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Greater Things

Jesus clearly promised His disciples that they would do even “greater things” than He did.  Here in North America we desperately need “greater things” to happen in our hearts, lives, and our churches.  We need a movement of God that would fit His description in John 14:12-14 of “greater things.”  We need revival in our established churches and a recommitment to a church planting movement.  A newly released Barna Report has reinforced some of the concerns about our culture here in America moving farther and farther away from God.

Mike Huckabee recently gave this summary of that report:  “The Barna Group just released a new study of Generation Z (current teenagers) that found they are the least-Christian generation in US history. Nearly twice as many claim to be atheists as Millennials (13% to 7%), and 35% of current teens say they are either atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated with any religion. Just 59% say they are Catholic or Christian (a six-point drop from the Millennial generation), and only 4% hold what is considered a true Biblical worldview. The survey places the cause of this change on today’s teenagers having been brought up in a post-Christian, post-modern environment where they’ve never been exposed to Christianity or church.” The phrase that stands out as the most shocking and troubling is, “never been exposed to Christianity or church.”  That is the polar opposite of what Jesus meant by “Greater Things.”  How can that happen right here in the United States? How can this extremely disturbing number of increasing atheists occur right here in our own backyard?

Mike Breen laments that in the United States, “96% of church growth is due to transfer growth and not churches striking into the heart of our enemy’s territory. We’ll consider it a win because we have the new service or program that is growing…but that growth is mainly from people coming from other churches. That’s not a win! That’s a staggering loss.”   The greater things Jesus promised became a reality as the early church experienced a miracle of “spontaneous expansion.”

Dr. J.D. Payne recently shared with several of us in the missions department that as of October 2017 there are 282 Unreached People Groups here in the USA with 167 in Canada.  Even more alarming is that there are 207 Unengaged Unreached People Groups here.  According to him this means there is no (none) evangelical planting strategy being executed at this time.  Before we pass this off as a metropolitan problem in New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles we need to ask ourselves; “What am I doing to reach the unchurched, unengaged, and those far from God in my city and community?”

Is this promise of “greater things” still available to us as individual believers and to our churches today?  Absolutely, because Jesus is still Lord (and always will be) and He is still sitting on the throne.  But there are some elements that will be required for us to see a movement of “greater things” in our cities and communities.  There are at least two necessary ingredients for us to witness an extraordinary movement of God again today.  First, there must be an extraordinary practice of prayer (Matthew 9:37-38).   Second, there must be an extraordinary commitment to evangelism (Acts 1:8).

We never would have believed that it would be so easy to reach so many nations without ever getting on an airplane but it is happening.  The world is coming to us and we, God’s children, are to be His light.  We must be ready to reach all nationalities and people groups with the gospel.  Isaiah 49:6makes it clear, “I will also make you a light for the nations, to be My salvation to the ends of the earth.”  Thankfully, the churches, church revitalization, and church planting efforts are impacting the multitude of immigrants who are flocking to the United States.

It is truly a blessing to see churches and church planters ministering to many different language groups and people groups. Many are making a gospel difference in the lives of these uniquely diverse ethnic people groups.  All to often we see contextualizing the gospel as reaching our neighborhood, but it is much deeper than that.  The better questions are; how do we become the church in our neighborhood? And how do we evangelize so that we are not just reaching part of our neighborhood but everyone that lives in our neighborhood?

Joe Gustafson tweeted this about an article by Dr. Ed Stetzer, ““Essentially, gospel living in the real world became the attractional means by which God drew people to Himself. The contemporary Church would do well to go back to the future and embrace this same approach to evangelism.”  Stetzer’s article points out the need to make some shifts in our evangelistic efforts which are really a return to our biblical roots in the book of Acts.  He says “churches that shift from a temple mindset to a network will be more effective at evangelism” and also that churches “must shift from an attractionalmindset to an incarnationalmindset.”

Let me remind you of a quote from last week’s article where we are challenged to embrace both approaches.  In the book Kingdom First, we are introduced to a church ministry that asks two questions.

