The Wise Way

Last week, I discussed innovation and creativity, pointing out that the pandemic caused churches to be creative in their use of technology. I used the example of the synagogue as an example of an innovation that was creatively used in Jewish history, and was wondering what innovations will emerge from this season—or if in our rush to reopen our churches we will abandon ongoing creative use of technology that could lead to something fresh and new in the way churches deliver their "services."

If you have ever heard one of my purpose presentations, you probably heard me start at Acts 6:1-7, Screen Shot 2020-06-06 at 4.34.07 PMwhere the apostles chose men to carry the burden of the work among the widows:

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

The people elected these men to serve or minister to the widows in the church, and the Greek word for service here is diakonia, from which we derive our modern church office of or word deacon.

Many churches have taken this passage in Acts 6 and turned it into a model for church governement and service. In some churches, the deacons are the ultimate governing position; in others they are people who serve by doing practical things in the church like building care, women's ministry and the like. The goal of this essay is not to debate which approach to or interpretation of deacons is correct; the goal is to show that any approach to deacons as a church institution misses the point altogether.

The original deacons were not about church government or tradition; they were simply an innovative solution to a new problem.

THE BACKGROUND    

As best we can tell, there was no biblical concept upon which the apostles drew to elect and commission the deacons. Jesus had instructed them to care for the poor. Most widows were poor in the early church if they had no other family to care for them. As the church grew, the number of widows increased from those outside the ranks of the Hebrew residents in Jerusalem. The apostles were being called upon to address this problem that had never before been faced. it is interesting that Luke is careful to point out that the problem was between two ethnic groups, the Hebraic and the Hellenistic believers, which shows us that ethnic tensions are nothing new to the modern church

The apostles addressed this problem creatively and used wisdom to come up with an innovative solution. I don't believe they were instituting a church office in Acts 6, but rather an approach the church should take to problems and challenges that are sure to come up in every generation, whether in or outside the church. The were setting a precedent, not establishing a tradition.

THE IMPLICATIONS

When I reflect on creativity and innovation, I think of the verses in Proverbs 8:22-31 where we learn that wisdom was at God's side when He created the universe:

“The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth,  before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth. I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind."

Wisdom is closely related to creativity, which leads to my definition of creativity: the wise application of knowledge to existing problems or opportunities in such a way that something new and innovative emerges.

In Acts 6, the problem was the widow care. The biblical precedent that existed was the instance when Moses selected helpers (or something akin to deacons) because he was overwhelmed; later, elections were also common in Israel to elect synagogue leaders. So the apostles applied existing knowledge (getting leaders help and holding elections for those helpers) in a new way—a wise way—to address a current problem and the result was creativity: a group of men who we label deacons today.

What's my point? The church should be the bastion and vanguard of creativity. We have the Creative Spirit of God in our midst. We should not be looking to solve new problems with the solutions of the past. We are bound to our traditions when we don't see creativity as a function of the church and believers, or when fear causes us to retreat to the tried-and-true procedures rather than experiment with new applications of tried-and-true wisdom principles that can lead to innovation.

I urge you not to settle for what's been done, but take what's been done and pioneer something that has never been done. The world is not waiting for us to debate the role of deacons, but to find 21st century solutions to modern challenges that are the equal of what the apostles did in Acts 6. When we do, we will be working with the wisdom of Proverbs 8 that was present when God created and structured the world. And when we do, one thing is certain: There is no greater creativity with which you and I can work.


The Church, Technology, and Social Media

This is long, but it is the intro to my new section as I revise my soon-to be-re-released book, Changing the Way We Do Church. Stay tuned; there's more to come.
 
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It is hard to imagine a book that focuses on changing the way we do church that doesn't include a section Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 10.13.38 AM on technology. When I first wrote this book in 2009, however, I was a novice to Facebook. I had been using it for only three years and had been blogging for about that long as well. I don’t recall if I was using Twitter, but Instagram, Snapchat, the cloud, smartphones, and iPods were just coming into their own. A church was considered cutting-edge in 2009 if it was able to put their Sunday service online using their own website; social media wasn’t yet a possibility as a means to do so.

Now in 2020, we have an explosion of social media options and opportunities, and quite frankly, most of the church is stuck. Many churches livestream their services and maintain them in an archive for future reference. Some have blogs, chat rooms for prayer and counseling, and actively publish other ministry resources. Yet many churches are yet to make the transition to the digital age. Those churches don’t have websites, do not pay much attention to social media, and are addicted to what I call as face-to-face ministry. Unless someone comes in the door of the church, there is no relationship or attempt to establish one.

