“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him,
he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” -John 15:5 (NIV)
Recently I read, An Unhurried Leader, by Alan Fadling and was impacted and convicted by the following quote by Bernard of Clairvaux, a twelfth-century reformer in the Benedictine order of monks:
“The [one] who is wise, therefore, will see [their] life as more like a reservoir than a canal. The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives; the reservoir retains the water till it is filled, then [offers] the overflow without loss to itself ... Today there are many in the Church who act like canals; the reservoirs are far too rare .... They want to pour [this stream] forth before they have been filled; they are more ready to speak than to listen, impatient to teach what they have not grasped, and full of presumption to govern others while they know not how to govern themselves.”
It reminded me of the part of the speech the flight attendant gives right before the airplane takes off; you know, the part about being sure your oxygen mask is in place before attempting to assist someone else. Pretty good advice. It’s hard to assist someone else if you’re passing out from oxygen deprivation!
Choose your analogy; the branch that doesn’t stay connected to the vine, canal versus reservoir or the airplane passenger trying to assist others while being short of oxygen themselves. The point is that we can’t pour into others without continually and consistently being filled ourselves.
“God, make us reservoirs. Teach us to be before we do, listen before we speak, learn before we teach, and be sure that you are leading us before we attempt to lead others. Amen.”
I suspect that you have already noticed this, but there are a lot of people with gray hair (or no hair) in our congregations. I’m definitely not against people with gray hair, because I am one. But the reality is that most churches, by and large, we are not effectively reaching and keeping young people. And I’m not just talking about Wesleyan Churches, I mean all churches. Adults ages 18 to 29 comprise 17% of the adult population in the United States and yet that age group represents less than 10% of church attendees.
As I visit the churches in our district, I often hear comments like, “Young people just aren’t interested in God anymore,” or “The younger generation doesn’t want anything to do with church.” Both of those statements are false. Young people are as hungry for God as ever and are as willing as ever to connect with churches that will really value them. That’s why I’m excited about our upcoming Pastors’ Round Tables where we will be digging into the book, “GROWING YOUNG.”
In case you are tempted to believe that your church can’t reach and keep young people, check out this list of qualities that churches DON’T need to grow young:
“…make disciples…” Matthew 28:19 (NIV)
Dress up your church’s mission statement any way you like, but we all understand that Jesus gave the church a two-word job description: “MAKE DISCIPLES.” Everything we do should work toward the ultimate end of bringing people into the Kingdom of God and helping them to become fully-devoted followers of Jesus. We get that and we say that making disciples is a priority, but the problem is our process.
Most churches approach discipleship with a hodge-podge of various programs; Sunday School, men’s Bible studies, women’s Bible studies, small groups, midweek services, etc. The problem is that those ministries tend to operate independently of each other and there is no guarantee that the people attending will get the teaching and mentoring they need to really become disciples.
There is a better way; the discipleship pathway. Instead of a hit-or-miss program approach, the church with a discipleship pathway has a logical, well-defined process in place to walk with people through the steps of becoming a mature disciple of Jesus Christ.
Recently I had the opportunity to attend a seminar with several other leaders from our district that was sponsored by an organization called, 95Network. One of the sessions really helped to clarify for me the basic steps for designing and implementing a discipleship pathway.
First, it’s important to determine the win. In other words, how will we know that we have really made a disciple? What does a genuine disciple of Christ look like? I want to suggest that a disciple is three things: a learner (Matthew 11:29), a follower (Matthew 4:19a), and a reproducer (Matthew 4:19b). Let’s be honest. In the past our attempts at making disciples has been limited to helping people get spiritual knowledge through all of those classes we offer and we have neglected the mentoring that is required to develop a followers and a reproducers.
Secondly, we have to prioritize what actually helps people get there. That’s the pathway part and it’s really hard. It’s pretty easy to offer programs, but it’s hard to put our energy into relationships that really help people learn, follow and reproduce. Did you catch that word, relationships? Discipleship is relational.
Finally, we absolutely must communicate those next steps clearly and consistently. For anyone attending our churches there should be no confusion about the steps they need to take to become a devoted disciple of Jesus.
It’s time for some honest self-evaluation. Our mission is to make disciples, not to have programs. If your church isn’t making disciples effectively, maybe it’s time to evaluate all of those programs and start planning a pathway.
Let’s face it. Every church claims to be friendly. I once heard someone say, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, “I have yet to visit the second friendliest church in town!” He has a point. Nearly every church I meet with would list friendliness as one of their strengths.
I’m not going to debate whether or not every church is friendly. However, even if that was true, being friendly isn’t good enough. For one thing, many times when a church claims to be friendly what they really mean is that the people in the church are friendly to each other! Visitors either go unnoticed or receive a perfunctory greeting from the designated greeter.
Better than being a friendly church is being a welcoming church. There are huge differences between the two:
Friendly is okay. It’s certainly better than unfriendly. But if you want to reach and keep guests, welcoming is infinitely better.
Christmas is behind us and here we are, facing 2019. Looking ahead into a new year is kind of a mixed bag. On the one hand, there is something exciting and invigorating about a new year. Even though January 1 is really just another day on the calendar, there is something about it that offers hope and promise.
On the other hand, there is something a little ominous about a new year. We can plan, prepare and work, but the reality is that none of us really has any idea of what 2019 holds for us. How will my health be? How will the important relationships in my life fair? What challenges will I face in my ministry? We can hope for the best, but nobody knows. Well, that’s not totally true. There is One who knows…
Theologians attempt to describe God by using 10 attributes gleaned from scripture. I say attempt, because who can describe God? Four of those attributes are moral, having to do with his character. They are righteousness, justice, love and veracity (meaning that he is absolute truth).
Then there are six non-moral attributes. He is sovereign (in control), omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and immutable (unchangeable). But as you think about the new year, focus on these last two attributes for just a bit.
He is eternal. In other words, there has never been a time he hasn’t existed and there will never be a time he won’t exist. He has no beginning and He has no end. In I Timothy 1:17, Paul describes God as “the King eternal.” In Revelation 1:8, John says that God is the One “who was, who is and who is to come.” God is present everywhere throughout time. In fact, time is a dimension that doesn’t exist for Him.
Now couple that attribute with this one. God is also omni-present, meaning that He is present everywhere at once. Proverbs 15:3 says, “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere.” In Jeremiah 23:24 God, himself, asks, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?”
So, try to wrap your head around this; God fills both time and space. There is nowhere throughout all of time and space where God isn’t present. So face 2019 boldly, because the God you serve not only knows the future, he inhabits the future. HE’S ALREADY THERE!