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God Desires So Much More

A couple of years ago, Dr. John David Smith, our executive director of missions, challenged our association by giving us a picture of where we were as cooperating churches.  It was to many painful, and I am thankful for the courage of leaders to tell us what we need to hear.  Hopefully, we will receive it with a spirit of humility and repentance.  Whenever you give negative statistics, it does deliver some pain, but my prayer is that it will also call us to prayer and that we will actively pursue God’s vision and mission for His churches. It is estimated that 4,000 to 6,000 churches will close their doors this year! 

Church health researchers tell us that 85% of all churches in North America have either plateaued or are on the decline. We are also told that of the remaining 15% which are considered healthy and growing, only 1% of those churches are growing because of conversion growth (people being born again and baptized). We have approximately 1200 BMA churches listed in the directory and handbook.  That means that over 1000 churches have plateaued or are on the decline.  We must be willing to at least consider the possibility that this is our present reality.

This suggests that as an association of churches we have 180 churches that are healthy and growing.  Our primary motivation should not be size and numbers but rather a healthy church as described in the scriptures.  Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all nations and our identity is to be a disciple; an obedient follower of His commands.  As disciples, our mission is to be making disciples.  Are we being transformed daily and becoming more like Christ?  Are we obediently seeking and engaging others to help them find and follow Jesus?

In Ephesus 3:20-21, Paul says, “Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to His power that works in us— to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.” God desires far more for His churches than we do.  He desires to see every church bring Him glory and to proclaim His name to every nation. Do you not have a nagging feeling that God intends more for us than only a Sunday worship service?  Do you not sense a higher calling than a wonderful time of fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ?   

Todd Wilson reminds us in his book, More,that the incarnation of Christ means that we are the sent ones and the resurrection of Christ means that there is no place we are not sent.  In the Exponential devotional, “Made for More,” Erika Rizkallah says this, “As His church we are chosen by Jesus to carry Christ’s fullness into every corner of culture and sphere of society. The church is the people of God, saved by the power of God, for the purposes of God.  It is all the people of God on everyday mission to fill everything in every way with the fullness of God.”  

You can download Erika’s six-week devotional guide and the Made for Moreresource kit (exponential.org) and it is well worth your time as they lead you through six necessary shifts based on the book of Ephesians.  We see in Ephesians 3:10 that, “This is so God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens.”  God wants his people and His churches to be everything He has commanded us to be.  He also desires that we be everywhere He has directed us to be.

The resource kit will walk you through each chapter of Ephesians with the focus on these shifts.  This free resource instructs us, “Paul’s letter to the churches in Ephesus provides our roadmap. We will work through each of the six chapters together. Each chapter highlights a theme element, a critical move, and an essential shift in thinking and behavior to put us on a pathway toward mobilizing God’s people, God’s way.”  

The themes of chapters 1-6 are:

  1. Made to Do More
  2. Made to Go More
  3. Made to Win More. 
  4. Made for More
  5. Made to be More
  6. Made to Love More

The critical moves of each chapter are:

  1. Mysteries: Illuminate the Mystery
  2. Masterpieces: Investigate the Design
  3. Motivations: Motivate with Love
  4. Missionaries: Organize for Fullness
  5. Mission Fields: Activate for Purpose
  6. Methods: Prepare for Battle  

The essential shifts every church needs to make are:

  1. From more effort to more Jesus.
  2. From more volunteers to more masterpieces.
  3. From more guilt to more love.
  4. From more hierarchy to more missionaries.
  5. From more programs to more mission fields.
  6. From more strategy to more surrender.

Here are a couple of things to begin to see the “more” that God desires for your church.  

  1. Begin to pray and ask God to do a great and mighty work in and through your congregation.  Develop a prayer strategy that involves everyone in your congregation that you possibly can.  Dedicate times to pray and fast to show God how desperate and serious you really are.  
  2. You must believe that God has “more” for your church.  Dare to dream that God has a plan for your church to glorify Him and make a difference in His kingdom work.
  3.  Then you should be willing to evaluate the necessary elements required for a church to bring Him glory. You must begin to evaluate your biblical alignment and obedience to the word of God.  There must be qualified godly leaders who can effectively lead the church to make the necessary changes.  You must also consider looking at congregational health in the areas of fellowship, discipleship, worship, ministry, and mission.  

Are you effectively engaging the community with the gospel of Jesus Christ and if not, why not?  Are you making disciples and if not, why not? 

Reaching Out—Siders!

Most people enjoy the feeling of thinking they have the “inside” track. It might be the inside track towards a better job or the inside track of knowing the right people in order to accomplish your goals.  Having the inside track means you know the right people and you know the right steps to get where you desire to go.  With that said, no one enjoys feeling like they are the outsider.  You don’t feel like you know anyone you need to know nor do you feel accepted by him or her.  All of us, at one time or another, have felt like an outsider and it was not a good feeling.

