Following Great Leaders

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There are many good leaders in this world but not many do truly remarkable things and leave a long lasting impression in their field. From my childhood I have held one leader in extremely high regard…Sir Alex Ferguson…for those of you unfamiliar with the name…until a year ago he was the manager of Manchester United football club.

 

From humble begins he rose to manage one of the greatest clubs in the world for an incredible 26 years. Through this time he won 38 trophies, many records and of course a knighthood. He is regarded as one of the most successful, admired and respected managers in the history of the entire game of football.

 

This past week I completed reading his autobiography and too fell deeper in admiration for this incredible leader. However, one thing struck me, he wasn’t an easy man to follow. Although many people recognized his greatness and stuck by his side his entire career, there were a number of people who he rubbed up the wrong way. He knew control was key managing a football team, and so he worked hard to keep his. If people didn’t give their best or got distracted he would dock their wages. If football was no longer the first and only priority in a players life…he would get rid of them.

 

In his autobiography, he spoke of a player called Rio Ferdinand, who was growing in popularity. Magazines, radio and television pursued him to do interviews. One season Rio was offered the chance to travel to America to interview P. Diddy for a magazine but when word got to Ferguson he quickly shut it down. In his mind the opportunity would affect the fitness of the player and that would affect the success of the team in the coming games. To Ferguson, everything was about winning football matches…and if something got in the way of his team doing that…he dealt with it. This however often made him a difficult man to follow.

 

This of course got me thinking of other leaders and I began to resolve that the greatest leaders are the hardest to follow. Success brings many responsibilities and many sacrifices and so be apart of a successful team is no easy doing.

 

In a church context I have been privileged to follow many leaders…some of them have been truly great…and I have found similarly that the greatest leaders are often the hardest to follow. Here are a few reasons why:-

 

Great leaders have a higher standard

 

Great Leaders don’t please people

 

Great Leaders act in the interests of the team NOT individuals

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The Gathering 14 Review (Chicago)

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As The Gathering 2014 (Chicago) is drawing to a close I can’t but help ponder over the time we have been privileged to journey through family ministry these past two days.

In many ways it has been a fantastic experience for myself. My time in America has only been short, 19 months to be exact, and in many ways I am still adjusting to the American way! However, my journey has been full of great experiences…including this, my first major family ministry conference.

This experience was filled with TONS of great speakers who each brought great knowledge from their fields but also brought something of the heart of God to the sessions.

So…with that said I want to run through about some of things I thought were real highlights of the conference!

  1. The philosophy of TRU ran clearly throughout! – I loved the little things, like how every speaker INTENTIONALLY provided at time for reflection and response after their talk. After every session WORSHIP was a RESPONSE. When leaders see the Holy Spirit at work in their life through this model they can’t help but be drawn to see the need for the Holy Spirit to be at work in their kids!
  2. The Sessions/Breakouts sought to train people the TRU way! – One of the hardest parts about being a TRU outsider is that looking in its easy to buy into the philosophy….but often its difficult to know how to carry out the philosophy in the every Sunday context. The practical breakouts bring lots of clarity to how to make what you do truly transformational the TRU way (eg. Small groups & worship as response).
  3. There is a place for FUN and Laughter – If there is one thing I was worried about concerning TRU it was that it wasn’t as fun as other curriculums. I wasn’t sure if it would work in Urban/Inner City areas….largely because it seems so serious with the Holy Spirit response and drive towards discipleship. HOWEVER, The Gathering helped me to see that although TRU is serious about Discipleship that doesn’t mean Children’s ministry always has to be serious! I love how they included Jeff and Bryan to lighten the mood, make jokes and simply entertain. It was great for me to see that TRU values laughter and fun! J
  4. The resources showed a new side to David C Cook – In exploring Tru I heard a few complaints about how David C Cook was outdated and irrelevant. I can only assume that old curriculums had left a stain on peoples memories. HOWEVER, my experience was that David C Cook along with TRU & Integrity music is taking real ground with its resources for Churches. I encountered some of the best, most relevant music for kids ministry (action bible remixed), a great tool in the action bible and revolutionary resources like spiritual parenting. This was VERY encouraging to see David C Cook now leading the way!

