LEADING WITH LOVE

An Excellent Resource for Peacemaking Leaders of All Kinds

Nazareth Shepherd

In a recent conversation with church leaders, we wrestled with some of the challenges associated with shepherding the people in our churches.

I suggested that this year we might read and discuss A Christian Leader’s Guide to Leading with Love by Alexander Strauch.

Of all the books on leadership I’ve worked through in my years as a peacemaking pastor, few have made a greater impact on me than this one. The publisher bills the text this way:

This book provides leaders and teachers a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches about love. This understanding is essential to you as an individual leader and to the church as a whole. It will significantly improve your relational skills, enhance your effectiveness in ministry, diminish senseless conflict and division, build a healthier church, and promote evangelism. If you lead or teach people in any capacity in the body of Christ, this book will help you become a more loving leader or teacher.

Strauch accomplishes those aims by working through the details of the Bible’s great love chapter–1 Corinthians 13–in parts one and two. Part three focuses on The Works of a Loving Leader.

These include practices like Caring for People’s Needs, Laboring in Prayer, Protecting and Reproving Loved Ones, Disciplining and Restoring the Wayward, Managing Conflict a “More Excellent Way,” and Practicing Hospitality.

Regarding hospitality for example, Strauch argues from Romans 12:10–“Love one another with brotherly affection”–that leaders must create loving community by bringing others into our homes.

Brotherly love entails knowing one another and sharing life together. Unless we open the doors of our homes to one another, the reality of the local church as a close-knit family of loving brothers and sisters is just one more empty religious theory. It is impossible to know or grow close to our brothers and sisters by meeting for an hour a week with a large group in a church sanctuary. It is through the ministry of hospitality that we provide the fellowship and care that nurtures true brotherly and sisterly love (100).

For an illustration of the effect produced by practicing hospitality, Strauch cites research conducted by a news reporter measuring church friendliness.

Each visit resulted in a rating based upon a point system. Greeters at the door–two points. Welcome form letter from the pastor–three points. Coffee hour–five points. Warm greeting from individuals–ten points. Personal invitations to dinner?” SIXTY POINTS!

Such is the power of hospitality.

If you lead others in your church in any capacity–but especially as a pastor–I urge you to include Leading with Love on your 2019 reading list.

Question: When have you been loved well by a leader practicing hospitality?

“SULLY” SENSATIONAL

Four Things Peacemaking Leaders Do Well To Imitate from Captain Sullenberger

Rarely do I want to see motion pictures in a theater these days. The dearth of redemptive films released lately disappoints a guy like me who relishes quality cinema.

alg-plane-jpg

No problem on that score with “Sully”–director Clint Eastwood’s riveting telling of the drama surrounding the US Air pilot who successfully landed Flight 1549 in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009 after a crippling bird strike shortly upon takeoff.

This film moved me to tears at points. As I left the theater I asked the Lord why that was so. His answer seemed so clear to me. The main character, played masterfully by Tom Hanks, represents so much of the kind of man I desire to be as a peacemaking pastor.

These four virtues stood out along the 96 minute run time, which frankly felt more like half as many minutes to me.

One, humility. Though highly regarded by an admiring populace throughout NYC, Sully eschews the role of hero. “Just doing my job.” Effective peacemaking leadership which eagerly preserves the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace starts with this all-important virtue (Eph. 4:1-3).

Two, patience. Much of the film’s tension in storytelling surrounds the aftermath of the crash as the NTSB investigates the details of the event. The search for error on both pilots’ part resulting in the water landing rather than returning to La Guardia airport leads to insinuation of fault at best and outright accusation of blame at worst.

Not once does Sully lose his cool. He even intercepts the rising irritation on his co-pilot’s part before emotions can escalate unhelpfully during their public hearing. Peacemaking pastors must model a patiently-enduring-evil-self-control or risk losing the reconciliation effort due to their own sinfulness (2 Tim. 2:24).

Three, love. One of my favorite moments in the film comes near the end. A reporter asks how Sully did the feat never done before. He immediately responded, “I didn’t. We did it, all of us.” Then he proceeded to rattle off the litany of names of the crew, the first responders on the scene, citizens of the New York City, etc., praising the efforts of others in partnership that remarkable day. Peacemaking leaders affirm others and deflect attention from themselves for the greater good (Phil. 2:3-4).

Four, perseverance. The man never caved under pressure. He pursued the truth in love at every turn. Perhaps the most compelling scene for this pastor came on the downed plane apparently empty of all 155 souls on board. The intensity with which the captain searched the fast-flooding plane to make as certain as possible all were accounted for before he abandoned the aircraft inspired me. I immediately thought of Heb. 13:17. Peacemaking pastors who will give account to God for the souls on board their churches must exercise a similar resolve to do all they can for their welfare.

Check out the trailer below for a sneak peek.

I intend to see it again with my co-pilot, Pastor Mike, to compare notes about how we can become become better peacemaking leaders from this powerful example.

Help for the Feeling Ineffective Blues

feeling blue

I get these sometimes. I suspect most leadership-types do. You struggle feeling very effective at what you do. You wonder what kind of real difference you make. You suspect you lack something significant for making a greater impact.

I’ve learned over the years in pastoral ministry that evaluating effectiveness often boils down to gaining perspective over how I tend to feel. When a bout with this malaise hits me, I ask myself four questions to help get a more objective assessment of my performance.

One, who ultimately is in control?

