RSS

Author Archives: lifecoach4God

About lifecoach4God

I am the Lead Pastor of Valley Baptist Church (Bay Area), born and raised in Huntington Beach, Ca,, and currently living in Novato, California. I am married to my best friend of 24 years - Dana - and five adult children; and five grand children. I have been a Teaching Pastor for over twenty years. I was privileged to study at Multnomah University (B.S. - 1988); Talbot School of Theology (M.Div. - 1991); Westminster Theological Seminary & Northwest Graduate School (D. Min. - 2003). I founded Vertical Living Ministries in 2008 with the goal of encouraging Christian Disciples and Leaders to be more intentionally Christ-Centered in how they live by bringing glory to God in nine key areas of life: personal spiritually, in marriage, in their families, with friends, vocationally, physical health, finances, discipleship, and mentoring .

Greg Koukl’s Tactics: A Game Plan For Discussing Your Christian Convictions

282921.jpg

How To Winsomely Build Bridges With Non-Believers

Book Review by Dr. David P. Craig

Living in one of the least churched areas in the USA (Bay Area, Northern California) I am always looking for better ways to build bridges with non-believers. I have found that many of the old ways I was trained in (e.g., 4 spiritual laws, and various tracts) assume a common world-view. However, we aren’t “in Kansas” anymore as the saying goes. Times have changed and are ever changing rapidly. In our cultural climate we can either retreat or engage. Tactics is a tool for those who wish to engage – and a very helpful tool it is indeed.

What I love about this book is that it helps Christians (of all stripes) engage non-believers in a very simple manner. Koukl helps you become a better engager by looking for opportunities, asking good questions, and listening well so as to build bridges toward understanding, and ultimately truth. All truth is God’s truth and Koukl gives examples of how to arrive at moral truth, philosophical truth, scientific truth, and religious truth.

One of the strategies Koukl highlights in his book is letting the other person defeat their own view by asking them to share what they believe. If what the person believes is false it will manifest itself as false eventually through our questioning (essentially they end up shooting themselves in the foot). At this point they may want to consider the truth claims of the Christian worldview. He gives many examples of how to do this from his own experiences in conversations and debates with non-believers.

One of the key illustrations used over and over again in the book is that of the beloved Lieutenant Columbo (the homicide detective played by actor Peter Falk). Columbo would always solve murder cases by asking good questions, being a good listener, and controlling each case (usually unbeknownst to the murderer) until the case was solved. Koukl uses a plethora of examples to drive the “Columbo method” home.

Koukl masterfully weaves case scenarios throughout the book and demonstrates how we can utilize the tactical methods of Columbo to gain a hearing and build bridges with anyone. I highly recommend this book for Christians who are interested in evangelism and apologetics. It’s also filled with ethical examples as well.  I will continue to personally use principles from this book and train those I disciple to do likewise. Koukl has blessed followers of Christ with a wonderful resource to help all believers be better equipped to strategically and effectively influence those of differing views to consider the cogency of the Christian Worldview.

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Book Review on Scott Klusendorf’s: The Case For Life

503207.jpg

A Compelling Case For The Pro-Life Position

Book Review By Dr. David P. Craig

It’s hard to fathom that somewhere in the vicinity of 50 million babies have been legally killed since the historic Roe v. Wade decision made on January 22, 1973. In this book Scott Klusendorf brilliantly and graciously marshals a sound case for the pro-life position; namely, that the unborn are “distinct, living, and whole members of the human species regardless of size or location.”

In Section One Klusendorf clarifies the issue by honing in on the key issue in the debate that divides the pro-choice abortion and the pro-life position. The key issue is “What is the unborn?” He makes a strong case from the science of embryology and from philosophy that the unborn are indeed human and thus valuable and worthy of protection in the womb.

In Part two the author frames the abortion issue around whether or not life has meaning. Are we merely randomly evolved or are we endowed with value because we are God’s special creation. He makes a great case for the existence of God; the cogency of the Christian faith; and the purpose for which human beings are made to worship and bring glory to God.

Part Three gives a plethora of excellent and carefully articulated answers to six of the most used objections from the pro-abortion choice position. Each question is taken up by a whole chapter and in my opinion Klusendorf makes an extremely good case for the pro-life position in answer to each objection.

Part Four is extremely encouraging. All four chapters are full of hope for the days ahead. Filled with practical ways that pro-lifers can work together to bring about an eventual end to the travesty of legalized abortion.

