February 27, 2016

5 Reasons Why Disciples Need Ministry Tools More than Sermons

Will Mancini on Ministry Tools
The discipleship results of your ministry are not defined by content of your preaching alone.  One significant factor that impacts disciple-making is tool-making.  Unfortunately, you might not recall any seminary classes or conference breakouts on making ministry tools.

Why not? The simplest explanation is that we rely too much on teaching. As a result, we as pastors, do not become good at training and spend little time on toolmaking. In fact the average pastor rarely pursues improved competency as a trainer. But pastors go to great lengths— attending workshops, digesting sermons, and reading books— to become better preachers. 

Think about it for a minute: Is your church better characterized as a teaching center or a training center? Do you consider yourself more of a bible-communicator or a people-developer? When is the last time you thought about finding or making ministry tools?

I know what you want to say— “It’s both Will, why would you separate it?” Of course your intent is both to communicate well and see a disciple form as a result.  But I want to separate the two so that you can double check your assumptions and expectations about how people change and grow. Does your teaching provide the pathway toward the modeling, practicing, and evaluating of new life skills? Are you really helping people develop new life competencies in the way of Jesus?  Or are you just preaching?

One proof that you are good at training is the presence of ministry tools. What tools have you given to people lately through one of your sermon series? When was the last time you brainstormed with your team about a new ministry tool to create? If you have small group leaders in the church, what ministry tools have you provided for them in the last year?

What’s the bottom line? If you are not adding ministry tools to the lives of your people, you are not close to maximizing a disciple-making culture. You are probably not equipping people that much.

Before explaining why, let’s define what we mean by a tool. One definition reads:

Tool: A handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task. The basic definition brings to mind a hammer or screwdriver that you hold in your hand. The definition may expand if a tool doesn’t have to be literally handheld. Another definition reads: a device or implement used to carry out a particular function.

The term “device” broadens the range for disciple-making purposes. For example, the model prayer of Jesus was a device to train the disciples how to pray. Jesus used questions, metaphors and parables as devices or tools of disciple-making that weren’t “handheld” per se.

So what are examples of ministry tools? Here are five:

  • A church does a sermon on praying and provides a prayer journal (ministry tool) as people walk out the door.
  • A pastor preaches on missional living and creates a table tent (ministry tool- a triangle-shaped brochure that stands in the middle of the dinner table)  for family conversations designed to encourage the application of being better neighbors for the sake of the gospel.
  • A team codifies a definition (ministry tool) of what kind of disciple their church is designed to produce and then creates a self-assessment (ministry tool) to use in small groups.
  • A pastor uses a 4-question, gospel fluency matrix (ministry tool) –drawable on a napkin–to help the congregation apply the gospel to the daily fluctuations of sinful emotions and actions.
  • A bible study leader passes out a business card (ministry tool) with a daily bible reading schedule and three applications questions to ask for every passage of scripture.

This is a short list that begins to illustrate the endless possibilities of ministry tools. Keep in mind that I didn’t even reference the internet or digital devices that really explode the possibilities ministry tool-making.

Now that we have defined and illustrated what a ministry tool or device is, let’s get to the heart of the post. Why do disciples need ministry tools more than sermons? Why should we not rely on preaching alone if we are to train people to follow Jesus?  Here are five compelling reasons:

#1 – A ministry tool signifies importance.  A tool highlights the greater importance of the idea thus setting it up for application and helping stand out among the competing messages in every area of life. When a tool is introduced in the flow of communication, the idea behind the tool will trump every other idea. The tool immediately indicates the value of repeatability as well.

#2 – A ministry tool activates learning. A tool utilizes a part of human brain that is activated by a concrete object to hold and use, or an audio device to return to like a question or repeatable story. Again this sets up an important step toward application. It engages visual and kinesthetic learners.

#3 – A ministry tool guides application. This is the main idea. The tool itself provides a “how to” that can be practiced, repeated and eventually mastered. It shows the way and validates when action has been taken or not.  The device clarifies a step of implementation. In a way, a tool gently brings accountability to the table–every time I see the tool, I know whether or not I have used it.

#4 – A ministry tool creates energy. A tool helps people feel excited about ideas. It helps people win. And by the way, may pastors can unintentionally create a sense of failure for their people.  As people listen to sermons year after year, they oftentimes feel like they aren’t growing like they should. A tool can reverse that dynamic. It’s focuses application, so they can do it. And that gives pastors the opportunity to celebrate their new skill development. Then, even more energy is created!

