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Reflections on Christianity Today’s Podcast, “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.”
I have finished listening to all of the episodes to this point (including the bonus episode with Joshua Harris), and here are some of my takeaways.
1). Driscoll and the other leaders at Mars Hill were innovative and had a ton of great ideas they were able to implement to grow quickly as a church organization. However, with that rapid growth, came a lot of opportunities to abuse and spiritually manipulate people in the church. One of the comments that was constantly made was, “Look at the fruit.” There were a number of moments that showed a great bounty of spiritual fruit, but there was also a lot of rotten fruit that simply was ignored, because the “fruit” that was being looked at was numerical, then spiritual. It’s vitally important to not buy into the message that “Numerical growth = Spiritual growth.” The spirit may be growing, but it may not be holy.
2). Being a woman at Mars Hill was difficult. I understand that some religious groups/denominations have various views of women in ministry, gender roles, etc. When women are not allowed to work, because it would disqualify their spouse to be a leader in the church, that is toxic. When women have to stop what they are doing, because their spouses need to have their sexual needs taken care of, that is toxic. When a woman has to sit in a church service, and the minister talks about sex in a very pornographic way and proof-text the Bible to promote sex acts that a woman may be uncomfortable with, but has to perform because her husband request it of her and can now use the “Bible says/pastor says” card, that is toxic. Some notable quotes from former members was a woman, who praised this brash talk on gender roles and sex because it helped get her husband to “step up to the plate,” but then realized how toxic it because as the pendulum continued to swing too far. The other member (Jeff from 90lbs wuss), said that the teachings on sex in the church not only made his wife uncomfortable but that what was being communicated was “spiritual rape.”
3.) Transparency and accountability are vital to healthy church culture, and yet it is also the two things that continue to be thrown out the window in the guise of “protecting the integrity of the church.” Screw your false sense of integrity! It has nothing to do with integrity and everything to protect a brand. Out of all the times I have been a church member, consultant, and pastor, it is few and far between that I have seen leaders be humble and transparent with the church about sin, corruption, and other church issues. Transparency and accountability is a two-way street. In the case of Mars Hill, Driscoll needed to have accountability, and when there were by-law changes to give him more power and less accountability, it eventually lead to the fall of Mars Hill. On the same token, it is also important for governing boards and teams to be held accountable. I have witnessed and heard too many stories where a pastor was forced to resign, fired, or simply quit due to an overzealous, fruitless, fearful, power-hungry board who needed to protect their “assets” at the cost of destroying a minister and their family.
4.) The evangelical community needs to stop making celebrities out of ministers. The problem is two-fold. First, it puts an unrealistic amount of pressure on the pastor, regardless of the size of the church. They tend to focus more on performance than being transformed by the Holy Spirit. Second, it gives the leader a false sense of self and an overinflated ego, that gives him/her a “god-complex.” It leads to an abuse of power, and/or when there is a fallacy, it causes much damage across the church and community.
If you have not listened to “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill,” I would highly recommend it if you are interested in church dynamics and culture.
I would never have thought I would have gotten to this day. The final day was probably the hardest part of the fast. The big challenge is since I knew my fast would be over, I began to have impulses to eat food outside of the fast. I knew that I needed to stay strong to make sure I finished well so it leads to deep states of prayer. It wasn’t until 12:00 on Day 22, that I finally broke my fast.
This 21 day fast had to lead to a lot of great teaching moments about myself and for my leadership. I am not one who likes to discuss my shortcoming and failures to the masses but I believe it was the purpose of this fast to help shape me into the leader that God needs me to be, and the minister the church needs me to be. So with great woundedness to my pride, here are my findings
- I have the tendency to be impulsive in my life. A lot of my impulsiveness comes from my relationship with food. When I was a young pudgy kid in elementary school, I would never bring a lunch to school. In fact, I never ate breakfast either so I would go without food breakfast and lunch, and then when I got home would splurge on food throughout the evening or have a big dinner. It did lead to a rapid weight-loss in my teen years, but it did lead to my impulsiveness with food. For food, it leads to how I live my life whether in a leadership position or in my personal life to buy something because I want it (and it’s on sale).
- What the fast had taught me is that I need to wait. Waiting is hard. But to be a leader you have to wait and seek the Lord for his guidance before making a move. I need to seek wisdom from the Board of Elders before I make any concrete decisions. When it comes to my food choices, I need to be wise about what I impulsively grab. So when I see that Moutain Dew staring at me, when in the check-out. I need to avoid it instead of giving in to its attractive demands.
- Rambo syndrome
- In my earlier ministries, I have been known as a lone ranger. Not because that was my personality, but I have always taken on projects, did them by myself, and had done excellent work. Because of this, I would be complemented by my peers, which I believe, feed into this syndrome. There have been times, where a superior would give me a team to train people how to do my work, in the event I get sick, travel, etc. I would then show these team members how to do the work, and it seemed like they would learn it, but then when I would ask them to do a section for me, they would say they didn’t know if they could do it, or make an excuse which leads to me doing 100% of the work.
