Mass Killings and the Question of Evil

Two mass shootings have rocked the nation in the past month alone. One of them occurred right here in the Atlanta area that I love and call home. This isn’t a news story, it’s not my intention to give details or sensationalize the killings. Understandably, America always waits with bated breath for any details that might clarify the reasons behind a shooter’s sickening actions. Sadly, knowing a killer’s motivations (regardless of what they are) will be of no solace to those who have lost a loved one to senseless killing. Justifiably, the watching world craves some level of understanding going forward. One thing is sure, nothing discovered will produce any satisfying revelations. By assessing motives, we desperately hope to discover an inoculation from individual acts of evil. Although new laws may or may not make certain types of despicable inclinations more challenging to accomplish – laws do nothing to address the pervasive evil contained within the human heart.

Although new laws may or may not make certain types of despicable inclinations more challenging to accomplish – laws do nothing to address the pervasive evil contained within the human heart.

Pure Evil Can’t Be Intimidated

Undoubtedly, consequences (legal and otherwise) intimidate many people into submission. However, threatened social consequences are only preemptively impactful to a certain point. Obviously, suicide bombers can’t be intimidated by the loss of life over their actions. They give their lives willingly in the service of evil. Neither can a suicidal killer with hatred in his heart be thwarted by any punitive measures. A homicidal heart will find a way to commit murder regardless of the actions civil society takes. Please don’t misunderstand; we should take preventative measures when and where possible. It would be ludicrous for polite society to conclude that because rape can’t be totally eradicated, we shouldn’t make every effort humanly possible to prevent and punish rape. Indeed, the same goes for murder, whether it be mass murder or homicide in general.

Mass Shootings: A Modern Problem

Mass killings are a relatively new social manifestation of evil. While every society from the beginning of time (going all the way back to the biblical account of Genesis) has suffered the scourge of violence and homicidal hatred, the particularly heinous rise of senseless mass murder is a distinctively modern problem. Since the dawn of so-called civilization, governments and power-hungry tyrants have slaughtered more innocents than historians can count. But otherwise, average individuals killing innocent people they don’t even know (or barely know) en masse is terrifyingly unique. The level of hatred required for this nightmarish breed of viciousness defies comprehension. Modern psychology views the origin of evil as a biological byproduct rather than an outside force that impacts us biologically. Therefore, it only addresses the symptoms and remains incapable of correctly diagnosing the primary disease.

Modern psychology views the origin of evil as a biological byproduct rather than an outside force that impacts us biologically. Therefore, it only addresses the symptoms and remains incapable of correctly diagnosing the primary disease.

The Origin of Evil

Evil is evil, and while individuals are responsible for their own actions, evil does not originate in the human psyche. It is always easier to relegate every depraved human action down to mental illness or madness. While mental illness is undoubtedly a real problem, not all (or even most) mentally ill individuals commit horrific crimes. Just calling a killer mentally ill doesn’t explain away their actions or substantively address why one mentally ill person kills and another does not. We instinctively want to categorize evil as insanity because it is too emotionally painful to imagine a sane person methodically killing dozens of people he’s never even met.

Just calling a killer mentally ill doesn’t explain away their actions or substantively address why one mentally ill person kills and another does not.

We instinctively want to categorize evil as insanity because it is too emotionally painful to imagine a sane person methodically killing dozens of people he’s never even met.

Out of the Shadows

Mass shootings push the fallen nature of humankind out from the shadows into the harsh light of day. The naked evil and wicked capacity of the human heart causes us to blink and squint. We can’t look directly at it without excruciating pain. It’s not that evil things aren’t happening all around us every day – we just fail or refuse to notice them. Like the prophets of old, those who do notice and comment are labeled depressing, downers, boorish, buzz killers, alarmists, catastrophists, or some other condescending pejorative. But large-scale, in-your-face evil can’t be ignored, denied, or minimized. So, we hunger for the elusive why behind the “madness.” Some point the finger of blame at God in these circumstances (here’s a great article on the origins of evil). But ultimately, evil is satanic in origin and embedded in the human condition. Therefore, human methodologies alone – no matter how well-intentioned – will never eradicate evil from the human heart.

