The Right Conversation

So many people long for more in their lives.

Some simply settle. They resign themselves to believe things can’t be any better than they are because of any number of factors, and that’s all there is to it. I want more, but I can’t get it.

Some people aspire to more and actually take steps to become more of what they believe matters. Typically, this involves finding someone who is getting the results they want in their lives. Maybe that is being a better mom or dad. Maybe it is developing at work. Maybe it is shifting an organization. Maybe it is letting go of a past hurt or betrayal.

Whatever it is, many people try to find someone who has what they want for the purpose of finding out what they do. And then they do it. That is good. My wife and I have found many people over the years whom we have wanted to emulate in many facets — some in spiritual life or understanding of the Bible, some in how to be a better parent, and some in finances or leadership.

This is good. I think living models of what we want to become are critical for our success. But there is something here that can be deceptive and have the appearance of wisdom, but will ultimately miss the mark.

Let’s take fitness. Let’s say I want to be fit. I find a trainer or a friend who is a body builder and talk to them about what they do or what they think I should do. I mimic the actions, and the downside is that it has some success. This is called a behavioral model of transition.

But here is the critical piece: It isn’t sustainable to maintain this progress unless I also adopt the mindset driving the decisions my friend is making. What will inevitably happen is that I will stop or slip or not eat right or something, unless I understand the mindset that lets this person be successful at working out and eating right over the long haul.

This is true with parenting. It is also true with leadership, friendship, marriage, and everything else we do. Mimicking others has some value initially, but we must understand and own the mindset driving the actions if we want it to be sustainable.

If we don’t grab the right mindset, then we won’t sustain the right results.

Taking Back My Power

“We are so convinced that how we think and feel about other people is caused by them, by what they have or haven’t done, by how inconsiderate they have been to us, or how judgmental and so on. … But this [isn’t] true. I see people the way I see them because of me.” (from The Outward Mindset by The Arbinger Institute)

I wish I could blame others (for everything except my successes — I want full credit for those). But anytime things don’t work out in my favor, it is never my fault. When I am stuck, I am stuck because I am powerless to make things different. My parents failed me, my spouse failed me, and maybe my closest friends and kids and coworkers and everyone around me let me down. That is why I am stuck and helpless to do anything but just sit and wish I was in a better spot in my life.

People live in this false reality all the time. Organizations — even “faith-based” ones — seem to be more influenced by hurt and misperception than the simple truth that when I look around my life and everyone else is the problem, I am the problem. I am not powerless to change that truth. In fact, I am the only one who can actually do anything about it. That is the good news.

The bad news is, I am the only one who can do anything about it. The double-edged sword of truth in my life is that how I choose to move through life is entirely dependent on my choice. Will I truly move through life with biblical, God-centered values and treat people in a way consistent with the Kingdom standards we are taught and modeled through the life of Jesus? Or will I let my brokenness drive how I react and respond to people and situations in life?

For many of us who call ourselves Jesus followers, we even begin to use the Bible as a weapon in these kinds of discussions. Traumatic damage can ensue.

I will offer some disjointed thoughts as I process this in my own life:

  • Maybe it’s time for us “sword of truth” carriers to fall on our own swords and let them penetrate our own hearts instead of slashing others with them.
  • Maybe my situation isn’t about the problems others — even bosses — create for me. Maybe its time to choose to enter into those situations correctly, regardless of the outcome.
  • I am far more powerful to do things than my brokenness would have me believe.
  • In order to realize that truth, I need people who refuse to allow me to settle for the lies sin tells me.

May you have the courage to act first. May you take back your personal ability to act and react correctly without concern for how anyone else deals with your situation. May you learn to see people as people, not as problems or objects. And may you let go of the lies the past tells you about the people around you.

Join God in His Work

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” (John 5:19, ESV)

This is not a new idea, but it may need a new application. Making disciples is a lifelong pursuit for me and for many of us who work in vocational ministry. I often find myself in conversations about disciple-making and how we can accomplish the mission of “reaching the world for Jesus, one person at a time.” I love these talks and I love the passion with which men and women attack this topic. It is a joy for me to see people everywhere wholeheartedly sold out to God’s Kingdom, His work, and His results.

There is a nuance to this conversation that is indeed subtle on the surface, but profound in execution; I would like to offer it here and hopefully empower each of us in helping others become everything God intended them to be. It is not flashy, but it will change everything about how we develop and lead disciples to make disciples.

“What is your process?” I get this question at least twice a week, and usually much more. How do we make disciples? How do we program for maximum disciple-making effectiveness? How should we staff for disciple-making? How should we budget for disciple-making? What should we teach in our small groups or classes — or sermons? These are all good questions, and they are helpful. Wrestling with these topics will help a church become better at facilitating disciples who are making disciples.

But therein lies the rub. While we have set the church up structurally to succeed, we haven’t necessarily given the proper tools and attitudes for a person to be able to succeed at making disciples.

So what about our “SCMD” process? It is also helpful. It helps me understand how people mature and develop. It gives me a way to answer three very fundamental questions about disciple-making: where are they, what do they need, and where can they go to get it?

But there is something below the surface here that doesn’t get enough attention. In the moment of the conversation — the real arena of making disciples — am I aware enough of what God is doing to be able to respond to His leading? I told you, it isn’t flashy. But this may very well be the single most important part of making disciples. Without the presence of God in the conversation, no process will work. And if I am dialed in to the Holy Spirit’s work in the moment, perhaps any process we use can be effective. I wonder if sometimes in our making of disciples, we get lost in strategizing and programming and branching and growing and we miss the amazing presence of God in the moment. I know I struggle to stay focused on that.

It takes a different level of engagement in the conversation for me. It takes a different kind of question. It takes a different commitment to walking the journey with others, regardless of the process.

Processes aren’t bad. They are necessary and can be very useful. But the very thing that gives us power for living, wisdom for making decisions, and awareness of how we can grow in Christ is the Holy Spirit living and working in us. I wonder if we don’t sometimes want process at the expense of relationship — with God and others. And maybe those relationships were the point to begin with.

Next time you are in a “disciple-making” conversation, try being fully engaged and present with the person and the Holy Spirit. See what happens. It may very well change everything you thought about how to make disciples well.

Three Core Values

Leadership is a sacred but slippery path. Holding influence over other people is scary and intoxicating at the same time. It is hard to think about the potential damage that can come from poor leadership. So with that in mind, I want to give us three core values to run any church by. This will help in decision making at all levels.

Protect God’s Reputation at All Costs

Protecting God’s reputation has to be the number one priority for any church or faith based organization. This answers all kinds of questions, like when we speak up about a community issue and when we are silent, or how we treat difficult neighbors, or what community events do we get involved in.

God doesn’t need us to protect Him; He can take care of Himself. But He does invite us to partner with Him in restoring what sin has broken in creation. Paul says we are Christ’s ambassadors as though Christ were making His appeal through us. If that is the case, then we better not only present Him to the world “correctly,” but also in the manner in which He would prefer. If He laid His life down, then so must we. Yelling and screaming about our God of love is perhaps not the best approach.

Being right never transcends being Godly. The right thing done the wrong way becomes the wrong thing. We must protect God’s reputation first and foremost.

Protect God’s Most Prized Creation — People

As the Kingdom of God, we must fight for people, not against them. Paul says our war is not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities of this present evil age. We must fight against anything that would keep people down, especially when that which keeps people down is found in the Church.

Being right should never trump treating people correctly. Our truth is useless unless it is encapsulated in a relational shell. We must first love people well. Then, we can share our positions on issues.

Deal with the Issues that Hinder the First Two

Actually deal with the issues that hold the first two back. Don’t sweep them under the carpet. Don’t avoid them or pretend nothing is wrong. But we must keep the other priorities in order. We must deal with the issues in a way that first protects God’s reputation, and second protects God’s most prized creation.

This is not an appeal to avoid or eliminate truth. Rather, it is a way of understanding how we walk in the tension of living in a world that doesn’t share our value system. If we are not careful, we can become truth bullies. As the Church continues to lose influence in culture (at least in part because people are tired of being bullied), we will move ourselves further to the fringe unless we can learn how to put these core values in their proper place.

Maybe the starting place for any church should be kindness and acceptance. Not the “blind tolerance” version of acceptance, but the “I am for you and will not rest until you see how amazingly wonderful God made you” kind of acceptance. If people who walked through the door of our churches felt loved and accepted first, perhaps that would change them at levels they didn’t know they even needed to be changed.

Maybe if the church gave its energy first to loving well rather than being right, people would be so inexplicably attracted to the church that we wouldn’t be able to contain them all.

Let’s try it and see. If I am wrong, we could always go back to being right.

May you protect God’s reputation at all costs. May you put Him on display well in how you treat others. And may we all learn to deal with issues that inevitably arise in relationships in a way that moves people forward.

The 7 Cultural Mountains #1 — Introduction

I am fascinated by history. In my marginal opinion, Alexander the Great is probably the person who has had more influence on what culture is in the western world than any other person in history — not so much from the sense of creating the ideas, but in the sense of selling those ideologies in the world.

As he conquered the world, Alexander built cities that were the best of what Greece offered the world. He invited everyone everywhere to experience what made Greece so great in his mind. He had a simple treatise: Give me Theater (Entertainment/Media), Gymnasium (University), Arena (Sport), and Temple (Religion), and I will rule the world.

He was right.

From whatever worldview a person comes, if that person can find the right mediums to convey their worldview, it can take root and move the world to that new idea. Alexander found that these four major pillars of culture would allow him to promote his big idea (to make the world Greece) in a way that captured people’s attention and moved the world to his side. We are Greek thinkers today because he found this reality and used it to its maximum.

In our world, the premise is still true. Some of the venues and ideas have adapted, but the basic idea is still true. Find the major movers of culture, own them, and you can change the world. The culture of a society is not the will of the people. It never has been. The decisions of a select few at the top of strategic cultural mountains trickle down into the minds and hearts of the masses.

In our world, I believe there are seven of these cultural mountains. This is not my idea, nor is it new. This has been around since at least the 1970s, and probably earlier. Guys like Lauren Cunningham (YWAM) and Bill Bright (Campus Crusade) were being led to consider these ideas at the time. And I think that now, more than ever, they might be relevant to the larger conversation the Church finds itself in.

So this is my treatise in our world today: Give me Media, Arts & Entertainment, Business, Government, Education, Family, and Religion — and I will change the world. I want to pull each of these apart and consider the implications for the Church or for anyone who truly wants to influence the world. I hope it will be a blessing for us all.