Raising the Next Generation

Conversations With Jesus – Luke 6:40

Welcome to part 5 of Ken’s teaching series called Conversations. Today I am going to talk about The Greatest Teacher – Jesus’ conversation about raising the next generation. – Luke 6:40 (this is also my tribute to moms on Mother’s Day)

Let’s take a look at what Jesus is teaching his disciples in Luke 6. Beginning in verse 20, Luke records his equivalence of the sermon on the mount, with his version of the beatitudes (Luke 6:20-26).

And THEN Jesus spoke a parable to them in Luke 6:39-40, when he tells us that the blind cannot guide the blind. Why? Because they will both fall into the pit. You know what this tells me? Since I am all about discipleship, I think that it is accurate to say that we CANNOT lead someone in discipleship to a place that we have not yet gone. That’s not an excuse to never attempt to disciple someone but it IS a strong challenge to lead by example. As followers of Christ, we are called to lead people to greater depths of devotion to Jesus and to spend our lives in the pursuit of conforming to the image of Christ. We must be willing and committed to do whatever it takes to look more like Jesus. It doesn’t happen by accident but on purpose with determined intentionality.

OK, let me get to my intended verse because Luke 6:40 is the starting point for my message today… “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.”

So, this message today is going to focus on what Jesus said about raising the next generation. In context, Jesus is talking about the rabbi-follower relationship, discipler-disciplee, mentor-mentee, but on this Mother’s Day, I think this verse can speak to us about what parents do for their children. If we don’t do anything else, our kids will generally turn out much like us. They follow our example, it’s NOT just what we SAY but what we DO.

I remember a commercial when I was a kid, a dad and his son were in the front yard washing the car. The little boy of 5 or 6 does exactly what the dad does… washing the fender, scrubbing the tires, wearing the baseball cap, all with the narrator repeating the phrase, “like father, like son.” Then they sit down at the base of a tree in the front yard and dad grabs a pack of cigarettes, and as the son reaches for the pack that daddy just laid down, the narrator asks the question, “Like father, like son?”

Our kids are watching us. Moms and dad not only have the awesome responsibility of raising the next generation of citizen in America, but they are raising the next generation of Christians in America. As we look around our country today, what sort of followers of Jesus are we producing? Are we making disciples or do we settle for making good little church attenders? Are the kids in the church today just learning moral lessons from the Bible or are they encountering and learning about the God of the Bible? Do they know the reason they were created and the responsibility they have for reaching those who are far from God and even those who have little or no access to the gospel?

Remember what I said a moment ago, it is very difficult (if not impossible) to take someone to a place we have not yet gone ourselves. We cannot pass on that which we don’t embrace. Our kids will never learn how to have a quiet time if they don’t see us having regular times for devotional reading and praying. They won’t learn how to share the gospel if we don’t share the gospel. They won’t learn how to disciple someone else if no one ever discipled them.

Maybe this sounds familiar… when asked in a social situation, “what do you do?” I’ve heard some moms say something like, “I’m just an at-home mom.” Well, let me remind you what mom’s do at home…

  • First, let’s give mom a creative title. Domestic engineer? Household CEO? Director of child development? And how about the activities an at-home mom does?
  • Teacher: Mothers teach children their first words, colors and shapes. They continue to enrich their learning by helping them with their homework and school projects.
  • Chef: The Bureau of Labor Statistics describes the role of a chef as one who develops recipes, plans menus, orders food inventory, and ensures sanitary kitchen conditions. That certainly sounds like a mom.
  • Event Planner: Even the busiest mom squeezes in time for fun. Whether it’s planning a themed birthday celebration, coordinating schedules with extended family for the holidays, or signing kids up for recreational activities, moms constantly have something to do and somewhere to be.
  • Housekeeper: Maintaining an orderly house can be quite the daunting task for a mother. There is no shortage of things to clean or organize, whether the children are toddlers or teenagers.
  • Accountant: In most households, moms perform many accounting functions such as creating and balancing a budget, paying bills and identifying cost-saving opportunities.
  • Chauffeur: Moms also serve as chauffeurs by providing hours of transportation for kids to and from doctor appointments, school, shopping, and play dates.
  • I read a statistic that if moms received an annual salary for all of their responsibilities, they would earn an estimated $78,000 a year.

But, let’s refocus on Christian moms and dads. Luke 6:40 reminds us that a pupil (or child), after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher. How do we as parents invest in our kids for the kingdom’s sake. Aside from any teaching and training that will turn our kids into socially acceptable citizens and productive members of our community, let me suggest these 6 things to be a part of ANY parental curriculum. Here is my acrostic for the day. M.O.T.H.E.R.

Mission – Acts 1:8but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Think about your goal as a Christian parent. It’s not about raising a socially acceptable and productive member of the community. Your goal is not for your kids to have a great education. It’s not to be a great athlete. It’s not to have them participate in wholesome dating. It’s not to have a great career. It’s not about getting them out of the house on their own, making lots of money.

The goal of Christian parenting is for your kids to embrace the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and live out the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40). We teach our kids to love God with their whole being and to love others as themselves. The Great Commandment leads to the Great Commission and the fact that God uses ordinary people like US to spread the love of Jesus to those with little or no access to the gospel.

I love Acts 1:8 because we don’t do any of this alone, we have received the power of the Holy Spirit to be his witnesses. This verse reminds us that our mission field is in our own city, state, country, and the world. It’s not about one place over another but doing all four at the same time. Notice Jesus used the word, “both” in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. We tend to see the command as a buffet line… Jerusalem or Judea or Samaria, or the ends of the earth. Pick one.

Jesus told the disciples, and tells us, that they WILL be his witnesses,” meaning if you carry the name of Jesus, you are his witness. We don’t go out and DO witnessing, but we ARE witnesses. If you’re a believer, you’re a witness and can tell others what Jesus has done for you. The only choice we have is between these two options… will we be a GOOD witness or a BAD witness?

As parents, our first priority is to instill in our children that we are on mission with God, no matter what our vocation, marital status, or personal hobbies or interests. Once we understand our mission, it leads us to the next part of raising the next generation…

Obedience – John 14:21He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.

We teach our kids about obeying us (as parents) and obeying teachers, and those in authority (like police) but we often find ourselves telling our kids that obedience to God is optional. Perhaps we justify it by thinking like this… the standard of Jesus is perfection, we can never be perfect, so why try? Or maybe we say, my salvation is not based on my performance (like my obedience) but on the work of Christ on the cross, so obedience must therefore be optional.

Read John 14:21 again… keeping his commandments is a sign of our love for God. If you love God, you WILL keep is commands. When we love God, we will be loved by the Father. Jesus said that if we keep his commands, HE will love us and he will disclose himself to us. If you don’t feel like Jesus is revealing himself to you, try obedience! When we obey his word, Jesus will disclose himself to us.

Walking through life in obedience is something that is caught more than it is taught. We have heard the phrase, “do as I say and not as I do” but our kids see how we are living. They know if we simply put on the mask of Christianity on Sundays or they see that we’re fully committed to Christ and his mission throughout the week.  

Teaching – Matthew 7:28-29 – When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; 29 for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

If parents don’t do anything else, teaching is the thing that they do the most. It seems that day after day, all we do is teach our kids about life, relationships, dating, work ethic, trade skills, vocational skills, study skills, sports skills, coaching, board games, fishing, household chores, homework, you name it. We teach all the time.

But how do we prepare our kids for life’s ultimate final exam? When you stop learning, you stop growing, and all living things grow. Parents must make it a priority to teach their children the WILL and WAYS of God. Nothing will draw a child closer to God than seeing mom and dad taking steps of faith, walking in obedience, especially when it is difficult or uncomfortable. Actions really do speak louder than words.

You’ve heard it said that we should never let a crisis go to waste. It is through the crises of life that we find the greatest teaching opportunities. Take advantage of difficult times to help your kids walk in faith and trust God. Lead by example. Set the pace for your family.

Humility – Mark 10:45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

The culture and the world will teach your children to look out for Number One. They justify this type of teaching to emphasize and develop a positive self-esteem in children. Now, if YOUR kids were anything like MY kids, I didn’t have to teach them how to be selfish, that seemed to come naturally. Kids think the world revolves around them. It’s part of the fall of mankind. We make ourselves to be most important and we desire to be the master of our own destiny, the center of the universe, and sit upon the throne of our own lives. But is that the example of Jesus?

Our Lord and Savior did not seek power, prestige, or position so he could manage or rule over others. Jesus taught that we are supposed to serve others rather than serve ourselves or have others serve us. This is the essence of humility.

We must teach our kids to look out for the interests of others more than themselves. Just how do kids learn this? By seeing the example of their parents. Again, set the pace for humility in your household. Give your life in service to others.

Evangelism – Mark 3:13-14And He went up on the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. 14 And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach

Jesus spent the whole night in prayer before he called his 12 closest men to be his disciples. We often think of these guys as super-Christians and we can’t expect to live up to the standard they set, especially in the areas of ministry and mission. I love this Mark passage because of what Jesus called them to do.

We often focus on the last section, that he called them to send them out to preach, which is an important part of their mission, but notice the phrase just before that. He called them “to be with him” and THEN he sent them out to preach. This is the “with him” principle.

We need to walk through this life with Jesus, learn from him, and then pass on what we have learned to others, especially to our kids and those within our circle of influence. We learn from him, then we go out to make a difference in the world around us. Make a difference for the kingdom of God. All this leads up to our final point, which is…

Relationship – Luke 24:14-15And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them.

Christianity is nothing if not about relationships. First there is our relationship with the Father through the Son. This relationship is all about salvation. Our next relationship is with other believers. This relationship is all about fellowship. Our third relationship is with a lost and dying world. This relationship is all about evangelism and mission, which we have previously covered today.

We can teach our kids to be successful in the world but unless they understand these key relationships in life, they are no different than your average lost person. Notice what is included in the Luke 24 passage…

In context, this story is part of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Look what takes place…

They were talking with each other about the things that had taken place. How often do you talk with your kids about spiritual matters? About how you came to faith in Christ? About how God has moved in your life this week? About how Jesus gave you opportunities to make a difference in someone else’s life? About ministry opportunities or a mission experience? Faith is caught more than it is taught, and it is caught by talking about life together.

