Archives For discipleship

Exterior of a building with Education engraved in stone

I hadn’t intended college to be a particularly eye-opening experience. I was excited about my newfound freedom and interesting classes and those deep friendships everyone always talked about, but I was going someplace where I thought all those things would happen in the context of familiarity. My Southern Baptist college had felt like home during my first on-campus visit—that was what drew me there in the first place.

But at the start of my second semester, I sat with my Bible on the roof of the gymnasium (where the serious scholars went to study all night), wondering whether the loneliness and uncertainty I felt meant I had made the wrong decision in coming to a place six hours from home. Those good college things—the classes and the friends and the football games and the freedom—had all happened. But instead of feeling fulfilled, I was left with a bigger question, one that I now know most people that age, particularly younger Christians, probably face at one time or another: Who am I going to be?

I met people my own age who pushed me to a deeper investigation of what it means to be a Christian, no matter what job I would eventually choose.

A few years later when I graduated, I was glad I had been at that small college six hours from home as I tried to answer that big question. Because it was there that I found people with the knowledge, experience, and empathy to help young people navigate that tricky territory between the familiar and the future. Here are three things I still value about my Christian college experience:

1. A deeper faith identity. Raised in a minister’s home, I thought I had Christianity figured out (and, at 18, probably most everything else too). That’s why it was surprising, then convicting, to find other people my age who knew much more and felt much more about the call of Jesus on their lives than I did. And these weren’t just the kids that had committed to career ministry or missions—these were everyday students studying to be dentists, attorneys, and counselors. But they seemed to understand that the responsibility of a Christian to be, well, a Christian, extended far beyond one’s future vocation. They lived their faith in a way I wanted to, and their example pushed me to a deeper investigation of what it meant to be actually be a believer in Christ, no matter what job I would eventually choose.

2. Challenging, trustworthy professors. My first class on my first day of college was Old Testament Survey, taught by a young professor who would present four or five different theories about a difficult text and then say something like: “That’s what some people think. Here’s what I think.” Usually, his opinion was similar to one that he had presented. But by giving us the breadth of knowledge on a particular topic, he showed us young Bible scholars that it’s OK to wrestle with Scripture. At the same time, his daily, trustworthy counsel through the Bible gave us an anchor to come back to amid the multiple interpretations offered by the outside world.

3. Unrequired opportunities. Like many high school youth group kids, I started going to church because my parents drove me there, and I kept going because I had always gone. But in college, I didn’t have to be anywhere. Tuesday night Bible study wasn’t a necessity; neither was a Saturday mission project in our neighboring city. Learning to commit to things that weren’t required drove me to deeper discipline about how I spent my energy and time. The ministry activities that are most valuable, I learned in college, are the ones that root themselves in your mind and heart so that you are compelled to take part, even if no one would miss you if you weren’t there.

After I graduated, I moved to the Midwest to attend graduate school at a large state university. It was certainly different than where I had been. And that’s one more reason I’m grateful for my college experience: The foundation that God, through wise professors and leaders, had begun to lay for me carried me through the challenges of a truly unfamiliar place. And has continued to do so, all these years later.

– Meredith Flynn

Growing leaders

ib2newseditor —  February 7, 2017

The church’s ministry potential depends on it

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While serving as associate pastor of Pawleys Island Baptist Church in South Carolina, Mac Lake said he could feel the church’s ministry efforts crumbling down around him.

“At one point I had 88 people reporting to me,” said Lake, who is now senior director of church planting development for the North American Mission Board’s SEND network. He was this year’s keynote speaker at the Illinois Leadership Summit.

“Of course I was exhausted so I went on vacation and worked on a plan to start developing leaders. The best way to make ministry successful is to make your team successful. Shifting my mindset saved my life, saved my ministry, and probably saved my marriage.”

More than 230 pastors, staff, and leaders from churches across Illinois heard practical strategies as Lake spoke on the importance of leading self, leading others, leading leaders, and leading an organization during the two-day event held January 24-25.

“This opened my eyes to the difference being intentional in your leadership strategy will make,” said Garry Hostetler, pastor of First Baptist Church Bogota in Newton. “I enjoyed getting together with other pastors and leaders and getting real help that I can put into practice right away.”

“In my ministry, I discovered if we were going to grow a congregation, I had to grow as a leader. It is important for leaders to realize their leadership lid and to grow past it.”

“When we’re spiritually disciplined we’re often more vocationally effective,” Sarah Bond urged those attending one of 28 breakout sessions. The professor at SIU-Carbondale challenged church leaders to “become the change-maker God intends you to be.”

She—and the other trainers and equippers—found a ready audience.

