What’s your favorite story?
When I was growing up I knew a story of a cowboy separated from his best friend in the whole wide world… destined to suffer until the day he would be reunited with his long lost friend.
Sound like anyone you know?
This story also included an astronaut, a tyrannosaurus rex, a man with a potato head, a slinky wiener dog, a talking piggy bank, and a handful of green army men.
Why yes… this story is one that we all know from the big screen. It is Toy Story.
But… on a serious note. We all have a story.
Some parts we would like to remember… others we’d like to forget.
The problem is that the past is always there… it can’t be undone and sometimes it can’t be forgotten. How can we as believers deal with the pain in our past, and our present, and persevere knowing that God is good and His purposes are being done within our lives?
In Scripture we see the story of Saul. Saul was an angry man who persecuted, tortured, and killed Christians. Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee in Jerusalem after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He swore to wipe out the new Christian church and destroy the Christian movement.
One day Saul was on his way to Damascus to arrest any Christians that were in the synagogues and an amazing thing happened. Let’s pick up this story in Acts 9:3-19,
Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.
Every time I read this story, I am amazed at the great grace of God. I see the Lord take this man Saul, save him by miraculous grace, and transform him into a great Apostle and Kingdom builder. Through this story I realize that there is hope for people like you and me to be used by the Lord.
The truth is, Saul was a very unlikely candidate for the service of the Lord. Here was a man who was feared and hated by Christians and one who did everything in his power to destroy the name of the Lord Jesus. Yet, God reached down in grace and took this man from where he was and used him to change the world. God used him in such a great manner that Paul’s ministry is still reaping fruit today. Just the fact that we are talking about his life and the impact he had on the world is a testimony to way God used him than and is using him now!
Saul encountered the very God He had been persecuting and was never the same again. Something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. He arose and was baptized into the Christian faith. After his conversion, Saul’s name was changed to Paul, and he spent the rest of his life serving Jesus and teaching people about him. He became a missionary to people all over the world. Suddenly, instead of being the person who hurt other Christians, Paul became persecuted himself for Christ’s sake.
What are your experiences doing within you? Is God using situations and circumstances in your life to make scales fall off your eyes? To prepare you for greater things?
What has your past caused you to see?
We may feel that there is no possible way that the Lord could use us like He did Paul, or that God could even use us at all. I suppose that we all feel inferior and unworthy to be used of the Lord in His work, but I am here today to tell you that Jesus can and will use us if we will make ourselves available.
Through our past God may have created us into exactly who he wants us to be in order to be used by Him. We have heard it said that our stories and experiences have shaped or made us into who we are today. I wholeheartedly agree.
Think about it… it is common sense that we learn from our past.
The first time I touched a hot stove burner or a sharp razor edge I learned that I didn’t want to do that again. The same can be said from our past. We have all gone through things, some harder than others, and to say that these things have come and gone would be wasting the time we had to spend in the midst of our past.
Let’s allow our past to work in our favor! God wants to use our past and is more than capable!
Paul was a Murderer, Paul was a rebel against the Lord Jesus, and yet his past did not prevent him from being used by God. Regardless of what we may have done before we received Jesus as our Savior, it matters no longer, for when He saves our soul, He washes our past away forever! It is just as though we got a brand new start at that precise moment. In fact, the Bible refers to that event as a “new birth”.
John 3:7 says,
Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.”
Psalm 103:12 says,
As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
Do not dismay. Push forward. You are in good company!
Throughout the Bible, God used people in spite of, and after their greatest of failures.
Simon Peter preached his greatest message and had his greatest ministry after he denied the Lord. Moses was a murderer, yet God used him for His glory and worked miracles through his hands. Samson sinned against God, yet he slew more Philistines in the end of his life than he had during his entire ministry. Abraham lied, yet he was used of the Lord. Jacob was a deceiver, yet the Lord transformed and used him greatly.
What is your story… and how can you use it for God’s glory?
If you have played in a church setting for very long you should be well aware of the things “left unsaid” or the little aggravations that come along with the territory. As a Worship Pastor I am well aware that many times those frustrations are pointed at me… usually rightfully so.
