Virtually Present: Spiritual Guidance From a Distance.

By Rod Corcoran

Over the last 6 weeks, I have spent considerably more time online using digital platforms to communicate in a variety of settings than ever before. This has become not only our new norm here in Europe, but also globally. What has come as a surprise to me is how many of those conversations have felt meaningful. There have been many powerful moments of prayer and sharing with other believers. I have engaged in honest dialogue with people who are searching for the truth. There have also been conversations where I’ve had meaningful exchanges with other leaders regarding difficult organizational decisions.

Before Covid-19, one of my underlying assumptions of pastoring and leading was that to be a good pastor required a personal touch or face-to-face meetings. My assumption was that to be a good spiritual guide I needed to be physically present. I had never challenged this assumption head-on before. I did not need to, proximity had been a luxury. Today the luxury of proximity is one that we cannot afford.

Hence, the question I formed out of my new experiences was: “How was meaningful interaction taking place in these virtual interactions and how do I continue to develop them in frequency and quality?”

In light of these questions, here are a few of the lessons that I’ve learned from the last few weeks of meeting online with friends, colleagues, family, students, and many others.

Be Prepared.

How we show up for a meeting is incredibly important. As the reality of Covid-19 was setting in, I spent some extra time paying attention to my spiritual and emotional state. Prayer times became more frequent, scripture became more potent and my general spiritual hunger increased. One of the prayers that I have prayed most mornings has been: “God, please offer me the strength and courage needed for this day. Help me to be present to your guiding and aware of the opportunities before me.”

The attention that I attached to my emotional, spiritual and even physical wellbeing has made a difference. It has helped me to come to these meetings with positivity, as well as the ability to be fully present with the people I am serving.

Be Contagious.

I’ve had to consider how I could connect and “be contagious” in a redemptive manner.  Emotional contagion is a term that relates to how an individual’s emotional state can influence the emotional state of others. This can also apply for groups of people where a single individual’s visible emotions can affect the entire group.

For example, if I am with someone who is well-grounded and self-aware emotionally, it will have a psychological effect on me. I may feel more resilient and positive about the situation. The reverse is also true. If I am with someone who is expressing negative emotions, it may have a transferring negative effect. Not only are emotions contagious for our psychological wellbeing, but also our physiological state. One researcher recently suggested emotional contagion is not only a concept for face-to-face gatherings but also applies to the virtual space. She alluded to the importance of our emotional state as we communicate through video conferencing.

In understanding emotional contagion and how it affects the social space that I share with people whether it is virtual or in person, I want to be prepared for every meeting. This preparation is a contract I underwrite with myself to arrive at the meeting with a committed to give my best to those I am serving.

Be Present.

Having a meaningful gathering in the virtual space requires us to be present. I have considered how this requires me to be deeply aware of my own emotional, spiritual, and physical state. I need to be willing to tend to my own needs before serving others. This may sound counter-intuitive, especially when my focus is to serve. However, the results of such a personal check-up can allow me to successfully bring focus to my head and my heart before a meeting. This is either by tending to my immediate needs and/or bracketing the issues that can wait. Taking moments for ourselves can have a powerful satisfying effect, as it can allow us to listen with intent in our meetings and be available to the people that we are interacting with.

Be Available. 

Last week I met with a group of young men. The crisis of Covid-19 has served as a catalyst for us to meet more often. While on the Zoom call, one man freely shared his struggle to come to faith. As a group of men, we listened with intent and offered our spiritual and emotional support for him. Interactions like these have me feeling hopeful for the future as we were able to serve this young man what he needed at that moment.

As we work through this crisis, we have a great opportunity to embody a message of hope to both those we currently serve, as well as our local communities. Our tools and techniques go beyond the technological capabilities that allow us to stay in communication. We have an opportunity to serve as people who are committed to adaptive leadership, and to be leaders who create a sense of stability in our response to the odd days for the people that we serve.

