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Keys to a High Performance Christianity (Part Two)

A Life Changing Perspective

“The greatest question in all of human life is summed up when we ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’”

Charles M. Sheldon, In His Steps

Read part one of High-Performance Christianity here.

Step 6: Perspective

My life changed dramatically when I honestly asked if my opinions were based on Jesus or popular Christian culture. 

Examine your past teachings and current convictions through the example of Jesus. Start asking, what would Jesus do in this situation, instead of what others expect me to do. Abandon stereotypes of how you think a Christian should behave and make it your goal to embrace what Christ would say or do.

Step 7: Authenticity 

One of the most fun parts of embracing grace is learning to accept yourself and unashamedly live comfortably in your own skin. It can be intimidating to do this in a church world of behavior modification. You cannot live authentically while trying to live up to the preferences of people. 

Honestly, I can’t guarantee being the real you will be celebrated. I have just come to the place I would rather be rejected for being who I really am than accepted but exhausted trying to maintain everyone’s expectations for me.

Step 8: Guard 

A grace-filled person knows to guard their heart. Be aware of the “old ways,” as I call them, sneaking back into your life. 

I have become an expert at apologizing to people I do not think deserve an apology. This is not being fake. It is guarding my heart against making other people my debtors. I want to set people free. I do not want to be their prison guard holding them captive until they ask me for forgiveness. That’s no fun for either of us.

Leaving your religious rut means leaving old perspectives and possibly past relationships behind as well. It will hurt when people misunderstand your new positive Jesus-oriented approach to life. You will have to protect your feelings from this. There will be those who give grace a bad name by using it as an excuse to sin. Do not let this distract you. Keep heading down your own path. You will also have to watch out for pollutants that can distract you from the Lover of your soul. Keep your wellspring pure and refreshing.

Step 9: Rest 

I used to think a restful day was a wasted day. I would feel condemnation whenever a day went by where I had nothing to do. At some point, I read a Japanese proverb that said, “He who rests is never tired.” Something clicked, and rest became a principle that supports two main ideas for me.

The first is the Sabbath. True rest is part of worship. It acknowledges my need for God. It causes me to humbly admit that even if I did work 24/7, I could never accomplish everything God has for me without Him. It also causes me to pause long enough to appreciate things, and therefore express gratitude to God. 

The second is longevity. “He who rests is never tired.” If I learn to recoup and rejuvenate, I will have more energy for the task at hand. I’ll be better prepared to do my best when it is time to work. I won’t burn out and can last longer in the race. Every marathon has water tables, and a runner that expects to win knows the importance of pacing. Rest is not laziness. It is humility, worship, and intentionality.

Step 10: Value

Get your value from who you are in Christ instead of where you are in life. Religious burnout will always fight to turn this around. It causes you to complicate things. Valuing your position in Christ over your performance for Christ forces you to keep it simple. If you seek to be close to God’s heart, then your heart will start beating like His, and you will live your life as Jesus did.

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There’s Something I’d Like to Say

Confessing The Weeds in My Leadership

The Parable of the Weeds

“He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”‘”

– Matthew 13:24-30 (ESV)

Soul Gardening

We have all experienced the wheat as well as the weeds of leadership. We have either lived through someone else’s wheat and weeds or guided others through our own garden mixed with both the good and the bad. I’ve always thought the master allowing the weeds to continue to grow with the wheat until the harvest was interesting. Why does God allow the bad of spiritual leaders to grow with the good? Why not pull all the weeds out now? 

Too often, we expect our spiritual leaders to be perfect. This is unrealistic and unfair. Once we find there are weeds in the lives of those that lead us, it can be easy to write off all people in authority. After experiencing hurt, some people’s initial reaction is to stop going to church or label Christians as hypocrites. It doesn’t have to be this way. All of life comes with both wheat and weeds. It’s possible to experience both the good and the bad of a church culture or ministry leader and remain thankful and honoring. 

At the same time, any leader who is not honest about and repents of his or her own imperfections is not being the best reflections of Christ they can be. We all need to attend the garden of our soul. The harvest will come, and God will ask us to give an account of the weeds in our leadership.

There’s something I’d like to say about my own weeds.

There was a time in my life when my words and behaviors towards people resulted in spiritual abuse. I was a Pharisee, legalist, and avoider of grace. This did not just negatively impact my own life but also those around me. In my role as a church leader, I caused hurt and pain in the lives of others. My weeds got in the way of the good I was attempting to accomplish for the Kingdom of God. 

Some in a similar situation may blame the culture they are in, the feeling of having no other choice but to do as they are told or even being a victim of abuse themselves. While these are genuine contributing circumstances for me and many others, I feel I must focus on my responsibility over factors that were in someone else’s control.

“It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.  

I am the master of my fate:

 I am the captain of my soul.”

