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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!

40 Day Prayer Challenge

God has changed lives in 40 days before and He can do it again! We see that Jesus went into the wilderness and was tempted by Satan for 40 days. We also know that there were 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and His ascension in Acts 1. In the Old Testament we see Moses on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and nights when he received the 10 Commandments. There is nothing magical or mystical about the number but it is significant in what can happen during a time of spiritual renewal and emphasis.

When a church seeks a time of renewal and revival the goal is to hear from the Lord and find God’s will and His agenda for our ministry. There is a unique connection for a body of believers when they agree to seek the Lord together and hear from Him together. When we press into His presence we are showing the Lord that we are taking our responsibility of listening to Him seriously. Mark Batterson says, “Our job is to hear His voice. His job is to establish our steps. And if we do our job, God will do His!”

Are you seeking a break through in your personal walk or as a church? The reality is that God’s plans are discovered, discerned, and defined in God’s presence. Perhaps you should consider a 40-day prayer challenge where the entire body focuses on the same Bible passages, repentance, and asking God for the same things. There are many resources available that include books, booklets, or you could even put your own together. Mark Batterson also says, “They gathered in a room and prayed for 10 days. Those 10 days have been paying dividends for 2,000 years.”

A prayer challenge reminds us of the importance of repentance and helps us to focus on the following process.

First, it begins by praying for personal repentance.   I John 1:9 makes this clear, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousenss.”

Second, we pray for our church to be burdened about holiness. Jesus makes it very clear in Revelation 2 and 3 that the path to being His church is for us to listen to Him and repent.

On day three pray for other churches in your community. Ask God to give other churches around you a burden for the lost and to raise up spiritual leaders in their midst to call them back to God’s word and His gospel.

Then on day four pray for Bible-believing churches in your state. One author has said, “Spirit-empowered churches across a state can change the state and influence the nation.” Ask God to burden all of His people across the state to be hungry and thirsty for righteousness.

The fifth day can focus your prayers on churches across your nation or country. We are called to make disciples in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. A national revival could touch the world.

Day six could focus on praying for missionaries and churches around the world. Ask God to raise up national spiritual leaders who will call their churches to repentance and obedience to the Great Commission.

The seventh day we could pray fervently for the persecuted church around the world.

Charles Finney said, “Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together. Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.” We must pray for revival that is grounded in His people turning back to Him. E.M. Bounds said, “God shapes the world by prayer. The more praying there is in the world the better the world will be, the mightier the forces against evil.” We are called to be a people of prayer who know that time spent in prayer is never wasted!

Next you should consider praying specifically for your church and its leadership.

First, pray for pastors. Paul asks for the prayers of fellow Christians in Ephesians 6:19, “Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.” The best thing you can do for your pastor is to surround him and his family with your prayers.

Second, pray for your church staff. Pray that each staff member will protect their walk with Christ and continually abide in Him.

Third, pray for your elders, deacons, and other church leaders. Pray that these leaders will be filled with the Spirit and they will lead unified. Romans 15:5-6 says it well, “Now may the God of endurance and encouragement grant you agreement with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a united mind and voice.”

Fourth, pray for ministry leaders. Ask God to help them realize how much they are appreciated and loved. Their role is important!

Fifth, pray for ministry teams. God can use these teams, when they are spirit-empowered, to shake their churches and communities for the cause of Christ. Ask God to raise up leaders and provide workers for the harvest.

Then, pray for the lost! Here is a simple daily prayer challenge that all of us should pray. “Lord, I don’t ask for much today. I just ask that you give me your heart for lost people.” You will discover that prayer is more about changing our hearts then it is changing others.

We should pray for one another every day! A.W. Tozer said, “To desire revival…and at the same time to neglect (personal) prayer and devotion is to wish one way and walk together.”

LEADERSHIP LADDER

Much has been written and said about leadership development. How do you move people up toward more and more leadership capacity? Several churches use a leadership ladder to show a clear path of how any church member can get involved and as they grow accept more responsibility. First, there has to be a way to connect them to ministries. These have been referred to as a “First Serve” where they can kick the tires of a particular ministry and decide whether or not it is a fit for them and their gifts.

