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Don’t Settle For Less

Your church exists to help people find and follow Jesus. Our Lord made it very clear when He said, “Go and make disciples.” The core mission of every church is to help people follow Jesus, walk with Him, and continue on their spiritual journeys. According to Eugene Peterson, “Discipleship is long obedience in the same direction.” Is biblical disciple making really the core that drives your church and everything you do? Will you settle for anything less?

Church culture has developed a pathway to service from conversion to volunteering to service. If you are not careful this can become more of a drainpipe then a leadership pipeline. Everyone should have a place of service but God has so much more for us than being an occasional greeter, usher, or taking our turn in the nursery. Maybe this is part of our willingness to settle for less than God intended? We need a pathway where disciples are trained, equipped, and released to serve.

Disciples make disciples, who become leaders, and then live on mission for Christ. That is a leadership pipeline. Matthew 4:19 defines a disciple as someone who knows and follows Jesus, is being changed by Jesus, and is committed to the mission of Jesus. This describes the goal of what we are called to do, accomplish, and become. Goals without practices and habits are only a pipedream. You dream about the goal but your habits remain the same. We settle for less!

We must develop faith habits that produce actions today that will make our goals a reality tomorrow. Are you willing to do the right things today that will ensure kingdom impact tomorrow? One example would be our goal to see a church planting movement like the early church witnessed. If we want to see a movement we must plant more churches. If we want to plant more churches then we must develop more leaders. And in order to develop more leaders we must make more disciples.

A leadership problem is actually a discipleship problem. Our goal to be obedient to Christ demands that we develop a discipleship pathway and a leadership pipeline in our church. Do you have a clearly articulated discipleship pathway so that the people in your church know what their next steps toward Christ should be? Can your members clearly articulate that pathway? If it cannot be clearly articulated then it is not reproducible. You may have disciples but they will not know how to make disciples.

First, numbers are accurate but they are not adequate. If you had 100 teenagers show up for an event that would be great and should be celebrated but does that really define success? Have we settled for less than God intended if we only measure the number? A better metric would be that they are being discipled and they are making disciples themselves. It is not wrong to track attendance but that alone is not enough to according to Matthew 4:19. We cannot settle for less than seeing diciples who are committed to the mission of Jesus.

Second, discipleship is more than attending a class and getting a certificate. Biblical wisdom is not just how much you know and the knowledge you have gained. It is being able to put God’s principles into action in our lives. Is our discipleship pathway more about information transfer then it is life transformation? You do not graduate from discipleship in this life because as Daniel Im puts it, “It is more about a direction then it is a destination.” We do not arrive but continue to become more and more like Christ.

Third, you must learn to read the Bible honestly. We cannot ignore verses that speak of hardships, difficulties, persecution, trials, and tribulation. We must learn to trust God even when we lose things we want to keep and we keep things we want to lose. God allows suffering in our lives sometimes to cut away what will ultimately harm us. It also enables Him to install and insert into our lives what we really need. We should never settle for anything less than God’s purposes for our lives.

Fourth, we must be held accountable. Our discipleship pathway must have an obedience mechanism that holds those we are discipling accountable. We settle for less than God intended when accountability is the missing ingredient in our discipleship. It has been well said, “The faith that does not finish was faulty from the first.” Discipleship demands that we speak the truth in love. The Bible is clear that those who are more spiritually mature must speak into their disciples’ lives.

Fifth, discipleship materials are the least of your problems. Curriculum is important and must be biblically sound but the bigger issue is following through with actually discipling someone. Jim Putman’s necessary elements of a discipleship pathway are worth repeating. Intentional leadership plus a relational environment, plus a reproducible process is necessary. Jesus’ main focus was developing His disciples for the task of making disciples. Do not settle for making disciples but make disciple-makers.

Sixth, lead by example because the speed of the leader determines the speed of the team. We say we need more leaders but how much of your time is spent developing leaders? Do you disciple others weekly? Do you also weekly have a group you pour into because you see leadership potential in them? If not, you need to build these two necessary systems into your schedule. It must be a part of your ministry rhythm to be discipling and to be developing leaders.

Seventh, see the potential in every believer. When Jesus looked at His followers He did not see what everyone else saw. He saw world changers who would lead a movement. God has so much more for us than just volunteering to serve in our church. He sees an obedient disciple who is being transformed by Him and is committed to living on mission for Him. We must refuse to settle for less than God intended for our lives and for our churches!

