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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!

Personal Growth System

Systems are important because they enable you to sustain the momentum you have built. Dynamic Church Planting International has this to say about the importance of systems, “In your church, everyone hopes that someone will be in charge. They hope that someone will think things through ahead of time. They hope that someone will come up with quality ways to attract people, lead them to Christ, disciple them and invite them to serve in ministry.” In other words, someone has to be in charge and take responsibility for systems to operate effectively.

Whose job is it to make sure you grow personally on a regular basis? Who will make sure that your “being” with God is sufficient to sustain your “doing” for God? The three primary entities responsible for your spiritual growth are the Lord, your church, and you. We know that God will do His part as He promises in Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Even if your church does not have a reproducible process for making disciples you are still responsible.

What system have you placed in your daily rhythm to make sure you are abiding in Christ? There has to be an inner work in your life before there can be an outer work. This is much more than a checklist for your devotional, Bible reading, prayer life, and quiet time. How will you strive to make sure that your spiritual well does not run dry? What will you do experience the abundant life through abiding in Christ constantly? What mechanisms and tools will you use to ensure that your “being” with God is sufficient to sustain your “doing” for God?

Think and ponder how you can incorporate these three elements into your daily life: slowing down, silence, and solitude. These are crucial because all too often we are so busy that we miss what God is saying and doing. It is almost impossible to hear His voice without slowing down long enough to build silence and solitude into our spiritual disciplines. Habakkuk 2:20 says, “The Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Psalm 37:7 says, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.”

It will take discipline and determination to schedule this time into your daily schedule but it will be well worth it. Unfortunately, if you begin to run on empty spiritually usually no one will notice on the outside until a lot of damage has occurred. If you are task and action oriented you will find great satisfaction in all that you are doing but eventually you will burn out if you are not abiding in Christ. Christ desires to first do a work in you so that He can then do a work through you. Are you being refreshed and recharged daily in your time alone with the Lord?

In Psalm 27:4 David said, “I have asked one thing from the Lord; it is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the Lord, and seeking Him in His temple.” His number one goal was seeking the face of the Lord. It was not seeking an answer to a problem, seeking His help in a difficult situation, or seeking a new message to preach on Sunday. It was seeking His presence and He was willing to wait on His presence and power knowing the wait would be well worth it. Are you using silence and solitude to wait on the Lord?

  1. You should understand that waiting on the Lord is a clearly stated and demonstrated biblical theme. Abraham waited twenty-five years for what God had promised. Job waits throughout the book of Job for God to reveal Himself. Moses waited forty years on the backside of the desert before God called Him through the burning bush. Psalm 106:13 says, “They soon forgot His works and would not wait for His counsel.” These disciplines are necessary for us to quietly contemplate God and consider what He is saying and doing.
  2. You must realize that God is not in a hurry nor is He in a rush. The problem lies in us in that we are too busy to really listen. We rush our decisions giving into quick fix solutions that really are not solutions at all. They actually create greater problems because we refused to wait on the Lord. We settle for what is not really God’s plan and turn to our own plans because we were not sure we could trust His any longer. When we get ahead of the Lord we will have to go back and begin all over again seeking His face and desiring Him to guide us.
  3. When you are not sure what to do and His plan is not clear to you the wise thing to do is wait. You might want to ask right now, “How long should I expect to have to wait?” The answer is simply that there is no way of knowing other than seeking Him and waiting on Him. It usually takes longer than we think and longer than we like but the wait will be worth it. If you become impatient and move ahead anyway you will miss the journey of seeking Him, knowing Him, and experiencing His presence and power in your life. Wait on the Lord, and again, I say wait!

The person most responsible for your spiritual walk is you. Hopefully, your greatest desire and motivation is to know Him and the power of His resurrection. We must slow down utilizing silence and solitude into the rhythms of our lives to ensure that we do what God has asked us to do, the way He has asked us to do it, and at the time He asks us according to His timetable. This helps us to make sure that our “being” with God is sufficient to sustain our “doing” for God.

