From One Traveler to Another

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By Brian Sharpe

Have you ever had an “a-ha” moment while at a class or at a conference? I get them, more often than I think I should. I’d like to think it is because I am teachable and not because I need things spelled out for me by someone who gets it more than I do. Martin and I went to Minneapolis to the national office of the Evangelical Free Church (EFCA) a few weeks ago. It was a great time for he and I to meet with other pastors who are trying to lead their churches on a disciple-making journey. It is nice to know that we are involved with other churches that are trying to figure out how to lead this.

It is crazy to think that this journey is a 2,000-year journey and we are still trying to figure it out. You would think by now that we would know better how to make disciples more effectively and efficiently. I guess, in a perfect world, it would be. The reason we are still trying to figure this out is because it is a bunch of fallen human beings leading other fallen human beings on a journey toward the infinite God. The thing that gets in the way is not just how sinful we are, but also the lack of tenacity we have to take this journey with others.

This journey is not an easy one. It is one that is full of twists and turns. The journey is full of unexpected ups and downs. I think one of the main “ups” is success in life. Success is what we search for in life, but I am not sure we understand what success is. Success in our culture means that we make a living wage. We have a nice house. We have kids who will obey. Success is when we are comfortable and potentially happy. I am not sure this is the success that God talks about in the Bible.

Success in the Bible is fully trusting in God for contentment and joy. It is resting in God for your identity. Too often, we find our identity in what we have or what people think of us instead of on what our heavenly Father has said about us. We lose sight of this because of our success or what we feel is success.

For me, how I define success is that I have been faithful to God on this journey toward Him. Success would be that I can point others to Jesus and everyone that I am around would be marked by God through the presence He has in my life. That, to me, is success, and ultimately what I want to pass on to those I invest my life in. Nothing else matters.

Whether in abundance or in want, I want to find my contentment and strength in Christ. I believe that what is what Paul is talking about in Philippians 4. From one disciple to another on the same journey toward our Father in Heaven, let’s focus on God’s definition of success — to find our contentment and identity in Him, and not in what the world defines as success.

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Changing Course, Making Disciples

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By Brian Sharpe

Twelve years ago I was sitting in my office and realized that I had no clue how to do my job. My proverbial “bag of tricks” that I entered into ministry with was all used up. What should I teach students? How would I train my leaders? I suddenly realized I had no real idea.

So, sitting there in my office in front of my computer, I began to search for solutions. God directed my attention to the Evangelical Free Church (EFCA) website, and I looked to see what they offered on their student ministries page. They spoke of training for youth pastors. Yes, I thought, I need fresh training.

So I contacted them and asked them about training. What happened next has been one of the most influential events that has occurred in my ministry life.

I received a call from the national director of student ministries for the Evangelical Free Church of America. We set up a training event at Elim, but beyond that, he invited me to work with a team of other youth workers to help further student ministries in the EFCA in our district.

The influence of this team has changed me in more ways than I could never express in this post. It has fanned within me a flame of desire to have others speak into my life. It put me around a table with a whole group of youth workers who had been where I was and had come out on the other side.

The effect this event has had on Elim is significant as well. Not only am I a better leader because of the people I have invited to speak into my life, but I have been challenged to ensure that disciple-making becomes at the core part of what I am about in student ministries, and in turn, what we as a church are about, as well. This focus has produced a lot of conversation among the elders, staff and ministry leaders about how we can focus on disciple-making.

Martin and Nate and I, along with the Elders, have sought to keep disciple-making a focus for us at Elim. This focus gave birth to the diagnostic tool that we are calling the Three Hands of Disciple-Making. This tool helps us evaluate the relationships in our lives, with a focus on who serves as our Pauls, our Timothys and our Barnabases.

As we have gone through this Three Hands process we have discovered that Elim can celebrate a lot of people who are investing as a Paul in others. This has led to the leadership trying to focus on helping our Pauls figure out how to be better Pauls.

We have walked this path of trying to be about disciple-making with some exceptionally helpful people. One was our district superintendent, Bruce Martin. Bruce has helped us on this journey to stay focused on helping develop people’s identity in Christ. Another is Jeff Sorvik. Jeff is leading a network called the Creo Network, which focuses on helping churches live on the mission of disciple-making. In order to be engaged in Creo you have to commit to create and execute a disciple-making vision. We have joined this network and look forward to working this disciple-making vision, not on our own but with other churches.

