The Tyranny of the Few

As a senior Political Science major at Randolph-Macon College, Dr. Brian Turner taught me and my fellow classmates the importance of sample size when looking at polls.  This is a lesson that has traveled with me throughout my ministry that I have applied time and time again.

iStock_000015143632SmallAnyone who has served in a local church setting knows that from time to time you will have someone come up to you and say something like “I heard Mary Lou saying that she doesn’t like that we have a screen in worship.  Maybe we should revisit the issue.”  Or, perhaps in the midst of a Church Council meeting one or more members report that there are some in the Fellowshippers Sunday School class that are “upset we don’t name joys and concerns aloud as part of our worship time anymore.”

When faced with such statements I always practiced and encouraged the church to practice taking a step back and asking three critical questions.




  1. Is this one or even a couple of people voicing their opinion?  Sample size matters as I learned in my Poli Sci class.  One or two or even three loud voices do not make a majority.  The danger for many churches is that we often have a knee jerk reaction to such voices and think we must revisit a decision or position because of one or two voices.  We must stop giving into the tyranny of the few.
  2. Is there any truth in what they are saying?  We know that God spoke in many different ways in the Bible, including through a donkey, so maybe God is trying to say something to us here.  (BTW- the fact that God spoke through a donkey gives me great confidence as a preacher!)  We must discern whether the one or the few voices we are hearing speak for a silent majority or whether they are just unhappy outliers.  Here we might ask other trusted leaders what they are hearing.
  3. Am I/ we being humble yet protecting the vision God has given to us as a church?  Even if it is one or a few voices, persons should be heard and thanked.  It is always important to be gracious but this does not mean sacrificing the vision God has given to the church.  In fact, there may even be times when there are more than one or a few voices yet what is being voiced is against the vision God has given to the church.  In these times, the voices must be heard, acknowledged and responded to, but in the end after prayerful thought and consideration the church must stay the course under your pastoral leadership.  In the end, the church is not a democracy.  It is a monarchy with one king- the Lord Jesus Christ.  We don’t vote on vision.

I made a decision pretty early on in ministry to deal with the one and the few in a gracious way while reminding myself and others that sample size matters.

Superhero Pastors

The United States of America was founded on the concept of rugged individualism.  Ingrained in the culture is an ethic of self-sufficiency.  We are to pull ourselves up by our boot straps.  Even today, look at the whole market that has emerged on television and in big box stores for DIY “Do It Yourself” projects.  While I am huge believer in all of the above for many facets of life it does not bode well for being a pastor (or a follower of Jesus for that matter).

Super BusinesswomanUnfortunately, this ethic has crept into the clergy and given rise to what I call the “Superhero Pastor.”  Admittedly, for much of my fifteen years serving in the local church I unknowingly practiced being a “Superhero Pastor.”  So, know that I am dealing with log in my own eye here.

Here are some of the thoughts a superhero pastor has when it comes to ministry tasks.

  • I can do it myself and do it better than anybody else.
  • If I delegate it to someone else they might not do as good a job as I would like so I will keep it.
  • For the amount of time it takes me to teach/ train someone else to do I would be better off doing it myself.
  • If I ask for help I may appear weak (sometimes this is explicit or implicit in the superhero pastor’s mind).
  • It makes me feel competent, strong, productive and appreciated when I do this task, though I should give it away to someone else.

You can add to the list yourself but if most pastors are honest, we have all said and felt these things in the past.  We can get so puffed up about what we keep to ourselves that not even kryptonite can make us weak. We can be all things to all people.  We can save the day! (Insert Mighty Mouse theme music here)

The problem with this is it is not biblical (it robs the laity of its role in the Body of Christ), it is prideful and arrogant (it implicitly says not only do we not need others we do not need God), and it is a recipe for burnout and resentment (have you ever been with a bunch of pastors who only bitch and moan?- I bet they are superhero pastors).