The church is unlike any other “business” model in the world. Now obviously we aren’t a business… but hang with me for a second. Week in and week out we “present” or attempt to facilitate something, in our case that “something” is worship. But, unlike most businesses 95% of out “staff” or help is unpaid and volunteering their allotted “extra” time out of their already busy schedules. So… there is no wonder why sometimes tensions can be elevated and frustrations can spill over the top and cause an issue.
So… as shepherds, pastors, and leaders how can our leadership help keep people “on board” and as frustration free as possible?
Let’s think together.
- Learn to communicate in their language.
Have you ever been the victim of a language barrier issue? I’m sure many of you have. Something as simple as the words and speech we all take for granted can become SO frustrating when people just aren’t understanding what we have to say or we aren’t understanding what they have to say.
I believe this happens weekly in most churches in various ministries and it can build up over time and create frustration that will sooner or later spill over. So… as leaders we must take it upon ourselves to learn the vocabulary in which our people speak. Now… I’m not just talking about language here. I am talking about vocabulary specific to the job or ministry we are in.
For me as a Worship Pastor it means that I have to have a working knowledge of many instruments and musical terms. I must know the sounds that I want and know how to communicate them in an effective and clear way. That may mean we have to take some classes, invest some time, or at least have some sample stuff available.
It isn’t our people’s responsibility to know how to understand us… it is our responsibility to know how to help them understand.
- Learn to instill confidence.
Samuel Johnson once said,
Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings.
Nothing is worse than a leader that steals confidence from those on their team. Every good coach creates an environment in which their players know they can rise to the occasion, and through his coaching he enables them to do so. We as leaders should take note of that.
Vince Lombardi said,
Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.
We should be continually looking for ways to build up our volunteers. There will most likely always be mistakes and areas that can be improved upon… but there will also always be some good we can glean from every situation.
- Allow and encourage creativity.
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you were trapped “in the box?”
I sure have… and it wasn’t somewhere where I wanted to stay. Hopefully none of our teams feel this way, but I have a sneaking suspicion that some of them probably do. This feeling typically comes along with doing the same thing, in the same way, every single time.
How much creativity and freedom do you allow?
Just as we are always looking for better and more effective ways of doing things we should encourage our teams to do the same. Creativity is a contagious thing!
In my particular field I have to face the facts… the genres of Christian music used in church nowadays are pretty narrow and can become cookie cutter, mass produced, or just “stamped out” week after week. This can be frustrating for my musicians. We must find ways to encourage creativity! For me, that may look like varying the intensity map, or coming up with creative song arrangements or transitions.
What do you need to do?
Let’s not be creativity Nazis… there is plenty to go around!
- Share responsibility.
People have an innate desire to feel needed, and when that desire goes unmet for lengthy periods of time they get restless or even frustrated. We need to make our teams feel needed!
Now obviously God doesn’t NEED any of us to add to His glory… but He desires our workings and worship. Our ministry may not NEED anyone or anything to accomplish its purpose… but it is better with them. In fact, our mission of shepherding and discipling is in NEED of anyone we can get!
We can instantly create a more functional team by sharing responsibility and enabling those around us to be needed and rise to the task. Sometimes this is easier said than done! Just because we can do something ourselves doesn’t mean that we should do that thing alone or 100% of the time.
Let’s devote ourselves to producing leaders by sharing responsibilities and enabling people to rise to the task of fulfilling those responsibilities.
Most pastors and finance committees would see this subheading and head for the hills! Unfortunately the need for investment into ministries and people is something that many churches don’t just shy away from… but wholeheartedly sprint the other way from.
Finances in ministry can be a touchy subject… because we are talking about God’s money and our stewardship of it. But… what good is a large bank account if our people are getting frustrated with not having the equipment or materials needed to present God with the best that we have to offer?
Often church musicians are forced to play on BAD or inadequate equipment, Sunday School teachers don’t have the supplies readily available to do what they need to do, etc… When we as leaders refuse to invest into ministries (with time and money) it communicates that the ministry isn’t taken seriously, and tells those volunteers that their gift or service isn’t taken seriously.
