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THINK TEAM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Evaluating Potential Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUIT DIGGING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEADING WITH MISSIONAL PURPOSE

It was the day after Christmas in 1979 when my wife and I arrived at my first pastorate in Marion, Illinois.  To say that I was excited as we unloaded the U-Haul would be an understatement.  The parsonage was small, but big enough for us as we focused on our new ministry with West Blvd. Baptist Church.  The next day I took my one box of office items to the church.  The office was a tiny nook above the foyer area with a very steep stairwell.  I had my “license” to preach and my freshly signed ordination certificate to hang on the wall.  The rest of the box contained a name plaque my brother-in-law, David, had given to me to make me “official” and about ten books to place on the book shelves.

It took about 30 minutes to get all set up and then I sat down in the chair behind the small desk thinking, “What do I do now?”  I was overwhelmed with the realization that I did not have a clue on what to do next. The irony was that just a month earlier I had decided to leave Central Baptist College to go into the pastorate because my youthful zeal had convinced me that I was ready.  Side note: STAY IN SCHOOL!  The adrenaline high did not last 48 hours after arriving on assignment.  The goal was to preach the word and shepherd the people but I did not have any plan or strategy beyond the first Sunday.   There have been many ideas through the years, some good and some not so good, that have started strong but lost steam quickly.

This is where “Entropy” enters the door.  It is defined as “a measure of the disorder that exists in a system.”  It is a physics term that describes how energy decreases because of the loss of heat and slowly but surely you no longer have the get-up-and-go you once had.  In Leading on Empty, Wayne Cordeirodescribes entropy as “the gradual decline back to a mediocre lifestyle defined by a habit and reaction.”  It is the opposite of the abundant life and we must realize that unless we have an intentional plan to remain fresh and on fire, entropy is the “natural” outcome. How do we keep entropy from setting in? How do we lead others to live with a purpose for their lives that does not diminish nor lose momentum?

There are three ingredients very important to remain fresh and on fire.  All three are necessary if we are going to lead with purpose.

First, take care of the spiritual. Leaders must lead by example in the area of their spiritual walk.  Any gathering of God’s people must involve His word and prayer.  We are not meeting just to meet but as Philippians 3:10 says, to “know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.”

Second,take care of the relational.  We must focus on authentic relationships that hold one another accountable and move past the shallow friendships our culture endorses.  The need is great to have people in our lives that can speak the truth to us when we’re out of line and challenge us.  Then we need to be mature enough to listen and accept the challenge.

The third item is the one most often neglected.  We must be missional.  We must have a plan and strategy to lead others to live with purpose.  Many Christians and churches are good at being spiritual and relational but drop the ball when it comes to leading people to live on mission.  The spiritual and the relational cannot be underestimated, but when leaders do not lead to intentionally live on mission, entropy will set in with mediocrity and apathy not far behind.  We must lead others to be missional in their personal lives, church family, and associational cooperation.  When we focus on the spiritual and relational but ignore the missional ingredient we become inwardly focused and neglect our purpose.

What could you, your church, or your local association do to lead others to live with a purpose beyond themselves?  What would happen if we were the friend of sinners that Jesus was and is?  In their song, Jesus Friend of Sinners, Casting Crowns say it well,“Jesus, friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away.  We cut down people in your name but the sword was never ours to swing.  Jesus, friend of sinners, the truth’s become so hard to see. The world is on their way to you but they’re tripping over me.”  Maybe people are not rejecting Jesus Christ as much as they are rejecting the lack of compassion they see in us!

J.D. Payne says this, “Missional Living Requires…Both actions and words are requirements for missional living.  Kingdom Citizens are to “let their lights shine before men that they may see the good works and praise the Father Who is in heaven.”  But Kingdom Citizens must also “preach the gospel in season and out of season.”  We cannot do one without the other.  While some situations will require that we spend most of the time living out the Kingdom Ethic before unbelievers (e.g., 1 Peter 3:1-2), we must proclaim the gospel.  Missional Living Occurs…when Kingdom Citizens live according to the Kingdom Ethic in the world.”

