4 Posts from September 2013

It’s About Character

Our culture is overly impressed with the externals. You must look good on TV to win the political race. It’s the image you need to polish. Spin it just right. But we all know—and all have seen—that a leader without character is a tragedy getting ready to happen.

As pastors, we know about the importance of character, of course. But knowing it isn’t our assignment. Your congregation requires your character. Your role is filled because character is present, or it decreases if it is absent. It’s the same with me. The church where I serve as senior pastor has a respect for me and appreciates my efforts (all my weaknesses not withstanding). But this respect hangs on the fact that I’m committed to modeling character, and I’m not going to let it slip away in the stuff of leadership.

I remember the day my dad drove home and the front windshield of our car was broken. He had blood running down his face and I thought, He’s been mugged! No, he decided to cross the picket line because he didn’t believe the union’s plan was the best plan. Furthermore he had a family to raise. So as he weighed the options, he chose to stand against the union. That took guts.

I learned from my dad that you must think for yourself. You don’t follow the crowd when they go against what you believe. If that means being unpopular, be unpopular. Who cares? It’s about character, not others’ approval and applause. What a valuable lesson for life and ministry! I learned more from a cracked windshield and a bloody face than I could have ever learned from a preacher or a professor. Character is modeled . . . not just mandated.

Our roles as pastors are invaluable roles. So, let’s never forget our roles begin with our character. I call it swimming upstream. Our flock learns this more from our lives than from our lips. The Scottish people have a great saying: “Some things are better felt than telt.”

I came across a great verse again recently. Listen to its poignant challenge:

Roam to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and look now and take note. And seek in her open squares, if you can find a man, if there is one who does justice, who seeks truth, then I will pardon her. (Jeremiah 5:1)

In other words, “Go look to find a man of character, but you won’t find him.” What if Jeremiah roamed the halls of our churches? How about your study?

Reading verses won’t make our lives automatically change, but it sure will motivate us to cultivate character. God expects it, and rewards it, when He finds character: “For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chronicles 16:9).

Character is not some ancient biblical term that gets lost in the dust of the Minor Prophets. It’s what makes you contagious. It’s what gives you the right to lead without ever having to remind anybody you’re the pastor.

It pays off guys . . . it pays off. It’s about character.

—Chuck

Be Who You Are

I had the privilege of being mentored by a man who is now gone. I became one of the first interns on the staff with Ray Stedman at Peninsula Bible Church. And I saw in Ray something I had not seen modeled in many pastors . . . an authentic life.

Ray was just who he was. I saw it work.

  • I saw a man who was not defensive, who could laugh at himself, who had fun in life and yet was as good a thinker on his feet in question/answer sessions as I’d ever seen.
  • I saw a man who could love the homosexual and at the same time do an excellent biblical presentation on the sin of homosexuality.
  • I saw a man who had a room in his life for a wayward child. I saw a man who hardly traveled alone, no matter where he went, and always had someone younger with him. One of the secrets of building character in the lives of others is taking time for those younger than you. Those who are longing for the qualities and the character that have made you who you are. Ray did this for me.

No matter how significant you may become, no matter how well known your name, no matter how important your work, no matter your salary, no matter what your reputation may be, you must allow yourself to become who you are.

I’m not a formula guy, but this simple little formula has worked for me throughout my adult life: Know who you are, accept who you are, be who you are.

The greatest gift you can give to your congregation, to your family, to whomever—as the Lord continues to work in your life—is who you are. I have a good friend who says it this way, “We are not who we are, we are not even who we think we are. We are who we think other people think we are.” (Read that again.) And if you’re in that world no wonder you have such struggles with character!

Character will not emerge from a phony life, which is all the more reason to go back to that word that so characterized Ray’s life: authentic.

Know who you are, accept who you are, be who you are. That’s really it in a nutshell.

—Chuck

Stay Sensible

When is the last time you thought about the character quality of sensibility? As pastors, we’re charged with the task, remember?

“The overseer must be . . . sensible” (Titus 1:7-8).

Sophron is the term. It has in mind “thinking appropriately.” It means you’re not given to extremes. You’re able to see between the lines and apply some common sense.

We have some funny ducks in the Christian ranks . . . some real nutty people. Howard Hendricks said, “Where there’s light, there’s bugs.” It’s really true! They’re usually people who have big, thick Bibles and notebooks full of notes on everybody from Allen to Zuck. I mean, they’ve got all of this information, yet haven’t won a person to Christ in 50 years. They’re out of balance. And there’s another group that believes “a miracle a day keeps the devil away.” They drive up and see a parking place at Nordstrom’s and they think it’s a MIRACLE! And they tell their friends about it. It’s not a miracle . . . it’s just that a car wasn’t there. Pull in, park. Get a life!

We can fall into that kind of extremism when there’s not somebody near us jerking on our coattails telling us we’re getting kind of nutty. Some people even see faces of Jesus in an enchilada! That’s a lack of sensibility.

I want to share with you a terrific piece Rick Reilly wrote for a graduation class. He offers some very sensible advice to athletes that are going to jump into the pro ranks and make a lot of dough. You’re gonna love this. (Go ahead, read it here.)

I want to say stuff like that to every one of the CEOs I meet. Every one of the hot shots who made it by the grace of God. And every one of us senior pastors.

Don’t forget to tingle every once in a while. Don’t forget to cry over the joy of good health, and the freedom of living in your country, and the thrill of studying the Word, and the privilege of anybody sitting and listening when you talk.

Let’s stay sensible.

—Chuck

Accepting Others

I spent the first ten years of my marriage trying to make Cynthia into me. I can’t think of many things worse on earth than a female Chuck. And I’ll be honest, it almost broke us apart. We didn’t though, because she stayed and stuck it out.

I'll never forget when Cynthia said to me, “I don’t want you to keep telling people we’re ‘partners’ because we’re not partners. I bear your children and I cook your meals, and I clean the house, but I’m not a partner.” Then she added, “You’ve never accepted me for who I really am.” I said, “Yes, I have.” She said, “No you haven’t.” I said, “YES, I have.” She said, “NO, you haven’t!” And I got louder and she got louder, and she finally walks away in tears. And I was left with the dishes. While doing those dishes I thought, She’s right.

We began a process that took four years to break that habit in me. It involved some serious counseling that we both sought . . . and it was very helpful. It just about wiped me out, though, realizing how true her criticism was. I did very little encouraging back then. I had picked the people I liked, and those were the ones I spent time with. The others I just used.

It was years later at a gathering with some friends from our radio program that someone asked Cynthia, “Why don’t you say some things about the broadcast?” She walked up and said, “The best part about this is that Chuck and I are in this as partners.” In that wonderful moment her statement brought a knot in my throat. She hadn’t said that word, since she had said it to me on that cold kitchen floor many years before. I finally came to realize the importance of accepting my wife. 

I often remember Peter’s words to us as husbands, and how our lives at home affect our effectiveness as pastors. I’ve emphasized the result of obeying Peter’s words: “Live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).

She has a different temperament than you and a different way of thinking. Most wives do, you know; that’s why the marriage works. I invite you to make a serious study of the fourteenth chapter of Romans. It sets forth an absence of legalism. It underscores the enjoyment of freedom, the appreciation of diversity, a non-controlling lifestyle. It’s all about accepting people as they are . . . and it also applies at home.

I’ve often found it easier to be more accepting and encouraging of the people in our congregation than my own wife. Maybe it’s the same for you too.

—Chuck