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Thinking Intentionally About Discipleship

What if the church started thinking and acting more intentionally about how we make disciples? This is the second article in a five-part series on increasing effectiveness in developing disciples by making small shifts in our behavior, based on Daniel Im’s book No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry.
 
The second shift Im highlights in his book is to move from focusing on the output goals to the input goals of discipleship. It should come as no surprise that we are typically driven by outputs and outcomes. We always want to win the championship, to make the honor roll, or to lose 20 pounds. Similarly, in the church we desire to see people come to faith in Jesus and grow and mature in their faith as disciples. That is a Kingdom win.

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Move in the Direction of Jesus

What if we could significantly increase our effectiveness at making disciples by making a few small shifts in our behavior? Over the next five months, I’d like to take the opportunity to unpack one at a time the five “micro shifts” that Daniel Im lifts up in his book No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry. I believe that we have much to learn from this book as we seek greater effectiveness as we make disciples not only among our members, but most importantly with those who’ve yet to believe in our communities.
 
The first shift is to move from focusing our spiritual maturation from destination to direction. Often times we think of spiritual maturity as a destination to be arrived at. We ask “What does a spiritually mature person look like?” Once we can check all the boxes then that means we are spiritually mature. Some large churches even organize their adult education courses around this idea of growing in faith to higher level classes. Others will measure spiritual maturity by counting how many progress from being worship attenders to small group participants to serving ministers to leaders. All of this points to thinking about discipleship as a destination.

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Do What Jesus Did

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to help lead one of our congregations in a retreat seeking to discern God’s vision for their future. We had a wonderful time as we pursued what God’s dream might be for the congregation.
 
We discovered together that vision is the picture of God’s preferred future and is critical for God’s people to discern. For the consequences of our inattention to vision is dire. In the King James Version, Proverbs 29:18 reads “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The Christian Standard Bible translates the same verse this way: “Without revelation, people run wild.” In other words, when we take our eyes off the picture of God’s preferred future, we replace God’s desires for our own… and we run wild… which ultimately leads to perishing.

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Lessons Learned About Church Planting

From the very foundation of the LCMC Texas District, we have felt compelled by the Great Commission to prioritize church planting. When congregations gathered together to form this association, we recognized our need to help and encourage one another in evangelism and discipleship. It was clear that if our congregations were going to make a kingdom impact here in Texas, we needed to get serious about church planting.
 
As we come upon our 10th Annual Gathering July 27-28th in New Braunfels, it is time to pause and reflect and renew our zeal for our intended purposes. As we pause and reflect, I thought I’d share a few lessons I’ve learned about church planting movements to help us advance the Kingdom of God through church planting:

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Ordinary People… Extraordinary God

There’s a story about a Sunday School student who couldn’t wait to tell his parents their lesson one Sunday after class: “So the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and then Moses used some really cool special effects to scare Pharaoh into letting them go: he made it look like there were swarms of bugs and frogs, and used food coloring to change the water this blood red color! So Pharaoh lets them go and the Israelites formed a convoy out of Egypt! And then Pharaoh changes his mind and sends the Egyptian army after them! And then the Egyptians chased the Israelite convoy in tanks! So Moses scrambled the Israeli Air Force to delay the tanks! And Moses also ordered the engineers to deploy a pontoon bridge across the Red Sea! And just as the Israelites made it safely across the bridge, the Egyptians started across the bridge in their tanks, but Moses gave the order and the Israeli Air Force bombed the bridge and sank the Egyptian Army!”
 
The boy’s mom asked her son, “Is that the way your Sunday School Teacher really taught it?!” The boy responded, “Nah – but if I had told you her version of the story, you’d have never believed it!”

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Fools for Christ

The number one reason why Christians do not share their faith is fear. More than any other reason that we give for not telling others about Jesus is fear of rejection, fear of messing up, fear of being asked questions we don’t know the answer to, etc. In short, we can say that we are afraid of making fools of ourselves!
 
This month we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on April Fools’ Day for the first time in 62 years! While much has been written and said about Jesus making a fool of sin, death, and the devil in his rising from the dead, I wanted to take a few moments and reflect on our foolishness instead.