Leading with purpose and intentionality means we have a holistic approach of carefully giving attention to our flock’s spiritual growth, relational dynamic, and their missional involvement with their circles of influence. We refuse to accept the thinking that, “two out of three ain’t bad” and remain dedicated to reaching outwardly to those who are far from God.  It is not only loving people more but also focusing on loving more people.  Let’s live missionally – on mission for God and with God!

Should We Have A Strategy?

Some seem to think that having a strategy or planning out our ministry is unspiritual. We just need to pray, trust the Lord, follow His leadership, and allow Him to work out the details.  Certainly, we can sometimes lean way too heavily on our plans, methods, and strategies but God has always had a plan from the very beginning.  The word strategy is a military word that is used to refer to large-scale planning and directing of operations toward a certain goal.  A method usually refers to a scaled down way of going about a task. Studying Paul’s life we see that he did have a strategy as well as a complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

We must be very careful of not organizing Christ right out of our ministry, planning, and our churches.  Dynamic Church Planting International gives an excellent perspective for making sure we proceed with prayerful planning.  This training stresses 12 Biblical principles. The first is  “The BOSS Principle.” Christ is the Lord of church planting and
He has a vision for your new church. Christ has a vision for the church that He wants you to plant. Your job is not to
invent a vision. Your work is not to appropriate a successful vision from another church planter and church.

The second is “THE POWER PRINCIPLE” that states prayer is the indispensable source of God’s power and wisdom in each phase of church planting. As often as possible, emphasize the need to prayerfully seek God in all stages of the church planting process and not to move to the next stage until you have a clear vision from God for the new church plant. Your job is to prayerfully discern the vision that Christ has for your church.  We should be strategists and tacticians and applying biblical church growth principles can help us. Good research is essential. Learning good leadership skills is crucial.

The right kind of practical church training and planning is vital but the message of the gospel will have impact only through prayer. Unless the gospel is proclaimed, no one will be saved. But without prayer, hearts will remain closed to the transforming power of the gospel. Prayer is as essential to the harvest as preaching the gospel.  DCPI gives great advice in their training on how to have the proper perspective about strategy and methods with the goal to always be driven by principles and not models.  While it is almost impossible to remove all models from any training these principles are pretty universal.

A Time Driven Approach
 means moving forward in your planning based on pre-set dates, no matter what progress you’ve made in building your team and planning your strategy.  In this approach, the calendar rules and you must keep moving, but sometimes we need to wait on the Lord.  You may be pressured to move ahead, ready or not.  You have a group of people eager to get going and you may feel pressured to start your project before you feel fully prepared.  There definitely are some challenges to taking a purely Time Driven approach.  The reality is that your timing might not be God’s timing

An Objective Driven Approach means moving ahead based on reaching objectives and goals you have planned for.  Paul’s plan was to go into Bithynia and reach the people there but the Lord had a different plan.  Have you communicated the vision to all of your team well?  Have you answered their questions and do they understand what your expectations are in reaching the goals you have agreed upon?  Even though you have a plan that was agreed upon, you need to make sure that everyone has “bought” into the vision and they are ready to execute the plan and carry it out.  There must be team buy-in.

A Spirit Driven approach combines the time and objective driven approaches under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is by far the best approach.  “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25 ESV).  A Spirit Driven approach looks at the calendar plus the objectives and brings everything before the Lord for His timing. Timeline dates are pre-planned, but are always “written in pencil” so they can be erased and changed based on the Spirit’s leading.  You make plans and decisions only after intense prayer and waiting on the Lord. Everything is subject to revision by the Holy Spirit!

  1. Herbert Kane puts it this way, “We might begin by asking: Did Paul have a strategy?Some say yes; others say no.  Much depends on the definition of strategy.  If by strategy is meant a deliberate, well-formulated, duly executed plan of action based on human observation and experience, then Paul had little or no strategy; but if we take the word to mean a flexible modus operandideveloped under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and subject to His direction and control, then Paul did have a strategy.”  It is wisdom for us to learn from the 2,000 years of trial and error as churches have tried to plan and effectively reach people with the gospel.