  1. “What percentage of your non-Christian friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors would go to a Bible study or church regularly if you asked?”
  2. “What’s your strategy for everyone else?”

Mission Shift

 

Every church reaches a point where their future is determined by choices they make and the vision they have for the future.  In Kingdom First, Jeff Christopherson says, “Sadly, when a church makes the unnatural choice of ecclesiastical birth control in order to preserve its accustomed lifestyle, the natural and exponential advance of the Kingdom of God ceases.”  When you look at the New Testament church in the book of Acts it was multiplying and increasing in number daily.  The reality is that all too often a church stops doing the very thing they were called to do…reaching the lost.

On what was the New Testament church focused? They were congregations who were seeking to provide every opportunity for every person to come face to face with the good news of Jesus Christ.  The mission/vision shift occurs when we are no longer focused on new believers, new disciples, new disciple-makers, and new relationships.  With quiet subtlety our full attention shifts to bank balances, critical mass, and buildings.  Our entire methodology revolves around them finding us instead of us building roads into the harvest.

We begin hearing the concerns of the sheep that are already in the pen as they verbalize, “We need to take care of ourselves before we go out and try to save everybody else.”  The tension is real as you strive to simultaneously care for the sheep biblically while also remaining passionate about your Kingdom assignment. The original driving force of the mission of God begins to diminish as the focus of the mission shifts.  Jeff Christopherson says it shifts, “to preserving our accustomed lifestyles.”  A deadly shift occurs when we begin focusing solely on maintenance.

InKingdom First, we are introduced to a church ministry that asks these two questions.

  • “What percentage of your non-Christian friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors would go to a Bible study or church regularly if you asked?”
  • “What’s your strategy for everyone else?”

Consider this challenging proclamation from Lesslie Newbigin, “ The truth is that we do not truly understand the Gospel if we spend all our time preaching it to Christians.”  There are a few things to consider in making sure that a mission shift does not occur that causes us to drift away from the reason we exist.

  1. We must cultivate a heart for God.  When we love Him as we should it causes us to love who and what He loves.  Compassion produces passion.
  2. We must train our people to share their faith.  Make sure your congregation knows how to present the Gospel properly and clearly.  Consider some type of evangelism training that gives them confidence to share the plan of salvation.
  3. Develop a strategy of building bridges to people who are far from God. Make them aware of the circles of influence they already have in their lives.  They need to think of family, friends, co-workers, school, hobbies, and others.
  4. You must have an understanding of the difficulty of convincing someone who is emotionally and financially stable but generationally unchurched of the need to attend a worship service or Bible study. You must realize that they are not interested in adding an event to their already busy lives especially when it’s not familiar territory.
  5. Love people the way Jesus loves people.  What is the best way to get their attention?  Even if you established and executed the best marketing campaign possible you are still very unlikely to arouse their curiosity.
  6. Realize that there is nothing wrong with being attractional but it is not enough. It is a great thing to do but it is an incomplete strategy.  Our outreach and evangelism plan must not only be “come and see” but it must also be “go and love.”
  7. Be aware that organization, programs, and systems are good things when kept in the proper perspective.  They are necessary or everything your church has done to build relational equity can evaporate quickly right before our eyes.  The challenge is to simultaneously care for the flock while remaining passionate about pursuing those who are far from God.

The mission shift is when we drift from our Kingdom assignment, the Great Commission, and settle into becoming a nice comfortable church.  Quoting Jeff again in speaking about church planting, he says, “All church plants, if they survive, become churches.  But not all churches become Kingdom expanders.”  This is not only true of church plants but can also plague existing churches.  Remember, our ultimate goal is not a worship service (an event) but rather, planting the Gospel (a movement)!  The event is a good thing but it is not the ultimate goal.

The old adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” describes what so often occurs in our churches.  Consumers demand to be taken care of and we turn inward in a frantic frenzy to maintain what we have.  We hear things like, “we need to be thankful for what God has already given us.” Please notice the focus of that statement is past tense.  We are no longer moving forward, desiring to build new bridges, and develop new relationships with people who are far from God.  In Luke 15:10 Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which is lost.”

