Rss

Archives for : Church Health

Get the Slight Edge

What areas would you like to focus on the rest of 2019?  At the end of 2019 what will have taken place for you to consider it a successful year?  Ponder that question personally, professionally, and as a church.  Where do you want to be spiritually one year from today and what do you hope your church looks like one year from today? 

How will your faith grow?  What does growing in Christ look like for you?  Lifeway has a Spiritual Growth Assessment Process that you can take at www.lifeway.com/discipleship and it will help you to evaluate where you are in six different spiritual disciplines that include:abide in Christ, live by the word, pray in faith, fellowship with believers, witness to the world, and minister to others.  It is an excellent tool to challenge you about where you need to focus on growing your faith and developing your walk.

*Spiritual Disciplines

*Living in the Word

*Praying in Faith

*Fellowship with Believers

*Witness to the World

*Ministering to Others.

It is an excellent tool to challenge you about where you need to focus on growing your faith and developing your walk.

This evaluation also gives you a list of recommended action steps for each area.  The beauty of this is that it shows you how you can implement practical ways to grow in each one of these six areas.  Whether you use this tool or not, if you want to move forward in a productive manner you should come up with a list of 5-7 goals to focus on and then prioritize them.  What do you feel the Lord would want you to work on first?  When will you begin working on it?  What will you do to help you reach and accomplish that goal?

He continued, “Olsen asserts that this ‘slight edge’ comes from doing the little things that bring success day after day after day. What’s amazing is that the things done daily in and of themselves seem to matter very little that day. Yet, this consistent discipline in the small things, plus time, equals great success. The ‘slight edge’ provides the power of compound interest in every area of our lives where it is practiced.”  Dr. Crawley has developed a men’s discipleship track that focuses on faith, family, friends, finances, and fitness.

This “slight edge” can be seen in every area of our lives.  The reality is that your health improves with exercise, your finances improve with a budget, your time improves with a schedule, and your soul improves by abiding in Christ by developing a daily quiet time.  It can be seen in disciplining ourselves to be in God’s word daily.  The truth is that you may not be changed in a day but if you are in His word daily it will change you.  The main point of taking a spiritual assessment is not to see if you have “arrived” but rather if you are headed in the right direction. 

Do you desire to develop a closeness and intimacy with Him that is deeper than you have experienced with Him in the past?  Some people say they are not into goal setting but the Apostle Paul was certainly not against it.  He says in Philippians 3:10, “My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”  Steve Green said it well in a song, “Oh, I want to know you more, deep within my soul I want to know you, oh I want to know you…Oh I want to know you more.”

If this is your prayer and desire of your heart what practical steps will you take to see it become a reality?  An American proverb says, “The hardest step is usually the first step.”  Remember, “this consistent discipline in the small things, plus time, equals great success.”  My dad reminded me often that it requires consistency.  Decide what you are going to do to develop this closer walk with the Lord then be committed to see it through.  If that means that you’re going to read through the entire Bible verse by verse then get started now, repeat daily, and do not quit!

Timothy Keller has said this about a daily quiet time.  “It is the single most influential practice in building your life from the inside out.”  The thing that people need to see the most in your life is that you walk with God. They know you are not perfect and that you make mistakes but they need to see that you are passionately pursuing God. Schedule your quiet time, guard your quiet time, be dedicated to your quiet time, and most of all enjoy your quiet time as He changes you from the inside out.  

David said in Psalm 63:1, “God, You are my God; I eagerly seek You. I thirst for You; my body faints for You in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water.”  Your “slight edge” will be your commitment to pursuing Him and abiding in Him.  You have this new opportunity to spend time with Him and allow your intimacy with Him increase day by day.  Don’t waste another moment!

Start Building

As we strive to be good stewards of the ministry Christ has placed us over we need to think of focusing on what needs our attention.  If we desire healthy growing churches then we must start doing the things that will help us to be healthy and will enable us to also stay healthy.  Our physical and spiritual health depends on diet, exercise, getting the proper rest, and some other important activities. Last week we stressed the need to stop doing the things that are only digging the hole deeper. This week we will focus on the things we need to be doing!

What habits do you need to commit to in the New Year? If you are going to build up and help others then you need to make sure you are practicing self-care also.  What plans do you have to care for your own soul spiritually, emotionally, socially, physically, and mentally?  Dr. Steve Crawley says, “To revisit a thought shared previously, if we use our Life Plan to establish a habit of doing the little things each day that lead to success, it may not seem like much to start, bot over the course of time the impact will sky rocket.” 

First, we need to be praying!  This is where we need to begin, on our knees before our God begging Him for His power and direction.  Are you praying for your church leaders, church family, and for your community daily? When Nehemiah saw the need in Jerusalem we see this godly leader stop, fast, and pray. How much time are you actually spending crying out to God on behalf of the spiritual condition of your church?  One source has reported that 90% of evangelicals pray approximately one minute a day!  

