SUCCESSION PLANNING FOR PEACE

The Ten Commandments for Successful Succession Planning

The clock is ticking. At my age you have to start thinking about handing off the pastoral baton to a younger guy in God’s timing.

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While I still hope I have a few good years in me at the helm, wise leadership requires thoughtful discussion and diligent prayer about how to plan for such a significant thing as pastoral transition in the life of the church.

Lately our elders have been pouring over Next: Pastoral Succession That Works. Too many churches suffer a disruption of their peace when pastors come and go. We want to avoid that if at all possible.

One practical assignment suggested in the book involved the current pastor drafting his own version of the Ten Commandments for successful succession planning. I found it a helpful exercise.

I offer these as a possible encouragement to any other church facing the same stewardship challenge.

  1. He shall run the race hard for the glory of God and the welfare of OGC over the rest of his course as pastor-teacher—however long the Lord determines that he remain on point.
  2. He shall consistently take initiative to keep the conversation about succession ongoing so that no one else may feel awkward about having to force the issue due to his reluctance.
  3. He shall do everything in his power to ensure that the baton handoff occurs—when it does—in a fashion that safeguards the peace and purity of Orlando Grace Church.
  4. He shall regularly pray about the succession process for wisdom and guidance from the Lord from start to finish.
  5. He shall determine to listen carefully and defer in humility as must as possible to the concerns/desires of the rest of the leadership team in executing the plan.
  6. He shall neither exit prematurely from his role nor linger past-time in the same, but seek to discern with the rest of the body the most opportune time for the transition.
  7. He shall diligently seek to determine from the Lord what next vocational assignment awaits him and his wife, whatever and wherever that may be.
  8. He shall act as the number-one cheerleader for the next pastor-teacher and do everything in his power to ensure the man’s good success and favor with the people and community.
  9. He shall tend carefully to the needs and concerns of the rest of the staff throughout the succession process such that their voices are heard and their welfare served.
  10. He shall exit when the time comes with a heart of gratitude and humility for the privilege of having pastored faithfully, albeit imperfectly, so great a church as OGC.

Ride or Shove

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I read this today from Oswald Chamber’s Baffled to Fight Better: Job and the Problem of Suffering:

The majority of us prefer to get up and ride rather than to “get out and shove.” It is only the people who “get out and shove” who really make things go. The men who are up against things just now and who are determined to get at reality at all costs, and will not accept a thing on the religious line unless that line states reality–these are the men who are paying the price for the next generation.

Tomorrow at 9:30 AM in the auditorium, the covenant members of OGC get to do Q&A with a man prepared “to get out and shove” as a new elder in our church. I am extremely thankful to God for raising up James Harvey to join our team. Here are twenty questions I hope our people will pose to him (or at least some of them):

  1. Why do you aspire to the office of overseer in Christ’s church?
  2. Where have you served in the past and how did God confirm your ministry in those contexts?
  3. What are your spiritual gifts?
  4. When the Bible says that elders must be “able to teach,” what does that look like in terms of the way you do ministry?
  5. How do you assess your personal strengths?
  6. How do you assess your personal weaknesses?
  7. What does your family think of you becoming an elder, especially your wife?
  8. What are the four “Gs” of biblical peacemaking? Note: he’d better know these!
  9. How is your reputation with those outside the Christian community, particularly in your vocation?
  10. What exceptions, if any, do you take to our confession of faith and why?
  11. Where would you like to see OGC grow and improve in its ministry in the future?
  12. What, if anything, gives you pause about becoming an elder?
  13. Just how “Reformed” are you?
  14. What do you believe are among the greatest threats to the church in our times?
  15. Who are your personal heroes?
  16. What two or three books other than the Bible have made the greatest impact on you and why?
  17. Why did you think God wanted you and your family at OGC in the first place?
  18. How do you do personal evangelism?
  19. How are you involved in disciple-making?
  20. What unique contribution might you make to the leadership team at OGC?

I can hardly think of a more important task for covenant members to embrace than the constructive scrutinizing of a potential addition to the elder team. He will pay the price for the next generation. I trust as many of you as possible will join us for the congregational meeting tomorrow. Non-members are welcome to observe, but again, we would ask that you leave the question asking to our covenant members only. See you soon, Lord willing!

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.

