Church Programs vs. Authentic Community

My wife is quick to point out my errors, particularly when I commit the linguistic sin of hyperbole. Hyperbole occurs whenever we exaggerate or inflate our position in the hope that our twist-of-truth will bolster our argument. I was reminded of hyperbole when I recently read a blog by Rev. Erik Parker entitled: “Want to Kill Your Church? Start A Program!”. This well-meaning pastor asserts:

So here is the thing about programs. They don’t work. Programs don’t work – communities do. Programs are for communities that have forgotten how to be communities.” (https://millennialpastor.net/2013/11/07/want-to-kill-your-church-start-a-program/).

While I appreciate Rev. Parker’s relational emphasis, and I strongly affirm that ministry happens best in the context of authentic relationships, I believe his blanket devaluation of ALL church programming is unfortunate and somewhat misinformed. Not all programs are bad. Granted, many of our church programs have outlasted their effectiveness years ago. But what Rev. Erik Parker’s seems to suggest in his greater article, is that he believes that church programming creates artificial communities that cannot function as effectively for Christ as “authentic communities naturally do”. To a point, I agree with Rev. Parker. Church programs are artificial communities. The issue then is to determine if authentic-community can occur within a church’s artificial community programs? Rev. Parker insists that this is not possible, I want to suggest that it is not only possible, but authentic-community does occur within well-developed church programs on a regular basis. In fact, I would go so far to say that if a church refuses to develop organizational systems, they will relationally alienate a large percentage of the Christian population.

Since the early 80’s, the Boomer generation has utilized a church growth method that offered programs designed to target demographic affinity groups: A children’s ministry for children, a teen ministry for teens, and a young married ministry for young marrieds, etc. Boomer church leaders hoped that by bringing people together of like life-stage, relationships would form, and interpersonal ministry would eventually trickle-down to the personal level (See: Illustration 1).

Illustration 1

Affiliation Group Programs

While affinity groups are great Christian socialization strategies, they have proved to be poor disciple-making strategies. As a result, many Millennial church leaders want to flip this traditional ministry methodology away from targeting affinity-groups and instead focus on loving individuals within the context of small inter-generational and inter-cultural communities. The goal is that the more people we love, who then authentically love others, the more Christ’s Church will grow without any need to focus on demographic life-stage, nor discipleship life-stage. I refer you to Illustration 2 below.

Illustration 2

Authentic Community Model

In theory, these loving communities will grow because all people need and desire love and acceptance. So, in theory, these communities claim to better reflect Christ’s disciple-making methodology…after all, Jesus loved to hang out with sinners. And while I affirm these community objectives, there is one glaring sociological dynamic that the community-ministry-model overlooks…According to the Myers-Briggs assessment construct, 43% of the human population have different social needs than the community-ministry-model can typically address. Please allow me to explain.

Since 2002, our ePersonality® assessment, a Myers-Briggs variant offered by AssessME.org, has documented the following:

  • 57% of the population “Relate to the World Around Them” through an ADAPTIVE set of values (See: Illustration 3). This means that a small majority of people do not value systems, plans, or programming structures.  Adaptive people tend to be relational people who can easily flex with life’s opportunities and demands. These people can easily fit and function within Pastor Parker’s “Communities”.
  • 43% of the population “Relate to the World Around Them” through SYSTEMATIC values. Systematic people require multi-layer organizational structures, plans, and programming systems to help them know how they may fit and contribute to the organization.

Illustration 3

Meyer-Briggs Quadrants

Systematic people quickly tire of pure relational communities that are not linked to a defined missional purpose. Furthermore, and possibly most importantly, systematic people typically build relationships through working with other people to accomplish a shared mission objective. I, for one, feel closest to those who serve and sweat side-by-side with me in our shared goal to expand the Kingdom of Christ in this broken world. It is difficult for may systematic people to simply build “social” relationships. In fact, their strictly social pool is quite small, consisting generally of family members and a few close friends. Systematic people generally consider the people they work with regularly, either on their job, or within a ministry program, to be their friends. For systematic people, working together to accomplish a noble task is their natural foundation for building any “authentic” friendship.