Along with talking about and discussing spiritual matters, Jesus approached them and began traveling with them. He took the initiative. The Christian life is not so much about the destination (heaven when we die) as it is about the journey and the path we walk. We go through life as a family, whether in our physical family of blood relatives or our family of faith (or what I like to call them, my forever family).

In Christianity, there are no “lone ranger” disciples. We are in this thing together. The body is made up of many parts and we all work together for the body to function properly. Christianity is about community, and at its core, this means relationships. We need to be connected with one another.

I think this has been the hardest part of this year of COVID. Our relationships have suffered. We have drifted apart. I feel many people have come to the conclusion that gathering together as the church or a small group or a Sunday school class was not really as important as we had made it out to be all these years.

“I have made it just fine without getting together.” I can have my “worship on demand,” any time I want; when it’s convenient for me. I don’t need for my class to get together; e-mail is just fine for me to keep up.

So, what does Jesus teach about raising the next generation? Look over these 6 areas. Which one do you need to focus on first? What can you do this week that will help you get back on track? How will you pray differently this week?

When we realize that the life we have been given is not about US, then we find freedom. We are called to be a good steward of the life we have, as one who will give an account for what we have done with that which we have been entrusted.

On this Mother’s Day, let us all remember why we are on this planet. If you are a follower of Christ, your life is NOT about YOU, but it’s all about being an ambassador for Christ and being his witnesses locally, and even around the world. Let’s reflect on what God may be saying to us right now.

PRAY: Lord Jesus, we recognize that life is hard, and without question, it is distracting from what you have called us to do for the kingdom’s sake. Father, open our eyes to the opportunities all around us as we go through this life. May we see you at work and seek to join you in in your mission to reach through who are far from you. Help us to seek the one who is lost. Help us to raise the next generation to love you extravagantly. May we set the pace for our families and our community. May we run the race set before us and not grow weary. May we fight the good fight and finish well. Father, we know we fall short but plead your mercy and grace, to encourage us to stand strong in our calling to salvation and our calling to be your hands and feet in this world. May we be salt and light. In Jesus name. Amen.

The Knowledge of God – F260

2 Peter 1:2-4 – “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 for His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 Through these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world on account of lust.” 

Today I want to focus on knowledge, the knowledge of God which is a foundational principle of our spiritual growth. So, how do we gain knowledge about God? That’s where the Bible comes in. 

1. George Muller, who established many orphanages throughout England, said… “I believe that the one chief reason that I have been kept in happy useful service is that I have been a lover of Holy Scripture. It has been my habit to read the Bible through four times a year; in a prayerful spirit, to apply it to my heart, and practice what I find there. I have been for sixty-nine years a happy man; happy, happy, happy.” 

2. Ronald Reagan said, “Within the covers of one single book, the Bible, are all the answers to all the problems that face us today—if only we would read and believe.” 

3. Missionary Amy Carmichael said, “Never let good books take the place of the Bible. Drink from the Well, not from the streams that flow from the Well.” 

4. And this may be the most direct, author unknown, “A Bible in the hand is worth two in the bookcase.” 

If you don’t hear anything else I say today, get this: Let’s make 2021 the best year ever in your spiritual growth by reading the entire New Testament. That is the reason I have organized this Foundation 260 initiative. Let’s read the New Testament together. 

I don’t think there is anything more basic to knowing and loving Christ, and obeying him, than to hear God speak to us though his Word and then to speak back to him with the prayers and praises and obedience which flows from our hearts. 

The reason for that is because it is so plain that today God reveals himself to us by the Word.  

  1. The living Christ in his bodily form is not here. He has ascended and taken his place at the right hand of God.  
  1. Neither are his inspired prophets and apostles here. God has ordained for himself to be known primarily by the Word that was recorded from those prophets and apostles—especially those who knew the Lord himself in his physical form—and preserved what we need to know in this book. 

But let’s face it, reading through the entire Bible or even committing to reading a daily portion can be difficult. It can be a struggle to stay with it every day. That’s the way it is with most new things that we make a commitment to start; fitness, exercise, college, dieting. We begin with enthusiasm but somewhere along the way we give up. We lose focus, the excitement wanes. 

We may feel that we don’t have the time for reading the Bible every day.  But Dr. Tony Evans reminds us that we always have time for what is first on our list. The question then becomes: Is the Bible first on our list? 

Why is the Bible important? 

1) The Bible is enduring and lasting. (Because God is enduring) – Psalm 119:89 says: “Your Word, Oh Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” Isaiah 40:8 tells us, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever.” 

We live in changing times. Fads come and go, social mores change and we tend to drift away from God’s Word and lean more toward society and the culture around us.  

But the Word of God is enduring! Isaiah contrasts it with flowers and grass. Flowers and grass may be here today and we enjoy them, but we know that they are short-lived. Their beauty is fleeting. The same is true of us, our time on earth is short. Our earthly “wisdom” is usually shortsighted. God’s Word endures and stands firm in the ups and downs of life. 

The purposes of God, as published in these sacred writings, will never be stopped (cf. Matt. 5:18; 24:25; Mark 13:3; Luke 16:17). Remember the words in Isaiah 55:11, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” So, the Bible is enduring, but it is also trustworthy… 

2) The Bible is trustworthy (Because God is trustworthy) – Psalm 111:7 says, “All he does is just and good, and all his commandments are trustworthy.” In Ezekiel 12:25, “For I am the Lord! If I say it, it will happen.”  

God will fulfill what he says. He will honor his promises. He is faithful and just and we can depend on what he says. You can build your life upon the foundation of the Bible. 

In our world it can sometimes be very difficult to find a trustworthy and reliable person. Whether a car mechanic or a doctor or a plumber, a trustworthy person can be hard to find. People often go back on their word. They fail to live up to their commitments. Have YOU ever been burned by an unreliable person? Have you put your trust in something or someone and they let you down? Most of us have and that makes us a little hesitant to trust. But God has always been and always will be faithful, and because he is faithful, his word can be trusted. Since he has been faithful in the past, he can be trusted to be faith in the present.  

Why am I challenging you to read the Bible? 

Let’s start with the negative: we don’t want to be ignorant of what God has told us.  

  1. Paul often warned his readers that he did not want them to be ignorant about important subjects, like when he wrote to the Romans in 11:25 pleading with them not to be ignorant regarding the dealings of God with Gentiles and the nation of Israel. 
  1. He warned the Corinthians repeatedly about not being ignorant of several different theological subjects. He said in 1 Corinthians 12:1 “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant.” He was also disappointed with them regarding their divisions in the church and he was saddened that they were still needing milk like infants when they should have been pressing on to more substantial “meaty subjects.” 
  1. He warned then not to be ignorant concerning the schemes of Satan (2 Corinthians 2:11).  
  1. He warned the Thessalonians to not be ignorant concerning Christ’s second coming (1 Thessalonians 4:13) 

The writer to the Hebrews grieved over their lack of spiritual progress in Hebrews 5:11-12 – “There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. 12 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.” 

Jesus rebuked the Sadducees for their lack of Bible knowledge, like in Matthew 22:29 – “Jesus replied, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.” 

Likewise, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees in Matthew 12:3 by saying, “Have you not read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry?” 

God speaks to us through his Word and we dont want to be unaware of what he is saying to us. That is why it is important that we spend time reading His Word. 

Now let’s look at some positive reasons: 

Reading God’s word gives us: Education, Endurance, Encouragement and Hope. 

Look at Romans 15:4 – “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” 

The Scripture is given for our EDUCATION. That presupposes that we will not only be reading the Bible regularly but that we will also be studying it for ourselves. We can’t rely exclusively on the teaching of others. We need to be in the Word ourselves. Reading, meditating, and memorizing, and digging into the parables and the narrative sections and the doctrine and the theology. We need to be listening to God speaking through his Word. 

The Bible is given for us to ENDURE – We need to read God’s Word in difficult times. When the news is bad. When things are not working out like we had hoped. We don’t need endurance when times are good. Contained within the pages of the Bible are stories of endurance. Check our Hebrews 11 and read about the Hall of Faithfulness.  

These are stories of men and women whose faith endured in the midst of difficult times. We have wonderful records of the prophets who endured all sorts of treatment and lack of results for their effort.  

And coming to the New Testament we see Jesus who endured ill-treatment and abuse and yet he endured. And going further we observe the Apostles and the early church who through faith in God and his Word, they were able to persevere when the whole world seemed against them. 

Knowing the Bible gives us ENCOURAGEMENT – Many times I have been encouraged by the Scriptures and I’m sure that you have as well. There have been times when it seemed like just the right verse came along at the right time to lift me up and to help me keep going. I don’t see how lost people are able to deal with tragedy and difficulty. How does a person who does not know God deal with loss, suffering, and hardship? Many turn to alcohol or drugs or other forms of abuse to deaden the pain. But those things don’t solve the problems, do they? In fact, they make the problems worse. 

When I am feeling down, I know that I can turn to God’s Word and be lifted up out of that pit. But I need to be regularly in that Word in order for the Holy Spirit to bring out the help that I need.  

Finally, knowing the Bible gives us HOPE – You can live for weeks without food. You can go for days without water. But how long can you live without hope? Ken recently reminded us of the words of Dostoevsky who said, “To live without hope is to cease to live.” Shakespeare said, “The miserable have no other medicine, but only hope”  

Theologian Ken Boa wrote, “People cannot live without hope. Throughout history, human beings have endured the loss of many things. People have lost their health, their finances, their reputations, their careers, even their loved ones, and yet have endured. The pages of history books are filled with those who suffered pain, rejection, isolation, persecution, and abuse; there have been people who faced concentration camps with unbroken spirits and unbowed heads, people who have been devastated by Job-like trials and yet found the strength to go on without cursing God and dying. Humans can survive the loss of almost anything – but not without hope.” 

We live by hope, and when hope is gone, endurance and joy and energy and courage just evaporate. Life itself begins to fade. When hope goes, we start to die. One of the most profound proverbs of the Bible says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12). 

Romans 15:13 says, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit..” 

Maybe you agree that having the habit of daily Bible reading is a good idea. Maybe you struggle with being able to carry it out long term. In the past maybe you have started out well only to struggle somewhere along the path. 

