Loyalty 4: Recognizing Seeds of Disloyalty I

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It is difficult to tell who will be loyal and who will stab you into the back.  Sometimes someone will swear blind they don’t know then go on to be your best leader (like Peter), others you give all the jobs to and they then are the ones who betray you (Judas).  However, there are clues and one of the first clues is what I refer to as an independent attitude.

An independent attitude never seems to fit in with the group.  They might be a little upset at the leader, they might be annoyed at someone in the group, or just generally upset with the way the group does things.  They might have started out keen but there is something different going on now: an independent attitude has taken root.

It’s a subtle first sign to a betrayal, but it is as real as can be and you need to be able to spot it.  It could manifest in a number of ways: the pastor of a church could say “let’s all fast this Wednesday” and the person fasts Tuesday.  That sounds minor but let me tell you this: always be careful around people who take no notice of the calendar or the clock. 

This week it was independence day in Uganda.  They celebrated, we didn’t here in England.  Why?  Because we are a different nation.  We don’t follow each others’ calendars and clocks.  When people are part of the same group, they follow the same calendar.  It’s a really simple way to notice who is loyal and who is not.  Not following the calendar: it’s not a big deal, but it is the first step down a slippery slope that ends with you getting a knife to the back!

I am not against being independent and I am not against people having an independent attitude, the issue is that when you want to be part of something bigger than yourself – which is the only way to find true significance – you have to join in in such a way that you flow with the group, the church, the business, the organization.  You can’t play by your own rules and join in the big game. 

At our church, a big big part of our culture is what we call Living Churches.  They are groups that meet in the evening for a couple of hours in houses – we have 10 of these groups meeting every week and groups every weeknight.  So most weeknights I am out visiting and encouraging the groups.  I run two myself, my wife runs two, and when we are in we consider that time to be very precious family time.  So I don’t do much evening visits with people.  Some people get upset – they want me to be there for them in the evenings but they never go to a Living Church.  They are not flowing with our church.  They are not getting involved in something bigger than themselves.  An independent attitude.

It’s harder to be involved in something bigger than yourselves.  It is much harder than you can imagine.  At Tree of Life Dagenham we often have up to twenty people serving in the main service – children’s ministry, making teas, ushering, etc.  We all meet at 9am and pray for 10-15 minutes – that way we are serving like Mary out of our intimacy with the Lord, not like Martha.  It takes effort to be there for 9am, but if you can’t follow the group calendar or clock you have an independent attitude, and that leads (eventually) to disloyalty.

Does this happen in the Bible?  Yes!  Absolutely, Joab was David’s right hand man.  To use modern terms, he was the assistant pastor.  But it is clear throughout Scripture he was there doing his thing, not David’s thing.  David was a man of peace, but Joab was a task man – he missed David’s attitude and heart and went on doing his own thing.  He didn’t understand David’s vision, David’s behaviour, David’s grace – and in a fit of offense did things his own way.

Pastor Joab was nodding in the staff meeting, but went out the door and did what he wanted.  He never left David’s ministry – he enjoyed the benefits of being in the ministry but never submitted to the vision.

For example, in 2 Sam. 18.5, David is explicit to everyone: show grace and gentleness to Absalom.  Forgive him for his rebellion.  That was David’s way.

In 2 Sam. 18.12-14, Joab kills Absalom to protect David.  It looks loyal.  It looks fanatical.  But he is doing it his way, not David’s way.  This is an independent attitude – it is in the organization but doesn’t care about how the organization does things.  Worship leaders who play songs that are not on the churches’ white list, assistant pastors who preach crosswise to the pastor when he is out of church, ushers who welcome people and then tell them the latest gossip, elders who run the Living Church how they want and teach what they want the way they want.  It’s an independent attitude – and people who have one will never manage to be part of something bigger than themselves, and therefore are never significant.

An independent attitude is only a few steps away from stabbing you in the back.   In 2 Sam. 12.28 Joab tells David unless you get off your backside and do what I want then I will name this town after myself.  That is one of the biggest hallmarks of an independent attitude – people with one want a name for themselves.  I remember a worship leader who wanted to lead worship but leave before the sermon started.  Forget that!  That’s an infectious attitude.  I’d rather turn the CD player on.

I’ve seen this attitude lead to branch pastors renaming the church and making it their church, I’ve seen this attitude leading elders to turn house groups into their own personal church. 

(Incidentally, that’s why some pastors hate branch churches and small groups – they are so concerned about a Joab taking over, but let me say that the rewards are always more than the risk.  Always always disciple people and release them.  For every Judas stabbing you in the back you get 11 good guys.  Ok, so one of them might always stick their foot in their mouth, two of them might be sons of thunder, one of them might be the poster boy for doubting but as you disciple and release they will work miracles and build the kingdom.  It’s worth far more than the pain of one betrayal!)

Always beware of people with independent spirits.  People who don’t follow your calendar and clock.  Church starts at 10am and they substitute that for their own personal arrival time.  Conference is August 6th-9th, but they go on holiday then even though they have known about it for a year.  People who want to name things after themselves – they run their own small group programme rather than plugging into yours.

I’m not saying any of these things are wrong, but if you keep seeing signs of independence that is not a person who is with you.  Until the signs change, don’t promote that person.  It will save you pain, it will save you loss, it will save your dreams.

For more teaching on this subject, please see our website: www.treeoflifedagenham.com/dream-killers.html

Loyalty 3: An Analysis of Loyalty

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To read part 1 of this series, click here.
To read part 2 of this series, click here.

So far, we have discussed how to stay loyal, how to engender loyalty and that loyalty truly is the number one component to a successful ministry.  Today we are going to focus on the quality of loyalty – what it looks like and how to recognize it.

