Top 10 Resources for Pastors & Church Planters

I was recently asked by a pastor friend to recommend my top 10 most influential resources for pastors, church planters, or those aspiring to high-level ministry leadership.

He wasn’t looking for explicitly theological resources as much as tools that explore ministry design, pastoral leadership, and developing a disciple-making ministry. While a number of these resources flow out of rich theological reflection, they aren’t the kind of tools most pastors would get from seminary. Thus, I’m making the (somewhat dangerous) assumption that a pastor is grounded in the gospel, the Scriptures, and a robust theological understanding.

So, with that caveat, here’s what I would recommend (in no particular order):

trellisvineThe Trellis and The Vine (Collin Marshall & Tony Payne) – Beautiful vision for equipping and multiplying ministry through making disciples and training people. Chapters 2-3 are on a short list of must-read resources for all our new staff.

 

move bookMove: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth (Greg Hawkins & Cally Parkinson) – I’ve never talked to another pastor who read this book, but it’s one of the best I’ve read in the last few years. It explores how people actually grow in their faith. You can read my lessons from it here.

 

keller preachingPreaching to the Heart (Tim Keller’s audio lectures from Gordon Conwell) – Single best resource on preaching I’ve encountered. Also amazing for anybody who does counseling or disciples others (i.e. everyone).

 

heart servant leaderThe Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller (C. John Miller) – Collection of letters from a mature, wise, prayerful pastor. So much is modeled through these letters, especially about prayer, family, love for non-Christians, courage to confront tough issues, and how the gospel actually changes you.

 

axioms

Leadership Axioms: Powerful Leadership Proverbs (Bill Hybels) – Short, practical, wise nuggets from one of the sharpest leaders in modern church history. Each chapter is only a few pages, which makes it easy to read and easy to remember. I guess that’s the point of an axiom, eh?

 

center-churchCenter Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Tim Keller) – One of the highlights of this past year was working through this book with a cohort of pastors from across the country, guided by the staff of Redeemer City to City. It’s most of Keller’s thinking on gospel, culture, theological vision, and evangelism all in one place.

 

the advantageThe Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything in Business (Patrick Lencioni) – Most of Lencioni’s books are short fables designed to teach crucial lessons in organizational life. The Advantage is his non-fiction magnum opus, an all-in-one book on the importance of organizational culture.

 

stanleyChoosing to Cheat (book or sermon by Andy Stanley) – This a game changer for prioritizing family and keeping things in perspective. In fact, when I heard Stanley present this content at a leadership conference, he said it was “the most important leadership decision he ever made.” What was it? Choosing not to cheat his family in the name of ministry.

 

what's best nextWhat’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Matt Perman) – I’ve read many books on productivity and time management. This one contains all the best-of thinking found in those other books, yet comes from a gospel-centered perspective. Here’s my review of it.

 

innovatingdiscipleshipInnovating Discipleship: Four Paths to Real Discipleship Results (Will Mancini) – I read everything I can by Will Mancini and love the way he thinks. This is a little known read-in-one-sitting book that helps leaders identify their approach and strategy for disciple-making. I desperately wish I had read it before planting a church.

 

BONUS: The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast – every episode is interesting, helpful, and chock-full of thought-provoking ideas (See other podcasts I recommend here).

What would you add?

 

How Do People Really Grow Spiritually? (Lessons from Move)

how do people really growEvery pastor wonders how much difference he is making. I’m no different. I want to know to what degree my personal ministry, as well as our church’s ministry, is really helping people grow in their faith. I ask questions like:

  • Are we truly making disciples or are we just keeping people active?
  • Does activity/participation = growth?
  • Which of our ministries is most effective/ineffective at helping people grow?
  • How do we help all these people that are in such different places?

This summer I read Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth by Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, and I realized I’m not the only one who asks those kinds of questions. Move is about the lessons from a research project that studied over 1,000 churches by surveying over 200,000 congregants about their spiritual life and development.

As a pastor committed to helping people grow spiritually, I loved the book. It confirmed some of my convictions, surprised me about some of my false assumptions, and challenged me in a few crucial areas.

Confirmation of Convictions

Move affirmed a few of my convictions about ministry. I’ll list these confirmations and provide a quote for each one. PLEASE read the quotes. They’re excellent.

