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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.

Greater Things

Jesus clearly promised His disciples that they would do even “greater things” than He did.  Here in North America we desperately need “greater things” to happen in our hearts, lives, and our churches.  We need a movement of God that would fit His description in John 14:12-14 of “greater things.”  We need revival in our established churches and a recommitment to a church planting movement.  A newly released Barna Report has reinforced some of the concerns about our culture here in America moving farther and farther away from God.

Mike Huckabee recently gave this summary of that report:  “The Barna Group just released a new study of Generation Z (current teenagers) that found they are the least-Christian generation in US history. Nearly twice as many claim to be atheists as Millennials (13% to 7%), and 35% of current teens say they are either atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated with any religion. Just 59% say they are Catholic or Christian (a six-point drop from the Millennial generation), and only 4% hold what is considered a true Biblical worldview. The survey places the cause of this change on today’s teenagers having been brought up in a post-Christian, post-modern environment where they’ve never been exposed to Christianity or church.” The phrase that stands out as the most shocking and troubling is, “never been exposed to Christianity or church.”  That is the polar opposite of what Jesus meant by “Greater Things.”  How can that happen right here in the United States? How can this extremely disturbing number of increasing atheists occur right here in our own backyard?

Mike Breen laments that in the United States, “96% of church growth is due to transfer growth and not churches striking into the heart of our enemy’s territory. We’ll consider it a win because we have the new service or program that is growing…but that growth is mainly from people coming from other churches. That’s not a win! That’s a staggering loss.”   The greater things Jesus promised became a reality as the early church experienced a miracle of “spontaneous expansion.”

Dr. J.D. Payne recently shared with several of us in the missions department that as of October 2017 there are 282 Unreached People Groups here in the USA with 167 in Canada.  Even more alarming is that there are 207 Unengaged Unreached People Groups here.  According to him this means there is no (none) evangelical planting strategy being executed at this time.  Before we pass this off as a metropolitan problem in New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles we need to ask ourselves; “What am I doing to reach the unchurched, unengaged, and those far from God in my city and community?”

Is this promise of “greater things” still available to us as individual believers and to our churches today?  Absolutely, because Jesus is still Lord (and always will be) and He is still sitting on the throne.  But there are some elements that will be required for us to see a movement of “greater things” in our cities and communities.  There are at least two necessary ingredients for us to witness an extraordinary movement of God again today.  First, there must be an extraordinary practice of prayer (Matthew 9:37-38).   Second, there must be an extraordinary commitment to evangelism (Acts 1:8).

We never would have believed that it would be so easy to reach so many nations without ever getting on an airplane but it is happening.  The world is coming to us and we, God’s children, are to be His light.  We must be ready to reach all nationalities and people groups with the gospel.  Isaiah 49:6makes it clear, “I will also make you a light for the nations, to be My salvation to the ends of the earth.”  Thankfully, the churches, church revitalization, and church planting efforts are impacting the multitude of immigrants who are flocking to the United States.

It is truly a blessing to see churches and church planters ministering to many different language groups and people groups. Many are making a gospel difference in the lives of these uniquely diverse ethnic people groups.  All to often we see contextualizing the gospel as reaching our neighborhood, but it is much deeper than that.  The better questions are; how do we become the church in our neighborhood? And how do we evangelize so that we are not just reaching part of our neighborhood but everyone that lives in our neighborhood?

Joe Gustafson tweeted this about an article by Dr. Ed Stetzer, ““Essentially, gospel living in the real world became the attractional means by which God drew people to Himself. The contemporary Church would do well to go back to the future and embrace this same approach to evangelism.”  Stetzer’s article points out the need to make some shifts in our evangelistic efforts which are really a return to our biblical roots in the book of Acts.  He says “churches that shift from a temple mindset to a network will be more effective at evangelism” and also that churches “must shift from an attractionalmindset to an incarnationalmindset.”

Let me remind you of a quote from last week’s article where we are challenged to embrace both approaches.  In the book Kingdom First, we are introduced to a church ministry that asks two questions.

