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Traditional or “missional”….are Sunday services the game or the huddle?

The word “missional” is now in vogue within a large portion of the Christian church.  In my own experience, it’s generally the under 40 group of people that are using it to describe themselves, the churches they are planting, or the churches they already pastor.

I had a conversation with someone a while back who had recently heard some members of a newer church describe themselves and their church as “missional”.  He didn’t really understand what they meant by describing themselves that way and so he asked me if I knew what the difference was between a typical, traditional way of doing church and this newer, “missional” way of doing church.

Even though I’m not a frequent user of the word myself, (for reasons that I won’t delve into here), I did my best to describe to this person what I believe that difference is.

I asked him to think about……the National Football League–the NFL.

What do our Sunday services most resemble?  An NFL game on Sunday afternoon, or, the huddle that both the offense and the defense take part in before each play of the game?

Typical, traditional church leaders and the majority of the members who attend their churches live their lives with a view that is similar to that of an NFL fan.  The game on Sunday is important to them and they will set aside the time to watch the game either live or in person.

They like to watch the game sitting alongside other people that are also fans of the game and especially their team.  If they go to the stadium, they are in the midst of thousands of others who watch the game with them.  If they watch at home, they might have some friends over, but even if they don’t, they know that thousands of others are watching the game too.

They trust that all the players, the coaches, the refs, and especially all the TV people have done their jobs in a way that will make their own personal experience of watching the game as comfortable as possible.

The game that they look forward to watching for a couple of hours each week doesn’t really have an impact on the way they live their lives throughout the other 6 and 7/8 days of the week.  It’s possible that they will have a short conversation with some one about the last game or possibly about an upcoming game if it’s a big one, but overall, their commitment to their team and watching the games of their team makes no significant difference in the way they live their lives.

On the other hand, those church leaders and members of a church that is “missional”, are more like the players that actually play the game.  For those 3 hours, the game is the reason they live.  They do gather together, but the purpose of their gathering together, their taking part in the “huddle”, is to be sure that all of them as a group know what they will be doing on the next play.

The huddle isn’t the point of the game and it isn’t something they take part in as just a spectator.  The huddle gives the whole group the plan that will hopefully accomplish the goal and it lets them know what their individual responsibility is for the success of the team.

The huddle isn’t something the players take lightly.  It’s crucial to their own personal success and the success of the team.  It’s incredibly important, but isn’t the point of the game.

Needing to run, I summarized the “missional” view in this way:

Sunday morning services for the “missional” minded church and its members are like the huddle of a football team.  Every other minute of life outside the church service is the game that everyone is involved in.  To be successful in the game of life, the huddle is essential, but it’s not the apex or the point of the players lives.

 

 

 

 

vision_eye

Vision – Part 2: Developing Vision

In my last post I ventured into the topic of vision and discussed the first of five important aspects of it for pastors, that of receiving vision.  I explained how that receiving vision is as easy as desire.  But, the problem with visionary desires at the conception stage is that they’re not always entirely clear.  Just as there are times when we have a [carnal] desire to eat but cannot necessarily figure out what it is that we’d like to eat.  The specifics of the desire are often indistinct and the details of the vision unclear, which leads us this time to the second aspect of vision.

2. Developing Vision

I’m sure you’ve experienced the aforementioned scenario before?  For my wife and I it seems to be a regular occurrence that looks something like this…

I’m really hungry”
“What would you like to eat?”
“I don’t know?”
“Do you want Italian?”
“No…”
“Mexican?”
“No…”
“Chinese?”
“Maybe.”
“Indian?”
“Definitely not.”

So it goes as we hone the desire from the general to the specific. This is the refining stage of visionary desire and is a very important aspect of developing vision.

As I mentioned previously, vision is not always entirely clear.  In this development phase it is important for visionary leaders to gather around themselves others with whom the can explain and cast the vision so as to refine the raw materials of it.  Such sounding boards must be comprised of the kind of individuals that are able to handle the abstract and not be bothered by initial ambiguity.  In this process the visionary desire is pared down from a wide 90° spread to 80°, then 60° and 45°, on down to a fairly focused visionary plan.  Most often is takes place through a prayerful interrogative process.