Second, practice courageous leadership!  When God does show you the things you need to be doing, obey! The congregation needs to face the truth of their spiritual condition and godly leaders need to provide that truth no matter how painful it might be.  People need to hear the truth whether they embrace it or not.  The real challenge of leadership is convincing people that the pain of where they need to go is not as painful as staying where they are.  Think children of Israel!  They were convinced they would be better off returning to Egypt.

Third, structure the ministry in your church to get more people involved.  We have even gotten to where we need a committee to determine who will be on the committees.  Some churches that are already struggling think that getting more structure will fix everything and it just does not work that way.  Focus on moving people out of meetings and into ministry.  In The Unstuck Church,Tony Morgan says, “I’d much rather have people invest their time, gifts, and energy in making disciples than in making decisions in a church committee meeting.” 

Fourth, you must sell-out in developing and implementing a discipleship pathway.  Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.”  Read great books on discipleship such as The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman and Real-Life Discipleship by Jim Putman.  Most churches do well at the big circle (worship), the middle circle (Bible studies), but struggle at one-on-one discipleship that promotes spiritual mentoring and accountability.  Take a break from working in the ministry only and take the time to step back and work on your discipleship plan.

Fifth, consider changing your church governance system if it is unhealthy or dysfunctional. Is your structure modeling what spiritual leadership should look like?  The primary purpose of church leadership is not to keep the pastor and staff in line.  Their primary role should be to encourage and enable their pastor to lead the way God intended.  Find a structure that recognizes that God often allows the leader to see the direction and challenges first.  All too often a pastor is desired and asked to use their pastoral gifts more than their leadership gifts. 

Sixth, work hard at remaining outwardly focused.  Yes, to some I am sounding like a broken record but to be like Christ we must seek out the lost.  Almost everything we do is for people who are already connected to the church.  It is not possible to be healthy if we never do much to reach people outside the faith and outside the church.  Our evangelism approach may look different today than it did in 1970, but the mission and heart of God remains unchanged.  You cannot necessarily expect to return to the method of the 70’s but we can return to the value!

Seventh, work on building the systems you need to sustain growth.  As important as systems are you must make sure youkeep it simple!  Complexity actually hurts more than it helps.  For example, we think we have a discipleship pathway when in reality what we have is a multitude of programs that teach Bible lessons.  Of course, teaching the Bible is a good thing but you must look closely at your spiritual growth system to make sure it is actually producing multiplying disciples.  Can you trace multiplication to the fourth generation?  (2 Timothy 2:2)    

BMA Missions defines our vision statement as a discipleship based multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches.  Courageous conversations are necessary for your church to figure out how to engage your community and make a difference for the cause of Christ.  Quoting Tony Morgan again, he says that, “We easily become fixated on being the “best” church in our community,rather than being the best churchfor our community!” Methods should never become more important than the mission.  Are you seeing a multiplication of disciples who are discipling others?

Quit Digging a Hole

It has been said, “If you are in a hole, rule number one is to stop digging.” That certainly sums up many other statements that could be made about a church that is no longer healthy.  Yet, all too often, that church continues to do the very things that made her unhealthy.  In The Unstuck Church, Tony Morgan says, “What got the church on life support will not make it healthy again.” There is such a need to consider prayerful evaluation of where your church is (healthy versus unhealthy), why it is unhealthy, and what needs to be done to make it healthy again. 

There is another saying that goes like this, “Hope springs eternal.”  The problem is that biblical godly hope is not just a pie in the sky dream.  It is more than just wishful thinking.  Romans 5:5 says, “This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  You see the hope of God will not disappoint because He acted on that hope and came to provide us a way to have a relationship with Him.  It is not enough to think that hoping things will change will actually produce healthy change.

We constantly say things like; “I sure hope someone fixes that”, “I sure hope someone shares the gospel with them”, or “I sure hope things get better.”  Hope by itself alone will not win people to Jesus, disciple new converts, plant a church, keep a church healthy, or get a dying church off life support.  The reality is that hope is not a strategy and you need a plan to quit digging and know what to do after the digging stops.  God had a strategy to deliver hope, “When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.”  (Gal 4:4)

How do you stop digging deeper?  Begin by evaluating where you are and if you are healthy.  

First, will you develop a clear and compelling vision that all of your people can clearly articulate.  A lack of vision is one characteristic that shows up in churches that begin to drift from their mission and begin to decline. Your vision needs to specifically describe the next steps your church will take to begin getting healthy by developing healthy steps and practices for your people to take.  Mission is why you exist and is where you are headed.

