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Leading the Church

The Importance of Modeling Character

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
We can model the character of Christ by the faith we show in our obedience to His Word. What we see in Christ is our model of how we integrate or relate to people with whom we have relationships.

Philippians 4:8; Heb 11:32-38; 2 Peter 1:5-11

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Matthew 5:7-9

We can model the character of Christ by the faith we show in our obedience to His Word. What we see in Christ is our model of how we integrate or relate to people with whom we have relationships. Being a peacemaker may not stop a war between nations, but it will stop the wars in our churches. We may not stop the violence in the streets, but we can create an environment of love and care that can provide an atmosphere of cooperation and care that will lead to a non-violent neighborhood. We have the God-given ability to be peacemakers to those around us. This is not a special spiritual gift or ability, although some people are naturally better at it than others. However, all Christians have this ability and call. The prerequisite is to have personally made peace with Christ and with our inner turmoil. When we have composure in our emotions and the passion to follow Christ, the resulting fruit will be that of a peacemaker. This ability will nullify the war-torn church, enabling it to be a God-centered church that is a beacon to its neighbors.

We have to remember this: God does not take sides in a congregation where one side wants a beige covered hymnbook and the other side wants one with a blue cover. God does not care if we have carpet or tile in the narthex. God does not take sides; He grieves when we engage in hostile actions against one another. Ephesians 4:1-6 clearly states what God wants; what He does not want is our feeble wars with one another. We must center ourselves on God's desires and not our own!

The Christian must not be the type of person who has to have things his or her way all the time. As Christians, we must be in submission to the authority of Christ. When we are so, the natural inclination to be driven by our self-fulfilling ideas will fall off. The constant prowling to get what we want-when we want it-disintegrates the call because the result of this attitude is a reckless rudeness to others that destroys relationships and inhibits the spread of the Gospel. God calls us out of disintegration and into reconciliation.

We need to identify our desires and compare them to the Word of God through a life that is centered on devotion and prayer. Then we can surrender what is misleading and faulty and engage our call to lead and manage a church with His Fruit and Character. By having a prayer-centered life, we can mend brokenness with the fruits of a renewed character.

The "total war" policy can be quickly neutralized by our surrender to the Scriptures, and by fully realizing that what we are doing is contrary to the love that Christ taught. Our efforts must be strong and we must be consumed with following Christ, not ourselves. Our reasoning and agendas must be God-centered, not self-centered. Our need to be in control must give way to the Creator and King of the universe. And guess what? You ain't it! This may sound funny, and I tend to say it a lot; there is one God and we are not it! It is funny because most people do not get it, especially many of us Christians.

It is to be expected for a non-Christian to behave contrary to the teachings of Christ and wage war with one another, but why do Christians do it? All too often, the Christian will rationalize that he or she is on a mission from God, throwing out the Bible and replacing it with a personal quest. This is much like the middle ages, where the Crusades had nothing to do with the teachings of Christ, but everything to do with the futile desires of the Kings and Popes and their lust for power and glory. Just like the thieving partridge, no one remembers them-only their dastardly deeds.

Why Do We Wish to Control?

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, Let me take the speck out of your eye, when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. Matthew 7:3-5

This normally goes under the category of judgmentalism, but the desire to be on top and control others with our war-like mentality gives credence to this passage. Condemning others for their faults or ideas that do not match our own is foolish because of our own faults and sins.

I was appointed to an elder position when I was in High School. I sat on a church council with people three and four times my age, yet I was enthusiastic and was about to change the world. After my first meeting, I sat in my car in shock and dismay. I could not believe what had just happened. Having grown up in the church, I witnessed all kinds of conflicts and disagreements between the members, but all my past experiences could never have prepared me for what I had just witnessed and participated in.

After we opened with a very short prayer, the moderator explained the agenda, and at the top of the list was a petition for the removal of the groundskeeper. I felt he was doing a good job and so did a lot of the people in the church. But, there was one key leader who just did not like the groundskeeper, so he wanted him out. The committee quickly became divided; half supported the leader who wanted him out, and the rest of us wanted to hear the reasons for the dismissal. The leader just used his personality to bully us and would not give a clear reason for it.

I was on the Academic Debate Team in High School and was trained to follow logic and clear reasoning for any argument, so in my youthful enthusiasm, I confronted the leader, asking him to give us not his emotional reasons, but a clear logical argument backed up with facts. He hit the roof, and yelled at me that I was a stupid kid and did not know what I was talking about. Several others joined him criticizing me. I was, at that time, a little bit conceited and cocky, so my attitude probably ticked him off, because I gave him zero respect. I considered him to be quite a jerk, but I did mean well. Everybody liked the groundskeeper except this one leader and a few other older people. They voted to terminate him, and censored me from voting.

The following Sunday, the Rector (senior pastor) took me aside because he had quickly been told what happened. He told and encouraged me that sometimes Christians fight viciously and have no concern for the facts and logic that I wanted to bring in. He told me to keep a low profile and listen and learn how things were run. I remember asking him why the groundskeeper was fired; he said it was probably because he did not fit in at our church. I still did not understand. He went on to say he found the groundskeeper a better job at our school. Later I realized the groundskeeper was Hispanic and most of our church was from upper-class, well-to-do families who were uncomfortable with his presence. Our next groundskeeper "sexton" was a Filipino, and a high-ranking military officer; to keep him was a fight too. It is sad how we humans feed on one another viciously and with contempt.

When we go into battle with one another and argue over a budget with a feverish pitch, we must realize how much this hurts our Lord. And, we all end up looking foolish, just as I did for ousting a pastor and acting cocky, even though at the time, we all thought it was necessary. It was not the removal of the pastor that was wrong; it was the war we caused in the process. It was not what we did, but how we did it. We must not let our emotions get a hold of our reasoning; we cannot allow decisions that affect the body of Christ to be made with fighting and conflict.

Our beliefs must be communicated in our actions and deeds, not in emotional, out of control bullying with our personalities. Neither touchy, heartfelt appeals nor angry rhetoric can be the vehicle for communicating the gospel or the agenda of a meeting. Rather, use clear reasoning with love and passion for who Christ is, and a spirit of gratitude. Our attitudes reflect our heart; our actions reflect the maturity of our walk. Our skill in loving people is more important than our skill of rhetoric and scholarly explanations. We need not manipulate people's emotions when we have a better job to do-the call to make disciples.

There are times when Christians must take a stand, and there are times when we need to yield. Growth and maturity will make the difference between foolishness and wise action. By their fruit you will recognize them. Matthew 7:16 gives the answer to our arguments. There is a big difference between discernment and judgment. At times, we do need to draw a line with such issues as Bible-centered doctrine and the call of obedience to His Word. Political compromise and pure emotionalism do not belong in the House of God just as the power of wealth or any influence other than Scripture do not.

Living Examples of Christ

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. 2 Timothy 3:1-5

These last days must not be the refection of how the local church functions. This passage is not our template or structure to form our agendas and meetings; rather, this is a warning on what not to do. We are not to appear as Christians; we are to be Christians. We are to be living examples of Christ, not creators and molders of discontent. As leaders, we need to understand that people under our care are vulnerable to misinformation and miss-reflection of Christianity. We are not called to deceive, but to receive the Holy Spirit and further the Kingdom of God.

We have a responsibility not to fall into the same trap that captured Eve. The serpent basically told her she did not have enough in life, and that she deserved more. This lie leads to discontentment even today, and catapults us to focus on ourselves, our needs, and our rights rather than on what Christ calls us to. Becoming a Christian and being a disciple does not nullify the pains and frustrations you may experience in life. What it does mean is that you are free to become your fullest to glorify God, regardless of your circumstances. We gain our freedom from the bondage of sin, and what needs to come out of this is gratitude. When we focus on gratitude, then we take the focus off ourselves and onto Christ. So the result is that we do not seek the power and glory for ourselves, but place it on God's interests instead.

Being an ungrateful person will lead you to dominate and bully others into following your way, regardless of the tenets of Scripture. This is one of the main reasons for the fights in the church boardroom. There are just too many people with their agenda and desires, and not enough godly people with Christ's interests and a love for His people. We become too ingrown in our own merits and do not see the call of our Lord, or the good blessings that God has given us. There is nothing wrong with desiring more, but when it moves us away from our purpose as Christians, we have a big problem. Discontentment will rule our lives rather than contentment by God's grace. We need to express our thanks and recognize our dependence on our Lord to carry us, both in the boardroom and through life.