I find that this development phase can be easily overlooked or under-engaged.  If either one happens a vision can be wholly short circuited at this point.  Refining a vision is a must, but many times leaders that are uncertain or lack confidence will not allow themselves or their vision to be scrutinized.  It is important to recognize that as you subject your vision to the interrogation and scrutiny of others, you may not necessarily have perfect answers for every question.  It is the question itself and the process of discovering an answer to it — with the help of your team — that will rein in and refine the vision.

At the close of every calendar year  I begin proactively seeking The Lord’s vision for our church in the new year.  Sometimes that vision is drawn from a verse or passage of scripture, at other times (like this coming year) it is as simple as one word.  For 2012 our vision was “Enjoying God’s Grace and Extending His Glory.” My desire and vision for our church in the new year is simply “Reflect.” In many conversations with pastors and leaders in our fellowship I share the desire (i.e. vision) of reflecting God in both local and global contexts, and we ask the question, “what would it look like to be reflections of Christ in the context of local outreach, or men’s ministry, youth, young adults or foreign missions? As we do so the vision is reduced from general to specific.

Ultimately our pastoral team gathers for a 2 to 3 day getaway in the end of every year at which we pull together the specific details of our vision and plan for the new year.  It is through this process of vision development that we are able to write the vision making it plain and essentially ready for the next step, impartation/communication.

A few more key considerations are helpful at this point.  First, know your rhythms. Each of us have a different cadence or pulse. This is true as it relates to how we approach our day, week or year. As a result there are times throughout these cycles where we are more apt to catch creative current. By recognizing what our rhythms are we can take full advantage of them more effectively.

Secondly, know and understand your strengths and weaknesses. I highly recommend Gallup’s Strengthsfinder for this. If your strong in the areas of Stretgic and Ideation, then make sure you make time for solitary idea development. But, also make sure that you work to your strengths and delegate your weaknesses. Surround yourself with co-leaders who complement your abilities and you theirs. People like myself that are strong with strategic ideas need Arrangers, Activators and Deliberative Developers around them. Never feel threatened by co-leaders who are strong where you are weak, rather strive for effective communication coordination of tasks to best suit strengths.

Finally, vision often seems bigger than our capacity or ability to facilitate it. Don’t be discouraged by big vision or expansive obstacles.  It can be frustrating to have such vision, until you recognize God’s timing and abundant resources.  Be faithful to develop the vision you receive of Him and He will supply what is lacking.

Playing_Cards

Know when to hold em, Know when to fold em

I know that I am Jersey boy. I also know that guys from New Jersey don’t do country music. There is nothing wrong with country. But New Jersey is the home of Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, Bon Jovi and Skid Row. Not Kenny Rodgers. But everyone knows that classic song, The Gambler. The Gambler needs to know when to hold and when to fold. He needs to know when to walk away and when to run. Never count your money when you’re sitting at the table. The Gambler knows that there will be time enough for counting when the dealings done. You know the song.

This song speaks to me as a minister. In many ways, an aspect of the ministry that I have done is to be a type of a spark plug. I have been blessed to see many things start up. A church in New Brunswick, NJ. A church in Mill valley, CA. A church in San Francisco, CA. I’ve been blessed to see these ministries birthed and transitioned into new leadership. The hardest part of this is wondering what would have happened had you stayed where you were. In some ways, doing ministry is like gambling. You sense a leading from the Lord and you act upon what you understand the confirmations to be. You can see what God has done on your new step. But you often wonder what would have been had you stayed put. Sometimes I wonder if I have ministerial ADD. Sometimes ministers are ministerially catatonic. Either way, the key is to be where God is asking you to be.

I have also seen some great ministries started. The Calvary Church Planting Network has a project of mine. Wanting to church planters not have to recreate the wheel but have simple mentorship in the process. Just last month, CCPN had their first large conference and God is using it in a major way. I got the thing going and then others took it to the next level. What a joy for me to see God at work. Since being here at Crossroads in the last 11 months I have gotten to launch both a School of Ministry and a Married’s Ministry and handed them off to other pastors to run with. So awesome!

