A Life Worth Imitating: Developing a Culture of Discipleship

imitatingJesus’ agenda was always discipleship. His vision for the church is to make disciples.

Matthew 28:18-20 – “18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Everything we do and say within ministry begins and ends with where we are at in Christ. As mentors and as followers of Christ – our main focus and responsibility must be found in listening to what God is saying to us.

How are you a) creating space in your own life to hear from God and b) responding with obedience? Let me take a couple of minutes to lay this out in a couple of diagrams

Kairos Moment Diagram

learning-circle

As ministry leaders, we constantly have people coming to us for advice, wisdom, and direction. Are we feeding them great moral knowledge or are we speaking the truth and love of Jesus into their lives? As leaders, we must be slow to speak, quick to listen, and always praying!

As of today, where is your own personal relationship with Christ? If you had to rate it on scale of 1-10, what would you say? Are you creating space to truly hear from God each and every day? We must also never lose sight of how Jesus carried out ministry. He constantly used both invitation and challenge to draw people to Himself. Here is what I mean by that…

Invitation/Challenge Diagram

invitation-challenge-matrix

Instead of emphasizing either invitation or challenge, we need to calibrate both in order to develop a discipling culture. In this kind of culture, learners feel welcomed and gain a sense of belonging from invitation, and they also grow because they are challenged when it’s appropriate and necessary.

How are you in terms of invitation and challenge? Here are a few evaluation questions: Are the people I’m leading too cozy? If so, what are the first steps of challenge that I need to begin to introduce? Are the people I’m leading too stressed? If so, what steps can I take to add invitation into these relationships?

The invitation from Jesus is not to become a Christian; instead it is about becoming a disciple! Jesus’ invitation was a call to enter into a relationship with Him. His challenge was to go and make disciples of all nations. Do the way you live your life and the way we carry out our ministry reflect the way Jesus did ministry?

In Matthew 16:13-28 we see the idea of invitation and challenge laid out very clearly through the life of Peter. Jesus begins by asking Peter, ‘Who do you say I am?’ He goes on to invite Peter into this incredible opportunity of leadership.

Matthew 16:18-20 – “18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.”

But the story doesn’t end there. Peter goes from being the one who was going to help build God’s Kingdom to being referred to as Satan! Jesus looks at Peter and says, ‘Yes, I am going to invite you to do great things, but man is it going to be difficult!  The task is not easy and the challenge is extreme!’

Matthew 16:24-28 – “24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. 28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Jesus never missed the power of a challenge! 

I believe we have done a very good job at the invitation piece within ministry, but many of us struggle with the challenge aspect. My prayer is that we are not only inviting people into community, but also challenging them to live out a deep relationship with Christ. For some of us, that change must start right here and right now! We cannot change and impact those around us if we ourselves are not in a growing relationship with Christ! What are you doing to become more like Christ on a daily, weekly, monthly basis? Does your life reflect more of who Christ is today than it did a few weeks or months ago?

For the most part, the people within our church will struggle to pass our spiritual threshold. In other words, as leaders and mentors, we help set the ceiling of spiritual formation and discipleship within the ministry! If we are not doing everything we can to grow closer to Christ on a daily basis, then why would our students ever see the need to?

Let me wrap up with this question… Do you have a life worth imitating? Is there somebody that will succeed me and do something even greater than I have done? Who is your Timothy? Are we passing on the character and competency of Christ? We must realize there is more at stake than just an increase in numbers!

For more on how to build a discipling culture head to www.weare3d.com, where you will find these diagrams and much more!

The Heart of Family Ministry: Equipping Parents to be Pastors

FamilyOver the past couple of months I have had the privilege of digging deep into the purpose and vision of family ministry. I have looked at everything from the why to the how to the what. Why do we do what we do? How do we implement family ministry in way that brings honor and glory to God? What do we need to do differently in order for our families to truly experience God’s fullness.

This mind-boggling conversation has caused me to fill up pages upon pages of notes. I have spent hours researching what other churches are doing while looking at what parachurch organizations are available for us to partner with. Our team has evaluated every aspect of what we have done and where we currently are. We have spent time actively seeking what God desires of us over the next weeks, months, and years.

