By / May 17

A few weeks ago, I groaned as I opened up a social media account to be greeted by a headline about a prominent megachurch pastor who was engrossed in scandal. My first thought was, “Not again.” It seems like every few weeks, we learn about more prominent evangelical leaders who have moved from rise to fall due to toxic leadership, financial mismanagement, or sexual failure. Why does this keep happening?

The right focus on the right leadership gifts 

The reason is not profound. It’s quite simple actually. May I suggest that the reason leaders keep falling is because we’ve perhaps overemphasized some aspects of leadership while underemphasizing or flat ignoring others? 

Here’s what I mean. We tend to elevate and platform leaders with certain external gifts. We put on a pedestal those men and women who are beautiful, bold, gifted, and charismatic. If they are dynamic communicators, effective leaders, and can draw a crowd or sell a lot of books, they become prominent in our evangelical world. While the ability to draw a crowd or deliver a dynamic message is not a vice in and of itself, I believe we have overemphasized the importance of these leadership gifts.

Meanwhile, we’ve ignored or forgotten certain other aspects of leadership. For instance, we’ve forgotten our theology. We’ve forgotten, as an example, that the Bible says we are completely sinful, even pastors and leaders. No one is beyond a public or private moral failure. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:10 says, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” We shouldn’t be surprised when we put our favorite evangelical leader on a pedestal and then they fall off. Maybe they weren’t created by God to take “center stage.” Maybe the pedestal shouldn’t be occupied by anyone but Jesus. In a sense, we shouldn’t be surprised when we hear about a leader having a fall, because the Bible tells us that there is no one we can completely trust but Jesus. Jesus never fails. Leaders fail quite often.

More than that, while we tend to platform leaders with obvious external gifts, we have underemphasized the importance of internal character. The most important gift a leader can give to those who follow is their character. I heard Gary Thomas say recently, “What a trap it is to work hard on your sermons but not work hard on your character.” Ouch.

Scripture is replete with references to what matters most in leadership. Consider the psalmist’s description of David’s leadership: “So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands” (Psalm 78:72). Or how about Paul’s description of the qualifications for pastors in 1 Timothy 3:1-7:

This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Out of that entire list of qualifications, only one has anything to do with a pastor’s competency or skill. A pastor must be “able to teach.” Everything else has to do with the pastor’s inner life, what a pastor must be. The pastor must be blameless, committed to his wife, not violent, or greedy, or covetous. He must be gentle and be a good husband and father. He must be humble and have a good reputation. 

What’s noticeably absent? Paul never says that a good pastor must be any of the things we often look for in our popular evangelical leaders. There’s nothing here about having dripping charisma, nothing about being hip and cool, nothing about turning a pithy phrase in the pulpit, nothing about “velocity” or “efficiency” as a leader, nothing about the ability to grow a large church.

Good leadership is about character. Maybe the reason the public falls keep happening is because we’ve forgotten what’s most essential. We’ve forgotten that who we are in public is an overflow of who we are in private. We’ve forgotten that who we are when no one but God is looking is who we really are. And if who we really are is anything other than someone who is submitted to the Father, yielded to Christ, and indwelt by the Spirit for the purpose of obedience for the sake of his name, then our inner brokenness will become public reproach.

By / Jun 16

Rich Stearns, former president of World Vision U.S., has been a leader for a long time. Over the course of his life and career, serving within several organizations, he’s learned some important lessons about leadership, but none more important than being a leader with character and, as a Christian, one who is preoccupied with the will and way of God.

In his new book, Lead Like it Matters to God: Values-Driven Leadership in a Success-Driven World, Stearns outlines many of those lessons learned, encouraging readers to embrace a cross-shaped leadership model. In our world today, where leadership failings, missteps, and sins seem ever before us, Stearns’ vision of leadership is a challenging, yet gracious and encouraging call for the Christian to lead in a Christlike way.

Stearnes was kind enough to spend time answering a few of our questions about his book and his time as a leader. 

As you mention early in your book, there are a lot of leadership books that have been written. So, what compelled you to write this leadership book? What do you hope that it accomplishes?

I wanted to write a book on the critical importance of character in our leaders — especially in Christian leaders. Corporate scandals, the #MeToo movement, the coarseness of our politics, and scandals within churches and ministries are all the result of leaders of poor character who have abused their power. And, we live in a world where the temptations of success, influence, and financial rewards are all around us. Success and the drive to achieve it can become idols in our lives that cause leaders to stray from any sense of a moral compass. The result of this ‘unanchored leadership’ can be catastrophic for organizations and the people who work in them. 

Mother Teresa once said something profound — something that redefines success for a Christian: “God did not call me to be successful, he called me to be faithful.” Christian leaders, whether in ministry or in the marketplace, need to intentionally resist the lure of money, fame, and success and anchor themselves in the character of Christ. For Christian leaders, faithfulness is success, and success is faithfulness.

You say that “good leaders can change the world in remarkable ways.” Whether in business, church life, or in the home, why is good leadership so important, and what are some of the dangers of leadership done poorly?

Virtually everything that is accomplished in our world is the result of leaders who organize and direct groups of people to achieve something that none of them could have achieved alone. Whether bringing a product to market, passing important legislation, or building a church or ministry, leadership is the key ingredient that makes all of these things possible. But when a leader lacks integrity, uses people to achieve their own success, puts profit ahead of people, or is manipulative and abusive, the results can be devastating. 