Klusendorf has written a tour de force indeed. This book will encourage pro-lifers with tremendous evidence for their position. It is also encouraging because it seems that the tide is changing – just like it did with slavery earlier in our countries history. There are great resources in this book: review questions for group study; an appendix filled with training resources; and the way that the book is written – scholarly, yet non-technical; practical, and scientifically, theologically, and philosophically sound. Reading this book is like taking a graduate level course on the topic from a distinguished professor. I highly recommend this book and hope that it gains a wide audience and influences the convinced and non-convinced on this crucial issue.

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Book Review on Bold Reformer by David S. Steele

512gRA0wLhL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Book Review By Dr. David P. Craig

I have to start out this review by commenting on the author. Dr. David S. Steele, I am privileged to say is a very dear friend with whom I am blessed to have known for close to 30 years. We met at Multnomah University (Multnomah School of the Bible) back in the mid 1980’s, where we were roommates and have remained good friends ever since. We also earned our doctorates together in the early 2000’s in Seattle. I write this to say that I am very biased in whole heartedly recommending this book because the author is one of the men I most admire and respect on planet Earth. Whether he speaks or writes – I listen! He is one of the most disciplined pastors I know. He loves God deeply, and is passionate that others would come to know Him through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are both Lead/Preaching pastors in our respective churches (he in Washington; I’m in California); approximately the same age; and both have had our share of trials and triumphs in ministry. I believe what makes this such a great book to recommend is because Dr. Steele writes as a theologian, pastor, and practitioner. There are no theories here. What is written are biblical truths that have been forged in the trenches of ministry. Dave Steele is indeed a Bold Reformer in the ilk of men like Martin Luther, the Apostle Paul, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and other godly men who have been courageous in the trenches of ministry who preceded us.

Bold Reformer is a great book because it cuts through theories and fads and hones in on essential theological truths that are necessary whether past, present, or future. It is a book that I have now read twice, and will definitely read again. It’s especially a helpful book for pastors in the trenches and would-be pastors. In this book Dr. Steele writes about the essential foundations a pastor needs to believe and promises he can rely on through thick and thin. I am grateful for my friend, and grateful that out of his own trials he has written a helpful and encouraging book for pastors to never give up.

This year (2017) will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s famous nailing of the 95 Theses on the castle door at Wittenberg that sparked the Reformation. I truly believe that this book has the potential to spark a new reformation in pastors today. The same principles that Martin Luther applied are necessary today and needed desperately in order to bring about reformation and revival. I am hopeful that Bold Reformer will be used to bring about a new reformation of and for the glory of our awesome God as it is widely oread and practiced.

 

The Christian’s A-Z’s of Thanksgiving By Dr. David P. Craig

 

norman-rockwell-thanksgiving.jpg

What do Christians have to be thankful for every day and not take for granted as we contemplate the many blessings we have through Christ? Here are my A-Z’s of Thanksgiving:

A = Adoption – I have been chosen unconditionally and eternally into the family of God: Romans 8:15, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

B = Baptism – I have been cleansed, washed, made new, and am now identified with Christ through the ordinance of baptism an external symbol of an inner reality: Romans 6:4, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

C = Christ – I am a new creation in Christ: 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

D = Disciple – I have a perfect Leader to follow – the Lord Jesus Christ: Luke 6:40, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”

E = Evangelism – I have good news to share with every human being on the planet: Acts 20:24, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

F = Father – I have an intimate relationship with a perfect Heavenly Father who loves to answer my prayers: Matthew 6:6, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

G = Glory – Everything I do can be done for God’s glory: 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

H = Heaven – I know that Jesus has prepared a perfect place for me to live when I die: John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

I = Identity – In Christ my identity is totally secure: Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

J = Justified – Because Jesus’ righteousness has been imputed to me in exchange for my sin I am declared sinless and righteous by God the Father forever: Titus 3:6-7, “whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

K = Kingdom – I belong to an everlasting Kingdom ruled by a Perfect King: Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

L = Love – I am loved by a perfect Lover: John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

M = Mission – I have a purpose to live for that matters forever: Philippians 3:13-14, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

N = New Birth – I have been made alive spiritually in Christ by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit: Titus 3:5, “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

O = Obedience – I have a new inclination to love God and my neighbor with my heart, mind, soul and strength: 1 John 3:23, “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”

