Playing it safe ’til He comes

It’s as maddening as it is exhilarating. If you’re on the winning side there’s no greater sight. If you’re the loser, you’d rather stick a needle in your eye than watch as it plays out. It’s football’s Victory Formation.

When the outcome of a football game is no longer in question late in the game, the team with the lead usually goes into an offensive formation that completely protects the quarterback as he takes the snap and almost immediately takes a knee to just keep the clock running. The losing side usually has no timeouts left and no hope of a comeback when the winning side begins this formality.

The Victory Formation is the winning side’s way of making sure they don’t turn the ball over causing a potential miraculous comeback-win for the opposing side. The Victory Formation is playing it safe.

It appears that time may be getting short. The return of the Lord might not be that far away. There are signs all over the place.

Whether that means His return happens next year, next decade or even longer, we’re in the fourth quarter of time.

Because of this perceived shortness of time, many Christians seem content with running out the clock from the Victory Formation while a handful of ministers and leaders continue the trench-warfare that comes with snatching people out of the fire (Jude 1:23).

The hour is too late and the stakes are too high to live out our Christian faith from the Victory Formation.

Sure, it’s a safe way to play the game. There’s almost zero chance you’ll end up losing possession of the football. Might as well take a knee and run out the clock, right?

In Luke 19, Jesus gives the parable of the 10 talents. In the parable, Jesus says a man of noble birth was going away to become king and he gives 10 servants one talent each with the instruction “Occupy til I come.” Occupy meaning put this money to work or continue conducting business until I return as King.

The story continues with the nobleman returning to find one servant who earned 10 talents off the original amount given to him. The next servant had gained five. The final servant hid his only talent in a cloth and did nothing with his master’s money. He played it safe because he was scared of his master.

The telling reason Jesus gave this parable is all the way back in verse 11. Luke says “he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the Kingdom of God was going to appear at once.”

So it’s possible the people had a penchant to play it safe since they thought the Kingdom coming in power was imminent. Maybe the underlying attitude among the followers was one of complacency or worse–safety.

Aslan, the Lion in C.S. Lewis’s classic children’s story The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe represents Jesus. As the inquisitive children ask about Aslan, Mr. Beaver replies, “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Lewis got that one right. Jesus is anything but safe. Following Him is anything but playing it safe. As a matter of fact, Jesus Himself said, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross every day, and follow me. (Luke 9:23)” Does carrying your own method of execution sound safe to you?

It’s not time to play it safe. It’s not time for the Victory Formation. There’s still a war over men’s souls. There is still a battle to fight. There’s still a devil loose.

Yes, we already have ultimate victory. But truly following the King is anything but safe.

Joel A. Barker is a worship pastor, minister of the Gospel, blogger and church-planter-in-training from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Follow his Kingdom Voice Ministry blog at joelabarker.com.

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Finding Hope in the Church

Have you watched the news lately? I can’t say that I blame you if you haven’t. There really is nothing but bad news these days. Whether it’s ISIS or Ebola, it seems like civilization is going to Hell in a hand basket.

And with the renewal of the euthanasia debate in recent weeks, the faces of hopelessness have become even more real. In Oregon, one dear person–someone made in the image of God–chose to take her own life this week instead of enduring the painful duration of brain cancer.

I cannot imagine being in her shoes for even a second. But it’s clear that hopelessness has become the rule of the day.

Is there a better time than now for the Church to rise up and declare there is hope?

Perhaps the greater question is, can the Church rise up and declare the hope of the gospel?

In Colossians 1, the Apostle Paul begins to reveal his ministry to the church at Colosse. Paul wrote the letter from prison after hearing that the Colosse church had begun to believe a mixture of false doctrines. Among those beliefs was the heresy of gnosticism.

The Gnostic belief that reduced the role of Jesus from Saviour to just another source of knowledge, had quickly distracted believers in Colosse.

To this attitude, Paul asserted that God was using him to make known the full message of Christ–a message that was hidden in mystery to the Colossians because of their mostly Gentile background and their drift back into heresy.

Paul said the key to the mystery is “Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).”

What we have then in Colosse is a church in which Jesus had become a lesser thing. Christ was now just another means of knowledge unto salvation, rather than the hope of all the world.

It was a church that had become just like its surrounding culture.

Sound familiar?

Could it be that the world is hopeless because much of the church has become hopeless in our day?

Is the Church in America merely an empty shell in today’s culture?

The Church with Jesus Christ at its head is still the hope of the world.

Where Jesus is still the central theme, there’s still hope. Where His Lordship is still celebrated, there’s still hope.

Pastor, if Jesus has become a lesser thing in your sermons, your worship, and your everyday walk, please put Him back where he belongs.

The hopeless world cannot afford to have a hopeless church in this day.

Joel A. Barker is a worship pastor, minister of the Gospel, blogger and church-planter-in-training from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Follow his Kingdom Voice Ministry blog at joelabarker.com.

Questions To Ask When Searching for a Pastor/Leader

Oh no! We need a pastor, what do we do? Many, sadly, will follow a shallow corporate process and their own personal bias and emotion. After sorting through 300 resumes of hopefuls and after some fun drama, test sermons, an opinion from the people with the money, and some sort of vote, they’ll settle on the best person from the stack, for them. He’ll have an impressive job history, polished preaching skills, good doctrine, and all on the search committee will be convinced he’s the right one. He may in fact end up being an amazing, loving leader who faithfully pastors his church for years to come. Or, he’ll end up doing other things, like: maintain the status quo (safe guy), grow the church rapidly (ordained CEO), divide it (won’t deal with real controversy), become the identity of the church (bigger than Jesus at his church), or kill it (we brought him in, but we can’t make him leave). The difference is character. WHO IS THIS MAN? Why do we wait til the end of the process to ask the MOST important questions, while possibly weeding out men on paper who’s character and vision might have been exceptional. My concerns are not so much with the process of how many find a pastor, that will vary, but what happens within the process is utterly important. No matter how your church chooses to find a pastor, I believe the below questions are THE most important ones, and can NOT be left out of the process.

But, before asking the questions, a church must first look internally. The reason many of us have accountability is so that our friends can lovingly point out our blind spots. Churches need the same. Those months/years without a pastor is the perfect time to ask these questions. Where are we as a church, where are we headed, what do we need to change? Unless your church is perfect, there should be a humble answer to each of those questions. Bring in consultants from the outside, if needed, to identify clearly the health and direction of the church. Compare your church to the one in Acts, and the standards found in the Epistles. Chances are, your church needs serious reforming. We all do. A great word for healthy church change is “re-missioning”: moving a mature body of believers towards more biblical practices for church and for life. This is what you are hiring a pastor to do, primarily. Secondarily, yes, preach, visit, shake hands, administrate, etc, but foremost, you’re hiring a “lead follower of Jesus.” Hire the right guy and he’ll re-mission and reform your church towards a more Biblical approach to church and life. Really, these questions should not only be asked of pastors, but anyone in vocational ministry.

Now, to the questions.

1. Is he Qualified? – Step number one, know the man. Match his life against the qualifications in Titus 1 and 1 Tim 3, and be strict about it. Know his character. Know him as his wife and children know him. Ask him about sexual addiction, habits he has that he can’t break, areas where he struggles with moderation. Get honest and real from the beginning. Interview his wife and children, spend ample time at their house. During character reference calls ask specifically about his life away from church, if he has one. If he doesn’t disciple his wife and children well, if there is no measurable fruit in the family, move on to the next guy. The rest of the questions do not matter.

2. Is he teachable? – When we train and select elders for leadership, trait number one in every one has to be this one: humility. You are not hiring a senior King, in whom all will bestow unlimited power. You are hiring the greatest servant in your church, and humility and meekness do not hinder strong leadership, but compliment it. If you want to know if he’s teachable, ask him if he has ever been rebuked, about what, and how it went? Also, you can ask him, what are the biggest theological shifts that you’ve made in the last 5 years. A real leader is always reforming. Not wavering, but deepening his understanding of the scripture and it shows in his life and ministry. When a guy doesn’t reform along the way, you end up with a pastor for 20 plus years who becomes the cork on the bottle and wonders why there is no growth, lots of pressure, and lots of tension in his ministry. It might be because he’s not teachable and not reforming/repenting towards more Gospel centered church practices and living. Is he willing to work with and submit to a leadership team, whether it’s an elder board, or deacons, etc?

3. What is his vision for discipleship? – A Pastors number one duty is every Christians number one duty. And he should model this for the church. Make disciples; disciples who follow Jesus and lead others to do the same. A full time pastor should walk closely with 5-6 other guys, pouring himself into them as he follows Christ, until they can be sent out as missionaries, church planters, or become leaders within the church. One of the biggest tragedy’s is when a pastor focuses all efforts on preaching, running programs, and administration, discipling no one and not seeing to it that others are being discipled. You end up with a congregation of spectators and a burnt out pastor. One of the most glorious sights is a church full of disciples who are discipling each other to follow Jesus. That’s a healthy church.

