The Three Levels of Leadership

The Three Levels of Leadership

Recently at LifeCity Church, we began a series walking through 2 Timothy called The Leader in Me, where I’ve been walking through the leadership principals the Apostle Paul gives in his final farewell letter to Timothy. The point of this series has been simple: Leadership, in a word, is influence – and God has given all of us a degree of influence in this world that we should cultivate. One of the main points of his leadership dynamics is founded in 2Timothy 2:2, “The things you’ve heard and seen of me, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

Through this and other passages, I introduced our church to the three levels of leadership…

  • Leading self.
  • Leading others.
  • Leading leaders.

You must be able to lead yourself well, if you’re ever to be capable of leading others. Self-discipline, sacrifice, and the ability to follow all fall under this for me. Because you can’t lead, if you can’t follow.

The next step up is leading others, or leading a team. This is often coveted by short-sighted “leaders” who want to skip over level 1. I like to elevate people to this level who have demonstrated the ability to lead themselves, but are otherwise reluctant to be “over” someone else. Their humility and self-awareness often make them far better suited for leadership than they realize, and watching them grow in this capacity is inspiring.

The third level is leading leaders, more specifically, leading level 2 leaders. I’m reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 20:26, that the greatest among you must be “the servant of all”. Jesus ties greatness directly to the idea of servanthood. The greatest leader, therefore, should be striving to be the greatest servant. In God’s Kingdom where everything is backwards to our human perspective, this is the model of a growing leader.

Levels 2 and 3 are contingent on level 1. You can’t lead others somewhere you’re not going. If you’re undisciplined, unwilling to sacrifice, unwilling to follow others, then your leadership is ultimately based on yourself, not those whom you wish to lead.

I hope this is helpful as you consider your leadership growth.

Pastor John

The Post Pandemic Pastor

The Post Pandemic Pastor

What a bizarre season of life and ministry this has been! Just in regarding pastoral ministry, SO much has changed. We’re fighting battles we never imagined, and tectonic cultural shifts that are impossible to predict or even keep up with. Most of us never fathomed a world where wearing a mask or getting a vaccine was a politically charged, polarizing issue within our churches. We knew racial tensions were a very real concern, but we never imagined a world where supporting black lives somehow meant you had to hate the police, veterans, or the American flag. We knew an online presence was important for a church, but we never would have guessed that it would be the exclusive way anyone interacted with our ministry for months on end, up to a full year.

Somewhere in the perceivable future is a relative end to the Covid-19 pandemic we’ve been living in for almost two full years. And the temptation to “go back” to the way things were before is strong. But what does going “back” even look like?! Is it possible even if it seems preferable?

“But what does going back even look like?! Is it possible even if it seems preferable?”

Most of the pastors whom I would consider peers are very hard working, driven people. Like most of them, I’ve felt trapped, stuck, or in some sort of holding pattern over the majority of the past 2 years. I’ve been itching to break out in “full throttle” ministry again. But the truth is, I haven’t rested much at all during these near two years of quarantining, sheltering in place, and social distancing. I’ve been busy trying to lead my church who is struggling emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. People have had financial setbacks, break ups, marriages, and deaths in the family. Spiritual needs have multiplied, rather than subtracted over the past 18-24 months. With shifts in office hours, schedules, and kids’ schooling, the “Type A” personality in me had to fill that shift with something – anything that felt productive.

As a result, I know hold two IT certifications, started writing a book, and started a BBQ business! What?... some of you got really into making sourdough! But I digress…

God willing, we’ll see a peak to this recent surge, and case rates will die back down soon. But what will that even mean for pastors, post-pandemic? I have some predictions, and they’re not all great…

