Philip Nation

Philip Nation

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. He earned a master of divinity from Beeson Divinity School and a doctor of ministry from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as teaching pastor for the The Fellowship, a multisite church in Nashville, Tennessee.

His works include Compelled: Living the Mission of God and Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow. He is also the general editor of The Mission of God Study Bible. Along the way, he has written the  small-group studies Compelled by Love: The Journey to Missional Living and Live in the Word, plus contributed to The Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Lifetime.

5 Changes to Become a “Going” Church

The Great Commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28 is familiar. Too familiar. With its familiarity, we face the temptation of it losing its impact. Let me remind us what it says,

Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Recently, I shared with our church five changes and one empowering reminder that we need to keep in mind if we are to follow Christ’s commission to us.

Change #1: Move from working as campus chaplains to advancing as kingdom missionaries

  • Churches are not to hide on campuses.
  • We are told to “go” or “as you are going.”
  • Wherever people are is where we are to be.
  • The church campus and gatherings serve as launching pads, not as a monastery.

Change #2: Move from participating in religious programs to becoming lifestyle disciple-makers

  • Programs are the paths of least resistance because disciple making is mess.
  • Programmatic growth is the last vestige for sterile ministries.
  • We want relationships that result in eternal transformations.

Change #3: Move from a perceived home field to active global engagement

  • The mission of God includes our community but does not end with our community.
  • God calls the church to the world.
  • God calls our church to be a global sending center.
  • God calls every believer to be a global missionary.

Change #4: Move from creating consumers of religion to community builders of the church

  • Baptism is the public declaration that you have surrendered your life before God’s sovereignty.
  • It is secondarily a public alignment with the church family.

Change #5: Move from being knowledge junkies to Jesus followers

  • Too often, our knowledge has outpaced our obedience.
  • It is easier to desire behavior modification from masters of biblical trivial pursuit. But that is not discipleship.
  • “The gospel of sin management has produced vampire Christians who want Jesus for his blood and little else.” – Dallas Willard
  • Jesus wants followers. He began the apostles’ work with “Come” and ended his training with “Go.”
  • The gospel gives us the beautiful potential to be people who imitate Jesus.

 One Empowering Reminder: The authority and presence of Jesus is what makes all of this a reality.

  • Jesus has all of the authority and promised to never desert us.
  • None of the five changes are possible by our own wit and self-determination. Jesus, however, loves to do the impossible.

8 Keys to Recognizing Spiritual Growth

An assignment without a means of measuring success normally ends in frustration or abandonment. In the church, our work is to make disciples. But can you really measure discipleship?

A strong case can be made that it is ludicrous to attempt to measure transformation in a person’s life. Nevertheless, there are biblical injunctions that halt our progress into sin and prescriptions that lead us toward spiritual maturity.

In the Transformational Discipleship project led by LifeWay Research, we did not set out to randomly create objective measurements against which a person’s life would be deemed infantile, growing or mature. However, we did uncover attributes that indicate spiritual growth and/or the desire that growth is occurring.

The research revealed eight factors at work in the lives of believers who are progressing in spiritual maturity. We refer to them as the attributes of discipleship. They are not necessarily new ideas, but they stand out as key ideas in the lives of North American Protestants.

1. Bible engagement

It should go without saying believers will be engaged in studying the Scriptures. However, leadership must often begin restating the obvious. Transformation can be recognized in people when their minds are sharpened by the Bible, their perspectives are shaped by the Bible and their actions are directed by the Bible.

2. Obeying God and denying self

Discipleship is the process of obedience to one who is in authority over you. In our study, we found people progressing in their faith prioritize God’s desires over self-will. Transformation can be seen in them, because they progressively set aside earthly delights for Kingdom priorities.

3. Serving God and others

Just as Jesus said He had come to serve and not be served, so must believers. The choice to serve others is just that—a choice. It highlights a maturity of soul that we allow the needs of others to trump our own. Transformation is evident when personal needs, and even life goals, are set aside for the needs we see in others.

