Posts Tagged ‘Jesus and the disciples’

Judges 3:7-11 (Part 2 of 3)
Othniel Becomes Israel’s Judge

Who will come after me? Who will lead the finance ministry at my church? Who will lead the finance department in my secular job? As I approach my 55th birthday (20 days from now), I have for the first time in my life realized that my career is now finite. I am no longer that young little buck just cutting his chops as an internal auditor. The mid-80’s when I began my career is now a distant memory of some 30+ years ago. I am now right in the midst of the last third of my working career. This past week, I finished the 106th month-end closing and financial reporting cycle as comptroller of Fujikura America, Inc. (FAI). 106! Wow! That’s two month’s shy of 9 years in this job. I was thinking that if I do 106 more monthly closings, I will be close to retirement age. I don’t know what God has in store such that He would want me to be at FAI another 8 years and 10 months. If not, there will be a time here in the future that I leave FAI and move on. That might entail leaving those same responsibilities at LifeSong Church (LSC) also. I lead the finance function at both places. Hopefully, one day here in the near future, the Lord will combine the secular and the spiritual into one job, serving the Lord full-time in a financial leadership position. But what next for FAI and LSC’s finance functions? Have I invested enough in the next leader among the people who report to me? Or will they have to suffer through a period of inconsistency and failure and lack of vision and lack of the whole picture view before some new leader from the outside is brought in?

As Othniel came along when Israel was in disarray and developed them back into a strong nation, I came along at FAI and at LSC when things were in disarray from a financial reporting and management perspective. At both places, I have developed a structure and a consistency to the finance team. I have developed a level of excellence at both places where now the expectation of our team is consistent excellence. But what’s going to happen when I leave and I will leave at some point – either to accept God’s calling elsewhere or if God sees fit to keep me planted right here at FAI and LSC then I will at some point retire. With the rigors of my job at FAI and its constant, constant time demands that sometimes prevents me from enjoying life to the fullest, I have begun to think about secular work retirement. I am growing weary of the month after month constant time-sucking pressure of my job and see the world passing by outside. I often think now about what life would be like in retirement. It would not be a life where I am going to sit down. It will be a time where I will pursue God with even greater fervor whatever that may look like. I may just start a second career as Methodist pastor or something and find us a little church somewhere in SC that needs us and we need them. I may start a church finance consulting firm that goes around helping churches get their financial reporting act together like we did at LSC. These are the things that I think of that I could start as early as early retirement age of 62, just a few, seven, years from now.

But what will I leave behind as a leader? This passage made me think of that today. Here we see that Othniel lifted Israel out of a mess and back into following God with excellent hearts but as soon as he passed away Israel descended back into the spiritual mess that they were in before. This should not have happened. Where was Othniel’s leadership development? Why was there no one to whom to hand the baton? That idea that we must train up others to take our place, to take our ministry to the next level, to the next phase is what I thought of this morning as I read with dismay about Israel sinking back into its moral malaise after Othniel’s death. Let’s read Judges 3:7-11 now for the second of three reads:

7 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. 8 The anger of the Lord burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim,[a] to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. 9 But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. 10 The Spirit of the Lord came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge[b] and went to war. The Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. 11 So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.

In this passage, we see that Othniel was Israel’s first judge. Judges 1:13 records that he volunteered to lead an attack against a fortified city. Here, he was to lead the nation back to God. Othniel had a rich spiritual heritage. His uncle was Caleb, a man with unwavering faith in God (Numbers 13:30, 14:24). Othniel’s leadership brought people back to God and freed them from oppression. But, afer Othniel’s death, it did not take long for the Israelites to fall back into their sinful ways of imitating the culture around them with its idol worship and sensual pleasures. This passage gives us two lessons. First, people need spiritual leadership. Second, as leaders we must develop those with leadership capability who can take our place and carry on the work without missing a beat.

Just think of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He invested heavily in 12 guys, and 3 in particular. If Jesus had just been here to go to the cross for our redemption, He certainly did that job. If He came here to give us victory over sin and death, He certainly did that job. If He came here to live the sinless life and demonstrate holiness before our very eyes and to teach us how to live in anticipation of the kingdom of God, He certainly did that. All of that He did as Christ, the Son of God, God in the Flesh, as only He could do because of who He was and is. No one else but Jesus could do those things. However, He also came to set up the future of His church through those 12 guys that lived with Him day to day for 3 years. Christianity would still be a nice little sect of Judaism in Jerusalem if it were not for Jesus investing His time and His knowledge and His heart and His passion into these twelve men. We must follow His example. He invested in the 12 and they and the people they invested spread the gospel from Spain to India. From England to Ethiopia. Otherwise, without that investment, would you and I know the gospel now in 2017?

