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Turf Wars

The word turf is simply defined as “a layer of matted earth formed by grass and plant roots, peat, especially as material for fuel, and a block or piece of peat dug for fuel.” The reality is that the term has taken on its own etymology. It has been used to refer to a neighborhood over which a street gang asserts its authority, a city where a church has its ministry, and even a ministry someone oversees in your church. The turf “war” happens when someone steps into our area of oversight and we fell threatened.

While living in Romania, in 2000 my family and I visited a village on the request of one of the pastors there. We arrived on a Sunday morning to meet him and discuss the day of services. When I pulled up, I saw another missionary looking over at us and he began to walk our way. When I rolled my window down he said, “What are you doing here? This is my village and we have a ministry going on here!” We were quite taken aback, but the reality is that there are 10,000 villages there with no gospel witness.

Here is a reality check for churches. If all the people in your community decided to attend church this coming Sunday there wouldn’t be enough seating for all of them. The highest reported statistics say that maybe 25% of the population is in church on any given Sunday. Do the math! If you live in a city of 20,000 that means 15,000 need Jesus. That means that in the Little Rock, North Little Rock, Conway, AR, metropolitan statistical area 540,000 people need Jesus. The problem is not too many churches but, rather, having churches who see that the fields are white unto harvest.

Mike Breen has written on three things killing the American church and lists them as celebrity, consumerism, and competition. Looking at the third, competition, we must all admit that there have been times we have been tempted to think we must have better programs, better music, and better facilities than everyone else. We are in a competition with other churches to get members! What if we all focused on reaching those who are far from God? Our churches should exist to help people find Jesus and follow Him.

Sometimes the competition is inside the church. Ministries are competing for workers, space, recognition, and finances. People have their “pet” programs that they have “always” directed and they will protect their turf. Recently, when visiting a church, I was told not to go into a certain area of the building because it was under the “control” of a certain member. Really? No one should own a room, a pew (or chair), a parking space, or a particular ministry. If that occurs then they can hold the church hostage! How do you protect your church from turf wars?

First, remember that Jesus is Lord of the church. It belongs to Him and if we want it to honor and glorify Him we must recognize this principle. Do not over spiritualize this by thinking that the way you think it should be done is equal to how Jesus wants it done. Be submissive and teachable to timeless principles not just present traditions. Here is something that must be asked……. is your church making disciples? Are you seeing a multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches?

Second, why you do something is as important as what you do. All too often we get consumed with all of the activity. We think that because we are busy all is well. Not necessarily so! Some churches require members to be present eight to nine times a week but souls are not being saved and disciples are not being developed. Perfect attendance is not the ultimate goal and does not guarantee spiritual maturity. Ezra 7:9-10 describes well this laser focus of how we are to study His word (II Tim. 2:15), live out His word (James 1:22), and then teach His word (II Tim. 2:2) to others also.

Third, always value people over the task and the program. Make sure that you are focused on the ministry of building up people and not people building your ministry. If you want more out of your team then you must put more into them. How can you help and resource them to make them as effective as possible? No one is perfect and do not expect them to always do things the way you would. Do everything with excellence! A great definition of excellence is that doing the best with what you have.

Fourth, be clear about the vision and the process of making disciples. Someone has said, “If there is a mist in the pulpit there will be a fog in the pew.” All too often, when you speak to church staff (paid and volunteer), even they are unable to clearly explain the vision and direction of the church. You must work hard to ensure that everyone knows where you are headed and how you plan on getting there. You can test this by asking several leaders to articulate to you what they believe your vision is and how to carry it out.

Fifth, make sure everyone is on the same page. Every ministry must be a part of the vision and the process of discipleship. We can become so preoccupied with programs that they become an entity in themselves. They must be evaluated to make sure that they are tools that facilitate the vision of the church. Without proper alignment with the overall vision, the workers can become passionate about their ministry to the point of protecting their turf.

Healthy churches protect their vision by saying yes to the best things and no to anything else. They refuse to protect their turf just to keep pet programs alive because they have always had that program.

10 Steps to Make the Most Out of 2017

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Another year, 2017, is upon us and 2016 is about to be a part of history. Where does your church go from here and how do you enter this new open door of opportunity? There is a place for planning and strategy as you prayerfully seek what the Lord has for your ministry. Here are some thoughts about how to approach the new year so that you can intentionally lead those of whom God has given you the oversight.

First, plan a prayer retreat as soon as possible! If you have not already planned some time alone to seek God’s face and ask Him for direction, do it now. You must be very practical about this and pull out your calendar to schedule it. If you do not block the time off, it will not happen. A prayer retreat has been defined as “a time you set aside to go away and be alone with God.” You may want to fast from food but especially fast from your phone, the internet, and social media. Be still so you can hear His voice.

