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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!

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Abysmal, or Improving?

It can be said, I suppose, that the curse of the ministry is busyness. Some of it is what I call  administrivia. Some of it is the result of techno-preoccupation (I’m guilty). Some of it is the result of having way too many things on our plates. Some of it is due to the fact that we’ve done a poor job developing men … leaders … guys that are called and passionate to serve Christ’s bride along with us.

No matter what the cause, the greatest problem of busyness is prayerlessness. The poll numbers have been in for some time. We pastors are abysmal pray-ers, as a whole.

In my last post on Cross Connection Network, entitled “I’ve Got to Pray More,” I wrote on the subject of prayer, and the ways in which I was encouraged to pray more while at the reEngage Church Planting Conference.

Today, I’m at it again. I am serious about ramping up my prayer life. Since I wrote, I’ve seen some serious answers to prayer. But I’ve only improved slightly in my prayerfulness. My take is that the Father is pleased with any new effort in this regard. Like a father encouraging a son learning to ride a bike, our Father encouraged me with quick results. And I am encouraged.

(I wrote this blog on Saturday, November 3). Tomorrow morning I’m speaking at a church in the Bay area of CA. My message will be from Jesus’ parable of the unjust steward, the intent of which was to stimulate His disciples to always pray and not lose heart. I picked that passage because I need it. It was a selfish choice, admittedly. Hopefully, the result … in the long run … will benefit many.

Here are the notes from that message. It’s almost in manuscript form, so it’s fairly easy to follow. Check it out, if you so choose.

www.billholdridge.com/Luke/We Ought to Pray Always.pdf

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What in the Worldview….

This article is an excerpt from my book Ahead of the Curve (published in 2011)

We need to put ourselves in the shoes of the non-believer. We need to think about how they see the world. We need to analyze how they interact with the world. Cross-cultural missionaries have been doing this for thousands of years. It is time, however, for us to apply the same skills here in the West to bridge the great divide within our culture. On any given Sunday, in most communities across America, there are vastly more people not going to church than there are in church. Fifty years ago, there was not as drastic a difference between the worldviews of the churchgoers and those of the non-churchgoers. But now there is a great divide, and in order to be effective, we must take the time to understand how the non-churchgoers think and feel. We have just seen what makes up a worldview. Now we will take some time and look at what has made the twentieth century what it is, the worldviews of modernity and postmodernity. My intention in this book is not to be exhaustive in any sense of the meaning, but will briefly sketch some of the defining contours of both modernity and postmodernity so that we can see what this emerging worldview actually is.

Modernity is often called the Post Medieval period. It runs roughly from 1400 until about the 1930s. Historians tend to break modernity into an early and a later period. The early modern period continues until about 1800. The modern era begins in the nineteenth century with the advent of industrialization. It is this latter period of modernity that has the most weight for us. It is what is commonly called the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment paradigm is also known as the “representation paradigm” in academic circles. Its goal is to see the world empirically. Reason has the upper hand. Proponents of modernity see the world as a mapping of what can be empirically understood.

Although the church seems currently obsessed with understanding postmodernism, I find it interesting to note that postmodernism began as an intellectual and cultural phenomenon in the 1920’s. That was almost a century ago! Postmodernity’s focus on social and political out workings has been the norm since the 1960’s. The church is behind the time. We are trying to understand something that is nearly a century old, yet we still don’t quite have a handle on it. Even the name by which we call the worldview, postmodernity, shows that we do not quite understand it. Think about the name of the first automobiles. They were called a horseless carriage. They didn’t know what it was, but they knew it wasn’t what they were used to. They had been used to horse drawn carriages and these new things did the same thing but without the horse. We call it postmodernism because we know that it is beyond modernism, but we do not quite know what it is still. This is more than a little disconcerting.

Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, gave a basic outline of Western intellectual history in this way: Pre-modern (or Medieval) thought posits that we can know things truly through both reason and revelation. Modern thought believed that we can only know things truly through reason but not through revelation. But postmodern thought believes that we cannot know things truly either through reason or revelation. This is what Gerry Grant Madison meant when he said Post Modernism leads to aporia or intellectual exhaustion. This is why postmodernity is typified by relativism (there is not truth as it is all relative) and pluralism (one understanding is no better than another).

Postmodernity’s great critique of modernism is that it left out the individual in understanding the world. The individual himself brings something to an understanding of the world. In many ways, this is why postmodern thought tends to be overly self-focused. Joe Queenan’s book, Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation, is masterful at showing how self-improvement and self-centeredness is the predominant ideology of the boomers. Postmodernity brought the self to the forefront of the discussion and obviously, the self enjoys the adulation. It has been commonly said that the postmodern worldview has three problems that must be overcome in order to do effective Christian evangelism.

You will notice that all three problems exist on individual and personal grounds. The problems are: the guilt problem, the truth problem and the meaning problem. There is a guilt problem because most postmodern people do not have guilt over their mistakes because of their truth problem. They essentially do not believe in truth. Like Pilate, they ask the question, “What is truth?” It is a rhetorical question that assumes there is no such thing as truth. The guilt problem stems from the truth problem, which stems from their meaning problem. Because truth is relative and unknowable, how can anyone know what something really means? You can see how pure postmodernism leads to intellectual exhaustion!

Two of the main consequences of postmodern thought are the fragmentation of authority and the commoditization of knowledge. Postmoderns see things in terms of power plays. All authority is seen as an oppressive hierarchy. Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud’s theories on this subject set the stage for what have now become readily accepted cultural beliefs. The whole situation is exacerbated by modern technology, which brings the world closer and makes it seem smaller. The Internet brings knowledge to us at a rapid pace. The postmodern person is used to having information from all over the world instantaneously accessible. This is a lethal combination. When distain for authority (and their truth claims) meet copious amounts of knowledge mixed with self-centeredness, the result is an inability to correctly assess meaning, truth or guilt.

Postmodernity, by and large, rejected on a grand scale, the empirical and rational claims of modernity. Postmodernists rejected truth and accumulated information. Postmoderns typify what the Bible speaks of when it says, “always learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth.” But as I look at the prevailing worldview of both the Northeast and the West Coast, I see something different than postmodernity. There is not the rejection of truth claims at all. But what is unique is that rather than rejecting what has come before, there is a prevailing sense that other viewpoints should be integrated into the worldview. Not just in an acknowledgment of viewpoints, but in the actual amalgamation of truths.

In the report from the After Post Modern Conference it says this:
General statements of “truth” and objectivity’ are permanently ambiguous––but this does not mean that truth and objectivity are lost. Rather they require more––they need a further contextual completion from what we are just then living, before we can choose among variants for an activity at hand. Instead of mere pluralism, we can create “complexes of multiple truths” involving a demanding and sophisticated steering of scientific research with multiple applications and resonance to local contexts.

It is these complexes of multiple truths that I see clearly on the coasts of our country. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. At this point, I am happy to introduce you to post-postmodernity. Let us give it a proper name. I would like you to meet the “Integral Worldview.”

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Paying the Cost

In my last post I introduced the idea of remaining vigilant in the process of growing in grace, and not doing the easier things of life and ministry as a means of avoiding the harder things, or next things, that need doing. I used the metaphor of caber tossing and triathlons as a means of expressing those things that come easier to me versus those things that I tend to avoid like the plague.

I said I would write in my next few posts about those things that can be very hard for many of us, so in this post I want to explore “paying the cost”. “WHAT?” I can hear the theological gears going into overdrive in response to a phrase like that. “Jesus paid the cost! What kind of craziness are you proclaiming here?” Before I lose you in your own theological tangent, follow me to Luke 14:25-35.

In this oft mentioned portion of the Gospels we read about “the cost of discipleship”. The standard sound byte we hear associated with this passage is “counting the cost”. I say, “wrong!” If we look closer at the passage we see that the metaphors Christ used involved both counting and paying a cost. That was the whole point, in fact. If you don’t count to see how much you have to invest in the endeavour before you begin then how can you pay what’s necessary to carry out and complete the task? When it comes to discipleship, we must not only count… but pay.

Before answering the call to foreign missions there was an admonition from others to “count the cost” in advance. I did so. I truly searched my heart, surmised certain scenarios and circumstances, imagined ill-fates, focused on hard realities and uncomfortable truths. I carefully considered the costs! And after much meditation and prayer concluded that we, as a family, understood the costs.