1. People want to be challenged. I’ve seen people respond to challenge time and again.

“Nothing is more indicative of high-impact, discipling churches than a ‘go-for-broke’ challenge factor.” 

2. The Bible is hugely important for spiritual growth. Duh. But, I guess, it’s amazing how many churches don’t really engage people with the Bible. The authors write:

“The most effective strategy for moving people forward in their journey of faith is biblical engagement.”

3. People need different things at different stages of their spiritual life. As nice as one-size-fits-all approaches are for church leadership, they aren’t good for people.

What people need in order to grow closer to Christ depends on where they are now in their relationship with him.” 

4. Christians must have personal time with God in order to grow. Great church programs make little difference if a person isn’t spending time with Jesus.

“Nothing has a greater impact on spiritual growth than reflection on Scripture. If churches could do only one thing to help people at all levels of spiritual maturity grow in their relationship with Christ, their choice is clear. They would inspire, encourage, and equip their people to read the Bible—specifically, to reflect on Scripture for meaning in their lives.”

Surprises (Refuting My Assumptions)

Move also surprised me in a few key areas and refuted my assumptions. Again, please read the quotes.

1. Participation in church activities does not necessarily lead to increased spiritual maturity. Most church leaders assume that if we just get people active, they’ll grow. But, in reality, they’ll only grow to the degree that these activities help them develop a personal relationship with Jesus.

All of our findings are derived from one essential fact: that spiritual growth—defined as an increase in love of God and for others—is not a product of growing participation in church activities or changes in lifestyle or the result of our natural aging process. Rather, spiritual growth advances in lockstep with a growing personal relationship with Christ.” 

2. Organized small groups are more catalytic for people early on and less so later on. This shocked me philosophically, but not experientially. The longer you walk with Jesus, the less you need the organized small group because you have meaningful Christian relationships in real life.

“When we apply our context of human relationships to these findings, it makes perfect sense that organized activities become less important. The closer you are to someone—the more likely you are to depend on them to process your life issues—the less important organized settings tend to be. While you may have formed the relationship in a structured experience—in the workplace, perhaps, or at a neighborhood gathering—that setting is typically a springboard for the relationship, not something required to sustain it.”

3. Serving is the only organized church activity that moves people across all stages of their development. I wasn’t surprised that serving grows people. I was surprised that it was the only organized thing that helped everybody.

Interestingly, serving experiences appear to be even more significant to spiritual development than organized small groups…The implication for church leaders is that we must encourage people to serve—in any capacity, in whatever valid opportunity their gifts and interests lead them to.”

4. Churches need to promote and provide a high-expectation, non-negotiable, senior-pastor-owned pathway of first-steps designed to jumpstart people’s spiritual growth. Rather than just throwing people in the game, churches need to have some basic introductory experience that gets people moving in the right direction.

The military uses boot camp to turn civilians into soldiers. Baseball uses spring training to test new players and try them out in different positions. Many colleges require freshmen to attend orientation week so they can become familiar with their new environment and a new set of expectations. These short-term launching pads into life experiences are analogous to the first best practice found among the most spiritually effective churches in the REVEAL database. They get people moving by providing a high-challenge, nonnegotiable path of first steps to engage people in a process of spiritual growth—a process that will ultimately lead them to become followers of Jesus Christ.”

Challenges I Needed

Finally, Move challenged me in a few key areas. These were things that I knew were important but, for various reasons, had forgotten how crucial they were.

1. The #1 priority of the senior leader(s) must be to make disciples. More than attendance, numerical growth, personal platform, cultural influence, or anything else. This seems obvious, but it’s not. After leading a church for 5+ years, many other things compete for #1 priority. Move challenged me to refocus on what church is all about — making disciples.

Five years of research findings point us to one singular conclusion—that the most essential decision a church leader makes is not what kind of worship service to offer or what kind of small-group system to build. It’s the decision to lead his or her church with an unyielding and unequivocal commitment to a very easy-to-say, very hard-to-accomplish goal—which is, to do whatever is humanly possible to move people’s hearts toward Christ.”

2. The senior leader(s) must have a white-hot relationship with Jesus. Duh, again. But it was a challenge I needed to hear. Nothing would serve our church more than me having a vibrant relationship with Christ.

You cannot reproduce in others what you are not producing in yourself. The main thing you need to do—the one thing you must do—is fully within your reach. You must surrender all.”

