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Systems: Exegeting Your Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is the idea of

  • Clarification
  • Explanation and
  • Interpretation.

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

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

You need to ask:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Systems for Accountability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Growth System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assimilation System: NEXT STEPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assimilation System


Every church needs to take a hard look at developing systems that enable them to be more effective in caring for the people God has given them while remaining focused on reaching those who are far from God. There is no system where this truth is more important then in the area of assimilation. This is where you develop a clear process of next steps that help and enable unbelievers to become fully functioning followers of Jesus. How will you or will you follow up on the first time guest? Do you have a plan to help a first time guest to attend again?

It has been well said, “When we lose our why we lose our way!” If your church forgets that you exist to welcome sinners then you will lose your primary purpose for being there. It is natural to begin overly focusing on maintaining and servicing what is already there while ignoring Jesus’ call to seek and to save those who are lost. The older your church is the easier it becomes to drift from its mission. Are you a welcoming church? Are you friendly to those who decide to visit or are you only friendly to those who are already there?

Dynamic Church Planting International says this, “When a person visits your church for the first time, they are a gift from God. Likely, someone prayed diligently for this to happen. God himself has probably been tugging at them to attend. What did Jesus do with sinners who came to learn about spiritual truth? He welcomed them warmly. The ones who opposed truth-seeking sinners were the self-righteous religious leaders. Share with them what a wonderful gift it is to welcome sinners. Some church members will be tempted to act like the Pharisees.”

In U-Turn Church the authors say, “The gravitational pull of the church naturally pulls us inward, toward each other. If we are going to move outward toward those who are lost, it will take more energy than most of us dream.” Many church members are focused on their personal needs and their family’s needs. New people can be seen as a potential threat to their power and/or position. Assimilation is warmly welcoming those who come to our churches. You want to do all you can to help them to be touched by God and have the desire to return.

Those who attend your church can be described in four categories.

  1. Those who visit and are looking for something to connect with.
  2. Those who are beginning to take the necessary baby steps required to follow Christ.
  3. Those who have developed into mature disciples and are serving others. The reality is that once you begin to grow in your personal walk with Jesus, serving is the natural by-product.
  4. The ones who think they are mature but are unengaged and serving no one. This must be challenged the most!

As we focus on the first group (guests and seekers) you must develop a clear system of showing them how glad you are they came. They are not looking for a friendly church as much as they are looking for friends. What will you do with them when they do come? God has been working on their hearts and through people in their lives to get them there, so don’t blow it. Have a system that welcomes them and follows up on them because your desire should be for a first time guest to become a second time guest. What clear path do you have to reach out to them?

If your church forgets why you are there then you will begin to lose your passion and zeal for the unbeliever and those who are far from God. How can you tell that is happening? It did not happen overnight but occurred slowly and quietly. No one can really point to a specific time or day when you were overly focused on those inside the church and unconcerned about those outside. Somewhere along the way you naturally began to focus on maintaining and serving everyone that was already there. Internal ministries tend to overwhelm outward mission.

Follow-up is crucial but just as important is how they are received when they arrive.

  • Are there greeters ready to welcome them and show them where they need to go?
  • Do you have people in the parking lot to help them in that process? Train and empower your people to realize that they should all be welcoming hosts and hostesses. Train them to welcome guests into your church the same way they would welcome them into their homes. Tell them to always be on the outlook for someone they do not know, introduce themself, and engage them in conversation.
  • Are you creating a positive first impression? Some guests determine if they will ever come back in the first three, seven, or fifteen minutes. By then they will been either been greeted or not, lost in the building or guided to where they need to go, and have sensed whether people are truly glad they have come. The one thing that has not happened yet is the sermon, which has not even been preached. Some seem to discourage thinking about this and say we should not worry so much about first impressions but what happened to “given to hospitality?” Jesus welcomed sinners.

First impressions should never be left to chance.

Every leader and greeter should know how to make people feel welcomed. Be looking for those you do not recognize and make sure you introduce yourself to them and tell them how glad you are they came. Every aspect of the facility should be viewed through the lens of a first time guest. It has taken an unbelievable amount of courage to come into an environment that is completely foreign and uncomfortable to them. Do your best to make sure everyone is friendly, the place is clean, and they know they are loved.

Reproduction System

We know that God is a God of systems because of His design of the universe (solar system) and of the human body. Is there a system you would be willing to live without for one day? You couldn’t make it without the circulatory system because you would die without your heart beating and pumping your blood to keep you alive. If you gave up the skeletal system you would just be a blob in the floor and survival would be very short lived. Without the respiratory system you would not be able to breath and without air your life would be over in minutes.

