February 22, 2012

The Great Church Growth Mystery

If you had a dollar for every book ever written on Church Growth, you would have a massive amount of dollars! It's possible that every time a bell rings a new Church Growth idea launches into oblivion through a conference speaker, a blogpost, a Lifeway resource, or a brand new best-selling book. I took a class on Church Growth in seminary. (Don't remember much about it, though.) There is a never-ending arsenal of ideas - some of them even at war with one another - to load into your church and watch the numbers explode! There are formulas [and I seriously mean formulas - like mathematical, algebraic-looking equations] that define the most effective avenues for Church Growth. Pastors, ministers, and leaders in the "Church" are banging their heads against a metaphorical wall right this very moment trying to come up with the best plan, pattern, program, or procedure to ensure that NO ONE could claim that THEIR church isn't "adding to the Kingdom".(Because that, my friends, would be an unthinkable atrocity!) And so...the ideas and formulas keep coming.... 

And yet, I find myself going back to this one basic idea over and over again. It won't leave me or let me rest. (And I know - someone's going to say, "Brian, don't be so naive! It's not that simple." And in part, they'd be correct. I know that different church families - different bodies of believers - reach and grow people in different ways. Duh!) But again, I keep finding this one thought showing right back up at my doorstep. Not waiting for me to come out, but BANGING on the door! Needing to be heard. Refusing to go ignored. Isn't it really, at the end of the day, this simple:

If your church isn't growing, isn't the first question you should be asking, "Am I sharing Jesus with anyone?"

Seriously. Doesn't your church - THE CHURCH - grow because someone chooses to follow Jesus? And like that crazy Paul guy ranted about in Romans 10, someone's got to tell them about Jesus so they'll know about Jesus so they'll choose to follow Jesus and trust Him for salvation. You don't need math or fancy graphs to tell you why churches are dying. It's happening because fewer and fewer people are telling other people about the life-changing news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

"Well, uhhhhhh...what am I supposed to do with 'em after I lead 'em to Jesus?"

DISCIPLE THEM!!! There's an entire book written by the God of the Universe to instruct us in how to do that! Walk with them. Do life with them. Show them how YOU walk with Jesus! And understand, if YOU aren't walking with Jesus...you've just solved The Great Church Growth Mystery.


February 20, 2012

Disciple-Makers Needed

Last week I wrote a series of posts on The One Thing We Can't NOT Do. Not only am I fully convicted and convinced that our main goal and top priority as the Church is "making disciples", I am further convinced that if we are not reproducing leaders - raising up Christ-followers who raise up Christ-followers - then we have no right to call ourselves a church. [This is NOT like a captain on the high seas, robbing and pillaging, that we refuse to call a pirate because he doesn't have an eyepatch. This is like a guy in a rowboat in the Atlantic Ocean trying to rob people with a butter knife calling himself a pirate. No dice.] A New Testament church NOT making disciples is NOT a church!

I read an article last week from Hugh Halter that resonated with me along these same lines. During a conversation with his wife, Halter was realizing and confessing the frustrations he has at spending countless amounts of time fielding emails and meeting with adults who want to "grab some coffee, get some chat time, and get a little help getting connected." These frustrations were brought to light the night before when his home was filled with teenagers, most of whom were in desperate need of attention, mentoring, and love - they needed to be discipled - and were unknowingly soaking it in like sponges. Halter, in an almost audible burst of frustration, wrote, "At some point, someone has to burst through the minutia of nebulous get-togethers and scream....'Who's really going to give some time to people that need it?!!!! When will we as adult Christians stop prioritizing finding more Christians friends to have a small group with, or another bible study? When will we actually take a few disadvantaged or disillusioned people under our wings and give flight to God's heart for their lives?" (I encourage you to read all of Halter's post HERE.)

