Relational Pain of Ministry, Part 2

We often talk about the physical suffering and persecution the apostle Paul endured over the course of his ministry. Sadly, we tend to minimize or ignore the emotional and relational pain Paul experienced. That leaves us with this sense that if we haven’t been beaten for the gospel this week, we really haven’t been all that wounded. But our hearts and the Scripture tell a very different story. Yes, Paul is very specific about some of the physical suffering and persecution he endured (go read 2 Corinthians 11:24-28). But, as we talked about in the last post, Paul is equally specific in 2 Timothy about the emotional and relational pain he experienced as a missionary, church planter, and pastor.

The pain Paul experienced leaves me asking a very basic question – how in the world did Paul keep going? Why didn’t he quit and just go back to being a member of the Roman upper class? That thought must have crossed his mind. He’s beaten by his enemies and deserted by his friends. He’s got people outside of the church throwing stones at him and people inside the church telling lies about him. It’s a mess. Yet, he still keeps going. How does he do it?

If you’ve served in ministry for any period of time, you know this is more than an academic or theoretical question. This is real. You pour your heart into leading a team at church and people bail on you. You love and serve people in your Community Group and then they ghost you. You mentor a newer Christian and they walk away from you over a minor disagreement. You preach your heart out and people find a new church because they want the sermon to be more…well, the answers to that one vary!

Fortunately, when it comes to how Paul endured, we’re not left guessing. If we jump back to 2 Timothy, we see that Paul keeps going for at least two reasons. I believe there are more but these are the two he highlights in this letter:

Strength From God

But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. - 2 Timothy 4:17 

Paul’s knowledge of God wasn’t just theological, it was relational. God was an actual source of strength for Paul, who knew how to open the brokenness and woundedness of his heart to the healing and strengthening touch of God. Paul knew what it was to pour out His heart to God and allow the Spirit to make the love of God real in his soul. He didn’t just talk about God as a source of strength, He experienced God as a source of strength. There’s a huge difference between the two!

Encouragement From Others

We might be tempted to think 2 Timothy is one long venting session about all the difficult people who were making Paul’s life so hard. But that’s not at all the case. There are plenty of other names in 2 Timothy – and Paul recalls so many of them with tender fondness:

May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains - 2 Timothy 1:16

Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. - 2 Timothy 4:11

Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. - 2 Timothy 4:12

Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus.  Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus.  Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers. - 2 Timothy 4:19-22

Yes, community is risky. Today’s Onesiphorus can become tomorrow’s Demas. But Paul didn’t make the mistake of withdrawing into isolation. He knew community was a risk but he was also deeply convinced it was a risk worth taking. He knew he needed others to stay in the game for the long haul.

Putting It All Together

In 2 Timothy, Paul is not only showing us that ministry is filled with highs and lows but he is also showing us how to engage those realities in a way that enhances our endurance. If you read all the way through 2 TImothy, you will see how Paul juxtaposes verses about relational and emotional pain with verses about the faithfulness of God and his friends. Paul almost always acknowledges the relational pain of ministry first but then almost immediately follows it with a reminder of how he has been strengthened and encouraged. The order matters. A lot!

Paul is able to talk honestly about his pain and to grieve his losses. But he doesn’t stop there and allow himself to believe that everything is falling apart around him. He consciously brings himself (and us) back to the faithfulness of God and the blessings of community. We need to do the same – embrace honesty but also learn how to lead our hearts to hope in the power of God and the goodness of community.

Relational Pain of Ministry, Part 1

I take a lot of comfort from the fact that the apostle Paul was no stranger to the relational pain of ministry. Things didn’t always go well for him. Paul often felt alone, abandoned, rejected, and hurt by the people he felt called to love and serve. Look at how honest he is about the relational pain of ministry is 2 Timothy.

You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. (2 Timothy 1:15)

But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth  (2 Timothy 2:16-18) 

For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.  (2 Timothy 4:10) 

Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.  (2 Timothy 4:14-15) 

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! (2 Timothy 4:16) 

That’s a lot of hurt in one letter!

In the next post, we’ll talk about how Paul was able to keep going despite all of the relational pain of ministry. But, for today, I want to make one simple observation – Paul is able to talk about the relational pain of ministry without any shame. He isn’t trying to sweep this under the rug, gloss over it, deny his emotions, or explain it all away. He’s starkly realistic and at times shockingly willing to use real names. He doesn’t hide behind generalities and spiritual platitudes. Demas deserted him. Alexander did him a lot of harm. Hymenaeus and Philetus allowed gossip to morph into heresy. Phygelus and Hermogenes were out (and they obviously took a lot of people with them!). He was on trial for the gospel and no one showed up to offer encouragement.

