discipleship Posts

My Challenge to Our Church Staff

One of the concerns I have as a pastor and leader is that conversations can very quickly move toward borderline inappropriate. One minute you’re talking and having fun, and the next thing you know, the conversation turns and it’s no longer edifying to the Lord. It starts as a little off-color joke here or a little off-color comment there, and it can go there very quickly, because if we’re not careful, there’s a tendency for things to move toward the ungodly.

You may assume that a church staff is godly just by way of definition, and that may be true sometimes, but that assumption may also be just that: an assumption. It may not be substantiated by how we live, because we’re only as godly as we are moving ourselves toward Him. Your individual time with the Lord needs to cultivate a heart that’s submitted to God, and that will ultimately be reflected in your professional life.

If you’re on staff at a church, the standard is high. This isn’t a normal job. Godliness has to be part of who you are. In the name of spiritual trust, we need to honor the Lord in what we do and in what we say in same-gender and mixed-gender conversations, in what we talk about behind closed doors and in how we interact behind someone’s back. We need to be mindful of our tongue and not allow ungodliness to come out of our mouths.

My challenge to our church staff is we need to be part of the solution of moving our people toward godliness. We need to be the ones setting the pace in the church, personally reflecting Him, squashing conversations if they’re going sideways and speaking the truth if something isn’t right. It can become too easy to just go about our days and not have those iron-sharpening-iron conversations, but we need to always be mindful of who and what we are reflecting. The time we spend with one another, the conversations in our meetings and all our interactions need to be godly. We need to be champions for holiness, for prayer, for personal devotion with the Lord, for listening to the Holy Spirit stirring in our lives, for living in obedience to His Word.

If there were rumors on the street about our team, I would love for them to be that we handle information well, we treat one another with respect, we have appropriate interactions with the opposite sex and we live in a way that honors Jesus. I would love the reputation of our staff to be that we’re godly.

Being a Parent

If you have children, you have a high-intensity, high-risk, high-reward discipleship environment right at home with the little ones God has entrusted to you.[1] As a parent, you have live-in disciples who are going to become just like you – whether you like it or not. Sometimes I watch my kids when they start misbehaving and wonder where they picked that up. Then I look in the mirror and realize they learned that from me!

When it comes to discipling kids, parents need to recognize the priority of their role in this regard.[2] The Scriptures teach us that parents should be the hub of discipleship in the life of a child. At the breakfast table, when driving the kids to soccer practice, when making their lunches, when they’re getting ready for school, parents should take point on the spiritual development of their children.

Unfortunately, we live in a world that outsources. We hire out services and assume that by paying the professionals we are taking advantage of their expertise, and thus receiving a better product. So we hire a mechanic, hire an electrician and hire a pastor. But God does not care about your ability to change your oil or rewire a GFI plug. He is, however, very interested in your investment into the spiritual life of the children He has entrusted to you. Children are a gift from the Lord[3] that He has graciously placed in your care. We are to train and discipline our children that they might be more like Jesus.[4] We cannot outsource this responsibility.

So invest in the spiritual life of your child. Share with them what you are reading. Pray for them. Show them what God is teaching you in His Word. Help them come to understand the gospel (grace alone, faith alone, in Christ alone). Model for them faithfulness to your spouse. Attend church regularly as a practical discipline of experiencing community together. Let them see you living in relationships with others who hold you accountable and support you in your walk with the Lord. Invest your time in the things of God and help them reorient their lives toward others as well.

These are all powerful deposits that are made into the life of a child. You don’t need to have the answers, but you need to help them see Christ in you. That is your responsibility. That is being a parent.

[1] Psalm 78:1-8
[2] Deuteronomy 6:6-9
[3] Psalm 127:3
[4] Psalm 22:6

Living With Intentionality

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Recently I had the privilege of doing my friend Harold Penner’s memorial service. H.P. was a church planter, a pastor at heart, a businessman, and he was a founding advisor of The Well. We built a relationship when I was a college pastor, and I started talking about this church I really felt like I needed to start. I shared a lot of the vision with him, and he really became a Jethro figure to me – a mentor, a sage and a guy who just believed in me.

The week before the first service at The Well, I remember thinking, “Holy smokes. Next week is our first service. This is dumb. This is not a good idea.” My wife was pregnant with Peyton at the time, and Harold was the guy who believed in me and the vision for The Well. He kept admonishing me, “You can do this. God is with you. Go for it!”

Harold was a very unique man. He was godly, full of joy and wisdom, and he had a mischievous way about him. He was probably the finest man I’ve ever met. He loved life and people, and was serious about his relationship with Jesus. His capacity for people was beyond reach; he had such a crazy love for folks.

He was also very intentional about what he did. Most people live for the moment. They simply take what life gives them and then seize the day. H.P. was different. He not only had the capacity to choose joy in the moment but he could snap moments together with intentionality. He moved very strategically. He invested with intent. He planned with the next several steps in mind. And this intentionality shaped those he influenced. Whether it was his business, which he was wildly successful at, or his kids, his grandkids, or his wife, he was intentional.

Having the opportunity to do his memorial service was a highlight of my ministry. It was a powerful reminder of the results of a life lived on purpose. Scanning the crowd I saw the men and women he had influenced. They were there to pay their respects, but they were also a testimony of his influence.

It made me rethink my life. What am I doing to influence others? What steps am I taking today to help point someone toward Christ? Am I setting up strategic opportunities to invest in people and help them live out their calling – with intentionality?

I want to make sure I’m making strategic investments into my marriage. I want to set a plan for my kids and work with them, as they become solid women of God. I want to lead The Well on purpose, making strategic moves and taking intentional risks to better create a culture of influence.

It also made me consider the various seasons of life that are represented in our context and how we could all move toward a more intentional life:

  • Singles: What would it look like for you to develop a theology of relationship of the right type of person? What would be different if you strategically invested your time and energy into becoming that type of person yourself?
  • Marrieds: How could your marriage look different if you strategically invested in your most important relationship? How would your time look different? What rites of passage or marked moments could you capture with your spouse? How could you make intentional deposits into their life?
  • Parents: Children are a gift from the Lord. How could you intentionally steward that gift? What steps could you take to breathe life into your kids? How could you strategically help them grow and develop into men and women of God? What schedule changes could you make to free up your time to be present with them? What would it look like to put away the devices (phones, iPads, computers, TVs) and strategically invest in the lives of your children? We are responsible to steward their growth and development, and we cannot outsource their spiritual growth.

I think the takeaway from Harold’s life is to do life on purpose. Let’s be intentional and strategic, knowing that when we plan we must plan in pencil because God still has the authority to change whatever plans we’ve worked so diligently to create. But at least we’ve planned something. If you draw that bull’s eye on the wall, it gives you a target to move toward versus doing nothing and seeing what happens. Let’s not just accidentally do life. Let’s be intentional and steward well what God has given us.

Reaching the Next Generation

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Hezekiah is a fascinating example of a guy who’s not willing to enter into the mess of the younger generation in hopes of developing, training or discipling them. Because of his pride of showing off all of his treasuries and his kingdom and his storehouse, he is told that his sons will be taken captive. Yet his response is, indeed, the word from the Lord is good. At least there will be peace in my time (2 Kings 20:13-19).

What I never noticed before is what happens after that. Hezekiah dies and his son Manasseh takes over. And when you read 2 Kings 21, you see all of the junk that Manasseh led the nation into. It’s an incredible wickedness that had not been seen in Judah to that scale previously. It had in Israel but never in Judah. Because of Hezekiah’s arrogance and selfishness of not wanting to enter into the next generation, he forsook the next generation, and the next generation took the excesses that were common in the culture and multiplied them.

When it comes to reaching the next generation, regardless of which one you’re in, the next one will always be perceived to be not as good as yours. They will always be perceived to be not as committed, not as faithful, not as biblical, etc. And yet the irony is that’s not necessarily the case. As we look at this current generation that’s now coming up, we’re really dealing with a group of people who, as we’re finding, are deeply committed to the things of God and open to the things of God. They’re just not committed to our systems or structures that people have found so much comfort in religiously.

If we’re going to reach the next generation, there has to be a sense where we recognize, yeah, I know the dude’s growing a beard, I know he’s rocking a beanie and it’s 100 degrees outside, he’s got skinny jeans and the whole hipster vibe going, okay, cool. But what’s at the heart? And if we can enter into the diversity a little bit, enter into the distinctions even of style and music and language, and recognize that this next generation is going to carry and steward the gospel moving forward, we can understand their world enough that we can get to the heart of the next generation and begin to disciple them.

We don’t have the option of pulling away and saying, “at least there will be peace in my time,” because what happened in Hezekiah’s day will happen in our day. If we are so uncomfortable or stubborn that we fail to enter in with the next generation, we fail to sit with them and disciple them and hear them and get to the heart of what God is doing in their lives, then the same type of excesses we saw in Hezekiah’s day with his son Manasseh, we’ll see today.

I would challenge any of you who might look down your nose a little bit at the next generation, as if somehow you’re better than them, to recognize that your calling is to serve them and disciple them and mentor them and train them and enter into their world enough that they recognize you care about them. Only then, when you’re telling them about Jesus, will they understand it’s coming from a heart of love and a heart of discipleship and a desire that, regardless of what generation we call our own, there could be a shared sense of the foundation of the gospel and of what Jesus is doing in our lives.

The One Word I Want to Define My Life

The One Word

I had been coming home a little on edge. I was not necessarily fun to be around, from my wife’s perspective. And I was missing my kids’ soccer practices since I was so busy. So they weren’t happy with me. I was cranking, working hard, giving a lot, and under a ton of stress. I was handling things outside of my comfort zone, so I didn’t feel competent, making decisions that have huge implications on people’s lives, and I didn’t feel with certainty it was the right call. And I had to teach, and honestly, the last thing I wanted to do was teach. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die.

I prepped. And I studied. And I taught. And it felt like flesh. It felt like me. It felt like the message was a giant run-on sentence, one ginormous blah, blah, blah, blah. I finished the message, went home, and of course, I couldn’t sleep, beating myself up: You shouldn’t have said that, you should have said that, you missed that, you misquoted that, you said um 150 times. What the heck is wrong with you?

Some assume it happens over decades. I love Jesus, then not as much the next year, and then not as much the next year, and the next year not as much. But it can happen in a moment. Literally, overnight.

I go to bed and realize I have to get back with the Lord. He hasn’t gone anywhere. The problem is not the Lord; the problem is me. I’m trying to do this in my own strength, I’m trying to wrestle my life to the ground on my own – and it’s too much.

I began to look at my spiritual life. What does my time in the word look like? What does my time in prayer look like? And I realize it’s scarce, if not non-existent. So I spend good time with the Lord, and good time in prayer and good time in my Bible – and the funny thing is, my wife likes me more, and it’s fascinating how my kids want to snuggle with me now, and I actually have the time. When my life gets crazy, I get very selfish. I need this. I need that. When my life is about other people, that’s where I find joy.

I walked into OSH, and I saw this guy with his wife sitting on patio furniture. I was feeling full, so I said, “Oh dude, you have got to have it.”

“Yeah, it’s like three grand,” he said.

“Well, happy wife, happy life.”

“If I buy this, you have to come party with us later.”

“If you need a truck, let me know.” And I walked away.

Five minutes later, this guy walked up and asks, “Were you serious?”

“That’s why I bought a truck, so I could help people. Do you need it?”

“I do.”

I loaded his furniture into my truck – and while he didn’t live right down the street, but way down the street, I left with joy. And that’s what I’m talking about. That’s what I love. If I’m in myself, if I’m in the flesh, if I’m being selfish, I’m not going to offer that guy anything. I don’t have time for that guy.

Don’t forget your first love. Recognize from where you have fallen, repent, and do the deeds that you did at first (see Revelation 2:4-5). 

The challenge is to check our hearts day by day, moment by moment, and process what it means to stay connected to Him.

If there is stress, frustration, fruitlessness, then you are not abiding. You are not being filled by Him and His strength.

If there’s a word that I would like to define my life, it’s abide. Because when I abide in Him and He abides in me – and literally, abide means to sink deeply into, to remain in – when I remain in Him, and He remains in me, and when I sink deeply into Him, and He sinks deeply into me, I bear much fruit. But apart from Him, I can do nothing. Not that I can’t do some things or I’m not as effective. No. You can’t do jack without Him (see John 15:5).

Bullet Points:

  • Slow down
  • Pray
  • Go for a walk
  • Enjoy the breeze
  • Read your Bible – not for the mind, for the heart
  • And make sure what you’re doing, you’re doing out of an abiding, connective relationship with Him

Are You Making Disciples or Just Influencing People?

 

Making-Disciples

In my own life, I’m recognizing there’s a difference between influence and discipleship. I’ve spent the last 12 years influencing people. Influencing from the pulpit, influencing in meetings, influencing in counseling, in weddings, at gravesides – influencing people toward Christ. But you typically influence people broadly and from afar.

Discipleship, however, is few and up close.

Pastors, myself included, are notorious for confusing the two. So a pastor will have a Bible study on Tuesday morning and have 50 men, and think he’s discipling 50 men. You’re not discipling 50 men. You’re influencing 50 men. Now that’s good. But what’s better is to get two men and to pour into them up close and personal.

When I talk about discipleship, I go back to 1997 when I discipled Mike and Shea. That’s a long time ago. The busier I get, the broader my reach gets, the more elevated my position gets, and the harder it is to find time to disciple up close. I’m becoming more and more convicted of the fact that I don’t think that’s an excuse.

I’ve thrown the gauntlet out to our staff team. I want us to get a select group of people and pour into them, and move beyond influence to discipleship. And if I’m going to ask them to do it, I need to do it.

I got a call yesterday from a buddy who said his son is in need. “I need someone to help disciple him. Do you have anyone on your team who can do that?”

And I said, “Yes, I can do that.”

“You? You have time for that?”

“No. But yes, I’ll do that.”

So we’re going to start meeting and I’m going to do life with this kid. How do you do life with someone or disciple someone? Most people think discipleship is being Gandalf or Yoda, being able to dispense wisdom in all things at all times in any situation. I don’t think that’s the case. I think you have to be one step ahead of the person you’re discipling, and you must have a lifeline if you need it.

Here’s the beauty of discipleship. When I started meeting with Mike and Shea, I was teaching them the Bible. They wanted my advice on issues. They met with me because they needed me to share something with them. But over time we began to talk, and as I shared with them, they shared stuff with me. You could argue it moved from me discipling them to us discipling each other, and I think we are better men because of the mutual contribution.

Stay one step ahead of the person you’re discipling, but recognize you don’t have to have all the answers. You just need to enter in with someone over time. You’re not going to disciple anyone in 12 weeks, but you are going to disciple someone over time.

People grow in crisis. So you’re going to spend 6 months discipling someone, you’re going to meet with someone, hey, how’s it going. What are you learning in the word? What’s God showing you? And then, bang! Tragedy strikes and now you’re discipling someone. They’re going to have a death in the family, or illness, or lose a job, or their marriage is going to hit the rocks. Now they’re open, and now they’re listening. And you’ve earned the right to speak into their lives – and you become a pastor of the moment.

So find people who you have affinity with, people you connect with, and spend time with them regularly. Spend time over time, and above all else, teach them to be self-feeders; don’t make them dependent upon you. One of the best tools I’ve seen in discipleship is daily devotions. Get someone to read their Bible on their own and just talk about what they’re reading.

Be aware that discipleship can become so dependent on the Yoda, that people never realize that the real Yoda is Jesus. They’re waiting for advice from you: tell me what I should do; tell me what I should say… It creates spiritual dependence. So be cautious because it’s like a narcotic. You want my opinion? Well, let me tell you what I think. Maybe the best answer is, I’m not sure. Maybe we should pray about that and see what the Lord lays on your heart. So 10 years later, when you’re not around anymore, they’re going to be able to pray about something and make a decision without you.