Category Archives: Insights

The Rainmaker

I’ve been pondering over this morning a verse which was in the intro video at the opening of Manifest Presence conference last night.

Has the rain a father?
Or who has begotten the drops of dew?
From whose womb has come the ice?
And the frost of heaven, who has given it birth?
-Job 38:28-29

Over the years I’ve found that God often speaks to me through some of the more unusual and less well-trodden parts of His Word. Some of the verses that I find myself fixated on can seem pretty weird on first glance – but I’ve learnt that for me this seems to be God’s  invitation to dig a bit deeper and discover something new about who He is and what He’s doing.

To put this passage in context, Job has just spent 35 chapters moaning at God after the opening 2 chapters of what could euphemistically be referred to as a bit of a rough patch in his life. After round upon round of little to no help or real understanding from his wife and mates, God Himself enters the scene in chapter 38, and gives Job quite the perspective lesson!

And these two verses that jumped out at me in the video are part of God’s masterclass in how much higher His ways are than ours and why He’s God and we’re not 🙂

But as I turned these two verses over in my mind, I was interested to note that all four lines contain a reference to water (rain, dew, ice, frost) – and a link to parental relationship (father, begotten, womb, birth). There’s something deeper going on here….

Here Comes The Rain

We’ve had a lot of rain here in Auckland in the last 24 hours, and it looks set to continue over the next few days. But until now I can’t say that I’ve ever looked outside at the downpour and considered it’s parentage!

Instead I usually tend to focus more on what that rain is doing in the here and now… making me wet, causing traffic congestion, reminding me that finer weather has yet to grace us with its presence….! #bringonsummer

Yet the rain comes from somewhere. The cloads bloat with evaporated moisture and reach a tipping point where they dump their load on the earth. Most people can explain the process. Nearly all of us would have drawn colourful pictures with crayons in primary school showing the seas, the clouds and the yellow sun radiating from the corner of the page to demonstrate our understanding of the water-cycle. Yes, the rain has an ORIGIN.

Origin-ality

As humans, we are naturally curious about the origins of things. We have scientists across the world putting large amounts of time and energy into understanding how everything began – and we’re especially interested in how the universe, the earth, and ultimately we as humans came into being.

But here’s the thing. When you try to understand creation but exclude a Creator, the best you can come up with is a PROCESS. A big bang, a galatic shattering that somehow birthed everything. A purposeless, personless process which somehow begat the beauty and unbelievable intricacy of the planet we live on, the bodies we dwell in, and the minds that we think with.

Setting aside the unfathomable leap of faith required to actually believe that this is what led to the billions of cells in my body functioning seamlessly together as I write this blog post (save that for another time) – the study of ORIGINS without reference to an ORIGINATOR can only ever at best tell us HOW things happened.

But they can’t answer the deepest and most pressing question that humanity has… WHY am I here?

The Rain Has A Father?

The rain falls from the sky. It has an ORIGIN and a PROCESS. Sure.

But God questions Job… “have you considered if the rain has a father?”

Why would God want Job to link the process of rain in with the person of a father? Could it be to get us to connect the dots that there’s another reality behind the reality that we see? (wow, that’s deep!).

Behind every PROCESS is an ORIGIN.
We see the process of water falling from the heavens, we wonder where it comes from. We study it and observe it. We come to a conclusion about it’s origin.

And this is where most of science stops. Here’s HOW it happens. Here’s where it comes from.

But God wants us to keep going and to look deeper and see…

Behind the ORIGIN is an INTENTION.
The rain isn’t there by accident. It’s there by design. Thought and intention was put into it’s construction and process. Which leads us to see that….

Behind the INTENTION is a PERSON.
It seems to me that our Heavenly Father has an underlying plan for us. He wants to fundamentally change how we see ourselves and the world that surrounds. He wants us to understand that our lives and existence aren’t just an accident, but part of a wonderfully good grand design. He wants to let us know that we’re not just vagrant sentient beings moving around in the time and space of interconnected processes. We’re here on purpose. There’s a reason.

Through something as simple as showers from the sky – God wants to answer once and for all the burning question of WHY we are here.

