Archives For April 2013

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Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsCONNECT, COACH, COMMISSION

 

Let’s talk. I need to share with you today from my heart. I’ve been a pastor for many years. Can I confess something very important to you? Much of that time I’ve felt I was playing church. There is such a profound disconnect from what I see in most modern churches from what I read in scripture. In the early church the Christians were willing to follow Jesus anywhere he led. Some of them even followed Jesus to the Roman coliseum where they were eaten by the lions. We’ve all read about martyrs who have given their lives for God. But somehow we see these as special heroes who really have nothing to do with ME.

Why is it that we think that Jesus really didn’t mean it when he required his followers to follow him–to take up our cross? Why is it we think we can count ourselves followers of Jesus when we fail to follow him? Is it because we are surrounded by others who call themselves followers of Christ who aren’t really following the example of Jesus? Hello!

I have decided I’m too old and have too little time left to play church. I want to be a true follower of Jesus.

I’ve been talking with God a lot lately about what this means for me as a pastor. His answer has been—can you guess?— “Follow Me.” Surprise! “But, God,” I’ve said, “What does that mean?” God keeps responding, “How did Jesus spend most of his time?” “Hummmmmmm. I guess he spent most of his time coaching the twelve disciples. Then sent them out with the great commission.” “Bingo!—- and they went out coaching others who coached still others until the lives of millions have been touched.” Connect, Coach, Commission.” 

So, shouldn’t that be the church’s strategy, Connect with friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors, especially those who are hurting? Coach them in Christian discipleship. Then Commission them to go out serve as obedient disciples, reproducing the process. Here goes. I believe God is showing me that nothing is more important than to spend time coaching individuals and very small groups of people who are seekers. People who are willing to be coached/mentored and who will, in turn, coach/mentor others. Nothing I could do with my time is more important. This is God’s strategy .

This means I’m looking to CONNECT with a few good men or women. We’re COACH one another and GROW together, becoming Christian servants, doing whatever God calls us to do. Only the serious should apply. As we live together in covenant community  and grow spiritually  we will all be COMMISSIONED to go out and connect with others. It all starts with COMMITMENT.

Are you ready to let God really transform your life? Are you ready to make a serious commitment to follow Christ? Are you ready to discover God’s purpose for your life? Are you ready to find the amazing joy of making an eternal difference in the world? Find a coach and become a coach. Partner with one or two others and let’s build a movement.

QUESTION: Are you ready to stop playing church? Please respond in the Comments section below.

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsThe Serving Leader for the People of God: 5 Powerful Actions That Will Transform Your Team, Your Church, and Your Community

 

Elizabeth Wourms recently sent me a copy of her book The Serving Leader for the People of God, co-authored with John Stahl-Wert (SHIP LLC, 2011). The book is based on Stahl-Wert and Jennings’ The Serving Leader text. This presented a bit of a problem in reviewing the book since I don’t own a copy of The Serving Leader. However, the authors do provide an overview of the latter book in their Prologue. Both books are built around their subtitle: 5 Powerful Actions That Will Transform Your Team, Your Church and Your Community.  

The five actions as summarized on page 17 in the book are: 

1.     Run to Great Purpose–serving leaders must provide their followers and their organizations with a truly compelling vision–a reason why–for their lives and work. The book and its training resources teach leaders how to do this.

2.     Upend the Pyramid–serving leaders must put themselves at the bottom of their organization in order to serve the success and accomplishment of the people who work for them. The book shows leaders how to make this shift in position and attitude.

3.     Raise the Bar–serving leaders must establish an organizational culture of excellence and high engagement by leading from values. The book and its training resources coach leaders how to grow in discipline and integrity in the course of daily management.

4.     Blaze the Trail–serving leaders must teach the business distinctives of their enterprise and remove the distractions and obstacles that hinder their team members as well as progress. The book shows leaders how to make mission clear, and keep great focus on those essentials that are at the heart of success.

