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Pathetic legalists or Authentic lovers? (part one)

If you have any interest in history or sociology you might enjoy reading John Barber’s book, The Road from Eden (studies in Christianity and Culture).  There are more than a few interesting things the author points out in the early chapters. One point that struck me was how the main charge the political power of Rome leveled against the early Church was that they were atheists; essentially charging them with sedition and treason.  It was not that the Christians did not believe in a god, but rather they did not believe in their gods, especially in the emperor who was the man-god of the day.  As Barber brings out, Christianity was declared by the Roman Senate in A.D. 35 to be “strana et illicita (strange and unlawful)” (Barber, p. 17).

 

The second charge by the Romans, well, more of a complaint, was “one that would be noted over and over again, even by cynics, was its love for people.  Despite the fact that the early Christian period was distinguished by the Church’s uneasy relationship with a truculent state, it is beyond question that the conventional stronghold o believers maintained a high degree of sensitivity for the daily needs of Greco-Roman society.  Justin’s quote is worth repeating, ‘Why then do we think that this is sufficient and do not observe how the kindness of Christians to strangers, their care for the burial of the dead, and the sobriety of their lifestyle has done the most to advance their cause?  Each of these things, I think, ought really to be practiced by us.’” (Barber, p.22).

 

While Christ’s demonstration of care, concern and love, which the early Church had, appears often in “foreign” places, it is does not seem to appear enough on the home front.  As a consequence the American Evangelical Church (used in the broad sense) has, over the past eighty or so years, gained the reputation for being self-righteous, arrogant, mean-spirited and obnoxious.  Anything but loving.  In my opinion, it is a charge often well deserved.  I can certainly empathize with some who have an attitude of disgust toward the Christians.  However, I most certainly sympathize with those who were once of the Church but who are now disenfranchised.  Some of my former friends no longer participate in “church” at any level.  Others have declared themselves atheists.  Still others have been so battered and bruised by fellow Christians that they too are ready to bolt.

 

If this grieves me, it certainly grieves Christ. I can make such a bold assertion based upon what we know from the Gospels and from many New Testament verses. Christians, who represent Christ, ought to be accused of being caring and loving and doing good (as James, Paul and Peter write about in the New Testament). However, what is it, I’ve asked, that has pulled segments (large?)  of the Church in the self-righteous, arrogant and obnoxious direction it has gone?  Well, I leave the historical, sociological, and deeper evaluations to wonderful authors like Alister McGrath, David Hall, Mark Noll, George Marsden, and others.  In my limited intelligence I believe the simple answer is legalism.  For clarification, legalism is making rules and regulations the heart of religion or the central thing to life.John Frame says that Christian legalism is putting law in the role reserved for God’s grace. Dominic Aquila says that legalism is putting people into a mold and then saying that mold is the only template for life with which to work.  Saint Paul of the New Testament says that legalism kills.

 

All people have the propensity to define what they believe is right, good and acceptable.  All people have the propensity to judge others who don’t measure up or who aren’t like them.  So, in a general sense, the problem is a people thing.  However, in the more narrow sense, the problem is more pronounced with Christians.  Why?  Because it is love that is the intrinsic characteristic of those who believe and follow Jesus Christ, not legalism and its offspring of self-righteousness, arrogance, meanness and obnoxiousness.

 

Now, I am not talking about love as sentimentality, nor merely about the attendant emotion that flows from authentic, Christ-like love.  Neither am I saying that I personally have arrived at the pinnacle of lovingness. Can’t because I’m a legalist at heart. What I am saying is that if we Bible-toting, Evangelical Christians are going to be accused of anything, it should be like those brothers and sisters in the early Church who were accused of being genuinely caring, merciful, gracious and loving! And that’s what this commentary is about (for I’ll have much to write about legalism at some later time).

 

I came out of a nominal Christian home where we attended worship services probably a dozen times until I turned sixteen.  My siblings and I grew up in home where there was great tension between the legalism of a perfectionist father (who grew up as a “pentecostal” Methodist and kept the legalistic trappings but not the religious forms), and the grace of a loving mother (who grew up Roman Catholic).   The legalism was overbearing. So by the age of twelve I declared myself an atheist, by fifteen was desperate to run away from home.