Lo and behold, in 2020 we have a world crisis known as the COVID-19 virus pandemic. The entire world was sent home, including the Church, and everyone, including the Church had two things to utilize to stay in touch: social media and technology! We had gas in our tanks but no where to go, so we either watched television, read a book, or learned how to utilize things like Zoom, Facebook, GoToMeeting, LinkedIn, or for some who were way behind, the features of a smartphone.

Many leaders I talk to are ambivalent or downright hostile toward the concept of anything but face-to-face ministry—and it has showed up in their demeanor or words when using social media. I have watched many church “broadcasts” on Facebook during this time of sheltering in place, and it is apparently clear that they are uncomfortable and ready to go back to “normal” as soon as the all-clear alarm is sounded. Most have simply tried to replicate their live services online without anyone monitoring who is watching, if those watching have any prayer needs, or if those watching are “visitors” to the online service. That tells me their online presence is a stopgap measure that is not being introduced as a permanent feature or fixture in the church’s ministry repertoire.

Why does my generation hate social media like many do? When I pose that question, I hear the usual complaints:

  • “Those who use social media are self-absorbed.”
  • “I don’t have time for anything but preparing my Sunday message and caring for the needs of those in the church.”
  • “If we deploy social media, people will stay home and not attend church.”
  • “People need to stop playing with their phones and pay attention to one another.”
  • “We don’t have money for technology.”
  • “We have no interest in broadcasting what we do to the larger public. Our first responsibility to take care of our own.”
  • “Social media destroy relationships, and the church is all about relationships. We must have face-to-face time to build and cultivate relationships.”

I am sure you can add other laments to the list—those you have heard or uttered yourself. When I talk about social media, often those listening assume or actually hear that I am implying that social media can replace the church, which I am not—but that summarizes how they see that it is either all social media or all face to face. 

Before the pandemic, the ministry opportunities available through the creative use of social media were huge—and now they are even greater. For example, one-sixth of the world’s population is now on Facebook. The Church was given the Great Commission to go into all the world, so now we can simply go to our computer (or phone) to reach a large portion of it. When we “go,” we have access to do or say pretty much anything we want and people are free to read or not, respond or not, reflect or not. What would happen if we paid as much attention to our online presence as we did to our face-to-face presence? That is the question I was asking before the pandemic. What will happen if we don’t pay as much attention to our online presence? seems to be the new, relevant question.

We don’t know and that’s the problem. What is going to happen to our church financial model? How will we fund ministry? Will people stay home after the pandemic? Will our content be censored, hacked, edited, or misused? What will happen to those who are currently addicted to face-to-face ministry? Will they go to another church?

All these are real concerns, and I am not here to predict what will happen. All I am saying is that this shift to technology that was optional before the pandemic is mandatory now. Before the coronavirus, church attendance was down; now it’s almost nonexistent. People don’t like change and shifting to a broader, more strategic use of technology is a BIG change. For many, church attendance anchored their week; for some it was a ritual. What will happen when the all-clear signal is given? Will people continue to rely on social media, apprehensive to assemble for fear of a new wave of sickness?

My own sense is that this represents a significant opportunity for the Church to do what it should have done where the appropriate and aggressive use of technology is concerned. God is using this pandemic, as He has other past plagues, famines, and catastrophes, to awaken and reposition His people for more effective ministry and witness.


Leadership Ethos

Aristotle, that philosopher of old, taught that there are three components to effective communication and Screen Shot 2020-04-24 at 12.06.20 PM persuasion. Since leaders should be good communicators, what he had to say has relevance for leadership development. The three components are logos, pathos, and ethos. I am sure there are many more qualified to speak to these three topics, but forgive me if I make a feeble attempt to look at one of the three: ethos.

What stirred my interest in this was a post I wrote last week on Philip the Evangelist whose activities are described in Acts 8. The verse that caught my attention is Acts 8:6: "When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said" (emphasis added). It occurred to me that having people pay close attention is what every wants (or should want). What made  Philip so irresistible was that he had logos, pathos, and ethos as he spoke with the crowds.

