life is a mighty weapon in ministry.

Nehemiah was a prudent planner

Nehemiah has close access to the king and when an opportunity presented itself he was ready with an answer. When the king offered him the chance to make a request, he wasn’t at a loss for words. In fact, he prayed (of course!), then came to the king with clear plans for action and was shown favor by the king (2:1-9). How many times do we ask God for big things but our plans are nothing more than a meandering daydream? It’s been well said that goals without a deadline are just dreams. Nehemiah wasn’t praying for God to open doors for his barely-vetted idea. He was prudent, planned, and ready when the answer was, “Yes!”

Nehemiah was a confident motivator

When rallying the officials concerning the rebuilding of the wall, Nehemiah explained the dire situation, then called for progress! He motivated them by explaining the favor God had shown them in opening the doors for a rebuild (2:17-18). The result of his prayers, his plans, and call to action? “Then they said, ‘Let us arise and build.’ So they put their hands to the good work” (2:18). For all his ability to motivate, not everyone was impressed. In the face of opposition and ridicule, Nehemiah spilled the secret to his confidence declaring, “The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build…” (2:20). His constant call was to “remember the Lord who is great and awesome” (4:14). Within the church today, leaders have the opportunity to motivate people to take on big challenges for the glory of God and the good of His people. Motivating them with divine confidence is critical to moving the ball downfield.

Nehemiah was focused on giving God glory

When the wall was completed, it wasn’t said the Nehemiah was the greatest in the land. He didn’t stand and testify of his strength, wisdom, and might. Nehemiah has continually testified about what God had done and the result was this: “And it came about when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God” (6:16). Now that is a leader who has created a culture of glorifying God!

Nehemiah was committed to obedience

At the end of the book of Nehemiah, we find that the devotion of the people and their obedience to God had faded. Nehemiah quickly stepped in and called for the people to remember the sins of Solomon (13:26) and turn in obedience to God. Ever the watchman on the wall and the defender of God’s commands, Nehemiah refused to back down when it came to pleasing God. As leaders, we can grow exhausted in our efforts to call people into obedience to God. Sometimes it may seem like all a leader is doing is policing people’s bad behavior. Yet, after all he’d faced, how was it that Nehemiah still found the strength to take on another course correcting challenge? He was serving an audience of One. In the end, he declared, “Remember me, O my God, for good” (13:31). A leader stays committed to even the hardest parts of our task by remembering Who we serve and why we serve Him. Nehemiah modeled what it means to obey God for the right reasons and stay focused on what matters most.

May a generation of Nehemiah’s stand tall in the midst of great challenges; determined to do great things for the glory of a great God.

Why Biblical Elders Are Vital to Church Health

Church leadership models always seem to be going through a type of cultural renovation. Trying to stay relevant, influential evangelicals try to innovate at every turn; trading in biblical roles like elder and deacon for newer, less biblically stringent leadership positions. Some churches avoid having elders altogether because of bad experiences or horror stories from others who warn, “Don’t have elders, they will control you!”  Other churches have senior pastors with their own agenda in mind who purposely manipulate the system to ensure that only “yes-men”make it into leadership. Still, there are churches who have yet to raise up elders or don’t know how. Whatever the scenario, biblical eldership is not always taken as seriously as it should be, and yet, it is incredibly vital to the health of a church.

Elders are important to the church because, first and foremost, they are the leaders that Christ has appointed to oversee His church. This is not mere suggestion – it is the biblical mandate. A church cannot be a fully healthy church without elders, and a church can most certainly not be a healthy church without qualified elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).  At the very least, there should be elders being raised up where there are no qualified elders yet. Elders are so important that one of Paul’s first apostolic decisions in the churches that he established was to appoint elders there (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5).