Following Christ may not get us what we want, but it will give us what is best. To find true contentment, we need to trust in His saving work and obey the call He has given. What Christ has done for us makes us who we are in Him and our response should be gratitude and passion for His will. This will fuel our mature walk with Christ. Then, we can reflect and teach with our love and actions to our neighbors, and be a reminder and encourager to the Christians around us. All we want and need is what Christ has already done, so that should be the principle direction for our committees and boards and for both our outside and inside walk with Christ.

Fighting in the church has been going on since the advent of the church; the first various conflicts spawned the Epistles and the call that Christ has for us. We must realize the disease we spread by our misdirected actions and quests to be in control. We need to surrender on our knees to our holy God, and realize our unworthiness and the grace He gives us that we do not deserve. Our conflicts blind us from our purpose in life and prevent us from serving God effectively. We cannot see the call of our Lord with the plank in our eyes. We must remove our evil desires so the discernment of the truth will not be clouded with the gloom of self-desires. Pride and hostility must not get in the way of our serving our call. The need for control must die, so we can submit to the Cross.

We need to know that change will bring problems and emotions in not only the boardroom, but the coffee hour as well. Stability is very appealing to people, especially the older generation. They value a stable environment; so, when you want to switch from hymnals to overheads or "PowerPoint," then you will have conflict. Yet, the younger generations desire change, and the new worship formats are very appealing. So, you have one side who says they will leave if you do not change, and the other side pretty much says the same if you do change. This is a typical problem with which leaders must deal.

The Power of Contentment

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10

The solution to this "total war" mentality is for us to seek our pleasure and happiness in Christ. This is called contentment-the attitude of accepting whatever God provides us, and being happy with it. It does not seek for gratification what is not needed, and does not seek happiness in the shallow things of life. When you are more concerned with how others are doing than for how you are doing, you will be on the right track of building a healthy Christian life; the side effect will be building a healthy church.

Contentment realizes who we are in Christ, the insurmountable, incredible, and wonderful blessing we have in Grace. It sees the tremendous privilege we have in Him. With this attitude, we are to strive to give glory to our Lord Jesus Christ. With our eyes on Him, our gaze is away from ourselves. Contentment further acknowledges that we fully belong to God, and He is Sovereign in the universe, so, we can fully trust Him in any situation we find ourselves-period. We can relinquish control over our lives, and take God seriously in all aspects of our journey here on earth, as Christ is our All in All. We can be content with whatever situation He has called us to endure, and with any call He has made for us.

Contentment fuels the work of faith, humility, submission, dependence, and unselfishness, which will produce the virtue and patience that sees and feels the work of the Lord in His Church and the world. Consider Paul while he was writing Philippians, Chapter Four. He was in a heinous situation: in prison, tied to the floor, and lying in his own excrement. Where others would see no hope, his focus was on Christ. Paul was content because he knew that the times, the seasons, and the opportunities of life were temporary, and completely controlled by God. All that mattered to him was that God be glorified, and the other people in his life were taken care of (Philippians 4:10; 19-23). When we really, fully trust in Christ as Paul did, we will be contented Christians.

In direct opposition to contentment is what many of us struggle with that causes this "total war" mentality and the problems and breakdown in the Church: being selfish. Selfish people are never content, because they place too many barriers up of desires that can never be gratified. Thus, they take it out as what they want and do all it takes to get their way-forsaking His Way. Contentment cannot become rooted in you if you harbor distrust and stress, as the focus will be on your situation, and not who you are in Christ. Being discontent will prevent the work of God in your heart and your will, and thus in your church as well.

The solution to this "total war" mentality may not be easy because you cannot please everyone. We need to focus on the essentials, such as what worship is, and what God requires of us in His presence. Do not fight for the sake of fighting; realize that some things cannot change, and some things have to change.

Try to get on the same page in purpose and unity. Decide what your end goal is, and make sure it is based on God's Word. The church must have core values that stand on Scripture and that are as specific as possible. These will spell out the method for your mission and vision. We will talk more on this in the upcoming book on Leadership. Change is always inevitable as we look at church history; it is how we deal with it that will show our character as "total war," or total Christ.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Ephesians 4: 30-31

See our Character channel for more insights and lessons.

Except from the upcoming book, The New Exodus, coming in April 08!

© 1999, 2008, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org
© 2007 - 2018 Institute of Church Leadership Development - All Rights Reserved.
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