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December 2006

In Zimbabwe

I am alive and well in Zimbabwe.  I haven't written for a few days since all my time has been invested in preparing for The Pacific Institute seminar to be held for the next four days.  We have 42 people registered and this is my first time facilitating the program.  There are 34 units, so there is a lot to do to keep everything moving properly and to enhance the learning process.

I am excited about these days, feeling like I have a great gift that I am anxious to give away to others.  I truly believe that the principles in this seminar have the power to change not only those present but the entire nation as well.  So it's 6 am and I'm off to make sure everything is ready for our 8 am start. 

I'll write as I am able, but now I'm off to help shape and change a nation!  It's not many who get a chance to do something like that. 


Macy's Parade

I will be in Europe on my way to Africa when you receive this post, but I could have easily stayed in New York City a few more days.  There is so much to do, and we were staying in the heart of the City.  It was so easy to go here and there, and there are so many here's and there's to go to!  I have work to do, however, so it was time to put the holiday aside and move on--but not without some regrets!

On Thanksgiving Day, my wife and I decided to attend the 80th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Even though the weather report was bad, we thought we'd take a chance to go and we're glad we did.  We stood on a hill in Central Park at about 69th Street and watched more than half the parade go by.  Then the rain got heavier and we decided that we had enough and went home.

Macys_parade_041_1 The parade is famous for its balloon floats but this year they held the balloons closer to the ground due to the wind and rain.  They were still impressive, as the picture to the left I hope indicates. (That's Big Bird in case you were wondering. Sorry about the trees; I told you we were in Central Park.)  I would like to go again when the weather isn't quite so wet. 

Now it's on to Africa, where I will visit Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa before I return home on December 19.  I hope to see you if one of those countries is your home. 

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Casino Royale

While in New York yesterday afternoon, my family and I decided to go see the new James Bond film Casino Royale.  The first shock was traffic at 4 p.m. in New York City on our way to the theater.  It was gridlock.  We made it to the theater in time, however, to find out that a ticket cost $12 and a tub of popcorn was $7! 

This movie introduced Daniel Craig, the new James Bond.  The director, Martin Campbell, borrowed the concept of Batman Begins and Superman Returns as he tried to bring forward elements of the former Bond movies while remaking and reestablishing the Bonds' character with Daniel Craig as the new Bond.  I would say he was successful.  I asked my wife what she thought and, while she generally liked it, she thought it was too violent.  (There is lots of blood.)  My daugther thought it was good, but I was the one who guessed the plot twist that they introduced as the movie progressed.

I won't give away any of the plot or special effects except to say that I think our new Bond is here to stay for as many movies as he cares to make.  There hasn't been a James Bond like him since Sean Connery.  So if lots of high tech action and some secret agent beatings and killings don't bother you, I would recommend you see Casino Royale and let my readers know what you thought on the site where this entry is posted.   

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I Am Thankful

Today Americans celebrate our Thanksgiving holiday by watching American football, getting together with family and friends, and eating more food than any nation should reasonably consume.  Tomorrow is the official opening of the Christmas shopping season.  Already mayhem has broken out as crowds eager for the latest video game systems have pushed, shoved and fought over the limited supply.  And you wonder why we say, "God bless America!"  We need it.

In keeping with the true spirit of the holiday, however, let me say that I have much to be thankful for this year.  Here are some of the more outstanding reasons that come to mind:

1.  My wife's life was spared last April when she was visiting her sister and her sister's home burned down!  The fire inspector who came later said that usually someone doesn't escape from a fire like that.  Not only did all escape, but the house is rebuilt and they are back in it. 

2.  I was walking through New York yesterday, on my way back to my daughter's apartment after a profiling session.  I walked through Grand Central Train Station, where I used to catch trains as a teenager going back to prep school in Connecticut.  As I did, I started to cry.  I was so grateful to be doing what I'm doing and where I'm doing it.  I just had to stop in the midst of the scurrying crowd to say, "Thank you, Jesus! I could be working in some obscure job.  Instead you have me working with and on purpose."

3.  I am grateful for my purpose-driven children, John and Deborah.  John now lives in Albuquerque and Deborah lives in New York City.  They are happy, love the Lord and pursuing their purpose.  We saw them numerous times this year, even though we live quite a distance from one another, and John spent two months with me in Africa this year. 

