Monday, 20 February 2017

Can you disciple in a Crowd?

For some it is easy to draw a crowd, their gift as a teacher, speaker, or their charisma is simply enough, for others it’s the music they produce. Even the crowd draws a crowd. I understand the pull of a crowd, the excitement of a crowd, the feeling of being part of a bigger thing. But are we called to draw a crowd?

I wonder how we measure significant ministry? I know for me growing up in the “Church Growth” era, being a pastor, speaker, trainer and writer for 30 year, I have spent most of my time judging success and significance in ministry based on how many people are at a conference, how many children are at a camp, how many people are in the church, how many books are sold, how many resources are being used and by how many denominations, how many baptisms we had this year, how many new converts were added in a year. I have always tried to justify to myself, that when there’s a crowd, there’s more chance of influence and impact and drawing them to Christ? But more importantly, if there is not a crowd, a growing number of people, then I must be a failure in being a leader, pastor, speaker, trainer.  There are many great leaders and speakers in Christendom who will always draw a crowd, and God uses them in mighty ways, but they are not the majority. If we continue to measure our call on this earth by this measure ONLY, then it is a dangerous trap we can get into, and it takes us away from the real truth of God’s big story and our part in that. I continue to serve God in ministry, because I am constantly drawn to Jesus and the way He lived his life.

When Jesus walked this earth, He seemed to intentionally not draw a crowd. He often drew away from the crowd (Matt 8:18, Luke 5:16, Matt 14:22-23, Mk 6:45-46, John 6:14-15). He had compassion on the crowds (Matt 9:36) when they followed Him and spent time teaching them and healing them. But, 9/10ths of his time in ministry was with a small crowd, as he intentionally discipled them so that they might do the same. His last words to them were “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:20), just as I have done with you. And they did….

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they wondered, and they recognised that they had been 
with Jesus”
Acts 4:13

In fact when I think about the most significant things that Jesus did in His ministry, He was with a small group of people. A small group of people were at His birth, His baptism, the last supper, the garden of gethsemane, His death on a cross, His resurrection, accent to heaven.  I often think of  Jesus dying on the cross for the world and a few faithful people are with him, in this, His most significant time.  It doesn't mean there is anything wrong with the crowd, but it was the small few that he discipled who he chose to make an impact on the world, not the crowds. The “crowds” were the ones who crucified Him.

C.S. Lewis stated it this way:
The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christ's  If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons… are simply a waste of time.

George Barna says:
“Jesus never commanded us to plant churches. In fact, He didn't tell us to get converts, either. He told us to make disciples, and then HE would build His Church”(1)

L.Elms says: 
“Disciples cannot be mass produced. We cannot drop people into a program and see disciples emerge at the end of a production line. It takes time to make disciples. It takes individual attention”(2)

Reggie Joiner says:
“We want them to a have a really BIG faith- an authentic faith. And the only way you can cultivate authentic faith is through leading small”(3)

So, I ask, Can you disciple in a crowd?  If we are called to “make disciples”, then what does that look like? I believe Jesus modelled it well and often He had to draw away from the crowd so He could disciple. 

We are called to be disciple makers. To create environments where these qualities, the ones I see in Jesus when he discipled his 12 followers, are focused on: 

Quality Time – hours and hours and hours of walks, eating, eg. road trips, adventures.
Deep Relationships safe places where we laugh and cry, listen, address conflict, forgiveness, praying and are truly honest.
Life Experience – doing life with people who have been there before, where trust has been built over time with all different ages groups sharing
Shared Mission – doing something together, all using the gifts, seeing the failures and the successes.
Living Inspiration - Wise Guidance – knowing and trusting someone’s word and counsel because you see them living it out in the everyday.
Honest Accountability – where you are not alone on this journey and people will hold each other accountable. 
Sharpening Knowledge –where everything we do and hear and see becomes a chance to learn and grow. The world is our classroom as we roam this life together.

It takes more than drawing a crowd to do this and we must draw away from the crowds to do this more than we look to draw a crowd. This is an encouragement for many of us who can’t draw a crowd anyway. To walk with a few intentionally and authentically is all we called to do. This is a bigger challenge for those who can draw a crowd. Luke 12:48 says , “Of those who have been given much, much will be demanded.”  Either way, Jesus, who could draw a crowd, chose to work with the few. What are you called to do?

1.Tony & Felicity Dale , George Barna, pg 157, “Small is big”
2. L.Elms, The lost art of disciple making
3. Reggie Joiner, “Lead small”, pg 15

Monday, 6 February 2017

Taking Young People Seriously

At a time where Integrity in leadership is being questioned all over the world, I spent 3 days with 21 young people who gave me hope in our future leaders.

Recently we ran a “Spiritual Retreat” called VERGE, for young people aged 12-14 years old. (6th -7th Grade).  21 young people applied, knowing it was all about looking deeply at who they are in God, learning about their strengths and challenging them to think outside themselves and serve others.  Can I add, 17 of them were boys and fine young men they all were. For so long, I have heard that they are just too young. Well, I refuse to listen anymore.

The retreat was set up with the express view that it was not just a one off. Each young person was connected with a mentor at the retreat, who was aged between 18-30 years old and who had made a commitment to connect with them a minimum of 3 times throughout the year. The leadership team running the event were in the 30+ bracket. So, three generations spent an intense three days, listening, laughing, learning, stretching ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually to see what God had to say to us all. 

The depth of these young people and their desire to know more about God, themselves and others was astounding. There were times where they had to be silent, times where they had to be honest, times where they had to be other-centred, times where that had to be self-reflective. I often sat back and was amazed at the richness of these young people and was excited to think that if this is an indication of the leadership and integrity of this generation, we are in very good hands. 

I was serious about leading this retreat, but I didn't expect the young people to be so serious. There were times when I couldn't stop them from praying together. The spaces for learning were so engaging. The creative sessions just went on and on. They were really hungry for it all. 

We have all made a 2 year commitment, as we look forward to retreating again together this year. We will then invite them to continue on for another 2 years in a further retreat called “Deeper.” 

There is a strong partnership with the parents. We met with them at the beginning for a couple of hours and the end of the retreat to share what we had been doing.  We talked about how we can all partner together to walk with these young people, helping them to stay on the journey at a time when statistics show they are leaving the Church. 

We created an APP so we all connect regularly. The young people with mentors, mentors with team, mentors with parents …it is wonderful. 

When we asked the young people what was the best thing about VERGE they said:
1. Getting Closer to God
2. The Worship
3. Spending time with mentors 

4. The Silence Walk
5. Conquering fears 
6. Making new friends
7. The smaller amount of people 

It only takes the willingness to create an environment where young people are taken seriously and allow them to connect with their Father in heaven and the faith community here on earth. I know it will not catch everyone, as there are too many young people leaving the church every year, but surely we are called to simply try. Generations intentionally walking together, faith communities walking with families, young people being empowered to know that their Father in heaven wants to connect with them and that they are never alone in this journey. A chance to give them a bigger story than what the media and our world leaders are giving, or at least some stability to navigate the road ahead.

I want to be a part of that …don't you?