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A holiday brimming with delicious food, time with family and friends, and lots of football, Thanksgiving is also a day to remember what we’re thankful for. For Christians, Thanksgiving presents an opportunity to reflect on all God has done and is doing and thank him.
Gratitude should mark the people of God, but we can be tempted to reserve it for a holiday or mealtime prayers. Paul exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” His command feels extreme—does he really want us to give thanks in everything? If so, what does gratitude even look like? How can we start building a habit of thanksgiving?
The good news is we can become grateful people by the power of the Spirit, and we can begin growing in gratefulness with one simple step: noticing what God is doing in our lives.
Paul mentions fourteen times in his letters that he thanks God for the people he’s writing to. Have you ever stopped to consider why he mentioned his gratefulness for his fellow Christians? Whether he is about to write words of rebuke or correction or encouragement, he still thanks God for the church—for people. He notices them. More importantly, he notices that God has orchestrated his relationship with them, that God put them in his life for a reason, and that God works in and through them.
Just as God brings people into our lives, he also places us in our neighborhoods, jobs, and churches. When he created the world, he put humans in it to live, grow, and take care of creation. Taking time to notice the world God put you in—your workplace, your home, your car, your church, your neighborhood park—can help cultivate gratitude in your heart. Yes, difficult places exist. Brokenness riddles our world. But God’s goodness, faithfulness, and kindness always shine forth through the brokenness for us to witness and thank him for.
Have you ever paused to notice a moment? Maybe the giggles of a playing toddler, the taste of a home-cooked meal, or the words of a hymn in Sunday worship. Or maybe you look back on past moments, spending time to reminisce with old college friends or to remember a loved one who’s passed away.
Past or present, moments encapsulate beauty. Slowing down to notice important or even seemingly insignificant moments can make us more grateful.
Taking notice of your people and your world—and seeing all of it as God-given, as proof of his love and grace—is the first step toward gratitude. When we know what to notice, we can move from simply observing our lives to giving thanks to God. Thanksgiving can look different for all of us, but there are a few practical ways we can weave it into our lives.
Keeping a gratitude journal is trendy for a reason. When we put pen to paper and list what we’re grateful for, we acknowledge what God has given us in a physical way. Regularly slowing down to thank God helps solidify gratitude in our hearts and builds our thankfulness muscle. Journals can also help us remember what God has done for us when we’re facing impossible, difficult situations. In many ways, it is an act of worship to write down what we are grateful for. Grab a journal or a pad of paper and try writing down three things you’re thankful for every day, then turn your list into a prayer of praise.
Gratitude is contagious. When we tell others what we’re thanking God for, we point them to gratefulness. Take a walk with a friend or call a family member and weave gratitude into your conversation organically. Notice how speaking with thankfulness about your life affects others. Or tell a significant person in your life that you are thankful for him or her and why, just as Paul did for the churches he wrote to.
Hardship often makes gratitude feel as impossible as asking the rain to stop pouring. When we face difficulty, the habits we’ve formed in calmer times come in handy. They give us the words to say when we have none to offer. Find verses on gratitude and memorize them (consider Psalm 100; Philippians 4:6–7; or 1 Thessalonians 5:18). Make a playlist of songs that express thanksgiving to God and return to it often. Or find a written prayer that thanks God that you can pray when words don’t come easily.
Gratitude transforms us. When we give thanks, we acknowledge God and his work in the world. We lift our eyes from looking at ourselves to see the spiritual reality of our lives.
God is at work. He always has been and always will be.
As you enter the holiday season, look for ways to build a lifestyle of gratitude. Invite your friends and family to join you and see how God grows joy, love, and hope in you as you thank him.
Since Jesus left the disciples, we have carried the gospel across the globe. But, when we think of how to connect with unchurched people in our community, we can be left scratching our heads.
Was it always this hard? Do we need to make our churches more relevant, more trendy, more comfortable? We feel like we’re doing all the right things but we aren’t seeing results—what are we missing?
It can be disheartening to go through seasons where we aren’t seeing people come to Christ. We can feel stuck or behind. It can be tempting to think that we have to try something drastic to introduce more people to Jesus. But when we think about reaching the unchurched—people who have no experience with or interest in either the church or Christ—we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We simply need to do what Christians have always done with a strategy that best fits our context.
