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Systems: Exegeting Your Culture

Innovation and experimentation should not be seen as bad things when we are trying to “Break the Missional Code” of the community we live in and as we are focusing on reaching the people of our city. In I Corinthians 9:23 Paul said, “To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some.”  While an “anything goes” approach is not what we are talking about we must also have a willingness to do whatever it takes to reach people with the gospel.

Tim Keller describes contextualization as “giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may or may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them.”  The importance of a proper exegesis of the word of God is paramount but you should also do the same with the culture.  It will better enable you to understand the people God has called you to reach.

In MultiChurchthe authors say, “While the gospel itself needs and permits no innovation, the means by which it is communicated always demands contextualization.”  They continue with this wisdom, “While contextualization is certainly wrought with difficulties, neglecting contextualization is simply not an option for churches that take the Great Commission seriously.”  Much has been said negatively about contextualization and exegeting the culture but it seems that it has usually surfaced out of a lack of understanding what it actually is and what it is not.

In How to Exegete a CommunityBarry Whitworth says,When exegeting a community you are observing and conversing with the people in their cultural context. Your goal is to form an opinion to whether or not there is an evangelical presence that will foster spiritual transformation in that community…There are four areas to focus on when you are exegeting the community. The social, economic, physical and spiritual climateof the culture will communicate the need for a new church.”  Knowing the uniqueness of any community is a valuable asset in reaching it for Christ.

There are three things you want to focus on in each one of the four areas mentioned.

  1. You want to observe with your eyes.  What do you notice and see about the community that makes is distinctively who it is?
  2. Begin conversations with people and ask them good questions.  What is that you hear that makes them who they are?
  3. Think implementation as you develop a plan of what to do to reach them.  Certainly, they all need the gospel but knowing who they are and their history can enable your message to be communicated more effectively.

Exegesis normally has referred to the critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture, but the term has never only referred to the Bible.  It can refer to many types of literature and even to better understanding why an individual acts the way they do.

It is the idea of

  • Clarification
  • Explanation and
  • Interpretation.

It certainly can and should be used to help us to better understand the culture we live in and how we can more effectively communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Ed Stetzer says, “culture eats strategy for lunch.”

Exegeting your culture is learning who lives in your community.  Once you know who they are then you can begin to prayerfully discern how you can best reach them.

You need to ask:

  • Who are the lost people in our community?
  • Where do they live?
  • How can you reach them?

This enables you to go deeper when walking through the community and using your observation skills.  Stetzer goes on to explain, “Good culture, combined with good strategy, is powerful.” I Chronicles 12:32 states that the Issacharites, “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”

Three key steps to a proper approach of contextualization and exegeting our community:

  1. Make sure you are doing what God wants!
  2. The way He wants it done
  3. At the time He wants it done.

It is a missionary task that is described in the scriptures and seems expected.  We see these principles and strategies in how Peter spoke to the Jewish audience on Pentecost.  We also see it demonstrated by Paul in his approach to the peasants of Lystra, and a totally different strategy with the philosophically sophisticated Athenians.

The Gospel Coalition describes it this way, “The gospel itself holds the key to appropriate contextualization.  If we over-contextualize it suggests that we want too much the approval of the receiving culture.  This betrays a lack of confidence in the gospel.  If we undercontextualize, it suggests that we want the trappings of our own sub-culture too much.  This betrays a lack of gospel humility and a lack of love for our neighbor.”  This gives balance by remaining surrendered to the Lordship of Christ, submitted to the authority of God’s word, and sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

The problem with a totally pragmatic approach is that biblical success is not doing whatever “works.”  Pragmatism is not a stable foundation for any church.  The reality is that what is currently working successfully changes as the culture changes.  This can render models and approaches ineffective and unsuccessful almost overnight.  This requires that we seek the Lord’s face as we begin to better understand the culture we are in and how we can best reach people for Christ.  That is more important than models or methods and programs or projects.

Be open to innovation and be willing to experiment with different strategies that might open more opportunities to communicate the gospel more clearly.  If all it required was the right formula and packed approach then we would be tempted to applaud our efforts and not be as sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit in our context and in our culture!  If you would like a more detailed plan on how to exegete your community email me at larry@bmaam.com.

“We would do well to adopt a learning posture for the sake of the harvest!”  Kingdom First -Jeff Christopherson

Personal Growth System

Systems are important because they enable you to sustain the momentum you have built. Dynamic Church Planting International has this to say about the importance of systems, “In your church, everyone hopes that someone will be in charge. They hope that someone will think things through ahead of time. They hope that someone will come up with quality ways to attract people, lead them to Christ, disciple them and invite them to serve in ministry.” In other words, someone has to be in charge and take responsibility for systems to operate effectively.

Whose job is it to make sure you grow personally on a regular basis? Who will make sure that your “being” with God is sufficient to sustain your “doing” for God? The three primary entities responsible for your spiritual growth are the Lord, your church, and you. We know that God will do His part as He promises in Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Even if your church does not have a reproducible process for making disciples you are still responsible.