P = Peace – I am at peace with God forever by faith in Jesus: Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Q = Qualities I share character attributes of God: Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

R = Rapture – I will one day meet the saints and Jesus in the air: 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”

S = Scripture – In the 66 Books of the Bible I have all the revelation from God I need for salvation and sanctification: 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

T = Truth – In Scripture I have all the objective truth I need to guide my every thought and decision for living a godly life: John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

U = Unity – Just as the members of the Trinity are one; I can be unified with my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world: Ephesians 4:4-6, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

V = Vengeance – I don’t have to worry about my enemies; God will deal justly with those who have hurt or betrayed me: Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

W = Wrath – Thank God He has punished Jesus for my sins and as a result I will never experience His wrath: Romans 3:24-25, “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”

X = Xenophobia – I no longer need to be afraid of God: Romans 5:10-11, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Y = Yahweh – I am grateful that God is the “I AM”. He has the power of being in and of Himself and thus is totally capable of sustaining His creation and carrying out His glorious purposes: Revelation 1:8, “ I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Z = Zion – I can look forward to a fortress – my eternal home – that will never be destroyed, or decay – a perfect city to live with Christ and His family forever: Isaiah 60:14, The sons of those who afflicted you shall come bending low to you, and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet; they shall call you the City of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.”

 

Tags: , ,

Spiritual Lessons Learned From a Godly Man

*7 Spiritual Lessons Learned Over 60 Years By  Christian Author Jerry Bridges

915791.jpg

I have learned many lessons over my sixty-plus years of being a believer, but these are seven that stand out to me. Each one of the seven has made a significant change in the way I view the Christian life and how I live it. Some of the lessons may seem well evident, but when I became a Christian at age eighteen, despite having grown up in church, I was essentially biblically illiterate. Here are the seven lessons:

(1) Lesson One: The Bible is meant to be applied to specific life situations. This includes both God’s commands to be obeyed and His promises to be relied upon. Here, of course, is where Scripture memorization is so valuable. The Holy Spirit can bring to our minds specific Scriptures to apply to specific situations.

(2) Lesson Two: All who trust in Christ as Savior are united to Him in a living way just as the branches are united in the vine:

15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5).

This means that we abide in Him–that is, depend on Him in faith–His very life will flow into and through us to enable us to be fruitful both in our own character and our ministry to others.

(3) Lesson Three: The pursuit of holiness and godly character is neither by self-effort nor simply letting Christ “live His life through you.” Rather, it does involve our most diligent efforts but with a recognition that we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to enable us and to bless our efforts. I call this “dependent responsibility.”

(4) Lesson Four: The sudden understanding of the doctrine of election was a watershed event for me that significantly affected my entire Christian life. For example, it was the realization of God’s sovereignty in election that led me to study further the sovereignty in election that led me to study further the sovereignty of God in all of life. It also produced a deep sense of gratitude and, I trust, humility, of realizing salvation was entirely of Him.

(5) Lesson Five: The representative union of Christ and the believer means that all that Christ did in both His perfect obedience and His death for our sins is credited to us. Or to say it another way, because Christ is our representative before the Father, it was just of God to charge our sins to Christ and to credit His righteousness to us. So we as believers stand before God perfectly cleansed from both guilt and defilement of sin, but also clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ.

(5) Lesson Six: The gospel is not just for unbelievers coming to Christ. Rather, all of us who are believers need the gospel every day because we are still practicing sinners. The gospel, embraced every day, helps keep us from self-righteousness because it frees us to see our sin for what it really is. Also, gratitude for what God has done for us in Christ should motivate us to want to pursue godly character and to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to Him.

(7) Lesson Seven: We are dependent on the Holy Spirit to apply the life of Christ to our lives. Someone has said (and this is a paraphrase), God the Father purposes, Christ accomplishes what the Father has purposed, and the HolySpirit applies to our lives what Christ accomplished. To do this, the Spirit works in us directly and He enables us to work. All the spiritual strength that we need comes to us from Christ through the Holy Spirit.

*These Seven Spiritual Lessons are adapted from Chapter 15 in  Jerry Bridges’ book: God Took Me By The Hand: A Story of God’s Unusual Providence. Colorado Springs: NAVPRESS, 2014.

