Church

Three Reasons We Hire Interns at First

It is a privilege to have a cohort of interns each year at our church, as they grow together and do excellent work on behalf of our congregation. We set out to hire our first cohort a couple years ago and we were not sure what God might do. When you begin a process to hire a cohort of interns and then lead that cohort through a year of development, you never know who might apply or what might happen. We have been fortunate to not only have great individual interns but great teams that work well together. On multiple occasions, I have found myself reflecting on our intern cohorts, and they are truly a highlight of ministry each year.

Through the year, we seek to invest in our intern cohort. Interns can sometimes be seen as only cheap labor, but that is a serious disservice to what an internship should be. Someone asked me about leading a cohort of interns and what I have learned, I told them that unless you are prepared to invest in people, don't hire interns. The jokes are too common - interns are seen as cheap labor. This is absolutely not the case at our church. Our cohort has done excellent work together this year, and they have served our congregation well. This requires a serious investment on the part of a congregation - one we are happy to make.

There are many reasons to hire interns. The list could grow quite long, but here are three reasons we hire interns at First.

We want to Develop Leaders

We want to develop leaders. Plain and simple. We are working to create a culture at First Baptist that recognizes growth and multiplication as Biblical values which must necessarily be expressed in our congregation. We want to help people grow, whether it is in the area of spiritual disciplines, care for others or leadership skills. An essential part of growing as a disciple of Jesus is multiplying ourselves into others. Paul exhorts Timothy, "What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim 2:2)."

As our congregation makes a commitment to invest resources into developing leaders through our intern cohort, we also communicate a commitment to growing leaders all over our church. As we seek to make growth and multiplication part of the culture at First, our investment into a cohort of interns moves us in the right direction. One of the reasons we hire interns at First is because we value leadership development and our intern cohort is a natural result of that value.

We want to Prioritize The Kingdom

We want our church to prioritize God's Kingdom over our own kingdom. Churches are unfortunately prone to be territorial and only care about their own agenda. We want to fight against that tendency in every way we can. When we hire a cohort of interns, we prioritize The Kingdom. On day one, we tell each of our interns that we want them to invest fully into our church throughout the year of their internship. Once the year is over, we do not place any expectation that they remain a part of our church. We want to release them for Kingdom work, whether that is in another church or another city.

We want to release our interns for Kingdom work, but is also a joy to report that several of our former interns have remained a part of our congregation. We do hope this is the case, because it is a sign that these young leaders are excited to continue investing in our church. Whether they remain for just their internship or a few years after, it is likely they will move away at some point, and our prayer is that the investment we made is multiplied ten, twenty or even a hundredfold for God's Kingdom. We hire interns at First, because we want to prioritize The Kingdom.

We want to Do Excellent Work Together

We hire interns at First because we want to do excellent work together. It is our intention to provide an environment that facilitates growth in each of our interns, and along the way, it is our expectation that we will do excellent work together on behalf of our congregation. I am not interested in having our cohort simply execute menial tasks in a mediocre fashion. As I work with our cohort, we want to complete meaningful work on behalf of our church, for the good of God's Kingdom, the glory of God's name and the joy of all peoples, and we want to do it in excellent ways.

It would be impossible for me to outline all the excellent work our cohorts have done. They have supported our partnerships with our 26 missionaries, they have provided necessary leadership for our youth ministry, they have led retreats, they have led worship, they have invested in congregation members, they have served the needs of our downtown community, they have supported one another, they have prayed for one another, they have loved our church and they have done excellent work together. We hire interns because we want to do excellent work together.

When Intermediary Goals Undermine the True Goal

The story is all too common. Someone has a vision for their ministry, their church or their community group and somewhere along the way they find they are no longer moving toward their initial goal. Unknowingly, their attention has shifted and their path has diverged from its original direction. I am not talking about someone committing an egregious sin which disqualifies them from ministry, although that can certainly have a derailing effect. This isn't about the person who falls into sin, but more about the person who gets distracted and realizes they are no longer heading toward their goal.

We set out to pursue a great aim, and along the way, we get caught up in pursuing intermediary goals -what was intended to be a step along the path becomes a perch on which we sit. Stuck on a ridge, we fail to see the precipice we had set out to climb because these intermediary goals actually begin to undermine the true goal. This is never intentional and often goes unnoticed.

When intermediate goals undermine THE goal

When intermediary goals become THE goal, our tactics can begin to undermine the ultimate goal we originally set out to accomplish. The potential scenarios are innumerable, but allow me to illustrate a few.

If we want to help more and more people become mature followers of Jesus, we might set an intermediate goal of getting people into our church building. This is based on the conviction that true Christian fellowship is an important way God draws people to Himself. Eventually, we might work so hard to get people into the building, the strategies we use to accomplish that goal undermines the true goal of creating mature followers of Jesus.

Here is another scenario. We want to expand our ministry in order to bring glory to God and help others grow, so we set an intermediary goal of developing a social media presence. We begin to post, share, like and more, but eventually, the intermediary goal of getting more followers becomes THE goal, and along the way the strategies we employ undermine the ultimate goal of growing our ministry in order to bring glory to God.

A third example comes when we want to know God more, so we endeavor to increase our Bible reading. The goal of reading our Bible more is in the interest of the greater aim, knowing God more. In order to do that, we develop a plan designed to help us read more. Along the way, we become a slave to the plan. Our goal has become checking off the box more than knowing God. There is no discernible fruit produced or joy experienced. The true aim of knowing God was undermined by our slavery to the plan.

Safeguard the true goal

You have likely experienced or observed one of the three examples used to illustrate the problem. You might be in the middle of one right now. Here are five ways you can safeguard the true goal from being held captive by the intermediate goal.

 

1. Remind yourself of the true goal

Simple. Have a clearly stated vision and then remind yourself often. When considering church ministry, we really all have the same goal - to make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them (Mt 28:19-20). Like Paul, we want to present our people mature in Christ (Col 1:28). As we toil after this aim, we must always continue to remind ourselves of that primary goal. We might state the goal differently, we might bring our own contextual nuance to how we communicate this aim, but every church should have the same ultimate goal. In the interest of not being led astray by the mile markers on the way to our destination, we must always continue to remind ourselves of the ultimate aim.

2. Ensure intermediary goals align

Like markers on the bowling lane, our intermediate goals need to be aligned with the final aim. If they are not going to serve the ultimate purpose, then we should not allow these short-term goals to get in the way. Ask yourself, does this actually move me forward in the direction I want to go? If so, how? Further, we need to be aware of how our intermediate goals can get us off the rails. Where are the potential pitfalls? If we want to always be moving toward the true aim of making mature disciples, then we need to ensure that everything we do serves that ultimate goal.

3. Don't fall prey to analysis paralysis

In an effort to develop the most sophisticated strategies and ministry plans, we can bury ourselves under a mountain of complexity. As we over analyze, we can paralyze our work and limit our momentum. Planning is good. Intentionality is good. Strategy and models and analytics are all great, but only when they are actually serving the goal. Don't fall prey to analysis paralysis.

4. Don't fix the problem with the same problem

Commonly, we fix problems using the same strategies that got us into trouble in the first place. When you become aware of how you might have gotten sidetracked with some of your intermediate goals, don't try to remedy the problem with a quick fix. You may find yourself in the same place six months later. Rarely do quick fixes and easy solutions make a situation better. Step back and do it right. Patiently pursue the true goal.

5. Remember who actually accomplishes the goal

In the end, we need to know who is the author of our lives. You and I have the great privilege of participating in God's mission to draw worshipers to Himself, but we need to remember that we are participants, and he is the great mission-accomplisher. Rather than begin with your own plans, begin with prayer. Acknowledge that God is in control. God accomplishes the mission. We get to participate. Once we get that correct in our heads and hearts, then we can pursue our work with excellence, remembering that it is all done by God's poet and for God's glory.

Reflections and Updates on my Costa Rica/Panama Trip

I'm back. Our team of 31 spent ten days (Dec 27 - Jan 5) in Central America, beginning in Costa Rica and ending in Panama. Our primary purpose was to support the work God is doing through our missionary partners, Marvin and Vielka Cabrera. It was an extremely fruitful trip, and I was highly encouraged by our church's important partnership with the Cabreras. You can read more about the background in my pre-trip updates, found here. The team did well overall - we had some illness, one hospital visit for a broken arm and some sore bodies from all the hard work, but the team was flexible and grew in maturity and grace together.

