Difficult times are coming

Does it feel like we’re moving closer to the times Jesus spoke of when, “Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12, NLT).

When the apostle Paul described the difficulty of the last days, it wasn’t due to economic downturn, but because of the way people will live.

“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money … They will scoff at God,… and betray their friends, … they will love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly” (II Timothy 3:1-5). 

“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day” (Matthew 24:37). Those were days of indulgence in pleasure and indifference to God. Are we moving closer to these days? 

Our culture has been strongly influenced by factors that encourage people to feel entitled to a good life or their terms. People are increasingly living for themselves over everything and everyone — even their own families. We no longer see as much honor given to virtues like loyalty, faithfulness and courage. Instead, everyone wants to do what is right in his own eyes and seek the good life in the here and now.  

More and more people even in the Church are viewing God as one who ought to secure the good life for them. They think that God should respond to whatever is asked of him or risk disappointment from them.

But I am encouraged to remember that the Lord “is patient… not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9).

May our hearts align with what “is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (I Timothy 2:3-6).

A needed word for the times 

“Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil” (Ephesians 6:10-13, NLT).

Steve Cornell

 

 

Restoring dignity to Church membership

When people trust in Jesus Christ as the one who died for their sins and was raised for their justification, they are forgiven and pass from death to life.

Jesus stated it this way, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

At the very moment a person places faith in the Lord Jesus as personal Savior, he is united with Christ — by God— and made spiritually alive by God’s Spirit.

Referring to this work of God, 1 Corinthians 1:30 says, “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus…” and II Corinthians 1:21-22 says, “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

This life and salvation is what we share in common when we come together as a Church. It’s the basis for our “fellowship of the Spirit” (Philippians 2:1-2). We share a common life in Christ! We belong to the same family as sons and daughters of Almighty God. We are the body of Christ in one local expressions of it on earth when we assemble. We belong to one another spiritually.

Romans 12:5 says, “…we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

When we assemble as Church, we are the temple of the living God. This is one reason why those who disregard or treat lightly God’s assembly invite His judgment on their lives (see: 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 11).

Scripture does not entertain a sharp distinction between God and His people. What you do to them, for them, or against them—you do to, for or against God. (See: Luke 10:2; Acts 2:47; 9:4; I Cor. 3:6; Eph. 5:25,29; Heb. 6:10; Matthew 16:18, 25:40). 

What is true spiritually about our union with Christ must be demonstrated functionally in committed relationships of mutual ministry, interdependence and accountability among God’s people.

The idea of a Christian who operates independently of other believers is foreign to Scripture. It is God’s will that all His children be deeply committed, functioning parts of an assembly of believers who exist under the pastoral oversight of elders. This is the undeniable pattern and expectation in the New Testament.

Scripture requires that all who have been united with Christ be united with others who are united with Christ. Yet I am really convinced of far more! The church, of all places, should be a “congregation of the committed.” And her membership should be based upon commitment.

The deficiency in many churches is the casual procedure of adding new members without any challenge to commitment. Integrity in the membership process is the place to begin in restoring a high view of the Church. 

Most believers recognize the need for Christian fellowship. But the deciding issue is how we define the character of that fellowship. What should it be according to the New Testament?

“Fellowship is more than unconditional love that wraps its arms around someone who is hurting. It is also tough love that holds one fast to the truth and the pursuit of righteousness. For most Christians, the support side of the equation comes more easily than accountability and the subsequent discipline involved. Which is one reason the behavior of Christians is often little different from the behavior of non-Christians. Maybe it’s because we simply haven’t taught accountability. Or maybe it’s because, in today’s fiercely individualistic culture, people resent being told what to do, and since we don’t want to “scare them off,” we succumb to cultural pressures.”

