Five Simple Tools For Planning Disciple Making in Your Church

I spend a lot of time talking and interacting with pastors. One of the most common issues that I run into is that pastors often are so busy with so many things, they often overlook one of the most important and fundamental aspects of what they do: making disciples of all people. I get it. There’s a ton of things to do on the front burner, and planning a comprehensive discipleship process takes time, work, and energy. However, there’s no more important thing a Church leader could do than to establish a strategy disciple making. I’m always available to visit Church in the Midwest, but here’s some great tools from LifeWay that can be useful for you as you plan your discipleship strategy for the fall and beyond:

  1. maxresdefaultThe Balanced Discipleship Wheel: this is a free tool that can help make sure that you are covering a wide variety of discipleship studies during the course of a year. Just click on one part of the wheel and it will take you to some of the studies that might be of interest. Best of all, it’s free!  www.lifeway.com/balanceddiscipleship
  2. Gospel Foundations: this brand new study is a foundational one year chronological exploration of the Bible for all ages. It comes with short, five to eight minute videos and is perfect for small groups or any other setting. It has 42 sessions during the course of the year to allow for off days and fellowship days. Released June 2018.  www.lifeway.com/GospelFoundations
  3. Disciples Path The Journey: ever want to take a new believer through the basics of the Christian faith, help train them in the essential doctrines, and then help them to become a fruit bearing disciple of Christ? Of course you have! This resource is designed to take a believer or a small group of believers on a journey through what it means to follow Jesus in a significant way. They’ll learn about the essentials, go through some doctrines found in Scripture, and then study about what it means to be on Mission. It’s a very inexpensive resource that could be used in a variety of settings. Here’s the link: https://www.lifeway.com/en/product-family/disciples-path/the-journey
  4. MinistryGrid.com: newly redesigned, this video training tool is for anyone who serves in a church. There are excellent courses designed for teachers, deacons, team leaders, greeters and more! There are plenty of free videos, including the training video on each week Sunday school lesson. Best of all, it’s mobile-friendly! If you are not using Ministry Grid, you’re missing out on a really good tool for your church. www.ministrygrid.com
  5. Smallgroup.com: ever wanted to study a particular text of Scripture or a topic for your small group? Then smallgroup.com is perfect for you! You can type in a text or a topic and one or more customizable Bible studies will show. The studies will include some exposition as well as a full teaching plan. Some of the studies even have video. This is not a “push play” shallow type bible study, but is a full study by a trusted resource that can take small groups to a new level of customization. It’s also perfect for churches that want to do a church-wide campaign on a particular  topic or text. There’s a free trial with it and the cost is very inexpensive on a monthly basis. www.smallgroup.com

Hope this is helpful. Again, if you live in the Midwest and want me to help consult with you on developing A discipleship strategy for your church, just let me know. I’m here to serve the church in her mission of making disciples!

Fran

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3 Principles Learned from Nehemiah Today

I love the book of Nehemiah, not just for the leadership applications, but also for the chance to see how transforming God is in almost impossible situations.

During one of my devotions, I came across Nehemiah chapters 9 and 10 and saw some really spectacular things. In it, the people of God had been convicted about the fact that they had not walked according to the Word of God. They repented, and in so doing they emphatically proclaimed a change of heart:

“Those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all foreigners, and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. While they stood in their places, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day and spent another fourth of the day in confession and worship of the Lord their God” (Neh 9:2-3).

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Basically put, their repentance was passionate, persistent, and on point. So what did Nehemiah have them do next? He made them write it down. They solidified their heart with their head and hands here. Here are some of the things that they agreed to:

  • Not to marry outside of Israel.
  • Not to do business on the Sabbath, even with outsiders.
  • Support the Levites.
  • Support the Temple sacrifices.
  • Give to the work of the Lord.

This is some amazing steps! Of course, we know that the people miss the mark on keeping their obligations, and some eventually get to the point of avid legalism. However, this is without a doubt a turning point for Israel.

So what can we learn from this? I see three things that we don’t want to miss:

  1. In God, your past has passed. While there is often the temptation to dwell in the past and stay focused on the sins which entangled you, the truth is that God is a forgiving, compassionate God. When you truly come to repentance, He has promised to forgive and cleanse, and never to leave nor forsake you.
  2. In God, your present can be a time of worship. Every moment with God is a moment that you can spend in worship to Him. Your new life in Him needs to start and end with an intimacy because of who He is as the amazing, wonderful Savior. Don’t forget that He is with you, even now.
  3. In God, your future is written. He has always known your tendencies, your motives, and your heart. God is the God of second chances, and He is the God who has planned your future. Be in prayer to see how He has impressed your heart, follow His leading, and enjoy a life in Him.