Developing Spiritual Muscles

Quite often church “experts” seem to imply that particular methods will produce certain “guaranteed” results. They offer proven and tested methods that will produce growth in your church just like it did in their church. First of all, we should be ready to listen and learn from others when we can. Teachability trumps gifting every time.   If you have to choose, make sure you take the less gifted over the expert who knows everything because they will accomplish more in the long run.

We sometimes focus so hard on the machinery (the blueprint or the game plan) that we forget we need to have the muscles (the strength and power) to accomplish our task.   Systems, flow charts, and organizational structures are important. They provide a track to run on and clear next steps for those desiring to move forward. We can become almost enamored with the charts, nut and bolts, and the details so that we forget about the need for His power and presence.

As a church there are some things we must focus on so we do not lose sight of where we are headed and how we can get there. For example, Christians know that they need to have a daily quiet time with the Lord. Then they must develop a system that determines the how, where, when, and what that will look like. Answering those questions will help make their goal of a consistent daily quiet time a reality in their lives. Yes, if you fail to plan you are planning to fail!

I heard Rick Warren speak on the following “Renewals.”

First, focus on Spiritual Renewal. This is how you are staying centered on God and as a church leaning into His presence. We develop habits (prayer and Bible study) that cause us to love God more. This renewal teaches us who He is and who we are. As a church what structure have you developed to help your people to stay centered on who God is? The muscle behind this process is the Holy Spirit. Being Spirit-filled is indispensable (absolutely necessary) to spiritual renewal.

Second, focus on Relational Renewal! This is how you stay connected to one another and learn how to love people more. As spiritual maturity begins to occur we need to connect people to God, one another, and then to a purpose. It moves a person from being self-centered to being God-centered and others-centered. Spiritual gifts enable us to serve God well. Leaders equip us for service and then when members have willing hearts they begin to exercise their gifts.

The problem is when we are more focused on serving ourselves than we are on serving others. It is easy to focus on how wonderful our gift is and want people to notice our giftedness. The key to the proper equipping and exercise of our gifts is to remember that they are given to serve others. If you want people to notice your gift then realize that what you are really saying is, “Look at me!”

Third, focus on Missional Renewal! This ensures that we remain compassionate for our cities, communities, and neighborhoods. We not only want to love people more but we also have a burden and desire to love “more” people. Once we connect members to their purpose (everyone needs a role and responsibility) we focus on equipping them for ministry. It simply involves showing the need, how they can meet the need, and giving them the opportunity to meet that need.

The machinery of processes and structures is important but the muscle (the heavy lifting) occurs by being spirit-filled. In the book of Acts we would have to be blind not to see that this is required of all leaders. The Lord has never delegated His authority to anyone who is not filled with the Spirit. When the church in Jerusalem was faced with what to do with Gentile believers, stated, “For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision—and ours— to put no greater burden on you than these necessary things.”

We must remain sensitive to His direction and leadership. Acts 10:38 says that Jesus was “Anointed…with the Holy Spirit and with power.” In Acts 4:8 it says that Peter “was filled with the Holy Spirit and said to them.” Once again, notice the order! First he was filled with the Spirit and then he spoke. There is wisdom in us following that process. You could add to this list the 120 in Acts 2, deacons in Acts 6, Stephen in Acts 7, Barnabas in Acts 11, and Paul in Acts 13.

Being spirit-filled is required. Where do you start?

First, begin with God’s word! This is our foundation and the Holy Spirit will never lead us to disobey His word. Many people are looking for a vision when they need to be looking for a verse in His word. When we place ourselves under the authority of God’s word it does the heavy lifting for us because it decides for us what we will do and what we will not do as we live by its principles.

Second, trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance! His fullness gives us joy, vitality, and energy in our service to Him. He does the heavy lifting and it is our task to remain yielded to Him. If we refuse to remain surrendered to His leadership then we will be left to our own plans and policies. Then we will have to run the machinery in our own power. Before long we will begin to go through the religious motions without His help or assistance. The result will be an unspiritual body.

Third, listen to God’s people! We need one another and there is wisdom in the multitude of counsel. Godly and spiritual people in our lives serve as our filters in making sure we are in agreement with God’s word and the leadership of the Holy Spirit. The machinery is necessary and important but we need the muscles that can only be found through the power of His word and the Holy Spirit!

Are You A Perfectionist?