 

My time at the Gathering was truly valuable for my TRU journey. And through it all I only have one major concern with what I experienced….The EXTREME LACK OF DIVERSITY on all levels. In heading towards the conference in one of the most diverse Cities in America I expected to find a gathering of DIVERSE churches….but what I found was a collection of white middle-class churches!

 

From the platform there was one black guy and throughout the whole two days that was it. On top of that I couldn’t see or find a single person of color on the TRU staff. As a white guy from an extremely diverse Church community…it really made me question if I really wanted to be apart of a community that didn’t seem to value diversity at all. After all if the curriculum and Homefront is produced by white middle class people…then will it relate to the full diversity of the families in my church or to the huge diversity of the American public.

 

I say all that to challenge the system. We become so content with the status quo that most people wouldn’t have seen the lack of diversity. FOR me, I can’t take my mind off it! I will still pursue and try TRU but I would love to see them reach WAY beyond where they are at to embrace the fullness of the American community! The Church is SO VAST and TRU’s philosophy is revolutionary…it needs to be exposed to ALL cultures.

Prepare above Protect

 

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It is no surprise to most people that our children are entering the World to face increasing challenges. It is becoming increasingly difficult to raise our kids with a faith that really sticks because of the external influences at play in their lives. These challenges are all to easily spotted by many conscientious parents; the internet, video games, music, movies, tv shows, school friends…and at times EVEN BOOKS!

 

In my experiences over the past few years I have observed how parents react to the pressures/challenges their children faced and have seen numerous actions. The response I find most prevalent in the Western Church is that of PROTECTION. Not a surprising result given that the natural response when under attack is to DEFEND. However, I often query whether trying to simply protect our children is enough to ensure a solid future.

 

For the majority of my life I have lived in England and consequently there is room for only one sport in my life…Football…or should I say Soccer? Either way, from years of watching soccer I have learned one thing for sure… ‘The best form of defense is a GOOD offense!’ In a fast moving game like soccer it is unthinkable to just sit back and defend for 90 minutes… from time to time a team will try to do this…but it almost always ends in their demise. You see as the game progresses the opposition’s attack grows in momentum and before the end of the match they always manage to find a hole or two in the team’s defense.

 

Life is a little like a soccer match. Our lives move quickly but they aren’t over in just 10 minutes. To last the distance and be successful in life you can’t just spend all your time in defense, protecting your child. There is an immoral and illogical Worldview at the core of our culture; it is always present and in many different forms. It is the opposing teams attack, it comes closer to its goal the longer the game goes on or the older your child grows! A solid defense is vital to a successful team but often when this is our primary tactic we set ourselves up for failure.

 

I’m offering a different tactic for raising our kids. I believe in preparing our kids for the World instead of solely protecting them from it! I’m not saying that we unload on our child the complete A-Z of Evil in the World…but does keeping them oblivious to it really work?

 

Imagine you were raising your kids and were worried about your kids walking into water and drowning. So you spend your life making sure your children never goes into the water. You plan their week around keeping them out of the water and you even put systems in place so they stay away from the water. This is a great idea to keep you child protected from the danger that they face…there is one problem though…What if your child stays over at a friends house? Or what if he grows old enough to go out with his friends for the day? I mean there is going to be a time when he comes in contact with WATER…only the problem now is…Will he be ready for it? The truth is he will sink rather than swim.

 

I’m not suggesting that we throw our kids into the deep end and see if they sink or swim from a young age but I am arguing that if we raise our kids away from the water then one day they will find themselves in it and most likely drowning in it.

 

It’s a principle for all of life, we should prepare our kids for what they will face by laying truth at the foundation of their life. We can’t hide our kids forever and one day the enemy will break through our defenses. We can’t monitor our kids Internet use forever, who they become friends with or what movies we watch…but we can instill principles in their lives that will prepare them to make good choices for the future. Protection is important to our children’s lives, but if we fail to prepare them for the future we have simply wasted our energy!

 

So when we put off conversations about topics our children raise… in order to maintain their innocence…we make a choice to let them be educated by others. It is important to remember that our defensive tactics often play into the hands of the enemy’s offense. 

Lessons from my first year in Full-time ministry…

As I approach the last few days of my first year in full-time ministry I wanted to reflect upon a few of my experiences and the lessons I have learnt from them.

