Canoeing the Mountains – Tod Bolsinger

Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, by Tod E. Bolsinger (Please support the author by purchasing the book. The following are highlights from my personal reading).

A couple of years ago I learned that three of my pastor friends around the country had resigned on the same day. There were no affairs, no scandals and no one was renouncing faith. But three good, experienced pastors turned in resignations and walked away. One left church ministry altogether. The details are as different as the pastors themselves, but the common thread is that they finally got worn down by trying to bring change to a church that was stuck and didn’t know what to do. Their churches were stuck and declining, stuck and clinging to the past, stuck and lurching to quick fixes, trying to find an easy answer for what were clearly bigger challenges. What all three churches had in common was that they were mostly blaming the pastor for how bad it felt to be so stuck. “If only you could preach better!” “If only you were more pastoral and caring!” “If only our worship was more dynamic!” “Please, pastor, do something!” (That is what we pay you for, isn’t it?) And to make matters worse, the pastors don’t know what to do either. As a seminary vice president, I am now charged with confronting this reality head-on. Our graduates were not trained for this day. When I went to seminary, we were trained in the skills that were necessary for supporting faith in Christendom. When churches functioned primarily as vendors of religious services for a Christian culture, the primary leadership toolbox was teaching (for providing Christian education) liturgics (for leading Christian services) pastoral care (for offering Christian counsel and support).

Lewis and Clark’s expedition to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase was built on a completely false expectation. They believed, like everyone before them, that the unexplored west was exactly the same geography as the familiar east. This is the story of what they did when they discovered that they—and everyone else before them—had been wrong. And how instructive and inspiring that story can be to us today. Using the story of Lewis and Clark’s expedition and applying the best insights from organizational leadership and missional theology, we will learn together what it means for Christians to lead when the journey goes “off the map.” We will discuss and seek faithful responses to the following questions: How do we lead a congregation or an organization to be faithful to the mission God has put before us when the world has changed so radically? What are the tools, the mental models, the wise actions and competing commitments that require navigation? And mostly, what transformation does it demand of those of us who have been called to lead?

From Lewis and Clark we will learn that if we can adapt and adventure, we can thrive. That while leadership in uncharted territory requires both learning and loss, once we realize that the losses won’t kill us, they can teach us. And mostly, we will learn that to thrive off the map in an exciting and rapidly changing world means learning to let go, learn as we go and keep going no matter what.

To begin, let’s summarize the five vital lessons that make up the structure of this book: The world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you. No one is going to follow you off the map unless they trust you on the map.  In uncharted territory, adaptation is everything. You can’t go alone, but you haven’t succeeded until you’ve survived the sabotage. Everybody will be changed (especially the leader).

*REORIENTATION* Christian Leaders: You were trained for a world that is disappearing.

Today’s leaders are facing complex challenges that have no clear-cut solutions. These challenges are more systemic in nature and require broad, widespread learning. They can’t be solved through a conference, a video series or a program. Even more complicated, these problems are very often the result of yesterday’s solutions. They are what Ronald Heifetz calls “adaptive challenges.”7

The changing world around us and even the success we had experienced had brought us to a new place where we would need a new strategy. To paraphrase Marshall Goldsmith, “What got us here wouldn’t take us there.”8

What Is Leadership, Really? – Let’s begin by clarifying what leadership is and is not. Leadership is not authority. It is not the title or position that a person holds. Leadership is different from management. Leadership is not running good meetings, keeping good books, overseeing good programs and making good policies (as important as those are!). Management is a kind of stewardship. Management cares for what is. Leadership is focused on what can be or what must be. Management is about keeping promises to a constituency; leadership is about an organization fulfilling its mission and realizing its reason for being. To that end, let me offer three leadership principles that shape my work in leadership development (mostly in church and nonprofit circles).

Therefore, leadership is always about personal and corporate transformation. But because we are hard-wired to resist change, every living system requires someone in it to live into and lead the transformation necessary to take us into the future we are resisting. The person who takes personal responsibility to live into the new future in a transformative way, in relationship to the others in the system, is the leader. If someone is not functioning as a leader, the system will always default to the status quo.

The culture is changing, the world is changing rapidly, and churches are facing change on an unprecedented scale. Churches and church leaders are becoming increasingly irrelevant, even marginalized. Shared corporate faith is viewed with cynicism at best, downright hostility at worst. The cultural advantage we experience during the seventeen centuries of Christendom has almost completely dissipated. Seminary training for the Christendom world is inadequate to this immensely challenging—transformation-demanding—moment in history. We have to learn to lead all over again.

Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery were about to go off the map and into uncharted territory. They would have to change plans, give up expectations, even reframe their entire mission. What lay before them was nothing like what was behind them. There were no experts, no maps, no “best practices” and no sure guides who could lead them safely and successfully. The true adventure—the real discovery—was just beginning.

Farewell to Christendom – After forty years as a missionary and bishop in India, Lesslie Newbigin retired and returned home to Great Britain in the 1970s. What he found in his beloved homeland was a more difficult mission field than he left behind. He wrote, “England is a pagan society and the development of a truly missionary encounter with this very tough form of paganism is the greatest intellectual and practical task facing the Church.”10 In that one sentence Newbigin challenged the mental model of how the Christians in the West had seen their hometowns and resident cultures for what is now seventeen hundred years. No matter how many times English men and women sang “God Save the Queen,” no matter how beautiful the Christopher Wren cathedrals, no matter the presence of a state-sponsored church where bishops hold seats in the House of Lords, England—and for that matter most of Europe—had become a “pagan society.” Newbigin foresaw that the West was quickly becoming a mission field, and the church needed to “develop a truly missionary encounter” with their friends and neighbors.

Christopher Wright has reminded us that the sending of the church as the apostle to the world goes to God’s very purposes: “It is not so much that God has a mission for his church in the world, but that God has a church for his mission in the world.”13

Alan Hirsch, the mission or “sentness” of a congregation is its “true and authentic organizing principle”: Missional church is a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world. In other words, the church’s true and authentic organizing principle is mission. When the church is in mission, it is the true church.14

A Church without Experts We are in uncharted terrain trying to lead dying churches into a post-Christian culture that now considers the church an optional, out of touch and irrelevant relic of the past. What do you do? If you are like me, indeed, like most people, what you do is default to what you know. You do again, what you have always done before.

We can’t see our way to a new way of being, a new response. We are growing more anxious about the decline of the church and the demise of whole religious structures. We don’t know what to do. So we keep trying harder; we keep trying our old tricks. But, of course, it doesn’t work. In Moneyball, an exasperated Billy Beane looks at his manager and tries to urge him to think differently. “It’s adapt or die!” he says. Adapt or die.

What is needed? “A spirit of adventure,” where there are new, unexpected discoveries (serendipities) and ultimately “new perceptions.” To be sure, this is an adapt-or-die moment. This is a moment when most of our backs are against the wall, and we are unsure if the church will survive to the next generation. The answer is not to try harder but to start a new adventure: to look over Lemhi Pass and let the assumptions of the past go.

*REORIENTATION* If you can adapt and adventure, you can thrive. But you must let go, learn as you go and keep going no matter what.

Back to the Pass – As he stepped off the map into uncharted territory, Meriwether Lewis discovered that what was in front of him was nothing like what was behind him, and that what had brought him to this point in the journey would take him no farther. Lewis faced a daunting decision: What would he do now? Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery were looking for a water route, but now they had run out of water. How do you canoe over mountains? You don’t. If you want to continue forward, you change. You adapt. Meriwether Lewis looked at the miles and miles of snow-covered peaks and knew that to continue his journey he would have to change his entire approach.

But what kind of leadership do we need today in a culture that has become again a mission field? What does leadership look like in a day when the moorings of society have become disconnected from the anchors of faith? What is leadership in a world where the task isn’t so much to re-mind as to encounter and engage, to proclaim and demonstrate a completely different world that is available and yet beyond awareness of or even interest to so many? What does leadership look like in a post-Christendom day when we have left behind rivers filled with the waters of shared Christian culture and are facing a new terrain marked by mountains to climb? Ironically, it looks a lot like the earliest church leadership.

The Recovery of Leadership for an Apostolic Church – In their book The Permanent Revolution, Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim recover the concept that the church—literally, “the ecclesia”—is an apostolic movement.2 Nurtured by a fivefold model of leadership (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers) found in Ephesians 4:1-16, they demonstrate that the church’s very nature is apostolic. That is, the church is the embodiment of the work of the original twelve disciples who became the first apostles, “sent” to the world, and equipping and being equipped for the sending. For Darrell Guder this is indeed the very purpose of the ecclesia, the apostolate, that is, “the formation of the witnessing communities whose purpose was to continue the witness that brought them into existence.”3

To live up to their name, local churches must be continually moving out, extending themselves into the world, being the missional, witnessing community we were called into being to be: the manifestation of God’s going into the world, crossing boundaries, proclaiming, teaching, healing, loving, serving and extending the reign of God. In short, churches need to keep adventuring or they will die. We need to press on to the uncharted territory of making traditional churches missionary churches.

Communal Transformation for Mission – At the heart of this book is the conviction that congregational leadership in a post-Christendom context is about communal transformation for mission. Christian community is not merely about connection, care and belonging. Spiritual transformation is not just about becoming more like Christ as an end in itself. In a post-Christendom world that has become a mission field right outside the sanctuary door, Christian community is about gathering and forming a people, and spiritual transformation is about both individual and corporate growth, so that they—together—participate in Christ’s mission to establish the kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Leadership therefore is about the transformation of a congregation so that they, collectively, can fulfill the mission they, corporately, have been given. Every spiritual practice, including preaching, is to serve that end.

Don’t Just Fix the Problem – According to Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, adaptive leadership is not about finding the best-known or most-available fix to a problem, but instead adapting to the changing environment or circumstances so that new possibilities arise for accurately seeing, understanding and facing challenges with new actions.

Adaptive challenges, by contrast, are those that “cannot be solved with one’s existing knowledge and skills, requiring people to make a shift in their values, expectations, attitudes, or habits of behaviour.”6 These are “systemic problems with no ready answers” that arise from a changing environment and uncharted territory.7 These are challenges leaders face when the world around them changes so rapidly that the planned strategies and approaches are rendered moot. This is when the discovery of the Rocky Mountains requires us to ditch the canoes and look for new ways forward.

In this new post-Christendom era, the church leader will be less a grand orator or star figure who gathers individuals for inspiration and exhortation, and more a convener and equipper of people who together will be transformed as they participate in God’s transforming work in the world. To that end, I offer this definition of leadership: Leadership is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.

For Christian leaders today, this is the moment of truth. Are we willing to take the risks and get up the nerve to lead a big adventure? lead our people to face the challenge of a changing world? acknowledge that what is in front of us is not at all like the world where we have previously thrived? clarify and cling to our core convictions and let go of everything else that keeps us from being effective in the mission God has given us? let go of the tried and true default actions that have brought us this far? learn a new way of leading that begins with our own transformation?

While leadership in uncharted territory may or may not require us to move our families to Alaska, Jon’s advice is worth remembering. Adaptation, even adaptive leadership, begins in the nuts and bolts of surviving and thriving, in the lessons passed on by those who are a few steps down the road, in the tricks and tips of “technical competence.” Or to put it another way, unless we demonstrate that we are credible on the map, no one is going to follow us off the map.

Technical Competence – Surprisingly, transformational leadership does not begin with transformation but with competence. At the same time, many of us assume that it begins with character, that is, the personal attributes that make up a good, wise and effective leader. But in reality, the opportunity to lead usually begins with technical competence (see fig. 4.1). The best player on the team becomes the team captain. The expert, the high achiever, the most articulate, the best producer, the smartest, strongest, most attractive are, under most circumstances, tapped for leadership (King Saul immediately comes to mind).

Technical Competence, Stewardship and Credibility – Another way to say this is: Stewardship precedes leadership. Biblically, stewardship is about faithfully protecting and preserving what is most important, about growing and developing the potential of everything and everyone under one’s care. It is about faithfully discharging the duties and carrying out the responsibilities that we have been authorized to do. It is the first and most basic act of being human, the first charge given in the garden to “cultivate and keep” (Genesis 2:15).

Stewardship, therefore, is on-the-map authorization, and technical competence describes the leaders’ ability to do the job they were hired to do—to navigate the known territory—before beginning the transformational leadership process. Before Lewis and Clark asked their men to follow them beyond the Missouri River headwaters into uncharted territory, they led them upriver with both expertise and efficiency.

*REORIENTATION* Before people will follow you off the map, gain the credibility that comes from demonstrating competence on the map.

Only she really wasn’t praying for my leadership at all, she was praying for my faithful stewardship of what she held most dear, the Scriptures and our theological traditions. She was praying that amid all of the things that were changing, I would keep very clear on what wouldn’t or shouldn’t change.

Competent stewardship of souls and communities. Pastors are more than preachers. Christian leaders are not just trusted with the Scriptures; we are also entrusted with souls. And before we can lead our people into uncharted territory, they have to believe that we will spiritually protect and personally care for them along the way. To be truly credible we also have to be shepherds.

In the same way, we are to lead the people of God into the mission of God and to care for each person with the love of the tangible embrace of Christ. We are called to offer both love for people just where they are and to call and equip them to be part of the kingdom mission of Jesus in the world around them. But to be sure, people need to experience the love of God as they are led into the mission of God. If they don’t feel loved, they will likely not let anyone lead them anywhere.

Competent stewardship of teams and tasks. Technical competence for the pastor is measured not only through fidelity to the Scriptures and the spiritual tending of souls and church, but also in the ability to competently manage the organization or institution given to our charge. Pastors of congregations need to be both personal and organizational. If they are not, they likely are not pastors. Spiritual directors, certainly. Evangelists, possibly. Prophets, maybe. Pastoring involves both persons and the communities they are part of. And this is a difficult challenge indeed!

We need to make sure that when our attempts at innovation go awry it’s because we have something to learn, and not because we mishandled an otherwise good idea. Or in the indelicate words of our unofficial team motto, “We can fail, but we can’t suck.”

In the same way, leaders must demonstrate competence in fidelity to Scriptures and traditions, the nurture of souls and communities, and fruitfulness in tasks and teams of people running the work of the church in order to develop the credibility that will be necessary later when the harder work of adaptation and dealing with loss begins.

Beyond Credibility – If leaders are going to take on challenges beyond day-to-day technical ones, competence isn’t enough. Credibility built through technical competence, while crucial, is not enough either. Especially in a congregation. The change needed for a typical traditional congregation to become a missionary congregation is radical and scary indeed. To lead into uncharted territory is to reconsider the cherished narratives and assumptions, and as Ronald Heifetz reminds us, “Refashioning narratives means refashioning loyalties.”

In addition, we need to grasp just how difficult organizational transformation can be. Even if we agree that we are in an adapt-or-die (even adventure-or-die) moment, the urgency of the situation is not enough. When given that particular choice, 90 percent choose dying.7 In a study of those who were faced with exactly that choice—stop drinking or you will die, stop smoking or you will die, change your diet now or you will die, the vast majority choose to risk death.

*REORIENTATION* In uncharted territory, trust is as essential as the air we breathe. If trust is lost, the journey is over.

Building Trust – Trust must be added to credibility. Relationships must be healthy, life-giving and strong. The web of connectedness within the organization must be able to hold each other in the midst of all the chaos that comes from not knowing what is to come.

When we are experienced as congruent, trust goes up; when we are incongruent—when my words don’t match my actions—the trust level goes down. According to Osterhaus, “Trust is gained like a thermostat and lost like a light switch.”

Relational Congruence – Relational congruence is the ability to be fundamentally the same person with the same values in every relationship, in every circumstance and especially amidst every crisis. It is the internal capacity to keep promises to God, to self and to one’s relationships that consistently express one’s identity and values in spiritually and emotionally healthy ways.

As one of my clients, a former Army Ranger and West Point graduate said to me, “The mission first; the men always.”

For Christian leaders this means that ministry is not only the means to bring the gospel to the world, ministry together is how God makes a congregation into a corps that is ready to continually bring the gospel in new ways to a changing world. As missionaries who have been thrown together into unfamiliar surroundings with little more than a sense of call and commitment to each other, when we love each other and are dedicated to our mission, we change.

For Christians who have answered the call to follow the Master who also calls us friends (John 15:15) and gives us to each other as brothers and sisters (John 19:26-27), this relational congruence is even more critical. For the mission of Jesus entrusted to his followers (John 20:21) is expressed to the world through the love that the disciples have for each other (John 13:34-35).

But it is crucial to remember again that the goal of the expedition was not to build a family—it was to find a route to the Pacific Ocean. Similarly, the goal of the Christian faith is not simply to become more loving community but to be a community of people who participate in God’s mission to heal the world by reestablishing his loving reign “on earth as it is in heaven.”

“So, how do you change a church’s culture?” he asked. “Sex,” I answered.

Here is the key idea: The most critical attribute a congregation must have to thrive in uncharted territory is a healthy organizational culture.

The key words in Kotter’s definition are behaviors and values. Actions form the organizational culture, and that culture—like the DNA of a body—keeps reproducing the same values and behaviors. Note again, it’s not the aspired values that shape the church culture but the actual values that produce and are expressed in actual behaviors. It’s not enough to say that “we value creativity” if every creative idea is immediately criticized. It’s not enough for a church to “be committed to evangelism” if there are no adult baptisms. In the words of Dallas Willard, “to believe something is to act as if it is true.”6 A church can say that it values hospitality, discipleship and transparency, but these become part of the DNA of the church only when they are so resiliently present that they happen automatically, by default, because all aspects of the organizational life reflexively support and reinforce them. The actual behaviors of those in authority express and shape the actual values of the organizational culture.

For missional theologian JR Woodward this “unseen culture” is more important than strategy, vision or planning in determining a congregation’s health, openness to change and missional conviction.7 A church culture built on meeting the needs of its members will struggle with implementing changes that depend on putting those self-interested needs aside. A church that has expressed its devotion to God in the beauty and majesty of its worship will unconsciously resist a new informal service where people come in casual clothes carrying cups of coffee.

Numerous organizational writers have said the same thing: “After working on strategy for 20 years, I can say this: culture will trump strategy, every time. The best strategic idea means nothing in isolation. If the strategy conflicts with how a group of people already believe, behave or make decisions it will fail.”9

Alignment Toward a Healthy Culture – JR Woodward writes, “While management acts within culture, leadership creates culture.”10 Creating a healthy culture with the capacity to experiment, innovate, take risks and adapt is one of the primary preparatory tasks of a leader. That culture creation work rests on identifying the gaps between aspired values and actual behavior, and then working with the leaders to bring every aspect of the organization into alignment with the core ideology (core values, mission, primary strategy).

Perhaps in a previous generation where a highly regulated, centralized and authoritative structure was commonplace, some could argue that shared values could be enforced through power, position or other incentives. But today a genuine culture shift requires voluntary submission to shared values. No longer will church members simply accept the values of their leaders as their own. No longer will people dutifully submit their own ideals for the sake of a group. Before leaders begin any transformational work, cultivating a healthy environment for aligned shared values to guide all decision making must be a priority. Indeed, the values must be truly shared.

John Kotter puts it this way: “How does culture change? A powerful person at the top, or a large enough group from anywhere in the organization, decides the old ways are not working, figures out a change vision, starts acting differently, and enlists others to act differently.”

Love – We protect what we cherish. Love drives us to hold on to what is dear and cling to what gives us meaning and life. But it is also because of love that we are willing to change. It is a great paradox that love is not only the key to establishing and maintaining a healthy culture but is also the critical ingredient for changing a culture. Which takes us back to my answer to my colleague John, who was eating chips and salsa. How do we change the culture of a church? What if the default way of functioning is one of self-preservation? What if the behaviors of the leaders have created a culture of entitlement rather than discipleship? What if the church culture is focused on preserving American Christendom or worse? When the church’s default behavior, way of functioning, its organizational DNA is now hindering the very thing that must be done to fulfill the mission God has given us, how do we change it? And if “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” then how do we change the culture before we are eaten alive? Well, how do we change any DNA? Through sex. You have to birth something new.

Ronald Heifetz said, “You don’t change by looking in the mirror; you change by encountering differences.”24 To be sure, fear of differences can keep us resolutely committed to the status quo, to rejecting what seems foreign and to circling the wagons to keep out the intruder.

I looked at him and said it again. “You change the DNA of any living organism through birthing something new. The new birth won’t be all you or all them but a new creation, a new living culture that is a combination of the past and the future you represent. But you have to communicate that you really love them, or they will never let you close enough to them to take in the different perspective, experiences and vision that you bring. Right now, they know you are disappointed in them, and they don’t want to do anything but resist you. But seeing and embracing differences, if we know that we are loved and cherished just as we are, is also the way that we become open to the new possibilities. Love precedes change.”

The most critical attribute that a congregation must have if it is going to thrive in uncharted territory is a healthy organizational culture. When leaders are perceived as technically competent, they gain credibility in the eyes of their followers. When they are perceived as relationally congruent, trust is established. When credibility and trust are mobilized to create a healthy organizational culture, then we are ready to embrace the thrilling and daunting task of entering uncharted territory.

Adaptive Leadership: Loss, Learning and Gaps – Adaptive leadership is about “letting go, learning as we go, and keeping going.” It’s about loss, learning and gaps: “Adaptive leadership consists of the learning required to address conflicts in the values people hold, or to diminish the gap between the values people stand for and the reality they face.”4

This mode of leading raises up and sheds light on the competing values that keep a group stuck in the status quo. For churches, competing values like caring for longtime members versus reaching out to the unchurched, assuring excellence in ministry programming versus increasing participation with more volunteers, giving pay raises to staff versus bringing on a new hire, assuring control and unity versus collaboration and innovation entail conflict about things of equal or near equal value. Because they are both valued, the competition for resources and the decisions that need to be made can put individuals and congregations into a most vulnerable moment. Like a person with one foot on the platform and one in the train, the moment of adaptation exposes the gaps within a system and forces the leadership to ask painful questions: What will we lose if we have to choose one of these values over the other? What must we be willing to let go?

Adaptive Capacity – Adaptive capacity is defined by Heifetz, Linsky and Grashow as “the resilience of people and the capacity of systems to engage in problem-defining and problem-solving work in the midst of adaptive pressures and the resulting disequilibrium.”5

I looked back at the others, and while some still thought it was something we should do, they agreed it didn’t help kids feel more connected. Indeed, we had been doing it and we still have the problem of teenagers not feeling part of the church community. Youth Sunday hadn’t worked after all. So, I asked, “If we knew that Youth Sunday hadn’t worked to help teenagers feel more connected to the church, why did we suggest it?” After talking about it a while we came to the conclusion that we were talking about it, because it was the only thing we knew how to do.

But I’m trying to point out that when we get to moments of deep disorientation, we often try to reorient around old ways of doing things. We go back to what we know how to do. We keep canoeing even though there is no river. At least part of the reason we do this is because we resolutely hope that the future will be like the past and that we already have the expertise needed for what is in front of us. And facing the “geography of reality” and the inner uncertainty that arises within us is extremely difficult.

*REORIENTATION* When our old maps fail us, something within us dies. Replacing our paradigms is both deeply painful and absolutely critical.

Lewis exemplified what happens to most of us when we are confronting rapidly changing circumstances: even though the evidence is around us, we cling to the previously held assumptions as long as possible. Now, to his credit and as an exemplar for us, Meriwether Lewis wasted no time in casting off that assumption once the brutal facts of his situation were clear.7 There was no water route, there were miles and miles of snowcapped mountain peaks in front of them, they had no trail to follow, food was scarce in this rugged terrain and winter was coming. This is the canoeing the mountains moment. This was when the Corps of Discovery faced for the first time the breadth of the challenges posed by the Rocky Mountains and came to the irrefutable reality that there was no Northwest Passage, no navigable water route to the Pacific Ocean. This is the moment when they had to leave their boats, find horses and make the giant adaptive shift that comes from realizing their mental models for the terrain in front of them were wrong.

Recommitment to Core Ideology – First, by continuing on, they recommitted to their core ideology. At the core of adaptive work is clarifying what is precious, elemental—even essential—to the identity of an organization. The core ideology of any group functions as both a charter and an identity statement. This is who we are, we say. If we stop being about this, we stop being.

For church leaders, moments of disequilibrium like Lewis and his party faced at the top of the Continental Divide certainly bring our own motivations into focus: What are we really called to? Is it just to professional success or personal security? Is it merely to get more people in the church pews and dollars in the offering plates so our congregations can keep offering religious services to those who desire them? Is church leadership nothing more than an exercise in institutional survival? Or isn’t there a higher purpose, a set of guiding principles, a clear compilation of core values that are more about being a community of people who exist to extend God’s loving and just reign and rule in all the earth? This moment forces us to face and clarify our own core beliefs. And for each organization, this facing-the-unknown moment asks us particular questions we need to answer honestly together: Why do we exist as a congregation, institution or organization? What would be lost in our community, in our field or in our world if we ceased to be? What purposes and principles must we protect as central to our identity? What are we willing to let go of so the mission will continue?

Reframing Strategy – They reframed their strategy. With a recommitment to core ideology (values and mission) there is a critical moment to reframe the strategy for the mission at hand. In adaptive leadership, reframing is another way of talking about the shift in values, expectations, attitudes or habits of behavior necessary to face our most difficult challenges. It is a way of looking at the challenge before us through a different lens and in seeing it differently finding the possibilities for a new way of being and leading.13

New Learning They relied on new learning. At the heart of adaptive leadership is learning. To put it bluntly, if you are not learning anything new, it is not adaptive work. It might be a good, necessary, wise, even vital strategy. But if your group is addressing a new challenge with an old solution, relying on a best practice or implementing the plan of a resident expert, then the solution is a technical one, not adaptive.

In moments of uncertainty and disorientation, leaders own internal adaptations; that is, the work that leaders themselves have to do to clarify their own motives, identity and mission is the necessary precursor to the work that the entire community will have to do. When a leader and a people together resist the anxiety that would lead to throwing in the towel or relying on the quick fix, but instead look more deeply—recommitting to core values, reframing strategy and relying on learning—this enables them to gain the just-in-time experience necessary to keep the expedition going.

At the heart of adaptive leadership for the church is this conviction: The church is the body of Christ. It is a living organism, a vibrant system. And just like human bodies, human organizations thrive when they are cooperating with the wisdom of God for how that system is designed, how it grows and how it adapts to changing external environments.

This is what adaptive leadership is all about: hanging on to the healthiest, most valuable parts of our identity in life and letting go of those things that hinder us from living and loving well.

*REORIENTATION* In a Christendom world, vision was about seeing possibilities ahead and communicating excitement. In uncharted territory—where no one knows what’s ahead—vision is about accurately seeing ourselves and defining reality.

Leadership Vision – Every book on leadership talks about vision. Leaders, it is assumed, are visionaries who have the unique ability to see past the horizon, to see the future coming before anyone else and prepare the organization to meet that challenge. That is surely a valuable ability. But leadership vision is often more about seeing clearly what is even more than what will be. As the former CEO and leadership author Max De Pree has famously written, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”1

This system definition is assumed in the working definition of leadership we are using here: Energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.

The church is not a collective but a communion. A local congregation is not just a collection of individual people but also the love, commitment, values and mission they share. A healthy church, like any healthy living thing, is always defined by the nature, quality and behaviors of the relationships.