In J. Oswald Sanders classic book, Spiritual Leadership, he says, “The perfectionist sets goals beyond his reach, then sinks into false guilt when he falls short.” The wisdom of that statement cannot be overstated. Sanders continues, “Our world is imperfect, and we cannot expect the impossible. Setting modest, realistic goals will help a perfectionist move through a problem without discouragement.” Unrealistic expectations can derail your ability to lead!

The problem is that quite often a visionary leader is an idealist. They have the ability to see the preferred future and begin to expect nothing less. A train wreck is about to happen when idealism meets realism head on. The true idealist can be challenged daily because they envision how things will turn out “ideally” and the “reality” is that they never do. We live in an imperfect world, with imperfect people, and we are quite imperfect ourselves, if you did not already know that.

Leadership requires examining any unrealistic expectations you have, or that others may have, at your church and in your ministry. Do not set your goals by the standard of someone else’s church attendance, their facilities, or the amount of impact they appear to be having. Rejoice when other churches are growing and flourishing. There is no room for comparison or competition in churches that desire to honor our Lord. Be faithful to fulfill His calling on your life first and foremost.

In Romans 12:3 Paul says, “For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think.” This is great advice to remain humble and to know our limitations. A great definition of perfection is doing the best you can with what you have. Yes, pursue excellence but be careful to not set the standard so high that no one can live up to that standard. Work hard at evangelism and discipleship while allowing God to set the expectations.

It is easy to confuse “stepping out in faith” with presumption or wishful thinking. In our Church Planting Essentials Training (DCPI) we challenge church planters to be careful about unrealistic expectations. The materials say, “Planting churches is a lot like raising children. Every child is unique. Each one
has its own growth rate, and every child grows to a different size and shape. But parents love each one for who they are. Comparison with other children is unwise and unhealthy.”

How do keep from allowing perfectionism to overwhelm you?

First, be able to laugh at yourself! You have to make sure that you do not take yourself too seriously. A leader does not need to have all the answers, be able to solve every problem, or hit a homerun every time they are called upon. If you cannot bend at all, by having a sense of humor, you might just break under the pressure. When you make a mistake admit you’re not perfect and get a good laugh out of your mistakes.

Second, remain humble and learn to handle criticism. No leader will ever be exempt from criticism and you must accept that it will come. How you handle it will help determine how well you can lead. Spiritual maturity is what enables you to not listen too closely to the applause or to the criticism. It also allows you to consider if maybe there is a kernel of truth in what is being shared. Can you learn from it and is there something about your leadership that needs to change?

Third, you must practice and maintain self-control. You can be right in a decision but wrong in your attitude or how you handle it. The reality is that when we lose control we will lose the ability to influence and lead others. Perfectionism places you in a pressure cooker that will eventually blow its top if you cannot lead calmly during challenging times. Leadership is not easy and is not for wimps but it can be done from a loving and serving heart.

Fourth, value the ideas and opinions of others. Usually when someone questions your leadership it is not because they oppose your direction or decision but they need more information. J. Oswald Sanders asks, “Can you accept opposition to your viewpoint or decision without taking offense? Leaders always face opposition.” It has been said that perfectionists are aware of three ways of leading, “The right way, the wrong way, and my way.” They are not real flexible with the third option. If not careful it becomes, “my way or the highway.”

Fifth, always value people and the importance of strong relationships. We need each other and we truly can accomplish more working together. Love people and value their opinions but you must also be able to press forward even in the face of opposition. Check your motives, seek a multitude of counsel, and then make the decision. Leaders are able to make hard decisions that others are not willing to make but they are often more than willing to give their advice (criticism) when you do.

Lastly, remain focused on the leadership of the Holy Spirit. The only place you can find His direction and discernment is in His presence. He will enable you to know the difference between your non-negotiables and just being hard headed. It can never be about having “your way” just because you are the leader. Our prayer must be what Jesus prayed in the garden, “not my will, but Yours!” And oh, by the way, if you have to declare to everyone that you are the leader then the reality is that you probably are not.

Perfectionism is defined as, “a personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything else.” Synonyms include the words idealist, nit-picker, purist, and quibbler. Perfectionists are sticklers for things being done right but usually become obsessive and split hairs over things that really do not matter. Perfectionists set standards that are impossible to meet, live with unrealistic expectation, and the stress of not being able to live up to these standards and expectations begins to take a tremendous toll on the leader.