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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!

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.