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Vision and Planning for Small Churches

For some, planning ahead is one of the most difficult parts of leading a small church. In under-staffed and under-resourced situations, “each day has enough trouble of its own” might be the truest thing Jesus ever said. It’s difficult to look ahead one week, let alone plan ahead for a whole year. Yet, for a small church leader, the practice of planning ahead with vision and detail produces some of the greatest benefits for the church and the church leader. This article will explain the process of visionary planning and provide resources to get you started for free using Google Docs.

Planning vs. Relying on the Spirit

First, let me dismiss this false dichotomy. When I talk about detailed planning for the future, I inevitably get a rejection from someone who would rather just “rely on the Spirit.” Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” It is absolutely true that God’s purpose will triumph over even the most detailed and visionary plan for your church. But, this does not mean we shouldn’t make great plans. It is not unspiritual to plan ahead. Part of the promise that Peter saw being fulfilled at Pentecost was that young men would see visions and old men would dream dreams. We can spiritually plan ahead by relying on the Spirit as we plan and the being prayerful and open to the Spirit as we execute our plans and visions. The Apostle Paul was a master at this. In Acts 16 he planned to go deeper into Asia but was blocked and called to Macedonia so he headed for Europe. (Acts 16:6-10) Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” But what did the execution of that plan look like? He stopped to preach, heal and train along the windy path that led to his goal. He was attuned to the Spirit while he stayed focused on the plan God gave him and we can be too!

What Happens If The Plan Needs To Change?

Not if, but when. The plans that we make for our church always get changed by all kinds of factors including our all powerful God. It has been my experience that having good plans and organization actually makes it easier to change plans. (After all, you’re not really changing your plans if you never had any plans to begin with.) When you have a good framework for your week, months and even your year then you’ll have to change plans less and the changes will usually be less jarring. I’ll show you how to make plans that assume change is coming and are built with flexibility below.

But I’m Not Creative!

Yes you are! If you have the Holy Spirit you are creative. In the first chapter of the bible, the Spirit hovers over the waters and then God’s voice creates and orders our world. That same Spirit lives in you. The voice of creation echoes in our hearts as we bear the image of God and read his inspired word. You are creative but it takes desire, focused time and practice to bring out the creativity God has given you. I don’t actually consider myself a creative person. I don’t have any creative talents like playing an instrument or artistic abilities. Yet, I have a reputation for being a creative minister. Here are some ways to stoke your innate creativity. Use these as a starting point for church planning.

  • Pray by listening: If you are doing all the talking in your prayer times then you’re doing it wrong. God wants to speak to you but you have to listen. I probably spend about half of my prayer walks listening for the voice of God. That might sound strange (God doesn’t actually talk to me) but I get flooded with ideas, I see things more clearly, I hear scriptures that I’ve read and I receive encouragement when I pause my talking and listen in prayer. My mind also wanders sometimes but that’s okay – who knows where God wants to take my wandering and wondering mind!

 

  •  Take notes: This is so important. You can take notes in a journal or on your phone. I personally prefer to use Google Docs because it puts my notes on all of my devices and makes them searchable. I’m not as organized as the spreadsheets below would indicate but being able to search every note I’ve taken and every sermon I’ve written makes up for a disorganized drive. I’ve got several documents that I take notes on for different subjects so that whenever an idea strikes me (and they are rarely strike when I’m at my computer) I can write it down in a useful place and come back to it. I’ve got a doc for writing ideas, our core group, our staff, my family, sermon ideas and for the year ahead (to name a few). I don’t want to miss something the Spirit is trying to show me!

 

  • Collaborate: Maybe you truly aren’t very creative. I bet someone in your leadership circle is. Moreover, if you gather all of your leaders together and brainstorm you’ll get more ideas than you can handle. We’ve had retreats focused on vision and planning where we used various group brainstorming techniques to tap into God’s will for the church. I’ll write another article about the ways we’ve “visioneered” as a church, but here are a few keys:
    • Lead and get out of the way – When you are leading a time such as this it’s important to provide structure and keep people on track but to not dominate with your vision.
    • No idea is a bad idea at first – Start with wide open brainstorming. Write down and encourage every single idea in the first round of talking and praying. Then as you re-gather later, start to narrow down ideas into themes and activities that work together.
    • Start with WHY – We often stay in the action modes of deciding what we should do and how we should do it but what if we start with the biggest questions: Why are we a church? Who has God called us to be? Then the what’s and how’s come out a lot clearer.
    • Spend time in prayer together – Jesus in Gethsemane, the 12 in the upper room, the leaders in Antioch… when we pray together God reveals his plans and all we have to do is figure out how to jump on and enjoy the ride.
    • Build Buy In – Planning together helps everyone feel like they own the ideas (because they actually do!). You’ll get so much more joyful energy from your leaders and disciples if they are involved in the planning and not just expected to follow through on your ideas. There’s so much power in ‘we’!

