The Church Jesus is Building

familychristI once heard Pastor Bill Johnson from Bethel Church in Redding, CA say, “There are more demons in the Church than there are outside the Church.” I remember pondering that statement and coming to the same conclusion, based on my own experiences of ministering to hundreds of believers who were under the influence of demons in over 25 years of ministry. In addition to the spirits that are operating in the world, seen in various manifestations of ungodliness and fleshly indulgence, there are also spirits of religion. Jesus dealt with these demons in the Jewish religious leaders of His day.

In this context, the word religious is defined as, man’s way to get to God, gaining acceptance from God through one’s own works, acts of charity, observance of disciplines such as fasting, prayer, giving, serving the poor, etc. I have always found it revealing that Jesus had such compassion and grace for the sinners He encountered, the prostitutes, tax-collectors, adulterers, and demonized, but had nothing but criticism and stern rebukes for the religious leaders and teachers of the Law. These are just some of the words He called them as found in the gospels: hypocrites, child of hell, full of greed and self-indulgence, full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean, children of the devil, blind guides. These are pretty harsh words! They were prideful and self-righteous, controlling and hypocritical.

Jesus knew that these people were under the influence of demons. So, while He hated their sin, He still loved and died for them even as He did for all of us. His words, I believe, were not directed at the people themselves, but at the spirits operating through them. Yet, unlike the sinners who were demonized and recognized their need for salvation, the religious leaders were blinded by their pride and arrogance and refused to come to Him. Even worse, as leaders, they grossly misrepresented the heart of God to His people. Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land for doing the very same thing. This was what stirred Jesus’ righteous anger and zeal when He cleansed the temple of the money changers. It also had a big part to play in His condemnation of their behavior.

Unfortunately, the religious spirit remains alive and fully functioning in many, if not most, of our churches today. The behavior of the leaders of Jesus’ day are still seen in both leaders and members of our congregations. The devil can’t create anything new, so he uses the same old tricks, and we still fall for them. The good news is that Jesus will not allow this to go on forever. He will build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against her. He will raise up a bride that is worthy to be His wife, holy and pure, without spot or wrinkle, and fully lovesick for her Bridegroom. The true Church will operate in a spirit of meekness, humility, love and compassion. The true Church is not groups of people that meet in a building once or twice a week. It is the worldwide body of Christ, those who are called by His name, who hear and heed His voice, walk in His ways, and follow Him wherever He leads. This is the Church He is building and the bride He will one day return for.




God’s Leadership Model

bible1Last week, I wrote about God’s design for His church, specifically in terms of the leadership structure. If you didn’t see it, you can read it here. In today’s article, I want to describe briefly the function of each role mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-13. Another Scripture passage that mentions some of these roles is 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.”  The following are very brief and simplified descriptions – entire books have been written on each individual role. 

The first role mentioned is apostle. Interestingly, the word was not used in religious circles until the New Testament; it was a secular word meaning, “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.” Their key role is authority, as seen in the life of Paul and other apostles, who operated in supernatural power, performing miracles of healing, deliverance from demons, and raising the dead, among other acts. Paul was commissioned by Jesus Himself and sent as an apostle to the Gentiles after supernaturally receiving the gospel through direct encounters with the Lord. Peter was appointed an apostle to the Jews. Other apostles mentioned were Barnabas, Timothy, and Silvanus, in addition to the original twelve. Within the Church, modern day apostles serve the body by equipping them in apostolic ministry and overseeing the other ministries of the church. They receive regular revelation from heaven that they bring to the other leaders who also use it to equip the body. They use their gifts to bring the body to maturity and unity.

