ChurchETHOS

Spiritual Discipline

Posted in christian habits, discipleship, spiritual disciplines by Nathan Creitz on September 23, 2009

a-prayer-for-times-like-theseSpiritual discipline doesn’t sound very exciting. Many Christians shy away from the disciplines because it sounds like work at best and legalism at worst. However, spiritual discipline is simply a name for the spiritual habits that a true follower of Jesus forms as he or she becomes more like Him. We want to follow Jesus and we know that He meditated on Scripture, spent time in prayer, and shared the Gospel with others, just to name a few. There are other disciplines that we can glean from the Bible that are important to consider as well.

But for the most part, these disciplines go neglected by the majority of church attenders. Does that make their Christianity suspect? No, it probably means that no one helped them to see the positive aspect of a disciplined life of faith. When we form regular habits, we need accountability. It’s the same thing when we form spiritual habits.

As a child I learned that I needed to brush my teeth, make my bed, not eat dirt, etc. No one would think my parents unfair or cruel for making me obey. Those were habits that my parents helped me form when I was a child. The disciplines are habits and we need help forming them in our lives. Not too many people have the inherent motivation to form a strong habit for themselves. As a child we had our parents help in showing us the habits that needed to be formed and the habits that needed to be broken. In our spiritual habits, we have the Body of Christ to help us but it takes initiative and responsibility on our part to come alongside immature believers and help them move toward spiritual maturity.

Pastors play a large role in equipping the saints and part of the equipping process should be the formation and spiritual growth of new believers. In order to be effective at fostering a Biblical understanding of the disciplines, the church leaders should first of all teach about them in a positive way. Secondly, leaders should model the disciplines and coach others in the process. Third, we should encourage accountability and fellowship in the Body so that there is a consistent venue for people to talk about their progress or lack thereof in a safe and open setting. Finally, we need to talk about the perils of not engaging in the disciplines. Dallas Willard talks about the cost of NONdiscipleship (rather than Bonhoeffer’s ‘Cost of Discipleship’). When we reject the foundational habits and activities of the Bible, we forsake the abundant life that Jesus has promised us.

So, we need to talk about spiritual disciplines, model them, hold people accountable to do them, and contrast the difference between a disciplined and an undisciplined spiritual life so that people can understand that these are not legalistic endeavors, but that they are helpful and fulfilling as we diligently follow our Master.

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Twitter To-Do List to Make Twitter Useful Again

Posted in christian thought, social media by Nathan Creitz on May 26, 2009

failwhaleConfession: I am a church leader and I use Twitter.

Many pastors who use Twitter, for some reason want to also become a social media expert. I don’t. This will be my only post on the subject here at ChurchETHOS. I’m not writing this post to become recognized as a social media expert, I’m writing it so I can become a better leader in the church.

Why? Because I want Twitter to help and not hinder my ministry. Do I really believe Twitter has benefit to the kingdom of God? If it does, then how can I make the best use of the Twitter experience for God’s glory? If it doesn’t, then why am I wasting my time? Will my ministry get the “Fail Whale” thanks to Twitter?

I’m writing this post to develop my own theory for using Twitter. If it is helpful to you in your ministry then that’s bonus. At the end of this life I’ll be okay with a “Fail Whale” on Twitter as long as my Master has reason to say, “Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Enter your Master’s joy!” (Matthew 25:21 HCSB)

So here is my Twitter To-Do List to maximize Twitter’s usefulness for my ministry.

TWITTER TO-DO LIST

Picture 4 Determine the Value of Twitter

People use Twitter for a lot of reasons. Since I’m not trying to be an expert on social media I’m only going to list those qualities that bring value to me as one who is in ministry.

#whyitweet

It’s not helpful to me to wade through everyone’s random status updates or pleas for recognition or shameless self-promotion. So what is valuable to me?

I’ve determined that the primary qualities I desire from Twitter are:

to network with like-minded people around the world.
to share ideas and links to relevant or helpful content.
to generate discussion about ChurchETHOS content.
to seek mutual encouragement and advice with other church leaders.

I’m trying to make entertainment and procrastination take up less and less of the time I spend Twittering. Which leads me to the next item on the Twitter To-Do List:

Picture 4 Determine How Much Time to Spend on Twitter

tweetdeckI use a Twitter client called TweetDeck to deliver my Twitter content and to organize my network into groups. I don’t know what a good balance of time might be to spend on Twitter, but I try not to have TweetDeck open all day long. If I can open it in the morning, again around lunchtime, and then later in the evening (and maybe one or two more times if I’m honest) then I won’t constantly be distracted by notifications every two minutes.

I may not read every tweet from my friends. Sorry. I will, however, answer all my @replies and DM’s. I also like to quickly scan through the past 100 or so tweets and see if anything jumps out. If you engage in a conversation with me, I will reciprocate.