Mass shootings push the fallen nature of humankind out from the shadows into the harsh light of day. The naked evil and wicked capacity of the human heart causes us to blink and squint.

It’s not that evil things aren’t happening all around us every day – we just fail or refuse to notice them.

Like prophets of old, those who notice evil are labeled depressing, downers, buzz killers, alarmists, or some other condescending pejorative. But large-scale, in-your-face evil can’t be ignored, denied, or minimized.

Evil is satanic in origin and embedded in the human condition. Therefore, human methodologies alone – no matter how well-intentioned – will never eradicate evil from the human heart.

Because the fallen nature of humankind is vulnerable and consistently capable of awful behavior, Jesus instructed us to pray, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil… (Matthew 6:13).” I’ve often marveled at those who assert that God is not good while simultaneously claiming that humans are intrinsically good. I’m not sure you can read about events like mass shootings and believe in the innate goodness of humanity. Facing the depravity of the human condition head-on is depressing and hard to grasp. The human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). C.H. Spurgeon wrote:

“As the salt flavors, every drop in the Atlantic so does sin affect every atom of our nature. It is so sadly there, so abundantly there, that if you cannot detect it, you are deceived.” He added: “The venom of sin is in the very fountain of our being; it has poisoned our heart. It is in the very marrow of our bones and is as natural to us as anything that belongs to us.”

I’ve often marveled at those who assert that God is not good while claiming that humans are intrinsically good. I’m not sure you can read about mass shootings and believe in the innate goodness of humanity.

The Bad News and the Good News

We inherited that sinful nature from the lineage of Adam (Romans 5:12). You can’t truly fathom the goodness of the Gospel until you grasp the depravity of the human condition. The Good News begins with bad news: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Thankfully, the Gospel story begins with condemnation but ends with redemption. In the weeks and months ahead, I have decided to write, podcast, preach and teach about the Gospel. If you’re reading this and you feel hopeless, please know there is hope. If you’re reading this and you know someone who feels hopeless, please tell them about Jesus. Tell them how God wants to forgive their sins and fill them with His Spirit (Acts 2:38). Tell them how the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead can raise them above the hopelessness of sin (Romans 8:11). We can push back against the darkness by reaching one heart at a time with the truth of the Gospel. It’s the only hope for the human condition.

You can’t truly fathom the goodness of the Gospel until you grasp the depravity of the human condition. The Good News begins with bad news.

Thankfully, the Gospel story begins with condemnation but ends with redemption.

We can push back against the darkness by reaching one heart at a time with the truth of the Gospel. It’s the only hope for the human condition.

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Link to the David French Article Mentioned in the Podcast

10 Symptoms of Insecure Leadership

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…

The Prescription for Easily Offended Leaders

“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense”

Proverbs 19:11

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.

“The daggers others throw your way will become in God’s hand chisels to fashion you into the image of Christ.”

Scott Hubbard

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.

We can always rise above offense by lifting our eyes to God.

2. Insecure Leaders Pass the Blame

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.

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.

The Prescription for Blame Passing Leaders

“For we are each responsible for our own conduct.”

Galtatians 6:5

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.

The Prescription for People Bashing Leaders

“No one has ever made himself look great by showing how small someone else is”

Irvin Himmel

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.

Ephesians 4:31-32

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

“If the fear of loss conquers me, the reality of failure will consume me.”

Michael Dooley

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).

5. Insecure Leaders Attack Questioners

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

“Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable — and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening. That’s how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities.”

Peter Nulty

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

“You’ll never be great and ungrateful at the same time.”

Unknown

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

“A strong leader takes blame and gives the credit. A weak leader gives blame and accepts the credit.”

John Wooden

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

“It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Harry S. Truman

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

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”

Bernard Baruch

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.

9. Insecure Leaders Run from Needed Confrontation

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

“Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”

Ronald Reagan

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.

Proverbs 29:5

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.

The Prescription for Easily Flattered Leaders

“The trouble with most of us is that we’d rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”

Norman Vincent Peale

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.

We shouldn’t believe every good thing we hear about ourselves, nor should we believe every negative thing we hear about ourselves.

Overcoming flattery: Learn to value truth over desired truth through prayer.

Overcoming flattery: Be wary of people who praise excessively.

Overcoming flattery: Discount those who tear down others to build you up.

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.

Connection vs. Carnality – In Student Ministry

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.

The danger of student ministry is justifying carnality and calling it connection.

The Danger of Social Media Mirroring

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.

Students do not care if you play the games they play, as long as you spend time with them.

Students don’t care if you are at a sporting event if you are there to weep with them in an altar.

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.

As a gentle reminder, you get what you preach, but who you are is what you produce.

Our Experience and Positive Change

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.

Final Word and Witness

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.

Titus 1:16

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.

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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.

Kanye West Might Be Sincere (But Sincerity Alone Is Not Salvation)

If you’re a social media user it might feel like a non-stop Kanye West extravaganza has taken over your feed lately. The frenzy from all directions has been palpable. Many people in my inner circle didn’t even know who Kanye was until a few weeks ago. For me, his name was associated with lyrics and artists that I purposely avoided because of the vulgarity, sexuality, violence, and substance abuse they promoted.

This article is late in the making. Frankly, I just didn’t care about the Kanye kerfuffle until the noise escalated into a fever pitch. Beyond that, lots of people have already been contributing wise words to the ongoing (seemingly neverending) conversation. One of my favorite Apostolic bloggers, Search of Kings has a must-read article about the “Kanye Conversion”. Others have convincingly commented that Kanye’s sincerity might be less suspicious if he would remove all his old music from circulation. I’ve noticed several people expressing frustration at the Apostolic hype over Kanye’s new album Jesus Is King, by pointing out the lackluster support Apostolic artists typically receive. We Apostolics do tend to demean our own and glamorize (perhaps even idolize) artists who are distinctly non-apostolic.

Speaking of idols, the flip side of the coin is the ardent, almost breathless support many Christians have afforded Kanye’s new album. It reeks of an adolescent desire to finally be accepted by the “cool” kids. The internet is littered with comparisons of Kanye’s conversion to Saul’s transformation into Paul. Others dream of stadiums packed with people who would never listen to “Jesus” music being deeply impacted by Kanye’s newfound faith. Many elders felt this way about Elvis Presley in past decades. I still frequently hear people mention how sincere Elvis was about his Christian (perhaps even Apostolic) faith.

So, the speculation about Kanye’s sincerity has become a lightning rod of controversy. For what it’s worth, I think Kanye might be sincere. Admittedly, I don’t really know if he’s sincere or not. I struggle to know if people around me are sincere sometimes. I’ve never met Kanye and I doubt anyone reading this has either. Sincerity is a hard thing to judge in a short period of time. It’s even harder to judge from a distance. Even Paul had to undergo many years of scrutiny and training before he was fully accepted as a new creature in Christ Jesus. That’s one of the reasons Paul wrote to Timothy and said, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)”. Regardless, Kanye’s sincerity or lack thereof is a moot point. Why? Because sincerity is not salvation.

Yes, sincerity is a good thing. I like sincere people. Most of us are drawn instinctively to sincerity. In fact, sincerity is so compelling we often trust sincere people even when they are completely wrong. Sincerely incorrect people can unintentionally do great damage to their circle of influence in countless ways both big and small. For example, it took thousands of years for doctors to finally realize that bloodletting was actually more likely to kill than to cure patients (read this disturbing article, 7 Unusual Ancient Medical Technique). Last year statistics shockingly revealed that over 800,000 people died because of medical devices prescribed to them by very good and sincere doctors (read that article HERE). Lets not even start thinking about how many sincere judges and juries have sentenced innocent people to prison or death (How Many Innocent People Are Sentenced to Death? and A Leading Cause for Wrongful Convictions: Experts Overstating Forensic Results). Clearly, in certain situations, sincerity without correct information is extremely dangerous.

We easily understand that principle when it comes to the physical, but we’re a little fuzzy when it comes to spiritual things. We don’t just want doctors to be sincere, we want them to be sincere and correct at the same time. Frankly, the latter is far more important than the former. But when it comes to spiritual leaders and influencers we’re a little less cautious. Maybe its time to consider that we Christians are overly concerned with sincerity? Perhaps we’ve elevated sincerity above biblical sanctification? Is it possible many Apostolics, either consciously or subconsciously, equate sincerity with salvation? Do we believe that sincerity without biblical salvation can save us? If so, we are doomed to become just another variation of the Catholic church. The Catholic church now officially teaches that Muslims, Jews, and really any sincere person can be saved without converting to even the mushy Catholic perversion of the Gospel (Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1260).