The truth that everyone must realize is that if loyalty is one of the key ingredients of a successful life then loyalty will always always always be challenged and tested.  When your loyalty to someone is attacked or challenged or rocked, you need to consider what information you have, where it comes from and you also need to consider your own heart too.

Firstly, you must analyze the past.  Paul to Timothy “Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1.6).  In other words, Paul said “Timmy, remember your gift comes from me and my ministry.”   Timothy was a young man in danger of deviating from his call and losing his destiny.  So Paul reminded him of the past.  You too need to consider your past.  Remember the things the Spirit has shown you.  Remember the people who prayed for you when your marriage was a mess, when you lost your job, when things looked bleak.  Most people are disloyal because they don’t think about the past. 

I will never forget how inspired I was by Will Graham, pastor of Victory Church International, as I heard him preach for the first time in August 1998.  As I heard him preach about his vision of church planting and impacting Europe for the gospel and God’s unconditional love, and having conferences that invited the entire five fold.  I fell in love with the message and I will always honour the man.  That sermon is re-played in my mind again and again.  I remember that message.  Because of that I am loyal to Will- – he is always the first person I invite to our conferences.  What you remember determines your loyalty.  If you are disloyal it is often because you have forgotten where your gifts and vision came into flame and who helped you fan the flames.

A few years ago someone told me to be careful around a certain preacher because they lacked integrity.  I laughed and told them “you don’t realize that this person is my friend, we go back a long time.”  I am not going to listen to mindless gossip about my friends – it’s called loyalty.  How do I do it?  I remember how that person has helped me, counseled me, been there at 2am when I was falling apart.  Remember who stirred your gifts up!  Remember who imparted wisdom to you!

Secondly, you need to analyze the person.  Paul told TImothy: “continue in the things you have learned… knowing of whom thou hast learned them” (2 Tim. 3.14).  When people invent seditious stories and slanderous reports, think carefully about what they are saying.  Analyze the person concerned and see if it makes sense.  Someone accused me of being in ministry for the money.   If you believed that you failed to use your brain: you failed to analyze!  I had a place in five different universities to study medicine, I had a lucrative career in the city, I was offered a phenomenal job writing computer code, I was offered a place on a think tank.  There are many different ways I could have earned more money than what I do right now.   I did not give up on several awesome careers to be counting people’s pennies and making a living that way for the money – I did it because of the call on my life.  A little analysis would show this to be obvious!

Paul told Timothy: “you know my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions…” (2 Tim. 3.10f).  It amazes me when people who know you personally are swayed by someone who doesn’t know you at all.  They forget your generosity, they forget your goodness, they forget the hours you spent loving them, praying for them, how much money you gave them, how you have put up with things over and over and fixate on a bit of gossip and end up being disloyal.  Loyalty comes from analysis, disloyalty comes from a carnal reaction.  Before being disloyal, stop, think, and think again.

Nearly every minister – in fact every person – I have heard negative things about when I finally got to know them I found they were nothing like the rumours.   Get to know people personally!

Thirdly, analyze the words you hear someone speaking.  “Hold fast the sound words, which you hast heard of me” (2 Tim. 1.13).  You must always double check what you hear a pastor preaching or anyone saying to you.  Is it accurate?  Is it Biblical?  Also think about what someone is saying now compared to what they used to say – some start off on the Bible then deviate and go onto some seriously weird teachings.  When a preacher defects from the Word, you should defect from that preacher.  When the church leaves the Word (and goes into barking, clucking, screaming, shaking and whatever), then leave that church!  We have to consider people: are they honest, are they gossips, are they critical, are they mean?  Analyze!  Consider!

Analyze the people bringing rumours and gossip – are they silly, mean people? Are they living for Christ, are they ministering with life and fruit?  If not, why listen to their gossip and rumours?  Why let unfruitful people stop you being fruitful?

The reason many people are unfruitful is because they don’t stop and analyze what is going on.  They forget people, they think wrong things because they are moved by rumours and so on.  The lie runs around the world before the truth is even dressed.  The weeds grow faster than the grass – but stand on the Word, analyze what is going on and make good choices.  That way leads to success.

For more information about Benjamin Conway, please visit our Facebook page.
For more information about Tree of Life Church, please visit our website.

Stay tuned for next week’s article where we develop the theme of loyalty more and discuss the Seeds of Disloyalty and how to recognize them.  That is going to really help pastors and leaders – please let them know about this blog!

 

 

Loyalty (part 2) Fully Persuaded

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Last week we discussed loyalty and how to maintain loyalty in a church or organization.  Today I want to continue that thought by discussing something called “fully persuaded”.   I think most people have realized that to be a leader means to be accused.   If you are in leadership, the only way to stop them talking about you is to quit leading – so get used to it.  You have to be able to handle accusation.

If you are part of an organization you have to also be able to handle accusations made at your leaders.  It is not without good reason that the Bible says not to entertain an accusation against an elder without two or three witnesses (1 Tim. 5.19).  If there is just one lone voice against a leader, ignore it.  It’s that simple.

Jesus was accused of misleading people, teaching sedition, preventing people from paying taxes, claiming to be the king, being in league with satan.  I’m not sure many of us today would have become his follower in 1st century Israel.  Paul was accused of being a pestilent fellow, a source of strife, a disturber of the peace, an antinomian, a cult leader and attempting to desecrate the temple.

If you were working with Paul you would have to be fully persuaded about his integrity and character.  Otherwise those accusations would find a hook inside you and you would lose the benefits of Paul’s leadership.  Of course this is why leaders are falsely accused – to diminish their influence, and to ensure you fail to benefit from their influence.