  • There will be a rash of senior pastor resignations. Many are barely hanging on. Some of them – good men – are dying to quit, but can’t take the guilt of leaving their church in the middle of the current situation. They’re long past burnout, running on fumes. Some have quit, or emotionally resigned already.
  • Those who don’t quit, will need a break. The idea of a pastoral sabbatical has become much more common. Most pastors will likely need one over the next 2 years. If you’re an elder and you’re uneasy about the idea, please realize that this is generally preferable to the first scenario. Even allowing an extended vacation for your pastors is better than nothing.
  • Many churches will close or get consolidated. If I’m correct about my first prediction (and we already see the signs everywhere), it won’t be possible to fill all the vacancies. As a result, many churches will close down completely, while others will get absorbed into other, often larger churches; which is often a very good thing! But it will still feel like a reluctant necessity for many ministries.
  • Pastors who have rested will be eager. I’m trying to rest! I know there’s a coming wave of momentum that the church must be ready for – and I want to be ready. I believe people are longing for spiritual and community connections – a real need that healthy churches have a long track record of providing for. These lead to opportunities for the gospel seed to take root in hearts it might not have otherwise. Rested pastors will be ready pastors… Ready to take ground for the Kingdom in the next season.

That’s why I’m trying to take care of my soul better now. I’ve got a bad track record of of doing great for myself for a few months at a time, and then “falling off the wagon” of soul care. But you can’t pour into others from an empty vessel. And a cracked vessel doesn’t hold much for long.

“…you can’t pour into others from an empty vessel. And a cracked vessel doesn’t hold much for long.”

I want to be ready. I want to charge ahead when the time comes. I’m not just resting… I’m resetting. The next season after this pandemic is going to require the best out of me. We can’t go “back” – I don’t think it’s preferable or possible. But by the grace of God, I intend to charge forward with all my might. What about you, brother? What about you, sister?

Pastor John

Married and Unsatisfied

Married and Unsatisfied

You thought you were getting sex tonight. You swear you even caught your wife giving you the look she usually gives when she’s nonverbally letting you know it’s going to happen when you get home, kids go to bed, or whatever the normal context is for you two to get lucky. But once again, you got denied…

Whether you’re the husband or wife – it can be frustrating, lonely, and stressful when you’re in a season of sexless marriage. In marriage, we possess this awesome gift of guilt-free sex through intimacy with our spouse. But despite what you may have thought before “I do”, that doesn’t mean all your sexual problems just magically go away.

A few things to consider before I share some practical advise:

  • The frequency of sex for a couple is often very different for each couple, and through different seasons also. The newly weds in their early 20’s are probably far more frequent in their sex life than the couple 18 years in, with teenagers in the house. And that’s ok!
  • One spouse may have a much higher libido than the other. Generally, we know men tend to want sex more often than their wife, but that’s not always the case. Once a week may be enough for him, but she may long for intimacy multiple times a week.
  • There are often legitimate reasons where intimacy is less possible. Your wife is 9 months pregnant and on bedrest… a little grace and understanding may be in order! Maybe there’s a particularly stressful season at work that’s killing the mood, or sapping your energy when you get home. Maybe there’s stress in your extended family that has you distracted. It’s ok…

But what do you do when things seemed to have just stopped, or significantly dropped in the frequency that you use to have sex? I want to offer some some practical application to help you get past a dry season, and more importantly, deal with the root issues behind the issue.

Sexual health in marriage = healthy intimacy. This is why masturbating alone in the bathroom doesn’t fix the problem. It’s not just hormones needing to be released, it’s harmony being missed. What your marriage really, really needs is deeper intimacy. True intimacy is based on vulnerability and trust. And you can not demand either.
Often husbands are not seen as being the “vulnerable” ones, but it is very emotionally risky to attempt to initiate sex after feeling rejected over and over again, whether you’re the husband or the wife. Trust for the man is often built when his wife sees his longing to be intimate, and reciprocates – if not this time than the next time, on her initiative. Wives may feel like their husbands have withdrawn, so maybe he just doesn’t want sex as much. But often, he feels rejected and is acting out in hurt, unwilling to risk rejection again. And the longer the time it takes for her to initiate, the longer and greater the feeling of rejection may last on his part.

Healthy intimacy requires consistent communication. I’m still amazed at how few couples actually talk to each other about their sex lives. But when an emotional wound exists, it can be very difficult to even try to bring up the subject. Married couples should routinely talk to each other about sex! What do you talk about? Well you’re married! So nothing is really off limits here! There is nothing dirty about talking to your spouse, about sex with your spouse! So here a few ideas: express your needs/desire for sex, ask questions about their desires, what they like, what they don’t like. It could be, that your spouse isn’t enjoying sex – and it’s your job to learn how! More than your job, you should see it as your privilege. So you have to speak up, ask good questions, and always demonstrate care and compassion towards them in the process.

