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LEAN IN TO JESUS

Keeping your church focused on Christ will be an ongoing and unending pursuit. There are faith habits that you must show new believers how to develop. Also, the reality is that you should not assume that those who have been in church for years know what to do. Develop an environment that teaches how to “lean” into Jesus both personally, in small groups, and corporately as a church. When you study His word you are “leaning” into His presence to hear His voice and His direction for your life?

The total depravity of man means that in our natural state we will always lean toward sin and away from God. Yes, we are created in the image of God and even evil people are capable of doing a good deed but they remain far from God and without hope. The depravity of man means that even a saved man is capable of an evil act if He is not in the Word and walking with the Lord. That is why it is so crucial to develop a rhythm of praying and being in God’s word daily.

There are four habits that will help your church lean in toward Christ for His presence, power, and direction.

First, lean in by spending time in His word. Here is a great quote from Alistair Begg, “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” Look for the obvious and begin to obey and follow those directions. Many are running around looking for a word from the Lord when all we have to do is open His word and begin to obey.

Determine how you will come along side your people to assist them in their spiritual progress. Consider publicizing a daily Bible reading and teaching them how to S.O.A.P. (Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer) through journaling. It is great to write down the verses and then circle the key words to consider what God may be saying to you. Suggest a great study Bible and other study tools they might use to go deeper in the word. Lean in and look at what He says.

Second, lean in by developing the habit of spending time with God. Show them what prayer looks like and how they can cry out to God and that He hears them. Four elements of prayer as seen in the model prayer are praise, repentance, ask, and yield.   One idea would be to meet with several of your disciples and teach them about prayer but more importantly show them what it means to pray by praying with them, for them, and over them.

In prayer it is also good to stop and listen for a time. When you pray remember that it is communicating with God and that involves both sides. It is wonderful knowing that He is listening to us but it is just as wonderful to know that He speaks to us also. In your quiet time develop the practice of having a pen and pad in hand. Stop and listen to what He is saying to you through His word and the Holy Spirit. Take 3-5 minutes and be quiet in His presence. Lean in and listen!

Third, lean in by developing the habit of tithing. This is far more than good stewardship but teaches them what God requires as a part of our worship. This principle is far more than the amount but teaches the Lordship of Christ through placing God first in our day, our finances, and in our relationships. The principle of putting God first in everything must be taught and reinforced regularly. We must be willing to give Him everything including time, talent, and treasures.

Philippians 4:18 says, “I am fully supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you provided—a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” Paul thanked this church for their financial support and describes these financial gifts with worship language. Once again we know that giving is an act of worship not just a matter of stewardship. You lean into His presence by giving with the right heart and the right motive.

Fourth, lean in by developing the habit of fellowship. The importance of community cannot be overstressed. We need one another and the New Testament is written from the “we” perspective not “me.” Natural Church Development says, “Loving relationships are the heart of a healthy, growing church. Jesus said people will know we are His disciples by our love. Practical demonstration of love builds authentic Christian community and brings others into God’s kingdom.”

They go on to say, “Loving relationships is the area in which churches tend to extravagantly overestimate their spiritual quality…they fail to see how outsiders can have a hard time finding access to a clique. These Christians consider themselves as ‘warmhearted’ and ‘open’ toward newcomers, but they communicate-most unconsciously-the message: ’You don’t belong here.’” We need to lean into stronger, deeper, and authentic relationships. It is important to develop these four habits of leaning in toward the Lord in the context of worship services, small groups, leadership development, and our personal walks.

The attractional approach (come and see) will connect an individual usually through a worship service or an event that, well, attracts them! The incarnational approach (go and tell) focuses more on relational evangelism and tends to connect people in smaller group settings. Being attractional or incarnational is not an either/or decision but rather a both/and. As a member of my church reminded me recently, “God sent us a little reminder that our mission field is not where we go to, but where we take Him!” Hopefully, you will continue to lean into His presence through developing godly habits that will enable you to mature spiritually by coming to age in Christ. This process will keep you from leaning away, then drifting away, and eventually maybe even dropping out.

Help your church to lean in through worship, small groups, and personal discipleship!