Our example of a the New Testament church focused on its Kingdom assignment is clearly stated in:

Acts 9:31, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”

One last thought on making sure we do not allow the mission to shift to the wrong focus is a quote from Peter Drucker.  “Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”

Hey Church – Are We There Yet?

Is your church any healthier today than it was at this time last year?  Have you taken effective steps toward the preferred future you envisioned? Recently I heard that the reality is that after –

  • Speeding up the music!
  • Spicing up the sermons!
  • Sprucing up our buildings!

…our church health and overall spirituality is no better off. You have to know that it is not easy to take the steps that need to be taken for your church to be what God desires it to be.  There will be challenges that will tax you and there will be challengers that will push you to your wits end at times.

  1. You should expect there to be some resistance. Not everyone will like your ideas or suggestions and to be completely transparent some will hate them.  In this process of accepting the reality of resistance you should determine the level of resistance.  Are they hostile, resistant, passive, cultivatable, receptive, or ready?  These have also been described as never-adopters, late-adopters, and early-adopters. Realize that some need time to process and there needs to be a balance between going too slow and not slowing down enough.
  2. With whom do you need to have a conversation? The temptation is to avoid and stay away from those who seem to always oppose innovation and change.  The reality is that you should pull them in close, listen to them, and see if you can discover why they are against your proposal.  Yes, there are some (the never-adopters) who will just be against it.  They can even be hostile toward change but that is actually the exception and not the rule.  Do not allow one person to hold you hostage and see if there is a way you can move forward with your team.
  3. Make sure that you are clearly articulating the vision and changes you believe need to be made.  Ask several to share with you what they are hearing and see if they are close at all.  The communication curve is sometimes very steep and is always a challenge.  Be willing to consider ways you can make the vision and message clearer.  Ed Stetzer says, “People are willing to sacrifice in the present for something better in the future.”  Make sure you cast a vision for the end result and goal and not the changes that need to be made.
  4. Develop a prayer strategy.  Listen to what Samuel said to the people in I Samuel 12:23, “As for me, I vow that I will not sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you.”  It is hard to remain mad at someone you are praying for regularly.  Take time in your meetings to pray out loud for one another. Get in groups of three, ask what you can pray about for them, and then take turns praying for one another.  The work of the Lord requires much prayer.  We say we know that but we must make sure that we are intentional and strategic in implementing this prayer strategy.
  5. Determine what needs your attention first. Do not be overwhelmed by all that you have to do but instead focus on what you can accomplish and where you can make a difference.  As you look at a particular ministry, program, or area of your ministry start by asking what is working.   Then you must ask, what is missing and what is confusing?
  6. Consider thinking through the necessary steps for the change you desire to occur.  Learn from others.  An excellent resource is John Kotter’s Leading Change.  One aspect of his process is to create a guiding coalition.  Make sure you have prayer partners who are willing to speak into this process honestly and with transparency.  The team concept is biblical and it provides you strength in numbers because it gives you a system of checks and balances.  Make sure that you always remain a good listener and that you have a teachable spirit.
  7. Brace yourself for opposition because it is coming at some point or time.  Everyone will not like your ideas and they may hate some of them, a lot.  Get ready because the attacks that seem very personable sometimes are not.  They point the blame at you and the attacks are often founded upon the thought that they didn’t have the problem until you brought it up.  I recently heard it said that if no one is upset you probably are not doing enough and need to get busy.  Certainly, our goal is not to upset or anger people but when you lead it will happen.
  8. Make sure that you practice patience. The change you propose and lead your church in will not happen overnight.  We already made reference to this but you must acknowledge that some people are just going to oppose you.  Prayerfully consider what the real issue is and what questions you may need to answer for them.  We usually cannot accomplish all we want to in one year but normally we can accomplish far more than we imagine in five.  Develop a five-year plan and then begin taking the necessary steps to make it a reality.

Leadership can be lonely but remember that He has promised to never leave you nor forsake you.  Knowing that He will never abandon us as we obediently follow Him allows us to never give up, never give in, and never give out as we depend upon Him daily.

More of the Right Things

What do we measure that really matters?  Having previously discussed changing the scorecard in churches has created a desire to put together an evaluation system that gives us biblically healthy metrics to gauge ministry.  The church health and church growth tension will continue (I personally think it can be a good tension) but there are some biblical standards that must adopted and followed.  For example, we can ask if people love the church or do they love lost people but it really begins with do we love Jesus!  That was the bottom-line question He asked Peter.

There are many things very important to us that can cause us to place too much focus on the wrong things.  Several of those are the size of the congregation, the buildings, the programs, and a host of other significant things but are not the most important.  We know the church is not a building nor is it just a numerical statistic.  It is to be the local body that represents Christ and displays His glory.  The pendulum of what’s of the greatest value can swing too far either way when it comes to methods and measurements.

  1. Is your church cultivating a heart for God? Does your church really care about the lost and dying world around it?  Here is the reality we must face.  We say it is important, but is there any proof in our actions that shows up not only in our beliefs but also in our behavior?  In what ways does your church’s heart break over what breaks the heart of God?  We say we are burdened for people who are far from God but what is your church doing to reach them?  Are people who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ benefiting from knowing your members?
  2. Is your church developing a disciple making culture?  Are more and more disciples growing and being transformed daily?  We talk discipleship but very little actual discipleship is taking place unless we intentionally develop a pathway for disciples to grow. That begins by equipping and training disciples not only to follow Christ but to also disciple others.  As you look at discipleship it would be good to ask what is working, what is missing, and what is confusing?  There must be a clear “next steps” pathway that can be clearly articulated by all of your disciples.
  3. Develop a prayer strategy.  This is not necessarily to be third on your list but must permeate every area of your church culture.  It is not enough to just say we need more prayer (we certainly do) but to also train and show people what being a prayer warrior looks like. How can you help to deepen the prayer lives of your leaders?  Let them know that our purpose in observing spiritual disciplines is not to demonstrate our spiritual strength and superiority but rather to demonstrate our weakness and our need for Christ.
  4. Commit to multiplication in every area of your ministry.  We state our mission statement as a discipleship based multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches.  That means that everything needs to multiply and if it is healthy it does.  All too often we place all the emphasis on more people and getting bigger but that does not ensure spiritual success.  Are we multiplying prayer warriors, Bible readers, worshipers, disciple making disciples, small groups, serving team members, and people who are consistently sharing their faith?
  5. Build a spiritual awareness and discernment of the spiritual battle you are in.  You will face obstacles and you will face opposition.  Here are some excellent questions from my good friend, Dave DeVries, in this area.  What spiritual blockages are you currently facing?  What strategies will you have in place to counter spiritual blockages?  You must expect them to happen and be ready to address them when they do.  You must remain spiritually sensitive to the attacks of the enemy and this is why training and resourcing a team of prayer warriors is so vitally important.
  6. Find a way to measure and track how many more people are actually doing more of the right things such as praying more, reading their Bibles more, discipling other disciples more, and sharing their faith more. The best way to do that is through intentional accountability.  The missing ingredient in so much of our discipleship is the obedience mechanism.  Develop groups of 3-4 who meet not only to disciple but to also hold one another accountable by asking good questions such as, with whom did you share your faith this last week?  How did that go?
  7. Teach your people to focus on two very important ingredients of spiritual growth.  The first is listening to the word of God.  That means listening with an interest because we have a heart’s desire to hear what God is saying.  The second is that we must then obey what He says.  We really aren’t interested if we are not ready to obey what He says. Teach your people when they approach the word of God to ask what is God saying and what does He want me to do about it? Jesus made it clear, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Take each one of these seven areas and evaluate where you are and how you are doing in each one of them.  What is working, what is missing, and what is confusing? How can you help your people to do more of what is really important?  What strategies will you develop to make sure it happens in the hearts and lives of your people?  The true metrics are not size but the transformation of people’s lives and seeing evidence that they are being transformed and becoming more and more like Jesus!