Your church must be careful to not build a culture that promotes a mentality of rewarding the insiders while rejecting the outsiders.  We should never make it seem like being a card-carrying member means you have certain insider information and rights.  Actually, the focus of those already on the inside should be on how they can serve and minister to those who are on the outside.  Matter of fact, Jesus focused on the outsiders by loving them and reaching out to them.  It has been said, “Jesus leaving the ninety-nine to find one seems crazy…until you are that one!”  

Jesus pulled no punches with the religious crowd in Luke 4:25-27 reminding them that Elijah did not go to the aid of a widow from Israel but rather a foreigner, an outsider from the region of Sidon.  Jesus continues by telling them that even though there were many lepers in Israel Elisha went to Naaman a Syrian, also an outsider.  Jesus did not place much stock in lineage, social standing, or pedigree.  The deciding factor on the individual these prophets would help was not based on that person being an insider but rather whether or not they responded in faith.

InKingdom Matrix Jeff Christopherson writes, “Outsiders would be blessed if they responded to the revelation that God gives.  Insiders would be ignored, passed-over, disregarded, (or worse) if they did not demonstrate faith in God’s revelation.  Others, any others, even Gentiles, would receive a blessing from Him, but His hometown, through their own unbelief, would be completely passed over.” How sad that those who watched Jesus grow up would miss out on His salvation.  Their “inside” information did not seem to help them at all because of their lack of faith. 

 Jesus’ message of reaching outsiders was not well received.  They drove Him out of town and wanted to kill Him by throwing Him off a cliff.  It should not catch us off guard or surprise us when some of our “insiders” are not overjoyed about reaching “outsiders.” Unfortunately, way too many insiders seem to have blind spots about who they should be reaching out to and are not interested in obeying Christ’s commission.  It is very sad that some Christian “insiders” can even become angry and enraged by the thought of reaching certain outsiders.  

Peter finally figured this out and learned his lesson in Acts 10 when he says, “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him.”  He did not come around without some strong hesitation and arguing.  You must be ready to address these challenges, excuses, and disobedience.  Prejudice is real and should not be ignored.  It creates an inward focus on those you already have and causes you to forget that your church actually exists to obey the great commission.

The challenges will be plentiful as “insiders” say things like, “Shouldn’t we focus on taking care of who we already have first?” The bean counters will want to know, “How much is this going to cost us?”  Those in control will wonder, “Will we still have enough votes on our side at the business meeting if we grow too much?”  The “white and uptight” will struggle with worshipping with the “down and out.”  The legalists will worry about new people not following the already well-established unwritten rules that all of the “insiders” know well.

What if pursuing the de-churched and un-churched once again became our priority? 

 What if loving the lost, last, and least was more important than our personal preferences? 

 What if we once again did what Jesus did; built relationships with sinners who were far from God? 

 Jeff Vanderstelt recently tweeted, “When the church doesn’t expect normal Christians to be on mission in their every day life, then we’ve misunderstood the very nature of what it means to be God’s people.”  When the church is not interested in reaching outsiders it has no reason to exist.

Maybe we are asking the wrong question.  Have we become more concerned about how many are attending instead of how many are engaging people far from God?  Have we become so focused on seating capacity that we have forgotten about measuring our sending capacity?  Have we become so busy with all we are doing around the church that we have forgotten our primary purpose and are neglecting God’s mission? Jesus made our purpose and mission very clear when He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”  Are you making disciples?

*Here are a few more questions to evaluate your ministry.  

*Are lives being changed and transformed?  

*Are you seeing disciples being made?  

*Has your church chosen survival and scarcity over the opportunity to make a significant impact in your community?  

*Does most of your present ministry focus on the “insiders” or are you actively engaging in ministry that serves the “outsiders” on a regular basis?  

*Are you striving to be the fullness of Jesus Christ in every corner of your culture and every sphere of your society? 

Many health issues are amplified and the symptoms get worse when we shift from being outwardly-focused and become inwardly focused!!! 

Do We Need Revitalization?

 We usually will go to our family doctor once a year for an annual checkup.  We want to make sure everything is ok and hope for a clean bill of health.  Maybe we need some minor adjustments or simple instructions to improve our health such as starting to walk more.  Basic steps such as that can make a huge difference in our overall health.  The greater problem is if we ignore our health until very drastic steps must be quickly taken and.  Usually, the longer you ignore sickness the worse it becomes until it can even be life threatening.

Hey church, the same is true about you!  The longer you refuse to ignore signs of being unhealthy the sicker you will become.  Even though the sickness your church might be experiencing can be very complex the solutions can actually be very simple.  A church says, “We never see visitors and no one ever gets saved!” The solution can be as basic as inviting more people and sharing your faith regularly!  The reality is that if your church attendance continues to decline eventually you will have to close the doors unless something changes.

