Jesus on Making Peace

repairing damaged relationships Jesus’ way

It was something said, done, or wasn’t said or done. Now two people who were close friends, brothers and sisters in Christ are alienated, hurt, and apart. Is there any hope for repair? I want to share with you a tract that Jesus wrote, I printed, and some have told me was helpful.

Jesus on Making Peace

Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9, NKJV).

The presenter in the first workshop I attended on conflict management said, “Many people are more interested in peacekeeping than in peacemaking.” By peacekeeping he meant trying to get comfortable quickly, trying to please everybody, trying to make everybody happy, appease all criticisms and complaints. In peacemaking, often it has to get worse before it gets better.

“Many people are more interested in peacekeeping than in peacemaking.” Click To Tweet

Reconcile with people you hurt

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison (Matthew 5:23-25).

Many like to skip this step. If I know I’ve hurt someone or someone thinks I have violated them, I need to go to that person immediately to get the matter resolved. Jesus says reconciliation is more important than worship.

Go to the one who offended you: ALONE!

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother (Matthew 18:15).

When someone sins (misses the mark) against me, I need to address that issue with that person. Notice the number of people in this meeting—2. I can’t obey this instruction of Jesus by having a fit in the foyer. There’re too many people observing and listening. This meeting involves me and one more.

Take one or two with you

But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Matthew 18:16).

If the small discussion didn’t bring reconciliation, ask for help.

Two ways I’ve approached this.

  1. There’s been a time or two when I talked to friends, told them how badly I’d been mistreated, and asked them to go with me to visit my adversary to get him straightened out.
  2. On another occasion, I suggested to someone with whom I had a disagreement, “Why don’t you select a person and I select a person we both trust and see if they can help us. I suggest we not tell our story until our meeting time.”

Which do you think worked better?

Involving other good people can bring a calmness and objectivity that would be difficult for the parties involved. I have trouble listening to someone when I’m thinking of my next response. When people not involved in the conflict are listening without having to respond to every statement, they can listen, take notes, and suggest solutions.

If in these meetings the “one or two more” think I am the instigator or at least a propagator of the problem, I may need to make amends and ask forgiveness before we go to the next step and tell more people.

I have trouble listening to someone when I’m thinking of my next response. Click To Tweet

Tell it to the church

And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector (Matthew 18:17).

If the meeting of two and the meeting of three or four hasn’t brought reconciliation, involve the larger group.

Read more about telling it to the church: Church Discipline: Tell It to the Church.

You can print the tract on letter-size paper: Jesus on Making Peace.

What suggestions do you have for working with conflict?

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Am I a Doctor’s Helper Who Is Allergic to Sick People?

how do we work with diseased people and churches?

A response and question from my blog post of August 1, 2017: “Brother I liked your article Do you know a sound congregation? I know why I would write an article like this, but I am curious why you did? Just curious…thank you and love you.”

I don’t think I serve the cause of unity by making breaks in fellowship before God makes them. If I get angry and accusatory at people who have different views and encouraging others to stay away from them, either by my command, example, or necessary inference, I’m promoting divisiveness.

If I cannot work with churches and people less than perfect, I’m not following the example of Jesus who ate with sinners, selected imperfect men as the cabinet in His kingdom, and attracted misfits to Him.

When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Mark 2:17, NKJV).

My experience in the past ten years of interim ministry is that churches in the worst trouble are the easiest to work with. When they see their mess and don’t know where to turn, they’re teachable. When a church “has it all together” and an image to protect and project, they aren’t in learning mode.

Churches in the worst trouble are the easiest to work with. Click To Tweet

Imperfect people and churches need to be corrected—not condemned and abandoned—until they persistently show they have no intention of correcting. I don’t think that needs to be done in the first two weeks of hearing they did something I don’t like. When and if the divide comes, the door needs to be left open, shoes prepared, calf fattened, clothes clean, and the party prepared when individuals can be seen in the distance coming home. Dead churches can have live Christians in them (Revelation 3:1-4).

If I condemn them to hell, withdraw fellowship from them, and publish warnings in brotherhood papers and on Facebook when they clapped after a baptism or one elder reads KJV only and encourages others to do so, I don’t think I’m following what I read in the Bible about Corinth and the seven churches of Asia. Most of those churches were in a mess, but they still had candlesticks.

I push people away and solidify the divide when I shoot first and ask questions later. Click To Tweet

The point of my post, Do You Know of a Sound Congregation…? is not where we go to services on vacation.

My suggestion is labels of “sound” and “unsound,” indicating that anyone in that church and the church itself is not recognized by the Lord may not be accurate. It is my observation that many reasons many brethren label a church “unsound” and warn others about them do not promote unity and encouragement to grow.

The Holy Spirit through Paul had not written off Corinth when Paul wrote his letter to them. Yet they had attitude problems, moral problems, worship problems, maturity problems, marriage problems, and doctrinal problems (resurrection). Paul wrote to correct the problems they had. He addressed those problems. But he began the letter: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2).

Most of the seven churches of Asia had serious problems. Yet when John wrote Jesus’ messages to them, they all had a candlestick.

Who came out better in the end, the One who ate with tax collectors and sinners or the ones who thought Jesus was “unsound” because He did?

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

How do you work with people who are less than perfect (including yourself)?

