Tag Archives: transformation

Small Groups are Key to Church Unity

Looking back at the hundred-or-so conflicted congregations with whom I have been called to consult over the last couple of decades, here is an important observation: only a small handful (or so) of them had a strong small group ministry. The vast majority of them either had no small group ministry or they had a tired, ineffective small group or Sunday School ministry. I believe there is a correlation.  I believe there is a direct relationship between small group ministries and church unity.

small group

For some decades now, church leaders have been recognizing the importance of small groups as a critical tool for Spiritual formation (or for Spiritual “transformation”, depending on whose vernacular you favor). We have all begun to see that, only in the intimacy and accountability of a small group of friends gathered together around the Word of God, can we live the life God has called us to live and become the Christians God has called us to become. It was true in the lives of the apostles (the first small group ever) and it is still true today. Whether you call them Sunday School, Bible Study, home groups, cell groups, prayer groups, gospel communities, support groups or recovery groups doesn’t matter. They all have slightly different aims, but one reality is the same for all of them: creating a safe environment with equal parts grace and truth and where we “lean into” one another’s lives is where real Spiritual transformation occurs.

But I will take this observation one step further. Because small groups are such a powerful tool for Spiritual transformation, they are also a key ingredient to unity in a local body of believers. Why? Because Spiritual formation is a key ingredient to unity. If the Spirit Himself is the central figure in all questions about …

Being Found Worthy

Tuesday Re-mix:

When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.  And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him,  for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”  And Jesus went with them.  Luke 7:3-7

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  Hebrews 11:6

faithWhat is your plan for growing your people?  What is your goal?  What does “success” look like?  Can you describe the model Christ-follower into which your are shaping the sheep in your flock?

For me, this story (from Luke 7) about the centurion’s sick servant is all about “worthiness”.  It is about the qualities or characteristics which Jesus found worthy.  And it is chock full of irony.  Notice that the Jewish elders attempt to lure Jesus to come and help this centurion, because this man is “worthy”.  Their version of “worthy” is all about his achievements and his support of them.  Interestingly, Jesus goes.  As he is arriving, the centurion sends a message to Jesus.  What is that message? “No need to come here…I AM NOT WORTHY.”  But, in the end, Jesus actually finds that he is in fact worthy. But not for any of the reasons the Jewish elders had used.

Jesus finds the man worthy because of his great faith.  This centurion believed that Jesus was whom he claimed to be and that he could heal his servant.  It wasn’t his achievements that made him worthy.  It wasn’t his financial and political support for the synagogue that made him …

Does the Church Have a False View of Self?

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.  1 Timothy 1:15-16

eye in the mirrorDoes it matter whether or not Paul was in fact the “foremost sinner” before coming to Christ? Or, is the more important point that he perceived himself as such? Yeh, I think so too. It is the self-perception on this issue which matters most.

I think  two of the biggest problems for most Christ-followers today is (1) having a false sense of who God is, and (2) having a false sense of who we are without him. The gospel is difficult in the American culture because there are so many in this culture who, frankly, do not feel the need for a savior.  What’s worse, the church has become less effective as those of us in the church have tended to forget for ourselves just how desperately we need a savior. Still.

Churches, you see, can have a false sense of self just as well as individuals…we can actually stop remembering who we are without God. We can get so wrapped up in “doing church” that we lose sight of what matters most. Specifically, here are five ways I have seen us have a false sense of self…here are some lies we sometimes believe about our church:

1. We’re better because our music/preaching/buildings/programming/resources are better. Truth is, we are probably not better at all. But IF we are better, it is only because of the work of the Spirit among us. All the stuff we do…is just stuff. …

The Best Laid Plans

Thursday Re-mix:

When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.  1 Corinthians 15:37-38

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—  1 Corinthians 15:51

TransformationI am no visionary.  I am the first to admit it.  I am envious of those who are visionaries.  I’m pretty quick to admit that as well.  I am impressed with the leader who says, “This is what we will look like in 5 years.”  I very much believe there are people like that…leaders who know exactly what they want to achieve and who know how to cast a laser-like vision to make sure their people make it happen.  So when that leader gets to that 5-year mark and is able to look back and say, “This is exactly where I said we would be in five years, and lo and behold, we did it…” I am impressed and awed.  And if it is a spiritual venture, like a church, I am a little bit sad.

I am sad because that picture seems to leave little room for God’s transforming activity.  You see, there may be some things about the God of the Bible which are predictable, but there is very little about His creative side which lends itself to even the best plans of men.  When God gets involved in something, huge, unpredictable transformations occur…things that are not a part of anyone’s strategic plan.  If we are planning correctly in the church, all we are really doing is structuring so as to enable the organization to respond quickly and efficiently …

The Problem with Sundays

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. Jeremiah 7:4-7

Gathered WorshipThe people of Judah in Jeremiah’s time and so many of us in the church today have all suffered from the same delusion…that genuine change begins in gathered worship. But, just like a genuine dating relationship doesn’t really begin until the SECOND date, genuine change in a Christ-follower’s heart doesn’t begin on Sunday. The real change begins on Monday.  The people of Judah discovered that too late.

Young King Josiah had good intentions and a good heart. He had “rediscovered” God’s instructions about worship and about Holy holidays and festivals. He had even made great strides in destroying the idols and instruments of worshipping those idols. He had restored the people’s respect and reverence for the temple. All of that was good. But it was not enough.

And gathered worship is definitely good for the church today as well. Please don’t hear anything in this post saying otherwise.  I believe we as Christ-followers should be participating in Spirit-filled worship as often as possible.  It is where we celebrate together God’s activity in our lives. It is also where …

A Spirituality of Fundraising

Tuesday Re-mix –

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19

This year has been a huge transitional year for our ministry, Christian Unity Ministries. We will always remember 2013 as the year we transitioned from a small, church consultation ministry operated by Blake and a few of his friends in their spare time to a full-fledged, global non-profit organization with a paid staff and active arms operating in churches and denominational entities all over the world. Last year’s budget: approximately $75,000. The 2013 budget: approximately $350,000. That, my friends, is a God-sized transition!

One of the most painful transitions, it seems, is the one going on in me…the transition toward becoming the visionary leader this new organization now requires. And, just to get very specific here for purposes of this post, I am thinking primarily about the transition into becoming a leader in matters of money and fundraising. Anyone who knows me very well at all, knows that I have simply never been very passionate about fundraising. I have long recognized the eternal truth that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And so, it has always been easier for me to just avoid talking (or thinking) about money rather than having to delve into any theology concerning …

“Church People Don’t Mind Change…They Just Mind Being Changed”

Tuesday Re-mix –

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:12-14

Change is inevitable.  We can fight it, we can rebel against it, we can pretend it doesn’t exist.  We can hide from it, we can curse it, we can cry out to God against it.  But in God’s church, among God’s people, there will always be change…because this revolution Jesus called “my church” is in fact a living, breathing organism.  And where there is life, there is necessarily growth…and where there is growth, there is  [gulp!] CHANGE.  Mark it down.  It is an eternal truth.

Yet despite all of the scripture devoted to this truth and even in the face of thousands of years of evidence of it in the human experience, managing change among God’s people (i.e., in the church) remains one of the toughest leadership challenges around.  I have never met a pastor who did not consider the ushering in of change to be one of his most difficult leadership tasks…ever.  But if you were to come to the conclusion that God’s people just do not like change, I believe you would be …

Counting Noses or Changing Lives?

Tuesday Re-mix –

And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.  They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.  The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.  Matthew 14:19-21

Jesus did not take an institutional approach to ministry.  He did not survey the neighborhood to determine what the physical needs were then implement a task force to study those needs and to plan the infrastructure of an organization that might be able to meet those needs and then go looking for funding for that organization and then go looking for the right people to fill the various positions in that organization.  Jesus did not do strategic planning to set specific goals and objectives for his ministry over a one-year, five-year and ten-year plan.

However, I do think Jesus operated according to God-inspired vision.  In the case referenced in Matthew 14 above, I believe Jesus recognized the hunger of the crowd and immediately developed a God-sized vision of what could be…of what should be…and of what would be.  And I believe he had one goal in mind…changing lives.  I do not think that merely feeding the people was his goal.  I also do not believe he had any goals regarding the number of people he wished to reach with this miracle.  Rather, I believe he wanted to change their lives AND change the lives of the disciples who helped Him.  His “vision” for that ministry was far greater than just getting a little food …

Seeing Our Addiction Through God’s Eyes

Tuesday Re-mix –

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16

Step 11: We seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.

[I am using these Tuesday Re-mixes for a few weeks to think (again) about addiction to self-reliance and how that addiction is one of the biggest challenges to genuine community which we face in the American church culture.]

About 18 months ago, my pastor started us on a new prayer journey.  For the first several months, every morning, he wrote a meditation on the model prayer (those morning meditations have since become meditations on our current Bible study and can be found at theeverydayprayer.com).  I have continued that practice, still praying the model prayer every morning.  This journey has been revealing to me.

The most convicting revelation for me thus far has been this: you and I do not really believe in prayer.  Not really.  Not the way Jesus did.  It only stands to reason that, if we really thought that prayer would change big, important things like cancer or sex trafficking or genocide or war, you and I would never stop praying.  We would be praying all day and all night, because there are issues in this world which would warrant that kind of prayer…if we really thought it would make a difference, that is.  But we don’t.  Not really.  That is why work and school and soccer games and American Idol all get larger chunks of our time and energy than does prayer.  Very sad, but very true, I …

Three Little Questions that Changed My Life

Tuesday Re-mix – 

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22

There is a very simple explanation for why so many people outside the church accuse the church of being full of hypocrites…why people who profess to be Christians often appear to talk one way, but walk an entirely different way.  It is because it is absolutely true.

I learned some time ago that knowing the Bible does not make me a better follower of Christ, and in fact, does not really change me at all.  I can attend church every Sunday, attend small group every Monday night and discuss in great depth what I believe this scripture means or that scripture means…I can listen to Christian radio all day long and can subscribe to podcasts of my favorite preachers…I can read my Bible every day…I can graduate from Seminary with advanced knowledge in Greek and Hebrew…I can do all these things, but if I am only a knower of God’s Word but do not become a doer of God’s Word, I am the biggest hypocrite of all.  And I am not changing for the better.

In The Gathering, which happens to be the class I have the privilege of teaching on Sunday mornings, we talk about each of us having a “next step” to take toward God.  No matter where we are in our faith walk, from the strongest athiest to the most mature believer, we each have a next step to take.  Scripture teaches us what that next step looks like.  The same passage of scripture may show one next step for you and another entirely different next step for me.  That is the beauty and the power of God’s Word.  But in every case, taking that “next …