My conclusion is not profound. Instead, it is simple… Although families are full of brokenness, through the grace and truth of Jesus, we have the only message that can provide true healing and restoration. As much as we think we have our act together as parents, spouses, and children, the majority of us are broken, messed up individuals in need of repair. The message of Jesus is also incredibly simple – he has come to ‘seek and save that which is lost.’ In other words, he has come to restore the broken, heal the fractured, and transform the lost.

I come into contact with brokenness amongst families on a daily basis. Whether it is a past mistake destroying a marriage, a lack of trust and compassion, or moments of crisis ruining a families’ rhythm, many families are faced with extremely difficult circumstances.  As a church, we are called to share Christ’s love, grace, and mercy to those in need, including the family that lives across the street that may walk into our church doors for the very first time.

The mission God has called us to is clear – empower and equip parents to be pastors! The church, as a whole, has a tendency to take too much responsibility for the spiritual growth of our children and students. That is not family ministry. Instead, living out a Christ-centered family ministry means that we are providing our parents with the tools, resources, and relationships they need to live out their God-ordained calling as parents. They must become the spiritual leaders of their homes!

We preach ‘what happens in our homes is more important than what happens in our church.’ While I believe that wholeheartedly and agree that it sounds wonderful, I often feel as if it is a simple statement that lacks integrity. In other words, God is challenging me as a Family Ministry Pastor to truly begin living that phrase out practically! The more I hear from God, the more he challenges me to truly practice what I preach – not only on a personal level, but also from a standpoint of leadership within ministry.

I am excited to see the practicality of family ministry rise to the next level over the next few weeks, months, and years – a level that in which we will see families discipling other families while being discipled. It is a level that not only experiences numerical growth, but also passionately cares about the spiritual development of our children and students. Finally, a level in which parents truly become the pastors of their homes!

As we lay out the vision for family ministry, my prayer is that we are not drawn one bit away from the vision God has for us. May we constantly walk in step with Him every day of our lives – seeking Him, listening to Him, and obeying Him at all cost! Through our obedience may families within our community truly be reached for the cause of Christ!

Connecting Our Students to Jesus

imagesStudents desire to feel connected. Whether it is to a team, a musician, or a youth ministry, middle and high school students want to feel as if they are a part of something bigger than themselves! All we have to do is turn on the television to see the passion and excitement found within our teenage generation. They desire to fit in and feel important.

The main purpose of youth ministry is to see students connect into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We must desire to walk alongside students as they go from where they currently are to where God is calling them! It begins with first time guests and continues on even after graduation. Student follow-up is a leadership wide responsibility through formed relationships, and must not be something that any one person can do.

Too often, I have seen students fall through the cracks of church because of the lack of connection. There is nobody present to reach out to them, to follow up with them, or to pray for them. Students also want to be challenged in ways that will push their limits. Today’s teenagers want to be invited to more than a pizza party with loud music and crazy games. They want to be empowered to change their culture, their schools, and even their own families. I have seen more students share Christ with their unsaved parents over the past two years than I can ever remember!

The vision behind seeing students connected goes way beyond the moment of salvation or the rising up out of the waters of baptism. What are we connecting and inviting our students to be a part of, even after they accept Christ? Are we seeing growth occur within each student that walks through our doors? Do new students not only feel welcome, but also desire to come back the following week? Are your students serving and even leading the charge in specific areas of ministry? What is it like to attend your youth service for the very first time?

Connecting a student to Christ begins the moment they step onto your campus – whether it is their very first time or they were born in your church. Do you have students and leaders greeting everyone as they pour onto your campus for youth night? Meeting new students is extremely important, but we cannot miss the significance behind welcoming a familiar face! Our leadership teams must be relationally intentional when it comes to greeting. That first impression may help determine whether or not your students will listen or tune you out during worship, message, and small groups.

Make your first impressions area visible. Students are already confused about enough in life, they shouldn’t have to be confused as to where to go once they arrive. Use signage, tables, music, lights, and most importantly – people! Designate students and adult leaders who are specifically there to help greet every one as they come on campus. Have information ready to go for all of your leaders as soon as they arrive. Utilize connect cards for new guests, and I highly recommend nametags for all students and leaders! Most importantly – have fun and be intentional with your first impressions team! Students should walk away from check-in feeling excited and important, and ultimately sensing a connection to something greater!