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Culturally Diverse Church in Raleigh, North Carolina

7th New Shepherds Orientation Workshop

We had a hard working group for the 7th New Shepherds Orientation Workshop. It was a beautiful drive around the Northern border of the Smokies the weekend of August 25-27. This is one of the most culturally diverse congregations I’ve visited. The Spanish and English worship together. Their website is in both English and Spanish. They have members from other nationalities as well. I asked one of the elders the different backgrounds of the members at Raleigh. He replied, “Honduras, El Salvador,  Ghana,  Nigeria.  And there’s even a Californian…now they are something else.”

This congregation is about fifteen years old and has recently appointed new shepherds. These men, their wives, the preacher, and his wife had done their homework. They were ready to discuss ways to be more effective in the Lord’s work.

As a result of suggestions at a previous workshop in Puyallup, Washington, we had more time for small groups to interact.

The men’s and women’s groups worked separately on a real situation in a real church and made observations and suggestions of how to improve the interaction of elders and their flock.

I gave the men an issue of someone wanting to modify the elders’ plan to do mission work when a brother with money had rather build an educational annex.

The ladies discussed issues that come with being the wife of an elder. This was especially helpful to the wives of the new elders.

We concluded Sunday morning with the Bible class, Leadership is a Gift, Not a Grind. During the worship, I discussed what Paul talked about and what they did at his last elders’ meeting with the overseers of the Ephesian church. Each elder shared a “mustard seed” he had learned during the workshop.

The elders, preachers, and wives of the Raleigh church: Bill and Beth Culverhouse, Elisha and Anne Marie Freeman, Glenn and Fran Holland, Allan and Barbara Johnson, Bob and Margaret Platt, Mac and Pamela Safley, and Scott and Carol Wollens.

Discussion Topics

  • What are guidelines to help us have a better discussion and workshop?
  • How can elders shepherd each other?
  • How will we grow together as a group?
  • How will we handle criticism?
  • What is a good plan to be sure we are adequately caring for all the sheep?
  • How can we deal with deacons and encourage them?
  • How will we develop as overseers as well as shepherds?
  • How will we oversee each other?
  • What can we do to keep important things from falling through the cracks?
  • Will we function as deacons and be called elders?
  • How can we prevent the development of a toxic “head elder”?
  • What is one thing we can do to prevent conflict and promote peace?
  • How will we evaluate the deacons, the ministers, and each other?
  • What are some ways we can have good communication with the congregation?
  • What are different kinds of meetings we should have to lead this church?
  • Who should select additional leaders in this congregation?
  • What is a good way to facilitate selection?

Workshop Characteristics

  • Include all shepherds, preachers, and wives.
  • Meet offsite — away from the building.
  • Include twelve hours of working time.

The Usual Schedule

Friday — 6:00-10:00 p.m.
Saturday — 8:00-12:00 a.m.; 1:00-5:00 p.m.
Sunday:
Bible class: When Leadership Is a Gift Instead of a Grind
Sermon at worship: What Do You Say at Your Last Elders’ Meeting?

Dates I have available today for 2018: a weekend (Friday night, Saturday, Sunday morning) in April, May, September, October, November.

What questions or observations do you have about the New Shepherds Orientation Workshop?

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Creating Biblical Leaders: By God’s Design (Tacoma, Washington: Agape Publishing, 2008)

What material can help you encourage men to be leaders in the church and develop and mature those serving?

If someone should ask me to suggest a book for a Bible study to encourage shepherds and train future elders, I would recommend Creating Biblical Leaders: By God’s Design, by Dr. Ken Wilson.

Dr. Ken Wilson has preached for decades, served as a professional Christian counselor, and now serves as an elder in the church at Puyallup, Washington.

Here are some “mustard seeds” I highlighted as I read the book:

Biblical leaders also have to be willing to rise above their environment. I believe that leaders can be classified in two ways: REACTIONARY and VISIONARY. Visionary leaders are not satisfied with the status quo. Visionary leaders not only deal with the immediate problems, they also actively lead in new horizons of future planning. They are pro-active as opposed to re-active.

Reactionary leaders really do not lead at all; they just react and put out fires (page 2).

Visionary Leaders are not people who are always on the cutting edge of change. They are leaders who perceive problems before they occur and search for solutions in order to avoid problems (page 3).

As we begin to define biblical leadership, we cannot neglect the Lord’s admonition that leaders must be servants! The authoritarian approach leads to the formulation of institutionalism. Webster defines the word institutional as “the characteristic of, being instituted; or to institutions, rather than individuals.” The tendency of some church leaders today is to direct the church towards being an institution. This is reflected in the slow and subtle decisions being made when leaders are shifting the emphasis from evangelism and church growth to presenting the church as an entertainment center (page 3).

There is a sharp contrast between spiritual and secular leadership. The secular leader is concerned about the worker reaching maximum production for the institution. The Christian leader is concerned about the worker reaching maximum potential in the Lord. The concept of effectiveness is not seen in the power of management skills in the biblical model, but in utilizing the resources of people and their ideas. True spiritual leaders meet the needs of people as they work at accomplishing their tasks. Biblical leaders should be required to solve problems, not create them (Acts 6: 1–6) (page 4)!

If there is poor communication, lack of commitment, and a lack of unity in the congregation, it is because these same deficiencies are found in the leaders as well (page 5).