The CrossConnection Network blog is another one of those ministries. What began as a few conversations with my good friend Miles DeBenedicis about starting a collaborative blog turned into this site. We wanted a blog where people were free to explore ideas about life in Christ and ministry. We wanted contributors who had unique voices. Sure the masses enjoy the same old trumpeted sounds but innovation happens where people cringe and get upset. We are good with that. While some aren’t. We are okay with that too. What is awesome is that over last few years, we have watched CrossConnection blossom into a significant site with a really large audience. And a continuing growing audience. We have seen some of our contributors begin to blog for other sites. Awesome! We’ve seen some of our contributors quit blogging altogether. Again, God’s will be done. It is time for me to step away though. Not because I do not love CrossConnection. I do. But because, at this time, my work here is done. Starting it up was part of my roll and now it is time for others to take it to the next level. I will be watching with joy. But this will be my final article.

As for me, I will be focusing on the next set of things that God has in front of me. So if you think of me, please pray for me. I want to be the best husband and father in the world. We are finishing up the leadership transition here at Crossroads in Vancouver, WA in the coming months. God is doing amazing things here. God has tremendous things in store for Crossroads and we are just beginning to understand what the future will hold. Wild and exciting. We are seeking to reach out to the next generation with the Viral Movement with our first warehouse concert/crusade this Friday. I am working with an amazing literary agent and working on the manuscript for my next book (and am humbled by the interest from some big publishing houses). If you have ever written a longer work, you know the energy and diligence that that takes. On top of that, I have been blessed to be invited to do a bunch of conference teaching in the upcoming year. My own website has been growing as well. So I need to focus on all of this.

I wanted to thank you all for letting me add my ideas to this blog. I have been assured that I can submit articles from time to time. But at this time, I guess it is time for me to pull back from the table and let the dealing be done. Blessings!

fruit

“…that your fruit should remain” Another of His promises fulfilled!

Do to an “off the rails” kind of week ministry-wise, I had an insufficient amount of time to work on my post for today.  So, I’m going to eat from the forbidden fruit that is a re-posting of something I wrote for a different blog.

Below is a post I wrote the other day as a follow up to a post that was a word of encouragement to missionaries that serve around the world with Shepherd’s Staff.

I pray you’re as encouraged reading these things as I was while I reflected on God’s grace and faithfulness in my own life and ministry.

John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.

In my last post, I made an attempt to use the truths that Jesus spoke in this verse to encourage those of you who are serving as missionaries in various places around the world.

In this post I’d like to share how the Lord has used the truths of this verse in my own life at three specific times.

The first time was in January of 1987.  Our Missionary God had recently confirmed to my wife and I that He had set us apart to the work of planting a church in the second largest city in the Philippines, Cebu City.  In response to this call on our lives, we plunged into His word seeking principles and truths that would help us to obey the call and to proceed with confidence.

John 15:16 was the first and most foundational verse that He drove into the depths of our hearts and minds.  We knew that His desire was for us to take the truths of this verse as if He had spoken them directly to us.  He wanted us to know He had chosen us, not vice-versa.  That He appointed us to GO to Cebu City and to bear fruit there.  And as a church planter, the truth that I really zeroed in on–that the fruit that we bore would remain.

We headed for Cebu in September, 1987.  Five and a half years later, a small, but healthy church had been planted and the transition to a national pastor had officially taken place.

The second time was the day we actually flew away from Cebu.

At the end of our final full day as a missionary family in Cebu, we spent the night at the missionary guesthouse in the city that was operated by the Baptist General Conference (BGC).  The BGC guesthouse was a beautiful little oasis in the midst of a large, busy, over populated, and polluted city.

Everyone who stays overnight at the guesthouse comes together every morning for an American breakfast.  Before the prayer for the meal, the guesthouse director, (who happened to be a retired businessman from the Midwest), always reads from that day’s Daily Bread devotional and then prays for the meal.