For a church this means that when the members, the relationships and the mission of the church are aligned and working symbiotically toward a shared purpose, the church functions well. People are both loved (relationship) and challenged (purpose). There is both a commitment to depth and authenticity (relationship) and space to welcome new people (purpose). There is an ability to accept people as they are (relationship) and to be continually transformed into the likeness of Christ (purpose). There is a deep desire to enjoy life together (relationships) and use our resources and energy to serve others (purpose). Relationship and purpose are expressed in as wide a variety of ways as the diversity of the people (the elements) that make up the system.

Because every church has a different DNA code, Ronald Heifetz suggests that at the heart of any adaptive work are three key questions church leaders need to wrestle with together:12 What DNA is essential and must be preserved? What, in the words of Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, “must never change”? What are the key elements of our theology, tradition, ministry practices and organizational culture that must be maintained at all costs because to lose them would be to lose our identity? Just as we discussed in chapter seven, for Lewis and Clark, water route was not as essential as discovery, and for churches, before we consider changing or adapting anything, we must first determine what is truly sacred. What DNA can be discarded? What elements of our church life, while important to us, are not essential? What can we stop doing or let die so we can free resources and energy for new forms of ministry? What do we need to celebrate for the impact it made in another day or circumstance that has outlived its usefulness? Or what do we need to set aside because there is no energy for or interest in it any longer? As we will discuss at length, this is the critical issue. “People don’t resist change, per se. They resist loss,” Heifetz and Linsky remind us.13 What DNA needs to be created through experimentation? What essential part of the church’s identity and mission needs to be adapted to a new day, environment or opportunity? How can the church keep doing the things it is called to do, but in a way that resonates, connects, serves and challenges people who wouldn’t otherwise pay it any attention? What potential healthy partners will create the possibilities of birthing something new?

Declining Attendance and an Anxious, Adaptive Moment – There is nothing that freaks out a pastor like declining attendance numbers. While most of us try hard not to show it, when the Sunday morning crowds thin out, we take it personally. When we look at the attendance reports and see the decrease, it is tempting to make excuses, blame other factors or just deny it entirely.3 If we do acknowledge the decline, we want to jump right in and turn it around. There is nothing that screams for a quick fix like less people in the pew (unless it’s decreased giving too).

Immediately, in the brainstorming session, elders and staff started suggesting strategies for dealing with decline. We should offer a more practical sermon series. The one you are doing now is pretty heady. We should get the kids more involved, let’s put together a new kid’s choir. We could do some better marketing. And so on. We did what most people do when faced with an anxiety-producing problem: we try to fix it as quickly as possible.

It’s All About the Process – The first component of developing adaptive capacity is to realize that it’s a process of learning and adapting to fulfill a missional purpose, not to fix the immediate issues. For Heifetz, adaptive leadership tries to look behind what might be a symptom to bring health and growth to the larger system. In this way, adaptive leadership is different from what I call “directional leadership.” Directional leadership offers direction and advice based on experience and expertise, while adaptive leadership functions in an arena where there is little experience and often no expertise.

Adaptive leadership, again, is about leading the learning process of a group who must develop new beliefs, habits or values, or shift their current ones in order to find new solutions that are consistent with their purpose for being.

Heifetz, Linsky and Grashow describe it this way: Adaptive leadership is an iterative process involving three key activities: (1) observing events and patterns around you; (2) interpreting what you are observing (developing multiple hypotheses about what is really going on); and (3) designing interventions based on the observations and interpretations to address the adaptive challenge you have identified.5

Observations – Observations are the data points for understanding a system. When a leadership team is on the balcony, their first task is to get as many different observations that are as objective as possible about the situation. In the observation stage, therefore, the group must intentionally withhold interpretations or interventions in order to gather as much data as possible.

The National Football League uses a video system called “All-22” for all professional football games. It’s a video system that records the entire game from overhead so that all twenty-two offensive and defensive players on the field are in view in any one play (or shot). It is standard for coaching and strategizing practices. Teams use it to take snapshots throughout the game and even fax pictures to the sidelines so coaches and players can get a broader perspective of what they can’t see while on the field.

*REORIENTATION* Leadership in the past meant coming up with solutions. Today it is learning how to ask new questions that we have been too scared, too busy or too proud to ask.

In autumn 2012, when our attendance did not come back from the usual summer slump, we decided to resist the temptation to either deny the problem or default to previous strategies, and instead made a plan to get as much perspective as possible. We decided to interview a cross-section of people we hadn’t seen in worship in at least three months, asking every elder, deacon and staff person to identify three people they knew well who they also hadn’t seen in church since the following spring. They asked their friends three questions: When were you most excited or felt the sense of deepest connection to our church? What was happening during that time in your life and in the life of our church? What has changed in your life or in the church since then that may have affected your sense of connection or excitement about our church? What is one wish/hope/dream you have for the future of our church?9 Note that none of these questions asked why they weren’t in worship, but tried to get bigger observations to serve as data points. Each interviewer wrote down the answers and then sent them on to one of the elders who collected and collated the responses for presentation the following month.

Listen to the songs beneath the words. In the interpretation stage we look for patterns we wouldn’t normally notice.

Very often I ask my coaching clients to consider the question, What is the song behind the words that is keeping us all dancing? In other words, what deeper tune of the church is getting played in this circumstance? What is going on in this situation that nobody is talking about but is affecting the whole system of the church?

Because of the gap between cause and effect, it is difficult to diagnose the true underlying causes of most problems.

We discovered that we didn’t need so much to attend to our worship as to our web of connections. We needed to focus our attention not on how to increase Sunday morning attendance but on how to strengthen and increase more points of connection for people, which would enable us to better pastor people through life transitions.12

Protect the minority voices. “People don’t learn by staring into a mirror; people learn by encountering difference,” observes Ron Heifetz.13 The interpretation step is only productive if there is freedom to explore as many different interpretations as possible, and especially the opportunity to hear from usually ignored voices.

David McRaney, author of the book and the blog You Are Not So Smart, writes about “survivorship bias,” that is, the tendency to look only at the “survivors” or “stories of success” and draw conclusions about reality.14

When they examined the planes, they discovered that they were shot up most on the bottom of the plane, on the wings and near the tail gunner. So, the engineers made preparations for putting more armor there. But one statistician, Abraham Wald, challenged the underlying assumption by pointing out that the planes they were studying were the survivors—these are the planes that were not shot down. In other words, Wald said, this is exactly where we should not put more armor—a plane can survive even if shot up in the bottom, wings and near the tail gunner. So they needed to look at other areas of the plane to reinforce. Through several tests they discovered that adding more armor to the ailerons, engine, stabilizers and around the pilot made the planes safer. Only listening to a different interpretation allowed them to find the right solution.

Raise up competing values. Any musician (and I am not) knows that harmonies in music are made up of concurrent concordant and discordant notes that sound in tension with each other and finally come to a resolution. That simultaneous tension of silence and sound, of notes that blend well and those that are related but different create the music that fills the ear and the heart.

The final piece of the interpretation lens is to begin to raise up these values for discussion and consideration. Some common competing values dilemmas are Do we serve our longtime church members who pay the bills, or do we innovate to reach new people and risk angering the stakeholders? Do we have a mostly professional staff that provides excellence in ministry program, or do we want a strong, involved laity to use their gifts? Do we want a centralized organization unified around clear objectives, or do we want a more creative, collaborative system that is nimble, innovative and able to experiment with new ideas?

Innovative interventions will always be resisted. Most of us don’t come to church to experiment. Even the idea of experiments raises anxiety. Most of the time the system will be inclined to shut down any experiments before they even begin. Growth, transformation and adaptation always means loss. Change is loss. And even experimental changes signal loud and clear that change—and loss—is coming.

The leaders of one of my church clients did a careful and lengthy study of observations and interventions that led the church to experiment with a contemporary blended worship service in their main sanctuary. They were not going to disrupt traditions of the choir and hymns, the traditional service; they merely were going to add an additional service led by a band to see what happened.

When they installed some new drums in the sanctuary, a number of members of the congregation balked. The pastor assured them that they would not play the drums in the most traditional service. They just needed them available for the contemporary service. Still the members of the traditional service complained: they didn’t even want to look at the drums, let alone hear them.

“Leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb,” write Heifetz and Linsky.1 This painful truth brings us to the heart of the necessary adaptive capacity to lead transformational change in uncharted territory. Disappointing people “at a rate they can absorb” is a skill that requires nuance: Disappoint people too much and they give up on you, stop following you and may even turn on you. Don’t disappoint them enough and you’ll never lead them anywhere.

Leadership isn’t so much skillfully helping a group accomplish what they want to do (that is management). Leadership is taking people where they need to go and yet resist going. Leadership, as I have defined it, is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.

Transformational leadership is always a two-front battle: On one side is the challenge of a changing world, unfamiliar terrain and the test of finding new interventions that will enable the mission to move forward in a fruitful and faithful way. On the other side is the community that resists the change necessary for its survival. If adaptive leadership is “enabling a people to grow so they can face their greatest challenges and thrive,” then it is crucial to acknowledge that a significant part of the greatest challenge is internal. Deftly handling resistance and the disappointment that comes along with it so a community of people can accomplish a goal for the greater good is the core capacity of adaptive leadership.

The answer was for me—and my leaders—to develop the adaptive capacity that comes from living out a core, clarifying conviction: The mission trumps. Always. Every time. In every conflict. Not the pastor. Not the members of the church who pay the bills. Not those who scream the loudest or who are most in pain. No. In a healthy Christian ministry, the mission wins every argument.

The focused, shared, missional purpose of the church or organization will trump every other competing value. It’s more important than my preferences or personal desire. It’s more critical than my leadership style, experience or past success. It’s the grid by which we evaluate every other element in the church. It’s the criterion for determining how we will spend our money, who we will hire and fire, which ministries we will start and which ones we will shut down. It’s the tiebreaker in every argument and the principle by which we evaluate every decision we make. Denominational affiliation? Mission partnerships? Financial commitments? Staff decisions? Worship styles? The key question is: Does it further our mission? The mission trumps all.

A mission statement serves the same purpose in a healthy organization. The one in power doesn’t win every conversation: the mission trumps.

If the mission trumps all, then a leader must develop the clarity and conviction to live out that mission no matter the circumstance, no matter whether the challenge comes from the context or the very community we serve.

The emotional processes, ways of relating and being, decision making, symbols, values and other parts of the organizational culture (see chap. 6) naturally work together to keep things the same. The church leadership who calls a young pastor to reach young families thwarts every new initiative. The evangelistic pastor who attracts outsiders to the church is accused of not caring for the church membership. The preacher who was called to bring intellectual depth is chided that she should tell more stories and offer more practical teaching. The elder board that commits to a new vision for ministering to their neighbors will place all the plans on hold in order to attend to denominational issues that have simmered for generations. This is normal.

In this and the following three chapters we’ll look at it clause by clause. It’s that important. I encourage you to commit it to memory. Write it on a Post-it note and put it on your bathroom mirror. Make it your screensaver on your computer. And say it to yourself over and over again: Start with conviction, stay calm, stay connected, and stay the course.4

Start with Conviction – The first question about leading into uncharted territory is not about change but about what will not change. First we determine what is precious, what is worth keeping no matter the circumstances, what will never change, what is the core ideology of the church. Conviction is the core ideology in action.

Every conflict raises the question: Are we clear on and committed to our mission?

*REORIENTATION* There is perhaps no greater responsibility and no greater gift that leadership can give a group of people on a mission than to have the clearest, most defined mission possible.

Because the mission is what matters. The mission trumps. Even more than whether our stakeholders like it, our mission demands that we make decisions based on conviction.

The purpose of the commander’s intent is to empower subordinates to be able to achieve the goals of the mission if the circumstances change and they need to adapt.5 If you tell a group of Marines, “Take the enemy airfield,” that is a very different commander’s intent than “Take the enemy airfield so we can use it ourselves.” The commander’s intent clarifies the goal so that all strategies and tactics (Should we blow up the air traffic control room or not?) can be evaluated.

The mission, when enacted and owned, becomes a conviction that holds and changes us. It is a simple, clear, almost humble statement of the reason we as a congregation believe we are occupying the bit of real estate God has given us at this moment of history.

Getting Clear on Conviction – Before acting on a conviction we actually have to have a conviction. And this takes time. It is the result of study, conversation, humility and discernment. It is formed through processes of self-observation, self-reflection and shared aspirations. Jim Collins describes this mission-statement conviction as a Hedgehog Concept made up of the intersection of three elements: What are we passionate about? What are we constantly talking about, praying about, involved in and concerned about? In the words of Jim Collins, “Nothing great can happen without beginning first with passion.” What do we have the potential to do better than anyone else? Collins says that this is an awareness of self, not aspirations or hopes. It is the humble and clear perspective about the particular value we as a church, organization or ministry have to offer our community or the larger world. It is a statement of uniqueness, not arrogance; a statement of the distinctive contribution we are equipped to make in God’s work in the world. What will pay the bills? What drives our economic or resource engine? What helps us continually create the resources that will keep us going? What brings us partners, money, opportunities and the talent we need to continue our work?6

Mulago requires grant applicants to write a simple proposal with an eight-word mission statement.7 The statement must be in this format: verb, target, outcome. And it can use only eight words.

The Leader’s Mission Within the Mission – For the leader navigating this two-front battle, he or she must have clear convictions about his or her call and purpose. To be blunt: The leader in the system is committed to the mission when no one else is. For the leader the mission always trumps. Again, this is hard.

Another conversation in my office. This time it was an older couple who were new to the church. They were registered for our next new members’ class, but after hearing from some concerned friends about how liberal Presbyterians are, they thought they’d ask me some questions. They told me they had been leaders in three well-known megachurches, but after a falling-out with the pastor they had been without a church home for several months. They started listening to a Presbyterian pastor via podcast and were so impressed they decided to check out our church (even though they had never dreamt of being part of a mainline church). They loved our church. They told me they loved our emphasis on discipleship, reaching out to the unchurched, and proclaiming and demonstrating the kingdom to those who hadn’t accepted the good news. Everything they heard resonated with their hearts, and they decided to join. When they told a friend what they were intending to do, he cautioned them because of what he read in the papers. So, they came to see me. I found out that the Presbyterian pastor they had heard on the podcast was Tim Keller, and I explained that he was part of a different Presbyterian denomination. They had only recently learned that there was not only the Presbyterian Church (USA), our denomination, but others they thought they’d be more comfortable joining. I said to them, “You have heard me talk about our mission to proclaim the kingdom of God to the unchurched. Do you think the people we are trying to reach care what denomination we are in?” They responded, “No, not at all.” “So,” I said, “The mission trumps. As long as we can fulfill our mission, we are not going to spend time or energy on denominational worries. For us, it’s all about the mission.” “But Tod,” the wife chimed in, “the people you are trying to reach don’t care about denominational labels, but people like us do. If you want people like us to join your church, you may want to consider switching denominations.” I looked them and said softly but firmly. “You are not our mission.”

I said it again. “You are not our mission. Our mission is to be a community of disciples who proclaim and demonstrate the good news in every sector of society. We want to reach people for Jesus Christ. Our mission is not to help Christians move from one church to our church. You are not our mission. But . . . I think God brought you here so that you would join our mission. You have a heart for the unchurched and desire to see people come to know Christ and experience his reign and grace in their lives. All you have heard has resonated with you, and you have already begun new ministries here. No, you are not our mission, but I think God is calling you to join us in fulfilling our mission.” The husband looked at his wife. “Honey, I think we’re Presbyterians.” They joined our church in the next class.

The first step in adaptive change is “start with missional conviction”; the second is to “stay calm.” For the leader it is critical to monitor our own emotional reactivity when the anxiety within the church rises. The calm leader is self-aware, committed to the mission (the mission trumps) and focuses on his or her own self in the transformation process.

*REORIENTATION* When dealing with managing the present, win-win solutions are the goal. But when leading adaptive change, win-win is usually lose-lose.

But when we enter the realm of adaptive work—working in uncharted territory—win-win often becomes lose-lose. Transformational leadership and the adaptive change necessary requires us to go beyond win-win to make hard, oftentimes forced choices. When we are faced with limited resources and a new experiment we can’t squeeze into the budget, a choice has to be made: Either the existing programs are going to lose some of their resources or the new experiment will go unfunded.

Heifetz and Linsky inform us that people do not resist change, per se. People resist loss. You appear dangerous to people when you question their values, beliefs, or habits of a lifetime. You place yourself on the line when you tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. Although you may see with clarity and passion a promising future of progress and gain, people will see with equal passion the losses you are asking them to sustain. 2

Transformational leadership, therefore, equips people to make hard choices regarding the values keeping them from the growth and transformation necessary to see in a new way and discover new interventions to address the challenges they are facing. And this is done with values that are valuable. Systems theory reminds us that “today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions.”3 This means that the program, ministry, staff person, principle, action or activity in danger of being lost was at one time of great value.

Crockpot Leadership – Imagine you are cooking a meal for a big, hungry family. You decide to make a stew in a Crock-Pot. You get raw meat, hard vegetables, some stock and seasoning. You put it in the Crock-Pot, and with enough time at the right temperature you get a feast. But if the temperature is too high, the meal gets burned; too low and even though a long time has gone by, all you have is hard vegetables and raw meat.

A leader’s job is to regulate the heat. The leader is like the thermostat on the Crock-Pot, keeping enough heat in the system so things begin to change, but not enough that individual parts get scorched.

The Heat of Urgency – There are two forms of heat for bringing transformation: urgency and anxiety.

Instead of patiently waiting for a widespread and true urgency, most leaders settle for the false urgency of attending to the most urgent issue or the one that has the most people in an uproar. Whenever the urgent pushes out the important, we fall into the trap of feeling as if we are busy accomplishing something while we are running on a treadmill—getting exhausted but not going anywhere.6

True urgency, on the other hand, is centered on the passion and vision that comes from developing a clear conviction and mission. It is the urgency of seeing both the reality of the moment and the opportunity God has given.

When we keep our deepest purpose/mission/vision as our true urgency, it should not wax and wane; it should remain the central root of urgency around which we regulate the heat of peripheral issues.

I also often coach my pastor clients to give a yearly “I Have a Dream” sermon in order to keep raising the urgency in the congregation.8 It’s important that the sermon is not shaming or demanding. It’s not a presumptuous “God told me this to tell you” or “this should be your dream” or even “an expert told me that this should be our dream” sermon. Instead this is an honest and very personal sharing of hopes and visions.

The Heat of Anxiety: Is That a Lion or Not? – In the harsh midsummer African heat, a herd of impala finds an increasingly rare water hole. They rush to drink, crowding in, fearful of not getting enough water to sustain them. Suddenly, one impala raises his head in high alert. Immediately every other impala stops drinking and stands at attention. No impala moves, none utter a sound.

If there is a lion and they do run, or if there is no lion and they don’t run, they live another day. But all that matters is: Is that a lion or not?

For leaders the point of calming down is not to feel better; it’s to make better decisions. It’s to make the best decisions for furthering the mission. When people are too hot, they don’t. The only issue is: Is there a lion or not? Is there a threat, or are we making this up? Is this true urgency or false urgency? Do we need to run, or should we stay here, get water and then calmly continue our journey?

For leaders this is the point to remember about anxiety: People who are overly or chronically anxious don’t make good decisions. When anxiety spikes we revert to more primitive ways of being. We fight, we flee, we freeze. We run from danger and leave others to face the lions alone. Or we capitulate and allow the herd to be overrun. We turn on each other instead of working together. We jump to quick fixes; we look for technical solutions to adaptive issues. Transformational leadership is built on leaders making good, wise, discerning decisions for the sake of both the health and the mission of the community—decisions that reinforce the missional conviction—and this requires leaders who are able to stay calm.

Stay Calm – What does it mean to stay calm? That we become a Mr. Spock-like Vulcan with no emotions and complete rationality? No. That would be impossible. To stay calm is to be so aware of yourself that your response to the situation is not to the anxiety of the people around you but to the actual issue at hand. Staying calm means so attending to our own internal anxiety in the heat of a challenging moment and the resistance around us that we are not tempted to either cool it down to escape the heat (thus aborting the change process) or to react emotionally, adding more fuel to the fire and scorching the stew we are trying to cook.

Osterhaus and his colleagues help us understand that the best decisions come out of the Blue Zone. Blue Zone is about serving the mission. Blue Zone decisions are marked by consistency and are focused on effectiveness. In the Blue Zone the mission trumps. But most of the time, when the heat is on, if we are not deliberately conscious to do otherwise, we will operate out of the Red Zone of high emotional reactivity based on one or more of four core issues: survival, acceptance, competence and control. Each person is different, and each person must negotiate different Red Zone issues.

But It’s Cool to Lose Your Cool, Right? – Some of us may be recalling great illustrations of passionate and prophetic leaders who lose their cool. Didn’t Jesus drive out the money changers? Don’t the prophets rail out in condemnation? Doesn’t that turn up the heat? From the 1970s movie Network to so much political discourse today, we assume that if change is going to come, somebody is going to have stand up and yell, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Most of the time when things get heated, people get scorched. The meal is ruined and most is thrown out of the Crock-Pot. The community stops following and starts fighting or fleeing.

Anxious people scurry to quick fixes and work avoidance. But when the leader stays calm enough internally to attend to and regulate the heat of chronic anxiety so that it is instead the clear blue flame of urgency and mission, then transformation can occur.

How do you Regulate the Heat? – This is the delicate work of adaptive leadership. We need our people feeling the urgency and healthy anxiety enough to overcome complacency and move. At the same time we need our people to calm down enough to get beyond technical fixes, false urgency and work-avoidance scrambling. If the system is too cool and needs more heated urgency to change, then the leader’s own heat (passion, truth-telling, conviction, actions) begins to get things cooking. But when the system gets too hot and people are in danger of burning each other or bailing out of the change process, the very presence of a calm, connected leader cools the system down so people can tolerate staying on course.

In his book Just Listen: The Secret of Getting Through to Everyone, Mark Goulston recommends a simple process of self-talk that literally slows the brain processes down. It begins by acknowledging the anxious, angry or fearful feelings and breathing slowly until your heart rate comes down and you are able to hear and respond instead of lash out reactively.

All I want is for my presence to turn the anxiety thermostat down one click on the dial so we can focus on the urgency of our mission. Peter Steinke notes, “The leader’s ‘presence’ can have a calming influence on reactive behavior. Rather than reacting to the reactivity of others, leaders with self-composure and self-awareness both exhibit and elicit a more thoughtful response.”15

When a leader with conviction can stay calm amid the losses and reactivity of a congregation, then thoughtful, Blue Zone, “it’s all about the mission” decisions are possible. But sometimes being calm is not enough. So, what do we do when the others around us choose to fight or flee because of their Red Zone issues? The opposite of what our human nature does reflexively: we draw closer.

The Church and the Wheelchair – Hal is blind. Gus is an amputee confined to a wheelchair. Alone they would each be what we sometimes call shut-ins. Octogenarians both, they don’t get around very easily on their own. When they come to worship services at SCPC, Hal pushes Gus and Gus directs Hal. They make their way through the parking lot and the patio to their place together in the pew. Gus sits in his wheelchair and gives direction, Hal pushes the wheelchair and follows Gus’s lead, and together they get to where they want to go. And together, and only together, they come to church.

Why is it so difficult for the great idea to become embedded in the culture of the institution? Why does a new missional conviction so rarely become the new way of being, the new strategy for acting, the new normal? Why do so many innovations get stopped before they can be tried as an experiment? This is the demoralizing frustration for so many leaders.

If, as I define it, leadership is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world, then leadership is always relational. It is focused on a community of people who exist to accomplish a shared mission. So, while we start with a missional conviction and regulate the heat by staying calm and focusing on our own self-awareness and personal responsibility, organizational transformation cannot be accomplished through the efforts of one person, no matter how gifted. So, in addition to “start with conviction and stay calm” we add stay connected. Which leads us to the next key principle of adaptive leadership. After finding a missional conviction and regulating the heat, to bring change we must enact relationally.

But human nature being what it is, it’s more effective in a change process for a leader to think not only of one team but six. Six different teams that reflect the different kinds of relationships a leader must attend to in order to bring transformation to the whole organizational system.6

1. Allies. An ally is anyone who is convinced of the mission and is committed to seeing it fulfilled. In this sense, allies are inside the system, taking part of the change process with a stake in it and aligned and in agreement—at least for the moment—with the adaptive changes the leader is attempting to bring.7

2. Confidants. To be a confidant, a person must care more about you than they do about the mission of the organization. Therefore, healthy confidants are usually those outside the system who can give you honest feedback about yourself as a leader in the system. Being a confidant is usually most comfortable and healthy for our friends and family.

3. Opponents. Potential opponents are stakeholders who have markedly different perspectives from yours and who risk losing the most if you and your initiative go forward. Let’s be clear here, if you are leading a change process, opponents are not your enemies in much the same way that allies are not necessarily your friends. Opponents are nothing more and nothing less than those who are against the particular change initiative.

4. Senior authorities. As I have said from the outset, leadership is not the same thing as authority. Authority is your role, your position of formal power, but leadership is a way of functioning. Very often the leader in uncharted territory is not the authorized leader but someone tasked to explore the new terrain. Remember, it wasn’t Commander in Chief Jefferson who crossed the Continental Divide, but two captains.

5. Casualties. In any transformational leadership effort there will be casualties. You can’t go into uncharted territory without risk. Even Lewis and Clark had to bury one of their men along the way. If a leader is “the person in the system who is not blaming anyone,” then the leader is also the one who assumes the responsibility for these inevitable casualties.8 As change initiatives are being proposed, don’t whitewash the losses. Acknowledge them.

6. Dissenters. In true adaptive change there are no unanimous votes. Someone, usually a significant number of people, will say no, no matter what. These voices of dissent are extremely important at every step of the way. The early naysayers are the canaries in the coal mine. They will help you see how opposition will take form and will raise the arguments that eventually will come to full volume.

Every visionary leader needs both a group to keep attending to the necessary work and a team to lead the transformation of the organizational culture. And while they may be one and the same in some circumstances, a great idea needs at least two groups of people to see it through: the maintaining mission group and the transformation team.

The maintaining mission group. The maintaining mission group has to be committed to giving safety, time, space, protection and resources to the project. At first, they don’t need to actually do anything except not create obstacles and not sabotage the change process (a big task, in itself!). At best, they actively voice support, keep a steady hand at the wheel and monitor the inevitable anxiety.

*REORIENTATION* In a Christendom world, visionary management usually comes from the board of directors. In the uncharted world of post-Christendom transformation, leadership will more likely come from a small Corps of Discovery who serve as a transformation team while the board manages the health of the organization currently.

The transformation team. The transformation team is akin to what John Kotter calls a “Guiding Coalition.”11 This group will add effort to the inspiration. They are going to do the work of listening, learning, attempting and, yes, failing. (Remember how many early attempts at building rockets flamed out on the launch pad?) This team needs to be innovative and persistent, cohesive and communicative.

For most leaders I know, and especially for pastors, all of this discussion of the different relationships certainly doesn’t sound like good news. While most of us are good at personally relating to people (praying, teaching, counseling), most of us have not been trained in organizational relationship skills.

Our theology affirms that leadership is a shared task, and the church is meant to be both a safe environment for protecting the community and a group willing to lay down their lives for the vision of God’s kingdom come to earth.

1. Give the work back to the people who most care about it. Are you the only one losing sleep over the challenges you face? Then you need to raise the urgency with a broader coalition of people. When a group of people bring a complaint, don’t jump to fix it but instead engage those who raised the complaint in the process of transformation.