It is evident today that we do not need leaders who do nothing but call the shots. Such leadership models fail because they are not biblical. Instead, we need leaders who, by their shepherding and modeling of service, stimulate the church to develop servant minds and servant hearts. This is the key to church growth and spiritual maturity (page 6).

Biblical shepherding influences for good and is powerful. Biblical shepherding can best be described as the ability of one person to influence another for good. The relational model of leadership allows for creativity in workers, because of the relationship and trust factor. The positional model of leadership does not encourage creativity in the workers. A positional leader is easily threatened by the imagination and creativity of those who are allowed, as workers, to own the process of ministry and be empowered by it (page 11).

Let me reiterate the fact that the elders/shepherds in a congregation have God-given authority, and that is not a question of dispute, but how they exercise that authority is the issue. There is a pattern in the New Testament for the qualifications of eiders/deacons, for the selection of elders/deacons in the congregation, and how authority is to be exercised (I Peter 5: 1–4). The pattern is identifiable and significant (page 25).

To see the pattern, let’s note the similarities, yet important differences, when comparing the practice of many congregations today with the early church, in reference to the selection of elders/deacons, the early church leaders asked the congregation to submit names of possible candidates for the specific work of leaders (Acts 6:1–6). If this was indeed the pattern established for all churches, it is a practice that is not often seen today. The New Testament pattern stipulates that the congregation he involved in the selection process, rather than the current elders selecting new elders or deacons, with the congregation merely ratifying the decision. Put simply, the primary responsibility for selecting new leaders depends, not on existing leadership alone, but on the Church as a whole (page 26).

If deacons do not exercise leadership and delegate responsibility, they will be limited in the ministry to accomplishing only what they can do themselves, thus limiting the church, as well (page 34).

Anyone who steps into the arena of leadership must be prepared to pay a price. True leadership exacts a heavy toll on the whole person — and the more effective the leadership, the higher the price (Nehemiah 4: 1 –23)!

God’s will was not for the wall to be built without opposition. He does not direct us to the road of least resistance. The success of the project, so far, evoked opposition, which builds character in leadership, even if it lacked admiration in those w, ho oppose. The heart of the habitual critic resists change. Every leader must develop the ability to measure the value of the worth of criticism (page 54).

We seem not to want to do what Jesus told us to do, when we have problems with our brethren. All these behaviors directly contradict vs hat Jesus taught when he said, Go to the person who has done something to you that you believe is wrong, and tell him about the situation. In families, this approach can replace nagging or bantering with effective results. It would seem that the same result would come from our brethren doing what Jesus told us to do (page 81).

Most leaders consider it crucial to defend themselves when they are criticized. They feel that they have to prove that the criticism is totally wrong, and that they have been sadly misunderstood. They feel that the response they made was correct and reasonable, and that the other person is a poor judge, who has no right to criticize anyway. So they argue and plead their case or attack the critic, probably because of their fear of looking less authoritative or capable as a leader. What remains in the end is anger and strained relationships. Rarely do people handle criticism effectively or biblically.

There is the presupposition that the critic is wrong, that we have been terribly misunderstood, and that we will not survive another minute, unless we set things right, or prove the critic wrong. None of these common views are true. Strange as it may seem, much of the criticism is usually correct. Not always, but often. Not entirely correct, but correct enough in a large measure. Occasionally, of course, the critic is totally wrong (page 81).

I have observed that, in situations where the elders operate as positional leaders, the problems between preachers and elders are exacerbated. In such cases, elders often operate as employers, treating the preacher as an employee. In this situation, there is very little team work or cooperation, and the elders often fear that the preacher won’t respect their position as elders. The elders give the orders and expect the preacher to obey them. An atmosphere of intimidation results when there is a lack of respect for the distinctive works of elders and preachers.

Having observed elders who operate in a relational mindset, it is evident that they consider the preacher a member of the team. When leaders have a relational mindset, neither the elders nor the preacher have a hidden agenda. With this mindset, there is no sense, on the part of the elders or the preacher, that there is any threat or competition. There is only the willingness to support and encourage one another in the great work of saving lost souls and keeping the saved, saved.

Everyone benefits from this kind of cooperative attitude; the elders, the preacher, and the congregation. Remember that biblical leaders are called to meet the needs of their followers. Elders should be concerned about the needs of preachers, and preachers should be concerned about the needs of the elders (page 88).

“When a movement develops around a dominant personality, the real test of the quality of his leadership is the manner in which the work survives the crisis of his removal.” (Oswald Chambers) We need mentors in the church to show us how to deal with anger, how to show compassion, how to live with disappointment, how to live with grief, how to do evangelism, and how to lead people to greater heights of spiritual growth (page 114).

Biblical leaders are not above making bad decisions in personal relationships in the Church. They can make bad decisions, due to faulty interpretations based on the lies they may be telling themselves, and when they do, they must be accountable. One of the weaknesses of elderships, in some cases, is the reluctance to acknowledge their own mistakes or sins and accept accountability. The tendency is for elders to support one another and not call each other to be accountable. What develops, then, is what I call the bunker mentality, where the leaders or elders begin to circle the wagons. They begin to perceive threats to their authority, and they then see others as the enemy, resorting to a controlling style of leadership that threatens and polarizes the members of the congregation. There must be a check and balance system in place that requires members and leaders to willingly confess their faults to one another (James 5:16). I am not talking about a calculated witch hunt, but a transparency among leaders that allows them to model accountability to their followers, as their followers demand accountability of them (pages 125, 126).

