Tag Archives: discipleship

Relationships aren’t Secondary

People_connected_LoopWhen we look at Scripture, we can see that Jesus continually spent time with people.  It wasn’t Plan B for him, it was his whole mission.  He had a desire to be with people and could often be found in small and large gatherings.  Somewhere in our culture, we have lost site of the fact that God works best in and through relationships.  We build programs and we create environments that are designed to ‘reach people’.  However, we have become great at trying to reach people at arms length.  We focus on the big picture without realizing that eternal differences are made one relationship at a time.  We are often so busy in this culture that it becomes very difficult to carve out time to just love on people.  And as a result, organizations are formed, but relationships are distant.  We can’t expect to make a difference in our communities if we aren’t willing to spend time with people in real life, day-to-day environments.

I want to give you four reasons to invest time in cultivating personal relationships.

1. Ministry equals Relationships.  Ministry is the ability to touch people at their needs.  It is simply to discover what is taking place in the lives of people around us and meet them there.  We can’t expect to meet the needs of people around us if we keep our distance from the people around us.  When we love people where they are, that is ministry.  When we demonstrate the love of God by valuing those who are hurt and broken, those who are searching for hope in this world, we can make an eternal difference.  This happens best when we personally invest our lives in the lives of people.  We must work side by side to make a difference for Christ.

2. Discipleship equals Relationships.  We can impart knowledge in many different environments.  However, the ability to share or gain knowledge is not discipleship.  Discipleship is living life together in a way that we not only learn the truth of the Bible, but we also learn how to apply it to our lives on a daily basis.  Proverbs 27:17 tells us that as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.  This simple principle teaches us that we are more likely to become who it is God has designed us to be as we spend time in Godly relationships.  He uses other people in our lives to sharpen and shape us for His glory.

3. Life equals Relationships.  Our culture is moving more and more toward a culture of isolation.  We are actually moving away from intimacy and accountability with others and replacing it with a technology substitute.  In this day and age of social media, we can feel like we are connected to people because we see what is taking place in their lives because of Facebook, Twitter and other media.  We also can freely share happenings in our day through these avenues as well.  The result is we feel as though we are connected to people without having any accountability for our actions daily.  The questions we need to ask ourselves is “Who would we turn to if we really had a need?” Is there anyone in your life right now that you can turn to with life’s toughest questions?  Is there anyone you’re close enough to (besides your spouse) that you would feel comfortable talking to about your struggles?  The truth is that God created us to live life in a culture of relationships.  Without these kinds of relationships, we are missing out on a big part of what life designed to be.  We are missing out on the opportunity to experience him in greater ways.  When we come to the end of our lives, we won’t want a bigger portfolio or to have climbed one more rung on the ladder of success, we will look back and view relationships as our biggest assets in life.

4. God loved us so much that He wanted a Relationship with us.  God demonstrated that relationships are important by desiring a relationship with us.  He became one of us, lived here on the earth in bodily form and did not sin.  He went to the cross to pay the price for all of our sins and rose from the dead to create the opportunity for us to have a personal relationship with Him.  That is powerful in itself.  God loved us in spite of who we were, in spite of what we’ve done.  He loved us not because of who we were, but because of who we could become.  He simply asks that we believe in Him.  He made the first step in coming to us in order to have a relationship with us.  Let’s follow His example and make the first step in building relationships with those around us.

Relationships aren’t secondary in our lives, they should be a primary purpose of all that we do.  The only thing in this world that is eternal is people.  So let’s intentionally invest in eternity, by spending time with people.  Let’s work hard at not seeing people for what they’ve done, but who they could become in Christ.  Extend grace when possible and enjoy the opportunity to spend time with those he died to save.  Make room in your schedule to have people in your home, in your activities, in your life.  As you do this, you’ll begin to notice a change not only in your perspective of people, but of what it is God has for you to do while you’re here on this earth.


The Small Group Journey

To say that we’ve tried just about every small group approach out there would be accurate.  When our church started, we knew we wanted to have the small groups be the main hub for developing relationships, discipleship, caring for people, reaching the community and engaging people in a real life journey with others.  In the process of making this happen, we have tried a variety of ways manage the small groups systems at our church.  We have had long term groups and short term groups, age graded groups and stage of life groups, interest based groups and gender based groups, book studies and sermon discussion groups, and many other varieties.  We tried appointing people to groups and having people sign up for groups.  We have tried groups that consist of only 2 to 4 people and groups that were just over 20 people.  All of this was in an effort to discover what would work in our community and in the culture that we had been ministering within.  Through all of this, we discovered some things that were true for our church and may prove helpful to you as well.

1.  You can’t force relationships.  We worked really hard assigning people to groups because we wanted to make sure they were with someone.  We discovered that many times we were working against ourselves because we were the ones making the choices for the people in our church.  They had no ownership in the decision.  Because of this group attendance was hit and miss at best and the discussion seldom went past surface level.  We even tried this with 2 to 4 people to create opportunities for one on one discipleship to take place.  But there again, we were the ones matching people up and were in a constant state of frustration when many of the pairs/groups didn’t go well.

2.  Group settings require a forum.  We have discovered that really 6 to 8 people are the smallest forums we want to have healthy discussion and dialogue during the weekly group meeting.  Fewer than this and it often moves into more of a lecture format or very little discussion taking place.  In order to have this as the minimum, we try to sign up 16 to 20 people in each group.  This allows for people to be MIA at times and gives and average weekly meeting of 8 to 14 people. (Special Note: Even though this is a forum, it’s not an open forum for discussing church business or openly criticizing direction, ministries or staff.)

3.  Not everyone fits the stereotype.  Not every empty nester wants to be in an empty nesters group and not every college student wants to spend their time in a college group.  Because of this, we allow people to sign up for whatever group they feel would be most beneficial to them.  An exception to this, of course, would be gender based groups.  We have discovered that having a broad age range within one group often helps to add many different perspectives to the group setting.

4.  Leaders must come from within.  We have discovered that the leaders that excelled in their group are the leaders that had personally grown from being a part of a group within our church and had a heart to help others experience the same thing.  Giving a leadership role to someone who is new to the church is very tempting but often would come back to cause us issues in the future.  Even though new comers may show leadership skills and look like they would be a perfect fit, we discovered that waiting for at least 6 months would allow them to experience groups and us to experience them.  This approach has eliminated some of our frustrations with groups.

5.  Common Ground is essential.  For any group to fully engage those who are in it, there must be some common interest, study or pursuit.  This is why we now have implemented a lot of variety within our groups system.  We do have groups that tend to be age graded, some groups that go through certain books together (i.e. parenting, marriage, finances, etc…), some groups that explore a book of the Bible together, and some groups that are centered around specific interests.  This allows us to engage people where they are and let God work to shape them into He wants them to be.

6.  Change can be good!  Change is essential to any growing organization.  The same is true with groups.  We have found that within our culture, short term groups of 8 to 12 weeks work great.  We then reshuffle the deck and sign up for new groups.  This constant change makes it easier for newer people to jump in, keeps it fresh for people involved in groups, and allows many relationships to be cultivated throughout the church.  Change is also a defining force in our culture.  We know that once we have found “what works” that it will only be temporary, as the culture changes around us.  We continually make adjustments to impact and involve more people.

The truth is you’ll never get to where you want to be if you’re afraid to fail in the process.  We failed many times in our attempts to create healthy group environments within our culture.  But in the process, we learned new truths that helped us get to where we are today.  Don’t wait until you think you have all the answers.  Get started and discover that there is a good chance you weren’t even asking the right questions.  Enjoy the journey.


Defining the Reality of Giving

I believe that Stewardship is a process of discipleship.  Because of this, we need to be able to measure the growth of the discipleship in this area of ministry just as in any other area.  There are some who have the spiritual gift of giving, but there are others that this must be cultivated in as they develop in their walk with Christ.  As such, it is important for a pastor to not only identify the types of givers that are in the church, but also develop a plan to disciple these givers into the next step of giving.  As we take an initial look at giving there are three things we need to do:

1.  WE NEED TO IDENTIFY TYPES OF GIVERS

There are 5 Types of Givers in Every Church

Never Given  (Non-Givers)

  • How many are giving nothing?
  • This number may surprise you if you haven’t been paying attention to your giving numbers.
  • The first law of leadership is to define reality (Max Depree).  By looking at “current reality” statistics, you create a benchmark to measure progress in your church’s stewardship.  You can track individual giving in a database.  From that giving record, what percentages of the households of my church are giving? What percentages are not giving? Measure the “overall stewardship health” of your church by comparing these percentages from year to year (and do the same with serving, small groups, etc.).  Find and keep the same measurement for growth year after year for comparison.