Would you like to hazard a guess on what verse the Daily Bread focused on for that day’s devotion?

As soon as this brother began reading John 15:16, Helen and I looked at each other in awe.  We knew that He cared about the details of our lives, but we never expected He would reveal His care at that level of detail.

It was an unforgettable moment that will be etched in our hearts and minds for eternity.

When our family walked out of the guesthouse an hour later to depart for the airport we were greeted by Pastor Bong and many members of the church.  Needless to say, we were completely overwhelmed by His grace, His sovereignty, and His faithfulness to His promises that we had taken seriously.

The third time hasn’t actually taken place yet, but it is scheduled.

If my health holds up and no major unforeseen events happen, Helen and I will fly to Cebu City the first week of January to attend a special event on Sunday, January 13, 2013:

 The 25th anniversary of Calvary Chapel of Cebu City!!!

 Our Missionary God was serious when He spoke the truths of John 15:16 to us all those years ago.  He promised that the fruit we went over there to produce would remain, and He has been faithful to that promise.

He’s worthy of YOUR trust in Him and His promises.

 

 

 

 

vision

Vision – Part 1

Over the last several years I’ve given much thought to the subject of vision and have written a few times of it here on Cross Connection. Verses like Proverbs 29:18 regularly come to my mind — “Where there is no vision, the people perish” — and keep me cognizant of the fact that vision is important. It is however strange to me that discussion on the topic of vision seems, for some, to cause a problem. I’m not entirely sure what the problem is, but often when I speak on the subject, people (especially pastors) will, almost aggressively respond with things like, “Well, I’m not a visionary leader,” or “I’ve never seen a vision,” or my all-time favorite, “I haven’t had any visions since I became a Christian and stopped taking psychotropic drugs.” With that in mind let me begin by saying, I too have yet to “see a vision” and have never tried psychotropic drugs. Furthermore, I’m not sure I’d account myself as a “visionary leader.” But I do recognize the importance of vision, especially from Christian leaders and for Christian churches.

I greatly appreciate that the New Living Translation translates “vision” in Proverbs 29:18 as “divine guidance.” This translation sheds light on the fact that Christian leaders need to be led. Most Christian leaders (i.e. pastors) can accord with that. They fully recognize the need to be following the Lord in their leading of others, thus we seek the Lord for His guidance. His vision.

So as I’ve contemplated the question of vision I’ve concluded that there are five important aspects of vision that pastors and leaders should be aware of. Over the next several weeks I’ll be developing them here.

1. Receiving Vision

More than a few pastors have confessed to me “I am not a visionary leader.” I don’t necessarily believe them when they say so, because I am not convinced that they’d be leading if they weren’t. One of the problems is that we tend to look at those doing extraordinarily cutting edge things in ministry as the “visionaries” of the bunch. But I’d suggest that those leading edge pioneers are not the only ones, and that if we allow ourselves to think that only they are, then we will in some way fail to lay hold of the vision for which Christ has laid hold of us for. Well then how do we lay hold of, or receive the vision that God has for us? It’s actually easier than you might think.

In considering my personal ministry experience and the observations I’ve had of other’s, I’m more convinced than ever that divinely guided vision is as easy as a wish. In other words, vision begins as a desire. Thus, if you are to receive divinely guided vision you should delight yourself in the Lord. Yes, I’m referring to Psalm 37:4, in the sense that those who delight in the Lord will find their will (read, desire) subdued to God’s will. For, it is God who works in us to desire (Philippians 2:13).

This, I believe, is one of the “signs of life” for a Christian, new desires. Just as at physical birth a newborn baby experiences new desires it has never experienced before (to breath, to eat, etc.), a newborn babe in Christ does as well. This is almost instantaneous. How many times have we encountered new believers that say things like, “I just don’t want to do the things I use to want to do”? Why is that? Because the Spirit that dwells in us yearns jealously (James 4:5). His Spirit is bearing witness with our spirit that we are in fact newborn children of our Father in heaven. And as we delight ourselves in the Lord He imparts to us new desires (i.e. visions) to do things that we would not have other wise done.

