Turning Toward Mission, Step One

Photo Credit: Lel4nd via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Lel4nd via Compfight cc

Last week I wrote about the need for churches to turn outward and amplify the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I also promised practical steps for making your church systems a megaphone for making disciples. We are all seeking effective approaches. Everyone is seeking the steps that will lead to success. I am always reluctant simply to give a pragmatic answer. The books, articles, seminars–and blogs–offering the step-by-step approach are legion. But no matter what system or steps one chooses to implement, I believe true missional realignment in ministry or in your personal life comes from two key ingredients. The first is spiritual renewal. The second is disciplined, hard work. I want to focus on step one. [Read more…]

Funnel or Megaphone?

Photo Credit: Stig Nygaard via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Stig Nygaard via Compfight cc

Funnels and megaphones are essentially the same shape. The difference is in application. Most church systems-even the coolest and most progressive-operate like funnels. Churches plan outreach strategies, attractional services, or events designed as entry points to gather people from the masses. Maybe they even inspire church members to “invest and invite,” but the outcome can be the same. People are “poured” into the big end of the funnel and collected into the church’s systems. This is referred to as assimilation. It’s a noble enterprise. The intention is to gather people as the church and develop them within the system to become disciples of Christ. Too often, though, the means becomes the end. [Read more…]

9 Steps for Self Examination

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Photo Credit: nathanmac87 via Compfight cc

“The hardest person to be honest with is yourself.” I don’t know who said it, but it certainly rings true for me. Honest self examination, though, is an essential spiritual discipline. In order to plot a course to where we are going, we have to know where we are starting. I’m really talking about confession – acknowledging our sin and our need for God’s grace in our lives. We know confession is essential, but many times we limit confession to our actions. In Mark 7:14-23 we find Jesus teaching His disciples that what really defiles a person comes from within—from the heart. Growth in Christ necessitates times for personal reflection, admission of faults and failures, and repentance. Here are 9 steps to help you in practicing the art of self examination. 

[Read more…]

We’re All Broken

One of my college pastors used to say we that we should treat everyone we meet as if they have a broken heart because they probably do. That statement has hit home lately as I have encountered lots of brokenness in the lives of those around me. This brokenness includes grief over the death of a parent, a young mom suffering with cancer, parents with a teenager in crisis, friends whose adoption process was short-circuited, a marriage in jeopardy, abuse, addiction, even suicide. And I think I’ve forgotten some.

Here’s the truth: It hurts.

Another truth: Brokenness is a common denominator. Some of these friends that I am thinking of are very far from God while others are some of the most mature Christ-followers I know. Brokenness touches everyone regardless of faith, class, race or tax bracket. And, do you want me to be honest? I’m broken, too.

We’re all broken. We may try to act like we have it all together, but each of us is damaged in some way. We live with the scars of wounds inflicted by our own choices and the choices of others. We live in a fallen world. We are fallen people. In the words of recording artist Lecrae, “We some broken people, came from broken homes, broken hearts inside of a broken soul.” Reality. [Read more…]

How To Make Disciples Who Make Disciples

I’m passionate about the Why and the What of disciple-making. I can talk about the theology and philosophy of disciple-making all day. Yet, I’m also aware that there is a rising awareness and conviction among people about the importance of making disciples  (see #3 in my denomination’s recent report on declining baptisms) and they’re asking the next question after Why and What. They want to know How. The fact is we won’t create a disciple-making culture until we are making disciples and teaching them to do the same!

Here’s one approach to disciple-making, called the triad model, that I have used effectively in both established church and missional settings. [Read more…]

A Thought on Defending the Faith

I’ve been reading through 1 Peter in my devotional time lately. This little letter in the New Testament grips me because it addresses the early church as it is beginning to encounter the full-on assault of a hostile culture. The Holy Spirit, through the pen of Peter, is answering the question – “How should we live as Christ-followers when it seems like all elements of society are opposed to us?” At the time he was writing, persecution was becoming a reality for the early church, starting with social marginalization. These first-century Christians were facing job loss, neighborhood shunning, and even violent attacks because of their claim that Jesus Christ is Lord and a lifestyle that matches the courage of their convictions. Sound familiar?

Right in the middle of that context I discovered a verse that I am guilty of taking out of context. In fact, if you’re a Christ-follower who grew up in the youth groups of the 1970’s and 1980’s you probably have heard or used the verse out of context, too: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). It is the “Apologetics” verse. Apologetics comes from the Greek work in that verse that we translate “defense.” Clearly the verse (really a part of a verse) is telling Christians that we have a duty to be able to give a verbal defense as to why we believe the things that we believe about Christ. During my crisis of faith in college, the Lord used books that were classified as apologetics books to help me really understand why I could trust the Bible and why the claims of Christ are true. I am grateful that in His providence and grace God directed me to such helpful material.

