Rss

  • twitter

Are You a Great Commission Church?

Asking if your church is a great commission church, or not, stirs up many emotions.  The question even being asked may anger some and then the response might be, “Well, of course we are!”  The reality is that we must examine the facts and not be overly driven by our emotions. Churches tend to have aspirational values because they know that value is in the scripture but then they do not follow through on implanting that value.  Take a deeper look at your church and your ministry and ask if you are actually carrying out the great commission daily!

Paul, speaking to the churches in Galatia, says this in Galatians 3:8, “All nations will be blessed through you.”  In focusing on God’s mission for His people and His church we need to take a closer look at the Great Commission as given to us in Matthew 28:16-20.  Our mission is to be completely devoted to proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and persuading men to become followers of Christ.  John MacArthur points out four elements for effectively fulfilling the church’s mission.  Three of these elements are attitudes and the fourth is the action that must be taken.

The first attitude is Availability!  Matthew 28:16 says, “The 11 disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them.”  Don’t miss this truth that His disciples were where He had told them to be.  Is your church where it needs to be in being available to Him to do whatever is takes to reach the lost in your community? Have you become so overly focused on Christians who need spiritual renewal that you have forgotten about unbelievers who desperately need regeneration?  We must be exactly where the Lord wants us to be in our availability!

The second attitude necessary to effectively fulfill the great commission is Worship! Matthew 28:17 says, “When they saw Him, they worshiped.”  Isaiah 6 makes it clear that it is out of worship that we can arise out of the dust of being on our faces before God and that we are ready to follow and serve the Lord. It was out of Isaiah’s brokenness that he responded to God’s request and said, “Here am I Lord, send me!’  When He is not truly worshiped He cannot be properly served no matter how talented, gifted, or well intentioned we might be.

The third element is Submission!  Matthew 28:18 tells us that Jesus has all authority.  Submission is evidenced when our greatest desire it to give all that we are and have to Him.  In the context of the Great Commission we see that He is the sovereign Lord, but it also clearly speaks to the believers’ responsibility in their response to His rule.  In Romans 12:1, Paul refers to this as our reasonable service and that is giving Him our true worship from our hearts by offering ourselves up as living sacrifices. Have you become a missionless church?

The fourth element for effectively fulfilling the Great commission flows out of the right attitudes and it is Obedience!  In The Unstuck Church Tony Morgansays, “It’s that stubborn attachment to the past, though, that leads to the church’s ultimate demise.  Traditions win over life transformation.  Personal preferences crowd out sacrifice and full devotion to the gospel mandate.”  He goes on to say, “It’s possible to do the work of God without doing the work God has called you to do.”  Acts 1:8 makes that work clear, “And you will be my witnesses.”

Remember that Galatians 3:8 says this will happen “through you.”  The world’s population is now right at 7.7 billion and increasing by almost 75,000 people a day.  We are told that only 10% of the world’s population are Bible-believing Christians. There are two sides, potential and danger, to these findings.

  1. We can see the potential of these people winning others to the faith.
  2. We see the danger because of congregations and Christians becoming inwardly focused and simply trying to occupy themselves.

Your church and my church is to be a task force with a job to do that has been spelled out by our Lord and King.  This is why we speak of advancing His Kingdom so that more and more people bow to His authority and submit to His rule and reign. Church, we must accept our responsibility to represent our King and share Him with other nations just as Abraham was instructed in Genesis 12.

  • Have we become so infatuated with maturing our own faith that we are not interested in winning others to the faith?
  • Are we still committed to helping people to find and follow Jesus?

Make sure that you evaluate how you are doing at effectively fulfilling the Great Commission.  Here are some great questions to help you.

  • Are you seeing people accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?
  • When is the last time someone made known their decision to make Christ Lord of their life?
  • What are you going to do to change that?
  • What intentional steps are you willing to take to pray for the lost, build relationships with the lost, and train your people in how to share the gospel with them?

We must move past good intentions and practice intentionality.

How do we do that?  David Hesselgrave suggests several things but these three will get you started.

  1. Understand the task!  The mission is clear beginning with a desire to reach more people with Jesus.
  2. Analyze the task in the light of research and experience.  Get to know the people you are trying to reach and learn what makes them tick.  Look for helpful insights into how you can more effectively communicate the truth of the gospel.
  3. Make an overall plan to accomplish this task.  Begin with the message of His word and be ready to share it!

Are you a Great Commission church?

Be Thankful Not Anxious

Thanksgiving is once again upon us, which hopefully reminds us not to allow anxiety to control us!  Philippians 4:6 tells us, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”  The translation is literally don’t be “anxious.”  It carries the idea of being pulled in different directions.  Warren Wiersbe says, “Our hopes pull us in one direction; our fears pull us the opposite direction; and we are pulled apart!”

In leadership there will be anxious moments and how we react in those moments can make us or break us.  Wiersbe chimes in on this challenge, “From the spiritual point of view, worry is wrong thinking (the mind) and wrong feeling(the heart) about circumstances, people, and things.  Worry is the greatest thief of joy.  It is not enough for us, however, to tell ourselves to ‘quit worrying’ because that will never capture the thief.  Worry is an ‘inside job’ and it takes more than good intentions to get the victory.” Well said!

