You don’t have to act like you have all together

I recently read this tweet by a pastor…

“I had a pastor once warn me against sharing my weaknesses. He told me it would be used against me. He was right, but I think I’d rather have some people reject an honest version of me, then a mythology I cannot maintain that benefits no one.” -Doug Bursch

The tweet made me quite emotional because there is pressure (from myself, from within Christianity, combination of both perhaps) to act like I have it all together. I know this is true because the very next line that I feel compelled to write is something like, “Hold up, don’t worry, I still meet the qualifications of an elder!” Which only proves to myself that the desire to put up a front, a facade, of spiritual perfection runs deep in my blood.

The reason I need to admit that I do not have it all together is because no one does. If the apostle Paul could tweet today he might write something like this, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” -Romans 7:21

I think it is wise for me to acknowledge what really should seem quite obvious. It feels liberating to admit it. But there is another reason that I need to communicate this to you. I know you don’t have it all together either. And that is OK. I don’t want anyone in my church to think that they have to put on an act. Instead, I want them to know that they can admit that they have struggles, weaknesses, fears, temptations, etc.

I often times think of this Imagine Dragons song, “Demons.” You can relax, it’s not about fallen angels. It’s about the fact that everyone is dealing with some hard stuff in their life. Everyone is going through a battle of some sort. In the video you see various individuals at an Imagine Dragons concert. At the concert it looks like they are doing great. But then it shows their personal life and you can see what they are really dealing with, the difficulties of life. It reminds me quite a bit of church. On Sunday morning we get dressed up, have our coffee and put on our best face. Yet the truth is that nearly all of us are coming to church with a limp, baggage, and pain.

What do I want you to know?

I want you to know that it is OK for you to admit that you are not who you want to be. It is OK for you to admit that behind the scenes, when no one is looking, you are struggling. I guess what I want the most is for you to know that you are not alone. If the apostle Paul can come clean, drop the false image of having it all together, so can we.

Stop Making Disciples!

“We have generated a body of people who consume Christian services and think that that is Christian faith. Consumption of Christian services replaces obedience to Christ. And spirituality is one more thing to consume.” -Dallas Willard

My Youth Pastor and I were at an EFCA Discipleship Cohort last year when I had my ‘aha moment.’ The realization began to sink in that many churches do a decent job when it comes to helping people to grow as disciples. Preaching, programs, Life Groups, are all geared to help people to become more like Jesus Christ. But how much time and energy do we spend as leaders in the church helping people to become disciple makers?

Jesus’ master plan was not to merely help people become more spiritually mature, his plan also included mentoring them so that they could go out and make disciples once he was gone.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -Matthew 28:16-20

The point I am trying to make is that we must go beyond making disciples and make disciple makers. Jesus showed us the way by spending large amounts of time with his disciples. Jesus invested his life into a small number of men so that they would go out and do likewise. We as leaders in the church today are fooling ourselves if we think we can devise a better strategy than Jesus for changing the world.

We have had Life Groups here at New Life Church for a long time, and we will continue to do them. What we have begun to do that is new is what we are calling Life Transformation Groups. The primary goal for putting together these Life Transformation Groups is to see men and women go beyond thinking about their own spiritual growth and to begin investing their lives into others so that they too will become more like Christ. This mission of making disciple makers is not just something for pastors, missionaries or paid staff. This Great Commission is something that every single person can do. I will take it a step further. I believe it is what every single Christian is called to do.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas and questions!

Advice For Graduating High School Seniors

Coming up with some advice for graduating high school seniors is a very practical exercise for me. Marcie and I still have 3 kids in school and next year our oldest, Justice, will be a senior. So we are in the middle of ACT scores and freaking out over how expensive college is! On top of all of this we have seniors leaving our church family every year to head off to college. I care about these young adults and therefore I thought I would jot down a few words of advice for them.

