Create cultures not strategies

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” so said Peter Drucker, apparently.

It’s true.  Whatever our strategy is, no matter how strong it is, no matter how well discussed and diagrammed it is, it’s effectiveness depends on the culture of the organisation with that strategy. Put simply the culture of a church or organisation is where our strategy either stands up or falls flat on its face.

For example, as churches and church plants we can have all the cleverly strategized plans we like for reaching the lost.  But unless our heart as a church, unless our culture loves the lost in a way that engages with them, evangelism will always feel like hard work.  It will always be something we have to create an impetus for, or guilty people into doing, rather than being something that naturally flows out of the overflow of the love of Jesus we experience.

It’s equally true of everything we do in the church, be it pastoral care, Bible teaching, training, discipling and so on.  We can have all the carefully crafted, colour coded, and laminated strategic plans for those things we want but we need to create a culture where those things happen or it will never happen consistently.  And creating culture is not done in a moment, it is done in a thousand moments, it’s not done in the planning meeting but in the everyday grind of the reality of life together.  It is not the result of one conversation but every conversation.  It’s not something you create instantly but cumulatively through prayer and time studying and applying the Bible together and building each other up. Culture is the result of the gospel being at work in us and through us bearing fruit.

And here’s the scariest part it can be so easily lost.  Cultures drift.  We see that in the letters to the churches in the New Testament.  We see it in the people of Israel in the pages of the Old Testament.   What was a healthy culture that ministered out of an overflow of God’s love and mercy in obedience and service can so easily become a functional yet heartless going through the motions.

Culture is hard to create and easy to lose.  But culture is what counts in the church.  The long slow obedience of faithfully teaching God’s word, praying for people, pastoring them, discipling them, guarding them, over time creates a God loving and glorifying culture that in turn overflows into a people loving and serving community. But that’s not short term, talking strategy may give us a buzz, it may make us feel productive, but long term it is culture that eats strategy for breakfast. And culture is not about what you say but about what you are, it’s not about what you plan but what you do. Culture creates instincts whereas strategies create targets. Culture is the product of our everyday choices and actions to follow Jesus and love God and one another as we see Jesus and become transformed more and more into his likeness.

Accountability: necessary or a poor substitute?

OK it’s time to sharpen the knives and light to fire as we approach this sacred cow, either for it or for me depending on your reaction.

I’ve heard a lot, and read a lot, about the importance of accountability. About our need for an accountability partner who helps us in the battle with sin. And I can see the wisdom for that, it stops us hiding, it recognises the reality of ongoing battle with sin. But here’s my concern with this, we are masters as defaulting to programmes and structures rather than living open lives and developing deep friendships in community. We’re masters at taking a good idea in scripture and trying to codify it so it becomes less than it should be. We’re almost pre-programmed to avoid honesty and instead reveal a little bit of ourselves at a time to some but all of it to no one. So should everyone be accountable to someone? Does everyone need to have an accountability partner? Or is there something different, something better?

I’m not trying to be difficult but I am slightly concerned with where this trend seems to take us in terms of friendship and the church. In many circles the idea of accountability seems to involve a 1-2-1 relationship where you give someone authority to keep you accountable, or where you may share that accountability between the two of you. I have no doubt that sometimes these relationships are helpful and tremendously fruitful. But I also have no doubt that sometimes they’re not.

We are avid mask wearers. We are adept at chamleonising (I know it’s not a real word but work with me here!). We love to fit in, to blend in. We’re very good at hiding behind things, we have been ever since Adam and Eve first hide from God and each other. We do it naturally because we want to be liked, to be accepted, because we are made to seek out love and welcome and like everything else we have a fallen tendency to seek the right thing in the wrong place or way.

Accountability can be helpful for some in ameliorating that tendency. It can be helpful in providing someone safe to talk honestly with about struggles as they learn to trust and open up to others. But I worry about the tendency to make what is good for some necessary for all. For many a wider community of disciple making disciples is much better. It is after all what a church should be, a place where we speak the truth in love to each other – that truth being the gospel with it’s naming of sin and call to repentance and pointing us to Jesus by grace. It’s constant teaching that weekly, and more than weekly, shows us Jesus again and again and again, not spectacularly but faithfully, and which seeks to apply that to one another lives.