You can try other paths, find a new strategy, perhaps, or hire some really talented staff members. But in the end, if your church is not led by people completely devoted to Jesus—people who prioritize their relationship with him above everything else—it will not work. It will not produce life. It will not change the world.”

Conclusion

I thank God for Move. It came just at the right time with a number of fresh insights and important reminders. It will bear fruit in my life and the church. While it’s probably not the kind of book that most Christians will find too interesting, it’s a must-read for senior leaders in a local church.

 

6 Lessons from What’s Best Next by Matt Perman

whats best nextI recently finished reading What’s Best Next by Matt Perman, who runs a blog by the same name. The book’s subtitle is “How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done.” It’s the best book I’ve read so far this year.

I have read and benefited from a number of productivity-related books (Getting Things Done, Rework, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Making Ideas Happen, The Power of Full Engagement, and Do The Work). Perman draws on many of these excellent books, references their best ideas and, in the end, surpasses them.

What’s Best Next is better than these other books for two important reasons:

  1. Perman unpacks a robust exploration of how the gospel re-shapes our approach to productivity.
  2. He delivers a highly practical approach that simplifies many of the overwhelming systems these other books espouse.

I learned a lot from the book. Here are the 6 most significant lessons I took away (the first is the longest):

1. The gospel makes productivity about love.

The most surprising sections of the book were the first two, reframing productivity through the lens of the gospel. I honestly didn’t expect to get much out of them and thought they would be a kind of Christian veneer applied thinly over practical advice. I could not have been more wrong, as these sections demonstrated valuable theological thinking applied to a real-world issue.

Perman argues that God cares deeply about productivity because God wants lots of good to happen in the world. Sadly, however, many people — Christians included — view productivity mostly in self-centered ways: How can I get a lot done? How can I get through my list? How can I achieve peace and contentment by getting organized? How can I feel good about myself because I’m so productive?

But the gospel transforms our productivity in two key ways. First, it makes Jesus our identity rather than our works. Instead of achieving a sense of value by how productive we are, we are free to be productive because we already have value in Jesus. Second, the gospel puts our attention on others so that we seek to love and serve them through our work, rather than serve ourselves.

This was a game-changer for me. I often think of people being in the way of me getting done what I really want and need to do. Instead, people should be a key factor and motivator in deciding what to do and how to do it.

Additionally, loving others means we should seek to be organized and effective in how we get things done. As Perman writes:

“If we are about serving others, then we need to be competent in serving them because incompetence does not serve people.”

2. Everyday life provides many opportunities for good works that honor God.

I loved the “all of life” aspect of this book. One terrific example is when Perman talks about “good works.” He says:

“According to the Scriptures, good works are not simply the rare, special, extraordinary, or super spiritual things we do. Rather, they are anything we do in faith…When you are answering emails, you aren’t just answering emails. You are doing good works. When you attend meetings, you aren’t just attending meetings. You are doing good works. When you make supper for your family, you aren’t just making supper for your family. You are doing good works. When you put the kids to bed, you aren’t just putting the kids to bed. You are doing a good work.”

Isn’t that encouraging? Every day you have countless opportunities to do good works in the name of Jesus.

3. Know what’s most important and put it first.

Perman argues that this is the core principle of productivity. He quotes some other leaders who say the same thing:

Rick Warren: “The secret of effectiveness is to know what really counts, then do what really counts, and not worry about the rest.”

Peter Drucker: “If there is any one ‘secret’ of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time.”

Stephen Covey: “The key . . . is not to prioritize your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

I appreciated this principle because it forces me to intentionally think about what’s most important. Rather than just being reactive, this principle thrusts you into proactively doing what is important rather than just what’s urgent.

This is what’s behind the middle word in the title What’s Best Next. It’s not about what’s next, but what’s best next. Perman says:

“More important than efficiency is effectiveness — getting the right things done. In other words, productivity is not first about getting more things done faster. It’s about getting the right things done.”

4. Systems trump intentions.

This was a short but profound point in the book, one that I’ve noted before. Perman writes:

“Systems trump intentions. You can have great intentions, but if your life is set up in a way that is not in alignment with them, you will be frustrated. The structure of your life will win out every time.”

This is why leaders need a plan. Without a plan, you will not get done what you want and need to get done.

More than that, you need a simple plan. For instance, like Perman, I found the Getting Things Done (GTD) approach overwhelming. It felt like my job became keeping up with my system. I was serving the system instead of the system serving me. Perman offers some simple, practical ideas that felt like a doable breath of fresh air.

5. Weekly planning is crucial.

One of the crucial systems to establish is weekly planning. This is something I’ve read about in the past but it always sounded too complicated to make it a normal part of my routine. Perman offers a detailed approach to weekly planning, but he also provides a simplified pair of questions that, if done, would provide incredible clarity:

  1. What do I need to do this week?
  2. What would I like to do this week?

Think through those questions and put those things on a list or calendar somewhere. If you just asked those two questions, you’d probably gain some ground, especially if part of your thinking involved how you could plan to do intentional good for others.

6. Plan your day.

This almost feels ridiculous to say but — upon reflection — it’s discouraging for me to think about how rarely I plan my day. Too often I just react to whatever’s next on the calendar or whatever email just came in. But recently I’ve been planning my day and it’s amazing how much more effective I am.

Here’s Perman’s simple way to plan the day:

  1. Write down the three most important tasks you can accomplish today, in light of your calendar and priorities.
  2. Review your calendar and list any actions this generates.
  3. Review your priority list for the week and actions list to ensure it is current and identify any other priorities you need to have.
  4. Write down any other things you need to do in light of upcoming meetings, appointments, and just generally other stuff you want to get done.

Isaiah 32:8 says, “he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands.” Planning your week and day gives you a chance to plan noble things that will serve others and achieve much good.

Conclusion

Buy and read this book. If you already feel like you have good productivity systems, the first few parts will still be valuable in reframing your approach through a gospel lens. If you feel like your systems could use an improvement, the entire book will be helpful.

My Favorite Books of 2012

This past year I set out to read more (needed a deeper well), and by God’s grace, I did so. So far, I’ve read 29 books this year and will hopefully finish two more before the ball drops in a few weeks. Here were my favorites this year. They weren’t all published in 2012, but were books I read in 2012.

Book that most re-inspired a needed vision for ministry… The Master’s Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman

masterplan

This book is poorly titled–it’s more about disciple-making (which was Jesus’ plan for world evangelization), but it remains a ministry classic. It helped me see that there’s no getting around the need for Christians to invest their lives in others who will invest in others. This was not a new lesson, but one that reminded me of the nuts and bolts of what ministry is about.

Book that made me rethink my commonly held assumptions… Drive by Daniel Pink

DriveI used to think that motivation came mostly from external reward. This book made me re-think all of it. It was a thought-provoking book as it relates to personal change and leading an organization. Also parenting–one of the most helpful lessons: praise your kids for their effort and they’ll keep trying even when it’s difficult. Praise them for their success and they’ll quit when things get tough.

Book that had gobs of practical church leadership wisdom… Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley

deep and wide andy stanleyI have long admired Andy Stanley’s integrity filled and common-sense approach to ministry and leadership. He synthesizes his approach to ministry in this book and provides some fascinating insight into the experiences that shaped it. Some parts were surprisingly theological, while others were wonderfully practical. Read my lessons from it here.

Book that inspired in me a greater desire to walk closely with Jesus… The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung

12.deyoungI have so appreciated the resurgence of gospel-centered theology in the church. I love the riches of the grace of the gospel. One of the greatest riches of the gospel is the power given to walk in obedience and holiness. This short book gives a great deal of biblical and practical motivation to walk obediently and enjoy the grace of communion with Christ.

Book that set me on a course to more sustainable ministry… The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

The-Power-of-Full-Engagement-9780743226752

This book was recommended by a number of people and it did not disappoint. The authors seek to help “corporate athletes,” those of us in professional industries who need to be “on” day-after-day. The subtitle makes their main point: “Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal.” I envision myself returning to this book over the years to help me achieve a lasting ministry and sustainable pace.

Book that every organizational leader should buy and read today… The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni

the advantage I’ve read a number of Lencioni’s leadership fables and have always found them helpful. This book, however is purely non-fiction and solid leadership gold. It’s been particularly helpful in helping our Redemption Church leadership team work towards greater clarity across our multiple congregations. Most of all, I liked Lencioni’s common-sense approach that isn’t filled with corporate silliness.