  1. “What percentage of your non-Christian friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors would go to a Bible study or church regularly if you asked?”
  2. “What’s your strategy for everyone else?”

Mission Shift

 

Every church reaches a point where their future is determined by choices they make and the vision they have for the future.  In Kingdom First, Jeff Christopherson says, “Sadly, when a church makes the unnatural choice of ecclesiastical birth control in order to preserve its accustomed lifestyle, the natural and exponential advance of the Kingdom of God ceases.”  When you look at the New Testament church in the book of Acts it was multiplying and increasing in number daily.  The reality is that all too often a church stops doing the very thing they were called to do…reaching the lost.

On what was the New Testament church focused? They were congregations who were seeking to provide every opportunity for every person to come face to face with the good news of Jesus Christ.  The mission/vision shift occurs when we are no longer focused on new believers, new disciples, new disciple-makers, and new relationships.  With quiet subtlety our full attention shifts to bank balances, critical mass, and buildings.  Our entire methodology revolves around them finding us instead of us building roads into the harvest.

We begin hearing the concerns of the sheep that are already in the pen as they verbalize, “We need to take care of ourselves before we go out and try to save everybody else.”  The tension is real as you strive to simultaneously care for the sheep biblically while also remaining passionate about your Kingdom assignment. The original driving force of the mission of God begins to diminish as the focus of the mission shifts.  Jeff Christopherson says it shifts, “to preserving our accustomed lifestyles.”  A deadly shift occurs when we begin focusing solely on maintenance.

InKingdom First, we are introduced to a church ministry that asks these two questions.

  • “What percentage of your non-Christian friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors would go to a Bible study or church regularly if you asked?”
  • “What’s your strategy for everyone else?”

Consider this challenging proclamation from Lesslie Newbigin, “ The truth is that we do not truly understand the Gospel if we spend all our time preaching it to Christians.”  There are a few things to consider in making sure that a mission shift does not occur that causes us to drift away from the reason we exist.

  1. We must cultivate a heart for God.  When we love Him as we should it causes us to love who and what He loves.  Compassion produces passion.
  2. We must train our people to share their faith.  Make sure your congregation knows how to present the Gospel properly and clearly.  Consider some type of evangelism training that gives them confidence to share the plan of salvation.
  3. Develop a strategy of building bridges to people who are far from God. Make them aware of the circles of influence they already have in their lives.  They need to think of family, friends, co-workers, school, hobbies, and others.
  4. You must have an understanding of the difficulty of convincing someone who is emotionally and financially stable but generationally unchurched of the need to attend a worship service or Bible study. You must realize that they are not interested in adding an event to their already busy lives especially when it’s not familiar territory.
  5. Love people the way Jesus loves people.  What is the best way to get their attention?  Even if you established and executed the best marketing campaign possible you are still very unlikely to arouse their curiosity.
  6. Realize that there is nothing wrong with being attractional but it is not enough. It is a great thing to do but it is an incomplete strategy.  Our outreach and evangelism plan must not only be “come and see” but it must also be “go and love.”
  7. Be aware that organization, programs, and systems are good things when kept in the proper perspective.  They are necessary or everything your church has done to build relational equity can evaporate quickly right before our eyes.  The challenge is to simultaneously care for the flock while remaining passionate about pursuing those who are far from God.

The mission shift is when we drift from our Kingdom assignment, the Great Commission, and settle into becoming a nice comfortable church.  Quoting Jeff again in speaking about church planting, he says, “All church plants, if they survive, become churches.  But not all churches become Kingdom expanders.”  This is not only true of church plants but can also plague existing churches.  Remember, our ultimate goal is not a worship service (an event) but rather, planting the Gospel (a movement)!  The event is a good thing but it is not the ultimate goal.