David Hesselgrave says it this way, “church planters and planners should always be faithful to biblical principles, and they should always be attentive to biblical precedents.  In every phase of both planning and planting they should both give themselves to prayer and exhort coworkers and converts alike to do the same.  Little or nothing will be accomplished without prayer!  Little or nothing will be accomplished without thinking and working. Ask the apostle Paul.  Consult the biblical record!”  Yes, we should plan our strategy as we seek His face and ask for Him to direct, guide and help us is in every area!

Mission – Why we exist?

Vision – Where are we going?

Strategy – How do we get there?

Team – Who will do it?

PRAYER SYSTEM

Systems are important for sustaining initiatives in your church as simple as finance but as complex as assimilation.  My friend Gary Rohrmayer says, “You need systems which are reproducible and interconnected processes; by which your church actualizes and achieves its mission.”  We understand the significance of systems because our bodies require a healthy respiratory, circulatory, skeletal, muscular, and other as well.  Properly functioning systems are critical for a healthy body. 

            I Corinthians 12:12 reminds us of who we are, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all members of that one body: so also is Christ.”  That picture of your church should cause you to realize the priority of systems.  They are essential to complete tasks in a detailed manner so that the rest of the body can function properly.  They rely and depend on one another.  Church systems are crucial because they put the processes in place that will help your church remain healthy and give it the ability to multiply.

The one system that is often overlooked is the prayer system.  Maybe that happens because we know that every system, every team, and every aspect of our ministry needs to be bathed in prayer but it would be wisdom for you to intentionally focus on developing a prayer system in your church.  Jonathan Edwards, the great leader of the First Great Awakening observed: “we need explicit agreement and visible union among God’s people in extraordinary prayer.”

Those three elements (explicit agreement, visible union, & extraordinary prayer) are key and they stress the need of intentionality in building a prayer system.  We plan single prayer events but we must also seek ways (a system) for a sustained movement of prayer.  There are great benefits to providing ways to call your people to times and seasons of prayer.  There are several resources available for 21 days or 40 days of prayer but most important is for you and your leadership to pray.  Ask God for a plan that will facilitate explicit agreement, visible union, and hopefully, extraordinary prayer.

First, consider making a chart of every church ministry that needs to be covered in prayer.  Brainstorm on everything from the nursery to the youth to the Sunday services.  Do not be stingy but strive to list every age group, every ministry, and every event. Also, make sure you include missionaries, offsite community ministries, churches in your area, and those who have not yet been reached with the gospel.   As you begin, focus on groups and then later list people by name such as staff members and ministry team leaders.

Second, identify at least four immediate prayer needs in your church or ministry.  You could then pray over each one specifically over the next four weeks. The first week you should focus on the item God called to your attention as the biggest priority.  Recruit a prayer team to cry out with you on behalf of this need every day and as the week progresses more and more needs will come to your mind and be placed on your heart by the Holy Spirit.  I Peter 5:7 says, “Casting all you care upon Him; for He careth for you.”

Third, begin to build a prayer ladder.  The focus here will be on a system that will teach everyone how to “lift it up” in prayer.

  1. The first rung of the ladder is the prayer need and you must make sure that you clearly define the specifics of the need.
  2. The next step is to determine the prayer leader for this prayer initiative. Which ministry leader is the best fit? Who will be in charge of and responsible for the fervent prayer and intercession occurring for this particular area of ministry?
  3. The third rung of the ladder represents your focus on building a prayer team. Who will the team leader recruit to be a member of their prayer team?  A verbal commitment that they will join the team is not enough but rather they must pray regularly and fervently.
  4. Now it is time to determine your prayer method.  There is no right or wrong here but you must decide what this prayer effort will look like.  Will it include the entire church, small groups, individuals, or will it be a strategy that utilizes all of the above?
  5. The last rung of the prayer ladder is a prayer schedule.  When will you designate a time for focused intercession on behalf of this particular team and ministry?  What day will you meet?  Will you meet daily, weekly, or monthly?  Will there be a time that is set aside as “the time” to pray?  Some have suggested praying every day at 10:02am for God to provide laborers.  This idea came out of a desire to start a prayer virus based on Luke 10:2 by setting your alarm and stopping when it goes off to pray what Jesus told us we should pray for, more workers.