Look at the opioid pandemic, where corporate leadership kept pushing more and more opioids through the healthcare system even after they knew that their own customers were becoming addicted and even dying. Or, closer to home, look at some of the church and ministry leadership failures that harmed thousands of people and discredited the name of Christ. For the Christian leader, your character matters much more to God than your achievements. God is not impressed by the title on your business card, the size of your bank account, or even the growth rate of your ministry. God is looking for leaders after his own heart — leaders who are winsome ambassadors for Jesus Christ.

As a Christian, you advocate for some very distinct leadership principles that may not often find their way into an environment like corporate America. For example, you begin with surrender. For Christians (again, whether in business, church life, or in the home), why is “surrender the place where leadership must begin?”

When we first place our faith in Jesus Christ, we are called to surrender our lives to him — not my will Lord, but thy will. And God is not interested in a partial surrender subject to a long list of conditions. Some of us would prefer not to surrender our finances, our careers, or our ambitions. But God calls us to sacrifice our ambitions for his ambitions for us. And once we fully surrender those things to God, it is very freeing. We can rise above the typical workplace stresses and politics because we have already handed those things over to the Lord. We might receive promotions and advancement, or we might not. Either way, we have entrusted those things to God. Again, in the words of Mother Teresa, “God did not call us to be successful, he called us to be faithful.” 

If we truly want to be used by God to further his kingdom, it starts with surrender. I believe that there are pastors of very small churches, who have been faithfully surrendered to God for decades, who will receive greater praise from God than some megachurch pastors who have built huge churches driven by their own ambition. Again, God is more interested in a leader’s character than a leader’s accomplishments. Success is not the goal.

One section that stood out to me was your chapter on courage. What role does courage play in leadership?

Leaders are often called on to make consequential decisions. Sometimes those decisions come with a cost. For example, during the COVID pandemic, many business leaders were forced to choose between protecting profits or protecting people. It took courage for leaders to put people first and then deal with criticism from shareholders or constituents. Elected officials had to decide on COVID protocols that inevitably brought praise from some and criticism from others. 

In Scripture, think of the courage it required for Joshua to enter the Promised Land with armies arrayed against him, or for the 12 disciples to lead the early church in the face of horrific persecution. We often overlook the fact that 11 of the disciples died violent deaths as martyrs. It often takes courage for a leader to do the right thing — the thing that puts people above profits or politics or personal gain.

In the early 2000s when the AIDS pandemic was killing millions in Africa and leaving a whole generation of orphans behind, World Vision had to decide whether to help. It sounds like a no-brainer today, but at the time, AIDS was deeply stigmatized in the U.S. as a ‘culture war’ issue, and polling showed only 3%  of evangelicals in America said they were ‘definitely’ willing to help children orphaned by AIDS. In other words, most of World Vision’s donors were opposed to getting involved with the victims of AIDS. We had to decide whether to do the right thing or the expedient thing, risking the relationships with our church partners and donors. We believed that caring for widows and orphans in their distress was the right thing — even if it was extremely unpopular. 

Over the next five years, we campaigned tirelessly, raised hundreds of millions of dollars to help victims of AIDS, and helped to change the attitude of American Christians toward the issue. But at the beginning, it took courage.

How can a leader or prospective leader cultivate courage?

It’s important to understand that courage does not mean that we have no fears; it means that we try to do the right thing anyway. But the most important thing for leaders is to be deeply rooted in God’s truth. I mentioned the importance of a moral compass to help leaders navigate the blizzard of challenges and decisions they will have to make. That moral compass comes from embracing the love of Christ and the character of Christ in our own lives. 

The old WWJD bracelets had it right: what would Jesus do? That question should always be on the lips of a Christian leader. And, of course, the only way for us to become more Christlike is the lifelong process of discipleship — and again, surrender to his will for our lives.

You also discuss a leader’s role in creating/casting vision, which you call one of the chief tasks of leadership. Would you call vision-casting a skill? If so, how can leaders grow in this area?

Vison-casting sounds like a kind of ‘prophesying’ skill, but in the context of an organization, it is really just about defining the desired future for that organization. Where are we now, and where do we want to be three or five years from now?  What are the things we will need to achieve to get there, what steps do we need to take in what sequence, and what are the values we will embrace on the journey? 

One of the key jobs of the leader is first, to help the organization decide on these things, and then to clearly articulate and model them. It’s a little like the GPS in your car: where am I now, what is my destination, and what are the steps I will need to take to get there? If a leader fails to bring clarity around these things, the organization can drift aimlessly without any clear sense of where they are headed. 

And it is critical for the leader to ‘own’ that vision — to constantly model and communicate it by ‘eating, drinking and sleeping’ the vision in full view of the organization. The best-led organizations have clarity about where they are headed. 

How can vision-casting be applied to the home and family?

I think many of the same principles apply to our family life. Who are we as a family? What do we believe, and what values do we share? Do we teach and model honesty, integrity, excellence, compassion, humility, courage, respect, and perseverance to our kids? As parents, how can we ‘eat, drink, and sleep’ these values in front of our children so that they will have clarity about who we are as followers of Christ?

