4 Steps to Increase Gospel Intentionality in Your Life

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.   Proverbs 16:25

So much of what we give ourselves to seems right.  What if it’s not?  

We invest time and energy pursuing what seems right, anticipating that if we can attain what seems right for us, we will achieve happiness, contentment, peace.  What if it doesn’t?

One of the things I am really aware of these days as a leader in the church is how many earnestly believing people who carry the name  “Christian” are working so hard to do what seems right.  And it’s killing them!

So much of what we spend our time pursuing is not driven by the goal of the Kingdom of God.  Yet we boldly proclaim that Jesus is our King.  “Long live the King!” we cry out.  Yet we rarely seek His leadership as we pursue what seems right.

Is it possible that the things that seem right to us will lead to a dead end?  

God is clear.  Ultimately, any pursuit that does not flow from the Kingdom of God dies.  The Kingdom of God alone endures forever.  

Why would we not, therefore, live our life intentionally centered on the Kingdom’s goal?  Why would we not drop our pursuit of what seems right to us in favor of the way of the Kingdom

Caesar Kalinowski writes in The Gospel Primer

I want to suggest that the secret to increasingly living our lives on mission is to move from seeing a gospel-centered mission as something “additional” that needs to be tacked on to life, to seeing all the normal stuff and rhythms of life as full of opportunity for gospel.  We need only to fill them with greater “gospel intentionality.”  [By the very power of the Holy Spirit] we move from an additional mindset to an intentional mindset in the normal rhythms of life that God has given us.

We have one life to live.  If we are determined to live out our American Dream version of life while attempting to add in God’s version of life at the same time, it will never work.  This is what leads to burnout and frustration [and hypocrisy] in the Christian life.  (pg. 179)

Americans are masters of “adding on.”  American Christians are adept at adding the Kingdom onto their pursuit of what seems right.  It is not working.  And here’s the really disturbing thing:  when we realize that it’s not working, most of us drop the Kingdom in favor of continuing to pursue what seems right.

What would it look like to invert that?  What does “gospel intentionality” look like in real time? 

Here’s a four-step dance that helps grow intentionality.  Let’s join Jesus on His mission and begin to “see all the normal stuff and rhythms of life as full of opportunity for gospel.”  Here’s how!

Commit to Living in Community

Nothing is more powerful and enriching than a community of people following Jesus and joining Him in His mission in the world.  The Lord never intended for His followers to live isolated, insular lives, but together……centered in Jesus, focused on mission. He intended for community to be a place where new believers and discipling relationships are the norm and not the exception.  His intention is that living in community would help us own our journey with Jesus.  His intention is that we would support each other as we learn what it means to follow Jesus in the world.  Community was never intended just for our own benefit or entertainment.  True biblical community is lived together, for the sake of others.

Who is supporting you as you try to follow Jesus?  Who are you supporting as they try to follow Jesus?

Do What He Gives You To Do

I don’t get ripped by watching my P90X DVD.  I don’t establish a healthier financial future by listening to audio tapes in my car.  I won’t eat healthier by consulting with a Dietician.  And, I won’t be a better parent by reading a book on parenting.

Putting knowledge into responsive action is mandatory for transformation.

Following Jesus is not a passive venture.  Yet, many “Christians” seem to think that this is a non-participatory institution.  If your time with Jesus does not nudge you to respond in some way, something is wrong.  It’s really as simple as that.  Activate a response.

What is God leading YOU to DO today in response to His Word?  Can you name it?  What’s your resistance?  How does His nudge run contrary to what seems right in your own eyes?  Ask Him for strength and courage to act in obedience, and live!

Ask Someone You Trust to Hold You Accountable

As with anything else in life, we need others to spur us on.  We need friends to check in, to cheer us on, to remind us.  The need for trusted people who will encourage and challenge us in our faith journey is vital.

Recently in our lifeGroup we shared our observations in a round robin email as we carried out an assignment that was given to us.  Simple–powerful. 

