Principles of Local Church 11 Handling the Skinny Cows

I don’t want to speak negative ever, but life can be seasonal. Sometimes you are in a great season of growth and peace and abundance, and sadly in that place you are vulnerable to be deceived. You are vulnerable to what John Wesley called the temptations of success. Jesus called it the deceitfulness of riches. Doing well can lie to you!

One of the lies that you will face when you are doing well is the temptation not to save or prepare for the future. After all, you are in such abundance, why should you save for a rainy day, when it’s always sunny in your church and your life?

That is one of the greatest reasons rich people become poor – they never prepare for a rainy day. They assume it is going to be year after year of fat cows and they never save for the skinny cow. Good times are so good it is hard to believe that there is a cow out there powerful enough to swallow them up!

I have counselled several pastors to save money during their fat cow years so that the skinny cows don’t destroy them, and I have been told I am negative, don’t get faith, don’t understand things. Oh I understand! I understand as I watch the same pastors struggle and call me and beg me for money. I watch ministries hire far too many people because it is fat cow time and they then struggle later to grow and move into what God is calling them to next.

Do ministries have to lay people off? Do churches have skinny cow times? Are there hardships? We lost a whole bunch of people one year in our church because another ministry lied about me and my leaders, and told those lies so often and so boldly people started to believe them! I had to cope through that, preach through that, and deal with the skinny cow year as much as the fat cat year. I am not saying God cannot provide, but I am saying sometimes God provides double manna on Friday not so we can gorge ourselves Friday but so that we can be prepared for Saturday!

If you understand that some of the fat cow is to be saved you will be wiser, not just with money, but with people, but in life. Joseph believed there were lean years ahead, and that made him so wise, he became prime minister.

All of us in whatever we are doing must prepare for the future. The church must be ready for the future, we must be making disciples who can stand a lean cow year, we must be saving for the lean cow year, we must not be exhausting the fat cows each year. Selah!

Gather the food of good years, and store it! That food will be to keep for the famine years! (see Genesis 41). You need faith to do this, and wisdom. The easy thing is just to enjoy today and exhaust all its blessings today. Why would I spend money on a problem that doesn’t exist? Why would I work hard when I can hire three people to do the job of one today? Why spend money on things that may never happen? Why invest in the dreams of a madman?

I believe God shows His people things to come. If He does show you something, get ready for it. No one is impressed if you saw the lean cow coming. They are impressed if you have a barn full of food! Selah.

Principles of Local Church 10: Be the Best

Israel loved Joseph more than all his children (Genesis 37.3). There is a real culture in most workplaces that no one wants to be the boss’s favourite, no one wants to be the office creep. But if an organization is functioning properly, being the favourite means you are treating the most important people as the most important. What do I mean? Your colleagues are not paying you, they do not promote you, they do not give you payrises, they do not make decisions that will change your life.

You should be God’s favourite and your pastor’s favourite. You should be operating in favour so much you are the favour-ITE! Now I am not saying be pretentious, be a creep, being disingenuous. I am not saying be a creep! I am not saying be the chief bootlicker.

In most companies, and most churches, promotion is given to the favourites. You do not want someone promoted who you do not want to spend time with. You want to be favoured in local church, be prepared to be favoured – the favourite.

Being a favourite is not easy, it’s not in the slightest. You need to find out what someone likes and help them. In the office, work out what makes the boss happy and do it. He is the one who pays you! Some bosses love it when you are enthusiastic about starting a project, others do not care about progress until it is finished – find out and do that! Discover who is paying you, who is opening doors for you – and do what pleases them, learn to flow with them. You were called to their church or ministry, they were not called to yours. You are the one who has to learn to flow with them! Selah.

For example, I like punctuality. I do not promote people who cannot turn up to someone else’s service on time, because I don’t think they will turn up on time for their own church services or Living Churches. That will not do. That’s a small thing, but it is a thing that matters. I look around before the service starts on Sunday and go that’s who I am drawing my next leaders from.

Joseph was Israel’s favourite, then Potiphar’s favourite, then the jailer’s favourite, then Pharaoh’s favourite. Everywhere he was called to serve, he became the favourite. He worked hard, he found out what was needed, and he did it. He did it in such a way he flowed with them, he did not demand that they flowed with him. He was the one who was adaptable, he was the one who ensured he changed his clothes to visit Pharaoh, he was the one who ensured he was looking out for the prisoners even though he was a prisoner.

I know people who lie to my face and then wonder why I don’t promote them. I have a threefold principle for promotion. Character, Capability and Compatibility. Character – are they a decent person, capability – can they do the job I want to give to them, Compatibility – can they work with me. Some people would be fine elders in another church but could not be elders in Tree of Life because they could never work with me, they would be too demanding that I change to their style. They have no desire to be favoured by me.

I had a pastor once who would come and confront me after I taught something on a semi-regular basis. I would teach a message, and he would come to me and say “that’s not grace, that’s not a grace message, this is supposed to be a grace church”. I would try to show him the Biblical basis of what I was teaching, but he would not listen. Then after a few months, we would have a guest speaker, once it was Greg Mohr, once Greg Fritz and once Andrew Wommack. The speaker came to our church, and said word for word what I had taught. Then this pastor would come to me and go “oh, I see that what you said was grace now, I heard Greg Mohr say it”. We went through this a long time. Eventually I had to say to him, none of these people promoted you to pastor, none of these people gave you a church to pastor, none of these people believed in you and raised you up, I did. I cannot wait for a guest speaker to come to town before you accept what I am teaching as grace. You have to be able to work with me and learn from my preaching and teaching not just guest speakers.” In the end I had to let him go, he had godly character, he was capable, but he and I were not compatible. This is so essential and we must understand it.

If you want to work with something bigger than yourself, you have to work on being the favourite, work on being compatible, be adaptable, be flexible, learn to flow with the church God put you in. That will be essential for you to progress.

Principles for Local Church 09 Serve Even When it is Tough

Sometimes it is hard to use your gift. That is a fact of life, a fact of ministry, and definitely a fact of local church. Joseph was in jail, falsely accused of rape, when he only did the right thing. That’s a tough environment. Sometimes we go to church and we feel accused, we feel passed over, we feel ignored. We feel like we should have been promoted quicker than that, we feel the church has ignored us – worse still, we feel that God Himself failed to protect us, help us, deliver us, exalt us, promote us.

Joseph is there in jail and he sees the chief butler and the baker of the Pharaoh. He doesn’t sulk, he doesn’t say the time is wrong, he has too much to deal with, it’s not the right place. He still serves!

Even in prison, Joseph interpreted dreams and encouraged these two men. He was not waiting for better people, a bigger crowd, a more anointed meeting with smoke machines and worship leaders. No, he served where he was no matter what he was going through.

He overcome the temptation to be bitter by serving. As a pastor, that temptation is there. I help people in remarkable ways and sometimes they totally forget what I have done. They forget how hard I have worked for them. But you keep going and keep reaching out and keep touching life and keep being grateful and keep serving. This example should help all of us serve in tough situations.

I want to say a lot more, but this account says it all – serve in the hardest times. It’s a principle that will lead to promotion. Go to church this weekend and serve, it will change your life. No matter what you are going through, help someone else in their mess and it will become a message!

Principles for Local Church 08 Avoid Sexual Immorality

Joseph was working for Potiphar when Potiphar’s wife started making advances on him. He wisely refused her advances, saying that to accept her offer would be to “sin against God” (Genesis 39.9). You cannot live in this world long without encountering the fact that our world is very sexually immoral. It is filled with lust and fornication and adultery. You will even encounter this in the local church! Christians living together as if there is nothing wrong with this, as if marriage is no longer holy, and is an outdated tradition rather than the purpose and plan of God!

Within church life I have had to deal with people who are into pornography, lust, fornication, adultery, prostitution and all forms of immorality. All of them have the same choice – to be in bondage to this, or to trust Jesus and find a place of freedom.

And you have to make a choice – what will you do about it! Will you be free? The best choice to make is the choice to overcome! To walk in holiness and righteousness. To be pure.

Avoiding sexual immorality is possible through the new birth and the grace that God has given us, and if we ask for wisdom He will give us wisdom to get out of any situation. One of the problems of course is that we are often fighting not just the world but our own bodies lusting after things we cannot have. That is why staying pure can be a great struggle. But we can and must overcome and walk in victory like Joseph did. Joseph would have been a great asset in the local church – because he did not have sex outside of marriage and stayed pure. A lot of the hard work of a pastor is counselling and pastoring people who never made the strong godly choices Joseph did. Churches fail because of people making bad choices in the area of sexual purity!

A second area of wisdom found in this account of Joseph choosing sexual purity is that Joseph also chose not to be provoked by false accusations. After being spurned by Joseph, Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph of attempting to rape her. This lie caused Joseph to end up in jail. Satan loves to tempt us into sexual sin, but if he cannot, he loves to accuse of being immoral anyway. He is the accuser of the brethren, and if you are in local church with the brethren, at some point you will be accused of something.

Joseph was falsely accused, but he did not let that define him. I know good people who have been accused of terrible crimes, often the exact opposite of their character. If you want to be in local church, especially if you want to be a leader, you must learn how to deal with being accused and moving forward as if you do not even hear what they are saying about you.

Life is not fair. Joseph going to jail was an injustice – he had an experience that he did not deserve. That provokes strong emotions in people – we want to rise up and challenge injustice. I have experienced injustice many times in my life, and my flesh wants to go out there and somehow prove my innocence, and let people know you cannot do that to me, I will not be cheated. But that is not the way of Jesus. 1 Cor. 6.7 actually says “Why not rather be defrauded?”. There are times i have let myself be defrauded rather than speak up against an injustice against me because I will not attack the church, I will not expose my brother’s nakedness. As you grow in Christ, you will find out there is a need to accept injustice in life and just keep walking with God.

There’s a lot in Genesis 39 about how to be a remarkable disciple of Christ. Why not spend some time meditating on it today.

Principles for Local Church 07 Learn to Handle Being Hated

Joseph was a big dreamer, and he told his dream to his brothers and rather than rejoice in his dream, they hated him yet the more (Genesis 37.5).

I have found that if you really want to achieve your dreams, if you really want to walk in victor, if you really want to win in life, someone will always hate you. The bigger the dream, the more the hatred. There are rivers of hatred that will come your way and you need to learn how to surf them! We must not respond to hatred in a natural, carnal way, we have to respond in a spiritual way.

You must learn to respond with hate with love. We must learn to handle our detractors with love and patience and kindness and not envy and bragging and acting unbecomingly! One of the hallmarks of love according to 1 Cor. 13 is that love is not easily provoked. Getting provoked is one of satan’s favourite ways to get you to leave the local church that Jesus has assigned you too.

Joseph’s brothers hated him but he loved them. When he was promoted above them, he used that position to feed them not get revenge on them. That kind of heart is essential. I am in the position now where we are funding projects of other churches who tried their hardest to stop us growing and planting! That’s a good place to be. I will not let other people’s behaviours provoke me.

Often if we do not deliberately focus on choosing love, we act at the level we are treated. If we did not get love, we don’t care. If no-one in the church noticed us, we fail to notice others. If a leader is selfish, we become more selfish. That is not the way!

We need to learn how to surf a wave of hate and still stay loving, and still dream big even when being rejected and persecuted. There are times people have deliberately stood in the way of my dreams, lied about me, attacked me, tried to get me excluded from certain situations. That’s not abnormal sadly, you will be rejected if you want to succeed – rejected by your class, your friends, your tribe, your nation. This is a real experience that you have to learn to surf.

Some keys to surfing a wave of hatred aimed at you.

  1. Remember this is not everyone. Some people hate me, but other people really love me, they celebrate me, they want me to come and minister to them, they seek out my prayers. They promote me. You realize this wave is not the entire ocean, it really helps you press on. Sometimes one person’s reaction can feel like everyone’s reaction and it just isn’t true.
  2. Do not let the wave of hate move you. Do not leave a church because of hatred, do not move to PITYTOWN and start pitying yourself and having a pity party. Do not move to a mindset of feeling unloved. Stay where God has placed you.
  3. If you are hated because you are not fully developed in an area, get developed.
  4. Do not stop dreaming. Even when his brothers hated him, Joseph went and had another dream! I love that.
  5. Do not drown in the wave of hate. It’s not worth it.

The hardest time of hatred and rejection is when it is someone you admire and look up to. A pastor you respect, a teacher you admire – and they try and shut you down or dismiss you or even worse persecute you. It’s really hard.

I know one man, who is now with the Lord, who rejected me even though I was utterly committed to his ministry. He treated me like a wild man even though I loved him and served him and gave to him. He seemed to welcome people who did not love him and were using him. I thought “why am I being so loyal to this man”, I was tempted to let the wave move me. But I kept dreaming and God turned the whole thing around and I am walking in some big dreams right now.