Preacher Evaluation…Suggestions

how can we encourage our preacher to continue to grow?

I enjoyed having a yearly evaluation from my elders. I want to know how my overseers see me. I won’t know unless they tell me. Unless they write it, I may forget. Unless we discuss what they wrote, I may not have a clear understanding.

I received this request from an elder-friend in an email recently: “It is time for our first annual elder/preacher evaluation. Do you recommend any particular questionnaire or form for us to use?”

We had a phone conversation. I wanted to know more about their thoughts and expectations.

Some things we discussed:

  1. How has this year been?
  2. What do you want to accomplish in the evaluation?
  3. List everything your preacher has done well the past twelve months. Comment on sermons, Bible classes, visits, and other acts of ministry. Be specific. Be generous. Ken Blanchard said, “Catching people doing things right provides satisfaction and motivates good performance. But remember, give praise immediately, make it specific, and finally, encourage people to keep up the good work.”
  4. Ask him what he’d like to improve and how you can help. You know you’re being good shepherds and are developing a good relationship with your preacher when he can freely tell you his weaknesses and struggles. You’ve shown him you’re concerned about him and his family as fellow Christians in this congregation and not just as an employee. Does he want to improve his Bible knowledge? A lectureship, Polishing the Pulpit, a college course or degree might be a good goal—if he’s committed to it. Does he need to improve skills in speaking and ministry? Better Preaching workshops have practical ideas and good fellowship with other preachers. Would a couple’s retreat led by competent people to improve his marriage and parenting skills make him a better husband, father, and leader of his family?
  5. If this is your first evaluation as an elder and with this preacher, it would be good to practice before you do his evaluation. I also think if it’s the twentieth one, practice would be helpful. For your practice, set a time for each elder to evaluate each elder, using the same principles listed above. I’d never thought of this until I heard an elder from North Jackson Church of Christ speaking at Freed-Hardeman University Lectureship year before last. He told about their practice of not only evaluating staff but also each elder.

But what about things he needs to correct? Don’t we need to address these?

I hope you haven’t waited a year to address what you don’t like.

If I knew my evaluation was to be all my mistakes in the last 12 months, I’d dread it like a whipping. Click To Tweet

Those things need to be addressed quickly. When I was the office manager in two churches, hiring and supervising secretaries, I had a 48-hour rule: “If you’re doing something I don’t like or not doing something I want to be done, you’ll know in forty-eight hours.” I won’t save a list of failures for a year and list them at your evaluation. To be more specific, I won’t mention any of them. I’ll have already addressed them day-by-day.

That’s the way I want to be treated.

As a follower of Jesus, if that’s the way I want to be treated, that’s the way I’ll treat others. Click To Tweet

Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12, NKJV).

What suggestions do you have for edifying evaluations?

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Do You Know of a Sound Congregation…?

how many sins does it take in a congregation not to worship (or work) with them?

I see this notice on Facebook often. Someone is traveling. They ask, “Do you know of a sound congregation in ___________? We are going to be there this weekend.” Or from a fellow preacher, “I have been contacted by this congregation. Do you know if they have any problems? Would I want to move there?”

It’s A.D. 54. I’ll be traveling through Corinth this weekend. Do you know of a sound congregation where my family could worship?

Check with the apostle Paul. He wrote them a letter recently. He addressed them as, “The church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2, NKJV).

I decide to stop by on my way to Athens. But I’m shocked! They’re divided. Some of the most arrogant, prideful people I’ve ever met worship there. I heard, and I got it from a good source, a man is shacking up with his father’s wife and the church is doing nothing—they’re proud of it! They have all kind of marriage problems in this congregation. People are confused about eating meat offered to idols.

I’ve been to a lot of churches, but it’s the first one where they had a potluck, and the lady with the best banana pudding wouldn’t share with everyone—just her little group. She didn’t know me. I didn’t get any of her banana pudding. And there was one or two drunk during worship. You should’ve seen their worship. People were talking and singing at the same time. Some were speaking in a language I couldn’t understand, and nobody was there to tell me and others what they were saying.

During Bible class, there was a discussion about the resurrection. There were several who argued resurrection was impossible. They said once you’re dead, that’s it. I can’t believe they permitted someone to express that in what I understood Paul to say was a sound congregation.

In Bible class, several argued a resurrection of a dead body was impossible. Click To Tweet

Would it be better to worship in our motel than go to church in Corinth? If I were moving there, should I raise money to start a sound congregation in Corinth? I thought Paul said the church belonged to God, and they were saints. If I started a Sound Church of Christ in Corinth, would Paul hold a gospel meeting for us? If Paul held a gospel meeting for the old church in Corinth after I started the Sound Church of Christ in Corinth, should I mark Paul for preaching for an unsound church because of all the sin and error in that church? Should I post on Facebook, Twitter, and in every brotherhood paper that Paul was unsound because he preached for that group?

If you moved to Ephesus in A.D. 96, would you worship with the church there? They’re active. They are “sound”: cannot bear those who are evil, tried false apostles and found them liars, and they hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which Jesus also hates. No-one would write you up for worshipping with this sound congregation. However, Jesus says they’ve left their first love. Unless they repent, He’ll remove their lampstand. It’s interesting the “soundest” church in Asia is the one of seven Jesus is warning about removing their lampstand. Is it possible Jesus’ evaluations and our evaluations are different?