SEQUENTIALISM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIPS FOR YOUR CHURCH MISSIONS STRATEGY

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

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

First, we really are better together!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing a Church Missions Strategy

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

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

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

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

First, we must look at our motives!

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

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

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

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

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

Fourth, be willing to pray dangerous prayers.

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

Fifth, accept that it is your responsibility.

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

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

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

Leadership Distinctives

What makes a leader a leader? Even more importantly, what makes a leader worth following? There are several reasons leaders are followed such as position, power, and personality. The lowest level of leadership is being followed only due to the position you hold, but at some point leadership influence must be earned. People may follow you for a period of time, but eventually you will earn or lose the right to be followed. Leadership influence is a lot like trust because it takes a long time to earn but can be lost in a second.

In The 5 Levels of Leadership, John Maxwell describes level one where people follow you because they have to or believe they should because of the position you hold. The second level is permission where they continue to follow because of the relationship they have built with you and have decided they want to follow you. The next level is based on your ability to lead well and they follow because of what you have accomplished through your leadership. Leadership then moves to reproduction because of how the leader has poured into your life and mentored you.

These five levels move from rights (position) to relationships (permission) to results (production) to people development (reproduction) and then on to respect (the pinnacle). This is where people follow you because of who you are and what you represent. The reality is that sometimes the closer we get to some leaders the less we want to follow them because we discover they are not who we thought they were. What a joy it is when the closer you get to a leader the more you desire and want to follow them. Familiarity should breed respect not contempt in leadership.

Distinctive #1 is spirituality. There is a huge difference between leadership and spiritual leadership. Of more importance than your leadership skills, those following you need to be able to see you are walking with God. You should not have to convince people you are walking with Him because it should be apparent to all that you are. Even though leadership can be accomplished by many, spiritual leadership only occurs by those who are walking closely and intimately with the Lord. Manipulation will not be necessary when the Holy Spirit is present.

Distinctive #2 is prayer. For emphasis sake and because it is so vital to the leader’s effectiveness allow me to quote again from Spiritual Leadership by Henry and Richard Blackaby speaking on the importance of prayer in their lives. “For leaders to have this kind of relationship available to them and then choose to not communicate with the One who wants to guide them is a gross dereliction of duty.” Prayer reminds us of who is really in charge and gives us a confidence that He is able to do above and beyond all we could ever ask or think.

Distinctive #3 is a great work ethic. Leaders are not lazy and they are not afraid of hard work. They lead by example and have a servant’s heart meaning they are willing to do what others are unwilling to do. The Blackabys ask this, “If the people in my organization worked with the same intensity as I do, would they enhance the operations of this organization or would they reduce it to a crawl?” If the goal of your leadership is respect then you should not see your position as an escape from sacrifice but as platform to demonstrate what sacrifice looks like.

Jesus set the example here by washing the disciples’ feet but some leaders act more like they seek privilege and entitlement. Maybe you should not have to do a particular task but you should always be willing. Remember, the greatest way to influence others is by example. If we want those who follow us to go an extra mile Jesus said we must be willing to go two. It cannot be “do as I say” but rather “do as I do” and our actions back it up. Church leaders we need to work hard at showing our people that we know what it means to work hard.

Distinctive #4 is answering questions before they are even asked. Communicate your vision and how you will carry it our over and over again. One of the greatest lessons I learned was that what I often thought was opposition was simply just individuals who needed more information. We can easily think that because of the journey we have been on that people will automatically fast forward to where the Lord has brought us. Anticipate that there are “late-adopters” who by their nature will need their questions answered before they can move forward.

Distinctive #5 is having good spiritual mentors and counselors. Make sure you check out the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 4:9-16 with verse 10 saying, “For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.”   In Proverbs Solomon also tells us that there is wisdom in the multitude of counsel. You do not have to have all the answers as a leader, but you must have the wisdom to seek counsel and listen to other godly leaders. It is not about your agenda or their agenda but getting on God’s agenda.

These distinctives of spiritual leadership are important…but there are more. Leadership is not easy and actually it is very hard work. It can be draining and overwhelming at times so here are a couple of other suggestions. Be sure you do not take yourself too seriously and be able to laugh at yourself. Protect your personal walk with God because the attacks of the devil are real and he especially focuses on those leading the charge against the gates of hell. Lastly in the words of Paul, “I tell every one of you not to think of himself more highly than he should think.”

