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I Am Not Rocky Balboa

And retreating from a fight doesnt always mean defeat.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Rocky. Who isn’t encouraged to face obstacles head on when watching Rocky stand up to giants bigger, stronger, and faster than him? Of course, Rocky takes many blows, but after each one he rises to fight on—even if his pace slows a little. As I sit in my comfy chair, watching him continue to get back up on his feet, I’m always inspired. But I’ve also come to realize an important fact: I’m not Rocky Balboa.

There are times in our leadership when we take blow after debilitating blow. Hits may come in different forms, but they all cause damage, and that makes it incredibly hard to get back up. And when they strike one right after another, the odds of us ever winning the fight seem to be against us.

I imagine King David felt this way when Absalom, his own son, conspired against him. God had called David to this leadership position. Yet here he was, facing a challenge he never expected to encounter. Absalom intentionally caused great dissention: Many people questioned David’s leadership, and others condemned his actions.

When the odds weren’t in his favor, David fled. This great king took his family with him and left his home. He’d had enough: “David walked up the road to the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went. His head was covered and his feet were bare as a sign of mourning” (2 Samuel 15:30).

David was clearly distraught as he retreated. To make matters worse, a man named Shimei came out of his house for the sole purpose of cursing David, throwing stones and dirt at him (16:13). One translation describes David as being “showered with dirt.”

As a shower of dirt and rocks fell around him, David didn’t ...

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Mon, 31 August 2015 08:00:00 CST
How to Find Truth in Harsh Feedback

What to do when feedback is off base, unfair, and poorly delivered

I have a bad track record for receiving feedback well—at least negative feedback.

Like when my husband told me I was a little harsh when I reminded him he forgot to run the dishwasher. I wasn’t being harsh! I was just being honest!

Or when our realtor commented on the “very bright” paint color in our bedroom that “wasn’t her style.” No, I’m just not afraid of color—like you.

Or when a friend couldn’t believe an old picture was really of me. Lay off me! I’m 15 years older with a kid!

It’s easy to see myself only in the best light. Sure I have flaws, but I’m convinced they’re tiny little things that don’t bother anyone.

It turns out I’m not alone in this thinking. As Sheila Heen writes in Thanks for the Feedback, we see ourselves as the heroes in our stories—we’re always “Dorothy, the Princess, or Rudolph, not the Wicked Witch, the Pea, or any of the other reindeer.” This makes receiving negative feedback difficult.

But we all have blind spots. Though they’re invisible to us, they’re often glaringly obvious to the people we live and work with. As church leaders, we need to care about this. We need to actively work on receiving feedback well so we can grow and better minister to the people in our care. But receiving feedback isn’t always pretty.

Harsh Words

One of my worst experiences with feedback occurred years ago when my pastor at the time recommended me for giving sermons during weekend worship services. I was elated. I love speaking and teaching, and it was the thing I missed most from my previous job on staff at another church. The process involved delivering a previously ...

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Wed, 26 August 2015 15:02:00 CST
Great Leaders Know How to Handle Their Emotions

But that probably doesnt mean what you think.

It’s an odd thing to break into tears while chairing an elder’s meeting.

Before our gathering, I’d done my homework and had all the facts we needed to make decisions. But when we came to an agenda item about staffing, I became overwhelmed by my feelings—care for the staff person involved, worries that I had failed, fear about financial ramifications. I bit my lip to control my tears, but that has never really worked. With embarrassment I discovered that I had brought the meeting to a standstill. But my tears revealed the complexity of the issue and (once I stopped apologizing) the conversation took on a new dimension.

There are few things that make us feel more vulnerable than our own emotions. Anger, fear, sadness all knock us off our feet right when we’re trying to look like leaders. If we have been told that leadership is always strong, how do we respond to this breaking in of emotion? Is emotion something to control, or does it reveal opportunities for God to show himself?

Empathy v. Sympathy

Last week, I was part of a workshop on understanding poverty. We heard heartbreaking stories: parents working long hours but unable to make ends meet, dreaming of change but stuck in old cycles. Afterward the facilitator asked, “How does this make you feel?” I wondered whether people would say “sad,” “frustrated,” or “angry.” All I could think was “heavy.”

But the answers given were not about feelings. The first response was, “I think that happened to those people because . . .” And the second: “That reminds me of . . .”

I was still frustrated by that conversation when we watched a video about empathy ...

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Tue, 18 August 2015 16:46:00 CST
What the Oppressed Can Teach Us About the Bible

The way I read and lead has changed forever.

God is taking me through an exercise in going global—right from my quiet time.

As I read through the Bible, I have a hunch that the lens I read through is just that—mine. So I’ve started seriously evaluating it: What “eyes” am I reading through? How do my culture and experiences shape my interpretations? How would I interpret the Word if I had different experiences? How would I interpret it if I were you?