There are different levels of sickness just as there are different stages of cancer.  Are you willing to diagnose just how sick your church is?  Are you brave enough to cry out to God and ask Him to show you where you are falling short of being the vibrant body of Christ He desires for you to be?  Are you willing to repent of the things He shows you that need to change for your congregation to be healthy and thriving once again?  There are different levels of church sickness that you need to consider so you can take the steps necessary, whether they are simple or not.

  1. Maybe you need to refocus on why you exist. Your church exists for His glory and so that “God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known.” (Ephesians 3:10) In Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren reminds that according to Acts 2 the church is to grow warmer through fellowship, deeper through discipleship, stronger through worship, broader through ministry, and larger through mission. Which one do you need to refocus on the most?  Pick the one big thing you need to work on and refocus on that for the next three months. The dictionary says, “The verb refocus means to readjust an optical device.”  It can also mean to change your priorities.  The word of God is our lens and it is to be our rule and standard. Look through His lens and see what may need to be made clearer.  Paul says, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”  In II Chronicles 20:12 it tells us that when God’s children were terrified because a mighty army was descending upon them, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”  That is a great place to begin by refocusing! 
  2. The prescription for health may require more than a simple tweak or adjustment; it may demand revitalization.  When you take the two root words of revitalize and add the “ion” it means to make live again.  It is the idea of restoring vitality to your church by giving it back the vigor and vitality it once had.  Thom Rainer describes the difference between refocusing and revitalization like this. Refocusing means you want to improve by asking, “How can we do this better?”  Revitalization wants to fix what is wrong and asks, “How do we make it right?”  In our Activate initiative we describe the lifecycle of a church in three stages.  Are you inclining, reclining, or declining?  The longer you have been on the decline the harder it will be for revitalization to occur. There is no silver bullet or plug-n-play that fixes everything overnight.  There is a big difference in the time required to lose 5 pounds and losing 100. There is a big difference in commitment if you decide to get in shape to run a 5K and running a marathon.  It may not be easy but it is always worth it when we are battling for God’s glory. 
  3. Another option may require a church considering replanting.  There are many different ways this can look.  It might mean handing the building over to a healthy congregation or to a new church plant.  It could also mean selling the facilities and reinvesting the resources into advancing His kingdom.  A congregation might need to prayerfully consider what could be done to use the investment that was already made and who might be able to focus on reaching that community for Christ.  Every church has a lifecycle and there comes a time to accept that. 

Recently on a podcast I heard Mark Clifton say, “For a neighborhood a building represents a sacred space.  Every neighborhood benefits from that sacred space. When they see that space decline and fall into disrepair it reflects on the glory of God.  We know that building is not the church but the unchurched, the unsaved, they do think it is a representation of the glory of God.  It is worth reclaiming that property for God’s glory.”  He then quoted a friend who said, “A vacant church looks like a long abandoned castle of a long forgotten king.” 

Consider contacting us to see how our Activate initiative might be able to help you evaluate where you are and what steps you might consider next.  Ultimately Activate is a discovery process, led by the Holy Spirit, driven by the pastor (along with the support of a team within the church), supported by the huddle, and coached by the BMA Activate staff.  You can email me at larry@bmaam.comor Heidi Sorrells, our Pastor’s Advocate, at heidi@bmaam.comand she will be happy to help you any way she can. 

Autopsy of a Dead Church

They say there is a first time for everything so this is the first time I am running someone else’s blog in its entirety here but I think its worth it. Our Activate ministry is a:

BIBLE-BASED DISCOVERY process, LED by the HOLY SPIRIT,
driven by the PASTOR, supported by a TEAM within the church, DISCIPLED by the pastor’s Huddle, and COACHED by the Activate staff.

We utilize Thom Rainers book mentioned here in the early stages of this church renewal/revitalization process! My prayer is this will challenge you and your church to seek to be healthy and multiply!

From Thom Rainer:

“I was stunned.

When I wrote Autopsy of a Deceased Church five years ago, the response took me by surprise. While all authors expect or hope their books will be bestsellers, I frankly didn’t see it coming. Hundreds of thousands of book sales later, Autopsy became the all-time bestseller in the genre of church leadership.

Why? Why did church leaders, both vocational and laity, respond to the book with this level of interest? The concept was simple. We interviewed church members of churches that had closed their doors or died. We performed an autopsy of deceased churches. We found out why these churches died.

After about a year of receiving questions and comments from readers, I saw a common theme emerging. The readers wanted to know what they could do to prevent their churches from dying. Ironically, a book about the death of churches became a book about hope for churches.

While the sales of the book remain strong to this day, I think it’s worth noting what we have learned in the five years since I wrote the book. On this fifth anniversary celebration of Autopsy of a Deceased Church. Here are six things we’ve learned.