Besides their biblically mandated presence in a church, there are several specific ways that elders are important to the vitality and health of a church.Here are are six to consider:

1. The church needs elders who are spiritually minded

Far too many elder boards are nothing more than a polity board when instead they should be pastoral. The church doesn’t need corporate shot-callers, it needs shepherds. True elders are ultimately put in their position by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28), not by being golfing buddies with the senior pastor or a wealthy influencer in the church. The term elder, in the Bible, is reserved for spiritual men who shepherd the flock. The terms πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros), ποιμήν (poimen), and ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos) are all used to describe the same office in the New Testament. Overseers, pastors, shepherds, and elders are all operating as the same kind of servant leader(s) of the church. Therefore, elders are spiritual men who are spiritually minded. They aren’t concerned with holding a position of power, but rather, being a faithful steward of what Christ has entrusted them with.

2. The church needs elders who care for the people

Christ’s people needs care – period. From counseling, to comforting, to correcting, to concern, no body of believers should be without overseers who have a genuine care for their souls (Hebrews 13:17). One of the ways that care is continuous is in the prayer life of an elder. Elders take time to pray fervently for the people. While the people are working, battling sin, and facing another day of challenges, there ought to be elders who are spiritual men going to the throne room of God on behalf of the people. This by no means is to say that the church must have some sort of priestly mediator – for we have Christ and need no other. It is to simply say that shepherds should be praying for the flock; knowing that God uses the power of prayer to preserve people.

3. The church needs elders who model for the people

They don’t need to be perfect or on a pedestal, but elders should be joyfully modeling a commitment to Christ and holiness in their lives. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 lays out qualifications that all Christians should strive for, but specifically, it lays out qualifications that all elders must possess. In fact, one of the responsibilities of an elder is to set an example for the flock (1 Peter 5:3). Elders who are qualified prove to be helpful models for people who need encouragement, discipleship, and a real life example of how sanctification works! Paul said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). That’s the kind of leadership the church needs from elders.

4. The church needs elders who support church discipline

Elders oversee church discipline and support a system of correction, purification, and restoration within the church.  This is a healthy ecosystem in that the elders are often appointed by those within the church based on their qualifications, then serve to support the church through discipline and oversight. What a model of humility by both the congregation and the elders! (Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15; Titus 3:9-11).

5. The church needs elders who teach the Word

While all believers are to be teaching and admonishing one another (Colossians 3:16), elders are specifically called to the ministry of the word (1 Timothy 3:2) and charged with the task of preserving sound doctrine within the church (Acts 20:31; Titus 1:9). No church should ever have to suffer through the burden of not having gifted leaders who guide them in the Scriptures. Elders should be seen as essential to feeding the flock so much so that one of the primary emphasis in a local church is the raising up, and support of, biblical elders.

6. The church needs elders who protect them from deceivers

Elders are essential to a church because their ministry includes an emphasis on protecting the people by using the word to refute those who would harm them. Again, this is something that all Christians can do, but Christ has seen to it that there’s no question of who must do this. Even though people appoint and humbly follow their qualified leaders, it is ultimately the Holy Spirit who “makes” elders the overseers of the church (Acts 20:28) and demands they must protect the people. Elders stand against false doctrines, mark false teachers, and refuse to concede against any wolves that would prey on the flock (Acts 20:28-30; Romans 16:17-18).

Governance models within any given church may vary. Some will opt for elder led, some for congregationalism, and others will mix these two and find a type of balance. No matter the model, biblical elders are critical to the health of a church. Our goal should be to see Christ raise them up in our churches for the good of His people and glory of His name.

Recommended Reading:

Biblical Eldership By Alexander Strauch

The Masters Plan for the Church John MacArthur

Church Elders By Jeramie Rinne

Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology By John S. Hammett

5 Signs of a Dangerous Pastor

Trustworthy leadership is hard to find. Inside and outside Christianity, men and women with fancy letters behind their names are doing nasty things to innocent people – and children. It’s becoming more and more apparent that academic degrees (while important) and achievements (while admirable) are not the measure of success for a leader.

Integrity is.