Prophets work closely with apostles, as both roles receive supernatural revelation for the purpose of training and equipping the body. A prophet’s key role is to train the body to hear from God for themselves, and to properly discern, interpret, and deliver His personal words with increasing accuracy, love, and grace. In the Old Testament, there were “schools of the prophets” which trained those called to that office. Many believe that if one is called as a prophet, they will instinctively know how to prophesy, but that is not true. All the gifts start as a seed and must be developed, nurtured, and exercised in a safe community where mistakes can be made without judgment. We don’t believe it is odd to train pastors and teachers, and the same is true for all the other gifts. Both apostles and prophets are more Kingdom-minded than Church-minded; as visionaries, they see the big picture and live with an eternal perspective.

Evangelists are given to the Church to train and equip the people to share their faith every day as a way of life. Their key role is reproducing witnesses.They are not there to “do” the work of evangelizing the lost. All God’s people are called to be witnesses, but many do not, out of fear or insecurity, because they’ve never been trained. A true evangelist will enlist an army of believers to go out and win the lost wherever they go. This will result in a great harvest coming into the Kingdom!

Pastors are called to guide and protect God’s people. With the revelation given by the apostles and prophets, they help people to see the bigger picture of the Kingdom and eternity, rather than focusing on the present with its trials and struggles. They provide counsel at times, but also want to help the people become responsible for their own spirituality and walk with God. They provide assistance, within reason, to enable them to navigate the process of growing up in Christ. Their key role is to protect and prepare the people.

Teachers are provided to teach the people how to personally appropriate the revelation and information given by the other four leadership roles. Their key role is education, and they believe everyone’s issues center around needing more of it. They love to teach classes and recommend courses, books, videos, conferences, and anything else that will help God’s people learn.

These five leadership roles are very different and unique from one another. In order to properly equip and bring God’s people to maturity and unity, it requires great humility and submission to each other and the Holy Spirit. Jesus will build His Church as His appointed leaders do their part by building up the people. It cannot, and will not happen any other way but His. All five of these gifts are critical to successful preparation of the bride.

Historically, we have almost exclusively seen only pastors, teachers, and evangelists recognized and accepted within the local church. Without the supernatural aspect of apostles and prophets, our churches have been largely powerless to affect the real change we need. Only transformed people can transform cities and nations. Until we come into alignment with God’s chosen design and structure, we will likely continue to see more of the same.



Characteristics of Great Leaders

12107733Being a leader isn’t easy. In fact, it’s probably one of the hardest challenges we face as flawed and frail human beings. Perhaps that is one reason we have lacked good leaders in the recent past. It is all but guaranteed when leaders fail, most everyone knows about it. But true leaders carry an integrity and character about them that they do not fear failing. They are confident in their abilities, for the most part, and willing to take responsibility for their mistakes. They walk in truth and have nothing to hide. They do not seek to blame shift nor discredit those they lead, even when they may have a right to. Great leaders seek to build up those they lead. Through their honesty and integrity, they inspire others to want to be great.

It has been said that great leaders do not create followers, they create leaders. As a leader, you will lead by example, whether that example is good or bad. The Apostle Paul said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Those that influence you will also influence those you lead. This is the law of reproduction – you will reproduce who you are, not who you say you are. Good leaders don’t fear or become jealous if those they lead excel them, in fact, they encourage them to do so! They want their ceiling to be the floor for those around them. Leaders want to see their people succeed in their calling and destiny. They get excited to see others grow and develop in their gifts and skills, and give them real opportunities to do so.

It is important that leaders create a culture of freedom, where those they lead are free to be themselves, warts and all. They should not try to force conformity to a certain style, behavior, or message. Instead, they seek to draw out the diversity that will encourage authenticity, and the unique giftings each person possesses. They are unafraid to be vulnerable in front of their people. By sharing their own struggles, they give permission for others to do the same. This facilitates a place of safety, love, and nurturing that draws others in and brings healing and freedom.

If you are a leader, it’s important to remember it’s not about you. Jesus, the greatest leader of all time, said He didn’t come to be served, but to serve. He is always our model for all of life. Leaders should be the best servants. They do not ask their people to do what they are unwilling to do themselves. They are the first to do, the first to give, the first to lay down their lives for the ones coming behind them.