The users on the other end of my TweetDeck are people not “tweeps” (I’m sorry, I just can’t use some of the lingo). Therefore, I want to benefit from our mutual relationship. All of that can be done during a few 5 minute tweet breaks, IF I make sure I’m disciplined enough to be focused on other work for the rest of the day. The minute Twitter is more a distraction than a tool is when I cease to use Twitter.

Picture 4 Follow People Who Add Value

follow

So far, I’ve determined the value of Twitter (and tried to remove the extraneous), and set boundaries for myself as to how much time I will spend on Twitter. Now it’s time to actually look at who I’m following.

I want my network to be of value to my followers. I’m in the process of removing everyone that hasn’t followed me back (with a few exceptions). When I’m done with that I’ll go through and look at the profiles of my friends and fans to see if they add value to my Twitter experience.

So what am I looking for when I look at someone’s Twitter profile?

Common Interests
You can check out my bio to find out the top 4 or 5 things that are of interest to me. If you are following me just in the hopes that I’ll follow you back so that you can increase your popularity, don’t count on it.

An Expert Resource
Most of the people I follow are not experts, but there are a few people that I’ve hand-picked that provide expertise in an area that is of interest to me (and therefore, are probably of interest to my followers as well). I would rather have friends on Twitter and not fans or followers, but in some cases, I’m willing to follow someone who doesn’t follow me back simply because I respect him or her and recognize they are probably too busy to tweet me up.

Willingness to Dialogue
Other than a few “experts” who don’t follow me back I mostly want friends that are interested in dialogue. A profile that only has announcements and no @replies is a bad sign. Chances are you aren’t actually going to dialogue with me, you just want to type at me.

Opportunity for Mutual Benefit
An occasional retweet is expected among friends. I RT other’s content on maybe a 5:1 ratio before I hope someone will RT mine (I’d like that to be closer to 10:1). If we believe in what we are writing on our blogs then let’s do everything we can to help one another succeed. I assume that when a friend of mine on Twitter writes a post he believes what he’s writing. I want to give you a chance to get that message out to as large an audience as possible. I follow people who share this same value.

Thoughtful Questions
I love when someone is working on a blog post and they get the feedback or advice of their friends on Twitter before posting. Or maybe when you are working on a project or a sermon, how can we help you be the best church leader you can be? This adds valuable to my experience when I get to be a part of your research and hopefully it adds value to your experience because you get live feedback.

A Descriptive Bio and Picture
Okay, this is probably the easiest thing you can do to let people know who you are and what you are about. The 160 character limit helps clarify what you are passionate about. If we have anything in common, I’ll know it just by clicking on your name. Take the time or I won’t follow you.

If you aren’t willing to do a few of these things, then chances are I won’t follow you. Or, if I’m already following you, it might be grounds for unfollowing, which happens to be the next item on my Twitter To-Do List.

Picture 4 Unfollow People Who Don’t Add Value

unfollow

I am in the process of unfollowing the following people (or not following them in the first place):

Incessant Self-Promoters
These are the people that are only on Twitter to drive traffic to their blog or website. There’s no rule against that, but I personally won’t be following you (unless it’s a really, really good blog).

Narcissistic Exhibitionists
You don’t want me standing outside your window watching everything you are doing. So why are you telling me about it? There are some people that just think we are all waiting to hear what you are eating for breakfast or how you lost your keys. It’s silly at best, and narcissistic at worst and a waste of ministry time.

There are even several people I follow who are big church leadership gurus and they often tweet about a conversation they are having in real-time with a real person. I’ve tweeted ONCE in the presence of a live human being. Whoever you are with, be with them and make the most of that interaction. If you have to tell me about the conversation, tell me about it later!

I also don’t want to know about things when you are driving. There have been too many accidents in the Boston area alone due to texting while driving. These are all grounds for an unfollow. The daily, trivial aspects of your life, just aren’t that interesting and if that’s the majority of your content, consider yourself unfollowed.

Bible Syndicators
I have a version of the Bible that I read each day. An occasional tweet about a verse that really struck you is one thing, but for those that tweet verse after verse all day long, stop it. I’m in agreement that the Bible is the Word of God, and I spend as much time as I can studying it and living it as possible but Twitter is not my source for God’s Word.

#hashtag Enthusiasts
A tweet that already is limited to 140 characters cannot be about 5 different things. Make your tweets relevant and focused. Two or more hashtags just make your tweet hard to read. If your tweet is about church planting give it the #churchplanting hashtag. There’s no need to also add #churchplants, #churchplanters, #churches, and #christians.

Ranting Provokers
There are some who just want to get on Twitter and do drive-by tweeting. They are angry at the church. They hate small groups, church buildings, Sunday School, etc. Whatever it is, they don’t like it so they type out an angry 140 character tweet and shoot a dozen of them out there. Then, if you try and respond with a differing opinion, they suck you into a 140 character per thought debate.

There are some discussions that don’t lend themselves to only 140 characters. Don’t get frustrated with me if I can’t understand you. Writing already is divorced from tone and gesture but add to that the brevity of these thoughts coming from near strangers and you can see why some conversations are better in person or on a blog where thought can be articulated more clearly.