Edwin Friedman says this about anxiety, “To the extent that leaders…can maintain a non-anxious presence in a highly energized anxiety field, they can have the same effects on that field that transformers have in an electrical circuit.”  Transformers are there to either increase or decrease the wattage and a leader must realize his responsibility in this area.  Remaining cool, collected, and in control can sometimes be easier said than done. The reality is that we can damage our ability to lead by how we react and handle life in the pressure cooker.

Fear is often louder than reality!  All too often our minds and emotions leap to the worst possible scenarios. Actually, your worst fears are not realized most of the time.  In The Unstuck Church,Tony Morgansays, “This is another example of how pride is the enemy of courage.  When fear or worry creeps into my thoughts, I’m admitting that I believe I am in control.” Leadership requires courage to obey Christ and follow the path He is leading us on even when people do not understand or decide to criticize and/or even attack us!

In People Pleasing Pastors, author and pastor Charles Stonereveals eight F’s of chronic anxiety.  They describe the ways we are tempted to respond when our emotions cause us to react with a very defensive and wounded posture.  We are far more susceptible to reacting in an unbiblical manner when we are tired, angry, hurt, or under verbal attack.  We must learn how to stay cool under pressure and avoid melting down.  The damage may hinder the advance of His kingdom work.

Stone’s first reaction we are tempted with is to fightback.  We allow our emotions to cause us to no longer think clearly and therefore we choose to lash back and defend ourselves at all costs.  Secondly, some choose to fleeand decide to pull away from others whenever tension begins to build. Their preference is to get out and get away from it and unfortunately the tension does not go away until it is faced. The third reaction is to freeze.  Whenever caught off guard the temptation is to take no position at all.  The goal here is to stay neutral and make everyone happy!

Some respond to conflict by trying to fusewith the naysayers.  Their motto is that it is better to join them than stand against them.  Normally you end up compromising your convictions and seeking unity at all costs, which never brings unity.  Another incorrect response is to fixate upon it.  We begin talking to everyone about the problem, looking for his or her support without ever confronting the one who is creating the problem.  This is how we handled conflict in junior high school.

Then there are the fixerswho kick into overdrive.  They strive to over perform in order to fix everyone else’s problems.  Unfortunately, they drive everyone crazy in the process. The opposite of this temptation is seen in those who flounder.  This position causes us to become passive and we begin to consider giving up.  We underperform and do not address the problem. All to often we think if we ignore it that hopefully it will go away. But the truth is it usually gets worse.

Lastly, Stone uses three words to describe potentially the most dangerous temptation to our spiritual walk: Feed,fornicate, and finances.  This is when we yield to inappropriate impulses to satisfy or pacify the emotional hurt we are going through.  We turn to our comfort foods, impulse buying, pornography, or some other sexual sin. If we are not in step with the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:25) we can easily look in the wrong places for contentment and joy.

Where and to whom will you turn when anxiety tries to control your emotions? Especially when you are overwhelmed and your emotions are causing you to not think biblically.  Philippians 4:6-8 gives us the formula to persevere in these challenging moments.

The first thing is prayer!  Get alone with the Lord and cry out to Him. Stillness is the precondition to His presence! Resist the temptation to be distracted and focus on who He is!

            The second thing is to guard your thoughts!  Someone has said, “My thoughts cause feelings. My feelings provoke intentions. My intentions become actions.  My actions form habits. My habits create a lifestyle.”  Make sure that your thoughts are biblical!  Isaiah 26:3 says, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee.”  Don’t allow yourself to be distracted from who He is and keep your eyes focused on Him, even in the battles!

LEADING WITH MISSIONAL PURPOSE

It was the day after Christmas in 1979 when my wife and I arrived at my first pastorate in Marion, Illinois.  To say that I was excited as we unloaded the U-Haul would be an understatement.  The parsonage was small, but big enough for us as we focused on our new ministry with West Blvd. Baptist Church.  The next day I took my one box of office items to the church.  The office was a tiny nook above the foyer area with a very steep stairwell.  I had my “license” to preach and my freshly signed ordination certificate to hang on the wall.  The rest of the box contained a name plaque my brother-in-law, David, had given to me to make me “official” and about ten books to place on the book shelves.

It took about 30 minutes to get all set up and then I sat down in the chair behind the small desk thinking, “What do I do now?”  I was overwhelmed with the realization that I did not have a clue on what to do next. The irony was that just a month earlier I had decided to leave Central Baptist College to go into the pastorate because my youthful zeal had convinced me that I was ready.  Side note: STAY IN SCHOOL!  The adrenaline high did not last 48 hours after arriving on assignment.  The goal was to preach the word and shepherd the people but I did not have any plan or strategy beyond the first Sunday.   There have been many ideas through the years, some good and some not so good, that have started strong but lost steam quickly.

This is where “Entropy” enters the door.  It is defined as “a measure of the disorder that exists in a system.”  It is a physics term that describes how energy decreases because of the loss of heat and slowly but surely you no longer have the get-up-and-go you once had.  In Leading on Empty, Wayne Cordeirodescribes entropy as “the gradual decline back to a mediocre lifestyle defined by a habit and reaction.”  It is the opposite of the abundant life and we must realize that unless we have an intentional plan to remain fresh and on fire, entropy is the “natural” outcome. How do we keep entropy from setting in? How do we lead others to live with a purpose for their lives that does not diminish nor lose momentum?

