The Great Commission is NOT these 4 Things

The closing of Matthew’s gospel is not just a tidy end to his book; these last few verses are the marching orders for the church:

The eleven disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted. Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:16-20).

Here is one of those passages that, if we ever wonder what God’s will is for our lives, we can come back to again and again, for here is the answer. What does God want me to do? He wants me to go and make disciples. Just like He said. So I wonder today, in this post, you would think with me not just about what these parting words of Jesus say, but also what they do NOT say. In that spirit, here are four things the Great Commission is NOT:

1. Negotiable.

The lasting command Jesus gave to the church is couched in His authority. Before He said to go, before He said to make disciples, Jesus wanted everyone to know the position from which He was speaking. This is not a life hack; it’s not some good advice; it’s not a request. This is a command, one rooted in the authority of Jesus.

Here we see the Son of God, the King of the Universe, the One through whom and in whom all things hang together. He has died and risen from the grave as the Conqueror of sin and death. And is taking His rightful place at the right hand of God the Father. From that position of authority, indeed all authority in heaven and on earth, He issues this command. Because of His authority, Jesus’ commission is not negotiable for any of us.

We should beware, then, of all the ways we tend to try and negotiate with Jesus. We hold up our circumstances, our supposed limitations, our special instances, but they are of no consequence. That doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t care about them; it does mean, though, that they do not excuse us from this command.

2. Restrictive.

This is a very inclusive command. Jesus began His command with a non-restrictive description of His authority with the word “all.” With His “all” authority, we are to go to “all” nations. And when we go to “all” nations, we are to teach people to obey “everything.” There is nothing left out here; nothing pushed to the side. And here, too, we should be careful that we don’t either intentionally or unintentionally restrict that which is meant to be loosed.

We should be careful that we don’t restrict the “who” of the Great Commission. Like Jonah, there are certain groups of people that are uncomfortable for us to speak to. There are all kinds of reasons for that – maybe it’s our past experience, perhaps it’s our upbringing, or maybe it’s the state of current events. But if we are Christians, then the Great Commission calls us to confront our political, racial, and socio-economic biases. It’s an inclusive command for us to cross the lines we’ve drawn in our hearts.

But we should also be careful that we don’t restrict the “what” of the Great Commission. It’s not lost on Jesus that some of His teaching is hard to stomach. He saw it happen when He taught Himself – every time He stepped up to a crowd it was always thinner when He got done as people were confronted with the full implications of following Him. Ironically, we might talk ourselves into restricting some of the teachings of Jesus to try and make Jesus more palatable to those around us. But Jesus doesn’t need our help with that; He’s not asking for our help – in fact, He’s not asking at all. He’s commanding our faithfulness.

3. Complicated.

The Great Commission is not negotiable; it’s not restrictive; it’s also just not that complicated. We are to go. We are to share. And we are to bring others along the road of following Jesus. That’s it. And when you look at it like that, it’s really not that complicated. One might wonder, then, why we tend to make it so.

If we think about other parts of life that we tend to overcomplicate we might come up with a reason or two. For me, I know one of the reasons I tend to overcomplicate something is out of sheer procrastination. I know something needs to be done and I feel either unprepared or unexcited about doing it. So complicating an issue like that is a neat way around actually getting busy – it’s because the more I talk around something, the longer I don’t have to actually do it. And as an added bonus, it actually looks like I’m doing the very thing I’m subconsciously avoiding.

4. Easy.

But it’s at this point that we should recognize the difference between simple, and easy. Just because something is simple, doesn’t mean it doesn’t take effort. And cost. And pain of one sort or another. That’s true in obeying Jesus’ instructions. More times than not, they’re actually pretty simple. But there is difficulty in their simplicity.

It will cost us to obey Jesus’ commission. We will have to go, and if we have to go, then we will have to leave. And we will have to make disciples, and if we are making disciples, it will mean we have to give up some other things in our lives we are spending time and resources on. Make no mistake – living out Jesus’ Great Commission requires a drastic reordering of our lives. That’s not easy, but Jesus’ promises us it’s worth it.

These words of Jesus? They’re not negotiable, restrictive, complicated or easy – but they are the words of the One with all authority. So we must ask ourselves when confronted again by this familiar passage – are we following Jesus, or aren’t we?

> Read more from Michael Kelley.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Kelley

I’m a Christ-follower, husband, dad, author and speaker. Thanks for stopping here to dialogue with me about what it means to live deeply in all the arenas of life. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife Jana who is living proof of the theory that males are far more likely to marry over their heads than females are. We have three great kids, Joshua (5) and Andi (3), and Christian (less than 1). They remind me on a daily basis how much I have to grow in being both a father and a child. I work full time for Lifeway Christian Resources, where I’m a Bible study editor. I also get out on the road some to speak in different churches, conferences and retreats.

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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Three Places to Uncover Values in Your Culture

While serving alongside the Auxano team, I learned the important distinction between vision, mission, strategy, and values. Well-intentioned leaders can confuse those and mix and match them in a way that actually harms clarity.

