Our first middle schooler

I’m writing this post, knowing full well that the subject matter of my children is increasingly something they will eventually become aware of. Yet I had to commit my thoughts and feelings on their journey, since so much of my life and identity is inextricably linked to them. Enter, Emilee Markum. My oldest child…

Emilee, by the time you get the chance to read this, it’ll likely mean you’ve finally got your grades up and earned your first cell phone. Congrats, baby girl! I knew you would do it. Everything about you has forever changed who I am. You’re my first kid! Every new season of life you encounter also marks a new season for me.

Your birth made me a father for the very first time. You were my first child to take their first steps, go to their first day of school. Everything about being a dad – you were the first in all of it. I still remember being 23 and having your mother run in to tell me we were going to have a baby… that we were going to have you in our family. I’ll never forget that flood of emotions as I managed uncontrollable waves of love, excitement, and to a lesser degree, panic!

Now you’re in middle school, and trying really hard to become a young woman. Despite my best efforts to slow you down, time seems to be consistently marching in your favor. There are so many things I want to tell you, but I want to give you just 4 things to cling to in this season of your life:

  1. No matter what you do, or where life takes you – both I, and your Heavenly Father, will always welcome you back with open arms.
  2. Remember who you are! You are not who anyone tells you to be, you are who you know you are. A child of God. A dearly loved daughter. You are strong, able, resilient, and growing.
  3. Mistakes are just opportunities to grow. When you fail, instead of beating yourself up, choose to rise up. There’s nothing you can’t do.
  4. I will always love you. I’m so proud of you, girl. For good and otherwise, you have so much of me in you. I see it every time I look at you. And you’ve got what it takes, kid! Even if you don’t know it yet.

One day, you’ll be a grown woman despite my earnest protests. Just be patient with your mom and me. And know that as much as we want to keep you to ourselves, we understand and are completely committed to what God wants to do through you. While we have a responsibility to protect you, we also know we’re called to train you – to unleash you to do all God put you in this world to do. And before you figure all of that out, we just want you to know – we believe in you, Emilee. And we’re already proud of you.

All my heart,

Loving the people you Lead

In leadership, it’s easy for us to get into ruts of just expecting people to do what they do. This is especially true in church leadership. Our entire enterprise is built on the willful volunteering of people’s time, energy, and resources to advance our sacred mission. And important as that mission is, we leverage nothing over the majority of the people we lead. Most of them could drop what they’re doing right now and walk away, and there would be absolutely nothing we could do to stop them!
But despite this, we can still get into some nasty habits of demanding from our people, lay leaders, and volunteers in such a way that is anything but loving. Why would anyone want to be a part of our team on a volunteer basis if it is not an environment full of gratitude and ultimately love for those who give so much to make it happen?!
Jesus said, “By your love for one another will the world know that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35). Yet, like anyone who gets close to us, it can be easy to take our brothers and sisters for granted and fail to show love towards them. Here are five questions we should consistently ask ourselves about our level of love for those who serve with us:

  1. Do I love my people, or do I love what they do for me? This becomes a question of motive. When we ask this question we remind ourselves that Jesus loves the people we lead, and we should also – not just for what they do in our time, but because God has placed them under our stewardship, and as such expects us to love them as He does.
  2. Am I leading them, or bossing them around? This becomes a question of how we lead. Our team needs to see us pushing with them, not simply demanding they work for us, but getting in the trenches and seeing us working with them. A leader always brings two things to the table: energy and clarity. When we serve with our people, we give energy just by joining them. But we also give clarity by actually modeling what we want them to do for us. Both of these benefits demonstrate to our team that they matter to us.
  3. Do I give credit away, or take it for myself? Hoarding credit is a sure way to make people want to leave our team! Loving leaders are humble. They give away praise, and take responsibility for areas needing improvement. People love serving a leader who lavishes praise when them team wins.
  4. Do I correct them privately, or call them out publicly? None of us like getting called out in front of our peers. On my team, we often say that we “praise publicly and criticize privately.” When we bring them in close to correct behaviors and attitudes, we demonstrate that we care about the way the feel, and don’t ever intend to humiliate them when they’re needing correction and growing opportunities.
  5. Have I dealt with critical flaws, or tried ignoring them? On the flip side of question 4, leaders can often be tempted to simply ignore the problems they see in their team. We lie to ourselves when we think this is loving them. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” In other words, a true friend will give painful news when it’s needed, but an enemy will just tell us what we want to hear. Sometimes, we need to have painful conversations with our people so that they can grow. Yes, we must do so with humility and grace. But ignoring problems is really about protecting ourselves from having a tough conversation  – not loving our people towards their full potential.