There are three ingredients very important to remain fresh and on fire.  All three are necessary if we are going to lead with purpose.

First, take care of the spiritual. Leaders must lead by example in the area of their spiritual walk.  Any gathering of God’s people must involve His word and prayer.  We are not meeting just to meet but as Philippians 3:10 says, to “know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.”

Second,take care of the relational.  We must focus on authentic relationships that hold one another accountable and move past the shallow friendships our culture endorses.  The need is great to have people in our lives that can speak the truth to us when we’re out of line and challenge us.  Then we need to be mature enough to listen and accept the challenge.

The third item is the one most often neglected.  We must be missional.  We must have a plan and strategy to lead others to live with purpose.  Many Christians and churches are good at being spiritual and relational but drop the ball when it comes to leading people to live on mission.  The spiritual and the relational cannot be underestimated, but when leaders do not lead to intentionally live on mission, entropy will set in with mediocrity and apathy not far behind.  We must lead others to be missional in their personal lives, church family, and associational cooperation.  When we focus on the spiritual and relational but ignore the missional ingredient we become inwardly focused and neglect our purpose.

What could you, your church, or your local association do to lead others to live with a purpose beyond themselves?  What would happen if we were the friend of sinners that Jesus was and is?  In their song, Jesus Friend of Sinners, Casting Crowns say it well,“Jesus, friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away.  We cut down people in your name but the sword was never ours to swing.  Jesus, friend of sinners, the truth’s become so hard to see. The world is on their way to you but they’re tripping over me.”  Maybe people are not rejecting Jesus Christ as much as they are rejecting the lack of compassion they see in us!

J.D. Payne says this, “Missional Living Requires…Both actions and words are requirements for missional living.  Kingdom Citizens are to “let their lights shine before men that they may see the good works and praise the Father Who is in heaven.”  But Kingdom Citizens must also “preach the gospel in season and out of season.”  We cannot do one without the other.  While some situations will require that we spend most of the time living out the Kingdom Ethic before unbelievers (e.g., 1 Peter 3:1-2), we must proclaim the gospel.  Missional Living Occurs…when Kingdom Citizens live according to the Kingdom Ethic in the world.”

Leading with purpose and intentionality means we have a holistic approach of carefully giving attention to our flock’s spiritual growth, relational dynamic, and their missional involvement with their circles of influence. We refuse to accept the thinking that, “two out of three ain’t bad” and remain dedicated to reaching outwardly to those who are far from God.  It is not only loving people more but also focusing on loving more people.  Let’s live missionally – on mission for God and with God!

Should We Have A Strategy?

Some seem to think that having a strategy or planning out our ministry is unspiritual. We just need to pray, trust the Lord, follow His leadership, and allow Him to work out the details.  Certainly, we can sometimes lean way too heavily on our plans, methods, and strategies but God has always had a plan from the very beginning.  The word strategy is a military word that is used to refer to large-scale planning and directing of operations toward a certain goal.  A method usually refers to a scaled down way of going about a task. Studying Paul’s life we see that he did have a strategy as well as a complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

We must be very careful of not organizing Christ right out of our ministry, planning, and our churches.  Dynamic Church Planting International gives an excellent perspective for making sure we proceed with prayerful planning.  This training stresses 12 Biblical principles. The first is  “The BOSS Principle.” Christ is the Lord of church planting and
He has a vision for your new church. Christ has a vision for the church that He wants you to plant. Your job is not to
invent a vision. Your work is not to appropriate a successful vision from another church planter and church.

The second is “THE POWER PRINCIPLE” that states prayer is the indispensable source of God’s power and wisdom in each phase of church planting. As often as possible, emphasize the need to prayerfully seek God in all stages of the church planting process and not to move to the next stage until you have a clear vision from God for the new church plant. Your job is to prayerfully discern the vision that Christ has for your church.  We should be strategists and tacticians and applying biblical church growth principles can help us. Good research is essential. Learning good leadership skills is crucial.

The right kind of practical church training and planning is vital but the message of the gospel will have impact only through prayer. Unless the gospel is proclaimed, no one will be saved. But without prayer, hearts will remain closed to the transforming power of the gospel. Prayer is as essential to the harvest as preaching the gospel.  DCPI gives great advice in their training on how to have the proper perspective about strategy and methods with the goal to always be driven by principles and not models.  While it is almost impossible to remove all models from any training these principles are pretty universal.

A Time Driven Approach
 means moving forward in your planning based on pre-set dates, no matter what progress you’ve made in building your team and planning your strategy.  In this approach, the calendar rules and you must keep moving, but sometimes we need to wait on the Lord.  You may be pressured to move ahead, ready or not.  You have a group of people eager to get going and you may feel pressured to start your project before you feel fully prepared.  There definitely are some challenges to taking a purely Time Driven approach.  The reality is that your timing might not be God’s timing

An Objective Driven Approach means moving ahead based on reaching objectives and goals you have planned for.  Paul’s plan was to go into Bithynia and reach the people there but the Lord had a different plan.  Have you communicated the vision to all of your team well?  Have you answered their questions and do they understand what your expectations are in reaching the goals you have agreed upon?  Even though you have a plan that was agreed upon, you need to make sure that everyone has “bought” into the vision and they are ready to execute the plan and carry it out.  There must be team buy-in.

