Philip Nation

Philip Nation
Adult Ministry Publishing Director for LifeWay Christian Resources

Spiritual Disciplines in a Digital Age

The digitally connected world has given us access to more information and less understanding. It puts me in contact with more people but provides less relationally to these contacts. Our technology allows me to see everywhere but not to visit. It is as if the Disney movie “Wall-e” is beginning to happen.

As I’ve done a great of thinking, teaching, and writing about spiritual disciplines, I feel a certain press to ask people to go analog for a while so they can more deeply connect spiritually to God and others. But, what if the digital age can be helpful? I think that it can and I’d offer a few ways to leverage digital tools for the work of spiritual development.

Constancy in your Bible reading. Each generation believes that they are busier than the last. Whether or not we are correct, many of us would admit that there is less Bible reading now than in generations before. Through Bible apps on smart phones and online Bible study platforms, we can now access Bible reading without carrying a leather-bound copy with us everywhere. Additionally, the digital age gives us immediate access to numerous Bible reading plans. Leverage these assets to make your personal Bible reading more consistent.

Notes that go everywhere. I have numerous physical notebooks on my shelves where, in the past, I’ve written Bible studies (and sermons), outlined passages, and recorded lessons I’ve learned from the Scriptures. Now, I can record them digitally and sync these lessons across every digital device I own. Platforms such as Google Docs and Evernote allow me to find them with a simple search rather than scour through the pages of several Moleskine notebooks. Even though I still carry a notebook everywhere because writing helps me think. Recording these lessons digitally allows me to revisit them more easily in times of need, reflection, and thankfulness.

Journal as you go. The digital resources also give me an instant way to record what I’m experiencing, learning, and discerning from God right now. With a smart phone or a laptop, I’m able to immediately journal so that lessons are not loss on my inconsistent memory. Instead, I jot it down and then can expand on it over time. Physical notebooks have done the same for a long time and now we have new tools to help us.

Reminders. I often grow weary of the dings and buzzes from my smart phone. But we can use them to our advantage rather than be abused by them. Set up your calendar that has a daily or weekly reminder about a study to accomplish or person to encourage. If you’re seeking to memorize a scriptural passage, your devices can alert you to the verse multiple times a week or a day. Use your device to remind you of what is most important rather than just allowing it to push random news alerts to you.

Magnify your voice. Social media platforms can make you sympathetic or a huge jerk. They can help you be active for the sake of others or a hacktivist who just posts the latest hashtag related to a tragedy. Technology like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs (like the one you are reading) helps to magnify your voice. It helps you to not cloister your spiritual journey but share it with others. Make the decision that technology will be leveraged to benefit others rather than just a megaphone to shout at others.

Connect the spiritual to… everything. The world is spiritual. We too often lose that truth. It becomes easy to divide our spiritual growth into a category that really does not include work, recreation, entertainment, politics, and a myriad of other issues. But, we are spiritual beings in a world created by God for the purposes of serving His spiritual kingdom. Technology should link everything together and everything has a spiritual implication. As you see news alerts, it should drive you to prayer. As you encounter worldviews, it should help you to think about the culture in a biblical manner. Facebook posts of a person’s bad news should drive you to serve the one in need. And on the list can go. We should be reminded that people are more than the avatars they use and the pixels of their posts.

Bridges that create relationships. In the end, use technology to connect in the real world. Share your stories of growth in such a way that it leads to face-to-face meetings to share burdens. As you encounter disagreements with people online, seek to meet them so you can know their story and share your hope. As you discover needs and the biblical truth that meets the need, get out from behind the screen and do something.

The use of technology in the digital age holds the same temptations as those who write in notebooks and sit in their personal libraries. We can hide behind the screen or the page. Don’t do it. Instead, recognize that your spiritual life is for the benefit of others. Go and live it out in the real world.

Original post here.

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

Sending and the Gospels

A few years ago, I completed my doctoral project by constructing a seminary course on the subject of missional leadership. In the course of my project paper, I did an overview of the motif of sending throughout the Scriptures. In this section, I offer a brief description of how it appears in the Gospels.


The sending within the four Gospels is centered on the incarnation of God. John the Baptist is sent to prepare the way, and Jesus begins his public ministry having been sent by God (John 3:16). The life of Jesus stands at the heart of God’s sending activity. DuBose wrote, “It cannot be overemphasized how deeply the sending concept relates to Jesus’ identity. Almost every page of the Fourth Gospel breathes with a passage in which Jesus expressed who he is in terms of his sense of being sent, his sense of mission.”[1] DuBose rightly highlights the strong emphasis found in the Gospel of John. The idea of Jesus’ sentness is shown repeatedly (4:34; 5:30; 7:16–18; 9:4). Further, John’s Gospel links the sending of Jesus with the sending of his followers in 17:18 and 20:21. Additionally, in John, Jesus speaks on the sent nature of the Holy Spirit, as well to facilitate the mission of God (14:26; 15:26).

The Synoptic Gospels refer to the use of the language of “sentness” to a lesser degree, but still reference the theme in relation to Jesus in verses such as Matthew 15:24, Mark 9:37, and Luke 9:48. DuBose highlighted the Lukan passage in chapter four, in which Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61 while in the synagogue. DuBose wrote, “Of all the Old Testament passages he could have chosen, he selected this one as the platform for his life and work. It became the manifesto of his ministry. We noted earlier in commenting on Isa 61 how all the activities of the Servant of God proceeded from the sending.”[2] With their primary emphasis on the life of Jesus, the four Gospels provide a compelling portrait of how the Son was sent by the Father for the work of redemption. Christ was sent to minister, die, and rise again as a particular work that cannot and need not be duplicated. In doing so, he also provided teaching about and the reality of a new covenant under which the church would be sent into the world.