Can you imagine working with Paul and at the back of your mind is the idea that he is a cult leader, that you are in a cult, that he really wanted to desecrate the temple?  It wouldn’t work.  You need to be fully persuaded that Paul is an apostle of God and the messenger of grace.

People say there is no smoke without fire, forgetting that some people in any organizations (sadly, especially churches) can be human smoke machines, puffing out smoke by the gallon with no fire necessary at all.   You need to be fully persuaded that you are in the right place with the right leadership!

So, let’s start by addressing leaders with some points, then we will address the led with some more points!

5 THINGS LEADERS CAN DO TO MAKE IT EASY FOR THEIR PEOPLE TO BE FULLY PERSUADED

  1. Be open about finances.  You get a new car and someone asks “where did that come from?” Don’t reply “The Lord” – we all know that, but let people know where it came from.  Let people see that you are not skimming from the offerings.  Make sure that you are registered as a charity, and complete the appropriate paperwork to stay above board.  You don’t need to reveal where every penny is spent, but people should be aware of the broad strokes.  It makes it easier to persuade them and help them if you are accused.
  2. Be open about your vision.  A pastor recently wanted to work with me on an evangelism project.  I told him it wouldn’t work because we disagreed about too many core issues.  He lied to me about what he believed about Jesus and about the gifts of the Spirit and salvation to try and get me to work for him.  I listened to him preach and pointed out the dishonesty to him – what he preached was not what he told me he believed.  Why lie?  To get our church on board, to add some sort of weight to his campaign?  I don’t know.  But it is difficult to be persuaded to work with someone who is dishonest about their core values.  Let the church know what you are all about and where you see the church going.  Don’t tell someone “yes, we are going to have services like this” when you don’t want to.  People will see right through it.  Shout the vision, make it plain and let people decide if they are going to follow.  Presenting different visions to different people to keep them around will always bring DI-VISION!
  3. Be open in crisis times.  An elder in the church is being disruptive and rude – won’t teach what you ask, and starts insulting guest speakers and is insulting to other elders and their abilities.  When you remove that person from leadership, ensure people know it was done and why it was done.  Be open about the tough decisions you have to make, and be open as to why they are tough.  I’m not talking about gossip, I’m not talking about running someone down and getting your side of the story out.  I’m talking about being transparent about why you made certain choices.  Let people know that you have their best interests at heart.
  4. Have greater leaders than you that you are open with and honest with.  When people see that you are led too, that you are growing too, that you care about developing too, then they will trust you a lot more.  People care a lot less about knowing everything and attacking everything if they know there is a place that your struggles and your concerns are being shared and that they are being shared with someone who is wise and mature.
  5. Be open about your mistakes.  I’m not saying get in the pulpit and share every wrong selfish kill-em-all thought you ever had, I am saying that if you mess it up publically, apologize publically.  If you get shirty one Sunday before church, let people know that you did and that you know you did and that you are sorry.

It is hard in this day and age to cultivate loyalty but these steps will make it easier for people to follow you.

5 THINGS THE LED CAN DO TO HELP STAY FULLY PERSUADED AND LOYAL

  1. If the questions are too many, get out.  I am not saying here stay in a church when things are clearly dysfunctional.  Don’t do that.  If you cannot get answers or even feel that you will get them, then find somewhere else.  Get a new job or new church or whatever.
  2. Remember to stay loyal to the highest authority.  What does this mean – if your elder starts contradicting your pastor then go with the pastor and his call.  He founded and built the church.  If your branch manager is contradicting your regional manager, go with the regional manager.  If your pastor is contradicting Christ, Christ is the highest authority.  Stay with Him!  Paul said follow me as I follow Christ – that’s good advice for any leader: when they are not following Christ don’t follow them!  A good leader will say that as well.
  3. Do not withhold information from your leader.  If there is corruption going on, let people know.  If you knew sedition was going on and said nothing, you are disloyal.  Paul told the Corinthians “it is reported that there is fornication among you” (1 Corinthians 5.1) – it wasn’t a word of knowledge or a vision.  Someone told Paul the church was dysfunctional!  A good structure reports on things!  Good people let their leaders know what is going on.
  4. Base your loyalty on principles not emotions.  Most people operate in the emotional realm most of the time, and don’t operate on the basis of principle.  If you decide to be part of something you make that decision on information and principles and vision, not on the basis of emotion.  I know people who followed a youth pastor who split a church and started a new church across the road.  I asked why they would follow him when it was all clearly out of order.  They said “we know he has done wrong, but we feel sorry for him”.  I can’t think of a worse reason to be part of a church.   Those who joined Absalom’s church all died.  The angels who joined Lucifer Ministries International all became devils.  Be careful where you go and who you are loyal to.
  5. Be prepared to pay “The Loyalty Cost”.  Being loyal will cost you – friends, relationships, parties to go, and more.  Everything has a price – your salvation had a price but you didn’t have to pay it.  But every step you take in working out your great salvation will cost you.  Of course the good news is that the reward is greater than the price.  However, there is a cost to loyalty.  To be loyal to one person means you cannot be loyal to everyone.  To be loyal to one church means you cannot be loyal to every church.  I have friends I just can’t spend time with any more.  Why?  Because I am loyal to Jesus.  I am loyal to the Tree of Life Network.  Every relationship you are in either adds to you or diminishes you, and you can only choose so many.   When Moses decided to be loyal to God he lost access to the riches of Pharoah.  There are people I have lost access to their riches because I have decided to do the right thing.  Loyalty is expensive but it will always pay better than the cost.

