The COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdowns and restrictions have impacted us all in one way or another. Life is certainly different. For many, it has been incredibly difficult. I’d like to share with you a couple of opportunities to help some folks who are really struggling this month.
Uganda Care. Several of our friends and co-workers in Uganda have been struggling - both personally and in trying to serve and care for the poor in their communities. The price of food is rising, and yet money is more scarce than ever. People are feeling desperate. We are partnering with several trusted leaders who serve the poor day in and day out.
Last week, through the generosity of our friends at Global Advance, we sent much needed funds to a couple of church network leaders who daily work with the poor. Through this aid, hundreds of people are receiving food which will last them 1-2 weeks. Because of stringent lockdown measures, these faithful friends had to get special permission from the government to deliver the food. Fortunately, they were able to do so, and many people were greatly encouraged with this outpouring of Jesus’ love.
A few days ago we were also able to send a gift to our beloved friends, Fatuma and Darren O’Quinn. Fatuma and Darren take children in off the streets in Masaka, providing a home and family for many. During this crisis, the local government has requested them to expand and care for even more children. They happily (and in faith) agreed, and have set about the task of winning the hearts of these desperate youth and providing them with family, clothes, food, and the love of Jesus.
I know many of you are also feeling anxiety over finance and an unknown future. That is understandable. At the same time, as followers of Jesus, we can always afford to be generous. If the Lord touches your heart with this particular need (and there are certainly many out there), would you consider giving to help us continue to support our African brothers and sisters? For more information, click here:
Another group in my world that has been hard hit is the homeless population. A number of outreaches that provide food and other basic necessities have closed temporarily. Others are limiting how many they can serve. We are doing our best to fill in some gaps by providing meals and staying connected. The ministry of Thursday Night Light, though not meeting in the usual way, is still providing to-go dinners each Thursday. Also, our friends Paul Schmidt and Mark Hodge are providing almost daily sack lunches with the Share A Meal truck. The Tulsa Boiler Room is providing meals for this once per week. Yesterday as we went into camps and under bridges to deliver food, I encountered a number of people I have known for some time, and also met a lot of new ones. We received many warm smiles and God bless you’s, as hearts that are often hard and suspicious were softened by the warmth of the Father’s love and care.
If you would like to contribute or serve this population in any way, you can donate in one of the following ways, or contact Mark Hodge (email@example.com).
2. text ‘GIVE’ to 918-992-3366,
Thank you so much for allowing me to share all this with you. I so appreciate you, and am praying for you. Please let me know if there’s anything I can pray with you about.
Good Friday, 2020
“Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.”
We are all excited for Sunday. We’ve been hungering for something significant to celebrate. For some really Good News. Thoughts of the resurrection and Christ’s victory over death bring us renewed hope. Maybe we’ll eat special food with our family - or enjoy something we’ve been denying ourselves for Lent. Sunday is coming, and I’m so so glad.
But let’s not hasten there too quickly. Let’s do our best to sit for a time in the horror of Friday and the awful silence of Saturday. Before Sunday’s resounding Alleluia, we are called to contemplate Friday’s agony. And Friday’s gift.
Today we remember the sufferings of Jesus. He was crucified for me. For you. Apparently a quick and relatively painless death would not have sufficed. He was tortured and humiliated. He suffered horribly. We know this. Why did it have to be so?
In Jesus’ suffering on the cross, the terrible weight of our sin is revealed to us. The ugliness and the awfulness of it. This is what sin does. Not just the spectacular kind, but your kind and my kind. When was the last time you were aware of your sin? The weight and the darkness and the wickedness of it? The cross forces us - if we will pay attention - to face the fact that our sin is so deep and so dark that it required the blood of God Himself to get rid of it. The consequence of our sin is Jesus hanging on a tree, in blood and gore and unspeakable agony.
Yes, this is on us. On me. My petty jealousies and unrelenting selfishness. My pitiful greed and lack of love and my laziness and my unbelievable inability to think of someone besides myself for more than 5 minutes at a time. My unholy thoughts and cutting words and mystifying lack of faith and my brazen arrogance. And yours, too.
Look what we have done to this world that He entrusted to us.