What system have you placed in your daily rhythm to make sure you are abiding in Christ? There has to be an inner work in your life before there can be an outer work. This is much more than a checklist for your devotional, Bible reading, prayer life, and quiet time. How will you strive to make sure that your spiritual well does not run dry? What will you do experience the abundant life through abiding in Christ constantly? What mechanisms and tools will you use to ensure that your “being” with God is sufficient to sustain your “doing” for God?

Think and ponder how you can incorporate these three elements into your daily life: slowing down, silence, and solitude. These are crucial because all too often we are so busy that we miss what God is saying and doing. It is almost impossible to hear His voice without slowing down long enough to build silence and solitude into our spiritual disciplines. Habakkuk 2:20 says, “The Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Psalm 37:7 says, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.”

It will take discipline and determination to schedule this time into your daily schedule but it will be well worth it. Unfortunately, if you begin to run on empty spiritually usually no one will notice on the outside until a lot of damage has occurred. If you are task and action oriented you will find great satisfaction in all that you are doing but eventually you will burn out if you are not abiding in Christ. Christ desires to first do a work in you so that He can then do a work through you. Are you being refreshed and recharged daily in your time alone with the Lord?

In Psalm 27:4 David said, “I have asked one thing from the Lord; it is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the Lord, and seeking Him in His temple.” His number one goal was seeking the face of the Lord. It was not seeking an answer to a problem, seeking His help in a difficult situation, or seeking a new message to preach on Sunday. It was seeking His presence and He was willing to wait on His presence and power knowing the wait would be well worth it. Are you using silence and solitude to wait on the Lord?

  1. You should understand that waiting on the Lord is a clearly stated and demonstrated biblical theme. Abraham waited twenty-five years for what God had promised. Job waits throughout the book of Job for God to reveal Himself. Moses waited forty years on the backside of the desert before God called Him through the burning bush. Psalm 106:13 says, “They soon forgot His works and would not wait for His counsel.” These disciplines are necessary for us to quietly contemplate God and consider what He is saying and doing.
  2. You must realize that God is not in a hurry nor is He in a rush. The problem lies in us in that we are too busy to really listen. We rush our decisions giving into quick fix solutions that really are not solutions at all. They actually create greater problems because we refused to wait on the Lord. We settle for what is not really God’s plan and turn to our own plans because we were not sure we could trust His any longer. When we get ahead of the Lord we will have to go back and begin all over again seeking His face and desiring Him to guide us.
  3. When you are not sure what to do and His plan is not clear to you the wise thing to do is wait. You might want to ask right now, “How long should I expect to have to wait?” The answer is simply that there is no way of knowing other than seeking Him and waiting on Him. It usually takes longer than we think and longer than we like but the wait will be worth it. If you become impatient and move ahead anyway you will miss the journey of seeking Him, knowing Him, and experiencing His presence and power in your life. Wait on the Lord, and again, I say wait!

The person most responsible for your spiritual walk is you. Hopefully, your greatest desire and motivation is to know Him and the power of His resurrection. We must slow down utilizing silence and solitude into the rhythms of our lives to ensure that we do what God has asked us to do, the way He has asked us to do it, and at the time He asks us according to His timetable. This helps us to make sure that our “being” with God is sufficient to sustain our “doing” for God.

Assimilation System


Every church needs to take a hard look at developing systems that enable them to be more effective in caring for the people God has given them while remaining focused on reaching those who are far from God. There is no system where this truth is more important then in the area of assimilation. This is where you develop a clear process of next steps that help and enable unbelievers to become fully functioning followers of Jesus. How will you or will you follow up on the first time guest? Do you have a plan to help a first time guest to attend again?

It has been well said, “When we lose our why we lose our way!” If your church forgets that you exist to welcome sinners then you will lose your primary purpose for being there. It is natural to begin overly focusing on maintaining and servicing what is already there while ignoring Jesus’ call to seek and to save those who are lost. The older your church is the easier it becomes to drift from its mission. Are you a welcoming church? Are you friendly to those who decide to visit or are you only friendly to those who are already there?

Dynamic Church Planting International says this, “When a person visits your church for the first time, they are a gift from God. Likely, someone prayed diligently for this to happen. God himself has probably been tugging at them to attend. What did Jesus do with sinners who came to learn about spiritual truth? He welcomed them warmly. The ones who opposed truth-seeking sinners were the self-righteous religious leaders. Share with them what a wonderful gift it is to welcome sinners. Some church members will be tempted to act like the Pharisees.”

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.” Many church members are focused on their personal needs and their family’s needs. New people can be seen as a potential threat to their power and/or position. Assimilation is warmly welcoming those who come to our churches. You want to do all you can to help them to be touched by God and have the desire to return.

Those who attend your church can be described in four categories.