Second, how will you make disciples and what does discipleship look like in your church?  Jim Putman in Real Life Discipleshipdescribes discipleship as an intentional leader, with a relational environment, and a reproducible process.  Discipleship that is complicated and confusing will not produce healthy disciples.  Chances are they will not produce disciples at all.  Do you have a reproducible process with clear steps that moves people from where they are to where God wants then to be?  These steps lead from spiritual birth to spiritual parenthood. 

Third, how will you lead your church to remain outwardly focused with a heart of generosity?  The church does not exist only for those who are already there. Tony Morgan in The Unstuck Churchsays, “It’s impossible for any church to be healthy and experience growth if nothing they do is designed to reach people who are outside the faith and outside the church.”  You must prioritize people who are outside your church by showing them the love of Christ in practical ways.  You have to quit digging the hole of only focusing on who is already there. 

The second part of this is by being a generous church.  Ask yourself whether or not your church leans toward being generous or protecting and holding on to what you have?  When we lean toward being a generous church then we lean more toward being like Christ.  When we lean toward being stingy then we lean further away from Him.  Romans 5:5 says, “This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  His loved was poured out to us so that we would pour that love out to others. 

This principle of generosity is stressed in Galatians 6 by telling us we should not get tired of doing good and with every opportunity we have we should labor for the good of everyone.  This biblical principle of practicing generosity should always characterize how we treat those outside the church.  We should remain generous regardless of how many times we think that people have taken advantage of our generosity.  Resist the temptation to focus on maintenance and preservation of what you already have.  God gave you what you have to invest it into His kingdom work! 

 Fourth, lead your church in these areas with strength and courage.  You must do whatever is necessary to get your church healthy and reach new people with the gospel.  Some will want to continue digging the hole deeper and deeper but you must lead them to lay down their shovels and crawl out of the hole.  There will be opposition but you cannot wait for everyone to get on board.  Pray hard and then begin to develop a plan of attack on how you will get healthy, your church leaders will be healthy, and then so your church will be healthier.  

Lead your people with a vision of making disciples who make disciples.  The time is now to become a strong leader. Until you begin to make the necessary changes to become healthy the plan has only been a conversation.  Once you begin to take the actual steps toward becoming healthy there will be opposition.  Not everyone will be happy that you have decided to stop digging the hole deeper and deeper.  Lead anyway toward biblical church health!    

Pastor, You Need Perspective

Perspective is a funny thing because many times the way we think a situation is can be very different from how it actually is.  I heard of a man on flight who was asked if he would like a meal. He asked, “What are my choices?” The flight attendant said, “Yes or no!”    The right perspective is developed by walking with the Lord and listening closely to the Holy Spirit. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.” (Ps. 37:23)  You also need others who can speak into your life.  “For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counsellors there is safety.” (Pro. 24:6)  

  1. Learn how to self-correct!Daily cleaning is required.  You and I must be willing to scrub our personal temple every day.  1 John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  It is easy to ignore our own sin when we are focused on the sin of others. Especially when we see their sin as so much worse than ours!  A great truth shared with me years ago applies here.  “What sin you uncover, He will cover but what sin you cover, He will uncover.”  Fall on your face and repent as fast as you can because the deceiver himself is always setting us up for a fall.
  2. Learn to listen to the right people!  The key here is to make sure that we are spending time with and listening to those who will have the best and most uplifting influence on our lives. Prov. 13:20 says, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” The truth is that we become like those we hang around with.  The old cliché says it well, “Wisdom is contagious.  It’s something you catch more than something you comprehend.” People will influence and even change you but not necessarily for the better.  You and I choose whom we will allow to speak into our lives; choose wisely! 
  3. Learn to lead yourself to Christ!  If we want to know the difference between the divine and the demonic we must choose to sit at the Master’s feet every day.  You can celebrate God in a crowd, but you can only get to know God one on one.  In Divine Mentor Wayne Cordeiro shares the story of a concert pianist and his dedication to playing scales three hours a day in order to maintain the dexterity in his fingers and to give him the ability to move through the most difficult pieces with speed and accuracy. He said, “If I skip one day of scales when I play in concert, I notice it.  If I skip two days of scales, my coach notices it.  If I skip three days of scales, the world will notice.”
  4. You’re not bulletproof!  You’re not superhuman!  You can’t leap a building in a single bound! And here’s the best news, God doesn’t expect you to be.  Wayne Cordeiro, in Leading on Empty, says, “We don’t forget that we are Christians.  We forget that we are human and that one oversight alone can debilitate the potential of our future.”  Because your calling is to always give, it is easy to wear out before you realize.  Your self-discipline, unrelenting work ethic, and drive for excellence will only cover the pain so long.  You can’t drive on all cylinders all the time – there is a time to rest!   
  5. You can’t fix every problem!  If you are not very careful you will be trying to fix everyone’s problems except your own.  Pastors have problems, challenges, and struggles just like everyone else.  Learning the difference between a concern and a responsibility could save your ministry, your family, and your sanity.  People make their own decisions and are responsible for them.  They can be very demanding and have a tendency to expect too much.  Living with the feeling that you are always disappointing people or letting them down is a challenge.  You will burn out sooner on the inside than you or others will be able to see on the outside.    
  6. You must manage your passion!  Your passion for God and the ministry is what will get you up in the morning but can also sabotage your efforts.  This is important because there will be times when you are more passionate about something than your members are and when your members are more passionate about something than you are (good or bad).  Watch your attitude.  Make sure everyone is calm and kind when discussing the things they are passionate about.  Many times the right position is destroyed because of the way it is presented. 

