We take an honest look at honesty with special guest Jeremy Gove author of the book Let’s Be Honest: Living a Life of Radical Biblical Integrity. You can get the book on Amazon or if you prefer you can visit www.jeremygove.com and purchase the book there. Links to the podcast are included below.
Jeremy and I talk about Fatherhood and debt-free lifestyle. Jeremy gives some great advice to student pastors and ministers in general. We talk about marriage and the Princle of Best Intention. From the book, we discuss the biblical perspective of truth, holiness, and sanctification and how that ties into honesty. Also, we talk about the statue of liberty and things only seagulls can see and much more. This was a fantastic conversation filled with nuggets that will keep you thinking all day long and I know you’ll enjoy it from beginning to end.
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Featured Article by Jeremy Gove
Let’s Be Honest – Podcast with Guest Jeremy Gove Links
Ryan takes an honest look at honesty with special guest Jeremy Gove author of the book Let’s Be Honest: Living a Life of Radical Biblical Integrity. You can get the book on Amazon or if you prefer you can visit www.jeremygove.com and purchase the book there.
Topics: Fatherhood and debt free lifestyle. Jeremy gives some great advice to student pastors and ministers in general. Ryan and Jeremy talk about marriage and the PRINCIPLE OF BEST INTENTIONS. From the book, they discuss the biblical perspective of truth, holiness, and sanctification and how that ties into honesty. They talk about the statue of liberty and things only seagulls can see and much more. This was a fantastic conversation filled with nuggets that will keep you thinking all day long.
Insecure leaders are dangerous to any organization. They are especially hazardous in church settings. Quick clarification, every leader has areas of insecurity. And, leaders have seasons of insecurity that aren’t permanent. Usually, because of extremely traumatic circumstances, exhaustion, or feelings of displacement in a new position, role, or environment. This article is addressing chronic toxic insecurities in leaders. Toxically insecure leaders destroy lives, organizations, and almost everything they touch if they don’t recognize their internal condition and correct it.
Insecure leaders are dangerous to any organization. They are especially hazardous in church settings. Quick clarification, every leader has areas of insecurity. And, leaders have seasons of insecurity that aren’t permanent.
If you’re a leader, check yourself for these symptoms. Better yet, ask your spouse or someone you respect if you are showing any of these symptoms. If you are, it doesn’t have to be terminal. You can adjust, grow, change, and become a truly dynamic leader. Facing our flaws is always challenging, but it pays big dividends later on.
Maybe you’re concerned someone close to you is a toxic leader. If so, please understand a toxically insecure leader will display at least three or more of these symptoms. Be careful not to misdiagnose a leader because they exhibit one or two of these symptoms from time to time. However, if you find that you are working with or for a toxically insecure leader, you would be wise to distance yourself if and when possible. Otherwise, you will be pulled into their injuriousness as either a collaborator or a victim.
King Saul is a prime biblical example of a genuinely toxic insecure leader. He was anointed, impressive, loved, and gifted, but his unbridled jealous insecurities prompted him to hate David. King Saul’s insecurities sent him down a twisted path of self-destructive behavior. Tragically, when a leader like Saul falls prey to their insecurities, they can unleash a whirlwind of hurt. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Below are ten common symptoms found in toxically insecure leaders. However, along with each symptom, there is a helpful prescription listed.
1. Insecure Leaders are Easily Offended
Not only are they offended easily by genuine affronts, but insecure leaders are angered by a seemingly endless list of perceived slights. Insecure leaders continuously feel as if they are being disrespected, attacked, taunted, or rejected. The insecure leader’s posture of offense reveals selfishness as their deeper character flaw. Because they view everything through the lens of self, they filter everyone’s actions as being about or directed at them. Insecure leaders speak and act against their real or perceived offenders often. They go on long crusades demanding respect or diminishing those who seemingly refuse to admire them.
Insecure leaders continuously feel as if they are being disrespected, attacked, taunted, or rejected. This reveals selfishness as their deeper character flaw. Because they view everything through the lens of self…
We overcome offenses by looking up to God. It really is that simple. The apostle Peter reminds us that it is an honor to suffer offense – even unjust offenses – if we are mindful of God (1 Peter 2:19). To be sure, Peter’s readers were dealing with offenses more severe than the kind Westerners typically face: physical abuse (1 Peter 2:20), ridicule (1 Peter 4:4), fiery trials (1 Peter 4:12). But learning to overlook the most significant offenses usually begins with learning to forgive the smallest. Enduring slander begins with enduring a sarcastic remark. Enduring a beating begins with enduring a cold shoulder. Being mindful of God in everyday offenses trains us to be mindful of Him when the worst comes.
Offended leaders must rest in the knowledge that God sees all offenses (Hebrews 4:13), God will settle all offenses (Romans 12:19), and God can satisfy us amid offense (Isaiah 58:11). When offense comes, it’s always tempting to allow bitterness, revenge, fantasy, distraction, pleasure, or self-justification to bring temporary satisfaction to our grievance. But only God can fill us with joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8). Only God can call us back from darkness (1 Peter 2:9). We can always rise above offense by lifting our eyes to God.
Learning to overlook the most significant offenses usually begins with learning to forgive the smallest. Enduring slander begins with enduring a sarcastic remark. Enduring a beating begins with enduring a cold shoulder.
Confident leaders are comfortable accepting responsibility for their mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, drops the ball, and gets it wrong from time to time. But insecure leaders find creative ways to blame others for their failures. They pass the buck to anyone or anything they can find. Because insecure leaders refuse to acknowledge their own mistakes, they never learn to correct them.
Furthermore, individuals forced to take blame unfairly on an insecure leader’s behalf are deeply wounded. Understandably, this creates constant turnover and turmoil in the leaders serving underneath an insecure leader. At the root of the blame game are an insecure leader’s ego and pride. Passing the buck begins by uprooting pride. Once pride is gone, humility can confidently take its place.
Insecure leaders find creative ways to blame others for their failures. They pass the buck to anyone or anything they can find. Because insecure leaders refuse to acknowledge their own mistakes, they never learn to correct them.
God resists prideful leaders who lack humility (James 4:6). On the other hand, God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Thankfully the passage of Scripture doesn’t stop there. It goes on to provide us with the exact prescription for curing pride:
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
James 4:8-10 ESV
3. Insecure Leaders Tear Other People Down
Insecure leaders can’t help themselves from tearing other people down verbally, not necessarily to their face, but behind their backs. They are careful to couch their criticism as concern or something innocuous, but they intend to tear down their perceived competition. Insecure leaders feel threatened by talented, gifted, or well-liked people, and they make it their mission to belittle those people cleverly.
Insecure leaders feel threatened by talented, gifted, or well-liked people, and they make it their mission to belittle those people cleverly.
There are two self-serving reasons to stop tearing other people down, whether it be overtly or subtly. First, people just don’t like or trust people who manipulatively bash other people. People bashers tend to think they’re super slick in how they do it, but people quickly catch on to it. Secondly, the absolute fear of God should be a strong motivator to stop tearing others down. Especially if they are godly people. In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up… (Ephesians 4:29 ESV)”. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He continues with an ominous warning: …do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God… (Ephesians 4:30 ESV). To grieve the Holy Spirit is to invite the judgment of God. If nothing else, selfishly avoid God’s wrath by lifting others up rather than tearing them down.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
4.Insecure Leaders Avoid Necessary Risk
An aversion to necessary risks often paralyzes insecure leaders. This one is tricky to spot in a leader because sometimes, risk aversion is wisdom. However, good leaders know risk is unavoidable, healthy, and necessary from time to time. We might call it a leap of faith, or stepping out by faith, or moving forward. Insecure leaders avoid these steps of faith to the detriment of the people depending on them for guidance.
