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How to Establish a Culture that is Consistent with Your Vision

December 1, 2014 12 comments

For as long as I can remember vision has been the primary topic of many leadership discussions.  It has long understood said that it’s the leader’s responsibility to get his people from “here” to “there.” Vision is the leaders ability to show people where to go, while inspiring them to get there.

In recent years, however, culture has become the new buzzword in leadership, and for good reason. Leaders from various arenas are realizing that culture will eat vision alive.  Or as Leonce Crump, Pastor of Renovation Church in Atlanta says, “culture is what most of the people do most of the time.”

It does not matter how compelling your vision statement.  If the people in your church aren’t carrying that vision through the actions of their daily lives, then you will never see that vision realized. For a vision to have an effect it must be accompanied by a culture that is consistent with that vision. Your vision must be something that most of the people in your church are working toward most of the time.

At Living Hope our vision is simply to glorify God by making disciples and planting churches. In other words, we want to see God made famous in the lives of people who are learning to believe in and obey Jesus through intentional relationships. This vision, as simple and straightforward as it is, does us no good if our members are not actively making it a reality. Our vision must become our culture.

Image via meetville.com

Image via meetville.com

The Five Building Blocks of Culture

The following five principles have helped us take great strides in developing a discipleship culture in our church.  We’re not doing these things perfectly, but as we consistently practice them we are, by God’s grace, seeing some decent progress.

1. Establish Clarity. Culture begins with clarity. If you want everyone in your church or ministry on the same page, heading in the same direction, then they need to know exactly where you’re taking them and why.  Paint a crystal clear picture of your end goal.  What specifically are you going for? For us, this means clearly defining what it means to be a disciple and identifying a clear process of making disciples.

2. Create Alignment. One of the quickest ways to sabotage your culture is to give people who are not aligned with your values and processes the opportunity to lead. If you want a culture that is consistent with your clearly defined objectives, then you must be intentional to guard the gate of leadership.

Do not, under any circumstances, let anyone into a place of leadership who does not clearly embody the goals and strategies you’ve established. At Living Hope, we create alignment through an apprentice development process that filters out anyone who is not aligned with who we are and where we’re going.

3. Communicate Consistently. Clarity and alignment are not enough to get your entire church, ministry or organization on board. Your people must constantly hear about your vision, values, strategy and processes until they can recite them in their sleep. Put simply, what gets repeated gets done.

At Living Hope, we accomplish this by dripping the big ideas of the gospel and discipleship through every means of communication we can.  We talk about them in sermons, in small groups, in emails, in one-to-one discipleship, in announcements and in leadership team meetings.  We do everything we can to keep sound doctrine, clear objectives and simple processes on the forefront of people’s minds.

4. Give People Experience. One of the reasons that culture doesn’t get established is because the leaders are too quick to do the work and not quick enough to give church members the experience of doing the work. It’s not enough for people to hear about your objectives and processes, they must experience them for themselves.

For us, this means practicing the buddy system.  If a current leader has a meeting to attend, a person to meet up with or a task to accomplish he is encouraged to bring an inexperienced leader with him.  This allows the current leader to get the potential leader experience, to coach him up and to thoroughly explain what we do and why.

5. Reinforce Right Behavior. There’s something powerful about celebrating your beliefs, values and processes that catalyzes culture development. On a large scale, the things that get celebrated get repeated.  Publicly celebrate the people, events and opportunities that embody the culture you’re wanting to build. This is because, as Erwin McManus, Pastor of MOSAIC in L. A. says, “whoever tells the best story shapes the culture.” Make sure the things you celebrate tell the best story of who you want your people to become.

Discipleship is one of our biggest values at Living Hope.  It typically takes place in small groups.  We reinforce our culture by publicly celebrating when someone steps into the apprentice development process, when new small groups start up and when people are added to the church through a discipleship relationship with one of our members.  This let’s everyone know that it’s important to us.

The best way to realize your vision is to make it become your culture.  These five concepts will help you take strides in establishing a healthy culture in your church or organization today. Give it a try.

