I get asked all the time how we do discipleship at Elevation. Related to this question, I also get asked how we follow up with new believers.
Do we relentlessly call people until they’re in a small group?
Do we offer 57 Bible studies for people to grow in their faith?
Do we provide a yearlong systematic theology course for new believers?
We do have specific and practical things that we do. But when it comes down to it, our philosophy is pretty straightforward and simple:
1) We point the way and 2) we clear the path.
1) We point the way.
Like I said yesterday, there’s ultimately nothing we can do to force people to grow in Christ. Nothing. So whether we offer a 26-option discipleship program or a 4-option one really doesn’t matter. If someone really doesn’t want to grow, they’re either going to say no 4 times or 26.
For that reason, we keep it pretty simple.
We give new believers material to help them grow in the initial stages of their faith and we call and encourage them to get plugged in. We constantly stress the importance of small groups. We faithfully proclaim the Word and encourage people to read it for themselves. In short, we point the way to what it looks like to have a relationship with Jesus for themselves.
If they decide not to walk that way, that’s their decision. And we’ve made the decision that we’re not going to chase all of them down if they don’t.
Some people might say to this: Is that what Jesus would do?
I don’t have to wrestle with that question because it’s exactly what Jesus did. Jesus didn’t hook his finger in people’s noses to make sure they were following him. When you read through the gospels, Jesus always cast His net extremely wide. Everyone was invited to follow. But He didn’t chase people down if they weren’t committed (as in the case of the rich young ruler).
The call was to follow Him. Not be dragged kicking and screaming behind Him.
All He did was point the way. To Himself.
2) We clear the path.
This is where our greatest responsibility comes into play. If we’ve pointed the way clearly and people are responding, it’s our job to make sure the path is clear for them when they decide to walk on it. There’s no room to drop the ball when it comes to people’s spiritual development. If they’re taking a step towards Christ, we’ve got to make sure that step lands unobstructed.
In other words, we’ve got to make sure our systems and processes are running at full speed. And running efficiently. If someone wants to get in a small group, we’ve got to follow up with them quickly. If someone needs counseling, we need to get them into it right away, and into the best counseling available.
Whatever approach your church uses to pull the maximum God-given potential out of people, it really doesn’t matter. Whether you take people through a five-year development plan. Or you just put them into small groups and let the growth happen more organically. Your responsibility is ultimately the same either way:
1) Point the way to Jesus clearly.
2) Clear the path to Him effectively.
Let’s commit to doing both with excellence so we can see our people become all that God has dreamed for them.
I was recently reading a book and came across a quote that grabbed me:
Every step is an arrival.
What the author meant is that it’s great to have goals. Aspirations.
But the problem is that we can be so consumed with the end game that we forget that every step we take is not just a means to a distant end. It’s the arrival at an end in itself. Even if a temporary one.
For example, if you’re an addict, the end goal is to be free of your addiction. And it should be. But every step you take on the way to that goal is itself an arrival at a desirable destination. And that’s because it’s a step further away from where you don’t want to be – engrossed in your addiction.
Or if you’re a pastor, you might have a goal to see your attendance double. And that’s great. But you also need to understand that when it increases by 10%, it’s something that’s worth celebrating in and of itself. Not just a number you have to go through to get to your goal.
Or in your walk with God, you’re not going to become C.S. Lewis overnight. Or Spurgeon. Or Piper. Or anyone else you look up to. And that’s because neither did they. Discipleship takes time. There’s never going to be a point where you’re not on the road to becoming more Christlike. But even in the slow process of becoming, every step you take towards Christ is a step away from what you were without Him.
I wonder if the reason so many people give up on their goals and aspirations is that in their lust to arrive at the end, they’re blind to the fact that they’re no longer at the beginning. And when they don’t get to the end quickly, they conclude it’s a fool’s errand. Or at least a task they’re not qualified to complete.
These people miss the truth we must grasp if we don’t want to give up:
Every step you take is a victory. A chance for celebration. A small goal that must be achieved before you can ever think about getting to the larger one.
Every step is an arrival.
“You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if only you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.”
1 Samuel 13:13
It’s a moment you never want to have.
A 13:13 moment.