A Cowardly Confederate General
Bright red blood contrasted sharply with the brilliant white snow on a bone-chilling February morning in 1862. Confederate troops under the command of General Gideon Pillow were trapped in Fort Donelson near Dover, Tennessee. General Ulysses S. Grant’s federal troops had them nearly surrounded, and union reinforcements were arriving regularly. General Pillow and his officers knew if they didn’t fight their way out, they would be starved out or frozen out by General Grant.
Federal ironclad boats steamed up the Cumberland River to shell the confederate fort into submission. But southern cannons barraged the ironclads so mercilessly they were forced to retreat. This long-range victory heartened the southern soldiers and emboldened them for battle. The plan was to break through enemy lines and regroup with reinforcements in Nashville. General Pillow realized it would be a bitter fight, but he was shocked to see more union soldiers than expected just over the hill’s crest directly between them and their escape route.
Deafening rebel yells pierced the frosty air as Pillow’s men fiercely charged union lines. After only an hour of fighting, it was almost impossible to see snow because of the crystalizing crimson stains. Miraculously, Pillow’s men busted through federal lines opening up a clear path to Nashville. The breach was only temporary and needed to be exploited by rebel troops quickly. General Pillow needed to give fearless and decisive leadership. But the confederate leader was frozen by more than just the icy winter temperatures. Fear paralyzed General Pillow, causing him to retreat to the fort’s temporary safety rather than continue fighting to ultimate victory.
Pillow’s cowardly decision caused 14,000 confederate troops to be captured and imprisoned by General Grant. Many historians consider this a turning point in the Civil War in favor of the union army. Ironically, General Pillow was able to escape during the night and avoid capture. He left subordinate officers behind to face the wrath of General Grant. This story is a classic example of a fearful, toxically, insecure leader.
The Prescription for Fearful Leaders
The psalmist said: I sought the Lord, and He heard me and delivered me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4 KJV). The prescription for fearful leadership is God-centered leadership. Leaders who pursue God and strive to follow His direction are delivered from fear and filled with confidence. It sounds overly simplistic, but it’s not. It’s common sense once you understand that God knows the future, and if we know God intimately, He guides us into the future. Great leaders aren’t without worries, but their faith in God overwhelms their fear.
Don’t let fear overwhelm your faith; let faith overwhelm your fear (Psalm 34:4).
Confident leaders encourage and invite questions because they relish the opportunity to cast their vision. Conversely, insecure leaders view most questions as insults to their intelligence and authority. Often, insecure leaders will berate, avoid, or ignore questioners even from those closest to them.
Confident leaders encourage and invite questions because they relish the opportunity to cast their vision. Conversely, insecure leaders view most questions as insults to their intelligence and authority.
The Prescription for Leaders Who Attack Questioners
James 1:19 tells us that we should be quick to listen and slow to speak. Even good leaders lose this ability over time if they don’t carefully guard against the mentality of using their authority to silence questions and input from others. But the solution to this problem is simple and self-serving. Leaders who shut down questioners and run over input are robbing themselves of knowledge, and knowledge is power. Allowing others to speak doesn’t mean you have to accept what they say or agree with their advice. If a questioner has a legitimate need for clarification, give it. If a questioner has a real concern, hear it. You can learn a lot from the things people ask and say out loud. Listening gives leaders a distinct advantage in moving forward. Listeners understand trends, anticipate problems, realize needs, inspire loyal followings, and find unusual opportunities.
Leaders who listen understand trends, anticipate problems, realize needs, inspire loyal followings, and find unusual opportunities.
6.Insecure Leaders Rarely Offer Thanks or Congratulations
To the insecure leader, saying thanks is acknowledging they needed help. Giving a compliment distracts from their achievements and spotlights someone else in their way of thinking. They’re uncomfortable with both scenarios, so they rarely say thanks or give genuine compliments. This leaves their team feeling totally unappreciated and disrespected.
The Prescription for Leaders Who Rarely Offer Thanks or Congratulations
Learning to express thanks and compliment others when deserved is a sign of strength, not weakness. Rewiring your brain to think this way might be difficult, but it’s necessary. A further benefit of a verbally thankful and complimentary leader is the positive impact on the people around them. Morale is boosted; productivity increases, loyalty skyrockets, and the leader’s visions are carried out faster. Try it, and you’ll see immediate positive results.
Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Romans 13:7 ESV
Learning to express thanks and compliment others when deserved is a sign of strength, not weakness.
7. Insecure Leaders Take Credit for Other People’s Work or Ideas
Insecure leaders are more than willing to steal somebody else’s great idea or take credit for others’ accomplishments. Leaders ready to steal credit have allowed their insecurities to turn them into liars and frauds. Any leader that sinks to this level is beyond toxic. They are intentionally venomous and should not be trusted under any circumstances. Run!
The Prescription for Leaders Who Take Credit for Other People’s Work or Ideas
A leader willing to lie and steal another person’s credit has no other recourse but to repent before God. And the offending leader must make it right with those they have harmed (Matthew 5:23-24). The Apostle James doesn’t mince words when calling out selfishly ambitious people who play games with the truth. You’ll notice in the text below he calls them unspiritual and demonic. Nothing short of spiritual reconciliation with God and those offended will help a fraudulent leader.
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
James 3:14-18 ESV
8. Insecure Leaders Shoot Down Good Ideas
When insecure leaders are presented with good or even terrific ideas, they often shoot them down (or steal them, as we covered in the above point). They just can’t stand the thought of someone else having a better idea or solution. This ultra-selfish leadership style harms everyone because it stifles creativity, productivity, ingenuity, and originality. If a leader always shoots down fantastic ideas without a reasonable explanation, they’re leading from insecurity; however, if they have plausible reasons, they probably do not lead from insecurity.
The Prescription for Leaders Who Shoot Down Good Ideas
The Bible often speaks of obtaining lots of good advice from wise counselors (Proverbs 11:14, Proverbs 12:15, Proverbs 15:22, Proverbs 20:18) before making a decision. Insecure leaders must break the habit of desiring to be the smartest person in the room. Instead, great leaders understand that any organization is built on the successes and intelligence of everyone involved. Understand that an organization that consistently shoots down really good or even terrific ideas without reason will be mediocre at best.
Insecure leaders must break the habit of desiring to be the smartest person in the room. Instead, great leaders understand that any organization is built on the successes and intelligence of everyone involved.
Most people don’t enjoy confrontation or uncomfortable moments where they look like the bad guy. They want the glory, not the gloom. But insecure leaders take that mentality to a whole new level. They often delegate confrontational moments to their subordinates because they lack the confidence to face a conflict head-on themselves. Or they simply leave problems unsolved, unconfronted, and unresolved rather than face needed conflict. Confrontation avoidance can significantly harm an organization over time.
The Prescription for Confrontation Avoiding Leaders
The goal of all healthy necessary confrontation is to be assertive, not aggressive. At the root of chronic conflict avoidance is the fear of rejection. For many leaders, this is a deeply ingrained fear that’s hard to overcome. But the fear of rejection must be overcome, or it will destroy the leader and the leader’s team. Addressing the fear of confrontation and rejection begins with baby steps. Start by reevaluating self-worth and reimagining outcomes of conflict (many positive things come from necessary conflict).
10. Insecure Leaders are Easily Flattered
A man that flattereth his neighbour spreadeth a net for his feet.
Flattery is a lie, masquerading as encouragement, from a selfish motive to manipulate the hearer to achieve the flatterer’s covert purpose. Whether or not flattering words have truth in them, their goal is deception. A leader easily seduced by flattery is foolish and will make unwise decisions. Insecure leaders enjoy the temporary buzz flattery produces because it artificially inflates their wounded egos.