What if, for some, an accountability relationship is forestalling fully taking part in that sort of church. What if it is becoming the place I’m honest so that the rest of the time I can keep the mask in place. I’m not calling for spiritual, emotional and confessional incontinence in the church, but for the church to be a community that is so grounded in the gospel that we can be honest and share our struggles and our joy in grace discovered again. Where we are sharing with one another the encouragements of our life lived in Christ, as well as the struggles, and not just in ones and twos but in the wider church – after all largely the church seems to be on a starvation diet of encouragement.

Accountability can be helpful. It is necessary for all of us but maybe not in the formalised, 1-2-1, way we so often think of it. What if our current way of doing it is no longer helping but hindering?

How to get better sermons

Sometimes pastors take themselves too seriously.  Sometimes pastors can have a big ego.  Sometimes pastors need bringing down a peg or too.  Sometimes pastors seem to think we should hang on their every word, as if we’re blessed to have them open God’s word to us Sunday by Sunday.

I’m pretty sure those pastors are out there but I wonder how many of them there are because I don’t know many (any?) like that.  Most are hardworking people who love Jesus and care for the disciples Jesus has given them to care for.  They don’t do it perfectly; they know that, in fact they are very aware that – Sunday’s sermon never really took off.  It just trundled about, taxiing on the runway.  But they studied and read and prepared and edited and then edited some more, they prayed – though looking back now perhaps a bit more prayer (OK if we’re honest a lot more prayer would have helped).   And they offered their best. And they’ll do it all again this week, or next if they’re part of a team.

They try their best to pastor well but are very aware of their weaknesses.  They know that you can hear better sermons online.  They know that they are at best average at most things and often minister out of their weaknesses rather than their strengths.  They know how generously people give so they can be set aside to do what they do. They don’t take it for granted, and they don’t do it for the money or the kudos.

The vast majority of pastors don’t need putting in their place or cutting down to size.  So how do we help the vast majority of pastors? How do we get better sermons?

Be active not passive.  How do you encourage your pastor?  Be active in listening to the bible taught in your church – engage with it – yes it will take some effort, yes it means you don’t unplug and mentally disconnect and put on your facial screen saver – you know the one; slightly gormless and with the glazed eyes (I know you think this isn’t what it is, you think you look attentive – let me tell you you don’t!).  Actively listen, follow the Bible passage yes, even the cross references rustle those pages, and if you dare (go on I dare you) actually make eye contact with him as he preaches.  Actively pray before you go to church, or on the way to church in time with the kids moaning – Jesus teach me, Jesus show me more of who you are, Jesus please show me more of your love for me, Jesus are we nearly there yet (Oh sorry that was the kids).

Be active in your application of the passage afterwards.  After the service ask someone how they are going to apply that to their week?  Or ask for help in thinking through how you would apply it?  And don’t do what we so often do which is avoid doing that by doing theological naval gazing – Oh I wonder if the Greek word really has another meaning?  – or by applying it to others, or to the standard default evangelical applications – read your Bible, pray more, go to church, give (if it’s near budget year end).  Stop doing those and instead ask what does it actually look like for you to put this into practice, not as an individual, our default, but as a disciple, a husband, dad, mum, wife, grandma, granddad, aunt or uncle, colleague, boss, neighbour, church member, and ambassador for Christ in the community?

And then, and here’s the radical bit, don’t allow that to just be hot air, to be ‘just talk’.  Actually follow through.  Do it.  Live out what has been taught.  And then some weeks later drop a note to your pastor about what the fruits of his sermon were, they’ll still be a work in progress, it’ll be faltering, it’ll be two steps forward and maybe one, two, or maybe even three, back.  But I guarantee it’ll spur your pastor on to keep teaching, keep praying, keep preparing because he can see fruit not a barren wasteland. And ultimately that encouragement and your own active engaging in the process, prayer, and application will mean you get better sermons, more fruit from listening.

So why stay?

So having said all that I said in the last post about things that can make me want to give up and move away, why stay?