5.     Build on Strength–serving leaders must know what the capabilities and passions of their workers are in order to build strengths-based and complementary teams. The book and its training resources guide leaders to know their workers strengths and to build strong team alignments. 

One might further summarize these five actions with the words purpose, humility, excellence, act, and  focus. Anyone familiar with leadership literature will quickly recognize these principles. While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of things that can improve an organization, I agree putting these into actual practice could indeed transform a team, church, or community as promised by the authors. 

One of the things I particularly like about the book is the way each chapter is organized. Each chapter begins with a Narrative and Chapter Overview. Each moves quickly to a significant Biblical Foundations section followed by Theological Foundations. To help put the actions into actual practice the authors then include a section they call Key Behaviors and Practices and conclude with an example they entitle A Real-Life Story. 

Any Christian organization, especially a church, should find this book helpful in training their leaders. It offers an unusual combination of theoretical, Biblical, and theological foundations with a significant amount of supportive material that can help any organization apply those action principles.

QUESTION: What are some action principles that you believe will transform a team, church, or community? Please respond in the Comments section below.

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsOne of the greatest obstacles to Christian discipleship is our materialistic culture and what David Riesman called an age of consumption.

 

As society has moved through the different periods of history, we see the interrelatedness of the religious, social, and economic realities. David Riesman wrote as early as 1950 in his book, The Lonely Crowd, about the movement to what he called an age of consumption. 

In this influential book he traced the changes in the “social character” of Western humanity since the Middle Ages, including the changes of family life. However, he expressed greatest concern in a second “revolution” he described as “a whole range of social developments associated with a shift from an age of production to an age of consumption.” 

Over a hundred years earlier Alexis de Tocqueville warned that American democracy could erode into a selfish materialism. Tocqueville believed this collapse of the public sphere would come from our success. 

Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow surveyed 2,000 people and found that 89% agreed “our society is much too materialistic.” Seventy percent believed American society would be “better off” with less emphasis on money.  

Materialism affects how we think and the way we see our world. It not only shapes our tastes, desires, and preferences, but as Wuthnow suggests, “alters our capacity to pray, the nature of our prayers,” and the way our religion “instructs our values.” Remember, this is a sociologist, not a preacher, making these statements based on his research. He goes on to suggest that when we sell our souls for “stuff” it is difficult to hear any prophetic message regarding “the suffering of the poor, the need for economic justice, and the desirability of seeing God’s handiwork in simple things or in nature.” 

There’s a wonderful story about an old fisherman sitting on a pier beside his catch of fish. A rich businessman came by and asked the old man why he wasn’t out catching more fish. The fisherman responded, “Why?”

“Well,” the rich man opined, “So you can make more money, of course.”

Again, the old fisherman asked, “Why?”

“So you can buy more boats, more nets.”

“Why?”

“To make more money,” the rich man responded with increasing frustration.

“Why? “Well, man,” the businessman practically shouted, “so you can sit back and take it easy.”

“So, what do you think I’m doing now?” the old man asked, with a twinkle in his eyes. 

I’m not recommending laziness or sloth. But I do wonder if many of us have lost a sense of balance in our lives between work and play. Are we choosing the material over the spiritual? Are we choosing the good over the best? Are we choosing our work over our families, Mammon over God? 

There is literally a world of difference between the values of a mature Christian disciple who follows Jesus and the values of our materialistic culture. Augustine called these two worlds the City of God and the City of Man.  

Jesus put it this way, as reported by Matthew in chapter 6, verse 24. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

 

QUESTION: To which kingdom are you loyal, the spiritual kingdom of God or the material kingdom of this world? Please respond in the Comments section below.

Living Up To Our Label

April 24, 2013 — 1 Comment

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsThe greatest obstacle to making disciples may be the discrepancy people see between the Christian label we wear and how we live our lives.