Although it’s something of an aside, I think that it is important to highlight that there are a number of things that can aid in receiving vision. Since vision, in the context in which we’re speaking of it, is divine guidance, I believe that it is important (especially as a leader) to place yourself in the places in which God has told us that He will be. For your consideration I’ll give a few.

a. Jesus told us that He is with us when we are “going” on behalf of his name and kingdom.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen.

– Matthew 28:19-20

b. God has revealed that He is present when His people praise Him.

But thou are holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.

– Psalm 22:3

c. Jesus revealed that He is in the midst of those gather in His name (i.e. fellowship).

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

– Matthew 18:20

Now, the problem with visionary desires at the conception stage, they’re not always entirely clear. Just as there are times when we have a [carnal] desire to eat but cannot necessarily figure out just what it is that we’d like to eat. The specifics of the desire are indistinct and the details of the vision unclear, which leads us to where we’ll be heading next time with the second aspect of vision.

Pray Hard

I’ve Got to Pray More

Last week my wife and I drove down to Twin Peaks, CA for the Calvary Church Planting Network’s reEngage Conference. While we were only able to be there for two days, those days were well worth it.

All of the content and vibe of the conference was tremendous, but I want to share briefly about the impact Dave Earley’s message had on me personally. He spoke during the Tuesday evening session.

He talked about prayer. Here are some notable quotes that deeply encouraged me.

Speaking on the incredible success of the apostolic church, and the power they possessed: “We’ll never have Acts 2 until we have Acts 1.”

Referring to the urgency and necessity of prayer in spite of very busy pastoral schedules, he quoted C. H. Spurgeon: “Sometimes we think we’re too busy to pray. This is also a great mistake, for prayer is a saving of time.” In that regard, he also quoted Luther’s famous “I’m so busy I must spend the first three hours of my day in prayer” statement.

As he talked about the giants of the faith and the source of their successes: “If you want what they had you gotta do what they did.” In that context, he was talking about prayer and the prayer habits of the George Muellers, D.L. Moodys, and Hudson Taylors of the past.

Commenting on the ridiculousness of operating on our own strength and vision apart from the Lord, Dave asked: “How many of you think that God can do things bigger, better, and faster than you can?”

He talked about the three jobs of pastors … to pray, to teach, and to develop and release leaders.

In my own life, I have learned to pray well over the 39 years I’ve lived since I was baptized with the Holy Spirit in August of 1973. I have been shown—by the Lord Himself—how important prayer is to my walk with Him and to my calling and ministry. But I have to be honest and say that my prayer life has been anemic by comparison. I talk to the Lord every day, but have not been in the habit of daily getting on my knees for any real length of time … whether in worship, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession.

I was not condemned by Dave Earley’s message. Rather, I was encouraged as I was being rebuked and exhorted. I sensed the Holy Spirit Himself speaking to me during the message.

I want to change my priorities and habits in my latter years. It will be a battle, I know. The enemy will fight hard to gain control of the most effective means to marginalize and ruin his methods. But I must do this. I must pray. I get to pray. I/we are privileged to pray.

The last five days have seen growth and improvement. I am hopeful. And God is faithful and able.

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By Any Means Necessary

I have been thinking much lately about ministerial preference. What I mean by that is simply that every minister (and ministry) has a preference for ministry style. Some enjoy large churches the best. Some small churches. Some think church planting is the way to go. Others think church revitalization is the key. For some, multi-site campuses are the way to go. For some it is native missionaries. For others it is cross-cultural missions. For some, house churches and for others it is institutional churches. And on and on.

What I have come to appreciate is that the work of the kingdom is truly “by whatever means necessary”. What I mean by that is simple, that in the work of the kingdom we need to trust that the Living God will encourage and move in His church by diverse means. In the work of ministry, we should feel comfortable to trust that God can and will use whatever means necessary to get the job done.