Second, utilize the S.W.O.T. analysis to determine where you are. Be willing to evaluate 2016 with other leaders in your church and determine your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (or challenges). Every church has strengths and it is good to celebrate what you are doing well. Yes, look at your weaknesses and challenges but do not overlook where God is blessing and be thankful for what He is doing in your midst. Then begin to focus on where you can improve in 2017 to be the church Christ designed you to be.

Third, become strategic and intentional. What practices do you need to put in place to accomplish what you believe God is leading you to fulfill? We say we value certain things like evangelism and discipleship but are there consistent patterns evident in our lives that support what we say we value? If people look at our schedules can they tell we value these things? If an outsider looks at our church budget what would they say your church values?

Fourth, remember that church culture begins to change with the language we use. Do you have a clear, concise, and simple mission statement? Have you developed a simple strategy that clearly articulates how you plan to carry out that mission statement? A mission statement is not a fix everything solution but it is a great place to begin the journey. We must remind our congregation regularly that God is able to do above and beyond all we think and even beyond what we can imagine.

Fifth, schedule a leadership-planning meeting to cast the vision for the future. There are several components that need to be a part of this process. This is a wonderful opportunity to hear from everyone about what they think should be the church’s focus. There are some helpful guidelines to follow but do not be afraid of constructive criticism and input. A creative think tank approach can accomplish great things. There should always be honest transparency with your leadership or you will never be able to move forward.

Sixth, determine some strategic imperatives that prioritize what you must focus on first. What are 3-5 items that you feel must be focused upon first? Be sure to remain focused on God’s heart and where the Holy Spirit is working right now. What are the “most” important things you must do to achieve your vision. We are assuming at this point that you know why you exist and what you desire to accomplish as a church. Make a list of what your leadership believes are imperatives and narrow it down to 3-5.

Seventh, develop goals for each of these imperatives to move you forward in reaching them. These imperatives can be new ministries, improving present ministries, or even stopping unproductive ministries. The key here is to list at least three goals for each strategic imperative that will help to make them a reality and not just an idea. You need to know what you need to know but that is only information. You also need to be passionate about that information but that is only inspiration. Involving the head and the heart is necessary but the next step through goals is involving the hands and the feet.

Eighth, designate what needs to be done and who is responsible for making sure it happens. This is where leadership can really drop the ball. Committees tend to be a group of people not involved in a particular ministry telling those who are involved what to do. Leadership teams always focus on what needs to be done and who is responsible. You must determine measurable objectives and then assign who is responsible for making sure it happens. Values are good but values with goals are even better.

Ninth, develop the leaders around you by giving them the resources they need. We say we want to develop more leaders but how much time are we actually spending doing that? We say we value defining and developing leaders but no mentoring or apprenticeship is occurring. The process is clear in the word of God that everyone needs a Paul as a mentor and then they need to find a Timothy to mentor. Find receptive, willing, and teachable potential leaders. Then develop a process to intentionally and consistently train them.

Tenth, seek others outside of your church and ministry to help. There is something to be said about “outside” eyes. We know the scriptures tell us that there is wisdom in the multitude of counsel. Somebody knows what you need to know, so find him or her and find out what they know. Somebody has been through what you are going through so listen to his or her story and learn from it. Somebody has been where you want to go so find out what that looked like for them. These godly advisors can talk you in off the ledge or they can motivate you to take that step of faith that you need to take.

Healthy people and healthy churches lead prayerfully, intentionally and strategically!

 

BE A GENEROUS CHURCH

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II Cor. 9:15 gives us one of the richest statements in scripture; “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” Christmas is all about the greatest gift ever given. The word indescribable literally means too wonderful for words. The words in this verse are the concluding comments of chapters eight and nine. They tell the story of the generosity of a people who display their appreciation through their generosity. This unspeakable gift is the basis, foundation, and motivation for all Christian giving.

Your church is never more like Jesus than when you live generous lives. Every church is there is help people find and follow Jesus. Notice the “helping people!” True biblical prosperity equals generosity. When Paul was headed to Jerusalem with a love offering from the believers in Macedonia and Achaia he said they were pleased to make a contribution to the poor. They were not just willing but saw it is a blessing and privilege to help. They were thrilled to have an opportunity to be a blessing.

We need to be mindful of those who may struggle during the holidays. This time of the year is wonderful but to many it reminds them of their loneliness, their losses, and their lack of hope. They need a little extra giving of our time and attention. Their hearts are breaking and they should not have to face this season alone. We can be generous with our love, encouragement, prayers, and other expressions of kindness. They need to be reminded that they may struggle and suffer for a season but God’s purposes will prevail.

We must make sure our motives are pure in our generosity. What we do is very important but why we do it is even more important. Remember, God loves a cheerful giver who gives out of their appreciation for Him as the indescribable gift. Paul told the Corinthians that the key to their giving was their eagerness and had nothing to do with how much they had. The Gentile believers felt a debt to the Jews who had brought the gospel to them. Generosity to others comes out of His generosity to us.

Here are some things to consider, as your church desires to be a generous church.

First, make sure you are not defined by what you have but rather by what you give. People see our nice buildings and wonder if we have placed too much emphasis on what we possess rather than how we can help those who are less fortunate. There is nothing wrong with nice things but materialism can cause so much focus on what we have that we are then unable to focus on helping others. Do people see your church as a generous church?

Second, make sure you are not defined by how much you give but by your willingness to give. II Cor. 8:12 says, “…it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” The principle is not equal amount but equal willingness. God does not ask us to give what we do not have. It is not about the size of the gift but the size of your heart in doing what you can to help others. Prov. 3:27 says, “When it is in your power, don’t withhold good from the one it belongs to.”

Third, make sure you are not defined by what you do personally but by how it glorifies God. If you do it for recognition or to be noticed you already have your reward. God blesses it the most when we do not care who gets the credit. You should be more concerned about Jesus getting the credit than you or your church. We are not in a competition with other churches but rather with the devil. Praise the Lord when someone turns to Christ because the love of Christ was displayed to him or her in a practical way.

Fourth, make sure you are not defined by how you look but by how you live. If you are going to help people you will have to help them where they are and that can be very messy. They are often broken and looking for someone who cares about them. People want to know that you are real and authentic without pretense. They are not impressed by outward appearances that are not backed up by your daily practices. Matthew 6:1 says, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people to be seen by them.”

Fifth, let’s not be defined by a tight grip but by an open hand. Your church should always be eager to help and ready to respond to the needs of others. Sometimes we hold on too tightly to what has given to us. God told Abram in Gen. 12:2, “I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” You are blessed so that you will be a blessing to others. Open your hands and see what God has given your church in order that you might bless your community.

Your church may say it values lost people and wants to be a blessing to the people in your area but that must be backed up by regular practices that show you really do care. It is not just monetary but is a combination of investing your time, talents, and treasures. God is not asking you to give out of what you do not have but instead is looking to see if we are eagerly excited to be generous with what we has entrusted into our hands. Live with open hands and do not hold on too tightly!

Healthy churches are always generous churches!

You Are Witnesses

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Revelation 11 tells about a day when God will send two witnesses to prophesy for three and half years. Once again, God shows how merciful He is, even when man chooses his own way and deserves judgment. II Peter 3:9 reminds us, “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.” Even when His judgment is imminent, God provides messengers of the Gospel to proclaim the message of salvation.

We are called to be Christ’s witnesses. In His last words before He ascended back to the Father recorded in Luke 24:48, Jesus said, “You are witnesses of these things.” Our church is here to help people find and follow Jesus  We list our vision statement with three C’s:

  1. Centered on God! We must love Him more! Far too many churches have an agenda that is more me-centric than Christ-centric. In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren said it well, “It’s not about you!” Tim Keller says this, “Any person who only sticks with Christianity as long as things are going his way or her way, is a stranger to the cross.”
  2. Connected to One Another! We must love people more! We need one another and being a part of the local church is where we fulfill that need. The Gospel Coalitions tweeted this, “Saying, ‘I need Jesus but not the church’ is like saying, ‘I need Jesus but not everything Jesus says I need.’” Love one another well!
  3. Concerned about our City and the World! We must also love more people! This is where we drop the ball the most. Most churches, that I am familiar with, are scriptural and relational but are not missional. Are we getting the good news out?   Are we being witnesses to those who are far from God? We not only need to love people more but we are called to love more people!

The Good News of the Gospel is all about how God loves us! Paul said it was God’s love that compelled him to spread the gospel to all who would listen. The gospel is all about loving well!!! When we are compelled by love, sharing the gospel with others becomes the church’s main mission. Peter Scazzero says it this way, “The sign of the Spirit at work is supernatural love, not gifts or successful works. This love requires a supernatural work of grace in the heart.”

This is why the hope for America is the church actively showing and sharing the love of God in our actions and in our message!

  • Have a servant’s heart! It starts with leaders who have a love and concern for others. When we send church planters to their communities we challenge them to go serve their city and then God will build His church. Remember, leaders, if you want people in your church to have a servant’s heart they must see it in you. Speed of the leader, speed of the team.
  • Love your city! When Jesus saw the multitudes He was moved with compassion and as He looked over Jerusalem, He wept. Daniel Im puts it this way; “Too many times we have a vision for our church but not for our city. Develop a vision for your city.” If your church closed its doors would anyone in your community even notice?
  • Glorify God and spread His fame! Be a church where the glory of your church takes a back seat to the glory of God. All of us need to talk more about the Gospel of Jesus Christ than we talk about our church. Hopefully, you are excited about your church, enjoy your church, and want to invite others to come to your church. However, make sure you tell them about Jesus. Tell them how wonderful a Savior you have and that you would much rather talk about Him because He is what it is really all about!