Influence Over Influx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Influence over Influx!!!

 

Heart Test!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Connected

The best way to be connected to any church is through a small group. They can be called small groups, Bible studies, life groups, cell groups and many other titles. We call our small groups “Connection” groups because it fits our C-3 vision statement of being Centered on God, Connected to one another, and Compassionate for our city. The language fits us because we tell our people the best way to get connected at Cornerstone is by being a part of one of our connection groups. We even call our first time visitor cards our “Connection” cards.

Our connection groups are referred to as our first responders to help minister to our people’s needs. As first responders the connection group leader is one of the most important positions in our church because they make sure that the people in their group are properly ministered to and cared for. Pastor, it’s not your responsibility to care for every member but it is your responsibility to make sure they are cared for. There are many reasons we need to get people connected to a connection group because of how it facilitates spiritual care and growth.

First, a connection group is a small group because of its size. The larger a study group grows the more difficult it becomes to really connect. You will not have enough time to really get to know one another, answer the questions that really matter, or enjoy a healthy amount of discussion plus it forces the delivery system to become a lecture model. In Real-Life Discipleship Jim Putman says, “Most of us do not choose lecture as a preferred way to learn, but unfortunately the lecture model is how most Christians receive much of their teaching.”

Second, a connection group provides shepherding and cares for its members. When the group is smaller it enables the group to help care for one another. Caring for one another is seen as a core value and is done willingly because we become family. Sheep stray and a connection group notices much sooner when someone is missing. When a connection group is committed to doing life together they are also more aware when a member is struggling physically or spiritually and it provides a system to confront sin and hold members accountable.

Third, a connection group needs to build a safe environment. Transparency needs to be modeled but it will never work if trust is not built into the culture. Two key elements of a safe environment are authenticity and mutual accountability. The larger the group the harder it is for people to share their struggles and believe that everyone believes in confidentiality. Quoting Jim Putman again, “Real relationships are an essential part of God’s plan. The world’s need for relationships is God’s opportunity to build disciples.”

Forth, a connection group is not a watered down Bible study. This accusation is made but usually unfounded. Yes, one element of a connection group is healthy dialogue. Jesus repeatedly used questions to facilitate thought and discussion. He also would answer questions by telling a story. There you have two key elements in how people learn. Make sure you use Bible stories to teach God’s truth and then dialogue how that truth applies to their lives. Jim Putman says it this way; “You are not making disciples if you are doing all the talking.”

Fifth, a connection group requires an intentional leader, a relational environment, and a reproducible process. Remember, your connection (small) group leader is one of the most important positions in your church because they help shepherd the congregation. Their intentionality requires that they know, and are passionately following, Christ. They do not need to be Bible scholars but they do need to be in love with Jesus. They must model what growing and maturing in Christ looks like to those in the group. The goal is not perfection but progress.

Sixth, a small group models and displays what it looks like to become self-feeders. Every disciple must take personal responsibility for his or her spiritual growth. When we work on our own spiritual maturity then our church will become the automatic beneficiary. We have built an unhealthy expectation that the church drives our spiritual walks when actually our spiritual walks should drive the church. Yes, the church has a responsibility to assist in our spiritual growth but disciples must be shown how to feed themselves.

Seventh, a small group shows its members how to sustain their passion by taking care of their hearts. They learn that the journey will not always be easy and that it takes effort and determination. Zeal and passion comes from an intimate personal walk with Christ. If our heart is full then our walk with Christ will be natural (actually supernatural.) If our heart is empty our walk with Christ will be forced and our passion will diminish. If a disciple is walking with Christ it is apparent and if they are not they need to be shown how.

Connection groups provide the biblical vehicle that promotes spiritual growth! II Timothy 2:2 makes it clear that discipleship happens in relationships. It is not a mistake that these plural terms are used: many witnesses, reliable men, and others. A connection group provides support, encouragement, and the necessary accountability. Act 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-35 make it clear that we are to spend time together, care for one another, meet one another’s needs, practice grace toward one another, and be in unity on their purpose.

Don’t Settle For Less

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing Spiritual Muscles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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