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 12, 2016 in Book Excerpts, Jerry Bridges

 

Tags:

12 Principles for Disagreeing with Other Christians

550744.jpg

1. Welcome those who disagree with you (Rom. 14:1–2).

Concerning any area of disagreement on third-level matters [i.e., disputable issues that shouldn’t cause disunity in the church family], a church will have two groups: (1) those who are “weak in faith” (14:1) on that issue and (2) those “who are strong” (15:1). The weak in faith have a weak conscience on that matter, and the strong in faith, a strong conscience.

Don’t forget that “faith” here refers not to saving faith in Christ (14:22a makes that clear) but to the confidence a person has in their heart or conscience to do a particular activity, such as eat meat (14:2). The weak person’s conscience lacks sufficient confidence (i.e., faith) to do a particular act without self-judgment, even if that act is actually not a sin. To him it would be a sin.

What this means is that you are responsible to obey both Paul’s exhortations to the weak and his exhortations to the strong, since (1) there are usually people on either side of you on any given issue and (2) you yourself likely have a stronger conscience on some issues and a weaker conscience on others. This brings us to Paul’s second principle when Christians disagree on scruples.

2. Those who have freedom of conscience must not look down on those who don’t (Rom. 14:3–4).

The strong, who have freedom to do what others cannot do, are tempted to look down on and despise those who are more strict. They may say, “Those people don’t understand the freedom we have in Christ. They’re not mature like us! They’re legalistic. All they think about are rules.” Paul condemns this attitude of superiority.

3. Those whose conscience restricts them must not be judgmental toward those who have freedom (Rom. 14:3–4).

Those who have a weaker conscience on a particular issue are always tempted to pass judgment on those who are freer. They may say, “How can those people be Christians and do that? Don’t they know they’re hurting the testimony of Christ? Don’t they know that they are supposed to give up things like that for the sake of the gospel?”

Paul gives two reasons that it’s such a serious sin to break these two principles, that is, for the strong to look down on those with a weaker conscience and for the weak to judge those with a stronger conscience:

1“God has welcomed him” (14:3c). Do you have the right to reject someone whom God has welcomed? Are you holier than God? If God himself allows his people to hold different opinions on third-level matters, should you force everyone to agree with you?

2“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” (14:4a). You are not the master of other believers. When you look down on someone with a weaker conscience or judge someone with a stronger conscience, you’re acting as though that person is your servant and you are his master. But God is his master. In matters of opinion, you must let God do his work. You just need to welcome your brother or sister. God is a better master than you are.

4. Each believer must be fully convinced of their position in their own conscience (Rom. 14:5).

Should Christians celebrate Jewish holy days? This issue, which Paul is addressing here, illustrates the principle that on disputable matters, you should obey your conscience.

This does not mean that your conscience is always right. It’s wise to calibrate your conscience to better fit God’s wil. But it does mean that you cannot constantly sin against your conscience and be a healthy Christian. You must be fully convinced of your present position on food or drink or special days—or whatever the issue—and then live consistently by that decision until God may lead you by his Word and Spirit to adjust your conscience.

5. Assume that others are partaking or refraining for the glory of God (Rom. 14:6–9).

Notice how generous Paul is to both sides. He assumes that both sides are exercising their freedoms or restrictions for the glory of God. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be in a church where everyone gave each other the benefit of the doubt on these differences, instead of putting the worst possible spin on everything?

Paul says that both the weak and the strong can please the Lord even while holding different views on disputable matters. They have different positions but the same motivation: to honor God.

6. Do not judge each other in these matters because we will all someday stand before the judgment seat of God (Rom. 14:10–12).

If we thought more about our own situation before the judgment throne of God, we would be less likely to pass judgment on fellow Christians. On that day we’ll be busy enough answering for our own life; we don’t need to spend our short life meddling in the lives of others. In these matters where good Christians disagree, we just need to mind our own conscience and let God be the judge of others.

7. Your freedom to eat meat is correct, but don’t let your freedom destroy the faith of a weak brother (Rom. 14:13–15).

Free and strict Christians in a church both have responsibilities toward each other. Strict Christians have a responsibility not to impose their conscience on everyone else in the church. It is a serious sin to try to bind someone else’s conscience with rules that God does not clearly command.

But the second half of Romans 14 places the bulk of responsibility on Christians with a strong conscience. One obvious reason is that they are strong, so God calls on them to bear with the weaknesses of the weak (Rom. 15:1). Not only that, of the two groups, only the strong have a choice in third-level matters like meat, holy days, and wine. They can either partake or abstain, whereas the conscience of the strict allows them only one choice. It is a great privilege for the strong to have double the choices of the weak. They must use this gift wisely by considering how their actions affect the sensitive consciences of their brothers and sisters.

