The first habit of a growing disciple of Jesus is talking to God in prayer and listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying through God’s Word, the Bible.
Jesus met with Nicodemus in the night, a relationally broken woman at a Samaritan well, and Matthew at a party thrown for tax collectors. He befriended prostitutes, recruited zealots, and pronounced forgiveness for known adulterers. God, in Christ, has definitely demonstrated his willingness to go to the gutters of society to change the lives of sinners by his truth and grace.
So know this. The Holy Spirit will pursue you to the darkest, deepest, dirtiest corners of life. He’ll meet you right where you are, no matter your story or situation. No place is off limits.
However, once he finds you there, you need to be prepared for his invitation to leave the gutter and follow him. He loves you, just like you are, but he loves you too much to leave you that way. He always has a better plan for your life than what you or your culture has had for your life.
My favorite unofficial title for the Holy Spirit is The Difference Maker. He changes the game. When the Holy Spirit gets involved, dead people come back to life, scared people find courage, and wanderers come home. Just listen to this…
But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord — who is the Spirit — makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.
– 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 NLT
The big truth of the Apostle Paul’s words is this: God meets you right where you are, but he doesn’t leave you there. He will radically change you, from the inside out, to look like Jesus.
- He unveils our eyes so that we can see spiritual realities beyond the physical world.
- He grants us the freedom to pursue him passionately and live differently than we lived before.
- He uses the mirror of God’s Word to shape us into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
Change may be something that’s hard for you, but that might be because you’ve tried to adapt to external changes without an internal power like the presence of the Holy Spirit. The good news is that the Creator, the Architect, the Artisan who hand-crafted you in his own image wants to move into the broken you and fix, over your lifetime, all the ways in which his image is marred.
God wants to change your life. But he doesn’t force or coerce us. He invites. He draws. He burdens. He even warns. But he leaves the choice to you and to me. Will we say to him, with unreserved abandon, have your way, Lord?
It’s great to be “pouring into” people. That’s a popular phrase in today’s leadership environment. I’ve used it because I like the word picture of it. Whatever I may have learned about life and leadership, I’m supposd to be passing along to others. But what does the phrase really mean? What, exactly, are we to pour into the people we lead?
We’ve been talking a lot as a church staff lately about leadership development. I really believe it’s the key to our reaching the next level of growth and effectiveness as a church. But I’m becoming aware of a couple of obstacles.
First, I’ve never led a church beyond where we currently are. I joined the staff of a church with well over 20,000 in weekend attendance, but I wasn’t there for the years when Saddleback grew from zero to their present size. I’m facing the reality that what we’ve done so far as a new church plant has been good, but it isn’t sufficient to take us somewhere else. It’s the whole “law of the lid” that John Maxwell speaks about.
I think, on a practical level, that means we’re going to need to do some re-structuring and shifting. We’re going to have to think outside of our already established routines. And we’re going to have to take some risks.
And the second obstacle is that I don’t think we’ve clearly defined what it is we need to be pouring into the leaders we’re developing. Does that mean having coffee and chatting about life? Does it mean walking through a training course or workbook? I think the answer lies somewhere in between those two options.
There are at least eight gifts I hope to pour into the people I’m leading, and I hope they pass these gifts along to others too.
1. Love and concern. That is, living with a genuine interest in the lives of those we lead. And this is more than just the occasional “how are you?” question. It’s staying tuned in and aware of how life is along the way. Loving people is pretty basic, but profoundly powerful.
2. Knowledge and skills. Obviously, if we’re going to raise up and train leaders, we need to pass along the knowledge and skills necessary to get things done. This comes in the form of apprenticing, resources, and modeling.
3. Responsibilities, with clearly articulated expectations. I’ve had to learn a lot the hard way about being very clear in communicating my expectations of those I lead. I can’t assume that someone knows what results I desire to see unless I’ve painted a thorough and accurate picture for them.
4. Golden opportunities. As a leader, you no doubt always have a spot to fill and a task to assign. But do you reserve the very best opportunities – the ones most sure to be rewarding – for yourself? Or do you generously empower others with them to serve up the win to someone else?
Let me stop to note that the opportunities I’ve written about thus far are the easier ones to give. The rest get harder…
5. Theology – a peek into our view of God. You can always sit down with people and walk through some systematic theology, text-book style. But what I’m really referring to is that we speak openly of our faith in God in such a way that the people whom we lead have a bigger perspective of him from having been led by us.
6. Freedom. It’s hard to really let people go and entrust them with the freedom to fail, to make mistakes, to do things differently than we would do them ourselves. But that kind of freedom is necessary to effective leadership. When we fail to grant freedom, the best leaders will leave.