In Deuteronomy, Moses speaks to God’s people just before they enter the Promised Land, and he exhorts them to live their lives according to God’s values and purposes: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deut 6:6-9). That’s not a bad prescription for equipping our children with God’s Word.  

As you survey the state of society today, what challenges should Christians be prepared to face as they assume positions of leadership?

First and foremost, Christian leaders need to understand that their most important job is to represent Christ wherever they live and work. The verse I had stenciled on my office wall at World Vision was 2 Corinthians 5:20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God is making his appeal through us.” 

Whatever title you have on your business card is superseded by your responsibility to be an ambassador for Christ. Once that becomes the bedrock of your leadership, you will be better able to resist the gravitational pull of the workplace culture, the ever-present drive for success that permeates our culture, and the temptations of money, power, and influence that can so easily lead you astray. You have surrendered those things to the Lord. When you do this, you may be ‘the odd man out’ in your place of work, but that’s exactly what we are called to be as believers. We are to be ‘salt and light’ in our culture and ‘the fragrance of Christ’ in our workplaces and communities. We should stand out.

Looking back over your career as a leader, what are one or two key things that God taught you through your vocation?

Our character is our witness. We live and work in front of a watching world. What will they see when they look at our lives, our conduct, and our values? What are we modeling? 

I’ve learned that God wants us to take our faith to work with us. The places we live and work are the places where God has intentionally stationed us to be his ambassadors. And when we live out our Christian convictions authentically, we can become an encouragement to our neighbors and co-workers, and an island in the storm for people who are struggling. Our career is the place we live out our calling.

Leadership is often described as difficult or challenging or even lonely. And though this may be true, each of these carries with it a subtle negative tone. I’m curious, what would you say are the joys of leadership?

The Olympic Gold Medalist in the 1924 Olympic Games, Eric Liddell, once said: “God made me, and God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” When we exercise our God-given abilities and talents in our places of work, God wants us to feel his pleasure. He has given us leadership responsibility over a group of people and wants us to rejoice at seeing each of them realize their own God-given potential. Think of the joy an orchestra conductor feels at bringing the beautiful music out of her musicians.  Leadership can be incredibly gratifying when we see our job as helping those around us release their talents to achieve their own dreams and ambitions. 

What encouragement would you give to younger leaders who aim to serve faithfully within their sphere of influence?

There is a truth I discovered late in my career that I wish I had better understood as a younger leader. What God is doing through us involves us, but does not depend on us. Let me say that again: what God is doing through you, involves you but does not depend on you. What do I mean by that? When we surrender our lives and careers to God, we can trust him for the outcome. 

In Scripture, David was involved in slaying Goliath, but it did not depend on David. Moses was involved in leading God’s people out of Egypt, but it did not depend on Moses. And Peter, an uneducated fisherman, was called to lead and establish the early church in a hostile world, but it did not depend on Peter. Once you understand that God will use you wherever you work if you are truly faithful to him,  you can relax and enjoy the journey — because God is looking to use leaders after his own heart in powerful ways. Remember, faithfulness is success for the Christian leader.

By / Apr 29

Classic literature is not where we are likely to turn when looking to learn leadership principles. However, fiction is a constructive way for leaders to grow. Almost any great work of literature is worthwhile for leaders. In my experience, many leaders, particularly Christian leaders, neglect literary fiction to read books that are seemingly more practical (i.e., books on leadership). While literature seems less practical, it is often more useful in the long term. 

Literature helps shape virtue, which is essential for any meaningful or lasting leadership. Good stories stick with us and shape us consciously and subconsciously. Leaders need to be people of virtue and strong character. Literature also helps us cultivate empathy by seeing things from someone else’s perspective. 

As a general tip for reading fiction for those with little experience, I suggest finding some topic of interest and looking for a novel somehow related (for example, if you are interested in studying military history, you may enjoy All Quiet on the Western Front). As you read more, you will likely find your tastes expand, and you will become interested in reading widely.

The literary corpus is so large; where does someone begin? In particular, where does someone unaccustomed to reading fiction begin? I am going to share a few works that I believe would be helpful and accessible. I do not think these are the only works, or even necessarily the best works, but I do believe each of these works has incredible value and would be a decent place to begin.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day is a powerful novel about an English butler reflecting on life near his career’s end. While he has enjoyed and been honored by his career, he laments having missed out on relationships and opportunities by investing so deeply in his work. This novel is brilliantly captivating and a powerful reminder for leaders as they contemplate their work and their lives. It is easy for a leader to pour one’s life into one’s work at the expense of several vital things, including loving their families and growing in spiritual maturity. This novel offers wisdom into that topic.