 

When Christ introduced himself to me through providential circumstances, he came to a battered and bruised mind and soul; one that was also depressed and bitter.  His entrance into my life was very much light to darkness, mercy to injury, and grace to needy.  For the first few years, though profoundly ignorant in the teachings of the Bible, I was possessed by a foreign compassion for others.

 

Then, after receiving teaching by well-meaning people of the Christian fundamentalist stripe, I became a legalist.  Also, consequently became more pronounced in my arrogance, fearful of the world out there, and insecure in so many ways. While allowing myself to become a polished, self-righteous Christian, I became a card-carrying, thorough-going, genuine hypocrite.  What did that do? As legalism often does, I was pious on the outside, but angrier on the inside.  Instead of living freely before the face of God, I was living fearfully before the expectations of people. Instead of becoming fearless I became more fearful.  And instead of being more honest and truthful I was closed up.  I became the Christian who was belligerent toward those who were not as good as me, Christian or otherwise.  The big pretender who was more concerned with being right than being humble, with following the rules rather than following Christ, with pressing others into my mold than presenting love with mercy and grace.

 

The fascinating thing about legalists is that while they flock together, they are really a cannibalistic society.  I’m speaking metaphorically, of course. What I mean is that they eat each other alive, and especially eat the less perfect, the weak, and the infirm.  I was a diner, until I became the feast.  It nearly killed me; for some of those cannibals nearly killed me.

 

Christian legalists are essentially Christian  atheists:  they live and act as if there is no God.  More specifically, they live and act as if there is no Jesus Christ. They live and act as if Jesus did not come; that he did not live flawlessly, fulfilling the true moral and legal requirements issued by a perfectly righteous, just and holy God.  They live and act as if God was and is not merciful. As if God did not shield those who trust in him from his anger, judgment and condemnation. As if Jesus did not take that judgment upon himself, when in fact he did.  They live and act as if God was and is not gracious, giving to us far more than what we deserve.  They live and act as if God is not loving and caring, as expressed in his benevolence through the life, acts and work of Jesus.

 

Yet the problem really is worse than this.  Like all legalists, they set themselves above God and set their rules higher than God’s.  With such people no one is able to measure up. In fact, under them all die a slow, painful, gruesome and bitter death.

 

Christian legalists, of which I am a recovering member, are miserable, and miserable for the Church as well as for society.  For a long time, the American Evangelical Church has needed to turn itself around (in Christianeze, “repent!”).  It needs to stop pointing those crooked, ugly fingers at the world and demanding that our society straighten up, become holy, righteous and flawless.  It needs, instead, to become humble and welcome God’s judgment upon itself (as Saint Peter says, judgment starts within the household of God).  As professing followers of Jesus, we need to be living followers of Jesus.  We need to recognize that no one measures up perfectly, but that Christ died in our place because we have failed the standard of perfection.  As living followers of Jesus we need to accept Jesus’ payment of the brutal beatings, the crucifixion and the temporary abandonment of God as our payment – in full.  And quit demanding payment from others.  As living followers of Christ we have no business being proud, mean or obnoxious. We must stop being hypocrites and instead be authentic loving souls.  It is our business to live out of hearts filled with gratitude that we are accepted in Christ, the God who is merciful, gracious and loving.  It is our business to be merciful, gracious and loving; especially so toward those outside the Church.  Perhaps then, the only complaint the world will truly have is that “these Christians have an authentic love for people!”

© D. Thomas Owsley

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101 Ways to Discourage Your Pastor

How many Christians are aware of the passage in the New Testament,
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (ESV, Hebrews 13:17)?  Okay, forget about how many. What about you? Were you aware of that verse? If you were aware, have you given it much thought?

When searching for a publisher for The Perfect Pastor? one major publishing house said that “You won’t find anyone who would give you a nanosecond of a New York minute to read about (the life and work of) pastors.”  Sad, but apparently true.

Pastors are definitely called to serve in Christ’s local church. One aspect of that servitude is an attitude or response to these servants that often come with the calling. That attitude or response that is not dissimilar to how things are perceived:  You must be there when I need you. Until then I don’t think much about you. And I certainly do not need to be concerned about your joy.