7. Accountability. Pastor Paul Chappell is always saying that “people only respect what you inspect.” My own tendency has been to give away tasks and responsibilities, but rarely to go and follow up on how it’s going. But good leadership requires us to check back in, to hold people accountable in a positive way.
8. Our big “YES!” I’m not arguing that we should say yes to every idea or request that comes along. But those we lead should have the impression that it’s more likely that we’ll say “Yes!” than “No.” Great leaders create “Yes” cultures where people are encouraged to keep being creative. Sometimes leadership means saying “yes” to people even when it’s scary to do so.
I’m still figuring out how to give these gifts well, but I’m committed to doing so in order for our leadership development culture to thrive. You can have growth, or you can have control, but you can’t have all of both. I want to err on the side of having just enough control to keep the train on the tracks.
I grew up attending church A LOT. I was in a church classroom A LOT. When I was a kid, my family attended Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night preaching and prayer services, plus Sunday School, plus missions education programs and Vacation Bible Schools. But… I didn’t grow spiritually, didn’t really experience spiritual depth, and didn’t really learn what following Jesus looked like outside the walls of the church.
When I hit adulthood, I started to grow spiritually, but I would say it was still rather slow going. I started attending church with my wife and soaking up biblical knowledge like a sponge. I entered ministry and attended Bible college and developed the spiritual disciplines. But something was still missing.
Finally, several things happened that prompted a complete perspective change in me and kickstarted my journey toward being more like Jesus. In particular…
- I walked through pain – depression, specifically.
- I began to repent of pride, self-centeredness, and other sins.
- My wife and I began to have tough conversations.
- I went on staff at a church with a strong culture of discipleship.
- We joined a small group of people who cared a lot about doing life together.
After a year in that atmosphere, God led us to Northwest Arkansas to plant a church and gave us a passion for creating a place were people could truly grow. We started planting Grace Hills with some particular convictions about the role of the local church in discipleship, such as…
With whom are you doing life? What I mean is, with whom do you spend time hanging out and talking about the deepest things of life? Whom do you sharpen, and who sharpens you?
Jesus lived toward the cross and the resurrection, and his singular focus on his end game motivated him to live very intentionally. He depended on God for constant guidance and made choices rather strategically. For example…
One day soon afterward, Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles.
– Luke 6:12-13 NLT
Jesus had thousands of followers.
He had dozens of disciples.
He picked twelve to train more deeply and send out.
And he had three that were with him even more often.
I think there’s a pattern there for us to follow when it comes to the goal of our lives as Christians. Whether you want to call it discipleship, leadership development, or just plain friendship, I’m convinced we need to intentionally develop relationships with these circles of people in our lives. We need to pour ourselves into others, and we need to be poured into ourselves by others.
We need to gather with our “thousands.” I don’t think this is about the number, I think it’s about the environment. To put it more simply, we need to be part of a weekly gathering with other followers of Jesus, some of whom we might know personally, but many of whom simply share our common bond of being part of God’s forever family together. We can sing together, be taught and equipped together, and serve together, but we can’t go deep together. Therefore…
We need to have a network of “dozens.” Beyond attending a weekly worship service with a large group of friends and acquaintances, we need to get to know people by name. This is our network. Whether you attend a church of 100 or 100,000, you’ll never go deeper with the entire body. But you can go deeper with a network of people with whom you intentionally stay in touch. Anthropologist Robin Dunbar proposed that the average human cannot cognitively maintain friendship with more than approximately 150 people. I think he was onto something. We may have thousands of “friends” via social networks, but we probably only maintain actual friendship with a small percentage of those.
We need a small group. There isn’t anything magical about the number twelve, but there does seem to be an interesting correlation to the average small group that gathers for a weekly time of Bible study and prayer. This is the circle of people with whom we will pray together, talk about life on a personal level, and mutually encourage one another. It’s where accountability begins in an informal sense. People who tend to “stick” to a church are usually those who have tied themselves to a small group.
We need a handful of close friends. Jesus spent more time with Peter, James, and John than the rest of the disciples, and this was intentional on Jesus’ part. He wasn’t showing favoritism. Rather, Jesus knew that there needed to be a tightly knit core of friends in his life. This is the circle of people with whom we hang out to talk about our spiritual growth and development on the deepest levels. We pour wisdom into them, and they pour it right back into us.
If you want to grow in any sense – spiritually, intellectually, professionally, etc. – you’re going to need to intentionally develop and foster a close relationship with a few grace-oriented truth-tellers. Who are your handful?
If you can’t spit the names of your few or your dozen out pretty quickly, start working today on developing relationships. How? Well, not by passively waiting for friendship to happen. Reach out. Encourage. Invest. Give. And BE a friend, a mentor, and a leader.
And if you want to read the best book ever written on this subject, check out Robert The Master Plan of Evangelism.
When it comes to leading a strong ministry and building a healthy church, it takes more than solid theology or smart strategy. In fact, it takes a combination of those, plus the Spirit’s leading and empowerment. I think of these three as pillars of a dynamic ministry.
Every church needs to be led by a Pastor with a strong ecclesiology – a strong theology of church and mission. Out of our ecclesiology flows our mission, in fact. The mission doesn’t change. Jesus defined it in the Great Commission and has never revised it. How you see the story of the church unfolding in the New Testament should have a lot to do with how you lead the church today.
A Strong Ecclesiology
My ecclesiology encompasses the truth that Jesus founded the church Himself during His earthly ministry. It wasn’t “born” on Pentecost. It was born when the first apostles followed Jesus.
The church is local and visible. While I appreciate the Apostles’ Creed, I also fear that the point about believing in the holy catholic (universal) church has shifted our focus away from the local, visible body which is where the mission of Jesus gets organized in a visible, tangible, effective way.
The church will continue its mission, in the protection and power of Jesus, until He comes again. The church can’t and won’t fail. The gates of hell won’t prevail against it. While its easy to point out what’s wrong with the church, this core conviction motivates me to celebrate what’s going right with the church.
The New Testament presents a church that gathers and scatters. They meet in temple courts and from house to house. Sunday’s service matters. It’s a redemptive gathering of a covenant community to worship and to witness. Small groups matter just as much. Call them missional communities, house churches, or Sunday School classes, they matter as much as the gathering, but not to the exclusion of it.
The New Testament church is led by shepherds. I love the image of the flock under the care of its shepherds, who answer to the Great Shepherd Himself, Jesus. He is the head of the church. He has pre-eminence, and Pastors need the freedom to lead strongly while being accountable to the Chief Shepherd.
I could go on, but the way we build a healthy church, even if it is an organic movement of people gathering in a movie theater and in homes around the community, is determined by our biblical view of the church.
A Wise Strategy
One of my pet peeves is what happens when a church leader talks about a smart idea, a good strategy, or a sweet system. Inevitably, some critics line up to point out how “man-made” methods and marketing strategies and systems are evil and how leaders who develop them must have no strong theology at all. It never fails. Every time we publish an article on Pastors.com designed to help modern leaders face modern problems in their modern context, accusers show up in the comments to point out how Jesus, or the Spirit, or the Bible wasn’t mentioned even though the article is about strategy with an assumed strong theology undergirding it.
The fact is, I need to know about systems and strategies and I’m convinced that thousands of churches are stuck today with a really strong theology but no strategy for engaging the culture and making disciples. The fact is, you need healthy systems for accomplishing the timeless, biblical mission of making disciples. For example…
- You know you should develop leaders, but what’s your leadership ladder?
- You know you need to spread the word, but how are you equipping the saints to do so?
- You know you need to challenge people to take a next step, but have you defined the next step?
- You want everyone to catch the vision, but have you articulated it an understandable way?j
These are strategy questions, and there are plenty more where they came from. Don’t resort to juking leaders with a “just follow Jesus, just trust the Spirit, and just preach the word” response. You may mean well, but you’re crippling the church when you do so.
Be harmless as doves. But be wise as serpents too. Develop a strategy for accomplishing the mission.
The Power of God
Some churches have a strong theology and a good strategy, but are still stuck. Sometimes it’s because we’ve left out the third pillar of a strong, healthy ministry – the power of God. Having defined our theology and developed our strategy, it is still absolutely imperative that we go forward with an attitude of complete and utter dependence on the Spirit of God to bear fruit through us.
We can set the stage, arrange the chairs, and roll out the red carpet, but we cannot save people. This is a work of God.
And I’m not urging us to tack this onto the end. Just because I’ve listed it last doesn’t mean it’s least in importance. Leaning on the power of the Spirit of God is essential as we study the Scriptures and form our theology as well as when we’re creating the strategies to help us fulfill the mission in our present ministry context. His job, in fact, is to shed light on the teachings of Jesus as we study.
One of my favorite quotes comes from a guy who would likely disagree with most of what I write about, but I love his words. Shelton Smith said, “The difference between mediocrity and excellence is midnight oil, elbow grease, and the power of God.” THAT is so true.
