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FAITH vs FOLLOW

Recently I was told of a pastor who shared in his message that 81% of all evangelical churches have no discipleship in their churches of any significance. While not knowing the source of the statistic, I must admit that, unfortunately, I am not surprised. We seem to know how to talk discipleship, but when you dig deeper into many ministries you cannot find of evidence of a clear and easily reproducible process. There is a huge difference between aspirational values and actual values. If we really do value discipleship we will be discipling someone.

Have we valued “decisions” so highly that ongoing discipleship was not as highly valued as it should have been? Please hold back your disagreement with that statement for a minute please. We certainly think we agree with discipleship but is there evidence of it happening and multiplying? If we do not reproduce disciples we will never reproduce leaders. If we do not reproduce leaders we will never reproduce churches. If we do not reproduce churches we will never see a movement.

Have we turned the “faith” into what we believe instead of our actual actions and behavior? It seems that many have turned the word faith into what a person agrees with more than a trust that turns into action by the believer. Jesus made it very clear that we are to “follow” Him not just “believe” in Him.   James says that faith without works is dead. True discipleship is not just stating that we have “faith” but is demonstrated by our willingness to deny all and follow Him.

We must return to the biblical foundation of true faith that leads to action. Jesus said that if we love Him we will keep His commandments, we will do whatever He asks of us, and we will go wherever He asks us to go. Bill Hull says this about discipleship, “The church is up to its eyeballs in agreement, and that moves nothing and poses a threat to no one.” In John 6 Jesus makes this clear, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do the things I say?” Genuine faith leads to following!

Hull describes this problem of faith verses follow by saying, “A faith that embraces discipleship distinguishes itself from mere agreement or intellectual assent with demonstrated proof.” He describes five distinct characteristics of a disciple in the first century. First, a disciple submitted to a teacher who taught them how to follow Jesus. They also learned Jesus’ words and His way of ministry. Then a disciple imitated Jesus’ life and character. Lastly, a disciple found and taught other disciples to follow Jesus.

Today most discipleship sees very little of a disciple submitting to a teacher/mentor and even less of disciples making other disciples. We have enabled discipleship to become more about information transfer than actual life transformation. Everyone needs a Paul in their life and then they need to begin looking for a Timothy to disciple and mentor.

Discipleship is not a program nor is it an event. Biblical discipleship is a way of life that continues our entire lives. It is not only for beginners but also for all believers and is to be process that multiplies more believers, disciples, and leaders. Discipleship is not to be just one of the things a church does but the main thing it is commanded to do, “Go make disciples.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”

Before we protest or desire to debate, we must be willing to take a closer, honest, and unbiased look at Luke 9:23-25. Jesus makes it clear that the very essence of the Christian walk is following Him and that requires total obedience and humble submission to His commandments. What does it involve to implement that kind of discipleship? Jim Putman says there must be an intentional leader, a relational environment, and a reproducible process.

Putman describes this process beginning with those who are dead in their trespasses and sin. This individual is lost and does not know it. This is where discipleship begins by sharing the gospel with them. When they believe and are born again, discipleship continues by a disciple sharing their life, new truth, and new habits with this infant in Christ. As they grow they will then move from being an infant to becoming a child.

The infant needs everything done for them, but a child can begin to learn how to do things for themself. As a child, discipleship focuses on connecting them with God, a small group, and their purpose. They are still self-centered but as they grow they can then become a young adult. They are becoming more and more God-centered. Now you equip them for ministry, provide them ministry opportunities, and release them to do ministry. Now, as they are growing in Christ, they are focused on serving others and not on being served.

Young adults then become parents where, as mature believers, they reproduce. They become disciplemakers themselves because they have been shown the process, had discipleship modeled for them, and are released to multiply. The real litmus test of discipleship is disciples who are making disciples who are making disciples! Think of discipleship as a clear reproducible process moving those who are dead to salvation and becoming an infant in Christ.

The infant then must be shown how to grow and develop into a child. The child is taught by example to learn how to move into becoming a young adult. They are constantly maturing from being self-centered to being God-centered. Then parenthood is not far behind but mandatory in the process because without reproduction multiplication will never occur.   Our goal is to facilitate a discipleship based multiplication movement by multiplying disciples, leaders, and churches.

Biblical faith leads to godly actions not just verbal agreement!

PASSION & PURPOSE

If you have ever flown, you may remember this as a part of the safety speech after the cabin door has been closed, “In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask toward you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.”

We are reminded to first take care of our own air mask and then help others with theirs. The reality is that if you have passed out from a lack of oxygen you will not be of any good to any one else around you. There is a part of this that goes against what we believe the Bible teaches about Jesus being first, other people being our second concern, and only then are we to think about ourselves. Being selfless instead of selfish is a big part of our Christian walk and we are commanded in Philippians to, “consider others as more important than youselves.”

There are some areas where you must take care of yourself first if you want to be of any help to others around you. You must protect your passion for the Lord and His purpose for your life. You must make sure you do not quench the Holy Spirit (I Thes. 5:19) by resisting what He wants to accomplish in your life. You must passionately pursue His presence and His purpose for you. No one else can do this for you and it requires a determination and desire to abide in Him. You cannot stay strong and faithful off of someone else’s faith and passion for long.

Here are some necessary things to protect your passion and determine your purpose.

First, guard your heart. Is there any unconfessed sin in your life? In order to maintain your passion you must not allow any sin to get comfortable and build a stronghold in your heart. It hardens our hearts and it hurts our relationship with Him. You must take personal responsibility for your own heart. You cannot blame it on the times, the devil, church members, or difficult circumstances. If you do not guard your own heart you will find it very difficult to help others with their hearts.

Second, keep your faith. Eph. 3:10 says, “Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us.” The focus of this verse is sometimes incorrectly placed upon what we can ask or think. The real focus is not on us at all but on “Him who is able.” Our faith is not in what we can accomplish but rather, what our God is able to do through us. It is up to you not to listen to the doubts and fears that attack our minds continually. It is up to you to keep your faith strong by believing His word over your present situation.

Third, remember who God is. Think and meditate upon His attributes and you will remember from Christian Doctrine 101 about the immutability of God. Remember that your circumstances change but God doesn’t. To imply that God changes would also imply that He needs to improve. There is no need and no room for improvement in God because He is already perfect. The reality is not only that God does not change but also that He cannot change! Why is that important? You must remind yourself continually that He cannot lie, He cannot break a promise, and He never makes a mistake.

Fourth, discover what His plans are for you. The place to discover His plans for you is in His presence. It has been said, “Never question in the dark what God showed you in the light.” It is easy in the midst of trials, difficulties, and challenges to begin questioning if we are where the Lord wants us to be. God’s plans for us should not be decided because of problems but because of the Lord’s direction in our lives. If you are not careful you will drift away from His calling and His direction because of the critics and the naysayers.

Fifth, abide in Him. You must schedule and protect your time alone with the Lord. No one else can do this for you and reading about other people’s intimacy with the Lord is not enough. You must experience for yourself. One of the meanings of the word abide is to stay overnight. In Draw the Circle, Mark Batterson says this about abiding, “Sometimes we need to press into the presence of God a little longer. And if we linger in His presence, God’s presence will linger on us.” Be careful that you are not so busy doing things for God that you have neglected time with God.

Sixth, don’t get discouraged. Yes, that is far easier said than done but it is possible if we take proper care of our spiritual health. Paul tells the church in Eph. 3:13, “So then I ask you not to be discouraged over my afflictions on your behalf, for they are your glory.” Paul is expressing to them that when he weighs his afflictions against the glory of God and the furtherance of the gospel it is a no-brainer. When we contemplate God’s glory it makes counting the cost an easy calculation. It can be difficult at times but it is well worth it for the cause of Christ.

Seventh, take personal responsibility for your attitude. We are to have the mind of Christ. Quit making excuses if your attitude is bad and encourage yourself in the Lord. You must make sure that your spiritual oxygen mask is on first before you help others with theirs!

