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Sent on His Mission

Jesus established His church during His earthly ministry.  What have we learned from His word, from the history of the church, from our experience, and from our present context?  The New Testament is all about churches being planted, growing, multiplying, and reaching people with the gospel.  Leslie Newbigin was a British theologian, missiologist, missionary, and author who said, “An unchurchly mission is as much a monstrosity as an unmissionary church.”  God has called His churches to carry out His mission!  

The Gospels are the story of Jesus who “loved the church and gave himself for it” (Eph 5) and said “I will build my church” (Matt. 16).  Actsis basically about the church planting efforts of Paul and the Apostles.  The epistles are primarily instructions to the new churches on how to run a church.  Ed Stetzer put it this way, “The church’s mission is Kingdom expansion – but the Kingdom is realized through the church.  In Ephesians, God’s intent is that through the church, the manifold wisdom of God would be made known (Ephesians 3:10-11).”

    Here are some simple observations about how our churches should operate:

  1. Go to them, do not wait for them to come to you! You cannot expect the “build it and they will come” mentality to be effective any more.  “Attractional” is not all bad but the word of God instructed the disciples to “go out into the highways and hedges” and to “go into all the world.”  Our motto should be, “We are coming to you!” Churches must have a strong “missional” and “incarnational” dominate strain in their DNA!   
  2. Pursue transformation, not isolation!  People need to “see” how God has changed and transformed our lives.  The only way for that to happen is to do life with them. They want to know, “Can Jesus really make a difference in my life?”  People in our families, at work, and who live next door to us need to experience a friendship with someone who has a powerful daily relationship with Jesus Christ!
  3. Form communities, not just groups!  The difference is that a group meets at a particular time to accomplish a particular goal while communities are families who support and serve one another.  Spiritual families are then birthed out of the harvest, and members of these families engage in activities that carry out the mission of the family.  They fight spiritual battles together and rejoice when victories occur.
  4. Follow the Holy Spirit, do not just copy someone’s model!  Make sure your ministry vision is driven by biblical principles not personal preferences.  Principles, unlike church models, are timeless and transcultural. One size and one style does not fit all. Find out what God wants you to do and you can only discover that on your knees.  Plant the seed and water and God will give the increase.  Remember, form follows function!
  5. Focus on making disciples, not on the three Killer B’s!  (Buildings, Bodies, and Bucks).  It must begin with making disciples!  If we never reproduce disciples we will never reproduce leaders. If we never reproduce leaders, we will never reproduce churches and multiplication will not occur.  We are called to equip, empower, and then release workers out of the harvest into the harvest!
  6. You must first serve before you can lead!  Jesus said in Matthew 20:28, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  Shepherds exist to serve the sheep.  In The Emotionally Healthy Church Peter Scazzero says, “I learned that leadership is not always being the strong one; instead, it is being the weak one who is made strong by God alone.”
  7. Focus on people, not on programs!  It really is about relationships.  The “self-made” man or women is a myth.  God did not create us to follow Him alone and create an island for ourselves.  We need one another for counsel, encouragement, to ask helpful questions, and to lend a listening ear when needed.  All of us need relationships with others that help to empower us by sharing God-given resources!

 These are some simple observations that God and godly mentors have been trying to teach me.  All of us need to be lifelong learners.  Leaders are learners and they have a teachable spirit. They never stop wanting to learn. They refuse to believe that once theyhave a position of leadership, the pursuit of learning to lead has stopped. Leaders must have a passion for their own personal growth—spiritually and as aleader.

Get the Slight Edge

What areas would you like to focus on the rest of 2019?  At the end of 2019 what will have taken place for you to consider it a successful year?  Ponder that question personally, professionally, and as a church.  Where do you want to be spiritually one year from today and what do you hope your church looks like one year from today? 

How will your faith grow?  What does growing in Christ look like for you?  Lifeway has a Spiritual Growth Assessment Process that you can take at www.lifeway.com/discipleship and it will help you to evaluate where you are in six different spiritual disciplines that include:abide in Christ, live by the word, pray in faith, fellowship with believers, witness to the world, and minister to others.  It is an excellent tool to challenge you about where you need to focus on growing your faith and developing your walk.

*Spiritual Disciplines

*Living in the Word

*Praying in Faith

*Fellowship with Believers

*Witness to the World

*Ministering to Others.

It is an excellent tool to challenge you about where you need to focus on growing your faith and developing your walk.

This evaluation also gives you a list of recommended action steps for each area.  The beauty of this is that it shows you how you can implement practical ways to grow in each one of these six areas.  Whether you use this tool or not, if you want to move forward in a productive manner you should come up with a list of 5-7 goals to focus on and then prioritize them.  What do you feel the Lord would want you to work on first?  When will you begin working on it?  What will you do to help you reach and accomplish that goal?

He continued, “Olsen asserts that this ‘slight edge’ comes from doing the little things that bring success day after day after day. What’s amazing is that the things done daily in and of themselves seem to matter very little that day. Yet, this consistent discipline in the small things, plus time, equals great success. The ‘slight edge’ provides the power of compound interest in every area of our lives where it is practiced.”  Dr. Crawley has developed a men’s discipleship track that focuses on faith, family, friends, finances, and fitness.

This “slight edge” can be seen in every area of our lives.  The reality is that your health improves with exercise, your finances improve with a budget, your time improves with a schedule, and your soul improves by abiding in Christ by developing a daily quiet time.  It can be seen in disciplining ourselves to be in God’s word daily.  The truth is that you may not be changed in a day but if you are in His word daily it will change you.  The main point of taking a spiritual assessment is not to see if you have “arrived” but rather if you are headed in the right direction. 

Do you desire to develop a closeness and intimacy with Him that is deeper than you have experienced with Him in the past?  Some people say they are not into goal setting but the Apostle Paul was certainly not against it.  He says in Philippians 3:10, “My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”  Steve Green said it well in a song, “Oh, I want to know you more, deep within my soul I want to know you, oh I want to know you…Oh I want to know you more.”

If this is your prayer and desire of your heart what practical steps will you take to see it become a reality?  An American proverb says, “The hardest step is usually the first step.”  Remember, “this consistent discipline in the small things, plus time, equals great success.”  My dad reminded me often that it requires consistency.  Decide what you are going to do to develop this closer walk with the Lord then be committed to see it through.  If that means that you’re going to read through the entire Bible verse by verse then get started now, repeat daily, and do not quit!

Timothy Keller has said this about a daily quiet time.  “It is the single most influential practice in building your life from the inside out.”  The thing that people need to see the most in your life is that you walk with God. They know you are not perfect and that you make mistakes but they need to see that you are passionately pursuing God. Schedule your quiet time, guard your quiet time, be dedicated to your quiet time, and most of all enjoy your quiet time as He changes you from the inside out.  

David said in Psalm 63:1, “God, You are my God; I eagerly seek You. I thirst for You; my body faints for You in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water.”  Your “slight edge” will be your commitment to pursuing Him and abiding in Him.  You have this new opportunity to spend time with Him and allow your intimacy with Him increase day by day.  Don’t waste another moment!

Start Building

As we strive to be good stewards of the ministry Christ has placed us over we need to think of focusing on what needs our attention.  If we desire healthy growing churches then we must start doing the things that will help us to be healthy and will enable us to also stay healthy.  Our physical and spiritual health depends on diet, exercise, getting the proper rest, and some other important activities. Last week we stressed the need to stop doing the things that are only digging the hole deeper. This week we will focus on the things we need to be doing!

What habits do you need to commit to in the New Year? If you are going to build up and help others then you need to make sure you are practicing self-care also.  What plans do you have to care for your own soul spiritually, emotionally, socially, physically, and mentally?  Dr. Steve Crawley says, “To revisit a thought shared previously, if we use our Life Plan to establish a habit of doing the little things each day that lead to success, it may not seem like much to start, bot over the course of time the impact will sky rocket.” 

First, we need to be praying!  This is where we need to begin, on our knees before our God begging Him for His power and direction.  Are you praying for your church leaders, church family, and for your community daily? When Nehemiah saw the need in Jerusalem we see this godly leader stop, fast, and pray. How much time are you actually spending crying out to God on behalf of the spiritual condition of your church?  One source has reported that 90% of evangelicals pray approximately one minute a day!  

Second, practice courageous leadership!  When God does show you the things you need to be doing, obey! The congregation needs to face the truth of their spiritual condition and godly leaders need to provide that truth no matter how painful it might be.  People need to hear the truth whether they embrace it or not.  The real challenge of leadership is convincing people that the pain of where they need to go is not as painful as staying where they are.  Think children of Israel!  They were convinced they would be better off returning to Egypt.

Third, structure the ministry in your church to get more people involved.  We have even gotten to where we need a committee to determine who will be on the committees.  Some churches that are already struggling think that getting more structure will fix everything and it just does not work that way.  Focus on moving people out of meetings and into ministry.  In The Unstuck Church,Tony Morgan says, “I’d much rather have people invest their time, gifts, and energy in making disciples than in making decisions in a church committee meeting.” 

Fourth, you must sell-out in developing and implementing a discipleship pathway.  Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.”  Read great books on discipleship such as The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman and Real-Life Discipleship by Jim Putman.  Most churches do well at the big circle (worship), the middle circle (Bible studies), but struggle at one-on-one discipleship that promotes spiritual mentoring and accountability.  Take a break from working in the ministry only and take the time to step back and work on your discipleship plan.

Fifth, consider changing your church governance system if it is unhealthy or dysfunctional. Is your structure modeling what spiritual leadership should look like?  The primary purpose of church leadership is not to keep the pastor and staff in line.  Their primary role should be to encourage and enable their pastor to lead the way God intended.  Find a structure that recognizes that God often allows the leader to see the direction and challenges first.  All too often a pastor is desired and asked to use their pastoral gifts more than their leadership gifts. 

Sixth, work hard at remaining outwardly focused.  Yes, to some I am sounding like a broken record but to be like Christ we must seek out the lost.  Almost everything we do is for people who are already connected to the church.  It is not possible to be healthy if we never do much to reach people outside the faith and outside the church.  Our evangelism approach may look different today than it did in 1970, but the mission and heart of God remains unchanged.  You cannot necessarily expect to return to the method of the 70’s but we can return to the value!

Seventh, work on building the systems you need to sustain growth.  As important as systems are you must make sure youkeep it simple!  Complexity actually hurts more than it helps.  For example, we think we have a discipleship pathway when in reality what we have is a multitude of programs that teach Bible lessons.  Of course, teaching the Bible is a good thing but you must look closely at your spiritual growth system to make sure it is actually producing multiplying disciples.  Can you trace multiplication to the fourth generation?  (2 Timothy 2:2)    

BMA Missions defines our vision statement as a discipleship based multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches.  Courageous conversations are necessary for your church to figure out how to engage your community and make a difference for the cause of Christ.  Quoting Tony Morgan again, he says that, “We easily become fixated on being the “best” church in our community,rather than being the best churchfor our community!” Methods should never become more important than the mission.  Are you seeing a multiplication of disciples who are discipling others?

Quit Digging a Hole

It has been said, “If you are in a hole, rule number one is to stop digging.” That certainly sums up many other statements that could be made about a church that is no longer healthy.  Yet, all too often, that church continues to do the very things that made her unhealthy.  In The Unstuck Church, Tony Morgan says, “What got the church on life support will not make it healthy again.” There is such a need to consider prayerful evaluation of where your church is (healthy versus unhealthy), why it is unhealthy, and what needs to be done to make it healthy again. 

There is another saying that goes like this, “Hope springs eternal.”  The problem is that biblical godly hope is not just a pie in the sky dream.  It is more than just wishful thinking.  Romans 5:5 says, “This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  You see the hope of God will not disappoint because He acted on that hope and came to provide us a way to have a relationship with Him.  It is not enough to think that hoping things will change will actually produce healthy change.

We constantly say things like; “I sure hope someone fixes that”, “I sure hope someone shares the gospel with them”, or “I sure hope things get better.”  Hope by itself alone will not win people to Jesus, disciple new converts, plant a church, keep a church healthy, or get a dying church off life support.  The reality is that hope is not a strategy and you need a plan to quit digging and know what to do after the digging stops.  God had a strategy to deliver hope, “When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.”  (Gal 4:4)

How do you stop digging deeper?  Begin by evaluating where you are and if you are healthy.  

First, will you develop a clear and compelling vision that all of your people can clearly articulate.  A lack of vision is one characteristic that shows up in churches that begin to drift from their mission and begin to decline. Your vision needs to specifically describe the next steps your church will take to begin getting healthy by developing healthy steps and practices for your people to take.  Mission is why you exist and is where you are headed.

Second, how will you make disciples and what does discipleship look like in your church?  Jim Putman in Real Life Discipleshipdescribes discipleship as an intentional leader, with a relational environment, and a reproducible process.  Discipleship that is complicated and confusing will not produce healthy disciples.  Chances are they will not produce disciples at all.  Do you have a reproducible process with clear steps that moves people from where they are to where God wants then to be?  These steps lead from spiritual birth to spiritual parenthood. 

Third, how will you lead your church to remain outwardly focused with a heart of generosity?  The church does not exist only for those who are already there. Tony Morgan in The Unstuck Churchsays, “It’s impossible for any church to be healthy and experience growth if nothing they do is designed to reach people who are outside the faith and outside the church.”  You must prioritize people who are outside your church by showing them the love of Christ in practical ways.  You have to quit digging the hole of only focusing on who is already there. 

The second part of this is by being a generous church.  Ask yourself whether or not your church leans toward being generous or protecting and holding on to what you have?  When we lean toward being a generous church then we lean more toward being like Christ.  When we lean toward being stingy then we lean further away from Him.  Romans 5:5 says, “This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  His loved was poured out to us so that we would pour that love out to others. 

This principle of generosity is stressed in Galatians 6 by telling us we should not get tired of doing good and with every opportunity we have we should labor for the good of everyone.  This biblical principle of practicing generosity should always characterize how we treat those outside the church.  We should remain generous regardless of how many times we think that people have taken advantage of our generosity.  Resist the temptation to focus on maintenance and preservation of what you already have.  God gave you what you have to invest it into His kingdom work! 

 Fourth, lead your church in these areas with strength and courage.  You must do whatever is necessary to get your church healthy and reach new people with the gospel.  Some will want to continue digging the hole deeper and deeper but you must lead them to lay down their shovels and crawl out of the hole.  There will be opposition but you cannot wait for everyone to get on board.  Pray hard and then begin to develop a plan of attack on how you will get healthy, your church leaders will be healthy, and then so your church will be healthier.  

Lead your people with a vision of making disciples who make disciples.  The time is now to become a strong leader. Until you begin to make the necessary changes to become healthy the plan has only been a conversation.  Once you begin to take the actual steps toward becoming healthy there will be opposition.  Not everyone will be happy that you have decided to stop digging the hole deeper and deeper.  Lead anyway toward biblical church health!    

Evaluating Potential Leaders

The Great commission states clearly that we are to go and make disciples.  This means we are suppose to be multiplying disciples, leaders, and churches.  All too often though there is a real vacuum in leadership development.  If we want leaders available when we need them then we must be ready and willing to invest the time and effort into developing them. II Timothy 2:2 teaches this process of Paul to Timothy, to faithful men, and then to others also.  We see the win as Timothy but the real win is Timothy fulfilling his calling by discipling others.

It is easy to see this process throughout Pauls’ life and ministry.  Acts 14:21-22 puts it like this, “After they had evangelized that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, ‘It is necessary to pass through many troubles on our way into the kingdom of God.’”  The elements are seen in evangelization, making disciples, strengthening them, and encouraging them.  It involves spending time with and doing life with those we wish to develop.

Much has been taught, said, preached, and written on the importance of leadership development but there are some very simple things to consider such as a selection process and character assessment.  Never be willing to overlook character flaws because the person has charisma and is very “gifted.”  There must be a time of watching an individual and making sure that we do not elevate individuals to positions of leadership too quickly.  How will you determine if they are ready to take the next steps?  First, you need to consider a way of assessing their character. 

Here is what Aubry Malphurs says in his excellent tool Character Assessment for Men for Ministry, “Over the years, leaders have discovered that godly character is critical to effective ministry for Christ. However, no one is perfect, and all of us have our weaknesses and flaws as well as strengths. This character assessment is to help you determine your character strengths and weaknesses so that you can know where you are strong and where you need to develop and grow. The characteristics are found in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9.”

Consider putting your own assessment together that evaluates where the disciple is on this pathway to increasing their leadership position and influence.  What traits and actions are necessary for them to possess for you to consider them in a leadership pole?  Decide what is nonnegotiable to you and your ministry.  Make sure that you give potential leaders projects before you give them positions.  Run from those who appear to be looking for a title more than they desire to serve and help others.  Have the core value that no one can be a leader who does not first serve.  Jesus said, “I came not to be served but to serve.”   

In a recent vision and strategy meeting with my good friend Kevin Marsico he stated that we should always be looking for three very important elements of character.  

  1. What are the values we want them to believe?  
  2. What are the skill sets they need to be practicing?
  3. What are the qualities they need to be exhibiting?  

In order to better discern these three areas, evaluate them on a scale of 1 to 10 with 5 being acceptable but needing some work.  Raise the expectations because leadership demands a greater commitment and standard.

 Here is an example.  Do you believe in biblical tithing and do you faithfully practice it? If they give themselves a 5 then you would know that they tithe but they do not give much above and beyond that. Another way of phrasing that could be, “Are you a significant giver?”  Some believe it is wrong to check on peoples financial giving but you don’t have to know exactly what they giving.  The only quotation of Jesus recorded outside the gospels of a statement spoken by Him while He was on earth is, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)  That is significant! 

This point is well made by Tony Morgan in The Unstuck Church, “As hard as it may be to believe, Jesus gave us a way of measuring someone’s heart.  It actually has nothing to do with words or actions, or attitudes. The measure has to do with money. He said, ‘Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.’  (Matthew 6:21)  It’s so true, isn’t it?  I know that to be the case in my life.  I can talk about full surrender all I want but my checkbook and my credit card statement tell the truth.  Where my treasure is there the desires of my heart will also be.”

As you develop this character assessment tool you should consider questions on tithing, healthy relationships, conflict management, prayer life, quiet time, sharing the gospel, and present involvement in ministry. Also, are they discipling anyone? Remember, this is about leadership development not just a job application.  It is not meant to be an interview to decide yes or no but rather a healthy and helpful spiritual evaluation to determine what needs to be worked on and changed.  The journey will determine whether or not they will be able to take the next step!

Leadership development flows out of your discipleship process.  Begin discipling and then be watching for those who seem to want more.  Their passion is evident and they usually will push you more than you push them.  Jesus discipled twelve but He then focused on three.  What three potential leaders do you see and feel the Lord telling you to invest in and spend the time necessary to develop these potential leaders?     

S.O.A.P. Journaling

S.O.A.P.ing the scriptures is one of our discipleship engines here at Cornerstone.  It is a Bible reading schedule we follow as a church.

SOAP is our first tool to stay CENTERED ON GOD!  It keeps us on target for our daily quiet time with the Lord! 

It stands for:

  • Scripture
  • Observation
  • Application
  • Prayer

This reaffirms our faith in the power of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit speaking into our lives and hearts.

This is a simple grid to help you think through what you are going to do during your study/quiet time always asking 2 questions:

  • What is God saying?
  • What does He want me to do about it?

S.O.A.P. Journaling is an excellent way to both record and process what God has spoken to us. It’s also a useful tool to use at a later time, to reflect on and review some of the ‘gems’ that you have received. Without writing them down, you may forget those blessings and some very important lessons! And while journaling is a very personal time with the Lord, you may want to share some of your daily journaling with your small group or mentors. Through discussion, you may be able to look deeper into what God is speaking to you, gain new insight and even encourage others. 

S = Scripture 

This is where you open your Bible to the reading found under today’s date in our monthly schedule. Take time reading and allow God to speak to you. When you are done, look for a verse that particularly spoke to you that day, and write it in your journal.

O = Observation 

What do you think God is saying to you in this scripture? Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you and reveal Jesus to you. Paraphrase and write this scripture down in your own words, in your journal. 

A = Application 

Personalize what you have read, by asking yourself how it applies to your life right now. Perhaps it is instruction, encouragement, revelation of a new promise, or corrections for a particular area of your life. Write how this Scripture can apply to you today. 

P = Prayer 

This can be as simple as asking God to help you use this scripture, or it may be a greater insight on what He may be revealing to you. Remember, prayer is a two way conversation, so be sure to listen to what God has to say! Now, write it out. 

Some have added and S. on the end making it:    S.O.A.P.S.

The last S. stands for Share:

  • Who do you need to share this truth with?
  • Who do you need to encourage?

Our Cornerstone SOAP schedule is posted on our website thestone3.com

Start looking here for some observations God is showing me out of the the book of Daniel!!! Dig in and allow His word to speak to you!

PRAYER SYSTEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Discipleship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You An Aircraft Carrier?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greater Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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