Episode 125: An Interview with Lyle Wells – Empire vs. Kingdom Leadership

In this episode we sit down with the president of Integrus Leadership, Lyle Wells, to talk about “empire vs. kingdom” leadership and what it takes to remain resilient as leaders in a challenging environment. You can learn more about Integrus at www.integrus.org and by following @leadwithlyle and @integrusleadership.

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I think there’s a great exhaustion to come… people have been grinding for so long that at some point your body reacts…

For many leaders, their voice changed during the pandemic… we were focused on the crisis, as we needed to be… but my fear is that many leaders haven’t taken their eyes back up to the horizon…

Many organizations have also developed an addiction to adrenaline… and now it has become their identity and their purpose… for many, endurance has become the goal rather than effectiveness… 

This is a season that ought to grow our ability to be resilient… we need to set our faces back towards our purpose and call and march boldly… but we also need to be still and wait for God to move…

We talk about taking “pit stops” that make the workload more manageable, because we know that the people in our organizations are fatigued…

One of the things we implemented is something we call “no meeting Mondays”… we were doing so much on Mondays that by the time 4:00 rolled around, they were already maxed out… 

If there was one thing I could say to leaders, it is that “your tank is your responsibility”… as a leader, you have to develop a working knowledge of two things: 1) What do you look like when your tank runs low? And 2) What fills up your tank?

Kingdoms and empires are really interesting… we start with the basic premise that no one wants to be average… in ministry it is even more pronounced, because it’s not just a job but a calling… 

We’ve noticed that on the journey people get stuck or they get scared… they need guides to help them overcome their challenges… the most pivotal decision we make when we step into leadership is whether we will be heroes or guides… 

Problems accrue in organizations when leaders—who are supposed to be guides—turn into heroes… that’s when churches become empires… often this happens unintentionally… 

The most fun you can have as a leader is investing in somebody and seeing them thrive in what God’s called them to do… but this is a fundamental shift for a lot of people… 

Episode 117: Crisis Fatigue

In this episode we sit down to talk about how leaders should think about responding to local and global crises when they arise, and about how they care for their own souls in crisis.

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The fatigue is real… we got into ministry because we care for those who are hurting, and over the past year and a half, that’s been put to the test…

We don’t have an endless supply of empathy… you can run out… one of the things I’m concerned about for my own soul is if I ever stop feeling [what I should feel for crises]…

The first lens on how we should spend ourselves is this: what are your people talking about in the lobby? If they’re talking about it in the lobby, we should be talking about it in the pulpit…

One of the problems with social media is that our awareness outpaces our agency… one thing we could do as leaders is to spend more time following what our people are talking about on social media and less time following what everyone else is talking about…

Jesus commissioned his disciples into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth… Jesus seems to be calling them not just to their neighborhood or region, but also to places that would test and stretch them… 

Your time can’t be spent evenly in these four quadrants… we need to understand that we need to allot our time in a way that is sustainable…

We don’t invest our money anywhere where we don’t have trusted relationships… it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” we are going to have opportunities, and the worst feeling is having resources but no one to call [to deploy those resources to]…

Many people in the church want to be “special forces” missions people… but if we’re only focusing on those people, we’re ignoring the vast majority of our people who need to catch a heart for global missions… 

For a lot of pastors, loneliness is their greatest enemy right now… many pastors are just looking for friends… this is one of the reasons we created the Essential Church Learning Community… we’re trying to create space for that…

Sometimes the best thing I can do is just rest… there’s no substitute for good food, getting exercise, and going to bed…

In moments of crisis, clear decisions and quick adjustments are crucial… but we also need kind hearts… 

Episode 115: The Resilient Pastor (Pt. 2)

IIn this episode (part two of two) we sit down with Glenn Packiam to talk with him about his forthcoming book The Resilient PastorLeading Your Church in a Rapidly Changing World. (Releases in February—order HERE.)

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The new paganism presents a real challenge… because if people are managing the practical needs of their lives by getting what they need through the new paganism, it makes the church’s appeal more difficult… what does the church offer that people don’t already have…?

