Our main task as leaders

In Philippians 1 Paul says he is sure he will survive his imprisonment “and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith” (25). It is an intriguing glimpse into how Paul saw the goal of his ministry. His goal was to make people happy, to bring them joy. This, of course, we much more than merely enjoying happy circumstances. Paul himself expresses joy in the midst of persecution, imprisonment and opposition (12-18). This joy is joy in Christ. And for Paul this ministry begins with his own joy in Christ. He himself says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (21) “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all tings.” (3:8) Our aim is to treasure Christ above everything so we naturally and sincerely extol Christ to our communities so that they might find joy in Christ. Then as they treasure Christ, they too will extol Christ to a lost world so that other join us in treasuring Christ.

We might express this through the following diagram …

The exciting thing is that when we extol Christ we do so to oursevles as well as to other so we nurture our own treausing of Christ. In the same way when our communities  extol Christ they do so one another and to us so together we extol Christ the more. These “feedback loops” create virtuous circles.

Consider again our simpler diagram. It highlights our starting point and therefore our main task as leaders: to treasure Christ. My main task is to nurture my own joy in Christ. Everything else flows from this point.


A prayer for church leaders and Bible teachers

Here’s a prayer for church leaders and Bible teachers …

Lord, I rejoice to suffering for your people
…..and I accept more of Christ’s afflictions
….for the sake of his body, the church.
You have commissioned me
….to be a servant of the church,
to present to your people your word in its fulness –
….the mystery once hidden
….that is now revealed to the saints.
To them you have chosen to make known
….among the nations
….the glorious riches of this mystery:
….Christ in us, the hope of glory.
Enable me to proclaim Christ,
….warning everyone,
….teaching everyone
….with all wisdom,
so that I may present everyone prefect in Christ.
Energize me, work in me powerfully
….so I can toil and struggle in this task.
May they be encouraged in heart
….and united in love.
May they have all the riches of full assurance
….and full understanding of Christ,
discovering in him
….all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Based on Colossians 1:24-2:3.

Thursday Review: Neil Cole on Organic Leadership

A review of Neil Cole, Organic Leadership: Leading Naturally Right Where You Are, Baker, 2009 purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US.

Neil Cole is the author of Organic Church purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US and, as the title suggests, in Organic Leadership he takes the approach of Organic Church and applies to leadership and training.

Cole begins by suggesting that many leaders who sincerely desires gospel fruit in fact impede growth because what they do – and what they have been trained to do – is lead an institution. “What is consistent in both Organic Church and Organic Leadership is my belief that the kingdom of God is relational, spiritual, and natural – without all the artificial stuff we tend to use to prop up our ministries today.” (15) What Cole criticizes in his opening deconstructing section is “institutionalization, corruption of leader character, legalistic leadership, the monopolization of truth, the hierarchical chain of command, false views of reality, and parasitic ‘ministries’.” (30) “What we think of as being needed can in reality be our neediness … A drive to feel significant compels them and being needed affirms their sense of importance.” (39)

Cole then asks why, when many churches complain of a lack of leaders, other churches seem to have lots of leaders. The difference, he suggests, lies in whether your approach to finding leaders is recruitment or reproduction. “Recruitment is a practice in subtraction – taking people from one ministry to work in another. Reproducing leaders from the harvest and for the harvest is a practice of multiplication.” (134) The only biblical example of recruitment is Barnabas recruiting Paul in Acts 11:22-26. When in Luke 10 Jesus tells his disciples to ask the Lord of the Harvest for works the only place from those workers are going to come is the harvest itself. “If your ministry is struggling without leaders, do not re-evaluate your leadership development program. It is time to re-evaluate your disciple-making system. If you are doing next to nothing to reach lost and broken people, your leadership development system will yield very few results.” (139) Continue reading

Jonathan Dodson on three conversions, ‘fight clubs’ and missional leadership

Here’s the video of Jonathan Dodson’s session at Lead09 arguing we need three conversions – to Jesus as Lord, to the church and to mission plus the audio of his breakout sessions on leading missional communities and ‘fight clubs’.

Leading Missional Communities

Fight Clubs: Gospel-Centred Leadership

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How do you view the people in your congregation?

More reflections on Acts 20 following our leadership discussions …

We were struck again by Paul’s tears. ‘I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears’ (19). ‘Remember the three years I was with you – my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you’ (31). Which led us to wondering whether we see the people in our congregations as:

— a problem to be endured

— a puzzle to be solved

— a pastoral task to be completed

— a potential to be realised

Or  ‘the church of God, which he bought with his own blood’ (Acts 20:28).

Six words to leaders

I read Paul’s farewell exhortation to the leaders of the church in Ephesus in Acts 20 this morning. As it happens, we have a leaders’ meeting this evening at which I’m handing over some leadership to others so it felt timely. Here are six things I want to highlight with my leaders …

1. Both feed and guard the flock (28-31)

What do leaders do? ‘Guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock.’ (28) Leaders do the positive work of feeding, teaching and instructing the flock. But they also do a negative work of guarding and watching over the flock – warning, rebuking,  correcting. And it’s this element that Paul seems to emphasis. Perhaps because we have a tendency to shrink back from confrontation …

2. Never shrink back (20, 26-27)

‘I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear.’ (20) Don’t make it your aim to be loved. You often hear stories of leaders who are deeply loved by their flock. That’s a wonderful thing when it happens, but it’s a dangerous aim because you may shrink from telling people what they need to hear. More often than not, those leaders who are now so  loved have come through periods of conflict when their message was opposed. Your aim is to ‘well done, good and faithful servant.’

3. Trust grace (21, 24, 32)

‘I entrust you to God and this message of his grace’ (32). Of course we preach grace. But in reality we often find it hard to entrust people to grace. We want to hedge them around, to protect them, to steer them. From good motives, we can add layers of obligation that become legalism. Paul’s message is ‘the wonderful grace of God’ (24) and so his only ‘obligations’ are ‘the necessity of repenting of sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus’. (21) [For an attempt to show how we are sanctified by faith and repentance alone and therefore a pointer to a faith-based approach to pastoral care see my book, You Can Change.]

4. Guard yourselves (28)

‘Guard yourselves and God’s people’ (28).  The first three points are about our ministry. The second three are about our own lives. We are to guard God’s flock. But first we are to guard ourselves. Never let the busyness of ministering to other keep from ministering to your own heart. As Robert Murray M’Cheyne famously said: ‘The greatest need of my congregation is my own personal holiness.’

5. Sacrifice (24, 33-35)

‘My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling other the Good News about the wonderful grace of God’ (24). The only life worth living is a life spent serving Jesus because Jesus is the only thing worth living for (Matthew 13:44). Verses 33-35 and striking. Paul works to suply his own needs. And then he works some more so he can help those in need.

6. Shed tears (19, 31)

‘I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears’ (19). ‘Remember the three years I was with you – my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you’ (31). I am convinced that tears are a good sign of authentic ministry. Do we love your flock so much that we weep for them? Let’s ask God to open our hearts and give us a love for people.

C.J. Mahaney on grace and the adventure of leadership

I’ve just got back from the Radstock conference – more of that in due course. At the conference Mike McKinley (a church planter in the States, a Radstock trustee and part of 9Marks) recommended a talk by C. J. Mahaney. So I listened to it on the way on home and I highly recommend it. The title is Leadership and the Adventure of Grace. I was driving so I couldn’t take notes! But, expounding 1 Corinthians 1:4-9, Mahaney addresses our attitude to our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ however in need to correction they may be (and the Corinthian church was certainly in need of correction). In particular he calls on us:

— to look at people from a divine perspective – they have been called by God

— to recognise God’s prior work in their life before we focus on what still needs to be change

— to express thanks to God for what he is doing in people’s lives and communicate that gratitude to them

— to look for signs of grace before we look for areas that need correction

— to recognise the Christian life is described as ‘walking’ so don’t get frustrated when people are not running – sometimes just facing in the right direction is victory!

He also warns leaders not to get frustrated when the congregation don’t get after a four week sermon series what you’ve been working on for months!

All done with Mahaney’s usual passion, humour and humility. But don’t take my word for it …

Geek spot: By the way, I found the MP3 on my BlackBerry and downloaded to my phone. I then plugged in the mini FM-transmitter I normally use with my iPod so I was able to listen to it through my car radio. Those of you under 30 may not find this remarkable, but when I was at university twenty years ago only one student had a computer which was one more than the faculty had (I’m afraid we rather scorned him for it because he was the rich think kid), mobile phones hadn’t been invented and only the miltary were using something called the internet. The idea that I can now hear about a talk while away from home and then immediately listen to it in my car – it still amazes me!

Leadership expectations

At the end of last year we spent some time reviewing leadership within our network with a view to identifying new leaders and training needs. As part of that process I put together a document stating our expectations of leaders. Here’s what I came up with. You can download these leadership expectations as a PDF file.


1. Character

Leaders love Jesus, delight in his grace, manage their own households well,
and walk in daily faith and repentance so that their lives are an example to others.

1 Timothy 3:1-7 (Titus 1:7-8)

Potential Indicators

(These indicators are not a checklist that people must ‘pass’. They are an aid to assessing a person’s potential as a leader and a description of the kind of leaders we aspire to be.)

1.     Do they show joy, excitement, confidence, awe and gratitude when they talk about Jesus?

2.     Are they confessing sin and welcoming accountability?

3.     Are they respected by believers and unbelievers?

4.     Does their mood affect their conduct?

5.     Do they serve their wives so that their wives flourish spiritually and in ministry?

6.     Do their children respect them?

7.     Are they slow to contradict other people? Are they rarely in quarrels? Do they confront people with gentleness and humility?