“But too often we confuse love with permissiveness. It is not love to fail to dissuade another believer from sin any more than it is love to fail to take a drink away from an alcoholic or matches away from a baby. True fellowship out of love for one another demands accountability.” (Chuck Colson, The Body, p. 130)

“Christian community starts at the point of commitment and covenant. There is no genuine Christian community without a covenant… Christian community cannot exist without commitment to Jesus as Lord and to each other as sister and brother. And this must be more than a general mental commitment. It must be specific and explicit, involving our time, energy, and resources. Covenant is not just a nebulous commitment to each other; it takes specific shape in history.”(Howard Snyder, “Liberating the Church,” p. 127)

Integrity of membership process is the place to begin in restoring a high view of the Church. This should not be done with legalistic attitudes nor to have an assembly of the spiritual elite, but to approach Church in a way that is faithful to God’s plan for it.

“The refusal to grapple with the issue of entrance into the Christian church is not toleration: it is betrayal of the gospel which we preach…a surrender to Christ is a surrender to His people—total involvement in the life of the church.”

“The church’s determination to make membership genuine — even difficult — rather than nominal, is shocking and even resented by Christians of a softer inclination.” (Colson)

We live in a day when people take covenants lightly and take a far more causal approach to commitments. At Millersville Bible Church, we make it our effort to approach membership consistent with what Scripture reveals about what it means to be God’s people. We view membership as a means for discipleship and for defining our relationship with one another — not just another hoop one must jump through to join the Church. 

Steve Cornell

5 vulnerabilities in leadership

1. Making a difference in the world

Good leaders want to make a difference in a world. But the temptation to fall for misguided ideas about success can become discouraging to faithful leaders. The test of discouragement and the temptation to pursue self-validation are real for leaders who want to make a difference. Leaders must resist the deceptive tendency to fish for affirmations from others to validate a feeling that we’re making a difference. Leaders should also be aware of the dangers of the comparison trap that could lead them to devalue the work they do (see: II Corinthians 10:12)

2. Feelings of inadequacy for the calling

Leaders in the Church easily battle feelings of inadequacy because of the challenges that come with leading people. The many expectations and demands that people place on leaders can cause feelings of inadequacy (see: Galatians 1:10).  Leadership comes with constant reminders that our sufficiency and strength must be from God (II Corinthians 3:5-6; 4:7). We understand the apostle Paul’s question, “Who is equal to such a task?” Insecure people should never be put in leadership. 

3. Unrealistic diversity in the work

The pressures of church leadership are often more than any individual feels capable of handling. This reality is further complicated by prevailing confusion about a pastor’s role. Is a pastor a shepherd who tends a flock or an entrepreneur leading a business and marketing a product? Pastors are viewed as spiritual teachers, overseers, biblical scholars, administrators, CEOs, financial advisors, professional counselors and friends. If leaders try to be effective in all these areas, insecurity and inadequacy will paralyze and discourage them. We need to review the biblical responsibilities of leadership often (see – Leadership in the local Church).

4. Unstable backgrounds in a leader

A close look should be taken at a potential leader’s upbringing and background. Relationships with parents form the basis for one’s identity, security and relationship skills. If a man, for example, had a father who degraded him or remained distant from him, he will be more vulnerable to using leadership as a means of building self-esteem. This relates in principle to the prohibition in I Timothy 3:6.

5. Fear of making mistakes or being wrong 

No one likes to be wrong. Some people, however, make a tight attachment of their egos to their need to be right. For such individuals, being right is a matter of identity and being wrong is perceived as a flaw of character. Some leaders wrongly assume that if they let people see them sweat or find out they’re wrong about something, the people won’t respect their leadership. You are not qualified for leadership if you feel you always have to be right or at least, viewed as “right.” This too relates to the warning of I Timothy 3:6

A word about insecure leaders

One of the most dangerous individuals to a leadership team is an insecure person. They will repeatedly disrupt the unity of team leadership based on how they feel about themselves. Insecure people tend to wear their sensitivities on their sleeves and attach their egos to their ideas. They drag down team with their self-serving focus. Maturity in godliness is essential in each individual leader for their to be team unity. I Corinthians 13:4-8 is a great measure of maturity in godliness. (See: A life transformed by love)

Personal note

My current role as senior pastor on our staff is a leader among equals — a leader to  the leaders. Our equality as a leadership team is in our shared office of eldership, not in years of wisdom, experience and function. This means that younger leaders must be able and willing to defer to those with far more experience. If new leaders allow pride and insecurity (and these traits always travel together), they will miss the valuable learning from those who have acquired wisdom with years of work. Yet older leaders must be willing to recognize that wisdom doesn’t fully reside in one generation.

