Author Archives: Brandon

Good Faith

Time and again I’ve heard leaders across the Churches of God General Conference request information and insights about how to engage with the ever-changing culture of the world around us. The requests have come through conversations, our annual ministry reviews, and through a survey I’ve recently conducted. Things seem to be moving at an increasing pace and just as we think we’ve gotten on solid ground, the proverbial rug is pulled out. We’re desperate for an understanding of the culture and a Biblical approach to living and ministering in it.

indexI believe the new book by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons is a tremendous resource for the Church and the CGGC. Good Faith seeks to share how to be a Christian of “good faith” when society thinks you’re irrelevant and extreme. Kinnaman is the leader of Barna and Lyons is the leader of Q. Throughout the book they not only offer information through data, but go the next level by offering practical insights about what the data means for us as the Church.

Two insights in particular caught my attention. The first answers the question of how we live out good faith into an uncertain future. Kinnaman and Lyons offer three essential and balanced components of good faith: love, believe, and live. We first start with rightly ordered love – loving God and loving others. When we’re missing love we come across arrogant, abrasive, and off-putting. The phrase “I’m just telling it like it is” comes to mind. Next we believe, which recognizes that theology and Biblical orthodoxy matters. Belief “allows us to identify and correct distortions in the world, in the church, and in our own thinking”. Lastly, how we live our love and beliefs is significant. We must channel our love and beliefs from heart and head into our daily lives.

The second insight that stood out to me is in regards to discipleship. The authors had done some work in Scotland, a post-Christian context, assessing the difference between growing churches and churches that were plateaued or declining. They listed nine factors that impacted church health in an increasingly secular culture. The first four are external: prioritizing outreach by serving the poor and sharing faith, partnering with other churches and causes, being innovative for the sake of the gospel, and focusing on receptive teens and young adults. Another four factors were internal: teaching the Bible thoroughly, fostering close Christian community, developing new leaders, and leading with a team that has diverse skills and spiritual gifts. The ninth factor was that growing churches prayed missionally and made prayer a mission.

If you’re looking for a resource to help guide your life and ministry in the current state of the world and into the future – you need to read this book.

A Sense of Urgency

Recently, I finished a book by John P. Kotter titled, “A Sense of Urgency”. In it, Kotter looks at what causes businesses and organizations to thrive in uncertain times. He calls this a true sense of urgency and offers four tactics that support the strategy. While Kotter writes from a business perspective (the book is published by Harvard Business Review), I think there are three key takeaways that the Church can glean from his book.

  1. 417m-xEguvLWatch out for a false sense of urgency.

One of the most significant insights from the book, for me, was the idea of a false sense of urgency. This is when there is a perception that the organization is in trouble and in need of change, but the resulting behavior is a rush of activity instead of meaningful productivity. In the Church, we can easily run into situations built upon a false sense of urgency. The schedule is full, everyone is in a small group, we have a meeting every night of the week – but there’s no fruit being produced. It’s not how much you do, but what you’re doing. It’s not the quantity of activity, but the quality. You could have twenty small groups running, but if there are no disciples being made is it any better to have twenty as opposed to one? Better to have a small tree producing lots of apples than a large tree that doesn’t produce any.

  1. Find the opportunity in crisis.

Kotter points out that times of uncertainty and trouble aren’t necessarily the worst things that can happen to us. If approached correctly, these times can yield tremendous outcomes for us. In particular, they help push entire organizations from a position of complacency to one of urgency (and hopefully true urgency). I think the Church is in this very situation today. The world is changing at an increasingly quicker pace. It’s easy to look at the world around and feel threatened and scared for the Church and her future. However, this is also a time when those who are most rooted in a certain method and style of church are most likely to accept new efforts and practices. Now is an amazing opportunity to catalyze change in the Church because more and more people recognize the need.

  1. Behave with urgency every day.

If we want to develop a sense of true urgency within the Church, then our leaders – both paid and unpaid – need to behave with urgency every day. This means clearing and prioritizing the schedule, moving quickly, speaking with passion, behaving in accordance with your words, and letting others see you physically act with urgency. You don’t have to run around wildly, but aim to hustle in everything you do. Be focused, be clear, and act accordingly. Letting others, especially those in your church, see you move with urgency will get them to move with urgency too.

Does your church operate with a sense of true urgency?