4. Sharing Christ

Inherent in being a disciple of Christ is the making of other disciple makers for Christ. Even with the need to live out the effects of the gospel, maturing believers know speaking about the message is a necessity. Transformation is evident when we talk about the source of it.

5. Exercising faith

Can you measure a person’s faith? Probably not. But you can see it when it is put into action. Believers participating in the research noted they knew the importance of living by faith as opposed to living by personal strength. Transformation is seen in believers when risk aversion is set aside and lives are characterized by faithful obedience to God’s will.

6. Seeking God

People become disciples of Christ because they intend to follow Him and become like Him. A continuous hunger should arise from this life. It is referred to in Scripture as our “first love,” and believers are commanded to return to it. Transformation is seen when our desire is to know God more deeply and experience His work more fully.

7. Building relationships

Our faith is personal, but it is not intended to be private. Jesus established the church for our collective good and our collective growth. After all, humans are naturally relational. Spiritually, we are no different. As believers, our horizontal relationships with others should develop just as our vertical relationship with God does. Transformation is occurring when relational maturity is evident in our lives.

8. Unashamed

The research noted believers felt it appropriate and even necessary for others to know them as Christians and be held accountable for a life exemplary of that name. Transformation is evident when a believer is unashamed in presenting his own life as being aligned with Christ.

The adage is “if you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” At the very heart of Christianity is the work of making disciples for Christ. It should never sit at the fringe of our lives or the church. Through work like that of Transformational Discipleship, we are able to better recognize when we are effectively reaching toward that goal.

This article first appeared in Facts&Trends magazine. For more information visit

Transformational Discipleship Assessment

The Transformational Discipleship Assessment crafted from LifeWay’s discipleship study is being used by churches in urban, suburban, rural, domestic and international locations to discover how their church is doing in the realm of discipling believers. To learn more, visit Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.

3 Tips for Borrowing in Your Sermons

Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Alistair Begg preach. It was a beautiful sermon, rich with doctrine and encouraging to the soul. He was preaching in our chapel at LifeWay to the employees and took a bit of time to discuss life in the ministry. Since many are serving in some capacity in local churches (either as a staff member or volunteer leader), he encouraged us in our work away from office hours. Alistair is quite witty and is apparently fond of limericks. To poke a bit of fun at the ministers in the room, he recited a poem he had heard some time ago about the great preacher Charles Spurgeon.

There once was a preacher named Spurgy,
Who really detested liturgy,
But his sermons are fine
And I take them as mine
And so do most of the clergy.

With Charles Spurgeon being known to many as the “Prince of Preachers,” it is obvious why so many of us have learned from him over the years. However, the idea of quoting, borrowing, and (dare I say) stealing sermons is a sad delineation that must be made over and over again. In order to keep myself in check as I prepare messages each week, I try to operate by these three ideas.

1. It is wise to quote from spiritually mature and intellectually sharp leaders to your sermon. I find that using a short quotation from another pastor or scholar bolsters people’s confidence in what we teach. Additionally, it allows them to hear the same truth with a different verbal flair. Quoting from wise believers allows your church family access to the great spiritual wealth of those who have gone before us.

2. It is okay to borrow from another person’s sermon outline. However, you should always tell the congregation who you are quoting. There are times when getting to the right sermon outline is just tough. On top of that, if you read enough commentaries, there really are no new outlines for passages that have existed for thousands of years. So, as you borrow from other pastors and scholars, tell the congregation about those who are helping you better understand and teach the Word.

3. It is always wrong to plagiarize another person’s sermon and preach as your own. I would also add that is is pointless to do so. If you find another person’s sermon to be exactly what you need to teach, then allow the Lord to teach you the truth and then contextualize it for your church family. Every pastor or scholar that you plagiarize worked diligently on the material as part of their daily labor before the Lord and the church. By using it without attribution, we create three problems. First, you commit the sin of stealing. Second, you puff up your ego by creating circumstances whereby you can sound more spiritual than you are. Finally, you rob the church from knowing that there are many spiritual leaders from whom they can learn.