[1] God Who Sends by Francis Dubose, 49–50.

[2] Ibid., 50.

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.

4 Ideas to Help You Lead More Effectively

The last year has caused me to reflect a great deal on bivocational ministry. In my own church, I serve as a part-time minister, but know that I must dedicate energy to the strategy for our church. Here are a few of the ideas that I’ve been dwelling on to help me lead better.

Drop the buzzwords. Modern leaders in the church are just like ancient leaders in the church – we love our buzzwords. For the first century, it was the Gnostics talking about their secret knowledge. Today, we have made words like postmodern, Gen X, mission, and missional into junk-drawer terms. They mean everything and nothing at the same time. Don’t use hollow terms. Learn the vocabulary of your church and use it wisely.

Know the context. You are likely the only leader in your church that has done self-training to think missiologically. It is the default of most people to simply address a small circle of needs around them. Become a cultural expert about your city, your state, and the world. I know that I’m asking you to know a lot. But no one else is going to do it. I suggest you to make it a regular part of your teaching. Help your church to think about the application of biblical truths not just to their lives but to the life of their community and city.

See farther. In order to tell a better story, see you have to develop the discipline of seeing farther than others. It does not mean that you have to be prophetic in an Old Testament kind of way. As a leader, you need to find time for prayer and then planning that helps the church to see what they will do next, how they will minister going forward.

Seeing farther is not a normal skill possessed by most people in leadership. For those of us in bivocational work, it will require – like so much else – extra time. There are plenty of books and resources out there to help you with the process of setting the vision, putting together the strategy, and seeing farther. Let me give you a few practical suggestions to get the work done.

  • Take one block of time at least each quarter to simply pray and dream. It does not have to be hard-core strategizing. You need to give yourself time to hear from the Spirit in an unhurried environment.
  • Do it with the other leaders of your church. I think you need to have time between just you and God in order to prepare for time with the community of leaders in your church. But don’t ever think that they cannot also see farther with you.
  • Discipline your reading. Pick out a book a quarter that will challenge you to think beyond the norm. Business books, theological books, novels, change theory – something that will stretch your mind.
  • Interact with other pastors who are completely different from you. Get out of your normal network. Meet other leaders from other streams. I’m Baptist, but some of the leaders I’ve learned the most from are from Pentecostal denominations, AME Zion friends, and Anglican priests. They help me to see the wideness of what is happening in God’s kingdom.

Set the pace. Don’t ever just point in a direction for your church and say, “Go!” Go first and bring everyone with you. You simply cannot lead strategically without putting yourself into the strategy. The moment strategy degrades to just an assignment for others, you have lost your footing as a leader.

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

6 Marks of a Maturing Church

In Acts 9, we read the story of Saul’s conversion and beginnings of his ministry. It was a rocky start as the church was suspicious of his trustworthiness. But after the start of his public ministry, the church accepted him and began to saw additional growth because of what God was doing through Saul. In the 31st verse of the chapter, a description is made of how the church was beginning to mature and minister in a hostile culture. I find that there are six marks in this single verse.

So the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace, being built up and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, and it increased in numbers. -Acts 9:31

1. Widespread. It describes the church as having already reached “throughout Judea, Galilee, & Samaria.” It is both a comment on geographic boundaries and cultural boundaries. People were carrying the gospel to various regions and various types of people. To say that the church was in Judea was expected, but to see it spreading among the Samaritans was not. Many of the early believers were ethnically Jewish, and they did not associate with the Samaritans. It signals to us that we must seek to increase the borders of the kingdom on this world despite cultural, ethnic, economic, and social differences. Don’t ever be intimidated by the systems of the world when you are sharing the gospel of God’s kingdom.

2. Unity. The church “had peace.” I think this is a commentary on how they existed in the culture and how they treated one another. For the moment, think about what it means inside the church family. It is when you see unity among the diversity. Uniformity should discarded as useless pandering to control-hungry leaders. Instead, we need to pin our unity on the idea of working toward the gospel goal of seeing the world know Christ as Lord and experiencing Him as friend. When we all drive toward the mission of the church, then unity is easy.

3. Development. The verse also tells us that the church was “being built up.” The Greek words used in the phrase find their literal usage in the construction of a house. The church was growing up. The right pieces were being put in the right place. It is a sign that strength was being added to the structure so a healthy fellowship could continue. The outward ministry was being coupled with inner growth. For a church to mature, it needs both.

4. Holiness. As the church developed, it was “walking in the fear of the Lord.” I love the phrase because it signals the depth of what holy living truly is. Though holiness includes morality, it is not the sum total of holiness. Rather, it is a lifestyle in which the awe of God is carried with you at all times. The church, in these days and in our day, should be marked by the presence of God. Our behavior is changed by our view of how different God is from us. Consequently, our transformation by the gospel means that we are now set apart for the Lord’s purposes that we joyfully fulfill in our everyday living.

5. Momentum. Knowing that we are called to holiness, it becomes natural because the church receives “the encouragement of the Holy Spirit.” Unbelievable but true. He indwells believers so that, individually and collectively, we can be emboldened to ministry and mission. On your worst day when the whole world seems to be caving in, the Holy Spirit has the desire to encourage you. When church life is at its toughest because of temptations from without and trouble from within, the Holy Spirit never abandons us. The God of the universe wants to encourage the church.