Now that I’ve followed and unfollowed the people that add or subtract value from my personal network it’s time to tweet.

Picture 4 Prioritize Tweets

What will be the content of my tweets? I’ve tried to arrange them in the order of what I hope my tweets will be about:

@replies 40% // My goal is to engage in dialogue with other church leaders and not just overwhelm them with my own thoughts or content.

RT 20% // My network is always producing and discovering a lot of great content…more than I can produce myself. So, I promote their content by retweeting their stuff which is usually more valuable than mine.

Questions 20% // My goal is to use Twitter to get wisdom from others. The reason I follow people is to build a network of people I trust who are thinking and talking about the issues that I am passionate about. Asking my network questions helps me in my ministry.

Blog Posts 15% // NOW I can send you a link to my own content. After all the dialogue and questions and answers and useful links and retweets I can now add my own content to the mix. Hopefully that also adds value to my network but I don’t presume that my stuff is the only thing that’s valuable.

Random 5% // Okay, so every once in a while I do tweet the occasional irrelevant tweet that has nothing to do with ministry. I’m not trying to get people to weed out everything that’s frivolous, I’m just trying to come up with some of my own guidelines so that I can be disciplined when it comes to Twitter.

Well, there’s my Twitter To-Do List. Now I need to go and unfollow some people to make my network more meaningful for your sake and mine. Meanwhile, anything you would add to the list? Anything you disagree with?

Social Languages for Transformation

Posted in book review, church leadership, ChurchETHOS by Nathan Creitz on May 11, 2009

511kjbb76klIn my last post I began a book review of How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work by Kegan and Lahey. What an incredible book about transformation, leadership, and interpersonal relationships. This book has important implications for church leaders, which is why I decided to review it here at ChurchETHOS. Our churches are often slaves to bad habits and destructive tradition and if you’ve ever wanted to change things, this is the book you need.

Internal Languages for Transformation was the first post in this series and it described the languages that help us move from complaint to commitment, from blame to responsibility, from resolutions to competing commitments, and from Big Assumptions to assumptions we hold. Ultimately, the goal is to discover what you are commited to that needs changing, accept responsibility for that change and discover the road blocks that are keeping you from the change that is necessary. The book is written by educators and they are great at making this not just an easy read but a workshop where you can sound out your own complaints and turn them into commitments.

This post will focus on the final three languages: the social languages. These languages are external. They help you work with others to bring about change in a group or a company or a church (in our case). I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts about these languages.

THE SOCIAL LANGUAGES:
From the Language of Prizes and Praising to the Language of Ongoing Regard

The authors write, “We all do better at work if we regularly have the experience that what we do matters, that it is valuable, and that our presence makes a difference to others.” Nowhere is that more necessary than in the church. As leaders in the church, we look to God to ensure we are glorifying Him and advancing His Kingdom. However, we need feedback from others too.

It’s easy to praise someone publicly. “Great job!” “You’re a value to this team!” “Let’s give Fred a round of applause for his contribution!” Those sorts of praises feel good, but they have a tendency to puff us up. Instead, the author’s encourage the language of ongoing regard. They want you to genuinely experience the value of a coworker’s behavior and then share with them why their behavior meant so much to you.

Be Direct – Don’t express your appreciation to others about someone, deliver it directly to the person.
Be Specific – “Thanks for all your hard work” isn’t enough. What was the hard work? What aspect of their role in the job was of particular note? Really be specific about what the person did to make a valuable contribution.
Be Nonattributive – Rather than characterize the person’s attributes (generosity, patience, persuasiveness), describe your experience (you learned something, you gained something, etc.). An example might be: Rather than, “Alan, I appreciate what a generous person you are.” Try, “Alan, I appreciate the way you took all that time to fill me in on what I missed. It made a real difference to me.”

When we praise people publicly it can also have some negative effects. The others in the room might be jealous. The person being praised might become prideful. Everyone might begin working for the approval of men rather than for God.

When we speak the language of ongoing regard it is an encouragement to people. It’s direct and meaninful. You are able to share with the person exactly what they did that was of value and prompts them to do more of it. Finally, ongoing regard tells the person that they are valuable to the company, mission, church, etc.

From the Language of Rules and Policies to the Language of Public Agreement

Rules and policies are to be kept and followed. Public agreement means that everyone is committed to the same thing. The language of public agreement is basically harkening back to the first language of moving from complaint to commitment. This language gets a group to discover what we are all committed to, together.

This language is not committed to a top down approach to leadership. Instead, it is “intended to create organizational integrity…from within.” In other words, it’s hard to change rules and policies that were drafted in the 50’s, but when you learn what we all agree on and then come to public agreement, when we break those we are letting ourselves down.

From the Language of Constructive Criticism to the Language of Deconstructive Criticism

The authors intentionally chose the subject of conflict for the final language. Up to this point, we’ve learned how to adopt internal languages that help us change our own behavior. We’ve also learned ways of leading group change through the language of ongoing regard and public agreement. But there are times when you need to confront someone head on.