8. Disagreements about eating and drinking are not important in the kingdom of God; building each other up in righteousness, peace, and joy is the important thing (Rom. 14:16–21).

The New Testament clearly and repeatedly lays down the principle that God is completely indifferent to what we ingest. First and most important, the Lord Jesus himself memorably proclaimed all foods to be legitimate for eating in Mark 7:1–23 (esp. vv. 18–19). Since Peter didn’t seem to get the memo, the Lord Jesus had to give him a vision three times to show him that Christians must not make food an issue (Acts 10:9–16). Then in 1 Corinthians 8:8, Paul comes right out and says it: “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” And just in case we still didn’t get it, God gave us Romans 14:17, which shows that the kingdom of God has nothing to do with food and drink. Nothing. God doesn’t care at all about what we ingest.

This might seem mistaken. Doesn’t God care if we take poison? Not if the purpose is to cure. Every day Christians take poison into their bodies to cure themselves of cancer. But if we take in poison to kill ourselves, that’s another matter entirely. In Christianity, why you do things is more important than what you do.

9. If you have freedom, don’t flaunt it; if you are strict, don’t expect others to be strict like you (Rom. 14:22a).

This truth applies equally to the strong and the weak. To those with a strong conscience you have much freedom in Christ. But don’t flaunt it or show it off in a way that may cause others to sin. Be especially careful to nurture the faith of young people and new Christians.

Those of you with a weak conscience in a particular area also have a responsibility not to “police” others by pressuring them to adopt your strict standards. You should keep these matters between yourself and God.

10. A person who lives according to their conscience is blessed (Rom. 14:22b–23).

God gave us the gift of conscience in order to significantly increase our joy as we obey its warnings. One of the two great principles of conscience is to obey it. Just as God’s gift of touch and pain guards us from what would rob us of physical health, conscience continually guards us from the sin that robs our joy.

11. We must follow the example of Christ, who put others first (Rom. 15:1–6).

This principle doesn’t mean that the strong have to agree with the position of the weak. It doesn’t even mean that the strong can never again exercise their freedoms. On the other hand, neither does it mean that the strong only put up with or endure or tolerate the weak, like a person who tolerates someone who annoys him. For a Christian, to “bear with” the weaknesses of the weak means that you gladly help the weak by refraining from doing anything that would hurt their faith.

Romans 15:3 emphasizes the example of Christ. We cannot even begin to imagine the freedoms and privileges that belonged to the Son of God in heaven. To be God is to be completely free. Yet Christ “did not please himself” but gave up his rights and freedoms to become a servant so that we could be saved from wrath. Compared to what Christ suffered on the cross, to give up a freedom like eating meat is a trifle indeed.

12. We bring glory to God when we welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us (Rom. 15:7).

With this sentence, Paul bookends this long section that began with similar words in 14:1: “Welcome him. . . .” But here in 15:7 Paul adds a comparison—“as Christ has welcomed you”—and a purpose—“for the glory of God.” It matters how you treat those who disagree with you on disputable matters. When you welcome them as Christ has welcomed you, you glorify God.

Andrew David Naselli (PhD, Bob Jones University; PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is assistant professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota

J. D. Crowley (MA, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) has been doing missionary and linguistic work among the indigenous minorities of northeast Cambodia since 1994. He is the author of numerous books, including Commentary on Romans for Cambodia and Asia and the Tampuan/Khmer/English Dictionary.

This post is adapted from Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ by Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley.

 
 

Tags: , , , , ,

BOOK REVIEW FOR STICKY CHURCH BY LARRY OSBORNE

“Assimilating and Making Disciples in the Local Church”

285083.jpg

Reviewed By Dr. David P. Craig

Larry Osborne is a pastor’s pastor and a leader’s leader. He has successfully made and multiplied disciples in the same local church for over thirty years. Whenever he writes a book I read it; re-read it; and make sure my staff and leaders read it as well. Larry started with a small struggling church and has successfully developed multiplying disciples of Christ in San Diego and all over the world through their simple church model of assimilation and discipleship through their intentional and strategic implementation of small groups.

In Sticky Church Osborne writes about a simple strategic process for developing a small group ministry that is extremely effective in assimilating attenders and new comers in the church and helping them become connected and committed to making and multiplying fully devoted followers of Christ for the long-haul.