While Paul no doubt felt sadness and hurt over these losses and woundings, he didn’t feel shame. He didn’t make the automatic assumption that he did something wrong, that he was a failure, that he never should have become an apostle, that he’s the problem, that he should just quit. In other words, he didn’t interpret the actions of others exclusively through the lens of his personal failure. He was aware that there’s always more to the story and he was aware of his weaknesses and shortcomings as a leader. He was able to bring his sin and the sin of others to God in a way that liberated his soul from shame.

Do I think we need to be careful not to abuse this idea as leaders? Yes, when people leave our churches, community groups, and ministry teams, we should be willing to ask questions about how we could have done better, about ways we could have served them better, about ways we need to grow. The point of what Paul is sharing here is not to give pastors, elders, and leaders in the church license to constantly blame others.

The point is to remind us that relational pain is part of ministry and we can talk about it without shame. We can talk about it in ways that are honest, specific, and ultimately redemptive. We’ll do more of that in the next post. But for today, here are a few questions that might be helpful to process in your journal or with a close friend:

  • When have you felt the relational pain of ministry? Describe the hurt you felt.
  • What story did you tell yourself to make sense of the pain you were feeling?
  • Was your sense of pain also accompanied by a sense of shame or guilt? How so?
  • Who are you able to process the relational pain of ministry with on a regular basis? Who are some of the people that could become these kinds of friends?

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

What Is God Doing, Right Now?

I just recorded a quick video devotional for our elder team as we head into our monthly meeting this weekend. I had some things I wanted to share with them from my heart, from God’s Word, and from some recent experiences we’ve had as a team shepherding a local church. By the grace of God, I think it was helpful and I pray they will share my excitement for what I think God is saying to us through His Word.

There was only one thing wrong with the whole experience – it wasn’t anywhere on my list of things to do this morning!

I came into the day with a meticulously crafted plan for how I was going to use this morning and what I needed to get done. It was all good stuff (and I did get a decent amount of it done), however, this video wasn’t on the list. But as I sat here trying to work on other things, my mind kept coming back to this desire to share with our elders. I found myself putting a devotional together in my head. I found myself getting excited about recording something simply to bless and encourage a small team that means a great deal to me. Despite all that, I initially fought against all of this as a distraction from what I needed to be doing – it wasn’t on the list!! Sure, it was a good idea but it was something I could schedule for another time this week.

Ultimately, I felt this little prompting in my heart to abandon my plan and record the video. That prompting was followed by a deeper question – do you want to join God in what He’s doing this morning or do your own thing without God?

It was a pretty stark choice – plow through my list in my strength or cooperate with what God was intending to do in my life. Fortunately, in this instance I made the right choice and decided to go with God. But that’s not always the case. I can be really guilty of ignoring what the Spirit is doing in the moment because of my preconceived plans and ideas.

That’s such a mistake, particularly for those of us in spiritual leadership. When God invites us to walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16), be led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14), and keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25), He envisions us living with sensitivity and submission to what the Spirit is doing in our lives moment by moment. The question isn’t just “what is God doing in the world today” but “what is God doing in my life, right now?” It turns out the Spirit is somewhat unpredictable and often does things I don’t expect. But life is found in getting on board with what He is actually doing, not what I thought He would be doing!

So, don’t miss out on the adventure of following God today because you’re so locked up in your plans that you miss His still, small voice.

Hard Things: Discipline or Obligation?

Discipline

I do a lot of things every day that I don’t really want to do.  In fact, many of them are things that I really don’t want to do: get out of bed, go to the gym, reply to emails, and many of the other things that keep me healthy and productive.  Unless you’re independently wealthy, laying in bed, and eating ice cream right now, you would say the same thing about your life.  We all know that the easy road never leads anywhere worth going.  Our willingness to do hard things is directly related to the significance of our lives.

We call all of this self-discipline – the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it, according to the nice people at dictionary.com.  It’s a good and biblical thing.  Paul urges Timothy, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  Even in the spiritual life, Paul commends self-discipline, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”  In other words, the spiritual secret to spending time with God in the morning is called an alarm clock!

