I Am With You Always, The Rock Conference 2017

A weekend at Lake Geneva in Wisconsin didn’t guarantee a most excellent Rock Conference, but gathering lead pastors with their wives pretty much sealed it.

FiveStone Churches’ annual Rock Conference this year focused on building relationships among lead shepherds. Worship, prayer, testimonies, teaching and group discussions filled the days. Bonfires, games and good food filled the rest.

This was our fourth annual Rock Conference. We’ve switched focus to add a unique touch each year. The first conference focused on building a biblical understanding of ministry success; the next sharpened lead pastors in their varied responsibilities. The third year, we gathered elders and those aspiring to eldership. This year, we welcomed the wives of lead pastors. That was a nice touch, as was the bracelet each woman received, inscribed with the words of Jesus from Matthew 28:20: I am with you always. 

Catch a photo album of the event here.

A few reviews:

Four days with the most excellent 5Stone Churches pastors and their wives. Couldn't have asked for more beautiful weather as we cherished our moments to hear each other's journeys and joys. Maija Nack, Vanguard Bible Church

What a sweet time this past weekend to connect and fellowship with our fellow pastors and pastors’ wives. Thankful too for the rest and time away together. Michelle Reyes, Church of the Violet Crown

The Rock Conference was timely for my wife and me to get away from the daily pace of ministry. It was a joy to meet with and hear the testimonies of other pastors and their wives. We’re thankful for the connections we made. Lucas O’Neill, Christian Fellowship Church

I look forward to the Rock Conference every year. I get to spend time with guys I enjoy and respect. I learn about how to be more effective in ministry and I get encouraged and taught from God’s word. Looking forward to the conference next year!  Brian Jones, Calvary Bible Church

Bakersfield Burning for Matthew 16:18

It was 109 degrees in Bakersfield, Calif., this week. It was hot like an oven is hot. It burned with smoldering intensity. It reminded me of the weeks and days before a church plant emerges for the first time. The pioneers in a church plant ought to burn with intense excitement as they prepare for that first public worship service. That excitement is what Cary and Maija Nack, their four children, and quite a few other pioneers are building as they prepare Vanguard Bible Church to emerge in Bakersfield.

The word vanguard is defined as troops moving at the head of an army or the forefront of an action or movement. The imagery of soldiers and action are biblical and excellent for church planting.

Vanguard Bible Church will be a partner in the FiveStone Churches network. We expect Vanguard to go public in spring 2015.

I've known planting pastor Cary Nack for about nine years, and I’ve appreciated both his character and his gifting. He meets the qualifications of an elder as described in Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and does the work of an elder described in 1 Timothy 4:6-16. He’s also a fine preacher and leader and administrator.

We worked extensively together in planting what developed into a flourishing church in Illinois. That Illinois plant started with about eight of us gathering for a get-acquainted dinner. This California plant started with telephone discussions and planning meetings before I made the trip to Bakersfield to meet the planting core group and get to know the city of Bakersfield. (The city of 360,000 is 110 miles north of Los Angeles and 280 miles south of San Francisco. Bakersfield is growing fast; its population was 185,000 in 1990.)

While I was in town, Cary and the team hosted a most excellent meet-and-greet Coffee with the Pastor that included the core group and about 45 others who wanted to hear more about the vision and values of Vanguard Bible Church.

Here are a several of those values:

Preaching: bold exposition with application;

Worship: contemporary, passionate, contemplative;

Discipleship: intentional; built around Word, Worship, Walk, Work, Witness;

Gospel-centered Missions: service plus evangelism;

Excellence: honors God, removes distractions, attracts people;

Holiness without legalism.

A new, life-giving work in Bakersfield will please our Lord. I’m totally fired up about the Lord using Vanguard Bible Church and FiveStone Churches to take more California ground for His kingdom. It’s Matthew 16:18 all over again.

Read more about Cary, his family and the vision for Bakersfield in this news article on the FiveStone Churches website.  

Character Before Gifting in Austin, Texas

I’d rather work with a man of A-grade character and B-grade gifting than a man of B-grade character and A-grade gifting. That’s not to diminish the value of gifts. I’d just rather work with a man who drives not only to achieve through his gifting, but drives to personal excellence as he goes about the work of achieving. Of course, this means measuring personal excellence according to the Lord’s economy, not man’s economy.

So, while the temptation seems overwhelming to evaluate the local church with the typical ABCs of success measured by Attendance, Building and Cash, the Lord uses those ABCs as secondary measures of success, not primary measures. If I understand the Scriptures correctly and Revelation 2 and 3 specifically, the Lord at His core is deeply concerned about who we are as we work for Him. That’s the genesis of the FiveStone Churches core value of Character before Gifting. Gifting is good and important, but character is better and crucial. It’s gold to the follower of Christ.

