Maybe The Difference Between ASK and DO is YOU

A tension we experience in living a lift of faith can be summed up by two similar but very different statements:

1. God can.

2. God will.

I certainly don’t have all the answers here. Instead, I want to share my experience and others in whom I’ve witnessed a similar story. I just know that there are times when my faith is shaped by the first statement. In these seasons, I tend to find myself asking God for a lot of things. My prayers might sound like, “God, I know that you can move in the heart of Johnny. Please do.”

Like I said, I can’t explain it, but in those seasons where the second of these two statements describes my faith, I, without really thinking about it, find myself being part of the answer. I offer help, rather than simply asking God for it. I’m driven to reach out more and produce more. My prayer sounds more like, “God, I’m believing you to move in the heart of Johnny.” When I hang up that prayer line, I tend to have the urgency to pick up the cell line and personally reach out to Johnny. Why is that?

Here’s the difference—God more often than not does through people when He does anything. When we believe that He can, we are inclined to ask and then expect Him to work supernaturally and independently. But our God is a relational God and tends to work through those with whom He is in relationship.

I don’t know the numbers and would love to do a study on this topic, but if you survey the Bible and find where God worked supernaturally and independently versus working through a person, I’m sure the latter would far outpace the former.

Just this morning, I was reading through the first chapter of I Kings in the Old Testament and I was reminded of Adonijah’s story. You should read it for yourself, but essentially while King David is nearing the end of his life and reign, Adonijah decides that he will declare himself as David’s successor to the throne. The problem is that God has already told David that his son Solomon will be the next king. We don’t see into David’s mind at this particular moment, but I assume that he has a decision to make.

David’s thoughts could have read something like, “God can place whomever He wants on the throne so if He wants Solomon to be the next king, then He can make that happen.” This is completely, 100% true. However, this was not David’s response. Instead, David took action—becoming part of the plan—and put Solomon in a parade recognizing him as the successor for all to see. David believed God for what He would do, not what he could do. His faith played itself out in action.

Maybe it is as simple as choosing which statement will define our faith. If so, I choose to believe that God will.

Do those of you who follow Jesus share a similar experience in your own faith journey?


Coincidently, rather you think you can sing or not, we will be spreading Christmas cheer by singing loud for all to hear beginning this Sunday. Come join in the cheer!

Bragging Rights

Do you mind if I brag a little bit?

People tend not to appreciate this question as a conversation starter. “Here we go, let’s hear about how things are so good for you and how your life is so perfect right now” is the thought that generally follows.

But did you know the Bible actually encourages those of us who believe in it to brag? Psalm 105 reads, “Tell everyone you meet what God has done!” The apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “We hope that our work grows even to the point of the gospel being preached in places beyond Corinth, without bragging about what has already been done in another person’s work area. But, the one who brags should brag in the Lord.” I wanna do some bragging Bible-style this week, mainly because I get a lot of credit for what is happening through our efforts at 801South and I need to make sure credit gets accurately designated. God and those who serve Him through 801South deserve all the credit.

I’ve been witnessing some awesome movements in the lives of people through this new environment. God is at work like crazy and I get a front row seat to witness His work in the hearts of those who are experiencing Him like never before. Those of us in leadership make a lot of decisions about what and how and when, but God alone is who moves to create eternal change in people. This movement is turning into an awesome ride.

The 801South environments are making a difference in the lives of people. “I really enjoy [801South] and all of Pastor Stephen’s perspective,” writes one young mother. She continues, “It really has given my family and I the opportunity to reconnect to God and find grace again. It truly has impacted our lives and family in amazing ways.” This is what we are about! Connecting people to a fuller life in God and a life-changing experience of His grace.

Another young parent writes, “It was a life changing moment for me when I realized I relied too much what others thought for guiding my actions, and it has helped me excel professionally, with family and friends.” This is real life change. As the pastor, I’m privy to so many similar stories that I hear from our Small Group leaders who are witnessing God’s work first hand in these intentional communities and bragging about it. And I’m bragging on these servant leaders.

There are so many stories of people experiencing the love and forgiveness of God—some of whom have been searching for decades—and are now able to extend that love and forgiveness to others in their lives. If these stories do not get you pumped up and you’re not excited about hearing more of them as God continues to move, you need to check the posture of your own heart. We need people whose hearts are set on fire by these works of God.

This is what God does. I’ve experienced it. I continue to experience it. I’m gonna preach and brag so that others will experience it as well. And God’s going to move in the lives of those who He draws and we invite into our environments. He is always faithful.

Most of you who are reading this don’t need to be convinced by these stories. How many of you, though, are sharing these stories? How many of you want to do some Bible-bragging along with me? Will you join me in telling these stories and inviting others who are broken, searching, and disconnected to see God write similar stories for those who have yet to experience His love and grace and peace?