The latest studies reveal that thousands of pastor leave their churches every month. And hundreds of those pastors leave the ministry altogether. The average duration of a pastor in full-time, remunerative ministry is five years. And it’s 13-18 months for the youth minister. There are many reasons for this, but one of the biggest reasons is the lack of hope.  The lack of hope that perhaps his gifts are of value, that his work and service is meaningful and purposeful, and that he is appreciated as a person and as a pastor. It is rare to find a pastor who really has a deep sense that he is appreciated or is wanted.

Now, my objective here is not to evaluate the above statements. Rather, my concern has to do with the fact that there are responsibilities God has called the church to with regard to their pastor(s).  One of which has to do with seeing to it that the church lets them serve as overseers and shepherds with joy!

A previous blog speaks to how to encourage your pastor. I want to suggest typical ways people and churches discourage their pastor, how they rob their pastor(s) of joy. Here is an incomplete list:

1. Treat him as if he is the messiah, expecting him to save your life.

2. Reject him when he doesn’t save the day.

3. Demand that he meet your so-called needs and your personal desires.

4. Be angry or disappointed when he does not do what you want him to do.

5. Be angry or disappointed when he does not do what you have told him to do.

6. Be angry or disappointed when his family does not meet your approval.

7. Be angry or disappointed when his family does not meet your expectations.

8. Be rude toward his wife.

9. Be rude toward his children.

10. Be critical about his wife and/or children.

11. Be critical toward his wife and/or children.

12.Expect his wife to be better and more perfect than other women in the church.

13. Expect his children to be better and more perfect than you expect your own.

14. Find ways to drain the life out of his wife and/or children.

15. Shun his wife and/or his children.

16. Impose nonbiblical legalisms on him, his wife and his children.

17.Do not allow his wife to develop friendships within the church.

18. Do not allow his wife to develop her own set of friends.

19. Complain about him to his wife.

20. Complain about him to his children.

21. Have selfish, ungodly, nonbiblical or unbiblical expectations of him.

22.Tell him how to dress (explicitly or by subtle criticisms).

23. Tell him what to eat or not eat.

24. Show little or no love for him.

25. Work him to death.

26. Add nonbiblical or unbiblical requirements to his job description.

27. Add your own expectations to the list of things he does.

28. Pressure him to be performance oriented, focusing on things rather than upon people or God.

29. Do not give him time to do the things required and mandated by God and God’s Word.

30. Keep him over-busy. Drain the life out of him.

31. Tell him you believe he is doing enough, but then give him more things to do.

32. Tell him how your previous pastor(s) was better at doing things than he is.

33. Tell him how your previous pastor(s) was better at being a pastor or a godly man.

34. Show disrespect for him. Dishonor his role and position.

35. Expect him to be your close friend.

36. Do not allow him or his family the freedom to develop their own personal and private lives.

37. Refuse to listen to his biblical and godly counsel.

38. Refuse to follow his biblically informed vision.

39. Reject or refuse to support his biblically informed mission.

40. Show disloyalty to him.

41. Often compare him to other pastors, preachers and teachers.

42. Come to him with articles, books, DVDs or other materials to show him how he is to think and be like those other “good” men.

43. Be bored with or unsupportive of his teaching.

44. Sleep often during the sermons.

45. Tell him or others how much you appreciate other teachers, but never tell him you appreciate him.

46. Tell him or others how much you like to listen to other pastors (especially the popular ones), but do not really care to hear your own pastor.