Part 1 is composed of four chapters whereby Osborne makes a compelling case for a simple model and strategy in developing a “sticky church.” A sticky church is a church where people “stick” or stay because they immediately become convinced and unified around the vision; and live out this vision in the context of a small group. In Osborne’s church in Vista, California (a suburb of San Diego) 80% of church attenders (over 7,000 adults) become committed to their small groups – what they call “growth groups.” The whole idea of “stickiness” is keeping people in the church (what he calls “closing the back door”) so that you have a high retention of attenders who stay and grow because they commit to a small group that’s committed to their growth as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Here are some insightful quotes from the first four chapters:

“But we’ve often become so focused on reaching people that we’ve forgotten the importance of keeping people.”

“What does Jesus’ parable about the four soils have to say about the way we do church? To my thinking it says a lot. And one of the most important things it says about churches is that stickiness matters.”

“They [the principles in this book and the sermon-based model used by North Coast Church) worked just as well when we were a small church of less than two hundred adults as they do today in a multisite megachurch with more than seven thousand in weekend attendance.”

“Almost all our growth has come by word of mouth.”

“We’ve simply tried to serve our people so well that they’ll want to bring their friends, without needing to be asked to do so.”

“Everything we do is aimed at helping the Christians we already have grow stronger in Christ. But everything is done in such a way that their non-Christian friends will understand all that we’re saying and doing.”

“Bottom line: We’ve tried to create a perfect storm for come-and-see evangelism while velcroing newcomers for long-term spiritual growth.”

“In fact, the most important number to know about North Coast Church is not the weekend attendance. It’s the percentage of adults who participate in one of our small groups. Since 1985 that number has equaled 80 percent of our average weekend attendance.”

“It’s as though they assumed (people that think that sermon-based small groups only work in a megachurch) that North Coast was always big church—or at least became one overnight…Not so…North Coast grew quite slowly in the early days. It took five years to go from 130-180. It took another five years to reach 750.”

“This is not an anti-marketing or anti-programs book. It’s a pro-stickiness book.”

“What matters is not the size of the church or the slickness of the programming . What matters is that those who come find a ministry and relationships worthy of spontaneous word-of-mouth recommendations. When that happens, a church is primed to hold on to the people it already has and the people they bring with them.”

“A sticky church needs a healthy leadership team composed of people who genuinely like one another, share the same vision, and pull in the same direction (talking about the first big change necessary to developing a sticky church – retaining new comers).”

“The second big change was in the way I taught and led our congregation. Focusing on the front door aimed everything at two kinds of people: the not-yet Christian or the super saint who was ready to help me charge the hill. There wasn’t much room for people who came to Christ but didn’t grow at a fast enough pace or carried lots of old baggage.”

“The third change involved launching a small group ministry focus primarily on building significant relationships rather than growing the church.”

“Instead of celebrating how many people came, the most important measurement would be how many came back.”

“Churches that close the back door effectively do so by serving their congregations so well that the people don’t want to leave. And happy sheep are incurable word-of-mouth marketers.”

“Whatever you do to reach people you have to continue to do to keep them (this is why they keep their ministries simple, consistent, and excellent – North Coast doesn’t do a lot of special events or programming).”

“High-powered front-door programs can have the unintended consequences of sending a message that some weekends and programs are for brining guests—and the rest aren’t.”

“There’s a second unintended obstacle that highly programmed front-door churches can put in the way of natural evangelism. If most of the people who come to Christ come as a result of a complex and high-powered event, it sends a subtle message that it takes lots of time, planning, and money to lead someone to Christ.”

“Instead of complex assimilation programs, a sticky church simply needs to provide plenty of ministry on-ramps to which members can easily connect the friends they’ve invited.”

In Part 2 Osborne writes five chapters on “How Small Groups Change Everything.” Here are some important points from this section:

“Most spiritual growth doesn’t come as a result of a training program or set curriculum. It comes as a result of life putting us in what I like to call a need-to-know or need-to-grow situation.”

“The focus of a sermon based small group is not so much on the curriculum as it is on the process.”

“The ultimate goal of a sermon-based small group is simply to velcro people to the two things they will need most when faced with a need-to-know or need-to-grow situation: the Bible and other Christians.”

“When the New Testament was written, the typical church was so small that it was, in essence, a small group.”

