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.

Truth vs. Truth

I have an idea that I have been kicking around in my head. I thought I might throw it out for people to help me process it better.

What if there are two kinds of truth within each person? What would that mean?

Here is my idea: I think we have head truth and heart truth. What I mean is, there are the academic truths/realities that we each accept as true and rational, but then there are these other truths that are much more powerful in our lives. They are the truths that actually dictate our beliefs. These are found in our “heart,” which is technically the limbic system of the brain.

In the book Following Through: A Revolutionary New Model for Finishing Whatever You Start by Steve Levinson, Ph.D., and Pete Greider, M.Ed., the key to being motivated enough to accomplish something is to move it out of our rational brain, or the prefrontal cortex, and into the more emotional part of the brain, which actually determines our decisions. For example, we all know that eating right and working out is a good idea rationally, but we struggle to find the motivation to follow through. So we must find a good reason to move the decision into the limbic system in order to find a driving motivation to accomplish the task. A heart attack, or diabetes, or someone we love dying suddenly moves this from a good idea to a determined must.

I think this idea has some really powerful implications for us spiritually. How many of us (or the people we know) can mentally ascend to the truth that God sees us as worthy and valuable, but we live and make decisions as if we are not? This kind of dichotomy in a person causes all kinds of issues, and if we’re not careful it can stunt our spiritual development in profound and painful ways.

Whatever the Christian journey is, it must encompass a way to deal with both head truth and heart truth so we can become the spiritually mature person God calls us to become.

Romans 12:2 says we must be transformed by the renewing of our mind. How do we do that?

Ephesians 5: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

So, within the marriage context we see that we have the truth of the word being learned, but applied in the loving, selfless, uplifting context of community. And I don’t think this truth is relegated just to marriage.

Maybe the way we become capable of applying the truth of what we learn from Scripture is in the context of community. Maybe the merger of the two sources of truth (head and heart) isn’t in my ability to will it, but in my desire and determination to engage relationships with other likeminded people. Perhaps developing an understanding of God is critical to my success as a Christian, but added to that, it is also critical to engage deeply in relationships that help me bridge the gap between my head and my heart.

Maybe Jesus knew what He was saying: “The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might. And the second is like it — love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.”

If that is true, then the only way to live in one truth (a complete merger of head and heart) is to engage Christian community with my whole self. Spiritual maturity comes with the integration of the two sources of truth in my own life. And no matter what I learn, I can only truly apply and walk out that truth if I am fully engaged in community.

Maybe “love God and love people” really is that important.

May you be fully engaged in learning more and more about God. And may you find the integration of those new truths rooted in living in the context of God’s people.

Life Moves Pretty Fast

It has been awhile since I last posted on my blog. No one seemed to be too upset about that, which is just fine, but I have had a few people ask why I haven’t been writing more frequently. As I return to the blog, I thought I would unpack that for everyone in the hope that it might be useful for some of us in trying to find healthy integration in our lives.

I say integration because that is how I believe life works. I hear people talk about looking for balance all the time. Have you ever noticed that whenever people are talking about balance, they are always looking for it? I have never heard anyone talk about balance from a place of standing in it. I don’t believe that balance exists. There is no place of permanent equilibrium that allows life to function smoothly and without surprise or interruption.

We talk about balance like we are standing at the fulcrum of a large counterbalance scale. We have all these realities we must balance: work and family, hobbies and friends, marriage and everything else.

In this worldview, where does God fit? In many cases, He simply becomes one of the things we must fit onto the scale and keep in balance. This reality ultimately puts me in the position of God because I act as if I am the one responsible to place things where they go and God simply becomes a thing I must work into my life.

I believe He is a bit more sovereign than that.

For me — and you are free to disagree — God is the shot caller in life. I choose neither the things that happen in life nor the timing of how things unfold, but I am left with the decision of how I am going to respond. We waste so much time trying to ask, “Why?” The answer would never truly satisfy us. The better and more mature question is, “What now?”

So, in the words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast.” And that is true for each of us. Things get busy and we all have curveballs thrown at us. It just happens. We cannot change that. And it happened to me.

Life got busy. I have a wife I like to spend time with. I have four kids I choose to chase around. I have an amazing job. I get to travel and speak in different places. I have the incredible privilege of helping with the high school wrestling team. And then I have a couple of hobbies. My life is full — and satisfying. Sometimes things get busier than normal. Sometimes I get more tired than normal. And sometimes, hard things come into my life that I must wrestle with for awhile.

All of those things happened. I couldn’t figure out how to effectively integrate writing for the blog, so I took a break. And it was good. And now I’m back.

How do you prioritize the integration of your life? What things are hard for you to let go when things get crazy? What do you hold to most tightly?

May you find the rhythm of healthy integration. And may you be able to effectively, lovingly, and with proper conviction say no to the things that erode your peace.

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.