Evolution of a Court

In his book, Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs, Albert Speer discusses something he witnessed as Adolf Hitler’s popularity began to escalate.

“Hitler himself put up no visible resistance to the evolution of a court.”

Powerful people, whether they intend for it to happen or not, find that “a court” of sorts rises up around them. Suddenly people want to serve them. People want to run errands for them. Something happens and people look to see how that person is responding, and they respond accordingly. It happens to powerful people, popular people, famous people. And it’s not the powerful, popular, famous person’s fault. It’s simply human nature.

Just before a friend of ours became CEO of a Fortune 500 company, he asked a predecessor what to expect. The former CEO responded, “Your jokes are about to get a lot funnier.” It was his way of saying that a court would soon be evolving around this leader.

Dictators and CEOs are not the only victims of this phenomenon. Pastors and ministry leaders are as well.

Apparently, Jesus saw this coming. He certainly experienced it. And, he made it clear how leaders should respond.

Jesus continually emphasized the importance of humility. He instructed his disciples to serve rather than be served. Toward the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus demonstrated humility in a way his followers would never forget. As he gathered them to celebrate Passover, he assumed the role of a servant and washed their feet. This was awkward, to say the least. So awkward that Peter initially refused. Jesus concluded his demonstration by saying, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” I think it’s safe to say Jesus resisted the evolution of a court.

Extraordinary humility was not the only way Jesus resisted the evolution of a court. He had a pattern of getting alone to pray after huge crowd affirmation. Luke tells us that as his popularity increased, he often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Matthew explains that after feeding the five thousand, he sent the disciples ahead, dismissed the crowd, and went up on a mountainside alone to pray.

So what do we do when confronted with the evolution of a court? How should we respond when people glance our way for cues? What’s our next move when people begin looking to us for answers?

We must resist the evolution of a court by serving others and by humbling ourselves in prayer. As we exalt Jesus, we find ourselves aware of our place.

Here are a few thoughts to consider as it relates to being a church leader:

  1. Don’t let your church/ministry pay for things that you should be personally responsible for. That’s why you get a paycheck. You must resist the evolution of a court.
  2. Think twice before accepting expensive gifts from your church/ministry. You must resist the evolution of a court.
  3. Don’t let church members/attendees do monetary favors for you (e.g., give you cars, lots, or loans). It will usually cause relational problems, even if they assure you “there are no strings attached.” If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it or accept it. You must resist the evolution of a court.
  4. If people are in the habit of standing when you enter a room, insist they break that habit. You must resist the evolution of a court.
  5. If your organization insists on celebrating your birthday, make sure they’re celebrating everyone else’s too. You must resist the evolution of a court.

Entitlement always begins somewhere. If you don’t choose where to draw the line, no one else will. Great leaders draw the line early and often. Great leaders resist the evolution of a court. 

Grace in the Dark

GRACEHave you ever felt true awe when watching people you know respond to a serious illness or a season of extreme personal difficulty? I don’t mean you just admire their attitudes. I mean you’re awestruck over their rock-solid faith and trust.

Andy and I watched and prayed for Andrea and Josh Smith and their four beautiful young daughters for nearly two years. They navigated the complexities of a cancer diagnosis, identifying a huge malignant tumor in Andrea’s chest cavity. They trudged along through all of the subsequent treatments, side effects, surgeries, scans, tests, and life disruptions that came along with it. Through the entire ordeal, they “navigated” and “trudged,” filled with unexplainable joy and peace—unexplainable, unless you understand, as they do, the sufficiency of God’s grace.

Here’s something Josh wrote during that time. I hope it speaks to you and encourages you. If you’re walking a dark path right now, I hope you find that the truth of this rocks you to the core and gives you that same unexplainable strength in the midst of your journey.

“There is one little statement from 2 Corinthians 12:9 that has been a continual source of encouragement to us. The Lord simply says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” This is not a prayer request. This is a promise. It is a statement of fact. His grace will always be sufficient. We don’t have to worry about this. His promise is sure. There will never be a moment in which we find ourselves in need of more grace than is available. The struggle is never the sufficiency of God’s grace; the struggle is in believing his promise. So, instead of praying for God’s grace to be sufficient, we must simply pray that God would give us the faith to believe that his grace is sufficient. Faith is defined as “enduring confidence in the promises of God.” So today, we are praying that God would give us enduring confidence in the promise of his sufficient grace. We pray you will do the same.” —Josh Smith

Amazing grace, sufficient grace—exactly what we need, when we need it. Thank you, Andrea and Josh, for modeling this for us.

So, You Always Wanted to Be a Cheerleader?

Cheer Photo*This post’s intended audience is Pastor’s Wives, but I think it actually applies to everyone!

I’ll never forget one summer night having dinner with a pastor and his wife. Andy and I were newly married and navigating the world of working with teenagers. I don’t doubt for one minute that this pastor’s wife loved Jesus and meant well, but something didn’t feel great about the vibe between the two of them. I remember her telling us that she always felt it was her role to keep her husband humble. What with all the people praising and complementing him all the time…  He chuckled a little bit uncomfortably. She was pretty proud of her success.

In spite of my complete inexperience and floundering to figure out what being a ministry wife meant, that one thing failed to ring true for me. I decided to do the exact opposite. My goal became “be his greatest cheerleader.” I don’t always get it right, but that’s the bull’s-eye on the target. Even when busy with ministry and family and whatever else, my top priority apart from my personal relationship with Christ is Andy. There are lots of people affirming him and admiring him. Why would that EVER make me do it less?

So, for what it’s worth, here’s my advice. Never assume the role of keeping your husband humble. Don’t let anyone else “out cheer” you. I don’t mean loudly and publicly and obnoxiously. I simply mean in HIS heart and mind, you’re his greatest fan.

A few ideas to get you thinking… I’m so proud of you. I love what God is doing through you. I love life with you. I love parenting with you. I’d marry you again in a minute! Thank you for your sweet text, it made my day. That shirt looks really good on you.  Have you been working out? Okay, okay, maybe I’m getting carried away, but you get the point.

I’m convinced that this approach is a win for your ministry, a win for your husband, and a win for YOU!

A note to the guys: Men, how would you like to hear this? “Honey, I wish everyone who hears you speak could know how well you live what you teach. You’re the real deal.” Hey, give her some stuff to compliment. Live up to what you teach. You potentially have the best cheerleader in the world right next to you.

Parenting Teenagers Part 4: Owning Their Faith

Allie QT PicRecently I was asked by a mom of a pre-teen if she should force her child to read his Bible, have a daily devotional time, quiet time, whatever you want to call it. I think what she really wanted to know was how to lead her son to “own his faith.” She just wasn’t sure how to put words around that. She thought maybe forcing Bible reading and prayer time might be the path that leads there.

I suppose it’s possible there is a kid out there who would respond positively to that approach. I didn’t have one.

While I’ve never encountered a perfect formula that I think would work for every kid, I have a few suggestions for leading your children to own their faith and move toward a desire to spend time reading the Bible and praying – developing intimacy with their Heavenly Father.

  • Model it.
  • Encourage it.
  • Make it easy.

Model it. Stop for a moment and ask yourself if you’re modeling for your kids what an intimate relationship with Christ looks like. Do they see you consistently spending time alone with God? Do you shoo them away when they accidentally interrupt your quiet time, or do you invite them in? Do they ever see a verse of Scripture that you’re trying to memorize stuck to your bathroom mirror or dash of your car? Have you ever shown them a journal entry for something you’re praying about? Have they ever overheard a conversation you’ve had with someone about something God is teaching you or an area in which you feel He’s stretching you? Have you shared with them what God might be doing in your heart, even regarding being a better parent? Let them SEE what God is accomplishing in you through your time alone with Him. Model it.

Encourage it. Sometimes our kids simply need our suggestions in order to begin thinking in a certain direction. As parents, we tend to know our kids pretty well. Is your child a morning or evening person? Start there with a simple suggestion of the time of day they might consider. Word of caution: there is a difference between occasional suggestions and nagging. Recruit your son or daughter’s small group leader to help you encourage a regular quiet time. Often our kids respond better when someone else throws an idea their way. Don’t tell anyone, but occasionally we resorted to bribing our kids to read certain books or listen to certain messages. I didn’t say that…

Make it easy. Does your child have an age appropriate Bible of his or her own? We started really early having a Bible beside each of our kids’ beds. Early on, it was mostly picture Bibles with short Bible stories. As they learned to read, we made sure they had one they could read on their own. Every Easter, I made sure there was some great quiet time tool in their Easter basket – an age appropriate Bible if I thought maybe they had outgrown their current one, a journal once they were old enough to begin processing their thoughts and insights, cool pens and highlighters, maybe a great book or biography. For the boys, sometimes it would be a book about a sports figure, outspoken regarding his faith. Get creative and make it easy!

Don’t expect them to immediately have the same level of commitment to a quiet time that you might. Take their personalities, preferences, and maturity into account. Don’t push too hard, you already know where that leads! Simply model it, encourage it, and make it easy. In their own timing, you’ll possibly find that they inspire and challenge YOU.

Everybody Can Do Something

One of my favorite roles in life is being Aunt Sandra. Andy and I have four nieces and five nephews. We love having opportunities to pour into them any time we can. Even as they’ve gotten older, there has been something rich and special about these relationships. Our home is their second home; our family is their second family. It’s priceless to us.

Over the past five years, we’ve added to that niece/nephew count in a unique way. We’ve become “Aunt and Uncle” to some extraordinary kids who have found themselves in hard places.

In our churches, there are families who have decided to engage with foster kids. While some dive right into the deep end, becoming foster families, others have surrounded the foster families with support. They have played more of an “Aunt and Uncle” role in these kids’ lives. It’s an awesome role to play!

Our goal at Fostering Together is for each of our foster families to have a team of supporters assigned exclusively to them. Each family has their own Respite Family, and ideally, three Supporting Mentors.

FT Model.002

Respite families have all of the training needed to have foster children in their homes overnight. Usually these “sleepovers” are on weekends. But, occasionally a foster family has an unexpected emergency or a need for the child to spend the night out.

Supporting Mentors offer assistance to the foster family for any daytime babysitting needs.  They might provide meals on particularly busy days. Occasionally they pick kids up from school and get them to afternoon activities, thus giving the foster parents a break from the time they drop kids off at school until bedtime! What parent doesn’t adore a day to “catch up” on errands or have a mid-week date night?

Respite Families and Supporting Mentors play vital roles. Not only do the foster parents feel some pressure removed, the precious kids find themselves with the added benefit of “extended family.” They have consistent people in their lives who are familiar, fun, and safe.  Most kids love a big cheering section at their ballgames and recitals. Foster kids are no different!

Beyond even these roles, there are more places to plug in with foster kids. Tutors, medical professionals, prayer warriors, court appointed special advocates (CASA)… all can find a place to serve foster kids.

If you’re interested, make an effort to do a little research in your area. I bet it won’t take you long to find a place to help. You think you’ll help change some kids’ lives for the better, but let me promise you this: that blessing goes BOTH ways!