Advice for Church Planters

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Recently, a potential church planter contacted me via email. He asked for advice and suggestions that he might find useful. Although this is only part of my answer (because much of what he asked was specific), I thought it may help someone else.

Thanks for reaching out, and I hope that you’re successful with your church planting adventure.Not knowing you personally or professionally, I’ll give you a bit of advice that I think applies to all of us.

Be humble. Willing to learn. Be courageous. Lead with determination, but gently and without apology. Anticipate mistakes and missteps. Apologize quickly. Make disciples. Make disciples. Make disciples. I don’t know what your budget is, if you’ve had a core team assigned to you, or if you have to build from scratch, but in any case, a church exists for one purpose—to make disciples (Christ-worshipping, God-fearing, love-sharing disciples). So whether you’re “successful” in the eyes of the church world or not, there’s only one way you’re successful in God’s eyes—i.e., by being faithful to His Son’s mandate. Don’t forsake the basics of the faith.

Read the Gospels. Read Acts.

If you feel compelled to read Malphurs, Payne, Driscoll, Timmis, then do so, but read widely so that your view isn’t tilted. Then, go back and read the Gospels and Acts again.

Pray. Pray for your holiness and health. Pray for your wife. Pray for your children. Pray for your church—the lost in and around your fellowship. Also, pray for your coworkers in the Lord…and their families. The importance of unity cannot be overestimated. 

Hope this helps.

Best wishes,

Blessings,

Joe

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10 Things to Start this New Year

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  1. Journal. Writing is a discipline that I have always encouraged, because it helps to clear the mind and gives journalers focus. Don’t be legalistic. Write thoughts, prayers, lists of daily goals…whatever. There are no hard-and-fast rules for journaling. Use your own style and preference. You’ll enjoy the benefits.
  2. Start a reading regimen. Reading has become more and more unpopular, as Netflix, YouTube, and other streaming services seemingly have taken the place of slow, deliberate thought. People used to read and discuss things. Now, they watch them in condensed documentaries and TED Talks. Granted, they definitely serve their purpose. But reading is a discipline that helps us grow in our thinking, maturity, and empathy. If you’re not a reader, start small (maybe with an interest or a hobby)…but start!
  3. Exercise daily. Taking care of your body isn’t an option, it’s a necessity. Adding exercise to your day will not only help your body, it’ll also help your mind and soul. It’s a fact. If you seldom or never exercise, this year, add a brisk 20-30 minute walk to your day. You’ll note the difference in how you feel in just a week or two.
  4. Make daily prayer a priority. Prayer is far too important to be neglected. Make it a priority in your day-to-day routine. You won’t regret the time spent in meditation and conversation with God. Prayer helps us keep Him as a priority (Matthew 6:9-10), it helps us chase off anxiety (Philippians 4:4-6), and it helps us experience godly joy (John 16:24). Like all things on the Christian walk, prayer is for God’s glory and our good, but it must be done to be enjoyed.
  5. Spend and save money wisely. Proverbs 22:7 teaches us that the borrower is a slave to the lender. Whether cash spent, credit used, or items borrowed: what belongs to us is the debt we accumulate. God wants us to be free, not only spiritually but also financially (see Matthew 6:24). So, use a strict budget this year. Keep track of what’s coming in and going out. By doing this, you’ll not only be taking charge of your financial life, you’ll also be freeing up your ability to love on those in need (see Ephesians 5:28).
  6. Share the Gospel. I know that for many Christians, this is a daunting task, but I believe that it’s viewed that way because many programs have made evangelism rigid and unnatural. Let me put it this way: share your relationship and discipleship with Jesus with others. It should be natural, easy, conversational. If it’s not, then it’s probably time to check your relationship with Jesus and discipleship!
  7. Invite family/friends to worship. This is what I call the “come and see” side of evangelism. Not all of us have been gifted to be evangelists, Paul said, but we’re all called to do it. One way to do it is by inviting people to worship, which tends to be neglected after we’ve invited everyone we THINK will come to worship. Let God handle the outcomes. Invite people to worship this year. Your invitation may lead to conversions!
  8. Face a wound (but include the Lord!). Psalm 147:3 says that God binds up wounds. He cares for us. The healing that He performs is done so that we can live healthy lives, happy lives, strong lives. You may need help to face a wound that you’ve been neglecting to address, but get the help and face it. Without facing our wounds, we can’t move past them.
  9. Forgive someone or reconcile a broken relationship. This is obviously tied to number 8. Many wounds are due to a broken relationship (and relationships break for many reasons!). Forgiveness and/or reconciliation are the roads God has provided for us to healing.
  10. Read the New Testament through twice. At 260 chapters, the New Testament doesn’t even require 1 chapter a day to be read through once in a year. Read a few chapters a day, and you’ve easily read the entire New Testament through twice in a year. This kind of reading comes with an incredible blessing.

