Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Week in Review

Some seek status, some seek power, some seek financial success. However our motivation should be to seek Jesus only.

Temptations that Affect the Christian Leader – And How to Overcome Them

What is temptation? For the Christian leader, it is anything that pulls one away from being an effective leader by God’s standards. There are some temptations that are very easy to see and many do well that keep away from them. However, there are those temptations that can weave their way in and cause decline without an individual realizing it. Those are temptations such as personal recognition, pursuit of material or financial success and power or control from being in a place of authority. How is the individual leader to resist these temptations? Jesus mirrors for the Christian leader the steps to be successful when facing these and other temptations.

Joseph M. Stowell (1994) stated, “Ministry leadership is not a popularity contest, and those who lead to please may soon find themselves looking for another flock to shepherd.” (p. 97) Personal recognition or popularity is one of the snares that face the Christian leader. Some may be drawn into this snare by believing that it is important to please people and be on the side of the majority so they can be successful leaders. This, however, will not help the leader be God’s leader.

Jesus when faced with the devil’s temptations used the power of the word of God to combat his tricks. The scripture states:

“And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:3-4)

Henri J. M. Nouwen (1989) states, “Jesus’ first temptation was to be relevant: to turn stones into bread.” (p. 30) While being relevant may be looked at as something wonderful, Jesus did not try to prove his worth to gain popularity or status. His response to the devil’s temptation was to speak the word of God against the tempter. This is the same defense that will be effective for the Christian leader. When one is tempted to be relevant he must remember that it is about God and not about personal success. The word of God is the shield against these temptations.

“One of the main sufferings experienced in the ministry is that of low self-esteem. Many priests and ministers today increasingly perceive themselves as having very little impact.” (Nouwen, p. 31) This is how the enemy uses the pursuit of personal recognition to trick many. One begins to feel relevant when he receives the praise of men. Jesus shows that the focus should be on the Father and he will establish one’s self worth.

The second temptation is the pursuit of material or financial success. John McArthur (2005) expounds on Paul’s words when he writes:

“Another more sinister pitfall to avoid is doing the work of the ministry for sordid gain. ‘I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes,’ Paul said to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:33). ‘No one can serve two masters,’ Jesus declared, ‘for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon’ (Matt. 6:24). This is doubly true of pastors, whom God requires to be ‘free from the love of money’” (p. 24)

McArthur was speaking about pastors, but this statement can be applied to any Christian leader. God requires his leaders to follow him and not the pursuit of selfish gain. Jesus’ response to the devil’s snare of personal gain was to rebuke his trickery with the truth of God’s word. The devil tried to trick Jesus by telling him to wait for God’s angels to catch him after he threw himself down from the a pinnacle of the temple (Matthew 4:5-7). While this scripture does not speak to money in particular, it speaks to a mindset of deserving something. The devil was trying to tempt Jesus by making him think he deserved God’s angels to care for his needs. When the leader believes he or she deserves money or material gain, he can fall prey to the same trick Satan tried to tempt Jesus with; specifically an attitude of being owed something. Jesus says do not tempt God.

The final temptation is the lure of power:

“The problem with a platform of assumed authority is that the shepherd moves beyond the authority of the Word and seeks to exercise unchallenged personal authority and control in preferential issues and matters of church policy. Real authority is given, not gotten. Every time we grab for it, problems inevitably follow.” (Stowell, p. 100)

When leaders seek the power or authority, they allow themselves to become prideful. The humble leader realizes they are being used as a vessel for God. Jesus realized this when he was tempted:

“Again the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Matthew 4:8-10)

Satan tried to tempt Jesus with the promise that he would have all the power. Jesus rebuked the devil and affirmed God’s word that only God should be worshipped. When the Christian leader looks to oneself to be powerful, they are looking for the honor and authority to be given to them.

The question then is how did Jesus overcome all these temptations? Jesus was able to overcome all these temptations because he took time in prayer and fasting to take control over the flesh. Jesus also spoke the word against those thoughts that the enemy would try to bring. Jesus knew that the battle starts in the mind and the word is the only effective weapon against that. He also had to have hidden the word in his heart to be able to speak it so freely. This is a reminder that one must hide the word in their heart so they will not sin against God.

These steps help the leader to stay humble before God. The humbled leader does not seek personal recognition but turns to promoting God. The humble leader speaks, preaches or leads not because of what will be gained personally, but because it will help others to follow God. The humble leader resists the temptation to seek for oneself the honor of “king” or “ruler” by always seeking the true sovereignty of God. When the Christian leader hides the word of God in their heart, those lures that would destroy can be overcome. The Christian leader can overcome, because God’s Spirit will empower them. The Christian leader can be an overcomer because Jesus already overcame the world.

Reference List

MacArthur, John. (2005). Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically.
Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Nouwen, Henri J.M. (1989). In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company.

Stowell, Joseph M. (1994). Shepherding The Church: Effective Leadership in a Changing Culture. Chicago, IL: Moody Press.

Thompson, Frank Charles, D.D., PH.D. (1988). The Thompson chain-reference Bible, 5th ed. Indianapolis, IN: B. B. Kirkbridge Bible Co., Inc.

The Week in Review

Trust – What Grounds the Effective Leader?

The author John C. Maxwell (1998) writes about the importance of trust in leadership. One must explore his meaning to understand why trust is vital for the leader. It is also important to understand the meaning so that one can recover if that trust has been broken. Nouwen’s concepts of relevance and contemplative prayer have a vital contribution that can help the leader understand Maxwell’s concept of trust from a Christian perspective. After the examination of these concepts, I inspect myself regarding the temptation to be relevant based on Nouwen’s definition. Finally, how can these principles be applied to help me grow and move from the place of seeking relevancy?

John C. Maxwell (1998) explains the concept of trust as being the solid ground. When a leader makes poor decisions in his leadership role, he places himself in a shaky situation, losing that solid ground or firm foundation. Maxwell goes further to explain how the leader builds that solid ground. He uses a bank or savings analogy. He states:

“Each time you make a good leadership decision, it puts change into your pocket. Each time you make a poor one, you have to pay out some of your change to the people. Every leader has a certain amount of change in his pocket when he starts in a new leadership position. From then on, he either builds up his change or pays it out. If he makes one bad decision, after another, he keeps paying out change. Then one day, after making one last bad decision, he is going to reach into his pocket and realize he is out of change.” (p. 57)

The meaning of the change or money example refers to how one builds trust among her people. If she is making good decisions and is mindful of those she affects, she builds up her change in her bank. If she makes one bad decision after another, she spends her change and in time will run out completely. Once the change is gone, the leader has lost trust among her people. This tendency to make one bad decision after another speaks to the leaders character. “Character makes trust possible” (Maxwell, p. 58).

If a leader’s character is questionable others do not want to follow. Maxwell explains further when he states:

“With good character, the longer the trip is, the better it seems. But if your character is flawed, the longer the trip is, the worse it gets. Why? Because no one enjoys spending time with someone he doesn’t trust.” (p. 59)

This temptation to make decisions without thought or efforts of others is in part one that Henri J.M. Nouwen (1989) calls the temptation to be relevant. The temptation to be relevant or important happens when one looks to the things they can do or positions they have held to make a difference to others. Nouwen faced this when he moved to a place where none of the things he had done before mattered to those that he would now lead. He states:

The first thing that struck me when I came to live in a house with mentally handicapped people was there liking or disliking me had absolutely nothing to do with any of the many useful things I had done until then…These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self – the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things – and forced me to reclaim the unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments.” (p. 27-28)

Nouwen believes that leaders of the future are called to give up the pursuit of relevancy and to be completely vulnerable, offering that part of themselves to those they will lead. The leader instead must do this through contemplative prayer. This means thoughtful, reflective prayer in which one seeks what God requires for him to show his love of God. The leader must question his motives to see if they align with God’s direction for the leader.

When the leader is able to reflect in this way, he is able to build up his change or money as Maxwell states. The leader’s change is increased because the focus is not on self-importance but what is important for those that he leads. Those being led will then be able to see the character of their leader and that will allow the trust to grow. If this type of leader continues to add to his bank, when he is faced with a breaking of trust he has a better chance of rebuilding it.

This is the reason Maxwell was able to restore trust with his people when he made a bad decision. Maxwell tells of his own situation, when he states:

A leader who keeps making good decisions and keeps recording wins for the organization builds up his change. Then even if he makes a huge blunder, he can still have plenty of change left over. That’s the kind of history I had at Skyline, which is why I was able to rebuild trust with the people very quickly.” (p. 57)

Maxwell also did something very important to restore the breaking of trust; he acknowledged his selfishness in his decision. He realized that he had tried to be relevant in his decisions. He had made decisions without the input of anyone else. His relationship with God however helped him to quickly realize he had made a mistake. This is the importance that Nouwen’s concept of contemplative prayer plays in the life of the leader. If one is always seeking God’s direction, when that direction is not followed, one is quickly convicted of that error in judgment. Maxwell was able to go back to his people and apologize for the error and they were able to forgive what he had done.

In my own ministry, I have been tempted to be relevant. There are times when I believe I can make decisions or implement things that would be great, but then I have to stop myself and do as Nouwen states, have a time of contemplative prayer. I have to ask myself the question of why? Is it important for me or is it important for those that I lead? Is this the direction God wants me to go? Is this his will or is it for my self-gratification? Is it time or do I need to wait? The most difficult thing to overcome is waiting for things to happen. I feel they should be happening right now, but God is showing me that it is better to follow his plan and allow him to bring about change in his time. When I do that, I allow myself to continue to build up my change.

I build up my change by being willing to show patience with things, people and situations. I build up my change when I continue to listen to God and allow his perfect will to be fulfilled. I build up change so that others trust me. They trust that I will be in my place in the good or the bad. Trust is important for the effective leader. One is grounded or on solid footing when one first places trust in God to lead, and then follows that leading. I find this to be the vital key for my success in this ministry. I have to be grounded in God as my leader. He leads and guides me and I must allow him full access. As I follow he is able to build my character. If I am able to help someone else by my character, then not only does it build up my change with people, but it builds up my riches with my Father in heaven.

Reference List

Maxwell, John C. (1989). The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People will Follow You. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Nouwen, Henri J.M. (1989). In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company.