One of the commitments we have made in joining this network is to be engaged in a cohort group that is focused on building a leadership pipeline. Martin and I are excited to be a part of this cohort and the outcomes that could come from the investment in this cohort.

We value the input of other leaders in this process. As a church we talk about not walking alone, but living this life in community, walking with others. We are trying to model this by joining with our district leadership and inviting them into what goes on at Elim, and with joining the Creo Collective.

We are excited to see what God will do at Elim as we seek to honor Him and focus on being a disciple-making church. Elim exist to be an “oasis for renewal with God and one another.” As an oasis we seek to nurture passionate followers of Jesus. (We define a “disciple” as “a passionate follower of Jesus.”) Our heart as leaders is to nurture that passion in everyone who calls Elim “home.”

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“Three Hands, Three Strands”

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By Larry Short

Associate Pastor Brian Sharpe has created a booklet called “Three Hands,” with the help of others on our communications team. The artwork on the cover is a bit goofy, and I’ve made fun of it a lot (insert comment about living too close to Hanford Nuclear Reservation here), but the foundational idea, while simple, is incredibly important.

The booklet looks at the lives of some of those who were called, in the first century A.D., to “lean into” the task of taking the life-changing gospel (“good news”) of Jesus outward from their home villages and spreading it so that the world might be changed. This obviously took an incredible amount of passion, and conviction, and selflessness, and courage—all gifts brought from the empowerment of the Holy Spirit who fell upon Christ’s disciples in Acts 2. Specifically, the booklet looks at the Apostle Paul, Timothy, and Barnabas, three men who made an incredible contribution to the spread of the Gospel. And, more specifically, it looks at the relationships between them and draws some simple ideas from what we see there.

Paul’s mentoring of Timothy was obviously incredibly important. It was far more than the relationship between student and teacher; it was discipleship. Paul frequently said, even as Jesus did, “Those things you see me do, go and do those things.” He modeled what New Testament life was supposed to be about, then encouraged others to follow his model.

And how does Barnabas fit in? One of the key things you see in Acts and beyond is that men such as Paul rarely went out “on their own.” They partnered with someone who could provide strength and encouragement. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says:

And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.

The truth is, we are too often alone … and too often, inevitably, overpowered! The Christian life wasn’t designed to be lived alone. It was designed to be lived in partnership with brothers and sisters. Too many Christians in this “cowboy” culture we live in here in the U.S. simply blow off “church.” They don’t need anybody, they can go it alone. But truth be told, our need for others is far more significant than we know. We need that brother and sister who can tell us the truth when we need to hear it or can give words of encouragement when that is what we need. We need others to “stir us up to love and good works,” as Hebrews 10:24 says.

A two-stranded cord is far better than one.

But wait, that’s not what Ecclesiastes says, is it? Oh, of course not! Duh. The third strand represents He who enters into our fellowship and interweaves His life with ours. The Third Strand alone is unbreakable, so any rope with it woven firmly into place is a rope that should surely hold under even the greatest pressure!

So, back to the three hands. On that goofy cover I told you about, one hand is reaching downward, one reaching upward, and one to the side. The hand reaching up reminds us that we all need to have a mentor who can disciple us and prepare us for what God has assigned. Even Paul spent something like three years learning from others and getting prepared for his public ministry.

And we should all be willing to pour what we have learned into others, for our faith is just one generation away from extinction and we must not be the ones who fail to pass it down! The hand reaching down reminds us that we should all have “Timothys” in our lives whom we are pouring ourselves into. We should be showing (with our lives, not just saying with our lips), and we should be working toward a specific goal (as Paul did), to release those we mentor into ministry once they are ready.

And finally, we all need Barnabases. (Barnabi?) I have a close friend in California named John whom I met my first year of college. Our friendship has continued to grow since then, and there has been many a time when we have needed and depended on each other. Often he is a Paul, and I a Timothy; and sometimes it may be the other way around. But always, we are Barnabases, to whatever extent we can be, separated by 1,200 miles!

