Sunday, January 24, 2016

No More Empty Noise

In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul makes the startling point that we can have the greatest spiritual experiences in the world, possess the most amazing gifts and knowledge, and we can engage in the most sacrificial and stunning displays of ministry, and yet if we do all these without love, we would “only be a noisy gong or clanging cymbal…[we] would be nothing…[and we] would have gained nothing.” (13:1-3) [1]

If we apply what the apostle says to leadership, we can conclude that the very best of leadership skills, experiences, insight, and gifts in the world--all without love--comprise just a bunch of worthless noise. Bottom-line, such leadership is not the equivalent of an accomplished pianist sitting down at the keys. Rather, it is like a child banging away!

Can we imagine any more impactful statement about the need for love in leadership? Leaders, in other words, need to be those who possess the God-honoring, Spirit-empowered desire to benefit others in their relationship with God—a desire which leads to action (if possible) and affection for them in accordance with the truth of God.This is biblical love.

Also, this is our next truth to consider in biblical leadership. If we will carry out the first truth of laying before self and others our ultimate purpose of glorifying God by enjoying him, we will need to remember this second one. We must:

Embody love as a key purpose in the church.

This Truth Supported From The Pastoral Epistles
As Paul outlines for Timothy and Titus how the church is to function, he clarifies that an elder is to love other Christians enough that he “enjoy[s] having guests in his home” (1 Tim. 3:2); leaders are to treat others with respect, no matter what their age is (1 Tim. 5:1-2)—and this is a big part of love (1 Cor. 13:5); the leadership of the church is to love those in need enough to give guidance to how to help them in wisdom (1 Tim. 5:3-16); a believer is to love his family enough to help them with their physical needs (1 Tim. 5:8); leaders must be “kind to everyone” (2 Tim. 2:24) and “gently instruct those who oppose the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25)—both of which are a key part of love (1 Cor. 13:4); and wives are instructed to “love their husbands and children” (Titus 2:4). In fact, Paul starts right off in 1 Timothy 1:5 by writing, “The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love….”

The point is that there is to be a lot of loving going on in the church and the leaders are to set the example. After all, in 1 Tim. 4:12 Paul tells Timothy: “Be an example to all believers…in your love….” In other words, in the very New Testament books that instruct leaders with how to lead in the Church, we discover that love of others is one of the most important ways we carry out our ultimate purpose of glorifying God.

This Truth Supported From The Rest Of The Bible
Our discovery in the pastoral letters should not surprise us, for it is exactly what we find in the rest of the Bible. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” and all those who do this will, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:27-39).  Such love of others that flows from our love of God is the summary of the entire Bible (Matthew 22:40). Since love of God is such an important part of glorifying him and since we cannot love him without that leading to our loving others (1 John 4:7-21), love is one of the major ways we carry out our purpose. Leaders are to lead by and model this love for others![2]

So, leaders, no more empty noise in our leading!  Lead with love!

Application Of This Truth
Here are some simple ways we can apply this truth.

1. We must remember that the end never justifies the means. As leaders we must not just keep our eyes on goals and outcomes, but also on how we go about an action or ministry. We must display both love for God and others.

2. One of the areas in which we will be challenged to the greatest degree is that of conflict. It is so easy to feel justified in responding to others in anger because of what they have done. The leader is wise who remembers Proverbs 16:32 (“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” [ESV]) and the teaching of James 3-4. Learn to deal biblically and lovingly with conflict.

3. As you lead, keep in mind that all you do is to be out of love for God and those whom you are leading. Don’t lose sight of people and focus only on projects and goals.

4. If you struggle with leading in a loving manner, have someone(s) not only regularly pray for you about this, but also have them ask you occasionally, “How are you doing with love?”

5. Memorize and regularly pray this second truth.

[1] All Scripture quotes are from the New Living Translation.
[2] Our Church purpose statement fits with this: “We exist to glorify God by joyfully following him, loving him, and loving others.”

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Joyful Glorification of God

In my last post we began to look at what the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus) have to teach about Christian leadership. We saw both that these three New Testament letters are a strategic place to go for the subject and also gave an overview of the ten leadership principles that emerge from their pages.