There are about a million different directions this conversation could go, but here's where my thoughts and attention keep turning: If you (and I) have to choose who's going to get your time and attention, give it to the person who NEEDS it. And if you're currently a "member" of a church, and you're trying to figure out how to connect, where to "plug in", wanting to find the most suitable way for your church to "meet your spiritual needs", (and you've been on this perpetual search for quite some time now) I encourage you to cast off self-centeredness, stop looking inward, and go serve in the children's or youth area. Go give your time, heart, and life to seeing someone's life changed! If you're uncomfortable trying to find a "group" to fit into somewhere, guess what? There's a teenager living in that same world right now! Go love on them, disciple them, walk with them. With most teenagers, they're not looking for you to dress like them or be "cool enough" - in fact, they pretty much see right through that. They just want you to be you. And if you're walking with Jesus, there are countless children and students, not just out in the world somewhere, but IN YOUR CHURCH that need to be discipled!

We're about to walk through a season of change and transition here at The Brook with our youth. Over the next weeks, I'm going to be encouraging, challenging, and calling people out to step up to serve and lead our students. At our church, we do not exist to be a spiritual growth buffet. We exist to "Equip God's People..." - to make disciples. I'm praying this calling, attitude, mindset, and heartbeat prevail in the lives of our people. I believe it starts with me. (But to let you in on a secret, it also starts with YOU.)

Are you a believer? Do you have faith, time, and integrity? Do you have a story to tell, of how Jesus changed your life? Do you want someone else to have a life-changing story to share? If you answered YES to those questions, it's time to get in the game disciple-maker! 

February 16, 2012

The ONLY Kind of Disciple!

If reproducing leaders - making disciples - is the "One Thing We Can't NOT Do" in the church and in Christian leadership, why do we suck at it so bad

Seriously! How are so many churches apparently growing - numbers of attendees and even people coming to membership classes going up - and all the while, lives are not being transformed, souls are not being eternally brought from death to life, and the Great Commission remains absent from most Christians daily lives? WHY is this happening? HOW did we arrive at this place? WHAT can be done about it? For starters, I think we've got to stop trying to pull the horse with the cart. Let me explain.

If we broke this down on a molecular level (which is a hilarious idea coming from me, I know) - asked ourselves, "What actually makes a church?" - what living, active ingredients must be present to qualify the use of the word "church - what would we find? If you examine this from a biblical perspective (which, by the way, is the ONLY foundational source of definition and description we have) what we find is that 1) lives were being transformed, 2) people were being baptized, 3) the PEOPLE were taking care of and ministering to one another, 4) and Ephesians 4:11-16 was being actively lived out. They were making disciples. And because of this...it was the church. 

But here's the contrast: Today, we get that last part backwards. On an unthinkable, almost rampant level, "churches" are started and built on a few key ingredients: sermons, music, and buildings. And making disciples is like an unexpected, interrupting afterthought. And leaders, pastors, church staffs, and leadership teams spend countless hours racking their brains trying to figure out, "Why are the numbers going up, but lives aren't being changed? Why are we killing ourselves trying to find people to serve and volunteer?" 

[And this is where the church staff typically loads in the van, heads to the Catalyst Conference or the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, drinks from a fire hose of hyped-up megachurch ideas (that have no context or place in their church of 250), comes home, and tries to ram those ideas in place into their church. And it's disastrous. It's like that moment when Elaine would start dancing on an episode of "Seinfeld". It's just not good for anyone.]

Here's why: A church is ONLY present if we are making disciples. Period.
In his book, Transforming Discipleship, Greg Ogden speaks directly to this calling. He says, "...we have not made disciples if we only help people grow to maturity without also seeing them reproduce." And he goes on to say that "most churches have no clear, public pathway to ministry. We have no destination in mind, and so therefore no road on which people can walk even if they want to understand the implications of discipleship." And this - I believe - exposes one of the major reasons WHY and HOW so many churches have unknowingly wound up wandering down this path: "Programs can make it look like we are growing disciples, but that is more illusion than reality, and we know it." (Ogden, p.43)

Let me make sure and be clear about something: This is NOT every church. There are amazing churches out there today, growing, equipping, and raising up disciples of Jesus Christ - reproducing disciples - the ONLY kind of disciples. That said, a great number of churches in existence today are caught in this cycle of putting the cart before the horse and wondering why their wagon winds up arriving at a destination they hadn't planned or charted. We MUST turn back to the Lord's definition of what it means to be HIS Church! There is no gimmick, new idea, conference, technology, 6-week study, or church growth consultant needed for this. It begins with pastors and leaders getting on their faces and seeking the face of God, and being consumed by His Word - the blueprint, foundation, and life-giving Gospel-plan of making disciples. One at a time. Reproducing disciples. Disciples that MAKE DISCIPLES of Jesus! There are no other kinds

This is our mission.
HOW should this look at your church? If you don't know, seek His face relentlessly and cry out for His wisdom. And don't stop seeking and asking until He delivers. He has promised us He would!

February 14, 2012

The ONE Thing We Can't NOT Do!

Leaders do lots of things; particularly, lead. Of course, if you’re a leader you know that’s massive over-simplification. Leaders challenge, encourage, inspire, influence, set the example, look at things differently, see a preferable future, and bring out the best in others to work toward that preferable future. Some leaders oversee entire companies, while others shepherd a small group of people who come together over a common interest. There are even leaders who are blissfully ignorant to the fact that someone else is following them. (These leaders are not common, but they’re out there.) Writing from the context of the church – from the point of Christ-centered leadership – there is one leadership quality that stands out and above all the rest. And I have become fully convinced, with deep conviction and belief, that it is the ONE THING we can’t NOT do! The indispensable piece of leadership that cannot be ignored or forsaken any longer is plain and simple; we must…


Let’s start with Jesus. While the point has been made, it obviously hasn’t been overstated that, while most would have expected the Messiah – the Savior of the World – to gather more and more of a following and increase the size of his “core team”, we know he did just the opposite. Jesus called 12 men – he extended an invitation to a dozen young men to “Come, follow me.” 12. That’s it. Doesn’t it seem like God-in-the-flesh could have handled more trainees than that? Sure it does. But much of what Jesus did wasn’t based on his ability – it was based on the example he was setting for us. And while he had 12 disciples, he actually had a core of 3 guys that he intimately invested in and poured himself into. And out of the 3 – Peter, James, and John – he knew that he was equipping, readying, empowering Peter to lead. Peter. One guy. That’s it.


So, whether you’re leading a life group, small group, missional community, or ministry team, what would happen if you determined that one thing was nonnegotiable? What if you decided that the one thing you would do, regardless of anything else, was reproduce yourself? What would happen – what change would take place – if your #1 goal and aim in your leadership was equipping and empowering someone else to lead? Let me tell you what would happen:

First off, you would do all the other things you’re already doing, better. If you’re leading, and doing it knowing that you’re directly modeling for someone else how it should be done, you’ve automatically raised the expectation level for yourself. You’ve said – even if it’s subconsciously – “Watch me”. When this happens, you will very intentionally focus on WHAT you’re doing, WHY you’re doing it, and HOW it’s being executed. Someone else is watching!

Another byproduct of reproduction is vision. Think of it this way: Isn’t our actual goal – the thing we’re ultimately striving for at the end of the day – to raise up leaders? Isn’t that what Ephesians 4:11-16 tells us the church is supposed to look like? I would challenge from the opposite side of the argument that, if you’re not reproducing yourself, it can very likely be exposing that you’re not leading with vision. As John Maxwell says, “…when the vision gets bigger than you, you really only have two choices: give up on the vision or get help.” If you’re ministry or your group is in a state that you can lead it by yourself, doesn’t that say something about your vision? Or lack of it? Isn’t this God’s church? His group? His vision? (Hint: Yes!) When you begin to train up another leader, this forces you to seek the Lord’s wisdom, direction, and vision for those you’re leading.