  • Mission is the what. Your mission is what your organization or ministry is on the planet to do.
  • Strategy is the how. Your strategy is how you accomplish the mission.
  • Vision is what you are pursuing now – the major goals in front of your team that are in alignment with your mission.
  • And your values impact everything you do because your values form the culture of your ministry organization.

Because it is the shared values and beliefs that form the culture, it is critically important for leaders to understand the values beneath the surface. Wise leaders don’t declare values; they uncover the values that are already there. In your organization, you can learn the values that are beneath the surface by looking in a few places. Doing so will help you understand the culture, and understanding the culture is more important than understanding the strategy because strategy is much more flexible than culture. So where do you look? To uncover the values in your culture, look in these three places:

1. The Heroes and Stories

The leaders in the culture that are spoken of as the epitome of the ministry or organization are good examples of the values on display. Listen to the stories that describe the heroes in the culture and you can learn what is valued. As I interviewed and onboarded into my new role at Mariners Church, I heard numerous stories of God’s people at Mariners serving the poor and marginalized in our community and around the world. The stories are beautiful and amazing. By listening, you can learn a lot about what is valued.

2. The Celebrations

Plato famously declared, “What is celebrated in a country is cultivated.” The same is true in any ministry or organization. Whatever has been celebrated has formed the culture. If a ministry celebrates tangible impact in a local community, you know local engagement is in the culture. If a ministry celebrates volunteers who are equipped for ministry, you know that leadership development is in the culture. If you pay attention to what is celebrated you will you learn what is valued. If you want to add a value to a culture, you will need to find ways to celebrate and cultivate that value. You won’t be able to merely speak a value into existence. You may be the leader, but you are not God.

3. The Language

As the new senior pastor of Mariners, I knew one of my first tasks was to understand the culture beneath the surface at Mariners. Thankfully there was language and history for me to study.

I have been fortunate and blessed to follow an exceptional leader in Kenton Beshore. He has, infused the church with values that have created the culture. When he became the senior pastor 35 years ago, he brought the church a list of five values to the church:

  • We teach God’s Word.
  • Be God’s loving family.
  • Every believer is a minister with a ministry.
  • Be innovative in our ministry and relevant in our community.
  • Be contagious in sharing Jesus Christ

Those values have been crystalized over time. I am leading our team through those values again. We are spending one staff meeting a month, with our whole team, walking through the importance and the implications of each value. It is helping me learn the culture, and I hope and pray it is helping us all renew our commitment to and unify around values that have formed the church we are honored to serve.

I love strategy. I have a tendency to go there first. Strategy is important, but culture is more so. Peter Drucker wisely quipped that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” My friend Will Mancini has provided helpful tools, such as this one, to help leaders articulate values through demonstration of those values.

If you are a ministry leader who would like some strategic outside eyes to help you and your team uncover your unique identity, not only your values but also your mission and your strategy, I highly recommend Auxano. I have learned a great deal from the team and believe wholeheartedly they would serve you and your team well. To reach out to the team, click here.

> Read more from Eric.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger is the Senior Pastor of Mariners Church in Irvine, California. Before moving to Southern California, Eric served as senior vice-president for LifeWay Christian. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. Eric has authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, taking his daughters to the beach, and playing basketball.

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Clarity Process

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Don’t Settle for a “Lesser Than” Vision

I was talking to our church staff recently about a counterintuitive idea. At least, it’s counterintuitive to many: the higher the standards, the stronger the team.

Why is that counterintuitive? Because we tend to think that raising our standards will thin the ranks and weaken what we have. We feel the need to accommodate people, not challenge them.

So here we are, attempting to cast the vision for Christ’s mission in our deeply fallen world, to live lives individually and collectively that serve the least and reach the lost, to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight…

… and what do we do?

We lower the bar on all things related to the cause of Christ and, as a result, we train people to minimize the significance of it or blow it off entirely.

Consider the following comparison:

A youth soccer team coach tells a parent that if their child misses practice before a game, they won’t play that week. Period. And if their child misses more than three practices, they are off the team.

The effect on the parent?

They move heaven and earth to never miss a practice.

Let’s say that same parent is a volunteer with their church’s children’s ministry. They consistently arrive late, cancel at the last minute or, if they do show up, are unprepared.

The response of the children’s ministry leader?

There often isn’t one. The idea is that every volunteer is doing them a favor by even feigning to serve.

The effect on the parent?

They continue to treat volunteering as unimportant and inconsequential.

Here’s our fear: if we raise our standards and enforce them, we will lose people. And, no doubt, that is true. But did you really ever “have” them to begin with? No. You will lose the ones who were already demonstrating a lack of commitment. But the people you do “have” who are open to the challenge will begin to take the cause of Christ more seriously. And they should. The church is the hope of the world; youth soccer is not. Yet we treat soccer like it is and the church like recreation.

That must change.

We must remember that there is no greater cause than the cause of Christ. We must cast the vision of that reality to those we lead. We must hold them, and ourselves, to the highest standards of commitment and excellence.