4. What is his vision for church planting? – Church planting is the single greatest way the Great Commission is carried out on the earth. For newer churches and older churches that are rethinking church practice, this church planting thing may be down the road a ways. But it’s still a question that must be asked, and it’s a target every church should be aiming at. Ultimately, healthy churches multiply, if it’s not multiplying or in the process, it’s not healthy. Churches and Christians must multiply, just like everything healthy in nature multiplies, that’s the way God wired it. I like this excerpt from – http://www.exponential.org/news/the-true-fruit-of-a-church/ “What is the true fruit of an apple tree?” Schwarz replied, “It’s an apple, of course.” Then McGavran said, “You’re wrong. The true fruit of an apple tree is not an apple, but another apple tree.” The true fruit of a small group is not a new Christian, but another group; and the true fruit of an evangelist is not a convert, but new evangelists,” Schwarz writes, “and the true fruit of a church is not a new group, but another church; and the true fruit of a leader is not followers, but new leaders.”

5. Is he about growth or multiplication? – Growth is good, natural, and normal, but growth can also be abnormal and unhealthy too; wisdom knows the difference. Growth is never sustainable or permanent. Plants grow, they bear fruit, they die. Then, the “sent” fruit, it multiplies. Growth is something we must manage and think about, because it will happen. But good growth is never the focus, it’s a by product of Gospel healthiness, discipleship, and a whole Church. Pastors need a vision for multiplication. We don’t just want to grow a church, we want it to multiply. We don’t just want to grow believers, we want to multiply them. We don’t just want to grow teachers, leaders, servants, evangelists, the budget, etc; we want to multiply them; all for Kingdom advancement. When your potential, pastoral candidates are talking about ministry, listen in context. Is he mostly about growth, or multiplication?

6. Does he love the city? – There is a shift taking place in today’s churches, a good one. Pastor’s are realizing that there is no one church that will ever reach a city. That if it’s going to be done, it must happen in collaboration with other churches. Many pastors never think about either of these, Gospel partnership and collaboration, or the welfare of their city. A little over 200 years after the apostles died, almost the entire Roman world was Christian. Why? Not because great preachers were growing huge churches. Because people who had a heart for the welfare of the place they lived believed and carried out the Great Commission in small faithful ways in their city, discipling each other as they followed Jesus together. Churches in different cities were only separated by location, their mission was identical. Does he believe that Christians and churches must be collaborating in prayer, in outreach efforts, in ministry to the poor and needy, all under the banner of Christ? A pastor who doesn’t love his city is not going to look outside the 4 walls of his kingdom, he’s gonna tell you to go out and do it, but do nothing about it if you aren’t doing it. Find a pastor who honestly desires to make Christ known in his city, for their good and for God’s glory, and sees the church, discipleship, church planting, and collaboration with other area churches as the means to carry out this mission.

I believe if these visions are driving a pastor at a church, that as a by-product his sermons, his teachings, and his leadership and ministry will be powerful, passionate, and carried out with urgency. Resist the urge to hire someone polar opposite than the last pastor. Resist the urge to hire someone just like your childhood pastor. Resist the urge to hire someone just because they have letters after or before their name or have held positions of prominence. Resist the urge to hire a “great preacher” because he looks and sounds nice behind the pulpit. I would even say do not do the resume process, unless you want to weed through those 300 possibly desperate men looking mostly for a job and not really a life ministry. Work through networks of pastors and friends, and get recommendations and leads that way. PRAY, pray, and PRAY more. It would be ok if this process took a year or more; in light of eternity, and in hopes of years of fruitful ministry and multiplication, is there a reason to rush?

Church Planter Magazine

Church Planter Magazine

As the editor of the Church Planting and Mission blog for Job 31 I am tasked with the responsibility of providing excellent content to help men live on mission.  With this in mind I cannot think of a better resource to recommend than Church Planter Magazine and the Church Planter Podcast.  Peyton Jones is the editor of the magazine and co-host of the podcast.  He leads the New Breed Church Planting Network and is the author of Church Zero; another excellent resource.  I encourage you to grab a free subscription to Church Planter Magazine and get a copy of Church Zero.  You won’t be disappointed.