Archives For Church

For the past 20 years, I’ve sought to help people discover what it means to live for Jesus. The mission of Jesus has allowed me the privilege of connecting with many great people in many great places, and we want to let you know what’s next for the Lawrence family.

In God’s grace, we are planting a new church in the great state of Oklahoma! While details are still to be determined, we will locate in the Edmond / Oklahoma City area. Having grown up in Edmond, this is a return to a place I love dearly. With family and friends in the area, Nan and our kids are very excited about the move. We can’t wait to be there!

Oklahoma City is a great city with thriving churches. We are humbled to join that movement of God, doing what we can to help many people in the area experience life and hope in Christ.

Every life tells a story, and each of us need to encounter God in a way that rescues our story, restores our soul, and relaunches us to live for Jesus. I believe many people long for a authentic connection with Jesus and the life he dreams for us. We can’t wait to see who God brings to our community to walk with us in this journey.

We hope that many of you will jump in with us to help make this dream a reality. Like any start-up venture, we need to raise a significant amount of money in the initial stages of our launch. Would you be willing to partner with us?

I’ve included a description of ways you can help below, as well as links to our partner organizations who oversee our ministry and finances. We would love to meet with you to tell you more about the vision God is calling us to accomplish.

If you subscribe to my blog, I’ll send you updates so that you can stay engaged with our journey.

We can’t wait to see what God has in store for us all,
Jeff, Nan, Mike, Luke, Jake and Kate

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4 WAYS YOU CAN HELP

PRAY
Please pray: (1) our house to sell in Chapel Hill, NC, (2) a smooth transition for our family, (3) a fantastic ministry team to come together, (4) hundreds of financial partners who catch the vision, (5) God’s glory to be made known every step of the way.

GIVE
We are trying to raise three years worth of salaries and ministry budget so that we can do the hard work of missionaries. Please consider supporting us monthly for one to three years, or supporting us with a one-time gift.

GIVING OPTIONS: Go to http://redemptionokc.com/give/

JOIN
We believe that God will lead many who already live in Oklahoma to join our new movement, and we also believe that he may prompt some people to move to Oklahoma to join us as missionaries on the ground. If this is you, email me at jeffd.lawrence@gmail.com.

SPREAD THE WORD
Do you know anyone who would be interested in our work? We would like to make as many connections as possible with pastors, Christians and non-Christians, so please let us know if you think of someone who would enjoy a cup of coffee or a meal with us. Also, please share this news with your friends and followers via Facebook, Twitter, Email, and more.

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OUR PARTNERS:

FELLOWSHIP ASSOCIATES
We are partnering with Fellowship Associates as I join their Church Planting Residency Program in August. This will provide us with great coaches and partners from fantastic churches like Fellowship Bible Church of Little Rock, The Village Church, The Austin Stone Community Church, Fellowship Church of Memphis, and Fellowship Church of Denver. Fellowship Associates will also oversee our finances.

ACTS 29
We are partnering with the Acts 29 Church Planting Network. Part of our dream is to be a church planting church. By this I mean that we are committed to helping other new churches get started in the future. Acts 29 provides church planters with training, resources and a network of gospel-centered, missional churches across denominational lines.

-jdl

WHEN SLOW WINS

January 27, 2012 — Leave a comment

My preference is fast. I like to drive fast. I like fast internet connections. I like to work fast. I wish I could read fast. But fast isn’t always best. Sometimes, slow wins.

For someone who prefers to go fast, this reality is a necessary realization (even if it annoys my go-fast preferences). Slow is important in lots of ways, but let me first give you an example of why slow sometimes wins.

A Cutting Reminder That Faster Isn’t Always Better

I’m learning to shave again. It was one of my new year’s resolutions. I know, I know. That’s not very ambitious, right? But for a go-fast guy, this was a way to remind myself that slow wins. So, I got rid of my disposable junk, and invested in a new safety razor. The old school kind like my grandfather used. Metal, not plastic, so it’s got some weight to it. It holds double edged razor blades. I’m told that the classic wet shave is better for the environment and that it’s cheaper in the long run. But the real deal is that it’s just a much better shave.*

Fact: fast shavers end up with little patches of bloody toilet paper on their chins. On average, my new way of shaving takes about twice as long as my old way. But it’s twice as enjoyable and twice as good a shave. And my wife likes it (which is a very good thing).