Organizing Ahead

For many, coming up with ideas, thinking ahead and dreaming are not actually the problem. But putting those plans on paper in an actionable and effective way end up being the road block. How do we go from visions and dreams to calendars and schemes?

Instead of just planning ahead we need to organize ahead. Here’s where I like to use Google Docs. There are many church planning software suites out there that you could also use but Google Docs are free and free is a magical word for small church leaders. I’ll provide all of the templates I use and you can take them and make them work in your situation by clicking ‘file’ – ‘make a copy’. It’s important to note that adjusting to a new framework takes time and it might not work at all in your situation. It’s okay to keep trying new things until you find what works for you.

  • The Idea Sheet – This is the document that I start working on a year in advance so I can gather ideas early and often. It’s just a Google Doc (You can view 2020’s doc here.) (Here’s 2019) (And 2021 in progress) I usually take a personal retreat in August where I solidify general plans for the next year. If we have a leadership retreat in November, I use the plans as a loose structure to guide the retreat and let the leaders fill in the details through prayerful brainstorming.

 

  • From Ideas to Plans – This is the crucial step that many miss. Get those ideas parsed out into actionable plans. I just use a spreadsheet with multiple tabs. I can quickly see what I’m supposed to be doing day to day. There’s no worse feeling than not knowing what to do as a small church leader. An organized spreadsheet means that you just go about your assigned tasks.

 

  • How It Works
    • Planner – The tabs on the bottom flow through the action items of the church. Each week I can see what’s coming up for the months ahead and begin planning weeks out with our small staff. (2019’s is more populated than 2020 because…Covid!) Even if you are a staff of one, it is a major stress reliever to look ahead 5 or 6 weeks and begin putting the pieces in place for great events. You can also look back and assess how things went. For recurring events we took notes so we’d remember a whole year later what we wanted to change and not repeat the same mistakes.
    • Sunday – We aren’t a Sunday only church but Sunday is still our best chance to hit it out of the park and inspire the church. Planning makes it possible to not just survive on Sundays, but to have engaging and excellent services every week.
        • I like having year long themes for the church. Within those themes it is essential to break things down into smaller themes. 4-5 week micro themes seem to work best but with purpose and planning you could even go 12 weeks.
        • In 2020 our theme has been 2020 Bible Vision. The WHY behind this theme was that we had a lot of young Christians (can I get an amen!) and I wanted them to read the whole bible as we embarked on a new decade. So we worked the whole year around this idea. Because I started praying and planning a year ahead the plans grew into something greater than the size of our church would seem to allow.
          • I found a reading plan from a past year and adapted it for daily reading. The sermons each Sunday would come from the readings and the monthly themes are based on that month’s section of the bible but always look to Jesus even in the Old Testament.
          • I asked other small churches from the Midwest if they’d like to join us and two said yes (Fort Wayne and DeKalb!) This allowed us to share sermon, activity and media ideas and act like a bigger staff.
          • I thought about making it interactive to keep people engaged and to enrich the experience. 2020biblevision.com took 20 minutes to set up. I made a template so people from all three churches could contribute a daily video and blog entry that would have some coherence. Here’s the result: Each day our members get a quiet time of the day’s reading in their inboxes and almost 20,000 people have visited the blog so far this year. (From 3 churches totaling less than 200 members!)
          • This didn’t really take too much effort but thinking ahead allowed it to become more robust.
          • Every Sunday I know what I’m preaching about and I can work ahead and make each sermon better, tie in songs for enriched worship, and because it’s exegetical bible preaching even Covid couldn’t touch it. The bible can always speak to whats happening in our world. You can plan a whole year if your year is planned around the bible instead of being topical.
        • 2021‘s theme will be To Live Is Christ and we’ll look at being a disciple of Jesus through the eyes of the greatest disciple: Paul. This was inspired by a historical fiction book on the life of Paul that I listened to while running and then I sat down and wrote out the plans (link above). Now that I know the theme I can think and pray about ways to add layers of impact to the plans! Exciting!
    • Sunday Hosts – How often do you get to church and remember that you forgot to ask someone to do communion or contribution? It happened every few months when we were a very small church. So, we set up a system where our ministries “host” the service on a rotating basis. They get an email 8 days before their Sunday so they can use the Sunday before to tap shoulders of people in their ministry to lead the parts of the service. We use Breeze CHMS for automated emails, texts and database. ($50/mo and well worth it!)
    • First Friday/Workshops/Midweek – We use a combination of First Friday meetings and workshops to provide the teaching and fellowship of Midweek services. Those kind of got blown up by Covid but you can check out the tab.
    • Bible Studies – We keep our bible studies moving with this tab. I want to know who the point people are in each person’s study. We want to make sure people are being asked to study quickly and not coming to church for weeks before being engaged. We want first time visitors to get a mug and a welcome to church gift. All of that can be tracked weekly. Not everybody who studies gets baptized but I don’t want the reason someone doesn’t get dunked to be because of an organizational weakness from the church!