Brian asks, Who is your Paul? Who is your Timothy? Who is your Barnabas? There are no hard-and-fast rules, and this may be a season when all three relationships are not operating in our lives right now. But we should always be on the lookout for whom God might bring our way. And we must never neglect “the assembling of ourselves together” and simply putting ourselves “out there” in places where we can impact (and be impacted by) the lives of others! Are you allowing God to weave that three-stranded cord in your life?

P.S.: I’m excited about the men’s retreat this weekend! It’s always a wonderful opportunity for men to come together and form dearly needed accountability and discipleship relationships. Please be praying for the men of this church, that we would be transparent, open, vulnerable, and willing to be used of God in whatever ways He sees fit to further our capacity as His Church to bring Him honor and glory and to be the hands and feet of Jesus to South Hill and beyond!

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Who’s Your Paul?

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By Brian Sharpe

As I look at my life, I can remember names of people who invested in me. I had friends who pointed me to Jesus. When I started at Elim, I was in a new place and didn’t know many people. After being here for awhile, I felt the need to invite someone to mentor me as a man, since I have always valued people speaking into my life. So, I started to think and pray about who could mentor me.

I decided that I was going to ask a certain man to meet with me and mentor me. I remember that being really hard, and it made me feel insecure. I even felt emotion well up inside of me while I was asking. For those who know me, you know that is not normal. But I did it; I asked this man to mentor me. It was great — we met twice and everything was going well. But then we never met again. To this day, I don’t know why. It could have been because I didn’t pursue it, but I just don’t know. This experience could have turned me off to inviting people to speak into my life. It did make asking someone again a little harder.

Fast-forward a couple years. While I met with some guys, I still didn’t have an intentional mentor whom I met with consistently. It was September, and I was at meetings at the EFCA National Office for ReachStudents team meetings. At these meetings, I was sitting waiting for a dinner to start. A guy on the same team as me came and sat next to me. His name was Jim. Jim was a guy that had been in youth ministry twice as long as I had. He was about 10 years older than me. He sat down next to me and asked me if I would be interested in staying in contact with him on a monthly basis. I said yes. It was at that meeting that God gave the gift of a Paul in my life. Jim and I have been meeting together monthly for the past eight or so years now. He has taught me a lot about life, ministry, and God. He has helped me grow as a leader and as a man.

I believe that is God’s heart for us, that we live in community, invite people into our lives, and let these people help us navigate this thing called life and faith. When you hear us say, “Who is your Paul?” this is what we are talking about. It is inviting someone into your life to whom you are giving the freedom to help grow you into whom God is calling you to be.

I guess the question is, has God done a work in your life that you need to be sharing? Are there people in your sphere of influence whom you believe you can help grow? Then maybe God has equipped you to be a Paul. If He has, then, who are you meeting with?

If you feel the need to have someone speak into your life, then the question is, who can you invite into your life to be a Paul? Is there someone you look up to spiritually? Is there someone you feel like you can learn from? If a name comes to mind, maybe you need to invite that person into your life to serve as your Paul.

I believe God uses these relationships to transform us into His image, into His likeness. I believe every Christian needs to have a Paul in his or her life. Who is yours?

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The Three-Legged Stool

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By Larry Short

How do you define what a true follower of Jesus is? Some say, “A person who believes in Jesus.” Others say, “A person who’s life bears the fruit of his faith.”

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the relationship between Paul’s epistle to the Romans (focusing on faith in God’s grace) and James‘ letter (focusing on faith proved through action). Recently I read a very eye-opening blog by Christian Piatt, writing in the Huffington Post, which put many things together for me. (I’m not a huge fan of most of Piatt’s work, but he is a provocative thinker.)

His blog, titled “Following Jesus isn’t primarily about beliefs or actions,” caught my eye. At the face of it, the “battle” between Romans and James seems to be just that, a battle between belief (faith) and action (works). So, what else is there?

Piatt explains:

“Right thought or belief is generally called “orthodoxy,” while right action is called “orthopraxy.” And sometimes we seem to assume that these are the only things to focus on, or even that one is somehow superior to the other.

In studying the teachings and words of Jesus, however, I’m coming to embrace the sense that “orthopathy,” or right-heartedness, is a critical third leg of the proverbial stool. Furthermore, I have the growing sense that this right-heartedness actually helps lead us to the path we’re seeking for the other two.”