Jesus never sought the limelight. He lived a life of humility, the likes of which have never been seen before or since. He never sought a platform. Yet others were drawn to Him and sensed the unprecedented authority He walked in. His authority was rooted in His intimacy with the Father. The same is true for all leaders. We have no authority except that which has been given to us by God. The deeper our intimacy with the Father, the greater our authority will be because He can trust us to use it wisely.

All leaders make mistakes; they are human after all. But there are some characteristics and signs you want to pay attention to that may determine if a leader is worthy of following. Here are just a few to consider:

• Insecure and jealous of those more gifted than them.

• Seek to be served and act as if they are better than those around them.

• Controlling, want to be in charge of everything, and do not give others opportunites to    grow, develop, and use their giftings and skills.

• Refuse to do things they ask their people to do, especially menial tasks.

• Boastful of how God uses them, prideful, or always talking about themselves.

• Never share their own personal struggles or they attempt to maintain a certain  appearance.

• Blame others for their own failures or mistakes and refuse to take responsibility or make  restitution when needed.

• Insist on doing their own thing and do not make an effort to work with others in the  community.

• Refuse to listen and take heed to others’ complaints, suggestions, ideas, and concerns.

These are just a few examples; hopefully, you get the point. It is important to choose our leaders wisely, but even more important to pray for them regularly. Those who lead carry a greater weight of responsibility and accountability before God. They are deserving and in need of our prayers and support.



Avoiding Burnout

Burnout is a topic that comes up often in conversations, especially when one is involved burnoutin ministry. I read and hear stories, almost daily it seems, of pastors and leaders who succumb to various sins, often because of burnout. These include sexual immorality, quitting the ministry, substance abuse, financial dishonesty, divorce, and even suicide. It not only affects the leader and his or her family; the ripples go out far and wide, affecting group/church members and their families.

Pressures from within and without often lead to this state of burnout. Outside pressures can include the needs, demands, and expectations of those within the group or congregation we lead. In addition, there are the needs of the family, which are often neglected because of the above. Personal needs, including time with God, are often last on the list of things to do. When given into, these pressures become a recipe for disaster and certain burnout.

Then there are the pressures within. Legitimate human needs, such as affirmation, validation, acceptance, and love can drive us unwittingly to perform and to prioritize people pleasing above pleasing God, taking care of ourselves, and our families. These needs can make it difficult to set healthy boundaries and say “no” to people when necessary. This behavior, over time, leads to resentment, anger, and bitterness because people cannot meet those needs, not even the ones who love us the most. This behavior, in turn, will lead to burnout.

So how can we avoid burnout? As in all matters of life, Jesus is our perfect role model. Though He was constantly surrounded by needy people, He was never driven to meet every need. He Himself clearly said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19) When ministry became hectic, He understood the need to rest. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”  (Mark 6:31) Jesus modeled our need to spend time with Him and the Father. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16) He understood our need for affirmation, love, and acceptance. “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love.” (John 15:9)

Often, healing and deliverance are needed to bring the wholeness that enables us to resist these pressures, and thus, burnout. Issues such as unmet needs from childhood, lack of identity or purpose, absence of one or both parents, abuse, rejection, or abandonment by parents or others, etc., must be resolved – they don’t just go away. Whether we realize it or not, we live, and minister, out of these areas of wounding and the lies we believe as a result. Consequently, we reproduce what we are, for we can only give to others what we have within.

Burnout can be avoided if we receive healing and resolution to our own personal issues, learn to make quality time with God our first priority, and spending time with family above time spent in ministry. Learning to get enough rest, eat healthy, and exercise are also important to maintain our own physical, mental, and even spiritual strength. Though this may sound difficult for some, it is possible, by God’s grace. Jesus wants a whole, healthy bride, which must start with whole, healthy leaders.

Have you struggled with burnout? Did you overcome it, and if so, how? Please share your comments.