Some of the “costs” I had counted were in relation to my children (aged 9, 6, 4, and 11 months at the time). I counted the cost that I was separating my children from their grandparents who loved them dearly and loved to spoil them. I counted the cost that my children wouldn’t be able to see and play with their friends any more, that they wouldn’t have English-speaking kids all around them, making it much more difficult to make new friends and playmates. I counted the cost that my children would only be able to bring a couple of their toys with them in the move, and not get to enjoy cartoons or the latest instalment of “Ice Age” at the movie theatre. I counted the cost that they would have to eat very basic diets and be cautious of dangerous creatures. I counted the cost that my children might be unhappy, uncomfortable, and upset, that they would be exposed to life-threatening illnesses and in the worst case scenario even death. These were the costs I calculated in regards to my children.

But counting and paying are two different things!

These costs were easy enough to calculate, but very difficult for me to pay because I often struggle with viewing success as a father as heavily dependant upon my success at blessing my children with fun, toys, activities, friends, playmates, food they enjoy, and entertainment. Even though I know better, I’m honest enough to admit that I still have a hard time in this area. So for me this was, and is, a “hard thing”; a cost easy to count but painful to pay.

I thank God — truly, truly thank Him — that some of the costs that could have been required were not. We still have all of our children. In fact, we gained two along the way! I thank Him that some of the tolls on our road weren’t as high as they could have been. Though two of our youngest girls had a deadly strain of malaria on a couple of occasions and our oldest son contracted Tuberculosis while on an outreach to an extremely remote village, we all still have our overall health. But even now, as we have left the more physically threatening environs of East Africa and live in the more modern world of small-town Ireland, I still struggle to pay the cost of not being able to bless and spoil my kids! It sounds silly in comparison to the costs I was willing to pay in so many other areas. But as I said in my last post, different things are hard for different people. Not being able to afford to take my kids to McDonalds — or by them treats or snacks or toys or ice cream — is still a cost painful for me to pay.

Counting and paying are two different things.

I bring this up only as an example. Many times it’s easy to think we’re moving forward in sanctification and growth because we’ve become experts at counting the costs, talking about the costs, telling others about the costs, but we still avoid wilfully paying the cost the way a fat man avoids a triathlon (yes, I’m fat so I’m allowed to say that).

Shepherds… we can blog about how pastors or churches should do this or change that, telling others how important and necessary it is, and yet never really do it ourselves. We can teach about true discipleship and yet never make any true disciples. We can preach about holiness and yet never implement church discipline for fear of the potential financial implications involved. We can proclaim the importance of church planting and yet never implement a plan to plant a church. Scriptures tell us not to muzzle the ox that treads out the grain. Are you an ox that treads grain, doing the hard things and paying the cost of discipleship by the power of the Spirit? Or are you an ox that pontificates on the nature of grain and grain-treading?

Sheep… we can talk about how “the church” should do this or that or the other, but never be the ones to do it. We can agree with the pastor that we need to support local outreach and foreign missions more but never give a dime towards it. We can ask for prayer for our neighbours’ salvation but never share the good news with them. We can make a stand for righteousness come November, but not live and walk in the light of Christ’s righteousness in our thoughts, in our homes, and in the secret places of the heart year-round. Scriptures call us “the body” of Christ. Are we paying the cost of discipleship that the Spirit has empowered us to pay by moving according to the commands of the Head? Or are we spastic and undisciplined members of the body, moving on our own and even against the signals from the Head?

Counting and paying are two different things. But the Spirit gives us the ability to pay!

If I were going to actually enter a triathlon there would be MUCH to count as far as costs go (not many 6’3″ 340lb men in triathlons). I could talk about the triathlon and the costs involved in entering it. I could even sign the forms to enter, preach every Sunday about how good and necessary it is, and encourage others to enter as well. And doing all of that would probably make me a popular pastor. But it wouldn’t make me a healthy pastor… a true leader of God’s sheep… a disciple who does the hard things God calls him to by the Spirit of God, for the glory of God, and the good of the Kingdom of God.