In previous years, we have challenged you to read the whole Bible in a year. That may be nothing new for you; I’ve begun to read the whole Bible in a year on many occasions… the emphasis is on “begun.” But with all the best intentions, we sometimes aren’t able to finish the whole Bible in a year.  

This year, let’s try something different. Rather than focusing on reading through the Bible in a year, let’s focus on getting to know the God of the Bible. Let’s not read these chapters to check it off our reading list but focus on what God wants to teach us through our daily reading.  

Foundation 260 is all about reading a chapter a day, focusing on that one verse a day that jumps off the page for you, reading Monday through Friday. The New Testament has 260 chapters, and when we read 5 chapters a week, we cover the entire New Testament in the 52 weeks of 2021.  

You can do this on your own, if you choose. I have a few helpful tools in the foyer.  

Or, you might prefer the accountability of reading with other people who will challenge and encourage you to keep up with your reading, and also rejoice with you as you share how God is speaking to you through reading the Bible. Here is a link to join my Monday group.

There is a YouVersion App with an F260 reading plan, what could be easier? You can invite your friends to read with you and to hold each other accountable. I have also developed a few tools to help you succeed. 

1) This one explains the process and gives a lot of information to help you dig into the text.  

2) This one is the reading plan itself, reminding you what you will read each week to stay on track, and  

3) This one is the monthly reading and application guide to record your reading and actually write down what God is teaching you each day.  

This next year, won’t you join me in reading through the New Testament? We all understand that Bible study is so important, but hearing God speak is even greater.  

Let’s do this in 2021. Will you make the commitment to be a part of Foundation 260? Will you read the text each day? Will you join or start a group to discuss what God is teaching you?  

Let’s pray about it. 

Lord Jesus, we need to hear from you. We confess that we have not advanced toward maturity as we first hoped, and that we have become distracted and stagnant in the worries and cares of this life. Father, help us to make this commitment in good faith, and help us to trust you to keep us on track, because you have said through your Word that, “…I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” Father, we cannot do this on our own, and it would be futile to try to make it happen, but with all praise going to YOU, we can do this together with your help. Lord Jesus, speak to us, and make our lives useful to you. AMEN 

During this next song, seek God’s direction about your involvement in the challenge. 

I won’t shame anyone who is not ready to make this commitment, but perhaps you have been waiting for such an opportunity to do something like this. So, if you are on board with F260, would you stand up right now and show this congregation the desire of your heart to take on this challenge.  

Seriously, if you’re not ready to do this, I understand, people around you understand. Please don’t stand up if you need more time to consider this commitment.  

Closing Remarks: Find out more at the church website, come up and talk to me about it, join the group through the church groups app, and let’s make 2021 the best year ever for your spiritual growth. 

Shepherding God’s People

King’s Grant Discipleship Ministry
Teacher Training Series
This is an overview of the 7 types of sheep we find in Ezekiel 34 and Zechariah 11

Shepherding God’s People Series:

  1. Shepherding God’s People – Overview
  2. Shepherding Weak Sheep
  3. Shepherding Sick Sheep
  4. Shepherding Broken Sheep
  5. Shepherding Lost Sheep
  6. Shepherding Scattered Sheep
  7. Shepherding Young Sheep
  8. Shepherding Standing Sheep

Here is the transcript of this video lesson…

Shepherding God’s People

A good Shepherd provides personalized care based upon the sheep’s spiritual condition. The prophets Ezekiel and Zechariah bring “woes” against the Shepherds of Israel that are described as “faithless,” “foolish” and “worthless.” The Shepherds of Israel that didn’t provide individualized care were accused of taking a position of leadership in order to just feed themselves rather than the flock of God’s people entrusted to them. God was not ambiguous about what He thought of these men – “I am against the Shepherds” (Ezekiel 34:10).

Ezekiel 34:1-16 and Zechariah 11:15-17 break the flock of God down into seven kinds of sheep that need specialized care. Each believer under your care, these people in your class, will move from one category to another depending upon their spiritual journey and life circumstances.

Let’s look at these two passages of Scripture:

Ezekiel 34:1-16 New Living Translation (NLT)

The Shepherds of Israel

34 Then this message came to me from the Lord: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? 3 You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. 4 You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. 5 So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. 6 They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.

7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. 9 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. 10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.

The Good Shepherd

11 “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. 12 I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. 13 I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. 14 Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!

Zechariah 11:15-17 New Living Translation (NLT)

15 Then the Lord said to me, “Go again and play the part of a worthless shepherd. 16 This illustrates how I will give this nation a shepherd who will not care for those who are dying, nor look after the young, nor heal the injured, nor feed the healthy. Instead, this shepherd will eat the meat of the fattest sheep and tear off their hooves.

17 “What sorrow awaits this worthless shepherd who abandons the flock! The sword will cut his arm and pierce his right eye. His arm will become useless, and his right eye completely blind.”

As we study these passages, you will see that God desires shepherds to:

  1. Strengthen the weak
  2. Heal the sick
  3. Bind up the broken
  4. Bring back the scattered
  5. Seek the lost (perishing)
  6. Seek the young
  7. Feed the standing (healthy)

Today I want to present an overview to look at these sheep, and some scripture to help us know and minister to these people who are in our care.

Weak Sheep [Ezekiel 34:4]

Shepherd’s Responsibility: Strengthen the Weak

Description: Weak sheep are not necessarily “unruly” or “fainthearted,” they simply don’t have the strength to stand on their own without support (Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica, “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Sometimes, Extra Grace is Required (EGR), so these types need to be shepherded with patience. It’s also important that these individuals don’t become dependent on the shepherd, but learn to ultimately stand on their own. These sheep need to be able to one day feed themselves. It’s important to remember the principle “Weakness prolonged becomes willfulness.”

Hebrews 11:33-34 – who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

1 Thessalonians 5:14 – We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

1 Corinthians 3:1-3 – And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?

Romans 7:15, 19, 22-23 – For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate… For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want…. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.

Acts 20:35 – In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Broken Sheep [Ezekiel 34:4,16; Zechariah 11:16, Psalm 147:3; Matthew 12:20]

Shepherd’s Responsibility: Bind Up the Broken

Description: Broken sheep are those who have been injured or wounded in some way. Sometimes the wound is a broken heart from the loss of a loved one in death. They need to be bandaged up and given a lot of TLC (tender loving care). Others have had their will broken through the discipline of the Lord and need to be carried after their dislocated or broken legs are bound up. Others have broken relationships that, apart from a third party (like a shepherd’s intervention), are unlikely to be restored.

Psalm 147:2-3 – The Lord builds up Jerusalem; He gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted And binds up their wounds.

Matthew 12:17-21 – This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet:

18 “Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen;
My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased;
I will put My Spirit upon Him,
And He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 “He will not quarrel, nor cry out;
Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.
20 “A battered reed He will not break off,
And a smoldering wick He will not put out,
Until He leads justice to victory.
21 “And in His name the Gentiles will hope.”

Lost (Perishing) Sheep [Ezekiel 34:4,16; Zechariah 11:16, Luke 15:1-7]

Shepherd’s Responsibility: Seek the Lost. These people need to hear the plan of salvation

Description: Every flock is just one generation away from extinction. Every shepherd is one generation away from unemployment. As shepherds, we must not rely on “transfer growth” (sheep stealing from another flock) to increase our flock size but must be actively and intentionally seeking out lost people who are perishing. This includes finding new and innovative ways to introduce church life to those who feel “cut off.” These folks feel there are no points of re-entry into the congregation.

Ezekiel 34:4 – … the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them.

Ezekiel 34:16 – “I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick; …

Luke 15:1-7 – Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He told them this parable, saying, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Scattered/Driven Away Sheep [Ezekiel 34:4,5,6,8,16, Matthew 9:36-38]

Shepherd’s Responsibility: Bring Back the Scattered

Description: The longer you wait to retrieve scattered sheep, the less likely they are to return. Some have strayed on their own for a variety of reasons, but others have been “driven away.” It’s the shepherd’s responsibility to make a sincere and conscientious attempt to bring them back.

Matthew 9:36-38 – Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Ezekiel 34:6 – My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for them.

Ezekiel 34:8 – …My shepherds did not search for My flock,…

Ezekiel 34:16 – I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick; …

Sick Sheep [Ezekiel 34:4,16]

Shepherd’s Responsibility: Heal the Sick (physically)

Description: Some sheep that are sick have physical health problems while others are spiritually sick. Sin-sick sheep often need to be reminded that the words “by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24-25) are just as applicable to a believer who has sinned as they are to an unbeliever. Physically sick sheep often need a shepherd to provide care while they are sickly. It’s also important to help sick sheep to discern the kind of sickness they are experiencing. Is it a sickness unto death, a sickness unto chastisement, a sickness to manifest the work of God and to glorify Him, or to teach contentment with the sufficiency of God’s Grace in the midst of sickness?

1 Peter 2:24-25 – and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

John 11:14 – But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”

1 John 5:16 – If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this.

1 Corinthians 11:32 – But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.

Hebrews 12:4-6 – You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation, which is addressed to you as sons,

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”

Young Sheep [Zechariah 11:16]

Shepherd’s Responsibility: Seek the Young

Description: Young sheep are very vulnerable and impressionable. The pattern that is set for them in those early years of their newly found faith is usually characteristic of the rest of their Christian lives. Getting off to a good start is so important. A newborn baby in the natural world needs lots of attention; parents who don’t provide specialized care are often accused by civil authorities of child neglect or abuses.

It’s no different in the spiritual world. It is so important to pour into the lives of young sheep!

There is plenty we can do to raise up these young sheep to make a significant difference in the lives of other around them. The goal is to move them from infancy to adolescence, to adulthood, and eventually into parenthood (making disciples of others). This is all about the Discipleship Pathway and our Small Group Strategy.

Standing (Healthy) Sheep [Zechariah 11:16]

Shepherd’s Responsibility: Feed the Standing

Description: Sheep that are “healthy” have the greatest potential for spiritual growth. They also represent the pool of individuals from which workers and future leaders will come, those who can move the church’s mission forward. Unfortunately, these individuals are often neglected because we are in crisis mode dealing with other kinds of sheep. The old saying is often true, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” It is important to set up a “growth plan” and work with them so that they can progress further rather than becoming complacent or stagnant. This is intentional discipleship that has the end goal in mind from the very beginning. We can easily see of the disciple is making progress toward the biblical image of Christ himself.


Credit for the original teaching goes to my mentor, teacher, and friend, Rick Leineweber.

Church is a Team Sport

Below are my notes from Jim Putman’s book called, Church is a Team Sport. Buy this book!

In Church Is a Team Sport, Jim uses the analogy of coaching and teamwork to show how God built Real Life’s team from two couples to over eight thousand people in eight years—all in a northern Idaho town of ten thousand people.

When he started Real Life, he wanted to get back to the primary task of the church—making disciples. Many churches assume they can make disciples incidentally, but Real Life makes disciples intentionally.

Real Life’s vision is to fulfill the Great Commission. Following are some of the unique ways they are accomplishing this vision.

Disciple Making. Their vision to make disciples is the determining factor in everything they do. Most churches make it one of many emphases, hoping disciple making will take place by osmosis. At Real Life, however, if an activity does not contribute to making disciples, it takes a backseat.

A Relational Context. Real Life makes disciples in a relational context. That means making disciples in small groups. They believe that you can’t make disciples in a vacuum such as a class where you just pass on information.

Unity. Disunity in the church drove Jim Putman from the church and the faith of his father. When God led him to start a church, he resolved that unity would be a core value. Real Life focuses on the basic doctrines of the Bible but will not get sidetracked with peripheral issues.

Ministry. Ministry takes place in small groups, but it does not stop there. The church meets the needs of hundreds of needy people every month.

Evangelism. Evangelism is a natural outgrowth of all the things mentioned above. Because people get help in their small group, they naturally tell their friends. Every event sponsored by the church has the purpose of introducing people to Christ and making disciples.

Leadership Development. Because the goal is making disciples, Real Life is always looking for new leaders.

Teamwork. The name of the book hints that a winning team is the defining work of a coach. At Real Life they have one goal—winning. Winning is defined as making disciples who are like Christ. Every player is important.

Innovation. For Real Life innovation is not doing something that no other church has done. It is getting back to the basics and living as disciples. I have been surprised at their willingness to change.

Jim Putman is a coach at heart. He is a leader of people, and they follow him.

Here is a bit about Jim’s call to plant a church…

I hated the idea of church planting. The instant they asked me if I had an interest in planting this new church, those memories flooded my mind, and I rationalized there was no way this was from God. Even if I were to plant a church, I would never do it alone.

I remember thinking, Lord, if you want me to come to this place, you will have to change my heart. I also told God, even if He did change my heart, He would have to do a miracle.

On October 18, 1998, we had our official first service. It was a glorious day—and everything that could go wrong did. We had a single guitar, a bad sound system, ministry equipment that was built by hand, homemade signs, and bulletins that looked amateurish. It may not have looked good, but we had the Lord, each other, big dreams, and most of all, we had a simple biblical plan that was reproducible.

We continued to trust God for our needs. After that first year, we had grown to about five hundred people. We needed three services.

In three years, God had grown His new church from four families to 2,300 people!

We had always done things in small groups, because this was the only place that could provide the care we felt people needed.

We were overwhelmed. The largest church any of us had ever been in was three hundred. None of us had ever done what we were doing. I had never been a senior pastor.

We had a value system that drove everything we did. We believed in relationship and shepherding—in discipling those we won to the Lord.

One of the staff said, “What’s up with you?” I explained I had finally called all the people and now I had to write a sermon. His question: “Why are you doing all of that?” I told him that a pastor is supposed to pastor his people. My co-worker said something that still sticks with me. He said, “No, your job is to make sure people are pastored. You always talk about raising up people to do what you do; now let us do what you do.” Our team realized that we were at a crossroads.

Each team member had to make a decision. I was beat; our staff was exhausted. We had a choice to make. If all we looked at were the numbers, we’d say the success was killing us. But we knew in our hearts this wasn’t success. We were on our way to losing. We were becoming a show.

Since two of our church values were to raise up leaders and to pastor our people, we had to make a decision. If we could not or would not do this anymore, then we had to change our church’s purposes, which we had written on the wall and in our weekly bulletin. It had become obvious that we could not do it the way we had done it anymore.

The next Sunday, as a leadership team we stood in front of our people and explained our dilemma. We outlined the two options, reminded them what we had believed since the beginning, and told them what choice we had made. We would not seek to be like other big churches. We honestly shared our hearts and our convictions, and we let them know we were tired and needed their help if we were to be successful in the next step.

Then, we shared the plan. We would become completely small groups driven. We would spend our money on pastors who could disciple and release, rather than hire people who focused on the worship service. We would de-emphasize the show and focus on shepherding, discipleship, and relationship. We let them know they would have to step up and become ministers, not spectators—after all, this church is called Real Life Ministries (RLM), and we must all be ministers. The people went nuts. They gave us a standing ovation!

We concentrated on building leaders. Instead of merely feeding those who had been Christians for years but had never really grown up, we were going to force those who stuck around to grow up and serve.

We would be taking a chance. We knew that. Most of these men and women had never done anything but sit in a church pew, if they had been in church at all. Most had no training, no history of service, and certainly no experience in church leadership.

A LOOK AT THE EARLY CHURCH – During this time I had been reading the first few chapters of Acts in a new way. I was thinking about what starting a church must have been like for them. In the upper room, on the day of Pentecost, there were 120 people. By the end of the day 3,000 had gathered. What did the disciples do? How did they handle what must have been such utter chaos and confusion?

The early church was organized chaos. As I continued to study, I remember thinking, I see us in here! We can relate to these circumstances. We understand being overwhelmed. It gave me a picture of what we could look like. If God could use green, confused people in the first century, He could do it here and now.

We moved for many reasons. The foyer had come to resemble a mosh pit before and after services. Our children’s ministry could not squeeze one more child in. It could easily take thirty minutes to park and then even longer to get into the building. New and unsaved people were turning around and going home. We watched them in frustration as they circled the parking lot in their cars and left. We wanted to reduce the number of weekly services because our staff was exhausted.

We added one truly new component. We developed a way to track our people’s attendance in services and small groups. We wanted to know that our people were okay. We called it the C.A.R.E. Tool—Caring for All, Reaching Everyone. It took cooperation from our people and a computer system that could track attendance.

People don’t want to be a number. People want to be loved and affirmed and trained. A good shepherd chases the strays because he loves them. If they get away, it won’t be because he simply let them go.

When we first started, we put whoever we could find into leadership. Now, our leaders are coming from within the system. Our apprentices see a model to follow, and they are following and implementing our values. Our most effective small group leaders often became community coaches of six to ten small group leaders. Some have become elders in our church and others have come on staff.

God has indeed worked here at Real Life Ministries. He loves to use people who are clueless so He gets all the credit. It would be foolish to say this story has happened as the result of any one person. God wanted a church here and He acted. He is awesome! He is holy. He is unstoppable. All we can do is hold on and pray.

I believe a change is needed. The average church in America, as it is currently put together, is failing. This book will challenge you to rethink the box you were handed by those who taught you. As a leader, you are God’s coach, and He wants to use you to lead His team to victory. This book will also challenge you to discover a “new” way to find true victory.

I called my dad to gloat with the proverbial “I told you so.” Instead of responding the way I anticipated, my dad said something I will never forget: “Jim, I think you should get involved there and let the Lord use your abilities to fix some of the problems rather than point at them.”

That night my father called. “I have been thinking a lot about what you said. Jim, I want to give you an analogy I have been reflecting on. A healthy lake has water coming in and water going out. If no water continuously comes in, then the lake dries up. If a lake has water coming in but no water going out, then the lake floods and kills everything around it.”

You have choices to make, Jim. God is asking you to give. Instead of pointing out all the blemishes on His bride, the church, I believe God wants to use you to help clean her up.”

It’s God’s team, these are God’s people, I thought. As I traded in the mats and ball fields for the church boardrooms, I found something I did not expect. I found people who not only couldn’t play together but didn’t know how to play at all—a losing team. Over the years, it’s been disappointing to see God’s teams (the church) all over the country doing things that a good high school or college coach would never allow on a sports field. Many of God’s teams have created playbooks that were not approved by The Coach, and as a result we have lost more than we should have.

As I listened, I realized that these people, though they loved God, were not a team with a mission. They didn’t have a common view of what winning even was. They were not in agreement about where to go, so they were not going anywhere. As near as I could tell by their conversations and actions, their goal was to keep their people comfortable.

With no vision, the people had stopped moving toward anything meaningful; rather than fighting the enemy, we were fighting each other. I think the worst thing was to see that people just didn’t seem to care anymore. There was this sense of complacency that permeated every aspect of the church.

Some of the coaches I met with had given up altogether and were biding their time, waiting to retire. They were not conquering the enemy, battling in the trenches for the souls of men; they were just surviving. Many a well-meaning pastor told me that I was far too idealistic. They had once been that idealistic, but they had learned what I would learn soon enough—to lower my expectations. Many of the younger ambitious pastors were using their churches as stepping-stones to other, bigger ministries. It was a career for them and they wanted to reach the top.

I heard a lot about the show on the weekend, how to use video projectors, or how to tweak the worship service to really draw a crowd. The buildings I visited were probably full on the weekend, but they were like cemeteries during the week. As I walked away from those many meetings, I once again believed that the team was losing in most places.

George Barna, a Christian pollster who researches the church in America, sheds some light on the matter. His group has found that an incredibly small number of people expect to have an experience with God at church.

SO WHAT IS A CHURCH? – As I am sure you have noticed already, I believe that the church is supposed to be a collection of transformed individuals molded by God into a team.

GOD’S DEFINITION OF A CHURCH – When I say these kinds of things, people ask me how I define the word church. When I speak of church, I mean a body of believers working as individuals and together as a team to achieve the Lord’s goals. God’s plan is to glorify Himself through this team. As individuals we minister wherever we work and live. We use our talents, gifts, and resources to minister in our communities in ways that can be done only as a collective force. Our winning team reaches the world with the message of the gospel and then disciples those who have been won to obedience and replication.

DEFINING TERMS: WHAT IS WINNING? – During a game, coaches and players are constantly looking at the scoreboard. They want to know what the score is because game strategy changes based on that tally. If their team falls behind, they double their efforts and change the game plan. As the clock winds down, those on the losing team become more desperate. The intensity heightens during the last few minutes of the game.

Jesus will always take us as we are, but He will not leave us that way. He will start the process of unmaking what we have become so that He can remake us into something useful for His purposes. God’s plan was to disciple us through the Word, through His Spirit, and with the guidance of His coaches. In this discipleship process, He gives us teachers (coaches) who will help us understand what it means to follow Him. He also gives us His Word as a guidebook so that we can understand the game. He gives us teammates who help us win this game that can only be won as a team. He gives us the Holy Spirit who guides us into His perspective of life and eternity. He gives us His heart to care about what He cares about, his eyes to see what He sees, and His power to do what He would have us do.

So what is winning? Many think winning is about numbers. We want converts, they say. Wrong! Winning is making disciples— converts who are discipled onto God’s team and taught to take part in Christ’s mission. Numbers don’t mean much unless you are counting the number of people being transformed by the Holy Spirit. Disciples are those able to stand up under the pressure of the world. They are able to share their faith unashamed. They are filled with the fruit of the Spirit, which results in increased relationship with others and glory to God.

According to the Barna Research Group, there are about 360,000 churches in America. Current numbers tell us that only 15 percent of these churches are growing, and only 2 to 5 percent of the churches are experiencing new conversion growth.

The statistic that breaks my heart is the one Josh McDowell gives in his book The Last Christian Generation. In it he reveals that 85 percent of kids who come from Christian homes do not have a biblical worldview. Most of them are leaving the faith between ages eighteen and twenty-four, never to return.

We are told to teach those we baptize to obey all that is commanded. First we make converts, secondly we make disciples. So how is the team doing with those who have been converted? How is the church doing with those who are supposed to be Christians? When you look at the statistics for those who do go to church, you will see very little statistical difference between the churched and the unchurched when it comes to giving, the divorce rate, and views on morality. While part of the battle may be getting them to church, the greater task lies in what to do with them once they come to church.

Only 51 percent of pastors questioned had a biblical worldview.

Barna went to people in the congregations of those pastors who did have a biblical worldview and asked the same questions. Less than one in seven had a biblical worldview. In other words, though the pastor believed and taught biblical truths, the congregation did not share those views.

Let’s sum up what we see on the scoreboard. As we look at what is being produced in America’s churches, I see nothing like what was intended by our Lord. American Christians are not on a mission. They look far more like the world than they should. They live the same way and chase the same things. Their marriages and families look the same. They are biblically illiterate and care little about sharing their faith with others. Churches are producing people who do not and cannot share the gospel. You tell me, how are we doing? What’s the score?

HIS TEAM WINS! – In Matthew 16, Jesus tells Peter, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (v. 18). When I compare this statement with the church in America as a whole, I am left with a problem. Since I am a black-and-white kind of guy, I can only come up with two alternatives. Option 1: Jesus is a liar because the gates of hell are prevailing against the church. Or option 2: The church that is being prevailed against isn’t Jesus’s church at all. Jesus did not promise the gates of hell would not prevail against a church but that it would not be able to stop His church.

It is better to have no church in an area than to have a church that makes Jesus look powerless and irrelevant.

Another reason a team might lose is found in 1 Corinthians 9:22–23. Paul makes it clear that he will do whatever it takes short of sin to reach the lost. He says it this way, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

There are many other reasons a team might fail, but let me just mention one more. Some of the coaches of God’s teams have decided that they don’t want to use the Lord’s playbook, the Bible, anymore. They are more interested in hearing the praises of men, culture, politicians, etc., than they are the praises of God.

A coach is expected to lead. It is part of the job. We do not pay for our kids to play in a sport where there is little control and leadership. We don’t want our kids to dictate the pace or the schedule—we want them to learn, to improve.

PLAYER OR COACH? – When I was a player, I had a player’s mind-set. I wanted to compete at the highest level, so I concentrated on acquiring and honing the skills and stamina that I would need to win on the mat or field. My focus was on my position, and I hoped everyone else would carry their own weight. If each part of the team did their job, we would win. When I became a coach, my job was no longer about what position I was going to play; I was no longer going to play a position. My job was to develop people so that they could play their positions or wrestle their weights. It was no longer about what I would do on the mat or field. It was about what I could train the athletes to do in their moment of decision.

There is nothing worse than having a player in a coach’s position.

WHAT IS A COACH? – Just as a coach can hurt the team by not understanding his role, a pastor can hurt the church for the same reason. God has given His coaches a job description in Ephesians 4:11–13.

This passage tells us that the job of a pastor has two parts. First, they are to prepare or equip God’s players to play, or in biblical terminology, to serve one another and reach out to the world. Secondly, pastors are to lead their people to become unified. No team, no matter how great the players, can win if they are not unified. The team must have the same goal, the same language; they must have a common understanding of the part they play; and they must work together to achieve that goal.

Pastors are taught that if they have (1) good preaching, (2) good worship, (3) good children’s ministries, and (4) good location, they will have a big church.

As a result of a pastor’s “show” mentality, many Christians have come to believe their job is to attend the show.

The Scriptures tell us that we are to be part of a team that works together to achieve God’s purposes. We don’t go to church; we are the church. In a church you are invited to volunteer; on a team you are expected to play a part.

A coach’s job is to make sure everyone understands his obligation to the team. A coach makes sure every player understands what “the Owner” requires. The One who bought us for a price expects us to play. Winning is not gathering a crowd. It’s raising, training, and releasing a team.

THE PAID-PLAYER MENTALITY – Let me point out again that somehow pastors have come to believe that they are the paid players, and the people who attend are the fans. Game day is Sunday and the building is the arena. People in the area will follow the best team in town, so ours better be the best. The elders or board members are the general managers and owners who watch to make sure the people are getting what they pay for.

When the paid-player mentality guides the church, everything becomes a show, and soon they think they have to have a whole cast of paid professionals to create little spectacles for their assigned demographic groups.

They scour the land to steal a great player from another team, while their best players are being scouted as well.

Because the show is so important, they spend most of the week developing the next show and have little time for relationship with the people in the church.

THE POWER OF RELATIONSHIPS – As Real Life grew, we came to a real crossroads. Our small band of leaders and I believed in shepherding our people. We believed in relationship, in real discipleship, but we had grown past our ability to do that successfully in the way we had in the past.

Conversely, if you love your people and help them grow in their relationship with Jesus and find relationships with others on your team, people will put up with less because they know they are loved. If people know they are loved, and have been affected by your mission, they will be more likely to get involved in it.

DITCHING THE SHOW MENTALITY – God’s idea of a coach is one who creates a system that develops people into great players.

However, a good coach develops a way to turn those he gathers and leads into great players. He creates a way to guide them into their position on the team. Every person is a player. Success is creating a team that can work together. Success is finding and developing players who will later become coaches themselves.

When I look at churches filled with people who have come to watch the show and I don’t see any intentional attempt to move people into the discipleship process, it saddens me. A congregation that is informed about the game is not the same as a congregation that is committed to learning how to play the game.

So the goal of a coach is to follow God’s guidance toward creating a team that can win. A winning team is one that reaches the lost and makes disciples who can disciple others. The goal of winning is not to fill stadiums with fans; it’s not about numbers, unless what you are counting is the number of godly disciples. Life change is the goal.

You find out what a person values by how he treats people who can’t add value to the person’s reputation or success.

Great coaches have something special that many knowledgeable leaders lack. The Bible uses a word that I think describes a great coach perfectly—shepherd.

We forget that the devil now sees the one we just baptized as an enemy. This is not like a physical game we might play, where at worst we get hurt accidentally and need medical attention. Satan is not happy about losing that person to Jesus.

We often don’t understand that we just got this new believer into a war they are not equipped to fight. They don’t know the rules, or the weapons available, or even how to use them.

Every player needs to go through a process of learning that will eventually lead him or her to become fully equipped to play the game. The coach’s job is to guide the rookie by creating a climate of shepherding. We teach them and allow them to make mistakes. We must disciple our people. It starts with taking responsibility not just for winning the lost but for shepherding them too. The pastor can’t do this by himself. Part of his job is to create a shepherding environment where everyone is challenged to shepherd others and win the lost.

Jesus gave us the example of a true shepherd when He gave up His life for us. In Acts 20:28, Paul tells the elders to shepherd the flock of which he had made them overseers. He reminds the leaders in that passage that the sheep were purchased by God.

God describes His expectations of a shepherd in Ezekiel 34:2–10:

We see God judging the shepherds because they failed to fulfill their responsibility—they had not fed the sheep but only themselves.

In Ezekiel 34, the sheep were not cared for. When they were hurt, they were not nursed back to health. When they strayed or were lost, the shepherd didn’t look for them. They became food for wild animals. This is what happens in the church when God’s people are not shepherded.

Unfortunately, sheep stink, bite, and wander, and they can be stubborn. Yet God expects shepherds to care for His flock.

Many pastors teach but are not around when the sheep need help. Granted, a pastor can’t do everything, but his responsibility is to make sure all the positions on the team are filled.

Every coach needs to have a game plan for shepherding the hurting and chasing strays. We are often like the hired hand Jesus talks about. When the wolf comes, we run or ignore the plight of the sheep because we don’t really love them.

Sometimes, shepherding means getting dirty. People’s lives are messy, and it takes time for the Lord to clean them up. Too often our lives are so busy that the only people we can see ourselves working with are those who won’t take much time. We don’t think in terms of relationship; we think in terms of information.

Volunteer organizations are unique. People do not have to follow. You can’t hold a paycheck over their head. You don’t have the power to make them do anything. If you want to lead a volunteer organization, you have to understand people will only follow if they want to. They will only follow if they believe you care for them.

Most of us think this means writing better sermons, but you have heard the true statement that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” A leader must be someone who knows his sheep and understands their needs. He leads them, teaches them, and models for them how to serve God and others. There is mutual accountability and trust. The shepherd knows when his sheep have succeeded, and he celebrates with them. He knows when they feel defeated and need encouragement and support. He grieves with them, and when the sheep wander, he does all he can to get them back on track.

When a church becomes a shepherding community, when they care for the needs of others, when they help people beat the habits that have always beaten them, when they dare to be real, others can’t help but notice. They see joy and a change in the person they have always known, and they become interested—even excited. At the very least, they keep watching.

Churches often have stated goals but behaviors that circumvent or work against them. For instance, we might say we want to reach the world, but we do things that keep us from being in contact with the world we want to reach. We plan an outreach, but it is really designed to attract people who already think like us (other believers). We don’t know how to relate to lost folks, so we pray and expect that God will bring them to us.

REACHING OUT WITH BRIDGES – At Real Life we do a variety of special outreach events. We call them bridges. They are designed to meet unsaved people in a place that will allow them to be comfortable.

A good outreach event always bridges people to the next step in the process. We know the goal is to see them become disciples who can disciple others. Our goal at the outreach event is to make sure they are invited into the next step in the process. We must have a process in place to take them to that next step.

However, public displays of emotion can be something many shy away from because of their upbringing, so lighting matters. I believe the darker the better, because it makes people feel alone with God. The more they are made to feel like they are the only ones there, the more they may worship publicly.

Every message must motivate people to action. Every sermon must encourage believers to live an authentic lifestyle of love.

We also have the people who were a part of their conversion baptize them. This promotes what we believe about every person being a player, a priest, a minister, with the purpose of declaring the praises of Him who saved us.

During our worship service, we have something we call directed prayer. It’s a time where we have someone on stage direct the thoughts of those in the service to a particular person or thing.

Most of our decision cards come in after directed prayer and communion and before the message. At first this puzzled me because I wanted the message to inspire people to make decisions. Yet what I’ve found is that when you allow people to spend time with God in worship and prayer, reminding them during communion of what Jesus did for them, the Spirit convicts them and they make decisions.

THE INVITATION – Though many make decisions before the sermon, we believe that an invitation ought to be given every time we get together in a service. We do this in two ways. First, we have a card in every bulletin where people can either write a prayer request or ask to receive a call from a pastor.

Many people come forward after services also. Our staff, elders, and prayer team members pray with them or share God’s plan for their lives with them.

Every week we encourage small group participation, because it’s not God’s plan for them to be loner Christians.

If they don’t come, you know there can only be a few explanations: (1) they found water somewhere else; (2) they were attacked by a wild animal or are sick; or (3) they broke through the fence and are lost.

In our bulletins and on our walls, we advertise different ministries and events for people to check out. These are connecting points where people can find places to serve, places to learn, and places to form relationships.

One of the things we have learned over the years is to use the worship service as a time to promote and praise what you value. If you value service, then praise service. If you value decisions for Jesus, praise those who help people make decisions. If you want people to get connected, then make sure you speak about it often. If you value discipleship, emphasize discipleship. What you value you promote.

Every program’s leadership must understand its dual purpose in the context of the goal: winning the world for Jesus, one person at a time, and making disciples in a relational environment.

A ministry in our church is a part of the process or system we use to meet God’s goal.

Programs are a strategy used in the game; they are not the game! Someone with a program mentality is only interested in their own program. They think if they create it, people will come, and when they come, that’s it. Job well done! They are satisfied when someone comes to their programmed event as a spectator.

Every leader in our church understands they are in a shepherding community. They understand they are part of a network of shepherds, all working together to care for the flock. If one of their sheep strays, we will do everything we can to bring them back.

Programs must be about more than just performance. We are instructed to use our gifts and talents to glorify God.

Every coach, no matter what the level, has a two-tiered job to do: (1) develop skilled players that understand their positions and (2) coach them to play well together.

Typically, a high school coach is responsible for overseeing a program that extends from the little kids’ age group to the high school varsity program. He aligns all the coaches throughout the age groups to produce athletes who understand the style of play expected when the athlete hits the varsity program.

A college coach also develops players, but he deals with athletes who already have a skill base developed by past coaches and experiences.

I believe most leaders of churches behave like college coaches, looking for stars that can be plugged in immediately with little or no development. Jesus, on the other hand, taught His future coaches to work like good high school coaches.

Consider the people Jesus chose to follow Him. Almost every disciple was unprepared and unqualified. Jesus loves to use people others would bypass. He loves to develop people to be more than anyone thought they could be so He gets the glory.

If you develop them, they can be great players and eventually great leaders. If you expect to receive skilled players out of the blue, you will usually be disappointed.

If you want to be a great coach, you must look at what great coaches do. The best way to become like them is to watch them, listen to them, and mimic them. Jesus is the best example of what it means to be a great coach. He gave us a picture of real discipleship that works.

When I give this scenario to loving parents and they imagine it happening to their child, it makes their blood boil. Of course they would never stand for such a thing. Why do we react so adversely to this but allow the same type of thing to happen in our churches every week? The people in our pews are struggling with the most important subject there is—salvation. We stand in front of them for forty minutes a week and describe on the big screen what it takes to solve life’s biggest problems. We don’t have time to tutor them, and we don’t raise up people who do. Is it any wonder why our people can’t answer the easiest of biblical questions?

As a teacher, I learned to value small class sizes. A good teacher, in the right setting, can get to know each student. In other words, in a “relational environment,” a teacher can really teach each student. The teacher can discover what learning style a student has, how a new principle applies to a student’s life, and when a student isn’t getting it. A good teacher will also recognize when a child is going through a difficult time outside the classroom and can come alongside the child and help them deal with the life issue immediately.

When dealing with our children, we often hear that character is caught, not taught. Jesus modeled everything from how to deal with enemies to how to deal with sinners.

Few of us have accountability in our relationships. It takes time to build a relationship, especially one that allows others to know us well enough to speak truth to our hearts. I have seen many pastors fall because they hid from those who could help them in times of weakness.

Jesus modeled effective discipleship for us through building relationships. He could call His disciples on the carpet when they got it wrong. He encouraged them and provided a safe place where they could voice their shortcomings and ask for help. He had a small group of men He could really know and thus keep accountable. Once again, real discipleship happens in small groups.

A discipleship environment must include authenticity. Churches can be full of pretentious people trying to make an impression. If everyone is a fake, there can be no accountability. Church relationships are then shallow and superficial. Discipleship must provide a safe place to share your struggles without rejection.

Before people will be real, they must see their leader be real. This doesn’t mean we constantly air our dirty laundry, but we let others know that we struggle, we fall, and we keep trying.

If our goal is to make disciples who can disciple others, we must release them into the field of ministry. Jesus modeled this when He sent out the seventy-two to preach in the area towns. He then brought them back to debrief their experiences.

We learn by doing. The job of a disciple maker is to teach and release so that those being taught can truly learn.

In the same sense, the job of a coach is to provide a place for the athletes to practice what they learn and eventually do it in their own life.

Jesus calls us to follow Him and take up our cross daily. God’s Word tells us to seek after His kingdom and His righteousness, and to stop chasing the things of the world. Instead, some try to take the gospel message and package it in a way that is compatible with the American lifestyle and culture, regardless of whether it’s what God wants. We must reach people where they are, but that doesn’t mean we make it easy for them to stay there.

Pastors are trying their best to preach the gospel but are employing a model for discipleship that doesn’t work. As a result, they are producing the wrong product—church-attending Christians who live like the rest of the world.

The result of the discipleship process in a community is growth. When a church works as a team, they develop people—people who look like Jesus.

THE DEFINITION OF A DISCIPLE – The first question is “What is a disciple?” To answer this, we point them to Matthew 4:18–20

First, a disciple is one who has made Jesus the Lord of his or her life. Jesus said, “Come, and follow me.” He is the leader. We must be committed to being the followers.

Second, a disciple is one who has entered a process of relational discipleship with other maturing Christians. Jesus invited His disciples to be in relationship with Him. It was the primary way He shaped them.

Third, a disciple is one who is becoming Christlike. He or she has begun a process of change that is orchestrated by Jesus. Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you” . . . into something.

Finally, a disciple is one who is committed to the mission of Christ. Jesus said that He would make us into “fishers of men.” When we spend time with Jesus, we start to care about what He cares about.

AN INTENTIONAL PROCESS FOR REPRODUCING DISCIPLESHIP – The second question we are often asked is “What is the reproducible process you use to make disciples?” We call it the Share, Connect, Minister, and Disciple process, or S.C.M.D. for short (see pages 157–58).

Share We call the first stage the Share phase. Share-level people are those who have either not accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior or have accepted Him but have not been connected to other believers.

Connect Once disciples have entered the Connect phase of the process, the leader and the group they connect with will inspire, teach, and model for them what it means to love God and others.

Minister People who are properly connected and have the right heart will eventually start to move into the Ministry phase of discipleship. In this stage they will start to see things as God sees them, because they are connected to Him.

Disciple Finally, the young disciples will move into the last stage of the discipleship process. We call this the Disciple phase. In this stage the disciples learn not only to minister to those around them but to train others to do the same thing.

COACHING PRINCIPLES In wrestling, I had kids at all different levels on my team. My job was to figure out where each guy was and put together a plan to help him attain the next level of his development. I did not train each guy the same way, because what would help one person would hurt another. By the same token, what would help one might bore another to death. A good coach develops a plan that helps each person attain the next level of their development and then helps his coaches understand the process so they can develop the ability to do the same with others.

The team at Real Life created a way to help leaders recognize where people are. The key is to ask questions and listen—to listen to the phrase from the phase. Remember, the phases in the process are Share, Connect, Minister, and Disciple. At each phase of the process, people say things that tell us where they are. Once we know where they are, we as leaders can help get them what they need for growth.

SHARE-LEVEL PEOPLE There are different kinds of Share-level people—the unsaved and the saved. When unsaved people are at the Share level, we know what they need—they need salvation, they need the gospel.

Share-level people who have been believers for a while are a little trickier to understand. They may have “prayed the prayer” years ago and may even know the Bible inside and out and have all the right answers, but they are missing the will of God by not being connected and involved.

CONNECT-LEVEL PEOPLE – Connect-level people are those who have moved into a group led by a Disciple-level person (best-case scenario). They are in a relational environment for the purpose of discipleship.

MINISTRY-LEVEL PEOPLE – Remember, a Ministry-level person is one who has made the transition from “I” to “others.” They will seek to do what they do so that God will be glorified. They are also interested in serving in a ministry for more than what they can get out of it.

DISCIPLE-LEVEL PEOPLE – Before too long, people in the Ministry level will desire to do more than care for a need. They will begin to ask questions like, “Who can I get to help me reach more people in this ministry?” When we as their Disciple-level leader notice Ministry-level people desire to train others, it’s time to help develop a strategy.

Notice that our goal is to raise up those who can make disciples. Disciples learn as they go. They do not have to be perfect to get into the game, because perfection is not possible.

Our method for raising up people is through small groups. In those small groups, our leaders have access to people. They can start to know them well enough to really teach them, and they can see their talents and walk beside them as they develop them.

Notice a few things. First, Disciple-level people see the need to grow a ministry they are passionate about. Second, they notice that the ministry could expand if they had help. Third, they notice the gifts and passions of someone else who could play a part in the ministry. Fourth, they are willing to invest in another who they see needs to be trained.

CATCH AND RELEASE: THE KEY TO GROWTH – We have all heard the saying, “If you give someone a fish, you feed them for a day; if you teach them to fish, they will feed themselves for life.” The main objective of discipleship is to bring everyone to the Disciple level where they have learned to minister with another purpose: to train others to do the same things they have been taught to do.

A WORD OF CAUTION – As we put this plan together, it was never our intention to build a comprehensive process for discipleship. People are so different, as are their needs, backgrounds, and leadership and learning styles. Our goal was to try to put together a process that would give people a place to start. Our heart is to see people discipled.

THE FUNNEL CHART – Our church has put together this chart that attempts to lay out our entire strategy for others to see and understand. The 101 (Share Level) Class teaches them what we believe about salvation, basic theology, church structure, and philosophy. The 201 (Connect Level) Class gets them connected if they are not already. It teaches them the basics of discipleship, what a disciple is, and where they are in the discipleship process. The 301 (Ministry Level) Class explains what a leader in our church is expected to do. The job description and expectations of a leader are clearly explained. We have all our leaders go through the 301 every year. The 401 (Disciple Level) Class teaches ministry skill sets to our leaders as well as deeper spiritual and theological truths. As we discover weaknesses, we create new classes that we add to the 401 Class list. Every road leads to a small group where our people learn to actually live out the truths that our classes teach. They become small churches within the church.

As we walked back to the locker room, some of my teammates came running over, laughing and shoving each other. They wanted to know where we were going for pizza. I wanted to smack them! But then I realized they were the guys who never got to play. They were the ones who sat on the bench, along for the ride. Sure, they were bummed not to get another weekday off of school, but it occurred to me: those on the bench have little at stake in how the team does. Their heart and soul are not as involved; they are spectators in uniforms.

They don’t care when the team loses because it wasn’t something they invested in, and I don’t mean just financially. They don’t participate in any ministry; they haven’t invested their personal time physically or emotionally. They have put forth no effort caring for others. They have nothing at stake!

This is often how many churches deal with their people. Many of God’s coaches have no playbook to give the potential players that may come to their teams. They let people do what they want or, just as bad, they let them do nothing, just sit and watch the coach perform.

IT STARTS WITH THE COACHING STAFF – When we first started conferences at Real Life, we thought that the reason most churches failed was their methodology. We found instead that the first problem was a lack of unity in the leadership.

FROM THE STAFF TO THE PLAYERS – Once the leadership is on the same page, it is essential that you put together an official playbook all the players can read and understand. In our church it is the 101–201–301–401 classes. We took the names from Saddleback Church in California and changed the content to fit who we are.

Church life is the same. If the leadership of a church has agreed upon a system but cannot get the players to run by the plan, that team cannot win. People choose a church based primarily on the one that meets their needs. They come with expectations and demands. Many have come from other churches that ran a different system or no system at all. They may not bring you their playbook, but they definitely run by their own set of understandings and expectations.

Once again, the leadership must intentionally bring the team together. A good coach must have a way to bring the new players on board and keep the existing players inspired—all going the same direction. There must be a common language, a common goal.

We start with a Joining the Team class that is offered every month. Our 101 class is designed as an overview of our playbook.

We share with them that Jesus also tells His future team that the message will not be delivered powerfully or effectively if the team will not work together (see John 17).

We tell them, “At Real Life, people must agree to this playbook and our unique execution of the plays if they want to be involved on the field with this team.” They must sign a covenant and agree to the code of conduct given to us by God in his ultimate playbook, the Bible.

After our people attend the 101 class, the next step is the 201 class. This class explains the discipleship process to people who more than likely have not understood what a disciple is.

At Real Life, every leader including myself, our staff, and our elders must take our 301 (Ministry-level) class every year. Our new leaders will take it as they take on leadership responsibility, and our existing leadership is brought back to the fundamentals of our team by repeating the class yearly.

The goal is not to come up with something new but to commit to the things that have made us a winning church.

Every year a good coach takes his team through the fundamentals again.

If your church is like ours, some of your people grew up on other teams. We are not naïve enough to believe that one class will undo all of the habits and beliefs people hold.

At Real Life we take our leaders through ongoing training, our 401 (Disciple-level) classes. Our goal is to continue their education by teaching skill sets they will need to pastor and lead their individual groups. These classes may teach them to defend the Scriptures, help them learn to facilitate a group more effectively, train them in entry-level counseling, or cover things like hospital visitation.

Obviously, classes alone are not enough. One of the other things we do is preach a series on RLM’s goals every year. The goals are then taught in our small groups with curriculum that corresponds with the sermon series.

Every week I remind those who come how important it is to be connected in a small group. It is the place we get pastored and discipled. We also show a video of the previous week’s baptisms in each service. It’s one more way we remind our people why we exist: to reach the world for Jesus.

To further honor and inform our leaders, I send out a leadership email that shares upcoming events and points of interest. They have earned the right to know before anyone else because of their service.

The job of a leadership team in a church is to guide the team to a God-glorifying, biblical vision. The job of a coaching staff is to make sure that everyone is running the same play at the same time and that everyone knows the goal of the team and is able to state the goals effectively.

Each believer has a function that is essential to the success of the mission. We must be unified to win, just as a team of talented individuals cannot win without teamwork.

It sounds simple, but there’s a problem. We have an enemy seeking to push each individual to the top. Pride is the ally of the enemy.

The first is accountability. A leader who has free rein to do what he wishes is in a dangerous situation. Power without accountability corrupts.

Second, many leaders working together can see more than one can alone. Some pastors have elderships where they surround themselves with those who see things the way they do or those who will give in when pushed. This is foolish. Scripture tells us multiple counselors give wisdom.

Third, when the congregation knows there is a team working together for their best interests, it gives them a sense of security, much like a child with two parents who love and respect each other and the child. Multiple leaders provide the church with stability.

Finally, with a joint leadership team you are promoting what you value by your example.

SERMON CLUB – Every week at RLM, a good portion of the staff meet with me in Sermon Club. We generally work on the sermon a few weeks out. Doing that allows time for our other ministries to find or develop dramas, videos, or props that will help drive the message home.

Sermon Club is my answer to several problems related to preaching.

1. My goal is to prepare disciples who can disciple others. Sermon Club gives my staff, some of whom are future preachers, a chance to see how a sermon is created.

2. Sermon Club is an answer to my sermon preparation problem. How can I create good sermons in less time so that I can spend more time with the flock and have more time to disciple future leaders?

3. These meetings also give me an opportunity to hear about the cares and concerns of people from the congregation.

4. Perhaps one of the most valuable aspects to this method is the varying perspectives. Individuals share what they think would be the best way for me to speak to people in their demographic and ministry groups.

5. A coach must make the team feel valued. These meetings are a great place for me to reinforce to the team that their opinions are important and can make a difference.

6. By the end of Sermon Club, we have created something we worked on together. I’ve modeled teamwork and I let the congregation know that we came up with this message together so they don’t give me too much credit.

I was in the office working on the next sermon series, tired as usual, when one of my close friends and staff members came in to see how I was doing. I told him I was tired, and he asked if he could share something with me. He said some things I didn’t really want to hear. He shared that I was not living out my own philosophy when it came to preaching. He asked why I wasn’t raising up people to do what I was doing. He told me I was losing my joy, and I was at risk for burnout.

I believed in the philosophy of raising people up, but my actions weren’t reflecting it. I needed to live what I believe.

I decided to make some changes. I went to my staff and asked some of them to start team teaching with me.

This accomplished several goals: the congregation got used to hearing another perspective, and they saw that I approved of the person speaking with me; it saved my voice; it allowed others to see that these guys could answer questions and pastor them as well as I could; and it allowed my staff the opportunity to speak in front of large crowds.

When we started training leadership from other churches, we thought we’d find the biggest need would be new methodology. We were wrong. The greatest need was for unity.

William Wallace asked the clans to unite, but all they would do was squabble. They had the ability to take their country back from the British tyrant Longshanks, but they didn’t.

The job of the leader is to unite the clans, the team members. A good coach unites his team leaders with a common vision, but he also must bring his team together into a relationship that resembles godly, loving, nurturing, Christian fellowship. Relationships are like ropes that tie people together. The more ropes, the more stable you’ll be on the side of the mountain you are climbing.

Bickering among team leadership or staff will destroy a team.

When there is strife between brothers, God won’t accept a sacrifice, let alone bless the church. How can we expect to win or go forward if God isn’t blessing us?

As disciples, our job is not only to transfer information about the definition of love but also to model love in our actions. People need living models of what love looks like.

If Christian leaders, supposedly committed to Jesus and to His ways, empowered by the Holy Spirit, cannot stay in relationships, then what hope do our new believers have?

GOD’S LEADERS NEED ENCOURAGEMENT – Encouragement is another reason relationships are a must for God’s leaders. We are in a spiritual fight.

Pastors are often expected to be people who have already arrived instead of fellow travelers. Many times the congregation does not feel that way, but somehow the pastor believes they do.

These fears cause people to live in the dark. The devil loves the dark because he can play with our minds there.