People need leadership constantly and each of us as leaders have precious little time from an eternal perspective in our respective leadership roles. What will be our legacy? Will it be an Othnielian legacy of things being wonderfully led while were in our spot and then descending into a mess after we leave. We cannot be leaders with that kind of ego of “this place will fall apart without me”. We must be leaders who pass on what we know so that our ministry will continue when we are gone with the same level of excellence as when we held the position. We should not want things to fall apart as a backhanded ego stroke. We should want our ministries to survive and thrive after we are gone. We must develop the next generation of leadership beneath us. We must have someone to invest in to make the ministry go on and on and on.

Without Jesus investing in the twelve, you and I would not be here reading this blog as Christ followers. Think about that. Let us be Christ-like in our leadership so that the impact of the gospel will go on and on. Because it’s not about us. It is about Jesus. We must ensure the survival of the church by raising up new leaders beneath. Otherwise, we can become like what Othniel left behind – a ministry that descends into nothingness and fails.

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 11:1-15 (Part 2 of 2)

Israel Defeats the Northern Armies

“As the Lord had commanded His servant, Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua…” This is the essence of leadership. One of the challenges of the new wave of modern, typically non-denominational, churches is that they do not have the structure and hierarchy of their denomination behind them. It’s live and die on their own. Some are only loosely affiliated with a denomination (and those denominational churches often consider the newfangled churches like that cousin that nobody in the family wants to claim – except in the denominational reports on church growth). Some are outright unaffiliated with any traditional denomination. In denominational churches, you can often rely on the denominational hierarchy to support the church when there is a ministerial crisis and a change in leadership is needed. However, the new wave of modern churches out there have shunned the traditions and hierarchies of traditional denominations. The risk is that what if these churches that are often centered around a founding pastor have a ministerial crisis. Will they survive?


There are recent examples of both answers to that question. Mars Hill Church in the Seattle, WA area was one of the nation’s largest and fastest growing churches under the leadership of Mark Driscoll. He became one of the first celebrity preachers to come out of the new church movement. He was a noted author. He gave leadership talks everywhere. But when it came down to it, Mark succumbed to his own celebrity and tried to control every aspect of his organization and ruled with a dictatorial flair. Because the leadership structure was so centered around him and he never allowed his people to develop into true leaders, he got out of control as a leader and ultimately he was forced out as the head pastor of the church that he founded. Because of the vacuum of true leaders within that multi-site, multi-state church, the leaders that did come up after Mark were not prepared for the enterprise of which they had to assume control. Leadership faltered. Each of the satellite campuses were first released to be their own churches because of the strain on short-sighted, ill trained leaders of the central organization could not manage the far flung enterprise. Following that, the wheels started coming off and within one year what was once one of the largest, fastest growing churches in America, no longer existed. Mars Hill Church imploded and no longer a trace of it exists. Lack of a leadership pipeline caused the church to fail and that is truly one of the major risks of the new, non-denominational, preacher-centric churches that have begun dotting the American Christian landscape from coast to coast.


NewSpring Church, headquartered nearby here in its place of founding in Anderson, SC, is one of the top 5 fastest growing churches in America. It has 23 campuses dotting the landscape of Upstate South Carolina. Each campus looks pretty much alike. They have the same formula at each location. It is a modern look and feel. Traditional churches don’t care much for NewSpring as many have lost members to the megachurch. Many claim that NewSpring is a “gospel-lite” church that teaches that Jesus is your friend not your king. That teaches of only God’s love but not His judgement. Some say that NewSpring is a nice church to go to but if you want to grow up, you have to leave. They say NewSpring makes converts not disciples. All of these things may or may not be true. Anything that gets that big that fast will always have critics who don’t think the church is anything but a fad or that the church really hasn’t paid its dues of being a church for a hundred years. And many of its detractors cheered wildly when its founding pastor, Perry Noble, was forced out by the governing board of the multi-site megachurch. Revelations of infidelity and alcoholism were rumored to be the cause. Perry Noble was a bright star in the megachurch movement. He, too, like many of these founding pastors of megachurches was an author and a celebrity of sorts. Speaking engagements around the country and the world were at his feet. He had the adulation of many and he let it all go to his head just like virtually every pastor of these large, quickly growing churches have. And he fell.


