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Compassion Instead of Criticism

“One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting everyone else to give it up. That is not the Christian way.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Spinning Plates

I used to try and maintain a perfect Christian existence. Have you ever attempted this impossible labyrinth of legalism? It appears as holiness but is rooted in your strength instead of God’s.

A perfect Christian existence requires spinning the plates of holiness at all times. Every delicate dish of relationship and acceptance of others exists on top of thin, tall sticks of religious performance. 

It is no wonder that approach leads to comparison, criticism, and burnout. You have to always spin, spin, spin, to keep the system going. Neither you nor anyone else is allowed to make mistakes. Wobble, spin, spin.

This balancing act led me to be overly critical of myself and others. Maybe you can see the same attributes in your life. Wobble, wobble, spin.

My help came across as judgment instead of love. Spin, spin, spin. Those close to me interacted with me as if they were stepping on thin ice that cracked with every step. Wobble, wobble, spin. They were afraid to make mistakes around me. Spin, wobble, CRASH! 

I thought to permit myself and others to make mistakes would be licensing compromise. In actuality, it would just be allowing people to be human. Let’s take the plates off of the fragile poles of human effort and place them back on the table of God’s loving-kindness. Spinning plates are impressive, but we can’t eat off of the inevitable shattered pieces. 

A Distorted Lens

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.”

– Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

When you have an impossible standard for yourself, you tend to hold others to the same requirements. It is like Judah Smith said in Jesus Is, “No sooner do I conquer a bad habit than I become the biggest critic of anyone who still does what I just stopped doing.” 

Wearing this distorted lens of Christianity causes you to judge others by their actions and yourself by your intentions. You need to take these wonky glasses off if you are going to get out of your spiritual rut. It is not an authentic way to live. It is just a survival mechanism of a graceless Christianity. 

The fruit from this kind of root leads to gossip and gaining false justification from your own religious activities. We can do better than this. 

Here is how you can take the first step.

Start with It 

“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.”

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Until you can give yourself grace, you will not have compassion for anyone else. Expecting perfection causes you to see the cup of everyone else’s life as half empty.

Do not make people have to earn your kindness. Start with it. If not, you end up complaining more than encouraging. Making a change in this area will cause what was once an inconvenience to be an opportunity to reflect the love of God. Being a dispenser of grace fills your life with the kind of fruit that brings God glory and you meaning. When you start with grace, you become too busy enjoying your faith to get sidetracked by the things that pollute it.

Do not make people have to earn your kindness. Start with it. If not, you end up complaining more than encouraging. Making a change in this area will cause what was once an inconvenience to be an opportunity to reflect the love of God. Being a dispenser of grace fills your life with the kind of fruit that brings God glory and you meaning. When you start with grace, you become too busy enjoying your faith to get sidetracked by the things that pollute it.

This blog is an excerpt from my new mini-book, Surviving Religious Burnout, is out now. You can order it at Amazon, Kindle, Apple Books, and Barnes and Noble.

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4 Things You May Not Know About Church Planting

Church planters are like the special forces of ministry. It takes courage to launch out into the unknown to serve people you have never met. It’s a worthy cause and one filled with lots of surprises along the way.

Some of the things I have learned working with church planters at ARC is what you would expect. Church planting is risky. You should get lots of experience leading and teaching in a local church before launching out. It requires a lot of coffee. Others were a surprise to discover. 

Here are 4 things you may not have considered about church planting:

Fundraising is easier and harder than you think.

When you make fundraising about the vision and the people you are going to reach, then it becomes much easier to make the ask. You are not asking for you. You are asking for the people you are going to reach. This frees you up to step out because you know what people are giving to is going to make an eternal difference.

This doesn’t mean fundraising is easy. In fact, in some ways fundraising is harder than you think. It is not something that starts or stops in the launch phase of a church plant. It starts long before you have the need by being faithful and considerate in the way you build relationships. It continues long after the launch because your church will continue to utilize financial resources to grow, reach more people, and serve the hurting and overlooked.

There is a language to church planting.

You must learn and speak the language of a church planter if you are going to start a church. When Jesus spoke he used stories and illustrations that were common to those he was speaking to. Church planters must use the same principle when starting a church.

You speak the language of a church planter when you translate insider Christian language into messaging everyone can understand. One way to do this is by communicating your reason for planting a church in a way that is meaningful to not only someone who already values faith and spirituality, but those you hope to reach as well. 