My sociology teacher told me Christianity was responsible for the Inquisition, the Crusades, and many other evils in the world. Biology taught me that I was the product of a natural process of evolution. Philosophy taught me there were many roads to heaven, and it was my choice, because I was the ultimate decider of truth. I came away believing God was a crutch for broken people, and since I wasn’t broken, I didn’t need Him, if He existed at all.

I will never forget what he said. “Son, you are not an intellectual. What you are saying is foolish. An intellectual is one who studies both sides of the issue, then makes an informed decision. You have not studied the claims you have just made. You’re merely quoting other men who have not studied the claims that someone else made to them.”

My father replied, “Jim, you are a coward. You have made some big claims. Back them up! If you study this subject and find I am wrong, fine. I will accept that and respect you for doing the research. But if you do not study, I will think you are afraid.”

Unity mattered to me. One of the arguments I would use on Christians before I became one was, “You people can’t even get along with each other. If Jesus said He came to bring peace, then He must be a liar.” Non-Christians notice church splits, angry words, and denominational differences. I used to say, “If Jesus can’t keep His word down here, how can I believe He has something better after I die?”

There are many issues we can highlight that fit into the same discussion: eternal security, eschatology, the gifts of the Spirit, and more. Can you be saved, no matter what side of the debate you take on these issues? If the answer is yes, let’s concentrate on things we can agree on and get the work of the church done.

The goal of Scripture was not to get Christians to fight each other.

Though we allow differing opinions without judging someone’s salvation, this doesn’t mean that as a church we don’t set policy for our people to adhere to as members of the team. In our 101 class, I make the statement that we will not allow non-salvation issues to become something that divides the team.

Though you can believe different things about non-salvation issues, the unity and the direction of the church must be preserved.

When a different coach teaches something that is not heresy but is different from what we teach, we say, “That is great for that team, but our team has a playbook, and we stick to it so we can be unified.”

As a leader, never give a false picture of another’s view or make someone appear to be stupid. Give an accurate, balanced account of both sides. It is best to allow someone you respect, but who differs with you on a subject, to share his or her perspective.

Spirit-filled Christians should fight only the fights that God wants them to fight. We don’t fight because we love to, only because we have to. One fruit of the Spirit is peace.

Remember, the goal of God’s team is to win. We win when we attack the culture with our thinking, energy, resources, and abilities. The goal: to take territory from the enemy. The objective: souls restored to their Creator. God’s team, the church, is not just hiding out from the enemy. In coach’s language, we are trying to build the program. We are trying to recruit new players for the team.

Jesus makes it clear that we are to look out for and care for the hurting. Scripture tells us that pure and undefiled religion is to care for the widows and orphans. Jesus said that to care for the least is to care for Him.

REACHING YOUR COMMUNITIES – I have four recommendations for church leaders who want to reach their communities. These recommendations come from my own experience at Real Life.

First, pray that God will reveal to you how He would have you reach the area where you live.

Second, vision-cast as a leader the idea that God has given you a mission and every person is an important part of it.

Third, as you do this, people will start to share those dreams with you and the leadership. New ideas for outreach will rise to the top. Your job is to figure out which are Spirit-led ideas.

Fourth, you must take the ideas that are given and discern if the need is real or imagined.

Remember, the job of a coach is to get other gifted people to play the positions they are gifted for. If the coach is busy playing all the positions, he won’t have time for anything new.

As you start to reach out in your community, remember that the end goal is to bridge your people to the discipleship process. If all you do is move people from the world to the church service, you have fallen short of discipling those you attracted.

Your job is to make sure that a process is developed that takes people from the world all the way to maturity through relationship and service.

If we have the “we have arrived” attitude, it won’t be long before we become complacent. Worse yet, we may begin the downward spiral of self-destruction; pride comes before a fall.

An accurate and honest assessment encourages better leadership. In order to improve, constructive criticism is essential. When we accept our faults correctly, as something that can be changed, rather than seeing ourselves as complete failures, we are able to grow.

A TEST IN PERCEPTION – Not long ago we developed a test for individuals to figure out where they were weak so they could improve. This test evaluates people in eighteen areas of leadership competency. We call it The Summit. The Summit is not an evaluation you give yourself; rather, it is the result of feedback from those who know you best: your co-workers, those you lead, your friends, your family, and your spouse; some may even go to the elders of the church.

We see why the devil works against God’s plan for resolution so aggressively. He doesn’t want God’s team to improve. He likes bitter roots to grow up in hearts and in churches. He hates unity; he loves factions and splits. He wants us to self-destruct in the locker room before we hit the field!

PROMOTING HONESTY AND RESOLUTION – If a culture of resolution is to be created, it starts with the leader. The leader must lead the way by dealing with issues immediately, lovingly, and truthfully. The leader must also allow others to confront him or her.

Before changing an organization, some of us need to become coaches who can be followed.

Change takes time, especially if you serve in an older church. A rapid change could cause a church split or worse, even if the newfound truth is what the church needs. It’s important to get the rest of the leaders on board so they will understand why change is needed.

He needs to include these leaders and allow them to be a part of the change.

Before you attempt to change a church, you must have God’s help. Prayer is essential to implementing change in the church.

To implement change you must eat, sleep, and drink the vision.

Be sure to include your whole leadership team when it comes to the creation of a new plan. It is essential that they know why you need to change.

Don’t forget to count the cost of the plan to your congregation. Be ready for those who will disagree. Take your ideas to the next level of leadership and then to the congregation.

If you’ve done all you can to change the church, but there’s a significant number of leaders opposed to the direction you feel led to take, be careful. God’s reputation is at stake, and when Christians fight, it causes unbelievers to reject Jesus.

Of course, change can’t be implemented when a leadership is divided in purpose and direction.

Some allow those with money to control what happens because of fear of lost income. Remember, it’s God’s church and He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Do what is right and He will provide.

I want to be able to say like Paul, I have fought the fight, I have finished the race, and now I have a crown waiting for me. Let’s give our all on the field and teach those who follow us to do the same.

Coach then said something that has stayed with me over the years: “Most people will never be great at anything. They have no desire to do more than just get by. They will never even try to do something great, because they don’t care about anything enough to put it all out there. Others like the idea of being great, in your case becoming an All-American. They like the thought of the glory, they like the idea of wearing a national champion letterman’s jacket, and they also like the thought of being interviewed for the paper or on television. Many of you like the dream, but I know that not many of you will do what it takes to be great. It will take too much sacrifice.

As I look back on that day, I learned a very important lesson. Greatness costs, sometimes more than we want it to. Coach was wrong. We ended up with only twenty-three when it was all over, but all twenty-three won the national team title.

Now I look back, and I know that I learned what it means to put everything you have into something and to see others do the same. But now I also feel kind of silly. I was willing to work that hard for a crown that would not last. I was willing to commit myself to something that very few would care about later.

As the ceremony below was being ignored, I gathered the guys and asked them why they were not paying attention to the old guys who were being honored below. They said things like, “We don’t know them” and “We don’t care.” I asked them why they were working so hard for something that future young wrestlers, just like them, would not care about either.

I then asked them what they were going to do with their lives that future generations would respect, unlike what was going on below.

We all like the idea of winning but aren’t willing to commit to the lifestyle.

As I watch God’s players, I often wonder, “What is their mission? Do they have one at all?” They show up for the team meeting and cheer with the crowd, yet they have no intention of finishing what they started. They like hanging around the team, being associated with the players, but will never do what it takes to win.

First, people leave because they were never really committed to the team and the mission in the first place. It was a good idea, but it was a conditional commitment. They were not committed to the coach as the authority, rule maker, and expert, and they had not decided that a wrestler was really what they were. In the spiritual realm, many have not really accepted the spiritual reality that Jesus is Lord, that the Word is the rulebook, and that there is a war going on. They go to church but are not part of the church. They believe in Christ but are not Christians. They like the idea but are not committed to the lifestyle.

Second, people leave because of an unwillingness to sacrifice personal desires to attain the goal. A good example for a wrestler would be food. Some wrestlers are not willing to give up what they want to eat for what they should eat so that they and the team can win. Nothing great happens, in sports or in the church, without great discipline.

Third, people leave because they are unwilling to do what they don’t want to do. There are times when you must push yourself beyond your comfort zone. You must run when you don’t want to. You must lift when you don’t want to. You must keep going though every part of you says stop. How many Christians are willing to expend a similar amount of effort for God?

Fourth, people leave because the going gets tough. I watched wrestlers who had won championships in high school quit because they could not immediately win in college. They did not see losing as a lesson that if learned well could propel them to greatness. Christians too can learn from their failures, but often they walk off God’s team, despondent and forever defeated.

God honors commitment. God doesn’t always use the most talented, but He does use the most committed.

In this battle we are in, we don’t have the option of quitting. How can we quit, knowing what Jesus has done? How can we quit when we have peered into the spiritual world and know people are at risk of going to hell?

I will never forget the time Coach Owen walked up to a junior high wrestler who was incorrectly doing the move just demonstrated. He kindly tried to correct the kid, but the boy would have none of it. I could not believe what I was hearing. This kid told Coach Owen that he did not do it that way. He had a way of doing things that worked for him. He wasn’t going to change, even though he was absolutely wrong. That kid had the opportunity to be coached by a person who had shaped national champions, but he would not listen because he thought he knew better. The kid’s explanation was that it had worked on all the little kids he had wrestled. Coach tried to explain to him that it would not work on an experienced, older wrestler. The kid refused to listen, so Coach just moved away to work with someone who would listen.

I believe God gives us those who can help us if we are willing to learn and listen. God wants His team to take new ground, which means we will have to learn and grow.

He is looking for coaches who will stick around no matter what. In 2 Chronicles 16:9, Scripture tells us, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” He doesn’t need excessive talent. He likes to use little people to do big things.

The church world recognizes that biblical literacy is at new lows. We recognize that few have a biblical worldview, and few know what to do about it. The old way of teaching the Bible is less effective as our culture becomes more visual—more story driven.

We are using Orality as the basis for teaching in our small groups. Orality is a method of using stories as the main vehicle for teaching the Bible in the discipleship process.

All of our people can tell a Bible story and ask good questions. It leads to better participation and better learning.