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Julius Caesar is loosely based on the historical assassination of Julius Caesar. This is one you likely read in high school (or were at least assigned). This play shows readers the stakes in leading well, making decisions for others, and the consequences of those choices. Shakespeare understood the human condition as well as any other English-speaking author, and he forces readers to wrestle with the essence of our identity, how we separate personal preferences from the greater good, and much more. Leaders must often make choices with no clear right or easy answer, and Shakespeare captures that reality in Julius Caesar

The Odyssey by Homer

The Odyssey is likely the most challenging book on this list, but the payoff is immeasurable for those willing to invest in it. Part of the challenge is that The Odyssey is epic poetry. Finding the right translation is helpful in making it through this one; I recommend Richmond Lattimore’s translation, but there are several other worthy translations. Odysseus is trying to make his way home to Ithaca after the Trojan War, and his journey is filled with detour after detour. Odysseus is known for his cunning, but he also makes the occasional bad decision. On his journey, he tries to remain faithful to his wife and his quest while also protecting his men, but he also experiences failure and loss. There are lessons to learn from Odysseus by positive and negative examples, and Homer covers so many topics throughout this great epic, it is worth reading several times.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

I would likely favor having The Lord of the Rings on this list over The Hobbit, but that is a much greater undertaking. It may seem silly to include a children’s book, particularly a fantastical one. However, I hold the conviction that stories worth reading to children are at least as valuable for adults to read. The Hobbit follows an unlikely, unqualified hero, Bilbo Baggins, on a journey to reclaim treasure guarded by a dragon. Along the way, Bilbo must find courage and virtue in himself to achieve success. The most important thing for a leader is to have strong character, and this novel can help cultivate wisdom and virtue. If a tiny hobbit can face dire challenges to save his friends and experience success, so can we.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice is sometimes viewed as being a love story, but it is so much more. This novel interacts with human identity and how we are uniquely created. The characters don’t always fit their family’s or society’s expectations. This tension forces introspection in readers — leaders must come to terms with their strengths and weaknesses to lead well. This book also reminds us that first impressions aren’t always accurate, and leaders need to be compassionate and slow to make judgments. Good leaders are attentive and listen well.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Total disclosure: this is my favorite work of fiction. I hesitated to mention it because the novel’s unabridged version is over 1,000 pages, which would make it a difficult place to start. But few other works deal with as many issues as beautifully as this one. Edmond Dantes is cruelly wronged but experiences growth in the process. This novel highlights what it means to hold on to hope, even amid hardship for many years. Dumas also deals with themes of forgiveness, justice, mercy, and redemption in this beautiful narrative.

Leaders often overlook classic literature for books about self-improvement and leadership growth. Yet, classic works of fiction offer inspiration and insight, shaping us through narrative. Next time you look for fresh books for your personal development, consider some of these great works of classic literature.

By / Feb 17

The world changed for me that night in March when NBA players were called off the court and the notifications on my phone started lighting up like a Christmas tree. Global pandemic, social distancing, mask-wearing, zoom-calling, toilet-paper ordering—what is this new reality I am facing, I wondered. As I entered into this Twilight Zone of leadership, managing seismic changes and making hundreds of new decisions, I felt the weight of it all on my shoulders. I’m sure every pastor and leader can relate. 

How do we remain healthy through times of heightened stress? While I certainly have not cracked the code on leading through difficult seasons, here are three things I’m learning.

  1. I need to listen to my body and get more rest.  

Recently, after two full days of meetings, I drove home with my friend, Migraine. He was not pleasant company. When I got home, I went to the bedroom, turned off the lights, and slept till the next morning. In this season of “make decisions, change decisions,” everything feels more pressurized, which adds weight to the soul and mind. I think wisdom calls us to look at our schedules and to realize it’s not sustainable to pack our days so full that we have no time for decompression. “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” (Prov. 4:23). Be kind to yourself and go hit a round of golf, or grab a light lunch with a friend. 

In addition to taking more time to recharge your own soul, be sensitive also to the weight your wife is carrying. No pastor carries the water alone, and the burdens are felt in the pastor’s home also. If you can, schedule extra time with your spouse, to meet up for chips and queso, or to take a hike outdoors together. As Lynley and I have made time for more of this, we have felt more refreshed for the work of the ministry and less overwhelmed by the challenges. 

  1. I need to rip up the old scorecard.

Most leaders I know are living in perpetual frustration because their plans have been foiled time and time again since COVID-19 hit. It’s not that our dreams are expired, but the pandemic has caused everything to slow down dramatically. All the goal-setters out there are crabby, because the world changed overnight and the metrics shifted also. Packed out events, sold out conferences, rooms filled with infectious energy—none of these “outward signs” that church stuff is working have any real significance in the moment. 

When I tweeted that “God wants us to be faithful, not successful,” a few people took issue with the statement. I can understand why. “Isn’t faithfulness a success in and of itself?” one person asked. Of course it is. What I meant, however, is that the world’s measure of success is normally associated with bigger, bigger, bigger. In this season, pastors cannot participate in that old system of topping last year’s numbers and pushing line graphs up and to the right. Instead, ministry means organizing service projects, preaching to cameras and cold rooms, and making phone calls to that person who lost their job this week. These less glamorous tasks are the slow and steady work of the ministry and they matter greatly to God. 

  1. I need to pray like it all depends on God. 

Naturally, I work like it all depends on me, and always have. It’s a problem. Self-reliance is the easy part for driven personalities. Learning to wait, sit back, and to trust the Lord, with an ever deepening prayer life—that is the real treasure that arrives in times of uncertainty. 

Recently, I was searching the internet for a free image to use for preaching. As I did, I came across a picture of Jesus reaching down into the water, seeking to lift up a fully submerged Peter. It dawned on me that the Bible isn’t clear just how far Peter sank after he walked on water. Some artists show his ankles under the sea, some his waist, a few his shoulders. This was the first time I had ever considered that Jesus allowed Peter to plunge all the way down. It was a thought-provoking image. 

