5 Steps That Help Church Leaders Stay out of Trouble

By Dan Reiland

No one ever starts out in ministry expecting to mess up, fail or quit.

We all begin with great vision, enthusiasm, and dreams of changing the world for good.

So what goes wrong?

Why do good and godly leaders (church staff and volunteer) end up crashing in ministry, and end up out of ministry?

The answer to that question is obviously complicated, but essentially, we fail to anticipate and prepare for tough times and rough seasons in ministry.

This is not intended to create paranoia. There is no need to live in fear or burn energy with needless worry. Leadership is never risk-free. But we can know that pressure, temptation and mistakes will come. We can be smart and anticipate. We can stay close to God and remain strong.

There’s an old boxing adage that says: It’s the punch you don’t see coming that knocks you out. That is so true.

My friend Carey Nieuwhof wrote a fantastic new book titled: “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” It’s such a great book. The title says it all.

Intentionality is the key.

I remember my ordination service well. It truly was a sacred moment. The message, the commitment, and the prayer over me at the end, all marked me. One memory after the ceremony still makes me smile.

The District Superintendent, who I love and respect, came up to me at the reception to pass on a few words of wisdom and encouragement. He said, “Dan, God has given you ability and opportunity, I want you to promise me that you’ll try really hard not to mess up.” That was it! I wasn’t sure how to respond at the moment. I wondered if he said that to everyone, or just me. But all these years later, I see the wisdom. We have to be intentional, or we will mess up.

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I want to offer some safeguards here that will be helpful to you as they have been to me over many years in ministry. These five steps will help you be intentional.

5 steps that will help keep you and your team out of trouble:

1) Recognize that it could happen to you.

Leaders in the highest risk category are those who believe it can’t happen to them. They operate with a huge and dangerous blind spot.

The truth is that any of us can crash out of ministry. Again, no paranoia intended – just reality. None of us are above messing up big time. And rarely is it the case of jumping straight into a moral breakdown or ethical breach of character. It starts slowly and innocently. Catch it early.

The enemy works overtime to tempt you. Don’t take that lightly.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23

This is great wisdom and advice.

2) Don’t flirt.

We all know better than to play with fire. When we’re careless fire wins, and we get burned. Flirting is like playing with fire, the flames mesmerize and draw you in. Then before you know it, the situation gets too hot, and you become toast.

Flirting is not just about inappropriate behavior with the opposite sex. In fact, for some leaders flirting with power, fame, and fortune is a much greater temptation.

The option to not flirt is yours. It’s a choice. Don’t see how close you can dance to the edge. Flirting is never worth it. At best it’s a hollow experience, at worst, well, we all know the stories.

3) Know your weakness.

We all have a weak spot where we are most vulnerable. When it comes to desserts, my weakness is chocolate chip cookies. They are so good; it’s hard to eat just one!

The sugar in too many cookies can do damage, but nothing like what happens in leadership when our vulnerability remains unknown or left unguarded.

When pressure is high, and resistance is low, trouble is near. Here’s a common situation, you work long hours in ministry and get tired. Over-tired leads to exhaustion. That leaves the door wide open to your weakest spot.

When you know your vulnerability, you can be smart, guard your heart and stay strong. You’ll be much more prepared because you’ll see it coming.

4) Work in an environment that’s healthy enough to share truth.

Nothing beats a healthy and productive environment where you can tell the truth without repercussion. No leader can successfully carry their responsibilities, handle the pressure, and solve problems alone.

Churches and especially leadership teams are designed to operate in community, not independently. Simply put, we need each other. When faced with temptation, insecurities, fears, and doubt we need to have a safe place to talk. An open and honest conversation can help prevent most dangerous situations before they go too far.

Who can you talk with that is smart, strong and cares about you?

5) Stay honest before God.

It’s not like we can hide what’s going on from God. But we miss out on so much of God’s help when we pretend like we can handle it ourselves.