Who is holding you to your commitments?  Who is reminding you?  Who is checking in?  Who is praying for you?  Who is asking you the tough questions? What forum are you using to share your stories as you respond?

Worship

Gathering with the the rest of the Body of Christ to receive a personal Word from God in Word and Sacrament is crucial for gospel intentionality.  Without worship, we are left to what seems right.  

How have you seen this four-step dance stimulate “gospel intentionality” in your life rhythm?

 

3 Practical Ideas to Stimulate the Lost Art of Listening

There seems to be a recurring theme going on in the lives of the people in my lifeGroup.  (our name at the Church for “missional community”)  We have a difficult time slowing down long enough to listen to God.

So, here’s what we’re doing about it.  We issued a three-point challenge this week.  (Seems fitting with March Madness, eh?)

1)     Wake up each morning and say out loud, “Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10)

2)     Turn off the radio in your car, and drive in silence.

3)     Share what you are hearing from God to the group via email.

What’s getting in the way of you listening to God?  What would be one move for you that would have the most impact in you being able to hear from God?

Can I issue you a challenge? 

Do something about it, have someone else join you, and share with them what you are observing.

Happy listening.

2 Simple Steps 2 Stimulate Spiritual Conversations

My daughter is home on Spring Break.  It’s awesome to have her home.

This morning she shared with me an exciting story from her life at the University.  She has been in a deepening friendship with a young lady from Taiwan.  This young lady is not a follower of Jesus, yet is very open to having a conversation about Jesus and the Bible.  My daughter has met with her a few times and is very excited about how God is showing up in their conversations.  

As I listened to her this morning two things struck me.  We would do well to apply in these in own friendships:

Make sure we start where our friends want to start.

As with many international students, my daughter’s friend will say “Yes” to almost any invitation.  Because of her deep desire to learn about “our culture,” and her desire to not offend her new American friend, there is the possibility that she might say “yes” when she really means “no.”  So, my daughter went to great lengths at the beginning of the friendship to get to know her and not push her by a pre-mature invitation.  Even after they began talking about her spiritual questions and began looking at Jesus and the Bible, my daughter reassured her that it was OK for her to say “no” and only talk about what she really wanted to talk about.

As followers of Jesus we represent the ONE who became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14).  He entered our world.  Let us enter our friends’ worlds.  Relax, He’s there already.  There is no need to force the issue.

Give our friends space to share their own story.

My daughter’s friend likes to let my daughter talk.  She likes to sit and listen and soak up everything my daughter says.  My daughter said, “It’s really hard to get her to talk.  It’s tough to get her to share and open up.”  I asked my daughter what approach she was using with her friend to help her open up and share her story.  She introduced me to “Soularium.”  Soularium is a tool developed by Campus Crusade for Christ that uses pictures and questions to explore the spiritual lives of others.  It’s been useful for my daughter in initiating spiritual conversations with her Taiwanese friend.

What are you doing to stimulate deeper spiritual conversations with your friends?

The 1° of Missional Leadership

If I asked you to identify the number one factor that influences the launching of a missional movement, which factor would you pick?

“At 211°….water is hot.  At 212°….it boils.  And with boiling water, comes steam.  And steam can power a locomotive.  And, it’s that ONE degree that makes all the difference.  This is the difference between good and great.”  -John Maxwell  “212° Leadership”

What’s the 1° in missional leadership?

Living a missional life!

Imagine how much more effective we could be at multiplying missionaries in our local contexts if we were truly living as missionaries?

I am convinced that the main reason we are hot and not boiling is because we aren’t truly living as missionaries.  We talk about it.  We cajole others to.  We preach about it.  We read books about it.  We even think about it.  But, we are not DOING it.

Jesus said that we would be “blessed in DOING.”  John 13:17

A friend the other day pointed out to me how often he hears the phrase “Let’s talk about that.”   He made the observation that that phrase is almost always used as a delay tactic.  And, when it’s used, it rarely leads to a conversation.  I think he’s on to something.

“Daddy, can I go to the midnight launch of The Hunger Games?”

“Let’s talk about that”

 

“Honey, we really need to figure out our taxes.”

“Let’s talk about that.”

 

When anybody tells me “let’s talk about that” is it really a delay tactic, hoping that I might forget about it eventually?  

 

Jesus said, “Come, follow me.”

“Let’s talk about that.”

 

It’s time for us to stop talking about it, and to DO something about it.  Thanks for the reminder, Eric!  

Now that you know these things, God will bless you in DOING them.  (John 13:17)

 

What is Jesus calling you to DO today?  Can you name IT with any specificity?

 

Living Each Day Like a Mission Trip: Learning to Follow Jesus Where I’m Not In Charge

T.I.A.  

“This is Africa” is a phrase that is used to help non-Africans adapt to a culture where they are not in charge.  I suppose the phrase could be used in other international sites as well.

Talking about some of the lessons learned by my wife Amy during her recent trip to Ethiopia she noted how the anxiety created and sustained by unmet expectations here at home seemed to melt away during her travels to Africa.

She maintained a peaceful disposition during moments where she was not in control.  

It’s like that in the “mission field.”

You learn to “go with the flow.”  You discover how to trust when things don’t go according to your expectations.  You develop an ability to maintain a steady spirit when you don’t know what’s going on.

It is striking to me how much anxiety shapes my leadership here “at home.”  Why is that?

Here’s my take:

I still live with the presumption that I lead from a place of control.  

I only know how to follow Jesus and lead His people in a context where I am in charge.  In the “mission field” I know I’m not in charge.  So, with that presumption, I am more ready to accept the unexpected.  I’m more prepared to “go with the flow.”  

Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that I live and follow and serve and lead in the “mission field” every day.  I don’t have to travel to Africa to experience an environment where I’m not in charge.  

It seems to me that one of the greatest lessons today in missional leadership is learning how to follow Jesus in an unpredictable environment.  In order to do that I will need to acknowledge that my local mission context is a mission field.  

So, today I will try to let go of my expectations and follow Jesus.  Today I will live like I’m on a mission trip.

“Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.  Give us faith to go out with courage, not knowing where we go but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen”

 

7 Family Practices in Missional Living

Life in today’s world pulls people apart.

The pace, and competing demands on families today leads to stress-inducing compartmentalization.

I was listening to a ministry leader the other day describing his wife’s view of his ministry as “That’s your job, I’ve got my own.”  That conversation has really got me thinking:  What if both were a vocational calling from God?  What if their calling was actually the same, even though they were doing two very different “jobs”?  What if God placed them right where they were to connect people to life in Jesus?  What if this family would commit themselves to a shared mission where every member of the household knew their place in the Kingdom of Jesus and lived that out daily with the support of their family?  What if true Worship was simply living our lives, in whatever context or calling, to the glory of God?  I think that would be pretty cool.

What if?  

Families would be strengthened.  

Marriages would be healed.  

Ministry would truly be a shared partnership.

I have been working to create a new curriculum for The Pastoral Leadership Institute (PLI).  Since 1999 this organization has been equipping pastors to be more effective and dynamic leaders.  Today this organization is making another dynamic shift.  Introducing PLI-Missional Leader.

PLI we have always longed to see families strengthened, marriages healed, and partnerships unleashed. With this new curriculum PLI hopes to see families strengthened and encouraged to live out their missional calling together as equal participants.

PLI-Missional Leader participants through experiential learning and coaching will be part of a studio-like learning community where husbands & wives, parents & children, are engaging in these 7 Family Practices in Missional Living.  They will be…

  • Realizing there are families all around them who are in need of strengthening and healing.

  • Believing other families are longing to partner in a mission that is bigger than themselves.

  • Living as a lighthouse to the community.

  • Learning from each other what it means to follow Jesus in a culture where the church is no longer in charge. 