Know your audience and when there is conflict handle it biblically on the lowest level possible.  Someone says, “There are several of us who want to discuss this with you.”  You should say, “Well, let’s you and I discuss it one on one first!”  Also, always look for alternatives.  Make sure that people are not allowed to bring up problems without offering a solution. Just because someone has a different opinion doesn’t make them your enemy.  

Managing your passion means that you value the opinions of others and that you encourage other people to share their perspective.  It has been said that, “Feedback is a ladder not a hammer.”  Find a mentor and a mentor is “someone who had been where you want to go and is willing to help you get there!”  Make sure your perspective is Christ-centered and gospel based!         

THINK TEAM

I am really not sure where I heard it first, but it is true, “Team means that together everyone accomplishes more.”  I Corinthians 12:18-22 says, “But now God has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted.   And if they were all the same part, where would the body be?  Now there are many parts, yet one body. So the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” Or again, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  But even more, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are necessary.”  

God never intended for His children to have to stand alone, work alone, or serve alone.  All of us have different gift sets and we need the input, wisdom, and life experiences of others at the table – especially in the area of leadership.  God designed us for the structure of His local church to realize that the sum is much greater than the parts.  Unfortunately, we seem to gravitate and default toward what is easiest.  Building a team and developing leaders is hard work and at times very disappointing but it is worth the time and effort.  Check out Ephesians 4:12-13.

In The Unstuck Church, Tony Morgan says, “My experience confirms that churches that empower volunteers to do ministry are healthier than those that don’t.”  He challenges us to realize that pride can cause us to fall into the “I can do it better” trap.  Jesus certainly could have done it better than His disciples but He still chose to equip, train, and give the ministry away to them.  Tony continues, “It’s harder to find people, train them, coach them, and check up on them.  In other words, we’re basically admitting we’d rather not do the hard work that could ultimately lead to better results.”

God designed us to work as a team and that means we should focus on humbling ourselves, realizing how dependent we are on God, and how dependent we should also be on one another. That means we value the input of others who have humbled themselves and are walking with the Lord.  Tony Morgan also states, “With that direction from Scripture (Eph. 4:12-13), there’s really no room for I can do it better.  In order for me to do what God is calling me to do, I have to equip God’s people to do His work.  They can do it better.”

Just like in baseball we need to think ”farm system” more than we practice “free agency.”  There are three things we need to have in place to have a healthy farm system for developing potential leaders in our churches.  In a farm system potential big league ball players are given the opportunity to practice their skills over and over again.  Every day players are fielding thousands of ground balls and catching fly balls, stepping into the batting cage for hundreds of pitches, and daily being coached on how to become a better baseball player. 

There are three things we need to have in place to have a healthy farm system for developing potential leaders in our churches.  

  1. IDENTIFY potential leaders.  Leaders in the church must always be “scouting” for potential leaders and know what they are looking for.  We seem to be looking regularly outside our churches for leaders but we need to refocus on those God gives us out of our harvest.  We should always be looking for young men such as Timothy in the scriptures that God brings our way to mentor.
  2. INVEST in potential leaders. There must be a process in place where they can receive what they need to properly equip them for leadership. They must be trained in the message (how to handle the gospel and to have a strong theological foundation), the mission (applying the gospel to their context), and the ministry (putting into practice what they have learned).  A healthy church will plan and implement a process to multiply disciples, multiply leaders, and reproduce themselves through multiplying churches. 
  3. INITIATE potential leaders. There must be entry level places of service and ministry and God has given us the perfect track for coaching them in the skills needed for leadership; “Go and make disciples!” They need to be taught to make disciples and should not be given leadership responsibilities unless they are making disciples.  There must be “on the job” training opportunities where interns and apprentices can put into practice the skills they will use; whether beginning small groups, missional communities, or planting churches.

InBe Fruitful and MultiplyBob Logan says “The number one limiting factor in reaching the harvest is leadership. The future of the church is in its leaders. Any church multiplication movement that wants to multiply churches must also find a way to multiply leaders, for it will quickly run out of existing, ready-to-go leaders. Creating solid, reproducible methods for raising up indigenous leaders from the harvest will feed and sustain a church multiplication movement.” We must focusthe next required steps for developing the team God desires us to have.

