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Can I Follow You As I Follow Christ?

People dont want to hear your words; they want to see your actions

It is a privilege to serve as a leader in the kingdom of God. It is an honor to be entrusted with the gift to teach and disciple the people of God. Yet with this gift, leaders are held to a higher standard. James 3:1 warns us, “Not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

It is important that we teach well, but we must be very careful that our lifestyles don’t let people down. Will we be perfect? No, we will not be perfect. Nevertheless, let us be the type of leaders who lead not only with our words, but also with our lives. Let us be able to say with confidence like the Apostle Paul, “Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing” (Philippians 4:9, emphasis added).

For example, abortion is one of the most talked-about subjects in the evangelical church. It is the deciding factor in elections, the topic of many sermons, and the reason some choose to protest with pictures of unborn babies that would cause even the toughest man to squirm. The church is screaming “pro-life,” but I contend mainly in propaganda and not in action. What do I mean? It is easy to be pro-life or pro-anything behind a computer screen or in speech. However, the world needs to see consistency. It needs to watch our lives and say, “Yes. Yes, they truly do care about this issue.” As leaders, our followers need to see beyond our words and witness our actions. Are you that kind of leader?

I recently discovered that type of leader. I was talking to some friends recently about our mutual friend, Pastor Odai. We were discussing his love for the people in his congregation ...

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Mon, 20 October 2014 08:00:00 CST
Lead Me On: Brave & Bawling

What happens when we give God a chance to use our relationships to change us?

A few years ago, Saturday Night Live alum Amy Poehler delivered Harvard University’s Class Day speech. In a fake Bostonian dialect, she joked, “Just because yah wicked smaht doesn’t mean yah beddah than me.”

Then she got serious.

“All I can tell you today is what I’ve learned, what I have discovered as a person in this world, and that is this: You can’t do it alone. Be open to collaboration…it will change your life.”

“We all grow up afraid of something,” she said. Letting others in “should make you feel less alone, less scared.”

A beautiful sentiment. Which is fine, until somebody ticks us off.

As was the case for Joseph.

Joseph was the tenth son of Jacob. He had a Technicolor coat that annoyed his nine older brothers and dreams that bugged them even more.

So they shoved him in a well and left him for dead.

Wherein, a reader registers once and for all that the Bible is not a book showcasing the moral elite. Joseph’s narrative painfully highlights jealous siblings who were jerks, a sexually frustrated woman who was a jerk, and a chief cupbearer who really did not keep his promise to Joseph for a long, long time.

Jerk.

Eventually, finally, the tides turned for Joseph. The chief cupbearer ultimately introduced Joseph to Pharaoh, and after some dream-interpreting, Pharaoh gave Joseph his signet ring and a nice gold chain and said, “I hereby put you in charge of the entire land of Egypt” (Genesis 41:41).

That was Joseph’s condition—he was practically a king—when his life’s initial heartbreak came full circle and he wound up face-to-face, once again, with his nemesis brothers.

They ...

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Thu, 16 October 2014 08:00:00 CST
Build True Community through Service

Lets live as if we belong to each other

What would it look like to build community with servanthood as the foundation, to shift from an independent mindset to interdependence?

Our culture values community with words, but individualism with actions. When the rubber hits the road, it’s often not about “we”; it’s about “me first.” If “we” becomes the end result it’s a bonus. We all love the idea of community, but to love the idea of community will only end in us breaking community. We must truly love one another, preferring one another above ourselves, for authentic community to flow naturally.

The reason community often fails is because we want what we want first. We want our freedom, our dreams, our desires. We have been sold an individualistic message that tells us these come first, but in order for God’s idea of community to manifest, we must lay down our freedom for one another. This is where we know we’re not just talking about love, but living it. Love that is shown through sacrifice is sacred. Jen Pollock Michel puts it this way in her book Teach Us to Want: “Community, you could say, puts a restraint on desire.” There’s a message we don’t hear much of: embracing our restraints for the sake of one another. We are so accustomed to consuming that the idea of investing our lives for the sake of others sounds inspiring but is often the road less travelled.

In church community we often reflect and put our focus on our personal relationship with Christ. We forget that we belong not only to him, but to one another as well. He has chosen his church, his bride, to reveal himself to the world. The way the church loves one another becomes one of the greatest manifestations ...

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Mon, 13 October 2014 08:00:00 CST
How to Really Serve a Community

It begins with listening

Have you ever experienced someone trying to help you in a way that wasn’t all that helpful? As a new mom, this is something I experience often. Someone gives advice that’s more discouraging than helpful. Another person offers to pick me up for lunch—not realizing that having to transfer all the baby gear to her car really is more work than help. I know that people mean well, and this compels me to show them grace in the situation. But it can still be uncomfortable and frustrating.