  • Sharing their lives with friends and neighbors in a growing awareness that God has strategically placed them together “for such a time as this.”

  • Embracing their unique personalities and giftedness to engage in the exciting adventure of following Jesus.

  • Praying together as a family for their friends and neighbors who are far from God and watching how God uses their family to answer those prayers.

A new cohort of PLI-Missional Leader is launching in April.  Sign up today.

Look in the Mirror (Missional Discipline)

Life is not a series of steps.

Life is not a steady, constant progression forward.

It is logical then, to assume that nurturing a discipling relationship, living a missional lifestyle will not be a series of steps, nor will it be a steady, constant progression forward.

Sometimes I get frustrated that the people I share life with aren’t making more progress.  I’m stunned when they “take a step back.” I thought we had already “settled that.”  

Look in the mirror, Jeff!

Seriously, what a helpful, life-giving discipline to incorporate into my missional spirituality.  Look in the mirror!

Add this discipline to your daily routine:  Look in the Mirror

Self-examination

I daily fall short of the glorious standard of God.  I daily take “steps back.”  And I regularly debate things with God that we’ve “already settled.”  

“Woe to me, Lord.  I am a man of unclean lips.”  (Isaiah 6:5)

Here’s a thing I’m learning in missional living:  In order to understand anything that God is trying to teach me, I need to practice it.

The practice of Looking in the Mirror will:

  • lead me to understand my need for grace
  • drive me to Jesus
  • give me patience
  • help me nurture relationships with others

I would love to know how you specifically practice this missional discipline.  How do you Look in the Mirror?

Missional Church as a Missionary Support Station

Yesterday a young man at church told me that he was starting a discussion group at the public school where he teaches.  There are 8 people who have committed to this venture.  He asked me to pray for him and for those who will be engaged in the conversation.

From my perspective, this is no small feat!  In Madison, Wisconsin?  

These kinds of bold moves are springing up all over the place.  God’s people are gaining courage, and living out their calling as missionaries with intentionality.  I’m beginning to recognize the marks of a movement.  Timothy Keller identifies 4 components of what he terms an “every-member gospel ministry”: (Center Church, pg. 280…I’ve bolded Keller’s four components.)

Organic.  It happens spontaneously, outside of the church’s organized programs (even though it occasionally makes use of formal programs).

My friend is using the resources we have introduced this year at the Church through the reading of the Story.  Yet, he’s using his own creativity and position in a network of relationships to live out his missionary calling.  No one prescribed this for him.  God has led him to do it.

Relational.  It is done in the context of informal personal relationships.

Over the years my friend has proven himself to be a good friend and colleague.  He is trusted and respected by his peers.  So, when thinking about how he would live out his missionary calling, he didn’t look to meet new people, he first looked to the relationships that already existed.

Word deploying.  It prayerfully brings the Bible and gospel into connection with people’s lives.

In using The Story as a sort of book study, this man’s network of friendships will be exposed to the Scripture and the Good News about Jesus!  

Active, not passive.  Each person assumes personal responsibility for being a producer rather than just a consumer of ministry.

My friend went for it! He didn’t ask permission, or try to turn it into a church-wide program.  So many times when people get a creative idea in the church, they bring it to the staff or leaders and ask us to do something with it.  My friend just did it.  He shared it with me yesterday to celebrate what God was doing, and to ask for my prayers.  Now, that’s a beautiful picture of the symbiotic relationship the church ought to have with her missionaries.

A missional church supports missionaries!  In my friend’s story you can see two simple ways we are supporting him:

1)  We provide resources that people can use.  While we had nothing to do with the production of The Story, we are encouraging people to get their own copy, and get additional copies for friends who are in their relational network.  

2)  Our missionary support team (staff) will be praying for him.

What’s one step you could take next as a leader to nurture a culture that reproduces “organic”, “relational”, “Word deploying”, & “active, not passive” missionaries?