Without hesitation, I can say that I’ve experienced a small taste of heaven in the unity and fellowship of our team leadership

Steve Cornell

See: Four questions leaders must ask

Should we ignore certain people?

“Then the disciples came to him and asked, ‘Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?'” (Matthew 5:12).

Jesus didn’t say, “Please tell them I am sorry. They must have misunderstood me. I didn’t mean to hurt their feelings.” 

Instead, he replied, ‘Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch’” (Matthew 15:13-14, NLT).

Jesus was unmoved by their concern that he offended the pharisees. Are we sometimes overly concerned about offending others? Are there times when we should expect offense and understand it to be an indicator of the right path? The words “ignore them” are forceful. Yet they are rarely understood and applied. Other translations say,

  • Let them alone (ESV)
  • Leave them (NIV)
  • Stay away from those Pharisees! (CEV)
  • Greek NT: ἄφετε (aphete) – to send away, release or leave alone 

How should we apply these words? Are there certain people we should “leave alone”? Do we allow the wrong people to set the agenda for life and ministry?

Is there a way to know which plants have not been planted by the Heavenly Father? What kinds of people fit the description of the Pharisees today (see link below, #4)? These are always important questions for the Church — especially for leaders.

Consider the following questions and resources: (discuss them with your leadership team)

Deeper reflection and discussion

  1. How do Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:12-14 relate to Matthew 7:6?  – “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” (See: Dogs, pigs and…)
  2. Relate Matthew 15:12-14 to Jesus’ words: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”? (Matthew 18:3) (cf. John 5:44; Luke 18:9-13).
  3. How do Proverbs 9:7-9 and Titus 3:9-11 relate?
  4. Why do some Churches and their leaders let pharisees set the agenda for their ministries? To better understand contemporary parallels to the Pharisees, see: Are the Pharisees still among us? 
  5. How should missionaries apply this (in principle) to those who reject the gospel? (see: the recurring theme in these passages: Matthew 10:14-15; Luke 10:10-11; Acts 13:44-51; 18:5-6; 28:17-28
  6. See – Warning – Dangerous People

Steve Cornell

In Step with the Master Teacher

Play Audio!

As I was studying the methods and content of the teaching of Jesus, the word reality kept coming back to me. Jesus kept things real in exposing religious hypocrisy. But reality for Jesus was far more than life in this world.

I also thought about a quote from a book we’re using in our parents of teens group:

“The more accurately you think about something, the healthier your life will be. The converse is also true. The more inaccurate your thinking the more dysfunctional your relationship with your teen will be — even if you assume your thinking is fine, which most of usually do.” 

“Reality can be a hard pill to swallow. But last time I checked, when you fight reality, you lose. Reality wins.” (Tim Sanford, Losing control and liking it, p. 10,14).

But what is reality? It depends on who you ask. If you look closely at the teaching of Jesus, any version of reality that disconnects earth from heaven is a dangerous kind of unreality. Jesus relentlessly insisted on this connection.

Earth and Heaven

As the Master Teacher, Jesus moved from what is seen and known to what is unseen and eternal. He transformed everyday earthly objects into lessons about God, heaven and eternity.

The people of his time had grown blind to the connections between earth and heaven. So Jesus connected the truth around them in the visible world with the truth before them in the Scripture — truth about eternity.

“They didn’t think of God’s word when they sowed seed, or the new birth when they felt the wind, or faith when they gathered the tiny mustard seed; but Jesus did.” (Warren Wiersbe, Teaching and Preaching with imagination, p. 161)

He connected what they could see in creation and life with truths about eternal life to come. Through many object lessons, he turned his listeners ears into eyes to help them see the truths he taught.