Which means the goal cannot be to accommodate,

… but to disciple.

> Read more from James Emery White.


 

Connect with an Auxano Navigator to learn how to not “settle” for a lesser vision.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Lessons in Leadership from the U.S. Military: Paint a Bold, Inspiring Vision for the Future

Following the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. military accelerated the ongoing and gradual process of searching for the best people available to lead – regardless of sex. As a result, female career military officers began to advance into very visible leadership roles: the first female combat pilot in the U.S. Navy, the first female in U.S. history to command in combat at the strategic level, and the first woman in U.S. military history to assume the rank of a four-star general.

They didn’t want to be “female leaders”—they just wanted to lead.

These women were wives, daughters, mothers and sisters. But they were also military leaders, warriors, academics and mentors in their own right.

As the military has evolved to develop an appreciation for the potential of women to serve in the most challenging of positions, it is also time for the American public to see these women for what they bring to the fight: brains, strength and courage.

They are leaders.

No one does leader development better than the military. Behind winning our nation’s wars, its primary purpose is to develop leaders. This happens through organized leader development programs, like institutional schooling and courses, but mostly through personal interaction and example. It’s the unit-level leaders out there who are making the critical impact in our armed forces.

Falling between Armed Forces Day (the third Saturday in May) and Memorial Day (the last Monday in May), this SUMS Remix honors three female leaders who demonstrated principles of leadership development that all leaders will find helpful in leading their own organizations.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Fearless Leadership by Carey D. Lohrenz

An F-14 fighter pilot’s top lessons for leading fearlessly–and bringing a team to peak performance

As an aviation pioneer, Carey D. Lohrenz learned what fearless leadership means in some of the most demanding and extreme environments imaginable: the cockpit of an F-14 and the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. Here, her teams had to perform at their peak–or lives were on the line. Faltering leadership was simply unacceptable. Through these experiences, Lohrenz identified a fundamental truth: high-performing teams require fearless leaders.

Since leaving the Navy, she’s translated that lesson into a new field, helping top business leaders, from Fortune 500 executives to middle managers, supercharge performance in today’s competitive business environments.

In Fearless Leadership, Lohrenz walks you through the three fundamentals of real fearlessness–courage, tenacity, and integrity–and then reveals fearless leadership in action, offering advice on how to set a bold vision, bring the team together, execute effectively, and stay resilient through hard times.

Whether you’re stepping into your first leadership role or looking to get out of a longstanding rut, Fearless Leadership will act like your afterburner–rocketing you to ever-higher levels of performance.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

The primary work of nourishing people with vision is discovering and communicating that unique identity as a church. Many leaders photocopy a vision from a conference or book and then wonder why more people don’t flock to the to that vision. Do your people really want a vision based on another church’s values?

Never forget that God is always doing something cosmically significant and locally specific in your church.

A nourishing vision requires five courses. As you deliver the five-part meal, you’re really addressing the irreducible question of clarity people need. If you have not thought through all five aspects of your church’s vision, people won’t be able to really access it.

The five questions play out as follows: At our church…

  • What are we ultimately supposed to be doing?
  • Why do we do it?
  • How do we do it?
  • When are we successful?
  • Where is God taking us?

If you asked these clarity questions to the top 40 leaders in your church, what would they say? If they don’t have a clear, concise and compelling answer that’s the same answer, it’s time to go to work.

A fearless leader begins the work of leadership with a bold vision.

The vision you create and hand down to your people is going to be the cornerstone of your team’s success. It all starts with a clear concept, a view of where you want to go. If your vision is limited, your potential and possibilities are, too.

The very essence of leadership is the ability to create a picture of success and bring people toward it. Your vision gives the team a universal understanding of who you are, as both an individual and a leader within the organization; who they are as members of the team; and where the group is headed. It’s a chart to our destination, providing a steady compass to orient your team. And when the sea gets rough, the vision allows you to navigate the challenges and come out ahead.

If you don’t have the courage to set the vision, the tenacity to keep after it, and the integrity to pursue it authentically, your team is going to be dead in the water.

Clear vision is not just wishful thinking. It’s more than simply imagining what you hope the future will be. It’s an incredible tool that catalyzes your team, gives it purpose and focus, sustains it in challenging times, and helps it perform at the highest level. You and your team have to see yourself accomplishing that dream without losing your way or getting distracted. The right vision can make that possible.

Carey D. Lohrenz, Fearless Leadership

A NEXT STEP

Set aside time to reflect and answer the following questions. Circle “Yes” or “No” – don’t dwell on the question, but answer it without too much thought.