This is one of the reasons why the gospel is racing through the global South and is waning in the West… the church is in decline in the West in part because we’re rich and have our needs met… 

Part of the reason it also may be in decline is that because we have positioned the gospel as only therapeutic, and once the practical need is satisfied, then the need for the gospel goes away… but perhaps the gospel is about MORE than the therapeutic… 

Another thing we are seeing is expressive individualism… it is the exaltation of the self as the source and goal of all goodness… my measure of what I am going to do is whether or not it will make “me” a “better me”…

People used to discover meaning in the world, but now we think that our job is to construct meaning in the world… this is why we hear people talk about “your truth” and “my truth”… it sounds nice in the suburbs, but it doesn’t work in Taliban-haunted Afghanistan…

What Christian spirituality has to do is claim the interiority while also showing how all the pieces of the world fit together… 

The aftermath of all of this is very messy… one person said, “I don’t believe in God, but I miss him…” and I think that describes so many people… 

I have an impulse in my heart to say that the church just needs to keep its doors open and trust that people will come… but Jesus is the one who goes out after the lost sheep… we need to go out and meet the culture where it is at…

We must never give up on the one thing that we have to offer that no one else does—the presence and power of God… 

We need to make room for the power of God… Paul says that one of the signs that the Gentiles belong to the kingdom is that the Spirit is at work… people don’t come to church for the coffee; they come for the presence and power of God, and that’s the one thing we’re carrying… 

Episode 114: The Resilient Pastor (Pt. 1)

In this episode (part one of two) we sit down with Glenn Packiam to talk with him about his forthcoming book The Resilient PastorLeading Your Church in a Rapidly Changing World. (Releases in February—order HERE.)

Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube Channel and follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to stay connected with us throughout the week!

In some ways the pandemic was the instigator of new changes… in other ways it accelerated some that were already in process… and in still other ways it revealed changes that had happened that maybe we had masked over… 

The tectonic plates that have shifted are Christianity and country… many of the things that we take for granted in Western civilization (like civil rights) have Christian roots… but now Christianity no longer has a prominent place… 

The big question for Western civilization is whether we can keep the fruit of a Christian culture when it is severed from its roots…

To say that we are in a “secular age” does not mean that we are post-religion, it means that we have decoupled the relationship between religion and the ordering of society…

Now we are seeing a surge in the gap left by that decoupling… one of the elements of that surge is a new pluralism in the West which is syncrestic and imperialistic… the new pluralism is where people say “I’ll take a dash of Buddhism and a dash of Hinduism and a little Christianity…”

In a way, the new pluralism is a response to religious fundamentalism… if embracing religions in their totality is seen to be evil, then taking a little of each is a way of hedging our bets…

One of the challenges here is that when I’m in conversations with people and they are leveraging a critique against the church, they don’t recognize that many of those critiques are dependent on what the church has taught…

There’s a greater burden now on the church to show that what it is teaching is good… that religion is good is no longer taken for granted… there’s an invitation of the Spirit here to show how what we believe is good for civil society…

Christianity at its best has always at its best has been able to name what is good about different religions and systems of thought while also showing how Christ corrects and completes them…

Another element of the surge is a new kind of paganism… in the old paganism, you used the gods as means to your own end… the new paganism is things like technology, commerce, and politics… it is a way to get what I want and make me feel better…  

Episode 101: An Interview with Steve Cuss – Managing Leadership Anxiety.

In this episode, we sit down with Steve Cuss to talk about his book Managing Leadership Anxiety and how leaders can become not only more self-aware but also wise about managing both their own anxiety and that of others. You can learn more about Steve and his work at capablelife.me.

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This book was born out of some measure of personal desperation… from a deep desire that the life I was proclaiming to others was also the life I was living… 

All chronic anxiety is based on false belief and false need… leadership anxiety is what happens to us when we don’t get what we feel we need to be okay… 

One form of this for me was the belief that every sermon I preached needed to be the best sermon people had ever heard… then, whether it went really well or poorly, I became anxious… I was living under a false need…  

There are universal sources of anxiety, where it doesn’t matter how you’re wired, if you’re in that situation, you’ll be anxious… for instance, whenever we are in situations where we don’t know what to do, we’ll be anxious… that’s where a lot of pastors are right now… 

When a pastor is better at eloquently telling people about the love of God than they are at experiencing it for themselves, they are going to hit a wall… 

Burnout isn’t because of workload… burnout happens because we haven’t addressed, for instance, what happens when the critic calls and all of our old “stories” from the past come up… we can’t control whether that will happen, only our response to it… 

What anxiety does is that it tells us a lie… it is spiritual warfare… it’s about the story we tell ourselves and the voice of our inner critic… the gospel frees us from the tyranny of believing these lies… 

The first step to becoming a non-anxious leader is to pay hyper attention to your own reactivity… and then to learn to notice how your anxiety infects other people and how their anxiety infects you…  

I think that we are failing at discipling our people into non-anxiousness… most people are more discipled by their political point of view than they are by Jesus…

Episode 097: Leadership During Turbulent Times: An Interview with Dr. Ben Witherington

In this episode we sit down with New Testament scholar Dr. Ben Witherington to talk about church leadership during turbulent times.