Talk to God. Stay close to Him. Be honest about your struggles. The Holy Spirit brings wisdom and power, take advantage of it. We all make mistakes, but there is no need to allow a temptation to turn into a pattern that can cost your ministry.

When you name the problem, sin or temptation, you remove much of its power. When you also resist it, with God’s help, you can overcome it.

This article was originally published at: Danreiland.com.

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Wisdom in Contextualization: How Far is too Far?

By Ed Stetzer

How does the word “contextualization” make you feel? Free or fearful?

The $64-million dollar question about innovation and change is this: How far is too far? I can’t think of any question in the church much more controversial than this one. We’ve been asking it for two thousand years and rarely ever seem to agree.

Most of our discussions on these issues center around contextualization. We should change our methodology to better proclaim the unchanging message to a consistently changing world. But not all change is good, even when it is promoted under the guise of contextualization.

I am all for innovation. But it should be used as means to better contextualize the gospel, not simply for its own sake. We need to evaluate where that line is, so that we do not cross it and lose the very reason God has placed us here.

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Measuring contextualization

Contextualization is, obviously enough, all about the context. Walking with my nose in the air could mean I think I’m better than you. Or it might mean I’m trying to protect you from my nosebleed. Context provides meaning to your interpretation.

Gospel contextualization began the moment Christ came teaching in synagogues and preaching the good news of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23). Christ presented words and deeds to His audiences in ways that were meaningful in their language and culture.

The language was Aramaic. The culture was Jewish (with a bit of Roman and Greek tossed in). The reaction of the crowds, especially the religious leaders, makes it clear that Christ’s words and actions were meaningful in His cultural context.

Changing in order to contextualize is not watering down the message of the good news of Jesus. The opposite is true. To contextualize the gospel means removing cultural and linguistic impediments to the gospel presentation so that only the offense of the cross remains.

But when we think about changes and contextualization today, it is easy to think you are the only one who has it right. Everyone to the left of has changed too much and lost the gospel. Everyone to the right is a bunch of legalists who haven’t changed enough and can no longer have a conversation with culture. To overcome this temptation, we need to establish what is unchanging and look for signals that our changes have gone too far.

More art than science

God designed it so the unchanging message of Jesus can fit into changing “cultural containers” in order to reach people where they are, and to take them where they need to go. Contextualization is a skill the missional church in the U.S., like international missionaries, must learn and use.

Contextualization, however, is more of an art form than a science. Clear lines that provide hard and fast boundaries for every language and culture don’t exist, especially as it relates to our orthopraxy (the way we live out the gospel). But there are certain gospel lines that we cannot cross.

What are the signs we’ve crossed un-crossable lines? If we have lost the clear proclamation of the gospel—Jesus’ death on the cross for our sin and in our place—or we downplay repentance and forgiveness, I think we’ve removed the intentional stumbling block of the cross. That would be a first warning sign.

If we teach the message in such a way that excludes or de-emphasizes the Bible, I think that’s a difficulty as well. If I find myself underplaying the role of Jesus in salvation or the necessity to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, that’s another red flag.

What works today

Some segments of our evangelical churches have adopted some changes and are doing anything they can through advertising, media, social media, coffee houses, movie theaters, music, the arts, and other venues to have a meaningful conversation with the world. Some Christians feel that giving any ground toward what they perceive (often rightly) as compromise with the culture will eventually cross the line into a heresy and pluralism slide.

Obviously, we don’t want to be syncretists with the gospel message. But contextualization means change will occur. We will be looking for new ways to translate the gospel that help others grasp its message. This is not accommodating the culture; it’s building meaningful relationships with people and speaking with them about the gospel (on the gospel’s own terms) in ways that make sense to them.

So when has change gone too far? When the gospel no longer looks or sounds like good news and Jesus no longer looks or sounds like the Jesus found in the pages of Scripture. But if the feet of those who bring the gospel are beautiful upon the hills, it is at least partly because those who hear the gospel are able to understand meaningfully the wonderful person and work of Jesus. The feet can still be beautiful even after you change shoes.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today.