In part it’s gospel need. Doncaster has achieved a dubious privilege this last year. It not only made the top 10 worst places to live in the UK, but for the first time ever featured on the top 10 most dangerous places to live in the UK in terms of crime, murder, drugs etc… That fuels a conviction in me that not many people will come to Doncaster, that’s especially true in Hayfield. The Christian cavalry is not coming over the hill. And so we need to stay because the people around about us need the gospel.

And in our area long term relationships matter. 45% of 18 year olds don’t head off to Uni, and those that don’t live in areas like ours and because I’ve been here 15 years now there are those who remember me from assemblies in Primary School 15 years ago who are now parents of kids in nursery, or who I chat to in the community as I’m out and about. Those long term relationships are key in an area like ours. That is a mission field for us, there is no CU or UCCF working with those young adults our their families and many will not move out not this area but we have long term relationships with them and there are gospel opportunities that leads to. The images of farming in the gospels are so true, it takes many years to plough, till, sow and reap. This area needs long term commitment and relationships..

One of the other things that keeps us going is the God given partnerships and friendships. We have friends who have taken our ministry to heart, who pray regularly for us, who give to Grace Church to help support us. One friend very practically helps us by popping up every so often to help us with our PA equipment, installing things, advising us, listening and tweaking things and occasionally watching our livestream and giving advice and feedback on how we improve it. For a small church with limited technical expertise that is a real God send.

We have church partnerships. BEC pays a large chunk of my salary and have done for years. Other churches have supported us more sporadically financially but regularly in prayer partnerships. And there are organisations like Medhurst Ministries who facilitate training and a supportive network of workers in similar areas to our own. All of those things help to avoid any feelings of isolation in serving here. Partnerships in the gospel are key.

Internally what makes us stay? It is seeing people come to faith. It is seeing people who have come to faith grow in their love for Jesus as they grasp the height, depth, width and breadth of Jesus love for them. It is seeing people wrestling to fight sin, sin to self and carry their cross as they follow Jesus. It is a church that genuinely loves one another and serves one another even in the chaos of life and across the divides. It is remembering that image from Paul of the race being run, of people reaching the finishing line and being welcomed by their Saviour into their Father’s presence. It is the conviction that the only power that can change the world one life at a time as it wipes away sin and shame and reconciles people to God and one another is the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he has given that power to us – weak clay pots that we are – and those around us need Jesus more than they need anything else.

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I give up

I was asked some great questions this week as part of something I was doing. They were the kind of questions that I found were helpful reflectively. So I’m going to do some blog posts to answer them more fully and help me reflect on them a bit more.

Have we ever felt like moving away? Have we ever felt like giving up?

Ministry is hard. Our ministry hasn’t been harder than anyone elses. Every ministry has its different challenges and hardships. But there have been times when I have found myself toying with the idea of serving somewhere else. I’ve even, at one point, drafted my resignation letter and saved it on my laptop not because I was seriously contemplating it but because I need a way to express my frustrations and have something to pray through.

So what can make me feel like giving up? Sometimes that’s been because of hardship. The area where we are was described by someone as the ‘godless hole’ of his parish, it still largely remains so, ministry here is hard, the soil feels rock hard and baked in. Yes, we’ve seen people com to faith but only a handful. And some who’ve been keen to explore who Jesus is and we’ve begun to see changed have then been evicted from their housing or relocated to the other end of Doncaster, and that’s been heartbreaking. Others have come so far, seemingly engaging and attracted to Jesus, but then turn back or find themselves losing interest amidst the chaos of ordinary life.

There have been times when there have been difficult pastoral situations that have left me feeling like throwing in the towel, sometimes because of my own failures in those situations, and sometime because of the refusal to repent of others. Sometimes it has just been because of the sheer broken heartedness of seeing others walk away from the faith, or a little less painfully leave for a bigger and better church because we don’t have … (fill in the gap).

Sometimes it’s been because of the discouragement of our children. Being in small church is hard. There aren’t loads of other young people and when other families move away and friends relocate because their parents job changes that is tough. It’s tough on our children when those friends come back to visit and talk about their new church with an all singing all dancing youth group. It can be tough and discouraging with students, some of our young people go away to University and we know many won’t come back and our area doesn’t have that through flow of students some of whom may stay and be the next generation of leaders. (Student leaders/pastors bear that in mind when you write to small churches about any potential students they may be sending to you university city or town). That’s some of the push factors that can leave you feeling like what’s the point?.

Sometimes it’s the wider culture in Christianity that makes us think about moving. People, well meaningly but unhelpfully, suggesting that gifts are wasted in a small church, that somehow where we are isn’t strategic, or influential, or simply that it’s time we worked our way up to a bigger church after all just think of the people you can influence and send to areas of need (The trickle down theory is a stupid theory that doesn’t work and needs taking out the back of the shed and putting down once and for all!). It can be the frustration of so many needs but so few leaders. Or the frustrations of finance, we are very fortunate in the partnership we have with our sending church, but it is still discouraging seeing a deficit month after month, the spectre of bi-vocational ministry always potentially in the future does that mean we’ve failed in planting? After all that’s what the way we do planting suggests – here have 3 years of finance suggests what? That 3 years is enough to grow a church and sustain ministry – that may be true in some areas but not others. Or it can be the seeming hard heartedness of other larger churches to your needs, they take on their 5th worker whilst you labour on alone, or the para-church leader who encourages one of your elders to move to a bigger church to expand his influence. Or the way we view success in terms of raw numbers or budgets or other metrics. All those things are pull or push factors that come from the evangelical culture.

As you can see there are personal and local and national and impersonal factors that can make you think about moving away, giving up. Let me say I’m not discouraged, I’m not thinking of giving up. In the next couple of posts I’ll share something of why, the encouragements and the convictions. But I do think we as an evangelical culture need to reflect on this, so often our culture plays its part in discouraging small churches, planting in harder areas, and perseverance in the slog in favour of the greener, larger and more strategic.

Know your place

Where are you? Where has God placed you? The various postcodes in which you live your life are not an accident. They’re not the result of a freak set of circumstances. God has placed you there very deliberately. How do you feel about where God has placed you? How do you feel about the people he has put you among? Who he has called you to love and share Jesus with?

Places are different. But often we don’t stop and think about those differences. And when we fail to stop and think about these differences we fail to love either the place or the people well. In fact I’d go so far as to suggest that a dis-located gospel is a huge missed opportunity. What does it look like to be the church where God has placed you? What is the area like? What is it’s history and how has that shaped the present? What are the dreams and aspirations of the people who live where you church is and where you live? What are there needs, not just their felt needs and their actual needs? What is the story people find themselves in? How is that changing and shifting? And how will you find that out? (Hint it’s not by binge watching Netflix or Prime).

One of the dangers for us as churches, pastor and people is that we assume our place is a generic place. That it’s the same as the places and people elsewhere or that we see via our media consumption be it social media or binge watching our favourite series. That it’s generically British. Generically middle or working class. Generically Northern or Southern. And so on. And so we end up preaching a generic gospel via generic sermons and meeting generic needs for a generic area and a generic people and guess what we get a generic response. But that simply isn’t good enough. Yes the spirit can work through that and praise God he does. But God has placed us in the postcodes where we live out our lives for his glory so that we connect with the people who are there not some generic everyman or everywoman with a gospel that is not generic but powerful for each and every individual and family and area.

What is the history of your local area? Hayfield has been shaped by a couple of major things historically; the miner’s strike and resultant closing of the pits and being the site of a former RAF base. That history matters, there are so many things to celebrate, it still has so much influence and has shaped so many people. It is a story of struggle, of resentment of authority, or feeling overlooked, of loss, of economic hardship and so on. That story matters. But now there is also the rampant gentrification which is taking place, the pop up housing estates which seem to have a phenomenal rate of churn as people move in, get promoted or separated or relocated with work and move out with a frequency not seen in the more established older ex-RAF areas.

The old area I loved has changed. The postcode where God has placed us as a church and where we live is now larger, more diverse, spread across classes and aspirations, with various stories and histories and aspirations. And God calls me to love across the divides, to share the gospel across the divides. And the great news is that the gospel is teh one power on the planet that can change a society one life at a time as it wipes away sin and shame and brings life and reconciliation.

Do you know your place? Do you know it’s story, it’s history, it’s hopes and dreams? Do you know how to address those things with the power of the gospel and the great news of Jesus? Do you love those God has placed in your life from that area?

