A Dying Tree

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.” Luke 6:43 NIV

We once had this tree.

Over the time we owned the house, every year I thought it was one year closer before we would have to cut it down. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the tree. The tree really wasn’t in the way. I could easily mow around it. The tree just didn’t seem to be making it. It barely had any leaves on it and whenever the wind barely blew I had to pick up all kinds of broken branches. The tree was going “bad”. The only reason I didn’t cut it down yet was because I had sentimental attachment to it. Plus, it used to be such a beautiful tree.

We’ve since moved from the house, but, honestly, I know believers who are like that tree.

They used to have excitement in their faith. There was a time when they got motivated at just the thoughts of going to church. They were eager to hang out with other believers. Something happened to them and now the enthusiasm is gone. I’m not saying they no longer believe, but they certainly aren’t producing much “fruit”.

Are you one of “those” believers?

One of the saddest things for me in ministry is witnessing people who once were vibrant, blooming, growing church members. Now, I never see them. That breaks my heart.

Has your motivation for church, for God and your fellow believer waned in recent years? Ask God to “prune” you back to vibrancy in the Kingdom of God! Ask God to give you back your fervor for His glory.

If you are a part of the body, we miss you when you aren’t with us.

See you Sunday?

I sure hope so.

And while you are praying…say one for the tree! As far as I know, it’s still standing. There is still life in that tree. Hopefully there is for you too!

 

Mature Christianity

Knowing truth does not make one spiritually mature.

Knowing the Bible, even memorizing Scripture, does not make one spiritually mature.

I have known many in churches who have lots of experience with church, lots of Biblical knowledge, but I wouldn’t consider them spiritually mature.

They aren’t self-feeders. They don’t demonstrate the fruit of the spirit. They don’t consider others better than themselves.

Granted, we are all a “work in progress”, but…

A mature Christian doesn’t just know truth…doesn’t just know the Bible.

A mature Christian is striving to live truth.

In fact, a mature Christian is striving to be truth. Truth is a person. Named Jesus.

(Just some thoughts from reading Philippians 2 & 3.)

What do you think of when you think “spiritually mature”?

7 Suggestions for Processing Pain

I tweeted recently: We all make a decision how we respond to the pain in our life. It is one of the most important decisions we’ll ever make.

Someone tweeted back a great question. What’s s great way to process (emotional) pain?

Here are 7 biblical ways:

Expect God to use pain for good – Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28

Use it to comfort others with similar pain – 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

Reconsider your perspective on the pain – Romans 8:18

Receive the honor of suffering pain – Philippians 1:29

Accept the normality of pain – 1 Peter 4:12

Celebrate His sufficiency during pain -2 Corinthians 12:8-9

Look for the reward in suffering through pain – 2 Timothy 4:7-8

How we respond to emotional pain is a choice we make. The promises of God are real, even during our times of suffering. In the earliest days of any trial, we may not see any of these truths at work. That’s okay. We are frail people. The key is as we move forward, what we do with the pain in the days to come. Painful times are not going away in this earthly life. Jesus told us that. Learning to rest in Him is part of maturing as followers of Christ.

Suffering reminds us that His grace is sufficient for all our pain. In fact, though I don’t completely understand it, His power is perfect in our weakness, but only when I surrender the pain to Him.

We are not intended to handle pain alone. Thankfully, by His grace, we don’t have to.

Are you learning to “cast all your cares on Him because He cares for you”?

When you lose a good friend…

One of my dear friends died last week. He was 54 years old. Too young. Although, it’s always too young when you love someone.

I loved Steve.

Steve came into my life and almost instantly became a good friend. We met together every week, at the same time, on the same day, for several years. It was one appointment I looked forward to every time I saw it on my calendar.

I walked through seasons of life with him. He walked through seasons of life with me.

We talked marriage, (Both of us had great marriages thankfully.)

We talked about our children. (Both of us had great experiences as parents, thankfully.)

We talked about our work. He walked with me through the transition from secular vocation to ministry vocation. He walked with me through pastoring a church, and another, and the planting of a church. I walked with him through times of change in his church work and transitioning to a new church.

We traveled to conferences together. One time we were headed to a conference in California and the conference cancelled. We already had plane tickets and a hotel room, so we went anyway. We visited a dozen churches. I can still remember some of the things we learned on that trip. If was life changing for both of us. Mostly because we got to spend so much time together that week.

We played golf together. He was one guy who could get me out of the office and onto the golf course. I needed it. Steve was the consummate teacher, so he’d teach me something new about my golf swing every week.

We dreamed together. Steve always had a new idea about how to do ministry. I’m kind of wired that way too. It was a good partnership.

Mostly we just shared time with each other. It was nice knowing there was a guy I could always depend upon. We’ve lived in different cities for a while, but no matter how long it had been since we saw each other or talked, conversation was always easy with Steve.

I miss him. I miss him a lot.

My life is not the same because of Steve. My life won’t be exactly the same again.

Life is always different after you lose a good friend.

Thanks for being a good friend, Steve.

Andy Griffith Prepared to Die

I was saddened, as many Americans were, to hear of Andy Griffith’s death yesterday. The show after his name is still one of my favorite. I’ve seen every episode enough times to complete the lines.

I read where Andy was buried only 5 hours after his death, at the wishes of the family. What I liked most about what I read was this statement by his wife:

“Andy was a person of incredibly strong Christian faith and was prepared for the day he would be called Home to his Lord,” Griffith’s wife, Cindi, said in a statement on Tuesday. (Source)

Andy was prepared to die.

Are you?

“Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow”

Recently I received my copy of “Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow” written by my friends Eric Geiger, Philip Nation and Michael Kelley. I was curious about their work, because I believe discipleship is a current weakness overall in the church. How can we do it better? I decided to interview the three Kingdom builders.

Here is my interview on Transformational Discipleship:


Why do you feel strongly about this particular discipleship message?

(Eric) First and foremost, because “making disciples” is the calling laid on the life of the Christian. It’s what we are all supposed to be about, both as a disciple and as one participating in the process of discipling others. Of all the things Jesus might have said when He ascended into heaven, His marching orders to the church involved making disciples. But many of us choose to settle for behavioral modification or the transfer of intellectual knowledge rather than seeking and trusting the Holy Spirit to change people at their core.

(Philip) The charge of making disciples isn’t a passive one. God has called us in the church to take an active role in both our own discipleship and in the discipleship of those around us. It’s a process that we’re all on – as Billie Hanks has said, “I’ve never met a mature Christian, only maturing Christians.” We want to help people move into that journey for their own sake and for the sake of those around them.

(Michael) This particular message about discipleship is helpful, I think, because we are attempting to articulate the balance between doing and believing. We want to embrace that ultimately only the Holy Spirit can transform an individual. It’s His work, and yet we are to play an active role in that work. While we don’t transform ourselves or anyone else, we can try and create an environment, in our lives and our churches, that is ready to embrace the work of the Spirit.

Let’s address the title of the book. Why is the book called Transformational Discipleship?

(Eric) Each of the words in the title is significant. Every person in the world is a disciple because everyone follows someone or something. That’s what a disciple is – a follower. But while every person is a disciple, not every person is transformed.

What we are really after as followers of Christ is transformation. That’s the process in which something actually becomes something else. So growing in Christ isn’t just putting on a new set of habits or behaving differently; it’s deeper than that.

Being a disciple is simply following Jesus to a greater and greater degree. And if we are following Him, then we are through our lives becoming something different. The Holy Spirit and He alone does this transforming work in the hearts of people. What our job is, as church leaders, isn’t to transform; it’s to set the conditions that are most conducive for real transformation to occur.

(Michael) In the book, we liken this kind of partnership to water skiing. The person behind the boat isn’t the one who lifts himself of the water or pulls him across the lake. The boat has all of the power. But the one with the skies on does play a part. He or she must place themselves in the right posture behind the boat, giving the one driving the boat a “thumbs up” sign, and prepare for the ride.

Spiritual transformation is the same. God is the one enabling His people to mature and grow while His people are invited to place themselves in the right posture.

The subtitle is How People Really Grow. So in a nutshell, how does that growth happen?

(Eric) We frame the process of spiritual growth in the book through three circles: Truth, Posture and Leaders. The place where those three circles converge is what we call the transformational sweet spot.

The sweet spot on a bat or a tennis racket is the place that has the most potential impact when you hit the ball. In the same way, when these three factors come together a church is set up to experience transformational discipleship.

Here’s how we articulate those three factors coming together: The transformational sweet spot is the intersection of truth given by healthy leaders when someone is in a vulnerable posture.

Unpack that definition a bit. Each of those words (truth, leaders, posture) are big terms. What specifically do you mean by them?

(Philip) In each of the three areas, we highlight specific ideas that aid transformation to occur. We call them lenses. So for truth, there are three specific lenses that contribute to transformation: the gospel, identity, and the spiritual disciplines.

It’s especially important for leaders to understand these lenses because they influence the way they present God’s truth to the people that have been entrusted to their care. For a leader, then, to present the truth, they focus on the gospel, understand that in the gospel a person’s identity is made new and different in Christ, and equip their people to participate in the spiritual disciplines.

You say that truth should be applied by healthy leaders to people in a vulnerable posture. What makes a person have a vulnerable posture?

(Michael) All kinds of things. It could be a significant life change or a period of loss. It could be a conscious choice on someone’s part to orient life around learning and obedience. In the book, we describe three characteristics of someone in this kind of vulnerable, or teachable, posture: Such a person is aware of their weakness, interdependent on others, and has an outward focus.

This section was really personal for each of us because we all looked back and knew that there were certain parts of our lives when we were most receptive to the truth of God. Most of those times coincided with some tough life event that pushed us into that posture. That’s one of the reasons why healthy leaders are so important; they are able to be a stabilizing influence in the lives of their people, helping them see how God’s truth meets them in their time of need.

Tell us a bit about the research that’s outlined in the book.

(Philip) In 2010, LifeWay Research embarked on an ambitious research project. We surveyed believers about their spiritual lives and level of maturity. We wanted to look into the major arenas of life where spiritual maturity takes place.

The research was done in three phases. First, we did a qualitative survey of experts in the field of discipleship. Members of our research team did interviews with recognized experts from multiple countries including pastors, professors, and church leaders from a variety of backgrounds.

From these experts in the field of discipleship, our research team gained a better understanding of what is taking place in the church both domestically and in other countries (specifically in the Hispanic context).

After the expert interview phase, the research team also conducted survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors in North America. The survey delved into the type of discipleship ministries being used in churches and the satisfaction level that they have with them. The survey revealed a great deal of paradoxes occurring between pastors’ hope that people are maturing and the level of satisfaction they have that believers truly are maturing.

Finally, the team at LifeWay Research did a survey of 4,000 Protestant Christians in North America. Of that number, approximately 1,100 were in Canada and the survey was done in three languages: English, Spanish, and French.

It was a really extensive project, and we’re excited to frame the results in this book.

Is this a research driven project?

(Eric) Yes and no. It’s certainly a project that’s supported by research, but we didn’t want it to read like a pure research book. We wanted it to be accessible for pastors and church leaders of all kinds. So while you’ll clearly see the research in the book, it’s driven more by biblical truth.

What role does the church play in transformational discipleship?

(Michael) If you look at the transformational sweet spot, you’ll see there are three major components: truth, posture, and leaders. Truth comes from God and is brought out in His word. The posture piece relates to the individual disciple. But the leader is the one who brings those two things together. Take out any of those three pieces and you get a deficiency in discipleship.

Transformational discipleship most effectively happens in the context of the local church. The church shouldn’t be an “add on” to someone growing in Christ, but instead the relationships between members of the church are the context in which this transformation happens.

(Philip) While it’s certainly not happening everywhere, the research that led to Transformational Discipleship gave us a lot of hope. Leaders in the church understand that their chief role is to involve themselves deeply in this process. The church can’t be a place where intellectual knowledge is transferred; neither can it be a place where behaviors are merely modified. Neither of those things is transformation. Real transformation is not just doing or knowing something different; it’s being something different. It’s an incredible privilege to be a church leader and be deeply involved in this work of the Holy Spirit.

You emphasize early on in the book that this statement of the transformational sweet spot isn’t a formula or a model but a framework. Why is that?

(Eric) When I co-authored Simple Church, it was meant to challenge leaders to have a process for discipleship, but it was never intended to be a model (the first paragraph of the book read, “this is not a model”). But for the last five years many church leaders treated the book as a “new model” for church ministry.

We love prescription. But you can’t “prescribe” the work of the Holy Spirit. You can describe His work, based on the biblical evidence and the stories we’ve heard, but you can’t simply put in a model and expect the Holy Spirit to just fall in line.

(Michael) We don’t want anyone to treat the transformational framework in the book as a new mission statement; we want it to help people understand to a greater degree how people mature in the church. When we start to see how leaders, truth, and posture intersect, it changes the way we teach, program, develop leaders, and even do pastoral care. But it doesn’t eliminate the need to listen to the voice of the Spirit to see how those things will change in one particular local church.

Again, that’s the divine/human partnership at work.

What are you hoping is accomplished through Transformational Discipleship?

(Philip) I’m praying that Transformational Discipleship will fill the church with hope. The good news is that the Holy Spirit is most definitely at work transforming the hearts of Christians. What we want to do in the book is reaffirm His work and try to give leaders some very helpful footholds – some ways of thinking that can inform and shape their ministries for the years to come.

(Michael) Discipleship is a big word to a lot of people. It’s intimidating, and while there is something mysterious about the way the Spirit works in the hearts of God’s people, discipleship isn’t reserved for some special class of Christians. So my hope is that through the book, the way people really grow in Christ might be de-mystified a bit. Not in the sense that we lessen the emphasis on the work of the Spirit, but in the sense that the way this happens becomes simplified in our minds.