So, if you want to stay true to scripture, rid yourself or hubris, and be in ministry for years to come then come journey with me and pledge not to be a superhero pastor.  We have enough of those already.

Three Ways Jesus Did Leadership Development

Leadership development is one of the catchy phrases being thrown about the church these days.  As well it should be.  A healthy and vibrant church needs a system to develop and deploy leaders.

Building a LeadershipI was recently listing to a podcast from the Exponential ConferenceExponential is a yearly gathering of church planters and church planting leaders from across the world.  I have been to the Conference a few times and it is always worth it.  In the spirit of generosity those who put on the conference post the audio not only of the main sessions but the breakouts as well.  So, if you can’t go to Orlando (or the West Coast now) or you wanted to go to two breakouts at one time now you can.

It was in listing to the breakout entitled “Building a Leadership Development Culture” led by Mac Lake of the Launch Network that Mac Lake described three ways Jesus did leadership development.  These three ways included:

  • Large Group Leadership Development- such as when Jesus taught the 5,000 before feeding them.
  • Smaller Group Leadership Development- such as when Jesus prepared his disciples in the Upper Room or took Peter, James and John up the Mount of Transfiguration.
  • One on One Leadership Development- such as when he restored Peter after his resurrection or with Zacchaeus.

While much can be written about all of this and its implications I think the main take away is that leadership development, as our Lord demonstrated, happens in a variety of ways in different sized groups.  Most of the time when we think of leadership development we think of a bunch of people in a room receiving an information dump from a presenter.  This indeed can be leadership development but perhaps leadership development can also happen in the context of groups and one on one mentoring.  Those forms of leadership development do not come to us so easily.

How do you develop leaders in your church?  Do you have a system or leave it to chance?



Criticize by Creating

Michaelangelo once said “criticize by creating.” In other words, if you do not like something, do not sit around and criticize it, but do something about it. Step up to the plate. Create something better. Volunteer. Start your own. Take a position of leadership where you can influence things.

iStock_000010179638XSmallA few years ago my oldest son Robert began youth basketball. As a former 5′ 8″ basketball star in high school (if you believe that I have some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell you), I thought the coach was horrible. He did not know anything and he was not that great with the kids. I sat and criticized to myself and to my wife. Then I came across the Michaelangelo quote and it changed my perspective. The next year I coached my son’s team. There was probably some parent that sat on the sidelines and criticized me.

All too often in the church we enjoy criticizing. Laity criticize the decision of the Council, the way the nursery is run or the fact that the fall festival was cancelled this year. Clergy criticize the laity and the District and the Conference for how things are done and what “THEY” are doing. I do not believe this is God honoring though I admit I myself fall into this trap of criticism.

Perhaps though we need to practice criticism by creation. Perhaps if we do not like something in the church we need to take some responsibility for changing it by stepping up. Perhaps we start our own. Perhaps we agree to serve on the committee that can affect change. Perhaps instead of engaging in non-productive criticism we actually do something about it. This may bring its own angst for us and for our churches but I believe it is more healthy in the long run.  And, by the way, if you don’t like this post, create your own.

Where have you witnessed someone criticizing by creating?

Say No to Frankenstein Churches

God never ceases to amaze with God’s creative genius.  God’s creation is a lesson in uniqueness.  No two human beings are exactly alike, even identical twins.  Of all the trillions of snowflakes that fall no two are exactly like.  You get the idea.


So too, no two churches are exactly alike.  Every church has its own respective DNA.  Every church has its own unique collective memory and values.  Every church finds itself planted in a mission field (community) that is unique in and of itself.  Like all of creation, so the local church is unique.

The problem comes when a unique local church seeks to emulate another church.  This happens when the latest successful church puts on a conference or their pastor writes a book.  In fairness, the so called successful church does not intend for churches to emulate every single ministry, program or strategy that made them successful.  However, when a local church does seek to emulate the latest successful church it ends up looking like a Frankenstein church.  Because what happens is the local church takes this piece from this successful church and then another piece from another successful church and still another piece from somewhere else until the local church looks like it is made up of a bunch of pieces.  Some have referred to this as Mr. Potato Head church.  Scripture talks about it as putting on Saul’s armor to fight Goliath.