Shaving is a relatively insignificant change in the big picture of my life, but it serves as a daily reminder that sometimes slow wins.

You may not be sold on a shaving upgrade, but what about the rest of your life?

When Slow Wins in Parenting

I know that none of you struggle with this, but sometimes my children act up. Of course, “act up” is a socially acceptable way of saying that they are depraved little people that disobey God and deserve to be disciplined. Meaning, they are a lot like their parents. We all agree that parents must discipline children. Otherwise, the monkeys are running the zoo. The only question is how we should discipline.

I don’t want to give a complete how to guide for parenting here, but I do want to suggest that discipline of children is one of the areas where slow wins.

Here is what normally happens in fast discipline. Your kid runs through the house with muddy shoes or screams while his sister is napping or dumps her milk on the floor. Clearly, these are things that would happen in your house, not mine (ahem…wink, wink).   When said criminal activity occurs, mom yells for kid to stop. Again, note that I said mom rather than dad, because dads don’t do this stuff (ahem…). But the parent yells stop at the child, the kid freezes in his or her tracks, and then the parent hurriedly threatens an unrealistic consequence like “clean that up or you’ll never eat dessert again” (which we know isn’t going to happen because dad likes hot chocolate chip cookies and it’s too much work to refuse a child a cookie on a regular basis).

What’s the point? Fast discipline involves only two steps: name the issue, name the consequence. Those are both necessary steps, but they are not enough. Fast discipline focuses on behavior modification but neglects the heart. It’s efficient in the short run, but deficient over the long haul. If you discipline fast, you end up skipping the most important stuff.

I’m trying to remind myself that, when it comes to discipline, slow wins. I want to shape my kid’s character, not just his or her behavior. I want them to love Jesus, not just love a clean house. This takes time. It takes time to talk things through. It takes time to talk about disobedience against God and repentance. It takes time to train your child how to talk to his siblings and ask forgiveness. It takes time to celebrate the grace and forgiveness that awaits them in Jesus.

I don’t always do this the right way, and there are moments (like rushing out the door on the way to school) when it seems almost impossible. So, we may have to be creative in those instances (delay the real conversation until later but then follow-up and talk things though). It takes at least twice as much time to discipline slow, but the benefits are infinitely greater.

When Slow Wins in Technology

Another way that I’m trying to slow down is in my use of technology. I live connected. Between twitter, facebook, email, and phone, it is easy to be connected all the time. The problem is that being connected to technology may mean that you are disconnected from everything else. Sometimes, our tech toys cause us to miss opportunities to connect with God, connect with our spouses, connect with nature.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dumping all of that stuff. I’m just managing it better. I’m turning it off sometimes. I’m creating a routine of leaving it behind in certain sections of my calendar (if you check yours regularly at family dinners, your wife should drop it in your chili).

For example, we got a puppy at Christmas. Puppies have to be walked. A lot. Sometimes in the middle of the night. One way I’m slowing down is to leave my cell phone inside when I walk the dog. I feel silly saying it, but it’s amazing to me how hard it is. But when I do, I enjoy the puppy more, and I notice the beauty of creation all around me. Without the light of my cell phone, I see the light of the night stars that God put in place to remind me of his glory and greatness. When I slow down to recognize that I have so many messages from God all around me, my twitter messages can wait a little while.

When Slow Wins in Ministry

I won’t take a lot of time to expound on this one, but two recent conversations also reminded me of how this applies to ministry. In one phone call with a fellow pastor, my friend said, “We’re growing, but I wish it was faster.” I know this friend well, and he’s an evangelist who loves to see people meet Jesus for the first time. He believes in a big God who can bring 3,000 people to faith in a single day, and he longs to see that happen. We have a world full of people who don’t know Jesus, so I hope it happens too. I pray that God moves in a remarkable way to bring people to Jesus through his church’s ministry. But I know that there are some seasons of ministry where slow wins.

In another conversation, some friends encouraged me to slow down. In my passion to see ministry happen, I wanted to get moving as quickly as possible. My friends wanted me to “move slow, go deep, dream big.” That stuck with me.  It takes time to build the right foundation, to instill the right DNA in the church, to get the right people on the team. You can start a ministry fast, but it takes time to launch a movement. When you are building something to make a significant impact over the next 25-30 years, there are some important areas where slow wins.

