The Pathway to Fruitfulness

Faithfulness-and-Fruitfulness

Introduction

It was during the greeting time in worship when he asked me the question, “What’s your plan to reach our community?” He was an evangelist who was visiting the church. He and his wife had attended church for several months. I had been to his house to visit them. We had some good conversations. My answer to him was brief: “In a word,” I said, “discipleship.” He turned away as I went to shake someone’s hand behind him. I never saw him in church again. That night as I was leaving for vacation with my family, I received a message on Facebook where he “rebuked” me. That was his word.

I was disappointed, but not surprised. Discipleship is a word that has come to mean different things to different people. But if there is one thing I have learned in ministry, it is that discipleship has lost its significance as being the foundational ministry of the church. There are many good things a church can do by way of ministry, but if the church is not focusing on discipleship as the focal point of everything it does, then it may very well not be fulfilling the very purpose for which Christ created and commissioned his church.[1] In this article I will argue that discipleship is the path to fruitfulness for the church. True, lasting transformational growth (both numerically and spiritually) will be most evident when discipleship is the leading vision that defines what the church does. Hence, church growth will be most fruitful when discipleship is the primary ministry of the church.[2]

Understanding the Mission

Any discussion of church growth and the spiritual factors that lead to such growth must begin by Continue reading

The Biblical Marks of Discipleship

Plant Sequence
One of the current needs of the church today is to recover the biblical concept of discipleship. Over the past generation the understanding of discipleship as being foundational to the mission and life of the church has been watered down. During the same period of time one can find many resources devoted to the topic. However, instead of being the foundational principle upon which the church should operate, discipleship has been relegated to just one ministry amongst many within the church. During this time, the church has unofficially adopted the strategy of running programs as being the necessary approach to building a healthy church. Hence churches have children’s programs, youth programs, evangelism programs, discipleship programs, and music and worship programs – amongst many others. This partitioning of programs has led people to see discipleship as just another program within the larger church with the effect that people see it as an option or preference. One person joins the choir, another goes to the discipleship class, but both are “active” in ministry. And while that may be so, as a result of partitioning the church into programs, the church is not fulfilling the great commission.

Before Jesus ascended to the Father he made clear the purpose of the church. Every gospel account and the book of Acts communicates some version of the Great Commission. The most explicit enunciation of the Great Commission is found is Matthews’s gospel. Their Jesus said,

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20, NKJV).

From this text it is clear that the Great Commission is not limited to evangelism. And while the church has always understood that the Great Commission is a command to lead people to Christ, it has not always embraced Continue reading

Which Door?

This is chapter one of my book, “Man of the World, Battling Satan’s Infiltration of the Church.” Click on the link to the right to see more.

There seems to be a default mode that people lean towards in church life. While the invitation of the gospel is to enter into a unique and special relationship with God through Christ, many people seem content with a life of religion. The problem is that there is nothing in the gospel that even hints that that is God’s goal for a believer. Yet, there are many people who are active church members who are content with their religious routine and not even remotely concerned that the life of God is not a living reality for them. Yet, that is why Jesus came. He said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3, NKJV). And, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). The thief is Satan. He is the author of lifeless religion. But, Jesus came that we may know God and experience His life as a living reality on a daily basis. And notice, He said He came to bring an abundant life. This is not a normal, run of the mill common life that is content with sitting in pews and attending committee meetings. This is a supernatural, extraordinary, uncommon life that walks with the living God! This is the kind of life that is filled with a joy that is inexpressible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8). This is a life that experiences a peace that transcends understanding (Philippians 4:7). This is a life that knows every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). In short, this is a life that knows God. Let that sink in. Knows. God.

So, before we look at the specifics of how Satan seeks to derail God’s will for the church, (something that he is quite skilled at) I have a question for you. Continue reading

Success Realized

I have come to the pinnacle of success in business. In the eyes of others, my life has been the symbol of success.
However, apart from work, I have little joy. – The last words of Steve Jobs

Self. It’s the number one killer in the world today. It destroys marriages. It rips communities apart. It leaves children orphans. It threatens social stability at every level. It damages lives. It leaves people bereft of friends and loved ones. It is the source of wars and fights. And it is the real reason we must tragically open graves on a daily basis.