In Bible study, we all know context is king. If you don’t know the context of a passage, you will probably miss the point. The same holds true for your church. God has placed you (a unique pastor) in your church (a unique people) in a unique place. Your position is purposeful and should define everything from the sermons you preach to the sort of programs your church offers.
To connect with the unchurched, start by thinking through your unique context—the things that make your mission field and position unique. These questions can get you started:
No matter how you answer these questions, starting with God’s unique design for your church will give you an idea of his direction for your church. For example, if non-Christians in your community are unlikely to go to church on Sunday, think about how you can empower your people to befriend their neighbors or to make your small groups open to visitors. Or, if your church is downtown but speaks the language of the suburbs, consider how you might adapt to relate to the people next door.
As you figure out your context, your creativity will spark. You will think of new events, sermon series, or ministries that could help you connect with the unchurched. But, as our culture changes, our posture also needs to adjust. For decades, the church has operated on a “come and see” model. People were willing to go to church or check out weekly ministries because the church was broadly seen as trustworthy and needed. Today, that is not always the case.
Unlike in year’s past, people today are more likely to think organized religion isn’t important. According to a 2019 Gallup study, only 36% of Americans have a high level of confidence in the church or organized religion, an all-time low. At the same time, 29% of Americans have little or no confidence in the church, an all-time high. In other words, we should assume that the people around us are skeptical of the church, even if they claim Christ.
So what do we do? A Sunday service may attract a handful of curious unchurched people. But a mobilized congregation of purposeful, Christlike friends can reach dozens of neighborhoods, workplaces, coffee shops, and grocery stores every day. Our congregations can reach more unchurched people in a day than we could with dozens of well-crafted sermons.
The attractional model has passed its prime. It is useful in some areas, but less so every year. To connect with the unchurched, our model for ministry needs to turn outward, shifting from a “come and see” to a “go and tell” mentality. For some of us, we may just need a change in our language, speaking to the specific concerns and questions of our culture. For others, we may need to fundamentally alter the way we do ministry.
There are many reasons why the unchurched may not be attracted to a church service or event, but there is nothing stopping us from going to them. Everywhere you go, someone needs Jesus: your neighbors, coworkers, bank tellers, and mail carriers. God has placed you in their path; trust him and what he can do in their lives.
Connecting with the unchurched is not about marketing strategies, trendier social media accounts, or more relevant sermon illustrations. None of those things redeem sinners. Only God can change a person’s heart. Our responsibility is to faithfully make disciples wherever and whenever God gives us the chance.
To summarize the Great Commission: go, baptize, teach.
As we unpack our nativity scenes from eleven months of storage, placing Mary next to the manger is as normal as singing Christmas carols or watching Buddy the Elf eat gum off the subway railing.
For many of us, though, Mary never leaves the manger’s side. She goes back in storage with the wise men and reappears next year. While Mary serves the miraculous and cosmic role of birthing the Messiah, she is also a faithful witness of what it looks like to model Christ’s action of mediating between God and humanity—telling others what God is like and bringing him their concerns.
You may be thinking, “Wait, isn’t Jesus the only one who mediates between God and humanity?” And that instinct would be right. I’m not talking about mediating salvation between God and people—that’s something that only Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection has accomplished. What I am saying is that, like the prophets in the Old Testament standing as a go-between by proclaiming God’s message to the people and representing the people’s requests to God, Mary shows us how to occupy the space between God and the world as a light that points people to God.
Before traveling to Bethlehem for Jesus’s birth, Mary visited her cousin, Elizabeth, who was also miraculously pregnant. Elizabeth recognized Mary’s unique role as the “mother of [her] Lord” (Luke 1:43) and pointed toward Mary’s faith that God would “fulfill what he has spoken to her” (Luke 1:45).
In response, Mary launched into her famous speech magnifying God’s character—the Magnificat. These ten verses are more than Mary simply responding to her situation with gratitude. Mary shares God’s words not only with Elizabeth but also with us as readers thousands of years later.
Many commentators say Mary’s speech falls in the genre of prophecy. In essence, a prophet served as a mediator between God and people to provide the people with revelation of who God is. Mary comments on her own “humble condition” (Luke 1:48) and how God exalts the “lowly” (Luke 1:52), like herself. By describing herself in these terms, Mary speaks to those who may similarly feel overlooked or unimportant—much like how the people of Israel likely felt at the time of Jesus’s birth. Mary says that God has “helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy to Abraham and his descendants forever” (Luke 1:54–55) with Jesus’s birth announcement, reminding God’s people that he cares and acts on their behalf.