“When I was pastoring it was alarming to discover that my leadership was one of the obstacles to the growth of the church,” said Mark Emerson, IBSA’s associate executive director of the Church Resources Team. Emerson’s pastoral experience helped him in planning the Summit. “In my ministry, I discovered if we were going to grow a congregation, I had to grow as a leader. It is important for leaders to realize their leadership lid and to grow past it.”

For attenders at the Summit, much of the experience was about discoveries about themselves.

“When we do this kind of leadership development, pastors begin to get excited about their own growth and the growth of leaders in their church,” Emerson said. “I believe every pastor believes leadership development is important, yet it tends to get lost amid the plethora of other ministry tasks.”

Doers vs. developers

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Mac Lake

Lake opened the conference with a story about the small town where he grew up, and the small church where he grew as a leader. Handley, West Virginia, peaked at 633 residents in 1980.

“I don’t think we ever broke 70 (attenders) at Handley Baptist Church,” he said, calling his home church not small, but “normative.” It was the same size as most Southern Baptist churches. Yet, it was in this environment that Lake discovered he could be a leader. “That church taught me how to love like Jesus and how to live like Jesus…. The opportunity the normative-size church gave me to serve like Jesus and develop my leadership skills started there as a kid.”

Lake said leadership development is vital for all disciples of Christ no matter where they are in their Christian walk. He shared the story of his three “conversions” in his personal growth. Lake said:

(1) He went from “lost to found” when he was saved at 9 years old at that small church in West Virginia, then
(2) he went from “being a ministry doer to a ministry leader” when he was in seminary at 27, and finally
(3) a few years later as an associate pastor, he went from “leader to developer of leaders.”

“One of the biggest challenges for leaders who move to this level of leadership is continuing to act like a leader rather than a leader of leaders,” Lake said, offering a comparison between disciples and disciple-leaders. At first glance, discipleship training and leadership development might seem similar. While they go hand in hand, there are important distinctions. For example:

• Discipleship focuses on intimacy with God while leadership development focuses on influence with others.
• Discipleship is learning to live like Jesus while leadership development is learning to lead like Jesus.
• In discipleship, a person is learning to lead himself, while leadership development teaches how to lead others.
• Finally, discipleship works on the character of the person while leadership development works on his or her competency.

“While some people make the jump from disciple to leader in our churches, many aren’t prepared to do it,” Lake said. “Nobody taught them before they got thrown in. So you have all these people in the swimming pool of leadership and they are splashing and hollering—nearly drowning—because they don’t know how to swim. Their leadership, the church’s ministries, and even their personal relationship with God will grow to a whole new level once they are developing as leaders.”

“It’s like asking a lost person to reach someone for the Lord. They’ve never had that conversion so they don’t have the knowledge and realization they need.”

Without a consistent and intentional leadership development plan, many of the great “doers” of the church or ministry will struggle in leadership positions. “It’s like asking a lost person to reach someone for the Lord,” Lake said. “They’ve never had that conversion so they don’t have the knowledge and realization they need.”

Leaders often find themselves focusing more on the work than on the workers, and that has a limiting effect on the growth of ministry. “One of your primary responsibilities as a leader is stewarding the gifts and strengths of those in your charge,” Lake advised. Most churches structure for ministry function, rather than for leader development, he warned.

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A glimpse of the future
Developing the next generation of leaders presents many challenges in this culture of never-ending distractions and instant gratification, but Lake is optimistic about the future of the church.

“Millennials in general place an extremely high value on relationships and authentic faith-sharing,” he said. “A pastor willing to mentor this group must be vulnerable. They need to see we’re all co-learners because, in reality, we are. A 50-year-old pastor is no longer in the world he knew. He’s living in their world.”

He said all leaders must understand the dangers of social media and the challenge to stay focused and turn off distractions. At the same time, leaders must see how social networking can be beneficial for the work of God and utilize its potential for kingdom growth. “With technology and all that it entails, mentors have to embrace this world and ask for help navigating this new culture to stay relevant,” Lake said.

“With technology and all that it entails, mentors have to embrace this world and ask for help navigating this new culture to stay relevant.”

Though Lake has taught leadership to pastors and church planters across the country, this was one of the few statewide conferences he’s been invited to where the main purpose was to teach leaders how to lead with excellence.

“Illinois Baptists see the need to build a culture of leadership development,” Lake said. “Too many visions die because the leader never trained others to do what he did. The Great Commission is a vision big enough for others to give their lives to. We have to think in terms of ‘generations.’”

We used to tell leaders to “replace themselves” by training others to come after you. “Don’t replace yourself, reproduce yourself” with leaders to work alongside you, he concluded.