47. Take as much from him as possible and never or rarely give back to him (and his family).

48. Rarely or never use your spiritual gifts to serve him or help him grow or to bless him.

49. Tell him how to preach.

50. Tell him how to teach.

51. Tell him how to lead.

52. Tell him how to counsel.

53. Tell him how to evangelize.

54. Tell him who to evangelize.

55. Tell him how to pray.

56. Imply or tell him he is not doing enough.

57. Imply or tell him he is not doing the right things.

58. Imply or tell him he is not doing things right.

59. Criticize the worship.

60. Argue with him in meetings.

61. Cut him down in front of others in the church.

62. Complain about the fellowship in the church, and expect him to fix all the problems.

63. Grumble about the numerical growth or lack thereof.

64. Tell him how to spend his time, even his spare time.

65. Resist his desire to disciple you.

66. Resist his biblical admonition, counsel or rebuke.

67. Don’t allow him to have spare time.

68. Call him on his vacation time.

69. Don’t give him vacation time.

70. Give him little vacation time.

71. Never give him a sabbatical, even if he has been at church for many years.

72. Do not pay him a decent salary (which ought to be the average or mean income of the church membership)

73. Interrupt his prayer time to satisfy your wants.

74. Interrupt his study time to satisfy your wants.

75. Restrict or find ways to keep him from growing mentally.

76. Restrict or find ways to keep him from growing spiritually.

77. Do not support or encourage his desire to do continuing education (at conferences, school or seminary).

78. Restrict or find ways to keep him from having fellowship with others who can build him up.

79. Lie about him.

80. Use the truth to slander him and his reputation.

81. Help to spread rumors about him.

82. Gossip and complain about him.

83. Be more favorable toward the assistant, associate, intern or youth minister than toward him.

84. Find ways to put division between him and the assistant, associate, intern or youth minister.

85. Tell him or others how much you wish he was like a previous pastor or your favorite pastor or one of the big named and popular pastor.

86. Complain to him regularly.

87. Rarely or never be kind to him.

88. Reject his kindnesses.

89. Be intentionally inconsiderate.

90. Be rude to him.

91. Embarrass him.

92. Make fun of him.

93. Be angry with him. Show anger, resentment and hostility toward him.

94. Keep a running account of all the negative, wrong or sinful things he has said or done.

95. Rejoice when something bad happens to him.

96. Rarely or never put on a best construct regarding him, his life and work.

97. Be impatient with him.

98. Expect him to be hospitable, while you are rarely or never hospitable.

99. Be critical of his wife.

100. Expect his wife to be a second pastor.

101. Impose unbiblical expectations upon his wife (she “must” be the pianist, music leader, Bible study teacher, nursery worker, etc.)or upon his children.

In other words, do all that you can to rob him of the joy God wants him to have in his service to God and God’s people. Rob him of the encouragement God tells you to give him. Steal love that you owe him through Christ; instead suck the life out of him.

_______________

© D. Thomas Owsley  2011

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Filed under Abuse in the Church, Abusing Pastors, Conflict and the Church, Pastor & Church Relationship

How to Connect with People

(How a leader or pastor can connect with people)

In a previous article I discussed the value and the methods for successful communication, including how to listen.  However, you can be a skilled and polished communicator and a relatively good listener, yet never really connect with people.  Good leaders connect with people. Great leaders do so effectively.

Leaders influence others. Good leaders influence others for the good of the individual and/or community. “Connection is …absolutely critical if you want to influence people in a positive way. When you navigate for others, you come alongside them and travel their road for a while, helping them handle some of the obstacles and difficulties in their lives. But when you connect with them, you are asking them to come alongside you and travel your road for your and their mutual benefit.”[1]

As leaders, whether in the church or outside the church, we must connect.  It requires listening and good verbal skills, but it also requires sympathy or empathy, respect, sharing similar interests, experiences and values, and having a sincere interest in helping people grow and succeed. In other words, you are other-focused, but also believe that the direction you are leading others in is for your and their best.

So, what are some ways to effectively connect with people?

1.  See people as having value. After all, they are made in the image of God.

a.   Selfish people rarely make a connection. Proud people at times will connect with others, but it is shallow and short-lived. Humble, other-focused people genuinely relate and make significant  connection with others.

b. Recognize and respect differences in people’s personalities.

c.  Treat them with kindness and courtesy. Remember Christ’s “golden rule.”

d.   Give them a sense that they are really important. They may not be important to you, but they matter to God!

