The Thriving Church Backstory


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Very soon The Thriving Church: The True Measure of Growth will be released. I want to tell the story of how it came to be.

Churches should be growing. I believe this with my whole heart.

Models and methods of church growth abound. During my first years as a pastor, Willow Creek and Saddleback were hot. Later it was Mars Hill. Many churches copied their formulas for growth.

As I formed my own ideas of how a church should grow, I determined to be guided by truth. I looked for key passages of Scripture to instruct me.

What causes growth? How is authentic growth measured?  How does a pastor lead a growing church? What do people in a growing church do? Can my church thrive?

I kept landing in Ephesians 4:1-16. I read, reread, translated, diagrammed, researched, taught, preached, and preached again and again the principles in that text. In 25 years of pastoral ministry, this was the primary passage of Scripture that shaped my thinking about church life. It guided me in establishing goals, setting direction, and shaping ministry.

I was privileged to serve as lead pastor of two churches, one for 9 years and the other for 12. Both churches experienced growth. There were seasons of multiplication, but also maturing. My experience of pastoring through these stages of church life increased my understanding of the Ephesians 4 model of growth and what causes a church to thrive.

Three years ago the Chief Shepherd gave me a new assignment. I now equip a new generation of pastors as a Professor of Pastoral Studies at Faith Baptist Bible College. I don’t teach during the summer, so I have time to write.

I asked my friend Nancy Lohr, Acquisitions Editor at JourneyForth, for suggestions. Her response, along with some helpful guidance: “Figure out what your passion is and focus on that.”

And here we are.

The Thriving Church: The True Measure of Growth is scheduled for release December 6, 2019.

The Pathway to Pastoral Ministry – Developing Leadership Skills

The Pathway to Pastoral Ministry series starts here.

In addition to speaking skills and people skills, pastors need leadership skills. If you’re thinking about going into ministry, now is a good time to begin growing as a leader.

Leadership is the ability to influence people in a direction they need to go.

Being a leader doesn’t mean you are an aggressive personality, taking charge of everything and ordering people around. Leaders see the direction a group of people needs to go. In the church setting, that includes spiritual growth on an individual level, and it includes making disciples as a church. A leader communicates those ultimate goals to the people. He also encourages and equips them to pursue those goals.

A pastor, as a leader in the church, will often see steps a church can take or strategic efforts it can implement in order to pursue the goal of reaching its community with the gospel and making disciples. He will intentionally provide teaching and urge the people to do their part. Or he may see ways in which the church needs to mature as a body, so he preaches from passages of Scripture related to those areas and plans ways the church can apply these truths together.

How can you develop now as a leader?

Pray for God to develop your leadership. Jesus developed the disciples. They were normal men who became influencers. He taught them, gave them opportunities to serve, corrected them when needed, and eventually entrusted them with starting the first churches after He ascended back to heaven.

In a similar way, God will enable and develop you into the leader you need to be in order to fulfill His purpose for you. Express your dependence on Him through prayer. Ask Him to give you wisdom, help you learn from experience, and mature you into a man who can influence others.

Learn from others who lead. You can do this by reading good resources on leadership. A great book to start with is Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders. I recommend it very highly. Sanders tells you what it means to be a spiritual leader, gives many helpful principles, and includes a lot of examples. It is truly a life-changing book. You might want to read and discuss it along with someone else – your dad, your pastor or youth pastor, or a friend.

Also, observe how your pastor and others in positions of influence exercise leadership. Watch how they lead a group of people to pursue goals. See how they communicate. Notice how they plan, then enlist and equip others to pursue the plan. Pay attention to how their example affects others.

You can even learn from leaders’ weaknesses and mistakes. I don’t mean to encourage you to have a critical spirit. But sometimes leaders handle things in a way that isn’t the best. Quietly make a mental note of what they did and the impact it had, and think of how you might handle it differently if you were in their place.

Learn from Jesus. Jesus is the greatest leader of all. Read through the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) paying special attention to how Jesus influenced others and what He taught His disciples about leadership.