Flattery is a lie, masquerading as encouragement, from a selfish motive to manipulate the hearer to achieve the flatterer’s covert purpose. Whether or not flattering words have truth in them, their goal is deception.
Flattery is the enemy we all love. It feels good going down, but the poison of it doesn’t take long to kick in. That’s why people say flattery is like gum; chew it but don’t swallow it. We shouldn’t believe every good thing we hear about ourselves, nor should we believe every negative thing we hear about ourselves. Learning to overcome flattery’s deceitfulness involves a few paradigm changes: One, learn to value truth over desired truth through prayer. Two, be wary of people who praise excessively. Three, discount those who tear down others to build you up. Four, confront the love of flattery in your own heart and learn to recognize that weakness. When leaders understand their propensity to be manipulated by flattery, they begin to build an immunity to it.
Flattery is the enemy we all love. It feels good going down, but the poison of it doesn’t take long to kick in. That’s why people say flattery is like gum; chew it but don’t swallow it.
It would be prudent, to begin with, this statement of belief: I believe in solid connection with students while being connected to each student in a unique and individually specific way. I believe and am an advocate for personal, one on one connection. Yet, I think we (student pastors, youth pastors, youth workers) are in danger of blurring the lines of connection and crossing into carnality. Let’s talk about it.
The Field and the Pressure
If we look at student ministry, we will find one of the most significant evangelism fields in the world. In the United States alone, there are 74 million people under the age of 18, which accounts for nearly 25% of the population. It’s not a stretch to say students make up a substantial part and are the driving force of our culture. As adults, we look to teenagers to see what is new, trendy, or popular. While pre-teens look to the 15 to 18-year-old group to see what aspirations they should be entertaining. This reality places a powerful burden of influence in the hands of teenagers.
I have no problem with the fact teenagers can help define and shape culture. In fact, as youth pastors, we should capitalize on this fact and use it to our advantage. If we gather teens and connect with them, if we can help them connect with a spiritual walk with God, then we will, in turn, affect both younger and older generations. However, there is a disturbing trend of blurred lines on how to connect with the current generation. In prayer recently, the Lord put this thought in my mind: “The danger of student ministry is justifying carnality and calling it connection.”
If we gather teens and connect with them, if we can help them connect with a spiritual walk with God, then we will, in turn, affect both younger and older generations.
One of the dangers of blurring the line between connection and carnality is social media mirroring. Allow me to explain. I served as an assistant and full-time youth pastor for eight years. During this incredible season of life, my wife, Jessica, and I were privileged to be youth pastor to some of the most amazing students. As we transitioned to Youth Pastor, we felt excitement but also horror in our position. We were committed to reaching our students but also totally “out of touch” with our role as their youth pastor. Our predecessor, Rev. Chadwick Craft, was a phenomenal leader and spiritual guide. We knew we couldn’t fill his shoes, nor were we supposed to fill them. We would need to walk “OUR” path with our giftings and abilities. So, despite Paul warning us about comparison (2 Corinthians 10:1-11), I looked at other student ministry social media accounts and felt instantly demoralized.
I discovered incredible graphics, mind-blowing stage designs, relevant lesson plans, and youth pastors who looked incredibly; yes, I’m old enough to use the word “cool”. My goal was to immediately mirror these ministries by being in schools at lunchtime and being at their events and recitals. I wanted to post pictures of myself with students to prove my connection, my impact on their lives. It was a rush to mirror the “social media success” stories posted daily.
Obviously, there is nothing wrong with wanting connection, but here is where the danger came into play. In the rush to mirror student ministry, we became very uncomfortable with the “connection” moments we were seeing and felt pressured to perform. Lunch was a great time to connect with new students, so this continued for us. However, other events began to weigh heavily on us spiritually. As pressure to post and “connect” increased, we joined in, trying to conform to other groups’ pressure, even though they were in other cities with different church cultures. In doing so, we realized our purpose, worship, and witness would quickly become compromised and carnal if we followed these trends.
The Crossroads of Connection and Carnality
The purpose of spending time with a student to witness was quickly becoming time spent at school functions with no spiritual depth. Connection meant being pressured to attend ballgames, chaperone dances, and have student movie nights in place of youth services. The pressure was unreal. I was told, “This is how you do student ministry,” “This is the way to connect with students,” “Meet them where they are… be in the environment they are in, encourage them in the endeavors of school athletics and programs.” “Dress casual.” “Don’t yell so much” (this was in reference to preaching). That pressure to be like other student pastors left me feeling drained spiritually. It felt wrong. It felt carnal.
Daily I was doing my best to have the right haircut, to wear trendy clothes, listen to the right music, and play the right games on my phone. Yet what was happening was wholesale accepting a culture of carnality. My pressured changes were disingenuous and created a false narrative of who I was and what an apostolic youth group should become. It was time to take a step back and review where we were as a group, where we were spiritually, and where God wanted us to go. We began to search diligently for authentic connection, and in doing so, realized several truths:
Students do not care about trendy clothes, as long as someone cares about them.
Students do not care if I play the games they play, as long as I spend time with them.
Students didn’t care if I was at a sporting event if we were there to weep with them while in an altar.
The only person who cared if I was “cool” was other youth workers.
Carnal connection was not what God intended; Spiritual connection is what was going to be the difference-maker in their lives.
Students do not care about trendy clothes, as long as someone cares about them.
Genuine connection comes from sitting down and connecting over shared interests. If the interest is carnal, then the connection by proxy will also be carnal. How, then, could real connection happen in carnal environments?
The Case for Genuinly Apostolic Connection
Please receive this in the spirit in which it’s written. We need apostolic student pastors to be apostolic. The wholesale acceptance of involvement in sports, proms, accepting worldly artists who are suddenly “Christian” is not only dangerous but flies in the face of the Scriptures command: Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you (2 Corinthians 6:17).
Do you see the danger? It starts so simply, “I am trying to connect with them. I am trying to connect them to Jesus. If I host a movie night, we have common ground. If we listen to traditionally ungodly artists who suddenly find salvation, we show them how to accept new converts. We must dress casually so they will be comfortable. We must like their posts, so they know we approve.”
While all of these arguments seem valid, each of them draws a very fine line between connection and simply being carnal. We should connect with students. We should lead them to Jesus. We should teach them to accept new converts. But, to do these things without maintaining a clear apostolic voice is simply justifying carnal behavior under the guise of connection.
It is time. We must shift our focus and become more focused on SPIRITUAL connection, not carnal connection. Should we be present when we can? Should we have P7 clubs and CMI chapters? Should we visit students at school during lunches or breaks? Absolutely, YES! Should we be at their ballgames, dances, and carnal events? Decidedly, the answer would be no. Because in doing so, we are giving permission for their involvement in these carnal events. Our presence equals permission in the minds of teens.
We must shift our focus and become more focused on SPIRITUAL connection, not carnal connection.
Student ministers are pressured on so many fronts: Host movie nights, institute casual approaches to dress codes in service, accept secular artists’ new Christian albums, like posts on Facebook of students going to prom while dressed ungodly and involved in unacceptable activities. Liking carnal posts (pics of ungodly dress or worldly music in an IG story) is like giving a high five to a drowning person. It says I see you drowning, but I don’t love you enough to make you uncomfortable by pulling you out.
Liking carnal posts (pics of ungodly dress or worldly music in an IG story) is like giving a high five to a drowning person. It says I see you drowning, but I don’t love you enough to make you uncomfortable by pulling you out.