“Making one feel important is more powerful as a motivator than money, promotion, working conditions, or almost anything else.”[2]

An Illustration:

While taking advanced classes in another state over a period of three years I had the opportunity to visit the same church – a total of twelve times!  Each time I was only greeted by one or two people who took the initiative to extend themselves. All the other times I was  introduced by the person who brought me to church, and each time I was treated as if Iwere a stranger who was not worth getting to know.  Needless to say, there was no connection between us..

2.   Take the initiative to know or help them.

“There are many cases of salesmen who have nothing to offer a prospect except friendship out-selling salesmen with everything to offer – except friendship!”   – Charles B. Ruth[3]

a.      Greet them warmly.

b.      Meet them sincerely

Seek to get to know them by considering how you might be their friend. One tool to use is the acrostic “friend”. Use questions to get to know a little more about them that might include:

Family –   Something about the person and his family.

Single? Is he married? Come from a large family? Family live with him? Etc.

Recreation – What hobbies does he enjoy? What kinds of things does he like to do for fun?

Interests –   What kinds of interests does he have: reading, philosophy, social cause?

Education –  Where did he attend elementary or high school? Has s/he continued education beyond that? Is s/he pursuing courses or seminars to enhance his or her growth?

Needs –  Recently move into the area? Looking for a new church? Financially challenged?  Is there anything that I or we can reasonably do to help?

Even the greatest sales people know how to find a need and are able to fill it.  As Christians we have the greatest answer to the deepest and most serious need of all!

Dinner or dessert

How would you like to get together for lunch? We’d like to have you over for dessert, would you be interested?

3.  Find common interests or share common experiences.

4.  Communicate from the heart.

Don’t center the introduction or conversation on your own life. Allow them to get to know you, but  seek to find out about their lives.  Listen with attentiveness and empathy. Be honest and authentic.

5.   Spend time with him or her in order to connect at a deeper level.

6.   Sustain an on-going connection through genuine care[4]:

a.   Encourage – give the person hope for the future.

b.   Appreciate –  show gratitude for their contributions

c.   Affirm –   admiring his or her personal strengths, gifts or talents.

d.   Recognize –  expressing to others their accomplishments.

e.   Confront –   Address his or her failures or sins with gentleness, truth and love so that s/he may repent and change.

William A Cohen wrote:

Both the Old and New Testaments tell us to treat others as we want to be treated ourselves. You may have thought this concept has application only in religion or the practice of ethical conduct. The truth is it also has a great deal to do with good leadership. Why? Because people do not willingly follow leaders who are unconcerned with how they are treated.

Mary Kay Ash called this her ‘Golden Rule System of Management.” She not only practiced it herself, but recommended it to everyone who leads.

During World War II, the U.S. Army gathered together sixty-one of the greatest authorities in the field of psychology to prepare and publish a special study. They came from some of the most prestigious universities in the country. Harvard, Yale, Brown, the University of Pennsylvania, and many others were represented. When they were done, their research was published under the title Psychology for the Fighting Man.

One of their studies was especially unique. For the first time in the history of armies, enlisted soldiers were interviewed about what they thought about good leadership. Want to know what these thousands of soldiers thought made good leaders? The number one factor by frequency of response was ‘competence.’ The good officer was expected to know his stuff.

That answer was pretty much expected. What was not expected had to do with the next fourteen most frequently cited factors. The second, fourth, sixth and seventh most frequent responses all had to do with treatment. These were:

  • interest in the welfare of the soldier (second)
  • patience and ability to make things clear (fourth)
  • doesn’t boss you around without reason (sixth)
  • tells you when you did a good job (seventh)[5]

Once you are connected with the individual or group of people then you are able to truly lead them.

“Leadership is cultivating in people today a future willingness on their part to follow you into something new for the sake of something great.”[6]


[1] John C. Maxwell and Jim Dornan. Becoming a Person of Influence; Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers; p. 165.

[2] William A. Cohen. The Art of a Leader; Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall; p. 30.

[3] Maxwell and Dornan. P. 2

[4] Bobb Biehl. Increasing Your Leadership Confidence; Sisters, OR: Questar Publishers; pp. 160-161.

[5] William A. Cohen. The Art of a Leader; Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall; p. 35-36.

[6] Ibid. p. 17

 

(c) D. Thomas Owsley – All rights reserved

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