So far we have discussed the relational, transformational, accountability, self-sacrificing, equipping/reproduction, and alignment principles that I have observed in healthy disciple-making churches. This article will focus on the intentional/proactive principle. By this, I mean leaders who have taken time and effort to discover who they are, how they are uniquely equipped by God to fulfill His purposes, and who have sought and attained alignment in their church in these critical areas. Having done that, they know that their work has only just begun. Knowing what needs to be done and doing it are two different issues. As James tells us, “To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” James 4:17.
But intentional/proactive leaders in healthy churches take their intentionality to a whole new level. They pursue their strategies aggressively, intentionally, proactively, and unapologetically. They have taken time to discover their own unique giftedness and that of their leadership team as well as key church members—these were the foundational steps they used so they could define their alignment issues. With their strengths and passions in mind, they also sought out the most effective ways to connect with their community.
The Bible describes God as an intentional/proactive being. In the account of the “Fall,” God declared what scholars call the protoevangelium (first good news): “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” Genesis 3:15. Then in Genesis 12:3, God took the initiative to call Abram with the promise that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Paul describes God’s intentionality this way, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” Galatians 4:4-5. The Apostle John also understood God’s proactive nature: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” John 1:1-3 & 14.
Jim Collins in his book Good to Great1 describes this type of intentional focus as an organization’s “Hedgehog Concept.” He contrasts the mundane, routine, day-after-day focus of a hedgehog with the exciting but scattered and unpredictable life of a fox. When a church has a hedgehog focus, the main things stay the main things even when they don’t conform to the latest and greatest trends. It’s not that they are unwilling to adapt to cultural changes (that’s next week’s principle), but they know what works and more importantly why it works. The darkened area on the three-circle graphic is the area where an organization (church) will find its hedgehog concept. It is the focal point because it is where the answer to three critical questions are true: What are we doing with world-class quality? What are we doing that really excites us and stirs our passion? And what are we doing that produces Godly fruit? For a secular business, it is what can we do profitably? Effective churches know AND do!
In a book written specifically to help organizations thrive during turbulent times, Collin’s Great by Choice2 contrasts the successful polar expedition of Roald Amundsen and the failed efforts of Robert Scott’s team. In 1911 the two teams departed for the South Pole a few days apart. Scott’s team reached the Pole only to find the wind-whipped flags of their rivals planted 34 days earlier. What followed was a race for their lives—a race they lost. Collin’s noted that one of the key differences between success and survival and failure and death was Amundson’s team (like successful organizations) had “fantastic discipline.” He defined it this way: “fantastic discipline is consistency of action—consistency with values, consistency with long-term goals, consistency with performance standards, consistency of method, consistency over time.”
Collins created the word SMaC to describe the type of intentional actions that effective leaders use. The acronym means Specific, Methodical, and Consistent. They describe a SMaC recipe as the operating practices that turn strategic concepts into reality. They become a set of practices more enduring than mere tactics, which will change from situation to situation. He used an illustration from the sports world to describe a SMaC recipe in action: that of the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. One player is quoted as saying, “you could have taken UCLA athletes who played in ’55. ’65, ’70, and ’75; put them on the same team; and they would have been able to play with each other instantly!” Wooden translated his “Pyramid of Success (a philosophy of life and competition) into a detailed recipe, right down to how players should tie their shoes.”
In a summary statement, Collins wrote, “We’ve found in all our research studies that the signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change; the signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.” No human enterprise can succeed at the highest levels without consistency; if you bring no coherent unifying concept and disciplined methodology to your endeavors, you’ll be whipsawed by changes in your environment and cede your fate to forces outside your control. Equally true, however, no human enterprise can succeed at the highest levels without productive evolution.
I love the closing paragraph of Great by Choice because it speaks to our willingness to be intentional/proactive in life and what is possible with God’s guidance and grace
We are not imprisoned by our circumstances. We are not imprisoned by the luck we get or the inherent unfairness of life. We are not imprisoned by crushing setbacks, self-inflicted mistakes or our past success. We are not imprisoned by the times in which we live, by the number of hours in a day or even the number of hours we’re granted in our very short lives. In the end, we can control only a tiny sliver of what happens to us. But even so, we are free to choose, free to become great by choice.
1 https://www.heartlandchurchnetwork.com/uploads/5/8/1/6/58163279/transferrable_concepts_from_collins_books.pdf link to Mark’s discussion of transferrable concepts from Collin’s Built to Last, Good to Great, Built to Last, and How the Mighty Fall
2 https://www.heartlandchurchnetwork.com/uploads/5/8/1/6/58163279/great_by_choice.pdf link to Mark’s discussion summary of Built to Last
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
So far we have discussed the relational, transformational, accountability, self-sacrificing, and reproduction principles that I have observed in healthy disciple-making churches. This article will focus on the principle of alignment. This is a principle that for decades was simply assumed as being true across the full spectrum of American Christianity but is no longer the case. Just because someone grew up Southern Baptist doesn’t mean they will join a SBC church when they move to a new city. They will be looking for a church like the one they just left and for most people, their major consideration is not denominational loyalty.
For example, fifty years ago if you were Southern Baptist and traveled for work or on a vacation, you could attend a sister SBC church and know exactly what to expect. You would have attended Sunday School, because that’s what was expected. In Sunday School you would very likely be using the same quarterly you used at your home church the week before. As you transitioned to worship, you would have received a bulletin that you would take with you and present to your Sunday School teacher when you got back home so you wouldn’t break your perfect attendance streak. In the sanctuary, you would find “your” pew, sit down, and grab a hymnal from the rack on the back of the pew in front of you. As you looked around at the front of the church you would see the choir area, an organ on one side, and a piano on the other. You would also see a report board on a sidewall near the front of the auditorium listing various information related to attendance and giving. You might have even found a bulletin from the previous week, and it would have been exactly like the one you received the week before at your home church with the exception of the church name, the hymn numbers, sermon title, and the announcements. And yes, it would have had the same order of worship that you were accustomed to at home. The same kind of experience was available to Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, Church of Christ, etc.
Fast forward to today. Sometimes you don’t even have to go to a different church to experience variety in the worship service. Many churches don’t print a bulletin and few have pews or hymnals. So, how do you know what you’re going to experience when you walk into a sister SBC church? Today, the average first-time visitor will do some online searches seeking to find a church like theirs or one that fits who they are. That means a pastor and his church need to know who they are and be able to communicate it with clarity and simplicity. That’s basically what alignment does. It gives pastors and church leaders clarity so they can communicate in simple terms who they are.
But achieving alignment in today’s pluralistic church culture is not easy. It takes a pastor and church leaders who are willing to become 100% united on their understanding of the purpose of the church—making disciples whose transforming lives bring God glory. Then they need to agree on exactly what principles and processes will be used in their church to provide the greatest opportunity for God to produce the Fruit of the Spirit within every member. That means men and women from various church backgrounds will have to be willing to discuss deep theological, philosophical, and ecclesiological issues and agree upon specific definitions for critical issues. With that clarity, they can speak unapologetically to the world about who God has called them to be and how He wants them to do it.
I attended a conference at a very effective disciple-making church a few years ago that was designed to help sister churches see how God was using them to make disciples. It was a conference our association had financially helped several pastors and leaders attend prior to my opportunity to go. I had visited with every pastor who had already attended to get his feedback, reflections, and major take-homes. None of them mentioned that the initial breakout session was about alignment. The pastor of the host church knew the importance of having clarity and communicating their discipleship principles and processes with simplicity!
He was a former athlete and coach, and he understood the importance of teamwork: everyone working out of the same playbook. So he meticulously developed a four-section “church playbook.” It clearly defined their theological beliefs, their philosophical approach including their vision and values, their organizational structure that was designed to effectively steward God-given resources with a constant eye on fulfilling their mission to make disciples, and fourthly, their unapologetic emphasis on and explanation of how it would be done in a relational manner (see principle number one).
Pastors and leaders in aligned churches have little tolerance for anyone who wants to lead their church in another direction. Time, energy, and resources are not used for activities or programs that are not designed to make disciples. They are willing to ask the hard questions when it appears that resources are being used to simply support an organization, its bureaucracy, or its buildings and endowments.
Alignment isn’t a new church growth principle. It’s been around since creation. God created us in His image and likeness and gave us two responsibilities: to steward His creation and to fill the earth with His glory by reflecting His attributes wherever we were. But instead of aligning with His plan, Adam and Eve started us down the road of seeking our own plan. In the fullness of time, God sent forth His son who modeled alignment with God. In Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus proclaimed his desire to align with God by stating, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” John 9:4 records Jesus’ declaration, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me.”
The early church was willing to wrestle with difficult alignment issues. One clear example is the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15. They had to decide what it means to be a Christian. Peter’s opening greeting in his second epistle speaks to the alignment they were able to hammer out, “To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours” II Peter 1:1.
Think what would happen to a large rowboat with eight people in it if each individual was rowing in a different direction. Unless you and your church are aligned top to bottom, that’s what’s happening every day. There are some good resources available to help you walk through the process of becoming aligned. You just need to ask.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
So far we have discussed the relational, transformational, accountability, and self-sacrificing principles that I have observed in healthy disciple-making churches. This article will focus on the equipping principle. In an effort to communicate my meaning, I have also used the terms expanding, multiplying, and reproducing to describe this principle. In essence, it is correctly understanding and applying Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4:11-12:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
Too often we over emphasize the unique calling and gifting of Christian leaders and minimize our responsibility to equip AND to release every believer that God has uniquely called and gifted “for the work of ministry” and sent our way. We can let our “need to be needed” or our “fear” that if we equip others then we will lose our job keep us from equipping others. Sometimes we are limited by our shortsighted idea that “it is faster if I just do it by myself.” If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. At other times, we are limited by our need to have others do it exactly as we do it. After all, we know exactly how it needs to be done.
A biggie that is hard for all of us to see is that every Sunday Christian leaders are faced with the “need to fill critical positions.” This pressure creates tension with the Biblical mandate to equip those God has sent our way so that they can fulfill their unique calling. We cry out, “God why don’t you send us who WE want and who WE need when WE need them! If we were really honest with ourselves, we would admit that we’re upset that other churches aren’t doing a better job of equipping the saints for the work of OUR ministry! If you are a pastor, let me ask you, “How well are you balancing the responsibility of equipping the saints found in Ephesians 4:11-12 with the responsibility to give yourself to prayer and the ministry of the word found in Acts 6:4?”
Leaders in effective disciple-making churches are aware that II Timothy 2:2 doesn’t just automatically happen. Paul exhorts young Timothy, “The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Almost every Christian leader can quote this verse, but few of us are living it out on a daily basis. We have taught the concepts, but we also need to be caught up in the process of investing in others at an intensely relational level (remember the first principle) and expecting them to invest in others (principle three: accountability). Because discipleship is more caught than it is taught, equipping and releasing others needs to be so engrained in our day-to-day process that we wouldn’t think about doing anything on our own.
This strategic principle also speaks to the reality that healthy mature organisms reproduce. We know that if reproduction is not taking place then a problem exists. The long-term viability of that living organism is in jeopardy. It also touches on the need for a discipleship process to be reproducible or sustainable within a given cultural context (we will discuss this principle later). Throughout scripture, we see the failure of one generation to pass along the lessons they learned about God to the next. This is particularly evident in the book of Judges. Immediately after we are told, “Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died;” we are told: “And all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Judges 2:10-11.
To counteract this reality, Jesus intentionally modeled the equipping principle with His disciples. In Luke 6:12-13, we read, “Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles.” Luke 8:1 tells us that Jesus “went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him.” Having equipped them for the work of ministry, Luke tells us that Jesus sent them out, “Then He called His twelve disciples together and...He sent them to preach the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:1-2). After they returned, they helped Him equip 72 others who were then sent out: “After these things the Lord appointed seventy-two others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go” (Luke 10:1).
I was reminded recently that modeling (doing something over and over in front of others) isn’t enough. We also have to tell them why we are doing what we are doing, and we must patiently continue to tell them why we are doing what we are doing. Even Jesus had days when He became frustrated by His disciples:
He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat. Then He charged them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have no bread.” But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” “Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?” And they said, “Seven.” So He said to them, “How is it you do not understand?”
Having modeled and explained multiplication to them, the early disciples (including Paul) imitated Jesus. Paul stated it this way, “Therefore I urge you, imitate me. For this reason, I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church” (I Corinthians 4:16-17). The model of multiplication was so engrained in the early church that only a few decades after Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, a mob in Thessalonica (a city almost 1000 miles from Jerusalem) shouted, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also” Acts 17:6.