But when I read the bigger context of this call for apologetics, I get a bigger picture of what Peter is suggesting about defending the faith:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:14-17 ESV) 

Do you see it? Peter is suggesting a posture that is far greater than just knowing facts about the reliability of the Bible or the different theories of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Peter is saying this: Your conduct is your greatest apologetic. When you suffer as a consequence of your faith, earn a hearing for what you believe by how you behave. This is sobering!

Recently, James Emery White said “Old school apologetics are out. New school apologetics are in.” As one in the old school his words caused me tension. Yet I believe he’s right. Too many times I’ve been more concerned about winning the argument about Jesus than winning the person to Jesus. As we face more opposition by the norms of culture and the laws of our governments, Christ-followers will have more opportunities to show the difference that being a disciple of Jesus makes in our lives. It’s what an increasingly non-religious world needs to see before they will want to hear.

As Christianity becomes the minority culture in America we will have more opportunities to defend our beliefs. We will do so by faithful conduct in the midst of opposition that an unbelieving world will find unbelievable. Now that’s really old school!



Doing Church Differently: Leadership Factors

One of the challenges that must be confronted in doing church differently is leadership. The church in the United States has taken its form and identity from that Christendom worldview, yet our context is increasingly post-Christendom. This shift must cause us to examine our paradigms of leadership. The radical separation of clergy from the laity is certainly a holdover from Christendom. In his book, Unfinished Business (originally published as The New Reformation), Greg Ogden supports this idea by noting that while the Protestant Reformation reclaimed the Scriptures for the people, it did not reclaim leadership and ministry for the people. 

Follow the leader
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Jesus was clear in the Great Commission that the role of every disciple, not just pastors, is to make disciples. [Read more…]

Planting the Church or Planting the Gospel?

This post originally appeared on The SendSFL Blog. Cross-posted here by permission.

We didn’t mean to plant a church. In 2008, when our family relocated to the suburbs of Raleigh-Durham, my concept of church planting was pretty conventional. It involved the need for funding, a core group, a place to meet, etc. My conversations with other planters and some experience with church planter assessments had convinced me that I wasn’t wired with the entrepreneurial skill set to be successful as a church planter. If this is where you have found yourself, keep reading.

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As with all transitions, our move gave my wife and me an opportunity to reevaluate our values and behaviors. One of the things we wanted to do well in our current setting was to order our everyday lives around Jesus’ Great Commandment to love God with everything we were and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). We wanted to see a new culture emerge in our community—a disciple-making culture. We believed that the missionary pattern of the Apostle Paul was foundational to creating this culture. Particularly gripping was what we read of Paul’s life with the people of Thessalonica: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8, ESV).

[Read more…]

Have Our Memorials Lost Their Meaning?

Memorials are built to remember something. Today we remember the men and women in our armed forces who have give the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedom. We thank God for them. Last week I had the privilege of giving a talk about biblical memorials and generational discipleship. My thoughts on the subject follow…

And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.” Joshua 4:21-24

Petoskey Stones
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Beth via Compfight

The idea of remembering and memorials is important in the Bible. In Joshua 4 we find Joshua and the people of Israel crossing the Jordan and setting up a memorial for a very specific purpose. The text helps us understand the biblical mandate for generational discipleship with great implications for those of us who are parents. Joshua 4:21 gives the purpose for this memorial – When your children ask their fathers in times to come, “What do these stones mean?” The memorial was for instruction. This is not new to God’s method of transmission of the faith from generation to generation.

This is a theme repeated throughout the Bible. Consider these memorials and God’s instruction to parents:

• Of the Passover: “You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped. (Exodus 12:24-27 ESV)

• Of the Feast of Unleavened Bread: “And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.” (Exodus 13:14-16 ESV)

• Of the giving of the Law: “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.’”(Deuteronomy 6:20-25 ESV)

There is a consistent idea in these memorials that parents should pass faith along to their children. The question that the children were to ask in Joshua 4 in the text is, “What do these stones mean?”

Memorials without Meaning

Today, I believe many children in our churches have the memorials without the meaning! In other words, the church and Christianity surround them while they have no personal ownership of their faith. You see, Joshua 4:6 adds an important qualifier to the question children will ask, “What do these stones mean to you?” The idea is a personalized faith on the part of the parent. But the state of discipleship today is such that Southern Baptist pastor Brian Haynes in his book The Legacy Path, comments, “The greatest obstacle that parents have to overcome in leading their children spiritually is their own mediocre or morbidly religious relationship with God accompanied by a juvenile understanding of his word.” This underscores the point that parents must be disciples first.

I am convinced this dearth of parental discipleship exists in large part as an unintended consequence of our stellar church programming for youth and children which is relegating parents to the backseat when it comes to delivering faith to our children. Notice I said unintended consequence. We are, as it were, victims of our own success when it comes to ministry to children and youth. We have given parents a “drop-off” mentality in which they perceive their role in spiritual formation ends when the child is transported to the church. Haynes continues, “for a very long time parents have depended on children’s pastors or youth pastors to disciple their kids. This is a great partnership but it does not take the place of parent-to-child faith training.”

It is no exaggeration to say that there is a crisis in discipleship of the next generation. We have all heard the alarming dropout statistics from the church after a child leaves for college. The National Survey of Youth and Religion showed that between graduation from high school and what is the equivalent of the end of the young people’s sophomore year in college, from 60-70 percent of those in-church youth left the church and became inactive. The study showed that those dropouts were not actively a part of any church of any denomination by that end date.

The solution to this is not better programming at the church. The solution lies in discipling parents to disciple their kids. Strong homes will make strong churches.

Memorials with the Wrong Meaning

But, as tragic as it is that our children may see memorials with no meaning, I believe there may be an even more dangerous implication we can draw from Joshua 4. Many children have the memorials with the wrong meaning! In other words, they have been told what the faith means to their parents, but it is a kind of Christianity that falls short of the commands of Christ.

Notice the true meaning behind the memorial for the Israelites in vv. 22-24. Parents were to recount the mighty acts of God so that ALL THE PEOPLES OF THE EARTH MAY KNOW THE HAND OF THE LORD IS MIGHTY AND THAT YOU MAY FEAR THE LORD YOUR GOD FOR EVER – the meaning behind the memorial was mission and worship! tThat is why we disciple our children. We disciple them to fear the LORD and proclaim His glory to the nations.

But the Western church in the 21st century has lowered the bar. As a result of the study noted above, a term has been coined that has gained popularity among many in the blogosphere and in the seminary classroom – moralistic, therapeutic deism.

Moralistic, therapeutic deism, according to the researchers has replaced biblical Christianity in many homes and churches. It is the belief that Christianity is to make us be good (moralistic), feel good (therapeutic), and to keep God at arms length until one of those first two goes wrong (deism). In her book, Almost Christian, flowing from the research already noted, Kenda Creasy Dean, notes “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism has little to do with God or a sense of a divine mission in the world. It offers comfort, bolsters self-esteem, helps solve problems, and lubricates interpersonal relationships by encouraging people to do good, feel good, and keep God at arm’s length… Moralistic Therapeutic Deism makes no pretense at changing lives; it is a low commitment, compartmentalized set of attitudes aimed at “meeting my needs” and “making me happy” rather than bending my life into a pattern of love and obedience to God…We have received from teenagers exactly what we have asked them for: assent, not conviction; compliance, not faith. Young people invest in religion precisely what they think it is worth—and if they think the church is worthy of benign whatever-ism and no more, then the indictment falls not on them, but on us.”

In short, the lie that parents and teens have bought is making the Gospel too small. The solution is to teach the true biblical meaning of the “memorials” to parents who in turn teach their children.

The issue lies in the church, yes, and there are challenging questions we must ask about our effectiveness. But more so, the issue must be addressed in the home. We must champion a return of parents to their God-given privilege of discipling their own children. We must resource them, train them, and involve them in the spiritual nurture of their children.

We must challenge them with their own understanding of the memorial. We must call parents back to proclaim the Gospel so all the peoples of the earth will know the might hand of the Lord and that they may fear the LORD forever.

There is indeed more to do, and it begins with raising the bar for generational discipleship!

So, what about your homes? Have you built a memorial? Not with stones, but with sound spiritual practices that teach your children the glories of God and His mission to the world?

Would you do one thing this week and challenge the families of your church to do one thing to explain to children what these stones mean to you?


How family discipleship can make your job easier

The not-so-subtle assault on families in our time is real. This should drive us to be intentional in making disciples of our children so they can know biblical answers to the moral questions they will face. For decades Christians have looked to the church as the primary institution for instilling faith and values into our kids. Here’s a simple question: How’s that working for us? A solid family ministry strategy that is intentional can help parents and church leaders be effective at making disciples of the next generation.

Timothy Paul Jones is a major voice in creating a new culture where churches are more intentional in partnering with parents. The second part of my recent conversation with Timothy is now up at www.churchandfamilync.org. I hope you’ll take time to listen. There are take-aways for parents and church leaders that are super-practical and encouraging. Here are my top 10 (5 for parents, 5 for church leaders):

As Parents:

  1. Take your own discipleship seriously.
  2. You don’t have to be perfect. Be genuine and sincere.
  3. Start a Family Faith talk at least once a week. Keep it simple and gear it to the age of your kids.
  4. Don’t see the church staff as the main disciple-maker, but see them as partners to help you take that role.
  5. My favorite: Consistency matters more than content! Your kids will remember the time you spend with them more than the teaching itself.

As Church Leaders:

  1. Ask your leaders, are you doing this in your home?
  2. Start a family ministry team.
  3. Don’t blow up the bride of Christ. Love people to change, don’t try to force change.
  4. Re-culture the church. Create a new culture, not just a new strategy.
  5. Provide the tools. Give parents simple resources they can use to do family faith talks at home. This can simply be a take home question or two from the sermon.
Recently, I encouraged some friends to start spending time in prayer together as couple. The husband said, “When should we start? The wife said, “How about tonight?”
The same question is a good one for family discipleship. When should you start?
How about tonight?