In this journey remember that all leaders must embrace the responsibility for leadership multiplication! 
Just as all disciples of Jesus ought to be disciple-makers; so all leaders ought to be 
mentoring leaders. 
Spiritual leaders are developed over a lifetime and learning to lead doesn’t happen in the classroom, but in the context of ministry.  What will you do intentionally to build your team knowing that if you want more out of your team you must invest more into your team? 


I Corinthians 12:4-7states, “Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different ministries, but the same Lord.  And there are different activities, but the same God activates each gift in each person. A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial:”

Evaluating Potential Leaders

The Great commission states clearly that we are to go and make disciples.  This means we are suppose to be multiplying disciples, leaders, and churches.  All too often though there is a real vacuum in leadership development.  If we want leaders available when we need them then we must be ready and willing to invest the time and effort into developing them. II Timothy 2:2 teaches this process of Paul to Timothy, to faithful men, and then to others also.  We see the win as Timothy but the real win is Timothy fulfilling his calling by discipling others.

It is easy to see this process throughout Pauls’ life and ministry.  Acts 14:21-22 puts it like this, “After they had evangelized that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, ‘It is necessary to pass through many troubles on our way into the kingdom of God.’”  The elements are seen in evangelization, making disciples, strengthening them, and encouraging them.  It involves spending time with and doing life with those we wish to develop.

Much has been taught, said, preached, and written on the importance of leadership development but there are some very simple things to consider such as a selection process and character assessment.  Never be willing to overlook character flaws because the person has charisma and is very “gifted.”  There must be a time of watching an individual and making sure that we do not elevate individuals to positions of leadership too quickly.  How will you determine if they are ready to take the next steps?  First, you need to consider a way of assessing their character. 

Here is what Aubry Malphurs says in his excellent tool Character Assessment for Men for Ministry, “Over the years, leaders have discovered that godly character is critical to effective ministry for Christ. However, no one is perfect, and all of us have our weaknesses and flaws as well as strengths. This character assessment is to help you determine your character strengths and weaknesses so that you can know where you are strong and where you need to develop and grow. The characteristics are found in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9.”

Consider putting your own assessment together that evaluates where the disciple is on this pathway to increasing their leadership position and influence.  What traits and actions are necessary for them to possess for you to consider them in a leadership pole?  Decide what is nonnegotiable to you and your ministry.  Make sure that you give potential leaders projects before you give them positions.  Run from those who appear to be looking for a title more than they desire to serve and help others.  Have the core value that no one can be a leader who does not first serve.  Jesus said, “I came not to be served but to serve.”   

In a recent vision and strategy meeting with my good friend Kevin Marsico he stated that we should always be looking for three very important elements of character.  

  1. What are the values we want them to believe?  
  2. What are the skill sets they need to be practicing?
  3. What are the qualities they need to be exhibiting?  

In order to better discern these three areas, evaluate them on a scale of 1 to 10 with 5 being acceptable but needing some work.  Raise the expectations because leadership demands a greater commitment and standard.

 Here is an example.  Do you believe in biblical tithing and do you faithfully practice it? If they give themselves a 5 then you would know that they tithe but they do not give much above and beyond that. Another way of phrasing that could be, “Are you a significant giver?”  Some believe it is wrong to check on peoples financial giving but you don’t have to know exactly what they giving.  The only quotation of Jesus recorded outside the gospels of a statement spoken by Him while He was on earth is, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)  That is significant! 

This point is well made by Tony Morgan in The Unstuck Church, “As hard as it may be to believe, Jesus gave us a way of measuring someone’s heart.  It actually has nothing to do with words or actions, or attitudes. The measure has to do with money. He said, ‘Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.’  (Matthew 6:21)  It’s so true, isn’t it?  I know that to be the case in my life.  I can talk about full surrender all I want but my checkbook and my credit card statement tell the truth.  Where my treasure is there the desires of my heart will also be.”

As you develop this character assessment tool you should consider questions on tithing, healthy relationships, conflict management, prayer life, quiet time, sharing the gospel, and present involvement in ministry. Also, are they discipling anyone? Remember, this is about leadership development not just a job application.  It is not meant to be an interview to decide yes or no but rather a healthy and helpful spiritual evaluation to determine what needs to be worked on and changed.  The journey will determine whether or not they will be able to take the next step!

Leadership development flows out of your discipleship process.  Begin discipling and then be watching for those who seem to want more.  Their passion is evident and they usually will push you more than you push them.  Jesus discipled twelve but He then focused on three.  What three potential leaders do you see and feel the Lord telling you to invest in and spend the time necessary to develop these potential leaders?     

QUIT DIGGING

It has been said, “If you are in a hole, rule number one is to stop digging.” That certainly sums up many other statements that could be made about a church that is no longer healthy.  Yet, all too often, that church continues to do the very things that made her unhealthy.  In The Unstuck Church, Tony Morgan says, “What got the church on life support will not make it healthy again.” There is such a need to consider prayerful evaluation of where your church is (healthy versus unhealthy), why it is unhealthy, and what needs to be done to make it healthy again. 