The Best way to Avoid Pastor Burnout? Equip the Saints

By Karl Vaters

The New Testament doesn’t emphasize the role of pastor nearly as much as our current church structure does.

In fact, there’s just one passage – one! – in which the role of the pastor (along with apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers) is mentioned.

To be sure, there are plenty of passages about bishops, overseers and more that apply to pastors, but Ephesians 4:11-12 could easily be called the pastor’s prime mandate. In that passage, the Apostle Paul clearly tells us we have been called “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”

The longer I pastor, the more convinced I am that one of the prime reasons for pastoral burnout is that too many pastors – especially small church pastors, like me – are ignoring that simple command.

Ministering in a small church does not exempt us from the pastoral mandate to equip the saints.

Many small church pastors have to do many of the tasks that large churches can hire someone else to do. But, no matter how small the congregation is, pastors must never forget that ministering in a small church does not exempt us from the pastoral mandate to equip the saints.

From preaching and teaching to equipping

For too many years, I took almost all of the burden for the ministry of the church on my shoulders. And it nearly killed me – and the church.

So I went back to the pastor’s prime mandate. I redoubled my efforts to equip the church to do ministry instead of doing it for them.

No, the turnaround wasn’t easy. Old habits – both mine and theirs – were deeply entrenched. But it did happen. Or, more accurately, it is happening.

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Here are a few of the steps we’ve taken to bring about that change.

  1. Preach to equip, not just to inform or inspire

I’m more of a teacher than a preacher, so it’s easy to fill people’s heads with Bible knowledge, but shortchange them on how to put it into practice.

If you’re more of a preacher than a teacher, you might be inspiring and energizing them without giving them practical ways to channel that energy.

There are few things more frustrating than a church full of people who are informed and/or inspired without being equipped to do something about it.

Neither information or inspiration is enough. We need to help them turn it into perspiration.

It’s not enough to tack a ‘what to do now’ idea on the end of our sermons. Equipping people to do the work of ministry must always be a central element in everything a pastor does.

  1. Do ministry with people, not just for them

The smaller the church, the more we’ll do ministry with them, among them and beside them. But we can never let ourselves get caught in the endless black-hole vortex of doing all or most of the ministry for them.

In a big church, most people are taught, trained and sent off into ministry without having spent any time with the pastor, other than hearing the Sunday sermon.

In a small church, the pastor has to (gets to) be more hands-on. But we should always emphasize doing ministry with congregation members, not just for them.

Doing ministry for them isn’t healthy – not for the pastor or the church. But doing ministry with the congregation equips the saints, builds relationships and so much more.

  1. Equip teams, don’t appoint committees

Teams do things. Committees tell other people to do things.

A church that is light on teams and heavy on committees will spend more time assigning blame than volunteering for ministry.

  1. Involve the team in the decision-making process

People won’t step up nearly as much for someone else’s ministry as they will for a ministry they had a hand in creating.

Pastor, don’t just tell people what to do, ask them what they’re called to do and how you can come alongside to equip them for it. Including ministry that has nothing to do with your church and its programs.

Become an equipping pastor

Healthy churches are led by equipping pastors.

Equipping pastors work alongside the congregation as we do the work of ministry together.

It’s our calling. It’s our mandate.

And, when we see it working in the lives of the congregation we serve, it’s our joy.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today.

There’s an app for that! Well, maybe not…

By Scott Armstrong

I use apps on my smartphone several hours a day.  You probably do, too.

Twitter? Fantasy Football? Tracking your steps every day? Yes, there are mobile phone apps for all of those.

But you already knew that.  Did you know there’s an app for virtually shaving yourself? What about milking a cow? Or that there’s even an app for nothing? That’s right.  It literally does nothing.  The screen goes gray…………and does nothing.

Make sure you download it today.

There seems to be an app for everything.  There are millions of apps for things I truly have never thought of in my life.

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But as far as ministry goes, there are still areas that apps have not touched.

Giving me 26 hours a day instead of 24? There’s not an app for that.

Helping me to fit in seamlessly in a new culture within 1 week? No app for that.

