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Archive for Missional Christianity


Finding Potential Leaders

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Every day we make difficult decisions that involve trusting others with the things and the people we value the most. We select banks based on our trust that our deposits will be secure. We select preschools and daycare centers that we trust will keep our children as safe as possible. We select doctors and medical professionals based on our trust that they will thoroughly care for our physical health and accurately detect, diagnose and treat any issues as early as possible.

The apostle Paul gave Timothy a process for developing emerging leaders. From 2 Timothy 2:1-2, he had already suggested that Timothy be strong in and through the grace of Christ; that he maintain the disposition of a learner; and that he make wise investments in reliable people who would take the “deposit” and pass it along to the next generation. Timothy was strongly admonished to make wise selections concerning who he was to develop as future leaders. So how does one go about qualifying those who can be developed as leaders?

The next four verses of 2 Timothy 2 provide three metaphors that help Timothy’s then and now discern future leaders who need to be developed.

1. Allegiance to Christ

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. To please the recruiter, no one serving as a soldier gets entangled in the everyday concerns of life” (2 Timothy 2:3-4, HCSB)

By the time Paul wrote this letter he had spent ample time chained to soldiers in prison cells. He would have been familiar with what soldiers did and how they functioned. The word “entangled” in verse four literally means, “looking back.” It refers to one who is unable to focus or concentrate because they are easily distracted. Paul uses the metaphor of the soldier’s allegiance to describe the kind of allegiance Timothy should look for in a potential leader. Timothy was to base his selection upon this single minded allegiance.

Being crystal clear on matters of allegiance is important because your allegiance to Christ will always be challenged by all other allegiances. Jesus spoke of this often, reminding his disciples with sayings such as “No one who puts their hand to the plow and looks back is worthy of my Kingdom” and “let the dead bury the dead.” When evaluating potential leaders, question one evaluates their allegiance to Christ.

2. Faithfulness in Preparation and Performance

“Also, if anyone competes as an athlete, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5, HCSB).

Paul is probably referring to the Isthmian Games, a first century forerunner to our modern day Olympic Games. Those who competed were required to commit to a strict training regiment of 10 months, followed by the actual competition. There were rules that governed preparation for the games and rules that governed participation in the games. Each competitor was expected to play by all of the rules all of the time and to not take any shortcuts. Preparation was as valued as the competition itself.

Every potential leader needs to have allegiance to Christ that is beyond question. But each potential leader also needs to have a reputation for being faithful in all things, whether it is their private preparation or their public participation in ministry. Like many things in life, there are no shortcuts on the path to spiritual leadership.

3. An Outstanding Work Ethic

“It is the hardworking farmer who ought to be the first to get a share of the crops” (2 Timothy 2:6, HCSB).

Paul’s final metaphor is the hard working farmer. If you grew up on a farm or worked on a farm you know from experience that farming is hard work. Not only is it hard work, it is hard work without immediate gratification. Whether its corn or cows, farmers continually work hard in anticipation of a later reward.

Timothy was to look for potential leaders who were willing to put some sweat equity into their development. They had to have a work ethic that was mixed with a generous dose of patience because in the economy of God’s kingdom both are required to change the world.

These three metaphors were given to Timothy to help him gain perspective on what “reliable” or “trustworthy” people looked like. I think its important that we learn something from these metaphors when we prepare to invest in potential leaders. I admit that these are pretty high standards. As a reader you may think that the expectations are a little too high. But let me close with a couple of questions about standards and expectations.

First, are you looking for spiritual leadership or someone to fill a position? If all you’re looking for someone to fill a position in a program or to sit on some committee, then your standards can be somewhat lessened I suppose. But is church really about completing an organizational chart? Is it really reduced to staffing programs? Or is the church something more?

Second, whose church is it anyway? Who really has established the standards and expectations? If it is the church of Jesus Christ, then He certainly has the right to establish high expectations and to set high standards. Sometimes I’m concerned that churches are afraid to set high expectations because we’re afraid that someone might become upset or even leave. But if Jesus is the head of the church, then church is worth doing. And if Jesus’ church is worth doing, its worth doing right. At the end of the day, someone in your community is counting on it.