Unfortunately, the same concept can hold true when we try to serve people in our communities. We can make people uncomfortable and frustrated—even when we’re trying to help, even when we have the best of intentions. The only way to avoid this is to get to know the people we’re serving and actually listen to what they need. Far too often, though, we begin serving by brainstorming ways we think we should help. We assume we know what others need, and that isn’t a wise way to begin serving.

The trouble is that listening takes work, humility, and time. It may include messy, uncomfortable conversations about someone’s need. It may force us to visit a dangerous neighborhood or discuss touchy topics like poverty. Even at the simplest level, there’s the awkwardness of starting a new friendship with someone who may seem different from us. And it requires us to relate to people in need, to recognize that we're not better simply because we have more.

But listening and truly getting to know the people we're trying to serve make all the difference. Listening leads us to help in the ways that would be most helpful—not the ways that make most sense to us or are easiest for us.

My small ...

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Thu, 9 October 2014 08:45:00 CST
Leading to the Ends of the Earth

How to reach beyond your church by investing within your church

According to Acts 1:8, the last promise Jesus gave his disciples was that “when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

That promise was meant to comfort, but it can also be overwhelming at first glance. I recently heard a speaker who is radically committed to reaching the world for Christ. He sheepishly confessed that his son is in counseling and the first thing his son asked the counselor was “Do I have to reach the entire world for Christ?”

Any of us who have been involved in church leadership certainly feel the same. Just keeping up with your own congregation is a full-time job. But perhaps the solution is breaking down that verse to be applicable within the ministries in your church. “Jerusalem” would be reaching your own congregation, “Judea” would be reaching your entire city, “Samaria” could represent your region or country, and “the ends of the earth” would be the world.

Loving Your Congregation

This is the obvious one that I will need to spend the least time talking about. If you are in church leadership, you are already committed to this. You take seriously Jesus’ command to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matthew 28:19-20). And of course that starts in your own church. Through ministry to children, visitors, and regular attenders, your ministry is clearly defined to those in your church, and most of the people in your church will ...

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Mon, 6 October 2014 08:00:00 CST
Finding Communal Joy in Lament

Lets sing the Lords song in a strange and troubled land

ISIS. Ebola in West Africa. Syria. The recent Middle East conflagration. Flight MH17. I stand in front of the congregation. How does my denomination’s expression of Christian worship and life together, teased out over 90 minutes every Sunday morning, mean anything really, in the face of these problems that seem epic? Avoidance isn’t the answer. I wonder how to lead us in worship that somehow makes room for the doubt, grief, and confusion we all feel. I cue the worship team and we play the opening bars of “How Long” by Stuart Townend. With eyes wide open we begin to sing our lament.

What Does It Mean to Lament?

When we lament, we cry out—in the midst of the reality of a world tainted by sin and therefore inclusive of sorrow, pain, and confusion—to a good God who has the power to change a given situation. As the majority of psalms reveal, a true lament complains loud and long to God with honesty that leaves no room for polite self-consciousness. As part of that lament, the lamenter asks God to do something and then, having named her request, closes her lament by affirming her trust in God. That affirmation of trust is as much a part of the lament as is the complaint.

There’s much our churches need to lament: the loss of so many of our youth because of our disconnected spirituality; the ecological devastation of creation; the cultural genocide of women around the world; the idolatry of Western culture’s economic worldview and exploitative practices; our need to shape and control our environments—inside and outside the church. Strong words, yet we cannot lament unless we see what there is to grieve. Perhaps we’re too…comfortable. We’re either too ...

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Thu, 2 October 2014 08:00:00 CST
Include Your Children in Life-Changing Decisions

God is working in their lives too

Standing on the driveway with my teenage daughter, we watch silently as her childhood bed and miniature table and chairs, packed in the back of a truck, pull away and drive down the street, around the corner, and onto the highway. Words aren’t necessary. We’ve resigned ourselves to the new reality.

All our possessions and keepsakes are now negotiable. We’re moving to England, not just the next state.

Rearranging the empty place in her room where the bed was once used as a couch for friends to congregate, her Dad interrupts, “What are we going to do with all these pillows?” Mounds of decorative pillows in an array of shapes, sizes, and colors cover the carpet, displaced.

“Which ones would you like to use in your dorm room and which ones would you like to visit?” I ask my daughter with slight hesitation. This season presents the biggest change in her 18 years of life. I’m attempting to balance reality with sensitivity.

Not only will she face new challenges as a college student without her parents nearby, but home will be across the Atlantic.