Whatever you decide to call it, you must have a ministry placement system in place. When people come into a church they need to find a role, a place of service, where they can contribute. Here are a couple of values to have in place that will help you in this process. First, no one should lead who does not first serve. This is handled by exposing them to different ministries, allowing them to participate as a member of a particular team, becoming an apprentice to a team leader, and then eventually developing into a team leader themselves.

The second value is to not give anyone a position or title until they have been given a particular project and completed it. In Ephesians 4:1 we are told to “walk worthy of the calling you have received.” The word worthy there refers to balancing the scales. An example of this value would be getting paid because you earned the salary you made. We live in a society where far too many people want a paycheck but do not want a job. Be very careful of elevating people in leadership too quickly who appear more interested in a title than they do a job.

The different levels could be first serve, team member, team leader, coach, director, and then staff. For example, if you follow the Pareto Principle, 20% of the people do 80% of the work, you need to think of whom the 20% are to oversee your ministry. If you have 200 members then you would need at least 40 team leaders, 10 coaches who pour into the leaders, 2 directors who help and equip the coaches, and then staff to oversee the directors. This would fit the model that Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, gave to him.

Here is another important value. If you want more out of your team then you will have to put more into them. How are you equipping them and resourcing them? Who is making sure that the leaders are being mentored, nurtured, and developed? If we are not careful, they are left to take of themselves spiritually and practically. The coaches help to check in on them and find out what they need to help them be successful. This could be calling a small group leader, Sunday School teacher, and asking a couple of questions. How did it go? Is there anything I can help you with or get for you? And then ask them how you can pray for them.

Everyone needs to know that they are being thought of, cared for, and held accountable. Even in the area of pastoral care, the pastor must remember that it is not his responsibility to care for every member himself. However, it is the pastor’s responsibility to make sure everyone is cared for. The best way for this to be accomplished is with a team concept. This is why small groups are so important to make sure that everyone is being cared for. The small group leader is the “first responder” to those in his group and the coach is the “first responder” to the needs of the small group leader.

This can also be seen in church planting where an individual has the gift of evangelism. They are excellent at drawing people to themselves and begin building critical mass as people are drawn to them and want to be a part of their vision. But this passion can energize the new group only so long until people begin to wonder what the game plan is supposed to be. The evangelist, if not careful, will have a great pep rally but be without a game plan of how to move forward as a team in the future. The evangelism gift is needed and necessary but other team members are required also.

The second level is the one who has entrepreneurial abilities. They can come along side of the evangelist with a plan and systems that will better enable them to sustain the relational capital they have gained. The entrepreneur has a plan and knows what to do when someone says “yes” to the gospel. They also have a plan for the next steps of spiritual growth in every stage of the disciple’s journey. They are vision casters who also know how to carry the vision forward if everyone shows up who has been invited to be a part.

The next level is the equipper who has an eye on training more leaders and has a plan for leadership development. They have an eye out for the overachievers who are always looking for the next step and asking for more. The equippers focus on releasing leaders – not keeping them, investing in leaders – not saving them, and sending out leaders – not holding onto them. The equipper is looking for those motivated not only to be learning but who also have a desire to teach and train others. Always be looking for those who are receptive and hungry for more. They just cannot be satisfied with the status quo.

Level four is the one who empowers others. They see themselves as facilitators of those who have a passion and purpose that is driving them. Their heart is to see others accomplish more than they ever did or could. They focus on movement and helping others to multiply. Their heart is to give away everything they have and know while not desiring any recognition or credit. They love mentoring, coaching, and discipling equippers. Their role won’t make them famous but that is not their motivation anyway. They can visualize a two to three year process that gives them the tools needed while building their character simultaneously!

Leadership ladders are designed to multiply disciples, leaders, and churches!

