Archives For Spiritual Development

“I trust that you are one year nearer to God, and this is the only true ground of congratulation. To be one with Him is the only Human Perfection–to be becoming one with Him, the only true Human History. There is a story of every human soul wrought out in secret between God and that soul, and everlasting blessedness is the last page of the History where God and that soul are coming nearer, if indeed there by any close to that history . . . . This is your end, though it may not be clear in prospect to you always. May every year bring you nearer to God and nearer to men, make you love all men more and more, and be more and more beloved of the many friends who already love you.  May you ever seek to please Christ, and be anxious that God should honour you–This last is a wonderful saying–one of Christ’s.  How absent are all excluding from His words–how near does He draw us to the Father’s heart! There is nothing to be learnt but from Him.”

George MacDonald

quotes from my commonplace book.

a birthday blessing on my birthday

StepsPeople are not born in crowds, nor do they die in masses.

It’s very easy to get caught up in our models of church ministry, a menu of programs or even trying to satisfy all the felt needs of people in the church. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether you call it Sunday School, small groups, Bible Fellowship, 101, 201, 301,401, 1 Million and 1. The primary issue is not what model of ministry or what program, but what is happening to people?

Have we created a path for the unconnected to get connected in a relationship with someone who sees themselves as responsible for knowing and helping them take their next spiritual step?

I think we sometimes spend too much time programming to move crowds through programs instead of helping individuals move to higher levels of intimacy in strategic relationships.  Because I don’t have experience with every model of ministry, I’m assuming some models are more relational than others. I’m just guessing, small groups are probably better at connecting people in relationships than classes. If a person focused on relationships they could probably make any model work, but some may require more work than others.

Bottomline: good Sunday Schools do this, bad Sunday Schools don’t; good small groups do this, bad small groups don’t; good Bible Fellowship does this, bad Bible Fellowship doesn’t; I’m not sure how classes do this, but it’s probably a good idea to evaluate our programming (whatever that programming is) on its effectiveness at connecting people in forward moving, spiritual-step-taking relationships.

Just because we have one or all of these types of programs doesn’t mean that on the other side of it people who participate in these programs are any closer to a relationship that will help them take their next spiritual step. Especially when we spend more time focused on orchestrating programs than orchestrating steps into greater levels of relational intimacy. In fact, there are probably programs in our churches where people can stall out relationally and yet feel like they are “winning” when it comes to church participation.

It’s tragic when church participation and spiritual growth represent divergent paths.

While I don’t think I have a complete answer, here are few things I think we can do:

  1. Figure out the best environment for people to connect.
  2. Make that environment the destination.
  3. Eliminate any programs that are not steps to that environment.
  4. Create programs that make stepping into that environment easy, obvious and strategic.

Apostle PaulMaybe the reason we have so few fathers, husbands, parents . . .  fulfilling their roles as spiritual leaders is because we have made spiritual leadership so inaccessible.

Here’s what I think spiritual leadership is:

Spiritual Leadership is assuming the primary responsibility for knowing what a person’s next spiritual step is and encouraging them to take it.

The Apostle Paul’s relationship with Timothy is often the place people go to define the relationship between a leader and a follower.  The Apostle Paul, an older more mature spiritual veteran, church planter, preacher, Apostle and Timothy, the young gifted, green pastor of a new church.  I love the beginning of Paul’s second letter to Timothy,

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. II Timothy 1:3-12

The reason why I love this letter is because I believe it communicates exactly what I think spiritual leadership is.  Here’s a few observations:

  • Paul knows Timothy’s family.  He knew his mother Eunice, his grandmother Lois.  He obviously knew them well enough to know their sincerity of faith. Paul sees this same sincerity of faith in Timothy’s life.
  • Paul has an emotional burden for Timothy: “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy”
  • Paul not only knows the legacy of faith in Timothy’s family but he recognized Timothy’s own faith and commissions him for ministry: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands”
  • Paul knows Timothy struggles with fear and he encourages him not be afraid, but to trust the Spirit.

Everyone needs someone in their life like Paul. Someone who knows them, knows their family context, knows where they are at in their faith journey, has an emotional burden for them and encourages them to take the next step spiritually.  That’s spiritual leadership.

BoxingWhat if we could connect every person in our church with someone who would invest in them relationally? Someone who would meet with them regularly to help them process their faith journey and help them take their next spiritual step.  A person who would coach them in how to have God conversations with others and articulate their faith?  What if we could provide them with a weekly experience where they could practice sharing their faith with others, experience real time feedback and coaching? Where they could experience praying with someone for the first time? A weekly experience where they can see the impact sharing their faith has on the lives of others. A place they could experience the joy of leading people to Jesus and see God transform the lives of others through their investment of time, talent and resources. A place where they were provided all of the tools to not only communicate what God is doing in their life, but discover how God has moved throughout time and share it with others.