While this is our first international relocation as a ministry family, it’s not the first time we’ve walked the tightrope of our life-changing decisions with our children. This is our ninth move and the third for our children. The decision to leave every place we live requires the same amount of conviction that brought us there in the first place.

When my husband and I say yes to radical life change, we believe God has something important in the circumstances for them also. And we’ve learned to listen to our children differently through seasons of transition.

...

Before divulging details of potential change, ...

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Mon, 29 September 2014 08:00:00 CST
When Loving Your Sheep Hurts

How I found healing after betrayal in ministry

Tears rolled down my face as I confessed my agony to a friend: “I love God and I love the church, but I don’t want anything to do with God’s people right now.”

It was a shocking confession that came after a deep betrayal in ministry. Someone I loved had turned on me with terrible accusations and lies, attempting to humiliate and discredit me. I was reeling.

My pastor stood by me, but his support could not heal the wound. I was face-to-face with the reality that sometimes loving your sheep hurts. I did not know how to handle the pain, so I considered stepping away from ministry altogether. I had lost the courage to be a shepherd.

However, God had other plans.

Fast-forward a few months and everything has changed. I’ve stopped crying, and I’m leading with more passion than ever before. My heart is completely healed. I never imagined I could heal this quickly or this well. What made the difference? God did. Healing wasn’t an easy process, but it didn’t take him long to accomplish it.

Do you find yourself in a similar situation today? If so, these three phases of the healing process that the Holy Spirit helped me through might also help you:

1. Take off the mask and get real with God.

Most leaders are mature enough to know that offenses, bitterness, and unforgiveness are unacceptable. Sometimes that means we guard against offenses so well that we mask our own hearts. We may even try to convince ourselves that we have not been hurt.

Such was the case with me. Since I had the mindset that I should not become bitter or offended, I struggled to admit how angry and hurt I was. I even told a friend that I had no reason to confront the one who betrayed me, that I had nothing ...

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Thu, 25 September 2014 08:00:00 CST
Saying Goodbye to Volunteer Leaders

How to do it well—in youth ministry and elsewhere

Leaders naturally cycle in and out of ministry. When it’s a positive parting of ways, create an environment where the leader is honored for their service and students, parents, and other leaders have a chance to voice their thanks. Make this a consistent ritual for all positive departures. It’s a great way to respect someone’s legacy, to help students understand that they’re not being abandoned, and to communicate to the larger church body that all people are valued in the youth ministry. Have a time of prayer and blessing for the leader and perhaps gift them with something that will help them in their next stage of life or ministry. If they’re moving to a different ministry, have a leader from that ministry be in attendance so there’s a healthy passing of the baton.

When a team member isn’t working out in a ministry, typically we defer to mercy or grace—“They just need a little more time.” Or “We all make mistakes.” In reality, you need to let them go. Or as a colleague puts it, “Free them up to succeed elsewhere.” Before you let someone go, however, you need to make sure you’ve done three things:

1) Consistently given feedback. Part of your team development is observing team members in action and talking with them about what you observe. If someone isn’t working out, he or she should be aware of it well before it’s time to part ways. Ask yourself: Is this a ministry issue, an attitude issue, or a moral boundary issue? If it’s one (or both) of the first two, you can take some time to work with him or her on the difficulty. If it’s a moral boundary issue, investigate further if confirmed, then think about ...

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Mon, 22 September 2014 08:00:00 CST
Dare Mighty Things

A Book Review

The book:

Dare Mighty Things: Mapping the Challenges of Leadership for Christian Women

By Halee Gray Scott

Published by Zondervan

Why I picked up this book:

Simply put, there is no other book on the market like it! Author and Ph.D. Halee Gray Scott has done her research and clearly presents her case with theological reflection, without defense, and through humbly sharing her story (both successes and failures) as well as the convictions and challenges of other Christian women who are leading.

Who Should Read Dare Mighty Things:

This book is for any Christian woman who currently is leading or feels called to lead. Most of the research is from the Christian nonprofit arena and would be of particular interest to that audience. However, the issues she raises are important for men and women, as men still hold key positions of leadership in the Christian community at large and can better serve as mentors and sponsors when they understand the perceptions and challenges that their sisters are up against.

What’s in Store for You:

Dr. Scott holds no punches when initially stating her conviction that “the church has failed Christian women because it has failed to cast a comprehensive vision of what God can accomplish in and through the life of a woman.” However, anyone who may be concerned as to whether she is advocating for the ordination of women, or if she is leading her readers to pick a side in the egalitarian and complementarian debate, can fear not. She follows her courageous introduction by disarming the great debaters. She gives an unbiased (however brief) presentation of both sides and then leads the way by revealing the points that they both have in common, namely: “1. Women can be leaders…2. ...

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Thu, 18 September 2014 08:00:00 CST
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