I think its unfortunate that many churches have turned to business models to find the “best practices” for developing leaders. I’m not against business or the practice of business. But I firmly believe that when church leaders start adopting business models instead of biblical models they become misguided and off point. If our churches are going to become serious about developing leaders for the next generation the beginning point is the New Testament. One such enlightening passage is found in 2 Timothy 2:1-6. Today I want to deal with the key elements for developing leaders and tomorrow I’ll post Paul’s words on the kind of people to pursue as potential leaders.

“You, therefore, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1-2, HCSB).

The first thing Paul told Timothy is that leadership development is the work of God’s grace. Some translations like the HCSB read “be strong IN the grace” of Christ, and others like the NLT have “be strong THROUGH the grace” of Christ. Which is right? Technically, either translation is viable and acceptable. I personally think that its both. Grace is the environment of all of God’s good work. And, grace is the means by which we do all of God’s good work. This subtle reminder eschews all external models that are applied to churches and church leadership. The church is to be as dependent upon God for its work of developing leaders for the next generation as it is for fulfilling the great commission. Leadership development begins when we recognize our humble dependence upon God’s grace.

Next, Paul told Timothy the be a student. I believe the best teachers are first and foremost learners. When I was in seminary I was blessed to be associated with some outstanding professors, the best of whom stated that classroom teaching was what they had to do to support their research habit! The most engaging teachers are those who are engaged in learning. Timothy needed to realize that he had not arrived and that he couldn’t take people where he himself had not been. So Paul emphasized that Timothy remain teachable before he became concerned with the stuff that is transferrable.

How do you know if you’ve grown stagnant in your learning? I think the easiest way to identify stagnation is to see if you’re simply running the same play year in and year out. John Maxwell used to talk about the difference between growing leaders and stagnant leaders this way: you can either have ten years of ministry or one year of ministry ten times. If you desire to aspire to develop leaders in ministry, you have to begin with yourself and your commitment to learning.

The final element is to be a steward of what you’ve learned by investing that deposit into others who are trustworthy and reliable. In 2 Timothy Paul described the process like this:
Christ made a deposit in Paul;
Paul made a deposit in Timothy;
Timothy was to make a deposit in reliable people; and
Those reliable people were to pay it forward and pass the baton.
I know it sounds cheesy, but let’s be honest. We’re having this discussion today (2,000 years later) because Paul’s strategy worked.

So who do you trust with what you value? That’s the content of the next four verses that I’ll deal with tomorrow. Until then, be strong in grace; be a student; and be a steward of what has been entrusted to you.


Developing Leaders

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What is church supposed to be about anyway? That question has fostered everything from constructive dialogue to fistfights in church parking lots. An ocean of ink has been spilled on books published with the intent to provide “the” angle that resolves all debate and ends all discussion.

Some would say the purpose of the church is to care for the sheep. After all, the church is led by shepherds who are to feed and care for the flock. Others would say that the church exists to spread the gospel through evangelism. Jesus first words were “repent” and his last words were “go.” That translates into making converts for Jesus! Or was it disciples? You know what I mean. Then there is the group that suggests that the church needs to meet the needs of the poor and the disadvantaged. Feeding the poor, clothing the naked, providing shelter for those with no roof is what Jesus said the final judgment would consist of. Another group would say that the church exists to teach people the Scriptures. Strong Bible teaching and preaching is what the church should focus on. The church should produce people who know the Bible and how to defend the truth.

So which is it?

I think all of these suggestions are beneficial and contain some element of truth, but ultimately each one falls short of Jesus’ vision of the church. This weekend I spoke on this topic from 2 Timothy 2:1-6. In short, the New Testament advocates a church that develops and releases spiritual leaders who minister to those in need, are actively sharing their faith, who strive to seek justice in their communities and world, and who are able to feed themselves from the Bible and in turn, teach others.

To use a simple analogy, the church is not a hospital for sinners and saints. The church is more akin to a medical school that trains and equips doctors to be the presence of Christ. If we can get that distinction down, we can become the church as Jesus intended.


(Missional) Psalm 2

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“I will declare the LORD’S decree: He said to me, ‘You are My Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of Me, and I will make the nations your inheritance and the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron; you will shatter them like pottery'” (Psalm 2:7-9, HCSB).

Notice how Yahweh calls the kings his sons! This reveals how closely tied God is to his mission on earth. The relationship between the Father and the king imparted power and privilege as well as responsibility to mediate justice and equity to the people of God and to lead them in the way of true faith. What was clearly evident with the kings of Israel was even more evident in the Messiah. But I believe that relationship extends to the people of God today as we operate in the Kingdom of God as “Kings and Priests” (1 Peter 2:1-10).

God promised the kings that the nations would be their inheritance. This reminds me of God’s promise to the patriarchs of Israel (Abram, Isaac, Jacob, et al) that whatever direction they looked or where ever they stepped their feet would be their new land. Like those patriarchs, we are to extend the rule of God where ever our feet step. We are the presence of Christ where ever we are! The commission of Jesus to the church was to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. He has delegated the authority to spread the rule of the Kingdom of God where ever and whenever.

But reaching out begins with reaching up in prayer. God said that we are to ask Him for the nations. We are to begin in prayer, asking God to expand our territory and grow our influence. I think there are a lot of good things being done in the name of missions. People are giving sacrificially. People are participating in short term mission trips around the world like never before. New organizations and networks are popping up all over the grid to help facilitate mission work far and wide. All of this should be heartily affirmed. But it all begins with prayer. We can do nothing more than pray until we have prayed. But once we have prayed, God releases us to the nations to extend and implement the Kingdom of God. So what are you waiting for? Ask.


(Missional) Psalm 2

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How does God respond to the “raging nations?” Continuing from yesterday’s post from Psalm 2, the Psalmist writes, “But the one who rules in heaven laughs. The Lord scoffs at them. Then in anger he rebukes them, terrifying them with his fierce fury. For the Lord declares, ‘I have placed my chosen king on the throne in Jerusalem,a on my holy mountain'” (Psalm 2:4-6, NLT). God is enthroned in heaven, but not at a distance. His enthronement represents his exaltation. There are no threats to his sovereign rule, neither is He unsettled by popular opinion. God is changeless and strong, and reigns from his throne whether we acknowledge it or not. Our faith does not enthrone God. He is God whether we acknowledge Him as such.

Years ago it was popular for preachers and teachers to rail upon the people of God about the need to defend God and to defend our faith. I realize that believers certainly need to be equipped to “be able to explain” their Christian hope to those who sincerely seek to understand it (1 Peter 3:15), but at the same time God is more than able to take care of himself! God is rightfully on His throne. The raging of the nations will not diminish that fact, and our assertations won’t further establish it either.


(Missional) Psalm 2

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Recently I did some work from Psalm 2 as a part of our church’s annual Global Missions Month emphasis. I felt led to speak one week on the role of prayer in the missionary enterprise, and came to Psalm 2. I was already familiar with verse 8, but what I found in the rest of the chapter was a huge blessing.

Psalm 2 is often quoted in the New Testament, both for its high claims for the person of God’s anointed and for its vision of the universal Kingdom of God. It clearly takes delight in God’s dominion here and now. It is the first of several coronation Psalms (aka Royal Psalms), which were compositions primarily concerned with the human kings of Judah who understood themselves to be uniquely authorized and empowered to rule as God’s own adopted sons. These coronation Psalms give some helpful insights as to how the kings of Israel understood themselves, their authority, their roles, and their expectations.

Like the other coronation hymns, Psalm 2 has layers of interpretation. In its most direct context, Psalm 2 speaks to the kings who were situated in Old Testament history. But there are also many allusions to the Messiah. What the human kings had been unable to do in Old Testament history, God would accomplish through the Messiah. Jesus, who would come in the future, would be fully empowered to usher in the Kingdom of God. But Jesus didn’t complete the work. He handed off the ongoing process of implementing and extending the Kingdom of God to the Church. So even though we are seperated by thousands of years, we can identify with Psalm 2 and see ourselves as the believing community of faith participating in the sentness described in this Old Testament text.

