To Live & Lead: My Personal Leadership Principles…

Over the years, I’ve exercised leadership in a variety of different settings…I’ve been an Officer in the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program, a Grocery Manager at Winn-Dixie, a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, a Student Officer at Faith Baptist Bible College, and (now, currently) a Lead Pastor here at Prairie Flower Baptist Church…I say all that to say this: For the last 20 years, since the time I was 14 years old, I’ve been fascinated and immersed in pursuing and perfecting (or at least attempting to perfect) the art of leadership.

So much could be said about the art of leadership. Indeed, I believe leadership is more of an art than a science, but that’s a topic for another day. But below are some of the leadership axioms – my personal leadership principles – that I’ve picked up over the years. These are the principles by which I try to live and lead. To be sure, none of these statements are unique with me, but (over the years) they were repeated over and over and over again (by those in leadership over me) to the point that I adopted these principles and made them my very own…Yes, these statements encapsulate my pursuit of excellence for the glory of God…

  1. Don’t Be A Slow Poke: “Move with a purpose.” -Learned In The Civil Air Patrol
  2. Don’t Be Messy Or Disorganized: “Pick it up. Don’t pass it up.” -Learned In The Grocery Store, Winn-Dixie
  3. Don’t Make Changes Quickly: “Slow is smooth. And smooth is fast.” -Learned In The U.S. Army
  4. Don’t Be A Simpleton Or Generalist About Life: “It’s complex. Learn to appreciate nuance.” -Learned In College
  5. Don’t Assume Everyone Knows: “Communicate early and often.” -Learned In Pastoral Ministry
  6. Don’t Be Satisfied With Just Being Ok Or Average: “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” -Learned Over The Years From Excellent Leaders In Business & Ministry

Yes, no one is perfect. Yes, there is always room for grace. Yes, we need to be kind and considerate to those who can’t keep up. But these are good leadership principles to bind yourself to…At least I think so…But what would you add to this list?

A Chicken With Its’ Head Cut Off…

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “So-and-so is running around like a chicken with its’ head cut off.” Kind of a disturbing idiom, but it carries the idea of a person who is haphazard with their schedule, aimless in their organization, or frantically reacting to life instead of proactively planning and responding to life. Does the chicken with no head expression describe you?

I’ve been in leadership long enough to realize that far too many people struggle with scheduling, organization, and general life planning. In fact, I am deeply disturbed at how many Christian leaders struggle with these basic leadership skills. It seems to me that far too many of us are flying by the seat of our pants, overstressing ourselves and frustrating the people around us, when we could carefully and smoothly get our work done.

In fact, let me talk directly to those of you in leadership positions. Maybe you own your own business or lead in a non-profit, let me speak to you very plainly. If you fail to schedule, organize, and plan your business or non-profit, you might find yourself very busy (and reasonably productive) as you constantly react to situations and people, but you will fail to achieve what you originally set out to achieve and your long-term goals won’t get met in good time (if ever)…Make sense?

I first became keenly aware of the importance of proper scheduling, organization, and planning while deployed in Iraq with the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne). I served as one of their Intel Analysts. Our plan/objective was simple: Kill and capture high value Al-Qaeda targets in Iraq. But here was our constant challenge/chaos: Angry villagers and tribal leaders who wanted clean water…I mean, there were constant riots. “Clean water! Clean water! Clean water!” Now imagine if our operators only focused on the chaos in front of them without ever addressing the underlying chaos enablers (i.e. the terrorists)…No good to dig new wells in these Iraqi villages if they’ll just get poisoned or blown up by insurgents. Gotta stay on task…Gotta stay on mission…Gotta stay on plan/objective…Kill and capture high value Al-Qaeda targets in Iraq and (in time) the clean water will come!

What’s my point? Well, as leaders in your field, you gotta become Masters of Chaos…Controlling the chaos or (inevitably) the chaos will control you. If you allow chaos to control you, then as a leader, you’ll be nothing more than a chicken with no head…And you’re the leader! So if you have no head, guess what happens to the people following you?

