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Leadership 101 – Systems

In a recent leadership training this statement was challenging but rang true when Matt Perman said, “The result of management without leadership is that you will never get there.” With that being said, the next logical conclusion is that leadership without management means we will never sustain it. Systems enable us to sustain all of the relational capital we have worked so hard to build. We should never stop building relationships and loving people but we must also develop systems to help care for the relationships we now have.

Every church needs to take a hard look at developing systems that enable them to be more effective in caring for the people God has given them while remaining focused on reaching those who are far from God. We get so busy working in the ministry that we do not take enough time to work on the ministry. Francis Chan says, “The pastor is not the minister. The pastor is the equipper. Every member of the church is a minister.” With Ephesians 4:11-12 in view we then have to develop a process for training the team God has called us to minister.

One misconception is how many churches have adopted a culture where the pastor is expected to care for everyone. The reality is that this demands more than one man can handle. It is not the responsibility of the pastor to care for everyone but it is his responsibility to make sure that everyone is cared for. You cannot do that without a ministry care system in place where everyone knows his or her responsibilities. The focus shifts from overseeing everyone to training and equipping key people to help oversee the church and its ministries.

Effective churches utilize systems to carry out the vision that God has given them. The pastor needs a team approach that helps encourage quality. A vision written down on paper does not ensure that it is accomplished – people do! Good systems such as outreach, assimilation, worship planning, spiritual growth, ministry care, ministry placement, finance and reproduction save you stress, time, energy, money, and a lot of headaches. All you have to do is take a look at Moses with his father-in-law Jethro, Nehemiah, and Acts 6 to know this is true.

Here is one thing Dynamic Church Planting International has 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. They hope their donations will be handled well. They hope that the services will have quality and continuity. They hope that someone will pray for them, befriend them, and communicate with them.”

The need for systems is not only for church plants. It is also imperative for any church running 40-50 and above. There is a great need to evaluate the systems you have because of how desperately they are needed. DCPI continues on the importance of systems, “They (people in your church) hope that someone will introduce them to a more significant life than they are leading now. This job belongs to the leader. The only way the leader can make this happen is to develop systems that ensure every system works every day of the week, every week of the year.”

Here are a few things to think about in developing systems:

  1. Determine your values because values drive your practices, which then determine your results in the areas of your systems.   DCPI states, “Cars are designed to transport people. Medicines are designed to cure people. Machines are designed to manufacture toys, clocks or other gadgets. The systems you designed are giving your church exactly what they were designed to do, whether you like it or not. So, if you want your church to reach more people and grow in Christ, you will have to design your systems well.”
  2. Train your people how to develop systems. DCPI training covers 10 ministry issues such as designing an implementation plan, teaching the 12 Biblical Principles as applicable to church systems, gives over 25 ministry skills for the phases of church growth, and shows how your church size impacts your ministry. It also helps you think through how to deal with discouragement, difficult people, and time demands. It walks you through what pastoral transitions should look like.
  3. There are at least eight necessary systems that must be undergirded by the word of God and much prayer. Every system must go through both of those filters to ensure you are headed in His direction and not yours. Those systems are Reproductive, Outreach, Assimilation, Worship Service Planning, Spiritual Growth, Pastoral Care, Ministry Placement, and Financial. If you desire to see your team become more effective then you must be committed to giving them the tools they need.
  4. Work ON your ministry not just in the ministry. It has been said before but is worth repeating – Plan your Work and then Work your Plan! Over the next several weeks we will try to unpack what each of these systems might look like and how you can get them up and running. Values determine practices and then your practices determine results. Your values determine your priorities. Remember, people will lose their way if they lose their why!

Never Been Exposed to the Truth

Jesus said that He came to “seek and to save that which was lost.” He clearly described what it meant to follow Him when He declared, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” A disciple, a follower of Jesus, is defined as a person who knows Jesus and has decided to follow Him. That disciple is being changed and transformed by Christ daily and has committed himself to the mission of Christ. We seem to do well focusing on being biblically sound and relationally connected but somehow fail miserably when it comes to living missionally.

