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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!

You Are Witnesses

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Revelation 11 tells about a day when God will send two witnesses to prophesy for three and half years. Once again, God shows how merciful He is, even when man chooses his own way and deserves judgment. II Peter 3:9 reminds us, “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.” Even when His judgment is imminent, God provides messengers of the Gospel to proclaim the message of salvation.

We are called to be Christ’s witnesses. In His last words before He ascended back to the Father recorded in Luke 24:48, Jesus said, “You are witnesses of these things.” Our church is here to help people find and follow Jesus  We list our vision statement with three C’s:

  1. Centered on God! We must love Him more! Far too many churches have an agenda that is more me-centric than Christ-centric. In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren said it well, “It’s not about you!” Tim Keller says this, “Any person who only sticks with Christianity as long as things are going his way or her way, is a stranger to the cross.”
  2. Connected to One Another! We must love people more! We need one another and being a part of the local church is where we fulfill that need. The Gospel Coalitions tweeted this, “Saying, ‘I need Jesus but not the church’ is like saying, ‘I need Jesus but not everything Jesus says I need.’” Love one another well!
  3. Concerned about our City and the World! We must also love more people! This is where we drop the ball the most. Most churches, that I am familiar with, are scriptural and relational but are not missional. Are we getting the good news out?   Are we being witnesses to those who are far from God? We not only need to love people more but we are called to love more people!

The Good News of the Gospel is all about how God loves us! Paul said it was God’s love that compelled him to spread the gospel to all who would listen. The gospel is all about loving well!!! When we are compelled by love, sharing the gospel with others becomes the church’s main mission. Peter Scazzero says it this way, “The sign of the Spirit at work is supernatural love, not gifts or successful works. This love requires a supernatural work of grace in the heart.”

This is why the hope for America is the church actively showing and sharing the love of God in our actions and in our message!

  • Have a servant’s heart! It starts with leaders who have a love and concern for others. When we send church planters to their communities we challenge them to go serve their city and then God will build His church. Remember, leaders, if you want people in your church to have a servant’s heart they must see it in you. Speed of the leader, speed of the team.
  • Love your city! When Jesus saw the multitudes He was moved with compassion and as He looked over Jerusalem, He wept. Daniel Im puts it this way; “Too many times we have a vision for our church but not for our city. Develop a vision for your city.” If your church closed its doors would anyone in your community even notice?
  • Glorify God and spread His fame! Be a church where the glory of your church takes a back seat to the glory of God. All of us need to talk more about the Gospel of Jesus Christ than we talk about our church. Hopefully, you are excited about your church, enjoy your church, and want to invite others to come to your church. However, make sure you tell them about Jesus. Tell them how wonderful a Savior you have and that you would much rather talk about Him because He is what it is really all about!

Your church has the responsibility of spreading the good news! In Luke 4:18, Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Later, in John 20:21, He says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

Why share the good news? Because you can join God in making what is wrong in the world right. That which is enslaved and in bondage can be set free through the liberty found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That which is broken and shattered can be mended. That which is diseased and sick can be healed. That which is despised and hated can be loved. That which is dirty and vile can be made clean. That which is wrong and far from God can be made right. All because of the Gospel!

NFL football player, Benjamin Watson, says it this way, “Obama can’t save us. Mrs. Clinton can’t save us. Mr. Trump can’t save us. The only one who can change the heart of the man is the Lord.” Acts 4:12 reminds us of this truth, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it.”

Romans 10:14-15, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”  Do you have beautiful feet?

Healthy churches embrace their responsibility to be His witnesses!  Speak and show the love of Christ daily!

Three to Thrive

3_to_thrive

 

Years ago this is the statement made by a very well known preacher, ”It takes three to thrive!” He encouraged you to be faithful to Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. There certainly is great wisdom and benefit to being faithful but church attendance does not guarantee spiritual maturity. We should not forsake Christian fellowship and there is not a better place to grow then in the company of other believers.  We need the word God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God (community) to thrive spiritually.

The three to thrive this article addresses our congregational worship, spiritual disciplines, and participating in a small group. These three dynamics are very important for continued spiritual growth to occur. Every church needs to think through the systems they have in place to encourage that these three are understood, available, and can be easily followed. When a follower of Christ is personally involved in all three of these it enables them to spiritually grow faster, stronger, and continuously.

First, understand the importance of Sunday worship. Jesus encouraged those interested in following Him to “Come and See!” The first four months of His ministry were allowing them to watch and observe if He was for real. Sunday morning is one of our best opportunities to invite people to come and see that God is real. What other time do you have where people will feel comfortable attending? There are many entry points to introduce people to the church family but many are not comfortable when connecting through a small group, Bible study, or a prayer meeting.

Do you gear the services more toward the churched or the unchurched? Usually, the message is for the believers to strengthen them. Unbelievers cannot truly worship but they can be invited to participate and it is a wonderful thing for them to watch believers worship. It is a big step for someone who does not know if they believe or not to enter our world on Sunday mornings. One pastor said, “Our theology is for the churched, termed for the unchurched.” This time is also a great opportunity for a gospel appeal to be offered!

Second, emphasize the necessity of daily spiritual disciplines. Most believers know they should read their Bibles and grow but they have never been shown how to do that or what that looks like. Has your church developed a plan that everyone can easily follow and participate in? If a new disciple wants to go deeper in the word of God how do they do that at your church? Is there someone who can show them how to study their Bible and grow spiritually? Corporate worship is important but without personal private worship the believer will not thrive!

Consider developing a plan where everyone in your church is reading the same daily scriptures and challenge them to journal. This builds an environment where everyone is discussing the same truths and asking similar questions. Publish a scripture reading schedule so everyone knows what passage they are to focus on each day. Teach them to approach the scriptures asking a couple of questions. What is God saying here? What does He want me to do about it?

Third, participate in a small group. These groups are an opportunity to share what you are studying and discuss it further. This is where relationships are built and accountability can be developed. When people are not connected to a small group they will not thrive spiritually and many times will eventually drift away from church. This is where they can be cared for the best by other believers on a very personal level. This is the place where they can love and be loved, serve and be served, know and be known, and celebrate and be celebrated (Bill Hybels).

Do you have a system in place to connect people to a small group? It is not enough to just announce it from the platform. Consider ways to sign people up, recruit people to different groups, and give public testimonies of how these groups have helped someone to grow and develop spiritually. People need to realize that the group quality is diminished when they are not faithful to their small groups. In The Disciple Making Pastor Bill Hull says, “When people get to know each other, needs are identified and met. It is vital to good care of people that the church provides such a vehicle.”

What if all three were connected to one another? Our church is having a six-week campaign on The Bible Questions by Hal Seed and it connects all three of these around the theme of “Shedding Light on the World’s Most Important Book.” The elements of the campaign are this:

  1. The sermon on Sunday. The message is meant to hopefully make the Bible come alive and encourage people to want to read it more. The series enables the pastor to focus everyone on what they are to study and why. The messages are designed to prepare them for what they are going to be reading daily and what they will be discussing in small group.
  2. The daily reading. The book The Bible Questions was made available to everyone so they could read daily about the word of God. For four weeks they read a short chapter each day Monday through Friday. There is then a passage of scripture to read and questions to answer. This will take the average person 12-15 minutes to complete.
  3. Small Groups. Then the small groups come together to discuss what the pastor already preached and what they have read and studied during the week. The leader of the group is prepared to answer questions and lead the group into some deeper discussions on the content already covered!

Quoting Hal Seed from the book, “The more your brain has top-of-the-mind-awareness of God’s view of things, the less your heart will want to do the things that hurt you and other people.”

Healthy churches thrive because they have connected the dots of congregational worship, spiritual disciplines, and small groups!