Speaking of bragging, our band is awesome. They’ll be leading us in these songs on Sunday. Come sing.

Advocate, Apathetic, or Curmudgeon?

A few weeks ago, one of our leaders here at Matthews United Methodist Church closed a meeting using a concept with which I was previously unfamiliar. He spoke about a principle used in business called NPS, which stands for Net Promoter Score.

The NPS illustrates the level at which people are promoting your service, product, or whatever you offer to the public. This system is vital for gaining feedback that decision makers use to improve the overall experience for their target audience. The NPS all begins with one question: On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend our service/product to a friend or colleague? An organization then takes the responses and places each into one of three categories:

Those who answer with a 9 or 10 are Promoters.

Those who answer with a 7 or 8 are Passives.

Those who answer with a 0 to 6 are Detractors.

This system of evaluation and pursuing feedback hit me right in the heart! The NPS is a great revealer of passion. Promoters radiate passion. And people follow passion. I immediately began to wonder how many people I lead would be in the 9-10 range as promoters of both their relationship with Jesus Christ and their love for the local church.

Everyone who professes the label “Christian” and is somehow affiliated with a local church needs to answer this question for him or herself.

So here is my churchified equivalent applying the NPS principle to my world:

On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to speak about your relationship with Jesus when given the opportunity and, secondly, invite a friend to attend your local church?

Those who answer with a 9 or 10 are Advocates.

Those who answer with a 7 or 8 are Apathetics.

Those who answer with a 0 to 6 are Curmudgeons.

So where do you fall on this CAS (Church Advocate Score)?

Self-awareness is key. I’m afraid that too many Apathetics and Curmudgeons view ourselves as Advocates. “I love my church,” we claim. But how many of us can point to a real life conversation in which we share the story of our faith or invite someone we know to a worship experience or small group environment? Raising CAS self-awareness is my problem to figure out and I will continue to do so as I encourage people to advocate for how God is continuing to deliver on His promise of hope in our world.

The CAS is a concept that the organized local church sometimes misses. We tend to simply do what we do and give little attention to evaluation expecting everyone involved to be an Advocate just because they should be. We are then shocked when people fall into the Apathetic or Curmudgeon category. We, as church leaders, must determine and evaluate people’s level of passion about their faith and their view of the local church. One responsibility of the local church is to be a vehicle leading people into relationship with Jesus. If those we lead are not exuding passion, then the vehicle is sputtering, and we need to know why. Then do some maintenance on the vehicle.

By the way, if you qualify as a Curmudgeon, I strongly recommend you spend your energy finding a local church about which you can be a strong Advocate.

To better understand the NPS concept, check out this video.

Generational Degeneration (Part Two)

Should the focus of the local church be different for different age groups? If so, how does it change over the stages of life? What are the opportunities for people of different ages to interact if the focus changes between different age segments? When we decide the focus should be different for people in different stages of life, the natural trend is toward programs and event, so we then shift our efforts away from discipling students from a young age to providing activities in which they participate. Perhaps the assumption has always been that discipleship would occur in the home so the local church needs to provide social opportunities for students who are learning to live like Jesus at home. I would agree that the greatest discipling relationships are those into which we are born. God perfectly designed us to naturally live into relationships where we would disciple each new generation. I firmly believe that I will be held accountable for how well my children are discipled—not the staff at my local church. Somewhere along the way, however, the work of discipling was passed from the home to the local church for many “Christians.” In 801South, we focus on making disciples; which we define as a person who chooses to learn from Jesus and apply what he or she learns to his or her life. That’s it. Fairly simple I think. We do this mainly through coming together for communal worship, reading the Bible, praying, and listening to other disciples. If the great commission is to make disciples of Jesus, I suppose I’m fairly unconvinced that this mission requires a lot of programs and events. Instead, I think we need more relationships. Programs and events might be helpful as a means to an end, as a tool toward developing new relationships, but programs and events cannot be the end themselves. Another area where we are seeing intergenerational ministry is in our children’s ministry. Our children’s team servants are working hard to train teenagers (and even some preteens) who are active in discipling younger children. This naturally provides an ownership of teenagers in the ministry and is one dynamic about which I am super excited when I look to see where God is taking us next! So in 801South, we will continue to use events as we feel they are beneficial in the mission, but we refuse to let them become expected traditions. We want to equip each generation to be a discipling generation, rather than a generation who participates as long as events are being planned for them to attend. One of the events we are planning for the near future is an 801South Summer Serve; an opportunity for those involved in 801South to serve our local community over the summer. This event is being inspired by the passion of a 10 year old who attends 801South and I can’t wait for you to hear her story. So how can the church be intentional to showcase multigenerational ministries that equip each other to be and make disciples?

