Devotional Thoughts: Be Like Me

Paul writes from prison. Getting a letter from prison from someone you love who is imprisoned for their faith is like… well, For example, my water heater busted this week. Of course we had no water for a time while a new one was installed. We take for granted the water we use every day. When we don’t have it, it’s scary. I feel dry. I feel I’m lacking and I have to stop and think more about how to do things. Paul was in prison. Their leader was gone. I’m sure getting a letter from him was much greater than having our water turned back on!

When we have a good leader we feel at ease just like when we have our running water to depend on. With Paul in prison the churches probably felt like their water was shut off. Paul’s words to the believers here are to remember what he’s taught them and for them to keep doing what they’ve learned.

Other versions put it this way:

“9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.” NIV.

Be like me. Wow, that’s a large mantle of leadership when you instruct people to be like you. Paul was striving to be like Jesus. He traveled around planting churches, preaching and sharing the Gospel. Paul endured great hardships and remained so firm in his faith. From his prison cell Paul is still instructing the followers of Jesus. As a leader in the faith we should live our lives in such a way that we too can say, “be like me.” When we are striving to live a life of faith, “being like me,” should come as close as we can to being like Jesus. The bar is high. Let’s all strive to be like Jesus so much that we can say to each other, “be like me.”

We are all leading someone whether we recognize it or not. We lead people towards or away from God. Let’s live in such a way that we feel ok saying, “be like me.”

Devotional Thoughts: Leadership

Previously in Matthew 18 Jesus was asked who will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus’ answer is the one who is like a child. His response shifts to include this warning. We should not cause anyone, especially a child or a new believer to stumble, to fall in their faith.

Leadership is a great responsibility. I remember a young man in multi-housing ministry who was behaving but I noticed that other kids would try to impress him by misbehaving around him. I sensed this young man may have been involved in gang activity. I pulled him aside to make him aware of his leadership qualities and also to explain that as a leader we are accountable for where we lead people: towards God or away from God. We implemented a strategy to isolate him from the other students and everyone behaved better. Within the next few years this young man totally changed his social circle and received an award at school for making great improvements!

Jesus said some harsh, brave things. I take this warning seriously and should live my life in such a way that I’m leading others towards God. For example, it’s not a sin to have a drink. Drunkenness is a sin. I don’t even know who around me might struggle with this right now or who’s had a problem with this in the past, so I choose not to drink alcohol. As a leader I do not wish for someone to look at my life and say, “well, Jeni does it , so it must be ok.” I’m not perfect and I certainly have my shortcomings, but I must try my best to lead others towards good and not into sin.

As a foster parent I heard stories of parents leading their kids down dangerous, traumatic roads. Many of these children will be scarred for life. It will take them years to heal from being ravaged by the sins of their parents. Even if justice doesn’t come in this life, it will roll down like waters one day. Revenge is of the Lord. I do not have to worry about taking matters into my own hands.

I want to lead people towards God, towards good, towards freedom and love. The only way to do this is to follow God with all I am.

Guidelines for Helping Others Part 3: Deeply Involved Over the Long Haul

I think it was Shane Claiborne who said, (I’m paraphrasing here) one of the biggest problems we have here in the U.S. is that Christians don’t know the poor.  It’s not that they don’t care about them, but that they don’t know them.  Knowing people changes our perspective and can teach us a lot.

