Unintended Pharisees and Leaf Raking

Ed Stetzer has a great post over at The Exchange that really resonated with some issues that I find myself dealing with and I thought it’d be a good thing to share a bit here:

Along the way I would start a Bible study while in high school, but it sometimes seemed that no one was as committed to it as I was. By college, I was a youth pastor, and still felt more committed to the process than everyone else. This frustration continued into pastoral ministry.

As I moved into roles where I trained other pastors, I found that I was not alone in my frustration. Many pastors feel the same way.

The reality is that the Pharisaical spirit often hides in fields of high expectations, and we pastors are often the source of those expectations.

As pastors and church leaders in general, we are often disappointed with the spiritual journey of many people in our care. We don’t understand why they don’t take the faith as seriously as we do. We often get to thinking that they do not truly want to grow in Christ.

“Why? Why was no one else as committed as I was?” we utter in frustration.

At this point we must stop, look in the mirror, and ask ourselves, “Wait… Why was I putting myself above others, wondering why they weren’t measuring up to my standard of passion and intensity in discipleship?”

and later:

I wonder how Jesus dealt with the issue—seeing their lack of commitment so evident among his disciples. And, perhaps that is the answer. After all, while we are comparing ourselves to others, we need to remember that none of us measure up to Jesus.

And no one expects us to.

That’s the key—Jesus gives us grace and calls us to grace, and that’s the answer to the problem of phariseeism in my heart.

Along the way, without even recognizing it, a disciple becomes a Pharisee.
Passion is good—becoming pharisaical is not good.

As I was reading about his own progression from high expectations to bitterness and pharisaical thoughts, it reminded me of this wonderful section from The Peacemaker:

LeafPileIf you look for something bad in another person, you will usually be able to find it. On the other hand, if you look for what is good, you are likely to find that too–and then more and more that is good.

As you regain a more balanced view of the other person, you will often find it easier to overlook minor offenses. I have experienced this process many times in my marriage. One day Corlette said something that really hurt me. I don’t remember what she said, but I remember going out into the back yard a few minutes later to rake leaves. The more I dwelt on her words, the more deeply I slid into self-pity and resentment. I was steadily building up steam to go back into the house and let her know how wrong she was. But then God brought Philippians 4:8 to my mind.

Ha! I thought. There’s nothing noble, right, or lovely about the way she’s treating me! But the Holy Spirit wouldn’t give up. The verse would not go away; it kept echoing in my mind. Finally, to get God off my back, I grudgingly conceded that Corlette is a good cook. This small concession opened the door to a stream of thoughts about my wife’s good qualities. I recalled that she keeps a beautiful home and practices wonderful hospitality. She has always been kind toward my family, and she never missed an opportunity to share the gospel with my father (who eventually put his trust in Christ just two hours before he died). I realized that Corlette has always been pure and faithful, and I remembered how much she supports me through difficult times in my work. Every chance she gets, she attends the seminars I teach and sits smiling and supportive through hours of the same material (always saying she has learned something new). She is a marvelous counselor and has helped hundreds of children. And she even took up backpacking because she knew I loved it! I realized that the list of her virtues could go on and on.

While Ken is specifically applying Philippians 4:8 to conflict in this context, it can easily be applied whenever we feel that bitterness over unmet expectations (like a lack of passion) creeping in. It’s my hope that we all strive to look at the noble, right, and lovely things in one another and pay attention to the hypocrite that can live within.

I heartily encourage you to read Stetzer’s post in it’s entirety here.

image credit: JuliaF

Outstanding Testimony: I could have SUED and WON

Over at her blog, Tara Barthel has a great reflection on how God provided the means for her to go to The Gospel Coalition’s Women’s Conference and provided much grace in a situation that could have easily ended differently. I’m just going to include a snippet here so be sure to go read the whole (amazing and funny) thing:

Again, the lead flight attendant rushed to my side and offered to have a “medical team” meet us at the [connecting big city]. Again, I didn’t think that was necessary, but I did ask for some towels/bandaids. And that time? I did cry. No sobbing or sounds, just hot, frightened tears rolling down my cheeks as the flight crew (finally!) emptied the obviously defective overhead storage bin so that this would not be a triple-play kind of injure-the-passenger-situation.

As my tears subsided and my barf-bag-of-ice melted against my scraped and sore body, I pretty much re-read in my mind Appendix D in Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker (“When Is It Right To Go To Court?“) and the “Biblical Conflict Resolution” Appendix of the PCA’s Book of Church Order. It was clear what I had to do:

“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.” Abraham Lincoln

The next morning, when the Vice-President of the airline’s insurance carrier called me, I violated every mantra of legal negotiation and just told him the truth: I was a Christian and a peacemaker and I had no intention of suing the airline, as long as I was treated fairly and justly. I told him honestly what happened (on the phone and in writing) and, after a few short weeks, I was offered a fair settlement. The dollar amount was just enough to send me to Orlando so that I could have the joy of serving The Gospel Coalition on the LiveBlog. And that’s exactly what I did.