The moment you realize just what you could have had, if only you had…
What a scary verse this is. Besides the fact that you have a double instance of a bad number (13:13), the thought expressed in it should rattle us to our core. When most people talk about the consequences of sin or disobeying a specific instruction of God, they usually focus on the negative consequences that actively happen to us as a result.
You sleep around, you could get an STD or get pregnant.
You cut a corner at work, you could lose your job.
You ignore God’s calling, you could end up in the wrong career.
Those are definitely bad, but there’s an even scarier thought to consider. And that’s the unprecedented blessing of God you missed out on because you weren’t willing to obey.
The levels of influence you could have had.
The marriage you could have had.
The life you could have had.
I never want to have a 13:13 moment. I never want to hear God say:
If you had been generous, I would have…
If you had not settled, I would have…
If you had stepped out in faith, I would have…
If you had…I would have…
And you don’t either. The last thing you want your life to become is a cautionary tale of what could have been. Whatever God is asking of you, believe me, it’s not about what He wants from you. It’s what He wants for you.
And you can have it, if only you will…
Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord…they were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt. But Samuel was ministering before the Lord.
1 Samuel 2:18
A difficult situation for any Christian is when they find themselves working under ungodly leadership. Or in an ungodly environment.
This can be true in your business.
Unfortunately, sometimes even in your church.
The hard thing is knowing what you should do.
Should you leave?
Should you put forth your best effort?
Is it even possible to serve God faithfully in this kind of situation?
Samuel found himself in this kind of dilemma. Eli’s sons were abusing their priestly duties. And Eli was doing nothing about it. It wasn’t the ideal situation to serve God in. But it was the situation Samuel found himself in.
What’s interesting is that when Samuel enters the story, there’s no comment about his attitude towards his leaders. No hint that he wrestled with what he should be doing. It simply states that unlike Eli’s sons, Samuel was ministering before the Lord.
He was simply doing what God had called him to do.
He was doing what he was supposed to be doing.
I think that should encourage you. You can serve God acceptably under ungodly leadership. Like He did with Eli and his sons, God is going to deal with your leader and coworkers in one way or another. In the meantime, focus on your own faithfulness.
Are there times when it’s acceptable to leave? Of course. But the conditions you’re working in don’t have to be perfect for you to do what you should be doing. God isn’t going to judge you based on the faithfulness of the leader you serve under. Or the people you work around. He’s going to judge you based on your faithfulness to what He has called you to do.
So regardless of what kind of working situation you find yourself in today, go do it. And do it as if you’re ministering before the Lord. Because you are.
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
When in difficult circumstances, you’ll sometimes hear people say, “I have options.” They don’t have to put up with “this kind” of treatment or conditions. They can walk. They can go elsewhere. They have options.
Peter was in this position. Jesus’ teaching was becoming difficult to understand. Opposition was starting to arise. All of a sudden, following Jesus wasn’t necessarily the thing he signed up for.
In a sense, Peter had other options. He could have left Jesus and gone back to fishing. He could have joined up with another rabbi. He could have done a number of other things.
But he didn’t. And that’s because unlike the people who left, Peter realized something: no other option could give him what Jesus could. Jesus alone had the words of life, even if they were difficult. He alone was worth giving his life to. He alone could give Peter what he really needed and wanted.
And for that reason, Peter had no other options.
In the same way, if you’ve chosen to be a follower of Christ, you really have no other options. Sure, you could sellout and walk away from God. Sure, you could take an easier path. But to what end?
What other option can work all things together for your good?
What other option is the Alpha before your circumstances and the Omega after them?
What other option has the words of eternal life?
What other option is even worth contemplating?
You have no other options. Even if following God gets difficult, you have no other options. Even if He asks you to do something that’s uncomfortable or costly, you have no other options.
But you also don’t need any.
When most people get started in the ministry, they’re usually moved by the right things.
They want to change the world for the glory of God.
Make an impact on their generation.
See God move in bold, fresh ways.
But it doesn’t always stay this way. Before long you can start being moved by all the wrong things.
And then you’re no better than the people you swore you would never be like back when you started. You lose your center. And if you don’t lose your effectiveness, you at least lose your joy. Which is just as bad.
I don’t know how many years you’ve been in ministry. And I don’t care. I don’t know what moved you in the early days of your ministry. And I don’t care. Whoever you are and whatever got you into this, you’ve got to make sure as you get more mature in the ministry that you’re moved by the right things.
In short, you’ve got to be moved by what moves the heart of God.
Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.
The Holy Spirit prevented them from preaching the Word.
This doesn’t seem to go together. The Holy Spirit is the one who inspired the Word. He’s the one giving them the power to preach the Word. But now He is keeping them from preaching the Word?
The key here is that little phrase, “in the province of Asia.” Paul wanted to go to Asia to preach the Word. It was one of his goals, his dreams. And in a few chapters, he would. But not now. Instead the Holy Spirit stopped him and led him to other cities to preach first. And the response was incredible.
Sometimes God will prevent us from a certain goal at a time that does not coincide with His will. It’s not that we’re not doing what’s right. It’s just that we’re not doing it with the right timing.
He’s not saying not ever. He’s just saying not now.
Maybe it’s because we’re not yet equipped for it.
Maybe it’s because the eventual environment God is going to have us in isn’t fully developed yet.
Whatever the reason, you’re not ready for it. Or it’s not ready for you. You always have to remember: what you think is good timing is not always God’s timing.
If you feel like your dreams are stalling or your goals are in a holding pattern, don’t assume you’ve made a mistake and it’s not going to happen. Paul eventually went to Asia. You’ll eventually get to your goal or dream too.
In the meantime, you’ll just have to trust that if God is preventing you from getting somewhere, it’s because you’re exactly where you need to be. For now.
Last year I got to read Delivering Happiness by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. If you’re not familiar with Zappos or Hsieh’s story, go ahead and pick up the book. Its insights will benefit you and any team you’re a part of.
One of Hsieh’s comments that really struck me came during a section where he was talking about a phenomenon that I think occurs in countless organizations. A company was struggling, but not from one big thing. It was a bunch of small problems throughout the organization. But all of them combined were severely hampering their production and growth. Hsieh described it as “death by a thousand paper cuts.”
I like that image. It rings true. From my experience, it’s not the big things that cripple a company or church. It’s the sum total of all the small problems. It’s all the little paper cuts.
After all, if the problem is big, it’s obvious. You can’t ignore it and it’s something whose solution is usually straightforward. If one of your team members is awful, you fire them. If you’re severely understaffed, you hire new personnel.
Paper cuts, however, are deceiving. They’re not big. They seem non-threatening, and by themselves, they might be.
Email or voicemails occasionally aren’t returned.
Meetings have a tendency of starting 10 minutes late.
A deadline or two is missed.
None of these problems are seismic in proportion. But combined with each other, they can be lethal. To your productivity. Your effectiveness. And your reputation. Little or not, you’ve got to deal with them.
I’m not suggesting you freak out and obsess over every little failure or misstep in your organization. Sometimes, people just screw up. Sometimes your systems will have hiccups. But once you see these little paper cuts consistently popping up, you can’t hesitate to act. As a leader or team member, you’re responsible not just for averting massive meltdowns, but also eliminating the paper cuts that will eventually kill you.
Some people might think you’re overreacting. Don’t listen to them.
They’re usually one of the paper cuts.
By this is my father glorified, that you bear much fruit.
The glory of God is the single most important thing in the world to God. And therefore you glorifying God is the single most important thing you can do with your life.
But if we were honest, most of us have little to no idea what that actually means. We talk about God’s glory in abstract ways. We talk about glorifying God in convoluted ways. And so at the end of the day, we know what everything is for – the glory of God – and what we should do – glorify Him – but we don’t know how to actually do it.
Do we sing?
Do we simply go around saying “for your glory” after every little thing we do and at the end of every prayer?
Is it just that we know that everything is for the glory of God?
If I’m a professional athlete, is it mentioning God’s name after I win a game?
If I’m a designer, do I have to stitch a verse somewhere on my clothing?
It can get pretty complicated and nebulous. Luckily, Jesus says it’s actually pretty simple, straightforward, and concrete. It’s the practical fruit of your life that produces the glory of God.
In other words, I don’t know that it matters to God that you can articulate the Westminster Catechism’s definition of the glory of God and our duty to glorify Him. I don’t know that it matters if you top off your prayers with a little “glory of God” throw in at the end.
I think what matters to God and what actually glorifies Him is that you do life His way. That you live in such a way that God’s activity is actually visible in your life. And not just your words.
Let me put it simply:
When husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church, it glorifies God.
When you manage your finances God’s way, it glorifies God.
When you honor the people around you, it glorifies God.
When you love the waiter that’s serving you on Sunday and leave them a good tip, it glorifies God just as much as when you sang about His glory an hour earlier.
Let’s all stop the abstract “glory” talk and lets get down to the business of actually doing it. Press into Jesus. Live life the way He intends it. And let the fruit you’re producing do the talking for you.
If you look throughout the Bible, you’ll notice a striking trend:
God has an affinity for the overlooked and unlikely.
He likes to take somebody that no one else has noticed and raise them up. He likes to take somebody who’s felt a little underwhelmed by their own personality and appearance and overwhelm the world with how great He can make them by His glory and for His glory.
Fewer people were ever more unlikely to be used by God powerfully. And few people have ever been used by God more powerfully.
But then you have people like Uzziah. An incredibly able and successful king in Israel who enjoyed the favor of God for a season. He won countless battles. Built numerous buildings. But then in one of the most haunting and terrifying verses in the Bible, everything turned:
His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful. But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall (2 Chronicles 26:15-16).
It seems like the more human resources of human power you accumulate, the less likely you are to see the miracle power and potential of God in your life. And that’s because the likelier you become, the more unlikely it will be that God will get the glory due Him.
Now that’s only bad news if you’re perfect. But if you feel under resourced to do what you know God’s called you to do through your life, that’s good. If you feel like you don’t have the education you should have, that’s good. If you feel like the town you’re from would make Nazareth look like a booming metropolis, that’s good.
You are at the top of His list as a kingdom candidate for kingdom usefulness.
When all the smoke clears and the dust settles in your life, if you’re overlooked and unlikely, then everybody has to blame God. Everybody has to blame Jesus. Everybody has to look to Him because it only could have been Him. And that’s a good place to be.
Don’t become too likely. Jesus likes using the unlikely.
Yesterday I introduced a critical question that every leader must answer when it comes to their vision: When do you know the vision has become ingrained in your culture and not just your own dreams.
I gave the first indicator yesterday of how you can know when that has happened. Today we conclude with the second:
2) Leaders have been raised up who can communicate the vision better in ways more suited to their personality and area of responsibility.
If you’re the only person who can communicate the vision, you’re in trouble. If your staff has to get you to every event to cast vision, there’s a problem. It’s an indication not of how great of a vision caster you are, but of how much your staff has yet to own and appropriate the vision to their own unique contexts.
I remember the first time I heard the original version of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan. I didn’t like it. Not because it wasn’t good, but because I had already heard it played by Guns N’ Roses. And I thought their version was way better.
That’s what you want from the people you lead. You want people who can take your vision and make it better and communicate it more effectively in their own ministry setting. Who can take it and find fresh angles to approach it from that you never would have thought of yourself.
You know the vision has become ingrained when you don’t have to be there in person to ingrain it. Your leaders have so internalized it that when they’re there, it’s as if you’re there. And it’s even better.
The solution: Regularly force your people to articulate the vision in the context of their specific area of responsibilities. To you. To the staff. And to the people they oversee. The more they do, the more they’ll understand it, own it, and spread it. And the more your people will love and believe in the vision, not just the chief vision caster.
There’s a crucial question every ministry leader must answer when it comes to their vision. When do you know the vision has become ingrained in the culture of your church and not just in your own dreams?
It’s not enough to have a vision, even a compelling one. It’s not enough to be able to communicate your vision well. And it definitely isn’t enough to be passionate about your vision. Of course you’re going to be passionate about your vision. It’s your vision.
What you really want is for the vision to stick. To infiltrate and permeate every area of your church. To be so ingrained in your culture that people speak the vision and do the vision without even thinking about it.
But how do you know when that has happened?
Two indicators stick out to me and I’ll be covering them over the next two days. Here’s the first:
1) When the best ideas are not your own.
When the vision has become ingrained in your culture, great ideas should be flowing from all directions. The pastor shouldn’t be the chief idea officer, but the chief vision officer. His responsibility is to make sure that the ideas are fitting into the vision. Not generate all of the ideas for the vision.
If all of the best ideas are coming from the pastor, it’s a sign the vision hasn’t truly been owned by the people. It’s only being served. In other words, for your staff and volunteers, it’s still your vision. And since it’s your vision, you should be the one coming up with the best ideas for it. And then they’ll support you by making them happen. As Christine Caine would say, they see themselves as servants of your vision, rather than as stewards of a vision that has become their own.
The vision isn’t going very far this way. I don’t care if you’re Steve Jobs, you don’t have enough great ideas in you to keep it going.
The solution: regularly demand people to bring their own ideas to the table. Set the expectation that fresh ideas for how to carry out the vision aren’t welcomed, they’re expected. Remind the people you’re leading that the vision isn’t just yours. It’s everyone’s. And everyone can and should contribute.
When they do, reward and recognize them in front of everyone. Make them the standard.
And then don’t be surprised when great ideas start flowing from people other than yourself.
Your ideas are one of the most valuable commodities you have. This is true of everyone. Whether you’re a pastor or a student. A creative or an analytical thinker. An executive or a line worker. Regardless of your position, your ideas are God-given and you’re accountable for them.
But all of your ideas are not created equal. All ideas are not worth chasing down for more than five seconds. So you have to have a method to evaluate them on the front end. Otherwise you’ll just waste your time trying to implement something that’s only ever going to be mediocre at best.
Here’s what I do:
I try it on.
Like I would with clothes, I try on the idea before I buy into it. Any idea can look good on the rack. I want to know what it’s actually going to look in real life. In other words, I flash forward to where I would be pitching or implementing my idea.
How does it sound?
Is it clear?
Is it compelling?
Is it accomplishable?
But that isn’t enough. I’ve learned that the context in which you imagine your ideas will largely impact their nature, quality, & scope. If you really want to know an idea’s potential, you have to imagine it in a setting that pushes it to its limit. For example, when I picture naming a band (for fun), I imagine David Letterman announcing the band. When I imagine an outreach project or some other kind of initiative, I flash to me announcing it from the stage, casting the vision to the crowd.
Since that’s where I would want the idea to eventually come to fruition, I want to make sure it can perform at that level. At the highest level. If it sounds small, cheesy, or even stupid when I imagine it in that context, what makes me think that it won’t sound the exact same way in real life?
The next time you have an idea – which will probably happen today – stop for a moment and try it on. If it’s a strategic initiative, can you imagine the people in the crowd or board room actually getting excited about it? If it’s an idea for a term paper, can you imagine your teacher actually giving you an “A?”
If you can, buy into it and start making it happen.
If you can’t, put it back on the rack and move on to the next idea.
You who fear him, trust in the LORD—
he is their help and shield.
What an odd contradiction.
The Bible says to trust in the Lord. But it also says to fear the Lord.
Trust and fear seem to be mutually exclusive. But if you really think about it, you can’t separate them. They’re not contradictory at all.
You can’t trust God if you don’t fear Him. Although it sounds weird, I think it comes easily enough to us when you see it from a human perspective. My sons can’t fully trust me if they don’t fear me. I don’t mean fear in a bad way, just in the sense that they have a respect for the fact that I’m bigger than they are.
If something’s more powerful than you, it’s something you fear. But it’s also something you can trust because how is it going to protect you if it’s not bigger than you? I don’t trust my kids to protect me in my house. They trust me.
And therein lies the problem because in order to trust what you fear you have to believe it’s for you. This is where many Christians completely miss the point of God’s power and majesty. They see it as something to cower in front of. They act like fearing God is perpetually walking around with the knowledge that at any moment He could crush them. And they suspect He might. And that sometimes He might even want to.
That’s not the fear of God. True fear of God is rooted in trust. You will never fear God properly until you realize that the very thing that should make you fear Him is the very thing that He’s working for you.
The very power that should frighten your enemies should comfort you.
The very power that could crush you is carrying you.
The very power that could obliterate you is actually holding you together.
The second you became a child of God, God became 100% for you 100% of the time. And so now you can trust Him completely. And therefore fear Him properly.
Trust and fear aren’t enemies of each other. Trust and fear go hand in hand.