1st Time Givers (Initial Giver)

  • How many are giving between $1 and the “poverty level income”?
  • What is “Poverty Level Tithing? Determine what the government defines as the Poverty Level income – 10% of that number is “Poverty Level Tithing”.  For example, if poverty level is $12,000 then $1200 would be a poverty level tithe.
  • Motivate first time givers by being generous to people.  When you give something to people, they are more likely to give something back to you.  This is the law of generosity.  You’re goal is creating opportunities where people’s hearts become open to giving.  Your goal is not to twist their arm to give, but to allow them to give.  If your church has a culture of holding tightly to things, you’re people will too.

Regular Givers (Systematic Givers)

  • How many are giving between Poverty Level and 10% of the median income of my community?
  • How can you determine how many people are actually tithing in your church? Determine the median household income in your area and use 10% of that number.  This will give you at least an estimate number to work through.
  • The average church has about 3% of their church who actually tithe.   (Note:  Generally 20% of the congregation is giving 80% of the income in most churches. We need to change this trend.)

Tithers (Proportional Givers)

  • What would it look like if everyone at your church tithed based on the median household income of the area where you live?
  • Determine the median household income in your area and use 10% of that number as a guide for estimated tithe.

Extravagant Givers (Sacrificial Givers)

  •  How many are giving above tithe level?
  • Regardless of income, you can become an extravagant giver.  Giving away money prompts people to give.  This gives them a standard to live up to rather than a need to meet.  If you’re church isn’t doing much … these givers will give to many other organizations, because they want to give.  Make sure extravagant giving is part of your culture.
  • What is the gift of giving?  It’s a gift that takes you immediately into the sacrificial giving area.  They have the ability to encourage others to give and teach them how and why they moved into this area.  You can identify the gift of giving by the actions of the giver.
  • Use testimonies of these givers to motivate others.  Givers can share their gift of giving without sharing the amount that they gave.  They can state that they reevaluated their priorities to make sure that they put more into giving.  You don’t have to be rich in order to have the gift of giving.
  • We have to invest personally in these people in order for them to trust us enough and the vision of the church enough to give the big gifts.  Big gifts are treated outside the planning of the budget.
  • You should challenge people to give sacrificially.  This shouldn’t be an every week request, but you can effectively make it a couple of times a year.  Sacrificial is OVER AND ABOVE the level of tithes and offerings you give now.  Sacrificial giving is consistently giving over and above the tithe.

2.  IDENTIFY WHERE OUR CHURCH IS STRONG AS WE LOOK AT THE ABOVE AREAS.

  • After identifying each area within your church, which area identifies the highest percentage of your people?
  • Are there factors that have caused one of the five areas to be higher or lower because of the area where you live?

3.  IDENTIFY THE NEXT STEPS WE NEED TO TAKE TO MOVE TOWARDS DEVELOPING A CULTURE OF GIVING WITHIN OUR CHURCH.

  • What needs to take place in order to begin to make giving a bigger part of your church culture?
  • There are some related articles at the end of this blog that could give you some ideas of some steps to take to develop a culture of giving.
  • You can encourage the gift of giving, just as you would encourage any other spiritual gift.  If someone gives beyond a threshold, send a handwritten note from the pastor thanking them for their sacrificial giving.  Keep records of who it goes to so it doesn’t go out more than once.  Send an annual gift to recognize their Kingdom investment.  This could be a book about something that could inspire rest or something that would benefit them; a DVD of baptisms (visual of how their money made a difference); or even a book on giving.
  • You can take key givers out for a meal together.  Just as you would invest in developing any other ministry gift in the church or any other leader in the church, you should invest in this as well. This shows that you are willing to invest in them – ask key questions (know about them –family, where they serve, work, etc…):  How can we better minister to you as a church?  Do you have any questions about the direction of our church?  How can I pray for you?  By answering these questions it gives them value but also clears up unanswered questions that may also be hindering their giving even though they are key givers.  (Note: Don’t try to raise money at these gatherings.)


Identifying these types of givers at our church and a plan to move people forward has had an impact on not only our church as a whole, but the spiritual growth of many within our church.

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