With all of that in mind, FiveStone Churches is moving toward planting a church in Austin, Texas. Aaron Reyes, a man who by every indication has A-grade character and A-grade gifting, will be the church plant pastor. Austin, home to the University of Texas and the state’s capital, is a fast-growing metropolitan area of about 850,000 people. We’re expecting to plant east of Interstate 35, where there are few dynamic, life-giving churches. Austin’s east side also has a large mix of all kinds of people. I expect our work there to flourish.

Aaron gets the importance of Character before Gifting. That’s one of the things I like best about him. Aaron’s heritage is Latino and Caucasian, and he was born and raised just north of Austin. Aaron played football at the U.S. Air Force Academy until he figured out that the Lord wanted him in vocational pastoral ministry. He then transferred to Wheaton College in Illinois, where he finished a business degree and played football. He went on for a master’s degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., while he served as the lead shepherd of a church’s young adults ministry. That’s where he and I connected.

I spent time getting to know Aaron while discerning his character, commitments, convictions and gifting. We agreed last fall to covenant together to plant a church in Austin. Aaron’s been serving as a FiveStone Churches resident at one of our partner churches, Christian Fellowship Church in Itasca, Ill., where he’s been mentored by Pastor Lucas O’Neill in shepherding and preaching. I’ve also been working with Aaron to build and prepare the plant seed to germinate and emerge this fall. Aaron has been spending time in Austin, recruiting like-minded pioneers to serve as prayer partners and point people to prepare for the first worship service.

Aaron and his wife, Michelle, expect to move to Austin early in June. Michelle, who is of Indian descent, is completing a doctorate in German literature at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

To read more about Aaron and the vision for Austin, click here.      

The Rock Conference - How Big, How Many, How Much

I’ve been reflecting on whether The Rock Conference hit the mark earlier this month, as we focused on the theme: Building commitment to biblical success in the local church. In building that commitment, we also wanted to take a chisel to the miserable tyranny of how big, how many and how much. The conference was, uh, a Success. We achieved our mission to Edify, Protect, Encourage and Support pastors and church leaders.

No need to say how many were at the conference. (There were plenty; more than expected.) And no need to say how much money we lost on the event. (We lost plenty, but no more than expected.) Kent Hughes was riveting and remarkably humble in his teaching from the Scriptures and from his 41 years in pastoral ministry.

One pastor—Mike Thorburn of Bayside Community Church in San Jose, Calif.— took me aside during the conference and stuck me with many observations that I wanted to remember. Problem was that I remembered the gist of what he said but not the exact specifics. So I called him. We talked, and then he sent me his comments in writing. They get at the core of things. I’ve pasted Mike’s comments below:

We live in a performance-based culture. What you do for me is more important at times than why you do it or the character with which you do it.

This is true for many modern ministry models. If a person is getting results, is talented or fulfills a perceived need we often do not question the person’s motives or character. We’ve created a ministry model that values performance and results over godly character. Sometimes we even overlook obvious character faults due to the person’s success. There are a multitude of examples of how this is evidenced in today's church.

FiveStone Churches is unique in that the core values are character-based. Integrity, authenticity, trust, leadership and service are qualities that are easily found and supported in Scripture and are qualities which work hand-in-hand with the fruit of the Spirit and the Pauline leadership qualities for elders and church leaders.

In fact, Paul's call for leaders to be men who are gentle, faithful and persevering shepherds seems to be a distant memory for what we should be in light of the CEO, rancher, business model for ministry that is taken for granted today. While Paul could write from prison that he had fought the good fight and finished the race, today we read of victory through the breaking of attendance records and the square footage of facilities.

The new paradigm of FiveStone Churches is really a call to return to the biblical foundation of leadership based on character. But this new paradigm creates a tension in many pastors. Today's message to pastors is that church size is the single most important factor in determining success. The second most implied message, and perhaps the most dangerous is that true godliness always results in quantitative growth, not qualitative growth. In conjunction with this is the message that you do spiritual things in order to get visible results. The debate used to be doxological versus soteriological. Our culture now says that you do not seek godliness to glorify God (doxological), you pursue godliness to achieve personal success (egological).

I can't say that numerical success isn't biblical. For example, we have Pentecost as a huge numerical growth because God was working. But for every Pentecost in Scripture there is also an Isaiah (no one listens), a Jeremiah (no one cares) and a Jesus in Capernaum (John 6:67 - everyone leaves).

So at a conference like The Rock Conference where the focus is shifted away from numerical success there is a definite tension. All of the questions we normally ask just don't seem to fit. That's because we've been conditioned to ask questions that have at their core the desire to be successful in the bigger, better, how many, how much realm rather than at the realm of faithfulness and character. Man looks at the outward appearance. God looks at the heart.

