The Family that Prays…

Recently, my wife, Brandie, and I had a conversation with a friend who was wrestling with how to encourage her teenager to be involved in their family prayer time. She and her husband have made a practice of leading their family to pray using the A.C.T.S. model (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication/intercession), but as their kids are getting older they are facing the challenge of keeping them all engaged in the prayer time. Although it was a challenge for them, the important thing is that this dad and mom were gathering their children for prayer and were intentional in how they were praying.

Teaching kids to pray through an intentional prayer time is vitally important, but what guidelines can we use to help us?

1. Be Real – Jesus warned against prayers that were merely vain repetitions to impress others (Matthew 6:8). By extension, those we try to impress with our prayers could be our own kids. We shouldn’t worry about saying the right things when we pray as parents, we should focus on sincerity of heart. Remember, we’re not praying so our kids will hear us, but so that God will. We pray within our kids’ hearing so they will have a model of sincerity in prayer.

2. Be Relevant – Jesus encourages His disciples to ask him for the things they need (Matthew 7:7). Pray about the needs you have and encourage your children to do the same. Your kids’ requests may seem silly or “unspiritual” to you, but don’t discourage them from asking what is really on their hearts. As you hear them pray and reveal what’s on their minds, then you have information to help you attend to their needs and guide them into more mature, less self-centered prayers.

3. Be Relational – Praying out loud as a family can bring you closer in your relationships with one another as well as with the Father. Prayer is a tangible way to keep Jesus Christ in the center of your family. Your faith as a family will be emboldened as you experience the Lord answering prayers you’ve heard one another pray just as the early church experienced together God’s power through their corporate prayers (Acts 4:31).

4. Be Realistic (not legalistic) – As your children grow they will go through stages of involvement and disconnect. It is good to have a model (like A.C.T.S.) to help guide them, but above all teach that prayer is an honest dialogue not a formal recitation. Keep their ages in mind and encourage small steps like sentence prayers of thanksgiving. And if a child does not want to pray out loud, don’t force them. Be careful not to set prayer out as a religious requirement but as a precious privilege. Encourage them to know that hearing their prayers is a way to grow in intimacy with one another, but emphasize that they don’t have to speak out loud to talk to God. Praying out loud may be a source of embarrassment for people because they’ve never been taught how. The home is a safe place for kids to prepare for public prayer at their own pace.

So, start tonight. Pray as a family. Remember, it’s not how you pray with your kids, but that you pray with your kids which is important! What about you? How do you pray with your kids?


7 Prayer Requests for Your Children

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:9-13, ESV) 

How can we really see change in the lives of our children? The starting place is prayer. We start with prayer because it is God who works in our children not us. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if you have to choose–though I doubt you do–between discipling your children and praying for them then you should prioritize prayer.

So how should we pray for our kids? Should we pray for them to be bright, athletic, good-looking, healthy, happy, and above average? Maybe. Or, we could set a higher bar and pray for them to grow in godliness. That’s how Paul prayed for his spiritual “children.”

We can have confidence when we pray Scripture because it’s God’s Word and reflects His heart for His children. Take the passage above and turn it into a prayer for your kids. I have built my prayer for my children over past 13 years on the verses above. You can try it right now, just place your child’s name in these sentences:

  1. Lord, fill my child with spiritual wisdom and understanding (for salvation or for spiritual growth if they are already believers).
  2. Lord, help my child to have this wisdom so he/she will walk (live) in a way that is worthy of you and pleasing to you.
  3. Lord, help my child to bear spiritual fruit by doing good works.
  4. Lord, help my child increase in his/her knowledge of you.
  5. Lord, strengthen my child with all power, according to your glorious might.
  6. Lord, give my child endurance, patience, and joy.
  7. Father, thank you for my child, and thank you for qualifying us through Jesus Christ to share in your inheritance of eternal life. (Or, for the hope of that inheritance for the child not yet saved).
So, don’t make prayer harder than it needs to be. Model your prayer after God’s Word and trust, not in the prayer, but in the One to Whom you are praying to answer for His glory.

Coming or Going? Dimensions of Discipleship, Part 3: Mission

We have been working through a series on three dimensions of discipleship–worship, community, and mission. Today’s post will focus on mission. When I use the term mission I mean our mandate to live out and proclaim the Gospel to our neighbors and all nations in word and action. In my opinion we in church-world have reduced our mission to an evangelistic presentation devoid of context or relational integrity. I want to be very careful here to be respectful of my evangelist friends. There are men in my life that clearly have a supernatural gift to sit across the table from someone they just met and within the course of just a few minutes they can clearly explain the gospel resulting in that person committing his life to Christ. I praise God for how He chooses to use such people.

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Nonetheless, I believe we have missed a key element of our mission, the essence of which is found in 1 Thessalonians 2:8: “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” (ESV). Note the two things Paul says he and his companions gave the Thessalonians: the Gospel of God and their own selves or lives. I don’t think Baptists in particular have any trouble with intellectual acceptance of the first part of the verse. We know we are supposed to give the Gospel. I have heard sermons on that topic all of my life. I have preached sermons on that topic. I have been trained to give the Gospel and been obedient to share my faith. The first half of verse 2 is the “ought to” part of the passage. But the second half of that verse grips me. Paul invested more than just the telling of a message to the people. He invested his own life in them. The context of chapter 2 indicates that he invested his life in their lives at the risk of personal peril. Technically, Paul did not plant a church in Thessalonica. Paul planted the Gospel and his own life in Thessalonica for season and a church emerged.

I believe our paradigm for church planting and church growth is often backwards. Our mission, we have been led to believe, is to get people to church so that they can hear the gospel. This misunderstanding of mission leads us to plan attractive, professional, stage-driven environments where the best communicator gives the message. This is not the pattern seen in Scripture. Nor is this pattern reproducible in most of the world. Again, I want to speak out of respect for churches that God is blessing who use such an attraction-type model. But if we are not careful, we can falsely communicate that the everyday Christian is not qualified to share his faith, only the polished preacher is. That is an unintended consequence of the attractional church model. I recently heard missional thinker Dennis Pethers talk about the crisis of the church in America. He said that the crisis is not that people aren’t coming to church. The crisis is that people in the church aren’t going out and sharing what they know. The prevailing thinking in my denomination over the last two decades has been the former crisis–plateaued and declining churches. Since we think that is the crisis we change church service styles or times and look to programmatic tweaks to get people to come to church. But Pethers is right! The crisis is not that people aren’t coming to church. That is the result of the real crisis. The real crisis is that people are not living on mission. We are not living as missionaries in our neighborhoods and work places.

To live as a missionary means we seek to present the Gospel on the turf of those who need to hear the Gospel. It means we contextualize our approach to the message so that those who are far from God will listen. It means we get messy in serving those who are broken. We need to look no further than Jesus to see the true example of living like a missionary. Jesus was sent from the Father out of His home to come to earth and take on flesh to live among those He came to die for. We call this the incarnation. In similar fashion, we are sent out of our comfort zones to live among the people who need to hear the life-changing message of the Gospel. That is also an incarnation. A foundational verse for this concept is the commissioning of the disciples in John 20:21 where Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me even so I am sending you” (ESV). We are to live the Gospel and tell the Gospel to those who we live with every day.

Living the Gospel is more difficult than simply inviting someone to church! Let’s be honest about the likelihood of people who are broken and far from God ever coming to your church and feeling comfortable. Whether or not your church is friendly or inviting, most people who have no church background are skeptical or intimidated by the idea of coming to a Sunday service. I think that a plan of getting people to an event or service to hear the Gospel is incomplete. It is a plan that will reach those with some familiarity with church, but it won’t reach the growing majority of people even in the Southern U.S. who have no concept of church other than the negative view they get from the media or a bad experience. God’s plan is not for them to come, but for us to go! In On the Verge, Alan Hirsch states it best, “If we persist with the current status quo, we are in effect asking the nonbeliever to do all the cross-cultural work in coming to church! Remember, we are the sent ones–not them.”

The disciple’s mission is to go and make disciples. It is to live as one sent by Jesus as a missionary to everyone in one’s sphere of influence and even beyond to the ends of the earth.

So, how can you be on mission? I suggest you start with prayer. Ask the Father to open your eyes to those around you and to give you a heart for them like His heart for them. Then get to know those He puts on your heart. Give them your own self, just like Paul did for the Thessalonians. Do the things that are a part of your everyday rhythm and invite your friends and neighbors to do it with you. Move your evening gatherings from the back porch to the front porch. Attend neighborhood events. Live your life authentically before a watching world.

The most fulfilling thing you can do as a Christ follower is to pursue this kind of mission. Are they coming or are you going? If you are in Christ, you were made for this.


Shifting from Ministry to Mission

As a part of my role as a ministry consultant and strategist with my denomination I am frequently visiting congregations on Sunday mornings. A couple of years ago my wife and I were visiting an adult Sunday school class at a church. They did not know who we were or what our spiritual condition was. We entered the room and the teacher introduced himself and one of the two couples seated in the room did the same. We sat down in one of the rows of chairs later to discover that we had taken someone’s seat. Slowly the room filled up with people carrying on their own conversations, catching up with their friends with little notice of us. In fact, we were seated between two ladies who actually had a conversation “across” us. We could have predicted the rest of the visit because we knew what to expect as “professional guests.”