Why must we face this? Why ‘celebrate’ such a thing every Good Friday? Because without an honest appraisal of our own lostness and hopelessness, we can never taste the absolute wonder of His grace and His love. If all was fair and just in the world, the cross would have been for me. But in this case God’s mercy trumped fairness, and I go free.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” — 2 Corinthians 5:21
The scandal of Christianity is not that God demands holiness and purity from us. It is not that He must be Lord of our money and our sexuality and our time. It’s not that He calls us to sacrifice and lay down our lives. It’s not even that He will one day judge the world, no matter how harsh that idea seems from our vantage point. The true scandal of Christ is the cross. The true scandal has always been grace. It is that God made Him to be sin for you and me. That wasn’t fair. The biggest injustice ever carried out. It is that we become, shockingly, the righteousness of God. The unfairness of Christianity is that I have been declared not guilty and have been welcomed into the very family of God, set free to enjoy all the benefits of such ridiculously unwarranted favor. The scandal is that it was Jesus hanging on that cross and not me and you.
On Good Friday we remember the beautiful unfairness of God. We mourn deeply the fact that our sin did this to Jesus. We receive the offered exchange, because what else can we do? And so we repent. Genuinely, thoughtfully, and sacrificially. And we humbly take our place among the holy and the eternal. Clean. Free. Without guilt. No shame. And we celebrate - yes, on this day shrouded in darkness, we celebrate - that we are loved this much.
“Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.”
— Colossians 2:8-10
From Hollywood to news outlets to podcasts and books and blogs and social media, the so-called wisdom of the world is available at every turn. We find helpful advice from the “experts” on every imaginable topic or issue. Finance, self-care, meaning, work, politics, health, time management, food, culture, and on and on. Relationships, marriage, parenting. Mental health and emotional strength and what to think about so-and-so’s speech and what to eat (or not eat) for breakfast and how to keep yourself regular. Has there ever been a time when pop psychology and pop philosophy so dominate our conversation and convictions?
What’s even better (?) is that we can get all the above in whatever flavor we prefer — liberal or conservative; Christian or materialist; baby-boomer or gen-z. This ensures that we can easily find ammunition to prove that which we already know (want? feel?) to be true.
As devoted followers of Jesus, I’d like to make a radical counter-proposal. Read the Bible.
In the above passage, the Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, warns the church of Colossae to not be captured by what the world teaches. Oh how we need to take this to heart in our time! We are in grave danger of basing our lives on ‘empty philosophy’ and ‘high-sounding nonsense’ that originate in ‘human thinking’ and ‘the spiritual powers of the world.’
Friends, we have available to us the very wisdom of God. Why would we settle for human thinking? Perhaps because it is easier to access a blog than to dig into God’s Word. Maybe because we so much prefer to find ‘high sounding nonsense’ that strengthens our own opinions than to allow ourselves to be challenged by God Himself. Or maybe we are taken in because the blogger or author or expert we count on carries the label Christian and attaches Bible verses to their opinions. Perhaps we simply don’t believe that the wisdom we need is accessible in the Bible - at least not to ordinary folk like you and me. Or maybe we’re duped by the often self-proclaimed title of ‘expert.’ They’ve studied this stuff. They know things that I don’t.
Perhaps you have fallen prey to the assault on the validity of the Bible for us today. After all, it is so... old. We’ve made lots of advances since that time. Things are just different now. The Bible is good for things like affirming that Jesus loves us and died for us and rose again, but in the nitty gritty of life we need experts. Brothers and sisters, do not be taken in by that lie. The Creator of heaven and earth and of you and me knows best, and He has revealed Himself.
“In him [Jesus] lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
— Colossians 2:3
We need to learn to think biblically. We need to get beyond ‘that sounds good’ and ‘I’ve never seen this verse like that before’ and ‘I need to post that quote’, and instead move on to ‘is that what the Bible actually intends to teach?’ and ‘What does the Bible have to say about...?’