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A New Mindset

Several folks across the Texas District recently began reading and discussing Greg Finke’s book, Joining Jesus on His Mission – How to Be an Everyday Missionary. At the end of chapter 1, Finke writes a short paragraph that caused me to pause and ponder: “Old mindset, old practices, old results. New mindset, new practices, new results.” As I reflected on this statement, I asked myself, is this true? And if so, what does it mean?
 
Is it true? Well as the old saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. And so it rings true that if we continue in the same old practices, we should expect the same old results. But what does it mean for the church today?

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Helping Others Answer the Call

It’s been said that the greatest days in your life are the day you were born and the day you figured out why. Indeed, one of the most significant discoveries you can make is discovering what God has created you for.
 
I was reminded of this recently as we studied the first reading for the second Sunday after Epiphany. In 1 Samuel 3 we read of how Samuel discovered his calling. Three times the boy Samuel heard the voice of God calling and three times the boy ran to his master Eli as he assumed it was Eli who was calling him. When it happened a third time, Eli realized the voice calling the boy must be God’s. So he instructed Samuel to go back and when he heard the voice call to him again, simply say “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

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The Gifts We Bring

Gift giving can be difficult at times. Let’s face it: some people are hard to shop for! But have you ever stopped to wonder why gift-giving is important? What’s a gift really about anyway? Giving gifts to friends and family is an ancient ritual of nearly every known human culture. Gifts signify a relationship (or the desire for one) and are meant to delight, honor, and/or surprise the recipient. In our attempt to do just that we seek to give a gift that is an expression of that loving relationship, but it often gets deduced down to giving the gift that a person either wants or needs but does not already have.
 
So what do we give Jesus, the King of kings? On Epiphany, we are fondly reminded of the story when magi journeyed from afar to worship the newborn King Jesus bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Now these were extraordinary gifts to be given to a child. But what should we give Jesus, today? What does Jesus need or want that he doesn’t already have? What would bring him delight, honor, or surprise? And what do I really have to offer? In honor of the magi, I’d like to propose three gift-giving suggestions:

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The World Needs Jesus

No doubt about it, the news in recent weeks has been grim as we have been bombarded by story after story of violence that has erupted on our own homeland. In the span of just a few short weeks we’ve awoken to stories of racially motivated hatred that sparked violence in Charlottesville, the senseless mass shooting of concert-goers in Las Vegas which killed dozens and injured scores more, and the brutal and inexplicable massacre of more than two dozen Christian worshippers far too close to home in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
 
And as human beings and Americans we grieve and cry out all sorts of questions: why all the suffering, the hatred, and the violence? What’s going on here and how can we stop it? Some answer with cries for gun control. Others answer it with a call for law-abiding citizens to bear arms. But as Christians, in addition to lovingly supporting and encouraging those directly victimized by this senseless violence, what is our unique calling and witness in response to this season of increasing violence? I believe that the Church can provide leadership to our culture and society by responding faithfully at this dark and difficult hour.

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Reformation Spirit

As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it is important to reflect on the faithfulness of our churches today with the same Reformation spirit that Luther and the other reformers looked upon the church of their day. We need to ask ourselves the important questions in evaluation of our life and ministry: are we, the church of today, a faithful expression of God’s intention for his followers? In what ways would God smile down on us and in what ways have we fallen short of God’s call as Christ’s bride?
 
For some the answer is clear: the church in America has lost its way. Some might go so far as to say the issues that the church in America faces today are as big or bigger than the issues the reformers faced in Europe 500 years ago. As I work with congregations in renewal workshops, the question has often been raised, “How has the church in America gotten so far off course?”

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HeBrews 10:24 – A New Way to Start a Church

Fourteen months ago, God planted a seed in the heart of Chuck Knudson to go and live on mission in San Antonio. Today, after months of prayer, study, planning, and practicing, Chuck and his wife Azeneth are very close to fully living into this calling. One important question that every church planter has to answer is, “How are we going to engage our new neighbors? What will be our strategy to meet and connect people to a life-giving relationship of following Jesus?”
 
In their first few months of practicing evangelism in their current community of New Braunfels, the Knudsons discovered that while it is difficult for someone to accept an invitation to church, it is easy to accept an invitation into your home or a restaurant. And with this, God began to reveal to the Knudsons a unique approach to starting a church: coffee – more specifically, a local coffee shop featuring fresh-roasted coffee.

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