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This election has been unprecedented in many ways, and it has truly wrecked my heart. As a Christian who values character, honor, truth and grace, I have seen very little of these aspects in this presidential election. Words fall from mouths full of lies, slander and feathers to tickle our ears. It grieves me that this theatre performed upon the world’s stage is symptomatic of the underlying woes of our society. The absence of truth and reason has left our country unhinged, gravely divided, and tossed by the wind.

This election is the representation of all the wild lawlessness within our human heart. It reflects our outrage, desire to win, craving to lift oneself up and put others down, lust for money, need for control, hunger for power, and proclivity to selfishness. No politician can save us from such darkness that stirs within our hearts – only Jesus Christ is our ultimate Savior from sin.

In the midst of the collective angst in our country, I find myself processing various stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) because it feels as though we are losing our Republic and that the Christian church in America is weakened. Yet, amid all of this chaos, I am thankful.

  • I am thankful that God has wrenched loose my grip on this lesser kingdom to remind me of His greater Kingdom. As Christians, we are citizens of heaven, and God’s Kingdom will never be shaken. (Heb 12:28) Have we forgotten that we are not here to save the Republic, but we are to be ambassadors of Christ for the saving of souls?
  • I am thankful for a renewed focus upon prayer for the peoples in the U.S. and for God’s glory to be lifted high. Let us dust off our knees and return to this neglected discipline of spiritual warfare. Why have we waited until a crisis to bring forth more fervent prayer for the lostness in our country?
  • I am thankful that the days of challenge and struggle ahead will likely bring forth a stronger and truer embodiment of God’s people. May we embrace God’s shaking of the foundations of America to return to our First Love. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4: 17-18)
  • I am thankful that this election magnifies the spiritual context and needs of this country in order that we may spur one another on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:14)

I do not know upon what issues we will need to take a stand, but I know we must stand upon the Rock. I do not know what economic or political challenges we will face, but I know we must not fear and we must not be dismayed because God is with us.

Rather than placing our hope in the dismal choice of a liar or a lunatic, we need to return to our LORD. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26) Our confidence moving forward is in the Sovereignty and character of our God. He is still King; he remains on the throne.

My prayer for myself and for the people in my country is not that we would save the Republic. (Though, I will grieve if it were lost.) My prayer is that we would return to our first love. May we remember from where we have fallen, repent, and do the work that we are here to do — to go into the world, make disciples, and share the Hope that we have an ultimate Savior in Jesus.

Measuring Success

There is always a tension between the natural unfettered growth within ministry and demonstrating progress and success for accountability purposes as you strive for excellence.  The typical measurements of “success” have been centered around numbers – how many conversions, how many baptisms, how many churches planted, etc.  Though those are all very good aspects of growth, they do not give a complete picture.

It would be difficult to truly encapsulate all the spiritual “wins” in ministry as many of them are unseen or immeasurable by human means.  Some of the victories will only be discovered when we rejoice in heaven together.

There are some ways that we can expand our thoughts in tracking progress.
Consider tracking from 2 sides – those you are training and those you are reaching.

Those you are training (which is really discipling people to be missionaries):
How many people have a new awakening to live their life on mission?
How many people are intentionally engaging the lostness around them?
How many people are now advocates who promote and train others to engage?
How many people are now architects who lead and cast vision for missional engagement ?
How many churches or small groups have embraced a strategy to impact lostness?

Those you are reaching:
How many conversions, baptisms, bible studies, etc.?  (The standard measurements)
How many lost people are you engaging in deep relationships?
How many people are attending an ESL, Bible Study, or other outreach platform?
How many spiritual conversations are you having?
How many persons of peace have you developed relationships with?

In order to have a more healthy view of tracking growth, we should track the steps along the way.  This is more parallel to ongoing discipleship.  How are people progressing?  How are they learning to make disciples of disciples?  The depth and entirety of the process is more accurately perceived when each “win” in ministry includes measuring each step along the walk.

You will replicate what you celebrate.
Lift up those who are training and discipling others to “go.”  Cherish the spiritual conversations.  Encourage the leaders to create leaders.  Disciples to create disciples.  Sometimes lower numbers here would mean a more effective and beneficial “win.”  It cannot always be about breadth and width of influence; depth must be core to discipleship.