Your church has the responsibility of spreading the good news! In Luke 4:18, Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Later, in John 20:21, He says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

Why share the good news? Because you can join God in making what is wrong in the world right. That which is enslaved and in bondage can be set free through the liberty found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That which is broken and shattered can be mended. That which is diseased and sick can be healed. That which is despised and hated can be loved. That which is dirty and vile can be made clean. That which is wrong and far from God can be made right. All because of the Gospel!

NFL football player, Benjamin Watson, says it this way, “Obama can’t save us. Mrs. Clinton can’t save us. Mr. Trump can’t save us. The only one who can change the heart of the man is the Lord.” Acts 4:12 reminds us of this truth, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it.”

Romans 10:14-15, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”  Do you have beautiful feet?

Healthy churches embrace their responsibility to be His witnesses!  Speak and show the love of Christ daily!

Good News For America

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The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Good News that everyone needs to hear! Our responsibility to share the good news of the gospel is made very clear in Romans 10:14-15, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”

Values drive us, but there is often a disconnect between what we say we value and whether or not we actually live out that value. Be careful about asking God to guide your footsteps if you are not willing to move your feet! The book of James makes this very clear in 1:22 when he says, “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” He also says in 4:17, “So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it.”

Here are some values that churches all agree upon:

  1. The Lostness of Man! We know that man cannot save himself and is far from God. John 3:18 says, “Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.” Do we really believe that? If we did, wouldn’t we be doing more to let people know that there is a Savior who loves them and desires a relationship with them?
  2. The Length of Eternity! The soul of man separated him from the rest of creation because man has an eternal nature. Death does not end our existence! Hebrews 9:27-28 makes it clear, “And just as it is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment —so also the Messiah, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.” Should this not make us more passionate in sharing our faith?
  3. The Love of God! I love Romans 5:8 because it says, “But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” Jesus said that He had come to seek and to save the lost! He also conveyed who He had come to save in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do need one. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Shouldn’t knowing and having experienced the love of God move His disciples into action by showing and sharing His love?

If these are truly our values, why does it not change the way we live? Why do polls say that only 5% of people who say they are Christians never share their faith? Once again we see the disconnect in churches and Christians between what we say we believe and what we actually practice. One necessary thing is to finally admit and acknowledge the gap between the two and begin to do something about it. Unfortunately, we talk about it and plan to do better, but nothing changes!

Many seem to be living in the vast wilderness between aspirational goals and actual behaviors. Andy Stanley has said, “Knowledge alone makes Christians haughty. Application makes us Holy.” The book of James is all about pointing out that the true believer will never be satisfied with merely knowing the word without obeying the word of God. We are challenged to not only be dedicated to studying the word of God but also to the faithful obedience of its commands.

What practices do you have in place that show you really do value the lostness of man, the length of eternity, and the love of God? There are two primary things to consider about practices that will help you carry out your values in this area. They are simple and do not require you to be an expert. If we really value people they way God values them we will develop these practices. Luke 15 shows us that God values the lost and as His followers we must value them also.

First, invest in their lives. Think of ways to show and display the love of Christ to those with whom you have contact every day. How can you help them? How can you bless them? Be prepared to build relationships with them by listening to them. Remember, if you want to be a bridge to people for Christ, you have to be willing to be walked on sometimes. Loving people can be very messy but it is always worthwhile.

Second, invite them to into your life! That can be church, small groups, or some activity where they can be loved by others. The invitation will mean so much more when you already have earned a right to speak into their lives. This takes time so do not get discouraged. Keep watering the seed that you have sown and continue investing in them even when they turn down your invitations. Also, invite them to go golfing, fishing, or some other hobby that has interest for both of you.

There are certain values that we all aspire to have; but that is not enough. Good intentions will never get the job done or complete the task. Goals help us to see what we are working toward, but without these daily practices they will never be reached. What practices will you begin to implement in order to invest in people who are far from God? What can you do daily that will display the love of Christ in a practical way?

Healthy churches are outwardly focused and challenge every member to live on mission!

I REFUSE

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The words to Josh Wilson’s song, I Refuse, say it well, “Sometimes I just want to close my eyes and act like everyone’s all right when I know they’re not. This world needs God but it’s easier to stand and watch. I could say a prayer and just move on like nothing’s wrong, but I refuse.” The chorus challenges us out of our comfort zone, “Cause I don’t want to live like I don’t care. I don’t want to say another empty prayer. Oh, I refuse to sit around and wait for someone else to do what God has called me to do myself. Oh, I could choose not to move, but I refuse!”

As His disciples, we must refuse to accept the status quo or place our lives in cruise control. We cannot do it all, but we can do something for the cause of Christ. Everyone has something to contribute as we dedicate our lives to following Him. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the truth that there is too much work to be done and too few workers to accomplish it. The need outnumbering the workers is the reality staring every leader, ministry, and church in the face. This is not a new problem and Jesus addressed it during His ministry.