In this post we turn to the first of the principles, the one that reminds us of the importance of carrying out as Christians and in our leadership our ultimate purpose. That first principle is this. We must…

Lay before self and others our ultimate purpose—God’s glory by enjoying him.

John Piper, in his book Don’t Waste Your Life, helps us discover a key reason it is important to have God’s glory as our all-consuming purpose to be fruitful leaders:
You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, perhaps just one, and then be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by one great thing. If you want your life to count, if you want the ripple effects of the pebbles you drop to become waves that reach the ends of the earth and roll into eternity, you don’t need to have a high IQ. You don’t have to have good looks or riches or come from a fine family or a fine school. Instead, you have to know a few great, majestic, unchanging, obvious, simple, glorious things—or one great all-embracing thing—and be set on fire by them.

What is the one thing?  Piper answers when he goes on to share his passion and the purpose statement of Bethlehem Baptist Church (where he pastored for over thirty years): “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.” We could word it another way. Our ultimate purpose is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.[1] Since this is the ultimate aim of life, we should not be surprised to find it emphasized in the Pastoral Epistles and that it should be the driving force of Christian leadership. In fact, we discover this principle consistently taught all through the Bible. It is clear that we must keep it as our ultimate driving force, to shape and trump all other lesser purposes.

Our Ultimate Purpose Found In The Pastoral Epistles
After Paul writes of the mercy of God shown to him, a horrible sinner, he adds: “I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:16). In other words God saved Paul in such a glorious manner so that he could draw others to salvation. What is Paul’s reaction to this?  He breaks out in worship—giving God glory: “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” ( Timothy 1:17). Paul’s point in these two verses is that God saved Paul for his own glory and Paul gives God glory in response to that salvation. Paul is displaying that the glory of God is foremost and central and, by implication, is calling Timothy to do the same.

This emphasis on God’s glory as our ultimate purpose is seen elsewhere in the Pastorals in the following ways:

1. Standing behind Paul’s willingness to face hardship for the gospel is the conviction God is glorified through gospel ministry—especially when gospel ministers are willing to suffer for him. He also calls other ministers and leaders to the same willingness.  In 2 Timothy 1:8-11 we read: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher….”

2. Paul not only lived ultimately for God’s glory himself and not only called other leaders to do the same, he also taught all Christians to live to this end. He specifically mentions glorifying God on the job. We see this first in 1 Timothy 6:1: “Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.” Then we also see it in Titus 2:9-10: “Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”

Our Ultimate Purpose Found Elsewhere In Paul’s Writings
The fact that Paul believes our ultimate purpose is God’s glory through our joy found in him is given even greater weight in his other writings—a realization that confirms the emphasis in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.

1. 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

2. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

3. Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

4. Philippians 1:21-23 displays for us that God is most glorified in us when we find contentment and joy in him: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

Our Ultimate Purpose Found In The Rest of Scripture
Though there are scores of passages we could cite, I want to call our attention to two pairs in the Gospel Of John that highlight that which brings us joy in our Lord also glorifies him.

1. John 14:13 and 16:24 teach that God commits to answer our prayers both that he might be glorified and we might have joy: “ Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

2. John 15:8 and 15:11 teach that faith-fueled, fruit-bearing discipleship both glorify God and bring joy to us: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

Practical Application Of This First Principle
What difference should be made in our leadership? Here are some suggestions.

1. Understanding this ultimate purpose as a leader puts in proper perspective what we are trying to do. We are pointing people to our Savior and to his agenda, not our own. See John 3:30; 1 Peter 5:1-2.