But I’m learning that there’s a huge difference between discipline and obligation.  Both require us to do things we really don’t want to do.  But they have very different outcomes.  Discipline leaves us better off, more fully alive, growing, and with a satisfied soul.  Obligation leaves us exhausted, frustrated with ourselves for giving in once again, and with a depleted soul.  Discipline takes us where we want to go, even if the road is hard, while obligation takes us away from where we want to go.  

A lot of our success and happiness in life depends on our ability to decide if each new request for our time, each new opportunity, and each new activity is an obligation to be avoided or something we should discipline ourselves to pursue.  If it takes discipline, it’s worth doing but if it’s an obligation, it’s worth avoiding.  I’ve started using three filters to help me tell the difference:

Filter #1: Desire

I know this is a strange starting point when we’re talking about things we don’t want to do but it’s essential to probe that lack of desire a little bit more.  If it’s an obligation, the more you press, the more that lack of desire is confirmed, “I really don’t want to do this.”  But if it’s an opportunity that calls for discipline that lack of desire starts to morph into, “I don’t want to do this but I want to have done this.”  For example, going to the gym.  I would rather sleep in but an hour from now, I’ll be glad I got out of bed and worked out.  If you’ll be glad you did it later today, it’s worth doing.  But if the opposite is true, it’s worth skipping!

Filter #2:  Benefit

There’s really two questions when it comes to benefit.

One, is anybody going to get any benefit from me doing this?  Notice, you might not get any benefit but someone else might benefit greatly.  Or you could be the sole beneficiary or some combination.  But the point is someone, somewhere is benefiting.  If that’s the case, it might be a time to dig deep and summon a little self-discipline.  On the other hand, if nobody gets anything out of you doing something, why in the world would you feel obligated?

The second question is a little trickier because it requires a cost/benefit analysis.  Yes, your friend might be touched that you flew across the country for her bachelorette party but is that worth $1,7000, an exhausting weekend, and missing church?  If she’s a really good friend, the answer could be yes!  But it’s also possible the answer is no – and that’s okay!  Not every benefit is worth the cost.  Discipline gives us the freedom to say no whereas obligation condemns us to a lifetime of resentful yeses.

Filter #3:  Prompting

This is where we drag the Holy Spirit into the conversation.  What’s He saying?  Is He leading you to do something that may not make much sense to anyone but will honor God and be a mark of obedience?  Then listen!  Be disciplined and go for it.  If, on the other hand, He’s leading you to say no, then go with Him in that as well.  We don’t just grow our faith by saying the difficult yes, often times we grow it by saying a difficult no.  In some ways, this last filter is the only one that matters.  Just be aware that the voice of God probably sounds very different from the voice of the person asking you for something.

I want to say yes to everything that God brings into my life, even if it’s hard.  I want to pursue life with a vigor that can only come from God.  But I’m realizing that requires me to say no to things I would be doing purely out of obligation.  So, I’m trying to filter all of life through a framework that says. “Disipline, yes.  Obligation, no.”

You’ve Gotta Say It

I came home from work the other day and started filling Laura in on everything that had happened since we last connected in the morning.  In the course of our conversation, I started talking about a member of our church and said something along the lines of, “I really love that guy and am so grateful for him.”  Laura’s response was so typically female and so incredibly convicting, “Did you tell him that?”

Umm….no!  What’s wrong with you?  Guys don’t talk that way, babe!

Rather than say all that, I just mumbled something like, “no, but I’m sure I will” and quickly changed the subject.  But Laura’s point was right on.  Secret gratitude doesn’t do much good.  But the words “thank you” have tremendous potential to lift, encourage and honor other people.  So many times, I make the mistake of assuming people know I love them or appreciate them.  Don’t fall into that trap.  Be vocal, genuine and generous with your love and your gratitude.

The Apostle Paul (who is not the most touchy-feely guy in the Bible!) did this so well in his letter.  Look at what he says about the church in Philippi in a letter addressed to them, “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:7-8)  Talk about swinging for the emotional fences!

You don’t have to be as eloquent as Paul to encourage someone today.  So, let me ask you; Who do you need to text, call or look in the eye and thank?  Who are you assuming knows how much they matter?  Take some time to reach out today and tell them!

Vision Versus Reaction

It can be so easy in leadership to mistake a reaction for a vision.  I know I’ve made that mistake a number of times in my life and it’s led to bad decisions, misspent energy and reduced effectiveness.  It’s a trap I’m asking God for the grace to avoid going forward in my leadership life but doing that requires a solid understanding of the difference between the two.