How you leave one season determines how you enter the next.

If you want to reap in favor, then you need to sow in honor. Even the best transitions can be challenging because a disconnection is taking place. When you speak well of, honor, and respect the wishes of your sending pastor you are investing in your own future by attracting loyal followers yourself.

When you go into your city it can be easy to only think of the needs of your new church plant. But remember, you are entering a community of existing churches. One day, you will be on the other end of a new church planter moving into your area. Lead the way with honor. Create an environment of unity in your city by asking how you can serve the other churches in your community instead of asking what they can do for you.

It takes longer than you think

You may be able to launch your church with ARC in as short as 6 months. This doesn’t mean everything you hoped to see will happen right away. It takes time to grow. Many times God has to grow your capacity as a leader before your church’s capacity to attract people can increase as well.

There are many aspects of your vision to start a church that will not be online for day one. Trying to get everything going all at once can lead to discouragement in you and exhaustion in your team. Dividing your focus prematurely can also lead to you not giving the essentials the attention they deserve. Parts of the vision will be realized on day one, others the next year, and still others in the years to come.

Church planting is an exciting journey filled with unexpected twists and turns. It also brings the reward of witnessing the miracle of new faith community being born first hand. If you like to find out more about starting a new church with ARC, we’d love for you to connect with us. Please go to arcchurches.com and click “start a church.” We have some free resources available to you just for reaching out.

If you are a church planter then I would love to hear from you! What were some things you didn’t expect that you found out after launching out to start a church?

*This post first appears as a contribution on KevMill.com.

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Attributes of a Church Planter

How do you know if you are a church planter? Well, if you like to wear button-down plaid shirts, then there’s a good chance you were born to plant a church. Just kidding! But it is an odd recurring phenomenon I have noticed…

There are lots of personality tests out there, and spiritual gift assessments you can take that can help you determine if you are a good fit for church planting. Ultimately, if God has called you to it, then He will equip you for it. It doesn’t matter if you fit in any particular mold or not.

If you are wondering though, here are some characteristics I have noticed effective church planters possess.

5 Attributes of a Church Planter

Evangelistic
The heart of the Great Commission to make new disciples of Jesus. Is soul winning a burning passion of yours?

Authentic
Are you comfortable being yourself? There is a difference in learning from others and wanting to be like them at the expense of being your authentic self. It is important to know the difference. If you aren’t comfortable being yourself, then others will have a hard time being comfortable around you as well.

Engaging
You cannot rely on marketing tools or other people to build your team. You must be able to attract people to the vision God has given you. This happens through being authentic and speaking the everyday language of people outside of the church. Are you someone who can engage in modern culture, or do you speak in preachy religious terms?

Honoring
You must honor where you came from, and the churches in the area where you are going. You may know “honor-speak,” but do your actions and attitudes match your words? If you are not ready to honor, even when it hurts, then you are not prepared to be a church planter.

Life-giving
You must believe the best in others. You cannot claim to have great faith, without having great faith in people. The people God sends to help you launch your church are your greatest assets.

ARC has an assessment process that does a great job giving feedback on people’s readiness to plant a church. We don’t determine your call, because we know that is between you and God. We do our best though to help you find the right timing and circumstances to launch strong. Visit arcchurches.com to find out more about our process and to apply.

What attributes do you think make a great church planter? I know there are more than just what I mentioned. I’d love to hear from you!

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Altar Call Before Protocol

Honoring the Life and Legacy of Reinhard Bonnke

*I originally shared this story on my blog four years ago, but this is an updated version I have not posted before. I have been very moved by Reinhard Bonnke’s example of faith, integrity, and winning souls. I had the chance to host him when he was speaking at Bethany in 2011. It was an amazing experience spending time with someone who is so legendary in Heaven. After that, I read his autobiography, Living a Life of Fire. In this post, I give just one example of how he has inspired me to point people to Jesus whenever I can. For context, at the time this story takes place I had just begun a job working in sales after a year and a half working in retail, and before that seven years in ministry.

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

Transitioning from retail to my role at a technology company brought about some considerable changes to my daily life. The new position gave me a regular schedule. I was now able to get more involved in church as a leader. It also provided the chance to meet some interesting people.

As part of my job, I attended a networking event called “Around the Table.” I went to many different networking meetings in hopes of generating sales during this time, but this one was different. Instead of meeting at an office or restaurant, everyone taking part gathered in various community leaders’ homes for dinner and discussion. The area chamber of commerce hosted the event, and they decided the house where you would attend, not by who you knew, but by which topics you were interested in discussing. I read through a list of questions that determined where I would have dinner. The one that jumped out at me the most was, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

That question stopped me in my tracks. I had not seriously considered it before. I had stepped out of my comfort zone by taking time away from working in ministry, but so far, it had felt mostly like a failure. It was a question that was painful for me to answer. So why not attend a dinner party with a bunch of high powered strangers and discuss it with them?

I was happy to have Amy with me that night. She dazzled everyone with her charm. She is an elegant, timeless, and beautiful. I’m not just saying that because I will get major points for putting this in my blog. She is the kind of beauty that makes you look twice. She has big bright eyes and thick dark hair. She carries herself with confidence, and I knew she would shine at that business dinner. People probably liked me more because she was there.

About the same time I was hired at my technology job, Amy was asked to work at the church we were attending. The position was to assist with their non-profit organization, HP Serve. I couldn’t think of any better ending to this crazy experiment than to end up working at our new church together.

Instead, it was Amy working closely with the church through the non-profit as I continued to be a fish out of church. Amy is extremely talented. It makes sense why they would want her on staff, but it just seemed like another reminder that my dream of being in ministry was on an indefinite hiatus.

Feeling Out of Place

At dinner, Amy told every business leader about her work to help underprivileged and disadvantaged youth through HP Serve. She had everyone interested in finding out how they could get involved. They didn’t know part of her job included fundraising, which she seemed to be doing an effecting job doing as my plus one. All for Jesus, right? I enjoyed connecting and meeting some fascinating people as well, but I felt a little insecure. Amy had all the exciting things to talk about. I was just a salesperson at a dinner attended by people much higher up on the business food chain.

When it was time to eat, high powered business owners, CEO’s, and influential people in our community all sat around the table with Amy and me. I found it difficult to relate to a group of people who had accomplished amazing things in business. One person shared they had just spent Thanksgiving in New York City watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with iconic giant balloons floating by their hotel room. I wanted to contribute to the conversation, I really did, but then I remembered some words of wisdom someone once passed onto me, “You can be silent, and people may think you are an idiot, or you can open your mouth, and remove all doubt.”

By this point, I was two years away from the ministry world I had left. I had pizza experience and could tell them how to layer the cheese just right so that the bubbly goo baked to perfection. I could share hacks for their iPhones to make the battery last longer, or which data plan would allow them to have cheaper rates while they were in Paris. But it felt like too much time had passed since I mattered as a leader in the community.

Altar Call Before Protocol

I was silent for most of the evening until they got to the point in the dinner party where they asked that question, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” As soon as the discussion began, a phrase popped into my mind, “Altar call before protocol.”

In his autobiography, Living a Life of Fire, Reinhard Bonnke mentioned God speaking this same phrase to him over and over again as he was brought before presidents, rulers, and dignitaries throughout his ministry. I believe God had brought this to my remembrance to give a little bit of confidence for what would happen next.

It was clear that God wanted me to share the gospel with these 25 strangers, and I had no idea how I was going to do that. I was so intimidated by these people that I had hardly said a word the entire night. Then before I had time to put together a game plan, the host turned to me and asked, “Josh, what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

I started with a philosophical quote in an attempt to engage the room. “Blaise Pascal says that ‘there is a God-shaped void in the heart of every man, and the only thing that can fill it is God Himself.’ If I knew I couldn’t fail, then I would spend the rest of my life helping people fill that void by connecting them to God.”

The room stared blankly at me. I need to unpack that a little, or they would think a crazy person had been invited to their fancy party.

“I would do this through writing books that show how God really is, and not how we perceive Him to be through religious filters.” Heads start to nod, and I take it a step further by sharing some of my journey to believe again with them.

“Not too long ago, I was a pastor on staff at a church. Then I felt God leading me to make a change. As a result, I ended up working in retail sales for a year and a half before working where I am now. I had to move out of my house and had to sell most of my belongings. Now that I am on the other side of the pulpit, I have had the chance to see things differently. During this time, I began to realize that I did not have a healthy way of relating to God, church life, or others. My old perspective was based on what I could do for God, instead of what God has already done for me. I want to write things that will encourage those who are down and out or feel away from God, that will help them find their way again.”