Third, plan your system out by using the prayer ladder and then carry out the plan.  Good intentions will not be enough.  You must be committed to actually praying.  Jesus said in Mark 11:17, “My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves.”  Think through how you will develop and maintain a rhythm of prayer.  Your goal is to organize a sustained prayer focus that will continually offer the aroma of your cries to God whose ear is inclined toward your pleas.

In building a prayer system you are developing a culture of seeking God’s presence and power in every decision, every initiative, every ministry, every leader, and every aspect of your ministry.  You are inviting God to manifest His presence in your midst by admitting how desperately you need Him.  May we be captivated to pray intentionally, faithfully, and without ceasing!

Family Discipleship

Our church, Cornerstone in Jacksonville, TX, follows a monthly S.O.A.P. (Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer) Bible reading schedule that challenges our people to stay in the word and also to journal what God is saying to them.  They select a verse out of the reading asking God to show them what He is saying to them. We strive to write down our observations and applications hoping it will also lead all of us to deeper study and wrestling with the passage.

In this process we want our families then to disciple one another by discussing the passage sometime during the day…hopefully around the dinner table or during a family devotion time before bed.  A simple way is to have everyone share the verse they selected and why they were impressed by the Spirit to focus on that verse. Just last week my wife, Shelby, shared Galatians 5:25 with me and I asked her to write down what God had spoken to her about and here it is:

“Recently, our SOAP passage at church was Galatians 5.  My Bible I carry to church, the one I normally read from, is the New American Standard.  I focused on verse 25, ‘If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.’  I also regularly use a study Bible that is the English Standard Version.  I was reading the commentary and scriptures and was gripped by verse 25, ‘If we live by the Spirit let us also keep in step with the Spirit.’

I am not a dancer.  The thought is actually quite humorous if you know me well! When our kids were young I demonstrated the basics of the twist to them and they laughingly reminisce that I couldn’t twist back up after having shown them!

‘Keeping in step’ does remind me of a dance.  To keep in step with the pattern of the dance one must lead and one must follow.  What happens when the follower isn’t aligned with the leader’s steps? Missteps, trampled feet, stumbles…perhaps a ruined dance.

We who are the children of God have His Spirit dwelling within us, as well as His word, to guide our every step according to His pattern and design. Our responsibility is to listen, follow, and keep in step.  Part of the beauty of His grace is that even when we have gotten out of step He lovingly guides us back into His pattern for this dance He’s given us called life.”

This description helps me to picture a father dancing with his little girl who effortlessly glides across the floor on top of His feet.  This gives such a beautiful thought of our lives being a dance with our heavenly Father where our feet land exactly where His feet lead us because we are 100% in step with Him because of His guidance and direction.  Psalms 37:23 says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.”

This really spoke to me about the importance of family discipleship and also that reading it from a different source can cause the passage to have a freshness to it with a new perspective and deeper meaning. Our desire is to make the word of God come alive by wrestling with it – not just reading it, checking it off our list, and moving on.  The book of Nehemiah refers to how we need “to give the sense.”  Jacob wrestled with the Lord and hopefully we will be willing to wrestle with what He is telling us as well.  If we then walk with a limp it will be well worth it.

One commentator said this, “I knew that the early readers of the New Testament were captured and engaged by these writings and I wanted my congregation to be impacted in the same way.  I hoped to bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people.  First, for those who hadn’t read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant.  Second, for those who had read the Bible so much that it had become ‘old hat.'”

If we desire to continue in our walk with the Lord and “stay in step” with Him then we will need to move forward in grace in the same way that we began this spiritual journey in grace.  Jesus gives us this definition of discipleship in Matthew 4:19, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  Notice it does not say you are self-made but that He will make you.  Your salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit and your sanctification is Him working in you also.  You cannot produce spiritual transformation but He does a work in you so that He can then work through you.

This requires discipleship.  It requires iron sharpening iron and having our minds and hearts renewed by staying in His word and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us. Allow me to suggest three areas of discipleship to focus on in order to build environments where we wrestle with His word and grow in His grace.