Please fight the temptation to overlook familiar passages without allowing them to speak to your heart again. In Matthew 9:36-38, this is what we find, “When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.’” This passage is actually an anthem for a lifetime commitment to multiplication. A discipleship based multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches.

Jesus makes it abundantly clear that our mission is to “make disciples” and to also “pray for workers.” We must be determined to follow through on that calling and refuse to allow anything to deter us from that God commanded pursuit. There are two elements clearly pointed out here in Matthew 9.

First, every follower of Christ must make himself or herself available for His service. Greg Laurie says, “God’s plans for your life are better than any plans you have for yourself. So don’t be afraid of God’s will, even if it’s different from yours.” It begins by dying to self!

Second, we are called to be faithful in praying to God to send other workers and laborers. Be careful before you answer this question. Is prayer your primary, go to, recruitment approach of enlisting new workers and leaders? In Disciple Making Pastor, Bill Hull says, “Leaders can employ various recruiting tools: entertainment followed by an appeal; guilt stimulation followed by an appeal; calling in favors followed by an appeal; arm twisting followed by an appeal; an old reliable, the tear-jerker film or story followed by a tear-jerker appeal. These are common, but not commanded recruiting techniques.”

This does not mean there is never a time for an appeal or that using one of these recruiting techniques is unbiblical or unspiritual. It does mean, however, that we refuse to elevate other techniques and methods over the one Jesus said we were to employ. Why is this so important? Let me quote Bill Hull again, “Jesus realized that if the unmet needs before Him were to be met, thirteen men working twelve-hour days would produce more than one man working an eight hour day.” Pastor, you need help and God never intended on you having to do it all yourself!

First, refuse to not be obedient to His mission for His church. He made it clear, “Go make disciples!” That will require refusing to only be busy with busy things. Who is discipled you and who are you discipling? You must refuse to not be intentional in this area. It took Jesus two years of mentoring the twelve before He began turning the ministry over to them. He invested in them before He released them to do the work He had called them to do. Everybody needs a Paul challenging you in the next steps of following Christ and everyone should find a Timothy to pass those steps on.

Second, refuse to not be faithful in praying for laborers. There is not only a personal commitment here but a corporate one as well. Some set an alarm on their watch for 10:02 AM or PM to remind them of the call to pray in Luke 10:2. There should also be a call to pray for laborers on a regular basis during our services and other meetings. A great idea would be to tie the time of prayer to a specific need or needs such as children’s church workers, small group leaders, or a youth pastor. Think about how little we pray at church when Jesus said it was to be a house of prayer.

Third, refuse to gripe about how little everyone else is doing compared to you. One of my favorite passages in John is where Jesus is talking to Peter. As they are walking Jesus asks him three times if he really loves Him, Peter switches the focus to John. Jesus tells him to let Him worry about John and says, “As for you, follow Me.”. Here is the reality. What sacrifice could Christ ask us to make that we should not be more than willing to make? Refuse to lose your focus about dying to self, picking up your cross, and following Him. It’s worth it!

Fourth, refuse to measure effectiveness by only measuring the obvious. Several have made reference to the “3 Killer B’s” of bodies, bucks, and buildings. We should not discount their importance, but the temptation has been to make them the metric of church health. Your size, bank accounts, or wonderful facilities do not guarantee that your church is healthy. Is your church making disciples who make disciples? Are you producing disciple makers?

Healthy church members have this mantra, “Oh, I refuse to sit around and wait for someone else to do what God has called me to do myself.”

Dare to Disciple

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It is a daring adventure to be a disciple of Jesus and to disciple others. Discipleship involves the process of empowering believers to demonstrate the qualities and characteristics of the one you are following. When that one is Jesus Christ, it raises the bar to an all time high, as our life goal is to become more and more like Him. The challenge is to continue growing, developing, and maturing. The most frequent term used for Christ followers in the scriptures is “children.” While this denotes our position in Christ it also declares our dependency on Him

To be followers of Christ, His disciples, there are two necessary admissions for us to grow and mature, as He desires.

  1. We must declare that we desperately need Him. This journey of discipleship requires an admission of how much we need Him and that we cannot accomplish what He desires without Him. We, as His children, are incomplete, undeveloped, unskilled, vulnerable, and immature. Spiritual growth must occur, it does not happen overnight, and is a lifelong process. We are dependent upon our master teacher!
  2. We must also declare our dependency on our church family. We are meant to be a part of a local church family that can care for us and give us the relational support we all need. The number one need of a newborn, whether physical or spiritual, is a family where they can grow up healthy and strong. You cannot grow into who God intended you to be all by yourself, separated from a local congregation of believers. We not only need to live in submission to our Lord and Savior but also to a body of believers as we serve Him together.