Overall, having a system and planning allows you to provide more quality than your size. God is not a God of small things and small churches can do so much more than it would seem if leaders are willing to think ahead and therefore have more time and energy to put into upcoming plans instead of getting stuck in a week to week pattern of putting out fires. Week to week is not a good way to build wealth or a church!

Follow Through Builds Trust

Lastly, one of the often unrecognized or unspoken challenges that small churches face more than larger churches is legitimacy. In a larger church you can look around and see that 300 other people think this is a good place and there’s a good plan and that critical mass inherently builds trust (whether it is deserved or not). A church of 40 meeting in an elementary school gymnasium doesn’t have legitimacy built in. Trust must be earned. Having good plans and communicating those plans (using the word ‘we’ and building a lot of buy in) will help with legitimacy but the biggest benefit comes with following through.

Don’t just make great plans. See them through. The spreadsheets we use help us to execute the plans we’ve made, tweak them when necessary, and help the church to feel stable and cared for. I love God’s conversation with Moses in Exodus 3. Moses wants to know how he can trust that God will come through. In Exodus 3:12 God says you’ll know, “when you have brought the people out of Egypt.” In other words, after you complete it, you’ll know that I was trustworthy. Completing the visions, dreams and plans of God with excellence is a fast track to having a church that trusts in God and even trusts in us as the leaders that he’s called to do his will!

 

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A new approach to Discipleship Groups has brought revival in the church

We grew and grew for about 6 years from 30 members to 100.  That’s great growth for a disciple making church.  Even as we focused on quality growth we still struggled to have every member participate in discipleship (being students of Jesus together) in a meaningful way.  Our church was built on discipleship with the expectation that every member would be followers of Jesus in close relationship with one another like Jesus’ disciples or like Paul and Timothy.  When we had 30 members it was easy to help everyone in the church be in such a relationship.  As we grew to 100 we probably only had 60% participation even though we talked about it a lot and expected it from every member.

In the last couple of years our growth slowed down and we were on the verge of being stuck around 100.  I believe God will not let a church grow faster than what it can handle.  That’s God’s grace to keep us devoted to the right things and to keep us from getting off track or from losing a lot of people when a shoddily constructed church crumbles.

Gordon Ferguson (an elder in our fellowship of churches) wrote a book about his experience with 3 different branches of the Restoration Movement late last year and his chapter on discipleship came across like a life giving rebuke.  He challenged our churches to examine if we have lost the very thing that we built our churches upon.  Doing discipleship is deciding to follow Jesus in the same way that Jesus lived his life and did ministry.  Jesus’ method was discipleship.  I believe that we should follow that example.  But I looked at our church and we were not.  I tried a few things to get us unstuck and growing again but nothing was resonating or creating change.  Maybe the issue wasn’t a lack of evangelism or a lack of quality teaching, but a lack of discipleship.

We started 2017 with the theme, “All In” with the goal of helping the church be more devoted.  I did not have the foresight to think that All In also means that some would go all out and leave the church.  It’s obvious now and it’s been good to see God prune even as some of that pruning is very painful.  The church is definitely more devoted than it was at the beginning of the year.  And God has blessed us with new growth too as he often does when pruning occurs.