LEADERSHIP PIPELINE

What do you do with those you are discipling who want more? The first thing you want to do is rejoice! Developing leaders takes initiative and intentionality to develop a track that is easy to follow and easily reproducible. You must be on the outlook for those who are pushing for the next steps. They are hungry and desire something more even after being discipled into a mature believer. Your discipleship must lead them from being an infant, to child, to young adult, and then to becoming a parent where they reproduce.

As young adults the discipleship process should be equipping the disciple to minister. In DiscipleShift, Jim Putman describes the young adult’s traits as becoming less self-centered and more others-centered. They begin to see themselves as ministers. They are also starting to tithe and give more and more of their time. They begin to see and understand their kingdom purpose. It is very important to provide them with ministry opportunities and think about ministry placement. Where are they gifted and what are they passionate about?

It is at this point in your church’s spiritual growth system that you need to think through and plan out how you will develop them as leaders. Do you have a leadership pipeline in place that will help them keep taking steps forward? Remember, the desire is to have a discipleship based multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches. Have you built a “next steps” mentality into your church ministry? Thinking of a pipeline helps you to visualize them as always flowing forward. Even as an infant they can know they need to find a place to serve.

The first step can be determining where they will serve. Give them the opportunity to try out several different ministries as they prayerfully consider what is the best fit for their personality and gift set. Then they can determine if that is the ministry team they want to be a part of and serve. Once they are team members they can learn through observation what it means to lead a team. A great principle here is to give them a project to accomplish before you give them a position. A crucial core value to this process is that, “No one leads who does not first serve!”

If you see them excelling at following through on their projects then they are an excellent candidates to be team leaders. The next step would be for them to coach several team leaders. Now they make sure that team leaders have all the resources they need to accomplish the team’s goals. An example of a coach could be overseeing the leaders of your small groups by checking in on them weekly to make sure all is well and if there is any way they can serve them to make their jobs easier. They can call them to encourage them, check in on their needs, and pray for them.

When do you begin to look for these leaders and what might this pipeline look like? Dr. Dave DeVries has laid out seven phases of leadership in his Multiplication Workshop. The cool thing about these seven phases is that the first three are the process you use for every believer. You do not consider anyone for leadership who is not already maturing in Christ, living on mission, and making disciples. One element that is all too often left out of the qualifications for leadership is, “Are they reproducing?” You will never see multiplication by elevating leaders who are not multiplying themselves.

First, they are maturing. It is not that they have matured but they are in the process of maturing. It is not a place of arrival but an ongoing journey. Here are some excellent questions to ask. Are they passionate about their spiritual growth? Are they spending time alone with the Lord? Is their evidence of spiritual character developing? Are they beginning to share their faith?

The second phase is missional living. They have an awareness and a burden to reach their circle of accountability with the love of Christ. They have begun praying for them and figuring out ways to serve them and display the love of Christ in practical ways. They want to be Jesus to them and are always looking for ways to bless those far from God and relationally build bridges to them.

Third, they are making disciples. They are not only a good follower of Jesus but they are also helping others to follow Him. This will not happen if they have not been trained and shown how to make disciples. Jim Putman says that this requires an intentional leader, a relational environment, and a reproducible process. Do you have a clear and easily reproducible process in place?

The next two phases are very similar in modeling and mentoring. You need to identify which leadership skills they need the most in their lives and then model them for them to observe in practical ministry settings such as conflict resolution. The mentoring will occur as you show them what to do, allow them to do it, and then debrief them about how the ministry opportunity went by asking good questions.

Now you are ready to mobilize them into service. These leaders will need to be shown how to build effective teams, how to empower others, how to encourage and care for their teams, how to evaluate progress, and how to strategize and plan. Make sure that you celebrate their progress and you give them permission to fail. They will not lead exactly like you, but that is a good thing.

