It’s time to fail

Maybe it’s about time you failed.

(image by ArtMoth.com)

I remember when I didn’t make the varsity baseball team in high school.  I was crushed.  But through that, I ended up quitting baseball to pursue golf, a sport I turned out to be pretty good at.

In seminary, I absolutely bombed a paper that I thought was one of my better projects.  Through that, I worked hard to refine my writing, and in the process, found a great love of writing.

The first small group my wife and I were a part of (in Louisville, KY) was an abysmal failure.  I didn’t want that to happen to us, or anyone else, again.  Now I’m a small groups pastor.

The New Testament Church was led by a guy named Peter.  Don’t forget that he had an epic fail, where his pride was kicked in the teeth.  He thought he was ready to die for Jesus.  He wasn’t (John 13:37-38).  His pride would even need to be kicked again a little later. (Galatians 2:11-21) And it needed to be in order for God to use Peter.

Why you need to fail

It’s through failure that we learn what we’re not that great at. Here’s a shocker: you’re not great at everything.  God’s gifted each person uniquely…you included.  We may not always find that gifting on our first shot.  Be open to other ideas than what you’ve always thought or been told.  Maybe your failure is a good indication that you need to try something else.

It’s through failure that we find out which ideas aren’t the best. Failure becomes a way of culling out the ideas, projects, programs, and directions that needed to go.

It’s through failure that we are motivated. Who wants to fail twice?  Failure pushes you to work harder, more efficiently, and lean more heavily on others.  Failure is a great deterrent to future failure.

It’s through failure that God comforts us. It’s hard to experience comfort without some level of failure. (see Lamentations 3:16-23)

It’s through failure that our pride is sucker-punched. If you were as awesome as you thought you were, you’d not have failed.  As John Ortberg says, “There is a God, and it is not you.”

As valuable as failure is, I still find myself consistently praying, “Lord, please help this _______ to go really well.”  Or, “Lord, you want this __________ to succeed more than I do…”  Or, “Lord, help this idea to not fall flat on its face.”

Maybe I should start praying, “Lord, maybe this needs to flop.  You know best.  Help me grow in the process.  Chip away the parts of me that don’t look like You.  Grow your Church.  Knock down my pride.  Renew my faith in Your plan.”

Is there an area of your leadership or your life that needs to fail?

Have you seen God grow you more through failure or through success?

 

John Ortberg and spiritual growth

John Ortberg kicked off Catalyst 2010 pre-labs, speaking on how spiritual growth happens.

How does spiritual growth happen?

1. It starts with a reminder that there is a God.  And it is not you.

2. Remember that transformation requires at least as much grace as salvation.

We tend to cycle between guilt, trying harder, feeling fatigue, quitting, then feeling guilt.

3. Living in grace is learned behavior.

In most churches, we have reduced grace to the forgiveness of sins.  It’s so much bigger than that.  God was a gracious God before anybody sinned.

What if the Spirit really is like a river, available and flowing all the time? (John 7:38-39)  If so, then spiritual formation can’t be a program…it should be happening all of the time.  Our job is simply to jump into that river and figure out what is blocking us from jumping in.

4. Growth is hand-crafted, not mass produced.

What would drown a cactus would dry out an orchid.  What would feed a mouse would starve an elephant.  God never grows two people the same way.  He’s existent from eternity, but has never had a relationship with you.

There is no one-size-fits-all spiritual formation, so don’t simply measure someone’s devotion to God by their devotional life.  If we measure spiritual growth by devotional activities, then the Pharisees win!

Here are two questions to ask yourself:

  1. Am I growing more or less irritable these days?
  2. Am I growing more or less discouraged these days?

A word to moms of preschoolers: maybe you can grow more spirutally by engaging in acts of love and selfless acts of service than by memorizing the whole book of Jeremiah.

5. God’s desire is to create the best version of you.

An acorn will grow into an oak…though the oak may be healthy or not.  Redemption is always the redemption of what God has already created.  The goal isn’t to grow and become somebody else, but rather to grow into who God created you to be.

When Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom,” he’s not heaping a burden, but telling us where the life is.

The world isn’t likely to respond to a Gospel of transformation proclaimed by untransformed people.

What blocks the work of the Spirit in your life?

 

Aging vs Maturing

Growing older doesn’t guarantee you will grow in spiritual maturity.

Intentionally investing in your spiritual growth, though, does.

In our small group last night, we talked about the idea that as we grow older, there’s no promise that we’ll just fall naturally into godliness and spiritual maturity.  It’s unnatural to do so.

The natural thing to do is to spend time doing things that distract us from our relationship with God and others.  But just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s good.  We brainstormed some things that aren’t evil (in and of themselves), but that distract us from a deeper relationship with God.

What are some things in your life that stall the spiritual maturing process?  Can you begin to cut them out?

Because you can’t slow down aging…but you can slow down maturing.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:8-9

 

It’s like trying to find a diamond on a football field

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. – Matthew 13:44-46

Kendall Langford, defensive end for the Miami Dolphins, lost a 2.5 karat diamond earring during practice on August 31st. (ESPN story HERE)

Without having insurance for the ring, you can understand why he spent an hour looking for it, then came back later (and got some help from his buddies) to try to find it.

You can watch the video HERE…but it’s just Langford and a few guys roaming the field, and finding nothing.

Nobody questions why Langford would spend hours combing the field for the diamond, do they?  Nobody thinks, “Just let it go.  Why even bother with it?”  Why?

Because it’s valuable.

And if something is valuable enough, we’ll put the time in that’s necessary to find it.

Even to Langford, whose salary is beyond what most of us will ever make, losing a 2.5 karat diamond is enough to alter his plans for an entire afternoon.  He probably had to give up some important meetings, had to put some people out, had to sacrifice other commitments…to find the diamond.  And I bet he didn’t feel all that bad about what he had to give up, because the ring was that valuable to him.

We spend time doing, and bend our schedules around, things that are important to us.

Why do you spend time at the office?  Because they give you a paycheck.

Why do you spend time watching a football game?  Because you love your team.

Why do you spend time working on your golf game?  Because you want to improve.

Why do you spend time watching a movie?  Because relaxing is important to you.

Why do you not spend time working on your spiritual growth?  Because it’s not that important to you.

If your own spiritual growth were more important to you, you’d spend more time developing it.  You’d sacrifice other things.  Put off other meetings and plans.  Alter your life.  Give up good things in favor of better things.

Your spiritual growth should be one of the most important things in your life.  Why not give it a little more work?

What do you do to grow spiritually?

If you’re growing spiritually, where would you suggest someone who’s new to the faith should start?

 

It’s all relative

I have lots of conversations with people from areas other than Tennessee (aka, God’s Country).

If they’re from further south, they think Tennessee weather is cold.

If they’re from the north, they laugh when we Tennesseans say, “It’s cold outside!”

A 50 degree day in the middle of July in Tennessee is freezing…in January, that same temperature would make for a beautiful day.

Cold…hot…it’s all relative, to a degree (pun intended).

One of the most important aspects of small group life at Grace Community Church is discipleship.  I often say to group leaders that making disciples is the #1 priority of their group.  Everything else falls under this.  If your group ends up bringing 50 new people in, meet 5 times/week, and blaze through 100 curriculums/month, but don’t help those in the group become more faithful disciples of Jesus, the group is a failure.

But I quickly follow that up with the fact that discipleship is relative.

Before you write me off as a post-modern, left-wing, “what’s right for you isn’t necessarily right for me,” spiritual person, hear me out…

A step of faith for me looks different for a step of faith for you.  It looks different for the guy who’s just checking out Christianity.  It looks different for the guy who’s grown up in Church but is far from God.  It looks even different for the student who’s been saved for 6 months and is working through different issues at school.  It looks even different for the wife whose husband is deploying (to see what we’re doing to help these women out, check this out HERE).

I’m not sure we can boil “discipleship” down to 4 easy steps.  It’s never easy…and it’s not going to be the same 4 steps for everybody.