I recently tweeted about the “5 signs of a dangerous pastor” and wanted to add some commentary to each of the 5 points in an effort to shed more light on this topic. While it’s understandable that an article like this is not an exciting read, there are people who need to read it. For those who are trying to discern whether or not to stay at their church, this is a huge deal. Just like lives are changed every day when people find faithful pastors who labor in Christ-exalting service, lives are changed for the better every time someone escapes the dangerous ones too. If just one family – no, one individual – is made more aware of what to look for in a church leader because of a list like this, it’s worth it all.

If you’re a pastor, this list is the mirror of conviction we can stand in front of; asking the Holy Spirit to expose where we’ve been compromising and trusting His power to set us straight. If you’re a church member who suddenly realizes this list fits the bill of your pastor – and has for a long time – buckle up. You may need to find a new church.

Here are the 5 signs:

  1. The Pastor Insulates Himself

This is the pastor who surrounds himself with a system of layers; making it nearly impossible to get valuable time with him. Still, he makes sure to appear personable and approachable in public settings. He insulates himself because he’s CEO-minded and deeply believes that the best way to grow the church is to be distant from the people. This pragmatic approach gives him a sort of “holy-aura” as he attempts to make himself a novelty to his followers. Like the Pope waving from an ivory tower in the Vatican City, the pastor who insulates himself can remain god-like in status while doing whatever he pleases out of sight. You won’t find him doing a whole lot of discipleship. This guy is the show-and-go type. You see him Sunday – then he’s gone!

  1. The Pastor is Threatened by Smart Individuals

This is the pastor who can’t stand educated and discerning people who ask tough questions. He will tolerate some question-asking because he’s smart enough to appear fair and tolerant. However, you won’t find men with a high degree of theological knowledge hanging around for very long. This threatens his pride. Instead of receiving constructive wisdom from those who may even be wiser, or being open to feedback from people within the congregation, he patronizes those with less experience and demeans those with less knowledge. This pastor draws influence and power from knowing more than others do – or appearing like he does. He maintains a long term following by drawing unsuspecting people he can manipulate.

  1. The Pastor Punishes Those Who Disagree

This is the pastor who creates a punitive culture within the church. This church becomes a place where it’s the dogmatic pastor’s way or the highway. Should you or anyone else even think about gently pointing out inconsistencies in the theological positions he holds, you run the risk of being privately shamed. Think about addressing something unbiblical or unethical within the church, and you run the risk of public retribution. For staff members, this means the loss of livelihood. For church members, this could mean the loss of reputation in the community as the pastor publically or privately paints an opponent in a negative light.

  1. The Pastor is Obsessed with His Own Vision

This pastor knows exactly what he wants and his will, ahem…I mean God’s will be done. You may hear this pastor say something like, “I started this church and this is how it’s going to be!” or “This is my church and no one is going to take it from me!” Those exclamatory statements may seem shocking but they are not uncommon. So is all “vision” bad? No. It’s actually beneficial when a leader has a plan for the future of a church but all a pastor needs to say about “his vision” is that his vision is to do what the Bible says to do. Unfortunately, many churches only hire people if they sign on to serve “Pastor Steven’s vision” (or Mark’s, Jim’s, and Greg’s). Guess what? The church has nothing to do with a man’s vision. It’s about Christ’s. No church growth book can change that, no advice from a pragmatic guru can change that, and no amount of pastoral kicking and screaming can change that. The church belongs to Jesus.

  1. The Pastor Twists the Bible to Fit His Own Rules

From elders who aren’t really biblical elders, to using money for whatever he deems noble and necessary, this pastor views stewardship and accountability systems as very fluid concepts. In other words, stewardship is really about what he wants to do vs. what he must manage on behalf of the church. Accountability, to this pastor, is about putting “yes” men in key positions. In most cases, this pastor will boast about his high level of accountability and adherence to Scriptural authority in order to appear trustworthy. He will claim them to be his deepest convictions until those things infringe on his decision making process, then the twisted game begins. Instead of admitting a mistake or facing the difficult pain of owning a poor decision, he twists (even ignores) the Bible to fit his own rules and make excuses for his decision making.