A recent Barna Report has reinforced many concerns about our culture in America moving further and further away from God. Mike Huckabee offers this summary of that report: “The Barna Group just released a new study of Generation Z (current teenagers) that found they are the least-Christian generation in US history. Nearly twice as many claim to be atheists as Millennials (13% to 7%), and 35% of current teens say they are either atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated with any religion. Just 59% say they are Catholic or Christian (a six-point drop from the Millennial generation), and only 4% hold what is considered a true Biblical worldview.”

He continues, “The survey places the cause of this change on today’s teenagers having been brought up in a post-Christian, post-modern environment where they’ve never been exposed to Christianity or church.” The phrase that stands out shocking and troubling me the most is, “never been exposed to Christianity or church.” Can that really be right here in our own backyards? Have we lost our passion and burden for the lost where most Christians are not even sharing their faith, ever?

J.D. Payne recently shared that as of October 2017 there are 207 Unengaged Unreached People Groups here. This is even of greater concern than just being an Unreached People Group because this means there is no (none) evangelical planting strategy being executed at this time to build a gospel bridge to these people. Before we pass this off as a metropolitan problem in New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles we need to ask ourselves, “What am I doing to reach the unchurched, unengaged, and those far from God in my city and community?”

Mike Breen expounds upon a huge problem in the American church when he laments that in the United States, “96% of church growth is due to transfer growth and not churches striking into the heart of our enemy’s territory. We’ll consider it a win because we have the new service or program that is growing…but that growth is mainly from people coming from other churches. That’s not a win! That’s a staggering loss.” Research supports his claim because only 15% of all churches are growing and only 1% of that number is increasing because of conversion growth.

What is your church’s strategy to reach those who are far from God in your city and community? Ed Stetzer challenges us to discern whom the lost are, where do they live, and how will we reach them? Yet it seems that what dominates most church cultures today is attracting those who are already believers and attending church. Without even realizing it we have become enamored with having a better product than the church down the street, which perpetuates a spirit of competition where the church with the best music and programs wins!

First, we need to repent.

We need to ask God to forgive us for our lack of burden and concern for the lost that work and live next door to us. Then we need to recommit to being the salt and light that He has called each one of us to be. Is your light shining? Are you shining as you are supposed to be? Philippians 2:15 says, “We are to shine like stars in the world.” As we are praying we need to put some feet to our prayers through random acts of kindness and to love in word and deed. Can those living in darkness see our good works?

Second, we need to develop a strategy as an individual believer and as a church.

Give people a way and opportunities to share their faith. Dave Ferguson with Exponential and Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL, utilizes a 5-step plan that he has called B.L.E.S.S. Begin in prayer. Listen to them because no one ever feels more valued than when we listen. Eat with them to build relationships and get to know them personally. Serve them in a way that blesses their lives. How can you best serve them? Share with them what God has done for you and for them.

Third , we must place tools in our member’s hands.

This can be done at the end of the services and through your small groups to aid and help them in being light. It could be a card with the gospel message in one verse (Romans 6:23) or it could be an invitation to a special event. One thing here, though, is try to change your culture from a “come and see” (which is good) and add to it a “go and tell!” Think of multiple ways and multiple doors of how people can be connected and connect with others. It really is more a lifestyle of “as you go” being light and witnesses than a program.

Fourth, do the work of an evangelist.  

If we want to see God move in the area of evangelism then we must be ready to do the work of an evangelist in the same way Timothy was challenged. It is heartbreaking that the reality is that there are many churches that never see one person saved or baptized. This does not mean that anything goes just so we can get numbers and brag about the notches on our gospel belts. If we desire a movement of God it will require extraordinary prayer, abundant evangelism, a white-hot faith, and sacrifice with God giving the increase.

Leadership 101 – Slow Down

Most leaders I know need to slow down. We get caught up in the hustle and bustle of so many different things. It is difficult to find a rhythm that is sustainable with the demands of ministry and the juggling act that it seems to require. Stop and think for a minute, though. What are the usual results of rushing, getting in a hurry, and potentially getting ahead of the Lord? The answer is that it can be disastrous. The Bible gives us multiple examples of impatience in leaders.

Abraham became impatient in waiting on the son God promised him. He and Sarah had a plan but we know that did not turn out well. Moses grew impatient even though he had a great heart to help his fellow Hebrews in Egypt. He committed murder and it cost him 40 years on the backside of the dessert. King Saul grew impatient and offered burnt offering to the Lord instead of waiting on Samuel. His getting ahead of God cost him his throne. Impatience does not pay off.

The book of Proverbs has several references about the wisdom of the prudent. The idea is being careful and sensible. A prudent man is marked by sound judgment while being cautious and possessing great awareness of each situation. What are the consequences of inadequately discerning God’s will before moving forward? They can be tragic and devastating. We need to develop a rhythm in all areas of our lives of slowing down and sitting in His presence.

Here are some areas where we need to slow down.

  1. Slow down in your daily personal life. Develop the daily discipline of slowing down long enough to listen to the Lord. Find a place of solitude where you can be more mindful of His presence.   That is what will carry you through those crazy and hectic times when it is full steam ahead. If you have not slowed down to see Him in times of solitude it will be very difficult to see Him and sense His presence during the busy times.
  2. Slow down in your family time. Build boundaries to protect quality time with your wife and children. Make sure you have a date night where it is just you and her enjoying time together. Schedule family time on your calendar and when asked if you are available tell them you already have an appointment. Make sure you are there for the important events in your children’s lives. Your church will not remember many of the sacrifices you make for them but your children will.
  3. Slow down in your sermon preparation. Develop a system that enables you to best utilize your time. When is your most productive time to study? Schedule it on your calendar and then protect that time. You can get a lot accomplished when it is quiet and uninterrupted. If it means getting up an hour earlier to spend that time in the word it will be well worth it. Early mornings work well because the phone does not begin ringing until about 8:30 a.m. Find a study rhythm that works for you.
  4. Slow down by enjoying your favorite hobby or pastime. What recharges your battery? What is it you enjoy doing that refreshes you, makes you laugh, and puts a smile on your face? Find that outlet that gives you the opportunity to release the tension and frustrations that build up inside of all of us. Whether it is running, bicycling, hiking, golf, or cross-stitch it will be time well spent. All work and no play usually leads to burnout!
  5. Slow down in your leadership style. Make sure people really do understand where you are headed. This requires slowing down long enough to articulate clearly and allowing people to process the information. Bringing them along with you on the journey will slow down the process but it is worth the investment. Also make sure there is appropriate accountability. It is not wise for any single person to possess absolute power in a church. Lord Acton said it well, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
  6. Slow down and develop leaders. If you are too busy to spend time discipling and pouring into leaders then you are too busy. Take a close look at the things you should not be doing and pass those responsibilities on to someone else. Focus in on those three just like Jesus did. Look for those who want more and then challenge them to meet you at 5:30 a.m. for coffee to see if they are serious. Do not spend time chasing them or trying to persuade them to be dedicated. If they are called to a higher level of commitment they will pursue you.
  7. Slow down and enjoy the worship service. All too often we are focused on so many things Sunday mornings that we feel like a one-eyed cat watching 15 mouse holes. Involve as many people as you can in making sure the worship services are well prepared and planned but let them handle it so that you focus on two things, worship and preaching. Train and develop a team to oversee all of the details from greeters, altar workers, ushers, sound booth, announcements, song service, and everything else. Slow down and worship.
  8. Slow down and define what success really looks like. People must know that you will seek God’s will above all else. Remember, when we push and rush in decision making there will almost always be problems. Take time to sleep on it, seek wise counsel, and listen to the Lord. The greatest thing people need to see in a leader is a life that is characterized by, “Lord, not my will, but yours be done!”

The key words for church planning and strategy are slow down!

Be the Light of Jesus

Tony Dungy is well known as an NFL player, coach, and now commentator. In one of his books he shares that when he was still coaching he was often asked how he could justify working in the football “world” and be a Christian? They would point out how violent the game was, how bad the language used was, and that it was played on Sunday. His answer was, “I try to be careful to bring Christ’s light to that “world” without getting swallowed up by it!”

That is a great answer because God can only use us in the “world” if we are in fact “in” the world. There will be much debate and tension created in different scenarios of when we cross the line (and by the way, who determines that line?) and go too far. This will require godly wisdom that is only found in listening close to His leadership. Maybe we should focus on where we draw our own lines instead of judging and criticizing other people who seemingly cross the line. Check out Mark 3.

The world God has placed you in is exactly where you are to shine as His light. God gives you a platform from which you are to share Him as you allow your light to shine. Are you taking advantage of the opportunities you have to influence and add value to the lives of others? People need to see the light of what a person looks like who is abiding in Christ. Have we lost our focus on how God wants us to be His light? Have we even forgotten that we are called to be light?

Today’s reality is that so many churches seem to have forgotten why they exist and there is very little evangelism going on. It seems that all too often our focus, even in church planting, is finding those already in the family of God instead of those who are outside! In Barnabas Factors, J. D. Payne says, “Since biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches, team members will naturally spend the greatest amount of time with unbelievers prior to the birth of churches.”

Most agree that church plants need to see at least 50% of their growth come from new converts but all too often it is not even close. Before church planters think that this is an attack on them, the fact is that it is even worse in most established churches. We seem to be more focused on those we can get from other churches and who are already believers instead of pursuing the unsaved who are far from God. How intentional are you being in building relationships with unbelievers?

First, Pursue a passionate and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

If we are truly in love with Jesus then we will love others and have compassion on the multitudes as He does. It is out of our intimate and individual walks with God that we are able to minister to those outside the kingdom effectively. Unless we abide in Jesus, we really have nothing to offer others. Our inner life with Christ is what will determine what our outer work will look like.

Second, Begin building relationships and friendships with people who are far from God.

One suggestion would be for pastors and those on staff to spend one day a week hanging out with unbelievers. Where could you volunteer or what hobby could you develop that would put you in the middle of unbelievers? Start with your neighbors and invite people into your home for a meal.

Third, Make sure you are praying for unbelievers regularly.

Are you daily praying for 10-15 people by name to which you are personally trying to show the light of Jesus? Why not? Sometimes we just want to hang out with the believers we are comfortable with and already know. In Mark 5, a man who had been freed from demon possession wanted to stay with Jesus. But He told him, “Go back home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you.”

Fourth, Just Do it!

One version of Mark 5:19 says, “Tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” Just do it and allow God to bless your efforts to let them know that Jesus loves them. The reality is that most will probably never feel ready to share Christ with others. The best news though is that God is bigger than all of our inadequacies, fears, and mistakes. So even if you cannot quote the Romans road just tell them how much the Lord has done for you!

Fifth, Remember that your light will only shine brightly as you walk with Him and abide in Him.

It is out of our inner lives that we do our outer work. Who you are on the inside is as important, actually much more important, as what you do. You cannot give what you do not possess and you cannot help but give others what you do possess. If you are full of anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness it will come out. But if you are full of grace, love, and forgiveness it will be given also!

Your light shines brightest when you are walking with the Lord. Abiding in Christ is the best way to insure that our best intentions turn into consistent action. Our close communion and connection with Jesus is what produces vibrancy and vitality. When we drift from Him we become spiritually dysfunctional and our lights begin to flicker. How we serve Christ and how we love others reflects what is tucked away in our hearts. It is a mirror that reveals who and what we really love.

Be the light that Jesus intended you to be! Bring Christ’s light to “your” world without being swallowed up by it! Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

You have probably seen the hotel commercial that asks this question in song, “Should I stay or should I go?” Many pastors ask that question at many different times and most of the time it is motivated by a genuine desire to do what is best for that local church. Leaders desire to be in ministries where they can be effective and have as godly an impact as possible. The reality is that far too many pastors may leave too soon at a time when their effectiveness could be optimum.

There are studies that show the wisdom of a long tenure of a pastor but we also cannot discount the leadership of the Lord. The problem so often is that the decision to leave is made for the wrong reasons and at the wrong time. If you’re not careful when going through a valley you will move from a valley at a familiar location to another valley in a new location. We must make sure that we learn the lessons God wants us to learn when we go through the valleys and the difficult seasons that will come in any ministry.

The greatest problem might be being able to hear His voice clearly when we are in the middle of difficult circumstances. Wise counsel would be to get away, get refreshed, and seek to hear what the Lord is truly saying He wants us to do. Make sure you have a prayer retreat, sabbatical, or time focused on discerning his perfect will as best you can. There certainly are reasons and times to move to a different ministry but here are some reasons that are not good reasons to leave or move on.

Don’t leave just because of problems and difficult circumstances.

Paul makes this clear in I Corinthians 16:9 because he says a great door was opened to him but then says there were many adversaries. J.D. Greear puts it this way, “Paul saw the presence of adversaries, obstacles, and closed doors as opportunities to keep pressing, not signals to give up!” We think that just because there is opposition maybe we should move on but maybe we need to stay and work through that difficulty.

Don’t leave just because difficult people are being vocal in their opposition.

Maybe no one has ever confronted them in a biblically centered and loving manner. We are instructed to speak the truth in love and let people know when their behavior is not pleasing to the Lord. A church fellowship needs to hold its members accountable if they have fallen prey to sowing discord within the fellowship. It is never enjoyable to face difficult people but spiritual leaders are willing to face opposition that others have been unwilling to face.

Don’t leave because you are unwilling to pay the price that is required to work through the difficulty.

The normal reaction is to shy away from confrontation and conflict but someone has to work through it. Another characteristic of true spiritual leadership is the willingness to pay a price that others are unwilling to pay. Get a plan to work through the challenges and then begin to systematically work on solutions one problem at a time. List the problems, prioritize them, and then work on them one by one.

Don’t leave because you were unwilling to make the hard decisions no one else was willing to make.

Three things need to be determined by using the following questions. What is the problem? Who needs to be involved in correcting the problem? And then, when does the problem need to be worked out by? You can never get as much accomplished in one year as you think but you can always accomplish far more in five than you think.

Don’t leave thinking that things will be much different and much better in a different ministry.

They very well may be but there is no guarantee. All churches and ministries have challenges and difficulties. People are people and a lot of the ongoing problem is that no one has ever been shown how to work through them and learn how to biblically handle conflict. Challenge people that they can either become a part of the problem or a part of the solution. Adrian Rodgers said, “A change of scenery has never guaranteed a change of character.”

When you add all of these together it should encourage us to realize that all ministries are different. Be careful of comparing your ministry to others who seem to be getting blessed far more than yours. A look at Hebrews 11 shows us that the hall of faith includes those who shut the mouth of lions, were delivered from many great challenges, and were blessed with great victories. There are also those who were tortured, those who experienced mocking and scourging, and seemingly experienced great suffering.

God is glorified in both as long as we are faithful where He has placed us and to the calling He has given us. Do not interpret God’s calling to only be validated by good circumstances. Just ask John the Baptist who sat in prison after the accolades and applause had ended. No one was flocking to hear his teaching anymore and the multiple baptisms were a thing of the past. His reward for faithfully preaching the gospel was being beheaded. Yet Jesus said there were none greater then him. He had said, “I must decrease and He must increase!”