Well, what’s the why behind the what of this issue? Here are five of the hidden culprits of improper leadership administration (i.e. scheduling, organization, and planning)…

  • Lack of Passion – You won’t find any motivation to administrate well if you hate what you do. Do you LOVE what you do?
  • Lack of Focus – You won’t administrate well if you have developed poor habits of distracting yourself with entertainment, vices of various kinds, etc. Are you willingly A.D.D.?
  • Lack of Planning – You won’t administrate well if you don’t plan to administrate. Indeed, “Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance” (Army phrase). Can’t administrate something you don’t know needs to be administrated…Write it down…Plan to administrate…Plan to plan!
  • Lack of Discipline – You won’t administrate well if you don’t discipline yourself to keep on keeping on even when the going gets tough. You gotta be CONSISTENT with your administrative system. Get this…Administration is the essential, but unattractive oil of a properly functioning business or organization. You have to discipline yourself to stay on task, on target, and on time. Yeah, it’s boring. Yeah, it’s not fun. But, yeah, “administration won’t make your business, but it can certainly break your business!”
  • Lack of Gratefulness – You won’t administrate well if you aren’t grateful for the limited time you have here on earth. I am utterly convinced that so many people struggle with administrative skills because they lack basic understanding of, and respect for, time…You don’t have much time left on planet earth, and some of you are living (and working) like you have all the time in the world…A healthy understanding of your incredibly short life and a healthy fear of your impending death are strong motivators to get your junk together and administrate well…

And just to be clear, poor administration has nothing to do with a deficit of intellect, vision, or charm…In fact, some of the smartest, most visionary, and charming people I’ve ever met are just plain bad at administration because they lacked either passion, or focus, or planning, or discipline, or gratefulness, or some combination of these hidden culprits…

So, do you struggle with administrating your life and work? Are you just plain bad at scheduling, organization, and planning? Do you allow the chaos of your life and work to control you too much? Here’s two practical tips to be a better person and leader…1) Buy and use a paper planner…“A paper brain never forgets!” And 2) Buy and read the book, Mastering Life by Robert J. Morgan…Excellent book and easy to read!

The Fall of Afghanistan…

Like many of you, my heart has been a tad bit overwhelmed by all of the bad news in our world today. From the coronavirus spike to the fall of Afghanistan, it just seems to be one bad news piece after another. I tell myself not to watch or read the news, but the pull towards all of the quickly developing stories is just too enticing at times.

The fall of Afghanistan was particularly hard for me to read about. I’m still in frazzled awe that the Taliban (an extremist terrorist organization) could overtake the country of Afghanistan in just a few weeks. I mean, after two decades of war, thousands of lives killed and injured, and trillions of dollars being invested over there, all of our efforts at nation building seemingly went up in a puff of smoke.

You know, it’s funny how history repeats itself. From the fall of Saigon to the fall of Afghanistan, the similarities are eerily similar. In fact, after hearing of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, I immediately texted many of my Afghanistan War buddies – the new Vietnam War veterans…

Their thoughts, as you can imagine, are all over the map. From low-grade sadness to complete rage…Many of my friends who fought and bled over there are just simply upset and confused by the Afghan military’s cowardice, the speed of the Taliban, and the seeming incompetence of our nation’s leaders to respond.

You know, like many of my Afghanistan War buddies, I know the pain and challenges of war. But I served in the Iraq War, not Afghanistan, and I’m just at a point where all I can do is deeply empathize with my fellow brothers-in-arms and pray for them. I wish I could do more.