God wants us to see that not just the rain but everything, everything … EVERYTHING has been given to us not by accident or fate, but through the provision and hands of a loving Father. It all comes back to Him.

The sky has a Maker. The universe has a Creator. Humanity has an Author. The rain has a Father.

We’re not just connected physically to this world.  But we’re connected relationally to the One who made it.  We’re not accidents.  We’re not orphans.  We belong.  He is our Father, we are His children.  How awesome is that!

So today… it looks it’s going to rain!  But thanks to Job, I’m seeing more than just the heavens opening and the need for an umbrella. I’m looking beyond it, and seeing the wonder and glory of a good God, who graciously provides all that I need.

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Discipleship From A Distance

Been thinking about discipleship a bit recently.

I’m so grateful for leaders and spiritual (and natural!) parents who’ve taken the time and energy to personally walk with me and invest into my life. I’m doing what I’m doing today because of what they gave me….

Hmmm… maybe they’d prefer to not take credit for how my life has turned out… haha 🙂

Anyway… I’ve been thinking too about how I’ve ALSO been discipled by people I never had a personal relationship with. I saw something on their life that I wanted to be like, and I MYSELF took the time and energy to read their books, listen to their music or messages, go to their conferences. They may have never known my name or the effect that they’d had on me. But they’ve been incredibly influential and there’s things I do differently in my life simply because I learnt it from them.

A great example of this for me is Keith Green. Keith died in a plane crash in 1982 when I was only 6, and it would be another 9 years before I ever ‘discovered’ his ministry. Yet I throughout my teenage years I devoured everything and anything he’d written, played, said or done! He was totally my teacher and I was absolutely discipled by him… after he’d already been taken to glory!

“Special Time”?
Ps Phil Pringle made a fascinating point at the C3 Leaders conference I was at earlier this year. He said that often people ask him to mentor or disciple them, and what they’re really asking for is ‘special time’ with him.

He then went on to say that it’s been interesting for him how over the years, there’s been all these peope he spent ‘special time’ with, who never really listened or took on board anything he said. But then, he’s found people all over the world who have read his books, listened to his messages, went to his seminars, and who are living out in their lives the very essence of what he preaches.

So the question has to be asked really – who is the true disciple? The one who gets the ‘special time’ or the one who actually listens and puts into practice what is taught? Of course these things aren’t always mutually exclusive. There are those who get ‘special time’ who become true disciples for sure. But it’s really made me think.

Discipled From A Distance
I never met Keith, but I learned a lot of my piano style by studying and imitating his music and I got a foundation for ministry through his uncompromising, sold-out life for Jesus.

I’ve only met Ps Phil once in person, but his teachings on faith and vision, and his answer to a question I asked at a leaders event earlier this year on how he spends time with God have been absolutely put into practice for me. I’ve been a disciple in those areas through blogs, podcasts and from three chairs along from the left in Row 49 🙂

So what conclusion does it bring me to? It makes me think that perhaps discipleship isn’t just about the teacher taking the time to pursue the student. Perhaps it’s equally as much about the student taking the time to pursue the teacher!

4 Things Before Saying Sorry (The Lord’s Prayer)

Was thinking this morning about The Lord’s prayer – I love how God designed such a simple framework for us to be able to come to him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our [sins],
as we also have forgiven those who [sin against us].
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. ’
– Matthew 6:9-13

Yet for so many of us – as soon as we think about God or come to pray, we become immediately conscious of our unworthiness and the various ways that we have failed God and others. Yes, sin is a thing and it does have the effect of isolating us from God and people. We need God’s forgiveness and cleansing to be healed and made righteous for sure.

But what struck me this morning was how much there is in the Lord’s Prayer before you get to the lines ‘Forgive us our sins…’.

Think about it.

The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t start with ‘Forgive me Father for I have sinned…’ does it?

In fact there’s actually 4 things that we pray before we get to asking God for forgiveness. Interesting eh. I don’t believe this is a mistake on God’s part or that He overlooked something here.