Logos is quite simply the information or skill that the communicator is discussing (it is also the orderly case that appeals to the minds of the listener). When I preach or teach, I have to know the Bible and convince my audience that I know it so they will be open to the lessons I am teaching. Pathos is the passion or energy of the communicator. If the listener is bored because the speaker is boring, that speaker can have all the logos but not the enthusiasm that is like a booster rocket capable of launching the message into a higher place. 

Ethos is a more complicated trait but let's just say for the sake of this discussion it is credibility. A speaker can have the information (logos), the enthusiasm or drive (pathos), but if people don't believe they are credible (ethos), the message is not received. In fact, if any one of the three are missing, communication is incomplete, for someone can have the enthusiasm and be quite credible but soon reveal they don't know what they are talking about. 

Philip had the crowd's attention because he had the information (the truth of the gospel), the passion (he was a Jew who traveled on his own to the area called Samaria, which most Jews avoided due to their hatred of Samaritans), and the credibility (he performed miracles and presented himself as a man in touch with God who had an important message).

It can take a lifetime to gain credibility (ethos) but it can be lost in a moment due to a bad decision or moral failure. That's why morality is important for any leader for it bolsters the spiritual aspect of their work whether they are in church work or not. No one is seeking out the leaders of companies gone bust due to fraud to hear what lessons they learned. They may have the logos and the desire to help others (pathos), but their credibility is shot.

What are the implications for you? Most people spend their time on the logos and may spend some time on the pathos but neglect the ethos, which includes so many things like delivery, dress, vocabulary, transparency, experience, demeanor, tone, and the list goes on and on. When I preach, I cannot only be mindful of the information in my message or the passion, I must connect with my audience so I can connect with the at a deep level so they will receive, process, and hopefully accept what I say.

I want to be like Philip when I speak to or lead a group: I want their undivided attention. That means I have to pay attention to the little things that will contribute to the big thing called ethos that can make or break my ability to impart the truth God has shown me and people need. I want all three aspects that Aristotle said I need in order to be a truly effective communicator. Help me, Lord, to be just that.


The Wise Servant

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In my weekly devotional reading, I read this story found in Luke 12 of Jesus' address to His disciples and the crowd listening. Peter got a bit confused and asked for clarification when he heard the message: “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?” (Luke 12:41). Jesus gave this response:

The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge Screen Shot 2020-04-18 at 9.48.34 AMof his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers" (Luke 12:42-46).

I had never viewed Jesus' response as a directive to leadership, but yesterday I considered it from that point of view. Here is what I learned.

  1. Leaders are servants first and must maintain that attitude and perspective. 
  2. Leaders are stewards of opportunities to care for the other servants who belong to the Master, not the servant leaders.
  3. Power if intoxicating, for once the servant leader has been given power by the Master, the leader must be careful to use it wisely and properly.
  4. Abuse of leadership power stems from wrong thinking. When this servant thought, "I can misbehave because I've got time before my Master requires me to give an account," he began to abuse those under his care.
  5. God will hold His leaders accountable and since God is the source of all promotions to leadership, in and out of the church, He expects all leaders to follow His directives for attitude and behavior.
  6. All leadership comes to an end and then, and only then, will they receive their rewards and punishments.

Peter heard what Jesus was saying, that the parable was specifically directed toward him but anyone listening could "join in" and benefit from Jesus' lesson. Peter later wrote,

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, 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 (1 Peter 5:2-4).

If you are a leader, are you serving and caring for those under your care? If you are not yet a leader, now is the time to develop a leadership philosophy that incorporates service and accountability. Once you get the leadership power, it is so "heady" that you can begin to think you earn or deserve that power and start to abuse it. The time to decide what kind of leader you want to be is before you get the money, power, or prestige that can come with position. If you are already a leader, how are you handling yourself with your power? Are you using it to build others up or to build yourself up? Whether you're leading now or not, it is important to remember that God is watching and you ultimately answer to Him for what you did or didn't do with your opportunity to lead.

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Woe #7: Talk Is Cheap

Here it is, the last essay on the seven woes Jesus described in Matthew 23. I have tried to distill these woes down to leadership lessons for us today so we can learn from the mistakes of Jesus' Screen Shot 2020-04-10 at 6.41.59 PMcontemporaries who were convinced they were good leaders when the opposite was true. This seventh woe is a bit longer because it wraps up Jesus discourse:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation" (Matthew 23:29-36).