Ministering for the long term

There is something of an epidemic of pastoral burn out. It takes many forms, some simply fade away losing their spiritual vitality and find that preaching and pastoring just become a chore and so they resign because they can’t keep plodding on when they feel bereft of life and love for Christ. Others flame out spectacularly wither through some form of breakdown or moral failure or collapse. Others simply soldier on but feeling defeated just going through the motions. Sustaining ministry in the long term is about discipline and habits, it’s not about the spectacular and because of that it is so easy to fail to do it, especially in the early years of ministry it is possible to sow the sides of shipwreck or ill health in your 40s or 50s.

I say that partly having been there and partly because I have the scars to prove it. Ministry is exhausting. There are seasons of significance physical, emotional and spiritual pressure. There is the unrelenting unremitting task every week of sitting down to prepare a sermon, longing for and labouring to lead your flock to food and water in Christ. There is burden of pastoral care, with some situations that take months of slog to help resolve, others than result in anger and rejection, and others that break our hearts.

I don’t see much self care being practiced among pastors, which makes us hypocrites because we spend so much time encouraging others to do what we’re not doing. I also on’t see that much pastors care being undertaken by churches for their leaders or by elderships for their pastors. If we want pastors to stay fresh to be able to preach and teach and pastor well for the long term we need them to be vibrantly alive in Christ. But how do we do that?

Ask honest but searching questions – we need, as pastors, to ask these questions of ourselves. Sometimes we find ourselves asking others how they are spiritually? How they are enjoying hearing from God? How they are engaging with God’s word? How their prayer life is? How are they being discipled and discipling others? Where is following Jesus a joy and where is it is hard? And yet we so infrequently ask ourselves those questions. How is my relationship with God? Am I taking the place of the disciple to sit and hear from God and be awed again by who he is and what he has done for me? Where am I being challenged to pick up my cross, deny myself and follow him right now? How am I growing in my grasp of the sheer depth and love and height and breadth of God’s love for me in Christ and what is that leading to? And as we ask those questions what do they reveal and what will we do with that?

Those are great questions for an elder (not in an elders meeting but 1 on 1) to discuss with those pastoring a congregation.

Build real friendships – Pastoring a congregation can be lonely. Pastors need real friendships. We need people we can hang out with. people who we know are for us and don’t want anything specific from us apart from to get to know us. There should be these kind of friendships both in the church and outside of it. These are the people who know us best and will spot the early warning signs, but also often simply be God’s agents of grace to us. We also need to commit to building friendships in ministry with other ministers, not as networks but in genuine friendships where we can laugh together and share burdens and honestly talk about ourselves our churches our families without any sense of one-upmanship or competitiveness. Committing to spend a day or two in such groups regularly will help us keep perspective on ourselves and our ministry.

Care for your family – It’s really easy for our children to feel like they come second to ministry. We need to work hard to ensure that our kids know they are valued, that being their dad is as God given a duty and privilege as leading a church is. That means we need to make time to hang out with them. That may mean doing a film night where you clear the decks and get out the popcorn. It may mean time together playing basketball or walking the dog without distraction on a regular basis. It will change and morph as your children age, but it matters.

Don’t skimp on your day off – What hours are you working? How many days a week? Are you taking your holiday allowance? What is your practice of sabbath? I’m not advocating a hardline sabbatarian stance. But we were made to work for God’s glory and to rest for God’s glory. Do you take a day off? What do you do with it? Is it something restful – a hobby or some other form of recreation that recharges your batteries? What refills you and brings you joy?

As a side note there are pastors who are lazy and don’t work enough but I don’t know many of them. It may be that we need to have our ideas of what is work reshaped or changed. But asking what they do and why is important.

Eat well – I can tell when I’m too busy or stressed by my diet. If I’m eating junk hastily because it’s all I can fit in it’s like the warning light that things are too busy or we’re too stressed. Similarly of we haven’t got time to sit and eat and enjoy company. In Luke’s gospel Jesus always seem to be either on the way to or from a meal. When Elijah is in crisis God sends him food. We are embodied creatures and if we deny the needs of our body it is not honouring to God. We need to take time to eat and eat well, it also provides a great opportunity to build friendships and care for your family.