However, say what you will about the founding pastor, Perry Noble, of NewSpring Church, his church is surviving and even growing and opening more new campuses without its founding pastor as part of the organization in any way. Perry has nothing to do with NewSpring now but the church is still there. Many felt and some hoped that the church would implode without him just like Mars Hill did without Mark Driscoll. As the soldier say in the movie, Armageddon, after they had attempted to nuke one of the city sized spaceships hovering over what was left of Houston, TX, “the target remains, sir. I repeat. The target remains.” The monolith that is NewSpring remains. Why? Perry Noble did one thing right, for all his evident faults. He surrounded himself with good leaders that could take his place if needed. He groomed his successor to take over as senior pastor. He developed an organization at the “corporate headquarters” in Anderson that could handle the rapid growth of the church. He developed an organization that was ready for 20 sites when it was only 10 sites. It is ready for 40 sites now organizationally speaking when it is only 23 sites. This central core organization knows its mission and replicates it with each campus. They then plant the same leadership structure at each location. They have systems and processes that are replicated with each campus. And each location has a campus pastor that can be a pastor on their own. One thing Perry was never afraid of was hiring the best and the brightest. However, all of this successful organizational intelligence would be meaningless if he had not been all the while grooming Clayton King to take his place as the head of this mammoth organization. Clayton is now the face of the franchise and the church survived the crisis of losing its founding pastor to his own mistakes of self-centeredness. That’s the difference between NewSpring and Mars Hill.


That’s the thing that our church, LifeSong Church, must consider in the next month as our pastor goes on sabbatical and our church enters an intense month of prayer and soul searching. We have all been asked by our founding pastor, Jeff Hickman, to consider what our ministries will look like five years from now. We must consider where we want to be. We must start with where we want to be. Because if we know where we want to be in five years then we can start now working toward that goal. If we just exist with no five year goals or plans we are not going to get anywhere and we will flounder. As the old saying goes, you can’t get to your destination without first figuring out what roads to take and which not to take. One of the things too that we must consider is that there will come a day when Jeff retires at the latest or Jeff gets called to do something else. Will our church survive Jeff not being there? Do we have the leaders in place that can have the leadership wherewithal that Jeff has? Sure we have elders/pastors that could take his place in Mike Blackwood and Tim Lyda. Are they ready? Are they willing? Are they capable of being the new top guy in our organization? Has Jeff been making them ready to take on “the face of the franchise” role that he now holds. Being senior pastor, the face of the church, is something different from being the executive pastor/worship pastor or the pastor of discipleship. If they are ready for this role, have they been grooming up leaders below them to step into their roles once they have stepped up. Developing the “next man up” mentality within our organization, developing lay people into full-time ministers, developing full-time support ministers into being ready for the senior pastor role must be a part of the plan for our next five years. We want to be a target that remains. We want to know where we are going and how to get there and who we are going to have to take us there. Next man up is an important part of getting to where you want your organization to be. We must be able to plug in the next man up and not miss a beat as we head toward our goals of making the greatest kingdom impact that we can within the job that God has assigned to our church.


That is what came to mind this morning as I read through this passage today for a second time. It struck me that one of the subtle emphases of the this passage is that Joshua was the next man up. He was carrying out the plan that Moses had trained him up for. Quietly all those forty years, Moses was training up Joshua to take over the organization that was Israel and Joshua was plugged in and carried out the vision even with Moses no longer in the picture. Let’s read it now together:


11 When Jabin king of Hazor heard of this, he sent word to Jobab king of Madon, to the kings of Shimron and Akshaph, 2 and to the northern kings who were in the mountains, in the Arabah south of Kinnereth, in the western foothills and in Naphoth Dor on the west; 3 to the Canaanites in the east and west; to the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites and Jebusites in the hill country; and to the Hivites below Hermon in the region of Mizpah. 4 They came out with all their troops and a large number of horses and chariots—a huge army, as numerous as the sand on the seashore. 5 All these kings joined forces and made camp together at the Waters of Merom to fight against Israel.


6 The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, because by this time tomorrow I will hand all of them, slain, over to Israel. You are to hamstring their horses and burn their chariots.”


7 So Joshua and his whole army came against them suddenly at the Waters of Merom and attacked them, 8 and the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel. They defeated them and pursued them all the way to Greater Sidon, to Misrephoth Maim, and to the Valley of Mizpah on the east, until no survivors were left. 9 Joshua did to them as the Lord had directed: He hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots.


10 At that time Joshua turned back and captured Hazor and put its king to the sword. (Hazor had been the head of all these kingdoms.) 11 Everyone in it they put to the sword. They totally destroyed[a] them, not sparing anyone that breathed, and he burned Hazor itself.