Taking a step of faith, similar to your perception of “hot” and “cold,” is a matter of where you find yourself in life.

Has your small group helped you take steps of faith?

 

Small Groups = Life Change

Looking back over my spiritual growth, I can definitely notice ups and down. I have had periods of no growth and periods of slow growth. I’ve also had a few times when I’ve grown rapidly.

The most memorable time of spiritual growth for me was when I was in late high school.  Every Friday night, I met with a group of my friends (about 10-12 guys) to study the Bible and talk about life.  We chose various curriculums to guide us, but it was the relationships that were formed in that group that really helped me to grow in my walk with the Lord.  They helped me to see the possibilities God had for me, pointed out areas of my life that needed to change, prayed for me, and helped my walk with the Lord to expand and prepare me for what God had next.  Little did I know that those Friday nights would be a training ground for the call to full-time ministry that God would call me to 5 years later.

Andy Stanley says that there are 5 things God uses to grow our faith:

1. Practical Teaching

2. Providential Relationships

3. Private Disciplines

4. Personal Ministry

5. Pivotal Circumstances

I see small groups as the place where each of these is realized.  Fleshed out.  Nourished.  Given the chance to succeed.

Looking back over my life, I can see how God has used small groups to shape me and help define the calling God placed on my life.

Have you had a similar experience?  Leave a comment and brag on what God has done in your life through small groups.

God has used small groups to change my life.  Have groups changed yours?

 

You should join a small group if…

join_now

…you can walk into church without anybody knowing you

…you leave church without anybody knowing you

…you’ve backslidden

…you want to grow in your faith

…you want to help others grow in their faith

…you need a place to serve

…you need a place to grow

…you need a place to belong

…you’re curious about God

…you don’t even know where to start

…you are a new believer

…you are a mature believer

…you are divorced

…you have children

…you cannot have children

…you “have it together”

…everybody else knows you don’t “have it together”

…you have a great family

…your family is rotten

…you don’t have any family

…you have lots of friends, but none that share your values

…you don’t have any friends who encourage you

…you don’t have any friends who hold you accountable

…you don’t have any friends, period

…life has fallen apart

…you know life will soon fall apart

…you have lots of free time

…you don’t have any free time

…you don’t have parenthood figured out yet

…you don’t have marriage figured out yet

…you don’t have singleness figured out yet

…life is tough right now

…you find that living the Christian life is difficult

…you erroneously think living the Christian life is easy

…you can never seem to think of things to pray for

…you have a house (or apartment) that can seat more than 2 people

…your story is still in progress

What would you add to this list?

 

Change starts Small

Rex, our 1 year old son, is walking.  Well…sort of.  He’s taking lots of steps.  But he’s taking lots of falls, too.  In fact, at least half of every attempt at walking ends up with him falling to the ground.  Does that mean that I scold him and shame him for even trying to take a step?  Constantly tell him he should’ve tried harder?  Should’ve asked God for more help?  That now he may never be able to walk?

ChangeWe’d like to think that change happens overnight.  But in reality, it rarely does.  I mean, we reward the overnight change.  We give those people stage time.  We herald their stories on videos and movies.  We stand shocked when those folks share their stories with us.  We want to capture them on video so that the rest of our church can see them.  We venerate the “big” salvation experiences.

Oftentimes, change is much slower than we’d like.

More often than not, it’s, “I got saved 2  years ago, and I’m still struggling.”  or “I got saved 6 months ago, and still have to fight against sin on a weekly…daily…hourly…basis.”  or “I’ve been saved since I was 16, and I’ve been fighting against sin, but I still mess up…but with the power of Christ, I soldier on.”

I’ve written about Josh Hamilton before, HERE.  He’s got one of “those stories.”  However, even after having gone public with his fight against drugs and alcohol, after having been saved, after having been restored to his family, he messed up.  But you know what he did after he messed up?  He told his wife and his family.  He sought their forgiveness.  And they granted it.

Change, at one level, happens in an instant.  We are saved, from one specific point in history, forever into eternity.  But from another, very real aspect, we’re still in the process of being saved.  Let’s be honest about this.

You’re not perfect.  Neither am I.  Lets take off the mask and quit acting like something we’re not.

I cheer for Rex every time I see him take a step.  Because that’s one step closer to walking.

Do you need encouragement?  I’ll clap for you.

How can you celebrate and encourage someone today who’s taken a step towards Christ?

 

What's this blog about?

My blog may seem random to you.  And if that’s what you think it is…you’re probably right.  In talking with successful bloggers, I’m often told that I should choose one or two things to blog about, and blog at least a couple of times a week about each of those topics.

But that’s not me.

And my blog is a snapshot of my life.

And I am dealing with much more than one or two things per week.

It’s about my life, how I process things, and what I’m dealing with.  It’s leadership, small groups, and parenting.  It’s theology and counseling.  It’s a devotional thought and a book review.  It’s sometimes about adoption or a post from a friend.  In short, it’s my life.  I’m trying to process all of life through the grid of Scripture, thinking through things theologically.  Sometimes I hit the mark…sometimes I miss it badly.  Hopefully you’ll see growth in my own life through my blog, but if you see me miss it, please give me some grace.  I’ve still got lots of growing and learning to do.

I guess I’ve been thinking about this because I want my blog to be effective for my readers.  If my blog ceases to be relevant and helpful for my readers, I need to rethink and restructure things.  If it ceases to be effective for me, I need to stop blogging.  I hope that it always will be a helpful source of information for readers, but one thing that I’m certain of right now is that it’s effective for me.  It really helps me to flesh out my thoughts and communicate them in a way that others can understand.  Writing forces me to shape my thoughts into some form of definable action on my part.  If I put them on “paper,” I’m more likely to act on them and live them out.

Thanks for all of you who put up with my rambling, often random blog.

 

Are you accountable to anyone?

I just had lunch with a guy in our small groups ministry, and we talked about the importance of accountability.  We talked about the fact that we all need to have those people in our lives who know everything about us, and are not afraid to ask us difficult, awkward, yet ultimately Christ-honoring, sin-defeating questions.  We need those people who know all of our junk, yet love us still the same.  They don’t love our junk, but they love the chance to help point out the sinful habits and blind spots that we have, and those things (whether good or bad) that ensnare us.  They’re not satisfied with letting us continue in our sin because they “know that he (Jesus) appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (1 John 3:5-6).  We are sinful creatures, and our sin loses its power when it’s confessed, and brought into the light.

How do you make sure you’re held accountable?  Are you accountable to anyone other than God?  Are you accountable to anyone other than your spouse?

How can you, as a group leader, help those in your group be accountable to each other?

1. Foster an environment of authenticity and vulnerability.  Be real with your struggles, failings, and sinful tendencies.  You’re not perfect, and your group members know that.  When you mess up, confess it!

2. Divide your group based on gender for times of prayer.  I don’t like to air out my dirty laundry in front of another man’s wife, and I’m sure that you feel similarly.  Guys can be more openly honest when it’s just guys in the room.  We understand each other better, know how we think and operate, and often know how to minister to each other and hold each other accountable better than you do.  The same holds true for girls.

3.  If you’re the leader, meet with group members (who share the same gender with you) outside of the normal group meeting.  These times are great for building relationship, and opening up with areas of your lives that are not as easy to bring up in a larger group setting.

4.  Choose curriculum, and ask questions in the group, that cover a wide variety of Scriptures and topics.  You won’t know what areas people in your group struggle with until you ask.

5.  Encourage group members to find somebody that can hold them accountable.  It can be another person in the group, or a believer outside of the group, but it does not have to be you, the leader.  Your role as the leader is to encourage others to put themselves into relationships full of confession, love, and vulnerability.

Accountability, just like spiritual growth, doesn’t just happen.  You have to desire it, and you have to seek it.  Accountability is crucial to your growth in Christlikeness.  How much do you care about your growth?