Suppose you lived in Sardis around the turn of the first century, and the congregation asked you to serve as an elder, what would be your response? Would you want to serve as a shepherd in a dead church? Is it possible you and the few who had not defiled their garments could have a good influence on the majority who were dead? Would it be worth it to shepherd the few and encourage them to continue to stay alive in a dead church and continue to walk with Jesus?

If you were a preacher when John was sending Jesus’ messages to the churches in Asia Minor and you saw an ad in the Gospel Advocate the church in Laodicea was looking for a preacher, would you send your resumé? Or would you and I require a better church?

Questions

  • Who needs to be labeling churches?
  • If I label a church unsound where Jesus hasn’t removed its lampstand, am I adding to the words written in the book (Revelation 22:17, 18)?
  • Who has the knowledge and authority to declare a church no longer a church Jesus recognizes?
  • Does Jesus need me to advise Him when to do that?
  • Should my concern be to find the purest group or to be a Physician’s assistant Who said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Mark 2:17)?
  • When the church where I’m worshipping does a thing or two that makes me uncomfortable, should I and a couple of hundred others turn it over to the ones who are wandering in the wrong direction, or stay and be salt and leaven to remain faithful to what the Bible teaches and live as Jesus taught?
  • If I leave so I can feel comfortable again, how is that different from those who want to do other things so they can feel better?
  • Is Jesus’ call to discipleship to do whatever you can to feel comfortable or to serve in Corinth, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Nashville, San Francisco, or Frog Jump—even if everyone and everything is not as it should be now?
Who needs to be labeling churches? Click To Tweet

How did Jesus and the Holy Spirit decide when to mark off a church in the New Testament as unworthy of attendance and service? How do you decide today?

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How Elders Have Shepherded Me

how loving, caring, leading, guiding, correcting, encouraging men have contributed to my growth as a preacher and as a person

I’ve had a few elders less than the best. I’ve worked with many excellent elders. I’ve had some in-between. Preachers need shepherding as well as other dependent, dirty, and disoriented sheep.

Here are actions and attitudes of helpful shepherds with a few contrasts to make the picture clearer.

    1. They’ve told me the truth. They’ve done what they said they’d do.
    2. When I made mistakes, I’ve had enough to encourage me that I didn’t give up. As a young preacher, one night I realized I’d raised money to do a project the elders didn’t want. I went to the two elders in tears, apologizing for what I’d done. I planned to go for a college Bible course in another town that night. I suggested I stay at home and not attend the class. One of the elders was angry — “Yes, that’s what you need to do. You’ve got to learn you can’t do things like that.” And He went on and on. The other elder said, “No. You go to the class. This hasn’t been your pattern. You’ve recognized your mistake. It’s evident you’re sorry for what you’ve done.” I’m thankful for the kindness of the second elder. I’ve wondered what would have been the effect if both elders had taken the harsh approach of the first. I stayed several years and did a good work there.
    3. They’ve expressed their concern by listening to what was going on in my life.
    4. They’ve communicated trust by asking for help and prayers as they shared what was good and less than ideal in their world.
    5. They conducted regular evaluations without my prompting (see #1). Those were times of encouragement. I looked forward to my yearly evaluations the last week of May. I hurried home to read them to my wife.
    6. Evaluations were positive and complimentary because we kept current with likes and dislikes. Evidently, they were men who didn’t want their supervisors saving all their mistakes to read aloud once a year. My shepherds observed the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) and treated me as they’d like to be treated.
    7. During times of personal and family difficulty, they prayed for me and encouraged me to take any time needed to work on family matters immediately.
    8. Especially when my children were home, they reminded me to spend time with my family.
    9. When there was sickness or loss, they visited without having to have a visitation card. I got the impression they cared and wanted me to know.
    10. I’ve had elderships who requested and participated in special times of Bible study for growth and to study specific topics of concern.
    11. They treated me as a trained, intelligent, and competent person who could be trusted to be in leadership meetings to talk, listen, suggest, evaluate, and not think I had to have my way. When I had a suggestion or request, I didn’t have to argue my case before the Supreme Court, then have a decision handed down. I was permitted to be in on the discussion and observe approval, disapproval, or modification of the request in real time. Many times a concern could be answered in five minutes and the project approved. I prefer that to sending me out, denying my request, and telling me why. One time when I explained the objection, the one delivering the rejection said, “If we’d known, we might’ve done it differently. But we’ve made our decision, and we’ll stick with it.”

I’ve had very few classes on becoming and functioning as an elder-shepherd-overseer. I’ve taught hundreds of classes. Most of what I’ve learned, taught, and now write has been learned by observation of men who have led well — and not so well.

What memories do you have of good shepherding?

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Don’t Promise Much…

…do what you promise…or let people know you won’t be able to do what you promised

We’ll call Tuesday night at 7:00. Just move, and we’ll take care of you. We’re going to visit all the families in the congregation.” “I’ll help this church double. We’ll be able to appoint elders six months after I start working with you. I haven’t had any courses, but I’m a good counselor.”

When promises aren’t kept, trust erodes and quickly disappears. It may be in the home, business, or church.