Also, at the beginning of this year I believe God led me to some great books.  I was set to teach a class in Minneapolis on discipleship more because of my passion for it than for my expertise.  But I read and read so I could do a good job.  These books were transformative: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown spoke to the heart of discipleship – dealing with shame and vulnerability – that it can’t be a program in the church – it has to stay personal if it is to be effective.  I still have a lot to learn and teach our church in this. Another book along the same lines was Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen.  I have long loved Henri’s books.  This posthumous collection was so impactful as he talked about the value of mentors and what it means to really be in a relationship with someone.  So much to still learn.  The other book is Tribes by Seth Goodin.  I’m not sure if I even finished this management book but the idea of a new structure based on tribal leadership intrigued me.  I met up with a great creative advisor in the church and I explained the concept to him and we brainstormed how it could become a reality in the Lansing Area Church of Christ.

In our church, we were still trying to help people experience discipleship by matching them up with groups based on where they lived (i.e. downtown Lansing, Eaton Rapids) or their life situation (i.e. singles, retirees, empty nesters).  I’d train the leaders for these groups, even producing materials like Shepherd.  Yet, the group leaders were frequently experiencing burnout and the group members were not making the groups a priority.  If the church were a company I’d say we were not putting out a good discipleship product and we were stressing out our middle management.  Discipleship, our bread and butter, had become ineffective.  Maybe an renewed focus and a new model would help?

Tribes

Tribes are people groups led by a passionate leader and made up of people who share that person’s passion.  They organically happen all the time like when someone starts a Harry Potter fan club on social media and a thousand people sign up.

One of the first things we decided was to not call the groups tribes.  We’d changed the names of our groups many times over the years as we tweaked our discipleship – we’d just call these what they were: Discipleship Groups.  So creative!  What’s a discipleship group?  Even more creative: It’s a group of people who meet every other week for discipleship (to become better followers of Jesus together).

Here’s what was new though.  Instead of basing discipleship groups on where people lived or how old they were or if they were married and kind of playing match maker with new members and established discipleship groups, we would base discipleship groups around passionate leaders gathering people to grow in areas they were passionate about.  It all started with our first discipleship festival in March.

Discipleship Festival

In the Old Testament, life in Israel revolved around Holy Days and the festivals that went with them.  These were celebrations but they were also reminders of who they were as a people and what God had done among them (Exodus 12 and 13 illustrate this – in the midst of escaping Egypt Moses explains the new Holy Days that will serve as reminders for the post-exodus people of God).  They provided a rhythm for Israel.  They were so much a part of the fabric of life for the Hebrews that even Jesus’ death coincided with the greatest of the festivals (Passover).  Many other moments in Jesus’ life also revolved around the festivals.  In Christendom, Holy Days used to be the rhythm of life as well but as the world has grown more secular our Holy Days have been reduced to holidays.

The idea for our discipleship festival was to celebrate the impact discipleship has had on our church and to remind the people of what discipleship means and how important it is.  We also decided that in order to keep discipleship at the forefront of the church we needed to have built in celebrations and reminders so we committed to having a discipleship festival every 6 months.  We were beginning to build discipleship into the rhythm of the church instead of just reacting when things weren’t working.

Before we could make new groups or do anything in regards to discipleship we needed a come to Jesus moment.  Six years ago our church growth was sparked by a throw down where we repented as a church in areas where we lacked devotion.  We talked about the kind of church we wanted to be.  The message at the first discipleship festival was a throw down about discipleship.  Did we want to be a church where 60% of people were experiencing discipleship with one another?  Did we want to be a church where people came on Sundays but real growth wasn’t happening?  The response was great.  Of course the church wanted to follow Jesus as his disciples.  I also introduced the idea of new discipleship groups and asked people to pray about leading a discipleship group based on an area of spiritual passion.  Then we left the current groups as they were for the next 6 months so we could train new leaders and explain to all the groups what the change would look like (even though we didn’t totally know ourselves.)  It was so difficult to wait for those 6 months but it was so important to be patient and sensitive because change messes with people.

At the next Discipleship Festival, 6 months later in September, people would join their new discipleship groups.  All of this took a lot of faith.  As I look back, faith was not usually something we needed with our leadership and church structure.  We relied much more on people than God.  But now we were saying that we needed enough leaders for the whole church every 6 months.  What if no one volunteered?  I prayed and prayed!

Discipleship Groups

From March to August we held 4 discipleship group training meetings.  Any member interested in leading, anyone who was passionate about something in Christ could come to the leadership meeting and get training for leading a group.  Over 30 people came to the first meeting.  At the first meeting I introduced the concept and tried to explain the change of emphasis without freaking everyone out.  I gave everyone the homework assignment to think of an area in Christ that they were passionate about that might help other Christians as well.

At the next meeting people presented their ideas.  We had a workshop where we helped people take their ideas and turn them into discipleship group topics.  We do discipleship every other week and a midweek service every other week.  Since the new groups would go for 6 months, everyone needed to come up with 12 group discussions based on their topic.  These weren’t lessons.  They were guided discussions that would help everyone participate.  I made an infographic that allowed everyone to envision the group and set parameters (like it had to be Christ focused).

Lansing Area Church of Christ JPG

Here’s an explanation of the infographic above:

  • Discipleship groups are simply defined as places where we can be students of Jesus together.
  • Group leaders needed to provide a consistent place and time.  We ended up having groups on almost every day of the week which meant that a lot more people could participate.  We also ended up having groups all over the Lansing area.
  • Group leaders could shape their groups by letting people know that there was no child care provided or it was only for marrieds or singles, etc…
  • The groups were based around the leader’s passion but also had to be Christian.  Every group meeting ends with the same question regardless of the topic – what did we learn about Jesus?  Every meeting has some good news sharing and prayer.  We make sure to talk about the basics on the regular too.
  • The groups are more than just get togethers – group leaders have a shepherding responsibility and group members are accountable for being committed to their groups.  We had trouble with this in our other groups but I’ll explain how this has been different below.
  • Leaders could form their topics based on a book they read (easiest way), a sermon they heard, a book of the bible or anything that inspired them.

We used the next couple of leadership meetings to refine the groups and to pray for the church.  Some people with similar topics combined with other leaders to co-lead and some newer leaders grouped up with more experienced leaders.  Some people worked on their groups but decided that they would not be ready this time but would like to lead in the next session.

We ended up with 13 groups for a church of 100 members.    A few weeks before the Festival at our last leadership meeting, each leader made a poster board of their group that we hung around the church so people could look over the new groups and pray about which group to join as the Festival approached.  Here’s the first set of groups that the Spirit led people in the church to create:

  • First Peter Wives Club (Married Women)
  • The Timothy Initiative – based on 1 Timothy 4:12 (Campus/Single Men)
  • Theology on Tap (Open to anyone over 21)
  • Women’s Wisdom Wednesdays (Women)
  • Parenting (Parents)
  • Christian Fellowship – Based on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together (Open to all)
  • Man, Uh, in the Morning – (Men)
  • Holy Spirit – Based on Francis Chan’s Forgotten God (Open to All – no kids)
  • Radical Faith – Based on Randy McKean’s book (Open to all)
  • Five Marks of Mercy – Video Series (Open to all)
  • Love Like Christ (Women only)
  • Emotionally Healthy Spirituality – Based on the book (Empty nesters only)
  • Saginaw Group (People who live near Saginaw MI)

Here are some samples of the sign up posters:

Our Second Discipleship Festival

IMG_1100

The day that we had been planning for and praying for arrived!  There was preaching and pancakes and afterward everyone signed up for their groups.  They were encouraged to make a 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice because some of the groups might be too big or too small.  (In the end we only had to switch one person to their second choice.)  here’s what happened:

98 members signed up for discipleship groups!  10 people who weren’t even members signed up for groups!  We went from 60 percent participation in discipleship to over 100%!  Were a couple of months into our first groups and it’s more than just having a lot of people sign up.  People are actually going to their groups and participating.  The church feels different.  More people are there on Sundays and at Midweek.  More people are studying the bible even though we haven’t specifically focused on evangelism.  There is a noticeable difference.

The largest group has 16 people and they partner up every 2 weeks so they can pray with someone and get to know someone different.  The smallest group has 3 members.  In the future I’d like more group leaders and groups in the 5-8 person range.

At our first leadership meeting with the new group leaders there were great reports from each group.  The leaders were excited and not burdened and we identified 17 people who could become a part of the church by years end.  I think we’re getting unstuck and it’s because God works when we commit to discipleship.

Looking Ahead

We’ve already started recruiting the next round of discipleship group leaders that will begin at our Festival in March next year.  Current leaders can lead again or just be a part of a group for 6 months.  In the past it was really hard for a leader to take a break without feeling guilty or leaving a hole in our discipleship – now it’s totally possible.

We’re developing other lenses of leadership in the church as well.  Ministry Leaders oversee the different life stages within the church so their leadership overlaps and supplements the discipleship groups.  That group of leaders will meet soon to plan out 2018.

Many of the groups were closed to child care so some husbands and wives are participating in separate men’s and women’s groups.  To make sure there is help for marriage issues I started an open marriage/parenting counseling night once a month so couples can get help as needed.

I’m excited about what might happen when we actually start to focus on evangelism next year now that we have good groups and a rhythm of discipleship in the church.