A Spirit Driven approach combines the time and objective driven approaches under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is by far the best approach.  “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25 ESV).  A Spirit Driven approach looks at the calendar plus the objectives and brings everything before the Lord for His timing. Timeline dates are pre-planned, but are always “written in pencil” so they can be erased and changed based on the Spirit’s leading.  You make plans and decisions only after intense prayer and waiting on the Lord. Everything is subject to revision by the Holy Spirit!

  1. Herbert Kane puts it this way, “We might begin by asking: Did Paul have a strategy?Some say yes; others say no.  Much depends on the definition of strategy.  If by strategy is meant a deliberate, well-formulated, duly executed plan of action based on human observation and experience, then Paul had little or no strategy; but if we take the word to mean a flexible modus operandideveloped under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and subject to His direction and control, then Paul did have a strategy.”  It is wisdom for us to learn from the 2,000 years of trial and error as churches have tried to plan and effectively reach people with the gospel.

David Hesselgrave says it this way, “church planters and planners should always be faithful to biblical principles, and they should always be attentive to biblical precedents.  In every phase of both planning and planting they should both give themselves to prayer and exhort coworkers and converts alike to do the same.  Little or nothing will be accomplished without prayer!  Little or nothing will be accomplished without thinking and working. Ask the apostle Paul.  Consult the biblical record!”  Yes, we should plan our strategy as we seek His face and ask for Him to direct, guide and help us is in every area!

Mission – Why we exist?

Vision – Where are we going?

Strategy – How do we get there?

Team – Who will do it?

PRAYER SYSTEM

Systems are important for sustaining initiatives in your church as simple as finance but as complex as assimilation.  My friend Gary Rohrmayer says, “You need systems which are reproducible and interconnected processes; by which your church actualizes and achieves its mission.”  We understand the significance of systems because our bodies require a healthy respiratory, circulatory, skeletal, muscular, and other as well.  Properly functioning systems are critical for a healthy body. 

            I Corinthians 12:12 reminds us of who we are, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all members of that one body: so also is Christ.”  That picture of your church should cause you to realize the priority of systems.  They are essential to complete tasks in a detailed manner so that the rest of the body can function properly.  They rely and depend on one another.  Church systems are crucial because they put the processes in place that will help your church remain healthy and give it the ability to multiply.

The one system that is often overlooked is the prayer system.  Maybe that happens because we know that every system, every team, and every aspect of our ministry needs to be bathed in prayer but it would be wisdom for you to intentionally focus on developing a prayer system in your church.  Jonathan Edwards, the great leader of the First Great Awakening observed: “we need explicit agreement and visible union among God’s people in extraordinary prayer.”

Those three elements (explicit agreement, visible union, & extraordinary prayer) are key and they stress the need of intentionality in building a prayer system.  We plan single prayer events but we must also seek ways (a system) for a sustained movement of prayer.  There are great benefits to providing ways to call your people to times and seasons of prayer.  There are several resources available for 21 days or 40 days of prayer but most important is for you and your leadership to pray.  Ask God for a plan that will facilitate explicit agreement, visible union, and hopefully, extraordinary prayer.

First, consider making a chart of every church ministry that needs to be covered in prayer.  Brainstorm on everything from the nursery to the youth to the Sunday services.  Do not be stingy but strive to list every age group, every ministry, and every event. Also, make sure you include missionaries, offsite community ministries, churches in your area, and those who have not yet been reached with the gospel.   As you begin, focus on groups and then later list people by name such as staff members and ministry team leaders.

Second, identify at least four immediate prayer needs in your church or ministry.  You could then pray over each one specifically over the next four weeks. The first week you should focus on the item God called to your attention as the biggest priority.  Recruit a prayer team to cry out with you on behalf of this need every day and as the week progresses more and more needs will come to your mind and be placed on your heart by the Holy Spirit.  I Peter 5:7 says, “Casting all you care upon Him; for He careth for you.”

Third, begin to build a prayer ladder.  The focus here will be on a system that will teach everyone how to “lift it up” in prayer.

  1. The first rung of the ladder is the prayer need and you must make sure that you clearly define the specifics of the need.
  2. The next step is to determine the prayer leader for this prayer initiative. Which ministry leader is the best fit? Who will be in charge of and responsible for the fervent prayer and intercession occurring for this particular area of ministry?
  3. The third rung of the ladder represents your focus on building a prayer team. Who will the team leader recruit to be a member of their prayer team?  A verbal commitment that they will join the team is not enough but rather they must pray regularly and fervently.
  4. Now it is time to determine your prayer method.  There is no right or wrong here but you must decide what this prayer effort will look like.  Will it include the entire church, small groups, individuals, or will it be a strategy that utilizes all of the above?
  5. The last rung of the prayer ladder is a prayer schedule.  When will you designate a time for focused intercession on behalf of this particular team and ministry?  What day will you meet?  Will you meet daily, weekly, or monthly?  Will there be a time that is set aside as “the time” to pray?  Some have suggested praying every day at 10:02am for God to provide laborers.  This idea came out of a desire to start a prayer virus based on Luke 10:2 by setting your alarm and stopping when it goes off to pray what Jesus told us we should pray for, more workers.

Third, plan your system out by using the prayer ladder and then carry out the plan.  Good intentions will not be enough.  You must be committed to actually praying.  Jesus said in Mark 11:17, “My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves.”  Think through how you will develop and maintain a rhythm of prayer.  Your goal is to organize a sustained prayer focus that will continually offer the aroma of your cries to God whose ear is inclined toward your pleas.

In building a prayer system you are developing a culture of seeking God’s presence and power in every decision, every initiative, every ministry, every leader, and every aspect of your ministry.  You are inviting God to manifest His presence in your midst by admitting how desperately you need Him.  May we be captivated to pray intentionally, faithfully, and without ceasing!

Family Discipleship

Our church, Cornerstone in Jacksonville, TX, follows a monthly S.O.A.P. (Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer) Bible reading schedule that challenges our people to stay in the word and also to journal what God is saying to them.  They select a verse out of the reading asking God to show them what He is saying to them. We strive to write down our observations and applications hoping it will also lead all of us to deeper study and wrestling with the passage.

In this process we want our families then to disciple one another by discussing the passage sometime during the day…hopefully around the dinner table or during a family devotion time before bed.  A simple way is to have everyone share the verse they selected and why they were impressed by the Spirit to focus on that verse. Just last week my wife, Shelby, shared Galatians 5:25 with me and I asked her to write down what God had spoken to her about and here it is:

“Recently, our SOAP passage at church was Galatians 5.  My Bible I carry to church, the one I normally read from, is the New American Standard.  I focused on verse 25, ‘If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.’  I also regularly use a study Bible that is the English Standard Version.  I was reading the commentary and scriptures and was gripped by verse 25, ‘If we live by the Spirit let us also keep in step with the Spirit.’

I am not a dancer.  The thought is actually quite humorous if you know me well! When our kids were young I demonstrated the basics of the twist to them and they laughingly reminisce that I couldn’t twist back up after having shown them!

‘Keeping in step’ does remind me of a dance.  To keep in step with the pattern of the dance one must lead and one must follow.  What happens when the follower isn’t aligned with the leader’s steps? Missteps, trampled feet, stumbles…perhaps a ruined dance.

We who are the children of God have His Spirit dwelling within us, as well as His word, to guide our every step according to His pattern and design. Our responsibility is to listen, follow, and keep in step.  Part of the beauty of His grace is that even when we have gotten out of step He lovingly guides us back into His pattern for this dance He’s given us called life.”

This description helps me to picture a father dancing with his little girl who effortlessly glides across the floor on top of His feet.  This gives such a beautiful thought of our lives being a dance with our heavenly Father where our feet land exactly where His feet lead us because we are 100% in step with Him because of His guidance and direction.  Psalms 37:23 says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.”

This really spoke to me about the importance of family discipleship and also that reading it from a different source can cause the passage to have a freshness to it with a new perspective and deeper meaning. Our desire is to make the word of God come alive by wrestling with it – not just reading it, checking it off our list, and moving on.  The book of Nehemiah refers to how we need “to give the sense.”  Jacob wrestled with the Lord and hopefully we will be willing to wrestle with what He is telling us as well.  If we then walk with a limp it will be well worth it.

One commentator said this, “I knew that the early readers of the New Testament were captured and engaged by these writings and I wanted my congregation to be impacted in the same way.  I hoped to bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people.  First, for those who hadn’t read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant.  Second, for those who had read the Bible so much that it had become ‘old hat.'”

If we desire to continue in our walk with the Lord and “stay in step” with Him then we will need to move forward in grace in the same way that we began this spiritual journey in grace.  Jesus gives us this definition of discipleship in Matthew 4:19, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  Notice it does not say you are self-made but that He will make you.  Your salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit and your sanctification is Him working in you also.  You cannot produce spiritual transformation but He does a work in you so that He can then work through you.

This requires discipleship.  It requires iron sharpening iron and having our minds and hearts renewed by staying in His word and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us. Allow me to suggest three areas of discipleship to focus on in order to build environments where we wrestle with His word and grow in His grace.

  1. You must remain tethered to God.  Make sure you are discipling yourself by being in the word daily and through prayer. Provide guidance in campaigns for your congregation to read, SOAP, journal, and participate in spiritual disciplines together.
  2. You must stay grounded in and connected to your family.  Husbands you must disciple your wives and parents you must disciple your children.  Show your families how they can read the same scripture text and then discuss it together later in the day.  This holds everyone accountable and is fun to see what God is saying to each one of you.
  3. Stay rooted to people who are like-minded and have a similar focus on God and following Him.  Make sure you spend the most time with people who pull you up not with people who drag you down.  Encourage one another by discipling yourself, your family, and then one another!

The Why Comes Before the What

The why means everything in anything you attempt to do but especially in the work of the ministry.  Most people can explain what they do and how they do it but many struggle when they are asked to explain the why.  Simon Sinek says this about the why, “Its goal (Start With Why) is not to give you a course of action.  Its goal is to offer you the cause of action.”  The shepherd boy David said it well when he could not understand the army’s reluctance to go out and face Goliath, “Is there not a cause?” The why is far more important than the how or the what!  You must not underestimate nor devalue the significance of motives!

We make a huge mistake when we raise our children always asking what they plan do when they grow up more than stressing “who” they will become in Christ.  “What” is certainly important but there are a multitude of “whats” that anyone can do for the honor and glory of God.  It is much easier to determine and identify the job and skill sets an individual has to make them successful.  Personal ability and knowing the right “stuff” can be learned by anyone who is interested and willing to be instructed. The harder areas are knowing ourselves and walking with Christ.  Make sure you know who you are in Christ!

We figure out what we want to do and then we also discover how to do what we want to do.  Most people know what they can and cannot do but they can also explain how they do it.  If you are having difficulty with what you want to do with the apps on your phone just hand it to a 12 year old and they will be happy to show you how.  All too often we as a church get so wrapped up in what we do and how we should do it that we forget why we are doing what we are doing.  Hopefully, we do what we do for Christ and how we do it so that He receives all the honor and glory.  Never forget that motives matter!

Church, why do you exist?  Are your values aspirational or are you acting out the values you say you have?  This helps to ensure that we are not just focused on results but being faithful to the One who has called us.  Remember, who you are is far more important to Him than what you do!  It is not, first and foremost, about a job description but rather about a personal daily relationship with Him.  When you really understand why you do what you do that is what gets you up in the morning, gets you through the difficult seasons, and keeps you energized.  We continually are asking, “Lord, am I being who you want me to be?”

Sociologists are telling the church that we have lost at least two generations and points out some common characteristics these generations have.  At best, we know we now live in a postmodern and some say a post-Christian culture.  Tolerance is valued at all costs and there is no absolute truth anymore.  Be who you want to be and decide who you are instead of bowing in submission to the creator who designed you and made you who you are.  Is there not a cause with these lost generations?  Are we not here to tell them why they are here and why Jesus died for them?

We are told by O.S. Hawkins that these lost generations are:

  1. Searching for meaningful relationships!
  2. Seeking immediate gratification!
  3. Wanting something for nothing!
  4. Desiring guilt-free living!
  5. Searching for prosperity!

Only the church holds the answers in the word of God and can meet all five needs of these lost generations.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  Why do we do this?  To share the truth of God and allow that truth to set people free.  It is the only truth that can provide true freedom and we have been entrusted with that truth.

  • Why do you study to show yourself approved and faithfully preach the word of God week after week?  Hopefully, it is because you know the power of the gospel and believe with every fiber of your being that it is the only answer for all of man’s problems. You believe that it has the power to break the chains of bondage with which the devil has enslaved so many. Why do you read it every day and meditate on it?  Because you believe it will not change you in a day but when you are in it daily it will change you!
  • Why do you pray and cry out to God? Hopefully, it is because you believe that prayers do make a difference.  You believe that even if it does not change your situation it does change you and causes you to become who He wants you to be.  You know that God inclines His ear toward those who call out to Him.  D.L. Moody said it well, “He who kneels the most, stands the best.”  John Bunyan challenged us to realize, “He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.”  The why is answered in that we seek to lean into His presence longing to know Him closer and better.
  • Why do you share your faith?  Hopefully, it is because you believe in the power of the gospel to save all who believe.  You believe in the why so strongly that you know that someone trusting in Christ as their Lord and Savior does not rely on how great of a salesman you are.  You share His word, you cry out for the Holy Spirit to do His work of regeneration, and you trust in the power of the gospel. Why do we faithfully share the gospel through our lives and with our lips?  Because we understand that is why He saved us!

The why is all about God’s glory and that is what gives us the passion, purpose, and perseverance to continue to be who He called us to be. Then we can prayerfully determine what He wants us to do and how He wants us to do it!

Thick Skinned and Soft Hearted

The difficulty of leadership was summed up in a question I heard asked recently, “How do you keep your heart tender and your skin thick?”  It seems that those around you can say whatever comes to their minds but you must always be careful with what you say and how you say it.  Someone conveyed to me that they are at the age right now that they can say whatever they want because they have earned that right.  I’m still looking for the verse in the Bible that backs up that one. What I do read in Colossians 4:6 is, “Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.”

We all heard in our youth, “Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you.”  Let me say this clearly…that is a lie!  How do you make sure that you do not allow your heart to harden, your attitude to become negative, and your outlook to become cynical?  The first step in this journey is to realize that the most difficult person you will ever have to lead is yourself.  Tony Dungy said this, “What’s wrong with me is that I am a very flawed sinner, and very fertile ground for the subtle wiles, evil plans, and devious ploys of Satan.”

Here are a few things that may help you to keep your heart tender while having thick skin.

First, maintain a close walk with the Lord.  We think we know this, but we cannot forget that it is far more important who we are than what we do.  If we are not protecting and producing a close relationship with the Lord our viewpoints quickly become skewed.  We begin thinking that “they” are out to get us, or “they” have an agenda against us, or that “they” are always talking about us.  “They” can be a figment of our overactive imagination if we are not careful.

Second, you need to consider the source.  There will always be the naysayers and those who are convinced that their opinion is the correct opinion.  Sadly, there are those who seem to love to be negative and so often they are the ones who appear to be more than willing to share that negativity. Take a look at the biblical examples of strong godly leadership and you see people standing against them who were very unspiritual trying to convince the majority not to follow.  Do I need to mention Noah, Moses, Nehemiah, and Jesus? The devil has the ear and the mouth of many.

Third, go to the source when needed.  You should not overreact to every negative comment and make sure you are not being overly sensitive but biblical confrontation is a good thing.  Find out if there is a problem and be willing to listen to them and discuss the problem if one exists.  The key to this step is dealing with this challenge on the lowest possible level and that is always one on one.  Maybe they misspoke or maybe they did not understand the situation correctly and just needed some clarification.  Build into your culture the value of talking to people and not about people.

Fourth, don’t bow and serve the vocal minority.  Usually, you will know if it is just one person or if there are more but do not listen to the overexaggerations made when they speak. They might say “many have been talking to me about this” and that probably should be interpreted as one or two. The other exaggeration is quite often verbalized as  “several have mentioned this to me” and that might mean their spouse.  The reality is that you cannot allow one or two people to hold everyone else hostage to their negativity.  Lovingly but firmly confront them as the Holy Spirit of God leads you.

Fifth, remember that the Lord reminded us that this would happen.  Matthew 5:11 says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”  Unfortunately, people will lie, exaggerate, and say falsehoods against us.  One truth that is very important is to always be open to any kernel of truth there might be. Do not just dismiss but also humbly submit to any correction you might need to be aware of.

Sixth, continue to grow holistically.  If you stop growing closer to Christ the results could be devastating.  In Kingdom First, Jeff Christophersongives us “three key factors that should inspire us to deeply desire to personally take on the character of Christ.”  The first of these three teaches us that our lowest point of character is our highest point of capacity. Jeff goes on to say, “my leadership, especially spiritual leadership, cannot grow beyond my weakest point of character.”  If you are weak in a particular area the devil will expose it and exploit it.  

Seventh, don’t be oversensitive.  This has already been said but it is crucial.  If you are tired, stressed or on the verge on burnout you will begin to notice that you are overly sensitive.  There will be times you will be wondering why it is bothering you when it should not be bothering you.  Stop and take a deep breath and ask yourself two questions.  What is this bothering me and should it be bothering me?  Be honest and open about the fact that sometimes we just too thin skinned and we should not allow these smaller issues to overwhelm us.

If you are going to lead others it is imperative that you lead yourself well.  The apostle Paul challenges the Ephesian leaders in Acts 20:28, “ Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers.”  Don’t miss that the focus is first on “Pay careful attention to yourselves.”  It is a great challenge to keep a soft tender heart while also having a thick skin!

Just Push the Easy Button

There are many programs and promotions today that seem to promise how to double your attendance in a certain amount of time.  They appear to promise amazing results if you will just follow their steps, strategies, and implement their systems.  It seems as if you really do not need God involved at all. As we have become more and more organizational and industrial we are no longer as spiritual and evangelistic.  We must be careful not to write God out of the equation and it should concern us greatly if we can double anything without His involvement in His church.

We do need systems in our churches but we also must remain focused on our absolute dependence on God showing up.  It is not the pastor’s job to gather a crowd, amaze them, and then collect their tithes.  It is his job to help every follower of Christ to discover the power and potential of the Holy Spirit living inside of him or her.  There is no sustainable or truly satisfactory answer apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Colossians 1:27 says, “God wanted to make known among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of the mystery, which is Christ in you the hope of glory.”

Here are a couple of things to consider as you think of ways to reach more people and disciple them while remaining gospel-driven.

First, do not throw the baby out with the bath water. Sometimes we become so heavenly minded that if we are not careful we are of no earthly good.  Pragmatism is not evil and sinful in and of itself.  We all evaluate certain things we do through what works and what doesn’t work.

Second, make sure that you remain focused on allowing the Holy Spirit of God to guide you and direct you.  Different people and ministries tend to lean toward being either time-driven or being goal-driven.   In our DCPI training we teach, “The time-driven are challenged by deadlines and pre-determined set dates.  In this approach, the calendar rules.  The goal-driven tend to move forward based on reaching their goals and objectives but a Spirit driven approach combines the time and objective driven approaches under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

“This is the best approach.  Galatians 5:25 says it well, ‘If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.’  A Spirit Driven approach looks at the calendar plus the objectives and brings everything before the Lord for His timing. Timeline dates are pre-planned, but are always ‘written in pencil’ so they can be erased and changed based on the Spirit’s leading.  You make plans and decisions only after intense prayer and waiting on the Lord. Everything is subject to revision by the Holy Spirit!”

Third, develop a culture of prayer with an intentional prayer strategy. When you begin to develop a prayer system and ministry think about what these individuals have said about prayer.

Recently on a Sunday morning, a good friend texted the following quotes on prayer to me. They have challenged me and blessed me greatly.

“I would rather teach one man to pray than ten men to preach.”  -Charles Spurgeon

“The man who mobilizes the Christian church to pray will make the greatest contribution to world evangelization in history.”  – Andrew Murray

Here are a few more quotes for your consideration.

“We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties.”  – Oswald Chambers

“There is no other activity in life so important as that of prayer. Every other activity depends upon prayer for its best efficiency.”  – M.E. Andross.

“He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.” – John Bunyan

“Prayer is not learned in a classroom but in the closet.” – E. M. Bounds

“We must begin to believe that God, in the mystery of prayer, has entrusted us with a force that can move the Heavenly world, and can bring it’s power down to earth.” – Andrew Murray

The truth and testimony of the power of prayer in these followers of Christ continues.

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.” – Mother Teresa

“Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.” -C.S. Lewis

“The more you pray, the less you’ll panic. The more you worship, the less you worry. You’ll feel more patient and less pressured.” – Rick Warren

The last three, for now, are a great summation of the importance of prayer.

“I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” – Martin Luther

“Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.” -Oswald Chambers

“He who kneels the most, stands the best.”  -D.L. Moody

Are reading these quotes do you believe your natural inclination is more toward a time-driven approach or a goal-driven approach? Do you thinkthat those working with you will be inclined toward the same approach that you are?

What steps will you take to ensure that your ultimate timing is a Spirit-driven approach?

  • Are you willing to do what is necessary to take the time to hear the Lord and allow Him to direct you in every area of your life and your ministry?
  • Plan a personal prayer retreat to hear from Him.  This is a time you set aside to go away to be alone with God.  It is in this setting that you can then ask Him what He wants you to do in your personal life, your family, and your ministry.

Fight the temptation to just push and play and instead fall prostate and pray!

Are You An Aircraft Carrier?

Jesus clearly told us that He would establish His church and that “the gates of hell would not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:16).  Gates are a defensive protection from those who are attacking. It seems today that the opposite is true of so many churches and Christians.  We appear to be “holding the fort” and protecting our territory instead of invading, attacking, and reclaiming territory that the enemy has taken.

C.T. Studd said, ““Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop,within a yard of hell.”

Unfortunately, many have adopted the opposite mentality of the comfort and security of staying within the walls of the fortresses we have built whether they are real brick and mortar or self-imposed boundaries.  Paul was passionate to make the gospel known to all who so desperately needed to hear its truth.  Paul makes this very clear in Romans 1:14, “I am obligated both to Greeks and barbarians, both to the wise and the foolish.”  The word there for obligated literally means we are debtors and our life no longer belongs to us but to Him!

Paul’s message is that the completely unmerited favor of God placed him under severe obligation to the grace of God.  Acts 20:24 states Paul’s obligation this way, “But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.”  That obligation meant he willingly and joyfully took the gospel wherever the Lord led him and allowed him to go.  David Platt has said, “Every saved person this side of heaven owes the gospel to every unsaved person this side of hell.”

In his book Gaining by Losing, J. D. Greear describes churches as three types of ships.  These images help us to see what the focus and vision of our church might be.

  • The first church is the Cruise Liner.  This church is focused on meeting the needs of those who have decided to go along for the trip.  The focus is on programs for everyone and making sure that you offer everything people are looking for.  Someone has said they will come because you make a better hamburger than everyone else.

The question that must be asked is…what will happen to the members if someone starts making a better hamburger?  We must fight the temptation not to be overly judgmental about churches that seem to have it all.  There are many that are using the best of everything and are reaching people for Christ but we must also fight the temptation to build a ministry of consumers focused on comfort and competition more than on the advancement of the Kingdom!

  • The second church Greear describes is the Battleship. This church is more focused on the task at hand of representing the cause of Christ well but everything functions from the deck of the ship.  The battle is real but it is waged from a distance.  We do our work on the ship and we make plans of how to defeat the enemy but we launch our attacks from our battleship/fortress and we never really get to know those we need to reach with the gospel.

We must go to them, get to know them, and then demonstrate the love of Christ.

  • The third example is that of the Aircraft Carrier.  The goal of this ship is to make sure there is never a battle on its deck. They resource, train, fuel, and equip the planes and pilots to go where the real battle is taking place.  The church is the training center and the sending agency.  If our churches are not going where the action is then we are not doing our jobs properly.  Jesus never said, “Come and grow with us!” but He did say, “Go and tell!”  It is easy to forsake His mission because we settle for becoming a nice, comfortable, ordinary cruise liner.

How do we go about the training, resourcing, and equipping?

First, train your people in building networks through the relationships they already have.  Begin by intentionally helping them to see the lost people they already have in their lives in their families, at work, at school, neighbors, hobbies, and other networks.  Help them to think through how they can begin building bridges to them through loving and caring relationships.  We must move away from a temple mindset (gathering) back to a network (relational) mindset.

Second, give them a pathway to intentionally build relationships.  Dave Ferguson talks about how to B.L.E.S.S. others.

  • Begin by praying for them.  Think of 2-3 people in each one of your circles of influence and begin praying for them daily.
  • Listen to them as you get to know them.  Ask them questions about the things that interest them and allow to feel free to share their heart.
  • Eat with them so you can fellowship through a meal or cup of coffee.
  • Serve them by building a relationship and discovering their greatest needs.
  • Share the gospel with them and the love of Christ.

Third, train them how to share the gospel.  Yes, listen to their story, share your story, but then share His story. I was trained as a teenager to use the Romans Road by putting tabs on a small New Testament so you could find the verses quickly.  There are phone apps that will lead you through a presentation of the gospel.

One method that our church uses is from the Navigators on how to share the gospel using one verse, Romans 6:23. You can find that on their web page, navigators.org and click on the Evangelism tab.  There you can see the presentation entitled One-Verse Evangelism: How to Share Christ’s Love Conversationally and Visually.