Next week, we will look at the Analysis of Loyalty.  I hope you enjoyed this blog.  If you want to know more about Tree of Life Church, visit our website: www.treeoflifedagenham.com or follow us on Facebook.

 

Loyalty (part 1)

One of the most important keys in living a successful life is learning the principles behind loyalty. We live in a generation which has largely forgotten the principles of loyalty – and therefore has forgotten the keys to qualification to success.  In a day in which people denigrate local churches, rebel against legitimate authority and hate being led; it is important to grasp loyalty.

Loyalty is the number one qualification to minister. An immature person believes that gifting is the door opener to ministry, but that is not true. When you mature, you discover that faithful and loyal people are the best leaders. An immature person would think that being a nice guy makes for the best pastor, that being a skilful orator makes for the best preacher. But the Scripture could not be more clear:

IT IS REQUIRED IN STEWARDS, THAT A MAN BE FOUND FAITHFUL (LOYAL) (1 Corinthians 4.2).

The pastors in the Tree of Life Church network are not promoted for their good looks, friendly nature or preaching gifts. They are promoted because they are loyal. Loyal people are the best gifts a church can have.

Jesus said that you will know you are His disciples not by gifting or anointing but by love. Loyalty is a form of love – and people are attracted to loyal people. Church people are not blind. They are not deaf. They can tell if you are discordant. They can feel if you are disloyal. If the water is murky – the sheep will not go near it. And then you are frustrated that you are not moving forward in ministry, but you don’t know there is no crocodile in the waters unless they are still waters.

There are several manifestations of disloyalty but the main one is criticism. Disloyalty leads to you noticing and magnifying faults. In the church you find fault with the preaching, with the order of service, with the building, with the systems, with the people, with the structure of the church.

Just like Miriam became critical of Moses: it was by following Moses she got free from Egypt. It was by following Moses she was no longer a slave. It was by Moses that she was redeemed. But now all she could see was Moses’ faults and flaws. She spoke out publicly about Moses’ marriage. She criticised him out loud. Disloyalty has a voice.

“And Miriam spoke against Moses” (Numbers 12.1)

Disloyal people are like eagles’ looking for faults. Scrutinizing the church to find fault. They create an atmosphere that can break a church into pieces. Disloyalty can destroy a church faster than anything else.  If people are insecure and aren’t comfortable in a place, they will rather than look at themselves and challenge themselves will look for someone to blame.  That happens a lot in churches – if you are pastor, don’t beat yourself up over it.  Don’t try and please everyone – that’s called the number one way to ensure you never have a church over 100.  People will always threaten to leave if you take their ministry away, change to songs they don’t like, or lead them forward.

Your point of view depends on your viewpoint. If you are looking for faults you will find them. If you are looking with critical eyes you will always find something to criticise. If you look with loving eyes, you will always find something to love.

Absalom could only see the deficiencies of David’s kingship. But the problem was in his eyes. 

Doctors make oaths to respect their teachers, but people in churches sometimes get a little success and a little promotion and forget who loved them there, who helped them there, who taught them what they know. The deception of disloyalty is that it makes people think they don’t need leadership anymore, that they don’t need help, that God’s structures don’t work because of a small problem in the system.

Our goal in the Tree of Life Church is to create a culture of loyalty. That we all have a reverence and genuine love for leadership. That we grasp what it takes to move forward as the body of Christ.

So, how can we develop that culture. Here are three simple keys that will help you develop a culture of loyalty:

1. The NORTH WIND face

“The north wind drives away rain; so does an angry face drive away a biting tongue” (Proverbs 25.23)

The first key is when you hear someone biting, someone running down the church, the leaders, the people, the building, the service: give them a facial expression that shuts them up. Show someone clearly you are not interested in their gossip and their conversation. This will deter most of the problem straight away. This will create a culture of loyalty and unity. If people realize disloyal talk is not welcome, then they will cease from it.

Sometimes disloyal talk is about flattering you to put someone else down. Don’t fall for it. “Oh the only reason I am at this church is because of you” is nice to hear but it will puff you up and divide the church. Give them a withering look. It works!

They said of David he killed his tens of thousands when he had only killed one. Don’t fall for your own press! 

Gossip is a KILLER.  We still haven’t accepted it, we still don’t believe it.  We happily roast people for dinner and happy go out for coffee and feast on the bones of our colleagues, family and church members.

2. Don’t go somewhere your heart isn’t in

If you are in a church, especially if in leadership, and your heart isn’t in it, remove your body as well. It helps! You can’t change a church from within, you can only split it!

“A LITTLE LEAVEN LEAVENS THE WHOLE LUMP” (1 Cor. 5.6)

One disgruntled elder can pollute the whole church. Never manipulate people to stay in your Living Church, in your group, in the Tree of Life if their heart is gone. Let them go. It’s that simple.

Some pastors are too soft to remove disloyal, grumbling, divisive people. They don’t protect the sheep from being polluted. 

I’m not talking about leaving because you are having a carnal fit.  People do that to churches all the time.  I’m talking about you know the vision isn’t your vision but you are there to “help” the leadership.  Get over yourself – God has a place for you where you will fit in – it won’t be perfect but it will be real.  Most people don’t leave when their visions clash, but hold on until they are well and truly offended, storm off and never go to church again.  Get a grip – harness those emotions and realize who you are!

3. Set fire to some stuff

In Acts 28 they built a fire, and a snake came out of the fire when it was lit. They picked up a snake thinking it was a harmless stick. But when the fire came the snake jumped out.