Please pray for us and if you need resources or have questions contact me.

Update:

We had our first training meeting for our next 6 months of groups and it went well.  We had even more people volunteer to be group leaders than the first time around.  The training was much easier because everyone was participating in a group so this was no longer just conceptual.  The ideas for the Spring-Summer groups sounded awesome: Worshipping with the Psalms, Christian Mindfulness, Servanthood with Secret Service Challenges, Bad Girls of the Bible, Intimacy with God, CORE worship, Genesis and Jesus, Christ’s Creativity and more.

We also had our ministry leader’s retreat and focused on the life stage shepherding lens of the church.  It went great and I think the overlapping leadership lenses of discipleship groups and shepherding ministries will help the church grow with strength.  In 2018 we want to develop a third leadership lens called teams.  Teams would be focused on specific needs in the church (First impressions/greeters, HOPE, Audio Visual, Recovery, Worship, teaching, etc…) My current idea is to have a Team Tailgate once a year where each team can present themselves and give people a chance to join the team.  It would be set up like an actual tailgate with food and booths.

I’ll keep updating!

 

 

 

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24 Hour Prayer Tent

Check out our 24 hour prayer tent!

 

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Want To Grow Your Church? Preach The Bible.

Here’s a short but sweet article about the truth behind the church growth movement and the value of sticking to the scriptures through expositional preaching:

The Hottest Thing At Church Today

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Church Family Throw Down (Sacred Assembly)

In 2010 we had a Sacred Assembly that we called a Throw Down.  It was a radical night of repentance followed by months of repentance.  I presented areas where I believed we needed to change as a church with scriptures and asked the church what it would look like to change in these ways.  It took a lot of faith but the Christians in our church wanted to be disciples of Jesus – they just needed to be presented with the standard of Christ in the scriptures.  This was a real catalyst for growth!  After that night I sent this email that should give you a good idea of the conversation we had:

Here are my notes from last night’s throw down.  This is a long email but please read it, print it, savor it.  We need it.  Already, the response to the midweek lessons at church has been epic, but now we have to truly change, the lesson below tells us how to begin:

Jun 3, 2010 1:40 PM

What to expect when you are expecting the church to be a family

Jesus radically taught that when a person became his follower they were not making a personal decision.  Becoming a follower of Jesus meant and still means that we join the new family that he instituted and that His new family (the church) would take priority over all of our other relationships and allegiances.  This is clearly and undeniably reflected in the following verses and many others:

“Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.” – Mark 1:20

“‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ He asked.  Then he looked around at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.'” – Mark 3:33-35

“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…” – Matthew 10:37

Since the word of God is our standard, we have no choice but to obey the words and will of our Lord and be his loving family.  We need to see our faith as a community and family instead of as individuals.  In Jesus’ time the will of the family always trumped that of the individual and Paul commanded that to be our culture in Philippians 2 when he commanded us to “consider others better than yourself.”  That is the basic mind change that we must all make.  It is simple but so difficult in our increasingly selfish and individualistic culture. But, where the world around us makes the decision to put church family before self difficult, it also makes the decision so meaningful.  If we can set this example it will speak louder than a thousand sermons to tell the world what following Jesus is really all about.

John F Kennedy attempted to wake our nation up from it’s selfishness 50 years ago and for a short time his anthem, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” brought national unity.  If we simply obey the commands of Jesus we will define Christianity for our area as a group who asks not what the church can do for me or how the church can serve me or meet my needs, but asks what we can be for the church.  The result of such repentance will be all of us seeing and living in the church we love to dream about as we read our bibles.  God has not changed, he dreams of seeing that church even more than us- and he can make it happen if we will obey.

Last night at midweek we “threw down” the scriptures and commands that we need to obey to be a New Testament church family.  We laid out expectations for the group.  We have to stop taking sermons and even communion lessons as “this is what I need to change”.  If you need to change it and be different or better, then everyone else needs it too.  “This is what WE need to change or be” should be the new response.  We will grow in every way as church if we stop changing ourselves and instead change our expectations for the entire group whenever we change ourselves.

The lowdown on the throwdown:

Hospitality
Obey:
Practice hospitality (Romans 12:13)
This is a command. Matthew 25:44 reveals that we will be judged according to this command.

Expect your brothers and sisters:
To invite you into their homes
To be at your house often
To invite you to do things with them (kid’s events, vacations, picnics, etc.)
To be with you for events
To help strangers

Celebration
Obey:
Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4, 8)
In Deuteronomy 16:15 God instituted times of celebration as a means of worship.

