I've been reading through the Sermon on the Mount lately, and what Jesus said in Matthew 5:10-12 has really stood out. As a leader in ministry, we ARE going to be attacked, especially if we are having an impact in the areas in which we are planted. I want to go over four areas in which leaders WILL be attacked and talk about how to handle it.
Area #1—Your Motives
There is no way around it. People are going to question WHY you do what you do. And the more success you see in ministry, the more people will question your motives.
Let me be clear: You can't win this fight. The only thing that you can do is consistently check your heart to make sure that you are listening to the voice of God and doing what He says. We can lie to people, but we can't lie to Him. He knows our hearts. One day our motives, if impure, will be exposed, because He will NOT be mocked! (Galatians 6:7).
In reality, most people who question your motives don't have a freakin' clue where you came from. They don't know what you've put up with, the sleepless nights you've gone through, and the personal sacrifices you've made to get to where you are. AND you CAN'T waste your time explaining those things to them, because then they'll accuse you of pride (an accusation you can't really defend).
You need to ask yourself the following questions when it comes to why you do what you do:
- Am I allowing Jesus or my personal desires to shape my motives?
- Is this desire in me a passion that will enlarge His Kingdom ... or a cool idea that will allow me to become more popular?
- Are my motives being shaped as I study the Scriptures ... or does God's Word conflict with what I want?
- Are the godly people the Lord has placed in my life rebuking me or affirming me?
- Am I doing what I do because I love Jesus and people ... or because I love myself and see all of the personal gain I can achieve from this?
- Am I doing this for attention from others or for AFFIRMATION from my heavenly Father? (Matthew 3:17)
Area #2—Your Doctrine
Most people who come into your church will say that they want you to teach from the Bible. But often, what they really mean is that they want you to teach from the way THEY see the Bible ... AND from the translation they prefer, as well!
We are told in Scripture to watch our life and doctrine closely (I Timothy 4:16). We are told that teachers will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). God takes HIS Word seriously, and so should we (Revelation 22:18-19)! However, WE CANNOT teach another person's theological convictions as our own. We MUST study the Scriptures, seek wise counsel, pray, read, and then OWN what we teach (I Peter 3:15)
Understand that when we do this, there are going to be people who disagree with what we teach. This is OK, as long as we know that we are making every effort to be as theologically sound as we can be. AND we've got to understand as well that godly men and women who really love Jesus have been on both sides of most major theological arguments.
One of the things I often tell the people at NewSpring Church is that I will not lead them astray when it comes to theology or food! We take doctrine seriously; every message we prepare takes hours to shape, and then I gather godly men and women around me who diligently search the Scriptures and hold me accountable on the doctrine that is being taught. (We've had some very lively theological conversations in these meetings!)
We've got to take what we teach people seriously, along with the understanding that no matter how much time we put into the message, there will always be people who disagree with what we say. But when people do question us, it gives us a chance to either KNOW what we believe or go back and research to see if our convictions are OWNED by us ... or if they're just a cool concept we heard on a podcast.
Area #3—Your Leadership Style
I am a student of growing churches! I don't care what denomination they are, where they are located, or what the architecture looks like. If people are being reached for the Kingdom, I want to see what is going on. I've crawled on a lot of planes and made tons of phone calls, and the one thing that I've discovered is that hardly ANY of these churches are similar in leadership styles.
Now let me be VERY clear—godly leadership is ESSENTIAL for a church to have a Kingdom impact! (Look at what happened to the nation of Israel in the book of Judges when they didn't have godly leadership!) But I believe each church must wrestle with the Scriptures and personalities that are present and allow the Lord to show them the best way to structure for maximum effectiveness.
Jesus addressed seven different churches in Revelation 2-3, and He addressed each one of them differently! He didn't say, "Here is an org chart for all of you guys, here are some titles for key staff members, and here are some books to read on leadership development ..."
What He did establish with each church is that THE CHURCH IS HIS, but He also addressed each unique issue the church was facing, and then walked them through how to deal with it. And I believe He's still doing the same thing today! No one knows how to lead the church better than Jesus! After all ... it is HIS. (ANY leadership structure HAS to recognize this, or the church will become impotent!)
But when you establish how the church will be led, people will always point to another model that "is working" somewhere else. In this situation, try not to tear the other model down (unless it's leading a church into the ground), but confidently explain that the church's leadership has set things up the way they feel Jesus has led them to do so. That explanation works for some ... and not so much for others. But at the end of the day, the leader(s) need to rest in the fact that they have set things up the way Jesus has led; after all, we are the ones who will be held accountable for it! (Hebrews 13:17)
Area #4—Your Ministry Methods
People are going to question how you do things, no matter how you do them. By the way ... people questioned the ministry methods of Jesus! I would say if people aren't asking questions and getting offended, then you are not being like Christ! Jesus was ALWAYS healing on the Sabbath, which was considered to be a "sin" in that society. Think about that ... there were people who actually accused Jesus of sin because His ministry methods didn't match up with their personal preferences. Hmmmm ...
If you preach line by line, verse by verse, some people are going to prefer that you be more of a topical teacher. If you preach topical messages, some people will scream that you need to exegete the text! If you use "secular" music, some people will scream you are "loving the world." If you use all "Christian" music, some people will scream that you are not relating to people outside of the church. If you dress up, some people will say that you make them feel uncomfortable, because they don't really have any "church clothes." If you wear jeans and a T-shirt, some will say that "you aren't giving God your best!"
What I am saying is this: There is NO WAY that a ministry leader can please every single person coming in the doors! I once told a pastor, "You could stand at the back of your church this Sunday and give away $100 bills, and SOMEONE would hate you for it!"
What you've got to do is figure out God's unique calling on your life, and then do it with no apologies. If you and I are not being true to the call God has placed on our lives, then we are basically slapping His grace in the face and saying to Him by our actions, "People's opinions are more important than Yours!" I once heard Craig Groeschel say, "Becoming obsessed with what people think about me is the quickest way to forget what God thinks about me."
Peter had a calling to reach the Jews. Paul had a call to reach the Gentiles. Their ministry styles looked different while their goals were the same. In the Christian world, we allow our difference to divide us rather than develop us—sad.
How has the Lord called you to preach? What has He told you about the music style in your church? How has He told you to staff the church? These questions must be answered, because if you don't answer them, someone will. Then you will find yourself leading a church that, in an effort to please everyone, reaches no one!
Your ministry style will be questioned ... but the ULTIMATE One whom we answer to is Jesus. It is His church ... His ministry ... and HE will ask the final set of questions one day! Be who HE called you to be! Do ministry how HE called you to do it. You just can't go wrong this way!