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Be the Light of Jesus

Tony Dungy is well known as an NFL player, coach, and now commentator. In one of his books he shares that when he was still coaching he was often asked how he could justify working in the football “world” and be a Christian? They would point out how violent the game was, how bad the language used was, and that it was played on Sunday. His answer was, “I try to be careful to bring Christ’s light to that “world” without getting swallowed up by it!”

That is a great answer because God can only use us in the “world” if we are in fact “in” the world. There will be much debate and tension created in different scenarios of when we cross the line (and by the way, who determines that line?) and go too far. This will require godly wisdom that is only found in listening close to His leadership. Maybe we should focus on where we draw our own lines instead of judging and criticizing other people who seemingly cross the line. Check out Mark 3.

The world God has placed you in is exactly where you are to shine as His light. God gives you a platform from which you are to share Him as you allow your light to shine. Are you taking advantage of the opportunities you have to influence and add value to the lives of others? People need to see the light of what a person looks like who is abiding in Christ. Have we lost our focus on how God wants us to be His light? Have we even forgotten that we are called to be light?

Today’s reality is that so many churches seem to have forgotten why they exist and there is very little evangelism going on. It seems that all too often our focus, even in church planting, is finding those already in the family of God instead of those who are outside! In Barnabas Factors, J. D. Payne says, “Since biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches, team members will naturally spend the greatest amount of time with unbelievers prior to the birth of churches.”

Most agree that church plants need to see at least 50% of their growth come from new converts but all too often it is not even close. Before church planters think that this is an attack on them, the fact is that it is even worse in most established churches. We seem to be more focused on those we can get from other churches and who are already believers instead of pursuing the unsaved who are far from God. How intentional are you being in building relationships with unbelievers?

First, Pursue a passionate and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

If we are truly in love with Jesus then we will love others and have compassion on the multitudes as He does. It is out of our intimate and individual walks with God that we are able to minister to those outside the kingdom effectively. Unless we abide in Jesus, we really have nothing to offer others. Our inner life with Christ is what will determine what our outer work will look like.

Second, Begin building relationships and friendships with people who are far from God.

One suggestion would be for pastors and those on staff to spend one day a week hanging out with unbelievers. Where could you volunteer or what hobby could you develop that would put you in the middle of unbelievers? Start with your neighbors and invite people into your home for a meal.

Third, Make sure you are praying for unbelievers regularly.

Are you daily praying for 10-15 people by name to which you are personally trying to show the light of Jesus? Why not? Sometimes we just want to hang out with the believers we are comfortable with and already know. In Mark 5, a man who had been freed from demon possession wanted to stay with Jesus. But He told him, “Go back home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you.”

Fourth, Just Do it!

One version of Mark 5:19 says, “Tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” Just do it and allow God to bless your efforts to let them know that Jesus loves them. The reality is that most will probably never feel ready to share Christ with others. The best news though is that God is bigger than all of our inadequacies, fears, and mistakes. So even if you cannot quote the Romans road just tell them how much the Lord has done for you!

Fifth, Remember that your light will only shine brightly as you walk with Him and abide in Him.

It is out of our inner lives that we do our outer work. Who you are on the inside is as important, actually much more important, as what you do. You cannot give what you do not possess and you cannot help but give others what you do possess. If you are full of anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness it will come out. But if you are full of grace, love, and forgiveness it will be given also!

Your light shines brightest when you are walking with the Lord. Abiding in Christ is the best way to insure that our best intentions turn into consistent action. Our close communion and connection with Jesus is what produces vibrancy and vitality. When we drift from Him we become spiritually dysfunctional and our lights begin to flicker. How we serve Christ and how we love others reflects what is tucked away in our hearts. It is a mirror that reveals who and what we really love.

Be the light that Jesus intended you to be! Bring Christ’s light to “your” world without being swallowed up by it! Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

You have probably seen the hotel commercial that asks this question in song, “Should I stay or should I go?” Many pastors ask that question at many different times and most of the time it is motivated by a genuine desire to do what is best for that local church. Leaders desire to be in ministries where they can be effective and have as godly an impact as possible. The reality is that far too many pastors may leave too soon at a time when their effectiveness could be optimum.

There are studies that show the wisdom of a long tenure of a pastor but we also cannot discount the leadership of the Lord. The problem so often is that the decision to leave is made for the wrong reasons and at the wrong time. If you’re not careful when going through a valley you will move from a valley at a familiar location to another valley in a new location. We must make sure that we learn the lessons God wants us to learn when we go through the valleys and the difficult seasons that will come in any ministry.

The greatest problem might be being able to hear His voice clearly when we are in the middle of difficult circumstances. Wise counsel would be to get away, get refreshed, and seek to hear what the Lord is truly saying He wants us to do. Make sure you have a prayer retreat, sabbatical, or time focused on discerning his perfect will as best you can. There certainly are reasons and times to move to a different ministry but here are some reasons that are not good reasons to leave or move on.

Don’t leave just because of problems and difficult circumstances.

Paul makes this clear in I Corinthians 16:9 because he says a great door was opened to him but then says there were many adversaries. J.D. Greear puts it this way, “Paul saw the presence of adversaries, obstacles, and closed doors as opportunities to keep pressing, not signals to give up!” We think that just because there is opposition maybe we should move on but maybe we need to stay and work through that difficulty.

Don’t leave just because difficult people are being vocal in their opposition.

Maybe no one has ever confronted them in a biblically centered and loving manner. We are instructed to speak the truth in love and let people know when their behavior is not pleasing to the Lord. A church fellowship needs to hold its members accountable if they have fallen prey to sowing discord within the fellowship. It is never enjoyable to face difficult people but spiritual leaders are willing to face opposition that others have been unwilling to face.