Let's review this story. These leaders were claiming that if they had been around, they would not have persecuted God's prophets like their ancestors had. Jesus knew that they were hiding the reality of their hearts and had done it so long that they had successfully deceived themselves. Therefore, the greatest prophet was standing before them and they were going to kill Jesus, which would reveal the truth that they would have indeed acted like their parents way back when and were going to repeat how their parents had treated the prophets of old where Jesus was concerned.

Jesus referred to these men (and they were all men) as snakes and vipers because He was trying to wake them up so they could save themselves from the trouble ahead. They were so far gone in their deception, however, that could not even consider that they were in the wrong. They talked a good game, but they could not really play the game.

There are two lessons I want to focus on from this story. The first is that God requires truth and will set up circumstances to reveal the truth, not to judge us, but to set us free as only the truth can do. The second is that talk is cheap and meaningless unless it is backed up by reality. These man talked like they were just and fair, but their actions spoke of corruption, which Jesus labeled hypocrisy. Leaders must not try to look real, they must be real. That means they do the work of examining their own hearts, with God's help, to see what's there and then seek the Spirit's help to produce what God would want to see there. Leadership integrity must be that their declarations match their realty. 

As we close our study of the seven woes, let us recommit ourselves to the hard work of becoming the leaders that God wants us to be. Let us not settle for a good appearance only, but let the outer reveal the godliness of our inner life. Let us learn who we need to be based on who these leaders were not, and let us hear the heart of Jesus that yearned for these leaders—and for us—to walk in the truth. It was clear that if they refused, then He would orchestrate circumstances that would reveal the truth. I want to walk in the truth and not in appearance of the truth and I trust that you will join me in this leadership practice.


Woe #5: Kiss or Miss

Jesus criticized the leaders of Israel in Matthew 23, pronouncing seven "woes" that summarized His Screen Shot 2020-03-28 at 5.06.47 PMcomplaints against them. Jesus was still reaching out to them through strong words, hoping that they would come to their senses and repent, but alas, they were too far gone to hear what He was saying. We must take His words to heart today in order to avoid the mistakes those leaders made. In His fifth woe, Jesus said, 

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean" (Matthew 23:25-26).

What was the main problem represented in this woe? It seems that it was the problem of emphasis of external appearance as opposed to internal substance. Jesus expanded this problem at other times:

  • “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces" (Luke 11:43).
  • Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person" (Mark 7:15-23).
  • "But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:11b-12).

Of course, Jesus modeled the behavior He expected in His leaders, which was the exact opposite of what He was describing in this woe where the leaders of His day were concerned. Isaiah reported this about Jesus: "He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him" (Isaiah 53:2). Jesus had no armor bearers, no badge of honor, or no trappings of leadership that the people of His time had come to expect.

In fact, when Judas betrayed Jesus, he was concerned that the guards he was to lead to Jesus would not recognize him because the Romans and Temple guards were used to their leaders standing out by their uniform or some other external distinctive. Judas in essence said, "You had better let me kiss Him or you will miss Him!" The guards would have arrested Peter or John or any other of the disciples because Jesus would not have stood out as the leader.

Jesus' message is clear to His leaders. Don't work on the external trappings of power; work on the heart. He made it clear at the Last Supper how we are to do this: 

"But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves" (Luke 22:26-27).

What are you working on to enhance your leadership? Is it the inner person of the heart? Or are you enamored with the outward benefits of leadership—the respect, the special honor, the perks like a corner office or other special benefits? Be careful, for you may begin to think you deserve those things when they are available to you, which can lead to the self-indulgence and greed that Jesus identified in the fifth woe. The only antidote for the negative effects of leadership power is service, and that service requires a humble heart that focuses on the' welfare of other people.


Woe #4: Justice, Mercy, Faithfulness

As we continue looking at the list of "woes" Jesus presented in Matthew 23, we come to Jesus' fourth Screen Shot 2020-03-20 at 12.15.11 PMadmonition as found in Matthew 23:23-24:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."

These leaders had overextended the Law to apply to irrelevant matters, or as I wrote last week, they were majoring in minors. Their hollow ritualism caused them to be blind to weightier matters that according to Jesus were the concepts of justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Before we condemn these men too quickly, do we have any traditions that also major in minors? How about the practice of armor bearers that some leaders deploy? Or how about the attachment to titles like author, apostle, prophet, or deacon? Or corner offices for leaders and cubicles for "lesser lights." Every culture has bestowed certain perks on its leaders, but do those perks contribute to justice, mercy, or faithfulness? If not, then perhaps Jesus is speaking to us as well.

Justice, mercy, and faithfulnessthose words and concepts are subjective and mean something different to everyone. If I mention justice, what does it cause you to envision? For some, it is feeding the poor, for others it is education, and for still others, it may mean environmental sensitivities. How can we come to a definition upon which we all can agree? One way would be to see what Jesus' definition was and submit to that, so let's try and do that by looking at a question someone asked Jesus:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:36-40).

So the first part of the definition for justice is to love God and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. How should the second part play out in our lives? Jesus answered that in Matthew 7:12: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." The Law and prophets both hang on and are summed up by loving your neighbor as yourself.

Justice and mercy are therefore to be faithfully expressed according to what you would want others to do to and for you. It's not about the church feeding more people; it's about you feeding more people. It's not about the government doing more for children; it's about you doing more for children. Then when you lead an organization or movement, you can influence that group from a position of integrity and faith because you have done not what you are demanding or expecting others to do but what you have already been faithfully doing.

How do you present yourself with justice and mercy through social media? By treating others as you would want to be treated? How do you present yourself with justice and mercy to the church or government? By asking them to help you do what you are already doing to express justice and mercy, and not demanding they do it in your place. 

Do you have any traditions, ways of thinking, or pet peeves that are blinding you to the need for justice, mercy, and faithfulness in your life? Are you majoring in minors? Are you self-righteous like those people Jesus was addressing in Matthew 23? Don't answer too quickly, for you may be blinded to the reality of your own heart, just like the leaders in Jesus' day were. Instead, ask the Lord to show you where you lack justice, mercy, or faithfulness and then seek to correct your own approach to those matters before you try and correct someone else.


Woe #2: Misguided Effort

Recently I began a leadership series based on Jesus' message to the Pharisees in Matthew 23 that contained seven warnings all marked by the word "woe." Woe is a term that designates sadness or doom and can be contrasted to the word "blessed" or "happy" that Jesus used when He began His public ministry: "Blessed [happy] are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). This week, let's look at the second woe and see what we can learn and apply to our own Screen Shot 2020-03-07 at 10.21.32 AMleadership philosophy:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are" (Matthew 23:15).

Paul himself summarized the problem with the leaders of his people when he wrote, "For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge" (Romans 10:2). God expects His leaders to focus on the important things—His priorities—and build His kingdom and not their own. The leaders in Jesus' day were doing the opposite. 

What's more, because they had not achieved any spiritual maturity themselves, they were incapable of leading anyone to a better place in the Lord. Therefore, their converts were actually farther removed from spiritual reality and thus incapable of entering into any kind of healthy spiritual place. 

In modern terms, we would label anyone who travels to recruit followers to a particular belief as an evangelist. Jesus indicated that there were Jewish evangelists who traveled to make converts to Judaism. My personal theory is that Saul was such a man. When someone needed to go to Damascus to hunt for believers (see Acts 9), Saul volunteered to go because he had been there before. No member of the Sanhedrin wanted to go to a Gentile land for fear of becoming unclean, but Saul had no such fear because he knew how to travel and stay undefiled. He had been to Damascus (and other cities) to further Jewish interests but the Lord apprehended him to confront him with the reality of woe number two. Saul was making his converts twice the son of hell that he was, but then became an evangelist who set people free rather than burdening them with useless traditions.

God expects His leaders not to bind up followers under legalistic rituals and rules that limit their creativity and growth. They must teach followers how to apply general principles to the new challenges every generation must face so the Lord is honored and His purpose served and enhanced. This includes denominations and faith-based organizations that delight in having their adherents follow the traditions they have honed over time rather than a life of the Spirit who leads and guides His followers into all the truth. 

What kind of leader are you? Are you setting people free or binding them up? Don't answer too quickly, but instead seek the Lord to help you understand what kind of evangelist you are—one who recruits people to a life of freedom or a life of bondage.


Woe #1: Shutting the Door

Last week, I began a leadership series based on Jesus' message to the Pharisees in Matthew 23 that contained seven warnings all marked by the word "woe." Woe is a term that designates sadness or doom and can be contrasted to the word "blessed" or "happy" that Jesus used when He began His public ministry: "Blessed [happy] are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). Let's examine the reason for the first woe and see what the leaders were doing that attracted Screen Shot 2020-02-28 at 6.38.26 AMGod's anger (so we can learn to avoid the same behavior):

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to" (Matthew 23:13-14).