Getting my neighbor down the street to respond to the gospel and see his life changed? Nope.

Many apps help you save time.  But they don’t give you more time.  Time is the great equalizer.

Some apps help you to learn a language or discover more about a culture or country. But the hard work of spending time with real people and eating their food and beginning to love them for who they are with no selfish or ethnocentric motives? That can’t be microwaved.

I’ve explored lots of apps that provide ways to share the gospel, but no app exists that guarantees life transformation.

The idea of apps is usually to make life easier.  They might help us get work done, interact with others, or have fun. Apps are handy ways to directly assist us in some way and streamline sometimes complicated daily processes.

But ministry just isn’t like that.  Honestly, it drives me crazy.

Recently I was lamenting to my wife that the local church we planted in Dominican Republic just isn’t advancing like I want it to.  Supposedly we are equipped, capable ministers who have been effective in many different places and ministries.  We have not just gone to the training seminars on how to impact the city; we now GIVE the training seminars! What, then, is the problem?! Why aren’t all the neighbors we love and care for flocking to service every week? Why do new Christians take two steps forward and seemingly three steps back in their walk with Christ?!  On a less spiritual level, why are our accounts always so low and why does the stupid bathroom outside our sanctuary keep malfunctioning?!  Aaaargh!

Much of our lives are dominated by apps that help us do things quicker, cheaper, and more efficiently.  But almost always ministry – genuine, roll-up-your-sleeves, incarnational ministry – isn’t like that.

I would love for there to be shortcuts.  But no app exists for this stuff.  The Holy Spirit needs to do a deep work in people’s lives, finances, and even bathrooms.

Lord, quick or slow, app or no app, begin that work in us.

How to Stay Motivated in Language Learning

By Joey Shaw

It’s been a year or two, or perhaps more, and you are still unable to converse in your host people’s language at the level you had hoped. You get stuck, locals have to slow down, you are constantly embarrassed, you can’t “be yourself,” and you just … don’t … want … to … study … anymore! Let’s face it, learning another language is tough.

Many of you are in this critical phase of your ministry. Without good language ability, you will, inevitably, cut your ministry short of maximum fruit bearing. So you need it, but “success” in language seems so far away. You need encouragement.

How do you stay motivated to keep going with language learning? Here are a few suggestions.

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USE WHATEVER LANGUAGE YOU HAVE FOR THE GLORY OF GOD

If you know a few phrases, find ways to use them to magnify God. I always like to learn the religious phraseology of my host people first: “glory to God,” “God is great,” and so on. It helps me talk about God early on. And there is nothing more motivating to study language than the thrill of magnifying our Savior, even in the smallest way possible, in the local language. Each new word is a new tool to magnify God to your host people.

DREAM ABOUT USING YOUR NEW WORDS TO PERSUADE OTHERS TO FOLLOW CHRIST

The languages the remaining unreached peoples speak are most often very difficult for native English speakers. So, perhaps, our job is harder today than a few hundred years ago. Be that as it may, the greater the disparity between our native and learned language, the greater the opportunity to display the love of a God who humbled Himself to become like us. Think about that during your study times. The word you learn today may be the critical word of persuasion to Christ for your host people one day.

EVALUATE YOUR MOTIVES

Are there any idols to repent of? Perhaps an approval idol: You just want your supporters to know you are not “wasting” their money. Perhaps you are believing the lie that once you speak the language, then you will be useful to God. Watch out for negative emotions: complaining, anger, impatience, grumpiness. These are all common symptoms of idolatry. The problem is that idols are horrible motivators. Idols are fake gods, and as such, they don’t come through on their promises. So if idolatry is at the root of your motivation to learn a language, then you will be left unsatisfied and, eventually, unmotivated.

PRAY FOR MORE LOVE

No matter how hard you work, no matter how good your language ability, no matter how many people you share the gospel with, no matter how effective your ministry seems to be, no matter how early you get up or late you go to bed, no matter what others think of you, … if you do not have love, you have nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Let that sink in. BUT, if you have God’s love for the people, it will compel you to endless hours of language study and practice so that your host people might know God and make Him known (2 Cor. 5:14).

