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Heart Test!!!

All of us need to examine our hearts to determine if we are true disciples of Christ or not. In order to administer a test, the test first has to be developed and written. If you are going to ask a question then there needs to be a definitive answer. When you ask many church leaders to define a disciple you actually will get a multitude of answers. How does your church define a disciple? What elements are necessary to say a person is a fully devoted follower of Christ?

There are three tests every believer should test himself or herself on to determine where they are in their personal journey.

First, do you know and are you following Jesus? Have you decided to follow Him and make Him Lord of your life?

Second, are you being changed and transformed by Christ regularly? Is Christ consistently at work in you so that He might work through you?

Third, are you committed to the mission of Jesus? Are you focused on what He has called you to do?

This heart test requires all three…not just two of them. If you are having physical heart problems think about how different tests intensify and are more in-depth. First, you may be given an EKG to see if there are any irregularities in the patterns of your heart (“Follow me”). Second, you may then be asked to take a stress test that challenges your heart under a more difficult situation (“and I will make you”). Third, they then may require a heart catherization (“fishers of men”).

Do not stop at the first or second level because a true test of the heart of any disciple is that they must be living on mission for Jesus. Matthew 4:19 makes it unmistakable, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” A clear and concise definition of what it means and what it takes to follow Jesus is how we can test our hearts. Honestly, many Christians and many churches need to rediscover and recommit to the mission of God. Each level is a more in-depth test of where you are spiritually.

A huge part of this process, “and I will make you,” happens in community and with other disciples. We were not made to follow Jesus alone, but together, because two are better than one. Someone has said, “You should be willing to stand alone for Christ but you should not ever have to!” There is not just strength in numbers but those numbers being together in community strengthens us. That is what the Bible means when it speaks of iron sharpening iron. It is one hard object striking another hard object to improve effectiveness.

Bill Hybels gives a great definition of biblical community, “Knowing and being known, loving and being loved, serving and being served, and celebrating and being celebrated.” Three necessary ingredients to properly test our spiritual hearts are the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, and the people of God. This is why connection (small) groups are so important to spiritual maturity. We grow as God intended when we are following Christ together in community by praying for one another, loving one another, serving one another, and even correcting one another.

There must be an environment of authenticity and transparency for this to work. In larger groups we are able to hide behind superficial relationships that never really get beyond pleasantries. We are comfortable taking about the weather, sports, fishing, our jobs, but God forbid we ask someone what sin they are struggling with the most. If we are not careful, we create pretend relationships…not authentic ones. Honesty in a safe environment is what develops trust. Here are three areas that test our heart and our authenticity.

First, you do not need to feel like you have all the answers. As a matter of fact, J.D. Greear says, “The greatest ideas for ministry are likely in the minds of congregation members…Furthermore, if the majority of what Jesus wants to do He wants to do in community, it shouldn’t surprise us that He puts His best vision into the hearts of the people who live and work there for the majority of their hours each week.” Allow creativity and listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to others around you.

Second, make sure you have not surrounded yourself with “yes men.” Ed Stetzer said, “Surround yourself with strong voices who have permission to disagree.” That is not always easy and challenges us but we must give permission to spiritual people to speak into our lives and we must be willing to give what they say a fair hearing. Greear and Stetzer have hit the nail on the head by stressing the importance of promoting creativity and valuing everyone’s opinion on your team. A true test of spiritual maturity is that you do not have to have your way.

Third, trust the people around you by equipping them, empowering them, and releasing them. Craig Groeschel says, “You can have control or you can have growth, but you can’t have both. You have recruited great people, trust and empower them.” That may not fit your situation exactly but learn from the principle. If they are not in the right position then help them discover the right one. If they are not sure about what to do give them the training that would help them be more effective.

Leaders, we need to test our hearts on our willingness to “be changed and transformed by Jesus.” Are we listening to His leadership in making disciples who make disciples? Are we willing to realize that the people God has placed around us have as much vision and ability as we do? Do we really believe in the priesthood of the believer and are we willing to practice it? Let me close by quoting Greear again, “Shouldn’t pastors see themselves as servants of the movement rather than celebrities of the moment?

Getting Connected

The best way to be connected to any church is through a small group. They can be called small groups, Bible studies, life groups, cell groups and many other titles. We call our small groups “Connection” groups because it fits our C-3 vision statement of being Centered on God, Connected to one another, and Compassionate for our city. The language fits us because we tell our people the best way to get connected at Cornerstone is by being a part of one of our connection groups. We even call our first time visitor cards our “Connection” cards.

Our connection groups are referred to as our first responders to help minister to our people’s needs. As first responders the connection group leader is one of the most important positions in our church because they make sure that the people in their group are properly ministered to and cared for. Pastor, it’s not your responsibility to care for every member but it is your responsibility to make sure they are cared for. There are many reasons we need to get people connected to a connection group because of how it facilitates spiritual care and growth.

First, a connection group is a small group because of its size. The larger a study group grows the more difficult it becomes to really connect. You will not have enough time to really get to know one another, answer the questions that really matter, or enjoy a healthy amount of discussion plus it forces the delivery system to become a lecture model. In Real-Life Discipleship Jim Putman says, “Most of us do not choose lecture as a preferred way to learn, but unfortunately the lecture model is how most Christians receive much of their teaching.”

Second, a connection group provides shepherding and cares for its members. When the group is smaller it enables the group to help care for one another. Caring for one another is seen as a core value and is done willingly because we become family. Sheep stray and a connection group notices much sooner when someone is missing. When a connection group is committed to doing life together they are also more aware when a member is struggling physically or spiritually and it provides a system to confront sin and hold members accountable.

Third, a connection group needs to build a safe environment. Transparency needs to be modeled but it will never work if trust is not built into the culture. Two key elements of a safe environment are authenticity and mutual accountability. The larger the group the harder it is for people to share their struggles and believe that everyone believes in confidentiality. Quoting Jim Putman again, “Real relationships are an essential part of God’s plan. The world’s need for relationships is God’s opportunity to build disciples.”

Forth, a connection group is not a watered down Bible study. This accusation is made but usually unfounded. Yes, one element of a connection group is healthy dialogue. Jesus repeatedly used questions to facilitate thought and discussion. He also would answer questions by telling a story. There you have two key elements in how people learn. Make sure you use Bible stories to teach God’s truth and then dialogue how that truth applies to their lives. Jim Putman says it this way; “You are not making disciples if you are doing all the talking.”

Fifth, a connection group requires an intentional leader, a relational environment, and a reproducible process. Remember, your connection (small) group leader is one of the most important positions in your church because they help shepherd the congregation. Their intentionality requires that they know, and are passionately following, Christ. They do not need to be Bible scholars but they do need to be in love with Jesus. They must model what growing and maturing in Christ looks like to those in the group. The goal is not perfection but progress.

Sixth, a small group models and displays what it looks like to become self-feeders. Every disciple must take personal responsibility for his or her spiritual growth. When we work on our own spiritual maturity then our church will become the automatic beneficiary. We have built an unhealthy expectation that the church drives our spiritual walks when actually our spiritual walks should drive the church. Yes, the church has a responsibility to assist in our spiritual growth but disciples must be shown how to feed themselves.

Seventh, a small group shows its members how to sustain their passion by taking care of their hearts. They learn that the journey will not always be easy and that it takes effort and determination. Zeal and passion comes from an intimate personal walk with Christ. If our heart is full then our walk with Christ will be natural (actually supernatural.) If our heart is empty our walk with Christ will be forced and our passion will diminish. If a disciple is walking with Christ it is apparent and if they are not they need to be shown how.

Connection groups provide the biblical vehicle that promotes spiritual growth! II Timothy 2:2 makes it clear that discipleship happens in relationships. It is not a mistake that these plural terms are used: many witnesses, reliable men, and others. A connection group provides support, encouragement, and the necessary accountability. Act 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-35 make it clear that we are to spend time together, care for one another, meet one another’s needs, practice grace toward one another, and be in unity on their purpose.

Don’t Settle For Less

Your church exists to help people find and follow Jesus. Our Lord made it very clear when He said, “Go and make disciples.” The core mission of every church is to help people follow Jesus, walk with Him, and continue on their spiritual journeys. According to Eugene Peterson, “Discipleship is long obedience in the same direction.” Is biblical disciple making really the core that drives your church and everything you do? Will you settle for anything less?

Church culture has developed a pathway to service from conversion to volunteering to service. If you are not careful this can become more of a drainpipe then a leadership pipeline. Everyone should have a place of service but God has so much more for us than being an occasional greeter, usher, or taking our turn in the nursery. Maybe this is part of our willingness to settle for less than God intended? We need a pathway where disciples are trained, equipped, and released to serve.

Disciples make disciples, who become leaders, and then live on mission for Christ. That is a leadership pipeline. Matthew 4:19 defines a disciple as someone who knows and follows Jesus, is being changed by Jesus, and is committed to the mission of Jesus. This describes the goal of what we are called to do, accomplish, and become. Goals without practices and habits are only a pipedream. You dream about the goal but your habits remain the same. We settle for less!

We must develop faith habits that produce actions today that will make our goals a reality tomorrow. Are you willing to do the right things today that will ensure kingdom impact tomorrow? One example would be our goal to see a church planting movement like the early church witnessed. If we want to see a movement we must plant more churches. If we want to plant more churches then we must develop more leaders. And in order to develop more leaders we must make more disciples.

A leadership problem is actually a discipleship problem. Our goal to be obedient to Christ demands that we develop a discipleship pathway and a leadership pipeline in our church. Do you have a clearly articulated discipleship pathway so that the people in your church know what their next steps toward Christ should be? Can your members clearly articulate that pathway? If it cannot be clearly articulated then it is not reproducible. You may have disciples but they will not know how to make disciples.

First, numbers are accurate but they are not adequate. If you had 100 teenagers show up for an event that would be great and should be celebrated but does that really define success? Have we settled for less than God intended if we only measure the number? A better metric would be that they are being discipled and they are making disciples themselves. It is not wrong to track attendance but that alone is not enough to according to Matthew 4:19. We cannot settle for less than seeing diciples who are committed to the mission of Jesus.

Second, discipleship is more than attending a class and getting a certificate. Biblical wisdom is not just how much you know and the knowledge you have gained. It is being able to put God’s principles into action in our lives. Is our discipleship pathway more about information transfer then it is life transformation? You do not graduate from discipleship in this life because as Daniel Im puts it, “It is more about a direction then it is a destination.” We do not arrive but continue to become more and more like Christ.

Third, you must learn to read the Bible honestly. We cannot ignore verses that speak of hardships, difficulties, persecution, trials, and tribulation. We must learn to trust God even when we lose things we want to keep and we keep things we want to lose. God allows suffering in our lives sometimes to cut away what will ultimately harm us. It also enables Him to install and insert into our lives what we really need. We should never settle for anything less than God’s purposes for our lives.

Fourth, we must be held accountable. Our discipleship pathway must have an obedience mechanism that holds those we are discipling accountable. We settle for less than God intended when accountability is the missing ingredient in our discipleship. It has been well said, “The faith that does not finish was faulty from the first.” Discipleship demands that we speak the truth in love. The Bible is clear that those who are more spiritually mature must speak into their disciples’ lives.

Fifth, discipleship materials are the least of your problems. Curriculum is important and must be biblically sound but the bigger issue is following through with actually discipling someone. Jim Putman’s necessary elements of a discipleship pathway are worth repeating. Intentional leadership plus a relational environment, plus a reproducible process is necessary. Jesus’ main focus was developing His disciples for the task of making disciples. Do not settle for making disciples but make disciple-makers.

Sixth, lead by example because the speed of the leader determines the speed of the team. We say we need more leaders but how much of your time is spent developing leaders? Do you disciple others weekly? Do you also weekly have a group you pour into because you see leadership potential in them? If not, you need to build these two necessary systems into your schedule. It must be a part of your ministry rhythm to be discipling and to be developing leaders.

Seventh, see the potential in every believer. When Jesus looked at His followers He did not see what everyone else saw. He saw world changers who would lead a movement. God has so much more for us than just volunteering to serve in our church. He sees an obedient disciple who is being transformed by Him and is committed to living on mission for Him. We must refuse to settle for less than God intended for our lives and for our churches!

Developing Spiritual Muscles

Quite often church “experts” seem to imply that particular methods will produce certain “guaranteed” results. They offer proven and tested methods that will produce growth in your church just like it did in their church. First of all, we should be ready to listen and learn from others when we can. Teachability trumps gifting every time.   If you have to choose, make sure you take the less gifted over the expert who knows everything because they will accomplish more in the long run.

We sometimes focus so hard on the machinery (the blueprint or the game plan) that we forget we need to have the muscles (the strength and power) to accomplish our task.   Systems, flow charts, and organizational structures are important. They provide a track to run on and clear next steps for those desiring to move forward. We can become almost enamored with the charts, nut and bolts, and the details so that we forget about the need for His power and presence.

As a church there are some things we must focus on so we do not lose sight of where we are headed and how we can get there. For example, Christians know that they need to have a daily quiet time with the Lord. Then they must develop a system that determines the how, where, when, and what that will look like. Answering those questions will help make their goal of a consistent daily quiet time a reality in their lives. Yes, if you fail to plan you are planning to fail!

I heard Rick Warren speak on the following “Renewals.”

First, focus on Spiritual Renewal. This is how you are staying centered on God and as a church leaning into His presence. We develop habits (prayer and Bible study) that cause us to love God more. This renewal teaches us who He is and who we are. As a church what structure have you developed to help your people to stay centered on who God is? The muscle behind this process is the Holy Spirit. Being Spirit-filled is indispensable (absolutely necessary) to spiritual renewal.

Second, focus on Relational Renewal! This is how you stay connected to one another and learn how to love people more. As spiritual maturity begins to occur we need to connect people to God, one another, and then to a purpose. It moves a person from being self-centered to being God-centered and others-centered. Spiritual gifts enable us to serve God well. Leaders equip us for service and then when members have willing hearts they begin to exercise their gifts.

The problem is when we are more focused on serving ourselves than we are on serving others. It is easy to focus on how wonderful our gift is and want people to notice our giftedness. The key to the proper equipping and exercise of our gifts is to remember that they are given to serve others. If you want people to notice your gift then realize that what you are really saying is, “Look at me!”

Third, focus on Missional Renewal! This ensures that we remain compassionate for our cities, communities, and neighborhoods. We not only want to love people more but we also have a burden and desire to love “more” people. Once we connect members to their purpose (everyone needs a role and responsibility) we focus on equipping them for ministry. It simply involves showing the need, how they can meet the need, and giving them the opportunity to meet that need.

The machinery of processes and structures is important but the muscle (the heavy lifting) occurs by being spirit-filled. In the book of Acts we would have to be blind not to see that this is required of all leaders. The Lord has never delegated His authority to anyone who is not filled with the Spirit. When the church in Jerusalem was faced with what to do with Gentile believers, stated, “For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision—and ours— to put no greater burden on you than these necessary things.”

We must remain sensitive to His direction and leadership. Acts 10:38 says that Jesus was “Anointed…with the Holy Spirit and with power.” In Acts 4:8 it says that Peter “was filled with the Holy Spirit and said to them.” Once again, notice the order! First he was filled with the Spirit and then he spoke. There is wisdom in us following that process. You could add to this list the 120 in Acts 2, deacons in Acts 6, Stephen in Acts 7, Barnabas in Acts 11, and Paul in Acts 13.

Being spirit-filled is required. Where do you start?

First, begin with God’s word! This is our foundation and the Holy Spirit will never lead us to disobey His word. Many people are looking for a vision when they need to be looking for a verse in His word. When we place ourselves under the authority of God’s word it does the heavy lifting for us because it decides for us what we will do and what we will not do as we live by its principles.

Second, trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance! His fullness gives us joy, vitality, and energy in our service to Him. He does the heavy lifting and it is our task to remain yielded to Him. If we refuse to remain surrendered to His leadership then we will be left to our own plans and policies. Then we will have to run the machinery in our own power. Before long we will begin to go through the religious motions without His help or assistance. The result will be an unspiritual body.

Third, listen to God’s people! We need one another and there is wisdom in the multitude of counsel. Godly and spiritual people in our lives serve as our filters in making sure we are in agreement with God’s word and the leadership of the Holy Spirit. The machinery is necessary and important but we need the muscles that can only be found through the power of His word and the Holy Spirit!

40 Day Prayer Challenge

God has changed lives in 40 days before and He can do it again! We see that Jesus went into the wilderness and was tempted by Satan for 40 days. We also know that there were 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and His ascension in Acts 1. In the Old Testament we see Moses on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and nights when he received the 10 Commandments. There is nothing magical or mystical about the number but it is significant in what can happen during a time of spiritual renewal and emphasis.

When a church seeks a time of renewal and revival the goal is to hear from the Lord and find God’s will and His agenda for our ministry. There is a unique connection for a body of believers when they agree to seek the Lord together and hear from Him together. When we press into His presence we are showing the Lord that we are taking our responsibility of listening to Him seriously. Mark Batterson says, “Our job is to hear His voice. His job is to establish our steps. And if we do our job, God will do His!”

Are you seeking a break through in your personal walk or as a church? The reality is that God’s plans are discovered, discerned, and defined in God’s presence. Perhaps you should consider a 40-day prayer challenge where the entire body focuses on the same Bible passages, repentance, and asking God for the same things. There are many resources available that include books, booklets, or you could even put your own together. Mark Batterson also says, “They gathered in a room and prayed for 10 days. Those 10 days have been paying dividends for 2,000 years.”

A prayer challenge reminds us of the importance of repentance and helps us to focus on the following process.

First, it begins by praying for personal repentance.   I John 1:9 makes this clear, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousenss.”

Second, we pray for our church to be burdened about holiness. Jesus makes it very clear in Revelation 2 and 3 that the path to being His church is for us to listen to Him and repent.

On day three pray for other churches in your community. Ask God to give other churches around you a burden for the lost and to raise up spiritual leaders in their midst to call them back to God’s word and His gospel.

Then on day four pray for Bible-believing churches in your state. One author has said, “Spirit-empowered churches across a state can change the state and influence the nation.” Ask God to burden all of His people across the state to be hungry and thirsty for righteousness.

The fifth day can focus your prayers on churches across your nation or country. We are called to make disciples in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. A national revival could touch the world.

Day six could focus on praying for missionaries and churches around the world. Ask God to raise up national spiritual leaders who will call their churches to repentance and obedience to the Great Commission.

The seventh day we could pray fervently for the persecuted church around the world.

Charles Finney said, “Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together. Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.” We must pray for revival that is grounded in His people turning back to Him. E.M. Bounds said, “God shapes the world by prayer. The more praying there is in the world the better the world will be, the mightier the forces against evil.” We are called to be a people of prayer who know that time spent in prayer is never wasted!

Next you should consider praying specifically for your church and its leadership.

First, pray for pastors. Paul asks for the prayers of fellow Christians in Ephesians 6:19, “Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.” The best thing you can do for your pastor is to surround him and his family with your prayers.

Second, pray for your church staff. Pray that each staff member will protect their walk with Christ and continually abide in Him.

Third, pray for your elders, deacons, and other church leaders. Pray that these leaders will be filled with the Spirit and they will lead unified. Romans 15:5-6 says it well, “Now may the God of endurance and encouragement grant you agreement with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a united mind and voice.”

Fourth, pray for ministry leaders. Ask God to help them realize how much they are appreciated and loved. Their role is important!

Fifth, pray for ministry teams. God can use these teams, when they are spirit-empowered, to shake their churches and communities for the cause of Christ. Ask God to raise up leaders and provide workers for the harvest.

Then, pray for the lost! Here is a simple daily prayer challenge that all of us should pray. “Lord, I don’t ask for much today. I just ask that you give me your heart for lost people.” You will discover that prayer is more about changing our hearts then it is changing others.

We should pray for one another every day! A.W. Tozer said, “To desire revival…and at the same time to neglect (personal) prayer and devotion is to wish one way and walk together.”

Are You Winning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bells and Whistles

Is there something without which you think you cannot serve or worship God? If not careful, we expect certain music, rituals, or even technology to produce a spiritual “atmosphere.” The truth is that neither a killer praise band nor liturgy and lighting candles can guarantee worship. Hebrews 10:1 says, “Since the law was only a shadow of good things to come, and not the actual form of those realities, it can never perfect the worshipers by the same sacrifices they continually offer year after year.” We sometimes accept cheap substitutes of the real thing.

One example of this could be when someone comments, “I did not care for that song!” Maybe that song, whether a hymn or a contemporary chorus, was not for them but instead for someone else who desperately needed it. The way we approach ministry is often more determined by what we like and the traditions we were raised on than on biblical principles. Let’s look again to the word of God in Hebrews 8:6, “But Jesus has now obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree He is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been legally enacted on better promises.”

Sometimes we think we must have certain things present, just like the Judaizers did, or it is not real worship. We want all the bells and whistles to feel like we have been a part of special services. Let me make this clear. There is nothing wrong with bells and whistles. The problem is when we look to “them” more that we do to Him. J.D. Greear has said, “Worship need not always be spectacular, but it must be supernatural. And if we are not careful, our lust for the sensational can keep us from reliance on the supernatural.”

The problem is that all too often we spend more time focusing on our delivery method than we do depending on our Deliverer! Once again, let me caution you about saying “amen” because you have interpreted me to be talking about those other guys that do not do it like we do. What are some guiding principles on which we can build our ministry that can help to keep us focused on the right things? Why would we settle for cheap substitutes, the bells and whistles, when the real substance, Jesus Christ, is available to all who follow Him?

First, everything must be about exalting the name of Jesus! We know that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. He says in Isaiah 42:8, “I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another or My praise to idols.” When we do anything to bring attention to ourselves we are in danger of Him not showing up in a powerful way. He inhabits the praise of His people, which is directed at Him so that He receives the honor and the glory.

Second, we need to make sure we are known as a house of prayer! How much time do we actually spend praying as a body of believers? Our job is to get into His presence so that we can hear from Him. God’s job is to move in our presence as He empowers and directs us. The wonderful thing is that when we do our job He always does His. When we pray for Him to move in our midst we know that we are praying what is His will.

Third, allow Him to fill is with His fullness. Ephesians 4:10 says, ”The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.” We fill our life with so many things, but are we allowing Him to fill us with His fullness? We see in Ephesians that we are to be filled with the fullness of the Father (3:19), filled with Christ’s fullness (4:13), and filled with the fullness of the Holy Spirit. The Father planned our salvation, the Son provided our salvation, and the Holy Spirit applies our salvation.

Fourth, make sure you strive for excellence. The key to keeping our eyes on the author and finisher of our salvation is to fill our hearts with the right things. God gives us enabling grace but we are also responsible to believe, trust, obey, and follow Him. Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men.” A great way of looking at excellence is to do the best with what you have.

Fifth, be thankful for what you have and what God has given you. Enabling grace from God plus enacting faith leads to us fulfilling His intended purpose. God is in charge of the gifts He gives each of us. We should not seek any particular gifts but trust how He has distributed them. The gifts He gives come from Him so therefore they need to be used and not buried. Also, no gift should be exalted above any other gift and we should humbly serve others with our gifts.

Sixth, do what you do for Christ with excellence but also do it where it can strategically help carry out the mission of God. We do not need all the bells and whistles if we are doing it for the glory of God. You also will then do your work out of your heart for the benefit of others. Then you will be able to leverage appropriate opportunities to share the love of God with others. All the tools are great but nothing can replace love, kindness, friendship, and genuine care.

Seventh, remember to make the most of the place where God has planted you. Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” God has a purpose for you. Your testimony and influence grows out of how you carry out your calling with passion. Colossians 2:17 states, “These are the shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah.” The bells and whistles are all the trimmings but the real substance is in knowing Him!

The Idol of Success

How do you determine greatness or success? The world has a different definition than the word of God gives to us. American culture wants us to believe that it is all about how big our ministries are and how many attend on Sunday mornings. At a recent men’s prayer breakfast the pastor who spoke said, “The world judges greatness by how many people serve us. Jesus judges greatness by how many people we serve.” The drive to be great at something can cause us to lose sight of what really matters if we are not very careful!

We can allow the idol of success to slip in and dominate our thinking and our motives. Have you ever noticed how some can turn every conversation into a competition? If we have a had a major surgery and share about it’s difficulties invariably there is someone whose horror story is much worse than ours. Unfortunately, we want the conversation focused on us more than we are concerned about the other individual’s troubles. If the idol of success begins to control us then we will desire for every conversation to revolve around ourselves.

In Gaining by Losing, J. D. Greear says, “Ministry, you see, is a great place for guys with the idol of success to hide, because we can mask our selfish ambition in the cloak of doing great things for God.” Meditating on this statement has caused me to prayerfully consider if my prayer is truly that of John the Baptist, “He must increase and I must increase.” We must be willing to face the reality that it is not only athletes, movie stars, and other celebrities who can struggle with their egos. Are we using people to build our churches or are we using our churches to build up people?

All of us have seen individuals who blow their own horns a little too much. Have we not also been guilty of that a time or two? We enjoy pointing out that our church is better than your church because of the name we have chosen, the style of music we use, or the number of services and programs that we have. Or we simply imply that another Christian is not as spiritual as we are because of how we follow and serve Christ. We may not openly say it, but we feel like the Pharisee of old, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other people!”

The humble love serving the Lord and they do not do it to be noticed. They also do not care who gets the credit as long as Jesus is glorified. In Uncommon Life Daily Challenge, Tony Dungy says, “Have you caught yourself saying or doing something with an intentional ‘look at me’ attitude? It can happen to anyone. And so can falling flat on your face and eating humble pie. A sign of spiritual maturity of a person who is truly seeking God has always been and always will be humility. Isaiah 42:8, “I am Yahweh, that is my name; I will not give my glory to another.”

Could this be why we see other churches as our competition? We have to advertise and market ourselves for those interested in the way we approach ministry. Could this be why most church growth is by other church members changing churches and all we are doing is reshuffling those who already know Christ? With only 17% of the population in church on any given Sunday should we not be looking to reach the unchurched and those who are far from God? Matt. 23:12 says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Here are some suggestions to defeat the idol of success that can raise its ugly head in our hearts. First, pray for your church to experience revival. Ask God to burden your hearts for the lost. Everyone who is a child of God has a grace story that needs to be shared with others. Tony Dungy says it this way, “God is the author of our platform, and He gives us the privilege of using it to influence others.” You may not have the platform of being a Super Bowl winning head coach but that doesn’t mean there is not someone who needs to hear your story of grace.

Second, ask God to send revival to the other churches in your city. Pray that every church will get right with Him and His book and obey His word completely. Ask God to raise up spiritual leaders in every congregation to call their members to holiness and convict the members of their unconfessed sin. It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people and if a church is preaching the truth we should be for them. Do not focus on getting more members but focus on what Jesus said, “I have come to seek and to save that which is lost.”

Third, be willing to love people until they get it. Jesus challenges us in John 13:34-35 to love others just as He has loved us. Think about people in your circle of influence who would benefit from you loving them the same way Jesus has loved you. Think about that person who is difficult to get along with at work. Think about that neighbor who has a way of pushing your button. Picture that person right now who honestly does not deserve your love. What would happen if you committed to love that person until they experienced the love of God in their own life?

Tony Dungy shares that his high school football coach said, “Talent is God- given—be thankful. Praise is man-given—be humble. Conceit is self-given—be careful.” Be careful of allowing “success” to become your idol. It can cause you to be more interested in “your” kingdom than His kingdom.

Vitality vs Vulnerability

Encouragement + Accountability + Intentionality = Spiritual Vitality

We must be on our guard against the attacks of the devil. Temptation is everywhere and we must realize that anyone can stumble or fall if not properly prepared. Paul told the Galatians, “watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.” Solomon gave the warning that we need to guard our hearts. The challenge is to protect our eyes, our ears, and our thoughts in order to keep our hearts right before God. Here is a great question to consider, “Are you living with good intentions or are you living intentionally?”

The reality is that you can dry up on the inside long before it shows on the outside. We have been programmed to act like we are walking with the Lord when we are not. We know what “churchianity” looks like and while we are drying up and needing a fresh wind from the Lord, we can easily be guilty of going through the motions. Do not think that this is not possible because in Revelation 3 Jesus told a church, “Because you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and have need of nothing,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.”

There are three elements that make you very susceptible to temptation. Time + Hardship + Deprivation = Vulnerability (Bill Hull in The Complete Book of Discipleship). The devil is always looking for just the right time to push our buttons. Remember that the devil is working overtime all the time. You cannot afford to ever let your guard down because at our most inopportune time the devil will see it as his golden opportunity. Peter makes this very clear when he says, “Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.”

The second element is Hardship. Trials and difficult times can be guaranteed. It is easy to stand for the Lord in church when everyone is saying amen but it is another story in the real world. We commit to follow Jesus and think we have a “let’s do this” mentality but we will be tested greatly when hardships come into our lives. You must expect trials and hardships and you must be prepared for them when they come. We are told in God’s word to on our watch and to be ready to “stand against the attacks of the enemy.”

The third element is the most important in not becoming vulnerable. That element is deprivation. If you are not walking with the Lord you have no foundation to stand on and no inner strength from which to draw. Are you abiding in Christ? Are you allowing His fullness to work in you and through you? If we do our job, getting daily into His presence, then He will do His job of providing us with His power and guidance. David makes this declaration, “I have treasured your word in my heart so that I might not sin against you.”

Vitality is a choice we make by pursuing God. We develop the daily habits of prayer and being in His word so that we will be have spiritual vitality. Hebrews 3:13 says this, “But encourage each other daily, while it is called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.” Here we are given a simple Biblical formula of three important elements. Encouragement + Accountability + Intentionality = Vitality. While we are 100% responsible for our spiritual walk, here is a clear pathway of how we can help one another on a regular basis.

The first element of vitality is encouragement! All of us need encouragement and all of us need to encourage others. There are enough people around who drain the energy out of us and this makes encouragement of paramount importance. The idea of exhortation is being a cheerleader to others. Do you have someone like that in your life? Are you being that cheerleader to someone else? We all need that individual in our life who believes in us, believes in what God is doing in our life. They encourage you to not listen to the naysayers.

The second element of vitality is accountability! We are told to encourage “each other.” We not only need the word of God and the Holy Spirit of God, but we also need the people of God speaking into our lives. Yes, we need a body to belong to and to grow with but all too often the missing ingredient is that individual to whom we voluntarily make ourselves accountable. Do you have someone you can vent to and know that they will then speak the truth in love back to you? There are many times you need that trusted confidant to bare your soul to and be 100% transparent.

The third element is intentionality! We are to encourage each other “daily.” Do you have an intentional plan in place to keep you on the right track spiritually? You cannot afford to be haphazard in this area. Tony Dungy says one of the keys to life is “to discipline ourselves to do what we need to do so that at a later time we can do what we want to do!” If you want to run a marathon you must begin the physical training today and increase your workouts along the way. If you want to finish the race Christ has placed you in you must also increase your spiritual workouts.

Healthy churches and healthy Christians build an environment and a culture of spiritual vitality. They strive to ensure that there is a system of discipleship and mentoring that facilitates these three elements of encouragement, accountability, and intentionality. Who are you encouraging and who is encouraging you? Who have you agreed with to hold one another accountable? Are you communicating regularly and have you developed a good rhythm? Remember, “so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.”

LEADERSHIP LADDER

Much has been written and said about leadership development. How do you move people up toward more and more leadership capacity? Several churches use a leadership ladder to show a clear path of how any church member can get involved and as they grow accept more responsibility. First, there has to be a way to connect them to ministries. These have been referred to as a “First Serve” where they can kick the tires of a particular ministry and decide whether or not it is a fit for them and their gifts.

Whatever you decide to call it, you must have a ministry placement system in place. When people come into a church they need to find a role, a place of service, where they can contribute. Here are a couple of values to have in place that will help you in this process. First, no one should lead who does not first serve. This is handled by exposing them to different ministries, allowing them to participate as a member of a particular team, becoming an apprentice to a team leader, and then eventually developing into a team leader themselves.

The second value is to not give anyone a position or title until they have been given a particular project and completed it. In Ephesians 4:1 we are told to “walk worthy of the calling you have received.” The word worthy there refers to balancing the scales. An example of this value would be getting paid because you earned the salary you made. We live in a society where far too many people want a paycheck but do not want a job. Be very careful of elevating people in leadership too quickly who appear more interested in a title than they do a job.

The different levels could be first serve, team member, team leader, coach, director, and then staff. For example, if you follow the Pareto Principle, 20% of the people do 80% of the work, you need to think of whom the 20% are to oversee your ministry. If you have 200 members then you would need at least 40 team leaders, 10 coaches who pour into the leaders, 2 directors who help and equip the coaches, and then staff to oversee the directors. This would fit the model that Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, gave to him.

Here is another important value. If you want more out of your team then you will have to put more into them. How are you equipping them and resourcing them? Who is making sure that the leaders are being mentored, nurtured, and developed? If we are not careful, they are left to take of themselves spiritually and practically. The coaches help to check in on them and find out what they need to help them be successful. This could be calling a small group leader, Sunday School teacher, and asking a couple of questions. How did it go? Is there anything I can help you with or get for you? And then ask them how you can pray for them.

Everyone needs to know that they are being thought of, cared for, and held accountable. Even in the area of pastoral care, the pastor must remember that it is not his responsibility to care for every member himself. However, it is the pastor’s responsibility to make sure everyone is cared for. The best way for this to be accomplished is with a team concept. This is why small groups are so important to make sure that everyone is being cared for. The small group leader is the “first responder” to those in his group and the coach is the “first responder” to the needs of the small group leader.

This can also be seen in church planting where an individual has the gift of evangelism. They are excellent at drawing people to themselves and begin building critical mass as people are drawn to them and want to be a part of their vision. But this passion can energize the new group only so long until people begin to wonder what the game plan is supposed to be. The evangelist, if not careful, will have a great pep rally but be without a game plan of how to move forward as a team in the future. The evangelism gift is needed and necessary but other team members are required also.

The second level is the one who has entrepreneurial abilities. They can come along side of the evangelist with a plan and systems that will better enable them to sustain the relational capital they have gained. The entrepreneur has a plan and knows what to do when someone says “yes” to the gospel. They also have a plan for the next steps of spiritual growth in every stage of the disciple’s journey. They are vision casters who also know how to carry the vision forward if everyone shows up who has been invited to be a part.

The next level is the equipper who has an eye on training more leaders and has a plan for leadership development. They have an eye out for the overachievers who are always looking for the next step and asking for more. The equippers focus on releasing leaders – not keeping them, investing in leaders – not saving them, and sending out leaders – not holding onto them. The equipper is looking for those motivated not only to be learning but who also have a desire to teach and train others. Always be looking for those who are receptive and hungry for more. They just cannot be satisfied with the status quo.

Level four is the one who empowers others. They see themselves as facilitators of those who have a passion and purpose that is driving them. Their heart is to see others accomplish more than they ever did or could. They focus on movement and helping others to multiply. Their heart is to give away everything they have and know while not desiring any recognition or credit. They love mentoring, coaching, and discipling equippers. Their role won’t make them famous but that is not their motivation anyway. They can visualize a two to three year process that gives them the tools needed while building their character simultaneously!

Leadership ladders are designed to multiply disciples, leaders, and churches!