Here are my three take aways from this point:
- You are only as strong as your weakest link. It is the little things that get you. (Example: what is the point of nice speakers if you have the cheapest cable carrying the signal to them.)
- Maintenance is important. Be proactive instead of reactive… it will save your hind end and cut down on frustrations across the board of stuff breaking down when it is needed.
- When you invest in a ministry it enables and frees up the leaders to do their job to the best of their ability.
- Encourage quality.
Frustrations quickly build in an area where quality isn’t encouraged or enforced. Like a basketball team a ministry team is only as good as the weakest link.
I am an avid University of Kentucky fan… every year I suffer through football and anticipate the coming of basketball season. It blows me away how good the players on the Wildcats basketball team are every year… but no matter how good they are in college the jump in ability and quality when they go to the NBA and begin practicing with the pros is very apparent. Our teams are like that. We become the average of the group we serve with most. If they are great it will elevate and encourage us to rise to that.
As leaders we must encourage quality and demonstrate excellence.
- Be a leader that people want to follow.
In the bestselling book “Leadership and Self-Deception” by the Arbinger Instituate it says,
The leaders people choose to follow are the leaders who are out of the box. (154)
I think this idea is key… especially in a Gospel oriented and primarily volunteer environment. We have to be a passionate leader that people want to follow. We can’t be afraid to try things and to get “involved.”
The book also has this to say about our personality and charisma as leaders. It says,
We can always sense when we are being coped with, manipulated, or outsmarted. We can always detect the hypocrisy. We can always feel the blame concealed beneath veneers of niceness. And we typically resent it. (27)
People respond not primarily to what you do but to how you’re being… toward them. (43)
In order to be a good leader we have to be the type of person people want to follow. We don’t have governmental authority, we aren’t a ruler or a dictator, and we don’t have prosecuting power to make people follow us… so we have to lead in a way that makes people want to follow.
- Create a culture focused on people.
We have all heard it said that, “ministry would be easy if it weren’t for the people.” I have been guilty of it myself. This to me is a prime example of self-deception. This statement communicates that as ministers we feel that we have to put up with people, this causes us see them as objects or problems rather than as valuable people.
Our goal needs to be to develop a culture where people are simply invited to see others as people, vs. objects or problems.
In “Leadership and Self- Deception” it says this,
If I’m not interested in knowing a person’s name, I’m probably not really interested in the person as a person. (41)
We are “ministers” not business people. We are not using people to accomplish an end goal or task… but rather investing in them as people. Who cares how many volunteers we have every Sunday if we are impacting and speaking into their lives on a personal level.
I pray for Jesus’ eyes in this area of my life. I desire to see people the way He sees people. As beautifully and wonderfully made. A creation of His own liking with value and worth.
Obviously this list isn’t exhaustive… but rather a starting point.
To all you leaders out there…
- Thank you for serving the people of God week in and week out.
- Thank you for the hours invested in making sure that the Gospel gets out.
- Thank you for caring about the local church – loving what God loves and prioritizing His priorities.
- Thank you for serving even when you don’t feel appreciated.
- Thank you for graciously receiving more complaints than compliments.
- Thank you for pointing people to Jesus and facilitating an environment where life change is happening.
You are making a difference! While others may not notice or see all that you do, God knows. You have His attention and that is all the attention or appreciation that you need. Don’t give up. Don’t allow frustration to overwhelm you. The work we are doing is important. The work we are doing is necessary. Let’s commit ourselves to leading well.
We are back! Unfortunately I had to take last week off because of some renovations taking place at church after we took a direct hit from a lightning bolt. Shocking!
But through this experience the Lord has been showing me just how spoiled we tend to be. One of our major losses were our primary projectors in the Worship Center. To worship without words is really liberating! Christ will give us freedom in our worship if we merely allow Him to do so! In reality no written lyric could ever fully express what we have to say about God and what He has to say back to us! It’s the words in our hearts that we should be expressing in our worship to God anyways.