6. Growth. From all of the rest that we see described, the church “increased in numbers.” Through the ministry and the investment in outsiders, the church grew. I am unashamed in my desire for the church to numerically grow. It seems to me that from the witness of the Bible that God wants more people converted, more people experiencing grace, more people ministering, and more people coming to know Him as Savior. The church should want the same and work with everything we have to see it happen. A mark of a maturing church is that it focuses on the ministry that will persuade people to the truth of the gospel and the beauty of knowing Christ.

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

Prayer and the Mission of God

Prayer is used by God to bring His people into alignment with His mission. It is critical that we remember that prayer is not a power by which we force God to act according to our will. Rather, by communicating with God, His passions can become our passions. Believers have the opportunity to both listen to and speak to the God of the universe in prayer to receive guidance by His Spirit. It is not just an activity of our faith but is a portion of the relationship we have with Christ.

Prayer is an activity often thought of as driving only the personal side of the believer’s life. If we view prayer merely as an internal discipline, we can lose sight of how God might use prayer as a means of engaging us in His mission in ways that extend beyond our own spiritual development. As our maturity in Christ develops through the relational activity of prayer, it should consequently cause us to see the world and humanity as Christ does.

The mission assigned to the church has its originations in the mind of God and must therefore be directed by Him. It is in prayer oftentimes that Christians will come to a place of complete abandonment to God’s Spirit. In Ephesians 6:18, believers are directed to “pray at all times in the Spirit.” By praying according the passions and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we surrender our will to His plan and purposes.

We should also remember that, through prayer, God connects us to His heart for the church as well. In 6:18, Paul also wrote that we are to intercede “for all the saints.” A significant portion of God’s mission is the building of His church. In the larger context of Ephesians 6:10-20, the teaching presented is about spiritual warfare against believers and the church. In Paul’s teaching to the Ephesians, prayer plays a prominent role in the defense of our fellow believers.

In regards to activity in the mission, Paul requests prayer so that he will engage in speaking about the gospel well and with boldness (verses 19-20). Doubtlessly, the church must learn to understand its culture and minister with kindness to the people around us. But the proverbial point of the spear for us is to speak about the greatness of Christ’s work on our behalf. We are ambassadors who speak on behalf of our King and with His authority. To do so well, just as Paul requested, we must have the benefit of intercessory prayer by the church. Believers should both pray for one another and request prayer from one another to effectively engage in God’s mission.

The act and results of prayer are a mysterious occurrence. God has chosen this medium by which He will subsequently embolden believers for His mission and mature them in the faith. Are you being emboldened through prayer?

I originally published this essay in The Mission of God Study Bible. All of the videos associated with feature essays can be found at

Spiritual Warfare: Real Struggle. Real Victory.

Ephesians 6:14–17

  • Spiritual warfare. Sounds like a movie on the SyFy channel. Aliens vs. Predators or Sharknado
  • Whole concept seems strange and foreign to us.
  • But... we’ve sensed it; watched it; experienced it as a church; been attacked as individuals.

What is our problem with Spiritual Warfare?

Two polar opposite ideas have affected our approach.

1. It’s a Fairy Tale. Anti-biblical secular thought that deadens our thoughts.

2. It’s Spiritual Paranoia. Unbiblical hyper-spiritualized teaching that there’s a demon behind every corner. If I oversleep, it was a pillow demon.

  • One side mocks. The other side gawks.
  • Paul’s view… Ephesians 6:10–13
  • Spiritual battle rages around us. So fierce that God entered the battlefield to protect us: Warrior King!
  • In Joshua He is the Captain of the Army of the Lord.
  • In Isaiah, He is the deliverer who arms Himself to rescue
  • In the Gospels demons tremble before Him.
  • On the cross He delivers the deathblow to the darkness.
  • In the resurrection, He seals the fate of the evil one.
  • In Revelation, He is the conquering King who rides a stallion and has a flaming sword.
  • Not a sanitized, sappy Hallmark-movie-version of Jesus. Not a Hippie Jesus who dances around the countryside singing songs with the disciples. Not the pretty movie Jesus with perfect hair and Miss America smile.
  • We serve a Warrior King who does not fear darkness or death.
  • We don’t stand on the battlefield alone.
  • What is the truth about warfare? Christ’s Victory Is Our Victory.
  • We don’t fight for victory, we fight from victory.
  • We get this call to arms (v.13): “take your stand”
  • Don’t give in to fear because we are not left defenseless.

We stand with the Warrior King who prepares us for battle and fights with us.

  • Complete armor to prepare us with His work for us.

What is our stance in spiritual warfare?

1. Stand Confident in Righteousness – v.14

  • Leather apron hung under the armor to the thighs
  • W/O: vulnerable to the assaults of vital organs, chest
  • The gospel is the message that we’ve been transformed.
  • “Righteousness” = we are in a right relationship with God
  • Clothed in the righteousness of Christ—our robe of victory and our armor for battle.
  • You are not barely suited up for battle. God has put His good character on you.

When you are accused by the enemy of being no good, useless, weak, and worthy of only being discarded—then stand up in the truth of God’s love and the righteousness that He has given you.

2. Stand Ready in the Gospel – v.15

  • Sandals improve mobility, stabilized, prevent sliding
  • Move surely—ready to plunge into battle.
  • Picture of readiness and preparation with message of peace
  • Hold fast to a position that’s already been won
  • Carry message of light into battle against darkness by proclaiming the good news
  • Ready to jump into the middle of battle
  • Illustration) Football player who has pads on and then goes home would be ridiculous.