2. Engage the mature and motivated. Let’s face it, most of our work (especially for pastors) is putting out fires, dealing with the resistant, attending to the cranky and trying to appease the complainers. These are part of our work and are indeed the people to whom we are called. But when it’s time to lead on, more and more of your energy must be invested in those who are motivated to grow and take responsibility for themselves.

3. Stay connected to your critics. From The Godfather we learned to “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer,” but that was for self-protection. In this case that great advice is a way to keep trying to turn enemies into friends (not through accommodation but through influence). This is the essence of what it means to “stay connected.”

We tell ourselves that if we don’t back down we’ll do something in anger that we’ll regret. So we do nothing instead. Face-to-face conversations become quick voicemails, phone calls turn into emails, and discussions over lunch become formal letters. After a while, because we are so afraid of the heat, thick walls of ice rise up around us, and while we may be able to see the subjects of our conflicts, we can’t hear or touch them. But when we lose connection, we lose the opportunity to keep gently influencing the system for good. We need at least a light touch on the wheel to steer the car toward the destination of our convictions.

So what is a leader to do? Stay connected. Keep contact. Close the distance with word and touch. When someone writes me an angry email, I call them at home. When someone sends a formal letter of complaint, I invite them for coffee. When people start getting upset, I call a meeting and invite them to talk. The more heated the situation, the closer I want to get to it. Believe me, this is hard. I’m no different than anyone else.

4. Expect sabotage. Which is where we turn next.

So, when we came to the General Assembly, how many of those same leaders who had affirmed our work all along the way made public statements of support? Zero. How many asked to testify to the oversight committee? Zero. How many of those who had hugged me in the hall did anything at all to support its passage? Zero. When I asked for public statements to counter the resistance, one person after another told me that the word had come down from “on high” that they couldn’t be seen “taking sides” in what was a controversial debate. The whole proposal was soundly rejected with the most benign part referred to a committee for further study.

That is the rub, isn’t it? It’s one thing to disappoint and anger the other side, but another thing entirely to endure friendly fire.

Even Lewis and Clark faced their own challenge with sabotage.

If the change process is “start with conviction, stay connected, stay calm and stay the course,” then when you are focused on “staying the course,” expect that it is “your own people” who are going to try to knock you off course. And the key to staying the course is wisely and calmly responding to sabotage. Note the verb here: not reacting, but responding.

Sabotage is natural. It’s normal. It’s part and parcel of the systemic process of leadership. Saboteurs are usually doing nothing but unconsciously supporting the status quo. They are protecting the system and keeping it in place. They are preserving something dear to them. If every system is “perfectly designed for the results we are getting,” it became clear to me that our denominational system exists for institutional self-preservation.

Many who sabotage you will even claim that they are doing you a favor by doing so. Friedman describes these “peace-mongers” as “highly anxious risk-avoiders” who are “more concerned with good feelings than progress” and consistently prefer the peaceful status quo over the turbulence of change—even if change is necessary.

*REORIENTATION* When on the map, leaders could assume that once an affirmative vote was made, the challenge of bringing change was finished. In uncharted territory, where changes occur so rapidly, leaders cannot assume success until after they have weathered the sabotage that naturally follows.

First, expect sabotage. Anticipation is a great defense. To be aware that sabotage is coming will at least keep us from being surprised when it comes.

Second, embrace sabotage as a normal part of an organizational life. Even the saboteurs aren’t really to blame. Systems like stability. Natural survival skills demand it, in fact. You, by bringing change, have upset the emotional equilibrium of the system. The Israelites wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt once things got rough in the desert. Systems always look for and find comfort in the familiar.

Third, don’t take it personally. The people following you may be shooting you in the back, but it’s really not you that they are sabotaging, it’s your role as leader. They are sabotaging the change you are bringing.

Fourth, focus your attention on the emotionally strong, not the saboteurs. We are so focused on quieting our critics, appeasing or answering our accusers and shielding ourselves from the friendly fire that it often knocks us off course. While we need to stay connected to the saboteurs (“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”), what actually keeps the change process going is investing even more time in those committed to growing, adapting and changing for good. Find other calm, courageous people and strengthen and support them.

Last, make it a conviction to stay calm and connected so you can stay on course. Endure. Stick with it. Be dogged and determined.

Leading change is a process not accomplished quickly, and the moments of sabotage are the most crucial times in the change process. At this moment everyone in the system sees the leader’s true colors. Sabotage is not only a test of the leader’s resolve but also a test of the system’s resilience.

Blue Zone Decisions: Staying the Course Amidst Sabotage – The key skill for staying the course amidst sabotage is to make Blue Zone decisions—no matter what. In chapter twelve we explored Osterhaus, Jurkowski and Hahn’s Red Zone–Blue Zone decision making. The Red Zone is “all about me”; the Blue Zone is “all about the mission.” Blue Zone decisions are made as an expression of the core values and healthy principles, and further the discerned, shared mission conviction of the group.

When making Blue Zone decisions, a set of questions are being asked and answered by the leadership group. These questions are different from the Red Zone “me” questions around survival, acceptance, competence and control. They are What furthers the mission? What principles are at stake here? What values are we expressing? What pain must we endure? How will we support those who are experiencing loss?

Whenever I talk about this with groups, the hands shoot up. “This contradicts Jesus. Didn’t he always choose people over principles?” Frankly, no, he didn’t. At least not the way we think of it. If we look closely at the ministry of Jesus, everything he did was for one purpose: to proclaim and demonstrate the good news: “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15 nasb). And as much as he ministered to people as an expression of that mission, he also disappointed people constantly. He left towns while there were still crowds waiting to be healed (Mark 1:38). After a miraculous feeding of one large crowd, he refused to feed another, and some of his disciples left him (John 6:30-66). He disappointed his mother and brothers who wanted him to return home (Mark 3:31-35), he initially refused to heal the Syrophoenician woman because his mission was to the “lost sheep of . . . Israel” (Matthew 15:21-28), and he constantly disappointed ministry leaders because he hung out with the wrong sorts (Mark 2:16-17) and did the wrong things, like healing on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17). Every parable Jesus taught that challenged the status quo (the prodigal son, the woman with the coin, the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to get the one sheep) did not describe his desire to care for and comfort people but, in effect, “I do this because God is like this” (Luke 15) or “I am doing these things because the kingdom of heaven is like this” (Matthew 13). Jesus’ mission was to reveal the presence and nature of God’s reign and rule. That was his purpose. That was his principle. When Jesus challenged the Pharisees, it wasn’t that they were concerned with religious principles and he was concerned with people, but that they had the wrong principles (Matthew 23:15). They valued human tradition over God’s own revelation about his character, his love and what he desires (Micah 6:8). Jesus… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

For Friedman, failure of nerve is the tendency among leaders to “adapt to immaturity,” that is, to give in to the most anxious elements within themselves or within the community who are clamoring to preserve the status quo and undermining the adaptations and experiments necessary for moving forward and meeting the challenges in front of them.10

A Picture of Courage – My favorite old movie is Casablanca. It’s a classic film with Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid, where Bogie owns Rick’s Café Americain restaurant in Casablanca, Morocco. It takes place during World War II. Casablanca was then a French territory under German occupation. In one of my favorite scenes a group of Nazi soldiers drinking in Rick’s bar gather at the piano and start singing the German national anthem so loudly and without consideration of the number of French citizens sitting glumly around them.

First, leaders must act. Laszlo doesn’t cower at the sound of the German officers singing their songs with such bravado; he stands and heads toward the conflict. He takes decisive action and determines not to let this moment pass by. When the heat is on, leaders head to the kitchen.

Second, when sabotage or opposition appears, leaders continue to calmly stand on conviction in the face of it. Laszlo doesn’t rant. He doesn’t rave. He doesn’t start a fight or call the manager to complain. He goes to the band (very likely French citizens, all) and calls them to act with him. From the backstory of the movie, we know that Laszlo has already suffered for his convictions. He has already spent time in a prison camp. He is being denied exit visas that would take him and his wife to safety. The authorities have him on a watch list, and he is certainly in danger. But nevertheless, he continues to act on his convictions.

Third, leaders inspire. The root word of “courage” is the Latin word for “heart.”

Last, leaders don’t act alone. Yes, Laszlo is first to his feet and willing to stand alone. Leadership requires a missional conviction that takes a stand whether anyone follows or not. But for a leader to become a leader, someone must follow.

Sabotage is indeed the critical issue for lasting change. Friedman calls it “the key to the kingdom.”11 The key capacity: Does the leader have the capacity to hang in there when reactivity is at its highest? If a leader can develop the emotional stamina to stay true to principles when reactivity and sabotage are most evident, the adaptation process reverses itself and the followers begin to adapt to the leader.

The paradox of transformational leaders is that the very conviction that causes the leader to be willing to “disappoint your own followers at a rate they can absorb” is what ultimately—when handled well—wins “your own followers” to join you in your cause. If we as leaders start with conviction, stay connected, calm and on course in the face of opposition, then others around us have both the time and conditions to take on these very convictions as their own.

His name was Jean Baptiste, and because his mother would become the most famous member of the party next to Lewis and Clark themselves, “Pomp” as William Clark would nickname him, would be the youngest member of the Corps of Discovery. Pomp’s mother, Sacagawea, had been born Shoshone. Kidnapped by the Hidatsa when she was eleven or twelve, she was now at sixteen or seventeen years old, one of the wives of a French Canadian trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau. The captains had hired Charbonneau as a guide through the mountains and very quickly they saw the value of having a Shoshone woman to serve as interpreter. While, by all accounts, Lewis and Clark soon took a dim view of Charbonneau’s skills and value to the party, their opinion of—and need for—the teenage mother only grew. A month after she joined the party, Lewis mentions her “fortitude and resolution.” Two months into the journey, they worried about losing their translator when Sacagawea fell ill with a fever. When a canoe capsized, her quick-thinking saved the captains’ journals.1 When the captains needed horses to cross the Rockies, they turned to Sacagawea. She led them to the Shoshone, navigated the tense relationship at the first encounter, and when she discovered that she was translating between Lewis and her own long-lost brother (a most remarkable, tearful and near-miraculous reunion), she helped broker the deal that brought the Corps the critical horses they needed. When her tribe begged Sacagawea to stay, she instead insisted on going with the Corps and continuing the journey. Later, Clark would praise her as the “pilot” that took them through the country.

*REORIENTATION* Those who had neither power nor privilege in the Christendom world are the trustworthy guides and necessary leaders when we go off the map. They are not going into uncharted territory. They are at home.

For many Christians throughout the world today, the death of Christendom in the West simply means there are more brothers and sisters joining them at the margins, more shared experience within the greater church, more equality of leadership roles, more valuing of previously ignored voices and more opportunities for shared witness to a world that is profoundly in need of the gospel. In other words, the deep disorientation for those trained in Christendom can be helped by learning to look to and partner with those who have already been living in post-Christendom marginality.

Entering uncharted territory is like boarding a time machine set for the future. Lewis and Clark made decisions and functioned with a leadership style that was decades, even centuries before their time. A true partnership without one clear leader in “command.” A woman in leadership. A native American woman and a slave given a vote. A soldier released gladly from his duties in order to further knowledge. Could it be that God is taking our churches and organizations into uncharted territory in order for the church to become even more of a witness for the future of the world?

Sometime in the 2040s, the United States will become a true ethnic plurality. During that decade white Americans will no longer be the majority but one of several considerably large ethnic groups. Even more surprising is that those trends are actually higher in the church and especially in seminaries that provide the training for Christian leadership. While white, mainline and evangelical churches are in decline, racial-ethnic churches are growing and predicted to increase even more; seminary enrollments show increases only among nonwhite students.33 In other words, what will soon be true of America is already becoming true in our churches and seminaries.34

*REORIENTATION* Exploration teaches us to see the familiar through a new frame. Exploration brings differentiation. Exploration requires us to become expert experimenters. Exploration demands our best selves.

Differentiation enables the leader to stay with the group in the most difficult moments even when the group is blaming the leader for the difficulties. Exploration so challenges our illusions of competence, so triggers strong reactions of others and so often leads to enough conflict that it requires differentiation to psychologically endure as a leader.

Escaping the Expert Expectation – One of the signs of an organization that is resisting change is what Heifetz calls “the flight to authority.”22 Instead of accepting the adaptive challenge of learning and being transformed, the congregation, company or even family will decide to elect an expert to the do the work for them. The expert becomes the “technical solution,” which is actually “work avoidance” that creates the illusion that something is being done (“We brought in an expert to solve it!”) when in truth nothing is changing.

The internal and psychological stress of leading, exploring, learning and keeping an organization on mission is demanding. The fear of failure weighs heavy on all types of leaders, but perhaps even more so for pastors. When failing can mean losing your job (survival), community (acceptance), reputation (competence), even the possibility of failure can make us feel out of control.

The most tragic tale of the Corps of Discovery, however, is the suicide of Meriwether Lewis. Today, Meriwether Lewis would be treated for severe depression. Even then, it had been noted by Jefferson that Lewis tended to get melancholy and exacerbated it with alcohol. But during the expedition, neither the depression nor any signs of excessive alcohol abuse were ever noted by Clark or the other men.

*REORIENTATION* While on-the-map leaders are praised for being experts who have it all together, uncharted transformational leadership is absolutely dependent on the leader’s own ongoing exploration, learning and transformation.

But if I could meet with that group today, I would say something completely different. “If you want to keep your church from dying,” I would say, Focus on your own transformation together, not on your church dying. Focus on the mountains ahead, not the rivers behind. Focus on continually learning, not what you have already mastered.

Leaders thrust off the map in a rapidly changing world must trust that God is taking us into uncharted territory to extend the healing, justice and loving rule of God to all the world, and at the same time to transform us. The great discovery in following Christ into his mission is that we find ourselves being continually formed to be like Jesus. By doing the work of the kingdom, we become like the King. Leadership into uncharted territory requires and results in transformation of the whole organization, starting with the leaders.

Perhaps that is the most important thing to remember: God is taking us into uncharted territory to transform us. The great discovery in following Christ into his mission is that we find ourselves. And the beautiful paradox is that the more committed we are to our own transformation, the better leader we will be.

*Reorientation Recap* You were trained for a world that is disappearing. If you can adapt and adventure, you can thrive. But you must let go, learn as you go and keep going no matter what. In a Christendom world, speaking was leading. In a post-Christendom world, leading is multidimensional: apostolic, relational and adaptive. Before people will follow you off the map, gain the credibility that comes from demonstrating competence on the map. In uncharted territory, trust is as essential as the air we breathe. If trust is lost, the journey is over. When our old maps fail us, something within us dies. Replacing our paradigms is both deeply painful and absolutely critical. In a Christendom world, vision was seeing possibilities ahead and communicating excitement. In uncharted territory, vision is accurately seeing ourselves and defining reality. Leadership in the past meant coming up with solutions. Today leadership is learning how to ask new questions we have been too scared, too busy or too proud to ask. There is no greater gift that leadership can give a group of people on a mission than to have the clearest, most defined mission possible. When dealing with managing the present, win-win solutions are the goal. But when leading adaptive change, win-win is usually lose-lose. In uncharted territory visionary leadership is more likely going to come from a small Corps of Discovery while the board manages the ongoing health of the organization. In uncharted territory, where changes occur so rapidly, leaders cannot assume success until after they have weathered the sabotage that naturally follows. Those who had neither power nor privilege in the Christendom world are the trustworthy guides and necessary leaders when we go off the map. Those without power or privilege are not going into uncharted territory. They are at home. Exploration teaches us to see the familiar through a new frame and demands that we become our best selves. Uncharted leadership is absolutely dependent on the leader’s own ongoing exploration, learning and transformation.

Given all of this Lewis and Clark imagery, it is probably no surprise that I tend to think of myself as a “take the hill” kind of guy. I like a challenge. I resonate with the idea of being a leader of a mission. One of my colleagues is rather different than I am. Maybe he’s seen enough pain in lives and congregations to be skeptical of the kinds of “charges” leaders like me seem to relish. My colleague has been called to minister to a church in the middle of a retirement home. He tells me with a sigh of great satisfaction that he spends his days “hugging and kissing, teaching and ministering to some of the greatest saints you’ll ever meet.” Sometimes I am jealous of him, and I get the sense that sometimes he thinks he’s supposed to be more like me. I take the hill; he cares for grandma. And I think most of us assume that these are two different types of callings. It is common to hear talk about the differences between missional ministry and chaplaincy, between leading and caretaking. But I think those distinctions reveal both our own projections about ourselves and a convenient way to avoid what is true about all Christian organizations, especially churches: We all have hills to take, and all of our organizations are filled with grandmas. None of us in church leadership get the luxury of a single-focused call, no matter how important we think it is. None of us get to handpick our own Corps of Discovery with nothing but the best, bravest, faithful, loyal and mature. Every church and Christian organization I know is filled with people of varying degrees of competence, courage and capacity to embrace change.

We have to love the kindly grandmas and grandpas, cute little children, cranky aunts and uncles, overcommitted brothers and sisters, and sometimes irascible and often inspiring teenagers with whom God has called us to be spiritual family. Then we have to try to motivate that group to work, sacrifice, give and take on the responsibilities of furthering the mission of the kingdom as we are called to do it. We are a family that wants to sit together cozy by the campfire, but we have to get up and charge the hill (at potentially great cost). To me this is the most demanding aspect of being a Christian leader: The complexity of it all.

Christian leaders, especially, live in an emotional field filled with competing values.2 Remember our earlier discussion about the nature of a family business (chap. 12)? We love, care and value each other with a kind of unconditional love and, at the same time, we need to make decisions based on the conditions of what will further the spiritual “bottom line” of furthering our mission. We are all called to take the hill—with grandma.

The Senior Citizen Who Reoriented the Whole World Thomas Jefferson was sixty when he enlisted Meriwether Lewis for his grand expedition. And make no mistake, it was Jefferson’s idea. He had lived in France and was the young nation’s true Renaissance man. He would be the founder of the country’s first public university and as a young man had written most of the Declaration of Independence himself. But he had never traveled more than fifty miles west of the Shenandoah Valley. That lack of personal experience or the physical attributes necessary for such a journey did not slake his curiosity. His personal library contained more books about the region than any other library in the world. Monticello even faced west.5

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Transforming Prayer – Daniel Henderson

Transforming Prayer: How Everything Changes When You Seek God’s Face, by Daniel Henderson and Jim Cymbala (Please support the authors by purchasing the book. The following are highlights from my personal reading).

A “new normal” had occurred and my soul was re-calibrated to move beyond perfunctory prayer lists and to set my heart to seek His face.

One thing I know–once you have tasted this kind of prayer experience, nothing else satisfies and everything else is seen in a new light.

I say often that prayerlessness is our declaration of independence from God. I get that. It is very easy for me to forge ahead on Christian autopilot, relying on the reserves of previous learning and last week’s worship, and not abiding in Christ in a constant, moment-by-moment reliance.

We look around church and assume everyone else must be praying more and better than we are. With rare exception, they are not.

According to George Barna, the majority of born-again Christians admit that their bi-weekly attendance at worship services is generally the only time they worship God. Eight out of ten believers do not feel they have entered into the presence of God or experienced a connection with Him during the worship service. Half of all believers say they do not feel they have entered the presence of God or experienced a genuine connection with Him in the past year.

This leads to a core inquiry. Who taught you to pray? Has anyone provided a positive and life-changing model of prayer for you? Do you feel that you even know how to pray effectively? What is the purpose behind your praying? Is it working for you? Are you sure it is a biblical approach?

Theologian D. A. Carson makes the observation: “Christians learn to pray by listening to those around them.”1 I must admit that I had to unlearn prayer.

The exhaustive requests continued until someone happened to glance at their watch and exclaim, “Oh, we’re almost out of time! We’d better pray.” Hurriedly, we would slide our folding chairs into smaller circles, yellow pads in hand, and start praying for the myriad of documented needs.

This praying minority would seldom miss a week. As much as I did not appreciate their pattern of prayer, I loved their hearts and willingness to persevere. These prayer warriors really did make prayer a priority. They saw some wonderful answers to prayer and were careful to thank the Lord for it all. It did seem, however, that they were inadvertently stuck in a long, deep prayer rut.

The rut occurs when we allow requests to serve as the foundation of our praying: focusing on our problems rather than actually engaging with God in a multifaceted biblical prayer experience.

Worship is the response of all we are to the revelation of all God is. J. Oswald Sanders describes worship as “the loving ascription of praise to God for what He is, both in Himself and in His ways. It is the bowing of the innermost spirit in deep humility and reverence before Him.”

Worship-based prayer seeks the face of God before the hand of God. God’s face is the essence of who He is. God’s hand is the blessing of what He does. God’s face represents His person and presence. God’s hand expresses His provision for needs in our lives. I have learned that if all we ever do is seek God’s hand, we may miss His face; but if we seek His face, He will be glad to open His hand and satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts.

transformation. In the discovery of these realities, a Christian is then empowered and enlightened to pray about issues and needs in a whole new way.

As a pastor, I have seen firsthand the power of worship-based prayer to bring healing and restoration to hurting congregations. I have watched it reinvent a staid, traditional church into a church-planting, mission-oriented force.

Prior to the retreat, he was asking, “What am I going to talk to God about for three days?” Afterward he noted, “I was asking the wrong question. What I should have said was, ‘What was God going to talk to me about for three days?’

Peter Lord, one of my personal mentors and a pastor for over five decades, states, “Most Christians pray out of crisis or from a grocery list–period.” His point is that God has much more for us in our walk with Him when we learn to seek His face, not just His hand.

Too many times we become preoccupied with the tools, techniques, and even the finer points of theology when it comes to prayer. All of these are helpful, but prayer is not so much an issue of fine-tuning the regimens but of enjoying the relationship. It is not so much about fixing all the peripheral issues of our lives through prayer, but allowing God to change us through prayer. When we get the man right, by His transforming grace, it is amazing how so many other things seem to line up and make sense.

What created this spiritual movement? Not a program. Not a pastor. Not some new church-growth strategy. All of these blessings came because people learned to seek the face of God in prayer.

Personal prayer lives were ignited and changed as well. Ultimately things changed because people changed.

Christ’s evaluation, both now and in eternity, is based upon the fruit evidenced in the lives of the people to whom we minister.

It means to be “set apart” to God. It means God is working in me, around me, and through me to make me holy, more like Jesus.

The early disciples, who “filled Jerusalem” with their doctrine and “turned the world upside down” (Acts 5:28; 17:6), truly mystified the religious people of the day.

The world is not transformed by relevant Christians, strategic Christians, visionary Christians, leadership-savvy Christians, wealthy Christians, attractive Christians, educated Christians, active Christians, or articulate Christians. These are all interesting qualities, and might be helpful on occasion–especially in building big religious organizations and selling books. Ultimately, the world is transformed by sanctified Christians through whom the life of Jesus becomes a mystifying manifestation.

People changed by Jesus cannot help but change the world.

But when our Savior “puts the man together” to make us right first, then in so many ways the world comes together. God is glorified. We are sanctified. The church is edified. The world is mystified. The enemy is notified.

All true prayer Exists for the glory of God And is Based in the worship of God Focused on the face of God Shaped by the Word of God Inspired by the Spirit of God Offered through the Son of God Aimed for the Will of God Experienced by true children of God – DANIEL HENDERSON

“Prayer was simply asking, pleading, seeking action from God on one’s own behalf or on the behalf of others,” Connie says. “I participated dutifully but did not recognize the hole in my heart as the lack of a truly personal, intimate relationship with God. He was there, but distant, and I did not know life could be any different. I did not know God’s purpose for prayer.”

Spiritual Warfare – Clearly, prayer is an area where believers experience spiritual warfare. Our spiritual enemy is fully aware of the power and promises available to us in prayer. He knows that every major spiritual revival began with prayer. He knows we are all called to be “praying menaces” to his cause. Therefore, he fights us from every angle to keep us from praying effectively.

Fear of Intimacy – Some falter in prayer because of a fear of intimacy. I often say that we live in a culture of spiritual AI DS (Acute Intimacy Deficiency Syndrome). Some of us still carry the baggage from parents or other authority figures in our childhood who were distant, negligent, or even abusive. These experiences can leave us with distaste for emotional vulnerability and transparency. We protect ourselves from getting too close to anyone, even God.

Misguided Focus – Many of us maintain a misguided focus in our prayers and miss the life-giving reality God intended. Instead of our first resolve, we view prayer as our last resort. We see prayer as our spiritual e-mail sent to God, with instructions as to how He should manage the affairs of our life each day. We attempt to use prayer to get our will done in heaven rather than His will done on earth.

Counterproductive Tradition – Countless believers have learned to pray, from a counterproductive tradition, forms of prayer passed down through the generations without much critical evaluation and biblical investigation. Some traditions in prayer rely mainly on “prayer lists” and others on rote expressions, rather than upon the leading of the Holy Spirit. The primary content of many prayer gatherings is juicy information about other people rather than the foundation of God’s Word. We tend more toward discussions about the problems of people than the real experiences of the presence of the Problem Solver.

David Butts, chairperson of America’s National Prayer Committee, says, “The reason most people do not attend prayer meetings at their church is that they have been to prayer meetings at their church.”

Boredom – All of these factors can fuel a deep-seated feeling of boredom. As a Christ-follower for over forty years, I am resolute to banish boredom from my prayer life. As a pastor for almost thirty years, having led multiple weekly prayer times, I have declared war on sleepy prayer meetings.

Lack of Positive – Models One colossal reason we have not experienced transforming prayer is the lack of positive models. I have learned that people do not arrive at a new, powerful, and life-changing place in their prayer life through information. It happens more by “infection.” It is not accomplished through explanation, but by experience.

D. A. Carson confirms this truth when he writes, “Many facets of Christian discipleship, not the least prayer, are more effectively passed on by modeling than by formal teaching. Good praying is more easily caught than taught. . . . We should choose models from whom we can learn.”

I heard a Brazilian proverb years ago: “The heart cannot taste what the eyes have not seen.” This experience of praying with a pastor, church, and congregation that authentically value the priority and power of prayer has accomplished much to help me and many other believers understand a truly biblical paradigm.

I had discovered that prayer truly has only two purposes. First, it is the means to developing a true love relationship with God by communication with Him, not to get His ‘stuff ’ but to get to know Him more deeply. Prayer is intended to develop a two-way love relationship. Second, it is to receive His assignments for me, both daily and long term–by listening to Him–then acting, not only in how I live but also in how I pray for myself and others.”

What’s in a Face? What is meant by face? It is the representation of the real essence and character of a person. It is the unique identifying characteristic of an individual. It is also the key to really getting to know someone.

An Intimate Encounter – God’s face really speaks of His intimate, manifest presence. I like to speak of the teaching about God’s presence as His general presence, His indwelling presence, and His intimate presence. Psalm 139 speaks of His general, invisible presence in this world. While unseen, He is present everywhere.

Yet God calls us to an intimate encounter as we pursue Him with all our hearts. In my understanding, to seek His face today means to set our hearts to seek Him in worship with biblical understanding, submitting completely to the control of His Spirit with a longing to know and enjoy Him more. Again, it is not about rehearsing a quick list of needs with God, but seeking Him because of who He is, with a passion for a deeper intimacy and experience of His presence.

The Old Testament followers spoke of God “hiding His face” or even setting His face against people. This reflected those times when His intimate presence and favor was hindered because of sin (Deuteronomy 32:20; Job 34:29; Psalm 13:1; 30:7; 143:7; Isaiah 54:8; Jeremiah 33:5; Ezekiel 39:23–24; Micah 3:4).