A Concluding Thought

For people who like to go fast, going slow is an act of faith. It can lead to a more rewarding life, a more significant life, and a greater enjoyment of the life God gave you–a life made up of fast and slow moments strung together to make up days and weeks and years. May we make the most of all our moments, and may we make some of those moments slow ones.

What are some other ways that slow wins? What helps you slow down in disciplining your children? Is it as hard for you to turn the cell phone off as it is for me? Any of you dudes enjoying the glory of a classic wet shave?

-jdl

* For a great guide to a classic wet shave, see “How to Shave Like Your Grandpa.”

I enjoy taking personality profiles and strength assessments. I find that they reenergize and refocus me. They clarify for me the things that I should invest my energy in, and they help me say no to other things. This is quick post to introduce you to a new book and to highlight a helpful point that brings some clarity to pursuing your personal uniqueness while fulfilling Jesus’ call to die to self.

I recently read Stand Out: Find Your Edge, Win at Work by Marcus Buckingham. Buckingham became well known in the business community with the publication of his book Now, Discover Your Strengths and the accompanying StrengthsFinder assessment. His goal in that work was to help people find out what they are good at and learn to operate in those areas of strength. Instead of fighting to overcome your weaknesses (which you will always struggle to do), you should focus on developing your strengths. His main idea is that you will work harder at things you do well than at things you do poorly.

Buckingham describes StandOut in this 2 minute video.

His new book extends that focus by helping you figure out how to put your strengths to work. It includes an access code to the online StandOut Strengths Assessment. The Assessment reveals your “strengthsroles” – the roles where you can best leverage your strengths for impact. He offers the following nine strengths roles:

  1. Advisor
  2. Connector
  3. Creator
  4. Equalizer
  5. Influencer
  6. Pioneer
  7. Provider
  8. Stimulator
  9. Teacher

For example, my results showed that I am a Connector – Pioneer. That means that I’m good at launching things. I love to imagine a better world and get a group of gifted people together to try and do something to make a difference. While I’m struggling a bit to understand how it connects with my creative endeavors, I think that the description is about right. These things happen naturally for me, and I find myself doing this visioning/connecting/engaging work in whatever group I’m working in.

If you are new to assessments, this isn’t a bad place to start. If you’ve taken multiple assessments, StandOut will help refresh or refine your understanding of who God made you to be. Nothing radical or revolutionary here, but a helpful tool to put in your toolbox.

I sometimes hear Christians shun personality or strengths tests because they feel they focus too much on us and our happiness. While I understand what they are getting at, I think that they are missing the point. Buckingham makes a statement in the book that I think is important for us to consider:

To be truly your best, it isn’t sufficient merely to understand that you’re unique or even to understand what makes you unique. Sustained success come only when you take what’s unique about you and figure out how to make it useful… Your strengths, in essence, are value neutral. They can be put to good use, or they can…be put to bad use.

I think this statement points us in the right direction. Our uniqueness is undeniable. I think we know this practically, but I think it’s true biblically as well. The God who fit us together in the womb, who ordained our arrival in this world, who meticulously counts the numbers of our brown, blond or greying hairs, who gives us gifts and talents, who redeems our hurts and brokenness, who calls us friends certainly knows that I am not exactly like you. We are each one of us unique.

Spiritually-minded leaders will recognize that our uniqueness can be used for our personal glory or for God’s glory. When Jesus calls us to die to self, he’s not saying “stop being who you were created to be.” He’s saying something more like “Stop using who you are for selfish purposes and learn to use who you are for kingdom purposes.” This is the redemptive and transformative work of the gospel in us. We are saved from our self-focused life and saved for a God-directed life.

One of the guiding rules of my life is the belief that our deep and forever joy comes from leveraging all of who we are to honor God and extend his glory in the world. Because of this, I enjoy learning from all kind of resources that help me to develop as a person and as a leader. StandOut is another resource to help me along that path.

Do you know your greatest gifts, strengths, and roles? How has this knowledge helped you be more effective?

-jdl

If your life is like mine, the Easter season is very busy. Our days are consumed by an all-hands-on-deck time of planning special worship services and additional outreach efforts. You stack this on top of the probable heavy load of family responsibilities, counseling needs, leadership issues and other burdens that are typical for pastors. This is Superbowl week for churches, and we want to make the most of our opportunity. I don’t know of any pastor that is spending this week melting into the sofa watching lacrosse on ESPN12, playing Angry Birds and downing multiple bags of 1st Degree Burn Blazin Jalapeno Flavored Doritos.

As busy as we are, we need to remember, especially at Easter, that we have a holy calling for which we need holy preparation. It is easy to devote more energy to preparing song lists and sermon slides than we devote to preparing our souls. But before we can pour ourselves out in service, we must fill ourselves up with the love of God.

I find a good reminder of both our call and our preparation in the short letter of Jude.

The pastors’ call (what a daunting task!): “have mercy on those who doubt, save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy w/ fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude vs22-23).

The pastors’ preparation (what a blessed provision!): “build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude vs20-21).

We need both. To enjoy the benefits of holy preparation w/out faithfulness to your holy calling is selfishness. To attempt your holy calling without holy preparation is foolishness. You cannot have one without the other.

So, I’m preparing my soul for Easter. In the hurried days, I’m trying to be still at different times throughout the day to preach to myself, or just to let the beauty of Jesus death and resurrection sink a little deeper into my heart. And I’m trying to find one elongated time of silence and prayer so that I can feel the pain of the bloody cross and experience the joy of the empty tomb.

As I walk into the greatest event of the year, here is my prayer: may I feel the passion and weight of holy calling more fully than ever before, and may I experience the blessing and encouragement of holy preparation more deeply than I imagined possible. I need both.

Pastor, do you feel like you get lost in all the planning for Easter? What do you do to help nourish your soul in this season?

-jdl

Intersection_WebMain

People watch movies. People go to church. Most fail to see how the two connect. This is why we have just begun a sermon series called Intersection: Where Christ & Culture meet. My hope is that we equip followers of Jesus to engage our world thoughtfully, creatively and biblically. In the sermons, we will explore themes from the movies “Inception,” “Toy Story 3,” “True Grit,” and “The Social Network.”

There are many reasons one might preach a series that deals with films, but here are five that surfaced as I thought about this series.

1. Faith relates to all of life. If we are going to live healthy and whole lives, we will fight against the temptation for a compartmentalized faith. Too often, people put “Sunday” into a sacred compartment and then isolate that “church” part of  life from the other six days a week. This is not the life Jesus came to give us. Gospel-faith should influence every realm of our lives.

2. We need to be discerning. If we are going to watch movies (and almost all of us do), we need to process what we watch and be discerning about the things that we see. We need to ask questions of the films we view. What is the story about? What is beautiful about the film? What is looked down upon? What is exalted? Is it honest about life? What moral and ethical viewpoints are used? What is redemptive? What emotions does it stir? Is this beneficial for me? Then, we have the chance to see how these questions relate to our following of Jesus and interacting with our world.

3. We can learn from films. Films have the potential to open us to new ways of seeing our lives and our reality. They can ask good questions with which we need to wrestle. If we enter the theater with a healthy humility, good films will help us realize that we don’t know it all. They remind us that we are thoughtful and feeling beings who like to be stretched both intellectually and emotionally. Watching a movie is viewing the world through another person’s glasses, and a shift in perspective inevitably opens us to new space to explore.

4. Creativity honors God. Too often, the church has taken up the call to confront while abdicating the call to create. Both are needed, but we are way out of balance. Andy Crouch says that we are “creators made in the Creator’s image.” When human beings stop creating, some God-given possibility is being muted or suppressed. We honor God when we create something beautiful and good. [What’s the over/under on comments about bad christian films for this post? Just sayin’…] We need more followers of Jesus who are courageous enough to attempt the creation of great films.

5. Movies are bridges for the gospel. As we seek to present and defend Jesus to our friends, co-workers, classmates, and neighbors, films can serve as common ground on which to have conversations about issues of life and faith. Like the apostle Paul in Athens interacting in the public square through philosophy and poetry, we can describe life with Jesus through the shared experience of films.

So, what do you think? Like the idea of incorporating an occasional conversation about film into a sermon series? Would you add anything to what I’ve mentioned here?

-jdl

Several weeks ago, I posted about a video I had seen detailing the violence that many Christians are experiencing in parts of India, and I shared about some of my experiences in India. You can read that post here – Violence Against Christians in India. At the time, some footage of the video was in question. The video has now been released with confirmed video of violence against Christians. I warn you that this footage is raw and brutal. I personally believe that those of us who live in comfort need to be jolted by its awfulness, but it may not be for everyone.

As I said in my previous post, I was moved to tears by the video, but I hope we will also be moved to prayer and to action for our friends who are suffering for Christ.

Persecution in India: Francis’ Response from Cornerstone Church on Vimeo.

Footage courtesy: Voice of the Martyrs
Music courtesy: The Champion and His Burning Flame

-jdl

When the Apostle Paul was planting churches in the first century, he wrote a letter to a church-planting partner named Titus. He wanted to make sure Titus had not been distracted from first-order business in the church. In the letter, he wrote, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained in order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.”

Global-mission-of-GodThree quick observations help us learn something about the appointment of elders in church plants.

First, there was something that remained undone in the preparation of the church until elders had been put in place. This was not optional, supplemental or secondary. The local churches were incomplete until they had God-ordained leaders.

Second, there was period of time that passed from when these churches were launched and when the elders were in place. Presumably, this allowed time for church health, spiritual growth, character evaluation, doctrinal training, and missional living to develop within the people. We are not told what period of time passed before the establishment of elders in each church, but it is clear that a period of leadership transition is normal for most church plants.

Third, Paul (the visionary leader for the church planting movement) designated a trusted leader named Titus (a regional pastor) to appoint elders for the churches. Paul writes to Titus: “This is why I left you in Crete…” It was a priority for Paul and for Titus in the launching of new churches. Most church plants follow the pattern of a leader or leaders, often from outside the core group, who oversee the church until elders have been raised up from within the new church.

The Global Movement of God

When you step back and look at the big picture, this pattern makes sense. A church is not a stand-alone organization designed for its own good. A church is a part of The Church, a global movement of God to replicate the life and mission of Jesus in people of every tribe. The movement strategy is to launch new local churches that will reproduce authentic Christ-followers in every people group. For the movement to reach its full potential, each new church must join in the global multiplication of churches.

If a new church is indeed part of this global movement, it is clear that establishing healthy leadership in each church is essential to success of the movement as a whole. It is also clear that the elders of the local church should see themselves as leaders in a movement that extends far beyond their local community. They are a team of leaders on assignment in a local church to further reproduce the life and mission of Jesus in a specific place, with the purpose of furthering the global mission of God.

Churches often lose sight of their role in the global mission of God, and a new church struggling to reach the lost, update the website, pay the bills, and survive the next Sunday is especially vulnerable at this point. It takes just a few people to distract or derail a church in its early years. This is why transitional leaders must guard the gate closely and prioritize the training and appointing of elders in a church plant. This is also why the initial elders must understand and embrace their role in God’s movement called The Church. The first elders in a church bear a great burden to keep a rapidly-changing and often immature church on course so that it can maximize its redemptive potential in the world.

-jdl

We launched our church because of the great need in our area for churches with both deep belief in the gospel of Jesus and deep love for the people in our area. Rather than retreating from our world, we wanted to be a church that engaged our world for good. It is hard to deny that the South is littered with the bones of dead or dying churches that are failing to positively and significantly impact our world for Jesus. That’s not to say that every church is a bad church, but it does point to some major issues at play in many churches. Two years into our church plant, I am more convinced than ever of the need for new and renewed churches to meet the challange of a rapidly changing culture. Statistics also bear this out (see the map below). For the first time in 200 years, the church in the South is on the decline by attendance.

April 26-27, I will be attending a conference that will address these issues and call us to make a difference at this critical time. I want to invite you to join me at the conference. It would be a blast to have a bunch of us dreaming and praying together about how God might use us to engage our world with the gospel. If you are interested, you can register at www.advancethechurch.com. Please let me know, and we’ll plan to connect.

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The following was posted on Pastor J. D. Greear’s blog (jdgreear.com) and is reprinted by permission.
Guest Blogger:
Mike McDaniel, Director of SendRDU
Map Source: American Church in Crisis by Dave Olsen

That’s the title for this year’s Advance Conference, April 26-27 in RDU. Last year we called for a resurgence of the local church. This year we’re focusing on the major issues that are standing in the way of that happening here in the South.

The South is changing. Urbanization and the vibrant growth of our cities have transformed the cultural landscape. Cities like RDU have become new centers of business and education, places where culture is being formed and made. And yet as our cities are advancing, the church is shrinking. For the first time in its history, the church in the South is declining at a rate faster than anywhere else in the country.

See for yourself. This map shows you where evangelical Christianity is growing in the U.S. (Pink indicates growth. Blue indicates decline).

Serviceu_header

And this isn’t just a problem in the cities, either. These changes are felt in small towns, where small town southern values are clashing with new urban postmodernity, and religion is often more prevalent than the gospel. There may be churches on every corner, but most are plateaued or declining to the point where they will be empty in 20 years.

As we stand at this critical turning point, we must be prepared to respond. We believe that the decline of the church is not due to external factors, but internal failures of the church to faithfully communicate the Gospel and engage the changing culture around us. That is the vision behind the title Contextualizing the Gospel in the New South. We want to equip pastors, lay leaders, and members to respond by engaging the changing culture of the South with the unchanging message of the gospel.

This year we’ve moved the conference to the Summit to be able to offer it the cheapest price possible. Right NOW you can get tickets for a ridiculously cheap early bird rate of $50.

Speakers include: Mark Driscoll, Ed Stetzer, Johnny Hunt, David Platt, Tullian Tchividjian, Matt Carter

You can register at www.advancethechurch.com.

Persecution in India: Francis’ Response on Vimeo.
Footage courtesy: Voice of the Martyrs
Music courtesy: The Champion and His Burning Flame

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=9607938&server=vimeo.com&show_title=0&show_byline=0&show_portrait=1&color=ffffff&fullscreen=1

A Note about the situation in India:

Orissa has one of the worst records for violence against Christians, due in part to the activities of a religious fundamentalist group. Many churches have been destroyed and Christian workers continue to be attacked. There is a law prohibiting conversion and, since 2000, baptism requires the permission of the government. About a year ago, Hindu radicals went on a “bloody rampage that left 50,000 Christians fleeing for their lives into the state’s forests.” (GFA, 2009). – Cornerstone Church

This afternoon, I watched this video of the brutal persecution of our brothers and sisters in India. I was moved to tears, just as I had been similarly moved to tears five years ago when I taught in India. My hope is that you are also moved, but I hope that we are moved to more than tears. I hope we are moved to prayer, moved to action in our churches, and moved to assist churches in India and around the globe. 

1753172-R1-039-18Five years ago, I had the privilege of teaching a History of Doctrine course to a group of 43 graduate students in India.  As I taught these young students, my heart was jolted by their commitment to Christ. In the course of 18 days, I preached, taught for 5-6 hours per day, graded work late into the night, met with students in my makeshift office, and shared tea and meals with these remarkable students. During this time, I had the chance to be both teacher and student.  

What the Teacher Learned

I had planned my last lecture especially well. In closing, I would give them the charge that they now carried the message of Christ to the world–what had been passed from Jesus to the disciples to the church planters of Acts to the elders of churches throughout the globe now came to them. It was their task to carry that same message into the world.

I barely made it through the lecture as I fought through my tears. I had learned something of the hardship they faced and the enormity of their task, and it was more than I could handle. Knowing that these 23 or 24 year old young men would likely take the message of Christ into a heavily overcrowded and poverty-stricken region where very few Christians lived was daunting. That they would most likely set up their churches in an 8 x 10 ft storefront made of cinder blocks seemed impossible. Yet, there was also hope.

1753222-R1-006-1AI was humbled as I watched G–, a student with a learning disability who had once been rejected by his family as a failure, give up cricket games to study my notes (I was told he had to read them three times in order to understand). G– scored 98% in the course (much better than I had done as a student!). One employee at the school was a wonderful fifteen year old young lady that had recently been rescued from human-trafficking as a bride-for-sale. Another student said he dreamed of turning his tribal people from head-hunters to soul-hunters, and I’m certain that he was being serious. When I witnessed the ridiculous levels of poverty in Delhi, I was undone. It honestly took me six weeks to recover (meaning that it took six weeks to become somewhat numb again to the hardship).

Sharing in the Sufferings of Jesus

1753202-R1-024-10AOne connection that gripped me was a student I’ll call M–. M– is from China, although his father is Burmese.  After pastoring 4 years as a teenager, he snuck across the border from China to Myanmar (Burma) and then into India en route to bible college and seminary. Without any stops, that was a ten-day journey on busses and trains. He acknowledged that he shouldn’t be in India because China wouldn’t give a visa for this, but this was the only way he would become trained as a pastor. He had not seen his mother, father, brothers or sisters in five years. His father died while he was away, and he received a brief phone call from a relative. He planned to return to China and pastor a house church along the China-Myanmar border amongst his people.

1753192-R1-021-9In an email to my wife, I wrote, “It is good to be here to learn from as well as to teach and encourage these young men. They truly are young men, which means that I am getting older, but it also means that the task of leading churches in these harsh areas has been left to the young, and that is a little overwhelming for me, as I think of what they will face and the fact that many of them will be forced to face it alone in a village of people hostile to all that they stand for. Gives my prayers a new sense of urgency.” I still feel that way.

A Prayer and Plea

I leave you with an excerpt from my last journal entry from India 5 years ago. May we in our luxury and comfort and silly church battles become broken for those around the world who face such difficulty in being Jesus’ disciples. May our prayers sustain them as we lift them up to our Heavenly Father. May their devotion to our Rescuer spur us on to greater love and faith and ministry.

M–, my new friend from China who travelled 10 days journey illegally to be here, came to see me today. We talked for a few minutes about ministry and he wanted some information that I will email to him. We talked for a few more minutes before I had to turn to some work that needed to get to the copier before close of work today. As our conversation ended, he looked at me and said, “You leave Friday. Tomorrow will be busy day for you. We may not talk again.” I truly thought he was going to cry. I told him that we would eat lunch together tomorrow. I can tell that it feels good to him to know that someone outside of his people knows of his plight. He loves to talk about his people and the ministry he hopes to have among his people. All of the students love to talk about the plight of their people.

Marip Tu is the student on the right

Another student gave me a book today, one that was privately printed by a secret group (he seemed nervous about giving it to me and wanted me to read it “privately” in case someone was offended by the book). It’s over 500 pages long. I leave in less than 48 hours. When in the world am I going to read that? But in a note on one of his assignments, he had mentioned that he hoped to turn his people from head-hunters to soul-hunters. I included a note that I would pray for his people later that day. Two days later, he asks me if I could read this book. I could make no promises there, but it is at my bedside tonight. The students have a great burden for “their people.” There isn’t much national pride for India, but they all dearly love “their people.” And for most, that results in sadness and spiritual burden due to the hardness of the people to the gospel.

Clearly, there will be some sorrow for me in leaving these friends, brothers and sisters. There is much work to do here, and they bear an inordinate burden for the Church. But I will be happy to be home, to be with Nan, to be with the boys. I thought today about being with my church family and longed to be a part of worshipping with them. Going home will be good, but this too has been good.

May God be lifted up in His Church, both here and there.

Jeff

 -jdl

I was reading in David McCullough’s fantastic biography of John Adams recently, and I ran across a section that I thought had relevance to all leaders. McCullough wrote:

At the start of every new venture of importance in his life, John Adams was invariably assailed by great doubts. It was a life pattern as distinct as any. The boy of fifteen, riding away from home to be examined for admission to Harvard, suffered a foreboding as bleak as the rain clouds overhead. The delegate to the first Continental Congress, preparing to depart for Philadelphia, felt “unalterable anxiety”; the envoy sailing for France wrote of “great diffidence in myself.” That he always succeeded in conquering these doubts did not seem to matter. In advance of each large, new challenge, the painful waves rolled in upon him once again.

Part of this was stage fright, part the consequence of an honest reckoning of his own inadequacies. Mainly it was the burden of an inordinate ability to perceive things as they were: he was apprehensive because he saw clearly how much there was to be apprehensive about.

Three Kinds of Fear that Leaders Face

McCullough mentions three fears with which Adams wrestled: (1) stage fright, (2) personal inadequacy, and (3) realistic assessment of his current leadership situation. All leaders face these same fears. While all three are present in our leadership worlds, each fear requires a different response. The first two, we need to discard; the third is something we carry with us.

Fear 1 – Stage Fright

When McCullough speaks of stage fright, he’s not talking about being “on stage.” He means the fear of the leadership mantle that must be worn as a leader in any setting. This fear comes from knowing that your leadership mettle is about to be put to the test by a new challenge, likely one which you have never faced before.

You see plenty of examples of stage fright in the Bible. I liken this fear to that of Moses. He first responded to God’s call by saying, “Who am I that I should go that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He clearly preferred hiding out in the comfort (wink wink) of being a shepherd to taking the stage of leadership. He was determined to dodge the frontman role.

God’s response to Moses was more or less, “Get over it.” God was gracious to him and sent Aaron to help, but which of the two had a lead role played by Charleton Heston in the movie “The Ten Commandments”? Moses. God didn’t allow Moses to skip out just because of his stage fright.

When we experience this fear, we need the same advice: get over it. God almost always gives us someone to help shoulder the weight, but a leader must repeatedly let go of fear, and move in the direction God has called him or her to go.

Fear 2 – Personal Inadequacy

The second kind of fear has more to do with “an honest reckoning of [our] own inadequacies.” Many of us are performance-based people who feel a need to succeed. We struggle against our weaknesses all the time, so we are very aware of what they are. Knowing we don’t have it all together, we spook easily.

In Jeremiah 1, we read of God’s call of the prophet Jeremiah. God makes it clear that He planned to make Jeremiah a prophet before his daddy’s sperm had a first date with mommy’s egg. Since God decided this before his DNA was set, one would think Jeremiah could be confident that God knew what He was doing. Instead, Jeremiah says, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” Do you see the list of personal inadequacies he just pulled out? I can’t speak. I’m too young. God replies something along these lines, “Shut up, but speak clearly when I tell you to speak.”

This fear must be faced head on and discarded as an enemy. I know this fear well. When I battle feelings of inadequacy, I have developed the spiritual discipline of praying through Jeremiah 1 as a reminder that success is determined by a lot more than my performance. God calls us, and He will use us as he chooses.

Sometimes, this argument for God’s sovereign will is used as an excuse for laziness or cowardice. This may happen if a person is placed into a leadership role but lacks the gift or the heart of a leader. If that’s the case, then there are other issues that must be dealt with. Most of the time, however, this isn’t the case. I find that most natural leaders tend to strive for excellence, usually placing too much of their significance in their success. For these leaders, casting off the fear of personal inadequacy is a call to abandon self-importance and depend on God.

Fear 3 – Leadership Situations

The third fear that every leader faces is a different kind of fear. McCullough describes this as “the burden of an inordinate ability to perceive things as they [are].” Every good leader is able to look out into the days ahead and know what’s coming. He may not see everything perfectly, but he has a sense of what is coming down the road. John Adams “was apprehensive because he saw clearly how much there was to be apprehensive about.”

Seasoned leaders are not afraid because they are uncertain of the future; they are afraid because they know what will happen in the days ahead. They know how the trials will beat them up. They know the battles that must be won. They know the pain it will cause people they care about. These are not matters to dismiss. These are realistic concerns that must be dealt with honestly and diligently and prayerfully.

We should not be shocked by difficulty, since we are instructed, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial that comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). A primary task of a leader is to make an accurate appraisal of the challenges ahead. Jesus himself tells us that we should count the cost before we enter the work God has called us to:

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

You might quibble over my use of the word fear here, but the point remains: we are called to take a realistic look at the leadership situations we are entering. These may deal with an inwardly-focused church, a division in a church family, a financial crisis, a spiritual stronghold of the enemy, group injustice such as racism, callousness to sin, pride in religious service, or some other struggle. It is healthy to have a reasonable level of fear based on the challenges ahead. These “healthy” fears can drive us to seek God in our work as nothing else can.

When these fears show up, our response should be three-fold:

  1. Make a realistic assessment of the situation, and make your assessment known to your leadership team. You should not oversell the danger, but neither should you undercut the real challenges you will face. Seek input from key leaders, and adjust your conclusions as you learn new things.
  2. Do the difficult work of knowing the issues inside and out. Where I’ve made mistakes in the past, they have typically involved my emotional withdrawal from a difficult task which led to inadequate preparation—basically, I got tired, and I didn’t complete my homework.
  3. Pray. A lot. “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you (Psalm 55:22).” God may not quickly remove the situation, but He will help us to bear the weight of it. He will also guide us as we navigate the road we are travelling: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).

– jdl