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More of the Right Things

What do we measure that really matters?  Having previously discussed changing the scorecard in churches has created a desire to put together an evaluation system that gives us biblically healthy metrics to gauge ministry.  The church health and church growth tension will continue (I personally think it can be a good tension) but there are some biblical standards that must adopted and followed.  For example, we can ask if people love the church or do they love lost people but it really begins with do we love Jesus!  That was the bottom-line question He asked Peter.

There are many things very important to us that can cause us to place too much focus on the wrong things.  Several of those are the size of the congregation, the buildings, the programs, and a host of other significant things but are not the most important.  We know the church is not a building nor is it just a numerical statistic.  It is to be the local body that represents Christ and displays His glory.  The pendulum of what’s of the greatest value can swing too far either way when it comes to methods and measurements.

  1. Is your church cultivating a heart for God? Does your church really care about the lost and dying world around it?  Here is the reality we must face.  We say it is important, but is there any proof in our actions that shows up not only in our beliefs but also in our behavior?  In what ways does your church’s heart break over what breaks the heart of God?  We say we are burdened for people who are far from God but what is your church doing to reach them?  Are people who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ benefiting from knowing your members?
  2. Is your church developing a disciple making culture?  Are more and more disciples growing and being transformed daily?  We talk discipleship but very little actual discipleship is taking place unless we intentionally develop a pathway for disciples to grow. That begins by equipping and training disciples not only to follow Christ but to also disciple others.  As you look at discipleship it would be good to ask what is working, what is missing, and what is confusing?  There must be a clear “next steps” pathway that can be clearly articulated by all of your disciples.
  3. Develop a prayer strategy.  This is not necessarily to be third on your list but must permeate every area of your church culture.  It is not enough to just say we need more prayer (we certainly do) but to also train and show people what being a prayer warrior looks like. How can you help to deepen the prayer lives of your leaders?  Let them know that our purpose in observing spiritual disciplines is not to demonstrate our spiritual strength and superiority but rather to demonstrate our weakness and our need for Christ.
  4. Commit to multiplication in every area of your ministry.  We state our mission statement as a discipleship based multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches.  That means that everything needs to multiply and if it is healthy it does.  All too often we place all the emphasis on more people and getting bigger but that does not ensure spiritual success.  Are we multiplying prayer warriors, Bible readers, worshipers, disciple making disciples, small groups, serving team members, and people who are consistently sharing their faith?
  5. Build a spiritual awareness and discernment of the spiritual battle you are in.  You will face obstacles and you will face opposition.  Here are some excellent questions from my good friend, Dave DeVries, in this area.  What spiritual blockages are you currently facing?  What strategies will you have in place to counter spiritual blockages?  You must expect them to happen and be ready to address them when they do.  You must remain spiritually sensitive to the attacks of the enemy and this is why training and resourcing a team of prayer warriors is so vitally important.
  6. Find a way to measure and track how many more people are actually doing more of the right things such as praying more, reading their Bibles more, discipling other disciples more, and sharing their faith more. The best way to do that is through intentional accountability.  The missing ingredient in so much of our discipleship is the obedience mechanism.  Develop groups of 3-4 who meet not only to disciple but to also hold one another accountable by asking good questions such as, with whom did you share your faith this last week?  How did that go?
  7. Teach your people to focus on two very important ingredients of spiritual growth.  The first is listening to the word of God.  That means listening with an interest because we have a heart’s desire to hear what God is saying.  The second is that we must then obey what He says.  We really aren’t interested if we are not ready to obey what He says. Teach your people when they approach the word of God to ask what is God saying and what does He want me to do about it? Jesus made it clear, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Take each one of these seven areas and evaluate where you are and how you are doing in each one of them.  What is working, what is missing, and what is confusing? How can you help your people to do more of what is really important?  What strategies will you develop to make sure it happens in the hearts and lives of your people?  The true metrics are not size but the transformation of people’s lives and seeing evidence that they are being transformed and becoming more and more like Jesus!

MEASURE WHAT MATTERS!!!

Three P’s of Evangelism

Evangelism seems to be taking a back seat to almost every other kind of activity in churches today.  Several authors have expressed concern about how even church plants can grow and do well but not reach the people that need to be reached the most, the lost.  One recent survey was shocked at how many in full time ministry say they do not have the “gift” of evangelism.  In John 4:35 Jesus said, “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.”

In The Evangelism Handbook Alvin Reid says, “The church growth movement influenced many in the latter half of the twentieth century.  It offered a three-tiered look at the process of evangelism. The three components are these:

  • P-1, Presence. For example, agricultural, medical missions.
  • P-2, Proclamation. Presenting the gospel in an understandable manner.
  • P-3, Persuasion. II Corinthians 5:11 encourages hearers to respond.

An analogy for this definition is a house.

In presence evangelism, people’s needs are met; they see a demonstration of the gospel, and, therefore, a foundation is built on which the gospel can be communicated.  Because the church growth movement began on the mission field, its importance is obvious.  Cross-cultural issues must be considered in a viable presentation of the gospel.  Increasingly, in a post-Christian or even an anti-Christian culture in America, presence evangelism has a place.  Servant evangelism (covered later) fits in nicely in our context.

Proclamation evangelism,to continue the house analogy, allows the light of the gospel to penetrate through the windows.  People not only need a foundation, but they also need direction. The gospel can never be presented by a demonstration only; there must also be a proclamation.

Persuasion evangelism leads people into the relationship they need with Christ. One can live in a house and not be family; by persuading people to follow Christ, we are inviting them to join God’s family.

There are strengths and weaknesses to this definition.  The weakness comes when believers define evangelism at the P-1 level only.  We must build bridges, but we must also do more.  Still others stop at the P-2 level.  This definition is complete when we see it as a whole.  That being said, it is positive in that when we are stopped short of a complete presentation of the gospel, we know we have at least provided some aspect of the gospel that the Holy Spirit can use.  In other words, we should always seek to present Christ through presence, proclamation, and persuasion; but when we cannot, we can be thankful that on some level we have presented Christ.”

Reid defines evangelism as, “Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ by word and life in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that unbelievers become followers of Jesus Christ in His church and in the culture.”  One problem is that many see the term “evangelize” as the work of the evangelist and the preacher proclaiming the good news in a formal setting. While that is true, it is also simply sharing the good news one on one.  It is every child of God telling others the good news of what Jesus Christ has done for them.  Every believer on this side of heaven owes every non-believer on this side of hell the gospel!

The gospel is the good news.  It is not bad news and we need to share it with those God has placed in our circle of influence.

Here are three things to do:

  1. Pray for those you know who are not followers of Christ.  Do not underestimate the power of prayer.  You can share the good news but only God can transform a life.
  2. Ask God to show what you could do to build a bridge to them through an authentic relationship.  People are farther away from the cross today which requires patience and starting with the very basics.
  3. Be willing to do whatever God shows you so that you might be able to share the good news with them.  Once you have gained their trust they will then allow you to speak into their lives because they can see who you are, not just what you are saying!

Remember to be ready to listen to their story, share with them your story, but always be ready to share His story.  We must pray for boldness and be ready and proactive in sharing the gospel with others.  If we will begin our day by asking Him for an opportunity to share His love with someone He will provide that open door.  Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost and now we are His messengers!

Evaluating Your Systems

In his training book, Next Steps for Leading a Missional Church, Gary Rohrmayer says, “You need systems which are reproducible and interconnected processes; by which your church actualizes and achieves its mission.”  Your values drive your practices and your practices determine your results.  You need to ask if your systems are producing what you want them to produce.  Honest evaluation is needed.  Is your leadership development system producing the leaders you expected?  Is your evangelism system producing converts?

Our body has systems such as circulatory, nervous, and respiratory.  If one system fails we can find ourselves in quite a predicament.  When our systems function well we call ourselves healthy! Each system has an essential task to complete in a specific manner so that the rest of the body can continue to function properly.  The systems rely and depend on one another.  That is why church systems are so important because they put the essential processes in place that will help your church remain healthy and give it the ability to multiply.

  • You need to ask if the system you have built is reproducible.  Can it be easily understood and implemented?  Is it confusing to figure out and follow?  How does the system contribute to the reproductive nature of the church?
  • You should ask if the systems are interconnected.  How does the system connect with the rest of the systems needed?  Does it compliment and help the other systems?  Are the systems mutually benefiting the other systems through healthy cooperation?  The healthier the system the healthier the church will be.

            Do you have systems in place that provide a clear pathway for involvement and personal growth?  When you are developing systems you need to think through these steps.

  1. You need to consider mission outcomes.  What results are you looking to achieve?
  2. Consider how it assists in ministry flow?  What are the steps needed to achieve those results?
  3. Does it fit in your organizational structure?  Who will ensure that those results are being achieved?  Who is responsible to make this happen and have they been adequately trained?
  4. Think through a clear communication flow.  How will you cast vision in a way that keeps people informed and involved as you achieve your goal?
  5. Then you need to be able to start charting your course.  How will you keep your structures effective?  There must be constant evaluation and check-up! Remember, your systems are meant to actualize and achieve your church’s mission.  Are they?  This is the importance of taking the time to work on your ministry not just in your ministry.  Plan your Work and then Work your Plan!

Build margin into your ministry for reflection and application.  Evaluating your church systems requires asking great question about all of your systems whether that is assimilation, outreach
, finance, worship planning, or discipleship.

  • Do you have a functioning system for those areas and ministries?
  • What parts of each system are working well?
  • What new parts of each system would you like to implement?
  • Who will you ask to help you with each system?
  • As you evaluate you are always asking; what needs to be done and who needs to do it?

Make sure you also decide:

  • What pieces of each system will you upgrade in the next 3-4 months?
  • What do you hope to accomplish within the next 6 months?
  • Then think through realistically what it will take 12-18 months to implement.

 

This process will move forward when you have a leadership team in place that understands what needs to be done, who is going to get it done and when it needs to be done by.  Two of the greatest dangers of any ministry is first an unwillingness to evaluate and secondly, an unwillingness to utilize and implement what you discovered in the process.

When evaluating systems here are three things to think through to help in this process of actualizing and achieving your church’s mission.

  1. It will require an assessment.  If you are taking a look at your outreach system you must be able to describe its current condition.  What are your strengths and weaknesses in your present outreach system?  Assessment requires figuring out what needs to change, why, and how.  Second, it will require envisioning an implementation plan.  Transformation begins with defining your present reality.
  2. You must envision your preferred future so you can then develop steps to get there.  That is what a system does by providing a clear process.  You begin to think through 3-5 changes you can make in the next 90 days that will make a difference in your outreach system.  You must also decide how committed you are to making those changes.  On a scale of 1-10 how important is the change to you and are you willing to pay the price to make sure there is a change?  DCPI says if you are inclined to rate it less than a seven then it probably will not change.
  3. Then for change to occur begin setting goals. These are specific goals you believe are strategic and necessary for moving your church forward and becoming more effective.  These goals must be specific, attainable, and time sensitive.  What is the deadline for these goals to be implemented and who is responsible and accountable for them to actually happen?  Here is something to never forget about vision and seeing it become a reality:  Avision written down on paper does not ensure that it is accomplished – people do!

Effective churches utilize systems to carry out the vision that God has given them.  You need a team approach that helps encourage quality through careful and prayerful evaluation.  Do your practices confirm what you say your values are?  Values drive our practices and our practices determine out results!

Men’s Discipleship

Much is being said today about a vacuum that has been created by the missing father in the home and rightfully so.  We see a leadership shortage not only in the home but also in the church. There is a great need to raise up godly men of courage who will step forward and be who God has called them to be. It should sadden us to know that all too often if we ask men in our churches to tell us what it means to be a man of God they struggle to give a clear and concise answer.  Churches need discipleship but maybe they need men’s discipleship the most.

Robert Lewis, one of the founders of Men’s Fraternity, says that if God were giving out the 10 Commandments again there would be eleven.  The eleventh would be, “Thou shalt raise up godly men!”  He reports that a study revealed several years ago that if you reach a child you have a 25% chance of reaching the entire family.  If you reach the mom you have a 29% chance of reaching the family but if you reach the dad you have a 95% chance of reaching the entire family. Churches need to make sure their men are going beyond the normal surface relationships.

Solving the problem of the absentee father begins by training up men to be the spiritual leaders of their families.  For that to become a reality they must have the spiritual walk that is necessary to be who God wants them to be.  A life of godly integrity challenges us to have a one-to-one correlation between our Bible, our beliefs, and our behavior.  The key is making Jesus Christ the priority of your life through devotion and study of Him.  Pat Morley describes a life of devotion as loving Him more and more while a life of study is getting to know Him more and more.

InSeven Seasons of the Man in the Mirror Morley says, “There is a God we want, and there is a God who is.  They are not the same God.  The turning point of our lives is when we stop seeking the God we want and start seeking the God who is.”  Are we willing to spend the time necessary in devoting our lives to Him and discovering who He actually is?  That commitment to a closer relationship with Him is required but well worth the effort and the journey.  The question must be asked, “What do men need?”  Robert Lewis offers six things men need for them to be able to be God desires for them to be.

  1. Men need a “safe place” where they can discover someone understands them, and they are not alone.  The temptation is to go it alone and accept a Lone Ranger approach but that is not the focus of community in the word of God.
  2. Men need is clear and compelling vision of biblical manhood they can take hold of.  Men need a discipleship process that challenges them beyond their comfort zones.  Safety in the brotherhood is crucial but it must also address the need to risk and step out in faith.  We must be willing to practice a tough love.
  3. Men need time with other men to effectively process their manhood.  All too often discipleship has an event focus but we need much more than just a pep rally. Who will make sure you follow through on your commitments at the event you attended?  Who will hold you accountable?  Event driven discipleship takes men to the mountaintop and exhorts them but does not provide the most needed component for actual growth, which is time with other men that make sure we do obey.  We need other godly men speaking into our lives.
  4. Men need the practical how-tos of tasting success in our progress as we grow.  There must be an implementation plan for men to grow and learn from the successes and failures of other men.  Nothing encourages us like success.  When we step on the scale and have lost weight that encourages us to keep working on it.
  5. Men need other men cheering them.  Do not underestimate the importance of finding 2 or 3 other men who will affirm their accomplishments and cheer their godly efforts.  There are not many cheerleaders out there for godliness and noble things.
  6. Men need sacred moments in a solid discipleship process.  They need to know when they become the man God wants He wants them to be.  Those moments can be some kind of ceremony at big moments in their lives at a certain age, graduation from high school or college, marriage, or some other worthy accomplishment.  Your band of brothers can develop very simple ceremonies of “manhood” that can take on a very epic proportion.  What accomplishments are deserving of a ceremony and what might that ceremony look like?
  7. Men need godly mentors.  (I know this is #7 but had to add it)  Look for other men who have a heart to put Christ first in their lives, desire to make that journey with other men who have that same passion, and want to hold one another accountable to that journey.  Pat Morley asks this question, “Have you really wanted to know God, or have you just wanted Him to know you?”  The difference can determine whether we see ourselves in charge of our lives or that God is in charge.  Unfortunately, all too often, Christians seem to have a respect of the scriptures but no knowledge of their contents.

Men’s discipleship should seek to study the word to discover the God who is not just the God we desire.  The focus must be to make Him King of our lives as we seek to advance His kingdom.  The kingdom of God can be defined as what the world looks like when King Jesus gets His way! It is surrendering to His rule and reign in our lives!

Ministry Placement System

We speak often of the great commandment (Matthew 22:37), and the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) but there is also the great charge given by Peter.

I Peter 4:10 says, “Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God.”  This great charge must be the goal of every church regardless of its size. The goal is to involve every believer in ministry by using their gifts to serve others.  The truth is that saved people are supposed to serve people and willingly sacrifice for others.

Dynamic Church Planting International training says, “Every believer should be serving in their local church based on the Bible’s teachings about spiritual gifts. 
Peter says that everyone’s spiritual gift should be used to serve others. This is a means of imparting God’s grace to people. 
Paul lists seven different spiritual gifts. Concerning each it says, ‘let him use it: according to the grace given him.’ and ’let him use it in proportion to his faith.’  So, God’s design for the church is that it be led by leaders, taught by teachers, and administrated by administrators, etc.”

DCPI continues, “You must develop a system of inviting, observing, orienting, scheduling, equipping, developing and celebrating those who use their spiritual gifts in the church. 
As a church grows and attracts new believers, pastors must teach about: the importance of service, the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9), and the nature and purpose of spiritual gifts. 
The process of placing people into ministry can be quite simple. This is a key component of a discipleship process.”  The church has enough spectators and must continue to provide opportunities to serve.

Here are some ways to enlist volunteersand you can begin by listing ministry needs and sharing them with your people.

  1. onsider publishing a list of serving opportunities and spiritual gifts. 
You could also preach a series of messages about serving and spiritual gifts.  Then develop a way to invite people to sign up for a ministry that appeals to them. 
Consider offering a class about spiritual gifts and giveeach student a spiritual gifts test to help them discern where they might best be able to be a blessing to their church.
  2. Pray just like Jesus instructed us in Luke 10:2, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Your first prayer should be, “Lord, who should I invite to serve in this particular area?” Before you approach someone about serving, ask God to prepare their heart and purify your motives. Your invitation should be based on a desire to see people find a fulfilling role in your church. You are inviting them to fulfill God’s agenda and purpose in their lives.
  3. Look for people who seem to be a perfect fit for a specific need. Identify a need and then as you pray look for the right person to invite to meet that need.  You desire to find the right person serving in the right place, in the right way, and at the right time.  Look for people who are not currently serving and you believe might be interested in that particular area.  Offer them an opportunity to observe before they have to commit to a ministry team. See this “first serve” as a way for them to kick the tires and see if this is a ministry fit for them.
  4. Cast vision for the importance of different ministries by emphasizing the benefits of their service.
Show them how their ministry will benefit the recipients of it and how their service will benefit the whole church.  Also, show them how their ministry will benefit them by being a blessing to them andhow their ministry will delight God.  Offer them an opportunity to observe.  Find ways people can observe a ministry before they commit to a ministry team and make sure they have a good time when they do check it out.
  5. You will want to debrief their experience within 48 hours. Once you have invited them, arrange for the potential volunteer to accompany one of the most enthusiastic and best members of that particular ministry team. First impressions last! You want the potential volunteer to have a good time so they will want to join the team. Discuss how they think the experience went.  Give the new volunteer a short-term commitment initially (for three months or so) to ensure that the commitment is doable.
  6. Do background checks and provide for them an orientation.  Make sure you use a service that will provide background checks with official documentation. 
Barnabas vouched for Saul (who later became the Apostle Paul) when he wanted to join the church in Jerusalem. (Acts 9:26, 27) 
The twelve apostles instructed the church to choose “seven men of good repute.” (Acts 6:3)  If they will be serving with children in any capacity this is especially important.  Do not over look this important step in the ministry placement system.
  7. Remember that all people who volunteer should have an orientation. They should never be thrown into the ministry unprepared. Ideally, new volunteers will be given good job descriptions. Those will include what is expected of them: when, where, for how long, etc. The orientation should also include the ministry’s purpose and values. People are waiting on someone to ask them to help. Most people want to do a good work and that is why you must develop a system that shows how to ask, when to ask, and who should ask.

A great big thank you to Dynamic Planting International and their training materials New Church Dynamics from which this article was adapted.  This training is worth attending for any size church and will be offered May 21-23 at the BMA of Texas offices in Waxahachie, TX.  If interested in attending let me know!

Mythbusters

There are many church “myths” today that are spoken as if they are factual.  A myth is defined as, “an idea or story that is believed by many people but that is not true.”  Remember, a myth is called a myth because it has not been proven true.  The problem is that we hear myths, believe them, and then allow them to control our thinking and our behavior.  When churches believe myths rather than the truth it causes fear and can paralyze their ministries.  Things like, “If we build it they will come!” or “All we need is a really cool vision statement and then we will grow!”

In MultiChurchwe learn this about myths.  “Every day we hear platitudes that make promises.  People share common sense wisdom that seems true, but when we push and pull on the idea it doesn’t hold up.  Myths are powerful, controlling ideas that trick us into believing them. They are fascinating . . . and frustrating.  They can also be stubborn.  They grip our hearts and refuse to let go.  One reason for such stubbornness is the powerful influence they exert on our lifestyle, our values, and our dreams.  But as powerful as they seem, in the end myths are not true.”

Myths are described as being very deceptive because they appear to be true and we even act as if they are true but do not forget that they are not true.  Having written on this topic before we have mentioned myths such as thinking that large churches must have compromised the truth.  Size does not dictate or determine how biblically sound a church is.  Some believe that small churches cannot make an impact for God.  It is not how many attend a church that dictates a church’s ability to be used of God and small does not mean inferior.

 1.  The ideal church has one pastor who knows all the members by name.  There is nothing wrong with this and yes God uses many churches that look exactly like this one we just described.  There is a danger here of stereotyping how a church must look and limiting what God may desire to do in a congregation.  Some seem to be convinced that when a church becomes larger that it guarantees it will be cold and unfriendly.  Actually, size does not dictate whether a church is friendly or unfriendly.  You can attend a small church where no one speaks to you or welcomes you.

In the Old Testament Moses was rebuked by his father-in-law for trying to Pastor everyone.  In Exodus 18 Jethro challenged him to establish capable men who would lead multiple congregations among the people of Israel.  They were to divide the people up into groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.  Then on the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts the church in Jerusalem has grown to over 3000.  So in Acts 6 the church chose additional leaders to spread out the responsibility of caring for the congregation.

Remember, it is not the pastor’s responsibility to care for every member but to make sure that every member is cared for.  Do you think that Peter and the other leaders knew every member by name?  Do you think they knew every member personally?  The point is not size and we must be careful of speaking against something that God is not against!  We love to criticize what is different, mega-churches to house churches, but it they are scripturally sound and reaching people with the Gospel they have a unique place in God’s plan.

2.  A church cannot grow large and maintain its intimacy and closeness.  The truth is that it can but it does take effort and planning.  The healthiest churches are when every part and every member is functioning properly and working together.  Usually, you can be as connected as you want to be because health is when each body part it participating to accomplish ministry together.  We speak often of the great commandment (Matthew 22:37), and the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) but there is also the great charge given by Peter.

I Peter 4:10 says, “Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God.” This great charge must be the goal of every church regardless of its size.  The goal is to involve every believer in ministry by using their gifts to serve others.  The truth is that saved people are supposed to serve people.  The natural instinct is to think of first of yourself and to make sure that your needs are being met.  The truth as opposed to the myth is that it has never been and never will be about selfishness but always has been about serving and sacrifice.

3.  Many churches are convinced they must focus on self-preservation.  This one is tricky because there certainly is some truth to this but all too often this begins the journey down an inwardly focused church.  As you begin to focus on your core you begin to ignore outreach and it is as if your church is experiencing hypothermia and all of the blood is flowing to the core of the body.  You limit the flow of blood to the extremities and begin to sacrifice what seems to be unnecessary at the moment.

God’s economy does not work that way.  Instead, Jesus has challenged us to leave the ninety-nine and pursue the one lost lamb.  Your church must resist the temptation for self-preservation.  Jesus modeled this behavior in the garden before He was arrested as He prayed, “Father if it be possible let this cup pass from me.”  Then He prayed, “Not my will but yours be done.”  Self-preservation was an option that Jesus refused to take.  He resisted and rejected the natural inclination to focus first and foremost on himself.

Maybe the greatest truth to remember that busts all of the other myths is that your church does not exist for you but instead exists for others!

Systems: Exegeting Your Culture

Innovation and experimentation should not be seen as bad things when we are trying to “Break the Missional Code” of the community we live in and as we are focusing on reaching the people of our city. In I Corinthians 9:23 Paul said, “To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some.”  While an “anything goes” approach is not what we are talking about we must also have a willingness to do whatever it takes to reach people with the gospel.

Tim Keller describes contextualization as “giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may or may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them.”  The importance of a proper exegesis of the word of God is paramount but you should also do the same with the culture.  It will better enable you to understand the people God has called you to reach.

In MultiChurchthe authors say, “While the gospel itself needs and permits no innovation, the means by which it is communicated always demands contextualization.”  They continue with this wisdom, “While contextualization is certainly wrought with difficulties, neglecting contextualization is simply not an option for churches that take the Great Commission seriously.”  Much has been said negatively about contextualization and exegeting the culture but it seems that it has usually surfaced out of a lack of understanding what it actually is and what it is not.

In How to Exegete a CommunityBarry Whitworth says,When exegeting a community you are observing and conversing with the people in their cultural context. Your goal is to form an opinion to whether or not there is an evangelical presence that will foster spiritual transformation in that community…There are four areas to focus on when you are exegeting the community. The social, economic, physical and spiritual climateof the culture will communicate the need for a new church.”  Knowing the uniqueness of any community is a valuable asset in reaching it for Christ.

There are three things you want to focus on in each one of the four areas mentioned.

  1. You want to observe with your eyes.  What do you notice and see about the community that makes is distinctively who it is?
  2. Begin conversations with people and ask them good questions.  What is that you hear that makes them who they are?
  3. Think implementation as you develop a plan of what to do to reach them.  Certainly, they all need the gospel but knowing who they are and their history can enable your message to be communicated more effectively.

Exegesis normally has referred to the critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture, but the term has never only referred to the Bible.  It can refer to many types of literature and even to better understanding why an individual acts the way they do.

It is the idea of

  • Clarification
  • Explanation and
  • Interpretation.

It certainly can and should be used to help us to better understand the culture we live in and how we can more effectively communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Ed Stetzer says, “culture eats strategy for lunch.”

Exegeting your culture is learning who lives in your community.  Once you know who they are then you can begin to prayerfully discern how you can best reach them.

You need to ask:

  • Who are the lost people in our community?
  • Where do they live?
  • How can you reach them?

This enables you to go deeper when walking through the community and using your observation skills.  Stetzer goes on to explain, “Good culture, combined with good strategy, is powerful.” I Chronicles 12:32 states that the Issacharites, “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”

Three key steps to a proper approach of contextualization and exegeting our community:

  1. Make sure you are doing what God wants!
  2. The way He wants it done
  3. At the time He wants it done.

It is a missionary task that is described in the scriptures and seems expected.  We see these principles and strategies in how Peter spoke to the Jewish audience on Pentecost.  We also see it demonstrated by Paul in his approach to the peasants of Lystra, and a totally different strategy with the philosophically sophisticated Athenians.

The Gospel Coalition describes it this way, “The gospel itself holds the key to appropriate contextualization.  If we over-contextualize it suggests that we want too much the approval of the receiving culture.  This betrays a lack of confidence in the gospel.  If we undercontextualize, it suggests that we want the trappings of our own sub-culture too much.  This betrays a lack of gospel humility and a lack of love for our neighbor.”  This gives balance by remaining surrendered to the Lordship of Christ, submitted to the authority of God’s word, and sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

The problem with a totally pragmatic approach is that biblical success is not doing whatever “works.”  Pragmatism is not a stable foundation for any church.  The reality is that what is currently working successfully changes as the culture changes.  This can render models and approaches ineffective and unsuccessful almost overnight.  This requires that we seek the Lord’s face as we begin to better understand the culture we are in and how we can best reach people for Christ.  That is more important than models or methods and programs or projects.

Be open to innovation and be willing to experiment with different strategies that might open more opportunities to communicate the gospel more clearly.  If all it required was the right formula and packed approach then we would be tempted to applaud our efforts and not be as sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit in our context and in our culture!  If you would like a more detailed plan on how to exegete your community email me at larry@bmaam.com.

“We would do well to adopt a learning posture for the sake of the harvest!”  Kingdom First -Jeff Christopherson

Systems for Accountability

In the book MultiChurch, the authors speak of the danger of the “Cult of Personality.”  This is really nothing new to the church because Paul addresses this in I Corinthians 1:12, “What I am saying is this: Each of you says, “I’m with Paul,” or “I’m with Apollos,” or “I’m with Cephas,” or “I’m with Christ.”  In verse 13 Paul goes further in saying, “Is Christ divided? Was it Paul who was crucified for you? Or were you baptized in Paul’s name?”  There have always been those who have their favorites just as we line up behind certain men today.

In Revelation 1 we have John’s vision of the Lord given to us standing among seven churches.  In His right hand are seven stars, which appear to be the pastors and/or elders of these churches.  The picture here of being in His right hand is not about safety or protection as it often is when the scriptures speak about His hands.  Instead, the picture being described here is one of control. He is the Shepherd of His churches and pastors/elders are the undershepherds.  Paul made this clear by saying, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”

There is a call in the word of God for a balance of leadership required for a church to be healthy but it all begins by everyone surrendering to the authority of the Word of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That is ground zero and the foundation for biblical balanced leadership that builds a vibrant alive New Testament church that honors and glorifies Him.  We all seem to be a little edgy and nervous when we discuss and think about church leadership because of the abuses we have seen on both sides.

On one side we have all seen a leader who blatantly abuses the power that they have been trusted with.  Peter addresses this when he says, “not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”  Others are nervous because they have seen how a wall of resistance can be built that stifles any initiative and leadership attempts through micromanaging.  Some have referred to this as a paralysis by analysis.  We have tried at our church to call our ministry groups teams instead of committees for this very reason.

Committees quite often sit around talking about what other people should be doing who do not even have a voice in the decision-making.  How crazy is that?  A team focuses on action where everyone on that team has “skin in the game.” Every member of the team is ready for action as they participate in the decision-making and the implementation of the decisions made.  Biblical leadership can be seen with the Lord as the head of the church, pastors/elders leading the congregation, deacons and ministry teams serving, and then the congregation affirming that process.

There will never be a perfect balance of this check and balance system without the Holy Spirit and the pastors remaining in the Lord’s right hand under His control.  All too often we hear people ask, “What would we ever do without our pastor…or our worship leader…or our youth pastor…or…whoever?”  Those are the wrong questions.  The right question should always be, “what would we ever do without Jesus?”  Check out Revelation 3:20 for the answer to that one.  The reality is that God can handle his church without you or me and none of us are indispensible but He is!

In MulitChurch they talk about two dangers involved in the “Cult of Personality.”

  1. Followers have a propensity to elevate a leader. Any position of leadership can encourage and tempt someone to think they are uniquely responsible for the church’s success or for its survival.
  2. Leaders have a propensity to desire to be elevated.  You can see this when you begin to think or even verbalize that you are not sure what the church would do without you.  Hear me well!  God can handle His church without you or me!

Being elevated, whether you want to or not, can be a greenhouse for the cultivation of pride and thinking far higher of ourselves than we should think. Do not forget what Paul said in II Corinthians 12:7, “Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messengerof Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself.”  Paul says that God gave him this thorn to keep him humble.  It helped him to remember his dependence on Jesus and gave him a keen awareness of his own weaknesses apart from Christ.

The system necessary to not be bitten by the cult of personality is two-fold.

  1. Stay under the Lord’s authority and refuse to be placed on a pedestal.  It is easy to cultivate an air of arrogance whether your ministry is “successful” or not. When it is going well the temptation is to start listening to the accolades a little too much.  Everyone likes to be encouraged but don’t forget it is God who gives the increase.  Some believe they are not growing because they are the only one preaching the truth and no one can handle the truth.
  2. Make sure that you remain open and transparent to godly counsel.  Remain vulnerable and willing to live in a fish bowl by being open to criticism and critique.  Place people around you that you know love you, desire God’s best for you, and you can trust.  So often a leadership meeting is not so much for control and making the final decision but to have a sounding board.  Build teams that collaborate and think through all of the possible outcomes and allow others to speak into your life on a regular basis.

The authors of MultiChurch, Brad House and Gregg Allison, put it this way, “To the degree that leaders avoid accountability within their own church, people should avoid following their leadership.”  The system of accountability for leadership is to remain humble and accountable!

Personal Growth System

Systems are important because they enable you to sustain the momentum you have built. Dynamic Church Planting International has this to say about the importance of systems, “In your church, everyone hopes that someone will be in charge. They hope that someone will think things through ahead of time. They hope that someone will come up with quality ways to attract people, lead them to Christ, disciple them and invite them to serve in ministry.” In other words, someone has to be in charge and take responsibility for systems to operate effectively.

Whose job is it to make sure you grow personally on a regular basis? Who will make sure that your “being” with God is sufficient to sustain your “doing” for God? The three primary entities responsible for your spiritual growth are the Lord, your church, and you. We know that God will do His part as He promises in Philippians 1:6, “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.” Even if your church does not have a reproducible process for making disciples you are still responsible.

What system have you placed in your daily rhythm to make sure you are abiding in Christ? There has to be an inner work in your life before there can be an outer work. This is much more than a checklist for your devotional, Bible reading, prayer life, and quiet time. How will you strive to make sure that your spiritual well does not run dry? What will you do experience the abundant life through abiding in Christ constantly? What mechanisms and tools will you use to ensure that your “being” with God is sufficient to sustain your “doing” for God?

Think and ponder how you can incorporate these three elements into your daily life: slowing down, silence, and solitude. These are crucial because all too often we are so busy that we miss what God is saying and doing. It is almost impossible to hear His voice without slowing down long enough to build silence and solitude into our spiritual disciplines. Habakkuk 2:20 says, “The Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Psalm 37:7 says, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.”

It will take discipline and determination to schedule this time into your daily schedule but it will be well worth it. Unfortunately, if you begin to run on empty spiritually usually no one will notice on the outside until a lot of damage has occurred. If you are task and action oriented you will find great satisfaction in all that you are doing but eventually you will burn out if you are not abiding in Christ. Christ desires to first do a work in you so that He can then do a work through you. Are you being refreshed and recharged daily in your time alone with the Lord?

In Psalm 27:4 David said, “I have asked one thing from the Lord; it is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the Lord, and seeking Him in His temple.” His number one goal was seeking the face of the Lord. It was not seeking an answer to a problem, seeking His help in a difficult situation, or seeking a new message to preach on Sunday. It was seeking His presence and He was willing to wait on His presence and power knowing the wait would be well worth it. Are you using silence and solitude to wait on the Lord?

  1. You should understand that waiting on the Lord is a clearly stated and demonstrated biblical theme. Abraham waited twenty-five years for what God had promised. Job waits throughout the book of Job for God to reveal Himself. Moses waited forty years on the backside of the desert before God called Him through the burning bush. Psalm 106:13 says, “They soon forgot His works and would not wait for His counsel.” These disciplines are necessary for us to quietly contemplate God and consider what He is saying and doing.
  2. You must realize that God is not in a hurry nor is He in a rush. The problem lies in us in that we are too busy to really listen. We rush our decisions giving into quick fix solutions that really are not solutions at all. They actually create greater problems because we refused to wait on the Lord. We settle for what is not really God’s plan and turn to our own plans because we were not sure we could trust His any longer. When we get ahead of the Lord we will have to go back and begin all over again seeking His face and desiring Him to guide us.
  3. When you are not sure what to do and His plan is not clear to you the wise thing to do is wait. You might want to ask right now, “How long should I expect to have to wait?” The answer is simply that there is no way of knowing other than seeking Him and waiting on Him. It usually takes longer than we think and longer than we like but the wait will be worth it. If you become impatient and move ahead anyway you will miss the journey of seeking Him, knowing Him, and experiencing His presence and power in your life. Wait on the Lord, and again, I say wait!

The person most responsible for your spiritual walk is you. Hopefully, your greatest desire and motivation is to know Him and the power of His resurrection. We must slow down utilizing silence and solitude into the rhythms of our lives to ensure that we do what God has asked us to do, the way He has asked us to do it, and at the time He asks us according to His timetable. This helps us to make sure that our “being” with God is sufficient to sustain our “doing” for God.

Assimilation System: NEXT STEPS

Assimilation focuses on connecting with guests and newcomers. The overarching goal of assimilation is to help unbelievers become functioning followers of Jesus Christ. It is having a system that helps people become increasingly connected to Jesus and His church. We must seek to help people make various connection points such as classes, ministry opportunities, small groups, friendships, discipleship opportunities, and other relationships. The blessing of church systems is developing clear next steps so that you will assimilate people that you might otherwise not connect with and possibly even lose.

All of your systems need constant attention. Entropy will naturally set in as time goes on and they will need to be reenergized. Most systems need a new dose of energy every three to five years through some restructuring. Also, new ideas and new team members are good to give fresh and creative ideas. Attend a conference, read a book, or talk to another church about how they assimilate and connect with their guests. Always remain flexible and ready to make changes that will put new energy into your systems.

Dynamic Church Planting International describes these steps as demonstrating to first time guests that you want them to become second time guests. Demonstrating to second time guests that you want them to become third time guests. Demonstrating to third time guests that you want them to become regular attenders and then demonstrating to regular attenders that you want them to become fully functioning members. It is developing a systematic approach that will increase guest retention and connect newcomers into your discipleship process.

Last week’s article on assimilation focused on first impressions, which are very important, but you must think through the next steps.

  • Do you have a plan, a system, in place to focus on follow up after the initial connections?
  • How will you communicate to your guests what those next steps are?
  • How will you or will you get their contact information?
  • If you do get their contact information, how and who will follow up on them?
  • Do you have a card for them to fill out or a welcome center where they can receive a packet and/or gift for attending?

1.  Realize that if they do give you their information they will expect you to get in contact with them. Consider sending an email, a personal note, and giving them a call over the next week. It is best to connect with them within 48 hours and let them know how thankful and honored you are that they came. You can also send a letter from the church letting them know you are praying for them and desire to be a blessing to them and their family. In the first week you can touch them three or four ways through email, texting, a letter, and or a call.

2.  Consider giving their contact information to your small group leaders and/or your small group leaders. If you have multiple groups allow all of them to reach out to them inviting them into their group. It speaks volumes to guests that there are several options. Even if you only have one class or group be sure they reach out to the guests and invite to be a part of their group.

3.  Invite them to a newcomer’s meal. If you are having guests on a regular basis plan a time to invite all of them and be prepared to share the vision statement of your church, the discipleship pathway you have, and how they can become more involved. Be ready to answer any questions they might have. You do not have a big group but can train couples to take guests out to lunch and accomplish this on a more personal level. This can be a time to find out where they are spiritually in their walk with Christ or if they are even a believer yet.

If you are able to offer a luncheon Dynamic Church Planting International offers these suggestions, “Churches should consider a monthly mechanism that allows newcomers to get to know the pastor and other church leaders. Some churches hold this in the pastor’s home. Others do it at the church property or some other location. It usually includes food, often an entire meal. New guests are greeted, asked to sign-in, and given a nametag as they enter the area.”

“One place setting at each table says, “Reserved for Host.” A long-term volunteer or staff member will sit there and get to know everyone. Place information request sheets at each table. The table hosts encourage guests to use them. The hosts should also encourage guests to sign up for a class on basic Christianity. Between the meal and desert, one of the pastors gets up and talks for 3 or 4 minutes about the church’s history, introduces the staff, and encourages everyone to attend an Introduction to Christianity class.”

4.  Decide how you will handle membership and if you will require them to attend a membership class. The length and depth is up to you but there are five basic areas that are good to be covered including salvation, the ordinances, doctrine, what they can expect from your church, and what your church expects from them. This is a time to head off a lot of misunderstandings upfront because they are joining you, not the opposite. Someone has said it well, “The best time to lose a bad church member is before they join.”

5.  And most importantly, find out what works for you in your context. There are a lot of different ways to reach out and follow up on your guests. Think it through and be creative. There will be many ideas that you might want to implement but are not able to, yet. That is ok. The solution is to do what you can at your current size, ability, and stage of development. Do not focus on what you cannot do. Focus on what you can do and do it!