Easter Tips for Churches

Easter is just around the corner and Coach Louis has a Youtube playlist full of tips on how to make this Easter season at your church a space where people from your community can feel safe, welcomed and loved.

Five Key Things About Church Revitalization That Most Leaders Miss, Part 2

By Ed Stetzer

Third, most revitalization does not actually work at first.

Another thing about church revitalization most leaders miss is that most revitalization does not actually work at first.

Church revitalization is often a process of two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes, it’s two steps forward, two steps back. And sometimes, it doesn’t work at all. This is not always due to the resistance of people, although this can play a major role.

You need to become accustomed to slow, steady success with frequent failure.

Revitalization doesn’t usually occur with a sudden swarm of new believers zealous for sharing the gospel knocking down the doors of your church. It’s slow, steady success with frequent failure. It’s making the right choices, helping organize things well, leading from a spiritual perspective, and helping the church through revision.

Revitalization is frequent failure. There are many things that don’t work in church revitalization. If that freaks you out, you are probably going to really struggle with church revitalization.

One church where I led as interim pastor years ago was at a crisis point. It was near bankruptcy, but we were able to turn it around and get it healthy again. Then, the church hired a pastor and the pastor came in with an attitude of “I’m here and this is my plan.” He neither wanted to love the people nor wanted to walk with the people. His ideas shattered some of the unity we had worked towards as a church.

In the end, he got discouraged because he couldn’t figure out why the people weren’t doing what he wanted. Here’s the key that he missed: Revitalization usually doesn’t work at first. It’s a series of struggles, sometimes failures, and then breakthroughs and successes.

It may seem strange, but knowing that a lot of the things you will do are going to fail helps you. You’re free to hold your ideas a little more loosely when you know some of them can and will fail.

Fourth, most revitalizers change the wrong things first.

My experience has been that a lot of people who are going through revitalization have gone to seminary or Bible college where they were taught that what they needed to do was to purge the membership and restructure the leadership. This is a terrible idea.

There might be a time for that, but this is not the most urgent need. Instead, start by leading spiritually. Change things like your evangelistic capacity. Start reaching people. Help your church members get in better community. Build small groups or revitalize your Sunday School. Generate a sense that we’re doing something that makes a difference. Don’t start by cutting people.

Fifth, leadership is the most common failure point.

Most church revitalization failures are leadership failures. This is not because people are bad and didn’t try. Too often, it’s just because we didn’t walk through with the necessary leadership a proper path to make revitalization successful.

Keep in mind that we usually move two steps forward, one step back. What happens is that leaders give up too soon. They may get frustrated and give in, and the end result is that they don’t see the revitalization come.

This is not to say that there is never a time to give up. Sometimes there is. But oftentimes, people give up too quickly. They confuse their frustration with God writing off their church.

We need to patiently endure as leaders. Don’t give up.

There is a great need for people who are about seeing the church of Jesus Christ revitalized. If we love our people well and walk through revitalization together, we can help our congregations get back on track and back on mission.

Five Key Things About Church Revitalization That Most Leaders Miss, Part 1

Many churches are stuck and stagnant. That doesn’t mean God isn’t working in and through them, but it can be frustrating for a church to be stuck in the same place for a long time. Sometimes it can feel like no matter what the leadership or the church community does, they can’t get moving and growing again.

I want to share five key things about church revitalization that most leaders miss, and how to address them. Below are the first two and tomorrow I’ll share the final three.

First, lead spiritually.

The first key to church revitalization is that you need to lead spiritually. Many pastors come into a revitalization situation and think that what they should do is intentionally lead to organizational change. But people don’t generally need organizational change first. They need to know that you are a leader who loves Jesus, that you are a leader who will challenge them to grow in their understanding of the gospel, and that you are a leader who will walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.

One church I led through revitalization had a leadership team of elders who had been placed into their roles because they had won a vote in an election. They were primarily considered business leaders who might have some sense to lead the church.