Youth group movie night should never happen in an apostolic youth group. It is shocking to see movie nights’ acceptance as not just a fringe idea but being accepted and lauded by many student pastors. In an effort to connect with students by watching movies, we are teaching them to look towards the world for their spiritual lessons and morality. This thinking is a significant error because the Bible is the only guidebook we should use to find our moral compass.
Connecting with students by watching movies, teaches them to look towards the world for their spiritual lessons and morality. This is a significant error because the Bible is the only guidebook we should use to find our moral compass.
Snoop and Kanye suddenly becoming “Christian” does not mean we should immediately play their music in youth service. I’m thankful they are moving in the right direction; their private lives reflect their true nature. Smoking weed, calling themselves yeezus, and the other filthy and frankly barbaric lifestyles they entertain should be reason enough to keep them blacklisted from Apostolic environments.
Apostolic Precedence Over Pressure
Paul connected not by taking new converts to the coliseum or the Olympic games, but by prayer, fasting, and house to house studying the Word of God together. He got them involved in the field! As student pastors, we only get 45-50 hours of connection with them each year in youth service. If you are lucky and have a small group on Sundays, then maybe another 45-50 hours. Above all else, our connections must be viewed as the single most important hour of their lives. That connection must be apostolic.
Paul connected not by taking new converts to the coliseum or the Olympic games, but by prayer, fasting, and house to house studying the Word of God together.
So, what does true apostolic connection look like? It starts with daily prayer and study personally. Daily prayer and Bible study sets the mind and spirit on a path of biblical connection personally and focuses your vision through a spiritual lens. As a gentle reminder, you get what you preach, but who you are is what you produce. This personal devotion aligns you with God as you move through the day. Once you have prayed through, next, you must be honest. Honest with yourself. Is there anything slipping in which promotes carnality and not Christ? If so, be honest with yourself… and change it.
Daily prayer and Bible study sets the mind and spirit on a path of biblical connection personally and focuses your vision through a spiritual lens.
We cut out all of the fluff. We stopped trying to be the “textbook” student pastor. Instead, we began to focus on prayer. Our group was running 79 students when we decided to do an event we called The Hunger Event. It was a simple call to fasting and prayer. We would fast together as a group from Friday at 7 am until Saturday at 7 am. We would meet at the church and pray from 7 pm until 7 am and break our fast together.
We announced this: If you want to play basketball, that will happen next week. If you want to play video games, please don’t be offended, but we won’t be playing games. If you aren’t serious about growth, no worries, we love you… but this event isn’t for you.
The night of the event, we had a sign-in sheet. Ninety-three students signed in by 7 pm. (remember, we were averaging 79 in service). I cannot adequately describe the move of God we experienced. From this meeting, we began a very intentional plan to connect. We promoted prayer as the premier event on our calendar. It was our way of common connection. We preached about prayer. We preached about being apostolic. We promoted prayer and apostolic lifestyle as we would a giveaway. It became the fundamental pressure applied by our team.
We would meet one on one with students and be honest with them about music, lifestyle changes needed but also the importance of being a disciple. We didn’t run an errand alone. If we had to go out of our way to pick up a student to pick up dry cleaning, we did. We became rabid in our connection. We were staying in their texts, calling them, showing up at school or work. Always, every meeting was an encouragement for them to stay connected to God and us.
It was during this season we began to tell them how God wanted to use them. We shifted all connection, all narrative, to being a worshipper and a witness. Every action had to fit those criteria in some way. It was tough. It was different. But in eight months, we grew from 79 in youth service to 135. We taught a dozen bible studies a month because our connection was based on their spiritual growth. True connection focuses on their spiritual growth and accepting the responsibility to be the Apostolic Voice in their lives.
True student ministry connection focuses on their spiritual growth and accepting the responsibility to be the Apostolic Voice in their lives.
Titus 1:16 is, frankly, very heavy. But it’s a Scripture that stands out. It defines or should define our interactions and connection. It warns about blurring the line between carnality and connection. Paul says (and I’m paraphrasing), they say its connection in relationship, but actually what they are doing is in opposition to His nature; it is unthinkable and unlawful. It makes their work worthless.
They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.
It is in us to fall into the trap of carnal connections. It is an easy snare to fall into, yet it is my desire for someone to read this and realize our connection to students can be deeper and more impactful. I beg you, evaluate how you connect. Filter it through the fact; you have a biblical mandate to be unapologetically apostolic. If you connect them to the Spirit first, God will honor this and bring multiplication to the ministry you serve.
Darrell Bates is married to his incredible and sweet wife, Jessica. They have been married twelve years. Currently, they serve as Youth President of the UPCI Mississippi District and evangelize full-time. They served in Youth Ministry for nearly fifteen years at First Pentecostal Church in Jackson, MS, and eight years in the MS District Youth department. They both love coffee, reading, and being with students. You can connect with them on Facebook here.
I am regularly asked questions about becoming either a leader within the church or the pastor of a church. This post is designed as the starting point for answering those questions. This article is by no means an exhaustive list, and it applies to lay ministries and pastoral ministries. Here are a few prerequisites for church leadership that are a combination of common sense and basic biblical guidelines. Many people disqualify themselves from any possibility of church leadership (or they start and fizzle out) because they fail to maintain these standards.
1. You can’t be a church leader if you consistently miss services.
Aside from the spiritual implications, this is a practical guideline as well. You can’t contribute if you’re not there. You can’t encourage and inspire faithfulness in others if you’re not faithful. Try telling your job or a team membership that you want to lead without being consistently present. It doesn’t work. Not only is it a spiritual concern, but it’s also a dependability problem.
You can’t contribute if you’re not there. You can’t encourage and inspire faithfulness in others if you’re not faithful.
2. You can’t be a church leader if you’re consistently late.
This point is closely related to the above topic. For the record, everyone is late from time to time, but I’m referring to a consistent lateness pattern. Again, this is a dependability factor. If no one ever knows when you’re going to show up, you are unreliable, which applies to every facet of your life.
If no one ever knows when you’re going to show up, you are unreliable, which applies to every facet of your life.
3. You can’t be a church leader if you are rebellious towards spiritual authority.
To have authority, you must be under authority. If you want respect, you must model how to give respect. And I mean genuine respect; many give lip service to respectfulness in public and display their real rebelliousness in private conversations. Many people fake respect but demonstrate rebellion through passive-aggressive actions. They do not realize how transparent their heart really appears to godly leadership. When you undermine the authority over you, then you undermine your own authority as well. Give the kind of loyalty that you would expect from others. Remember, there is a crucial difference between obedience and submission; obedience will often do the right thing with a wrong spirit; submission is obedience with a right spirit.
To have authority, you must be under authority. If you want respect, you must model how to give respect.
6. You can’t be in church leadership if you are unwilling to make sacrifices.
Here’s where most people fall off the wagon. Church leadership requires sacrifice as all truly spiritual things do. It requires sacrifices of time, energy, finance, and resources. For example (and this also falls under the heading of sin), you are automatically disqualified from church leadership if you refuse to give tithes and offerings.
Church leadership requires sacrifice as all truly spiritual things do. It requires sacrifices of time, energy, finance, and resources. You are automatically disqualified from church leadership if you refuse to give tithes and offerings.
7. You can’t be in church leadership if you are easily offended, easily angered, and cling to grudges.
You might think leadership brings accolades and honor, but for every kind word received, you’ll receive at least as much criticism and cynicism. Leadership comes with as much resistance as it does assistance. You will have to rise above negativity, critique, ungratefulness, hostility, apathy, complacency, disloyalty, and sometimes outright attack. Mostly this will come from expected places, but the most hurtful will be from Christians who ought to know better.
You might think leadership brings accolades and honor, but for every kind word received, you’ll receive at least as much criticism and cynicism. Leadership comes with as much resistance as it does assistance.