Ministry Support and Care

The ministry is not easy and we know that Paul warned Timothy and others of many challenges. The need for a team of others you can count on cannot be overstated. At running the risk of saying the same thing too often, allow me the opportunity to say it again, “The speed of the leader determines the speed of the team.” If you, as a spiritual leader, begin to struggle spiritually then before long others around you will begin to struggle also.

Protecting your walk with the Lord is paramount. You cannot allow yourself to get to the point of running on empty by not constantly abiding in Him. You must develop rhythms in your life where you daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually build systems in your life that continue to stir up the passion you have for Christ and the gift within you. What are you studying right now that is helping you to know Him better and develop a closer and more intimate relationship with Him?

On a regular basis I challenge church planters and pastors to properly care for themselves because if they are not spiritually healthy their families, friends, and ministries will not be far behind. One important aspect is to build a ministry care plan of support and accountability…having people around you that keep you on track and encourage you. They love you enough to tell you what you need to hear and provide a role in your life that you desperately need for balance and direction.

There are five roles I have told these leaders they all need to have. They need a supervisor, a coach, a mentor, a pastor, and a friend. The roles are important but can be adapted to fit your context. This does not mean you have to have five people because one person can fill two of the roles such as a friend can also be a mentor. There are certain roles that are harder to be fulfilled by the same person such as a supervisor and a coach. Lets take a look at each one of these roles.

The first is the role of supervisor!

This is the person or persons you answer to whether that is a boss, a committee, a group of elders, a board of trustees, or even a pastor accountability team. This is a team of individuals who plan with you, dream with you, and help you process God’s direction in your life. This person or persons serve as a sounding board and is far from being “yes” people. There will be tension at times but that is a good thing as wisdom is sought through prayer.

The second role is that of a coach!

According to Keith E. Webb’s definition, “Coaching is an on-going intentional conversation that empowers a person or group to fully live out God’s calling.” There is skill set that is necessary for being a good coach. It involves being a good listener and then asking good questions. We never show someone we value him or her more then when we are willing to listen to them. Do you have someone who listens well and then asks you the right questions?

The third role is that of a mentor!

The best definition I have heard of a mentor is that it is someone who has been where you want to go and is willing to help you get there. A coach pulls out but a mentor pours in. They know what you need to know and they are willing to take the time to share it with you. The best biblical example of this may be Paul pouring into Timothy but there is also Moses to Joshua and Elijah to Elisha. Do you have that individual in your life that can pour into yours?

The fourth role that everyone needs is a pastor!

We all need a spiritual shepherd who cares for our spiritual walk.   The reality is that we need someone in our lives that has a pastor’s heart for us and always wants what is best for us. They protect us from the wolves waiting to attack and devour us. They not only have a heart to protect us but they want to make sure we are properly nourished. They will always go to the word of God to direct us, correct us, reprove us, rebuke us, and strengthen us.

The fifth role is that of a friend!

Do you have that friend in your life that you know you can always count on and with whom you can always be completely transparent? True friends are very special people. David had his mighty men and there is wisdom in building a team of three friends around you. Those friends that you can always call on knowing they will be there to listen and encourage us. They are the kind of friends that you count on 24/7 who don’t walk out on you when times are difficult. You can always depend on them to be there when you need them.

Ministry care requires that we focus on our spiritual walk by building a team around us that will provide these critical roles in our lives. Can you name the people who fulfill these roles? Are you meeting and talking with them on a regular basis? If you are do not have this support system are you ready to prayerfully begin looking for them? Who fulfills the role of supervisor, coach, mentor, pastor, and friend in your life? Spiritual health requires accountability and spiritual care givers.

Dealing with Conflict and Criticism

How do you please people without being a people pleaser? Pastors have a desire to get along with their members and have a strong burden for unity. Sometimes that is quite a challenge with so many different opinions on how people think churches should be run and what they believe the pastor’s responsibilities are. People can sometimes be difficult and when conflict comes we must be ready to have a plan in place for how we will handle it. Will we handle it biblically?

The greatest challenge is to make sure you respond to conflict rather than reacting to it. The biblical standard given multiple times throughout the Word is that we are to refuse to guard (hold on to) resentments. We must refuse to carry grudges or nurse hatred and anger. Oh, we will get angry and we will get hurt so we must be ready to zealously banish all resentment and anger from our life. We will have to choose over and over again whether we will get better or get bitter.

When you do get hurt or mad the first thing to do is take a really good deep breath. While taking that moment it is your opportunity to ask God for strength and wisdom. You might not be able to handle the stress and conflict but He always can. The key here is choosing to be under His control and direction instead of your own. It is hard but it is possible because we can do all things through Christ who gives us the strength we need when we need it.

I Peter 2:23 says, “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He was suffering, He did not threaten but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly!” Jesus did not retaliate! When conflict or criticism comes we will have to decide how we will respond to it. Will we choose to allow Him to be in control or will our flesh be in control? Jesus chose to not retaliate and to trust the Father to handle the judgment end of things. Do we trust God enough to allow Him to handle that end of it?

There are a lot of options but let’s take a look at four. We must choose how we will handle difficult people and difficult situations daily. You should not judge a church by whether it has problems or not but by how they handle their problems. That same principle applies to leadership because the real litmus test is how we respond to and handle conflict. A pastor posted this sentiment on Twitter, “I refuse to be a Christian who is generous with damnation and stingy with grace.”

First, you could choose to give in and pander to the criticism or conflict. The temptation is to just agree with them even when you do not agree with them. You do not want to offend them, upset them, or rock the boat. Everyone has a desire to be liked but that desire should not override the truth and must confront the difficulty in love. Remember that Proverbs 15:1 says that, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” So often it is not what we say but how we say it.

Second, you could choose to isolate yourself from them or ignore them. The temptation here is to hope that if we ignore the problem it will just go away or solve itself. The truth is that almost never happens. It is sad when people in a church will avoid certain people and use a different entrance to make sure they do not have to speak to them. That could be called stealth avoidance but a more correct description would be escapism and an unbiblical approach to conflict resolution.

Third, you could get defensive and power up for the confrontation. This is where you try to overpower the difficult person using intimidation. You have the mindset of straightening them out, showing them once and for all, and telling them a thing or two. The focus becomes more about changing them rather than being the person Christ wants you to be. Powering up is where you want to blow them away with what you say and shut them up once and for all.

Fourth, you show courage and stay calmly connected to them. This is the most biblical approach where you speak the truth in love. You refuse to see them as the enemy and ostracize them. Your focus is on biblical resolution and restoration of the relationship. In Acts 20:17 Paul said, “For I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole plan of God.” Later in Galatians 4:16 he says, “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?”

The biblical response to conflict and difficult people is found throughout the scriptures in verses like Romans 12:17, “Do not repay evil for evil.” And also in I Peter 3:9, “Not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this.” Once again, the key is not necessarily what you say but how you say it and the love you have for the one to whom you are saying it.

Nehemiah is an excellent example of handling conflict but not allowing it to distract him from the task God had assigned him. You must continue to labor and press forward even when you conflict and criticism comes. Nehemiah in chapter 5 says he was “extremely angry” when he heard their outcry and their complaints but in verse 16 he says he “devoted” himself to the work. When the detractors asked him to stop the work and come down and discuss it he refused.

Nehemiah made it clear that there was nothing to the rumors they were spreading and even told them in Nehemiah 6:8, “you are inventing them in your own mind.” He knew that their attempts at intimidating him were focused on trying to discourage him and bring their work to a screeching halt. Then in Nehemiah 6:11 he says something we should all remember when faced with conflict and criticism, “Should a man like me run away?”

I Am Thankful for You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sacrifice of Worship

J.D. Greear emphasizes the importance of worship, “When we see the size and beauty of the God who speaks to us, the power of sin and idolatry over our hearts is broken! The way we will stop sinning is not by being told over and over to, ‘Stop sinning!’ but by seeing the majesty and glory of God in our hearts. As we see the beauty of God and feel His weightiness in our hearts, our hearts begin to desire Him more than we desire sin. Before the Bible says, ‘Stop sinning,’ it says, ‘Behold your God!’”

When we have seen the beauty of God and felt the weightiness of God’s majesty in our soul, sin’s power is broken over us. The problem is not that our desires for other idols are too large; it’s because our desire for God is too small. Lesser urges can only be expelled by stronger ones. Our affections for idols are brought under control only when they are taken captive by a stronger more enchanting affection. You will only hate sin when you start to love God!

That occurs through worship, as we desire to see Him high and lifted up more than anything else going on in our lives. Remember, idolatry literally means “weight” and it is anything that we assign and give more importance than God. Worship enables us to see God as “weightier” than any sin in our life and we cannot imagine life without Him.

Worship has been described as “worthship.” You worship what you give worth to…those relationships or possessions or goals that you supremely value. Worship has always involved sacrifice. The Apostle Paul uses sacrificial terminology and outlives for us four tangible sacrifices we can offer God as an act of worship.

First, is a Surrendered Life. Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 that we are to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.” The essence of worship is found in yielding our lives to the Lordship of Christ. Nothing hinders personal and corporate worship more than lives that have crawled off the altar and have chosen not to surrender themselves to the care and control of Jesus.

Second, is a Sacrifice of Praise. Hebrews 13:15, “Therefore through Him let us continually offer up the to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name.” A big part of worship is offering words that acknowledge God’s character (who He is) and thank Him for His goodness (all that He has done for us). Worship is not a spectator sport but rather requires our participation as we pray, sing, and listen to the word of God.

Third, is our Service and Generosity. Hebrews13:16 , “Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.” From the greeters to the safety team to all others who come early to serve in some capacity, please realize that your worship begins when you show up! Through your acts of service and your willingness to be generous with your time you are offering a sacrifice to God (worship), which is pleasing to Him.

Fourth, is our Financial Gifts. Philippians 4:18, “I am fully supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you provided—a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” Paul thanked them for their financial support and describes these financial gifts with worship language. Giving to the Lord is an act of worship not just an act of stewardship. Is what I am giving to the Lord and the spirit by which I give it pleasing to the Lord? When it is, it is worship!

Everyone involved in making sure that the worship service gets up and running needs to see themselves as priests before God. An attitude of service and sacrifice is key for providing a holy atmosphere for people to encounter a holy God. We must have our hearts prepared to worship God through personal examination, confession of sins, and the resolution of any conflicts. During a worship celebration God is to be exalted with a focus on His goodness and eternal mercies.

Our worship services exist for God. He is our focus. We want His fame to spread throughout the world. We want Him to be honored, adored, and glorified in our midst. The sole purpose is to meet with God because He is the only one who can meet our spiritual needs. Our public prayers should reflect this adoration. They should lift the weary soul up before God just as much as our music does. Does this mean we need to pray in our God voice? No, it simply means we get our hearts and minds ready for leading people before His throne of grace.

The leaders must be spiritually focused to guide God’s people in worship. They must have their hearts prepared to worship Him through personal examination, confession of sins, and the resolution of any conflicts. There should be a celebrative atmosphere during the worship service. Music sets the tone of our worship and whether it is hymns or choruses there must be an inspiring aspect that lifts God’s people out of their ordinary lives into the presence of God.

There must also be a clear emphasis on the character of God. The sole purpose is meet with God, the only one who can meet our spiritual needs. We want Him to be honored, adored, and glorified in our midst. He alone is the one who is worthy of our praise, adoration, and worship. Any sacrifice of our time, effort, or energy that we give Him is well worth it. When the motive is right, these offerings are well pleasing in His sight!

Pslam 96:9 says, “Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness;
tremble before Him, all the earth.”

LEAN IN TO JESUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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