Throughout the night, people were commenting on how if they knew they couldn’t fail, then they would try and bring about positive social change. Everyone had a long list of what they thought would be the right fix. All of their ideas were admirable and selfless, but they left out the most significant force for change the world has ever known. While I had their attention, I felt it was an excellent opportunity to use that conversation to springboard into what I thought God most wanted me to say that night. “Altar call before protocol,” as Reinhard Bonnke would say.

“Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that,’ and the love of God is the most powerful force on the face of the earth. It is our best hope for the troubles our city faces. While improvements in education, law enforcement, and health care are all needed and essential, that is not what is going to change our community. Only the gospel can do that.”

Ah, That’s Nice…

Throughout the evening, after someone shared for a moment, everyone would say something like, “Ah that’s so nice. You should do that!” then move on. That’s not what happened after I shared. Instead, the owner of the home we were in, who happened to be a top executive in a Fortune 500 company, said, “Wait a second, I don’t want to move on just yet. Let’s go back to what Josh was saying. Tell us more!”

I continued, “What I have learned is that many people do not understand the gospel. The good news is not that we can get to God, but that He has already come to us in Jesus. The Bible says that He stands at the door of our hearts and knocks. Our part is not to go out and earn the right to have Him come to our house. It’s just to open the door in faith and ask him to come and sit at the table, and join us for dinner.”

After a few “amens” from the room, the host said, “You need to get to writing! That is a message people need to hear.” 

Throughout the rest of the evening, God was front and center and came up throughout our discussions. It was a fun time, and I was encouraged that God used me to share the gospel with people who I probably would have never had the chance to reach from a microphone at church.

I felt like a fish out of water that night, but I was making a difference. It is not only the preacher with the microphone that can make a difference for the Kingdom of God. That alone will never be enough. While that is needed, we also need people outside of the walls of the church, unafraid to be who God made them to be, even if there is not already a model for that. Maybe that is you?

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Fundraising Mistakes and Musts for Church Planters

Over the years at ARC I have seen some successful as well as some not so successful approaches to fundraising. Here are a few quick tips if you are looking to raise money for a church plant. 

Mistakes Church Planters Make with Fundraising

The biggest mistake people make is not making the ask at all. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to give to something you know is going to be good for the people you are reaching as well as well the person who is giving. It’s better to assume that people want to have the opportunity to be a blessing and are looking for an opportunity to be a part of what God is doing. 

The second mistake is making too strong of an ask. This can happen in multiple ways. One way is by asking someone for money who you do not have any relational equity with. You start fundraising, not with a meeting when you give a pitch, but by genuine relationship long before you make an ask. You may not always have that opportunity for long term relationship though. In this situation you want to make sure that you ask them to pray about getting involved instead of asking for money the first time you meet with them. 

The key to overcoming both of these mistakes of being too shy or too bold is to not make it about you. Make fundraising about the people you are reaching and the person who is having a chance to get involved with what God is doing.

Practical Steps to Fundraising Well

  1. Prepare for a fundraising meeting by finding out about the person you are meeting with. 
  2. Start the meeting by asking questions about them and their vision. This way you can better connect your vision to what they are already passionate about.
  3. Share your needs, but also share your vision, and your practical plan for sustainability. How are you going to get a return on their investment? 
  4. It’s always good to follow up and thank the person for their time with a personal note. 
  5. Being authentic and truly caring for each person you come into contact with may be the best fundraising strategy you can employ. 

Most pastors don’t get into church planting because they are passionate about fundraising. They step out in faith out of a love for God and people. I think we should keep these two things in front of us when fundraising. God is our source, and fundraising for a church plant is just one more way we can learn to lean on Him more.

If you would like to find out more about starting a new church with ARC, we’d love for you to connect with us. Please go to arcchurches.com and click “start a church.” We have some free resources available to you just for reaching out

*This article first appeared as a contribution in the ARC Magazine.

