Three MUST HAVE Relationships in Your Life (pt. 1 of 3)

John Maxwell wrote the book 360 Degree Leadership. The title is from the idea that in any organization you can and should provide leadership to those above you, below you, and around you on the org chart. We need to think of 360 degree relationships as followers of Christ. I see a model for this in the biblical relationships of Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy. In looking at what the Bible tells us about these three men and the experience of my own life I am forced to ask myself some very important questions. First, who are the people in my life to whom I play the role of Paul, and Barnabas, and Timothy. The second is the other side of the coin. Who are the people in my life who play the role of Paul, and Barnabas, and Timothy for me?

You may be wondering just what those roles are? I think each can be summarized fairly easily. Paul is the spiritual leader/mentor who helps another become all that Christ has for them. Barnabas is the encouraging co-laborer with whom you share life and who strengthens you along the way. Timothy is the follower who is looking to a Paul for guidance and direction in what it means to live this life for Jesus.

Now before we get to far into this I know there will be some people who immediately respond by saying, “Don’t look to men! Only look to Jesus” or some variation on that theme. As highly spiritual as that may sound it is actually a violation of what Jesus Himself said. So I am left to wonder if such folks are actually even looking to Jesus. You see Jesus commanded that we are to go and make disciples. We are to follow the pattern He set by investing ourselves in the lives of other people so they begin to follow Jesus and grow to maturity. That is why Paul did what he did with someone like Timothy. Jesus was also the one who sent people out in pairs to do ministry. He followed the time-honored Biblical principle that it is not good for people to be alone, work alone, even walk alone. As the Bible says, “when one falls down the other is there to pick them up”. Clearly Jesus thinks we are to be in relationships in which we encourage one another, care for one another, challenge one another and in general share life together in order to become more like Him. In fact that is what is at the root of the Biblical word for fellowship. It is KOINONIA and has its roots in the Greek word for “common”. Fellowship is sharing our common lives together in order to exhibit what the Body of Christ is all about. It is about breathing the same air, facing the same challenges, exalting in the same joys and living life, together.

Let’s take a look at the examples of Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy and see what we can learn. First, what about Paul? Here is the big question. Who are you pouring your life into so that they become more like Christ? Who are you guiding into Christian maturity so they can use their life and gifts in service to God and others? That is what Paul did with Timothy. Most people shrink back from this thinking that they are not worthy enough, smart enough, or holy enough to lead someone else in following Christ. Well I agree. None of us are. Yet Jesus expects us to do just that. Actually Jesus is the one who makes it possible for us to do that as He lives through us. We are ALL called to make disciples. We are all called to lead someone else closer to Jesus. If you are a parent then you are called by God to disciple your children so they become more like Jesus and serve Him in whatever they do. If you are married you have that same responsibility towards your spouse. If you know someone who is not a Christian, you are called to be Paul to them by living out your Christian faith in such a way that they want to also follow Jesus. No one is exempt from this. If you have been following Jesus for two weeks and you meet someone who has been following Him for two days, guess what. You are twelve days further down the road than they are and you can and should be a Paul who helps them navigate their next twelve days. Of course you should still be growing in your relationship to Christ so in theory you are always twelve days ahead. The reality is, if you really invest yourself in being Paul to someone else, your growth in Christ will accelerate even faster. The call to make disciples is for all followers of Jesus. So in a sense we are all called to be Paul to someone else.

But that also brings up the question of who you are looking to as that Paul in your life. Who is your role model? Who is the person who is following Jesus in a way that you think you should? Who could help you go to the next level in your relationship with Jesus? You see, in addition to being a Paul to someone else, you need a Paul or two in your own life. When I first came to faith in Christ a guy named Scott Jones was the local Young Life leader. He was my first Paul. During my Senior year in High School, Scott would meet with me and a handful of other guys once a week before school. We read and studied Paul’s Letter to the Romans together. But that was not where Scott made the biggest impact as my “Paul”. Every few weeks he would pick me up before school and we grabbed a couple donuts and a cup of coffee at a local donut shop. We talked about life, both of our lives. We talked about how following Jesus applied to our lives, both the easy and the hard parts. Scott also spoke into my life with all the wisdom a 25 year had to give a 17-year-old. It was huge for me.