Assimilation System: NEXT STEPS

Assimilation focuses on connecting with guests and newcomers. The overarching goal of assimilation is to help unbelievers become functioning followers of Jesus Christ. It is having a system that helps people become increasingly connected to Jesus and His church. We must seek to help people make various connection points such as classes, ministry opportunities, small groups, friendships, discipleship opportunities, and other relationships. The blessing of church systems is developing clear next steps so that you will assimilate people that you might otherwise not connect with and possibly even lose.

All of your systems need constant attention. Entropy will naturally set in as time goes on and they will need to be reenergized. Most systems need a new dose of energy every three to five years through some restructuring. Also, new ideas and new team members are good to give fresh and creative ideas. Attend a conference, read a book, or talk to another church about how they assimilate and connect with their guests. Always remain flexible and ready to make changes that will put new energy into your systems.

Dynamic Church Planting International describes these steps as demonstrating to first time guests that you want them to become second time guests. Demonstrating to second time guests that you want them to become third time guests. Demonstrating to third time guests that you want them to become regular attenders and then demonstrating to regular attenders that you want them to become fully functioning members. It is developing a systematic approach that will increase guest retention and connect newcomers into your discipleship process.

Last week’s article on assimilation focused on first impressions, which are very important, but you must think through the next steps.

  • Do you have a plan, a system, in place to focus on follow up after the initial connections?
  • How will you communicate to your guests what those next steps are?
  • How will you or will you get their contact information?
  • If you do get their contact information, how and who will follow up on them?
  • Do you have a card for them to fill out or a welcome center where they can receive a packet and/or gift for attending?

1.  Realize that if they do give you their information they will expect you to get in contact with them. Consider sending an email, a personal note, and giving them a call over the next week. It is best to connect with them within 48 hours and let them know how thankful and honored you are that they came. You can also send a letter from the church letting them know you are praying for them and desire to be a blessing to them and their family. In the first week you can touch them three or four ways through email, texting, a letter, and or a call.

2.  Consider giving their contact information to your small group leaders and/or your small group leaders. If you have multiple groups allow all of them to reach out to them inviting them into their group. It speaks volumes to guests that there are several options. Even if you only have one class or group be sure they reach out to the guests and invite to be a part of their group.

3.  Invite them to a newcomer’s meal. If you are having guests on a regular basis plan a time to invite all of them and be prepared to share the vision statement of your church, the discipleship pathway you have, and how they can become more involved. Be ready to answer any questions they might have. You do not have a big group but can train couples to take guests out to lunch and accomplish this on a more personal level. This can be a time to find out where they are spiritually in their walk with Christ or if they are even a believer yet.

If you are able to offer a luncheon Dynamic Church Planting International offers these suggestions, “Churches should consider a monthly mechanism that allows newcomers to get to know the pastor and other church leaders. Some churches hold this in the pastor’s home. Others do it at the church property or some other location. It usually includes food, often an entire meal. New guests are greeted, asked to sign-in, and given a nametag as they enter the area.”

“One place setting at each table says, “Reserved for Host.” A long-term volunteer or staff member will sit there and get to know everyone. Place information request sheets at each table. The table hosts encourage guests to use them. The hosts should also encourage guests to sign up for a class on basic Christianity. Between the meal and desert, one of the pastors gets up and talks for 3 or 4 minutes about the church’s history, introduces the staff, and encourages everyone to attend an Introduction to Christianity class.”

4.  Decide how you will handle membership and if you will require them to attend a membership class. The length and depth is up to you but there are five basic areas that are good to be covered including salvation, the ordinances, doctrine, what they can expect from your church, and what your church expects from them. This is a time to head off a lot of misunderstandings upfront because they are joining you, not the opposite. Someone has said it well, “The best time to lose a bad church member is before they join.”