4.  With all my travels, I am thankful for my health and protection.  I have often said that I will never know all that God protected me from in this life until I enter the next life.  In faith, however, I thank God for His watchful care, for I know that He has guided pestilence and danger away from my doorstep.  I have never felt better, had more energy or been so excited about the future.

5.  Mother Stanko turned 90 this year and my mother-in-law turned 80.  While our fathers are gone, I am grateful that we have had our mothers around for so long.  I have seen in the last 10 years since my father died that I am truly my mother's son.  There is no one who had greater influence in my life and it is a joy to see her still enjoying life at her age. 

6. I am thankful for my sister, Janet, who has cared for my mother for many years.  While my mother lives on her own, it falls to my sister to take her places, since my mother doesn't drive.  Janet has done this with great grace, for my mother can be quite demanding when she shops and makes the rounds to her doctors.  Janet got email savvy this year and we have communicated more than ever before.  I am grateful for that as well.

7.  This year I had the privilege of training under The Pacific Institute in Seattle.  Their program has changed my life. Finally, I have found a program by which people can initiate meaningful inner change that enables them to affect outer change.  I am more positive, patient and determined because of my TPI training and I am glad I have a chance coming up this year to facilitate my first TPI seminar in Zimbabwe.

8.  I am grateful for good friends and associates.  What a privilege it is to work with people like Bill Hobbs and his team at Urban Youth Impact, Ted and Tami Miller in Temecula, James and Georgia Longmate in Arkansas, Yvonne and Melvin Brooks in England, Kentice Tikolo in Kenya, Dale Sparks, Steve Pappajohn, Steve Murray, Pastors Tom and Bonnie Deuschle, all my friends in Zimbabwe at Celebration Church, all my other friends in Zimbabwe, my publisher Brian Banashak, Karla Byrd at CUBM, Nikki Heckman in Pittsburgh, John Mogk in Dallas, Bill and Evie von Husen in New Jersey, my friends at Celebration Church London and Johannesburg, Carol White in Zambia, my sister-in-law and editor Diana Scimone, my webmaster Justin Agoglia, and KK and May Lim in Singapore.  If I've forgotten anyone, and I'm sure I have, forgive me.  With friends and helpers like these, it's no wonder that I am a happy man. 

So there you have my Thanksgiving post.  I hope that you will spend some time giving thanks in the next day or two, no matter where you live.  And to all my American friends, I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving holiday. 


More Thoughts on Leadership

In the post before last, I outlined some quick thoughts on how to rectify the current leadership crisis, and it is a crisis, in the Church.  I see this crisis in both denominational and nondenominational churches.  The problem is that leaders tend to focus on how to maintain and expand their position once they are leaders.  This takes their focus off the people and the mission and puts the focus squarely on the leader.  When that happens, they adopt the mindset that the people owe them respect, honor and cooperation.  Of course, this malady isn't limited to the church, for business, government and the military have their share of poor leaders as well.

This teaching is perpetuated by several popular teachings.  The first is that the leader is the anointed of God or God's man.  This develops a mystique around the leader that leads people to believe that the leader is more spiritual than most of the people.  I heard an African pastor say once, "This person came to me to talk to me about worship. Can you imagine?  They came to talk to me, to me, about worship!"  He was incredulous that anyone "under" him in the church could have anything to say about something spiritual that he, the pastor, would need to hear.

Everyone is anointed when we function in our purpose.  The pastor may be an anointed speaker, the elder may be anointed to administrate, and the worship leader may be anointed to lead people into God's presence.  Each one has a gift and when he or she functions in that gift, they are anointed.  The pastor submits to other gifts that are more anointed in a particular area.  If we think that the pastor is more anointed than the worship leader, for example, just because he is the pastor is faulty theology and the kind of thinking that has helped create the current leadership crisis. 

The second is the concept of covering.  The teaching goes that somehow a man can protect you from spiritual disaster if you submit your life to him (or her).  Can someone tell me how a relationship with one man can supposedly protect hundreds, even thousands, from spiritual danger and harm.  When someone says, "I am under so-and-so's covering," what does that mean?  Is the word covering in the Bible?  Can a man or a relationship with a man protect anyone from cancer or provide for their family?  Of course not!  I believe in accountability, but how can 1,000 be accountable to one man?  If we are serious about covering, we need to see it more as a chance to serve those under us, not lord it over those under us.