Then they can multiply. The goal here is to lead leaders and that takes more prayer, skill, and effort than just leading followers. Without the multiplication of leaders you place a lid on the ability of your ministry to expand its impact for the kingdom of God. Are you multiplying yourself? “The pastor is not the minister. The pastor is the equipper, every member is a minister!” -Francis Chan

Turf Wars

The word turf is simply defined as “a layer of matted earth formed by grass and plant roots, peat, especially as material for fuel, and a block or piece of peat dug for fuel.” The reality is that the term has taken on its own etymology. It has been used to refer to a neighborhood over which a street gang asserts its authority, a city where a church has its ministry, and even a ministry someone oversees in your church. The turf “war” happens when someone steps into our area of oversight and we fell threatened.

While living in Romania, in 2000 my family and I visited a village on the request of one of the pastors there. We arrived on a Sunday morning to meet him and discuss the day of services. When I pulled up, I saw another missionary looking over at us and he began to walk our way. When I rolled my window down he said, “What are you doing here? This is my village and we have a ministry going on here!” We were quite taken aback, but the reality is that there are 10,000 villages there with no gospel witness.

Here is a reality check for churches. If all the people in your community decided to attend church this coming Sunday there wouldn’t be enough seating for all of them. The highest reported statistics say that maybe 25% of the population is in church on any given Sunday. Do the math! If you live in a city of 20,000 that means 15,000 need Jesus. That means that in the Little Rock, North Little Rock, Conway, AR, metropolitan statistical area 540,000 people need Jesus. The problem is not too many churches but, rather, having churches who see that the fields are white unto harvest.

Mike Breen has written on three things killing the American church and lists them as celebrity, consumerism, and competition. Looking at the third, competition, we must all admit that there have been times we have been tempted to think we must have better programs, better music, and better facilities than everyone else. We are in a competition with other churches to get members! What if we all focused on reaching those who are far from God? Our churches should exist to help people find Jesus and follow Him.

Sometimes the competition is inside the church. Ministries are competing for workers, space, recognition, and finances. People have their “pet” programs that they have “always” directed and they will protect their turf. Recently, when visiting a church, I was told not to go into a certain area of the building because it was under the “control” of a certain member. Really? No one should own a room, a pew (or chair), a parking space, or a particular ministry. If that occurs then they can hold the church hostage! How do you protect your church from turf wars?

First, remember that Jesus is Lord of the church. It belongs to Him and if we want it to honor and glorify Him we must recognize this principle. Do not over spiritualize this by thinking that the way you think it should be done is equal to how Jesus wants it done. Be submissive and teachable to timeless principles not just present traditions. Here is something that must be asked……. is your church making disciples? Are you seeing a multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches?

Second, why you do something is as important as what you do. All too often we get consumed with all of the activity. We think that because we are busy all is well. Not necessarily so! Some churches require members to be present eight to nine times a week but souls are not being saved and disciples are not being developed. Perfect attendance is not the ultimate goal and does not guarantee spiritual maturity. Ezra 7:9-10 describes well this laser focus of how we are to study His word (II Tim. 2:15), live out His word (James 1:22), and then teach His word (II Tim. 2:2) to others also.

Third, always value people over the task and the program. Make sure that you are focused on the ministry of building up people and not people building your ministry. If you want more out of your team then you must put more into them. How can you help and resource them to make them as effective as possible? No one is perfect and do not expect them to always do things the way you would. Do everything with excellence! A great definition of excellence is that doing the best with what you have.

Fourth, be clear about the vision and the process of making disciples. Someone has said, “If there is a mist in the pulpit there will be a fog in the pew.” All too often, when you speak to church staff (paid and volunteer), even they are unable to clearly explain the vision and direction of the church. You must work hard to ensure that everyone knows where you are headed and how you plan on getting there. You can test this by asking several leaders to articulate to you what they believe your vision is and how to carry it out.

Fifth, make sure everyone is on the same page. Every ministry must be a part of the vision and the process of discipleship. We can become so preoccupied with programs that they become an entity in themselves. They must be evaluated to make sure that they are tools that facilitate the vision of the church. Without proper alignment with the overall vision, the workers can become passionate about their ministry to the point of protecting their turf.

Healthy churches protect their vision by saying yes to the best things and no to anything else. They refuse to protect their turf just to keep pet programs alive because they have always had that program.