MEASURE WHAT MATTERS!!!

Three P’s of Evangelism

Evangelism seems to be taking a back seat to almost every other kind of activity in churches today.  Several authors have expressed concern about how even church plants can grow and do well but not reach the people that need to be reached the most, the lost.  One recent survey was shocked at how many in full time ministry say they do not have the “gift” of evangelism.  In John 4:35 Jesus said, “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.”

In The Evangelism Handbook Alvin Reid says, “The church growth movement influenced many in the latter half of the twentieth century.  It offered a three-tiered look at the process of evangelism. The three components are these:

  • P-1, Presence. For example, agricultural, medical missions.
  • P-2, Proclamation. Presenting the gospel in an understandable manner.
  • P-3, Persuasion. II Corinthians 5:11 encourages hearers to respond.

An analogy for this definition is a house.

In presence evangelism, people’s needs are met; they see a demonstration of the gospel, and, therefore, a foundation is built on which the gospel can be communicated.  Because the church growth movement began on the mission field, its importance is obvious.  Cross-cultural issues must be considered in a viable presentation of the gospel.  Increasingly, in a post-Christian or even an anti-Christian culture in America, presence evangelism has a place.  Servant evangelism (covered later) fits in nicely in our context.

Proclamation evangelism,to continue the house analogy, allows the light of the gospel to penetrate through the windows.  People not only need a foundation, but they also need direction. The gospel can never be presented by a demonstration only; there must also be a proclamation.

Persuasion evangelism leads people into the relationship they need with Christ. One can live in a house and not be family; by persuading people to follow Christ, we are inviting them to join God’s family.

There are strengths and weaknesses to this definition.  The weakness comes when believers define evangelism at the P-1 level only.  We must build bridges, but we must also do more.  Still others stop at the P-2 level.  This definition is complete when we see it as a whole.  That being said, it is positive in that when we are stopped short of a complete presentation of the gospel, we know we have at least provided some aspect of the gospel that the Holy Spirit can use.  In other words, we should always seek to present Christ through presence, proclamation, and persuasion; but when we cannot, we can be thankful that on some level we have presented Christ.”

Reid defines evangelism as, “Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ by word and life in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that unbelievers become followers of Jesus Christ in His church and in the culture.”  One problem is that many see the term “evangelize” as the work of the evangelist and the preacher proclaiming the good news in a formal setting. While that is true, it is also simply sharing the good news one on one.  It is every child of God telling others the good news of what Jesus Christ has done for them.  Every believer on this side of heaven owes every non-believer on this side of hell the gospel!

The gospel is the good news.  It is not bad news and we need to share it with those God has placed in our circle of influence.

Here are three things to do:

  1. Pray for those you know who are not followers of Christ.  Do not underestimate the power of prayer.  You can share the good news but only God can transform a life.
  2. Ask God to show what you could do to build a bridge to them through an authentic relationship.  People are farther away from the cross today which requires patience and starting with the very basics.
  3. Be willing to do whatever God shows you so that you might be able to share the good news with them.  Once you have gained their trust they will then allow you to speak into their lives because they can see who you are, not just what you are saying!

Remember to be ready to listen to their story, share with them your story, but always be ready to share His story.  We must pray for boldness and be ready and proactive in sharing the gospel with others.  If we will begin our day by asking Him for an opportunity to share His love with someone He will provide that open door.  Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost and now we are His messengers!

Evaluating Your Systems

In his training book, Next Steps for Leading a Missional Church, Gary Rohrmayer says, “You need systems which are reproducible and interconnected processes; by which your church actualizes and achieves its mission.”  Your values drive your practices and your practices determine your results.  You need to ask if your systems are producing what you want them to produce.  Honest evaluation is needed.  Is your leadership development system producing the leaders you expected?  Is your evangelism system producing converts?

Our body has systems such as circulatory, nervous, and respiratory.  If one system fails we can find ourselves in quite a predicament.  When our systems function well we call ourselves healthy! Each system has an essential task to complete in a specific manner so that the rest of the body can continue to function properly.  The systems rely and depend on one another.  That is why church systems are so important because they put the essential processes in place that will help your church remain healthy and give it the ability to multiply.

