Sifting, Suicides, and Pastors

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32 (NASB)

The steady stream of pastors and leaders leaving the ministry due to sexual or financial scandal has not changed in decades. What is most alarming, in recent days, however, is the rash of lead pastors committing suicide.

Judas committed suicide. Jesus Himself knew that temptation as well: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death,” he said (Matt. 26:38).

I believe most Christian point leaders who carry the weight of a ministry or church know the struggle of wanting to die. I sure do and remember times, in my 26 years as Senior Pastor of New Life, that I was not sure I wanted to (or could) drink the “cup” that was before me.

Jesus’ comments to Peter teaches us a few important truths:

  1. Satan targets lead pastors with a particular rage and fury.
  2. Jesus allows extreme testing to put things to death in us that can we cannot kill in ourselves.
  3. Jesus purpose through such intense pressure is so we effectively lead others.
  4. Jesus’ intercession for us (Rom. 8:34), along with the prayers of others, is the only way we can recover from falls and remain faithful.
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Turning Point Lessons from New Life

  1. Character is more important than gifting. Being is more important than doing.
  2. Do not rush. When decisions were made quickly, without pausing to pray, think, and process implications, we have had regrets.
  3. Each leader need to take responsibility and initiative for their own growth and development.
  4. Clarity of vision results in a unified leadership, and unified leadership reinforces the vision.
  5. Extended Sabbatical rest releases new, life-giving initiatives from God and enables us to serve out of a cup that overflows.
  6. Face the truth and act on it, even if it hurts.
  7. Enforce our values. When we have compromised on this, due to expediency, it has been costly, damaging our integrity as well as our long-term mission and effectiveness.
  8. Be faithful to our “charism,” the grace from God that is uniquely ours. Learn from other streams and ministries, but be content in our particular gift and DNA from God.
  9. Intentional mentoring and development of individuals is key to bearing fruit long term. To skip this has never worked.
  10. Take the time to do theological reflection and to capture insights, especially from mistakes and failures. Codify these learnings into new tools to train leaders and deepen your ability to spiritually form your people.
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Face Your Shadow

Everyone has a shadow.

Shadows are those untamed emotions and behaviors. They may be sinful; they may simply be weaknesses. Most importantly, they lie concealed just beneath the surface of our more proper selves. They may erupt in judgmental perfectionism, outbursts of anger, jealousy, resentments, lusts, greed, or murderous tendencies.

At other times, they emerge through our need to rescue people, our seemingly endless need to be noticed, our inability to stop working, our isolation, or our rigidity.

Our shadows are the damaged versions of who we are. They are the behaviors we use to protect ourselves from actually changing. We keep them hidden because they make us feel so vulnerable.

  • Churches and organizations can develop a “shadow mission.” We want to reach people for Jesus Christ. That is good. The shadow of that is: “We are here to grow our numbers.”
  • Many of us have wonderful public gifts in speaking and mobilizing people. That is good. The shadow is our insatiable need for affirmation.
  • We value excellence. That is good. The shadow is when it crosses into perfectionism, doesn’t allow for mistakes, and creates a secondary feeling of heaviness around us.
  • We are zealous for God’s truth and right doctrine. That is good. The shadow is our lack of love towards those who don’t agree with us.

There are two ways to face your shadow. The first is to proactively look at the factors in your family of origin that have contributed to your shadow. The second is to ignore it until you hit a Wall and the pain is so great you have no choice.

I prefer the first.

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God is Not in a Rush

Your best, most fruitful decade of your life will be in your 60′s. Your second most fruitful decade will be in your 70′s. Your third will be in your 50′s.

How might that perspective change your priorities today?

I know you are in a rush. God is not.

His kingdom really is like a mustard seed. It starts out insignificant, powerless, apparently defeated, and marked by suffering and death. It appears nothing is happening. It is almost imperceptible.

We want the glory of Rome, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus. And we want it now! Jesus didn’t build quickly. He chose 12 country bumpkins from Galilee. One didn’t work out.

He was not in a rush.

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Powers and principalities

Rich Villodas (New Life Fellowship, Lead Pastor) and Pete and Geri Scazzero (EHS) talk about the clash that occurs when EHS comes into a persons life.

The Leadership Wall

85% of Christians are stuck at a personal Wall in their walk with Christ. It may be that another 85% of leaders are stuck at a Leadership Wall also. In Real Power: Stages of Personal Power in Organizations, Janet O. Hagberg develops a helpful model that integrates the essential place of the Wall in our lives as leaders.

We tend to have one particular stage that best describes where we are now. Note you have to pass through one stage to get to another. Each builds on the ones that go before it. And it is possible to remain stuck in our leadership at a certain stage and choose not to move forward.

The following are the six leadership stages:

Stage 1: Powerlessness – We feel powerless, like we are being pushed around, controlled, and taken care of by others. We are dependent on others to get things done and need approval for almost everything we do.

Stage 2: Power by Association –We don’t feel, at this point, like we have much external or internal power. We are learning from mentors so we hope those with influence and control notice or nurture us. Mentors are especially important at this stage.