There is a time to get to get our bodies scanned to see whether they are healthy or not. There is much debate and difference of opinion over whether the benefits of a full body scan is greater than the danger of the radiation used while performing it. Could it be that many churches are afraid of what a full spiritual scan of their body of believers might reveal? It would be good for all of us individually and corporately to lay back on God’s examination table and allow Him to expose our areas of sickness, disease, and unhealthy practices.

There is one system you could survive without and that is the reproductive system. You could do well but only for one generation. When you did finally die there would be no one else to carry on. Maybe this is a picture of many churches today. We have focused on all of the systems to care for who we already have but have forgotten about the importance of reproduction and multiplication. The church can get by for a period of time and even thrive at times but it will not reproduce the fruit that God has challenged us to multiply.

We need this spiritual examination to expose any areas of darkness to His light. Ephesians 5:13-14 says, “Everything exposed by the light is made clear, for what makes everything clear is light.” We should go ahead and submit to this body scan now because I Corinthians 4:5 tells us that one day He will bring to light what was hidden in darkness and He will reveal the intentions of our hearts. Why wait? Schedule this scan of your body of believers now and determine how well you are reproducing disciples, leaders, and churches.

Creating systems and using God-centered techniques will ultimately expand your capacity to care for your people and reach out. Good systems save you stress, time, energy, money, and a lot of headaches. These systems should follow a process that enables them to be gospel-centered and effective as well. In the area of outreach there can be much frenetic activity while seeing very few results. We know the Bible says one plants, one waters, and God gives the increase…but how should that impact the system we develop?

  1. We should build our systems firmly on the foundation of what the scriptures teach. We are commanded to share His glory with all the nations and to be fishers of men.
  2. Then we need to determine if that is really something we truly value. Does our lifestyle show that we are committed to reaching unbelievers with the truth of the gospel? When is the last time we shared the gospel with anyone or even invited him or her to church, a small group, or an event in order to bring him or her closer to Christ? If it is a value it drives us to do something about it.
  3. You begin with a biblical principle that leads to a value, which becomes tasks and habits. These are the things you do to make the value a reality in your daily life. What could you improve on in order to have a better opportunity to share the love of Christ with unbelievers? Matt Perman puts it this way, “To be productive means to get the right things done…To be effective is to get done what God wants done.” Our tasks and habits should be focused in order to maximize the opportunities we have every day.

Systems are designed to enhance our effectiveness. It is the way we organize the tasks we are performing. These are focused on the goals we have which should be in obedience to the Great Commission and doing everything for His glory. Reaching that goal is what brings fulfillment by having discerned what pleases Him. The missing ingredient is strategies, which are the actual action steps needed to find that fulfillment. Many develop systems and the reality is that all of us function within a system whether it is a good one or a bad one.

Strategies are what connect the system to the goal but they must be driven by a desire to be obedient. Matt Perman continues, “If we aren’t abounding in good work, the problem is likely not a lack of opportunity but a lack of desire.” Do we not have opportunity to share the love of Christ everyday? When we are in the store and the salesperson accidentally gives us the wrong information how will we respond? When the waiter is forgetful and takes too long on our order how will we react? Will we be able to talk to them about the love of Jesus?

What strategies do you have to be a light for Christ daily? You don’t have to volunteer at the local soup kitchen or go on a mission trip to be a witness. Here is a full proof strategy; be ready to arise and shine for Jesus every single day knowing you will have the opportunity to either to bring people closer to Christ or push them farther away. God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves and we can display that in very practical ways every single day in very ordinary ways. Maybe the real problem is that our daily ordinary is far from God’s plan?

Leadership 101 – Systems

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

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

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

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

Here is one thing Dynamic Church Planting International has to say about the importance of systems. “In your church, everyone hopes that someone will be in charge. They hope that someone will think things through ahead of time. They hope that someone will come up with quality ways to attract people, lead them to Christ, disciple them and invite them to serve in ministry. They hope their donations will be handled well. They hope that the services will have quality and continuity. They hope that someone will pray for them, befriend them, and communicate with them.”

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

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

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

Never Been Exposed to the Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, we need to repent.

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

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

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

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

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

Fourth, do the work of an evangelist.  

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

Leadership 101 – Slow Down

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

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

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

Here are some areas where we need to slow down.

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

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

Be the Light of Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third, Make sure you are praying for unbelievers regularly.

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

Fourth, Just Do it!

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

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

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

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

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