Friday, August 30, 2013

Keeping Your Eye On The Prize

Often times the fine line between success and failure is focus.  Whether in sports, business or church work, those who can overcome the distractions that come their way and keep their focus on the mission are the ones who succeed.   It's what Michael Jordan had in the last seconds of a game and Tiger Woods had in his prime.  It is what separates the great athletes from the good ones.  It is what Paul admonishes us to do in Philippians 3:14.

Jesus' laser focus is documented by John in his gospel as you see how the crowds, Religious leaders and even his own disciples try to persuade him to follow their own agenda.  Jesus overcomes all manner of temptation and persecution, keeping his eye on his purpose and the mission of the cross. Jesus had a direct line to the Father to keep him focused and on the right path.  We also have a direct line to Jesus (prayer) and we have the Holy Spirit (power to do what is right) and scripture to direct us and help us make the right decision.  We have plenty to keep us on the right track, its just a matter of using it.  So here are some practical tips to keep you focused.
  • Remind yourself each morning of your purpose and to whom you belong.  In John 5:19, Jesus explains that He comes from the father and only does what the Father tells him to do.  He knows his purpose and from where it comes.  As followers of Jesus, we should remind ourselves every day of Ephesians 2:10, that we are created in the image of God, that we are His workmanship, masterpiece, created to do great works, uniquely designed and prepared for in advance by God for you.  
  • Develop a plumb-line for making decisions.  I use Colossions 1:10 as my plumb line. Will my action please God? Will it bear fruit for God?  Will it help me grow in my relationship with God? If I answer no to any of these then I know it's not the will of God.  If yes to all of these, then God gives me the green light. And if my action is in sync with my purpose then I know I should proceed full steam ahead.  
  • Put your blinders on and ear plugs in regularly. Jesus talked about his sheep knowing his voice.  They can distinguish his voice from the many others that could distract them and lead them astray. One way we can hear His voice is to get away from the noise of the world as Jesus often did to communicate with his Father.  Turn off the world, read scripture and meditate on His word and talk to Jesus on a regular basis.  
  • Prioritize your actions or "to do" list according to your purpose.  Tackle tasks that best help you reach your goals to achieving your purpose.  Often these are the most difficult which is why we often put them aside and procrastinate. Chip away at the big rocks and you'll soon discover that you have accomplished more than you realize.
  • Do regular check ups and course corrections.  Humans are much like sheep in that they easily wander off from the herd just following the green grass, their food source.  We generally don't jump way off course in one giant leap.  Most often we drift with small steps, sometimes almost imperceptible. If you don't take a reading every so often, you can find yourself miles from your destination.  Accountability partners can help you stay on course and let you know when you stray but you they can only hold you accountable to that which you allow them to.  Be open and honest about your goals and where you are.  
  • Remove, stop doing anything that keeps you from accomplishing your purpose. Hebrews 12:1-2.  It could be as simple as stop spending so much time on the computer.  Often times the biggest detriment to our purpose are the small subtle habits we begin to establish. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Is good enough, good enough?

Recently I read the book Deliberate Simplicity by Dave Browning of Christ the King Church which argues the point that good enough is good enough in ministry, that the pursuit of excellence that many pastors and leaders pursue in churches may actually be a stumbling block to ministry.  Now that's a new one.  And it really got me thinking.   

I've grown up with the mindset that we should always strive for excellence in our work for the kingdom, citing Colossians 3:23 "whatever you do unto the Lord, do it with all of your heart", as my reference verse.  I recall being asked the question several years ago, why would anyone come to our church over the one down the street.  My answer was that we do things better, with excellence.  As I look back now I realize that is certainly one way to attract people to your church but probably not the Biblical way.  Now I agree with Browning that excellence should not be our goal after all. 

It is a very real struggle to keep up with not only the world, but also churches in our neighborhoods, to always come up with the bigger and better.  And there should always be a tension and desire to do things better with "all of our heart".  We shouldn't ever do anything half-hearted for Jesus.  The church has been notorious for lacking quality in ministry, doing it without creativity, imagination and inspiration.  But should excellence be the goal of the church?

As I look back on my thirty years in ministry, even though I thought I believed in the concept of doing everything with excellence, I didn't do ministry by that standard.  Not until I read the book, Deliberate Simplicity, did I understand that excellence was never my goal.  What I desired all along was transformation and it does not take excellence to transform someone.  Actually the pursuit of excellence in ministry often times becomes a stumbling block to transformation.  Rick Warren wrote, "You have heard it said, 'if it can't be done without excellence, don't do it'.  Well Jesus never said that.   The truth is almost everything we do is done poorly when we first start doing it - that's how we learn.  At Saddleback Church we practice the 'good enough' principle.  It doesn't have to be perfect for God to use it and bless it.  We would rather involve thousands of people in ministry than have a perfect church run by a few elites."  

Doing things with "all of your heart" in Col. 3:23 does not mean with excellence.  It is a motivation to do things with a heart for Christ, not to please people or reach some man imposed standard of how things should be done. When my motivation is transformation to Christ-likeness, then when I am putting together a mission trip, I am more concerned with having a team of individuals that need transforming, that are willing to be transformed and those that can help transform those in which we are  ministering to.  I'm not trying to put together the perfect team that will get the task done with excellence.
A worship leader struggles with the tension between excellence and good enough every week.  Do I limit the team to just the three or four best singers, or do I include others who don't quite meet the excellence standard?  If you are more concerned with the sound than with transformation of your team members, allowing them to grow and use their giftedness for Christ, then you will exclude those who don't measure up.  It is ironic that it is easier using only the top singers each week, not having to develop less than great talent.  

An unhealthy focus on doing everything with "excellence" can take your focus off of relationships and put it on the task.  It can cause volunteers and staff to avoid risk, to avoid taking chances and innovative things.  We seldom do things quite as well the first time.  It will limit the number of people who are involved in ministry because we are prone to do it ourselves or use the experts and paid staff.   This is a real issue in churches.  Pastors and staff must deal with the tension between effective ministry and "excellent" ministry on a regular basis

In a new church plant, with limited resources, you try to stretch every cent as far as it can go to reach people for Christ.  Most new plants worship in less than excellent spaces, use less than excellent sound systems, have less than excellent children's and youth ministries.  And yet  church plants have a much better evangelical effectiveness than large, churches.  Excellence has no bearing on the evangelical effectiveness and that is the point.

Should you always "do your best"?  Of course, but with the proper goal in mind.  We can't keep up with the world's insatiable demand for bigger and better and we don't have to, if we keep our focus on the true prize; transformation into the likeness of Jesus. Then we can let go of the burden of "excellence" and be satisfied with good enough.                    

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