As I return, I have a few reflections and updates to share. I write these reflections for a few purposes. One, to share them with you, because many of you have prayed for our team, supported our work financially or are simply interested in what went on in Costa Rica and Panama. Second, writing my reflections is helpful for me to process my experiences. I write for me as much as I do for you. Third, I hope you and I can learn something together. Whether it is an immediate application or possibly a lesson that comes in reading this a year or more in the future, the documentation of my reflections may serve a purpose entirely unknown to me at this time. So, here are six updates and reflections on my missions trip to Costa Rica and Panama.

Costa Rica Reflections and Update.png

I am grateful for our partnership with the Cabreras

Prior to this trip, I only had a few brief interactions with Marvin and Vielka, but after spending a week with them, I am even more grateful for our partnership with them. They are hospitable, hard-working, patient, kind and joyful people who love Jesus and want to help others know and love Jesus as well. They are highly committed to their work, and it is a privilege for our church to partner with them.

Short-term missions is done best when it occurs in partnership with local, long-term missionaries. I would go so far as to say that unless this is the case, it probably should not be done at all. Over the past three years, we have sent teams of 26, 27 and 31 on three different trips to support God's work in partnership with the Cabreras. That requires a significant amount of resources - time, people, energy, finances, etc. People might question whether this is a good use of those resources. A valid question, which requires an honest answer.

I feel confident in saying yes - it is absolutely worth our resources. If it were not for our partnership with the Cabreras and the work God is doing through them, I would be far less sure. In partnering with the Cabreras, we are working with high-quality people, who remain on the field, and are engaged in work that aligns with our own mission and vision. I am grateful for them and excited for the future.

The need for Biblical Literacy and Leadership Development

The Ngäbe (Guaymi) are considered a "reached" people group, in the sense that there is an established and indigenously led church that exists among the Ngäbe. There are still needs and we are excited to partner with Marvin to help meet those needs. While there is an established church, there are still many who do not know Jesus as savior, and we are excited about seeing more and more hear the gospel message and respond in worship.

Marvin helps to mentor six different pastors who are leading Ngäbe churches, many of which have no place to meet. Homes are too small to host gatherings, so they often meet outside wherever they can find some shelter under trees. One way we can help is to assist in funding and building structures that can be used as a gathering place for local churches.

In conversation with Marvin and other missionaries working with the Ngäbe, there is also a need for ongoing discipleship, Biblical literacy and leadership development. In George Patterson's article, The Spontaneous Multiplication of Churches, he lists four simple things anyone can do to promote the multiplication and growth of disciples and local churches.

  1. Know and love the people you disciple.

  2. Mobilize your disciples to immediately edify those they are discipling

  3. Teach and practice obedience to Jesus' basic commands in love, before and above all else

  4. Build loving, edifying accountability relationships between disciples and churches in order to reproduce churches.

This is a great summary of what is needed. An increasing understanding of the Bible and obedience to its commands, while reproducing loving and intentional disciples who can help to reproduce loving and intentional churches. In many ways, the needs of the Ngäbe (Guaymi) church are simple, and quite similar to what is needed among our churches in the United States as well.

It's hard to be away from my family

Without question, the most challenging aspect of the trip for me was being away from my family. Leaving Megan home for ten days with three children four and under is not something I want to do lightly. I do not regret going on the the trip, and I am grateful for Megan's sacrifice to help make it happen, but it was hard - for them and for me. I love my family dearly, and have long been committed to being a present and intentional husband and father. I have seen or heard about too many pastors who sacrifice their family on the altar of ministry, and wind up with wives and children who grow to resent the local church.

Megan and I spoke with the kids often about the importance of daddy's trip. We told them that I was not "leaving them," they were "sending me." We prayed together with the kids on the last night I was home, helping them to see the importance of the work.

The communication was difficult, because the wifi was very poor at the location our team was lodging. Megan and I did our best to communicate, but it was hard to be away and have little opportunity to communicate. As I return, I am thankful for God's goodness toward my family while I was away. Overall, things went well at home. I am also thankful for our community - there were many family and friends who helped make things a little easier on Megan.

Getting to know other team members was invaluable

I loved the many conversations I had with team members throughout the trip. Whether over a meal, on the trail hauling blocks, sipping a ginger ale at the end of the night or playing a card game, it was invaluable to connect with other team members. As a pastor, I struggle with the challenge it is to not know everyone in our congregation in a deep way. I recognize it is not possible to know everyone well, and it is not the job to which I am called. I am called to equip the body, so we can all know and care for one another, because it isn't possible for any single person to know and care for everyone well. But it doesn't change my desire to know our congregation better. This trip was a great chance to deepen those relationships. 

As a small bonus, we also had two young men from Cities Church join us. Our church is in conversations and prayer about the possibility of two churches becoming one. As we look at the possibility of "marriage" with Cities Church, it was great to spend extra time with two of their young leaders. 

Shared experience, especially when it is in service to God's mission, plays an extremely important role in deepening relationships. I was able to do that with all sorts of different team members. As I reflect on my trip, this is one of the many great aspects I had the joy of experiencing.

It felt good to use my body to do hard work

My daily work is not physical. Whether I am reading, writing, meeting with someone, doing administrative work or planning for future ministry opportunities, I spend most of that time sitting. It felt amazing to use my body to do hard physical work. I grew up doing physical labor, and our bodies were made to be used, so I was grateful for the chance to get sore for the glory of God.

Don't get me wrong - it was exhausting. Hauling cinder blocks 1/4 of a mile through mountainous hiking trails was not easy. It took a toll on my body. I was blistered, tired, scraped, bruised and sore from the work. Each day, our team would end our work and be exhausted. It was not easy, but it felt so good!

Excited for the future

I left Panama excited for the future of our partnership with Marvin and Vielka. There is so much opportunity to continue serving God's mission together with the Cabreras. There many possibilities, but I wanted to mention a few specific ways I am excited to continue partnering.

First, there are multiple locations that still need a building for their church to meet. We are not at a loss for work projects that would be meaningful and help support the churches Marvin is mentoring. There is opportunity near where Marvin lives in Paso Canoas, Costa Rica. There is also opportunity near the area we spent time working in Panama. Prayer and discernment is needed for our church's leadership as we continue to plan intentional short-term trips to partner with God's work in Costa Rica and Panama.

Second, Marvin and Vielka are great to partner with. I am excited about the future, because I am excited about continuing to work with the Cabreras. Who knows what God might be kind enough to do through this partnership. I pray He continues to exceed our expecations with what He can do.

Third, last year's team helped construct a dorm building, so that Ngäbe kids in Costa Rica could live there and have access to schools. Currently, children need to travel multiple hours, by foot, just to make it to school. During the rainy season, this journey is often impossible to make. Because of the challenge that exists in getting to school, many end their education early in life. The dorm building would help up to eight kids live there and get an education, while being cared for by Christian dorm parents. There is a need for funds to be raised in order to make this vision become reality. Pray with me about how you, our church and I might be able to help support the hopes Marvin has for this dorm building

Want to hear more?

Maybe this short update peaked your interest? If so, send me an email and I would love to talk with you more - whether it be over coffee, email, lunch, phone, or whatever we can figure out.

Three Marks of a Mature Church

"I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another." (Romans 15:14 ESV)

We are inclined to complicate that which needs no complicating. Toward the end of Paul's letter to the Romans, he offers a brief encouragement to his readers, commending them in three different ways. He writes that he is satisfied with them, and then tells them why. We would do well to note the three reasons he is pleased with his audience. In them, we see three marks of a mature community of faith. Hardly an exhaustive list, but it is an instructive one.

I say we are inclined to complicate matters because we can turn ourselves in circles asking what our church community "should" look like. We develop extensive plans and programs, creating rules and regulations. All the while, we have a nice simple list at the end of Romans. Again, not an exhaustive list, but if these three qualities are true of our church, then we can be confident we are in a good place. As you read these three marks of a mature faith community, ask yourself if they are true of your church.

Full of goodness

A mature church treats one another with kindness, goodness and respect. Being full of goodness (agathosyne) is a fruit of God's Spirit (Gal 5:22) working in a person's heart. As we become more like Christ, we grow in goodness. What does this look like in a congregation? A church that is full of goodness is a church that seeks reconciliation over quarreling. It is a church that serves one another sacrificially. A church that cares for one another. A church that is marked by kindness and grace. Unity. Love. Patience. These are the virtues that inhabit a mature community of faith.

How can you be an agent of goodness in your church? Do not allow dissension, discord, backbiting and gossip to gain a foothold in your church. Do not contribute to it, and as you are able, put a stop to it in others. Fight for goodness by pursuing kindness toward others, patience in disagreement and forgiveness when wronged. Pick someone up who needs a ride to church, provide a meal for someone who just had a baby, check-in on those who have lost a loved one to death - in short, be good to others.