ACTIVITY VERSUS ACTION

We stand at a time in the history of Christianity and the church where we must return to the basics. Have we lost our passion to pursue people who are far from God? Are we so focused on our programs, plans, and people that we have taken our eyes off of the harvest? We will leave it to others to decide whether the methods of evangelism have changed or not but the truth is that evangelism should never be an “option” for any church or Christian. It is a command, our mandate, and will we obey or not?

My friend Hal Seed in his pastormentor.com training gives a 90-day prayer challenge. He asked his church and challenges every person to pray, “Lord, I don’t ask for much today. I just ask that you give me your heart for lost people.” That is a prayer that God wants to answer. It is not a prayer to better our circumstances or make our lives easier but instead to align our priorities with His. The main priority of prayer is to be in His presence in order to change us. He wants to mold us into who His image.

Dr John David Smith in his report to our BMA churches, check out bmamissions.org if you want to watch it yourself, reminds us that we are to make disciples and to make disciple-makers. We need to reevaluate what we measure and how we see success. What would you consider success at your church 2-3 years from now? Most people’s answers would revolve around being larger and having more people. That is not wrong in and of itself but there are other Biblical metrics to be considered.

First, are you making disciples? When is the last time someone was born again because of your people sharing their faith with them? When was the last time someone was baptized at your church? How many are even attempting to share their faith? The bigger problem is if that does not even burden us, break our hearts, nor drive us to cry out to God in repentance. Jesus wept over Jerusalem and Paul said he did not cease to labor in tears for people to know Christ. We seem to have become far to comfortable with only fellowshipping with those who already know Him.

Second, what are you willing to do to reach people for Christ? Are you willing to do whatever it takes, short of sin, to build relationships with people far from God in order to share Christ with them? One pastor when asked what had been his greatest sacrifice as a pastor responded, “I think it’s clearly the discipline to treat people better than they deserve to be treated.” Is that not the essence of the gospel? Is that not the very heart of Jesus and the very definition of what true love is?

Third, are you willing to love people who are far from God until they “get it?” That is exactly what Jesus is asking us to do (check out John 13:34-35). This lifts evangelism to a whole new level. It is more than the golden rule, turning the other cheek, or blessing those who curse you. It demands that our commitment must be to love the lost even when they do not deserve it because neither do we. Who do you know that would benefit from that kind of love? Who has God placed in your life that pushes your buttons and makes your blood pressure go up?

In Dr Smith’s report he asks if we measure activity without measuring action? The difference can be between being busy and making a kingdom impact. With activity you are expending energy but there is not a clear purpose or goal in mind. The vision should be to help people find and follow Jesus. Many churches have a lot of frenetic activity going on and they are busy with church stuff but, once again, are disciples being made? We have the resources, programs, facilities, and missions statements but very few are coming to know Christ. Here are a few other metrics we should consider:

We need to measure multiplication not just addition! We know how many people we have added, and we should, but have we multiplied in the area of disciples, leaders, and more churches. We are told that 85% of all churches have plateaued or they are in decline. The 15% who are growing are experiencing this growth through transfer growth. These are people who know Jesus already but decide to attend a different church. Only 1% of the growth churches are seeing is by conversion growth. Making disciples implies you make them from scratch, just like homemade cookies.

We need to measure out-going not just in-gathering! We track who is coming and we focus most of our efforts on being attractional. Remember, addition is good and being attractional is not bad but are we tracking how many are being sent out. Not only how many disciples are we making, how many disciple-makers are we making, and how many leaders are we developing but also how many churches have we helped to start? Discipleship is pouring into others in order to equip them that we may one day release them to multiply. Our sending capacity is far more catalytic than our seating capacity!

We need to measure our functions not just our forms. Forms have to do with all the things we keep track of in church life. Form describes how we look at buildings, programs, salaries, worship styles, and programs. These things are important but they are not the most important. We have determined what is normal for our churches when we need Jesus to redefine for us what His normal is. Function describes what Jesus has called us to do, “Go and make disciples!” How are we doing at making disciples, disciple-makers, leaders, and multiplying churches?

The place to begin could be with this simple prayer challenge, “Lord, I don’t ask for much today. I just ask that you give me your heart for lost people.”