The Lord’s Prayer wasn’t designed to be prayed by perfect Christians who’ve already got everything sorted out. No, it’s a way that anyone can approach the Father, no matter where they come from or what they’ve done.

Embedded in the opening lines of this prayer is a wonderful demonstration of God’s love and commitment to us as a good Father!

1) “Our Father…”

Regardless of where you feel like your life is at, these two words show us two things:

‘Our’ tells us that we belong to a group of people. I’m not a perfect husband, father, son or brother – but my status as a member of a family doesn’t change depending on my righteousness. Starting with ‘our’ reminds me that I always remain part of a group of people who call on the Name of God – regardless of what my life might look like right now.

‘Father’ tells us that His relationship to us doesn’t change. We don’t start with ‘Lord’ or ‘Master’ and then finally say ‘Father’ once we’ve gotten cleaned up through prayer. We start with Father. He is always ‘our Father’. It doesn’t change.

2) “Hallowed Be Your Name…”

This shows me that I can still give God glory and worship from an imperfect life. The idea that we have to get our lives perfect before we can come to God is a religious lie. It’s THROUGH prayer and worship that we become righteous.

I’m not condoning sin or saying it doesn’t matter – but just pointing out that Jesus deliberately put ‘Hallowed be thy name’ in the prayer ahead of ‘Forgive us our sins…’.

God has made a way for us to give Him glory even before our lives get sorted out and often it’s as we start to worship Him that we move into a place where He can deal with our sin.

3) “Your kingdom come, your will be done…”

This reminds me that about God’s overall mission on earth. This line gives me the WHY of my life… why I’m here, why God has given me the gifts and talents he has. It’s because He’s extending His kingdom.

I’m not just asking for forgiveness so I can stop being a ‘bad person’. My being cleansed and made righteous means that I can move and work in His kingdom more effectively.

4) “Give us today our daily bread…”

In natural human relationships, we don’t tend to do kind things for people who’ve upset us… at least until they’ve apologised to us!

But again God shows us just how different He is to us. Whether or not my kids behave doesn’t change my fatherly desire to make sure they’ve got what they need to survive.

God is a good Father! We can just ask Him for stuff. It’s not a matter of rooting out every little thing we might have done wrong before we can ask our heavenly Father for what we need.

Finally…

Obviously I’m not downplaying the need for us to ask for forgiveness and repent of our sin. It’s vitally important and one of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to convict us and show us areas of our lives where things are out of alignment with Him.

I’m also not saying that living righteously doesn’t help us see our Father more clearly, worship more powerfully, understand His mission more readily or ask Him for our needs more effectively! Purity and holiness in our lives enable us to move in a closer way to God’s heartbeat and see things that we’d be blind to otherwise.

But I do believe this… that God has much more for our lives than just a constant cycle of ‘sin-repent-sin-repent’! Jesus died on the cross to cleanse us from sin so that we can get on with the real business of His kingdom and His plans!

So the next time you think about God or come to prayer, put your fears and unworthiness to one side for a moment and remind yourself that He’s STILL your Father, you can STILL worship Him, you’re STILL part of His mission and you can STILL ask Him for things.

His heart towards you and promises for you don’t change!

The Tempter

“After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” – Matthew 4:1-2

The dictionary defines ‘tempt’ as meaning ‘to entice or try to entice (someone) to do something that they find attractive but know to be wrong or unwise’.

Right from the first moment we meet the devil in Genesis 3, he’s doing business with humanity – enticing and offering a substitute for God’s best.

What’s interesting here is that the devil pitches up after Jesus has fasted and waited on God for 40 days and right before Jesus gets his breakthrough.

In my experience, I’ve always found that he comes around in that time between sacrifice and breakthrough. When we’ve paid a price to set ourselves apart for God, or we’ve taken an action of obedience, but we haven’t seen God fulfill his promise yet. That’s prime devil-zone.

He comes in with lies (‘what are you doing? God’s not going to come through… you’re wasting your time’) or he comes selling something less than what God has promised, but with the bonus that you can have it right here, and right now.

The passage goes on and three times Jesus resists him, until the devil finally leaves… and ‘angels attend him’ (v11).