2. To follow this ultimate purpose puts us in the right frame of mind such that we want to lead according to the truth of Scripture and not merely our own thinking or supposed leadership experts (which puts us in the right frame of mind to pursue the remaining nine principles). Philippians 2:12-16 (esp. 16):
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

3. What is especially important is that when persecution comes or opposition comes or difficulties arise because of our leadership, we remember that what is important is not what people think of us or our being comfortable. Instead, what is important is our Lord being glorified through the manifestation of his glorious gospel through us. Don’t give into or be paralyzed by fear! (See 2 Corinthians 1:3-11; 4:1-18 [esp. 15]; 11:16-30; 12:7-10; 2 Tim. 1:7)

4. We work for the joy of those we are leading—i.e. their joy in Christ. (See 2 Cor. 1:24 [esp. in light of the texts just cited in 2 Corinthians])

5. In light of this ultimate purpose, we must constantly ask as leaders:  “How does this purpose shape my leadership?” “How should it shape this decision I have to make?”

6. Communicate, communicate, communicate purpose, mission, and vision! Also, do it in a way that is memorable. Also, avoid the “flavor-of-the-month” approach to leadership that makes ultimate whatever you are learning about at the time or whatever is the latest trend. Stay consistent in order to communicate a consistent picture of where you are going.

7. Never let process or practice trump purpose. In other words, don’t forget purpose!

8. Memorize and pray this principle.

[1] I am also indebted to John Piper, in his book Desiring God: Meditations Of A Christian Hedonist, for the insight that the answer to the Westminster Shorter  Catechism’s first question, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever,” is best reworded: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.”

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Biblical Leadership: Indispensable For Our Joyful Following

In Sunday’s sermon we revisited our purpose as a church—namely that we desire to be joyful followers of God to his glory. We did this to prepare for 2016. One of the realities we dare not miss is that sound biblical leadership is crucial to our congregation’s effective accomplishment of our purpose. John Maxwell puts it this way in the Introduction to his notes in the Maxwell Leadership Bible:
The most critical problem facing the church today is the leadership vacuum that grew during the Twentieth Century. Church expert and statistician George Barna asserts, “Leadership is one of the glaring needs of the church. People are often willing to follow God’s vision, but too frequently they have no exposure to either vision or true leadership.” Just a few years ago, Barna penned some sobering conclusions based on his research: “After fifteen years of digging into the world around me, I have reached…[this] central conclusion…that the American church is dying due to lack of strong leadership…. Nothing is more important than leadership.”

After thirty years of pastoral experience in the church I have come to agree with Maxwell’s conclusion that the church needs effective and competent leadership to carry out its purpose in a faithful and fruitful manner.

With the sense of its importance in mind, recently I began thinking a lot about leadership and how I could set before myself and the other leaders in our church what the Bible teaches about leadership in a way that can be digested and applied—not just to put more knowledge in our head, but ultimately to equip us to be better leaders.

As I thought about where to go in the Bible for the most succinct and focused teaching on the subject, it hit me one day that there are three Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus) in the New Testament that are written not just to teach the Church how to function (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15; 2 Timothy 1:8-14; Titus 2:1-15), but also to instruct two men in how to lead the Church (1 Timothy 1:1-2; 2 Timothy 1:1-2; Titus 1:1-5). In other words, these letters come as close as anything in the Bible to serving as leadership manuals.  And the more I thought about these letters, the more it hit me with greater and greater clarity that the leadership principles in them are very much in line with what the rest of the Bible taught.

So, armed with this insight and excitement, I read through these three New Testament letters and made notes on the key principles they teach about how one should lead from a biblical perspective. Once I finished, I saw ten principles that were repeated over and over. As I meditated upon these principles, two conclusions came to mind:
1. After forty plus years of reading the Bible from cover-to-cover (almost once per year), I can confidently say these ten principles truly are consistent with what the rest of Scripture teaches.

2. I need to come up with a way of communicating these ten principles that would be easy to remember so they can be at the finger-tips of current and future leaders in our church. If this is not done, they will do us little good.

After wrestling with these ten principles taught in 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus, I came up with the following acrostic that communicates them in what I believe is a memorable way:











Over the next few weeks I will continue to blog on this subject and unpack each of these all-important ten principles. I will do this as an introduction of leadership teaching and training in our congregation that I pray will create a common language about the subject, but even more importantly will equip us to lead the church to carry out effectively our mission.

I encourage you to begin memorizing these ten principles now. They will strengthen you as a parent, as a spouse, as a worker, and as a joyful follower of Jesus!