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Just Check the Box

A couple of years ago my son, Matthew, asked me why I use to be so legalistic. My first reaction was to justify and emphatically convince him that I was not legalistic. Point made. There are a lot of reasons for leaning toward legalism such as your personality and/or your environment. In my case it was both. It is very easy to have a checklist of what makes you think you are spiritual and others unspiritual. We must, however, fight the temptation to add our specifics where the Bible is very unspecific. Unfortunately, I had drawn lines in the sand where God has not.

We do this in many areas of our lives such as dress, music, and others. Matthew likes to remind me of the time he asked me if he could listen to Phillips, Craig, and Dean and I told him we were not going to listen to rock music. Oh, by the way, I really enjoy them now and a couple of their songs are among my favorites. There are some who will see this as compromise and I have even wondered about that myself at times. When I asked one friend if we were compromising he wisely, I think, said, “Nope, we are growing up and maturing.”

J.D. Greear has written, “You’ve been waiting for the bottom line. Fallen human nature loves laws, because we love self-justification. But laws keep us from dealing with the real issue—the heart. The law is easier to preach too—. Laws preach nicely. But the gospel writers resist the temptation to reduce Christianity to laws. They focus on the hearts.” If we are not careful we can be like the Pharisees found in Matthew 23 who appeared beautiful on the outside but Jesus said that on the inside they were full of every impurity.

Legalism has been defined many different ways but here I am referring to it as a preoccupation with the obeying of rules and regulations. The tricky part is that my list might be completely different than yours. For example, there are cultures where if you smoke there is no way in their minds that you are born again. If we are not careful we become very judgmental and place all of the emphasis on obeying rules instead of a daily relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, there are commands we are to obey and we must never minimize what God is specific about.

Alistair Begg says it well, “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” So often we get caught up on the things that are not plain in God’s word and we hold other Christians to our standards instead of God’s. My music, my clothes, or how many times I am in church each week makes me far more spiritual than you. Romans 14:1, “Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues. Paul lists different preferences and then in verse 13 emphasizes that we should not criticize one another.

First, we must be honest about our nature.

We must never forget the total depravity of man. We are shaped from birth with the sin curse that causes us to naturally lean away from God and lean into sin. The power of the flesh in our life is real and if we are not walking in the power of the Spirit daily we will lean away from God’s best. This can cause us as Christians and churches to become hyper critical of anyone and everyone who does not have the same checklist that we have.

Second, we must not allow our freedom in Christ to be reduced to a set of manmade rules.

Then our faith becomes a religion of human achievement and we want others to notice how spiritual we are by how much we give, how much we fast and the rest of our checklist. Colossians 2:16-17, “Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food or drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are shadows of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah.” The reality is that many settle for the cheap substitutes instead of Christ.

Third, remember that Jesus said the world would know us by the love we have for one another.

This has been referred to as the final apologetic. “The word apologetic comes from the Greek word apologia. The original idea was that it was a defense or an answer given in response to a charge…So in Christian apologetics, we’re making a case as to why what we believe is true and accurate and logical.” The world will know that what we have in Christ is real and true when the love of Christ for one another is evident.

Fourth, be careful about how you use social media.

It is sad to see many Christians seemingly airing their dirty laundry or pet peeves in a way that a lost world must be shaking their head saying, “And they are suppose to be all about loving one another?” Social media is a wonderful tool that enables us to share the good news and encourage one another to love and good deeds. The temptation seems to provide a venue where you can hide behind a keyboard and say things you probably would not say to that person if they were present.

Fifth, lets build churches that are gracious, longsuffering, and kind.

Nowhere did I mention being weak.  I love this quote a pastor tweeted recently, “I refuse to be a Christian who is generous with damnation and stingy with grace.” Am I more focused on my checklist than I am on knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection? Am I more disturbed by some things Christians are not doing on my checklist than people who are lost and far from God and headed to hell? Is my life characterized by love and encouragement for my church and the body of believers?