If we stand firm through temptation, then we will receive the promise that God has for us. And it’s not some second-rate substitute – it’s the real deal!

Your ‘Aha’ Moment…

Despite the title, this post doesn’t have a lot to do with a certain 80’s band, but it’s about an experience that I’m sure everyone who’s read the Bible has had at one time or another.

It looks like this: You’re spending time reading the Bible, and you come across a passage or Scripture that’s confusing – you’re not sure what it means.

Now the temptation can be just to ignore it and move on…. pretend it’s not there and put it in the ‘too hard’ basket. Or you could take the option to disagree with what it seems to be saying because it doesn’t make sense to how you see the world or what you value.

But the truth is that there’s gold sitting right in front of you.

God has made His Word to be like a treasure hunt, and the difficult parts are actually designed to be doorways rather than dead-ends.

If you’ve been around church for a while, you’ll have undoubtedly heard the word ‘revelation‘. It might sound like a very super-spiritual word – but it simply means ‘to reveal’ – to take the veil away. It’s the ‘aha’ moment that comes when something that was mysterious becomes obvious. It’s like when an illusionist does a trick and you sit dumbfounded… until he shows you how he did it! Then the ‘aha’ moment… the ‘revelation’ comes.

So when you hit a Scripture or passage that looks like it’s a dead-end for you, rather than get discouraged, get excited… you’re looking at an opportunity to understand who God is and how He works in a greater way. An ‘aha’ moment is waiting!

So how do you go about the process of getting a stream of water out of a brick wall? Here’s what I’ve found works for me:

  1. Look at what’s around the verse or passage.  What’s before it and after it?  What context is it being said in?
  2. Look at the key words in the verse or passage and find where they’re used elsewhere in the Bible.  This is where a concordance or a Strongs Dictionary comes in handy.  Discovering how the words in the verse are used in other parts of the Bible can help shine light on understanding what the passage is saying.
  3. Ask God to show you what it means, and journal what you feel like He’s saying.  Write down any thoughts you have, questions that it makes you ask, conclusions that reading the passage and looking at the words brings you to.
  4. Look at what other great Bible teachers and commentaries say about this verse.  The awesome thing about the day we live in is that we have such easy access to wisdom and insights from brilliant Bible teachers through the ages.  Some great online resources include the Blue Letter Bible,  the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (really good for historic Christian writings) and I also really appreciate John Piper’s writings on DesiringGod.org.   If you’ve got e-Sword or a Bible program on your computer, Matthew Henry, John Gill and James, Fausset & Brown are great commentaries too.

There’s nothing wrong per se with going straight to a Bible teacher or commentary to discover what a Bible verse or passage means. But something I’ve discovered is if I go through the first three steps and use the last as a ‘check’, then I develop my ability to mine gold from the Word of God. And it’s MY gold too! Not just something I heard from someone else.

So the next time you hit a passage or verse you don’t understand – remember, it’s not a dead-end, it’s a doorway. There’s treasure to be found… and an AHA moment waiting for you!

How To Build A Life-Ruining Stronghold In 4 Easy Steps

When you come into the church, there’s often a whole new language to learn. It’s sometimes referred to as ‘Christianese’ – words like redeemed, sanctified, fellowship and altar call can be commonly used, which never get a hearing outside the church community.

To help with the culture-shock, Tim Stewart has gone to the trouble of setting up a whole website called The Dictionary Of Christianese – so now you can know the difference between a testimony and a bragimony, and where the 10/40 window actually is! There’s a few beauties on this site that really made me laugh.

But despite what some people say, it’s not wrong for us to use spiritual language in the church – in fact the apostle Paul said that we are ‘explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words’ – 1 Corinthians 2:13.

But what IS important is that we understand what the words we’re saying actually mean. Otherwise we end up saying them or singing them and they’ve lost all power for us.

The Location

I came across one of those words while I was reading the Bible this morning… the word STRONGHOLD! The church spent much time in the 80’s and 90’s ‘breaking strongholds’, and it became a common theme of many of the songs written during these years. For me, when I was praying for someone and asking God that ‘strongholds would be broken’ I would see in my mind a person being set free from a spiritual prison, or having spiritual chains removed from their lives.

