While purchasing my chicken bowl at Chiptole my eyes fell upon the business cards at the register. Next to the expected General Manager’s card was another card, the GM Apprentice. I was more than curious. I’m not looking for a new career path but I notice when other companies take seriously the lost art of discipleship.
On Chipotle’s career page it reads, “(the apprentice) works shoulder-to-shoulder with the General Manager to prepare for the General Manager role as his/her next position with the company.” They even have a strategy for upward mobility. Why? Well, Chipotle wants not just more stores but they want stores that carry the marks of Chipotle quality and values, offering food with integrity.
Do you have a strategy for those who want to serve more and reach more and climb the ladder of influence and value in God’s kingdom? Could you put a business card out for others to see reading “pastoral apprentice”? How much could your church accomplish if you had more leaders that lived out kingdom values? Get an apprentice. Let someone walk shoulder-to-shoulder with you. Develop a strategy for leader multiplication. Shouldn’t your church set the example of leadership with integrity?
“Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived…The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. 3 Paul wanted to take him along on the journey…” (Acts 16:1-3)
Our three sons did not merit a trip to the zoo today. Recent behavior has been rather embarrassing. Back biting, arm biting, talking back, manipulating, punching, clawing, growling, stomping. Yes, the behavior of three alpha apes living in the same cage but not the type of behavior we want to flourish in pastor’s children. So, we took them to the zoo and dropped them off with a park ranger. Tempting! No, we took them to the zoo, not because they deserved it but because they needed it. We even took them for Frogurtz frozen yogurt sundaes after.
We don’t deserve purple-orange sunsets, fragrant spring flowers, and epic ocean-scapes. What about the way flavors pair together at dinner and the comforting sound of music and the warmth of a fire with friends? We don’t deserve any of the graces God lavishes on us and so often fail to recognize and appreciate. We give God the same ape-ish antics my sons gave me. I took my children to the zoo not out of their merit but because their father loves them and told them he loves them no matter what. Heaven forbid my sons think they merit grace in their life. I would need to cage them like beasts. (I wanted to earlier)
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8
American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition. None of these marks is remotely biblical. None is faintly in evidence in the gospel story. All of them are thoroughly documented diseases of the spirit. Pastors are in great danger of being undetected carriers of the very disease we are charged to diagnose and heal.
Peterson, E. H. (1989). The contemplative pastor: returning to the art of spiritual direction (Vol. 17, p. 58). Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub.
We are tempted to insert people where we have the most pressing holes. “We need nursery workers. No one showed up for tech!” Filling gaps is a short-term fix that leads to burn out and under-utilizes the spiritual capacity of the Body. It is no better than filling potholes with basketballs, or china plates, or rosebushes. The goal isn’t filling the hole but bridging the gap with a sustainable resource designed for the problem at hand. Take the time to get people where God has appointed them. It will infuse your ministry with a spiritual power and connect volunteers to their ordained purpose. How?
- Know the gifts in your church and who has them. The seven motivational gifts in Romans 12 are equally important but not equally distributed. 30%-40% of your church will have the gift of service. Less than 5% will have the gift of teaching.
- Filter your programs and volunteer opportunities through the gifts. Don’t filter workers based on your programs.
- Create an open document that lists the gifts in connection with places they can be most readily expressed and utilized.
- Get in the habit of helping people discover their spiritual gifts early. Start here. Make it part of your membership/ assimilation process.
- Pray for gifts in connection with your ministry needs not just workers based off your program holes.
- Remember it is your responsibility to help people connect with their divine ministry.
God gives the church the missionaries, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the members for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ… – a paraphrase (Eph 4:11-12)
Good church leaders constantly confront the American Christian’s primary language, individualism. We are born and bred to speak it fluently. Yet, the notion that “we can do it”, “it is up to us”, “your life is in your hands” is antithetical to the grace of God and the blessings of sovereign providence. Leaders must guide people to the place of rest, knowing “our times are in His hands.” (Ps 31.15) A great ally in this constant struggle is your worship leader.
Read the un-individualistic language of the psalmist from Psalm 73, a prophetic song to American ideology,
73 Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment….
9 They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.[a]
11 And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”…
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever….
Work with your worship leaders to sing songs that elevate God’s character, his works, his power. Watch out for excessive “I” language; like psalm 73, sing about the “You” of God’s power and counsel and provision. The mnemonic nature of song will carry with the worshipers and help remind them that God rules and reigns. The Spirit will “reboot”/ “reprogram” the worshipers mind instilling the truth that God is the source of all. This may mean gutting much of the popular hymnody sung it your many churches. However, you cannot afford enforcing self-centered ideas in a world sustained by God.
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.
Good questions are the seed bed of conversation, personal growth, and relational health. The whole reason that you have a relationship with Christ is because the Holy Spirit started asking you questions, “Who is Jesus? Are you sinful? Are you good enough for God? How is this going to end?” Your doctor has a standard list of questions that he asks. They reveal general components of your health and well-being. Consider the same practice as you encounter various “groups” of people. Make asking questions a regular part of your ministry, relationships, and personal spiritual formation.
- Church Members: What are 3-5 questions you that could cue you into someone’s spiritual health? I like to ask, “What is something God has done this week that surprised you?”
- Family/ Friends: What are 3-5 questions you can ask to open up conversations about their day, worries, and needs? I ask my sons, “What is something that made you sad today?”
- Personal Questions: What are 3-5 questions the Holy Spirit asks you to help you stay focused on what matters most? God asks me, daily, if I have cherished my wife and delighted in my sons.
Keep your questions open-ended. Do they probe for answers that cue you in to what is going on deep inside the person? Be sure to listen for their answers and don’t decide what to ask next until you have processed the last response. Your thoughtful questions invite people to grow. Start a journal with good questions. Answers change as people change but you won’t know that unless you ask them better questions.
God confronted Adam, “Where are you?”
God questioned Elijah, “What are you doing here?”
Jesus probed Peter, “Who do you say that I am?”
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.