Find an outlet – I was really struck by something I read this week about competitive pastors. It was suggesting that pastors who are competitive about their churches ought to find another outlet for their competitive streak instead. That’s a helpful idea. I also think it’s just healthy to be involved in other things. To have others avenues for exercise or enjoyment. It might be sport, music, creativity, DIY. Whatever it is having other things we do and care about and are committed to is helpful and good for us.

Get out of God’s way and sleep – How many hours of sleep do you get a night? We’re all different and our need for sleep changes as we age and go through different stages of life. But we all need to sleep. Sleeping is godly. It is us exercising faith in God and stopping to rely on him. Sadly there is something in our culture that seems to feel sleep is the enemy, that it’s heroic to push on through, to deprive ourselves of sleep via stimulants or boast in how little sleep we need. But God has made us to sleep and we can because he does not need to. There are eye opening studies on sleep and it’s amazing benefits that as pastors we need to read and absorb and let shape our lives. If not we are only storing up long term trouble for ourselves.

Honour your marriage – Marriage is God’s gift but our marriages don’t drift into healthiness. Our marriages need our attention. They need time and care taken to hear each other well, respond to each other rightly, and make places of intimacy and godly care. The pressures of ministry make this especially important. Ministry exacts it’s toll on marriage too and so we need to give time deliberately to our marriages.

Maybe you’re thinking yes but I’m young. I’m just starting out. I don’t need to worry about any of this. I’ll put those things in place later. Let me in love say later will be too late. Unhealthy patterns, a lack of discipline, failure to pursue godliness by our actions, is neither sustainable or wise. It is foolish and will not reap a harvest of righteousness. It will lead to burn out, it will model an unhealthy activism for our churches and families, It will lead to significant physical and spiritual problems for both you, your family and your congregation.

If we want to minister for the long term healthy patterns and discipline are key.

Unredacted Jesus

When you read through the gospels it’s amazing how often people want to redact Jesus. People want to edit what he says; the Pharisees want him to edit what he says about the Sabbath or the kingdom or the errors in their religion. The disciples want him to stop talking about the cross and his impending death, and everyone wants him to stop talking about the things that make them uncomfortable – his views on marriage, divorce, money and discipleship. They want the miracles working good teacher full of grace who doesn’t make them uncomfortable or challenge them too much on their sin or their societies move away from God’s word.

How does Jesus respond? He keeps teaching with authority. At times he withdraws to pray. He keeps on performing miracles accrediting his teaching as the very word God from the Son of God. He rebukes his disciples. He confronts the Pharisees and Sadducees and confounds their questioning and attempts to discredit him. Jesus won’t be redacted. He won’t change his teaching, he won’t be silenced on the things the people don’t want teaching on or which confronts the respectable sins of the day.

Following Jesus means denying ourselves, carrying our cross and following him and that includes in his teaching, all of it. To follow Jesus is not just to do good, to love your neighbour, it is to obey him. Jesus says if we love him we will obey his commands. At the end of Matthew he sends his disciples out to make disciples of all nations teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. That’s an astonishing statement. Jesus won’t be redacted, he won’t be edited, we’re not at liberty to silence some of his teaching, or teach – or believe – around the hard bits but avoiding them, or take the black out pen or scissors to his words. Following Jesus means hearing and obeying everything he commands – his words on identity, marriage, divorce, giving, greed and church and acting on them.

You can’t be a disciple of a redacted Jesus. If you won’t believe what he teaches, if you won’t follow it, you aren’t following him, you’re following a fabled Messiah of your own imagination, a therapeutic Messiah who ultimately as a work of fiction has no eternal life to offer you and no hope of life now amidst all the garbage of glory of this world. Part of discipleship is denying ourselves, that includes denying what I would like to think and wrestling to believe what Jesus teaches. It means seeing his love for us displayed in all its glory in his life, death and resurrection and believing that he is so for you that everything he teaches is for your, and the world’s, good.