8. You can’t be in church leadership if you do not love God and people.
Love God first and ask Him to help you genuinely love people. If you do not truly love people, the point made in the above post will burn you out faster than a firecracker on the Fourth of July. If you lead out of any motivation other than godly love, you lead from selfish and carnal reasons. That always ends badly.
Love God first and ask Him to help you genuinely love people.
9. You can’t be in church leadership if you lack personal spiritual discipline.
You wouldn’t want an overweight guy teaching you how to lose weight. You wouldn’t want a weak guy teaching you how to get strong. And you wouldn’t want someone who doesn’t pray to teach you how to pray. Prayer, fasting, Bible reading, Bible study, evangelism, and faithfulness are mandatory prerequisites for church leadership.
Prayer, fasting, Bible reading, Bible study, evangelism, and faithfulness are mandatory prerequisites for church leadership.
10. You can’t be in church leadership if your personal life is in shambles.
This one might sound harsh, but it is a biblical principle and a common-sense principle as well. Bottom line, if you can’t manage your own business, you shouldn’t be trying to manage other people’s business, and indeed not God’s business. This principle includes your family, your finances, your emotions, spirituality, etc.
If you can’t manage your own business, you shouldn’t be trying to manage other people’s business, and indeed not God’s business.
11. You can’t be in church leadership without integrity.
This final point is technically covered under the point about sin, but I think this deserves a more in-depth look. Integrity, honesty, and core convictions are essential to godly leadership. Without them, your leadership will ring hollow, and your influence will run shallow.
Integrity, honesty, and core convictions are essential to godly leadership. Without them, your leadership will ring hollow, and your influence will run shallow.
12. You can’t be a church leader if you do not have a burden.
The apostle Paul described his burden for his fellow Jews’ salvation as a bitter sorrow and unending grief. Jesus described a burden so strong that the parabolic shepherd left the ninety-nine to find that one lost sheep. A burden goes beyond love. A burden goes beyond concern. It is a deep driving force that propels an individual into action on behalf of the lost. A burden is manifested in a myriad of ways, which ultimately bears the fruit of saving lost sheep. It should be noted that all Christians are mandated to carry a burden on some level. A burden is not a calling, but it is necessary for a calling.
A burden goes beyond love. A burden goes beyond concern. It is a deep driving force that propels an individual into action on behalf of the lost.
13. You can’t be a pastor without a Divine calling.
This point is specific to preaching and pastoral ministries. I know many people called to teach Sunday School, drive a church bus, do community outreach, clean the church, or visit the sick. But all of those things can and should be done without a Divine calling if necessary. Preaching and pastoral ministry, however, is Divinely ordained and Divinely called. This article doesn’t have the space to lay the theological framework needed for each point. Still, the need for a calling is clearly illustrated in the ministries of Moses, Abraham, Noah, Samuel, each of the Apostles, including Paul and Timothy. Jonah is fascinating because he had a Divine calling, yet he lacked a burden. He was called first, and God went to great lengths to take him to his evangelism field.
14. You can’t be a church leader without wisdom.
Many people have the knowledge but lack wisdom. Knowledge is information; wisdom knows what to do with that information. Leadership without wisdom eventually burns the leader and the followers out. A couple of points: Good intentions do not equal wisdom, talent does not equal wisdom, age does not equal wisdom, charisma does not equal wisdom, personality does not equal wisdom, and enthusiasm does not equal wisdom. The higher you go in church leadership, the more critical wisdom becomes.
Many people have the knowledge but lack wisdom. Knowledge is information; wisdom knows what to do with that information.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish… (Proverbs 29:18).” That word vision comes from the Hebrew word “chazown,” meaning dream, revelation, oracle, or sight. This Scripture is often misrepresented, but I think the meaning is complex. Leadership requires revelation from God, which brings dreams for the future, and insight into what is necessary to move forward in God’s plan.
Leadership requires revelation from God, which brings dreams for the future, and insight into what is necessary to move forward in God’s plan.
“Without faith, it is impossible to please God… (Hebrews 11:6).” I think that pretty much says it all.
17. You can’t be a church leader without anointing.
Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor… (Luke 4:18).” I know this is an oversimplification, but if Jesus needed an anointing to preach, you need one too. I think this is mandatory for pastoral and preaching ministries, and it certainly should be coveted in all other areas of church ministry. In a certain sense, the differences between Divine anointing and Divine calling are almost imperceptible. When David was anointed by the prophet Samuel the oil was literally poured over his head. It was evident for all present. Spiritual anointing seems intangible in theory, but you know it when you see it. You can feel it. Anointing brings down giants. Lack of anointing cowers in hiding when adversity comes. It is palpable when God has covered a person. Anointing produces illumination, revelation, Divine inspiration, Divine operation, the gifts of the Spirit, and other tangible spiritual results. Anointing is not merely theatrics. Anointing is not good oratory or even capable leadership skills. It does not come from man, training, or education. Anointing comes only from God. God can anoint a fisherman or a theologian, a lifetime saint or a once vile sinner, or whomever He chooses. However, God does confirm anointing through godly pastoral authority. David didn’t anoint himself and proclaim himself the heir to the throne; he needed a Samuel to place God’s stamp of approval on his life first.
God confirms anointing through godly pastoral authority. David didn’t anoint himself and proclaim himself the heir to the throne; he needed a Samuel to place God’s stamp of approval on his life first.
18. You can’t be a church leader without a time of proving and learning.
Paul admonished Timothy to study to show himself approved unto God (2 Timothy 2:15). Notice, when you are training, you are not seeking earthly approval but God’s blessing. Ministerial training was never intended to be a political process or a popularity contest. The desire for church leadership must be birthed out of a desire to please the Lord. Abraham was 75 years old when God called him, and Samuel was only about 12 years old when God called him. Sometimes the training and proving periods are long and tedious. Whichever the case, patience and a right spirit are required, or you will miss God’s will. That’s basically what happened to Judas. I believe Judas thought he could force Jesus’ hand. Instead, he destroyed his life and his potential ministry.
19. You can’t be a church leader without the blessing of a pastor and the covering of a local church.
Paul never embarked on a missionary journey without the unification of apostolic ministry and the covering (blessing) of a local church. God does not bless the maverick mentality. God blesses and operates via coalition and through the mechanisms of authority. I’ve seen people run from church to church, looking for someone to validate their ministry. Eventually, they find someone willing to give them a pedestal of some kind or another. But this is not the apostolic way, nor does God bless it. Those kinds of dissidents beget more dissidents and undermine their ministry. It’s hard to inspire loyalty when you birth your “ministry” in disloyalty. I’ve seen this process run the spectrum from a pastor, preacher, teacher, evangelist, musician, singer, youth leader, and on and on.
God does not bless the maverick mentality. God blesses and operates via coalition and through the mechanisms of authority.
20. You can’t be a church leader without the ability to lead.
This one will rub some people the wrong way, but I know many good people who desired to be in leadership who could not lead people. They eventually end up leading themselves and growing embittered. They drifted from the actual “calling” that God had placed on their lives because they desired promotion. If you have a genuine calling (as we’ve already discussed), promotion will come without self-promotion. I often fear that we push individuals into positions they are not qualified for or called into in our rush to start new churches. One caveat, I do believe that if God indeed calls, He does qualify. However, many inadvertently substitute their desires for a genuine Divine calling. They go to their pastor seeking approval with no desire for actual counsel. Using the apostle Paul’s analogy of the Church being like a body fitly joined together, it is imperative that the shoulder work in conjunction with the neck, the neck in conjunction with the head, etc. When a hand, for example, tries to be a leg, spiritual imbalance ensues. To be clear, many begin this journey with the best of intentions. However, good intentions alone are no substitute for God’s will.