If you want a strong, healthy, balanced ministry, find its definition in the New Testament, develop a strategy that works in your present context, and start and finish with trusting the Spirit of God’s empowering presence.
photo credit: Today is a good day
“The New Testament is the only model we need!” There, I went ahead and said that for you. It’s out of the way. For those pastors and church leaders who highly value the New Testament AND actually want to accomplish something meaningful, read on…
Every church follows a model. Most of the church leaders who criticize following a model follow a model that tends to criticize models. Follow that? There are traditional models with an age-graded Sunday School, a morning worship service, evening worship service, and a midweek prayer meeting, plus some other programs. W. A. Criswell (one of my biggest heroes) was a pioneer in this model in the 1940’s. Back then, grading ministries by age was innovative.
Other churches follow the “simple church” model. They have weekend worship, small groups, and that’s about it. The ministry and mission is carried out by the groups and the individuals in them. It works well for those who do it right. There are also house churches, and still a few quarter-time churches that only have a Pastor once per month. There’s the Amish and Mennonite model – very community-centric. You get the picture.
We started planting Grace Hills in the summer of 2011 and launched in January of 2012. Since the beginning, we’ve experienced slow and steady growth. We’ve never had a quarter of a million dollars to spend on advertising, so we’ve never done any. The new people who show up come because of relationships, word-of-mouth, and social media. So to what do I attribute our growth so far? Well, to please the “New Testament is all we need!” crowd, God is responsible. We affirm His sovereignty, the Spirit’s work, and the fruit of the Word of God. But here’s a reality check… tons of Bible-believing, Christ-honoring churches are dying. Maybe it’s the model?
Before I reveal our model, let me explain the concept. A “model” is simply a paradigm or framework through which we accomplish the work of the ministry. And yes, the New Testament is our primary model. Jesus sent the apostles in the book of Acts to launch a movement that started in Jerusalem. Within a decade, churches were all over the place being led by people who were considered apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, and evangelists (see Eph. 4:11) and their responsibility was to equip the whole body for the work of the ministry (see Eph. 4:12).
We learn from the New Testament how to make disciples like Jesus did, how to handle church messes like Paul did, and how to go about the work of missions the way the church at Antioch did. And plenty more. But God didn’t stop working at the end of Acts 28. He has continued to move and work and bless churches for two millennia.
In 1998, I ran across a book entitled The Purpose Driven Church which changed the way I thought about church. It’s an eighteen-year-old book now, so people either have the assumption that it’s outdated or that it’s new-fangled. I’ve met plenty of people on both sides. But the book provided a model, a paradigm, a framework through which our church could accomplish ministry in a scalable way. It’s not a book about how to build a megachurch. It’s actually a book about how to make disciples.
I want to write more about the purpose driven model in the coming weeks, but here I wanted to offer a short synopsis to demonstrate why I think it’s a scalable model for churches. Briefly…
1. Being purpose driven is biblical.
The basic idea is that God has five intentions for the church – worship, ministry, evangelism, discipleship, and fellowship. You can re-tool that list to be four or six or maybe seven, but the point is, God has given us a great pattern for organizing all of our ministry around His purposes. These purposes are rooted in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, which still serve to grow great churches 2,000-ish years later.
2. Being purpose driven provides a simple disciple-making process.
If you believe, as I do, that spiritual growth is incremental and measurable, then the purpose driven model provides a great way to help people grow in an incremental, measurable way. This year, we’re implementing our “class” structure which we call a series of conversations about four words: Love (what it means to be loved by God, to love God, and to love other people), Grow (the personal habits/disciplines for growing), Serve (discovering your unique shape for ministry), and Go (what it means to “live sent” and how to share Jesus).
Aside from that series of conversations, we gather on the weekends for corporate worship and we scatter during the week in small groups. So we’re simple, but not so simple that there’s no definition or direction for what it means to be a follower (disciple) of Jesus.
3. Being purpose driven is scalable.
It’s not a megachurch model. We watched our church in Kentucky grow from 45-ish to 100-ish, and most of that growth was people meeting Jesus for the first time (70% of our additions were baptisms). Then I was part of a church in southern California that has grown to the tens of thousands (it helps that the author of The Purpose Driven Church is the Pastor).
What really intrigues me is how many churches I see that are purpose driven and don’t even know it. I’ve run across independent fundamental churches whose prupose statement reflects the five purposes very well, and other churches that are charismatic, mainline, or even non-evangelical that follow a class structure to mature people spiritually. Like Criswell’s age-graded Sunday School model, I think Rick Warren’s purpose driven model has become a norm among today’s growing churches.
At the end of the day, every church is driven by something – money, tradition, politics, fear, etc. – but I want to lead a church driven by God’s eternal purposes!