But… losing the ability to project lyrics still has thrown me a curve ball in the last couple weeks of worship planning. If you are like me you might think you have tons of songs and verses committed to memory… but how many of those are dependent on an aide like projection?
But… enough about me.
We left off right in the middle of our discussion about our need for vision realignment. To even think that any of us are without the need for the Lord to change our sight and heal our spiritual vision shows how blind we really are. In this installment of the “Recovering Eyes” series we will discuss how we should view other people. After all, to merely see ourselves the way God sees us and to continue viewing others with misguided vision is to only complete half the process.
To have the eyes of Jesus means that our view of people must be transformed and we must begin to see people as God sees them. So… how should we be “seeing” others. Let’s think together.
- As People… not Projects.
Many investors say to invest in people and not projects. Projects can be successes or failures. Projects typically have an end date. Our relationships hopefully don’t have these same criteria.
As a young believer I did my best to be a “missionary” friend and develop relationships with the goal of leading the other person to Christ. Which is a great starting point! But… what tends to happen is we have then viewed that person from the beginning as a “project” and removed any personal value from them in our eyes and minds.
Every person has value… every project does not.
When developing relationships what is our purpose? Do we seek people out based off what they can offer us and our ministry, or based off of who they are as a person. Are they just another check on our “treasure sheet” for Heaven or are we seeing them like God sees them… as valuable?
You see… the investment in people is demonstrated for us in the nature of God and the sending of His Son. Jesus came speaking our language, meeting us in our reality. He became one of us without any strings attached. If that is what it means for us to be like Jesus then we need to make that our goal. To develop “no strings attached” relationships that meet people where they are.
God says that as believers, we are to value everybody. When we look around at people we must see them as God sees them, as people worth our time and effort. God sent his Son to die for them, and they do matter.
We must treat people as people, not projects.
- As a Current or Future Ministry Partner
One way we can insure that we are viewing people accurately is to put them in their rightful place as our equals and partners in ministry. You may be saying, “Tanner, how can a non-believer be viewed in that way?” My response would be to treat them in that way and live like Christ in front of them in hopes that they are currently just a “future” partner in ministry.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says,
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!
We must support each other! It isn’t a competition. How often do we catch ourselves pursuing success, even in good areas, at the expense of others or at the cost of ignoring others? We are building Gods kingdom based off of His successes so we should desire for others to capture success in their life and ministry.
In 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 Paul says,
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
Paul hits the nail on the head when he begins to call out the misinterpreted thinking that pushes Believers into competition with each other. He makes clear that they aren’t spiritual at all, since their behavior is being determined by competition for status rather than by the Gospel. Do we see that now?
How have we been a part of it?
Of course, we should recognize something of ourselves in the actions of these Corinthians. Our congregations can become divided and distracted by old allegiances, former ways of doing things, and by old fights. I believe that we naturally think that those things need to define us.
Let’s fight this cultural sense of competition that drives every aspect of our lives! Those around us aren’t our competitors or enemies… instead they are our current and potential future ministry partners.
Romans 15:1-2 says,
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
- As Covered by the Blood of Jesus
We all have had encounters with people that are difficult to love. But to God we too have been difficult to love. In fact, we were so difficult to love that a blood sacrifice had to be made on our behalf as reconciliation for our shortcomings and rebellion against God’s perfection.
Romans 3:23-25 says,
Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a mercy seat by his blood, effective through faith.
God didn’t leave us in an unlovable state! God provided us a way to be loved!
Ephesians 1:7 says,
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.
God now views us as covered, in order that we may be loved. So… in order to see like Jesus we have to view others as covered as well. In fact, we are commanded to reciprocate the love that He pours out onto us to others.
John 15:12 says,
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Matthew 7:12 says,
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Luke 6:31 says,
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
God sees us this way, always looking for the positive in us and wants us to see others the same way. At times people will disappoint us, they will aggravate us, they will press our buttons and fall short… but we are to see them as covered and simply love.
Let’s commit ourselves to viewing others like Jesus views them.
Romans 12:10 says,
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.