As the global pandemic rages on, many church leaders are feeling increasingly uncertain about the new normal in front of us. It started ankle deep, then waist, and has continued to rise. Anxiety grows as momentum plateaus. Breathe deep and believe that the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is good for the soul. He still has the whole world in his hands. And when this moment passes, Jesus will reward those who kept their eyes on him–no matter how deep the water. He may let us sink a little, but he will not let us drown.

Put your ministry back in his hands, and pray that the Lord will work his will in our hearts as we wait upon his wrist to break through the water. 

By / Nov 18

One of the most discouraging things in my walk with Jesus has been seeing Christian leaders fall. At this point in my life, I’ve seen it happen so many times that it is hardly surprising anymore. In fact, at times I feel numb to it. It seems like every year, and sometimes every week, there is news of a different Christian leader, on some level, who has fallen into moral failure. Most recently, it was the lead pastor of Hillsong Church in New York City, who was dismissed from the church earlier this month due to an extramarital affair. Following the news of his firing, social media was filled with a range of responses. Some mocked Lentz for his brand of cool Christianity. Others expressed their disapproval and regret to see another Christian leader fall. But many who had been influenced by Lentz expressed emotions of hurt and confusion. 

Moral failure

Seeing some of those responses, particularly those reflecting pain and doubt in the wake of seeing a spiritual leader fall, made me think again about the issue of moral failure. Moral failure brings about a great deal of fallout. It marks the end of ministries. It marks the end of marriages. It devastates families. As the apostle Paul said it “makes shipwreck” of faith, but not only of the faith of the one who fell (1 Tim. 1:19). 

In the aftermath of a leader’s moral failure, great damage is done to those who looked to that person for guidance. This is because Christian leaders have much more than benign influence. For those under their spiritual care, such leaders are living pictures of Jesus. In their lives, words, and actions, they model what it means to follow Christ. And whether they intend to or not, their lives serve as a sort of validation of the gospel. Seeing some live in a way that demonstrates the authenticity of conversion and new birth verifies that Christianity itself is based upon something real and true.

It’s no wonder seeing a spiritual leader fall is so painful. At the very least, as a result of their fall, many begin to second-guess the things you learned from them. Were those things really true? Or were they simply expedient in some way you didn’t recognize before because you never thought to question them? And sometimes the result is much worse, leading not merely to doubts about the lessons that person taught but the faith he or she represented. Few things are more jarring than seeing someone who has shown Jesus to you fall into sins that repudiate the very things you most admired about them. 

Christian faithfulness

I’ve seen Christian leaders try to hedge against this problem by speaking regularly about their own brokenness. Reminding those under your care about your own humanity and fallenness is, in general, a good practice. A Christian leader who never admits to struggling with sin isn’t doing any favors to those they are leading for a number of reasons. All of us are broken and struggle with sin. And inevitably, even the most faithful among us will still fall short in ways that disappoint and cause pain to those around us. But simply reminding others of our own sinfulness is neither a remedy for our sin nor a bulwark against its effects. 

Faithful Christian leaders recognize two things at the same time. First, they know that Jesus alone is perfect. But second, they know that our fallenness is no excuse for unfaithfulness.

There is a reason the apostle Paul instructed the Corinthians to follow his example (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul was an apostle. He was not a superhero. By instructing those believers to follow him, he was not setting up a precedent that the rest of us are just supposed to ignore. Instead, he was showing us what it looks like to follow the example of Jesus who instructed us to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19). A disciple is a follower. And though we are all called to be followers of Jesus, we learn what that looks like through the example of believers who are ahead of us in the faith.

Faithful Christian leaders recognize two things at the same time. First, they know that Jesus alone is perfect. But second, they know that our fallenness is no excuse for unfaithfulness. Christian leadership is a burden. This is the reason that James says that “not many of you should be teachers” (3:1). But those who assume the burden of Christian leadership really are expected to walk in a manner worthy of imitation. Our sinful nature does not lessen that burden. And knowing that, we should commit to memory the words of Hebrews 12, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”

Keep watch

If the stories I know of Christian leaders guilty of significant moral failure are any example, none of us should assume that we are safe from future sin because our lives seem to be on track right now. The Scriptures are filled with warnings about the insidious nature of sin. Peter tells us that the devil prowls as a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). Paul not only tells us to keep a close watch over our lives and doctrine, but admonishes us that anyone who thinks he stands should take heed lest he fall (1 Tim. 4:16; 1 Cor. 10:12). The point could not be more apparent: we are always in danger of falling into sin.

You might be tempted to explain away the moral failure of others. But what happened to Carl Lentz can just as easily happen to you. It may come in a different form, but temptation is coming for you all the same (Gen. 4:7). Sin is no respecter of persons. And the devil seeks your destruction. I’ve had to remind myself that numbness is not the answer to revelations of moral failure among believers. Nor is judgement. Instead, I have resolved that each time I hear about another leader’s failure, I will pray for them and pray for me. I will not ask how they could do such a thing, but ask that God would protect me from that which most tempts me. 

It is a weighty thing that the lives and faith of many believers are bound up with a leader’s ability to fight against sin. But they are. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christian leaders owe it to Jesus and to his people to fight against sin with all they have.

