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If Attacked by an Anaconda – Don’t Panic

Church health is dependent upon the health of the pastor and its leadership.  If leaders are going to help people follow Jesus more closely and deeper then they must be setting the example for them to follow.  In Leading on Empty Wayne Cordeiro says, “Wisdom and understanding are not built in a day, however they are built daily.”  Your daily walk with God must be consistent to show others how to develop an intimacy with God.  Cordeiro goes on to say, “We don’t forget that we are Christians.  We forget that we are human, and that one oversight can debilitate the potential for our future.”  

The ministry is not easy!  It is a calling, a privilege, very rewarding and a blessing beyond description but it is not easy.  When consulting with pastors and training church planters I always remind them, “you are in trouble if you are in the ministry.”  C. H. Spurgeon said, “The ministry is a matter which wears the brain and strains the heart, and drains out the life of a man if he attends to it a he should.”  The devil places a big bull’s eye on you when you surrender to God’s calling on your life.  H. B. London, in his book Pastors at Greater Risk, shares the following statistics about pastoral ministry.

  • 80 percent believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively
  • 90 percent felt they’re inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands
  • 80 percent say they have insufficient time with their spouse
  • 70 percent do not have someone they consider a close friend
  • 75 percent report they’ve had a significant stress-related crisis at least once in the ministry

If you are in ministry you are in over your head and without God’s help you will not make it.  I was listening to Brad Faulk share about his work as a church planter in Pasco, WA, and how he felt overwhelmed by the task before him.  He had found a copy of a 1974 Peace Corp manual that described what to do if you were attacked by an anaconda snake.  See if you can relate?

1. If you are attacked by an anaconda, do not run. The snake is faster than you are.

2. Lie flat on the ground. Put your arms tight against your sides, your legs tight against one another.

3. Tuck your chin in.

4. The snake will come and begin to nudge and climb over your body.

5. Do not panic.

6. After the snake has examined you, it will begin to swallow you from the feet and – always from that end. Permit the snake to swallow your feet and ankles. Do not panic.

7. The snake will now begin to suck your legs into its body. You must lie perfectly still. This will take a long time.

8. When the snake has reached your knees slowly and with as little movement as possible, reach down, take your knife and very gently slide it into the side of the snake’s mouth between the edge of its mouth and your leg. Then suddenly rip upwards, severing the snake’s head.

9. Be sure you have your knife.

10. Be sure your knife is sharp.

Maybe the part I like the most is being told twice, “Do not panic!”  Anyone in ministry very long can relate to that except the difference might be, “we did panic!”  We forgot our knife or our knife was not sharp or we tried to outrun the snake.  When the trials of ministry started maybe we never questioned our calling or thought about quitting but somewhere along the way what was once a joy became a load that drained us.  If not careful you can easily get caught up in fixing everyone else’s problems and not take the time to replenish your own soul.  We must discover ways  to refuel and restructure our lives so that we will run the race well and finish well!

More Than a Pep Rally

Most of us have been to a pep rally at some time in our lives or a sporting event where we cheer for our team.  There is some humor and a lesson that can be learned from our participation as fans at one of these events.  The trumpet blows followed by everyone standing and yelling, “Charge!”  Then we all sit down to eat our hot dogs, popcorn, and nachos.  We aren’t in the game and we do not know the game plan.  We are only spectators!

Every team has a particular cheer or song that unites everyone in the stadium.  In high school my sons played sports for the Ft. Gibson Tigers so every game we heard “The Eye of the Tiger.”  In college football the Razorbacks call the hogs, Oklahoma has Boomer Sooner, and Georgia has “Who Let the Dogs Out!”  In churches today we have a “Vision Statement’ that is meant to rally the troops in our churches to carry out God’s Great Commission.

Vision has the ability to excite people, rally them, and urge them to join in the game.  Vision statements are worthless without a game plan that will turn followers into spectators.  What is you process of discipleship and does everyone in your church know how to get from point A to point B?  Vision needs an easy step-by-step reproducible process to ensure progress toward its fulfillment.  Every member should know what that process is and be able to explain it to others.

