God’s Plan to Restore Church Health

ImageDr. Bob Whitesel is an excellent teacher, communicator, and servant of the Body. In his new book Cure for the Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health (2012), Dr. Whitesel draws from his many years of experience as a church consultant, extensive research, and wisdom from coaching ministry leaders and teaching in seminaries, to explain four “cures” to remedy stagnated spiritual growth and restore   church health with Christ at the center.

This new work is completely biblical and absolutely practical. The four cures in which a church needs to grow are O.U.T., S.M.A.L.L. L.E.A.R.N.ers, and N.E.W. Each section begins with a chapter focusing on the “why” aspect, approaching the strategy from a theological and ecclesiological perspective, then followed by a chapter on the “how”, a practical implementation for each cure. Along with historical church examples from John Wesley and others, are biblical accounts of these practices and brief contemporary narratives to illustrate the cure. These short stories will be particularly beneficial for pastors and other ministry leaders in grasping each growth cure.

Dr. Whitesel even gives instruction on how to formulate a T.E.A.M approach to administering the cures from the beginning and concludes his book with an advisory 90-Minute Annual Checkup. Like the T.E.A.M designation, each cure name is also an acronym where the letters spell out the prescriptions. In addition, Dr. Whitesel includes several charts, discussion questions, and summary points to aid the reader or reading team in their partnering with God to lead their church to growth.

While I found all four cures to be biblically mandated and essential for health, I found the cure to grow L.E.A.R.N.ers and to grow N.E.W. particularly convicting. As much of the Church in the West is realizing and reawakening Her main purpose, “to make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20), a strong emphasis on discipleship will continue to be stressed. Worship, spiritual transformation, mentoring relationships, authentic community, and mission- service oriented small groups will help drive the “up, in, and out”, pattern of Jesus’ life in the Church.

I highly recommend Dr. Whitesel’s book and pray the Lord uses it to help inform and inspire those in the Church to action. May the missio Dei be fulfilled as we share the reconciling message of Jesus Christ with others, and lead wayward people back into the relationship God intended.

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Creating a Missional Culture

I pray God continues to use JR Woodward’s new book Creating a Missional Culture (2012), as a beckoning call for the Church to return to Her 1st Century culture of congregational equippers.

JR makes clear the biblical case for polycentric leadership, and the need we who are experiencing the current church crisis in the West being post-Christendom, have in engaging our communities missionally. Polycentric leadership is not so much new as it is New Testament.

Adding to the current conversation on Ephesians, highlighting especially the 5 fold equipping roles of Ephesians 4, JR renames the gifts Paul lists: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers with “dream awakeners”, “heart revealers”, “story tellers”,  “soul healers”, “and light givers” respectively. As a millennial ministry leader, I appreciate JR updating these terms in a language easily understood by my postmodern peers. These terms also emphasis the function for the Body and downplay a single role to be held in the church. Though not explained in the book, the 5 icons expressed on the cover also do well to communicate the functions of the fivefold for an image driven generation.

Instead of taking shots at the distorted teacher-pastor, solo leader model we have common in the North America, JR is graceful yet convicting in his presentation of a polycentric leadership system that multiplies ministries through equippers. With this form of leadership, the unbiblical method of voting is dismissed and replaced with communal discernment in the Spirit.

As a sociologist by training, I thought JR’s definition of culture was spot on. Things like artifacts, language, rituals, ethics, institutions, and narratives define a society and shape a community. When the fivefold equipping roles are understood, and lived out with their telos in mind, a congregation can maximize its missional effectiveness in a community by the cultivation of five different learning environments, corresponding to each of the Ephesians 4 giftings.

JR’s chapter on decentralized decision making and Trinitarian submission should be must reading for every missional leader seeking to serve the Kingdom. Making clear the difference between flat leadership and polycentric leadership, JR expounds upon the recently developed “emergence system” of organic growth and shared responsibility found among ant colonies and the human brain, proposing this systemic form of structure should be possible in the Church.