Kent Hughes, Success and The Rock Conference

I slipped my carefully crafted certified letter—return receipt requested—into the post office mail slot.

For many days before sending that letter, I consistently expected to reap excellent fruit from my work. But, as I walked away from the post office, I felt sudden despair and dread. I whispered, This is ridiculous. He won’t come. He has no clue who I am. He doesn’t know any of our guys. He won’t even respond. Maybe he’ll respond. But he’ll say, ‘No.’

When Kent Hughes called me a couple of weeks later, I didn’t take the call. I didn’t recognize the number. But then I decided I should figure out who was calling. Good thing, because it was Kent Hughes trying to say Yes to my invitation. So much for the power of suddenly negative thinking.

This is very good. Kent Hughes is spending the day with us at The Rock Conference to talk about success in ministry. And we’ll worship in music, we’ll pray, we’ll discuss how to apply the Scriptures in leading the local church.

The Rock Conference will define Success in the local church the way the Lord defines it, as described in the Scriptures. We want to build a commitment to embrace the Lord’s definition of success.

That’s Monday, April 15, at Calvary Bible Church, just west of Detroit in Ypsilanti, Mich. It’s for pastors and church leaders.

Edify. Protect. Encourage. Support. I’m expecting a most excellent, fruitful day.

Miracle Grow in a Seed Church

Planting a church that pops up strong ordinarily takes some time . . . maybe as long as nine months from seed stage to the day it goes public. It usually takes time to build the seed of a solid core group and get everybody ready for ministry. Why? Because the work needs to draw gifted servants and develop strong roots of relationships, leadership, service, doctrine and organization. Those roots help hold the plant in place when hard days come.

On launch day, of course you want people who visit the new church to connect with the Lord. You also want them to say, Wow, these people really know what they’re doing. This looks like a church that’s about two or three years old. That means all things are in order and done well, from the location to signage to genuine friendliness to worship to preaching to child care. Yes, better emphasize child care. It doesn’t matter how good everything else is, if parents worry that their babies and older children aren’t cared for properly, they won’t be coming back.

seed stage.jpg

I figure there’s several reasons for that. It’s true that a planting pastor who parachutes in to a new location has a tough row to hoe. Much also depends on the ground where you're throwing the seed. If there's a few healthy churches in the area, it's probably going to be tougher to grow the church. Perhaps there's maybe one Bible-preaching church in the area where we're planting. Perhaps the people of the area also already know the planting pastor, which makes things easier. But that’s far from enough. The Lord puts together a core of praying people who are gifted, mature and passionate about Christ and his church. They also know how to make connections between vision and action. And whatever they don’t know, they’re teachable to learn what’s needed and then act upon it. That’s miracle grow stuff for the seed of the church.

New 5Stone Partner: Calvary Bible Church

FiveStone Churches is delighted to welcome Calvary Bible Church in Ypsilanti, Mich. as a partner church to the FiveStone network. Calvary is a vibrant congregation that is making, baptizing and teaching disciples of Jesus Christ.

Brian Jones, Calvary’s senior pastor, also will join the Elders Council governing board of FiveStone Churches.

So . . . what’s Brian about in local church ministry?

I love studying the Scriptures and helping people understand and apply them to their lives, he said.
And why join FiveStone Churches? It’s rooted in our four core commitments: Edify, Protect, Encourage and Support church leaders. Check out Brian’s comments:

Starting a new church can be lonely as you form your core group and are doing all kinds of ministry. It’s difficult to improve your skills in evangelism, preaching, discipleship and administration without mentors who can pass on to you what they've learned.
Having done all these things alone, I know the power of participating in a network of like-minded churches. Calvary’s relationship with FiveStone Churches will give us an opportunity to help plant new churches.

And, because FiveStone connects us with leaders of other established churches, we hope to learn from those who are serving the Lord skillfully and to pass on what we've learned as well. We're excited to be part of this new network for the glory of God.

Read more about Brian Jones on the Our Leadership Team page on the FiveStone Churches website: http://www.fivestonechurches.org/AboutUs/Our-Leadership-Team.aspx.
And check out Calvary Bible Church's website for more about the church, as well as an article about the FiveStone Churches relationship: http://calvarybible.org/category/ministries/missions/

Grid Q5: Relational Ability

Staff ministry leaders need to rightly handle all kinds of people, even the dull, boring, angry and annoying. They also must be effective in various working environments—solo, one-on-one and in various types and sizes of groups. Everyone has favored and best-suited working environments, but it’s important to get an advance sense of a candidate’s abilities and preferences before he ends up in a key staff leadership position. Why? To see if he’ll mesh in the church’s culture and if he’ll grate against the requirements of the ministry leadership position. Also, of course, to discern a sin problem that will undermine his ministry and cause him to outright fail or to damage the church. Relational ability is deeply connected to integrity, spiritual maturity and godliness.