Some people look lovely and harmless and wonderful, but when fire comes you find out they are snakes. You change a procedure, ban a certain song, don’t let them lead something the way they want to and they bite. Trials and difficulties reveal people’s nature. The truth is that anyone who wants to do God’s will ends up getting bitten – it happened to Jesus, to Paul, to all people. 

Do not be in a hurry to promote people. Try not promoting them – try taking their responsibilities away from them for a while. That kind of fire reveals people’s hearts. If they were disloyal because you didn’t promote them, rejoice – they would have taken the position and used it as a platform to be disloyal.

A person’s reaction to change is a revelation of their character.

These THREE things will help all of us walk in the unity that God has for us. There is a lot in this post, but if you take it to heart it will lift you and help you be all you can be.

 

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Decision Making as a Leader

You are in charge – so you make the decision.  Don’t worry who you upset or offend, do what is right.  It’s your vision, your pure, whole, beautiful vision.  Don’t let them make it a patchwork of their half-baked ideas they have never worked out for themselves.  

Do what you know to be right.  Make a decision with all the information you have to hand, and don’t worry about what you don’t know.  Ask God for wisdom.  He supplies generously without reproach.  Let the peace of God rule in your heart.

Don’t confer with people who have never been where you have.  Don’t let them put Saul’s armour on you to fight the battle you know you are called to fight (if Saul’s armour was that good, Saul would be wearing it).  Don’t let them push you around.

Do what you did when the problem was tiny.  It’s the same solution.

Trust God.  Trust yourself.  Trust your gut.  Trust that He will never let you down.  Trust your experience, God has let you end up at this point for a reason.  Trust who you are in Him.

Seek advice from wiser people, those who have been where you want to go.  Read Ephesians cover to cover.  Fast a day or two.  Open your mind to a new idea.  Read a book by a leader.  Flip a coin (doesn’t matter what the coin is – but when it was in the air, what did you WANT IT TO BE?)

Don’t be afraid of getting it wrong.  It will not be your only chance to do this.

Believe big.  Make a big decision.  Expect great results. 

Mentors and Mentoring

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I am going to take a tiny reprieve from our current series on The Reality Gap (parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here respectively, and next week we will discuss part 3 – The Pursuit of Excellence) and talk a little bit today on mentoring.  I haven’t really gathered my thoughts, so this may come across as a little stream-of-consciousness and a little idiosyncratic.  That may suit some of you and may not suit others – it doesn’t suit me, I prefer to be prepared, but I wanted to get a post on this blog this week and this is a topic a lot of people have been asking about lately.

The first thing you need to know is that being mentored is a good thing.  An exceptionally good thing.  A good mentor can be worth years of experience.  George Hill says it like this: “the best way to get somewhere is to find someone who has been there and follow them”, and I have definitely found that to be true in my life.

I know some people don’t like the word mentor, some people find it too business-like, too secular or whatever.  If that’s you, just substitute the word “discipler”.  The fact is I like the word mentor – it gives the right connotation of someone who is helping you with a task.

So the first thing you need to know is that God has mentors for you!  God has put leaders into the body of Christ to lead.  That sounds so simple, but people misunderstand it.  Some people want to be part of a church for example, and not get involved with the church’s programmes and structure, and try to create their own programmes or build their own little structure.  Other people think they know better than anyone else, when the fruit of their life shows that they don’t.

God has ordained leaders to lead us forward.  People who have done what we dream of doing, who can through their experience and wisdom take us forward.

If you don’t know the names of your mentors, your leaders, your disciplers: the people who have gone before and are helping you through their wisdom and experience, then you have a problem.  I guarantee progress made in your life is slow and an uphill struggle.  You can keep going like that if you want, but there is a better way.  The way of God-ordained mentors.

You will never have above average levels of wisdom if you fail to recognize the leaders that God wants to place in your life.  That is a fact!  You will never rise above mediocrity if you can’t name your mentors.  You need mentors.

Now the world and its dog will want to be your mentor – especially if you are young, passionate and starting to see success.  The denomination that turned me down twice suddenly knocked on my doors when we had about 60+ people on a Sunday… but be WARY, many people are only interested in what they can syphon from you, and basically in controlling you and sharing your success, they don’t want to invest in you.

Remember a mentor is there to lead you somewhere you haven’t been.  So the first step is to realize: if they haven’t been where you want to go, they are not your mentor!

This sounds so obvious, but I have seen pastors join up with networks that don’t do anything.  A pastor of a church of 300 who was given that church at 350 and lost 50 people is not the same as a pastor of a church of 150 who has built that church from nothing.  They will not have the wisdom you need to take your church from 150 to 300, but if you are swayed by size alone, you might take that person as a mentor and then wonder why your church now has 100 people – because all they know is how to lose people!

If you are 36 years old, people in their late 50s will want to be your mentor – because they have more “experience” than you.  If they haven’t done what you have done, they haven’t got the experience you have.  It’s that simple.  Paul told TImothy when telling him to tell the elders what to teach and ensure the elders are living right not to let anyone look down on him because of his youth.  Sometimes elders think they have more experience than the pastor, and the pastor can think the same because the elders have more years.  No!  Years are not experience, and an elder is not going to give you the wisdom to get where you need to go because they have never been there.

A guy once came to me and asked for a paid job at Tree of Life Church.  I had met him once before.  I said “as what?” He said “as your coach.”  He was 60-something, I was 30-something so he assumed that he knew more than I did.  Turns out that 10 years previous he planted a church and in ten years took it to 30.  Now I am not knocking that, that’s an achievement.  That’s 30 people with a shepherd, moving forward.  But in the last 3 years we have gone from 11 to 150+.  The problems you find in a church of 30 are not the same problems you find in a church of 30.  In the same way parenting teens is not parenting toddlers!  He had zero experience of what I was and am facing, and yet wanted money to pass that zero experience onto me.  I declined.