 

Soon after we were married my wife Robin decided she would rather do the grocery shopping by herself rather than have me accompany her. Oh, she never stated this explicitly, but volunteered to do it alone. I realized I slowed her down too much. I spent much too much time comparing prices and reading labels. Robin simply pulled what she wanted off the shelf and placed it in the shopping cart.

Reading labels can be educational and entertaining. What about orange juice labeled “Fresh” but which in truth is made from concentrate? What about that purse labeled “GENUINE Manmade LEATHER?” It seems to me that genuine should mean the “real” thing, authentic, natural.

So, what does all this have to do with our Christian faith? Sometimes I wonder if we mislabel ourselves. From time to time I see people who call themselves Christians acting terribly unlike Christ. (Sometimes I see that individual in the mirror.) Jesus Christ loved his enemies, had compassion for the least, the lost, and the last. Many people who label themselves Christians express hatred for their enemies and show little compassion for anyone, especially those who are different in some way.

Perhaps we should all ask ourselves if we are living up to our label. We are called Christians because we are supposed to be followers of Jesus who was killed for his radical call to love others. As Christians we are called by God to share our time, our talent, and our treasure with others, especially those less fortunate.

Years ago I read something that might be a little test of how well we might be living up to our label: If your car starts one out of three times, do you consider it “faithful?” If your paper doesn’t arrive Monday and Thursday, would they be missed?’ If you fail to come to work two or three days a month, would your boss call you “faithful?” If your air conditioner quits for a day now and then, do you excuse it and say, “Oh well, it works most of the time.” If you missed a couple of car payments in a year’s time, would the bank say, “Ten out of twelve isn’t bad?” If you miss worship one third of the time, are you faithful?” Here’s the point: Do you give the same commitment to God and His church that you do to the rest of life?

And what about our call to make Christian disciples? The greatest obstacle to our success in this endeavor may be the discrepancy people see between our label (Christian) and our lives. It doesn’t matter much about our methods if those we seek to disciple don’t see the transforming power of God at work in us. It will be impossible to convince others to commit themselves to radical discipleship if the product they see before them is no better than all the other people they know. The first step to discipling others is working on our own holiness, learning to live up to our Christian label.

QUESTION: When others look at your life do they see something that would make them want to be like you? If not, what do you need to change? Please respond in the Comments section below.

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsIn the Spring issue of Southern Seminary Magazine president Albert Mohler wrote about a subject dear to my heart. The title of his article was “Love for a Bible not read: a call for biblical literacy.” He quotes researchers George Gallup and Jum Castelli, “Americans revere the bible–but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.”

 

Dr. Mohler goes on to some of the horrible things that indicate the truth of Gallup’s and Castelli’s assertions:

“Fewer than half of all adults can name the four Gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from one research group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. Americans may demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in the courthouse, but they seem unable to remember what exactly they are. 

According to 82 percent of Americans, ‘God helps those who help themselves,’ is a Bible verse. Those identified as born-again Christians did better–by one percent. . .  

One poll indicates that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors reveals that more than 50 percent thought Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. We are in big trouble.”  

Dr. Mohler suggests churches are spending less and less time on Bible teaching which “often accounts for only a diminishing fraction of the local congregation’s time and attention.” He also insists the solution to this massive problem should start in the Christian home. “Parents,” he writes, “are to be the first and most important educators of their own children, teaching them the Word of God.”

This highly regarded denominational leader and seminary president concludes, “Churches must recover the centrality and urgency of biblical teaching and preaching. We will not believe more than we know, and we will not live higher than our beliefs.”

While I disagree quite often with Dr. Mohler, I say a hearty “Amen” to this article. However, I think he stops short of an even greater aspect of the problem. My experience with 64 years in the church confirms the biblical illiteracy of the typical church member. On the other hand, I often say the typical church member knows more Bible than they put into practice. 

