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Riding the Roller Coaster

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I remember it all too well.  It was the last time I rode a roller coaster.  The location was Six Flags Over Texas and the ride was the Titan.  As we ascended upward I remember thinking, “What are you doing on here?”  There were terrifying screams and cries of others around me but when the ride was over they said, “Let’s do that again!”  Not me.  I was done, finished, retired, and I tried to recover from a throbbing headache the rest of the day.  I wonder, is that how you are feeling about ministry or church?

Life is full of ups and downs, struggles and victories, mountain tops and valleys, celebrations and disappointments.  It is a part of life and should be expected.  Ministry is kind of like parenting. It is a joy to be a parent; most of the time!  This Christian journey of faith we are on is not about perfection but progress and continuing no matter what challenges may come our way.  I read recently that there are two kinds of wilderness experiences: The kind you do not choose and the kind that is self-imposed!

Dynamic Church Planting International (DCPI) church planter training teaches that there are “seasons” and “cycles” in our journey.  That truth is applicable to anyone seeking to serve the Lord.  Sometimes it is hot and sunny, sometimes rainy and cold.  Serving and following Christ begins with the same three stages that are linear but they can lead to seasons or cycles of a “high road” or a “low road.”  Trials and tribulations will come and then the roller coaster ride of reoccurring loops of celebration or discouragement begins.

First, ministry normally begins with a vision of what God wants you to accomplish.  Excitement burns within you to fulfill your calling and make a difference for Christ.  DCPI training says, “This is a time of great excitement and some trepidation, as God’s vision for your ministry begins to take shape in your heart and mind.  The magnitude of the eternal impact you could make, captures your heart and energizes your mind.  The joy of knowing God has planted this vision in your heart, and the closeness you feel with Him.”

Step two is planning and implementation.  You want to make sure your vision is not just a pipe dream.  You begin to put the vision God has placed on your heart down on paper.  DCPI says, “Prayerful planning enlightens your vision and gives detail to what the vision will become.  This is the time when you really begin to work, when you pray and plan and begin the important steps necessary to move toward God’s design for your ministry.  Without this stage, there will be no realization of God’s vision.”

These are the linear “stages” that begins both cycles.  There is vision, planning and implementation, and thirdly, trials!  Yes, there it is, trials!  This is where the roller coaster of life can really get rolling.  There are basically three kinds of people; those with problems, those coming out of problems, and those about to have problems.  The trials you will experience are inevitable.  Your faith will be tested.  The enemy will attack.  Our DCPI materials make it clear that potential trials often occur in some predictable areas.

  • Spiritual Warfare – The goal of every ministry is to retake ground occupied by the enemy. Establishing a dynamic church is nothing less than an assault on the gates of hell. Jesus Himself promised victory in such an ambitious offensive campaign, but it can be full of tribulation and danger.  If you still have your doubts take a look at Eph. 6:11-18.
  • Family Pressures – Ministry can place strain on a marriage. Normal family conflict and difficulty is only made more intense by deciding to follow Christ and be faithful in every area of your home life.  This is why we teach DCPI’s Balance Principle: “The church planter’s walk with God, family life, and ministry must be in biblical balance.”  Take a look at Eph. 5:22-6:4.
  • Unrealistic Expectations – It starts with vision but that vision, its shape and magnitude, needs to be determined by God, not by an unhealthy comparison with some other pastor or church leader. Setting the bar of “success” based on how God has blessed someone else is both dangerous and potentially discouraging.  (Jn. 21:20-23)
  • Leadership and People Challenges – Ministry demands leadership skills.  One pastor said the challenge of pastoring is taking all the different groups in a church and forming them into one unified body.  The other side of leadership is remaining humble and always striving to lead biblically as a servant-leader.  It is not about power or position but godly example.  (I Pet. 5:1-7)
  • Loneliness and Isolation – The worst thing you can do is to try to face the trials and tribulations of the ministry alone.  Ministry Grid says, “Transformation is a communal experience, not an individual exercise.”  Everyone needs a mentor or a coach in their life to help them through the roller coaster experiences that come along!  Take a look at partnership in Phil. 1:3-5.

Established churches and church planters realize that any one of the trials mentioned above can be devastating but knowing that it is a normal stage of ministry can help you get through it!  Check DCPI training out at www.dcpi.org

Who Are Your Must Become Greaters?

He is Greater

   The question is simple but profound, “Why do you do what you do?” or “What keeps you going and what are you passionate about?”  Passion can be determined by watching what brings tears to a person’s eyes or what they pound the table about when discussing it.  Passion is what keeps you doing what you do even when you want to quit or you just don’t want to do it anymore.  It is the fire in your belly that stirs you and motivates you to press forward.  The prophet Jeremiah said this, “But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not.”

     John the Baptist was passionate about repentence in following God and also paving the way for the Messiah.  He said this, “I must decrease and He must increase!”  He was saying that Christ must become greater but then Jesus said in John 14:12, “Most assuredly, I say unto you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to my Father.”  Remember, Jesus invested in a few so that He could reach many through them.  Who are you investing in and preparing to accomplish even greater things than you ever will?