If the prescription for sin is the blood of Jesus it can only be accessed via the Gospel of Jesus Christ (John 14:6, 1 Timothy 2:5, Acts 4:12). At the heart of the Gospel is the teaching that we must undergo our own spiritual death, burial, and resurrection just as Jesus did physically (Romans 6:3-8Galatians 2:20Colossians 2:12-13). There is one recorded instance in the Bible where bystanders clearly asked a question about salvation (Acts 2:37). Peter gives the most concise biblical answer in the following verse and everyone in the early Church followed that apostolic foundation for salvation. The apostle Peter preached: “…repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).” That precise formula is the only way to be birthed (John 3:31 Peter 1:23) into the Kingdom of God.

Essentially, repentance is our spiritual death (Galatians 5:24Romans 6:11Galatians 2:201 Peter 2:24Romans 6:6)baptism in Jesus’ name is our spiritual burial (Romans 6:3-4Colossians 2:12-13), and the infilling of the Holy Ghost is our spiritual resurrection (Romans 6:5Colossians 3:1Romans 8:8-14). Furthermore, the infilling of the Holy Ghost is first evidenced by supernaturally speaking in unknown (previously unlearned) tongues (languages) just as they did in the book of Acts (Mark 16:17Acts 2:4Acts 10:46Acts 19:6) and every time from then on. And, baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12Colossians 3:17Acts 2:38Acts 22:16Galatians 3:27Acts 10:48Romans 6:3).

After we are obedient to the fullness of the Gospel all the old sinful things pass away and we become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). We walk in agreement with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Meaning, God not only saves us from our past sin, but He also empowers us with His own Spirit to live righteously (2 Peter 1:3-4). The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily.

Having said all of that, I am far more concerned with Kanye’s salvation than I am his sincerity. I hope he’s sincere and that his sincerity leads him to salvation. Otherwise, his sincere religious error will probably do far more damage than good. Furthermore, any sincere, yet theologically incorrect preacher is more dangerous than any charlatan could ever hope to be. Charlatans are eventually exposed, but sincerely wrong people fight with misled convictions that are deeply influential to others.

Let me leave you with a passage of Scripture to ponder where Paul addresses the issue of zealousness for God without a proper understanding of God’s word. This passionate sincerity without knowledge will cause them to be lost unless they learn to walk obediently to God’s plan.

Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God (Romans 10:1-13).

Hey, if you’re looking for awesome Apostolic music check out Nathan + Rachel. You’re welcome!

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13 Leadership Articles from the AV Vault

I recently published the 100th article here on Apostolic Voice. Considering AV launched in the summer of 2014 that number should be substantially higher. But I’m usually busier than Santa on Christmas Eve. In spite of my woefully slow output of material, we’ve covered quite a few topics over the years. It would take a newcomer several cups of coffee and multiple uninterrupted hours to read every AV article.

Leadership, including but not limited to pastoral leadership, is a topic that surfaces a good bit around here. In fact, it’s not unusual to receive requests for an old leadership article that someone wants to revisit but they can’t remember the exact title. In the interest of full disclosure and total transparency, I typically can’t remember my titles either. I can’t even remember what I ate for breakfast let alone something I wrote about two years ago. So, after rummaging around in the dark cavernous recesses of the AV vault I’ve rediscovered thirteen of the most requested leadership articles and niftily compiled them here for your reading convenience.

Much thanks to my friends and guest contributors whose articles made this list. Their written offerings are far superior to my own. Their contributions are appreciated, which is good because that’s their only remuneration. God bless and thanks for reading.