  1. Those who visit and are looking for something to connect with.
  2. Those who are beginning to take the necessary baby steps required to follow Christ.
  3. Those who have developed into mature disciples and are serving others. The reality is that once you begin to grow in your personal walk with Jesus, serving is the natural by-product.
  4. The ones who think they are mature but are unengaged and serving no one. This must be challenged the most!

As we focus on the first group (guests and seekers) you must develop a clear system of showing them how glad you are they came. They are not looking for a friendly church as much as they are looking for friends. What will you do with them when they do come? God has been working on their hearts and through people in their lives to get them there, so don’t blow it. Have a system that welcomes them and follows up on them because your desire should be for a first time guest to become a second time guest. What clear path do you have to reach out to them?

If your church forgets why you are there then you will begin to lose your passion and zeal for the unbeliever and those who are far from God. How can you tell that is happening? It did not happen overnight but occurred slowly and quietly. No one can really point to a specific time or day when you were overly focused on those inside the church and unconcerned about those outside. Somewhere along the way you naturally began to focus on maintaining and serving everyone that was already there. Internal ministries tend to overwhelm outward mission.

Follow-up is crucial but just as important is how they are received when they arrive.

  • Are there greeters ready to welcome them and show them where they need to go?
  • Do you have people in the parking lot to help them in that process? Train and empower your people to realize that they should all be welcoming hosts and hostesses. Train them to welcome guests into your church the same way they would welcome them into their homes. Tell them to always be on the outlook for someone they do not know, introduce themself, and engage them in conversation.
  • Are you creating a positive first impression? Some guests determine if they will ever come back in the first three, seven, or fifteen minutes. By then they will been either been greeted or not, lost in the building or guided to where they need to go, and have sensed whether people are truly glad they have come. The one thing that has not happened yet is the sermon, which has not even been preached. Some seem to discourage thinking about this and say we should not worry so much about first impressions but what happened to “given to hospitality?” Jesus welcomed sinners.

First impressions should never be left to chance.

Every leader and greeter should know how to make people feel welcomed. Be looking for those you do not recognize and make sure you introduce yourself to them and tell them how glad you are they came. Every aspect of the facility should be viewed through the lens of a first time guest. It has taken an unbelievable amount of courage to come into an environment that is completely foreign and uncomfortable to them. Do your best to make sure everyone is friendly, the place is clean, and they know they are loved.

Be the Light of Jesus

Tony Dungy is well known as an NFL player, coach, and now commentator. In one of his books he shares that when he was still coaching he was often asked how he could justify working in the football “world” and be a Christian? They would point out how violent the game was, how bad the language used was, and that it was played on Sunday. His answer was, “I try to be careful to bring Christ’s light to that “world” without getting swallowed up by it!”

That is a great answer because God can only use us in the “world” if we are in fact “in” the world. There will be much debate and tension created in different scenarios of when we cross the line (and by the way, who determines that line?) and go too far. This will require godly wisdom that is only found in listening close to His leadership. Maybe we should focus on where we draw our own lines instead of judging and criticizing other people who seemingly cross the line. Check out Mark 3.

The world God has placed you in is exactly where you are to shine as His light. God gives you a platform from which you are to share Him as you allow your light to shine. Are you taking advantage of the opportunities you have to influence and add value to the lives of others? People need to see the light of what a person looks like who is abiding in Christ. Have we lost our focus on how God wants us to be His light? Have we even forgotten that we are called to be light?

Today’s reality is that so many churches seem to have forgotten why they exist and there is very little evangelism going on. It seems that all too often our focus, even in church planting, is finding those already in the family of God instead of those who are outside! In Barnabas Factors, J. D. Payne says, “Since biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches, team members will naturally spend the greatest amount of time with unbelievers prior to the birth of churches.”

Most agree that church plants need to see at least 50% of their growth come from new converts but all too often it is not even close. Before church planters think that this is an attack on them, the fact is that it is even worse in most established churches. We seem to be more focused on those we can get from other churches and who are already believers instead of pursuing the unsaved who are far from God. How intentional are you being in building relationships with unbelievers?

First, Pursue a passionate and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

If we are truly in love with Jesus then we will love others and have compassion on the multitudes as He does. It is out of our intimate and individual walks with God that we are able to minister to those outside the kingdom effectively. Unless we abide in Jesus, we really have nothing to offer others. Our inner life with Christ is what will determine what our outer work will look like.

Second, Begin building relationships and friendships with people who are far from God.

One suggestion would be for pastors and those on staff to spend one day a week hanging out with unbelievers. Where could you volunteer or what hobby could you develop that would put you in the middle of unbelievers? Start with your neighbors and invite people into your home for a meal.

Third, Make sure you are praying for unbelievers regularly.

Are you daily praying for 10-15 people by name to which you are personally trying to show the light of Jesus? Why not? Sometimes we just want to hang out with the believers we are comfortable with and already know. In Mark 5, a man who had been freed from demon possession wanted to stay with Jesus. But He told him, “Go back home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you.”

Fourth, Just Do it!

One version of Mark 5:19 says, “Tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” Just do it and allow God to bless your efforts to let them know that Jesus loves them. The reality is that most will probably never feel ready to share Christ with others. The best news though is that God is bigger than all of our inadequacies, fears, and mistakes. So even if you cannot quote the Romans road just tell them how much the Lord has done for you!

Fifth, Remember that your light will only shine brightly as you walk with Him and abide in Him.

It is out of our inner lives that we do our outer work. Who you are on the inside is as important, actually much more important, as what you do. You cannot give what you do not possess and you cannot help but give others what you do possess. If you are full of anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness it will come out. But if you are full of grace, love, and forgiveness it will be given also!

Your light shines brightest when you are walking with the Lord. Abiding in Christ is the best way to insure that our best intentions turn into consistent action. Our close communion and connection with Jesus is what produces vibrancy and vitality. When we drift from Him we become spiritually dysfunctional and our lights begin to flicker. How we serve Christ and how we love others reflects what is tucked away in our hearts. It is a mirror that reveals who and what we really love.

Be the light that Jesus intended you to be! Bring Christ’s light to “your” world without being swallowed up by it! Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

SEQUENTIALISM

Now there is a word you just do not use every day. At least I don’t but when leading your church to have a mission’s strategy it needs to be addressed. There are several missiologists who have even warned churches of the “heresy of sequentialism.” Sequentialism is “separating into components what really ought to be embraced all at once. It is a very linear approach to our outreach where we begin to believe and think that we must reach our Jerusalem, and then reach our Judea, next our Samaria, and then and only then do we reach out to the ends of the earth.”

In Church Planting Movements David Garrison talks about deadly sins of church planting and one of those is sequentialism. It is the idea that things have to be done in order where first you do this and then you do that. It affects the way we view worldwide missions but can also negatively impact discipleship in the local church. We imply, and even teach outright, that you cannot effectively share the gospel until you reach a certain level of discipleship. When a person steps over the line of faith they probably know more people far from God and have a closer relationship with them then they ever will.

Acts 1:8 gives us the focus of our church mission’s strategy but the text makes it clear that it is to be done simultaneously. Some churches seem to be arguing over choosing one location over the other. You hear things like, “What about about us?” or “Why aren’t we going where people are responding?” Implying that we must choose between focusing locally or globally but that is not the biblical approach. Matter of fact it says “all” of Judea, which should cause us to also have a burden for church planting right here in America. The reality is we do need more churches here and everywhere!

First, develop a biblically sound and comprehensive strategy for how your church needs to be involved in the Great Commission.

How are you helping to reach people with the gospel in your Jerusalem, “all” of Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth? What strategies do you have locally, regionally, nationally, and globally? In Philippians 1:5 Paul thanked those who had decided to partner with him in the advancement of the gospel. It is a privilege to help church planters and missionaries in their gospel efforts.

Second, seek the Lord in prayer on what “next steps” your church should take to be obedient in all of these areas simultaneously.

Jesus prayed all night about whom He should ask to be the leaders He would develop to champion this movement. The church in Antioch set aside and sent out Barnabas and Saul following a focused time of corporate prayer. Think through the P-5 multiplication process of praying, preparing, partnering, parenting, and planting. How can you become more intentionally involved in those areas?

Third, make sure to cast the vision and get the entire church involved in the process.

When it is birthed in prayer everyone owns the vision. It is not a few leaders who decide what should be done and who the church should support. The Holy Spirit is able to speak to the entire congregation so that it will be “their” vision and “their” responsibility given to them by Him. As a church, decide how you will best leverage your gifts, talents, and resources for carrying out the Great Commission.

Fourth, use wisdom in how you use your financial resources.

David Garrison says, “Money, though not inherently evil, is also not essential to Church Planting Movements, but it can produce a quick burst of energy. When a missionary’s hunger to see quick results prompts him to hire pastors and construct church buildings with foreign funding, he has bit the Devil’s Candy!”

“Building a movement on foreign funds is like running a machine with an extension cord that stretches across the ocean. When the movement reaches the end of the cord’s length, it will abruptly stop. A Church Planting Movement must have an internal engine and internal fuel if it is going to flourish.”

Fifth, set up some principles that guard you from building ministries that are not sustainable over time.

Consider a plan of thirds on projects. The rule of thumb here is to never proceed on a project where the local congregation cannot invest a least a third of the necessary funds. The congregation should be investing in the project as well. Make sure the focus is on finding people and reaching them with the gospel and not just providing a facility.

Whenever you give too much or give it for too long you are potentially creating an attitude of dependence. The temptation will almost always be to accept the funds for as long as they offered. Amazingly and quite often when the congregation is forced to step up and move forward in faith God provides their needs though their own sacrificial giving. The receiver of funds may not ever change as long as the giver of the funds is willing to continue with their generosity. Yes, you can give too much and for too long!

As you focus on simultaneously being obedient to His command in Acts 1:8 make sure that whoever you partner understands this principle: under promise and over deliver. As you develop your plan to be missional locally, regionally, nationally, and globally consider that you invest in the harvest by investing in church planting. The harvest is the future and we need to be willing to put our gifts, talents, resources, and money where our mouth is. It will involve risk and there is never a 100% success guarantee.

“Risking for God is dangerous, but not risking is more dangerous.” – J.D. Greear

Leadership Distinctives

What makes a leader a leader? Even more importantly, what makes a leader worth following? There are several reasons leaders are followed such as position, power, and personality. The lowest level of leadership is being followed only due to the position you hold, but at some point leadership influence must be earned. People may follow you for a period of time, but eventually you will earn or lose the right to be followed. Leadership influence is a lot like trust because it takes a long time to earn but can be lost in a second.

In The 5 Levels of Leadership, John Maxwell describes level one where people follow you because they have to or believe they should because of the position you hold. The second level is permission where they continue to follow because of the relationship they have built with you and have decided they want to follow you. The next level is based on your ability to lead well and they follow because of what you have accomplished through your leadership. Leadership then moves to reproduction because of how the leader has poured into your life and mentored you.

These five levels move from rights (position) to relationships (permission) to results (production) to people development (reproduction) and then on to respect (the pinnacle). This is where people follow you because of who you are and what you represent. The reality is that sometimes the closer we get to some leaders the less we want to follow them because we discover they are not who we thought they were. What a joy it is when the closer you get to a leader the more you desire and want to follow them. Familiarity should breed respect not contempt in leadership.

Distinctive #1 is spirituality. There is a huge difference between leadership and spiritual leadership. Of more importance than your leadership skills, those following you need to be able to see you are walking with God. You should not have to convince people you are walking with Him because it should be apparent to all that you are. Even though leadership can be accomplished by many, spiritual leadership only occurs by those who are walking closely and intimately with the Lord. Manipulation will not be necessary when the Holy Spirit is present.

Distinctive #2 is prayer. For emphasis sake and because it is so vital to the leader’s effectiveness allow me to quote again from Spiritual Leadership by Henry and Richard Blackaby speaking on the importance of prayer in their lives. “For leaders to have this kind of relationship available to them and then choose to not communicate with the One who wants to guide them is a gross dereliction of duty.” Prayer reminds us of who is really in charge and gives us a confidence that He is able to do above and beyond all we could ever ask or think.

Distinctive #3 is a great work ethic. Leaders are not lazy and they are not afraid of hard work. They lead by example and have a servant’s heart meaning they are willing to do what others are unwilling to do. The Blackabys ask this, “If the people in my organization worked with the same intensity as I do, would they enhance the operations of this organization or would they reduce it to a crawl?” If the goal of your leadership is respect then you should not see your position as an escape from sacrifice but as platform to demonstrate what sacrifice looks like.

Jesus set the example here by washing the disciples’ feet but some leaders act more like they seek privilege and entitlement. Maybe you should not have to do a particular task but you should always be willing. Remember, the greatest way to influence others is by example. If we want those who follow us to go an extra mile Jesus said we must be willing to go two. It cannot be “do as I say” but rather “do as I do” and our actions back it up. Church leaders we need to work hard at showing our people that we know what it means to work hard.

Distinctive #4 is answering questions before they are even asked. Communicate your vision and how you will carry it our over and over again. One of the greatest lessons I learned was that what I often thought was opposition was simply just individuals who needed more information. We can easily think that because of the journey we have been on that people will automatically fast forward to where the Lord has brought us. Anticipate that there are “late-adopters” who by their nature will need their questions answered before they can move forward.

Distinctive #5 is having good spiritual mentors and counselors. Make sure you check out the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 4:9-16 with verse 10 saying, “For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.”   In Proverbs Solomon also tells us that there is wisdom in the multitude of counsel. You do not have to have all the answers as a leader, but you must have the wisdom to seek counsel and listen to other godly leaders. It is not about your agenda or their agenda but getting on God’s agenda.

These distinctives of spiritual leadership are important…but there are more. Leadership is not easy and actually it is very hard work. It can be draining and overwhelming at times so here are a couple of other suggestions. Be sure you do not take yourself too seriously and be able to laugh at yourself. Protect your personal walk with God because the attacks of the devil are real and he especially focuses on those leading the charge against the gates of hell. Lastly in the words of Paul, “I tell every one of you not to think of himself more highly than he should think.”

What Does Spiritual Leadership Look Like?

Much has been said and written about leadership. Quotes such as, “Everything rises and falls on leadership!” “Leadership is influence!” “The speed of the leader determines the speed of the team!” There are volumes of books on leadership from the business world and from the church world. There are two books on leadership from a biblical perspective that really stand out to me. They are Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders and Spiritual Leadership by Henry and Richard Blackaby.

The Blackabys define spiritual leadership as “moving people on to God’s agenda.” It is not about the leader’s agenda but God’s. The leader must be careful not to think that he is the only one who can hear from God on a matter. There is definitely more wisdom in the multitude of counsel. The greatest ideas for ministering to people who are far from God will probably come from your members more often than from the leaders. That is not a negative, but they are rubbing shoulders with them and listening to the Holy Spirit as He directs them on how to reach them.

In Gaining by Losing, J.D. Greear says, “Furthermore, if the majority of what Jesus wants to do He wants to do in the community, it shouldn’t surprise us that He puts His best vision into the hearts of the people who live and work there for the majority of their hours each week.” God has a way of doing extraordinary things through very ordinary people who are willing to obey Him. Remember, Paul told the church in Corinth that not many wise, powerful, or noble have been called. Instead, He has chosen the foolish, insignificant, and weak.

Here are some thoughts on being a spiritual leader…First, your people need to see that you are walking with Jesus. You should not have to prove to them or tell them, but it should be noticeable and evident that God’s hand is upon you. More than anything else, can they tell you are walking with Jesus and in close fellowship with Him? Your number one responsibility as a leader is to seek God’s face and His agenda. You must have a face-to-face relationship and daily encounter with God.

Second, your people need to know that they can trust you. Leadership is primarily built on trust that stands on top of honesty, which gives the leader credibility. Simply said, “Your yes is yes and your no is no.” You are a leader that does what you say you will do. Your word is your bond and is trustworthy. A good rule of leadership, on both sides, is through clear communication and to stay away from surprises and blind-siding someone.

Third, your people need to know that their opinions and input are valued. Many times the insights of other leaders around you can save you a lot of heartache. They may think of things that you may never have considered. No one enjoys following a leader who thinks that the only good opinion is his or hers. Some act like they do not want to be confused by the facts because their mind is already made up. Be open and teachable to other perspectives and ideas.

Fourth, your people need to understand there can be beauty in being challenged and in creating good tension. This works hand in hand with number three but let me quote Ed Stetzer who said, “Surround yourself with strong voices who have permission to disagree.” A great thing to remember here is that just because someone disagrees with you does not mean they are your enemy. Usually, the biggest need is more information and answering unanswered questions.

Fifth, your people need to see a leader who is courageous enough to take a stand but also willing to admit when they make a mistake. Always try to make sure that when you do make a mistake that your motives were pure and not selfish. This way they will know that it was not a mistake of the heart but a mistake of the head. A true spiritual leader is someone who is willing to stand alone when they have to but who never enjoys or desires that to happen.

Sixth, your people need to see a leader with a servant’s heart. This cannot be just verbiage but must be shown by example. You should not have to do everything but you should be willing to do whatever needs to be done. Remember, there are a lot of volunteers giving of their time to serve and help in any way they can. They appreciate a leader who is willing to roll up his or her sleeves and pitch in. A core value of leadership needs to be that no can lead until they first serve.

Seventh, your people need to see a leader who is faithful in the little tasks and smaller details. The word is clear that “he that is faithful in little will be faithful in much.” Don’t be looking for greener grass but instead plant, water, and see the grass grow and flourish right where you are. The Blackabys say this, “The problem is, too many people want to bypass the small assignments and get right to the big jobs—the ones with the influence and prestige.”

L.R. Scarborough once issued this challenge, “If your place is not great enough to suit you, make it so. The minister who is unable to make a place great is too weak to hold a great one.” Resist the temptation to look for “greener” grass and focus on your responsibilities right where God has placed you. My wife likes to say, “Bloom where you are planted.” The great missionary Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

Are You Winning?

Every church needs to ask themselves if they are winning or not. And, are you winning at what God defines as a win? Your church needs to allow God’s playbook, His word, to define what a win and success looks like. All too often our metrics are size (attendance), buildings (seating capacity), or killer programs (pet projects). None of the things mentioned are in and of themselves bad, but they can distract us. Churches can do a lot of good things but the main thing and the best thing is to “Go and make disciples.”

A winning team is described in Ephesians 4:16, “From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.” As individuals grow and serve the Lord then the entire church body is edified and lives on mission for Christ. Winning can be defined as developing mature disciples. III John verse 4 says, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Winning is helping people to find and follow Jesus.

My dad was military and following the seventh grade we moved to Florida where he was stationed at Eglin Air Force base. That August I tried out for the football team. I had never played organized football before but I showed up with my brother’s steel tipped cleats. They were too big so I stuffed socks into the toes and laced them up. I found out they were illegal and you couldn’t wear them anymore. The drills were hard but especially hard for someone who didn’t have a clue of what was going on. The coach then informed us that on Friday final cuts would be made.

We all huddled around the coach’s door where he posted the names of those who had made the team and mine was not there. After the season was over I saw the head coach in the school hallway and he informed me that he had thought I was already a ninth grader and if he had known I was actually a year younger I would have made the team. He said, “I think you could have helped us win some games!” Church, it is a huge mistake to think someone is older and more mature than they really are! That is why in Ephesians 4 he says, “Then we will no longer be little children.”

