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Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 179

September 30, 2014 Leave a comment

179. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem (John 11:18).

Why does it take Jesus four days to travel two miles? Surely such a walk could have been managed in a day, even with the crowds. But God doesn’t always move at the speed limit. He often operates at a pace different than we would choose. Yet, as we will see in the story of Lazarus, His slower pace has an amazing purpose. He will arrive and Lazarus will live, but the path between today’s moment and the ultimate end of this story is likely the one we would have least expected.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Dealing with Difficult People – Part 5

September 29, 2014 Leave a comment

As we continue our look at some of the more common personality types of difficult people and explore ways to deal with them, let’s turn our attention to the so-called “wet blanket.”

The “wet blanket” is the classic impossibility thinker. They seem to always doubt, question, or even criticize the idea that we can succeed at any new venture. So Pastor brings a new idea to the table and the “wet blanket” adds his moisture to the fire. “We can’t do that!” “That won’t work!” “We’ve never done it that way before.” These are the mantras of the “wet blanket.”

Now, what’s really going on with this person? Why do they meet each new idea with skepticism and seem to want to spread their doubts over the enthusiasms of others? Some of us are tempted to think that they are just tightly attached to the status quo. They just prefer what we’ve always done.

Actually, that’s not usually true. You see, the “wet blanket” was likely against our old efforts back when they were new efforts too. The issue isn’t change, it’s fear. These people are afraid of failure, afraid of bigger challenges, and afraid they won’t fit into the new day that you’re chasing. They are simply afraid…but, of course, they won’t admit that.

How do you deal with them? Well, you can try arguing with them, showing them how the new approach will be better than current efforts. But that won’t work because (as we said) they’re not truly attached to the status quo. These are different people than the ones that simply don’t want change. These people would meet a free gift of a million dollars with some skepticism. They reveal a pattern of being against nearly every new idea or at least reacting negatively to that idea the first time they hear it.

1. So, your goal with the “wet blanket” is to help them address their fears. Help them believe we can by being convinced yourself. Be honest with them. Let them see that the new idea is truly needed and that the possibilities of success are worth the risk.

2. Assure them that failure is a possibility. When the “wet blanket” believes that you see the potential for failure, he’ll relax a bit. If you’re honest about that, you take some of the steam out of his argument. You help him see that you have weighed the potential of winning and losing and are convinced that winning is more likely.

3. You may also want to remind them of the other times that they were convinced of imminent failure and success came instead. Don’t do this in front of others, but maybe a “John, remember that you didn’t think our new service idea would work, and look how great things turned out.” You’re not trying to embarrass John in front of others, but you’re helping ease some of his fears.

4. Don’t let the “wet blanket” drive your decision-making. You can’t cater to the expectations of such people. Take the attitude that 1) we’re going to move ahead, but 2) I understand your fears and I want to help you overcome them. 3) Assure the “wet blanket” that there’s a place for him in the new future.

5. Don’t let the “wet blanket” douse your enthusiasm. Sure, you want to consider their concerns and mine out any wisdom that might help, but you must believe strongly in a new day if you’re going to lead others to it. “Wet blankets” tend to have insecurity issues. Don’t let them help you develop your own.

6. Finally, point them to your church’s vision and how the new effort will help us take another step in that direction. Always tie new initiatives to the church’s vision so people can see that yesterday’s steps are leading us to the current ones.

Ultimately, make every effort to love the “wet blanket.” Don’t reject or ridicule them. Help them move past their fears and you may end up with a valuable team member. Somewhere along the way, life has taught them to fear. But maybe the new life ahead can teach them to believe!

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 178

September 24, 2014 Leave a comment

178. “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16).

Thomas’ sharp statement undermines the idea we’d like to have of him. We prefer to focus on his uncertainty, his reluctance to believe demonstrated later in his disbelief at the resurrection. But here, this “doubter” is ready to die for his Master. It seems his level of commitment and willing sacrifice is greater than we might imagine. He is “all in.” Lazarus is dead, Jesus will likely die, so let us die too. There’s nothing for us if the promises of Jesus come to an end. This is the heart of the true disciple. There’s no other way to go, no other idea to believe. Either Jesus leads us to life or He leads us to death.

The Brotherhood – Part 172

September 24, 2014 Leave a comment

The Brotherhood of the Second Cross was established on Father’s Day 2005 where 160 men stood before their wives and children to pledge themselves to purity, self-sacrifice, loyalty, and excellence. Today, hundreds more have joined the commitment.

What if your best isn’t good enough?

In our Brotherhood, excellence is one of our four commitments. We want to give our very best to our work, our families, our church, and frankly, every other part of our lives. Good enough really isn’t. Our best is the only goal worth pursuing.

But what if our best isn’t enough? Now, certainly there will be tasks and challenges that exceed us, but the one on my mind today is the idea of righteousness. Fact is, no matter how good we do, we will never be good enough to justify our connection with God.

I think that’s what the rich young ruler was after when he asked Jesus what was needed for eternal life. The guy wanted to gain the ultimate prize so Jesus pointed him in the impossible direction. Though the man insisted that he’d been faithful to God’s commands his entire life, even more was needed. The next step was to sell everything and give it to the poor. Wow! That’s a tough one.

But if he would have done it, what would the next step have been? Would it have been even more challenging? I’m guessing that the full checklist Jesus could have offered would seem almost endless. And then, the guy still wouldn’t have been able to achieve His goal.