Then, there was yesterday, August 26, 2021. The bloodiest day of conflict in Afghanistan since 2011…13 U.S. service members from the Marine Corps, Army, and Navy were killed near the Kabul airport. How my heart hurts for these brave service members and their families. Indeed, their sacrifice is not in vain, but try telling that to the rest of the Afghanistan veterans right now…

As a former Army intelligence analyst, I truly fear that a great and new “Axis of Evil” is rising in our world today. And as a red-blooded American, I am truly hurt and angry at our foreign enemies and our domestic leaders who are responding to these foreign threats. But (long pause), as a believer in Jesus Christ, I must rest in God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and love. I mean, what else can I do? Where else can I go? He (that is Jesus Christ) holds the words of eternal life (John 6:68). In these difficult and dark days, I choose to look up and trust my God…He’s got this. We certainly don’t. But He does.

A Prayer For Prairie Flower Baptist Church…

Loving Father,

We bow in your presence and worship you for who you are…You are the great I AM. You are faithful in every season. You are perfect in all of your ways. Who among the “gods” is like you? Indeed, there is no one who comes close to your greatness, splendor, and holiness. O great God, our God, you are good and do good, teach us your ways!

As we ponder your many attributes (your divine perfections), we confess that we are nothing like you. We are sinners by birth and sinners by choice. We willingly ignore you and pursue our own idolatrous pleasures. All we like sheep have gone astray! Indeed, prone to wander, Lord, we feel it! Prone to leave the God we love. Forgive us for our willful wanderings and sinful choices.

Thank you. Thank you for your forgiveness and grace. Thank you for saving our souls. Thank you for giving to us your Word and your Truth. Indeed, all who are on the side of Truth, listen to your voice! Thank you for sharing your voice with us. Thank you for being our God!

As a church family out here on the prairie, we ask that you would continue to help us and bless us. Yes, despite all that we are (a sinful people) and all that we are not (a completely sanctified people), please help us and bless us. Help us to be bold with the Gospel. Help us to love you with all of our being and our neighbors as ourselves. Bless our endeavors to serve and minister to our community. And please continue to bless the preaching and singing of your Holy Word. Yes, help us and bless us to be a strong church that makes disciples for your great glory!

In Jesus’ Name – Our Savior and King’s Name – We Pray All These Things (Humbly & With A Desire For Your Will To Be Done) – Amen!

From The Desk Of The Associate: The Church – Who Needs It Anyway?

In recent years and decades there has been an alarming decline in church attendance. Leaving the unconverted aside, why do we see so many professing believers rejecting the idea that regular church attendance is God’s will for the believer? There are probably a few different categories of Christians who do not prioritize regular church participation, but lets tackle a couple of them.

First, let’s look at the “Someday Individual,” I mean that person who thinks that someday they will get involved in a church. When they reach a certain milestone then they will start taking their responsibility to the body seriously. Young people are notorious for this. There seems to be some sort of fumble during the hand off between youth group participation and participation in the church at large. Maybe this is the problem with the way many of us do youth ministry. Also I suspect that this is just human nature. How many of you are planning to start that diet, or to get into shape, or to start reading that book, or you name it. Many of us have good intentions, but never actually get started beyond one or two half hearted attempts. When it comes to church commitment and participation I believe it looks like this for many young people: “I need to focus on schooling, I’ll take church seriously when I graduate.” Then they graduate and this is what they tell themselves: “I’ll take church seriously when I settle down and get married.” After marriage: “When we have kids we’ll find a church and bring our kids.” The dirty little secret is that just like your diet or workout plan, you will unlikely ever find it high enough on your priority list to actually make a meaningful commitment. Worse yet are the older folks who should know better, but they tell themselves the same lies and go through the same cycle. These are the “Someday Individuals.”

Second, lets look at the “Lone Ranger Christian.” This person believes that they really do not need the church. They maybe have been burned by a church in their past. Maybe they have experienced real hurt at the failure of their church. Maybe they used to be a “Someday Individual” and now they simply see no need for the church at all. After all, they have a relationship with God and know how to read their Bible and pray. Why do they need the rest of the church at all? Even if we take this person at their word, and they are indeed some kind of super Christian who is not really dependent on others for growth in godliness, wouldn’t you think that it is possible that God gifted this person with extra Christian fortitude to bless other Christians? The Bible gives many answers to both these ways of thinking, but I believe any individual who neglects to make a serious commitment to a local body of believers has a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s will concerning the growth of a Christian.