In Church is a Team Sport, Jim Putman uses the analogy of a football team to describe how we should function. The team is the church. The opponent is, of course, the devil. The playing field is the earth right where you live and right where you are. The team players are followers of Jesus and you need to determine if you are in the stands, on the sidelines, or on the playing field. The coaches are the leaders and we must realize that one coach cannot see the whole picture by himself. The strength of the team is the power of the Holy Spirit.

The playbook is the Bible and we must be very careful not to create our own plays or our own definition of winning. Some teams are more concerned about the condition of the stadium, the uniforms, the halftime show, or their own personal image and statistics. Discipleship is not an easy path but greatness never has been easy. Winning is not about finding something that has never been done before but instead getting back to the basics of the playbook, God’s word. Winning is doing whatever it takes to develop fully devoted followers of Christ.

First, the winning process of discipleship has a starting point – evangelism. Winning is seeing people saved, redeemed, and born-again. The church is here to live on Jesus’ mission to seek and to save that which is lost. Yet, we are told that 50% of all evangelical churches will not see one soul saved in a calendar year.

Many of the teenagers who were raised in church and a Christian home will leave the faith between the ages of 18 and 24. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and Mormonism is the fastest growing one in the United States. When was the last time you personally shared the gospel with someone? Winning is evangelizing the lost. How is your church doing?

Second, the winning process of discipleship must continue with edification. Edifying the believer wherever they are in the process of being an infant, a child, a young adult, or a fully mature reproducing parent. The best way to help our kids is by doing something with the immature adults. The thing children need to see the most is someone who is on fire for Jesus and is passionate about following Him. They need to see someone who will not be distracted or easily deterred by the attacks of the enemy and remain faithful.

Third, the winning process of discipleship has a releasing point. In discipleship the evangelized are edified and then the edified evangelize. We are not edified, trained, and equipped to be complacent, comfortable, and self-satisfied. There are three groups that aid in this discipleship process and all of them have responsibilities. The first is God and He always does His job. The second is the local church, which should create an environment where you can grow and mature in Christ. The third is the individual disciple, which must take personal responsibility for his or her own personal growth.

Are you winning? Far too many churches are producing disciples who are not growing or maturing, unwilling to speak the truth in love, and are unable to stand against the winds and waves of the world. Winning is allowing God’s word to be our playbook to define what true discipleship and winning looks like!

Is what you are living for, worth Christ dying for?

PASSION & PURPOSE

If you have ever flown, you may remember this as a part of the safety speech after the cabin door has been closed, “In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask toward you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.”

We are reminded to first take care of our own air mask and then help others with theirs. The reality is that if you have passed out from a lack of oxygen you will not be of any good to any one else around you. There is a part of this that goes against what we believe the Bible teaches about Jesus being first, other people being our second concern, and only then are we to think about ourselves. Being selfless instead of selfish is a big part of our Christian walk and we are commanded in Philippians to, “consider others as more important than youselves.”

There are some areas where you must take care of yourself first if you want to be of any help to others around you. You must protect your passion for the Lord and His purpose for your life. You must make sure you do not quench the Holy Spirit (I Thes. 5:19) by resisting what He wants to accomplish in your life. You must passionately pursue His presence and His purpose for you. No one else can do this for you and it requires a determination and desire to abide in Him. You cannot stay strong and faithful off of someone else’s faith and passion for long.

Here are some necessary things to protect your passion and determine your purpose.

First, guard your heart. Is there any unconfessed sin in your life? In order to maintain your passion you must not allow any sin to get comfortable and build a stronghold in your heart. It hardens our hearts and it hurts our relationship with Him. You must take personal responsibility for your own heart. You cannot blame it on the times, the devil, church members, or difficult circumstances. If you do not guard your own heart you will find it very difficult to help others with their hearts.

Second, keep your faith. Eph. 3:10 says, “Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us.” The focus of this verse is sometimes incorrectly placed upon what we can ask or think. The real focus is not on us at all but on “Him who is able.” Our faith is not in what we can accomplish but rather, what our God is able to do through us. It is up to you not to listen to the doubts and fears that attack our minds continually. It is up to you to keep your faith strong by believing His word over your present situation.

Third, remember who God is. Think and meditate upon His attributes and you will remember from Christian Doctrine 101 about the immutability of God. Remember that your circumstances change but God doesn’t. To imply that God changes would also imply that He needs to improve. There is no need and no room for improvement in God because He is already perfect. The reality is not only that God does not change but also that He cannot change! Why is that important? You must remind yourself continually that He cannot lie, He cannot break a promise, and He never makes a mistake.

Fourth, discover what His plans are for you. The place to discover His plans for you is in His presence. It has been said, “Never question in the dark what God showed you in the light.” It is easy in the midst of trials, difficulties, and challenges to begin questioning if we are where the Lord wants us to be. God’s plans for us should not be decided because of problems but because of the Lord’s direction in our lives. If you are not careful you will drift away from His calling and His direction because of the critics and the naysayers.

Fifth, abide in Him. You must schedule and protect your time alone with the Lord. No one else can do this for you and reading about other people’s intimacy with the Lord is not enough. You must experience for yourself. One of the meanings of the word abide is to stay overnight. In Draw the Circle, Mark Batterson says this about abiding, “Sometimes we need to press into the presence of God a little longer. And if we linger in His presence, God’s presence will linger on us.” Be careful that you are not so busy doing things for God that you have neglected time with God.

Sixth, don’t get discouraged. Yes, that is far easier said than done but it is possible if we take proper care of our spiritual health. Paul tells the church in Eph. 3:13, “So then I ask you not to be discouraged over my afflictions on your behalf, for they are your glory.” Paul is expressing to them that when he weighs his afflictions against the glory of God and the furtherance of the gospel it is a no-brainer. When we contemplate God’s glory it makes counting the cost an easy calculation. It can be difficult at times but it is well worth it for the cause of Christ.

Seventh, take personal responsibility for your attitude. We are to have the mind of Christ. Quit making excuses if your attitude is bad and encourage yourself in the Lord. You must make sure that your spiritual oxygen mask is on first before you help others with theirs!

ABUNDANT JOY!

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The Christmas season is upon us. II Cor 9:15 says, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” The amazing part of the context of this passage is the joy the people had in giving even though they were poor and suffering themselves. II Cor 8:2 says, “During a severe testing of affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity.” They not only gave generously but their eagerness caused them to beg Paul to let them help. Not just joy but an abundance of joy.

This time of the year should remind us of the wonderful gifts God has given us. We have hope because of Him. This hope is a holy expectation of what is to come. There is peace provided regardless of our situation. He provides a calmness in the midst of the craziness of this world. We must also remember the gift of love described in II Cor. 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.”

The gifts of God brought to us through the birth of our savior are hope, peace, love, and abundant joy. Do you have your joy on? Are you able to rejoice in the Lord on a regular basis? Has someone or something taken your joy away from you? Church, not only should you be a generous church but your generosity should come out of your abundance of joy!

Oswald Chambers said, “A life of intimacy with God is characterized by joy!”

If you have lost your joy the place to find it again is in His presence.

John 15:9-11 explains it to us, “As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love. If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”

Joy is not determined by our circumstances but rather comes in a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is why from prison Paul could say, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Without joy we will struggle and joy is not produced by what is happening but by our intimacy with our savior. Our primary focus must always be on Him and what He has done for us. Otherwise, when problems and challenges come our way and we are faced with our own inadequacies, we are tempted to react in harmful ways. Think about it! Mary and Joseph had to leave home when they needed a home the most. They were alone when they needed support the most. Yet we sing, “Joy to the world the Lord has come!”

Three areas will really challenge your joy.

The first challenge is tough situations. We know that these challenges will come. It has been said that there are three kinds of people: those with problems, those coming out of problems, and those about to have problems. It is inevitable and James 1:2 tells us, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials.” If your joy is not full as Jesus said the temptation will be to become discouraged, defeated, and fearful.

The second challenge will be difficult people. Now I am sure your church does not have any difficult people but there are rumors some churches do. If your joy is gone you will react in harmful ways that can create division and disharmony. Some chose to be timid and never address the difficult person. Others become cynical and talk about them behind their backs. Then there are those who become bitter and scarred from it. Seek to love them, pray for them, and confront them when necessary. They do not produce your joy, Jesus does!

The third challenge is when your control is threatened. There are many areas of church life where people are use to being in charge and do not want to relinquish that control. When disagreement or conflict comes the reaction so often is not healthy. Some will respond in a dictatorial way saying, “It’s my way or the highway!” Others will become more driven and might respond, “This is where I am going. You come with me or get out of the way.” The third might be the ugliest when a temper tantrum is thrown because they did not get their way.

The focus here is upon how you react to tough situations, difficult people and when your control is threatened. Your joy is not determined by any of these but rather your walk with the Lord. Jesus said, “I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” When Jesus began His earthly ministry the Father said these affirming words to Him, “This is my beloved Son. In whom I am well pleased.” Joy comes from hearing the Father say, “It’s going to be all right.”

Joy is produced when we realize the depths of the truth of these words. The Father says, “My Beloved Son.” That is His identity. Joy comes from knowing you are a child of the King. Then He said He was “pleased” in Him. That is our security. If God is pleased with us then there is nothing to fear and our joy multiplies. The significance of this passage is that He is the Messiah. He had a job to do and joy comes from fulfilling the role God has for each and every one of us. Joy comes from an intimate relationship with Jesus where we understand our identity, security, and significance in Him!

Healthy churches are experiencing abundant joy regardless of their circumstances and challenges!