  • Get involved in a local church. To grow spiritually you are going to need to hear regular preaching, spend time with people who are outside of your 18-22 age bracket, and be encouraged by a church that is close to your college campus. If you want to see how passionate the apostle Paul felt regarding the local church go HERE.
  • Stay away from the party scene. Here is what you need to know. You are not missing anything by avoiding drinking, drugs and jumping from one dating relationship to another. I have personal experience in this area and I can tell you that you will end up much happier if you keep your eyes on Christ and keep the right perspective regarding these temporal pleasures.
  • Make a point of deepening your daily walk with Christ. Buy an excellent study Bible. Set up a regular time that you read your Bible and pray. These spiritual disciplines are absolutely critical for your Christian faith.
  • Be a light for Christ on your campus. Don’t merely try to survive college. God has placed you there to be his ambassador. Be looking to build relationships. Open up your heart and love others. Don’t be afraid to share your faith. Look for students who are struggling and encourage them.
  • Get connected with a Christian ministry on campus. CRU and Intervarsity are a couple excellent examples of college ministries that will provide the support you need. Now let’s circle back to my first piece of advice, a good college ministry will be the first to tell you how important it is to be involved in a local church.
  • Think hard about your passions, dreams, and what you really enjoy doing. God has created you with specific gifts, abilities and talents. Don’t just think about how college can prepare you for a job. Be thinking about what you truly want to do and how you can make a difference in the world. Jesus did not say that life has to be one long grind. Instead, Jesus told us this in John 10:10, “I came so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
  • Don’t let the world define what “success” is all about. Life is not primarily about making money, career advancement, and making a name for yourself. You may have all of those things but there is a greater mission that you are being called to. How is your life and career going to help build the kingdom of God? Francis Chan put it like this, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.”

Picture taken from statisticbrainresearchinstitutedotcom

From Spectators to Disciple Makers

I have mentioned before that I, and our Youth Pastor, are a part of an EFCA Transformational Cohort that is all about discipleship. You can learn more about it HERE. The Cohort meets 3 times in one year with a number of coaching calls along the way. The Discipleship Cohort is basically helping us to develop a strategic plan for how we are to go about making disciples here at New Life Church.

The last words of Jesus Christ make it clear what the mission of the church is, make disciples!

Over the past few weeks I was kicking around the idea of teaching a spiritual gifts class. But I had this nagging thought in the back of my head, “what is the connection between spiritual gifts and our mission which is to make disciples who make disciples”?

One of the challenges we all face in leadership is graciously teaching our people that church is much more than attending a worship service on a Sunday morning. As a follower of Jesus Christ we are called out of our comfort zone and given the task of making disciples. Discipleship is the process whereby we go from being a spectator to becoming a disciple maker. Spiritual gifts are given to the church so that we can build up the church and make disciples of Jesus Christ.

So, at this point I have decided to go ahead and teach a class on spiritual gifts but to show specifically how our spiritual gifts help the church to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28).

Because I have failed to find anything that makes the connection between spiritual gifts and the Great Commission in a meaningful way I am creating my own curriculum. Here is a rough draft. Some of you may be thinking that there will need to be a lot more than a class if you want to develop a flourishing culture of discipleship in the church. I agree! Chime in and share your thoughts!

From Spectators to Disciple Makers

Using Our Spiritual Gifts to Fulfill the Great Commission

“But making disciples is far more than a program. It is the mission of our lives. It defines us. A disciple is a disciple maker.”  -Francis Chan, Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples

Week 1-Jan 21

  • Are We Spectators or Disciple Makers?
    • The American church is in consumer mode
    • The remedy to consumerism in the church is the gospel (Matthew 10:37-39; Matthew 16:24-26)
    • What is the mission of New Life Church? (Matthew 28:16-20)
    • What is the connection between spiritual gifts and making disciples? (1 Corinthians 14:12/Ephesians 4:11-16)

Week 2-Jan 28

  • Exploring Spiritual Gifts
    • What are the spiritual gifts? (Romans 12/Ephesians 4/1 Corinthians 12)
    • What does the EFCA believe about “miraculous gifts”?
    • What is the best way to determine and develop your spiritual gifts?
    • Ten important truths about spiritual gifts