5.  And most importantly, find out what works for you in your context. There are a lot of different ways to reach out and follow up on your guests. Think it through and be creative. There will be many ideas that you might want to implement but are not able to, yet. That is ok. The solution is to do what you can at your current size, ability, and stage of development. Do not focus on what you cannot do. Focus on what you can do and do it!

Assimilation System


Every church needs to take a hard look at developing systems that enable them to be more effective in caring for the people God has given them while remaining focused on reaching those who are far from God. There is no system where this truth is more important then in the area of assimilation. This is where you develop a clear process of next steps that help and enable unbelievers to become fully functioning followers of Jesus. How will you or will you follow up on the first time guest? Do you have a plan to help a first time guest to attend again?

It has been well said, “When we lose our why we lose our way!” If your church forgets that you exist to welcome sinners then you will lose your primary purpose for being there. It is natural to begin overly focusing on maintaining and servicing what is already there while ignoring Jesus’ call to seek and to save those who are lost. The older your church is the easier it becomes to drift from its mission. Are you a welcoming church? Are you friendly to those who decide to visit or are you only friendly to those who are already there?

Dynamic Church Planting International says this, “When a person visits your church for the first time, they are a gift from God. Likely, someone prayed diligently for this to happen. God himself has probably been tugging at them to attend. What did Jesus do with sinners who came to learn about spiritual truth? He welcomed them warmly. The ones who opposed truth-seeking sinners were the self-righteous religious leaders. Share with them what a wonderful gift it is to welcome sinners. Some church members will be tempted to act like the Pharisees.”

In U-Turn Church the authors say, “The gravitational pull of the church naturally pulls us inward, toward each other. If we are going to move outward toward those who are lost, it will take more energy than most of us dream.” Many church members are focused on their personal needs and their family’s needs. New people can be seen as a potential threat to their power and/or position. Assimilation is warmly welcoming those who come to our churches. You want to do all you can to help them to be touched by God and have the desire to return.

Those who attend your church can be described in four categories.

  1. Those who visit and are looking for something to connect with.
  2. Those who are beginning to take the necessary baby steps required to follow Christ.
  3. Those who have developed into mature disciples and are serving others. The reality is that once you begin to grow in your personal walk with Jesus, serving is the natural by-product.
  4. The ones who think they are mature but are unengaged and serving no one. This must be challenged the most!

As we focus on the first group (guests and seekers) you must develop a clear system of showing them how glad you are they came. They are not looking for a friendly church as much as they are looking for friends. What will you do with them when they do come? God has been working on their hearts and through people in their lives to get them there, so don’t blow it. Have a system that welcomes them and follows up on them because your desire should be for a first time guest to become a second time guest. What clear path do you have to reach out to them?

If your church forgets why you are there then you will begin to lose your passion and zeal for the unbeliever and those who are far from God. How can you tell that is happening? It did not happen overnight but occurred slowly and quietly. No one can really point to a specific time or day when you were overly focused on those inside the church and unconcerned about those outside. Somewhere along the way you naturally began to focus on maintaining and serving everyone that was already there. Internal ministries tend to overwhelm outward mission.

Follow-up is crucial but just as important is how they are received when they arrive.

  • Are there greeters ready to welcome them and show them where they need to go?
  • Do you have people in the parking lot to help them in that process? Train and empower your people to realize that they should all be welcoming hosts and hostesses. Train them to welcome guests into your church the same way they would welcome them into their homes. Tell them to always be on the outlook for someone they do not know, introduce themself, and engage them in conversation.
  • Are you creating a positive first impression? Some guests determine if they will ever come back in the first three, seven, or fifteen minutes. By then they will been either been greeted or not, lost in the building or guided to where they need to go, and have sensed whether people are truly glad they have come. The one thing that has not happened yet is the sermon, which has not even been preached. Some seem to discourage thinking about this and say we should not worry so much about first impressions but what happened to “given to hospitality?” Jesus welcomed sinners.