Whatever you do this year, I pray that it’ll be productive, helpful, and bring you closer to the Lord.

Blessings,

Joe

The Reformation’s 500th Anniversary

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Today marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On this day, 1517, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses on the door of the Church in Wittenberg, in an effort to help the Roman Catholic church “reform” its dangerous path deeper into tradition and further from Scripture and the doctrines taught in it. As you might now, Protestantism eventually grew from this Reformation.

Out of respect for this world-changing act, here is a paragraph from Luther’s famous commentary on the book of Romans. Here is Martin Luther on faith.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it 1000 times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all His creatures; and this is the work of the Holy Spirit in faith. Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace; and thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light fires. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers, who would be wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God to work faith in you; else you will remain forever without faith, whatever you think of do. (Commentary on Romans, xvii)

9 Bridge Builders for Your Marriage

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If you want to bridge the differences in your marriage, you’ll need a few things to help you along the way.

1) Love and respect

Love and respect shouldn’t be handled like our typical exercise routine—only when we feel like it! It shouldn’t be meted out only when we believe it’s been earned. Love and respect are philosophical positions that we should hold, not because they always feel good or we always feel like doing them, but because, under God and His design, LOVE and RESPECT are RIGHT.

Here are some ideas for what love and respect might look like.

  • consideration
  • appreciation (“The things you see and experience over and over again tend to be the things that at some point you quit noticing.” Paul Tripp)
  • politeness
  • arguments that don’t devolve into name calling
  • the benefit of the doubt
  • positive (not negative) reinforcement

2) Put Jesus first

If you’re a Christian couple, then Jesus comes first—always and forever. If you want your relationship to be healthy and happy, then don’t put yourself first, don’t put the other first, put Jesus first. Any other priority leaks into idolatry.

If you feel like you should come first, you have an idolatry problem and the idol you’re worship is yourself. If you can’t imagine putting Jesus before your spouse or your fiancé or whoever, then you have an idol problem, too, and your idol is your lover.

Listen: no matter what, Jesus comes first! And I don’t mean that theoretically; I mean practically. We can’t put Jesus first in theory but not in practice.

3) Remember grace

As sinners in the hands of an just and holy God, we’re all in dire need of His mercy and grace. That’s Christianity. It isn’t about candles, stained windows, a certain dress code, or a particular denomination. Christianity is about sinners coming to God through faith in His Son and His Son’s work, because there we find mercy and grace where and when we need it. That’s mere Christianity—plain and simple. And therefore to treat people ungraciously is non-Christian. We should be dealing graciously with our spouses and loved ones, because we of all people have a keen awareness of the grace we require from God.

4) Grow and grow together

Paul once said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Listen, if you want to bridge differences, grow and grow together. To say it negatively, if you want to create differences, then grow and grow apart!

I have seen so many relationships begin happy and seemingly healthy but eventually fall apart for the simple reason that one of the two involved continued to grow while other stopped. So, grow…read the Scripture, watch good movies, listen to good podcasts, have deep, meaningful conversations. Physical growth doesn’t happens

5) Listen to understand

This is a principle from Steven Covey’s book The 7 Laws of Highly Effective People. (It’s definitely a book worth reading.) In it, he explains that most people listen so that they can respond to what’s being said, which means that they aren’t fully listening, that is, listening to understand.

Proverbs 18:13 agrees: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”
So, many of the communication breakdowns that we experience in relationships can be attributed to nothing more than a failure to listen, and consequently a failure to understand and express compassion.

It’s a fact of nature…if you’re talking, you’re not listening. And if you’re not listening, then you’re not understanding.

6) Speak even if it’s uncomfortable

Recently, I was talking to someone who called me out on something. Let me tell you about being called out…it’s not fun. It means you’re hearing something about yourself, that you would never tell yourself, because it’s negative, it’s something you don’t want to hear, something that you don’t want to receive.

But when I was called out about his thing, it made perfect sense to me the second I was told. I sometimes avoid saying something that I should say, because I prefer to keep the status quo than deal with something that should be addressed. Don’t trust your own silence. Silence is often a disguise… If something should be said, whether or not it’s comfortable, then is should be said sooner than later. (How do you say it? Refer back to #1.)

7) Consider needs

Bridging differences means a willingness to do the work necessary to maintain the relationship once you’ve reached the other side! When you’re in a relationship with someone, God has designed relationship so that you don’t go into it for what you can get but rather for what you can give! Let me say that again: Christians have relationships for what they can give not what they can get.

Matthew 7:12 instructs us, saying, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

8) Determine success

If it’s soccer, it’s goals. If it’s football, it’s touchdowns. If it’s basketball, it’s points. If it’s baseball, it’s runs. That’s the name of the game–do what you must to get more than the other team. In sports, that’s success.

Let me ask you this question: Do you have a definition for success for your family? If I were to ask you, “What’s a win for you and your family?” how would you answer? If I were to ask you, “What puts points on the board for you and your family?” how would you answer? Knowing these answer helps you achieve success, so that you’re not just “getting through the day” but actually achieving goals for the home team!

9) Major on the majors

Finally, major on the majors. In his excellent book What Did You Expect? Paul Tripp writes, “You cannot live with another person and make every difference equally important and equally an issue between you. Some differences are not important at all” (223, italics added).

Let’s face it, how many issues do you and I argue about simply for the sake of pride or oneupmanship? If we major on the majors, we will take ourselves out of the equation and focus on the more important ones (e.g., #2).

Finally, God doesn’t want our lives to reflect a hilarious tragedy, like the media likes to pour downward to the culture. It’s one thing to laugh at the characters portrayed on the tv. It’s another thing to live like them. God wants us to take this gift of life, invest in it, grow it, nurture it, so that in time, when we find someone to love, we actually have something to offer them—because we can’t be something for someone until we are somebody ourselves. Relationships require that we bridge differences and remain committed. These 9 points should help us along the way!

Blessings,

Joe

Think of What to Do, Not What Not to Do

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Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand, you’re aware of the racial tensions that culminated in a recent tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia. (You can read about it here and here.) Granted, there are a number of arguments and angles presenting themselves since the event transpired. Yet, regardless of what is true and false, there is something that we all can be healthily reminded of: We may face intimidation in various ways during our journey on earth, but it’s what we do that proves our convictions. But the important thing is to face intimidation with a focus on obligation. We are obligated to love God (Matthew 22:34-38) and to love our neighbors (Luke 10:25-37). If we are focusing on what we should do (namely, love God and our neighbors), then we won’t be intimidated by what we shouldn’t do.

Blessings,

Joe

A Thought on Proximity

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Proximity–We should all dwell in proximity to what—or who—we believe will keep us the most safe, healthy, and happy. For example, children dwell in PROXIMITY to their parents. Spouses (should) create an environment in which they feel safe to dwell in PROXIMITY to each other.

In like fashion, Christians should dwell in PROXIMITY to the Father—in prayer, in meditation and thought, in the Word, and in fellowship with others who are dwelling in PROXIMITY to Him, too. “Stay close” isn’t only a word our parents used to say when we were children playing in the park. “Stay close” is also a Word from our Heavenly Father while we’re living in the world!

Why is this important? Practically speaking, it’s important because dwelling in PROXIMITY to the Father brings us close to His holiness, His wisdom, His forgiveness, His love and daily grace. We can’t dwell close to God and simultaneously continue to harbor those things that God has redeemed us from. The closer we are to God, the further we are from our past!

Yet, how many people do we know, people who claim to know and love God, dwelling in proximity to jealousy instead of Jesus, greed instead of God, unforgiveness instead of the Father, laziness instead of the Lord? We have too many soldiers in the Kingdom who are living like distracted civilians.

We should all dwell in PROXIMITY to what—or who—we believe will keep us the most safe, healthy, and happy. What are you in proximity to today?

Blessings,

Joe

20 Things Worth Praying For

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Here’s a list of 20 things worth praying for!

  1. God’s fame and glory
  2. Forgiveness of sins
  3. Success in your career
  4. Health to serve Him and others
  5. Happiness and Joy in what matters most
  6. Spiritual maturity
  7. Discernment
  8. Salvation for the lost
  9. Personal maturity
  10. Love
  11. Guidance and Direction
  12. The Holy Spirit’s Power
  13. Wisdom
  14. The confidence to share the faith regularly
  15. Your church leaders
  16. Your church membership
  17. Your country
  18. Your country’s leaders
  19. Widows and Widowers
  20. Children without parents

Care to add to the list?

Blessings,

Joe