Church Building or Disciple Making

October 27, 2014 9 comments

In Matthew 16:18 the disciple Peter confesses Jesus to be the Christ.  With this one phrase he proclaims that Jesus was God’s anointed messenger who had come to usher in the kingdom of heaven and to save God’s people from their sins. The Lord responds by declaring he will build his church on the truth of Peter’s confession.

Later, in Matthew 28:19 Jesus appears to his disciples to give them what is now known as the Great Commission. At this point he has been crucified for the sins of the world, buried and resurrected.  His earthly ministry is complete, but he reminds his followers that theirs has just begin.  Then, just before ascending into the heavens, the Lord commands his band of misfit believers to “go and make disciples.”

Image via chrisarmfield.com

Image via chrisarmfield.com

Do Your Job, Not His

Pair these two verses together and you have a powerful one, two combo.  Jesus will build his church, so we must make disciples. The order is crucial. He builds, we disciple.  Sadly, in an age consumed by prominence, fame, an over-emphasize on size and a grow-at-all costs approach to ministry, many Christian leaders are tempted to try and do the Lord’s job for him.

Leaders, myself included, want so badly to see God glorify his name by bringing dozens, hundreds and thousands of people to saving faith in Jesus Christ through our ministries. We know the joy of salvation and we are desperate to share this gift with anyone who will receive it.  This is a good thing, but we must always remember that it is not our job to build the church.  That responsibility belongs to Jesus and to Jesus alone.

The temptation to abandon discipleship in order to pursue the latest church growth strategies is high.  The allure of big events, fancy marketing and high class productions is strong. These aren’t bad things, but they must never replace discipleship. Pastors and ministry leaders must also remember that healthy things grow, but growing things are not always healthy. Cancer grows fast, but it will kill you.  On the other hand, it takes a child upwards of 16 years to reach adulthood.

Be Faithful

Many of todays ministry leaders, myself included, would do well to repent of our hyper-addiction to church growth and return with an unbending focus to the disciple-making mandate the Lord has given us as his followers. Discipleship isn’t sexy, it won’t make you famous and it might take more than a decade to see Jesus build his church larger than a handful, but it’s the only way to ensure that healthy, obedient Christ followers are being raised up.

It’s the Lord’s job to build his church and ours to make disciples.  Let’s let him do his job so we can get back to ours. Let’s refocus our attention on intentional relationships that help people meet Jesus and grow to maturity as his disciples. The Lord will be faithful to do the building.  We must be faithful to do the discipling.

Easter Sunday: What’s the Excitement About?

April 16, 2014 1 comment

Christmas and Easter are the two days of the year when you can count on American’s to put their church clothes on and head to service.  I’m sure this trend is rapidly declining as America becomes increasingly post-Christian, but many who still have family or cultural ties to the church find themselves attending a service and eating a traditional meal with loved ones.

Many of the people who will cross the threshold of chapel doors, however, don’t have any idea what they’re celebrating.  It’s fun to sing happy songs, to listen to a life-giving message and to stuff our bellies, but what’s the excitement really all about?

Good Friday

To understand Easter we must first understand Good Friday.  It was on this day several thousand years ago that Jesus Christ was crucified.  The Gospel’s don’t say much about it other than that he was “led away to be crucified” and that they “crucified him.” (Matthew 27:26, 35)

The biblical account is brief simply because the readers of that day would have known exactly what crucifixion included: exhaustion, trial, mockery, scourged 39 times with a flagrum, forced to carry a 100 pound crossbar one mile up a hill, nails through the wrists and feet and asphyxiation. (Matthew 26; 27) They would have seen thousands of them performed by the Romans.

The details, though helpful for modern readers, aren’t what’s important.  The reason why Jesus went to the cross is.  Paul helps us understand this in 1 Corinthians 15:3 when he says “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.”  Paul is saying that Jesus died because of our sins and for our benefit.

In other words, Jesus died on the cross in our place for our sins so that those who believe can be made right with God through him. Our sins, failures and short-comings keep us from God.  Jesus removed the penalty of those sins when he died on the cross so that there would be nothing left to separate those who believe from the joy of God’s presence.

Image via nachi.org

Image via nachi.org

Resurrection Sunday

Thankfully, the crucifixion isn’t the end of the story.  Following Christ’s brutal death is his life-giving resurrection.  Without the resurrection Jesus is nothing but just another dead guy.  If he has not been raised, his claims to be God and Savior amount to nothing more than lies and empty promises.  Paul echoes this in 1 Corinthians 15:17 when he says “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

But praise be to God who has raised the Lord Jesus from the dead!  The resurrection completes the good news of the cross because it validates that Jesus is who he said he is and he did what he said he would do.  He is the God who is worthy to be worshiped, the Savior who is able to save and the Lord who rules over all, including sin and death!

Through the resurrection we have life in his name.  Indeed there are no words that bring greater excitement to the Christian life than this: He is risen! (Matthew 28:6)

Community: Why People Often Belong Before They Believe

April 10, 2014 3 comments

Living Hope, the church I pastor, is filled with young, post-moderns who are genuinely interested in spiritual things, but are incredibly skeptical of the church.  The Christian message of a benevolent and compassionate God is attractive to them, but it seems to contradict their experience with the church.  How can a message that is really good news come from an institution that can be so hypocritical?

We have another crop of people who have been so disenfranchised by their church upbringing that their faith is stunted by resentment and fear.  They know with certainty that there’s more to the God of the Bible than the cheesy, isolationist Christianity they grew up with, but they can’t seem to find an authentic expression of the church described in the New Testament.  Where are the people who actually live what they believe?

Unexpected Grace

About two years ago, a few church members and I met an athlete from the local university at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting on campus.  This athlete was from another part of the country.  She grew up with a distorted view of God because her parents both practiced different religions.  Her childhood was less than stellar, her family dynamics were a mess and her only experience with Christianity came through polarized media exposure.

This young lady thought that Christians were nothing more than upper-class, conservative, homophobes who looked down on everyone and always voted republican. She had little interest in Christianity, but she was fascinated by Christ. To her, his people were a bunch of uptight Bible busybodies, but he was a mystery.

On a whim, she went with a group of friends to the FCA meeting I mentioned.  She was hesitant, not knowing what to expect and fearing criticism from these Christians.  To her surprise, everyone was fairly welcoming.  They greeted her, genuinely tried to get to know her and enthusiastically thanked her for coming.

Refreshed by the unexpected hospitality, she stayed after the meeting to ask a few questions.  I shared the gospel with her and she left intrigued but personally offended.  The message of God’s grace had both angered and astounded her, but the community had whole-heartedly embraced her.  She grew hungry for more.

belong

Belonging and Believing

A few weeks later she started asking about more opportunities to get to know the Lord. We invited her to Community Group and she loved it.

She was still offended by the message, but she was attracted to the community.  This was the first time she had been among a group of people she didn’t have to prove herself to in order to belong, even if she didn’t yet believe.  It was the first time she felt like she could be herself, confess her doubts and hesitations, share her past and be honest about her non-Christian worldview without being criticized or outcast. It was the first time someone “religious” said they could identify with her doubts, fears, hesitations and disagreements.

Over time, this gal found herself believing that Jesus is Lord and Savior. One day during discussion she confessed to the group that she became a Christian.  She wasn’t sure how, she didn’t know why and she couldn’t say when, but she knew without a doubt that she belonged to Jesus, his sacrifice meant her forgiveness and she was ready to live the rest of her life for God.

Jesus With Skin On

When asked about her journey, she often attributes her belief in Christ to the fact that she could first belong to Christian community without being forced to believe the Christian message. For her, the members of the group embodied the message they were teaching.

There wasn’t anything cheesy or isolated about these people.  They actually lived what they believed.  It was belonging to the community that changed her heart, not a change of heart that made it possible to belong.

She came to faith in Jesus, in part, because she could see Jesus reflected in the lives of the people she spent time with.  Their example made the truth of Jesus Christ come alive for her.  Why? because she got to experience Jesus first hand and not just hear about him from a distance. 

If we want our churches to be effective at reaching those far from God, we must make them places where those who don’t yet know him feel like they can belong.  This doesn’t mean you affirm all of their beliefs, but it does mean that you affirm their dignity as a person.  As they belong, they hear, see and experience the truth of Jesus Christ and often find themselves believing without even realizing it.  When believers and unbelievers do life together in authentic community the church grows just like it did in Acts. (Acts 2:42-47)

What effect has authentic Christian community had on the unbelievers in your circle of friends?  You can leave a comment below.

5 Ways to Make Your Church or Small Group Sticky

February 27, 2014 2 comments

At Living Hope Church we have the privilege of seeing a lot of guests come through our Sunday Gatherings on any given week.  This past Sunday we baptized six people who invited their friends and family members to join them in celebrating their new life in Christ. As a result, we had more than 35 guests attend our service.

Our Community Groups, likewise, are notorious for having more non-churchgoing, non-Christians than they do Living Hope members.  By God’s grace, we’ve seen a fair amount of people come to know Jesus through our Sunday meetings and weekly small groups.  Unfortunately, like a lot of churches, we’ve also seen a lot of people stop by for a visit and never come back.

In recent months we’ve become much more intentional in our efforts to help people stick.  We haven’t perfected our process, not everyone in our church is doing this yet and we still don’t have stellar results, but with the help of the Holy Spirit we have seen an increased number of people stick around, get plugged in and progress toward Jesus.  Here are a few of the things we’ve tried.

Get Sticky

sticky 1

Image via spiced2.com

1. Personally invite people to join you for church or small group.  Most people don’t show up at church because they haven’t been invited.  Teach your church or small group members to live differently among their classmates and co-workers, then teach them to answer honestly about what the Lord has done in their life.  

As people take notice of our lives, our response will either increase or decrease their desire to know God.  If we sheepishly give a surface level answer, we’ll get a surface level response.  If we enthusiastically tell them that it’s because of Jesus, we’ll be met with a higher level of interest.  

Similarly, a personal invite is as simple as asking a teammate what they have planned that night or weekend.  When they ask the same question in response, teach your members to tell them about church or small group and to invite them to tag along. This makes the invitation both simple and natural.

2. Maximize your pre and post service opportunities.  In most cases, your church or group has a very small window with which to welcome guests before they start feeling like they don’t belong.  The same is true after the meeting or service.  If people are not engaged in meaningful conversation quickly, they’ll slip out the door and likely never return.

Remedy this by teaching your group members to spend the first five minutes before and after service or group introducing themselves to people they don’t know and introducing newcomers to other members in the group or church.  The more real-life connections a person has the more likely they are to come back again.

3. Follow up promptly.  Teach your members to get people’s names and when appropriate contact information.  Then, encourage your members to follow up with anyone they had a significant connection with (especially if it was someone they personally invited) within 24 hours.  Depending on the strength of the relationship this can be done through Facebook or a phone call and it’s as simple as thanking the person for coming, asking them what they thought and inviting them to join you again in the future.  For us, this has been the single most effective way to help people feel like they belong.  

4. Do life with people outside of formal meetings. Once a person has made two or three returned trips to your group or service, invite them over to hang out or grab lunch with them.  This doesn’t have to be formal or super spiritual, it just needs to be intentional.  Get to know them, listen to their story and ask them what their thoughts are on the things they’ve heard at church or group.  This can turn into some quality discipleship in a hurry.

5. Cast many nets. Christ has called his followers (us) to be “fishers of men,” but you don’t catch all your fish in the same nets.  You wouldn’t catch a shark in a small hand net and you wouldn’t try to catch a minnow in a net fit for a shark.  The same is true for people.  You’re going to catch different people in different ways.

Some people will be caught through the casual net of social interaction and personal invite, while others will be caught through more formal meetings like newcomer’s lunches, communication cards and an informational email from the assimilation team.  If you want to catch a lot of people, you have to cast a lot of nets.

I’m confident that if churches and small groups employed these simple ideas they would see higher retention and make more disciples.  What are some ways that your small group or church helps people get connected? You can leave a comment here.

5 Ways to Contribute to Community

February 7, 2014 2 comments

A portion of this post was contributed by Sean Feehan.  Sean is a leader with Living Hope Church in Maryville, Missouri.  He is passionate about Jesus and the community of God’s people.  You can follow Sean on Twitter here. 

When I was in middle school, my parents entered me into a competitive golf tournament.  For some reason I did well. By the end I was competing for second in a putting competition with one other boy.  He made his shot, I missed mine… and lost.

Embarrassed I threw my putter, stormed off and went to sit by myself.  I shunned everyone at the tournament for fear that I would be ridiculed.  One guy in the crowd, however, took pity on me.  He searched for and found me, comforted me and brought me back to the group.  The group reassured me that things were okay and gladly invited me to enjoy the post tournament awards.

Image courtesy of reinventmyselfinto.com.

Image courtesy of reinventmyselfinto.com.

A Familiar Perspective

Similarly, Christianity’s overarching message is that humanity has run from God like a wounded middle-schooler embarrassed by his performance.  Ignorant of God’s providential care, unconditional love and satisfying presence, we have orphaned ourselves from God and his people because of our sin. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

God, however, is merciful and gracious.  When we were far off he pursued us, not to chastise or condemn, but to forgive and restore.  He sent Jesus to the cross to bring us back to both himself and to one another, the church.  In the church we are invited to enjoy the Lord’s triumph as we celebrate his victory together. (Ephesians 2:11-22;Matthew 9:36)

Contribute Don’t Consume

Unfortunately, in our day we’ve come to see the church as a service to consume, rather than a community with which to contribute.  Instead of helping others know the Lord we find ourselves struggling to do anything but call for our own help.  Many of us want to contribute, but we simply don’t know how.  My friend Sean Feehan offers five ways we can practically contribute to the community of God’s people.

1. Regularly be in community with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.  Through Jesus’ death and resurrection he took our sin and gave us unhindered access to God the Father by sending the Holy Spirit so that we can constantly be in community with God. (John 14:15-31; John 16:1-15)

By taking the time to daily practice the spiritual disciplines of reading, praying and meditating, the Holy Spirit will make us more like Jesus and when we are more like Jesus, our heart for people grows and we desire more to be in community with others.

2. Commit to joining one local church.

When we choose one church to be on mission with, we are able to give fully of our time, energy, and resources to one community.  If we try to be a part of too many churches and organizations, then often rather than contributing to community we end up only consuming from community. Being involved in everything usually means contributing to nothing. (Acts 2:42-47)

3. Participate in a Small Group.

Just as it’s important to join one local church, it is also important to get involved with a smaller group of people in that church.  The first step to participating in a small group (what we call Community Groups) is to make it a priority to be there every week.  This means that you schedule your business meetings, study groups, and time working out at the gym around your weekly small group meeting.(Acts 2:42-47)

Speak up during discussion. A lot of times we can be intimidated, believe we don’t have anything worthy to contribute to discussion or that we don’t pray elegantly.  That’s not the case!  God has given everyone something to contribute to the building of community.

4. Mobilize community to meet the needs of your city.

This is as simple as paying attention to the needs of the people you know, then getting some friends to help you meet that need.  I have heard plenty of stories from people who have helped single moms move, financially support a med-school student in Haiti, do chores around the house for elderly couples, and bring meals to couples who have just welcomed a new baby into their family. (Jeremiah 29:5-7)

5. Invite friends to be a part of what God is doing in your community.

If you really want to contribute to community invite non-Christian friends to come along with you to Sunday Gathering or small group.  One of the best benefits of community is that it helps us bring the Gospel to our non-Christian friends. (Acts 2:42-47)

Want to take the first steps to contributing to community? Join us at Living Hope Church- Maryville Campus for the start of our new sermon series Relationshift on Sunday February 9th.

This post is adapted from a sermon Sean preached at Living Hope in January of 2014 as a part of our “Strengthen The Core” Series.  You can view that sermon below.

Dear Christian Part 2: What you need to know about the Christianity you grew up with.

January 30, 2014 13 comments

In a previous post I described the current dynamics of the church I pastor and the tough issues we’ve faced as a result.  We’re a church of mixed nuts.  We’ve got veteran Christians who have known the Lord since the 1970’s and 80’s, post-modern non-Christians who know little to nothing about the biblical Jesus and university students who are escaping the clutches of cheesy, youth group Christianity, bad Bible teaching and fundamentalist Christian worldviews.

Needless to say, we have no shortage of issues to address, doctrines to teach, false teaching to correct and disciples to make. My previous post on the topic addressed some of the common issues we face with those who have no church background.  This post will focus on some of the issues we face with those who have grown up in the church, but not in Christ.

Ned Flanders

Image courtesy of theguardian.com

1. Immaturity is neither attractive, nor helpful (particularly among men). The ’90’s was an era of church gymnasiums, game rooms, festivals and clean Christian fun.  It seemed that the goal was to attract America’s youth with fun, keep them with food and hope they catch the faith.

Sadly, most of that generation came for the fun, took the food and left the faith.  These are the post-evangelical twentysomethings that live in their parent’s basement, play video games 10 hours a day and attend church just to socialize with more freeloaders like themselves.  This lifestyle (particular among young guys) is killing the church.

Thankfully, Jesus took responsibility for himself and for us when he died on the cross for our sins.  If we can connect these guys and gals to Jesus they can experience life change, learn responsibility and start making a real difference. (Colossians 1:28-29; Galatians 4:18-19; 1 Corinthians 4:14-17)

2. Obedience is not optional. In the past 10 to 20 years, the church has been far too concerned with getting people “saved” and not concerned enough with seeing people sanctified.  New converts were rushed to the “sinner’s prayer” and then told to hang on until eternity. America’s Christians learned about faith in Jesus, but they were never taught obedience to Jesus.

Christianity is as much about how we live on earth as it is where we go when we die.  Life with Jesus doesn’t start when we get to eternity, it starts now and continues into eternity.  Our faith in Christ must, therefore, result in obedience to Christ. (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 John 2:6; John 14:21)

3. Generosity means first-fruits, not leftovers. In an age of luxury and consumerism, giving has become little more than an after thought.  We might give once we have what we want, but never will we give before then.  This self-absorbed view has long since infiltrated the ranks of God’s people and it’s hurting the church.

When we were spiritually bankrupt and far from God, Jesus generously sacrificed himself so that we could enjoy the riches of God’s grace.  It’s critical that God’s people believe this truth so that we will give generously to God as he has generously given to us in Christ. (2 Corinthians 8-9)

4. Independence hinders discipleshipDiscipleship by nature requires relationships and community.  Our Burger King culture on the other hand celebrates independence.  We’re constantly told to “have it your way.”  The more we believe this slogan, the less we’re willing to involve ourselves with people who will speak into our lives.

The Bible, however, is rich with texts that urge and command us to do life together.  It’s in community that we learn to trust in Jesus and live for God.  We won’t become the people God wants us to be until we are willing to be the church instead of just going to church. (Acts 2:42-47; Hebrews 10:24-25)

5. The prosperity gospel is demonic. Prosperity theology teaches that the sign of God’s favor is health, wealth and unending blessings.  Hardships, difficulties and suffering are signs that you are out of favor with God.  The false solution?  You just need a little more faith.  The problem is this devastates people when death, job loss, criticism at work or family conflict arise.  This is a demonic lie.

The Bible teaches that Jesus is the sign of God’s favor. Through him we can have joy and confidence even in the midst of difficulty, not in the absence of it.  Jesus rules over our pain and is with us in it, but he does not always keep us from it.  Happiness is not found in our prosperity, but in the presence of God. (1 Timothy 6:2-10; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

This generation has much to contribute to the advance of God’s Kingdom in our day.  Doing so, however, will mean unlearning a few things so that they can re-learn God’s ways.  It will mean growing up in Christ, not just in the church.

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