Expect your brothers and sisters:
To remember and celebrate what God has done
To celebrate birthdays, baptisms, achievements, anniversaries and anything good as a group
To see joyful celebration as meaningful worship (on the same level as singing praises)

Encouragement
Obey:
Encourage one another daily (Hebrews 3:13)
The Hebrew writer invokes “brothers” to remind them that the church is their family in 3:12

Expect your brothers and sisters:
To call or meet up with people daily
To feel uneasy and weird if a day goes by that they haven’t talked to a brother or sister
To pray for each other, with each other, all alone or on the phone
To give cards, notes, scriptures, smiles and hugs
To think about you and challenge you to be better for God
To humbly and thankfully accept encouragement and challenges

Know each other
Obey:
Above all, love each other deeply (1 Peter 4:8)

Expect your brothers and sisters:
To not just pretend to love others
To delight in each other
To ask you deep and meaningful questions
To be open about thoughts, feelings and life

Serving each other
Obey:
Serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13)
1 John 3:17 says that if we do not serve each other from our own resources the love of God is not in us

Expect your brothers and sisters:
To help you in any way that they can
To have compassion when you are in need
To be selfless
To maintain an “it’s not about me” attitude
To never be in need for very long
To always have an ear to talk to
To see and hear about needs and be asked to respond with help

Serving the needy
Obey:
Continue to remember the poor (Galatians 2:10)
Proverbs 14:31 says that we show hatred for God when we neglect the poor

Expect your brothers and sisters:
To serve anyone in need, in and out of church
To hand out lunches or serve with non-profits
To contribute sacrificially
To give hugs to the sick and the poor
To never say “no” to anyone in or out of the church that has a need he or she can meet

Teaching each other
Obey:
Correct, rebuke and encourage- with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:2)
In Romans 15:14, Paul assures the church that they have the ability to teach one another

Expect your brothers and sisters:
To be open minded
To be soft hearted
To not be easily offended
To choose humility over pride
To desire teaching and training to do right
To know that you will not learn if no one is teaching you
To be aggressive in discipleship relationships
To come to you with questions and answers from the scriptures

Outward focused
Obey:
Go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18)
Matthew 5 tells us that the church is the light of the world, a city on a hill- constantly outward focused

Expect your brothers and sisters:
To shine in all the things they do
To see visitors at church all the time
To see the opposite is selfish in everyone
To go out two by two just to share your faith
To always be studying the bible with a friend or family member

Committed and devoted to fellowship
Obey:
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves.  (Romans 12:10)

Expect your brothers and sisters:
To be with the body
To come early and leave late
To come looking to meet needs
To love you with true deep love
To put your needs above their own
To create their own new ways to fellowship
To think about the church calendar before filling in their own calendar

Genuine concern for each other
Obey:
Whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 John 4:21)

Expect your brothers and sisters:
To help you clean, move, serve
To contact you daily
To call you if they are going to miss so you won’t worry
To get a hold of you if you miss and fill you in
To attentively listen and give biblical advice
To give good hugs

Hanging out and enjoying one another
Obey:
Do not give up meeting together…but encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25)

Expect your brothers and sisters:
To not be fools and obey the Golden Rule
To feel weird when they do things without each other
To be really good at having fun without having a reason
To have their happiest moments with one another

Working out all your problems
Obey:
Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Colossians 3:13)

Expect your brothers and sisters:
To bring feelings and hurts out into the light right away
To talk to you if they feel anything negative toward you
To be incapable of worshipping until any problem is worked out
To be even closer after working through conflict in a Godly manner

Worship
Obey:
Be a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5)
The priesthood was in charge of worshipping God and we are commanded to be that

Expect your brothers and sisters:
To proclaim the great things Of God
To come to worship with hearts fully given to God and each other
To not have to manufacture a smile
To pray and get ready before meeting with the body
To believe and act like worship has nothing to do with them and everything to do with God and his family

There it is, thrown down.

Your first reaction may be similar to mine: overwhelmed.  It is easy to look at these commands and the expectations that follow them and think, “I have not lived up to this because no one can live up to this.”  If that is what you think you are right.  No ONE can live up to this.  Not even a handful of individuals in the church could do this with out burning out.  No, we all have to obey and expect these things of EVERYONE or it is impossible.

God does not command what he cannot complete.  WE can do this.  I believe it for two solid reasons: God has commanded it and it has been done before.  What other evidence do we need?

