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.

A Simple Rule Every Leader Should Follow

Leadership is not always simple, and it is never easy. When someone steps up to lead, they will likely have arrows volleyed in their direction. They are certain to have sleepless nights and will probably encounter difficult fights. Leadership isn't always simple, and it is never easy, but it can definitely be worth the cost. Especially when our leadership energies are spent in the service of God's glory and the good of others.

This isn't an article about the worthiness of leadership, or to encourage you in your leadership struggles. But I will present one simple rule for leaders to follow. It is a rule that will not always be easy to execute, nor will it always reap immediate rewards. However, it is essential for good leadership and a rule that every leader should follow.

Here is the rule: Leadership means bearing the blame and sharing the love

Jim Collins, author of one of the best business leadership books of the last few decades (Good to Great), explains in the Harvard Business Review that all great organizations are led by a level five leader, someone who has personal humility and professional will. When he further explains what personal humility is, he says that a level five leader is someone who, "demonstrates a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation; never boastful." Additionally, a level five leader is someone who, "looks in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck."

The qualities of personal humility Jim Collins describes can be summed up with one simple rule, leadership means bearing the blame and sharing the love. Quality and Biblical leadership certainly requires more than this one simple rule, but absolutely nothing less.

Leader's bear the blame 

Bearing the blame means that you genuinely take personal responsibility when people or projects under your leadership do not go well. It is not fake responsibility. Leadership is not putting on a performance or pretending to bear the blame, in an effort to give the appearance of mock humility. It means that you actually feel responsible for your leadership. Good leadership means taking responsibility for the people and projects you lead.

It does not mean that you take on the failure of others in order to avoid the hard conversations you need to have with them. However, it does mean that you are willing to look at your own failures first, before blaming others. And even if someone else has been a big part of the problem, you don't slander them publicly to relieve your shame, but you bear the blame before others.

Leaders share the love

Leaders bear the blame when failures come, and they share the love when there is success. Again, this is not acting or pretending - it is not fake humility. A quality leader really does value the contributions of others and wants to share the love and applause. When leaders are complimented publicly, they do not possess a gravitational pull that draws all praise for themselves. They are more like a prism, reflecting the praise onto others.

Their humility is not self-degradation. It is not fake humility. It is not the minimizing of what they and their team has accomplished. They just don't need the public adulation to feel accomplished. They are not working so hard in order to receive the worship of the masses. Their identity and worth is found elsewhere. And at its most basic level, it is found in Jesus.

Leadership means bearing the blame and sharing the love.

The way of Jesus

Jim Collins did not invent these leadership rules - there is "nothing new under the sun." He observed them in the best leaders and then organized those observations in a clear and compelling fashion. These leadership principles go back to the dawn of time, and are seen so clearly in the person, work and teaching of Jesus.

I could write a book on the way Jesus exhibits the humility necessary to bear the blame and share the love. After all, that is precisely what happened on the cross. Jesus bore the blame for the whole world. He took the sin of the world upon himself. And it didn't end there, he didn't just bear our blame, he spread his love in the form of giving away his righteousness. Anyone who trusts in Christ can know that Jesus bore the blame of their sin and loved them through sharing his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The type of humility necessary to be an excellent leader is seen clearly in the words of Jesus:

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." - Mark 10:42-45

Jesus teaches us that true leadership, and greatness in the Kingdom of God is marked by humility and service to others. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. And this is seen clearly in his willingness to give up his own life as a ransom for many.

A simple rule every leader must live by: Leadership means bearing the blame and sharing the love.

Not an easy rule to follow.

But a simple one.

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?

Technology I use: Feedly

I enjoy technology. Probably too much at times. It can be a distraction for me, but I have also found ways to use it in my personal life and my ministry. Every now and again, I would like to share a piece of technology that has been helpful for me.

Posts in the Series


What is Feedly?

Do you read blogs? Do you wish you read them more? Feedly helps you keep up with your favorite blogs, all in one place. It has a slick and clean format which makes reading within the application very easy. It also gives you the ability to create custom categories to organize the blogs you follow. This has allowed me to follow about 70 blogs, while only having six in my "favorites" category.

Photo Cred: https://pixabay.com/en/man-reading-touchscreen-blog-791049/

Photo Cred: https://pixabay.com/en/man-reading-touchscreen-blog-791049/

Feedly is available on multiple platforms. It can be downloaded for iOS and Android, or it can be run through a web browser. I personally use it on my iPhone and through my chrome browser. It also has a built in ability to share a post through facebook, twitter, email, etc. It even has an Evernote integration, but that requires you to upgrade to one of their paid versions, which I have not done.

Why I use it

I use Feedly because there is far too much great content on the web for me to keep track of without a blog reader. I used to use Google Reader, but when Google discontinued their own reader I switched over to Feedly, with the approximately 500,000 other people in under 48 hours.

There is far too much great content on the web for me to keep track of without a blog reader.

I go through phases when I keep up with my Feedly more or less often, but it is always there when I come back. It keeps my content ready to read and remains a great resource to see what others are writing. I read blogs about leadership, faith, ministry, books, finance, blogging, family, marriage, missions, etc, and they help me grow in my faith, ministry and life.

Photo Cred: https://pixabay.com/en/read-ebook-education-hand-book-876536/

Photo Cred: https://pixabay.com/en/read-ebook-education-hand-book-876536/

There is so much out there to read. If I find a blog that contains high quality content, I usually add it to Feedly to see if they post anything else worth reading. And with Feedly, it is really easy to do!

Recommended blogs

You might be asking, what are some of my favorite blogs? Allow me to share a some with you:

Between Two Worlds

This is a blog by Justin Taylor. He will sometimes post some of his own material, but he is often a curator of content and other happenings within Christianity. I appreciate his insights and he often shares very pertinent and important information.


This is the online home of Tim Challies, a pastor, blogger and reviewer of books. Tim often has great articles to read about a variety of topics. He also reviews books and displays great discernment when it comes to reading. Each fall he hosts an online reading group that reads classic Christian books, he posts a daily thread with links to other blogs he found interesting and every Friday he does a giveaway to the people who sign-up.

Desiring God

This is a compilation blog with many different writers. The content is always very Biblical and points its readers toward a glorious view of God. I have a deep appreciation for the ministry of John Piper and he also writes for this blog on a fairly regular basis.

Deyoung, Restless and Reformed

This is the blog of Kevin DeYoung. He is a pastor and author in East Lansing, MI. One day, I think he may be regarded as one of the greatest writers of our generation. I wish I could write as well as him. He writes with deep insight and does it in a way that captures the reader.

Michael Hyatt's Intentional Leadership

Michael Hyatt is the former CEO of Tomas Nelson Publishers. He blogs twice a week and produces a podcast once a week. He covers topics about leadership, productivity, intentionality, platform building, etc. If you are an aspiring leader, blogger or author, I think you would enjoy his content.


This blog is primarily about communication, specifically about writing and preaching. I have really enjoyed the content on this blog, but it has not been updated much lately. The old content is still worth exploring, and if he begins to update more often, you will likely enjoy the new content as well.

Think Theology

There are multiple authors that write for this blog out of England, but I have particularly enjoyed the writings of Andrew Wilson. He is a bit cheeky, but has a high intellect and gives great insights. This is one of my newer favorites.

How to get started?

Getting started with Feedly is fairly easy. I would encourage you to head over to www.feedly.com and get yourself an account today. It would be a great way to keep up with the blogs you follow, including mine. Here is a short video tutorial about how to get it set-up.

The most difficult thing Jesus taught about leadership

The task of leadership

Leadership is one of the most widely discussed topics today, but also remains one of the least understood. We have entire degrees orientated around the concept of leadership. Seminaries have Doctor of Ministry degrees focused entirely on leadership. Harvard Business School has a Leadership Initiative dedicated to developing leaders. Leadership is sought after all around us but it does seem to be an elusive search at times.