Two Continuing Trends

Do you spend time wondering if you are on track with all your efforts in life? Are you moving forward and making a difference or just chugging along doing the same ol’ thing? Is it time for a course correction?

If you’re like me, then you spend lots of time on this train of thought. (That’s two train metaphors already; which is what happens when you’re the father of two young boys.) One way that I check my current thoughts and actions is to keep an eye on what others are doing–not everyone–but a chosen group of people who appear to be thriving.

As to my role as a leader in the local church, I follow a few organizations to see if there are any particular trends that might demonstrate how God is at work in our world today. Recently, I took advantage of the opportunity to quickly survey almost 100 churches and faith-based organizations through an event called The Nines. While listening to how these other leaders are working to advance the mission of the church, I was able to discern two continuing trends that have been around for awhile. (I suppose they’ve actually been around forever in one form or another.) These two continuing trends are “leadership development” and “missional living.”

The local mainline church in America has fallen into a routine of training (or begging) people to fill volunteer slots according to pre-determined programs. There is a recent course correction toward developing the individual person for a leadership role according to his or her own particular skill set and passions. This is really just an intentional form of small group, or even one-on-one, discipleship. Mike Breen of 3DM Ministries uses Jesus’ own words to remind us that we are commanded to grow people and then let him grow the church, rather than simply trying to grow the church. “If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you build the church, you will rarely get disciples,” he often says. “Leadership development” is the current buzzword language for more intentional, focused, and personal discipleship. Build the person as a follower of Jesus. Don’t build the organized institution.

The concept of “missional living” breaks down the classic model of mission as a program. Instead, every follower of Jesus is continually in mission within her or his own context. I am in mission in my own household. I am in mission in my own neighborhood. I am in mission in my own workplace. Always. What does that mean for how I speak and what actions I take toward others in those spheres of my influence? A missional disciple is always looking for opportunity to serve others and share his or her story. He or she is always inviting used-to-be-strangers into his or her life, house, etc. At the same time, we do not dismiss the more typical modes of mission; such as short term mission trips and community partnerships. This is very much a both/and scenario.

I am encouraged to see that these trends are continuing as an illustration of how God is at work in the world. I think we are on track with both of these trends. Actually, we will soon have the reverse problem than that of most ministries. Rather than a surplus of volunteer positions and a deficit of people to fill those roles, 801South will feature more trained and discipled leaders than there are opportunities for them to actually lead. What an awesome problem to have! As we continue to push the reproducing culture through apprenticing, this will be a longstanding problem for the ministry.

So how do you try to spot current trends in the world?

Do you agree that these are two current trends within the innovative local church today?

Your Authenticity Relies On Your Community

Your community matters. Those with whom you socialize, work, live, and play are key to your decisions. They are, however, even more important to your follow through on those decisions. In the typical day-to-day of life, we do not even realize the role our people huddles play in the accountability of our decisions (especially the decisions we communicate to them).

In 1964, over 1,000 college students from northern universities applied to be a part of a program named Freedom Summer. These students would spend their summer registering black voters in southern states, such as Mississippi. Of the many students who were accepted and invited to participate in Freedom Summer, several hundred decided to back out of the program. Two decades later, a sociologist at the University of Arizona, Doug McAdam, wanted to know why. Why did these students decide to not get on the bus when it was time to head south?

McAdam had several hypotheses on why students would opt out of their commitment, especially considering the political climate of the country in the mid 1960’s. He supposed that there was a correlation between students declining the invitation (despite the lengthy application process) and family obligations or perhaps religious convictions. However, in his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that, “when McAdam looked at applicants with religious orientations–students who cited a ‘Christian duty to help those in need’ as their motivation for applying, for instance, he found mixed levels of participation.” This finding is particularly discouraging for someone like me who spends a good deal of time encouraging people to act out of their “religious convictions.” I would hope that those who claim a motivation of faith would be the very ones who follow through to action, but McAdam found that it is not the belief itself that truly motivates people to hold to their conviction. Duhigg continues, “However, among those applicants who mentioned a religious orientation and belonged to a religious organization, McAdam found that every single one made the trip to Mississippi. Once their communities knew they had been accepted into Freedom Summer, it was impossible for them to withdraw.”

Not only is the company with which you surround yourself important, but even more vital are the expectations of that company. Do they expect you to keep your word? Do they expect you to exhibit a bias for action when you are describing your passions? Does your company already have in place certain behavioral patterns in which you currently participate to demonstrate your stated values?

Or does your community know that you simply share your perspective on what is wrong with the world today about which you have no real intention of actually pursuing a behavior to address the problem?

There are lots of groups with whom we associate throughout our lives who sit around and talk about what should be done. My desire, however, is to be a part of leading people who expect you to follow through. When the local church is a place of high expectations and strong accountability, we begin to see the world around us change, because action (not word) is the only indication of true conviction.