Through her speech, Mary stepped into the space between God and his people by proclaiming the good news that God’s “mercy is from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50) and that “he has scattered the proud . . . [and] toppled the mighty from their thrones” (Luke 1:51–52). She reminds us that God “has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:53). Her song reads like many of the psalms in the Old Testament that proclaim the character of God to people in desperate need.
Mary models how we should be little mediators of God’s presence on earth—declaring his good news to people who need to hear it.
The beginning of Jesus’s public ministry provides a stage for Mary to stand as a type of mediator outside of the Christmas story. Before Jesus began teaching and demonstrating his identity as Israel’s Messiah, he and his disciples were invited to a wedding Mary also attended. As John writes in John 2:1–12, the wine for the wedding in Cana ran out and presented the host family with a problem.
Running out of wine at a celebration in Ancient Near Eastern culture was a social faux pas that would have brought enormous shame on the host family. Seeing this risk and interceding on behalf of the wedding party, Mary went to Jesus with a request without a question, “They don’t have any wine” (John 2:3).
Not only did Mary initiate stepping in as an in-between for the wedding party, but she also went straight to the person she knew could act, revealing her faith. She saw a need and entrusted it to the person who could meet that need.
While Jesus’s response appears harsh (his calling Mary “woman” isn’t derogatory or dismissive as he uses the same word when speaking tenderly to her on the cross in John 19:26), Jesus explained that he was hesitant because he had not begun to reveal his identity as Messiah—which Mary presumably knew—to everyone.
Instead of feeling rejected, Mary reaffirmed her faith in her son by telling the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do. Jesus may have chosen not to act and told the servants to stand by, but Mary accepted that possibility and left the decision in Jesus’s capable hands. In doing so, she communicated an important truth not only for the servants at the wedding but also for us reading the passage today—obey God regardless of what he calls you to do. Mary advocated for people who had nowhere else to go and instructed them on how they should respond to God’s command—much like how the church operates in the world today.
Maybe it is appropriate that we think of Mary most often during the Christmas season. Christmas often calls us to act in mediatory ways.
This may be someone’s first Christmas alone, and they need to hear from you that God sees them. Perhaps this Christmas someone received bad news and needs you to advocate for them on your knees in prayer. By imitating Mary as she imitates Christ, we can be God’s ambassadors, channeling his overpowering love for them.
So, you’re about to lead a small group, maybe for the first time, and you’re sure your pastor made a mistake in asking you to lead this group. You may be feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, and a little anxious at the thought of someone asking a question you don’t know the answer to. How can you, a normal person, lead a small group?
For some reason, we often think Bible study leaders have to be the smartest person in the room, armed with quick, charming, and compelling answers for every question. Good leaders host their small group in a pristine home or know the coolest place in town to chat over coffee. They’re stylish, funny, brilliant, put-together, and BFFs with Jesus. Now, we know small group leaders aren’t all of those things but—for whatever reason—we are sure we have to be that kind of leader.
The truth is you don’t have to be perfect in order to be effective. You don’t even need to be perfect in order to be a great small group leader. The best small group leaders are actually far from perfect, but they do share some traits in common that you can easily add to your own life.
Take a second to answer this question: What makes small group leaders different than the people they are leading?
Many of us think leaders are gurus—perfect, all-knowing, wise ones who know the Bible inside and out and can answer any question. But gurus make really bad small group leaders. They tend to make group meetings all about themselves, their knowledge, and their insights. It’s pretty hard to focus on Jesus when the leader is making the group about themselves.
The most effective small group leaders are guides. They have a map, know what trail they are on, and know where they are headed. Their leadership is not about getting everyone to focus on them but on avoiding dangers and making progress towards their destination.
Your small group time is not about you; it’s about Jesus. Your responsibility is to keep people focused on him, becoming more like him, and making him known.
But what if you don’t have the answer to a tough question? A guru would be threatened because it would challenge their status as the all-knowing leader. But a guide? Guides aren’t threatened because they have the “maps” of God’s Word, the support of church staff, and an abundance of great resources for answering tough questions at their fingertips. Guides actually become more helpful when tough questions come up.
