Difficult Conversations

Yesterday’s message at Restoration City was all about resolving conflict quickly and biblically.  I closed with a challenge to the congregation to take this week and deal with any unresolved conflict we may have with others, especially others in the church.  I’m praying that challenge kicks off a wave of long overdue conversations.

The question is how do you make sure those conversations go well?  Resolving conflict means deliberate walking onto shaky ground.  These 6 tips should increase the odds of a healthy conversation and a biblical outcome.

1.  Meet In Person.  If you legitimately can’t make that happen, set up a phone call or Facetime, if that’s your thing.  Under no circumstances should you try this over email or text!  Difficult conversations need to be had in person, especially when trying to resolve conflict.

2.  Get Right To It.  There are few things worse than 30 minutes of awkward chit chat that’s just delaying the inevitable and annoying everyone involved.  You both know why you’re there, so just dive into it.

3.  Be Specific.  Remember: here’s what you said/did and here’s how it affected me.  This isn’t the time for a general review of the person’s character or your chance to point out every flaw you’ve ever seen in them.  Keep the conversation focused on specific things they’ve done to you and how it impacted your life.

4.  Be Prayerful.  Before you go into the conversation, take time to pray for the other person.  Pray God will soften their heart, speak through you and give them wisdom and grace.  Also, pray for God’s blessing in their life and their overall delight in the gospel.  It’s amazing how prayer deescalates conflict.

5.  Be Humble.  You aren’t perfect and odds are good you’ve sinned against this person as well.  So, don’t go into the conversation demanding your pound of flesh.  Go in seeking reconciliation made possible through the grace of Christ.

6.  Be Willing To Forgive.  Colossians 3:13, “forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”  Don’t go looking for an apology if you aren’t willing to offer genuine forgiveness once you get one.

These aren’t easy conversations.  But the gospel of Christ not only opens the door to conflict resolution but also insists we walk through it.  There’s too much at stake for us to allow unresolved conflict to slow us down and take us away from our mission as followers of Jesus.

Now That Same Sex Marriage Is Legal In America

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Today is an historic day for America.  That might be the one and only thing that everybody can agree on right now.  The Supreme Court of the United States has declared same sex marriage the law of the land.  Many in our country are celebrating.  Many are outraged.  Christians are looking for help in shaping their response.

Here’s how I’m thinking and feeling:

Sad.  I’m sad on three levels.  One, the Supreme Court of the United States has made a decision which will hurt a country I love very much.  Today is not a good day for America.  Two, I’m saddened by the arrogance of five justices who think their opinions on marriage should hold more sway than God’s clear teaching on the subject.  The Supreme Court of the United States doesn’t define marriage.  That was handled thousands of years ago and far above their pay grade.  Three, I’m saddened by the certainty that many who claim Jesus as their Lord will respond with hate and ignorance.  I know the social media posts that are most likely to make me cringe will come from people who share my sadness but express it very differently.

Relieved.  As a country, we’ve been headed in this direction for so long that it’s nice to be able to get this one behind us.  It’s not like we didn’t see it coming.  Now we can move on to figuring out how the church operates in this new landscape.

Determined.  The greatest contribution I can make to this debate is not my words but my example.  As a husband, I’m commanded to love my wife as Jesus loves the church. (Eph. 5:25).  I am called to love Laura so deeply, so sacrificially and so selflessly that our marriage preaches the gospel as clearly as my sermons.  This is how the country will come to see that American and Biblical marriage have come to mean two very different things.  The former is the stuff of permanent roommates, tax breaks and survivor benefits. The later is the stuff of covenant, laying down your life and the mutual pursuit of something greater than ourselves.  Christian marriage isn’t ultimately about the relationship of two people.  It’s a demonstration of God’s relationship with His church.

Dependent.  I don’t have it in me to create such a countercultural marriage.  I gravitate to ease, convenience and selfishness as much as the next guy.  Only the power of God can make me the man I need to be to have the marriage I want.  It’s not the law of the land that breathes life into my marriage.  It’s the power of God.

Hopeful.  Light shines brightest in the darkness.  A sad day for America can be a good day for the church.  We have the opportunity to respond with love, grace, truth and hope.  We have the opportunity to show that we don’t hate the world but want the best for those around us.  We have the opportunity to live our lives and conduct our marriages in such a way that everyone sees that the best is always found in Jesus, His Word and His ways.

Biblical marriage and American marriage have come to mean two very different things.  I pray many will be inspired to reach for the beauty of marriage as God designed it and not settle for the emptiness of the way the Supreme Court defined it.

Leaders Are Encouragers

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Spiritual leaders must speak faith into the lives of people.  The last thing anyone needs is one more critic, skeptic or doubter.  We don’t exist as leaders to be dream killers but rather to be faith speakers.  Life offers enough discouragement.  As leaders, our job is to offer the encouragement people need to scale the impossible mountains of life.

We see this played our brilliantly in the Scriptures through a man named Hezekiah, who was the King of Judah.  In 2 Chronicles 32, we read about Hezekiah’s battle with Sennacherib, the king of Assyria.  Sennacherib had invaded Judah and was encamped around Jerusalem preparing his final, and seemingly unstoppable, attack.  The citizens of Jerusalem were in a terrified panic.  Hezekiah stepped into the crisis with these words:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him.  With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.

– 2 Chronicles 32:7-8

Let’s be clear.  This isn’t the sentimental drivel of the average pep talk.  Hezekiah isn’t aiming for a bunch of #ibelievethatwewillwin retweets.  He’s not blind to the desperation of the situation.  Nor is he telling them to think happy thoughts and just picture the victory in their minds.  Hezekiah’s too good of a leader for any of that.

Instead, he shows us what true encouragement looks like.  He’s leading his people to anchor their hope in the presence and the promises of God.  Yahweh is with His people. He’s mightier than the Assyrian army.  He longs to help.  Jerusalem’s hope isn’t their strength, strategy or savvy.  It’s their Savior.

We find encouragement when we find the faith to believe God will fight our battles for us. Leaders, we need to offer our people the hope of Psalm 121:1-2, “I lift up my eyes to the hills.  From where does my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”  When faced with crisis, people don’t need a pep talk.  They need a call to worship.

Leaders, let’s not settle for the hollow encouragement that sounds more like wishful thinking.  Let’s speak boldly and powerfully to our people.  The promises of God are sure.  The presence of God is steady.  The power of God knows no limits.

We all need someone to lift our eyes from the crisis to the hills.  Praise God that when we do, we see the glory of the One who fought for us on the cross and fights for us today.

The Danger Of A Leadership Graveyard

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Churches can easily become leadership graveyards.  All it takes is a little centralized decision making and some micromanagement and you’re already well on the way.

Leadership graveyards are filled with markers commemorating the great leaders who were once there.  We honor these men and women and tell stories of the great ways God used them.  But we speak only in the past tense.  There’s a massive leadership void in the current generation and little leadership impulse coming from future generations.  A place where leaders once thrived now seems devoid of leaders.

What makes leadership graveyards so dangerous is how easily they can happen.

If only one or two people have the authority to make decisions, it won’t be long before there are only one or two people left who have the ability to make decisions.  Hoarding power, not trusting people and insisting that all decisions come back to an anointed few is the ideal recipe for a leadership graveyard.

Leaders, stop selling your people short.  They don’t want to simply execute orders from on high.  They want to think, create a plan, be held responsible for the outcome and give it their best shot.  They want to matter, to be challenged and to reach for something that’s slightly beyond themselves.  If organizations create a culture where that is allowed, leaders not only stick around but more and more leaders are drawn in from the outside.  If we fail to create this culture, there will be a leadership exodus that turns our organization into a graveyard.

I’m writing all of this as the pastor of a less than one year old church plant.  There’s a lot happening in our little church and I understand the temptation to make all of the decisions myself.  There are days when it just feels like it would be faster, easier and better to be a bad leader than a good leader.  It’s on those days that I need to remind myself it might be faster and easier, but it isn’t better.