But these days I’ve come to the realisation that although the sentiment and picture wasn’t wrong – maybe the LOCATION of the stronghold was something that I missed. Maybe it wasn’t so much around their body, as much as around their MIND.

The Progression

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretention [lofty thought] that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ – 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

This is an upside-down passage. What I mean by that that instead of starting with something small and zooming out to something big… it starts with the big thing, and zooms in to the root cause. When you look you see four things:

1) Strongholds ….which come from
2) Arguments ….which come from
3) Lofty thoughts against God’s knowledge …. which come from
4) Our thoughts

So we can see that strongholds are literally ‘strong holds’ on our life which have their origin in unchecked thoughts which don’t line up with what God is saying about Himself, the universe and our lives.

How To Make Your Own Stronghold At Home!

Let me show you how to make your very own stronghold at home, in four easy moves!

1) Have a thought
This part is pretty easy. In life, a few people ‘think’ but pretty much everyone has ‘thoughts’. But in order to make a really good stronghold, ensure that your thought is about something important – like what you are on earth for, who you are as a person, what your future is going to hold, or what God is like.

2) Have a really good thought
The next step to building your own stronghold is to have an epiphany – a ‘Eureka’ moment. It’s a really good thought – a ‘lofty idea’ that stands out amongst the rest of your thoughts. The kind of thought you share with others when you’re sitting around the barbecue or hanging out with mates.

What is CRITICAL at this point though, in order to make a really good stronghold, is that you DO NOT check that thought against the Bible! Otherwise you’ll realise that it’s a lie, take it captive, and your stronghold will crumble.

3) Build an argument
Having now created the basis of your stronghold with a great idea, you now need to strengthen it with an argument. The Greek word used here is ‘logismos’ – you want to use logic and reasoning here to demonstrate why your idea stands up.

To get a solid stronghold, you also need to think about actions that go along with your arguments. If you’ve constructed the first part well, then the actions will come pretty naturally.

4) Complete the stronghold
Another word used in the Bible for stronghold is ‘fortress’. Having started with your great idea, and built your arguments and reasoning around it, you now need to protect the idea like a fortress against anyone who may see things differently. The Greek word used for ‘fortress’ is pretty close to the word used for ‘lots of people’, so you’ll want to find others who agree with you. Together you can stand strong and mock those who disagree with you.

Congratulations… your stronghold is now complete!

The Scary Reality

Maybe you’ve noticed something as you’ve been reading. Perhaps you can see actions that you’ve done yourself in the list above. The truth is that every single human has strongholds built around what they believe. This is why it’s a struggle sometimes for people to come to Christ… in order to receive Him they have to dismantle a lot of what they formerly built.

But what I hope will be a little more of an awakening is just how important it is that we do what Scripture says and ‘take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ’. If we allow stray thoughts that are at odds with what God says about Himself, the universe and our lives to start to take root and grow in our mind… the eventual destination is a stronghold.

The Good News

But the good news is this – we’ve been given divine power for the demolishing of strongholds! We can, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God together, set people free from strongholds of the mind that are ruining and wrecking their lives.

One of the most powerful ways we can experience life transformation is to be ‘transformed by the renewing of [our minds]’, – which means that as we start to think differently, we live differently.

So let the combined power of God’s Word and His Spirit into your thought process – and you’ll find that instead of ending up with strongholds in your life against God,you’ll be like the person who built their house on the rock. The storms will come and you won’t be shaken – standing firm in the promise and the knowledge of God!

When Leaders Fall

My heart was ripped up yesterday hearing the news of a pastor friend of mine in another city who has had to leave the ministry because he wasn’t careful with his personal boundaries.  I’m not usually too much one for tears, but they came yesterday… for him, for his church, for the people involved, for the community he’s been a part of.  I’m totally gutted about it… and I wasn’t even that close to what unfolded.