It was a year ago this month that I left my family in England and I jumped on a plane with all my possessions in one suitcase to start a new life in America as a Children’s Pastor in Urbana, IL at Stone Creek Church. I had just finished Bible College, was turning 22 years old and yet I was somehow favored with an incredible opportunity to run the Children’s ministry of a large church with a monthly attendance of around 250 kids!

This has definitely been a crazy year, a rollercoaster of ups and downs. I have had some great wins and yet made some big mistakes too. There have been times I have loved my job and times when I wondered if I was really even called to ministry!  Through it all I have learned a few things; but working along side some seasoned Veterans…I am constantly reminded I have a long way to go and lot more to learn!

Here are my thoughts….

1.    God Equips who he calls!

As you can imagine when I came to America I was taking on quite a role…I definitely don’t think I could be accused of dipping my toes into full time ministry. I was entering a different culture, taking on a lot of responsibility…and entering a Church where I would be the youngest pastor taking on the least healthy and most important ministry in the church. It was a mess and quite frankly I was out of my depth….It was in this mess that I soon realized that God’s grace was made perfect in my weaknesses…I began to see that through my first few months God was equipping me for the task he had called me. He didn’t just call me and leave me high and dry!

2.    Find a Rhythm…doesn’t take 20 years to get burned out!

In Bible College we were often warned of the difficulties of full time ministry…especially the dreaded ‘burn out’.

I always thought it would take years to reach such a place; but in hindsight a year in ministry has been hard enough and there have been a number of times when I couldn’t have even imagined the possibility of lasting 1 more year…let alone another 19!

When I came to America I came with many ideas, plans and strategies…and as a single guy…I had plenty of time on my hands to implement them! I worked long hours 7 days a week and I didn’t bother taking my weekly days off because I was excited and ready to go! My work schedule led to choosing fast food over cooking and relaxing over exercising in my spare time. Although I soon felt the effects in both my effectiveness and my fatigue! Balance and a work rhythm are the key to success!

Slow and Steady might not win you the race…but it will ensure you finish it!

3.    Don’t forget to Love people…

In my first few weeks at Stone Creek we had our annual ‘trunk or treat’ kids event which I helped partially organize…that event over two locations was a huge success drawing around 1700 people…throughout the year we have had some great events and made some great strides forward with the children’s ministry services…but the biggest wins for my ministry have been the relationship I have with my families and my ministry to the kids.

Events are great and improving systems is important…but my primary role is to be a minister to kids.

Some of my greatest moments have been praying for my sick kids in the hospital, talking to my kids whose parents are going through divorce or visiting my kid’s sports games or schools. In essence those are the things I am called to do…in order that my kids will know God’s love…the rest is just a bonus!

4.    Ministry is more than just Loving people…

With all that being said…Ministry isn’t all about loving people…in fact most of your week isn’t spent around people at all…unless your one of the lucky ones!

Ministry is actually more to do with leadership than anything else. One of our main roles as ministers is to recruit and equip people to do the work of Christ. Full time ministry has been just as much about managing a team of volunteers as it has been about ministering to children….this is especially true for Children’s ministry! You will organize events, clean up messes, move furniture, organize teaching, arrange volunteers and much more…Pastoring people is important…but to be successful in ministry you have to do a little more than love people…

5.    An open door in difficult times doesn’t equate to God’s will…

My first year in full time ministry has definitely been a rollercoaster. There have been some incredible moments…and some moments I would rather forget. However naturally it has only been in the difficult times when I have questioned if I was really meant to be where I am.

The funny thing is that opportunities only seemed to arrive in the difficult times and never in the successful times. It is easy to think that an open door should be walked through…but its immature to believe every available opportunity is a God opportunity…and its worse to think that just because things are difficult God is moving you on!

I’ve often found that great favor comes when we are faithful to God and his purpose for your life!

How are you training your Child?