So it starts now.  The commands and expectations have been thrown down and now it is up to us to obey and expect obedience in each other.

As we move through the summer, sentences that include the words, “I expect you to…” should be rolling off of our tongues and ringing in our ears. “I expect you to be here on time and I love you enough to tell you.”. “I love you so I expect you to call me back as soon as you can.”. “I am concerned for you, I expect you to think about your church family before you totally fill your family calendar.”. Obviously, no one will speak up unless they have these same expectations for themselves.  But it is not enough to just expect ourselves to change.

I once got parenting advice from Mike Fontenot, he said the general rule for raising great kids is “heavy love, heavy expectations.”. In Israel I got church leadership advice from him and he said, “high faith, high expectations.”. Let’s expect the best from one another, let’s accept nothing less than the best!

To sum all of it up and make it easy to remember and digest we can just remember this one thing and make it our anthem as we look out at the church:

I EXPECT YOU TO BE MY BROTHER
I EXPECT YOU TO BE MY SISTER

Any time someone fails us in brotherhood or sisterhood they must be lovingly and passionately confronted (Matthew 18:15)

The result?  True Christian family.  In this life, what more do we need?  (Mark 10:28-31)

Next Wednesday we will talk about how to raise expectations and hinderances to being a family- I can’t wait!  Then in the coming weeks we will shift gears to talk about our closest brother and sister relationships- discipleship partners.

Let me know any ideas you have!

Your brother,

Joel

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Follow

Disciples making disciples.  It all starts here:  

What if every person in your church could help someone else become a Christian?  Not only would your church grow, the faith and the excitement in your church would be off the charts.  There’s something special about a church that is growing.  But it’s even more special when the growth is spurred by average members and not just ministry staff.

Providing this inexpensive resource for the Christians in your church and their friends is a step toward having a church on fire for God.

The scriptures lead the way in all 9 of these bible studies.  After all, a booklet doesn’t make Christians, but God’s word used rightly by God’s people does.  The scriptures and studies chosen start with the basics and teach someone to be a follower of Jesus.  This is more than “easy-believism”.  This is total lifestyle change to become the new creation, committed to God’s kingdom and mission, that Jesus called his disciples to be.

How it works:

The members in your church simply ask their friends or family to study the bible with them.  If they say yes (and so many people say yes!) then they are given the Follow booklet and asked to complete the first study.  When they meet for their first bible study, the student has already read the passages and taken notes.  The teacher reviews it with the student and encourages and challenges where appropriate.  At the end, they pray and set up the next bible study.  Anyone can have a quality bible study using Follow.

The studies:

An introductory study and three sections for a total of 9 bible studies.

 

Introduction

Examine Yourself 

The first study allows the student and the teacher to get a clear picture of the student’s relationship with God.  The student makes a spiritual timeline, writes a letter explaining their current ideas about conversion, and writes about what they believe and how they practice those beliefs.  This is an eye opening but non-threatening leap into God’s word.  It also introduces the three sections that will be studied: conviction, conversion and commitment.

 

Conviction

It all starts with belief.  But not just belief – belief in the right things.  These first three studies turn believers into disciples of Jesus.

Seeking God

Learn to put God first – it’s the only way that you’ll find him.

Word of God

The whole bible is inspired by God.  Will you make it the standard of your life?

Discipleship

If the word is your standard, here’s what Jesus says your life will be like.

 

Conversion

Now that we know what we need to believe according to the bible, how does someone actually get saved?  There’s a lot of false teaching on this subject.  Follow helps people get saved just like the people in the bible got saved.

Sin

What do we need to be saved from anyway?  Sin.  Examine the consequences of sin and then make it personal.

The Cross and Repentance

Jesus’ response to our sin: The cross.  Our response to our sin: Repentance.  Repentance doesn’t mean to be really sorry.  It means to change your mind and your life to the Jesus way of thinking and living.

Baptism and Resurrection

Death, burial and resurrection.  That’s what Jesus did to save us and that’s what we do to get saved.

 

Commitment

Belief and baptism lead to belonging.  Commitment sets us up for success after coming to Christ.

The Church

The church is an organism, not an organization.  Membership matters to God and to each individual as we become God’s building which each soul being built up individually and collectively.

Counting the Cost

Jesus called would-be followers to count the cost so we should too.  This final study (before baptism or membership)  is a review of what has been learned and what changes have been made as well as a look to the future of life with Jesus as Lord.

 

Kingdom Built.

Discipleship done well by every member of your church.