There is a ministry in our churches that already does this. This ministry is called Children’s Ministry–it may be one of the most untapped forms of adult discipleship on the planet. Adult discipleship through Children’s Ministry.

Think about it–

  1. Children’s Ministry connects people with leaders called Children’s Pastors, Sunday School Directors, Coaches or what ever you call them who invest relationally in them on a weekly basis and coach them as they learn to evangelize and disciple others.
  2. Children’s ministry provides virtually every tool imaginable for creatively sharing faith. Bet you didn’t know you could lead a person to Jesus with a popsicle stick? If you are at a loss for words we will even give you a script of what to say.  But sometimes just sharing what God’s doing in your life is better.
  3. Children’s ministry provides a weekly environment to practice and hone skills in sharing faith. Full of energy, and generally pretty forgiving, children are eager to give you lots of feedback–sometimes instant feedback. You will improve from week to week or you may be eaten alive.  :)
  4. Children’s ministry consistently tells the story of God through history–from Genesis to Revelation, often highlighting the biggest parts of the story several times.
  5. Children’s ministry effectively connects Christians with non-Christians. Last time I checked every one of the babies in our nursery was a non-believer.
  6. Children’s ministry provides a front row seat to how God transforms lives. If you ever wondered if God actually transforms lives, spend some time on a regular basis with the same kids every week and watch how God can change a child’s life. The key to seeing life-change is spending time with the same kids every week.

And you thought Children’s Ministry was just for kids. I challenge you to show me a ministry that is more intentional about training adults to share their faith with others.

“Nothing is more dangerous than to rely only upon a correct belief, and a fervent spirit, and to assume that as long as you believe the right things and are zealous and keen and active concerning them, you are therefore of necessity a Christian.”

–D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Quotes from my commonplace book.

deep wide andy stanleyOn the family ministry side of the aisle, our commitment to create environments conducive to providential relationships caused us to make several strategic decisions.  The most significant was our decision to keep group leaders with their small groups as long as possible.  The longer a group leader was with a group of kids, the more likely it was that a relationship would develop–and thus the greater chance of God using a group leader in a significant way in the life of one of the kids in his or her group.  So when adults volunteer to lead a group of first graders, they stay with the group of children (and their parents) all the way through fifth grade.  Not only does this create the potential for long-term relationships, it creates a degree of accountability that goes way beyond the weekend experience. It’s not unusual for group leaders to stay with their groups as they transition into our middle school ministry.  That provides them with eight years of influence during what is arguably the most important time for a child developmentally, spiritually, and relationally.

from Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley

Providential Relationship: “Two things make a relationship providential: when we hear from God through someone and when we see God in someone.  When either of those things happens, our faith gets bigger.” (Deep & Wide p. 132)

8 Years ago I would have believed the idea of finding small group leaders who would invest in the lives of a group of kids week in and week out even for a school year was impossible, much less several years.  Then I met Craig Jutila at a Purpose Driven Children’s Conference.  He talked about elevating the commitment of volunteers–moving off of rotation to getting people who were willing to invest in the lives of a small group of kids on a weekly basis.  Since then I have led two kidmin environments in two churches and coached several others to transition from large rotations of volunteers to a core group of small group leaders deeply investing in the lives of kids on a weekly basis.

Here’s a few things that I think only invested leaders can do:

  • Only invested leaders can help connect a child’s faith to community.  There is more childcare than community when volunteers are on rotation.
  • Only invested leaders are able to show how God’s truth intersects with real life because they invite kids into their own lives and inspire their faith by example.
  • Only invested leaders can create a place where kids can be known and belong.
  • Only invested leaders know enough about a child’s spiritual journey to know their next spiritual step.
  • Only invested leaders know about what’s going on in a child’s life to layer God’s truth into their lives in a relevant way.
  • Only invested leaders can effectively partner with parents.
  • Only invested leaders can create environments that supply the relational ingredients of spiritual growth: care, accountability and belonging.