If you have a genuine calling, promotion will come without self-promotion.
21. You can’t be a church leader if you do not maintain a high standard of holiness.
For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.
Faithful servants of God always produce the fruits of holiness in their inward and outward lives. The apostle James tells us that not many should become teachers because teachers will be judged more strictly by God (James 3:1). What a sobering thought. That’s why spiritual leadership is not to be taken lightly. Experience has taught me that followers will always follow at least a step or two behind the leader. Spiritual leaders should be so far ahead of the danger zone that when their followers lag behind, they are still safe (i.e., saved). When spiritual leaders traverse the gray areas, their followers fall into oblivion. Servants of God are to be modest, sober, diligent, upright, moral, biblically sound, and trustworthy. Some of this is becoming redundant, but it bears repeating because of its importance.
Spiritual leaders should be so far ahead of the danger zone that when their followers lag behind, they are still safe. When spiritual leaders traverse the gray areas, their followers fall into oblivion.
Singles seem to fall through the cracks in our churches. That’s an observation, not a criticism. It’s one of those hard to avoid problems that just naturally occurs. If you’re single and reading this, you’re shaking your head in agreement right now. It’s not that churches don’t care about singles – they do – but being single isn’t a characteristic that necessarily unites people into well-structured little groups. For example, you can be 18 or 88 and be single; 18-year-old singles have a completely different set of needs than, say… a middle-aged single adult.
All the good and bad excuses aside, churches need to talk more about how Apostolic singles should approach dating and relationships. I see singles struggling to navigate dating and serving God faithfully at the same time from all age groups. With that in mind, these six dating standards are directed towards every age group. Some of these standards are solid biblical truths, while others are personal opinions based on years of counseling and observation.
Let me start with a few statements of fact: Being single does not mean that you are less valuable than married people, and it’s far better to be single than married to the wrong person. It’s a natural God-given desire to long for a spouse. You should pursue that desire on God’s terms, which leads me to point number one.
Being single does not mean that you are less valuable than married people, and it’s far better to be single than married to the wrong person.
1. Apostolic singles should never consider dating anyone (and I mean anyone) who is not Apostolic. There is nothing more important to any relationship than walking in spiritual unity. How can you have anything truly in common with someone who isn’t in full agreement with the most defining aspect of your life (Amos 3:3, 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, 1 Corinthians 15:33, 2 Timothy 3:5)? Spiritual and doctrinal disagreements impact every part of married life.
I’ve heard all the arguments and excuses for why “this” person is the one good exception to that rule, and the story almost always ends in heartache or backsliding. I’ve observed countless situations where someone pretended to be serious about God to be in a relationship with an Apostolic guy or girl. In those situations, the entire relationship is built on a lie—hardly a good start to any long-lasting marriage. Dating someone into the Church is a bad idea – the happily ever after success stories are scarce. Beyond that, it’s a question of the heart. Why would you be attracted to someone who isn’t Holy Ghost filled, holy, and zealous about their faith?
Apostolic singles should never consider dating anyone (and I mean anyone) who is not Apostolic. There is nothing more important to any relationship than walking in spiritual unity.
Dating someone into the Church is a bad idea – the happily ever after success stories are scarce. It’s a question of the heart. Why would you be attracted to someone who isn’t Holy Ghost filled, holy, and zealous about their faith?
2. Mr. Right will attract a Mrs. Right and vice versa. Most singles have a mental (and maybe even an actual) checklist of what they want the “right” one to be like. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily (depending on what’s on the list). However, you should spend more time making sure you’re everything that you should be. You won’t attract the right kind of person if you aren’t working to be the right kind of person. Singlehood is a tremendous opportunity for self-improvement, preparation, spiritual growth, and maturation.
You won’t attract the right kind of person if you aren’t working to be the right kind of person. Singlehood is a tremendous opportunity for self-improvement, preparation, spiritual growth, and maturation.
3. Apostolic singles must trust that God is guiding their footsteps (Romans 8:28, Proverbs 3:5-6, Proverbs 16:9, Psalm 37:23). Fate is not a biblical concept. God orders our every step if we are faithful to Him. That’s something every Apostolic single should believe wholeheartedly. God will guide the right person into your life at just the right time. You might look around your church on any given Sunday and think, “If these are my only options, I’m gonna die alone.” But remember, we walk by faith, not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). If you trust God and guard your integrity, God will orchestrate your future in ways that you can’t possibly plan.
Fate is not a biblical concept. God orders our every step if we are faithful to Him. That’s something every Apostolic single should believe wholeheartedly. God will guide the right person into your life at just the right time.
4. Speaking of guarding integrity, Apostolic singles should create and maintain protective boundaries in their relationships. I’m confident the average Apostolic single doesn’t enter a relationship planning to be promiscuous, indecent, or sexually immoral. Nevertheless, if you don’t have defensive boundaries in place, lines can be crossed very quickly. Carelessness leads to sinfulness in a hurry.
So, let’s talk dating and relationship boundaries for a minute.
Under no circumstances should a man and woman be alone together in a house or bedroom unless they are married to one another. There’s too much opportunity for things to go too far in that setting, and even if nothing happens, it looks wildly inappropriate.
A couple should not be alone together in a house or bedroom unless they are married to one another. There’s too much opportunity for things to go too far in that setting, and even if nothing happens, it looks wildly inappropriate.
Singles of all ages must be open and accountable to spiritual authority. Singles should talk to their pastor, family, and trustworthy spiritual mentors BEFORE becoming too emotionally invested in a relationship. Singles who remove this boundary are dodging godly counsel.
Singles of all ages must be open and accountable to spiritual authority. Singles should talk to their pastor, family, and trustworthy spiritual mentors BEFORE becoming too emotionally invested in a relationship.
When dating, singles should ask lots and lots of questions. Don’t take it for granted that you know what someone believes just because they warm a church pew. There’s always a Judas hanging around Jesus. Talk. Find out what they really think deep down. Talk about hopes, dreams, plans, goals, and aspirations. Find out if they are growing spiritually or dying spiritually.
When dating, singles should ask lots and lots of questions. Don’t take it for granted that you know what someone believes just because they warm a church pew. There’s always a Judas hanging around Jesus.
When dating, watch how they respond in church services. If they sit in church like a dead frog, you know something is spiritually off balance. If they’re uninvolved and out of touch with their local assembly… run.
When dating, watch how they respond in church services. If they sit in church like a dead frog, you know something is spiritually off balance. If they’re uninvolved and out of touch with their local assembly… run.
Stay modest, even when you’re not together. Texting, social media, video chatting, and tons of other technology advancements have changed the modern dating scene. If it would be immodest for you to show it or wear it in person, you shouldn’t be showing it or wearing it digitally.
5. Don’t date someone who isn’t marriage material. Never date just to date. I’ve received a lot of pushback on this piece of advice over the years. I stand by it anyway; dating isn’t a game or a way to kill time. Dating shouldn’t be a temporary fix for loneliness. Dating is two people evaluating whether they are compatible and capable of truly loving one another for a lifetime. And by the way, spending all your free time with a member of the opposite sex is dating whether you call it that or not. If marriage is out of the question, stop dating that person immediately.
Don’t date someone who isn’t marriage material. Never date just to date.
6. Know your worth. You are incredibly valuable. Don’t let anyone or anything convince you otherwise. In a culture of casual sex and careless relationships, Apostolic singles are set apart by God for better things.
Finally, marriage is by far the most life-impacting decision a person will ever make. Be prayerful, be accountable, be faithful, be prepared, and seek wisdom. Know that God cares about your happiness. God is in complete control of your future. Let the Lord lead you.
