This is a sermon that I heard by Andy Stanley! It is kind of long but it is life changing! Hope you enjoy!
Think God is honored when you burn the candle at both ends to grow your church? Think again.
I’d like to tell you about the best leadership decision I’ve ever made. It came back in 1995 when we decided to launch North Point Community Church. My wife, Sandra, and I had two kids at that time, both of which were in diapers, and she was pregnant with our third child.
If you’ve ever started a church, you know it is extraordinarily time intensive. You’re never done. Whenever you go home, there is stuff left to do. And yet I found myself in this stage of life where there was more to do at home than there had ever been. So I found myself in this awful dilemma. There was not enough time to do everything, and there wasn’t enough time to be who I needed to be as a leader of this brand new organization, as a father of two little boys, and the husband of a wife who was pregnant and doing her best to support me emotionally through a very difficult transition. I found myself sitting alone one afternoon thinking, I can’t do all of this.
The “Work” Paradox
Think of the dilemma: If you stayed at work (and the “work” could be business or church) until you got every single thing done that you needed to get done and were just far enough ahead to where you could actually enjoy the next day, you’d never go home, right?
If you stayed at home until everybody at home got the time and attention they wanted, you’d never go to work! Never once have my kids said to me, “Dad, I think we’ve played enough. Why don’t you go on in the house and see if you can get some work done.” That has never happened, and it never will.
Probably like many of you reading this, my natural inclination, especially in those early days of launching North Point, was to kind of cheat at home and to lean heavy and hard into this start-up organization, because after all, there was a lot to do. But if you’re in church work, not only is there a lot to do, you’re “doing it for God,” and so that kind of lends “more weight.”
If you’re a leader, you love progress like I love progress. Consequently, there is a tendency in us to cheat toward the areas where we can measure things, and to cheat toward the areas where there is a sense of adrenaline. There is a sense of forward progress and things you can count.
When we face that dilemma, knowing that somebody is going to get cheated, the natural inclination in me (and probably most of us) is to cheat toward work, to cheat the people we love the most, not because we think they deserve to be cheated, but it seems like there is just no choice. There is no option. We do it because we love progress.
Seeds of Cheating
I like to be in an environment where I can measure progress. I like to be in an environment where I can count things. And here is what I discovered: If I stay at work two extra hours, I have something to show for it. If I go home two hours early, I’m just home. There aren’t award banquets at home. There is absolutely nothing to put on a graph or a chart. At the end of a time span of parenting or being a husband or wife, there is not anything really tangible to show for it. In fact, it takes years and years to monitor your progress as a father or a mother or a husband or a wife.
But at work, it’s different. At work, I can look back on my day and say, “Wow, I accomplished something!” And if you’re a Christian, you kind of add an “ought to” to it. “Well, I ‘ought’ to do that, because people are dying and going to hell, and there’s so much ministry to be done. God called me to do this.”
When you find yourself in that dilemma, knowing something or somebody is going to get cheated, there is something inside of us that for some reason leans in the direction of our profession and our ministry.
Then there’s the fear factor. And the fear goes something like this: If I don’t, it won’t … Fill in your own blanks. If I don’t, they won’t. If I don’t, she won’t. In other words, there is some cause and effect thing that says if I don’t show up, and if I don’t go, and if I don’t prepare, and if I don’t stay longer, and if I don’t get there earlier, it just won’t happen.
That fear was in me. God, if I don’t lean hard in this direction, and if I don’t become all things to all people, especially in these early days when there is so much at stake — if I don’t, I’m not sure You will.
The real issue is I was not sure God could be trusted to build as big a church as I wanted Him to build. I wasn’t really sure that God’s will for my life synced up with my will for my life.
And when I was finally confronted with that fear, it led me to make the best leadership decision that I ever made.
Let’s make a Deal
I decided to make a deal with God.
Up until this point, my prayer sort of went like this: “God, while I go over here and build this church, and while I go over there and give extraordinary amounts of time to this, and while I try to be everything you called me to be, I pray that you will please be at home with my family to fill in the gaps for me. I pray that you help them to understand. I pray that your grace and mercy will be upon them. I pray that you protect them while I’m gone. And while I give my time and attention to your work, I’m asking that you show up in a strong and mighty and powerful way in my home to fill in the gaps.”
Every time I had those thoughts, I just knew that wasn’t right. So here is how my new prayer went: “God, I don’t have time to do all this. You called me to be a husband and you called me to plant this church. There is not enough time to do this. Somebody or something is going to get or feel cheated. So here’s what I’m going to do: I can give you 45 hours a week as a church planter. That’s all I’ve got right now. If you can build a church with 45 of my hours, I am your guy. And I’m willing for you to build as big a church as you can build in 45 of my hours, and I will be satisfied with that. But I promise you, I’m not going to cheat my family.”
The best decision I ever made as a leader was to choose to cheat the church instead of cheating my family.
Not For The Faint of Heart
Before you get too excited about that, you should know that this was very complicated. It caused a lot of consternation in the early days. I asked Sandra what it would look like if I were the “perfect husband.” She was pregnant at the time and she said, “Andy, to be honest, the most difficult time of the day for me is between 4:30 and 6:30. I’ve been with the two kids all day. I’m pregnant, I’m tired, and we’re getting ready for dinner. From 4:30 to 6:30 is worth any other four hours of the day to me.” I said, “I will be home at 4:30 everyday!”
So I told my staff. I said, “I know this is weird. But guys, ladies, I’m walking out of the office everyday at 4:00. I’ll get here early, but everyday at 4:00, I’m gone. And if that’s weird, and if that’s something that’s going to bother you, we can talk about it, but that’s the decision I’ve made.”
For the first four or five years that North Point was in existence, really even beyond that, I got up everyday, I didn’t care what was going on, and I prayed a prayer that went like this:
“Dear Heavenly Father, I’m going to go home and fulfill my two unique roles, father to my kids, husband to my wife. I need you to shed your grace and mercy over here in the church. Please fill in the gaps. Please help people to understand. Please help the things that aren’t going to get done to get done. Please help people to prioritize correctly. I’m going to pray that you show up over there, while I show up over here.”
It was messy. There was a situation where a very important family in our church had a crisis in their family. I got the phone call at about 3:30 one afternoon, and I just went home. They were very unhappy with me, and they had every right to be unhappy with me, because I was their pastor. But for me, it was almost the litmus test. OK, God, what am I going to fear, who am I going to fear, who am I really trusting to make this happen?
The end of the story is kind of interesting, because many weeks went by, and the woman involved came to me and said, “Andy, I realize that we need to establish some kind of system of care in this church (Implication: because you’re obviously not going to do it!)
And this gal organized a group of volunteers, and established the system of care at North Point Community Church that is the basis of what we still do today on all of our campuses.
The best leadership decision I’ve ever made was to decide to cheat the church instead of cheating my family.
Who’s Really Responsible?
One of my favorite prophecies is in Matthew 16. Jesus was surrounded by His guys, and He says, “I’m going to build my church and the gates of hell are not going to stand against it.” I’m going to build my church … (hint: note the personal pronoun.)
Now fast forward a bit to arguably the greatest church planner who’s ever lived — the Apostle Paul. Did the Apostle Paul have strong feelings about the local church? I would say so, considering He died for it. He spent his whole life planting churches, and then trying to disciple them. His whole life was the local church, but listen to what he said.
“Husbands, love your wives like Christ loved the church.”
When I took those two concepts and put them together, it freed me up, because I was never commanded to love the church. I was commanded to love my wife! And I was never commanded to build the church. Jesus promised He would build the church. But somehow in ministry, we get these things confused so easily. We say, “I’m going to go build the church, meanwhile, God, I need you to watch over and take care of my family.”
My observation is that men and women who love the church and don’t love their family have neither great churches nor great families. But the man or the woman who understands what it means to love their husbands, love their wives, not exacerbate their children, but nurture them in the Lord, and who somehow have found it in them to be able to prioritize those initial priorities over loving and building and growing a local church tend to have great families and healthy churches.
This is extremely liberating to me, because I could go home in the afternoon and say, “I really love the church. I mean I love it, but ultimately it is not even my responsibility. And the Kingdom of God doesn’t hinge on my ability to put more and more hours into it. You have graciously invited me in to be a very, very tiny part of it. But at the end of the day, your will will be done, and the Church will be built.”
The question for me is did I love my wife like Christ loved the church? Why is it we get that confused? Why is that we excuse our absence at home for our presence in our local church, when in fact the Scripture cannot be anymore clear? We are to love our families, and submit to our Savior as He builds the Church.
The Blessings of a Cheater
God has blessed our church immensely since I prayed that prayer all those years ago. Today, when we do our new employee orientation, I meet with all of our new employees and one of the things I tell them is, “Don’t you cheat your family because of working at the church. You cheat me, and you cheat this church before you cheat your family. You cheat us. Don’t you cheat those kids, don’t you cheat that husband, don’t you cheat that wife.”
Here’s something I heard my dad say all my life that has really modeled all this for me: Never violate the principles of God in order to gain or maintain the blessings of God.
When I meet with our staff, here’s what I tell them: The reason I want you to cheat me and not your family is because I want God to continue to bless this organization. And the moment we begin intentionally — and even sometimes unknowingly — violating or building into our culture a violation of what the Scripture teaches, we risk losing the blessing of God. So don’t you dare become a workaholic in this organization and screw it up for us! Don’t you dare cheat your family, thinking you’re going to make me happy, and that I’m going to give you some kind of an award, or that I’m going to think it is so wonderful that you’re here all the time. That is probably the fastest way that God may just remove His blessing, because God doesn’t honor people or organizations that intentionally violate His principles.
You don’t gain or maintain the blessing of God by violating His principles.
A Commitment to Cheat
Would you be willing to make the tough decision to go back to your churches and your families and make this right? Would you begin praying a prayer that goes kind of like this?
Dear Heavenly Father, I’m leaving work now, and I don’t know if it will be there when I get back, because there is so much that’s left undone, but would you please take care of that, while I go take care of the thing you have commanded to take care of? I’m no longer going to pray your grace and mercy over my family while I give time that belongs to them to something else. I’m going to turn it around and I’m going to pray your grace and mercy over my ministry and my work, because I’ve got go home now, and I’ve got be at dinner now, and I’m going to do all I can to be the husband you called me to be, the wife you called me to be, and the parent you called me to be, and I’m going to trust that you’re just big enough to take care of all the rest of that stuff.
The best leadership decision I’ve ever made was to cheat the very thing God called me to do in order to be who God called me to be in those unique roles at home. I think it is a decision He’ll honor if you’ll make it.
We are so excited to be offering an event February 22nd-23rd called Youth Leaders Summit. It is designed for youth workers of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, theological heritages, and employment statuses including full-time, part-time, volunteer, and everything in between. It’s for youth ministry teams who want to dream about what is possible. It’s for youth workers who need to get away and recharge. It’s for college and university students who want to get a pulse of what’s next. It’s for veterans who need to be reaffirmed in their calling.