The language of constructive criticism is common (maybe you could try improving your speaking skills), the language of destructive criticism is even more common (that sermon was irrelevant and boring). A third option is deconstructive criticism.

The problem with constructive criticism is that there is often a lack of confronting the real issue. Deconstructive criticism chooses to disassemble bad habits or behavior and help the person to reconstruct a positive habit or behavior. However, the object of attention doesn’t start with the other person’s behavior it begins with our own evaluation of that behavior.

The authors explain this language best: “The language of deconstructive criticism is about holding two simultaneous realities together: I respect myself to the extent of taking seriously that I have formed a negative evaluation, and I respect the other as an independent constructor of reality who might have quite a different picture of what is happening, a picture based on premises and assumptions that might usefully inform my own.”

Conclusion

“It must be remembered that we exercise all the languages for the purpose of making our work settings richer contexts for learning. The kinds of change we are looking for are transformational. They go to the roots. They are not about fixes at the surface.

My hope is that as we learn how to bring about change in our ministry contexts that we will, as a result, form more meaningful relationships with people and that we will begin the process of change by thinking how we might change before considering what we should do about others.

First Post in Series: Internal Languages for Transformation ::  Subscribe ::  Why Subscribe?

Internal Languages for Transformation

Posted in book review, church leadership, ChurchETHOS by Nathan Creitz on May 8, 2009
511kjbb76kl“If we want deeper understanding of the prospect of change, we must pay closer attention to our own powerful inclinations not to change.” Kegan & Lahey

I’ve mentioned before that ChurchETHOS encourages thinking Christianly about the habits and customs of the church and about our reputation with those outside the church. This review of Kegan & Lahey’s book on leadership entitled How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation, is an important book as we talk about how to change the bad habits that are often formed in the church.

Why is this book important for church leaders?

Have you ever wanted to do something but for some reason you never do it? Can you think of something that your church does that you wish were different? Or, is there some habit that you wish you could break but you just never get around to doing anything about it? This book by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey was assigned to me in a graduate level class that I took at Harvard Divinity School and I don’t know if there is a more important non-religious book for the church today.

The use of this book in the church grants us multi-faceted insight from several different perspectives. For example, both Kegan and Lahey work at the Harvard Graduate School of Education but their book is about leadership and business management. If that weren’t enough I’m reviewing it here in light of church leadership and personal transformation. From the world of education, business, and church leadership, this book has significant contributions to make in the way we change our organizations for the better.

The authors have written this book “for people interested in the possibility of their own transformational learning, as well as for people interested in supporting the transformational learning of others. Their theory is that we are all leaders so these “languages for transformation” are readily applicable whether you are a business owner, a church planter, an education minister, or a parent.

In this post, I will briefly outline the first four languages, referred to in the book as “Internal Languages”. In a follow up post I will describe the “Social Languages”. The first four languages are meant to be an exercise in personal transformation. These are the internal languages. The last three languages are meant to be an exercise in bringing about transformation in a culture or a group. These are the social languages. So let’s get started with the internal languages.

THE INTERNAL LANGUAGES:
From the Language of Complaint to the Language of Commitment

“I wish our church spent more time together!”

The author’s write, “The language of complaining, wishing, and hoping is a highly frequented conversational form, but it is assuredly not one of our seven languages for personal learning and reflective leadership.” However, “we would not complain about anything if we did not care about something.” That is an important statement. The authors do a great job of helping you dig deep to the commitment that ‘s behind the complaint.

To help us change from the language of complaint to the language of commitment, the author’s suggest completing this sentence: “I am committed to the value or importance of…”

The answer might be “…God’s love being displayed through each of us as we fellowship with and care for one another.”

Complaining accomplishes nothing, but commitments put us on the path to internal transformation. Later we will see how it can even change others as well. When we analyze our complaints from the angle of the underlying commitment we move from being disappointed in the circumstances to recognizing that we are deeply committed individuals.

From the Language of Blame to the Language of Personal Responsibility

When we complain, we are primarily focusing our frustration at other people. Now that we’ve moved from complaint to commitment we recognize our commitment to fellowship might, in some small or large part be our responsibility as well. This language helps you discover what role you might play in keeping your commitment from becoming a reality.

A great question to ask at this point is, “What are you doing, or not doing, that is keeping your commitment from being more fully realized?”

You might answer, “I have a difficult time sharing my personal needs, struggles, or hopes with other people, so I tend to stay at surface level with my friends at church” or, “I tend to procrastinate throughout the week and then when church members call me up I don’t have any time for them.”

The potential in the language of personal responsibility is that it draws on the momentum from the language of commitment. Rather than blaming others for what should be, you realize that with some personal responsibility it could be, at least as far as it concerns you.

It should also be pointed out that this doesn’t remove blame from others. At this point, it is enough to work on your own commitments. A couple of quotes (not in the book) that are helpful would be from Tolstoy, who said,”Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Remember, we are focusing on internal languages, not social languages, so far.

