Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).

This week I learned about goal setting from Dr. Ed Gray, Professor of Counseling at Harding School of Theology. His lecture used a “MAPS” model to teach that goals should be measurable, attainable, positive, and specific. The whole time I was thinking, “This can apply to church leadership!”

Leaders in each church need to ask, “What has God gifted this specific congregation to do in this specific community? Where can this church’s resources, skills, and passions meet the opportunities in the community?” Exploring those questions can result in goals that are measurable, attainable, positive, and specific.

Malaysia Football 2007 cropped


Churches can struggle to set measurable goals. We don’t want to force the Holy Spirit into any box of our own understandings and ambitions, nor do we want to become so numbers-focused that we measure success by buildings, budgets, or baptisms. We can, however, set measurable goals. They might include increasing church members’ involvement in small groups, better integrating the various components of the church’s education ministry, or equipping more Christians to serve in the surrounding community. Even if we never establish numerical expectations, we can look back after a few months to see if we’ve made progress.


We need goals that are challenging yet attainable. Changing our city into a utopia might be a bit unattainable and lead us to discouragement and maybe even burnout. Partnering with a local school’s tutoring program might be more attainable. Implementing conflict management processes can be attainable. Equipping people for intergenerational relationships and missional service is attainable, as is offering teachings about prayer.


Church goals need to rise above “Don’t do ______.” Positive goals are about what we plan to do. Maybe we want to preach more from the Old Testament while not neglecting the New Testament. Maybe we want to become more holistic in our support of missionaries. We might want to plant a church. Maybe we want to build friendships with residents of a nearby apartment community.


Churches can benefit from general goals like “lead people to Jesus” or “bless the world.” But we need to complement general goals with specific ones. We need to ask, “Based on who we are and where we are, what specific ways might God want to use us here? Whom do we want to lead to Jesus? How do we plan to do that? What are specific ways that we can bless the community around us?”

Collaborative Leadership

Dr. Gray said, “When clients have clear goals, they make better progress.” This is true not just in counseling but also in church leadership.

For that progress to happen in a healthy way, leaders need patience and sensitivity. We need to avoid any temptation to barge into church decision-making and push our own agendas, no matter how right or important we think our own convictions are. Faithful church leadership requires intentional practice of the other-centeredness we find in Jesus. Effective leaders empower other people to join the process of setting goals. Instead of immediately taking action or quickly offering solutions, we need to guide people to determine church goals.

Only then can we practice the “body of Christ” approach to ministry that the Apostle Paul teaches (1 Corinthians 12).


Read Full Post »

Who does the work of the church? Is ministry God’s work or our work?

The biblical book of Joshua can point us to an answer.

In that ancient story, God tells the Israelites to march around the city of Jericho once a day for six days with priests carrying horns and accompanied by a sacred box called the ark. On the seventh day, the Israelites are to march around Jericho seven times, and the priests are to blow the trumpets, and the people are to shout. They do all this, and the walls of Jericho fall, and the Israelite army is victorious.

That part of the story is in chapter 6. In chapter 8 we see a different approach. God tells the Israelites to set an ambush and attack the city of Ai. The Israelites practice some ancient but nonetheless impressive military strategy. One group hides. Another taunts Ai. When Ai responds, the taunting group retreats. Then the hiding group surpries Ai, and Israel gains the victory.

Chapter 6 doesn’t have any human strategy, but chapter 8 does. Sometimes God works with passive people, performing mighty deeds without much human contribution. At other times, God works with active people, performing mighty deeds through human effort.

How can Christians today know when to strategize in cooperating with God and when to let God accomplish the mission through us as passive pawns? This requires prayer, study, and discernment.

I cannot answer the question for every person, for every family, for every organization, or for every congregation. God works in different ways in different places and times and cities and cultures.

But spirituality involves strategy. Sometimes ministry happens without much input from us, and sometimes it happens with careful planning.

I have heard church leaders talk about the need for ministry strategy, and I’ve heard church leaders preach about avoiding strategy and letting the Holy Spirit lead the church. Both sides of the discussion have helpful things to say, but balance is needed. Relying on our own strategic skills to the neglect of the Spirit’s guidance is arrogant, perhaps even idolatrous. Refusing to strategize is negligent. Spirituality needs strategy, and strategy needs spirituality.

Is ministry God’s work or our work? Both. God works through us.

Read Full Post »

The biblical book of Joshua begins in a bigger story. After divine deliverance from slavery, Moses’ people get distracted, seem to forget who they are, and wander around in a wilderness for about four decades. Just before the book of Joshua begins, the generation that experienced the exodus from Egypt is almost gone. A new generation is about to enter the land of promise. Moses, the leader, doesn’t have much more time with his people, so he gives them a farewell address.