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Unfortunately, my wife and I are conditioned to be treated as outsiders. We realize that most groups merely tolerate the presence of outsiders. Yes, people are generally polite and there is typically at least one person who, hopefully out of genuine interest, but perhaps out of a sense of obligation or guilt, will make conversation, tell us about the church and make sure we feel welcomed. I understand that many groups such as these have deep friendships forged over time. I also know that I have been guilty at times of making outsiders to my group feel like…well, outsiders. I fear that the class I described is an accurate reflection of the state of community in most churches in North America. It is community devoid of a clear mission.

A community that loses its mission begins to believe that the community is its mission. The group becomes closed off and is satisfied to perform ministry to each other within the group with little regard for their real mission. Of course the mission for the disciple is to make disciples. Discipleship does not happen within the community that has lost its mission. True discipleship only occurs as one is on mission with their Master, Jesus, making disciples of others. In his book,The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch, describes the difference between “mission” and “ministry.” He distinguishes mission as the church’s orientation toward “outsiders” and ministry as the church’s orientation toward “insiders.” He says, “Experience tells us that a church that aims at ministry seldom gets to mission even if it sincerely intends to do so. But the church that aims at mission will have to do ministry, because ministry is the means to do mission…By planting the flag outside the walls and boundaries of the church, so to speak, the church discovers itself by rallying to it–this is mission.”

So, how does a group or class move from ministry to insiders to mission to outsiders? It isn’t easy. In fact it may be close to impossible to move some long-standing existing groups to orient around mission. Those groups that choose to live in disobedience to the call of discipleship should be dissolved because they are leeching energy and resources from the body. However, groups should be challenged to orient themselves around mission. If you are a leader and you are convicted in your own heart that you need to lead your group, then think and pray through such a shift. You may be called, like my family was, to start from scratch with a whole new group of friends. But if you are sure you are where you are to lead change, the process to shift from ministry to mission should include:

1. Study the Gospels together and focus on the life of Christ. Observe where Jesus went, who He ate with, how He treated those far from the Father. Pray and process.

2. Read about missional communities in books by guys like Alan Hirsch and Neil Cole and at places like The Verge Network and the GCM Collective. Pray and process.

3. Spend plenty of time together loving the group where it is and challenging them to move to where they need to be. Be patient because it will take lots of time. You must shift values before you shift behaviors.

4. Share your life with your group and share your learnings with them at the same time. Pray for your group to see what God is helping you see.

5. Ask your group to define its mission/purpose for existence. Move to clarity that their mission/purpose should be making disciples who make disciples.

6. Ask your group to describe what behaviors of the community are contributing to accomplishing the purpose of making disciples who make disciples.

7. Ask your group to describe what behaviors of the community are keeping you from accomplishing the purpose of making disciples who make disciples.

8. Ask your group what changes the group would need to make to accomplish the purpose of making disciples who make disciples. Begin to reshape your group based upon the discussion.

9. Pray for those far from God around you by name.

10. Share your life with those around you who are not a part of your group. In other words start living on mission.

So, what is your small group/class like? Are you focused more on ministry or mission? What steps are you willing to make to change?

Catching the Rabbit – Dimensions of Discipleship, Part 2: Community

When Jesus calls us to be His disciples, He calls us into a life lived together with others. He calls us into relationship: a relationship with Him and relationships with others. We live in an isolated and individualistic culture. For many people, relationships are seen as a means to an end of personal pleasure, satisfaction, or gain. True relationships–true community–is hard to find in this world. But Jesus calls His disciples into relationship for mission, to give of themselves instead of taking for themselves. If a disciple is one who is abiding in Christ and doing what Jesus did (1 John 2:6), then the disciple will be about those things that Jesus was about, namely: worship, community, and mission. These are three dimensions of discipleship. Community is in the middle of this trio because it is the relational glue that holds disciples together to worship and to be on mission.

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When Chris Tomlin sings, “You and I were made to worship,” he is correct (as we have noted), and you and I were also made for community. God created humans in His image. The essence of God is found in His Trinitarian nature. Within the Godhead, the three Persons of the Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–exist as a unity comprised of diversity. [Read more…]

Practical Ways to Worship as a Disciple

In the last post I asserted that if your worship is off then all of your life as a disciple will be off. If that is true, then it behooves the disciple to ask, what will it take truly to worship our sovereign God? In other words, after we establish WHO it is we are to worship, we must establish HOW we are to worship. By how, I am not speaking of style or method, per se. If you are looking for a good series on Worship Wars you should check out my friend and colleague Kenny Lamm’s series on the subject. I am speaking more of the practicalities of living out a life of worship to the Father.

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Discipleship is holistic; however, it is helpful to think of specific environments in which the disciple lives out his faith. Four environments for discipleship are (1) personal; (2) family; (3) church; (4) world. Each dimension of discipleship–worship, community, and mission–can be explored in each of these environments. Help in establishing best practices for worship can be found in examining worship through the lens of these four environments: personal worship, family worship, corporate worship, and worship in the world. [Read more…]

Dimensions of Discipleship, Part 1: Worship

I recently began a series on the question, What is a disciple?  Based on 1 John 2:6 we have stated that a disciple is someone who is abiding in Christ and doing what Jesus did. This definition raises many questions for the would-be disciple. One of those questions, naturally, is, “What, then, did Jesus do?” Jesus did many things in His earthly ministry, but a strong case can be made that His primary focus may be seen in just three behaviors. These three dimensions of the life of Jesus are in fact the three primary dimensions of discipleship. In observing Jesus in the Gospels we can see that Jesus worshiped the Father, served people, and invited others to join Him. Consequently, the three dimensions of discipleship are worship, mission, and community.

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At the heart of discipleship is worship. Jesus worshiped the Father. The focus of our Lord’s life was glorifying the Father. The Gospel that makes this clearest is John. [Read more…]

John Stott on Discipleship

Last week I cried upon hearing of the death of a man I had never met. Like many of my friends, colleagues, and countless others in the evangelical world, John R.W. Stott was my favorite expositor. My understanding of the Scriptures and my theology, particularly my Christology, have been shaped more by “Uncle John’s” writings than any other single author or theologian. Stott was a practical theologian. He was a pastor with a scholar’s mind and a scholar with a pastor’s heart. He loved His Lord and the Scriptures. He loved the nations and sought to see the glory of God proclaimed throughout the world. He was passionate about engaging the prevailing culture and calling for the redemption of culture. He invested in young pastors all over the world through his writings. His is a legacy of service in the name of Jesus. Many leaders who knew him have written eloquent tributes about his life and ministry, a thing I choose not to attempt. Rather, I prefer to honor his memory by taking up the theme of the last of his fifty-plus books, The Radical Disciple.

In the book he wrote as his farewell, Stott offers the eight characteristics of what he considered the portrait of a radical disciple. In selecting his title, Stott was intentional in choosing his words, as I believe he always was, for he wanted to convey the idea that those who have Jesus as Lord ought to take seriously His call to discipleship. [Read more…]

The First Question You Should Ask in Making Disciples

Since Jesus’ command to us is to make disciples, we probably ought to know what it is we are making. In other words, the first question we need to ask is, what is a disciple?

Without a clear picture of what a disciple is, your church strategy will be impotent. Your attendance may rise due to some attractive programs or events, but you will not be making disciples who make disciples. Certainly, God’s Spirit trumps man’s plans and wherever His church preaches the gospel some disciples will always be produced, but without a clear picture of what you are making, disciples will be made in spite of your programming, not because of it.

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In fact, I believe most, dare I say all, problems in the church boil down to a discipleship issue. If you have fights over worship, it is a discipleship issue. If people don’t share Christ, it’s a discipleship issue. If people aren’t generous, it’s a discipleship issue. [Read more…]

Four Ways Churches Can Help Parents

It is clear in Scripture that parents have the primary role in the spiritual formation of children. We have affirmed this and noted that parents ought not outsource this responsibility to the church. But what is the place of the church in partnering with parents?

 It is true that Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 78 and other biblical texts place the onus on parents for discipleship, but in those same passages we should note that these parents aren’t discipling kids in a vacuum. In fact, this command to parent discipleship is given within the context of a broader faith community. In the Old Testament, this faith community is the nation of Israel. The passage known as the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 begins, “Hear, O Israel.” The command was given to the whole nation, not just the family. Implicit in this is the idea that families need support from the broader faith community. Today that faith community is not a nation, it is the church.

The church should not replace the parents, but parents should not undervalue the church’s role in discipleship. A few years ago the motto for The Home Depot was “you can do it, we can help.” As I have studied the role that churches should play in discipleship for the family, I think that is an excellent motto that could be applied. Churches should affirm that parents are the primary discipling agent, but that the church can encourage, equip, and resource them.