You are incredibly valuable. Don’t let anyone or anything convince you otherwise. In a culture of casual sex and careless relationships, Apostolic singles are set apart by God for better things.
Marriage is the most life-impacting decision you will ever make. Be prayerful, be accountable, be faithful, be prepared, seek wisdom. God cares about your happiness. God is in complete control of your future. Let the Lord lead you.
In the last 25 years, the church growth movement has transformed how America has church. It has also changed how younger people view church.
Many churches are now driven by business and marketing philosophies, moving away from a focus on discipleship and relationship with God.
The pastor has changed roles from shepherd to salesman. A distorted view of grace is his wares.
Evangelism is nonexistent. Apostles are no longer understood. Prophets are rejected. Teaching revolves around life skills. Prayer is redefined as positive thoughts, and the Spirit has no place in the business plan.
People now go to church to be courted and entertained, rather than to worship God.
Choosing churches is now the equivalent of deciding between buying jeans at the GAP or Old Navy. The product is pretty much the same. So who has better customer service? Or you can always stay home and do your shopping every Sunday morning online with a beer in your hand.
The result of this church culture is that younger people now view most churches like the last old department store in town, barely hanging on from the last century.
And they are simply shopping elsewhere.
Attempts to become mega church businesses have equated churches in the minds of millennials with the Sears downtown.
There is a “Going out of business” sign on the windows and everything is for sale, including the fixtures, the building, and even management.
The only way the Church will ever out-market, out-perform, or out-sell the world is through prayer, the preached Word, and the power of the Holy Ghost.
This world doesn’t need the Church to be Sears, a megachurch, their coffee shop, or a theater where they can view a well designed theological-themed production.
The world needs the Church to be Apostolic, Spirit-led, and Gospel preaching.
The world needs the Church to be full of conviction and separated unto God.
They need the God-designed Church that began in the Book of Acts, has thrived in every century, and still preaches the Truth that has the power to change even this generation.
Rev. Jonathan Sanders is a dynamic evangelist, preacher, teacher, and coffee connoisseur. This article originally appeared on Jonathan’s Facebook page. His posts and daily thoughts are always inspirational, articulate, interesting, relevant, and thought provoking. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitterhere and here. As I read his original post, I couldn’t help but think of David refusing King Saul’s armor before fighting Goliath. David understood that he needed to use the tools that God had equipped him with rather than conventional weapons of war. The modern Church desperatelly needs to reject marketing methods and embrace spiritual, God-ordained weaponry.
Everyone seems to be consumed with the question of why Millennials are leaving churches. Just google “why are millennials leaving the church,” and you’ll have a month’s worth of reading material. Millennials are writing “open letters” to the Church like doctors write prescriptions. America has shifted its focus from the Baby Boomer generation to the Millennial generation. The reasons are many, Millennials by most estimations, have surpassed the Baby Boomers in number. They are taking over the workforce and shaping culture in countless ways, both good and bad.
Full disclosure, at thirty-three, I am technically a millennial. For those who have remained blissfully unaware, the consensus seems to be that Millennials are comprised of those born from 1982 – 2012 (although there is some debate). So, I squeaked into what is often called “the worst generation.” Good for me! Having said that, I should note that Millennials are not monolithic. We simply cannot be lumped into one big pile. I think that’s one of the most interesting and underreported aspects of my generation. We are radically different from person to person. This can be attributed to the massive amounts of data and information accessible to us from our youth via the rise of the internet, social media, education, and other media sources. In fact, we have so much data we’re drowning in it. This is not a new issue regarding the hysteria surrounding the so-called mass exodus of Millennials from churches. Every generation has had a falling away (check out this article written in 1993 regarding the Baby Boomer generation). I’m a fifth-generation Oneness Pentecostal Christian, and every generation in my family has mourned the departure of large portions of their generation from the Church.
So why all the frenzy? One, there are more people polling, studying, analyzing, and collecting data about Christianity than in days gone by. Second, the rise of blogs (like this one), social media, and the internet in general spreads the word beyond the stuffy conversations of church board meetings. Third, my generation doesn’t leave quietly. We make a big deal over it. We whine and write and vlog and yada-yada-yada about it. The result is that this feels like a brand-new problem when it’s really just an old problem with a new label. As this study points out, young adults commonly leave churches for a season only to return later in life. Jesus parabolically described this very thing in the story of the Prodigal Son. Marriage, the birth of a child, a life crisis, or the realization that secularism is full of emptiness often draws people back to their childhood faith. My grandparents used to call this phenomenon “sowing wild oats.” I still have no idea what that means.
Please don’t misunderstand; I’m not saying this isn’t a problem. It is. It’s just not a new problem. Beyond that, I think overreactions and knee-jerk responses to the perceived death of Christianity are ridiculous, unnecessary, and unhelpful. I would even argue that overreacting has contributed to the problem. Recently, an article caught my attention on Facebook called 12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church. I’ve read countless articles like it, but this one gives a clear window into the heart of the issue. I want to address several things the author mentions head-on (from one millennial to another, so to speak). It’s probably the narcissistic millennial part of me, but I think being at the upper end of the age spectrum gives me a unique insight into the issue at hand. In other words, I see both sides of the coin; sometimes, I think like a typical millennial, and other times millennial thinking makes me want to hang my head in shame. Regardless, bridges must be built between the generations, but they must be adequately built on foundations of truth and honesty, not hypocrisy and cheap compromise.
Back to the 12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church, the first complaint on the list is Nobody’s Listening to Us (don’t worry, I won’t take the time to address all 12). At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this also is not a new problem. Every generation has felt undervalued, unappreciated, and unheard. We are in the throes of a generational clash. Every younger generation has thought they could do it better, run it better, make it better, etc. Sometimes they’re right, and sometimes they’re wrong. Growing pains are tough, and feeling marginalized is tougher. Generational clashes are as old as time. We’ve all heard the platitudes about kids who thought dad didn’t know anything about anything until they had kids of their own. This is the natural order of life, but it must be addressed and discussed.
While it is true that Millennials don’t know everything, many of us are sincere (although we are often sincerely wrong). Approaching sincere Millennials with flawed assumptions about our character and name-calling will alienate us further. Opening communication channels is imperative if you want us to feel connected to the future and health of the Church. On the flip side, we Millennials must learn that listening is just as essential as being heard. The generations ahead of us endured tons of obstacles to get where they are. When we insult their dignity, they automatically (and understandably) question our motives, which brings me to my biggest problem with my generation—lack of respect. I know, I know. Respect must be earned, but a vast majority of Millennials struggle to respect any traditional authority structures. Mountains of research have been compiled on this very subject. Like most Millennials, I’ve seen many “heroes” fall both secular and religious. This has produced a general mistrust towards leaders of all kinds, which is reason number 7 (Distrust & Misallocation of Resources) in the article we’re discussing.
Since we Millennials love to point out hypocrisy, I’ll shine a little light on one of my generation’s hypocritical conundrums. Many of my peers may be shedding the “chains” of Christianity and parental dominance, but they are trading them for a secular dogma that they pursue with religious fervor. Their preachers call themselves professors, their bishops are politicians, and science is their Bible. They even have an apocalyptic End Times theology called global warming. Taxes are nothing more than tithes in the megachurch of government, and morality is not sexual, but it is social. Here’s the problem, politics and science and social justice warriors have far more scandals, greed, misappropriation of funds, antipathy, complacency, inconsistencies, and widespread fraud than all the churches in all the world could ever dream of having. For example, here’s a list of solutions that the author has given to help churches overcome the distrust Millennials have towards financial stewardship within churches:
I think all those things are great ideas, and many churches do that stuff and much more. But as Millennials become increasingly politically active, why are we not voicing the same concerns towards the almighty federal government? Where is the outrage over the waste and fraud within beloved government social programs? Millennials supposedly value consistency above all, and when the Church fails the test, we’re out, right? Why then aren’t we imposing these same concerns in the realm of politics?
