© 2017 by Tom Mercer

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Watchin' Out!

January 14, 2019

This month marks Sheryl’s and my 35th Anniversary of our being called to High Desert (then, Baptist) Church. I was 29 years old and Sheryl was 21, the church numbered 125 people and met in our Victorville chapel for one service every Sunday morning. Our (now) resource center housed my office during the week and served as the nursery each weekend. Hook Road (now Hook Boulevard) ended at our driveway and there was virtually zero civilization in eyesight west of our few acres. 

 

For the 20 years I grew up in a pastor’s home, my dad served at six different churches. The national average for a pastor’s tenure in one church is about 3.5 years. Yet Sheryl and I have been privileged to remain with one church for almost an entire life of ministry, and have been blessed to work with some of the greatest people in the world. 

 

Simple math, however, tells you that it won’t be all that long before HDC will need a new senior leader. Sheryl and I have always wanted to step down before we needed to, rather than remain in place longer than we should have. So, last year, at my request, our Board commissioned our Senior Leadership Team to begin developing a succession plan. It will undoubtedly take several years to complete—to find the right guy and complete a transition process. (So, if you like me, don’t be discouraged; and if you don’t like me, don’t get too excited!) I’m not in any hurry to step down and still have some gas in the tank. But I’m convinced that the next season of HDC’s development will best be realized with new energy. So, pray with Sheryl, the rest of the Mercer clan, our staff, our Board, and me—all of us who truly believe that the best years of HDC’s ministry are still in the future.

 

At a small group leaders’ event last year, I was asked what I feared most about the prospect of this transition. I said, “My biggest fear is that people will be looking for the perfect guy, and not because he will be replacing a perfect guy!” The individual we all really want as our pastor isn't available, because He died on a Roman cross 2,000 years ago. (While we have defined some key qualifications for a candidate, being the Savior of the world isn’t one of them.) No candidate is going to check every box to everyone’s satisfaction, so all of us should prepare for some level of disappointment. Just remember, 35 years ago, the search committee who were assembled to find a candidate to fill this same office was looking for three qualifications in the candidate they would eventually to propose to the church family. The candidate they ended up actually presenting to the church (me) did not check even one of those three boxes. Whoever the candidate turns out to be this time will, like his predecessor, not be a perfect choice, but he will be the right choice. 

 

But my fear is that people will have their personal favorites—kind of like the Corinthian church, who was called out by the Apostle Paul for thinking so territorially. "Some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, 'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas.'" (1 Corinthians 1:12-13) 

 

Those aren’t just three different men, they represent three different groups who were part of the Corinthian church. The Apostle Paul was the more progressive one in that field—in our context, he would be the Millennial. Apollos was the really gifted teacher. Peter would have been more of a traditionalist. So, the battle lines were clearly between three different groups of people, who were at odds with one another about which one of those guys should lead their church. There’s no indication that the leaders themselves were lobbying for the top spot. It seems they were all content to simply contribute whatever they could. It was the church family who were so territorial about their favorite leader. 

 

I’m happy to say that none of our guys are trying to influence our decision or vie for the top spot. We don’t know who will eventually take the con, as they say in the Navy, but if the selection process ever becomes a popularity contest, all of us will lose. 

 

HDC hasn’t looked for a senior leader for almost four decades, so we’re bound to be a bit rusty. With that in mind, here are a couple of things to watch out for.

 

1. WATCH OUT FOR THOSE WHO ARE DIVISIVE.

 

"I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them." (Romans 16:17)

 

We always have opinions about what’s best, but we don’t want to be that guy, the one who causes divisions! So how do we maintain unity in a local church, even though we’re all pretty sure that everything around here would be better off if people did everything our way? It’s a simple answer. Here’s the key—stay focused on your mission.

 

At a leadership conference years ago, the speaker referred to the body of Christ as an army: “The guys on the front line didn’t complain much. They were too busy fighting the enemy. Camaraderie was built quickly. People had to work together; it was a matter of life and death. They took their objectives and strategy seriously—successful execution was imperative. Little things, such as how good the food tasted, didn’t matter significantly. What did matter was that they were still alive to eat it. Once you went a few miles behind the front, however, attitudes changed drastically. Back there, griping was a way of life. Men complained about everything—the food, the weather, the officers. Something was wrong with everyone and everything.”

 

I don’t know why any believers would think they should wander very far away from the battle, because we’ve all been given front line responsibilities. So, remain alert and stay focused on yours. People who do tend to stay out of trouble. The body of Christ is a team, not a league. So, let’s not line up against one another, but come together and make sure our common enemy doesn’t get his foot in the door.

 

2. WATCH OUT FOR THOSE WHO ARE REALLY PROUD OF THEMSELVES.

 

 

I'm not saying we can’t take delight in a job well done. But just be really really careful about those people who are really really proud of themselves.

 

"I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them." (Romans 16:17)

 

The world is full of expectations. Your friends have expectations, your family has expectations, your spouse has expectations, and your workplace has expectations. “All God’s children got expectations!” Managing them is a spiritual discipline. Unhealthy expectations become obstacles, even become a trap—so remain alert. And we all have to make sure that the expectations we have for others are based on God’s Word, not on our own perfectionistic insecurities. Earlier in his life, Paul was really really proud of himself and his own accomplishments. Actually, B.C., his name was Saul—Saul the Pharisee. But Jesus had so transformed his life, that Saul changed his name. And Paul quickly learned that any attitude of superiority is a trap.

 

In fact, the word for “obstacles” is the Greek skandala, which actually means “trap.” It comes from a root work that means “stick,” one that would be used to set an unsophisticated animal trap. It’s a simply thought—if you’re too proud of yourself, you’ll trip the stick and trap yourself. And that’s the stuff scandals are made of.

 

"But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ." (Philippians 3:7-8)

 

The word garbage, the Greek skubalon, means “poop.” I learned that when I was in college. Biola is still a conservative school, but back in the 1970’s it was way conservative. One of my professors was explaining this particular passage in one of his lectures and he used a different word than “poop.” I’m not going to tell you what word he used, but it’s the one you’re thinking about right now. I thought back then, and still believe, it was an inappropriate thing for him to say, but his point was pretty powerful. Christians are typically more bothered by describing it that way than we are bothered by our sinful pride.

 

The Greek for “consider loss” (at the end of verse 8) is significant as well. It’s aorist tense indicates a “once and for all” realization of what his efforts were in the eyes of God. Paul is looking back to that day he was on the road to Damascus and recognized who Jesus really was—and then metaphorically took ahold of the little handle on the side of his life’s toilet and, once and for all, flushed.

 

We all fight this same basic battle. Although our commitment to legalistic Judaism is not the battlefield where we’re engaged, a lot of other things in our lives can become generators for self-confidence and attitudes of superiority. So, watch out for people who always want the spotlight because, eventually, they’ll become an obstacle. A scandal. Yep, the church landscape is littered with former church leaders who were really really proud of themselves.

 

"This is what the LORD says: 'Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me.'" (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

 

This challenge is not just about how careful we have to be in choosing leaders, or even friends. This is about how we can avoid being the type of person that Jesus would want others to avoid! I mean, seriously, can you imagine Jesus telling others to avoid you? He won't have to, if you make a commitment to not divide the body of Christ by promoting your own opinions. And don’t become so full of yourself that you forget where all your wisdom, strength and riches actually came from. Otherwise, your world, under the advisement of the Apostle Paul, would do well to avoid you.

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