Dreaming and Achieving Pop Quiz

  1. When people talk about the future of our church, is there an immediate sense of enthusiasm? Yes / No
  2. Have we named a shared dream within a five-year timeframe? Yes / No
  3. Do our volunteer leaders regularly pray for some specific yet epic impact that our church will make in our city or community? Yes / No
  4. Do most of our leaders naturally talk about “the big picture” of the church before they talk about their ministry area? Yes / No
  5. Do we have several days already calendared in the next year to review and reset a visionary plan? Yes / No
  6. Has our team boiled down the single-most important priority for our ministry in the next 12 months? Yes / No
  7. Are we totally confident that our team is taking action and reviewing ministry progress each week? Yes / No
  8. In the last five years, did we have a church-wide, disciple-making goal that was not related to money? Yes / No
  9. Has our team written down what our ministry will preferably look like three years from now? Yes / No
  10. Has our senior pastor spent as much time on preparing a visionary plan as he/she has spent on preparing the last four sermons? Yes / No

After you have completed the above questions, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How many “no’s” did we circle collectively?
  2. What was the easiest “no” to circle?
  3. What was the easiest “yes” to circle?
  4. What was the most frustrating “no” to circle?
  5. Are you excited about taking some time as a team to work on our church’s big dream? Why or why not?
  6. Is there any reason why we shouldn’t be able to answer “yes” to these questions after a few months of work?

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 93, released May 2018.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

VRcurator

VRcurator

Bob Adams is Auxano's Vision Room Curator. His background includes over 23 years as an associate/executive pastor as well as 8 years as the Lead Consultant for a church design build company. He joined Auxano in 2012.

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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Busting Myths of Church Vision

Vision isn’t a moment on a Sunday – Vision is a movement happening everyday.

Vision isn’t a one-time event – Vision is an ongoing eventuality.

Vision isn’t a statement on a wall – Vision is a state of mind led by a call.

Vision isn’t a leader’s style – Vision is the substance of all leadership.

Vision isn’t a featured project to reveal – Vision is a future projection in which to revel.

Vision isn’t a upcoming program to launch – Vision is an ongoing picture to paint.

Vision isn’t a building for a church’s function – Vision is a framework for God’s future.

Vision isn’t a crystal-ball prognostication – Vision is a bent-knee revelation.

Vision isn’t a good idea for that one-day – Vision is God’s idea for your every-day.

Vision isn’t a realm for envied conference speaking preachers – Vision is the reality for every congregation serving pastor.

Vision isn’t a contemplative mountaintop excursion – Vision is a collaborative group discovery.

Read more from Bryan.


Want to learn more about clarifying vision for your church? Connect with an Auxano Navigator and start a conversation with our team.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan Rose

As Lead Navigator for Auxano, Bryan Rose has a strong bias toward merging strategy and creativity within the vision of the local church and has had a diversity of experience in just about every ministry discipline over the last 12 years. With his experience as a multi-site strategist and campus pastor at a 3500 member multi-campus church in the Houston Metro area, Bryan has a passion to see “launch clarity” define the unique Great Commission call of developing church plants and campus, while at the same time serving established churches as they seek to clarify their individual ministry calling. Bryan has demonstrated achievement as a strategic thinker with a unique ability to infuse creativity into the visioning process while bringing a group of people to a deep sense of personal ownership and passion.

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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

5 Ways to Grow Mission-Hearted Leaders

Every leader needs a compass in their head. The mission answers “Question Zero”: “What are we ultimately supposed to be doing?” It makes the overall direction of the church unquestionable and points everyone in that direction. The mission is a golden thread that weaves through every activity of the church. It brings greater meaning to the most menial functions of ministry.

It’s true that every church has a General Calling to glorify God and make disciples. Every church that has ever been, or will ever be, has that same universal calling. But each church also has a Specific Calling. God has called your church to do things that no church before you or after you can do. There are good works prepared in advance just for you, and your mission should reflect that! (For example, take a look at the different mission statements of these 10 churches in Dallas, Texas, all within 30 minutes of each other. Each has a General Calling, but it’s fascinating to see how their uniqueness is stamped into their mission.)

As you can imagine, the leadership team of a church is critical to the activation of the unique mission of the church. But as Dallas Willard says, “Familiarity can breed unfamiliarity.” Things that once stoked the fires of our heart can grow colder as we spend more and more time around it. In short…we just get used to it and the thing that made it once seem extraordinary, now seem ordinary.

Even if your church has a profound missional mandate and a mission statement that’s more sticky and viral than any Nike campaign, the sharpness of it can dull over time for your church leadership team. It is essential that we are constantly letting the calling of our church reach deep into our heart and shape what we do. (If this idea of a mission and vision shaped church really piques your imagination, check out this free download from my friend Will Mancini, who’s done a Visual Summary of his book Church Unique.)


Here are five ways you can grow your team’s heart for your mission, using five different kinds of spiritual practices:

1. Pray together.

We all know that the mission of the church is inherently spiritual, but it’s easy to let the spiritual fire die down. If there’s anything that can engage us with this spiritual task, it’s connecting our heart to the heart of the Father for the mission. In the same way that Paul says that sometimes we don’t fully know how to pray but the “Spirit helps us in our weakness,” so too will praying as a team into the mission ignite the flame again.

2. Read stories from the Word of God.

Find fresh stories in the Bible that connect to the specific calling of your church. Who are the main characters? Why do they connect on an emotional and visceral level? How do these stories connect to the essence of who God has shaped your church to be?