Psalm 2 begins with a cry of disbelief at the disbelief of the nations. “Why are the nations so angry? Why do they waste their time with futile plans? The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the Lord and against his anointed one. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they cry, ‘and free ourselves from slavery to God.'” (Psalm 2:1-3, NLT)

The nations are presented as ones who have gathered in international conspiracy against the God of the universe. In their resistence they demand freedom and autonomy from God, insisting on their rights to self rule. Notice the astonishment of the author! Why?! Why can’t the nations see the goodness of God? Why can’t they observe his blessed ones? Why do they refuse to acknowledge God’s rule? Why can’t they see their resistence is futile?

Sometimes we want to share in that same disbelief as we look at our own world today. We scratch our heads and are, at times, admittedly confused at the rejection of God. But careful reading of the text reveals that the Psalmist answers his own question.

I recently read an interview that was conducted by one of our box office heroes. In the interview, the gentleman discussed his conservative religious upbringing and his fidelity to the church and its beliefs. He then went on to say that as he matured he found Christianity to be too “constrictive,” citing, “When I broke away from faith, I discovered myself.”

What the Psalmist is saying makes total sense: Disbelief is not just the rejection of God’s rule, its exaltation of one’s own self rule. That is why the nations rage.


The DNA of the Church

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Last weekend we began our annual Global Missions emphasis. Usually, these month long celebrations of missions and missionaries come packaged to church leaders to provide a supporting structure for the challenge to pray, give, and go. For some time I’ve personally been frustrated with missions promotions because they seem to polarize and distance the local church from the foreign field. So rather than speak on the routine subject matter associated with missions and missionaries, I chose to do some foundational work on the missional church strategy and how missions works within that model.

I chose as my text Acts 13:1-3, which reads as follows: “Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called “the black man”), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (the childhood companion of King Herod Antipas), and Saul. One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.’ So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way” (NLT).

The first observation about the text that I shared in worship last weekend was that sending was in the DNA of the church. The church at Antioch had been founded by disciples who had fled Jerusalem due to persecution. You can read about it in Acts 11:19-26. As the Holy Spirit had sent these disciples to Antioch to share the gospel, the Holy Spirit was again sending disciples from Antioch into more marginalized locations. I believe this act of sending was reflexive and natural for them because missions was in their DNA.

I’m fascinated that the church was so willing to embrace a new direction, especially given its limited history. I suppose they could have said, “We’ll engage our world when we are more established,” but they didn’t. As a people who had been together for less than 24 months, they were quite willing to respond to God’s leadership and join Him where He was at work.

I believe the more established something becomes, the more prone it is to exclusion. I can remember when my wife and I began dating. We were both in college and had a lot of friends. In the early stages of our dating relationship we could easily maintain and manage our friendships. But as our relationship deepened toward engagement and ultimately marriage, the more limited our relationships with friends became. In other words, the more established our relationship became, the more exclusive it became.

That principle is not just true of human relationships, its also true of organizations like the church. Within the DNA of the church of Jesus Christ lies the principle of sending. Regardless of its history, the church is rooted and founded with that essential component.

Tomorrow I’ll post my second observation about this important text. In the meantime, make sure to remember that establishment does not necessitate exclusion. Be true to your DNA.


A New Mission

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I grew up in a tradition that outsourced missions. The churches would receive three offerings each year for the purpose of supporting missions, and regularly calendared missionaries to come and tell us the stories of life serving God in some alternative hemisphere. My job was to learn to be the best Christian I could be and to leave missions to the professionals.

I find it ironic that today we’re witnessing the birth of the missional church. It’s ironic because the missional church was how church worked in the first century. We haven’t invented missional church or missional Christianity, we’re simply returning to the simplicity of mission as it was originally designed.

There is much to say about what it means to be a missional church or a missional Christian. If you search either of those titles on my blog’s tag cloud you’ll see plenty of thoughts from previous posts. But for my purposes today, I want to simply remind us that missional living is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus. Paul’s last challenge in this week’s paragraph from 1 Corinthians 15 simply says, “Become right-minded and stop sinning, because some people are ignorant about God” (1 Corinthians 15:34, HCSB).