This kind of leadership is not the kind of leadership that Jesus had in mind when He promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18). If this is the kind of autocratic ruler that dominates your assembly week-in and week-out, run to safety – even if it means switching denominations for a while.

Recommended Resource: “9Marks of a Healthy Church” by Mark Dever

 

Embracing God’s Timing as a Pastor-in-Waiting

At times in the early years of training and ministry, you’ll find yourself in the uncomfortable position of waiting. You may be waiting on a ministry opportunity, waiting to complete seminary, or waiting on what you think you’re ready for – but haven’t seen God open the door yet. No matter the tension we feel when waiting on God’s timing in ministry, He has a specific purpose in mind.

We often have the highest view of our own “readiness” for certain aspects of ministry but it is God who has the highest (and most reliable) view of such a thing. He sovereignly places you in seasons of waiting, and releases you from waiting in His own timing. Anybody who has tried to jump the gun on God’s timing for ministry has undoubtedly learned Who knows best. Men of God who are called to lead God’s flock as pastors will be pressed – actually, squeezed – dry of themselves in several ways before being made ready. Seasons of waiting prove to be useful conduits for such a “divine press,” leading to healthy tension for the man as he is emptied of himself.

Waiting is training. Here are three things that waiting does for God’s glory, and our good:

  1. Waiting Teaches Submission

Perhaps there is no greater example of someone who had to wait for what they seemed to be ready for than King David. Gene Edwards, in his book A Tale of Three Kings, writes concerning David’s difficult season sitting under the “mad king,” Saul:

God has a university. It’s a small school. Few enroll; even fewer graduate. Very, very few infeed. God has this school because he does not have broken men and women. Instead, he has several other types of people. He has people who claim to have God’s authority…and don’t – people who claim to be broken…and aren’t. and people who do have God’s authority, but who are mad and unbroken. And he has, regretfully, a great mixture of everything in between. All of these he has in abundance, but broken men and women, hardly at all. In God’s sacred school of submission and brokenness, why are there so few students? Because all the students in this school must suffer much pain.

It is likely most of us are under no “mad king.” How much more can we then happily submit to the process of God’s training through waiting? Submission is quite possibly the ultimate test for a man’s heart because it determines at what level he can be trusted with authority. He that cannot submit to authority will be dangerous with authority. Saul, albeit anointed by God, was used by God to exemplify the kind of leader we can become if we do not learn to submit.

  1. Waiting Teaches Humility

Entitlement is to a pastor what too much candy is to a child who is eager for it – it rots teeth. Or in the pastor’s case, his heart. We’ve all heard the old cliché that good things come to those who wait, but I would argue that waiting should not so much focus on the good things to come, but the process by which those good things come. Let me explain: Waiting allows for training in our craft and cultivates humility for a pastor-in-waiting. It increases discipline. Like a soldier waiting for deployment, a pastor-in-waiting doesn’t sit around day dreaming about the future or talking about what he should/could be if he were given the chance to preach. He embraces his station in the season of waiting and engages in practices that will produce success for his entire calling – and he does this humbly and patiently. He evangelizes the lost. He counsels the hurting. He balances budgets. He sits at the feet of elders. He studies critical doctrines. He learns his blind spots. He deals with marital issues. He confronts sin. He completes his assignments. If you’re a pastor-in-waiting who takes advantage of such seasons, you will be humbly confident when God moves you forward. Humble in that you did not make anything happen – God did. Confident in that God has put you where you are.

  1. Waiting Teaches Suffering

A pastor who has not learned to submit to God’s work through waiting is bound to learn these lessons one way or another. Waiting thickens the skin of man who is destined to suffer in service to Christ. David experienced this as you’ve seen already, and New Testament leaders were not off the hook either. In his letters to Timothy, what does Paul highlight multiple times? That Timothy discipline himself and get ready for suffering and tough times. He said that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). That Timothy was to “be sober in all things” and “endure hardship” (2 Tim. 4:5). And that Timothy should “discipline [himself] for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7-8). A pastor will go through seasons of doubt, despair, attack from both insiders and outsiders, and spiritual assaults from the enemy. He stands firm in suffering because his patience and trust in God were tested and developed in seasons of waiting.