Lake said he prays that together leaders will create the culture in their churches that will produce the best harvest. “I applaud the Illinois Baptists for feeding their pastors and helping with the challenge of leadership issues,” he said. “This is important and these are things you don’t necessarily learn in seminary.”

– Reported by Kayla Rinker, Lisa Sergent, Meredith Flynn, and Eric Reed

Illinois Leadership Summit January 24, 2017

Nate Adams, IBSA Executive Director, talks with a pastor at the Illinois Leadership Summit January 24, 2017 in Springfield.

“Personal development requires surrender and sacrifice,” shared leadership expert Mac Lake.

“If I want to grow myself there’s a price I have to pay…Discipline is often the cost we’re not willing to pay.”

More than 250 leaders gathered in Springfield for the Jan. 24-25 Illinois Leadership Summit. Mac Lake, the architect of The Launch Network, a church planting network, served as the summit’s keynote speaker and was joined by 18 break out session leaders. Together, they taught the men and women in attendance practical ways to became better leaders and how to use what they’ve learned to develop leaders in their own churches.

Visit our Facebook page to watch video from Tuesday evening’s session, and learn from Lake:

– Why people don’t do what you want them to do
– About the strengthen conversation
– How to do one minute goal setting

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter hear from some of the breakout session leaders, and read the Feb. 6 Illinois Baptist newspaper for complete coverage of the Illinois Leadership Summit.

Smart phones make smart disciplesMy faith was greatly impacted in college by a church that challenged me to be a student of the Bible. That love for personal Bible study has motivated me to become an advocate for biblical literacy—a need highlighted by a recent Lifeway Research study that found only 45% of regular church attenders read the Bible more than once a week.

Before becoming a pastor, I always viewed the main responsibility as preaching. But now I understand why the role isn’t called “Senior Preacher.” As a pastor, I have a responsibility to build stronger disciples in Jesus Christ, and that’s an impossible task apart from the Bible.

To help combat biblical illiteracy at our church, we have turned to an app called YouVersion. I think of it as an example of what Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” YouVersion is a 21st century response to Paul’s approach.

With over 200 million downloads, the app is a helpful tool that any church can easily use. It’s free, can be carried on any smart phone or tablet (or accessed by a computer at bible.com), and offers valuable opportunities for biblical accountability and community.

A long-time church member stopped by my office last month and said, “I want to grow closer to the Lord.” After listening to his testimony of faith, I inquired about his personal devotional times. He admitted to not reading the Bible much, and so I asked him to pull out his phone. We quickly downloaded YouVersion, and got him started on a daily reading plan through the Gospel of John.

He texted me later that night to tell me he finished the entire book of John! “Should I just go onto Acts?” he asked. Since then, he has not only finished Acts for the first time, but is now re-reading it to gain a better understanding of the story. He credits his success to the ease of YouVersion.

We’ve used YouVersion with recent converts to Christ. I helped them get the download and choose a reading plan. This has provided these brand new believers with a clear plan and goal for their Bible reading.

As with other forms of social media, you can “friend” others through YouVersion. As you do, your homepage fills up with news of their progress through Bible plans or verses they highlighted. So I not only learn from my own Bible reading, but that of others in my church. And anytime one of my friends has been offline for a while, I know to check in with them.

Two weeks in a row, highlighted Scriptures from members of my church made their way into the messages I had been working on for that week. They were thrilled to know their personal study of the Bible had influenced my own.

Even my 10-year-old daughter switched to YouVersion on her Kindle last year and I use it to monitor and comment on her reading.

I also use my YouVersion newsfeed as a prayer list. As I see the names of friends and passages they’re studying, I pray for their study and usually let them know I’m praying. And watching comments between our members regarding a particular passage is a great encouragement to me as their pastor.

We as a church also use the YouVersion live component. This allows us to create “events” for each upcoming sermon. People can read the Scripture passage and interact through polls, or by posting comments or questions. And again, it’s 100% free.

I should tell you, YouVersion doesn’t pay me for my advocacy. I’m merely sharing how this Bible app has had an impact on our church. Like many churches, we’re often slow adopters when it comes to technology. And while a digital Bible is no better than a traditional Bible, it’s time we used every opportunity available to us in building biblically literate believers in Jesus Christ.

Heath Tibbetts pastors First Baptist Church, Machesney Park.

Up to the challenge

Lisa Sergent —  December 3, 2015

My substitute teaching career was short-lived, and carried me through a brief time between ministry opportunities. One particular day found me stepping in for an 8th grade biology teacher who had left a worksheet for her class to complete.

As the kids worked on the assignment, two boys called me over for help. I began to explain the process for solving the problem when one of the boys interrupted me.

“Our regular teacher usually just tells us the answer.” My response: “Well, your regular teacher isn’t here.”

But it’s often easier to tell instead of teach, isn’t it? Even in church, it’s so much easier to answer for the unresponsive Sunday school class. But how can we ever help people grow if we fail to challenge them?

We must help our members move beyond simply looking for a spiritual authority to provide the right answers. (This kind of thinking leads to Christians arguing against abortion or same-sex marriage with statements that begin, “My pastor told me…”)

We must move from telling to teaching, asking ourselves: Which is happening more regularly in my church?

This realization came to me as I spoke to a senior adult in my church soon after my arrival. During his recuperation from surgery, I encouraged him to stay faithful in reading the Bible. A few weeks later when I called to check in, he said, “I’m finishing 2 Corinthians.”

Since he and I had spoken, he had taken my challenge to read the book of John, and then he just kept on going. Several weeks later, he was back in church and finishing the book of Revelation. When I asked him about his Bible reading, he said it wasn’t that he had never been told to read his Bible. He said this was the first time he had a place to start.

This situation caused me to realize that I had been blaming the laity for far too long. It was time to point the finger at myself as a leader and ask, “Am I telling them what to do, or teaching them?”

In response, our church began two men’s accountability groups within the last year. The purpose of these groups is to make effective disciples. We challenge these men to be devotionally serious in prayer and reading the Bible. We encourage one another to apply the Bible to our lives and memorize Scripture. But the only way we can evaluate the results is from the lives of these men themselves.

One of our regular attenders from the start has been up and down in his application of God’s Word. I constantly taught him how to be more diligent in his effort to grow from his readings. The month it was his turn to teach the group from his Bible readings, his work situation changed and created a tighter financial situation.

As he worked to apply God’s Word, he read in 1 Timothy 6:7-10 to be encouraged in the sufficient provision God was supplying for his family. He didn’t learn this from the counsel of his pastor, but the counsel of God’s Word. And it gave him peace.

Mark is also in my group and recently told me that he often read the Bible before, but only recently has been more diligent in applying it to his life. And while he says memorization is something he never would have done, at times he is memorizing additional verses that are meaningful to him. Again, these are things he had been told to do before, but never taught to do.

So whether you’re a pastor preaching in the service or a Sunday school teacher moving through the curriculum, I challenge all of us to consider whether we are telling or teaching. Are people being equipped with answers, or with the tools to find those answers for themselves and to grow as confident disciples?

I truly believe those are the only kind of disciples that can build our churches to be stronger and win lost souls to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Heath Tibbetts is pastor of First Baptist Church, Machesney Park.

 

Columbus | The SBC Pastors’ Conference continues today, and the nearby exhibit hall is busy too. Keep checking back here for more news from Columbus!

Pastors' Conference attenders prayed this morning for Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is imprisoned in Iran. Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, was interviewed by Conference President Willy Rice.

Pastors’ Conference attenders prayed this morning for Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is imprisoned in Iran. Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, was interviewed by Conference President Willy Rice.

In the first prison where her husband was held, said Naghmeh Abedini (left), so many people were coming to faith in Christ that they had to exile him.

In the first prison where her husband was held, said Naghmeh Abedini (left), so many people were coming to faith in Christ that they had to exile him.

Travis Cottrell, worship leader at Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, Tenn., leads "Revelation Song" during the Pastors' Conference Monday morning.

Travis Cottrell, worship leader at Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, Tenn., leads “Revelation Song” during the Pastors’ Conference Monday morning.

In the SBC exhibit hall, the North American and International Mission Boards have adjoining spaces--and complementary giveaways. NAMB has coffee mugs printed with the airport codes of each of its SEND focus cities. IMB has coffees and teas from countries and regions around the world where missionaries are serving.

In the SBC exhibit hall, the North American and International Mission Boards have adjoining spaces–and complementary giveaways. NAMB has coffee mugs printed with the airport codes of each of its SEND focus cities. IMB has coffees and teas from countries and regions around the world where missionaries are serving.

Jeff Calloway (left), NAMB's city missionary to Cleveland, talks with visitors at the NAMB exhibit.

Jeff Calloway (left), NAMB’s city missionary to Cleveland, talks with visitors at the NAMB exhibit.

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SBC President Ronnie Floyd (left) is interviewed by LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer in the exhibit hall.

SBC President Ronnie Floyd (left) is interviewed by LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer in the exhibit hall.

Rosaria Butterfield, author of "The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith," is one of several authors who will sign their books at the LifeWay Store here in Columbus.