  1. Most members of dying churches didn’t see it coming. Many of the members were still dealing with the shock of the death of their churches when we interviewed them.
  2. Many of the members and leaders of these churches would have begun revitalization efforts if they knew how. I am so grateful for the revitalization revolution taking place today. Churches have resources and knowledge they didn’t have five years ago.
  3. “Minor” issues kill churches. Most of these churches did not die because of some major heresy. They did not die because of a mass exodus of the population surrounding them. They died because they lost their focus. They died because they fought over things that really did not matter. They majored on minors to the point of death.
  4. The silent majority killed churches. Some members saw the problems. They knew the power brokers in the church. They knew the personnel committee ran off a pastor without cause. They heard the constant chorus of not-so-well-intending critics attacking church leadership. But they said nothing and did nothing. Their silence was a dagger in the back of these churches.
  5. Some members waited for the silver bullet. Many of them said they kept waiting on that young pastor who would attract new young families. Some of the churches got those young pastors, and they ran them off when change began to take place. Most of the churches, though, never got the young pastor. They waited until death.
  6. A church does not have to die. Death is not inevitable. But most of the members of these churches would rather see the church die than change. They got their wish.

Thanks to all of you who purchased a copy of Autopsy. I am honored and humbled by the response. Now, for the first time ever, we have a video resource for the study of this book. Perhaps it’s time take a group through this book and see what God will do to move your church in the right direction.

I pray your church will not be the next autopsy performed.”


Sent on His Mission

Jesus established His church during His earthly ministry.  What have we learned from His word, from the history of the church, from our experience, and from our present context?  The New Testament is all about churches being planted, growing, multiplying, and reaching people with the gospel.  Leslie Newbigin was a British theologian, missiologist, missionary, and author who said, “An unchurchly mission is as much a monstrosity as an unmissionary church.”  God has called His churches to carry out His mission!  

The Gospels are the story of Jesus who “loved the church and gave himself for it” (Eph 5) and said “I will build my church” (Matt. 16).  Actsis basically about the church planting efforts of Paul and the Apostles.  The epistles are primarily instructions to the new churches on how to run a church.  Ed Stetzer put it this way, “The church’s mission is Kingdom expansion – but the Kingdom is realized through the church.  In Ephesians, God’s intent is that through the church, the manifold wisdom of God would be made known (Ephesians 3:10-11).”

    Here are some simple observations about how our churches should operate:

  1. Go to them, do not wait for them to come to you! You cannot expect the “build it and they will come” mentality to be effective any more.  “Attractional” is not all bad but the word of God instructed the disciples to “go out into the highways and hedges” and to “go into all the world.”  Our motto should be, “We are coming to you!” Churches must have a strong “missional” and “incarnational” dominate strain in their DNA!   
  2. Pursue transformation, not isolation!  People need to “see” how God has changed and transformed our lives.  The only way for that to happen is to do life with them. They want to know, “Can Jesus really make a difference in my life?”  People in our families, at work, and who live next door to us need to experience a friendship with someone who has a powerful daily relationship with Jesus Christ!
  3. Form communities, not just groups!  The difference is that a group meets at a particular time to accomplish a particular goal while communities are families who support and serve one another.  Spiritual families are then birthed out of the harvest, and members of these families engage in activities that carry out the mission of the family.  They fight spiritual battles together and rejoice when victories occur.
  4. Follow the Holy Spirit, do not just copy someone’s model!  Make sure your ministry vision is driven by biblical principles not personal preferences.  Principles, unlike church models, are timeless and transcultural. One size and one style does not fit all. Find out what God wants you to do and you can only discover that on your knees.  Plant the seed and water and God will give the increase.  Remember, form follows function!
  5. Focus on making disciples, not on the three Killer B’s!  (Buildings, Bodies, and Bucks).  It must begin with making disciples!  If we never reproduce disciples we will never reproduce leaders. If we never reproduce leaders, we will never reproduce churches and multiplication will not occur.  We are called to equip, empower, and then release workers out of the harvest into the harvest!
  6. You must first serve before you can lead!  Jesus said in Matthew 20:28, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  Shepherds exist to serve the sheep.  In The Emotionally Healthy Church Peter Scazzero says, “I learned that leadership is not always being the strong one; instead, it is being the weak one who is made strong by God alone.”
  7. Focus on people, not on programs!  It really is about relationships.  The “self-made” man or women is a myth.  God did not create us to follow Him alone and create an island for ourselves.  We need one another for counsel, encouragement, to ask helpful questions, and to lend a listening ear when needed.  All of us need relationships with others that help to empower us by sharing God-given resources!

 These are some simple observations that God and godly mentors have been trying to teach me.  All of us need to be lifelong learners.  Leaders are learners and they have a teachable spirit. They never stop wanting to learn. They refuse to believe that once theyhave a position of leadership, the pursuit of learning to lead has stopped. Leaders must have a passion for their own personal growth—spiritually and as aleader.

Leadership Fears

All of us have fears such as spiders, snakes, or maybe tight closed in spaces.  We often fear the future and worry about our jobs, our kids, and our churches.  We can fear not being liked or even of being misunderstood.  We can have a fear of being an outcast or of being rejected by our friends.  We can even be afraid of what the Lord may ask us to give up, what He may ask us to do, or where He might ask us to go.  Fear is real and its greatest danger is that it paralyzes us and we are then unable to do what we need to do.      

