Accountability, before the mess

As I read through the depressing articles coming out about another disgraced former Bible teacher I am aware of how fragile we as humans are. This time it is from a different form of church. No smoke machines or flashing lights at Ravi’s ministry. However the same depressing story of a lack of accountability. A sexual predator and narcissistic leader with non-disclosure agreements and payments made to keep the victims quiet while the incredibly talented teacher kept up his ministry, named after himself.

Here are some basic principles I think we all need as leaders.

Never name a ministry after the leader. Not a hall, not a pen, not a aspect of the ministry, nothing. The ministry should be named after Jesus or the suburb you are in. Simple. The ministry should not be dependent upon one leader, it should continue after they pass on or leave, and it should not be dependent upon their giftedness.

Have a board that asks the hard questions and it not there to just rubber stamp where the leader wishes to take them. Good leaders will have vision. They will see where the ministry needs to go. They should also be allowed to lead. Don’t stifle their gift. But as a balance, do not be afraid to ask the why question and keep the leader accountable. That is for the leaders benefit and the health of the organisation as a whole.

Ensure your leader has the support they need. I personally have a mentor, a psychologist I see, a peer group and an associate who asks me the hard questions. I also have staff that I encourage to give me feedback. I give them feedback and they give me feedback. Encourage a feedback culture. We all want to be better at what we do. Feedback is how we get better.

If you are a leader, ensure you have time to pray and read your bible. It is actually a simple yet profound formulae. The bible is your tool. It is the single most powerful tool you have to see transformation occur in peoples lives. It is also your accountability station. When you read it in the morning you should ask, God, Holy Spirit, work with me here. When our intention to meets the inspired scripture then transformation can take place.

Here is the issue though. You cannot keep a leader accountable. Not really. A leader chooses to be accountable or not. Yes you can sack them, disgrace them, move them on. But as we have seen all too often, in church, like in general society, we allow gifting to trump character. We bring people back in all too soon. We ignore or neglect issues of character, because they are good at what they do. Perhaps a salient reminder is that it is Jesus who will grow His Church, why do we think it is our job? Why do we sacrifice integrity for expediency? Yes we must be His servants and do what we can and if someone if gifted, release them into that. But we also cannot ignore issues around sustainability and integrity.

Finally have courage. Say something.

You are not Jesus and you are not telling off the Pharisees

My observation is that some brilliant Christian minds can also be unkind, derisive and curt. They often write brilliant books with helpful analogies. They are very good at seeing what needs to change and what is wrong. I would not want to doubt their intelligence and giftedness.

However in personal contact including both in life experience, with emails and social media platforms they can easily find ways to cut down those with whom they disagree with, or take issue with. Often when a challenge comes to them or a point they make, they seem to take that quite personally. Their response may be curt. They may seek to bring others in to the discussion to prove why the person is wrong. They may also refuse to engage properly with the discussion.

One test for us to be able to examine our own hearts is to honestly say who we see ourselves as being in the biblical narrative.

Often someone with narcissistic tendencies will see themself as Jesus. The suffering servant. The leader of men. The one to whom others come and find wise and insightful teaching. They thank God that they can see things others cannot. When in your heart you believe you are Gods mouth piece, writing things others listen to, speaking out when others don’t, it can be intoxicating.

Jesus points this out when he describes one man in the temple beating his chest over his own sin. The Pharisee is out in front where everyone can see him, thanking God for how good it is. The posture of the weeper is humility, the posture of the Pharisee is self seeking and pride.

Can we truly see anyone be transformed? Of course. It can and it does happen. Perhaps for some it it a journey of deep and painful discovery. I have learnt to ask people what they actually see in me, and then listen.

Most people just want someone to listen

Here is a great quote from Susan Scott.

“Most people are actually waiting for someone to come along so they can talk about things close to the heart, what they believe, things important. They have been waiting all their lives for someone like you to listen.” (Susan Scott Mineral Rights Conversations)-.

If we are honest about ourselves all of us are concerned about ourself. We all want someone to listen to and be concerned about us. For some of us it is quite the surprise when someone is genuinely and keenly interested in our lives.

Recently I spent two weeks all by myself travelling up North through Exmouth, Karijini, Coral Bay and some other places. Someone asked me what it was like being along, didn’t I get lonely and miss my family. Of course I missed my wife and family and friends. But I knew I had them to come back to. I could call them, reconnect and listen and speak to them.

I wonder if there are people in our lives who do not have that blessing. Who in fact have no one to talk to. Perhaps we could be that person. One of the greatest gifts we can give someone is to listen to them.