The third is the institution of something called armourbearers.  Those are men and women who are assigned or who volunteer to assist the leader.  I am all for armourbearers, but what about those who aren't in top leadership?  Don't they need assistants, too?  When the top person is the only one who has an armourbearer, it communicates the wrong thing, in my opinion.  Therefore, I never use an armourbearer.  When people ask me why, I tell them, "I don't have any armour."  I drive myself, carry my own Bible and briefcase, and pretty much take care of my own needs when I speak or work. 

There are three verses that I try to use to help guide my imperfect leadership, which I exercise without the benefit of a church structure or official title.  Those verses are found in 1 Peter 5:2-4:

Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

These verses have all we need to solve the leadership crisis.  If leaders and churches would adopt these verse as their leadership philosophy and enforce them, we would be on a way to the revival that so many talk and pray about.  What are the basic principles in those verses?

1.  Leaders must serve the people and not expect the people to serve them or their vision.

2.  Leaders must be willing to serve.  If they aren't, then they will begin to expect that the people will serve them.

3.  The money issue must be addressed.  If a leader wants to travel and earn honoraria, that's fine.  They cannot, however, do it while they are pastoring a local church.  How can a man (or woman) be on the road speaking and say they are the pastor of a church of 100 or 10,000?  It's not possible.  Therefore, that leader must decide between local service and translocal ministry.  The two are mutually exclusive.

4.  The leader cannot be put in a position where the tendency to lord it over the people takes hold.  The leader must influence others to follow by setting a good example, not through directives, orders and control.  Power is not bad; it's what the leader does with the power that is the problem.  If the leader works to protect his power and amass more, then there is a problem.  If the leader works to give his power away, to empower others, then we have a good leader by biblical standards.

I would love to start a dialogue around the issues I have raised and would love to hear from you, especially if you disagree with me.  This is your chance to balance my somewhat contrarian views.  Please feel free to use this forum to present your thoughts concerning the issues I have raised.  I could be wrong and, if I am, you have the duty to correct me and educate my readers.  You can write your comments on the site where this entry is posted.  Please let us hear from you soon.


Do Interesting Things

I've been home for three days, so it's time to get on a plane and go somewhere.  Tonight Kathryn and I depart for New York City, where we will spend the Thanksgiving holiday with our daughter, Deborah.  Deborah lives in the "big city" by choice, requesting a transfer there last year.  She now has her own apartment close to the United Nations and loves the buzz of city life.  Of course, city life in New York is not like city life anywhere else. 

There's so much to do in New York that it's hard to decide what to do.  This week, however, I think we are going to take it easy, except for Thanksgiving day.  Then we are going to see Macy's famous Thanksgiving Day parade.  That should be cool.  Then we will have dinner with some of Deborah's friends. Friday I take off for Zimbabwe. 

I have jokingly said that it's hard work having fun, but it's true.  When we were in New York last week with Deborah, we went to see the New York Giants play football.  It rained, was cold, the traffic was terrible, and I enjoyed every minute of it!  There were times, however, when I looked around and thought to myself, "What the heck am I doing here?  I'm not even a Giants' fan!"  I have also said that if I want to write and speak about interesting things, I must do interesting things.

So I'm off this week to do more interesting things, which I hope somehow will translate into making me a better speaker and writer.  What can you do that's interesting this week?  What lessons did you learn from doing it?  And how can you share those lessons with others to encourage or teach them? 

I'll be sure to send you a report from the parade later this week.  Right now I have to go pack for another four weeks of life on the road.

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So Many Leaders, So Little Leadership

The title of this post is the title for one of my books.  The subtitle is "beyond the power lies the price of leadership."  Lord Acton, a British historian of the early 20th century, is responsible for a famous quote on power when he said, "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely."  That is true in the Church as much as anywhere and that is why no one man or woman should be vested with absolute power--it is a dangerous position to have.