How did a handful of early disciples achieve that level of impact? They “equipped the saints for the work of ministry.” They understood the principle of expanding, multiplying, and reproducing was a necessary part of an effective disciple-making process. The BIG QUESTION is, “How effective is your church as it seeks to make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples in your Jerusalem?”
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
So far we have talked about the relational, transformational, and accountability principles found in effective disciple-making churches. In this article, I will discuss the Self-Sacrificing principle. A disciple-making church places more emphasis on reaching the lost than on ministering to the saved. They know that if both are equally emphasized, human nature will, over time, lead us to place greater time, energy, and resources on ministering to those who are already gathered.
Two old clichés come to mind at this point: “Out of sight, out of mind,” and “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Disciple-making churches are willing to sacrifice self-needs (and desires) for the purpose of ministering to the lost. They are constantly asking, who is not at the table? Another way to talk about these churches is that they have a burden and a passion to see the broken world around them impacted positively by the Gospel of Jesus Christ—they are unapologetically evangelistic in the right kind of way. They do not primarily use “hit and run” or “catch and release” evangelism, but rather they focus on relational evangelism models.
Paul understood the self-sacrificing nature of effective ministry. He was transformed by an encounter with our living Lord on his way to Damascus. His trip there was to be another attempt to purify and purge Judaism from the heretical teaching of a sect called the Way. But instead of forcing others to sacrifice their belief that the Messiah had come, Paul accepted a life full of sacrifices in order to tell the world that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. He records some of them in II Corinthians 11:22-29 where he is defending his apostleship.
Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
Paul’s model for self-sacrifice was the Messiah, and he wrote about it in Philippians 2:5-8. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross”
But Jesus modeled self-sacrifice long before He climbed up Mt. Calvary. In John 4:4-6, we are told that Jesus “needed to go through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.” It was mid-day and Jesus was physically tired as He was hurrying to get back to Galilee after His preaching, teaching, and ministering trip to Jerusalem. Every pastor can tell you how physically exhausting it can be as you complete one preaching assignment and hurry to the next. Jesus was resting near the well and no one would have been surprised if He had taken a pass on engaging a stranger in conversation. But that’s exactly what Jesus did: “A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’ For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.”
And there was no one more startled than the Samaritan woman when Jesus spoke to her. His simple request for a drink of water instantly turned into a cultural and religious debate. Just what a tired preacher is looking for—NOT! Because He was willing to sacrifice His personal time of rest, a mini-revival broke out. You know how the story ends: “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.’” (4:39-42)
Several years ago I was the member of a church in Sioux City, IA. After a conversation with Larry Lewis who was then President of the Home Mission Board and in town for the state convention meeting the church hosted, the pastor began to research the church’s history. Dr. Lewis told him that while he was a college student, the Missouri mission team he was on spent the night in Sioux City while en route to Canada. What stood out to Dr. Lewis was that they didn’t stay in a church building, as was their custom, because there wasn’t an SBC church in the area. After he returned home he told several people that an SBC church needed to be planted in Sioux City.
As the Sioux City pastor read about the early days of the church, he discovered how the Missouri Baptist Convention helped them get a loan to build their building. He learned that the formal sponsoring church purchased new office furniture and equipment and new pews for their building. When the new church plant struggled after the Air Force base closed in Sioux City, the sponsor church paid the mortgage until they could get back on their feet. When the pastor had an opportunity to stop by the sponsoring church to say “Thank You,” he was humbled by the sacrificial way in which a church in a small Missouri town of Centralia (less than 4,500) had supported not only the Sioux City church (metro area of 120,000), but several other churches as well. Their office furniture, equipment, and pews were not nearly as nice and new as the ones they purchased for the new church. Only God knows the eternal impact that FBC Centralia, MO has made in the last fifty years.
Just like “The Son of Man [came] to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), so we too are called to make disciples wherever God directs our lives by living and sharing the Gospel with them, baptizing those who humbly receive His free gift, and teaching them to obey all things that God has commanded of us. In a nation consumed with seeking things and finding personal pleasures, we are called to be in our world, but not be of our world. Standing up for God and standing apart from secular culture is requiring greater sacrifice with each passing year.
Being a comfortable Christian is not part of our calling. What sacrifices have you made in the last month so that someone else would have the opportunity to know Christ or to grow in their knowledge and obedience to Him?
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.
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