Multiplying in 2015

How do you usually end the year? In the midst of all of the holiday activity do you take time to look back on the year and what you’ve accomplished? Do you think back to the goals and plans you made in January and whether or not you achieved them?

Most years I don’t think too much about looking back, but this year is different. Looking back on 2014 I can’t help wondering. Has our church plant been successful? Have we fulfilled our vision? Have we transformed our community? Unfortunately, all of those questions can never truly be answered in one year. Church planting is not a one-year effort. Like a foot race, church planting is a marathon, not a sprint.

While there is a time and place to consider those questions, maybe a better question for each of us to ask is, “Have I made disciples this year?” After all, that is our ultimate mission. Isn’t it? “Make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). Another way to think about it is, “What have I multiplied this year?” I saw this tweet from a friend today:

“Four things every church should #multiply: disciples, leaders, small groups, and congregations” (@LDukeAL).

As we look back on 2015, ask yourself this: Have I multiplied disciples this year? Have I multiplied leaders? Has The River Church multiplied small groups? Has The River Church multiplied congregations this year? Maybe you have. Maybe we have not. Well, what are we going to do about it next year?

Here are a few things that I want to lead The River Church to do next year. (1) I am going to encourage every Discipleship Group—you know, the informal groups of men and women, meeting at various times—to work through Life on Mission, a 5-6 week study of how to live like a missionary in your every day life, learning to share the Gospel with people who are far from God. In addition to Life on Mission, I am going to encourage our Discipleship Groups to use other evangelism resources, like Just Walk Across the Room, a book and study written by Bill Hybels. Honestly, friends, we need to learn to be better witnesses. If we cannot sow Gospel seeds, we will not grow as a healthy church on mission!

(2) Beginning January 7, I am going to teach “Preaching 101,” a 5-week class on Expositional Preaching. As a pastor and preacher, I take it my personal responsibility to train men in the task of preaching the Bible. The River Church should be full of men who are equipped to preach faithfully the Word of God. But training to preach is not the only thing our men need. We need to learn to be better Missional Community leaders, better at caring for members of our MCs, better at articulating the Gospel and sharing the Story of God, better at leading our MCs on mission. So I am going to continue to lead our men in our monthly Equipping Sessions, where we will grow and learn together as leaders in all these areas and more.

(3) I am going to encourage us to launch new Missional Communities with leaders trained in our Equipping Sessions. I am going to lead us to identify homes and neighborhoods in our city and our valley where we can put new MCs. When a healthy MC grows in a new neighborhood, it becomes the seed of a new congregation.

The mission of The River Church is to make disciples and plant churches by transforming lives, families, and communities with the Good News of Jesus. That’s what we are all about, friends. What is your part of that mission in 2015? At the end of 2015, will you be able to say I helped multiply disciples, leaders, Missional Communities, and churches?

The Christmas Seed

The following is adapted from a message titled “The Christmas Seed,” delivered on November 30, 2014, at The River Church. You can listen to it here.

What is your favorite thing about Christmas? Is it trimming the tree? Is it the decorations? Perhaps what really gets you into the Christmas spirit is the holiday music. Do you look forward to the parties and special moments with family? Or, do you enjoy the smells of the season? The pine scent, the baked goods, the turkey and the ham?

I have met few people who don’t like Christmas. It seems like everyone I know enjoys getting into the holiday spirit. Yet, I wonder if we really understand the true holiday spirit. In the midst of all the wonderful traditions do we miss out on what’s really important about Christmas? Can we as followers of Jesus offer something more lasting during this time of year?

In Mark 4:1-20, Jesus told the story of the sower. The sower sowed seeds that fell on the path, on rocky ground, on thorns, and on good soil. The seed took root among the rocks, thorns and in good soil. But only in the good soil did it grow and bear fruit.

Jesus compared the story of the sower with our “sowing” of the word. We can think of the word as the Good News of Jesus that is planted in a person’s heart so that they grow and are transformed by it. During Christmas we share the Good News of Jesus through the story of his birth. In the Incarnation, God gave his Son to sinners like us so we could experience the peace and joy all year round.

However, there are some people at Christmas who are like the path. They don’t want to have anything to do with the story of Jesus’ birth. They may be the ones offended when you wish them a “Merry Christmas.” They may be the ones who oppose images of the Nativity. Their hearts are hard to the Good News. Our response can and should be to pray for them. We should continue to sow Christmas seeds hoping that a seed may just implant itself in a crack in their heart and grow to break up the hardness.

There are other people at Christmas who are like the rocky soil. They are eager to hear and accept the story of Jesus’ birth, but often times there are things going on their lives that make it hard for them to grow. Holidays can be difficult for people who are dealing with the loss of a loved one, terminal illness, unemployment or bad family experiences.

A friend of mine just lost her sister in a tragic and senseless act of violence. What can we offer people like my friend? We can offer them the Incarnation. The story of Christmas is that God became a man and experienced every kind of difficulty that we face, even death. He didn’t leave us hanging. He knows what we’re going through and he will carry us through it. We can sow these Christmas seeds of peace and joy that are only found in receiving the gift of the Son.

There are some people at Christmas who are like thorny soil. They accept the story of Jesus’ birth but they are too preoccupied with the holiday rush. They are attracted by the holiday advertising blitz. They are willing to accumulate debt in order to make the season bright. They are run ragged pursuing temporary joy that ends when they have to go back to the mundane of the rest of the year.

Have you seen some of the holiday commercials on TV recently? One depicts a man doing Santa a series of favors so that he’ll get the one thing that will really make his Christmas special: a new car. What can we offer people who are distracted by the cares of the holiday season? We can offer them the greatest gift that has ever been given. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16) This little baby, God in a manger. When we receive Jesus we receive the greatest gift. The holidays will come and go. The feelings of peace, joy and love for all mankind will fade come January. But the gift of Jesus provides us with “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).

Can you believe the Good News?! God became a man! That little baby changed everything. The entire course of history hinges on the true Christmas story. The world has never been the same. And the people around us will never be the same when they receive the Christmas Seed. Sow it widely, my friends. Go tell it on the mountain! Jesus Christ is born!