When you see others under attack from sin and its devastating work, then stand up by living in and carrying the gospel to them.

3. Stand Protected in Faith – v.16

  • Qualifies this section with “in every situation”
  • The shield was designed to stop the fiery arrows
  • The shield covered the whole person.
  • Protects us INTERNALLY: from every temptation to ungodly behavior, doubt, and despair.
  • EXTERNALLY: Against persecution & false teaching

When the enemy comes after you with temptation and the world is hard (and those are constant), we must stand in faith. We must be reliant in faith that God is good, He will not abandon, He does not change His mind.

4. Stand Prepared in the Word of God – v.17

  • Helmet designed to withstand the heavy blows
  • Often decorative to indicate the army in which you belong.
  • Salvation protects us and shows off whose/who we are.
  • Sword is only weapon for defense and attack.
  • It is the Word of God.
  • Cuts people’s defenses, through their conscience, and awakens them.

When you are tired of the enemy making headway… and I hope you are… then take your stand in God’s Word. Read it, consume it, study it, discuss it. It is God’s gift of how He reveals Himself to us. It is the truth when the fog of war rolls around us and we are confused. Stand on God’s Word and declare salvation to others and remind yourself of God’s good work for us. 


  • We are dressed with Christ’s armor and, therefore, display the characteristics of the anointed one in our attitudes, language, and behavior. In this way, we resist the evil one, giving him no opportunity to gain an advantage over us.
  • Christ has already won the victory
  • Christ’s victory is our victory.
  • While God supplies the armor, it is our responsibility to take it up, put it on, and use it confidently against the powers of the evil one.

We stand with the Warrior King who prepares us for battle and fights with us.

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

5 Church Leadership Lessons from IKEA

IKEA is a store based in Sweden. They are perhaps best known for their flat-pack furniture. Recently, I purchased a new desk from IKEA which is really not a desk. It is two units of drawers, a long table top, and support leg for the center. I think there are several lessons on leadership that we can learn from IKEA and the way they sell their products.

1. Simple instructions. The instructions are all presented in visual diagrams, even the instructions to call IKEA if you have a problem. Their directions to build a bed, cabinet, shelving, and everything else are based on the principle of simplicity. It is a great reminder about how leadership directions should be given to those under our care. If a direction is not easily understood, then work on it until it is.

2. Repurpose everything. The desk that I bought is normal for much of IKEA’s materials. Rather than creating pieces, parts, and entire furnishings for just one use, they create them with multiple uses in mind. Every bolt, peg, and table piece has the possibility to be used in multiple furniture pieces. For the leader, it is a lesson about the scarcity of resources. Leaders must learn to use what they have and then to reuse it again. It is a good lesson to pass along to others.

3. Hospitality. Go into any IKEA store and you will find a place that you’ll want to visit again. Their stores are not found in many places. The closest one to me is a four-hour drive to Atlanta, Georgia. But the experience of the store is worth the drive. Each story has plenty to see, a restaurant inside, and happy employees that are ready to help. The IKEA store feels more like a place to visit rather than a place to shop. As a church leader, I often wonder how guests to our buildings, ministries, worship services, and small groups feel about how they are greeted by us. It is not that every church should set up a food court, but every person who intersects with our church family should feel welcomed.

4. Ready-made rooms. When looking at their website or going into a store, I immediately get a vision for what a room could be if furnished by IKEA furniture. If you look, you can find the sections where individual pieces are sold and parts are purchased. But that is not what IKEA is concerned with for their customer. They want you to buy the whole dorm room for your college student. They want you to create an entire space for your home office. And the list goes on. If you are going to lead a church, never be satisfied with people only being partially formed. We want them to get the proverbial “whole package” of formation. Don’t be satisfied with less.

5. Selling satisfaction, not furniture. Make no mistake about it… for IKEA to be profitable, they must sell furniture and the like. But at the heart of the company, what they are selling is satisfaction. The IKEA Vision is: “To create a better everyday life for the many people.” They have a set of seven values that drives what they do and how they do it. It is all in support of their vision, and their vision is about a lot more than furniture. In the church, our vision must far exceed the physical accoutrements of religious programming. We are not offering institutional ministries. We are offering life. We need to ensure that we never settle for involvement in the equipment of the religion. After all, Jesus did not die to make us religiously busy. He died to give us life.

Cover image credit: ©Pixabay

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

The Truth About God's Image

Image is a word associated with many things in our day. People maintain an image in front of others. An image is an idea or concept still being worked out. We work on our self-image. Perhaps the word is so far-reaching because we are a so visually stimulated.

Whenever people meet one or both of my sons, the issue of image normally surfaces because they look so much like me. (We are praying that they will grow out of it.) We’ve heard all sorts of comments such as:

“You boys look just like your father when he was your age.”
“You can’t deny those two.”
“They are you’re spitting image.” (Which, by the way, is a gross description.)

They take it all in stride. At this point in life, being like Dad is not too terrible. I pray that I can be the kind of man that they will always want to emulate. I want to have an image that is worth bearing in themselves.

From Creation

In thinking about the relationship we enjoy with our Heavenly Father, the fact that we bear His image cannot be over-estimated. In the account of creation, we are told in Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.” The image of God burned into the being of man makes all of the difference for us.

Throughout the creation account of Genesis, God’s image is not placed in anything else. The universe is made but not granted God’s image. The Earth with all of its grandeur is spoken into existence but not having God’s image ingrained upon it. Animal and plant life come into being, but without God’s image upon it. Only when God creates people does He grace us with His image.