  • Jesus spoke of salt, light, wind, bread, vine and branches, flowers, trees, seed, fields white for harvest, birth, gates, coins, treasure, pearls, nets, cups, dishes, tombs…
  • Jesus used, fox, birds, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, serpents, fish, gnats and camels, a hen and her chicks, ….
  • He referred to physicians, shepherds, land owners, builders, friends, bridegrooms, virgins, farmers, tenants, sons, teachers, wine merchants, the rich and the poor, an unjust judge and a widow, blind guides,…
  • He spoke of banquets, weddings, feasts, temples, his father’s house with many rooms…

The teaching of Jesus is characterized by “an evident absence of artificial oratory” (C.H. Spurgeon). Yet what Jesus taught is consistently a combination of simplicity, and complexity that was often provocative and challenging.

Jesus told stories that often exposed the religious and social prejudices of the establishment. Yet there don’t appear to be any great shifts in tone and inflection; no special vocabulary or arresting theatrics, — just stories. The problem, however, is that in Jesus’ stories the wrong people win. The Samaritan shines as a keeper of God’s commands; the gentile demonstrates faith, the tax-gather goes home justified before God and the sinful women with a past is welcomed and forgiven. 

It was hard to miss his point — and they didn’t! 

Many times the simplicity of application cannot be missed. But this didn’t reduce the complexity and challenge. After hearing Jesus, one might respond with, “I get it … I think…” But wait,… does he mean…? Or, should I take it as …” His words invited deep contemplation and reflection. 

The elements of simplicity are unmistakably clear — on one level. When Jesus exposed hypocritical approaches to praying, giving, fasting; we get the point each time. But we also feel the challenge to consider subtle ways that we seek attention and praise for our acts of service.

When Jesus said, “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” – we get it (Matthew 7:24). But it troubles us that so “many” people could call Christ “Lord” and engage in works of the kingdom (“did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?”) only to hear the Lord say to them,  “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Where are we hearing but not doing?

Back to reality

All of this takes us back to that word “reality.” According to the Master Teacher, the person who lives without making deep connections between earth and heaven lives in unreality. He might be a “man of the world” but if he thinks this is his only world, he is profoundly misguided. In 70-80 years, the connections will become clear.

To build your house on the rock, as a wise builder, you must follow the teachings of the one who continuously connected this life with eternity. He taught his followers to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. He taught us to think of reward with our father in heaven and to store treasure in heaven — that place where corruption cannot damage treasure. 

A matter of perspective

How will you see things? How will you respond to the successes and trials of this life? If you live only on the horizontal level, only looking at things that are temporal, you’ll build your life fantasy not reality. Instead, join with Jesus Christ and make connections between what is known and visible to what is unseen and eternal.

Then when the torrential rain comes and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against your life, the rock-solid foundation of Christ’s words will withstand all the way into eternity.  

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

Steve Cornell 

 

Who is adequate for this?

Here’s another reason to pray for your pastors:

“Few people grasp the preacher’s challenge. Where else in life does a person have to stand weekly before a mixed audience and speak to them engagingly on the mightiest topics known to humankind: God, life, death, sin, grace, love, hatred, hope, despair and the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Who is even close to being adequate for this challenge?” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.Reading for Preachers: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists (Eerdmans, 2013).

The task of leading God’s people can be daunting and overwhelming. It’s not strange to fee that the size of the calling is larger than the one responding to it. The weight of Paul’s question is always present: “Who is equal to such a task?” (II Corinthians 2:16). Even strong leaders battle feelings of inadequacy. But we must be propelled by these feelings to turn to the source of adequacy and strength. 

The task of spiritual leadership is a continual reminder that God put His treasure in jars of clay so that the power would be from Him and not from us (II Corinthians 4:7). If man’s extremity furnishes the greatest opportunity for God to display His power, leadership affords many of those opportunities!

Reflect on the messages in Psalm 62:1-2 and II Corinthians 4:5-10.

Steve Cornell

4 Essentials for leadership

After 30 years of leadership in one Church, I’ve learned a few important lessons. A number of key principles have guided me throughout my journey. Consider four essentials for effective leadership. Each one is framed as questions for personal evaluation.