But business leadership is not always spiritual leadership. So some of the elders were there on the board, but did not necessarily know why they were there.

Early on, we sat down and I challenged them to consider with me that we might all be spiritual leaders. I started to lead both the church and the elders spiritually.

In order to lead the elders spiritually and to guide them to become spiritual leaders themselves, I did a couple of things. I asked them to have read portions of Scripture before our monthly gatherings and I would have them split off into groups of two and three and discuss what we learned from the Scripture this month. We also memorized a Scripture verse together each month, and discussed how we had shared the gospel each month.

Immediately, several people dropped off the leadership team. There wasn’t anything wrong with this; they just realized that it was not really what they signed up for. They still stayed in the church.

The reality is that when you begin to lead spiritually, people might get uncomfortable. They will see that you are not just there to update the product. You’re there to serve it, love it, and help them get on mission so that for God’s glory, the church’s good and the good of the community can be real and evident.

The ones who stay will be effective spiritual leaders, which ultimately needs to precede organizational or structural changes. Leading an organizational change can be good, but your focus needs to first be on spiritual development, especially of the leadership.

Lead spiritually first, and you will avoid the mistakes that many novice church revitalizers make.

Second, resistance is normal.

When going through revitalization, many church leaders miss that resistance is normal. Resistance should be expected and anticipated. If you went into ministry for everyone to like you, this was a poor decision. Those kind of roles are found in serving ice cream and the like.

If you don’t have a certain percentage of your church frustrated with you, you’re probably not doing anything significant. Change, particularly to something that’s as connected to who we are as people as faith in our church, is always going to be received hesitantly, or perhaps even with resistance.

However, people don’t typically resist because they don’t want their church to be revitalized. Rather, they may think there is a better way than how you or the leadership is taking the church. They may believe there are better ways to get there, and prefer those other ways.

Caution: Don’t see people who resist you as your enemies. In fact, don’t even see them as impediments. View them as people you need to engage as partners. Get creative and imagine what it might look like to engage them as partners.

People who resist may have a different idea than you. They may even have a better idea than you. Think of Philippians 2; don’t just look to your own interest, but also the interests of others. Ultimately, you’ve got to do what’s wisest for the church, but you can’t automatically assume your idea is the wisest idea without hearing out those who object.

A big part of leadership is leaning into difficult situations that other people don’t want to lean into. Seeking out conversations with people who are resisting you is important in church leadership during the revitalization process and beyond.

Oftentimes, another’s objection is a misunderstanding. Those you can clarify, and then the issue dissolves. Perhaps the person still might not agree, but it will help you on the journey. Or maybe another person will share a new perspective or idea that you can bring back to your leadership team and the congregation and adjust your approach to revitalization. The bottom line is that it always helps to listen.

Any process of church revitalization that doesn’t include conflict expectation and conflict management is going to lead you to failure and undermine what you are trying to do. We need to anticipate resistance as normal and press into the conflicts, instead of trying to flee from them.

Tomorrow I’ll share three more keys to healthy church revitalization.

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

Leadership Boundaries

Today’s resource is a video link to Dr. Henry Cloud where he’s teaching on leadership boundaries.

Here is the video.

If there is a particular area of leadership that you’d like more resources on, please comment below – it may show up in future weeks.

Some things worth thinking on:

  • “Working on yourself as a person is the first service of leadership.”
  • “You’re the vessel that God uses.”
  • “What you do for God has to flow through you, the vessel.”
  • You are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, for good works. Eph. 2
  • “You as a leader will leave a wake/ripple.” You’ll leave a wake behind you in two areas:
    •  Mission – Did things happen? Did we reach those good works? Did we accomplish anything?
    • Relationships – Fruitful in relationship.

If you get a chance to watch this, it would be great to hear from you what stood out for you the most. Please comment below.

 

 

 

What’s the Win?

Some recent Horizon Foundation of Leadership students & I watched this video and it generated some great discussion among us. Perhaps consider using it for a learning circle discussion.

