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Eye Candy

The story is pretty universal where you go “just to look” and you come home with something you said you never meant to purchase. More furniture than you intended to buy, or even needed, but you came home with it and are now wondering how you will pay for it. Or you went to the car dealership with a plan to not go above a certain monthly payment but left with far more than you bargained for. The sales world knows that a very large percentage of Americans are “impulse buyers” and they are trained on how to capitalize on that reality.

What happened to our resolve to only “look” and especially to stay within our budget? One explanation could be that the “eye candy” got the better of us. Eye Candy can be defined as: “visual images that are superficially attractive and entertaining but intellectually undemanding.” We see something we like and it is appealing to what we want and can even be an item we need. We begin to rationalize a way we can go home with something we never intended to buy in the beginning of the process.

This shows up in our lives when we realize we are unable to give to the Lord the way we should. Our budget is so stretched by what we just had to have that now there is little room for our tithes and offerings. We make sure we have all the things we desire but forget about investing as we should into the Lord’s work. Haggai 1:4 says, “Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” What a blessing to see many who do with less so that they can continue to remain faithful to giving cheerfully unto the Lord.

Churches can also give into this temptation when their budget becomes so strapped by membership “needs” that the ability to fund ministry, help the needy, and support missionaries becomes impossible. It is not easy to keep this in balance. Take a look at your church budget and all too often 80-90% is used to take care of the membership. There is not a biblical percentage that guarantees you are spiritual or not but we should be challenged to do more for our cities, our communities, other churches, and to reach those who are far from God.

Churches also need to be aware of “eye candy.” We begin with a particular vision and core values and we are determined to never stray from them but something happens along the way. We see what other churches have and certainly God wants to bless our church with those same things? One area that is especially challenging is when it comes to buildings. We have bought into the American phenomenon that “bigger is always better.” Certainly there is a time to build and buildings are necessary tools for the ministry.

Please consider that maybe there is a kernel of truth in this following question. Are we preaching against our people’s consumerism and keeping up with the Joneses while our church is guilty of the very same thing? This is not meant to cause us to judge anyone’s motives except our own. We should rejoice when others have more or better than us and be careful of coveting or thinking that is the only metric for successful ministry. We all must be willing to admit that the “eye candy” of buildings, programs, technology, and a host of things can be tempting.

Have we so focused on growing bigger that we are doing so at the expense of kingdom growth, multiplication, and reaching entire regions with the gospel? Has our vision become so focused on our own individual congregation that we are unwilling to consider the damage it could be doing to advancing the gospel? We hear things like; “we need to take care of our own members first.” Here are a couple of things to consider before investing too much into a building, programs, or other potential “eye candy” that could keep us from carrying out God’s purpose.

First, do you really need it? That is difficult to discern at times, but there are ways to determine the answer by beginning with prayer. Also, have you considered the long-term growth and trends in your area? If a 15 or 30-year note will restrict your ability to minister and help your community maybe there is a better or other option?

Second, are you willing to look at other options? Maybe you could go to two services or even three! Almost every situation is different but what is the best way to invest the resources God has given you? Certainly, we do not want to bury what God has given us or hold onto it too tightly, but maybe He has another way He wants us to invest them.

Third, will it divert funds that should be going to bless your city and evangelism? Many see the church as more interested in what they own than in helping those in need. Yes, the poor will always be with us but we should be willing to think functional and practical far more than extravagant and fancy. What percentage of your church budget is designated for reaching people who are far from God?

            It is easy for a church, even without realizing, to give into the temptation of the eye candy of nicer, bigger, and newer! People want to know that they matter and are loved. Relationships have been the currency that matters the most to people for a very long time and that will not change anytime soon. The thinking of “build and they will come” came and went a long time ago. A good friend said, “They will come where it is exciting but they will stay where they are loved!”

What Does Spiritual Leadership Look Like?

Much has been said and written about leadership. Quotes such as, “Everything rises and falls on leadership!” “Leadership is influence!” “The speed of the leader determines the speed of the team!” There are volumes of books on leadership from the business world and from the church world. There are two books on leadership from a biblical perspective that really stand out to me. They are Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders and Spiritual Leadership by Henry and Richard Blackaby.