If you don’t know an answer, be honest: “I don’t know, but I will try to find an answer for our meeting next week.” Which brings us to the second quality of effective leaders.
It’s like legendary basketball coach John Wooden said,
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
Being prepared doesn’t mean you have to outline your meeting minute by minute, but you should know what you are going to cover in your group that week. Take time to look over the Bible verses, study questions, and any resources you will be using. Preparation will look different for everyone, so find a method that works best for you.
The most effective small groups aren’t thrown together last second; they are the result of a prepared leader prayerfully thinking through the time they are about to spend in God’s Word. After all, if you are a guide, you need to know your map!
But being prepared does not mean you have to teach your group because…
You don’t have to be a seminary professor or pastor to be a great group leader. You simply need to facilitate conversation. Think of your group as a community rather than a classroom. Your goal in the group is to help the church grow in spirit and in truth, not ace a Bible quiz.
Ask an opening question and wait for people to start talking (it’s okay to endure a little awkwardness). If your group starts running down a rabbit trail, gently point them back to the topic at hand. Ask open-ended questions. Try to get everyone involved in the conversation. At the end of your time, talk about ways to apply what you are learning.
More often than not, you will learn from the people in your group. They will see things you missed. They will have ideas you wished you’d thought of. But for a great small group leader, being a part of a community headed towards Jesus isn’t about being in front—it’s about leading people to Jesus.
Starting out as a small group leader can be daunting. But most of our anxiety comes from thinking we have to be spiritual gurus. Once we realize that we are guides, the anxiety to be perfect starts to slip away. When we prepare well, we will build our confidence. Shifting our role from “teacher” to “member of the community” will take away our self-imposed performance pressure.
Great group leaders are normal people, just like you. No matter your background or leadership experience, if you guide people to Jesus you’ll be doing exactly what you’re supposed to do.
The following is an excerpt from www.Exponential.org, originally written by Dave Ferguson on January 8, 2023. For more wisdom from Dave, check out Lost Cause, a five-session RightNow Media video series on evangelism.
We need to create and use language that reinforces our values. We must be intentional about creating and consistently using vocabulary that mobilizes Christians to reach lost people. The clarity, consistency, and intentionality of our narratives, language, behaviors, and practices are an overflow of the clarity and conviction of our values.
Consistency is one of the keys to effective storytelling. We need to use the same language, in the same ways, over a long period of time.
One of the things we learn as church leaders over time is that just when we get sick and tired of repeating phrases is when the congregation is just beginning to get it. We like to be onto the next new terminology, and often it works against us.
To create narratives that make it clear evangelism is important to us, we need to be willing to embrace repetition.
The reason we need to pay so much attention to our language is that we are responsible for telling the most important story in human history: the gospel. This is the story of a redeeming God who came to live among us in the human form of Jesus before dying for our sins, coming back from the dead, and leaving his Holy Spirit with us to empower us to share this story widely and well. We are all responsible for telling this story in a way that makes clear the fact that all human stories lead back to Jesus’ story.
We are all lost and in need of our risen savior.
We see Jesus articulate this in one simple statement in Luke 19:10: “For the son of man came to seek and save the lost.” That was Jesus’ mission. And that should be our mission, too. And, therefore it certainly should be the mission of his church. If that was his mission, we should ask ourselves: how did Jesus live out his mission in the story of his life?
From the beginning, Jesus’ story expands beyond the religious institutions of his day. These spaces were often closed to outsiders and the lost, but through his actions and words, he expressed his values (and that of his father) to welcome people into a new story.
When you follow Jesus’ example and intentionally connect with people far from God you’ll begin to get questions about why you believe stories from the Bible, and about how your life story has changed as a result of your relationship with Jesus. Be prepared for these moments because they offer golden opportunities to open doors. They allow you to build bridges between the stories that others tell you and the story of Jesus.
We also see from Jesus’ examples that we have an easier time sharing our stories with people during meaningful moments that don’t necessarily take place in our church buildings. For many of us, this will require a shift in our ecclesiology, the way we come together and experience church. If you have a mindset that evangelism happens only in a building once a week (the common model for most of our Western cultures) you’ll miss opportunities to build relationships that create space for storytelling and story-sharing. It’s hard to build relationships while sitting in the pews listening to sermons, attending Sunday school, or taking communion.