When Adam and Eve first sinned, they didn’t just break a simple rule. They effectively opened the door of Pandora’s Box unleashing hell. Man was created in God’s image. It’s something we don’t reflect upon often enough. There are many things that means, but one consequence of this wonderful truth is that being made in God’s image means we were given great creative skills and abilities – abilities that far surpass that of the animal kingdom. Man’s ability to cultivate, build, think, imagine and create is vast. But man was created to do these things in a way that reflects the creator back into the creation. But because of Satan’s lie man’s abilities were high-jacked. We were created to serve God. After God created Adam, he told him to tend and keep the garden God had created. The words in the original language are the language of worship. Adam and Eve were to bend all their ingenuity in the service of their God. But, when they accepted the lie of Satan, all those abilities were now placed in the service of self. Focusing those abilities on self has become the source of much evil in the world.

This is not to suggest that good things aren’t accomplished today or that people always and only do things that are inherently evil. It does mean, though, that most things in life are not done for God. Most people engage in the various activities of life with self in mind. Daily we go through life pursuing our ambitions and dreams. We think about our future, our jobs, our daily objectives, our next big score, our likes, our dislikes etc. etc. etc. … but rare is the person who thinks about these things in relation to God, and rarer still Continue reading

A Very Real Power

I was thinking lately about the power of language. As I thought about how God used the spoken word to create the universe I was struck by the reality that there is great power in our use of language. It is something we often take for granted. God said, “Let there be….” and the world and all that is in it came bursting forth into existence.

We cannot create a universe, but we can create divergent realities with our language. Think about the power words have over children when they are still learning. What is said to that child can determine the course of his or her entire life. Think about how criticism can break a person emotionally and psychologically. Conversely, think of how a word timely spoken can redirect the course of a person’s entire life in positive ways. Words are more than just ideas verbalized. They are a form of power that we wield every time we open our mouth. As such we are to use our speech in ways that honor God and direct people to the path of life.

The Bible has much to teach us about Continue reading

My Brother

“While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50).

The other day someone made the statement to me, “We are brothers.” What he meant was, we are fellow believers, and as a result there is a relationship between us grounded in Christ. I agreed and we gave the appropriate man hug with the hit on the back, and then we went our separate ways. This morning while doing my quite time I read the above verse. Jesus raises an interesting point concerning our relationships in Christ. He seems to limit them.

Jesus’ family came looking for Him. His mother and brothers were attempting an intervention. Mom found the brothers and convinced them to put a stop to what Jesus was doing. I think they thought He lost his mind and they were seeking to “speak” with Him about His ministry. His reply is almost shocking. “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” He asked. The normal reply would have been, “Those guys out there with the little old lady who are waiting for you.” But instead Jesus points to those who are actively following Him and says, “Here are my mother and brothers!” He then defines that relationship with great specificity. He says, in effect, Continue reading

Divide the Word, Not Believers

So I just finished a debate – if you can call it that – with a man who forcefully argues for a hyper-Calvinism position on the atonement. We sat down to have coffee a couple of weeks ago and somehow got into a debate on Romans 9. Let me say upfront that there are many good Christians who are hyper-Calvinists; and there are many good Christians who are not. I belong to the latter category. The conclusion of the story, I assume, based on his comments on FB, is that he has broken fellowship with me. In our discussion on Romans nine, I presented a reading of the text that disagreed with his. On FB, without articulating what I actually said about Romans nine, he told anyone reading that I vehemently oppose God’s sovereignty in salvation, I dishonor God, and that I despise the sovereignty of God. When I called him a Calvinist he said I was disparaging him and that he does not accept such titles – he even said I was disparaging Calvin. I thought I was being accurate based on his argument. He thought I was being divisive. One of the things I took away from his comments where he accuses me of dishonoring God is that because I disagree with him, I am therefore dishonoring God. To dishonor God is a serious thing. It is to be living in sin and rebellion against God. To accuse someone of dishonoring God because of theological differences is a scary place to be. You might as well make the claim “To disagree with me is to disagree with God.” Where did we ever get the idea that disagreement over theological arguments is A. equivalent to attacking God; and B. grounds for accusing a brother in Christ for being in sin; and C. grounds for breaking fellowship? Friends this is not Christianity. This is insanity.