By / Oct 20

I became a member of Christ Church West Chester (CCWC) on March 8 of this year, the last Sunday before the COVID-19 pandemic brought our country to a halt. For churches all over the world, the inability to gather in person was—and for many, still is—an incredibly discouraging feeling. But for our church, a humble congregation just shy of 100 members in a small borough outside Philadelphia, the shutdown seemed to hit especially close to home. 

Part of the reason for this is that for many in the congregation, the church is home. Numerous members live within blocks of one another, others opt to commute to work across state lines or have relocated to the area specifically to reside near the church, and several live within a literal stone’s throw of the church building. For individuals who have set aside so many other parts of their lives in order to fully invest in the life of this family, the sudden denial of the joys of gathering on Sundays provoked a sincerely hollow feeling. 

As dispirited as the congregation was at the beginning of the shutdown, none was more crushed than our senior pastor, Raymond Johnson. Only a few weeks after celebrating his fifth anniversary leading CCWC, the bustling halls outside his office were suddenly empty, and his family’s dinner table, commonly packed with guests, was suddenly a little less full. For a pastor who wears his heart on his sleeve and whose supreme delight for his congregation is apparent, the temptation to fall into frustration and dejection must have been immense. 

Patience under pressure

The ensuing months would only be more tumultuous. Nationwide disagreements about the pandemic, racial justice, and the presidential election would engulf not only our unbelieving neighbors, but also, sadly, our churches. For pastors, the difficulties that March brought were only the beginning.

But if this season in any way caused Raymond’s joy in pastoring to decrease, he’s never once shown it. If anything, the challenges of this year have done nothing but rekindle his love for the church. As a pastoral intern, I’ve had the pleasure of working with him on a daily basis over the past couple months. Through these interactions, I can confidently attest that the behind-the-scenes Raymond, even amidst 2020’s constant distractions, setbacks, and pressures, is the same person as the Sunday morning Raymond: full of a youthful yet cultivated love for life, the Lord, and his people. 

The eagerness and joy he constantly carries himself with could lead some to wonder whether these past several months have produced any real tests or trials in his ministry at all. But such conclusions would be misinformed. In addition to the heartache caused by suspended or limited gatherings, Raymond and his fellow elders have been saddled with the unenviable pressure of attempting to simultaneously observe community health guidelines, maintain a conscientious adherence to Hebrews 10:25, and respect the multiplicity of preferences and comfort levels of the church’s congregants. 

I encourage you to find the evidences of grace in your pastor’s life during this season, and then let him know that you are thankful for all he does. 

These constraints, coupled also with increasing political tensions, have often led Raymond to the feeling that there is no right move he can make, but a million wrong ones. Such conditions can, if one is not careful, sow seeds of bitterness, anger, and resentment. But he has remained patient and resolute, leaning not on his own understanding, but the Lord’s.

The joy of the Lord

It is precisely this dependence upon the Lord—the confidence to lead courageously and faithfully while at the same time praying, “Thy will be done,” that has allowed Raymond to maintain the same joy pastoring virtually and socially distanced as in normal settings. It is a humble dependence that recognizes his shortcomings. He is constantly asking for ways he can improve his teaching, seeking counsel for the best way to handle sticky situations, quickly repenting for sins committed, and most importantly, going boldly before God in prayer. It is clear that Raymond sees himself as nothing more than a servant of the Almighty, a job title that brings him unrivaled delight.

This joy is an infectious one he is not content keeping to himself. It is not uncommon for him to interrupt work days by rounding up the office for a spontaneous hymn-sing. He is always inviting guests over for dinner or to spend time with his family of seven (each of which shares his fun-loving personality) in the neighborhood park. And each time he ends his conversations with, “I love you, and I’m glad you’re here,” he genuinely means it. 

Raymond’s joy is born out of a love for the Lord and his Word, something that is evident in his eagerness to delve into rich conversations on theology, personal devotion, politics, and similar topics. But at the same time, it is a happiness that refuses to take life too seriously. He recognizes that the Christian life is no monastic or ascetic experience, but one lived in delight in the good gifts God has given us in Christ. Our most memorable moments are indeed the lighthearted ones: putting him in his place on the basketball court, picking him up after a bike crash that left him with a giant hole in the backside of his pants, and pranks around the office. Raymond’s delight in Christ is evident not merely in the way he preaches on Sundays, but in his love of life itself.

The unprecedented events of this year have made things difficult for every member of our church, but our pastor has reminded us through word and deed that the joy of the Lord is our strength. For a time as tumultuous as this one, there are perhaps no perfect answers on how to encourage and exhort a discouraged, anxious, and frustrated congregation, and pastors will likely find themselves failing over and over again. But despite his shortcomings, Raymond’s constant joy has been the firmest reassurance of the Lord’s steadfast love a church could ask for. I encourage you to find the evidences of grace in your pastor’s life during this season, and then let him know that you are thankful for all he does. 

By / Oct 13

Rolland Slade, the senior pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, California, was elected as the first black chair of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee in June. And he and his church are excellent examples of what it looks like to be a witness for Christ in their community. During the pandemic, they have modeled respectful civic engagement and continued creative ministry. Below, Slade answers a few questions about how his church worked with city leaders to serve their community in a remarkable way. 