Another couple approached me and offered to pastor me and give me advice about how to properly plant churches.  So far we have planted 3 churches, all growing, all healthy. Not one of them is perfect, but they are great places to be.  I asked this couple how many churches they had planted.  Zero.  Again, I am not going to waste time listening to zero experience.

You need mentors who have been where you are and who have been where you want to go.  For me, the call of God on my life has always been to plant churches founded on the complete work of Christ and to build disciples who dream and dream big.  So, I have had to find people who have planted successful, healthy churches to find out how they did it.  To learn from a mentor is to avoid learning from mistakes.

When I find someone who has planted from nothing a successful, healthy church my eyes are on them.  When I find that the church is built on the complete work, I follow them.  When I find that the person is raising leaders with big dreams, I know that’s someone I want to emulate.  Not become – I am me and he is he, but I know they have gone the path before and know stuff I don’t know.

Now this is the important bit.  Although God has prepared mentors for you, and although many people will try and mentor you and have never been where you want to go, when you meet a true mentor (and this is the key:) you have to pursue them.  You have to chase them, they will never chase you.

Yesterday I had lunch with one of my mentors (I have three – that’s a good, healthy number, too many cooks spoil the broth and all that, and you can’t purse much more than that.  One or two is fine as well, three is just because I am greedy).  I drove well over an hour to him for a meeting that lasted an hour and a half, then drove back.  I contacted him and arranged the meeting.  I asked for his time.  I treat his time as sacred.  His name is Robert Maasbach, and I first met him at a healing meeting where my son was healed.  I since have been to his church many times, just sitting at the back getting refreshed and have sat at his feet learning from him again and again.  I invited him to preach for me one time, we had dinner and I found this stream of wisdom which I just tapped into.  Since then I try and meet him once a month.

I treat his advice as sacred too.  Every idea he has given me I have implemented and everyone has brought success and growth to the church.  That’s because he pastors a church that is pushing 1000 people on a Sunday and knows what he is talking about.  The advice he gave me yesterday has helped me re-frame an issue we have been dealing with for a few months.  I thought it was a minor issue, but he told me no – in three years time this will explode in your face.  So I have made plans to deal with it and deal with it quickly and firmly.  He helped me strategize in dealing with that as well.  I have confidence in his wisdom because by their fruits you will know them.  I know that yesterday afternoon in one hour with my mentor has saved me thousands of headaches.

Some mentors are lifelong mentors, like Robert Maasbach.  Others are for a season or for a particular issue.  Recently I had the joy of driving George and Hazel Hill around when they were in the UK.  They have planted thousands of churches.  So I asked them lots and lots of questions.  By serving them, I had earned time with them, so I used it to pull on the wisdom in them.  

They run a network of churches with several churches in the UK.  To be honest, I thought I would have to fight for their time with all the pastors in their UK network, but they didn’t volunteer, didn’t pursue, so I did and I got to spend time with them.  Now they started in Canada and started planting churches on the other sides of their city from their main church – exactly where we are now.  So I found out from their mistakes what will and won’t work, and just driving them from one airport to another has saved me hours of agony over a difficult decision because George Hill clarified my priorities and imparted his wisdom to me.

I drove them up to a pastor’s conference, and they gave me some advice on creating a special service to attract people.  I took their ideas, and started crafting.  When George Hill was preaching at the conference he mentioned the conversation and I mentioned I have started planning it already.  That impressed him – you see people with a great deal of wisdom and experience know what works and what doesn’t.  What grieves their hearts is dispensing wisdom and seeing it ignored, then people walking into hurt and difficulties.  What lifts their heart is seeing lives changed, the kingdom advancing because their wisdom is received.  

Now I am in a position of favour, and now I am receiving more wisdom from them.  But I still have to pursue them.  That’s the key here – you have to chase your mentors.  You have to value their wisdom.  You have to make some life adjustments to ensure you get the time to draw from their wisdom.

Making initial contact can sometimes be the hardest step.  The thing that keeps more people away from their dreams and success is a failure to take the first step.  So, don’t delay take the first step today.

Write an email to someone who has done what you want to do.  Ask them for some wisdom.  Go to a conference where someone you want to emulate is going to be.  Humble yourself a little and admit there is more to life than what you know and ask the Lord to show you who is going to help you take the next step.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Benjamin Conway

Lead Pastor, Tree of Life Network

The Reality Gap (part II: the danger of Idealism)

Ever been to a perfect church?  Ever heard a perfect sermon?  Ever been in a perfect time of worship?  Ever received a perfect offering?  Ever had a perfect leader’s meeting?

I doubt it.  

Nothing done on earth is perfect.  You might as well admit it as the evidence is totally in your face screaming at you.  However, many Christians are looking for a perfect church or a perfect service or perfect sermon.  The problem is that the search is futile.  It is absolutely futile.  And because you are always looking at the ideal you will never engage with the real.

I know so many Christians who don’t go to church because it’s not the perfect church, they don’t go to a mid-week group because it isn’t perfect, they won’t teach a certain study because it is not perfect, they won’t serve in a particular department because it is not perfect.

Pastors can be the same.  They never delegate their leadership because the other person won’t do it as well as them (what a guy preaching the first week ever isn’t a good as someone with 10 years experience and 5 years training?! Duh!) even though they know they need to start delegating and raising leaders.  They get upset about a time of worship because it wasn’t swinging off the chandeliers.