Soft Skills for Ministry Leaders – Disagreeing Agreeably by Robby Partain

Disagree Agreeably

Conflict is not necessarily bad in a church. Disagreements happen in a community when people care and are engaged. A church that is completely conflict free is probably not doing much or attempting much. The opposite of conflict is not health. It is disengaged apathy.

So think of conflict as a sign that people care. When there is a disagreement in your small group or ministry area or in the overall church, think of it as raw material. The presence of conflict is not inherently good or bad. Your response to the conflict is what will send you in a good or bad direction.

(Side note: I am not naïve. I know that some church people become antagonists, pursuing selfish agendas through unscrupulous means. The best way to deal with an antagonist is to starve him of fuel (i.e., do not respond in kind and thus inflame the situation, likely discrediting yourself in the process). When the antagonist finds out he is not going to get what he wants and is not going to provoke you, then he will probably go find another place to try his tactics. If he does not, you will need a pre-existing church discipline process in place that will deal with the antagonist and protect church leaders.)

Here are some recommendations for dealing with conflict in positive ways. Call these Principles for Disagreeing Agreeably.

  1. Employ the principle of charity. The principle of charity means you state the point of view of those who disagree with you in the best possible way. Do not caricature the opinion of others. Do not state their case in an absurd or demeaning way. Make sure you state the other person’s viewpoint in the most straightforward, positive way possible. Besides being the right thing to do, there are practical benefits. The principle of charity will require you to listen carefully, an act which honors the other person and builds rapport. The principle of charity will keep you from speaking prematurely – before you really know what the other person thinks. When you have a clear understanding of the other person’s best argument, you can then focus on the issue productively. Denigration is the enemy of productive conflict. Decide now that your first response in a disagreement will be to employ the principle of charity. (For further reading on this subject, see chapter one of What Philosophy Can Do by Gary Gutting. This is a good read on how to have a productive argument.)
  2. Humble yourself. Early on in the conflict, engage directly with this thought: “I could be wrong.” It is possible there are aspects of the situation you have not thought about or have misunderstood. It is possible you need to rethink a settled position. Humbling yourself will bring two positive dynamics into the conflict situation: It will cause you to reexamine your previous opinions on the matter and it will drive you to the Lord in prayer. Admitting your fallibility and seeking the Lord’s wisdom and direction will go a long way toward having a positive conflict.
  3. Watch your tone and body language. You communicate more with volume, inflection, and posture than with your actual words. Take a deep breath. Do not interrupt. Listen carefully and respectfully. When it is your time to speak, do so in a way that interjects calm into the situation. Take a non-threatening stance. Repent from using intimidation and bluster. Do not violate personal space. Make sure the way you speak and present yourself adds agreeableness to the situation.
  4. Avoid social media. Social media has positive uses, but airing out conflict is not one of them. Social platforms are much more suitable for taking shots at our opponents than for having reasoned, thoughtful discussions. The other problem with social media is that it is, well, social. What you say there is said in public. Therefore, playing to the crowd and trying to recruit sup- porters to your side are big temptations. We are much less likely to practice empathy and charity when addressing a touchy subject on social media. It is simply not a good way to engage in healthy conflict.
  5. Address the issue clearly without attacking or demeaning those who see it differently. It is a natural human tendency to assume the worst of someone we cast as an “opponent.” We easily assign low motives to them and call their character into question. Avoiding this requires great discipline and a constant practice of the principle of charity. It requires us to focus on the issue, not personalities. It requires us to think before we speak and to express ourselves clearly and succinctly. In other words, disagreeing agreeably is hard work. But remember how much harm a few poorly chosen words can do (see James 3:5 and following). Do the hard work of focusing on the issue and speaking to it clearly.
  6. Build good processes that enable the church to have healthy conflict. How does your church decide difficult things? How do you decide what to start doing, what to stop doing, and which direction to go? The more complex a decision is, and the more people who are affected, then the more important is the process that produces the decision. Good processes allow time for people to consider an issue and to participate in the discussion and decision about that issue. A good process does not mean everyone gets what they want. That is impossible. A good pro- cess is one that produces a broadly-owned decision and does not allow dissenters to say with credibility, “No one asked me what I thought!” Someone will probably say that anyway, but if the process was good the rest of the congregation knows the dissenters had just as much opportunity to participate as everyone else.
  7. Rest on Proverbs 3:5-6. Do not make winning your goal in a conflict. Make honoring the Lord your goal. Trust him to lead. Rest in his sovereignty over the situation. Honor the other people involved, make the best contribution you can given your role in the organization, and then rest in the Lord. Be willing to accept a result that is different than what you want. Be at peace in Christ.