The Bible gives an outright command to Christians to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is, but to encourage and exhort one another and so much the more as we see the day approaching.” See God knows that we are fickle and frail individuals who need to rely on one another for strength and encouragement in the faith. As I said above, even if you are not someone who needs to draw a lot on others, do you not see that others may have a need to draw on you for encouragement? It is our duty to sometimes ask not what our church can do for us, but what we can do for the church. In another place the Bible says that we are to “let the peace of God rule in our hearts as we were called together in one body and to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” This is something that is clearly meant to be done primarily in the context of a local church. How can we fulfill these responsibilities if we do not know the people in the church and are not known by them? What we are really saying is, “God, we know more than you about our growth and sanctification.”

A lot more could be said on this issue, but one last response I would give to the person who does not see church commitment as a priority is this…In multiple passages, the New Testament likens the local church to a physical body. This means that God has given each individual believer a gifting and responsibility for the building up of the church. When you fail to fulfill your commitment, you are depriving the body of that part that God has given you to be for His church. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you need the church and the church needs you!

Guest Blogger – My Father – David P. Cotner II – “The Holiness of God”

What is Holiness?

God is absolutely holy. But what does this mean? The Bible says:

“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8).

The holiness of God is His chief attribute. It regulates all other attributes: love, justice, mercy, etc.

Holiness contains two main ideas:

  1. Separateness – God is unique. There is none like Him. He is completely separate from creation; He is not a part of it.
  2. Sinlessness – God is completely without sin. He is perfect; nothing else is perfect.

What God’s holiness means to us:

  1. He cannot do wrong.
  2. He cannot do what is harmful.
  3. He cannot change.

Why God’s holiness matters:

  1. His word is right and can be trusted which gives us a solid foundation.
  2. His will is certain and cannot be altered which provides a sure future.
  3. His plan and purpose for us cannot be anything but good which helps strengthen faith.
  4. Holiness must be the regulating factor in our lives which will give us a steady focus.

“We praise You, Father, for Your holiness. May we ever live in awe of You. Give us this day the things we need to glorify You, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

The Patience of God

This week, my wife is out of town in Pennsylvania. She is enjoying some time with her Beachbody team. This incredible team of women encourages my wife to stay physically and spiritually fit. I am so glad that she gets some time away with her friends.

But since she is away, I am at home with our three oldest children. Thankfully, she took our youngest child, Derrick (just 6 months old), with her, but I get the joyful burden of watching our 9-year-old, 7-year-old, and crazy (truly crazy) 3-year-old. Heather has only been gone for a little over 24 hours, but I am already so grateful for all that she does for our kids!

I mean, it never ceases to amaze me at how much I have to repeat myself with my children. I’m always saying things like, “Now, what do you say?” Or “Aurora, your shoes are on the wrong feet. Switch them, please.” Or “Please stop running in the house!” Or “Don’t forget to give the dog food and water.” Or “Did you brush your teeth?” Or “Stop fighting”. Or “Stop whining.” Or “Stop talking back!” You get the idea, especially if you’re a parent. Wow. My kids (perhaps your kids too) hear these constant refrains.

I must admit that I often get easily irritated with my kids. I think, “Why don’t they listen? Are they deaf? I’ve told them these things a hundred billion times!” But as I was reminding my 3-year-old of something that I’ve told her a million times, it dawned on me…I’m not a very patient father, but God (my Father) is always patient with me.

I thought to myself, “How many times has God had to remind me of the simplest truths or commands? And yet, I am slow of mind and hard of heart to listen and remember…” God the Father often reminds me to trust Him, to love others, and to serve with pure motives, and yet I easily forget or (worse yet) I ignore Him and choose to sin. And still God is ever so patient with me, loving me, and blessing me despite all that I am (a hard-hearted sinner) and all that I am not (a fully sanctified saint).