Churches should be good at welcoming people, inviting people, and building relationships with people outside of the church.  One problem is that when they are ready to join the team there is no system in place to show them the step-by-step process for greater involvement.  Some may say, “That doesn’t sound very spiritual and you don’t need a system!”  The truth is that not having a system is a system but not a very good one.

In Church in the Making Ben Arment describes a system as “the way your organization operates.  It’s a series of steps that are repeated (or not repeated) as a way of accomplishing your goals.”  If you’re thinking that doesn’t sound scriptural, Paul gave Timothy a system when he said, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” 

When a church understands its unique vision (if members cannot articulate it easily they don’t understand it) then you can then begin the process of developing a system to carry out that vision.  The system should always serve the vision, protect the vision, and help carry out the vision.  Clear vision enables leaders to navigate difficult times and hard decisions because they know where they are headed.  A church can become the victim of circumstances unless it has a clearly defined unapologetic vision.   

Here are a couple of quotes on vision from Thom Rainer; “A vision statement can be concise and clear but unless it is communicated well, it has little power…It isn’t enough to talk about vision from the pulpit.  It must be lived out by the leaders…An unclear vision statement can actually do more harm than good.”  When you know what God wants you to do and how He wants you to carry it out in your context it gives you the freedom to do it and the liberty to not do anything outside His vision for your church!

Vision is important but without a system in place to sustain the vision it can easily just become a pep rally.  Everyone gets excited for a moment but then they sit down and are not involved in the process.  Vision is where you compare the present reality with a desired future.  This is where people are asking what it means to be a disciple and how they can be more involved.  Here is where you Engage them Personally.

People must know you heard them when they said they wanted to be more committed to your vision.  When they are ready to take the next step(s) everyone needs to know what those next steps are.  Systems enable people to know how to move from an observer to a seeker to a follower and then to investors of their lives into the vision.  This is phase 2 where you begin Equipping then in Practical Ways

The reason you create a system is to make you more effective at achieving your vision.  You must consider what it takes to reach people, what it takes to keep them moving forward in their faith journey, what it takes to keep them engaged, what it takes to equip them for the journey, and what it takes for them to be effective disciples.  This is where systems fit in the big picture.  They Empower a Process that is easily reproducible and sustainable.  We will be discussing in the weeks to come systems that give our vision the opportunity for long success!         

Jesus Was A Genius

I know what you are thinking, “Well Duh!  Of course He was!”  Yet, we don’t follow the genius of His strategy very often.  In The Master plan of Evangelism Robert Coleman said, “All of this certainly impresses one with the deliberate way that Jesus proportioned His life to those He wanted to train…Though He did what He could to help the multitudes, He had to devote Himself primarily to a few men, rather than the masses, so that the masses could at last be saved.  This was the genius of His strategy.”

Discipleship is a biblical command for every follower of Christ.  We have three obligations as disciples.  First, we are to follow Jesus.  Second, we are to help others follow Jesus. Third, we are to help others to help others follow Jesus.  Yes, it sounds simplistic because it is.  We are to help everyone we meet either to follow Jesus or to equip them to help others follow Jesus.  If we want to make a difference in people’s lives we have to be different.  We are not talking about an outward difference but an inward transformation and with a greater focus on discipleship.  The goal in the scriptures is not to find them, gather them, or improve them.  The object is to “make disciples.”       

Coleman also said,Better to give a year or so to one or two people who learn what it means to conquer for Christ than to spend a lifetime with a congregation just keeping the program going.….It might well be that some cherished plans of our own making will have to be redirected or perhaps abandoned altogether.  Equally agonizing may be the adjustment of the congregation to the Master’s view of the ministry.”  Please realize that training is an event but discipleship is a relationship.  The reality is that as you study the way Jesus discipled the expectations were obedience and passing on what they had learned to others.  Can you correctly call yourself a disciple if you have never made a disciple?

