Healthy leadership

Let’s Trade Our Titles for True Humility

Last week when I was preaching in the nation of Iceland, I befriended three young foreign students from Africa who were visiting our conference near Reykjavik. I noticed these guys were sitting in the back of the auditorium, so I invited them to sit with me up front. They later admitted to me that I was the first preacher they’d ever met who greeted people before a service.

“In my country, most preachers come into the auditorium after the worship, and they don’t speak to anyone,” one of the brothers told me.

When I told these brothers they could call me Lee, they were shocked. They expected me to demand a long-winded ecclesiastical title.

I’m often asked if I have a title, and my answer doesn’t satisfy some people. I don’t consider myself a pastor because I travel so much. All kinds of labels have been pinned on me: reverend, prophet, apostle, even bishop.

Once I was introduced to a church as “Dr. Grady,” and I almost crawled under my seat. I only have a college degree. There are no letters after my name.

Today it seems we’ve developed a title fetish. For a while everyone in charismatic circles was becoming a bishop, and some were installed into this office with rings, robes and funny-looking hats. Then the same guys with the pointy hats started calling themselves apostles. Then the prophets got jealous and started calling themselves apostles too! I knew one lady who, not to be outdone, required people to call her “exalted prophetess.”

Now the latest fad is requiring church folks to address certain people as apostles. As in, “When apostle Holy Moly arrives, please only address him as, ‘apostle,’ and then make sure he is seated in a private room while his two ‘armor bearers,’ wearing dark glasses, guard his door.” I know of one popular preacher who sends his hosts a letter explaining that he must be called “apostle” anytime his name is used from the stage!

Some of these title-seekers have even invented an elaborate theology to go along with their ridiculous rule. They say you can’t receive the true anointing from a man of God if you don’t honor him with his right title.

Sounds so very oooh-oooh spiritual to the naive. But it’s charismatic garbage.

Jesus didn’t play this religious game, especially when he was around the grand poobahs of His day—the long-robed, nose-in-the-air scribes and Pharisees. After accusing them of loving the best seats in the synagogues, He pointed out that they loved to be called “Rabbi” by men (see Matt. 23:7).

Then He warned them: “But do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brothers … For he who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt. 23:8,12).

People have quibbled over these words for centuries, insisting that pride is what Jesus was rebuking, not titles. I would agree that Jesus was going to the root sin. But He was also asking these guys if they’d be willing to ditch their labels and act like normal people.

When I was in China several years ago, I met some amazing leaders who had planted thousands of congregations. They had also spent a lot of time in jail for their faith, and they’d been beaten with iron rods for preaching the gospel. They were the bravest apostles I’ve ever met.

But when I asked them if they used “apostle” as a title, one guy said: “We believe in those roles in the church. But we prefer to call each other ‘brother’ or ‘sister.'”

That settled the issue for me.

If these Chinese giants of the faith—and true apostles—don’t require to be addressed with titles, then Your Worshipful Grand Master Rev. Dr. Bishop Big Deal Jones who claims oversight of maybe four churches shouldn’t wear his ministry role around his neck like a tacky neon name badge.

If people can’t see the anointing on your life through your character, then don’t cheapen the gospel by wearing a title you don’t deserve.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t use reverend, minister or even bishop to identify their roles in the church. One of my mentors is a bishop, and he is one of the most humble men I know. But can we please dispense with the insecurity and the childish “I’m more important than you” appellations and get back to the simplicity of the gospel? Let’s get over ourselves!

Jesus is the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Son of David, the Prince of Peace and the Apostle of our Confession. Yet when He came into this world, He laid aside His heavenly glory and took on the lowly name of Jesus. He wore no fancy robes. He demanded no titles. He had no “armor bearers.” He even bore His own cross until He was too weak to drag it to Calvary.

If we want to serve Jesus honorably, we must forsake our need for fame and cast our crowns at His feet.

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Don’t Misuse the Gift of Personal Prophecy

Twelve years ago, when I was preaching at a Brazilian congregation in Florida, the Lord directed my attention to a young teenager sitting in the back of the church. He was leaning his head against the wall and looking very bored. But God gave me a prophetic message for this curly-headed guy, so I asked him to stand; then I spoke to him about his spiritual calling.

“God says you are going to be a spiritual warrior,” I told him.

The boy’s name was Felipe, and we became good friends after I gave him that word of encouragement. Today, at age 27, he’s a passionate follower of Christ and the youth pastor of his church.

I love the gift of prophecy because I’ve seen countless people like Felipe transformed by it. One prophetic message from God can break the power of discouragement. It can also launch a person into ministry or confirm God’s divine direction. As Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” A personal prophetic word is like a priceless piece of heirloom jewelry. You will treasure it for life.

Some people question whether personal prophecy is biblical. Yet prophets often delivered detailed messages to people in Old Testament times. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul urged believers to “earnestly desire” prophecy above all other gifts (see 1 Cor. 14:1). He also told the Corinthians that true prophetic ministry can expose the secrets of men’s hearts and bring them to repentance (1 Cor. 14:24-25).

In Colossians 4:17, Paul issued a word of prophetic encouragement to an individual on his ministry team. He wrote: “Tell Archippus, ‘Make sure that you fulfill the ministry which you have received in the Lord.'” Paul delivered this short but powerful message to Archippus to strengthen his friend. I am sure Archippus never forgot Paul’s very personal words.

Personal prophetic ministry is vital today. People need to know that God is not a dry doctrine; He wants to know us intimately, and He wants to speak to us in a personal way. Yet we must be careful to avoid the abuses that have given personal prophecy a bad name. Here are some helpful guidelines that will keep it healthy.

  1. Don’t chase prophecies. I know Christians who will travel across the country to attend a conference to get a word from God, yet they haven’t read the Bible in months or sat still long enough to hear from God on their own. Never treat the gift of prophecy like fortune-telling. When God needs to speak to you in an unusual way, He has faithful messengers who will deliver the message to you at the exact time you need it. Meanwhile, soak your mind in Scripture—and never elevate personal prophecy above God’s Word.
  1. Never give prophets elite status. Nowhere in the New Testament are prophets exalted to a privileged class. Paul himself said all members of the body need each other, and in his discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14, he warns against ranking spirituality by gifting. He wrote, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you'” (1 Cor. 12:21).Some people are mesmerized by prophets who claim to know people’s phone numbers, addresses or Social Security numbers. Be sure to test the validity of a prophet’s gift if he attempts to impress people with his exotic prophetic abilities. True prophecy does not have to be spooky; its main purpose is to encourage the hearer, not to draw attention to the messenger.
  1. Never give harsh prophetic words. New Testament prophecy should encourage, comfort and exhort believers (see 1 Cor. 14:3). That rules out condemnation and harsh criticism disguised as a word from God. Our heavenly Father does not speak to His children in a hateful, scolding tone. He is an encourager, even when He brings needed correction. Remember: Paul said that if you use the gift of prophecy without love, it is useless (see 1 Cor. 13:2).I know of a church where a lady routinely gave personal words to people warning of calamities or judgments. She even claimed God wanted to kill them! Usually angry “prophets” like this woman claim to know all the unconfessed sins in a person’s life; the truth is they struggle to understand God’s love themselves, and they are seeking attention. Stay away from weird, abusive people who claim to be prophets but don’t show the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
  1. Soak in God’s Word. Prophecy will never, ever contradict the Bible. So if you want to speak God’s prophetic message to others, you must hide the Scriptures in your heart. If you fill your well with the Word, it will spill over and refresh many when you speak under the anointing of the Spirit. I often meditate on Proverbs 10:32a, which promises: “The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable.”

If you feel called to prophesy, that’s great! God wants to speak through you to others. But don’t assume you know everything. Don’t be so eager to go until you grow to maturity. Find a mentor and learn how to minister with grace, love and biblical balance.

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How to Control Your Tongue in the Trump Era

Last week, President Trump issued a tweet from the White House, mocking MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski’s appearance and questioning her sanity. And after both Republicans and Democrats in Washington begged Trump to use a more civil tone in his communication, he took to Twitter again, calling Brzezinski “dumb as a rock” and her on-air partner, Joe Scarborough, “crazy.”

What is going on here? Trump’s defenders say liberal journalists deserve harsh treatment because they relentlessly insult the president. Trump’s deputy press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said her boss “fights fire with fire.” She added: “The American people elected a fighter.”

Liberal politicians and journalists questioned whether Trump is mentally stable. Meanwhile Republicans begged their leader to calm down. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Trump’s tweetstorm was “beneath the office and represents what is wrong with American politics.”

This is all new territory for us as Americans. Social media now allows our president, along with his political enemies, to toss verbal grenades while the audience listens to the explosions in real time. I’m sure politicians said awful things about each other before the digital age. But with Twitter, the ugliness is out there for us all to read and respond to with our own angry retorts.

Trump was certainly not elected because of his politeness. He is gruff and feisty, and his remarks often sound like those of a playground bully. His in-your-face attitude is what endeared him to many voters who are sick of conventional politics. They want a president who acts like a professional wrestler, breathing threats and flexing his muscles.

It remains to be seen whether this combative tone will work for President Trump or whether it will backfire. But this is certainly not the tone we need in the church today. Politicians may argue, and comedians may pull ugly stunts. But as a Christian, I can’t lower myself to this level.

I am called to reflect the love of Jesus. So are you.

The spirit of the world wants us to take sides in this nasty battle. The devil wants us to hate each other, bicker and throw mud. But the kingdom of Jesus transcends this divisive world. We are called to love people and share Christ with them. If politics prevents you from fulfilling the Great Commission, then you have traded your faith for an idol.

I know some conservative Christians who have become much angrier since the 2016 election. They can chop liberal politicians and journalists into pieces with their words. I also know some left-leaning Christians who have changed into monsters because they are so angry. They seethe with so much animosity toward Donald Trump that they are becoming the bully they say he is.

In this age of outrage, we have lost our first love. How can we rise above this ugly conflict and speak as prophets to our culture? The best way to maintain a prophetic voice is to control your words. Let’s remember these simple rules:

  1. Think before you speak. James 1:19-20 says: “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.” The definition of discretion is “the quality of behaving or speaking in such a way as to avoid causing offense.” If someone says something to you that makes you angry, bite your lip and wait before you lash out.

You do not have to have the last word. Don’t ruin your testimony by being impetuous. Proverbs 29:20 says it bluntly: “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Sometimes the best thing to do in an argument is to shut up. Proverbs 17:28 says: “Even a fool, when he holds his peace, is counted wise; and he who shuts his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.”

  1. Learn to respond in the opposite spirit. Anger breeds anger. Mudslinging provokes more mudslinging. But when we have the Holy Spirit inside of us, we have the power to overcome the flesh and manifest the attitude of Jesus. When someone begins arguing, you can turn the conversation by showing compassion or mercy. Proverbs 15:1 says: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.” You can set the tone.
  1. Let love be your guide. I Corinthians 16:14 says: “Let all that you do be done in love.” That’s a simple but powerful command. If what you are about to write on Facebook isn’t loving, don’t post it. Let love temper your words and your social media communication. Love builds a platform for you to share Christ, but angry, bitter or demeaning words remove all hope of you communicating the gospel with others.

Don’t allow today’s toxic public conversation to infect you with hate. Let’s model civility, reconciliation and kindness to a nation that needs the love of Jesus. And let’s pray that our president, who is surrounded by Christians, will learn to restrain his anger before he tweets.