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The Path to Healthy

How to move forward when you feel stuck in dysfunction

My youngest daughter hates wearing jackets. Getting her to put one on is always a struggle. On the other hand, she loves playing with dolls and tiny figurines. These two things collided recently when the sleeves of her coat got stuck around her hands that were each holding toy dolls. She couldn’t get the jacket off, which made her upset, and she also could no longer play with her toys, which made her even more upset.

Here’s the problem: she would not let me take the toys out of her hands so the jacket that was keeping her from playing with her toys could be removed. As long as she was not willing to let go of the toys, she could never really be free to play with them.

My daughter’s conundrum with her toys and jacket is how we can be in many areas. It is also an accurate way to describe codependent relationships and unhealthy environments. We feel stuck, but we can’t get out, because there are things we don’t want to be removed from our hands.

If we want to move forward on the path to healthy then there are things we have to let go of first. What are you holding on to that is keeping you in a relationship or position that you know is not the best for you? Usually, the thing we think we are going to lose by letting go is the very thing we are sacrificing by holding on.

Three Options

Letting go is scary. That is why so many people choose a different response. We shouldn’t be a turtle that hides-a-way in our shells and hopes the problem goes away. Avoiding an issue never solves it, and it almost never gets better on its own. Action must be taken, but it has to be the right action.

We also shouldn’t take on the role of crusader and cut down everyone in sight with the sword of truth. It is in this situation that we must be sensitive to building up the Kingdom and not tearing it down. While steps should be taken, they should be done through the lens of humility. This is the only way to guard our hearts and protect those we want to help without responding out of offense or hurt.

The third option is to be a responsible spiritual leader who puts your own health and that of your family (or future family), ahead of your pride, position, influence, and ambitions.

A Biblical Solution

Think about what David did when he left Saul. He didn’t raise an army and split the kingdom. David didn’t harass the king and the people with reports of his mistreatment. Instead, he moved on and allowed God to settle the matter in His own time. It was many years before David was elevated from the time he was mistreated. It took even longer than that if you consider his journey to becoming king from the time he was anointed. The wilderness seasons of his life that caused him to wrestle with God and his soul allowed him to become the great leader he was.

If you find yourself in an unhealthy situation, then the odds are you have become unhealthy in at least some small way yourself, and are probably unaware. That is why, instead of putting your hope in man, you must put your confidence in Christ. That may sound a little cliche, but let me help make this practical. Instead of pointing your finger at others, be willing to expose yourself – to the right influences. You should ultimately find your value in who you are in Christ and not a title or position.

Most of what I have had to say revolves around taking responsibility yourself, and allowing God to handle the dysfunction in others. This may not be what you hoped I would advise, but I promise you this is the best way to protect yourself, the people in your circle of influence, and leave the door open for reconciliation. I am convinced reconciliation is much more of a priority to God than we realize.

Reclaiming spiritual health after experiencing dysfunction in a church or ministry can be tough. With God’s help, and if we are willing to do some soul gardening of our own, then an enjoyable, meaningful Christian experience is possible.

This is my final post in this collection. You can read the entire group of blogs by selecting the “Soul Gardening” category.

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The Messy Truth

The Power of Authenticity and Vulnerability

Today I am going to start something new. Well, in actuality, I guess I am really continuing something old. I want to start posting some Throwback Thursday posts on my blog. These will be posts I have shared in years gone by that you may not have had a chance to read. Our first #throwbackbackthursday talks about messy truths and Instagram. I think this is a fitting way to kick off this collection of posts.

The Instagram Surprise

Instagram, while currently very popular, originally caught many of us by surprise. Who would have thought that an app that distorts your already low-quality cell phone images in an effort to create social media hipster art would become America’s favorite place to view pictures of each other’s kids, pets, and yes, even “selfies?”

At the time of this writing, there are over 200 million active users in the photo-sharing network. After only two years of existence, and without generating any income through ads, Instagram sold for $1 billion. That’s a big deal for an app that limits your pics to a square on your cell phone and was mostly used from its inception by people in skinny jeans and ironic shirts to take pictures of their lattes. 

It’s now common to see people both old and young taking pictures of their food at restaurants, and holding their phones high in the air with the screen facing towards them to make sure they get everyone in for that perfect selfie. I have always enjoyed taking pictures and personally took to the fun photo app, well, instantly.

Not everyone was impressed right away though. One friend of mine refused to get on the Instagram bandwagon at first because “putting a grainy filter and adding torn edges to an already horrible photo doesn’t make it creative or art.” He now regularly posts pics of his kids and food. No “selfies” yet though…. It’s only a matter of time.