  • You need to ask if the system you have built is reproducible.  Can it be easily understood and implemented?  Is it confusing to figure out and follow?  How does the system contribute to the reproductive nature of the church?
  • You should ask if the systems are interconnected.  How does the system connect with the rest of the systems needed?  Does it compliment and help the other systems?  Are the systems mutually benefiting the other systems through healthy cooperation?  The healthier the system the healthier the church will be.

            Do you have systems in place that provide a clear pathway for involvement and personal growth?  When you are developing systems you need to think through these steps.

  1. You need to consider mission outcomes.  What results are you looking to achieve?
  2. Consider how it assists in ministry flow?  What are the steps needed to achieve those results?
  3. Does it fit in your organizational structure?  Who will ensure that those results are being achieved?  Who is responsible to make this happen and have they been adequately trained?
  4. Think through a clear communication flow.  How will you cast vision in a way that keeps people informed and involved as you achieve your goal?
  5. Then you need to be able to start charting your course.  How will you keep your structures effective?  There must be constant evaluation and check-up! Remember, your systems are meant to actualize and achieve your church’s mission.  Are they?  This is the importance of taking the time to work on your ministry not just in your ministry.  Plan your Work and then Work your Plan!

Build margin into your ministry for reflection and application.  Evaluating your church systems requires asking great question about all of your systems whether that is assimilation, outreach
, finance, worship planning, or discipleship.

  • Do you have a functioning system for those areas and ministries?
  • What parts of each system are working well?
  • What new parts of each system would you like to implement?
  • Who will you ask to help you with each system?
  • As you evaluate you are always asking; what needs to be done and who needs to do it?

Make sure you also decide:

  • What pieces of each system will you upgrade in the next 3-4 months?
  • What do you hope to accomplish within the next 6 months?
  • Then think through realistically what it will take 12-18 months to implement.

 

This process will move forward when you have a leadership team in place that understands what needs to be done, who is going to get it done and when it needs to be done by.  Two of the greatest dangers of any ministry is first an unwillingness to evaluate and secondly, an unwillingness to utilize and implement what you discovered in the process.

When evaluating systems here are three things to think through to help in this process of actualizing and achieving your church’s mission.

  1. It will require an assessment.  If you are taking a look at your outreach system you must be able to describe its current condition.  What are your strengths and weaknesses in your present outreach system?  Assessment requires figuring out what needs to change, why, and how.  Second, it will require envisioning an implementation plan.  Transformation begins with defining your present reality.
  2. You must envision your preferred future so you can then develop steps to get there.  That is what a system does by providing a clear process.  You begin to think through 3-5 changes you can make in the next 90 days that will make a difference in your outreach system.  You must also decide how committed you are to making those changes.  On a scale of 1-10 how important is the change to you and are you willing to pay the price to make sure there is a change?  DCPI says if you are inclined to rate it less than a seven then it probably will not change.
  3. Then for change to occur begin setting goals. These are specific goals you believe are strategic and necessary for moving your church forward and becoming more effective.  These goals must be specific, attainable, and time sensitive.  What is the deadline for these goals to be implemented and who is responsible and accountable for them to actually happen?  Here is something to never forget about vision and seeing it become a reality:  Avision written down on paper does not ensure that it is accomplished – people do!

Effective churches utilize systems to carry out the vision that God has given them.  You need a team approach that helps encourage quality through careful and prayerful evaluation.  Do your practices confirm what you say your values are?  Values drive our practices and our practices determine out results!

Men’s Discipleship

Much is being said today about a vacuum that has been created by the missing father in the home and rightfully so.  We see a leadership shortage not only in the home but also in the church. There is a great need to raise up godly men of courage who will step forward and be who God has called them to be. It should sadden us to know that all too often if we ask men in our churches to tell us what it means to be a man of God they struggle to give a clear and concise answer.  Churches need discipleship but maybe they need men’s discipleship the most.