In Real Life Discipleship Jim Putman gives an excellent formula for discipleship. “An Intentional Leader + A Relational Environment + A Reproducible Process = An Infinite Number of Disciples.”   The path to discipleship is not new but by many it needs to be rediscovered.  It will require a major shift in many Christians’ way of thinking and following Christ.  It is about new behaviors and requires the following.  It will require a radical adjustment to missional behaviors and making disciples.  Next, it requires realigned activities where it is not just church activities but time dedicated to one on one discipleship.  Then, it requires relevant approaches that are relational where our focus is doing life day by day with people and not just programs.  Lastly, it requires redemptive action where we extend God’s grace to the lost, the last, and the least.  

Here are some Disciplemaking Principles from David Watson and City Team Ministries.  Please consider the radical changes these principles demand for them to become a reality in your life.

  • ·         Hold your leaders accountable to be making disciples.
  • ·         A disciple is not a disciple until one makes another disciple.
  • ·         Focus on the few to win the many.  Jesus did.
  • ·         It’s about discovery, not preaching or teaching.
  • ·         Obedience is more important than knowledge.
  • ·         Disciple to conversion, not convert to make disciples.
  • ·         The discipling process begins with lost people.
  • ·         Expect the hardest places to yield the greatest results.
  • ·         Prayer is the starting point for all disciplemaking.
  • ·         Keep all things reproducible.
  • ·         Following Jesus is about obeying God regardless if anyone else obeys God.
  • ·         You have to be intentional about the end product: discplemakers.
  • ·         Accountability and intentionality are critical.
  • ·         Making disciples is not a knowledge process-it is a relationship process

 

 

Coaching The Team

My son, Matthew, began playing football at a young age.  He was doing ok and getting in the games but it was not until he had the right coach that he excelled.  As a senior he dominated defensive linemen and I have very vivid memories of him opening up gaping holes for their running backs.  He got all kinds of honors and was recruited by several colleges.  He has often commented on that coach who believed in him, built a relationship with him, and pulled skills out of him he thought were there but wasn’t sure.  Yes, he had the size and skill but the game changer was a coach who invested time and energy into him.  

This principle can easily be seen in sports but it is even more important in the local church.  There are many people who want to serve and believe they can be used of God but they need someone to invest their time and energy in them.  A good coach can be one of the most important high impact volunteer leaders in your ministry.  Think of all the examples we have in the New Testament alone.  Paul poured into Aquila and Priscilla and then they poured into Apollos.  That must have been pretty intimidating because he was such a gifted speaker but he needed to be coached on his content! 

Jesus coached the disciples.  Over and over we see examples of Him coaching them through difficult situations.  He saw in Peter what others did not see because the leaders in Jerusalem called Peter unlearned and ignorant.  Bill Donahue says, “Peter had leadership gifts and abilities; he just needed a coach who believed in him, a coach who would invest in him and help him grow into the leader God had already gifted him to be.”  Jesus encouraged Peter to step out of the boat in faith and He was quick to coach Peter when He saw teachable moments in his life.  Jesus was not afraid to correct Peter when he needed to be corrected.

Here is what good coaches can do for the team at your church:

  • ·        Coaches can ensure that every one on the team is training properly.  A one-on-one coaching relationship can ensure that everyone is practicing their daily disciplines like they should.  When leaders in your church are by-passing spiritual calisthenics they will quickly become weak and anemic.  Everyone needs someone to speak into their spiritual walk and hold them accountable.  Coaches are good at that.
  • ·        Coaches can see what God is doing inside of someone, many times, before they can see it.  They have been in the game before and they have seen how God has transformed them into productive Kingdom citizens.  They know what it is like to run with the ball and they understand that God provides strength that is not of this world.  A coach sees their giftedness and shows the servant of God how that can be best utilized for His glory.
  • ·        Coaches encourage team mates when they need it the most.  There will come a day when the game plan just isn’t working out.  There will be days when everything we try to accomplish seems to fall apart or just not work.  A good coach challenges you to stay in the game when all you want to do is quit.  They believe so strongly in the grace of the Lord that they will not give up on you because He has never given up on them.
  • ·        Coaches give what most people need more than anything else; someone who cares.  A good coach spends quality time with those they are trying to help reach greater heights than they will ever reach themselves.  Their pupils will achieve far more than they ever did or will.  They are willing to invest time and energy with the one they are coaching to help them focus on the areas that will enable them to be more productive members of the team. 