The Law of Diminishing Returns

jogging

My youngest son, Benjamin, is a personal trainer and also trains people in CrossFit. Benjamin has been encouraging me to mix up my exercise schedule and not to do the same thing all the time. I sent him a text message and asked if in his training and education did they ever mention or talk about the law of diminishing returns? His response was, “Yes, sir. Kind of like when a person is sedentary and they start running a 12 minute mile three times a week. Initially they will see results but if they continue doing the same thing they will eventually quit seeing progress because you adapt.”

His response made me laugh because he knows I usually run 3-5 miles a day 3-5 times a week and pretty much at the same pace. He went on to say, “They will either have to run farther or faster to keep seeing results.” I texted him back, “Thanks! That helps me! You had to pick running, didn’t you?” He replied, “You have to know your audience!” This universal general law states the reality that the more you do the same thing over and over the less you will get the benefits from it. While it primarily has been associated with economics it can apply to several different areas of our lives.

When a person diets they can initially see incredible results the first week in losing up to ten pounds. Then the second and third weeks they may still lose 1-3 pounds but by week four they lose nothing. They are following the same diet faithfully and did not cheat even once. With the results beginning to diminish this is where they may choose to give up on the diet figuring it just isn’t worth the sacrifices they are making. Your body adapts and teaches itself to live on less and can even go into a starvation mode where it burns more muscle than fat, which is not good.

Churches need to make sure that they are not guilty of ignoring the law of diminishing returns. There are many areas where if a church is not careful it can put a lot of energy and effort into ministries, programs, and methods that continue to become less and less effective. Here are a couple of things to consider:

first, traditions can produce diminishing returns! There is nothing inherently wrong with traditions but unfortunately they can begin to take precedence over the Word of God. The mantra can be heard loud and clear, “We have always done it that way!” Traditions can become counterproductive when all they do is perpetuate the past in a way that places God’s will as secondary. There are many tools and aides available to us today that were not available to us just 10 years ago.

One example would be power point with video projectors and screens. While some may still not see their usefulness, we must remember that the worst way for learning to occur is by only hearing it but, when we also see it, we are much more likely to remember it. An old proverb says, “If I hear it I will forget it. If I see it I will remember it. If I do it then it will transform my life.” There are many new innovations and creative ideas that could help us in spreading the gospel more effectively and isn’t that the main objective anyway?

Second, buildings can produce diminishing returns! Okay, let me say it loud and clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with traditions and there is nothing inherently wrong with buildings! For years, many have said that the church is not brick and mortar but it seems like we really don’t believe it by where we put all of our time, effort, and money for a space used 2-3 times a week. The goal is not to build buildings but to build people and equip them to become more and more like Christ! Helping people who are non-believers to become new believers, maturing believers, mature believers, and then reproducing believers.

We need to change what we measure. Instead of measuring seating capacity we need to measure sending capacity. The church’s mission is to have an intentional spiritual growth process that moves people from being attenders to an army on assignment for their King. You don’t judge an army’s effectiveness by how well they do in the mess hall but, rather, how they do on the front lines of battle. Rick Warren says it well, “There is no biblical correlation between the size of a church and the strength of a church.

Third, music can produce diminishing returns! If you are looking for me to run down hymns or to promote a particular style you will be disappointed. If my personal musical preferences were followed the church services would sound way too much like the Beach Boys. The reality is that no one’s personal preferences should stand in the way of reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Go to church in Africa, Pakistan, or with Romanian Gypsies, and the music sounds distinctively different.

Here are a couple of things I would ask you to consider. Do songs have to be 100-200 years old to qualify as good Christian music? Are we not seeing good Christian songs being written today by very gifted and spiritual people? How do we determine what is “good” Christian music? Oh, let me answer this last one by saying that what “I” or “you” usually like determines it. Actually, you are hard pressed to find a description of “Christian” music in the scriptures but there are certainly Christian scriptural words!

Healthy churches are constantly evaluating not only what they do but also why they do it! Maybe it is time to take an honest look at things that worked great in the past but are not working anymore. Maybe now is a good time to ask what is keeping your church from being the church Christ wants it to be.

CENTRIPETAL VS CENTRIFUGAL

Centripetal vs Centrifigal

 

The message of Acts 1:8 is clear, but sometimes we do not grasp the full magnitude of the moment in which it was delivered. The disciples certainly appeared to be very hopeful that maybe this was the time for the Kingdom to be ushered in triumphantly. Then, instead of that occurring, Jesus ascends back to heaven and they are given their marching orders. We “get it” to a degree but look a little deeper and think about the seismic shift that the great commission asked them to make in their focus.

All through the Old Testament the people of God focused on the city of God, Jerusalem. They travelled there for the festivals and this great city was where their king sat upon the throne. The temple was built there and the Ark of the Covenant rested there. It almost appears to be a huge magnet that draws everyone’s attention, time, and worship. Even the woman at the well said, “Yet you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” It was the center of Old Testament worship, sacrifice, and service to God.

Now, in Acts 1:8, Jesus is instructing them to go out of this one city, Jerusalem, and go into all the cities of the world with the gospel. This major shift of focus and energy was to be embraced by all of the disciples present that day, all of His followers through the centuries, and all of His disciples today. Each and every church does not have a mission as much as the mission of God has churches to carry out that mission. Luke 19:13 makes this clear, “Engage in business until I come back.”

The centrifugal mission of taking His kingdom message to every city was replacing the centripetal mission of bringing outsiders into an earthly city. Centripetal force pulls everything to the center and creates a momentum (think black hole) that constrains anything from moving outward. This helps us to better understand this question; “Is your church more inwardly focused than outwardly focused?” In Subversive Kingdom, Ed Stetzer says, “Spiritual growth and maturity should not lead us away from contact with unbelievers but rather right into the midst of them.”

A great exercise for your church would be to make two lists. The first list is where you should write down every ministry that is focused on people already in the church. The second list is where you then write down every ministry focused on who is not in church. You may be shocked to find out that quite often 90-95% of all church ministries are focused on who is already there. How could you shift the focus outward? How could you better challenge and train your people to live focused on those far from God?

Centrifugal force creates a momentum moving and directing everything outward from the center. It is the exact opposite from centripetal force but both can be of equal power. Every church must ask themselves which force is the primary focus of their ministry and how that reality aligns itself with the scriptures? In 7 Steps to Transform Your Church, Bill Hull says, “The traditional church is talking out of both sides of its mouth, giving a hearty ‘amen’ to the Great Commission and an entrenched ‘no’ to the changes required.”

We are kingdom soldiers who are establishing kingdom outposts behind enemy lines. The reality is that we cannot reduce the mission of God down to attending services, Bible studies, and enjoying each other’s fellowship. The scriptures remind us repeatedly that we cannot fulfill the Great Commission by getting together a couple of times a week, teaching our best Bible studies, singing our best songs, and preaching our best sermons. These are all vitally important and valuable but they are to ground us in our mission and focus us on sending capacity not seating capacity.

Ed Stetzer in Subversive Kingdom also says, “We’re not just opening the doors and hoping for a good turnout. We’re opening our lives to show off the glory of our Savior by the way we live together, serve together, and reach out in Jesus’ name together.” The kingdom of God is compared to yeast, which means we have to “mix it up” to be effective. We are also told to be salt, which requires contact with world for us to have an impact in their lives. We are also to be a light unto the world and light streaks away and shines everywhere in every situation.

In Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount we are admonished by Jesus several times that “You have heard said but I say unto you….” One of those examples of having a kingdom impact is in verse 41, “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” While there is much to say about the context of this passage, one truth is clear, we need to be willing to go do more, sacrifice more, and give more as we represent our king. One truth though is that if we willing to go the extra mile that gives us more time to tell the one we are traveling with about Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Healthy churches work diligently and intentionally at moving away from centripetal force to being a centrifugal force church. The healthiest churches take Luke 15 seriously where it speaks about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. Healthy churches are focused on the core, the crowd, but also the community. Our church strives to express it this way, “We desire to be centered on God, committed to one another, and concerned about our community. We must resist the temptation to be focused on the first two while neglecting the third.”

In UTurn Church Kevin G. Harney says, “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.”