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Visions of the Coming Days 
by R. Loren Sanford

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R. Loren Sanford, within his sober reflection, reveals the heart of the Father and the hope of glory for the body of Christ. With clarity and piercing biblical insight, he helps believers understand what is to come, and he gives practical advice on how to prepare spiritually--for the events that will unfold and for their role in all of it. Foreword by John Paul Jackson   


 

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"The Big Three," Part 1

By Dan Reiland

The longer I observe the moving of the Holy Spirit within the local church the more convinced I am that there are more ways to build a strong church than any of us have imagined. God can't be limited. The wind of His Spirit blows where it will. God blesses what He chooses, and He uses whom He pleases. I have seen some of the most unusual and unlikely churches take off like wildfire. And I've seen just as many that seem like they were destined for greatness and yet struggled or failed.

The longer I observe the moving of the Holy Spirit within the local church the more convinced I am that there are more ways to build a strong church than any of us have imagined. God can't be limited. The wind of His Spirit blows where it will. God blesses what He chooses, and He uses whom He pleases. I have seen some of the most unusual and unlikely churches take off like wildfire. And I've seen just as many that seem like they were destined for greatness and yet struggled or failed.

It's important to remember that without the power of the Holy Spirit, little if any of what we do, no matter how brilliant, will make a difference that lasts for eternity. Strategy, methodology, style, culture, and philosophy - they're all important, but without God's favor, you'll work hard and get tired. Yet, with all this said, there are three things, three big things that I have found always to be present in a church that God is blessing. If you are inclined to try, I believe you will have great difficulty in identifying a church with continued success (success defined as reaching more and more people who have stories of genuine life change) that does not give evidence of robust leadership, passionate prayer, and fervent evangelism. Throughout scripture, God uses these three things.

These are the big three - Leadership, Prayer and Evangelism. Compassion is laced into all three, but I will focus most of the attention on compassion in Part 3 (Evangelism).

Every church that is chronically struggling, whether I've known it from a distance or consulted with them in person, is weak in one or more of the "Big Three". Churches that are doing well but have hit a temporary rough patch will find that the issue can be traced to one or more of the Big Three.

We all know "chicken and egg" scenarios. Which comes first? Likewise with the Big Three, it can be argued from all three points of view which one is the priority. We can agree that everything rises and falls on leadership. We can acknowledge that prayer is the real power behind everything we accomplish. And we can rightly say that without evangelism / outreach / compassion - we've missed the whole point of the Great Commission and we are wasting our time altogether. I'm not going to argue for the ultimate order of priority for the Big Three. My passion in this article is that you must have all three in concert or in time your church will falter. For the purposes of this series, I will, however, place the three in an order of practical sequence, to help you layer them into your church.

In each of the three parts of this series I will offer several diagnostic questions to help you think through and evaluate how you are doing in each area. Part 1 addresses Leadership.

Robust Leadership

John Maxwell says: "Everything rises and falls on leadership." It does. Even though I've said that these three are not in order of ultimate priority, I know I will get flack for putting leadership before prayer, but stay with me. I realize that without God's power we can do nothing of eternal value. But without a leader God has no one through whom to use His power. God can accomplish what He wants any way He wants, but He has chosen to work through people. That's amazing but not new. God chose Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Joseph, David, Paul and dozens of others. Jesus chose the twelve. God has chosen you and you choose your "twelve". Leadership is how we get things done. Prayer is how we get things done that matter. We will return to prayer in Part 2.

Questions on the Leadership Essential:

   - Is the senior pastor confident in the vision and direction for the church?
   - Is this vision communicated clearly, understood and embraced by the congregation?
   - Are the paid pastoral / ministry staff members unified and productive?
   - Are the official non-paid key leaders of the church unified and productive?
   - Are new leaders being cultivated and developed?
   - Are the current leaders being trained on a regular basis?
   - Are the primary leaders of the church open and receptive to change?
   - Are committees and or teams well organized without any "bottle-necking" blockages from primary leadership?
   - Does the organizational structure allow the important issues to be resolved and implemented    quickly?
   - Do the key leaders, paid and non-paid, place a heavy emphasis on prayer?
   - Does the primary leadership hold Biblical leadership as a top priority?
   - Does the primary leadership model servanthood with a joyful spirit?
   - Are the primary leaders trustworthy?
   - Are the primary leaders courageous and willing to take risks?
   - Does the pastoral / ministry staff communicate genuine care and concern to the people?
   - Are the primary leaders positive and full of faith?
   - Is there an intentional effort to identify and include new leaders?
   - Do the primary leaders freely empower others to lead and do the work of ministry?
   - If you will take time to prayerfully and honestly answer these questions, and take appropriate action, the process will serve you and your ministry well.

The following five components of leadership do not represent a comprehensive list of what is required to lead well. They are, however, the essentials of leadership that you must attend to or all your long term leadership endeavors will falter if not fail.

1. A compelling vision
Good local church ministry must be driven by a God-sized vision. This is far more than a well crafted slogan. A compelling vision is something you deeply believe that God has given you. It becomes the "flavor, fuel and fire" that brings life to your unique expression of The Mission that all local churches share in common found in Matthew 28:19-20. This common vision must burn bright in you and the key leaders before it will ignite within your congregation.

2. A clear strategy
A compelling vision isn't enough. Far too many "visions and dreams" that were truly God-breathed never materialized because the leaders choose not to exercise the painstaking discipline to "plan their work and work their plan." The truth is that a strategy without vision is drudgery, but a vision without strategy is usually just hot air. Write a clear plan based on your strategy and stick to it.

3. Healthy and productive teams
If you can achieve your vision on your own, your vision isn't big enough. You must surround yourself by sharp people who love God, are willing to follow you and get behind your vision. Teams are made up of variety of uniquely gifted people who together can accomplish far more than they can on their own. Good teams are founded on trust, qualified by competence and consistently get the right things done. This of course includes the key factor of relational chemistry amongst the team and the ability of the leader establish great relationships with others even under pressure.

4. A process for developing leaders
This is at the very core of what is needed to build a strong and vibrant church. There is a tremendous amount of material on this topic from any number of qualified leadership experts. John Maxwell has written some of the best and enough to carry you for nearly a lifetime! But for now let me encourage you to make this a priority. Dedicate regular time each month to invest in your current and potential leaders. The future of your church and your personal ministry longevity depends on it. As I've stated, there is plenty of material available on leadership. You don't need to write your own. So choose a few leadership books and get started! It can be as simple as reading a book together and discussing a chapter or two each time you meet. If you are already training your leaders, keep going!

5. Continued personal growth as a leader
Perhaps this doesn't need to be said, but I don't want to take it for granted. It is not enough to have a degree from college and have read a few books on leadership. You must be a student of leadership for your entire life. God has blessed me with the privilege of church leadership for more than 25 years and I have received training from some of the best in the world. Yet there isn't a week that goes by that I don't realize my need to continue growing as a leader. How about you? What are you doing to invest in yourself as a leader? What are you applying that is fresh and new for you in your practice of leadership?

In Part 2 of "The Big Three" we will cover the vitally important essentials of prayer in your ministry.