Joey Sparks
18Apr/130

6 Visualized Leaders

Leaders are everywhere. As are people in leadership positions. An important question both must answer is,

"Am I a leader worth following?"

Here are six common styles of leadership visualized:

via thinkstockphotos.com

via thinkstockphotos.com

The Rug

The leader avoids confrontation and thus, correction. The less drama, the better. When drama does arise, he or she lets it "die down" before deciding to step in or not. Once it has "died down," and everybody seems fine, there's no burden to address it any longer.

via thinkstockphotos.com

via thinkstockphotos.com

The Sign

One person makes one mistake. So a leader hangs a sign to tell original perpetrator AND everyone else not to do it. This leader is overly concerned about behavior instead of hearts. He's emotionally committed to correcting others, but not reasonable enough to handle it effectively. So he sacrifices credibility with everyone else to avoid directly correcting the one who made a mistake. Signs should give information, not instruction or (especially) correction. (see also, this entertaining site)

via svennevenn under Creative Commons lisence

via svennevenn under Creative Commons license

The Bullhorn

The leader realizes personal contact is valuable, but he's not confident enough to talk to people one-on-one. The bullhorn thinks, "If I'm loud enough in public, people will follow." Some preachers use a bullhorn in the pulpit. Some elders use a bullhorn in the bulletin. Some business leaders call bullhorn meetings for the entire staff when one employee messes up. Bullhorns can be so concerned about NOT playing favorites that they miss out on valuable personal relationships.

via YanivG under Creative Commons lisence

via YanivG under Creative Commons license

The Pacifier

The leader loves to hear the heartaches (even legitimate ones), problems, and complaints (even illegitimate ones) of followers. This allows the leader to pacify their crying and in the process win over a group of favorites. This leadership approach appeals to our desire to be liked. But keeping "babies" around means someone has to deal with dirty diapers. It really creates a mess when these favorites complain about one another to the leader.

via fling93 under Creative Commons license

via fling93 under Creative Commons license

The Coach

The leader uses various methods of personal interaction, but tends to emphasize correction over growth. Behavior control is more important than personal relationship. The leader values individuals, but often because they serve his needs. The coach prefers to use the bullhorn from the tower. But he also isn't afraid to climb down and embarrass someone when necessary.

via CharlesFred under Creative Commons license

via CharlesFred under Creative Commons license

The Shepherd

The leader's greatest concern is the health, growth, and hearts of followers. He knows correction is needed, but his personal relationships cause growth from one-on-one conversations and accountability. He doesn't settle for merely controlling behavior. He knows when to protect sheep from danger and when to let them wrestle with difficulties to build strength. The most difficult and rarest leader. This is the leadership of Christ (1 Peter 5:1-5), and what he calls us to be.

Why is it difficult to be a shepherd-leader? Let's talk about it in the comments.
9Jul/120

Lifestyles of the Rich & the Lowly (James 1:9-11)

Notobasis syriaca - Syrian Thistle - Barkan (Flickr CC - by nc sa)

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. (James 1:9-11)

In addition to writing his book full of imperative statements, James also relies heavily upon contrasting elements. In 1:9-11, he contrasts the "lowly" against the "rich." He challenges them with action in the present, but does so by previewing the future.

We must take note that James' emphasis is not upon their bank accounts; it's upon their attitudes. The lowly (humble, 4:1-10) brother acknowledges the utmost importance of God in all that he does. He will be exalted in the life to come. The rich are not necessarily all who are financially blessed, but those whose pride and boasting are founded upon their possessions--and the status in life they provide (cf, 5:1-6).

When Jesus came to earth, he turned it upside down--especially for the Jews. He didn't come with the purpose of doing away with rich and poor designations while on earth. He came to show that man will not be judged by their political, socio-economic, or even religious status. He will judge all men by their hearts (Matt. 5:8).

To illustrate this reversal of standing, James turns to nature in a way where first century Palestinians could not misunderstand him. He compares those who are rich to the grass and flowers of the land. Though beautiful, they don't last forever. Though beautiful, they don't withstand the elements of heat. Likewise, he says, the rich man will perish "in the midst of his pursuits."

These few verses are not James' final word on proper attitudes, partiality, riches, and the brevity of life. He further develops those themes throughout his letter. But we cannot gloss over these specific instructions. Humble and lowly Christians should take courage from their relationship with the Creator of the universe; Christians who choose to build their lives on possessions should repent. Soon, there will be a day when those possessions are nothing but dust.

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matt. 7:24-27)

16Sep/110

4 Things Jesus Says About Salvation

In John 5:34, Jesus says, "Not that the testimony I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved."

Jesus spoke and taught during his ministry on earth so that we all might be saved (Luke 19:10). Because it leads to salvation, we must obey all he taught. The following are not a trite formula, but rather the simple truths spoken by Jesus:

1) Believe Him.

"I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins" (John 8:24).

The foundation of obedience is faith in Jesus as the Son of God. He is the only one through whom man is saved (Acts 4:12).

2) Repent of sin.

"No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3).

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23).

Believing Jesus illuminates our sinful state. A life of complete change from sin is the only life that can follow Jesus. We must put our old lives to death daily, or we'll experience death in the life beyond.

3) Confess Him before others.

"So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33).

Followers of Jesus must acknowledge him as the Son of God. This commitment is expected when we obey Christ and every day thereafter. The pull to deny him is strong at times, but we must always confess our discipleship (John 12:42-43).

4) Be immersed.

"Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:15-16).

The gospel is for all. Thus, the need for baptism is for all as well. We meet Christ at his death (Rom. 6:3-4) and are born again through immersion for the forgiveness of sins (John 3:3-5).

Many well-meaning souls claim, "all we need is Jesus" to be saved. They don't want to exclude or offend others by specifics and difficult commands. Yet, the honest reading of scripture guides us to the expectations of salvation, straight from the Savior.

7Sep/110

Some Things Are Just Obvious

Sights, smells, and sounds. All three can reveal where we’ve been or what we’ve been doing.

We can easily tell when someone’s been...

  • At a BBQ restaurant
  • Running around or playing outside
  • Cheering for their favorite sports team
  • Hunting or fishing
  • Cutting grass or working in the yard
  • Receiving devastating news
  • Out in the rain

I wonder what the Jewish Council saw or heard that caused them to say about Peter and John, “And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13b)? It’s likely the council members had seen the two men traveling with Jesus before. But it’s also likely the previous statements about them being bold, “uneducated, common men” connected them to Jesus as well. They would have placed Jesus in those same categories as well. (Uneducated refers to the formal level of studying the law, not mental capacity.)

What does the world today need to see to recognize that we’ve “been with Jesus?”

  • Jesus himself said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
  • The “Fruit of the Spirit” are obvious characteristics of the Christian life (Gal. 5:22-23; cf. Matt. 7:20).
  • Peter reminds persecuted Christians, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers,they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Pet. 2:11-12; cf. Matt. 5:16).
  • Paul commended Christians in Thessalonica, “Andyou became imitators of usand of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with thejoy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lordsounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything” (1 Thess. 1:6-8, emphasis added).

Who are the people in your life whom you know “have been with Jesus?” Are you living so that others know you “have been with Jesus?”

21Nov/080

Peter: A Case Study in Maturity

In the first post of this series, we studied Peter’s weakness the night before Jesus was crucified. After Jesus’ arrest, the crowd questioned Peter about his association with Him. All three times, Peter denied his Lord. Peter was weak when Jesus—his major source of spiritual influence—was taken away from him. He buckled when pressured by the crowd. And when forced to choose his true allegiance, he denied knowing Jesus Christ.

After that tragic night, Peter goes on to do great things for his Lord. Much of the first half of the book of Acts features Peter as its main character. He also pens two books of the New Testament. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2 jump-starts this post-resurrection greatness.

At Pentecost of Acts 2, notice that Peter’s faith stood strong when...

Jesus was taken away—for good—from His disciples (Acts 1:6-10). Fifty days prior to this account, Peter acted immaturely and denied knowing Jesus. Now, Jesus has died and resurrected. He is back spending time with the apostles and disciples. In Acts 1, however, we read that Jesus ascends to heaven to be with the Father until His second coming (Matt. 25:36-37). This is more significant than being arrested and taken away to trial. This is final.

Notice how Peter responds after Jesus leaves this time. First, he leads the effort to replace Judas with Mathias (Acts 1:15ff). Then, at Pentecost, he preaches that Jesus is the Christ, and some 3,000 souls are baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:14-41). Though Peter no longer had his major source of spiritual influence, he exercised spiritual strength by introducing a multitude of souls to their Savior. As Jesus had comforted Peter and the apostles, He comforts us today, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

Some in the crowd were pressuring the disciples (Acts 2:5-13). Peter denied knowing Jesus when the crowd approached him directly. He gave in to peer pressure. Here, in Acts 2, we see pressure from some in the audience that day. Through the Holy Spirit, the apostles were doing unbelievable things (Acts 2:1-12). They were so unbelievable that some mockingly accused the apostles of being drunk!

The apostles could avoid embarrassment by not speaking in tongues. Peter could preach an easier message to the Jewish crowd that Jesus was not the Messiah. Peter also could ignore the insults hurled by the audience. Instead, Peter and the apostles display great courage by confronting their erroneous claims (2:14-15) and by preaching the truth about Jesus Christ (2:16-41).

He was forced to choose his allegiance (Acts 2:14-39). In Matthew 26, Peter could not ride the fence regarding his association with Jesus. He could only answer “yes” or “no” (“present” was not an option). In Acts 2—before an anti-Jesus crowd—he had to choose if and how strongly to preach the saving message about Jesus. Based on how the people previously handled Jesus, they could kill Peter just the same. If a violent disturbance broke out, the apostles and disciples were clearly outnumbered. On this occasion, Peter boldly tells the people “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

Even though the truth would be difficult for some to accept, he proclaimed it anyway. His faith in Christ was strong and his actions prove it. Like Peter, we will face situations where our faith and allegiance are tested. We must choose Christ anytime and every time. Peter made a dramatic turnaround from his denial of Jesus to his sermon on Pentecost.

Next time, we’ll look at what made the difference for Peter and can make the difference for us today.

In case you missed it, check out Part 1, "Peter: A Case Study in Immaturity."

19Nov/080

Peter: A Case Study in Immaturity

Peter was one of Jesus closest apostles. We might know more about him than we do any other figure in the New Testament, outside of Jesus himself. And yet, time and time again, Peter ends up displaying his shortsightedness and immaturity.



The most immature moment of Peter’s life—the time when he was spiritually weakest—likely came when Jesus needed him the most. When Jesus was arrested and carried off to the cross, Peter followed. He would later buckle under pressure and deny association with Jesus. Some of the circumstances regarding Peter’s situation are similar to ones we face when we make weak and immature decisions.



Jesus was taken from the disciples (Matthew 26:47-56). Jesus was obviously important to the disciples as they followed him around for almost three years. They heard his teachings and saw his miracles. Peter’s faith was built upon his direct interaction with Jesus. His overall faithfulness is to be commended; but he failed to be strong when Jesus was taken away from him.



Most everyone develops their personal faith because someone else influences them in that direction. Yet, basing faith only on someone else will prove detrimental when tested. This is one reason many young people fall away upon leaving home—their sources of influence, support, and encouragement are no long around. May we respond with strength when our faith is tested. May we train and strengthen young people to handle this necessary part of growing up.



The crowd was pressuring Peter (Matthew 26:69, 71, 73). When Peter claimed he had nothing to do with Jesus, he was prompted on all three occasions by someone in the crowd. This was a crowd, by the way, who was trying to condemn Jesus. No matter his motives for being there, Peter was in the midst of the wrong crowd. And he couldn’t handle their pressure.



With good reason, we emphasize the dangers of peer pressure to our young people. Young or old, we should all remember warnings about evil companions from Solomon (ie, Prov. 22:24-25) and Paul (1 Cor. 15:33). Being a part of the wrong crowd will lead us in the wrong direction. Likewise, not being prepared with spiritual strength will leave us defenseless when we’re in unavoidable situations with ungodly people. If we’re going to be spiritually mature, we must have the strength to stand up and stand out for good, no matter who else is around.



Peter was forced to choose his allegiance (Matthew 26:69-75). Not only was Peter in the midst of the wrong crowd, but he was forced to choose his true allegiance. He couldn’t remain neutral. He had been with Jesus or he hadn’t. Peter’s decision to deny Jesus is heartbreaking because it went against his earlier claim of faithfulness (Mt. 26:35).



The true strength of our faith is evident when it is tested. Football players don’t know the effectiveness of strength training until they’re blocking or tackling an opposing player. Marathon runners don’t know the effectiveness of their training until they push themselves for mile after mile. Likewise, we will have our faith tested. We will prove ourselves genuine or phony. We must develop the strength to choose Christ no matter the cost.



In order to learn from Peter’s example, we must commit to developing healthy spiritual habits and attitudes that give us true spiritual strength.

Stay tuned for Part 2, "Peter: A Case Study in Maturity."

19Oct/070

First Things First — Bulletin Article 10.14.2007

As our minds are turned toward the precious lives of our young people this weekend, there is one lesson we should commit to instilling within them. It is a principle we all utilize, no matter our spiritual condition. Dads use it loading the car for vacation. Moms calculate it when they make their grocery runs. Children need it when placing their toys back into their toy box. When there are a lot of items that must fit into a defined space, math dictates that the biggest items must go in before smaller items. When I went to Sam’s this week to buy food, it was a tight squeeze to get everything into their supersized buggies. In order for things to fit, the two 35-lb jugs of frying oil had to be in at the bottom. The biggest boxes remaining had to be next to the oil to complete the bottom level. Only then could the rest (bags, smaller boxes, etc.) fit within the buggy. To have done otherwise would have left no room for the biggest items (or resulted in crushed smaller items).

When we view all of the “stuff” we could be doing with our time, energy, and money, we need to humbly ask ourselves what we should be doing. If we fail to put the biggest (most important) opportunities first in our lives, we will fail within them. Families fail when its leaders fail to put it in the center of their lives. Sports teams fail when its members fail to emphasize teamwork. College students fail when being in college becomes more important than being a student. We as Christians will fail when we decide there are more important things than our relationship to the Lord.

Jesus words are clear in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” He essentially says, you will have what you need when you choose to honor me before and more than anything else.

Centuries prior, Solomon outlined this principle as well. Notice his words in Proverbs 3, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil...Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine” (3:5-10). When we commit to blessing the Lord with our lives, time and money—before we use those things for anything else—he will in turn bless us. Marshall Keeble is often attributed to describing it that as we shovel out the window (giving to God), God is shoveling in the door (with a much bigger shovel).

We see a picture of this principle in Matthew 8, when Jesus explained this to a disciple. “Another of the disciples said to him, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.’ Was Jesus uncompassionate toward this man’s loss? Was he calloused that the man needed to bury him? Of course not. Some scholars argue that the man’s response was a typical excuse in the first century (like saying, “the dog ate my homework”). Made up or not, Jesus makes a clear point: nothing is as important as following him. Is burying the dead important and necessary? Absolutely. Just not as important as one’s relationship to Christ. The disciple was making something more necessary than it truly was.

We must fight this same temptation every day. Grades are important, but not most important. Scholarships are important, but not most important. Social leadership is important, but not most important. Jobs and career-planning are important, just not most important.

When we begin to truly put God in our lives first, then everything else will fit into place. Go ahead and put it to the test...see if he doesn’t bless your life.

Thanks again for your efforts this weekend!

4Oct/070

An Open Door for Effective Work (09.30.2007 Bulletin Article)

When Paul was concluding what we know as 1 Corinthians, he tells the Christians in Corinth that he is remaining in Ephesus a little longer. Additionally, he tells them why he is remaining there: “for a wide door for effective work has opened to me…” (1 Cor. 16:9).

On several occasions in the New Testament, the imagery of a door is used to represent opportunities. Jesus said “I am the door” (John 10:9). The only way to the Father is through Jesus (John 14:6). When Jesus told the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt. 25), the bridegroom came and took the prepared virgins, leaving the unprepared searching for oil: “And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready when in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut” (Matt. 25:10). The finality of judgment is represented by a closed door. That’s a pretty clear image. When Jesus spoke to the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3, he said the following words: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). We have the privilege of opening the door to allow Jesus into our lives. He’s done the work, we have to be willing to open our lives to his will.

Hopefully, we see the power of the door analogy in scripture. Likewise, we need to see the opportunities literal doors present us in this life. How often do we remember that souls live behind the many doors in our communities? Probably not as much as we need to. Not as much as Jesus does.

What has happened to the practice of door knocking? Like so many other things, it is fallen by the wayside because it seems confrontational and outdated. And yet, there are some people who might only have the opportunity to hear the good news about Jesus if someone lovingly visits their home.

We always have the opportunity to tell our neighbors about the love of Christ. Specifically, next weekend we have a marvelous opportunity to tell the community that the Lord loves them and that the church at Midway cares about them. Next Saturday, we will spend several hours knocking the doors of the communities around us to inform them specifically about our upcoming Youth Weekend. Generally, we want them to know that we are a loving group of Christians seeking to serve and obey God.

Many of us aren’t thrilled when someone we don’t know knocks on our doors. Yet we would all do well to greet them with love and hospitality. That itself may be an opportunity to share the gospel with others. Improving our response to the practice will help us as we spread our good message.

The biggest hurdle many of us face is that of fear. Maybe it’s the fear of having the door slammed in our faces. Maybe it’s the fear of a barking dog. Maybe it’s the fear of saying the wrong thing. Maybe it’s the fear of doing something we’ve never done before. As understandable as those fears are, we must realize all of them are centered upon the wrong thing: us. If we are convinced the community needs to know about Jesus and how to obey him, then we need to spread the gospel because it’s God’s will and not our own. If we’re going about the Lord’s business, then we have no reason to fear. That’s why Paul told Timothy the following in 2 Timothy 1:6-7, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God...for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

I hope you’ll prayerfully consider the opportunity to tell the community about our upcoming Youth Weekend. Please make your plans to stay after the PM service tonight. We’ll meet on Saturday, October 6 at 8:30 am to begin knocking. If you are unable to be here at 8:30, let me know, and you can join up with us when you are available.

Let’s commit to doing the Lord’s will and making his love and grace known to the world...starting with the world around us.