First impressions should never be left to chance.

Every leader and greeter should know how to make people feel welcomed. Be looking for those you do not recognize and make sure you introduce yourself to them and tell them how glad you are they came. Every aspect of the facility should be viewed through the lens of a first time guest. It has taken an unbelievable amount of courage to come into an environment that is completely foreign and uncomfortable to them. Do your best to make sure everyone is friendly, the place is clean, and they know they are loved.

Pastoral Care System

We know the biblical mandate of caring for the flock. I Peter 5:2 says, “ Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” In Acts 20:28 Paul gives us more on this subject, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood.”

Systems should always interconnect and overlap with one another. Ministry care and small groups are a perfect example of this. Small groups should be your first responders to the needs and emergencies that arise within their group. It should not be the responsibility of the pastor to personally attend to everyone but to make sure that everyone is cared for. Yes, everyone should receive pastoral care and no one should be responsible to care for more than ten to twelve people. A care system ensures that people care for each other and feel loved.

A caring shepherd makes sure that the flock God has led Him to pastor is ministered to properly. This involves developing a system that will help in making sure no one slips through the cracks but is lovingly ministered to. People bond to a church when they feel that they belong. Every person who attends needs a role and a relationship in order to feel like they are truly part of your church. A role is a place of service and a relationship means a place in a group. 
In order to offer people a role, you must develop serving teams.

In order to offer people relationships, you must develop Small Groups or Sunday School Classes. 
In general terms, the more you develop roles and relationships, the more your church will grow. A good care system requires as least three components: groups, teams, and then personal pastoral care. These provide people a place to belong, a place to serve, and people who care about them. A great definition of community is “People knowing and being known, loving and being loved, serving and being served, celebrating and being celebrated.”

This question must then be asked as you think through developing a good system. What has to happen for people to know, love, serve, and celebrate each other? Today we will focus on caring for people properly and in a spiritually healthy manner. The reality is that the small group leader is one of the most important members in your church. They are the ones who keep watch over their group as they pray for them and provide care as needed.

Dynamic Church Planting International gives this job description for a small group leader, “To help 3 to 10 people learn biblical truth and experience God while developing relationships with Christ, you, and other people.” We call these groups “Connection” groups and we tell everyone regularly that the best way to get “connected” is by participating in one. In our C-3 ministry statement we say we desire to be centered on God, connected to one another, and compassionate for our city. If people do not want to slip through the cracks they must get connected.

In order to build a good system of ministry care, begin with the small groups (Sunday School classes, Men’s & Women’s Bible studies, etc.) as your first responders to watch over those under their care. Then make sure your ministry leaders have their eyes on the needs of those who are serving on their teams such as greeters, music, and others who serve. Lastly, have a pastoral care team who also is watching for those who need care, whether on a regular basis or for a special occasion. This team needs to re recruited and trained on how to care.

These individuals can come from several places within the church. They may be deacons who have been called by the church to care for the widows and others in the church. Consider what a deacon care program would look like and set a systematic way of people being checked on and visited. Another option would be to look for some who have retired from their full time work, have the gift of shepherding or mercy, and really feel a call to minster in this way. There are always those who love being a part of a team that is focused on ministry care.

In the area of ministry care, Dynamic Church Planting International offers this process.

  1. Model what care ministry looks like by encouraging your potential workers to accompany you as you care for people.
  2. Mentor them by sharing what you are doing and why you are doing it.
  3. Monitor them as you begin to give care assignments. Give encouragement, guidance, and coaching as you continue to disciple them.
  4. Multiply workers by asking them to recruit others to the care ministry.

Hopefully, the workers you recruit will then recruit others to the pastoral care ministry. If there is no multiplication, pray for other workers who will not only provide ministry care but also raise up more ministry team members. Always be looking to develop workers and team members three deep. Every leader needs to be actively looking for an apprentice to train so that the ministry can multiply. It is not good when one person is the only one who knows what is going on. Make sure your leaders are training, mentoring, and coaching others up the leadership ladder.