Do they have a living confidence that: contrary indicators
God is great –
so we do not have to be in control
they are over-bearing

they are inflexible or risk averse

they are impatient with people

they avoid responsibility

God is glorious –
so we do not have to fear others
they avoid confrontation

they crave approval

they behave differently around certain people

they pretend or hide their true self

God is good –
so we do not have to look elsewhere
they feel ministry is a burden

they often complain

they make people feel a burden of duty

they don’t stick at things

God is gracious –
so we do not have to prove ourselves
they take criticism and failure badly

they find it hard to relax

they are proud or envy the success of others

they make people feel guilty


2. Bible

Leaders know and can teach the gospel to small groups and one-to-one,
explaining the Bible, applying the Bible and addressing people’s hearts.

1 Timothy 3:2 (Titus 1:9-11)

Potential Indicators

1.     Do they know the Bible story?

2.     Are they constantly concerned to submit to the authority of the Bible?

3.     Do their contributions to Bible studies show a good understanding of the passage?

4.     Do their contributions to Bible studies show a concern to build up others?

5.     Do their contributions to Bible studies show an ability to draw out practical implications?

6.     Are they often speaking the gospel into other people’s lives?

7.     Do they address the beliefs and affections of people’s hearts as well as their behaviour?


3. Vision
Leaders are enthusiastically committed to the vision expressed in our ten core values
and live that vision by practicing our five rhythms.

Ephesians 4:11-16 (Titus 2:1-15)

Potential Indicators

1.     Are they enthusiastic about our ten core values?

2.     Are they able to explain the values to others?

3.     Do their contributions to team discussions reflect an understanding of the values?

4.     Do they make decisions with regard to the community and consult over major decisions?

5.     Do they take responsibility when other leaders are absent?

6.     Do they use the language of ‘we’ and ‘our’ when they talk about our network?

7.     Are they involved in mission? Do they have friends who are unbelievers?


4. Servanthood

Leaders take responsibility for the life of the church
at the expense of their own interests and agendas.

1 Peter 5:1-5 (Philippians 2:1-5)

Potential Indicators

1.     Are they eager to serve and do they serve without complaining?

2.     Do they show submission to, and respect for, existing leaders and the wider community?

3.     Do they lead in prayer and contribute to discussions?

4.     Do they avoid making general discussions about their issues?

5.     Do they show a concern for other people’s walk with God?

6.     Are they generous with their time and money?

7.     Are they regularly showing hospitality?


A leader won’t feel overwhelmed by these expectations, nor self-confident, because they have living knowledge of:

*  God’s grace – which means we can acknowledge our failures without having to prove ourselves

*  God’s power – which gives us true confidence

Apostolic leadership

Church planting movements and apostolic leadership

In my last post on church planting movements I suggests planting churches around new believers. This in turn requires a different of leadership. It requires apostolic leadership. By apostle, here, I do not mean the foundational twelve (plus Paul) who laid the apostolic testimony upon which the church is built. I do not mean people who knew the Risen Christ and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit gave an infallible and ultimately canonical account of the Truth akin to the prophetic word in the Old Testament.

I mean instead pioneering church planters who oversaw the planting of networks of household congregations.

Consider Paul. He plants churches, sometimes after two or three years, but sometimes after two or three weeks. Then he moves on. But he retains a strong interest and involvement in the churches. He visits them. He writes to them. He corrects them. He encourages them. He sends people to appoint leaders and to remove leaders. It is hands on involvement. The churches he leaves behind go astray, but Paul is there to correct them.

We have a notion of an ideal church leader that reflects a traditional of a church of 100 people with 45 minutes of oratory each week. But leaders of small, household congregations will very different. The main criteria will be character (just as it was in the Pastoral Epistles). We think leaders must cope with every potential heresy and every potential pastoral problem. But this assumes new church plants are wholly independent and self-sustaining. This need not be if they are connected to a wider network where people can be supported in their leadership.

Continue reading

What Balaam teaches church planters

I was reading the story of Balaam this morning from Numbers 22-25. I was struck by the way that God protects his people from a direct assault upon them by Balak and Balaam. Barak, king of the Moabites, hires Balaam to curse the Israelites. God tries to prevent Balaam going by sending an angel which at first only Balaam’s donkey sees. Then God allows Balaam to go, but permits only to bless Israel. Time again churches withstand direct assaults – whether through heresy or persecution. But in Numbers 25 we read that Moabite women sed uce the men of Israel and encourage them to worship Baal. The Lord’s anger against this leads ot the of 24,000 Israelites. Revelation 2:14 tells us that Balaam was the instigator of this indirect assault on God’s people.

It is a warning, I think, to us to watch of ual conduct and to guard against se xual temptation. Many ‘sound’ churches that have withstood assaults from the world have been devasted by se xual misconduct within the community. Many evangelical leades who have stood against heresy have had their minsitries wrecked by se xual impro priety. We train leaders to guard heresy, but are we training them to guard against se xual temptation?