Questions for Discipleship

It’s a startling thing to grasp that the most important task God has given us, to make disciples, is perhaps the most ignored part of the Christian life. For many it is simply fear. They just do not know where to begin.

Love has to be the starting point.  Simply begin pursuing loving God with your whole heart.  Then, allow that love spill over on to people as you live your life. God loves people and when His love is in you, it is very natural for you to begin to just care for people.

A friend of mine asked me recently to give him some questions that help me begin conversations that can lead to discipling opportunities. Maybe these questions will stimulate your thinking and give you tools for this important task of making disciples. These are questions given to someone who is already a member of God’s family but is perhaps seeking to grow further.discipleship

  • What is God doing in your life and how is He changing you to become more like Christ and less like yourself?
  • What are some of the fruits of the Spirit that you are struggling to demonstrate in your life?
  • What areas of life is God’s grace becoming more important/more precious to you?
  • Tell me about what you pray when do pray.
  • How has your life demonstrated God’s glory more accurately today than last week at this time?
  • What three things have you repented of in the last 2 days?
  • What do you see are the steps toward spiritual maturity that you need to take? (I am constantly seeking to help them map out their own growth strategies.)

It’s not hard. Love God and then love people.

I Want To Be Your Friend

A friend sent this to me recently. Relationships are very difficult to maneuver through but with God’s grace at work in our hearts it should look a lot like this:
Martin Colborn writes,
“Can you criticize me without condemnation, ridicule or condescension? Can you express your convictions without expecting me to immediately adopt them as my own? Can you allow me time to test statements, in order to find out the truth (or error) of them for myself? Will you acknowledge that you, being human, friendship-daycould possibly be wrong, even in your dearest convictions and opinions, allowing me the same? And could we just talk, without cliche, without posturing or intimidating, without seeking to gain the upper hand or to win an argument? And when we must part, can we do so not to hurry to tell others each other’s faults, but to love and pray for one another instead, and look forward with delight to the time when God brings us together again? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, I want to be your friend.”

Christ-lovers and people who intentionally live for God’s glory should be the best at this.

Evidences of a Healthy Church

One of the most important jobs of the elder is monitor his spiritual health.  Paul counseled Timothy to “…watch thou in all things…making full proof of your ministry (1Timothy 4:5 KJV).  This same “watchfulness” is in the elders job description for the church.  Paul instructs the elders at Ephesus to “Take heed…to all the flock…” (Acts 20:28).

I love having a group of men that meet once a month to pray for the flock, plan for the flock, and protect the flock of God.  There are some very sneaky ways in which sin, wrong thinking, wrong philosophy, wrong theology, apathy, or indifference can come into an unsuspecting body of believers and wreak havoc over time.  There are some obvious and observable evidences of health that should quickly help us see if we are headed toward good health or is there a need for an adjustment.  Although not an exhaustible list, here is a list I look at to help me adjust.Perfect-church-2

1.  Is Christ seen preeminent in all areas of church life? (Col 1:18) Christ is the Head and in everything He IS preeminent. We don’t make Him this, He IS this. The question then becomes “Are we keeping in line with what is true?” This would include preaching. We can have a very well though out sermon with our Hebrew/Greek well developed and fully defined and have a profound exegetical outline and well articulated illustrations and never get to Jesus. Children’s ministry, teen ministry, college ministry, men and women’s ministries must all get to Christ and His preeminence.

2.  Is the Word central and authoritative? Pragmatism is slick. It dulls the senses and silently allows things that Scripture would never condone. The words “central” and “authoritative” are key. Central means it is in the middle of our thinking in all areas. Authoritative means we wrestle with our wills and emotions and seek to make sure our motives are submitted to God’s clear directives.

3.  Are there lives changing?  One of the joys of Scripture is to see just how God works His glory out in lives and the profound impact that has on a life.  People who are constantly pursuing God will always be changing from glory to glory (2Corinthians 3:18). Paul wanted His churches to continue to grow in their understanding of Christ and the aroma of Christ to permeate all of life (2Corinthians 2:14).  Growth in Christ is always seen by others and ultimate demonstrates itself in people becoming less like themselves and more like Christ.

4.  Is there ownership of sin? John is very clear, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1John 1:8). The sad thing about aging in our organized churches is falling for this trap. Like the church in Sardis, there is a “reputation of being alive” but are really dead (Revelation 3:1). Much deadness can be traced to how the Laodiceans thought of themselves in full denial of what was true (Revelation 3:17). They didn’t own their sin. Let’s say it another way, “They didn’t treasure Christ and His magnificent grace.” Confession and repentance must be an intentional part of individuals and practiced corporately as well.

5.  Is there a growing care for “one-another?”  This spills over into so many areas of the church. People sacrificing themselves to give to each other was a key characteristic of the early church that made an indelible mark in the culture (Acts 2:42-46). We feel sometimes that we have to program our way into the surrounding culture when we should begin with genuine care, “one-another” each other in a way that is in direct contrast to the self-serving life-style of people without Christ.

Words of Truth

Every once in a while, we all need a re-boot! For PC people, that means you do the ol’ crtl-alt-delete that starts the computer over again. I’m a Mac guy and don’t do that kinda thing anymore 🙂
But today, spiritually, I needed to.sunrise
So here are 10 thoughts that I reminded myself.

1. Whatever happens today, by grace, I get to find my greatest satisfaction in Christ alone.
2. Make the Gospel sweet and filling through intentional confession and repentance.
3. By God’s grace, I get to serve Him and serve every person God brings into my life. I am but a servant and sacrificially give of myself to others.
4. I will be tested in every way imaginable. I get to take a breath and remember where it came from before I respond to every single step.
5. I will feel overwhelmed in an almost breath-taking way. Remember that God’s kindness is behind every pain, sorrow, and joy.
6. There is nothing in life like knowing God and being known by Him.
7. Life is rarely as it looks – I should not be deceived.
8. God’s grace is far greater than my evil, wicked heart.
9. God’s glory is the ultimate in every single part of life.
10. Everything I need is already mine by the kindness of Christ’s perfect righteousness. He is my Shepherd – I shall not want!

Why Would You Leave Your Church?

Grace is Flowing

This is a good question. Most likely at some point in your life you may be faced with this question. What would guide you? There is an accompanying question that has to be asked: “What is a healthy church?” or “Why would I choose this church in first place?” There are many good resources today that can help answer these questions and maybe we can discuss them on a later post, but for the sake of this post, let’s assume you have been part of what you enjoyed as a “good” church and it’s not the same today and you are bothered by this. What are the core elements that have to be in place for you to stay?  Here is a list of questions perhaps you should ask about your church. The order isn’t particularly important as all of these are vital.

1.   Is there a genuine Christ-centered…

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Why Would You Leave Your Church?

This is a good question. Most likely at some point in your life you may be faced with this question. What would guide you? There is an accompanying question that has to be asked: “What is a healthy church?” or “Why would I choose this church in first place?” There are many good resources today that can help answer these questions and maybe we can discuss them on a later post, but for the sake of this post, let’s assume you have been part of what you enjoyed as a “good” church and it’s not the same today and you are bothered by this. What are the core elements that have to be in place for you to stay?  Here is a list of questions perhaps you should ask about your church. The order isn’t particularly important as all of these are vital.

1.   Is there a genuine Christ-centered approach to every aspect of ministry?  In other words, what flag is flying? For many, Christ is merely “understood.” Often Christ is not the center, the end, the beginning and everything in between, He is somewhere in the background. Read Colossians 1:17,18 and Romans 11:36 and compare. Is Christ really the reason you exist and meet together or is there another flag flying.

2.  Is there a genuine Gospel-saturation for living? Many have perhaps been brought up with the idea that the Gospel is the power of God unto Salvation (Rom 1:16), which is so very true and precious. But the Gospel doesn’t stop there! The same grace that saves is the same grace that sanctifies us every single moment of our life. We are be being saved daily (1Corinthians 15:2) and are being transformed into the image of Christ from one degree of glory to another which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). All of the message of the Gospel is true for us for everyday sanctification. If the Gospel is diminished for life the natural result is death, decay, and God’s glory will soon be missing. You can’t manufacture this and you can’t program it into your congregation. It either is or it isn’t.  church

3.  Is there an atmosphere of confession and repentance? Sin is by nature deceptive and so, well, it deceives. Confession and repentance must come from the top. There should be in the “atmosphere” of the leadership an on-going repentance. I have said so often to myself and to many others, “It’s not ‘Once saved, always saved;’ it’s ‘once regenerated, always repenting!'”  This is not just reserved for the leadership, however, the “followship” (my word…) should be a repenting people as well.  Confession and repentance in the heart of people is often exhibited in how people pray and what they pray for. Listen carefully to your own prayers and see if you include both in your own prayers. It is also seen in the church’s practice of the ordinances (The Lord’s Supper and Baptism are perfectly designed to speak of both confession and repentance as well as publicly declare the person and work of Christ).

4.  Is there an atmosphere of genuine growing faith exhibited and celebrated? Since it’s true that faith comes by hearing the Word (Romans 10:17) then theoretically people should be growing in their love, trust, and belief in all that Christ is and all that He has done. God’s Word is about God’s Son! Growth in faith is often exhibited in a strong hunger for the Word by the people, and a tenacious attempt by the leadership to be feeding them God’s Word. The giving of the Word and the receiving of the Word both need to be sought after by both leadership and followship and celebrated by a transformation in hearts that is talked about, and modeled in order to point the next generation to growing faith as well. If growing faith is absent, most likely church discipline will be absent as well.

5.  Is there a growing love for God that is seen in lives becoming more like Christ? It is easy to sit in public worship services and give lip service to loving God. It is yet another thing to see people who humbly admit transparently their own lives need Christ and thus pursue sanctification through accountability, life-on-life discipleship, iron-sharpening-iron relational living that result in a steady change into the image of Jesus. Once again, this is certainly leadership led, but it must be a followship thing as well! This should be what good ol’ fashion Acts 2 type stuff looks like that goes on in genuine fellowship “from house-to-house.”

6.  Is there a love for people that is sacrificial? This is part of God’s two-fold “greatest command” given to us in Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:5,6; Matthew 22:37,38) to love God and love people. Many will “do things” for people but that doesn’t mean there is a love for people. Christ is the model here. He sacrificially gave over and over (Philippians 2:1-11) in a way that met the need for humanity who could not do for themselves. Giving sacrificially as Christ gives means it is not convenient; it won’t fit your model of living; it will mean cleaning up messes, and it means they may not even like you for serving them. Loving people as Christ loved and gave Himself is just difficult. However, it should be a key element in leadership and in followship.

7.  Is there reproduction going on? Discipleship must be happening. Helping people become more like Christ needs to be front and center – the goal of preaching, teaching, activities, fellowship, worship, and evangelism. There should be an intentional outward focus that includes the inward focus. We follow the 2Timothy 2:2 pattern that flows from Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 20:19,20) that commands that we “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This means there is the constant verbal communication of the Gospel to all as well as the constant visual communication of a life that is being changed by the Gospel.  This should result then in reproduction – people whose life will be changed as they continue to watch other people’s life change. It becomes multiplication rather than addition to the church. (As an aside, I think the ultimate in true reproduction will be in churches that will produce another body of believers–sometimes called “Church-Planting.”)

8.  Is there humble worship going on? Humble worship is often lost somewhere along the way and aberrant worship appears. By aberrant, I mean, is someone or something other than the God of the Bible being worshipped and is the worship acceptable worship? I think God does care how He is worshipped. There are often two extremes: 1. Worship any way you want to as long as you are sincere; and 2. You must only worship this way–a rigid adherence to a prescribed method. Either side is flawed. God is holy and thus He must be worshipped in a way that aligns with His very nature. The story of Cain and Able illustrate this. Numbers 3 also tells of a bitter story of two men whose worship was unauthorized. The One true God is to be feared and worshipped, and His glory must be at the very core of our love and submission to Him. Genuine worship isn’t electronic or non-electronic, fashion or lack of fashion, programmed or not programmed. True worship is the grace-filled heart of a servant whose soul desires to speak of the worth of God and hear His Word with great joy and submit his life to it all!

It has been my experience that if one or two of these eight are lacking, things begin to crumble pretty quickly. Some would look for external signs that are changed and to this I would offer a caution. The external things may or may not be genuine reasons for leaving a church. Be very slow to leave if these eight things are going on but you are uncomfortable simply because your preference isn’t considered. It may be God is working His will into your life and means for you to serve others by not demanding your preference. Many won’t immediately see any of these eight for some time depending on their involvement. Maybe God would have you stay to help model and shape a different direction.  Maybe you sense it is too late for that and you need to quickly move on. Either way, considering these things may just clarify where God has you and what your next step must be.

How Does One Leave His Church?