I am convinced that one of the most glaring weaknesses in the church today and in the lives of individual followers of Jesus is the stark absence of “Paul” relationships. When you take seriously the call to invest your life in another, there is a huge payback in terms of your own spiritual growth and maturity. When we fail to make that investment, the payback is nil.

At the end of part three I will share some practical tips and resources for developing not only healthy Paul relationships but also the Barnabas and Timothy ones as well. In the meantime I would encourage you to be praying for God to show you the people to whom you are already supposed to be “Paul” and look back on your life and see who has been Paul to you then and now. If you don’t have anyone who fills the role of the Apostle Paul, then in your prayer time start asking God now to show you to that person.

Are You a Success or a Failure?

How would you answer that question? What criteria do you have for measuring success? For some, success is measured by their income. For others it is measured by the size of their office or home or car. One popular measure of success today is simply that you are famous. I am reminded of a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean. British officer to Captain Jack Sparrow, “You are possibly the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of” To which Sparrow responds, “Yes, but you have heard of me”.

Within Christian circles we know that the measures of success that are found in the secular world are not our measures. it is easy to say that having lots of possessions, popularity, or power are not the answer. Yet in churches we often still measure success in concrete, numerical terms. Successful churches are the ones growing the fastest or with the biggest budgets or the most popular. Maybe in some of our better moments we say that success is found in the number of baptisms, or people in a Sunday School Class or on short-term mission trips. In families we might say that is it having your children all believing in Jesus and a healthy marriage. While those things get closer to what success for Christians and ministries needs to look like, they still fall short. And in some ways because they are close yet so far away, they are perhaps more dangerous because they make us think we are successful in the right way.

If you watch little kids playing soccer for the first time it looks more like a giant amoeba moving up and down the field chasing a ball than it looks like soccer. On one occasion the ball ended up in the net, more by accident than by any intent. It was the first goal scored. Parents on the sideline screamed and clapped and cheered. From the reaction it was obvious that the children playing the game were stunned. The coach saw recognition dawn on the faces of his players. Putting the ball in the net is what the game is all about. The coach had assumed that they understood that. The kids had missed that point. They saw success as running up and down the field, kicking the ball around. Although that is part of the game it is not the whole deal. Success is putting the ball in the net.

Going to Bible classes, having people come to church, meeting budget and all the other things we associate with ministry are certainly part of the deal. Having your children believe in and follow Jesus is certainly a part of what it means to be a successful parent. But they are not, “putting the ball in the net”. Those are more like the running up and down the field part of the game. Jesus gave us what success looks like. He said “going into all the world, make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you, an I will be with you to the end of the age” Matthew 28:19-20. Success is living a life that shows other people what it means to follow Jesus. It is an ongoing thing. He literally said, “as you go”, meaning that as you go through life, live out the truth in radical ways so others follow too.

This is not a new concept with Jesus. In Deuteronomy 6 it says that we are to speak of the truth of God, as we walk along the road, as we rise up and lay down, as we eat, we are to tell it to our children in all these cases and even as we enter and exit our homes. In other words, you pass on the faith to your kids by being a living demonstration of what it means to follow God.

All of that is well as good and certainly many would say that they are doing just that. Many churches would say that they have programs that are accomplishing all this through evangelism and discipleship. But this is often just more, “kicking the ball up and down the field”. There is one more passage that we need to focus on that ultimately defines success for the Christian. In 2 Timothy 2:2 Paul says this to Timothy; “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others”. It was at a conference in India that I was confronted with the power of this verse like never before. As I spoke with Christians who were having incredible impact among Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists I heard this verse over and over again. What they said was that you are not successful unless your ministry goes to the fourth generation. You are the first, those you train are second, then there are those who they pass it on to who in turn pass it on to others.

Far too much of what we do as Christians is a “one-off” dead-end. Preachers give the message to a congregation and we think we have scored. Parents see their children confess faith in Christ and they shout, “GOAL”. The real test of success is not that my kids all have faith in Jesus. The real test is have a demonstrated a faith that they then pass on to others who pass on to others? The test is not did the message impact the congregation and inspire them. The test is, are they taking it to others who are passing it on to others?

The kind of four generation success that real discipleship produces requires investing your life in people everyday. It is as you are going. It is not a program. It is a passion. It pours out of you and into others and it overflows from them to the next generation and beyond. Christians in India are reaching hundreds of thousands of the most resistant people on the planet. They are doing it to the fourth generation because they have marked that as real success.

