Leaders Devotion 6: A Willing Leader

We have looked at Paul's remarks to the Ephesian leadership, now let's examine what Peter had to say to church leaders Screen Shot 2022-08-13 at 11.13.22 AMabout their role and demeanor while overseeing His flock. Let's examine the first portion of his exhortation:

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing (1 Peter 5:1-2).

Peter did not exalt himself above the church leaders even though he was an eyewitness of Jesus' work and ministry. He acknowledged that his and their reward was yet to come, which let's us know that he is about to tell the leaders that their role is not one that leads to personal gain. Instead they are to care for and shepherd God's flock. They must not see their work as a burden or compulsory, for there is a big difference between work that is done because one has to do it versus work of those who willingly and enthusiastically choose to do it, accepting their call as a privilege, not a burden.

Are you willingly leading God's people? If so, are you exerting energy and creativity as you lead and care, or are you doing the minimum? Are you a disciple of Christ who happens to be called to leadership or do you see yourself and your work as elite, placing you above the people you shepherd? As we will see repeatedly emphasized in future studies, the call to leadership is not one of privilege but of self-denying service, through which you will share in the sufferings of Christ, the Chief Shepherd.

Church Leaders Devotion 5: Be On Your Guard

Paul delivered some sobering remarks to the Ephesian elders as he closed his sermon:

"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church Screen Shot 2022-08-06 at 8.01.32 AM of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! (Acts 20:28-31a).

Being appointed by the Spirit to be a shepherd of God's people is serious business and it is fraught with danger, for the temptations for leaders to care for themselves or to make themselves the center of attention are ever present. Paul warned that there would be attacks upon the flock from without and within and urged the elders to "keep watch" and "be on guard." They were to "be shepherds," and not those who do what they do for money or prestige for they were dealing with sheep purchased with the blood of Jesus.

Are you shepherding God's flock? Do you know the sheep? Are you keeping watch? Are you careful to lead the people to Jesus and not to yourself? Do you work at maintaining correct doctrine so you won't "distort" the truth? Perhaps you want to make this shepherd's prayer a part of your leadership arsenal of prayers:

Lord, I acknowledge that I didn't choose to lead, but was appointed by the Holy Spirit to be an overseer in the church of Jesus Christ. Help me to lead and care for the flock in a way that's pleasing to You. Remind me that it's not about me, but about the people. Keep me from any attitudes or practices that would cause me to neglect or abuse the sheep. Protect me from doctrinal weirdness or error, and give me discernment to recognize dangers for the flock (and myself) when they appear. I submit myself to Your oversight and the authority of Your word as I exercise oversight for others. Amen.

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Baseball for Africa

You probably would not pay big money for a ticket to a ball game, unless you were a huge fan and your team was in the World 1 WEMA Kids Group 2Series. That's exactly what I'm asking you to do, however:  Make a generous donation and come see the Pittsburgh Pirates play the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday, September 3 at 6:35 pm for the benefit of Kenyan orphans. Let me explain.

A generous supporter has offered to donate his private box for the upcoming game at beautiful PNC Park on September 3. He will pay for the box, the entrance tickets, and the food that night. He has 18 tickets and is looking for 18 people who are willing to make a donation for the privilege of attending the game, and all the proceeds will go toward my work in Africa.

One year, we raised $19,000 from the game and we used it to ship a container of goods for schools and libraries. We used $5,000 to refurbish 22 computers for community computer centers. We distributed the rest of the money among our orphanages to feed the children. We are looking for a similar amount this year from ticket sales.

Screen Shot 2022-07-31 at 10.13.55 AMIf you have never attended a game in a private box, you have missed a sumptuous affair, with great food and a super view in the air-conditioned comfort of a private box (below is a picture taken from one of those private boxes). The experience is topped off by the dessert cart on wheels, featuring all manner of rich and sweet treats. In a sense, you can come to the ball park this year and 'pig out' with the Pittsburgh Pirates, for the benefit of those who do not have the same privileged luxury.

The tickets will go on a first-come, first-served basis.  You can pay with a credit card, via PayPal, through my app or website, or by check (payable to PurposeQuest International). All contributions are tax-deductible (minus the cost of the game tickets). Maybe you can't go but can pay for someone else to attend the game? Or perhaps you will give something to help increase the total amount donated for those in need. However you are led, you have six weeks to act, or until the tickets are gone - then you can simply give to help.

Write me today and I will put your name on the ticket list, or just donate to a worthy cause, and I will work to distribute the money when I go over to Africa later this year. Thanks for your help and let's make this an event to remember for those present and for those who will benefit.

Church Leader Devotion 4: Hard Work

As we continue to examine Paul's remarks to the Ephesian elders, we see that Paul concluded his sermon with these words: Screen Shot 2022-07-30 at 7.32.22 AM

"You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.  In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'" (Acts 20:34-35).

Paul didn't see leadership as a means to profit or gain, but as an expression of service. He worked as a tent maker so he could pay his own expenses (and those of his team) and did so to set an example of hard work that would help the weak. Who were the weak? It was those who would have assumed that Paul was being paid to do what he did and thus was nothing more than a hired worker, thus dismissing him as just another traveling teacher who were common in those days. Paul devised this strategy in direct response to Jesus' words, "it is more blessed to give than receive."