PRAYER AND WORSHIP

Worship exists for God. He is the only one worthy of our praise and adoration. We want His fame to spread throughout the world and for Him to be honored, adored, and glorified in our midst. Prayer is an essential part of our worship and should reflect this adoration and praise. Our prayers during worship should lift the weary soul up before God just as much as our music or any other offering we bring. That does not mean praying in our “God voices” but making sure that our hearts and minds are pure and focused entirely on Him.

In Matthew 21:13 Jesus said, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you have made it a den of thieves!” Someone has said, “If you really want to know where a person’s heart is – listen to his or her prayers!” Gary Rohrmayer says, “Our prayers can be a window to our souls that reveal our deepest motives, desires, and passions.” Here are some prayers we should all be praying from our hearts faithfully every day:

“Father, break my heart for the world you are seeking to save!”

Remember our prayer challenge from the beginning of this year, “Lord, I don’t ask for much today. I just ask that you give me Your heart for lost people.” Since God loves all people, desires the salvation of all people, and died for all people we should be praying fervently that He gives us His heart for the lost.

Missionary David Brainerd wrote the following words over three hundred years ago.   “I care not where I go, or how I live, or what I have to endure so that I may save souls. When I sleep I dream of them; when I awake they are first in my thoughts…no amount of scholastic attainment, of able and profound exposition of brilliant and stirring eloquence can atone for the absence of a deep impassioned sympathetic love for human souls.”

“Father, give me a bigger picture of You and Your work in my life!”

Ephesians 1:18-19 says, “I pray that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe, according to the working of His vast strength.”

We should pray that we keep our eyes on Him and see the “weightiness” of whom He is. When we do that, the “weight” of other things will no longer pull us down nor be able to control us! J. D. Greear says, “When we see the size and beauty of God who speaks to us, the power of sin and idolatry over our hearts is broken!”

“Father, pour out a spirit of generosity in my life!”

One of the qualities and marks of spiritual maturity is that of a generous spirit. Acts 20:35 says, “In every way I’ve shown you that by laboring like this, it is necessary to help the weak and to keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, for He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Pray that your church will be a church that is dedicated to helping others and being a blessing to your community. God blesses us not so that we can have and accumulate but so that we can bless others. Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, “And the King will answer them, I assure you: whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Father, help me to empower and release others into your harvest field.”

Our vision is to have a discipleship based multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches. It begins with a discipleship process and developing a leadership pipeline out of that. If we are going to release people into the harvest we must first be reaching and winning them out of the harvest.

How much time are you spending developing leaders? If you say you value leadership development then there should be evidence of that on your calendar. Are you pouring more into your leaders weekly so that they can be leaders of other leaders? The natural flow comes out of our discipleship as we observe those who desire more and we focus on the three out of the 12 as Jesus did.

“Father, help my prayers during the worship service to be of the best kind.”

In Next Steps, Gary Rohrmayer writes, “Pastors and worship leaders must read and study Solomon’s blessing and prayer in II Chronicles 6:3-42. One of my concerns is that all too often public prayer in our contemporary service is added on at the end of a worship set or simply used as a transition between the different elements of the service.”

In Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Let me therefore, very earnestly caution you, beloved brethren, against spoiling your services with your prayers: make it your solemn resolve that all engagements of the sanctuary shall be of the best kind.” We simply should come with clean hands and a pure heart crying out to God to do whatever is necessary for His presence to be known in our worship.

Matthew 6:5-6 says, “And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly.

I Am Thankful for You

The message is pretty clear that church is a team sport. We are meant to work alongside each other and make this journey together. Spiritual maturity is seen in loving God well and loving others well. In studying the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 there is an overriding theme. You notice that the emphasis is on what our relationships with other people are like. The focus is not about how you have been treated but rather on how you treat others. No matter what someone else has said or done to you, you are always responsible to God for your response.

The real mark of a spiritually mature believer is engaging with others in meaningful relationships. God has given us three things to help us in our spiritual journey to become more like Him. First, He has given us His word. This is where our doctrine comes from that describes who He is and enables us to see who He is. We are not to worship the God we envision or imagine but the God of the scriptures who is described in detail through all of His attributes. We must be careful of manufacturing our own God and not recognizing the God of His word.

Second, He has given us the Holy Spirit. The word describes Him to us but the Holy Spirit delivers the power and the energy we must have to be transformed into His likeness. We know that sanctification is possible because of the power that works inside of us.

Thirdly, He has also given us the people of God who demonstrate to us how we are to love and to live for Him. Paul said it well, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” We should be thankful for all of the godly examples He has placed in our lives both in the word of God and in our daily lives.

Relationships give us a clear example of how to live out the information we are learning from the word of God and the Holy Spirit. True biblical spiritual maturity occurs in the dynamic of spiritual maturity and cannot happen apart from it. We are to be connected to one another and do life with together. Mature spiritual relationships are one of God’s means of pouring into our lives. If we do not have a spiritual family we will soon get off track or we will be running on empty. We should be thankful for those who lovingly challenge and correct our behavior.

This method of passing on what God is teaching Paul is very clear. Paul   taught Timothy, who was to teach other faithful men, who in turn were to teach others. Paul also tells Titus that the older women are to encourage and pour into the younger women. We need the church family, but it goes deeper than just attending worship. Jesus invited many, invested heavily into twelve, but was intimate with three. There is a big difference between being friendly and polite to people and developing real live-giving relationships.

We should be thankful for godly examples that are willing to invest in our lives and build deep relationships with us and hold us accountable. Here are a few characteristics that we should be thankful for in these spiritually mature examples God has placed in our lives. Christian author and counselor Larry Crabb observed that 90% of the problems he encountered with his clients could have been dealt with and solved by a good friend. This is why we should pursue honest godly relationships that connect us with those who are spiritually mature.

Be thankful for those who say what you need to hear not just what you want to hear. We need people in our lives that speak the truth in love. Those who are willing to tell us when we are about to make a huge mistake and challenge us to reconsider and spend more time in prayer about our decision.

Be thankful for friends who give us sound biblical advice and not just their opinions. This is very close to the one just mentioned but we need a word from the Lord more than we need public opinion. Look for friends who know the word of God are striving to obey it every day.

Be thankful for those who stand firm on the word of God without abandoning you when you mess up. Spiritually mature people stand strong on the word of God but they do not isolate themselves or withdraw fellowship from us. They are spiritually mature enough to not ostracize you even when they disagree with you.

Be thankful for those who help you to grow and become spiritually mature yourself. Spiritually mature people do not just feed those they are mentoring but they teach them how to feed themselves. The goal is to give you the skills to stand strong for the Lord.

Be thankful for those who help you bear your burdens. Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry one another’s burdens; in this you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Then in verse 5 he says, “For each person will have to carry his own load.” They teach you how to trust in the Lord and lean on Him when the challenges and trials of life come.

Be thankful for those who teach you and prepare you to trust more in the Lord than in them. Remember, the real marks of spiritual maturity are loving God well and loving others well. Be thankful for those who are always pointing you to the Lord who is the real source of strength and the only One worthy of our worship. We remain centered on Him and we refuse to have any other gods before Him.

Be thankful for all of the people He has placed in your life to encourage and pray for you. We are blessed when people in our lives are always pointing us to Him and help us in our spiritual journey.

LEAN IN TO JESUS

Keeping your church focused on Christ will be an ongoing and unending pursuit. There are faith habits that you must show new believers how to develop. Also, the reality is that you should not assume that those who have been in church for years know what to do. Develop an environment that teaches how to “lean” into Jesus both personally, in small groups, and corporately as a church. When you study His word you are “leaning” into His presence to hear His voice and His direction for your life?

The total depravity of man means that in our natural state we will always lean toward sin and away from God. Yes, we are created in the image of God and even evil people are capable of doing a good deed but they remain far from God and without hope. The depravity of man means that even a saved man is capable of an evil act if He is not in the Word and walking with the Lord. That is why it is so crucial to develop a rhythm of praying and being in God’s word daily.

There are four habits that will help your church lean in toward Christ for His presence, power, and direction.

First, lean in by spending time in His word. Here is a great quote from Alistair Begg, “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” Look for the obvious and begin to obey and follow those directions. Many are running around looking for a word from the Lord when all we have to do is open His word and begin to obey.

Determine how you will come along side your people to assist them in their spiritual progress. Consider publicizing a daily Bible reading and teaching them how to S.O.A.P. (Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer) through journaling. It is great to write down the verses and then circle the key words to consider what God may be saying to you. Suggest a great study Bible and other study tools they might use to go deeper in the word. Lean in and look at what He says.

Second, lean in by developing the habit of spending time with God. Show them what prayer looks like and how they can cry out to God and that He hears them. Four elements of prayer as seen in the model prayer are praise, repentance, ask, and yield.   One idea would be to meet with several of your disciples and teach them about prayer but more importantly show them what it means to pray by praying with them, for them, and over them.

In prayer it is also good to stop and listen for a time. When you pray remember that it is communicating with God and that involves both sides. It is wonderful knowing that He is listening to us but it is just as wonderful to know that He speaks to us also. In your quiet time develop the practice of having a pen and pad in hand. Stop and listen to what He is saying to you through His word and the Holy Spirit. Take 3-5 minutes and be quiet in His presence. Lean in and listen!

Third, lean in by developing the habit of tithing. This is far more than good stewardship but teaches them what God requires as a part of our worship. This principle is far more than the amount but teaches the Lordship of Christ through placing God first in our day, our finances, and in our relationships. The principle of putting God first in everything must be taught and reinforced regularly. We must be willing to give Him everything including time, talent, and treasures.

Philippians 4:18 says, “I am fully supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you provided—a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” Paul thanked this church for their financial support and describes these financial gifts with worship language. Once again we know that giving is an act of worship not just a matter of stewardship. You lean into His presence by giving with the right heart and the right motive.

Fourth, lean in by developing the habit of fellowship. The importance of community cannot be overstressed. We need one another and the New Testament is written from the “we” perspective not “me.” Natural Church Development says, “Loving relationships are the heart of a healthy, growing church. Jesus said people will know we are His disciples by our love. Practical demonstration of love builds authentic Christian community and brings others into God’s kingdom.”

They go on to say, “Loving relationships is the area in which churches tend to extravagantly overestimate their spiritual quality…they fail to see how outsiders can have a hard time finding access to a clique. These Christians consider themselves as ‘warmhearted’ and ‘open’ toward newcomers, but they communicate-most unconsciously-the message: ’You don’t belong here.’” We need to lean into stronger, deeper, and authentic relationships. It is important to develop these four habits of leaning in toward the Lord in the context of worship services, small groups, leadership development, and our personal walks.

The attractional approach (come and see) will connect an individual usually through a worship service or an event that, well, attracts them! The incarnational approach (go and tell) focuses more on relational evangelism and tends to connect people in smaller group settings. Being attractional or incarnational is not an either/or decision but rather a both/and. As a member of my church reminded me recently, “God sent us a little reminder that our mission field is not where we go to, but where we take Him!” Hopefully, you will continue to lean into His presence through developing godly habits that will enable you to mature spiritually by coming to age in Christ. This process will keep you from leaning away, then drifting away, and eventually maybe even dropping out.

Help your church to lean in through worship, small groups, and personal discipleship!

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

AN AUDIENCE OF ONE

The first time I remember hearing the phrase “for an audience of one” was when our good friend, Buddy Mullins, was singing in our church. He spoke of how God had impressed upon him that it was not about performing for people but it was all about worshipping Him. In Joe Gibb’s book, Game Plan for Life, he also talks about performing for an audience of one. We must remember that He is always watching and it is far more important what He thinks about us than anyone else.

Recently, Tony Dungy reminded me about this principle again in his daily devotional book, Uncommon Life Daily Challenge. His perspective is that this principle should be “unbelievably liberating.” It reminds us that it is God who keeps score and His scorecard looks a lot different than ours. Even in ministry we can become more concerned about what others think of our ministry rather than being focused on how God feels about what we are doing.