Once I was asked if as a pastor I had a problem visiting the sick, shut-ins, and those in the hospital. By the way, it is a great question because we should all be willing to do what needs to be done. I replied that I did not have a problem with it and then asked him if he had a problem with it? You see, it takes a team of caring individuals and you cannot afford to build a system that is impossible to sustain.

Never Been Exposed to the Truth

Jesus said that He came to “seek and to save that which was lost.” He clearly described what it meant to follow Him when He declared, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” A disciple, a follower of Jesus, is defined as a person who knows Jesus and has decided to follow Him. That disciple is being changed and transformed by Christ daily and has committed himself to the mission of Christ. We seem to do well focusing on being biblically sound and relationally connected but somehow fail miserably when it comes to living missionally.

A recent Barna Report has reinforced many concerns about our culture in America moving further and further away from God. Mike Huckabee offers 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.”

He continues, “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 shocking and troubling me the most is, “never been exposed to Christianity or church.” Can that really be right here in our own backyards? Have we lost our passion and burden for the lost where most Christians are not even sharing their faith, ever?

J.D. Payne recently shared that as of October 2017 there are 207 Unengaged Unreached People Groups here. This is even of greater concern than just being an Unreached People Group because this means there is no (none) evangelical planting strategy being executed at this time to build a gospel bridge to these people. 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?”

Mike Breen expounds upon a huge problem in the American church when he 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.” Research supports his claim because only 15% of all churches are growing and only 1% of that number is increasing because of conversion growth.

What is your church’s strategy to reach those who are far from God in your city and community? Ed Stetzer challenges us to discern whom the lost are, where do they live, and how will we reach them? Yet it seems that what dominates most church cultures today is attracting those who are already believers and attending church. Without even realizing it we have become enamored with having a better product than the church down the street, which perpetuates a spirit of competition where the church with the best music and programs wins!

First, we need to repent.

We need to ask God to forgive us for our lack of burden and concern for the lost that work and live next door to us. Then we need to recommit to being the salt and light that He has called each one of us to be. Is your light shining? Are you shining as you are supposed to be? Philippians 2:15 says, “We are to shine like stars in the world.” As we are praying we need to put some feet to our prayers through random acts of kindness and to love in word and deed. Can those living in darkness see our good works?

Second, we need to develop a strategy as an individual believer and as a church.

Give people a way and opportunities to share their faith. Dave Ferguson with Exponential and Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL, utilizes a 5-step plan that he has called B.L.E.S.S. Begin in prayer. Listen to them because no one ever feels more valued than when we listen. Eat with them to build relationships and get to know them personally. Serve them in a way that blesses their lives. How can you best serve them? Share with them what God has done for you and for them.

Third , we must place tools in our member’s hands.

This can be done at the end of the services and through your small groups to aid and help them in being light. It could be a card with the gospel message in one verse (Romans 6:23) or it could be an invitation to a special event. One thing here, though, is try to change your culture from a “come and see” (which is good) and add to it a “go and tell!” Think of multiple ways and multiple doors of how people can be connected and connect with others. It really is more a lifestyle of “as you go” being light and witnesses than a program.

Fourth, do the work of an evangelist.  

If we want to see God move in the area of evangelism then we must be ready to do the work of an evangelist in the same way Timothy was challenged. It is heartbreaking that the reality is that there are many churches that never see one person saved or baptized. This does not mean that anything goes just so we can get numbers and brag about the notches on our gospel belts. If we desire a movement of God it will require extraordinary prayer, abundant evangelism, a white-hot faith, and sacrifice with God giving the increase.

Leadership 101 – Slow Down

Most leaders I know need to slow down. We get caught up in the hustle and bustle of so many different things. It is difficult to find a rhythm that is sustainable with the demands of ministry and the juggling act that it seems to require. Stop and think for a minute, though. What are the usual results of rushing, getting in a hurry, and potentially getting ahead of the Lord? The answer is that it can be disastrous. The Bible gives us multiple examples of impatience in leaders.