There are three main problems with idealism:

1. You ignore the real.  You are waiting for the perfect guitarist to join your worship group, you will miss the guy who is practising really hard, full of life and full of energy and wants to serve and honour you and the church.  Now, I’m not saying appoint the guy who doesn’t turn up at practice, turns up late, runs down the church but loves their ministry, and generally isn’t a team player and lacks the character of Christ.  That’s just bad leadership!  But don’t let the perfect blind you to the good and improving right in front of your nose.  

Remember when doing this that gifting and ability is always easier to develop than character.  Put character first when choosing leaders.  There are 16 qualifications for leaders in 1 Tim. 3, and only one of them is about gifting and ability.  Loyalty to the church and to you, a passion for Christ, a heart for evangelism and discipleship – you cannot beat those in any volunteer!

2.  Idealism paralyses you.  If you are waiting for the best time to do something, YOU WILL NEVER DO IT.  I know so many people called to plant churches waiting for the right circumstances.  It will never come, just start.  Don’t strike when the iron is hot, keep striking until the iron IS hot.  Then strike some more.  Do it, do it, do it.  That’s how you start a church.  Right now, Tree of Life Network is starting a food bank.  We don’t have a building, things are going on right now, it’s not the perfect time, but if I wait for a perfect time I will be waiting forever.  Don’t wait for the ideal time, wait for a good time and do it.  Even do it in a bad time – God is bigger than the times!

3. Idealism causes you to become negative.  You hear a sermon with 99 good points but all you think about is the 1 point you don’t agree with.  You go to a church with 99 things you agree with but all you can focus on is the 1 thing you don’t like.  Idealism means you can never sweat the small stuff.  

Now I know everything should be Biblical but the truth is that no two of us agree 100% on anything.  Some things are no negotiable but other things are really not a big deal, even with the non-negotiables, we can endure a lot of give and take if we know someone is real and we know their hearts and we know they are for us.  People come to me after church sometimes and tell me what I said wrong, and what I said they didn’t agree with.  Other people get healed, get their marriages restored, get filled with the Spirit and get lifted and encouraged.  They chose to focus on the bits that lifted them.

Beware the dangers of idealism.  Sometimes it can take you away from interacting with and engaging with reality.

 

How to soften your heart. #7

One of the most inspirational and challenging things you can do for yourself as a leader is find other leaders who know the Word and hear what the Lord is showing them. VIc Cameron at Moray Grace Fellowship is a great leader and an awesome thinker. His blogs will inspire you and open God’s Word to you. Follow him today!

Moray Grace Fellowship

Pastor Vic returns to continue with our current series about how the hard hearts of born again believers can be softened.

Did you know that, as a born again believer, in your spirit, you are completely righteous. This is not because of anything that you have done, or will do, but it is because of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

As a born again believer you are as righteous as Jesus! But a hard heart will prevent you from experiencing all that God has provided through that finished work.

Arrogant? Unbelievable? As you listen to this message you will hear Pastor Vic speak words of truth from the Word of God and your mind will start to be renewed!

Your focus needs to be on Jesus and not yourself.

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The Reality Gap (part I: what is the Reality Gap)

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HI there,

I’m Benjamin Conway, and I am the pastor of Tree of Life Church – we meet currently in three locations across England every Sunday and we are looking to increase that rapidly!

This is our blog for leaders and church leaders.  Our blog on church life is called www.treeoflifeblog.com and you are more than welcome to swing over there and check it out.  Our network website is www.treeoflifechurch.org.uk and you can find out what is going on there!

Today I want to look at one of the things that will knock you out as a leader every time if you are not aware it is coming: I call it the Reality Gap.

Basically, the reality gap is this: nothing is quite as you imagined it; nothing is perfect; no-one is perfect; there is no perfect church; no perfect service; no perfect leader; no perfect guest speaker; nothing is perfect.

There is always a big gap between the reality and the dream.  And nowhere is that gap first realized than when you start something new.  I have had a dream to build a 3000 strong mega-church in England since I was first saved in 1996.  And when that dream was just inside my head, it was easy to believe in a mega-church.  Now I have a church of 150 in London, that reality can obscure and frustrate the dream.  I have to remind myself that I am now closer to seeing my dream fulfilled than I have ever been.

You might have a vision to start a Bible College with 150 students and 10 sign up.  Guess what?  You are closer to that vision than you have ever been.  You might have a vision to start a business that makes a million pounds and you make £4.50.  Guess what – that’s the closest you have been so far! 

Don’t let the gap between your dream and reality stop you dreaming.  NEVER let the reality gap knock you for six.  As Andrew Wommack (wisely) says: “Better to aim for the stars and hit the moon, than aim for nothing and hit nothing.”

It’s better to have a dream of winning 100 people to Christ and winning 20 than dream of winning none and completing it!  It’s better to have a dream of being out of debt by the end of 2013 and end up paying 1/2 your debt off, than doing and dreaming nothing and being more in debt than when you started.  It’s better to aim at losing 30lbs and losing 10lbs than aiming at nothing and being even podgier than when you started!

And because of the nature of ministry, we are especially vulnerable to the reality gap knocking us out and discouraging us to the point of quitting.

We launch out into the deep, expecting revival and thousands of salvations.  Instead its 5 people sitting in a living room.  You hire a hall and no one comes, and then you still have to pay the bills.  You appoint an elder then find out they never stop arguing with their wife.  You have chosen some beautiful songs for worship to have the band murder them, bury them, and exhume them and murder them a second time.  You invite a glorious guest speaker, they treat you like a second class citizen, no one comes but the chosen frozen, the people who do come tell you how much they hate your church, and then they leave with your people…

It’s hard when these things happen.  But the truth is that there will always be a reality gap.  The nature of pastoral ministry is that pastors often see the world in black and white, when it isn’t like that at all.