Israel spent generation after generation in disobedience to God’s commands and call to holiness. Yet, when they came to Him, He forgave and healed. It doesn’t matter how long you have rebelled and how bad it was, He can forgive you too! Take some time to seek Him as you commit to live a new life in Christ!

Fran

What God Loves…

I’ve been in ministry for over 23 years now, and I can say that I have never been more encouraged to see God’s work than ever before. I have seen first hand several churches explode in worship attendance, in their disciple-making, and in ministry to the world around them. And there is a clear pattern: regardless of style, flavor, or culture, the churches which have a high view of the Word, challenge one another to holiness, and focus on discipling others in the Word are the ones that are healthy, stable, and growing. It’s amazing that I see very few exceptions to this rule. Yet these thriving churches exist all around as the light of Christ to the Midwest. This is so encouraging because it is clearly what God loves!

Of course, I also see the opposite, and yes, when I see this, I do grieve. Obviously, God doesn’t want unhealthy and declining churches. And unfortunately, just like I see a pattern in healthy, growing churches, I also see a pattern for unhealthy ones. In these churches, there are misguided people who focus not on the Word but on procedures, legalism, and even politicking. They place unceasing attention to the crisis of the day. They draw attention to the negatives and create divisions. They stir up trouble in the shadows of the hallways. And disciple making is reduced to an afterthought. The Gospel is secondary. The Word becomes a manipulative tool to attack others versus a revelation from God to live by.

And as we see in this text from Proverbs, God despises this practice:

“The Lord hates six things; in fact, seven are detestable to him: arrogant eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked schemes, feet eager to run to evil, a lying witness who gives false testimony, and one who stirs up trouble among brothers.” Proverbs 6:16‭-‬19 CSB

These are tough words,yet this is a truth we need to be sober about: God doesn’t want discord or strife from within. He doesn’t want His Bride disgraced, destroyed, and disgusted. He doesn’t want the Family of God to be distracted, from the Great Commission and the work of making disciples. He doesn’t want hateful strife and stressful hate. He wants none of that. For those in the church that practice this, it’s kind of hard to differentiate them from those outside the church. And this certainly grieves God the Holy Spirit as it should grieve His godly saints. And if it isn’t grieving you right now, then, well then that’s just messed up. Sorry, but that’s true.

The good news is that there’s always a better way, a much better way. That way is a way of grace, truth, and love. Since the Bride of Christ is not to be a place that is focused on power, a focus should be on Christ, because, after all, power should be completely in the hands of the Lord who we worship.

And we as members of one another should do what is opposite of our fleshly inclination: a practice of full and complete submission in love. This means to follow the biblical pattern to lift up one another, to love one another, to believe the best in one another, and to build up one another. That is a way of grace. That is the way of Christ.

Want to see others come to Christ, grow in Christ, serve Christ, and share Christ in a way like never before? Then repent, get out of His way, submit to His leading, live for Him and help others to do the same as an act of worship. Love, and love some more. And then love again. Yes, even those who are hard to love. No ands, ifs, or buts.

Because that, my friend, is what God loves.

Fran

The God of the Possible

The fruit and potential of the land was amazing:

When they came to the Valley of Eshcol, they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes, which was carried on a pole by two men. They also took some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Valley of Eshcol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut there.” Numbers 13:23‭-‬24 CSB

Now think about it: The vine of grapes was so big, two men had to carry it! The land was beautiful, rich, and flowing. The Lord had promised it, and He came through big! All they had to do was follow God and do His will. No enemy, no inhabitant would stop God’s will for His people. They simply had to take a step. A step of faith.

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But they didn’t. They forgot the God of the possible, and instead created a god of the impossible. They ignored His miraculous work of the past and looked at the obstacles before them. But seeking to save themselves, they lost it all. They made a horrible, deadly choice and in a business meeting, individual by individual voted a resounding, faithless “no.”

Their “no” would change some of them forever. All if that generation would never see the promises of God fulfilled. Death would follow them when they could have had life and loss abounded when they could have seen gain. Most of all, the chance for God to be glorified by all Israel would be delayed for 40 years.

Have you been voting “no” to God’s work in your life? Has God challenged you to step out in faith? A year ago, I did something that made no sense to people (still doesn’t) and God has amazed me as I have seen Him working in many places I visit. He gets the glory!

And so, let me encourage you to do the same, to walk by faith, to fear nothing, to step out…and let God get the glory!

Fran

Worship starts with Obedience

Then Samuel said: Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord ? Look: to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay attention is better than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22 CSB

Saul fell into a trap. He wanted to pick and choose when he could obey God, mostly based on what was most convenient for him. But Samuel would have none of that. No sacrifice or external accolades could ever cover over the sin of disobedience. Nope, you might be able to fool people, but you can never fool God.