Abraham became impatient in waiting on the son God promised him. He and Sarah had a plan but we know that did not turn out well. Moses grew impatient even though he had a great heart to help his fellow Hebrews in Egypt. He committed murder and it cost him 40 years on the backside of the dessert. King Saul grew impatient and offered burnt offering to the Lord instead of waiting on Samuel. His getting ahead of God cost him his throne. Impatience does not pay off.

The book of Proverbs has several references about the wisdom of the prudent. The idea is being careful and sensible. A prudent man is marked by sound judgment while being cautious and possessing great awareness of each situation. What are the consequences of inadequately discerning God’s will before moving forward? They can be tragic and devastating. We need to develop a rhythm in all areas of our lives of slowing down and sitting in His presence.

Here are some areas where we need to slow down.

  1. Slow down in your daily personal life. Develop the daily discipline of slowing down long enough to listen to the Lord. Find a place of solitude where you can be more mindful of His presence.   That is what will carry you through those crazy and hectic times when it is full steam ahead. If you have not slowed down to see Him in times of solitude it will be very difficult to see Him and sense His presence during the busy times.
  2. Slow down in your family time. Build boundaries to protect quality time with your wife and children. Make sure you have a date night where it is just you and her enjoying time together. Schedule family time on your calendar and when asked if you are available tell them you already have an appointment. Make sure you are there for the important events in your children’s lives. Your church will not remember many of the sacrifices you make for them but your children will.
  3. Slow down in your sermon preparation. Develop a system that enables you to best utilize your time. When is your most productive time to study? Schedule it on your calendar and then protect that time. You can get a lot accomplished when it is quiet and uninterrupted. If it means getting up an hour earlier to spend that time in the word it will be well worth it. Early mornings work well because the phone does not begin ringing until about 8:30 a.m. Find a study rhythm that works for you.
  4. Slow down by enjoying your favorite hobby or pastime. What recharges your battery? What is it you enjoy doing that refreshes you, makes you laugh, and puts a smile on your face? Find that outlet that gives you the opportunity to release the tension and frustrations that build up inside of all of us. Whether it is running, bicycling, hiking, golf, or cross-stitch it will be time well spent. All work and no play usually leads to burnout!
  5. Slow down in your leadership style. Make sure people really do understand where you are headed. This requires slowing down long enough to articulate clearly and allowing people to process the information. Bringing them along with you on the journey will slow down the process but it is worth the investment. Also make sure there is appropriate accountability. It is not wise for any single person to possess absolute power in a church. Lord Acton said it well, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
  6. Slow down and develop leaders. If you are too busy to spend time discipling and pouring into leaders then you are too busy. Take a close look at the things you should not be doing and pass those responsibilities on to someone else. Focus in on those three just like Jesus did. Look for those who want more and then challenge them to meet you at 5:30 a.m. for coffee to see if they are serious. Do not spend time chasing them or trying to persuade them to be dedicated. If they are called to a higher level of commitment they will pursue you.
  7. Slow down and enjoy the worship service. All too often we are focused on so many things Sunday mornings that we feel like a one-eyed cat watching 15 mouse holes. Involve as many people as you can in making sure the worship services are well prepared and planned but let them handle it so that you focus on two things, worship and preaching. Train and develop a team to oversee all of the details from greeters, altar workers, ushers, sound booth, announcements, song service, and everything else. Slow down and worship.
  8. Slow down and define what success really looks like. People must know that you will seek God’s will above all else. Remember, when we push and rush in decision making there will almost always be problems. Take time to sleep on it, seek wise counsel, and listen to the Lord. The greatest thing people need to see in a leader is a life that is characterized by, “Lord, not my will, but yours be done!”

The key words for church planning and strategy are slow down!

