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Measuring Qualitative Growth


Nickels and noses are easy to count and important to some degree, but numbers can be both enticing and misleading. When trying to measure the success and effectiveness of our church leadership team, the question to be asked is not:

How many people do we have?

But rather:

What kind of people do we have?

In other words, qualitative growth is more important that quantitative growth.

If we as leaders are faithful teachers of the gospel, attuned to God's will, spiritually vibrant, passionate worshipers of Jesus who are, in the words of Brother Lawrence, “Practicing the Presence of God,” the fire will spread, and, by the Spirit, our people will mature in the faith. The key to measuring our success and ministry effectiveness is making sure our people are maturing. So, it's as simple as that. Not quite, consider what the Scriptures say in Hebrews 5:11-14.

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

I believe much of the American church can be identified by this passage. The writer had just finished talking about Jesus the Great High Priest, who learned obedience through His suffering (suffering – a thing American culture teaches us to despise). We live in a milky culture. Think about it, all we’re getting from every direction is milk: TV, entertainment, shopping, Starbucks (fig. and lit.), prescription drugs, child idolatry, travel, longing for retirement, and even church. Every time I watch a talk show on television, the theme ultimately is “If it makes you happy, do it.”

This is what is constantly pounded into our people day in and day out. What fruit should we expect from them? The responsibility of leading our people into maturity is incredibly difficult, often with little return, considering everything they are up against. There is hope, though. After the writer of Hebrews spills out some of the milky things his readers ought to move on from, which, sadly, to us may seem pretty solid, like the doctrine of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, he then gives us hope:

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things – things that belong to salvation. For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:9-12)

Our people are Christians. They do have faith in Christ, moral convictions, and love for the saints. There is a desire in every one of us to serve the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The exhortation here is “to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” This is basically a call to get off our butts and imitate Christ.

Yesterday morning, I woke up, and the first thing that came into my mind was “I am a sluggard.” I get so enraptured by the tasty white chocolate mochas flooding my soul that I forget the call of Christ. I sink into seasons of little communication with God, lose my footing and fall from prayer and Scripture reading and other disciplines. It’s not that I don’t love God and the church, but my problem is I am trying to fit God into my life, my plans, instead of finding my place in His. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that other leaders and church people struggle with the same thing.

We need to identify the evil powers at work in our lives and the lives of our people, pray against them with fervency, create a very visible awareness of these milky delights, as well as their danger to the soul, give our people hope, remind them daily of the gospel and Christ’s commission, listen, encourage, practice the presence of God unapologetically in our lives of worship, setting an example for the community around us to see Jesus, both inside and outside the church. Then we will be maturing, eating solid food “for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Then we will obtain the “better things – things that belong to salvation.” Then we will be able to measure true success (not Osteen success) and see our ministry effectiveness.

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Sanctified Endeavor


I recently stumbled upon a book of poetry by Frances Ridley Havergal called "The Ministry Of Song" published in 1872. Havergal may be best known for her hymn "Take My Life And Let It Be" but I was taken by the Prelude of her collection of poems.


Amid the broken waters of
our ever-restlessthought,
Oh be my verse an answering gleam
from higher radiance caught;
That where through dark o’erarching boughs
of sorrow, doubt and sin,
The glorious Star of Bethlehem
upon the flood looks in,
Its tiny trembling ray may bid
some downcast vision turn
To that enkindling Light, for which
all earthly shadows yearn.

Oh be my verse a hidden stream, which silently may flow
Where drooping leaf and thirsty flower in lonely valleys grow;
And often by its shady course to pilgrim hearts be brought,
The quiet and refreshment of an upward-pointing thought;
Till, blending with the broad bright stream of sanctified endeavor,
God’s glory be its ocean home, the end it seeketh ever.


This has become a regular prayer for myself and those who write, sing, and lead musical worship. May our songs be used to point others to Christ and let them blend into the stream of sanctified endeavor, and may they be lost in the ocean of Gods glory and not our own.