Other interesting topics discussed include JR’s distinction between discipleship communities and the current church buzz word, missional communities, as well as his challenging of the control ethos in many established churches.

Though the APEST term isn’t directly used, the reader will quickly see the similarities between JR’s work and that of some of the other apostolically inclined authors writing on the same Scripture.

As a side note, I found the description of conversion from “belong, behave, believe” to be very encouraging as it is the same language used in the ministry I work with and the church I serve with. In addition, I found the missiological references to Lesslie Newbigin and Watchman Nee in the beginning of the book and the quotes from Roland Allen towards the end to be highly beneficial.

Discipleship: From Decision to Spiritual Reproduction

Yesterday I was blessed with the opportunity to teach discipleship with SEND North America. The young guys doing SEND this year have a real hunger to grow in their relationship with Christ and serve His Kingdom right here and now on earth. They are comprehensively equipped with teaching, spiritual formation disciplines, and hands on mission training in both the local and international context.

My lessons yesterday focused on moving from a decision to place your faith in Christ to following Christ as a disciple. The second session was a teaching on discipleship as spiritual reproduction. I’d like to share a couple of my biggest points from each session with you in today’s blog.

Session 1: “Decision to Discipleship”

To begin, to be a disciple, you must be internally crucified. Christ says very clearly in Luke 9 that we are to pick up our cross daily and follow him. This means we crucify our fleshy desires and self-interest in exchange for living in the will of the Father. In turn to make disciples, you must be intentional and committed. The intriguing part is that being intentional and committed can be described as being a disciple the same way being internally crucified is required to make disciples. The focus is not on duplicating a copy of yourself, but rather an imprint of Christ. Paul says repeatedly to imitate him as he imitates Christ (see 1 Cor. 4:16 and 11:1). There should always be a focus on the Spirit who lives within (see Galatians 2:20).

Disciples Are:

Decided–Have accepted the gift of grace and chose to put faith in Christ.

Disciplined–Have the ability not to give into temptation, flee from sin, and rebuke Satan.

Discerning–Have the Holy Spirit in them to help guide from sin to righteousness.

Dedicated–Have faith in Jesus and willingness to follow him at all costs.

Determined–Have the mind of Christ and the heart for His mission.

Session 2: “Discipleship as Spiritual Reproduction”

Dr. Kent Hunter likes to say that God’s command to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply was instruction on filling earth. But Jesus’ command to the Church to make disciples was instruction to fill Heaven. These are “population” statements. Discipleship is a process of spiritual reproduction.

As people reach physical maturity, enter into a marriage relationship and reproduce offspring, so the Church, the Bride of Christ should reproduce disciples who in turn will grow spiritually mature and likewise reproduce. Discipleship as spiritual reproduction is essential for continually allowing the Spirit to work in the Church and partner with God in growing the Kingdom.

Biblical and practical ways to making disciples happen through the discipler loving, leading, learning, and living with those they are discipling.

Love your disciples by giving them your time, talent, treasures, and tools. These are areas where you equip them in mission and ministry.

Lead your disciples by modeling Christ-like behavior, motivating and mentoring them through tough seasons and teaching them to train and multiply their own disciples.

Learn from your disciples and continually be in readiness of “going”, growing spiritually, and giving of yourself.  Likewise gain wisdom from the person disicpling you so that you can in turn pour that knowledge into the ones you are discipling and continue the movement.

Live a life of discipleship by serving others, making sacrifices for those your mentoring and sacrifices for Kingdom expansion. Remember the process of sanctification, always striving to allow the Spirit’s transforming work to take shape in your life.  And send out your disciples the way Jesus did in order to keep reproducing in Christ.

Biblical and practical ways for calling disciples include praying for them (John 17) asking for them (Matthew 9:35-38), and keeping eyes open to look for them (Luke 10:23-24).

I hope these lessons will help equip you to make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples.