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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).
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 1 in 5 adults are currently experiencing a mental illness—complicated issues involving mental, physical, chemical, emotional, and spiritual components. It’s safe to assume there are people in your family, at your workplace, and in your church who are currently struggling with mental health. Unfortunately, many stigmas exist around mental health in the church and in the world.
But here’s the good news: God cares about your mental health. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re going to break down misconceptions about mental illness and highlight the freedom that comes through knowing Jesus.
Not everyone has a diagnosed mental illness, but everyone has mental health they need to protect. While about 20% of adults experience life with diagnosed mental illnesses, everyone goes through situations and setbacks that influence their mental wellbeing. A stressful work environment, the death of a loved one, a change in your relationships, or a traumatic experience are just a few examples of common mental health triggers.
Even if you’re in the 80% of people living without a diagnosed mental illness, you can still be part of the conversation. While not everyone talks about it, mental health is a relevant issue for all people.
Because of the recent increase in mass media conversations about mental health, it may seem like mental illness is a new issue. But the modern conversation is only catching up to what’s always been true: mental illness is a real struggle for many people.
Take King David, for example—most of his psalms are emotional cries to God in deep pain or true joy. If you’ve ever felt depressed, you’re not alone. Listen to what David writes in Psalm 6:
“I am weary from my groaning;
with my tears I dampen my bed
and drench my couch every night.
My eyes are swollen from grief;
they grow old because of all my enemies.”
In addition to David, Elijah and Job also faced mental health struggles. Elijah’s mental health suffered during his conflict with Jezebel to the point of Elijah wanting to die (1 Kings 19:3–4). Job felt depressed and fearful in response to his pain and loss (Job 3:24–26). If you’ve ever been emotional because of a broken relationship or situation in your life, you’re in good company. The Bible is a story of imperfect, mentally unhealthy people pursuing a perfect God who can restore hope in even the darkest moments.
The Bible explains Jesus as being without sin, but not without temptation, trials, or emotions. Jesus was fully God and fully human. He can relate to you.
Hebrews 4:15–16 puts it this way:
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.”
The Bible shares countless stories of Jesus experiencing a vast spectrum of emotions. In his time on earth, Jesus was “tempted in every way as we are” so that he would be able to “sympathize with our weaknesses.” There is no feeling, situation, or mental illness that disqualifies you from Jesus’s understanding presence.
If you are currently struggling with mental illness, you are not alone. You are loved, seen, and cared for by God. Please reach out to a trusted doctor or spiritual leader for insight and advice. There is hope and healing for you.
If you are not struggling with mental illness, there’s probably someone in your life who is. Your kindness and compassion toward those who are struggling helps more than you realize. Your grace and empathy could be the answer to someone else’s prayer.
Wherever you’re at on your mental health journey, God is right there beside you. The fight for mental health is difficult, but you are never fighting alone.
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.
He does. What we view on our screens directly affects how we think, feel, and behave. And God has opinions about the character of his people.
Parents know technology’s power intuitively, as we raise children in a digital age dominated by screens. The truth of Romans 12:2 applies to our online life too:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
How can parents help children see the role of technology in their pursuit of God’s will?
We must remember that digital content providers generally don’t care about our spiritual formation. They just want our undivided attention. Video games fix our concentration through built-in rewards that keep us coming back. Social media algorithms train us to seek likes and follows. Streaming platforms produce volumes of content aimed at enticing repeat viewers. Adults and children alike can be wooed into mindless—and countless—hours online.
Kids do not bear full blame for screen overuse—we parents are often tempted to choose computer games or movies to occupy our kids so that we can accomplish our own tasks. Laundry and meal prep loom daily. Perhaps we homeschool older children or work from home. Screens offer an easy distraction for kids that allow us to accomplish a little more than we otherwise could.
The over-use of screens expanded exponentially in 2020 as parents struggled to manage lockdowns and quarantines during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many schools turned to online learning, forcing students to stare at screens for hours on end. Working parents fared similarly, with many transitioning from office to home via laptops, Zoom, and constant digital access to work.