Do not retreat when rejected. And do not respond with hate. There will always be haters. Haters cannot stop you walking in your destiny, but you descending into hating yourself will!

I used to think if a pastor was hated they must be a bad pastor, but now I know universally liked pastors are generally the bad pastors! A good pastor is loved by some and hated by others. Jesus was not liked by everyone and nor is anyone trying to be like Him!


Principles for Local Church 06 Know When to Shift Lanes

Being in a local church is absolutely awesome. Besides salvation, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and your spouse, local church is the best gift Jesus has given you. You should not be a church-hopper. But sometimes there is a season to shift lanes in a local church. You might have been a deacon for a few years, but God is shifting your lane to become an elder. You might change small group, the serving team you are on, you might change what you do and who you are with. You might step into a new season.

You need to learn when to be able to detect a new season in every area of your life, but because church life is such an important part of your life, you need to be able to know when a season change is coming in your church life so much so! It is very important.

Now sometimes God will just tell you. You will be praying and God will say – join the music team, join the ushers, join the teas and coffees team. That’s great when that happens. Other times, you will just know that you know that you know. I see this like a spiritual instinct. Animals have instincts, they know where to migrate to but they have never been there before, they can do some amazing things that they have never learned. They are born and can hunt instinctively. Animals never watch porn or have marriage counselling but instinctively know how to make baby animals, they know when they are in heat, how to attract a mate without going to a seminar. They know when they need to store extra food for winter.

When we get born again we get spiritual instincts. There are some things we just know. A lot of people have come to Tree of Life Church, and they tell me “I know I need to be in this church”, they just know. Spiritual instinct.

I love it when we just know things. I want all of us to be in the right lane, when to slow down, when to serve more, when to serve in a different place, when to get involved in certain things. It means the church advances in new ways.

We need to know which lane is ours – what task is God choosing us to do in the local church? If you are in Tree of Life Church and you know in your instincts that God wants you in Tree of Life, then you have something to offer Tree of Life. You are there for a reason. Do you “know” what that reason is? If so, move into that lane with dignity and care. If you don’t, keep coming, and you will one day just know. It’s instinct.

Principles for Local Church 05 Tithe

One of the things that you must do be a loyal and mature contributor to a local church is tithe. A tithe is taking 10% of your financial increase and giving it to the local church. Abraham tithed, Isaac tithed, Jacob tithed. Part of living with the blessing of Abraham is to be a tither like Abraham.

Jacob made a vow before God to serve God, build the house of the Lord and tithe. Those things are awesome things and they go together. If you are not building the local church, you are not serving God. If you are not tithing you are not building the local church or servigin God.

You see the truth that you must accept is very simple – only God can provide for you, only God can look after you financially and only God can revolutionise your money situation. As you trust God to look after your money, you start to tithe, and show that trust in your consistent and regular giving.

Most people have no understanding of how powerful the tithe is, how powerful tithing is. Tithing is a step of faith that causes grace to manifest, it is a way of showing that you genuinely trust the Lord. Words are cheap, but tithing is proof that you know God can provide when you believe and act on His Word.

The tithe is what will cause you to be rich, and cause you to manifest the blessing of Abraham, and cause you to walk in victory. As an added bonus, you will help the local church grow and develop too! What a deal.

Principles for Local Church 04 – Don’t Despise Your Lineage

A Biblical account nearly everyone knows, mainly because it is so shocking, is when Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. Now, listen carefully, all of us have a spiritual lineage – somewhere we came from. We have a spiritual family – people who have helped us, raised us up, taught us, encouraged us, forgiven us, walked with us. You were not born again into a vacuum – you had people around you, spiritual parentsn and siblings and cousins. That spiritual family gives you a spiritual inheritance. You know some things, you realize some things, you have some teachings because of your spiritual lineage. God puts us in families.

Everyone of us has a lineage. People we should be grateful for. People that shared the gospel with us, people who taught us about the Holy Spirit, people who taught us about faith, grace, prosperity, healing, holiness. Those people have been used by God to load things into our lives!

Now if we hate our lineage or try to deny it, because you think it is inferior or because you got offended at the people God brought into your life – you will not succeed in life. You will become like Esau, lost and without heritage. I have seen this happen time after time.