As we seek opportunities to tell our stories, it can be helpful to use a simple storytelling framework that helps us connect to others around us. I use a simple three-part format to share my story and it’s been so effective I wrote about it in my book BLESS: 5 Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor and Change the World. You wouldn’t believe how many stories have come out of this method.
What was your life like before you met Jesus? Or if you grew up in the church knowing all about Jesus, what was your life like before you got serious about following him? Your story begins with who you were.
How did you become a Christ-follower? Did you go through a particularly tough time in your life that led you back to God? Did a friend invite you to a church service? Did a family member introduce you to Jesus? Did a life experience inspire you to get serious about following Jesus?
What difference has following Jesus made in your life? How has knowing him impacted both the good and hard times? Yes, when telling your story, include both the good and the hard. People will be more impacted when you’re honest about the challenges you continue to face even when you’re following Jesus. And don’t give the Sunday school answer. Talk about how your life is different and how God is growing you in certain areas, but make sure you’re sincere about how it’s a process and how often you still make mistakes.
To learn more about developing narratives of evangelism in your church or community, watch Lost Cause, a RightNow Media original series made in partnership with Dave Ferguson and Exponential.
We all know that prayer is an important part of the Christian life, but if we’re honest, finding time to pray can seem impossible. It’s hard to pause to pray throughout the week when work, family, and an overloaded schedule seem to take up most of our free time. We all have a lot going on, but we don’t have to let busyness stop us from spending time with God. In fact, we can’t afford to let busyness stop us—prayer is one of the most important aspects of the Christian life because it is how we communicate with God. We cannot properly serve a God we don’t talk to.
If we’re going to see prayer as an important part of our daily lives, let’s keep a few things in mind.
The Bible makes it clear that prayer isn’t optional—prayer is a command and is essential to following Jesus. Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (emphasis mine). Think about your current prayer life and ask yourself, “Do I really talk to God about everything?” Many of us would admit that we have a habit of inviting God into the large-scale issues of life, while leaving him out of what we might consider miniscule. But leaving him out of the little things can subtly lead to a lifestyle of independence and isolation. Every Christian is called to pray in every circumstance.
Prayer keeps us in check and helps us remain dependent on God. We all have the tendency to think we have life figured out—with Google, opinions on social media, and readily available advice from friends, it’s easy to think we have our lives under control. But as helpful as our friends and internet resources are, we need the Spirit of God to generate a spiritual life. When we pray, we’re showing God that we know we need him. We cannot make it through this life without his guidance, his wisdom, and his input.
No relationship we have can thrive if we don’t spend significant time with the other person—the connection we have with friends, family, or significant others will eventually fizzle if we don’t make quality time a priority. The same is true for our relationship with God. If we want to know God deeply, then communication is key.
As believers, much of how and why we pray is rooted in how well we know God. Because we know he expects holiness, our prayers must include repentance. Because we know he is a generous God, our prayers must include thanksgiving and gratitude. Because he is a good and kind God, our prayers should include our adoration and praise for him. The more we know him, the broader and more intimate our prayers become.
There are many ways we can enrich our life of prayer. Take a moment to read through these suggestions and reflect on the prayer life you currently have and what kind of prayer life you want.
God desires to be involved in our daily routine, thoughts, and decision making. Say a prayer of thankfulness when you find a great parking spot on a busy day. Ask him to help you stay focused when a work project is frustrating. Pray for wisdom when your toddler throws a tantrum in the grocery store.
When you can’t form the right words to say but are filled with emotion, you can allow the words of Scripture to become your heart’s prayer. Read your favorite psalm or passage and allow those verses to be your prayer. Meditate on them, memorize them, or read them aloud.
God is our creator and, as the psalmist says in Psalm 139:2, he knows our thoughts from far off. There’s no need to hide our true feelings, frustrations, or questions from God—he already knows and wants us to bring those feelings to him. When we pray, we have the freedom to be honest in his presence knowing that he will guide us into all truth, correct any erroneous thinking we might have, and comfort us.
Sometimes, the best way to enhance our prayer life is to form a routine. When we intentionally incorporate prayer into our daily lives, it will become a natural habit. An easy way to get started is to try out one of the devotionals on RightNow Media. Prayer and the Psalms is a ten-day devotional that takes you through several psalms to learn more about prayer.
