Church Growth and the Work of God

We know that God is the one who makes a church grow, that it isn’t on us. This is both a comfort and a problem.

It is a comfort because we can rest. We don’t have to force things, we don’t have to make something happen. It is a problem because it can make us lazy. It can make us throw up our hands and say, “Well, I just need to preach the gospel and that’s it.” This is much like the Calvinist who doesn’t share his faith because “God will get who he’s going to get”, as one pastor told me.

Those are extremes, but they are important to point out.

Yes, Jesus grows his church. God grows the seeds that are planted. The Holy Spirit draws people, and often times a church grows and God moves with no explanation.

Other times a church grows, and while the Holy Spirit did the work, there were specific things that church did and did not do.

How much are you praying? How much is your elder and staff team praying? Not only for people in your church but for people not in your church? Are you asking God for specific people you are in relationships with? Are you praying that God will send 300, 500 people to your church this Easter? How burdened is the pastor for people who don’t know Jesus? Are there any sins in your church, leadership team or your life that you need to confess that are hindering the work of God?

In your church and in your preaching and worship, are you exalting Jesus and making it simple for people to understand?

Many times I’ll have pastors ask me to listen to their sermons, and all I can think the whole time is that I have to have a seminary degree to understand what he is talking about. Being simple is not being shallow. Being simple is being helpful. The gospel is complex, deep and robust, but it is also so simple that my four year old can explain it to you. Our kids can draw a picture of the gospel, so our preaching should reflect that to a certain degree.

One of the ways we evaluate this in our church has to do with communion. When we move from the sermon to communion, is it an easy transition or does it feel like a hard right turn?

We’ll talk about systems in a minute, but do you have a clear vision, a clear strategy and a clear picture of what you are shooting for? For example, can you articulate in simple terms what a healthy, mature disciple looks like? Many times in our churches, we can’t. I’m sad to say, in our church we waited too long to articulate this, and it did a disservice to our people.

I think the work of God is deeply connected to our ability to clearly help our people grow. They are connected. If Jesus builds his church and the gates of hell will not prevail, what kind of people will withstand those gates?

Many times churches do not know what they are trying to build in people. They don’t know what a healthy, mature disciple looks like, so they aren’t sure what they are aiming at. For our church, we took too long to define this clearly, and I think that hurt us as a church.

Why?

Not only did it not serve our leaders and people well, we weren’t able to ask God for specific things to build into our people. It hinders the ability to focus a sermon calendar on those important discipleship aspects.

Let me leave you with an important question for churches, boards and staffs: What kind of disciples are you building? Is that what the New Testament calls us to? Do you have a clear path to accomplish that?

Links for Leaders 3/31/17

It’s the weekend. The perfect time to grab a cup of coffee and catch up on some reading. Here are 4 articles I came across this week that I found helpful as a leader and parent and hope you do as well.

Speaking is hard work, whether you do it every week in a church, for students in a classroom or once a month if your office. If you do speak, here are 3 ways to cope with the stress of speaking from Dr. Nick Morgan.

Easter is coming and for every pastor and church, that means higher attendance and more guests. Many pastors start planning for Easter too late in the year. If that’s you (or even if you’ve planned ahead), Steve Fogg has 3 communication mistakes to avoid as a church this Easter.

We are about to enter the teen years of parenting and like most parents entering this stage, we are doing so with a healthy dose of excitement and fear. One of the things Katie and I have talked a lot about is what to do when our kids are somewhere else, how to stay in touch, how to help them navigate peer pressure and situations that make them uncomfortable. In short, how to create an escape plan for your teen.

Every leader wants to be productive, to accomplish things, cross things off of their to-do list, but as a leader, there seems to be a never ending stream of things that need your attention, fires that need to be put out and always one more thing to do. For many, we end up wasting a lot of time. Doing what? Chuck Lawless gives us 10 times wasters for most leaders.

Why Dating is Easy & Marriage is Hard

If you’ve been married any length of time, you’ve wondered what happened. Why did dating seem so easy? Why did it seem like it was easy to have fun and connect with your boyfriend or girlfriend while you were dating and engaged, but now that you are married it is like pulling teeth?

Anytime you share your feelings, you have a fight. One of you wants sex, but the other does not. One of you feels satisfied, but the other does not. While dating, you could agree on what movie to watch, what activity to do or where to eat, but now you find yourselves having nothing in common but a last name and maybe a child.

Many couples struggle with this. While you may feel like you are the only one, you aren’t.

Yes, your life has changed now. You are older, have more bills and more history with your spouse than when you dated. You also have stress you didn’t have before. I know, it was hard planning your wedding and dealing with families, but now you are dealing with bosses, teachers, your children and you are still dealing with your families! Everything has simply magnified.

But the question remains for many couples and keeps them stuck.

Why can’t I connect to my spouse like we did when we dated?

One other thing changed that is subtle, and many couples miss it.

It isn’t that you have less in common (although your interests may have changed) or that you aren’t in love anymore, although you may need a refresher on what love is.

There is a word that defined your dating and engaged life. A word that you didn’t discuss. You never sat down as a couple to decide on this word. It just happened.

Ready?

Intentional. 

You were intentional.

You decided in advance. You decided to pursue the other. To work at your relationship.

You decided you would put effort into your relationship and yourself.

You made special plans. You thought through how to wake up early and drive to watch a sunrise. You found out things they liked and sought to make that happen. You surprised them.

You decided to wear things to attract them instead of mailing in your clothes choice.

Most dating couples are incredibly intentional about their relationships, and most married couples expect a great marriage to just happen.

But it doesn’t.

Here’s a great question to discuss as a couple: In what areas of our lives (marriage, kids, career, finances, sex, spirituality, etc.) are we being intentional, and in which areas do we need to be more intentional?

Wednesday Mind Dump…

  • While I haven’t been preaching over the last 3 weeks, I’ve been in the throws of our hiring process at Revolution Church.
  • While I have loved talking to candidates, I know that hiring is something I do not want to spend the majority of my time doing.
  • Way too detailed.
  • If you’re looking for help in hiring or team building, check out these books: The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues by Patrick Lencioni, It’s Not the How or the What but the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best and Great People Decisions: Why They Matter So Much, Why They are So Hard, and How You Can Master Them, both by Claudio Fernandez Araoz.
  • I am blown away by the caliber of candidates, both inside and outside of our church.
  • The potential for this role is huge for our church and city.
  • Cory taught a new song on Sunday at Revolution, What a Beautiful Name.
  • It was such a powerful moment.
  • Found afterwards that some reformed pastors don’t like the song because the line “Jesus didn’t want heaven without us so he brought heaven down.”
  • I get the self-centered fear that pastors might have, but being mad about that line makes it sound like Jesus could do without us in heaven or is indifferent to us.
  • Makes God too cold in my opinion.
  • Needless to say, we’ll be keeping that song.
  • I had chills as our church belted out the bridge: You have no rival, You have no equal.
  • Wow.
  • Monday night we pulled together many of our leaders at Revolution and shared with them a clearer discipleship grid for our church.
  • I was convicted last year that we have not clearly defined what a healthy, mature disciple is and how to get there.
  • We are still building it out, but the foundation is there and I am excited about it and the potential growth our people will experience.
  • Our hiring right now is a part of this journey.
  • One of the things I’m most excited at Revolution right now is how healthy our leadership team is.
  • We are stronger, working together better, hanging out, laughing.
  • It is fantastic.
  • This hasn’t always been a priority for me and it has shown in our church and that makes me sad looking back on it.
  • I took Ava to see Beauty and the Beast over the weekend.
  • Super fun.
  • Not everyone will appreciate this, but if you are a theological nerd you will.
  • I’m super geeked out about the sermon calendar for the next year at Revolution.
  • Well, I gotta preach on Sunday, so back at it…

How Leadership Capacity Affects the Growth & Health of a Church

Recently I had a conversation with my leadership coach, and he made the comment, “Josh, Revolution has the ability to grow past 600 in the next five years, but the question is, do you have the capacity for that? Are you willing to do what it takes to make that happen?”

Now, we all know that God is the one who grows a church, but often that church is healthy and growing because of the character, quality and capacity of the lead pastor and leaders.

First, do you have the desire for your church to grow and be healthy? Do you have the desire to see your people become more like Jesus? Many pastors have a desire for a crowd, but that is different. Having a desire to see your people grow in holiness, passion for God and for their neighbor will shape your leadership and preaching.

While desire matters, or I should say rightly placed desires, that alone won’t grow a church.

It will take effort, work, time, and sacrifice.

This will be seen in the time you put into prayer, sermon prep, personal growth as a leader, what you are willing to sacrifice in terms of comfort or even what you’d like your job to be. Some of that sacrifice comes in the day to day of meeting with people, of shepherding and walking with them. Being willing to be a pastor and not a rock star preacher.

Hustle is a popular word in entrepreneur circles and one that needs to get some airtime in pastoring circles. Not in an effort to burn out, but in an effort to work hard for something that matters.

Mike Myatt, in his book Hacking Leadership: The 11 Gaps Every Business Needs to Close and the Secrets to Closing Them Quickly, says, “The difference between good and great often comes down to discipline.”

Are you disciplined in how you spend your time, how you spend your money, what you eat, how much sleep you get? Do you determine who you will spend your time with and who you won’t? All of those things determine your leadership capacity. They determine the energy levels you have, the spiritual reserves you have to pull from when leading and pastoring and the kind of leader you are at home and at work.

When every minute is accounted for and given a name, things get done and less time is wasted.

This doesn’t mean you need to be fanatical, but you have 24 hours in a day, a short life ahead of you and a shorter ministry time, so use it wisely. Honor God with it.

How to Pray to a God who is Close (Psalm 23)

When it comes to what we think of God and how close or far He is, I think we too often think of Him as “out there” somewhere. We aren’t sure where, but He often feels further away than close by. This has an enormous effect on our prayer life.

Over and over throughout Scripture, we are told that God is close. That God never leaves us. That God watches over us. That God cares for us.

That God is close.

Psalm 23 is a great example of this.

Often seen as a psalm for funerals or dying, it is a psalm about living. Life is hard. Life hurts. Life is often more down than up, and David tells us from his experience how to experience God in the depths of darkness as well as the heights of celebration.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.

David describes an incredibly close God.

A shepherd is with his sheep. He is not off somewhere else but is with them. He knows them. He knows if they are sick, eating well, eating too little, if they are young or old.

A shepherd knows what the sheep need so that they do not live in want.

A shepherd leads and the sheep follow. The sheep do not arrive anywhere the shepherd does not want them to.

When the shepherd leads, the sheep find food, water and rest. In the shepherd is found life and rest. Many of us find ourselves tired, rundown, barely hanging on instead of living, and yet God invites us to follow Him to rest and life.

How?

David tells us in verse 3 that God restores us. God picks us up. God cleans us off. For the person who feels unloved, who feels dirty, abandoned, not worth anything, this verse is a beautiful picture of God’s grace towards us.

Why does God do this?

To get our lives on the right paths, His paths.

As if that weren’t enough, God does not leave us. God walks with us.

We walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

We don’t stay there. We don’t walk into it, we walk through it. With God. Through the power of God.

There is an ebb and flow to prayer and the Christian life. David starts with comfort and God’s provision, things that help us see the character of God as we walk in new ways of His grace. That grace is just as real, and that grace is the same when we walk through the dark valleys. For many of us, we need the grace of the first few verses to believe the grace that God has for us when the storms roll in.

The rod and staff of a shepherd were used for protection of the sheep, warding off predators, but they were also used to keep the sheep together, in line and to discipline the sheep if necessary. In all this, God’s protection and discipline are a comfort.

How can David say this?

Because they keep me on the path that God has for me. They get me to where God wants me.

David ends with a powerful statement: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

If we don’t understand David’s life, we miss the power of this statement. For David, life was not good. Many times King Saul tried to kill him. The whole Philistine army (the most powerful army of the day) chased him to kill him. They killed his best friend, Jonathan. He lost a baby with Bathsheba. His favorite son Absalom stole his throne, and David was overthrown and had to flee for his life. Then Absalom was killed. For David, life was hard, painful, difficult and full of loss.

Yet because God was close, because God walked with him, he was able to face life and pray to his God.

Here’s my challenge for you this week. Use Psalm 23 as a prayer guide:

  • Simply read through the Psalm several times in one sitting.
  • Whatever word or phrase that jumps out to you, ask God why that stood out. Is there something happening in your life that God wants you to think about or draw your attention to? Is there something about yourself or God that the Holy Spirit wants to make you aware of?
  • Throughout your day (when you’re standing in line, waiting for a meeting, etc.), ask God to remind you of His closeness to you.

The Weight & Joy of Being a Pastor: Leading People on Mission

I love being a pastor. It is exhilarating, tiring, exhausting, joyful and painful, all rolled into one.

For me, it is the greatest job.

Is it hard? Yes. But one I love. If you’ve missed any of the weights or joys I’ve covered, you can see them here: Preaching God’s word every weekYou can’t change peopleGod’s call on your lifeSeeing life changePeople under you are counting on youGod using youWhat God thinks of youCommunicating God’s word and Loneliness.

The last joy is…

Joy #5: People Getting the Mission.

Closely tied to seeing life change is seeing people get the mission and sacrifice for it.

Every week I am blown away by how hard working and dedicated our volunteers are at Revolution, many of them putting in hours every week to make Revolution happen. People who show up early Sunday mornings to set up for church, who prepare for worship, REVkids and REVstudents through the week, REVcommunity leaders who open up their lives and homes to people throughout the week. All in an effort to help people take their next step with God.

Everything that our team members do frees up everyone else to do what they do. I am able to do what I do because our team members put in the time that they do to free me up.

When people sacrifice financially for the mission, I am humbled. When people sell stuff to give the proceeds back to God, I am humbled. When people cash in savings to give back to God, I am humbled. When people give their time, money and efforts, that is buy in. That means people get the mission.

When people see themselves as missionaries in their neighborhoods, schools and offices, they are getting it. When people light up after a conversation with their friend about Jesus or the first time they bring a guest to church.

It never gets old.

When people show up at 7 am to set up road signs so people can find their way to church, when people stay late to clean up, to pray with people, when people take time out of their week to lead a group and to shepherd and care for people, that is buy in.

You can’t force it, you can’t guilt people into buy in (at least buy in that lasts). When people get it and the church does what the church is supposed to do, as a pastor, it is the greatest joy. To see it, to be a part of it, to lead it, makes it all worth it.

The Silence of God (Psalm 13)

Oswald Chambers said, “Has God trusted you with His silence— a silence that has great meaning? God’s silences are actually His answers. Just think of those days of absolute silence in the home at Bethany! Is there anything comparable to those days in your life? Can God trust you like that, or are you still asking Him for a visible answer?”

While we often think God’s silence means He has abandoned us or left us, that is not true. God’s silence does not equal God’s absence.

But what do we do in those moments?

God is inviting us into something through His silence, just like He does through His leadings, promptings and moves in our lives.

Philip Yancey in his book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? gives some helpful steps on how to handle the silence of God or what seems like unanswered prayer:

1. Do I have any sins to confess? Many times our distance with God is because of unconfessed sin. When we struggle to move forward in relationships, when we struggle to hear God, to find freedom in our lives, it is because of our sin that we are carrying around; bitterness we haven’t let go of, people we still blame, situations we replay in our minds, and secrets we keep hidden.

2. What are my motives for prayer? Many times we pray to get something, to become rich or to have an easier life. We want God on our terms, and when this happens we miss God. This is why God feels distant. We aren’t looking for God, we are looking for a version of God we’ve created.

In this, are you listening to God or just talking to God? Too often our prayer life is one way, me just telling God what I want, what I need, what He can do. I’m not asking Him questions, I’m not listening to Him.

Another one I’ll have people say is, “I asked God about ______ (and in the blank is always something God has already told us the answer to in the Bible), but He didn’t answer.” Of course not; He’s already given you an answer. Why does He need to tell you again?

3. Am I pursuing results rather than closeness with God? I said earlier that the writers of Scripture spend little time answering why suffering happens and more time on what suffering, pain and silence produce in us. It produces perseverance, character, patience, hope, joy and so on.

4. Is God preparing me for something? Often God is using our spiritual dryness for something in the future. I read once that a vintner refuses to irrigate his vines because the stress caused by occasional drought produces the best, most tasty grapes. Seasons of dryness make the roots run deep, strengthening the vine for whatever the future holds.

5. Pray with others. This is the power of community, praying together and sharing evidences of God’s grace. When you sit with your RC and share how you have seen God work in your life, and you can’t think of any, but the person next to you shares several, yes, you will get mad at first. Why isn’t God moving in my life like He is yours? Why isn’t God answering my prayers? But you will also start to see that even when you can’t see God at work in your life, He is at work.

I saw this in my life about 18 months ago. Our church was growing, we were meeting on the east side in a school and things were going well. We were outgrowing our space, so we moved to a larger school, and in six months half our church had left. It hurt. People I was close to said everything had changed and left. It rocked my confidence, made me question my leadership. Should I quit Revolution? Did I make a wrong choice? Was I a bad leader? During this time, every pastor I met was leading a church that was growing. I was watching ours shrink.

I asked God why, and nothing.

Slowly I stopped asking why and I started asking God what He wanted to show me and what He wanted to invite me into. I began to see His invitation to know His love for me, which seemed like an odd answer because at the time it had very little to do with Revolution. And yet my relationship with God is deeper than ever before, my heart towards God and people is softer than ever before. Could that happen without losing my confidence? Maybe, but God saw that as the best way forward for me. Many times God’s perceived silence is to draw us deeper into Him. The dark place you are in might be God’s invitation to you to meet Him there. You will not walk out the same.

Henry Blackaby said, “You can respond to the silence of God in two ways. One response is for you to go into depression, a sense of guilt and self-condemnation. The other response is for you to have an expectation that God is about to bring you to a deeper knowledge of Himself. These responses are as different as night and day.”

James, the brother of Jesus, says in the New Testament, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” James does not give us a time line on this promise, just that it is a promise.

Too often the reason we miss God is our rush for something to happen, for something to change.

Frequently God’s silence is an invitation for us to stop, to slow down, to meet God and do some hard heart work. This can be painful and is often why we try to skip out of it. Yet, just like we will miss out on God’s best if we don’t follow His leadings, we will miss out on His best for us if we don’t follow His silence.

Do You Believe in Your Spouse?

Do you believe the best in your spouse? Or do you expect them to fail? Are you pushing them to become all that God created them to be?

I have learned that people will often reach the bar we set for them. If the bar is low, don’t expect a lot. Expect to be disappointed.

Do you believe that your spouse can become all the things that God has called them to, or do you expect them to fail? If they are a follower of Jesus, they have the Holy Spirit living in them, which means they have the power to become all that God has called them to become in Scripture. What if you started believing that? Praying for that? For God to work in their lives and make them into the man or woman that God has called them to become?

How we see people is how we treat them. If we see them as a failure, we treat them as such. Katie is my biggest cheerleader, and I hope and pray I am hers. She believes I can do great things. She believes it, encourages me to become, and pushes me to become that.

There is also great power in this. Most people do not understand the power they have in a relationship in terms of their presence, their voice, their silence, eye contact, encouragement or insults.

You have the power to bring the best out of your spouse or discourage them. Yes, each person is responsible for themselves and determines what they do, but in a marriage, the closest human relationship, there is great power to bring out the best or the worst in your spouse.