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My parents were devout Christians and raised me in church… I was there every week and those people really shaped me… and I had some wonderful pastors along the way who were a big encouragement to me…

As I got older, there were a couple years where I didn’t really attend church… the churches seemed very formal… so I wandered until the Lord called me back through some friends into InterVarsity… that did me a world of good during a very turbulent time…

One of the things that is clear to me about right now is that when you have a crisis, you find out which people have a civic religion and which people have a genuine Christian religion… there is a sort of winnowing effect in a crisis, and you find out where people really place their trust…

I think what I want to say to pastors right now is that they need to take half-baked Christians and put them back in the oven… you don’t get to wear the big ‘C’ on your forehead if *this* is what you think about race, disease, etc…

We have a teaching moment right now, an opportunity to raise the level of biblical spirituality and sanctification, because people are struggling… we learn more from trial and tribulation than we do from other times, so: carpe diem—seize the day and let people know how Christians are supposed to behave…

We need more solid, meaty biblical preaching and teaching that’s bringing the text to bear on the situation at hand… a good preacher knows how to do this… I’m not talking about speaking to the issue du jour, but giving people the tools to fight off sub-Christianity…

It is time for us to redouble our efforts to make sure our ministers are well-equipped to equip the saints for the works of ministry…

With fallen human beings, sins like the sin of racism don’t go away; they keep resurfacing… we need to look to genuinely people like (civil rights leader) John Lewis who lived his faith out in day to day life… to Christians who will call us to action…

To the pastors of today I want to say: you are a long way from being finished… read 1 Kings 18 and 19: now is no time to give up; now is the time to redouble your efforts…

Episode 095: A Conversation on Church Discipline

In this conversation, we sit down to talk about the issue of church discipline, what it is, and why it is so important.

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I have children who are now 19 and 21… I can’t imagine what kind of human beings they would now be without rules and safeguards, without discipline…

When I was a young pastor, we had to subject a man to church discipline… when we came back to church the next Sunday, there was a palpable shift in the air… we had regained the ethos of our community…

Let’s not be surprised: if we start treating people like customers, they are going to start acting like customers… we have a sacred responsibility to make sure that the atmosphere inside our congregations is as healthy as we can make it…

Two of the lenses we can use to think about church discipline are: is it threatening the unity of the church, and is it threatening the witness of the church?

Everything is highly relational and gentle, as the Holy Spirit is with us… we’re not talking about coming in with an iron fist, but about loving one another enough to keep people from going off the cliff…

Jesus doesn’t say “get behind me Satan” because he hates Peter but because he loves Peter… this is part of the ministry of Jesus…

To be holy is to be healthy, so if we’re not concerned with holiness, we’re not concerned with health… church discipline needs to be a ministry of healing…

What we want is our congregation to take ownership of this… this is the Matthew 18 model… it’s not until “step 3” that the church gets involved…

I want 98% of the correction in the church to happen within relationships where trust has been forged… the elders are called in when grassroots correction doesn’t work…

No matter what size of church you have, there is a core group that is helping you lead… your core is like the engine of your car: if your engine is broke, your car is useless…

I believe the reason that most church leaders don’t get involved in church discipline is that they know that the first person to be judged will be them… so they ignore the topic altogether…

Episode 093: Covid-19: Where Are We Now?

Welcome to the start of Season 7 of the Essential Church Podcast. In this episode we sit down to discuss the state of the church seven months into Covid-19.

We’re seeing that fear is a powerful motivator… fear is front and center in our culture right now… pastors are wrestling with it in a way they haven’t before…

Pastors weren’t trained for this in seminary… they weren’t trained in social media or on the nuances of the culture right now…

I am concerned that if we’re not careful we are going to see a mass exodus of pastors from pastoral ministry… there’s a growing concern about this around the country…

I am telling pastors to mute the wrong voices and amplify the right voices… who we listen to will very much determine the condition of our souls…

Right now about half the churches in the US are open for in-person worship… what I am hearing from pastors across the country is that 25-30% of people are actually returning to church… people have started forming new habits…

In person church attendance has been on the decline for years… all Covid did was accelerate a trend that had already started…

I’m hearing from really committed churchgoers that they have new habits on Sundays… they wake up late, eat brunch, turn on the broadcast, and then head out hiking… that’s the new habit… we’re going to have to reshape people’s ecclesiology to help them understand the power of the gathering…

Our services don’t feel the way they used to feel from a “production” standpoint… but the spirit was as strong as ever… that’s something we can’t manufacture…

For most of church history and most of the church global, “suboptimal” is just how you do church… and those pastors who don’t want to jump in because it’s going to be suboptimal are making an enormous mistake…

I think right now we need to simplify what we’re doing… the pastors out there that are trying to push forward with a big, bold vision – you’re going to burn out…

I’m taking about simplifying everything… meetings, what you say yes to, your fall relaunch… complexity is not our friend right now… you need to have one or two things every day that you’re doing well…

We have been breathing out really hard these last seven months… now we need to start to breath in again… simplify everything…

Episode 088: The Church in an Election Year

In this episode we talk about the challenge of pastoring in an election year. (Note—this episode was recorded before Covid-19 hit, which is why there is no reference to it.)

I’ve been accused of believing that politics aren’t important; I believe they are EXTREMELY important, because the laws that are passed by our officials will affect the most vulnerable among us…

Miroslav Volf says, “A great government gives everyone the conditions opportunities and tools to live a flourishing life” – this is a fantastic reason for the church to engage in politics…

We have become not a prophetic voice but a partisan voice… we play right into the tribal aggravations and distinctions that the culture is forcing us into…

The tricky part is, how much pressure do we assert on institutions that are not the church…? Does the emperor get to appoint bishops or does the church leader get to say which emperor is excommunicated…?

We’re in a crisis in the West because our definition of the common good came from Christian roots… now we’re trying to figure out if we can enjoy Christian fruit when we are disconnected from Christian roots?

The church doesn’t have a politics as much as the church IS a politics… as we listen to the Scriptures and Jesus, the Word made flesh, we become a different kind of political being…

The best thing that we can do with our politics is to be really transparent, authentic followers of Jesus first… the ministry of Jesus had political ramifications…

We need to be aware of what’s happening in our communities and in local politics… many Christians are nationally engaged but locally distant… we should, first of all, be aware of what’s happening in local politics…

A long time ago I decided that I was going to turn my outrage into outreach…

If all your talking points line up with one party’s talking points, you haven’t taken the time to understand the logic or motive of the other party… sometimes our “opponents” have the same end in mind…

Are we more at home with people who share our faith and not our politics, or those who share our politics but not our faith…? There are some really godly people who vote differently than you…

Episode 084: Pastoral Wisdom for Coping with Covid

In this episode we sit down to talk about how Covid-19 has impacted us as well as some best practices we’re learning as we navigate this. (Also, in a related conversation, Andrew and Glenn sat down this same week with Dr. Mark Mayfield to talk about Covid-19 from a mental health and family perspective. Listen to that conversation here.)

The key to this entire thing is to simplify yourself really quickly, to get back to the basics… this is when you go to blocking and tackling… you need to lead in a steadfast way…  

We need to be aware of how emotionally fragile everyone is… we’re home, but we’re not decompressing… we’re all a little fragile and thin, and we need to be aware of that…  

I actually think we’re doing a better job pastoring people now than what we did before… we’ve made personal, lingering phone calls to over 4,000 people in our congregations… the best thing we did wasn’t live streaming, but getting on the phone with our people…  

The creativity in connection… our congregations are using Zoom as a digital lobby, allowing us to see people’s faces between services… 

I think this virus is making us more human… there is going to be a hunger for church gatherings unlike any other time I’ve ever seen in my life… there is a longing for the gathered church…

I think church attendance is going to skyrocket, and the churches that are ready for that are going to grow… I can see 20-30% growth happening… the Spirit is using all of this to shape and form a new church…  

Many pastors right now are producing too much content… if you’re going to go online, have something to say…  

I think it’s wise that we love our neighbors and NOT meet… in this time right now, defiance is foolish… pastors shouldn’t politicize this… this is a human issue… it’s a chance for us to be pro-life from womb to tomb by staying home…  

Our messaging needs to be simple right now… most of the Bible is written by and to a people under duress… so let the text speak to people… simplify and shorten your services…  

Clarity of message is huge right now… this isn’t the time to do a deep, multilayered exposition of this or that…  

When the quarantine lifts, pastors need to start thinking “micro”… have you deep-cleaned your building…? How are you going to make hand sanitizers available…? How are you going to dismiss people…?  

Pastors are used to thinking at 30,000 feet, but I think it’s going to be the small things that will make us prosper over the next several months…