Divine Mathematics

math

I hated math. I remember getting a “D” in Mr. Donnelly’s seventh grade class when the “New Math” came out – whatever that was. My overachiever, get-all-A’s world crumbled then and there. It never recovered. In college I did everything I could to stay away from anything mathematics related. Wasn’t I surprised when I signed up for Astronomy 101 that it was a math class in disguise. I just wanted to know about the stars. Took every extra-help Saturday class to survive that one.

Now, divine mathematics is an altogether different thing. That’s what D. A. Carson calls the equation formulated by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (ESV).

The equation? Five minus one equals zero. Or to put it George Sweeting’s way “gifts, minus love, equals zero.” Paul goes to great lengths in the first part of the Bible’s famous love chapter to describe supernatural gifts, extraordinary faith, and even heroic gestures like martyrdom, only to obliterate their significance before God if they lack love. Even the big five taken all together in this text, minus love, amount to absolutely nothing. Auth0r Jerry Bridges brings home the importance of God’s way of doing math:

leading with loveWrite down, either in your imagination or on a sheet of paper, a row of zeros. Keep adding zeros until you have filled the whole line on the page. What do they add up to? Exactly nothing! Even if you were to write a thousand of them, they would still be nothing. But put a positive number in front of them and immediately they have value. This is the way it is with our gifts and faith and zeal. They are the zeros on the page. Without love, they count for nothing. But put love in front of them and immediately they have value. And just as the number two gives more value to a row of zeros than the number one does, so more and more love can add exponentially greater value to our gifts (quoted in Leading with Love, Alexander Strauch, p. 15-16).

I can live with a “D” from 7th grade, but I want to excel far better in spiritual mathematics. No Christian leader should aspire to anything less. For that matter, nor should any follower of Jesus.

Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight

Lincoln
Just finished my monthly neighborhood book club. My turn to host. My turn to facilitate. My idea what to read – 101 Great American Poems. The La Floresta book club had never traveled down this road before, poetry that is. I took a chance. I made the suggestion as much for my sake as anyone else’s. I have little patience for poetry. I have enough trouble taking time out of my busyness to ponder Scripture let alone pause over verse that makes me scratch my head.
The night went better than I thought it would. Among other things each of us shared a poem with which we connected. I learned a l0t about my neighbors. We laughed. We paused. We felt. We reflected. I think I will try to venture into this genre more often in the future for its various benefits. My choice to read? I learned, by the way, poetry is meant to be read aloud for a proper appreciation.  I could have turned in numerous directions. It struck me how many poets, at least in this connection, wrote about death. I connected for obvious reasons.But this work by Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931) won the prize. Perhaps it was because I couldn’t sleep on Saturday night before a busy Sunday of ministry. I just identified. Occupational hazard.
Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight
(In Springfield, Illinois)
It is portentous, and a thing of state
That here at midnight, in our little town
A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,
Near the old court-house pacing up and down.
Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards
He lingers where his children used to play,
Or through the market, on the well-worn stones
He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.
A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,
A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl
Make him the quaint great figure that men love,
The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.
He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.
He is among us:—as in times before!
And we who toss and lie awake for long
Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.
His head is bowed. He thinks on men and kings.
Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?
Too many peasants fight, they know not why,
Too many homesteads in black terror weep.
The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart.

He sees the dreadnaughts scouring every main.
He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now
The bitterness, the folly and the pain.
He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn
Shall come;—the shining hope of Europe free;
The league of sober folk, the Workers’ Earth,
Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.
It breaks his heart that kings must murder still,
That all his hours of travail here for men
Seem yet in vain.   And who will bring white peace
That he may sleep upon his hill again?

Some days I hardly want even to be a pastor. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a president. Lord, have mercy on the Commander-in-Chief as well as the preacher.

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.

Reasons to Attend Our Annual Meeting

Gotta love church marquees (and yes, I spelled it wrong in the e-news today!)  Truth be told, attending a church business meeting might seem to many an unpleasant duty at best, a beastly punishment at worst.

May I suggest some things to give you hope that such won’t be the case this Sunday evening at 6 PM when we have our annual congregational meeting?  Let’s begin by dropping the word “business.” I prefer the word “member.” Romans 12:5 says that in the body of Christ we are “individually members one of another.” While we permit visitors to observe our normal member meetings, especially those exploring the possibility of joining with us, these occasions, especially the first one of the year, give those of us in covenant community at OGC the opportunity once again to get on the same page about the priorities of our mission as a body of believers.