So, today I am thankful for the patience of God. He lovingly reminds me (over and over and over again…a hundred billion times) that He is with me and for me. He doesn’t ever lash out in anger and is always ready to help me and forgive me. Indeed, the patience of God should be one of the primary motivators of my patience toward my own kids and the other people in my life. Yes, our God is a patient God, and I am in awe of His constant, never ceasing patience!

Hear now the words of Scripture in regard to the patience of our great God…

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” – Psalm 103:8

“But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” – 1 Timothy 1:16

Therefore…

“You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” – James 5:8

10 Church Members God Especially Calls Me to Love By Tim Challies

In a recent and widely-shared article, a pastor provides a series of profiles of church members who “drive him crazy” and make pastoral ministry “less than fun.” Though he tells of his love for the local church and his commitment to it, he also says that every church he knows has “members and attenders that get under the skin of a leader.” His article is meant to provide a brief description of each, perhaps to allow other pastors to commiserate or perhaps to provide a kind of warning to Christians, as if to say “don’t be like these people.”

Like almost every other church leader, I have encountered some members who have been abnormally difficult for various reasons (though, to be fair, I expect most church members have also encountered some pastors who have been abnormally difficult). These are a microscopic minority of the people who have called our church home over the years, but by their very nature, they tend to punch above their weight. Setting aside those who are living in unrepentant sin or attempting to destroy the church through divisive behavior (and who, therefore, ought to be under the discipline of the church), I’ve had to ask: how am I, as a pastor, to relate to particularly difficult people?

I understand why a pastor is prone to think about how these people drive him crazy. I’ve done that myself. But it was crucial to my spiritual health and to my success in ministry that I make a change in my thinking. Rather than seeing them as people who drive me crazy, I have preferred to see them as people I’m particularly called to love—people who stretch and grow my ability to love. I begin with the thought of how my own behavior must often be “less than fun” in the eyes of God and how I do so much that could “get under his skin.” Yet he does not grumble about me, though he certainly could. He does not get annoyed or ashamed, though I certainly give him every reason to. He does not see me as a problem child, though I certainly am. Rather, he continues to care for me with patience, kindness, and perseverance. He continues to seek my good. He continues to love me.

In that vein, here are those same 10 people—10 people that preset a special challenge to love in a special way. (The words in quotes and/or italics are drawn from the original article.)

  1. The “doom and gloom” member: This person is prone to grumbling about what goes on in the life of the church. This person needs extra reassurance and needs to have me gently explain to him the distinction between matters that are major and minor, between matters that demand strict obedience to God’s Word and matters that can vary based on conscience. Much of what he considers a sign of imminent doom may actually be a lack of understanding between issues that mark a standing and falling church and issues that are simply not matching his preferences.
  2. The “on the edge of leaving” member: He often suggests he is going to need to leave over one issue or another. In my worst moments I may be tempted to wish he would. But then I remember that the Good Shepherd knows that at times he must leave the 99 to pursue the one. While we may think of that one as a helpless, naive wanderer, what’s to say he’s not a bitter or disobedient sheep whose wandering has been deliberate? So I take my cue from the ultimate Shepherd and do what I can to seek him out and bring him back.
  3. The “amateur theologian” member: This member either has an extensive grasp of theology or merely thinks he does. He then often uses that knowledge to debate the pastors and even to promote his own stance on issues. Acknowledging that many people are smarter, wiser, and better-trained than I am, I commend his knowledge and love of knowledge, and see where I can use it to serve the church. Of course I may also attempt to help him better understand which theological issues are matters of dispute or conscience, perhaps by leading him through a text like Romans 14.
  4. The “Did you know?” member: He wants to be “in the know” about everything in the church. In fact, he’s involved in almost all of the church’s gossip and gets angry when he’s out of the loop. He needs to be told, in a loving way, and then perhaps through the process of church discipline, that gossip is sinful. It is forbidden by Scripture and opposed to our membership covenant. I express love to him and to my church by reminding him there is much he doesn’t know, shouldn’t know, and mustn’t pass on.
  5. The “recommitment” member: She shows up about every six months, recommits her life to Jesus, and then disappears for the next six months. This member must be treated with such gentleness and compassion, because in all likelihood the pull of the world continues to lure her. She is caught between two worlds, two masters! She needs to hear the good news of the gospel, she needs to be told she has a church that loves her, and she needs to be pursued by those who are called to shepherd her. Far be it from me to be annoyed by a member like this! She is especially vulnerable to Satan’s attacks and is certainly among the “all the flock” I’m charged to keep watch over (Acts 20:28).
  6. The “constitutional lawyer” member: Nobody knows the church constitution like this member does, and he brings out the documents any time he doesn’t like something. This member may be the perfect candidate to serve as parliamentarian in the meetings of the church—to be the one who knows the constitution and Robert’s Rules of Order so he can ensure the formal meetings proceed according to best practices. He may thrive when given that responsibility. Either way, why should I fear or be annoyed by the person who holds me to the church’s constitution when I may otherwise deliberately or inadvertently violate it?
  7. The “internet sermon troll” member: He listens to everybody else’s sermons online, and then critiques my sermons in light of others. Here is a member who is eager to learn the truths of the Christian faith, but who lacks the maturity to know what to do with such knowledge. Acknowledging there are many pastors who preach far better than I ever can or will, I appreciate his fervor and choose to overlook the offense of him critiquing my sermons. I know before whom I stand or fall. I know this member is not the one qualified to determine whether I’ve been obedient to God and done the best I can with the few talents God has assigned to me.
  8. The “nostalgia freak” member: She knows everything about the church’s history, and she sees her role as protecting the past by fighting against anything new. This seems to be a particular struggle for those who are elderly, and perhaps especially those who have given so many hours and so much money to get the church to where it is today. She needs to be commended for her service to the church and her love for it; she needs to be commended for trying to build a bridge between the church’s past and future. Maybe God is using her to slow me down where I would otherwise move too hastily. And perhaps as I speak to her in a loving, gentle way, she will grow to trust me as I begin to lead the church in directions that may contradict her desires.
  9. The “unforgiving saint” member: He got angry over something years ago, and he refuses to let it go. When confronted about it, he can spiritualize his reasons with the best of them. My first response to this member is to consider if I have genuinely sinned against him and if there is something for which I need to ask his forgiveness. If there is not, or if I have already repented of any sin before him, then the most loving way to pastor him is to speak to him about his lack of forgiveness and to show him what the Bible says about the necessity of forgiving those who have repented. Love toward this member may even involve church discipline which seeks his restoration for unrepentant sin.
  10. The “on sabbatical” member: No matter what you do, this member refuses to serve in the church. “I’ve done my duty in the past,” he says. Some members do not understand that God calls all of us, and not just the pastors or staff, to do the work of the ministry. Some members thrive when given a challenge or when asked to serve in a ministry suited to their gifts and talents. Then, some members do far more than their fair share, or are asked to do too much by their pastors, and sometimes burn out. Many pastors claim a well-earned sabbatical—why should we not extend the same to those who have served our churches so long or so well?

The author of the original article says, “To be honest, folks like these can make pastoral ministry less than fun some days.” But an under-shepherd knows he doesn’t tend sheep because tending sheep is fun; rather, he tends sheep because his master, the True Shepherd, has called him to. He knows he has not been called to a life of ease, but a life of service, even to those who sometimes make that service a trial. He knows he is not responsible to tend only the sheep who make his life easy, but even the ones who make it more difficult, the ones who wander, the ones who are easily disgruntled. He knows that the sheep—even these sheep—are his ministry. The author says, “take time to pray specifically for these members in your church. Maybe God will change a few so they don’t drive you crazy anymore.” Or maybe he won’t. But if you pray earnestly, he may at least change you so you can be a fitting, faithful shepherd to his sheep.

You can find the original post from Challies at his webpage https://www.challies.com/articles/10-church-members-god-especially-calls-me-to-love/