This article was originally published at: Verge Network

Cross-Cultural Orientation, Dominican Republic, 2019

51 persons from three different countries (Haiti, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic) gathered together March 8-10 to be a part of a glorious time during a Cross-Cultural Orientation (CCO) that was held at the Nazarene Seminary in Santo Domingo, DR. The weekend was a time where each participant had the opportunity to learn and put into practice the Great Commission’s calling of “going and making disciples.”

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During this time, volunteers of the dual ministries of Global Missions and Genesis shared workshops concerning missionary work in the Mesoamerica Region and the world.  Through dynamics and other activities, they also conveyed the need of men and women to rise up and be willing to deny themselves in order to rescue others.

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By the end of the event, participants had received confirmations of their calls and answers to many of their questions. The entire group rejoiced in a closing service and left with an increased desire to grow and serve with their local churches, going wherever God may send them.

Maritza Lima said: “This experience was extraordinary; it was in the CCO when I realized what God has called me to.”

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Raymer del Rosario shared: “The Lord spoke to my life in a very special way. I think it’s time to serve, starting where I am right now, and growing in His will. I know I want more!”

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We praise the Lord that He is raising up a generation that is willing to go further, strong and courageous men and women that are capable of crossing barriers in order to expand God’s kingdom in the nations.

*Written by Elba Duson, East District Global Missions coordinator, DR.

Kierkegaard’s Parable of the Geese

Serving God in cross-cultural settings always provokes interesting conversations with those from our passport countries.  Some find our forays into missions far away as fascinating and exotic.  Nowadays, with globalization and the ability to interact with friends and colleagues all over the world, many people are somewhat nonchalant: “Ah, they are spreading the gospel just like us; they just happen to live in another country.” But still others never cease to amaze us with wide-eyed questions based in disbelief:

“How do your kids go to school there? Is there good education?”

“We know it’s dangerous there.  Do you ever go out?”

Increasingly I have come in contact with more and more Christians who are living their lives based on comfort and fear.  God is a God who always wants us safe after all, right?

Recently I came across a parable that I had read many years ago, written by the Danish thinker, Sören Kierkegaard.  It has me examining my own penchant to talk a good talk while failing to “spread my wings and fly.”  Will I – will we – embrace the adventure God has for us? Or will we continue to enjoy our comfy brand of Western Christianity?

Kierkegaard’s Parable of the Geese

“A certain flock of geese lived together in a barnyard with high walls around it. Because the corn was good and the barnyard was secure, these geese would never take a risk.

One day a philosopher goose came among them. He was a very good philosopher and every week they listened quietly and attentively to his learned discourses. ‘My fellow travelers on the way of life,’ he would say, ‘can you seriously imagine that this barnyard, with great high walls around it, is all there is to existence? I tell you, there is another and a greater world outside, a world of which we are only dimly aware. Our forefathers knew of this outside world. For did they not stretch their wings and fly across the trackless wastes of desert and ocean, of green valley and wooded hill? But alas, here we remain in this barnyard, our wings folded and tucked into our sides, as we are content to puddle in the mud, never lifting our eyes to the heavens which should be our home.’

The geese thought this was very fine lecturing. ‘How poetical,’ they thought. ‘How profoundly existential. What a flawless summary of the mystery of existence.’ Often the philosopher spoke of the advantages of flight, calling on the geese to be what they were. After all, they had wings, he pointed out. What were wings for, but to fly with? Often, he reflected on the beauty and the wonder of life outside the barnyard, and the freedom of the skies.

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And every week the geese were uplifted, inspired, moved by the philosopher’s message. They hung on his every word. They devoted hours, weeks, months to a thoroughgoing analysis and critical evaluation of his doctrines. They produced learned treatises on the ethical and spiritual implications of flight. All this they did. But one thing they never did. They did not fly! For the corn was good, and the barnyard was secure!”