Robert Lewis, one of the founders of Men’s Fraternity, says that if God were giving out the 10 Commandments again there would be eleven.  The eleventh would be, “Thou shalt raise up godly men!”  He reports that a study revealed several years ago that if you reach a child you have a 25% chance of reaching the entire family.  If you reach the mom you have a 29% chance of reaching the family but if you reach the dad you have a 95% chance of reaching the entire family. Churches need to make sure their men are going beyond the normal surface relationships.

Solving the problem of the absentee father begins by training up men to be the spiritual leaders of their families.  For that to become a reality they must have the spiritual walk that is necessary to be who God wants them to be.  A life of godly integrity challenges us to have a one-to-one correlation between our Bible, our beliefs, and our behavior.  The key is making Jesus Christ the priority of your life through devotion and study of Him.  Pat Morley describes a life of devotion as loving Him more and more while a life of study is getting to know Him more and more.

InSeven Seasons of the Man in the Mirror Morley says, “There is a God we want, and there is a God who is.  They are not the same God.  The turning point of our lives is when we stop seeking the God we want and start seeking the God who is.”  Are we willing to spend the time necessary in devoting our lives to Him and discovering who He actually is?  That commitment to a closer relationship with Him is required but well worth the effort and the journey.  The question must be asked, “What do men need?”  Robert Lewis offers six things men need for them to be able to be God desires for them to be.

  1. Men need a “safe place” where they can discover someone understands them, and they are not alone.  The temptation is to go it alone and accept a Lone Ranger approach but that is not the focus of community in the word of God.
  2. Men need is clear and compelling vision of biblical manhood they can take hold of.  Men need a discipleship process that challenges them beyond their comfort zones.  Safety in the brotherhood is crucial but it must also address the need to risk and step out in faith.  We must be willing to practice a tough love.
  3. Men need time with other men to effectively process their manhood.  All too often discipleship has an event focus but we need much more than just a pep rally. Who will make sure you follow through on your commitments at the event you attended?  Who will hold you accountable?  Event driven discipleship takes men to the mountaintop and exhorts them but does not provide the most needed component for actual growth, which is time with other men that make sure we do obey.  We need other godly men speaking into our lives.
  4. Men need the practical how-tos of tasting success in our progress as we grow.  There must be an implementation plan for men to grow and learn from the successes and failures of other men.  Nothing encourages us like success.  When we step on the scale and have lost weight that encourages us to keep working on it.
  5. Men need other men cheering them.  Do not underestimate the importance of finding 2 or 3 other men who will affirm their accomplishments and cheer their godly efforts.  There are not many cheerleaders out there for godliness and noble things.
  6. Men need sacred moments in a solid discipleship process.  They need to know when they become the man God wants He wants them to be.  Those moments can be some kind of ceremony at big moments in their lives at a certain age, graduation from high school or college, marriage, or some other worthy accomplishment.  Your band of brothers can develop very simple ceremonies of “manhood” that can take on a very epic proportion.  What accomplishments are deserving of a ceremony and what might that ceremony look like?
  7. Men need godly mentors.  (I know this is #7 but had to add it)  Look for other men who have a heart to put Christ first in their lives, desire to make that journey with other men who have that same passion, and want to hold one another accountable to that journey.  Pat Morley asks this question, “Have you really wanted to know God, or have you just wanted Him to know you?”  The difference can determine whether we see ourselves in charge of our lives or that God is in charge.  Unfortunately, all too often, Christians seem to have a respect of the scriptures but no knowledge of their contents.

Men’s discipleship should seek to study the word to discover the God who is not just the God we desire.  The focus must be to make Him King of our lives as we seek to advance His kingdom.  The kingdom of God can be defined as what the world looks like when King Jesus gets His way! It is surrendering to His rule and reign in our lives!

Mythbusters

There are many church “myths” today that are spoken as if they are factual.  A myth is defined as, “an idea or story that is believed by many people but that is not true.”  Remember, a myth is called a myth because it has not been proven true.  The problem is that we hear myths, believe them, and then allow them to control our thinking and our behavior.  When churches believe myths rather than the truth it causes fear and can paralyze their ministries.  Things like, “If we build it they will come!” or “All we need is a really cool vision statement and then we will grow!”