The Blackabys define spiritual leadership as “moving people on to God’s agenda.” It is not about the leader’s agenda but God’s. The leader must be careful not to think that he is the only one who can hear from God on a matter. There is definitely more wisdom in the multitude of counsel. The greatest ideas for ministering to people who are far from God will probably come from your members more often than from the leaders. That is not a negative, but they are rubbing shoulders with them and listening to the Holy Spirit as He directs them on how to reach them.

In Gaining by Losing, J.D. Greear says, “Furthermore, if the majority of what Jesus wants to do He wants to do in the community, it shouldn’t surprise us that He puts His best vision into the hearts of the people who live and work there for the majority of their hours each week.” God has a way of doing extraordinary things through very ordinary people who are willing to obey Him. Remember, Paul told the church in Corinth that not many wise, powerful, or noble have been called. Instead, He has chosen the foolish, insignificant, and weak.

Here are some thoughts on being a spiritual leader…First, your people need to see that you are walking with Jesus. You should not have to prove to them or tell them, but it should be noticeable and evident that God’s hand is upon you. More than anything else, can they tell you are walking with Jesus and in close fellowship with Him? Your number one responsibility as a leader is to seek God’s face and His agenda. You must have a face-to-face relationship and daily encounter with God.

Second, your people need to know that they can trust you. Leadership is primarily built on trust that stands on top of honesty, which gives the leader credibility. Simply said, “Your yes is yes and your no is no.” You are a leader that does what you say you will do. Your word is your bond and is trustworthy. A good rule of leadership, on both sides, is through clear communication and to stay away from surprises and blind-siding someone.

Third, your people need to know that their opinions and input are valued. Many times the insights of other leaders around you can save you a lot of heartache. They may think of things that you may never have considered. No one enjoys following a leader who thinks that the only good opinion is his or hers. Some act like they do not want to be confused by the facts because their mind is already made up. Be open and teachable to other perspectives and ideas.

Fourth, your people need to understand there can be beauty in being challenged and in creating good tension. This works hand in hand with number three but let me quote Ed Stetzer who said, “Surround yourself with strong voices who have permission to disagree.” A great thing to remember here is that just because someone disagrees with you does not mean they are your enemy. Usually, the biggest need is more information and answering unanswered questions.

Fifth, your people need to see a leader who is courageous enough to take a stand but also willing to admit when they make a mistake. Always try to make sure that when you do make a mistake that your motives were pure and not selfish. This way they will know that it was not a mistake of the heart but a mistake of the head. A true spiritual leader is someone who is willing to stand alone when they have to but who never enjoys or desires that to happen.

Sixth, your people need to see a leader with a servant’s heart. This cannot be just verbiage but must be shown by example. You should not have to do everything but you should be willing to do whatever needs to be done. Remember, there are a lot of volunteers giving of their time to serve and help in any way they can. They appreciate a leader who is willing to roll up his or her sleeves and pitch in. A core value of leadership needs to be that no can lead until they first serve.

Seventh, your people need to see a leader who is faithful in the little tasks and smaller details. The word is clear that “he that is faithful in little will be faithful in much.” Don’t be looking for greener grass but instead plant, water, and see the grass grow and flourish right where you are. The Blackabys say this, “The problem is, too many people want to bypass the small assignments and get right to the big jobs—the ones with the influence and prestige.”

L.R. Scarborough once issued this challenge, “If your place is not great enough to suit you, make it so. The minister who is unable to make a place great is too weak to hold a great one.” Resist the temptation to look for “greener” grass and focus on your responsibilities right where God has placed you. My wife likes to say, “Bloom where you are planted.” The great missionary Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

Influence Over Influx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Influence over Influx!!!

 

LETS GET REAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heart Test!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sifting Does Occur

We must expect trials and tribulations to come our way. We have already discussed the importance of learning to read the Bible honestly. Jesus told Peter in Luke 22:31-32, “Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Leaders should especially be ready for the attacks that will come our way. There is a bull’s-eye on our backs and the devil has us in his crosshairs.

Here are some excellent questions from Spiritual leadership by J. Oswald Sanders: “How well do you handle criticism? When have you profited from it? The humble person can learn from petty criticism, even malicious criticism.” One rule of thumb in this area is to always be open to any kernel of truth there might be in the criticism – whether it is constructive or not. Sanders then asks, “In what situations have you been a peacemaker? A leader must be able to reconcile with opponents and make peace where arguments have created hostility.”

Sifting can occur many different ways but it is never enjoyable. It is like discipline of which Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” The sifting we go through produces a stronger and more vibrant faith. James tells us that the testing of our faith produces endurance and enables us to grow into spiritual maturity. Jesus told Peter, “And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Sanders also asks, “Can you accept opposition to your viewpoint or decision without taking offense? Leaders always face opposition.” He then adds, “Do you depend on the praise of others to keep you going? Can you hold steady in the face of disapproval and even temporary loss of confidence?” We may face health challenges, financial challenges, but the most difficult can be relational challenges. Especially when they come from those closest to us. This sifting can hurt the deepest and take the longest to overcome.

First, we must make sure that we talk to people not about people. Make Matthew 5:23-24 and Matthew 18:15-10 a value that you live by and practice. Conflict resolution training is needed and must be implemented into your ministry. In Irresistible Church Wayne Cordeiro says, “The DNA of any conflict resolution involves bringing people together and getting them to talk and listen to each other.” Unfortunately, we worry far too much about pleasing people instead of producing results that will honor God. It is difficult to balance at times.

Second, learn from your mistakes. Make sure that you are not building up a standard so high that no one can live up to it. Wayne Cordeiro refers to this equation; “Experience plus reflection equals insight.” We can always learn from our experiences by stepping back and asking simple questions such as “how could I handle that better next time?” Also, seek other people’s opinions and “debrief” with them how you handled the situation. Listening to other people’s viewpoints ensures that you are not only looking through your lens, which can create tunnel vision.

Third, realize that you will not be able to fix every situation. There are times to lament a situation as found in the scriptures. What does that look like? When a person comes to you and it cannot be easily resolved, you point that person to Jesus and invite them to honestly pour out their heart to the Lord. We acknowledge that God is good and sovereign, yet life is not always as we would like it to be. We learn that our emotions are permitted, that it is right to express them, even when those emotions include anger and injustice when done correctly.

Fourth, be good with a time of prayer and reflection if resolution does not occur immediately. You may not ever have all the answers for people when they are struggling. Unfortunately, life is unfair and people do not always act the way God would have them act. So we repent, we strive to improve, we listen to concerns, and we try to remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit. All of us are challenged to remain sensitive to the real pain and needs of people. We must learn to be patient with people who are wading through many difficult issues in their lives.

Fifth, embrace the paradoxes of leadership. Wayne Cordeiro continues, “The challenge is to stay balanced when criticized, to avoid taking the criticism personally, and yet not to become calloused and cynical. In leadership we are called to a paradox of personalities: sensitive but not easily offended, empathetic but not weak, flexible and yet filled with convictions.” God desires to reconcile and heal unhealthy relationships and He will when it is what we truly desire. The question we must ask ourselves is, are we willing to yield to His principles for reconciliation?

Avoidance of a broken relationship should not be an option. Having right relationships is more important than having church according to Matthew 5:23-24. We must get together in order to work the issues out in a godly, Christ honoring fashion. If apologies need to be made then you must offer them. If rumors need to be cleared up then you must communicate the truth. Most importantly, everyone must be reminded of our goal to honor and glorify God in all we do. John 13:35, “By this all people will know you are My disciples, If you have love one for another.”

Read the Bible Honestly

While recently attending the Exponential Conference, Matt Chandler challenged us to learn to read the Bible honestly. All of us read the scriptures through our own lens. We must discipline ourselves to read it for what it actually says and not what we want it to say. It would be great if it said that we will never have struggles, trials, and tribulation but it actually stresses the opposite. In Exodus 15 Abram is told of a day that his descendants would be afflicted for 400 years in Egypt.

