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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.”

Lessons From the Shepherds

At Christmas we are once again introduced to programs, cantatas, and musicals that have all the familiar characters of shepherds, magi, and the manger. We are use to seeing boys dressed up in a bathrobe with a towel wrapped around their head, and holding a staff in one of their hands. They are absolutely adorable but they are far from what the shepherds were actually like at the time of Jesus birth. The shepherds were hardened men who lived lonely, obscure lives and were scorned by most people of that day.

The shepherds were the people group who were given the privilege of being the first to know about and be told the good news of Jesus birth. They were very uneducated, untrained, and unskilled laborers. They were smelly, rough characters and probably the most unlikely people of that day to be invited to the party. These shepherds offered a meager but necessary service of watching over the herds believed to contain the sacrificial lambs being raised for the temple and the Passover.

Shepherds were not trusted by very many people back then. They were not allowed to testify in court even if they were eyewitnesses. It is quite ironic that the very men who were not permitted to testify in court are chosen by God to be the first to testify of the virgin birth. Yet, when the Pharisees referred to the tax collectors and the sinners the shepherds were most likely at the top of their sinner list. Wow, what a God that announces the birth of His Son to the poor, uneducated, despised shepherds.

What can we learn from these shepherds and their involvement in the birth of the savior?

  1. This Bible story makes it very clear that God loves the outcast. God always reaches out to those who will come to Him no matter what society may say or think of them. Those who the world sees as the least important are the first that God seems to be interested in. Even the religious elite of the day wrote shepherds off as unclean and pagan but God chose to reveal the truth of Christ’s birth to them.
  2. God reminds us that following Him requires sacrifice. Jesus did not come to just make slight alterations to our lifestyles but has called us to live for a completely different Kingdom. We are commanded by Him to die daily and to take up our cross and follow Him. The shepherds knew what it meant to sacrifice for their sheep as they cared for them day by day. They understood that the sacrificial lambs they helped care for were a picture of the coming Messiah, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.
  3. The shepherds and the manger scene remind us to never interpret God’s love based on our circumstances. Jesus was not born in a palace with a silver spoon in His mouth but rather of the most humble beginnings. You would think the creator of the universe should of made sure that Joseph and Mary had a reservation for a room in the inn but they didn’t. Just because God does not provide for us the way we think He should does not mean He does not love us and have our best in mind.
  4. The manger and the cross settle forever how God feels about you. He loves you and you should never doubt that truth. Whenever your circumstances make you wonder where God is you must remember that He has already proven how much He loves you by dying for you. Even when He does not answer every prayer request the way you think He should you should be very careful of ever trying to use Jesus to get what you want more than you love Him for who He is. As the good shepherd He always has your best in mind.
  5. The shepherds teach us that Jesus invites all to come to Him. He invites those who are poor, uneducated, despised, and outcasts like the shepherds.   He also invites the rich educated, respected, and well thought of like the Magi. John 3:16 and Romans 10:13 reminds us of God’s invitation to everyone because “whoever believes will have eternal life” and “whoever calls on His name will be saved.” Whether they are outcasts or the uppity ups Jesus invites all to come to Him.

The shepherds teach a lot about the heart of God for the lost, the last, and the least. Most people of that day were unaware of the shepherd’s existence because they did not see them nor were they around them. They never gave shepherds a thought nor would they have given them the time of day. They had no desire to get to know them personally; but God did! Isn’t that just like Him? He pursued a relationship with them and sent angels to invite them to worship Him.

The shepherds show us the heart of God. He takes the initiative to invite those considered last on the social ladder to be first on the heavenly invitation list. J.D. Greear in his gospel prayer says, “As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross and your power by the resurrection.” The shepherds teach us that God’s love is not based on our earning it or deserving it but rather totally based on who He is; a God of love. Oh, that we would learn first hand with this truth the shepherds experienced that first Christmas morning.

May we testify of his greatness as they did of His in Luke 2:20, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, just as they had been told.”

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!

SEQUENTIALISM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIPS FOR YOUR CHURCH MISSIONS STRATEGY

Have you begun working on your church’s mission strategy? Have you determined how you can become more involved than just giving a monthly percentage of your tithes and offerings? Are unreached people groups in your vision and conversations? Have you prayerfully considered how your church might plant a church? How will you determine your level of involvement in God’s mission strategy? You can pray, prepare, partner, plant, and be a parent. We must continue to be committed to the multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches!

Missions-minded churches jump from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Missional churches focus on Jerusalem, “All” (emphasis added) Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Gary Rohrmayer says, “Church planting is the way a denomination invests in the harvest. The harvest is the future.” How true and never forget that your church was once a church plant. A church’s mission strategy begins by building a sending culture where it becomes natural because that is what churches do! They equip, empower, and then release leaders to live sent.

First, we really are better together!

Philippians 1 gives a great overview of how a local body of believers helped support the ongoing church planting efforts of the apostle Paul. He expresses his gratefulness to them in verse 5, “because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” Every church must decide whom they will work with in the furtherance of the gospel. That is the purpose of an association of churches so that together they can be a part of fulfilling the Great Commission. With whom will you cooperate for the advancement of the gospel?

When we examine our motives of working with others for the sake of the gospel we must remember that our main impetus is not how many will be saved. Certainly we hope many will find Christ. Our primary motivation must remain that God has commanded us to go and make His name known to every tribe and every nation. That parameter includes all of Judea and all of Samaria. Yet one church-planting leader commented, “The hardest money I have ever raised is for North American church planting.” This will not work without partnerships.

Second, we need to have a system in place that assesses those we support.

In Phil. 1:7 Paul says, “you are all partners with me in grace both in my imprisonment and in the defense and establishment of the gospel.” Are those we are sending and supporting qualified? In Acts 13 the church decided to send Barnabas and Saul. They had proven themselves in their local church. We cannot afford to be sending people out who are not biblically sound in the gospel. Also, have they been faithfully sharing the gospel with others?

It should be apparent that they are able to defend the gospel and that they have also put their knowledge into practice. Have they already used their Great Commission skills in sharing the gospel, discipling converts, and developing leaders locally? There are assessment tools that enable us to better evaluate skill sets but we should always look first to how they are serving, or not serving, in their local church. If they have not been faithful in their local church it is unwise to expect a change of location to correct the problem.

Third, we must be willing to do whatever it takes to advance the gospel.

Paul says this in Phil. 1:12, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advance of the gospel.” We know that Paul is referring to his imprisonment and the hardships he endured such as beatings, shipwreck, and being stoned. He is saying that it was all worth it and was all in God’s plan. Really, we usually are not sacrificing by what we give but we are being given the privilege and blessing of investing in kingdom work.

Recently, I read of a missionary who was offered a very nice position back here in America. The person who contacted him let him know there were 100 other people ready to take this job but he was holding it for him believing he was the person for the job. While it was meant as a compliment the missionary heard it differently. He did not want to move to a ministry position where there were 100 people ready to do the job when there was no one standing in line for his. We must be willing to accept the positions no one else is lining up for!

Fourth, we must live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel.

Phil. 1:27 goes on to say, “working side by side for the faith that comes from the gospel.” How do we give credibility to the gospel? We begin by teaching that if someone says they believed, but they have never obeyed, then they probably never really did believe. Biblical belief is repentance in action. If you have truly believed you will obey – but if we don’t obey we really don’t believe. A changed life happens because of a relationship with Jesus Christ and that individual’s life will back up their testimony.

Your church may have to overcome a bad testimony in your community. If you have been known for your disunity then you must confess, repent, and seek to “stand firm in one spirit, with one mind.” How is your church viewed in your community? Are you known for your love and compassion? Do most people believe that the community is better off because of your presence there? Do they see a unified body of believers “working side by side” who love one anther and love them as well? Do they see your church practicing what you preach?

Developing a Church Missions Strategy

Does your church have a strategy of how to fulfill the Great Commission? A system is needed to improve the challenge and the calling to carry the gospel to every nation. It involves mobilizing our body of believers to be the hands and feet of Jesus locally and globally. J.D. Greear says it correctly, “If a church is not engaging in mission, it really has no point in existing.” The Great Commission is not a calling for a special elite few but a mandate for every follower of Christ.

Greear asks some pretty poignant questions. “Are there mission fields in our backyards that could contribute to the global spread of the gospel that we have overlooked because they don’t enhance the bottom line of our church? Are we evaluating ministry opportunities only by how they benefit us, or are we looking at the benefit they can bring to Jesus’ kingdom even if there is nothing in them for ours?” How is your church involved in the spread of the gospel around the world? How could you improve your church’s involvement?

Your church must first have a solid biblical, doctrinal, and theological foundation to direct His mission. Have you clearly developed and articulated your Christology, Ecclesiology and Missiology? Here are some values that we must embrace if we are going to be obedient in reaching our Jerusalem, and in ALL (emphasis added) Judea. Recent surveys tell us that there are well over 160 millions unclaimed for Christ. The mission field is right before us and there is still a great redemption flow in this country.

In II Corinthians 5:14-15 Paul says, “For Christ’s love compels us; since we have reached this conclusion: If one died for all, then all died: And He died for all, so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised.” Most of what God wants to do in society happens outside the church facilitated by the hands of ordinary people. In the book of Acts, 39 of the 40 miracles recorded occurred outside the church. The greatest obstacle is not finances but rather people willing to live on mission daily.

First, we must look at our motives!

Paul states that His motive is the love of Christ as he looks at Him and is amazed by His grace. As we learn to adore Jesus we are then glad to renounce everything we have to follow Him. It has been well said, “In Christ, I can give up all that I have because in Christ I have all that I need.” When we consider His unconditional love, and we worship Him for who He is, then we will want to serve and sacrifice for Him. Our motive is to make the glory of the Lord known to every tongue and tribe.

Second, we must measure what it will require to fulfill the Great Commission.

Paul says that he sacrificed so much for the mission that people thought he was a mad man. We are willing to sacrifice for what we worship. Risk is scary but not risking for God should be even scarier. Are we more concerned with our own comfort and concerns then living radically for Christ? J.D. Greear says, “We who live by His death should therefore no longer live for ourselves, but should lay down our lives and resources for others as He laid down His for us.”

Third, we then embrace our call to a ministry of reconciliation.

You need to think about those you know who need to know what you know. God has placed you where you are to utilize your gifts and talents as a platform to spread the gospel. Whatever vocation you are in is God’s means of blessing the world and when you do what you do with excellence it gives you the opportunity to tell others about Him. How will you leverage your gifts, talents, and assets for the advancement of God’s kingdom?

Fourth, be willing to pray dangerous prayers.

All too often we pray safe prayers such as God bless me, help me, protect, heal me, and provide for me. Dangerous prayers are risky and life stretching. They are filled with boldness and daring faith. Here is one dangerous prayer, “Lord send me wherever you want me to go and reach whomever you want me to reach.” This is a missional prayer that aligns you with His mission and promotes His glory. This prayer positions you to be usable by Him in any way He chooses.

Fifth, accept that it is your responsibility.

It is God’s will for every one of His followers to be involved in His mission from the moment they decide to follow Him. The Lord has strategically placed you on mission for Him. Ministry and sacrifice is not a secondary experience that happens to only a few, privileged Christians. Every one of us are called to be ministers and to also be missionaries in “All” of Judea.  How will your church leverage your gifts, talents, and resources to be involved in the partnership of the advancement of the gospel?

Romans 10:15 says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the gospel of good things.” Many lack confidence in their ability to share the gospel. Maybe you do not feel qualified and worry you will get something wrong.   We are responsible for handling the gospel correctly but here is some good news, pun intended. The power of the gospel is not in us or in our presentation. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to open a heart and transform a life. We must clearly articulate the gospel and then trust the Holy Spirit to work on the heart of that individual!

Prayerfully consider how your church can leverage its influence to make a gospel impact in your community. Who has God placed in your community and circles of influence that needs to hear a clear presentation of the gospel from you?

Influence Over Influx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Influence over Influx!!!

 

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?

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!

The Idol of Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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