How can you practically find the opportunity in crisis and behave with urgency ever day?

Addition vs. Intention

Over the past several weeks I’ve been offering a series of blog posts on the issue the Church is facing in discipleship. Looking at what the problem is and how we can address it. You can find the previous posts by following these links:

  1. We Have a Problem
  2. Why We Aren’t Making Disciples
  3. Relationships Are at the Heart of Discipleship
  4. The Need for Imitation

As I’ve shared previously, one of the common issues we run into in terms of discipleship is that we try to fit discipleship into a one or two hour window each week. This mode of operation has taken many forms over time including Sunday School, Bible studies, and small groups. While the format and content may vary for each style of discipleship group, there can be a prevailing theme of gathering and departing at specific times. Though there is no issue in meeting for an hour at a time – the reality is that discipleship takes a lot more interaction throughout a week. The more time we spend together, the greater opportunity there is to take steps forward. I think there are two dichotomies that are helpful to consider in gaining more time together with those we’re leading in discipleship.

The first is organized vs. organic. When we think of discipleship groups that meet together, as mentioned above, we typically think in terms of organized gathering times. This group meets at this time, on this day, for this long. These are the gatherings that are planned out with specific content and a consistent format. But they’re not enough. There also needs to be gatherings that are informal and unplanned. These are times that build relationships and allow the life-on-life aspect of discipleship to thrive. You need both organized and organic time in discipleship. The hardest part, and biggest complaint that I’ve heard, is finding time to add the organic stuff to your schedule. We can give an hour or two a week, but do we really have time to add five or more hours each week? This leads us to the second dichotomy: addition vs. intention.

If we only think of the organic part of discipleship as adding new things Man and woman shopping for produce in supermarketto our already busy scheduled, we’ll never do it. Instead, we need to consider the things we’re already doing and do them with an intentionality towards discipleship. Having dinner tonight? Good news! Most people are going to have dinner too, so why not have it together? Going grocery shopping? There’s probably other people you know that are going to go grocery shopping too, so invite them along. Are you heading to pick your kid up from school? See if there’s another parent that you can carpool with and chat with them along the way. Don’t add to your schedule, take your schedule and use it for discipleship.

Does your discipleship include both organized and organic elements?

What in your schedule can you intentionally use for discipleship?

The Need For Imitation

Currently, I’m offering a series of blog posts on the issue the Church is facing in discipleship. Looking at what the problem is and how we can address it. You can find the previous posts by following these links:

  1. We Have a Problem
  2. Why We Aren’t Making Disciples
  3. Relationships Are at the Heart of Discipleship

Today, we’ll be looking at another reason why we aren’t making disciples: imitation. The problem we face in the Church is that we assume that we can replicate ourselves through information transfer alone. Perhaps this is the result of the Enlightenment and the growth of Academia, but reproducing disciples cannot happen by information alone. However, it takes imitation as well.

Group of surgeons working in operating theatre

Of course, I’m not saying that we lose the teaching component and forget passing on information. Instead, I’m offering that we need to balance information with imitation. And, frankly, this is how a lot of trades already operate in the world. You wouldn’t want a doctor operating on you if they’ve only studied surgery in a classroom. You would want someone who has practiced under the guidance and supervision of a seasoned and experienced surgeon. Similarly, you can’t become a teacher unless you go through student teaching under the guidance of a cooperative teacher. You can’t become a licensed plumber unless you’ve spent time as an apprentice to someone who is already licensed.

It should be the same in the Church. Discipleship doesn’t happen simply because you’ve passed on information through Bible studies, membership classes, and sermons. There needs to be a process of imitation whereby someone who is a little farther ahead on their spiritual journey walks alongside someone who is a little farther back. This is why Paul says “imitate me as I imitate Christ”.

It’s important to recognize that this isn’t a call to live a perfect life. Quite the contrary, you need to show how an imperfect and fallen person is redeemed ever day through the power of Jesus Christ. You need to be a living example. Follow me as I follow Christ – watch what I do as I try to figure out how to align my life with Christ. And it’s through that process of imitation that discipleship really takes place. It’s in imitation that we can see what we need to be.

Who are you imitating in your life as a disciple?

Who are you allowing to imitate you as you follow after Christ?

Relationships Are At the Heart of Discipleship

Often times as we try to make disciples we find our efforts fall flat. It’s important to remember that it’s not necessarily due to a lack of desire or effort, but misplaced effort won’t produce that type of fruit we hope and long for in discipleship. Last week, I offered four primary reasons why we aren’t making disciples.

The first reason I offered, and what we’ll focus on today, was that we aren’t building relationships in our discipleship efforts. Several years ago I was reflecting on my own ministry and discipleship work. While there were great things happening in the church, I couldn’t point to anyone in particular with whom I was in a discipling relationship. I had relationships with others in the church. We might hang out or chat every now and again, but that’s different than having a real relationship that is growing and building. It was a striking moment for me and maybe, as you reflect on your own ministry, it’s striking for you as well.

Three senior men laughing, close-up (focus on man wearing glasses)

Building relationships that have the potential for bearing the fruit of discipleship have always included active and regular involvement in each other’s lives. Jeff Vanderstelt of Soma defines discipleship as “leading others to increasingly submit all of life to the lordship and empowering presence of Jesus Christ”. He uses the term “all of life” because you can’t disciple someone in how to live their life if you don’t see them live it. You can’t disciple someone in their finances if you don’t see them handle their money. You can’t disciple someone in their marriage if you don’t see them interact with their spouse in their ever day patterns. You can’t disciple someone in their health if you never see them eat or exercise. Relationships that bear fruit take significant and regular life encounters.

So how do you move to active and regular involvement in other people’s lives? Think “together”. Eat dinner together. Go on vacation together. Grocery shop together. Play games together. The more you are together, the more your relationship will grow. The more your relationship grows, the more fruit that can occur. It’s a shared life that leads someone to look more and more like Christ.

There’s a warning though. The more together you are with someone, the more the perfectionist masks of Christianity will come off and the messier things get. Expect there to be moments of anger, sadness, and frustration. It won’t be perfect, but then it shouldn’t be. It’s in the imperfection that growth is able to occur. And it’s only in togetherness that imperfection will come out. It’ll be difficult, but it will be worth it.

Are you actively and regular involved in someone else’s life?

What are you doing to build relationships with others?

Why We Aren’t Making Disciples

As mentioned in a previous post, we have a discipleship problem in the church. Disciples aren’t being made. This isn’t because of a lack of effort or desire, but because we aim at solving the symptoms and not the core issue of making disciples. We try to increase worship attendance, baptisms, tithe, and more, but don’t actually go about making disciples.

Sometimes, though, we do try to make disciples and find that our efforts fall flat. We think that we’re making disciples, but as we look at the fruit of our efforts over the course of time we find that few have been made and even those that have seem to drift away over time. What are we missing in our discipleship efforts that cause us to be ineffective? Why aren’t we making disciples?

I think there are four primary reasons:

Group of people at lunch table outdoors, smiling, portrait

We Aren’t Building Relationships

We often leave discipleship to sermons and classrooms where the environment for building relationships is limited, if not non-existent. This isn’t to say that you don’t know people’s names and a bit about them, but it’s almost

impossible to have a real relationship with others if you’re not engaged in their lives. You have to be in each other’s homes, hang out together, eat together, and have fun together.

We Focus Too Much on Knowledge

Information is important. We certainly have to know the Bible and Bible studies are great opportunities to understand who God is and what He has done. However, information without application is unused potential. It’s equally important to take what we know and apply it to our lives, our churches, and the community around us.

 

Stopwatch, close-up

We Assume Discipleship Can Happen in One Hour a Week

Even in churches where small groups and Sunday school classes are working, we can easily limit the discipleship that could be happening by scheduling too little time together. Of course, people’s schedules are full and it’s challenging to find even an hour together, but the more quantity of time that we have, the more quality of time that is sure to come. Find ways to spend more time together to allow discipleship to take greater steps.

 We Don’t Give Imitatable Examples

The lives we lead have to be reproducible in the lives of those we disciple. If there isn’t an opportunity for others to do the same things in the same way that we do, then we’ll soon find no one being discipled. This doesn’t mean weakening things to the point of losing all significance and meaning, but instead simplifying them so that they’re teachable. If you’re going to lead worship, do it in such a way that others could do it too. If you’re going to teach on Sunday mornings, do it in such a way that others could do it too. Always think of how you can be multiplying yourself.

I recognize it’s easy to point out the problems without offering solutions, so look for posts that address each of these in the weeks to come.

What are the ways you deal with these issues?

Where do you find yourself putting forth effort that doesn’t produce fruit?

We Have a Problem

In the Churches of God, General Conference and across the landscape of western Christianity we have a problem. The symptoms are well known, talked about, and even solutions have been tried. Yet, things stay the same. Attendance in worship is dwindling, conversions and baptisms are less and less, the financial reserves have dried up, and we find the average age of our churches are growing older. We all see it happening, but things aren’t changing.

And it’s not for lack of desire. Those in church leadership aren’t sitting around twiddling their thumbs. They’re trying, they’re working, and they’re making conceded efforts to shift the current trends into the right direction. We’ve heard battle cries of modernization, capital campaigns, church planting, and more. If we could just solve this issue, our churches would be okay. And yet, things remain the same.

The reason things aren’t changing is that all of our efforts just deal with the symptoms and never get at the real problem. We try to solve worship attendance, conversion, and finance issues, but those are really surface level indicators of a much deeper and fundamental issue.

Dentist Examining an X Ray of Teeth

A couple of months ago, my teeth began to hurt. Not sharp pains, but dull aches and twinges. I went to the dentist and found out that I’ve been grinding my teeth. My first question was, “Could get a mouth guard to fix the problem?” I knew that a lot of people use them and that it was the likely course of action to take. The dentist replied that he could give me one, but that it would only keep my teeth from being damaged. They would probably still ache a bit and wouldn’t stop me from grinding. The real problem was stress. I was stressed from a job transition I was going through and it was causing the grinding. If I wanted to stop the grinding, I had to get rid of the stress (which is easier said than done).

The reality is that we don’t have an attendance problem. We don’t have a finance problem. We don’t have a conversion problem. We don’t have an outreach problem. We don’t have a church planting problem. We have a discipleship problem. It’s not that the other things are unimportant, but if we were really taking care of discipleship, everything else would begin to fall into place. We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the symptoms, it’s probably time to start working on the problem.

Why do you think we have a discipleship problem?

What can we do about it?

3 Ways to Be On Mission In A Rural Church

One of the hardest things about being a part of a rural church is engaging in mission. You know you’re supposed to and you actually want to, but where do you start? It’s not the same as our brothers and sisters who live and minister in cities, where neighbors are five feet away. In a city there can be thousands of people in the same space that encompasses one family farm. How then do we expand the Gospel in such a spread-out setting?

Fields in Oxfordshire, England

Before I entered into full-time ministry, I was music teacher at a local school district that was in a rural community. I grew up in a small city only fifteen minutes away from the school, but the cultures were extremely foreign to me. I wasn’t prepared for the different events and perceptions that came with rural life. There was a “drive your tractor to school” day, a week of animals being stored in the school’s bus garage, and I would inevitably be late to work in the fall because harvest season would fill the road with farm equipment.

I also wasn’t prepared for a culture change when my first full-time ministry position was at a church in a village of a few hundred people. It was a tough learning curve to adjust my strategy of mission to such a different context, but over time I found a few things that were extremely helpful to reaching out to those who don’t know Christ. Here are three simple ways to engage with people you don’t know:

  1. Gathering Places – Look for the existing gathering places and events of the community. Usually these will be the school, the post office, and maybe a mom and pop restaurant. The post office in our church’s village was closed because it was too small, which took away one of the primary chatting spots. Other places may be a park or a farmer’s co-op.
  1. Affinity Groups – These are groups that gather because of common interests. Normal ones might be gardeners, runners, and bikers. In smaller villages and rural counties, there are more people in political positions such as township trustees, soil and water conservation committee, and the village council. Farmers and handy men tend to find places to gather to chat and drink coffee.
  1. Just Stop By – There’s a culture present in a rural community that allows people to stop by each other’s homes a bit more easily then in a city setting. I’ve encouraged people that if they see someone out in front of their house as they’re driving past to go ahead and pull in and say hello. Make it a habit to look for those opportunities as you are going from place to place.

Being on mission in a rural church may be a bit more challenging, but it certainly is doable, especially if you take time to reflect on the culture around you.

What about you – what ways have you found to be on mission in a rural church?

Quote

If the suffering Jesus endured did not make him give up on us, nothing will.