Inside Issues for Spiritual Leaders: Are You Clean?

In Luke 11:37-41 Jesus is addressing a crowd of people when a Pharisee invites him to dinner.  The Pharisees were religious leaders in Israel that sometimes also served as politicians and social guardians within Jewish society.  At this point in the narrative the Pharisees were already bent on trying to discredit and destroy Jesus  over perceived violations of the Jewish Sabbath.  They were questioning his authority.  But Jesus accepts this particular Pharisee’s dinner invitation.  Upon reclining at the dinner table, the Pharisee is appalled that Jesus did not first wash before dinner.  This was not just an issue of clean hands to be germ free before a meal.  This was a religious legal issue of being ceremoniously clean.  This was a Pharisaical rule, not one derived from the Old Testament Law.  Jesus responds with two observations and a command.

First, Jesus makes an indicting observation that the Pharisees in general pay close attention to ensuring that utensils are kept ceremoniously clean but are unconcerned about the issues of the heart.  Jesus notes that the condition of their heart was one of greed and wickedness.

Second, Jesus goes on to declare them foolish and to remind them that the one who made the outside made the inside.  The condemnation of being foolish reveals that the Pharisees in general were ungodly and full of false piety.  The emphasis is on the fact that God is the maker of both the outside and the inside and therefore equal weight must be given to cleansing both.

Finally, Jesus commands the Pharisee to give alms as a way of gaining cleansing.  But this is not works righteousness.  Jesus is using a ritual activity the Pharisees knew well, the giving of alms.  But he places a twist on it by stating that the alms they must give are on the inside.  The notion is that they should give up their greed and avarice and they will be clean.  Cleansing is always an inside issue, an issue of the heart.

The problem with spiritual leaders is that we can look clean for quite awhile.  We can say the right things, do the right things, be regarded as righteous and worthy. But inside there is greed, covetousness, and the desire for all forms of gain.  It will show up eventually.  It usually shows up in the form of pride and legalism.  And people begin to feel it.

The Pharisees were often accused of being hypocrites.  Today our society has looked at the Christian faith and given us the same label.  When we over emphasize external behaviors as markers of holiness and disregard the heart we set the stage for hypocrisy.  Jesus was placing an emphasis on inward cleansing.  If the inside is clean then you are clean.

Here are three questions for us as leaders to help make application to our lives:

1. What external markers of righteousness are you holding others to that may not match Scripture?

2. How is your heart?  Are there forms of greed lurking there?  Do you covet some other leader’s ministry, fame, or success?  What are you counting as gain?

3. Are you willing to confess those attitudes, repent, and give them away to the grace of the gospel for inward cleansing?

King David once prayed, Create in me in a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

May that be our prayer today.  Lead well!

5 for Leadership (08/17/12)

Here are five new posts for 5 for Leadership.  If you are familiar with the 5 for Leadership series then you will recognize a couple of these authors.  But I am also highlighting some new ones.  Click on some links and see what you think.

5 Traits of an Aware Leader  This is a throw back to March of this year and comes from Ron Edmondson.  These five points will help you to think about what you don’t know regarding the health and function of your team or others you lead.  This is a worthy read.

For Those Who Want To Lead, Read  This post hits a nerve for me.  From the time I was a young leader I have been admonished to read–a lot.  You have probably heard it too-“Leaders are readers and readers are leaders.”  I think there is a lot of merit to this.  Take a look at this Harvard Business Review post by John Coleman.  There are some very practical insights to get you going.

Missy Franklin: The Cincinnatus of the Olympics  This is a fun and insightful post linking a famed Roman general of character with the young American hero of the London games.  I found this on the Let’s Grow Leaders blog.

Genuine and Wholehearted Praise  This comes from Mary Jo Asmus.  I have highlighted her before because of her insightful and practical posts.  In this one she highlights the need for employee praise and for not crossing the line into “cheerleading”.  She also offers three wise steps to help you be sure that you remain genuine and effective with your praise.

Andy Crouch: Celebrate the City  This comes from the Faith & Leadership blog and is an interview with Andy Crouch.  Andy is part of a project sponsored by Christianity Today about the value of the city and what churches are doing in the city to be a blessing.  This resonates with me as my day job is also about being a blessing to the cities of our country.

There are the 5 for this week.  Lead well!