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

6 Big Issues for This Bivocational Pastor

For the last three years, I’ve served as a bivocational pastor at The Fellowship. Over a year ago, I also joined our body of Elders to serve alongside the men who give strategic and missional leadership to our church family. In comparison to the first twenty-two years of ministry, it has been a significant adjustment. I am constantly looking for the proper balance in life, work, and professional ministry. As I have thought through it all, for my own sanity, I decided to make a quick list of the top issues I am working through as a bivocational pastor.

1. Relationships. It is so tempting for me to expend all of my emotional energy on my full-time job at LifeWay first, put the church in second place, and then allow my family to fall to third. It is tempting, and it is wrong. Having two jobs requires extra diligence for me to show preference to Angie, Andrew, and Chris.

2. Rest. Admittedly, I have (or have learned to have) a driven personality. My preference is to be productive. I know I need to rest but often feel guilty for doing it. There is always more work to be done, something to read, an email that needs a response, a plan that needs refining, and a sermon that needs writing. On top of it all, I love to write. But it is an emotionally taxing process. So, I’m trying to learn to not feel guilty for simply taking a day (or half of a day) to just sit down and relax.

3. Study time. All bivocational ministers struggle with this one. We just need to find ways to study well, both efficiently and effectively. Every sermon still demands copious amounts of study and prayer. I’m blessed to serve with two other teaching pastors, and we share the load of sermon preparation.

4. Faith. Did I mention that I’m a driven person? Faith sometimes gets run over by the “I’ve got this” attitude. Faith often requires you to wait. It always requires that you surrender control. By nature, I’m not good at either waiting or surrendering. It is a good thing that the Lord is so patient and the Spirit is such a wonderful instructor.

5. Emotional frustration. Being in ministry as your full-time vocational work, it affords you the chance to connect with the church family on a deep level. As a bivocational pastor, I do not have all of the opportunities to emotionally connect with members of our church. At times, I am emotionally frustrated that I cannot be present, connected, and deeply embedded into everyone’s life. So, I have to remember that I am simply one of the under-shepherds. The Lord has not lost control of caring for His people.

6. Vision capacity. Having multiple responsibilities for leadership means that my capacity for visioneering is spread over multiple disciplines. I am a leader at church, a director of publishing at work, an author, and also travel to speak in various conferences and churches. Just doing the first two requires discipline to lean into the Word and prayer in order to stay in tune with God’s will. Returning to point number one, all of this must be subservient to living better as a husband and father. It is so apparent to me that I need to lean more heavily into the work of leading my wife and sons better.

It all stands as a stark reminder to a key reminder for all of us. There’s only one God, and I’m not Him. Thank goodness for that fact. Every bivocational pastor I meet loves the work that God has entrusted into their hands. We hope to be found faithful in our professional and ministerial work. Oftentimes, we long for the day that we only had one of the two. And you can well imagine which one we’d most likely choose.

So, for my merry band of bivocational pastors out there in the trenches today, take heart. The church is still led by the Chief Shepherd and you are deeply loved by the King of Glory.

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

Come out into the Tempest of Living

In his book Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer included a poetical series in the introduction entitled “Stations of the Way to Freedom.” The poems included themes of self-discipline, action, suffering, and death. Though all four sections are written in such a way to demand a response, there is something about the second section that has always drawn me in. It reads:


Do and dare what is right, not swayed by the whim of the moment.

Bravely take hold of the real, not dallying now with what might be.

Not in the flight of ideas but only in action is freedom.

Make up your mind and come out into the tempest of living.

God’s command is enough and your faith in him to sustain you.

Then at last freedom will welcome your spirit amid great rejoicing.

The phrase “come out into the tempest of living” captures my imagination. We work so hard at making life easy when it never is. And the moment that it is easy, then we have likely stepped into no man’s land where meaning and purpose are lost for us. It does not mean that every day is a decision to leave hearth and home for a wild, safari-like adventure. Rather, we should see life as a series of dares and whims and bravely taken steps. Otherwise, what is the point?