This question immediately steps me back to look at the big picture. God is sovereign over every aspect of my life including my relative effectiveness/fruitfulness. He determines the breadth of my ministry. Remembering a text like 1 Cor. 3:7 proves very comforting. “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” So does a verse like John 3:27. “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” I love that scene in the film Rudy where the young man desperate to get accepted to Notre Dame so he can play football for the university seeks counsel from the campus priest. Although wanting to help Rudy wherever he can, the pastor admits at a given point he can do only so much. He quips something to this effect: “After seminary and all my years of ministry I know two things–there is a God and I am not He.” Pretty good theology, Hollywood notwithstanding.

Two, what legitimately can I change?

Sometimes a lack of effectiveness can point to an aspect of one’s performance which really does need improvement. Recently my leadership team conducted a review of my role as a pastor at our church. It encouraged me to receive affirmati0n on several fronts, but the inputs definitely revealed some key areas where I can focus for enhancing my effectiveness. Since receiving that report, I’ve been asking the Lord to bring to the surface the two or three things He has for me as takeaways from the review so I can determine a strategy for addressing them and set some goals for change. When I can’t get perspective myself on this effectiveness thing, asking a wise, honest, and loving cheerleader for his assessment makes a lot of sense. When you do, don’t neglect to arm yourself with a Psalm 141:5 attitude. “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.”

Three, where actually am I contributing?

Glass half-empty souls can struggle with this. We tend to focus on the downside of things. While doing frank evaluation of where one can improve, it’s important to balance things with gratitude for evidence of one’s contribution. Paul counsels the need for sanctified equilibrium when it comes to assessing our impact in the body of Christ in Rom. 12:3. “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” One can fall off the horse in the opposite direction as well. We can tend to think of ourselves more lowly than we ought to think. Effectiveness rarely amounts to an all-or-nothing proposition; it’s usually a mixed bag. Don’t lose sight of the pluses when wrestling with the minuses.

Four, how realistically am I content?

This one hurts. It touches close to home. Too close. Often my feeling the ineffective blues stem from idols of the heart that simply desire more achievement than God deems wise to grant me. At the end of the day, when I’ve worked hard and done the best I can do by the grace of God, I must come back to assess my contentment quotient. Philippians 4:10-13 shows the way.

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Whether an abundance or need in any situation, Paul spoke of  learning one of the world’s most elusive secrets–how to be content. This matters more than my effectiveness. Jesus, give me strength and keep my/our blues at bay.

Envy’s Everywhere

envy

I can think of a lot of sins of the flesh which seem more prevalent in the body of Christ than the green monster. Perhaps that has something to do with its capacity, more than some, to fly under the radar in our churches. Other faults tend to rear their ugly heads publicly; envy hunts its victims within the private recesses of their concealed hearts. Not to God, of course.

Alexander Strauch continues to challenge me with his book Leading with Love. He treats First Corinthians 13, the so-called love chapter, through the lens of a Christian leader. I keep coming back to this read. It sobers me about how far I have to go in terms of shepherding God’s people from a heart of love. It doesn’t take more than the third characteristic of love, framed negatively, to go after this sneaky thing, “Love does not envy.”

Strauch admonishes:

We need to be aware that envy is a prevalent sin among the Lord’s people and Christian leaders. Pastors can go to bizarre leading with loveextremes to eliminate from the church gifted people who threaten them [not this pastor]. Churches can envy other churches that are larger or are growing rapidly [not OGC]. Missionaries can envy other missionaries who are more fruitful or better supported [not my missionaries]. Bible study leaders can envy more popular Bible study leaders [not my community group leaders]; singers can envy other singers who sing more often or receive louder applause [not my worship team]; elders can envy fellow elders who shine brighter in leadership ability and knowledge [not my elders]; and deacons can envy fellow deacons who serve more effectively or are sought out for help more frequently [not my deacons] (p. 50).

Can anybody spell “Denial’s not just a river in Egypt?” At least about the “not this pastor” protest.

So what’s the antidote? Adopt the spirit of John the Baptist who pleaded this when Jesus’ popularity outstripped his own and envy hunted his soul:

“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:27-30 ESV)

I’ve got what I’ve got because Jesus gave it to me. If someone has more in my often distorted opinion, so be it. May He increase and I decrease. No better cure for envy than that.

Leading With Love

leading with love

The Lord has me camped out of late in Alexander Strauch’s exposition of 1 Corinthians 13 as it applies to the realm of leadership in the local church. All I can say is very convicting. I have a long way to go in living out the law of love in the stewardship that is pastoral ministry. For a PDF version of the book click here.

This gem at the end of chapter one will give an idea of how close things hit to home:

A Modern Paraphrase

Picturing himself as the most extraordinary teacher or leader
to ever live, Paul would say:

If I were the most gifted communicator to ever preach,
so that millions of people were moved by my oratory,
but didn’t have love, I would be an annoying, empty wind-bag
before God and people.

If I had the most charismatic personality, so that
everyone was drawn to me like a powerful magnet, but
didn’t have Christlike love, I would be a phony, a dud.

If I were the greatest visionary leader the church has ever heard,
but didn’t have love, I would be misguided and lost.

If I were the bestselling author on theology and church growth,
but didn’t have love, I would be an empty-headed failure.

If I sacrificially gave all my waking hours to discipling
future leaders, but did it without love,
I would be a false guide and model.

The scary thing is that reading something like this usually guarantees testing in the area for the purpose of growth.

Prayers are definitely appreciated.