Are you doing what you can to help the weak not take offense at your work and ministry? Are you "working hard," the root word in Greek being kopos, which when translated means "intense labor united with toil and trouble"? Do you see ministry as a means of financial gain or spiritual reward? Ask God to give you a strategy like Paul had that will meet you and your family's needs but will also set a good example that the ministry is not something to be used as a means to personal gain.

Church Leader Devotion 3: The Whole Counsel

As we continue to examine Paul's address to the Ephesian elders, we read his summary of his ministry values and approach Screen Shot 2022-07-27 at 1.19.11 AMwhen he was establishing a church in any venue:

"You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus" (Acts 20:20-21).

In these verses, we learn that Paul conducted both evangelism efforts to identify new believers and then preached "anything that would be helpful" to the converts. His goal was to equip the church for successful living, which was made up of moral and ethical directives consistent with a holy lifestyle, along with an appropriate understanding of the mystery of Godthat the gospel was now available to the Gentiles by grace. Paul summarized all this when he said,

"Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God" (Acts 20:26-27).

One Bible version calls it the "purpose of God" and another summarizes it as "all that God wants you to know." Today, the whole counsel is found in the sacred Scriptures, which leaders are to be familiar with so they can present a full perspective of God's will. Since Paul was addressing the Ephesian elders, it would be good to examine his letter to the Ephesian church as a good example of the "whole counsel," for the first half of the letter is doctrinal while the last half addresses holy behavior.

Are you balanced in your ministry between evangelism and discipleship? Do you major in one or a few doctrines, like faith or the end times or political social action, or do you teach through the Bible in some systematic format, not avoiding those passages or issues with which you are not comfortable or competent? What are you doing to become more adept at ministering the whole purpose or counsel of God?

Church Leader Devotion 2: Leadership Purpose

In the last devotion, we began a study of Paul's farewell address to the Ephesian elders when they came to visit him in Miletus. Screen Shot 2022-07-09 at 9.32.00 AMLet's move on to look at more of that sermon:

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace" (Acts 20:22-24).

Paul's main objective was to fulfill his purpose, which was "testifying to the good news of God's grace." More specifically, Paul did that more effectively among the Gentiles than he did with his own people. That is the power and focus of purpose. It is what you do that when you do it, you can sense God partnering with you, and you see results from your work. The Ephesian elders were proof of Paul's effectiveness, for he had established the church there and years later, it was thriving with elders in place.

If you're a church leader, don't assume your purpose statement is simply "preaching." It could be working with a certain age group through counseling, teaching, or practical care. It could also just be your presence, which encourages or challenges people in the Lord's will for their lives. Then again, it may be any of those in a particular area of your city or country, or even a foreign land.

Paul further described his purpose in Galatians 2:7: "On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised." What task has the Lord assigned you? Where are you most fruitful in your ministry work (not where do you hope or think you are most fruitful)? Can you describe it clearly and simply? Is it your aim to finish that race and complete your work like Paul? How can you be more effective?

Church Leader Devotion 1

I have had notes for quite some time that one day I hoped to publish in some kind of devotional for pastors and church leaders. Screen Shot 2022-07-02 at 11.51.30 AMI  have decided not to put it off any longer but to start with Paul's remarks to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:

From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus" (Acts 20:17-21).

What do we learn from these first few verses?

  1. Paul lived among the people so they could come to observe and know his way of life. He was not aloof but rather accessible to all.
  2. Paul had to deal with Jewish opponents wherever he went. Yet he remained humble and meek, and not combative. He stayed focused on his purpose for being among the people.
  3. His teaching and preaching were to equip and edify to the believers, not to perform or broadcast his own ministry.
  4. His ministry was both large group (public) and small group (house to house). Once again, we see he was accessible to the people. (Perhaps today he would use social media to teach and touch others.)
  5. His message was clear: repentance and faith.

How do you measure up to this first of Paul's statements in his address? What else do you see in these verses that would be relevant to church leaders? What changes do you need to make based on what you read in this post? Feel free to add your comments to the site where this entry is posted.

Another Eye-Opening Experience

My favorite eye-opening story in the Bible is found in 2 Kings 6. There we read that Israel was at war with the king of Aram. Screen Shot 2022-06-29 at 12.28.12 PMElisha the prophet consistently warned the king of Israel of the intentions of his Aramaen enemy, so much so that the king of Aram was convinced there was a spy in his midst. He was assured there was no spy, just an accurate prophet:

"But Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom" (2 Kings 6:12).

When informed of this, the king sent a troop of soldiers to find and apprehend Elisha. One morning, Gehazi, Elisha's assistant, went outside only to discover that they were surrounded by their enemies. Gehazi panicked and asked Elisha, "'Oh, my lord, what shall we do?' the servant asked" (2 Kings 6:15).

Elisha remained cool and declared  there was nothing to worry about, for "those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (2 Kings 6:16). Then Elisha prayed but not for protection, not for friendly troops to rescue them, and not for the defeat of their enemies. Instead, he prayed, "O Lord, open his eyes so he may see" (2 Kings 6:17). When Gehazi's eyes were opened, he saw chariots of fire all around them. Their allies truly did outnumber their attackers!

Like Gehazi, you may not need to have your circumstances change, although that may seem to be your most pressing need. Instead, you may need to change how you see your circumstances. Remember what I wrote when we first began this series:  When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. When Gehazi changed the way he looked at the hills that surrounded them, he saw the army of the Lord ready to protect them.

Why not pray Elisha's prayer today concerning your dilemma or greatest challenge? Ask God to open your eyes so you can see what you haven't been seeing up to this point. Can you see how this will help you with your relationships, business, or ministry?   It will change the way you approach your problems when you accurately see and understand them from God's perspective. In fact, you may realize you don't have a problem at all but a wonderful opportunity to trust God and learn more about His goodness and ways.

An Eye-Opening Experience

One of my favorite prayers is "Open my eyes, Lord, so that I can see what I can't see, what I'm not seeing here." It's a fact that we Screen Shot 2022-06-24 at 8.46.38 AM can't see or hear everything that is going on around us, but that doesn't mean things aren't happening. What's more, I often have blind spots to the reality around me due to bias, busy-ness, or faulty thinking or evaluation concerning what I see and hear. 

One of the first examples of God opening someone's eyes to see what they could not see was Hagar, Abraham's maid. Hagar had a child to Abraham since Abraham was childless (Believe it or not, Abraham's wife Sarah, approved of this at first). When the child, Ishmael, got older, however, and Abraham had a son of his own to Sarah, Sarah changed her mind and forced Abraham to evict Hagar and her son. When the eye-opening story begins, we see Hagar sitting in the desert, alone and forlorn:

Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bow shot away, for she thought, "I cannot watch the boy die." And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob (Genesis 21:14-16). 

Hagar thought what I have thought many times: It's over. There's no use. I can't make it. It was then that God intervened and saved her and the boy. 

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation." Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink (Genesis 21:17-19 emphasis added). 

Hagar thought they were dead but God opened her eyes to an oasis that was nearby. Hagar couldn't see the oasis because she was sad, because she thought she knew everything about her situation and environment that there was to know. She was in the desert, they were out of water and in trouble. Yet Hagar didn't see it all; she was missing one important factor that changed everythingthere was an oasis right in front of her.

Is that your situation? Do you think you are "dead" only to be missing a major source, an oasis, near where you are today? Don't spend time fretting over your situation. Spend time seeking what you can't see, that one idea, perspective, or relationship that is right in front of you, that one thing that can change your situation from despair to hope. Someone said, "When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change." Ask God to help you change the way you look at things today, even your desperate situation, and you just may see your situation change. 

Creativity Anxiety

If anyone, including a Christian, is going to creatively produce, he or she must deal with the issue of anxiety. I am learning to Screen Shot 2022-06-17 at 9.23.03 AMdeal with anxiety that keeps me from expressing my creativity and I see it all the time in many people. Church people have a whole repertoire of excuses that others don't use, excuses like, "I'm praying about it; God hasn't released me to do that; it's not God's timing; or I don't want to get ahead of the Lord."  Sometimes these expressions may be based in fact, but often they simply mask anxiety and fear. In my own creative journey, I've drawn wisdom from Eric Maisel's book, The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person's Path through Depression:

When a creator does this frequently enough and lets his [or her] anxiety about creating stop him [or her] from creating, he [or she] begins to feel like a weak, indecisive person. It is a very short step to even darker feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. The end result of not knowing that he must brave his anxiety is that he ends up completely down on himself. Anxiety bests him and, to make matters worse, he then has to deal with the negative labels he pins on himself.  This classic vicious cycle, where anxiety leads to a battered self-image and a battered self-image makes it harder to brave anxiety, defeats many creators. 

Anxiety can debilitate any creator, even the most strong-willed and self-directing.  A fiercely independent-minded sculptor may mention with a laugh that some friends visited his studio and hated his new work. On the surface, it looks like he's shrugged their comments off.  Three weeks later, he complains of serious blockage. Doubts about his talent now make him anxious, his anxiety causes him not to sculpt, but the "why" of this is completely unknown to him. Anxiety has chalked up another victim.

Has anxiety claimed you as a victim?  I don't restrict the effects of anxiety to just the creative arts like writing or painting. It can hinder your ability to start a business, take a missions trip, teach a class, or go back to school. You can be so uptight about doing something wrong or doing it poorly that you don't do anything at all, and so you "wait" upon the Lord. 

Anxiety and fear are closely related, if not synonymous, in the creative process.  So dealing with anxiety is like dealing with fear: you must face it to overcome it.  You start by admitting that you are anxious and identify the reasons why: fear of failure, fear of criticism, ignorance of how to start, not knowing how to finish.  You must not hide behind the Lord and disguise your anxiety as something other than what it is.

How does the issue of anxiety apply to your creativity right now?  What has you stuck in a non-productive or non-creative rut?  I urge you to discover what it is and then get going on what you have talked about doing for a short or long time.  Don't let anxiety rob you and the world any longer of the best you that you can be.  If I can help, let me know.