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8 Preacher Traps – That Can Develop Over Time

Preachers need our prayers and support more than ever before. I’m a fierce advocate of preachers and preaching. I’ve written in defense of preachers on numerous occasions here, here, and here. That doesn’t mean I view preachers as superhuman or little deities; however, God ordained the foolishness of preaching as the mechanism for reaching the world with the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-21, Acts 17:18, Mark 16:15). Preaching is Divinely designed to preserve, encourage, strengthen, equip, and correct the Church (1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Peter 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:16). Bottom line, preaching is really, really, really vital for the overall health of the Church and the advancement of the Gospel. It only makes sense that Satan would set traps for preachers faster than a poacher on a wildlife preservation.

Preaching is Divinely designed to preserve, encourage, strengthen, equip, and correct the Church (1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Peter 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:16).

Without descending into a pit of needless negativity, I can safely assume everyone reading this post has witnessed at least one sincere preacher turn, shall we say… less than sincere. With very few exceptions, preachers do not begin ministering with nefarious intentions. For the most part, preachers make tremendous sacrifices to enter the ministry. Preacher problems develop over time as they fall into traps either because of carelessness or unresolved character flaws the enemy cleverly exploits.

Preacher problems develop over time as they fall into traps either because of carelessness or unresolved character flaws the enemy cleverly exploits.

My motivation for writing isn’t to criticize the fallen; there’s plenty of preacher bashing going on without me jumping unceremoniously into the ring. Instead, I’m writing with the earnest hearted preacher in mind. Additionally, I’m writing for those who may have stepped a toe across a line yet still have the capacity to feel a surge of conscience. One thing is for sure if you labor in ministry long enough, you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap. I’ve identified eight common traps in the hopes of building awareness, fortifications, and wisdom.

One thing is for sure if you labor in ministry long enough, you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap.

1. Success & Popularity

Most preachers have tons of incredibly humbling moments in their early days of ministry. My brother has a “blackmail tape” containing one of the first sermons I ever preached to this day. I sounded like a scared parrot that only knew four words. After those four words, everything else was just squawking, and weird chirping sounds. It was horrible. God bless that precious congregation and Pastor James Fielder for loving me enough to be encouraging despite that pathetic, although sincere attempt to preach.

Yep. Early days of ministry are filled with epic fails, empty blusters, false starts, zealous stumbles, learning curves, knowledge gaps, unrestrained enthusiasm, and embarrassing awkwardness. Some endure that maturation process longer than others, but over time the resilient step into a season of ministerial success. Now, measuring ministerial success can be tricky because it really has nothing to do with money, fame, large congregations, or popularity. God defines success differently than most people define success, but that’s another post for another day. Regardless, even achieving a godly standard of success can suck the humility right out of a sincere heart. Once that humility is gone, all kinds of nasty things compete to fill the void.

Measuring ministerial success can be tricky because it really has nothing to do with money, fame, large congregations, or popularity. God defines success differently than most people define success.

Success is not the problem. Success is a good thing. Responding correctly to success is the key. Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure but very little time preparing their hearts to handle success and popularity.

Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure but very little time preparing their hearts to handle success and popularity.

2. Talent

When a preacher realizes he is talented enough to move a crowd without relying on the anointing, his foot is poised above a preacher killing landmine. Lawyers, politicians, comedians, actors, false prophets, and motivational speakers move crowds emotionally every day without the anointing’s help. Having talent is great, terrific even, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).

When a preacher realizes he is talented enough to move a crowd without relying on the anointing, his foot is poised above a preacher killing landmine.

Lawyers, politicians, comedians, actors, false prophets, and motivational speakers move crowds emotionally every day without the anointing’s help. Having talent is great, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).

I firmly believe that preachers should work to develop strong communication skills. I think preachers should work as hard as possible to communicate biblical truths effectively and with as much excellence as possible. This is partially what the Apostle Paul was alluding to when he admonished Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).” But all the talent, work, study, and charisma in the world is no substitute for prayer, fasting, and humble reliance upon the Lord.

All the talent, work, study, and charisma in the world is no substitute for prayer, fasting, and humble reliance upon the Lord.

Every talented preacher should remember the warning of the ever-somber prophet Jeremiah: Cursed is that man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength (Jeremiah 17:5-9). Learning how to move a crowd emotionally is a cheap substitute for the genuine power and demonstration of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

Learning how to move a crowd emotionally is a cheap substitute for the genuine power and demonstration of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

3. Loving Preaching More Than People

This is one of the most common traps to ensnare preachers. It shames me to admit that I’ve had to fight my way out of this trap a time or two. This one takes a lot of self-introspection to detect.