I share this because oftentimes we spend so much energy and time fighting for our preference. I know that I have done a lot of that in my life. Please don’t get me wrong, it is very normal to believe strongly and champion your preference. But I think we need to be careful not to value our preference higher than another. The work of the kingdom is to important to invalidate another methodology just because it is not our preference.

Biblically speaking, Paul was called to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews. Paul moved cross culturally where many disciples stayed locally and served. Paul spoke to multitudes while Aquila and Priscilla seemed to do one on one ministry. What is common is that there was no competition. They worked together although uniquely, yet all for the same cause.

The more time I spend seeking God about the work of ministry in the 21st century, the more I find myself repenting of taking certain means off the table. The cause of God’s glory is too great to ‘thin the herd’ based on preference.

But these are just my humble thoughts. What do you think?

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Caber Tossing and Triathlons

 

“Do hard things.” That’s the title of a book sitting on the floor by my bed. It’s a book I’ve never read. And yet the title itself speaks volumes to me.

I struggle with doing hard things. I’ve said this publicly and heard arguments from those who disagree: “But you live in Africa! You’re a full time foreign missionary. That’s not easy. You do hard things!” But that which is hard for us is relative to our experience in hard things, our maturity in the faith, and our personalities.

Only those who have lived in a similar way can truly and wholly relate to what I’m about to say: it is possible to do what seems so unbelievably hard to so many, and yet fail miserably to do what is truly hard for yourself.

The majority of the time I find that living in Africa or Europe (or theoretically any other country apart from my home country) is not a hard thing for me. That’s not intended as a matter of pride or arrogance towards those who think it insanely difficult. It’s just a reality. And yet daily I awake to hard things that I am too frightened, too selfish, or too proud to recognize as my hard things. Daily I awake to hard things undone, procrastinated, unrecognized, and purposely ignored.

Within the context of Christ’s church and her leaders, we are called to do hard things. Not the macho junk of American culture, but truly soul-grinding, heart-wrenching, cross-bearing, flesh-destroying hard things:

  • Standing in opposition to our own culture when it’s an offence to the culture of Christ’s Kingdom.
  • Standing up for Scriptural truth (like the prophet Jeremiah) when it will cost you money, popularity, your job, even your life.
  • Sticking to your biblical convictions regarding your teenager’s boundaries even though it may result in him/her losing a “friend” and you feeling like the worst parent because of it.
  • Doing what the Lord has told you to do (like David’s refusal to kill King Saul) even when other Christians doubt and naysay and discourage you.
  • Crucifying our pride and apologising to those we’ve hurt (and sometimes even those we feel were just being too stinkin’ sensitive!)
  • And yes – like Stephen the faithful, Paul the zealot, Luke the doctor, Timothy the youth, John the fisherman, Thomas the doubter – answering the call to ministry, whether it’s discipling a younger believer, getting ministry training, teaching children’s church, pastoring, church planting, or even the dreaded foreign missions!

We’re not called to cruise on ‘The Good Ship Lollipop’! We’re called to “take up [our] cross and follow [Jesus]”, to “count the cost”, and to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] reasonable worship.” Those are hard things!

Here’s the rub: many of us do hard things, just not the hard things we need to be doing.

In my younger days (though I’m not admitting to being old yet), I began competing in the Scottish Highland Games throughout California. When I first began I had absolutely no technique, but because of my natural size and strength (6’3 and over 300 lbs) most things about those competitions came easily to me and I advanced up the ranks quickly. I was just made for those kinds of things! But if someone asked me to compete in a triathlon… that would be a hard thing! The point is this: “hard things” are those things which are actually hard for each individual. So for me to do what is hard by another man’s opinion does not necessarily make it a “hard thing” for me. In fact, it often becomes a “pride thing” because I know that most others will think of it as hard and be in awe of me for doing it!

So what do we see today in the lives of Christ’s church and the men He has called to lead her? Are the “hard things” being done? Yes, definitely! But of those things being done, what percentage are actually hard for the one doing them? Have we become complacent in our willingness to continue the call to conquer the hard things once we’ve won a battle or two?