In MultiChurchwe learn this about myths.  “Every day we hear platitudes that make promises.  People share common sense wisdom that seems true, but when we push and pull on the idea it doesn’t hold up.  Myths are powerful, controlling ideas that trick us into believing them. They are fascinating . . . and frustrating.  They can also be stubborn.  They grip our hearts and refuse to let go.  One reason for such stubbornness is the powerful influence they exert on our lifestyle, our values, and our dreams.  But as powerful as they seem, in the end myths are not true.”

Myths are described as being very deceptive because they appear to be true and we even act as if they are true but do not forget that they are not true.  Having written on this topic before we have mentioned myths such as thinking that large churches must have compromised the truth.  Size does not dictate or determine how biblically sound a church is.  Some believe that small churches cannot make an impact for God.  It is not how many attend a church that dictates a church’s ability to be used of God and small does not mean inferior.

 1.  The ideal church has one pastor who knows all the members by name.  There is nothing wrong with this and yes God uses many churches that look exactly like this one we just described.  There is a danger here of stereotyping how a church must look and limiting what God may desire to do in a congregation.  Some seem to be convinced that when a church becomes larger that it guarantees it will be cold and unfriendly.  Actually, size does not dictate whether a church is friendly or unfriendly.  You can attend a small church where no one speaks to you or welcomes you.

In the Old Testament Moses was rebuked by his father-in-law for trying to Pastor everyone.  In Exodus 18 Jethro challenged him to establish capable men who would lead multiple congregations among the people of Israel.  They were to divide the people up into groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.  Then on the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts the church in Jerusalem has grown to over 3000.  So in Acts 6 the church chose additional leaders to spread out the responsibility of caring for the congregation.

Remember, it is not the pastor’s responsibility to care for every member but to make sure that every member is cared for.  Do you think that Peter and the other leaders knew every member by name?  Do you think they knew every member personally?  The point is not size and we must be careful of speaking against something that God is not against!  We love to criticize what is different, mega-churches to house churches, but it they are scripturally sound and reaching people with the Gospel they have a unique place in God’s plan.

2.  A church cannot grow large and maintain its intimacy and closeness.  The truth is that it can but it does take effort and planning.  The healthiest churches are when every part and every member is functioning properly and working together.  Usually, you can be as connected as you want to be because health is when each body part it participating to accomplish ministry together.  We speak often of the great commandment (Matthew 22:37), and the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) but there is also the great charge given by Peter.

I Peter 4:10 says, “Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God.” This great charge must be the goal of every church regardless of its size.  The goal is to involve every believer in ministry by using their gifts to serve others.  The truth is that saved people are supposed to serve people.  The natural instinct is to think of first of yourself and to make sure that your needs are being met.  The truth as opposed to the myth is that it has never been and never will be about selfishness but always has been about serving and sacrifice.

3.  Many churches are convinced they must focus on self-preservation.  This one is tricky because there certainly is some truth to this but all too often this begins the journey down an inwardly focused church.  As you begin to focus on your core you begin to ignore outreach and it is as if your church is experiencing hypothermia and all of the blood is flowing to the core of the body.  You limit the flow of blood to the extremities and begin to sacrifice what seems to be unnecessary at the moment.

God’s economy does not work that way.  Instead, Jesus has challenged us to leave the ninety-nine and pursue the one lost lamb.  Your church must resist the temptation for self-preservation.  Jesus modeled this behavior in the garden before He was arrested as He prayed, “Father if it be possible let this cup pass from me.”  Then He prayed, “Not my will but yours be done.”  Self-preservation was an option that Jesus refused to take.  He resisted and rejected the natural inclination to focus first and foremost on himself.

Maybe the greatest truth to remember that busts all of the other myths is that your church does not exist for you but instead exists for others!

Systems: Exegeting Your Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is the idea of

  • Clarification
  • Explanation and
  • Interpretation.

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

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

You need to ask:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Systems for Accountability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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