The Perfect Selfie

For a long time, I have treated the truth of my experiences, disappointments, and failures like Instagram. I have gone out of my way to give the best presentation I can. This requires that I cut out parts of my story, the panoramic view that includes the pain and doubts, in order to fit it in only what I think people want to see; the perfectly filtered little square that is easy to “like.”

No one wants that surprise pic of them just waking up posted online. We want to keep retaking the photo until we get just the right image. Then we slip that perfect filter on there to give it that nice little extra touch. Everything looks perfect. Our lives appear so wonderful, but we lose something in the process – authenticity.

It’s the same way in life. Just as there are different filters for whatever picture you would like to post online, there are also different layers of the truth you generally share with others. 

For some people, life is just a bowl of cherries. You go from one mountaintop to the other, and I’m so happy that you have that going for you. The rest of us though have to walk through valleys in-between our mountaintops. We don’t need a lesson on how to live life on the peak. We need something that is going to get us through the valley.

Authenticity and Vulnerability

Authenticity and vulnerability are what give that to people, but it comes at a risk. The risk is rejection, and possibly some of your pride. The reward is a strength you never knew you had, and freedom to be exactly who you were made to be – an imperfect child of God that walks in the peace of knowing you are His. This liberates you from the weighty limitation of trying to maintain everyone else’s expectations. This is the battle that I had to overcome before I could start sharing my fish out of church story. I have honestly, never stopped wrestling with it.

It was while with a friend in downtown Baton Rouge when I think I first decided to step past this barrier and share my journey in a vulnerable way. We had our cameras with us and were exploring places to take photographs. As the conversation progressed, he eventually asked me why I left the ministry. I told him it was never my intention to be out of the church world, but I that I was glad things didn’t work out the way I planned.

My Messy Truth

Then, instead of putting a filter on things, and summing it up in a way where we could both end the conversation with, “Praise the Lord!” and a smile, I began to share with him my messy truth. I talked about my doubts, disappointments, and unanswered questions. I didn’t share the promises I was standing on at the time, because I had lost my ability to do anything but kneel a long time ago. 

We talked about how I didn’t know what was next, and how things would end, but that I have never felt more satisfied in my relationship with God, and with who I was becoming in the process. He listened unconditionally. He didn’t give advice about where I had obviously fallen short, or how he would have done it differently to avoid some of my wrong turns. Instead, he offered support. At one point he even said, “I hope you are writing this down. This could be a book!” I had thought about writing my story down for others before, but his encouragement that day is what pushed me over the edge. After this conversation, I began to wonder if what I had experienced could encourage others who were in a valley themselves, or ready for a new way of looking at their religious comfort zone.

There is a place for discretion and even Instagram filters. I am all for that. Sometimes though, I want to know what is going on outside of the square. I want the Imax version of the story. The messy truth can leave the hearer flabbergasted. It may even confront their own lack of authenticity, and cause them to reject you. The messy truth does not say how you want things to be; it just says how they are. It is the unwrapped present, the selfie without the filter or the posing. It leaves things hanging. When you are finished sharing the messy truth there are usually more questions than answers. It’s real, raw, but it is also refreshing when Christ is in the center of it.

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How to Make Assumptions and Ruin Your Relationships

What to do if your ministry leaders are driving your crazy.

Have you ever adopted the philosophy, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness then it is to ask for permission?”

When we become convinced we are not going to get the answer we are looking for, it can become easy to attempt to avoid the unavoidable. I did this over and over as a kid. If I didn’t want to risk, because I already knew what my parents were going to say, I would just venture out on my own without them. Of course, memorable consequences were always the result.

There have been times when I have brought this mindset into adulthood. Maybe you have as well. These situations seem to happen frequently when a transition is a possibility in a church role.

Avoiding the Unavoidable

We delay, until it is too late, or avoid, while the issue only grows because we assume we know how our leaders will respond. We try to be faithful to people who are secretly driving us crazy, and somehow believe this is what God would want us to do.

When we do this, we rob the other person of the opportunity to redeem the situation. We short circuit the possibility of reconciliation. When we have an issue with a friend or leader but are unwilling to address it, we become un-Christlike. Jesus addressed the problem with us head-on. He dove into our mess and created a masterpiece. Jesus is not an avoider, and neither should you be.