Everybody’s seasons of “waiting” may look different, but the lesson God teaches us is the same: He’s calling the shots, and we can trust Him to work things out for His glory, and our good (Rom. 8:28).

3 Ways To Nurture Emotional Intelligence

Lately, I’ve been thinking about emotions and pastoral ministry—particularly, when it comes to qualities like managing self-awareness and developing relational empathy with those I’ve been entrusted to lead. Pastors often pride ourselves on having a high IQ (intelligence quotient) even as we flaunt our indifference to EQ (emotional quotient, or our skill in handling emotions). Many of us rightly reject elevating feelings above truth, but we must be careful not to swing the pendulum to the other extreme. Managing and understanding the role of emotions is critical for every leader, especially those who shepherd God’s people.

Unfortunately, numerous pastors would call emotional intelligence a “feminine quality.” Some even argue that men are the intellectual epicenter of the church and women are the emotional one. This demeans emotional intelligence as unnecessary at best, and at worst a liability reserved for women who can’t control their tears.

This line of thinking can be especially dangerous in church leadership because it can cause leaders to disregard the emotions of others and railroad everyone around them. Pastors with excellent preaching and teaching gifts and no major moral failings can still do damage beyond measure if they are emotionally and relationally bankrupt.

What sorts of sentiments does a low EQ produce in church leadership? See if any on this list ring a bell. Maybe you’re like me and have caught yourself saying or thinking a few of these.

  • “It doesn’t matter how you feel; it matters what the Bible says.”
  • “I’m a pastor, not a therapist.”
  • “I need to keep distance between the people and myself.”
  • “Don’t come to me looking for empathy. Talk to my wife.”
  • “Get on board with my vision or get out.”

These statements all point to the same misconception: High IQ is the mark of a true leader fit for entrepreneurial work and life at the top of the totem pole. High EQ is unimportant and antithetical to dynamic leadership.

What is so wrong with this line of thinking? For starters, it does not belong anywhere near a church. It’s been said time and time again that emotional intelligence is the currency of relationships. What part of shepherding doesn’t involve building relationships with people and speaking into their lives? During their workweek, pastors spend 40 minutes in the pulpit and 40 hours outside of it. That’s a short time focused on a one-way monologue from a stage, and a whole lot more time engaged in two-way conversations with the saints.

Recently, Jared C. Wilson sounded off on this issue with a series of social media posts:

We like strong personalities, fiery pulpiteers, theologically rigorous thinkers. And then we’re shocked when they don’t know how to speak to a man struggling with same-sex attraction or a woman struggling in her marriage, etc. They’re awkward, unrelational, unempathetic…

It’s why we must insist that our pastors actually be *pastors*, with preacher/theologian a subset of that office. Low EQ pastors do untold damage b/c they see the church as an audience or a followership, not as a flock to be cared for…

And personality type has almost no bearing on this. Many introverted pastors are great in counseling/visitation/discipling and many extroverted pastors are terrible. It’s not about introvert/extrovert—it’s about emotional intelligence. The ability to empathize, relate, connect.

For many of us, this issue can stir up all kinds of insecurities. But I believe most pastors want to grow their EQ. For every pastor who bashes emotional coherence, there are likely 10 pastors eager to be challenged in this area.

A few years ago I was counseling a church member who opened up about a struggle with sin. With a high-and-mighty view of my own personal holiness and some seminary credits under my belt, I felt fully prepared to tell this man a thing of two about killing his own sin. So I put my theological intellect on shining display, listing off verses and theological principles that applied to his situation. It was a Bible-thumping TKO!

But after my tirade of truth, the church member didn’t look energized or encouraged. I had knocked the wind out of his sails. He said, “Pastor, I already know what the Bible says about my sin, but I came here to see if you would come alongside me in this battle? I need someone to disciple me.” My heart sank. I had given him a monologue, expecting him to figure out what to do about his sin alone. I had failed to see him as a man who needed empathy and guidance.