What is hard for me – and here is where my soul is laid bare for all to see and perhaps judge or shake their heads disapprovingly – is doing and succeeding in some of the elementary principles of faith and life. For example, making the time to spend each morning in prayer, reading of the Word, and meditation upon it is one of the hardest things for me! Making the time to talk to each of my children every day about important things, spiritual things, fun things, boring things, needful things! Remembering to make the time to take care of basic responsibilities that bless my family. These things, though they may not be hard for some, are distinctly difficult things for me! These are some of my “hard things”.

I can focus a lot of energy on so many other good and worthy tasks in life like: teaching the Word, preaching, or learning a new language for the sake of ministry. But these are not hard things for me. Don’t misunderstand. Just because its not hard doesn’t mean that I should not do it. That’s not the point at all! The point is that we need to stop running to that which is easy in order to escape that which is hard. Some things are hard to do at first, but by God’s grace and the Spirit’s power we succeed and it becomes easier to walk in that victory. So then, rather than spending all of my time and energy focused on what is easier for me in life and ministry, I need to renew my commitment to paying the cost of discipleship that I’ve already counted and get on to the next very important, very hard thing that God has called me to take care of in my life and ministry. Both have meaning and purpose, and both are necessary, but I cannot do only the things that are easier for me — and those exponentially — so that I can hope to avoid the hard things. This is stagnating behaviour, and it must stop!

I need to stop spending all of my time tossing cabers and throwing large weights and stones, and get about training for the next triathlon that needs to be done. What about you?

In the next few posts I will explore some of these “triathlons”; these things that are sometimes hard for us as men, hard for us as shepherds of God’s flock, and hard for us as the body of Christ. As we look at these things some of you will surely say, “Yep, I’m doing that well.” Or, “Our church is great at that!” While others will recognise the need to step up in those areas. Remember, what is hard for you or me may be very different, but whatever hard thing God has called us to do He’s also empowered us to do by His Holy Spirit.

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Intentionality in Discipleship & Evangelism

Jesus said that we are to make disciples by going, teaching and baptizing. (Matthew 28:19). In that Great Commission, making disciples is the key. The work of the church is always to be building disciples. Yet, there are times when I wonder if the body of Christ is more concerned with making converts than with making disciples. At the same time, there are many churches that have little to no evangelistic fervor.

I was recently told of a church that was doing a phenomenal job of seeing people introduced to Jesus. The church was evangelistic to the core and God was using them mightily. But then the person said that this church has no vision for discipleship. This person lamented that although people were being saved (which was a great joy), the young believers were stuck in infancy.

On the other side of the coin, there are many churches that have a heart and passion for discipleship. The only issue that because of a lack of passion for souls, they are constantly discipling the same people as no new believers are being added to the fold. Oftentimes, these churches have strange hang-ups about contemporary ways of proclaiming the good news. There are the ‘altar call’ wars and issues. It makes me think of DL Moody who was purported to have said, “I like my way of doing things better than your way of not doing things.”

I then remembered hearing a pastor say, “You shouldn’t share the gospel with someone unless you are committing to discipling them also.” Now, I don’t know if I agree with the sentiment. But the pastor was trying to get across the responsibility we have, as believers, to not only share the good news, but also to take an active concern with someone’s progress in faith.

In many ways, it we are keeping the main thing the main thing within the church, we need to be intentional in building disciples. Realistically, if we are seeking to make converts, we are doing that so that they can become disciples. Their salvation is the starting line for their life of discipleship. So it isn’t an either/or reality. Instead, evangelism and discipleship are like matched gloves, both equally necessary for the work of the Lord.