As you go about work and chores and the occasional adventure, remember that it is in the storms of life that we can catch the wind and experience God’s pleasure in our days. The moment that you feel as if control as slipped from your grasp, rejoice. It is likely the moment that you are in that great tempest that brings joy.

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

Speaking and Understanding

Leaders speak. It is a natural part of the leadership process to communicate what the group is to do and where the group is to go. Though leadership can happen by influence through the actions of the leader, nevertheless, verbal communication is always necessary. In one form or another, leaders must also be teachers. They are not necessarily teachers in the classic form of classroom instruction, but it may occasionally take that form.

Leadership requires that you speak in a way that is understandable. It also requires having the discernment to know whether or not you have been understood. It is a lesson driven home to me when I traveled in 2013 to teach for a course at the Kiev Theological Seminary. While teaching in their church planting school, all of the lectures were translated into Russian for the students. Some of them preferred Ukrainian, but all of them spoke Russian. As in any teaching, I lectured, asked questions, interacted with the students, and engaged them in various learning activities. It was during those days of teaching that these four principles were driven home to me about speaking and understanding.

  • Just because you speak does not mean that they heard you.
  • Just because they nodded their heads in affirmation does not mean they understand.
  • Just because they said they understand does not mean that they agree.
  • Just because they agree does not mean that they will do it.

Take an international setting combined with educational course and throw in a translator, and you will have a recipe for a great deal of miscommunication. During the course, I learned when the students were nodding to be polite and when they were smiling in disagreement.

As a church leader, it is a distinction you must learn as well in your own setting. How many times have you given a rousing vision-casting sermon that was met with “Amen” and “Good sermon, preacher” statements? But then no one followed through on the vision. They all nodded in agreement. They all affirmed the worthwhile nature of the goals you laid out. They all heard you… but that does not mean they understood you.

Leading the church into its mission, vision, core values, or whatever else you may call it is more than just blurting out words to inspire. It requires that you know the people whom you lead well enough to know if they understood a word that you said. And, having understood it, knowing if they will go in that direction. There are no easy answers to this issue. It is the place where we learn just how fictional “positional leadership” really is in most of our churches. Ultimately, the speaking you do must be backed up by the influence you have. Then, and only then, can there be true understanding.

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

5 Ways Leaders Can Make Sure They Hear the Truth from Their Team

Leaders must ask questions. In fact, asking the right questions is an essential skill to being an effective leader. Parallel to that skill is the ability to own the answer.

Let me illustrate what I mean. In an organization in which I was the leader, we needed to make a decision that would affect the future state of our work. The one decision that was about to be made would determine our goal for the next few years, what work we would embark upon, the systems we would need, and who we would recruit into leadership. With all of that in mind, I began to gather information that would facilitate the process of making the decision. In the process, I needed to ask one of the key members of the organization about their perspective on the potential change. His response was simple: “Do you really want to know my opinion?”

I suspect that many of us have either heard that response, gave that response, or have wanted to give that response.

In leadership, we must ask the critical questions that moves the organization forward. But we must also be willing to own the answers that we are given to those critical questions. So how can that happen?

Never surround yourself with “yes men.” It is a basic premise of leadership to which we should often be reminded. Sycophants who lurk behind us like Igor saying “yes, master” to our every whim do not help us, themselves, or the organization. The type of employee, follower, or member of the organization that agrees with everything you do with such speed will eventually be a drain on the work.

Beware of the hidden “yes men.” Carefully guard against the organizational members who always, in the end, agree with you. We tend to recruit people who think like us, work like us, and see life like us. It is natural because we are trying to build an organization and lead it toward a goal. Therefore, we need commonality of thought. But this type of employee can be a hidden “yes man” and they are just as dangerous. You don’t want an Igor, but you also don’t want a clone.

Periodically recruit a rogue. Every now and again, you need to recruit someone into the organization that aspires to the same dream but will be the wild horse that you must constantly reign in. They will talk to you in ways that others will not. They will push you to go faster, pull you into unsafe territory, and make you nervous on most days. But they are often necessary. You can often guess what the answer will be to most questions from most team members… but not from this one. It is good to have an outlier on the team.