Ask yourself these 5 questions regularly. If you lead other leaders, encourage them to ask themselves these five questions about their own leadership. Together, let’s be better about loving the people we lead.

What do you think about these questions? Which ones are the most difficult to address in our leadership? What questions would you add? Put them in the comments!

Pastor John

My Thoughts on Charlottesville

Yesterday, I shared a few thoughts with my church regarding what our perspective as Christ-followers should be toward the recent news of racial clashing in Charlottesville, VA. The protesters, mostly KKK, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis, were protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, former general of the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. As a result, counter-protesters showed up, opposing white nationalist ideologies – now more commonly being referred to as the “Alt-Right”.

Frankly, I’m tired of this. I’m tired of having to address this blatant discrimination, and I’m even more tired of “Christians” who would defend them – all while quick to point out the flaws of those who have committed acts of violence in the name of BLM. As if one excuses another… Nonetheless, here we are. Again. And something must be said, especially to fellow Christians who must be reminded of who we are and what we are called to be in this world.

Here are my humble thoughts

  1. God made our ethnicities, and we are all equal image-bearers of Him. Acts 17:26 tells us that, “He [God] made from one man, all nations [lit. ethnos] of the earth.” God created beauty in our diversity. This wasn’t just the occurrence of random genetics rising to prominence amongst people groups, it was our Creator who thought our diversity into existence. We all share God’s image. When any of us dare to elevate one ethnicity – or demean another – we dishonor the God whose image they bear.
  2. It took the shed blood of Jesus to redeem all of us. John 3:16, the most well known verse in the Bible tells us, “God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (emphasis, mine). If any of us think ourselves better than anyone else, may we be reminding, that at the cross of Jesus Christ, we all stand on even ground. The poor Hispanic, the educated black, the trust-fund white – all get to Heaven by the same sacrifice of Jesus Christ. None of us come to God with anything to bargain for our salvation – our ethnicity, which God Himself created, least of all.
  3. The church is to be a place of healing and reconciliation. Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female; for we are all made one in Christ.” In the church that Jesus said He would build, we all have equality with one another. The church today should be focused on breaking down such barriers, and elevating the status of our fellow brother and sister.
  4. Racism, bigotry, and hate in general will always exist this side of Heaven. This incident and others like it, are just further evidence that mankind cannot solve mankind’s problems. I wish this would end somehow. I wish all the racist people would stop being racist, those hurt could find healing, that prejudice and hate would come to an end. But it won’t. Not in this life. That means that somehow, someway, we must all learn to exist in this broken world, while not becoming jaded by the sinful attitudes of others.
  5. We must not give in to the hate. It would be human nature to want retaliation. But we no longer walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. The Apostle Paul admonishes us in Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” The grace, peace, and power to do good that God has placed inside of you and me through His Holy Spirit is far greater than the evil that exists around us. As hard and even painful as it seems, we must love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who would spitefully use us. Yeah, that’s a tall order, I know. But only when we focus our eyes on those who would do wrong against us. When we focus our eyes on Jesus, we remember that He loved us even when we were the enemies of God.
  6. Heaven will be filled with diversity. Revelation 7:9-10, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” So much I love about this scene from Heaven! It’s full. It’s diverse. Every people group is represented, and presumably still bearing evidence of their ethnicity. There’s multiply languages still in Heaven! The use of plural language in worship (“our” God). Heaven is going to be amazing, in no small part because of how big, diverse, and beautiful God’s family is! So we would do well to start seeing it, acknowledging it, and celebrating His family here and now.

Those are just a few of the thoughts I shared with my church family this past week. We will never legislate righteousness, we must persuade people. “By your love one for another will the world know that you are my disciples.” Let’s be voices of hope and restoration.

Pastor John