As far as my reading of Romans nine, in a nut-shell I believe Paul is explaining why God’s promises to the Jews have not failed. It seems that the point of contention comes from the verse that reads, “Jacob I loved but Esau I hated” (Rom 9:13). Hyper-Calvinists insists that this means God chooses who gets saved, and conversely, God chooses who goes to hell. I think that is a misreading of the text. That verse is a quote from Malachi 1:2. It is my contention Continue reading

Do What?

Over the course of the last year I have heard several Christians dispense advice along these lines, “You have to do what is right for you.” I remember being a young soldier in 1990 and giving out the same advice to someone who asked me about a situation they were in. The advice has an appearance of wisdom. In every situation there are factors that only the person involved in can navigate; and only the individual can assess the consequences that will arise as a result of their choices. So, telling them to do what is right for them, i.e., what will benefit them the best, seems to be the right advice to give.

Before I came to know Christ, I saw myself as an isolated entity with no clear connections to the world around me. Sure I had family relationships, friends, and breathed the same air as those around me, but whatever I chose to do, in my mind at the time, had little impact on others and the world around me (in so far as my actions did not hurt others). That may be a bit of a simplification, but, like those around me, I made choices that I believed were best for me without giving much thought to anything else. But, when I met God, my perspective on life changed.

Before we meet God we are simply individuals trying to navigate Continue reading

Freedom

This is chapter 9 of my book, Man of the World.

 

“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

I remember watching Mel Gibson’s movie Brave Heart years ago. No one who watched that movie can forget the dramatic ending where, during intense torture, the main character cries out, “Freedom!” Freedom is a yearning within all people. Unfortunately, outside of Christ there is no freedom. Only He can bring the freedom our soul longs for. Sin enslaves all people. And religion without Christ cannot set a single person free. For those who strive to be free in the flesh, seeking freedom through religion, they will receive only weariness, toil, and disappointment. But, for those who come to Christ, a glorious freedom awaits them.

The true Man of the World comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. Satan seeks to lead us into the land of religion and ritual that is devoid of life. He creates rules and generates anxiety. He wants people to think of God as a heavenly IRS agent desperately seeking to find something wrong with you so He can smite you. He wants to create division amongst people by getting them to become suspicious of each other. He wants people to distrust each other, hate each other, judge one another, and hurt one another. He has done a good job. Lifeless religion has been the source of contention and strife for as long as history has been written. The reason there are so many different denominations is because there are no shortage of people hurling contempt upon others in the name of God. Fallen people are always looking for reasons to divide. It takes a spirit filled person to see imperfect people and, knowing they too are sinners in need of a savior, love them as Christ did.

Thankfully, Jesus came to give us the Spirit. He came that we may have life and have it abundantly.[1] He did not come to give us rituals, or generate anxiety by telling how we might fail. He didn’t come to tell us how some are better than others. He isn’t watching over us with a clipboard and Continue reading

Speak Life

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Thought of the Day: Criticism is the easiest form of analysis

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).

The other day I was watching the trailer for a movie. I think it was about King Arthur and Merlin. One scene depicted a young Merlin waving his hand over a dead flower and bringing it back to life. Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of power! The reality is that in a certain sense we do. And it’s a power we often overlook. While waving my hand over something broken will not fix it, or bring it back to life, we all have the ability to speak life into the life of a broken person or a broken situation.

We live in a world with many broken things.  There are broken relationships, marriages and homes. There are broken nations and communities. And all around us there are broken people. And while we cannot fix all the problems people face, we can do two things:

  1. We can make sure we do not contribute to their brokenness by being critical faultfinders who are looking for ways to show others what they are doing wrong.
  1. And we can use our words in a way that builds others up. With our words we have the power to heal and fix things that are truly broken.

I am reminded that when God created this amazing world and universe we live in He did so by speaking it into existence. When God speaks life is created and life blossoms.

Picking apart and finding fault in others is not an admirable attribute. There are times when we all need correction. But the people we admire are those who correct in a way that improves who we are as people. The word encourage literally means, “To cause another to be confident”

The prefix “en” means “to cause”

The word “courage” means “confidence”

When we encourage someone we cause them to be confident. A Leader (to be distinguished from one who is simply in charge) has the unique ability to make people confident in such way that it causes them to improve, to do what they need to do to change, or to just be a better person.