Key Things in my leadership

Here are some things I am working on in my own leadership style. I have become accutely aware that I am not good at confronting and dealing with small issues. They fester and then can become larger issues. This is super painful for me. To realise things about myself which don’t help others.

Key Cultural shifts

  1. Quick, direct, kind, simple feedback for everyone. Staff and volunteers.
  2. If people love Jesus they will serve, give, be engaged, share their faith, invite people to church and the church will grow in number and influence
  3. If we don’t delegate we control. When we control we limit creativity to our own and miss the creativity which is stored in others. We can have control or growth, we can’t have both
  4. The Bible is the key tool we have to see real growth and change in peoples lives. Our challenge as leaders is to have our people read their bibles for inspiration, challenge, encouragement and exhortation. 
  5. Trusting people means challenging them to say yes to Jesus at every point in their lives. 

Why Black Lives Matter

You have very likely seen the hashtag ‘Black Lives Matter’ circulating in relation to an increasingly worrying amounts of events which have racial undertones. I want to make the proposition that it is really unhelpful when someone wants to put a disclaimer in there that ‘all lives matter’.

Yes, all lives do matter. In Genesis 1.26 we read what should be the foundation of the Christians worldview, that God created all humankind with His image. This concept leads us to understand that we all came from the same humans. We all contain within us the ‘image’ of God. Christians take this to mean we all have the capacity to experience the love of God, and express it to others. As this event occurred at a time before we had races, ethnicities and different shades of colour, the idea that all lives matter should be deeply ingrained within us. There is no question of this foundational truth.

What is apparent to me is that at this time we need reminding that ‘black lives matter’. It appears quite clearly that in both Australia and other parts of the world there is serious discrimination and mistreatment of people because of the colour of their skin. A perception that somehow the shade of the pigment found means the person can be pre-judged, not trusted and perceptions agreed upon about how they will behave.

In fact I wish to say that as a Christian, how our nation has expressed racism towards our original inhabitants is something we continue to need to address. We need to bring focus to it. It is also clear that other nations of the world also need to address discrimination on the basis of skin colour. To highlight one issue or one need, does not disparage another. To me, it’s just common sense and completely uncomplicated to say Black Lives Matter. Because they do. That does not mean that all lives don’t matter. It is just that at this distressing point in our history we need to focus on Black Lives. Because they matter.

Wow, so this is what my church looks like

I am fully expecting that in 6-12 months when the Covid19 Virus has done its worst and the restrictions are lifted that a stack of people are going to come in through the physical doors of Inglewood Community Church and say, wow, this is what my church looks like on the inside. The screen is so huge and the band is massive. That Pastor Mark guy is a little skinnier than he looks on the screen and he moves around a lot.

God is not afraid of a virus and neither should the church be. The past four weeks have been some of the most taxing and difficult of my 25 year pastoral journey. We have battled anxiety, fear, the possibility of financial collapse and a total reimagination of what Church actually is.

The Church is in the business of gathering people. Whether it be youth programs, children’s programs or a Sunday Service, we bring people together for singing, for worship, for teaching, for discipleship and for encouragement and fellowship. We ask them to serve and be served. To help people say yes to Jesus.

Has that been taken away? No. The way we have done it is in recess, as it should be. The path of love in this season is physical seperation. But the gathering? Never before has the Church had such incredible tools available to it to gather people, to reach people, to worship and to serve.

At Inglewood we are struggling under the strain like everyone else. And I do not think the larger churches will cope any better than the small ones. The key to this season is innovation and agility. Being hopeful and purposeful.

Four weeks in we are reaching people we have never reached. We have reconnected with people we have lost touch with. And people are saying yes to Jesus.

Am I looking forward to meeting together again in a physical building? Absolutely. Do I want to go back to how things were. Absolutely not. This season is one to be capitalised. I can’t wait to shake the hands of people for the first time, people I have seen say yes to Jesus.

Time Out

A few people have been asking me how I am.

It is a super interesting question because when you answer you are answering knowing that you are trying to represent yourself in a certain way. Sometimes we give an answer to provoke sympathy. We are seeking something that is missing in ourselves. Sometimes we give an answer to provoke respect. We are seeking something missing in ourselves. Sometimes we give an answer designed to halt any further probing. Maybe because we just don’t want to enter into a conversation where we might feel exposed or vulnerable.

Sometimes we give an answer that is just what we are feeling. This is the rare answer. The answer that comes without guile or manipulation. Often there are a select group of people who we give this answer to. If you give this answer you want it to be handled carefully and gently. You are exposing a vulnerable side of yourself.

The best answer is one where we can be aware enough of ourselves, own who we are, who Jesus says we are and own how we are at this moment.

How am I? Well thats a question for another day.