There is another saying that goes like this, “Hope springs eternal.”  The problem is that biblical godly hope is not just a pie in the sky dream.  It is more than just wishful thinking.  Romans 5:5 says, “This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  You see the hope of God will not disappoint because He acted on that hope and came to provide us a way to have a relationship with Him.  It is not enough to think that hoping things will change will actually produce healthy change.

We constantly say things like; “I sure hope someone fixes that”, “I sure hope someone shares the gospel with them”, or “I sure hope things get better.”  Hope by itself alone will not win people to Jesus, disciple new converts, plant a church, keep a church healthy, or get a dying church off life support.  The reality is that hope is not a strategy and you need a plan to quit digging and know what to do after the digging stops.  God had a strategy to deliver hope, “When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.”  (Gal 4:4)

How do you stop digging deeper?  Begin by evaluating where you are and if you are healthy.  

First, will you develop a clear and compelling vision that all of your people can clearly articulate.  A lack of vision is one characteristic that shows up in churches that begin to drift from their mission and begin to decline. Your vision needs to specifically describe the next steps your church will take to begin getting healthy by developing healthy steps and practices for your people to take.  Mission is why you exist and is where you are headed.

Second, how will you make disciples and what does discipleship look like in your church?  Jim Putman in Real Life Discipleshipdescribes discipleship as an intentional leader, with a relational environment, and a reproducible process.  Discipleship that is complicated and confusing will not produce healthy disciples.  Chances are they will not produce disciples at all.  Do you have a reproducible process with clear steps that moves people from where they are to where God wants then to be?  These steps lead from spiritual birth to spiritual parenthood. 

Third, how will you lead your church to remain outwardly focused with a heart of generosity?  The church does not exist only for those who are already there. Tony Morgan in The Unstuck Churchsays, “It’s impossible for any church to be healthy and experience growth if nothing they do is designed to reach people who are outside the faith and outside the church.”   You must prioritize people who are outside your church by showing them the love of Christ in practical ways.  You have to quit digging the hole of only focusing on who is already there. 

The second part of this is by being a generous church.  Ask yourself whether or not your church leans toward being generous or protecting and holding on to what you have?  When we lean toward being a generous church then we lean more toward being like Christ.  When we lean toward being stingy then we lean further away from Him.  Romans 5:5 says, “This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  His loved was poured out to us so that we would pour that love out to others. 

This principle of generosity is stressed in Galatians 6 by telling us we should not get tired of doing good and with every opportunity we have we should labor for the good of everyone.  This biblical principle of practicing generosity should always characterize how we treat those outside the church.  We should remain generous regardless of how many times we think that people have taken advantage of our generosity.  Resist the temptation to focus on maintenance and preservation of what you already have.  God gave you what you have to invest it into His kingdom work! 

Fourth, lead your church in these areas with strength and courage.  You must do whatever is necessary to get your church healthy and reach new people with the gospel.  Some will want to continue digging the hole deeper and deeper but you must lead them to lay down their shovels and crawl out of the hole.  There will be opposition but you cannot wait for everyone to get on board.  Pray hard and then begin to develop a plan of attack on how you will get healthy, your church leaders will be healthy, and then so your church will be healthier.              

Lead your people with a vision of making disciples who make disciples.  The time is now to become a strong leader.  Until you begin to make the necessary changes to become healthy the plan has only been a conversation.  Once you begin to take the actual steps toward becoming healthy there will be opposition.  Not everyone will be happy that you have decided to stop digging the hole deeper and deeper.  Lead anyway toward biblical church health!  

S.O.A.P. Journaling

S.O.A.P.ing the scriptures is one of our discipleship engines here at Cornerstone.  It is a Bible reading schedule we follow as a church.

SOAP is our first tool to stay CENTERED ON GOD!  It keeps us on target for our daily quiet time with the Lord! 

It stands for:

  • Scripture
  • Observation
  • Application
  • Prayer

This reaffirms our faith in the power of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit speaking into our lives and hearts.

This is a simple grid to help you think through what you are going to do during your study/quiet time always asking 2 questions:

  • What is God saying?
  • What does He want me to do about it?

S.O.A.P. Journaling is an excellent way to both record and process what God has spoken to us. It’s also a useful tool to use at a later time, to reflect on and review some of the ‘gems’ that you have received. Without writing them down, you may forget those blessings and some very important lessons! And while journaling is a very personal time with the Lord, you may want to share some of your daily journaling with your small group or mentors. Through discussion, you may be able to look deeper into what God is speaking to you, gain new insight and even encourage others. 