So here are some quick thoughts about being intentional in discipleship.
1) Understand where your gifting is.
2) If you are strong in evangelism, seek out a compliment in discipleship. And vice versa.
3) Make a commitment to both evangelism and discipleship.
4) Gather a tribe to pour into (like Jesus did with his 12).
5) Always remember, there are more fish in the wild then in the ponds.
6) Think through various benchmarks in spiritual development for believers
7) Don’t neglect the transition points within the ministry (ie. from Junior High to High School to Young Adults to the Body at large)
8) Remember that Paul didn’t just share the gospel but also his very life.
9) Make discipleship as much a part of your ministry as preaching.

military2

When the “perks” become ultimate, the ultimate becomes a “perk”

A few months ago, (May 4, 2012) I wrote a post about my conviction that the U.S. Military, as it exists today, provides an amazingly accurate analogy for what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

In this post, I’d like to take hold of the U.S. Military analogy one more time, but now I’d like to broaden the scope of the analogy from the individual believer’s walk with the Lord to the ultimate purpose Jesus has for His church that He builds, (hint:  He was, is, and always will be The Missionary God).

I’d like to begin by asking a multiple choice question regarding any and all branches of the U.S. Military:

Which one of the following is the ultimate reason the U.S. Military exists?  (Only one answer is correct!)

A.  To provide each member with specific vocational training and vocational work that will make their post military career much more likely to be successful?

B.  To provide the opportunity for career advancement, travel, and financial resources for further education upon completion of their term of service?

C.  To provide the opportunity for travel, first class recreation, decent housing, and all medical and dental needs for its members and their immediate family?

D.  To willingly obey the Commander-in-Chief of the United States when he deems it necessary for the good of the U.S. that the military actively engage an enemy of this country at any location necessary, even if by doing so, that member of the military might be required to give up his/her own life.

Clearly, although the U.S. Military provides everything listed in A,B, and C, above, those things are not the reasons why the U.S. Military exists.  Those are all good things, and the U.S. Military spends literally billions of dollars to ensure that those things are provided for its members.  But really, those things are more like the “perks” that are provided to those who willingly choose to submit themselves to the ultimate purpose of the U.S. Military, which is letter “D”.

I vividly remember the day that I “swore in” to the U.S. Army, at the age of 17, on May 29, 1976, (a month after I graduated high school).  All of the cool advertising and various marketing tools used by the recruiter focused on A, B, and C.  And it sure sounded like those were great reasons to join.  But at the AFEES station in Los Angeles on that day, the reality of what I was really signing up for hit me like a ton of bricks as I raised my right hand and repeated the oath of obedience,  voluntarily giving over to the Commander-In-Chief at that time, (Gerald Ford…soon to be Jimmy Carter), the authority to send me anywhere he deemed necessary even if it meant my life could realistically be brought to an end in the process.

Because of what I understood that I was doing on that day, even at that young age, I’ve always been bothered by those who have joined the U.S. Military as part of the reserves or the various National Guard units.  Unless I’m mistaken, they all “swore in” too, taking the same kind of oath that I did.   And because that is true, it irritates me to no end that when the wars of the last 12 years took place and they were called upon to transition to active duty and be deployed, a large number of them complained, saying something to the effect of “this isn’t what I signed up for!”  Wrong…its exactly what they signed up for!

Where did these complaining pseudo-soldiers/sailors/airmen go wrong?  They joined for the “perks” and were convinced that the “perks” were the reason the military existed, even though they actually did “swear in” and take the oath.  For some reason, they never actually understood or believed that the purpose of the U.S. Military wasn’t ultimately or primarily for their own benefit.

Might there be an application here to the local church and it’s members?  I’m convinced there is.

Have local churches, by over-emphasizing  the various ministries they offer for the good and the growth of their own members, actually contributed to a foundational misunderstanding by their own members of the ultimate reason for the church’s existence?  I think so.

Have the leaders of local churches inadvertently communicated to their members that the “perks” of being a member of God’s Kingdom and a part of their local church are what is ultimately important and thereby relegated the actual ultimate reason to a “perk” that the members of the church have the option to participate in or not?  Again, I think so.

And if the above two observations have any validity, might it not also be valid that the pastors and church leaders have contributed and communicated these things because they themselves believe the “perks” are what’s ultimate?

I’ve probably stirred enough irritation with this post so I’ll shut it down for now.  But I will expand on these things in my next post by spending a bit of time pondering U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and some principles they operate by that perhaps pastors and church leaders can learn from.