First Peter 3:12 says, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Clearly we understand that intimacy with God means life and blessing. For His face to be withdrawn or set against someone (Psalm 34:16) is misery of the worst kind.

God’s Invitation – The Scriptures are clear that God desires that His people know and enjoy Him. He is ready and responsive to restore His people, if they will again seek His face. We know the familiar call of 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” In a similar way, God made the offer through the prophet Hosea: “I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me” (Hosea 5:15).

We need His face to shine upon, bless, and envelop us–because all that we are and all that we do in obedience to His commands and commission is the overflow of intimacy and the fruit of His blessing.

Here is what God wanted everyone to understand, from His heart to ours, every time His people worshiped: The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace. NUMBERS 6:24–26 Face time with the Almighty was the key to blessing, protection, grace, and peace. It is still true today. Let us join our voices and say, “Amen!”

With a second copy of the Decalogue (commonly known as the Ten Commandments) in hand, Moses arrived in camp–GLOWING ! God’s presence was so real that it left its mark on Moses’ face. The brightness was so overwhelming that it frightened the people. Moses had to put a veil over his face. Every time he went back to meet with God, experiencing His intimate presence and receiving His truth for the people, Moses would remove the veil in unhindered divine fellowship.

The greater the revelation, the greater the transformation. Unveiled in his worship and given incredible access to the presence of God, Moses also became a changed worshipper who glowed with the glory of God.”

Paul makes this potent declaration, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 3:17–4:1). I urge you to read that passage again, because I believe it is the core of effective, enduring Christian ministry and the source of daily transformation.

Yet at the core of Paul’s theology of life and ministry is this amazing truth that communion with Christ changes us! This is no superficial rearranging of the activities, approaches, and attitudes of life. This is inside-out change. Transformation. The English pronunciation of this Greek word is metamour-foumetha–very similar to our idea of a metamorphosis.

This all occurs by the power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ in our lives. We are captivated by Christ, changed by Christ, and conformed to Christ.

Paul understood transforming prayer from the moment of his first encounter with Christ. He never got over it and never stopped growing in it. He saw it as the core of his credibility and the life-source of all Christian living.

In relation to prayer, we want to use all we know from the Scriptures to discover the best practices. We want to learn to understand the leading of the Spirit to experience and achieve the desired result–the glory of God (we will talk more about this “desired result” as you continue to read). This would be “best-practices praying.”

Accordingly, we need to thoroughly know and understand what it means to seek God’s face in worship-based prayer. We need the Spirit to give us holy dissatisfaction and the motivation to change. We need to know how to engage in transforming prayer.

Unfortunately, we seem to give God our spiritual leftovers in prayer.

When we engage in the great privilege and joy of prayer with a “leftovers mentality,” the likelihood of spiritual blessing is slight. The Lord says, “Love me with all of your heart,” worship me “in spirit and in truth,” present your bodies as a “living sacrifice.” He calls for our passionate best. Instead, we bring spiritual leftovers to the throne of grace.

The Lord did not require great quantities–but He did ask for their first and best as a demonstration of their gratitude to God as the source of all their blessings and an indication of their reverence for God as the One worthy of worship. Instead, they were bringing leftovers. They offered blind, lame, and sick animals at the temple.

Even today, not all sacrifices are created equal. From a New Testament standpoint, acceptable sacrifices include: • A commitment to worship in spirit and in truth ( John 4:22–24) • A genuine sacrifice of praise, giving thanks to His name (Hebrews 13:15) • The presentation of our bodies in complete surrender (Romans 12:1–2) • A life of love that produces right living (Philippians 1:9–11) • Doing everything “in the name of the Lord Jesus” with thanksgiving (Colossians 3:17) • Service conducted in supernatural power (1 Peter 4:11) • Generosity that flows from a heart of love (Philippians 4:10–19)

Relating to prayer, God is not looking for a dutiful contribution of time or energy in the spirit of religious observance. He is looking for a hungry heart that seeks after Him in praise, gratitude, and loving surrender, with a readiness to pray, think, and live like Jesus as the expression and overflow of that intimacy.

We must continue to grow so that we understand prayer as more of a transforming experience in the Holy of Holies and less like a rushed trip to the grocery store to grab what we think we need for the day.

There was not one single prayer for revival or awakening in our church, community, or nation. Sad. As I surveyed the results of this prayer snapshot, my gut reaction is that this is typical of the average prayer list, whether compiled in a Sunday school class or a personal journal. Thank God, people are praying, yet I believe something more powerful and purposeful can be discovered about the reality of prayer. No one really wants to serve God leftovers.

Frankly, I admire those who manage long lists of needs, answers, commentary, and details. I found that I was spending more time organizing, rewriting, or trying to find my list than I was actually spending time in prayer.

Yet in group settings, the focus on lists of needs and prolonged discussions about details can distract from the purpose. Some groups spend significant time talking and taking notes about issues, people, and problems. This has two effects. First, a gathering that was announced as a prayer meeting becomes mostly a discussion session. At times, those discussions border on gossip. This is not a best practice. Second, we can tend to be operating simply in the realm of our own human thoughts, our own observations, and our own ideas about what we should pray about. We often ask the question, “What do we need to pray about?” This is followed by long discussion of detailed situations in our lives, the lives of others, the church, community, and society. Sometimes the discussion occurs as if the Lord was not even in the room, aware of the problems, or had any opinion about the subjects at hand.

Now, I do not want to offend or anger anyone by what I am about to say, but I have to put it on the table: I find little evidence in the Bible for our routine emphasis on extensive prayer lists focused almost entirely on temporal concerns.4 I do not want to be legalistic here. But I do want to jolt us out of a rut of thinking that lists are the key to effective prayers.

I am not suggesting that everyone stop using prayer lists. But we must recognize the possibility that our prayer lists are replacing the Scriptures and the Spirit as the primary content providers for our prayer times.

We spend more prayer energy trying to keep sick Christians out of heaven than trying to keep lost people out of hell. – JAMES WALKER

We often pray to escape our difficulties rather than embrace discipleship.

Like anyone, I love it when God answers my prayers in ways that make my life more pleasant or pain-free. Yet I am learning that my deepest needs are met when my heart is most closely aligned with the Word of God, the Son of God, the Spirit of God, and the purposes of God.

Yet, it is so easy to reduce our focus in prayer to the typical “organ recital” concerns about Paula’s pancreas, Larry’s liver, Sarah’s stomach, and Artie’s appendix. Our Father knows, cares, and is fully capable of taking care of all these needs according to His will and glory. Yet the privilege of prayer offers so much more.

Amid all our worries about our health, finances, family, job, education, and ministry concerns, are we seeking first His kingdom and not our own?

What might Jesus have in mind with His commands to ask, seek, and knock? A pay raise? A new car? An all-expenses-paid vacation? What are the good things He promises? In the context, Jesus spoke specifically of the basic provisions of bread and fish, with no mention of fishing boats, lake cabins, or new video games. Perhaps the answer is in the point He has already made, that the truly “good” things we seek first are the issues pertaining to the kingdom of God.

Clearly, these teachings, like other instructions about prayer, are not carte blanche encouragements to concoct a long list of anything our heart desires. Rather, it is a promise of basic provision, spiritual empowerment, and guidance for His kingdom purposes.

Comparing the Content – We know we are supposed to bring our requests to God. Yet one of the most important questions we need to ask is how the content of our prayers differ from the biblical patterns and teaching about the things we should be praying about. I would suggest that the prayer requests we find in the Bible are shorter, deeper, and fundamentally different in nature than the lists that can tend to dominate the prayer approach of modern Christians.

Praying Just Like Jesus? – Scripture records numerous examples of Jesus’ prayer life. We find six references to Jesus’ prayers that give no clear indication of the content of what He said (Mark 1:35; 6:46; Luke 3:21; 9:18, 28; 11:1). We find He often withdrew from activity in order to enjoy private communion with the Father. While we do not know the substance of His prayers in these times, it appears they were directly related to fresh empowerment for His self-less, sacrificial service. There are also occasions where Jesus blesses people, but His exact words are not given (Mark 10:16; Luke 24:50).

Many modern-day teachers encourage us to “do” like Jesus, lead like Jesus, and speak like Jesus. Our passion must also be to embrace these truths so we can pray like Jesus.

We see the early church in prayer most often seeking the advancement of the gospel through any circumstance. They prayed daily as part of a vital regimen of spiritual growth–for the sake of the gospel (Acts 2:42). In the face of attack, they gathered to pray from the Scriptures, requesting fresh power for boldness–for the sake of the gospel (Acts 4:31). When they were persecuted, they rejoiced in God for the honor of suffering–for the sake of the gospel–rather than asking for a reprieve (Acts 5:41). When Peter was in jail, they prayed for his release–for the sake of the gospel (Act 12:5). When Paul and Silas were in jail, they rejoiced in prayer and singing, trusting God–for the sake of the gospel (Acts 16:25).

Every one of Paul’s model prayers sprang from expressions of thanksgiving, truths about God, and notes of praise. They are the fruit of his worship and intimate, experiential knowledge of the person of Christ. Paul’s requests were focused on the growing faith and love of believers with the goal of God’s glory.

Perhaps the fundamental difference between our prayer lists and the prayer concerns we find in the Bible is that we pray about personal problems, while most of the biblical prayers focus on Christ’s purposes. Worship-based prayers set the foundation for something other than “me” prayers, because they start with a “Thee” focus. This changes the nature of how we pray.

Psalm 70:4 had taught Bill that prayer is about seeking God, rejoicing in Him, and continually focusing on His glory. Yes, let God be magnified!

Suntan Lotion in a Snowstorm – Unlike Bill Sheehan, many of us fail to focus our prayers on the core motive: that God would be magnified in everything we seek or say. If we were to be honest, our prayers are often motivated by a desire for comfort and convenience. Many times our prayers are viewed as a divinely ordained way to get what we want out of life, or to avoid what we don’t want. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking prayer exists so God can be used to help us preserve our glory rather than our being used to promote His glory.

In John 14:13, Jesus gave us a standard for all of our praying, “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” What motivates us to ask can often be all over the map. What motivates our Father to answer is that He would be glorified in our prayers through the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Christ’s Work in Us for His Glory – No one ever lived with more passion and intentionality than Jesus, our Master and model. Everything in His life was for the glory of the Father ( John 11:4; 13:31–31; 17:1, 4–5). He is our ultimate example for everything we do, including our prayers.

An Agonizing Alignment – Inspiring as these reminders are, our flesh struggles to pray in alignment with the truth of God’s glory. Our prayer lists can easily become so saturated with our desires for ease, comfort, convenience, and accomplishment, that the goal of God’s glory becomes obscured. Our human tendency to avoid pain, loss, and difficulty can dilute our passion for God’s glory. When our goals and God’s glory are in conflict, it can be hard for our hearts to choose.

Think about this exchange. Jesus describes a very undesirable death as part of Peter’s destiny as an obedient disciple. If we could rate our old age or death scenarios, what Jesus described here is “dreadful.” Yet John says it is a death that will glorify God.

As good as this process was for me, I still drew this conclusion: The hardest thing about the Christian life is that it is so DAILY

There is a sense that every day we live with one hand on the perishables of this life: family, health, job, home, hobbies, plans, etc. In the other hand, we grasp the unseen and eternal reality of thinking, feeling, speaking, acting, and praying, all for God’s glory.

Grace to “Go for the Glory” – I define grace as God doing for us, in us, and through us what only He can do through the person, power, and presence of Jesus Christ. I have learned that God has tailor-made grace for everything we face. I need the grace to long and pray for His glory.

Just as God’s Word must reform our theology, our ethics, and our practices, so also must it reform our praying. D. A . CARSON

Mark describes it as a profound, life-changing experience. The power of praying from the Scriptures in the company of other believers brought healing and hope to their hearts–as spouses and parents. Mark discovered an incredible unity with leaders from other churches in the Lord’s presence.

Prior to this weekend, Mark says his prayer life was “mostly focused on request-based praying.” His attempts to pray with others were often “dry and boring.” He notes, “I knew that praying with others was important, but it was a real chore!” This dynamic young pastor explains, “More than anything, worship-based prayer has made me a more passionate lover of Jesus. I see His Word and prayer as means, not ends. Worship-based prayer has helped me to see that the ultimate aim of my time with the Lord or with others before the Lord is worship. It is the starting point and the goal.”

Calvin Miller explains, “Too often, we go into God’s presence with a list of pleas, trying to talk God into granting our desire. But this kind of praying makes us ‘one big mouth’ and God ‘one grand ear.’ But when we pray the Scriptures, it makes God the voice and leaves us as the ear. In short, God gets His turn at getting a word in edgewise.”

One core focus of worship-based prayer is the commitment to always start our prayers from the Word of God. This is the key to abiding. Jesus emphasized, “If you abide in Me, and My Words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” ( John 15:7–8).

Abiding and Abundance – What does it mean to abide? The word means to “continue, remain, dwell, or stay.” It is the idea of a life-giving connection with Christ that produces His character and accomplishes His will in us. As Charles Spurgeon noted, abiding means “yielding ourselves up to Him to receive His life and to let that life work out its results in us. We live in Him, by Him, for Him, to Him when we abide in Him.”

Pastor John Piper gives the right perspective when he says: There are dozens of instances in the Bible of people praying for desires as natural as the desire for protection from enemies and escape from danger and success in vocation and fertility in marriage, recovery from sickness, etc. My point is not that those desires are wrong. My point is that they should always be subordinate to spiritual desires; kingdom desires; fruit-bearing desires; gospel-spreading, God-centered desires; Christ-exalting, God-glorifying desires. And when our natural desires are felt as a means to these greater desires, then they become the proper subject of prayer.

A. W. Pink described this fruit as “Christlike affections, dispositions, grace, as well as the works in which they are displayed,”5 adding that fruit is “the outflow of our union with Christ; only thus will it be traced to its true origin and source.”

George Muller, the renowned man of faith and evangelist who cared for thousands of orphans and established dozens of Christian schools in the 1800s, spoke about the vital role of Scripture in his prayer life. He noted that for years he tried to pray without starting in the Bible in the morning. Inevitably, his mind wandered sometimes for ten, fifteen, even thirty minutes.6 Then, when he began to start each morning with the Bible to nourish his soul, he found his heart being transformed by the truth, resulting in spontaneous prayers of confession, thanksgiving, intercession, and supplication. This became his daily experience for decades, resulting in great personal growth and power for life and ministry. In his autobiography, Muller noted that this kind of prayer is . . . . . . not the simple reading of the Word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts. When we pray, we speak to God.Now, prayer, in order to be continued for any length of time in any other than a formal manner, requires, generally speaking, a measure of strength or godly desire, and the season, therefore, when this exercise of the soul can be most effectually performed is after the inner man has been nourished by meditation on the Word of God, where we find our Father speaking to us, to encourage us, to comfort us, to instruct us, to humble us, to reprove us.

John Piper says, “I have seen that those whose prayers are most saturated with Scripture are generally most fervent and most effective in prayer. And where the mind isn’t brimming with the Bible, the heart is not generally brimming with prayer.”

When we get into a routine of simply praying our own ideas and thoughts, our prayers are increasingly misguided. The longer we do this, the further we travel from God’s design for prayer.

Pastors speak with me often about the unreasonable resistance they face when trying to move people in their church from a request-based paradigm to a worship-based approach.

Who Starts the Prayer Conversation? In a sense, prayer is a continual conversation between our hearts and God’s. Nevertheless, when we stop to spend time in focused prayer, it is important to know who should start the conversation. If prayer is simply the discharge of my own will and thoughts, in the hope that I can help God run the universe, then I should start the prayer conversation. On the other hand, if prayer is about my heart becoming intimate and aligned with the heart of the Savior, then I should let Him start the conversation. This is the reality of abiding in Him and letting His words abide in us.

Our Father, with His unlimited resources, and His commitment to teach us to pray, has given us a supernatural tutor. The Holy Spirit is available to us and resides within us 24/7. Our Father longs for intimacy with us and knows that real prayer is impossible apart from the indwelling Spirit.

Worship-based prayer brings us to a greater sensitivity and surrender to the Holy Spirit. As a result, our prayers become Spirit-fueled. And we are transformed.

Worship-based prayer brings our hearts into intimate harmony with the person of the Holy Spirit and enhances our surrender to His control, wisdom, and power for our prayers. The Spirit then enables us to worship more fully. This worship, in turn, brings us into a deeper reality of the Spirit’s life, thus continuing the circle.

In his book Forgotten God, Francis Chan writes, “From my perspective, the Holy Spirit is tragically neglected and, for all practical purposes, forgotten. While no evangelical would deny His existence, I’m willing to bet there are millions of churchgoers across America who cannot confidently say they have experienced His presence or action in their lives over the past year. And many of them do not believe they can.”2 He continues, “If I were Satan and my ultimate goal was to thwart God’s kingdom and purposes, one of my main strategies would be to get churchgoers to ignore the Holy Spirit . . . but when believers live in the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural. The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.”

Word is a stimulus to worship and a tool for worship.

Those who have adopted a worship-based approach of seeking God’s face first and foremost have experienced this amazing reality. God’s Spirit takes God’s Word and ignites our heart with truth, wisdom, direction, focus, and passion in our prayer experiences. Once you have tasted this kind of prayer, you never want to go back. This is why God longs for us to pray in the Spirit.

Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest noted: “Praying in the Spirit is praying in dependence on the Holy Spirit. It is prayer exercised in the sphere of the Holy Spirit, motivated and empowered by Him.”

Spirit Scriptures Eastern religions, and even some teachers of the Christian faith, propose that the best way to hear from God’s Spirit (or maybe some other spirit) is to empty your mind, accompanied by various breathing exercises. That might be a great way to get a D in Prayer. Rather, the Scriptures affirm the best way to hear from the Spirit is to fill the mind with the Word of God, accompanied by careful reading and meditation on the sacred text. That’s the best way to receive what the Spirit is speaking clearly.

Even the apostle Paul confesses that in our mere human intellect, we are not able to pray effectively. Our minds and hearts are weak. The Holy Spirit moves and prays within us, in perfect harmony with the will of the Father and the Son. The Spirit works in us to tutor us in prayer according to the will of God, as we have assurance of God’s goodness and sovereignty in the unfolding of the events of our lives (Romans 8:28).

Oswald Sanders wrote, “Prayer in the Spirit is prayer whose supreme object is the glory of God, and only in a secondary sense is it a blessing for ourselves or for others.”

Of course, the reason many of us tune out the pre-flight orientation is that we have heard it so many times before. This familiarity can lead to ignorance and perhaps tragedy. The flight attendants are there to prevent this. Prayer is a very familiar idea to many of us. We are also accustomed to the truth of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Like the road-warrior frequent flyer, we may tune out the instructions we need because we are so familiar with the experience. However, unlike a flight, where the instructions and routines are usually predictable, there should be nothing mundane or standard about our prayer times.

Every one of us is confronted with a choice. Will we allow familiarity to breed apathy and ineffectiveness as we tune out the vital instructions? Will we be content to simply pray from our own intellectual framework of understanding, with potentially careless and endless lists of ideas that have not been surrendered to the power of the Word and the Spirit? Will we merely seek God’s hand to get what we think we need to get by for another week as we hurry in and out of His presence? Or will we seek His face, from His Word, by His Spirit, as we learn to pray in a life-transforming fashion?

Prayer is a means God uses to give us what he wants. – W. BINGHAM HUNTER

There is no name like the name of Jesus Christ. Knowing the power of His name, most of us remember to tack it on to our prayers virtually every time we pray. However, like Carnegie’s students, our reason for remembering His name may be for our own purposes, not His.

It is the traditional thing to do. In group or public prayers, it is a given that whoever prays better wrap it up “in Jesus’ name.” When they fail to do so, they may get a few raised eyebrows and words of doubt about the spiritual legitimacy of their prayers. After all, will God really hear their prayers if they fail to include this three-word add-on?

A popular worship song says, “It’s all about you, Jesus,” and leads us to acknowledge that our lives are really not about our own agendas. We recognize that Jesus is God and our response is to surrender to His ways. In my years of learning about and leading others in prayer, I have found this to become the heart reality of what the Lord accomplishes as we pray. This is the path to praying in Jesus’ name.

This is God’s gracious work in drawing us to a deeper knowledge of Him and a greater response in prayer. He excited their worship, for example, with the “I am” statements Jesus made in the gospel of John: • “I am the bread of life” ( John 6:35). • “I am the light of the world” ( John 8:12; 9:5). • “I am the gate for the sheep” ( John 10:7, 9 niv). • “I am the good shepherd” ( John 10:14). • “I am the resurrection and the life” ( John 11:25). • “I am the way, the truth, and the life” ( John 14:6). • “I am the true vine” (15:1, 5). Later, the New Testament books will explode additional truths about our Christ, telling us that He is the Alpha and the Omega (Revelation 1:8), the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), the chief cornerstone of the household of God (Ephesians 2:20), the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22), the very Word of God (Revelation 19:13), and the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16). Again, these are more than name tags on the lapel of His robe. These are powerful revelations of His character that empower our worship and prayers.

Samuel Chadwick wrote, “To pray in the Name of Christ is to pray as one who is at one with Christ, whose mind is the mind of Christ, whose desires are the desires of Christ, and whose purpose is one with that of Christ.” Chadwick further clarified, “Prayers offered in the Name of Christ are scrutinized and sanctified by His nature, His purpose, and His will. Prayer is endorsed by the Name when it is in harmony with the character, mind, desire, and purpose of the Name.”

In his excellent book The God Who Hears, W. Bingham Hunter summarizes the New Testament teaching about praying in Jesus’ name with these four truths: • It seeks the glory of God. • Its foundation is the death, resurrection, and intercession of Jesus. • It is offered by Jesus’ obedient disciples. (Hunter points out that praying in Jesus’ name is virtually synonymous with obedience to Jesus.) • It asks what Jesus himself would pray for.

Frustration comes from bombarding heaven with our own ideas of what God should do to accomplish our will in heaven. Fulfillment comes from knowing that His will is being implemented in our lives.

People talk as if prayer is the way we get God to give us what we want. Those who think this way seek prayer promises, techniques, locations, mediators, and other methods they believe will influence God or place Him under obligation. But Scripture points in virtually the opposite direction, indicating prayer, communication with the living God, as a means He uses to give us what He knows we need. – W. BINGHAM HUNTER

When anyone is in the presence of something very powerful and experience, it is difficult to remain the unusual to their normal experience, it is difficult to remain the same.

Four common and essential responses are: a believing faith, authentic confession, conformity to His will, and empowerment for spiritual warfare.

Worship-based prayer is a powerful spark that produces a response of faith. When we begin our prayers with a passionate pursuit of the character of God, we are gripped with the reality that “He is” and are soon reminded that “He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Again, notice the focus on “seeking Him,” not just trying to solicit His help or provision. This is an emphasis on His face and a key to faith.

We are familiar with Romans 10:17, where it says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Scripture-fed, Spirit-led, worship-based prayer is the foundation that fills our minds with the truth of God’s Word and great thoughts about God.

Confession means “agreeing with God” about our sin and failure to align with His person, purpose, and plan.

Lasting Restoration – One of the many ways I have seen this truth on dramatic display is at prayer summits. These multi-day “worship fests” are marked by spontaneous Scripture reading, singing, and heartfelt response, bringing people into an encounter with the living Christ that is incredibly intimate and moving. The more the truth of the Scriptures is read, heard, cherished, and applied–the more deeply the Spirit begins to expose needs, habitual sin, and broken relationships.

A. W. Tozer described this reality: “The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.”

Our Lord and Master has a will. It is the specific and intimate expression of His heart. His Word is His will. The application is revealed by His Spirit. Our requests that have not been surrendered to His Word and Spirit in intimate pursuit may simply reflect our will, not His.

John Piper describes it well: “The number one reason why prayer malfunctions in the hands of believers is that they try to turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom. Until you believe that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for. Prayer is for the accomplishment of a wartime mission.”

I may be naïve compared to the warfare experts, but I have discovered that a life of passionate worship–one that delights in biblical truth about God’s character, seeks the empowerment of the Spirit for application and articulation, then surrenders in every way as prompted by this intimate encounter, is equipped to “fight the good fight” every day. Jesus, on the heels of forty days of prayer and fasting, wielded the truth of God’s Word in facing down the devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4–11). We, too, are equipped by His sufficiency to brandish the “sword of the Spirit,” which is the spoken word of God (Ephesians 6:17). We have His perfection and power living in us. He has given us the victory in His finished work of redemption. As we abide in Him, with hearts fully responsive to His intimate revelation of truth and insight, we overcome temptation and are delivered from evil.

In a similar spirit, some today repeat the Lord’s Prayer verbatim as some kind of magical charm. Jesus’ intention was not that we simply recite this prayer to manipulate some blessing. It is not a celestial secret password to opening the treasuries of eternity.

Guilt–the belief that if I do not pray, I will not be an acceptable Christian.

Approval–the belief that if I do pray, I will be an acceptable Christian in the eyes of others.

Church growth–the belief that prayer can be a useful tool to meet my tangible ministry goals.

Revival – the belief that God will bring revival if I will just “work Him” enough through prayer.

So we pray because God is worthy. But there is a second side to the motivational coin: I am needy. As I said earlier, prayerlessness is our declaration of independence from God. The heart of real prayer is, “Lord, I need you. I cannot do it on my own. I must seek you today.”

I heard a speaker say once, “You can tell someone how to do something and they may keep it up for awhile. But if you show them why they are doing it–it will take a brick wall to stop them.”

So as we prepare to clearly understand and apply a pattern that can enliven our prayer life and give us a biblical, balanced approach to prayer, let’s review a quick list of “pray this, not that” principles: • Pray to seek God’s f ace, NOT just His hand. • Pray with your heart fixed on God’s glory, NOT just for personal satisfaction. • Pray from the treasury of God’s Word, NOT from a list of your own ideas. • Pray according to the Spirit’s instruction, NOT only from human reason. • Pray with a heart completely surrendered to His will, NOT with a hurried personal agenda. • Pray in anticipation of living triumphantly in the war zone, NOT in satisfaction with your comfort zone. • Pray that God would change you, NOT simply change things.

Prayer is not asking God to do my will. It is bringing myself into conformity with His will. It is asking Him to do His will and to give me the grace to enjoy it. – JOHN MACARTHUR

The Lord’s Prayer is the ultimate pattern of prayer Jesus gave to His disciples. He repeated it twice in the gospels. The first delivery (Matthew 6) occurred near Galilee before a large crowd in the context of an extended sermon. His second iteration (Luke 11) occurred near Jerusalem after the disciples observed Him in prayer. He repeated this specific pattern after they made a request to learn how to pray.

In keeping with Jesus’ instructions, prayer begins with the character of God as we take time to focus our entire being on the wonders of who God is.

If our prayers are not focused on God, we are guilty of idolatry, as we are putting someone (or something) else in God’s place.”4

A. W. Tozer said it famously: “What comes to mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us . . . and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.”

This response to God’s character in prayer involves yielding to the control of the Holy Spirit and recommitting ourselves to God’s kingdom purposes.

Scottish writer Robert Law said, “Prayer is a mighty instrument, not for getting man’s will done in heaven, but for getting God’s will done on earth.”

I often say that we do not really know what to ask for until we have worshiped well and surrendered completely.

As our prayer continues, the outward stroke reminds us of the spiritual contest before us and, more important, reassures us of the spiritual resources within us. We know the time comes when we must get off our knees and reenter the warfare zone. We must be battle ready.

I often say the comfort zone is the danger zone. As we come to the concluding moments of a prayer time, we not only anticipate but also embrace the responsibility to “fight the good fight.” We are called to be praying menaces to the devil. Prayer is not an escape from the battles of life but a great equipping to fight them in supernatural power. The very fact that we are seeking God’s face and engaging in life-giving prayer alerts the enemy to our increased threat to his dominion. When we pray, we pick a fight with the devil at a completely new level. Yet this is why we are on earth–not to cruise along on a luxury liner until Jesus comes, but to stay actively engaged in our “search-and-rescue mission” in the midst of the global spiritual battle for the hearts and minds of people.

At the beginning of our Christian life we are full of requests to God. But then we find that God wants to get us into relationship with Himself – to get us in touch with His purposes. – OSWALD CHAMBERS

I like to call it Christianity in its purest form, as there are no celebrity speakers, music groups, bulletins, or agendas. In fact, for me this is one of the most beautiful demonstrations of the sufficiency of the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God in active and practical ministry. My faith in God’s desire and power to lead us into life-changing, Christ-exalting prayer has grown immensely over the years.

So let’s see how we can make this approach very practical. Again, we always begin with the Scriptures, and then I use four key questions to bring focus and stimulate specific prayers. I call these the who, how, what, and where questions of practicing this pattern. • Who is God? (reverence) • How should I respond? (response) • What do I pray about? (requests) • Where do I go from here? (readiness)

Individual + Community = Transformation We know that God wants our prayers to be transformational. If you were to ask, “Which is more important, private prayer or corporate prayer?” My answer would always be “yes”! It is like asking which leg is more crucial to walking–the right or the left?

It says, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” You could not learn the apostles’ doctrine by downloading a message to your iPod! You had to be gathered in community. The same was obviously true of fellowship and the breaking of bread. And how did they learn to pray? Together.

The church was birthed in a ten-day prayer meeting (Acts 1:14; 2:1). They coped with crisis and persecution together, on their knees (Acts 4:24–31). As the church grew, the apostles refused to become embroiled in administrative problems because of their resolute desire to model prayer in their leadership team (Acts 6:4). Through united prayer, they trusted God for miraculous divine interventions in times of extreme trouble (Acts 12:5–12). They received ministry direction through intense seasons of worshipful prayer (Acts 13:1–2).

What a contrast to our individualized culture. Most of us were taught prayer is something we do almost exclusively on our own in a closet somewhere. In reality, early Christians learned to pray largely by praying together.

In our Western culture, we have come to believe that it is more important to pray alone than with others. This is a symptom of our basic view of society. In his book The Connecting Church, Randy Frazee describes our culture of individualism. He explains that we are no longer born into a culture of community but a “way of life that makes the individual supreme or sovereign over everything.”2 Frazee documents this as a problem especially for those born after World War II . He laments the impact on the church by observing that we have “all too often mirrored the culture by making Christianity an individual sport.”

Therefore, if I were the devil, I would use my best deceptive tools to keep Christians from praying in transforming ways–and especially to keep them from praying together. I would keep them busy and isolated from one another. I would do everything possible to keep them distracted and disinterested in biblical, balanced, revival-style prayer gatherings. To accomplish this, I would do the following: Fuel the spirit of rugged individualism. By keeping Christians independent of each other, I would keep them independent from God. I would keep them frustrated in their personal prayer lives by preventing them from learning to pray by praying together. Dig ruts of boring prayer. When they did try to pray together, I would make sure the prayer meetings were based more on human needs than on God’s power. I would do everything possible to encourage boredom and gossip in these gatherings so that most people would stay away from these passionless “prayer” times. Delight in theological orthodoxy without spiritual passion. I would know how effective it is to get Bible-loving Christians to delight in theological correctness without spiritual intimacy. It worked very well in Ephesus (see Revelation 2:1–7), a once-great church that fell out of love with Jesus, even though they had great theology and teaching. I would let them be content with good sermons and grand theological ideas, as long as they stayed off their knees in trying to make it real in their hearts. Encourage idle preaching on prayer. I would know that sermons on prayer frequently fall on deaf ears, especially when the leaders do not model prayer. I would keep pastors content with talking about inspiring prayer ideas as long as they did not actually lead their people into extraordinary gatherings of prayer. I would know that prayer information without prayer action anesthetizes Christians from spiritual reality. Promote “success” in the ministry. Crazy as it sounds, I might even promote church growth as a replacement for real revival. I would encourage an interest in numbers, activities, strategies, and events. This would keep them away from brokenness, repentance, and passion for God’s transforming presence. This would distract them from a real pursuit of the awakenings that have undermined my nefarious efforts.

As long as Christians were sincere but isolated, active but powerless, entertained but shallow, I would win.

If Jesus answered all of your prayers from the last thirty days, would anything change in THE world or just YOUR world? – JOHN W. BRYSON

We need an Acts 6 revival. Revival is not a week of evangelistic meetings or a televised healing crusade. It is a period of unusual blessing when God brings a supernatural re-enlivening to His people. Dr. A. T. Pierson, pastor and missionary leader from the 1800s, observed: “There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.”2 It is broadly believed that whenever God wanted to bring a great work of revival, He always began by sending His people to their knees.

Ultimately, the goal is not only that you experience transformation or that your circle of friends feels the change or even that your church becomes spiritually reawakened. If these realities are authentic, it will spill into the community and beyond in powerful, Christ-exalting fashion.

Honestly, I find myself wondering if this is really the Lord’s best plan for reviving His church. In the rush of getting God to show up at another revival event, I wonder if we might not need to slow down, tone down, and get down to the humble, quiet, grassroots spiritual transformation that revivals are made of in intimacy and obscurity.

The vision for organic revival that moves my heart today looks like this: “Pastor-led, local church-oriented movements of Christ-exalting, worship-based prayer–leading to a full-scale revival, supernatural evangelism, and cultural transformation.”

Change Starts Now You can be a vital part of this compelling and essential vision. Ultimately, this kind of revival starts with my heart, my home, my church, and my community. If you pray that for me–and I pray that for you–and we act in faith to seek His face, something organic and glorious might just occur. It is worth dreaming about, worth seeking after, and worth living for.

My friend Byron Paulus says, “The biggest billboard for revival is a changed life.” That is the beautiful outcome of transforming prayer.

Related Images:

What if Jesus was Serious About the Church

What If Jesus Was Serious about the Church?: A Visual Guide to Becoming the Community Jesus Intended, Skye Jethani (this is a must-read book, please support the author by purchasing his book) Below you will read some of the highlights from my reading through the book.

Few doubt the dominance and effectiveness of corporations. For that reason, over the last fifty years, churches—both large and small—have increasingly copied the values and strategies of corporations as well.

Most pastors now stay inside church facilities all week managing programs, and ministry happens when people come to them.

Success is measured by the growth of the institution itself, not how it benefits a community or even its industry. Starbucks doesn’t just want you to drink coffee;

This emphasis on institutional church growth has even changed our language. Earlier generations spoke about Christians and non-Christians, or believers and nonbelievers. But in the era of the church-as-corporation, we now talk about the churched and the unchurched. These invented words reveal a shift in our missional goal. It’s no longer to connect a person with Christ; we want them connected to our ministry.

“In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centered on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.”

What we’re seeing in the church today—pastoral burnout and immorality, abuse and cover-ups, financial impropriety, toxic leadership cultures, and the elevation of effectiveness over faithfulness—matches what we’ve come to expect from giant businesses. It also explains why the age of the corporate church has not only added churched and unchurched to our Christian vocabulary, it has also given us a new word— dechurched. Some church members now feel more like replaceable cogs in a ministry machine rather than essential members of the body of Christ.

Most, however, express a frustration with the corporate machinery of the church—the institutional upkeep, systems, programs, and a general fatigue over the dehumanizing cultures they foster. As one exhausted middle-aged woman said to me, “Is this really what Jesus intended the church to be?”

They’re not leaving the church to renounce their faith, but to preserve it. They worry that prolonged exposure to the toxicity within their church structure will sour their view of Christianity itself.

“I became a pastor,” one told me, “because I honestly believed the local church is the hope of the world. But now I’m not so sure.” Explaining his exhaustion and fatigue, he continued, “It breaks my heart to admit this, but when I meet non-Christians in my community, I honestly think their lives will be worse, not better, if they come to my church.”

They want to know if the church must be an exhausting corporation, or if it can be a “fellowship of men and women centered on the living Christ” as it was in the beginning.

Therefore, while it’s wrong to read the modern idea of the church as a corporation back into Scripture, we can apply to our modern setting the ancient biblical idea of the church as a family.

Recent surveys have found that young people are experiencing an epidemic of loneliness. Despite the endless entertainment and engagement accessible to them via screens and social media, they desperately long for real, incarnate community.

A church that embraces the value of being a spiritual family, more than anything else, is equipped to meet this generation’s relational and spiritual thirst.

Which is the right definition? That’s not really the best question. Depending on the context, any one of these four definitions may be appropriate. The better question to ask is: How did the writers of the New Testament define the church?

And while the early Christians did meet weekly for prayer, teaching, and encouragement, these events were not called “church” but rather were understood to be gatherings of the church.

It is very possible to dedicate your time, treasure, and talents to an institution called a “church” but never know the mutual love, joy, hope, and support that comes when united with God’s people.

In our highly systems-oriented, institutional age we need the discernment to recognize the difference between serving the church, serving the church through an institution, and merely serving an institution.

Businesses recruit, hire, promote, fire, and replace in order to assemble the best team. And while many churches also apply these marketplace strategies in an effort to get the right people on the bus, they often forget one critical fact—it’s not their bus. The bus belongs to Jesus, and He decides who is on it even if we think they’re not the “right people.”

To make matters worse, they didn’t even share the same values, background, or politics with one another. They had no earthly reason to be together.

No one thought a tax collector and a Zealot belonged on the same bus.

Unity is not something we find through a common interest, a mutual ethnic identity, a shared political ideology, or even a joint mission. It only comes from abiding in the same Lord. Left to ourselves, we would never associate with people we do not like.

If your church is a homogeneous group who all share the same vision of society, politics, and culture, and if you chafe at the thought that you may be worshiping alongside someone who voted for a candidate you despise, or if anger arises when you discover a leader in your church prioritizes issues differently than you do—it’s a pretty good indication that you haven’t gotten onto Jesus’ bus. Instead, you may have invited Him onto yours.

Our culture champions the independent spirit of the explorer, the cowboy, the pioneer, and the entrepreneur. So, it makes sense that in the religious realm, American culture would also emphasize the individual’s connection to God.

But a closer inspection of Scripture may reveal that the “me and God” framework is one we’ve imposed on the text rather than one we’ve learned from the text.

It’s because Daniel recognized a facet of relating to God that we often overlook. While we have a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” we also have a collective relationship with Him. It’s not just “me and God,” it’s also “us and God.”

THE CHURCH IS CALLED to courageously and prophetically overcome the divisions of the world, but all too often it merely reflects and reinforces them.

In a world where our culture is increasingly diverse, and many pastors are talking about diversity, it appears most people are happy where they are—and with whom they are.”

But even in more diverse communities, most congregations remain homogeneous, and this is not fueled by overt or even subconscious racism. Instead, it’s driven by pragmatism. It’s far easier to lead, manage, and operate a single-culture church where there is broad agreement about music styles, program structures, leadership, and values, and historically churches have grown faster and larger when they are homogeneous. Birds of a feather, the data says, like to fellowship together.

Just as the pandemic taught us of the difference between school (an institution) and education (the institution’s purpose), we need to have a similar awakening about the church.

The church has a vital and undeniable role to play in our spiritual formation—one that too many Christians ignore. At the same time, the institutional church cannot be the only source for our development as Christians and it cannot encompass the entirety of our life with God.

Likewise, the institutional church is an incredible gift, but we must remember that it is a means to an end. The institution does not exist for itself.

Therefore, when we encounter the word “you” in these writings it is most often plural, but the English reader has no way of knowing that apart from the wider context and an awareness of the apostle’s original audience. Simply put, in most cases, the apostles are not speaking to me, but to us

Our minds are simply not trained to think collectively, so we tend to confine and individualize the text.

What if I am a fool following the imaginary calling of a nonexistent God? What frightens me most isn’t facing hardship or pain, but the possibility that my pain has no purpose. What if everything really is meaningless?

Some think that to believe in God means no longer struggling with these deep questions of meaning, that somehow the true Christian never knows doubt. That is untrue. Being a Christian simply means we’ve shifted the focus of our struggle. As Eugene Peterson said, “Believers argue with God; skeptics argue with each other.”

Jacob’s story epitomizes the life of faith. God’s people trust Him, but it’s often a struggle because we are flawed, fearful creatures. A church—being an assembly of believers—is simply a community that wrestles with God together. It’s where we struggle openly rather than privately, and where questions are asked and sometimes answered. But when no answer is found, the church is also where we find comfort, support, and encouragement.

There is no question we are a deeply divided society, and the divisions are more than political. With the proliferation of social media and algorithms that severely narrow our vision of the world, we seem to occupy completely different realities.

With the aid of technology, divisions today don’t merely separate us, they dehumanize us.

Rather than reflecting the divisions of society, the church is called to reflect the unity of God’s kingdom.

We cannot implore our Lord to both bless and curse our opponent. In prayer, goodwill grows to eclipse malice in the heart of the Christian toward her enemy.

Justin Martyr understood that praying for our enemies is the first step in changing how we see them. And once we see them differently, they might just come to see us differently as well.

That means the church’s greatest weapon against evil isn’t how we vote but how we pray.

Anger is so visceral, and far more accessible for most of us than empathy or reason, that it’s the emotion we usually experience first when challenged. When we feel out of control, fearful, or even mildly uncomfortable, anger appears almost instantaneously. And this anger isn’t generalized—it’s focused on whatever or whomever we perceive to be the cause of our struggle.

For this reason, anger has been elevated to a virtue in much of our culture. With it, we are able to define ourselves by who we stand against, rather than the ideals we stand for. In a twisted way, we have become dependent on our enemies.

Imagine the shock, therefore, when a new community emerged where Jews and Gentiles worshiped together, shared a table, and called one another “brothers and sisters.” It was scandalous and even shameful.

The early church was not driven by anger, nor were Jesus’ followers defined by their enemies. Instead, they were compelled by God’s love and defined by the cross where Jesus willingly gave up His life to save His enemies.

And yet, across every generation, every ethnicity, every economic and denominational barrier, the simple elements of the bread and the cup have endured as marks of Christ’s people.

Sharing a table is how we form bonds and establish a common identity. It’s why every culture uses a meal to celebrate marriages. Two families share a meal to acknowledge their new bond as kin.

But for Christians who recognize the formative power of the table, it can be used by God to shape their lives and community in unimaginably beautiful ways.

Being a symbol always makes something more important and never less. The same is true for Christ’s table.

In each case, the covenant symbol was directly related to the nature of the covenant itself, and each symbol pointed to something powerful about God’s relationship with His people.

A shared meal is a powerful reminder that what Jesus accomplished on the cross wasn’t a sacrifice merely to redeem me, but the way God has reconciled a people to Himself.

Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg says it this way: “We have in these meals the central symbolic action of Jesus in which his message of the nearness of God’s reign and its salvation is focused and vividly depicted… . Everything that separates from God is removed in the table fellowship that Jesus practiced.”9 In other words, the essence of Jesus’ message was manifested in His meals.

But for Jesus, this was more than a message, and the table was more than a sermon illustration. It was the pattern and practice of His life.

Customer focus groups showed its symbolism was a barrier to newcomers, and the logistics of serving ten thousand or more attendees each weekend proved too cumbersome. Ironically, for attendees of some churches, the central component of Jesus’ ministry is now seen as an impediment to theirs.

When Christians no longer form these bonds around the bread and cup, which represent Jesus’ sacrifice, we shouldn’t be surprised when something else takes its place. According to Paul Louis Metzger, a professor of theology and culture, the coffee bar has replaced the Communion table in many churches, with unintended consequences.

As Metzger recognizes, “Both the coffee bar and Lord’s Table affirm community, but the kind of community they affirm differs significantly”

At the Lord’s Table, we are guests; we are each invited and welcomed by Christ. We do not choose who we share the meal with. We do not place an order. We do not customize our beverage. Instead, we all receive the same bread and drink from the same cup. At the Lord’s Table, we are all humble recipients of the same unmerited grace.

At the coffee bar, by contrast, we are in control. We review our options. We order what we want, when we want, and how we want. We decide whom to share a table with, and whom to avoid. The coffee bar is not designed to form us into Christians, but into consumers

The researchers called it the “Homogeneous Unit Principle.” What they intended as an observation, however, was made into a prescription for church growth by ambitious pastors. Ministry professionals took the data and said if you want your church to grow, avoid diversity. Of course, it was rarely presented that negatively.

There is no doubt the Homogeneous Unit Principle works, but a more important question rarely gets asked—is it right? Does it fit with the church we find in the New Testament?

But that’s not the church Jesus wanted. Instead, He called Jews and Gentiles to share one faith, one church, and one table. As a committed Jew, the apostle Peter struggled repeatedly with seeing Gentiles as his equals.

Like us, Peter wanted a comfortable church filled with the people he preferred. He wanted the Communion table to be occupied by people who shared his identity and his views.

Parker Palmer wrote: In true community we will not choose our companions, for our choices are so often limited by self-serving motives. Instead, our companions will be given to us by grace. Often they will be persons who will upset our settled view of self and world. In fact, we might define true community as that place where the person you least want to live with lives

In the ancient world, remembrance was not merely the mental recollection of past events. Rather, it meant recalling a past event so that the power of that event may enter the present. For Jesus and His disciples, the redemptive work of God was not something to reminisce about. It was not just a story to be mentally recalled. The redemption of God, and His power to deliver His people, was continuing right into the present.

The meal was not just about remembering what God had done in the past—Jesus was inviting that saving power into the present.

The table was to be more than an edible history lesson.

The table is a time machine through which God’s saving power from the past is transported into the present.

What if it’s about experiencing His redemption today? What if, in remembering, we bring the salvation from the past into the present?

These words reveal that Jesus was not just focused on God’s past faithfulness or even His present work of redemption through the cross. He was also looking to the future—the fulfillment of the kingdom of God.

When we come to the table as Jesus did, we will discover it is where the past, present, and future converge into a single point of grace.

Rather than the open-armed Jesus of the Gospels who welcomed sinners to His dinner table, too many of us imagine Jesus to be an intimidating maître d’ ensuring only the right people get a seat and the unworthy are judged for even trying.

Paul’s primary concern with the Lord’s Table was unity, not purity. Rather than gathering at the table as a sign of their oneness in Christ, the Corinthians were using the table to reinforce social divisions—particularly the divide in their culture between rich and poor.

This is why Paul was so upset. Through their disunity, they were betraying the meaning of the meal. They were mocking the sacrifice of Christ, which had made them one family.

Are we coming as one people united in Christ or as those still divided by the categories of our society? And while self-examination is always beneficial, here Paul is asking us to examine whether we are estranged from a sister or brother, and to heal that division before coming to the table.

To use his words, communities that make the table about me rather than about us are guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.

To share the same table, partake of the same bread, and drink from the same cup is a bold declaration of our equality before God. The Lord’s Table, when faithfully and biblically practiced, shatters the heresy of white supremacy.

And churches that are determined to maintain or ignore the unjust systems of the world must still contend with the revolutionary implications of the Lord’s Table.

As a result, sharing the bread and cup became a way for Christians to express gratitude for their redemption from darkness, as well as a way to celebrate their Lord’s triumph over the world. That’s why early Christians didn’t merely “take Communion.” Instead, they “celebrated the Eucharist.”

The Pharisees saw a rabbi defiling Himself among sinners who were the enemies of God, but with His response, Jesus was trying to open their eyes to see something more. Not a rabbi among sinners, but a doctor healing the sick. Somehow, by simply sharing a table with Matthew and his ungodly friends, Jesus was bringing healing.

Our acceptability is always conditional, and every human soul carries the wounds of rejection from not meeting someone’s standard.

Rejection always leaves a wound—not a visible one, but a cut in our souls whose scar we may carry for the remainder of our lives. It’s at Christ’s table, as we gather to remember His wounds, that we discover ours are welcomed as well.

Sometimes the bread and cup may become so important to a community that they may become idols. The table itself can become an object of worship replacing the One who calls us to it.

As a result, some modern descendants of these traditions have defined the table as an important ordinance of the church, but not a sacrament of God’s grace and presence. Others, however, have gone much further and marginalized the table or abandoned it altogether.

We crave a visible, sensory encounter with God and if the table no longer fulfills this function in the church, we will find something else.

The awe and reverence some churches exhibit toward the bread and cup are instead projected upon the pastor to the point that in some congregations the line between worshiping Christ and worshiping the pastor becomes blurred.

When people view their pastor sacramentally—as their link to Christ and His grace—very often their faith in God Himself is shattered when the pastor is revealed to be a fraud or even just a fallible human being.

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT from a church service? What have you been taught to expect? I often hear church leaders make bold promises about what will happen during their gatherings on Sunday morning.

But there is a significant difference between acknowledging these things could happen and promising they will happen. The former is a humble recognition of God’s power and mystery. The latter is a prideful and downright pagan attempt to control God for our purposes.

I wonder if the promises of some church leaders and our inflated expectations are partly responsible for the disappointment so many have with the church today.

Both church leaders and laity have come to believe these external experiences are the primary vehicle for encountering God and growing in faith.

Rather than emphasize external elements, like mountains, Jesus said true worship is an inner posture of Spirit and truth.

The transformation Moses experienced, while real, was only temporary.

It is an ever-increasing change, and this power is not conducted through a sermon, or song, or service. It comes from the Spirit. In other words, for those who belong to the new covenant in Christ, God and His transforming glory are no longer found through external events, but through internal communion.

This truth should profoundly change our expectations for our church gatherings. It means we don’t find communion with God by attending a worship event. Instead, we express our communion with God by attending a worship event.

We live in an age of Christian pragmatism. The influence of business and industry has seeped into the church and convinced many that the church ought to adopt the methods and metrics of the marketplace. Likewise, in many places, the Sunday worship gathering is designed with customer feedback in mind. How many came? Did they like the music? Was the sermon helpful enough? How much did they give? Of course, it’s not just church leaders who are constrained by pragmatism. Many church members approach worship with a similar calculation. Did I receive enough from the church to justify giving up my Sunday morning?

Alec Guinness had it right—if we’ve encountered the holy, mysterious, and infinitely loving God then there will be things about our communion with Him that defy usefulness and that are utterly nonsensical. This is true of love even on a human level.

And if our primary goal for Sunday worship is self-improvement or institutional growth, then we should admit we aren’t really there to worship God at all, but to use Him. And if our worship is always driven by pragmatism, let’s confess that it isn’t really worship. It is witchcraft.

Increasingly, I’m hearing Christians question the value of their church’s Sunday gathering, and the move to online streaming services during the pandemic only accelerated the discontent. I wonder if earlier generations were equally frustrated with church gatherings but carried a greater sense of duty to persevere.

Regardless of the cause, if we are serious about our faith but struggling with attending church, then at some point we must wrestle with what Scripture says about it.

number of reasons for gathering—to offer our worship to God, to learn sound doctrine from our teachers, to be equipped for our mission as Christ’s disciples. But he lists none of these. Instead, the author of Hebrews offers a more basic, human, and pastoral reason. We are to meet regularly to encourage “one another.”

The kind of faith-building encouragement commanded in Hebrews, however, is personal, relational, and reciprocal. It’s not accomplished by passively sitting in a theater seat watching a performance.

He promises to be with us, just as we are with each other. This means we may encounter Him just as easily, and maybe more so, in a small gathering than in a large one.

It’s important to see that Jesus did not condemn John for doubting.

Rather than condemning John’s doubts, Jesus responded by encouraging his faith. He said to John’s friends, “Go and tell John what you have seen” (see Luke 7:18–23). Jesus knew that in Herod’s dungeon John’s vision was severely limited. He saw only darkness, evil, and injustice.

Sometimes our circumstances make us blind to God and we become vulnerable to doubts and fears. In such times we need our friends, we need our community, we need the church.

That is what it means for the church to gather and encourage one another.

On any given Sunday, those of us with vision are to become the eyes of those who are blind, knowing the next week we may be in the dungeon needing to borrow the eyes of our brother on the mountaintop.

MANY HAVE COME TO SEE the church primarily as an event rather than as a community. It is something they attend rather than something they are

What all of these experiences share in common is the general passivity of the audience. They gather to be entertained, informed, or amused by the performers on the stage or the field.

Sally Morganthaler writes: We are not producing worshipers in this country. Rather, we are producing a generation of spectators, religious onlookers lacking, in many cases, any memory of a true encounter with God, deprived of both the tangible sense of God’s presence and the supernatural relationship their inmost spirits crave

Remember, Jesus did not say where two or three are gathered I will stand before them. He said, “I will be in the midst of them.” The presence of God is revealed in the relationships between His people, not on a stage in front of them.

What we find in the New Testament, however, is that anyone can preach. For example, Jesus sent His disciples out into the villages of Judea to “preach” the kingdom of God when they were still confused about the most basic facts.

In most of our churches, these men wouldn’t be allowed near a Sunday school class let alone a pulpit. So why did Jesus command them to “preach the kingdom”

The problem is that we confuse teaching with preaching. Teaching requires proficiency with a set of knowledge; it requires comprehension. Jesus doesn’t tell His disciples to “teach” until after His resurrection when they finally understood his identity and mission. Preaching, on the other hand, simply means “to proclaim” or “to announce.” Preaching requires one to have experienced what is being proclaimed, but it doesn’t mean you completely understand it.

Far too many of God’s people neglect this calling because we have incorrectly made it the domain of trained experts, and this has profoundly warped our church gatherings into a time when nearly everyone is silent and only one person—the one possessing the most knowledge—is permitted to speak.

But when only one person is expected to arrive to the gathering with something to share, what are we communicating about the value of everyone else?

Jesus was raised to life on a Sunday because His resurrection was the beginning of the new creation. Easter was the start of God “making all things new” in Christ.

We worship on Sunday not merely to acknowledge the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. We worship on Sunday not simply to celebrate our own redemption and access to eternal life through the cross and empty tomb. We worship on Sunday because through Christ we have become a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), and we have become a people of the new creation.

Like the creation account in Genesis, which began but did not end on the first Sunday, God’s re-creation began on Easter Sunday and continues to unfold even now.

Sunday is about creation and new creation, and it captures the essence of God’s mission, and ours, to make all things new.

At its core, Sabbath is about freedom from bondage, not merely rest from activity. Once we see the link between Sabbath and slavery, Jesus’ controversial actions on the Sabbath also begin to make sense.

The religious elites were narrowly focused on the command to not work, but Jesus was focused on the reason for not working.

He understood that the Sabbath itself was a sign of freedom from bondage, and there was no real Sabbath rest for those still enslaved by disease. By healing, Jesus was fulfilling the meaning of the Sabbath, not violating it.

Therefore, Christians have commemorated the world’s freedom and our deliverance on Sunday—the day our slavery was ended. And the way we now practice Sabbath isn’t merely resting from work one day a week.

For the Christian, the Sabbath isn’t just a day of rest or worship; it’s a day for mission and justice.

Some churches, however, operate more like ground control by utilizing Sunday to recruit more people to do more work. The work is too important, church leaders say, and time is too limited. There’s no time for rest. There’s no time in our church service for silence. We can’t slow down to reflect or meditate—we have things to accomplish in these seventy-five minutes together. Goodness, in many of our churches there isn’t even time for prayer or Communion anymore. Rather than lifting our eyes to the horizon, some church gatherings are designed to keep our noses to the grindstone.

But we are not machines, and God has not redeemed us merely to put us to work.

In other words, Israel’s God did not need us. He does not need your service, offerings, praise, prayers, or your Sunday morning.

Because of our consumer mindset, we assume that worship must have a concrete outcome; some practical purpose that measurably benefits either us or God. In this formulation—which is the hallmark of paganism—worship is a means to an end; it is a transaction in which we offer to the deity what he needs (praise, prayers, sacrifices) and in response, we expect to receive what we need (blessing, protection, wealth, etc.).

That being said, his tweet perfectly captures a transactional understanding of worship. He offered God his praise 24/7, and in exchange he expected divine help catching footballs. Steve Johnson had kept his end of the deal but felt God had failed to uphold his. This is not Christianity. It is paganism. And it is not biblical worship. It’s an attempt to control God with offerings, sacrifices, and incantations.

Properly understood, true Christian worship is never transactional. God delights in our praises, but He does not need them.

What His disciples saw as wasteful, Jesus saw as beautiful. What they interpreted as selfish, Jesus received as worship. The woman had poured out her most precious possession at Jesus’ feet to honor Him. He understood her intent and therefore did not interpret her actions through a lens of practicality.

Real love sees the intrinsic value of that which it adores rather than its transactional value.

She saw Jesus’ intrinsic value, and He affirmed her for it. This is what we, like the first disciples, often miss about worship.

Unlike religions fueled by superstition or fear, true Christian faith does not worship God with a practical goal in mind. It is not transactional. It is not useful. Worship is an impractical and beautiful act of adoration that flows from a heart transfixed by the beauty of God.

Our consumer society has formed us to associate value with usefulness, and when something is no longer useful we do not hesitate to throw it away and acquire something else.

That’s why the church’s worship gatherings should be full of beauty, art, and all sorts of impractical things. They serve to counteract the utilitarian impulse of our culture and remind us that the most important things in the world—God and people—do not exist to be used but to be adored.

If the church’s worship communicates, directly or indirectly, that the Creator exists to be used, we shouldn’t be surprised to find an indifference among Christians toward people we have determined aren’t useful either.

We do that by learning to value what is not useful. We do that by cultivating beauty in our worship. Beauty is the prelude for justice, and justice is true worship.

Pragmatism had infected their worship just as injustice had infected the land. The two always go together. That is why God tells His people to honor the poor, set free the oppressed, and show dignity to those the world calls useless, and “then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am’” (Isa. 58:9).

The church’s impractical worship not only reveals God’s character to us and teaches us to value Him and others apart from their usefulness, but our worship also confronts the sinfulness of our world.

Worship, however, is the opposite of war. It is an act of creation rather than destruction, of order rather than chaos, and beauty rather than ugliness.

We are creating an oasis of beauty amid the dehumanizing ugliness of our world.

If we recall the strict structures of worship commanded in the Old Testament, David’s words appear shocking and even blasphemous—especially coming from Israel’s king.

All of these very precise, liturgical, and formal structures of worship were set up by the Lord Himself through Moses and outlined in the Torah, Israel’s Law. But in Psalm 51, David, Israel’s king, dismisses this entire, God-ordained system of sacrifices and rituals—not because the system itself was wrong, but because David understood it was always intended to express a deeper reality. He says God does not delight in these external performances and symbols, because what He really desires is our hearts.

David recognized that if we do not genuinely want God, no amount of singing or sacrifices will make our worship acceptable.

In modern societies, we tend to see God as a machine, and therefore we engage worship as a program or formula. As long as we provide the right inputs (sacrifices, prayers, rituals), then we believe we will get the right outputs (forgiveness, blessings, and euphoria).

What He desires is us. True worship is the expression of a relationship, not merely the performance of a ritual.

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING in a church? What binds a Christian community together? What is the irreducible, irreplaceable foundation upon which everything else depends?

In both letters, Paul is unambiguous—Jesus Christ Himself is the irreducible, irreplaceable foundation of the church. At first, this may not strike you as surprising, but upon closer inspection, it profoundly challenges many of our modern assumptions. Here’s why—many churches today have been deeply influenced by corporate business values.

If corporations have proven strategies for selling coffee and chicken sandwiches, why shouldn’t the church use them to sell Jesus Christ? One corporate value the church has been eager to adopt is the centrality of “the mission.”

Everyone wants to be “missional,” “mission-centric,” or “mission-driven” these days.

What is not ambiguous, however, is that what binds the true church together is not a task but a person

When the church copies their values, we can’t help but make our mission foundational as well, and in a subtle twist of idolatry, the work of Jesus comes to replace the person of Jesus in our lives and in our churches. In the process, we cease to be a true temple of God and instead become just another organization with a product to sell.

With this dire warning, Paul is speaking directly to those who are provoking divisions and factions among the Corinthian believers. Through their actions, they are scheming to dismantle the temple of God; to divide and destroy it. And those who destroy God’s temple, God will destroy. It’s the strongest warning Paul unleashes on the Corinthians anywhere in his letter.

Unity is essential to the mission of God in the world. When the world sees formerly divided people who used to be filled with hatred, envy, anger, and rage, transformed and united into a people of love, goodness, and kindness—they will believe. When the world sees people once divided by race, color, class, and tradition, now embracing one another as brothers and sisters—they will believe. But if church unity is lost, if the temple of God is divided, His mission will not be accomplished.

Therefore, those within the church who are causing divisions are actually working to undermine the very mission and purpose of God.

Simply put, the church is supposed to preview the new world God is creating, not preserve the one that is passing away.

Sadly, the church has often abandoned its calling to reflect God’s kingdom in order to reflect the kingdoms of this world. In doing so, it worsens and solidifies the divisions of society rather than heals them.

There may be churches today that are deliberately rejecting the call to reflect God’s kingdom and consciously bowing to the values of consumerism, nationalism, or some other idolatrous kingdom of this world. But I suspect the more common error today is the same one made by the Corinthians. We simply don’t slow down to examine our cultural values and habits and ask whether they are reinforcing the divisions of our society or healing them.

The problem is not that we hear God’s call for the church and disobey it, but rather that we are so immersed in the ways of our culture that we do not hear His call at all.

Society where the categories of rich/poor, male/female, slave/free, Jew/Gentile, black/white, young/old, native/immigrant, liberal/conservative, and every other social division or hostility are mended. And any church designed—intentionally or not—to reinforce the divisions of society rather than heal them has betrayed the call of Christ.

IN OUR INCREASINGLY DIVIDED CULTURE, there is one thing that Americans still share in common—we all like to be comfortable. Our uncontested desire for comfort, however, has a dark side. Too much comfort is not only harmful, it can be downright dangerous.

For decades, we have tried to make church gatherings a comfortable setting for both Christians and non-Christians to gather and hear Jesus’ message. From the cushioned theater seats with built-in cup holders to the spoon-fed, three-point sermon with fill-in-the-blank pre-written notes—the only challenge most of us face on Sunday morning is actually getting our families to church. Once through the door, however, we can relax and switch on the autopilot.

Require discomfort—the very thing many churches work hard to remove from their gatherings.

System two must be turned on, and the autopilot of system one turned off, in order to learn. The brain shifts gears from system one to system two when it is forced to work—when we are challenged, stretched, and made uncomfortable.

I’m certainly not opposed to clear sermons or a safe Sunday morning environment, but our current cultural obsession with comfort in the church may have unintended side effects that disrupt our mission rather than advance it. If our goal is simply assembling a crowd or increasing the membership of our institution, then comfort should be our highest value. But if our mission is to make disciples of Jesus who obey all that He commanded, then we need to rethink our dedication to comfort.

I’ve spoken with countless pastors who believe in the mission of “disciples who make disciples, who make disciples.” But it always provokes in me the same question: What is a disciple?

The goal of most MLMs isn’t merely to sell the products but to recruit more people under you to sell the products and receive a percentage of their revenues.

Some have identified this verse as Jesus’ marching orders for His church, and it’s often cited by church leaders as the biblical and theological justification for their goal of “making disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples.” The problem occurs when a church or ministry can’t actually define what a disciple is. At best they may define a disciple as someone who is plugged into the machinery of the ministry itself and therefore participating in its mission of making more disciples. But this is hardly a satisfying answer.

Are there broken things in this world over which the Creator does not grieve? When we say certain things “break God’s heart” we’re implying there is also a category of things beyond His concern.

And yet, that is how many churches function. We assume that God cares about redeeming souls but not bodies.

When the church narrowly defines “what breaks God’s heart,” it ends up producing narrow disciples who do not recognize the reign of Christ over every part of their lives and every atom of creation.

THE APOSTLE PAUL SAYS Jesus “emptied himself” when He took on flesh to dwell among us (Phil. 2:7). This means He willingly surrendered some of His divine powers and qualities, like omnipresence, in order to possess a physical body.

Technology, however, gives us the illusion of disembodiment and omnipresence. It allows us to escape the physical limitations of our bodies to transport ourselves elsewhere.

Thanks to the seemingly omnipotent corporations in Silicon Valley, I am no longer limited by time and space. I can transcend my body, my thoughts, and the irritating people in my physical presence. Our phones have become genies that grant us godlike powers, but what are we losing in the process?

The analog church of the past was slow. The gathering of actual bodies was messy and inefficient. The word was transmitted person to person, face to face. And care for souls required shepherds to be physically present with their sheep to listen, comfort, and pray. How old-fashioned.

The church can mass-produce disciples via YouTube, and tweets, and livestream its sermons to anonymous sheep anywhere in the world at any time. Dis-incarnate church is so much cleaner, more cost-effective, and massively more marketable.

Standing with that broken couple, I realized evil makes no distinction between us and our bodies, and neither can the church’s mission to overcome it. Jesus became fully human to redeem every part of us—mind, soul, and body. Any church that claims His name must do the same. Participating in the work of Jesus means accepting, and even embracing, our embodied limitations. It means assembling as physical creatures to care for one another as whole people, and not just as immaterial souls or online avatars.

effectiveness at the cost of our embodiedness. Christ’s mission for the church does not require us to be everywhere, do everything, and engage everyone. Instead, the mission happens when we are fully present with the broken people right where we are.

IN ORDER TO MEANINGFULLY PARTICIPATE in the church’s mission, many Christians assume they are required to dramatically change their circumstances. For example, for those who say the church’s mission is to “make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples,” the best, most devoted disciples of Jesus must be those who give their full energy to this work.

If His goal encompasses all things, then fully participating in Christ’s mission does not require us to change our circumstances.

Paul’s reluctance to remove believers from their existing relationships, vocations, and circumstances reveals how skewed our modern vision of the church, ministry, and mission has become. We assume fulfilling Christ’s call means telling people to abandon their ordinary lives and activities to do more in the church, and we often define disciples as those who forsake earthly things to focus on heavenly things. But that’s exactly backward. For Christ to rule over all things means welcoming the presence of heaven into the earthly things we are already doing.

Following Jesus doesn’t mean becoming a Jewish rabbi. It doesn’t mean becoming an itinerant preacher. It doesn’t mean becoming a first-century carpenter. And it certainly doesn’t mean doing more church work. Being a disciple who participates in God’s mission means living your life, doing your work, engaging your relationships, and inhabiting your community with Christ and in a manner that manifests His rule right where you are.

By leaving his fishing business and following Jesus, Peter was declaring, “From now on I am linking my identity with rabbi Jesus. From now on, what the world thinks of Him is what they’ll think of me.”

If my Master takes the lowest, most shameful position in society, Peter must have thought, what does that say about me? At that moment Jesus wasn’t just humiliating Himself, He was humiliating Peter. He was deconstructing Peter’s pride, destroying his honor, and exposing Peterʼs unholy ambition.

Applying John 13 isn’t about church leaders accepting menial tasks, but about church leaders accepting ridicule and embarrassment, about not being respected in society, and not needing the affirmation of their peers. It’s having their ambitions exposed and extinguished.

By washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus was not showing us a more effective way to lead others. He was showing us what it really means to die to ourselves.

Jesus affirmed godly authority, even as He denounced corrupt religious leaders. Likewise, throughout his letters to the churches, the apostle Paul repeatedly calls on believers to honor their leaders.

The ancient Near East was an honor-based society where respect and deference to elders and leaders was largely unquestioned. In his command to honor leaders, Paul was simply asking Christians to do what their culture already affirmed.

We’ve seen so many hurt by their leadership and burdened by the dehumanizing systems they’ve overseen, often for personal gain. As a result, rather than affirming or honoring those who seek authority in the church, my instinct is to question their motives for wanting it in the first place.

It makes perfect sense, therefore, for Paul to draw from his Jewish heritage and reapply the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and mother” (Ex. 20:12), to the new family of God redeemed by Christ. Within the household of faith, we are to honor our leaders as our spiritual mothers and fathers.

Both our physical and spiritual lives are dependent on others.

The fifth commandment to honor our parents, and the instruction to honor church leaders, reminds us of our frailty and contingency—that we cannot obtain the most valuable things in the world without the help of others. These commands confront and unmake our illusion of autonomy and independence.

I desperately need others to lead me closer to Christ. The call to honor church leaders, therefore, isn’t about inflating their pride, but diminishing my own.

I’ve visited some churches where I’ve wondered who is really the object of devotion—Jesus Christ or the pastor?

Ever since Mount Sinai, it has been the tendency of God’s people to replace our invisible Lord with a visible idol. Today, we are not tempted to worship a golden calf, but a pastor with a golden tongue. Some Christians simply cannot imagine their faith without their favorite leaders standing in the gap between themselves and Christ.

With sad predictability, we hear reports of pastors tumbling from their pedestals. These stories are often accompanied by quotes from stunned church members naively unaware of how the pedestals they constructed contributed to their pastor’s inevitable fall.

To be fair, not every pastor who falls slipped off their pedestals; some are pushed. If we have foolishly relied on them as our primary connection with God, then when our leaders disappoint us, and they all will, we are more likely to turn on them just as the crowd in Lystra turned on Paul and Barnabas.

Too many of us grant a leader authority in our lives and over our faith based on popularity alone, rather than through the personal knowledge gained by living in proximity with a leader where true character can be observed.

It’s personal knowledge of the other’s character that establishes the trust necessary for a healthy relationship. This is what Jesus meant when He told His disciples that false teachers would be known by their fruit (Matt. 7:15–

When authority cannot be granted on the basis of proximity, however, our celebrity-obsessed culture will grant it on the basis of popularity alone. In these cases, we do not allow a leader authority based on a track record of faithfulness—because we don’t actually know the person—but, instead, authority is granted based on the magnitude of the person’s platform.

Our obsession with dynamic, effective celebrity pastors leads to a shallow authority based on the size of their platform rather than the gravity of their soul.

The belief that a church must have a compelling vision is now so accepted and ubiquitous in American Christianity that it’s questioned less than most matters of doctrine or theology.

Contemporary church leaders have interpreted this verse to mean that a community must have a shared sense of purpose, a common goal to draw people and align them.

Our culture uses the word vision to mean an inspiring idea employed by a leader to motivate others to action. However, you won’t find that definition of vision in the Bible. Better translations of Proverbs 29:18, for example, use the word revelation or the phrase prophetic vision

Instead, when the writers of the Bible spoke about visions, they meant a supernatural form of communication received by a prophet or apostle in a dream.

With this understanding, we can see that Proverbs 29:18 isn’t saying anything about effective leadership or goals at all. Instead, the verse is reminding us that without God’s words and self-revelation His people would perish.

Simply put, vision is about God revealing Himself to His people, it’s not about a leader motivating people to accomplish a goal.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who opposed the Nazis, recognized the danger of adopting the world’s understanding of vision. He wrote: God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. … He acts as if he is the creator of Christian community, as if his dream binds men together

Rather than a leader and his vision, the church is to be bound together by Christ. He alone is what unites the church, and any leader seeking to replace Christ with themselves or their vision is not serving the church. They are hijacking it.

Simply put, the whole point of Jesus’ mission—His birth, life, death, and resurrection—was so He could rule over everything. Grasping the cosmic scale of Jesus’ mission is critical if we are to understand what Paul says about the gifts He has given to the church.

We define ministry as church work, and therefore we assume that Jesus has given leaders to the church in order to equip others to serve within the church as well. But that is not what Paul meant.

Paul’s concern is much, much wider. He’s asking, How does Jesus expand His rule over everything? His answer: By giving the church leaders, filled with His power, to equip His people to love and serve Him everywhere. Not just inside a church building.

Ultimately it’s not about how many people attend to hear a sermon on Sunday, or even how many volunteers are engaged in the church’s programs. Instead, it’s about whether people are deepening their life with God and manifesting Christ’s kingdom everywhere they go Monday through Saturday.

Rather than empowering people to manifest God’s reign in the world, too many churches seek to use people to advance the goals of the institutional church.

Success is assumed when a person is plugged into the apparatus of the church institution rather than released to serve God’s people and their neighbors out in the world.

Packard interviewed hundreds of Christians who’ve given up on institutional churches. Remarkably, he discovered those most likely to leave the church were also the most spiritually mature and often had years of deep church involvement.

If those at the center are consistently burned out, exhausted, anxious, bitter, and unable to keep their core relationships healthy—be careful. Remember, the reason vampires want to suck the life out of you is because it’s already been sucked out of them.

I suspect that in many places we have created very fragile churches, and we know—although rarely admit—that even a small challenge could destroy them.

The inherent fragility of our churches, ministries, and schools helps explain, at least in part, why so many Christians carry so much anxiety today, and why we’re conditioned to see a threat behind every cultural or political change.

And when the church faced genuine persecution, as it did in Jerusalem following the martyrdoms of Stephen and James, rather than extinguishing its mission, the church only grew stronger and its mission only advanced faster. And even today, we see that where the church is growing most in the world is often where it is most challenged. The church of Jesus is without question the most anti-fragile system in world history.

Why do we build ministries that rely upon a single fallible leader, one dynamic speaker, or that require massive and unsustainable amounts of money? Our devotion to fragile systems means that as the pace of cultural, political, and technological change increases, so will the spirit of fear among Christians.

Related Images:

Identifying with the Apostle Paul

Paul: Apostle of Christ (2018 Film)

Conflict in the church. A member caught in some sinful behavior. Church discipline. What does it mean to forgive? Is church discipline just a self-righteous way to hold a grudge? Or do we have a vendetta against the offender? What about taking the log out of your own eye before you try to remove the speck in the other person’s eye? What about letting the one who is without sin cast the first stone? What about, turn the other cheek? How many times must I forgive my brother, seven times? Jesus said not to judge others, so who are we to judge? He also said to forgive others or the Father won’t forgive you.

  1. In our local context, who are the ones giving the church and the name of Christ a bad name? Can we honestly say that the defenders of truth are giving Jesus a black eye? Or those who are acting ungodly? Are the deacons causing all this conflict by being unforgiving or are they the ones dealing with it? Do we have members masquerading as godly leaders? 
  2. Is the issue our lack of forgiveness of the unrepentant offender? Do we just let it go? Is that the most loving thing to do, just forgive, forget, and move on?
  3. Are we supposed to just accept deception and lying and ungodly behavior in our church leaders?

Why don’t we take a walk through the New Testament to discover what the apostle Paul did when he confronted sinful activity in the church…

What are Paul’s disciplinary steps in Corinth? What did he say about ungodliness? What is the church to do to maintain it’s witness and holiness?

  1. How do we explain 1 Corinthians 5:1-2? Did Paul just tell them to forgive the bad behavior? Are we supposed to rationalize this away as a misunderstanding? Do we just agree that nobody’s perfect? Do we quote Jesus and say, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” What other interpretation can there be for the phrase, “remove him from your midst”?
  2. I have already judged this offender (Wait a minute… Jesus said we are NOT to judge [Matthew 7:1]. I don’t sense a holier-than-thou attitude in Paul, we prefer the word “discernment”) – 1 Corinthians 5:3
  3. Deliver that person to Satan (this seems extreme but it is apparently in the realm of possibility) – 1 Corinthians 5:5
  4. Your boasting is not good (do we boast that we are not the leaven of which Paul speaks?) – 1 Corinthians 5:6
  5. A little leaven raises the whole lump (this is a reality that when we give an inch, the enemy will take much more ground. We must stand for the truth and godliness. One principle of relationships is that we become more like those people we pal around with, the same with leaven in dough) – 1 Corinthians 5:6
  6. Clean out the old leaven (we need the new leaven of godliness, positive peer pressure if you will) – 1 Corinthians 5:7
  7. Don’t associate with that immoral person (more than likely, that person will drag you down more than you will help that person to rise up, again, another principle of relationships) – 1 Corinthians 5:9
  8. Don’t even eat with this so-called brother (Paul is emphasizing the “so-called” brother, questioning whether that person has experienced regeneration) – 1 Corinthians 5:11
  9. We are to judge those inside the church (Jesus said NOT to judge, but this refers to dealing [Matthew 7:1] with internal matters inside the body) – 1 Corinthians 5:12
  10. What part of “remove the wicked man from among yourselves” is ambiguous? – 1 Corinthians 5:13
  11. Are there no wise men among you to settle disputes (godly people are called to act in the midst of conflict) – 1 Corinthians 6:5
  12. The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (while we love to side with forgiveness and the blessings of everlasting life, the consequences of ungodliness cannot be overlooked) – 1 Corinthians 6:9
  13. The goal of church discipline is godly sorrow that leads to repentance, and restoration (not to kick anyone out of the church) – 2 Corinthians 2:3-4
  14. “Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority.” (they did not just forgive and forget, they dealt with the sin in the camp) – 2 Corinthians 2:6
  15. Forgiveness follows repentance (we can personally let it go without repentance, but leaders need time to recover and rebuild trust) – 2 Corinthians 2:7-8
  16. We are not ignorant of the schemes of Satan (we know who is the real enemy here, and Satan desires to take down church leaders to discredit the gospel and the witness of the local church) – 2 Corinthians 2:11
  17. The gospel is veiled to those who are perishing, (they don’t see how their actions are wrong) – 2 Corinthians 4:3-4
  18. “This fight” may be momentary light affliction, producing an eternal weight of glory (so stand strong in the battle, don’t give in to the darkness) – 2 Corinthians 4:17
  19. In fear of the Lord, we persuade men to leave sinful activity – 2 Corinthians 5:11
  20. Cleanse yourself from all defilement (accountability is a great asset) – 2 Corinthians 7:1
  21. Paul did not regret his letter that brought godly sorrow, (the sinner must be addressed or nothing changes) – 2 Corinthians 7:8-10
  22. We are ready to punish all disobedience (“punish” appears to be quite a strong word) – 2 Corinthians 10:6
  23. Paul acknowledges there are Christian workers who are false apostles, deceitful workers, and even Satan disguises himself as an angel is light, and his servants disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (apparently, this is not a new strategy of the enemy) – 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
  24. Paul does not want to show up in Corinth only to mourn over those who have not repented of their evil, who were still acting like pagans (confrontation is for getting people back on track, moving toward repentance and restoration, it is not for condemnation) – 2 Corinthians 12:20-21
  25. Test yourselves to see if you are even of the faith (for those who so easily exhibit ungodly behavior, Paul’s challenge is to see if you are really saved) – 2 Corinthians 13:5

What about in Romans?

  1. Paul rails at those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness – Romans 1:18
  2. God and his truth are self-evident (primarily regarding the existence of God) – Romans 1:19
  3. People (primarily unbelievers) are without excuse and cannot say they have never seen God, didn’t know about him, or know that he is revealed through his creation – Romans 1:20
  4. Their foolish heart was darkened (the light of Christ was not shining. How can a member of God’s forever family walk in such darkness? Well, the short answer is that when someone is in the dark, they figuratively cannot see that they are wrong) – Romans 1:21
  5. Professing to be wise, they became fools (their arrogance was their downfall) – Romans 1:22
  6. They exchanged the truth for a lie (we know that the truth sets us free) – Romans 1:25
  7. God gave them over to a depraved mind (in our stubbornness, sometimes God lets us have our own way, and we suffer the consequences of our poor decisions and actions) – Romans 1:28
  8. They not only participated, they gave hearty approval to those who practice these things (don’t allow yourself to be dragged into the darkness with them) – Romans 1:32
  9. Because of stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself (Paul thought he was all about God’s work until he had the Damascus Road experience) – Romans 2:5
  10. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil (the issue may not be losing one’s salvation because perhaps, some church people have never experienced regeneration. Check out Matthew 7:21-23) – Romans 2:9
  11. The law is written on their hearts, their conscience bearing witness; we know what is right and true (perhaps this can only be stubbornness in not allowing God total control over our lives) – Romans 2:15
  12. Shall we continue to sin? (Paul’s answer is in 6:2, that we are to live as people who are redeemed, not like the world) – Romans 6:1-2
  13. We are to walk in newness of life (if we are saved, act like it and live like it, or at least are on the road of sanctification; we are to look and talk and act differently than the world) – Romans 6:4
  14. Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, or obey its lusts (exercise discernment, sin is a choice, this reminds me of James 4:8) – Romans 6:12
  15. The mind set of the flesh is death (in addition to “flesh,” we might include other things on which we set our minds, those things become idols in the true sense of the word) – Romans 8:6
  16. The mind set of the flesh is hostile toward God (or any idol that we create and becomes a barrier between God and the church, his people, his flock) – Romans 8:7
  17. Seeking to establish a righteousness of our own, we do not subject ourselves to the righteousness of God 9we discern proper behavior by reading the Bible. We cannot elevate our sanctuary furniture or leadership attire to the level of idolatry) – Romans 10:3
  18. Do not conform to the world’s standard (the Phillips translation: don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold) – Romans 12:1-2
  19. Resisting authority opposes the ordinances of God (the context here is governmental authority, but we are to also live as people under the authority of Christ and his earthly leaders) – Romans 13:2
  20. Let us behave properly as in the day (not living one way at church and another way in the world, on the golf course, or the marketplace) – Romans 13:13
  21. Keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to sound teaching, and turn away from them (this reminds me of Titus 3:10-11, these people are enemies of church unity) – Romans 16:17

How about in Galatia?

  1. Paul is amazed that they are deserting Jesus for some other gospel (much of the problem is Jesus plus something else, like becoming a Jew first. What we might do today is more subtle; saved by grace through faith, plus a pulpit, a choir, pastor in a suit, an American flag in the corner of the sanctuary, a hymnal in the pew – Galatians 1:6
  2. There are some people who are disturbing those in the church and distorting the gospel. Trouble-makers in the church is nothing new – Galatians 1:7
  3. Let that person be “accused” (Strong’s G331 a thing devoted to God without hope of being redeemed, and if an animal, to be slain; therefore a person or thing doomed to destruction, anathema, a (religious) ban or (concretely) excommunicated (thing or person):—accused, curse. In Romans 9:3 (this is equivalent to doomed and so separated from Christ) – Galatians 1:8
  4. By doing the right thing, am I seeking the favor of men or of God? (Peter and John dealt with this before in Acts 4:19-21) – Galatians 1:10
  5. Even Paul had to put up with those who would defame his character and accuse him of lying – Galatians 1:20
  6. False brethren sneaked in to spy out our behavior, but we did not yield to them – Galatians 2:4-5
  7. Paul opposed Peter to his face when he did wrong – Galatians 2:11
  8. The rest of the Jews joined in their hypocrisy (we cannot blindly follow a leader without exercising discernment) – Galatians 2:13
  9. Paul saw they were not straightforward about the truth (of the gospel, some believers can be deceptive) – Galatians 2:14
  10. You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched (deceived) you? (it’s like Paul is telling them that they should know better) – Galatians 3:1
  11. Paul fears for them, that perhaps he has labored in vain – Galatians 4:11
  12. Have I therefore become your enemy by telling you the truth? – Galatians 4:16
  13. Paul wished he could change his tone in their presence, but adds he is perplexed about them – Galatians 4:20
  14. Keep standing firm and don’t give in to compromise – Galatians 5:1
  15. The one who is disturbing you shall bear his judgment – Galatians 5:10
  16. Would those who are troubling you mutilate themselves (the topic at the moment was circumcision) – Galatians 5:12
  17. If you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another (read that verse again) – Galatians 5:15
  18. The deeds of the flesh are evident (immorality, impurity, sensuality, anger, disputes, dissensions, factions) and are not to be tolerated – Galatians 5:19-20
  19. Those who are spiritual are to intervene when someone is caught in sin – Galatians 6:1
  20. Whatever a man sows, he will reap (actions have consequences) – Galatians 6:7
  21. As Paul and Barnabas spoke the truth, devout women of prominence and leading men of the city instigated a persecution against them – Acts 13:50
  22. Jews who were disobedient stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against Paul and Barnabas – Acts 14:2
  23. The multitude of the city was divided between the Jews and the apostles (apparently, factions are nothing new) – Acts 14:4
  24. In Lystra, they were accused of being gods, and Paul and Barnabas tore their clothing and had to set them straight (we must confront false teaching and false statements) – Acts 14:12, 14-15
  25. In Antioch, they appointed elders in every church (leaders to protect and strengthen the flock, and further the mission of the church) – Acts 14:23
  26. in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas had such a sharp disagreement, they parted ways – Acts 15:38-40
  27. in Galatia, Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos teaching errors, and they took him aside to explain the way of God more accurately – Acts 18:26

How about in Ephesus?

  1. Change your behavior, walk in a manner worthy of the calling (this is not optional) – Ephesians 4:1
  2. Be diligent to preserve the unity of the spirit (unity cannot be present when the church has divisive leaders usurping authority and control) – Ephesians 4:3
  3. No longer walk as the Gentiles walk (as believers, we have a new character, desiring to conform to the image of Christ) – Ephesians 4:17
  4. Lost people walk in darkened understanding, excluded from the life of God (as children of the light, we cannot be content to walk in darkness) – Ephesians 4:18
  5. Paul expects better behavior since we are saved, you did not learn Christ this way, if indeed you even know him (as believers, we should know better) – Ephesians 4:20-21
  6. Lay aside all falsehood and speak truth (deception has no place in the congregation) – Ephesians 4:25
  7. Let no unwholesome word proceed out of your mouth (as believers, our speech is different than those in the culture around us) – Ephesians 4:29
  8. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God (this is the result of believers behaving badly and the church gets a black eye from the culture, we are supposed to be different) – Ephesians 4:30
  9. Forgive one another (but that comes after one has repented; never exercising retaliation or vengeance) – Ephesians 4:32
  10. Do not allow impurity or immorality among you (as believers, we can’t just let sinning go on unchallenged) – Ephesians 5:3
  11. Don’t let others deceive you with empty words (many people talk a good game but believers embrace the truth) – Ephesians 5:6
  12. You are of the light, so walk like you’re children of light (live what you say you believe) – Ephesians 5:8
  13. It is disgraceful to even speak of the things done in secret, but need to be exposed to the light (above reproach is not being perfect, but we will not bring shame on the Lord or his church) – Ephesians 5:12-13
  14. Be careful to walk as wise men (let’s not embrace the opposite) – Ephesians 5:15
  15. Our struggle is with the forces of evil more than the other person (the enemy seeks to drag us down, taking the church’s credibility with him) – Ephesians 6:12
  16. The seven sons of Sceva are confronted by an evil spirit, knowing these men were not authentic followers of Jesus (I recognize Jesus and I know about Paul, but who are you?) – Acts 19:15-16
  17. Paul challenged the Ephesians elders to be on guard for the flock (elders or leaders of the congregation have a duty to protect the flock from ungodly influences) – Acts 20:28
  18. Paul tells them that wolves will come in to lead people astray (these wolves came into the congregation and deceived the people, they looked much like the rest of us but were in fact, wolves) – Acts 20:29
  19. Paul tells them men from among themselves will arise, speak perverse things, and drawing others away (our speech can draw people away from the gospel message or the church) – Acts 20:30
  20. Paul did not cease day and night to admonish them (this sounds like a lot of admonishment by Paul) – Acts 20:31

How about in Philippi?

  1. We must help fellow believers progress in sanctification, in being sincere and blameless at the coming of Christ – Philippians 1:10
  2. We are to be filled with the fruit of righteousness – Philippians 1:11
  3. Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ – Philippians 1:27
  4. Don’t be alarmed at those who oppose you, which is a sign of destruction for them – Philippians 1:28
  5. You should prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation – Philippians 2:15
  6. Beware of the dogs and evil workers with false theology – Philippians 3:2
  7. We press on toward the high calling of Christ – Philippians 3:12, 14
  8. Have this attitude in you, and if you don’t, may God reveal that to you – Philippians 3:15
  9. Those who set their minds on earthly things are enemies of the cross of Christ – Philippians 3:18
  10. The things you have learned, seen, heard, and received, practice these things – Philippians 4:9
  11. Paul confronted and rebuked the slave-girl who was interfering with their ministry and was annoying them – Acts 16:18

How about in Colossi?

  1. Constantly bearing fruit and increasing – Colossians 1:6
  2. Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, pleasing him in all respects – Colossians 1:10
  3. We are delivered from darkness – Colossians 1:13
  4. We are redeemed so we might be holy and blameless and beyond reproach – Colossians 1:22
  5. Paul says to admonish every man and teach every man that he may be presented complete in Christ – Colossians 1:28
  6. Paul wants no one to delude the church with persuasive arguments – Colossians 2:4
  7. Set your mind on things above – Colossians 3:2
  8. Your body must be dead to sin or expect the wrath of God – Colossians 3:5
  9. Don’t lie to one another – Colossians 3:9
  10. Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you – Colossians 3:16
  11. Whatever you do in word and deed, let it be for the Lord Jesus – Colossians 3:17
  12. He who does wrong will receive the consequences of that wrong – Colossians 3:25
  13. Let your speech always be with grace – Colossians 4:6

How about in Thessalonica?

  1. Our gospel did not come in word only but in power, with full conviction, proving what kind of men we are – 1 Thessalonians 1:5 – Our walk must match our talk or our credibility and reputation and witness suffers.
  2. You became imitators of us and of the Lord – 1 Thessalonians 1:6 – Paul expects behavior to be different than when we were in the world.
  3. You all became an example to all the believers – 1 Thessalonians 1:7 – Can people look at you and declare that you are their example to one walking closely with the Lord?
  4. We imparted not only the gospel but our own lives as well – 1 Thessalonians 2:8 – We are not all about theology and Bible study without our lives giving evidence that we are who we claim to be.
  5. We behaved devoutly, uprightly, and blamelessly before you – 1 Thessalonians 2:10 – This is the essence of being above reproach.
  6. Walk in a manner worthy of the God who called you – 1 Thessalonians 2:12 – When God calls us to be perfect as He is perfect, conforming to the image of Christ has to be our lifelong goal.
  7. Paul wants to present these believers holy and blameless to the Lord – 1 Thessalonians 3:13 – The longer we are in Christ, the less the world will be seen in our lives.
  8. God’s will is your sanctification, abstaining from sexual immorality – 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7 – Sanctification is that churchy word that means becoming more like Jesus over a lifetime.
  9. If we continue in worldly behavior, we are rejecting the God who gave us the Spirit – 1 Thessalonians 4:8 – God means business when it comes to our sinful activity.
  10. Protect your heart and mind for when Christ returns – 1 Thessalonians 5:8 – We don’t just fall into sin. It enters through our heart and mind, so guard them both.
  11. Paul urges that we admonish the unruly – 1 Thessalonians 5:14 – Yes we forgive, but this command in instructs us to not allow poor behavior in the church.
  12. Examine everything carefully and hold onto what is good – 1 Thessalonians 5:21 – Let the Spirit of God guide you in the truth through examination and discernment.
  13. Let no one deceive you, the apostasy will come first – 2 Thessalonians 2:3 – This is true for today. Don’t believe all that you hear (even in the church) since Paul tells us that as the end time comes, people will leave their first love and listen to deceptive voices.
  14. God will send a deluding influence so they might believe that which is false – 2 Thessalonians 2:11 – How else can believers choose to believe and pass on lies over the truth?
  15. God chose you for sanctification – 2 Thessalonians 2:13 – Believers simply cannot act like the world around us, we are called to sanctification, acting like Jesus himself.
  16. Stand firm in what you have been taught – 2 Thessalonians 2:15
  17. Keep aloof from any brother who leads an unruly life – 2 Thessalonians 3:6 – Does this actually say to stay away from those who are behaving in an ungodly manner?
  18. You know that you are to follow Paul’s example, who did not behave undisciplined – 2 Thessalonians 3:7 – We must follow the example of our godly leaders and behave in a disciplined manner.
  19. If anyone does not obey our instruction, take special note of that person, and do not associate with him, so that he may be put to shame – 2 Thessalonians 3:14 – What part of “do not associate with him” is acting in unforgiveness, and therefore considered ungodly or unchristian behavior?
  20. Yet do not regard him as an enemy but admonish him as a brother – 2 Thessalonians 3:15 – We always pray that such drastic actions will lead to godly sorrow for the offender, which leads to repentance and restoration, and eventually reconciliation.

Paul addresses Timothy and Titus.

  1. Keep the faith with a good conscience – 1 Timothy 1:19 – the Holy Spirit will tell us when we are missing the mark, and we must listen, unless our conscience is seared.
  2. Some believers have rejected and shipwrecked their faith – 1 Timothy 1:19 – that’s right, some BELIEVERS have shipwrecked their faith.
  3. Paul names two guys that he delivered over to Satan – 1 Timothy 1:20 – this appears to be somewhat extreme, does it not? At what point is this the course of action?
  4. Paul must have again been accused of lying – 1 Timothy 2:7 – since the devil/Satan is the father of lies, even Paul was accused of lying, so those of us standing up for truth are in good company.
  5. Paul gives a standard of conduct and qualities for the church leader – 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (in particular, be above reproach and be of good reputation; don’t bring shame to the Lord or on his church).
  6. Paul talks about deacons (to have a clear conscience, be beyond reproach, first tested, dignified, have a high standing in the faith) – 1 Timothy 3:8-13 – this is something we all ought to strive for.
  7. Some will even fall away from the faith – 1 Timothy 4:1 – at what point does a believer walk away from the faith? I’ve heard it said, “the faith that fizzles at the finish was faulty at the first.”
  8. Some will have a seared conscience – 1 Timothy 4:2 – this may happen when sin does not bother us as it once did.
  9. Godliness is always profitable – 1 Timothy 4:8 – living out what we say we believe is always a good thing!
  10. Accusations against a leader should have 2 or 3 witnesses – 1 Timothy 5:19 – some would like to slander a leader but Paul emphasizes two or three witnesses, perhaps to inhibit those with an ax to grind, and choose to make up stuff (like in Nehemiah 6:8).
  11. The sins of some men are quite evident and are not concealed – 1 Timothy 5:24-25 – most believers can see the deception of a few when confronted with the truth.
  12. Godliness (plus contentment) is a means of great gain – 1 Timothy 6:6 – those who cause relational conflict are not content nor behaving in godliness. Let’s strive for these two qualities.
  13. Serve God with a clear conscience – 2 Timothy 1:3 – When you know God’s call on your life, when you know you are listening to the Lord Jesus, when you walk in obedience using the principles of the shared mission to which God has called his church, we can serve the Lord with a clear conscience.
  14. No soldier entangles himself in the affairs of the world – 2 Timothy 2:4 – when we are all about the mission, the enemy will throw out all sorts of distractions and chaos to sideline the effectiveness of the church.
  15. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed – 2 Timothy 2:15 – diligence means that we have to work toward being effective in ministry. Godliness does not come naturally, but comes supernaturally.
  16. The walk of some men will spread like gangrene – 2 Timothy 2:17 – we know that unchecked disease spreads. Poison will move from the snake bite and eventually damage or even destroy the limb, or even take the person’s life.
  17. The Lord knows those who are his – 2 Timothy 2:19 – we might claim to belong to God but God knows those who are his. One of the scariest verses in the Bible may be Matthew 7:21-23. MANY, on that day…
  18. Flee from youthful lusts – 2 Timothy 2:22 – when godlessness comes calling, don’t flirt with it, run away from it.
  19. Paul desires men to come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil – 2 Timothy 2:26 – we trust that one day those who stir up conflict will come to their senses, repent, and seek reconciliation and restoration. That’s what godly sorrow is meant to do.
  20. In the last days, Paul describe those in the church, concluding that they hold on to a form of godliness yet deny its power (so avoid such men as these) – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 – how true is this statement in the world and also in the church. The Pharisees had a form of godliness but were actually working against Jesus and his mission.
  21. Some men will always be learning but do not come to the knowledge of the truth – 2 Timothy 3:7 – knowledge does not always lead to spiritual maturity; some will still not understand the truth even when they have experienced decades of Sunday School attendance.
  22. Timothy followed Paul’s teaching and conduct – 2 Timothy 3:10 – godly behavior is to be imitated; ungodly behavior must be avoided.
  23. Paul tells them that there are some in the church who profess to know God but their deeds deny him, so they are disobedient and detestable and worthless – Titus 1:16 – Lord Jesus, let this not be us, but, since Paul had to write this to Titus, there is a real possibility that any of us might also fall into this trap.
  24. Always show yourself to be an example of good deeds – Titus 2:7 – live out what you say you believe, let your walk match your talk.
  25. Reject a man who causes factions, after a first and second warning – Titus 3:10-11 (for such a man is perverted and sinning, condemning himself). Paul is talking about a person who is divisive and stirs up conflict.
  26. Paul in Cyprus: Confrontation with Elymas the magician – “You are full of deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness” – Acts 13:10 – Paul was not afraid to confront deception and fraud, speaking truth that needed to be heard.

Paul in Jerusalem:

  1. Don’t make it hard for people who are turning to God (like enforcing the traditions of men onto Gentile converts, just abstaining from meat sacrificed to idols, the blood of animals, and engaging in fornication) – Acts 15:19
  2. As believers, we must repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance – Acts 26:20
  3. Paul’s message was not popular but he told Festus that he spoke words of sober truth – Acts 26:25

So, in summary, we forgive personally, because that is what Christians do; but to hold someone accountable for their actions does not mean there is some self-righteous vendetta present. When the sin is against the body of Christ, sinful actions have accountability. We don’t just turn the other cheek, forgive and forget, or keep that person in a position of leadership. We cannot condone that sort of behavior in the church. 

Related Images:

Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin

This picture is on display in Room 5 at our church. It comes from the Book of Daniel. As the drunken king Belshazzar was at a feast, God sent him a sign: a human hand appeared, floating near the lampstand and writing four words in the plaster of the wall: “Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin.” Then, the hand disappeared (Daniel 5:5, 25).

The king paled and was extremely frightened; he called his wise men and astrologers and enchanters to tell him what the writing meant, but none of the wise men of Babylon could interpret the words.

Daniel was eventually brought before the king and Daniel rebuked Belshazzar’s pride: although the king knew the story of how God humbled his grandfather, he did not humble himself. Instead, he dishonored God by drinking from the sacred items of the temple (Daniel 5:22–23).

Then, Daniel interpreted the words on the wall. Mene means “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end.” Tekel means “you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.” Parsin means “your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians” (Daniel 5:24-28).

Will you pray this prayer over King’s Grant? Lord Jesus, may this not be prophetic and applied to King’s Grant. Pray that our days are not numbered. Pray that God is not finished with us yet. Pray that we can do honest self-reflection to see where we are found wanting and deficient. Pray that God’s kingdom here will not be divided. Father, convict us toward repentance and help us to walk in obedience; exhibiting behavior, attitudes, and speech that are worthy of the God we serve.

Related Images:

Identifying with the Weeping Prophet

Jeremiah the prophet lived in the final days of the collapse and deportation of the southern kingdom, the nation of Judah. He was, in all likelihood, the last prophet that God sent to preach to the southern kingdom. The two tribes of the southern kingdom were Judah and Benjamin. God had repeatedly warned Israel to stop their idolatrous behavior, but they would not listen, so He tore the 12 tribes apart, sending the 10 northern tribes into captivity at the hands of the Assyrians, in 722 BC. Then God sent Jeremiah to give Judah the last warning before He cast them out of the Promised Land, sending them into the Babylonian captivity, in 587 BC. Jeremiah was called to tell Judah that, because of their unrepentant sin, God had turned against them and was now prepared to remove them from the land He gave to Abraham.

No doubt Jeremiah stressed over the fate of his people, and he begged them to listen. He is known as “the weeping prophet,” because he cried tears of sadness, not only because he knew what was about to happen, but because, no matter how hard he tried, the people would not listen. Furthermore, he found no human comfort. God had forbidden him to marry or have children (Jeremiah 16:2). His friends even turned their backs on him. God knew this was best course for Jeremiah, because He went on to tell him about the horrible conditions that would arrive in a short time, with babies, children, and adults dying “grievous” deaths, their bodies unable to even be buried, and their flesh devoured by the birds (Jeremiah 16:3-4).

Obviously, the people of Israel had become so hardened by the numbing effects of sin that they no longer believed God, nor did they fear Him. Jeremiah preached for 40 years, and not once did he see any real success in changing or softening the hearts and minds of his stubborn, idolatrous people. The other prophets of Israel had witnessed some successes, at least for a little while, but not Jeremiah. He was speaking to a brick wall; however, his words were not wasted. They were pearls being cast before swine (Matthew 7:6), so in a sense, his words were convicting every person who heard them and they refused to heed the warning.

Jeremiah tried to make the people understand their problem was a lack of belief, trust, and faith in God,. They had an absence of fear that caused the people to take God for granted. They stopped putting God first and had replaced Him with false gods, those that would not make them feel guilty or convict them of sin. God had delivered His people from bondage in Egypt, had performed miracles before them, and had even parted the waters of the sea for them. In spite of all these displays of God’s power, they returned to the false practices they had learned in Egypt, even making vows to the false “queen of heaven,” along with performing the other rites and rituals that were part of the Egyptian culture and religion. God finally turned them over to their idolatry, saying, “Go ahead, then; do what you promised! Keep your vows!” (Jeremiah 44:25).

Jeremiah became discouraged. He sank into a deep depression. This can happen to us when we sense our efforts are not making a difference and time is fleeting. Jeremiah was emotionally spent, even to the point of doubting God (Jeremiah 15:18), but God was not done with him. Jeremiah 15:19 records a lesson for each believer to remember in those times when he feels alone, useless, and discouraged and whose faith is wavering: “Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them.’” God was saying to Jeremiah, come back to Me, and I will restore to you the joy of your salvation. These are similar to the words penned by David when he repented of his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-12:15, Psalm 51:12).

What we learn from the life of Jeremiah is the comfort of knowing that, just like every believer, even great prophets of God can experience rejection, depression, and discouragement in their walk with the Lord. This is a normal part of growing spiritually, because our sinful nature fights against our new nature, that which is born of the Spirit of God, according to Galatians 5:17: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” But, just as Jeremiah found, we can know that the faithfulness of our God is infinite; even when we are unfaithful to Him, He remains steadfast (2 Timothy 2:13).

Jeremiah was given the task of delivering an unpopular, convicting message to Judah, one that caused him great mental anguish, as well as making him despised in the eyes of his people. God says that His truth sounds like “foolishness” to those who are lost, but to believers it is the very words of life (1 Corinthians 1:18). He also says that the time will come when people will not tolerate the truth (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Those in Judah in Jeremiah’s day did not want to hear what he had to say, and his constant warning of judgment annoyed them. This is true of the world today, as believers who are following God’s instructions are warning the lost and dying world of impending judgment (Revelation 3:10). Even though most are not listening, we must persevere in proclaiming truth in order to rescue some from the terrible judgment that will inevitably come.

So, Here is a Little Personal Context:

I’ve been at my church for 15 years. In 2007, the mission statement of the church was, “Knowing Christ and Making Him Known,” which was a worthy goal of discipleship that leads followers of Jesus to engage a lost and dying world with the claims of Christ. As disciples, our mission is to reach those who are far from God, share the light and life that Jesus offers, and bring them into the local family of God. The church literally exists for those who are not yet members. Since we have this everlasting life, our destiny is secured, and we want to bring others into the family of faith. Our mission is to do all we can to populate heaven. While we share the gospel with those we know that do not know Christ, we gather as a church to worship and praise our Lord and Savior, and to be equipped for the task that is set before us (Ephesians 4:11-13), which is to help fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and live out the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40). Anything short of that, we become just another social organization that has membership, dues, and social events (like the Tennis and Racquet Club or the YMCA).

In 2017, under the leadership of a new lead pastor, we focused our mission on three key values: community, faith, and love. Here is the statement that was developed, “We exist as a community of faith to extend the love of Christ and His Kingdom in Virginia Beach and to the world.” [ Read More Here ] The three step process included 1) Member (community: guiding people to become members of the family of God and this local church), 2) Minister (faith: stepping up to discover our giftedness and find a place of service to Jesus and people in the church and the community), 3) Living on Mission (Love: this value compels us to seek daily how to be the hands and feet of Jesus, focusing on those who are not yet members of God’s forever family).

Somewhere along the way, church has become more about “us” than it is about those who are not yet members. It’s about what I want, and what I want in a worship service, like hymns out of the hymnbook from 1975, a choir in the loft, wearing robes, with a communion table up front, the altar Bible on display, a deacon reading the Bible and praying each week, with preaching from behind a pulpit, but no longer than 18-20 minutes, and never forget about the flag of the United States of America on the stage and proper attire of coat and tie for leaders (staff, deacons, ushers). While we liked it this way in 1975, I dare say that today’s generation will not want to get involved here when our service and surroundings are so old school. It is as if a vocal few in this congregation are telling our local community, “you’re welcome here, but you need to enjoy old school services like us. Don’t come in here with your new ideas for reaching people and changing anything.” It’s like courting a potential spouse yet maintaining an adversarial relationship. Who wants to get involved with that?

Enter into these hallways of peace and fellowship… division, chaos and plotting for control, “to take back our church.” Somewhere along my 15 years, leadership has become an enemy to subdue or overthrow. [ By the way, three of our six ministerial staff members left us in 2022 (contemporary worship leader, lead pastor, and then pastor of worship), at some point, we all ask ourselves, “Why am I here and what difference does it make?” For me, I was called by God in 2007 to be here, and he has not yet released me from that calling. ]

The challenge we have before us is all about hearing God’s voice and recognizing God’s leadership in the life of our church. Our goal is to speak truth in the midst of misinformation and even disinformation and sabotage. I sense we can have a teaching lesson on each of these points, but I give only an initial observation, noting what happened in Jeremiah’s day and how there is a modern parallel in the American church.

Enter the Example of the Weeping Prophet, Jeremiah.