Rosaria Butterfield, author of “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith,” is one of several authors who will sign their books at the LifeWay Store here in Columbus.

Cliff Woodman, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist in Carlinville, visited the exhibits with his wife, Lisa, and son, Daniel.

Cliff Woodman, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist in Carlinville, visited the exhibits with his wife, Lisa, and son, Daniel.

Evangelistic_churches_3HEARTLAND | The average Southern Baptist church in the Midwest has 54 people in worship on Sunday mornings, and baptized three last year. But a North American Mission Board study found the top evangelistic churches in the region are charting a different course, said Joel Southerland, NAMB’s executive director of evangelism strategies.

The Midwest’s top evangelistic churches with less than 250 in worship attendance averaged 119 in worship and had 23 baptisms. Churches with more than 250 in worship averaged 71 baptisms.

Southerland shared findings from the NAMB study of the top 20 evangelizing churches in every U.S. state at the Illinois Baptist State Association’s Evangelism Conference in March, and in a breakout session at the Midwest Leadership Summit earlier this year. The study resulted in a list of “7 Secrets of Top Evangelistic Churches in the SBC.”

  1. It has a lot to do with the pastor. NAMB studied the pastors of top evangelistic churches and found that the majority described their leadership style as “charismatic” or “transformational,” outranking innovative, command and control, servant, situational, laissez-faire and pace setter.

The pastors they studied were at the churches 10-plus years on average, Southerland said, and 70% of them preach a sermon series on evangelism every year. More than half (55%) put more emphasis on evangelism than discipleship, and 90% share the gospel outside the church at least once a month.

  1. Top evangelistic churches are really good at the Sunday morning experience. Of the pastors surveyed, 93% described their worship as lively and celebratory, 95% were contemporary or blended in worship style, and 96% said they intentionally cultivate a guest-friendly atmosphere. And 70% give an invitation at the end of the service.

Southerland outlined several worship takeaways: make church exciting, work on the quality, be intentionally evangelistic on Sunday morning, and aim for something better than “friendly.” People aren’t looking for friendly, he said, they’re looking for friends.

  1. These churches are actively engaged and serving the community, no matter the size of the congregation. Of the pastors surveyed, 88% said they were well engaged in the community. Of mid-sized top evangelistic churches, 30% attempt service-based ministry efforts to share the gospel regularly, as do 37% of large churches.

It’s OK to start small with community engagement, Southerland counseled, just start somewhere. And preferably not in a vacuum. Talk to community leaders about the needs are, and how your church can help. Involve non-Christians, using the service as an opportunity to share the gospel with them.

  1. Top evangelistic churches communicate well, internally and externally. The average pastor makes too many assumptions about how much people know, Southerland said. They assume the congregation knows the church’s vision, that members are as passionate about reaching people as the pastor, and that they don’t need constant motivation.

But all of those things—and more—need to be communicated. Luckily, more avenues for communication exist now than ever before. Of the top evangelistic church pastors surveyed, 97% use a church Facebook account regularly, Southerland cited. Half of pastors and staff intentionally “friend” guests on Facebook.

  1. Virtually all top evangelistic churches make a big deal out of baptisms—97%, the NAMB survey reported. And 79% of pastors of churches in the mid-size church category preach a yearly sermon on baptism, as do 74% of large-church pastors.

The takeaways, Southerland said, are to preach at least once on baptism every year, provide a forum for people to give their own, recorded testimonies, help baptismal candidates invite family and friends to the service, and train your church to celebrate new spiritual life.

  1. They treat guests really well. In non-evangelistic churches, Southerland said, the service is for the members and guests just happen to be there. Evangelistic churches are the opposite; of the congregations NAMB surveyed 67% of mid-size churches and 85% of large churches had a person responsible for “first impressions” ministry targeted to visitors.

A large majority (70%) emailed, called and sent written mail to a guest within seven days of their visit.

  1. Top evangelistic churches emphasize inviting and personal evangelism. The pastors of the churches NAMB studied were very busy mobilizing their church members to be a witness in the community; 50% offered evangelism training, and 70% of their guests came to church as a result of a personal invitation from a member. Among mid-sized churches, 62% have visitation or organized outreach at least once a month, and 58% of large churches do the same.

Churches that train members in personal evangelism, Southerland said, baptize two-and-a-half times more people than those that don’t.

The value of a verbal witness cannot be underestimated, he said during a message at the IBSA conference. Especially when most people are broken and looking for a solution to their problems.

“We are far too timid when it comes to sharing the gospel. We are too scared of the culture.” But, “The culture is not near as bad as it could be or will be someday. We’re to take the gospel to the culture and change the culture with Jesus Christ.”