-Invictus, by Nelson Mandela

At any point, during this time in my life, I could have taken responsibility for myself. Eventually, I did. This doesn’t wipe away my part in using people’s desire to please God to achieve my goals and validate my need for approval. It has, though, allowed for redemption to step into my story. I can now see God’s hand working in each of my past experiences to help me point people in a better direction. It has also helped me own the good in my past in a way I can always be grateful for while also learning from my “weeds.”

Seeking Forgiveness

Once I first decided to make an intentional change in my life and approach to ministry, I went to specific people I felt I owed an apology and asked them to forgive me. I also listened as they shared how my approach to being a church leader negatively impacted them. 

Eventually, I felt God say I didn’t need to track down each person involved in situations I regretted. This would be to put their healing in my hands instead of His. So I asked for and received His forgiveness, and prayed for anyone I have ever hurt to find the courage to begin the process of healing with God’s help.

A couple of years later, after I had a better perspective of my own involvement in these behaviors and ministry methods, I began blogging about my transformation and growth in how I related to God, church, and others. This opened the door to many more conversations with those in search of healing.

I now feel it is time to combine both of the previous steps I have taken in the past – to be public and specific. The goal is not to wallow in the past, but to help those presently struggling in similar situations and those specifically impacted in this way in the past.

With that said, I would like to offer my heartfelt and sincere apology to anyone I have ever hurt in my role as a spiritual leader. I am sorry for the things I have done and said that have caused pain in your life. I was wrong, and I am asking for your forgiveness. 

I am sorry I…

…was not careful with my words and said things that were extreme, mean, rude, and painful to others.

…felt it was my job to put people in their place instead of using my role as a leader to lift people out of the place they were in.

…was hypocritical in what I asked of others while making excuses as to why I was not required to do the same things.

… didn’t listen, because I assumed I already knew the whole story. Often, I gave ultimatums when I should have offered mercy. 

…used the scriptures to belittle, cut down, and categorize outsiders in a way that took away from their humanity and value as a person.

…judged people’s motives, thoughts, and intentions (as if I could know these things), instead of assuming the best and speaking to God’s best for them.

…marked people as rebellious and cut them off from relationship when they did not submit whole-heartedly, not only to God but to the customs of our group.

…flippantly questioned people’s salvation and sincerity in their commitment to God when they didn’t live up to my man-made standards or unrealistic expectations.

…created an environment of correction and outward performance in my ministry instead of encouragement and inward transformation. I made it hard, if not impossible, to be vulnerable, honest, and real. I gave no place for grace.

… allowed submission to authority to mutate into something other than what God intended. Instead of being a life-giving principle that brought safety and security in trusting God and the spiritual leadership He places over us, it became a gateway to control, fear, and intimidation. 

……thought it was my responsibility as a spiritual leader to be involved in every decision of the lives of those in my ministry (who they should date, where they should work, and even how they should spend their money and free time). In doing this, I replaced the voice of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives, and developed dependents on me instead of disciples of Christ. 

These things all feel so foreign to me now. I don’t think I am anything close to this person I don’t want to remember.

Why Apologize?

There will be those reading this who do not need an apology from me but are maybe waiting on one from someone else. Would you accept this apology on their behalf? Not for their benefit, but for yours. Whether it is a parent, pastor, church leader, or another person in a leadership role in your life, I believe if they could see things through God’s perspective, they would ask for your forgiveness.

Others may misunderstand why this needs to be said. Why bring this up if it was so long ago, and you are no longer this way? First of all, it is never too late to apologize, because time isn’t a substitute for, “I’m sorry.” If you’ve been through this, then you get why this is important. 

Secondly, owning my mistakes may encourage growth in someone else by helping them respond better to their shortcomings. Taking responsibility for our “weeds” (the bad in our leadership) is how we separate from them and shed new light on our “wheat” (the good that has taken place through our ministry). Denying our failures is how they get repeated.

Thirdly, I see these same behaviors in zealous young leaders too often. I believe their intentions are good, but I want to help them see there is another way, as I am sure they eventually will, as soon as possible. 

Moving Forward

Finally, unhealthy leadership can exist even in healthy churches and organizations. There can be great people doing amazing things in the same place where dysfunction is also present. Jesus talked about this in the Parable of the Weeds (I shared this at the beginning of the blog). This teaching shows us how to respond to unhealth in leadership. To take Jesus’s approach is to live in an uncomfortable tension between the wheat and the weeds in all of our lives. Healing from negative experiences in a church is never an excuse to attack others. Don’t try to pull up others’ weeds prematurely, even though it can be difficult to live with them.

In the same way, being a spiritual leader is not an excuse to turn a blind eye to your own faults, even though it is embarrassing to deal with them. Healing, as well as a lasting legacy, won’t take place if we continue to ignore the problem. If you are willing, let’s move forward together in forgiveness and restoration.

Further reading on this topic:

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Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself

The Case for Enjoying Life

I used to think exhaustion and spirituality went hand-in-hand. I bragged about not taking time off to rest. I felt I always had to be doing something if I was truly committed to the cause. I now know finding time to relax, and having fun outside of religious activities are not things that should cause me to feel guilty.