FAITH vs FOLLOW

Recently I was told of a pastor who shared in his message that 81% of all evangelical churches have no discipleship in their churches of any significance. While not knowing the source of the statistic, I must admit that, unfortunately, I am not surprised. We seem to know how to talk discipleship, but when you dig deeper into many ministries you cannot find of evidence of a clear and easily reproducible process. There is a huge difference between aspirational values and actual values. If we really do value discipleship we will be discipling someone.

Have we valued “decisions” so highly that ongoing discipleship was not as highly valued as it should have been? Please hold back your disagreement with that statement for a minute please. We certainly think we agree with discipleship but is there evidence of it happening and multiplying? If we do not reproduce disciples we will never reproduce leaders. If we do not reproduce leaders we will never reproduce churches. If we do not reproduce churches we will never see a movement.

Have we turned the “faith” into what we believe instead of our actual actions and behavior? It seems that many have turned the word faith into what a person agrees with more than a trust that turns into action by the believer. Jesus made it very clear that we are to “follow” Him not just “believe” in Him.   James says that faith without works is dead. True discipleship is not just stating that we have “faith” but is demonstrated by our willingness to deny all and follow Him.

We must return to the biblical foundation of true faith that leads to action. Jesus said that if we love Him we will keep His commandments, we will do whatever He asks of us, and we will go wherever He asks us to go. Bill Hull says this about discipleship, “The church is up to its eyeballs in agreement, and that moves nothing and poses a threat to no one.” In John 6 Jesus makes this clear, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do the things I say?” Genuine faith leads to following!

Hull describes this problem of faith verses follow by saying, “A faith that embraces discipleship distinguishes itself from mere agreement or intellectual assent with demonstrated proof.” He describes five distinct characteristics of a disciple in the first century. First, a disciple submitted to a teacher who taught them how to follow Jesus. They also learned Jesus’ words and His way of ministry. Then a disciple imitated Jesus’ life and character. Lastly, a disciple found and taught other disciples to follow Jesus.

Today most discipleship sees very little of a disciple submitting to a teacher/mentor and even less of disciples making other disciples. We have enabled discipleship to become more about information transfer than actual life transformation. Everyone needs a Paul in their life and then they need to begin looking for a Timothy to disciple and mentor.

Discipleship is not a program nor is it an event. Biblical discipleship is a way of life that continues our entire lives. It is not only for beginners but also for all believers and is to be process that multiplies more believers, disciples, and leaders. Discipleship is not to be just one of the things a church does but the main thing it is commanded to do, “Go make disciples.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”

Before we protest or desire to debate, we must be willing to take a closer, honest, and unbiased look at Luke 9:23-25. Jesus makes it clear that the very essence of the Christian walk is following Him and that requires total obedience and humble submission to His commandments. What does it involve to implement that kind of discipleship? Jim Putman says there must be an intentional leader, a relational environment, and a reproducible process.

Putman describes this process beginning with those who are dead in their trespasses and sin. This individual is lost and does not know it. This is where discipleship begins by sharing the gospel with them. When they believe and are born again, discipleship continues by a disciple sharing their life, new truth, and new habits with this infant in Christ. As they grow they will then move from being an infant to becoming a child.

The infant needs everything done for them, but a child can begin to learn how to do things for themself. As a child, discipleship focuses on connecting them with God, a small group, and their purpose. They are still self-centered but as they grow they can then become a young adult. They are becoming more and more God-centered. Now you equip them for ministry, provide them ministry opportunities, and release them to do ministry. Now, as they are growing in Christ, they are focused on serving others and not on being served.

Young adults then become parents where, as mature believers, they reproduce. They become disciplemakers themselves because they have been shown the process, had discipleship modeled for them, and are released to multiply. The real litmus test of discipleship is disciples who are making disciples who are making disciples! Think of discipleship as a clear reproducible process moving those who are dead to salvation and becoming an infant in Christ.