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6 Ways Not to Take an Offering

I’ve seen it all when it comes to church offerings. Once when I attended an outdoor service in Nigeria, deacons used wheelbarrows and pickup trucks to collect money because more than 500,000 people were in the audience. Yet I know a pastor in Malawi who collects the equivalent of 80 cents in his offering plate each Sunday because his members are so poor. With that money, he has planted several churches.

Giving is a huge part of the Christian life. Jesus encouraged generosity; the first disciples collected offerings; and the apostle Paul said, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7b). Paul taught us that collecting money to support the church’s mission should be done with integrity and that believers should respond with generous hearts.

But even in those days, some Christians resisted the idea of giving to God’s work. Others used strong-arm tactics to get their hands in people’s pockets. We are still dealing with this problem 2,000 years later. Here are six of the most reckless tactics used today to raise funds in church:

  1. The endless appeal: Some preachers drone on and on for 45 minutes to collect an offering—and then they take another 15 minutes to pass the buckets. This is rude and insensitive—and it reveals a lack of faith on the part of leaders. You don’t have to talk people out of their money or hold them hostage until they give out of frustration. Trust God to supply the need rather than begging.
  1. The salesman’s extortion: Certain slick preachers in our movement are known for their uncanny ability to open people’s wallets. But these fundraising “skills” are more akin to those of a used car salesman than a minister of the gospel. They promise magical benefits to those who give large amounts. They also set deadlines. I once heard a preacher suggest that if people gave “right now,” their unsaved children would find salvation!

Never give in response to manipulation. Paul taught us that when we sow, we will reap. But in the same passage, he also said if we sow to the flesh we will “reap corruption” (Gal. 6:8). If you give in response to a prompting of the Holy Spirit, you will be blessed. But if you give because the preacher twisted your arm or used pressure tactics, your gift will not be blessed. Paul told us to give “not grudgingly or out of necessity” (2 Cor. 9:7).

  1. The give-to-get tradeoff: There is no question that God blesses generous people. If you keep your hands open to God by giving, He will open a channel of blessing for you. But God is not a slot machine, and His goodness is not for sale. Never believe a preacher who says you can buy the Holy Spirit’s anointing. And never follow a preacher who guarantees you will get a new house or a new car if you put a certain amount in the offering plate.
  1. The Holy Ghost auction: Numerous times I’ve heard a preacher announce that he needs a certain number of people to give $1,000—and he will wait for hands to go in the air. Next, he needs $500 gifts, $250 and so on. Within a few minutes, the church has become a cattle auction. Sometimes the donors are asked to stand—suggesting that God blesses rich people but not the widow on a fixed income who doesn’t have means to give a big amount.

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they liked to blow trumpets in public to announce they were giving to the poor. He told them: “When you do your charitable deeds, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deeds may be in secret” (Matt. 6:3-4). Can you imagine Jesus asking rich people to stand and give their large checks while everyone in the audience applauds them? He actually pointed out a poor widow and raved about her tiny gift.

  1. The railing judgment: I cringe when I hear pastors tell people they will be under a curse if they don’t tithe. I don’t tithe to appease God’s anger; I give more than a tithe because I love to share God’s goodness. We should never put a guilt trip on people while collecting money. The church is no place for threats. Zacchaeus was a greedy tax collector, but Jesus did not attack him for his thievery; He extended mercy—and this melted Zacchaeus’ heart and made him a lavish giver.
  1. The pathetic apology: Sometimes we act timid about collecting offerings, maybe because the world thinks all Christians are fakes and that churches are “all about money.” But we have nothing to apologize for! We are involved in the greatest mission on planet Earth, and God Himself supplies the funds needed to evangelize the world.

When we collect offerings, we are engaging in a holy process. God is just as much involved in the offering as He is in worship, the preaching of the Word or the demonstration of spiritual gifts. God allows us to be His vessels to give, and then He rewards us abundantly so we can give more. The church has been sustained for 2,000 years by supernatural giving. He is in our midst. While we seek to become more generous, let’s learn to be more faithful in the way we steward God’s money.

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