Equipping articles for ministry leaders, to prepare them for the great mission Christ has called them, and the people they lead, to accomplish together…in Christ’s name and for his Kingdom glory.

, ,

Preparing for Our Mission, Part 3

Promoted to Royalty

Your world is at war. You were born into a world of chaos and destruction, pain, and division that so often typifies war. And as with all wars, you are expected to choose which side in this war you will support. Revelation 12:7-9 tells us how the war began…

7And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8But he (the dragon) was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth and his angels with him” (New International Version).

For most of us, it is in our nature to avoid conflict if at all possible. We despise conflict, particularly the intense conflict war brings. However, the reality is that you and I were indeed born into a world at war. This war has been raging since before the creation of the world. It is a war in which you and I, if we are not careful, may feel like mere pawns, weak and disposable, in an epic game of chess. However, while chess pawns have limited fighting power, their real power is in their ability to get to the opponent’s far side of the board (the back rank) and be promoted into a noble and more powerful player in the game such as a Queen or Knight. Satan would deceive us to believe that we are mere pawns, weak and disposable, in this epic game; that we cannot really make a difference in this world. Yet while this was once true of all of us, we are no longer weak and defenseless. Through our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…that God took on flesh and became in every way like one of us: tempted, tormented, rejected, yet sinless and victorious over death, hell, and the grave; and through our public confession that we are sinful and in need of his forgiveness, that he is Lord over all, especially Lord and Master of our lives…we also, through faith in Christ, are now victorious having been promoted through Christ from mere pawns to royalty possessing the very same authority and power that belongs to Christ within his Kingdom.

Romans 8:17 states: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

Yet while our status as royal co-heirs with Christ is a reality, we likely do not yet understand how to live as royalty, or rightly wield the weapons that those who are Spiritual Royalty are given by the Holy Spirit to use in this epic warfare. When a biblical pawn is promoted to royalty, through faith in Christ, the new “Royal” must be trained and equipped to effectively apply their royal status, authority, and expanded powers so that they may eventually make a real difference in this fallen world. The Bible refers to this training process as “disciple-making”.

The word “disciple” comes from the same root we use for “discipline”. This is not the kind of negative discipline we commonly understand as punishment. This is the kind of discipline an athlete uses to become proficient at their “discipline”.  Look at how the Bible refers to our training process:

1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (NIV) “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

As new royalty in Christ, our “strict training” will involve preparation in three distinct developmental areas as outlined in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6:

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (NIV) “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 1) We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we 2) take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will 3) be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

I have underlined specific phrases because it is important that we do not miss their meaning. According to this passage our “strict training” involves three areas of discipline development:

  1. As the Holy Spirit leads us, we remove everything from our lives that would keep us from loving our Lord (i.e., we nurture our relationship with God).
  2. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we “take captive every thought” by submitting it to God (i.e., we transform our inner thought life)
  3. In the righteousness we have in Christ, we demonstrate our love for God through our obedience to his commands (i.e., we surrender our will/control).

This tri-part “strict training” (Relationship, Thought Life, & Will/Control) is required of every pawn who through faith in Christ has been promoted to royalty. This training is a life-long process of learning to surrender self to the transformational work of the Holy Spirit. Please note the respective roles in this training process: We surrender ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit does the work to transform us, teaching us to surrender self in the areas of relationship, thought life, and will.

, ,

Preparing for Mission, Part 2

Getting Childish

 

Isaiah 11:6 (New International Version)

“The wolf will live with the lamb,

the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling together;

and a little child will lead them.”

