One of the first lessons I learned in sales is that you should always under-promise and over-deliver. When a customer comes in my store and needs something done I do not offer them the moon–though they may be asking for it! I offer them a star or two, but NEVER the moon. That is to invite disaster in my life and job.

In a few instances with churches I have come across the tendency to over-promise and and under-deliver. It may be a tendency to not want to say “no” or a fear that ministry may not happen if the promise is not made.

The principle of under-promising gets the heart of people-pleasing. I struggle with it on the sales floor everyday when I am asked to do something out of the ordinary. I have to risk this person not liking what I say–or me, even–if I tell them that I may not be able to get that item for them. I find, though, every time I under-promise there is a freedom I do not have when I over-promise. When I under-promise, the only place to go is above the line of expectation. When I over-promise the line of acceptability is drawn very high…my blood pressure heightens until the task is accomplished.

Take the stress off and risk the relationship–in order to make it a better relationship. You see, when we under-promise (and over-deliver) our word is good. People can trust that we will do what we say. . . and even go beyond what we say when we can. Whereas when we over-promise and under-deliver we have marred the relationship because we did not do what we said we would do. When a pole vaulter clears a ten foot pole by going 17 feet, he is set apart from the others who attempt 17 feet and only get 16 and 7/8.

In what ways have you seen people under-promise? How do you think this affects their witness and ministry?

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Leading with a Limp

Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip (Gen. 32.31; NLT)

Too many times we focus on the action of leadership and not the ontology of the leader. That is, when asked to define what a leader is, most people’s responses are boiled down to “They lead.” This is what a leader does. This is not what he is.

In my experience, the most important characteristic of a leader is humility. True, a proud and overly confident leader may get the pin to move on the measuring gauge. In the long run, however, her leadership will lose its effectiveness over time. What is more, those who follow her will not be shaped. The primary goal of a Christian leader is to shape the whole person, to see people mature and grow in their love for God and neighbor. If they are coerced or pressed into a mold of conformity, their hearts will not be changed because a law has been imposed on them.

Leaders ought to want to see people changed more than a goal to be reached. Or put another way, the goal to which a leader aims ought to be Christ being formed in those that follow him. This is the metric we see throughout Scripture. This, then, ought to be our goal in leadership. this Christ-likeness

The primary way a leader promotes this Christ-likeness is through his own Christ-likeness. And what do we see in the Lion of Judah save the wounded Lamb.

I remember going through a pastoral assessment wherein the interviewers looked at me and said they weren’t sure that I had worked through past pain. This is after I had shared with these brothers a lot of hurt and told them how the Lord had drawn near in those times. Surely, there is some time that people need to work through their pain. This is, however, a first world problem. How many other brothers and sisters don’t have the luxury to go to a year of counseling or to step out of a painful ministry experience?

No, we are called to minister not after our wounds are healed but in the midst of our wounds. We are called to show the scars and still feel the cold breath of unrequited loves and expectations. This is where we ought to live and minister from. We ought not to hide our limp. We ought to highlight the fact that we lean on another. We are frail. We fail. When we model that kind of bold dependence on God, we, in essence, reveal that we are but pilgrims moving toward another country and the path is hard and the pain is real. Not something we learned from and not something got over–as though it’s something in the past. Rather, the pain and problems ought to be the very stuff our ministry’s are made of.

God’s Broad Shoulders

One of the fascinating aspects of my profession is that I come in contact with a lot of Christians who want to engage with their faith in a deep way. Rather than being content with showing up on Sunday or being CINO (Christian In Name Only), these folks want to understand the Bible better and tease out the implications for their lives.

On the flipside of this, many of these same people are afraid to engage with their doubts in a deep way. It’s almost as if, doubts and questions are treated from a distance–“I don’t struggle with this, but…”

The biggest breakthrough in my own journey of faith came through (and continues to come through) engaging my doubts and questions as my own. They are not theoretical. They are honest struggles: problem of evil is the perennial one. I was in the throes of one of these bouts several years ago when a friend told me, “God can handle your doubts.”

I have used this same bit of advice for my struggling friends and self. If truth is not relative. If God is truth. Your doubts and questions will not overthrow this objective, transcendent truth. It’s not as though you are the first to struggle with doubts and fears and pain. The heavens will not collapse under the weight of your doubts. You won’t come up with a question that will cause God to close up shop. You can honestly engage with your doubts and fears and pain and suffering without having to be quick to give the typical and trite answers to matters of faith.

Go ahead, roll your burdens on God. He’s got broad shoulders.

a faulty understanding of the relationship of the pastor to the people

Here’s a quick response to what I meant in my last post with the above phrase:

With the advent of the Spirit empowering all believers in giving life to all who have trusted in Christ comes the advent of the priesthood of all believers. That is, whereas lineage to the priesthood had to be traced to Aaron or Levi, through being born anew through the lineage of the once-for-all priesthood of the Mechizedekian high priest Jesus (see Heb 5-7), all people are called to be a holy nation and priesthood.

Too much of modern-day evangelicalism has unwittingly ascribed through word and deed the following of celebrities. This tendency has trickled down to where the pastor is still viewed through the lens of the Old Covenant. That is, people still refer to him as “anointed,” not knowing that in their baptism they have also been anointed for that work through new birth.

This is also seen in how so many pastor’s conferences frame the discussion. They speak of the “calling” to the ministry–forgetting Luther’s and the audacious Protestant Reformers’ claim that all vocations are “callings.” Luther said that God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid.

As a result, so many pastors buy into the notion that the sheep are entrusted to them only. Yes, many times brothers will say that Christ is the Chief Shepherd, but they act as though they are the ultimate person the people must answer to. Thus a division between those who are “called” as pastors and “lay” people.

If we start with the fact that we are all in need of a Savior–and perpetually so!–then such a false dichotomy and hierarchy will go away. In this way, the pastor is a sheep and needs shepherding from other sheep.