Here are a few items that help get at the root of the issue:

• Describe a circumstance when you’ve successfully solved complex people problems.
• Are you an empathetic person, i.e. Can you authentically weep with those who weep and can you rejoice with those who rejoice? (Romans 12:15)
• Are you partial—or are you tempted to be partial—to those who are financially wealthy, powerful, influential, prominent or physically attractive? (Proverbs 24:23-26; Acts 10:34; James 2)
• And the flipside of partiality, but equally harmful: Do you disdain—or are you tempted to disdain—those who are financially wealthy, powerful, influential, prominent or physically attractive?

Oftentimes it’s not possible to know what a man will do until a tough reality stands before him. Is the church in a financial crunch? Is there something to be gained by laughing at a coarse joke told by a powerful person in the church? Then playing in partiality for the wealthy and the powerful is an ugly temptation. Has a wealthy or powerful person from the past hurt you or caused immense harm in the church? Then there may be an overwhelming temptation to disdain warm relationships with people who enjoy wealth, power, influence or prominence. Only one who is unusually principled and strong can discern the motives of his own heart, clearly foresee the fruit of his own actions and turn away from the temptation.

But until someone demonstrates deep integrity that proves authenticity, you never know what that person will do in extreme difficulty. For the book, Auschwitz, author Laurence Rees interviewed many former Nazis and those who survived the death camp in Poland during World War II. Rees repeatedly noted that extraordinary circumstances and their accompanying pressures squeeze out the reality that lurks in a person’s heart, revealing either a horrific ugliness or a golden excellence.

Rees wrote: Just as water exists as water only within a certain temperature range and is steam or ice in others, so human beings can become different people according to extremes of circumstances. And, while interviewing a formerly devoted Nazi, Rees pressed the man about why so many people went along with the horrors of the regime. The man’s annoyed response: The trouble with the world today is that people who have never been tested go around making judgments about people who have.

That’s why, in the church, it’s crucial to ask the right questions, in the right way, with a thoughtful discernment, to get the right person in church leadership.

Grid Q4: Integrity

Everybody likes the idea of integrity. Not as many like the reality of the quality’s requirements. You can point to a success or list a position of influence but, if they haven’t been gained and maintained through integrity, then those successes and power points are no better than wood, hay and stubble.

Integrity is a key measure of a person’s qualification for ministry leadership in the local church. Integrity is a big deal because it’s a principle—a basic belief that governs behavior—in the Christian life. Integrity can be tough to discern because some people are very good at pretending to be more than they are.

The cool facts of integrity prove the authenticity of a claim. A plastic cup, for example, is not a crystal goblet. How do you know? A crystal goblet has specific characteristics that prove its authenticity. Crystal has a certain weight, a distinct ring when flicked with a finger and a specific look when held up to the light. Crystal is appreciated and cared for in a way that is distinctly different from plastic. A plastic cup lacks the characteristics of a crystal goblet. It lacks the marks of integrity that prove authenticity. It must not matter that a plastic cup loudly and persuasively claims to be a crystal goblet. It lacks the traits of crystal and, when added to the traits of plastic, mark it as an authentic plastic cup.

It’s much like that in a man of integrity, except he’s not inclined to claim crystal for himself (Proverbs 27:2). There’s a certain solidity demonstrated when you bump up to him in discussion, in matters that reveal heart and mind and spirit. He bears the marks of integrity that prove his authenticity as a mature and close follower of Christ. He’s authentic. He’s described in Psalm 15.

Getting a glimpse of a person’s integrity can be gained by asking a few key questions and listening thoughtfully to the answers. The person of integrity will have no worries about opening himself honestly in a discussion about integrity. He already knows Proverbs 10:9.

Here are several example questions:

  • Do you do what you say you will do, even if it hurts you or causes you difficulty or pain?
  • Do you ever pretend to be more than you are?
  • Describe a difficult failure in your life.
  • Do you accurately describe past successes or are you prone to exaggerate in order to impress others?
  • What is the condition of your finances and your handling of money and possessions?

These answers to these questions and similar questions reveal whether a person is genuine and authentic, shades the truth to his advantage, is trustworthy or cunning, mean-spirited or charitable, or has allowed the Lord to teach him in failure.