Three Daily Tasks of a Spiritual Leader

1 Chronicles 22 provides a good example of what I consider to be the three daily tasks of any spiritual leader.  In this portion of the Bible King David is making necessary preparations for the building of the temple.  It has been his dream to provide a permanent place for the presence of God among His people.  But God communicated to David that he would not be the one to actually construct the temple and see it to completion.  Because David was also a warrior and had blood on his hands, God limited David to the preplanning, but not the construction or the completion of the temple.  That would be reserved for David’s son Solomon to do.  Yet, even in his limitations, David exhibits the following three qualities that are a daily necessity for leaders.

1. Give clear direction.  Followers simply and rightly want to know what is expected of them.  They want to know where the enterprise is headed.  They want to know what is “true north.”  A good leader should be able to provide that for those he leads in daily doses.  David does so in verses 1-5.  He communicates clearly that a house of God is to be built and an altar must accompany the temple.  He communicates clearly to the laborers that it will be Solomon who will see this through.  There was no doubt as to what the direction of the endeavor would be.

2. Provide adequate resources.  Leaders must also provide their followers with the necessary resources to actually carry out what they have been directed to do.  Resources can come in the form of money, tools, or people. It could be in the form of training or expertise.  It can even come in the form of providing hope.  Again, this should be a daily consideration for the good leader.  What do my people need today to succeed?  In verses 14-19 David clearly communicates to Solomon all of the resources he has provided for him for the construction of the temple.  David has provided both raw materials and expertise so that his son can complete the vision.

3. Point people to Christ.  Finally, good leaders must continually point their followers to Christ as their ultimate source of dependence and hope.  There is not doubt that there will be days when the task will be discouraging.  There will be other days where wild success will tempt people to be proud.  The good leader knows how to handle both imposters and direct the people’s gaze back to Christ.  David does this for his son in verses 6-13.  Not only does David porvide Solomon with a clear picture of what is to be accomplished, but he also reminds him that God will be with him every step of the way.  It is God who will grant Solomon success.

I truly believe that every spiritual leader can measure his or her day according to these three tasks and know how well they have done in leading.  As I start my day and end my day I try to ask:  Did I give clear direction so that people knew what was expected of them?  Did I provide adequate resources so that people had what they needed to succeed?  Did I point people to the deep well that is Christ for their ultimate source of hope and dependence?

If I can say that I have done this to the best of my ability, I can know that I have led pretty well and fulfilled my daily calling.

Leadership and The Crowd

There is an astounding contrast of leadership revealed when you read Mark 15.  In the biblical narrative Jesus has already been arrested by the Jewish religious elite.  His time had come to move toward the cross.  Those who arrested him thought that they were doing away with him.  But this is why he came-to go to the cross.  The trial was a mockery and all that they could truly accuse him of was laying claim to his very identity: Messiah, the Christ, the son of the blessed, the son of man.  This was blasphemous to these religious leaders.  But they needed Pilate’s judgment as a civil authority to have Jesus executed.  When Jesus comes before Pilate he makes no defense, save one.  Again, he can’t deny his very identity as King of the Jews.  Usually a rival king would be enough for a Rome appointed authority to have someone executed, but Pilate refuses to do so.  He knew that it was out of envy that the Jewish leaders desired to have Jesus put to death.  The religious leaders stirred up the crowd to invoke a custom of substitution-Barabbas for Jesus.  And this brings us to Mark 15:15.

So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.

Allow me to make a few leadership observations.

The religious leaders used the crowd to get what they wanted.

Pilate, fearing a riot, satisfied the crowd to keep the peace.

The crowd, in true group think mode, decides that it is better to substitute a murderous insurrectionist for a teacher/healer/holy man and have him put to death.

Jesus, wishing to serve “the crowd”, lays down his life for their sins-a genuine substitute.  The innocent for the guilty.  The living for the dead.  That they might have real life.

Allow me to stretch the leadership application a bit.

We always have three choices regarding “the crowd”:  use the crowd, satisfy the crowd, or serve the crowd.  Using the crowd is usually for our own ends and our own glory.  Satisfying the crowd is usually out of fear and the need for acceptance.  Serving the crowd is hard and humble work and can often mean difficult choices of sacrifice to give them what they don’t want in the present to take them where they ultimately want to go.

What are your thoughts?

4 Priorities for a Spiritual Leader

I recently attended a conference for a portion of our staff that serve in the cities of America.  We are currently reorienting our vision around city transformation.  It was a rich time of honest interaction about change and our need to be better mobilizers of what God has called us to do.  In the midst of our time together one of my mentors and friends, David English, shared some very insightful priorities for every person attempting to successfully engage in the mission.  I thought they were quite profound and wanted to share them with you.

1. My character is more important than my competency.  I have commented on this principle many times.  Character is tantamount, no matter what our culture says.  We can tend to place greater emphasis on leadership competencies than on our integrity.  But competency will never cover for bad character.

2. My godliness is more important than my giftedness.  I am always concerned when I see young leaders rise in prominence based largely on their giftedness.  Usually this valued giftedness revolves around gifted communication-either of the vision or of the Scriptures.  But when this giftedness is not enveloped in a growing godliness it could set up for great fall of pride.

3. Who I am in Christ is more important than any scope of ministry I may have been given, any position I may have attained, or any task that I may perform.  Ultimately our true identity is in Christ.  It is so easy to base our identity on our scope of ministry, our title or position, or the monumental task before us.  But these are impostors and serve us poorly as building blocks of identity.  God is responsible for the breadth of our ministries.  We must see ourselves as recipients and transmitters of the grace of Christ.  Nothing more, nothing less.

4. Who I am is more important than what I do.  Being over doing is a cornerstone to making it to the finish line.  I have been thinking about this a lot lately and I have decided it is very hard to finish well as a leader for the cause of Christ.  It is easy to list those who have not.  It takes great determination and a view of self that realizes the importance of being over doing.

What are your thoughts on these four principles?  What else seems important to you as a leadership priority?

David has written much on the stages of a man’s life.  His insights are life changing.  If you would like to know more here is a web link.

3 Traits of a Missional Leader

There is much talk today about being missional.  The idea is grounded in the notion that we move towards people, not that we require them to move towards us.  It carries with it the understanding of empathy that allows us to meet people where they are with the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.  But what type of leader does it take to lead people into this experience?  I offer up three critical traits from 2 Corinthians 4:1-10 and 2 Corinthians 1:8-11.

1. An identity rooted in the fact that we have been redeemed and called  This is the sure knowledge and understanding that we as Christ followers have been rescued and commissioned.  We have been bought and sent.  The gospel is not a collection of good sayings-it is the announcement of good news.  It is the proclamation of redemption that carries with it the privilege and responsibility of transference.  A leader must be secure in who they are as a redeemed loved child to ask others to follow their calling into missional engagement.

2. A belief in the gospel as the ultimate reality of life  There are many, many competing philosophies of life in the world today.  There always have been.  The gospel stands alone.  Again, the gospel is the proclamation of good news, of a historical, life altering event.  It is the announcement of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection that can set us free from slavery to sin and death.  All other world philosophies offer improvement theories.  The gospel offers freedom and transformation.  There is no greater need or greater reality.  A leader must surely believe this to lead others into the morass and messiness of missional engagement.  This bedrock belief also provides the passion to the message.

3. A ridiculous faith in God’s presence and goodness  I believe these two traits provide the foundation for faith.  The clear understanding that God is completely good (no imperfections and no injustice) and always present (he is with us in every situation and setting) allows us to weather the missional storms.  I only call this type of faith “ridiculous” because it is other worldly and will be attacked by the world.  A leader must continually point followers to this reality about the nature and character of God.

What are your thoughts on other key traits?

5 for Leadership (8/10/12)

Today’s 5 will expose you to some new authors for me.  I have included a powerful leadership story, some great leadership principles, and some timely leadership quotes.  Enjoy.

Red Marbles and a Very Kind Leader  You must read this post.  I found it on the Teamwork and Leadership blog.  It is the story of personal leadership with influence and great generosity.  For me it highlights well that all leadership is influence and that generosity in leadership is often a forgotten component.

Overcoming The Fear of Asking  Are you an inquisitive leader?  If not, why not?  This is something I struggle with at times.  I either think that I am wasting someone else’s time or I fall into the trap that I don’t have time to be an asking leader.  This post from the Leadership Solutions blog provides some very practical reasons and practices for becoming a more inquisitive leader.

Leadership By Choice  I have often highlighted the Leading Blog for it’s quality content.  This offering is a simple four part evaluation to better determine if you are leading with great intentionality.  It is a brief summary of a book written by Eric Papp.  I think all four parts are critical and worthy of our reflection.

Can A Church Be Both Attractional and Missional?  This comes from Tony Morgan’s blog and is an interview with Dave Ferguson.  Dave and Alan Hirsch recently co-authored a book entitled On The Verge.  This is an insightful interview on this ongoing and very important topic.  It will give you a taste of the book.

Leadership Summit: Bill Hybels  The well known Willow Creek Leadership Summit is currently in progress.  I returned to Tony Morgan’s blog for this offering because he has been capturing some of the key principles and quotes from the summit for our digestion.  Here is Tony’s gleanings from Bill’s opening address.

There are the 5 for this week.  Lead well!