In any Christian discussion surrounding raising kids it isn’t long before proverbs 22:6 is eagerly quoted

‘Start a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.’  Proverbs 22:6

It has become the mantra we claim to build our families by; yet so often when it comes to our practices we seem to be completely out of line with our principles.
Through my experience of children’s ministry across the world I have seen different trends and parental practices. Yet a common Christian trend is that the further you move into Westernized society the more choice is given to a child and the less care/training is given by their guardian.
In a bid to not force Christianity down our children’s throats we have softened so much that we allow Children to choose if we go to Church on a given Sunday. In doing so we say that its ok to put your desires before God’s desires.
Even worse we unconsciously teach our children that Church is just an add on in our lives. They can have basketball lessons, wrestling practice, gymnastics or even music lessons once, twice or sometimes even three a week and we wouldn’t allow them to miss even one of them; but when it comes to church once a month will do.
Much worse we seem to leave no place for faith in our family. God is left at Church on Sunday until the next time we visit. We don’t make God apart of the everyday; we just leave it for Sunday! When we don’t make mention of God in our homes we show kids that faith is just fake.
The reality is that Children aren’t stupid. They may nod their head to what you say; but they will always follow what you do. You train your children by the example you lead; or the example you don’t.
The news flash I want to leave you with is that 30 minutes a month in a Church service won’t change your child’s life. You have a responsibility to do more and to be more for your child. 

Don’t Need Church to be a Christian…

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Over the recent years we have seen in the public arena a young boy turn into a man. We have also seen that with the increase of his fame; a decrease in his morals and faith. There once was a time where Justin Bieber was loud and proud for no other than Jesus…but now the ‘fruit’ of his life seems much more bitter. In recent months we have seen a man who seems long estranged from the innocence and devotion of his past. No one can truly measure the heart or faith of a man; but his morals and lifestyle we at times must.

 

Interestingly Justin isn’t too different from many Church goers today who buy the lie…’you don’t need Church to be a Christian.’ This was Justin’s statement to the public last january. Private devotion to God will see you through were his sentiments. Sadly it would seem that over the last year ‘Church’ was the missing ingredient to Justin’s life.

 

Whatever the lie states, The Church is God’s blueprint. Jesus modelled Christian community and the Holy spirit stamped his approval through acts…nudging and gentle pushing the Church to where it should go and who it should become. Our current system and style my be off at times but the principles are clear.

 

It seems to me that we have blinded ourselves to the value/importance of Church. We get caught in congregating when it should all be about community! For my few years on this earth I have seen people drift from Church and practice their faith amidst their family and friends; but always do they come back. I believe that when you purposely step out of God’s plan and provision…you will lose his protection. This is what I have seen, people return battered and bruised after years with out Church being by their side.

 

I believe that too often when you cut yourself off from the Church; you quite growing…and in this world there is no middle ground…your either growing or dying.

Life’s a Happy Song?

It pains me to think how easy my life is and just how smoothly I live through it. I have bumps in my own life, but rarely do they stop me or send me off course. As I drive around and I live my life I see people’s needs but they rarely unsettle me either. But as I think about the World I am slowly exposed to its harsh realities; to the suffering and struggles of people every day. When I contemplate the vast extent of the need in this World; I realize I  should be shaken and it should be difficult for me to live as I do.

I am learning more and more that there is OBVIOUS need and INDISCREET need.

Obvious = We see it & can’t escape it. It slaps us in the face as we live our life; we soon become Numb to it!

Indiscreet = What you can’t see; can’t hurt you! Hidden, rarely thought of and hardly ever considered.

In many ways our role as the Church should be to make the INDISCREET —> OBVIOUS! In the poorest area of our town we are acting to do this; first through our Thanksgiving Big Give and now through ‘Project Angel Tree’. We have identified 30 families (around 66 kids), in one area of the City, where at least one parent is incarcerated and we are seeking to make their life that little bit easier at such a commercial and expensive time of the year!

We are throwing them a Christmas Party; providing them with groceries, Christmas decorations and a gift for each Child. As I rang around and spoke to Parents I began to realize the difference this will make. It’s eye opening to realize that not all people approach Christmas with excitement and not all people expect anything special!

As I asked Parents what their Children would need/want I was shocked when a number asked for ‘sleeping bags’ or ‘diapers’ instead of shiny toys or video games. We rarely appreciate the NEED around us. We are blind and ignorant to what people go through! But we must learn to SEE NEED; not just blind ourselves to it. And we must learn to see the NEED as the CALL.

‘Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed.

Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.’  (Isaiah 1:17)

We must seek to make the NEEDS of this World Famous and we should Fight to do something about them!