Grid Q3: Emotional Health

Before entrusting someone to a key staff leadership slot in the local church, be sure to look for indicators of the person’s emotional health. No, it doesn't include probing into the hidden psychological ramifications of the candidate’s relationship with his father. It’s looking at specific behaviors, beliefs and attitudes that bring the greatest opportunity for ministry success that pleases the Lord.

Below are a few discussion points that can help determine how the person’s emotional health will affect the church’s ministry:

  • What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses? (Can the candidate honestly and openly reveal himself? Discern whether there’s sinful pride in discussing strengths, or hiding for self-protection, or sinful self-deprecation—a reverse pride—in discussing weaknesses. Boasting about gifts and talents is like boasting about the color of your hair. 1 Corinthians 4:7.)
  • Describe a circumstance where you exhibited self-control in your speech in relationship with others. (Although some people in the church spout off whatever criticism happens to be on their minds, Proverbs 18:2. A ministry leader does not enjoy the luxury of freedom of speech. Why? Because he has immense power to either preserve unity or cause dissension in the church through what he says about the ministry. He must exercise self-control in his speech and reserve more difficult discussions for those leaders who can make a healthy difference in the church.)
  • Do you rejoice in the success and progress of others? Do you affirm someone else’s contributions to a project’s success? (A leader who fails to rejoice in the success of others is not worthy of followers. A leader who takes credit for the work of others is not worthy of followers. Those failures lead to simmering resentments that build over time and lead to a multitude of sins. Paul’s selfless leadership and generous commendations should be standard practice for leaders in the Lord’s church: 1 Corinthians 16:15-18; Colossians 1:3-8;  2 Thessalonians 1:3-4.)
  • Can you forgive a person who has wronged you? How do you know whether you’ve forgiven a person? (It’s easy and proper to say, Of course, I forgive. Much harder to live forgiveness in daily difficulties. I like the answer from a senior pastor about how he knew he forgave an offense: Don’t wish ill will. Do something good for the person.)

The best results on the assessment grid’s Emotional Health scale comes from those who consistently—not perfectly—demonstrate personal discipline and Spirit-led self-control. They have excellent self-knowledge so that they accurately see themselves and their effect on others. They discern what’s motivating their own feelings and actions. They receive criticism and seek to grow in godliness. They freely affirm the strengths and successes of others. They can speak of their own strengths and weaknesses in leadership and in the Christian life.

The worst results: undisciplined, low self-control, weak self-awareness, highly defensive, secretly or overtly hostile to the success of others, inflated view of personal strengths and small understanding of personal weaknesses.

Most people, of course, are somewhere in between the best and the worst. But significant, and sometimes hidden, emotional health problems can torpedo a leader’s ministry and damage the church.

Do yourself a favor. Lead with wisdom and discernment. Get a handle on the candidate’s emotional health before handing over the keys to ministry leadership. Acts 20:28.

Grid Q2: Doctrine and Ministry Compatibility

Each church and each church network is steeped in a culture. That culture includes assumptions that define acceptable and rejected behaviors, beliefs and attitudes. Some of the specifics are never spoken but they’re easily observable. A pastor friend, who didn’t fit with the culture of behaviors and attitudes of his church’s key leaders, sadly complained to me, These are the guys I hated in junior high school. That’s says it all. He didn’t fit with the culture, he failed to influence any element of the culture, and he’s out.

Before hiring a man or woman into a key leadership slot, it’s honoring to the Lord to take care in the process. Leaders are not dealing with car parts carelessly and thoughtlessly placed and then ripped out and tossed aside. The Lord expects his leaders to be strong and decisive, but leaders also must handle his people respectfully and thoughtfully; Luke 22:24-30.

That’s where process is key.  An assessment grid is a useful tool in the process of staff hiring. But Hey, the guy is a gifted communicator or Wow, he’s an amazing worship leader.

Leaders anxious to fill long-empty slots in their ministry team might be seduced into thinking that a candidate’s up-front gifting proves under-the-surface development and depth. Of course, no leader wants to admit that gifting dims discernment. So, just to be sure, it’s wise to create a biblical—not psychological—assessment process to get to know a candidate. A thoughtful assessment should include many categories. A primary category: Doctrine and Ministry Compatibility with the specific church or church network.

Here are some of the 16 topics included in the Doctrine and Ministry Compatibility category of the FiveStone Churches Pastor Assessment Grid:

• Open Theism versus Omniscience
• Creation versus Theistic Evolution versus Evolution
• the Blessed Hope (Titus 2:13)
• Sovereign Election versus Human Choice in salvation

Include discussion of other arenas for anyone in a vocational, pastoral position in the local church. Example: Describe the pastor’s role and other individual roles in leading the local congregation, i.e. plurality of leaders model versus Moses model.