I’m sure there’s a lot of pointing fingers right now, and a heap of blame and accusation swirling around.  Without a doubt some bad decisions were made in this situation, and now the tragic consequences are being played out.  But I’m a bit slower these days to get out my torch and pitchfork and join angry mobs.  I was an expert on pastoral ministry before I became a pastor myself.  Much like I was a self-proclaimed authority on parenting before we had kids 🙂 I’m still an idealist at heart, but with nearly a decade of pastoring under my belt now – I think I have a much better understanding of the unique pressures that church leaders are under.

So I’m writing this post partly to help me process the pain in my heart that I’m feeling about this situation.  But I also want to communicate a perspective, a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at how the process of how fantastic and gifted leaders get themselves into trouble.  People are often gobsmacked – “How did that amazing, anointed pastor do something as stupid as that?”.  Unfortunately, history shows us that the path to that destination is seemingly too easy to take.  So how do leaders end up there, and how should we react when a leader takes a fall?

The Set-Up

When I started out pastoring, I was blindly ignorant to the balancing act of ‘Cirque Du Soleil’ proportions that was awaiting me!  You need to have a strong vision and bold leadership, but at the same time, be careful and considerate to the weak and the hurting.  You need to move quickly sometimes and painstakingly slowly at others.  You need to keep a burning passion for the spiritual house that God is building, while being able to make seemingly inane practical decisions on ‘physical house’ of the church building.  You have to stay focussed on those who’ve never heard the gospel while also not neglecting the spiritual growth of those who have responded to Christ.  You need to care enough about people to hold relationships tightly, but be gracious enough to respond well when a person who you’ve invested years of your life into announces that their ‘season has changed’ and they’re moving on.  You need to keep sight of the big picture and the small details.  It’s a pressured job that can easily get on top of you without constant vigilance, prayer, faith and most of all a close walk with God.

But it’s not only a job, it’s a very, very personal job.  There’s perhaps few other roles where every part of a person’s life comes under such scrutiny and is seen so widely.  We expect our leaders to model the Christian faith to us, to give us the example that we can follow.  We expect that their prayer life will be awesome, their families perfect, their decisions Solomon-like, and that they won’t let us down.

Yet in spite of the vast amount of writings, sermons and conversations about how putting leaders on pedestals sets them up to fail… it’s still going on, and I think it always will.  It’s the cost of leadership.  I’m not writing this to complain about it – my personal feeling is if you can’t handle the heat in the kitchen, then maybe a career as a chef isn’t for you!  Every job has it’s challenges and I’ve listed just a few of the ones that church leaders face.  But I share this to make it easier to understand the next point – that the unique pressures on pastors not only requires a lot of energy and dedication, but it also makes it really hard for them to have real, open friendships with people.

It comes as a surprise to many that pastors are often some of the most isolated and lonely people in the church.  “Surely not!”  you say, “that warm and smiling, super-positive guy who spends his weeks having coffees and chats, and on Sunday’s works through the queue of people waiting to grab a moment of his time?  Lonely?  No one to talk to?  Why, he’s friends with everyone!”.  But actually it’s really hard to have close friends when you’re in pastoral ministry.  A big reason for this is that we build relationships with each other by sharing what’s on our hearts and what’s going on in our minds.  But it’s a totally different deal for pastors because:

  • When you hold people’s secrets and they’ve trustingly confided in you, you don’t want to let something slip so… you start to become very careful about what you say.
  • When you think something out loud and find that you’ve unwittingly created a new church policy, and people are coming or leaving based on something you just said once… you start to become very careful about what you say.
  • When the person you thought would be responsible to keep something on the down-low blabs it to all in sundry (“I’m just telling you this so you can pray “…lol!) … you start to become very careful about what you say.
  • When you shared how you were honestly feeling with another pastor or leader, and then rather than draw close and help you they avoid you … you start to become very careful about what you say.

And so the stage is set.  Tired from the continual balancing act, burdened by the expectations of people, managing the relentlessness with which Sunday comes around every week, and facing difficulty having open, honest conversation with others – you’ve got a church leader who’s in dangerous territory.  More often than not, they don’t even realise how close to the edge they are before they fall off it.