Read the rest here.

Tara will be leading two workshops at our annual conference, Living a Legacy of Peace, in September in Colorado Springs. If you’re interested in seeing her live there, check out our conference website for more information.

From the CEO: The Best of the Best

DalePortraitBy Dale Pyne, CEO of Peacemaker Ministries

At every year’s end, news agencies around the world create radio and television specials that bring the most significant news events of the year—the best of the best—in a countdown. How could we miss watching the most significant events of the year: wars, elections, catastrophic weather events, and the like.

I want to ask you something. Think back just one year ago. What were the most significant events our news outlets summarized for 2012? Well, if you are like me, you can’t remember a single top news event from 2012. Why do you think it was so important then and yet we can’t remember it today? As time comes and goes, the events of any given year fade away nearly as quickly as the calendar itself.

Look at our history and our future from a different perspective. Have you ever used Google Earth to find your home? You hop on the internet and key in your address on the computer. Google Earth then begins to zoom in; first to the continent and then your state and finally your city and neighborhood until there it is: your home. It may even show your car in the driveway and your neighbor frozen in motion on the sidewalk.

Well, the happenings of the year, while significant in the moment, are kind of like the car in your driveway. They are snapshots of moments in time. When you reverse that Google view from your driveway to where you see a picture of the earth, your car and home disappear, just like events over time do in our memories.

What news matters to you today? Will it matter tomorrow?

I want to share some good news with you, news that has and will stand the test of time. This news can make or break a nation, a business, a church, or a marriage. This is the best and most important news you will ever hear, and when it comes to eternal perspectives, it is the only news that will matter.

This is not a news summary of one year. Rather, it is a summary of an ongoing story, one that began before time and will end… only the Lord knows when. Here it is: Unto us a Savior was born, he walked the earth and lived in perfect obedience to the Father. He died for our sins and rose again, overcoming death itself, fully satisfying the justice of God’s wrath, and purchased reconciliation and an everlasting inheritance for his people. He ascended into heaven where he sits at the right hand of the Father. He left us his Word and his Spirit to reveal God’s will in the journey of our lives.

Just think of it! The very Creator of heaven and earth, the Master of the Universe loved us so much that he died so that we might live abundantly. Jesus said, “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24).

That is The News. It is the Good News. God reconciled us to himself and by his grace, we are drawn to him for redemption. No other news matters for us, our families, or the world we live in. When we turn our eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, the things of this earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.

In His Grace,


New Lesson Available for Free Online!

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We’re excited to announce that the first lesson of the study The Leadership Opportunity is now available for free to study online at Peacemaker University!

To get to the lesson for free just go here.

If you’re interested, you can view the trailer for the study:

The Leadership Opportunity from Peacemaker Ministries on Vimeo.

Shepherd Hospitality

I liked the image of hospitality Tim Laniak gave in his most recent email. (Tim and his book “While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks” are featured in our resource for church leaders–The Leadership Opportunity.) Doesn’t it give a fresh meaning to the words of the shepherd psalm, “He prepares a table before me…”?

Hospitality among desert tribes in the Middle East is legendary. In a moment you can be transformed from anxious stranger to honored guest. After a simple greeting of “peace” you step across the threshold of a goat-hair tent and become a virtual member of your Bedouin host’s family. The desert welcome continues with a handshake, a gesture to sit near the smoking fire, and an offer of tea. No business is transacted until hospitality has been extended and received. Regardless of the visit’s purpose, you will first settle into the relationship. The conversation, like the endless cups of tea, expresses a transparent and almost embarrassing effort to serve their new friends. What most outsiders often don’t fully realize is that being a guest in a Bedouin tent carries an unspoken guarantee that your needs will be met. The refreshments before you are only a symbolic token of this guarantee.

God is pictured as a shepherd host in Psalm 23. In the hostile desert he “prepares a table before me” (v. 5). Throughout Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness God daily prepared such a table. The bread that he served up each day was the “bread of angels” (Ps. 78:19-25). But Israel’s host knew that his people needed more than physical bread. “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna…to teach you that people do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:3 TNIV). The Good Shepherd was a host whose physical provision was an appetizer for spiritual sustenance.