And while there are several others, let me wrap this up with possibly the most important item to point out. When our #1 goal, aim, and desire in leadership is raising up, training, equipping, and empowering someone else to lead, we’re leading like Jesus. And this is our goal, isn’t it? What other standard could be more important or worthy than this one? Jesus found the value in training that young, reckless fisherman to be a spirit-filled, courageous, bold-speaking leader who he turned to and said, “Your name is Peter, and upon you I will build my church.” You, Peter.

If you’re a leader – whether you’re leading a small group, a bible study, a staff, a ministry team, a band, or if there is anyone following you – are you reproducing yourself? This is the ONE THING WE CAN’T NOT DO!

February 9, 2012

The Fight Starts NOW!

In our Staff Huddle this week I reminded our team of some inspiration I'd received recently: "Leaders solve problems. Followers bring problems that need to be fixed." In light of yesterday's post on "Fighting for Marriage", I don't just want to point out a problem - I want to help people fix this. And I don't want to just give people some tools or advice to "fix" something, but more importantly, to PREVENT it from needing to be fixed! In light of this, I wanted to turn the conversation toward steps we can take and tools we can use to proactively, intentionally, assertively, and head-on fight for our marriages. In this post I want to center in on premarital advice - tools and principles for those who are not yet married. So if you're engaged, dating, or thinking that at some point in your life you might tie the knot, say "I do", take the Big Plunge - you get the idea - this post is for you. The fight for your marriage starts NOW! Here are some important things to consider:

Premarital Counseling
The stigma that used to go along with "counseling" is deservedly vanishing. More and more people every day are realizing the enormous value in getting emotional, spiritual, mental, relational, social, and psychological assistance from someone trained to give it. For a couple considering spending the rest of their lives together, this is crucial. Here's WHY. A professional (Christian) counselor can help you understand your own personality, your fiancé's personality, and how those personalities tend to operate together. They can also look at your backgrounds, family histories, and personal experiences and let you know if there are potential roadblocks, bumps, potholes, or even land mines ahead. The bottom line: If a counselor is objective and honest, they can cut past your "feelings" and tell you very realistically what your relationship is potentially going to look like down the road. And if you really want your marriage to work, this information is priceless.

Marry Your Friend
Don't get me wrong - I believe you should be physically attracted to your spouse. For me, I still come alive and light up when I see my wife walk into a room. I feel like I fall more in love with her all the time! But while our "attraction" is important, so is our friendship. There is no one on earth that I have more fun and laughs with than my wife. We love doing many of the same things - and just being together. There's no person I'd rather just hang out with than her. She is without a doubt my best friend. So, if you don't enjoy spending time with the person you're considering as a mate for life - if you don't absolutely LOVE just being with them, laughing with them, and doing life together - it's not going to work. Because if you don't enjoy them now, while you're not even living under the same roof or sleeping in the same bed, it's not going to magically happen when you get married.

Don't Cross the Line
As I just made the statement "...if you don't enjoy them now, while you're not...sleeping in the same bed..." For some people, this statement doesn't apply. Because even though you're not married, you're living together. Sleeping together. [And BTW - Anyone who says they're living together because it just makes better financial sense (or) because it's just more convenient is either seriously deceiving themselves (or) is totally full of crap. It's almost always about sex.] And besides the fact that this goes totally against the Word of God and the principles He's set for us as His children, the other reason this is so dangerous and harmful is because it's further skewing your idea and perspective of what marriage will be like. Think of it this way: If you're not going to seek God together now - if you're not going to live by His standards now - you're not going to do it later. And if your relationship is that dependent on sex, what are you going to do when the sex doesn't satisfy? Don't misunderstand me: In a healthy, Christ-centered marriage, sex is beautiful. But if your relationship or marriage DEPENDS on sex - if it REVOLVES around it - it won't last. 

Get Ready to WORK!
Morgan and I have never pretended we have the perfect marriage. In fact, we are in a constant state of working on our marriage. But this is the reason why I think we would both say - as our 15th anniversary is coming up this summer - it's getting better all the time. We WORK on it! We TALK about things we can do to serve each other better. We (often) have to lay our pride at the foot of the Cross and humbly say, "I'm sorry". 

Learn Their Love Language
I remember the first time I heard about "The 5 Love Languages". I have to admit, I laughed. In fact, I think I even sneered and winced! But then I read the book. WOW! This was like moving from trying to find a contact lens in the dark to looking for the water at the beach. Eye-opening! To begin to grasp that your spouse (and everyone in your life, for that matter) RECEIVES love in very specific, particular ways is life-changing. The most common thing people discover is that we are usually trying to love others the way we desire to be loved. This doesn't work very well. Morgan and I have taken this a step further than just our marriage. We've worked hard at understanding our kids love languages. The craziest part is that all 4 of us are completely different. I won't grovel on about that, but just encourage you to check it out for yourself by taking the Online Quiz: 5 Love Languages

If you don't start fighting for your marriage NOW, you'll eventually wind up fighting against it later. Do NOT let that happen! Put the gloves on, lace up tight, get busy and do the work.

If you're married, what other advice would you give to someone headed in that direction?

February 8, 2012

Fighting For Marriage

This year I have already been confronted with several couples in our church family who are struggling in their marriages. In one case, I've talked to a husband who's beside himself - wondering when & how his wife (of one year) has "fallen out of love" with him. And even more recently I had someone approach me for counsel, wondering if their marriage ended if 1) God would be mad at them and 2) if they would be disqualified from serving in the church. The reason I feel so compelled to start a discussion about this has to do with something I've noticed in all of these situations. The common thread was painful, clear, and consistent: The white flag of surrender was already being raised up the pole - someone was already screaming, "Retreat!" - they were just giving up. In almost all of these situations I didn't feel like they were seeking the counsel of how to save their marriage, but more looking for someone to affirm their decision to simply bail out. And in any and all of these cases - past, present, and future - I refuse to encourage, affirm, condone, or gratify that decision.

[Please note: I am not asserting (or believing) that all marriages that come to an end are because people just flippantly gave up or walked away. I know several people who love the Lord with all their being who fought tooth and nail to save their marriage...and it just didn't work. This article is not broad-sweeping, all-encompassing truth.]

We live in a country and culture where not only do MORE than 50% of marriages end, the statistic doesn't change, budge, or waver in the Christian church. Did you catch that? Over 50% of marriages INSIDE the Body of Christ come to a tragic, sad, and often cataclysmic ending. This has to change! And the only way it can change is if we begin digging to the root of WHY so many marriages are failing and falling apart. This is the discussion that has to take place - the conversation we have to be willing to take part in together. So, allow me to break the ice.

The first major reason I believe and perceive so many marriages are sabotaged from the beginning is because couples - as individuals and together - do NOT understand what they're getting into. Scripture is clear that marriage is a COVENANT between a man and a woman. Not only that, it's a covenant between a man, a woman, and God! A wedding is 2 people publicly declaring that "We are committing to each other, to you, and to the God that created us and brought our lives together, that we are in this for the long haul. ALL in! Period." This is the whole purpose behind "'til death do us part". We're saying, "I am committing to YOU - no one else - for the rest of my life on this earth." And it's not just some legal issue - it's a spiritual, emotional, whole-life decision. Scripture says that a husband and wife "become one flesh" - "they are no longer two but one flesh". And this is why Jesus said, "What God has brought together let no man separate." Don't miss that enormously significant piece of the marriage puzzle: GOD HAS BROUGHT TOGETHER! Holy matrimony, Batman. And I believe that so many people are walking away from their marriages today with less angst or struggle than walking away from a car lease because they don't understand the monumental significance of this covenantal commitment in the first place.

What are your thoughts?
Do you know someone who got married...and you knew it was doomed from the beginning?

More to come...