I’ve never come across a better definition of vision than the one Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, has made famous, “Vision is a picture of the future that produces passion.”  Definitions of reaction are harder to come by so I’m going with the ever reliable dictionary, “an action performed or a feeling experienced in response to a situation or event.”  Understanding the difference between the two is essential.

Let me give you a very practical example.  Let’s say you attend a church where the pastor preaches largely topical messages organized into short sermon series that are well packaged for a non-Christian audience.  Let’s take it one step further and say you aren’t getting as much out of those messages as you think you should; maybe you’ve even called them “shallow.”  Just for fun, let’s say you’re on staff at that church.  One day you’re driving home after church with your spouse and you let loose with, “I’m so tired of this watered down nonsense week after week, if I was the pastor of this church, we would actually teach the Bible.  People who don’t do verse by verse expositional teaching are just wasting the congregation’s time and dishonoring God.”  Boom.  Tweet that and call it vision.  Except for the fact that it isn’t…it’s a reaction.  Reactions do very well on social media but they’re horrible at building a healthy organization.

Vision for preaching would sound a lot more like, “Nothing has ever changed my life the way God’s Word has.  I love it.  I can’t get enough of it.  It’s fresh every time I come to it and I want to devote my life to helping people see that.  When I preach, I want people to know they are hearing from God through His Word and that His Word changes lives.  So, I don’t want anything in my message to distract from God.  Can you imagine a church where people come expecting to hear the voice of God speaking into their lives?”  Totally different – I’d get fired up about building that church!

So, how do you spot a reaction?  Here’s a few thoughts:

  • It’s a statement of what you aren’t as opposed to what you are
  • It’s motivated by a desire to prove someone else wrong
  • It’s disconnected from the personal life of the leader
  • It’s a means to an end, not an end in and of itself (you’re only doing x as a means to get to y)
  • It’s quickly formed
  • Success is virtually impossible to define or illustrate
  • Close friends are more cautious than supportive

Think about how different that is from vision:

  • It’s all about the organization you want to see come into existence
  • It’s motived by love for what could be
  • It flows out of and is consistent with the personal life of the leader
  • You know what success would look like and feel like
  • You believe the picture you are trying to paint is inherently valuable
  • It percolates over time, is confirmed in prayer and sharpened by God’s Word
  • Close friends are leaning in and telling you to go for it.

The bottom line in all of this – beware of the danger of mistaking a reaction for a vision.  Sure, reactions might help sharpen our vision but they aren’t the same thing at all.  Lead from vision and leave the small bands of angry reactionaries to other people!

Measuring Success

Pastors and churches have a strange relationship with numbers.  By that, I don’t mean math in general (although I would personally plead guilty to that!) but the idea of measuring things in the church.  What business people call metrics, pastors call numbers.  And we have no idea how to feel about them.  Sometimes it’s just downright painful to listen to pastors work their way through a tortured and insincere rendition of the old “obviously, numbers aren’t everything” cliche.  We all know that if the same pastor heard the offering just doubled, he would get a little more comfortable with numbers!  It’s a strange tension – living and dying by Sunday’s attendance is a crushing form of idolatry but totally ignoring numbers is irresponsible leadership.

In planting Restoration City, we decided to navigate the tension by making an unapologetically big deal of numbers.  We measure things.  For example, I know how many people have been to each service, what our offering is, how many kids go to RCCKids, how many people serve those kids and a bunch of other things.  Without good information, we can’t make good decisions.

But here’s the key for us at Restoration City when it comes to numbers: What we celebrate matters more than what we measure.  So much of the awkwardness around the numbers conversation doesn’t come from the fact that we measure things, it comes from the fact that we celebrate the wrong things.  If all a church ever celebrates is it’s attendance and offering, the congregation will get the message – what the leadership really cares about is butts in seats and dollars in offering plates.  Celebration is a powerful communicator of culture and values.

For us at Restoration City, there are three numbers we celebrate: baptisms, community group participation and membership.  We measure a lot of things but celebrate those because we think they are the three most important indicators of our success as a church.  In other words, if those numbers are healthy and moving in the right direction, everything else should fall in place.