House Churches, Mega Churches, and the Westminster Kennel Club

I admit that to the untrained eye, I am something of a biblical and theological mutt. There is no pedigree to my background. My theology degrees include a Bachelors from a Catholic/Charismatic University, (Yep you read that right) two years of study at a very liberal Presbyterian seminary, a Masters degree from an Evangelical/Anglican school, and a Doctorate from a conservative Reformed/Presbyterian school. I grew up in an unchurched family that had loose connections to the Roman Catholic Church, came to Christ through a ministry called Young Life, was a leader in a fellowship of about 100 people that met as a large group and as house churches. I was pastor of a large Presbyterian church, planted a church from scratch starting with only our family and am now a one of five pastors on staff of a non-denominational mega church of about 10,000 people a week.  Definitely a mongrel. No AKC papers for me giving my lengthy pedigree of church affiliation or listing a family of ministers going back four generations. I am a mutt through and through.

But you know what? I like being a mutt. The right kind of mutt can take full advantage of the best of all the things that make up being a mutt. Granted a mutt can never win the Westminster Kennel Club Championship, but hey, that’s over rate anyway. What self respecting mutt would ever want to be forced to prance around a ring with a bunch of other dogs named things like, Henry Fastidious Excelsior Minor IV just to see which of them is the “perfect” representation of the breed? Give me a dog named Spike who is part German Shepard part Collie any day. He would love you to death and keep annoying sales people away at the same time. The best of both breeds. And as long as you got the short hair of the Shepard you solve the shedding problem too.

So what does that have to do with House Churches and Mega Churches? Simply this, I think the picture of the church in the New Testament is more mutt than pure bred. Sadly most of us approach it as if it is pure bred and that our version is clearly the “perfect” representation of the breed. We prance around our theological and ecclesiastical show rings hoping to win the prize. I experienced this first hand one day when I asked a group of House Church leaders if they called their group a House Church, or Simple Church, or Organic Church, all terms in common use. One of the guys looked me square in the eye and said, we call it Real Church. Okay, then I guess what I have is fake church. On the other side of things I have heard numerous pastors of more conventional churches say that house churches are “not really churches”. I am convinced neither of those responses are Biblical.

What I saw in the New Testament the first time I read it in 1974 was an incredible variety in the way ministry and “church” was done. Sometimes they met in large groups of hundreds and thousands. Sometimes, often times they met in small settings of homes. Sometimes they met in public places like the Temple, or the local community center that they called a gymnasium. In larger cities it was different from smaller cities. In places where there were lots of believers it was different from places with only a few. The church in the first few centuries was far from being a monolithic pure bred. It was way more like a mutt than most of us are comfortable with.

In a recent round table discussion with about to dozen leaders of Mega Churches and House Churches it became obvious that none of us has it right. None of us are the “perfect” representation of this thing we call Church. There are lots of things we can learn from one another. There are lots of things we can do together if we focus not on our “breed” but on King Jesus and His Kingdom.

In listening to these various leaders, both in the context of the meeting and as we shared meals together I learned a lot about how much we are alike and how much we need each other. How are we alike? Well we all need to be given huge amounts of grace from others because we are not one anothers enemy. We are one anothers family. We might think that the other is more like our crazy uncle Larry, but they are still family. The tactic of our real enemy is always to bring division and then pick off the weakest member of the pack. I learned that neither group is very good at discipleship. House Churches are good at community but that is not the same thing. Mega Churches are good at classes and the like, but that is not discipleship either. Growing radical followers for Jesus who are sold out to Him by pouring our lives into them so they pass that on to others, now that is discipleship.

I also learned how we need one another and can take the best of both and make a difference for Jesus. Mega Churches need to learn how to have community and care for people on a personal level better than they do. House Churches need to learn how to serve beyond the boundaries of their group and be part of a global church. Mega Churches can bring some of the best teaching, resources, and logistical support that we could ever hope for as we work to serve the King. House Churches bring a nimbleness, an openess to the move of the Spirit that allows us to see and hear what God is doing that might not fit our strategic plan.

What is important in all this is that we begin to realize that we are all “mutts” and that we need each other for the sake of the King and His Kingdom. There is no “perfect” representation of the “breed”. There is however a perfect representation of the “Bride”. It is a Bride that Jesus is perfecting to present to Himself in glory. I think it is about time that we the Bride start getting our act together and cooperate with one another for the sake of the Groom.