“Assumption is life’s lowest level of knowledge.”

— Edwin Louis Cole

It is best not to assume, but if you do, assume the best. You need to be willing to hear people out on issues that concern you, and not just think they are aware of what is making you so unhappy. Isn’t that what you would like others to do for you?

Judge and Jury

Have you become the judge, jury, and executioner for your leadership, or are you willing to hear them out? Have you argued your case in front of so many other people, that you are convinced your leadership is the enemy no matter what? Or have you brought the situation to God in prayer and can now bring up your issues with the right heart?

Bringing criticisms to others puts us so far out on a limb that we can’t come back even in the small chance (tongue in cheek here) that we may be wrong. On the other hand, bringing concerns to God in prayer prepares our hearts to bring up issues with humility and a heavenly perspective.

If you do feel like you are stuck in an unhealthy church situation, then you need to be willing to talk to someone in leadership about your specific concerns. To hear someone out, you must approach, even something that has genuinely upset you, with humility. If you walk into a room and say, “Why are you a terrible leader that is so committed to ruining the lives of others?” Then you are probably not genuinely giving that person a chance to be heard. If something specific is bothering you, then you need to be willing to bring it up to someone in leadership, or you do not need to bring it up at all.

Still, this does not solve every situation. That is why I want to talk about “the path to healthy” in my next post.

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How to Spot Dysfunction

The Hard Reality of an Unhealthy Church Culture

By: Josh Roberie

Falling for Autumn

What season has your favorite weather? For me, it is Fall; hands down. Maybe if I had better abs, I would enjoy pool weather more. But as of now, I and my potbelly LOVE the feel and smell of cool crisp Autumn air.

The leaves are falling in Birmingham, and I could not be happier. My oldest daughter loves to collect these firey snowflakes. As she was showing me the best of her picks yesterday, I noticed each had dazzling color, as well as brown spots, and bits where bugs had chewed through their delicate wings.

If we are honest, it is the same with our hearts. Every soul has its bright spots as well as scars from disappointments, brown spots from being burned by a relationship, and even areas where life has eaten through our hopes. If this is true for each person, then it is also true for where people gather in deep relationships, like church.

The Real Danger

It can be hard to know what to do when the hard realities of an unhealthy church culture or ministry leader impact our lives. We can start, though, by being honest with ourselves, before we focus on what others can do better. There is a scripture in Psalms that has helped me get perspective on this:

“Its walls are patrolled day and night against invaders, but the real danger is wickedness within the city.”

Psalm 55:10

One of the keys to surviving a dysfunctional church culture or leader is not being able to identify what is unhealthy in someone else, but the ability to be honest with yourself.

Like Psalm 55:10 says, it can be easy to focus on problems outside of the city while ignoring the threat within the walls of our own hearts. In other words, it’s easy to point out what others are doing wrong instead of taking responsibility for what is wrong inside of us. Successfully navigating these turbulent waters of the souls takes a level of self-evaluation, many are not willing to accept.

A Difficult Question

I have had many conversations with church members and leaders who say their pastor or church culture is toxic or unhealthy in some way. If you are in a similar situation, then let me ask you a difficult question others and have asked me. It is a consideration that is essential for everyone in the process of reclaiming spiritual health after experiencing dysfunction.

Can you be honest about what attracted you to a place that is unhealthy? Are you able to come to terms with what is keeping you there even though you know it is not the best place for you? If you do not first identify what is going on in your heart, then even if you are in an environment you need to leave, you will find yourself in similar circumstances in the future.

That’s a tough one, but it is vital to moving forward in a healthy way. I can often tell how ready someone is to forgive and begin writing a new future for their story by how they are able to process this “honesty principle.”

Soul Medicine

Blaming others will never lead to growth in your life. While there may be people who are not doing the right thing, you always have a choice to take responsibility for yourself or blame others. Complaining and criticizing without adjusting on our end only covers up in pain and unhealth in ourselves. It doesn’t do anything to resolve the real issue. Unhealthy people blame others for their dissatisfaction in life. Healthy people take responsibility for the change they need.

