All of us know what it’s like to experience connection problems when it comes to technology. Be it with our cell phone coverage, wi-fi access or computer server interruptions, we all disdain the frustration of breakdowns in connection. The same can happen in our spiritual walk with God. Sometimes we can find ourselves in a rut that we feel like we can’t get out of. We pray persistently but don’t receive. We give consistently but don’t breakthrough. We witness passionately but don’t see fruit. What could be the issue? Jesus spoke to the disciples and asked when he returns, will he find faith on the earth? This implies that faith in God would be a rare commodity. Faith is an endangered species and yet its the divine connector between heaven and earth. Faith is the currency of heaven that joins heavens resources to earth’s needs. Spiritual connection problems can occur for a number of reasons but faith in God and his Word reconnects us to the supply line of the miraculous.
All of us at some point make a decision but don’t always see that decision through. The decisions we make are significant because they shape our lives but there are some decisions that define our lives more than others.
One of those defining decisions is answering the call to follow Jesus as one of his disciples. It should be life defining and yet I’m observing a trend in the church that has been consistent throughout the ages. People put their hand up to make a decision but don’t necessarily follow through to actually becoming a disciple. Jesus didn’t call us to make converts but disciples.
You can make a momentary decision to follow Jesus but never actually discover what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus said, ‘Many shall come in that day and say Lord, Lord, did we not preach in your name and cast out demons in your name and I will say depart from me, I never knew you.’
In Luke 9:57-62 Jesus gave three examples of people who seemingly made a decision to follow Jesus but didn’t actually follow through to becoming a disciple. When the cost of discipleship presents itself, some people simply cannot pay the price and follow through.
There are stages of spiritual maturity that we must navigate if we are going to move from decision to disciple.
- Comfort – When we decide to follow Christ we grow quickly and we are excited about everything in God’s kingdom that we come across. There is an element of initial comfort attached to the new discoveries we are making about God.
- Connection – We start to connect with other like-minded people in Christian community and lifestyle changes are starting to take shape.
- Cause – We become aware of the cause of Jesus and respond in 1 of 2 ways: Either we commit to the cause or we retreat to comfort and connection. Our revelation of the cause is a line in the sand that defines whether we move from decision to disciple. Unfortunately, some church attenders go backwards and forwards between the first 3 stages of spiritual maturity.
- Commitment – If we respond to the cause with commitment we become aware of our gifts and call and we’re moved to action. We start to serve in the life of the church as a priority.
- Crisis – Once committed to the cause life will always present us with a crisis. This crisis can range from disappointment, loss of a loved one, broken relationship or financial pressure to name a few. In this stage we start to question our theology and we have a choice to make, do we respond Godward or man-ward?
- Conviction – If we respond positively to the crisis we form internal convictions that shape our ideas, beliefs and actions in line with God and his Word.
- Consistency – If we get to this final stage, we mature to a pattern of consistent testimony. A life driven by convictions results in a lifestyle of consistency. Consistency is measured by your stickability to what God has purposed in your heart and what you’ve learnt along the journey.
I exercise and train my physical body early each morning. I run, bike, swim, lift weights and stretch. Some days I move my body quickly and efficiently and other days more like a turtle, very slowly. But the one thing that makes a difference in my fitness is not the initial decision to get up in the morning and train but the consistent showing up, day in and day out and actually doing the training.
Consistency demonstrates maturity and ultimately victory. What about you? Do you tend to make decisions but don’t follow through. Break the pattern today. Move from a decision to a disciple and watch what happens in your world.
One of the most important leadership lessons I’ve had to learn is the need to reinvent aspects of my leadership during the different stages of growth we have experienced as a church.
I thought I was under pressure as a youth and young adult pastor of a large church but it’s clear there is a drafting effect of being a staff member on a team with a strong point leader at the helm. When you are apart of a team, you can get into the spiritual slipstream of the point leader, like a cyclist, riding in a pack, gets into the slipstream of the lead cyclist.
