Thursday, November 13, 2014

Essential Principles for Biblical Leadership

Developing and articulating biblical principles of leadership for church development may be one of the more underrated activities many ministers engage in, if they do at all. For some, the assumption is that they know how to do ministry, which tends to diminish the value of engaging in the process of developing and articulating a statement of principles. Yet, the fact that an individual may know how to carry out any number of functions related to ministry does not necessarily indicate the individual understands why or how those functions are related to the overarching purpose of Christ’s church in the world. Further, without an understanding of the purpose of Christ’s church in the world, and the role ministry plays in carrying it out, the activities of ministry lose their purpose and are carried forward by little more than routine.

Because the church is the body of Christ in the world, those providing ministerial leadership in the church must possess both Christ-like character and competency for their task in order to effectively represent Jesus Christ. It should be noted that the focus of this article is on principles intended for those in church leadership, although much of what is said below is applicable to all believers.

The Church: The Body of Christ
The body of Christ is the image used most often in the New Testament as a descriptor for the church. Millard Erickson states that “perhaps the most extended image of the church is its representation as the body of Christ.”  Erickson further argues that the body of Christ image is important because it demonstrates the connection of the group of believers to Christ; the role of individual believers in drawing their life from Christ; and the interconnectedness of believers with each other. Although Louis Berkhof does not regard the body of Christ imagery to be a complete definition of the church, he does acknowledge its proper designation for both the universal as well as local church, and its stress on unity.

There are at least two ways to think about the body of Christ imagery that will be helpful when thinking about leadership principles for ministry. The first is to consider the union between Christ and the church. That is, the connection between Christ and his church is so close that what happens to one can be said to happen to the other. The second way to think about the connection between Christ and the church is with respect to function. That is, the church is responsible to carry forward the mission of Christ in the world.
Union with Christ.

In Acts 9, Saul of Tarsus is on the road to Damascus seeking to persecute followers of Jesus Christ. He has been a leader in the persecution of Christ-followers, even giving approval to the stoning of a deacon named Stephen (Acts 8:1). While on the road to Damascus, Saul and his party are stopped by a blinding light. In Acts 9:4-5 we read: “And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.””

This exchange reveals the close connection there is between Christ and the church. This union is so close that it can be said that when the church is persecuted, Christ is persecuted. Additional passages could be cited that demonstrate the union of believers with Christ.  If nothing else, the close connection between Christ and the church indicates that our behavior is representative of the Lord Jesus.

Mission of Christ
Clearly expressed in the New Testament is the idea that the mission of Christ is moved forward by the church, his body. The image of the body of Christ is used in a number of places in the New Testament, but in the context of engaging in ministry, First Corinthians 12:12-27, Romans 12:4-8, and Ephesians 4:11-16 are three of the more significant passages. In each of these passages, the church is described as the body of Christ with respect to function. That is, Paul uses the image of the body to describe the nature of different gifts possessed by individuals within the church. The salient point for the purposes of this paper is that the Scripture teaches in these passages that God has gifted the body in order to carry on the work of Christ in the world.

The concepts above provide a foundation for any principles for ministry that are proposed. The church needs to be understood as united with Christ for the carrying on of his work in the world, in order to provide a context for articulating principles of ministry for church development. Because the church is the body of Christ carrying out his mission in the world, those providing ministry leadership must demonstrate Christ-like character and competency to accomplish the task he has set before them.

Leadership Principles Related to Character
 As representatives of Jesus Christ, those ministering in his name must demonstrate his character. There are two aspects of this character that will be examined below: the source of character and the signs of character.

Source of Character
Dependence on Christ. In John 15:1-8, Jesus calls his followers to dependence upon him when he says:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

The key concept in this passage is that of abiding in Christ. The imagery of the vine is particularly important for those in ministry, as those serving Christ (the branches) draw strength and nourishment from the vine (Christ). Just as the vine produces branches of the same kind, so Christ produces followers who are “like” him. A grape vine does not, after all, produce apples.

John 15:1-8 is vital as it reminds us that the spiritual life of the ministry leader is to find its regular source and nourishment in Christ. Ministry, then, becomes the result of a growing spiritual life that is dependent upon Christ. Such dependence will manifest itself at least in prayer and humility as ministers recognize their inability apart from him.

The Holy Spirit. Another source of character is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not to be understood as separate from our dependence upon Christ, but in conjunction with that dependence. In John 14:26 Jesus prepared his disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit when he said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to remembrance all that I have said to you.” Paul helps us further understand the role of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:16-17, 22-23 which reads:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do….But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

One role of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life is to apply the teachings of Christ in such a way that godly behavior is the result. The fruit of the Spirit is a description of the development of godly character. The Spirit does his work in such a way that Paul was confident that his work would be brought to completion as believers are progressively sanctified (Phil 1:6; 2 Thess 2:13). John Stott seems to echo these sentiments when he writes, “Fundamental to all Christian leadership and ministry is a humble personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, devotion to him expressed in daily prayer and love for him expressed in daily obedience.”

Signs of Character
The sources of character for a minister include a dependence upon God experienced through prayer and humility, as well as the application of the word of God by the Spirit of God. How does that character manifest itself in the life of a ministry leader? Fortunately, there are several key passages that specifically address the identification of godly character in the life of a ministry leader.

Servanthood. One sign of character development is servanthood. In Matthew 20:20-28, the Scripture records an encounter between Jesus and the mother of two of his disciples. As Jesus explained the impossibility of his guaranteeing who would hold positions of power in his coming kingdom, he told his disciples,
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Later, as Jesus is washing the disciple’s feet prior to the Last Supper, John 13:14-17 records him exhorting them,
If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

It seems clear that Jesus is emphasizing to his disciples that they are to imitate his servant mindset as they serve others. In Philippians 2:5, in the context of calling believers to selflessly serve, Paul tells them to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Thus, Paul calls believers to adopt the mind of Christ with respect to their service of others. There is no place in ministry for individuals who believe they are to be served. Rather, ministers of the gospel are, literally, servants of Christ, who must adopt a mindset of looking to the interests of others before ourselves.  Thus, a general disposition of servanthood is essential.

Personal and Family Values. It is interesting that in the biblical texts regarding the selection of a ministry leader, personal and family-related character issues predominate. In other words, it is not enough to simply display a servant’s attitude in public, but one must also possess personal values that are displayed privately as well. The key passages related to personal and family character of church leaders are 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 respectively, which read:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore, an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, appoint elders in every town as I directed you – if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:5-9)

Personal values are described with the terms: sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. These behaviors are not intended to be a checklist, per se, but rather that the leader’s life is consistent with godly values. Calvin suggested that these values prevent the selection of a leader whose life is marked by a disgrace that detracts from leadership authority.  Gary Bredfeldt adds that “a reproachable character undermines even the most competent of Bible teachers.”

It is clear that the New Testament makes a strong connection between the fitness of an individual for leadership in the church based, in part, upon his leadership in the home. That is, both passages indicate that a crucial aspect of the church leader’s integrity is his family life. Though there is some debate about whether the phrase “above reproach” is specifically tied to family life expectations, it seems reasonable to conclude that the family life of the church leader was uppermost in the Apostle Paul’s mind. Such a conclusion is based on that fact that, in both texts, the requirements for church leaders are introduced by the phrase “above reproach” and are immediately followed by expectations related to family life.  The Titus passage, in fact, brackets the family life expectations by using “above reproach” as an introductory and concluding statement.

The teaching of both texts is consistent in indicating that one is not fit to be a church leader if he is not honoring the Lord in his family life.Thus, ministry leaders need to be marked by an attitude of servanthood. Further their personal lives need to demonstrate personal values that are consistent with the teachings of Scripture. Further, their personal values must be manifest to those to whom they are the closest: their family.

Principles Related to Competence
Character is not the only essential for ministry leaders. Ministry leaders must also demonstrate competence for the task of advancing the mission of Jesus. The competencies necessary for ministry leaders may be divided into two categories: competencies related to teaching and those related to leading.

Teaching. An examination of the 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 passages above will reveal that there is only one skill that is absolutely essential for a ministry leader: the ability to teach. To Timothy, Paul describes this skill with simply the phrase, “able to teach” (I Tim 3:2). To Titus, Paul expands on the idea a bit when he says, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). John Stott says of the list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3, "Nine of them are moral or social (e.g., self-controlled, hospitable, sober, gentle). Only one could be called a “professional” qualification, namely didaktikos (v. 2), “a good teacher” (Revised Standard Version)." Ministry leaders must possess the ability to teach others and continually work to hone that skill.

