Archive for August, 2016

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 339

  1. “Put your finger here…” (John 20:26).

Mercy, pure and simple. Jesus could have rejected Thomas for his failure to believe, but instead He shows mercy and reveals himself to the doubting disciple in a personal manner, much like He would do for Simon Peter in the next chapter. This is Jesus–never giving up, willing to help the struggling overcome their weakness. And, this is Thomas–the soon-to-be apostle who history records sacrificing his very life to take the message toward eastern places like India. What he became would never have become had Jesus not seen past his melancholy or doubt. He took the man’s hand and ran his fingers through the scars, and Thomas would never doubt again.


An Important Look into Your Church’s Culture – Part 6

In the challenge of helping your congregation adopt some new values, you have to accept that preaching new thinking seldom can be a sufficient strategy on its own. We’ve been considering the path forward, especially for struggling churches, and usually the congregation’s values need some adjustment.

Of course, we’re not speaking of the values that we willingly say “Amen” to. Instead, we’re discussing the ones we actually are living. You see, it’s our culture that often gets in the way of the effectiveness of a new vision or new ministry efforts.

To help values begin to change, you need to identify the behaviors that would reflect better values and help your people behave their way into new thinking. Sometimes by doing a new thing our hearts can be captured and our minds will ultimately catch up.

For example, once when I was pastoring, I was concerned that our once-friendly congregation was losing its grip on such a value as more people came into the room. I can’t know everybody was keeping some of our gang from making the effort that used to come so naturally. So, I made up an activity and asked my leaders to join me in trying it.

I asked them to join me in three commitments each weekend at church. First, I asked them to MEET someone they had never met before. I also asked them to PRAY with someone when they saw the need/opportunity, whether at the church altar, in the hallway, or in their Sunday school class (or promise to when they heard about a need). Finally, I asked them to find a way to HELP someone, whether that’s carrying a diaper bag, helping a child find a restroom, or whatever other way they could offer assistance to someone attending our services.


I called it our M-P-H strategy and told them that every time we’d do this we would be gaining speed to becoming the church we desired to be. (I’m sure you already made the miles-per-hour connection.) Additionally, I printed small cards where they could write the names of those they met, prayed with, and helped each week and asked them to turn in a card each Sunday.

The results were remarkable. Before the exercise, I had my team complete a short survey, measuring their commitment to our values. That way I could measure any changes in attitudes by giving them the same survey after our M-P-H experiment was completed.

After six months of trying the M-P-H effort, significant changes could be seen. The team’s commitment to our values had risen markedly (statistically significant increases in 2/3 of the survey questions, if you’re interested in such things). But even more, the environment of the entire church had changed. Others enthusiastically joined in. Several told me they were going to keep doing M-P-H every week, even after we stopped collecting cards. (Makes me wonder why we did.)

The point? If you can find a fun and engaging way to help your people choose new behaviors, you may also end up helping their values to be reshaped. One of my deacons went from being socially shy and hesitant to welcoming new people to a willing door greeter, happily serving alongside his more outgoing wife. He would say that he is forever changed! That’s what changing values can do, and sometimes you just need a little behavior nudge to help people get there.

So what’s a new attitude or value you want to see emerge in your congregation? Try changing what we’re doing as a step toward changing what we’re thinking and you’ll likely reach your goal much more quickly.

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 338

  1. “Unless I see the nail marks…” (John 20:25).

He doubted. At least we have always believed that he did. Thomas’ reluctance to simply accept the testimony of his friends that Jesus was alive seems to say it clearly; though, we lack close access to the thoughts of this important disciple. At the very least, his words clearly convey the surety of Jesus’ death. Thomas saw the wounds. He saw them take the limp body from the cross. He fully knew Jesus was dead–images that likely had dominated his thoughts for days. Now this seemingly melancholy disciple is reluctant to emerge from his depressed state on the hopeful words of the others. Maybe he thought they’d encountered an imposter. The scars would surely prove his identity. What we know for certain is that Jesus loved Thomas and answered his reluctance with the exact opportunity the troubled disciple needed. It’s just that those disciples would spend the rest of their lives seeking to convince those who had not seen. And each of those future disciples would find the faith to believe.

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 337

  1. Now Thomas (called Didymus) one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came (John 20:24).

Things happen when you’re not there. Can you imagine being absent on the Day of Pentecost or somehow missing this key moment, when the resurrected Jesus walked into the room? Thomas, the deep feeling, apparently melancholy disciple had some reason for missing this gathering and what a loss that proved to be. Now this may not be a fair argument for perfect church attendance, but surely we can see that whatever priority Thomas had placed above this meeting, surely turned out to be a misplacement. Jesus came and Thomas wasn’t there.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 336

  1. “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven” (John 20:23).

What a fascinating moment! And one so little understood. What was Jesus doing in this initial meeting with His disciples? Was this the moment of their true salvation? Did Jesus pour out His Spirit here or at Pentecost? Where does this fit? Well, perhaps a better question is found in what Jesus actually focused on in this moment when He gave His disciples the authority to forgive sins. This is His focus. It’s clearly a moment of mission. An authority He alone possessed is now theirs.This moment isn’t about their own experience or relationship with God, but is clearly focused on how they will bring news of such opportunity to others. Jesus had promised that they would “do the works” they had seen Him do and now the moment is possible because the price of forgiveness has been paid.   


Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 335

  1. And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).

What is this moment? Is it, as many have determined, the spiritual rebirth of the disciples? Is it comparable to Jesus’ baptism–something that must be done for now? The question as to how John 20 fits with Acts 2 is challenging, but all such queries overlook the most important part of the moment–As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you! This is what the moment is all about. It’s an equipping moment, a missional moment where Jesus now invites His disciples into the mission He has been given. From this moment forward, they are a part of His purpose.


Categories: Leadership Journeys

An Important Look Into Your Church’s Culture – Part 5

Values are the building blocks of culture. In the local church, what we value (or prioritize) ultimately determines our effectiveness even more than great visions and plans. The best ideas will ultimately either be driven by or succumb to your values. As someone has wisely observed, “Culture eats vision for lunch.”

In a struggling local church, it’s usually the values that have created such reality. While the people will nod approvingly at the right priorities, their actions belie a list of things they treasure more. So, do we want to be a friendly church? Sure. Do we want the church to take care of us? Maybe even more. And when that’s the case, inward focus trumps our desire for new people. The list of other similar stories seems almost endless.

In churches where values must be re-written, pastor must become an intentional discipler or mentor. Preaching values won’t get the job done alone. Again, someone has noted, “It takes a generation to change values.”

Now, that’s discouraging and it doesn’t have to be true. With some intentional effort, you can speed up an otherwise frustrating process. Without such steps, however, your church won’t change for you any faster than they would for the last pastor. In fact, you may find them even more resistant than before.

So, what can you do? I’d suggest choosing a couple of individuals of your same gender and start meeting weekly together for coffee, breakfast, or some other consistent and comfortable setting. Talk life–theirs!

Use this setting to learn about their lives, the way they think, and how they live their faith each day on the job. Don’t be preacher in such moments, but share your own values along the way. Let these relationships build naturally and soon you’ll be able to help shape these friends’ values in similar ways to your own. By investing time with them, you will begin to disciple them and they will get to know your heart. Be patient and consistent–it takes more than one cup of coffee to change a life!

You see, many pastors in struggling churches look to Sunday as their key opportunity to bring new direction. But these folks have already sat through a lot of Sunday and some of their unhealthy values have remained intact. Don’t think you can preach your way to a new day. You’re going to have to get closer to your people than that.