The Heart of Leadership

As a leader, what is that others need to see more than anything else in you and me? What is the essence of leadership that churches need to see modeled and exemplified? There are several great answers that could be given but the best example, of course, is Jesus. As we study how He led and mentored those He did life with there are truly nuggets we notice such as washing their feet and telling them He came to serve not be served. Many have written well on servant-leadership.

There is a passage though that gives us the very “heart” that is required to lead like Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus faced the cross He was struggling. He then prays in submission to the Father, “Not My will, but Yours be done!” At the toughest moment of His journey Jesus cries out to the Father as His sweat fell as great drops of blood. We see the anguish as He transparently asks, “Is there any other possible way?” before He obediently submits to the original plan.

The problem for us is in the struggle between “my” will verses “His” will. That is the core issue of leadership. Unfortunately, as a matter of confession, I fear that I have spent far too much of my time making plans “for” God instead of getting plans “from” God. The heart of leadership is leading the same way Jesus did and that means that other people must continually see in us, “Not my will but Yours be done!” We have to come to grips with this truth and act submitted when we really are not!

Someone has said well, “A struggled, learned, prayed for obedience is the best and truest obedience.” God shapes us by taking us to the cross not once but at multiple times (even daily) throughout our ministries and leadership journeys. This is the essence of the leadership that is needed in our lives and in our churches. Hebrews 5:7-8 says, “During His earthly life, He offered prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the One who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. Though He was God’s Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.”

What are the elements necessary for us to develop the leadership style of Christ?

First, we need to be willing to go down the same path He did.  

Following Christ requires accepting the crosses He brings into our lives. The challenge is to stay on course even when the dark days and nights come into our lives. There will be those times we want to quit and may cry out as Jesus did, “Is there any other way possible?” Crosses are necessary for resurrection and new life to occur.

Second, realize that there will not always be a miraculous deliverance.

Jesus basically asked for a miracle; if it was possible. Why should we expect to get a miracle to avoid our crosses and be upset when we don’t when Jesus did not receive a miracle either? It is at those moments that our wills and God’s will clash the most because we are tempted to quit rather than endure. The cross is necessary because that is where the greatest transformation occurs in our lives.

Third, we learn through cross bearing two very important lessons.

  1. We learn to die to self and that takes place when we let go of what we want. Brokenness of our will and our desires is required and there is no way around it. We learn to relinquish so that we can learn to trust completely.
  2. We also learn submission. Even when we do not have all the answers and do not know how things will turn out. We surrender… trusting Him even when the outcome is a mystery to us.

Fourth, when we take up our crosses to follow Him it is then that we can abide in Him, as we should.

Once we have relinquished control He then fills us with His presence and power. John 12:24 teaches us this principle clearly, “I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop.” We discover in times of dying to self that what we have relinquished and given up does not even compare to what He fills us with and gives in His presence. That is why Jesus said He that loses His life will find it!

Fifth, as we begin to abide in Him there are two things that happen in our leadership.

  1. We gain great discernment. We are shown what He wants us to do. We discover His calling and direction for our lives as we abide in Him. Once we are broken and submitted we fully understand that He is the Shepherd and we are His sheep. We begin to hear His voice more clearly and obey it more completely. We stop making plans “for” God and begin getting His plans.
  2. We also gain discretion. Discernment is discovering what He wants us to do while discretion addresses when. By abiding in Him we trust God’s perfect timing and He gives us the ability to wait on Him. Discretion is not acting even when we know we could go ahead but God is asking us not to do so. God has a plan for us and He also has a timetable in mind that fits us perfectly. Jesus was fully aware of the mission, the methods, and the minutes.

The best leadership and the real heart of leadership is to lead like Jesus. The heart of leading like Christ is understanding that those we are leading need to see a leader who leads out of “not my will but yours be done!” That is the best gift we as leaders can give to our churches, ministries, those we are discipling, and most of all to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!