  1. You must remain tethered to God.  Make sure you are discipling yourself by being in the word daily and through prayer. Provide guidance in campaigns for your congregation to read, SOAP, journal, and participate in spiritual disciplines together.
  2. You must stay grounded in and connected to your family.  Husbands you must disciple your wives and parents you must disciple your children.  Show your families how they can read the same scripture text and then discuss it together later in the day.  This holds everyone accountable and is fun to see what God is saying to each one of you.
  3. Stay rooted to people who are like-minded and have a similar focus on God and following Him.  Make sure you spend the most time with people who pull you up not with people who drag you down.  Encourage one another by discipling yourself, your family, and then one another!

The Why Comes Before the What

The why means everything in anything you attempt to do but especially in the work of the ministry.  Most people can explain what they do and how they do it but many struggle when they are asked to explain the why.  Simon Sinek says this about the why, “Its goal (Start With Why) is not to give you a course of action.  Its goal is to offer you the cause of action.”  The shepherd boy David said it well when he could not understand the army’s reluctance to go out and face Goliath, “Is there not a cause?” The why is far more important than the how or the what!  You must not underestimate nor devalue the significance of motives!

We make a huge mistake when we raise our children always asking what they plan do when they grow up more than stressing “who” they will become in Christ.  “What” is certainly important but there are a multitude of “whats” that anyone can do for the honor and glory of God.  It is much easier to determine and identify the job and skill sets an individual has to make them successful.  Personal ability and knowing the right “stuff” can be learned by anyone who is interested and willing to be instructed. The harder areas are knowing ourselves and walking with Christ.  Make sure you know who you are in Christ!

We figure out what we want to do and then we also discover how to do what we want to do.  Most people know what they can and cannot do but they can also explain how they do it.  If you are having difficulty with what you want to do with the apps on your phone just hand it to a 12 year old and they will be happy to show you how.  All too often we as a church get so wrapped up in what we do and how we should do it that we forget why we are doing what we are doing.  Hopefully, we do what we do for Christ and how we do it so that He receives all the honor and glory.  Never forget that motives matter!

Church, why do you exist?  Are your values aspirational or are you acting out the values you say you have?  This helps to ensure that we are not just focused on results but being faithful to the One who has called us.  Remember, who you are is far more important to Him than what you do!  It is not, first and foremost, about a job description but rather about a personal daily relationship with Him.  When you really understand why you do what you do that is what gets you up in the morning, gets you through the difficult seasons, and keeps you energized.  We continually are asking, “Lord, am I being who you want me to be?”

Sociologists are telling the church that we have lost at least two generations and points out some common characteristics these generations have.  At best, we know we now live in a postmodern and some say a post-Christian culture.  Tolerance is valued at all costs and there is no absolute truth anymore.  Be who you want to be and decide who you are instead of bowing in submission to the creator who designed you and made you who you are.  Is there not a cause with these lost generations?  Are we not here to tell them why they are here and why Jesus died for them?

We are told by O.S. Hawkins that these lost generations are:

  1. Searching for meaningful relationships!
  2. Seeking immediate gratification!
  3. Wanting something for nothing!
  4. Desiring guilt-free living!
  5. Searching for prosperity!

Only the church holds the answers in the word of God and can meet all five needs of these lost generations.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  Why do we do this?  To share the truth of God and allow that truth to set people free.  It is the only truth that can provide true freedom and we have been entrusted with that truth.

  • Why do you study to show yourself approved and faithfully preach the word of God week after week?  Hopefully, it is because you know the power of the gospel and believe with every fiber of your being that it is the only answer for all of man’s problems. You believe that it has the power to break the chains of bondage with which the devil has enslaved so many. Why do you read it every day and meditate on it?  Because you believe it will not change you in a day but when you are in it daily it will change you!
  • Why do you pray and cry out to God? Hopefully, it is because you believe that prayers do make a difference.  You believe that even if it does not change your situation it does change you and causes you to become who He wants you to be.  You know that God inclines His ear toward those who call out to Him.  D.L. Moody said it well, “He who kneels the most, stands the best.”  John Bunyan challenged us to realize, “He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.”  The why is answered in that we seek to lean into His presence longing to know Him closer and better.
  • Why do you share your faith?  Hopefully, it is because you believe in the power of the gospel to save all who believe.  You believe in the why so strongly that you know that someone trusting in Christ as their Lord and Savior does not rely on how great of a salesman you are.  You share His word, you cry out for the Holy Spirit to do His work of regeneration, and you trust in the power of the gospel. Why do we faithfully share the gospel through our lives and with our lips?  Because we understand that is why He saved us!