Coaches help train and equip others but they also need training on listening skills, asking powerful questions, how to develop a game plan, and many other coaching skills.  Maybe you should consider having someone come and train your paid and volunteer coaches.  

Do You Know How to Juggle?

Jam 3:15-18

 

     I don’t!  Juggling fascinates me but I have never been able to master it.  Maybe I don’t have the ability or maybe I never took the time to dedicate myself to learning how.  While juggling objects has never been one of my skills I have learned over the years a few things about the difficulties of juggling life.  In our Dynamic Church Planting International (DCPI) training we teach twelve biblical principles that are the foundation for every lesson. Principle #10 is: “The church planter’s walk with God, family life, and ministry must be in biblical balance.”  Now that can be quite a juggling act at times.

 

     Juggling the priority of your family and your ministry can prove to be quite difficult.  When the choice is not easy or you know that whatever decision you make is a “no win situation” it can make you feel like you are juggling 20 balls and they are all about to come crashing down hard to the ground.  Is there anything we can do that would help us juggle difficult situations, difficult people, and difficult decisions?  Yes there is!  Decide what you believe should be the top five priorities of your life.  Here is a suggested list:

  • ·         Your relationship with the Lord!
  • ·         Your relationship with your wife.
  • ·         Your relationship with your family.
  • ·         Your ministry.
  • ·         Your health.

 

     If you value these priorities then you must invest in them daily.  If they are not in the right order or if they are not taken care of properly your life could become a juggling act gone bad.  What we choose to value the most is what shapes us into who we are.  Remember, values are confirmed by actions, not by words.  They enable us to determine what to do and what not to do.  When you value your relationship with the Lord more than anything else in your life then many choices become easier.  When you value your wife and family over high maintenance members then you are not trying to juggle but rather you are choosing Godly priorities.

 

     What you value the most must tower over other decisions and then you are not juggling but you are making choices determined by the Lord, His word, and the Holy Spirit.  They are not just preferred values “saying” what is important to you but they are practiced values that are obvious patterns of behavior in your life.  Values are not preferences, they must be our convictions. Values have these characteristics:

 

  • ·         Consistent – they rarely change. 
  • ·         Passionate – they generate emotion and energy. 
  • ·         Biblical – they are rooted in scripture. 
  • ·         Distinctive – they reflect God’s unique assignment for your life.
  • ·         Convictions – they influence what you do! (not what you say)

 

     When a decision of equal value has to be made (what to wear, where to eat, etc) it can actually be a more difficult decision.  Raising the value of one option over the other is the key.  When one option has a much greater value than the other choice, it is much easier to decide.  For example, when you value your family it is clear that your first responsibility is to lead them before leading anyone else.  With Jesus as Lord of our lives a lot of decisions have already been made for us.  Establishing Godly values through conviction before you are faced with a difficult decision is invaluable. It makes decisions much easier because you have already decided you will make your choices based on Godly values.

 

     I recently read Kingdom Matrix, a must read, by Jeff Christopherson.  It has really challenged me in many areas.  Allow me to quote one of the things that really caught my eye and my heart.  “Positionally, I may have been transported from darkness into the Kingdom of Light, but functionally as a Little Christ, I must relentlessly choose to make Light-like decisions moment by moment.”  Don’t juggle!!!  The ministry tends to intensify the stress and strain of family life just like a magnifying glass intensifies the heat of sunlight.  Prioritize your values and make your choices based on those values as you are led by the Holy Spirit.