Sex is more of a thermometer than a thermostat. In other words, while a healthy sex life does sometimes improve the overall health of your marriage, it is always an indication of the health of your marriage. Sex definitely helps set the mood for marital happiness, but in my personal and pastoral experience, it is always a reliable indication of the happiness that already exists between husband and wife.
When there is a lack of sexual intimacy and fulfillment in a marriage, it is almost always a sign of deeper issues. Maybe for one spouse, it feels like their partner has more of a desire for sex itself, rather than for actual intimacy with them. In these cases, one spouse often feels like nothing more than a means to an end – a sexual object – rather than a true lover. Perhaps there is an underlying issue that has caused your spouse to not feel very “intimate” toward you. Maybe they are simply going through a personal struggle and need you to reach out to them lovingly. Maybe they just don’t realize it, and need you to say something! Maybe they feel alone in the finances or household responsibilities, and hold some resentment toward you that is manifesting in not feeling very “sexual” towards you.

Sex in marriage, the Christian marriage specifically, is an act of consistent, mutual humbling of one’s self toward their spouse. In 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul corrects the church in Corinth for this strange, aberrant view they had on marital sex. They had (incorrectly) come to the conclusion that all things of the “flesh” were evil, including sex – within marriage! Paul gives them a better word; “Stop depriving one another…” He teaches us that a husband’s body doesn’t belong to himself, but to his wife, and conversely that she belongs to him. Either of these two thoughts on their own would sound possessive, sexist, and potentially abusive. But together we learn to see that our body, our desires, our needs – belong to our spouse. It is their job to think of us, as it is our job to think of them.

Sometimes, the most loving, intimate thing you can do for your spouse is not try to figure out how to get them to “put out” tonight, but to lay aside your desires to see that she’s exhausted, stressed, or scared. So instead of making a sexual advance, you put the kids to bed, read them a book, and rub her feet. And the irony to it all, is that as you show true love for your spouse – not by demanding sex, but by modeling humility and intimacy towards them – your chances just got much better.

Sex is easy. Intimacy is rare, and precious. Marriage requires us to value the intimacy over intercourse. Instead of thinking, “how can I get my spouse to have sex tonight?” a better thought is, “what does my spouse need from me tonight?” Maybe he needs you to communicate your needs. Maybe she needs to talk to her husband about her day. Maybe they need you to risk making the move again. Maybe they need your arms around them, with no sexual outcome intended. Maybe you both need to get out and have a date together – no kids.

May your marriage be filled with deep, meaningful intimacy.
May you put your spouse ahead of yourself, and model sincere love.
May you communicate the real heart issues behind the issues.
And may you have a loving, strong, enviable sex life as a result.

Pastor John

The Premium of Pain

The Premium of Pain

The phrase no pain, no gain has been a mantra for athletes and fitness junkies for years. And what they understand about physical pain needs to be broadened to a much more general use in all of our lives.

Pain hurts. That’s the whole problem. No one enjoys it, and if someone does, we rightfully question their mental health. But I’ve learned from repeated familiarity that there is a premium value for pain that is not achieved otherwise.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

It’s been the battle cry of my ministry – of my life! I even made a wristband saying as much. The difficulty is that I have to remind myself of this when it’s the least convenient. When I’ve gone through a loss, a failure, a disappointment, a setback – that’s when pain is punching the hardest. And that’s when I have to remind myself that there is a resource that only comes through such pain.

This is easily the greatest reason why most people are stuck in life. Stuck in their career because they think they can’t start over. They can start over, but starting over sucks.
Stuck in their marriage because they won’t have uncomfortable conversations about the problems in their relationship, so they settle for “peace” which isn’t true peace it’s just a pause in the fighting. And by pause, I mean nothing is being worked out together.
Stuck in their faith, because you won’t risk anything meaningful in your pursuit of truly knowing Christ, “and the fellowship of His suffering.” (Philippians 3:10).
Stuck in your finances, because it’s more convenient to have a little fun now, rather than save for a lot of freedom later.