Jesus doesn’t call pastors to be one-and-done counseling hammers. He calls us to make disciples. This man needed a friend, a brother, and a pastor to walk with him and keep him accountable. I had failed in the task.

After that counseling session, I knew I needed to become a more faithful pastor, so I sought ways to raise my pastoral EQ. I’m not done growing yet, but the following three practices were consistent keys to my growth. I hope you find them helpful as you seek to do the same.

1. Reflect on the gospel daily

Nothing can trigger a humble, loving heart for others like the gospel. It’s much easier to walk with a heart of grace for others after reflecting on the grace God has shown you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to write off family members caught up in false teaching or ignore a church member who just made the same mistake for the 20th time. The gospel is a motivating reminder that Jesus didn’t write me off when I deserved it.

I often find myself getting caught up in the day-to-day hustle of life and ministry. The organizational vision of a church can easily overshadow the people of the church. But a heart regularly moved by the gospel will be stirred with compassion and empathy toward others. Christ’s work and message are like anti-venom to the poison of selfish indifference and emotional ignorance.

2. Receive correction and instruction

Accountability and support from others can go a long way toward raising your EQ. I’ll never forget when, after a fellowship with some other pastors, my mentor pulled me aside and said, “Never forget, Costi, you can be right about something, but you don’t need to be ugly about it.” He didn’t need to say another word. I knew exactly what he meant.

Even though it has involved some tough conversations, my ministry has benefited remarkably from sitting down with trusted people who could point out my emotional blind spots. Biblical counseling can be a great way to grow your EQ by dealing with emotional wounds from your past that prohibit you from becoming a healthy leader. And few people are better than spouses for cultivating self-awareness—they know us better than anyone. If pastors are called to preach, teach, rebuke, exhort, and correct others, then surely it is fitting for that spiritual work to first take place in their own life and heart.

3. Resist the ego

Pastors may fear that addressing EQ challenges will expose them as “weak” or that their congregations and teams will no longer respect them. But by cultivating this area of their lives and ministries, they will be another step closer to the embodiment of what Paul called the “unashamed workman.” Pastors growing in their EQ will be able to handle the difficulties of ministry in constructive ways that bring glory to God. Second Timothy 2:24–25 offers this sobering reminder for how we ought to handle our emotions in a secure, humble, and God-honoring way:

The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.

Ministry can be tough, and difficult people can jade even the most loving and relational leaders, but there is no excuse for Christian leaders to toss aside emotional intelligence as “useless whining about emotions.” Men of God—not only women—must possess tenderness and toughness when caring for God’s flock. True, God has called pastors to speak informational truth to his people, but he also cares deeply about the transformation of their hearts. Our emotional intelligence is an important part of that work.

This article originally appeared in CT Pastors & Christianity Today in June of 2018 | www.christianitytoday.com

Chasing a Title or Carrying a Towel

When it comes to leadership, how do you measure greatness?

The mother of James and John thought it was having the best seats in Christ’s Kingdom (Matthew 20:20-21). There are those today who would certainly say that church size, book deals, Twitter following, and global influence are sure signs of high status.

Our salacious, ever growing appetite for affirmation leads us to view the academic letters behind a last name as the moment of “arrival.” Ambitious and youthful pastors think greatness is eventually achieved when their subjective calling to ministry finally lands them an objective goal: The #1 spot in the pulpit.

But is that what greatness is in the end? Is leadership simply climbing a ladder of power, so as to eventually be a shot-caller? When it comes to leadership, if greatness is defined by a spot on the executive board, a large following, fancy letters, and dominating a one-way conversation on a weekly basis because you hold the mic, we need an intervention.

The church does need greatness to live out its purpose in Christ, but in God’s eyes, great leaders are great servants. Just a cursory glance through the New Testament reveals that the word leader is used rarely when compared to the word servant. That’s not to say that leadership is not an important or prominent theme throughout the Bible (it is), but it is to say that leadership is not so much about carrying a fancy title as it is about carrying a servant’s towel.