Should local churches then not ever learn from successful churches?  Of course they should!  However, the local church needs to do so recognizing that what works for one unique church in its own unique context made up of its own unique context will not necessarily work in their church.  What we can learn from effective and vital churches is principles.  We can use their template but we need our own content in our local church.  We shouldn’t just cut and paste otherwise we will end up looking like Frankenstein instead of the unique local church God intends.

What are some principals you think we can learn from vital and effective churches that can be applied to our local churches?

Eat the Fish, Leave the Bones

Only listening to the people you agree with is a very dangerous thing.  Even the people we disagree whether it be about theology or practice have some nugget or truth that we can learn from.  I call this idea “eating the fish and leaving the bones.”

Just eaten a smoked herringEating the fish and leaving the bones means finding and taking that which is useful and leaving that which is not useful on the plate.  For example, you might disagree with a presenter’s theological stance on a topic.  Perhaps you even vehemently disagree.  Instead of shutting oneself off to everything they say in their presentation because you disagree with 30% or 75% of what they are saying, eat the fish and leave the bones.  In order to learn from someone or some group you do not have to agree with 100% of what they say and teach. 

This was especially made apparent to me as I planted a church and read books, blogs or went to conferences where often the writers or presenters had a different theology or practice than that which I held.  For example, they may have had a different view of women in leadership than I did.  I did not let that stop me from learning from them.  I ate the fish and left the bones and it was good and filling!

Sometimes, this happens by denomination.  Methodists will only study “Methodist” curriculum or read books by “Methodist” authors.  You can substitute the name of any denomination.  While there is something to be said for being formed in one’s own tradition, if we only cocoon ourselves in that tradition we are missing out on so much.

Has there been a time when you have had to eat the fish and leave the bones? 

First Things First

One of the grave errors made in the church is to rush headlong into developing vision, strategy and plans without any reliance on the power and guidance of Jesus Christ.

The way to GodI have been guilty of this in my ministry and maybe you have too.  So many times we fall in the trap of coming up with strategies, plans or events and instead of inviting Christ to be part of such things from the beginning we often invite Jesus to the party afterwards and then we ask him to bless it.  Instead of asking, Jesus what would you have us to do or be we rely on our own wisdom and cunning to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

This is contrary to scripture which speaks time and time again about our need to yield to God’s plans for us and how apart from Christ we are weak.  We can have the most creative plans in the world but if we have not put first things first it all for naught.

  • Jesus told us in John 15:5b “apart from me you can do nothing.”
  • Zechariah received a word from the Lord to Zerubbabel “not by might nor by power but by my Spirit” says the Lord Almighty.  Zechariah 4:6.
  • After the Transfiguration Jesus must heal a man with an evil spirit which his disciples could not heal because such a spirit only came out with much prayer and fasting.  Mark 9:29
  • And, we find in James if any person lacks wisdom let him ask God who gives wisdom to all people generously.  James 1:5

These are just a few of the verses that make it clear where the wisdom, power, and guidance for church revitalization come.

How does a church put first things first then?

—The church recognizes and acknowledges from where its power comes.

—The church engages in substantive prayer in meetings and outside of meetings seeking God’s direction.  The church gets rid of the let’s pray quickly so we can get on to the real business of the meeting kind of attitude that pervades many of our meetings.

—The church equips her people to be involved in meaningful prayer and discernment and fasting.

—The church just shuts up and listens and gives the appropriate time recognizing that revitalization comes not on our calendar and time tables but in God’s good time.

—The church seeks to be obedient to where God is leading sharing among each other the direction God has laid on hearts.

—The church seeks to pursue God’s vision and heart for its community.