I wonder sometimes if we redact Jesus because we aren’t fully convinced of his goodness. If we’re not totally sold on the truth that he has come to bring life and life to that full. We think that there’s an alternative, or an amalgam of Jesus teaching and the world’s, that is somehow better. I’ll have a bit of Jesus and a bit of this way of thinking or teaching, it’ll make following Jesus easier and more attractive. But if we redact Jesus at all then we haven’t understood who he is. He is the only Son of God declaring not a possible truth, but THE truth to us. He is THE life not one possible variation of it that we can tweak or improve if we just ignore this bit or add that bit.

Four little words

“Not so with you.” They are four little words that appear in Matthew 20 but which ought to dominate the way we think about leadership in the church. Jesus is speaking to his disciples about the way the church and the kingdom works, how it functions, how it is led. And he contrasts the worldly way of doing leadership with the way of leading in the kingdom.

The leaders of the Gentiles lord it over them, they act as tyrants. Having reached the top and gained position and influence and prestige they use it, they tell others what to do. But says Jesus not so with you. You are not to lead like that. Leadership, and life, in the church is to follow Jesus pattern, he came to serve not to be served and to give his life as a ransom for many.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t helpful things we can learn from the way leadership operates in the world, there are. But it does mean that those leadership lessons mustn’t just be cut and pasted from the world into the church without being sifted and weighed by God’s people in light of God’s world. That means we must take time to work out what the world looks for in a leader and what the church looks for in a leader, because often we get the two confused and look for the same things in the church as in the world, when we do that it ought not to surprise us when they rule like a tyrant, when it’s their way or the highway. That lesson is made plain in 1 Samuel when Israel want a king just like the other nations and end up with a king just like the other nations and it doesn’t end well.

Instead the model Jesus gives us is servant leadership. Not sappy leadership, not soft leadership, but servant leadership. Leadership that knows the truth and holds to the truth but is liberated by the gospel from a quest to obtain security through reputation or position or success via leadership because they have found their security in Christ who gave himself as a ransom for them. Leaders must have a secure grasp on the gospel and it’s implications for them so that it is where their security is found. It alone liberates them to lead like Jesus, serving at cost to self, bearing with, gently correcting, being willing to bear questioning, and loving even when people misunderstand or mishear.

The key to being able to lead like Jesus is to root our identity and security so deeply in Jesus that we are liberated to serve others but not seek security in others approval or our reputation.

‘Not so with you’. How is your leadership? How is your playing your part in the church is it marked by these same things?

Whose voice are we hearing?

We hear a myriad of different voices in our lives, some are hugely influential for good. Others are bad and seem to haunt us no matter whether we want them to or not. Some build us up many tear us down. But here’s the question, whose voice are you hearing as God’s voice?

God speaks to us definitively in his word by his Spirit. That’s why we need to always being weighing and testing what is said and taught with God’s word. Does it measure up? Does it fit? That’s true whether we are in church, listen to the radio, or a YouTube service or sermon or a podcast. Is what is being said what God says? Does it fit with his Spirit inspired word. We need to be less gullible and accepting and more Berean; “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17v11).

But that’s equally true as we live life out of the voices we hear. It may the voice of a parent who drove us to perform, to do better. Who responded to our test score or 95% not with a well done, but with a ‘what was the one you got wrong?’ Who has left a legacy of perfectionism. Which means that the voice we so often think is God driving us on to do better, to be better, because we are just failures, is not God’s voice at all it is the haunting words of a perfectionist parent, not a God who is gracious and loving. The challenge is to stop that perfectionist voice and hear God’s voice instead as we weigh it up against scripture.

Ot perhaps it is the comment a church member, leader, or even pastor, who says something galatically stupid, makes – it happens more often that we might think. Which leaves us feeling like a failure, or guilty and crushed. If there’s a pattern of that then it needs to be addressed and dealt with and churches should have procedures in place to do so. But often it’s the little one off comment that hasn’t been thought through and isn’t meant to wound but becomes the primary tone in which we then think God speaks. Well if they said that then maybe its true, maybe I am wrong, maybe I am a failure, maybe I am not doing enough, maybe it is all my fault. We need to be more Berean, we need to measure what people say in light of God’s truth. We need to allow God dos peak to us in his voice from his word by his Spirit rather than let others speak for him.

We also, as a church, need to be more careful with our words. We need to speak God’s word to someone in the tone in which he would speak to them. We mustn’t confuse our thoughts and ideas with God’s words.