The Bible does reveal God’s wisdom regarding money and relationships and parenting and life-controlling habits. It may not answer every question we have in all the details and specifics, but it does provide a framework of how God intends us to think about and live in these various arenas. What does the Bible teach about raising kids and spending money and overcoming anxiety? Before turning to the experts of human thinking, shouldn’t we at least put some work into discovering what God has always said about these things? And then we can begin to filter all the other information and opinions and ‘wisdom’ through Him. There is good advice out there - and lots of the other kind. The problem is that we are so immersed in our culture that we don’t naturally have what it takes to determine the difference. But, as we intentionally immerse ourselves in the Word of God, we develop the ability to see what is gold and what is garbage.
“You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.”
— Hebrews 5:12-14
I am sitting in the airport in Brussels, processing my time in Africa. I went to Cameroon with a Global Advance team whose primary purpose was to preach in young adult conferences and to speak to pastors about raising up young leaders. We also had the opportunity to preach in churches, Bible training centers, and schools.We worked with a truly fantastic ministry called Discipling Nations Ministries. This wonderful team is committed to making disciples in Cameroon and beyond. They are innovative, strategic, and passionate. I learned a lot in the short time I was with them and have been challenged and inspired.
Around noon on Wednesday I was in a sweltering high school classroom with about 85 students crammed into a space clearly designed for something more like half that number. They were a bit rowdy and distracted as I was introduced. This was my third such meeting of the day - and the largest. I breathed a quick prayer and took the next ten minutes to simply tell them the Gospel - who Jesus is and what He has done. In moments like these I am thankful for scriptures like Colossians 1:6: “This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.” The Good News - the Gospel - has a way of bearing fruit and changing lives. It is the “power of God that brings salvation...” (Rom 1:16). I asked if anyone had questions...
How can you trust someone you don’t know (referring to Jesus)?
If Jesus died for our sins, why is there still so much bad in the world?
If God is good, why is there a lot of evil in the world?
How do you not give in to temptation?
How do you follow Jesus?
After some more discussion, several students stood to say they want to follow Jesus. JOY! Jesus loves people! — And welcoming them into His Father’s family brings Him such happiness.
I am so grateful that the Lord gave me this assignment and opportunity in Cameroon to pour into young leaders, encourage pastors, and share the gospel. Jesus is so amazing, and He is working in the nations, bringing salvation and transforming lives. I’m so glad He’s doing it in Tulsa, too.
I’ve been back from Uganda now for over three weeks, and I wanted to share a little about this trip. First, it was amazingly special for me personally to travel with some great friends. Roger Nix has been my pastor for close to 20 years, and traveling with him to the place where our family served as Believers Church missionaries was incredibly meaningful to me. Scott and Tyler Hoxworth from Texas are newer friends, but I’ve come to appreciate and respect them both so much through our mutual involvement in training student missionaries from ORU over the past several years. For the second half of the trip, I was able to meet and really enjoy getting to know another Texas pastor - Mike Johnson, who has much rich experience in training leaders around the world.
The first week our team spent with my old friend Pastor Robert and his family in the mountainous town of Kabujogera, Western Uganda. It was a joyful gathering of old friends as we came together to build up and encourage the church in that region. I spoke to many leaders who are in a difficult season, and who came to the gathering feeling overwhelmed and burdened. It was significant, I believe, for us to be there at such a time - reminding them of who they are in the Father and bringing them encouragement in the midst of the struggle.
I enjoyed staying in Robert’s home and sitting up late talking with him and our old team - Tushabe, Israel, and Gerald (only missing Benjamin, who was at another event that week). We ate the good and simple food of Uganda and basked in the ridiculous hospitality of God’s African family.
For the second week, we traveled to eastern Uganda for a Frontline Pastors’ Conference with Global Advance - a wonderful ministry based in the US with a worldwide work of equipping leaders. I have the honor to partner with these wonderful friends in equipping leaders in Uganda and elsewhere. Our small crew from the US was hosted in the border city of Busia with amazing care and love by Pastor John Wandera and his team. It was a significant time of equipping, impartation, unity, and growing in friendship.
Many pastors and other leaders gathered from across the region for three full days of teaching and fellowship. We met in a huge tent, which filled up each day with eager participants who came ready to engage with God’s Word. Each teacher brought something that he carries in his heart with passion and depth. Among other things, we talked about spiritual formation, raising up spiritual sons and daughters, giving God what we have, and counting the cost to follow Jesus with everything.
Each day Pastor John asked us to pray for the participants, and we took significant time to do that. Sometimes people came forward responding to a particular challenge, and other times just wanted to receive a touch from the Father. It was a beautiful and meaningful time for all of us. We touched and encouraged some as they came forward in repentance and renewed commitment, some in exhaustion and brokenness, and others in joy and gratitude. Although often tired ourselves, we felt God’s presence during these times and experienced His strength and refreshment.
After the event, I had the privilege of staying on in eastern Uganda for a couple more days. Pastor John and I visited three different towns in which we met with regional pastoral leaders. In each meeting, I asked the pastors what they hear God saying about their region and nation; what dreams He is growing in their hearts. It was beautifully inspiring and challenging to listen to the responses, as these leaders poured out their souls with the longings and hopes of the Father. I came away with renewed hope and with excitement about how Global Advance can be a significant partner in helping these men and women of God fulfill the things He has put in their hearts.
Thank you for the prayer and support. We felt it and needed it. I believe Jesus was honored during this time, and that the work of His Kingdom was strengthened. Please continue to pray for Uganda and the church in that land.
I have a quick update, which I hope to write more about later. By God’s grace, I will be leading a team in just three weeks from now to the nation of Cameroon. We will be ministering in NextGen conferences - equipping pastors to empower and train up young leaders, and preaching to young people about their identity and purpose in Jesus. This will be with Global Advance again, and I am excited for my first experience in West Africa. Please pray for me!
I hope you’re doing really well, and have some good plans for this holiday weekend. The Ways are all fine, and adjusting to Fall schedules and new routines. Jill has started teaching at a new Homeschool Co-op called Legacy Alliance. She teaches 5th and 6th graders three days each week. She’s loving it but is also tired as she tries to adjust to all the responsibilities and newness. She’s really doing great, and I’m so proud of her. Philip and Hannah are both part of Legacy Alliance as students - Philip in 10th grade and Hannah in 7th. Geesh.
By God’s grace, I am headed back to Uganda on Monday. I’d truly appreciate your prayers. I will be partnering with the ministry of Global Advance, who are involved in equipping and raising up godly leaders all over the world, primarily through training events, mentoring, and developing resource materials. I love this partnership, and am so grateful and honored to represent them in Uganda.
I also have the amazing blessing of traveling with some great friends. Roger Nix has been my pastor since 2001, and has had a significant impact on my life. Scott Hoxworth is a pastor from Texas who has been part of equipping ORU student missionaries for many years, and we’ve been able to develop a friendship over the years as we’ve joined together in that work. Scott’s son, Tyler, is the worship pastor at his church, and I’ve also gotten to know him through his participation in ORU missions training. He is a fun and authentic lover of Jesus. I’m really excited to travel together with this crew to a nation that I love so much, and to introduce them to my family there. We’ll also be meeting another pastor from Texas once we’re in Uganda, and getting the opportunity to work alongside him as well.
I believe that pastors’ equipping events like the ones we’ll be participating in can be really significant. Many of the people we’ll be helping to equip have had little or no opportunity to receive biblical or ministerial training, and yet they serve Jesus with great zeal and sacrifice. My prayer is that the Father would use us to encourage and challenge them as well as provide some practical tools to enhance their fruitfulness. Mostly I pray for the glory of Jesus in Uganda! The church networks that we’ll be working with are dynamic and are positioned to have great impact in the nation and beyond. It is an honor and joy to work with them.
If you think of us, I’d be grateful if you pray for us and for the folks we’ll be working with in Uganda - as well as for my family who will be pushing along back in Tulsa while I’m gone. Thanks so much!
My son Philip and I had an amazing time in Uganda last month. Man, Jesus is at work in that nation, and it’s so great to be able to join in and participate in small ways. We spent the first week in Kampala, working with our friend Wilson. Wilson leads a movement that has planted more than 1,200 ‘simple churches’ in Uganda and surrounding nations. These are small, family-style congregations of 10-25 people. They don’t have buildings, but meet in homes, under trees, in bars or other public places, by the side of the road, etc. Wherever people gather, they are sharing about Jesus and making disciples. Many have come to Christ from the most neglected and marginalized parts of Ugandan society - gang members, prostitutes, refugees, Rastafarians, drug dealers, and others. We spent a few days with a group of young leaders in this movement, each of whom have amazing God-stories of how their lives have been transformed and how they are now sacrificially engaged in extending this beautiful Kingdom. This is truly a movement of disciples making disciples who make disciples. Our team was able to help them with some simple evangelism and discipleship tools, to pray with and encourage them, and to participate with them in the harvest - but we mostly learned from them and were inspired by them.
