John Ewart on Dog Fighting (or jealousy among leaders)

Have you ever been in a dog fight? I don’t mean a deacon’s meetings gone wrong or a bad church business session. I mean a real fight between two canines. Well I have now unfortunately. So check that off my bucket list.

The day before Thanksgiving I had to break up a fight between my daughter’s pit bull and my very spasmodic beagle mix. They always have to warm up to each other a little bit when they have not seen one another for a while but they were doing just fine. Fine until I showed too much attention to the pit bull. My psycho mutt got jealous and attacked. I found myself bent over the arm of my recliner. I had the pit bull pinned down by the throat with one hand and my dog stiff armed with the other! My wife did not know whether to laugh or cry when she came into the room to my screams for help. Let me tell you, eating turkey and dressing with a busted rib diminishes the festive atmosphere!

Later that day those two knuckleheads were playing with one another and running around the yard like nothing had happened. I literally groaned.

But the wars between the Fido’s reminded me of something. I have known leaders in our denomination and others who were exactly like them sometimes. When they saw God paying attention to and blessing another leader or another ministry they reacted poorly. Instead of being thankful for what God has already given to them and how much God has been blessing them, they were jealous and competitive. Suddenly God’s rich blessing on their lives and ministries was not enough and they wanted to force His hand off of someone else so they could somehow receive more. Some even resorted to tearing down the other leaders and speaking negatively about them in order to feel better about themselves.

All jealousy and negative competition leads to is conflict. Conflict with one another, with ourselves and with God. Coveting the grace of God bestowed upon another is a sin and a shame. God chooses to bless and to favor according to His perfect plan and mission. We cannot see all that is involved and must rest in His grace no matter how He chooses to manifest it in our lives. That is what is right and perfect for us at this time, in this place, with the lessons we must learn and the way He is still molding us. Anything less robs us of what God is doing in and through us.

Everything we have is by his grace. As leaders, we must stay focused upon these right priorities. We cannot be jealous or competitive and we must not pass this attitude on to those we train. Instead we must focus upon His grace given to us. If we do this we can focus better upon bringing him glory rather than worrying about our success. If we do not, I fear first we might find ourselves pinned down by the neck, but far worse, I fear He might remove His hand from us completely.


John Ewart on Critical Abilities, Part 5

I have been discussing specific critical abilities a missional leader must possess in order to lead a church forward. These abilities build on one another. The first critical ability is to understand the true mission. Secondly, leaders must establish a biblical vision. The third ability from my last post is to build bridges of leadership.

The fourth critical ability is to manage change and conflict well. If a leader develops and displays the first three abilities effectively, I promise this one will be urgently needed.

Not everyone is going to get excited about moving everything under the banners of mission and vision and creating synergistic unity. This alignment may require leadership to say “No” to a ministry idea that does not fit as part of the train on the tracks. It may mean shutting down an existing ministry because, based on the mission and vision, it simply is not effectively fitting in with the new direction. It may also mean creating new ministries, decision-making processes, and end goals. Any of these changes can produce conflict and must be managed well.

I once pastored an established church next door to a public elementary school. There was a line of trees and bushes that completely separated the two properties. It was trashy and ugly and prevented one side from being able to see the other. It was a wall.

In addition, years earlier the church had allowed businesses to purchase the frontage property along the major roadway upon which the facility sat so any view from the front was obscured. It was known as “the church behind the Waffle House.” It was a wall.

Finally, the church had built a block wall on both sides of the main entryway. This thing stood several feet tall. It was literally a wall! Thousands of cars drove by every day but in order to actually see the facility you had about a 1.5 second drive by window of opportunity.

So…I met with the school leadership, organized work crews, and we cut down most of those trees, cleared out the overgrown underbrush, cut the front wall in half, planted some flowers and made the whole area park-like. No more physical walls. A teacher at the school actually said she did not even realize there was a church next door!

We then adopted the school, began to host their fifth grade graduation ceremony in our sanctuary along with a reception that followed, invited their sports teams to use our gym, conducted tutoring and reading programs during and after school hours, filled their supply closets, supplied snacks on field days, created experiences of appreciation for their staff and allowed them to use our parking lot as overflow whenever it was needed. In return they allowed us to distribute informational pieces advertising our various children’s programming opportunities to the families. We followed the rules and they did too and it was profitable for all. No more walls!

As a result we saw hundreds of kids and parents become involved in everything from our Upward sports programs, to music programs, to seasonal events, to our weekly programming. Many children and adults were saved and became great church members. In fact we were seeing God save people weekly and were baptizing each week. That was a new experience to this more than two hundred year old church. Walls were falling all around us.

This relationship caught the attention of the city mayor who invited me to his office. I spent 45 minutes alone with him discussing how other churches could and should become community partners like we had become. I even had the privilege of sharing the gospel with him one-on-one. So much for walls….

Or so you might think. While we were out there one Saturday cutting those trees, a long-standing member of the church walked up beside me. She crossed her arms, looked at me with a frown and said, “Pastor, I liked it better when the trees were still up. I liked it better when we could maintain our privacy.” Some walls are thicker than others.

To this day, many years later, all I can say is “WOW!” but I have learned that growth always produces change. Change often produces conflict.

How does a leader manage change and conflict well? I will be writing more about that next time.

Spurgeon on Leadership (11): Seven Lessons on Criticism and Conflict

1. Controversy is unavoidable for the person who seeks to be faithful to the Lord’s calling. Spurgeon wrote, “Controversy is never a very happy element for the child of God. . . . But the soldier of Christ knows no choice in his Master’s commands…” Jesus counseled His disciples that because the world hated Him, the world would hate them as well. Even the most effective leader will encounter controversy along the way.

2. A leader should not seek out controversy for its own sake. Spurgeon expressed his distaste for controversy: “I’d rather walk ten miles to get out of a dispute than half-a-mile to get into one.”

3. Some conflicts occur because of a leader’s own faults and failures. When a leader is tactless, careless, thoughtless, uncommunicative, head­strong, dictatorial, and arrogant, he will attract criticism as a result. This kind of controversy is not admirable; rather, it represents an unwise leader­ship style that creates adverse reactions.

4. Controversy can serve to unite a leader with his followers. This point was true in Spurgeon’s early ministry when he was maligned by the media. “The bond that united me to the members of New Park Street was probably all the stronger because of the opposition and calumny that, for a time at least, they had to share with me.”

5. The wise leader is capable of differentiating between personal and professional criticism. Spurgeon did not typically respond to personal attacks, but he did respond when someone criticized the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. He showed more concern for his official role than for his personal reputation.

6. Leaders may profit by giving their potential critics significant responsi­bility. Spurgeon’s philosophy was to take disruptive types and, in his words, “I set them to work and they are no longer troublesome; if that does not cure them, I give them still more work to do.”

7. A leader’s goal should not include becoming a master of contro­versy, but to become consistent in handling the truth. Spurgeon may not have been the best controversialist, but his resolve was to remain true to firm convictions, regardless of the outcome, believing that righ­teousness will prevail in the end.