Benefit of the Doubt

benefit-of-the-doubtYou don’t have to give someone the benefit of the doubt. You can be absolutely certain about a particular impression or characteristic of someone. You don’t have to overlook and ignore it. But you can still be gracious in your interactions, even in your confrontation.

I often hear people say they just can’t interact with someone because of his or her beliefs. Because of who someone voted for, what someone supports, what someone believes, or sometimes it’s even a personality trait. They simply cannot accept anything from that person because of the vast differences.

Why?

Because each of us can rest assured we’re on that “other side” for someone else. How do we want to be considered? How do we want to be treated? Would we like others to truly listen to us with some respect, even if the other person doesn’t end up changing his or her mind and agreeing with us?

Maybe it’s not so much about the agreement on the outcome as the agreement to pursue the process. We might doubt an idea without much of a cost, but how expensive is it to dismiss someone, refusing graciousness?

Worship Today: You Remain

I’d be lying
If I said I wasn’t tired of trying
And now I’m down to my last excuse
So here I am waiting for You

When I take the wheel and everything starts falling apart
I start to wander off the road that leads to Your heart
Still there You are

In the broken, when I’m losing my way
When I’m lost in all the doubt and the shame
You remain

 

Be Honest with Hypocrisy

24ca621Hypocrisy is nothing new.

Solomon loved the Lord by walking in the statutes of his father David, but he also sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. (1 Kings 3:3)

We judge and are judged by our hypocrisy. Yet it is hypocrisy itself to assume we can completely rid ourselves of it. No matter how other-focused we are, we are still somewhat self-focused. No matter how loving and generous we are, we have remnants of quiet selfishness. No matter how grand our faith is, we have sprinkles of doubt.

When we come across hypocrisy in ourselves or others, we can resist the urge to rationalize it or to dismiss anything it touches. A moment of doubt doesn’t cancel faith. A thought of self doesn’t cancel our concern for others. A struggle with how to respond with grace doesn’t mean our grace, or God’s, isn’t enough.

When we’re honest with our hypocrisy, we’re willing to struggle through it to come through on the other side with a more bold, secure faith. We have a firmer foundation. Yet as we continue to walk on that foundation, we will discover more cracks we need to assess, repair, and sometimes, destroy and rebuild.

Calling someone a hypocrite often exposes our own hypocrisy. Maybe that’s okay. Perhaps it’s the dose of truth we need to admit and change.

The Bible Doesn’t Behave Well

article-2359633-1AC0F111000005DC-768_634x361If we’re honest, the Bible often doesn’t seem to be on its best Sunday behavior. It creates and contains quite a ruckus at times. It isn’t tame. It isn’t easy. It’s not neat and tidy. As much as we want it to tie everything up in a pretty bow, we find frayed edges poking in all directions that often surprise us.

But if we’re honest, it often accurately reflects our faith.

Faith is about trust, and the journey of trust doesn’t always behave. It is unsettled and untamed at times, and like the Bible, that’s a good thing (as long as it’s productive). It’s a reflection of reality. God doesn’t fit in a box, and when we can easily put a lid on our faith, we might not have considered some of those frayed edges poking in multiple directions. Maybe we need to invite God to challenge us on the things we believe but don’t live, claim but haven’t questioned, and say we understand but have never explored.

The Internet Impossibilities

2364b98bc293049f75580f87ff08b495We have easy, fast access to information. If we have a question, all we have to do is search for it. Our phones are rarely out of reach, so we can sit or stand wherever we are and find an answer. We don’t even have to type the question or read the answer anymore; we can speak into our phones, and we get a spoken answer.

But not all questions and problems have easy answers. Being able to search the internet for quick solutions might make it even more unbearable when we face the impossible, when we’re confused and overwhelmed. We can spend so much time searching for the perfect answer to our dilemma that we waste time we could spend solving it. We waste time we could seek God’s presence through the struggle. Not that He always gives us an answer, but if He doesn’t, maybe there’s something even more important we need in order to deal with the impossible. Maybe the search and the trust we give God through that search is much more important.

In fact, I know it is.

We can’t make the impossible possible with an internet search. Of course, we can find some tips and ideas, and I’m not suggesting we stop searching for those. In the past 24 hours, I’ve searched how to properly dispose of dry ice, common issues with a phone model, and comparative prices while shopping. But Google has its limits.

God does not.

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

God’s Preparation Despite My Lack of Preparation

I wasn’t prepared to speak at a weekend women’s event…

At least, I thought I wasn’t.

Sure, I had outlined my topics and had basic notes on paper, but I was unsettled about something. I assumed it was because I hadn’t spent enough time in preparation. It was my own responsibility and fault, and I was paying the consequences in my doubt that I would be able to minister to the fullest extent to which God intended.

But why would I doubt Him?

Sure, there are consequences to not stewarding responsibilities well. But ministering to a group of women for the weekend was too important to God for me and my lack of efforts to get in His way. The women were prepared. They came with open hearts and minds, ready to experience God’s presence in life-changing and life-challenging ways.

Well, at least, that’s what I assume because that’s what it seemed to me. Then I realized they might have come as unprepared as I did. Perhaps their schedules were so tight that they really didn’t give much thought to the weekend until they were on their way, away from their families and jobs and other everyday constants. Perhaps they had just gone through a fiery trial or were still in the middle of it. Perhaps an abundance of blessings caused them to let down their guard a bit, taking on an air of personal accomplishment or status instead of the humble reminder that it is God who accomplishes and provides.

