Once Upon a Time . . .
A Church Planting Story
Once upon a time, a man decided to plant a new church in a new city. All his plans went better than expected and in no time a booming church had grown up with no problems and little effort.
Discipleship First Takeaways
Recently a group from our church attended the Discipleship.org conference. We engaged with about 1,400 other “Discipleship First” folks to be encouraged by brothers and sisters from around the world and to hear the ways they grow disciples who make disciples.
Here are 5 key points that I walked away with from the conference:
2. The Word of God is powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrew 4:12). Make engagement with the Bible a central feature of your discipling process. What scriptures will you memorize together and why? What biblical readings will focus your attention?
3. The discipling leader sets the stage. As a discipler, you are inviting others to learn from your life. You determine the time, place, and the content. If they’re not willing to work with your schedule, they may not yet be ready to engage that level of discipling.
4. Discipling is best done in groups of 3 to 5 people of the same gender. The focus is on obeying scripture and reflecting on the interaction between scripture and doing. Being small in number and gender specific allows a greater flow of interaction, confession and accountability.
5. Any plan is more effective than no plan. There were 18 tracks at the 2018 Discipleship Conference, each led by a group with disciple making as their goal. Here are 3 of the plans presented:
Do You Have a BHAG Vision?
A friend of mine introduced me to the acronym BHAG: By the Hand of Almighty God. In their book, Built to Last (1994), James Collins and Jerry Porras defined a BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) as “a long-term goal that changes the very nature of a business’ existence.” These are the type of goals that change history, like when John F. Kennedy said, “that this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”
Like a vision drives a country, I believe a BHAG is what ultimately drives a church.
BHAGs are meant to shift “business as normal.” BHAGs are nearly impossible to achieve without consistently working outside of our comfort zone. They require a commitment and confidence that moves us to persistent effort, over decades, even when the odds seem impossibly stacked against us.
The only way a church, or any organization, can pursue a BHAG dream is with a long-term plan that ties together mission, vision, and decisions into action. Without such organized, systematic planning no BHAG will survive.
Since 2009 Kairos has been helping churches think strategically about their future through a strategic planning process called StratOp. StratOp employs a series of insightful tools to help churches gain perspective on their own reality, strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately to immediate and long-term decisions that will move them towards progress on their BHAGs.
It is the persistent application of effort towards a plan that ultimately drives us towards the BHAGs God has set before us. No, we’re not doing this by our own strength or will. God is in charge. But He still asks us to do the hard work that needs to be done as He energizes the results.
If you are interested in the StratOp process, contact me at email@example.com.
4 Traits of Spiritual Mentors
Being a spiritual mentor does not equal being a religious leader. Mentors are not necessarily managing the direction of the church itself. The reality is they are leaders, but maybe look different from what you expect. It’s important to know the traits of spiritual mentors, these individuals are valuable in the development of the disciples within your congregation.
Here's a more accurate picture of what a spiritual mentor looks like:
Trait # 1 - Suggestive Guidance
Many times spiritual mentors live a life that is unique to others, and may not follow the rules that society places on them. Overall these type of leaders do not operate under the assumption that others should do life in the same way, rather they live life based on principles and understandings that may be countercultural. The value of these mentors is that they have discovered unique practices that have allowed them to understand and relate to God in ways that may differ from the status quo.
Trait # 2 - The “High Road” Less Traveled
This trait of a successful spiritual mentor is that they choose to live a life based on positive thinking. The empowerment they get from understanding who God is allows them to understand a level of joy that is based on the fruits of the spirit. Rather than living a life of happiness based on objective worldly treasures, they like to surround themselves in an atmosphere that is positive rather than negative.
Trait #3 - Lifting Others Up
Spiritual mentors live to lift others up constantly. They find ways to take individuals who are struggling in life and allow them to become successful based on goals, skills, and talents. Spiritual mentors find fulfillment in witnessing others become successful, and celebrating their accomplishments.
Trait #4 - Serving Others First
Spiritual mentors live out the passage in Mark 10:45, where Jesus says "for even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many." They live a life that is based on servant leadership, looking for opportunities to take care of the needs of others.
Spiritual mentoring comes down to specific characteristics that will lead to positive spiritual development for those they are mentoring. These characteristics come from years of life experience, and that means these folks may not be CEOs, presidents of their companies, commanding officers in the military. These individuals may come from very humble upbringings, living a life of low income status, and/or practicing simplicity in their life. Being able to identify these diamonds in the rough can be difficult, but understanding these virtuous traits will bear fruit if you are able to discover them!
Who are the people in your church who are already spiritual mentors? Who are those you can develop to become one?
Building a Worship Stage
Does your church have a podium or a stage?
That may seem like a strange question, but it is important if your church is going to attract and hold 21st century people. One of the major concepts that drive 21st churches is that worship is an experience—not a service. Services are by nature stable events that follow a standard, non-changing script. Experiences, on the other hand, are intended to be adaptive, creative and designed to communicate a story.
If the front of your church generally stays the same (yes, flowers may change or decorations may be added for specific seasons) you have a podium, literally, a place to stand. If the front of your church changes with the themes of the preaching; if it is designed to visually communicate in and of itself—you have a stage.
If your church has a podium I encourage you to make the shift in thinking from podium to stage. If you’re a church planter who already thinks in terms of stage, many times your challenge is you meet in rented space. You can’t set up a stage and leave it for six or eight weeks at a time. You have to create a portable stage.
There are some very good free resources to help you think creatively about designing a stage to help create your worship experience. Here are 3 YouTube videos with some great ideas to get you started on turning your podium into a stage.
Inexpensive Church Stage Design
3 Small Church Stage Design Ideas
Stage Design Ideas: LED Par Cans
Gathering the People
The Team You Need to Pray With
The greatest outpouring of God’s power is found in the Gospels; we are still measuring the impact of Christ to Earth. But the story of the greatest disbursement of God’s power in human history is found in the book of Acts. Never before had so many humans, from so many places, been the means to the astounding activity of God. The outpouring of the Spirit of God brought forth love, sacrificial sharing, healing, miracles, and boldness in unprecedented occurrences. And almost every occurrence was accompanied by the prayers of many. In light of the 34 references to prayer in Acts we should ask: are we calling on God with the frequency or intensity of the first believers?
I think we know the answer and I believe we need to pray at 3 new levels.
5 Steps to Active Discipleship
There’s a lot of interest and activity surrounding discipleship today, and that is good! As I hear and read a lot of this discipleship talk, it often seems to be in the context of maturing those who are already believers—often lifelong believers. We need to continually remind ourselves that the discipleship journey includes life from unbelief to mature discipleship.
When we follow Jesus’ ministry we see a fairly seamless process as he meets people where they are and moves them from unbelief to active believer. Look at the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-42. When Jesus encounters her at the well she’s not a Messiah believer. Jesus begins by establishing relationship. Then the two engage in a series of back forth questions and statements. Ultimately, Jesus gets to the heart of her life,
Jesus: “Go call your husband” Woman: “I don’t have a husband”
“You’re right, you have 5” “I see you’re a prophet”
“Believe me woman” “I know that the Messiah is coming”
“I am he” “Come, see. Could this be the Messiah?”
By the end of this story the woman is confessing her commitment of belief to her towns people, who by this time are ready to go and see for themselves. I believe this is a classic story demonstrating how Jesus met this woman on her terms, then deliberately led her to conclude that he was the Messiah of promise and worthy of discipleship.
Here’s the question you need to answer: Do the activities your church provides give people a clear, well-defined pathway to faith in Jesus then growth towards active discipleship?
Here’s a simple, effective five-step system that you can use to create a discipleship funnel to help your church create disciples while it grows in numbers and health.
Step 1: Encounter. If we believe that God is searching for and gathering people to himself, how do we meet these people? You must learn to turn encounters into meeting events. Your church needs specific meeting activities where you get to encounter people. Good meeting points often include one off events such as neighborhood parties, Vacation Bible Schools, and holiday activities. What truly characterizes a meeting point is you have to collect contact information, at minimum first and last names and their phone number or email. If you don’t get these, you can’t follow up. Not only do you leave people stranded, but all that energy you expend doesn’t do you any good. Your goal for encounter is to get to know people, listen for their spiritual story, and provide them opportunity for a next step. What are your most effective encounter activities that help you meet new people?
Step 2: Engage. Engagement is where people have opportunity to hear the gospel, ask questions, consider the gospel’s implications for their lives, and see how they fit with you, God's people. Good engagement activities are short-term, well-defined studies such as the Alpha course, Story of Redemption, or Let’s Start Talking. What I think makes these some of the best engagement activities is because they occur in small groups where there are multiple seekers. These small groups allow discussion and question asking; people get to think and process together so they gain a multi-dimensional look at the gospel. The believers in these engagement groups act as guides and gospel illuminators; they’re not teachers. The goal of engagement activity is to provide seekers the opportunity to make a valid decision about the lordship of Jesus in their lives. What activity do you repeatedly use so people can engage the gospel?
Step 3: Commitment. People need to have the opportunity to make a specific commitment to Jesus. Even more than that, they need people who care for them to ask them if they are ready to give themselves to Jesus. Good commitment activities include events like baptism days, special preaching series, and weekend retreats or summer camps. It's always important to give people the opportunity to respond to God's big ask in their lives. The goal of commitment is for people to make their confession of faith in Jesus and give themselves over to him in baptism. When and how do you ask people to make their commitment to Jesus?
Step 4: Essentials. When people are new Christians they need specific information, ideas, and guided experiences that help them integrate their new belief into practical life. In Kenya we had a year of specific teaching that oriented new believers to the Bible and we guided them through the basic practices of Christian life. Specifically prepared Bible classes and small groups for new believers provide good opportunities for new Christians to grow in an environment designed for their needs. The goal of the essentials period is to give new Christians the essential insights into Christian faith and life so their newly acquired faith can grow. What activities do you provide at your church where new Christians can be oriented to both scripture and their new life in Jesus?
Step 5: Experience. Again, in Kenya, we found it took several years of experience and growth for faith to become firmly rooted in people's lives. There was often a trial during this time where their faith would be tested. Sometimes they would make it, sometimes not, sometimes they would succumb then later return. Our role was to help them consider the possibilities and consequences of their decisions. Good preaching series, ongoing small groups, solid Bible classes and accountability groups are all good activities that allow experienced Christian living to form. How do you support your people through the trials of life that test their faith?
If you think of these five steps as a funnel, you want to always be putting new people into the wide end of the funnel where they can move down through these five sequential steps. The structure of such a process gives everything you do intentional purpose that creates movement. Without such structure, most churches find their activity becomes a hodgepodge of ever repeating events that simply maintains what they have. We find ourselves very active but without much movement or results.
I hope these ideas are helpful to you as you obey God’s great commission and make disciples of Jesus Christ.
3-Steps to Vision Based Sermon Planning
How far out do you plan your sermons? Three months? A year? How about three years? I’ll admit, I don’t hear many of us talking about a three-year preaching calendar. But, vision typically stretches out three to five years. If your sermon planning only goes out one year, how do you expect to push your vision forward?
The visionary leadership power of the pulpit is immense. I want to give you a free, 3-step Vision Preaching Calendar template to help you release your God-given preacher super powers:
Step 1: Engage Your Vision
Your church depends on you, its lead pastor, to listen to God and lead them in the direction He intends for the church. This vision work is yours, baby! No one else can do it. Begin your sermon planning with a clear, compelling, concrete vision statement. What needs to be accomplished and what do your people need to bring the vision into reality? If it’s going to take collective prayer, how will you activate them? If it’s a lot of money, how will generosity be raised? If it’s serving your city, how will you motivate them? List the vision and people needs necessary to reach your vision these next three years, then order the needs by importance and logical sequence. Finally, sort those vision needs by year. What must happen this year and into years two and three?
Step Two: Plan your Seasons
The church calendar has a repeating rhythm of two seasons—Grow and Disciple. The Grow seasons are fall and spring while the Discipling seasons are winter and summer. Tom Nebel calls this the Two-Hump Camel Church Calendar (watch his video here).
The Grow seasons are about reaching new people. They’re seasons of attraction when you address the natural impulses of life that open people up to the gospel. Use high interest sermon series during the grow seasons. Create space in your church for invitation and outreach The Discipling seasons are about consolidating growth and maturing people in the Jesus lifestyle. These seasons are ripe for vision-casting, textual studies, and topical lessons that resource people to grow as Jesus followers
With your vision and seasons firmly in mind, map out this year’s lessons so you know that your vision is being moved down the road. Once you’ve filled this year’s calendar with seasonal lessons, you’ve completed 80% of your annual preaching calendar. You’ll be leading your people from the pulpit in ways that make progress on your vision while using the natural growth and discipling seasons of your church.
Step Three: Insert for Balance
Use the remaining 20% of your calendar to balance out your preaching with the needs that arise because of life. Some of you might leave these eight or so Sundays empty to give you room to wiggle, to adjust dates, allow guest speakers, (or take your vacation!). Others of you will feel more comfortable inserting ideas to work on. Either way, these open Sundays allow you opportunity to adjust the content of your preaching calendar to the unanticipated events of life.
If you haven’t already downloaded your free Vision Preaching Calendar, do it now. Feel free to adjust this calendar so it meets your needs.
The difference between Training and Coaching is that Training is with those who are not part of the game yet. Coaching is with the people who are already in the trenches and need sharpening. What better people to sharpen than your shepherding leaders?
Outside of my passion for the Kingdom is my involvement with coaching competitive youth soccer. I have spent much of my life having the joy of playing the game of soccer, and enjoyed getting to play through my college years. As I have gotten older, my body has decided that it is no longer willing or able to perform the way it used to. Though my body was finished with the game, my mind was not willing to give it up. Getting to coach kids is very similar to coaching leaders within a church context. Both are wanting to lead, both are in need of improving and sharpening the gifts that they bring to the team.
There are more similarities between coaching youth soccer and coaching shepherding leadership within the church than you might think. In both cases, you are developing individuals to become better and more focused. You are coaching your shepherding leadership toward putting the Values, Mission and Vision of your church into practice. You are equipping them to serve better, love better, be better. If your leaders are well-coached, they will be pouring into their flock to move people from non-believer to believer, to worker, and eventually into leadership.
Take a minute and read Mark 9:14-29. Looks at Jesus’ example as he coached his disciples on the importance of prayer . He explained prayer to them, but first he practiced and perfected it in his own life.
Whatever you coach your Leaders to become, you should also be practicing. And whatever they encourage the congregation to be become, they should already be in the habit of doing. Here are 4 principles to keep in mind as you deliberately coach your leaders to leader the church.
4 Principals of Coaching Your Leaders:
1. Major in principles rather than methods. Love. Obey. Pray. Serve. Teach the principles, but allow each leader to develop a personal skill set. It is amazing how God overlaps different people's talents to make one fully functioning body of believers.
2. Major in meeting the needs in people, rather than on developing and imparting techniques. Specifics on how to do ministry can shift with seasons and culture. Love is timeless. Hope has no expiration date. Care doesn't go sour.
3. Major in developing the thought processes, rather than the skills. Help your leadership keep the big picture in mind, even when urgent matters crop up. As God prepares the soil of your leaders' hearts, he will bear fruit in them and through them.
4. Major in how to trust God, rather than teaching theories on God. Does your leadership find strength in knowing about God or in knowing God? Do they function out of who and whose they are or how well they understand? Are they passing these truths along to the rest of the congregation?
Reboot Your Leadership
Running technology is a constant activity anymore. Our computers update software automatically (yeah, right). Every now and then we have to turn our devices off and restart them because their brains get out sync. And then there are times we have to reboot everything with an upgraded operating system.
Leadership acts the same way. Sometimes we get into leadership ruts where it seems hard to do anything but the same thing, even when we know what we’re doing is not getting us where our church or ministry needs to be. Other times we’re hit by leadership jolts that throw us around and leave us feeling disoriented—or even downright nauseous. And then there are times we need to install a new operating system into our leadership.
The Kairos Discovery Lab is an opportunity for you to deliberately assess the state of your leadership in a supportive, spirit-infuse, highly engaged process. Discovery Lab will take you on a journey into your leadership that could change your life and ministry in just the way you need right now.
You’ll be part of a lab with other leader couples like you. People who are committed to their ministry leadership and ready to take it to the next level. The interview team will bath you in prayer and surround with support. You’ll leave knowing you are not alone.
I encourage you to put the next Discovery Lab on your calendar: February 18-22 at the COD Ranch in Tucson, AZ.
Right now, go to the Kairos website, download the Leader Self-Assessment, and get started on rebooting your leadership.
Father, I pray your courageous intentions upon these men and women who have accepted your leadership call in their lives. Fill them with your holy spirit for your glory and your kingdom’s good. Amen.