Video Notes:

“We all want to win. After all, winning is better than not winning. In a game a win is defined, but life is not a game. And winning in the most important areas of our lives isn’t always clear. So, how do we win?”

Video link here.

Who are You? Who are You Not?

Hi all,

As the newest member of the HLN | CV&M team, I have the opportunity to offer resources to you for you to consider.

My particular bent is helping leaders live and lead better. I believe that the hardest person we will ever lead is ourselves and that self-leadership is necessary for flourishing ministry. So on the weeks I get to populate the blog, many of the resources I share will, I hope, help you, the person.

“In today’s podcast, Pete shares an important truth from one of his favorite biblical characters – John the Baptist. John does not imitate other people, and part of leadership is to differentiate and bring that uniqueness of who God has made you to be. Pete will be sharing a message with us from John 1. To lead from who you really are, listen to this sermon and answer the 3 questions Pete gives you.”

Here is the episode link.

“We don’t have anyone else like you.”

 

 

If You Want People to Grow Spiritually, Quit Telling them to Study the Bible

by Jim Egli

I love to study the Bible but recently my Bible study led me to a surprising conclusion: We should quit telling people to study the Bible, and start telling them to meditate on and delight in it.

This is what happened. I was teaching a class on how to study the Bible and in preparation I decided to look at what the Bible itself has to say about Bible study. I was jarred by what I discovered. The Bible says almost nothing about studying the Bible! Very often we are told in the Bible to obey and meditate on Scripture, and there are many passages that tell us to remember and not forget God’s word and God’s acts. But study the Bible? It’s almost never mentioned in all of scripture.

Perhaps like me, you immediately think of the passage, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God….” (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV) But this is a poor translation of the original Greek. All modern translations render this better, as the New King James version does, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God….”

The key emphasis in the Bible itself on how we are to relate to it is not to study it, but to meditate on it, delight in it, ponder it, obey it, and not forget it. If you don’t believe me, do a quick word search on the words “study,” “delight,” “meditate,” and “obey.” You will be shocked, as I was.

In other words, the problem isn’t that we are stupid. The problem is that we are forgetful. Or to put it another way, the issue isn’t that we need to learn more Bible, the problem is that a lot of us know quite a bit of the Bible. But we don’t enjoy it and let it soak in, so we forget it or don’t apply it. So we often miss the abundant life that it is calling us to.

The key passage in all of the Bible on how we should treasure God’s word is Psalm 119, the 176-verse acrostic on why and how we should love Scripture. Have you ever noticed that it does not mention studying the Bible even once. But 17 times it talks about obeying Scripture and 8 times speaks of meditating on God’s word and his works. Notice, for example, verses 97-101:

Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
Your commands are always with me
and make me wiser than my enemies.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.
I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.

The problem with telling people to study the Bible is that most people hate studying. In fact most people heartily agree with Ecclesiastes 12:11: “Much study wearies the body.” So when we tell them to study Scripture, we are implying that it’s a textbook and people are repulsed. Who likes to read textbooks?

I recently asked on Facebook, “What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘study’?” I was hoping that at least ten people would respond and was shocked that over 100 did. Some people reported feelings of joy when they heard the word study but many offered words like, “ugh!” “stress,” “boring,” “dread,” “anxiety,” and “exhaustion.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that Bible study is bad. It’s a wonderful thing. But the word “study” repulses most people. And careful Bible study itself reveals that study is not the primary way we are supposed to absorb and respond to God’s word.

Instead, we are invited to ponder, to meditate, to delight in, and obey it. If you want some fresh ideas on how to respond to Scripture in life-changing ways, consider the simple Discovery Group and three-column approaches that are being used around the world in the rapidly growing disciple-making movement.

I hope you have a delightful time meditating on and responding to God’s word today!

How To Grow From Leadership Pain

by Dan Reiland

No one experiences the success of leadership without also knowing pain.

