John oversees a team of leaders that serve the churches in the Newfrontiers USA family. His primary focus is leadership training, church planting, and supporting churches in the States. John and his wife, Linda, are based in St. Louis, Missouri at Jubilee Church.
In the gospels, Jesus used the word “call’ to describe His invitation to repent, turn to him and live for God’s Kingdom. He also uses ‘call’ for the summons of the twelve to be with Him and be sent out. In contrast to today’s thinking, Jesus’ ‘call’ is not a change of occupation such as leaving the “secular” workplace and going into “the ministry.”
Regarding this idea of “calling”, Paul writes in his letters with this consistent pattern: “Here is what Christ has done, now live out of that incredible truth.” –and– “Bask in the riches of God’s love and acceptance of you because of what Jesus has done and let your life demonstrate this truth in everything you do.” In Ephesians, Paul lays out all of the incredible declarations of God’s riches at Christ’s expense and then starts chapter 4 with his usual “therefore” statements. Paul does this for 11 chapters in Romans and then begins to explain how one lives out of this truth in Romans 12 with “Therefore…” He lays out two incredible chapters in Colossians about the believer’s standing with the glorious Son of God and then in chapter 3 starts his appeal to their own life and calling. He gives some of the most beautiful truths of what Christ did in humbling Himself in the first 2 chapters of Philippians, then starts chapter 3 with his appeal for them to live out of this truth.
Paul realizes that if any of us are going to change in any manner it has to be because of the One who has first done it all for us. He focuses our attention on Christ and his work and then reminds us of “whom” we’ve been called to.
When we read, “Walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Ephesians 4:1), we assume we are supposed to live up to something and therefore make ourselves worthy by our walk. The word “worthy” (Gr. “axios”) should be translated “responsive to” or “suitable to” your calling. It is a call to live out of a response of the truth that you’re already worthy rather than to live to prove you’re worthy. If calling means nothing more that to gain our own favor, then we have missed it! In this view, WE are not being called to Christ but in reality, to ourselves.
It’s important for Christians to grasp that we are not just called to “something”; we are called to Someone. Jesus and his finished work through the cross and resurrection has opened the way for us to live with him as he calls us to be yoked with him on his glorious and ongoing work in our world today.
This is the fourth blog in a series "The Calling" by John Lanferman
We all live our lives before an “audience.” We are consumed with whether we are living up to our perceived standard of acceptance, listening to the music our friends listen to, dressing the way our friends dress and so on. In our world today, leadership is driven by polls instead of by strong conviction and principle. My question: Which audience are we living for?
As Christ-followers, we are to be consumed by a sense of calling. Whether we are rich or poor is irrelevant. Whether we are famous or approved by others is irrelevant. What IS relevant for us to be true to our calling is living by faith and for the glory of God. This audience of One trumps all others.
In 2 Timothy 1, Paul explains that he has suffered as a Christian and then states, “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed.” Paul is not ashamed of what others think, not ashamed of the work he’s done, not ashamed of what he’s accomplished, and not ashamed of his tears. He lived for the audience of one. Do you?
Our primary call as Christians is to live “by the Lord, to the Lord, and for the Lord.” Calling is always to someone, not to somewhere or to something first. Our activity or location is our “secondary call.”
Is what we do with our gifts in our primary call? No. The secondary is never primary; the primary is always first. We are to be always His first in everything we do. Let us be sure to always live for the audience of One.
God has called all believers but there are many distortions of what it means to have a “calling”. First, there is a dualism which tells us there is a “higher” and a “lower” calling. This is revealed in phrases like “full time ministry”. This makes the spiritual higher than the secular. Unless we are doing “full-time ministry” our work isn’t really all that important or significant. We assume the secular isn’t significant. However everything we do is important as we follow Him for each station in life with gifts he’s given us.
Our calling is by Christ, to Him and for Him. When Pascal died at age 39, his sister felt a small bump in his shirt. She discovered there was a parchment rolled up and sewn into his shirt. It was a note to himself to remind him of a night in November, 1654 when for two hours, from 10:30 to 12:30 he had the experience that he begins to describe by the word “Fire”.
Pascal was a genius of mathematics. He was the grandfather of the modern computer and modern risk theory. What was at the heart of all he did? It was the fire of God that consumed him and he sewed this up in his shirts so he could keep it close to his heart for the last eight years of his life. God wants us consumed with His fire so that we burn for Him in this world.
A distortion in our calling is our view of work. Our focus can become our jobs and careers, which can be all consuming to us. This is a twisted and distorted view of calling that makes the secular exalted and we lose the spiritual all together.
We are to see God’s presence in all we do. When Jesus tells Peter to cast his nets into the water again after a fruitless night of effort, suddenly their nets are full! Peter saw this and fell down at Jesus’ knees. He needed to learn that Jesus’ lordship extended to every sphere of human existence.
Like both Peter and Pascal, He has call all into the life of His Kingdom. This call is for all believers into all domains of life.
Two enemies of our calling as Christ-followers are Boredom and Apathy.
Boredom is the personal feeling of indifference to what’s around us. A bored person lacks interest and experiences meaninglessness of his or her existence. However, if life has value and purpose, boredom wouldn’t exist.
We were created to have our existence fulfilled through the experience and knowledge of the One who made us. When sin entered the world it severed our close union with God and one another. Our thoughts, which are to find their home in worship and adoration of God and love toward one another, became marred, twisted and meaningless and now occupy empty space. Without the emotional stimulus and focus upon love for God, we came to despise not only Him but also each other and even ourselves. Boredom is the desire for desires. It is a loss of self, of purpose and of substantial meaning. It is a feeling that everything is a waste of time.
In contrast, purpose is the feeling that nothing is a waste of time. Our culture today has cheapened purpose to succeeding at work, sports, making money or a social position.
Apathy is another term for indifference. It’s an indifference to emotional, social, physical or spiritual life. Apathy leads us to detach ourselves from caring. As Christians, we can put ourselves under the stress of works of righteousness and living up to standards. When we fail, we give up or become indifferent to the things of God. Many Christians actually live as if God doesn’t exist or matter. Christians can live as an atheist in practice!
In reality, there is a reason you are here on earth at this time and place. We all search to find something, to choose something in our career or life that really fits “us” and brings satisfaction. Believers were made for a purpose so big it absorbs every ounce of our attention, inflames our passion, and carries the eternal element to inspire us until our last breath. Paul said, “…for me to live is Christ.”
Calling is the ultimate answer to the question of one’s purpose. The strongest source of purpose in life is to discover that we’ve been created and called by God. As we answer that call we come to be what we would have never been without that call of God.
There is a tension in our time. In our country 86% of the population considers themselves to be Christian. Yet Christians and the church are ineffective for the most part. Groups in smaller numbers have far greater influence and voice in our culture. It is tragic to see the splendor of what Jesus had in mind for his church only to be saddened by our lack of understanding of who we are and what we’re called to. In Acts, we see the church powerfully realizing her identity and moving in great power with effectiveness. This is because of the call of God in their lives, having a union with Him and a sense of purpose.
In calling we find our purpose and meaning in life. Jesus’ words “Follow me” created a great movement. Jesus called people to Himself and people left their boats and tax collecting business to follow His call. Something in His call was compelling. In discussing God’s call, Os Guiness writes, “By calling I mean that God calls us so decisively in Christ that everything we are, everything we have and everything we do is invested with a direction and dynamism because it is done in response to His summons and His call.”
Calling captures and masters us. Christ’s call shapes and inspires every second of our lives and every inch of the world in which we move. Where are you headed?
In the movie Shrek, Shrek tells Donkey that there are many “layers” of himself as an ogre. Peeling away the layers of an ogre is a lot like peeling layers on an onion.
Suppose after you peel away the identities that others put on you, you end up with nothing. After you peel away all expectations from people, you find nothing else is there. Does everyone have a “self” waiting to be found? I don’t believe it. Has anyone ever “found themselves”? Self is not something waiting to be found. One’s self is created. There is only one way to form an identity and with this, find meaning in life. That is through commitment. It is what we commit ourselves to that shapes our identity.
Believing is not just accepting the facts about something, it is giving yourself over to the one you say you believe. Are you committed? To what are you committed? For the Christian, there’s a big difference in you doing something “for” Jesus and Jesus doing something through you. The Christian life is not about believing in Jesus but in being committed to Jesus.
Having a sense of your calling in life is a powerful aspect of following Christ throughout your life. Paul’s letter to Timothy comes as Paul is reflecting on his own life and challenging Timothy because Paul knows he himself won’t be around much longer. Paul’s letters to Timothy were his last before he was executed. His life is consumed by what Christ had called him to which is evident in these verses.
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began…” (2 Timothy 1:8-9)
Paul was confident in being a person called into God’s purpose. He believed he had been chosen by the grace of God before the world was ever created. So we are also called into God’s own purpose and grace. Jesus still calls his disciples to “Come and follow me.”
God’s call leads to adventure and joy. There’s no greater joy than following Jesus, than embracing a commitment to your calling.