What are some of the ways a church can put first things first as it seeks to revitalize or turn around? 

The Stop Doing List

Persons who seek to be productive and stay on task and make the most of their time have utilized “to do” lists in various forms for a long time.  Whether it is a list scratched in handwriting on a yellow legal pad or a list kept on a phone or ipad, these lists have been valuable to many including myself.  Just as valuable though not as widely recognized is the “stop doing list.”

StopThis is list is exactly what it says it is- a list of things you need to stop doing.  These are the tasks that could and should be delegated.  These are the tasks that are not returning value.  These are the tasks that someone else in your organization could do better.

The stop doing list is a harder list to accomplish than the to do list because it involves delegation and the vast majority of us are terrible at delegation because we want to be in control and in control of the quality of something.  If we are going to be more effective and productive though we need to do better with delegation and that can happen when we create a stop doing list.

    What might you start putting on your stop doing list? 

Give Away the Credit, Receive the Criticism

It is human nature when something goes well for us humans to want to receive credit.  We all want and desire praise by our nature.  Equally, when their is criticism we seek to deflect it and blame others when things do not go well.  Leaders must behave differently, however.

applauseLeaders, instead of taking the praise for themselves must give it to the people they lead.  When accolades come they are deflected away from the leader and given to those who are lead.  This is not a false sense of humility but a realization that whatever caused the praise was a result of a team effort and no one person.  Recognizing that persons like praise and gratitude a leader does well always to remember to give the team the praise.  If you want to watch team morale go down quickly, watch a leader constantly taking all the credit.

Similarly, when there is criticism the leader must take that on personally.  When there is criticism the leader does not blame the team but accepts responsibility himself or herself.  This does not mean the leader does not address team deficiencies.  Behind closed doors the leader addresses the issues that led to the criticism or the failure, but what it does mean is that truly and publicly they accept the criticism recognizing that everything rises and falls on leadership.  If you want to watch team morale go down quickly, watch a leader who constantly deflects criticism to his or her team.

This idea is nothing new under the sun and is Leadership 101.  However, all leaders need to be reminded of this leadership principle from time to time.

How have you seen leaders give away the credit, or receive the criticism?

Kingdom vs. Fiefdom Mentality

It has been said in the business world that one either has an abundance mentality or a scarcity mentality when it comes to the sharing of resources.

give, gain and grow

Those who come from a scarcity perspective see that there are limited resources to be hoarded.  There is only so much pie to go around and they need to get their piece(s).  Those with an abundance mentality don’t dismiss competition but recognize the importance of giving back and that resources are not limited but there is more than enough pie to go around.

In the church world we do not use the terms abundance and scarcity so much (except maybe when talking about stewardship).  I prefer the terms kingdom mentality and fiefdom mentality.

Those who adopt a fiefdom mentality are intent on building their own kingdom on earth and not God’s kingdom.  This is the pastor or the church who is only interested in growing their church or padding their budget.  They do not want to share resources because then someone might get ahead of them and so if they find  a great resource they hoard it.  This is akin to those who adopt a scarcity model in business.

Those who adopt a kingdom mentality recognize their place and their local church’s place in God’s larger plan of salvation history.  They recognize that it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people and are generous with their resources and rejoice when the church down the street is reaching people for Christ.  Those with a kingdom mentality share ideas freely to help others if it furthers God’s kingdom.  They are generous.  This is akin to the abundance mentality in business.

It is obvious which mindset God will bless most.  God has not called pastors and the church to build their own fiefdoms but to instead build God’s kingdom.  One great example of a kingdom minded church and its leadership is LifeChurch.TV and Pastor Craig Groeschel who through their Open resources epitomize generosity.  Many other forward thinking churches who are successfully reaching people for Christ are giving away their resources as well.  Good for them!

Where do you see churches and pastors building their own fiefdoms?  Where do you see kingdom mindedness and action in play in the church and its leadership.