Book that is totally disconnected from ministry but was a great read… Bloody Crimes by James Swanson

Bloody CrimesThis book is about the funeral pageant for Abraham Lincoln’s body and the chase to find Jefferson Davis after the Civil War ended. I knew basically nothing about either of these historical events and found them both fascinating. It was a great follow-up to Swanson’s other excellent book, Manhunt.

 

Other Best Book Lists:

I’m a big fan of these end-of-year lists as they often help me find other great reads. Here are some lists I’ve seen so far:

Kevin DeYoung’s Top 10
Josh Reich’s Top 12
Tony Reinke’s Top 12
Tim Challies’ Top 7
Justin Buzzard’s Favorites
Brian Dodd’s Top 13
Trevin Wax’s Top 10

Question:

What did you enjoy reading this past year?

7 Lessons from Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley

We recently kicked off our first Pastoral Internship & Residency program at Redemption Gateway. We’re reading and discussing a number of great resources. The most recent book we’ve looked at is Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley.

Next Generation Leader Andy Stanley

The subtitle is “Five Essentials for Those Who Will Shape the Future” and these five essentials shape the major outline of the book: 1. Competence, 2. Courage, 3. Clarity, 4. Coaching, and 5. Character.

This book is easy to read, enjoyable and chalk-full of great wisdom for leaders. Whether you’re in the marketplace, education, ministry, or athletics, it will sharpen and improve your leadership.

Here are some of my favorite lessons with accompanying quotes:

1. Character is a crucial, but often overlooked, aspect of leadership — especially in young leaders.

Character is the will to do what’s right even when it’s hard. (133)

Your talent and giftedness as a leader have the potential to take you farther than your character can sustain you. That ought to scare you. (151)

Your accomplishments as a leader will make your name known. Your character will determine what people associate with your name. (132)

Every leader wears two badges: one visible, one invisible. The visible badge is your position and title. The invisible badge is your moral authority. (139)

 2. Good leaders see what needs to change and have the courage to act on it.

Simply recognizing the need for change does not define leadership. The leader is the one who has the courage to act on what he sees…A leader is someone who has the courage to say publicly what everybody else is whispering privately. It is not his insight that sets the leader apart from the crowd. It is his courage to act on what he sees, to speak up when everyone else is silent. (50-51)

3. Leaders need to remember they are not competent at everything.

Every leader has authority over arenas in which he has little or no competence. (24)

Leaders who are successful in one arena often assume competency in arenas where in fact they have none…Worse, the more successful an individual is, the less likely it is that anyone will bring this unpleasant fact to his attention. (25)

4. Leaders who acknowledge their own weaknesses make the organization stronger.

Acknowledging weakness doesn’t make a leader less effective. On the contrary, in most cases it is simply a way of expressing that he understands what everyone else has known for some time. When you acknowledge your weaknesses to the rest of your team, it is never new information. (26)

5. Having a position of leadership doesn’t guarantee having actual leadership.

Many a leader has wrongly assumed…that his position alone would ensure the loyalty of the people. He wasn’t mature enough to understand that every follower is a volunteer. Abuse your position as leader and you will lose those you lead. Nobody has to follow. You can’t force people, even subjects, to follow. You might be able to force them into submission, but you can’t force them to become loyal followers.

6. Leaders need to own the responsibility of raising up others to accomplish important things.

Leadership is not always about getting things done “right.” Leadership is about getting things done through other people…When a leader can’t find someone to hand things off to, it is time for him to look in the mirror. We must never forget that the people who follow us are exactly where we have led them. (27-28)

In leadership, success is succession. If someone coming along behind me is not able to take what I have offered and build on it, then I have failed in my responsibility to the next generation. (11)

7. Uncertainty isn’t failure — it just means we need leadership.

Uncertainty is not an indication of poor leadership; it underscores the need for leadership. It is the environment in which good leadership is most easily identified. The nature of leadership demands that there always be an element of uncertainty. Where there is no uncertainty, there is no longer the need for leadership. The greater the uncertainty, the greater the need for leadership. As Jim Kouzes puts it, “Uncertainty creates the necessary condition for leadership.” (79)

BONUS: A Great Prayer to Pray for Your Kids

I’ve started praying this prayer:

Lord, give Abby and Caitlin the wisdom to know what’s right and the courage to do what’s right, even when it’s hard. (158)

 

Don’t Shoot Your Grandkids in the Heart

love the church

Contrary to what many people think, the church is not unnecessary for spiritual growth. As Kevin DeYoung says in The Hole in Our Holiness:

In more than a decade of pastoral ministry I’ve never met a Christian who was healthier, more mature, and more active in ministry by being apart from the church. But I have found the opposite to be invariably true. The weakest Christians are those least connected to the body. And the less involved you are, the more disconnected those following you will be. The man who attempts Christianity without the church shoots himself in the foot, shoots his children in the leg, and shoots his grandchildren in the heart.

