Helping Your Church to Grow:  Specific Leadership Barriers

Previous articles have examined structural and general leadership barriers to church growth.  In this article, we want to examine some specific barriers for church growth at different sizes.  Carl George & Warren Bird wrote the classic book on this topic, “How to Break Growth Barriers” (Baker House, 1993) and much of the material below is adapted from that book.  

In excess of 85% of all churches in America are under 200 in weekly church attendance.  Therefore, our last article devoted time to general leadership topics and some specific concerns at the 200 barrier.  Here, in this article, we provide some direction for those facing the very significant barriers at the next 3 size plateaus.  The resources below are not exhaustive, but should provide some helpful illustrative guidance should your church be facing these specific growth barriers.

200-400 persons in worship attendance

  • Barrier of Self-identity

Churches between 200 and 400 in weekend attendance struggle more with identity than any other barrier.  “Who are we now?” and “What were we then?” are typical questions that are continually asked.  This is true because churches that have grown past 200 and are trying to grow past 400 are always facing primarily four different crises:

  1. Leadership Crisis: A leader of a church this size must have the freedom to try new things and experiment with different ways to bring people in.  Effectively communicating the evangelism mandate is also something a leader must live and breathe at this level.
  2. Service Crisis: Pastors which lead in this category of church size are often facing a multiple-service dilemma, and how to double the service times and double workers in and around services also (e.g. children’s ministry workers, ushers, etc.).  For a church to move from one service to two requires major shift in attitudes and priorities.
  3. Power Crisis: People in churches that desire to move past 400 must move past the tendency to cling to power and begin to release power so the lay leaders have the authority to make some of the decisions which impact their ministries.
  4. Change crisis: At this level the pastor has to move from the “pastor as chaplain” model to the “pastor as manager” model and begin to made authoritative changes that bring about change.

400-700 persons in worship attendance

  • Barrier of Delegation

Churches that have between 400 and 700 in attendance are known as “awkward size churches.”  They are too big to be small and too small to be big.  Much like a medium-size grocery store, people in these churches do not know everyone’s name, but there is still a struggle to lead the organization instead of manage all that goes on there.

The key word for this barrier is delegation, and the key principle is structure.  The pastor must become a leader and focus time and energy on leading leaders (who in turn lead other leaders).  Bill Eason said it well when he said, “Sacred cows make great hamburger.”  Church leadership must be willing to kill some sacred cows and organize ministry differently in order to break that 700 barrier.

The 200 barrier presents the key leadership with a barrier of heart (do we have a vision to reach unchurched people?).  The 400 barrier presents a barrier of hand.  Can we do ministry differently in order to reach more people?  Ministry at the 400 barrier requires a pastor to raise up key team members who direct specific program ministries.  Creating multiple program opportunities for people to connect in relationships and serve in ministry is key to breaking through this barrier.  Equipping key leaders for ministry and delegating power and authority to them requires the church to operate without the barriers of bureaucracy that so often inhibit churches at smaller sizes.   

700-1500 persons in weekend worship attendance

  • Barrier of Evaluation

Churches facing growth plateaus in this size category are facing an evaluative crisis and must ask the tough questions (and find answers) in order to become a mega-church.  This is a particularly difficult barrier to break through, probably the hardest.  The following are the questions leaders must ask to move to the next level of growth:

  1. Do we expect that every human being can and should become a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ?   
  2. Are we intentional about doing all that we do in light of our size and our community environment?
  3. Are we relevant as we present the gospel?  Are we addressing the longing that people have to feel understood, to understand, to belong to something, and to find hope?
  4. Are we high quality in what we present through teaching, worship, and training?
  5. Do we offer a broad range of attractive choices in a variety of areas?
  6. Do we trust our staff and lay leaders?
  7. Do we ask, “Was that a good decision?” instead of asking who made the decision?
  8. Do we operate from an abundance model in which “resource demands” are met by challenging people to find creative solutions?
  • Barrier of Polity

Churches breaking through this barrier must change the way they organize and carry out leadership at the board level.  Boards of churches who are just arriving at this level tend to manage committees which coordinate volunteers.  They also tend to protect physical assets of the church and possess status as non-clergy members.

More helpfully, a growing mega church board will release the ministry to the staff (paid and volunteer) leaders of the ministry, who in turn lead growing teams of lay ministers.  The governing board of the church is largely responsible for establishing a climate of trust, authenticity, and support for the vision of the ministry.  They help to govern the life of the body in such a way as to make their primary focus the issue of “health” and not “mechanics”.