I told a group of people recently that someone needs to write a book on “How To Leave Their Church.” I think for the most part leaving a church should almost never happen. I have watched people come and go in churches now for most of my life. Sometimes, for very good reasons, people leave one church and go to another. I had to do this just once in my life as a church member (not for ministry reasons) and it was torture. As a shepherd, I have watched over and over people leave one church and go to another or just drop out of church altogether and in my experience many of the reasons people have left are certainly avoidable while very, very few are unavoidable and understandable according to the Word.
The question I pose without going into the question of whether one should leave or not is, “Just how should one leave the church?” Let me offer a few suggestions coming from one who shepherds the heart of people and will stand some day and given an account. church1

1. Be honest with yourself about why you are leaving. Luke 8:15 speaks of the good soil that truly receives the seed is a heart that is honest and good. True believers are constantly being warned about “deceiving ourselves” in Scripture (Jam 1:22). Because sin is so deceptive, we have to be honest with ourselves and leave open the reality that we may not be seeing things correctly.  God gives us many good ways to do this without violating other truths in Scripture. Gather people around you who will fearlessly speak truth into your life.  Read the Word and again I say “Read the Word.” Usually if we are not seeing things correctly in one area, you can pretty well take it to the bank that you are not seeing things truthfully in other areas.  Sin is very blinding.  Check your ambitions, your motives, your reasonings but most of all your adherence to the Word itself. Is your reason a genuine biblical reason or is there something going on in the church that is simply a preference issue? Do you have Scripture to back up your reason or are you just uncomfortable? Ask yourself, “How is God using this in my life to change me?” Be brutally honest!

2.  Humbly speak to the leadership. Understand what is being said here. God puts leadership in place for many reasons–but all of them have something to do with His great glory. It really isn’t that leadership can do no wrong (although, honestly, leadership can give that impression all too often). However imperfect they are, God has allowed them their existence in that position. If leadership is unqualified biblically and you can biblically prove it (two witnesses 1Tim 5:19) and if your objection is truly church-wide, then you have a bigger problem than this one article can handle.  The fact that God allows leadership to exist speaks to God’s design that is intentional and with purpose.  So, as you approach leadership, do so asking questions with a heart that earnestly and humbly wants to know God’s will and not to seek proof of your suspicions.  Questions always help the leadership speak to your concern which in turn, makes the path to resolution accessible.

3. Be honest with leadership. Many will go to leadership with their concerns but it often is covered with words like, “I have had some people come to me with these concerns.” It very well may be that one or two people have talked to you, but be careful that it isn’t also true that you went to them seeking to find out if they would agree with you on your “concern.” It may also be true that others do have those concerns, but that is not why you are meeting with leadership.  You are meeting with leadership because you have the concerns.  The fact that others have similar concerns does not necessarily validate your concern and really shouldn’t play into it.  It may well they are blind or prejudiced in the same areas you are and thus are not really helping you see things honestly. An honest heart is not concerned about “who” is right; it is much more concerned about “what” is right.

4.  Give time to your decision. Make sure you are not merely reacting. Give yourself room to be wrong. Time has a good way of revealing things.  Give leadership time for God to use your humble word to work in their lives. Give time on your knees. Give time to the Word. Give time for God to work His grace in your life. Remember, God is eternal which helps Him to be long-suffering, and forbear, and deal gently.  Time has away of tearing the curtain back so truth is exposed. God calls each of us to forbear with one another (Eph 4:2).

5.  Don’t burn bridges. If you must leave, be very careful to not let issues drive you away from caring and loving people.  Relationships are very important. Your walking away from a church will have impact on people, finances, and most importantly the gifts that God has given you to properly serve the church. These relationships are important ultimately for what God may be doing in their lives.  Burning bridges in relationships often can come back on bite you as you have no entrance back into the very lives God may want you to minister to later.

6.  Give proper notice graciously. Don’t just walk out. If you have obligations, finish them. Serve God’s Kingdom by serving the people you have obligated yourself to. Give leadership a chance to adjust to your absence ahead of time.  Be courageously gracious. Remember, people are not the enemy – we struggle not with flesh and blood (Eph 6:12).

7.  Immediately align yourself with another body of believers.  So many walk away from the church simply because they had a bad experience. It is in these transitional times when Satan can get his foot into a heart to stir up strife, pride, self-righteous thoughts, and a root of bitterness begins to grow. This is dangerous as the accountability of the body and the soul-searching ministry of the Spirit and Word will wane because of the absence from the body. This then becomes a situation that is worse than the original problem itself. Run to the Gospel! Run to Christ and the church He gave His life for. Be warned, though!  The next church will be imperfect to. The greener grass on the other side…needs mowing too.