- Now, I am realizing that having a “Rambo syndrome.” is not effective. I end up getting frustrated when I am doing things alone and it adds tension to my life when I am spending too much time on projects and/or cleaning up that it takes precious time away from my family. Jesus didn’t do ministry alone, neither should I.
- I’m an extrovert. I love being with people and having community bonding. It annoys my wife sometimes when I come back late at night from teaching at church and be so pumped full of energy when she is exhausted. But there are moments when I doubt, experience conflict, or have high degrees of stress where I begin to self-medicate. I didn’t think I was a stress eater, even though it runs in my family history of emotional eaters which leads to diabetes. but when it came to my initial weight gain in college I could see how a decrease in an active lifestyle connected with my stress eating lead to my unhealthy lifestyle. If my medication is not food, then it is laying in bed napping, or playing games for long periods of time.
- I need to work on positive outlets when I am feeling down. The big thing I need to do is when I am feeling down, I need to go to the Word and to the Lord in prayer. If there is one thing that this fast had taught me, is that when I am in continual and habitual prayer and worship, that even on my down days, I experience high levels of peace and boldness from the Holy Spirit. It makes me think of the prophet Daniel, who was always in a continual state of prayer to the Lord. I believe that was a huge factor when he was thrown into the lion’s den. Some may suggest that he might have been scared because of the circumstances but I believe that is our fears projected on the prophet. I believe he was thrown in boldly knowing that God was going to protect him and grant him justice, which is why he prayed in that pit and continue to pray after he was brought out. Pray hard when you are on the peaks of mountains so that when we are in valleys or pits, we will have a boldness to our prayers that the Lord will give comfort to those who are devoted to His will and ways.
- Lack of communication
- I use to think that my communication skills were great. Trained as an actor and motivation speaker, I am able to communicate clearly the content I am addressing. But when it comes to leadership, it is lacking. I think a lot of my issue stems from the “Rambo syndrome.” I think that if I communicate to others my plans or to motivate them on a project and they mess-up or fail that the criticism and mudslinging are going to be directed at me. If I am going to take the blame, I rather do it myself and be solely responsible for the blame then be blamed for another’s shortcomings. I know that this sounds petty and arrogant, but I have seen many examples in ministry where a director of a ministry get’s blamed for something that a counselor had done and get his name smeared. It pains me that it even happens in the first place due to believers being part of the body that represents Jesus Christ, but that is the reality.
- I had come to the realization that as a leader, I am going to get mud thrown my way, spit on, beaten, criticised and mocked (figuratively; hope not literally). However, Jesus went through all of that and was able to change the world and continues to change lives to this very day. So why am I afraid to carry the same cross that Jesus bore? Just because others could potentially act in an un-Christlike way, doesn’t mean that I should be timid. If I am connected with Christ in all I do, then I should be bold with my leadership and communications. When conflict does arrive, I can then act in the way of Christ through unconditional love, grace, and mercy.
Day three of my Prayer Walk was again a wonderful, spirit-filled experience. I want to focus on some of the “out of ordinary” moments of the journey.
First, On my journey, I have had another spiritual prodding towards another piece of property. This time, I notice something on the wall that wasn’t there before (or I did not notice it.) It was a statement of faith that talked about faith in the world leading to distress but faith in God leads to hope. Since I have already been praying for this property and have had a seed planted in my mind of what the possibilities could be, I am convinced that God wants to use it for his glory. The icing on the cake was that when I got back into my office and got a Facebook Message from a lady in my church wanting to go to the Mission in our areas event. The event is called “Missions Monday” and it is an opportunity to tour the mission, seek volunteering opportunities, and meet with the director. This confirmed that it had to be from God since I was thinking of pitching the dream to the director of the mission.
Second, During my “rooftop prayer” the wind was hurting my eyes. So I got down on my knees and begin to pray since there was a barricade. However, the wind blew even harder to the point where it felt like I was inside of a tornado. It was in that moment where my prayers transformed from powerful to the supernatural. It was in that moment where I felt God’s hand upon me as I prayed over the city. It may not have been an angelic encounter like Daniel experienced, but it was something that can only have come from the Almighty.
Lastly, The property I have been praying over for the last two years was on my final destination. I laid hands upon the building and began to pray for God’s wisdom and direction. It was in that moment, that the Lord reminded me of the writing on the other property and of what Mark Batterson said in “The Circle Maker.”
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matt 16:19 NIV)
Mark talked about how when he prayed over the crack house that became a coffee shop, he needed to stake claim to it after he read Matthew 16:19. In the same way, I believe I need to stake a claim on the property for the Lord. So I prayed for it, that the Lord will use it for his glory and that he will give wisdom and discernment for its purpose. I think I will also take some chalk with me and write Mattew 16:19 on the walls. There is nothing magical about it, but it is biblical and what better way to stake a claim then to physically claim it for the Lord.