Failure in leadership is seen in the news constantly. It happens with political leaders who embezzle money, abuse their power or have an affair. We see it in the corporate world as companies fail to successfully transition from one leader to the next. And unfortunately, it is commonly seen within the church as well - leaders within the church have had some very public and brutal failures.

We research leadership and try to understand what makes it work. But sometimes it feels like we are trying to close our hands around a vapor of air. It can be seen. It can be observed. But we cannot seem to get our hands around it and grab on.

Well, I don't promise to have all the answers. I am sometimes the one who is squeezing my fists around the vapor of air that is leadership, while failing to truly grasp anything. But Jesus did have a thing or two to say about leadership. One of the most difficult things Jesus taught us is that true leadership is primarily about serving.

Photo Cred: http://freelyphotos.com/deep-in-thought/

Photo Cred: http://freelyphotos.com/deep-in-thought/

Greatness in the kingdom is about serving

"And Jesus called them to him and said to them, 'You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. (Mark 10:42-44 ESV)'"

Immediately before Jesus spoke these words, he was approached by two of his disciples with a request. James and John asked if they could sit at Jesus' right and left hand when he came into his glory. James and John wanted the privileged seats. They wanted to be made much of in the kingdom. But Jesus uses this as a teaching moment.

He explains that greatness in the kingdom of God is not about having a place of position or authority. It is not about exercising that authority like the rulers of the Gentiles, but it is about serving. It is about getting beneath someone else and placing their needs above our own. Do you prioritize the needs of God and others above your own? That is what good leaders do. They care more about the fame of God's name than their own. And they care more about the needs of others than their own.

In the end, your leadership isn't about you. It never was. And it never should be.

Jesus is our example

As Jesus explains this essential quality of what it means to lead in God's Kingdom, he uses himself as the chief example. Jesus says, "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many (Mk 10:45)." If there was anyone in all of history who had the right to demand the service of others, it was Jesus. But that was not his way. He came in humility and gave up his own life to pay the ransom that we owed. Jesus has canceled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. He nailed them to the cross (Col 3:14). Even though Jesus could have demanded much from the world, he did the exact opposite. Jesus could have demanded everything the world had to give, but instead he gave everything the world lacked. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. And his humble sacrifice is our greatest example of servant leadership.

In the end, your leadership isn’t about you. It never was. And it never should be.

God's economy is different than the worlds

Servant-leadership stands in opposition to the natural ways of the world. I have often heard about the concept of servant-leadership, but it is a hard concept to truly embrace. It does not reconcile with the natural way of thinking. When James and John approached Jesus about having the privileged seats in the interest of securing their own greatness, Jesus did not tell them they were wrong for seeking greatness, only that they were looking for it in the wrong place. He goes on to tell them that greatness comes from serving. Greatness equals Serving!?!? These two concepts do not reconcile well with conventional wisdom. But the ways of God are not the ways of man. His ways are other.

I have been challenged personally to focus more on the concept of servant-leadership. I want to be diligent to reorient my mind so that I see leadership through the lens of Jesus. In my pursuit of leadership, I am seeking to be more of a servant. To be more interested in the desires of God and the goodness of others than I am in my own self-seeking pursuits.

A recommended resource

I mentioned above that there is a lot of research and thinking being done in the area of leadership. Overall, this is a good thing. It just hasn't always yielded the results we hope.

I do want to recommend the resources of at least one individual though. Dr. Justin Irving is a professor at Bethel Seminary, and I had the privilege of taking some courses from him. I have heard it said by John Piper that you don't pick a seminary for its location or its library. You pick a seminary for its professors. One of the reasons Bethel Seminary is worth choosing is because of Dr. Irving. He helps to lead a D.Min program at Bethel Seminary focused on Servant Leadership, which would we worth checking out. Or you can just head to his website at www.irvingresoruces.com and read some of his resources on leadership. Many of them are written in an academic way, but still very accessible and worth reading.

[Please note: I did not receive anything from Dr. Irving or Bethel Seminary for recommending them, I just genuinely believe that Dr. Irving is the real deal. He loves Jesus. He is passionate about servant-leadership. And from what I have observed, he lives it out in his life.]

I would love to hear from you

In the comments below:

  • Share one example of servant leadership you have seen in the life of someone else


  • Share any recommended resources that have helped you grow as a servant leader

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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.


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.

4 qualities to look for when investing in a future leader

Are you thinking about growing new leaders?

If you are leading a church, a small group or any other small team, one thing you should be doing is looking for future leaders to develop. If you are helping to lead anything, I hope you are planning to invest in a future leader who can take your place or lead something new in the future. If you are not, then you should. For example, if you are leading a small group, there is likely someone in your group who could one day lead a group themselves. Ask yourself how you can help them grow into that role. If you are leading the greeting ministry at your church, consider who might be able to help lead the ministry one day - or even take it over.

This is important for two reasons. First, you will not be around to continue in leadership forever. Either through unforeseen circumstances or through a planned transition, someone else will take over leadership. Second, if they do not take over for you, they might be able to put their leadership to use in another area of life.

This is especially important with small groups. As a pastor who works with our small groups ministry, I know first hand that having even more qualified and capable leaders would be a gift to our church. We would be able to create more new groups that people can join to help disciple them toward maturity in Christ.

It is also important to note that no area of leadership is too small to consider how you can invest in future leaders. You may not feel like your role is that significant, but whatever pocket of life you have leadership within, you can invest in others who can grow in their own leadership as well.

Great leaders invest in future leaders.

Great leaders invest in future leaders. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins distinguishes between what he calls a level 5 leader and a level 4 leader. There were  a few different qualities that distinguished them, but one of them was their willingness to grow and invest in future leaders.

Photo Cred: Pixabay.com

Photo Cred: Pixabay.com

I have limited time - who do I invest in?

We have to acknowledge the fact that we all face the challenge of the limited resource called time. We do not have endless amounts of time, and a good portion of our time is already devoted to other commitments. If we are going to intentionally invest time in growing future leaders, we need to have some way of evaluating where to invest that time.

Ultimately, every human being is worth the investment of our time, because every human being has intrinsic worth and value as men and women who were created in the image of God. It is entirely possible that God may call you to invest time in someone who doesn't seem to fit all the qualities of a leader that we typically consider. If so, then be obedient to God's call.

If you are asking yourself how to evaluate whether you should invest in someone as a future small group leader for example, I would suggest that you consider four particular qualities. These four qualities are not comprehensive, and other qualities must also be considered. Each role may require different skills and experience. For me personally, these four qualities need to be present if I am going to spend a considerable amount of time in helping to train a new leader.

4 qualities of someone to invest in as a future leader

1. Reliable

Are they going to do what they say they will do? When you ask them to read something or prepare something, do they get it done? It is important that they have good follow through and are people you can count on. If they agree to something, you want to be confident it will happen. For example, if you both agree to read certain chapters in a book and then get together to discuss them, you want to know they will come prepared. Or if you set a time to meet, you want to know they will actually show up. It is frustrating to invest time in someone who cannot follow-through. 

This will eventually hurt their own leadership as well. People have a hard time following someone who is not reliable. If I tell my small group that I am going to do something, and then consistently don't follow-through, I will begin to lose their trust. They may still like me as a person, but they will not be able to count on me. Especially in our Western-American culture, being reliable is a high value.

If you are going to take the time to invest in someone, you want to know you can count on them.

2. Available

Not everyone has the time to grow into a new leadership role. School, work, family and many other things require our time. If you are going to invest in someone new as a leader, you need to know that they actually have the time to do what will be required. Someone can have all the skills, talents and experiences necessary, but if they do not have the time to invest in their new role, then they will be ineffective. Before you invite someone to a new leadership role, or before you commit a large amount of time to help train them, be sure you have had an honest conversation about whether they are able to commit the time necessary.

3. Faithful

Are they committed and faithful? This is different from reliable in that it is less about their ability to follow-through and more about their desire to endure. Are they going to stick around when it gets tough? Will they be here in a year from now when the luster of a new role has worn off? Will they show up week in and week out, even if it isn't glamorous? Are they going to be faithful to you and to the team they are hoping to lead? We need leaders who will be faithful to their role and the investment we are planning to make in them.

4. Teachable

This is extremely important. If someone is worth investing in, then they should have a desire to grow and learn. Good leaders are humble and willing to learn. If someone thinks they have it all figured out, then they are not the sort of people you want to spend your time investing in. The Bible says, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5)." One of the qualities to look for in someone worth investing in as a future leader is a teachable spirit. It requires humility and an eagerness to continue growing.

Wrapping it up

These four characteristics can make a nice little acronym - RAFT. There are other acronyms that you can make with these letters as well, but this is the one I prefer. If you really want to keep going with the acronym, you can play with the word raft. You can ask yourself if this is someone you want to invite onto the "raft" of leadership with you? Don't overdo it though! This acronym/analogy could spin out of control pretty quick...

If you are serving in a leadership role, these four qualities should not only define the type of person you are going to invest in, they should also define you. Are these four qualities true of yourself? This would be a great question to consider over the coming days and weeks.

Leading Beyond the First Layer

Now that we have the Mark series launched at First Baptist Church, and the content to support the series is flowing, I thought I would begin providing some more resources for the general leadership of your groups. If you did want to learn more about the Mark series, you can check out the Mark page here.

I previously posted about investing in an apprentice. As a leader of your group, it is extremely important that you are raising up new leaders. This means that you are not just leading your group as they study the Scriptures together, pray for one another, care for one another, encourage one another and engage in God’s mission together. As a group leader, you also provide personal leadership to particular people who might be future group leaders themselves.

This type of leadership requires us to go even one step further. We lead beyond the first layer. When I say this, I mean that we are not just concerned with our apprentice, but also the people in their lives. We are not just concerned with leading the apprentice, but also the people they are leading. Therefore, our conversations need to help us consider who our apprentice is investing in with their own lives. Here are some practical ways to do that:

  1. Know your apprentice first. We want to lead beyond the first layer, but first we have to actually lead at the first layer. Ask good questions. Invest in their lives. Know how their relationship with Jesus is going. Know how their relationship with their spouse is going. Know how their relationship with the children are going. Know them first.

  2. Know who your apprentice is investing in. Get to know their heart for their friends, their family, their neighbors, their co-workers, their classmates. Who are they investing in. Know their Relational Sphere of Influence (RSI). (more explanation of RSIs to come in future weeks). To begin, just know the people your apprentice cares about.

  3. Help your apprentice clarify who they want to invest in. We could all use some clarity surrounding who we feel compelled to invest in. Help your apprentice think through this question, and know who these people are. As we think about the groups we are leading, it is important for our apprentice to invest in at least one other person from the group in an intentional way. Who is that person?

  4. Equip your apprentice to invest in them well. Help provide the resources, skills and feedback necessary for your apprentice to feel confident in their ability to lead others as they invest in them.

  5. Encourage your apprentice as they invest. We all need encouragement. When you see your apprentice doing something well, give positive feedback. Encourage the positive steps they are taking. No matter how small it is, find something to celebrate in your apprentice each time you meet with them or interact with them.

  6. Provide accountability to your apprentice for their investment in others. We all need someone to help hold us accountable to the goals we have. Ask your apprentice how it is going, and do not let it slide by not talking about it.

If we are training someone to provide leadership to a new group, they must be able to lead others. We can help our apprentice either start or continue their investment in others. It is an important element to raising up new leaders of any kind. We must be concerned with not only the people we lead, but the people they are leadingl. We must lead beyond the first layer.

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.