When I transitioned from youth pastor to lead pastor, the shift in weightiness of responsibility and accountability was very significant. Here are some ways I’ve had to reinvent myself as a leader:
- From highly directive to highly collaborative – When I first started the church with a core group of 13 people, I could make decisions instantly. Because the majority of the group were inexperienced in ministry, I needed to be stronger in my directives to shape the foundations of the church but as we grew bigger, I needed to consider the counsel of more people and include them in the decision making process. How I lead now is different to how I led in the early days. I recognized this by listening to people’s feedback and realizing if I didn’t change, I would limit the buy in of others. It’s not that I’ve abdicated the need to be directive, it’s that I’ve brought more people into the decision making process with me.
- From generalist to specialist – Like a GP at a doctors clinic I played the role of a generalist in the early stages of the church plant. As we grew I had to move from being all things to all people to being a specific thing to some people and empower others to be a specific thing to other people as well. Unless a leader makes the transition from generalist to specialist, the organization will be limited in its future growth. For me this has meant a greater clarity on my strengths and what I specifically bring that can make the single best contribution to the church. This reinvention must be reflected in your role and job description. For me the primacy of preaching and leadership are the twin towers of my role that must fight against the onslaught of the distractive attacks against it.
- From defined to re-defined – I began the church with a 52 page blueprint doc of defined ideas that I wanted to build the church with. Every year after that first initial year, I’ve had to redefine my ideas to fit with the ever changing context of the ministry and cultural landscape. This has extended to my theology. The demand for answers to people’s questions and my own wrestling with issues of God, life and ministry has forced me to delve back into the study of God’s word and bring a re-definition to how I think about God and the world around me. There has been a deepening of my faith in God and ideas about God through this redefining process.
The more people you lead, the more leaders you need. As the size of your ministry increases, the depth and maturity of your leaders needs to increase. What will make or break your team is the people you surround yourselves with.
Avoid becoming a clean up crew leader. Time is wasted when you spend time cleaning up a mess because of a poor choice of leaders. Pray for God’s wisdom to select the right people. I look for the 4 C’s:
Do leadership with the bible in mind (a novel idea, I know). In Acts 1:24-25 the apostles prayed to God for a replacement for Judas Iscariot and 2 insights flow out of their prayer:
- God alone knows what’s in people’s hearts and we don’t (we don’t even know our own hearts)
- The apostles didn’t have enough wisdom on their own to make the right choice.
Follow Jesus example in Luke 6:12 who sought the Father in prayer for who the Father wanted on his ministry team. Seek God for whom he has called into your ministry.
Building momentum begins with picking the right people – Picture your team as a bus. Get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus. This is tight but I’ve learnt it’s right. Sometimes you have the right people on the bus but in the wrong seats on the bus. Work out who should be on the bus before you work out whether you can actually accomplish the “what” with the people you have. Select difference makers, who are voices, not echoes. The right people are:
Connected to Jesus – This is primary for everyone on your team. As a disciple of Jesus, we find our identity in Christ, not in a role or position. Growing in Christ daily looks like staying centered in the Scriptures and worshipful prayer. It can also look like reading good books and staying connected to online resources that encourage you towards Christ. Our love for Jesus should exceed our love for everything else.
Connected to You – Ask yourself, ‘Is there chemistry with this person?’ Do they bring out the best in you and want to be around you? Remember, connection isn’t, ‘I want to be close to the leader to make myself feel more important.’ Connection to you is, ‘Allow my to travel with you and help you get to where you want to go’. You want contributors, not consumers.
Connected to the Vision – Choose people who are passionate about the direction you are heading in. “You want vision makers, not vision breakers” as Ps Brad House says. I’ve learnt never to invite people into your inner circle who have serious questions about your direction in the hope that they will get on board.
Connected to Others – Look for influencers who care more about others than they do for themselves. Connect with connectors because as Malcolm Gladwell says, “Connectors know people” and lots of them for that matter. Look for people with servant hearts who love people and make people feel important in their presence.
In conclusion, make prayerful choices, not impulsively but taking your time. I was too impetuous in the early days of planting Activate Church and appointed people too soon. It’s a lot easier to appoint than to dis-appoint. Do your homework and don’t short-circuit the vision by recruiting people who decelerate the vision.