Upon reflection, I’ve pinpointed a few things about my preaching while wriggling out of that devious little trap. One, I preached way longer than needed to communicate what God laid on my heart. Two, I chased many rabbit trails that interested me but were of little help or value to the hearers. Three, I resisted the Spirit when it prompted me to deviate from my prepared notes. Four, I rebuked out of personal anger rather than real righteous indignation. Five, I spent less time weeping over the lost and broken than concocting just the right wording for each sermon point. Six, in the preparation process, I resisted the Spirit’s directing, opting instead to build my favorite soapbox or pursue topics that were intellectually stimulating to me personally. Seven, I was more passionate about winning arguments than winning hearts. Eight, I preached condescendingly, smugly, and arrogantly.

Preaching cannot and should not be solely directed towards the “felt” needs of a congregation. Neither should preaching be spineless, compromising, or afraid of necessary confrontation. Nothing mentioned here should leave the impression that preachers should be push-overs, milquetoasts, or overly obsessive about offending the hearers. But the fact remains a preacher’s motives matter. Preachers should always stand behind the sacred desk driven by love for God, God’s Word, God’s Church, and lost people.

Preaching cannot and should not be solely directed towards the “felt” needs of a congregation. Neither should preaching be spineless, compromising, or afraid of necessary confrontation.

A preacher’s motives matter. Preachers should always stand behind the sacred desk driven by love for God, God’s Word, God’s Church, and lost people.

4. Forgetting the Main Mission

As I mentioned earlier, preaching has many noble purposes, but none more vital than the propagation of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Timothy 4:17, 2 Corinthians 10:14, Acts 8:12-17). Preaching can quickly devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, engaging, inspiring, and fresh, some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and ultimately fail their mission.

Preaching can devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, engaging, inspiring, and fresh, some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and fail their mission.

5. Valuing Crowd Size Above the Spiritual Growth of the Congregation

I’ve written a fair bit on church growth here, here, and here. No preacher in their right mind wants seats to be empty while the Word is being preached. Every empty seat represents a soul that needs God. Regardless, God never called preachers to build large congregations. Instead, we are called to plant the seed; God alone gives the Harvest (Matthew 9:38). Every preacher reading this knows that is the case, but it doesn’t stop us from feeling like failures when church attendance dips or doesn’t grow at the pace we had envisioned. All of that is normal and acceptable to a certain degree, yet very dangerous if we begin to value large crowds above the people’s actual spiritual health.

Just gathering large groups of people together every Sunday isn’t the ultimate spiritual objective. Otherwise, the NFL would be one of the most spiritual organizations in America. When preachers become inordinately focused on crowd size instead of spiritual maturation, they will suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers, which leads nicely to the next trap.

Just gathering large groups of people together every Sunday isn’t the ultimate spiritual objective. Otherwise, the NFL would be one of the most spiritual organizations in America.

When preachers become inordinately focused on crowd size instead of spiritual maturation, they suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers.

6. Willingness to Sacrifice Scriptural Integrity

There are many reasons a preacher might be tempted to compromise biblical truths. Some compromise due to the illusion of assured numerical growth, desired popularity, personal carnality, outside pressure, peer pressure, spiritual battle fatigue, greed, or any number of other factors. Regardless, failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and the trust placed in us by others.

Failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and the trust placed in us by others.

7. Burnout

Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout, and burnout produces bitterness. For every preacher with a golf course “ministry” reputation, there are ten others burning the candle at both ends. As I’ve written before, the ministry is incredibly demanding. Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety, or both. The tragedy of the burnout trap is that it takes advantage of a preacher’s good intentions. We want to be all things, to all people, all the time. It’s just not humanly possible.

Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout, and burnout produces bitterness.

Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety. The tragedy of the burnout trap is that it takes advantage of a preacher’s good intentions. We want to be all things, to all people, all the time. It’s just not humanly possible.

8. Ministering to Others While Neglecting Family

I understand that a preacher’s family must be willing to make sacrifices for the sake of ministry. I get that. Been there. Done that. Still doing that. But a preacher’s first ministerial obligation is to his family (Genesis 18:19, 1 Samuel 3:13, 1 Timothy 3:1-12, Titus 1:6). Many dynamic ministries have been rendered powerless because their family fell apart. They were so busy ministering to others; they lost sight of their primary responsibility.

Heroic Leadership – 10 Lessons

Like most little boys, my son is fascinated with superheroes. Maybe that’s why I’m writing an article about the parallels between leadership and ambiguous fictional superheroes. For the most part, I’m critical of pop culture. However, the cultural fascination with fictitious superheroes (it’s a multi-billion dollar industry) is interesting from an anthropological perspective because it demonstrates that people have an innate desire to see good triumph over evil in spectacular fashion.

People are fascinated by the idea of a super savior that defeats evil and overcomes extreme obstacles. From here I could launch into a diatribe about the disturbing trend towards the cultural celebration of “bad guys” winning, and the glorification of evil, but I’ll refrain.

Oddly enough, fictitious superheroes often instigate seemingly innocuous conversations with my son about very deep topics. For example, the reality of good and evil, the importance of doing the right thing even when it’s hard, doing what’s right even when everyone is against you, and how to be a leader. That might sound silly to you, but those are things I want my son to take seriously.

During one of those “deep” conversations, it dawned on me that most people want to grow up and be heroic. Sadly, age and the strains of real life have a way of tainting that desire if we’re not careful, but the desire is there somewhere. And that brings me to the topic of leadership. Ask any good leader and they will tell you that they were drawn to leadership because they wanted to help people. This is never truer than in the case of pastoral leadership. Godly ministers desperately want to see people saved. That’s our number one goal. I recently spoke with the CEO of a billion-dollar medical device company and I asked what drew him to the industry. His answer was typical; he wanted to help people.

Obviously, there is an evil side of the leadership coin. Those are the Hitler’s, Stalin’s, false prophets, and wolves in sheep clothing kind of leaders. But I’m writing to the “good guy” leaders today. The ones who desperately want to make a difference and truly help people. But maybe leadership isn’t everything you thought it would be. Maybe leading has left you feeling more and more jaded. These ten “superhero” inspired leadership lessons are for you.

  1. Heroic leadership is a lonely business.

Heroic leadership will often cause you to be misunderstood and mistreated. Doing the right thing means swimming against the current of popular culture and failed methodology. Heroic leaders must be prepared to endure times of loneliness and isolation.

  1. Heroic leadership is a dangerous business.

When you shine a light on evil, expect evil to retaliate. When you challenge the status quo, expect the status quo to retaliate.

  1. Heroic leadership is often a thankless job.

Everyone wants to be appreciated. Everyone wants to be respected, but heroic leadership does not lead for accolades. Heroic leadership leads to help people. Jesus spoke of avoiding the pharisaical spirit that does good deeds just to be seen (Matthew 6:1-16). Heroic leaders don’t need a pat on the back to keep doing the right thing.

  1. Every heroic leader has an inner villain.

In the biblical sense, this is the epic struggle between the Spirit and the flesh. Even heroic leaders have inner struggles and temptations that constantly threaten to overthrow righteousness. Our villainous nature must be crucified every single day or it will gain dominance in our lives.

  1. Every heroic leader has a super-nemesis.

It’s tempting for heroic leaders to view wicked people as the enemy, but this is not the Christian worldview that God wants us to hold. We don’t wrestle with flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). There is a super villain named Lucifer who is the arch enemy of everything that is good. Knowing the source of evil is paramount if you are going to effectively combat evil.

  1. Every heroic leader has unshakable core convictions, values, and drive that sustains and propels them against overwhelming odds.

Heroic leaders have solid principles that are unchanging. Genuine righteous values don’t shift with circumstances. Adversity exposes cowardly leadership. Cowardly leadership sacrifices values on the altars of convenience, popularity, and self-preservation.

  1. At the end of the day, heroic leaders take off the mask and look like everybody else.

Heroic leaders wear a mask of professionalism. Heroic leaders can’t be everybody’s buddy or best friend, they are leaders. I know the big buzz word these days is “real”. Everyone is talking about being real, authentic, and genuine. Some of that is good. I get it. But often, just being “real” is code for lack of composure. Heroic leaders aren’t fake or plastic, but they do maintain composure, high standards, and a work ethic that sets them apart from others.

But when heroic leaders get home they are tired and human just like everybody else. They need genuine connections, love, and relationships. They need interaction with their family and close friends. Heroic leaders must learn to let down their guard at home or risk alienating their deepest, most important relationships.

  1. Heroic leaders aren’t trying to be heroes.

There’s a difference between being a wanna-be hero and simply being committed to doing what is needed, necessary, and right. Heroic leaders are like David when he saw Goliath intimidating the entire army of Israel. David wasn’t trying to be a hero when he faced Goliath, he just couldn’t stand by and let evil win.

  1. Heroic leaders always have a kryptonite that the enemy will try to exploit.

Even heroic leaders have a weakness (or two, or three). Knowing what your kryptonite is and learning how to deal with it is critical.

  1. Heroic leaders sometimes lose their way, but they face their failures and make things right.

In the quest to do right, heroic leaders sometimes lose focus or let the ends justify the means. They falter, they fail, they miss the mark, they err, they misjudge. That’s because they are human beings. However, heroic leaders know how to say, “I was wrong.” They learn how to say, “I’m sorry.” They face their failures and own their mistakes. They don’t shift blame or pass the buck. Owning and correcting mistakes is one of the most heroic things a person can do.

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9 Signs of a Prideful Heart

God resists the proud (James 4:6), which is bad news for a church if it is full of pride. Spiritually dry and deadlocked churches are usually filled with pride. They’re spiritually stuck because God is literally resisting their efforts. What they’re doing might seem good on the surface but their motivations are displeasing to God.

Scripture is very clear about proper motivations; God doesn’t just care what we do, He cares how and why we do it. For example, God doesn’t just want us to give, He wants us to give cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). Jesus warned against displaying our righteousness just to be seen and admired by others, there’s no reward for that kind of conceited righteousness (Matthew 6:1). Paul even warned that preaching the Gospel must be done for the right reasons (1 Thessalonians 2:4). In a staggering display of immaturity, the disciples asked Jesus to decide who was the greatest in the kingdom; Jesus took it as an opportunity to teach them that without childlike humility they would never see the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1-35).

In a generation obsessed with talent competitions and spotlights, it’s no surprise that the thirst for attention has crept into the Church. It’s evidenced in pulpits and in pews. It’s on full display if you know the signs. There are certain “tells” or “giveaways” so to speak. There really is no way to overemphasize the importance of guarding our churches against being infected with prideful leaders. Even more importantly, we should carefully monitor our own motivations and quickly adjust when and where needed. Below are nine sure signs of a prideful heart. I use this list to check my own motives and the motives of those seeking position or platform in my local church. Many of these principles are universal and can be translated into any paradigm or organization.  

  1. They want to SING but they don’t want to SERVE.

  2. They want to PREACH but they don’t want to PRAISE.

  3. They want to LEAD but they don’t like LEADERSHIP.

  4. They want to TAKE but they don’t want to GIVE.

  5. They want RESPECT but they don’t show RESPECT.

  6. They want the SPOTLIGHT but they resent SACRIFICE.

  7. They like PUBLIC EMOTIONS but they dislike PRIVATE DEVOTIONS.

  8. They are SELFISH rather than SELFLESS.

  9. They produce FOLLOWERS rather than DISCIPLES of Jesus.

Now read this list again, but this time replace “they” with “I” and be brutally honest with yourself.

Related articles: Overcoming Ministerial Insecurity, Ministerial Discouragment (And How To Handle It), You Cannot Be A Church Leader If… (Part 1), 5 Tips For Introverted Leaders, 5 Ministry Pitfalls, The Case For Yearly Preaching Plans, 14 Ways You Can Support Your Pastor, Clothed In Humility, Right, Righteous & Self-Righteous Judgements (Knowing The Difference), If We Are What We Post (What Are We Saying)?, You Might Be A Carnal Christian If…, Consistency (16 Keys To Great Leadership), Living Selflessly In A Selfie World