  • Barrier of Team

Change is needed in the staffing areas of large churches is the church is to break through this size barrier.  There are several transitions that the staff must make to move to the next level.  The staff must move:

  • From provider to arranger of service
  • From player to coach
  • From solo star to team leader
  • From privilege to accountability
  • From Area specialist to Age-Division generalist
  • From personal ministry to delegation
  • From committee appraisal (faithfulness) to results (fruitfulness)

Furthermore, it is the staff role to do the following:

  • Communicate mission, vision and values
  • Manage the church’s systems
  • Lead problem solving
  • Build relationships
  • Create new opportunities for ministry
  • Leadership Development
  • Discipleship
  • Perceive the membership in terms of lay-led teams
  • Train leaders in three areas:  Spiritual and Relational Vitality, Core Competencies and Change Management
  • Have a clear method and curriculum for teaching leadership

The challenges for this level of church are particularly onerous given that multiple issues can easily present themselves at any given time.  Fortunately, in the latter part of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st century, God has given us a number of healthy mega church models which we can now both celebrate and observe after one or more decades of ministry.  Utilizing other models for ministry as benchmarks, growing churches clarify their vision and focus their future in concert with God’s hand upon their ministry.  Adapting the principles you see in another mega church ministry for ministry for your context is the challenge of leadership.

Breaking growth barriers at all levels does not depend on the mechanics of ministry.  Ultimately the direction of a ministry rests completely in the hands of the Holy Spirit who calls, shapes, and gifts the members of the team.  It is my prayer that your journey with God will result in the breaking of every barrier to growth that God enables you to see and to challenge.  I hear the walls falling down even now! My book, “God Size Your Church” can be purchased here: https://leadershipbooks.store/products/god-size-your-church-maximizing-your-impact

Grip-Grasp-Gifts:  Keys to Life-Changing Leadership

I wrote this article several years ago when I was pastoring a church plant in NV that was a miracle experience:

Lasting life change is what spiritual leadership is all about.  Pastors and Christian business people often want to be involved in life change and yet feel frustrated at knowing how to establish a church ministry climate where leadership and evangelism passion can flourish.  These last seven years, I’ve had the privilege to lead such a place, and I think that God has taught us some key principles and practical questions to help develop my own leadership in these matters.  After publishing Pastorpreneur (available at www.pastorpreneur.com, online at Amazon or other retailers, or through your local Christian bookstore), many pastors and Christian business people alike have asked me, “What does it take to think like a Pastorpreneur?”  Here are the 3 steps necessary to think like a Pastorpreneur…..

  1. Grip God’s calling on your life.  This is a key step where you drill down deep and ask the fundamental life question (which I think you ask at MANY times in your life), “God…what did you make me to do?  What is the purpose of my life and how should I use my life to bring glory to you?”.
  2. Grasp the needs of your community.  This is really the “missionary” question.  Robert Schuller says “Find a need and meet it, find a hurt and heal it….if you do, you will never lack opportunity to impact people’s lives for God”.  What are the needs and opportunities for impact that exist in your community?  How can you reach people for the glory of God?
  3. Mobilize the Gifts of your team.  This is the team leadership question.  What are the resources you have to meet the needs of the community?  What creative strategies can you unleash to pull from your team their highest and best for the sake of impacting others for God?

If you are a Pastor, this thinking process should be bathed in prayer, shared with key leaders and become a fundamental part of your heart preparation for Pastorpreneur ministry.  If you are a Business leader, the process is much the same and will form the template for your strategic plan to leverage your business acumen into a Kingdom tool that God can use for His glory!

Let’s unpack each of those 3 principles and practices:

Grip God’s Calling on Your Life

This is the most important step in the process God’s Calling on Your Life”.  Gripping God’s call on your life is equally important as a business person and as a pastor.  Here are some essential thoughts to help grip God’s calling on your life…

1) Following God’s promise means you are partnering with the God of the universe to fulfill HIS purposes.  As Rick Warren says in the first line of Purpose Driven Life, “It is not about you”.  Gripping God’s calling means you start by recognizing that you are submitting your life to the care and calling of the creator of the universe!

2) Author Os Guinness says that the calling of God is not just for pastors. “Calling,” wrote Guinness, “is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.” (Os Guinness, The Call, (Word Publishing, Nashville, 1998, p. 4.).  Business Leaders and Pastors alike are called by God for Kingdom work!

3) Responding to God’s calling is an antidote to constantly trying to “prove yourself”.  Calling anchors your soul in God’s calling will be specific to His character, the passions He implanted in your soul, and the context of your local community

Once God’s calling is clear in your mind and heart you will then be able to pursue the gifts that He has specifically entrusted to you and your team to accomplish His purposes n your local context! Grip His calling on your life and you will become gripped by it!

Grasp the Needs of Your Community

After you have Gripped God’s calling on your life, the next step to thinking like a PastorPreneur is to “Grasp the Needs of Your Community”.  Since Jesus called us to “Love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves” (Matthew 22:39), and He told us that our neighbors are those in need, how should we then live?  

Here are some exciting challenges to help develop your Grasp on the Needs of your Community:

  • Robert Schuller says “find a need and fill it, find a hurt and heal it…and you’ll never lack for ministry opportunity”.  He’s right.  I’ve not found a community yet, in over 25 years of pastoral, denominational, and church planting ministry that was closed to a church that reached OUT to help people
  • Bill Hybels says that it is a tragedy that the average McDonalds owner knows more about our communities than do the Pastors….and all they want to do is sell a burger and fries.  He’s right and I’m convicted about it every time I think about it.
  • You can go to “Anytown USA” and attend Chamber of Commerce meetings, community forums, school gatherings and ask 3 simple questions:  1)  What do you think is the greatest need in our community?,  2) If you were to go to a church, what would you suggest that church focus on in order to meet the needs in our community?, 3) What one factor might make you consider attending church?  When we did this in our community seven years ago, we got HUGE attention from people who were shocked that we were even asking those questions.
  • According to George Barna, about 2/3 of the unchurched people in the United States call themselves Christians!  But, when drilling deeper, their worldview is not at all consistent with Scripture.  How can you reach your community and understand what they believe?
  • Meeting needs in the name of Christ opens the door to community impact.  Christian business leaders and entrepreneurial pastors can transform a community with the power of God through need-meeting and innovative impact strategies.

When we see the needs of the people in our community, our heart should break.  Not just because of the needs, but the reality that so many are seeking to have those needs met outside a relationship with Christ.  We in the church know that the only complete answer to the questions of life is a vital union with Jesus Christ.  PastorPreneurs learn to think like Christ by seeing the needs of people as an opportunity to extend love and grace and open doors to conversation with neighbors who don’t yet know God in a personal way.

Mobilize the Gifts of Your Team

Pastorpreneurs constantly are looking to mobilize, leverage, and maximize the gifts of God’s people for Kingdom Impact.  Christian Business Leaders and Entrepreneurial Pastors alike are aware that God’s calling and their Community’s needs require that the gifts that God has entrusted to the community of faith be identified and utilized for Kingdom Impact.  Many pastorpreneurs learn to think “outside the box” when they recognize the unique gifts that God has given to them.

In our own local community, the expressed needs of people relate to wholesome activities for children/youth and a way to connect faith and recreation together.  Though our church has only been around for 6 years, we are seeing the start of some exciting things:

  • A martial arts program where 50% of the participants don’t attend our church; the ministry leader has wanted to launch such a program for 10 years but couldn’t find the right setting
  • A dance ministry led by a woman who has had her life transformed by God’s grace and now uses her skills to the glory of God
  • A sports ministry led by a former pro football player that is just now starting to see tremendous synergy in our local community by connecting children/youth and families in positive recreational environments
  • A recovery ministry that has become an “Umbrella of Safety” for people in our community
  • A marketing ministry that creatively communicates the life changing message of God’s love using contemporary media

These are just 5 of the more than 30 ministries that exist in our seven year old church.  NONE of these ministries would or perhaps even should exist in our church EXCEPT that God entrusted specific gifts to His people and they want in the game!  One of the greatest joys of a PastorPreneur is to identify your gifts, help others identify their gifts, and then mobilize and release people for Kingdom Impact!  How many spiritual gifts are laying around unopened in your life or in the lives of those you lead?

Your life was made to make a difference.  God wants your leadership to facilitate lasting life change for His kingdom glory.  Think different, behave different, and watch the God of heaven and earth use you for His purposes here on earth!

“Created to Create the Future”

I’m a leadership guy so I’m always looking ahead to the future.  Dr. John Richardson said when it came to the future; there were 3 types of people:

“Those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened”.  

In a world as fast changing as ours, it is tempting to wonder, “What happened?” or merely be a bystander on the road simply “letting it happen”.   But I believe that people of faith actually have a mandate to create the future because of their hope in God.  I believe that people of faith, and particularly followers of Jesus, are called to carry hope in the world and help to create a God-honoring future for their world.  

People of faith are believers in the future.  In the midst of present reality, people of faith are by definition those who believe in “things we hope for yet have not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).   Because of our hope in the future, we lean in when others lean away.   The early Christians in plague stricken Rome were those who stayed when others fled, those who rescued the children left on the garbage heaps of the community.  The life and safety personnel at 9-11 who ran up the stairs when everyone else was running down were a testament to this greater hope.  Belief in the power of God to change a heart, a home, an organization and a culture is the core conviction of people of faith. Hope is so central to leadership; I have long believed that a defining role of leaders is that they traffic in hope.

Our belief in the future also engenders a creative capacity within the faith community. The community is creative as an expression of hope in the future and the faith to see beauty in the midst of pain.  God created the first human beings, and each successive generation, with unique and redemptive potential so that the world might see His love and grace.   Sir Ken Robinson does a glorious work in lifting up the creative capacities of children in his TED talk (delivered in 2006, now having been seen by over 33 million people!  http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity) Churches, schools, hospitals, and all social service organizations began when people of faith determined to create a future full of compassion and support.

Ray Johnston, personal friend, great pastor and author of the book Hope Quotient, says, “Nobody ever gets a dream without hope. I know of many leaders around the world, some blessed with great resources and others who have almost nothing, which have made major impacts on their communities. They all have the one thing that nobody can do without—hope.”(http://hopequotient.com/blog/four-things-hope-can-part-3-hope-sets-free-dream/#more-111).   

There are certainly areas of contemporary American society that are cause for great despair (racial injustice, economic and educational disparities, global hotspots of terrorism and conflict just to name a few), but none of those despair magnets can overcome the resolute capacity of people of faith to hope for the future and create new life giving environments.  I’m praying and advocating for leaders of faith to keep on hoping in the future and creating a world both worth living and sacrificing for.

Representing Jesus in Classrooms

The mission statement of Jessup University is:  “we partner with the church to educate transformational leaders for the glory of God”.  That mission is at the foundation and the heartbeat of all we do here at Jessup.  For some, the idea of “transformational leadership” is limited to the church.  I understand that frame of reference.  I was born and raised in the church, I have served the Lord in and through the church my entire life, and I have a deep love for the people of God gathered in worship, teaching, and service.  BUT, I think we often have a limited and constraining view of the church.  If we are not careful, we tend to think only of the church gathered.  But the truth is, the church is not constrained to be only when we gather, in fact we are compelled to be the church assembled in the marketplaces of life as well.  In fact, the Kingdom of God contains all of the church, but we limit the Kingdom when we only think of the church as a gathering for worship and teaching.

Matthew 5:13-16 tells us that we are “salt and light” and that we should live in such a way that people see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.  Some have misinterpreted those words of Jesus to think that good works save us.  Ephesians 2:8-10 gives us clarity here:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Salvation is a free gift of God and our good works-which God has actually prepared for us to do-are a response to His love and forgiveness operating in our lives.  We were made to serve Him and when we do, we have found our purpose and joy in His presence, serving from the overflow of that relationship.  

I am convinced that God has called many people to be teachers and leaders in the classrooms and campuses of our state and nation.  Rather than being isolated from the world and remaining in our churches, I think we gather for worship, and then many of us will be called to reach and serve the precious children of our state by teaching and leading in public, private, and home classrooms.  This is mission, and Jessup is going after it!  Women and men at Jessup are shining the light of His presence by their love, grace, goodness, and excellence in classrooms and on campuses.

 While I see many manifestations of mission fulfillment at Jessup and throughout Northern California and Nevada, perhaps none is so readily evident as in the work of our School of Education when we prepare men and women to serve the Lord in public, private,and homeschool settings.  As you will read throughout this journal, Jessup grads are sought after in the form of our partnership with more than 600 schools in our region.

As you read stories of character, academic excellence, sacrifice, and missional passion for serving and reaching the children of our state, I want to thank you for your prayers.  Please pray for our staff and faculty in the School of Education, pray for our students, and pray for the myriad of school administrators, teachers, and staff that we work with every day so that Jesus may be made known as we live for His glory.

Simplicity and Complexity for our Troubled Times

Former Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is reported to have said “I wouldn’t give a fig for simplicity this side of complexity but I’d give my right arm for simplicity on the other side of complexity”.  That thought has been rolling around in my mind as I think about transformational leadership for our troubled times.

Tension threatens to overwhelm us with the shocking murders in Charleston and San Bernardino, fast moving changes in US sexual mores, rioting in various US cities amid racial tensions, and perpetual and instantaneous reporting of all of it by the media We long for simplicity in the midst of the complexity of our world.  

As a leader, I feel the tension of insuring my leadership is appropriately complex (robust enough to withstand the reality of our times) and appropriately modeling simplicity (so that it can be catalytic and transferable). Here are some thoughts regarding the challenge that I think may be helpful to you as you consider those same tensions:

Simplicity becomes simplistic when we fail to recognize complexity.  This can be dangerous (and shallow).   Our world calls for a robust and meaningful faith. The rise of the“nones”in recent religious affiliation surveys surveys as reported by the Pew Research Center    (http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/) and the increasing plurality of the American landscape call for a recognition of the underlying principles of freedom of religion we hold sacred in the American founding documents.  Religious freedom in a pluralistic present given a Judaeo Christian dominant past is a complex exercise and we do well to acknowledge that fact.  People of faith in the United States (still over 90% of the population!) carry a special burden of advocating for religious freedom for others, even those who do not share their specific faith perspective.  

Real faith moves towards simplicity when it is lived out in a loving and redemptive fashion, even in the face of undeniable evil.   While some continue to deny the presence of evil in our world, most of us see tragic evidences of it every day.  This world, this beautiful and evil world of ours, needs faith that is understandable, transferable, and experienced in our everyday reality.  As a Christian, I am called to testify to my faith in ways that are understandable and compelling to the culture around me.  The recent tragic events in Charleston and San Bernardino saw yet another redemptive and loving act as Charleston family members offered forgiveness to the gunman even as they were in the midst of their pain.  In 2006, the Amish community in Nickel Mines, PA demonstrated complex and simple faith when they forgave and loved the family members of the murderer who killed 10 of their young girls.

Our times call for faith that is personally, organizationally, and culturally transformative That faith will be both complex and simple; it will call forth love into action.  Movements occur when complexity is translated into simplicity.  Helping others to understand, grasp, apply, and reproduce complex and simple faith is a powerful calling.  This is catalytic.  I need to make sure I am daily translating my faith into simplicity in love and action.  The people of  Emmanuel AME in Charleston and the Amish in PA have given us good models that are both complex and simple.

The art of disequilibrium…

Written shortly after the election of 2016, it seems this article may end up being relevant again with sustained urgency:

Virtually no pundits or prognosticators believed in a Donald Trump victory.  And yet today, in mid-November of 2016, President-Elect Donald Trump not only won the election, shocked the political class and destabilized the mainstream media, he has also moved to calm tensions and recently met with President Obama to generally positive reviews.  Disequilibrium is now the norm for the electorate and the political elite.  Left and right continue to polarize and demonize the other “side”.  Disequilibrium, even if temporary, is the shared lot of all.

Are we entering into a new era in American life or are going to see further polarization and demonization in accelerated fashion?  In the 1970’s, Francis Schafer asked the question, “How Should We Then Live?”, in response to the challenges of that era.  Now, some 4 decades later, many followers of Jesus Christ are grappling with how to respond to a world in transition and people in pain or uncertainty.

I am convinced that followers of Christ are faced with the single greatest opportunity of my lifetime.   American society is filled with yet another election where the outcome is disappointing or frightening to almost 50% of the voting electorate, and exhilarating or encouraging to the remaining voters.  However, regardless of where you are on the spectrum, this election season and election result has brought about disequilibrium for everyone.  Street and campus demonstrations are matched with workplace, home, and church discussions that are challenging.  Followers of Jesus are grappling with how to respond with certainty in uncertain times.

So far in this article, I have not referenced Scripture.  But the time is right for me to ask, “How do we thrive in disequilibrium?”  The answer is both clear and simple:

“Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).  Jesus tells us to center our lives on the Reign of the King, to live in alignment with Him and His purposes.  When we live in alignment with the King, our lives are safe, secure, and full of hope.  Instead of singing, “don’t worry, be happy”, we sing, “Worthy is the Lamb, the Lamb who was slain”.  We honor Jesus and place Him at the center of our lives and all heaven breaks loose!  Centering on lives on Jesus affects not only how we live our lives, but how we engage in relationships and encounter the cultural waves of our present reality.

Scripture tells us in Ephesians 5 that our speech should be “seasoned with grace”.  I often say that you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.  BUT, you can give him salt to make him thirsty!  If we want to thrive in a world full of disequilibrium, we need to know that we are carrying around the presence, person, and purposes of Jesus in our every day lives in such a way that people become thirsty to know the One who brings life and hope.  American religious life, despite the growth of mega-churches in the past 40 years, has seen a relatively consistent decline in church attendance and the rise of “NONES” in our society, those disclaiming any formal religious affiliation.  For many in church leadership, this has led to confusion about how to reach and impact the community and culture in which we are called to live and serve.

Many of us in the Body of Christ have lost our way in the world.  We no longer know how to share the love of Jesus in tangible ways.  When we read in Matthew 5:12-16 that we are the “salt” and “light” of the world, it means little to us in tangible direction of how we lead our lives.  My friend, Dr. Ed Silvoso, says we should PRAY-CONNECT-BLESS-SHARE.   What Ed means is that before we ever share Christ with our neighbors or community, we should have prayed with them, connected with them, blessed them in some way, and then we can share with them on the basis of our loving relationship with them.   I believe that Jesus centered witness is all the more critical in our time of disequilibrium; the Good News must be demonstrated in the presence, power, and purposes of Jesus.

We know that we should pray for those in leadership above us (1 Timothy 2:1ff), even if we do not share their political persuasion.  For many American Christians, the idea of praying and interceding for a Democrat or Republican political leader is very difficult.  I want us to imagine the Apostle Paul in the day he wrote it; he was actually urging prayer for Roman officials who were likely conspiring at the very moment of writing to bring about persecution and loss of liberty to those early followers of Jesus.  Imagine praying for the Caesar who was going to order the conditions that would bring pain to your life!

I believe we are in a time of great cultural shifting here in America.  But during this recent election, I felt certain that the Lord was speaking to me specifically about fear and cynicism.  I felt like the Holy Spirit was impressing on me not to spend one day in fear—because I know that perfect love casts out fear (and perfect love is named Jesus!).  I also felt like the Holy Spirit was telling me not to spend one day in cynicism, because I know the source of Hope (and his name is Jesus!).  Today is the best day of our lives to know the Living and Risen King!  Today is the best day in our lives to share the life and love of Jesus with whomever He places in your path.  Let’s agree together that we are going to shift every atmosphere in which He places us.  We can shift atmospheres to His glory by living with grace and kindness and demonstrating love and life in all we do. 

Disequilibrium could be the worst condition you have ever faced.  Or disequilibrium could be the greatest opportunity a follower of Jesus has ever experienced.  I think our cultural disequilibrium is a set-up.  It sets up the people of God to live and testify to His certainty and grace regardless of the context of our lives.  God is good-better than we think.  The time is now to help our unstable world see the deep and rich reservoir of love and grace and truth found only in Jesus.  Let’s do this for His glory!

FIVE PROMISES ABOUT THE PRESENCE OF GOD

  1. His presence brings joy

“You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the

pleasures of living with you forever.” (Psalm 16:11, NLT)

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)

God is not a God of killjoy.  He is the one that wants us to have real and lasting joy.

        2. His presence brings peace

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

       3. His presence brings affirmation

I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.(Isaiah 41:9)

God’s acceptance of us brings us the only “stamp of approval” we ever need.

       4. His presence brings guidance

“The LORD says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.  I will advise you and watch over you”. (Psalm 32:8, NLT)

       5. His presence brings strength 

“The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.”(Exodus 15:2)

Each one of these promises has a way of challenging our existing thoughts about God.  So, if you are even close to being open to experiencing God, given these five promises, what can you expect?  Does God really want to be known?  Can we be in His presence?

Favorite Book Lists…Reprise

Did this post years ago…felt like it was worth reprising…but I should update it..maybe soon!

9/9/2007 8:20:37 PM

A long time ago, I did a blog post where I listed two lists of favorite ministry and leadership books…I thought that list might be helpful to reprise here for your potential use with your leadership teams:

I wanted to list my “Top 20” books by 12/31/05..didn’t happen. So..I pushed it to 6/30/06…I’m going to meet that deadline with this post (sort of). HOWEVER, I just couldn’t narrow it down to the Top 20…so I’m going to “cheat” a little….I have to split it up into a few separate lists over the next few posts…I’m excluding the Bible, but obviously God’s Word is the critical foundation book for everything I do and am.

Here are my TOP MINISTRY WORLDVIEW BOOKS…not affirming all the content in them, but their “frame bending” use in developing your ministry worldview. What would you add to the list??

1. Reforming Fundamentalism by George Marsden

2. Christ and Culture by Rheinold Niehbuhr

3. Future Edge by Joel Barker

4. How Should We Then Live by Francis Schaeffer

5. Prayer (all of his books!) by E.M. Bounds

6. Knowing God by J.I. Packer

7. Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby

8. Taking Our Cities for God by John Dawson

9. With Christ in the School of Disciple Making by Carl Wilson

10. The Master Plan of Discipleship by Robert Coleman

11. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis

12. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

13. Three Kings by Gene Edwards

14. Victory over the Darkness by Neil Anderson

15.The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard

16. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

17.Wild at Heart by John Eldredge

18. Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen

19. Kingdoms in Conflict by Charles Colson

20. Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

21. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Rich Sider

22. Know Why You Believe & How to Give Away Your Faith by Paul Little

23. The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter

24. Case for Christ & Case for Faith by Lee Stroebel

25. Evidence and More Evidence by Josh McDowell

26. Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders

Here’s List #2 in my own personal “Great Books” collection lists…these are books that have shaped me from a Leadership & Financial perspective…not including the Bible which is obviously the most influential and formative leadership and financial peace book ever written…so…what would you add to this list??