The old adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” describes what so often occurs in our churches.  Consumers demand to be taken care of and we turn inward in a frantic frenzy to maintain what we have.  We hear things like, “we need to be thankful for what God has already given us.” Please notice the focus of that statement is past tense.  We are no longer moving forward, desiring to build new bridges, and develop new relationships with people who are far from God.  In Luke 15:10 Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which is lost.”

Our example of a the New Testament church focused on its Kingdom assignment is clearly stated in:

Acts 9:31, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”

One last thought on making sure we do not allow the mission to shift to the wrong focus is a quote from Peter Drucker.  “Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”

Hey Church – Are We There Yet?

Is your church any healthier today than it was at this time last year?  Have you taken effective steps toward the preferred future you envisioned? Recently I heard that the reality is that after –

  • Speeding up the music!
  • Spicing up the sermons!
  • Sprucing up our buildings!

…our church health and overall spirituality is no better off. You have to know that it is not easy to take the steps that need to be taken for your church to be what God desires it to be.  There will be challenges that will tax you and there will be challengers that will push you to your wits end at times.

  1. You should expect there to be some resistance. Not everyone will like your ideas or suggestions and to be completely transparent some will hate them.  In this process of accepting the reality of resistance you should determine the level of resistance.  Are they hostile, resistant, passive, cultivatable, receptive, or ready?  These have also been described as never-adopters, late-adopters, and early-adopters. Realize that some need time to process and there needs to be a balance between going too slow and not slowing down enough.
  2. With whom do you need to have a conversation? The temptation is to avoid and stay away from those who seem to always oppose innovation and change.  The reality is that you should pull them in close, listen to them, and see if you can discover why they are against your proposal.  Yes, there are some (the never-adopters) who will just be against it.  They can even be hostile toward change but that is actually the exception and not the rule.  Do not allow one person to hold you hostage and see if there is a way you can move forward with your team.
  3. Make sure that you are clearly articulating the vision and changes you believe need to be made.  Ask several to share with you what they are hearing and see if they are close at all.  The communication curve is sometimes very steep and is always a challenge.  Be willing to consider ways you can make the vision and message clearer.  Ed Stetzer says, “People are willing to sacrifice in the present for something better in the future.”  Make sure you cast a vision for the end result and goal and not the changes that need to be made.
  4. Develop a prayer strategy.  Listen to what Samuel said to the people in I Samuel 12:23, “As for me, I vow that I will not sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you.”  It is hard to remain mad at someone you are praying for regularly.  Take time in your meetings to pray out loud for one another. Get in groups of three, ask what you can pray about for them, and then take turns praying for one another.  The work of the Lord requires much prayer.  We say we know that but we must make sure that we are intentional and strategic in implementing this prayer strategy.
  5. Determine what needs your attention first. Do not be overwhelmed by all that you have to do but instead focus on what you can accomplish and where you can make a difference.  As you look at a particular ministry, program, or area of your ministry start by asking what is working.   Then you must ask, what is missing and what is confusing?
  6. Consider thinking through the necessary steps for the change you desire to occur.  Learn from others.  An excellent resource is John Kotter’s Leading Change.  One aspect of his process is to create a guiding coalition.  Make sure you have prayer partners who are willing to speak into this process honestly and with transparency.  The team concept is biblical and it provides you strength in numbers because it gives you a system of checks and balances.  Make sure that you always remain a good listener and that you have a teachable spirit.
  7. Brace yourself for opposition because it is coming at some point or time.  Everyone will not like your ideas and they may hate some of them, a lot.  Get ready because the attacks that seem very personable sometimes are not.  They point the blame at you and the attacks are often founded upon the thought that they didn’t have the problem until you brought it up.  I recently heard it said that if no one is upset you probably are not doing enough and need to get busy.  Certainly, our goal is not to upset or anger people but when you lead it will happen.
  8. Make sure that you practice patience. The change you propose and lead your church in will not happen overnight.  We already made reference to this but you must acknowledge that some people are just going to oppose you.  Prayerfully consider what the real issue is and what questions you may need to answer for them.  We usually cannot accomplish all we want to in one year but normally we can accomplish far more than we imagine in five.  Develop a five-year plan and then begin taking the necessary steps to make it a reality.

Leadership can be lonely but remember that He has promised to never leave you nor forsake you.  Knowing that He will never abandon us as we obediently follow Him allows us to never give up, never give in, and never give out as we depend upon Him daily.

The Missing Element

Three necessary ingredients for a healthy church are to be biblical, relational, and missional.  Most churches that I am familiar with handle the biblical and relational elements pretty well.  They understand and have dedicated themselves to being a theologically sound church and strive to teach the whole counsel of God correctly.  The relational element is normally handled well also.  Churches know the importance of unity and are focused on protecting their harmony.

After blogging my article The Three P’s of Evangelism, this is what a friend commented, “Isn’t it amazing that so many are identified as evangelicals yet so few evangelize.”  That statement seems so sad and yet it appears to be so true.  In U-Turn Church the authors say, “The gravitational pull of the church naturally pulls us inward, toward each other. If we are going to move outward toward those who are lost, it will take more energy than most of us dream.”  The natural inclination of any group is to become inwardly focused on who is already a part or member.

The Southern Baptist Convention just held their annual meeting in Dallas, Texas.  They reported that worship attendance in their churches had increased by 119,772 or 2.3%. During the same time the total number of baptisms decreased by 26,651 or 9.49%.  Please do not think I am trying to make them look bad or that I think anyone else is doing any better.  There are many godly people in the SBC who are burdened and praying for this to change. This trend of “growth”, while baptisms continue to decrease, describes most churches that are not declining.

In Jeff Christopherson’s book Kingdom First (in my opinion a must read) he addresses this trend.  He states, “Evangelism is an unfinished task until those evangelized find themselves evangelizing.”  He reminds of the calling for any church striving to be obedient to the Great Commission, “The Kingdom-centric new church (applies to any church new or old) holds as its highest value the redemptive mission of God.”  Andrew Murray said these convicting words, “There are two classes of Christians: soul winners and backsliders.”

Jeff challenges us to take a hard look at how we are growing and is that growth actually expanding the Kingdom of God or are we just shuffling the Christian deck?  Here is more of his convicting conclusions, “It should be troubling to a potential gospel-centered church planter that far too often his colleagues, while claiming to be gospel centered, build their new churches on foundations of the already evangelized.”  Many churches are convinced that they are superior to the other churches in their area as they “compete” for new members.

A church promotes “better” fellowship or “better” music, or “better” programs or “better” preaching.  Jeff states, “Neglecting the lost sheep, we tirelessly work to gain our fair share of the prepenned ninety-nine.”  Is our strategy to create a spirit of discontent in the other sheep pens?  Some great advice I received years ago was, “What makes you think you can make them happy if they have not been happy somewhere else.”  Adrian Rodgers said, “A change of scenery never guarantees a change of character.”  Is our focus the redemptive mission of God?

Are our methods increasing attendance or are they also expanding God’s Kingdom?  Jeff challenges church planters with this thought but it applies to all churches, “By gathering the sacred pieces that will take us on the shortest route to self-sustainability, we may simultaneously be gathering the pieces that will lead us to evangelistic sterility.”  When we do focus on the “prepenned” sheep we must be aware of the possibility that “eventually the discontented will gather together and demand that their prophet lead them back to Egypt.”

The temptation is to always default to what we know how to do and what we have learned to do well.  We have learned to “do” church far better that actually “being” the church.  When you ask the average church attender what is in their life that verifies the Christ and the gospel they represent they will often “default” to, “Well, I go to church!”  We are thankful that they do attend but anybody can do that in a country where there is freedom of religion.  So, what evidence of my faithfulness to God do people see?

Jeff continues to challenge us by describing what truly characterizes Kingdom-centric churches.

  1. “They are convinced that good deeds and good news cannot and should not be separated from any orthodox understanding of the gospel. The good news always clarifies, and good deeds always verify.”
  2. “Kingdom-centric churches believe ministering and serving are natural expressions of everyday living out the gospel of Jesus Christ.”  Yes, we must clearly and correctly articulate the gospel message but we must also verify it by our good deeds.

In Kingdom First, Jeff offers one of his most haunting and convicting observations, “First-century results rarely come from twenty-first-century priorities. What made the first-century church so potent was its absolute disinterest in itself.”  Are we more consumed with our own personal preferences and agendas than we are concerned for the lost who without Christ will die and spend eternity in hell?  Luke 15:4, “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it?”

Evangelism is the missing element is far too many churches!

More of the Right Things

What do we measure that really matters?  Having previously discussed changing the scorecard in churches has created a desire to put together an evaluation system that gives us biblically healthy metrics to gauge ministry.  The church health and church growth tension will continue (I personally think it can be a good tension) but there are some biblical standards that must adopted and followed.  For example, we can ask if people love the church or do they love lost people but it really begins with do we love Jesus!  That was the bottom-line question He asked Peter.

There are many things very important to us that can cause us to place too much focus on the wrong things.  Several of those are the size of the congregation, the buildings, the programs, and a host of other significant things but are not the most important.  We know the church is not a building nor is it just a numerical statistic.  It is to be the local body that represents Christ and displays His glory.  The pendulum of what’s of the greatest value can swing too far either way when it comes to methods and measurements.

  1. Is your church cultivating a heart for God? Does your church really care about the lost and dying world around it?  Here is the reality we must face.  We say it is important, but is there any proof in our actions that shows up not only in our beliefs but also in our behavior?  In what ways does your church’s heart break over what breaks the heart of God?  We say we are burdened for people who are far from God but what is your church doing to reach them?  Are people who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ benefiting from knowing your members?
  2. Is your church developing a disciple making culture?  Are more and more disciples growing and being transformed daily?  We talk discipleship but very little actual discipleship is taking place unless we intentionally develop a pathway for disciples to grow. That begins by equipping and training disciples not only to follow Christ but to also disciple others.  As you look at discipleship it would be good to ask what is working, what is missing, and what is confusing?  There must be a clear “next steps” pathway that can be clearly articulated by all of your disciples.
  3. Develop a prayer strategy.  This is not necessarily to be third on your list but must permeate every area of your church culture.  It is not enough to just say we need more prayer (we certainly do) but to also train and show people what being a prayer warrior looks like. How can you help to deepen the prayer lives of your leaders?  Let them know that our purpose in observing spiritual disciplines is not to demonstrate our spiritual strength and superiority but rather to demonstrate our weakness and our need for Christ.
  4. Commit to multiplication in every area of your ministry.  We state our mission statement as a discipleship based multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches.  That means that everything needs to multiply and if it is healthy it does.  All too often we place all the emphasis on more people and getting bigger but that does not ensure spiritual success.  Are we multiplying prayer warriors, Bible readers, worshipers, disciple making disciples, small groups, serving team members, and people who are consistently sharing their faith?
  5. Build a spiritual awareness and discernment of the spiritual battle you are in.  You will face obstacles and you will face opposition.  Here are some excellent questions from my good friend, Dave DeVries, in this area.  What spiritual blockages are you currently facing?  What strategies will you have in place to counter spiritual blockages?  You must expect them to happen and be ready to address them when they do.  You must remain spiritually sensitive to the attacks of the enemy and this is why training and resourcing a team of prayer warriors is so vitally important.
  6. Find a way to measure and track how many more people are actually doing more of the right things such as praying more, reading their Bibles more, discipling other disciples more, and sharing their faith more. The best way to do that is through intentional accountability.  The missing ingredient in so much of our discipleship is the obedience mechanism.  Develop groups of 3-4 who meet not only to disciple but to also hold one another accountable by asking good questions such as, with whom did you share your faith this last week?  How did that go?
  7. Teach your people to focus on two very important ingredients of spiritual growth.  The first is listening to the word of God.  That means listening with an interest because we have a heart’s desire to hear what God is saying.  The second is that we must then obey what He says.  We really aren’t interested if we are not ready to obey what He says. Teach your people when they approach the word of God to ask what is God saying and what does He want me to do about it? Jesus made it clear, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Take each one of these seven areas and evaluate where you are and how you are doing in each one of them.  What is working, what is missing, and what is confusing? How can you help your people to do more of what is really important?  What strategies will you develop to make sure it happens in the hearts and lives of your people?  The true metrics are not size but the transformation of people’s lives and seeing evidence that they are being transformed and becoming more and more like Jesus!

MEASURE WHAT MATTERS!!!

Three P’s of Evangelism

Evangelism seems to be taking a back seat to almost every other kind of activity in churches today.  Several authors have expressed concern about how even church plants can grow and do well but not reach the people that need to be reached the most, the lost.  One recent survey was shocked at how many in full time ministry say they do not have the “gift” of evangelism.  In John 4:35 Jesus said, “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.”

In The Evangelism Handbook Alvin Reid says, “The church growth movement influenced many in the latter half of the twentieth century.  It offered a three-tiered look at the process of evangelism. The three components are these:

  • P-1, Presence. For example, agricultural, medical missions.
  • P-2, Proclamation. Presenting the gospel in an understandable manner.
  • P-3, Persuasion. II Corinthians 5:11 encourages hearers to respond.

An analogy for this definition is a house.

In presence evangelism, people’s needs are met; they see a demonstration of the gospel, and, therefore, a foundation is built on which the gospel can be communicated.  Because the church growth movement began on the mission field, its importance is obvious.  Cross-cultural issues must be considered in a viable presentation of the gospel.  Increasingly, in a post-Christian or even an anti-Christian culture in America, presence evangelism has a place.  Servant evangelism (covered later) fits in nicely in our context.

Proclamation evangelism,to continue the house analogy, allows the light of the gospel to penetrate through the windows.  People not only need a foundation, but they also need direction. The gospel can never be presented by a demonstration only; there must also be a proclamation.

Persuasion evangelism leads people into the relationship they need with Christ. One can live in a house and not be family; by persuading people to follow Christ, we are inviting them to join God’s family.

There are strengths and weaknesses to this definition.  The weakness comes when believers define evangelism at the P-1 level only.  We must build bridges, but we must also do more.  Still others stop at the P-2 level.  This definition is complete when we see it as a whole.  That being said, it is positive in that when we are stopped short of a complete presentation of the gospel, we know we have at least provided some aspect of the gospel that the Holy Spirit can use.  In other words, we should always seek to present Christ through presence, proclamation, and persuasion; but when we cannot, we can be thankful that on some level we have presented Christ.”

Reid defines evangelism as, “Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ by word and life in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that unbelievers become followers of Jesus Christ in His church and in the culture.”  One problem is that many see the term “evangelize” as the work of the evangelist and the preacher proclaiming the good news in a formal setting. While that is true, it is also simply sharing the good news one on one.  It is every child of God telling others the good news of what Jesus Christ has done for them.  Every believer on this side of heaven owes every non-believer on this side of hell the gospel!

The gospel is the good news.  It is not bad news and we need to share it with those God has placed in our circle of influence.

Here are three things to do:

  1. Pray for those you know who are not followers of Christ.  Do not underestimate the power of prayer.  You can share the good news but only God can transform a life.
  2. Ask God to show what you could do to build a bridge to them through an authentic relationship.  People are farther away from the cross today which requires patience and starting with the very basics.
  3. Be willing to do whatever God shows you so that you might be able to share the good news with them.  Once you have gained their trust they will then allow you to speak into their lives because they can see who you are, not just what you are saying!

Remember to be ready to listen to their story, share with them your story, but always be ready to share His story.  We must pray for boldness and be ready and proactive in sharing the gospel with others.  If we will begin our day by asking Him for an opportunity to share His love with someone He will provide that open door.  Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost and now we are His messengers!