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The "Just" Prayer


"Lord, would you just come down and meet us here? Just touch us in a fresh and powerful way. We just need to learn how to pray, so we just ask You right now, would you just teach us how to pray?"

The word "just" is to the prayers of Contemporary Church-goers, as the word "like" is to the conversations of California valley girls. Has anyone else noticed this?

I really don't have that much of a bone to pick (heck, I'm glad to see people praying at all), but it has made me aware of the shortage of thoughtful, intentional prayers among Contemporary Church people. In one sense, we can't blame ourselves for leaving behind the common for the spontaneous. In another sense, however, I think we are missing out on some well-thought-through and rich prayers from history. (Here comes a plug for the Book of Common Prayer.)

Allow me to recommend a solution to your new annoyance. (Believe you me, you will be annoyed the next time someone is praying the "Just" Prayer). There is a little black book called the Book of Common Prayer (see my recommended books in the left margin). It is filled with common prayers written by people in history who labored sometimes for days over two-sentence prayers. Not only did they weave their words together with great intricacy, each prayer was written for a specific Church Calendar season or sacerdotal occasion, among other things.

I have often opened the Book up to page 137 in the morning, and prayed through the "In the Morning Daily Devotion" with my wife, "just" to kick off our day. I have also used the "Collects" beginning on page 211 during our church worship services. Their profound simplicity always makes for a beautiful transition between songs, not to mention, a perfect opportunity to change your capo position. Here is the Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent:

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

So, the next time you're at a loss for words, tap into the well of resources outside of your own brain. And the next time you hear someone (including yourself) praying the "Just" Prayer, don't make fun of them...unless it's you...then you can make...fun...

...I'm going Christmas shopping.

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Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God


If you have not beheld the Lamb of God with Andrew Peterson, you simply must. Buy this album, sit down with your audio medium, close your eyes, and enter the world of one of the best tellings of the Christmas narrative ever produced. Seriously, it's that good.

BTW, the song "Labor of Love" may very well become a universal Christmas Eve service staple song. It begins, "It was not a silent night," and then goes on to speak of a travailing young woman on the streets of David's town. Peterson's songwriting shines brighter than ever in this record. This is an excerpt from "Labor of Love":

Noble Joseph by her side
Calloused hands and wearied eyes
There were no midwives to be found
On the streets of David's town
In the middle of the night
So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

Prayer for the Second Sunday of Advent:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, now and for ever. Amen.

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A Penitent Advent


Christmas time is here. Our decorations are up and lit, hums of Christmas tunes fill the air, and the feelings and memories of Christmas past ring in our souls. We are filled with joy and childish reversion. And just as we long for the the holiday cheer of vacations, families, and presents, we long to once again hear the story of the Christ Child come.

A new year has begun. It is the first week of Advent, the beginning of the Church Year. We join the children of Israel as they wait for their King to come and save. It wasn't eggnog and ornaments for them. They desperately longed for deliverance from years of torment and injustice. Remembering promises and prophesies of the coming Messiah, they cried out to Yahweh. It's hard for us to worship in this way. We desperately long for the newest fashion line and video game system and cry if we don't get what we want.

Hear what Christopher L. Webber has to say in his Introduction to Love Came Down: Anglican Readings for Advent and Christmas:

In our culture, the time before Christmas is a time of celebration, gift-giving, and parties. The sooner the fun can start the better. It's easy to overlook the significance of Advent in the rush of Christmas shopping. Advent requires some deep thought on serious subjects, and it's harder to sell these themes than Christmas presents at the mall. So Christians who take Advent seriously find themselves looking strangely out of step. Around them the party has started, but they are still in a solemn time of preparation, considering "the shortness and uncertainty of human life." (vii)

Let us not forget the penitential side of Advent; that we are sinners, deprived of goodness, and in need of a Savior. As we worship Christ this season, let us cry out to Yahweh for salvation, and let us praise Him with the best kind of Christmas cheer, the joy of redemption through Christ. Our Advent worship is, in the words of Bob Webber, "joyful sorrow."

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