“There are rooms full of men and women with PhDs in addictive computing, and they have a plan for your life—for you to look at that golden rectangle all day long,” warned Dr. John Dyer, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, at a panel on social media.
“So if you don’t have a plan, you are not going to win. If you don’t think through how you are going to use it, then you’re going to fail.”
So let’s start planning.
Screens can be amazing, powerful tools for education, social connection, spiritual growth, and creativity. But children and teens have one plan for their devices: to play on them as much as possible. We parents must guard our kids’ minds while also training them how to do so for themselves.
Balance your child’s online time with reading, physical activity, chores, and play time. Make technology merely one aspect of life rather than the dominant pastime. Turn devices off at family time and bedtime and be prepared to remove them completely if your kids’ behavior warrants it.
The internet is an open door that allows anyone to enter your home. Filters, blockers, and monitoring software remain effective tools that help parents prevent children from finding inappropriate material. Teach your kids what to do when they accidentally access inappropriate content. Help them remember 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
As kids transition from TV to tablets, laptops to smart phones, let’s invite them to use their devices to bless others. What games are our kids playing? How are our teens engaging in social media? And do they consider how they reflect God’s character in their online lives?
When used wisely, technology is a gift that blesses our society. In Redeem the Screen, Kyle Idleman discusses how our screens can work to conform us to our culture. But God wants us to conform to his image. What could it be like to leverage our screens for God’s glory?
We must teach our children that people matter most. With this perspective, our kids will develop the ability to own their technology instead of it owning them. Their social media feeds will trend positive rather than negative, building others up instead of tearing them down. As you peek into their online habits, you’ll find practices to encourage and some to correct, always using Scripture as your guide.
And as we parents model admirable online habits, we can cultivate a godly perspective on why and how to use screens. If we allow our smartphones to dominate our lives, so will our kids. If we choose uplifting content to watch, speak life on our social media platforms, and practice healthy habits with our screens, they will have no excuse.
Screens can rule us if we let them. But tools are meant to be mastered for our benefit, not become our masters to our detriment. Through wisdom and discipline, parents can help kids purpose their online presence and use for their good and for the gospel.
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.
Many aspiring politicians hope to become president of the United States one day. But the vast majority of them, despite countless county fair hot dogs, late nights, and fundraising emails, will never sit in the Oval Office. Their desires and dreams are based on subjective possibilities beyond their control.
Across the pond, William, son of England’s Prince Charles, hopes to become king of the United Kingdom one day. As the grandson of the queen, the son of the heir apparent, and second in line to the monarchy, he is counting on over a thousand years of law and tradition to guarantee his eventual accession to the throne. It’s safe to say he confidently expects to be king one day.
Whose hope, the politician’s or the prince’s, more closely resembles yours? Like our political candidates, we often use hope to express a desire or wish for a possible outcome. Hope can seem vague and subjective, difficult to pinpoint. It can be a feeling, an impression, a wish—often felt with deep fervency. I really hope my team wins tonight. I sure hope Mom cooks my favorite meal.
Feelings of hope brighten our countenances. But in the end, we’re still waiting for something we can’t guarantee will happen. William’s hope, however, is a confident expectation that his head will one day wear the crown. The law and his family tree are a sure foundation for his hope.
When the writers of Scripture speak of hope in God, they use words of waiting, confidence, and trust. When God is the object of our hope, we wait in confident expectation. Why?
God has proven his reliability, trustworthiness, and power; therefore, our hope in him is well-deserved and sure.
God’s provision and redemptive acts are fulfilled in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The power of biblical hope lies in its object—God’s faithful character and matchless power—rather than the fervency of our feelings.
Jeremiah, praying to God, “Hope of Israel, its Savior in times of distress” (Jeremiah 14:8) and “LORD, the hope of Israel” (17:13).
Paul names Jesus: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope . . .” (1 Timothy 1:1).
Jesus’s victorious return: “. . . while we wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
The church is sometimes called “the hope of the world,” but any hope that we offer to the world comes from our savior. Jesus is the hope of the world, and he calls us to share his message of love, grace, and salvation. Because he is all-powerful and ever-faithful, we can look to the future not with dread but with joyful anticipation. We can endure disasters and conflicts and every disappointment with a sense of purpose.
God’s word is true, and his gospel offers hope for each of us individually, for the church as a body, and for the world which hasn’t yet recognized its savior.
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
“For this reason we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10).
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in Christ’s triumphal procession and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:14–15).
As the body of Christ set apart to bear his name, the church reflects the glorious likeness of our savior. He calls us to shine like stars in the world, proclaiming him in word and deed. The risen Jesus is our hope both now and eternally.
Registration for the 2022 RightNow Conference, which serves pastors, staff, and church volunteers, opens soon. This year’s theme, Hope Has a Name, reflects our desire to encourage church leaders to rest upon the solid rock of God’s character and faithfulness. We have every reason to place our hope in God, because his record of living up to his word is absolute, perfect, and complete.
More than even the law and a thousand years of tradition, more than aimless waiting or wishful thinking, we have reason to hope.
It feels like church is changing. Well, that isn’t completely the case. Worship styles, Christian culture, and the popular forms of preaching change with every generation. That is as inevitable as the sun setting this evening. But the cultural ground under our feet has shifted.
As pastors, we can often despair over our congregation’s lack of passion. To combat their malaise, we dream up campaigns to build excitement, events to attract people distant from the gospel, or emulate popular teachers to add an extra spark to the pulpit. We run ourselves ragged trying to dispel apathy. But what happens when flashy strategies and catchy anecdotes don’t energize our people; when there are no new volunteers and Back Row Bob still sleeps through your sermons?
When our strategies fail, we often feel like failures. Shame, despair, doubt, and self-criticism come knocking on our office doors to remind us of our flaws and shortcomings. If we aren’t careful, we will end up like Elijah, abandoning our calling in frustration, grief, and despair (1 Kings 19:1–10).
Our culture is changing. In many ways, the Christian culture of the last thirty years is disappearing as the West evolves into a post-Christian world. The strategies of yesterday aren’t working today like they used to and won’t work in tomorrow’s world. But we don’t need a new strategy. The solution to apathy and the church’s woes is not a better worship set, a more responsible youth pastor, or better elders. Gospel-oriented passion is a God-given gift.
When we ask God to cure our apathy, we are asking for nothing less than revival—a reorientation of people to God by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s a tall order, far too much for any one of us. But, to our relief, the enlivening of God’s people and reawakening of the spiritually drowsy is not our responsibility. It is not in our skillset. Any and every pastor-led “revival” will end as soon as that pastor’s humanity is revealed—either through exposure of sin, exhaustion, or weakness.
You are imperfect, but God has called you to lead his people, flawed as you may be. Your call is to be faithful. What you need, what your people need, and what the world needs is for the Spirit to move in our midst.
The first step in combating apathy is to drop to our knees in humble prayer, admitting our limitations, our fears, our frustrations, and hopes. Praise God for what he has done in your church (how often we forget!) and what he is preparing to do. Practice what you preach. Confess your sins. Thank God for his goodness. Weep and rejoice for your flock. Boldly ask that God would awaken you and your people and be glorified in your congregation.
An expert band, thousands of dollars in lights, and beautiful staging, are nice for Sunday worship. But true worship is neither confined nor defined by staging. True worship is defined by spirit and truth and can happen in every moment of our lives. The profound beauty of worship is not found in your band’s version of “Oceans” or in your expert teaching. The glory of worship is in its object—God himself. Worship is an opportunity for you and your people to wholly turn to God in praise and awe.
The second way to combat apathy is to point your people to God—the one who is, was, and ever will be. The Alpha and Omega; beginning and end. The most passionate church in the world is the church who is wholly focused on God. And, again, true worship is a gift from God. The Spirit leads us in truth, prays for us when we do not have the words, and glorifies the Father and Son as he indwells us.
Once again, you are dependent on God to enliven your worship. So keep praying.
It can be easy for lay people to assume that pastors and church staff are the only people with a calling on their life. We know that isn’t true, that every person is called to lay their lives down at the foot of the cross.
We are busy. But our schedules don’t change God’s calling. Often, we try to make church amenable to people’s schedules. To a point, that is totally understandable. But decades of seeker-sensitive models have taught Christians the church is a low-commitment event. It is what we do on Sundays—well, the Sundays we feel like going. Is it really that surprising Christians who see church as an optional program aren’t excited to sacrifice their time, energy, and resources for it?
When we minimize commitment to the Body of Christ, we send the message that the church’s need is not so great—that sacrifice is for church staff, volunteering is a hassle, and the mission of God is a side plot to our lives.
Do not minimize involvement in the church. Don’t soften the commands of Scripture. When someone shows up to volunteer, don’t give them a minimum requirement—tell them what you need and ask for a commitment. Invest in them.
Apathy has always been a problem for God’s people. We aren’t experiencing anything new, even as our culture slides into a post-Christian perspective. But when the world ignores the church, our hope doesn’t change.
Pastors are like the prophets of old, surrounded by idols and syncretism. Like the prophets, we call people back to God’s Word, to radical repentance, worship, and service.
Our world doesn’t need a better event; they need Jesus. Turn to him. Point your people to him. Call them to his standard.
Pastor, he is with you.
Let’s be honest—being in control can feel really good. Whether it’s perfectly planning a family vacation or having free creative reign over a project at work, being in control gives us a sense of power that can feel downright exhilarating. When we’re in control of a situation, there’s a level of predictability that puts us at ease and, for a moment, makes us feel like we can predict our future. But control also feeds our belief that we’ve got the skill, foresight, and wisdom to prevent any uncomfortable elements of surprise from entering our lives. And that is a lie.
If we take a step back and look at our desire for control, we’ll see a unhealthy and unrealistic strategy to mask our anxiety—anxiety that we should bring to the feet of Jesus. We might think that being in control is offering us security and safety, but control can strip us from experiencing a beautiful life of faith. It can make us hold onto our idols with a tight-fisted grip and rob us of the ability to mature in Christ.
This isn’t to say that we have no control in this life. After all, God has given us free will and agency to steward our lives, decisions, and the responsibilities he’s given us. Sitting around hoping that God does everything is unrealistic—we still have to make decisions, act in obedience, and use wisdom to walk through this life. But our goal should be to live with God, not by our own power and in our own way. So, how do we use the control God has given us while relying on his sovereignty?
God wants us to rest—and not just by getting enough sleep or relaxing on the beach. When we feel like we have to be in control, we cannot rest. If my present and future depends on me, an afternoon off could be disastrous! What if an email goes unseen? What if my child misses out on an opportunity because of my inaction? Rest is not an option if we have to be gods of our own destinies.
A desire for control creates an inability to rest in the provision of God. He is in control, even when it may not feel like it, and he asks us to trust him with our futures, expectations, and hopes. When we are afraid or worried about tomorrow, we can cast our cares on him because he knows exactly how to handle our needs and our hearts. And, when we trust him, we can live free from worry because we know our good Father is at work, even when we sleep.
If we want to find rest, we have to begin with acknowledging God—not just turning to him when all else fails. However, releasing control is anything but easy. Learning to rest comes with time and allowing the Holy Spirit to help us.
To relinquish control, you will have to surrender your whole life to God. If you’re anything like me, then when you think of “surrender,” you think of someone throwing their hands up during a fight—giving up, vulnerable, with nothing left to give because they’ve run out of options. They’re at the will of their opponent. But when we surrender to God, we’re releasing our problems into more capable hands. In Matthew 11:28–30, Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take up my yoke and learn from me,because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (CSB).
It is exhausting to walk through life trying to control everything around us. We are eager to take on burdens that we weren’t meant to carry. Surrendering control is not about giving up, but about God working through our confusion.
Trusting God can be hard when we find ourselves in situations that we weren’t prepared for, nor have the energy to fix right away. Unforeseen circumstances—bills for unexpected expenses, getting fired, or receiving really bad news from the doctor—can leave us in a pit of anxiety. But even when we can’t see the outcome of our circumstances, God can.
Part of learning to trust in God is remembering that not only is he in control, but he’s trustworthy. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us that we should trust in God and not lean on our own understanding. When we rely on our own futile understanding of life’s circumstances, we’re making decisions based on limited knowledge. When we relinquish control and trust God, we are doing exactly what he has called us to—walking by faith and letting him be God.
We’re not going to know everything ahead of time. We can’t. As believers, we stop looking into crystal balls that promise to tell us the future and trust the God who is with us. We cannot know what will happen in five minutes, but that ignorance forces us to trust God moment by moment and through all the surprises in life.
At the end of the day, we can only control so much—our character, our behavior, and how we choose to respond to our circumstances. Relinquishing control—especially when we’re used to holding tightly to our plans and decisions—can be really difficult. But with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can begin to make choices that lead us into a deeper trust in God, the one who has good plans and hope for our lives.
Consider your life and relationship with control—ask God to help you let go of everything that you’ve been holding onto so that he can lead you to his glorious future.
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 place 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.
Friendship is one of the most important and formative features of the human experience, and one of its sweetest pleasures. Because of its significance, literature is filled with moving examples of friendship, from Sam and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings to Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the Harry Potter series. These stories, and others like them, invite us to make friendship a priority.
The Bible also speaks of friendship’s important, formative effect on our lives. From the example of David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:1–5) to the language Paul uses in his epistles to Timothy (1 and 2 Timothy), the witness of Scripture testifies that friendship is a blessed good. Solomon himself reveres friendship, using words like “sweetness” (Proverbs 27:9) to describe its joys and “love” (Proverbs 17:17) to convey its depth and devotion.
Friendship is not just a blessed good but a generous gift from God.
Since we’ve been created in the image of the triune God (Genesis 1:27), we are made for community—for friendship. In some ways, it comes natural to us. We gravitate to others, finding common bonds, common interests, and common loves. And yet, because we and the world have been fractured by sin, friendship is hard. We sin against our friends, they sin against us, and relationships suffer and sometimes break.
In Genesis 2 and 3, the Bible implies that life for Adam and Eve was to be marked by fellowship (or friendship) with God. It was apparently normal for them to speak with God and to walk with him. But then, Genesis 3:6–7 happened—the fall—and their fellowship was disrupted. With one fateful bite of fruit, Adam and Eve effectively “unfriended” God. And to this day, we live in the shadow of the fall. Like Adam and Eve, our friendship with God has been disrupted.
How would you respond to being so grievously betrayed? Would you overlook the offense? Would you abandon your friend entirely? How do you think God should react?
The New Testament tells us how God responded to our betrayal: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son” (Galatians 4:4,), the “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34, emphasis added), and made him “who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21) so we might have a right relationship with him once again. Do you hear that? In response to our sin and our ruptured relationship, the Son comes and befriends those who betrayed him.
What’s most shocking about Jesus’s friendship is that he calls us friends. Though we have betrayed him, he “chose” us (John 15:16). By his grace, he has come near to us and, knowing our disloyalty and all our fears, sins, struggles, and anxieties, he has said to us, “my friend.”
Knowing ourselves, we may wonder, “Is Jesus truly—I mean, really—my friend? Will he stick by me, even if I betray him again?”
We can know Jesus is our friend with certainty because of what he says to us in the Gospel of John: “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, CSB). Jesus is the greatest friend because he laid down his life for us (John 19).
We know from Proverbs that “a friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17). Since Jesus is our friend, we can be certain that he loves us entirely, perfectly, forever—at all times. And we know that, despite what we have done or have yet to do, he “is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).
So, we ask: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ” (Romans 8:35), this friend of sinners, this great friend of mine? No one. Oh, what a friend we have in Jesus.
Knowing that Jesus is a devoted friend should encourage us. It should also inform the way we view and exercise friendship ourselves. Each of us needs good friends in our lives; but if we’re not careful, we might begin to think like the lawyer in Luke 10:25–37 who tested Jesus: “And who is my [friend],” we might ask (emphasis added).
While that question is not an inappropriate one, what if Jesus first wants us who have experienced his friendship to be the same kind of friend to others? What if, upending our sensibilities as he did with the parable of the good Samaritan, he is calling us to go to our neighbors who are isolated and lonely, and befriend them? Who among us will prove to be a friend to the friendless?
Jesus has come and called us friends. Today, he tells us: “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).