Saints and scholars of every generation have discussed the nature of God’s image in mankind. Is it the soul? Is it our ability to have a will? Do we act like God? Or did Adam and Eve actually bear some physical resemblance to God? It is a difficult question to answer.

In Relationships

I would offer that a role in bearing God’s image is that it acts as a bridge for us to relate to Him. God is personal; even in the since that He is eternal. He has revealed Himself to us in personal terms. In the Bible, God tells us that He is Father, High Priest, Comforter, Shepherd, and many other personal terms. He speaks to us, reveals His will, and acts as a friend.

God desires to know us and has therefore placed His image within us. We bear a resemblance to Him in that we are designed for relationships. The relationships that we enjoy with other human beings are part of the general blessing of being alive. We love and care for those in our circles of influence. In bearing God’s image, it is obvious then that God also wants us to relate to Him.

However, in Eden, the image of God in man was marred. Sin stands in opposition to people mirroring the character and nature of God. Where God wants the crown jewel of creation—humanity—to be a showpiece of His handiwork, sin obstructs that purpose. It obstructs us from knowing the very One who has placed a reflection of Himself in us.

It is a reminder for us that sin is not just a glitch in our moral character but an affront to the very nature of our creation. More importantly, it is an affront to our Creator. As the Lord seeks to draw us close, He then does all the work necessary to reestablish His image within us through the redemptive work of Christ.

His image is within us so that we might desire Him. The Bible states that He has placed eternity in the heart of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We clearly see from the whole of redemptive history that God is seeking those who do not seek Him. God has a great desire to restore the marred image of Himself in us through a saving relationship with the Messiah He has sent for us.

For the World

Now, the work done by Christ is for you. But never forget that it is also for others. The restoration of God’s image in us is not only for the benefit of the individual, but for all the world. The image of God in the people of God—both individually and collectively—is a sign and a witness to the world of the Lord’s great love for us.

In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul taught through many images who we are becoming in Christ. In 2 Cor 3:18, he wrote, “We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.” The concept of “glory” in the Bible requires a great deal of deep thought. But in this one verse, Paul lays out the concept that through the saving work of Christ, we are those who reflect the God’s glory. In this, we are showcases for who God is and how He loves.

The image of God cannot be trivialized. It is a mysterious gift in which God desires for redeemed men and women to show off His nature. As you search the Scriptures and draw close to Christ, keep in mind that He wants more than to make you an educated and morally upright person. God’s great desire is for you and I to bear His image as dearly loved children.

This blog post is based on a study from The Gospel Project for adults and students, focused on the doctrine of humanity, titled “Bearing God’s Image.”

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

How to Handle Disagreements in Your Small Group

In your small groups, it is likely that discussions will happen where people disagree. Passions will flare up and debates may break out. All of that is a good thing. We want the members of our groups to wrestle with the truths of the Bible and to do so together. When we deal with issues that fall inside of our doctrinal consensus as a church but there is disagreement on particular points, we need to learn how to discuss them properly. Your groups may have already had one or plenty of such discussions where interpretations were challenged. Let me give a bit of advice about how to handle such discussions and disagreements.

Be intentional. Don’t prepare with the hopes that it will not happen. Instead, tell the group ahead of time about what the discussion will entail and that there might be varying viewpoints. In fact, an email out to the group prior to the gathering will help everyone be prepared.

Set the ground rules. As the leader of the group, you must set the tone. If you don’t, the first one to voice their position will do it for you. It does not have to be a tense rattling off of the “rules for theological combat.” Rather, let the group know that there may be some disagreement during the discussion and that it is okay. Hold up humility, hospitality, and civility as virtues that are needed for spiritual friendships to thrive.

Don’t make it personal. The discussion is about the issue, not the person stating their perspective. Help the group members address the issue rather than allowing sarcastic bombs to be lobbed at each other. If someone makes a personal jab, then ask the person to recognize it and make amends.

Clearly state what territory you are in. It is important to help members of the group understand if you are discussing an issue that is inside of our orthodox beliefs or touching on a subject that is deemed historically heretical. For example, to discuss the four major views of the millennial reign of Jesus is territory within the orthodox faith of Christianity. On the other hand, discussing the nature of Jesus and claiming that He was created by God as a normal man is a perspective that takes you outside of our faith. You can take the verbal temperature of the room down a notch if you help everyone understand if the issue is about orthodoxy or about a concept over which the church has debated for centuries.

Represent others’ views fairly. Don’t allow a member of the group to mischaracterize a viewpoint just so they can make it appear silly. If you are going to disagree with someone’s perspective, do so with respect. Caricatures of others will create division in the relationships.

Don’t allow a contentious spirit to dominate. Robust and passion discussions about our faith and the Bible are good. But a contentious spirit toward one another is destructive. If you see the conversation getting out of hand, intervene. Remind the group that we are called to live in unity as Christ followers.

Keep the “So what?” question obvious. Some of the discussions are simply to understand better. But even in those topics that are more intellectually driven still have a point of application. Your group is designed to facilitate spiritual transformation. Lead the discussion so that everyone comes away with an answer to the “So what?” question.

Plan for the conclusion. Unless you intend for the discussion to fill the entire small group meeting, make sure you plan on how to conclude the discussion. It can be as simple as “I know there is more we could talk about __________, but let’s make sure we cover some other ideas and find how they apply to our lives.”

Follow-up. In the days after your discussion (or debate), do some personal follow-up with both those who vehemently stated their position and those who remained silent. Everyone will likely need a debrief of some length to relieve any left over tension. In the next group meeting, do not ignore the fact of the previous discussion. Acknowledge and help people move on to the next topic of biblical conversation.

Discussion and debate about how to understand and apply biblical passages is necessary. As you lead your group, ensure that you prepare yourself and your friends for how to do so in a way that leads to spiritual transformation.

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

Why Communication Skills Are Crucial for the Church

An area often highlighted in the literature regarding leadership is the ability to communicate goals to the organization. For a leader to lead, communication must take place in some form for members of the organization to know what action must come next, or what knowledge needs to be learned. Leo Hindery Jr. works in the fields of television and print media. Having served as an executive in numerous media companies, including serving as the chief executive officer for AT & T Broadband, Hindery has a unique position to speak about communication. He stated, “A leader cannot lead without being able to articulate his vision. This means having the ability first to think straight and then to express thoughts and ideas clearly and directly. And a leader must give brain and heart equal access to his tongue.”[1] Hindery’s position is that the leader must be able to communicate both passion and information. Certainly, sufficient literary weight exists behind this idea.

John Maxwell has written dozens of books and articles on the issue of leadership. In his book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, he teaches that communication by a leader must include both information and inspiration. His thesis is that the “non-connecting” leaders only transfer information around the organization. On the other hand, leaders that connect with the organization at a deep level are able to move people to action through right information and encouragement. He has constructed an “Inspiration Equation,” which aligns knowing, seeing, and feeling so that followers will move forward with the leader. He wrote,

Greek philosopher Aristotle understood this and commented on it in The Rhetoric. In the context of persuasion, he identified the most important element as pathos, the communicators’ ability to connect with the feelings, desires, wishes, fears, and passions of their listeners. It’s a way of giving people reassurance, of letting them know they can trust you, of telling them they should listen to you.[2]

The ancient philosopher obviously believed in the power of communication in that he wrote an entire work on the idea of rhetoric. However, as Maxwell writes, the content and ability to communicate well is key.

Malcolm Gladwell, writer for the New Yorker, has authored several best-selling books about the nature of change and leadership in organizations, including Blink[3] and Outliers.[4] In his book The Tipping Point, he discusses what must take place for a significant cultural or organizational movement to occur. Throughout the book, he discusses the three key factors of a tipping point, and one of them is the “Stickiness Factor.” He wrote, “The Stickiness Factor says that there are specific ways of making a contagious message memorable; there are relatively simple changes in the presentation and structuring of information that can make a big difference in how much of an impact it makes.”[5] By using television shows for children, such as Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues, Gladwell established the need for communicators to distinguish between the details that engage and those that distract. Gladwell leans into his knowledge of advertising and shows how new characters, seemingly awkward pauses, and repeating questions all add to the stickiness of a message.

Gladwell wrote, “We all want to believe that the key to making an impact on someone lies with the inherent quality of the ideas we present.”[6] Instead, he concluded that the real need of a communicator is to adjust the form of communication that will fit the circumstances. Leaders must become masters at knowing what form will connect with their audiences or followers. For the makers of children’s television programming, the balance between repeating elements of a story and the introduction of new characters must be found in order simultaneously to keep their audience and provide educational value to the show. In business, little difference exists in that a manager must find the ways to best communicate in their environment.

In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin makes the case that every member of an organization can be indispensable and also can lead in some capacity. In order to do so, a person must engage in the “culture of connection,” because one cannot succeed in isolation. He wrote, “If you can’t sell your ideas, your ideas go nowhere. And if you lie about your ideas, we will know and we’ll reject them. The Internet amplifies both of these traits. The new media rewards ideas that resonate. It helps them spread. If your work persuades, you prosper. And the new media punishes those who seek to mislead.”[7] Once again, the ideas of John Maxwell seem to return into the process that a leader must both inspire and inform. Godin’s caution is that it be done with absolute honesty in order to engender loyalty for the leaders, salesman, or manager.

The communication acumen required for serious leadership is evident in that great leaders are generally known as effective communicators. The literary sources highlighted are but a small sampling of a significant theme that runs throughout much of the written work regarding leadership.

Within the church, communication is likewise a fundamental part of leadership. In a business, in politics, and other pursuits, the leader often fills the role of the ultimate authority for the work. Not so with the church. Or, perhaps I should say, it should not be so with the church. Rather, leaders in the church are operating under the authority of Christ, who is the Head of the church. So, leaders are required to communicate His message while Jesus is not physically present with us. To that end, leaders in the church should be dutiful in sharpening their communication skills.

[1] Dormann, Letters from Leaders, 124–25.

[2] John Maxwell, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2010), 201–02.

[3] Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (New York, N.Y.: Little, Brown, and Co., 2005).

[4] Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success (New York, N.Y.: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008).

[5] Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Boston, Mass.: Back Bay Books, 2002), 25.

[6] Ibid., 131.

[7] Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (New York, N.Y.: Portfolio, 2010), 210.

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

Can God Save My Marriage?

Can God Save My Marriage?

I’ve heard that question posed in so many different ways. The answer is a solid “yes.” But the real question people want to know is not “Can God…?” but “How can God…?” My answer to the how is that God will save your marriage but only along with you as His grace empowers confessional and redemptive living.

As we look at the Bible, there are no explicit passages that give a seven-point plan for saving a marriage that’s in trouble. Instead, we have various beautiful passages that deal with the foundation, roles, and reason for the marriage relationships. We find very quickly from scripture that the core of marriage is simple: it is a covenant of love. So, let me point you to two passages as reminders of this core.