1. Do I need others to encourage and affirm me?

I appreciate encouragement and my work would be harder without it. But if a leader depends too much on being appreciated and encouraged, his leadership will suffer. It’s easy to feel like you are taken for granted in pastoral work. This possibility only increases with time because of the old adage, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

The many hours you pour into individuals are often unseen by most people and frequently invested with little tangible expression of appreciation. Sometimes this is because people feel you are supposed to be there for them. Or, worse, they think you’re being paid to help them. Others are so consumed with their own problems that they fail to show appropriate appreciation toward those who help them. Always remember that only one leper returned to our Lord to give glory to God for healing him (Luke 17:11-17).

Churches need to be taught to respond to their leaders with deep appreciation (see: Galatians 6:6; I Thessalonians 5:12-13), and leaders must determine that the idol of human appreciation will not rule their hearts (see: Luke17:10; Hebrews 6:10).

This also applies to criticisms. Someone suggested that we often need ten ‘Atta boys’ to compensate for one criticism. But leaders who rely too much on approval ratings will be tempted to abrogate their roles when needed most. Stay out of leadership if you need the affirmation of others to feel good about yourself. Grow in your identity and security in Christ before entering the arena of leadership.

As a leader, I have been deeply appreciated and fiercely criticized — even hated. Effective leaders need a tough hide and a tender heart. If your hide is too tough or your heart too tender, you’ll get hurt and possibly compromise your calling (see: Galatians 1:10; Colossians 3:23; I Corinthians 10:31).

2. Is my pace sustainable?

I am type A high D! For those unfamiliar with these categories, it means that I tend to go full throttle and must fight the temptation to take on more than I can handle. My battle is with myself. Maintaining reasonable margin takes forethought and effort.

Case in point: Along with my leadership role in a thriving Church, for the past fifteen years, I’ve done daily and weekend radio features; written monthly columns for two newspapers as well as numerous articles for other sources; volunteered as Chaplain for Millersville University football and basketball for many of those years and traveled to speak regularly for university groups and conferences.

Did I mention raising four energetic children? When I look back on the stuff I’ve packed into life, I get tired thinking about it. Leadership requires taking inventory and making adjustments. Several key phrases help me: Simplify and prioritize. Keep the main thing the main thing. Say “No” more often. Pray before responding. (See: Burn out? Not me!)

3. Do I practice team leadership?

Team leadership is non-negotiable! It’s also the best formula for protection from burnout. Leaders who are called to highly visible public roles must circle themselves with competent co-leaders. My friend good Crawford Loritts recommends that we fly in tight formation with a faithful few. These fellow-leaders should have strengths to compliment the front leader.

Selection of associates must be done with great care and prayer. An associate who resents or becomes jealous of the front leaders’ role is dangerous to the unity of the work. Studied consideration of giftedness, sense of calling and aspirations of associates is essential. Maturity, integrity and a healthy sense of personal identity and security are some of the most important qualities to look for in co-leaders. Immaturity, insecurity or lack of integrity in one leader, threatens unity of a team.

When leaders work together in unity, those under their leadership are blessed. One of my greatest joys is the working relationship I have had with my leadership team for many years. Preserving this requires encouragement of one another supported by regular public acknowledgement from the senior leader concerning the value of those who lead with him (see: Exodus 18:13-26; Romans 12:10; Philippians 2:3-5).

4. Do I distinguish office from person?

Police officers are reminded as part of training that people don’t resent them as much as the uniforms they wear. Sometimes people express anger toward leaders because they need a target for their frustrations. I become that target because I am (in their eyes) the pastor. Assuming I have power and influence, they attack me because of the office I hold.

In our culture, people like to “go to the top” when they have a complaint. In the Church, they could go one office higher to Jesus himself, the head of the Church, but more often they head for the senior pastor’s office! If I was “Joe normal” in the Church, I wouldn’t be under nearly as much scrutiny. But, as senior pastor, such treatment goes with the territory. If you can’t take the heat—get out of the kitchen!

Don’t take everything personally or you’ll go crazy. Don’t take the bait and escalate! I’ve always regretted it when I’ve violated this principle. A wise mentor once instructed me, “Respond to God – don’t react to man.”

Surviving and thriving as a leader requires tenacious commitment to key principles. Review the four principles above with your leadership team.

Steve Cornell