It’s up to each individual leader if they will press through the pain and grow or quit leading.

The principle is that strong.

Too many of my friends and colleagues have quit leading. They may still have a position in the church, but after enough pain for too many years, they pull back to a safe zone and maintain.

The trouble with retreat is that it brings its own pain.

“You’ll grow only to the threshold of your pain,” is the central theme of Dr. Samuel R. Chand’s book, Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth.

Dr. Chand has served as a pastor, is the former President of Beulah Heights Bible College, the author of 15 books, Change Strategist and Leadership Consultant.

Sam is a good friend, and my post today gives you an overview of just a little of Sam’s wisdom and insights on this little talked about but so important topic of leadership pain.

There are many different examples and kinds of pain leaders experience. Jesus can help you walk through the pain, but growing from it is key.

Here are a few examples:

1) The pain of being misunderstood.

You can do everything right and be completely misunderstood.

You can pray fervently to make the right decision, or work hard to communicate the plan in just the right way, and still be misunderstood.

2) The pain of people leaving your church.

The people you help the most are often the first to complain and leave.

It’s difficult not to take this personally. We know the Kingdom of God is bigger than any one of our churches, but when you’re honest, this can still bring pain.

And different than in most businesses, those who attend your church are not customers, they are part of the church family, so it’s different when someone leaves.

3) The pain of deep disappointment.

Your ministry isn’t turning out like you thought or hoped.

This may be the most common leadership pain of all. Disappointment is a chief enemy to spiritual leaders.

Big dreams and bold vision are a healthy part of any leader’s life.

No one ever heard a conference speaker, blog writer, or author say, “Dream small and keep your vision manageable.”

The truth is, however, that God never promised everything would work just as you dreamed and planned. But He has called you to be obedient and faithful anyway.

Growing and leading though that pain is not easy, but essential. Don’t let the Enemy win.

4) The pain of a staff member leaving and taking others with them.

You chose them, hired them, paid them, encouraged them, loved them, trained them, and they leave without honor.

This point here is not meant to include the many normal and healthy staff transitions. That’s part of life. This pain comes from staff transitions that become difficult and sometimes even hurtful.

5) The pain of carrying others pain.

You can only carry so much yourself; you need someone who can walk the leadership journey with you.

As a spiritual leader, you climb deep into the hurts, pain, and suffering of many.

Just last night at 12Stone Church, we experienced a powerful evening of worship and prayer. As people formed long lines to be prayed over, I was privileged to be one who prayed for many that night.

Person after person, with hurts and pains, some so heartbreaking you could feel the weight they carry.

It’s a blessing to pray for others, but if you do that alone for long, the weight can be overwhelming.

Pain isn’t a popular topic, but we are wise to embrace its reality. It’s part of life and leadership.

3 practices to use pain as a catalyst for growth:

1) See pain as your greatest teacher.

Instead, ask God what He has in mind and how you can learn and grow through it. It’s not that we should actually seek pain, and I’m certainly not suggesting that any leader should be “happy” about it, but it can be used for good.

When you connect that with the fact that you simply cannot outrun pain, it serves you well to learn from it.

2) Let your vision drive you.

Wow. That is so good.

When I think about all the obstacles, setbacks, and limitations we all face as leaders, it would be easy to dumb down the vision just under the level of pain.

The best athletes press through. The best scientists keep testing, the best academics press on, and keep going. As leaders, we need to do the same.

3) Have a rigorous personal development plan.

If you have a plan to grow, you’ll incorporate the difficulties, challenges, and trials life brings your way to a stronger, more capable, and more resilient leadership self.

What is your growth plan?

 

FAILURE IS NOT FINAL

by Noe Garcia

Have you ever failed so miserably you felt like God was done with you and there was no way you could ever be restored? I’m not talking about cheating on a test or telling a lie. I mean failing so badly you felt like you were better off dead than alive? The kind of failure that brings deep shame and regret. An affair, a great scandal in your business, and the list can go on. The kind of failure that makes you regret the day you were born. A bit strong I know. But it’s not unrealistic.