     Recently a friend of mine asked, “Who are your ‘Must become greaters?”  The more you empower, equip, and release other leaders the greater the advancement of the gospel.  Who is it in your sphere that you are championing to be a “must become greater?”  Moses was the great deliverer but it was Joshua and Caleb that took them into Canaan.  Elijah was a great prophet but Elisha witnessed twice the miracles his teacher did.  Jonathan was a great friend who helped David but it was David who became king.  Barnabas was Saul’s mentor but it was Paul who was the great missionary of the New Testament church.

     First, you must decrease!  We must become less so that they can become more, greater.  That is the secret and the key to raising up some “must become greaters!”  Far too often the temptation is to not release those we have mentored and try to control them instead of creating a culture of reproducing leaders who are sent out from us on mission for God.  They may do a far better job than us and our prayer and hope should be that they do so.  That brings up another problem.  Something is desperately wrong when we cannot rejoice when those we have trained and mentored accomplish far more than we have. 

     In John 3 John the Baptist gave us a paradox, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  A paradox is something that is made up of two opposite things and seems impossible but is actually true.  The Bible is full of paradoxes that reveal an upside down approach to life and leadership.  The last shall be first and the first shall be last.  If you find your life you will lose it and if you lose your life you find it.  It is better to give than receive and God loves a cheerful giver.  When you are weak, then you are strong.  Maybe the greatest paradox to our human minds is, “To live is Christ and to die is gain!”  We must die to self!

     Second, others must increase!  God can take nobodies, and in a kingdom sense, make them somebodies!  Who is it that God wants you to focus on who are the “must become greaters?”  For this to become a reality there must be an even greater commitment to a higher level of discipleship.  There must be a greater investment of time and intentionality where you pour your life into others.  You goal is that they will do even greater things than you ever could and you will rejoice in knowing that their increase has happened because you had a vision and a heart for the “must become greaters!” 

     Remeber, God hates the proud and gives grace to the humble.  Our eyes must be focused on others and raising up the next generation who will raise up the next generation.  God has called us to look for and invest in the “must become greaters” by equipping them, empowering them, and relasing them for the work of the ministry.  The secret is exactly what John the Baptist said, “I must become less!”  Jesus said this about him in Matt. 11:11, “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not been one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

     Always be looking for the “Must become greaters!”

OLD VERSUS NEW

OLD VS NEW

     Newer churches usually see more growth than older churches.  It has been estimated that it takes 88 members in a church over 15 years old to being one person to Christ.  Yet, in a church 5 years or younger it only takes 8 members to bring a person to Christ.  Why are new churches more effective? Why are newer churches so much more evangelistically inclined?  Here are some possible answers to these questions from Dynamic Church Planting International Training, Churches Planting Churches:

     First, it could be because of FOCUS!  “Established churches tend to focus on ministering to those already present.  The older a church gets, the easier it is to concentrate on nurturing and satisfying those who are already involved.  This tendency is very difficult to fight, even among people with the best of intentions.  In many new churches, the core group is small and those people know they must focus on winning the lost, or else the church will not survive.  New churches tend to concentrate on evangelism and the goal of establishing a new congregation.”

     But an older church can refocus on evangelism and pursuing the lost as Jesus did.  Luke 19:10, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”  Begin living as missionaries in your zip code.  Churches should approach every day as if they are headed out on a short term mission trip because they live and minister in the third largest mission field in the world.

     Second, it could be because of STYLE!  Dynamic Church Planting International puts it this way.  “Established churches tend to prefer to use the style of ministry that was relevant and

effective when the church was started. Such traditions are usually very hard to change.  Style includes issues such as: music—old style or new, dress—traditional formal clothing or come-as-you-are, vocabulary—words and phrases that are not understood in today’s culture referred to by some as “Christianeze.”   Christians in established churches often resist changing with the times.”

     But older churches can take steps to change their approach to ministry in order to reach more people with the gospel.  You can remain Biblically sound while also remaining culturally relevant.  Truth never changes but methodology can.  Remember, form follows function!  Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

   Thirdly, it could be because of a lack of VISION!  DCPI Churches Planting Churches says, “New churches begin because of a vision of starting a church to reach the lost. Established churches tend to become comfortable and satisfied with the status quo and lose their vision for reaching lost people.  Proverbs 29:18a says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  Over time most churches lose their vision and passion for reaching the lost.  Instead of fishers of men they become keepers of an aquarium!”

     Once again, an “older” church can regain a vision for the mission of God.  If a church is not living on mission for God to reach the lost, disciple them, and reproduce themselves then they have lost the reason for their existence.  Jesus made it clear in Acts 1:8, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

     DCPI Churches Planting Churches training reminds us that, “From 1800 to 1960 the number of Baptists grew from 100,000 members to twenty million!  Lyle Schaller estimates that 60-80% of the people in a new church become Christians through that church, therefore it is likely that 12 to 16 million came to Christ through these new Baptist churches.  The facts are clear: Associations that aggressively plant churches reach people for Christ and grow. The more aggressive they are, the greater the evangelism and growth.”

      Do we need to plant more churches?  Most definitely, but we also need all churches to return to a passionate desire to do whatever they have to do to make sure their church is fulfilling the Great Commission in their Jerusalem!