In the last post, we looked at a passage in 1 Samuel 8:6-20 where the Israelites requested a king like the other nations had.  We saw that the root of their oppressive leadership was in the people's hearts, not just in the heart of their corrupt kings.  I would suggest that this passage gives us several characteristics of poor leadership.  They are:

1.  He (or she for that matter) will take more than he gives.  In those 15 verses, the phrase "he will take" is used five times.  What will he take?  Sons, daughters, servants, fields, vineyards, olive groves, grain and flocks.  In other words, it all belongs to an authoritarian leader, so they feel they have the right to take any of it for their own use or the use of their family.

2.  He will reign.  Bad leadership is concerned with position and power; godly leadership is concerned with service and the development of others.  When someone is reigning, they are into titles, dress and anything else that sets them apart from someone else. 

3.  He will assign.  Poor leadership assigns people to tasks and positions based on personal preference and the need to use people, in the worst sense of the word "use."   Godly leadership recognizes the role that God has assigned others and makes room for them to grow and lead. 

It should be obvious that the mentality of this kind of leader has infected much of the Church, whether denominational or nondenominational.  I have said many times that our only model for leadership is Jesus, for He is the only one with the right to take, reign or assign in the Church.  When we step in to usurp that role, the power starts to corrupt and the absolute power corrupts absolutely, as Church history shows.

There is hope, however, for Acton said that power tends to corrupt.  How can we avoid this human pitfall?  First, we must acknowledge that it is a problem, even in the church.  Then we must install a system of checks and balances that acknowledges the truth that power will corrupt, not assuming that it won't.  Finally, we need to train leaders in the dangers before they have position, authority, power or money.  Once they have it and they aren't trained, it's too late, as present Church leadership proves.

This isn't a Church problem unique to some men and women.  It is a sin problem that affects us all.  We want to rule and be honored and we will try to take those things if people don't give them to us.  The problem is that only God can rule and be honored; at best we are all His servants.  While I hate to see the problems go on that were recently brought to light in Colorado, they will continue to happen until we have a radical reformation of Church leadership styles and expectations.  '

Feel free to write your response to this entry on the site where it is posted. 


We Bear Some Responsibility

Yesterday I commented on the situation in Colorado where Ted Haggard had to resign from his church due to sexual immorality.  My prayers are with him and his family and several people wrote to express their hope that this scandal would cause the body of Christ to reevaluate the way church business is conducted.  This is a crucial issue and no one is exempt from the discussion, as recent scandals involving priests and young people are indicate.

In the next few days, I want to examine a passage from the Bible that talks about authoritarian leadership that is unchecked in its pursuit or power, influence or money.  The passage is found in 1 Samuel 8.  There the people requested a king similar to the one that the other nations already had.  Samuel the prophet was displeased over their request but God assured him that the people had not rejected him but the Lord Himself.  Let's look at this passage:

6 But when they said, "Give us a king to lead us," this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do."

10 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, "This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day."

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. "No!" they said. "We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles."

The point I want to make today is that the problem didn't start with the leadership, it started with the people.  When the people rejected their God-given responsibility to seek God and to allow His government to be supreme in their lives, they got the leadership they requested.  I think the same thing has happened to God's people today. 

In their desire to have a strong leader (whatever that is), the people said, "God isn't enough.  We need a man, a charismatic, dynamic man to lead us just like government and business has.  We need someone to go fight our battles.  We will judge what kind of job he does and will complain if it's not good enough, but we really don't want to be bothered with personal responsibility.  We will delegate that to someone else."

What was the price for this kind of leadership?  It was and is steep.  First, the followers' children would be forced to serve as armorbearers for the leader.  They would run ahead of his chariot to either announce his arrival or take the first arrows in war.  The  king would use their daughters as perfumers, young ladies who would brighten up the place and make it smell nice according to the leader's preferred fragrance.

Has this happened today?  You bet!  Our young people are disillusioned with church as never before because we gave them poor leadership who used them and didn't equip them for personal success.

Next the leader would take 10% of the people's revenue to fund his own kingdom.  Does that sound familiar?  When the people heard the terms, however, they said, "Deal!"

God gave them the leader they requested and his name was Saul.  God promised that the king would never meet their expectations.  He also promised that he would not intervene when that happened.  Saul started well but finished poorly and Israel has been trying desperately ever since to find a replacement, to no avail. Why were they unsuccessful?  Because there is no replacement for God's leadership.  There wasn't then and there isn't now, nor will there ever be.

