Why a Mentor is More Helpful than You Think

When Jesus called his first disciples he began his invitation with two words, “follow me.” (Matthew 4:19) Years later, when the Apostle Paul wanted to move his readers further along their discipleship journey he would say, “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) Stated another way, Paul is telling his readers to follow his example as he follows Christ’s example.

You would expect such a strong statement from Jesus.  After all, he was the Son of God. But from Paul this, at first glance, sounds very arrogant.  Who is Paul that we should follow him? He’s not Jesus!

When we consider Paul’s words further, however, we see that he’s not being prideful, he’s being practical. You see, non-believers and new believers can’t follow the Lord’s example, because he’s not here to follow.  At least not in a physical sense.

Paul on the other hand is a physical, flesh-and-blood human being.  His readers had seen him, heard him and could even touch and experience his physical presence.  He was tangible to them, while Jesus was not. Paul rightly understood that people learn best from example, the things they can observe and experience first hand.

Image via quotesvalley.com

Image via quotesvalley.com

A Frame of Reference

In the summer of 2013, my father-in-law helped me build a wooden front porch to update our house. When I mentioned that we were thinking about such a project he proceeded to explain to me what type of wood, tools and equipment I needed.  He even described the process to me in detail, but I didn’t get it.

I attempted to purchase some of the items that we needed, but all of the options looked the same. I tried to imagine the framework he had described, but I got confused.  It wasn’t that he did a poor job of describing the materials and process to me, it was that I had no frame of reference for what he was talking about because I had no prior experience. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed and ready to hire a professional.

Before I could, however, my father-in-law offered his help.  He went with my wife and I to purchase the supplies and showed us the difference between the options.  He then demonstrated how to build the framework and had me do exactly as he did, explaining what he was doing (or having me do) and why every step of the way.

I now know how to build a front porch.  Had I tried to do it just based on what my father-in-law described, however, it probably wouldn’t have gone so well.  It was my father-in-law’s example that helped me understand and experience the work for myself. He didn’t just tell me what to do, he showed me.

A Pattern for Life

The same is true of discipleship. People hear about Jesus through our words, but they experience Jesus through our actions. It is our example to people that brings Jesus to life for people. This is why life-on-life relationships are critical to spiritual maturity, because people have a real life example to pattern their lives after.

Books, seminars and conferences are great supplements to discipleship, but they are terrible replacements. If we want to see real results in our discipleship efforts, we must be willing to get out front and lead by example. We must understand that even the best explanations cannot replace hands on experience.

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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.

Exponential Leadership: The Difference Between Ministering to People and Ministering Through People

November 17, 2014 1 comment

One of the fundamental differences between a worker and a leader is that a worker knows how to get stuff done, while a leader not only knows how to get stuff done, but also how to train other people to get stuff done. As one leadership proverb summarizes, “a leader is not someone who can do the work of 10, it is someone who can train 10 to do the work.”

This might sound antithetical, but the truth is that most would be leaders sideline themselves by getting in their own way.  Upcoming leaders are people who know how to get work done well. The only reason they are potential candidates for leadership in the first place is because they know what it takes to get results.

Catalyst or Bottleneck?

The problem is that the more work a person gets done, the more work there is to do. Good results typically yield more opportunities, which in turn leads to more work.  As this pattern continues a potential leader ends up finding himself with more work to accomplish than he can do alone. If he doesn’t train up more leaders he will eventually hinder his own progress.

I learned this first hand as a volunteer chaplain on my college football team. As a freshman I was one of only three Christians on a team of more than one hundred.  Bothered by this, the two other Christians and I decided that we, by God’s grace, were going to change that. We started preaching the gospel to our teammates before games and after practices and we made it a point to spend as much time discipling our teammates as we could.

Within three years God used our efforts to bring thirty teammates into the ministry.  About eight of them became authentic followers of Jesus. We now had a problem.  There were more people to disciple than the three of us had time for. We had a choice.  We could either bottleneck everything by trying to disciple everyone or we could multiply our efforts by training the new converts to disciple their teammates as we discipled them.

We chose the latter and it made all the difference.  Five years after we started God had used the ministry to gather at times sixty of our teammates.  Another half dozen or more were won to faith in Christ and a third generation of leaders were developed.

From Ministering To, To Ministering Through

This kind of impact would simply not have been possible if the three of us had tried to disciple everyone on our own. It was simply the result of equipping the next generation and then empowering them to do the work with us.  In fact, the results we saw came mainly from the second and third generation of leaders.  The original three had little to no direct involvement in the remaining 50.  We simply invested in the first 10 or so.

The apostle Paul says something similar in 2 Timothy 2:1-2.  He tells an upcoming leader named Timothy to be “strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” and to entrust the teaching he received from Paul to reliable men who would be able to teach others also. Here we see four generations of leaders: Paul, Timothy, reliable men and others.  Paul exponentially multiplied his disciple-making efforts by ministering through Timothy to others, rather than ministering to others himself. 

Image via harvestwaterlooregion.ca

Image via harvestwaterlooregion.ca

In order to become more effective leaders, we must intentionally transition from ministering to people to ministering through people. A good leader adds, a great leader multiplies. This means instead of trying to disciple everyone we must intentionally disciple a few that we can equip and empower to disciple others. Ministering to people will add more people to your ministry.  Ministering through people will exponentially multiply your disciple-making efforts. 

Discipleship for the Rest of Us

November 3, 2014 3 comments

When it comes to discipleship, most people I know seem to picture either a membership class or a new convert discussing basic doctrine with a pastor while sipping hot beverages at a local coffee shop. Discipleship is viewed more as an activity than a way of life. In many cases, we commonly assume that discipleship is something that we can graduate from.  We consider it a season we go through when we should consider it a lifestyle.

The result is that we have a lot of Christians who aren’t going anywhere or doing anything.  Many of our churches are filled with people who have been believers for decades, but who also haven’t grown much spiritually in the same amount of time. Sure, we can show up, pay our tithe and recite some basic creeds, but as a whole we’re neither progressing in our faith nor doing much to help others move along in theirs. The pastor is expected to do the heavy lifting, while the members are just along for the ride.

Discipleship is for Everyone

It’s time that we get rid of the silly notion that discipleship is best left to the experts. The Lord’s first disciples were not religious teachers with Bible degrees and seminary certificates, they were fisherman, tax collectors, misfits and trouble-makers.  They were ordinary people, like you and I.  If God can use these uneducated, ordinary people (Acts 4:13) to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6), then why can’t he do the same with us?  He can!

Discipleship doesn’t have to be complicated.  In fact, it’s more effective when it’s simple.  It doesn’t require fancy programs, a formal seminary education or even a five step process.  All it takes is a willingness to follow Jesus in the community of God’s people.

When it comes down to it, discipleship is simply learning to believe in and follow Jesus through intentional relationships over time. This can happen in several ways: one-to-one conversations, small group discussions, in a casual way through your hobbies, in a formal way through meals together and training programs and even as you’re on the go. In other words, discipleship is simply leveraging every human connection to move people closer to Jesus before, during and after their conversion, one interaction at a time.

Image via borizs.com

Image via borizs.com

I like what Rick Warren (Pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California) says about this.  Pastor Rick’s church has grown to tens of thousands based on one simple discipleship concept.  He tells his people to find what they enjoy doing, then to do it with non-believers.

The idea is that as Christ-followers enjoy time with non-believers their faith and lifestyle will “rub off” on the non-Christians they interact with.  This then provides opportunities to talk with them about Jesus, invite them into our lives and bring them into the community of believers.  Before long, non-believers are hearing about Jesus, experiencing Jesus and participating in small groups and services that teach them to believe in and submit to Jesus. It’s really that simple.

Becoming Like Jesus With Others

Ultimately, discipleship is learning to pattern your life after Jesus. He stepped out of heaven and spent his time making the Father accessible to humanity by doing life with those who were far from God. He then sacrificed himself on a cross so that we could personally know and live for God through him. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) If we want to make a difference it’s as simple as making Jesus accessible to others by doing life with them. This can be done in everything from formal small group Bible discussions to casual conversations while watching Monday Night football.

This is how Jesus made God known to us.  This is how we can make Jesus known to others. We don’t have to leave discipleship to the experts.  We can each have a tremendous impact if we’ll simply learn to repurpose our daily activities for the glory of God.

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.

Spirit Empowered Ministry

October 20, 2014 3 comments

When it comes to leadership a lot of attention is given to strategies and principles. There are literally hundreds of books written about how to lead more strategically.  You’d be hard pressed, however, to find many good books about Spirit-empowered leadership and ministry.

Such a neglect of the Spirit in ministry would have been entirely foreign to first century believers. I don’t think they would have disagreed with the importance of strategies and planning, but they would have always subjected their strategies and plans to the influence and direction of the Holy Spirit. The first Christians understood that no strategy would ever be enough to turn someone’s heart toward Jesus or to overcome a person’s resistance to God. They knew that only the Holy Spirit could do that.