Please pray for me, and consider yourself as well. May we as shepherds (and sheep, too) go beyond our mastery of counting and get to the often difficult duty of paying the cost of discipleship — a spiritual discipline made possible by the Spirit of God in us. Christ has laboured in this discipline before us, and bids us to be yolked to Him and join Him in the unexpected joy of slavery.

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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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Local church lessons from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. Part 1 of 2

If a gold-mine that has produced a number of nuggets already might actually contain a few more, only a fool wouldn’t take the time to make another excursion into the shaft and dig around for more.

In my relentless pursuit of analogies and/or illustrations that might be useful for making the truths of God more understandable, I recently ventured back down into the gold-mine of the U.S. Military.  On this latest trip in, I was looking for a nugget that might help the leadership of a local church to reconsider the priority that they have assigned to what has historically been referred to as “missions”.

And believe it or not, I found another nugget!  Actually, it’s quite a bit larger than a nugget.  It was actually….an aircraft carrier… the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan to be exact!  This Nimitz class nuclear powered warship has the capacity to fully transport 90 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters and has a crew of more than 5,600 people, (3,200 of which are for the ship itself and 2,480 that concentrate on the aircraft).

By asking the following easily answered questions about the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, and then asking similar questions about the local church–questions that I believe are also easily answered based on the bible, I’m convinced that a few challenging and God-glorifying truths might be made a little clearer.

1.  What is the functional reason for the existence of an aircraft carrier, specifically, the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan ?

–Can the answer be any simpler?  An aircraft carrier exists to…..CARRY AIRCRAFT!

A carrier is brought into existence for a purpose…to carry aircraft, and then given a mission.  That mission is to launch the aircraft it carries when commanded to do so by the captain of the ship in response to the orders the captain receives from the commander-in-chief.

2.  If the U.S.S. Reagan has a capacity for transporting and launching 90 aircraft, (most with not more than two people in the cockpit of those aircraft when they fly), then what is the purpose of the other approximately 5,500 people that are on board the ship?

–Everyone else on board makes up the team that is essential for the ship to do what it was created and designed to do…launch the aircraft and carry out its mission.  Every crew member has a specific job to do, but their job is always accomplished in unison with with all the other crew members and the jobs each of them do.  Every member of the crew must understand that they are an essential part of the whole team of people that work together so that the mission of the ship can be accomplished.  Any team member that doesn’t take their job seriously or do it to the best of their ability is putting the accomplishment of the mission at risk and could actually cost the lives of others and even their own.

Less than 5 percent of the crew are actually in the aircraft that the ship launches.  When those aircraft are launched, they will be the only ones to actually engage the distant enemy that represents a government in conflict with that the government the carrier represents.  That engagement will take place as many miles away from the ship as possible.

3.  The aircraft are launched to accomplish a mission at a great distance from the ship itself, but is the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan also capable of accomplishing a mission in the vicinity immediately surrounding it’s own location?

–Yes, of course.  It carries other sea-capable craft and weapons systems that other crew members are trained to use and that can be deployed within the nearby vicinity of the ship.

4.  Does the captain of the ship ever fly off of the ship on a combat mission?

–No.  His primary role is to ensure the ship is in working order and is capable of being at the location it is required to be in, with all systems, including the aircraft, ready to do what they were designed to do.

As I was mentally chewing on these things and tinkering around with how these things might illustrate some truths that local churches would do well to consider, I had an incredibly thought-provoking conversation with a recently retired U.S. Navy doctor.

Any time I have the opportunity to speak with someone who has also served in the military, I seize the opportunity and pepper them with dozens of questions.  I genuinely love to hear about their motivation for joining, their specific occupation while they were in, and if they’re open to talking about, some of the lessons about life they may have learned during their time of service.

This doctor told me that the “mission” of a Navy physician changes when that doctor moves from duty on shore at a hospital or clinic, to medical duty on a ship.  Although every individual sailor, airmen, or Marine’s health care is important, when on a ship, that person’s healthcare has to be filtered through the “mission” of the ship and that person’s role in accomplishing that “mission”.  If I understood correctly, this doctor was telling me that even the health care needs of the crew of the ship must serve the “mission” of the ship which is the highest priority.

I honestly didn’t know that, but as I thought about it, it does make sense.  The health care needs of the crew are NOT the highest priority, the “mission” of the ship is.  In fact, every member of the crew knows that the ship does not exist to keep them healthy and that the actual accomplishment of the “mission” that they are committed to could very well be detrimental to their health, and may even cost them their lives.

Although I’m sure some of those you already see where I’m going with this, I will end this post with this thought:

Knowing why every local church exists and the mission it has been given by God is crucial and understanding that mission and making it the filter through which everything else it does is viewed should determine the way things are prioritized.

 

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Make Church Count!

As I reflect back on my time in the SEAL Teams, I realize more and more that so much of military life translates to the local church.  One of my favorite training drills was “IAD’s” (Immediate Action Drills).  This is a training scenario where the platoon is faced with enemy contact.  An insane amount of firepower is blasted towards the threat as the team does a sort of dance breaking away from the threat.  It is overwhelming to see the amount of lead a SEAL platoon can sling downrange and for a significant amount of time.  As the platoon disengages from the threat, in addition to expending a ton of rounds, we will travel a considerable distance.  We will “rally up” once it is deemed relatively safe.  In the “hasty rally” we will survey one another with two questions: 1) How much ammo do you have, and 2) are you okay?  Guys with more ammo will share with guys who are running low and major injuries will be handled.  We then quickly move to get out of there.  There is no way to convey this experience into one paragraph (click here to see 2 minute video), but these experiences have transformed how I understand church life.

When I look out at the local church in our nation today, it seems like going to church is out for most.  For others it is a time to “pay back” God with an hour of boredom (well that was my childhood), or to appease someone like the wife, mom, or girlfriend…if one goes at all.  In this process we put on our “Sunday best” in order to show everyone how well we have this life mastered.  This is so backwards as the emphasis is on externals, not on our reality.  Hebrews 10:23-25 states this, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  I believe these verses paint a picture of church being more like the “hasty rally” in the SEAL teams, than the “doing our hour once a week” culture.  Let me explain with a couple of points.

“How much ammo do you have?”  Have you ever noticed how many military illustrations the Bible uses?  Christians have been enlisted for military service (2 Tim. 2:3-4) and we need equipping for the warfare we face.  As this relates to church our ammo could be likened to multiple things, but I will stick to the importance of Sundays worship service.  The music and Bible teaching should draw one closer to God and deeper in their understanding of Him.  As we grow in our understanding and relationship with Him we increase our fighting power.

“Are you okay?”  Humans handle this question in a funny way.  Without a doubt we answer, “I’m fine.”  I don’t care if it’s the battlefield or the church.  We like to hide our problems when things aren’t going well.  We need to get over ourselves, let our guard down, and be real about our ups and downs.  It’s okay to share your struggles, worries, and needs to fellow believers.  We aren’t here to judge one another, but there are times when a brother’s confrontation of your sin can be the best thing for you (Prov. 27:6).  The church is supposed to be a close-knit family where we can help and serve one another in this journey.

To the Believer.    Choose your church wisely.  Find a church where the Bible is taught.  I am convinced that a church that teaches the Bible (actually going through and teaching the books of the Bible, not random topical teaching) is the best environment to foster spiritual health.  Connect to a local church, be faithful, and don’t church hop.  Get grounded in your local church.  Part of the struggle is planting roots and developing meaningful relationships where you feel comfortable and there is someone who genuinely cares about you to listen.  This doesn’t happen overnight.  I’m not against the large church, but the reality is these types of deep relationships are harder to form to form in a crowded setting.  Whatever size church you go to, get plugged in and be intentional about developing meaningful relationships.

To the pastor.  Preach the Word.  Develop a culture of transparency by being transparent yourself.  Help the people of the church to develop meaningful relationships…I don’t have the answers of how to do this for your setting, but I am very convinced that we need to foster this in our churches today!

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Pattern of Prayer

Often when we study the Scriptures, we look at verses, pericopes, and chapters. Recently, in considering prayer, I was curious how often prayer occurred in the book of Acts as a whole. I often hear people say things like “we need to get back to the book of Acts”. Dealing with this phrase is worthy of a post of its own, it is often based on some wrong assumptions, but I suggest we do look at Acts again and consider the emphasis that Luke, under Spirit-inspiration, puts on prayer in the early church.

