Archive for the ‘Following’ Category

Leading a simple time of worship in your home

February 20, 2010 1 comment

Some of the most meaningful times of worship I experience happen in our living room with my wife and children.  And its not hard to lead a simple time of worship in your home.  I want to walk you through the simple order we followed tonight as we ended our Saturday with praying, singing and Scripture.

  1. Prayer for others.
  2. Worship with singing.
  3. A brief Scripture reading.
  4. A brief prayer.

1) Prayer for others. During this time I instructed our children to think of one person who needed prayer because they were a) isolated/lonely  b) because they were dealing with challenging physical problems  c) because they do not yet follow Jesus.  I also asked them to pray according to their faith.  This means they were to pray for what they believed God would actually do–not merely what sounded good or what God “could” do.  For instance–my 83 year old grandma fell and fractured her hip and broke her arm last week.  I told them that unless they believed God was nudging them to pray for her miraculous healing, they should instead focus their prayers asking God to give her a heart of trust through a painful trial and that she’d be able to sleep and get enough rest.

After instructing, I invited them to pray in whatever posture they wished.  Two of them stood and moved around, two sat down. (I encourage them to experiment in their prayer posture so that they realize prayer is not a religious thing but a life thing.)  Then we prayed.  It was good to hear the kids praying from the heart.  I’ve noticed that a little instruction before prayer helps them pray with more confidence and understanding.

2)  Worship with singing. Our singing tonight really ministered to my heart and moved me toward God.  We used two songs with lyrics from youtube.  Yes, youtube.  Here are the links from tonight’s songs: and Tonight we stood as we worshiped but we often sit while singing too.  The youtube songs with lyrics are so valuable because the words are right there for you.

3)  A brief Scripture reading. I read from the same passage I had read earlier today:  Isaiah 12.  I chose this passage because it moved my heart this morning.  I didn’t preach.  I just read it and told my family how it encouraged me because it reminded me how grateful I am for Jesus.  I actually got a bit choked up.

4)  A brief prayer. I finished our time by praying that my children would encounter God in a way that they would know Him for themselves–I often pray this in front of them and in secret.  Then we sent them to bed.

We have times of worship like this on an infrequent/semi-regular basis.  Every time we do it I’m grateful we did.  Take one small step: take a risk and lead your home in a time of worship.


Leaders and our growth screens

February 19, 2010 1 comment

I’m convinced that there are a number of growth screens working to obscure reality for disciples of Jesus.  Growth screens are things that convince you that you are growing as a disciple by pointing to something that is not fundamental to discipleship. A growth screen will point to an area of secondary importance and then tell you, “see, you’re growing because you’ve grown in this [secondary] area.”

I think those most vulnerable to believing growth screens are Christian leaders and pastors.  Their growth screens are most dangerous because their visible “work” (or at least the fruit of their work) is most outwardly associated with being spiritual.

When a pastor overcomes a leadership barrier by becoming more effective he easily convinces himself that he is also growing the grace and knowledge of Jesus.  Craig Groeschel calls this being a full-time pastor and part-time Christian.  It plays out something like this:

  • by overcoming a church attendance barrier the leaders says to himself “we’re reaching more people so obviously I’m growing spiritually”
  • by overcoming a church team-leadership barrier the leaders says to himself “our leaders are more connected and team-oriented so I’m clearly growing spiritually”
  • by overcoming a preaching-with-impact barrier the leaders says to himself “my preaching is more effectively bringing people to Jesus so I’m growing spiritually”

And that is why I would say this:

I think big problems arise when leaders mistake growth in leadership effectiveness for spiritual growth.

If you are going to follow Christ to deeper and deeper levels of real spiritual growth, you are going to need a ruthless willingness to tear down growth screens. I believe there is a simple way that Scripture calls us to do this.  Its called repentance.

Repentance tears down growth screens. Repentance searches for the truth behind the truth.  Like a hammer in a house of mirrors, repentance keeps shattering all the false images in search of the true image.  It mistrusts every perception and thought and external prop right into the hands of God.  It lights everything on fire and keeps what doesn’t burn up.

For a leader, when the external prop of a growing leadership capacity is repeatedly set on fire, the gold of nearness to God and hungry praying and soul brokenness and thirst for righteousness and invisible/unknown loving acts and declining irritation with peoples’ brokenness and increasing hopefulness for the coming Kingdom and comfort with being treated like a servant rather than merely being known as one and detachment from being important and distaste for being noticed and recognized for work accomplished begin to appear as true measures of real spiritual growth.