Ministry leaders, I hope you will develop and practice the soft skill of disagreeing agreeably. I believe it will bring more joy and fruitfulness into your ministry. I am committed to getting better at this soft skill myself.  I hope you will join me.

Relevant M in City

Living our life on mission means to embrace the opportunities that we have on a daily basis in our own city. The Lord has placed each of us on a particular street for a distinct season to be a living demonstration of the hope found in Jesus. Acts 17:26 states, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” Our mission is to go and make disciples of all nations. (Matt 28:19) Therefore, we must open our eyes to see the strategic opportunities around us to reach the city – one disciple at a time.

Embrace your city, street, and neighbors with the lenses of a missionary to view the endless ways to engage the lostness all around you. Here are a few ideas to spur your missional journey.

Dynamic Prayer

Pray for your city like you never have before! Use prayers filled with scripture and pray over your city with power and truth. (Go here for more on how to pray using scripture.) Pray as you drive by the hospital, schools, & government buildings. Pray for leaders, teachers, policemen, and children. Pray for your neighbors house by house. Pray as you walk the dog. Pray as you wait in line at the grocery store. The key to seeing transformed lives in your city is prayer.   A.T. Pierson emphasized the power of prayer: “There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.”

Engage People Groups

We are currently living in an unprecedented time where the people groups are coming to us in droves! Our cities and towns are now filling with different languages, cultures, and remote people groups. Why should we care about this? Because God does. His heart is for the nations. He has always had people groups in mind with His Gospel plan of salvation and transformation. Begin by seeking out ways to engage and serve our foreign friends. Invite them to your home, share a meal together, join sports or hobbies to interact with various people, eat regularly at ethnic restaurants, etc. Think long-term relationships and invest in people, not a project. Developing genuine friendships will naturally allow us to share our faith and lives with others. Check out ethnéCITY.com for tools and resources.

Strategic Relevancy

There will always be more ministry opportunities and needs than we are able to meet effectively. It is vital to depend upon the Lord for guidance and wisdom as we make commitments. Strategic relevancy occurs when you are empowered by God to focus in upon a particular person, group, or location with a desire to see disciples multiplied.

Community service with homeless ministry, ESL, school partnerships, etc. are platforms for ministry in our cities that we can use as a starting place, but these should never be the end game. These avenues allow us to build relationships with people and families in order to share God’s truths with them. Ultimately, we should use these platforms as catalysts for making disciples. Avoid seeing missions as a “project” and rather embrace it as an ongoing lifestyle.

Think beyond occasional volunteering and donating to your local charity to a deeper place where you are regularly developing relationships and discipling others. We are to pour into lives of others “teaching them to observe all that [the Lord] commanded” (Matt 28:20). Ask God to help you find one or two people to invest in deeply with scripture and truths about how to live life as a Christian. This may be someone who is already naturally placed in your life, or it may be the young mother from India whose child attends school with yours.

Invest Long-term

Evangelism and discipleship are complex. We encounter diverse people with diverse worldviews every day. In order to love people well, we need to become perpetual learners. Carefully listening to others as they express their thoughts, hopes, and questions will help us to love them more fully and share God’s truth with them more effectively. Of course, this takes time. Commit to intentionally invest long-term in the relationships you are building. Jesus was our model as he discipled the twelve and then went deeper still with Peter, James and John.

Each of us is called to be on mission in our city. Though how this looks in individual lives will be diverse and multifaceted with each person and context. Charles Spurgeon made the bold statement, “Every Christian here is either a missionary or an impostor.” Transition your mindset to seeing yourself as a missionary and believe that your feet are the beautiful feet bringing Good News to those around you! (Rom 10:15)