The truth is I no more knew what each woman brought to the weekend retreat than anyone knew what I brought.
Only God.

Only He knew my lack of preparation, questions about His provision, doubts about my adequacy, and the needs that I couldn’t even identify. And He met each and every one. He opened my eyes to needs and opportunities I couldn’t have anticipated had I tried. He opened my heart to pour into others and let them pour into me. He opened my ears to hear from Him in a gentle whisper and an overwhelming rush of power.

He provided despite my lack of preparation.

He prepared me through my lack of preparation.

I was caught off guard, and perhaps that’s why He moved in such powerful ways that weekend.

He gives me responsibilities, but I am certainly not in control.

And I am glad.

A Call to Courage

I’ve noticed something lately that deeply troubles me: a lack of courage among church leaders.

Hear me out. I’m not saying church leaders aren’t godly people. I’m not saying I’ve lost all respect for church leaders. But as I talk to people around the country about a variety of situations in their churches, my uneasiness grows as I see a common thread. I’m sure it’s not new, but I’m confident God has brought several situations to my attention, so he could whisper something in my ear: “Be on guard.”

After listening to a youth pastor’s accusations behind closed doors for months, church leaders confronted the senior pastor with allegations of wrongdoing. Leaders did not have private conversations with the senior pastor before confronting him, nor did they encourage the youth pastor to confront the senior pastor and deal with the issue privately and interpersonally.

After hiring several new staff members, church leaders failed to ensure that everyone was working together effectively and efficiently. Job descriptions were unclear. Some staff members were unfairly criticized, while others were unfairly praised. Punishment and recognition became moving targets.

A staff member wasn’t living up to his responsibilities, but instead of confronting him and holding him accountable, responsibilities were shifted to someone else. But that person’s plate was already full because he’s an efficient and effective worker who tends to absorb the overflow of others’ responsibilities. The overworked person was then held accountable when the added responsibilities weren’t completed.

A senior staff member was weak in an area, but he had been around for a long time, and he was friends with church leaders. No one wanted to hurt his feelings or make him feel inadequate, so no effort was made to strengthen the weakness.

Church leaders decided to be united in a decision. However, once they left the meeting room, they talked one-on-one with each other as well as with friends and family. The second-guessing and rehashing of their decision raised questions, created doubts, and increased anxiety levels.

The Culture, Not the Leaders

The truth is, I have great respect for most church leaders. In fact, of the church leaders I know personally, there are few I don’t respect. I know the individual struggles and situations that make church leadership difficult. My husband and I have both been involved in various ministry leadership positions, so we know the challenges firsthand. My issues aren’t with individuals; it’s with a leadership culture.

For the most part, I don’t believe church leaders intentionally say, “Let’s not be courageous. Let’s choose the easy way.” Leaders are busy. Many issues and concerns must be prioritized and considered. In the process, some get set aside. When a concern is repeatedly raised in an elders meeting and then set aside, it becomes like a pesky fly. It gets shooed away and shooed away until, at some point, the chairman or the group has finally had enough and ends the irritation, once and for all with a hasty, thoughtless swat.

When a concern is swatted aside—even for valid reasons when other issues are more pressing—the concern becomes more irritating as it resurfaces again and again. Church leaders get tired of dealing with it, when in reality, they haven’t dealt with it at all—unless you consider an irritated flick of the wrist “dealing with it.”

The courageous response isn’t quickly to smash the irritant. People will get hurt unnecessarily in the process. The courageous response is to recognize much of the irritation comes not from the issue in and of itself, but the pressure of time and energy to deal with it fully. It’s difficult for leaders to find the right balance between coping with crises and developing long-term strategy. But here’s the truth: balance is part of leadership.

Biblical Leadership Roles

Consider a short list of leadership roles the apostles fulfilled.

Mediator

Church consultant

Troubleshooter

Training leader

Counselor

Team leader

Discipline consultant

Doctrine consultant

Church planter

Pastor to local church leaders

Visionary

It’s tempting to add “master juggler” to the list, but balancing differs from juggling. Juggling involves tossing many items in the air and trying to make sure the timing of catches and releases prevents anything from hitting the ground. One moment of distraction, and items are dropped. Balancing, on the other hand, involves decisions about what to carry and what to leave behind. It includes what can be held in a hand versus what needs to be set aside. Balancing takes discernment.

God doesn’t call us to “good enough.” He calls us to “best.” And only he really knows what’s “best.” After Jesus fed the multitudes, he sent his disciples ahead, and he went to spend time with his Father. There are many good things he could have done: healing, teaching, feeding—to name a few. All these he had done and would continue to do—when the time was right. For that particular moment, only one thing was right: solitude. It was essential for spiritual renewal.

Church leaders need to grow beyond “good enough.” It’s not “good enough” to keep the peace. It’s not “good enough” to start a program. It’s not “good enough” to put together a wonderful-sounding church vision that never gets put into action. Church leaders need to settle for only one thing: God’s best.

God’s Best

What does God’s best look like for leaders?

Listening to God’s voice for direction.

Trusting God for provision.

Obeying God even through the difficult.

Holding each other accountable to godly leadership.

Handling all circumstances with biblical guidance.

Choosing discernment over reaction.

Being a lifelong learner, a growing disciple.

Becoming transparent in struggles and issues.

Courageous leaders trust God’s courage instead of relying on their own reserves of strength.

Courageous leaders intentionally approach all issues, initiatives, and relationships.

Is courageous leadership possible in our churches?

God says, “Yes.”

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” (Matthew 19:26).

“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

Article originally published at ChristianStandard.com.