In this world we will have trouble and there will be difficult days! The apostle Peter reminds us to not “think it strange” when we go through trials in our lives. Reading the Bible honestly demands that we admit that our faith will be challenged and sometimes we will wonder why God is allowing what He is allowing us to go through. All you have to do is listen to Paul or James… and do I even need to mention Jeremiah or Job?

One thing to remember is that in the midst of the mess our Lord is at work. Chandler went on to say that suffering is the Lord’s way of cutting away from our lives what will ultimately harm us so that He can instill into us what we really need. Joseph said to his brothers, “you meant it for evil but God meant it for good.” Peter said that we would be refined by fire. That refining process gives us the opportunity to shine for Christ.

In Uncommon Life Daily Challenge, Tony Dungy shares that when he was hired as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers he desired to coach in a way that honored God. He said that he believed that if he did that, and he did, that he would be rewarded. His reward was getting fired. Yes, God had a plan but it was different than the one he expected. In Matthew 5:10 Jesus said, “Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

In the song Trust in You, Lauren Daigle puts it this way, “When you don’t move the mountains I’m needing you to move. When you don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through. When you don’t give the answers as I cry out to you. I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in you.” She gives us the key to this. “Letting go of every single dream. I lay each one down at your feet.” His plans are not always our plans.

Learning to read the Bible honestly means that God is in control and we can trust Him. Think of what Jesus said to Peter in Luke 22:31-32, “Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” There are multiple truths we need to listen to in this passage.

First, Satan desires to sift us, test us, and devour us. We have an enemy the moment we decide to follow Jesus. We should not be surprised by the devil’s attacks. We must get prepared for battle as Paul admonishes us to “Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the devil.”     

Second, Jesus is praying for us. This truth should be a great encouragement. Just think, He is sitting at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us. In John 17:15 He prays, “I am not praying that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one.”      

Third, He does not pray that we will avoid sifting. We will experience sifting and the biggest challenge is how we will face that process. Will we go through sifting trusting Him in the process? Will we willingly endure testing so that Jesus Christ might be glorified? Sifting builds the muscle of faith in our lives.       

 Fourth, we will have to decide if we will continue to be faithful. In a recent message Jack Graham said, “The faith that does not finish was faulty from the first.” In Sifted, Wayne Cordeiro says, “The process of sifting, coming to that moment when our strength is spent, is how God builds our faith.” Check out James 1:1-4.

Fifth, we talk about our strengths, the Bible talks about our weaknesses. II Corinthians 12:9-10, “Therefore, I (Paul) will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in my weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Wayne Cordeiro shares about a time in his life that he knew that the Lord was saying to Him, “The reason I cannot be strong for you is that you refuse to be weak.” He continues, “…you’re beginning to understand one of the most important keys to successful long-term ministry—that you’re only as powerful as your dependence on God’s strength.”

Why is this so important? Attacks and challenges will come. Unfortunately, it sometimes comes from those who are closest to us. It is not easy to balance the need to be thick skinned while remaining sensitive to people’s needs. Cordeiro talks about the paradox of personalities where we must be “sensitive but not easily offended, empathetic but not weak, flexible and yet filled with convictions.”

How can we do that? Admitting our weaknesses, crying out to Him for help, and allowing the Holy Spirit to fill us, control us, and totally dominate us! Learn to read the Bible honestly by knowing that sifting will change you but you will have to decide how it will change you!

Don’t Settle For Less

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing Spiritual Muscles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You A Perfectionist?

In J. Oswald Sanders classic book, Spiritual Leadership, he says, “The perfectionist sets goals beyond his reach, then sinks into false guilt when he falls short.” The wisdom of that statement cannot be overstated. Sanders continues, “Our world is imperfect, and we cannot expect the impossible. Setting modest, realistic goals will help a perfectionist move through a problem without discouragement.” Unrealistic expectations can derail your ability to lead!

The problem is that quite often a visionary leader is an idealist. They have the ability to see the preferred future and begin to expect nothing less. A train wreck is about to happen when idealism meets realism head on. The true idealist can be challenged daily because they envision how things will turn out “ideally” and the “reality” is that they never do. We live in an imperfect world, with imperfect people, and we are quite imperfect ourselves, if you did not already know that.

Leadership requires examining any unrealistic expectations you have, or that others may have, at your church and in your ministry. Do not set your goals by the standard of someone else’s church attendance, their facilities, or the amount of impact they appear to be having. Rejoice when other churches are growing and flourishing. There is no room for comparison or competition in churches that desire to honor our Lord. Be faithful to fulfill His calling on your life first and foremost.

In Romans 12:3 Paul says, “For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think.” This is great advice to remain humble and to know our limitations. A great definition of perfection is doing the best you can with what you have. Yes, pursue excellence but be careful to not set the standard so high that no one can live up to that standard. Work hard at evangelism and discipleship while allowing God to set the expectations.

It is easy to confuse “stepping out in faith” with presumption or wishful thinking. In our Church Planting Essentials Training (DCPI) we challenge church planters to be careful about unrealistic expectations. The materials say, “Planting churches is a lot like raising children. Every child is unique. Each one
has its own growth rate, and every child grows to a different size and shape. But parents love each one for who they are. Comparison with other children is unwise and unhealthy.”

How do keep from allowing perfectionism to overwhelm you?

First, be able to laugh at yourself! You have to make sure that you do not take yourself too seriously. A leader does not need to have all the answers, be able to solve every problem, or hit a homerun every time they are called upon. If you cannot bend at all, by having a sense of humor, you might just break under the pressure. When you make a mistake admit you’re not perfect and get a good laugh out of your mistakes.

Second, remain humble and learn to handle criticism. No leader will ever be exempt from criticism and you must accept that it will come. How you handle it will help determine how well you can lead. Spiritual maturity is what enables you to not listen too closely to the applause or to the criticism. It also allows you to consider if maybe there is a kernel of truth in what is being shared. Can you learn from it and is there something about your leadership that needs to change?

Third, you must practice and maintain self-control. You can be right in a decision but wrong in your attitude or how you handle it. The reality is that when we lose control we will lose the ability to influence and lead others. Perfectionism places you in a pressure cooker that will eventually blow its top if you cannot lead calmly during challenging times. Leadership is not easy and is not for wimps but it can be done from a loving and serving heart.

Fourth, value the ideas and opinions of others. Usually when someone questions your leadership it is not because they oppose your direction or decision but they need more information. J. Oswald Sanders asks, “Can you accept opposition to your viewpoint or decision without taking offense? Leaders always face opposition.” It has been said that perfectionists are aware of three ways of leading, “The right way, the wrong way, and my way.” They are not real flexible with the third option. If not careful it becomes, “my way or the highway.”

Fifth, always value people and the importance of strong relationships. We need each other and we truly can accomplish more working together. Love people and value their opinions but you must also be able to press forward even in the face of opposition. Check your motives, seek a multitude of counsel, and then make the decision. Leaders are able to make hard decisions that others are not willing to make but they are often more than willing to give their advice (criticism) when you do.

Lastly, remain focused on the leadership of the Holy Spirit. The only place you can find His direction and discernment is in His presence. He will enable you to know the difference between your non-negotiables and just being hard headed. It can never be about having “your way” just because you are the leader. Our prayer must be what Jesus prayed in the garden, “not my will, but Yours!” And oh, by the way, if you have to declare to everyone that you are the leader then the reality is that you probably are not.

Perfectionism is defined as, “a personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything else.” Synonyms include the words idealist, nit-picker, purist, and quibbler. Perfectionists are sticklers for things being done right but usually become obsessive and split hairs over things that really do not matter. Perfectionists set standards that are impossible to meet, live with unrealistic expectation, and the stress of not being able to live up to these standards and expectations begins to take a tremendous toll on the leader.