An Open Letter To Leaders of All Churches {...but particularly small churches...}

This piece is entitled “I Will Lead Unashamed”

This piece is entitled “I Will Lead Unashamed”

The current culture of the devaluing of church automatically comes with the devaluing of her ministers.   These words are for these ones - the ministers in His house. 

God takes it upon Himself to be the “lifter of our heads”, and His means are often through others.  I hope to mirror the heart of God, my minister friend, and speak words that will lift your chin.  A minister of the Gospel, (a pastor, or any of the other 5-fold ministries) should never be degraded by the world’s value system - not when he is faithfully, wildly imperfectly, carrying out his (or her) assignment.

There is a whole theology woven around the distinctive importance of the 5 fold minister, part-and-parcel of which is the distinctive importance of the church - the church as “living stones”, as an army, as a family, and as the very salt of the earth.  When God Himself likens His people to buildings, armies, and family - is it any wonder that the people who are part of the life of the church get confused as to their role and the role of their pastor?  Are we living stones built together, or are we invading, or are we at war, or are we all supposed to hug and have a well-seasoned dinner?

Because of this heavily nuanced nature of church, there is a keen and multi talented art to church leadership.  Church leadership is to be deeply valued and respected because, with the possible exception of some mega-church expressions, in 98% of churches, the leader has to both inspire and administrate an all volunteer task force.  Name another line of work where the “boss” is expected to stay by their post while the necessity of their even receiving an income is routinely scrutinized, its amount rarely raised, yet the results expected to be remarkable, all while advancing the agenda with  mostly unpaid volunteers.  

A workman is worthy of his hire.  Don’t muzzle the ox that treads the corn.  This letter is not about money, it is about value. Yet - it is a well established fact that money is an exchange of value. That exchange of value is designed to be equal. You are very valuable.

As an absurd aside, no one here is talking about salaries of a million dollars, or mansions, or lavish living.  98% of the church worldwide is under 200 members.  I am speaking to the leadership of this beautiful 98% who work hard and live modestly.  I honestly believe that in some cases the results of your ministry will be directly connected to the value you place upon the work of your hands - which is directly connected to the value you place upon the church herself.  She is the very bride of Christ.  

God wants you showing up in the world on her behalf in a certain way.  Obviously, that way is not full of hubris and inflated ego.

At the same time, we are not well equipped, especially as leaders of the 98%,  to see our service as valuable.  We aren’t taught how to do that in seminary or the training our network or denomination offered us.  But we can draw straight out of Scripture the deep, intrinsic value God has placed on both the church and its ministers.  

Beneath the subtle, negative innuendos towards “full time pastors”, and the applause for the de-church movement is the idea that a man shouldn’t earn his whole living serving the church.  Beneath the idea that a man shouldn’t earn his whole living serving the church is the falsity that 98% of God’s people can somehow thrive and grow without the job of oversight.  Scriptures plainly teach the necessity of devoted oversight, and Scripture plainly states “Workers deserve their pay.”

Because gone is a high view of church, gone is a high view of her ministers.  The Levitical priesthood was only as well cared for as the people valued their status as a set apart people and to the degree they deeply loved the law of God.  Today, the new covenant 5 fold minister is only as well cared for as the people love God with all their heart, and then love what He loves.  A minister is only as valuable to the church as the church values their status as a corporate expression of Christ in the earth, as the bride of Christ, and as the army of God.  What army has little to no dedicated leadership?

Ironically, almost conversely, the church will only value its position in the earth to the degree its leaders both teach and preach the value.  And its leaders will only teach and preach the worth of the church to the degree they understand their worth AS leaders, and feel a strong sense of joy and heritage and deep, nourishing pride in their calling to attend to the health of something so glorious, so fierce and full of wonder as the very bride of Jesus.

Your work brings value to the world.  The world will only value the work of your hands to the extent that you value it.  What you do impacts the eternity of people.  When you are esteemed for your work and when you are paid for your work, there is deep blessing released into every household that willingly shares in your support.  (That willing heart is THE prerequisite - but that is another book for another day.)  You are pouring yourself into the pursuit of bringing the body of Christ into full maturity.  This is incredibly valuable.  You are actively bettering the entire world, every single day, even when “all you do” are the administrative tasks that your position demands.  You have the power to inspire many to follow in your footsteps and seek to serve the church of the living God.  

It has become urgent that you draw near to God and hear from Him what His great heart is towards the bride of His son.  She is special.  In hearing of His heart towards the bride, you will begin to grasp His heart towards you, as under-shepherd.  Oh, how He loves you!  Oh, how He has your back!  Oh, how you have an ability to release favor and blessing into whole regions, families, and individuals!  

 And you bring things to the work of your hands that no one else can.  You have been assigned to teach and serve a local expression of the mystical universal - and your assignment is fitted to you and you are fitted to your assignment.  The people in your care need you to show up AS you, and as an ambassador of the glory of God, and as a visual aid of their own corporate pricelessness.  You teach them, as only you can, that they are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation that should show forth His praises.  

Yours is no small job.  Yours is no easy task.  Therefore, like all the people of God of old, like the priests of old, you are not to “eat anything dead of itself”.  God wants to provide for you specifically and directly.  He has a heart of abundance towards you, because you tend to what is so near and dear to Him.  

The way the people in your local church treat you, is a reflection of each person’s direct and vital connection to the heartbeat of God.  Let that soak in.  No one is advising that you become a “Snicker’s Diva” (have you seen the commercial?) - that is absurd.  At the same time, you do no one a service if you allow them to treat you at a level below love and respect.  The Bible clearly says that it is not good for the health of the soul of the people in your church, when your job is made a burden and not a blessing to you.  Each one is advised to make your job a joy.  You aren’t loving them well when you do not demonstrate what that means.