#5 – A ministry tool reproduces training. A tool makes every person a trainer not just the pastor or preacher. As a leader, it’s not important what you can do; it’s important what you can duplicate. If you make a tool, it can outlast you and be passed from disciple to disciple to disciple until Jesus returns again.

This last principle has changed by personal conviction that I must spend time to make tools. In fact my two most important books (tools themselves) are Church Unique an God Dreams each of which cover how to create a master tool for church leadership, the Vision Frame and the Horizon Storyline, respectively.

Ministry tools- family tree trainingI would love to hear from you. What is your favorite ministry tool? What ministry tools have you created recently?

A final illustration of one of my favorites is a how-to PDF and video on creating a family tree. This tool comes from a short sermon series at Clear Creek Community Church, my home church. To help people gain perspective and apply the gospel to the brokenness of extended family dynamics, they encouraged everyone to practice writing out their family diagram.

February 1, 2016

Same Grit, New Love: The Church Values of Mark Driscoll’s New Church Plant, The Trinity Church

The trinity churchIt has been said that your greatest strengths reflect your greatest weaknesses.

Mark Driscoll grew a wildly successful church in Seattle–Mars Hill–with a strong following locally and nationally through his speaking, books and the Acts 29 church planting network.

A little over a year ago, Mars Hills closed down and the 12 sites of the large megachurch become autonomous. You can read the entire story but I’ll boil it down to one word: grit. It attracted people to pastor Mark; it led to the tragic failure of the church. In the end he was too harsh as a leader.

The year before things started unraveling, I was with Mark in the Catalyst Conference greenroom. My son, Jacob happened to be there with me. I wanted Jacob to get some advice from Mark as he started his journey to college. It was good advice but it was bold, blazing and borderline crass. I was glad Mark said what he said. It was appropriate to three men talking about manly stuff. It was edgy. Your greatest strengths reflect your greatest weaknesses.

I have always said that your success develops your confidence and your failures develop your convictions. As I read the guiding principles of Mark Driscoll’s new church, I couldn’t help but notice how his previous failures are informing his new church values system. Same grit, new love.

At Auxano we walk with churches to build our their top 4-6 values that we define as the shared convictions that guide the actions and reveal the strengths of the church. This is one side of the Vision Frame. Many times the deepest window to our values is our own failures. It reveals lines that we never want to cross again. Here are the top 10 reasons why you should state your church values.

What does this mean now for Mark Driscoll? As he pours the foundation for a fresh start, here are five questions that The Trinity Church will use in making decisions:

  1. How is God glorified through this?
  2. Does this contribute to church health?
  3. Are lives being transformed?
  4. Are people learning the Bible?
  5. Are people in relationship?

In addition here are eleven phrases or statements that he aspires to embed into the culture of the church. I consider this to be an extended list of church values that he will be refining.

  • 🙏 Pray first
  • 🚲 The pedals on our bike are Bible teaching and relationships
  • ❤️ Loving relationships are the mark of good theology
  • 🎉 Fun is fundamental
  • 👏 Build people up, don’t beat people up
  • 👑 God is our Father and we are a family of multiple generations
  • 👶 Children are a blessing
  • 👍 We do things with excellence or we don’t do them at all
  • 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 The family that serves together grows closer
  • 🙌 Nothing beats people meeting Jesus
  • 💲 Vision requires provision

Personally I am proud of Mark for stating the obvious and working to create a new culture:

Build people up, don’t beat people up

All through the website you see a new softness; a new attention to love and healthy relationships. Even the use of emoticons signals a shift (or maybe a lack of resources). When it boils all down, it looks like Trinity Church has one mission driving the big idea the new start: We open our Bibles to learn. We open our lives to love.

Who among us doesn’t need grace for life and room to learn from our mistakes? (Whether they be highly visible or not). My prayer is that God will richly bless the new vision of The Trinity Church.

By the way,  how are you doing stating your own core convictions and ministry values? What cultural lines have been crossed that need to be re-clarified with your leadership team?

January 15, 2016

5 Emerging Traits of the Most Successful Church Planting

Emerging Trends in Church PlantingYesterday I met with ten church planters who are Houston’s best and brightest. These guys are getting ready to plant or have recently launched. They are tied into the Houston Church Planting Network, and residency programs of active church planting churches (like Clear Creek Community Church, my home church.)

Each of the guys went through their Vision Frame. Some even had completed their Horizon Storylines after digesting my new book God Dreams over the recent holiday. I was thoroughly impressed with God’s favor and anointing  on these church planters.