There’s a way not to let trust deteriorate:

Don't promise much…do what you promise…or let people know you won’t be able to do what you promised. Click To Tweet
  1. Don’t promise much. When a promise is related to dates and times, record it and set up a reminder to execute on what you said you would do. If you’re uncertain if you can do what you’d like to do, state you’ll do your best, and if it doesn’t come together, you’ll let others know.
  2. Do what you promise. It may take more time, money, and effort than you first thought. But doing what you said is important.
  3. If you can’t do what you promised, let people know you won’t be able to keep your commitment. If you see before the date and time, let people know you won’t be able to keep the commitment. Give an alternate date and time or give a reason why you won’t ever be able to keep the promise.
  4. If the deadline passes, contact the ones who were counting on you and apologize.

An alternative to this plan is not to do what I promised. I hope people will forget. It was harder than I thought. It took longer than I expected. It cost more money than I budgeted.

It’s been three months. Everybody seems to be OK with me.

I repeat this a few times.

I don’t understand why people don’t believe what I say.

An article from the Wall Street Journal illustrates the principle:

Don’t Promise What You Can’t Deliver

“I’ll have your parts in two weeks.”
Four weeks later the parts arrive.

“I’ll put it in your hand the minute you walk in the door.”
But all you get when you walk in is a handshake.

“Dinner will be at 6:00.”
But as you dip your spoon in the soup, the clock strikes 7:45.

“The doctor will see you in five minutes.”
35 minutes later you’re greeted cheerfully: “And how are we today?”

Avoid a lot of grief and inconvenience for the people you deal with. Think before you announce how long something will take — and then deliver what you promised. On time.
(A message as published in the Wall Street Journal by United Technologies Corporation, Hartford, Connecticut 06101, 1986.)

I had an experience in trust building about a year ago. My computer wasn’t working. I carried it to the Apple store in Louisville, Kentucky. They said everything checked out fine except the hard drive. We decided that was important. They promised to have the work completed in three or four days. They’d call or text me when it was ready. I left the store about 4:00 p.m.

I drove back to Jeffersonville, Indiana. I received a call at 7:15 that night.

“Mr. Barber, your repair is complete and ready to be picked up.”

“That’s not what you promised me.”

“What did we promise?”

“You promised you’d be finished in three or four days. It’s only been three hours and fifteen minutes.”

I was impressed. I posted the incident on Facebook. I’ve been telling my friends since then. That kind of promise keeping is valuable, encouraging, and makes people fans of a reliable promise keeper.

Promise keeping is valuable, encouraging, and makes people fans of a reliable promise keeper. Click To Tweet

How do you build trust? What do you do when people are untrustworthy?

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What Are Your Rules?

how do you act when you aren’t thinking?

I am intrigued, guided, informed, strengthened, weakened, and sometimes made wiser by observing, making, breaking, and changing rules.

I’m not discussing in this post rules in the Bible.

Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind (Philippians 3:16, NKJV).

I want to obey the will of Jesus.

[tweetthis]I like to be aware of my habits and evaluate them.[/tweetthis]

What are my rules?

One definition of rule is “a guide or principle for conduct or action” (Merriam-Webster); “have as a habit or general principle to do something” (search bar dictionary).

What is the way I do things? How do I respond when I’m not thinking? What is natural for me?

Our rules, individual, family, church, and business, are often unconscious, unspoken, but understood. We rarely think of our habits as rules. We rarely talk about our rules and consider changing them. But when someone breaks one of our rules, or when we break someone else’s rules, there are often consequences. This leaves us confused, perhaps angry, and self-righteous. Doesn’t everyone know my rules are better than yours?

We get our first rules from our family. I assumed the Barbers did everything the best way. I don’t understand why everyone else doesn’t understand the right way as I do.

However, there’s a possibility the Barbers who lived in Centerville, Tennessee, in the 1950s didn’t do everything in the right or best way.

When we unconsciously act from our family script, our choices are limited. It tells us how to be angry, or how to hide, or how to protect others. We learned our lines as soon as we learned to talk (Leaders Who Last, by Margaret J. Marcuson, Kindle Locations 375-376).

I’ve found it helpful to consider other rules.

Take an inventory. What are my rules for

  1. Work. I haven’t worked out my rules for this. I like what I do. When I’m working, I’m enjoying the way I spend my time. In the past, when I became top-heavy in this department, it deprived me of a good balance in the next department.
  2. Family. Several years ago, some good elders instructed me to take more time with my family. I made a new rule. I set aside a family night each week. When someone asked for time on Family Night, I told them I had something scheduled. Could we meet another time? I never had anyone challenge me on that.
  3. Worship. Do I assemble for worship when there’s not something better, or does it have a priority?
  4. Rest. Thirty-five years ago I was having some health problems. I went to the doctor with my theory and prescription. He asked me how much I was sleeping. I replied, “Three to five hours a night.” His prescription was to sleep eight hours a night for thirty nights and come back for a visit. My symptoms cleared up. I made a new rule about rest: my goal is eight hours sleep each night. Although I don’t reach that target every night, each month my average is close. That’s worked better than my old rule.
  5. Recreation. I want to do something I enjoy different from the work I enjoy. When doing recreation, I’m rested and often have ideas about my other enjoyment.
  6. Money. By making a few rules, our finances have improved. Two examples: Gail and I write checks for our contribution a month ahead of time before a new month begins. We don’t have to scramble for a checkbook during the second song. Several years ago, we made a new rule about credit. We decided not to finance cars. We didn’t stop making car payments. We changed where we made car payments. Now on the fifth of each month, we make a car payment to ourselves. For more than two decades, we’ve had money to buy a car when we needed it with no strain. It was a simple rule change.
  7. Time. What are the most important things to do each day? I can plan those and work with the contingencies or not plan and let other people plan my time for me.
  8. Criticism (receiving and giving). In my early years of preaching, my rule was to avoid criticism and deny the validity of it when anyone gave it. Some severe criticism one Sunday  and an hour with a counselor on Monday changed my outlook and my rule on criticism. My rule now is: I love criticism. I invite it and encourage it. That one rule change has relieved much stress and anxiety. Six years ago, I added the “no anonymous criticism” clause to my contracts with churches. This has added to the pleasure in dealing with criticism. Small rules often made big differences.
  9. Anger. Do I choose when, how, to whom, where, how much, and within determined guidelines, or do I express my anger, or say, “You made me angry,” and blame my responses on others? In my early years, I believed the rule that anger was a sin. When I learned what God said, I didn’t have to deny my anger (Ephesians 4:26, 27). I now can spend my energy on thinking about how to deal with the anger I have and respond in a scriptural and wise way.
  10. Eating. I changed my rule in eating at buffets. For years, I had the rule I needed to eat as much as I could to get my money’s worth. Now, I consider the price I spend on a meal at a restaurant as rent for a place to visit with family and friends. What and how much I eat is my choice and doesn’t reflect on my wise handling of money. That change in rules has improved my weight and peace about finances.
  11. Exercise. For ten years, my rule was: if it wasn’t too wet, too dry, too hot, too cold, and if I had time and felt like it, I ran. My exercise routine was sporadic. For the past forty-eight years, I’ve averaged running 725 miles a year. So far, it’s working. If I felt better when I was twenty, I don’t remember it. I’ve spent some money and a lot of time running. I’m enjoying compound interest on investments I’ve made for nearly half a century.
  12. Confidentiality. For the first few years of ministry, I told people, “What we say here, stays here. My wife and I are one. If I feel a need to tell my wife, I will, and she’s dependable.” No one had instructed me on this. After attending two Christian colleges four years and majoring in Bible, I received fifty minutes instruction on how to deal with people, and I don’t remember what brother Huffard said about counseling. Years later, I realized I was asking my wife to do something I was unwilling to do: keep a confidence and not tell anyone. I changed my rule. I wasn’t treating her fairly. Now the rule is: what we say here stays here. I don’t tell anyone.
  13. Communication. I am 100% responsible for my communication with others. My rule is to tell others what they need to know in dealing with me. I’ll ask what I need to know in dealing with them. I won’t feel guilty when I didn’t know I was expected to do something, I didn’t do it, and someone wants me to feel guilty.
  14. Prayer. I rarely tell people, “I’ll be praying for you.” Often when people ask me to pray for them, I pray quickly and tell them I have prayed for them. My rule is to carry on a running conversation with God, thanking Him for blessings, communicating my awe and wonder at His wisdom, knowledge, and power, asking for blessings for me and others, and complaining when I don’t think things are turning out the way I think they should.
  15. Bible study. Nearly two years ago, I started reading the Bible aloud each morning. That rule has made a difference in what I hear God saying.
  16. Backing up computer work. I back up all current work to Dropbox. iCloud backs up much of my work automatically. I have a Time Machine external hard drive connected to my main computer at all times. I have three hard drives I rotate. The first day of each month, I bring a hard drive from my house to the church building and change. The hard drive I’ve taken to the house I take to Nashville the next time we go there and exchange it for the one there. In addition to what I do, I subscribe to Carbonite. This service backs up everything on my main computer without any effort on my part. Total time and effort on my part in backing up all computer work: about 10 minutes a month. The relief when I have to reformat my hard drive and reload my information, indescribable.
  17. Fasting. There are things I learn and ways I grow when I fast that come no other way. My practice is to preach about fasting and to fast sometime during the preacher selection process at each church where I work as an interim.
  18. Social media. I like the metaphor I read about checking in on Facebook and other media as other people take smoking breaks. That’s my rule. Facebook is my smoking break. It doesn’t clog up the lungs and I stay connected and communicate with thousands of people.
  19. Listening and talking order. Do I listen as soon as I get through talking or do I listen before talking? I’ll say more about this below.

[tweetthis]Our rules are often unconscious, unspoken, but understood.[/tweetthis]

I consciously establish rules that help me act a constructive way, without thinking. I do it automatically. That saves time.

Some of these are

  • My morning rituals of Bible reading, arranging my to-do list for the day, reading the word of the day in the dictionary, wishing FB friends Happy Birthday!, tweet a thought for the day.
  • Run 15 miles a week.
  • Read. I read five books at a time. I rotate after each chapter to the next book. For years I didn’t read novels. I read that reading novels was good for your thinking. Now I read novels of friends. I enjoy them and think they’re worth the time.
  • Record in my contact list every bit of information which may be helpful. Some of the most valuable information I have is contained in the 5,792 contacts I’ve collected for more than three decades.
  • Wear shirts and pants from the right side of the hanging rod in my closet; hang them up on the left side at night. I don’t stand and deliberate what to wear each day.