There Is No Little Sin

No one wakes up one morning and says to themselves  “You know, I think I’ll have an affair today”, or “Yes, it seems like a good point in time to move thousands of dollars of church money into my bank account to pay off my personal credit card”.  Every ‘big and visible sin’ starts as a tiny thought-seed.  Removing a seed from the ground is a fairly small matter.  Removing the massive oak it’s become, with roots spreading in all directions is another matter altogether.  You can get it out, but it’s going to have a visible and often long-lasting effect on the landscape.

Romans 11:29 says that the ‘gifts and calling of God are irrevocable’.  What this means is that when God gives a person a gift, He doesn’t take it back.  The ability to operate in a gift doesn’t depend on a person’s character.  This is simultaneously the greatest blessing that God could give us, and our most vulnerable Achilles heel.  It means that we don’t have to have perfect lives to minister in our gifts and callings.  Halleljuah!  It also means… we don’t have to have perfect lives to minister in our gifts and callings.  Hmmm.

I can’t take this from personal experience (thankfully, and I pray for God’s strength), but I’d wager that at some point every church leader who has ended up taking a public fall discovered that they could hold on to small sins privately, and it didn’t seem to make any difference to their ministry.  They were awakened to the fact that their gifts appeared intact even when they were allowing compromises in secret.  This is why it’s so important that we realise that sin is not just what hurts us or what hurts other people, sin is actually whatever God says sin is, and all too often it doesn’t have an immediate effect.  You can’t discern the seriousness of a sin based on whether or not you were able to get away with doing it and still preach up a storm on Sunday.

The worst part of sin is that the more it grows the harder we find it to confess.  We feel ashamed of the seed-thoughts that we have, and so we keep them hidden.  In the fertile soil of darkness and secret, they grow into small actions and compromises, and so we work harder to keep them hidden.  Over time, if we don’t deal with them, they start to become noticeable to others, so we lie and deceive to keep our reputation intact.  We condone and justify our actions by seeing the sin as a kind of ‘self-medication’, ‘a little payback’ for the difficulty of the job we’re doing and the fact that we’re feeling alone and unsupported.

All this is unfortunately all-too-common human nature, but when you add the dimension of this taking place in the heart of a pastor, it’s a whole other deal.  Righteousness and holiness is not just part of his life… it’s in his job description.  He gets paid to be holy 🙂 (you might want to throw things at me for saying that, but you know it’s true!).  So it’s little wonder that when pastors fail to deal with sin-seeds and they end up with a private locker that’s starting to overflow into their public life… that they will go to great lengths to try to cover up their failing.  Their livelihood depends on it!

So there we have it – a church leader who’s tired from the circus balancing act of ministry, who can’t talk openly to anyone about it, who’s got a triffid growing in secret, and they’re desperately trying to keep it under control so they don’t lose their job.  It’s the perfect storm.

One Way Or Another

1 John 1:9 is a wonderful verse.  It tells us that if we confess our sins to God, He’s faithful to forgive them.  I remind myself of this verse on a daily basis!  But you know, it’s not enough for us just to confess our sins to God.  Every leader who ever fell spent a lot of time after they’d sinned confessing their sins to God and asking for His forgiveness.  They promised God that they would never do that thing again.  I’m sure they were genuine and they really meant what they prayed.  But leaders are still falling.  We need something more.  That’s why God also gave us James 5:16 – “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for each other, so that you may be healed“.

Confessing our sins to God gets us forgiven.  Confessing our sins to others gets us healed.  It’s not enough just to talk about sin with God, we need to talk about it with other people too.

It’s never a pleasant experience to have to own up to what’s going on in your thought life in the presence of another person.  It’s a reminder of how human you are, and how much you have yet to grow in the image of Christ.  But if we skip this step because it feels shameful, or we don’t have the time for it, or because ‘I’m the pastor and I’m supposed to be perfect’ – then all we’re doing is trading a small and private unpleasant experience for what could very well end up being a large and public unpleasant experience.  The choice is ours.

How To Not Be A Statistic

I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years, having watched as we all have the devastating effects of a church leader falling.