From these topics and others, the church’s leaders should get a good handle on how well the candidate fits the doctrine and ministry culture of the local church. An individual’s public gifting must never blind the leaders to the price that will be extracted from the church if the candidate’s doctrine and ministry commitments do not match the church’s culture.

Future articles about assessing candidates will look at topics such as emotional health, relational ability, personal integrity and vision.

Grid Q1: Relationship with the Lord

I’m working with a pastor to help him get a better picture of himself . . . and to help him serve most effectively in the local church.

What do you look at when you’re measuring a man and his ministry? Try an assessment grid. But there’s a guiding principle in using such a grid: Never use it as an adversary, but use it as a fellow brother in the fight for the good of the church and the building up of the Lord’s servant leader.

Below are core categories taken from the FiveStone Churches Pastor Assessment Grid:

• Relationship with the Lord
• Doctrine and Ministry Compatibility (with the specific church and church network)
• Emotional Health
• Relational Ability
• Marriage and Sons and Daughters Relationships
• Personal Integrity
• Vision and Philosophy of Ministry
• Spiritual Gifts and Natural Talents
• Knowledge and Understanding of Church Planting and Church Growth
• Concluding Inferences (garnered from all of the previous information)

Relationship with the Lord
Listen closely to the man’s salvation experience. How clearly does he tell the story
and what is revealed when he tells it? Does his experience square with the Scriptures’ teaching on salvation? A man who can clearly and joyfully tell share own salvation likely can share the gospel with an unbeliever. Listen as he describes his personal devotions in Bible study. Consider factors such as frequency, intensity, systems and study tools. Ask him about his life in prayer and meditation. Is meditation OK? What’s the difference between prayer and meditation? Ask him to describe the hardest, breaking experiences that he’s been through as a believer and as an unbeliever and ask him to explain how they have affected his relationship with the Lord and with others. How does he serve others as a result of his relationship with the Lord and the knowledge of His ways. Does he have a heart for the poor and the disadvantaged? What does he do that reveals he cares for the poor and disadvantaged?

If handled skillfully and thoughtfully, those few discussion points can paint a pretty good picture of the man’s relationship with the Lord.

Some men seem to have an uncommon closeness to the Lord that is revealed in the fruit of regular and deep devotions. That man exhibits large evidence of communion with the Lord. How? The Scriptures are not merely spoken from his lips but they are imbedded in his thinking, in how he processes the everyday activities and common problems of life. He exhibits the fruit of the Spirit not perfectly, of course, but consistently. When he falls, he gets back up and goes on to be better. He’s driven by His relationship with the Lord rather than what many in church world might describe as Success. He has an obvious understanding of and reliance upon the Lord’s ways.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are others (even in pastoral ministry or in leadership of a local church) who cannot clearly and biblically articulate their own salvation experience. Or sometimes their testimony is mechanical and cold. They have irregular and perfunctory devotions, what I call 10-minute Croutons. They seem to have little communion with the Lord. The Scriptures do not drive their thinking or, of course, their behavior. They often are strong in themselves. There’s little or no understanding of and reliance upon the Lord’s ways.

Most of us range in the middle portion of the spectrum in our relationship with the Lord. But it’s crucial to know. There’s nothing good in self-deception. It never fails that, as I assess others, I always end up assessing myself. James 1:22-25.

5Stone Churches @ Moody Pastors Conference

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We had an excellent three days at the Moody Pastors Conference in Chicago this week. The conference was supposed to help pastors renew their vision for ministry. I don't know how many hundreds were at the conference, but we were one of a few dozen exhibitors. We heard from a lot of pastors and had many opportunities to discuss our work to plant, strengthen and renew churches.

Joyce Zwirkoski, bottled water and assorted booth goodies.  

Charisma is Not so Great

Charismatic leadership by itself certainly is greatly overstated. Look, one of the most effective American presidents of the last 100 years was Harry Truman. He didn't have an ounce of charisma. Truman was as bland as a dead mackerel. Everybody who worked for him worshiped him because he was absolutely trustworthy. – Peter Drucker

Wow, what an astute observation from the fine mind of Peter Drucker. He knew a lot about society and business, but some of his most excellent observations focused on leadership. I don’t know if Peter Drucker was a Christian, but he understood Jesus’ teaching about leadership.

It’s a bad day in the church when a leader’s power frightens other leaders from speaking the truth or, maybe worse, blinds them to major problems in a leader's character. And it’s a sad day in the church when a delusional leader thinks that people are following because he’s God's man. Maybe they’re following because of the perks of following, such as high pay, high visibility, job security, protection or enjoying the shine that comes from hanging out with him. Very sad when a person on the pastoral staff of a local church shows symptoms of the Stockholm syndrome, in which he warps himself into sympathizing and caring for the abuser in order to survive. Amazing.