Further, ministry leaders must establish teaching as the priority of their ministry. Bredfeldt says, “Once leaders forget that teaching is job number one, they diminish their eternal impact by accepting a standard only esteemed by human beings and surrendering the standard applied by God.”  The fact that pastors are called primarily to teach God’s Word is of vital concern for the church today. Considering the tremendous amount of non-teaching responsibilities that face pastors, it is imperative that the church restore priority to teaching the Word of God. Since this ministry of the Word is connected to unity and maturity, and in light of the demands on pastors that detract from the ministry of the Word, it should not be surprising that many churches are experiencing neither unity nor maturity.

Leading. The bible describes teaching and leading as going together in the life of a ministry leader. Leadership, in this context, is best described as equipping the body for ministry and then releasing the body to serve. Since all believers are the body of Christ, all believers are to serve. The role of ministry leadership is to equip them for that purpose, and then release the people to serve. In a sense, this is an extension of the servanthood characteristic of the ministry leader.

Equipping. Few other passages are as clear as Ephesians 4:11-16 regarding the task of pastors and teachers to equip God’s people for ministry. The passage reads,
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

The pastors and teachers are given the dual task of shepherding (the classical meaning of pastor) the church and teaching God’s word.  Paul considered the task of teaching to be an ongoing ministry of the church, as his admonition to Timothy to train and equip others to teach (2 Tim. 2:2) demonstrates. In fact, the teaching role is the one emphasized here, as all pastors are regarded as teachers; but not all teachers are pastors. Teaching, then, is one of the primary tools for equipping God’s people. Equipping is not limited to teaching, however, but also extends to hands-on ministry experiences as well as personal mentoring.

Releasing. Once believers are taught, they are to be released in ministry. Such is the model followed by Jesus. In Luke’s gospel, three distinct phases of a discipleship process have been noted: calling, building, and sending.  In Simple Church, Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger argue that in the sending phase, Jesus “turned ministry over to his disciples.” The idea is that once followers have been trained, they are to assume the task(s) of ministry. Jesus does much the same thing at the very end of his earthly ministry. In the Great Commission texts, Jesus leaves the execution of ministry to his disciples.

A model has been established then, in which, followers are to be sent out to do ministry after they have been taught and instructed. Bredfeldt refers to this releasing of followers as “empowerment” and warns that empowerment is a risk because the leader has to trust the person to whom they are entrusting the task.  Yet, it is essential is the mission of Jesus is going to significantly advance in the world.

The church is the body of Christ in the world. Because of its union with Christ, the church is called to carry out the mission of Jesus in the world. Every part of the body of Christ is to be engaged in that mission. But, God has established leaders over the church for the purpose of facilitating the church’s development in Christ-likeness.

The leaders of the church are to be marked by character. Their character is to derive from an absolute dependence upon Jesus himself. Their lives should be marked by humility and prayer. Further, the Holy Spirit is at work in them developing godly character. That character is demonstrated in an attitude of servanthood to those under their care. Further, their lives are to be marked by godly personal and family values. The personal and home life of the ministry leader is a key factor in their fitness for serving the church.

Leaders of the church are also to be marked by competence. First, this competence is to be found in their ability to teach. No other “skill” is demanded by the text of Scripture for a ministry leader. Second, they are to be competent to equip and release the body of Christ for ministry. Individuals who are unable or unwillingly to involve others in the work of the kingdom have a place in ministry leadership. The reality is that a ministry leader cannot do all of the work of ministry themselves. Believers must be taught and trained and released to advance the mission of Jesus in the world. Only then is the body of Christ able to grow and build itself up in love.

What principles do you think have been overlooked? What would you add to the above or, what do you consider not to be as essential as presented here? 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Some Thoughts on Christian Civic Engagement

Now that the 2014 mid-terms are over, it would seem a good time to reflect on the degree to which Christians ought to engage in the political process. Based on some of the Twitter feeds I've seen, there are some folks that are euphoric in their belief that the GOP take over of the Senate has ushered in a fundamental change in the American political process. Equally vocal are those folks that refused to even vote because they couldn't find anyone who held to biblical values.

It seems to me that those who claim to be followers of Christ have differing opinions about the right relationship Christ-followers should have toward addressing issues of public concern. Or, to say it more clearly, there is some disagreement among believers about this thing we call politics.
At its heart, politics is the legislative enacting of a worldview. Make no mistake about that. Every political issue, every piece of legislation, every political philosophy is driven by a worldview.Because the political process is about enacting legislation in support of a worldview, Christians must be engaged in the process.