Week 3-Feb 4

  • Investing Your Spiritual Gifts and Steps to Take to Make Disciples
    • Being good stewards of the gifts God has given us (Matthew 25:14-30)
    • Different ways spiritual gifts can be used at New Life and in the world
    • Practical steps to take to begin making disciples
    • Pitfalls to be on guard against as we think about spiritual gifts

Developing Leaders in the Church (Pipeline Leadership Conference)

 

I will be attending Pipeline Leadership Conference this October. I am excited because I don’t think I have ever attended a conference quite like this one. Often times conferences feel like a celebrity pastor parade. The net result is a nagging sense that you don’t quite measure up to the work that others are doing. I am hoping and praying that this is a bit different.

Here is a description of the conference from their own website…

WE WANT TO CHANGE HOW YOU DO MINISTRY. FOR THE BETTER.

Ephesians 4 says that the calling of church leaders is not simply to do the work of ministry but to train the people in the work of the ministry in order to have the healthiest, most effective churches. Pipeline equips you to do just that.

Pipeline will help you learn how and why to create a leadership pipeline to develop people at every level in your church from weekly volunteers to pastoral staff.

Main Conference (October 13th) will feature plenary sessions as well as TED-style presentations to flesh out leadership pipeline application and implementation. Q&A will follow each session, moderated by the co-hosts of our popular 5 Leadership Questions podcast. Throughout Pipeline, attendees will enjoy the sounds of gifted artists Courtland Urbano and ANdrew Greer

Coaching Day (October 12th or 14th) is for attendees desiring a deeper dive and additional training in developing a leadership pipelines. Our consultants and trainers will assist you in implementing a pipeline plan at your church. Pastors and staff will take an inventory of leaders, explore how leadership development occurs, and examine how to provide quality content and training. Coaching Day seating is limited in a smaller, more interactive environment.

Pipeline is unlike other church leadership events because it offers real training, something staffs can take home and implement immediately. We hope to see hundreds of churches impacted and healthier through Pipeline, and we would love you to be part of it.

I’m looking forward to the conference and it is my plan is to share with you some of the insights I glean upon my return.

Transgender. Homosexuality. Truth And Love.

transgender-bathroom
Coming to a school near you?

Recent headline from CBS News: South Dakota Passes Transgender Student Bathroom Ban Bill. As a pastor I am strongly convinced that the issues of gender and homosexuality are issues that as the church we must address. We need to tell the truth so that we are equipped to think and talk biblically about these topics but we need to tell the truth in love.

 

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Ephesians 4:15.

I am going to stop my sermon series on Acts for two weeks and discuss transgender and homosexuality from a Biblical perspective on March 6 and March 13.

Here is a preliminary list of resources regarding these issues (will be added to in the next few weeks):

Understanding Gender Dysphoria

What Does The Bible Really Say About Homosexuality?

Audio of Mark Yarhouse at EFCA Conference (Scroll to the bottom)

The Ministry of the Gospel and Transgender Dysphoria

 

Isaiah: Beyond Religion. Part 2 (Israel, America and the Church)

Picture taken from Idaho Journal State Politics website

As I began preaching through the book of Isaiah I quickly realized that I needed to make an important decision regarding how to interpret the judgment that Isaiah says is coming.

(The sin): “Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.” Isaiah 1:4

(The judgment for the sin): “but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 1:19

I believe that modern Christians have, in many instances, assumed that when we apply texts like these to our world today it is a judgment against the nation of America. It is easy to understand their logic. America is just like the nation of Israel in the year 740 BC, sinful.

Here is the big problem. The judgment in Isaiah is not against “pagan culture”. The judgment is against God’s covenant people.

Consider what God says in 1:11. “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.” Isaiah 1:11

The judgment in Isaiah’s day was against God’s people for putting on a religious show yet their hearts were far from God. To apply this text today would mean that the church has to take a long hard look at themselves first, repent and again seek him with all of their heart.

Big deal you say? What difference does this little hermeneutical discussion make in regards to every day life?

The primary indictment against Israel and Judah in the book of Isaiah was that they were not pursuing mercy and justice. Are we? Or have we fallen into a religious routine that is primarily about getting our needs met and making our life better? Are we (the church, Christians) known as a people who care for the marginalized, oppressed, poor, vulnerable or are we spending more time being angry, judgmental and right? A lot of it has to do with how you interpret the prophets in the Old Testament.

“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless; plead the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:17

Interview With Mark Sellers About The Gospel, Community, And Living on Mission

Question: Tell us a little about yourself, your family and your role at Summit Crossing Community Church.

I am a native southern boy. I was born and raised in Mississippi and have now been in North Alabama for 13 years. I am a preacher’s kid and have been raised in the church world. Unlike many of my fellow PKs I grew up loving the church! My father is an amazing pastor and lover of the Father’s bride and his own bride and family. I have been married for 13 years to my amazing bride, Staci (also a native southern girl) and have two precious children: Andrew (6) and Ava (16 months). I was a part of the core team (4 families) that planted Summit Crossing Community Church 10 years ago. My official title at SC3 is “Community Life Pastor”. It’s my job to give both vision/ direction and execution to our missional communities. So I am responsible for discipling and equipping MC leaders, getting folks in the general church body connected, and overseeing the multiplication of the MC movement in our city. I also oversee our membership process and reaching out to new folks in our community. So basically, I get to hang out and eat with a lot of folks! Best job ever.

Question: What is your definition of a Missional Community?

In a sentence, a missional community is the family of God’s missionaries on the mission of making disciples who make disciples. We do this quite simply as we go, doing life together, seeing every moment in life through a gospel lens.

Question: What does it mean to be fluent in the gospel and why is this so critical for the spiritual health of every believer?

To be fluent literally means to be able to write or speak something with ease. Practically, to be fluent means that something is a natural part of you. It flows out subconsciously, without thought. To be fluent in gospel means that the gospel is a natural part of us, both literally and practically. So not only are we able to speak it without much thought, but we are also able to apply it without much conscious thought. So we speak it, we think it, we apply it when we make decisions, when we interact with situations and people, its natural! Why is this critical? Look, we are in a battle, both personally and corporately. And its the same battle that our original ancestors fought in the garden: our ways versus God’s ways. He has given us Himself and in that He has given us everything. But apart from both the purpose and power of the gospel, we are completely unable to choose anything other than ourselves. We must know the truth of the gospel and must apply its truth to our lives and to our communities to be healthy people and healthy communities. The world will not encourage or empower this. Our only hope is found in the gospel and the gospel is the answer for life period.

Question: Loving our neighbors in practical ways can be quite a challenge for people who do not all live in the same neighborhood. What does it look like for the MCs at Summit Crossing to be on mission?

When we transitioned to MCs, we really pushed folks to all unify around an adopted mission. It looked good and sounded good on paper, but it really frustrated many of our groups. That kind of mission is really easy (or I should say easier) for groups that are contained within 1-2 neighborhoods. But it was very difficult and frustrating for groups that were regionally connected but not defined by 1-2 neighborhoods. What we realized was that we were in danger of establishing a “missional legalism” that would take us away from Jesus’ simple words in His commission to us. It was subtle, but it was present. So we took a step back and encouraged our communities to consider asking these questions: “How are we making disciples both personally and corporately, and how does this community encourage and equip us for both?”

So we really want our MCs not to “rate” themselves on whether they are unified around A mission but to ask whether they are unified around THE mission. One of our MCs is localized in a suburban community but is spread out across many subdivisions. They were one of our “frustrated” groups that couldn’t unify around a particular mission. They began to break into smaller discipleship groups based on geography and relationship and found that each of these groups were much more effective in not only discipling each other but in making disciples within their other spheres of influence. So two times a month they all gather to share and celebrate the grace of God in their personal lives and in their missions. So at that gathering there is not only encouragement but the opportunity to partner with others in mission. The rest of the month these smaller groups meet and do life together to make disciples.

Our MC originally started as a neighborhood MC and it was really easy to be on mission in our neighborhood. We experienced a lot of traction early on but grew outside the boundaries of our neighborhoods. Our group was also very diverse and so it was even hard being on mission in our neighborhood with so many different walks of life. So we began to discuss where God was giving us favor or traction with people on mission. This led to some of us really giving time and energy to a rec team that involved a few of our group children. This led to the whole group being able to be a blessing to two families that we met through this rec league. One of the families has now since joined us and is getting to see what a gospel family looks like. Other parts of our group have been able to penetrate the artistic community and many of us have been able to join in with them on mission. Not all of us but a few of us! One of our girls got engaged and our group was able to help plan and execute her wedding which was a blessing to their extended family. So all of us didn’t do everything, but we all have had the opportunity to engage where God has given us personal traction with the help of our MC. And my family has been able to help others in our community do the same thing. So there’s no pressure to do it all, but there’s the freedom to follow the Spirit to engage with others as they live the mission. It’s actually fun and its a delight, not a duty!

Question: What do people study in your MCs?

Most of our groups study the same texts that we are preaching through in our corporate gatherings. Right now, that’s Romans (pray for us!). We have these groups answer 5 basic questions about the text each week that center around observation, interpretation, and gospel application. It is our hope that our people learn to be self-feeders! Many groups are actually studying ahead of what we are preaching so that they hit it before it’s preached. This allows them to hit the text fresh and be led by the Spirit and not just the preacher. A few of our groups do other book studies or other things like The Story of God or Gospel Parenting, etc. Anything outside of the sermon discussion must be approved by the church elders.

Question: How do you train your MC leaders?

Our training is really a two tier approach. On a large scale corporate approach, we offer quarterly workshops for all leaders and apprentices across all three campuses. This is a really big deal for us. We feed them all breakfast, take care of their kids, and give each family a free resource (not free to us usually!) along with the training that we do. In short not only do we try to equip and encourage them, but we try to bless their socks off too. The training generally has four sessions that revolve around these four components:

1. Evidence of God’s Grace (sharing MC stories)

2. Vision Training (one of our 5 community essentials or 4 rhythms)

3. Practical Training (gospel fluency through counsel training or the like)

4. Collective Prayer Time (both for the leaders and for their MCs; divided up geographically)

Our leaders love this and we almost always have every community represented at these events. They are led both by elders and MC leaders, but always by practitioners! On a small scale, our 3 campuses are divided into 9 geographic regions that we call collectives. Each collective has elders and deacons present that oversee individual coaching, accountability, encouragement,and equipping amongst the collective leaders. So the workshops are our air war and the collectives are our ground war for training.

Mark is also on the Executive Team for GCM Collective.

Grace Means We Don’t Have To Hide (Imagine Dragons-Demons)

No doubt in our culture we want to front the best image possible; it’s no different in the church. So we end up hiding parts of our true self. But the emotional and spiritual cost of hiding is astronomical. No one gets to know us for who we are.  Always posing. Keeping up the illusion. Inside we are screaming that there has to be a better way. We need a safe place so that when people see us for who we truly are we know they won’t run away. Instead they stay, listen, love and extend grace.

The Church Is Much More Than A Hospital

Frequently I hear people refer to the church as a hospital. I know what they mean. The church is a place where the broken and hurting receive healing. I agree that spiritual healing is available in the body of Jesus Christ. But overall I think the metaphor is incomplete and in fact it’s a bit misleading.

Growing up one of my favorite shows was MASH. MASH stood for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. Today the term MASH is no longer used in military circles. Instead they call it a Combat Support Hospital. That’s what a church is, a Combat Support Hospital. We are living in a hostile land (Ephesians 6:12) and our mission is to bring the gospel to every nook and cranny of society. No doubt injuries will occur as we lay down our life for this Christ glorifying endeavor. Fortunately as the church gathers we are strengthened, refreshed and equipped so that we can go back and live as ambassadors of Jesus Christ.

When we say the church is a hospital it leaves us with the impression that receiving healing for our personal wounds is the end game. That’s just the beginning! We are healed so that we can bring healing to others.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. -Matthew 16:18