S = Scripture 

This is where you open your Bible to the reading found under today’s date in our monthly schedule. Take time reading and allow God to speak to you. When you are done, look for a verse that particularly spoke to you that day, and write it in your journal.

O = Observation 

What do you think God is saying to you in this scripture? Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you and reveal Jesus to you. Paraphrase and write this scripture down in your own words, in your journal. 

A = Application 

Personalize what you have read, by asking yourself how it applies to your life right now. Perhaps it is instruction, encouragement, revelation of a new promise, or corrections for a particular area of your life. Write how this Scripture can apply to you today. 

P = Prayer 

This can be as simple as asking God to help you use this scripture, or it may be a greater insight on what He may be revealing to you. Remember, prayer is a two way conversation, so be sure to listen to what God has to say! Now, write it out. 

Some have added and S. on the end making it:    S.O.A.P.S.

The last S. stands for Share:

  • Who do you need to share this truth with?
  • Who do you need to encourage?

Our Cornerstone SOAP schedule is posted on our website thestone3.com

Start looking here for some observations God is showing me out of the the book of Daniel!!! Dig in and allow His word to speak to you!

VISION FOR HIS MISSION

There is a great visionary question we all need to ask ourselves expressed by Dr Kenneth E. Priddy,  “How does God want to express Himself through our church in our community at this time?” Churches have spent countless hours planning, discussing, and preparing vision statements only to place them in a file in a desk drawer.  Here is the reality.  Having a vision statement in no way guarantees that your church will be a visionary congregation.  Developing a vision and mission statement is a great step in the right direction, but it is only the first step.

Just because we have aspirational values (who we desire to be) that does not guarantee that they are actually our values. Ken Priddy continues, “Most congregations claim allegiance to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, but few truly demonstrate a sacrificial love for neighbors or a serious commitment to outreach and evangelism.”  How true and sad it is to see churches that know they should be pursuing the lost but lament new people coming into their congregation and the church growing.

How do we ignore and reject the clear teaching of the word of God that the early church was growing and flourishing?  We read several times of how they added to the congregation and even how they multiplied.  When Christians are no longer functioning as they should they begin to fall prey to becoming insider focused on those they already have.  The voices of people inside the church become louder than those outside the church and outside the faith.  The vision stales and fades over time because it must be renewed regularly.

 Unfortunately, the how becomes a higher priority than the why. Ministry silos begin to form as members only focus on “their” ministry and “their” area.  They build silos that they protect and begin creating a “them versus us “ mentality.  How can you tell when this is beginning to happen?

  1. Complacency and the status quo begin to replace commitment and sacrifice.  
  2. Being served and your personal needs being met begin to replace serving others. 
  3. The bottom dollar and watching the budget begins to replace ministry and generosity.

In developing a mission statement here are a couple of terms you need to understand.  You do not have to lift a finger or do anything for the downward slide toward selfishness to happen because we all drift that way naturally. Dr. Priddy continues, “In order to move the congregation toward new vitality, you must get buy-in or ownership in the Great Commission vision and strategy that must prevail.  You’re not looking for simple agreement, cooperation or consensus; you’re looking for conviction.”  Conviction confirmed through the word of God and the Holy Spirit.

First, we must understand the term mission.  The mission of God is why we exist.  It is His mission and it is mandated and commanded by Him.  We do not get to vote on it.  Our only choice is to be obedient or to be disobedient.  The mission of God does not change because He came to seek and to save that which was lost.  Your church does not have a mission.  God’s mission has churches that are to obediently carry it out.  If we are not reaching new people with the gospel of Jesus Christ then we really do not have any biblical foundation to function or exist.

Second, we must understand the term vision.  The vision is where we are headed and a picture of a preferred future.  We lose sight of the mission we are on and our vision to carry out that mission begins to fade.  Maybe this explains why, on average, churches under three years old reach one new convert for every three members.  Churches that are three to seven years old reach one new convert per seven members but churches over ten years old have one new convert for every eighty nine members. Could it be that we no longer have a vision for His mission?

Third, we need to understand the term strategy.  This answers the question of how we will carry out the vision. Doctrines remain the same but the methods of engaging ministry can be very different.  Your vision may be to reach a college campus with the gospel of Christ while your strategy will be the steps to make that happen.  How will you fulfill the vision God gave you of carrying out His mission?  You cannot choose the culture God has placed you in, but you can remain culturally relevant and biblically sound.  Just check out Acts 17.

 Fourth, we need to understand the term team.  This is who will carry out the strategy that the Holy Spirit has revealed to you through His word of carrying out His vision for your ministry.  God places different members on the team with varying gifts to be a complete body that functions fully the way God intended. Sometimes we see someone’s gift setasa threat or competition when in reality they are there to complement one another.  We should always be asking where do we need help and who has God given us to help us in that area? 