I’ve tried throughout my ministry to emphasize more Bible study, just as Dr. Mohler suggests. However, I’ve had limited success with getting even active church members serious about Bible study. Of course, he is right that we won’t believe more than we know, and we will not live higher than our beliefs. But it is also true that “beliefs” as mental assent is not enough. Knowing the “facts” of the Bible does not necessarily result in transformed lives. As I have written so often, believing things about Jesus is not the same as believing in Jesus and putting one’s life in His hands. Believing about is not the same as trusting in.  

It’s something of a chicken or egg situation. Our exposure to the Bible helps us come to life-transforming faith. Life-transforming faith gives us the desire to better know the scriptures.

I agree with Dr. Mohler that we need more Bible study. But there needs to be a renewed interest in the quality and effectiveness of that study.  It grieves me to admit this, but over the years my experience revealed that the greatest resistance to doing what God was calling the church to do very often came from those who were the most knowledgeable of the scripture.

This leads me once more to my conviction that the kind of preaching and teaching that simply emphasizes facts and doctrines is not enough. We need mentors, coaches, and accountability partners who will come along beside us and demonstrate in their daily lives what it means to walk with Christ. Faith, and the truths of the scripture,  are caught more often than “taught.” Transformed lives more often come from a “show me” approach than from  a “tell me” approach to teaching. I’m all for teaching folks that Sodom and Gomorrah were not married. But I’m even more concerned about teaching them how to let God transform their lives.

QUESTION: What do you think the church needs to do to more effectively transfer the truths of the scripture? Please respond in the Comments section below.

 

 

 

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsWhat are you doing to build relationships with your friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors?

As a young wife Helen LaMonce was quite overcome at finding herself alone with her serviceman husband, halfway around the world from home. Every afternoon she would sit in the garden watching her young daughter play. Across the street a sweet-faced young woman bustled about hanging spotless linens on shrubbery in her yard, or sat working on her knitting. She would always smile at Helen who would always smile back.

One day Helen saw several pieces of the laundry ling on the muddy ground. She rushed over to the young woman’s house, knocked on her door and told her about her muddy wash.

The next afternoon Helen opened her door to a gentle knock. “Please,” said her neighbor, “you trinkin coffee?” In her garden she had a table set up with coffee and apple strudel, and they enjoyed what was to be the first of many pleasant visits. With one speaking mostly German and the other mostly English, they chatted for hours.

Before Helen left Germany, her good friend reminded her of the day her wash had fallen. She smiled and said, “I put the clothes there. I wanted so much to meet you–you looked like you had a friendly heart.”

Do you look like you have a friendly heart to your neighbors, associates at work, and others you come into contact on a daily basis? This really is the first step in helping others come to know the love of God. No one is going to be interesting in knowing about Jesus Christ if they don’t see the loving Christ in your actions and attitudes as well as your words.

One of the reasons I love the story about Helen LaMonce is the way her neighbor committed an unusual but very intentional act in order to meet her new neighbor. I find it quite difficult to meet my neighbors. I drive home, push the button that controls the garage door, drive in, push the other button that closes the door, and I’m home for the evening. If I go outside it’s usually to the back yard which is surrounded by a six foot fence. All my neighbors do the same. Perhaps we need to learn a lesson from Helen’s neighbor and get creative with our efforts to know our neighbors. Let’s be intentional about meeting them; let’s be intentional about offering them our friendly heart; let’s be intentional about sharing God’s love.

QUESTION: Have you used some creative ways to get to know your neighbors? How have you shared your friendly heart and the love of God with friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors? Please respond in the Comments section below.

Logo Transparent jpeg without words“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” James 5:16

 

It could be easily argued that the greatest spiritual problem many of us have is the discrepancy between our talk and our walk. Even the Apostle Paul had this deficiency. He wrote to the church at Rome,  

“We know that the Law is spiritual, but I’m made of flesh and blood, and I’m sold as a slave to sin. I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate. . .The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do. (Romans 7:14-15, 18b-19 CEB).  