Personally, I’ve come to this conclusion: A choice has to be made deep within your heart as a leader that you’re not going to indulge in hidden sin.  You have to regularly do the math on small compromises and realistically face where they will take you if you don’t deal with them.  The little ‘treats’, the little ‘just this once’ – in the moment they can seem trivial.  But we need to see the end of the story to work out just how ‘trivial’ they may be.

Put yourself in the church meeting where it’s all come out and now you have to stand up and apologise to everyone… your spouse standing there with tears streaming down her cheeks, your let-down children, your devastated leadership team, your shocked congregation.  Put yourself on the receiving end of the awkward conversations that will take place for years and years after – ‘Weren’t you the pastor there?  What happened?’.  See yourself in the meeting where you’re sorting out custody for the kids because your marriage has imploded.  Visualise the job interview you have to take because no church is going to employ a recently fallen pastor, and think about what you’re going to say when they ask you what you’ve been doing for the last 20 years, and why you left the job you were in previously.  Your passionate sermons, the powerful God-moments, every reason you got into ministry will be overshadowed by this event.  This will be your legacy, what everyone remembers you for.  Then ask yourself this… is it really worth it?

So hence, wise pastors put clear boundaries around their lives.  Someone once said that if you avoid even the appearance of evil, you tend to avoid the evil itself.  I think that’s pretty right on.  Good boundaries on how we relate to those of the opposite sex, how we deal with money, how we process decisions – are important and necessary to last long term.

But having said this, I’ve come to realise that no amount of checks and balances, accountability relationships, stated boundaries etc can change what’s in a person’s heart.  I’ve seen plenty of leaders with all of these things in place… and they still fell.  They got around the checks, and they didn’t tell the whole truth in the accountability sessions.  Having these things in place is important, but none of it will ever make up for the ongoing decision that takes place in secret in a leader’s heart.

Pastor – the only person in the world who can stop you from being a statistic… is you.

Responding Right When A Leader Falls

I think it’s the responsibility of the leadership in place in a local church to deal with a leader falling in the most transparent and honourable way possible.  Things shouldn’t be ‘swept under the carpet’.  In my experience, people generally know when something isn’t right, and they always know when they’re not being told the whole truth.  If a leadership tries to hide things from people to ‘protect the congregation’ or ‘not expose the leader’, what often ends up happening is that the leadership ends up taking a credibility hit, and the situation degenerates even further.  We have to speak the truth, and we have to do it love and with genuine concern for the people involved.

I’ve also seen some crazy responses over the years to leaders falling.  Sometimes people go as far as burning books and resources from the person… as if now everything they’ve ever said and done has been tainted by this one sin.  Others use the fallen leader as their ongoing excuse for why they’ll never trust the church again, or the justification for pain that they’re holding on to that they won’t deal with and give to God.  I meet people who were under a pastor who fell 20 years ago, and they’re still holding that pastor responsible for their messed up life today.  We can’t stop other people from doing things that hurt us, but it’s totally our choice as to whether or not we hold on to that pain.

With all my heart, my prayer is that we will never have to see another leader fall because of hidden sin.  But as long as we have imperfect humans in leadership positions, I think unfortunately it’s going to be something that we have to continue to deal with.  Historically, the church hasn’t been very good at this, having the tendency to execute our wounded as opposed to resotring them back to health and wholeness.  As a result, the devil all too often gets the double victory of taking a gifted person out of ministry, as well as destroying their walk with God.  I’m not suggesting for a second that when a leader falls they should keep their role, but it’s also not about withdrawing from them and leaving them out in the cold either.  We need to maintain high standards of integrity and credibility in leadership.

Church isn’t another organisation, it’s a family.  Organisations get rid of people when they fail.  Families live with people when they fail.  We find our way forward through the mess, we deal with the issues, we talk things out.  Re-establishing broken trust and restoring a leader can a very long time – often years.  But if we continue to reach out in love, and walk through the process, we’ll get to the place where broken people are restored and stronger than they ever were before.  And what the devil intended to destroy us, God has turned around for victory.    That sounds like God to me, and it sounds like the kind of church that I want to be a part of!