Fifth, we need to understand the term values.  This answers why we are doing what we are doing!  We need to check our motives and make sure they are biblically based.  Do we value His mission more than we value our preferences?  Plateaued and declining churches have begun to turn inward! These churches once valued the lost so much that they were willing to do just about anything, short of sin, to reach them with the gospel.  There was a time their church wept for them but now no one seems to remember any tears for the lost.

These five dynamics of the vision question are God’s vision, through your church, in your community, and at this time.  The mission has never changed, “Go and make disciples!”

Are You a Great Commission Church?

Asking if your church is a great commission church, or not, stirs up many emotions.  The question even being asked may anger some and then the response might be, “Well, of course we are!”  The reality is that we must examine the facts and not be overly driven by our emotions. Churches tend to have aspirational values because they know that value is in the scripture but then they do not follow through on implanting that value.  Take a deeper look at your church and your ministry and ask if you are actually carrying out the great commission daily!

Paul, speaking to the churches in Galatia, says this in Galatians 3:8, “All nations will be blessed through you.”  In focusing on God’s mission for His people and His church we need to take a closer look at the Great Commission as given to us in Matthew 28:16-20.  Our mission is to be completely devoted to proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and persuading men to become followers of Christ.  John MacArthur points out four elements for effectively fulfilling the church’s mission.  Three of these elements are attitudes and the fourth is the action that must be taken.

The first attitude is Availability!  Matthew 28:16 says, “The 11 disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them.”  Don’t miss this truth that His disciples were where He had told them to be.  Is your church where it needs to be in being available to Him to do whatever is takes to reach the lost in your community? Have you become so overly focused on Christians who need spiritual renewal that you have forgotten about unbelievers who desperately need regeneration?  We must be exactly where the Lord wants us to be in our availability!

The second attitude necessary to effectively fulfill the great commission is Worship! Matthew 28:17 says, “When they saw Him, they worshiped.”  Isaiah 6 makes it clear that it is out of worship that we can arise out of the dust of being on our faces before God and that we are ready to follow and serve the Lord. It was out of Isaiah’s brokenness that he responded to God’s request and said, “Here am I Lord, send me!’  When He is not truly worshiped He cannot be properly served no matter how talented, gifted, or well intentioned we might be.

The third element is Submission!  Matthew 28:18 tells us that Jesus has all authority.  Submission is evidenced when our greatest desire it to give all that we are and have to Him.  In the context of the Great Commission we see that He is the sovereign Lord, but it also clearly speaks to the believers’ responsibility in their response to His rule.  In Romans 12:1, Paul refers to this as our reasonable service and that is giving Him our true worship from our hearts by offering ourselves up as living sacrifices. Have you become a missionless church?

The fourth element for effectively fulfilling the Great commission flows out of the right attitudes and it is Obedience!  In The Unstuck Church Tony Morgansays, “It’s that stubborn attachment to the past, though, that leads to the church’s ultimate demise.  Traditions win over life transformation.  Personal preferences crowd out sacrifice and full devotion to the gospel mandate.”  He goes on to say, “It’s possible to do the work of God without doing the work God has called you to do.”  Acts 1:8 makes that work clear, “And you will be my witnesses.”

Remember that Galatians 3:8 says this will happen “through you.”  The world’s population is now right at 7.7 billion and increasing by almost 75,000 people a day.  We are told that only 10% of the world’s population are Bible-believing Christians. There are two sides, potential and danger, to these findings.

  1. We can see the potential of these people winning others to the faith.
  2. We see the danger because of congregations and Christians becoming inwardly focused and simply trying to occupy themselves.

Your church and my church is to be a task force with a job to do that has been spelled out by our Lord and King.  This is why we speak of advancing His Kingdom so that more and more people bow to His authority and submit to His rule and reign. Church, we must accept our responsibility to represent our King and share Him with other nations just as Abraham was instructed in Genesis 12.

  • Have we become so infatuated with maturing our own faith that we are not interested in winning others to the faith?
  • Are we still committed to helping people to find and follow Jesus?

Make sure that you evaluate how you are doing at effectively fulfilling the Great Commission.  Here are some great questions to help you.

  • Are you seeing people accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?
  • When is the last time someone made known their decision to make Christ Lord of their life?
  • What are you going to do to change that?
  • What intentional steps are you willing to take to pray for the lost, build relationships with the lost, and train your people in how to share the gospel with them?

We must move past good intentions and practice intentionality.

How do we do that?  David Hesselgrave suggests several things but these three will get you started.

  1. Understand the task!  The mission is clear beginning with a desire to reach more people with Jesus.
  2. Analyze the task in the light of research and experience.  Get to know the people you are trying to reach and learn what makes them tick.  Look for helpful insights into how you can more effectively communicate the truth of the gospel.
  3. Make an overall plan to accomplish this task.  Begin with the message of His word and be ready to share it!

Are you a Great Commission church?