Keeping children and students with the same small group leader for several years creates a healthy relational dynamic. Children and students are particularly susceptible to misinterpreting negative events. Having a mature adult in their lives in addition to their parents can make all the difference when grappling with challenging circumstances.

from Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley

At the end of the day without invested leaders what’s left on the table is life transformation. That’s unacceptable to me.

peopleIn most churches we have programs, curriculum, even positions built around specific age groups. We often talk about how many fifth graders we have, or junior highers, or high schoolers.  All of this specialization is good.  It allows us to shape what we do around age-characteristics, felt needs, even unique spiritual opportunities that God has hard-wired into human development.
However, with all of our specialization, (and departmentalization in most churches) it is easy to miss the reality that we are really dealing with people who are only going to spend a small slice of their life as a preschooler or kid or student.  At the end of the day we are dealing with people, not preschoolers or kids, or students.  What that means is we need to do our planning, our programming, build our curriculum around, what we want people to become.
Basically, we need to have an integrated strategy  aimed at what we want people to become.  You can’t do that if your children’s ministry leaders don’t talk with your student ministry leaders. And while you are all working together it might be helpful to get the adult ministry leaders in on the game.
The child is the father of the man. William Wordsworth, The Rainbow

I’m attending the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in Orlando and promised people attending my breakouts that I would put some resources online.  So here you go.

Breakout: I’m Not Creative: Leading people who don’t think they are creative.

I’m Not Creative Presentation Slides  (I use  Click the link to the left.  You have to sign up for a free account to download it.)

Breakout: Why Children are the Most Important People in Your Church

Why Children are the Most Important People in the Church Presentation Slides

Seasons of the Soul Handout

If you are looking for more information about the breakouts email me.  Or come to the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in San Diego.

Most people decide to follow Jesus between the ages of 4-14.  This has been called the 4-14 Window.  And if you are in church ministry being mindful of this window could be the most important thing you do.  It is certainly why I believe that kidmin is the most important ministry of the church.

Kidmin is the most important ministry of the church.

I think that the 14-24 Window may be the next most important.   While many decide to follow Jesus between 4-14, what their lives will look like, whether they will be fully devoted followers of Christ or just church attenders, whether they will be spiritual champions or spiritual second-handers is largely shaped by the decisions they make between ages 14-24.   This is a monumental time in a person’s life that we cannot afford to neglect.

The evidence seems to bear out—that the church at large is not doing a very good job at this. In fact it was suggested in a recent article that we shouldn’t really be concerned with this age group at all.  Instead, we should just chalk it up to stage of life and wait until they come back to the church in their mid-thirties.  The short sightedness of this article made my toes curl.  Most of the people I know who are in ministry today made decisions to commit their lives to service between 14-24. We are seriously impacting the future leaders of the Kingdom of God by neglecting this age group.

The most important aim we can have for 14-24 year olds is helping them find their place in God’s Story—helping them commit their lives to meaningful service in the Kingdom of God.

Here are just a few foundational things churches can do to leverage this spiritual window.

1. Connect youth with mature Christian adults.  The more the better.  Check out Family Based Youth Ministry by Mark Devries.

2. Get 14-24 year olds in circles.  Real small groups where a mature Christian adult is investing in a small group of students every week.  Better yet, have this person travel with them through high school and college.  Yes, even through college.

3. Don’t let ministry end at graduation. The average 18 year old will be making most of their most life altering decisions in the first few years of college.  Most youth are virtually abandoned on graduation day.

4. Incorporate 20somethings into a total ministry strategy from birth through 25.  So much is wasted because Children’s Ministry, Youth Ministry and College Ministry leaders don’t play well together.  The bodies left in the gaps between these silos is staggering.  We must come together and develop a unified strategy.

5. Think beyond your curriculum.   The destination of a series of classes or a curriculum is more knowledge.  More knowledge and more classes cannot be a substitute for people doing life together.

6. Youth and 20somethings must have a sense of belonging in the church not just the youth ministry.  Check out this interview with Chuck Bomar.

7. Help youth find their place in God’s Story.

8. Connect the Church and home.  What happens at home always trumps what happens at church.

Just in the last year there have been several books written on the topic of youth leaving the church.  Among them You Lost Me by David Kinnamen at the Barna Group; Slow Fade by Reggie Joiner, Chuck Bomar and Abbie Smith; Sticky Faith by Kara Powell.  The topic of youth leaving the church is perennial—that is it seems to be a topic that pops up in cycles.  (Check out my post on an article called Why Do Teenagers Drop Out? From Teach Magazine Summer of 1963.)  While it draws a lot of statistical studies the truth is, for those of us in youth ministry it’s personal.  We know the kids who walked away from church and faith.  They are more than numbers they are faces.

This last week I had the opportunity to corner Chuck Bomar and ask him some questions about why youth drop out and what the church can do about it.

How do you create belonging in your church?