1. The Source of Love — 1 John 4:7-12
The passage from John teaches us that “God is love” (v. 8). You and your spouse did not dream up love. Neither did Shakespeare for his plays or the latest Hollywood romantic comedy movie. Love originates from the very character of God and would not exist if not for Him. Of course, our love for our spouses is horribly flawed. So, we must allow our character and thus our love be defined by the character of God. You must not allow the latest self-help book, the sappiest made-for-TV movie, or any episode of Dr. Phil define love for you. It is only from God’s nature that we learn about love.

In the passage from 1 John 4, we learn that God’s love transforms us (v. 7). Love is revealed most perfectly in Christ’s sacrifice (v. 9-10). It calls us for an action from us (v. 11). True love is defined by our Creator and revealed by our Savior. We must reject the silly notions of the world that love is only sappy emotions, romantic gestures in the dark, and a spouse who will serve you day and night. It is defined by the very nature of God, who is redemptive. Can God save your marriage? Yes… so do this: Define, refine, and/or redefine marriage by the character of God through the gospel’s power.

2a. The Context of Love — 1 Corinthians 12 and 14
2b. The Activity of Love — 1 Corinthians 13

The two ideas of love’s context and activity are too closely related to separate. The three chapters of 1 Corinthians 12-14 describe how the church relates together. Put it in the funnel and let it become more specific for marriage and we discover powerful truths for troubled relationships. Chapters 12 and 14 describe how any spiritual gifting and power is to be used for the benefit of other believers. Love is active, not sappy.

In another book, Paul reminds us that marriage is a mysterious relationship (Ephesians 5:32-33) but there is a reason for it. Marriage is a temporary picture of an eternal reality. The covenant relationship we have with a husband or wife displays God’s grace available for salvation through Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross. 1 Corinthians 13 warns us against ego, seeking only self-satisfaction, and just being religiously busy. Instead, we are to use our God-given, grace-induced gifts for building up others and caring for their needs. Service is the context and result of love. Clearly from 13:4-7 we see that love starts with the heart and chooses to make service a priority.

Can God save your marriage? Absolutely. You must take the long view of life so that you will opt for service over a demanding attitude. A love born from God’s character will allow you to see your spouse through the lens of eternity; knowing what lasts and what does not. You will see your husband or wife not just in the current circumstances but as a person to serve and help be more like Jesus Christ.

Choose love. Choose service. Choose Christ. The covenant of marriage displays the saving work of Jesus. Your marriage will be constantly on edge until you root your life in the eternal reality of God’s salvation.

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

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.

Can I Trust the Bible?

On Sunday, I finished up the message series at our church on “Real Questions People Ask.” It has been an important series for our church family as we have dug into the ideas of God’s sovereignty, the suffering we face, sexual ethics, and the importance of the gospel reaching all the nations.

In the last message, I was aiming to answer the question “Can I trust the Bible?” As you get to the end and I take my tour through the Bible, you can find the list of all the books of the Bible and the references I make in an earlier post here.

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

20 Ways to Do Ministry That Cost Zero Dollars

Church leaders are tempted constantly with the idea that everything the church does has a dollar amount attached to it. When we lean in this direction, we are simply wrong. The work of making disciples, evangelizing the lost, and effecting growth in the church can be done with zero money involved. Here is a short list of different things you can do as a church leader just to remind you that much of what we do does not cost any money. It is stuff that we can do as leaders and lead the membership of our church to do as well.

  1. Disciple someone
  2. Visit local business owners
  3. Befriend the school principal
  4. Pray with people
  5. Start a new Bible study group
  6. Volunteer with the hospital chaplain
  7. Hold an open Q&A group at your home
  8. Visit with the neighbors whose homes border your church property
  9. Train your church staff and lay leaders to be effective in their work
  10. Call all of your church’s Bible study leaders and encourage them
  11. Make the rounds at a local Assisted Living facility
  12. Volunteer to read stories to kids at a local library
  13. Call every person who has visited your church this year and invite them back
  14. Start an accountability group to read the Bible and pray for one another
  15. Make some new friends in your neighborhood
  16. Visit with local law enforcement officers and first responders
  17. Ask the mayor how you can pray for him/her and partner in the community
  18. Study diligently to prepare yourself to answer the tough questions of our age
  19. Present a verbal witness of the gospel to as many people as possible
  20. Invite everyone involved with the above 19 actions to worship services and Bible study groups

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

10 Reasons to Read Ecclesiastes

At The Fellowship, we are currently in the midst of a sermon series on the book of Ecclesiastes. The question that a number of people have asked is “Why?” Here are ten of my reasons as to why I wanted us to study the book of Ecclesiastes together.

1. It shows life as it truly is. No where does the Teacher try to hide the reality that life is hard and we need hope.

2. The phrase “under the sun” reminds us of the limitations of everything we encounter

3. The section of 5:1–8 reminds us why being silent before a holy God is an amazing blessing.

4. It is a great apologetic for our time to prove that life is meant for more than what we can see.

5. Whether you are rich or poor, the book applies to your life.

6. We need the reminder that our just God overcomes our unjust world.

7. The teaching that it is good to enjoy life here on the earth.

8. Attempting to understand the deep meaning of the Hebrew word hebel (translated meaningless, futility, or vanity) is an inspiring pursuit.