For many years now I have served as a church pastor. However, even before I became a pastor I observed this discrepancy between our talk and our walk that exists in all of us. This was true of Paul and other Christians in the New Testament. And yet the Christians I know, including myself, seem to fall far short of the ones in scripture who were willing to die for their faith. We certainly fall far short of the example of Christ.  

Jesus gave his followers the Great Commission–make disciples. But how do you make disciples who seriously follow the example of Jesus like the apostle Paul and others in the New Testament? How do we overcome the human condition Paul described so powerfully and become the person God created us to be? I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to discover the answer to this question.  

We’re talking about transformed lives. Of course, Christians believe the first step is to surrender our lives to Jesus and invite him to become the Lord of our lives.  This first step is referred to by theologians as justification. Some call it “getting saved” or being “born again.” But this is just the beginning of the process of sanctification or spiritual growth. Our goal is not spiritual birth but spiritual maturity. 

In my search for a better way to help people grow spiritually into mature disciples of Jesus Christ I began to look around to see who or what organization was experiencing transformed lives. The place I found was not where I expected it to be; it wasn’t even a  church. It was Alcoholics Anonymous. Now, I have some issues with this organization. I’m afraid it may have gotten away from its Christian roots in many ways. However, when I investigated this organization’s ministry I discovered the key that makes it so effective for so many.  

The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are based on Jesus’ Beatitudes. It outlines very specific steps of repentance, forgiveness, and commitment to changed behavior (what Christians call justification and sanctification). But AA also has a very powerful strategy to implement this process.

I believe the key to the success of Alcoholics Anonymous is the way they use sponsors. An AA sponsor serves as a spiritual coach (mentor) and accountability partner.  Of course AA is not the only organization to use this strategy. History gives us other examples of what some call “obedient-based” discipleship. One from my own tradition is that of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement. Wesley organized small groups he called societies and bands throughout Great Britain and Ireland. In these groups there was a high degree of accountability, regular spiritual assessments,  and a strong expectation for obedient discipleship. 

The Spiritual Assessment 

The new Spiritual Life Assessment on this blog site is designed to be used as a regular spiritual “check-up.” You will want to complete it on a regular basis, preferably once a week.  You can print the results for yourself. However, the real power of this assessment is implemented when you email a copy of your answers to your spiritual coach, mentor, or accountability partner. He or she should read the results and respond to you with an email, phone call, or personal meeting when possible.  

The significance of a spiritual partner cannot be overemphasized. This is the key to our spiritual growth. You and your partner may share your results with each other or the person who serves as your coach, mentor, or accountability partner may have someone else to whom they are accountable. I encourage you to read the blog posts on this site to learn more about the role of accountability partners. The following posts will be particularly helpful:

Moses and Joshua: Five Characteristics for Mentoring/Coaching Disciples

Six Accountability Principles: Keeping One Another Accountable as Disciples of Christ

What Did Jesus Mean When He Said “Make Disciples?”

Why Aren’t Christian Churches More Committed to Making Disciples?

Six Things To Consider About Making Disciples as a Life Coach

GOD: OUR ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER (Part II–Listening to God)

GOD: OUR ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER

A MORE EFFECTIVE WAY TO MAKE DISCIPLES?

CHRISTIAN ACCOUNTABILITY–III

Take a bold new step toward mature discipleship by filling out your first Spiritual Life Assessment.

I would love to hear about your experience with the Spiritual Life Assessment. I do not get an email copy of your responses. Please respond in the Comments section below.

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsAre we consumers or are we being consumed? Consumers or Christian Disciples?