When we start to invite God into the everyday—even mundane—parts of our lives, we move past solely making requests and walk into trusting him with all our thoughts and troubles. Prayer is how we learn to worship him fully, know him as our friend and savior, and lean on him as our only hope.
I’d spent my whole life in stage-of-life groups with people like me—guys with similar interests and struggles. Those groups made connecting with other Christians easy, but this new group was a challenge. I felt I had little in common with the retired empty-nesters and college students in my living room. I struggled to ignore the chaos of the toddlers playing on the floor. And I had no clue how to counsel married couples.
The people in my small group watched movies I’d never heard of, inhabited various corners of social media, held opposing political views, and even had different ideas on how to live the Christian life. How was I going to lead this group, much less help them build friendships with each other across their diversity?
I was facing the big challenge of multigenerational groups: connection. Because we gravitate to people like us, diversity can feel uncomfortable. But if we stick with the tension of getting outside of our bubble, we can find the richness of the body of Christ in all of our unique gifts, experiences, and wisdom.
Every group is different, and leaders can try many strategies to help their group form good, lasting relationships. But, as the leader, you need a strategy to help people overcome feeling disconnected from other group members.
Leading a healthy small group is like gardening: we can prepare the soil and water the seeds but only God can make the seeds sprout and grow. You can’t force friendships, but you can create a place for them to grow.
Think about the times you have felt most welcome in someone else’s home—what did they do that made you feel comfortable and appreciated? You don’t have to throw a dinner party; sometimes people just need to be asked about their day. Find the person standing on their own and strike up a conversation with him or her. Or if there is a young mother in your group, think about setting aside a space for her infant to sleep or nurse. A little consideration can make everyone who visits your group to feel valued.
The people in your group have a wealth of experiences and wisdom—far beyond what you as a leader have on your own. Instead of worrying about what you need to teach, think about the questions you can ask the people in your group. What do you want to know about them? What insights do they have that would bless the rest of your group? What have they learned about God and his faithfulness
If you have a hard time thinking of good questions, that’s okay! Most RightNow Media Original series come with free study guides full of great questions so that you can worry less about preparing lessons and focus more on the people in your group.
Everyone is busy, and it can feel like a struggle to make it to small group every week. But if you want your members to share their lives with each other, you will need to spend time together outside of your small group meeting. Don’t make it too complicated—you could get coffee with one person in your group each week or coordinate group lunch after church on Sunday. The more casual interactions you have with people in your group, the faster you will build meaningful relationships with them.
Every church has different goals for their small groups, but we all share the same mission: to make disciples and build God’s kingdom on earth. And nothing brings a group together like working as a team. Talk to your group about the causes and groups of people God has called them to serve. What need can your group meet? If your group has little kids, consider partnering with a local non-profit that can be flexible in the way you serve and are open to family friendly projects. Or find a place to serve as a group in your local church—if you get stuck, ask your pastor or other group leaders for ideas.
No one wants the relationships in their group to remain shallow. Getting together week after week to talk about news, sports, or the weather is, quite frankly, boring. We want our groups to be hubs of deep community marked by friendships, support, guidance, prayer, and evangelism. But meaningful friendships don’t happen overnight. It can take months (or longer) for a group to feel like a community. Don’t get discouraged when relationships don’t progress as quickly as you would like. In time, God will weave people together in ways you had not imagined. Don’t give up.
The first few months of your small group will be the most challenging as people push through awkwardness and build friendships with one another. In my group, some of the most unexpected people—people who did not immediately click with one another—ended up best friends and were in each other’s weddings. They’ve built families alongside one another, leaning on each other’s wisdom and support.
Have you ever found yourself leaving a Sunday worship service saying to yourself, “The worship was great—I can’t wait for next week”? Or maybe you've had the opposite reaction: “I love this church, but the worship was not my favorite . . .” No matter which situation you have found yourself in, we can all admit that we sometimes equate worship with the music we sing on a Sunday morning.
Our perspective of worship is often limited to what we experience at church. But Scripture is clear about what worship is—it extends much deeper than the songs that we sing. Worship is an intimate expression of gratitude for the mercies of God that he’s given to his people. And singing is just one aspect of how we worship. True worship happens when we live a life of sacrifice—when we worship as a lifestyle.
Paul had a strong grasp of what it meant to worship when he wrote to the Roman church. In Romans 12 Paul writes,
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.”