Don’t shoot your grandkids in the heart…love the church.

5 Lessons from Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley’s new book, Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend, releases today. I had a chance to read a pre-release copy and walked away with a number of significant lessons. Despite coming in at 352 pages, it was a quick and engaging read. In fact, I read almost the whole thing in one day.

This will be a longer-than-normal post synthesizing the key takeaways and quotes from this book.

deep and wide by andy stanley

THE OUTLINE

Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley is broken into five major sections. Here are the titles, subtitles, and my one-sentence summary of each section:

  1. My Story: Starting Up and Starting Over — How North Point Community Church began.
  2. Our Story: Walking Toward the Messes — What is the church and who is it for?
  3. Going Deep: Rethinking Spiritual Formation — How do people grow spiritually?
  4. Going Wide: Why They Love to Attend — How to create irresistible ministry environments.
  5. Becoming Deep and Wide: Transitioning a Local Church — How to lead people to embrace change.

FIVE BIGGEST LESSONS

1. God sometimes uses sin and pain to do remarkable things for his kingdom.

The first section of the book is remarkably personal and vulnerable. Stanley recounts the lessons he learned from his parents, particularly his high-profile father, Charles Stanley. He goes on to tell about starting a new campus for his dad’s church (long before anybody was doing multi-site) as well as the divorce that his parents went through. Stanley is honest about his own shortcomings and failures in handling these situations. He concludes:

And that’s how North Point Community Church got started. A high-profile divorce and a church split. For a while, I actually considered hanging a picture of my parents in the lobby of North Point. Nobody thought that was funny but me. I don’t consider myself a church planter. I never intended to start a church. God intended otherwise. (48)

2. Churches are for broken, sinful people. Period.

Surely among the most controversial questions I’ve encountered in my time in ministry is “Who is the church for? Christians or non-Christians.” The answer seems obvious to me: both! The church is made up of Christians and, thus, exists to build them up. But the church, made up of Christians, also exists to reach those who are far from God.

All people — Christian or not — are broken and sinful. Stanley argues that church is for them. However, he specifically wants to create churches that unchurched, irreligious people feel welcomed in. Anything else, he suggests, is hypocrisy:

Churches designed for saved people are full of hypocrites. You pretty much have to be a hypocrite to participate. (74)

Rather than just designing cushy environments for people who hypocritically think they are fine, Stanley wants to engage with those who know they aren’t fine.

One of our pastors, John Hambrick, has a saying that we’ve adopted organization-wide. He says, “We walk toward the messes.” (78)

Stanley argues that this conviction should direct our ministry:

[James said] “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19)…I believe James’ statement should be the benchmark by which all decisions are made in the local church. In other words, churches shouldn’t do anything that makes it unnecessarily difficult for people who are turning to God. (90-91)

 3. The principles of spiritual growth are remarkably consistent across time and culture.

I have often thought about what makes people grow spiritually and I’ve written about it here. I was encouraged that I might be right. Stanley wants people to explore what he calls the “Five Faith Catalysts”:

  1. Practical Teaching (what I’ve called Relevant Equipping/Teaching)
  2. Private Disciplines (what I’ve called Personal Spiritual Practices)
  3. Personal Ministry (what I’ve called Taking Risks in Life or Ministry)
  4. Providential Relationships (what I’ve called Meaningful Spiritual Friendships)
  5. Pivotal Circumstances (what I’ve called Moments of Crisis)

Stanley’s titles are much stickier — it’s nice that they start with “P.” But the point is that there are only so many ways to grow spiritually. If you want to grow, you’ve got to make the most of these things.

4. Ministry environments should be designed with outsiders in mind.

The church is a family expecting guests. Almost every time the church gathers, outsiders are (or should be) present. The Apostle Paul makes this very point in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25. Therefore, Ministry leaders need to intentionally design each environment with outsiders in mind.