From the Language of New Year’s Resolutions to the Language of Competing Commitments

This language is intended to help diagnose our own immunity to change. We know how powerful a New Year’s resolution is, right? Wrong. New Year’s resolutions are mere wishes and hopes. Without understanding what is holding us back from keeping our commitments, we will never see transformation in our lives.

The first language was easy. Anyone will confess that they value time spent with others. This third language will be harder because it helps you find the raw truth about what’s keeping you personally from changing.

Keeping in mind your original commitment of safety and courtesy, complete this sentence, “But I may also be committed to…”

“…not being seen as needy or dependent on other people.”

This language is powerful because it “paradoxically increases the possibility of significant change by making clear the immune system that makes change so difficult.” The ability to see the system that is keeping us from change is powerful, but simply looking at it won’t change much. We have to actually do something about it, which leads us to the fourth language.

From the Language of Big Assumptions That Hold Us to the Language of Assumptions We Hold

To the authors, a “big assumption” is an assumption that we take as absolute truth. Assumptions could be true or could be false but “big assumptions” are not questioned, we believe them to be, and act like they are, the truth. These “are not so much the assumptions we have as they are the assumptions that have us.”

The authors write, “You have probably met or worked with people whom you see operating dysfunctionally, destructively, or self-destructively. We are suggesting that if you could accurately discern the Big Assumptions under which these people are operating…you might even say, “If I held those same Big Assumptions, I might very well be acting in just these destructive ways myself.” We all have Big Assumptions that have power over us. The first three languages are helping to expose this Big Assumption but there is still some work to do.

The problem with a Big Assumption is that once we figure out how the world should work, it doesn’t make any sense to us to look for anything different. We are certain we are right and those who don’t think that way are wrong.

So, how does this work with our example. The authors guide the reader to take the third language and change it to the following: “I assume that if…then…”

“I assume that if I am seen as needy or dependent on other people, then people won’t want to spend time with me. As much as I want fellowship with other believers, I would probably be kept out of the loop while other people experience Christian community together without me.”

The Big Assumption ties all four of the languages together. The commitment to fellowship is being held up by our own procrastination or inability to share our lives with others. Further, we have a competing commitment that we don’t want to come across as needy and are assuming that if people perceive that we are needy then we won’t achieve authentic fellowship which is our original commitment.

The Big Assumptions are produced unintentionally, but the “Assumptions that we hold” are produced with great difficulty. It requires opening up with someone to let them see your Big Assumption and letting them work with you to change your thinking and behavior. Once you’ve worked through it, though, you gain mastery over your assumptions and begin taking them for what they really are: assumptions. The Big Assumption “anchors and sustains our immune system [to change]” but the “assumptions that we hold…creates a pivotal lever for disturbing our immunity to change. By beginning to “speak” this fourth language we begin to gain new perspective on our world and we are able to change our destructive behavior and begin realizing our healthy commitments.

Now What?

The more we practice these languages, the more transformed we become and the people around us become. But there are three more languages that deal specifically with helping others change. Make sure you check out the next post in this series: Social Languages for Transformation.

Meanwhile, use these languages to discover your own Big Assumptions. Do you mind sharing them with us? Once you get it out in the open it will be easier for you to work on them. Feel free to walk us through all four languages. What are you committed to? In what ways are you responsible for that not happening? What competing commitments do you hold? What is your Big Assumption?

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You Might Be a Milk Drinker If…

Posted in body of Christ, christian thought, discipleship by Nathan Creitz on March 3, 2009

milk-bottleMy walk with God recently has taken me through Hebrews and I was struck by a passage in chapter 5 and 6 that caused me to ask the following question:

“Is the church developing milk drinkers or meat eaters when it comes to spiritual maturity?”

Hebrews 5:11 – 6:3 talks about spiritual maturity. It says that we Christians ought to be cooking up solid food but instead we are consuming the breast milk of the church. Christians are meant to mature, to grow up. So how about you and me? Are we advancing on to finger foods or are we stuck breastfeeding?

From this passage in Hebrews, I’ve realized that you might be a milk drinker if…

…you aren’t maturing!

Again, the analogy here is a new Christian who won’t grow up. We are meant to mature. The role of the leaders in the church is to see to it that the body is growing. Colossians 1:28, Paul says, “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” Maturity means spiritual growth and health.

The same word for “mature” could be interpreted as “perfect”. Don’t let that scare you though. The idea is that we are healthy. Health is the normal way of life, sickness is abnormal. When we are sick, we take action to be cured. Sickness debilitates us. It keeps us from work or school. It makes us groggy or lazy. When we are spiritualy healthy and when we are maturing, we are in the normal state of being.

Whatever analogy you use, whether a baby growing to adulthood or a sick person becoming well, we should be seeing spiritual growth in our lives!

…you aren’t leaving!

