People have asked me if I’ve ever heard God’s voice. The answer is “Yes, I have.” Inevitably, they want to know what it sounds like. “Does he sound like a man?” they wonder. “Is his voice deep?” they probe. “No,” I say, “God sounds remarkably like my wife.” It’s true. He often speaks to me through Janet. I know for certain, because almost every time I have ignored or belittled her advice there were negative consequences. Maybe you can identify. And if you can’t, maybe it’s time you did.
Last week Janet was across the country visiting family. Temporarily abandoned, I had to fend for myself – and be reminded of how lost I am not only without Jesus, but also without the helpmate he provided for me through my wife. The boys and I had a great time, but not nearly as great as it would have been if Janet were with us.
Character, not gifting, is the one thing we have a huge say in – and godly character is often lacking in difficult people.
During one of our phone conversations she again assumed the voice of God, saying “I think I know why the country is in the condition it’s in. It’s because of the Church. Church leaders have failed to lead, and that’s why our country is in the condition it’s in.” Lord, I couldn’t agree more. We need to make some fundamental changes in how we’re leading so that everyone will benefit – for the best.
The main problem with many church leaders today is that we aren’t leading. The leadership void in our churches will be filled one way or another – it’s just a matter of time and people. Someone is going to lead your church, and their leadership will have holy or hellish consequences. There is no in-between. Who is leading your church, and is their leadership allowing the Holy Spirit to move with as little resistance as possible? If not, it’s time for a serious check-up – not only of your lead leader, but also of everyone in a leadership position.
ISOLATION, DIVISION, AND DEFEAT
The lead leader in your church will not be as effective as he will be if supporting leaders don’t pull their weight. Elders, deacons, and department leaders must all be leading effectively in support of one another toward a common goal – with zero tolerance for bad behavior and secondary agendas. Yes, we must be gracious, but people in leadership positions (staff or volunteer) need to be firing on all eight cylinders. Once someone is in a leadership position, basic conduct, leadership and interpersonal relationship skills need to already be in place. A leadership position is not the place to learn the basics.
Once you see this consistent phenomenon, look at how successful leaders – the ones who kept moving forward – dealt with difficult people.
If one of your leaders is under attack, the rest of your leaders are faced with a decision. Do you sit back and watch, or stand up and defend? If you do nothing, you’ve forgotten an age-old tactic of our adversary: isolate, divide, and conquer. When a difficult person in your church punches a fellow leader in the nose, it’s not always biblical advice to turn the other cheek. It sounds so spiritual to do so – and you can even find a chapter and verse to support the turning. But the Bible interprets itself, and each verse must be put into context with others.
If a church leader is struck by an adversary, sometimes the worst thing other leaders can do is turn the other cheek. Why? Because people who are willing to strike a shepherd are also willing to devour the sheep. The first responsibility of church leaders is not to feed the sheep, but to protect them. If the leaders don’t protect the sheep, they won’t be left with a flock to feed.
I love creampuffs, but as a dessert, not a leadership style. Today, many folks think the job of pastors, elders and deacons is to appease people and simply oversee a democracy of people so that everyone can simply get along and maintain a smile on their face. But the truth is that smiles on faces don’t necessarily reflect the happiness of God. 2 Timothy 2:4 (NIV) says “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” A biblical leader always wants to please God. When he or she does, that leader pleases the people he or she needs to please. The opinions of other people don’t matter. Get over it so you can get on with it — and help your fellow leaders follow your example.
When church leaders fail to lead, the flock will flounder, things will get distasteful, and darkness will overcome the light.
The larger a church, the less her people have in common. The larger a church, the more competing ideas there are about how it should be run, what real ministry is, and about what it means to be a church that is truly led by the Holy Spirit. At the end of the day, the sheep are not called to graze without shepherds who provide direction, protection and influence. If church leadership does not understand and revisit this truth, it will only be a matter of time before the sheep try to lead themselves without direction and protection from leaders. That’s when hell breaks out. Literally.
God calls leaders to be salt and light (Matthew 5). Think about that symbolism used by the Master Teacher to describe the impact we should have. Salt preserves – but it does far more. It also changes the flavor of whatever it touches. It’s not a passive ingredient that remains unnoticed. Salt changes what it touches. The same is true for light. It overcomes darkness – even in the smallest amount. Strike a single match in a pitch-black room and the room is no longer pitch-black.
When church leaders fail to lead, when the fail to act as salt and light, the flock will flounder, things will get distasteful, and darkness will overcome the light.
HERE’S YOUR CHALLENGE
I have a challenge for you that may change the way you lead. Go through the Bible and look at the leaders God consistently used to advance his agenda. You’ll not only recognize that God used them, but also how people opposed them. Once you see this consistent phenomenon, look at how successful leaders – the ones who kept moving forward – dealt with difficult people.
Now, don’t wimp out and think it’s up to God to deal with unruly people, because that’s a cop-out. Nearly every time God dealt with difficult people, the instrument he used was, you guessed it, human. Leaders are God’s instrument to deal with difficult people. Until you are willing to deal with difficult people in your church, the difficult people will deal with you. They will wreak havoc on more than your leadership team. By the time they affect your leadership team, they will have most likely caused at least one major relational train wreck among the people in your flock.
But people don’t blaspheme in church, right? Think again. It happens all the time. It’s just that a great majority of church leaders today are so used to it happening that we no longer take it seriously.
When you read the Bible, you will quickly see that God is not afraid to confront difficult people whose attitudes and behaviors are a threat to his agenda. Church leaders, like their Chief Shepherd, must be courageous. Think about Moses and the rebellion by Korah and his followers. Think about Ananias and Sapphira, or about Hymenaeus and Alexander, two men referenced by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the young leader he was training, Timothy:
“Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:18-20, NIV)
In the first century, a church was seen as an umbrella of God’s protective covering. We need to resurrect that understanding, today. To be handed over to Satan was to be out from underneath God’s shelter – and everyone would know it. Exposure to satanic elements would serve to bring Hymenaeus and Alexander to their senses, teaching them to no longer do what they had been doing while within the church: blaspheme.
But people don’t blaspheme in church, right? Think again. It happens all the time. It’s just that a great majority of church leaders today are so used to it happening that we no longer take it seriously. But we must. Paul’s statement was public, specifically identifying the people without concern for a lawsuit, protection of his own reputation, or the reputation of Timothy. Would there be backlash? Most likely. Anyone who is unafraid of God has no fear of people. If someone is willing to blaspheme God, they will have little problem doing even worse toward people.
If you’re a leader, stop whining about the difficult people in your flock. Deal with them — directly.
Paul’s words to Timothy are just one example of multiple examples of people who are forever canonized in Scripture as trouble-making flies in God’s ointment, like Alexander the Coppersmith and Diotrephes. They are people who church leaders were not afraid to mention by name – because everyone in the community was privy to their sinful conduct. One of the forgotten principles in the Bible that we need to resurrect is that we church leaders must deal with difficult people.
The arena of the sin determines the arena of the rebuke. The more public sinful conduct is, the more familiar the people are with the difficult people and consequences of their conduct, the more public leaders must be in addressing the people and their sin.
DON’T BE DUPED
Why would we think things would – or should – be any different today? Like yesteryear, a church will not only be filled with people who want God’s best. It will also be filled with hurting, selfish, manipulative, unteachable people who are not at all led by the Holy Spirit. Yes, many of these people will be incredibly gifted individuals – but spiritual gifts are determined by God, not us. Character, not gifting, is the one thing we have a huge say in – and godly character is often lacking in difficult people. Difficult people typically overlook the importance of developing Christ-like character.
The first responsibility of a leader is to assess reality. Ministry is hard even when it’s good. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be by allowing difficult people to take you off point.
Outwardly, trouble-makers may be handsome or beautiful. Others may have impressive resumes they bring from the business world or prior “ministry” experience. But underneath it all their pesky problems persist. They have a history of broken relationships, an inability to resolve conflict in healthy ways, have a hard time following anyone but themselves, and have difficulty both forgiving and asking for forgiveness with genuine remorse. For them, repentance is a foreign concept. But repentance is a primary characteristic of the man or woman after God’s heart. Church leaders, are you paying attention? Do you want unrepentant, difficult people to influence the rest of your flock? Do you want that kind of ungodly behavior replicated?
DON’T LET IT SPREAD
Eventually, difficult people will cause hardship for others. Where surrender is lacking, hardship will abound. Any life that compromises on the calling to glorify God will cause problems for those who have taken the calling to heart and made God’s glory their number one pursuit.
If you’re a leader, stop whining about the difficult people in your flock. Deal with them — directly. If you don’t, those people will continue to present you with problem after problem – because in most instances they don’t care about God’s agenda. When all the dust settles, that’s the bottom line. Difficult people care only about themselves. They are not truly, passionately, concerned about God’s glory; they are concerned and consumed about their own. A key calling of every leader is to make sure that no one in your flock gets the rest of the people off track in this fundamental endeavor. Everything is about the glory of God, and whether or not you are willing to do deal with the people who aren’t passionate about the same.
The first responsibility of a leader is to assess reality. Ministry is hard even when it’s good. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be by allowing difficult people to hijack God’s glory and take you off point. Deal with the difficult people or the difficult people will deal with you. God’s glory, your effectiveness as a leader, the effectiveness of your leadership team, and the health of your entire flock, depend upon it.
Now, get busy and lead. Your title or position doesn’t mean a thing if you aren’t really leading.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? I’D LOVE TO KNOW HOW THIS POST HELPED YOU.
THINK. PRAY. ACT: LORD GOD, help me to not confuse being in a leadership position with actual leadership. Help me to lead with courage, and to not take my calling lightly. Help me to depend on you, but to be responsible and do what you called me to do as a leader. Help me to be concerned about your opinion far above the opinion of any mere mortal.
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