The irony of strong leadership

“I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

My immediate concern is always with the Lord’s church, but this principles applies everywhere.

I am pro-pastor. Always and forever. Anyone who reads the blog and knows me will agree that I honor the pastor.  God made me a pastor at the age of 22, and I’ve been one ever since.

However, we have a problem.

In churches across our land tyrants can be found who call themselves pastors and demand to be obeyed. Such men are unqualified to do anything in the kingdom and must be dealt with by courageous men and women in the pews.

Otherwise, they will corrupt the gospel, destroy the church, wound the weak, and drive away many who need Christ.

In the Kingdom of God, leaders are required to be servants.

Many a pastor misses this, and if he learns it at all, not before he has made many a bone-headed mistake and left a lot of good people bleeding in his wake.

We lead by serving.

We do not lead by dominating.

That’s it.

Scripture says the Holy Spirit has made the pastor the “overseer” (episcopos) of the church (Acts 20:28).  Scripture says church members are to “obey their leaders” as those who will give account for their souls (Hebrews 13:17).  However….

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When a leader is a non-leader

“So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God” (Exodus 24:13). 

Always referred to as the servant of Moses, Joshua was used to taking orders.

That’s why, when the day arrived for Moses to announce that his work was done and God was recalling him and that Joshua would have to carry on (“Get these people into the Promised Land!”), he, Joshua, must have panicked.

For four decades Joshua has been warming the bench; now, he’s being sent into the game as the clock ticks down and everything is on the line.

What would he do without a boss over him, someone telling him what to do and how to do it, someone to whom he could report, who would grade him and pat him on the head when he did good or chew him out when his work fell short?

Throughout his life, Joshua had never taken the initiative in anything, but had followed orders.  In Exodus 17:9, the first mention of Joshua in Scripture, he leads a rag-tag army of ex-slaves against the Amalekites. However, on a distant hill, Moses was overseeing everything and giving guidance.

No one wants to follow a non-leader.  Readers will want to check out the final chapters of Deuteronomy and the early chapters of Joshua and count the number of times Moses, God, and the Israelites urged this surprised newly chosen leader to “be strong and of good courage.”

A leader must be strong to forge a path and take the heat and must be of good courage to endure the problems, headaches, and backstabbings.

It goes with the territory. As the saying goes, it’s why they pay the leader the big bucks.

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A strong dose of leadership

Many of our churches have a love-hate relationship with the concept of strong leaders.

Some will say they want a strong leader but find themselves unable to work with one when they get him.

–“He acts bossy.”

–“He announces the direction for the church but without talking to me.”

–“The minister of music was here before the pastor and is not used to taking orders.”

–“We have to approve that 35 cents he wants for stamps.”

–“We didn’t vote on that program.”

Other churches have terminated pastors because they say the ministers were not giving strong leadership.

–“We didn’t know where we were going.”

–“The staff seemed directionless.”

–“We were just floundering.”

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Requirement for a pastor: The ability to teach!

“An overseer (episkopos) then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach….” (I Timothy 3:2)

Most preachers would rather preach than teach.

Even the names say that, don’t they?  We call pastors “preachers,” not “teachers.”  And yet….

In seminary, we used up an entire class period one day trying to figure out the difference in preaching and teaching.  By the end, we had given up.

Each of us has our own understanding of how they differ. Here’s mine.

Think of preaching as exhorting and proclaiming in order to change lives; think of teaching as imparting information and insights in order to inform the mind and change the heart.

Teaching can be an important but minor part of preaching, and exhorting may be one component of good teaching. But the major chord of preaching is proclaiming, and the major thrust of teaching is conveying insights and truths.

“Yes, but….”

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How to tell if you’re ready for the next level of service in the Kingdom

“Now, the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him.  And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God'” (Luke 16:15).

The director of missions (a local denominational leader, for readers unfamiliar with Southern Baptist terminology) told me about a visitor he had one day, a fellow making himself available to pastor a church.

The DOM (I’ll call him Will) said, “Tell me about your present church involvement.”

The visitor said, “I’m not actually involved in a church at the present time.  I’m just visiting around.”

Will: “How long have you lived here?”

The man: “Five years.”

Will said, “May I ask why you haven’t joined a church and become active?”

The man said, “Because my presence would intimidate a pastor.”

Will said, “My friend, I would never recommend you as a pastor of a church.  Not in a million years.”

The visit ended quickly.

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When church committees begin to jump the track

“Then the chief priests and the Pharisees formed a council and said, ‘What do we do? For this man does many miracles. If we let him alone, all will believe on him” (John 11:47-48).

After watching the Lord Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, the religious leaders were faced with a choice. They could either do what the common folk were doing and worship Jesus, or not.  My friend Josh Carter, pastor in Memphis, points out what they actually did: they formed a committee.

By creating a committee, we hand off the assignment–the decision on what to do and how to do it–to a group of “others.”

Sometimes that works out.  Often it doesn’t.

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Great opportunity; many obstacles; where’s the door?

“For a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (I Corinthians 16:9).

(See the postscript for a story illustrating this text.)

Ain’t that the way?

You spot a great opportunity, the adrenalin flows and your heart races. You seize it and begin to make plans to do this wonderful thing in a big way, when suddenly, out of the blue, you’re blindsided by opposition and adversaries.

“Dear Lord, just as soon as you send a huge opportunity with wide-open doors and no problems in my direction, I’ll be back.”

Just as soon as everyone is on board and the naysayers are all gone, as soon as my mama agrees and the vote is unanimous, and when the resources are in the bank and old Mr. Crenshaw quits fighting it, yessirree–we’ll be right there to do this thing you’ve laid on our hearts.

That’s how our heart feels. That’s the counsel our fears give.

Paul was in Ephesus and having a great ministry, one lasting several years. This work was characterized by all three facets he mentions in this verse–great opportunities, open doors, and many obstacles.

Sounds like life, doesn’t it?  Great opportunities, open doors, many obstacles. It is indeed.

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Pulling rank: What some pastors do which Jesus never did

Standing with a group of pastors, chatting and fellowshiping and shooting the (sacred) bull–smiley-face goes here–one of them came out with something like:

“I told him I’m the pastor of the church, that God sent me here as the overseer, and if he doesn’t like it, he can find another church.”

That brought nods of approval, even from a couple who knew they would never have the gumption to say such a thing. Even if they feel it.

But that pastor is wrong.

Dead wrong.

If anyone on earth had the right to pull rank on other people, it was our Lord Himself.

Yet, He never did.

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Parasitical goings-on in church

Have you ever heard of an insect called an ichneumon? Me either. But George Will wrote about it in his syndicated newspaper column this week in analyzing why Detroit declared bankruptcy a few days ago.

The ichneumon insect inserts an egg in a caterpillar, then the larva which hatches from the egg proceeds to gnaw the insides of the caterpillar. Eventually, it has devoured almost every part of the worm with the exception of the skin and intestines, while it carefully avoids injuring the vital organs.  The ichneumon seems to know that its own existence depends on the life of the insect on which it feeds.

George Will writes that government employees’ unions have been living parasitically on the city of Detroit. They were not as smart as the ichneumon insect, he says,  because they ended up devouring their host.

One way the Holy Spirit calls my attention to lessons He has placed in front of me is I find the story (the article, the fact, whatever) fascinating. If I cannot get it out of my mind, if it will not go away, if it keeps returning to bug me, then  all the signs are present.

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12 things I tell the deacons

No one is more surprised than I that the Lord has me leading all these deacon training conferences and retreats these days. (I’ve done five so far, with two or more to go. A couple had to be canceled for various reasons.)

I love deacons and treasure the relationship with quite a few from the six churches I served over four decades.. My oldest son is a deacon and served as chairman of our church’s group the last two years.


I carry a few scars from battles with deacons.  I encountered a dozen or so along the way with mental health of the worst kind, some with stunted and deformed theology, and one or two who thought they were rightfully entitled to rule over the universe.   This website carries some forty or more articles written on the ministry of deacons over the years. Frequently, those painful experiences and harshest collisions produced the  best lessons and, of course, the most interesting stories.

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