3. Guard the deposit.

Paul instructs Timothy to “guard the deposit entrusted to you.” In your church and in your leadership team, God has placed a very particular deposit through your spiritual gifts, redemption stories, “hand of God” experiences and leadership. Does your team know what those things are? Can they name them? Can they see how God has sovereignly brought those things together?

4. Identify five new stories.

As leaders, we often times we use the same stories to point to what the mission looks like when it’s realized (we see this happen often in the Bible). Maybe it’s a miracle that happened or transformation in someone’s life early on in the life of the church and it because a kind of story passed down from person to person. But what about the here and now? Have each staff person identify five stories in the life of the church in the last 12 months that signify what the mission of the church is about.

5. Fast together.

There are all sorts of reasons to fast, but growing the heart for mission in the spirit of your team is a great one. Whether it’s giving up food for 24 hours or social media for a week, set aside a dedicated amount of time for fasting (which includes you!) and each time they feel the desire for food or to check social media, pray that God’s mission would be accomplished in and through your church family.

As leaders, it’s easy to assume that what’s clear to us and what lights the fire for the Gospel in our heart burns the exact same way. Whether you use these five ideas or have others of your own, I greatly encourage you to continue to recast the mission of your church into the hearts of your best leaders.

If you would like some help with developing or clarifying your church’s mission, I highly recommend the team at Auxano. Over a period of a few months, a navigator can meet with your team to see great clarity in your mission.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger is the Senior Pastor of Mariners Church in Irvine, California. Before moving to Southern California, Eric served as senior vice-president for LifeWay Christian. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. Eric has authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, taking his daughters to the beach, and playing basketball.

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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Whose Vision Is it Anyway?

You hear ministry leaders talk all the time about what a church needs to grow. Some say it’s preaching. Some say you need a great location. Others suggest you need a vibrant ministry to children or youth.

All of those aspects are important for a healthy, growing church. But I don’t think they are what’s most important.

You start with leadership. Everything rises and falls on leadership. I see churches in great locations that struggle because of bad leadership. I see churches with great preaching struggle because of poor leadership. Leadership matters.

And leadership rests on vision.

Charisma doesn’t make a great leader. Vision does. In fact, communicating vision is your number one job as a leader. As a pastor, you need to continually clarify the vision of your church. It gets harder and harder (but more and more important) as you grow.

But where do you get vision that will propel your church forward?

You have to get vision from the Holy Spirit. God’s vision never wears out. His vision will never fail. His vision is better and grander than anything we can think up. And his vision is exactly what our churches need.

How does God communicate his vision to us? I’ve discovered through the years that God tends to share his vision with me in three stages.

1. God tells me what he’s going to do.

God starts by telling me what he wants to do through our ministry. The “what” always comes before the “how” and the “when.”

To figure out what God wants you to do, start with what God says in the Bible about what the church is supposed to do. Your church isn’t your church. It’s Jesus’ church. He founded the church, died for the church, sent his Spirit to guide the church, and someday will return for his church. He has already declared what the church is supposed to do. The purposes of the church are non-negotiable.

So start with the purposes of the church that God defines in the Bible. And then ask God to tell you how he wants to apply those purposes to your church.

2. God tells me how he’s going to do it.

Too often leaders skip this step. When God gives them a vision, they move on quickly to how they’re going to do it. They come up with their own strategy and their own plans. Then they fall on their face and come crawling back to him.

3. God tells me when he’ll complete it.

The longer I’m a Christian, the more I’m convinced that God’s timing is absolutely perfect. The week before Easter of 1980, during our final preview service at Saddleback before launching the next week, I shared what God had showed me about the church’s future.

In that message, I shared a dream of “at least 50 acres of land, on which will be built a regional church for Southern Orange County—with beautiful, yet simple, facilities . . . including a worship center seating thousands, a counseling and prayer center, classrooms for Bible studies and training lay ministers, and a recreation area. All of this will be designed to minister to the total person—spiritually, emotionally, physically, and socially—and set in a peaceful, inspiring garden landscape.”

But when I shared that vision, I had no idea how or when it would happen. I certainly had no idea it would take nearly 13 years before Saddleback had land of its own. In fact, we were the first church in America to grow to more than 10,000 in weekly attendance without a building of its own. That wasn’t my timing, but it was God’s.

Nearly all of the pastors I’ve known who lead healthy churches have gone through seasons of burnout when they’ve had to learn that their vision for the church was from the Holy Spirit, not their own ego. I came to that point at the end of my first year at Saddleback. My vision for the second year of this church was simple: Hang on. I was out of big dreams. I just wanted to keep going.

I had two particularly haunting doubts during that time. Saddleback was growing fast, and I didn’t believe I deserved it—and I didn’t think I could handle it.

The truth is, God had a few important lessons for me to learn. Out of that period, God told me, “You’re right. You don’t deserve it. But I use you by grace.” Grace is the fact that God knows everything I’m going to do in the ministry, every mistake I’m going to make, but he still uses me anyway. That’s good news.

