The gospel work of the church is viral and adaptive. It infiltrates and subverts established powers. It is a winding, weaving, rooting, climbing, spreading vine that can crack bricks and choke out competition. There is connection enough to get nutrients out to the farthest tips of the next burgeoning vine and leaflet. It isn’t a complicated structure; roots, vines, leaves. The New Testament picture of the local church was chaordic, a tenuous balance of chaos mixed with just enough order to keep it together. If your church becomes structurally heavy then you minimize your gospel effectiveness.
Bureaucratic committees with sub-committees reflect American political ideologies and Wall Street power grids but not the local church’s raw, ever-branching spread-ability. If you have to error between simple and complicated then fall to the side of simple. Simplicity is the faith step that releases individual members to be led by the Holy Spirit freeing them to contextualize the gospel message. Leadership and organizationally heavy churches stifle the very work they are trying to rally. The church is an open field and the gospel a seed. Hold it and you will choke it; release it and watch it grow.
For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field… – I Corinthians 3:9
The United States published over 300,000 different books in 2013. Not all of them good. Not all of them helpful. Many of today’s non-fiction books are an insult to the trees that gave their life in the name of profit-driven publications. Still, your ability to read books well enables you to draw forth diamonds out of the desert.
- Get your books in print. The tactile and mental rigor of reading well is hampered by e-readers. You can text and tweet your favorite quotes from your phone after the fact. In the beginning, keep it raw by getting it in print!
- Read with a pen and highlighter. You are hunting for ideas. Ideas lead to other ideas that impact paradigms and assumptions. Underline and scribble and connect and mark and highlight and circle.
- Separate the wheat from the chaff. When you find something that grabs you, feeds you, then transcribe the idea to a blank sheet in the book. Use an end-sheet or flyleaf. List the page number and the date.
- Note the notes. Footnotes and endnotes are a bed of wealth. Well-written books offer further research and follow-up reading. They provide you direction to bigger pay-dirt. And, the presence of notes cue you in that you have left the popular world of op-ed writing and have entered the fertile territory of non-fiction research and publication.
- Accumulate a list for further reading. Note oft’ cited authors and the books that provide a backing for the ideas you are wrestling with. Get them on your Amazon wishlist.
- Collect Questions. Good books confront you and threaten to change you. You know this is happening when the text cultivates questions. Collect your questions on a blank sheet and start wrestling with the answers.
- Go the extra mile. Type up your favorite points, future reads, collected questions, and bibliographical information in a searchable note file or other digital database of your choosing. I am an Evernote freak. This gives your reading a legacy and provides you with fodder for future work and a place to keep working.
Not every book is worth reading no matter how popular it is, what list it is on. Still, the discipline of reading well makes sure you don’t walk away empty-headed.
I had the chance to meet with my academic adviser, Dr. Dale Coulter, while in Virginia Beach this week. We were trying to iron out the remainder of my program at Regent. He was trying to help me understand where I fit within Christ’s larger family and realize the blessing of my pedigree. My historical context often leaves me swooning. Follow the time-line:
- Saved at 4 in a KJV-only fundamental church
- Raised in a Seventh-Day”esque”, Old Testament congregation
- Attended a Conservative/ Reformed college
- Trained and ordained by a Holiness denomination
- Pastored in Brethren, Holiness, and Non-denominational/ Baptist churches
- Graduate work at both Baptist and Pentecostal seminaries
I have paddled up many of the theological tributaries in the great river of Christian faith. And, as a history “student” tracked God’s working over the diverse landscape of time. I have covered a lot of ground and here is the result.
I find few things worth holding in a tight fist- theological things, hills to die on. (This often comes at the consternation of fellow church-attenders who have a great deal more “convictions” and feel the pastor should feel as the feel!) I have seen and studied too many Christian leaders, movements, splits, and reformations that chose to hold onto ideas over holding onto people. I have convictions, things that are important to me, and you need to have convictions. Never hold them and present them in a way that repel others. Keep your hands open as much as possible and as long as you can. Only fight over ideas if you can do so without abusing people’s journey towards God. If people trip and leave let it be over the gospel, (which is an incredibly narrow set of tenants, ala I Cor 15:3-4).