How do we define success? How do we measure the impact we believe God wants us to be having? This thinking does not advocate giving up or settling for less than God intended but making sure that we are in tune with God’s agenda for our lives and for our ministries. Are we faithful where He has placed us? Are we daily being faithful in the little things so that we can be faithful in bigger things? God looks on our desire to serve and follow Him…no matter what the outcome may be.

The key to this principle of “an audience of one” is finding our identity in Christ Jesus. The reality is that only Jesus can tell you who you are. Three times the heavenly Father declared who Jesus was, affirming that He was His Son, and that He was pleased with Him. Psalm 73:28 says, “But as for me, God’s presence is my good.
I have made the Lord God my refuge, so I can tell about all You do.” We must be close enough to Him so He can whisper in our ears what we need to hear from Him.

First, our crises can become opportunities for a fresh experience of the glory of God’s affirmation.

We all face challenges, trials, and difficulties in this life. When a crisis comes it is our opportunity to draw up close to His presence and listen for His voice of assurance that we belong to Him, He is with us, and that He is looking after us. When the Father affirmed the Son He was saying, “Son, we’ve got this!” Our God is able to handle every situation and He will not abandon us along the way.

Second, our goal is greater than avoiding the pain that crises create.

When our identity is in Christ we are driven by a desire to obey and do the will of the Father. None of us take to sacrifice naturally. It hurts and the hurt is real but we push through and we press forward. Why? Because there is a deeper desire than simply avoiding the trial and it should be so that our lives will glorify Him. Jesus said that His food was to do the will of the Father who sent Him and to finish that work.

Third, if you find your identity in what others say about you – praise can corrupt you.

All of us must be careful to not think too highly of ourselves. Years ago my dad’s mom finally got to hear me preach for the first time. I had already been pastoring about seven years and I was excited she was there. When the service was over she took my hand and patted it while saying, “It’s ok, Larry, you keep working on it and you will get better.” Remember that pride comes before the fall.

Fourth, if you find your identity in what others say about you – criticism can crush you.

Words do hurt and we must be mindful of what we say and how we say it. The reality is that people will criticize you for decisions you make as a leader, for stands you take as a minister, and even for preaching the truth. Remain humble, realizing that God will provide you with strength and perseverance in the midst of adversity. It is difficult, but we must have thick skin while maintaining a sensitive heart and spirit.

Fifth, find your identity and security in His presence.

In the first fifteen verses of Psalm 73 the Psalmist is struggling with his apparent failure while the wicked are prospering. It is a sustained dirge about what he sees as the futility of the righteous life verses the success of the wicked. Then every thing changes in verses 16-17, “When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless until I entered God’s sanctuary. Then I understood their destiny.”

The change occurred when he went into the temple. Then, we assume, he lingered in the presence of God. When we are only interested in an audience of one and get into His presence the change occurs. Our attitude, perspective, and behavior begin to be shaped and formed into who He wants us to become. The audience of one reminds us that the nearness of God is what we need more than the applause of man, the accomplishments for which we have been striving, or accumulating wealth.

The journey can become difficult and trials will come our way. We sometimes wonder, “Will we make it?” Doubts arise and fears come as we ask, “Can I do this?” Then our loving heavenly Father whispers in our ear, “I am faithful!” As we perform for our audience of one He affirms that “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.”

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.”

Pray For Those Who Oppose You

Do you pray for those who oppose you? Prayer is probably the most neglected spiritual discipline in a leader’s life. Especially when a leader is a “doer” it can feel like they are not really doing anything at all when praying. It can be very hard to slow down and stay focused on God long enough to spend ample time in prayer. The commands and admonitions are clear: “Men ought always to pray!” “Pray without ceasing!” and “Always remembering you in our prayers!” Prayer is actually the first thing we should do and all too often it is the last.

In Spiritual Leadership, Henry and Richard Blackaby say this, “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.” If you are complaining or griping about someone’s lack of cooperation or opposition in your church the first thing to do is to pray for them! Luke 6:27-28 says, “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Are you listening to what God’s word says? We have all been mistreated, treated unfairly, and experienced opposition in our ministries. What does Jesus tell us to do for those who mistreat us? Pray for them! We pray for many different things in our churches but what might happen if we prayed fervently for those who constantly seem to be against the direction you are trying to lead them? What might happen if we prayed for those who oppose us the way we would want them to pray for us? Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Easy, no – difficult, yes, but it is so necessary. John Piper challenges us that the best place to start in praying for those who oppose us is with the model prayer. He gives the following example; “Father, grant that my enemies — my colleague who snubs me, my wife who belittles me, my child who disrespects me, the ISIS member who wants to kill me — grant that they would come to hallow your name. Grant that they would treasure you above all, and reverence you, and admire you more than anything.”

“Father, grant that my enemies would come under the saving, purifying sway of your kingly rule and that you would exert your kingly power to make my enemies your own loyal subjects. Grant, Father, that my enemies would love to do your will the way the angels do it in heaven with all their might, and without reservation, and with the purest motives, and with great joy.”

“Grant, Father, that my enemies would have all the physical resources of food and clothing and shelter and education and healthcare and transportation that they need to fulfill your calling on their lives. And forgive my enemies their sins, as you bring them to repentance, and make them forgiving people, and protect them from overpowering temptations and from the destructive power of the devil.”

Henry and Richard Blackaby offer this wisdom, “Leaders who neglect a close relationship with Christ will be unable to accomplish God’s will through their organizations.” They give these reasons for why leaders need to pray:

  • Nothing of eternal significance happens apart from God. It is easy for a leader’s schedule to be all consuming but the reality is that nothing of eternal significance will happen without prayer!
  • Prayer is essential because one must be filled with the Holy Spirit. Are you under His control and direction? Are you constantly and consistently listening to His still small voice?
  • Prayer brings God’s wisdom. The reality is that God knows more than the best informed, most educated, best trained, and most read leader.
  • Prayer accesses God’s power. He is able to do exceedingly and abundantly above all we ask or think. Why do we not ask more often and especially for those people who are prone to be difficult.
  • Prayer relieves stress. Everybody needs someone to talk to, a shoulder to cry on, and someone they know they can trust with confidentialities. There is no one better than God.
  • Prayer reveals God’s agenda. The Blackabys’ definition of leadership is “Moving people onto God’s agenda!” This will not happen apart from prayer especially in perspective of the first five reasons we should pray more. Jesus modeled this truth every day here on earth as He pursued His Father’s agenda and not His own!

Here are some applications to ponder as you consider praying for your opposition.

First, it’s hard to be mad at someone you are praying for! When we pray the model prayer for those we are angry with or hurt by it first changes our heart. We then are not driven by anger or overcome by bitterness.

Second, we stop trusting in our abilities more than we trust in His. We realize we cannot always fix it…but God can. He will work it out one way or the other but we trust Him enough to leave the solution in His hands.

Third, we realize that He knows what our opposition is thinking more than we do. He is the one who sees their hearts, but remember He sees our heart also. In Uncommon Life, Tony Dungy put it this way, “Even though we can’t always choose our circumstances, we can choose our attitude in the circumstances.” That will be determined by how closely we are walking with the Lord.

Fourth, prayer can change hard hearts and bad attitudes. Many times reconciliation can look impossible, but with God all things are possible.

Prayer of course is important but whom we pray for is also important. Pray that God will restore relationships with those who oppose you and mistreat you!

Influence Over Influx

The outward focus of the local church has been stated many different ways. Many have said things like, “It’s sending not seating. It’s Releasing not Keeping.” In Ripple Church, Phil Stevenson says, “By choosing influence over influx, ripple churches have sacrificed their own comfort and security in order to bring forth the next generation of Christians. They have abandoned contemporary notions of success in order to bring about Kingdom growth.”

Bigger is often seen as better in the church world. Two terrible assumptions are made there. First, that being a large church guarantees spiritual health. Second, that if you are a small church you cannot make a difference for the Kingdom. Nothing could be further from the truth. Counting numbers is an accurate metric and it is important but it is inadequate. It is not enough and you must look deeper to determine spiritual health, impact, and influence.

Stevenson describes those who focus entirely on ministry by influx. “The leaders ask, “How many people can we gather at one place at one time?” A regional ministry is built on a different philosophy – ministry by influence. Leaders of regional ministries ask, “Whom are we influencing with the gospel?” We must bless others, share the gospel, meet people’s needs, and demonstrate the love of Christ even if it does not impact our churches “bottom-line!”

We are not in competition with other Bible-believing churches. Recently one of our young people got saved at another Baptist church in town. I received this text from their pastor, “Hey, one of your Cornerstone kids came to Jesus at VBS today! We will get his information to you soon. Partnership beats competition any day.” Then I sent him this text, “Today the young man made a public profession of faith and declared that he wanted to follow his Lord in baptism. Wanted you to know.” His response was, “That’s terrific!”

Everyone in your area will not attend your church. We need every Bible-believing, New Testament, and gospel preaching church to get onboard with reaching our communities for Christ. J.D. Greear tells what happens when we overly focus on influx in Gaining by Losing. He says, “We gather throngs of people to bask in the Spirit’s anointing on a few megastars and call that ‘mission accomplished’…Jesus’ vision for the church was not a few mega-geniuses with thousands of foot soldiers at their behest, but millions of believers filled with the Spirit, following His lead directly.”

The key to your ministry and your church, no matter its size, is the power of God and seeking His face. Henry and Richard Blackaby have defined spiritual leadership in their book Spiritual Leadership as “moving people onto God’s agenda.” Are we willing to move from our agenda to God’s agenda? What if God’s agenda is radically different than yours? There have been several times in my ministry that I was 100% convinced I was on the path He intended me to be on for the rest of my life but my plans were not His plans.

First, refuse to trust in your wisdom and instead seek His. We make our plans asking God to bless them, and then expect Him to make it happen. The key is not for God to bless my plans but for me to discard my agenda in favor of His will. Even Jesus did not set His own agenda but sought and prayed daily for the Father’s agenda. It can be spiritual disaster to add to God’s will and assume that we must take things into our own hands. Just ask Abraham! (Genesis16)

Second, realize that just because it worked before doesn’t mean God will automatically bless it again. The easiest course of action is often the one previously taken. This is especially true when something worked before and was “successful.” God refuses to allow His work to be reduced to a formula. Instead, He requires us to seek Him and His agenda. There are no shortcuts!

Third, resist the temptation to copy what someone else is doing. We can and should learn from other ministries. When we stop learning we begin to die a slow death but we should not envy what others have just because we don’t. We cannot remove our need to seek His face daily and make sure we have His mind and will on the matter. What if what another church has was never God’s intention for us?

Fourth, remain focused on the cause and not on the symptoms. You will never be able to meet all of the needs in your community, but remember a relationship with Jesus Christ is always a higher priority than meeting people’s physical needs. Yes, we should do what we can to help. Yes, we need to demonstrate the love of Christ in practical ways but our trust must remain in the power of Christ and that alone. A program never transformed anyone but Jesus can.

Fifth, remember that revelation comes from the Lord. We sometimes talk about dreaming big dreams for God and thinking big things for God. If we are not careful the emphasis is on our dreams and goals that originate with us. Vision is sometimes seen as being produced by us while revelation is God given. Make sure your focus is on the source of your plans and agenda, which is God.

How are we influencing our communities for Christ? What are we doing to influence those we live next door to and with whom we work? J.D. Greear points out that “of the 40 miracles recorded in Acts, 39 happen outside the walls of the church…You can safely conclude from this that the main place God wants to manifest His poser is outside the church. In Ripple Church, Stevenson says, “We convince ourselves that gathering more people around us in a single church will ensure the existence of the species. It won’t”

Influence over Influx!!!

 

LETS GET REAL

Are we building genuine real relationships or are we settling for superficial friendships? We are comfortable talking about the weather, sports, and our family, but are we willing to go deeper? An essential part of building disciples requires nothing less than allowing other followers of Christ to become our close intimate friends. Our connection groups (small groups, Sunday School classes, etc.) need authentic relationships that will hold us accountable in our spiritual journeys.

II Timothy 2:2 says, ”And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Yes, this verse points to the fourth generation but also notice how it speaks to a community of believers by using plural nouns. It mentions witnesses, men, and others. These words have the same thing in common in talking about a group of people. Biblical discipleship occurs through relationships.

We all seek meaningful relationships yet they seem to be painfully absent aspects of discipleship. People are not looking for a friendly church but are looking for friends. Here are some great questions to ask about the authenticity of your relationships. Are the people in your connection groups friendly? It starts there but it must go deeper. Are the people in your group open and honest with one another?

We must not settle for shallowness but strive to build a strong support team. Do the people in your group check on and care for one another beyond and outside of the group meeting? Do you notice when others are not present and check on them to see if they are struggling? Remember, your connection groups are the first responders in your church for ministry and pastoral care. Spiritual growth occurs best when other believers share the same goals.

How well do you know the people in your connection (small) group? Are they just acquaintances or do you know them well enough to know their strengths and weaknesses? What are they struggling with the most? How can you best pray for them and encourage them? We are not called to walk alone but to walk in the light together. The biblical picture of real relationships in community is described clearly in Acts 2:42-47 where they “held all things common.”

In Real-Life Discipleship, Jim Putman defines a relational environment this way. “A relational environment is characterized by authenticity. A relational environment includes mutual accountability. An intentional leader creates a safe relational environment.” Here are a few suggestions on how to build real relationships that help everyone grow and mature in Christ.

First, keep your eyes open for those who are hurting and struggling. If they miss does anyone contact them or reach out to them? Do not take it for granted that they are ok but instead see if there is anything you can do to help them. Whether it is a call, a text message, an email, or even a visit they need to know that someone does care when they are absent.

Second, faithfully pray for those who are experiencing illness. Prayers are appreciated but it also might require doing something to help. Maybe they need someone to drop a meal by or to clean up their yard for them. What practical service could you perform for them that would be a blessing to them and encourage them? Make sure someone is handling this and accepts the responsibility of assigning contacts.

Third, connect them with someone who knows what they need to know. Someone in your congregation can help them when they need it but you will have to be very intentional to make sure they connect with them. When they are overwhelmed with finances, health, marriage, or a multitude of other challenges the beauty is that someone else in your connection group has probably been through what they are going through. They need to know that they are not the only ones.

Fourth, listen to them to hear where they are spiritually. We show someone how much we value them when we are willing to take the time to listen to them. As you listen make sure that you are ready to give them biblical answers to their situation. The importance of authenticity and transparency cannot be overstated. What are they really saying when they express their concerns? What are they not saying about their spiritual walk?

Fifth, speak the truth in love. Real relationships do not offer up false flattery or superficial pleasantries. They seek to speak the truth in love because they care about one another enough to even risk the relationship. This is especially true when you see that the other person is about to go against God’s word. For example: we are all a product of our past but we do not have to be prisoners to our past. They can have victory over their past hurts and habits by trusting in the Lord.

We need to pray for and seek to have an energy that causes us to remain connected and help others to stay connected. When we become disconnected from other believers it is a very dangerous thing. It will not be long before we begin to drift away from our church family and the Lord. Real relationships do not walk away from our family when they are struggling or if they fall into sin. Real relationships cause us step in closer, speak up more, and seek to restore.

Get to know those in your connection (small) group more intimately. Find out what their hobbies are, what fears they have, and what temptations they struggle with the most. Then pray for them, encourage them, and hold them accountable. We cannot grow spiritually as we should without other followers of Christ who are there to challenge us and inspire us in our walk with the Lord!