In contrast to systematic people, relational-adaptive people form relationships with people simply because “people” are their mission. They need no task-oriented purpose to serve as a pretext for relationships. Sadly, however, relational-adaptive people tend to project a superior attitude within our present-day church-culture. They often assert that their way of doing ministry is the best way. In fact, I have personally experienced many relational-adaptive pastors exclaim that their ministry methodology is the ONLY way to do ministry. Or, again, that their way of doing ministry is most “Christ-like”. Relational-adaptive pastors naturally create churches which are organizationally flat, and so emphasize relational community over organizational systems and programs. As a result, these ministries fail to build relational communities that include systematic people (43% of the population). These people quickly grow tired of the relational-adaptive church’s high social demands and lack of focused purpose. They struggle to discern how they fit within the flat community. But, here’s the big reveal: Relational communities can exist within organizationally programmed systems, but these programmed systems cannot exist within a flat relational organization.

But, here’s the big reveal: Relational communities can exist within organizationally programmed systems, but these programmed systems cannot exist within a flat relational organization.

It is hard to believe any pastor would intentionally reject 43% of the population simply because the needs of these people conflict with the Pastor’s relational-community ministry paradigm. But it happens all the time. Many small churches remain small because their pastors refuse to move beyond their purely relational ministry model and integrate the organizational systems necessary to include systematic people. As an example, over ten years ago a pastor of a church with about 120 people attending asked me to consult regarding why his church was not growing. He commented that if they could have retained all their visitors over the previous decade, they would be larger than 1,500 in attendance. When I explained to him the systems and structures that would be needed to be inclusive of systematic people, his response was literally hostile. He declared, “That’s not relational ministry, it will never happen as long as I am pastor of this church!” And so, his church remains about 120 people to this very day.

So, can we at least agree that it is just as wrong to declare: “Do You Want to Kill Your Church…Start a Program”, as it would be to say, “Do You Want to Kill Your Church, Start a Community”? I believe that when we respect God’s created order, which includes different kinds of people with differing needs and abilities, we then respect God Himself. Authentic community is the goal. But communities which accept only flat relational-organizational structures, are not authentic communities, they are in fact sectarian communities at best.

If we can accept the premise that church programs can be beneficial to many people if they are properly developed and supported, then our task now is to flip the traditional church program paradigm, from programs that focus merely on treating people as members of a social affiliation group, which hopes that disciple-making will somehow occur, to programs that intentionally and strategically support the relational disciple-making process.

 

Avoiding a Core Meltdown

Church Planting Lessons I Learned

By David A. Posthuma

Church planting can be the “toughest job you will ever love”. It can be highly rewarding, yet equally devastating. On the average, only 68% of church plants survive into their fourth year1. Beyond survival, far fewer churches may be considered “thriving” ministries. While many factors may contribute to the survivability and success of a church plant, healthy core-development is a leading dynamic2.

I learned this truth the hard way. My first church plant began with a small core of twelve people. We met weekly in various living rooms as I attempted to lead my core members through a spiritual and leadership development process. However, after three months, they began insisting that we “go public”. I resisted this appeal for approximately two months explaining that we needed to become stronger as a team because of the challenges that lay ahead. Finally, one core member (who ultimately inspired and led the core meltdown I experienced a year and a half later) suggested that we take a vote to see if we should “go public”, all but myself voted “yes”. I was now forced to either go along with the crowd or resign. I made the wrong decision.

In our first year as a public ministry, everything seemed to be going great. We grew from twelve core members to over 135 people in regular attendance. We had our own building, a full band, and ten small groups. We experienced people coming to Christ nearly every week, and new attendees weekly. I was amazed at what God was doing. It did not appear that anything was going to stop our momentum…and then we experienced a core meltdown.

Core members began to complain that I was spending too much of my time with the “new people”. They also complained that they were over-worked, yet they did not trust the “new people” sufficiently to delegate ministry service responsibility to others outside the core and resented me when I did so. At the time I felt frustrated by my core’s self-centered attitudes and simply challenged them to adopt a “servant spirit”. Eventually, the core splintered, and ten of the twelve founding members left the church. I was devastated. Our church attendance was cut in half. The church stopped growing. One spiritual seeker told me, “If this is how Christians treat each other I don’t want anything to do with Christianity”.

As I look back on that experience many years ago, having since matured through several church plant/church growth ventures, I now realize how common it is for church planters to experience a core meltdown. Many church planters report that they have lost most or all their core members by the fifth year of the church’s existence. Core meltdown is a painful and damaging experience for all involved. However, the potential for core meltdown can be minimized by implementing a few simple principles into the core-values of your developing ministry.

 

Principle 1 – Find Their Fit

It is very common in the early phases of a church plant that ministry leaders and ministry core adopt an attitude of “do whatever it takes” to accomplish the mission of launching the new church. While this slogan sounds motivational, it, in fact, violates a foundational principle rooted in scripture…gift-based ministry service. When people “do whatever it takes” and do not serve based upon God’s divine design for their life, it can only result in a severe increase in the individual’s stress level, and a decrease in satisfaction and motivation. The longer the level of stress and dissatisfaction is allowed to build, the more likely the individual will contribute to an eventual “core meltdown”.

This is one of the reasons why I developed the AssessMe.org ministry mobilization assessment program…First, so that church planters can be assured that God wired them for entrepreneurial ministry; and second, so that leaders can be equipped to mobilize their core members in a manner that honors and respects God’s design. When people serve based on God’s ministry design for their lives, they are self-motivated, experience minimal negative stress, and feel a greater sense of personal satisfaction. To determine a person’s divine design for ministry, I believe it is important to use objective assessment tools. Don’t give in to the deception that “we are small enough that I know each individual well…I don’t need to use assessment tools”. In almost every case where pastors have related this sentiment to me, upon using an objective evaluation tool with their core team, the pastor’s perceptions have been proved inaccurate. Objective assessment tools are not only an educational medium they also provide an opportunity for leaders to affirm team members for their many wonderful attributes. I personally believe it is essential to learn the following information regarding each servant within our ministries:

  • Ministry Temperament (Personality Dynamics)
  • Leadership Style (Preferred manner of influencing others)
  • Spiritual Giftedness (Focus upon practical ministry gifts)
  • Skills, Previous Training, and Experience

 

Principle 2 – Responsibility Must Match Maturity

Church plants often experience a unique dynamic not common among established ministries…they can quickly become large spiritual nurseries with few mature care providers. And if this challenge were not difficult enough, just imagine what happens when leaders discover under the pressures of real life ministry that many of their core members are not as spiritually mature as they had previously assumed. In fact, often times our core members are mere spiritual toddlers who try to project an image of spiritual maturity. I have found that when asked, most Christians cannot explain what defines a biblically mature Christ follower. (NOTE: Try this simple experiment with your core members. Meet with each one individually, and ask them to describe what defines a mature Christ follower, and to support their descriptions with scriptural evidence. What does this experiment reveal about your core?)

There is a direct relationship between ministry mobilization and spiritual maturation. We know that it would be irresponsible to make a two-week-old new convert an Elder within the church. So how long should a person be a Christ follower before placed into leadership? Does your new ministry have in place a clear spiritual formation strategy so that people know where and how God is challenging them to grow? I encourage church plant pastors to “test” their core members individually by having them participate in real-life ministry situations under the direct supervision of the church plant pastor. In addition, in order to determine each member’s true level of spiritual maturity, and to develop an intentional spiritual formation plan customized to the needs of each core member, I recommend using a spiritual formation assessment tool. One such assessment tool can be found at https://www.assessme.org/assessments/discipleship/. I recommend that core members re-take this kind of assessment every six months, with the support and accountability of a spiritual formation coach or their church plant pastor. In this manner, the assessment tool provides the necessary exhortation we all require to stay on track as we seek to grow spiritually and serve faithfully.

 

Principle 3 – Some Core Members can be Rotten to the Core

People often get involved in a church plant venture because they are dissatisfied with every other church in town. Dissatisfaction can at times be an appropriate motivator for helping start a new ministry. For example, I know of one town where there is not a single evangelical church within the entire community. Evangelicals within this community may be justified in their spiritual dissatisfaction, and having failed to influence the liberal churches in their community to change, may appropriately initiate a church plant venture.

Dissatisfaction, however, can often have less to do with the quality of the churches within a community, as it has to do with the quality of an individual’s spiritual condition. Some people will never be satisfied until they have control. Some people will never be satisfied until everyone agrees perfectly with their personal theology. Still, others will never be satisfied until they feel that people view them as a big fish in a little pond.

We hate to admit it, but some core members can be rotten to the core. At the core of every person is the reality that we are damaged by sin and in need of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work within our lives. We all have a responsibility to confront our sin and inappropriate behaviors by addressing them in a biblical manner. However, when core members leave their previous churches in a negative manner, causing damage to the leadership and its people, and do not address their divisive sin biblically nor seek relational restoration, then we can be sure that these patterns of behavior will inevitably repeat themselves within our current church plant. While rotten core issues are always painful and difficult to deal with, it is far better to address these issues before your church goes public, while only a few people are affected.

To protect a church plant from rotten core issues, I recommend that church plant pastors conduct a background check on all potential core members. If it becomes apparent through these background checks that core members are responsible for unaddressed sin issues which have damaged previous ministries and/or individuals, I urge church plant pastors to not allow these members to participate within the core until the issues are biblically addressed, remediated, and time has proven that these individuals are no longer a serious threat to the local body.

 

Principle 4 – Committees Are Core Killers

When a church plant pastor first formulates the ministry core, it is common that the pastor and core members make decisions in a democratic fashion…they vote. Or even worse, inexperienced church planters may initiate a value that “nothing happens unless we all agree”. This is a serious foundational error because these practices unintentionally construct an oligarchic (rule by committee) precedent. Once this precedent is established, core members become used to being consulted on every issue within the church. As the church grows, and core members are no longer consulted on every issue in the church, a power struggle typically ensues that ultimately results in a core meltdown.

The solution is to initiate team-based ministry structures long before the church ever “goes live”. What I mean by “team” is very different than is often practiced within most churches. I am referring to “Three-Strand-Cord” leadership teams established over every ministry area of the church. Using a Leadership Style assessment that evaluates each person’s preferred style of influence (Note: I will use actual profiles from AssessMe.org in my explanation), we construct leadership teams comprised of the following:

  • Team Leader (or Pioneer in start-ups) to mobilize the ministry team
  • Administrator to handle the details associated with the ministry team
  • Nurturer (Pastoral or Encouraging leader) to address the emotional and spiritual needs of the team and of the people the team serves.

While the Team Leader may display some dominance within the leadership team, each team member has a specific area of expertise and responsibility based on God’s divine design for their life. And each member of the leadership team provides accountability and a differing perspective for each other member of the team.

The Team Leader is 100% about the mission, Team Leaders do not like getting bogged down with the administrative duties the Administrator highly values, nor are Team Leaders highly sensitive to people’s feelings and spiritual needs are leaders in the Nurturing category.

Administrative Leaders love to address the many details associated with any mission. However, they are not typically as motivational or missional as Team Leaders and are even less sensitive than Team Leaders when it comes to the emotional and spiritual needs of others.

A leader in the Nurturing category (Pastoral or Encouraging Leaders) are very focused on the needs of individuals and have less concern about accomplishing a mission or addressing administrative responsibilities.

In the case of the Pioneer profile above, we would seek to support the Pioneer with an Administrator to handle the details, and a Pastoral person to compensate for the Pioneer’s lack of pastoral skills. The Pioneer is now properly supported to launch a new ministry. The use of Three-Strand-Cord leadership structures is supported in part by The Church Plant Survivability and Health Study 2007, released by the Southern Baptist denomination. Its surveys demonstrated that one of the leading factors associated with the success of any ministry start-up venture was the use of multiple leaders3.

 

Conclusion:

While there can never be a guarantee that protects your church plant from experiencing a core meltdown, the principles outlined in this article will help significantly reduce the potential of core melt-down, while significantly increasing the potential of your new ministry’s survival and eventual ministry impact within your community and throughout the world.

 

About the Author

David Posthuma is the author of Made for a Mission and eShift, founder of E-Church Essentials, LLC, and the chief architect of the AssessMe.org online ministry assessment program. David has served as a church revitalizer, church plant pastor, church growth consultant, and since 1998, has designed software solutions for the church market.

David resides in Holland, Michigan with his wife Tamara, and their two children, Joshua and Alyssa.

1) Church Plant Survivability and Health Study 2007, by Ed Stetzer and Phillip Connor, Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, February 2007. Page 13

2) Church Plant Survivability and Health Study 2007, by Ed Stetzer and Phillip Connor, Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, February 2007. Page 3

3) Church Plant Survivability and Health Study 2007, by Ed Stetzer and Phillip Connor, Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, February 2007. Page 3

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Ready for Fall Kick-Off?

5 Steps to Getting the Right Person in the Right Role

Have you ever had a nagging feeling that you forgot something? Many ministry leaders have this nagging feeling as they are preparing for their ministry programming for Fall Kick-Off. They may question: “Do I have the right people on my teams”? Or, “Do I have the right people in their most effective positions”?

If you use AssessME.org correctly, there should be no doubt that you have the right people, in the right positions, and in the right teams. But when I say “correctly”, what do I mean? Please let me illustrate how I build my teams using AssessME.org.

Where to Begin

I almost always begin my search for candidates using the Leadership Style Assessment. The first question I ask is, “Do I need a Builder, a Manager, or a Nurturer for this position”? A related consideration is whether I am building a new team or adding a team member to an already established team. For now, let’s focus on my process for adding a member to an established team.

The AssessME.org program advocates team-based leadership rather than point-person based leadership. There are several reasons for this position:

  1. If a team member leaves, the ministry program can continue under the care of the remaining team leaders.
  2. Ministry stability and sustainability are crucial considerations when seeking to expand ministry impact from year to year.
  3. Team-based leadership empowers team members to serve out of their God-given strengths, rather than struggle to compensate for the leader’s inadequacies.

The most important reason is because the kind of team-based leadership AssessME.org advocates is patterned after the Triune Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, consider the graphic below…

Trinitarian Leadership

A leadership team model based upon the Trinity.

I believe that the functional roles of the three persons of the Trinity should be reproduced within every leadership team. Does my team have a Team Leader…like Jesus? Does my team have an Administrator…like God the Father? And does my team have a Paraclete…someone like the Holy Spirit to care for the team members and the people the team ministers too? My ideal is to find this “Three Strand Chord” of leaders for every ministry program. So, if I need to add a person to an established team, then I consider what role is lacking. Using the Candidate Search Engine within AssessME.org, I simply sort my data base by the desired leadership category. To dig deeper, please read my book, Made for a Mission, which goes into far greater detail explaining the team building process.

Step 2: Sort by Personality

Once I have filtered my database for the desired leadership style, I consider the available flavors of personality represented within my defined candidate pool. Think of a personality type as one’s style of service. So, for example, you may have searched previously for a Team Leader. There are numerous flavors of Team Leaders. We need to find the Team Leader who has the best temperament for the specific needs of the ministry under consideration.

One church of about 400 people had the following personality-type results for their Team Leaders. Consider the eight “flavors” of how these different Team Leaders would function: (Note: The number following the title represents the number of people).

  1. Guide (1) –
  • Gifted counselor and mentor
    •   Highly people-focused
    •   Prefers one-on-one or small group relationships
    •   Typically works behind the scenes
    •   Has significant influence on the individuals he/she serves
    •   A common pastoral personality
  1. Disseminator (5) –
  • Values a mission
    •   Values serving with people to accomplish a mission
    •   Values a mission that benefits people
    •   Passionate, with strong relational and verbal skills
    •   Gifted at the startup phases of a project
    •   Attracts people to any new or hot activity
  1. Designer (3) –
  • Creates a blueprint of system or organizational design
    •   Works independently
    •   Turns chaos into structures to be implemented by others
    •   Has a small relational pool since relationships are viewed as “hard work”
    •   Can observe and address poor logic in a system design
    •   May require support in dealing with difficult interpersonal relationships
  1. Protagonist (1) –
  • Highly social
    •   All of life is “a stage”
    •   Needs to be in the center of any important social activity
    •   Has a flair for style and the arts
    •   Values cultural relevancy
    •   May “drop the ball” and not finish what was started
  1. Super Leader (1) –
  • A leader of leaders
    •   A primary influencer within the organization
    •   A strong strategic planner
    •   A change agent
    •   Significant ability to mobilize people to a vision or cause
  1. Fraternal Leader (1) –
  • Likes to invest in a group or team
    •   Values ideas as well as people
    •   Comfortable in the role of instructor or mentor
    •   Excellent problem solvers
    •   Ultimate goal is to always benefit people
    •   May become too emotionally involved in the lives of others
  1. Minister (2) –
  • A shepherding person that values protecting people
    •   Avoids risks if at all possible
    •   Leads small groups and individuals well
    •   Functions well only in small organizational structures
    •   Modest and humble individuals
    •   Values heritage and tradition
  1. Creator (1) –
  • The Thomas Edison of ministry systems
    •   Highly resistive to established ways of doing anything
    •   Is attracted to innovative ministries
    •   Possess strong verbal and multitasking abilities
    •   Gravitates to roles in technology, mechanics, or organizational development
    •   Make great systems analysts and consultants

 

Each of these Team Leaders brings a different set of skills and temperament into the ministry context. It is important that we position the right kind of Team Leader into our team example.

Step 3: Consider Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual Gifts are Holy Spirit enhanced abilities that are related to one’s God-given personality. There is a direct relationship between gifts and personality. So why do I wait to consider spiritual gifts until step 3? Because ALL spiritual gift assessments have fundamental assessment flaws. They are based upon a combination of interest and experience questions. Just because you might have an interest in a ministry area, does not mean you are truly gifted accordingly. And, just because you may have done something before, does not mean you did it well, or should have ever been serving in that capacity in the first place. Most spiritual gift assessments are only about 60% accurate. Therefore, we provide our personality and leadership style assessments to serve as a check-and-balance against our spiritual gift assessment results. You should expect a consistent pool of gift results among the people you have so far narrowed in your database search. Spiritual Gift results serve as a confirmation of ability and style for the role you are seeking to fill within your ministry team.

Step 4: Consider Necessary Skills

One of my last considerations, can from time-to-time, become the top search criteria. Do I need a doctor? Do I need an electrician? Do I need a Lawyer? What skills are desirable for our Team Leader to make the final cut?

Step 5: Consider Spiritual Maturity

In the spirit of “The last shall be first”, I consider the candidate’s NextSteps Assessment reports for both spiritual maturity and felt-need issues. My first consideration is what level of maturity in Christ is required for this position? Some churches require that all leadership candidates must have reached the “Deploy” phase of spiritual maturity. While others consider the Develop phase of spiritual growth sufficient for leadership positions. It is wise for a church or ministry department to define a policy so that a consistent requirement standard is maintained.

The second consideration is the candidate’s felt-need report. Felt-needs may be positive, such as a great desire to serve the Lord, or negative, such as being wounded by a recent divorce. I tend to set aside all candidates that have a current negative felt-need status. In most cases, I believe it is time for them to heal and grow through their present challenges. However, in some cases, it may be of great benefit to a person experiencing a negative felt-need, to serve other people so that their focus is placed on the things of Christ, rather than upon themselves. These cases require spiritual and emotional discernment. However, in general, I prefer to recruit leaders who demonstrate a consistent positive felt-need status.

Conclusion

While at first read, using these five steps for adding a member to a team may seem complicated. However, with a little practice, these steps will soon become a part of your everyday experience. And in doing so, you will find that your leadership teams will be more effective, and your team members will experience greater satisfaction as they serve their Lord and His people. My prayer is that your ministry will experience a successful Fall Kick-Off, and I hope AssessME.org will be a contributing partner to your success.

Test Yourself

Test Yourself

2 Corinthians 13:5 – “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”

Several years ago, while conducting workshops at a national pastor’s conference, I encountered a twenty-something woman who looked troubled. I struck up a conversation with her and eventually transitioned the conversation to what might be troubling her. Her answer cut me to the core. She said, “the church” was troubling her. I encouraged her to explain what she meant, so she explained, “It does not take true Christians to put on a Christian show, I want something more real”.

Performance Christianity, where church and the Christian life is portrayed as a ninety-minute production, cannot meet the deep spiritual hunger of those who are starving for the things of Christ. While a well-produced church service may get people to show up on Sundays, what matters is what happens next…discipleship. What, you might ask, do I mean by discipleship? It is a valid question. What I mean by discipleship is: “We are to address with each person, the specific spiritual growth obstacles that are hindering their faith development”. This goal cannot be accomplished within Sunday morning church services. In that one service, we may have a broad range of people: Some who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, some who are highly devoted to Christ and the expansion of His Kingdom and of course every flavor of disciple in between. Something more is needed.

So, what is that “more”? Is it our small groups or life-stage programs? Is it our church’s sense of community or our church’s social justice presence in our community? While all these programs have value, and can contribute to a person’s spiritual development, none of these programs are intentionally and systematically designed to do so. The Apostle Paul recognized various phases of spiritual development, and he tailored his discipleship efforts accordingly. Paul tells the Corinthian Christians: “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready” – 1 Corinthians 3:2. And likewise, the author of Hebrews 5:13 makes a similar point: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” You and I, who are ministry leaders, know these passages well. As such, it is easy for us to dismiss these passages as though they apply solely to a specific group of people within a specific historic context. But before we dismiss Paul’s point so quickly, have we ever truly considered whether Paul’s rebuke may also apply to the people within our churches?