The why is all about God’s glory and that is what gives us the passion, purpose, and perseverance to continue to be who He called us to be. Then we can prayerfully determine what He wants us to do and how He wants us to do it!

Thick Skinned and Soft Hearted

The difficulty of leadership was summed up in a question I heard asked recently, “How do you keep your heart tender and your skin thick?”  It seems that those around you can say whatever comes to their minds but you must always be careful with what you say and how you say it.  Someone conveyed to me that they are at the age right now that they can say whatever they want because they have earned that right.  I’m still looking for the verse in the Bible that backs up that one. What I do read in Colossians 4:6 is, “Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.”

We all heard in our youth, “Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you.”  Let me say this clearly…that is a lie!  How do you make sure that you do not allow your heart to harden, your attitude to become negative, and your outlook to become cynical?  The first step in this journey is to realize that the most difficult person you will ever have to lead is yourself.  Tony Dungy said this, “What’s wrong with me is that I am a very flawed sinner, and very fertile ground for the subtle wiles, evil plans, and devious ploys of Satan.”

Here are a few things that may help you to keep your heart tender while having thick skin.

First, maintain a close walk with the Lord.  We think we know this, but we cannot forget that it is far more important who we are than what we do.  If we are not protecting and producing a close relationship with the Lord our viewpoints quickly become skewed.  We begin thinking that “they” are out to get us, or “they” have an agenda against us, or that “they” are always talking about us.  “They” can be a figment of our overactive imagination if we are not careful.

Second, you need to consider the source.  There will always be the naysayers and those who are convinced that their opinion is the correct opinion.  Sadly, there are those who seem to love to be negative and so often they are the ones who appear to be more than willing to share that negativity. Take a look at the biblical examples of strong godly leadership and you see people standing against them who were very unspiritual trying to convince the majority not to follow.  Do I need to mention Noah, Moses, Nehemiah, and Jesus? The devil has the ear and the mouth of many.

Third, go to the source when needed.  You should not overreact to every negative comment and make sure you are not being overly sensitive but biblical confrontation is a good thing.  Find out if there is a problem and be willing to listen to them and discuss the problem if one exists.  The key to this step is dealing with this challenge on the lowest possible level and that is always one on one.  Maybe they misspoke or maybe they did not understand the situation correctly and just needed some clarification.  Build into your culture the value of talking to people and not about people.

Fourth, don’t bow and serve the vocal minority.  Usually, you will know if it is just one person or if there are more but do not listen to the overexaggerations made when they speak. They might say “many have been talking to me about this” and that probably should be interpreted as one or two. The other exaggeration is quite often verbalized as  “several have mentioned this to me” and that might mean their spouse.  The reality is that you cannot allow one or two people to hold everyone else hostage to their negativity.  Lovingly but firmly confront them as the Holy Spirit of God leads you.

Fifth, remember that the Lord reminded us that this would happen.  Matthew 5:11 says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”  Unfortunately, people will lie, exaggerate, and say falsehoods against us.  One truth that is very important is to always be open to any kernel of truth there might be. Do not just dismiss but also humbly submit to any correction you might need to be aware of.

Sixth, continue to grow holistically.  If you stop growing closer to Christ the results could be devastating.  In Kingdom First, Jeff Christophersongives us “three key factors that should inspire us to deeply desire to personally take on the character of Christ.”  The first of these three teaches us that our lowest point of character is our highest point of capacity. Jeff goes on to say, “my leadership, especially spiritual leadership, cannot grow beyond my weakest point of character.”  If you are weak in a particular area the devil will expose it and exploit it.  

Seventh, don’t be oversensitive.  This has already been said but it is crucial.  If you are tired, stressed or on the verge on burnout you will begin to notice that you are overly sensitive.  There will be times you will be wondering why it is bothering you when it should not be bothering you.  Stop and take a deep breath and ask yourself two questions.  What is this bothering me and should it be bothering me?  Be honest and open about the fact that sometimes we just too thin skinned and we should not allow these smaller issues to overwhelm us.