Today is our Annual Business Meeting of the Church. During this meeting the congregation approves items such as old business, ratifying of elders and ministry team members, budget, and by-laws. I was nervous for a few reasons. First, The Board of Elders looked at having a big revision of the by-laws instead of past times where a single change was brought. This made me nervous because since it was a big overhaul, the vote was an all or nothing deal. Second, It was cold and beginning to snow and if you know anything about snow and the south, people do not come out in the snow, which leads to not meeting a quorum. If we do not meet quorum, it will then lead to the meeting be postponed, which puts a pause on the ministry of the church.
So I began to pray boldly and with a conviction that we will have a quorum and that all voting will be approved in accordance with the Lord’s blessing. We were able to have our quorum and everything that was voted on had passed.
Since I started, this Fast, It had been amazing what had happened over the course of 21 days. Not only was I impress with the physical changes, but just the new heights of spirituality that had taken place. I have learned more about myself in ways I would never dream of if I had not partaken on this journey.
I began to partake in another prayer walk around the city that I am apart of. It was a much warmer day that day but the odd thing was there were not a lot of people move about. I did the same route that I did before, but my prayers were more focus. Below are some of the notable prayers that I prayed.
Outside the News Paper
Dear heavenly Father,
May you be with the staff at the newspaper that they will be bold in their reporting and seek out the Truth. Do not let them be swayed by bias, public opinion, or fear.
Outside the Police Station
Protect the Police officers as they serve and protect the community. Let them mover with justice, mercy, and grace. Keep them and there families safe in the name of Jesus.
Outside the Courthouse
Lord of Justice,
I pray for those who are in prison. I pray that they will not continue the cycle of chaos that they are in and be able to free from whatever sin that binds them. I pray for the judges that they will act justly. I pray for attornies that they will be ethical in there profession and move in a way to bring reconciliation in there work.
My one stop on my prayer walk is the top of a parking garage that looks over the city. When I am up there I 1) pray for the city and for it’s healing 2) ask for the Lord to reveal Himself to me. What made this walk unique was it was a very calm day but once I prayed for the Lord to reveal himself, the wind violently picked up and was blowing right into my face. It gave me comfort and assurance that the Holy Spirit is at work in my life and in the church I pastor.
The last place I stop to pray is a piece of property that has been vacant for a couple of years. When I first moved here 3 years ago, I had a spiritual pulse towards this piece of property. I have not made any moves on the property since, due to not really know what to say or ask. but there is something there (along with other properties that have begun to take root) I pray for that property to find wisdom and understanding on why I have this impulse. I hope that throughout this year, I will begin to see the picture that the Lord is giving me.
Finishing my second week of my fast, I was still blown away by how much energy I have and my heighten spiritual awareness. After Church, a few people who knew of my fasting asked me how it was going, and I told them that I have been very impressed with a physical and spiritual level of my journey.
Since I started my fast I have had a lot of interesting situations happen to me. First, I overworked my muscles during shoulder shrugs and because I was not getting a large amount of protein (from meat and shakes) I was sore for almost a full week. Second, during my prayer walks, I have had some interesting insights and moments that can’t be described on a conscious level. Finally, it had revealed a buried sin that needed to be repented of. It was one of those “ah-ha” moments that lead to a personal and spiritual transformation.
As mentioned in my previous post on going to the supermarket, it was a difficult journey in trying to find something to eat. I had to go back again, to round out my meals for the final week. Unlike last week, I was able to have a plan and know what I can get to eat. It made shopping very easy as I went with the purpose to get the items that I needed to get to finish my fast strong.
The only part that would have been challenging, was to pick up items for my wife and son, who is not partaking in the fast. One of the things I needed to get is Ice Cream. That was hard as I would usually enjoy a bowl of ice cream after dinner. Since I have been without sugar for two weeks, I am debating if I would partake in that tradition. I may still have some ice cream every now and then, but It will not be an everyday occurrence.
It has been an interesting journey, as I realized how much sugar I consume on a daily basis. IfIi can curb the amount I consume, then I believe it will do wonders for my overall health.
Today, I was making a meal for a dear friend, and congregant who has been out due to a knee replacement. I decided to make one of my signature dishes, Eggplant Parmesan. It was the first dish I ever made with Eggplant and it was this dish that made me love eggplant. So as I began to prep and get everything ready, I was tempted to take little bites here and there.
When I cook in the kitchen, I usually would eat bits and pieces of the meal that I am making. If I’m making meatloaf, I’ll sample some of the beef, and onions. If I’m making grilled cheese, I’ll take a pinch of the shredded cheese and eat it. So when it came time to make the eggplant, I wanted to eat it. take a sample of the finished eggplant product to eat, eat a sample of fresh mozzarella, and the fresh grated Parmesan.
The thing that really tempted me was the smell. It was that smell that really wanted to dive right into it or make another batch for myself. It was in that moment that I began to really pray hard. Not praying for myself to not dive into the meal, but I began to pray for people, the church, wisdom, direction. But the main thing I prayed for was to be still and wait. As I mentioned earlier in this journey I am a bit impulsive, and waiting is not my strong suit. But waiting is a discipline that must be mastered to wait on the Lord.
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)