Now that those commitments have been made you can move forward in your discipleship process. This journey involves increasing our level of commitment and sacrifice on a daily basis. As people came to Christ they were sometimes only curious and not ready to make a commitment to be His disciples.

Once they decided they were going to follow Him, He would regularly challenge them to new heights of consecration. Jesus turned up the heat on His disciples on at least fourteen occasions. He would say, “Ok, if you are going to follow Me and be My disciple here is something else you need to know!”

Jesus was showing them that the pathway of discipleship not only demanded that a decision be made (“I have decided to follow Jesus”) but it would also require discipline (“No turning back, no turning back”). Here are a couple more questions that must be asked when we dare to be His disciples.

First, will we follow Jesus? There must be a time that we say yes and began to intentionally follow Him. No longer are we just a curious bystander but we have stepped over the line of decision and will now pursue Him and His ways. We certainly do not understand all that means but to the best of our ability we are all in.

Second, we will consistently be faced with more decisions about how long we will follow Him and how far we will follow Him? We are not to sit idly by. As Jesus turns up the heat on our discipleship are we willing to obey and submit to His Lordship? Jesus regularly added to the expectations of discipleship by saying things like, “If you are going to follow me you must love one anther!”

Then before His own crucifixion He adds, “Take up your cross and follow me!” He was always increasing the level of commitment required to continue as His follower.

If you dare to be a disciple and to disciple others here a couple of things you must realize.

  1. Jesus had a plan. Do you? What does your process of discipleship look like? Can people in your church easily see what the next steps are for them to be the disciple Christ desires them to be? Do you have a system in place for spiritual development and the making of more disciples? Do not think you have to reinvent the wheel but decide what it will look like, implement the process, and then be disciplined to see the process through.
  2. Realize that it does not happen over night. Jesus spent three and half years teaching and showing His disciples what He required of them. It is not that difficult to show you what that looked like but it is very difficult to demonstrate how to do it quickly. It takes time and a commitment to the process.
  3. Start where people are, not where you want them to be. You crawl before you walk and you walk before you run. Remind yourself that you were once there yourself and practice grace and patience with those you are discipling. Don’t expect a three year old to act like a thirty year old.
  4. Make sure you are always increasing the level of commitment. Jesus did and so should we. It is possible to grow older with out growing up – but it should not happen. Listen to what Ephesians 4:13-15 says, “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head —Christ.”

Healthy churches make sure that disciples do not grow older without growing up and maturing in Christ!

The Law of Diminishing Returns

jogging

My youngest son, Benjamin, is a personal trainer and also trains people in CrossFit. Benjamin has been encouraging me to mix up my exercise schedule and not to do the same thing all the time. I sent him a text message and asked if in his training and education did they ever mention or talk about the law of diminishing returns? His response was, “Yes, sir. Kind of like when a person is sedentary and they start running a 12 minute mile three times a week. Initially they will see results but if they continue doing the same thing they will eventually quit seeing progress because you adapt.”

His response made me laugh because he knows I usually run 3-5 miles a day 3-5 times a week and pretty much at the same pace. He went on to say, “They will either have to run farther or faster to keep seeing results.” I texted him back, “Thanks! That helps me! You had to pick running, didn’t you?” He replied, “You have to know your audience!” This universal general law states the reality that the more you do the same thing over and over the less you will get the benefits from it. While it primarily has been associated with economics it can apply to several different areas of our lives.

When a person diets they can initially see incredible results the first week in losing up to ten pounds. Then the second and third weeks they may still lose 1-3 pounds but by week four they lose nothing. They are following the same diet faithfully and did not cheat even once. With the results beginning to diminish this is where they may choose to give up on the diet figuring it just isn’t worth the sacrifices they are making. Your body adapts and teaches itself to live on less and can even go into a starvation mode where it burns more muscle than fat, which is not good.

Churches need to make sure that they are not guilty of ignoring the law of diminishing returns. There are many areas where if a church is not careful it can put a lot of energy and effort into ministries, programs, and methods that continue to become less and less effective. Here are a couple of things to consider:

first, traditions can produce diminishing returns! There is nothing inherently wrong with traditions but unfortunately they can begin to take precedence over the Word of God. The mantra can be heard loud and clear, “We have always done it that way!” Traditions can become counterproductive when all they do is perpetuate the past in a way that places God’s will as secondary. There are many tools and aides available to us today that were not available to us just 10 years ago.

One example would be power point with video projectors and screens. While some may still not see their usefulness, we must remember that the worst way for learning to occur is by only hearing it but, when we also see it, we are much more likely to remember it. An old proverb says, “If I hear it I will forget it. If I see it I will remember it. If I do it then it will transform my life.” There are many new innovations and creative ideas that could help us in spreading the gospel more effectively and isn’t that the main objective anyway?