Does that mean leaders shouldn’t grow in their leadership capacity.  Of course not.  That would be bad stewardship of God’s good gifts.  Grow in your leadership–you must or you’ll be found unfaithful.

But don’t fool yourself.  Growing church attendance does not necessarily equal big God-heartedness in the leader.  Big preaching does not automatically equal big personal love and devotion to Jesus in the leader’s heart.  Big leadership mojo and effective placement of staff and volunteers does not equal vibrant living faith in the secret heart of the leader.

Christian leader:  you and I need the heart of a tax collector and the discipline of a Pharisee.

Remember your way forward.

January 19, 2010 2 comments

I woke up this morning with life feeling very… weightless.  As I considered my life it just felt without definition and clarity.  Have you ever felt that way?  I’m pretty convinced that everyone has those moments.  I suppose we can try to dismiss/discount them as “negativity” or bad dreams or silly thoughts but I’m pretty sure they are, like every other moment in life, an opportunity to turn and hear from God.

So I prayed.  And as I confessed my feelings of weightlessness, of a lack of definition in my life the voice of God prodded me back.  Back to my own story with Him. I began to remember in prayer my own history and how my story has grounded me and given weight and definition to my life here and now and a renewed purpose and clarity to my future.

I remembered…

  • the wonder, confusion and excitement of beginning to discern a greater calling on my life that cold winter night in January of 1993 up in the north woods of Michigan as I talked late into the night with my mentor and friend, Bob Wright.
  • the raw faith as I entrusted myself and my young wife to God for our move from rural Indiana to the foreign world of Chicago for ministry training back in the winter of 1994/95.
  • the sense of home that settled over us almost immediately as we sat gazing out our 9th floor sliding glass doors over the brown line L tracks and the Cabrini Green housing project.
  • the conviction that God was calling us into a longer journey in Chicago than we had anticipated when we moved into “the neighborhood” (Humboldt Park) in the Spring of 1996.  During that season the city went from being a place to get training to a place with faces and names and needs.  It was our Macedonian call season.
  • the vision clarity I experienced in 1998 and 1999 as I wrestled with a good friend to get to the heart of what ministry should look like on the ground in the city.  I came out of that period convinced of two things:  1) that the church was God’s plan A for redeeming the world and 2) that God was setting me apart for the purpose of raising leaders and planting churches.  I still remember the settled sense of conviction I had as we left the parachurch ministry we were working with and headed out into church planting, unprepared but full of faith.
  • the tears and anxiety and fear as we sat on the couch on Labor Day, 2000 and Gil asked me through her angry tears, “are you sure God is calling us to be here?” and then the deep sense of confidence as I gulped and prayed and answered simply, “Yes.”  I still remember the way her face changed in that very moment as she responded: “Okay. I just had to know that you are hearing from God if we’re going to keep doing this.”
  • the firmness of godly leadership when we shutdown our first church plant experience a year later, November of 2001.  At that time we were confused about where we’d come from and where we going–everything seemed suddenly up for grabs again.  But during that season we learned the value of godly leadership and a strong team.  Mark Jobe and Mike Berry were huge in that season.
  • the process of discovery as I wrestled with new and varied ministry tasks and began to discover more specific ministry gifting.  I was paying the dues of learning leadership through trial and error within the context of a strong and healthy team and it was a strong season of growth.
  • the discovery that God had wired me and called me specifically to pastor in Chicago and that I would raise leaders and plant churches while pastoring one myself as I anticipated ordination in May of 2004.
  • the satisfaction with releasing leaders and seeing them contribute to the birth of 3 new locations over the last 18 months.
  • the sense of God’s “yes” and “amen” over the new group of men I’m doing life with–men that are leading in our congregations and men with a call of God on their life.

As I prayed through my own story, my life regained its weightiness.  I remembered.  And as I remembered I regained footing for the future.  I remembered my way forward. Is your life lacking weight?  It is time to review your own story.

  • What has God shown you in your past with Him?
  • What hard-earned lessons have you already learned in your life with Him?
  • What were your past God-moments saying to you about your future back then?
  • Are you living in the path of what God has already shown you?
  • How is your past God story guiding your future God story?

Remember your way forward.

Daniel fast guide

January 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Many people will be participating in New Life’s 21 day fast through a “Daniel Fast”.  This form of partial fasting is based on the life of the biblical character Daniel.  If you would like some simple guidelines to help you as you create a fasting plan, here is a brochure from

Daniel Fast Guidelines Brochure

Why spiritual disciplines?

December 29, 2009 Leave a comment

The aim of disciplines in the spiritual life–and, specifically, in the following of Christ–is the transformation of the total state of the soul. It is the renewal of the whole person from the inside, involving differences in thought, feeling, and character that may never be manifest in outward behavior at all. This is what Paul has in mind when he speaks of putting off the old man and putting on the new, ‘renewed to resemble in knowledge the one who created us…’ (Colossians 3:10)”

-Dallas Willard, The Great Omission, p. 151-2

Book recommendations from New Life’s pastoral team

December 28, 2009 3 comments

Reading is a rich form of discipleship. Reading a book means getting the author’s distilled best thoughts and ideas. But choosing good books–like choosing good mentors–can be challenging. To help you choose good books, I’ve compiled a list from our New Life pastoral team.

Here are some of the books we’ve read and recommend from this past year:

Personal/spiritual growth:

  • The Great Omission by Dallas Willard (insightful book on spiritual formation and discipleship)
  • The Flip Side by Flip Flippen (identifies personal constraints and how to establish a plan to overcome them. Great for personal growth)
  • Secrets to Spiritual Power by Watchman Nee (full of spiritual insights and practical pastoral concepts. best to read as a devotional supplement.)
  • A Contrarian’s Guide to Spirituality by Larry Osborne
  • A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller (such a valuable enjoyable read, powerful on story and life-vision, a book to hang ideas on, recommended by several pastors)
  • His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley  (A classic. Written in 1986 but updated a couple of times. Great practical insights into the differing needs of men and women as it relates to marriage.)
  • Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung (great book on discerning the will of God and making decisions, strong theology written with great humor and practicality)
  • The Coffeehouse Gospel by Matthew Turner (sharing faith in a relaxed, engaging way.)
  • Crazy Love by Francis Chan

Mission/church history/theology:


Church leadership:

  • Church Unique by Will Mancini (great for vision, strategy, and clarity of mission)
  • Beyond Megachurch Myths by Thumma & Travis  (describes common characteristics of churches that have over 2000 in attendance. Debunks some of the myths about these churches.)
  • Reclaiming our Prodigal Sons & Daughters by Larson & Bendtro (a moving book about the lives of urban youth)
  • Deep Church by James Belcher (book of the year on several lists, insight on being a life-giving, historically rooted church.  mediates the emerging/traditional church conversation well)
  • Heralds of God by James S. Stewart (timeless, spiritually rich book on preaching)
  • Sticky Church by Larry Osborne (useful for honing church follow up & small group systems. recommended by multiple pastors.)



Drive-by prayers for life-giving churches

December 15, 2009 Leave a comment

I took my two oldest children to band practice this morning.  Though I don’t always use it well, I believe time in the car with my kids is Deuteronomy 6:7 time:  time to dialogue with and instruct my kids about following Jesus.  In doing this I try take a cue from something out the window or something going on in our lives.  Since we happened to be passing a life-giving church, I decided to use that church as my cue.

“Guys, that is a great church.  That pastor has been there for over 30 years and he’s been faithful to Jesus and to his wife and he’s raised his kids well.  The church has many leaders who love Jesus and they’ve seen many, many people come to Jesus over the years.  They are a very active part of our community and they really love the people who live in Logan Square.  That is a church is a church that is being faithful to Jesus.”

Then I prayed for the church, thanking God for their faithfulness and asking God to bless them with a new season of growth and refreshing.  After praying it was time for a little more instruction.

“Guys, it will always be easy to talk about other churches based on the few things they do wrong.  A lot of times people talk down about other churches to feel better about their own church [pastors in particular–but we’re slick about how we say it so that you’d hardly know we were talking down].  That is no way to be a family.  Always look for ways to bless and speak well of other churches.  Other churches are part of God’s family and God’s family speaks well of each other.”

Can I make the same appeal to you?

  • Let’s pray for other churches.
  • Let’s see them as Gospel allies who love our city and our savior like we do.
  • Let’s stop people from speaking unkindly of other churches when they’re in our presence.
  • Let’s operate like a healthy family in our speech and thoughts about our cousins who meet in other places under other leaders.
  • Let’s put a smile on the face of Jesus because we operate with real love for each other.

And for those of you asking the important question, “who’s in the family? How do I know if a church is life-giving?” let’s tackle those questions tomorrow…