Wounded and Dangerous

As an accompanying article to their recent interview of Ken Sande, Leadership Journal also published this first-hand account of a church that went through a messy conflict and the role Peacemaker Ministries played in helping them work through it.  A little teaser:

“Oh, you’re from the fireworks church?” people would say, smiling, to members of Court Street Church. The congregation was known throughout the community for its big July Fourth celebration, including a parade, watermelon cutting, seed-spitting contest, and Roman candles. But it wasn’t long before the fireworks weren’t only overhead; they soon moved into the board room and eventually into the sanctuary. Fireworks church, indeed.

Read the entire story of how the “fireworks church” became the peacemaking church.

Conflict and Church Leaders

A nice little interview of Ken Sande recently appeared in Leadership Journal, and is worth the read. Not that it’s always easy reading–Ken calls church leaders to account in several areas: approachability, accountability, pride, succession planning, and other critical aspects of leadership. Here’s one example of the counsel Ken gives related to conflicts over “theological” issues:  

Often conflicts are pitched as theological—differences over doctrine, which can lead to impassioned disagreements in a church and charges of heresy. How do you counsel leaders in that scenario?

Number one, pray for humility. It’s so easy to become very proud. People should remember how much their own understanding has changed over the years. We are always growing; always learning. Things we believed passionately years ago may not be the same as today. So maybe there is an issue that I’m wrong about today. Humility is vital.

Number two, realize that the only way to carry on a meaningful discussion is in the context of relationship. So preserving the relationship is crucial. It means listening, being kind, being forbearing, even if the other person is wrong and being offensive. Consider some important questions: How do I approach a brother on a very important doctoral issue and yet still treat him with love, respect, and humility? What do I owe a person just because he’s made in God’s image? And if he’s a believer, he has also been redeemed. I owe him a great deal in our engagement.

The controversy between John Wesley and George Whitefield has been an example to me. They had strong theological disagreements. But I saw one letter that Whitefield wrote to Wesley at the end of his life, earnestly trying to persuade him. Yet in the midst of it, he kept addressing him as “my dear brother.” You see them both valuing and preserving the relationship and not just winning the argument.

(And note: many of the themes Ken addresses in the article are covered more thoroughly in our resource for church leaders, The Leadership Opportunity: Living Out the Gospel where Conflict & Leadership Intersect.)

What keeps church leaders from becoming better peacemakers?

This is my latest contribution to BuildingChurchLeaders.com:

Many church leaders are not naturally good peacemakers. Because of our fallen nature, we tend to respond to conflict either as people-pleasers or controllers.

People-pleasing leaders prefer to deny, minimize, or cover up conflict. They tend to pacify people by telling them what they want to hear, and often try to counsel others through a sermon rather than talking face to face. While these tactics may postpone confrontation for a while, unresolved issues usually build up over time. They can result in a steady exodus from the church and, eventually, devastating division.

Controlling leaders prefer to attack conflict (and people) head on. They tend to be quick to speak and slow to listen. They are often adept at behind-the-scenes political maneuvering. Instead of seeking understanding and gracious compromise, they frequently divide the church into polarized factions. Controlling leaders may suppress opposition for years, but many of them are suddenly swept away by a conflict they can no longer control.

Read the rest here.

Two Deadlines This Week

Just a quick reminder to take advantage of two discounts that end this week:

  1. The Peacemaker Conference (Sept 16-19, Washington, DC) – Conference rates go up on April 1,  so register soon to get the best price.
  2. The Leadership Opportunity – The special introductory price of $149 ends on March 31st, so act quickly to save $40 on our newest resource for church leaders.  

Church Leaders Put Away Detestable Idols

I’ve had this post bookmarked for a while and am finally getting around to linking and commenting on it.  Ray Ortlund did a 4-part series last week on Four Marks of Spiritual Leaders.  I was particularly struck by part 2:

Christian leaders put away the detestable idols from their lives and their churches. It is not enough to add Jesus. We must also subtract our idols. As time goes by, so much accumulates and complicates. We cannot go on adding and adding. We must boldly subtract. This is repentance and reformation.

“Detestable idols” means “abhorrent, monstrous, disgusting idols.” Our hearts do not create nice idols. Oh, how we need the lovely One! How we need to see him so clearly and revere him so tenderly that we get tough on ourselves and throw the idols out!

Christian leaders have a nose for the stench of idolatry, and they confront it, as Asa did. It is not leadership to ignore the smell, perfume the smell. Some churches do. They make room for their idols of tradition, idols of superiority, idols of unconfessed sin, idols of cool. But anything that distracts from Jesus stinks. It stinks to God. It reeks with our arrogance and self-pity and whatever else diminishes Jesus in our experience. Christian leaders are deeply stirred by this. They become restless. They become desperate for the greater glory of Christ, desperate enough to magnify him at all costs.

Read the whole post here.