Filled with all knowledge

A mature church is filled with all knowledge (gnosis). Much is wrapped up in this little phrase, but very simply, it means that the church has a clear understanding of the Christian faith, which means they have a clear understanding of God's Word. This requires godly leaders who are qualified to teach, and faithful members who are attentive to learn and grow. In the words of the psalmist, "I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. (Psalm 119:15-16 ESV)." In them, we find knowledge.

Is your church community filled with all knowledge? Do you have a good understanding of God's Word? I don't just mean a good understanding of some theological concepts and church traditions - I mean the very Scriptures themselves. Does someone get up on Sunday and teach from God's Word? Are people bringing their Bibles and testing that teaching like the Bereans (Acts 17:10-11)? A church that is not anchored to God's Word is liable to drift unaware from the true faith. Culture and context will gain more and more influence, and the church will be tossed by every wind or wave that exerts its influence. A mature faith community is filled with all knowledge, which means they are rooted and anchored on God's Word.

Able to instruct one another

The third mark of a mature faith community, the ability to instruct (noutheteo) one another, is a natural result of the first two. Not only does it flow from the prior two, but it requires the initial marks in order to be done well. The word for instruct here is not simply to teach, but has a sense of exhortation, admonishment or warning. This is instruction with a mind toward growth and correction. The soil of goodness is necessary for the seed of instruction to take root. The nourishment of knowledge waters that seed and helps it grow. 

This sort of instruction is done from the pulpit on Sundays and also in homes throughout the week. Exhortation comes from our elders at times and from fellow congregates at others. No matter the source, a mature faith community is able and willing to instruct one another out of its goodness and knowledge.

As mentioned earlier, this list is not exhaustive - but it is informative. There are other essential elements to a healthy church body, but these three marks give us a good sense of a mature community of faith. Use this litmus test to examine your church and ask yourself whether you are contributing to the goodness, knowledge and instruction in your own congregation.

What is Missing in Most of our Discipleship?

We cannot disciple people en mass. It simply doesn't work. It might appear to work, but it doesn't consistently produce the maturity and multiplication necessary for sustainable Kingdom impact. We cannot get an auditorium full of people to experience ongoing transformation without intentional relationships as well. You cannot disciple people without knowing them.

Jesus often drew a crowd and the masses were enthralled with him, but he chose only twelve to be his closest companions. He preached to the masses and fed the multitudes, but he chose only twelve to be his apostles. Jesus healed the sick and loved the unlovable, but he entrusted the stewardship of his message to only twelve. Jesus' example shows us that even if we can draw a crowd, we cannot ignore the necessity of intentionally investing in a few strategic relationships.

Mass discipleship is appealing. It feels like a quicker pathway and in the short-term, it probably is. If we can fine tune our systems and environment on Sunday mornings, we can draw a crowd. And that isn't such a bad thing, but it becomes a problem if we pursue it at the expense of the discipleship that happens through intentional relationships. As we saw with Jesus, there are many in the crowds who loved to simply be part of the crowd. But when the pressure of life came, they happily deserted the celebrity they followed to join the new trend.

We need to get into relationships

We like to drift toward isolation rather than relationship. Our preference is to remain hidden, not needing to reveal the deepest parts of us, because it is scary to be vulnerable. Exposing our fears, sins and struggles with requires intentionality with others, because it is more natural to stay hidden than it is to step into the light. It can be easy to hide in the crowd - often it's the easiest place to hide.

We all need to take on the responsibility of investing in our relationships with others. Don't wait for someone else to invite you out to lunch or ask you if you need prayer. Don't wait for someone else to suggest going to a baseball game or meeting to study the Bible. Feel the weight of that responsibility and find ways to initiate and invest in disciple-making relationships.

This is for everyone

No matter your stage of life or maturity as a Christian, this is for you. Whether you are discipling others in the role of a mentor, or you initiate a relationship of mutual discipleship with a peer, or whether you seek out an older and more mature believer to invest in you and your growth, discipleship requires relational investment. And no matter where you are in your own life, you can initiate this sort of relationship.

Church leaders must also consider this dynamic as we create systems and structures in our congregations. Have we given enough thought to how our models and programs are helping our people to invest in relationships? It can be easy to develop strategies and systems to reach the masses, with the hope that it will accelerate growth. But there is no shortcut to developing mature Christians, and it will always require life-on-life, getting into the weeds, laughing, crying, transparent and sacrificial relationships. Are your church structures helping to facilitate this sort of relational investment in your people?

It's about multiplication

Jesus was not necessarily concerned with the crowds of his day, but he did have a disciple-making movement in mind. He was most particularly concerned with his closest twelve, because he knew they would multiply into a massive movement of people. What started as twelve is now a worldwide movement of billions.

The vision is that our relationships would lead to the multiplication of many more disciples. This strategy won't fill stadiums, and it won't lead to your own celebrity status, but it will have an immeasurable impact on the Kingdom.

There are men who have invested in me over the years, who were once upon a time invested in by others. Their work has lead toward my own growth and re-investment into other men, who are now scattered around the world. The men whom I have invested in are now doing the same for others. It truly is immeasurable, because it would be impossible to know the full impact of those relational networks.

It's never too late to start

Whether you are an individual and you are thinking about your own life, or whether you are a church leader and you are thinking about your congregation's systems and structures, it is never too late to start. You may feel like the 35-year old who has saved no money, and you have lost out on many years of the powerful effect of compound interest. It is never too late to start. Better to begin now than at age 55.

Like a 401k, discipleship through relational investment, leading to multiplication, also takes advantage of the powerful principle of compound interest. It isn't about your ability to fill pews on the following Sunday, but about the ongoing discipleship possibilities in the decades to come. You may have missed out on some of your past opportunities to invest in discipleship like this, but it is not too late to start. Better now than never.

Three Reasons Churches Need Seasons of Intentional Corporate Prayer

Churches go through seasons when they need intentional corporate prayer. It can be prompted by a variety of circumstances, some which grieve the hearts of the congregation and others which enliven the vision of its members. I have observed churches go through a season of prayer when they are in the midst of senior pastor transitions. Following the significant moral failure of a pastor, churches may initiate a season of prayer for healing and direction, or when a church senses God leading them to a new vision and are ready to see God begin a movement among them, they may go through a season of intentional corporate prayer.

At First Baptist Church, we are entering a season of intentional corporate prayer over the summer. Over the past couple years, we have sensed God leading us to be more purposeful in the way we love, care and reach our downtown neighbors. There are over 20,000 people that live within a half-mile of our building, most of whom do not know the life saving message of Jesus Christ. The majority of people that live near our building are young urban professionals, but many others are at or below the poverty line and need to receive love, care and a message of hope. Collectively, the members of our congregation have thousands of neighbors, co-workers, family, friends and other relationships in our spheres of influence that we desperately desire to know and follow Jesus. Not to mention that we all, the people of our church, need the continual revival of God's Spirit within our own hearts.

As we continue to pursue a vision for God to move in our own hearts, among our downtown neighbors and among the many people whom we come into contact with on a daily basis - people whom we love and care for deeply - we have recognized our need to enter a season of intentional corporate prayer this summer. A primary avenue for this is to meet in five prayer meetings throughout the week, and pray through the book of Acts. As we hear from God through His Word, and as we speak back to Him in our prayers, we are asking that God would do something remarkable in our church family and in the lives of our neighbors.

As you read this, whether you are part of the church family at First Baptist or part of another congregation, here are three reasons why churches need seasons of intentional corporate prayer.

God Loves when His People Pray

Prayer can be a bit of a mystery. We have a God who is fully and entirely sovereign. A God who has complete foreknowledge and has chosen us in Christ before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4). But yet, a God who invites His people to pray. In the Scriptures, we see God respond to the prayers of His people, specifically when they pray in ways that are consistent with His will and desires.

For example, in Exodus 32, after the Israelites had acted with great dishonor toward God in making the golden calf, God tells Moses that He is going to consume them, and begin afresh with Moses (v. 10). In response Moses petitions God to relent from his wrath, and argues back to God in prayer, using God's words and desires as a buttress for his prayer. It says that God "relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people (v. 14)."

Space does not allow for a full exploration of the relationship between our prayers and God's sovereignty and foreknowledge. But from a human perspective, God responds as Moses petitions Him on behalf of the Israelites. Moses prays in a way that is consistent with God's will and desire, and God responds. God loves when his people pray, and He responds to our prayers. When we want to see God do something in our congregation, something we believe is consistent with His will and desires as revealed in the Scriptures, then we ought to pray and ask God. Like a father who delights in the opportunity to provide good gifts to his children (Mt. 7:9-11), God loves when His people pray and ask.

Prayer is an Acknowledgment that We Cannot do it on Our Own

When we bow our knee before God, we recognize that we cannot do it on our own. We need God's help. Whether we are needing to select a new pastor, heal from a broken situation or see a new vision come into reality, we cannot do it on our own, and it is important for us to recognize our insufficiency. God's grace is sufficient, but on our own, we are not. In Peter's exhortation to the churches, he wrote:

[6] Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, [7] casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. [8] Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. [9] Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. [10] And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. [11] To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:6-11)."

Prayer is an act of humility before God. When we pray, we intentionally position ourselves under his authority, and cast our anxieties upon Him. God restores, not us. When broken relationships need restoration and healing, we cannot do that on our own, but God can. God strengthens. Youths grow tired, and young man stumble, but "those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31)." When we get tired, and fear we do not have the energy for the task, God gives the strength. God is the one who heals broken hearts and gives strength. But most of all, God is the one who draws people to Himself and saves forevermore those who were once perishing. God gives new life to those who once walked in darkness. We cannot bring that sort of life transformation, but God can. Prayer is an acknowledgment that we cannot, but God can.

Prayer is an acknowledgment that we cannot, but God can.

Prayer Helps us Give all the Glory to God

Early in the book of Acts, Peter and John were on their way to the temple and along the way healed a lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:1-10). All the people were "utterly astounded" at what had happened. When Peter addressed the crowd he said:

[12b] “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? [13] The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. [14] But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, [15] and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. [16] And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all (Acts 3:12b-16)."

I love their answer. And it is so helpful for me to hear. It was not by their power or piety that this man was able to walk again. Peter is quick to point out to those listening that it was the power of Jesus that made this man strong. When we go through seasons of prayer, it can help us to remember to give God the glory for the work He does. To say with confidence that Jesus is the one who did the miraculous. God is not limited by our lack of prayer and He can do something extraordinary among us whenever he chooses, but when we go through a season of intentional corporate prayer, it helps us give God the glory when he does chose to act on our behalf.

The "3-minute Rule" could have a Major Impact on Your Church

Welcome your Guests Well

There is a contemporary discussion happening between missional vs. attractional churches. I believe it is a false dichotomy to pit them against one another, because it is not necessary to chose between them. That being said, I see more danger in the longterm impact for the church when we drift heavily toward the attractional models to the neglect of the missional ones.

Today, I am going to argue for a practice that is motivated by both attractional and missional mindedness. And it has to do with welcoming our guests well on Sundays. When someone, especially someone who is unchurched or dechurched, crosses the many barriers there are between them and a local church gathering, we should honor that step and do our best to help them feel welcomed and loved in our community.

If someone is a guest on a Sunday, it means they have come to you (attractional), but you taking the initiative to welcome them and get to know them requires you to take a step toward them (missional). And it is a much easier step for you than befriending someone new outside the doors of your church. Welcoming guests on Sundays is critical. What is one way you can do that better?

You can institute the 3-minute rule.

What is the 3-minute Rule?

The 3-minute rule is really quite simple and it is based on the idea that within the first three minutes after the Sunday morning service ends, nearly all your guests have either been engaged in conversation or have left the building. They won't hang around, sitting alone, with no one to talk with them. Sadly, most church goers first action after the service ends is to find their best friends and catch up with them. When churches practice the 3-minute rule, they intentionally find the people they don't know first and engage them in conversation. Your friends will probably still be there when you finish meeting someone new, so meet the guests first and then catch up with your friends.

Some Tips for Welcoming Guests

Ask about them

The easiest thing you can do is just get to know them. Ask them questions about themselves. Who are they? Are they married? Kids? Jobs? School? Small talk does not come easily to everyone, so I will not assume that everyone is inherently good at this, but do your best to just keep asking questions and genuinely listen to their answers.

"How long have you been coming here?"

Whenever I encourage people to meet someone new after the service, I often hear that they are afraid they will introduce themselves to someone who isn't new. First of all, that isn't a problem. If you are part of the church, and they are part of the church, then it is not a problem for you to meet one another.

Just don't ask the awkward question, "are you new?" After you have introduced yourself, then simply ask, "How long have you been coming here?" This is more open-ended and allows for people to say they are new, or that they have been there for months or even years.

What is your background with faith and church?

Depending on how well the conversation is going, you may feel comfortable to feel out where they are at in their own faith journey. Instead of asking, "Are you a Christian?" You could simply ask them to share what their background is with faith and/or church. Another question you could ask is, "What made you decide to check out our church today?" Allow them to answer your question, listen to their answer, and ask follow up questions that are applicable.

Welcoming guests well on a Sunday is a culture you create, not a program to be planned.

Know your church’s follow-up plan

Get to know your church's plan for following up with new guests. Every church should have one. Just ask a pastor or staff member what yours is, and if there isn't one, then your question might prompt an important discussion. At First Baptist Church, we want people to fill out a Communication Card, get a free gift from our Welcome Center and then attend our next Guest Lunch and/or Starting Point class. Those are baseline next steps. Each of them allows us to continue following up with them, helping them to eventually engage with our Community Groups and Serve Teams, so they can grow into a mature disciple of Jesus as part of our community.

Try to find them next Sunday

Once you have met them on a Sunday, remember their name and look for them the next week. Studies have shown that if someone does not form a genuine relationship with someone at the church (that isn't a pastor or staff) within the first six months, they will probably look for a new church. SO, look for them the next week and try to say hello. You just might the genuine relationship they form at your church.

Its a culture you create not a program to be planned

This is not something that can be planned. It cannot be done through a program or forced onto people. It needs to become part of the culture, the ethos, of your church. And it begins with you! The tipping point to change the culture of a community or organization is not that high. If you can get 10-20% of your people committed to intentionally welcoming guests, the culture will change rapidly. Be one of the people who helps to enact that change and engage someone you don't know in conversation this coming Sunday.

Your Turn: If you take the initiative to meet someone new next Sunday, stop back and let us know how it went.

Finding Leaders vs. Forming Leaders

The leadership void

I hear it often, the cry for more and better leaders in the church. It comes from fellow pastors, who complain about the need for more men and women to step up lead. The sentiment is shared by board members, elder teams and sub-committees. Everyone wants more leaders. Even the people who sit in the pew and watch from a distance complain about the leadership void.

What should the church do about this common problem?

One of the reasons we have a leadership void is the result of our strategy for integrating leaders. We look out on the horizon of our churches and search for leaders, hoping that one will appear in the distance who is primed to step in and lead. Our strategy is limited to finding leaders rather than forming leaders.

Leaders can be found

We look for already capable leaders to fill the leadership void. All to common, a need arises in our churches and our response is reactionary instead of proactive. We have someone step down from leading a particular team or small group, and we need someone new to fill that role. The search begins. We scour the list of our members hoping to find a pearl of a leader buried in the sea of people. We may or may not find someone to fill the need who is capable of leading well, but we need to find someone, so we just start asking.

In some scenarios, it is absolutely essential to look for men and women who are ready to lead. This commonly happens when a church is planted, as the lead planter invites a group of people to serve on a launch team. In these situations, they need mature and capable leaders to serve as the core of their church plant to help it get off the ground.

Or maybe a church is trying to launch a new program or ministry strategy. Finding quality leadership is vitally important to the success or failure of this new venture. Finding leaders is necessary at times, and they can sometimes be found just waiting to be asked, but if all we ever do is spend our time searching for mature leaders, we will often go to the well and find that it is dry.

Photo Cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/469424D4C3

Photo Cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/469424D4C3

Leaders must be formed

Eventually, all churches must learn how to grow leaders. The church as a whole cannot thrive if we are always looking for leaders who are already formed. God has given us the task of preparing tomorrows leaders. Ultimately, it is God who makes them and God who calls them to leadership, but we have the awesome privilege of being part of the process.

Eventually, all churches must learn how to grow leaders.

Forming leaders requires you to be intentional. If we have been working hard to form and train future leaders we will be prepared when a new role needs to be filled. Instead of scouring the field of people for that hidden pearl, we have already done the hard work of forming new leaders to fill the void.

My challenge for you is to be intentional about forming leaders. You don't need to create a fully fledged leadership development program in the next six weeks. Just take a step, any step, toward the development of leaders in your church. This can be as simple as asking a few people to read a book with you that teaches principles you hope to instill in your congregation. At First Baptist Church, we are launching a Leadership Development Group this fall and have over 20 people signed up for our inaugural course. The Porterbrook Network is a a great resource, as well as its online counterpart BibleMesh. Some churches have developed entire training programs, for example the Leadership Development Institute at Hope Community Church in Minneapols has a fantastic program to train leaders.

Whatever your next step is, just take a step toward forming leaders in your church. It will change the complexion of your congregation and increase your church's Kingdom impact.

Question: In the comments below, let us know what has helped form you as a leader and how you could see it working in the context of a local church?

A List of Biblical Practices the Church does (or ought to do) when it Gathers

Photo Cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/4LZRZTD1MC

Photo Cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/4LZRZTD1MC

Do not neglect meeting together

What does the church do when it gathers? Does the Bible give us any direction to help answer this question? It is clear that some form of regular gathering is an important element of the Biblical vision for the church. The early church gathered (Acts 2:42-27), there was an exhortation for meeting together regularly (Hebrews 10:25) and instruction about maintaining some form of order in worship (1 Corinthians 14:26-40). But what are the important priorities for the church when it is gathered?

The impact of the missional movement has made me wonder how I would answer this question. I recently wrote a post on how to think differently about what it means to "be the church." I argued that we need to reorient our ideas of what it looks like to be the church and what it looks like to do the work of the church. As we push the boundaries of what it means for us to be the church in our city, it is also important to ask ourselves what the Bible tells us to do when we gather. In an effort to answer that question, I examined three different passages: Acts 2:42-47, Colossians 3:1-17 and Ephesians 5:1-21. I came up with 15 different practices in which the church is called to engage.

A note about what it means to "gather"

When the church gathers, it may look different for each of us. There are a variety of settings in which the church may gather together. This includes the Sunday morning gathering that is common among churches in America. For the overwhelming majority of churches in America, the Sunday morning gathering is a focal point of the weekly rhythm for the local church community.

A second context for gathering is through the small group ministry of your church. Whether you call them Community Groups, Missional Communities, LifeGroups or Sunday School, these are an important place for our members to gather and engage together. These groups will have varying importance within each local church, but they are very necessary for the life of most churches.

There is also a growing House Church movement in America, which is more common in other parts of the world. I am not going to argue the merits of any particular model of gathering, but want to acknowledge that different local church bodies will gather in different ways. Regardless of the model you use for your church to meet together, the Biblical practices will remain consistent.

15 practices the church does when it gathers

The 15 practices I found are listed in no particular order and they are not grouped in any fashion. If a person wanted to reduce these, they might be able to collapse them into fewer and broader categories. I chose to leave them separated into more and specific practices. Each of them has the corresponding verse listed as well.

1. Everyone is welcome (Col 3:11)
In Christ, we are all one. There is no discrimination of who can join us based on race, class, gender, age, income, etc. Whether implicitly or explicitly, we must resist the temptation to reject people who are different from us. Everyone is welcome.

Whether implicitly or explicitly, we must resist the temptation to reject people who are different from us. Everyone is welcome.

2. Treat one another well (Col 3:12-13; Eph 5:21)
There is a strong appeal to the way we treat one another. Paul tells us to have compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. Consistent with that disposition is an appeal to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. We are called to treat one another well.

3. Put on love, binding everything together (Col 3:14)
Specifically, we are called to love one another. Love for one another is a foundational way of viewing each other. It binds all these other ways of treating one another together in perfect harmony.

4. Grounded in Jesus' own love and forgiveness (Col 3:13; Eph 5:1)
Paul grounds our love and forgiveness for each other in the love and forgiveness of Jesus. We are compelled to treat one another the way that Christ has treated us.

5. Peaceful and Thankful hearts (Col 3:15, 16; Eph 5:20)
Thankfulness is an important attitude. The Bible often connects peace in Christ and thankfulness (Phil 4:6-7). When we consider the many things we have to be thankful for, most important among them is the new life we have in Jesus, we are also filled with His peace. Peace and thankfulness should be marks of how we engage with one another.

6. Read, Study and Teach God's Word (Col 3:16; Acts 2:42)
When we gather, it is important that we take time to study God's Word. The "word of Christ" and "the apostles' teaching" are phrases that when applied to our current context translate to the Bible. The Scriptures hold the word of Christ and the apostles' teaching. It is important that we read it, study it, teach it and help one another grow in wisdom.

7. Sing Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs (Col 3:16; Eph 5:19)
Another practice we are called to engage in is singing. I love to sing. I am not that great at it, but it is nourishing to my soul. A good song that is filled with the truths of God can raise my affections for Jesus in a unique way.

8. Everything in the name of Jesus, in thanks to God (Col 3:17)
When we gather, it isn't about us. It is about Jesus. It isn't about the preacher, no matter how good or famous. It isn't about the musicians, no matter how well they can rock a melody. It is about Jesus. Do everything in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God.

9. Be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18)
We often neglect the Holy Spirit in our lives, but He plays an essential role in what it means for us to follow Jesus. When we gather, we should consider whether we have been living by the power of God's Spirit. If not, then we should repent and be filled with the Spirit anew.

10. Breaking the bread (Acts 2:42)
The phrase "breaking the bread" likely has connotations here of both the Lord's Supper and also a shared meal. When we gather, we should celebrate the Lord's Supper together, remembering what Christ has done. We should also find ways to share in meals together as a community.

11. Prayer (Acts 2:42)
Prayer is essential to our life and it is also important for the church gathered. There are many ways to engage in prayer together. Through prayer requests, being led in prayer by a single person, taking time to pray in silence, pairing up and praying with someone next to you, and many other ways. When we gather, we should pray together.

12. Signs and Wonders (Acts 2:43)
In the book of Acts, it says that "many signs and wonders were being done through the apostles." There is no reason that God's power through miraculous events cannot be seen when the church is gathered. Pray that you would see God move in mighty ways through your church when it is gathered.

13. Caring for one another's needs (Acts 2:44-45)
The church is called to care for one another's needs in real and tangible ways. We should find avenues to serve one another, "as any has need." Again, this will look different in each local church context, but we are called to meet the needs of our fellow church members.

14. Glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46)
As we receive from one another, we should have glad and generous hearts. We should have hearts of gladness toward one another as we receive from one another in the church.

15. Lord added to their number (Acts 2:47)
When the church gathers in this way, God will add to our number those who are being saved. God wants people to be part of a community that will love and care for one another well. God wants people to be part of a community that will teach His word and sing songs of worship. Pray for God to add to your number those who are being saved, and be ready to help them grow.

Attitudes and actions

The practices listed above have both attitudes and actions associated with them. When the church gathers we are called to have both an attitude of meekness and also the action of singing worship together. We are called to have both the attitude of love and also the action of caring for one another. We are called to have an attitude of openness to all and also the action of inviting people to follow Jesus. We are called to certain attitudes and actions.

My challenge to you

As you finish this article, pray about which one practice listed above you want to be more intentional about when your own church community gathers. We are called to all of them, but just pray about one of them that you will be intentional to do the next time you gather. Pick one, and then ask God to help you follow through.

Then, tell us about it. In the comments below, let us know which one you have chosen and tell us about your experience the next time you gather.


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4 ways to think differently about what it means to "be the church"

Do you "fit"?

Do you ever wonder if you "fit" in church? I recently read an article about a young man who faithfully served his church for many years but eventually got burnt out and disillusioned. He wondered if the corporate church was the right place for him. And he is not alone in that sentiment. As a result, there are many people who are disengaged from their local church, others who jump from church to church hoping to find something different, and still others who leave the church all together.

There are many reasons that contribute to people making those choices. It isn't helpful to point the finger and blame any single entity. Individual people sometimes make bad choices because of poor motivations. People can also be disillusioned by a church culture that doesn't always resemble much of the vision God put forward in the Scriptures.

I am suggesting that one way we can help people engage in our church communities is to begin to think differently about what it means to "be the church."

photo cred: www.pixabay.com

photo cred: www.pixabay.com

4 ways to think differently about what it means to "be the church"

1. The church is people, not events or buildings

I think that most Christians get this - at least on an intellectual level. If our most faithful members were pressed to define what "the church" is in Biblical terms, most would give an answer that had something to do with people. But unfortunately that is not how we always function or use language. We often think of church as events or programs. We "go to church" on Sunday mornings. Or we think of it as a building or location. When I am scheduling a mid-week lunch meeting, sometimes people meet me "at church."

If we freed our church family to think of themselves primarily as a community of people sent to their city as Jesus' representatives in the world, how would that change what it means to "be the church." As I type this on my patio at home on a Monday afternoon, I am no less a part of my church family than when I was sitting in my office earlier today. When my community group members are in class or at work today, they were just as much a part of our church as when they are sitting in a pew on Sunday morning. And I don't just mean that they are part of the church as one of its identified members. When they are engaging their coworkers, classmates or neighbors, they are actually doing the work of the church as much as they are when they serve as Connections Team members on Sunday morning.

The church is people. Not events or buildings. Therefore, the work of the church is being done by those very people each and every day as they engage in their different spheres of influence. It is being done each and every day, not just when they come to participate in a program or event.

The church is people. Not events or buildings.

2. The church goes, it doesn't just wait for people to come

The local church is the locally gathered "sent ones" of God. We are called to go, not just wait. This means that to "be the church" in our city requires us to function outside the walls or programs of our church. We engage in our neighborhoods and communities in order to build relationships, seek the good of those around us and bring the message of Jesus with us.

We do organize events, ministries and programs that are oriented around normal meeting times. These are important for the life of a local church. For example, a Sunday morning gathering is part of the normal rhythm of most churches. It is an important time for the church to gather, study God's word, sing songs of praise and engage with one another. And people who are exploring faith may join us on Sundays to learn more about Jesus.

But the mission of the church is not complete just through our gatherings. God has called us to go. That means we go as individuals, families and smaller groups. This cannot be an organized event by church staff or leadership. Each member is empowered to carry the message of Jesus into their own neighborhoods and communities. This means that every member of the church plays a pivotal role in what it means to "be the church." Have we empowered everyone to carry that responsibility? Have we called everyone to the glorious task of going each week to their own spheres as Christ's "sent ones?" I think people would have a greater sense of purpose in their lives if they saw themselves as doing the work of the church in every part of their lives.

3. Serving the church includes loving our neighbors, not just volunteering in a church organized ministry

At First Baptist Church, we have been growing a wonderful and fruitful partnership with a ministry called In Love, Word and Deed (ILWD). I am so grateful to God for the way that we have worked together to serve the homeless of downtown Minneapolis. We regularly invite our church members to participate in this ministry. We also recently organized a number of opportunities for our church to serve together during #FBCServes.

While it is important for us to provide opportunities for our church to serve our local neighborhood, and while it is necessary for us to corporately serve our neighborhood as an expression of what it means to follow Jesus, it is not the only way to serve the church.

It is necessary for every member to know that their intentional work to love their neighbors is a way that they serve the mission of the church. Our church family serves each time one of our members serves by intentionally loving their own neighbors.

Your own church might be organizing opportunities for you to corporately serve together. You should find ways to engage in those opportunities, but you should also know that loving your neighbors well is no less important.

4. The mission of the church is God's glory, not our own fame

Ultimately, it isn't about us. It isn't about any individual person. It isn't about any individual family or group. It isn't about any one single church or association of churches. It is about God. We are seeking to make worshipers of God, so that He might receive all the glory and credit and fame.

This is worth all our time and talents. We are not trying to build up any single church or person. We do however want more and more people to enter into a life-saving relationship with Jesus and then live in worship to our great God.

4 Ways You can Help to Welcome Guests at Church on Sundays

Our guests are important

Each weekend in America, somewhere between 60 - 120 million people will attend some sort of church gathering. Among those who enter the doors of our church buildings, a small portion of them will be first-time guests. Are you prepared to welcome your guests and help them become engaged members of your church community, so that they will ultimately grow into mature disciples of Jesus?

Fewer and fewer Americans have an affinity for faith. The 60 - 120 million who will attend a church gathering make up only about 20-40 % of our entire country's population. The affinity for faith that people have changes as you move from region to region, but overall there are less and less people who will seek out your church on Sunday morning. Therefore, we cannot wait for them to come to us. We need to go to them. Church leaders will need to focus their energy in helping to train and equip their members to see themselves as representatives of Christ in their workplaces, neighborhoods and schools.

Even though we need to shift our mentality to think more missionally, that doesn't mean we should give up on our Sunday gatherings as a place where people can come and be reached. Sunday morning is still a time that people recognize as the time when churches gather. If the average American was asked when people attend church, they would likely answer Sunday morning. People who are searching for faith are still inclined to find a church service they might want to attend.

My church is located in an area of Minneapolis that has a lower than average connection to faith. Within a half mile of our church building, there are about 21,000 people. The overwhelming majority of whom are young urban professionals. The population block that makes us 70% of our neighbors only makes up about 3% of our country's entire population. Our average neighbor is not looking for a church, and as a result, our church community is considering our current ministry models to ask ourselves how we can be more effective at reaching them. We cannot expect them to come to us. That doesn't change the fact that we still have an average of 3-5 new guests each Sunday, most of whom live within walking distance of our church building.

Bottom line, even while the culture shifts around us and affinity for faith decreases, we still have new guests join us nearly every Sunday. Being intentional to welcome those guests and reach them is important. They have already crossed one of the most difficult barriers to engaging in faith. Be ready to welcome them, get them connected with your community and disciple them into maturity as a follower of Jesus.

Photo Cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/RO6SYEWM4S

Photo Cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/RO6SYEWM4S

4 ways you can be involved in welcoming guests

1. Everyone should feel responsible

Do you feel responsible to welcome guests on Sundays? You should. There might be a ministry at your church that organizes volunteers to help greet people. It can be easy to assume that those ministry volunteers have got it covered and therefore you shouldn't need to feel responsible. But this could not be further from the truth. Being greeted by someone who is supposed to greet you is not nearly as welcoming as having a friendly conversation with someone who is simply interested in getting to know you. Having volunteers committed to welcoming our guests is important, but it should not be a substitute from having a culture of everyone feeling responsible to welcome our guests.

When I was helping to plant a church in Fargo, ND, we intentionally resisted the urge to create a team of volunteers to greet. We did not want to give our current members an excuse to not welcome our guests. Because there was no assigned group to welcome people, everyone in our church felt responsible to be part of welcoming our guests.

If you are a ministry leader, help your congregation create a culture where everyone feels responsible to welcome your guests. Whether you are a ministry leader or not, you should feel personally responsible to welcome your guests. Try it this week. When you gather together this weekend, look for someone you don't know and introduce yourself. You can start with these two question:

Hello, my name is ____________. What is your name? (wait for their answer)

I don't believe we have met before, how long have you been coming to ________________ Church?

From there, you can just get to know them.

Do you feel responsible to welcome guests on Sundays? You should.

2. Don't just welcome, follow-up later

This is extremely important. Don't just welcome the new people, make a habit of following up again later. I recently read that if someone does not develop a meaningful relationship with someone from the church community (that isn't a pastor) within the first six months, they will probably not stick around. And can we blame them? Having meaningful community is central to what it means to be the church. We talk about community and say that it is a value we have, so if someone cannot develop community with anyone in the first six months, they are probably not coming back.

You can do this in a variety of ways. Invite them out to lunch after church with you and some friends. You could also ask for their email address or phone number and then follow-up with them later that week. Or you could just look for them the following week and make it a point to say hello (and remember their name).

3. Know how guests can get involved

Be aware of your church's opportunities for new people. At First Baptist Church, we have a gift bag for all of our new guests. If your church has something like that, be aware of it and direct the new people to where they can get their free gift. We also have a guest lunch every 5-6 weeks and a Starting Point class. Beyond that, we have a goal of getting people connected to one of our Community Groups and help them join one of our Serve Teams. Be aware of what opportunities exist in your church and help connect your guests to those opportunities. And maybe you are part of a Community Group yourself. If so, invite them to join yours and help them connect with a small community who are seeking to grow as followers of Jesus.

4. Join the welcome team at your church

If you really love to greet and welcome people, then consider volunteering to be part of your church's welcome team. Ours is called the Connections Team, and the mission of that team is to help our guests feel welcomed and loved. Find your church's team, and ask how you can help!

I intentionally listed this one fourth, because the best way to welcome our guests is to create a culture in which everyone feels responsible to be a welcoming presence. But that doesn't preclude the need for welcome teams, so consider joining the one at your church.

In summary, here are four ways you can help to welcome your guests on Sundays:

  1. Everyone should feel responsible (including you)
  2. Don't just welcome, follow-up later
  3. Know how guests can get involved
  4. Join the welcome team at your church

I want to hear from you

In the comments section below:

1. Tell us about a time that you helped to welcome someone to your church and were able to see them eventually get involved

Or

2. Tell us about a time that you felt welcomed when you first visited a new church.

The 5 ways Christians are called by God

Called by God

The staff team at First Baptist Church have been reading J. Oswald Sanders' classic book Spiritual Leadership together. We are only a couple chapters into the book so far, but I have personally enjoyed the book to this point. The most recent chapter discussed the need for leaders in the church who represent a Biblical vision of leadership. Sanders wrote, "If the world is to hear the church's voice today, leaders are needed who are authoritative, spiritual, and sacrificial (pg. 18 of the 2007 edition)."

Overall, the chapter was about the need for leaders who are prepared to serve God's people in God's ways. While it was not the main thrust of the chapter, there was also a sense of God calling these leaders forth. Moses, Gideon and David were all called by God to lead his people. They were not perfect and they had their flaws, but God used them in mighty ways.

This got me thinking, how are Christians called by God? Is there more than one type of call that a Christian might experience?

I began to think about my own life. I was first called by God in a chair at a youth conference in Steubenville, OH. The speaker shared the story of redemption as revealed through Scripture. He explained that God had created the world and loved his creation, but something had gone wrong. Sin had entered the world and broken the relationship that God had with his people. Because of our sin, God had to remedy the situation on our behalf through the person and work of Jesus. The speaker invited us to respond to the call of God and follow Jesus with our lives. It was there in Ohio that God gave me new life. It was there that God called me to be one of his followers.

I also received a very distinct call during my sophomore year in college. I had gone to North Dakota State University (Go Bison!) to be an architect, but God had other plans. While I sat in an auditorium, God called me into full-time vocational ministry. I didn't know how it would all work itself out, but I knew that God had invited me to a life of ministry. It would take ten more years before I was actually in a full-time vocational ministry position... Sometimes it requires patience to wait for God's timing. I was not always patient, but God remained faithful.

These are just two ways that I was personally called by God. But are there more ways that Christians might be called by God? I believe there are. I have come up with five different ways that Christians are called. I do not claim to have produced a complete and comprehensive list, but these may cause you to reflect more on the ways God has called you as a follower of Jesus.

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The 5 ways Christians are called by God

1. Called to follow Jesus

Our first and most important call is to follow Jesus. There is no more significant call we can receive than to follow Jesus. On the sea of Galilee Jesus called his first disciples to follow him. He said to Simon and Andrew, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men (Mt. 4:19)." If you follow Jesus, you have received that call. You may not remember it as a particular moment in time, but somewhere along your journey God called you. He woke you up from an eternal slumber. You went from death to life. Through Jesus, God "delivered us from the present evil age (Gal 1:4)." We often limit the notion of a "call" to just those who work in vocational ministry. But for anyone who follows Jesus, we have the most basic and most important call in common. The call to follow Jesus.

2. Called to be his witnesses

The moment you heeded the call to follow Jesus, you were also called to be his witness. Jesus told his first disciples, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8)." As followers of Jesus, we are called to be his witnesses in the world. It doesn't matter our profession, income level, marital status, age, race or any other factor. If we follow Jesus, we are called to be his witnesses. They go hand in hand. In the middle of Jesus' high priestly prayer he says that he has sent his followers into the world in the same way that God had sent Jesus into the world (Jn 17:18). We are all the sent ones of Jesus. The word "sent" here is the greek work apostello, which is where we get the word apostle. This doesn't mean that we are all "capital-A" Apostles. It doesn't even mean that we have all received the apostolic spiritual gifts. What it does mean, is that no matter who you are you are Jesus' sent one. You are called to be his witness in the world. You are called to represent him in word and deed through compassionate ministry and the clear communication of the gospel.

The moment you heeded the call to follow Jesus, you were also called to be his witness.

3. Called to church leadership

A third way that you might be called by God is to invest in your local church as a leader. There are varying degrees of investment you can make as a leader, and therefore varying degrees of call. We see this notion of call represented in Paul's letter to Timothy. Paul wrote about overseers (elders/bishops), "If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task (1 Tim 3:1)." The thrust of this verse is that a man will have aspirations of fulfilling this important role within the local church. I am suggesting that this aspiration comes as a result of God's call upon a man who desires that noble task. When we extrapolate this general principle, we can conclude that God may also be calling you to invest your time and talent into the local church by helping to lead a Community Group or other ministry team.

This call does not necessitate you make a change to vocational ministry. In fact, for the vast majority of people who feel called to local church leadership, it will mean the exact opposite. Many will pursue other professions or careers, while also helping to lead their local church. I have a particular friend in mind who feels a very distinct call to local church leadership, but not as a profession. He serves as an administrator in a public school and has a clear sense of call to that role. He also serves as an elder at a local church in Fargo, and provides fantastic leadership to a growing church plant. In my conversations with him, it was apparent that he has a clear sense of call to local church leadership while also serving as a school administrator.

God might be calling you to local church leadership, but it doesn't necessarily require you to change professions. Where might God be calling you to serve?

4. Called to your vocation

When I first began to write this post, this fourth call was going to be titled - "called to vocational ministry." But in fact, everyone is called to their vocation. Not just pastors or missionaries. When did God call you to your vocation? Do you feel a sense of call to your vocation? Martin Luther did some great work in this area to challenge Christians to view their own work as a vocation to which God has called you. If you are a lawyer, God has called you to that domain in order to bring God's Kingdom to bear on our justice system. If you are a teacher, God has called you to that domain in order to bring God's Kingdom to bear on our education system. If you are in a skilled trade, God has called you to that domain in order to bring God's Kingdom to bear on the craftsmanship of our world. Consider your own vocation. How has God called you there, and how can you see God using your work to bring glory to His name?

5. Called to a specific vocational ministry

When the third and fourth calls intersect, you might be called into ministry as a vocation. This may work itself out with you entering pastoral ministry, going overseas as a missionary or working on a college campus for a para-church ministry. In my own experience, it took ten years from when I first received a call to vocational ministry and actually entering into a full-time role. The call to a particular ministry will involve much prayer, discernment, counsel and the leading of God's spirit. This will also involve the clarity of others to help confirm that call. This process can take weeks, months or sometimes even years. But when God calls you, and you find your specific role, it is an awesome privilege. Do not take lightly the unique call to lead God's people into a vibrant faith in God.

How have you felt God's call upon your life?

I would love to hear your stories about how you experienced God's call. How where you called to follow Jesus? How have you seen God's call to be his witness work itself out in your life? Have you been called to church leadership? Include your own stories in the comments below.

Missional vs Attractional - must we choose?

I felt called into ministry while sitting in Askanase Auditorium on the campus of North Dakota State University. I was a Sophomore attending my Architecture class when God made it clear that I was not going to be an architect, but rather enter into full-time vocational ministry. I did not know how it would all work, but I knew I felt called.

As a result, I have spent a lot of time investing in various expressions of ministry over the past 10-15 years. One question that has been circulating in my mind is how the church relates to those outside of its community. Two common models that have been pitted against one another are the attractional and missional models of ministry. When I think about attractional, I think about big mega-churches like Willow Creek Community Church, North Point Community Church, or Eagle Brook Church. These churches have mastered the ability to create a Sunday morning worship environment which draws people from all around their cities. The missional model emphasizes the need for the people of a local church to carry the message of the gospel into their communities. You might think of one as more of a centripetal (attractional) force and the other as a centrifugal (missional) force. You might think of one as a more attractive force and the other as an expansive force.

Must we choose between a missional or attractional model? Can a local church be effective at both?

This is a question that has been nagging at me.

One will always gain more focus

There are some who would argue that you cannot successfully maintain both models. If we were to survey nearly any church leader about the merits of both attractional and missional models of church, they would likely say they want both to exist in their church community. They may even say they are actively striving for both to coexist in their church community. But some would argue that you cannot actually do it well. My perception is that they would say the attractional model will ultimately win out. Churches will eventually emphasize their programs and events, communicating to their congregation that their primary role is to invite people to church functions. This will undermine the missional spirit, which seeks to remind people that they are the church (not programs, buildings or paid staff) and are therefore called to be the church in their community.

Here is a great little video that explains the missional church. It has been created to emphasize the need for a missional church, with little to no favorable mention of the attractional model. It is definitely worth watching:

 

Do we see both in the Bible?

When I read the Scriptures, I see both attractional and missional elements coexisting. I see them coexist in the nation of Israel, in the life of Jesus and also in the early church.

The Nation of Israel

Missional - There are fewer examples of this in the Old Testament, although I think it has less to do with God's desire for Israel to be a centripetal force than it does with Israel's inability to consistently act in accordance with God's desires. God initially tells Abraham that he would be a great nation, and his descendants would be a blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:1-3). God also calls Jonah to go to Nineveh and proclaim repentance (Jonah 1:1-2).

Attractional - People came from surrounding nations to seek the wisdom and blessing of God through Israel's leaders and prophets. The Queen of Sheba comes to seek the wisdom of Solomon (1 Kings 10:1-13). Also, Naaman the commander of the army of the king of Syria comes to Israel to find Elisha so that he could be healed from leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-14).

In the Life of Jesus

Missional - The most significant example in the life of Jesus is simply that he came. Jesus came in human form. God did not require us to find our way to Him ourselves, He made a way through Jesus. We also see Jesus send out the twelve apostles (Mk 6:7-13), the seventy-two disciples (Lk 10:1-12) and ultimately all of his disciples through the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20

Attractional - Jesus was an attractive figure. Crowds followed him wherever he went, and when they did he often taught them and healed them. When Jesus tried to get away with his disciples to rest, he was followed by a great crowd and ended up preaching and teaching and feeding the five thousand (Mk 6:30-44). You can page through the gospels and find numerous occasions in which a crowd has surrounded Jesus.

In the Life of the Early Church

Missional - Paul is a great example of a missional life. He said that he wanted to preach where the gospel had not yet been named (Rm 15:20). He went on many missionary journeys and was always proactive to share the good news of Jesus. As the early church spread, there are multiple examples of the gospel spreading through people carrying the message while going on their way.

Attractional - The early church was also extremely attractive. In Acts 2:42-47, the fellowship of believers is described in a way that is compelling. I don't know who wouldn't want to be part of that type of community. And it says that "the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:27)." There was something attractive about the church community, and people wanted to be part of it.

So then, is it possible to have both?

I am still an advocate for both models to coexist in a local church community. Our communities must be attractive. Frankly, I wouldn't want to be part of a local community that isn't attractive. This does not mean that we need to sell out to the attractional model, or that we should communicate in such a way that programs and events become the pulse of our church community. But our communities should be welcoming and accessible to people. We need to be conscious and aware, so that we can reduce the barriers that exist for those outside of our community to engage with our church. We should have a great team of people who greet our guests on Sundays. We should have small groups that become a point of access for others to engage with our fellowship. We should strive to be a church community that is attractive to others.

It cannot end there. Everyone in our church community must start seeing themselves as the church in their community. Our local churches are not buildings or programs or paid staff. Our local churches are the people themselves, who have decided to commit to our church and claim it as their own. We need to train, equip and encourage everyone in our church to carry the message and blessing of the gospel to their own little spheres of influence. Each of our church members gets the privilege of being the church in their workplaces, schools, neighborhoods and anywhere their lives inhabit. This is a message that we need to communicate clearly and consistently.

The question still lingers for me though. Can we actually have both? If we pursue both, will we inevitably sell out to the attractional model? In order to be missional, do we need to sell out to that model instead? I am resisting the need to chose. I want to chose both.

Let me know your thoughts?

What do you think? Can we have both? Or do we need to chose? I would love to hear from you in the comments section below.

On a bus in Bangkok

Photo Cred: Pixabay.com

Photo Cred: Pixabay.com

On a bus in Bangkok

In the wake of the Tsunami that devastated South East Asia around Christmas of 2004, in an effort to help with relief efforts, Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) decided to send a team of 100 students from across the country to partner with the Thailand Cru ministry. I had the privilege of representing North Dakota State on that team, and it forever changed my life. It was the first time I had ever left the country (other than going to Canada). It was the first time I had been on a plane, other than a flight to Florida at the age of five which I cannot remember. I had to get a passport. I had to get a new suitcase. I had to raise money for travel expenses and to help fund the relief effort. I grew up in a small town in central Minnesota and went to a medium sized university in North Dakota. My general experience had been largely mono-cultural. Through this trip my eyes were opened to the world.

I got to experience a new culture. I got to spend time in non-western cities. I got to interact with people who had a completely different worldview and experience than me. It was life changing. Following that trip, I traveled overseas for various types of missions trips multiple times before graduating college (I have been to the capital city of four different countries, but never my own), and spent many years seriously considering and praying about long-term missions. The burden God placed on my heart for the world has not changed, and I think it is important for all Christians to be aware of the state of global missions.

Sitting on a bus in Bangkok, a student from Iowa leaned over to me and asked me if I had ever taken the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course. I had not, and he recommended that I should, so when I got back to the states I emailed the directors of the Cru ministry at NDSU, suggesting that we look into bringing the Perspectives course to Fargo. Incredibly, one of their roommates was actually in the process of helping to plan a new session of the course for the next fall. It was clear to me that God was calling me to take the course, so I did, and I got some of my friends to take it with me. The Perspectives course is a 15-week course, with 15 different instructors and some fantastic reading materials that takes a student through the Biblical, historical, cultural and strategic perspectives on missions. If you have not taken the course, then try to find one in your city. Here is a link. Be careful though, taking this course may change your life.

These are just a few of the experiences that have shaped my heart for missions. There are a lot of great resources and opportunities to grow in your own experience and understanding of God's heart for missions.

Watch one of these videos

Do you want to expand your understanding of missions? I recently came across some great resources that you might enjoy. Here are three videos that are each about 3-6 minutes. Each of them provides information we should all be aware of about missions

Do you want to expand your understanding of missions?

The Biblical Basis for Missions

The first one is about the Biblical Basis for Missions. It is the longest of the three, and it traces God's heart for missions throughout the entire arc of the Biblical narrative. It is a great video to watch:

The Task Remaining

This video helps to describe the task remaining. It is a sobering picture of where most of our resources go with regard to missions. It is worth watching. How does this change the way that you engage with missions?

Defining Unreached People Groups

You may hear the term Unreached People Groups thrown around from time to time. This will help give you a better understanding of what people mean when they use that phrase.



Investing in an apprentice

What happens when...

What happens when a community group grows beyond its capacity? What happens when too many people are sitting around the room, and intimacy and engagement begins to wane? Where is there space in our current church structure for new and growing leaders to be trained, equipped and empowered to lead a community group themselves?

Each of these questions is multi-layered, requiring answers that consider numerous elements. If you are leading a community group, you can provide a tangible step to help answer those questions in the form of an intentional decision to invest in an apprentice.

Why invest in an apprentice?

Investing in an apprentice within the context of your current community group serves our church in two primary ways.

First, it gives a place for new leaders to develop. Growing and thriving churches invest in the development of new leaders who can help us press forward in serving God's mission in our community and world. Further, if we do not have a place for young and talented people to express their leadership gifts, they will find a new church where they can serve.

Second, it provides additional leaders that will allow us to multiply our current community groups when they grow beyond a manageable size. The newly trained apprentice can venture out and start a new group with a few of the current members of your community group. This allows our groups to maintain a high level of engagement, because they are not too large. It also creates new groups that new people can join.

The perfect context for training

The context of a current community group is the perfect place for an apprentice to be trained and formed. For example, I could invest 10-20 hours with a person in my office in order to prepare them to lead a community group. They could certainly learn some beneficial skills, tips and techniques from me, but never get to see them play out in an actual community group.

Or, a current leader could provide mentoring, encouragement and tangible experience for the apprentice within the context of an existing community group. This actually mirrors most training protocols. How many people would want a dentist to attempt to stick a drill into their mouth without some form of an apprenticeship process? Without a bit of practice? Sitting in a classroom is not sufficient training for a dentist to learn the practical skills necessary to conduct the technical skills required in their profession. A dentist, surgeon, electrician, etc. often have some element to their training where they are actually practicing the skill in a safe and controlled setting, with the mentoring and support of someone with more experience. We want to provide the same type of experience to prepare our future community group leaders.

The model of Jesus

Even more, we see this modeled in Jesus' own ministry. After Jesus called the Twelve Apostles, he spent countless hours with them. He provided instruction to them, they observed him in ministry and eventually Jesus sent them out to do the same. In Mark 6:7-13, Jesus sends out the Twelve Apostles. In Mark's brief description of this process, it is noted that the Twelve Apostles preached repentance, casted out demons and healed the sick (v. 12-13). Upon reading the five chapters that proceed this passage in Mark, it is clear that these are the same primary activities Jesus engaged in throughout his own ministry. Jesus called his disciples, he gave them instruction, spent time with them, modeled ministry for them and then sent them out to do it themselves.

What next?

What do you do now? Before you rush off and invite someone to be your next apprentice. Take some time to pray about who God might be calling you to invest in as a future leader. The person may not always seem like the natural choice, or necessarily your first choice. Be patient, be in prayer and listen to the Holy Spirit's leading.

Once you believe you have some clarity about who you might want to invest in as an apprentice, then invite them into the process with you.