Give permission for people to disagree with you. Actively tell your team that disagreement is expected. Debate can be healthy as long as the goal of the organization is preserved. Once we’ve determined what must be accomplished, then all bets are off in terms of how we get there. The discussions that must happen need to be passionate. There is a verse in the Bible that says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one many sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17, HCSB). It is the idea that sparks are going to fly and friction is going to happen. When we ask critical questions, expect critically thought through answers. The answer might even sting a bit, but if you have recruited well, then it will be worth it.

Know how to process an answer that runs contrary to your expectations. When you eventually receive an answer that runs counter to what you hoped to hear, learn what to do with it. It could go something like this: Shock, horror, anger, outburst, discord, communication blackout, retaliation, and refusal to change your mind. Or you could have a different approach. Reception, discussion, reflect, consider options, gratefulness, and discovery.

Owning the unexpected answers from our team gives us options. It allows us to discover new paths to the common goals we hold together. The weak leader will rebel against anything they did not think of first. The strong leader learns the power held within a group of like-minded teammates. Today, ask the hard questions and be ready to own the unexpected answers.

Developing Yourself in Bivocational Ministry

Leadership development must move in two directions for all leaders: internally and externally. It is no different for bivocational pastors. You need an intentional plan for personal leadership development and developing others as leaders. In fact, my hope as a leader is that I will be able to fulfill a 1 Corinthians 11:1 vision for myself and a 2 Timothy 2:2 vision for others. But to do so as a bivocational minister takes on a different track.

Even though we are not the ones working in full-time vocational ministry, all of the qualifications for serving in this role still apply. Paul’s admonitions in his three Pastoral Epistles to Timothy and Titus include the spiritual and ethical requirements for a person to serve as an elder or pastor in a church

For the purposes of this post, allow me to give both spiritual and practical advice about developing your own leadership skills.

Spiritual disciplines of the Word and prayer. Depending on how you count, there are probably a couple dozen “spiritual disciplines” used throughout church history. However, I would encourage you to focus on the two core disciplines of biblical engagement and prayer. In your own personal devotionals (which you need to have), ensure that you are reading biblical texts beyond what you teach for the church.

Additionally, through prayer, you will need to consistently deepen your level of discernment for the Holy Spirit’s movement. In your life as a bivocational minister, time is a commodity that seems to slip away quickly. One of the great temptations you will face is to let go of time for intentional and intense prayer. You’ll hear yourself say, “I can pray while I drive to work” and “I am praying all the time. The church is always on my heart.” Both of those statements may be true, but they do not substitute for the work of prayer that you should love as much as any other pursuit.

Learn to hate sin as much as God does. In my book Compelled: Living the Mission of God, I wrote: “Sin is not a pet to tame but a beast to slay.” You must not toy around with temptation and sin. Whether it is lust, envy, deceit, anger, or whatever else, deal with it forcefully. If you do not, it will deal forcefully with you. Look at the results of sin as God does. Once you gain His perspective, it will not be so enticing

Holy Jealousy. Jealousy is normally associated with sin. Paul reminds us that we need to be jealous for the church like a husband is for his wife. He said, “I wish you would put up with a little foolishness from me. Yes, do put up with me. For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, because I have promised you in marriage to one husband—to present a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:1-2). Show your church what it looks like to have a leader who deeply cares for their holiness. It is a powerful role that they will want to repeat for others.

Leaders are readers. Now, I’m not saying you should not have hobbies and go outdoors, but what I do want to say is that your mind is critical to leadership. Find the right books, magazines, journals, and blogs that will challenge you. I would suggest that you read in three areas.

First, read about leadership itself. You need to sharpen your understanding of leadership. So read about it from all directions; church, family, business, marketing, tech, etc.

Second, read great fiction and biographies. Stories that are told well will develop your own creativity. Plus, I find that my brain needs a break oftentimes from the seriousness of my world.