12 Joshua took all these royal cities and their kings and put them to the sword. He totally destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded. 13 Yet Israel did not burn any of the cities built on their mounds—except Hazor, which Joshua burned. 14 The Israelites carried off for themselves all the plunder and livestock of these cities, but all the people they put to the sword until they completely destroyed them, not sparing anyone that breathed. 15 As the Lord commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and Joshua did it; he left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses.


Here, in this passage, as we read it for today, we see that Joshua followed every detail of God’s commands to Moses. It is usually difficult to complete someone else’s project, but Joshua stepped into Moses’ job and brought it to completion, building upon what Moses had started. A new person taking over for another in a new job will bring his own style and personality to that job, but the church or any other organization cannot work effectively if there is no one to step up and take that person’s place or if every change in personnel means starting over from scratch.


That’s what we at LifeSong must do as part of our 30 day challenge while Jeff is on sabbatical. We must dream the big dreams that God lays on our hearts. If you don’t dream big, you won’t win big. We must seek what the impossible dream God wants us to dream and say why not? We must then develop the road map on how to get there. Start with where you want to finish and then work your way back to the starting line (where we are now). Great running backs in football are already thinking two moves ahead when they are running down the field. We need vision. Without it we flounder and perish. When we have a common vision, everyone knows what that is. Then we can train with the next man up mentality. When we already know what the plan is, we can groom up others to take us there. The mission then becomes the most important thing. Just as Jesus trained up his disciples and gave them a vision, we must do the same. The church survived Jesus’ death because he was the originator of the next man up mentality in church. He invested heavily in his disciples such that the church grew exponentially after He was gone. Common vision. Training new leaders to step up. That’s the secret sauce. We see it in Moses to Joshua. We see it in Jesus to the disciples. We see it in the survival of NewSpring Church. Will that be said of us at LifeSong Church five years from now. Will it be said of your church?


Amen and Amen.

Numbers 27:12-23 (Part 2)

Joshua Chosen to Lead Israel


Go and make disciplines is one of the most famous lines uttered by Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry. He did not say “Go and make converts!” He said “Go and make disciples!” There’s a big difference. Jesus meant for us to not only lead people to the cross and accept Christ as their Savior but to teach them what it means to live a godly life and to grow into being more and more like Jesus everyday and to reach out and share the good news with others. It was to be an ongoing repeatable process. This was practical advance to not only to ensure that the church survived but also to ensure the spread of the gospel to the far corners of the earth by people who did not directly know Jesus Christ the person who physically walked the earth over 2,000 years ago. Jesus did not want the spread of the gospel to be dependent on his physical presence. Otherwise, His mission would have failed. Christianity would have been a local phenomenon in Jerusalem and nowhere else and would have died out within a generation or two. That did not happen though. Christianity is now the largest religion in the world, by most reckonings, and has been for many centuries. It all started with Jesus training up his direct disciples. They lived together, worked together, worshiped together, had fun together, worked hard together, for three years. Jesus invested in these men daily. He practiced the principle of “You watch. I do. We do together. You do. I watch. You do it alone.” Although they were often clueless, after the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they became the most amazing force of change the world has ever seen.


This is practical advice for church leaders whether you are paid staff or not. If you are a ministry leader at your church because God has made a way for you to be in that position because He has given you the passion and spirit for your ministry, you would be wise to follow Jesus’ example during his earthly ministry. The survival of your church is at stake. As leaders in the church, we must continually be developing the next leader. We must have the next man up mentality. We must identify those who are reporting to us in our ministry as those who have the potential to replace us. This is true not only in ministry but in business as well but we will focus on the church here.


We have two great laboratories of two megachurches who looked at leadership differently and we have seen how those two megachurches played out. Mars Hill Church in the Seattle, WA area was one of our nation’s largest churches. It had a huge central campus church and, I don’t know exactly, but maybe 20-25 satellite campuses in the state of Washington. It was a huge church and was doing great things for the Lord. They were reaching people who previously were unreached by the gospel. The lead pastor of the church, Mark Driscoll, became famous as a result. He became a famous author of many books on the Christian life and on Christian leadership. However, as time progressed, Mark succumbed to the celebrity of his position and became arrogant to the point that the elders of the church asked that he step down and when he didn’t, they removed him from his position. Within a year and a half, just a year and a half, the megachurch that was once the largest or at least one of the top 5 largest churches in America imploded and disbanded. The church is no more. It is sad to say but Mars Hill Church, after taking years to gather the momentum that it had, was gone in a flash. Why? Lack of leadership development that would have ensured the survival of a church in crisis.


Newspring Church here in the Upstate region of South Carolina is another example of a church in crisis. However, the results so far have been different. Perry Noble grew Newspring from just a few people meeting in an auditorium and Anderson University in Anderson, SC into a 30,000 strong church with its central campus in Anderson and 22 other satellite campuses around the Upstate. Perry Noble took a lot of heat from traditional churches in our area and from his own denomination for preaching “gospel lite” to his people and certainly that may be true. However, Newspring was reaching people who would otherwise not darkened the door of a church EVER. As often happens with megachurches, the lead pastor runs into trouble. The weight of a fast growing, large church is often too much for its founder. In Perry’s case, he turned to alcohol and inappropriate relationships with women who were not his wife. He failed his church morally. That was six months or more ago when Perry agreed with his elders at the church and stepped down and checked himself into rehab. Clayton King, one of his associate pastors, was asked to step in and takeover after the larger than life figure of Perry Noble. However, where Mars Hill began to implode almost immediately, Newspring is still chugging along. They are surviving. Say what you will about Perry Noble and his seeming lack of deep grasp of Christian theology, he did built a leadership structure that is enabling Newspring to survive a crisis. Newsping developed a leadership team where each level of the organization was being groomed for the next level of leadership. That’s how organizations survive.


Jesus wants His church to survive and thrive and with the flawed individuals who run it. The key to survival of any church is its ability to generate new leaders. Every second and third tier leader in every church should be being groomed to take the place of the leadership under which they operate. Leaders should be developing leaders. It’s not just theological. It’s practical. From a theological standpoint, we should not become complacent with the positions that we hold at church. We should have the humility to learn more and more and become more and more and be stretched to serve the Lord beyond what is comfortable and easy. It’s practical in that it ensures the survival of the organization. Next man up!


The difference between Mars Hill Church and Newspring Church is what I thought of when I read this passage again today for the second time. Let’s read about the passing of the baton to Joshua in this passage, Numbers 27:12-23:


12 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go up this mountain in the Abarim Range and see the land I have given the Israelites. 13 After you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, 14 for when the community rebelled at the waters in the Desert of Zin, both of you disobeyed my command to honor me as holy before their eyes.” (These were the waters of Meribah Kadesh, in the Desert of Zin.)


15 Moses said to the Lord, 16 “May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community 17 to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”


18 So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership,[a] and lay your hand on him. 19 Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. 20 Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. 21 He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the Lord. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.”


22 Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. 23 Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the Lord instructed through Moses.


In this passage, we see that Moses did not want to leave his work for the Lord without making sure that a new leader was ready to take his place. First, he asked God to help him find a replacement. Then, when God showed Moses that Joshua was that guy, Moses gave him a variety of tasks to ease the transition of Joshua into his new position. Moses also clearly told the people that Joshua had the authority and the ability to lead the nation. His display of confidence in Joshua was good for both Joshua and for the people of Israel. To minimize leadership gaps, anyone in a leadership position should train others to carry on their duties should he or she have to suddenly or eventually leave their position. While you have the opportunity, follow Moses’ pattern. We must first pray that God will open our eyes to that “next man up” or “next woman up” underneath us. We must follow God’s prodding and select that person. We must develop that person into a leader (sometimes this will involve stretching them beyond what they think they can do). Then, we should commission them. We must make it known that they are a leader in training with our full trust and that they will be the one to replace us.


This is practical advice not only for the church but also for us who operate in the secular business world as well. A successful department and a successful organization is one that does not have to reboot itself every time there is a manager departure. A successful organization is one that develops leaders at every level so that when that “next man up” opportunity presents itself, that next man up steps into the next level position ready to succeed. If you are not developing the people underneath you, then you are being prideful and your organization will be hurt or destroyed when you leave. That is not what we want in our Christian organizations and that is not what we want when we are Christians working in secular organizations. One of the characteristics of Christ was that He made His disciples feel like part of the team. He developed that. He had a plan for transition of leadership. As Christians, we want to leave our secular organizations better than we found them. We want develop leaders to take our place and have influenced them for Christ in the process.


In our churches, we must follow the example of Christ. We must have the humility to realize that it is not about us and not horde the power the we have been granted. We must give it away. We must raise up disciples to ensure the survival of the church. This is not about us. This about ensuring that the gospel message will be told from generation to generation from century to century. Let us take our egos out of the way and develop leaders just as Moses developed Joshua and as Jesus developed the disciples who changed the world.


Amen and Amen.