Here are some thoughts I have. Feel free to add your own to this post:

  1. The leaders were hypocrites who were wearing a mask pretending to be righteous when they were not. This act caused them to deceive themselves that they were righteous when they were not. God requires us to be honest about who we are, seek Him for internal change in the power of the Spirit, and then act accordingly. 
  2. The leaders could not take people to a good place because they had never gone there themselves. Leaders cannot reproduce in the lives of others what they have not partnered with God to produce in themselves.
  3. The goal or destination was the kingdom of heaven, not the kingdom of men or religion. If the "rules" of God are not the main focus, leaders will create their own rules and they are always harsher than God's.
  4. Not only were the leaders not in touch with God's kingdom requirements, they were slamming the door in the faces of those who wanted to know God's will for their lives. (It is considered rude to slam the door in someone's face and ungodly leaders are quite often rude people.) This tells us that leaders are to help people know and do God's will for their lives. When leaders don't do that, followers are stymied in their spiritual or professional progress.

This clearly indicates that Jesus expects any leader, in the church or outside it, to assist others to fulfill their purpose in the Lord by taking the things the (the leaders) have learned and helping others learn from those experiences. Leaders are to be accessible and willing to assist others not as experts but rather as fellow seekers and disciples. This process is best summarized by what Peter wrote in his epistle: 

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, 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 (1 Peter 5:2-4).

The attitude of leaders must be that they lead 1) willingly; 2) to serve and not to amass wealth; and 3) as role models and not as autocrats. It is obvious that the Pharisees led with the opposing attitudes and behaviors; they served the people grudgingly and with cruelty, did it for money and prestige, and used their positional power to lord their authority over others. 

What kind of a leader are you? Are you a door opener for others or a door slammer? Do you serve or lord? Are you growing or expecting others to grow while you stagnate or regress? We will see clearly from this series that Jesus expects His leaders to hold to a higher standard than the world, and He does not apologize for His expectations, for He modeled them firsthand for us to see and emulate. Let's make sure we adopt the correct standards when we evaluate our leadership or that of others, otherwise we may be walking the valley of woe that is the sentence for any who refuse to adopt God's leadership ways.


The Woes

I have begun a personal study of Jesus's words to the leadership of Israel found in Matthew 23. During his sermon, Jesus pronounced seven woes upon the leaders for their woeful leadership. I have assigned a page to each one of the woes in my journal where I am jotting down notes and insights to aid my own leadership development and thought I would share some of my thoughts with you. As you are aware, I believe there is a leadership crisis in the church (and in society for that matter) so anything we can do to contribute to leadership growth and improvement will go a long way toward addressing the Screen Shot 2020-02-21 at 11.07.48 PM crisis. Let's begin with the preamble to the woes:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Matthew 23:1-12).

Rather than look at the negatives of what the leaders were not doing, let's see if we can determine what they should have been doing so we can adopt those behaviors and attitudes.

  1. Leaders must practice what they preach. We cannot take people where we are not willing to go ourselves, both externally and internally.
  2. Leaders must help people carry their burdens while being careful not to add to what the Lord has placed on each person.
  3. Leaders must do things not to be seen but to make a difference in the lives of others, doing it for the Lord who will reward.
  4. Leaders should do all they can to blend in with the people and not set themselves apart in where they sit, what they wear, or how they are treated and addressed.
  5. Leaders, whether in church or business, are simply members or employees who have a leadership role. This does not make them special or warrant favored treatment. Seeking after titles or allowing people to assign those titles is strictly forbidden.
  6. Humility is the hallmark of a godly leader and that is expressed by service, not by prestige and displays of power or position.

There is much more in those verses and I'm sure you will read them and say in your mind, "Amen!" Yet the practice of amour-bearers, special seating, titles, and lack of service continue to plague the church despite Jesus' teachings and warning. I urge you to examine your own heart where these issues are concerned and not be ready to judge others until you have dealt with these matters in your own life. Don't assume you are a servant or even know how to do serve? Don't criticize others who do things to be noticed until you stop doing so yourself or at least are no longer offended when you are not recognized for your service and good deeds.

I invite you to post your own comments as to what you see in these verses and then follow along in subsequent entries as we examine the woes Jesus described that apply as much to us today as they did to Pharisees in Jesus' day.