You expect a perfect worship service, but it just wasn’t that good.  Well – please keep in mind it wasn’t that bad either.  You leave the pulpit upset that it didn’t set the world on fire, but if it warmed a handful of people – celebrate what has happened.

You spend hundreds of pounds advertising in the local paper and only three new people came – and two of them were weirdos!  Rejoice in that – it was worth it!  

I know you have a big dream – I have one too – but I tell you the truth, the most surefire way to kill any dream is to fail to celebrate every step towards it, to fail to enjoy an imperfect execution of a God idea.  At the end of the day, we are all very much human and any church and any business will inevitably reflect that.

If you don’t grasp the reality gap, you will get angry at people who you feel are not progressing quickly enough.  That will come across in all your relationships with people, and cause all sorts of problems.

So please, please take the time to understand what a reality gap is, and take the time to adjust accordingly.

Next week, we’ll look into this more and examine the danger of idealism.

Grace and peace,

Benjamin

Planning Your Preaching (Benjamin Conway)

Planning Your Preaching!

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One of the things that I often get asked is “how can I preach better?” or “how can I preach with a better response or better results?”  The fact is that preaching the gospel is the power of God – that’s how people get saved, get healed, get transformed.  Preaching is one of the single most effective uses of your time as a pastor and leader.  It’s that simple.  There is a move in some churches today to denigrate preaching and to minimise it’s power – some people are maxing their preach time to 8 minutes.  Wow!  If you want to be soaked in the Word I believe you should take at least 45 minutes.  I preach over an hour nearly every single week because I know it’s the Word of God that lifts and transforms and builds people up.

A lot of people spend a lot of energy and effort into planning the sermon, and absolutely that is correct, but planning a single sermon is great if you are a travelling evangelist, but for pastors you need to be planning more than one week in advance.

Firstly, as the lead pastor of a church, realise that you will always be and always should be in charge of the preaching in your church.  I have been to churches (and even pastored one) where the eldership or the deaconate were in charge of the preaching calendar, the rota of speakers.  One church I know pastored a council worker to come and “preach” about how awful his wife was for divorcing him.  No!   The lead pastor of the church is in charge of the preaching.  Absolutely, ridiculously in charge of the preaching.  No one gets to preach in the pulpit unless you give the say so.  It’s that simple.  The lead pastor is the shepherd of the flock and is the guardian of the sheep.

I take that approach in Tree of Life Church.  If I ask someone to preach, I am more than happy to ask them to preach on whatever I want, I am happy to ask for their notes before they preach.  Obviously with guest speakers like Arthur Meintjes who I have heard again and again and trust to bring a complete work message, I give a lot more latitude but to a new preacher within the church, I am ridiculously careful.  Why?  Because I am accountable before God regarding what is spoken at the church.

All preaching must be brought into the bigger picture of the church.  At Tree of Life Church our bigger picture is to “inspire people to dream, to challenge people to live the dream”, so I (Benjamin Conway) have to look at my preaching every week and ask myself – am I inspiring people to dream?  Am I challenging people to live the dream?  If not, chuck it in the bin as it is not helping the Tree fulfil God’s will.

So, preparation has a massive role to play: not just preparing the message, but preparing it to fit in with the bigger picture.  Then there is the theme for the season: what are we doing as a church right now?  So at the moment (May 2013) at Tree of Life Church we are hammering home the truth that there is a lot of deception in a lot of the church and that a great deal of this deception is basically obscuring the cross of Christ.  So, every sermon preached in May will be about deception and every sermon preaching in June will be about the complete work.

You need a preaching calendar.  You need to include important dates (not just Christmas and Easter, but Valentine’s Day, New Years’ Eve and September.  When the schools return after summer, lots of people come back to church and you need a powerful series to get them energised for church).  You must have a preaching calendar.  You must not just get in the pulpit and “allow the Spirit to lead you” – it will lead to the same message week after week and your church will have no direction.

I have already penned our preaching calendar for 2014.  Our theme is “Identity” and we have 12 months in which we are going to learn about our identity as reborn human beings.  Our summer conference for 2014 is sub-titled “We are Jesus on the earth!” and will be about our identity as the image of God on earth.  In August our worship leaders are going to find songs that fit in with our identity.  Our leadership conference will be grounded in identity.

Identity inspires people to dream, so the theme of the year fits perfectly with the overall dream of the church.  This planning is so important because to fail to plan is to plan to fail: so many charismatics just give us a piece of their mind when preaching – sort of a stream of consciousness from the pulpit.  It doesn’t help.

Then when planning the month around the monthly theme, I consider what the Bible says about the monthly theme and then consider what I want the people to know.  Good teaching should give information that people don’t have and press people to make a decision they haven’t made before.  So, for example, next Sunday morning, I am preaching on how it is deception to believe that you can have a harvest without a seed.  The information I am going to give people is show them all the different ways Christians try and get a harvest without a seed, and the decision I want people to make is to sow a seed into the kingdom (not necessarily money, but an action of faith and love).  Now I know that, putting the sermon together is much easier.

Not only that there is continuity from week to week.  If another person in the church preaches, they get to know the calendar and have to fit in with it.

Any questions about preaching or sermon preparation?  Please ask them below, I will answer all of them as best I could.

(Benjamin Conway preaches 3 times nearly every weekend, in Watford, Guildford and Dagenham.  Every month over 2000 people download or stream one f his sermons online from their church website, www.treeoflifedagenham.com.  These messages are free of charge because God’s Word is free of charge.)