Make every effort to do what leads to peace…do not destroy the work of God over (issues)…whatever you believe about these (issues) keep between yourself and God. – Apostle Paul (Romans 14:19-22)
You may be your greatest enemy. You, and not demographics and demonic strongholds and historical/ cultural contexts, may be the greatest barrier to fruitfulness and growth in your local church. God knows that along with increased growth comes greater influence and power and opportunity. You may not be in a position, spiritually, to handle more fruit. Your plate may have reached its capacity.
The Apostle Paul did not want the fruits of ministry to get the best of him. He didn’t want to be his own ceiling. He took bodily discipline seriously. He made sure grace, via the Holy Spirit, had his body in check. Attack your pride. Deal with your appetites. Control your passions so you can run your race till the end.
I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. – The Apostle Paul (I Cor 9:27)
For more, read The Human Body and Spiritual Growth from Christian Educator’s Handbook on Spiritual Formation.
I don’t let my young children watch the news. I don’t let them watch certain movies. Their young minds are not ready to process the depth of the world’s reality nor filter the fantasy movies present as true. Muslim sleeper cells are real. Lurking phantoms are not real. Both would keep them up at night.
Values and convictions are the result of time and prayer and study, or the lack there of. Some ideas are not feeble notions and they are not for everyone. Convictions are effective agents and in the wrong minds, unprepared minds, they cause damage. Many of your church members are not ready to wrestle with some of the ideas and realities that you have embraced for years. You are not deceiving them but respecting their journey. Telling them what you think about “A” or “B” or “C” may actually crush the very faith you are trying to build. Ask yourself:
- Is the Holy Spirit leading me to share this learned truth?
- Do I have a strong relationship with this person?
- Do I need to share this idea?
- How will this certain conviction deepen their walk with God?
- Am I sure I am correct?
Before tossing followers a hot potato discern if they are able to withstand the heat.
And Jesus said to Peter when they first met, “Peter, follow me and they will crucify you upside down.” Book of Never Happened- Chapter Not Once, Verse Nada.
Elephants never forget and Christians seldom remember.
Promises are only as good as someone’s ability to learn AND retain them. When the time comes to hold God to his word, whether in finances or relationships or trials, stepping out on faith rests on a Christian’s memory. After all, you can not act on what you do not remember. Part of your responsibility as the “church” in someone’s life is making sure attenders are regularly reminded about God’s character, his promises, and the greater story attenders have entered. It is an age of message overload. People are more prone now to forget God’s promises being subjected to so many voices in a given week.
Churches that do the most to help members remember God’s truth;
- …maximize song selection on Sundays. The mnemonic power of music is a gift and tool. The psalms were not written to hype temple worshippers but to help truth retention.
- …incorporate some form of liturgical reading. If you want your members to know the story than make sure they hear it often.
- …promote bible memorization as a discipline at all ages.
- …illustrate sermons using narrative passages from the Bible. The mind is wired to remember stories more than alliterated, pithy principles.
Pack your pews with pachyderms. Reverse rampant memory loss in churches. Help your members remember!
I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them…I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live…and I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. – Apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:12-15)
You are destined to wreck your small group ministry and undermine biblical community if your focus is to multiple groups rather than leaders. The authentic ministry of healthy groups demands familial and familiar relationships. Don’t sacrifice connection so you can hit your “new group goals”. Rather, focus on identifying new leaders that can carry the responsibility to pastoring brand new groups.
Subdividing groups, making two smaller groups out of a larger group, is a multiplication strategy equivalent to taking a bus full of school kids and spreading them out among two different driver-less buses, shoving them down a hill and celebrating growth. Make sure you close your eyes so you don’t see them careen into each other, innocent telephone polls, parked cars, and the occasional brick wall. It is a lunacy equivalent to planting a church without a church planter.