Why? Because God is perfect in His holiness. That ship has sailed on us long ago. We can’t ever gain eternal life in our own effort. Instead, we have to admit our unworthiness, lay aside any hope of claiming such life, and decide that a poor peasant from Nazareth can earn this gift for us. We have to admit what we are and what we aren’t, a humble choice that the self-made seldom can make. That’s why Jesus said it would be difficult for the wealthy to enter. Their self-reliance keeps them chasing something they cannot buy.

Honestly, it’s not easy for any of us to be told that we’re not enough. And we sure don’t like hearing that we never will be. But relationship with God starts at the end of ourselves. As long as you think you can, you prevent Him from bringing what you need.

So, yes, we give our best to the life He’s given us, but not so that we can earn something in His presence. Instead, our pursuit of excellence is to demonstrate our thanksgiving for what we’ve been given.

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 177

September 23, 2014 Leave a comment

177. “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep” (John 11:11).

How does God view the death of those who love Him? He sees their moment of perceived tragedy as sweet as a glorious sleep from which He will awaken them. While the moment is naturally traumatic for Mary, Martha, and the host of friends that will gather near Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus fears no crisis. He knows that death isn’t the end of the child of God. Lazarus’ “condition” will change soon and the condition of all who trust in Him will change forever. What an incredible revelation. To this point, the disciples have seen Jesus’ mastery of everything in this world. They are about to see His control of even those things that are beyond.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Dealing with Difficult People – Part 4

September 22, 2014 Leave a comment

Over the past three weeks, we’ve looked at how to deal with some difficult folks. Unfortunately, even church people can become difficult to work with, but with a little wisdom and a lot of courage, we can handle the situations these individuals create and even help them grow in ways that benefit all of their relationships.

Today, let’s look at the “Sherman Tank.”

Named after the great military beast used by Allied forces in World War II, the Sherman Tank is the guy that runs over people to get his way. He intimidates, acts in forceful ways, and often wins the day simply because people are afraid to cross him. Like his rolling military counterpart, this individual confronts opposition directly. He slows down for nothing and tends to not care about the damage or the scene his actions can make.

Now first, let me say that this isn’t just a guy thing. Many churches are controlled by female versions of this difficult person, so when I say “he” or “this guy,” you can consider the idea gender neutral. And that’s about the only thing that’s neutral about the Sherman Tank.

This individual is one who will demand his way in the annual business meeting, the Sunday school class or the church hallway. It’s “my way or the highway” with him. And, over time people have usually found it easier not to cross him, especially in the serene setting of the local church. He wins arguments because he’s determined not to lose them and pastors usually have to be in place for more than five years, before they have gained the influence to even slow him down.

How do you deal with this personality?

1. First, realize that these individuals typically grow from one of two scenarios–either they are accustomed to getting their way in life or they are frustrated by never getting their way. They may be take charge folks on the job and at home, so it’s just natural to act the same way at church, or they may see church as the one place they can finally rule. Knowing which of these is true will help you better understand your challenge.

2. Guide them into group decisions. Respond to them with statements like, “Well, that’s something the deacons will decide” or “we’re going to make that decision as a group.” These individuals must be taught to respect with input of others. Don’t just blurt out, “That’s not your decision!” Instead, find a softer way to communicate that idea by pointing out the other sources of input we will need to gain.

As a pastor, you need to regularly reinforce the healthy rules that guide your leadership team. For example, I started every new year by explaining to our deacons how we operate. I told them that no deacon has any individual authority, that there are never “meetings before the meeting” where a few of us decide what we all will do. All deacon authority is team authority. We act together in all matters. We discuss issues openly and then we make decisions together. This emphasis will help you stop a Sherman Tank before he gets started.

Also, you may need to encourage your other leaders to speak in meetings, if you have a Sherman Tank that dominates. Just turn to another leader and say, “So, Bill, we’ve heard from Jim. Let’s hear what you’re thinking.” Then ask Steve and Janice and everyone else in the room to offer their thoughts. Don’t ask them to react to what Bill said–ask them what they think.

3. As we said with the “Volcano,” don’t meet them on their terms. Don’t try to intimidate or overpower the Sherman Tank. Instead, deal with them in a matter-of-fact kind of way. Speak directly, but calmly to them. Tell them the truth. Often these individuals are straight talkers so talk straight with them.

4. Don’t apologize for the truth. Simply say, “Jack, we’re going to make that decision as a team, and I’ll need you to support that.” No sorries, just truth.

5. At some point–once you have made good effort to engage the Sherman Tank into group effort–you may have to have a “heart-to-heart” chat, to help this individual understand their role in the group. Some folks don’t have much experience with being leaders, so hopefully your efforts at the steps above won’t make a personal pow-wow necessary. But if your Sherman Tank can’t be slowed down, take another leader with you and explain the conduct you’ll be needing if they wish to remain in leadership.

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 176

September 19, 2014 Leave a comment

176. “Are there not twelve hours of daylight?” (John 11:9).

When you walk in the light of God’s will, you do not stumble. You are headed for your destiny, even when others cannot understand the path you take. When you stay focused on the direction given by the Holy Spirit, the purposes of God will unfold around you. Here, Jesus’ disciples are concerned for His safety when He announces a return to Judea. But they are seeing through the lens of the world around them. They are accurate in interpreting the situation, but not able to see the light that is guiding Jesus’ steps. He is walking where the Spirit is leading and He will arrive in time for God’s purposes, even though some will feel He is late and others will feel He is doomed.