This same tendency caused Israel to reject Jesus.  Why?  He wasn't the kind of king they were looking for.  They rejected the King of kings in search of Saul's replacement, and the Church is still doing the same thing today.  We reject Jesus in hopes of finding a pastor, a king, who can fight our battles.

While many call for leadership to improve and repent, perhaps we should call for repentance on the part of God's people, in Ted's former church as well as in churches across the land.  Perhaps we need to stop looking for a king who doesn't exist, who will never exist and accept the One who is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Jesus knows how to build His church.  He knows how to assemble a leadership team and He knows those whose hearts are completely His.  In other words, I suggest that we stop looking for a perfect man.  He was already here and gone, but don't worry, He promised that He would be back soon.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

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Need for Reform

I have not commented on the recent news concerning a well-known pastor who was forced to resign his church due to sexual immorality.  How sad for his family, his church and his God.  I can't help but believe that somehow he was "set up," for the news broke too close to a hotly-contested election in his state.  I am not saying that the pastor's problem was a set up; I am saying that the timing of the news was more than a bit suspicious.  Of course, in light of his problem, that issue won't even be considered.

I see many rejoicing over the "hypocrisy" that has been exposed.  I am not one of them. I do think that the evangelical church in the United States has to face its problems that helped create this situation.  We are too dependent on one personality in way too many churches.  We don't have any idea of how to function as a leadership team, so we demand that the leader be bigger than life in some instances.  I have stated often that that the evangelical church in the U.S. is sick.  What's more, we are exporting to other countries our tendency toward developing a personality cult in the interests of building megachurches and selling books.

I know that the pastor and his family are going through hell at this point and I pray for God's grace on their lives.  I think the church-at-large needs to do some soul-searching in the aftermath of this scandal and change the way we do church, especially at leadership levels.  The question is:  Will current leadership allow this dialogue and subsequent reform to take place?  Can they learn to share power and spotlight with others?  Can they learn to be accountable?  And are we ready to see more women in leadership roles? 

Feel free to add your comments on the site where this entry is posted. 


"I'm Praying About It."

It's 8:30 and I'm sitting at my desk.  I depart tomorrow for Dallas at 6:15 a.m., so I'm trying to get done what I need to get done before I go.  I finished my next book manuscript and sent it off to the publisher earlier today.  That's always a good feeling to get something like that done.  My goal is to publish three books in the next year plus publish all my Bible studies in an ebook format.  That would mean that I have 20 books published by next summer.

I spoke last Sunday on the difference one person can make and used Jonathan as an example, citing 1 Samuel 13:16-14:23.  At the same time, I pointed out how believers can use religious jargon to excuse their lack of productivity.  Here are some of my favorite excuses with a religious spin to them:

1.  I'm praying about it.

2.  The Lord hasn't released me to do that.

3.  I don't want to get ahead of the Lord.

4.  It's not the right season or timing for me to do that. 

5.  I have a check in my spirit.

6.  My oversight, partner, spouse or prayer partner doesn't bear witness to what I want to do.

7.  I'm waiting on the Lord.

Most of those excuses put the blame on the Lord for the lack of productivity. @ho can challenge someone who says that they are praying about it?  I do and ask, "When was the last time you actually prayed about doing that?  Not thought about it, but prayed about it?  What did you hear?  What response did you get?  Did you write the answer in your journal?"  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not against prayer.  I'm just challenging a tendency to say that we are praying when we aren't.

Hey, come to think of it, I can ask you the same things.  What have you said that you are praying about doing?  Are you really praying, or are you using prayer as a delay tactic, keeping people at arm's length using God as a shield?

You may have another good religious excuse to add to my list above.  If you do, feel free to post it at the site where this entry is located.  Hopefully, you won't have time to do that, however, because you won't be thinking about what you're not going to, but getting about the business of doing it.  And if you think I am being too hard or unreasonable, feel free to write and let my readers and me know that as well.

By the way, if you are interested in my thoughts on servant-leadership in Isaiah, you can download the brief document below. 

Download Isaiah42Verse3.doc