Third, find a subject that has nothing at all to do with your life and read about it. We all have some curiosity about a random subject matter. Periodically, read about it. It will help you develop a process for critical thinking.

Develop a network. You need people around you who will speak the truth to you. Friends that you can trust are invaluable in bivocational ministry. They are the ones that you can seek advice from and dump your emotional truck in front of without fear. Find a group of peers, novices, and mentors that are in the thick of ministry in your area and stick together.

I’m sure that there are dozens of more ideas that could be added to this list. Leadership development is a never-ending process. So, no matter what, find a track for personal development and get on it. Use these ideas. Find new ones. Lean on old, trusted ones. But whatever you do… develop as a leader.

7 Tips for Creating Time to Think

In our hectic world of go, Go, GO!… it seems difficult to simply find time to sit down and think. In my own life over the last few months, I have felt the pressure of three different jobs, being overrun with the need to produce content (which I have not), and not abandon my family in the process.

Oftentimes, I do not have time to sit and think simply because I overcommit. Being a publishing director for LifeWay is my full-time job. Being a teaching pastor and elder of The Fellowship is my bivocational ministry. This summer, teaching Christian Leadership as an adjunct professor for Union University has been an addition to it all. So, when you are busy… and we’re all busy… we need principles we hold to in order to simply think, dream, and strategize.

With some of my team, I recently shared seven ways that I am trying to implement more brain time into my life. Here they are:

1. Make it part of your job. “Thinking is necessary for your job” seems like a silly statement, but it’s a necessary one. Otherwise, we simply complete tasks non-stop and never come up with a new idea.

2. First things first. Don’t allow the menial tasks of the day to take precedence over the opportunity to see ahead, hear what’s really going on, and think through priorities.

3. Reframe circumstances by asking “Why?” five times. Work is never done in a vacuum. When we experience success or failure, we need to know what contribute to either. Asking “why” at least five times will show you the context, circumstances, and contributing factors as to how you got to the end result.

4. Create a “thinking hour.” The concept comes from this article by Scott Young. He encourages one hour per week. It should be doable, but I try to do it every other week. You have to schedule it and keep it on your schedule.

5. Hibernate. Multitasking is one of the great enemies of thought. If you need to put in some brain time, close down email, power off your cell phone, and shut out the world for a time.

6. Get moving. Physical activity often provokes new thinking. Simply take a walk around the building or around the block. Give your physical vision, hearing, and other senses a workout so your brain can reframe what you need to dwell on.

7. Have loose & tight goals. If you set aside time to think, have an idea about what you’re thinking about. I encourage our team to know the difference between daydreaming and strategy. We need both. Go into your thinking time with a view of which you need at the moment.

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

3 Questions for the Hard Work of Evaluation

The process of setting goals is a common theme in the training, books, blogs, and every other place that leadership is discussed. I believe that we need to put an equal weight on the process of evaluating those goals after the work is completed.

But, to be truthful, evaluations are hard, messy, and often gut-wrenching. It is the path of least resistance to simply say “It worked” or “It didn’t work” and then move on to the next thing. The responsible leader needs to help his or her people dig in to discover the lessons to be learned and the changes that need to be made.

Recently, I’ve watched one of our teams at work move through this process fairly well. They asked pointed questions of one another. No one was allowed to have a “sacred cow” that could not be evaluated. Emotions were checked at the door so that the conversation could be honest. The evaluation was about the work and not the personalities of those leading it – unless a personality trait got in the way. It was healthy and helpful.

But for the moment, I want to offer three questions that you should ask after every work is completed. Think about these:

Was it a worthy goal? The people in your organization, business, or church are giving their time, energies to the work so asking if it was worth their time is appropriate. But beyond their energies, knowing that this is the work that will make a lasting difference is critical. Sure, there is a place for short-term, quick wins but you cannot base people’s lives or your organization on it.