Paul appealed to the church in Rome with the truth that worship is meant to be a sacrificial offering to God. What do we sacrifice? We sacrifice our lives to God. Sacrificing time by setting aside moments to reach out to those we care about is an expression of worship. Worship is sacrificing our money by giving consistently to the local church or covering a friend’s bill. It’s also offering our gifts and talents to help others. We’re called to live a lifestyle of worship—not setting apart portions of our week for worship but instead living in a constant state of worship knowing that every moment can be an act of service to God.
So, what does it look like to worship with our lives?
First, we worship in Spirit and in truth. In John 4:23, Jesus spoke with a Samaritan woman who would become the first evangelist of Jesus’s ministry. In this passage, John records Jesus’s words as he taught the woman how we worship. Jesus said,
“But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and in truth.”
Worshiping in Spirit and truth means we are led by the Spirit and grounded in the truth of Scripture. We need the Spirit—he moves in us, teaching us to worship, maturing us, and rooting us in truth. Sacrificial worship begins with our relationship with the Spirit. But how, exactly, does he help us to worship? In Romans 12:2, Paul says,
“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .”
Worship begins with internal transformation. Renewal of the mind does not come from self-improvement or the next great self-help podcast. The Holy Spirit is the one who changes us. By his power, we experience transformation in our minds, our desires, and our actions. We worship in Spirit and truth by surrendering to the Holy Spirit and allowing him to work in our hearts. When we do so, we allow him to change us, enabling us to offer ourselves completely to God.
Second, our worship is to be holy, or set apart. Paul is not calling us to worship perfectly but rather to offer holistic worship. As Jesus’s followers, how we serve, how we give, how we love—they’re all expressions of our worship.
We can often get distracted by the ways of the world and lose sight of where we orient our worship. One example is how our minds are often slaves to any form of stimulation or entertainment. We can spend countless hours streaming Netflix or scrolling through our smartphones and, before we know it, we’ve devoted half our day to mindless consumption. But Paul reminds us that in our worship we should “not be conformed to this age.” Our devotion to God should be all-encompassing, which means we cannot let sin run rampant in our lives. Instead, we should live in a way that shows our lives belong to God.
Finally, our worship is to be pleasing to God. He wants us to offer our joys, struggles, successes, and hardships to him. We please him as we move away from self-centeredness toward God-centered lives. As we do so, we begin to see that his ways are much greater than ours. Our desires and aspirations begin to align with his. Paul comments on this transformation in Romans 12:2 by saying,
“. . . so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
Paul says when we have a lifestyle of worship, we align with the Holy Spirit, and we know and delight in the will of God. Worship connects us to our creator; it changes us and makes us more like Christ.
So, how do we worship as a lifestyle? We live a life of sacrifice. We devote every day to God. We worship in Spirit and in truth in a manner that is holy and pleasing to God. The music we sing moves us and allows us to express praise in a unique and creative way. But music isn’t the main avenue of worship—our lives are the ultimate vehicle of worship to our savior. How do you worship? How are you devoting your life in surrender to God?
Living out our worship begins with a biblical understanding of worship. Gather your family and tune into Worship in the Word. Sing along with Christian artists Shane & Shane as they share ten beautiful, simple songs drawn directly from Scripture, providing a biblical and captivating worship experience.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and underequipped as a church leader, you’re not alone. With the influence of social media, changing cultural dynamics, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, today’s pastors face unique challenges. According to recent studies, today’s pastors are struggling with everything from time management to trusting God. Lifeway Research spoke with more than 1,000 pastors about their greatest needs; five were most commonly mentioned:
At RightNow Media, our core value is “The mission of the church matters.” We are here to pray for, equip, and encourage church leaders in their ministry because healthy leaders are crucial to building healthy churches.
As a busy pastor, it can be hard to find time to equip your leaders and volunteers. While digital training can’t replace in-person experiences, it is an effective tool to develop your leaders outside of face-to-face trainings. RightNow Media has a library full of Interactive Training Content you can assign to your leaders to complete when it's convenient for them. Or, click here to learn how you can create your own Interactive Content.
The following blog post will help you learn about some of the fears and doubts your leaders and volunteers may be experiencing. You can share this article with your team to encourage them!
Jesus clearly calls us to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19–20). But outreach ministry can take a backseat when we feel too busy with what’s going on inside the walls of our church.
Even if you don’t have a designated external outreach ministry, you can still foster connections with unchurched people. Read this blog post for practical ways you can begin to bridge the gap between your congregation and the unchurched.
We all want our churches to thrive, but many of our congregations struggle with attendance, recruiting volunteers, and keeping members engaged. There may be moments when you feel like one of the only people committed to the mission of your church. But no matter how you feel, God’s promises are true and he promises to never leave you or abandon you (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Read this blog post for an encouraging word on staying committed to the church even when you sense apathy in your congregation.
With the many responsibilities of shepherding others, pastors can unintentionally put their personal relationship with God on the backburner. In our desire to be self-sufficient, we often forget that we have a Father who hears our prayers and loves when we talk to him.
Reignite your passion for prayer with this practical blog post all about the gift of talking with your heavenly Father.
While church leaders often preach the need for Christian community, the perceived safety and comfort of isolation can tempt tired pastors. While it can be difficult to find people who understand the unique weight of spiritual leadership, community is worth pursuing for pastors in every stage of their ministry.
Set aside a few moments for self-reflection and to answer the questions in this blog post written specifically to pastors. Then, consider the opportunities in your life to connect with other church leaders.
It’s a challenging time to be a pastor, but current circumstances don’t nullify God’s promises. Listen to what God says through the prophet Isaiah:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and the rivers will not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, and the flame will not burn you. (Isaiah 43:1–2)
No matter what difficulties you face as a church leader, God’s love for you is unwavering. His plans for you are good. His divine power has given you everything you need for a godly life (2 Peter 1:3).
We all want to experience the freedom of authenticity, but how do we get there? In Discover Your True North, Bill George writes, “Self-awareness is the foundation of authenticity, and thus it is at the center of your compass.” If we want to start off the year leading others in the way God has designed us to authentically lead, we must be keenly aware of the person in the mirror.
Self-awareness begins with the difficult work of self-examination. Yet many of us are unwilling to jump into the deep, dark, and uncomfortably cold waters of self-examination, which can feel like an attack on our identity. What if we discover that sometimes we are weak, wrong, or unpleasant?
The apostle Paul addresses the topic of self-awareness with the church in Rome: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom 12:3 ESV). This passage comes off the heels of Paul urging the church to be transformed by the renewal of their minds through the gospel message. The gospel tells us that we are weak, wrong, and unpleasant at our core, but God’s grace has rescued us and given us a new identity, which is rooted in Christ’s righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). So, when we peel back layers of ourselves through honest reflection, we may still find difficult realities of the fleshly nature hanging around, but our sober-mindedness reminds us that God’s love surpasses them all (Rom 8:38–39).
As those loved by God, we are free to ask ourselves the tough questions of self-assessment because God’s love for us will never change.
Paul goes on to explain another essential aspect of our identity in Romans 12. He tells us that, as individuals, we all have a responsibility to contribute to the whole body of Christ. Typically, our self-perception has a tremendous effect on our behaviors, which means that how we view ourselves has a direct impact on others. If we think too little of ourselves and believe we cannot be a positive influence on our brothers and sisters in Christ, we may rob them of the joy of God expressing himself through our giftings. On the other hand, if we think too highly of ourselves, we may miss God expressing himself through others’ gifts or even suppress others from using their gifts if we are in a position of authority over them.
In essence, we are free to be honest with ourselves because we are ultimately validated by Christ, and our self-perception greatly influences our relationships with others. Now, you may have a firm grasp on your self-awareness. Or perhaps you are just starting your journey to discovering more about how God has designed you. Many of us find ourselves somewhere in between. Regardless, we can all benefit from asking ourselves the hard questions.
Here are a few areas of our lives we can practice asking ourselves self-examination questions as we start off the year. Take time to think through these questions and consider asking a trusted person in your life to weigh in on your answers.
Paul challenged Timothy, a young ministry leader, in 1 Timothy 4:16 (ESV), “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Paul urges Timothy to pay close attention to the way he lived because it painted a poignant picture of the effectiveness of the gospel to those following him.
We must be willing to do the difficult and uncomfortable work of self-examination by asking ourselves questions that get to the truth.
In turn, the truth will set us free to enjoy God, the community he’s given us, and the work he’s called us to do.