The infant then must be shown how to grow and develop into a child. The child is taught by example to learn how to move into becoming a young adult. They are constantly maturing from being self-centered to being God-centered. Then parenthood is not far behind but mandatory in the process because without reproduction multiplication will never occur.   Our goal is to facilitate a discipleship based multiplication movement by multiplying disciples, leaders, and churches.

Biblical faith leads to godly actions not just verbal agreement!

Turf Wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Steps to Make the Most Out of 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ABUNDANT JOY!

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The Christmas season is upon us. II Cor 9:15 says, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” The amazing part of the context of this passage is the joy the people had in giving even though they were poor and suffering themselves. II Cor 8:2 says, “During a severe testing of affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity.” They not only gave generously but their eagerness caused them to beg Paul to let them help. Not just joy but an abundance of joy.

This time of the year should remind us of the wonderful gifts God has given us. We have hope because of Him. This hope is a holy expectation of what is to come. There is peace provided regardless of our situation. He provides a calmness in the midst of the craziness of this world. We must also remember the gift of love described in II Cor. 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.”

The gifts of God brought to us through the birth of our savior are hope, peace, love, and abundant joy. Do you have your joy on? Are you able to rejoice in the Lord on a regular basis? Has someone or something taken your joy away from you? Church, not only should you be a generous church but your generosity should come out of your abundance of joy!

Oswald Chambers said, “A life of intimacy with God is characterized by joy!”

If you have lost your joy the place to find it again is in His presence.

John 15:9-11 explains it to us, “As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love. If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”

Joy is not determined by our circumstances but rather comes in a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is why from prison Paul could say, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Without joy we will struggle and joy is not produced by what is happening but by our intimacy with our savior. Our primary focus must always be on Him and what He has done for us. Otherwise, when problems and challenges come our way and we are faced with our own inadequacies, we are tempted to react in harmful ways. Think about it! Mary and Joseph had to leave home when they needed a home the most. They were alone when they needed support the most. Yet we sing, “Joy to the world the Lord has come!”

Three areas will really challenge your joy.

The first challenge is tough situations. We know that these challenges will come. It has been said that there are three kinds of people: those with problems, those coming out of problems, and those about to have problems. It is inevitable and James 1:2 tells us, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials.” If your joy is not full as Jesus said the temptation will be to become discouraged, defeated, and fearful.

The second challenge will be difficult people. Now I am sure your church does not have any difficult people but there are rumors some churches do. If your joy is gone you will react in harmful ways that can create division and disharmony. Some chose to be timid and never address the difficult person. Others become cynical and talk about them behind their backs. Then there are those who become bitter and scarred from it. Seek to love them, pray for them, and confront them when necessary. They do not produce your joy, Jesus does!

The third challenge is when your control is threatened. There are many areas of church life where people are use to being in charge and do not want to relinquish that control. When disagreement or conflict comes the reaction so often is not healthy. Some will respond in a dictatorial way saying, “It’s my way or the highway!” Others will become more driven and might respond, “This is where I am going. You come with me or get out of the way.” The third might be the ugliest when a temper tantrum is thrown because they did not get their way.

The focus here is upon how you react to tough situations, difficult people and when your control is threatened. Your joy is not determined by any of these but rather your walk with the Lord. Jesus said, “I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” When Jesus began His earthly ministry the Father said these affirming words to Him, “This is my beloved Son. In whom I am well pleased.” Joy comes from hearing the Father say, “It’s going to be all right.”

Joy is produced when we realize the depths of the truth of these words. The Father says, “My Beloved Son.” That is His identity. Joy comes from knowing you are a child of the King. Then He said He was “pleased” in Him. That is our security. If God is pleased with us then there is nothing to fear and our joy multiplies. The significance of this passage is that He is the Messiah. He had a job to do and joy comes from fulfilling the role God has for each and every one of us. Joy comes from an intimate relationship with Jesus where we understand our identity, security, and significance in Him!

Healthy churches are experiencing abundant joy regardless of their circumstances and challenges!

BE A GENEROUS CHURCH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healthy churches are always generous churches!