Here’s why we picked those three numbers:

  • Baptism is the best way for us to measure life change through salvation and the beginning of a discipleship process.  Counting decisions for Christ is inexact and often inflated.  Baptism is a far more reliable and helpful number for us.
  • Community Group attendance is the best way for us to measure a person’s commitment to Restoration City.  When someone takes the step of joining a Community Group, they are more or less committed to us as a church.  They’re moving through our discipleship process and developing the relationships that will make RCC a spiritual home.
  • Membership is the best way for us to measure that a person is fully participating in the life of the church.  All of our members agree to a fairly specific membership covenant.  When someone is willing to make all of those commitments, we know they are fully engaged in the mission and culture of Restoration City.

When we look at our first weeks as a church, we realize just how much we have to celebrate.

  • We have baptized 9 people since this summer.
  • We currently have 80 people in Community Groups.
  • We have 41 active members.

When we remember those numbers come from God’s grace, not our merit, our celebration turns into worship, praise and gratitude.  As we enter into a week of thanksgiving, I hope you will join me in thanking God for all He has done through Restoration City.

Owning Our Weaknesses

I had a conversation earlier this week with a friend about the importance of self awareness in the life of a leader.  It’s a topic I’ve read a lot about, thought a lot about and even taught on in various leadership development environments.  I know it’s a really big deal – so many leaders have no clue who they really are and spend their whole lives impersonating other leaders whose results they admire.  It’s an exhausting, unfulfilling and destabilizing way to lead because you’re always faking it and wondering if anyone is noticing.  Self awareness frees us to lead more passionately, authentically and naturally.

As the conversation progressed, we started to focus in on the importance of a leader knowing their weaknesses.  This honestly wasn’t new territory for me – none of us are perfect, we all have weaknesses and team leadership is essential.  But as we were reviewing this familiar territory, I was struck with the realization of just how much I had paid lip service to this idea for years without genuinely accepting my weaknesses.  For the record, there are few things as disingenuous as faking self awareness!

I would talk about my weaknesses but that was usually just a tool to get others to open up about theirs.  In my heart of hearts, I believed that while I was better at some things than others, I was at least above average at everything.  That underlying belief showed up in my leadership: I kept too much on my plate that should have been delegated to others, I made excuses to hide my weaknesses, and I would occasionally bully others into accepting my bad ideas.  I was on the road to becoming a delusional, egomaniac control freak because I was convinced people wouldn’t follow me if they figured out I wasn’t perfect.  My fear of rejection had me on a path that would kill my leadership life.

As my understanding of the gospel deepened, so did my capacity for self awareness.  The link between the gospel and self awareness is why I honestly believe followers of Jesus should be the best leaders in any organization.  At the very least, we should be the most self aware.

As Christians, we swim in a sea of grace, acceptance and love that flows from Jesus’ perfection to our weakness.  The more I learned about God’s grace, His love for me and my standing in Christ, the easier it became to admit my weaknesses to others.  God knows all of my flaws and still loves me.  That simple understanding allowed me to find the confidence I needed to be more honest with myself and others about my limitations.  The gospel makes it okay to not have life completely together.  If you don’t have to fake it with God, why bother faking it with anyone else?

I’m learning how to lead in light of who I am, what God has called me to do and how He’s wired me.  It’s more fulfilling, enjoyable and fun than I ever would have imagined when I was busy maintaining an image.

But what about you?  Are you trying to be someone you aren’t because you’re afraid people won’t love you if they find out you aren’t perfect?  Guess what…they already know! They’re just waiting for you to catch up.  As you do, you’ll be a much better, happier and fulfilled leader.

Build Partners, Not Ministries

This past Sunday, we wrapped up the sermon series “Our House” by looking at the third component of our mission statement, “Live For Restoration.”  I had been looking forward to this talk for a long time and love being part of a church that seeks the welfare of our city (Jeremiah 29:7).  At Restoration City, seeking the welfare of our city is something we do in partnership with other local organizations.  We’re not trying to build our own outreach ministries.  We’re trying to connect people from Restoration City with existing organizations.  Put simply: we build partners, not ministries.

That’s a pretty big paradigm shift for many who come to us from a churched background so I wanted to lay out the rationale for why we build partnerships instead of ministries.  The argument boils down to five essential benefits.