Once I was in a conference, and the speaker invited someone up to give a testimony, and it was a powerful testimony about how the speaker had prayed for this lady. and how she was healed. She shared the testimony and people applauded, it was a great testimony. Except it wasn’t totally true. The person was actually healed in one of our churches. Every detail about the miracle was there – every single detail, I know because I was there. Except for the one detail of who prayed for her. It wasn’t this guest speaker but rather one of our local pastors.

But this lady denied her lineage for the applause of a larger crowd. God put the Tree of Life into her life to teach her about healing and get healed, but she came to despise us. That’s sad. And she is now no longer in church and no longer walking with the Lord.

God chose your birthright to load things into your life. That doesn’t mean the church or ministry that you get saved in or taught first by is the one you have to stay in. I did not stay with the Baptists but that does not mean I do not honour them.

I have the heritage I have and it gives me abilities other people do not have. The Bible College I went to did not teach me grace as well as maybe other Bible Colleges and for a time that concerned me, but I learned grace from some cassette tapes, and the heritage I have from my Bible College – the vital importance of local church, the need for honour, the need for a heritage among many other things – had been invaluable in my ministry.

During my time at Bible College, I met people who were involved in revival in the United Kingdom, people who have raised the dead, people who have known things that I would never have learned everywhere else. I am very blessed by and happy for my heritage there, more grateful than I could ever express in words.

But Esau despised his birthright. Like the person who leaves his local church having been there for years to do a discipleship course or Bible College or work for a ministry, and suddenly they forget the only reason they were there was their heritage, Esau hated what God gave Him. Esau did not value his background. Born to the most blessed family on earth, Esau did not value it. He despised it.

When someone goes to Bible College the main indicator of whether they succeed in ministry afterwards is whether they honour the church that sent them there. Nothing else is more indicative than that in my experience.

I have seen people do that in the natural, wishing they were born in a different nation or to a different tribe, wishing they were whiter or blacker than they are. Do not despise your birthright. God has designed you for a particular reason and gave you the birthright to do what He called you to do. He is not a fool, He knows what family you need to get where you are going. He knows it in the spiritual too!

In church, you will never prosper if you despise your birthright. If you are always trying to introduce your pastor to “better” teachings, if you are always looking elsewhere for spiritual food, if you are always looking for the new fix, the new thing. then you will not respct and honour where you are, what God has given you and what God has taught you.

Genesis 28.7 says that Jacob obeyed his father and mother. That is one of the ways to get a blessing. Paul says in Ephesians that this is the first commandment with a blessing. When you obey your lineage, you honour your birthrate. Listen – let me say it like this – your ability to honour your spiritual lineage determines your future. Some people want everything around them to be different from their spiritual family and it will not work.

Esau was not like Jacob, if Esau found out that his parents liked one thing – he did the opposite. He thought that sort of immature rebellion was cool and mature. It isn’t. Jacob married a girl that made his parents happy – that was not too much for him. That’s a huge decision to make to honour your parents.

Most people fail at living the Christian life because they do not honour their spiritual lineage. It really is that simple. When you got saved, there were people pleased you were saved. When you started speaking in tongues, there were people so happy for you. When you grasped how to walk in victory, how to read your Bible for yourself, how to pray and get results, how to minister healing, there were people really excited and happy. That is your spiritual family. If you work on honouring them, you will do well. If not you will not.

What is your lineage, and how can you honour them today?

Show Don’t Tell

One of the criticisms of modern screen writing is when a writer TELLS us something rather than SHOWS us something. For example, if the main character is an excellent detective, someone might say they are an excellent detective, they may say it about themselves, but if in the film or TV show we never see them being a detective then we deep down struggle to believe it.

On the other hand, if the character works out something from a small, seemingly insignificant clue, and is SHOWN to be a great detective then not only did we enjoy finding out the person was a great detective we deep down believe it, because we know TELLING is easy, SHOWING means something is real.

Some people sadly do the same in real life. They TELL me that conference, that experience, that this encounter with God, that their time at Bible College, has made them a remarkable disciple of Jesus Christ. Other people may TELL me how wonderful they are as well.

But the truth is for anything to be authentic we need it SHOWN. Turn up an hour early for church and help set up, forgive quickly, do not gossip, honour people, serve, be consistent, be available, be sweet and kind. Then not only will we enjoy finding out that you are a great disciple of Christ, we will know it is real.