Category Archives: Help People Grow

You Can’t Give What You Don’t Possess

Followers of Jesus should Experience Life in a way that truly makes “the things of this world grow strangely dim.” Yet so few seem to—why? Jesus did not come to take life away, but to bring us a full, overflowing, wellspring of Life that pleases the soul like nothing else on earth can (John 10:10, John 4:10-14). And then we are called to Bring Life to others—to whoever will receive this gift from God. Experiencing Life and Bringing Life.


But you cannot give what you don’t possess I meet way too many Christian leaders who sell a product (Living Water) that they don’t drink.  That’s a sure recipe for either burn out, hypocrisy, or horrible moral failure.  At Gateway Church, we put together Spiritual Outcomes that help a person know what developmental outcomes to shoot for in different seasons, whether Discovering faith, Developing in faith, or Deepening that faith.


But as I look at all the possible outcomes, I’m convinced that three are foundational. Like a 3-legged stool, they form a steady base that can hold weight. So if you do nothing else, get these three spiritual disciplines as habits in your life, and help develop them in your kids and others.


The 3-Legged Stool:

  1. Staying Connected Moment by Moment – Jesus said, “Abide in me [stay connected] and you will bear much fruit, apart from you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) I hope it doesn’t take much convincing that this is important, since Jesus said that apart from this you can accomplish nothing of eternal significance!  Many Christians know about this – it’s called by many names “walking in the Spirit,” “abiding in Christ,” “practicing his presence”—but I find few who truly make an effort to grow daily in greater moment-by-moment connection. Soul Revolution and the 60:60 Experiment ( were written to help us grow in actually doing the one thing Jesus said was most important. I recently came across a new book written on the same topic from a little different perspective, Present Perfect by Greg Boyd.
  1. Feeding on God’s Word – Jesus said we must also “stay connected” to his Words (the Bible reveals God’s will and ways), so that we will can know the truth and be set free. (John 8:31-32)  He said we do not live by bread alone, but every Word that comes from God. (Matthew 4:4)  David declares that the person who meditates on God’s Word day and night is like a tree planted by a stream. It always has an underground Source of nourishment, even in the drought years, so it’s leaves stay green. (Psalm 1:1-3)  Over the last 25 years of ministry, I’ve observed that people who have developed regular habits of feeding themselves from God’s Word (daily reading a chapter, memorizing, meditating on its truths, studying it) keep growing.  Just like physically growing up means we must feed ourselves daily or become unhealthy, so we must feed ourselves spiritually. Anyone who can read or listen to read scripture to them can feed themselves. This idea that you need a Sunday service to “feed me” is the biggest lie that’s ever kept people stunted from growing!
  1. Confessing Community – If the evidence of truly growing to love God is how we love one another (1 John 4:7-9), then you can’t follow God’s Spirit or live out all the commands of Scripture if you are not in close proximity with a few other Christ-followers. If fact, Scripture warns us not to blow off regular meeting together. (Hebrews 10:24-25) Jesus spent most of his time developing 12, and poured even more time into Peter, James, and John. We must learn to live out all the “one anothers” of Scripture, supporting each other to grow up spiritually as we walk in total transparency together (walking in the light as it says in 1 John 1:5-9) and confessing our sins to God and each other because this heals us. (James 5:16)

Don’t try to sit on a 2-legged stool.  You need to be developing in all three practices, and when you begin to develop others—start here!  Help them develop in these three practices: Staying connected to God’s Spirit, feeding on God’s Word in daily ways, and living in loving, confessing community with a few other Christ-followers.

Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus

As planters, perspective is the key to everything. In this guest post, John Burke speaks about the essence of his new book.The scripture makes it abundantly clear: “God saved you by his grace…[Why? Because] We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:8-10) Paul makes it clear that it was a gift from God, not something you did for yourself. God did this because He still sees that work of art He created us to be.


So why do we struggle to treat people like the immensely valuable, one-of-a-kind masterpiece God created with his own hand? As I study the life and interactions of Jesus with very sin-stained, muddied people, it becomes evident that Jesus could see something worth dying for in all people he encountered. Jesus could see past the mud of sin to the masterpiece God wanted to restore.


What do you see most when you encounter sin-stained people? What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see the mud? Or do you see the masterpiece God wants to restore? What you focus on determines who you become and the impact you have on people around you! That’s the heart of the book I just finished, Mud and the Masterpiece: Seeing Yourself and Others through the Eyes of Jesus.


The Pharisees primarily focused on the mud of sin that covered the lives of the irreligious. They prided themselves in mud-avoidance. They fixated on mud. They tried to clean the mud off others with their own dirt—it didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now!


Jesus was different. Jesus demonstrated a spiritual vision that he wants to impart to us—to see the masterpiece he sees in us, and to renovate us to become people whose hearts reflect what God sees, even in the muddiest, sin-stained life.  Jesus saw God’s masterpiece, waiting to be revealed by his grace, and as a result, many people actually became what he envisioned. What do you envision, even for the muddiest human you encounter?


Mud and the Masterpiece is available now on preorder Here and Here.