9. The reminder that when God is intrinsically involved in your work life, it holds greater meaning.

10. It is in the face of life’s brutality that we discover the blessing the God has placed eternity in our hearts.

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

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.

Why Gutenberg Printed the Bible

Johannes Gutenberg invented the moveable-type printing press in the 1400s. With it, he helped revolutionize the Western culture world. The first book of significance he printed was the 42–line Gutenberg Bible, which took him years to finish and ultimately bankrupted him. He recorded why he endeavored on the work (source). It is a great reminder to all people of faith as to why we should never give up on the work of God’s mission.

God suffers in the multitude of souls whom His word can not reach. Religious truth is imprisoned in a small number of manuscript books which confine instead of spread the public treasure.

Let us break the seal which seals up holy things and give wings to Truth in order that she may win every soul that comes into the world by her word no longer written at great expense by hands easily palsied, but multiplied like the wind by an untiring machine.

Yes, it is a press, certainly, but a press from which shall flow in inexhaustible streams the most abundant and most marvelous liquor that has ever flowed to relieve the thirst of men.

Through it, God will spread His word; a spring of pure truth shall flow from it; like a new star it shall scatter the darkness of ignorance, and cause a light hithertofore unknown to shine among men.

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

Photo Credit: ©Thinkstock

7 Ways for Teaching Leadership

I believe in the old saying: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” If you don’t believe it, then I would invite you to intentionally lead poorly for a season and then report to the rest of us what happens. Now, yes, for my theologically-minded friends, I know that everything really rises and falls on God’s providence, justice, and grace. Yes, I will give you that. So, with that as the foundation, we can then move on to all understand the power of leadership. And, the necessity of it.

Without leadership, what will the church look like? Not the church. Leadership is inherent to God’s intention for the church. Leadership is included in the Romans 12 list of spiritual gifts. We are told in Ephesians 4:11 of five different roles of leaders within the church: apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher. In his letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul taught about the two positions of elder and deacon for the body of Christ; one as a servant leader and one as a lead servant. (I will write about that distinction later.)

At what I see currently, we need more leaders. Or we need to better train the leaders we already have in our churches. Have no doubt about it: there are leaders in your church. They do not have titles, but they lead. They may not be on the board or a committee, but they have influence. The only issue is whether or not we train them well. Let me give you a few ideas about teaching leadership.

1. Put it in the priorities. If you do not have new leaders stepping into responsibilities, it is likely because they do not know how. You teach your way out of every problem. The lack of leaders can be solved in two ways: prioritizing the need in verbal communication and through relational discipleship. So make it a part of who you are.

2. Fight consumerism. The movement out of consumerism requires an application of the truth. We are to be leaders in the culture and not merely consumers within the religious establishment. Leadership begins as a new perspective before it is a new behavior. You must move people from consumption to production.

3. Actually teach. Just as “living like Jesus” alone is not evangelism, “living for the kingdom” alone is not discipleship. You must put together a plan to communicate the principles and work of leadership. So read the entire Bible, buy good books, talk to veteran leaders, and put together a plan to talk about it. Some of the books I would suggest include:

  • Spiritual Leadership by Oswald Sanders
  • The Missional Leader by Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk
  • Basic Christian Leadership by John Stott
  • The Disciple Making Pastor by Bill Hull
  • Lectures to My Students by Charles Spurgeon
  • Pastoral Care by St. Gregory the Great
  • Spiritual Leadership by Henry Blackaby

In teaching, leaders must speak the truth to followers in order to affect change. Be clear about the current environment, needs, and how involvement as a leader can change things.

5. Train leaders to also be theologians. In leadership, the truth precedes method. Otherwise, we thoughtlessly stumble into a way to do church. To put new leaders on a missional pathway, they must be able to contend for the truth before they know how to be counter-cultural with their lives. Don’t be afraid to tackle the hard subjects and use large words. As my friend Ed Stetzer says, “If people can learn how to order stuff at Starbucks, then they can learn theological language.”

6. Understand the relationships of major disciplines. There is a relationship of theology, missiology, and ecclesiology that must be observed and understood. Currently, you can stir up a great debate among scholars if you ask which of these comes first. Normally, theology and missiology compete for the title. It is not likely the territory that you want to wade into early on with your blossoming leaders. Instead, help them to understand the relationship between the three arenas and how they are all necessary in the life of the church.

7. Make a plan. Just remember that it does not have to be a perfect plan before you start. I am reminded of a man who once told Dwight Moody that he did not like the way he did evangelism. Moody replied, “Well, sir, I like the way I do evangelism better than the way you don’t do it.” For now, just get going. Work hard at having a great plan so get a head start on that great plan by training some leaders for the work right now.

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

Image Credit: ©Thinkstock/g-stockstudio

6 Key Questions for Bible Study

As a pastor, I’ve consistently encouraged believers to engage the Bible. I’ve pleaded with people to read it, memorize, and share it. But one thing that I often failed to do was teach people how to properly study it. In a recent message, I shared six questions that will help you study and understand any passage. They come from my book “Habits for Our Holiness” in the chapter about how to properly engage the Bible.

1. God question: How does the passage reveal God’s character?
2. Salvation question: How does the passage reveal God’s redemptive plan?
3. Context question: How did the passage apply to the original hearers?
4. Personal question: How does this truth affect my relationship with Christ?
5. Sin question: In what ways do I rebel against the truth of this passage?
6. Mission question: What is the impact of the passage on the church?

As you work through passages in your personal devotional life or for public teaching, I hope that these questions will keep your thoughts God-centric as you explore His Word.

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