Nearly 40 years ago Francis Schaeffer warned American evangelicals that the winner of the worldview war would determine the kind of government we would submit to. In How Should We Then Live?  (1976) Schaeffer's central premise is that when we base society on the Bible, on the infinite-personal God who is there and has spoken, that premise provides an absolute by which we can conduct our lives and by which we can judge society. He contrasted that Christian worldview with a humanistic worldview. Schaeffer defined humanism as "a value system rooted in the belief that man is his own measure, that man is autonomous, totally independent". Schaeffer argued that when we base society on humanism, all values are relative and we have no way to distinguish right from wrong except for utilitarianism. Essentially, the primary guide for determining right and wrong is determined by that which provides the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people.
When a society bases its political and philosophical foundation on humanism, the member of that society disagree on what is best, and that devolves into a value system that is based on Personal Peace (the desire to be personally unaffected by the world's problems) and Affluence (an increasing personal income.) Chillingly, Schaeffer warned that when we live by these values we will be tempted to sacrifice our freedoms in exchange for an authoritarian government who will provide the relative values.

That, my friends, is precisely what we see happening in our culture today. Whether it is euphoria over government sponsored welfare or the systematic limitation of religious liberty through laws that purport to promote civil rights, the only thing that seems to matter in our political culture is the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people. This is the water in which our culture is swimming. I mention all of this because we need to understand that if we focus on the symptoms, we will lose this battle. If we are going to engage this battle, we have to understand that it is a philosophical and spiritual battle. And, that battle cannot be won apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.

 I would like to explore the question: How Should We Then Live when it comes to political and civic engagement? Some say that Christians ought to withdraw from the political process. This view would have us to believe that the church and Christians should have no role in secular government. These believers would say that we should focus our attention on the gospel and not get mixed up in politics. That God will take care of everything and we don’t need to be involved.

 Others cry “separation of church and state” and wish that believers would, in fact, retire to our prayer chambers and leave the work of governing to them. Still others – and these are the saddest of all to me – do not see that our Christian convictions have any bearing on our political views. These are the folks that would like to read and believe the Bible when it speaks of God’s forgiveness and salvation, but are not as comfortable when God defines marriage or calls the sacrificing children on the altar of self murder or calls Israel the people of God and promises blessing to those who will befriend her.

What is the appropriate approach? As I think of the Scripture, the first thing I consider (and the only thing I have time to pursue at the moment) is that Christ followers are aliens and strangers on the earth. That is Peter’s description in 1 Pet 2:11-12; there he says:
            11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Peter does not say, you are aliens and strangers here, so do not engage with the larger culture. No. He says that we can effect change and bring glory to God while living in a culture that has turned its back on God. How? The text says we make a difference by both a negative and a positive exhortation. He says we should:
            1. Abstain from sinful desires.
            2. Live such good lives that our good deeds silence their false accusations.
In doing these things, we bring glory to God.

This advice is not just Peter’s idea, but is a consistent theme of the entire Bible. For example, when the children of Israel were carried into captivity in Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah wrote to them giving them advice on how to live as captives in a foreign land. He did not incite them to riot or to protest against their captors. He did not suggest they seek to overthrow them by force. No, in Jer 29:4-7 we find this instruction:
                4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

This, I believe, should be the disposition of believers today – make the society you are a part of better because of your presence. Add value to the land of your habitation. Seek the benefit and prosperity of the land in which you are an alien and stranger. And, as the culture is blessed, you too will be blessed.
Sitting on the sidelines is not an option. Being marginalized because of our faith is not an option. No, rather, engaging in the process seeking the peace and prosperity of our nation is our only option. As we do, we must recognize that we are in a spiritual and philosophical battle and that, ultimately, victory is not found in ballots or elections, but in the spiritual transformation of a nation through the power of Jesus Christ.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Discovering Spiritual Gifts....It's Not What You Think!

Since approximately 1972 a significant number of churches in the United States have increasingly regarded a conscious understanding of spiritual gifts and the utilization of those gifts in the life of the church as important for individual followers of Christ. Over the past thirty-five years or so, an increasingly large amount of material on the subject of spiritual gifts has been produced. C. Peter Wagner, a prolific writer on the subject of spiritual gifts, is a strong advocate for the use of spiritual gifts in the life of the church. Wagner contends that there is no “dimension of the Christian life that more effectively joins the teachings of Scripture with the day-to-day activities of the people of God than spiritual gifts.”  Thom Rainer is a scholar, researcher, and prolific writer in his own right. He suggests that churches will grow as Christians discover their spiritual gifts and then use those gifts to build up the body of Christ.  

The effort of local churches to help people discover their spiritual gifts has the goal of helping people to get engaged in the ministry of the local church. And, this effort has created a plethora of material, including books, seminars, and spiritual gift inventories (both paper based and online). Of these resources, the “spiritual gift inventory” has become a frequently used method by which churches aim to help believers discover their spiritual gifts. Yet, is the use of a spiritual gift identification instrument the best way for people to find their place of joyful service within the church? 
It goes without saying that there is a lot of debate among scholars, pastors and lay people about the nature and purpose of spiritual gifts. Most of these debates pertain to the nature of certain gifts (i.e. tongues, healing, etc) and whether those gifts are still active today. Although there is debate about some gifts, the conventional view seems to be that spiritual gifts are divine abilities given to believers by the Holy Spirit at conversion. Yet, there is terribly little in the Scripture to support this view. Indeed, it is my contention that the emphasis on divine enablement has led to an unfortunate and fundamental misunderstanding of the best way to “discover” spiritual gifts; namely the use of spiritual gift inventories. 

What if spiritual gifts are really more about what you do with the skills, talents, and passions that God has placed within you from birth? What if the lists of spiritual gifts in the Bible are different because the needs of the individual churches are what the Holy Spirit responds to by placing gifted individuals within that local body? I've been on a quest to discover the nature of spiritual gifts in the Bible and how to best help other believers figure out their place of joyful service in God's kingdom. In fact, I considered this issue so important that I devoted my Ph.D. dissertation to the subject. I have now turned that somewhat technical and academic work into a book that I pray will be a blessing to the church, pastors and believers everywhere.

If you are curious to learn more, I invite you to check out my new book The Unleashed Church: A New Understanding of Spiritual Gifts to Move Attenders to to Participants. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Guiding Principles I Follow in the Voting Booth

During an election cycle we hear ads from candidates who offer contradictory "facts" to convince you that the other candidate is the embodiment of evil and that they are fundamentally different. It is easy to get caught up in these ads - and the fear mongering that is so prevalent - and not know exactly how one should vote. A number of years ago - and in no small part due to the influence of Francis Schaeffer, Russ Moore, and others - I developed a three principle method of evaluating candidates. I provide it here in hopes it may help you as you face the voting booth.

On July 4, 1776 the Founding Fathers of the United States declared: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It seems to me that this provides a good three principle paradigm for evaluating candidates: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

There is no right more fundamental than the right to life. Every person who advocates a pro-choice position does so only because their own mother chose life. Think about that for a minute. I recognize there are difficult situations people find themselves in and circumstances that are often less than ideal for a pregnancy. Yet, none of those situations or circumstances justify the killing of an innocent child.

Mother Teresa once said, “I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child... A direct killing of the innocent child, 'Murder' by the mother herself... And if we can accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?" And, she got to the heart of the matter - the real reason our culture advocates abortion - when she said, "It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish."

Therefore, when I vote, the first principle that guides me is whether a candidate is pro-life. This, in my estimation, is the most practical way to ensure that every person's right to LIFE is protected.

To some people this seems to contradict the first principle. But, it does not. The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution reads: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." The Founding Fathers had experienced the tyranny of King George and had openly rebelled against that tyranny. They were able to do so because they were armed. In their day a militia was a group of ordinary citizens who formed to defend an area or region. It was a precursor to the present day military. Yet, the right to keep and bear arms was not inextricably tied to the idea of the military, as some presume today. Rather, the right of citizens to rebel against tyrannical government necessitates those citizens posses the right to keep and bear arms.

The Declaration of Independence says we are endowed by our Creator with the right to LIBERTY. The way we ensure our liberty is protected is not by trusting that the government will take care of protecting it for us. Rather, each individual has the right to protect their liberty on their own. So, the second principle that guides me is whether a candidate supports the 2nd amendment.

The third principle that guides my voting decisions is whether a candidate favors smaller government and lower taxes. This principle comes out of the Declaration as well. We are endowed by our Creator with the right to the pursuit of happiness. It is difficult to pursue happiness if the government continually takes more and more of one's income.

So, there they are. Three principles that help guide the way I vote. Whether you agree with these or not, I encourage you to develop principles that will help guide your time in the voting booth. It will be much easier to sift through the hundreds of political ads!