If you are going to lead others it is imperative that you lead yourself well.  The apostle Paul challenges the Ephesian leaders in Acts 20:28, “ Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers.”  Don’t miss that the focus is first on “Pay careful attention to yourselves.”  It is a great challenge to keep a soft tender heart while also having a thick skin!

Just Push the Easy Button

There are many programs and promotions today that seem to promise how to double your attendance in a certain amount of time.  They appear to promise amazing results if you will just follow their steps, strategies, and implement their systems.  It seems as if you really do not need God involved at all. As we have become more and more organizational and industrial we are no longer as spiritual and evangelistic.  We must be careful not to write God out of the equation and it should concern us greatly if we can double anything without His involvement in His church.

We do need systems in our churches but we also must remain focused on our absolute dependence on God showing up.  It is not the pastor’s job to gather a crowd, amaze them, and then collect their tithes.  It is his job to help every follower of Christ to discover the power and potential of the Holy Spirit living inside of him or her.  There is no sustainable or truly satisfactory answer apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Colossians 1:27 says, “God wanted to make known among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of the mystery, which is Christ in you the hope of glory.”

Here are a couple of things to consider as you think of ways to reach more people and disciple them while remaining gospel-driven.

First, do not throw the baby out with the bath water. Sometimes we become so heavenly minded that if we are not careful we are of no earthly good.  Pragmatism is not evil and sinful in and of itself.  We all evaluate certain things we do through what works and what doesn’t work.

Second, make sure that you remain focused on allowing the Holy Spirit of God to guide you and direct you.  Different people and ministries tend to lean toward being either time-driven or being goal-driven.   In our DCPI training we teach, “The time-driven are challenged by deadlines and pre-determined set dates.  In this approach, the calendar rules.  The goal-driven tend to move forward based on reaching their goals and objectives but a Spirit driven approach combines the time and objective driven approaches under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

“This is the best approach.  Galatians 5:25 says it well, ‘If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.’  A Spirit Driven approach looks at the calendar plus the objectives and brings everything before the Lord for His timing. Timeline dates are pre-planned, but are always ‘written in pencil’ so they can be erased and changed based on the Spirit’s leading.  You make plans and decisions only after intense prayer and waiting on the Lord. Everything is subject to revision by the Holy Spirit!”

Third, develop a culture of prayer with an intentional prayer strategy. When you begin to develop a prayer system and ministry think about what these individuals have said about prayer.

Recently on a Sunday morning, a good friend texted the following quotes on prayer to me. They have challenged me and blessed me greatly.

“I would rather teach one man to pray than ten men to preach.”  -Charles Spurgeon

“The man who mobilizes the Christian church to pray will make the greatest contribution to world evangelization in history.”  – Andrew Murray

Here are a few more quotes for your consideration.

“We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties.”  – Oswald Chambers

“There is no other activity in life so important as that of prayer. Every other activity depends upon prayer for its best efficiency.”  – M.E. Andross.

“He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.” – John Bunyan

“Prayer is not learned in a classroom but in the closet.” – E. M. Bounds

“We must begin to believe that God, in the mystery of prayer, has entrusted us with a force that can move the Heavenly world, and can bring it’s power down to earth.” – Andrew Murray

The truth and testimony of the power of prayer in these followers of Christ continues.

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.” – Mother Teresa

“Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.” -C.S. Lewis

“The more you pray, the less you’ll panic. The more you worship, the less you worry. You’ll feel more patient and less pressured.” – Rick Warren

The last three, for now, are a great summation of the importance of prayer.

“I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” – Martin Luther

“Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.” -Oswald Chambers

“He who kneels the most, stands the best.”  -D.L. Moody

Are reading these quotes do you believe your natural inclination is more toward a time-driven approach or a goal-driven approach? Do you thinkthat those working with you will be inclined toward the same approach that you are?

What steps will you take to ensure that your ultimate timing is a Spirit-driven approach?

  • Are you willing to do what is necessary to take the time to hear the Lord and allow Him to direct you in every area of your life and your ministry?
  • Plan a personal prayer retreat to hear from Him.  This is a time you set aside to go away to be alone with God.  It is in this setting that you can then ask Him what He wants you to do in your personal life, your family, and your ministry.

Fight the temptation to just push and play and instead fall prostate and pray!