Since verse 20, Paul has been sharing how resurrection hope extends to sustaining our faith between the time of our tranformation and our time of death. This includes our responsibility to our communities and our world, who are largely “ignorant about God.” Because of the resurrection, I have hope and can live with hope, but that hope is not isolated or self contained. It is a hope to be shared. This is why, more urgently than ever, we need to get our minds right and embrace our “sentness.” Jesus told the disciples that he was sending them into the world in the same manner that he had been sent into the world by the Father (John 20:21). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to the church sending out men and women to serve in any hemisphere. But we can’t afford to have a mentality that subcontracts world evangelism. Your calling to live as a missional Christian is as profound as those who serve in the deepest and darkest parts of the world. Embrace it! There are plenty of people who are still ignorant about God. And chances are, they may live right next door to you!



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I picked up Scot McKnight’s latest book, One.Life, for a couple of reasons. For one, I like him. I first became familiar with his academic side, collecting each volume of the IVP Theological Dictionary series that bears his name as an editor. I own several of his commentaries, and as a pastor have benefited from his sensible observations on the biblical text. It was only then that I learned he had authored several popular books such as The Jesus Creed and The Blue Parakeet. And then there are my daily visitations to his high traffic blog site, Jesus Creed. Over the past year or so I’ve turned to McKnight through several pathways to find compelling theological conversations. Our world is losing some heavyweight New Testament scholars (Bruce, Stott, Morris, et al) who have helped bridge the gap between the ancient text and the modern world. McKnight seems equipped to step into that kind of role, but I digress.

The second reason I picked up One.Life is because I was looking for an answer to a big question. I think the big question for the established churches in America today is “How do we go about the process of producing followers of Jesus Christ?” For decades churches have relied upon programs to produce such creatures. When I began ministry 28 years ago, there was a uniform pattern for the practice of making disciples. People would convert to Christ, then make commitments to attend worship and Sunday School with faithful regularity. Those who were able to develop these practices were encouraged to attend Sunday evening church services and Wednesday night prayer meeting. Special classes were offered weekly that we called “Discipleship Training.” We had outreach night to train them to share their faith with the lost. As people “matured,” we pulled them from the bleachers onto the playing field and encouraged them to pursue discipleship through singing in the choir, serving as an usher, teaching Sunday School to adults, youth, or children, and serving on a committee. Those who achieved mastery at these levels were elevated to the summit: the Deacon ministry.

I don’t mean to sound pious, but after a year or so of reflection on this process I’ve come to the conclusion that we weren’t really producing followers of Christ as much as we were producing “churchmen” who would keep the church running and maintain its programs. People were busy to the point of burnout, but what was strangely absent was life change. Disciple making was more about sustaining the organization and its programs than it was creating avenues for transformation.

To say that the established church of the 21st century is in trouble is perhaps merely stating the obvious. What worked in the last half of the last century isn’t working now, and the lives of our sheep bear this out. You can find any number of surveys today that will bear out one tragic fact: the lives of American Christians are, for all intents and purposes, no different than the lives of their un-churched counterparts. We are as prone to addition, depression, obesity, divorce, crime, dysfuncton, and debt as anyone else. We are just as materialistic and given to pursuit of the American dream as our neighbors who sleep in on Sundays. And, those who do not attend a local church are just as committed to volunteer activities to charitable organizations as those who invest their time in their charitable organization. Therefore, based on those observations I think that I (we) need to discover and recover the ancient practice of how to develop real disciples of Jesus Christ.

That’s why I one-clicked One.Life.

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Beza Threads

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This weekend we hosted Beza Threads, a ministry designed to provide an avenue of hope to children in Ethiopia who work as sex slaves. It is estimated at there are 8.4 million child slaves in the world, with 1.8 million children robbed of their childhoods through sex slavery. Girls in Ethopia, as young as 5 years old, are sold 4-10 times per day for as little as $1.

Beza (“redemption”) Threads’ mission is to provide additional funding to WinSouls, an Ethiopian ministry commited to rescuing girls from sex slavery. WinSouls teaches the former child slaves and former sex slaves how to make scarves to provide funding for their education. WinSouls has a three year program theat educates, counsels, and rebuilds self worth into these young people. God is using Josiah and Megan Carter and many volunteers like them to change the world one life at a time. I want to encourage you to visit www.BezaThreads.org to learn more about this ministry. Perhaps you would even consider purchasing a scarf online and sharing in this great work of mercy and compassion.