Second, buildings can produce diminishing returns! Okay, let me say it loud and clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with traditions and there is nothing inherently wrong with buildings! For years, many have said that the church is not brick and mortar but it seems like we really don’t believe it by where we put all of our time, effort, and money for a space used 2-3 times a week. The goal is not to build buildings but to build people and equip them to become more and more like Christ! Helping people who are non-believers to become new believers, maturing believers, mature believers, and then reproducing believers.

We need to change what we measure. Instead of measuring seating capacity we need to measure sending capacity. The church’s mission is to have an intentional spiritual growth process that moves people from being attenders to an army on assignment for their King. You don’t judge an army’s effectiveness by how well they do in the mess hall but, rather, how they do on the front lines of battle. Rick Warren says it well, “There is no biblical correlation between the size of a church and the strength of a church.

Third, music can produce diminishing returns! If you are looking for me to run down hymns or to promote a particular style you will be disappointed. If my personal musical preferences were followed the church services would sound way too much like the Beach Boys. The reality is that no one’s personal preferences should stand in the way of reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Go to church in Africa, Pakistan, or with Romanian Gypsies, and the music sounds distinctively different.

Here are a couple of things I would ask you to consider. Do songs have to be 100-200 years old to qualify as good Christian music? Are we not seeing good Christian songs being written today by very gifted and spiritual people? How do we determine what is “good” Christian music? Oh, let me answer this last one by saying that what “I” or “you” usually like determines it. Actually, you are hard pressed to find a description of “Christian” music in the scriptures but there are certainly Christian scriptural words!

Healthy churches are constantly evaluating not only what they do but also why they do it! Maybe it is time to take an honest look at things that worked great in the past but are not working anymore. Maybe now is a good time to ask what is keeping your church from being the church Christ wants it to be.

Bigger Does Not Mean Better

Kingdom Purpose

Interestingly enough, researches tell us that half of all churches average 100 or less in Sunday morning attendance. If you average 300 or more then you are in the top 5% of all churches in North America. We have become enamored with thinking that bigger is always better and that is not always the case. In listening to Rick Warren’s latest Purpose Driven Church training he reminds us that, “Bigger is not necessarily better. Better is better!” Better should equal healthy, biblical, and faithfulness to the vision God has given your church!

Is there any correlation between size and strength? Once again, Warren challenges us to realize that there is no correlation between the two. A large church can be very wide but not very deep. It can be focused on the wrong values and be more about the show and numbers. But let’s be cautious about automatically assuming that if a church is large they must be compromising the truth and they certainly must be “a mile wide and an inch deep!” There are large churches, mega-churches, that are preaching the truth and are actively leading their people into an intimate discipleship with Christ.

We know that large churches are not necessarily healthy but neither is a small church. Some people readily admit that they love attending a small church – but why is that? Do they love it being small for the right reasons? Just because a church is small does not mean that it is unhealthy. There are many small churches reaching lost people with the gospel, discipling their people, and making an impact in global missions. Someone has said it well, “Don’t judge the size of the dog in the fight but judge the size of fight in the dog!”

When we think about any church we must think about it fulfilling its purpose. What does God want every one of His churches to accomplish for Him? Warren goes on to say, “If your church will make a great commitment to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment then you will be a church with a Great Purpose!” When you look at the Great Commission and the Great Commandment there are five verbs that stress what every church’s purpose is as they pursue glorifying God. Whether a church is big or small these verbs ought to direct the actions of the congregation.

First, Go Make! This is evangelism and every church is to be salt and light. We must have contact with those who are far from God so that we might share the gospel with them. We are called to be His witnesses. Who are you actively building a relationship with so that they may see and know the love of God? Who are you praying for daily so that God the Holy Spirit will convict them and make them aware of their need of a savior?

Second, Baptize them! Next, we are to be actively working on our fellowship with other believers. The church is to be known by the love we have for one another and how we care for one another. We take care of each other and we make sure that others realize they are not in this alone. One benefit of being connected to a small group, Sunday School class, or Bible study is that they can be the “first responders” to those in their group when they need extra attention.

Third, Teach Them! Now we get into discipleship and developing a process that encourages every believer to grow into maturity with Christ. What are those next steps in your church’s discipleship process? Hal Seed uses the analogy of the Sower and the Soil. The next steps are described as Dirt, Root, Trunk, Branch, and Fruit. It is moving disciples from babes in Christ, to maturing in Christ, to mature in Christ, and then reproducing more disciples!

Fourth, Love God! We are to focus on worship! We place Him first because it is all about Him. We have been instructed by our Lord to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Anything or anyone that we love more than God becomes an idol. God will not allow us to have any other gods before Him. He must have the preeminence in our lives and rightly placed on the throne in every area of our lives.

Fifth, Love Your Neighbor! This is demonstrated in the way we minister and serve others. How will you demonstrate the love of God daily in a practical way? We have the opportunity to allow our lights to shine through our good works so they might glorify our Father. This can be done through servant evangelism, random acts of kindness, and figuring out how we can bless those who are far from God.

