Contrasting Styles

There are no two leaders in the Bible who provide a greater contrast in leadership styles than the first Screen Shot 2020-08-08 at 7.25.10 PMtwo kings of Israel: Saul and David. I have often said that David learned more about leadership from Saul than he did anyone else: Saul taught him how not to lead. For the most part, David learned his lessons well and today, 3,100 years after he reigned, the nation of Israel still calls itself the people of David. I would say that indicates David did a pretty good job!

I was reflecting once on the differences between Saul and David to identify lessons for my own leadership growth and understanding. Here are some contrasts I found. There are probably more, but these are the ones I discovered.

  1. Leaders raise up other good leaders. Saul had one mighty man (David), while David attracted, developed, and released many mighty men. 
  2. Leaders learn to serve others. Saul never learned to serve anyone; David served others, even Saul when he was pursuing David to kill him.
  3. Leaders must draw on multiple skills to be effective. Saul was one-dimensional (he was a great warrior); David was multi-dimensional (warrior, musician, poet, administrator, prophet). 
  4. Leaders do not rely on their gifts or God's presence alone. Saul was anointed but then did nothing to develop himself. David was anointed but spent the rest of his life developing himself.
  5. Leaders must have courage. Saul was fearful from the time he was anointed, but David learned to recognize and function in the midst of fear.
  6. Leaders have a relationship with God's Word. Saul was never a spiritual man, but David loved God's word and helped write it! Saul's anointing had no roots in God's word; David's did.
  7. Leaders allow suffering to play a role in their development. Saul spent his career trying to avoid or alleviate his suffering, while David learned from his ordeals—and even wrote poems about them.
  8. Leaders seek guidance from others. Saul sought no one's input until when he sought illicit wisdom from a witch at the end of his life. David constantly sought God's face and direction.
  9. Leaders deal with their anger and are self-controlled. Saul ruled and controlled others through temper tantrums and intimidation; David ruled through compassion and love.
  10. Leaders know themselves and how they work best. Saul used a sword and armor to protect himself, and assumed David would do the same. David rejected Sauls armor and used a sling with no body protection to get the job done.
  11. Leaders do not serve themselves. Saul never understood this but David served others even when Saul was seeking to destroy him.

There are more lessons such as David learned from history ("I have killed the bear and lion"), Saul did not. Saul was vindictive, but David was forgiving and gracious. David was a worshiper, but Saul had no such mindset. If you are a leader, go over these lessons and spend some additional time studying to see what you can learn from David's leadership example as well as Saul's—keeping in mind that Saul's lessons are mostly on how not to lead.


Defunding the Church

I am taking a chance borrowing an inflammatory statement summarizing a controversial movement in Screen Shot 2020-07-31 at 6.16.36 PMthe U.S. as I write and apply it to the Church. No, I am not suggesting or praying that God will harm the church or cut off her resources in retaliation for perceived or actual shortcomings. I am using this phrase because I think this is what God is doing right now, and it is consistent with how I have seen Him work in my lifetime. I can also come up with a few biblical examples to show that God uses finances to direct His people into new ventures and then restores their "fortunes" when they are properly placed.

I am on record declaring with confidence that God is using this pandemic season to teach the church new things and strip and scrape away some of the cultural baggage and barnacles it has accumulated. I have used the phrase 'addicted to face-to-face ministry' to describe our penchant for public gatherings while ignoring the power of technology and social media—utilizing it reluctantly or as an afterthought, if at all.

Whenever I say this, some well-meaning soul will write me, sometimes in a frenzy, to say the church must meet, that anything else is not the church. They are insinuating I am suggesting that technology can replace the church. At no point have I said that technological presentations can replace the church, but I have said it can be the next best thing to being there if we cannot meet. I have also said that we can and should use technology to reach more with the message of the gospel and to disciple others. With reduced attendance, I know the finances of many churches have taken a hit and God is using this not to punish the church, but to redirect its efforts. In that sense, God is defunding or getting the church's attention through financial leanness.

                                                        A BIBLICAL EXAMPLE

To give you an example of this phenomenon from the Bible, I am going to use a story that isn't about financial lack, but it is about change that came to the early church that led to new, fruitful ministry. The story is found in Acts 8 and involves the story of Philip the Evangelist:

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city (Acts 8:4-8).

Let's flesh out this story a bit more. Jesus had told the disciples to go to Samaria and the ends of the earth, but no one seemed motivated to go. They were all staying in Jerusalem and its environs where everyone knew everyone else, having daily meetings in the Temple and from house to house. Then Stephen was martyred in Acts 7 and suddenly, the church could not meet as it had. The authorities persecuted believers, and we read how bad it got when we learn the ends to which Saut later to become Paul was willing to go to pursue and imprison followers of Christ. I liken this persecution to what the Church is encountering now in that its normal operations have been interrupted by forces beyond its control.

In response to this, Philip and others decided to venture out to Samaria, that land where the hated Samaritans lived. When Philip got there and preached, all heaven broke loose. Signs and wonders flowed and the residents "all paid close attention"—every preacher's dream! This is similar to what some are doing today. When the church cannot meet, they are venturing out to a technological Samaria and finding good results—no money, but good results. Other churches are not using technology but still finding new ways to deliver ministry, such as increased use of the telephone, mobile apps, drive through prayer lines, food distribution, and house-to-house visits (hopefully practicing social distancing).

Of course, eventually things settled down in Jerusalem for the believers or as much as it was going to as the days before the fall of Judea played out. Yet once Philip went to Samaria, others went there and beyond and eventually Paul and a host of others swarmed all over the Roman world to preach, teach, and establish churches. My sense is that once we start using social media as we should and could, we will have new success in ministry that will open many more doors we cannot even imagine or think about today.

Let's keep in mind that the Church belongs to Jesus. He bought it with HIs blood. If He wants us to change the way we "do" ministry, then it's our job to make the changes—not resist them in a theological frenzy of end-time paranoia. If you still aren't convinced, then all I ask is that you at least listen and learn from those who are embracing new methods of ministry that will produce different results than those to which you have become accustomed. If you are convinced that God is defunding only to redirect our efforts, then I encourage you to keep on keeping on. You are a pioneer for the Lord and one day you will share what you've learned with a grateful church that made the jump to new ministry modes that will enhance our public gatherings when the all clear signal is given.


Your Starting Points

I heard someone say once that humans are rational beings who do irrational things. After 45 years as a pastor and hearing people tell me all kinds of strange behavior (and seeing some of it firsthand), I am Screen Shot 2020-07-24 at 4.03.35 PMinclined to agree with that statement. I have reflected on it often, and would like to share some conclusions with you this week—and continue our discussion next week.

IRRATIONALITY

Our irrationality manifests mostly with where we begin in our thought process, not with the process itself. In this short space, I think it best to give you an example and go from there. In Mark 3:1-5, we read

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

How often have you said, "Lord, if I had a sign to confirm Your will, I would know and obey!" In this story, the Pharisees witnessed a magnificent and startling sign: A man's withered hand was un-withered right before their very eyes. What was their response? We read in Mark 3:6: "Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus."

They saw Jesus perform a miracle and what was their response? They determined He had to die! That's irrational, but the problem was not in their conclusion but in their starting point. They assumed they knew all there was to know about the Sabbath and further believed it was their job to protect that day from violators on God's behalf. When they saw the miracle, they evaluated it from an irrational starting point. You might even say they had a stronghold in their mind for the thought that no creature could do what Jesus did on the Sabbath and get it away with it had a strong hold on their mind. From then on, they acted perfectly rational, for if they were correct (which of course, they were not), then the rational thing to do was punish Jesus for His offense.

STARTING POINT EXAMPLES

What's my point? The point is that you have starting points and they impact how you rationally carry out your life and ministry. Here are some examples:

Starting point: "The earth is flat." Result: Early explorers refused to go so far and no farther, otherwise they would eventually fall off the end of the earth.

Starting point: I don't have time to write a book." Result: You don't even try. Truth: You have all the time in the world (24 hours every day) but are probably using the lack of time as a front for your fear.

Starting point: "I don't have money to give." Result: You don't give, God doesn't bless you, so you have less to give. Truth: Even a small "widow's mite" can have an affect on God and the situation into which you are giving.

Where are you rationally living in a pattern that began with an irrational, incomplete, or flawed starting point? The only way to find out is to continually challenge your thinking where starting points are concerned. You don't have time to write a book? How is it then that I have written as many as i have?. You don't have money to give? How is it that you have $200 for cable television service or $75 to have your nails done or $89 for the latest doo-dad you need for your hobby? Because you have never challenged your "need" for so much television or the fact that your hobby or beauty needs are expensive and out of control, you don't give. You are correct (rationally) that you don't have money to give—because you are wasting it on something to satisfy your own desires. Your starting point is "I need this" or "I deserve this," and thus you follow through rationally on your flawed premise.

This week, challenge some of your starting points and check them out to see if they are passing as rational and consistent with the values you espouse. If they aren't, then if you change your "starting point," you can change your life! Next week, we will examine how to change your starting points. Until then, have a blessed week.


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

I now have a ministry app you can download that will keep you in touch with my resources, broadcasts, books, and essays as they are available. See the end of this article to find the link and then download to your smartphone.

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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.