Assessing Trajectory

Carlos grew up in church.  He married a woman he met in the college ministry he belonged to, and today they have four kids that keep them busy.  An advancing career brought them to your community, and they stopped you after service on Sunday to ask for more information. As a growing family, they are faithful in attending church and small group and they volunteer in Children’s ministry.


Kirsten grew up in a broken home where there was no mention of Jesus unless someone was swearing — and that was pretty often.  Without much love or guidance, Kirsten made her own way and lots of mistakes.  She hit bottom last month and found her way to AA to stay alive.  She met a friend there who introduced her to Jesus.  Last Sunday, she found her way to your church for the first time.


As a church planter, how do you think about these two encounters?  Do you focus on where they are or where they are going?  Maybe it’s just my own humanness, but I think we naturally assess where people are.  In church, that becomes: how much do they already look like the people we want them to become? We would be more effective as leaders, and disciples-makers, if we learned to instead assess trajectory.


You see, Carlos knows a lot about the Bible but he hasn’t actually read one in months. He’s hoping to find a small group because he works long hours and if his wife makes new friends, so she won’t give him such a bad time about being at the office until 7 or later every night.  His trajectory is nowhere.  But Kirsten is hungry for Jesus.  She is reading large chunks of scripture everyday.  She has lots of questions, but she also has vibrant simple faith that takes God at his word and is willing to do whatever He asks.  Her trajectory is straight for Jesus and she is moving fast.


You can assess trajectory by looking at three elements:

  • Path – what direction is the person travelling? Towards Christ and Christlikeness? Or away?
  • Pace – how fast are they moving?
  • Proximity – this is very subjective, but, essentially, how close have they gotten? How long has it taken them?

Learning to ask those simple questions might give you very different ideas about how to lead both Carlos and Kirsten to become more like Jesus.

Creating a Culture of Story

“When they were off by themselves, those who were close to him, along with the Twelve, asked about the stories. He told them, ‘You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom—you know how it works. But to those who can’t see it yet, everything comes in stories, creating readiness, nudging them toward receptive insight. These are people—

Whose eyes are open but don’t see a thing,
Whose ears are open but don’t understand a word,
Who avoid making an about-face and getting forgiven.’”
(Mark 4:10-12 from The Message)


Raising up the church out of the culture means helping people who are not yet the church become all God intended them to be.  They are the people, according to Peterson’s translation, “who can’t see it yet.”  How do you “create readiness”  or “nudge them toward receptive insight?”  I love how he says this, “everything comes in stories.

Here a few ideas for creating a culture of story in your new church:


Value stories enough to capture them.  In the early days of a church plant there are so many things going on that great stories get lost.  It’s like the great vacation that was so full of fun and memories that you forgot to take pictures.

  • Keep a journal
  • When someone tells you a story, ask them to send it in an email
  • Almost every phone has video camera, record people telling their stories

Build stories into all your communication.  We have more communication channels than ever.  Most of what get’s distributed is pointless and powerless. Leverage all of your communication channels to tell stories.

  • Include stories in newsletters whether they are print or electronic
  • Capture stories on video, post them to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube
  • Make it a goal to Include storytelling in every personal conversation
  • Use your gathering to highlight stories that shape culture and inspire action

Repeat the stories that build your values.  The stories you tell until others repeat them are the ones that will shape your culture.  Don’t let a story shape your culture just because it’s cool, or powerful or inspiring.  Choose the stories that clearly embody your values and then tell them as often as you can.


Remember that stories will communicate God’s grace truth and love more powerfully than your best exposition.    Jesus could have exposited Ezekiel 37. Instead he told the stories of the lost coin, lost sheep and lost son.  And told his disciples “to those who can’t see it yet, everything comes in stories.”

Not Alone

This is a short reminder that church planters are never in it alone. There are others both rejoicing and battling through struggles (sometimes simultaneously!). This story comes from good friends of ELI, Shane and Erin Latham, planters in Brazil.

“We have seen tremendous advances in ministry dreams and efforts like growth in the church… the 12 people taken off the street and placed at our partner recovery retreat. Along with these victories, the kids have been adapting well… and God has been providing enough English students to cover our lack of monthly support… we have seen people come to trust in Jesus through relationships started during English classes.

In short, our marriage, family and ministry life have never felt so meaningful even in the midst of what is certainly one of our leanest financial moments.

Yet it has been difficult to see tragedy after tragedy occur close to home. In the last three weeks we have had two young girls (known to us and our church) killed within blocks of our house (in drug related shootings), and since yesterday we have been working with Andre and Sidi (our local Brazilian partners) as they struggle through the funeral preparations for Sidi’s mother who was senselessly stabbed to death in her home 24 hours ago.

Six months ago, a neighbor lady two blocks over from our house suffered the same fate for the burglary of a dvd and a car. It seems that violence is all around us and I know it has been weighing on our family’s spirit.

There are still more blessings to count than I can write here, like the salvation of two young men in my prison ministry (both in for multiple violent crimes like the ones I’m describing).We are truly partners with you in this endeavor to see new churches planted and new disciples developed in south Brazil and beyond.”

If, as a church planter, you find you feel alone and maybe even forgotten, remember you are part of a movement of people working in different settings but with the same purpose – to raise up a Church out of the culture.