“The best tool I’ve ever seen for connecting people to one another and engaging them with the Bible for the long haul is a sermon-based small group. It offers a format that fits the way we spiritually grow, while providing a framework for a healthy and sticky church. Nothing compares.

“While many church leaders claim that small groups are an integral part of their ministry, I’ve learned that two simple measurements will always tell me their real place in a ministry’s pecking order: (1) the percentage of adults who attend a small group, and  (2) the participation level of senior staff and key lay leaders.”

“Getting there (the key to reaching critical mass – that all-important stage at which the full power and benefits of a small group ministry begin to impact the ethos, DNA, and spiritual health of nearly everyone and everything in the church) usually requires that somewhere between 40 to 60 percent of the average weekend adult attendance be involved in a small group. If fewer people participate, small groups will still have a profound effect, but it will be primarily on the individuals in them, not on the entire church.”

“Small groups undercut this Holy Man myth (The Holy Man myth is the idea that pastors/clergy somehow have more of a direct hot line to God) because they typically meet in widely dispersed settings. This makes it impossible for the pastor (or any other staff member) to carry out all the pastoral roles and functions. They simply can’t be everywhere at once…As a result, small group leaders inevitably step up and assume roles of spiritual leadership that they would have otherwise deferred to the pastoral staff.”

“That not only changes the way small group leaders view themselves; it changes the congregation’s outlook as well. Once people begin to realize that God’s anointing and spiritual power aren’t restricted to the guy who speaks on Sunday, they whine a lot less when he’s not available.”

“Another spiritually crippling falsehood that began to lose its grip on our congregation was what I call the Holy Place myth. It’s the idea that God’s presence is somehow greater in some places than in others.”

“With the demise of both the Holy Man and the Holy Place myths, our ministry was, for the first time, genuinely unleashed. People started bringing God to the workplace and into their neighborhoods rather than trying to bring everyone to the church building.”

“Let’s face it: In most churches there aren’t many opportunities for high-impact, life on life ministry. There are usually few up-front teaching roles, a handful of worship leader positions, and some youth and Sunday school spots to be filled. After that, most roles are pretty much part of the supporting cast, designed more to keep the machine running than to touch lives.”

“Small groups open up lots of new opportunities for frontline ministry. At North Coast every group has a leader and a host, most often made up of two couples. That means in every group, we have four people who teach, counsel, disciple, pray, visit hospitals, lead in worship, provide communion, and even baptize members of their little flock—none of which they would do without the platform for ministry we call growth groups.”

“As a former youth pastor, I learned long ago that no one steps up until there’s a vacuum that needs to be filled. Every year when my seniors were about to graduate, I would wonder if we’d survive without their leadership. But as soon as they were gone, the juniors and sophomores stepped up—often doing a better job than their departing upperclassmen.”

“Still another powerful advantage that small groups can bring is a marked increase in the practice of spiritual disciplines. That’s because a small group takes our good intentions and puts them on the our calendar.”

“Here’s the irony: if we canceled our small groups and filled our facility once a week for a prayer meeting with standing-room-only crowds, we’d probably get some great write-ups in the Christian press. But in reality we’d have almost 70% fewer people praying than we already have in our small groups.”

“Our young adult dropout rate is a fraction of what I’ve seen in the past. And I’m convinced it’s because we’ve focused on giving our children and youth the powerful gift of a growing mom and dad.”

“Sermon-based small groups also made it much easier for our teaching team to keep the entire church focused and headed in the same direction. Whether we’re casting vision, clarifying direction, or simply dealing with an important issue, it’s much easier to get people on the same page and keep them there.”

“One reason I want my messages to be more memorable (on why sermon based small groups make the preacher a better preacher and make the sermon go further in people’s lives) is that I want people to apply the important truths and doctrines of the faith. I know that if I can change the way people think, it will change the way they live.”

“It’s a relatively short step (for a marginal attender) from listening to a sermon to joining a small group that discusses the sermon he’s already heard. But it’s a much bigger step into a traditional small group Bible study.”

“There’s still another advantage that comes with a sermon based small group model. It’s that most people (including the marginally interested and new Christians) come to the meeting far more prepared than they would if they were using a typical workbook or study guide.”

Part 3 recounts ten chapters on the Why’s and How’s of Sermon-Based Small Groups and why this model works better than some of the more popular models out there for small groups. Here are some practical realities of sermon based small groups:

“A group needs to be small enough that everyone has a chance to contribute, but large enough that no one feels forced to speak up or share more than they want to. That means the ideal size for a group of introverts will tend to be larger than the ideal size for a group of thin-it-and-immediately-say-it extroverts. One needs more people to break the silence. The other needs less people so that there will be some silence.”