Out of that experience came confidence rooted in the realization that everything God does at Saddleback is an act of grace. It’s not my responsibility to build the church. It’s my responsibility to be faithful. While I was out there in the desert, God said, “You build the people, and I’ll build the church.”

So whatever vision God gives you for your ministry, hold it loosely. For nearly 40 years, I’ve prayed over and over again, “God, if I’m getting in the way of this church, I’m willing to move.” The vision for Saddleback has never been mine. In the same way, the vision for your church belongs to God.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rick Warren

Rick Warren

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.

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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

10 Reasons You’ve Hit Your Ceiling

Every church goes through plateaus—times when your church simply doesn’t grow. It’s natural and normal, and they’re part of our story at Saddleback.

Our plateaus have looked different at times, but they’ve been there. In fact, a decade ago we were in the midst of one such five-year plateau. But then God did what only he can do. Today we’re going through a renewed period of growth.

In nearly 50 years of ministry, I’ve talked with thousands of pastors going through their own periods of plateau. I’ve studied the issue extensively. Here’s what I’ve learned.

1. Plateaus are natural.

Don’t get freaked out by them. Plateaus are just a state of little or no change. Everything stops growing at some point. It happens all of the time in nature. It shouldn’t surprise us when it happens in our churches. It will happen in our churches. You can count on it.

2. God created every organism to have a maximum limit on its growth.

Even redwood trees, which grow to 400 feet tall and live for 2,000 years, have a growth cap. Your church does, too. You can’t use it as an excuse, though. You don’t know what the limit for your church is.

I know a church of 150 in a town of 1,500. They’ve reached 10 percent of their community. Think about it. This church is actually doing a better job of reaching its community than many larger churches.

3. The younger and smaller you are, the faster your growth rate.

You can see this characteristic in human growth, too. We typically grow the fastest when we’re children. By our late teens, we’re done growing. When I started Saddleback, we had one member—my wife, Kay. By the end of the first year, we had around 150 people most weekends. That means we grew by 15,000 percent that first year! But a bigger church can’t do that. The bigger you are, the slower you grow.

4. The average church grows for 15 years, plateaus, and then eventually dies.

Not every church does this. Some churches have a longer growth span. Others have a shorter one. But on average, a church will stop growing at 15 years old—unless renewal comes. This is just an average, of course. It doesn’t mean every church will plateau at 15 years and then eventually die. And with renewal, a church will grow.

5. Plateaus can happen anytime.

You can plateau in year one of a church or year 40. You’ll typically plateau multiple times in your church’s history. I’ve studied thousands of churches and trained hundreds of thousands of pastors, and I’ve seen a few typical points in which churches stop growing.

Churches often plateau at 75 and 150 people. But the hardest to overcome is usually 300. If you can get past 300 people, you’ll likely have solved many of your most difficult problems. The larger your church gets, the easier it will get to break plateaus because you will have developed the skills needed through earlier growth and plateau cycles.

6. Some plateaus are uncontrollable.

You may be the greatest leader since Abraham Lincoln and still go through a plateau. You simply can’t control all of the factors that cause your church to stop growing. For instance, if you’re in a typical small town and a large factory closes and the members move away, that’s not your fault. You’re not a failure. It’s just a fact of life.

7. Plateaus can happen in one purpose while you’re growing in the other purposes.

If you’ve been reading Ministry Toolbox for a while, you know the five purposes of the church: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism. You can certainly grow in one of those areas as you’re plateauing in another. You could be bringing people in the front door but sending them out the back door. To be healthy, you need to do all of the purposes.

8. The longer a church is plateaued, the more energy it takes to get it growing again.

It’s a matter of momentum. It’s clearly easier to keep an active object moving than to get a static object to move. If your church hasn’t grown for the past six months, or a year, you’ll have challenges as you try to restart growth. If it has been five years, you’ll have a bigger challenge. If your church has been plateaued for 20 years, you’ll have a real problem. It’s not impossible though. With God’s help, you can break through it. But it’ll be more difficult.

9. Some plateaus are actually seasons.

Every church goes through seasons in its life. Everything grows during springtime. You start harvesting in the fall. Then winter comes along. It’s cold. It’s dark. The days are shorter.

Your ministry may be in the winter right now. Hang on. Springtime’s coming. It may be just a season.

10. A plateau doesn’t have to be a dead end! It can be a gateway to the next level.

Growing churches have figured out how to break through the inevitable growth barriers that come along. You can break them, too. Often, once you break through, you’ll experience a new season of growth.

We saw this at Saddleback. I mentioned earlier that we hit a plateau between 2005 and 2010, so we made some structural changes. I learned some new skills, and we started growing again. And we’ve grown steadily over the last eight years—sometimes as much as 10 percent a year.

I’m confident your church can grow again, too. I believe God will finish what he started in your church. It’s what he does. Just remind yourself of Philippians 1:6: I am sure that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished on the Day of Christ Jesus” (GNT).

> Read more from Rick here.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rick Warren

Rick Warren

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.

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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Communicate Your Vision: Create Stories that Reflect Experience

There is no more powerful engine driving an organization toward excellence and long-range success than an attractive, worthwhile, and achievable vision of the future, widely shared.

– Burt Nanus

The right vision for the future of an organization moves people to action, and because of their action, the organization evolves and makes process. Like a bicycle, an organization must continually move forward, or fall over. The role of vision in driving the organization forward is indispensible.

The vision’s power lies in its ability to grab the attention of those both inside and outside the organization and to focus that attention on a common dream – a sense of direction that both makes sense and provides direction.

To that end, your church’s vision cannot exist merely as words on a page or website, or in an impressive visual display in your church foyer.

Articulating your vision through consistent and powerful ideas is one of the toughest tasks of leadership.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, by Annette Simmons

Stories have tremendous power. They can persuade, promote empathy, and provoke action. Better than any other communication tool, stories explain who you are, what you want…and why it matters. In presentations, department meetings, over lunch any place you make a case for new customers, more business, or your next big idea you’ll have greater impact if you have a compelling story to relate.

Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins will teach you to narrate personal experiences as well as borrowed stories in a way that demonstrates authenticity, builds emotional connections, inspires perseverance, and stimulates the imagination. Fully updated and more practical than ever, the second edition reveals how to use storytelling to:

  • Capture attention
  • Motivate listeners
  • Gain trust
  • Strengthen your argument
  • Sway decisions
  • Demonstrate authenticity and encourage transparency
  • Spark innovation
  • Manage uncertainty

Complete with examples, a proven storytelling process and techniques, innovative applications, and a new appendix on teaching storytelling, Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins hands you the tools you need to get your message across and connect successfully with any audience.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Organizations run on numbers, facts, forecasts, and processes. If that sounds dull and unengaging, it’s because those factors are not what really drive our passion and desire to excel, to lead, or to sink our hearts and souls into the work we do. Ultimately, the kind of transformative results that can come only from enriched, passionate people depend on a distinctly human element – storytelling.

The power of even a simple story to affirm someone’s connection to your organization’s people, values, and vision can mean the difference between simple competence and fully realized ownership. Your stories help people feel more engaged and alive.

Story can be defined as a reimagined experience narrated with enough detail and feeling to cause your listener’s imaginations to experience it as real.

You are already telling stories about who you are, why you are here, and what you envision, value, teach, and think about. The problem is, you haven’t realized how much your stories matter. To help us pay attention, let’s look at the six kinds of stories we tell that lead to influence, imagination, and innovation.

Who-I-Am Stories

What qualities earn you the right to influence a particular person? Tell of a time, place, or event that provides evidence you have these qualities.

Why-I-Am-Here Stories

When someone assumes you are there to sell an idea that will cost him or her money, time, or resources, it immediately discredits your “facts” as biased.

Teaching Stories

Certain lessons are best learned from experience, and some lessons are learned over and over again. It’s better to tell a story that creates a shared experience.

Vision Stories

A worthy, exciting future story reframes present difficulties as “worth it.”

Value-in-Action Stories

Values are subjective. Hypothetical situations sound hypocritical.

I-Know-What-You-Are Thinking Stories

People like to stay safe. It is a trust-building surprise for you to share their secret suspicions in a story that first validates then dispels these objections without sounding defenseless.

When you turn your attention to the six kinds of stories, you will be more intentional in creating the kind of perceptions that achieve goals rather than reinforce problems.

Annette Simmons, Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins

A NEXT STEP

People are starving for meaningful stories, while we are surrounded by impersonal messages dressed in bells and whistles that are story-ish but are not effective. People want to feel a human presence in your messages, to taste a trace of humanity that proves there is a “you” as sender. Learning how to tell personal stories teaches you how to deliver the sense of humanity in the messages you send.

Schedule some time where you can be alone to complete the following exercise.

Imagine you are stranded alone on a desert island. You have six slips of paper, a pencil, and six bottles. If you could communicate one thing by using each of the six story types listed above that would inspire your church for the future, what would it be and how would you say it?

Write each of the six “messages” on a separate sheet of paper, then roll them up to create scrolls. Insert each message in a separate bottle.

At your next team meeting, read each message aloud, and discuss it as a group.

Ask each team member to repeat the process on his or her own over the next month.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 84-1, issued January 2018.


 

This is part of a weekly series posting excerpts from one of the most innovative content sources in the church world: SUMS Remix book excerpts for church leaders.

SUMS Remix takes a practical problem in the church and looks at it with three solutions; each solution is taken from a different book. Additionally, a practical action step is included with each solution.

As a church leader you get to scan relevant books based on practical tools and solutions to real ministry problems, not just by the cover of the book. Each post will have the edition number which shows the year and what number it is in the overall sequence. (SUMS Remix provides 26 issues per year, delivered every other week to your inbox). 