It seems that the world’s ways of leadership have infiltrated the church. It’s the sin in the leader who says, People believe what they’re told. That’s how leadership works. It’s Ephesians 2:2 . . . the spirit of the age, the manipulation by spin, the truth is not the truth, the truth is what I say it is.

How is it that a man as ordinary as Harry Truman could gather so many people behind him who loved him so much? If Drucker's assessment is correct, then Truman’s brilliance was rooted in his character, in the ordinary days of life when people trusted him to do what he said he would do and to shoot straight with them. He had integrity that proved his authenticity, which led to trust and then to leadership. In a genuinely Christian way, whether he knew it or not, Truman served people.

That's character-driven leadership rather than personality-driven leadership. It shouldn't be surprising that the ways of Jesus are proven as the best practice even in the secular world of Harry Truman. And the leadership ways of Jesus should be the obviously best practice in church world.

Character-driven leadership must be the benchmark standard in the local church. Not charisma, although charisma's a fine quality. Not preaching, although preaching's a wonderful gift. Not personality, although a big personality doesn't need to be a problem. 

There's more to the think about in the differences between godly leadership and man-centered leadership. Click on the link to a document titled The Ways of Leadership. It details the differences between the two in motivation, relational style and responses to various leadership challenges.

Five Stones Identified – Part 2

Integrity proves authenticity.

Authenticity leads to Trust.

Trust leads to Leadership.

Leaders Serve.

I was listening to talk radio this morning. The show host was spouting off about Washington politics, and said, “People are looking for authentic candidates.” Then he went on to rip a U.S. senator who switched parties early in 2009 in response to polls showing he might be on the wrong side of voter sentiments. He hammered the authentic nail several times before moving on to something else.

Authenticity is good. But what’s wrong with some pragmatism thrown in? That’s simply practical wisdom, right? Politicians like to get elected, but there’s nothing like the thrill of re-election. If a politician figures he’d be more likely to get elected by switching allegiances, then that’s OK, isn’t it? It’s part of the game. Well, sure, for politicians. But it’s death for leaders in the local church.

Leaders in the local church are supposed to have commitments based on the rock of principles, not the marsh of pragmatics. There are some things a principled leader will and will not do, regardless of whether he wins or loses. A principled church elder, for example, is obligated to speak his mind regardless of political costs. In contrast, a pragmatic elder counts the noses and measures the muscle of who's on which side, and then picks his position based upon who will win. That way, he’s always on the winning side. How pathetic.

Thank the Lord that He counts success and failure by His unique scale of measure. The parable of the Good Shepherd in John 10 is a prime example of the shepherd who leads by principle rather than pragmatics. No cost is too high for this shepherd. He’s committed no matter what comes, no matter what price. The superb fruit of this principled commitment is that the sheep love him. And he can be certain that the Lord is pleased with him.

The relationship between the shepherd and the sheep is personal. This shepherd has demonstrated integrity in his commitment to the sheep. The sheep know him to be solid, unwavering, dependable. His integrity, revealed in difficulties and in time, proves to the sheep that he is authentic. This shepherd is genuine. He is worthy of their trust. And, because they trust the shepherd, they peacefully let him lead. The sheep hear his voice and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow. John 10:3-4.

That’s when leadership is so satisfying. The people of the church trust their leaders and the leaders enjoy leading. But, always, the hard part comes. It’s the sacrifice of service. It’s easy to lead when all is calm and there is no danger of painful loss. It’s easy to lead when you know in advance who will win. Unlike the pragmatic politician who tests the winds of public opinion and then pretends to take his stand, the shepherd worthy of being followed take his stand to lead God’s people in God’s way regardless of opposition and regardless of cost. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. John 10:11-13.

Leadership in the Lord’s church frequently requires the payment of a high price. That’s because leading like Jesus demands giving rather than getting. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15

Leaders serve in sacrifice . . . by using their spiritual gifts and talents for equipping the saints for the building up of the church . . . by looking out for the interests of others first . . . by patiently caring for the church . . . by quickly obeying whatever the Father asks because that pleases Him. That’s leading like Jesus. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again . . . This charge I have received from my Father. John 10:17-18.

Five Stones Identified – Part 1

Everything in the local church rises and falls on the quality of its leadership. Quality is not ultimately about ability to lead. It’s about the character and the commitments of the individual leader.

The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1 urged believers to follow his leadership, but only as he followed Christ. Church leaders must strive to be like Jesus. He was marked by Integrity, Authenticity, Trust, Leadership, Service.

The dictionary says integrity means steadfast adherence to a code; soundness; completeness. Authenticity means genuine, worthy of trust, reliance or belief.