Isaiah talks about light as “glory” (Isaiah 60:1-2). The Hebrew word for glory has the meaning of being weighty or important. God is weighty. If God would ever take His hands from the universe we would cease to exist, this world would crumble; the universe would collapse and disappear. That’s how weighty God is.
God's glory is the sum total of all that He is and is reflected in what He does. When Jesus was born, the weighty presence of God appeared. God in Christ has come with all the weight of His glory and in all His brilliance and splendor. “The glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Isaiah sees the light and glory of God coming upon us, God’s community.
The light of God in Christ shines on us and in us. This is so that He would also shine out of us and from us. People should be able to look at us and see the light and radiance of Christ within. "Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn" (Isaiah 60:3). While Jesus is the light of the world, He taught that we too are the light of the world, a light we receive from Him and reflect back into the darkness of people’s needs. Mission is the essence of the Church's calling.
Many years ago, a young woman named Maggie began attending the Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago. She was a hurting young woman who had been abused and deceived by inauthentic pretenders of Christianity when she was a child. She had long ago stopped trusting that God existed or that Jesus loved her. But she wanted to believe. Not long after she first started attending Willow Creek, this young woman wrote a letter to one of the leaders, Lee Stobel and included a poem she had written. Here is an excerpt of that poem:
"Do you know, do you understand that you represent Jesus to me? If you care, I think maybe He cares-
And then there's this flame of hope that burns inside me And for a while I am afraid to breathe because it might go out.
Do you know? Do you understand that your words are His words? Your face, His face To someone like me?
Please, be who you say you are. Please, God, don't let this be another trick. Please, let this be real. Please.
Do you know? Do you understand that you represent Jesus to me?"
Not long after sending Lee Stobel this poem, Maggie gave her life to Jesus.
Here is why we are to arise and shine: the world is waiting for our witness. The world needs to see--in us--the truth of what we believe. Words are cheap. Too many are trying to sell us that which they do not possess themselves. "Do you know?" asks Maggie in her poem, "Do you understand that you represent Jesus to me?" This is the cry of a world that’s in "gross darkness."
Arise and shine. For our light has come…
As a result of Jesus being born, we are commanded to "Arise, shine; for your light has come” (Isaiah 60:1). “Arise, shine” is a good news command, and it is pure grace on the Lord's part. Jesus is the true light that enlightens every person. The reason we can arise and shine is because Christ has entered out lives and cast out all darkness. Jesus is the light that has entered the world but Jesus taught that we too are to be the light of the world.
We can arise and shine because we know Father is bringing everything under Christ and the days of darkness are limited. Even now we are the children of God and we have been given authority and power. We arise and shine because even now we receive His Kingdom and enjoy Righteousness, Peace and Joy. He has sent His Spirit to be in us, to help us, to lead us into truth, and to empower us in our mission.
We arise and shine because we are a people of destiny and purpose. Jesus calls us to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19-20).
I was in India in January 1999. Persecution upon Christians had broken out across the nation. When I arrived at the airport in Goa I was quickly ushered into a car and driven away. There was none of the usual Indian flowers and celebration when a guest arrives. Men who had disrupted one of our meetings and beaten the leaders with microphone stands had been looking for Westerners who preached Christianity.
There was a man named Graham Staines, a missionary in India for many years, ran a clinic for lepers and preached at a nearby church in Baripada, India. He had come under persecution. On January 23, 1999, Graham Staines and his family paid an awful price for their faith. Over 40 Hindu activists surrounded the Staines' Jeep and set it on fire, killing Graham and his two young sons, Philip and Timothy. This was only one tragic incident in a series of increasing anti-Christian violence by Hindu radicals.
At the funeral, which was attended by more than 1,000 people, Staines' widow, Gladys, and his daughter, Esther, spoke of forgiveness and peace. Rather than being overcome by grief, they bravely stood over his coffin and sang a hymn of hope: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives." They could go on because Christ lives.
We likely will not face an event like this but we will face trying situations. As we arise and shine, may we let our faith overwhelm our fears and be victorious.
Jesus’ incarnation has changed not only world history but continues to challenge and provide vision to today’s. The prophet Isaiah mentions this reality.
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the Glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and His Glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Isaiah 60:1-3
This prophecy is about the coming of Jesus Christ. The “Light”, who is Christ, has been and is being revealed to Gentiles. When Jesus was born, the Wise Men from the East brought gifts to the Christ child. (Matt.2:1-12). The effect of that light coming is that we Gentiles are part of the fulfillment of this prophecy. This prophetic word includes both the promise of Jesus’ birth and the birth of one people with the inclusion of Gentiles.
These Wise Men, the first Gentiles, had read the promise in the Word, and believed in the Lord and responded with faith. The fruit of their “faith-full” response to God’s solar sign was so great that they traveled for months, putting up with hardship and danger, to come and worship Him. Isaiah 60:6 declared, "They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord," describes a prophecy fulfilled and includes the ongoing process of it continually being fulfilled. These Wise Men responded with fruits of faith when they bowed before the Lord and presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
As God’s people, we are what we are through the fulfillment of this prophecy regarding bringing the news of Jesus to the nations. The Church of the future will be what it shall become through Isaiah’s prophecy fulfillment in its completeness.
I recall some prophetic words I heard from some prophetically gifted men in the early 2000s about God’s call to His church that were along these lines. Allow me to share the essence of these 2 prophecies.
“Like the burning bush, the church will again shine with the glory of the Lord. Though the bush was merely an inanimate plant impregnated with God's glory, the church will be a living body that is glorious beyond description. Like the burning bush, we will be a sign that people will turn aside to see.” (referencing Isaiah 60:1-3 at the time).
The 2nd one followed a similar idea…
Just as Jesus stood on the Mount of Transfiguration and his three disciples saw Him shine (Matthew 17:1-8), God is going to have a whole company of people who are going to shine. The world will see the light, and all the nations will come. It is going to be the light of "a city set on a hill" that "cannot be hidden" (Matt. 5:14). It is time for the body of Christ to arise and let her light shine forth for the world to see…. There is going to be a release of power evangelism that will meet the needs of mankind. This will cause a chain reaction throughout the world. God is going to have a mighty army that goes into every place on the face of the earth; sharing this glorious gospel they will bring healing for the sick and do the works of God. This is the gospel that Jesus proclaimed and demonstrated, and He is about to do it again.”
God’s church is called to “Arise and Shine” today. As a result of Jesus being born and the result of Jesus’ cross, resurrection and ascension, we are commanded to "Arise, shine; for your light has come."
John Maxwell tells a story of a tribe in Central Asia who had a curse they would use on their enemies. They would say, “May you stay in one place forever.” May this never be the case for God’s people!
To be a healthy church leadership team is to never stop learning. Strong teams are never static but always growing and developing in order to be more effective in ministry.
Team members are willing to take risk in innovation. We are ever learning in order to be more effective in propagating the gospel. This means each leader is to be a learner. We are to read the bible, observe videos, the internet, etc. in order to be a listener and to stay current. Every person we meet has the potential to teach us something. John Maxwell notes, “The greatest obstacle to discovery isn’t ignorance or lack of intelligence. It’s the illusion of knowledge” (J. Maxwell, Leadership Gold, p.127).
The team leader will model learning and growing to team members. He does so by reading, attending conferences or retreats that aid learning, networking with others in order to learn. As a leader, you must train others for ministry. Expose yourself to a wide variety of information (i.e., not only theology books but TV, movies, music, etc.). We observe diverse information to be a more effective team in order to reach today’s world.
John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensible of each other.” To lead as a team, every team member must be a continual learner.
Church leaders who operate in team regularly give authority and responsibility to others and avoid any sense of hierarchy in their daily practice. Team-led church leaders function as coaches: giving advice, equipping, training, and encouraging people in ministry.
This team approach is a return to the biblical leadership model of Jesus. The church began by being led by a servant-messiah who crossed the religious establishment to bring genuine faith back to the people. Paul's analogy of the church was “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:14-20). This model is highly effective in a postmodern world. You will not be given to hierarchal models of leadership based upon the New Testament model of the body. "The body is a bottom-up network based on cooperation, freedom, and the common good" (W.M. Easum, Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers). Easum writes, "individual members of the Body of Christ find their fulfillment, not as their ministry makes them feel good but when their ministry contributes to the health of the Body of Christ" (p. 45).
In the community of God's own Triune self, there’s no sense of domination hierarchy according to Miroslav Volf in After Our Likeness: The Church as The Image of the Trinity. Volf cannot find a connection between the communal nature of God and hierarchical systems.
So how does one formulate and build a team based church?
First: Begin with the team itself
Second: Everyone in the church is involved in a team-based approach
Third: Give yourself to structuring around team (not committees but teams)
Fourth: Create an enabling environment. (For example, you may change configurations of chairs in meetings…meet in a circle. Make sure elders are getting with with people.)
Fifth: Make team-building a lifestyle, not a technique. This lifestyle is not only in small groups but can be seen in other things, such as releasing gifts, letting others baptize new converts, and developing ministry teams in a variety of areas in church life.
Confluence is a place where the reformed, the charismatic, and the mission-minded converge to equip and serve the church to transform communities. Our authors are mostly leaders in the Newfrontiers family of churches. Read more.
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