Take the word “enemies,” for example. In the Psalms, we bump into this word a lot. Psalm 27:1–3, for instance, says this:

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
so why should I tremble?
When evil people come to devour me,
when my enemies and foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
I will remain confident.

As a white, suburban, middle-class American with a relatively untroubled childhood and teen experience, I collide with the word “enemies” in this passage. It’s difficult to relate. “Enemies” for me means those people who have irritated me over the years. Pretty petty enemies—not the type David is writing about.

How would I read the word “enemies” if my life had been different? What if I were a Congolese village girl named Dina, who, on my way home one day after harvesting beans, was gang-raped by local soldiers simply because I was a girl alone? My experiences would give me a much more visceral, harrowing mental picture of enemies. (This really happened and continues to happen, by the way. Check out Half the ...

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Tue, 18 August 2015 15:55:00 CST
When Stress Threatens Your Leadership

How to get back on track when the pressures of life consume you

Leading while feeling stagnant and sluggish are sure ways to self-destruct in ministry. Attempting to lead others while we’re frustrated, uneasy, and tired will shipwreck our leadership abilities. The problem isn’t just big issues in life, but also the everyday pressures that add up and consume us. This kind of pressure can slowly chisel away at us, weakening our mental strength, and filling us with feelings of depression, isolation, and procrastination—and it can all sneak up on us if we’re not careful.

Sometimes we forget that we’re human—we aren’t Superwoman. Stress is the product of pressure when it’s not handled properly. We often carry too many heavy loads. Even worse, we’re often the ones accepting the responsibilities. Rather than say no when we’re unable, rather than make time for the most important things in our lives, we continue to take on others’ loads and more responsibilities. We need to hand them over to Jesus.

Effective leadership is difficult under pressure. To lead well, we must be alert spiritually, emotionally, and physically. As a leader, I’ve experienced being spiritually absent when my presence was required. It was difficult for me to come up with ideas, events, or even an encouraging word for myself—and that made it difficult to support the people I lead.

At times we may run into that dry spot where nothing seems to get us excited in ministry. In such times, remember that God “will never leave you nor forsake you.” Our duty as leaders is to lead others in the direction of the teachings of Jesus Christ. We must be able to handle our own issues if we are to lead others effectively.

Unless we develop ...

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Wed, 12 August 2015 15:30:00 CST
Support for Women Church Planters

How the Exponential Conference made me feel part of a tribe

Loneliness is one of the greatest challenges church planters face.

Seven Key Issues Church Planters Face, a report prepared by Exponential, begins with these words: “Church planting is hard. Church planting is discouraging. Church planting is lonely. It is not for the faint of heart.”

For a woman church planter, those things are multiplied by ten. I should know: I planted a non-denominational church over 11 years ago in Upstate New York that continues to thrive and grow today.

The journey has been harder than I ever imagined, and one of the most difficult parts has been the loneliness I’ve experienced. Though I’ve searched, I’ve found few other women church planters. Worse, I’ve found minimal support for women in this role.

For my husband and me, there was no sending church or financial support in the beginning. My husband often worked 16 hours of overtime at work each week so we’d have enough money to keep the church’s doors open. There was also very little emotional or spiritual support in those early years except for that which came from above. There simply was nowhere for a woman church planter to turn for help or encouragement of any kind.

Recently, though, I have seen a great light on the horizon for women leading church plants. Just a few months ago, I experienced an event so monumental that I consider it to be a historic event in the life of the church. At this year’s Exponential Conference, the largest gathering of church planters in the world, female church planters were made to feel welcomed and wanted. Exponential made it clear that women were truly accepted as a peers.

I thank God that I was there to witness it. For the first time in almost 12 ...

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Wed, 12 August 2015 09:59:00 CST
Lead Me On: God Doesnt Want Our Good Behavior

He sees through the tactics we use to make ourselves look good.

It’s hard to resist the idea that being a believer means being “good.” Sure, the Bible does tell us about how we should live, but it’s more than that.

Which puts us in the awkward position of making clear, cogent points about the Bible without falling back on the pressure to simply “be good”— that’s a different thing altogether.

Like a burnt offering.

Burnt offerings were Old Testament to-dos for drawing closer to God by showing repentance via an outward sign or sacrifice. Today we have a cross, and a stone rolled away to tell the Christian story of no more burnt offerings needed.

But burnt offerings are sticky little buggers that creep into our habits, taking good things and mutating them into something different—like when we do good things for the wrong reasons. When we care about reading Scripture so we can say we read our Bible rather than actually be changed by God, for example, a good thing turns into a burnt offering.