  1. Leverage The Expertise Of Our Partners.  The decision to partner is rooted in humbly admitting that we don’t always know what’s best and there are others who do.  I’m trained to preach, develop leaders and make disciples.  I don’t know the best practices for serving a teenage mom or immigrant family.  Partnership is about putting the needs of our community ahead of our need for control.
  2. Focus On Our Mission.  This is closely related to #1.  If we spent all of our time trying to replicate what others are already doing well, we wouldn’t have enough time to focus on the things God has called us to do.  Partnership is about creating margin for a healthy discipleship culture.
  3. Keep A Leaner Staff.  Churches can tie up a lot of money paying people to reinvent wheels.  I would rather free up resources to invest in our mission and in our partner organizations.  Partnership is about good stewardship.
  4. Stay Kingdom Focused.  Working with others is the most tangible way to remind ourselves that the Kingdom is more important than any one local church.  Restoration City isn’t the hope of Washington; Jesus is and He’s building His church in wonderfully diverse and interconnected ways.  Partnership is about leveraging our church for the benefit of the Church.
  5. Double The Impact.  By serving through partnerships, we’re able to minister to both the people served by a ministry and our co-laborers.  The relationships we build with co-laborers are as significant as the relationships we build in the communities we serve.  Partnership is about exponential impact.

Every church needs to follow the leading of God in how they love and serve their communities.  For us at Restoration City, that means a deep commitment to building partnerships instead of ministries.  You can learn more about our partner organizations on our website: http://restorationcitydc.com/dosomethingdc/.

You Pick: Intimidation or Inspiration

If you want to know what a leader is made of, watch how he or she responds under pressure.  If you want to know what you’re made of, run the same test on yourself.  Pressure reveals whether we lead through intimidation or inspiration.  Fear is the currency of intimidation whereas inspiration trades in grace.

We see the choice between intimidation and inspiration play out in the life of a young Old Testament King named Rehoboam.  Rehoboam’s dad was a guy named Solomon who was a political rock star in Israel.  Solomon ushered in an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity all the while establishing a reputation for wisdom that earned him a huge personal fortune and international acclaim.  But Solomon had a little problem with women that led him down a path to the place where Scripture records, “Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not follow the Lord fully.” (1Kings 11:6)  As a result of Solomon’s unfaithfulness, God raised up military and political adversaries to oppose his rule.

With all of that going on, Solomon died and his son Rehoboam ascended to a now weakened throne.  To make matters worse, the people of Israel, led by one of Rehoboam’s rivals, come and ask him to “lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke.” (1 Kings 12:4)  They want him to ease up a bit and in return, they promise to follow him.  The elders of Israel tell Solomon to take the deal.  But rather than listen to them, he follows the advice of his boyhood friends who tell him to crack down.  His response is stunning, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins!  (Yes, that means what you think it does!) Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.“(1 Kings 12:10(b)-11)

Rehoboam goes all in on intimidation – do what I say or face my wrath!  Rehoboam is under pressure, he doesn’t want to show weakness in front of his rivals and he’s afraid.  So he lashes out in pretty spectacular fashion.  I bet you know leaders who make the same mistake today just in subtler forms: an angry rebuke, cold disapproval, a nasty email, publicly embarrassing employees, firing rivals or belittling someone’s ideas.

If that’s your leadership style, head the warning of Rehoboam.  Intimidation always implodes!  The people rebel against Rehoboam and Israel splits into two divided kingdoms.  True, You might not start a civil war but your employees will leave, your teams will lack volunteers and people won’t go the extra mile for you.

Imagine how much better things would have gone if Rehoboam had gone with inspiration.  He might well have exceeded the greatness of his father.  He certainly would have been more in line with the heart of God.

Think about Jesus’ leadership.  He consistently leads with inspiration.  He calls people to live for a greater mission. (Luke 5:10)  He patiently teaches His frequently clueless followers. (Mt. 13:36)  He restores those who betray Him. (John 21:19).  He didn’t see it as a sign of weakness to offer rest to weary souls. (Mt. 11:28)  He deals in grace.  And His followers changed the world.  They were willing to sacrifice everything, including their lives, to advance His kingdom.  Inspiration works!

Don’t fall for the trap of intimidation.  It’s just self-destruction in disguise.

If you chose the path of inspiration and grace, you’re demonstrating the beauty of God and His gospel to the world.  Don’t lead with inspiration simply because it works.  Do it as a reflection of how God has dealt with you.  He meets our rebellion with grace.  He calms our fears with mercy.  He empowers us to do what we could never imagine.

Our job as leaders is to treat our people the way God has treated us.