As your time with your students goes on, every leader must be relationally intentional. Students want relationships – they want to be talked to, not talked at. They want to be communicated with, not ignored. Even the most shy, timid, or introverted teenager you may meet desires to be a part of incredible relationships. What are your leaders doing to meet and greet all students? Is there a time to hang out and socialize before your service? I know students also create uniformity with friends. In other words, they often flock to the same people. Some youth pastors call them clicks, but I refer to it as a natural human tendency. I have my closest friends, and honestly I am comfortable hanging out with them any day of the week. There are other friends who know I have to work much harder at developing my relationship with them. It is completely natural for us to feel more comfortable around some people over others.

When it comes to students, clicks and popularity contests can destroy ministries. As leaders, we must create a culture in which all are invited, all are welcomed, and all are wanted. Our students want to fit in – even if their best friends are not present. Are we creating a welcoming culture that carries over into the atmosphere of our youth ministry?

Once our service begins, the connection process cannot end. I have talked to many leaders who think the goal is only to get students in the door. While I see where they are coming from, the goal must be to connect them to Jesus, not simply get them in the door! I know, I know… some of you are saying, ‘Well in order to get them connected to Jesus, we must first get them in the door.’  I get that, but our goal is not to see how many students we can get to show up to our youth service. Instead, our goal is to see students encounter Jesus Christ!

Utilize every aspect of your service to connect students. Is your time of worship exciting and interactive? Are your announcements and welcome full of energy and memorable? Is the message challenging, applicable, and thought-provoking? Do your small group leaders sincerely care about their students? If you answered no to any of these questions, you may want to seriously revisit that specific area! The way you organize your youth service is key to seeing students connecting!

Our responsibility definitely does not end once students leave our campus! I tell my core leaders that youth ministry is a 24-hour responsibility. In other words, tragedy can strike at any minute of any day! Students want to feel welcomed to your ministry outside of your designated service time. Whether it is through social media, text messaging, email, or a phone call, it is extremely important to connect with students over the course of the week. Never underestimate the power of unexpected connections! Set the leaders’ expectations high – encouraging them to reach out to the students within their small group on a weekly basis. Personally follow up with every new student that walks onto your campus! I know this takes time, energy, and resources, but I can say from experience that students feel important when they are contacted and connected! And when students feel important they come back! Very few students accept Christ the first time they walk in the doors of a church, but who knows how God will work if they continue to come back week after week!

Do not stop at connecting your students to your weekly service! Challenge them as you connect them. Encourage them to create paths of spiritual growth – whether it is through a mentor, a discipleship process, or community groups. There were times that Jesus looked at the large crowds said, ‘You don’t get it… Spiritual growth is not solely about the large group setting! More importantly, it is about your daily routine to become more like Me!’

We are called to walk through life with our students in a way that brings honor and glory to Jesus! When we accomplish this we will see growth in ways we could never imagine! Connect your students to Christ through discipleship, leadership opportunities, and missional involvement. Make a way for your students to use their God-given abilities and talents. Allow your students to partner with mission organizations and individual families, empowering them to share Christ’s love and compassion with our lost and broken world.

So many of the students I come in contact with are broken, lost, and walking through life alone. Yet, they have the desire to fit in and experience a connection that goes beyond their own ability. We have the greatest connecting message this world has ever witnessed – the love and hope of Jesus Christ! Our responsibility is to create a path that connects our students to the Gospel message! But we cannot stop there! Today’s teenagers are culture changers. They are filled with an unbelievable passion for a cause greater than themselves. Challenge your students, empower your students, stir a passion for life-change within your students, and ultimately connect them to the greatest Person to ever live – Jesus Christ!

I would love to hear how you are practically connecting your students into a deeper walk with Christ! Within our student ministry, we have created an entire Connections Team made up of a Connections Coordinator, Small Group Hosts, Spiritual Formation Coordinator, and Student Vitals Host. I am more than willing to share further, how we have practically laid out our Connections Team. Feel free to contact me with any further questions.