(Eric) I want the church to enter into a day of playing offense rather than defense. The human heart isn’t something pure that needs to be protected; it’s something wicked that needs to be transformed. Jesus wants us to be on the move – to play offense. To take ground for the kingdom in confidence because of who He is. So my prayer is that the book helps us to see how we can be active partners with God to see people truly grow deep in Jesus.

What are your thoughts on discipleship in the church today? How are we doing?

How My Personal Prayer Team Is Structured

  • This week I tweeted, “Meeting with my personal prayer team. I’m confident I’ve underestimated their influence in my ministry. Every pastor should have one.”

I received numerous replies asking me questions about the specifics of who this group is, what they do, how often we meet, etc. I thought it as worthy of a post.

Years ago when I was a layperson, a group of my prayer partners formed our own pastoral prayer team. We would pray during the church services and make appointments with church staff members to pray for them. It was a great marker in my spiritual growth and it seemed to be valued by the ministers.

When I became a pastor myself, knowing the importance of prayer, I decided to be intentional in soliciting people to pray for the church and my ministry. I have done this various ways. I’ve emailed individuals and groups with specific prayer requests. I’ve had Sunday morning meetings before church and recruited a few people to pray during each service. I’ve had a few men that I met with in accountability/prayer groups.

In the past couple of years, I started something new. It’s become my preferred model, simply because it’s intentional, it’s highly functional with my schedule, and I’ve seen the results of prayer working in my ministry.

Here is my current prayer team approach:

I personally recruited 7 people in the church who meet with me regularly. (I wasn’t attempting to get to a Biblical number. It’s just the way it worked. My goal would be for this group to never be larger than 10 or so, simply so we can function well as a group when we meet. Much larger and we would lose the intimacy of the group we have now.)

We meet every 6 weeks to 2 months, as my schedule allows. My assistant sets these meetings up for me at my request.

My part of the meetings last less than 1 hour.

I come to the meetings with a list of things to pray for, and hand it out to them as a prayer list.

  • Some to do with church
  • Some with staff (I don’t share names or specifics, but generalities)
  • Some personal (I don’t share highly intimate things. I have men in my life to share those things, but I do share requests personal to me and my family, that may or may not have anything to do with the church.)
  • In regards to the church, some items are general and some specific, but I rarely, if ever, use names associated with the requests. This is not as much about individual prayer needs within the church. We have a separate prayer team for those needs. This group is my personal prayer support group, so items within the church are more centered towards things I personally lead, opportunities or initiatives I feel God is guiding us towards, or personal issues of concern I have within the church, my family or with me.

I talk through each item on the list and allow them to ask me questions about them.

I pray for them.

I leave and let them pray together as long as they want.

They take the list home and continue to pray until we have another meeting.

We begin each new meeting reviewing any carryover items on the list to update the group on prayer results.

Who is on this prayer team?

  • People I have personally recruited. (In the church I’m moving to pastor, I’m in the process now of gathering those names. Since I don’t know the people, I’m relying on several other people I do know to help me with a group of names.)
  • People I can trust to hold a confidence (This is of utmost importance to me and I’ve never had a “leak” from this process yet.)
  • People I believe are fervent in prayer, and they would be doing so whether I asked them to or not
  • People who are humble, not looking for any spotlight or attention
  • People I would go to personally to request prayer aside from this group (You probably could name those people in your church now)

These people are often not on any other team or committee in the church. They aren’t necessarily eloquent of speech. They are simply people of prayer. This is not a committee or team where members rotate on or off after a term of service. These are prayer warriors. As long as they are willing to serve, and are functioning within the request of confidentiality, they remain in the group.

What’s the benefit?

Do you have to ask?

Seriously, just this week, I gave them a very personal prayer request of something I was asking God to do. Within 30 minutes of our meeting, I had an answer to the prayer request. I emailed them to let them know.

Months before God began stirring my heart towards a change in ministry assignment, I had asked this group to pray for our staff. I knew several were receiving requests to consider other positions. I asked them to pray for our staff to be wise and discerning of God’s direction in our lives. I didn’t know at the time that I would be the one God would deal with next. It was out of my realm of possibilities to take another church at this time, but this group was already praying for the possibility. I’m convinced their prayers have aided in making this transition process so incredibly smooth.

God still answers the prayers of His people.

You don’t have to do it my way, but if you’re a pastor, you need people you can trust praying for you in every area of your life. Yes, you need your entire church praying for you. I’m for more corporate prayer. I believe, however, that you need a smaller group around you to share more personal requests. When we look at the model of Jesus, He seemed to have that prayer support structure within the disciples, even calling a few of them frequently away from the 12 to meet with him in more private settings.

How do you organize people to pray for you?