Recently, as Dr. Mark Livingston was teaching on leadership he talked about three areas where we might fear man as leaders.  First, we fear what they can do to us.  Second, we fear what they can take from us and then, third, we fear losing what someone might give us.  We know that fear is real and it is an issue that we all have to face.  Fear keeps you from doing things you want to do and sadly, things we should be doing.  We are told that the number one fear most people have is public speaking and many times we have not spoken up when we should have.

  1. What man can do to us, is the awareness of how they can create problems, headaches, and difficulties as we strive to lead our congregations.  There are those who can make every step and every decision much harder than it should be.  They are difficult by nature and sometimes we have even encountered wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Sometimes we perceive opposition but all that is needed is more information. Opposition should not shock us because Paul certainly experienced it (Acts 25:7; I Timothy 5:17).   
  2. Maybe we fear what they can take from us.  There are those who have the ability to undermine our leadership, create opposition, and even take our position from us. You know, the influencer whom the congregation always listens to first.  Please remember when certain people think they have lost their control and influence they will not play fair.  They think they can say and act as they want but they also know that a leader is not allowed the same latitude.  The leader is definitely held to a higher standard.
  3. The other fear we sometimes have is losing what someone could potentially give us.  We fear that certain people might leave and take their finances with them. Unfortunately, there are those who will even strive to use their resources to control the church to make sure things are done their way.  We should never allow anyone to hold the church hostage, including ourselves.  We have witnessed people catering to certain individuals because of what they might get.  James 2 addresses that in the early church and we also must resist the temptation of showing favoritism.   

How do you find courage in the midst of fear?  

  1. Ponder about how big God really is.  In the model prayer Jesus begins with, “Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as Holy.”  A great song says, “Your name is a strong and mighty tower. Your name is a shelter like no other.  Your name, let the nations sing it louder ‘Cause nothing has the power to save but Your name.” Think about His names such as Creator (He who made you), Father (He who loves you), Savior (He who forgives you), Shepherd (He who guides you), and Shelter (He who hides you.)   
  2. Believe and trust that God is aware of your situation and circumstances.  In Exodus 3 God tells Moses, “I have observed the misery of My people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressions, and I know about their sufferings.”  God has not forgotten, He has not abandoned you, and He never will.  Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.”  Yet, so often we act like orphans whining and griping because we do not believe that God has our back.  We think it is up to us to scratch and claw and make things happen.
  3. Be willing to wait on Him to show up. Looking at the life of Joshua we see that his source of courage came from God because he was loyal, faithful, and willing to be lonely as he waited for Moses on Mt. Sinai.  Moses was busy meeting with God and was preoccupied with what God was telling him face to face and friend to friend (Exodus 24).  What was Joshua doing?  He was waiting in silence until Moses returned.  This says something about a man when he is waiting on God’s direction but he does not panic, despair, retreat from his post, or desert his friend.

Joshua type courage comes from remaining completely loyal to his assignment even when he is by himself and probably very lonely. Courage develops, as we trust God in the silent interludes of life.  There are times a leader is called by Christ to come apart from everyone else to be alone with Him.  We must resist the temptation of thinking we will be forgotten, opportunities will pass us by, and we will end up missing out on something.  The quiet times and the resting times can be the most difficult and the hardest to not fear and to not worry.

Dr. Livingston gave us an excellent quote from When People are Big and God is Small by Ed Welch, “All experiences of the fear of man share at least one common feature: people are big.  They have grown to idolatrous proportions in our lives.  They control us.  Since there is no room in our hearts to worship both God and people, whenever people are big, God is not.  Therefore, the first task in escaping the snare of the fear of man is to know that God is awesome and glorious, not other people.” 

Courage to Lead

Courage is not found where we so often look for it.  We see courage as something we have to produce or we have to find within ourselves…but is that the courage God admonishes us to have? We know that courage is not the absence of fear but doing the right thing in spite of the fear.  Leaders must find the courage to take unpopular stands and make difficult decisions in the ministry.  Where did the leaders in the word of God find their courage?  While they were certainly people of character and had some exceptional qualities, there is so much more to it.

There are many examples of leadership given to us in the scriptures.  Jesus teaches us much on discipleship and leadership development.  Moses shows us how to move a large group of people in the same direction while his father-in-law taught him how to delegate responsibility.  These men mentor us as we read about them and learn lessons from their strengths and weaknesses.  There are men throughout the Old and New Testaments we should observe and study. Two men who found great courage were Joshua and Daniel.      

The Bible gives us the story of Joshua who leads the Israelites into battle with the Amalekites. The fascinating aspect about this account is that as far as we know, he had never before been in battle. When Moses instructs Joshua to assemble an army to go out and fight their enemies he immediately responds and obeys.  He does not delay and drag his feet.  He does not offer up excuses nor does he look for a way out of this assignment.  He does not use his inexperience as an argument for them to find someone else.  Instead, he accepts the calling to become their general.