Samuel’s response is a key passage of scripture. God is not mocked, and He does not want false, fake worship and hypocrisy. He does not want our praise, especially public praise, if we are not obedient to Him.

He wants obedience, not sacrifice.

Partial obedience is 100% disobedience. Before you worship, be sure to examine yourself, seeking God in every area of your life.

God delights in this sort of self examination, and a humble heart for Him will result in a deeper, more intimate worship than you have ever experienced before!

Fran

Pastor, Are You Chasing the Wind?

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind…” Ecclesiastes 2:11 NIV

I get to travel quite a bit to talk with church leaders across the Upper Midwest. I’ve spent time in all sizes of churches, from the smallest of urban or rural churches to the upscale megachurch with multiple sites and services. Although there’s been some great research done on growing churches, I can tell you for my own observation that there’s a difference between leaders who are growing on a foundation of Christ and those who are just “chasing the wind” through their own efforts. In fact, I have seen a few commonalities in healthy, growing churches regardless of the context or size. Let me give you a quick list with no order of importance:
  1. A commitment to expository preaching. I’ve seen some really good expository preaching in which the pastor will take a passage and allow the structure of the passage to be the basis of the message. He takes time to explain the passage and the context, both at the time that it was written and the application for today. This is sorely needed in our culture today.
  2. A clear path for discipleship. I am amazed at how many church leaders have no real idea on how to disciple believers on an ongoing, systematic basis. The healthy churches that I have seen know exactly how to take a new believer in Christ through a process of growth to become more like Jesus. Find a process and work it.
  3. An authentic love. One of my favorite pastors does not buy into the CEO mentality as he ministers to his congregation. He spends time with his people, he fervently prays for them, and he also takes time to study so that he can pour into them in his pulpit ministry. He has boundaries, but his people know that he loves them. By the way, he ministers to about 1,500 people in his congregation each week.
  4. A priority on missions and evangelism. Church members focused on going and telling usually don’t major on the minors in the inner workings of the church. They know that their leaders are Godly, praying, loving men of the word and they trust them. They are much less likely to micromanage day-to-day affairs in the church. They also see their leaders right next to them as they do some of the grunt work, as they go out on mission trips and as they share the gospel.

That’s what I’ve noticed. Note that I never talked about hype, worship style, or any “cool factors” related to ministry. That’s because these are secondary issues that usually don’t matter over the long run. In other words, I’ve seen healthy, growing traditional churches in the middle of a cornfield as well as healthy, growing, super contemporary, polished churches in a suburb. The point is that the church will change the method but not at a price.

And this brings me to the possibly convicting news. I’ve noticed plenty of unhealthy disasters where the leadership has tried to “chase the hype,” even going as far as compromising the message (intentionally or not) in order to somehow try to stay relevant with the culture. This includes turning to shallow material that a member can pop into their living room like a Netflix movie and call it discipleship. Or making major cultural changes in the church arbitrarily and without communication. Or discarding the basic foundations of teaching for children and replacing it with moralistic, hypercool content with a verse of scripture slapped on it) that focuses on fun instead of the Gospel. Fun is, well, fun, but let’s not abandon the treasure of the Gospel just to entertain people.

My message to you: stop chasing the hype. You’re not going to grow disciples by trying to be cool. Look at what you’re doing and allowing to be taught by word and by deed. Spiritual growth is a slow, steady, ongoing and patient process, so take your time with others just as God worked in you to make you more like Jesus. Yes, you can have content to help you in the process of growing disciples while still being relevant to the culture of your community. Yes, you can do some awesome and creative things outside of the box to reach people where they are. But don’t forget the fundamentals, okay? Remember, when the leadership is focused on the word, discipleship, love, and missions, God will use His Spirit to produce a great deal of fruit.

Otherwise, you’re chasing after the wind.

Fran

Your Struggle Is Worth It

Are you having a tough time as of late? Join the club! Scripture is pretty clear that we have to struggle in life. And it doesn’t help when someone says something like, “Oh, God is trying to teach you something!” It’s almost like, “God, please teach me less then!” I get it, life can hurt and hurt a whole lot on this side of glory.

But let’s look at the benefits of the struggle. Like a butterfly flapping rapidly to pump blood into its new but shriveled wings once it exits the cocoon, growth can be tough, tiring, and even terrifying. Yet good things can come of it! Even more, when we are in God’s Word and applying God’s Word to our lives, allaof a sudden, our struggles make a bit more sense. It’s a process that God the Holy Spirit uses: We struggle, we pray, we read, we apply, we repent, we worship, we grow.

Here’s another example, the growth of Moses through the time line of the Scripture: Moses was a bumbling, stumbling fool, given to impulsiveness and stupidity which affected him for years. He killed a man and was forced to leave Egypt. He saw a burning bush and went up to see it (and was this a good idea?). When God first gave him the command to save His people, Moses balked and made excuses. But as he matured in the Lord, he went from being a man of “slow lips” (and needing Aaron to speak) to becoming a man who would speak out to Israel with his own God-empowered lips. It was a slow, steady growth in his discipleship, so much that when Aaron performed his own acts of stupidity, Moses was able to rebuke him, too.