Before we move further let me tell you loud and clear, YOUR FAILURE IS NOT FINAL!

Yes, you will feel the consequences of it. Yes, the enemy will whisper lies in your ear; he will remind you of your mistake, and he wants you to think you are too far gone. But great news: The enemy is not the author and perfecter of your faith. The pen is not in his hands. God truly can take your mess and turn it into a message if you allow Him to.

So what do you do if you are feeling defeated? All of the friends you had have now scattered and the path to restoration seems impossible? You must remember two things.

THE ENEMY WANTS TO DESTROY YOU

The enemy does not feel sorry for you. The enemy does not want to give you time to heal. The enemy has come to kill, steal, and destroy.

“Your failure is not what makes things final; it’s how you respond to your failure.”

 

Remember what happened to Judas in Matthew 27? After he betrayed Jesus he felt so much guilt and remorse that he went and hung himself. Why do you think this happened? I’ll tell you why, the same enemy that entered his heart (Luke 22) and enticed him is the enemy that shamed him to his death. It was the bait of temptation that turned into condemnation.

That’s what the enemy does—he tempts us then shames us. Can you imagine what it was like to be Judas? He walked so closely with Jesus. He saw miracles first hand. He saw Jesus’ kindness, power, grace, and mercy. He knew Jesus was the Messiah and all it took was one unguarded moment that allowed the enemy to come in and the rest was history.

Sound familiar? Sounds like you and I doesn’t it? We walk so closely with Jesus. We see Him do mighty things around us, for us, and to us, but even then we find a way to make poor decisions. Despite His goodness we find a way to fail.

When you think about it, we are not much different from Judas. But our response doesn’t have to be the same. In the darkest moment of your failure, Satan wants you to end it all. He wants you to drown in guilt and shame. He wants you to think it is over. He wants you destroyed. However, there is great news! If you are reading this, that means you are still breathing, and if you are still breathing then that means He’s not done with you yet!

GOD WANTS TO RESTORE YOU

Your failure is not what makes things final; it’s how you respond to your failure. You can choose to believe it’s over. You can even get mad at God for allowing it to happen and not protecting you. Your shame and guilt is what will keep you from His grace and comfort.

But I want to encourage you. God desires to restore you. I will write that again. God desires your restoration.

Let’s think about this for a minute. In Luke 15 we see the story of the prodigal son. A son who had everything he needed when he was in the presence of his father. However, he had the desire to chase his own wants.

“God desires to restore you.”

 

The son shames the father by asking for his inheritance early. It was pretty much like telling the father, “I wish you were dead.” The son then takes the inheritance and squanders it by living recklessly and sleeping with prostitutes. He hits rock bottom. He is at the lowest of lows.

Can you imagine the shame the son felt? How embarrassed he must have been? But just when you think his story is over, he makes the best decision he had made in a long time. He decides to return home and be with his father.

The father’s reaction is astonishing. The truth is, in this culture the son could have been stoned and put to death on his return because of the way he shamed his father. But that doesn’t happen. In fact, the opposite happens. This prodigal son probably never would have imagined that his father would have responded in this manner.

The father sees him from a distance and runs to him and embraces him. Probably to protect him from the stoning, but nonetheless he runs to him which tells us he’s been longing for his son to return home. He doesn’t even allow his son to finish his repentance story but instead restores him fully!

Wow, what a story and what a picture of God’s heart! He loves you and desires to restore you. I cannot tell you how long it will take. I cannot tell you what the path to restoration will look like, but I can tell you He desires for you to walk with Him and to be restored!

ABOUT NOE GARCIA

Dr. Noe Garcia is the Senior Pastor at North Phoenix. He also serves as the 2nd Vice President of Southern Baptist Convention and an Adjunct Professor for Gateway Seminary. Noe is a passionate preacher who loves challenging and encouraging people with God’s Word.