We are reminded by Rick Warren that these five purposes are modeled in Acts 2, prayed for by Jesus in John 17, and explained by Paul in Ephesians 4. Church health can be seen in the importance of these five purposes. We grow stronger through worship! (This is “loving Christ.”) We grow warmer through fellowship! (This is “Belonging to Christ’s Body” – a church.) We grow deeper through discipleship! (This is “growing in Christ.”) We grow broader through ministry! (This is “serving Christ.”) Also, we grow larger through evangelism! (This is “sharing Christ.”)

These five purposes should “drive” the vision and mission of a church. How well are you loving Christ and worshiping Him? How well are you loving one another and caring for one another? How well are you making disciples who make disciples that make disciples? How well are you serving others and serving the city where you minister? How well are you as a congregation sharing the gospel with those who are in your circles of influence? Begin making intentional plans to fulfill these five purposes.

Healthy churches are driven by these biblical purposes!

Welcoming Guests

Welcome

There has been much discussion and disagreement about welcoming those outside the church into “our” services. The “seeker” service was especially attacked and now many seem to be on the “consumer” bandwagon. While there can certainly be a lot of disagreement about how all of these things should look, it seems there ought to be more common ground based on the church’s purpose rather than focusing on debating the minor details. Here are a few things to ponder as you decide whom you will welcome as guests and how you will welcome them.

  1. All must be welcomed. We need genuine and authentic churches that realize that all of us are broken and desperately need to be fixed. Adrian Rodgers said, “We are not a showcase for sinners but rather a hospital for sinners.” If not careful, even if unintentional, we can give the air of the Pharisee in Luke 18, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other people…” Then he begins listing all of “their” sins. Several churches advertise that they are a church for people with hurts, habits, and hang-ups! Shouldn’t we all?                                                               One of our church plants states it this way in their core values, “Everybody belongs—people of every color, shape, personality, and story. We believe the church ought to be a home for people of every age, ethnicity, and socio-economic background. We ought to be able to befriend and do life with people who are unique and different than we are.” If our doors are not open for all to attend then we must ask ourselves why our doors are open at all? Luke 14:23, “Go out into the highways and lanes and make them come in, so that my house may be filled.”
  2. Guests should be honored as special. The members and the regulars should treat them as the special guests that they are. If they want our seat, they can have it. If they want our parking space, they are welcome to it. If they want on the end of the row, more power to them. We want to greet them with more than a smile and a handshake. We think more highly of them than we think of ourselves as the scripture teaches. We want them to know that they loved and we are going to role out the red carpet treatment for them.                                                  We know that in God’s word we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. We also are told that we are to recognize and consider others as more important than ourselves. If we are not careful we can begin to feel entitled because of how long we have been a member and believe that gives us certain membership rights. Listen to what Paul says in Rom. 9:3, “For I could wish to be cursed and cut off from the Messiah for the benefit of my brothers, my own flesh and blood.” Certainly we can give up a few of our fringe benefits for our guests.
  3. Let them know that Jesus loves them and so do you! People are longing to know that they are loved and cared for by others. They seem to know that they are not living their lives in a way acceptable to God without us even telling them. Many times I have been told, “You don’t want me coming there, the roof will cave in!” It didn’t! “Your church doesn’t want somebody like me coming there!” Yes, we do because all of us are broken and all of us need God. Another core value of the church plant mentioned above is, “We will do whatever it takes, short of sin, to bring more people to Jesus.”                                                                                                                                                                                     People are looking for others who genuinely care for them regardless of whether they are in agreement and for those who will love them even when they challenge what we believe and stand for. Regardless of how they dress or look we want to build a bridge to them so that they might realize how much God really does love them. Someone has said, “If you are going to be a bridge, you have to be willing to get walked on!” We need to help others not expecting anything in return. We welcome our guests desiring to help them any way we can so they might know that they are loved for who they are!
  4. Build a culture of hospitality! Build and train everyone to be on the outlook for guests and to serve them any way they can. Offer to sit with them if they are by themselves. Be ready to show them where they need to go and help them get acquainted when you get them there. Open the door, share a smile, give them your seat, or whatever other way you need to in order to show them how thankful you are that they decided to attend. Don’t worry about whether they came for the right reason or not because they probably didn’t. Remember, many of us attended initially for the wrong reasons.

People will engage churches for many reasons but they usually stay for one reason; relational connections with Christ and His people. A good friend of mine has said many times, “They may come because of the excitement but they will stay because they are loved.” Once again, if we are not careful, we can seem to only be interested in them for what we can get from them and what they can do for us by boosting our attendance and helping our offerings. Instead, let’s show them what Jesus can do for them and how we can serve them.

Healthy churches welcome all of their guests!