The next week, our team spent time in Masaka, offering the same training to a couple of church networks that are lead by old friends and co-workers in the Gospel - Benjamin Kintu and Gerald Kasozi. We were able to challenge and encourage this group of faithful pastors with many of the same concepts and lessons that have proven so effective for Wilson and his motley group. It’s always such joy for me to labor alongside these men and women who have been such a huge part of my life over the past 20 years.
Of course, a tremendous highlight for me was doing all of this with Philip. I cannot tell you how significant that was, and how wonderfully he did. He lead segments of the training in both places, went out with us sharing the gospel, and was an easy and fun travel companion. One very special moment came during the training in Masaka: For the past couple of years, Nathan (Philip’s older brother) has spent intentional time with Philip every now and then, studying the scriptures together. He taught Philip a simple method of Bible study called the sword method. It’s a great and reproducible way to disciple people in the Scriptures. Philip was able to pass this teaching along to pastors and young leaders in Uganda, and they loved it! He did so well.
Although I come into contact with many needs as I travel, I don’t typically seek to raise fund for the projects I am able to see at work. However, our team encountered one in Kampala that I truly feel I need to pass on. Wilson and his team receive little to no financial help from the many believers in the network. One reason is because many of the people, when they come to Jesus, have to stop making money the way they were before, and they end up very poor indeed. In fact, it is often Wilson seeking to find ways to support them rather than the other way around. The leaders have a vision of beginning a maize mill business to help alleviate some of the pressure this situation is causing, and I am really excited about it. They are seeking to be very wise, and desire to use this business as a way of making disciples, training leaders, and providing for the movement to continue. They are partnering with a ministry in the States that is helping to coach them in business skills, creating plans, etc. They need to raise $10,000 in start-up funds for this business, and they so far have been able to raise a little more than half of that amount - so now the remaining need is $4,200. If you’d be interested in helping out or learning more, go here:
Philip and I are going to Uganda this summer! Philip was born in Uganda, but has not been there since he was a year old. I am ridiculously excited about the chance to be there with him. I am also expectant about the ministry that is unfolding there. The Lord is providing many open doors in helping to equip leaders for the work of the Kingdom, and we have felt Him leading us to walk through these. One of these doors that is opening wide is with a ministry called Global Advance (GA), with my friend Ken Janke. GA helps to equip ministers all over the world for the work of the great commission. I’ll be telling you more about this as it develops.
In June, I will be leading a team providing training in evangelism and discipleship. We will be working with several church networks that are doing great work in sharing Jesus’ love throughout Uganda. One of these is a network of more than 700 ‘simple churches’ that reach from the slums of Kampala to the refugee camps that populate northern Uganda, and even into surrounding nations. In addition to the training, we will be joining our friends in sharing the gospel with people in different parts of the city. After this, we will go to Masaka, where we will introduce this training to my old friends and ministry partners and the churches they lead. My hope and belief is that many will be welcomed into the Father’s family through these outreaches, and through the ongoing work that will happen as a result.
If you are in the Tulsa area, we are having a dessert event at our home this Thursday evening (February 28) at 7:30. We’ll be sharing about the ministry opportunities in Uganda and how you can help. We’ll also have a time of prayer together. We’d would really love to see you! You are more than welcome to come hang out even if you’re not gonna give. It would be wonderful to have you there.
In addition to Uganda, by God’s grace I will be traveling to Asia in a couple of weeks to help develop Christian leaders. This is an amazing opportunity, and I’m so excited about it!
Over the past months Jill has developed a significant friendship with one of the homeless ladies that frequents the Merchant and Thursday Night Light. Recently Jill and Nadia were able to take her to a Christian concert, and she was sooooo happy! It was amazing to just help provide an evening of joy for someone who is having such a tough time in life right now. We are praying for more and more power and wisdom to bring the gospel to the poor and see lives transformed.
Thanks so much for your interest in our lives. We so appreciate it. Please do pray for us as we keep pressing forward in reaching the marginalized here in Tulsa and helping to equip folks for ministry and leadership in various parts of the world.
Thanks so much! Love,
Tim and Jill
If you want to help support our Uganda ministry for this summer, you can give through cash app ($TimothyWay) or paypal (https://www.paypal.me/wayfam).
For tax-deductible giving, give through the Tulsa Boiler Room (with a note saying for Uganda): https://www.paypal.me/tulsaboiler OR send a check to: Tulsa Boiler Room; 5710 E 24th Place; Tulsa, OK 74114.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
— Acts 2:42-47
When I read the book of Acts I see a picture of the Church that produces a longing in my chest that is sometimes hard to bear. There is a generosity of spirit and an intimacy that tug at me. There is genuine power. Sacrificial love. Simple pleasures. Genuine friendship. There is a tangible wholeness. True equality of value. Full belonging and participation. I see every member playing a significant part. Family in the truest sense of the word. Everyone has purpose. There is agreement and unity; wildy different people coming together in a common mission. The very real presence of Jesus Himself.
Church is not an event. It is not a location. It is not a dynamic leader with a great vision and lots of people doing all they can to make it come true.
Church is not an event.
Church does not happen at 11:00 Sunday morning or 7:00 Saturday evening.
Church is not an event.
Church is a people. It is community. Family.
Church is a family centered on and lead by Jesus. God’s family. Not a Sunday morning performance. Not a program. Not an event. It has events and it gathers in places, but it is not in essence those things.
I love gathering together with my church. Watching the toddlers play. Eating great food. Praying together and looking into God’s Word and worshiping and laughing. I love knowing them, and being known by them. Being myself. Not performing. I love people in my living room singing to Jesus and interceding for the lost and discussing the scriptures.
I love the way the Father uses these flawed people to make me more like His Son. It’s amazing to me the way we sharpen one another. I love seeing someone used by the Spirit to bring encouragement or instruction or even rebuke to the rest of us.
I love being part of different generations coming together for a common purpose - babies and teenagers and young adults and new parents and old parents and... I love the energy of youth and the wisdom of age and the carefree-ness of children all in the mix together.
I love encountering and being transformed by Jesus together with my friends.
I love scheming with these same friends about how we might invite and welcome others into this incredible Kingdom.
I love Church.
Jesus calls us to not lead as the world does. To not see greatness as the world does. To not use authority as the world does (see, for example, Matthew 20:20-28). To be a leader in His movement is nothing like being a leader in the world. It is so radically different, people. And, to be honest, it can feel a bit disorienting and challenging, and downright threatening, as we attempt to follow Him in leading His people.
We can engage in the kind of risky and counter-cultural leadership Jesus calls us to because of the gospel. And only because of the gospel. The gospel, simply put, is what Jesus has done for us. More on that in a minute.
We need to honestly evaluate why we lead, and see how the needs and desires that often motivate us are actually designed to be met through the gospel, completely apart from us having any leadership position or authority. This will free us to lead in the way that Jesus intends. When we lead in order to fulfill our own basic needs and desires, we muddy the pure springs of water which give life to our service. We sabotage the very thing we are trying to build.
When I returned from Africa in 2005, and could no longer call myself a missionary, I felt lost. I didn't know who I was. I had relied on that identity to feel a sense of personal worth and purpose, to gain affirmation and acceptance, and even to boost my confidence in God's approval of me. I entered a dark emotional time, as I struggled with a sense of loss and lack of value. Yet, if I had been more accustomed to seeing through a gospel lens, this would not have been so painful. I thought I had learned these lessons during previous times of testing, but clearly I had a long way to go. I desperately wanted a new position of ministry in order to provide the self-esteem and the recognition I craved. This kind of pain is inevitable when we view leadership from any perspective other than the one offered in the gospel.
One of the most powerful leadership issues we face has to do with our identity. We so often tie our identity and self-esteem to our positions of leadership, and the outcomes are truly disastrous. Consider the following fruits of identity-based leadership:
For one, you can serve others on your own terms, but you cannot be a servant, although that is clearly what Jesus demands (Matt 20:26-27). You are afraid to lower yourself too much. You fear what it would do to your already fragile self-esteem. If you become a servant to other people, you may actually begin to feel inferior. Less than. Not as valuable. It doesn't seem worth it.
Another outcome is that you find yourself sliding into the trap of being focused on "success," rather than on obedience and loving people. This is the biggest temptation I am facing right now regarding gospel leadership -- and have been for the past several years. I am gaining ground I think, but it's been a slug-fest. I desperately want the boiler room to succeed, in order to validate myself. I am susceptible to the lie that my worth is directly tied to the success of the boiler room. If it does well -- proved with clear evidence that can be seen by me and others -- I feel valuable. Important. But if it doesn't... I can't even tell you. The very thought causes me to shudder. If it fails, I will be a failure, and finally proven to be the useless nothing I've always suspected myself to be.
Being success-driven is exhausting. It is also costly in relationships. In fact, that's one of the first signs to me that I've been failing in this fight -- when I find myself more and more frustrated by those I lead and lead with. When I am more concerned about their performance than about them. By the time I reach that point, I am not even close to serving and loving... I am attempting to manipulate people to serve my vision of success. Ouch.
When your identity is tied to your ministry, or leadership, or achievements, you are emotionally unstable. You feel great when you think you're doing well, or have achieved some milestone or been given a "prestigious" position. But when you don't have the position or success you want, you are deeply discouraged, and sometimes even depressed.
Another sad result is that you begin to get competitive in ministry. You compare yourself with others -- feeling good when you compare well, but discouraged when you sense others are doing better, achieving more, or getting promoted ahead of you. Thus, instead of seeing others as part of the same body working together for the glory of Jesus, you can come to the place of almost being opposed to your brothers and sisters in Christ, unable to celebrate their successes. In some cases you may even take wicked delight in their failures.
Finally, you begin to value others based on their position and success. You ascribe more worth to people with more prestigious titles, "higher" positions, and more recognizable success. In contrast, you devalue those you deem to be "lower" than you. Frankly, this is hideous. When we see such an attitude creeping into our hearts, it should cause us to take note, and do whatever we need to in order to find and destroy the root of this perversion.
Not a pretty picture, friends! How can we get out of this mess? So glad you asked. The Gospel!! For real. Remember, the gospel is what Jesus has done for you. And one of the beautiful and amazing things that He has done is given you -- yes, given you -- a new identity. And this identity is far more prestigious, far more valuable, far more exalted than the ones you desperately try to scrape together for yourself.
What does the gospel say about your identity and self-esteem? Because Jesus lived a perfect life, and died for you on the cross, everything is different. He gave you a new identity when you put your faith in Him. You are a son of God; chosen, adopted, and deeply loved. That is your identity. It's who you are -- when you have a leadership position and when you do not. In fact, I am convinced that leader, elder, prophet, missionary, pastor, whatever... are disturbingly unimpressive identities to God. When you are one of those things, He does not see you any differently than He did when you first believed. He has provided for you a much more lasting and significant identity. The tragedy is that in order to grab hold of that which is lesser, seeing yourself primarily as a pastor or missionary or leader, you have to let go of the identity He has given you. Why would you want to do that? He calls you beloved son! Beloved daughter! And all because of what Jesus has done. He has paid the price for your adoption. You could never achieve something like this. Never. As long as you're looking through the gospel lens, you won't worry about titles or identity or anything like that.
What about self-esteem? Doesn't God want you to feel good about yourself? Well, sort of, yes. But what we have to remember is that apart from Jesus, there is really nothing to feel good about. But in Him! Oh, it's so different! Jesus lived a perfect life. That's what the gospel says. And He did so not only as an example for you, but He did so on your behalf. You are credited with His rightness! You don't need to have a position in order to think highly of yourself; You need to just remember that you are in Him. In fact, once again, if you are using your position as a prop to help you think well of yourself, you are missing out. Positions can come and go. You can be promoted, demoted, or forgotten. You will always notice that someone else has a better one. But you are still in Christ. All His rightness is still credited to you. The Spirit that enabled Him to live well is in you.