As they presented their visions over a two-hour window, I found myself noticing some surprising themes and common threads. I couldn’t help but sense that these are the traits of strong planters and strong church planting works of the future. Here are five emerging traits:

Trait #1: The Gospel is More Important than the Church Model 

The rising tide of gospel centrality is refreshing and needed in today’s church culture. While the gospel has never lost its potency and centrality, young planters look at the models of yesteryear wondering why the gospel was not as explicit as it should be. I heard the term “gospel fluency’ used liberally with these planters. They will start churches where understanding and applying the gospel as a way of life and a daily vocabulary is foundational. Their confidence in the gospel of Jesus trumps their confidence in church models around them.

Trait #2: The Trinity is Practically Present

I have never heard church planters more intentional in their references to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. While I might expect more “trinitarian intentionally” based on some faith tribes or theological backgrounds, the highly diverse group of leaders all made the three persons of our one God, practically present.

What do I mean by practically present? I mean that each planter assumed the essential role of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in their hope for the future, their life as leaders, and their work of disciple-making. I love how one planter referenced Jesus as our big brother (Hebrews 2:11-12) when he unpacked the role of the Trinity in preserving the church’s value of “Embrace family.”

church planting emerging traits of successTrait #3: Togetherness is Essential, Internally and Externally

When it came to articulating strategy, the word “togetherness” was used more than any other. Whether the internal ideas of “gather together,” “grow together,” and ‘life together” or the external ideas of “go together” and “partner together,” the church of God as a “people together” is here to stay.

But wasn’t the church always “together,” you might ask? Yes, of course. but don’t miss the point of the explicit motivational emphasis. These planters see isolation as hell– literally in the eternal sense–but also practically as a driver of brokenness in our personal lives and in our church models. The familial nature of the church is forcefully championed. When it comes to working with other churches and organizations, partnering is considered a non-negotiable strategy and kingdom value, not an option or possibility.

Trait #4: Multiplication is the New Normal, at Every Level

Simply put, in these planters’ minds  there is no such thing as a fruitful disciple that is not making other disciples. And there is no such thing as a fruitful church that is not making other churches. While the idea of multiplication is certainly not new, it has become increasingly front-and-center over the past decade. I believe we will finally see the integration of multiplication with this generation of planters.

The previous generation talked about it, but did not emotionally readjust their leadership scorecard. We have many leaders who agree with “multiplication’ but live out “addition.” These church planters, however, will walk the talk. By the way, the Exponential conference theme this year of “Becoming Level Five” will continue to drive this “multiplication vs. addition” conversation. (Exponential is one of the largest conference gatherings of church planters.)

Trait #5: Bold Humility is Expressed Uniquely

While it’s an exciting time to plant a church, it’s a difficult time to do so. People don’t just show up to their denomination brand or the new, non-traditional community church down the street, like they did in the suburban sprawl of the 70s, 80s and 90s. Church planting is simply hard work and is always a deeply relational labor.

Maybe that’s why I sensed an unusual boldness with these planters. They’re not faint of heart. Furthermore their boldness is marked with a refreshing humility.  When you add this passion to the fact that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all church anymore, the bold humility is expressed with such uniqueness. Each personality shines with a passion for Jesus in its own way. Praise God! These guys are my heroes.

December 14, 2015

3 Reasons People Attend Your Church for the First Time

Why People attend ChurchI was recently consulting with Lee Powell who recently joined the Auxano team. Lee is the founding pastor of CedarCreek.tv, a church he grew past 8,000 in worship attendance over a few decades. Lee knows a little bit about growing a church. Not only has Cedar Creek been considered one of the largest and fastest growing churches in the country, it has been so in Toledo, Ohio (not a giant city in Florida, California or Texas where megachurches tend to sprout up.)

Long ago, the staff at Cedar Creek noticed that people attend church for the first time for one of three reasons. I thought this was a very helpful rule of thumb for leadership conversions. In summary, people come to church when something is missing, broken or new.

Something is Missing

Through the journey of life, the voice of God whispers and the Holy Spirit reveals the emptiness of our pursuits apart from Him. People may think about God, Jesus and even your church as they drive by when that haunting empty feeling crops up. Maybe it’s a death of someone at work, a long reflective drive where life’s deeper questions are pondered, or the surprising lack of meaning after the last big job promotion. How does your church equip believers to engage people who are missing something?

Something is Broken

We live in a world of brokenness. Many churches do ministry in areas where that brokenness is deeply hidden, albeit powerfully present. Unraveling marriages, lost jobs, wayward children and haunting addictions all live beneath the radar. Of course they raise their heads when we can’t control consequences any longer. Whether people are overtly hurting or trafficking in hidden hurt, how is your church poised to connect with them? Do you have an atmosphere that is conducive to restoration and where it’s safe to be “messed up”?