Instead go slow and build into leaders. Let willing people apprentice under proven leaders. Let them get their leadership legs under them while you identify new people who need to get into community. Once you have reached critical mass (8-12 couples/ 4-6 families) and a prepared leader, launch a new group. You actually increase the leadership culture in your church, provide better pastoral care to those in established groups, and prevent more false starts. You will have more groups that last longer.
God built a family and gave them a mission. Don’t try to build a mission by dividing families.
I haven’t posted in 26 days. I have done other things, important things that no one would call into question. However, as a writer and a blogger and a thinker and a leader I must deliver. I have thought about posting and have intended to post. I put great weight on the priority of living intentionally, on purpose. Yet, intention and action are not the same. Ya gotta get on the horse and ride at some point
You, also, have things that matter to you, to your church and ministry. Yet, they aren’t happening. You want them to happen. You pray about them happening. You have dreams and visions and tell yourself stories about what things will be like when they are happening. You reinforce it with inner monologues while solo-driving on the way to work. But, as of now, nothing is happening. Time to get on the horse.
- Overcome Inertia. You aren’t doing anything so you must get the mind/body/soul in motion, slowly. Do something simple, first, like put your “thing” on the calendar. Carve out a 90 minute block, a week in the future.
- Prime the Pump. While you are doing other things, before your intended and scheduled thing, your mind-factory will begin to work the problem and crank out solutions. Visions of your “thing” completed. Rough-edged. First-drafted. Raw to be sure. In the shower. At bed. Mowing the lawn. WRITE THEM DOWN! Save them for your future meeting.
- Hit the Ground Running. You have come to your scheduled time, you have a paper filled with fodder ideas. Get to work. Plan it. Do it. Write it. Clean it. File it. Scrape it. Paint it. Call it. Whatever you have needed to do, just do it. You will find that overcoming your mental inertia and priming the pump have given you the needed momentum to get ‘r done.
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? – Luke 14:28
Always looking to suggest books, worthy of reading, that nourish both mind and heart, this is a must read. Meditative prayer has been a missing practice in many Christian traditions. This book allows the reader to walk in the presence of Richard Foster and learn from his example step-by-step means to add meditative prayer to your faith journey. Anyone wanting to experience more of God in their life will appreciate this book.
“2011 Leadership Journal Top Book of the Year! “At the very heart of God is the passionate disposition to be in loving fellowship with you. . . . From the human side of this equation it is meditative prayer that ushers us into this divine-human fellowship.” Richard Foster, bestselling author and founder of Renovaré, writes these words as one who has experienced what they describe. And in this new book he will beautifully guide you in this transformational way, that you might come to know deeper fellowship with God.” – Amazon
Faith takes life’s direction and resigns it to God’s discretion. We are left wanting and waiting and falling and flailing without a parachute. And, with this falling, comes an emotion and a need. We feel afraid. Yes, fear and faith are not foreign to each other. How else should we describe the empty abandonment felt before the deliverance of God, not the elation experienced after God confirms the promise. Faith involves fear. It is the cold dead tomb, sealed and silent.
Faith is also need. “God, you must act or I die. You must catch me.” With no need faith does not lead us to new mornings with new days. There is no descent into Christ. Our faith has neither stretched us nor moved us nor changed us. Without need we are not transformed because our self is not crucified upon the altar, nor is pride and self-confidence killed. Faith is a tomb sealed by a rock only God can move, and waiting till morning.
People must know that faith leads to dark, God-intended places. They must expect fear or they will flee the tomb. They must expect need or they will not wait to see God fulfill it. Tell them, “Once you step you are going to start to fall. It is alright to be afraid. It is the right emotion for one out of control. You are gong to be at a loss. But, wait for God. His timing is perfect and provision is beyond measure. After the cold sealed tomb is the blessed morning of resurrection and new life.”
The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me…do not abandon the works of your hands. Psalm 138:8