This is particularly difficult because the longer you are around something, the harder it is to be perceptive of what an outsider experiences. Stanley says:

“Time in erodes awareness of.” (159)

Designing environments with outsiders in mind means that we pay attention to how we talk — avoiding tribal, insider language. But it also means we care about what the physical setting is communicating.

Every Sunday people walk onto your campus and determine whether or not they will return the following week before your preacher opens his mouth. And that’s not fair. But it’s true. The moral of the story: Environment matters. (156)

The messages your environments communicate have the potential to trump your primary message. (158)

The physical environment does more than leave an impression; it sends a message. (166)

Every physical setting communicates something. There are no neutral settings. (168)

Some will disagree with this. They will say that this is catering to non-Christians. It’s compromise. After all, Jesus wasn’t concerned about making people comfortable. This is is the problem with modern American evangelicalism.

My reply is that the only people who really have this objection are those who never invite unbelieving friends to church. If you invite an unbelieving friend to church, you see and hear things completely differently.

Additionally, the gospel message is already offensive. So if we offend, let’s offend with the gospel — not our cold, out-of-touch environment or insider jargon. As Stanley says:

As a preacher, it’s my responsibility to offend people with the gospel. That’s one reason we work so hard not to offend them in the parking lot, the hallway, at check-in, or in the early portions of our service. We want people to come back the following week for another round of offending! (222)

5. The goal of discipleship — and the church — is to grow people’s faith in Jesus.

This may seem obvious. But many churches have other unstated goals that aren’t as compelling.

Some think the goal of discipleship is increasing knowledge. But every leader knows people who know a lot but aren’t spiritually mature.

Big faith is a sign of big maturity. We concluded that the best discipleship or spiritual formation model would be one designed around growing people’s faith. The model most of us had grown up with was designed around increasing people’s knowledge…We wanted to go beyond that. (107)

Many churches have another goal, one that they’d never admit:

The actual mission of many churches is Pay the Bills. No, you won’t find that written anywhere. But let’s be honest, most local churches don’t feel any urgency about anything until the money starts running out. (281)

That is tragic.

But we should feel urgency toward helping people grow their faith. Consider this staggering idea:

The only time Jesus was ever “amazed” was when he saw expressions of great faith and little faith. (106)

We want to help people grow their faith — trusting God with their entire lives. This is the goal of discipleship.

OTHER TERRIFIC QUOTES:

On the next generation:

  • Like it or not, we are the stewards of the church for our generation. More daunting than that is the fact that we determine what comes to mind for the next generation when they hear the term church. (54)
  • Somebody’s kids are attending your church. If you have kids, they are attending your church. Every Sunday you are either instilling a deeper love and appreciation for the church or you are doing what most pastors do and providing them with one more reason not to attend when they no longer have to. (258)

On the deity of Christ:

  • In my opinion, James may be our most convincing proof for the deity of Christ. Think about it. If you have a brother, what would he have to do to convince you that he is the Son of God? (90)

On developing leaders:

  • I don’t feel like it’s my responsibility to fill anybody’s cup. But I am responsible to empty mine. So I’ve always had a handpicked group of guys that I’m investing in. (103)

On personal devotions:

  • There is a direct correlation between a person’s private devotional life and his or her personal faith. (117)

On engaging communication:

  • We’ve gone to great lengths to protect our audiences from presenters who aren’t engaging. (178)

On leading change:

  • In 100 percent of the cases, the leaders who can’t get their people to change can’t articulate their visions either. (271)
  • The primary reason churches cling to outdated models and programs is that they lack leadership. For an organization to remain vision-centric, it must be led by a vision-centric leader or leaders. Problem is, church boards rarely recruit and hire leaders. They recruit and hire pastors, preachers, and teachers. (294)

My favorite quote:

  • When people start with the, “Don’t preachers only work one day a week?” I have a good comeback…I say, “Think for a minute about the most stressful part of your job, the part that is the make-or-break for you financially. Imagine having to do that every week on a stage in front of your family, friends, strangers, and people who don’t particularly like you. Imagine not having the option to call in sick or reschedule because you weren’t quite ready for the presentation.” End of conversation. (228)

Question:

Which of these lessons do you agree or disagree with the most? Why?