It makes sense. You can be orthodox, or have the right “beliefs” about everything. Or you can be orthoprax, and have the right practice. You can even theoretically be both of these things, without having the right heart: to believe in God’s Word; to practice God’s Word and commands.

Ultimately, right-heartedness seeks sincerely to obey and fulfill the Greatest Commandment — to love God with all that we are, and our neighbors as ourselves. Orthopathy!

I like the idea of the three-legged stool, but I daresay orthopathy is a synthesis of both orthodoxy and orthopraxy. It’s faith and actions, together; or rather, it’s the fundamental motivation that makes James’ “third kind of faith” work itself out in our actions.

Learning to Love James

So, while like Martin Luther I used to struggle with James, I am now learning to love that book. The man who wrote it is an interesting character. The New Testament reveals that Jesus had four half-brothers (born to Joseph and Mary), and an unspecified number of half-sisters. (“Half” in the sense that Christ himself was not an offspring of Joseph, as his half-brothers and sisters were.) James was the first mentioned of those half-brothers. Early on, during His public ministry, it’s implied that his own family members apparently struggled to believe that He was who He was. But later, after His death and resurrection, it’s clear that James at least came around and ultimately was a leader in the early Christian church, taking a key leadership position in the church at Jerusalem after the disciples were dispersed.

Leading a church in the crucible of persecution would definitely give one a sense of what “real” faith looked like. And knowing the authentic, compassionate Jesus, as intimately as James did, would put you in a unique position to write about it authoritatively!

I think James issues a challenge to each of us who name the name of Christ. Don’t “just believe,” prove that you believe, through the way you live your life. Let God change your heart as well as your head, and you will see the fruit of that change working out through your lips and your hands.

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What Matters Most to This Pastor?

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By Martin Schlomer

The year 2014 has been a year of many blessings as well as spiritual growth! God’s faithfulness and grace is evidenced in the lives of many who have been baptized and in those who continue to grow in following Christ.

As I look back on 2014 and write this report, I ask myself, “What matters most?” I could talk about the blessings of increased attendance, new people coming, near-record giving, strategic efforts to develop disciples (efforts which need a lot more work), missions trips, building projects we’ve accomplished, or challenges we’ve faced where God has grown us. All of these metrics—and many others not mentioned—matter a lot! However, in this season of my life and ministry, they are not what matter most to me.

What matters most to me? Elim being an oasis for renewal (life-changing redemption) with God and one another so that people become passionate followers of Jesus who live out the compelling realities of the Kingdom of God in the midst of our increasingly lost, hopeless, and hostile culture! Are there metrics from this last year I can write about that would indicate this is taking place? I suppose what I mentioned are some worthy indicators. However, while they measure things that can be seen, they don’t necessarily reveal the passions of the heart.

Passions of the heart that would indicate whether or not what matters most to me is happening are discovered through story. For instance, in the community group Kim and I lead, we are listening to life stories for the first few months. As I listen to these stories, I hear a common theme of how God is using Elim to redeem these people through the grace and love from this community, the preaching and study of the Word, and prayer. “Elim has been an Oasis for me,” is a common statement. As I look back over this past year, this is what matters most to me. As I look forward to 2015, this is what matters most to this pastor!

What challenges do I face when pursuing what matters most in 2015? I need to make sure that what matters most continues to be what matters most. My heart can be fickle and easily distracted by good but lesser things. I believe that if I focus on what matters most, the good but lesser things will follow. For those planners among us, I realize there needs to be strategic planning. However, I’m also realizing I need others who will take that on so I can focus on what matters most.

As I focus on what matters most, I need to transmit this focus and passion throughout the fabric of Elim’s core leadership. I want to do my best to make sure they “catch this virus.” This is essential because those they lead need to catch this virus also. If the leaders don’t have it, the followers won’t catch it. This means I also need to work with others to develop a leadership pipeline that will infect leaders with the virus of what matters most.

As I focus on what matters most, I need to transmit this focus and passion throughout the fabric of the congregation through preaching and leadership. I desperately want every attender to choose to become a passionate follower of Jesus! I pray that God will do whatever it takes to make this happen in your life, because following Jesus is what is most important in all of life. This calls me to greater levels of boldness and clarity as we enter this new year.

There you have it! This is what matters most to your pastor. I hope you will join me in this pursuit.

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