Deuteronomy is that farewell address. It reminds the people of whose they are and, therefore, who they are and how they should act. Moses gives his people a bunch of commands from God and tells the people to stay true to their identity as God’s people, even when that’s hard because of the people around them. Moses reminds the people of what God has done for them and what God expects of them. Then Moses takes his final hike, and Joshua becomes the new leader.

Joshua assumes his leadership role with much preparation. He’s already proven himself as a military leader (Exodus 17:8-16). He’s been Moses’ assistant for several years (Exodus 24:13). He’s learned to spend time with God and has shown confidence in God’s faithfulness (Exodus 33:7-11; Numbers 13-14). Joshua’s resume is impressive, but he’s not perfect (Exodus 32:17-18; Numbers 11:28-29).

What can the story of Joshua’s preparation for leadership show us about leadership preparation today? First, spirituality is a prerequisite of faithful leadership. Before leading God’s people, spend time with God. A second ingredient of leadership development is mentoring. Before assuming a leadership role among God’s people, find a Moses to coach you. Of course, spirituality and mentoring are needed throughout our lives of leadership, not just in the preparation. Third, experience is essential. We can learn from books and professors, but that learning needs to combine with hands-on experience. A fourth necessity of leadership preparation is recognizing that we are not perfect and that God can work through us despite of, sometimes because of, our mistakes.

Read Full Post »

A mother asks Jesus to give her sons places of honor in his kingdom. The sons are followers of Jesus, and other followers get upset and whine. Jesus replies:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Greatness in the kingdom of God is not measured by power, prestige, or popularity. Greatness in that kingdom (way of life) is measured by the cross. Followers of Jesus seek to live cross-shaped lives. He gave up power and prestige (Phil 2:5-11) and laid down his life, and he calls his followers to that kind of greatness. It’s about others. It’s about humility. It’s about getting our focus off of ourselves and onto God’s mission of world transformation in people’s lives. As Shane Claiborne recently tweeted, “In the kingdom of God, we descend into greatness.”

(Day 282: Matthew 20-21)

Read Full Post »

Early in his public ministry, Jesus invites a few people to join his mission. He doesn’t go after the respected, popular, influential, or educated. No, he invites people who aren’t in the “in crowd,” people like Matthew.

Matthew is a tax collector, someone the religious leaders don’t like. They see him as a scoundrel, a sinner. When Jesus invites Matthew to follow him and eats dinner at his house with the tax collector’s friends, the teachers of religious law criticize him. Jesus replies, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (He’s quoting Hosea 6:6.)

We in the church of Jesus today can learn from this story. If we want to partner with Jesus in his mission, we must listen. We need to reach out to and welcome social outcasts. We need to empower them for ministry. We need to integrate them into church leadership.

(Day 277: Matthew 9-10)

Read Full Post »

I’ve been reading The 2nd Incarnation: A Theology for the 21st-Century Church by Rubel Shelly and Randall J. Harris. The revised edition was published in 2001, and I wish I had read it earlier. But it’s helping me do some thinking and praying that are beneficial at this point in my spiritual development. One of the book’s points is that the church, an instrument used by God to carry out the divine mission, is not God. Similarly, individuals, governments, and other organizations can serve worthy roles but are not God.

Today’s reading continues Ezekiel’s vision of renewal and reminds me of The 2nd Incarnation‘s observation. The prophet sees the return of God’s glory to the temple and the restoration of the altar, the priesthood, and the nation of Israel. The story the past couple of days has led me to think about revival and renewal, and today I see that those come when religious organizations, their leaders, and even the nation catch life-changing glimpses of God’s glory.

(Day 255: Ezekiel 43-45)

Read Full Post »

Shepherd is a common leadership image in the Bible. The New Testament portrays Jesus as a shepherd and speaks of elders/pastors/bishops as shepherds. God speaks to selfish leaders as irresponsible shepherds in Ezekiel 34:

Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.

If these are characteristics of unfaithful leaders, they can guide us to think about characteristics of faithful ones. Like good shepherds, leaders should care for their flocks (people), not just themselves. They should help people in need and provide gentle, sensitive guidance.

In today’s reading, God is upset with the shepherds and assumes the shepherding responsibility that human leaders have rejected. Of course God has always been and will continue to be our shepherd, and we can learn a few things about shepherding leadership from that great shepherd.

(Day 252: Ezekiel 34-36)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: