Posts Tagged ‘leadership’


Preaching and Baseball

In an article for Leadership Journal, I compare ministry to baseball. Pastors have a tendency to “swing for the fences” with every sermon, but we’re better off working hard on the little things of preaching in order to give our people a lifetime of good spiritual food:

Ministry is very much like baseball in this way. There will be the home run hitters—exceptionally gifted preachers. But most who lead God’s people will be the grinders. The Belhorns, Glanvilles, and Bakos who show up every week and feed God’s people truth in faithful, but unspectacular fashion.

This is not an excuse for mediocrity. It’s not a rant against celebrity. Every generation has genuinely gifted servants with ministries beyond their congregations. We should rejoice at their large kingdom impact. “There many not be many noble,” Paul says. But there are some and we thank God for their giftedness.

Still, I wonder if the rest, called to grind it out and preach weekly attempt to be superstars. I wonder if we try too hard, swinging for the fences with every new sermon. When I pastored, I had to fight this weekly.

You might call this the Revival Syndrome or the Camp Meeting Syndrome. Most of us who serve in ministry have experienced one or more of these emotional, life-changing moments, where a single message altered the course of our lives. But if we were to be honest, those sermons might have been catalysts, but it was the patient daily practices of Bible reading, church attendance, prayer, and spiritual mentoring that helped the seed of spirituality blossom.

As a pastor, you want every Sunday to be this meaningful for the people in your congregation. Yet, there is something wrong if we expect every message, every worship service to be like that revival or camp meeting.

Read the whole thing here:


Christians on Computers Talking Cakes

You probably don’t want to read one more article on the religious liberty, cake-baking, gay marriage controversy. But let me diverge from the important legal and spiritual implications of this discussion and talk about the actual discussion itself. How should the discussion among Christians be driven around the public water cooler of social media? Here are a few thoughts I have in the wake of this pitched battle:

  • We should always assume the very best about those with whom we disagree and we should argue against their best arguments, not caricatured straw men.
  • We should remember that there are actual people behind the avatars. And we should remember that we are people, not avatars. As followers of Jesus we are accountable for what we do and say.
  • We should not assume the headline, but understand and know the facts behind the headline. Tweeting in reaction to a headline may be fashionable, but it’s not worthy of a Christian whose goal is to pursue truth (Philippines 4:8)
  • As much as we can, we should not talk at people, but with people.
  • We should remember that if someone disagrees with us, they are not necessarily being mean to us, they are simply disagreeing with us. The surest way to shut down a productive discussion is to score cheap political points by hi-lighting how unreasonable our debate partner is. A reasoned argument against your position is not an attack. Know the difference.
  • Christians should, as much as they can, support fellow Christians. Paul reminded us to do good to those who are of “the household of faith.” Twisting the arguments, fanning the flames of public shame, and advancing the popular narrative of Christians as bigoted, uncaring, ideologues doesn’t exactly build unity in the body of Christ. If anything discouraged me in this entire discussion it’s the willingness of Christians to throw other Christians under the bus for fifteen seconds of cultural affirmation. Sad.
  • It’s helpful not to throw a rhetorical bomb out there and then say, “What?, What?” denying an obvious intention to stir things up (Proverbs 26:18-19)
  • It’s also not helpful to come in late to an important discussion with the pious, “I wish Christians would all stop arguing and get in a circle and sing Kumbaya.” Not every argument is worth having, yes. And sometimes Christians fight unworthy fights, yes. But not every discussion is unhealthy. Until we are fully sanctified in Heaven, we’ll not stop having discussions and disagreements.
  • We should discern between worthy arguments with reasonable opponents and folks who only want a prolonged Twitter battle. Or as a friend tells me all the time: Don’t feed the trolls. It’s also helpful to actually not be a troll. Twitter discipline is a hard thing to maintain and all of us have had moments where we have failed.
  • We should be joyful warriors. There are slippery slopes, troubling signs in our culture, and an increasing marginalizing of orthodox Christian beliefs. Still, Christ is coming. He is building His Church. He is triumphant. And He will renew all things. So onward with joy.

Why Should We Talk About Our Racial History?

In Southern Baptist Churches this Sunday we celebrate Racial Reconciliation Sunday. At the ERLC, we’ve developed quite a few resources for churches to use in their presentations. I’m grateful our denomination celebrates this, given our racial history and given how central this issue is to the gospel. In the Great Commission (Mathew 28:16), we see Jesus command us to take the gospel to “all nations” and in John’s vision of the future Kingdom, we see a beautiful picture of all nations, tribes, and tongues gathering around the throne of God (Revelation 5:9; 7:9).

In this video, Dr. Russell Moore of the ERLC and Dr. Matt Hall of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary discuss racial reconciliation and the church. I appreciate the very frank questions answered here, such as: “Why should we talk about our past. Can’t we must move on?” and “Why should white people talk about this?” If you are a pastor or church leader or simply a faithful follower of Jesus, this is an important video to watch.


Beware of People-Pleasing

My good friend, Charles Stone, has written about one of the hidden temptations of leadership: the tendency to people-please. I know that I fought this as a pastor and continue to fight it as a leader today. On the one hand, your job is to love and serve God’s people. This means putting aside preference and living in community with people with whom you disagree, people different than you. And at the same time, you wear a title and carry responsibility before God. So you must lead and lead well. Charles is a thoughtful writer. His book, 7 Ministry Killers was one of the best books on leadership I’ve ever read. And he’s back with a new one, People-Pleasing Pastors. Here is one of the questions I asked him:

The job of a pastor, by nature, is to bring people together, to lead a diverse group of volunteers and staff. So how does the pastor avoid a people-pleasing mentality when, by the function of his job, he has to at least satisfy those he serves?

It is important to realize that all people pleasing is not wrong or sinful. We are to love others with Christ’s love and often that means pleasing them (i.e., being kind, compassionate, caring, and forgiving). Yet at the same time, leaders must lead. Leading requires leading people and churches/ministries to change. People don’t mind change, as long as it doesn’t affect them. But when change is necessary, we sometimes must go in directions that won’t please everybody. Unless we lead with courage (and effect change) and are willing to NOT please everyone, we will end up pleasing no one and in turn become miserable ourselves.

Read the entire interview here:


Equipping Students with the Tools of Leadership

Last year Angela and I were enjoying some downtime in Orlando Florida. The hotel we were staying at was also hosting a student leadership conference hosted by Student Leadership University. We had the chance to speak to the organizers there and came away impressed by their vision for student discipleship. Last week I had the chance to interview the president and founder of SLU, Jay Strack, for my weekly Leadership Journal blog. Here’s a portion of that interview:

It seems we speak a lot to young people about following Christ, but don’t often flesh out what that looks like specific to them and their unique calling. Why do you feel this is an important part of their development?

At SLU we believe that 1 Corinthians 14:8 is spot on: “Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” We attempt to put students in a very distinctive unique environment. Since we are clear that our goal is to help them experience a 20-year quantum leap in learning how to think, dream, and lead; we deliberately put them in a corporate hotel, with world-class speakers, and a lot of behind the scenes opportunities.

This could mean a leadership session at a shark tank, whale tank, or dolphin experience at SeaWorld, or a launch pad at Cape Kennedy, or the Pentagon, White House, or Congressional Briefing, or lessons on leadership on the beaches of Normandy, Churchill’s cabinet war rooms, or walking the wall of ancient Jerusalem, or a lesson on the floor of the Roman coliseum, or serving at Give Kids the World for terminally ill children, serving in an orphanage in Kenya, or ministering in the slums of the planet.

We call this EPIC opportunities—Experiential, Participatory, Image Rich, and Community Connecting. In this environment and background we want students to be able to experience a call on their life. Since this generation is more numerous, affluent, better educated, and more ethnically diverse than any other, students want an experience. They don’t want to talk about something or hear about something—they want to do something. When students begin to hear and understand God’s call with crystal-clear clarity they tend to be quite responsive. It is a very exciting moment when the light goes on and they understand that “if God is for me who can be against me.”

It is also our conviction that the Lord doesn’t call us to a position per say—he calls us to a personal relationship with him. We believe this call is not merely a game changer—it is a life changer. We then try to equip students with the rules and tools of leadership and a biblical world-view that will allow them to live out this calling in an ever-changing society.

Read the entire interview here: 


Preaching as a Craft to Be Cultivated.

I love preaching. I love the act of preaching and I love listening to preaching. There is something wild and mysterious and beautiful about God’s Word flowing through a flawed man empowered by the Holy Spirit as a primary delivery method for spiritual change.

This week I had the chance to interview Matt Woodley, managing editor of, an excellent resource for pastors and church leaders. Our conversation was wide-ranging, really. I queried him on plagiarism, fact-checking pastors, etc. But my favorite part was reading Matt’s thoughts on the act of preaching itself. Here’s a question I asked him:

If you could give one piece of advice to an up and coming pastor or church leader about preaching, what would you tell him?

Love preaching. It is a craft like mending shoes, fixing cars, throwing a curve ball, writing poetry, performing surgery, teaching British literature, and so on. You can grow as a preacher. So apply yourself to the craft. Learn from other preachers. Read good sermons (and reading is better than listening). Get feedback. And for Christ’s sake (and I mean that literally) stop being so defensive about your preaching! My gosh, it’s not like a sermon is your child or something. But when it comes to preaching, decide right now that you will be a lifelong learner of the craft.

But on other hand, don’t take your preaching too seriously. You aren’t primarily a preacher. You are a child of God. You are a member of the body of Christ. You are a friend, spouse, and parent. Your identity is not wrapped up in how well you preached last Sunday. So read and do lots of stuff that have absolutely nothing to do with your role as a preacher. Preachers who just preach are really boring. Be an interesting person, do interesting stuff, go to interesting places.

Read the entire interview here: 


The horrible social costs of gambling

I’ll never forget the one time I visited Las Vegas. I was in town for a wedding and was awed by the amazing architecture. It seemed to me, at the time, that no expense was spared by the developers. But while Christians can admire the beautiful architecture of Vegas, we must admit that there is tremendous social cost to the seemingly innocent vice called gambling. When I was a pastor, I saw first-hand who the gambling industry preys on: the poor. Sure you have your high-stakes wealthy who drop lots of money, but mountains of social research have documented the troubling social costs of gambling. Really the only ones who win, when a casino comes into your town, are the business-owners and the local governments. And sadly, those local governments end up paying out more in social benefits over the long haul. Families, the poor, and communities suffer greatly.

Recently, the Institute for American Values has released a report titled, “Why Casinos Matter.” My ERLC colleague, Joe Carter, has put some of the best of this info in an article “9 things you should know about casinos and gambling.” He also created a handy infographic that I’ve pasted in below. If you are interested in speaking on this topic in your church or community group, this would be a great resource:




The One Thing Your Team Needs . . . That Only You Can Give

“Nobody has ever told me that before,” she said to me. Her tired voice and tired posture betrayed years of faithful ministry work that had gone unnoticed and unappreciated. It was my first week on the job as a Senior Pastor and I had much to learn about shepherding God’s people. But one thing I carried with me from childhood, something my mother taught me repeatedly, is the value of a simple “thank you” to those who work with and for you. So I said thank you to this church lady for volunteering every week for one of our key ministry programs.

Leaders of all types have one thing to give to their people that nobody else can give: encouragement. By this I don’t mean flattery that withholds useful criticism and coaching. I mean a simple affirmation of their gifts and their contributions. Even if you’re managing people who make a salary and shouldn’t have to be rewarded with praise for performance, you should still let them know periodically that they are valued and appreciated. If you’re a pastor leading mostly volunteers, your gratitude is even more important. Volunteers don’t have to give you their time and money, they do out of belief in the cause.

Sometimes Christians withhold praise from a kind of Pharisaical moral platform. I’ve heard longtime believers say, for instance, that we shouldn’t clap after someone sings in church, for fear that this person might “get a big head and not give glory to God.” For one thing, God never tasks you and me with the “Glory Watch” of others. What I mostly hear in Scripture is that any identification of pride is to be a Spirit-directed self-discipline. In other words, if there is anyone’s pride who needs to be kept in check, its my own, not the dear saint who labored to give us some music on Sunday. And of course we have Jesus’ own example of praising John the Baptist, calling him the greatest man who had ever lived (Matthew 11:7). One wonders if there was a know-it-all disciple within earshot who felt Jesus went a little far in his praise. Jesus also lamented that only one out of ten healed lepers expressed their praise to him. Ironically it was the Samaritan, the least likely object of a healing by a Jewish rabbi, who felt the weight of his miracle enough to offer praise. Often its those who expect miracles who lose the wonder when they actually happen. Lack of gratitude, far from a minor character flaw, is at the root of man’s disobedience from God. Satan’s enticement of Eve began with the premise that God was withholding good and in Romans, we see the Apostle Paul finger this insidious sin as the root of human rebellion (Romans 1:18-32).

Those of us who have experienced an even greater miracle, whose souls have been cleansed by Jesus’ healing death and resurrection, should be among the most grateful. Not only toward God who, through Christ, rescued us from death, but also toward those who He has sovereignly placed in our lives. Those who we are privileged to work with and around, the loved ones we live with, and friends who enrich our lives. For leaders, especially, gratitude should be a discipline. There are words we can speak to those who look up to us that only we can speak, words that mean more coming from our mouths than anyone else’s. A son shouldn’t assume his father loves and values him. He should actually hear, regularly, that his dad actually loves and values him. Employees shouldn’t wait years to know their worth to the company. They should hear it, not in flattering, untrue ways, but in real, tangible, specific instances.

I have found, personally, that gratitude is like a muscle. I must discipline myself to exercise it regularly. So I must remind myself to daily affirm those I’m called to love at home, my wife and children. I must remind myself to notice something special about my staff. And I must regularly remind my friends how much I appreciate them.

I have found that when it comes to encouragement, I needn’t worry whether or not my praise will “give someone a big head.” The rough and tumble world already takes care of people’s ego quite well without me. Plus, I’ve found that it’s usually me with the biggest head and uttering words of gratitude lets out some of the air.