We are naturally pain averse. But pain comes for us all. It comes by choice through sacrifice, or it comes by consequence through inaction, playing it safe, and maintaining a status quo. But regardless of how it comes, we still have a valuable decision to make…

What do I do with my pain?

  • I can internalize it – become bitter, spiteful, and self-destructive.
  • I can vocalize it – assign blame, make public statements, protest, and pass responsibility.
  • I can mobilize it – realize that I got here at a price, and pain is a tutor – a tough and expensive one – whose lessons are hard-earned, and few are willing to pay the tuition.

Pain comes from many sources. Self inflicted, abuse by others, setbacks from life, and even from God, Himself. It was Him after all, who led His own Son to the cross. But through the price of the pain He endured on the cross, our salvation was purchased.

What might your pain purchase? You’re richer than you think. Your pain is a resource. You can choose anger and resentment, or you can choose humility, grace, perseverance, wisdom, and growth. It’s my prayer that you mobilize the premium price of pain God has allowed in your life for greater things.

Pastor John

Kanye West and celebrity “conversions”

Kanye West and celebrity “conversions”

Recently I came out in support of Kanye West’s conversion to faith in Christ. Read that again. Slowly. I support his conversion, his profession, his faith in Christ…

Not any of his past. Not any of his present antics. Not his political choices. Not even every spiritual sounding thing he says. I support his very vocal, very well-articulated, very public salvation experience through his acknowledgement of his need for Christ, and faith in His work.

Am I skeptical of Kanye? Sure. I’m skeptical of anyone who wants something from me – whether that’s my purchase of their album (which I did), or persuade me to give them my vote (which I never do).

Here are some observations I make about people who sincerely receive Christ into their lives:

  • They can’t shut up about Him! Whether we’re talking about Biblical characters like Zacchaeus (Luke 19), or the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) – people who get saved by Jesus, are consistently compelled to share Jesus. Kanye – in true Kanye fashion – has not stopped talking about what Jesus did for him. That rings true to me.
  • They are reckless in their abandonment of their old life. Peter got called by Jesus to follow Him (Matthew 4), and Peter literally quit his job on the spot! Walked out on his fishing business with his dad to follow Jesus. Kanye is an artist, but he’s an artist who made millions promoting godless, moral-less anthems. Since his faith experience, he’s put all of that reputation in jeopardy. Maybe more accurately, you could say he’s crucified that life with this new faith.
  • They have to do something! I mentioned Zacchaeus earlier. Zacchaeus was a legal thief, a.k.a. tax collector for the Roman government. When he encountered the love of Christ, he made a decision to pay back what he took unjustly from others, with heavy interest. Kanye writes music. He’s using what he has. In his words, from God Is, “I can’t sit here and be still, everybody I will tell, ’til the whole world is healed!”
  • They are messy. Almost every new Christian is messy. Some more “mature” Christians are messy! Basically we’re all a just a forgiven mess. But my point is, that new believers are still figuring everything out, and how to die to themselves everyday. And that’s not easy! Kanye, and those who celebrated his faith, came under fire when a quote he made about himself being the “greatest artist God ever created” came out. Yeah, that’s arrogant! But I also know that with all the publicity he’s gotten lately he was bound to say something stupid eventually. Wasn’t that everyone’s point? Isn’t that why he keeps getting attention, because people are more interested in seeing him fall, rather than succeed in his faith profession? Shame on us.

I would never feel any compulsion to support everything someone does or says – a celebrity whom I’ve never met, least of all. And Kanye is no different. But what I will defend – literally to my last breath – is that Jesus died for everyone. And absolutely anyone who turns from themselves to Christ’ work on the cross, His death and resurrection, is fully and utterly redeemed by God. Whether that person is a politician, rapper, college student, “cradle Christian”, or LGBT+. That is what I’m supporting. That is where I’m coming from.

What Kanye needs right now is grace and discipleship, which I hear he is receiving. I hope that’s true. What we need, fellow Christians, is to actually stand on the gospel – and it’s power to save absolutely anyone. Heaven will be filled with people with sketchy pasts. You and I included. We just might not have to figure our new faith out on a worldwide stage.

Pastor John