The truth is, you don’t have to be hard on yourself to be a deeply spiritual person.

Reading through Ecclesiastes recently reminded me how much God wants us to enjoy life. Religious obligation doesn’t want you to know that. If the enemy can convince God’s most devoted servants that pleasure is sin and rest is a weakness, then zealous believers may give up after experiencing exhaustion, depression, and frustration.

5 Keys to Enjoying Life from Ecclesiastes


Don’t be too good

It seems the key to lasting happiness is balance; not religious extremes. Enjoy life but also don’t be foolish. Remember, we will give an account to God.

“So don’t be too good or too wise! Why destroy yourself? On the other hand, don’t be too wicked either. Don’t be a fool! Why die before your time? Pay attention to these instructions, for anyone who fears God will avoid both extremes.”

Ecclesiastes 7:16-18 NLT

Enjoy what you have

It’s also not useful to always be dreaming about what you could have or wishing for what you don’t have. Appreciate what God has given you.

“Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless—like chasing the wind.”

Ecclesiastes 6:9 NLT

Have a party

Do you know anyone who could use a splash of cologne? Then send them this verse! I love that God doesn’t always want me on a diet, counting calories, and making my own clothes. He’s ok with me getting in line at the buffet every now and then and finding something nice to wear. Life was meant to be enjoyed!

“So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne!”

Ecclesiastes 9:7-8 NLT

Most of my youth was wasted on being out of balance. I was much too hard on myself because I thought that was required to be holy and pleasing to God. In college, I avoiding many “fun” activities that were not sinful but would take away from doing “spiritual” things. Looking back, I wish I would have taken more of that time instead of being so serious.

Find balance

Again, balance is the key. Not going to either extreme is the answer to an enjoyable, meaningful Christianity.

“Young people, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do.”

Ecclesiastes 11:9 NLT

Learn to rest

This is where I am now. I love to learn. I can also develop anxiety from my continual pursuit of knowledge. God doesn’t want His children to be worn out. He wants us to enjoy life and remember we will give an account to him for every secret thing, whether good or bad. This is something I need to remember.

“But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.”

Ecclesiastes 12:12 NLT

What do you think? Did any of this strike a nerve with you? Agree or disagree, I’d like to hear from you!

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You Might Be A Pharisee If…

Six Signs of Imitation Christianity

No Soup For You

This morning I was reading about Saul. The story reminded me of how even with the best intentions we can slip into legalism. During a battle, he made a rash vow. The soldiers were pursuing victory. Honey was dripping all around to refresh them along the way. The only problem was Saul refused to let anyone eat until their enemies were defeated.

It may sound radical and inspirational at first. Maybe Saul thought this would rally the troops’ commitment. Instead, it left a mess. People were confused and discouraged. This is often the case with immitation Christianity.

So how do we know when this type of thinking creeps into our spiritual life? Here are six signs you might be a Pharisee and don’t even know it.

You do not think you are a Pharisee

Did you hear about the latest Pharisee convention? Me neither. That’s because no one went. No one put it on. Because no one thinks they are a Pharisee. Pharisees are too busy pointing out other people’s fault to take the time to deal with their own.

You subscribe to radical Christianity

I used to be a radical Christian. I took pride in that. Now I realize “radical”  was just a code word for legalism. Radical Christians go to the extreme and believe everyone else is not “really” serving God with all of their heart until they are making the same sacrifices as they are.

You believe you are an elite Christian

If you think there are classes of Christians, then you may subscribe to the false brand of Christianity called legalism. Do you look down on others who do not share your same convictions? Then you misunderstand that convictions are for you and the gospel is for everyone.

You misunderstand holiness

If your priority is outside appearance, then you misunderstand holiness and may be stuck in a Christina performance trap. Jesus called people like this whitewashed tombs. They look good on the outside but are dead on the inside. True holiness begins with grace, is maintained by grace, and works its way from the inside out.

You question other people’s salvation

Do you take snapshots of where people are in the exact moment you see them or do you view yourself and others in a process? Have you ever wondered out loud, “How can they love Jesus and do _________.” Or “If they loved God they would do ________ more.” A Pharisee always questions those who sin differently then they do instead of patiently helping them address the root of the problem.

You serve under a Saul

The thing that made David “David” was he saw Saul as someone worthy of grace and honor.  Instead of focusing on Saul’s faults, he saw himself as the one who needed to become more godly. A Saul sees a Saul in everyone else, while a David is continually looking for the “David” in others, and is aware of the “Saul” in himself.

Only One Good News

In the Book of Galatians Paul warns sternly that anyone twisting the good news would be in danger of judgment. It is one of the harshest warnings in the New Testament. He says, “It pretends to be good news, but is not good news at all.”   

Still, High-Performance Christianity has a way of slipping into the lives of the most well-meaning people. We must keep our eyes, hopes, and security in a love relationship with Jesus and continue to humbly extend the same grace that was given to us to others if we are to avoid this trap.