So how do we know which people within our church need milk, and which need meat? Paul’s response may be found in 2 Corinthians 13:5. Here he tells every individual to “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” The life of Jesus Christ within us is made evident by the life-change that is taking place by the work of the Holy Spirit. Milk-based discipleship helps people know what Christ has done for us. Meat-based discipleship addresses what we must allow the Holy Spirit to do through us, that we may live our lives in ever-increasing righteousness and service to our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. I wish discipleship was so cut-and-dry as milk verses meat. If we extend Paul’s metaphor, we come to understand that there are many developmental phases between infancy and adulthood. This makes discipleship a dynamic multiphase process occurring within each true Christian. How can we then pinpoint what kind of discipleship each person needs at any given point in time?

This has been the conundrum that has troubled me for my entire ministry career. One day the thought occurred to me, what if we take Paul’s command in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to “test yourself” literally? Could an assessment tool be created that could continually examine each person’s spiritual progress, stagnation, or even decline? Such a tool would need to gauge faith in action being lived-out, and not merely head knowledge. Then also, could such a tool pin-point the specific discipleship issues that an individual may need to address at their present phase of spiritual maturation? And finally, could this tool also be used to assist in the spiritual equipping of every individual? For the past fourteen years, I have worked with many different churches exploring these questions, and creating for them custom discipleship assessment tools to use with their church members. The past fourteen years of research has taught me many important lessons. These lessons I have now integrated into an online discipleship program called NextSteps. Paul told us to “test ourselves”. NextSteps helps implement that command in a manner that is affirming and supportive of every person’s spiritual development. Go to https://www.assessme.org/test-drive/.

Your People are an Army!

Your People are an Army!

Your people, those who attend your church, represent an incredible Kingdom army. Sadly, however, most of the army remains in basic training and are never released to fight in the battle. They want to serve, but church soldiers often do not understand how they are to serve.

2 Corinthians 10:4 states: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” One of the strongholds that often keep people immobilized, is a lack of clarity regarding God’s purpose for their life. In fact, the #1 question on the heart and mind of every person is, “Why am I here…why did God make me like this?” My staff and I live to help people discover the answer to that vital question. God doesn’t want to keep us in the dark about our life purpose? In fact, I believe that our unique design is an intentional creation of God, perfectly suited for the “good works God has prepared for us” (Ephesians 2:10). So if we want to know what kind of good works we are to accomplish, a significant first-step to discovering this answer is found in the talents, skills, and abilities that come naturally to us. God will never ask us to serve him in a way that is contrary to his design for your life.

I learned that lesson the hard way many years ago when God called me to plant my first church. From previous experiences, I discovered that the Lord designed me to be a driven visionary with strong strategic planning abilities. As such, I can cast a noble vision for people, and help them plug-in. The new church was going great. We were rapidly growing in size. We also were blessed to have many adults come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. However, all of our momenta was stalled in one day due to the destructive behavior one person. Unknowingly, this person had previously destroyed three churches in Arizona. She now set her sights on targeting our church. The church survived the attempts of this person to destroy it, but we were scared and hurt. My district superintendent counseled me to lay off the church planting process, and just shepherd my people for a year or more to allow them to heal. I tried my best, but full-time shepherding is not a gift typically found in most visionary entrepreneurial pastors. My stress level was off the charts. Night after night I would plead with God, “Lord, please make me a kinder and gentler pastor so I can care for your hurting people”. One evening God finally responded. It wasn’t in an audible voice, but in an overwhelming impression: “If I wanted you to be a kinder and gentler pastor, don’t you think I would have made you that way?” I realized at that moment that my superintendent was asking me to do something God never designed me to do. If indeed this church now needed a shepherding pastor, then I needed to step aside and allow the church to search for a pastor with the temperament and gifts they now required.

Understanding our design, helps us know how to say “yes” to service opportunities that fit who we are, while also giving us permission to say “no” to service opportunities that are not in line with God’s design for our lives. Understanding one’s “Ministry Temperament”, that is your God-given design for ministry service, is the first crucial step pastoral leaders need to address if they ever want to move their army out of basic training and into the battle.