Hebrews 5:12 says “you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God’s revelation.” Then, chapter 6 verse 1 encourages us to “leav[e] the elementary message about the Messiah.” This implies that we don’t need to relearn the basics (though a review every now and then doesn’t hurt). Instead we are moving on to more advanced principles.

The image in my mind has to do with a classroom. Once we’ve taken elementary Algebra we shouldn’t have to take it again and again. It’s time to move on to advanced Calculus or Trigonometry (I don’t even know what those things are, but you get my point).

…you aren’t bearing!

That is, you might be a milk drinker if you aren’t bearing fruit! Let’s return to the baby analogy. An eleven year old should be helping with the chores in the house. A 30 year old should be earning a living or caring for other children and not living at home with mom and dad. But, if an eleven year old or thirty year old is still trying to fit a round object into a square hole, chances are something is wrong developmentally. As we mature, we also begin producing. As a Christian, this means that at some point we need to begin bearing fruit. Eventually, we begin caring for other Christians who are new in their faith.

…you aren’t discerning!

A mature Christian is able to distinguish between good and evil according to Hebrews 5:14. Spiritual maturity brings discernment. We can all look back at our teenage years and know that we didn’t always have the best judgment. We all know that we could’ve avoided a lot of trouble if we had listened to our elders. The problem is, if you are a milk drinker, you probably can’t discern that you are spiritually immature. That’s why it is important for the leaders in the church to take steps to present “everyone mature in Christ.”

…you aren’t teaching!

Are you teaching anyone anything? This is a scary diagnostic for spiritual maturity because probably 80% of church attenders aren’t doing any teaching of anyone. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean you’ve got to preach on Sunday morning or lead a small group every week. Those are important roles in the church, but there are other ways you can be a teacher. Some people mentor a teenager. Some people work with the children and teach them about God. Fathers can set an example by teaching their families. Some teach new Christians, others teach nearly Christians, while still others are doing their best to reach and teach anti Christians. We engage in discipleship, evangelism, apologetics, etc. and these are all forms of teaching. So, again, are you teaching anyone? Is there someone in your life in whom you are investing?

The writer of Hebrews was very clear, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God’s revelation. You need milk, not solid food.” Members of the church should take note that we don’t leave the teaching to the hired “professionals”. Leaders of the church should take note that our job is to unleash the gifts and resources of the whole Body of Christ. We are to equip everyone to teach, to serve, to give, and to reach out to the world around us. Everyone in the church should be maturing to the point where he or she is able to sit at the table and eat the steak of God’s Word and not just the milk.

So pull up to the table and bring out the main course…I’m getting hungry!

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Making Disciples in a Bookstore

Posted in christian thought, discipleship by Nathan Creitz on December 10, 2008

images-stained-glass-calling-the-fishermen-tm1Recently I was in a Christian bookstore and I asked an employee if I could see their books on making disciples.

You know that feeling when you are shocked by something you were also expecting? Like you’re surprised but not surprised all at the same time?

That’s how I felt when the employee said he would have to ask the manager. I kept the look of surprise / not surprise off my face when the manager thought for a minute as we wandered aimlessly through the rows of books, and he was telling me they didn’t have a section on discipleship and he would have to think about where I might find something on discipleship. The perplexed look of surprise / not surprise started to surface on my face when he went to look it up on the computer and came back with no results.

I probably wasn’t going to buy anything, I just wanted to see if there’s anything new and interesting. I like to see who is writing about discipleship today and see what they are saying. To the bookstore’s credit, they did have a few books on the subject after I dug through the “spirituality” section and the “pastoral counseling” section. I guess I was surprised because as followers of Jesus we have been commanded to “Go and make disciples”. The Bible is clearly our best guide for that process, but with all the books on prayer and Christian living and world missions and biographies etc. we can’t find a dusty corner of a lonely shelf to place a few books on the matter of making disciples?

On the other hand, I wasn’t surprised. Other than some biographies of a few people who have done discipleship well, a few books that focus on the matter, and a few other books that have a section about it, discipleship is not fun to talk about. Discipleship involves commitment. Most churchgoers are content to attend a weekly service, place a twenty dollar bill in the plate once a month, and try not to snicker at the bad jokes told at work each day (that’s “witnessing” in their opinion). Discipleship is so much more. Discipleship is what Jesus called us to. Discipleship is obedience. Discipleship is discipline but it’s messy at the same time.

Our churches have such a screwed up idea of what discipleship is meant to be that we’ve got to start thinking about it, praying about it, writing about it, speaking about it, and DOING IT! People are led astray by church leaders who think discipleship is another class to attend. Instead, discipleship is living, breathing, and being family together with other believers. It should involve a mentor-type figure through a one-on-one relationship but it definitely involves the community. The community (characterized by words like “small”, “intimate”, “missional”, etc.) disciples the person. They live life together. They get in each others lives. The community confronts, encourages, exhorts, prophecies, and serves the disciple. The community plays together, serves together, suffers together, prays together, and lives together.

These are the kinds of things that aren’t being talked about by the church. It is definitely important to think about how to be missional, but what happens when we’ve unlocked the culture code and God gives new believers to the church? Stick them in a class? Guilt trip them when they don’t make it to the church service because if they don’t get that feeding then they are going to starve the rest of the week? If they were being discipled then the leaders of the weekly worship gathering wouldn’t have so much pressure placed on them to perform.

What is discipleship? What church leaders today are the most effective at calling the church to discipleship? What are the best books, young and old, to read about making disciples?

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My Top Ten Christian Books

Posted in uncategorized by Nathan Creitz on December 5, 2008

banner1Many of my readers have read my post about the Christian fiction book from William Paul Young entitled The Shack. I appreciate all of your comments and questions about that post. This new post is in response to what Mike asked. He said.

Hey, can you give me a list of maybe 10 Christian nonfiction books you would recommend and maybe 10 fiction books to read? Thanks.

So, Mike, thanks for that question. I can only give you a sampling from the books I personally have read. If others would like to offer suggestions in the comment section of this post…that would also be helpful.

Top Ten Christian Nonfiction Books (in my library that I believe everyone should read).

ß. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

ß. The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer

ß. Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

ß. On the Incarnation by Athanasius

ß. A Mind for God by James Emery White

ß. The Question of God by Armand M. Nicholi Jr.

ß. The Post Christian Mind by Harry Blamires

ß. Does God Believe in Atheists by John Blanchard

ß. Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

ß. Sacred Companions by David G. Benner

Top Ten Christian Fiction Books (in my library that are not necessarily the unorthodox pop fiction of today like “The Shack”)

ß. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

ß. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

ß. Ben Hur by Lew Wallace

ß. The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

ß. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

ß. The Silver Chalice by Thomas Costain

ß. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan from Baker

ß. The Zion Chronicles Series by Brock and Bodie Thoene

ß. The Zion Covenant Series by Brock and Bodie Thoene

ß. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

What about you? What are your favorite books? What would you like to see on this list?

Notes from my Preaching Class

Posted in christian habits, christian thought, preaching by Nathan Creitz on December 3, 2008

bibprerob1I’ve been preaching for years but I am just now taking a seminary class on the subject and it has transformed the way I approach the preparation to preach. My professor is Haddon Robinson (one of the top ten most influential preachers according to Christianity Today. He wrote Biblical Preaching which is “Still the preaching primer of choice!” according to Preaching Magazine) so you can imagine the intimidation I felt yesterday when I preached in front of a class of my peers with Dr. Robinson and his little yellow notebook sitting directly to my right.

Does preaching have purpose? I’ve written elsewhere that I believe preaching is Biblical and necessary for the strengthening of the church but in this post I want to describe my personal experience with what happens when a pastor faithfully preaches the Word of God.

Praying the Text

What I want to describe here is something I have experienced many times, not just in preparing a sermon, but also in personal Bible study. However, as I prepared to preach Romans 3:21-26, I remember spending a lot of time in prayer and reflection. These times of prayer change me every time I preach. It helps me to move from thinking “I hope I do well” and “I want a good grade” and “Maybe I will win some kind of preaching class award” to praying “Lord, may I find your Truth from this text” and “Who cares if I get a good grade, if only you will change me through this process”.

Preaching is a Discipline

Prayer helps to reduce my own pride in preaching. Preaching is a discipline that encourages me to pray for humility, to pray for the people that will hear the message, to pray for transformation in my life and theirs. Preparing to preach is a process of thinking Christianly. This isn’t a time to search the internet for someone else’s sermons. It isn’t a last minute scrambling to throw something together because you “have to”. Preaching is a unique exercise in loving God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is introspective and revealing. I experienced a transformation in my own heart as I wrestled with the main idea of the text.

Preaching is a Process

As I submitted my study to the rigorous discipline of Dr. Robinson’s “stages” of sermon preparation, I was amazed at how articulate I became. I couldn’t just throw something together. I had to wrestle with the text. I had to argue with it. I had to be frustrated by it. I had to ask my wife for help. I had to come up with a way to articulate. When I finally wrote down the words that became my “homiletical idea” it was a word from the Lord. It hit me hard. I literally fell to my knees and wept when God gave it to me. What struck me were the words in Romans 3:26 which says “He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time so that He would BE righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.” After struggling for hours over how to articulate the main idea I wrote, God would not BE a good God, if He had not sent His Son to die. I didn’t get that sentence from John Piper or Mark Driscoll or from someone else’s blog. I received it as a reward from God as I wrestled with Him and His Word. Feel free to disagree with my homiletical idea…feel free to disregard it as common knowledge. But it was so clear to me that this was the word I was to preach for that particular time and place that I was overcome with emotions of gratitude and praise to God for His providence – not just of providing the words for a sermon but of providing us with His Son.

Where We Go Wrong

If I hadn’t waited for that word from the Lord I would’ve settle for something else. I would’ve preached a message that hadn’t gripped my heart. I think preachers often sell themselves short. Many preachers don’t preach a word from the Lord; they preach a plagiarized copy or a watered down version of what God has to say in His Word. If we don’t grapple with the main idea of a text and let it shape us and let it guide our prayer for the congregation and for the world and let it tackle us with its simplicity and its power then we will never be preachers, we will only be talkers. Preaching is discipline. Preaching is a selfless, pastoral act given to the church of God. Preaching is humility. Preaching is a process. If our preaching is anything less then it is disqualified.

What Happens After the Sermon?

What happens after the sermon leaves our mouths? That is not my concern. I don’t need to hear “Good job, pastor!” or get a pat on my back. I don’t need to hear someone talk about how it changed their life. I don’t need an email from someone on the mission field saying I preached a sermon that inspired them to move to Africa. If I prepare to preach with discipline and humility I will know that whatever happens after I preach has nothing to do with me. If I am diligent in my preparation then I will know that God’s Word changed me, that God’s Word presented me with the main idea, that God’s Word shaped how I crafted the sermon, that the Spirit presided over the process and the delivery, and that the Spirit of God was at work in the people’s hearts and minds. Charles Spurgeon entered his pulpit every time praying, “I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Spirit.” A preacher is a servant with a mouth, nothing more.

So these are reflections of my experience in preparing to preach yesterday. What are your thoughts on the purpose of preaching?

An Unnatural Life

Posted in body of Christ, christian thought, cultural relevance by Nathan Creitz on October 28, 2008

The Church is on the decline in Western society today. There is division in the Church in part due to a lack of diligence on the part of elders to ward off false teaching. Christians have become lazy in their thought and in their actions. The Church has ceased to have any major impact on the world.

There are thousands of root causes to the lack of influence possessed by the Church in the West. However, there is one cause that presents itself as a large heading under which many of those causes are categorized. The problem with the Church in the West is that we’ve forgotten that Christianity has no power apart from struggle. Indeed, many church goers are doing their best to avoid struggle and pain. They are hoping that the Church will give them their best life now. Surely, being a child of the King of Kings bears a certain pride and privilege. After all, we aren’t like those sinners are we?

Many of the qualities of the fruit of the Spirit require struggle before they can be obtained. It takes effort. I’ve grown up hearing people say, “Don’t pray for patience or you just might get what you asked for.” They glibly realize and articulate that if our desire is for patience, God just might test us in a difficult way. We just might have to undergo a beating before we get it right. When we finally learn a lesson of patience God might just make us go through it again so we don’t get caught up in pride – humility being another quality that takes a lot of “lessons” from God (of all things, don’t ask God for humility, right?).

Struggle is essential to the Christian life. God will not develop such things as discipline, humility, selfless love, peace, and patience in us without tests of our character. The fact that the Western Church today lacks these qualities is due to the fact that we run from trials and tests. Peter says, “You rejoice in this [inheritance], though now for a short time you have had to be distressed by various trials so that the genuineness of your faith – more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7) James even encourages us to “consider it joy…whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4) From these passages and others (not to mention the sufferings of Christ) we find the call to suffer. This call is referred to in several places as a refining process. The verse from 1 Peter even talks about being distressed by various trials even though we have a right to an amazing inheritance. 

Why do we go through this struggle? Purity, Genuineness, Sincerity, Experience, Endurance, Joy, Maturity, Perfection and God’s glory are but a few things that come to mind in light of the above verses and reflection on the life of Jesus. What happens when we don’t endure this struggle? Division, Greed, Selfishness, Laziness, Complacency, Unorthodoxy, Immorality, Jealousy, Strife, Envy, and Drunkenness all come to mind based on Galatians 5 and even a cursory glance at the status of the Western Church today. 

God has called us to something that is unnatural. God has called us to something that is impossible apart from Him. No wonder people give up so quickly when confronted with a difficult challenge. This is not natural! It’s not natural to discipline your body and your mind for God’s glory. There are natural laws that tell us the universe decays and winds down. Our spiritual life is under the same natural law that tends towards decay unless the Spirit of God energizes us and enables us to… to what? To have our best life now? To obtain all of the promises and inheritance of God? No, the Spirit energizes us to serve, to struggle, to discipline, to grow, to mature, to be patient, and to love. That doesn’t come naturally. God is the force that is at work helping us in our weakness to overcome various trials and tests.

The decline in the Church is due to natural rather than supernatural living. The Church is not in the habit of suffering and serving. We have traded in good habits for bad habits or simply stopped being spiritually disciplined all together. The Church is winding down due to a decreased desire for struggle and an increased desire for stuff. Ultimately, the Church will come to a complete stop if we don’t realize that we are called to live an unnatural life that is pleasing to God. It’s not natural to live by faith. It’s not natural to be self-controlled. It’s not natural to be patient. It’s not natural to love. But with God all things are possible. Let’s pray that the Church will receive the discipline of the Lord and become disciplined in their habits and actions.