Moving on, reason number 3 on the list of why Millennials are over church:Helping the Poor Isn’t a Priority. This one irks me a bit even though I think I know where he’s coming from. Honestly, it seems like every megachurch in America is more concerned with sending water to Africa than actually preaching the Gospel (no need for hate mail, I’m all for sending water to Africa). The social gospel movement dominates western Christianity. Helping the poor is essential, vital, necessary, and Christ-like. But nothing could be more compassionate, life-changing, and elevating than the Gospel. That’s why the Great Commission is Gospel-centric, not welfare-oriented. But therein lies the actual problem my fellow millennial is addressing. To some degree, I’m jumping to conclusions here, but it’s pretty safe to assume, based on his description, that the author attends a typical semi-mega church. Meaning that the Gospel is so watered down and shallow it’s just a shell of the authentic truth of the Bible. Performance has replaced praise, and relevance has replaced righteousness. And these are the kinds of churches that Millennials are fleeing, like a religious Titanic.
Churches like this rail against the culture (see point 4), but they are saturated with the culture. They preach sermons based on movies and incorporate secular music into their services. Millennials spot the hypocrisy a mile away. They see churches filled with a form of godliness yet denying the power of it (2 Timothy 3:5). It’s a point I’ve previously made here; many heterosexual Millennials supported gay marriage because they watched churches wink at adultery, divorce, and various other sexual sins while bellowing against the gay lifestyle. Let me be clear, all those things are biblically unacceptable, but many American churches lost the moral high ground a long time ago in the name of relevance. These churches thought they were making the Gospel more palatable, but they really just perverted it. So, churches that are like the culture have no room to rail against the culture. It’s like the proverbial pot who called the kettle black, or to use one of Jesus’ analogies; it’s like the guy with a beam in his eye pointing out a speck in the other guy’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). And we’ve circled right back around to hypocrisy; we millennials hate hypocrisy even if we don’t always recognize it in ourselves.
Reason number 7 (We Want to Be Mentored, Not Preached At) is probably the best example of how I see both sides of the coin. I agree with the statement on the surface, but once he starts elaborating, he loses me. I do see an absence of one on one mentorship in the average church. Jesus said to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). His whole ministry was a combination of public preaching and private teaching. Millennials are desperate for godly mentors, especially with the overwhelming absence of mothers and fathers due to divorce, careers, and addiction. But I fear that the minimization of preaching and the weird comfort level that Millennials have with virtual pastors is a product of weak pulpits. Meaning, the average commercially relevant Christian church is preaching watered down sermons thinking that’s what it takes to connect. When in reality, they are disconnected from the anointing and the biblical authority they desperately need.
Here’s a point to ponder for holiness pastors such as myself; Millennials are not afraid of biblical righteousness if it is correct, sincere, consistent, and kind. That may rock your boat a little, but it’s true. Millennials are not afraid to be counter-cultural if presented to them truthfully, sincerely, convincingly, and directly. This leads nicely to reason number 9 on the list of why Millennials are over church; We Want You to Talk to Us About Controversial Issues (Because No One Is). It’s the most important point in the entire article, and it is 100% accurate. For too long now, churches have remained alarmingly silent on the big issues. Hollywood, social engineers, politicians, and liberal professors don’t have any qualms about facing the big controversial issues head-on. So why should the Church? Churches need to talk about jobs, money, careers, sex, marriage, dating, addiction, social issues, and more. As he said, I understand all these topics can’t and shouldn’t be discussed in the main sanctuary. However, opportunities need to be provided to face the controversial issues head-on.
There is some good news regarding the scary millennial statistics and the general decline of American Christianity for my fellow Pentecostals. While mainline, denominational churches are dying, Pentecostals are experiencing growth (check out this fascinating article Why Do These Pentecostals Keep Growing? by Ed Stetzer). While Pentecostals may have declining ranks of Millennials, statistics strongly indicate that we have much better retention than mainline denominational churches. Why? Because we have what the apostles had, the power of the Holy Spirit. We have not allowed liberal theologians to create contempt and mistrust for the Bible. While imperfect, we are distinct and separated from the world. Is carnality creeping into many of our churches? Yes! And that will be the death of those churches because Millennials hate hypocrisy. So, if you want to impress Millennials, “…be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58)”.
Finally, Millennials are ultra-social conscious. We want to see poverty, disease, and anguish eradicated. We may be more sensitive than our predecessors in petulant ways, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t earnest. That’s great news for true Bible-believing Apostolics because we know that the Gospel can genuinely change lives. The Holy Ghost can lift a drug addict out of crippling addiction, restore marriages, heal sickness, and turn a liar honest. What could be better for broken communities than hundreds of thousands of Spirit-transformed people? Apostolic revival is the most outstanding social program of all time. The Acts 2:38 message can still turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6).
In dealing with and hoping to advise our fellow millennial citizens who range from eighteen to thirty-four years old there are some questions in my mind. Who would you listen to if advice were given? I can answer the question in part, you would probably not listen to your parents, nor would you listen to any older person and very possibly you would not listen to a minister. So, the question is, who could arrest your attention for possible enlightenment? Your peers would probably agree with all that you are now thinking. That is the option you would give your professor, the chance to open your thinking. But he or she would only reiterate what you have already been taught. Or maybe you would thumb through the latest list of movies on the subject in question. I hope you don’t mind my pointing out the fictional aspect of that option.
Well, it’s all complicated but you have more responsibility than you might think. So, I ask you to shake your head and think out of the millennial box. I am not suggesting or asking that you must dress differently or change your hair style. I am only asking that you stretch your mind. Let me say, that by you doing this it will not help me at all, but there is a chance it might benefit you. If you would like to be different than your generation, try this ever so often. Stretching your mind will be a sure way of finding uniqueness since probably not many around you will be so daring. Don’t worry, you could not be an older person if you tried, nor will you ever be thirteen again. So, you must be yourself not a cookie cutter version of all around you. When you think out of the box, you realize no one could push God on you that is impossible. When you understand this, you will be thinking beyond the crowd. It is not possible for preachers to force this upon you. Reading the Bible cannot be forced upon you. Church attendance cannot be forced upon you.
Let me share a secret with you – your children will think you are nuts because what you think about life will be antiquated in 25 years, just like the car you now drive. Your thinking is headed for moth balls. It is on its’ way to becoming obsolete. As a millennial, you might have put God and the church aside which is your prerogative. But please allow me to say before you pull your thinking back into a narrow box, you are taking a lot on yourself. You can’t hug yourself to your own heart. You will find that you alone are just not enough. So, you can’t take anyone else’s idea about a lot of things including God because that is not something others can (or should be allowed to) decide for you. When you fight for your rights remember that others also have theirs. I am not stupid enough to think I can unmillennialize you but we all should realize that we need thinking that will last a lifetime.
Rev. O.C. Marler wears more hats than I can list in this one little bio spot. He is a highly sought after speaker, preacher, and teacher who is known for his powerfully engaging communication style (you can listen here). He currently travels the country preaching with his beloved wife Joan. They are both prolific writers of western and mystery genra fiction. Everyone should own a copy of O.C. Marler’s best selling book Doctrine Does Matter, which is a wonderfully readable explanation of how to be saved. On a personal note, Rev. Marler is a lifelong friend and mentor to me. During my Indiana Bible College years his classes left a lasting impact on my life. His advice, wise counsel, and example are invaluable to me. His ministry has shaped and influenced thousands of millennials throughout the United States.