And he was humble, so much that he was called the most humble man that ever was. This Moses, this proud, impulsive, even possibly arrogant Moses, became a man that God could use, a man who loved God’s people and rescued them from their enslavement. He struggled, yet God took him through it and did incredible things that glorified God and prepared the way for the Promised Land.

How about you? Are you struggling? I know it’s hard to hear, but God really might be teaching you something. He wants you to be wise in Him, to glorify His Son, and to serve Him to make His name known to all the earth. Get in His Word, worship Him in a community of believers, and let God work His will in you. ☺️

We struggle, we pray, we read, we apply, we repent, we worship, we grow.

Fran

The Gospel According to Jacob

This morning as I continued to read through scripture, I found a little gem in the midst of all of the goings-on between Joseph and his brothers. It is the blessings and curses that Jacob gave to his sons. This is more than a dying man’s words, these words are the words of life. Here’s what he said:

“The scepter will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet until he whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to him. He ties his donkey to a vine, and the colt of his donkey to the choice vine. He washes his clothes in wine and his robes in the blood of grapes” (Genesis 49:10‭-‬11 CSB).

These words are clearly a prediction of the Christ! Look at it again: the scepter will not depart from Jesus, there’s a prophecy of the donkey and the colt. Even more, we have the sacrifice of Christ as seen by the washing of his clothes in wine, language that suggests the coming atonement. What a blessing to see that this prediction would be fulfilled almost 2000 years later and still applies to us today!

What’s the point? We can remember that God is the same yesterday today and tomorrow. His promises of yesterday are true today, and they are true for your future.

This is the gospel according to Jacob, a gospel more fully revealed as we get closer to the cross. Most of all, however, this is the gospel of Jesus Christ that can change your life.

Thank you, Lord, for your wisdom in Your one big story of the Bible. ☺️

Pastor Fran

Family Reunions Are the Best

I got to see some of my family last night. Oh, we might not look the same. And, yes, we grew up in different households at different times, but we’re still related. It was great to see them.

My family has a deep and special bond. It’s a bond that only comes through the blood soaked nails of Christ. It’s a common unity in the suffering of the Savior. It’s a common participation in the sweet sacrifice of a God-Man, made 2,000 years ago. We love Him because He first loved us, and we love each other because of that relationship. We are family and His love compels us.

Family bonds should not be easily broken. We might move on, but that blood bond remains. We might forget or lose touch with some, but one day we’ll remember and be remembered again. We might be apart, but we are still united, some way, some how. We are family, after all, and He will give us a great reunion one day.

The love of Christ brings all ages, all ethnicities, all sinners together as one. Love, the love of Christ, lasts forever as we become a family in Him. And by the way, if you don’t know your family, you need to. It’s not that hard, you just have to be a little uncomfortable and put yourself out there. But I can tell you that it’s worth the risk. 🙂

Thank you, Lord, for a little family reunion, for the reminder, for the taste of heaven, for the glimpse of the Banquet of the Lamb. Thank you, Lord.

Pastor Fran

Lessons from Some Drunk People

I woke up this morning early. Way too early. Again. Ugh.

Laying in my hotel room, I was awakened by the sound of drunk partyers announcing their presence in the hallway. I can literally hear them stumble down the halls as they made their way to their rooms at 3 am. Slammed doors, loud cackles, shouts to one another multiple times. You get the picture. It was rough. And it was the second night in a row. Double Ugh! 

I’m not mentioning this just to complain, I have a point. As I was fully awake and got past my initial anger, I began to reflect a bit. I read my devotions, and God began to convict me: What made me think I was any different than them? I’m not.

I’m no different then that drunk group that just came in. I’m a sinful man just like the rest, a dying man who takes the gospel to dying men. I’m no better than those, and in many ways, I am much worse because I know the truth and ignore it sometimes, many times, too many times. Maybe more times than I care to admit.

For example, I’m blessed as I see so much of God’s work around me, yet I am so ungrateful. I have a great life, yet I am not appreciative of the abundance I receive. I sin frequently, blow it constantly, and miss the mark consistently, yet He still loves me and lifts me up. I need to be MUCH more thankful for the life and love that God has given me.

So thank you, anonymous drunk people, for waking me up. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t do it again, but thank you for the lesson learned. Sorry I got mad at you (even though you didn’t know it). And thank you, Spirit, for the application to my life.

Today, I am going to go through my day with a renewed joy and a sense of gratitude for my life in Christ. 🙂

Fran

Helping God's church make disciples

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