In doing my inventory, I see there are rules I need to change. For three years, listening was a rule I worked on changing. This was my goal:

Listening to others and valuing others is my emphasis this year. I have worked several years on the first commandment, and I want to continue it. This year: listen to others, learn about and from them. Be interested in what they value.

I’ve laminated pictures on my computer, dashboard, and money clip to remind me. I’ve improved that habit over the three years.

Periodically, I like to consciously interrupt my rules and evaluate. This is one of the things I do during the interim between my interims. During March this year, I didn’t read, post, or participate in Facebook and Twitter. I wanted to be sure I wasn’t addicted and could stop if I chose to. I didn’t lose sleep because of Facebook withdrawal. I’ve resumed my habit and continue to enjoy it. It’s helpful to me and others.

Questions to Consider

  • What rules do you want to keep?
  • What rules do you want to strengthen?
  • What rules do you want to change?
  • When do you plan to start?
  • By what date will you see progress?
  • How will you measure your progress?
  • Who will report their observations?

Here’s an article I read yesterday that relates to this topic: Willpower Is a Muscle—Here’s How to Make It Stronger. That article is sponsored by Grammarly, a grammar checker. They have both a free and paid version. One of my rules is that I check my writing with grammerly.com and Hemmingway editor. They’re both helpful.

When I’m establishing a new relationship, I like to learn others’ rules and let them know mine. I take a few minutes each week in a new interim church to let them know my rules. This doesn’t mean I’m rigid, have always done it this way, or would be unwilling to change when I find a better way. These are my rules now:

These are my thoughts and some of the rules I’ve developed over the past seventy-two years.

If you haven’t thought about your rules, you might want to think about them. When you think about them and consciously work on them, you can do better without thinking about it.

[tweetthis]That’s what rules are — what we naturally do without thinking.[/tweetthis]

What are your rules about rules?

Please leave a comment by ...... clicking here.

Creating a Healthier Church (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1996)

It’s the fifth Tuesday. Here is a book I’ve found helpful in understanding groups: churches, families, businesses, and softball teams.

The following are some of the “mustard seeds” I highlighted as I read:

In the systems model, there is recognition of the connections between people. It says that people can only be understood fully within the context of their relationships. No one lives or acts in isolation, and we are all affected by each other’s behavior (Kindle Locations 246, 247).

One of the keys to functioning in a healthy manner as a church is for the leaders to look at the church as a system rather than as a collection of isolated people (Kindle Locations 259-260).

Walter Lippmann once said, “When all think alike, no one thinks very much” (Kindle Location 1277).

When the situation calls for it, people with a well-differentiated sense of their own individuality have the ability and, especially, the courage to stand alone, without any emotional support from others and without needing praise or recognition for what they do. They do not fear criticism, seek to avoid it, or look for approval and support port for the positions they take. They do not need the cooperation of others in order to be a solid self.
This does not mean they will never feel the “loneliness” of abandonment; it simply means they will not be governed by it (Kindle Locations 1339-1342).

Aloneness is not a goal for the better differentiated person. But we recognize that this could be the possible outcome of our actions and are not surprised by it. When acting on our principles and beliefs, and being true to our own understanding of what God asks of us, we may feel very alone; no one may support us; they may even mock us for our beliefs.
There is a kind of aloneness we may seek. That is solitude. We do not seek this sort of time apart from others reactively, against others, but proactively, as a way to clarity our own thinking, beliefs, goals, values, and so forth, in order that we can better connect with people. Solitude is about getting to know ourselves better, so we are clearer about what we have to bring to others. Solitude is a way to cultivate perspective and objectivity (Kindle Locations 1346-1351).

There is a time to lend a hand to a child learning to walk and a time to not take the child’s hand. This has as much to do with the parent’s anxiety about the child falling as with the child’s desire and ability to walk (Kindle Locations 1605, 1606).

So as Christians we want to he sensitive to those times when others are in genuine need so we can respond. But, it is uncaring and inappropriate to function consistently for others when they can manage for themselves, even if they want us to function for them and tell us we are “uncaring” if we don’t (Kindle Locations 1609-1611).

Underfunctioners will be slow to claim their competence in the presence of overfunctioners. They will tend to act as if they don’t know how to do much of anything. It is easier just to be dependent and let others worry about our wants and seek ways to fulfill them for us. We can get angry at them when they fail to guess correctly about our needs, and this stimulates them to work harder on our behalf. (Kindle Locations 1620-1622).

While overfunctioning is often regarded as the act of committed and caring leaders, it is not good for any of the parties. The more people overfunction in the church, the more all suffer from issues of confused responsibility. The clearer members and leaders can be about who is responsible for what, the better the congregation as a whole will function (Kindle Locations 1623-1625).

People who regularly take responsibility for the functioning and well-being of others (rescuers) are the ones who often end up with a breakdown, physically or emotionally, or they burn out and have to drop out (Kindle Locations 1661, 1662).

Differentiating yourself within the group often does not lead to praise from the group but to a negative reaction at first. This reaction is related to the challenge people experience when someone takes a new position within the emotional system. Your new position has an unbalancing effect on the group mobile. It may “feel” wrong to those close to you, and they will react, saying that you are wrong or bad or crazy and that you must change back to how you used to be (Kindle Locations 2224-2226).