Rss

  • twitter

SEQUENTIALISM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AN AUDIENCE OF ONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fifth, find your identity and security in His presence.

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

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

The journey can become difficult and trials will come our way. We sometimes wonder, “Will we make it?” Doubts arise and fears come as we ask, “Can I do this?” Then our loving heavenly Father whispers in our ear, “I am faithful!” As we perform for our audience of one He affirms that “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Leadership Distinctives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pray For Those Who Oppose You

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

In Spiritual Leadership, Henry and Richard Blackaby say this, “For leaders to have this kind of relationship available to them and then choose to not communicate with the One who wants to guide them is a gross dereliction of duty.” If you are complaining or griping about someone’s lack of cooperation or opposition in your church the first thing to do is to pray for them! Luke 6:27-28 says, “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Influence Over Influx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Influence over Influx!!!

 

LETS GET REAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!