> > Subscribe to SUMS Remix <<

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

VRcurator

VRcurator

Bob Adams is Auxano's Vision Room Curator. His background includes over 23 years as an associate/executive pastor as well as 8 years as the Lead Consultant for a church design build company. He joined Auxano in 2012.

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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

3 Signposts on the Road to Discovering God’s Vision

I’m often asked, “Is there any single common denominator that you can find in every growing church?”  I have studied churches for many years, read about them, and visited them. I’ve discovered that God uses all kinds of churches, in all kinds of different ways, all different methods and styles.  But there is one common denominator that you can find in every growing church regardless of denomination, regardless of nationality, and regardless of size.

That common denominator is leadership that is not afraid to believe God.  It’s the faith factor.

Nothing starts happening until somebody starts dreaming.  Every accomplishment started off first as an idea in somebody’s mind.  It started off as a dream.  It started off as a vision, a goal.  If you don’t have a goal for your church, your default goal is to remain the same.  If you aim at nothing, you’re definitely going to hit it.

A church without a vision is never going to grow, and a church’s vision will never be larger than the vision of its pastor.  So you as a leader and as a pastor, must have God’s vision for your church.  The very first task of leadership is to set the vision for the organization.  If you don’t set the vision, you’re not the leader.  Whoever is establishing the vision in your church is the leader of that particular church.  A church will never outgrow its vision and the vision of a church will never outgrow the vision of the pastor.

If I’m smart I can always compensate for my weaknesses.  I can always hire people to do things or delegate to volunteers the things that I can’t do.  If I’m not good at counseling, I can find people who are good at counseling.  If I’m not good at administration and details, I can find people to handle administration and details. But there is one thing I cannot delegate.  I cannot ask other people to believe God for me.  I have to set the pace in terms of vision, in terms of dreams, in terms of faith, in terms of what God wants to do in our lives and in our congregation.  You cannot delegate faith in God.

The Bible tells us in Proverbs 11:27 (Good News translation) “If your goals are good you will be respected.”

So I want to challenge you to dream great dreams for God.  One nice thing about dreaming is that it doesn’t cost anything.  You can have great dreams and think through and pray through and it doesn’t cost you anything at all.  The Bible says  “God is able to do far more than anything we would ever dare to ask or even dream of, infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts or hopes.” (Ephesians 3:20, Living Bible). God comes along and says, “Think up the biggest thing you think I can do in your life, in your ministry, in your church and I can top that.  I can beat it.”

So you need to ask yourself this question, “What would I attempt for God if I knew I couldn’t fail?  Let that expand your horizons.  Let it expand your dreams.  Expand your vision.  It starts with a dream.

There are three parts to getting God’s vision for your ministry.

The first thing God shows you is He shows you the What?  He shows you what He’s going to do.  The big mistake we make once we have a sense of what God wants to do is trying to accomplish it on our own. Inevitably we fall flat on our faces and come crawling back to God saying, “Oh, God.  I’m so sorry.  What did I do?  Did I miss the vision?  You told me what You were going to do and I went out and tried to accomplish it and fell flat on my face.  Did I miss the vision?”

And God will say to you, “No, you didn’t.  You just didn’t wait for part two.  I told you what I was going to do but you didn’t wait to find out How I was going to do it.”  When God shows you how it always seems to be the opposite way that you thought. And once you see the What and the How you’re still not finished.  There’s a third part of the vision.

God shows you When.  The longer that I’m alive and the longer I walk with the Lord and the longer I’m in ministry the more I’m convinced that God’s timing is perfect.  He is never a minute early, He is never a minute late, He is always right on time.  These are the three parts to getting God’s vision – What, How and When.  And you must wait for all three parts for God to work in your life.

When I started Saddleback church, I didn’t envision the enormous campus and the big building we now have.  In fact, I’m not a very visual thinker.  Some people can see it.  They’re like artists and they can visualize the church buildings when they’re all finished and they can see exactly what it’s going to look like in their mind.  I’ve never been that kind of person.  I have what I call Polaroid vision.  Have you ever taken a Polaroid picture?  You take it and the longer you look at it the clearer it gets.  That’s true in my life.  When I first started Saddleback I didn’t know what it was going to end up like.  All I knew was that God had called me to this spot and I had a bunch of ideas in a bag and I wanted to build it on the five purposes of God. As I have walked with the Lord and worked with the Lord over the years, the vision has gotten clearer and clearer.

You get God’s vision by saying “What do You want me to do?  How do You want me to do it?  And When do You want me to do it?”  You need to stop praying, “God, bless what I’m doing.”  And instead start praying, “God, help me to do what You want to bless.”  I get up in the morning and I pray a very similar prayer every day.  “God, I know You’re going to do some very exciting things in the world today.  Would You give me the privilege of just being in on some of them?  I just want to be in on what You’re doing.  I want to do what You’re blessing.”

God uses the person who has a dream.

Read more from Rick.


 

Connect with an Auxano Navigator to learn more about discovering your church’s unique vision.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rick Warren

Rick Warren

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.

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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.