You and your church came up with a wonderful way to care for the community? How did you develop this idea? 

We have been hosting a fellowship meal for years on Wednesday evenings as part of our ministry midweek programming. A few years back, the mayor of El Cajon, Mark Lewis (the current mayor is Bill Wells, who is a friend), challenged us to make it more inclusive. So we opened it up to the general community. Previously, it was more of a dinner for members of the church and their families or friends. When we opened it up to the community, we discovered that a good number of the people who were living in homelessness began coming to eat. Several of our members intentionally built relationships with them and learned their stories. From that, we began to hear about people who were falling on hard times and needed shelter.

I also have been serving on the Regional Task Force on the Homeless in San Diego for a number of years. While on the board of directors, I heard and read about tiny homes and villages of homes being set up in other communities around the country. Then I saw an article in our local newspaper about Amikas and their Emergency Sleeping Cabins. They had built a number of them in another community, but they were for display only. We had some land at the church, and I contacted Amikas to discuss building a “display” cabin on our church property. 

As I said in the Baptist Press article last year, “we were using the property to grow tumble weeds.” Building the display cabin would give cities in the east region of San Diego County an opportunity to come by and see what they looked like. Now almost a year later, we are working with the city of El Cajon to build a small village of six cabins.

How will it serve the members of your community?

For the village, we have adopted Amikas’ vision of “San Diego County as a place where every woman and child has a safe place to live.” Amikas’ mission is to prevent women and children, especially veteran women, from being homeless.

What pushback did you encounter, and how did you handle it? 

There was initial pushback. People have seen through the media how some of the encampments in Portland, Seattle, and Oakland have been disastrous. Initially, people thought that what we were proposing to build would be a “come one, come all” type of village. We have taken the time to talk with people and let them know that we are working at developing this project for a specific group of people, for a specific period of time. The goal is to do this right, to cross every “t” and dot every “i.” We want the project to be successful, but we also want it to honor who we serve, God.

Can you tell us about your conversations with your local leaders? 

Local leaders pushed back as well. So, I took the time to call them. I have been serving at Meridian for 16 years. During that time, I have built relationships with the city leaders. They know me as a leader, as a pastor, and importantly, as a friend. We have had conversations through the years. I have been there with them in good times and in times of crisis, so we know each other. I reached out to them via cell phone, not calling their offices and leaving a message. They have my cell numbers, and I have theirs. We don’t abuse the privilege of having each other’s personal numbers.

So, I called them and asked them what their concerns were. They shared their concerns, and I listened. When they finished, I reminded them that they knew who I was and what Meridian has done in the community. The congregation was established in 1957, so we are not “newbies” coming into the community. We have an established history of service and care for the community. I explained that we have a genuine problem with people living in homelessness in the city. Of course they knew that, yet I reminded them that not everyone was on the streets because of drugs, alcohol, or addiction. Some were there because of a crisis in their life or a circumstance that spun out of control. I shared that we wanted to help and that this project was going to be a “Starfish” type project. We may not be able to save everyone, but it will make a difference in the lives of those we are able to help.

I firmly believe that God places us in a community not just to cultivate people in the pews or seats of the worship center, but to be “salt and light” in that community.

Additionally, if we can help six, eight, or 10 people, and another church can help another six, eight, or 10, and another, etc., then we could easily eliminate people living in homelessness in the city. And wouldn’t that be fabulous! They also were of the mindset that we were creating a “come one, come all” type project. Again, I reminded them that we wanted to do this right. We are in this for the long haul of providing a piece of the solution to homelessness.

How would you coach ministry leaders and pastors to talk to their local leaders?

Talk to their local leaders before a crisis. Be there before something happens, and establish a relationship. Recognize them as leaders, and ask them how can you help? Ask how you can pray for them? Ask where they need volunteers? Then follow up with them. Pastors know how lonely leadership can be, so do elected officials. Reach out to them; meet with them just for coffee and have a conversation. Get to know them and love on them as leaders.

How have you been encouraged by your partnership with the local government?

I have been encouraged by our partnership with local government through watching God’s hand on their lives. I have seen people whom I met when they were just beginning their careers rise up to be the people in charge. For example, it’s like the police lieutenant or captain you first meet, get to know, pray for and with, and then watch get promoted to police chief. Or, it’s like the elementary school principal who’s school your congregation blessed one Christmas rising up to become superintendent. I firmly believe that God places us in a community not just to cultivate people in the pews or seats of the worship center, but to be “salt and light” in that community. I have seen the investment of time in people’s lives (discipleship) come back to bless the congregation.

And why is this important for the church’s witness to a watching world? 

This is so important to the watching world because people today—skeptical, self-centered, and hurting—want to know what is in it for you. By blessing the community, specifically its leadership, we are demonstrating the love of God that is so desperately needed right now. It is not about the church being the real deal; people want to know that God is real. We have the opportunity every day to show the world that we are God’s.

How are you counseling other pastors in your area who are frustrated with the COVID-19 regulations?

I am counseling them to not be frustrated by the regulations and to listen, gather information, and make the decisions that are in the best interest of the people God has given them charge over. I’m reminding them that they are under-shepherds, placed by God to care for his people. What they can do is step into their roles with the understanding of what a shepherd has to do to take care of the sheep.

And how have you been helped by SBC organizations as you think through these issues?