And we have some exciting things to report! Deacon Paul Hunt will review the state of our church finances. It will blow you away how good God has been to us!  Elder Chuck Mitchell will cast a vision for the retirement of our mortgage debt so we can do even more ministry in the future. By the way, another benefit of member meetings is keeping leaders accountable. What we do in stewarding the resources God has entrusted to us has a direct impact on the welfare of each of our households. Please shoulder your share of this responsibility by participating if at all possible.

Finally we will hear from various ministry leaders about what God did in 2012 and their vision for 2013. God did some great things for which we want to give thanks. We also want to believe Him for more this year. If you aren’t yet plugged into a ministry at OGC, this will be a terrific way to explore options for the use of your gifts for the sake of the body. I too will share a brief “state of the church” assessment that I hope will encourage you, especially as we wait on God for the changes in our staff situation and our ongoing rebuilding of the walls. Please be in prayer for this Sunday evening. And remember, an hour long prayer time will take place at 4:45 PM in the conference room in preparation for our time together.

Transition – Time for Pondering Anew

Any time the Lord gifts me with the privilege of attending a pastor’s conference, especially the Desiring God one in Minneapolis each February, I always pray the same thing. Lord, speak. Let me hear your voice. Show me what you require.

Once again He has not failed me as I reach the end of day two of this particular event entitled, Brothers, We Are Still Not Professionals.

This morning Pastor John Piper introduced his replacement at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Pastor Jason Meyer. Ever since I heard about this young man having to step into such humongous ministerial shoes I have asked myself, who in the world would want to follow John Piper? I learned this morning as no surprise at all that this man has felt much the same thing. In fact, when first queried about the possibility of taking over Bethlehem’s reins by Piper himself, Meyer responded quite vulnerably, “Nothing scares me more than that.” To which the retiring mentor replied, “Well, that’s not a no.” The rest, as they say, is history.

In his talk entitled Pastoral Transition After a 32-Year Ministry: Strategy and the Supernatural, Meyer went on to do two things. He told the story of how the whole surprising and, in some ways, unlikely appointment to such an imposing post came about. And then he offered four lessons from the process for our edification. You can listen to the entire message here. Consider it a worthy use of your valuable time. You won’t be disappointed.

Bethlehem’s “Joshua” transitioning into her treasured “Moses” role as shepherd of this congregation, fashioned his talk around phrases from two great hymns of the faith – Praise to the Lord the Almighty and To God Be  the Glory. The phrase from the first was this: Ponder anew what the Almighty can do. There is where the Lord spoke to me in the way the man linked that timeless exhortation of the hymn writer to the challenge of change in any ministry. Transitions are not to be feared; they are opportunities  from God to ponder anew what He can do.

Truth be told I can get scared when I think of losing Greg & Christina this summer to his church planting apprenticeship. How will our rich music ministry continue? Where will help for pastoral demands come from? Who will take care of the seemingly endless number of administrative details Greg handles in a given week? These questions and more can keep any pastor awake at night.

God knows. I say it again. God knows.

So ponder anew with  me what the Almighty will do as we wait on Him for His provision. Pray with me and the elders that we will plan and execute a God-centered strategy that profits Orlando Grace nearly as much as the one these dear folks in Minnesota employed to arrive at a replacement for someone of Piper’s stature.

Let us not fear transitions, but God who unfailingly leads His people through one change after another.

Then we will sing once again, “To God be the glory, great things He has done.”

How to Question Officer Candidates

This Sunday evening at 6 PM at the SDA we will have a very important congregational meeting. Open to members and attendees alike, in this 90 minute gathering we will engage our three officer candidates in Q & A about their nomination for church leadership positions.

This is no small thing. Our bylaws require confirmation of all candidates by no-less than 75% vote of the assembled membership. That vote, Lord willing, will occur after the worship service on January 8, 2012. In order to be able to affirm or deny responsibly depends on having at least some knowledge of these men.

We have already sent out copies of their testimonies to everyone concerned, so unless you have some point of clarification on any of their stories, there is no need to question them about how they came to Christ. Where we must focus our attention in questioning each prayerfully, humbly, and respectfully is in terms of how God judges a man’s fitness for office, namely, character (including family life), doctrine, and philosophy of church ministry/leadership.

For those who find posing questions in a public forum in front of a microphone a bit intimidating but still would like to do so, feel free to email me your submission to me at revheff@gmail.com and the elders will do our best to take it into account. Child care will be provided for the little ones.

Hope to see you there!