Joshua had an unshakable belief that God was able to handle any situation he would have to face in his young life.  He had a resolute faith and knew there were two words not found in God’s vocabulary; cannot and impossible.  Romans 8:31 says, “What then are we to say about these things?  If God is for us, who is against us?”  We must have a resolute faith that believes 100% in Luke 1:37, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”  God’s strength can show up at unexpected times but we should not expect it if we are not walking with Him and trusting in Him. 

Joshua became Moses’ assistant and was able to learn so much as he observed this man of God.  The book of Joshua is really about an ordinary person accomplishing God’s extraordinary purposes. There was far more to Joshua’s success than personal giftedness, perseverance, or just the circumstances he found himself in. The question is not about God’s ability but your availability.  Is your life as available as Joshua’s was?  Are you prepared to allow Him to make the necessary adjustments in you so His power is manifested in and through you?

God works through those who are willing to pay the necessary price to walk with Him as Joshua did.  As Joshua followed the Lord and served Moses you see lessons he learned that would develop his courage in making him a great military leader and a dynamic spiritual leader.  He watched as Moses met with God and he was willing to wait all alone until Moses returned. This young leader experienced loneliness, separation, and isolation because he saw intimacy with God vitally more important than hanging out with his friends. 

What lessons we can learn from Joshua?  

  1. Serve well when we are assisting others. 
  2. You do not have to be in the lead chair to make a difference and impact.  
  3. Get ready so that when God calls you into battle you are ready. C
  4. Courage is developed in an intimate relationship with Christ where we learn we can always trust Him. 
  5. Courage is born out of a dynamic faith that can only be discovered through following Him. 
  6. Yes, God can unexpectedly show up but we should not expect it if we are not faithfully following Him.

Another example of courage would be Daniel.  He resolves (determines in His heart) to not defile himself.  The leaders around him discover his commitment when they see that following God’s plan was ten times better. Daniel’s courage increased in Daniel 2 as he discovered that God gives you what you need to know when you need to know it.  In Daniel 3, he realized that God is in control of every challenge, obstacle, or difficulty.  In Daniel 6 he ends up in a lion’s den because he refuses to stop what he had always done regularly and faithfully – pray.

He leads as an example of courage that developed from a willingness to pay any price to walk with God.   This is seen quite clearly in Daniel 10:12, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel,” he said to me . . . your prayers were heard.  I have come because of your prayers.”  God lets Daniel know that he showed up because he prayed.  This is a great leadership lesson in courage.  The answer to our prayer is not the most important thing but rather seeking Him more than seeking what He provides.  When He does show up we will not be concerned by what we do not have!

In Joshua: Mighty Warrior and Man of Faith, W Phillip Keller says, “True faith in Him is my personal, positive response to His word, to the point where I act upon it and simply do what He commands.  I do not look for excuses, offer weak-kneed apologies for my inconvenience, or debate the issue with God.  I simple obey and accede to His authority.”  Our courage is not in who we are but in the one we worship, follow, and serve!

Get the Slight Edge

What areas would you like to focus on the rest of 2019?  At the end of 2019 what will have taken place for you to consider it a successful year?  Ponder that question personally, professionally, and as a church.  Where do you want to be spiritually one year from today and what do you hope your church looks like one year from today? 

How will your faith grow?  What does growing in Christ look like for you?  Lifeway has a Spiritual Growth Assessment Process that you can take at www.lifeway.com/discipleship and it will help you to evaluate where you are in six different spiritual disciplines that include:abide in Christ, live by the word, pray in faith, fellowship with believers, witness to the world, and minister to others.  It is an excellent tool to challenge you about where you need to focus on growing your faith and developing your walk.

*Spiritual Disciplines

*Living in the Word

*Praying in Faith

*Fellowship with Believers

*Witness to the World

*Ministering to Others.

It is an excellent tool to challenge you about where you need to focus on growing your faith and developing your walk.

This evaluation also gives you a list of recommended action steps for each area.  The beauty of this is that it shows you how you can implement practical ways to grow in each one of these six areas.  Whether you use this tool or not, if you want to move forward in a productive manner you should come up with a list of 5-7 goals to focus on and then prioritize them.  What do you feel the Lord would want you to work on first?  When will you begin working on it?  What will you do to help you reach and accomplish that goal?

He continued, “Olsen asserts that this ‘slight edge’ comes from doing the little things that bring success day after day after day. What’s amazing is that the things done daily in and of themselves seem to matter very little that day. Yet, this consistent discipline in the small things, plus time, equals great success. The ‘slight edge’ provides the power of compound interest in every area of our lives where it is practiced.”  Dr. Crawley has developed a men’s discipleship track that focuses on faith, family, friends, finances, and fitness.

This “slight edge” can be seen in every area of our lives.  The reality is that your health improves with exercise, your finances improve with a budget, your time improves with a schedule, and your soul improves by abiding in Christ by developing a daily quiet time.  It can be seen in disciplining ourselves to be in God’s word daily.  The truth is that you may not be changed in a day but if you are in His word daily it will change you.  The main point of taking a spiritual assessment is not to see if you have “arrived” but rather if you are headed in the right direction. 

Do you desire to develop a closeness and intimacy with Him that is deeper than you have experienced with Him in the past?  Some people say they are not into goal setting but the Apostle Paul was certainly not against it.  He says in Philippians 3:10, “My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”  Steve Green said it well in a song, “Oh, I want to know you more, deep within my soul I want to know you, oh I want to know you…Oh I want to know you more.”

If this is your prayer and desire of your heart what practical steps will you take to see it become a reality?  An American proverb says, “The hardest step is usually the first step.”  Remember, “this consistent discipline in the small things, plus time, equals great success.”  My dad reminded me often that it requires consistency.  Decide what you are going to do to develop this closer walk with the Lord then be committed to see it through.  If that means that you’re going to read through the entire Bible verse by verse then get started now, repeat daily, and do not quit!

Timothy Keller has said this about a daily quiet time.  “It is the single most influential practice in building your life from the inside out.”  The thing that people need to see the most in your life is that you walk with God. They know you are not perfect and that you make mistakes but they need to see that you are passionately pursuing God. Schedule your quiet time, guard your quiet time, be dedicated to your quiet time, and most of all enjoy your quiet time as He changes you from the inside out.  

David said in Psalm 63:1, “God, You are my God; I eagerly seek You. I thirst for You; my body faints for You in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water.”  Your “slight edge” will be your commitment to pursuing Him and abiding in Him.  You have this new opportunity to spend time with Him and allow your intimacy with Him increase day by day.  Don’t waste another moment!

Start Building

As we strive to be good stewards of the ministry Christ has placed us over we need to think of focusing on what needs our attention.  If we desire healthy growing churches then we must start doing the things that will help us to be healthy and will enable us to also stay healthy.  Our physical and spiritual health depends on diet, exercise, getting the proper rest, and some other important activities. Last week we stressed the need to stop doing the things that are only digging the hole deeper. This week we will focus on the things we need to be doing!

What habits do you need to commit to in the New Year? If you are going to build up and help others then you need to make sure you are practicing self-care also.  What plans do you have to care for your own soul spiritually, emotionally, socially, physically, and mentally?  Dr. Steve Crawley says, “To revisit a thought shared previously, if we use our Life Plan to establish a habit of doing the little things each day that lead to success, it may not seem like much to start, bot over the course of time the impact will sky rocket.” 

First, we need to be praying!  This is where we need to begin, on our knees before our God begging Him for His power and direction.  Are you praying for your church leaders, church family, and for your community daily? When Nehemiah saw the need in Jerusalem we see this godly leader stop, fast, and pray. How much time are you actually spending crying out to God on behalf of the spiritual condition of your church?  One source has reported that 90% of evangelicals pray approximately one minute a day!  

Second, practice courageous leadership!  When God does show you the things you need to be doing, obey! The congregation needs to face the truth of their spiritual condition and godly leaders need to provide that truth no matter how painful it might be.  People need to hear the truth whether they embrace it or not.  The real challenge of leadership is convincing people that the pain of where they need to go is not as painful as staying where they are.  Think children of Israel!  They were convinced they would be better off returning to Egypt.

Third, structure the ministry in your church to get more people involved.  We have even gotten to where we need a committee to determine who will be on the committees.  Some churches that are already struggling think that getting more structure will fix everything and it just does not work that way.  Focus on moving people out of meetings and into ministry.  In The Unstuck Church,Tony Morgan says, “I’d much rather have people invest their time, gifts, and energy in making disciples than in making decisions in a church committee meeting.” 

Fourth, you must sell-out in developing and implementing a discipleship pathway.  Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.”  Read great books on discipleship such as The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman and Real-Life Discipleship by Jim Putman.  Most churches do well at the big circle (worship), the middle circle (Bible studies), but struggle at one-on-one discipleship that promotes spiritual mentoring and accountability.  Take a break from working in the ministry only and take the time to step back and work on your discipleship plan.

Fifth, consider changing your church governance system if it is unhealthy or dysfunctional. Is your structure modeling what spiritual leadership should look like?  The primary purpose of church leadership is not to keep the pastor and staff in line.  Their primary role should be to encourage and enable their pastor to lead the way God intended.  Find a structure that recognizes that God often allows the leader to see the direction and challenges first.  All too often a pastor is desired and asked to use their pastoral gifts more than their leadership gifts. 

Sixth, work hard at remaining outwardly focused.  Yes, to some I am sounding like a broken record but to be like Christ we must seek out the lost.  Almost everything we do is for people who are already connected to the church.  It is not possible to be healthy if we never do much to reach people outside the faith and outside the church.  Our evangelism approach may look different today than it did in 1970, but the mission and heart of God remains unchanged.  You cannot necessarily expect to return to the method of the 70’s but we can return to the value!

Seventh, work on building the systems you need to sustain growth.  As important as systems are you must make sure youkeep it simple!  Complexity actually hurts more than it helps.  For example, we think we have a discipleship pathway when in reality what we have is a multitude of programs that teach Bible lessons.  Of course, teaching the Bible is a good thing but you must look closely at your spiritual growth system to make sure it is actually producing multiplying disciples.  Can you trace multiplication to the fourth generation?  (2 Timothy 2:2)    

BMA Missions defines our vision statement as a discipleship based multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches.  Courageous conversations are necessary for your church to figure out how to engage your community and make a difference for the cause of Christ.  Quoting Tony Morgan again, he says that, “We easily become fixated on being the “best” church in our community,rather than being the best churchfor our community!” Methods should never become more important than the mission.  Are you seeing a multiplication of disciples who are discipling others?

Quit Digging a Hole

It has been said, “If you are in a hole, rule number one is to stop digging.” That certainly sums up many other statements that could be made about a church that is no longer healthy.  Yet, all too often, that church continues to do the very things that made her unhealthy.  In The Unstuck Church, Tony Morgan says, “What got the church on life support will not make it healthy again.” There is such a need to consider prayerful evaluation of where your church is (healthy versus unhealthy), why it is unhealthy, and what needs to be done to make it healthy again. 

There is another saying that goes like this, “Hope springs eternal.”  The problem is that biblical godly hope is not just a pie in the sky dream.  It is more than just wishful thinking.  Romans 5:5 says, “This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  You see the hope of God will not disappoint because He acted on that hope and came to provide us a way to have a relationship with Him.  It is not enough to think that hoping things will change will actually produce healthy change.

We constantly say things like; “I sure hope someone fixes that”, “I sure hope someone shares the gospel with them”, or “I sure hope things get better.”  Hope by itself alone will not win people to Jesus, disciple new converts, plant a church, keep a church healthy, or get a dying church off life support.  The reality is that hope is not a strategy and you need a plan to quit digging and know what to do after the digging stops.  God had a strategy to deliver hope, “When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.”  (Gal 4:4)

How do you stop digging deeper?  Begin by evaluating where you are and if you are healthy.  

First, will you develop a clear and compelling vision that all of your people can clearly articulate.  A lack of vision is one characteristic that shows up in churches that begin to drift from their mission and begin to decline. Your vision needs to specifically describe the next steps your church will take to begin getting healthy by developing healthy steps and practices for your people to take.  Mission is why you exist and is where you are headed.

Second, how will you make disciples and what does discipleship look like in your church?  Jim Putman in Real Life Discipleshipdescribes discipleship as an intentional leader, with a relational environment, and a reproducible process.  Discipleship that is complicated and confusing will not produce healthy disciples.  Chances are they will not produce disciples at all.  Do you have a reproducible process with clear steps that moves people from where they are to where God wants then to be?  These steps lead from spiritual birth to spiritual parenthood. 

Third, how will you lead your church to remain outwardly focused with a heart of generosity?  The church does not exist only for those who are already there. Tony Morgan in The Unstuck Churchsays, “It’s impossible for any church to be healthy and experience growth if nothing they do is designed to reach people who are outside the faith and outside the church.”  You must prioritize people who are outside your church by showing them the love of Christ in practical ways.  You have to quit digging the hole of only focusing on who is already there. 

The second part of this is by being a generous church.  Ask yourself whether or not your church leans toward being generous or protecting and holding on to what you have?  When we lean toward being a generous church then we lean more toward being like Christ.  When we lean toward being stingy then we lean further away from Him.  Romans 5:5 says, “This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  His loved was poured out to us so that we would pour that love out to others. 

This principle of generosity is stressed in Galatians 6 by telling us we should not get tired of doing good and with every opportunity we have we should labor for the good of everyone.  This biblical principle of practicing generosity should always characterize how we treat those outside the church.  We should remain generous regardless of how many times we think that people have taken advantage of our generosity.  Resist the temptation to focus on maintenance and preservation of what you already have.  God gave you what you have to invest it into His kingdom work! 

 Fourth, lead your church in these areas with strength and courage.  You must do whatever is necessary to get your church healthy and reach new people with the gospel.  Some will want to continue digging the hole deeper and deeper but you must lead them to lay down their shovels and crawl out of the hole.  There will be opposition but you cannot wait for everyone to get on board.  Pray hard and then begin to develop a plan of attack on how you will get healthy, your church leaders will be healthy, and then so your church will be healthier.  

Lead your people with a vision of making disciples who make disciples.  The time is now to become a strong leader. Until you begin to make the necessary changes to become healthy the plan has only been a conversation.  Once you begin to take the actual steps toward becoming healthy there will be opposition.  Not everyone will be happy that you have decided to stop digging the hole deeper and deeper.  Lead anyway toward biblical church health!