The Spirit Trumps Strategy

The Lord’s final instructions before ascending into the heavens was for his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they had received power from on high. (Acts 1:8) At this point Jesus has already been crucified for the sins of the world, buried and resurrected.  He’s given his followers their disciple-making strategy, their leadership lessons and the essential truths they would need to teach new converts.  Even with all of this good teaching Jesus knew that his disciples lacked one thing, power.

The disciples weren’t short on strategies and principles, they were short on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. These would-be world-changers had learned all the best disciple-making techniques from the best disciple-maker that ever lived and they still needed something more. Certainly leadership strategies, disciple-making methods and ministry techniques are important (Jesus had them), but that doesn’t mean they’re enough to actually get the job done. We need the Holy Spirit for that.

Power From On High

Shortly after Christ’s ascension, the disciples did what they were told.  While prayerfully waiting for what Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit descended from heaven, rested upon each of the disciples and then empowered them to preach the gospel with great effectiveness.  Their preaching was so powerful that 3,000 people became disciples that day. (Acts 2)

Image via hopesingapore.org

Image via hopesingapore.org

Throughout the rest of Acts, the Holy Spirit works in and with the early Christians to make converts, establish churches and fulfill the Great Commission. Their ministry had both strategy and power.  The results were nothing short of world-changing. (Acts 17:6)

Imagine a military vehicle rigged with all of the latest technologies.  It’s got the most comprehensive GPS system, a top-of-the-line radio, the best off-road tires a person can buy and plenty of artillery.  This vehicle might have all the potential in the world, but if its tank isn’t filled with gas it will be significantly limited in its effectiveness.

In the same way, we can have all the right doctrine, the best apologetics, world class leadership techniques and the most simplified disciple-making strategy, but if we aren’t filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit we won’t be accomplishing much. We need power for ministry, not just equipment for ministry.

Extraordinary Power for Ordinary People

The difference between a Spirit-empowered leader and one who is not is the both the effectiveness of his ministry and the orientation of his heart, the latter leading to the former. With his death and resurrection Jesus not only gave believers access to the Father, he also gave them access to the Spirit.  Christ followers not only have power to know God through Jesus, we also have power to make him known through the Holy Spirit.

If we want to have truly effective ministry, then we must be empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Like a military vehicle, it’s not enough to have all the right equipment, we also need to be filled with gas. Practically speaking, this means that the effective minister plans, prepares and strategizes to position himself to be used by the Holy Spirit, but that in his heart he completely relies on the Holy Spirit to do work in peoples lives. Don’t hinder your disciple-making efforts with self-reliance.  Daily ask the Holy Spirit to empower you for effective ministry.

For more on the Holy Spirit check out this series of videos from the Living Hope Church- Maryville Campus. 

11 Principles for Becoming a More Generous Giver

October 13, 2014 2 comments
Image via nextavenue.org

Image via nextavenue.org

Generosity is an often overlooked aspect of the Christian life.  It can be such a taboo topic that many pastors and leaders won’t talk about it.  Money is so personal to us that we often won’t part with it easily.

Generosity: Our Glad Response

Jesus understood this better than anyone.  In Matthew 6:19-24 he explains that money is such a personal matter that it reveals what we worship.  Because money is given a specific value, we can determine the worth of something we own based on how much we spent on it.

The same is true for God. If the value of an object is determined by how much money we spend on it, then we can determine how much we value God by the proportion of our income that we give back to him in worship. This doesn’t mean that we can buy God’s love, acceptance or forgiveness.  Those things are given by God as a free gift to those who believe in Jesus Christ.

It does, however, mean that we can tell how much we value the love and acceptance God has given us by the way we live in response, including the way we spend money.  If we are truly grateful for the price Jesus paid to give us forgiveness of sins and acceptance before God, then we will gladly use our resources to help other people know this great gift as well. This in turn demonstrates how much we value and appreciate what Jesus has accomplished for us.

The apostle Paul echoes this big idea in 2 Corinthians 8:9 when he says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” The concept is simple. We give to God as our glad response to what we have received from him through Jesus.  Giving is not a matter of paying God to do something for us. It is a demonstration of gratitude for what he has already done; an act of thankfulness, not of obligation.

Practical Generosity

In other words, our understanding of God’s generosity towards us is reflected in our generosity towards others.  If we are generous, it usually means we understand what Jesus has actually accomplished.  If we are not, it often means we don’t truly comprehend what Jesus has freely given to us on the cross. You could say that generosity is like paying it forward.  It’s giving of our resources so that others could know what God has made available to them in Christ.

Understanding this truth doesn’t necessarily make it any easier, though.  Even when we understand why we should give, it can often be difficult to take the necessary steps to actually get there. Here are 11 practical ideas that will help you out.

1. Learn to treasure Jesus. Jesus must be our most prized possession.  If we want to be generous givers, then we must learn to enjoy him so much that we are not satisfied until everyone else is enjoying him with us.  When we treasure Jesus we will gladly use our resources to demonstrate how much we value him. Money will become a means to help others value and enjoy Jesus with us. (Philippians 3:7-8; Matthew 13:44)

2. See yourself as manager, not owner. Ownership says, “I and my possessions are mine.  I will decide what to do with them.”  Stewardship says, “I and my possessions are God’s. He will decide what I do with them.”  When we rightly understand that everything we have is God’s, it’s easier to use it for his purposes rather than our own. (1 Peter 4:10; Luke 19:11-27)

3. Seek gospel transformation. The world has a much more significant effect on our lives than we would like to admit.  Many things other than God wrongly shape our worldview.  If we want to be generous givers, then we need Jesus to completely change our worldview.  We need, as Romans 12 says, to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” (Romans 12:2)

4. Develop a kingdom perspective. A worldly perspective puts you at the center of your life and world.  A kingdom perspective puts Jesus at the center of your life and world.  When we have a worldly perspective we will only ever spend our money on our own self-gratifying pleasures, but when we have a kingdom perspective we will invest our money into God honoring purposes that honor Jesus and make him famous. (Mark 1:14-15)

5. Give sacrificially off the top. Every time you get a paycheck make giving the first thing you do. It’s easier to give and then determine your budget, than it is to budget and then give what’s left.  This may mean you have to sacrifice TV, some entertainment, a coffee habit or a night out, but God is worthy of the best of your finances, not just your leftovers. (Proverbs 3:9)

6. Increase giving incrementally. If you’re not giving anything at all, don’t start by trying to suddenly give 40% of your income.  That’s not a sustainable life change.  Instead, try increasing your giving by 1-2% of your gross income every six months to a year.  This makes your increased generosity sustainable and much less stressful. (Proverbs 13:11)

7. Save for hard times and big opportunities. Wise financial planning is commended several times throughout Scripture.  Part of wise planning is understanding that you can’t plan everything.  Unexpected hospital visits, car maintenance issues and the single mom down the street who just lost her job aren’t things you can set an estimated time of arrival for.  Ease the burden ahead of time by setting aside a percentage of your gross income to savings.  This will allow you to continue giving generously when hard times or big opportunities arrive. (Proverbs 21:20; Proverbs 6:6-8)

8. Use a budget to live within your means. One of the best ways to give yourself the freedom to give generously is to use a budget.  Determine how much income you receive, identify your expenses, determine where you can cut back so you can give more.  Once you’ve determined the standard of living you can actually afford, be sure to live within your means.  Most people don’t have money to give because they don’t keep very good track of where it should be going. You can find a budget template online to help you get started. (1 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 9:6; Proverbs 27:23-27)

9. Avoid and pay off debt. The Bible’s overarching theme on debt is clear.  Avoid it at all costs. As Americans, most of our financial stress comes from buying items we don’t need with money we don’t have.  It’s not that we don’t make enough money, it’s that we want too much stuff.  Learn to be content in Christ and refuse to purchase anything that you cannot pay cash for up front.  If you have debt, find a way to pay it down as fast as you can.  Don’t let yourself become or stay a slave to a lender. (Proverbs 22:7)

10. Invite accountability and coaching.  Don’t try to make financial changes on your own.  Talk to your Community Group leader, a pastor or a trusted friend who you know gives generously and budgets well.  Ask someone who is a good financial steward to help you create a budget, give generously and stay on top of your finances.  (Proverbs 15:22)

11. Think in terms of legacy. Proverbs 13:22 says, “a good man leaves an inheritance to his children.”  Another Proverb warns against foolish spending when it says that “a fool eats his children’s inheritance.”  The idea is that poor stewards think only of themselves, while wise stewards think of generations to come. If you want to be a generous and wise steward, start thinking in terms of the future.  Imagine the dozens and hundreds of people you could influence toward Jesus if you were to budget wisely and give generously.  Contrast that with the hundreds or even thousands of people that you will miss the opportunity to influence toward the Lord if you spend your money only on yourself.

Giving generously can seem like a daunting task if you’re starting from zero, but it’s not impossible.  Put these principles into practice and with some consistency you’ll see some serious progress in the long run.

This content is a summary of the sermon “Grace & Giving” preached at the Living Hope- Maryville Campus as a part of the “Stewards of Grace” sermon series.  You can view the sermon by clicking here. 

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