Stage 3: Power by Achievement – This is the exciting season when we are experiencing success in our work. Others recognize our expertise and competence. We are on the “fast track” and rewarded for it. There is a sense that we have made it.

THE WALL

Stage 4: Power by Reflection- The power, or influence, we enjoy now is because of our sound judgment, prudence and ability to listen well. We lead from the inside, mentor others, and are comfortable with ourselves. We are seasoned and trustworthy.

Stage 5: Power by Purpose- At this point we our uniqueness lies more fully in the strength of our inner …read more

Sabbath: Feasting at God’s Banquet

Scripture describes our future as the wedding feast of all wedding feasts. We will see Jesus face to face and be united with him in a massive love and joy that will last forever. On Sabbath, a 24 hour period set apart from our work, we participate in that feast.

Thomas Aquinas, in the twelfth century, talked about our craving for a happiness that is so boundless that it is almost terrifying. Sabbath slows us down to satisfy that hunger beneath all our hungers.

Christianity is not about what we have to do as leaders – “Do this. Go here. Serve this person. Go the extra mile for the work.” The Christian life is enjoying a feast, a banquet with the living God. There are few greater gifts we can give the people we serve than to stop and experience that feast on Sabbath.

And we look forward to our eternal Sabbath when we will see Jesus face to face: “Together, in one universal celebration, we will all be intoxicated on God’s holy wine, dancing forever in celebration of God’s perfect love within the Trinity, God’s perfect love for us, our perfect love for him, and our perfect love for one another. It will be a party like we’ve never known…the joys of which we can only dimly imagine” (Christopher West, Fill These Hearts).

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Sabbath: Receiving Revelation in Rest

When we miss the gift of rest, especially Sabbath rest, we miss so much of God.

First, God comes to us with insights and truths that can only come when we rest. Our minds are not filled with our to do list or goals. The soil of our souls remains fallow and God is able to refresh her with fresh nutrients. Goals we think are important, we find out, are irrelevant. His love becomes our experience. We learn to trust Him with the church, with our problems, with our worries.

Secondly, we free the people we serve. They see a prophetic sign and wonder that we are no longer slaves to work. We are not under powers and principalities of evil (Deut. 5:12-17). Our identity is in God’s love and goodness, not what we do.

Thirdly, we save our communities and cities. We communicate, in a different way, that God is on the throne. He is worthy of their trust. During Sabbath rest, God’s life also infuses ours in ways that can happen in no other place. After resting, we offer the world something we did not have before. We become a gift.

If you want to save the world for Jesus, stop and rest.

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Sabbath: Joining God by Playing

The Greek Fathers in the fourth century chose the word perichoerisis to describe the perfect, mutual indwelling of the Trinity. It literally means “dancing around.” I had a difficult time understanding what this had to do with me when I first studied it.

But it was Jurgen Moltmann, the great German theologian, who opened up for me the notion of Sabbath as play in his book, Theology of Play. In Proverbs 8, he argued, we observe God “playing” when he made the world. “I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in humankind” (8:30-31). God informs Job that when he created the world, “the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).

God is a dancing, playful God. There is a playful wastefulness built into God’s ways in that millions of seeds never germinate, leaves on trees that turn brilliant colors when no one is looking, incredible species of fish that swim deep on the ocean floor that we no one will ever see, and flowers that remain beautiful even when no one is looking. They are simply there.

We were made to enjoy “playing” like our Creator – especially on Sabbath. We are invited to dance with our God who joyfully runs the universe with his love and power.

Sabbath balances off our tendency to be too serious and driven about our work. Everything is not a means to an end. Play does not serve any pragmatic purpose except to keep our lives in proper perspective.

Our lives are about entering the love of God found in the Trinity. Part of that involves learning to play – especially on Sabbath.


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Sabbath: Resisting Powers and Principalities

Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…Remember you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a outstretched hand. Deut. 5

This issue of Sabbath is a global problem – from Africa to North America to Asia to Europe to Latin America to Australia/New Zealand. We as pastors and leaders must come out from the slave driver, the Pharaoh, that lives inside of us and dominates our culture.

Imagine the violent anxiety the Israelites must have felt for 430 years in Pharaoh’s workaholic system. They were always busy and frenetic. They constantly had to prove they were worthy of being alive based on producing more bricks.

We may be free physically from Pharaoh, but he continues to live inside of most of us. Our families of origin, along with Western culture with its emphasis on “bigger and better,” keep us working faster and faster. We simply have to achieve and accomplish more – whatever it costs us personally. Others seem to produce more bricks more quickly. What’s my problem?

We are called to take a 24-hour period each week to stop, rest, delight and contemplate God. We are to resist the powers and principalities that define us, and our people, as cogs in a machine or simple means of production. God calls us to declare boldly through Sabbath-keeping that we will not participate in the dehumanizing system that pervades our culture and the church world.

For no other reason, practice Sabbath to resist the principalities and powers of hell.

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