Acts 1, gathered together in prayer in the upper room.
Acts 2, church birthed at a prayer meeting; Continued in prayer together daily.
Acts 3, Peter and John heal the lame man as they were going to pray.
Acts 4, brethren in trouble so church prays.
Acts 6, devoted themselves to prayer.
Acts 7, Stephen prays for his persecutors.
Acts 8, Apostles pray for new believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Acts 9, Ananias comforted because Saul is praying.
Acts 10, Peter prays and is called to Cornelius.1
Acts 12, Church gathered praying for Peter.
Acts 13, The Church is praying and sending out missionaries.
Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas prayed for the new church plants.
Acts 16, Paul and Silas pray from prison.
Acts 17, Paul’s spirit is stirred for Athens resulting in prayer.2
Acts 18, Paul prays in Corinth.3
Acts 19, Disciples in Ephesus are prayed for.
Acts 20, Paul prays with the Ephesian elders.
Acts 21, the Church in Tyre, Syria prays.
Acts 22, Paul speaks about his praying in the Temple.
Acts 23, Paul was in prayer in the night.3
Acts 27, Paul prays for all those on the storm tossed ship.4
Acts 28, Paul prays for Publius to be healed on Malta.

In looking at the book of Acts through this lens, I have been stirred to prayer. In our independent society, we can easily lose sight of our absolute dependence on God, and our church’s dependence on God. I believe it was Tozer who said that if the Holy Spirit ceased working in the early church, 90% of the work would cease, but if the Holy Spirit ceased working in the church today, 90% would continue. Spurgeon was right when he said “Prayer is the lung of the church”. My God replace our asthmatic prayer life with deep breaths of dependence on God, and may we, as pastors, model a lifestyle of strong healthy prayer as if we are one breath away from death.

 

1 10:9-­‐16, Prayer is seen in Peter’s dialogue with Jesus.
2 17:16, I take it that Paul’s spirit being stirred suggests that Paul began to pray.
3 18:9-­‐10; 23:11, The Lord speaking to Paul implies prayer.
4 27:23-­‐25, An angel being dispatched to strengthen Paul strongly suggests Paul was in prayer.

risk

Taking Steps of Faith

“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. — But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. — (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)— But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. — For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? — O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? — ..for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

Romans 1:17 • Hebrews 11:6 • 2 Corinthians 5:7 • Matthew 6:33 • Matthew 16:25-26 • Matthew 14:31 • Romans 14:23

Comfort is the enemy of growth. Yet we live in a society that works overtime at eliminate any and all discomforts. Certainly, I know no one that enjoys being uncomfortable, least of all myself. I’ll readily admit my own aversion to discomfort, but at the same time I recognize the absolute and total necessity of living and walking by faith, which is tremendously uncomfortable.

It was nearly 10 years ago that the Lord impressed upon me a very simple, but an important truth of pastoral leadership. As I prepared to step away from a ministry I loved and knew well to serve in a country I’d never visited, with people I’d never met, in a church I knew little about, I realized that I can never expect those I lead to take discomfiting steps of faith if I am unwilling to be a pattern of doing so myself. As I’m sure many of our readers are acutely aware of — or can imagine — it is extremely easy to become excessively comfortable in church ministry. Especially in an established church. To step away from that is, well, uncomfortable.

I am truly grateful for the wonderful examples of faith that are all around us. I’m thankful that the Hall of Faith doesn’t end at Hebrews 11:40. I thank God for individuals, whom I am blessed to call my friends, of whom the world is still not worthy of. Ones who leave the comforts of home or the shelter of “established ministry” to heed the call “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Those that leave family and friends to plant churches in the Philippines, to bring the Word to Mozambique or healing hands to Israel. Those that live by faith, trusting God for provision and in so doing observe firsthand that God is indeed worthy of our complete confidence and devotion.

With each passing year my conviction fortifies. The church must observe in her leaders a willingness to take a risk. Calculated as they may be, risks (i.e. steps of faith) always involve some level of hesitation or fear, and present the possibility of failure. Be that as it may, God is still able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to His power that is at work in us.

So, get out of the boat… what’s the worst that could happen?

fed

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.