1. Walking with the Giants by Warren Wiersbe

2. Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robinson

3. The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner

4. The Situational Leader by Hersey & Blanchard

5. 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell

6. Developing the Leader Within You & Around You by John Maxwell

7. Failing Forward and 360 Degree Leader by John Maxwell

8. Purpose Driven Church & Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

9. Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley

10. Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels

11. The Unity Factor by Larry Osborne

12. The Power of Vision by George Barna

13. The Very Large Church by Lyle Schaller

14. Unleashing the Church by Frank Tillapaugh

15.The Law of Rewards & The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn

16. Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey

17.Rich Dad, Poor Dad and Cash Flow Quadrant by Robert Kiyosaki

18. Business by the Book by Larry Burkett

19. Master Your Money & The Debt Squeeze by Ron Blue

20. Sound Mind Investing by Austin Pryor

Four Weeks to Healthier Relationships

A number of years ago while I was pastoring a church in NV,  I got the opportunity to write a little book on relationships called “Four Weeks to Healthier Relationships”.  There is a weekly overview, a daily guide, and then a reflection section.  You can get a copy on Amazon here in Kindle for under $5!: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07MYDKR2Q

Here is a bit about the book that might help you decide if you want to read it:

We are, by design, relational beings. God intended us to live in relationship with Him and with each other. So if you are breathing, this topic applies to you. Relationships permeate our lives. You may be reading this because you are thinking primarily about a marriage relationship. You may be thinking about a parenting relationship, or perhaps a friendship or an extended family member, or co-worker. Every single one of us is involved in relationships and we know that part of being healthy people is having healthy relationships. C.S. Lewis said it this way: “We are born helpless, and as soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness.” We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually – we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves. 

Sometimes, laws which govern our physical universe also can govern our relationships. Take for example this one: Anything that is neglected will go from order to disorder. If relationships are not tended to, they move towards decay. Healthy relationships are part of healthy living and healthy relationships need attention. Being healthy means having healthy relationships. Romans 12:10 puts it this way: “Love must be sincere, hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to each other in brotherly love, honor one another above yourselves.” The Message translation puts it another way, in a way that really strikes me: “Love from the center of who you are; do not fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.”1 

Two phrases in those verses jump out at me: Be good friends who love deeply. Practice playing second fiddle. Now the truth is that I know how to hydroplane through life. I have mastered the art of quick and low-flying trajectory through life. I have learned to love superficially. But, when it says be good friends who love deeply, I am pulled up short. How many relationships in my life can I truly say I love deeply? To love deeply takes a lot of my self – it takes energy, it takes effort, it means I have to take risks. Loving deeply is part of what it means to be a healthy person in healthy relationship. 

“Discovering and Moving Past Elder Brother Faith”

In most movies we can identify the hero.  And the villain.  The protagonist and antagonist are pivotal characters in a story.  But I have spent the last several years pondering a Biblical story where, hard as I try, I do not most naturally identify with the hero or the villain.  I identify with a lesser character.  While I long to be most like the hero, I see my natural orientation in a character adjacent to him.  Let me explain.

The Biblical story of the prodigal son is a tremendous source of insight into the heart of our loving Father, the nature of the rebellious heart and the tragic consequences of the younger son’s actions.  If you are familiar with the story that Jesus told in the midst of judgmental attitudes by religious leaders about his fraternizing with messy people (Luke 15:11-32), you have had your heart poked in the pain of the arrogant and destructive attitudes and action of the younger son.  You have imagined the broken heart of the loving Father and wondered why He did not run after the younger son.  You have heard about this story and been saddened at the chaos and hopelessness of the younger son as he sits in his pig pen of despair.  And we rejoice at the moment where the repentant son slinks his way back to the family estate in expectation of a punitive greeting only to be embraced by a waiting Father (how did he know?) and swept up into a party of full acceptance and restoration!

This part of the story is known, celebrated, and rehearsed.  I love it!  The amazing heart of the father is a type of our heavenly Father who longs for our repentance and restoration.  The Father redeems and restores, waiting and seeking for the wayward son to be returned to his rightful place with acceptance and joy.  The prodigal son is showered with gifts and celebrations, and the larger community of the family and surrounding area is invited to join in the life lesson and supernatural reconnection that has occurred.  I LOVE this story, celebrate it, and consider as a core message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  While I have never personally experienced prodigal behavior in such external fashion, I know that I have a prodigiously prodigal heart and I have witnessed thousands of divine restoration projects where prodigals like me and others are fully restored to the household of God.  I long to manifest the matchless love of the Father and bring multitudes of prodigals to His welcoming arms.

But, the part of the story that has been increasingly settled in my soul these past many years revolves around the elder brother (Luke 15:25-32).   There are half as many verses in the story that revolve around the elder brother as around the prodigal and father, but those verses are troubling to me.  The elder brother is doing what he has always done.  He is out working in the field.  The noise of the emerging party reaches the elder brother’s ears while he works.  The discovery of the source of the sound (the emerging party for his wayward younger brother) is not only ironic, but angering to him.  He is incredulous that even more of the family’s resources are now being spent on this rebellious laggard (I can hear the elder brother screaming these words in my mind!).  His plea to the father includes the wail that he has never once been able to have a party with his friends and yet he has “done all the right things”, in sharp contrast to his disgusting younger brother.  

The response of the father to the elder brother contains some of the most sobering revelations in all the pages of Scripture.  The father is clearly in deep pain as he realizes the emptiness of his oldest son’s soul.  Everything that has belonged to the father has always belonged to the son.  The son has never been able to access, receive, or benefit from the wealth and resources of the father.  The son has worked his way into a fever, but his very efforts have kept him from entering into joy and rest.  

Further, the father is clearly saddened that the elder brother has missed the most joyous of life experiences; his own brother has been lost and virtually dead and now has life and hope and peace.   The eyes of my own heart have often grappled with how I might have responded in this story.  My conclusion?  I long to be the merciful and compassionate father, I recognize and believe in the power of the father’s redemptive love for the prodigal, but my “natural” state is to be like the elder brother.  And while that recognition makes me profoundly sad, I also gratefully recognize the transforming work of the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life so that I can live and love like the father.

So, how can I explain the past several years of pondering?  I think my brooding over this story and passage relates to what has been called, an “orphan spirit” (see here for an article that explains some of Jack Frost’s work on this from the early 2000’s:  http://www.reviveus.org/do-you-struggle-with-an-orphan-spirit/).  The first time I heard that phrase in 2006 and saw a listing of characteristics, I had a troubling inner groan.  The groan was the revelation of truth and the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  That moment was in the stream of a journey that continues to this day, though thankfully from the perspective of a son and not an orphan.  During these past several years, I’ve been exploring the prodigal son story and thinking consistently and from different perspectives about the elder brother.   If you come from any form of religious family or Christian past, you may be carrying an orphan spirit or confused perspective like I did. 

All my religious training and foundations were a glorious inheritance.  But it would be many years before I would realize that I had learned to “do good’, but not to “rest in Him”.  Verses like Romans 14:17 which describe God’s reign as “the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” were largely absent from my life.  I knew what “rightness” was, but had very little space for “peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” in my life.  By the way, you can measure righteousness (or at least I thought I could…it is a list of do’s and don’t’s and the corresponding moral superiority), but how do you measure “peace and joy” in the Holy Spirit?  Seems to me like so much of my Christian life, and the Christian life of others, tended towards an externally oriented faith.  In another context, I would even describe my pastoral leadership as helping people to fulfill the purposes of God without ever enjoying the presence of God.

The journey to “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” is a daily adventure in relationship to the One.  I’m not finished yet (and may never be!), but here are a couple of things I’ve learned and lifted up from the story as I have been musing over it these past years:

1)    It is the heart of the Father to redeem.  Always.

2)    The prodigal has to return in order to receive the fullness of the Father’s embrace

3)    The elder brother keeps score and knows the score and will gladly tell you the score

4)    The elder brother is all work and no joy…and he’s mad about it.

5)    The elder brother is angry when other people receive grace he is unable to receive or give

6)    The elder brother lives in abundance and is unable to access it or receive it

7)    The Father longs to give, but the elder brother is unable to receive (at least at that time)

8)    The Father’s heart is saddened that the elder brother misses life’s most profound moment of joy; the resurrection of what was dead to life and the finding of what was lost

9)    The story ends in Luke 15 without telling us how the elder brother responds.  The challenge of every generation of followers of Jesus is to be full of grace and truth to those outside the family of God.  

These 9 observations are not exhaustive, but they have surely helped me reflect on my life, my loves, and my leadership.  I want to love like the Father and long for the prodigals to return.  I want to lead my life and exercise my leadership in ways that honor the One who first loved me (1 John 4:19).  I’m praying for a Church that loves our world like the Father loved the prodigal.  I want to be “that guy” in the story, and not the elder brother.  However, knowing about the elder brother reminds me of what comes “natural” and I know that surrendering to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is the only path to living “supernaturally” in the Father’s love.  

Thanks for listening; I hope it helps you on your journey in this world of prodigals.

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