“The ideal size for a group of married couples is usually twelve to fourteen people. For singles, eight to twelve can be ideal.”

“We’ve found that whenever a couples group reaches sixteen people (or a singles group reaches fourteen), attendance becomes predictably inconsistent. It’s strange, but we can have three groups of twelve people, and all thirty-six will be present at almost every meeting. But two groups of sixteen people will hardly ever have all thirty-two show up. Perhaps it has to do with those in the smaller group feeling more needed and feeling a greater sense of responsibility.”

“We’ve found that the sermon-based small groups that have the greater life-on-life impact and stay together the longest are always those in which the friendships are deepest. That’s why we tell people to choose a group primarily according to who else is in it rather than where or when it meets.”

“Although we allow people to pick any group they want as long as there’s room in the group, we’ve found that those who make their choice based on a convenient location or time have a much lower stick rate than those who look for a group with which they already share an interest or station in life.”

“In almost every case, the first thing you’d notice at one of our small group meetings is that it starts with some light refreshments as people arrive—especially something to drink.”

“Once the meeting starts, most groups spend fifteen to thirty minutes sharing prayer requests and updating one another on what has been going on in their lives…As a group jells, this part of the meeting tends to expand and move to a much deeper level. In new groups, it can be perfunctory and shallow at first. But that’s fine by us. We don’t try to force depth. We simply provide an opportunity for great depth and vulnerability t show up when both the group and the Holy Spirit are ready.”

“The next part of the meeting is dedicated to the study and discussion of the previous weekend’s sermon…To improve the quality of the discussion, we work hard to make sure that everyone comes with the answers to the study questions already filled out. One of the most effective ways we do this is by having our leaders periodically ask people to read what they’ve written down, especially if it appears that someone is deviating from their original answer.”

“The homework (discussion/study guide) always consists of three types of questions: Getting to Know Me (These questions offer a nonthreatening look into our past or current life situations. They’re designed to help us get to know each other at a safe but accelerated pace), Into the Bible (These questions take the group to biblical passages that are either complementary or parallel to the main text of the sermon but were not covered in the message), and Application (These are designed to take home the main point or points of the sermon and drive them home. They typically deal with attitudes or life-change issues).”

“We ask every group to take at least one service project a year (the ideal is two) and to have at least one social gathering per quarter).”

“As a rule of thumb, most people will participate in only two time slots per week. No matter what the third meeting is for or when it takes place, it’s hard to get anyone to show up.”

Osborne goes on to discuss how to overcome the time crunch of developing and sustaining leaders; determining your primary purpose; how groups can grow deeper; why dividing groups isn’t the best strategy; how to find and develop leaders; how to train leaders; and these five key questions to ask before starting small groups:

  1. “Who are you trying to reach?” By that I mean, “Specifically who do you imagine being in your small groups? Who is likely to opt out? Who are you willing to leave out?”
  2. “What you plan to do in your meetings?” The options are endless. But once I know what happens in a small group, I can predict with uncanny accuracy who will come and who won’t.
  3. “How well does who you want to reach match up with what you plan to do?”
  4. “How do you think people are best trained to live out the Christian life and best prepared for leadership?”
  5. The final question to ask before launching a new or revamped small group ministry is, “Who already does what we want to do well—and does it in a church we would go to if we lived in the area?”

There is a large appendix section in the back of the book containing helps for the following topics: (1) Writing Great Questions; (2) Sample Sermon Note Sheet and Study Questions; (3) Sample Growth Group Covenant; (4) End-of-the-quarter Evaluation Form; (5) Leader Training Topics; (6) Leader Responsibilities; (7) Host Responsibilities; (8) A List of NT “One Anothers.” The Last section contains a Study Guide of Follow Up Questions for each chapter in the book.

Osborne’s model is simple; practical, proven, and effective. I don’t know of a better model for helping a local church reach out; equip; serve; raise up leaders; and unleash people for multiplying disciples of Jesus Christ. I have used this model in three churches; and now about to embark on launching this model in another church. I am grateful for it’s simplicity and yet the profound impact it has made practically in so many lives that I have been in community with. It has made a profound impact on my own belief that discipleship is done best in community and is a process not an event.

 

Tags: , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: