An Alternative to Start the Year

img_0014Matthew 6:34

Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (HCSB).

A new year is thought to be an opportunity for people to change their lives. Most of us want to lose weight, to simplify our lives, to improve our financial situation, to succeed in our careers, to have better family relationships, to break bad habits, etc. “Resolved, this year I will ____________!” It all sounds plausible. “How hard can it be to lose ten pounds this year? I have twelve months to do it.”

Yes, it sounds doable, if the goal is realistic. Yet, so many fail to change. I suppose a book could be written about the reasons for failure. I will simply say that part of the problem is that our lives are primarily made up of seconds, minutes, and hours. We live in the present, not in the unknown future of “this year”. We might make ambitious goals for a year or even longer, but these have a way of getting consumed in the demands of everyday life. We can want to lose ten pounds or more, but there is the party this weekend and there will be desserts. “I have to be sociable, don’t I?” The choices we make in smaller units of time affect what happens to longer range goals or resolutions.

My point is not to abandon long-term planning. It is to keep it real. In Matthew six, Jesus tells us to have the long-term plan to collect for yourselves treasures in heaven (6:20 HCSB). But he also understood our strong tendency to worry rather than to trust God. The long-term goal too easily becomes consumed by short-term worries about tomorrow, this week, next month, the rest of the year, and so on. This means that I must trust God to supply my needs for today and tomorrow, so that I can get involved in his long-term goal for me today. I cannot suppose, “I will worry today and trust God tomorrow.” I must trust him today about today and tomorrow.

This holds true about the resolutions we make, hopefully godly resolutions. We accomplish them in the events of the seconds, minutes, and hours of our lives. For example, it is unrealistic to have the nebulous goal of more fellowship with other believers or outreach to unbelievers this year, and not devote time in our everyday lives for it. We need to choose to trust God with our years and invest time in days in doing what is godly, right, and loving. This is more helpful than making resolutions for a year, supposing that in a year we will get them done.

Grace and peace, David

A Pattern for Leadership in the Church

DSCN00362 Corinthians 1:24

When the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven and poured out the Holy Spirit, he started a new people of God. This one people is made up of many groups of his followers across the world. In regard to many ways of being his people, he has given us freedom to live together, as we keep in step with the Spirit. For example, we are free to sing his praises according to our musical preferences. We are free to order our gatherings for worship. There is no set order of worship in the Bible. All this provides ample topics for discussion. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion on what is the best model, but we must recognize the scriptural idea of liberty within the boundaries of the word of God.

The same is true of the functional leadership of local gatherings. One thing I learned through over forty years of serving as a pastor or pastoral assistant is that every local group or collection of local assemblies has vehement opinions that their structure is biblical, and probably the only one that is acceptable to God. In practice, churches will tolerate much doctrinal error, as long as everyone agrees with their leadership structure. Yes, that truth hurts, but that is the painful reality.

However, in this article the subject is not the structure of leadership but the pattern or paradigm of the way leaders lead. This is not a matter of preference but of clear biblical teaching. Yet structure has always been of greater importance to Christians than the character and attitudes required of leaders. This is one source of much conflict in churches, as sinful pastors, elders, and deacons (and all these are sinners) lead sinful followers of Christ (and all followers are sinful). If the local leadership does not measure up to the expectations of the people, a rebellion of some sort is organized to change the leadership. But here is the problem. The leader or leaders are blamed, and not the paradigm of leadership. People are blamed and not the ideas that perpetuate the problems.

This is a vast subject, and I needed to say all of that to look at our text. We want to see the pattern of leadership that Paul modelled to the church in Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm (NIV).

  • Paul renounced a certain style of leadership. He did not act as lord over them. The nations of this world love a lordship style of leadership. Too many churches buy into the worldly style that the Lord forbids (Matthew 20:25-28). Leaders seem to love the authority to direct the church according to their preferences, since by virtue of their position they automatically “know what is best for this local church.” But the apostle Paul loved people deeply. (If you don’t think of Paul this way, reread Romans 12:9-21 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 where he gives two of the longest teaching sections about love in the NTS.) He also loved the Lord Christ deeply, and wanted him to be the lord of the church. Real biblically transformed leadership requires genuine love for the people who are served. Though true for many reasons, this kind of leader recognizes that he is also one of Christ’s people and needs to be lead. He is not in love with his position or function but in love with Christ and his people.
  • Paul set forth a correct objective. He worked for the joy of people. Knowing the high importance of joy in the true Christian way of life (Romans 14:17; Galatians 5:22; Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16), he worked hard that others might have the joy of the Lord in their experience. Lack of joy in the Holy Spirit is of great concern to godly leaders. The joy of others requires sacrificial love and labor from those who would develop Christ’s followers.
  • Paul reaffirmed the necessity of faith. Too often, church leaders look for obedience or conformity with the standards or rules of their church. But they forget that obedience is the fruit of faith, not of pressure from the leadership. A thoughtful reading of Hebrews 11 will show how faith produces godly actions or works, as James also teaches (James 2:18-26). But leaders must focus on faith first of all.

So then, there is a pattern for Biblical leadership. Do we desire it? Or are we content with “business” as usual? True godliness is conformity to the God’s word, not to the traditions of people.

Grace and peace, David