 

See Yourself as Childish:

Isaiah 11:6 envisions a future time when Christ’s Kingdom is made complete. Scholars don’t know for sure when or where this prophesied event will take place, only that at that time God’s shalom (Hebrew: “peace”) will reign throughout his Kingdom…and through God’s shalom, a little child will be able to lead both vicious and gentle creatures alike. And what is more, you and I are among the “little children” whom God will enable to lead both the vicious and the gentle of this world to share in Christ’s Kingdom. The “Child” image is very important in Scripture, so much so that Jesus asserts that it is impossible to enter into Christ’s Kingdom unless we become like little children. In Mathew 18 Jesus says:

Matthew 18:3 (New International Version)

“And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become

like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’”

What is it about little children that Jesus values so much? Certainly, children are far more innocent than adults, and Jesus may be challenging all people to become more innocent. But I think Jesus’ challenge goes much deeper. I believe Jesus is challenging adults to see themselves in this fallen world in the same manner as children innately perceive themselves as demonstrated through their imagination.

Children seem to share a remarkable and common understanding that God created them to participate in an epic story as a prince or princess within God’s Kingdom.  Reflect back on when you were a child. If you were a girl, did you ever pretend to be a beautiful princess or some other idealized character? Or, if you were a boy, did you pretend to be some kind of victorious prince, knight or super-hero? When I was a boy in the 1960’s, I played-out the prince-role pretending to be a cowboy or playing cops and robbers. Later generations of children, influenced by the Star Wars movies, could often be seen pretending to be Jedi Knights. Children have an innate perception that their lives exist within an epic story of good versus evil. As adults, many of us identify with the characters portrayed in epic stories conveyed in the books we read and the movies we view. My favorite movie is “Lord of the Rings”. I cannot imagine a better portrayal of a good-verses-evil epic story…except one…the Biblical epic. As I watched Lord of the Rings for the first time, I found myself passionately identifying with the Hobbit Frodo on his mission to carry the Ring of Power back to the fiery pit from where it had been made, so that it and its evil might finally be destroyed. I could not help but ask myself, “What did the ring represent in my life…my mission…that I would be willing to live, suffer, and die for it?” For me, epic stories like Lord of the Rings enables me to reenter the world of my childhood and once again see myself as I once did, as my Heavenly Father sees me now…that I am a royal prince on an epic mission quest.

But, sadly, as we grow from childhood to maturity, we become “reasonable” and “responsible” and set aside our childish self-image as a prince or princess who serves victoriously within an epic event that overcomes evil. Adults become accountants, businessmen, factory workers, husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers. And as responsible adults we justify to ourselves: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. (1 Corinthians 13:11)As we put childish ways behind us, we all too often satisfy ourselves with making a living rather than living to make a difference. God does want us to make a living and to provide for ourselves and our families. But he also desires for us to make a difference in this world, so much so that Jesus brashly re-defined our priorities…

Luke 14:26 (New International Version)

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” 

This passage is not telling us to “hate” our families, rather this is an Aramaic colloquialism intended to challenge our priorities to the core of our being. Simply put, Jesus is telling us that no one and nothing can come before our Kingdom service and loyalty to Jesus Christ. To hold any family member or even our own lives as a value above the things of Christ is a form of idolatry. God simply will not allow us to have any other gods before him (Exodus 20:3). So we are called to become like little children who are reborn into his Kingdom, adopted as co-heirs with Christ, raised to maturity in Christ so that we may serve our King as royal warriors, fighting a universal spiritual battle to establish Christ’s rule and authority within an ever-expanding Kingdom of God’s grace and mercy.

Let’s take a few minutes and review what the Bible has to say about our royal status and position in this world. Please read the following Bible passages, and summarize/personalize each passage in your own words, noting what the passage says about your status and function as a prince or princess called to promote Christ’s Kingdom in this fallen world.

 

Conclusion: Summarize and Personalize the Following Passages…

1 Peter 2:9 (New International Version)

9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Example:

I am a chosen person, to serve as part of Christ’s royal priesthood within His holy nation, and I belong to God so that I may declare the praises of Him who called me out of the darkness and into His wonderful light“.

Summarize & Personalize:

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ephesians 1:5 (New International Version)

5He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—

Summarize & Personalize:

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Romans 8:35-37 (New International Version)

35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: “For your sake, we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Summarize & Personalize:

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

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