Did we achieve the goal? Only when you set clear measures at the beginning can you get a clear picture at the end. But even if you did poorly in setting up the goal, you can decide postmortem if you achieved anything. We must have the guts to look around the room at one another and say what was accomplished – or what was not. Sometimes, this is the beautiful time when we realize that something was achieved that was better and unexpected than what we planned.

Could we have used our energies and involved people into a different work with a better goal? In evaluating what we did, we need to ask if we should have even done it. One of my favorite lines from a movie comes from Jurassic Park. In a discussion about the cloning of dinosaurs for the park, Dr. Ian Malcolm said: “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” We need to ensure that what we’ve done is the right, necessary, and proper work to have been done. Not simply the clever work that is possible.

Each of these questions can be personalized to your own work. As one who teaches on Sundays, I evaluate my messages and series in a similar way. I need to ask myself:

Was it a message that revealed the heart of God?

Did the message connect in a transformative way?

Could the message have been delivered differently (outline, style, demeanor, illustrations, etc.) to have lead people in a better direction?

Oftentimes the third question is the most difficult to wrestle. To ask, ” Could we have used our energies and involved people into a different work with a better goal?” means that you must be willing to admit that you were off-course from the beginning. Perhaps ego got in the way or you were just distracted by a new idea. But no matter what the cause, we must have enough integrity to admit when we chose to lead in the wrong direction. It is the only way to then chart a course in the right direction.

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

3 Small Group Myths that Need to Go Away

Small groups are an essential part of church life. It goes by a multitude of names–Life Groups, home groups, Sunday school, Bible fellowships, and the list goes on. When a ministry is so important, for some reason, myths begin to swirl around it. Here are three of the myths about small groups.

1. Small groups are just for fellowship. Small groups must be an environment where people grow closer, but not just for the sake of friendship. As believers, our fellowship deepens when it is centered on the truth. Fellowship is one of the functions of the church, but it is not the ultimate reason for small groups. Transformation is. Small groups draw people together with a higher purpose than just hanging out in the name of Jesus. We want to draw people around His Word so they can be fed and then transformed by it.

2. People in small groups should stay together indefinitely. In other words, breaking up a group is bad. The argument is made that “our healthy small group should not be separated.” But healthy group members will want to share with others what’s occurred in their lives. Conversely, it is also a myth that leaders just want to split every group for an underhanded reason: control, spitefulness, power-grabbing. In reality, we all know that healthy things grow and then multiply. As leaders, we also know that when things don’t grow, then they begin to drain energy from other parts of the body. Small groups are the same. Now, this is not to say that a small group that does not multiply is moldy, rotten, or cancerous. But it can be reveal an inward-facing spirit that runs counter to the mission of God. By engendering a spirit of multiplication, small groups will eventually reach more people for Christ and help more people mature in Christ.

3. Anyone can lead a small group. I want to tread carefully in this one because it is so close to true. If the statement read, “Anyone can learn to lead a small group,” then we’ve got it. But, as it stands, it is a bit naïve. It comes back to purpose. If you buy into myth #1, then anyone can lead a small group. Just be there to host everyone for a good time and a quasi-spiritual conversation. But if you want to lead people toward transformation, then as leaders, we need to produce leaders. Rather than just throw people into the situation of handling whatever comes up on their own, teach/train/prepare them to be a great small group leader.

If you would like to see more about the strength of small groups (no matter what you call them), I suggest that you check out two new resources. First, Transformational Groups by my friends Eric Geiger and Ed Stetzer. Using data from the largest survey of pastors and laypersons ever done on the condition of groups in the church, they define a simple process to lead your groups from where they are to where God wants them to be. Second, take a look at the new site Groups Matter. It will help you dig deeper into how groups can be healthier and you can see how churches across the world are committing to staring 100,000 new groups this year. Fun stuff!

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

Our Mission Begins with Jesus

The person and work of Jesus is essential to our exploration of the mission of God. In fact, without Jesus, the exploration would be fruitless as He is the central figure of the redemptive work of God. When we discuss the gospel and God’s mission, it is tempting to focus solely on theological statements and activities done by the church. However, at the core of the gospel is not an idea but a person—Christ. At the core of God’s mission is not an action by humans but the work accomplished by God the Son through His incarnation. Christ is the center of God’s mission and we are the beneficiaries of who He is and what He has done.