Carefully read Mark 10:35-45. Jesus’ disciples asked Him for prominent positions in His kingdom. He responded by telling them greatness in God’s eyes is very different from how the world views it. His words have become the gold standard for leadership in Christian ministry:

You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45, ESV).

You can learn Christ-like leadership by letting these words shape your life. Pray the quality of selfless service will be formed in your heart and will determine how you relate to others.

Seek opportunities to get experience. In your church setting, this may include helping plan and execute events, assisting with Vacation Bible School, or being on a youth council. There may also be opportunities at your school – class offices, special events, athletics, or clubs. If you have a part-time or summer job, look for ways to go beyond just putting in your time. Take extra responsibilities, help with planning, or develop a new idea to improve the business.

Leadership can be learned.
Some people’s natural personalities or abilities make them leaders. You may not feel like that’s you. But anyone can acquire knowledge, gain experience, and develop leadership skills. And when God wants you to influence others, He is at work from within, growing you so He can use you in Christ’s church-building work.

If you are supposed to be a pastor, God will enable you and you will learn to lead. Think of it like a shepherd with sheep. He knows they need food, water and protection. The shepherd thinks ahead, knows where to take them for nourishment and safety, gets out in front, and starts going in that direction. His sheep follow him.

As a pastor, you will need to get out in front. You don’t have to act like a military commander or a corporate CEO. Just start pursuing spiritual growth and bring others with you.

I love this quote:

“Leadership is often viewed as the product of natural endowments and traits of personality – intellectual capacity, force of will, enthusiasm. That such talents and scholastic attainments do greatly enhance leadership is beyond question, but those are not the factors of paramount importance in the spiritual leader. The real qualities of leadership are to be found in those who are willing to suffer for the sake of objectives great enough to demand their wholehearted obedience” (from Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders, p. 25, emphasis mine).

If you obey God’s call on your life and His commission to make disciples, and if you are willing to spend your life serving Him, you will influence others in the same direction. You will become the leader you need to be.

Do you know what ordination is? Sound scary? We’ll talk about that next.

Factors That Influence Young Men Toward Ministry

In a recent meeting with college students who are preparing for pastoral ministry, I asked them three questions. I wanted to understand better the influences that encourage high school age young men to consider ministry. We filled a white board and discussed these ideas for about 45 minutes. Mostly I just listened and wrote down what they said.

God calls men into ministry, but people in their lives influence them to consider and pursue it. I encourage pastors, youth pastors, parents, teachers, and any Christian with a position of influence in a young man’s life to read over these questions and answers. Then think about how you might help cultivate a desire for ministry in young men. You may be the one they’re talking about five years from now – the one God used to encourage them toward ministry.

Here are the questions and answers without comment. The answers are not in any significant order, other than approximately as they were given by the students.

What influenced you as a high school age young man                                                   toward ministry?
Youth Pastor
Awana Commander
A man in the church who discipled me
Camp speaker
Camp staff
Pastor
Bible college students on a traveling team
Opportunities to serve in church
Mission Trips
The need for good preaching
The need for pastors
Parents
The effects of sin on friends’ lives
God’s Word

What would you tell high school young men who are considering ministry?
It’s okay if you feel inadequate. God will enable you.
Serve now any way you can.
Be open to change – doing something different than you plan.
Pray about it.
Be in the Word.
Have a high view of the gospel – what it can do in your life and others’ lives.
God is sovereign, He will grow and equip you.
Guard your moral purity.
The ministry isn’t for everyone (James 3:1).
Have friends who encourage you toward ministry, not discourage you from it.
Be all in.
Be real.
Be discipled by someone – seek it out if you have to.
Develop compassion for others.

What would you tell pastors and youth pastors about encouraging young men toward ministry?
Talk to them! Spend time in conversation, get to know them, show interest in them.
Share your own testimony of how God led you into ministry.
Preach on it.
Be a Paul to a Timothy.
Emphasize ministry as a viable option for life’s work.
Disciple them.
Involve them in ministry.