  1. Offer a Team of Encouragers – I have offered to surround someone in need with a team of encouragers to meet with them weekly. We develop a contract of trust and commit to one another.  We require honesty and respect and the person we are helping is the leader of the group.  We assist that person with encouragement and developing a plan to meet their own goals.  The person makes the goals and we help give ideas and commit to praying and encouraging them.  This takes a team of people and can feel exhausting emotionally or just one or two people to walk with someone.
  2. Create a contract for clear boundaries and communication. If you decide to get deeply involved, create a contract together of what each person will do.  I’m glad to share an example of such a contract with anyone who contacts me.   We offer free meals at our church family supper once a week for example.  Decide who is responsible with what and be sure everyone on the team feels empowered to do their part.  Be clear about what would break the contract.  Talk about these and decide which ones need to go in writing.
  3. Goals should be made by that person, not by us. We should not push our opinions of what we think this person needs to do onto them.  That would be paternalistic.  They should make their own goals and we can support them and encourage them along the way.  Goals can be included as a part of the contract or separately.  Just asking, “What are your life goals?” and “How can I help you achieve your goals?” over a meal can be empowering and offer hope to someone.  Many people in desperate situations have never or rarely been asked these questions.
  4. Help Through Empowerment. I’ve learned a lot over the years about how our trying to “help” can actually further hurt people. Be sure you’re not creating categories of “helper and helpee.”  Be creative in doing tasks together equally, together and in a way that empowers both people in the relationship.  Ask yourself if what you’re doing would feel degrading if someone did that for you.
  5. Help People Earn Everything. What we earn we appreciate.  Earning boosts self-esteem.  In a tutoring program we help students earn everything.  They feel so proud of themselves when they earn things and meet their own goals. This paves the way for them to be more successful in greater things.  For example, students earn a large snack bag if they complete all their homework and behave well.  Very rarely do we have to send someone away because the children love these snack bags!  Some of these students come from generational poverty, so starting to teach them work and effort produce something they earn gives them a greater chance at savoring other things to earn in life.
  6. Help People Find a Way to Give Back.  This is essential for building self-esteem> Sometimes people who have nothing need help realizing they do have something.  They have time and they have their willingness.  Finding a good volunteer job can bring hope, connect someone to a good group of people and might can even become a paid job.  Volunteering gives back through a supervisor being able to provide a good reference for someone.  We all have something we can give no matter who we are!  Help others by encouraging them to serve too.  Offer to serve with them their first time.

If you decide to help someone, please don’t do it alone.  Recruit a group to help you.  Also, please remember you’re probably meeting with a person that’s hurting.  Not being involved for the long haul can hurt them further.  Commit to this person and keep moving even when they fail.  If they fail and are honest about it, keep marching!  We helped one woman from homelessness to stability over a year and a half.  She responded to the Gospel and is now stable.  This process can take longer or less time depending on the situation.  May God bless all our efforts to reach out!

When Christian Leaders Fall

Pastors embezzling money, getting caught looking at porn, having affairs, the list goes on and on.  What should church leaders do when a leader falls?

  1. Tell the Truth to your church family.

People are hurting and talking a lot to one another when a leader has made a bad sinful decision.  These conversations can quickly balloon and turn into untruths, suspicions and assumptions that can further cripple the church family.  It’s best to have a formal gathering where a statement is read and published for all to read and hear.  Too many details do not need to be shared but the sin needs to be named publicly.  This is the first step in guiding your church family to healing.  Hiding what happened can split churches.  Protect your church and tell the truth.

  1. Minister to the fallen leader, their family and anyone else that was directly involved.

It’s Godly to offer to pay for a series of therapy sessions for the fallen leader and their family.  We need to acknowledge that the public exposure of sin is MOST painful to the leader and their family.  Give them hope that they can get through this and heal.  If there’s another family directly involved, like with an affair or an abusive situation involving a minor and their family, it’s also crucial to minister to these families too.  If there’s an addiction problem, offer help and be the kind of church that believes our God restores and heals.  You can be clear that offering help doesn’t mean the fallen leader can still have their position of leadership.

  1. Caution: Do not make rash decisions as a reaction to what’s happened.

It’s ok to step away, pray and wait in moments when our emotions are high.  Do not underestimate the value of prayer and asking for God’s leadership.

  1. Reach outside your congregation for guidance and support.

Most denominations have a consultant that can help guide you through a healing process and help connect your church to healthy people who can fill in for you.  Remember the other pastors on your staff team are also experiencing emotions as well and it would be a gift for them not to have to take on everything immediately.  Invite an outside speaker that has experienced something like this to address your church family.

  1. Be clear about the steps ahead.

Be clear about whether or not this fallen leader will have the opportunity to be the leader in the future.  Let people know what the plan is to fill the fallen leader’s responsibilities in the meantime while church leadership can regroup and plan the next steps.  Communicate these steps as they are taken and this will relieve some stress for everyone.

  1. Focus on ministry and celebrate what God has done in your church.

Be quick to remind the church family of their God stories!  Celebrate what God has done among you.  Inspire one another to look ahead and focus on doing ministry instead of gossip and negativity.  Lead your people to God.  You are still God’s church!

  1. Lead your church through a process of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is essential for the church to heal and move on.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean that everything is ok and will go back to normal.  Forgiveness is a process and we cannot allow what a leader did to define the church.  Model forgiveness for your church family and speak forgiving words.

  1. Later on down the road, the job description for the open position should be visionary, not reactionary.

Many churches hire the opposite personality of a person they had to fire or ask to resign.  While this doesn’t seem rational this happens in churches frequently.  Hiring should be visionary and about where the church needs to be led, not a reaction to what’s transpired.


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