No one nails having a humble servant’s heart every day, yet certain trends in our life reflect God’s grace in the midst of our own ambitious drive for significance in ministry.

If you are one of those passionate souls who believe they must do something great on this earth, here are three ways things to consider what greatness truly is:

1.) We Must Be Decreasing

Of all the people in the Bible, perhaps John the Baptist could have been the one who’d be let off the hook if he took just a little bit of the spotlight from Jesus. After all, he was the forerunner and ultimate set up man for Christ. Instead, he said he wasn’t the Christ, he wasn’t Elijah, and he wasn’t even a prophet. When pressed for the real story, all he could muster up was quite possibly the most unimpressive personal bio history has known. If John the Baptist had Facebook, the about section would read, “Just a voice. Not worthy to tie Christ’s sandals. Consistently decreasing and not worth a follow. Link to Jesus’ profile ‘here.’”

It can be a monumental challenge to stomach the obscurity that comes from consistent “decrease,” but it’s part of every pastor’s journey. There may be seasons when a gifted pastor is not in the pulpit, but desperately wants to be. There may be seasons when a pastor is called to play a supporting role in someone else’s ministry – and could do more on his own. None of this matters in the grand scheme of what God is constantly teaching His servants. If we cannot accept that His plans and timing are better than ours, that’s a sign that we are still living with an “I must increase” mentality.

Obscurity doesn’t mean obsolete. You don’t need to see your impact to have an impact. John the Baptist was locked in a prison waiting for his head to roll while Jesus – the Jesus he got to baptize – was adding disciples by the minute.

Greatness is giving up what you could do for what you must do. Everybody can be great.

2.) We Must Be Feet Washing

Yes, it’s true, regardless of how above-the-task we think we are. Imagine Jesus the Christ taking the towel and the basin as he washed the feet of Judas the Betrayer. Surely, a towel has much to do with greatness (John 3:1-17; Luke 22:24-27).

Greatness isn’t doing ministry from an ivory tower. Greatness isn’t well-manicured finger nails that click a wireless mouse through hours of Logos. Greatness isn’t preaching all the biggest conferences.

Greatness is bowing low to wash feet.

Ministry is messy and Jesus knew we would all long for clear calendars, simple churches, and well-behaved congregations that don’t interrupt our day in the study, so He showed us a better way. Dirty, smelly, crooked, cracked feet are the key.

Even for those who make our lives difficult. When no one is watching. And when no one washes ours. Greatness is grabbing a towel.

3.) We Must Be Stewarding

Paul set the standard for the greatness of a church leader by modeling the greatness of a servant. He considered himself a slave of Christ (Philippians 1:1), and a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1). The criteria for a steward in his mind was faithfulness (4:2). As we consider how we will leave a mark on this earth in ministry, it is imperative that we consider what it means to be a steward of all God has given us.

We will be called to give an account for how we managed for the Master. A leadership title is a responsibility that involves accountability (1 Corinthians 3:13; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Stewardship is weighty in light of the implications.

On the minister as a steward Charles Spurgeon wrote,

…a steward is a servant, and no more. Perhaps he does not always remember this; and it is a very pitiful business when the servant begins to think that he is “my lord.” It is a pity that servants, when honoured by their master, should be so apt to give themselves airs. How ridiculous Jack-in-office makes himself! I do not refer now to butlers and footmen, but to ourselves. If we magnify ourselves, we shall become contemptible; and we shall neither magnify our office nor our Lord. We are the servants of Christ, and not lords over His heritage. Ministers are for churches, and not churches for ministers. In our work among the churches, we must not dare to view them as estates to be farmed for our own profit, or gardens to be trimmed to our own taste. Some men talk of a liberal polity in their church. Let them be liberal with what is their own; but for a steward of Christ to boast of being liberal with his Master’s goods, is quite another matter.

Greatness isn’t in the title you’re called, it’s in the towel you carry.