Integrity and authenticity are not the same. Integrity describes a quality, as in “He’s a man of integrity.” Authenticity describes an evaluation based upon pre-determined characteristics, as in “He’s an authentic Christian.”  How would you know that he’s authentic? Jesus said in Matthew 7:16, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” The authentic Christian is marked by characteristics that prove authenticity. He has an identity revealed by evidence. Fruit is not so much about measurable accomplishments in the Christian life. It is far more about measurable character in the Christian life. How’s that? Because the Bible tells us that the Lord cares a lot more about my true character than He does about my so-called accomplishments. My character is to be built on the solid foundation rock of Christ. Like living stones, the apostle Peter said, we in the church are being built up as a spiritual house to be acceptable to God.


When I was a small boy, I pretended to drive my dad’s cars. When I opened the driver’s door, I looked down and saw an emblem of a fancy carriage embossed on the door-sill. The words Body by Fisher were emblazoned on the emblem. I knew that Body by Fisher meant that the car was special.

The car had an authentic Body by Fisher. How did I know? Because it had the mark that proved its integrity. It held to certain standards of soundness and solidity. I had no idea what those marks of integrity were and I didn’t care. As a small boy, all I knew was that the emblem meant that the car was special. The emblem proved that the car had a certain quality that made it worthy to bear the emblem Body by Fisher. It was authentic. Integrity proves authenticity.

It works the same way in church leadership. Integrity in a leader’s life demonstrates that he’s authentic. When people know a leader is authentic, they trust him. Nobody joyfully follows—or truly trusts—a coward, a bully, a liar or a hypocrite. They may follow out of fear or force or for something else. But if you could unzip the follower's heart and dig for the truth, the leader would be disqualified. In the economy set by Jesus Christ, such leaders should have no followers . . . so they would not be leaders at all. Authenticity leads to trust.

A person who aspires to lead in the church should first examine the purity of his integrity and authenticity and discern whether he is known by those fruits. One who is gifted, but lacks integrity and authenticity, may gain a position of leadership based upon his talent. But his followers never will follow him like the disciples followed Jesus. Leadership in the Lord’s church is to be based upon trust. Trust leads to leadership.

The leader in the church is to serve others. He’s not a king in his own kingdom or a general in his own army. He’s a simple shepherd in the service of the Great Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. And that’s all the leader should aspire to be. Leaders serve.

Focus Right, Build Right

I used to take a lot of photos with an old and heavy Nikkormat 35 millimeter camera. It was a fine camera but, before every shot, I had to fiddle with the f-stop and the shutter speed. I’d be sure to get those settings right. I framed the shot right and did just about everything else right. Even so, if the focus was wrong, then the entire photograph was trashed. But if I focused right, then the photo turned out pretty well. It’s like that in the local church.

We want the results that come with right focus. The Lord used Paul to reset a few focus points for the church in 1 Corinthians 3: 4-15. And the Lord used Peter to help believers focus on the truth of their identity and purpose. The focus of FiveStone Churches comes from their words:

1. Jesus Christ is the foundation of the church (1 Corinthians 3:11);
2. church leaders are His workers (1 Corinthians 3:9);
3. disciples of Christ are His building (1 Corinthians 3:9);
4. build on the foundation with precious stones (1 Corinthians 3:12);
5. build disciples of Christ (1 Peter 2:5). 

Strong believers and strong churches stand like solid buildings. They’re built on the foundation rock of Jesus Christ. They’re built on relationship with Him and commitments to His word, His ways and His expectations. I’m thankful for the words of Christ to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3. The Lord commends doctrinal purity, hard work, faithfulness, endurance, perseverance and service. The Lord won’t long tolerate false doctrine, pride, complacency and apathy. (It’s encouraging to note that His review of the seven churches includes no hint of the number of people in each local church. A small church can be a great church.)

So we are to build on the foundation of Christ. But who does the construction? Leaders who understand that they’re nothing but servants in the Lord’s work. Paul rebuked the Corinthians because they focused on big personalities. The Corinthians created factions that, if left to grow, would have fractured the church. It’s not about a Paul and it’s not about an Apollos. They’re just servants used by the Lord to build disciples, who are God’s building, as Paul put it.

And with what do you build? You build with stones that are precious in the Lord’s eyes. He has an economy of values. The stones He values may not be very precious in the world’s economy. But they certainly are precious in His economy. And, of course, His opinion is the opinion that counts. Peter says the Lord is pleased when disciples are built into a holy, spiritual house, offering Him spiritual sacrifices.

The Lord wants His disciples constructed on a specific foundation in a certain way using specific materials. The specific materials are the five stones Jesus described in John 10:1-18. Integrity, Authenticity, Trust, Leadership and Service.