  • Jeremiah was called by God (Jeremiah 1:4-8) and never sensed a release from that calling. God had a plan from his very beginning, even though Jeremiah was a teenager at the time, and God let him know this was not going to be easy.
  • Jeremiah had a difficult message to tell the people (Jeremiah 2:11-13, 26, 32, 35, 37, 3:20, 25, 4:22, 5:2-3, 23, 26, 31, 6:8, 21, 9:13-16, 11:9-11, 11:22-23). It’s not easy to tell people that they have elevated their personal preferences into a place of idolatry. People don’t want to hear that message and will fight until the very end that their vision of church is all about God and not all about themselves. I have discovered when you try to remove their idols, they attack your character and motivation.
  • Jeremiah offers a word of hope (Jeremiah 3:12-15, 4:14, 7:23, 16:15, 24:5-7, 30:16-17, 31:8-9, 17, 23, 31:38-40, 33:1-3, 6-7). We envision a bright future for our church, one that is multi-generational, together in fellowship, serving together, growing into the image of Jesus together. To be a place of peace, acceptance, safety, and healing. Right now, there is fighting and factions that will drive good seekers away and young believers are now questioning what they have gotten into. Some actually believe that we’re trying to split the church, which was never on our to-do list.
  • Jeremiah dealt with those who did not tell the truth (Jeremiah 5:12-13, 9:8-9). We like to think the best of one another and cannot believe that one of our own would intentionally deceive others, but when someone has an agenda, kindness and civility often go out the window. As I have seen in politics, when the other side declares that you are something (racist, misogynistic, xenophobic), they are generally masking their own characteristics. Our local opposition claims the church staff’s next tactic is to engage in manipulation through deception and their narcissistic leader claims that he is the last obstacle to the staff’s hostile takeover of the church.
  • Jeremiah has people who refused to listen (Jeremiah 6:16-19, 7:24-27). God’s people refuse to listen to one another when they have their own agenda and demands. There have been plenty of conversations revealing little common ground. The USA has a policy of not negotiating with terrorists or considering their demands. What I have noticed over this past year, it doesn’t matter how much concession comes church leadership, it is still not enough, so why bother? If we can get the parties back to the table to have more conversation…
    1. On a side issue, let’s look at three examples in the life of Jesus. When Jesus told the truth to the rich young ruler and he looked over the options, the man chose to walk away. Jesus did not run after him to tell him he would lower the bar or make it easier for him. He didn’t give in to demands, Jesus told the truth and allowed the man to exercise his free will and walk away (Luke 18:18-27).
    2. How about the story of the invitation to the wedding feast? The feast was ready, invitations were sent, and the story is filled with people making excuses about why they could not come. So, since those invited people proved to be unworthy, the invitation went out to anybody who would come in (Matthew 22:1-10). Some grumblers even refuse to enter the sanctuary if a certain preacher has been invited for that week. Imagine for a moment our Savior looking at that behavior and saying, “I died on the cross for you and you can’t enter that sanctuary and worship me?”
    3. Then there is the older brother in the story of the prodigal son. He was disgruntled over the fact that he was at home the whole time (like a long-time church member) and there was such a fuss made over this sinner son who came back (reaching lost people for Jesus). While the father talked to that older son, we have no indication that the older son ever came in to the celebration (Luke 15:25-32).
  • Jeremiah had a word against the temple of the Lord (Jeremiah 7:2-5, 8, 11, 14-16, 30). The people in Jeremiah’s time were so far from God yet they still ran to the temple for God’s blessing. I suppose their hypocrisy was an insult to the living God. Perhaps they sought the gift more than the Giver. Perhaps they asked God to move over just a little bit so they can erect an idol that brought security, comfort, and familiarity.
  • Jeremiah spoke against their apostasy and lies and shame (Jeremiah (8:5, 8, 12, 13:22). I sense that God desires godly men and women speak up and defend the truth rather than allow the lies and misinformation to consume the hearts and minds of the congregation. Our focus has been on admonishing the unruly (1 Thessalonians 5:14) more than evangelism and discipleship.
  • Jeremiah spoke against their hypocrisy (Jeremiah 9:25, see Jeremiah 4:4). The prophet writes about the Jews who are behaving (or in reality), are not Jews. They say that they’re God’s people yet they have little to do with God and do not obey his commands.
  • Jeremiah wept for his people (Jeremiah 8:18, 9:1, 11:14, 14:11-12, 16:2-4, 31:16). I have not yet wept over my situation, but I have wept over the reputation of the church. When Christian people behave like non-christian people, the name of Jesus is diminished rather than magnified. People may give up on the church because of what they have experienced here. May all of us weep over souls who have been and continue to be damaged and abused by what we are experiencing in the congregation.
  • Jeremiah spoke again the idols of the people (Jeremiah 10:3-5, 8). Idols back in the day were these wooden and adorned statues set up to receive worship, which was a big no-no in God’s economy. The first two of the “big ten” commandments deal with having no other gods before YHWY and making an image of him. But today, idols come in all forms and enter into our hearts subtly. None are inherently bad, but we will take a good thing and elevate it to the status of idolatry. Try these on for size: it’s not really a worship service without… a pulpit, choir, robes, communion table, double passing of the communion trays, a deacon reading Scripture, leaders all wearing coats and ties, the large altar Bible up front, and the biggest push-back in worship so far has been the American flag standing in the corner. An idol is anything that comes between you and God. When someone says they will not enter the sanctuary unless the flags are in their regular place, that is a spiritual problem worthy of the prophet Jeremiah.
  • Jeremiah had people plotting against him and should be put to shame (Jeremiah 11:18-19, 21, 17:18, 18:18, 23). There is no place in the church for back-room, deals, meetings, and plots to overthrow it’s leadership. When God’s anointed are following God’s leadership and serving above reproach, with untarnished integrity, shame on those who stir up chaos and dissension over personal preferences that have risen to the level of unreasonable.
  • Jeremiah sets himself up as a righteous sufferer (Jeremiah 12:3) in contrast to the prosperous wicked (Jeremiah 12:1). The question is asked, “why we would stay in a situation that is so hostile?” While we at times question the ease and the prosperity of the wicked and the way of the righteous is often paved with adversity, I’m reminded that Jesus promised hardship in this life. The world will hate you (John 15:18), but we never expected this behavior from the church. Then, I have to come back to Jesus. His biggest critics, and those instrumental in his death, were “church leaders.” Why would I be exempt from hardship when my Lord went through so much for me?
  • Jeremiah has to tell the people that God is angry with their going backward (Jeremiah 15:6). God asked the question, “why have you forsaken Me? You keep looking backwards.” I sense this is at the heart of our situation, some vocal few in our congregation prefer worship to resemble 1975 and reject anything that might be considered modern. We like it the way we like it, and anyone coming here must understand that while they are welcome here, they need to act, dress, and worship the way we like it. New people coming in here have no right to change things; they must adapt to what we prefer here. After all, we are the ones paying the bills around here (that my friend is another topic all together).
  • Jeremiah endured reproach from rebellious people (Jeremiah 15:15). When God’s shepherds seek to lead God’s people, one might expect sheep to follow their shepherd. Rebellion against the God-ordained leader goes all the way back to Moses. It is shameful to be treated with such disrespect, but we endure reproach because of God’s call on our live (1 Peter 5:1-3, Hebrews 13:17).
  • Jeremiah took refuge in and rejoiced in God’s Word (Jeremiah 15:16). When things are at their worst, then God comes through with encouragement in his Word. God speaks truth through his Word and helps us through the adversity of life, even the adversity of ministry.
  • Jeremiah tells the people God is chastising the older generation who should know better (Jeremiah 16:11-12). This passage is condemning because of all the people present, the older ones should now better because they experienced God’s miracles, power, and presence through the stories of the Exodus. Then, they learned the lessons of the rebellious northern and southern kingdoms, seeing how the nations had forsaken the Lord and gone their own way. It should have been a warning to them about turning away from the Lord; they should have known better than end up here. We are similarly walking in the evil and stubbornness of our own hearts.
  • Jeremiah tells the people God has withdrawn his peace from them and he is not to console them (Jeremiah 16:5, 22:10). These verses are so sad, that these should not be consoled, we assume because they are getting what they deserve. Thank God for his grace, but this is a warning to heed.
  • Jeremiah says the heart (our emotion) is desperately wicked and cannot be trusted, so we must trust the Lord (Jeremiah 17:9-10). The worst advice anyone can give someone is to follow their heart. The heart tells you what you are doing is right when it very well might be fighting against God’s plan and design.
  • Jeremiah learns a lesson about God while at the potter’s house (Jeremiah 18:4-6). When the potter smashes the clay and starts over, the Creator of the universe can do the same with us. We are not too big to fail. God can remove his glory and watch us slowly die or start something new in another location.
  • Jeremiah is persecuted by the religious leaders (Jeremiah 20:1-2, 6, 26:7-8, 11) and imprisoned (Jeremiah 37:13-16) and held in a muddy cistern (Jeremiah 38:4-6). Pray that lawsuits will not be filed.
  • Jeremiah cries out and complains to God (Jeremiah 20:7-8) and wishes he was never born (Jeremiah 20:14-15). We all get depressed at times but there comes a point when we turn loose and trust God even more. Jesus tells us that he has overcome the world so we must take courage (John 16:33).
  • Jeremiah recognizes he cannot stop doing what God has called him to do (Jeremiah 20:9-10). If God has not yet released his servant from his calling and ministry, it is best to stay there and not run away. If God is moving someone to another ministry, he will make that clear at the right time. Moving TO something good is very different than moving AWAY from something bad.
  • Jeremiah warns that this house is going to fall (Jeremiah 22:5). If the vocal minority want worship to resemble 1975, this very well may be the preferred future they are embracing. Young families will visit and sense the church is too old school and not return. Existing young families will not feel accepted and will eventually find another church that wants them to be a part of their congregation. Then, with no young people coming into the church, older members will die off one-by-one over the next 10-15 years, until they come to the realization that they need to either adapt to bring in new members or slowly die and close the doors. How sad. This was not the vision of the founders or pastor Jerry. At the start, those planting this church did everything they could to reach people with the gospel. They made changes, sacrificed, adjusted their methods to reach more people, and they grew this church for the kingdom of God. Then somewhere along the way, we got it “just like we like it” and have rebelled and complained at changes that could bring in new families.
  • Jeremiah reminds them that God spoke to them in their prosperity but they had rejected him, so God will sweep away all of their shepherds (Jeremiah 22:21-22), and you will be ashamed and humiliated because of your wickedness. This church has had two recent pastors who challenged us to get out of our comfort zones and be all about the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Both of those shepherds have moved on lead people and organizations who want to do great things for the kingdom of God.
  • Jeremiah says that God will gather a remnant and provide good shepherds over them (Jeremiah 23:3-4). I have always been fascinated with the concept of the remnant. When we hear about 20 percent of the people doing 80 percent of the work, service, attendance, giving, and teaching, I sense the reason is the remnant, the 20 percent. People sitting in the pews does not create a church; but disciples committed to the mission of the church, make the church. Too many people sit on the sidelines watching others and criticizing; they’re not in the game, they are arm-chair quarterbacks. Church is a team sport and we all need to be at practice and in the game.
  • Jeremiah says the people should not listen to the false prophets (Jeremiah 23:16, 30-31) because they are making stuff up, not speaking for God (and he’ll put on them an everlasting reproach that cannot be forgiven – Jeremiah 23:40). When darkness comes over the house of God, the only way to dispel the darkness is to shed light on it. Truth will win over deception, manipulation, and agendas.
  • Jeremiah says that being a false prophet is dangerous (Jeremiah 28:15-17). This is a sobering passage. Don’t go there.
  • Jeremiah teaches about the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). This is the whole reason we do what we do. When people get it, they get it, and it makes all the difference in their lives and in the church. The hearts of the people are transformed. Motivation to follow, serve, and reach out is internal rather than external.
  • Jeremiah writes down what God tells him and the king burns it (Jeremiah 36:23), which is replaced (Jeremiah 36:27-28, 32). Basically, the lesson may be, “the truth hurts” (Jeremiah 36:29-31). Jeremiah is tenacious in getting the message of God to the people. If he can’t be there to speak it, he’ll send his friend to read it. He had an attitude of, “whatever it takes, I’m willing to do it, even if it leads to imprisonment or death.”
  • Jeremiah gets respect for speaking God’s Word and they will listen to it, whether good or bad (Jeremiah 42:4-6). At some point, the people will listen to the prophet’s message from God and receive it, even if they don’t like what God has to say to them.
  • Jeremiah says to Baruch that God has built up this house and can also tear it down (Jeremiah 45:2-5). To me, this is a sober reminder that God is sovereign and can literally do whatever he wants.

Initial Research on Jeremiah is from gotquestions.org, with added personal context

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It Comes Down to Mission

This is a repost from my Facebook feed. This is a great statement regarding mission and the church. The church may be the only organization that exists for those whp are not yet members rather than existing for the membership. That truth is difficult to swallow; when we believe church is all about us, wanting our own needs to be met, we lose sight of our purpose on this planet.

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Biblical Vocabulary for Evangelism

What is Evangelism?

Evangelism is the first step toward fulfilling the Great Commission.

  1. Matthew 28:19-20 is the all-inclusive Great Commission – “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19).
  2. The main verb is to “make disciples” supported by three participles (go, baptize, teach).
  3. Mark, Luke, John, and Acts stress the evangelistic facet of the Great Commission.
  4. Mark 16:15 tells us what to do when we go – go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.
  5. Every believer is to go but all are not sent into a cross-cultural situation. We may go across the ocean or across the back fence to share our faith (try the grocery store, gas station, gym, ball field).

Evangelism involves telling the gospel to lost people who haven’t transferred their trust in Christ alone as their Lord and Savior.

  1. The word preaching (euangelizo) literally means “to bring or to announce good news, to gospelize.” (Acts 8:4, 12, 25, 35, 40, 10:36, 11:20, 13:32, 14:7, 15, 21, 15:35, 16:10, 17:18).
  2. Evangelism involves information and an invitation. It more than sharing historical facts about the death and resurrection of Christ. It involves inviting them to repent of their sin and transfer their trust in Christ alone as their Lord and Savior.
  3. J. I. Packer tells us that evangelism is not just preaching the gospel, it is not simply a matter of teaching, and instructing, and imparting information to the mind. Evangelism must include the endeavor to elicit a response to the truth taught. It is communication with a view to conversion. It is a matter, not merely of informing, but also of inviting.
  4. We cannot evangelize without God’s Word (Romans 10:13-15, Ephesians 1:13-14, 6:19-20).
  5. Saint Francis of Assisi said to “preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.” While it may sound good, it may be similar to, “feed starving children, and if necessary, use food.”
  6. We can model the Christian life, be filled with Joy, have a sincere faith, serve like nobody’s business, but until the gospel is shared, no one will get saved.
  7. The verbs of evangelism require words to be spoken: preach, proclaim, herald (Matthew 24:14, Mark 13:10, 14:9, 16:15, Luke 8:1, 9:2, 24:27, Acts 8:5, 19:13, 28:31, Romans 10:14-15, 1 Corinthians 1:23, 15:11-12, 2 Corinthians 1:19, 4:5, 11:4, Galatians 2:2, Philippians 1:15, Colossians 1:23, 1 Thessalonians 2:9, 1 Timothy 3:16, 2 Timothy 4:2).

Evangelism is a process.

  1. Salvation happens when a repentant sinner transfers trust on Christ alone as Lord and Savior, but evangelism is a process that starts with planting the seed, watering it, and patiently waiting for the harvest.
  2. Faith comes by hearing God’s Word (Romans 10:17).
  3. One plants, one waters, and God causes growth (1 Corinthians 3:5-8).
  4. The fields are ripe for the harvest, some sow, others reap (John 4:35-38).
  5. If we reap during an evangelistic encounter, we can be sure that someone else did the sowing before we showed up. We might plant many and someone else will reap the harvest down the road.

What’s the difference between evangelism and outreach?

  1. Some people use the words anonymously, but most don’t. Some confuse gospelizing people with acts of compassion like food pantry, operation inasmuch, disaster relief, winter shelter, adopt-a-block, Thanksgiving baskets).
  2. Jesus said his mission and purpose was to seek and save the lost (Matthew 20:28, Mark 1:38, 10:45, Luke 4:43, 9:55, 19:10). Meeting physical needs is fine but our mission is to address spiritual needs.
  3. When we s to build common ground with lost friends, serving them in some practical way, we are doing pre-evangelism. They are evangelized until we share the gospel with them. Providing temporal relief is a good thing but our purpose is to provide eternal relief.
  4. Don’t confuse doing good works with evangelism; good works point to Jesus (Matthew 5:13, Ephesians 2:10, 1 Peter 2:11-12, Titus 3:1).
  5. Good works allow us to live out what we believe, to be a living gospel, but remember that the gospel has not been shared if we don’t speak it.
  6. Don’t confuse the gospel with causes that we embrace (humans, right, world, hunger, pro-life, social justice). These are not the gospel. The evidence of the gospel lies in the vertical relationship more than the horizontal relationship. The gospel deal with how mankind can be made right with God.
  7. The church must fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15) in a Great Commandment way (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:30-31). Don’t confuse the eternal mission with temporal relief. We desire for mankind to escape the coming wrath of God (Romans 5:9). People come to Christ on his terms, not our own terms. The church must address our neediness and our fallenness.
  8. Building a house for the homeless or feeding at a soup kitchen is rewarding because it is concrete and tangible. You can measure the progress. Measuring progress in a spiritual realm is more difficult; it’s three steps forward and two steps back. The one who is saved will willingly go public, submit to believer’s baptism, repent of sin, desire to live differently — which is all easier to see in the physical realm.
  9. Christians don’t settle for temporal relief when we can offer eternal relief (Luke 9:59-60). Jesus told this guy to let spiritually dead people bury physically dead people, and you go proclaim the gospel. Spiritually dead people make good morticians. They can make a dead person look alive, but only Christians can share the Words of Life and the transforming power of the gospel. Why settle for a make-up artist when you can do heart surgery?

What’s the difference between evangelism and witnessing?

  1. The word witness is actually the same as martyr, one who bear witness, one who can testify what he has seen, heard, or know.
  2. The apostles were commanded to be witnesses (Luke 24:48, John 15:27, Acts 1:8).
  3. There were many eyewitnesses of the resurrection (these ten post-resurrection appearances).
    1. Mary Magdalen (Mark 16:9-11, John 20:11-18).
    2. The women (Matthew 28:9-10).
    3. The two on the Emmaus Road (Mark 16:12-13, Luke 24:13-32).
    4. Peter (Luke 24:33-35, 1 Corinthians 15:5a).
    5. The ten disciples (Mark 16:14, Luke 24, 36-43, John 20:19-25).
    6. The eleven disciples (John 20:26-31, 1 Corinthians 15:5).
    7. The seven disciples fishing (John 21:1-23).
    8. More than 500 gathered in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:15-18, 1 Corinthians 15:6).
    9. James, the brother of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:7).
    10. The disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:44-49, Acts 1:6-8).
  4. Luke records the historical importance of eyewitness testimony in apostolic preaching (Acts 1:3, 2:32, 3:15, 4:33, 5:30, 32, 10:38-42, 13:28-30, 1 Corinthians 15:6, 14-17).
  5. Josh McDowell tells us that the followers of Jesus could not have faced torture and death unless they were convinced of the resurrection. The unity of their message and the course of the conduct was amazing. if they were deceivers, it’s hard to explain why one of them didn’t break under pressure.
  6. We can witness to what has happened in our lives but we cannot be eye-witnesses like the apostles.
  7. Here is the difference: when we witness, we share OUR story (our testimony). When we evangelize, we share HIS Story (the gospel).

Who did evangelism in the early church?

  1. At the beginning, the apostles were in Jerusalem, but they were scattered under the persecution of the day. When the church scattered, as they went, they evangelized (Acts 8:1, 4).
  2. We cannot keep the task of evangelism in the hands of trained professionals, it is the task for followers of Jesus. You cannot cop out just because you have never been to seminary. This attitude is the greatest tragedy of the church. The results are devastating to the mission of the church. Just reflect on the damage done by this shift in responsibility from believers to the elders/pastors.
  3. No one has to be called or gifted to do evangelism since we are commanded to do it as followers of Jesus (Mark 16:15).

Isn’t evangelism the job of the evangelists?

  1. We tend to stereotype evangelists (three-piece suit, sweating as he preaches about hell, fire, and brimstone during an evangelistic crusade. But the New Testament teaches that an evangelist equips church members to do evangelism (Ephesians 4:11-12). Shepherd don’t have sheep; sheep have sheep.
  2. The word equip means to outfit or prepare God’s people for the work of service. We gather as the church to be equipped. We scatter to evangelize.
  3. Paul tells us to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5).
  4. The word preaching (euangelizo) literally means “to bring or to announce good news, to gospelize.” (Acts 8:4, 12, 25, 35, 40, 10:36, 11:20, 13:32, 14:7, 15, 21, 15:35, 16:10, 17:18).

What is the message of evangelism? – the Gospel

  1. The gospel is NOT…
    1. A different or distorted gospel (Galatians 1:6-9, 2:16, 2 Corinthians 11:4)
    2. Vines says that Galatians 1:8-9 literally means, let him be accursed or condemned, like saying to hell with him. Paul uses the strongest language possible to denote the seriousness of distorting the gospel.
  2. False gospels that are distorted:
    1. Baptismal regeneration: that water baptism bring salvation. Infant baptism saves the child and they are reborn. Paul tells us that Christ did not send him to baptize but to preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17). If water baptism had redemptive significance, Paul would never be happy that he did not baptize more Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:14-16).
    2. Prosperity gospel: the good news is that if you accept Jesus you will be healthy and wealthy.
    3. Sacramental gospel: the Lord affirms that baptism is necessary for salvation (Catholic Catechism, VI, the necessity of baptism, 1257).
    4. Works gospel: any gospel that says you can earn, deserve, or merit heaven through your own good deeds is a heresy (2 Peter 2:1, Ephesians 2:8-9, 2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 3:5).
  3. The gospel IS…
    1. Biblical (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Of first importance.
    2. Christological – about Christ and all the statements about HIM or HE.
    3. Scriptural – according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
      1. Died (Isaiah 53:5, Acts 8:30-35, Matthew 16:21, 17:22, 20:18-19, 26:2, 27:31, 35, Mark 15:20, 24-25, 16:6, Luke 9:22, 23:33, 24:46, John 19:16, 18, 20, 23, Acts 2:23,-24, 29, 3:15, 4:10, 5:30, 13:28-29, Romans 5:6, 8, 10, 6:6-7, 10, 1 Corinthians 2:2, 8, 15:3, Galatians 2:21, Philippians 2:8, 1 Thessalonians 4:14, 5:10, Hebrews 2:9-10, 12, 1 Peter 3:18, Revelation 5:9).
      2. Raised (Psalm 16:10, Acts 2:27, 13:35, Matthew 16:21, 17:23, 20:19, 26:32, Luke 9:22, 24:46, John 2:19-22, 21:14, Acts 2:24-28, 3:15, 4:10, 5:30, 10:40, 13:30, 33-37, 17:18, Romans 4:24-25, 8:11, 34, 10:9, 1 Corinthians 14:4, 12-17, 2 Corinthians 4:14, 5:15, Galatians 1:1, Ephesians 1:20, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 4:14, 1 Peter 1:21).
    4. Theological – he died for our sins, which are an affront to God’s holiness and cuts us off from him.
    5. Historical – he appeared to many people after he rose from the dead.
    6. Personal – the gospel was preached to YOU, YOU received, YOU stand, YOU are saved, YOU believed, delivered to YOU, Christ died for OUR SINS (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, John 1:12, Romans 5:17).
      1. Preached = to tell the good news to you (euangelisanmen humin)
      2. Received = receive + believe = become a child of God (ho kai parelabon). Hand-me-down faith is no good until you make it your own (Matthew 3:7-10). Beware of universalism that teaches the well-being of all people, and the universality of the redemption of Christ. Jesus taught that those who reject him will die in their sin (John 8:21), be the object of God wrath (John 3:36, Romans 5:9), and will be cast into eternal punishment (Matthew 25:41, 46, Luke 12:4-5, 2 Thessalonians 1:7=8, Revelation 21:8). Paul taught that while sin and death is imputed to every person, the free gift of salvation must be personally received (Romans 5:15-17).
      3. Stand = means to be established and continuing firm in faith, like a tree well rooted (en ho kai estekate).
      4. Save = (sozo) from the consequences of sins (Matthew 1:21) and his wrath (Romans 5:9). See also Acts 2:21, 40, 47, 11:14, 15:1, 11, 16:30-31, Romans 1:16, 5:9-10, 10:9-10, 13, 1 Corinthians 1:18, 15:2, Ephesians 1:13, 2:5, 8, 1 Thessalonians 2:16, 2 Thessalonians 2:10, 1 Timothy 1:15, 2 Timothy 1:9, 2:10, Titus 3:5).
      5. Hold fast = examine yourself to see whether you are of the faith; a possessor and not merely a professor.
      6. Believed = we must have to acknowledge the balance between assurance and presumption. True believers give evidence they are saved by continuing in the faith (John 15:1-11). True faith produces fruit. Fake faith has not commitment (John 6:66). Some have shallow faith (Matthew 7:13-14). Some have faith similar to the demons (James 2:19).
      7. In vain = there is an assumption that true faith will elicit a faith response (Mark 1:15, 16:16, John 1:12, 3:15-16, 18, 36, 5:24, 6:29, 35, 40, 7:38, 11:25-26, 12:36, 46, 20:30-31, Acts 8:37, 10:43, 13:39, 15:7, 9, 11, 16:30-31, 20:21, Romans 1:16, 3:22, 28, 4:4-5, 5:1, 9:33, 10:9-11, 14, 1 Corinthians 1:21, 15:2, Galatians 2:16, 3:2, 6-13, 22, 24, 26, Ephesians 1:13, 2:8, Philippians 1:27, 3:9, 1 Timothy 1:16, Hebrews 6:1, 1 Peter 2:6-7, 1 John 5:1, 5, 10, 13).
      8. Repentance = the flip side of faith, they go together (Mark 1:15, Luke 15:7, 10, 24:47, Acts 2:38, 3:19, 5:31, 11:18, 17:30, 20:21, 26:20, 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 2 Timothy 2:25, 2 Peter 3:9).
  4. On judgment day, everyone will be held accountable for what they did with the gospel. It will determine their eternal destiny. Romans 2:16 says, “on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.”

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Leading and Following in the Church

The position of pastor and elder are often used interchangeably. The church recognizes spiritual authority and sets apart some leaders for specialized ministry.

Is Authority Good or Bad? We certainly have been on the receiving end of an authoritarian leader, but what about in the church?

  1. God rules over all: (Daniel 4:34-35) and has absolute authority (Genesis 1:26-28, and we are made in his image).
  2. God ordained authorities: Governments and Parents (Romans 13:1-7, Ephesians 6:1-4). Authority is good when God ordains it, for our own good.

Elders are Called to Shepherd: We are like sheep in need of a shepherd (Psalm 23:1-6, Ezekiel 34, John 10:14-18, Jeremiah 3:15, Ephesians 4:11, Acts 20:17-38).

The Pattern of Plural Pastoral Leadership: the author leads toward elder rule in a congregation. He is an advocate of shared pastoral oversight. It guards against authority abuse and helps leaders to discuss the direction of the church.

Shepherds After God’s Own Heart: As shepherd, these leaders have a great responsibility.

  1. They faithfully feed the sheep (Jeremiah 3:15, 1 Timothy 3:2)
  2. They resist and rebuke false teachers (Titus 1:9-10).
  3. They care for straying and ornery sheep (Acts 20:28).
  4. They watch over the souls of church members (Hebrews 13:17).
  5. They set an example for others to follow (1 Peter 5:1-4).

Elder Qualifications: it’s not for everyone.

  1. Character (1 Timothy 3:1-7, see also Matthew 5:27-30, 1 Peter 1:13, Titus 2:1-12, Romans 12:13, Ephesians 6:4, 1 Thessalonians 4:12).
  2. Competence (Titus 1:9-10, 1 Timothy 3:2, 4-5).

Deacons: Servants of the Church (Mark 10:43-45).

  1. Servants (Acts 6:1-7, 1 Timothy 3:8-13)
  2. Qualifications (Philippians 1:1, Romans 16:1, 1 Timothy 3:8-13)
    1. Elders are required to teach, however, deacons are not.
    2. Elders have oversight and shepherding role over the congregation, deacon have to manage their household well (1 Timothy 3:5).
    3. Elders are primarily the spiritual leaders of the church, deacon are the servants.
  3. Defining the deacon’s role: they serve the body and their needs, and preserve the unity of the church.

How Well Do You Follow? (Proverbs 14:28)

  1. Leaders are nothing without followers. Like a teacher without a class. Like a king without subjects. Like a coach without a team.
  2. We are all called to serve one another in the church (Mark 10:43-44) and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).
  3. Deacons support (Galatians 6:6, 1 Timothy 5:17-18).
  4. Deacons submit (Hebrew 13:17).
  5. Deacons respect and esteem (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

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Real Church Growth

The church is an organism (a living thing) more than an organization, and since all living things grow, what does that same about a church that doesn’t grow? Growth is called discipleship. It is a life-long process we call sanctification, becoming more like Jesus over a lifetime.

The Meaning of Discipleship: Listen Watch, and Follow (Acts 9:10, 26, 36).

  1. Listen to Jesus’ teaching (Luke 6:40, Mark 1:14-15, John 16:12-15, 5:39).
  2. Watch Jesus’ life (Matthew 9:35-38, 10:5-9).
  3. Follow Jesus’ footsteps (Luke 9:23-25, 1 Peter 2:21-25) We follow his life but also his suffering.

How to Grow as a Disciple: Instruction

  1. Why learning is crucial to discipleship: (Acts 20:32, John 17:17, Romans 12:1-2) God’s Words builds us up and sanctifies us. Our mind leads the way for our actions. It is God who speaks to us, bringing conviction, comfort, corrections, and encouragement.
  2. Who does the teaching? (1 Timothy 5:17, Titus 1:7-9, Romans 15:14).

How to Grow as a Disciple: Imitation

  1. Some things are better caught than taught.
  2. Timothy’s Models (2 Timothy 3:10-17, 1:5, 2 Timothy 2:2).
  3. The benefit of multiple models (Philippians 3:17-4:1).

A Culture of Discipleship: Culture defines what we think is normal; habits, expectations mores.

  1. Older teaching the younger (Titus 2:1-10)
  2. The centrality of the church in discipleship (Ephesians 4:11-16) There are many ways and functions but we cannot do everything outside of the local congregation. The main way to grow in Christ is through the church body. Church relationship should be as normal as breathing. The church permeates everything, it is not a club or a program.
  3. Ar you making disciples? (2 Peter 1:5-8) Are these yours and increasing? Everyone called by Jesus is to be used by Jesus to reach others.

Others-focused Growth and a Focus on Growing Others: The New Testament is other-focused. We must seek to serve others, especially those in the faith (Galatians 6:10). Every Christian has a part to play on this team.

  1. How does Jesus define greatness (Mark 10:42-45)?
  2. How do we embody the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)?
  3. Who must we strive to please (Romans 15:1-2)?
  4. Disciples made simple: it doesn’t take a super-Christian, and you can’t make the excuse that you have nothing to offer someone else. We are gifted to serve (1 Corinthians 12:7).

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