 

I read once about a species of jellyfish that lives in the Bay of Naples. Apparently these slimy little creatures love to eat a certain kind of snail with a hard shell the jellyfish cannot digest. The snail fastens itself to the inside of  the jellyfish and slowly eats away on its host. Before long the jellyfish has been consumed by the snail. Reading about these jellyfish reminded me that we are sometimes consumed by the very things we consume. We have appetites for things that look, smell, and feel good, but in the long run can destroy us. Even things that are good for us in appropriate amounts, like food and work, can destroy us when consumed in inappropriate amounts.

I’ve been associated with Habitat for Humanity for almost 30 years. Its founder, Millard Fuller. Fuller rose from humble beginnings to become a millionaire as a very young man of 29.  But while his business flourished, his personal life suffered. He began to reassess his values, and after some serious soul-searching made some major changes in direction.

Fuller reconciled with his wife. The two of them renewed their commitment to God, sold all of their possessions, gave their money to the poor, and joined Koinonia Farm, a Christian community near Americus, Georgia. There they began to build low-cost, affordable housing on a not-for-profit, no-interest basis. Over a period of time this program developed into Habitat for Humanity. This organization has now built hundreds of thousands of homes for the working poor around the world. I’ve even partnered with them to build houses for tsunami victims in Sri Lanka.

Millard Fuller summed up his life work like this: “I see life as both a gift and a responsibility. My responsibility is to use what God has given me to help his people in need.”

Not everyone is called to do what Millard Fuller did. But he is right that life is both a gift and a responsibility. Can you imagine how the world would be different if each Christian took God’s call on our lives seriously. What if each one of us simply invited someone to church this Sunday? We don’t have to feed five thousand like Jesus did. What if each of us fed just one hungry person? What if each one of us introduced just one person to a loving God? What if each one of us just visited one lonely or sick person? What if. . . (You fill it in!)

QUESTION: What is your “What if? Please respond in the Comments section below.

Logo Transparent jpeg without words “What is the most important thing I can do in each of my personal roles that will have the greatest positive impact?”

 

Stephen Covey, Roger Merrill, and Rebecca Merrill include a great idea in their highly acclaimed book First Things First. It’s just a small step in their life planning process, however, I find it a wonderful but simple tool anyone can use even if you don’t engage in the rest of their strategy.

Write down the various roles you personally fill such as Parent, Wife, Mother, Sunday School Teacher, Manager, Salesperson, Neighbor, etc. For each of these roles ask yourself the simple question: “What is the most important thing I can do in this role to have the greatest positive impact?” 

Covey and company explain:

If one of your roles deals with your own development, your goals might include such things as planning time for a personal retreat, working on a mission statement, or gathering information about a speed reading course. If you are a parent, your goal might be to spend some one-on-one time with your child. If you’re married, it might be to go on a date with your husband or wife. Job-related goals could include setting aside time for some long-range planning, coaching a peer or subordinate, visiting customers, or working on shared expectations with your boss.” 

What I really like about this idea is that it encourages you to DO SOMETHING. In the church, as I have written before, we are great at talking the talk. We can be quite good at making plans. What we aren’t so good about is actually DOING SOMETHING. Many times we are simply immobilized by the magnitude of the tasks that need to be accomplished. We can’t do everything so we do nothing. Covey’s idea recognizes we can’t do everything but we can do something. This question is a good one to help us decide where we should start and it can get us the greatest bang for our buck. 

QUESTION: Where will you start? Let us know how this idea works for you by responding in the Comments section below.

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsDionne Warwick sang, “That’s What Friends Are For.” Stevie Wonder sang, “I just called to say I love you.” Many of the popular shows on television are based on close friendships.

 

Some experts are saying that  friendship was the “sociological signature” of the 80’s, but I would argue this has always been the sociological signature of humankind. In recent years, as the American family has become more mobile there has been a blurring of lines between family and friends. Traditionally, the family has been our primary support group. Unfortunately, the traditional family is almost the exception. Dr. Froma Walsh, at the University of Chicago, has said, “The increasing need for friendship is closely associated with the increasing divorce rate.”

What does all of this say to the church? It means Continue Reading…