Don’t leave because you are unwilling to pay the price that is required to work through the difficulty.

The normal reaction is to shy away from confrontation and conflict but someone has to work through it. Another characteristic of true spiritual leadership is the willingness to pay a price that others are unwilling to pay. Get a plan to work through the challenges and then begin to systematically work on solutions one problem at a time. List the problems, prioritize them, and then work on them one by one.

Don’t leave because you were unwilling to make the hard decisions no one else was willing to make.

Three things need to be determined by using the following questions. What is the problem? Who needs to be involved in correcting the problem? And then, when does the problem need to be worked out by? You can never get as much accomplished in one year as you think but you can always accomplish far more in five than you think.

Don’t leave thinking that things will be much different and much better in a different ministry.

They very well may be but there is no guarantee. All churches and ministries have challenges and difficulties. People are people and a lot of the ongoing problem is that no one has ever been shown how to work through them and learn how to biblically handle conflict. Challenge people that they can either become a part of the problem or a part of the solution. Adrian Rodgers said, “A change of scenery has never guaranteed a change of character.”

When you add all of these together it should encourage us to realize that all ministries are different. Be careful of comparing your ministry to others who seem to be getting blessed far more than yours. A look at Hebrews 11 shows us that the hall of faith includes those who shut the mouth of lions, were delivered from many great challenges, and were blessed with great victories. There are also those who were tortured, those who experienced mocking and scourging, and seemingly experienced great suffering.

God is glorified in both as long as we are faithful where He has placed us and to the calling He has given us. Do not interpret God’s calling to only be validated by good circumstances. Just ask John the Baptist who sat in prison after the accolades and applause had ended. No one was flocking to hear his teaching anymore and the multiple baptisms were a thing of the past. His reward for faithfully preaching the gospel was being beheaded. Yet Jesus said there were none greater then him. He had said, “I must decrease and He must increase!”

Ministry Support and Care

The ministry is not easy and we know that Paul warned Timothy and others of many challenges. The need for a team of others you can count on cannot be overstated. At running the risk of saying the same thing too often, allow me the opportunity to say it again, “The speed of the leader determines the speed of the team.” If you, as a spiritual leader, begin to struggle spiritually then before long others around you will begin to struggle also.

Protecting your walk with the Lord is paramount. You cannot allow yourself to get to the point of running on empty by not constantly abiding in Him. You must develop rhythms in your life where you daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually build systems in your life that continue to stir up the passion you have for Christ and the gift within you. What are you studying right now that is helping you to know Him better and develop a closer and more intimate relationship with Him?

On a regular basis I challenge church planters and pastors to properly care for themselves because if they are not spiritually healthy their families, friends, and ministries will not be far behind. One important aspect is to build a ministry care plan of support and accountability…having people around you that keep you on track and encourage you. They love you enough to tell you what you need to hear and provide a role in your life that you desperately need for balance and direction.

There are five roles I have told these leaders they all need to have. They need a supervisor, a coach, a mentor, a pastor, and a friend. The roles are important but can be adapted to fit your context. This does not mean you have to have five people because one person can fill two of the roles such as a friend can also be a mentor. There are certain roles that are harder to be fulfilled by the same person such as a supervisor and a coach. Lets take a look at each one of these roles.

The first is the role of supervisor!

This is the person or persons you answer to whether that is a boss, a committee, a group of elders, a board of trustees, or even a pastor accountability team. This is a team of individuals who plan with you, dream with you, and help you process God’s direction in your life. This person or persons serve as a sounding board and is far from being “yes” people. There will be tension at times but that is a good thing as wisdom is sought through prayer.

The second role is that of a coach!

According to Keith E. Webb’s definition, “Coaching is an on-going intentional conversation that empowers a person or group to fully live out God’s calling.” There is skill set that is necessary for being a good coach. It involves being a good listener and then asking good questions. We never show someone we value him or her more then when we are willing to listen to them. Do you have someone who listens well and then asks you the right questions?

The third role is that of a mentor!

The best definition I have heard of a mentor is that it is someone who has been where you want to go and is willing to help you get there. A coach pulls out but a mentor pours in. They know what you need to know and they are willing to take the time to share it with you. The best biblical example of this may be Paul pouring into Timothy but there is also Moses to Joshua and Elijah to Elisha. Do you have that individual in your life that can pour into yours?

The fourth role that everyone needs is a pastor!

We all need a spiritual shepherd who cares for our spiritual walk.   The reality is that we need someone in our lives that has a pastor’s heart for us and always wants what is best for us. They protect us from the wolves waiting to attack and devour us. They not only have a heart to protect us but they want to make sure we are properly nourished. They will always go to the word of God to direct us, correct us, reprove us, rebuke us, and strengthen us.

The fifth role is that of a friend!

Do you have that friend in your life that you know you can always count on and with whom you can always be completely transparent? True friends are very special people. David had his mighty men and there is wisdom in building a team of three friends around you. Those friends that you can always call on knowing they will be there to listen and encourage us. They are the kind of friends that you count on 24/7 who don’t walk out on you when times are difficult. You can always depend on them to be there when you need them.

Ministry care requires that we focus on our spiritual walk by building a team around us that will provide these critical roles in our lives. Can you name the people who fulfill these roles? Are you meeting and talking with them on a regular basis? If you are do not have this support system are you ready to prayerfully begin looking for them? Who fulfills the role of supervisor, coach, mentor, pastor, and friend in your life? Spiritual health requires accountability and spiritual care givers.