The SBC has helped me to understand my role and how to navigate through systems that typically are ministry or clergy friendly. The ERLC, in particular, has been helpful in keeping us informed of issues that relate to our biblical worldview and has assisted us in better understanding the legislative process. That has been specifically helpful in comprehending the local process (city council review, planning commission, city administrative staff, public hearings and approval timeline).

For more with Rolland Slade, listen to this Capitol Conversations podcast

By / Sep 29

Do you know someone who could be a good fit for the 2021 ERLC Leadership Council? Complete the recommendation form by Oct. 20 to recommend them for consideration.

What is the ERLC Leadership Council?

The ERLC Leadership Council is a collection of SBC pastors and leaders who receive intentional investment from the ERLC team. During their annual term, these council members enjoy equipping through conference calls and events, while providing occasional content for From coast to coast, from megachurch to country church, and from a variety of backgrounds, these pastors and leaders represent a cross section of evangelicalism in general and the SBC in particular.

What are the qualifications?

  • Each nominee must be affiliated with a Southern Baptist church.
  • Ministry experience is encouraged, but not required.
  • Each nominee should be someone of mature Christian character.
  • Nominations are open to both men and women.
  • Candidates should resonate with the mission and vision of the ERLC.

What’s the process?

  • You can submit your nominations here by Tuesday, Oct. 20 at 12 p.m. CDT.
  • The ERLC will review the recommendations and extend invitations in the weeks following the deadline.

Who has been involved?

Current and past ERLC Leadership Council Members include:

  • Jon Akin, Fairview Church, Lebanon, Tennessee
  • Marshal Ausberry, Antioch Baptist Church, Fort Belvoir, Virginia
  • Bart Box, Christ Fellowship Church, Birmingham, Alabama
  • H.B. Charles Jr., Shiloh Church, Jacksonville, Florida
  • Aaron Colyer, First Baptist Church, Roswell, New Mexico
  • Jed Coppenger, Redemption City Church, Franklin, Tennessee
  • Daryl Crouch, Green Hills Church, Mt. Juliet, Tennessee
  • Charles Fowler, First Baptist Church, Germantown, Tennessee
  • Donna Gaines, Bellevue Baptist Church,  Cordova, Tennessee
  • Robby Gallaty, Long Hollow, Hendersonville, Tennessee
  • Dean Inserra, City Church, Tallahassee, Florida
  • Dhati Lewis, Blueprint Church, Atlanta, Georgia
  • Fred Luter, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Lauren McAfee, Council Road Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • Rich Perez, Christ Crucified Fellowship, New York, New York
  • David Prince, Ashland Avenue Baptist Church
  • Vance Pitman, Hope Church, Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Courtney Reissig, Midtown Baptist Church, Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Raleigh Sadler, Let My People Go, New York, New York
  • Juan Sanchez, High Pointe Baptist Church, Austin, Texas
  • Afshin Ziafat, Providence Church, Frisco, Texas
By / Jan 29

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Jan. 29, 2020—The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention announced members of its 2020 Leadership Council today.

This year’s Leadership Council is comprised of 84 Southern Baptist pastors, ministry leaders and church members across the country. The mission of the Leadership Council is to receive targeted investment from the ERLC to equip members to help their churches and ministries apply the gospel to everyday life.  

The ERLC Leadership Council launched in 2014 and has included a wide-ranging group of leaders from diverse backgrounds and ministry settings. 

ERLC President Russell Moore, commented on the announcement of the 2020 Leadership Council.

“One of the most important things we do here at the ERLC is working with this group of leaders throughout the year. The wisdom and passion they bring to service in our churches is always such an encouragement. This year’s new members are no different, and I look forward to working with them to equip the church with the truths of the gospel for the cultural issues of our day.”

Members of the 2020 Leadership Council include: 

  • Marshal Ausberry, Senior Pastor, Antioch Baptist Church, Fairfax Station, Va.
  • Matt Boswell, Pastor and Hymnwriter, The Trails Church, Prosper, Texas 
  • Noe Garcia, Pastor, North Phoenix Baptist Church, Phoenix, Ariz.
  • Christine Hoover, Author, Speaker, Founder of Grace Covers Me Blog, Charlottesville, Va.
  • Vance Pitman, Senior Pastor, Hope Church, Las Vegas, Nev. 
  • Jimmy Scroggins, Lead Pastor, Family Church, West Palm Beach, Fla.
  • Afshin Ziafat, Lead Pastor, Providence Church, Frisco, Texas 
  • Lauren Ashford, Author, Christian Counselor, Raleigh, N.C.  
  • Jared Wellman, Lead Pastor, Tate Springs Baptist Church, Arlington, Texas 

In response to being selected for the 2020 ERLC Leadership Council, Noe Garcia said, “This council has developed my leadership in regards to cultural issues in ways I never imagined. Being able to learn from and ask questions of Dr. Moore about how to biblically navigate our current cultural matters has been priceless. I am so thankful for his leadership and willingness to invest!”

Members of the Council will serve an annual term and will be equipped by the ERLC throughout the year through conference calls and events, while providing input to the ERLC and occasional content for

To learn more about the ERLC Leadership Council visit

By / Dec 17

Katie McCoy shares how pastors and leaders can better utilize women's giftings throughout the church.