Something is New

New marriages, new babies, new jobs, new locations are the big “kinds of new” that make some people more receptive to the gospel. Faith is awakened, life’s longer-term view comes into focus and the prompting to love well or excel in healthy and “well rounded” ways comes to the forefront. These new seasons are easily captured through a unique message series, training opportunities, tools and intentional relationships. What does your church do to leverage the “new zone” that people in your community are going through?

September 22, 2015

Stop “Making Disciples:” 10 Ways Church Mission Statements Backfire

Church Mission Statements BackfireThe idea of mission is simple: Do you and those who you lead know what you are ultimately supposed to be doing? While most pastors think they are clear on mission, most church attenders are not. And in some ways, how we use the default language of “making disciples” is to blame, even though these words represent a very important biblical passage.

To say it a different way, how church leaders cut and paste Matthew 28:19-20 as a crown-jewel text of the Great Commission is actually working against their accomplishment of it. Our church mission statements backfire on us!

Here are ten quirky realities about church mission statements that illuminate how they backfire. Which one is most applicable to your current situation?

Quirky Reality #1: No Process

Even though the Bible records many examples of leaders articulating the mission of God’s people, we fixate on Matthew’s version of it. Rather than going through a process to articulate the Jesus-given mission for our specific time and place, we parrot the words of one particular gospel over the others.

Quirky Reality #2: No Definition

By photocopying Matthew’s version of the church’s mission, we traffic in words like “make disciples” with little to no definition or context and in some cases very little actual experience. Because we get it from the Bible and preach with biblical intent, we don’t think we need to.

Quirky Reality #3: Anything Goes

It is easy for church attenders  to reinterpret their experience of church—whatever it may be—as a “making disciples” experience because there is little to no definition or context for these words. This creates a vicious cycle within the church of assuming we know what we mean as the church continues to make decisions, spend money and add ministries. A church can be anything it wants to anybody. It can do anything it wants to do with perfect justification underneath its undefined mission statement.

Quirky Reality #4: Missing Scorecard

Pastors validate the mission of “make disciples” with a scorecard that has nothing to do with whether or not a disciple has been made; that is with the scorecard of attendance and giving only. Concerts and circuses have great attendance and giving too.

Quirky Reality #5: Incomplete Competence

Because we can name “make disciples” as the “right answer” for the mission of the church, we think we know how to lead with mission. When it fact, we are substituting “a knowledge about” mission with the lifelong competency development of “leading from” mission.

Quirky Reality #6: False Assurance 

Because of the notion of “mission as statement,” the written statement in our membership class or website creates a false sense of completion. Stating the mission one time becomes a “been there, done that” step.” Since it is stated somewhere, we think the work of leading with mission is done, when it has hardly begun.

Quirky Reality #7: Reinforced Consumerism

In the process of articulating a “make disciples” mission, 95% of churches reinforce consumerism without knowing it. This happens because most statements imply to the church attender that they, as the disciple, are the beneficiaries of services and groups provided by the fulltime pastors. The pastors and staff, they assume, do “the making.”

Why does this occur? Simply put, the language of “making a disciple” is not accessible enough to the mindset of our culture. People don’t get out of bed and think to themselves, “I get to make disciples today.” They leave that to “the professionals” and to the “place they go” to attend church.

Quirky Reality #8: Misdirected Energy

The primary growth challenge of any church is having culture of mission. By focusing on a thousand things to grow our church, we miss the first and most important step to healthy multiplication and dynamic growth. All growth and renewal in a church comes from the process of re-founding the mission with the leadership core, which is hopefully a growing leadership core.

Quirky Reality #9: Little Transference

When a church is in its most entrepreneurial form, a culture of mission is “in the atmosphere” and little intention is necessary for people to “feel it.” The start and the big bang of the church itself substantiates the mission whether it is thoughtfully articulated or not. But once the church grows past 75 people, how you articulate the mission is critical to its transference.

Quirky Reality #10: Shadow Mission

In addition to your stated mission, every organization has a functional mission or “shadow mission.” Think of the functional mission as the unstated driver or notion of “success” that most naturally tempts us to drift off the Jesus-given mission of the church. For example a functional mission of many churches would be something like to “have more people attend worship services” or “to sustain enough giving to keep our current staff” or “to not make anyone unhappy.”

One Application: Your Own Words

Perhaps the best way to summarize this post is to recall one of the fundamental exercises of learning: “putting it in your own words.” Your second grade English teacher asked you to read something. And when she wanted to know if you understood what you were reading, she asked you to restate it in your own words.

Likewise, our people won’t understand the mission of Jesus until they can put in in their own words.