The church is God’s plan A.  She is the body through which clear answers and hope and creative love and solutions are birthed into the earth.  She is bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh, because the Spirit of God dwells in her corporate expression.  You continually offer her the story of her heritage.  You continually offer her the building up of herself in the faith.  You continually remind her who she is, you daily beautify her with your God-given tools and skillset. Without your tender care, she would flounder, not flourish, because God has set it in place that she be brought to health and maturity through those 5 callings of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  She will grow into her greatest glory only by your blood, sweat, tears, and words.  Yours is a high and holy calling.

I write through my tears. How the Lord loves His people and those who carefully (and care - fully…it is a job that is full of difficulties and cares) tend them.


A Timely Re-Post From the Archives {"Obedient or Absurd?"}

(This is a re-post from the archives of my old blogger site.  It dates all the way back to 2009.  And it is even more relevant today.  Apparently, these "mid-life" themes and issues have been life-messages of mine, for many, many years. This post was given an updated image, and the ages of The Preacher and I were updated...we've grown lots older.  It's so weird.)

Absurd.  Of course, the word means "ridiculous".  But what I didn't know is that the word comes from the Latin word, meaning "deaf".

 

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(Ink, Stabilo pencil, watercolor, and a (found) butterfly wing.  Titled "I Will Lead Unashamed")

There can be no obedience without listening. There is no real listening without relationship to God, and to people who are faithful to tell us what we do not want to hear.

Obedience is not taking a principle or method, and applying it with literal exactitude. And it certainly is not taking feelings and making them fact.  Such inflexible "obedience" is actually a manifestation of not listening...it is deafness...it quickly becomes absurd. Obedience is to hear, in the moment, the heart of the One who is in charge.

There can be no obedience without being willing to hear. Not just hear words...hear heart.

At no time are we in more danger of defaulting into a deaf-absurdity, than in mid-life. After all, we've earned our many merit badges, like good life-scouts. We can now chart our own course, and we do not have to listen to anyone but ourselves...or to those ever-faithful to "prophesy" to our flesh.

On many levels, we can become "hard of hearing" beginning in mid-life. My husband, who is a mere 54 (post edit:  age was updated to reflect 2018), and a tad hard of hearing, having been a drummer all his life, asked me, awhile back, with a baffled expression, "What is it about mid-life, for some people??"

He's right. At this transitional turning point in time, we choose a certain perspective, we cling to it as our reality...and thus set the course for the rest of our lives.  In.  Cement.  

We either summon the courage to take the creative, relational path of grace and truth, or we, often precisely at mid-point, begin our descent into a self-preserving, strange absurdity. Rigid in our inflexible pain-points, we lose hearing, sight, smell, and we lose touch with people who used to matter to us. There is no fruit, no sweet smelling-tasting-beautiful harvest to be had in absurdity.  

Every life has trauma in the middle.  But for some, trauma becomes a way to justify not hearing. 

Mid-life can bring insensibility, or it can set us free to experience God and relationships with eyes wide open, ears attuned, head doused, dripping in the oil of gladness, and plowing straight into what God intends to be the harvest-time of our lives.

How do we know if we are living the life of obedient listening, or the disobedience of not hearing? Look for any signs of the ridiculous. Look for the extreme, absurd reaction.  Also, look for the cool, intellectual rigidity of the quid pro quo ethos: tit for tat. You are this way, I respond that way. You offend me, I withdraw. Your worth has been measured, your "work" evaluated, and I "pay" with a kiss, always. I do not listen for anything more, I hear nothing more as to your value beyond what I evaluate, in terms of my own needs and expectations.

Absurdity. Deafness.  I weep at the thought.  

Rather, I want courage and victory.

Victory...true victory...has a voice.  It is the voice of the community.  I want to adjust my perspective to be able to hear the sound of it. It is a sound of joyful shouting, coming from the family tent. After all, I shall be 55 years old in a few years (updated for 2018)...regardless of the lateness of the hour, I need my mind renewed to be able to hear.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! ...You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.
~St. Augustine

When The Best Becomes Robber of Good

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Since the turn of the year, I've found myself in a time of hearing the Lord and my own life speak to me.  It has been unlike any other season of the "New Year", and perhaps unlike any other season, ever.  I can't stop writing.

And as I write, the pages are redolent with inspiration and rediscovery, lines squeezed in at odd angles, in pens of various colors, words pushing their way up through the stubborn sod of mid-life apathy and anxiety.  

I would love to share the words I'm feverishly scrawling right here.  My hope is that reading them - you and I - that we will not only experience a personal breakthrough, but also the first shaping of a new, timely, contemporary appreciation of natural church.  Analog church.  Slow church.  

I am discovering that the present model of what makes for a successful church is actually an old relic, dating back to the garden of Eden.  Everything God made was good.  It was gift.  

And along came Serpent, to see to it that "the best" became robber of good...that great became the robber of good.  And here we all are, thinking that all we need is a better, best way to "be the church".

I am waving my flag, and getting off Crazy Train.  And it is beyond refreshing.  It is beyond refreshing to see God's creation, which is His church, as a place to live into the questions inevitable when the kingdom of God is supernatural and the lives of people ordinary.

It is exciting, I think, to explore a smaller yet much larger, saner perspective.  A perspective that is inherently natural and embodied in my individuality, yet entirely supernatural and only embodied in community.  A perspective that leans into ordinary life, and watches it become something extraordinary, simply because I have chosen to love what is mine.

There is this sudden, slow satisfaction of spiritual things set right.

2018, your sudden shifts are welcome here.  My pen is poised.

"My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer."  Psalm 45:1