If you have been hurt, you may not be able to tackle this issue right away. But doesn’t most medicine taste a little sour at first? To truly get healthy, we should be willing to take the medicine we may not like at first but will bring about the desired result in the end. We have to face the dysfunction in ourselves, so the unhealthy habits and perspectives we have developed in an unhealthy environment do not continue and impact ourselves and others down the road.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you about this! Please leave a comment on Facebook, Instagram, or this post.

Further Reading on this topic:

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Digging Ditches

Inspiration to Reach Your Mountaintop

By: Suzannah Driver

What could go wrong?

If you can do any other job other than church planting and pastoring, do that!” Joe and I looked at each other and joined the chuckles coming from other future church planters sitting in the room. We had a combined twenty-two years of ministry under our belts and knew God had called us to plant a life-giving church in Pensacola, Florida. So, what could go wrong?! The short answer is: Everything

Nearly three years into leading and pastoring Echo Life, I think back on the cautionary statement spoken to the eager church planters. Would we have ever chosen a different route? No. We know through and through this is exactly where we are supposed to be and what we are called to be doing. But this has single-handedly been the most challenging and difficult three years we have experienced in ministry. 

Reaching the Summit

Mount Fuji, though it is a mere 12,388 feet tall, is no joke. I have had the opportunity to summit this mountain twice. On both occasions, we began the ascent at midnight, guided only by our headlamps and a small, braided cord leading to the top. The climb is virtually straight up. The terrain is made up of unstable pumice stones. The air is thin, making it difficult to breathe. Most of my climb was alone, in the dark, feeling light-headed, stumbling my way up, and rolling my ankles at least 30 times. This is also church planting. 

I would love to say that everything has been a beautiful mountaintop experience, but that would be so far from the truth. It has been a lonely uphill climb full of bumps and bruises. For several months now, I have felt like I have been struggling up a mountain and have only seen the light of day for a moment. This is the kind of discouragement that leaves you sitting on your laundry room floor weeping and asking God if this really was the right move (by the way, the enemy is a jerk and loves to kick you while you’re down. Don’t pay any attention to the thoughts you have in these dark moments. Find a friend who can share a light with you and show you that you are still moving in the right direction). 

Kings Digging Ditches

As I have been fighting my way through the deep, dark, discouragement, my time with Jesus has landed me in 2 Kings 3. Three kings have come together to fight against Moab and they find themselves wandering in the desert and completely out of water. They call for a prophet and Elisha shows up on the scene and gives them a word. “Dig ditches all over the valley.”

I imagine these kings looked at each other in disbelief. Surely they knew about the exodus story (kind of a big deal). They knew God had provided water from a rock, manna from heaven, so surely He could do it again! But no, God instructs the people to…digditches.

This is the desert. The sun beating down, the tools are primitive. The prophet continues, “You won’t hear the wind, you won’t see the rain, but this valley is going to fill up with water…This is easy for God to do; he will also hand over Moab to you.” (2 Kings 16-19 MSG) 

Can you imagine crying out to God for help and then Him telling you to do some back-breaking work in the desert. “Dig ditches.” How many? How deep? For how long? When is the rain showing up again? How are these going to be filled? The people had no answers but instead had an opportunity to operate in faith and obedience. 

Filling Up the Valley

Like many other believers and pastors, I am in a season of digging ditches. I am asking God for provisions, and I know He will provide, but the nagging question of when and how make faithful obedience even more difficult. Add to that the age of social media and I’m over here looking at other churches wondering why they got the provisions and I’m still having to dig with no end in sight.

This is where I have been the last several months. Many days of tears, frustration, anger, and feeling abandoned by God. Then I remember, “ You won’t hear the wind, you won’t see the rain, but this valley is going to fill up with water…this is EASY for God to do…” My responsibility is to be faithful. My responsibility is to obey. My responsibility is to dig in where I am placed and not check to see whose ditch is already finished. 

Maybe you’ve been digging for weeks, months, or years. Maybe you feel like your ditch is significantly deeper than the people around you. Maybe God is preparing you to be a well of great depth for future generations. Maybe He is preparing you for far more than you could ever imagine. Don’t give up! Don’t keep looking for the wind and rain, but know and believe that He is faithful. He sees you. He will answer you! Keep digging! You are not alone. 

Suzannah Driver

You can follow Suzannah on social media at @SuzannahDriver. You can find out more about the church she pastors along with her husband Joe in Pensacola, Florida, at echolifechurch.com.