The Incarnation of Jesus

In Colossians 1:15-20, we are brought face-to-face with the fact that Jesus is God in the flesh. The man born in Bethlehem and reared in Nazareth is “the image of the invisible God” (v.15) and had the fullness of God dwelling in Him (v.19). The incarnation is a nearly impossible idea to comprehend. The fact that the eternal God chose to live in a human body is amazing and mind-boggling. Yet, for God’s mission to be accomplished, this was the necessary action.

The incarnation is both merciful and necessary. It is merciful in that through God’s arrival on Earth in human form, He will take up the sacrificial work that is impossible for everyone else. For thousands of years, blood had been spilt upon the altars of the Temple in Jerusalem and the tabernacles of worship used by the Hebrew people. They had placed their faith in the Lord that He would accept them and deliver a Messiah to set all things right between God and man.

In the incarnation, God Himself takes up the work. It is a task that no mere mortal can accomplish. Thus, God humbles Himself and condescends to our level of existence. He was born as we are, lived as we do, experienced life in the same manner as us all yet without sin. He was born as a man but He never—not once—succumbs to temptation. He is a man but has the very nature of God.

Uniquely Capable of Reconciliation

It is only through the work of Christ that people and creation can be reconciled to God. There are a number of reasons for His solitary ability to accomplish this task. As 1:16 states, He is the One who created all things and holds all things together. As the only One with authority over the created order, God is the only One capable of redeeming us since we have fallen into sin. Though we might be puzzled by all of this power residing in this one Man, it is vital to remember that Jesus is not whom we often make Him out to be. Though He taught, He is more than a great teacher. Though He performed miracles, He was not just a magical figure. Though He lived perfectly, He was not just an ethics professor. Jesus the Messiah is the Creator God in flesh and was the only One capable of reconciling creation to Himself.

Also, Christ is stated to be the “firstborn over all creation” (1:15). The phrase means that Jesus, as Messiah, ranks as preeminent over all other people. By virtue of His divine nature, He is the greatest of all who have been born among humanity. Being in very nature God, Christ has the unique character to reconcile us to God. “Firstborn” is also associated with His resurrection in verse 18, describing Him as “the firstborn from the dead.” He is supreme in His place not only among the living but also in His place among those who have died. Jesus is solitary in His ability to defeat death and thus bring peace to those who trust him.

Making Peace Through the Cross

The life of Jesus is without doubt the most important period of time in history. As He is central to the mission of God, His life is central to our existence. However, we can hone in even further to say that it is the death and resurrection of Christ that are the key events within the existence of our created order. Paul wrote in 1:20 that Jesus makes peace between Himself and people “through the blood of His cross.”

The crucifixion and resurrection event in the life of Jesus is central to the mission of God because it is through this unique work that God reconciles us to Himself. He is the only person born before, during, or after His time on earth that can accomplish the work done through the cross. Throughout the passage, it is important to note how the personal pronouns are used in reference to Jesus. From the act of creation to the work of making peace between God and man, it is only possible through Jesus because He is the Messiah, fully God and fully man.

Head of the Church

The passage points to one other central role held by Christ: “head of the body, the church” (v.18). As we begin to act upon the mission that has been entrusted to us, we do so with the understanding that it is an inherited mission. We are given the work of proclaiming reconciliation that was accomplished by someone else, namely Jesus. He has completed the work and we now bear witness to that work under His direction.

As members of the church, we should be encouraged that He has not left us to our own devices. Rather, Jesus remains engaged with the reconciling work still to take place between God and individuals who hear the gospel. He fits believers together as members of the church, indwelt by His Spirit, to proclaim His salvation and serve so that others might see a portrait of His grace in our lives. The mission is accomplished because Jesus is uniquely the Savior who has died in our place and empowers His church.

Taken from The Mission of God Study Bible