And truthfully, when we do this, you can see it all over our faces.

It’s a lot like what Tina Fey once tweeted, “’And make it obvious.’ —what I assume some ladies getting plastic surgery say.”

Burnt offerings may be the Christian culture equivalent of plastic surgery—it’s taboo to talk about, yet everybody seems to be doing it. Just when we think we’re pulling off the look of being moral, productive, contributing citizens, we’re actually showing everyone just how un-free we are.

That’s a problem.

It not only misses the freedom that believers were promised, it undermines it. How do we keep burnt offering behavior out of our rhetoric, out of our reasoning, and out ...

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Tue, 4 August 2015 15:51:00 CST
How I Spent 20 Years in Ministry Without the Bible

I called others to spiritual growth, but I remained unchanged.

The Bible was big in my home growing up. My spiritual heritage includes an aunt who pitched crusade tents in the middle of the countryside, preached Christ, and planted churches; uncles who pastored and preached; and a grandfather who taught preachers how to dissect the Word and share it with integrity.

My spiritual heritage also includes hypocrites, legalists, and perfectionists. I grew up wondering why the people who did the most Bible reading, preaching, and teaching seemed to be completely unchanged at their core. What difference did memorizing, studying, and knowing the Bible really make? It didn’t seem to change the people I knew.

Despite this, I remained faithful to the things I’d been taught. The Holy Scriptures had given me the wisdom to receive salvation. I was sure of its truth. But being sure about those family members from whom I’d learned? Not so much.

Over time, my distrust in them subtly twisted my relationship with Scripture. I still read, studied, and memorized the Bible, but with less consistency. The Bible became a book I felt pressured to know, a task I crossed off a daily to-do list—when I had time to do it. My quiet times sputtered, reviving only around Advent and Lent or when I decided to follow the latest formula for spiritual growth from the evangelical author of the month. I stacked my bookshelves with Christian classics, and I read the best commentaries that I could find, but I rarely read the source text.

Some years I’d pick and choose the books of the Bible I wanted to read. Other times I’d go for days, sometimes weeks, without opening my Bible. I knew a lot about what others knew about God and the Bible, and that knowledge was enough to get me ...

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Tue, 4 August 2015 14:26:00 CST
Dont Lose Sight of Scripture

How can we follow Christ if we dont know how he wants to be followed?

"Help me, Jesus! I need you right now in my time of trouble.”

These are the strong words that fall off our lips as we cry out to our Savior, Jesus Christ, in some of the most trying times. As we are crying out, he is listening to every word we speak, weighing the intentions of our hearts and our ability to endure those moments in life.

Matthew 12:36-37 says, “And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” As much as we want to say the proper words during trying times, the bottom line is that we need help. Help does not come because we have said the correct words that will somehow make God move faster than any other prayer. Psalm 34:17 says “The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles.” God’s people know his Word by using them it the words they speak and the actions they commit in this life. In knowing specifically what God’s Word tells us to do, we are assured that we are doing things his way.

Scripture gives us a spiritual road map that will allow us to be spiritually prosperous in our works for God. We must learn to know Scripture so that our times of trouble may not be difficult to endure. The Bible teaches us, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3:16). Learning Scripture is extremely essential in working for God. We must be able to implement and apply the principles of Scripture to our own personal lives in order to properly distribute ...

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Mon, 3 August 2015 08:00:00 CST
How to Playfully Remember Gods Story

Invite your congregation to experience Scripture

In this series, I’ve considered the importance of playing with Scripture and the significance of public Scripture reading as a time for communal remembrance of God’s actions in history. Now in this final segment, I’ll provide some practical ways to heighten the communal experience of hearing Scripture in worship.

First, if Scripture is usually read by lay readers, it is important to provide them with training. When I’ve suggested training to my own teams, the idea has been met with every response from “Yes! We needed this!” to “Why do I have to train to read? I went to school.” To the doubters, I just gently point out that our musicians rehearse every week. The choir rehearses (and they already know how to sing, right?) and the pastor prepares. Scripture reading is no different. The Roman Catholic tradition teaches and trains their lectors on the significance of their work, and some Evangelical congregations are following suit. Actor Max McLean has written about his process of coaching and developing a team of skilled Scripture readers at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

My favorite training resource, one that could be used in congregations of all sizes, demographics, and education levels, is a small volume by Jeffrey Arthurs with a title taken straight from 1 Timothy: Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture: The Transforming Power of the Well-Spoken Word. This 144-page volume also includes a DVD tutorial. Consider planning one or two evenings to train Scripture readers periodically.

Second, if you want to start playing with Scripture, consider inviting the artists in your congregation to join you. Practice a variation of lectio divina with ...

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Thu, 30 July 2015 08:00:00 CST
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