God has blessed our church with amazing leaders.  Smart, talented, dedicated men and women who want their lives to count for the glory of Christ and the good of people.  They don’t need me to control them.  They need me to empower them.  It’s risky but it’s the way a church reaches it’s full redemptive potential.

Is God Leading You To East Africa?

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One of the most exciting things in the young life of Restoration City Church is going to happen this fall when we send a team of men and women to Kenya and Tanzania to serve alongside the incredible people of New Hope Initiative.  After spending time there in late April, I could not be more excited for what God is doing through New Hope and I want you to be a part of it.

I’m praying Matthew 9:37-38 over our congregation and this trip, “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.‘”  The work in Nairobi and Arusha is plentiful. God is raising up laborers but we need more.  We need more people willing to spend 10 days serving in East Africa.  We need more people to spend 10 months and we need even more to spend 10 years.  But it all starts with a simple willingness to go.

Don’t let fear hold you back.  Here’s the three worst reasons to not go on this trip:

  1. I don’t know anyone else going.  Don’t let that stop you; in fact, that should be a reason to go!  You’ll end up meeting a bunch of new people and forming deep friendships.  Nothing bonds people like serving together.  So, if you’re new to the church and looking for a way to meet people, this is the best possible opportunity.
  2. I won’t be able to raise the money.  You might not be able to but God can.  He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. (Ps. 50:10)  The great missionary Hudson Taylor was fond of saying, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”  Seeing Him provide for your trip might be one of the most faith building experiences of your life.
  3. I don’t have anything to offer.  Heresy!  Ephesians 2:10 deals with that, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  The Spirit of God is alive in you if you’re a follower of Jesus.  He’s prepared work for you to do.  He’ll give you everything you need to do what He’s called you to do.  If you want to go, you have something to offer.

If you want more information on the trip or are ready to apply, click here.

God’s doing great things in East Africa.  Don’t miss a chance to be a part of His work in a way that will have a huge impact on your life.

Dads, Don’t Waste This Sunday

Fathers-Day

This Sunday is Father’s Day.  A wave of golf, grilling and naps will sweep the country.  It’s Dad’s day – he gets to do what he wants, eat what he wants and drink what he wants (at least, that’s how I’ve explained the holiday to Laura!).  For followers of Christ, it’s an amazing opportunity.  An opportunity that far too many of us blow.

Dads, when you get to script the day, is church in the plan?  Or do you blow it off?  Sleep in? Get an early tee time?  Linger over a big omelette?  It’s your choice.  But don’t fool yourself, your kids are watching.

Are you going to show them that real men prioritize their family’s spiritual health or are you going to show them that church is something designed to make women feel nice?  The stats tell us how way too many men answer the question.  Mother’s Day is one of the highest attended Sundays of the year.  Father’s Day one of the lowest.

Men, lead your family well this Sunday.  Psalm 145:4 tells us, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”  Sometimes it’s as simple as getting up, getting the family in the car and heading to church.

Rest, Work & Celebrate

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So much of leadership is about establishing and defending healthy rhythms.  For yourself.  For your family.  For your team.  Without rhythm, people get exhausted, discouraged or lazy.  Rhythm forces balance.  It’s one of the keys to an energized, optimistic and productive team.

Every team must find a healthy rhythm of work, rest and celebration.

Work.  This is the obvious one.  Your team exists for a reason and you have things to accomplish.  Neglect this one and nothing gets done.  But, focus only on this one and it won’t be long before you’re right back to nothing getting done.

Rest.  This is the hard one.  It feels like you’re doing nothing (precisely because you aren’t!).  We feel like lazy slackers when we take a day off or go on vacation.  But if you don’t take time to replenish yourself, you will soon have nothing to offer.

Celebration.  This is the ignored one.  It means actively bringing a team together to enjoy, reflect and be excited about what’s happening in the organization.  It’s how we mark wins.  Neglect this one and people won’t be sure all the working and resting is accomplishing anything.

Most leaders have a tendency to ignore one or two of these essential rhythms.  We know they’re important but they don’t make it into our strategic plans or onto our calendars.

Which rhythm are you neglecting in your life and on your team?