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Monday, December 22, 2014

Trust Jesus To Speak and Lead

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Last week I was in a room discussing established church structures and change. The meeting was in another state. These were good discussions that could result in some very revolutionary influence. I was the “purist” organic church leader in the meetings; at least that is how others described me.


At one point someone was drawing on the white board, designing a potentially hierarchical structure of leadership. Because I know the man and the context of our discussions, I was confident it wasn’t actually a hierarchy, but it was sounding a bit like it. I'm confident that anything that can be construed that way will be abused that way in a traditional church environment, so I mentioned that this cannot ever be a command and control structure. The reaction of the others was to be expected. They saw Neil Cole being the “Organic Purist” and resisting any semblance to a leadership structure. Who knows, maybe that is exactly what was happening and I have likely earned that reputation.



As we continued the discussion, they mentioned that some degree of oversight is necessary and that if we let it all go without any leadership it will fall apart. That is a common concern and often the reason (or excuse) people use to enforce some leadership oversight and accountability. My response is that it will not fall apart if a healthy DNA is intact and Jesus is indeed the one who is leading. The fear is that people will not be motivated to continue on without leaders holding them to it. There is also a fear that they will compromise truth if there is not some degree of leadership looking in on them to make sure that they don’t.



I said, as I often do, that we can in fact trust Jesus to lead. If the goal is a movement that spreads beyond driving distance to your church and beyond your eulogy we must trust that people with Jesus will carry it forward without us. I asked if it was at all possible for people to carry the life force of the church forward without someone looking over their shoulder?



Everyone smiled and obliged my rant and we went on. That was a fairly typical discussion for me. I understand that people are all in a process and I no longer expect everyone to have the same way of thinking immediately.



Later that evening something remarkable occurred. We all went out to dinner and went back to the host’s home for cake, coffee and conversation. He had two sons in their early twenties who joined us as well as one of their best friends. All three young men went to different universities and were part of different church ministries near their schools. Because of the holidays everyone was back together and enjoying this discussion with some “famous” Christian authors in comfy sofas around a fireplace.



As we were talking it became clear that all three of the young men were involved in Life Transformation Groups (LTGs) even though they were at different churches and universities. The boys had no idea that I had been the one who innovated the strategy many years ago. When they found out it was quite a surprise. I love it when that happens.



An LTG is a simple way of being and making disciples that needs no oversight or tracking. It is two or three people meeting weekly in a gender specific group. They commit to do three things together: read the same portion of Scripture repetitively during the week, confess sins to one another when they meet using some character conversation questions, and pray for the souls of friends that need to know Jesus. It is simple, non-hierarchical and establishes a healthy DNA in the smallest unit of life in the church. It is a group that doesn’t need a leader, because everyone is benefiting from the group and the accountability is mutual. Each disciple is responsible to hear God’s voice in the Scripture and to be vulnerable, authentic and transparent in relationship to one another and to keep the needs of hurting people around them foremost in their hearts and minds. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and still value it for my own spiritual life. I don’t do it to just make better disciples but to be a better disciple. [You can read more about LTGs in my book Cultivating a Life for God or Ordinary Hero).



You couldn’t have orchestrated a better way to demonstrate that we can trust the DNA and let Jesus lead in a movement that spreads far away from the source and yet maintains a pure DNA. These young men were far removed from the original source that created the LTG system, nevertheless it still held together and it still worked. They had no idea where it came from or who developed the idea, and didn’t need to know. The evening meeting had something to say to the one earlier in the day. 

The very man who sketched the potentially hierarchical diagram was the one who made the observation later that evening about the LTG and its author to the young men. I didn't need to connect the dots because the One who actually leads such meetings had already done so.



Is it feasible that we can trust Jesus to speak to us directly in his church? Can the Head be the director of the body? I believe it is not just possible but preferable. I have seen it work spreading many generations removed. I’ve even had people try to convince me that LTGs are great and that I should try it, with no clue that I originated the idea. I love that! It requires that we not get credit or have our own control of everything. It also requires that we not get rich in the process. But I believe the rewards of such a movement are far greater than fame or fortune.



I could never have been able to provide leadership and oversight so far removed, but Jesus is capable, and He has done it. Trust him. In fact, trust him more than you trust yourself. He will not disappoint you. 

Note: This blog post is dedicated to my friend and co-laborer Jim Rutz who recently went to be with our Lord. He was a pioneer in Open Church meetings and he will be missed.




Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Syrian Circle


"Prayer is the slender nerve that moves the muscle of omnipotence."
—Martin Tupper

My friend and mentor, Carol Davis, has launched a new initiative to provide prayer for the crisis in Syria. Half the population has been forced out of their homeland.Her new initiative is called the Syrian Circle and is an opportunity to move the hand of God through prayer on behalf of millions of people.

Here are Carol's words about this urgent opportunity...

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I am writing to you because you and I, together with believers from around the world, have an incredible opportunity to literally change the physical and spiritual future for millions this December. 

The Syrian Refugee situation is being called the greatest and most complex humanitarian emergency of our lifetime. Yet I talk with believers everyday that are unaware of the magnitude and significance of what is happening, with half of Syria’s population having fled their homes for safety.

A sustainable breakthrough for the Syrian people will not come through bombs or negotiations.  It will only come through a consistent, real, and focused movement of prayer.

I am reminded that prayer is the one absolute thing I can do to release the powerful hand of God into this situation.  God has heard the cry of these dads, moms and children for safety and hope – and in response he is calling us to prayGod is their hope.  Our prayers can shape Syria’s future.

Will you take action with me today? 

If so, please visit The Syrian Circle website.  Register to receive daily prayer points, beginning December 1 and be part of an intense, urgent and focused intercession, encircling the Syrian people in prayer for 31 days in December.

Why December -- our busiest month, celebrating our Lord’s birth in our churches and with family?  Because their situation is urgent!
I hope you will choose to join me. Even though it’s an inconvenient season, sacrifice a few moments each day to pray the way you would want to be prayed for if you were in a similar situation and see what God will do. 

Start circling with me in prayer for the Syrian people. Click here or visit www.thesyriancircle.com 

Our prayer is Syria’s HOPE, 

Carol Davis

The month is still early. Get on board and be counted as one who made a difference in this urgent opportunity.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Engineering APEST Gifts Doesn't Usually Work

The CMA APEST team has learned from experience that the APEST gifts are organically formed, not engineered by mortal humans. We have tried, more than once, to recruit and slot people into assignments based on their perceived gifts. This has rarely worked well for us. Occasionally it did, but rarely.

Simply having strengths that others need does not form a team. Humility and love toward one another are the glue that binds us together as we pursue mission together. Gifts do not bind us together. I would rather have a team that loved each other and was willing to defer and submit to one another, even if we lacked the right gifts, than to have a team with all the right gifts but no unity.

Focusing on your strengths actually divides us because we can easily devalue the strengths of others. We have found that when you focus on your weaknesses you become stronger because you begin to value everyone else's gifts. Let everyone else notice your strength, while you value the strengths of everyone else.

Jesus gives us the gifts; we do not scout for them and recruit them to our team. We do not scout for and hire the gifts. We do not suggest holding a spot open and searching for someone with the gift to plug in. Start with relationships, not gifts. On our CMA team, we were friends first and discovered our gifts later. We have found this makes for a far better approach.

Rather than looking for people with all the right gifts, we suggest you look for the qualities of Christ that the gifts represent and allow them to take root and grow. The difference between this approach and most spiritual gifts discovery systems is that the focus remains on Christ and what He brings to the table, rather than on the attributes of individuals. As Christ works in and through us, we believe the gifts will naturally emerge.

This series of blog posts are from my latest book Primal Fire.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

How do I Discover my APEST Gift?, Part 3


Most of the methods available for determining spiritual gifts can easily turn into a self-focused search for personal identity and a special place in the church. Often they begin with the premise that we can simply decide what we want to do and identify gifts based on our personal preferences. Do you see the contradiction in that? Determining how we want to serve based on our own personal preferences? Do slaves typically choose their areas of service? As slaves to Christ, why would expect to choose our own gifts? The gifts are given to each one as the Spirit desires (1 Corinthians 12:11)

Approaching the APEST gifts based on our personal preferences starts us off on the wrong trajectory. And once the rocket has left the launch pad, it is nearly impossible to adjust our course to reach the right target. We must start with a right understanding of the gifts if we hope to see them develop as God intended.

The gifts are not determined by surveys or interviews or personal preferences. They are discovered through hard work, failure, practice, and God’s calling and verification through others. This may not be as simple as taking a test, but in the long run it is far better because it not only reveals our gifting, but develops our gifting as well, which is something a test can never do.

We believe that if you will simply focus on Jesus, love other people and serve them, the gifts will naturally come to the surface, and in time you and others will recognize them. The church is far better off when we just love Jesus and love one another, rather than worrying about how specially gifted we each and all might be.  If we focus on loving Jesus and one another, the gifts will manifest themselves. But as the Corinthians learned, if we pursue the gifts in the absence of love, we leave the most important thing behind. But if we pursue love, the gifts will come naturally.
Of course, we can have both.


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This post is adapted from my book Primal Fire

Friday, October 31, 2014

How Do I discover My APEST Gift?, Part 2

Each of the gifts is motivated by an aspect of Christ’s character. This “image of Christ” is at the center of what drives the gifted person to do what he or she does. It is far better to focus on Christ and serving others than to delve into our own psyche in search of our own unique and special place.

The apostolic gift is rooted in the missio dei, the mission of God. The prophetic gift is rooted in the will of God. The evangelistic gift is rooted in the compassion of God. The pastoral gift is rooted in the oneness of the Triune God. The teaching gift is rooted in the knowledge of God. All of these aspects of God must be fully present and functioning for the church to be whole and healthy. The gifts are given so that we can all mature..."to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." In our experience, it is far better to focus on the qualities of Christ, rather than on the people and their gifts—because, ultimately, it is Christ that we want at the center of the church.

So, how do we discover what sort of vessel we are for the flow of God’s work? One of the struggles we have had over the years of serving Christ in the church is that the idea of spiritual gifts easily becomes egocentric. Of course, that is never the intent, but what happens is that we so easily turn our attention to ourselves. The problem is that the gifts were never given to us for introspection and a sense of personal importance. In fact, the gifts aren’t given to us but through us!

As we have pointed out, every passage in the New Testament that mentions spiritual gifts either starts or ends with love or puts love right in the middle of the discussion. This is not an accident. The gifts are not given to make us feel more special, but to make others more special in our sight. Paul says that we should not view our gifts as if they are something we deserve (1 Corinthians 4:6-8). He says, “For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” The very fact that we are given gifts exposes our complete inadequacy. Because we can’t find these good qualities inherent within us, we need a supernatural infusion of power and ability just to make us useful at all.

Most of the methods available for determining spiritual gifts can easily turn into a self-focused search for personal identity and a special place in the church. Often they begin with the premise that we can simply decide what we want to do and identify gifts based on our personal preferences. Do you see the contradiction in that? Determining how we want to serve based on our own personal preferences? Do slaves typically choose their areas of service? As slaves to Christ, why would expect to choose our own gifts? The gifts are given to each one as the Spirit desires (1 Corinthians 12:11)

Approaching the APEST gifts based on our personal preferences starts us off on the wrong trajectory. And once the rocket has left the launch pad, it is nearly impossible to adjust our course to reach the right target. We must start with a right understanding of the gifts if we hope to see them develop as God intended.

The gifts are not determined by surveys or interviews or personal preferences. They are discovered through hard work, failure, practice, and God’s calling and verification through others. This may not be as simple as taking a test, but in the long run it is far better because it not only reveals our gifting, but develops our gifting as well, which is something a test can never do.
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This article is adapted form my book Primal Fire


How Do I Discover My APEST Gift?, Part 1

Some things in life are discovered more easily in hindsight than in foresight. That doesn’t mean that foresight is out of the question, or unhelpful. Nothing, however, is as certain as looking back over much of your life to see clearly what kind of conduit you are for God’s gift to work through.

Paul was able to become a mature expression of three of the roles of Ephesians 4:11: apostle, evangelist (herald) and teacher (1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11). Yet even in Paul’s case, while he functioned as a teacher at times (Acts 13:1) and an evangelist at other times (Acts 9:19-22, 26-29), as he grew into his destiny it became clear that he was indeed an apostle above all other roles.

There are many factors that can confirm a calling associated with a gift in someone, and in Paul’s case we see five that are helpful:

  1. His calling was confirmed by God’s voice (Acts 26:12-18). Sometimes God grants to us a glimpse at our destiny even before we are far along. This is not universally true, but most people can discover some hints if they look closely at their life experience. Look for the fingerprints of God on the way you were formed from the beginning of your new life and you may find a pattern that speaks to a destiny. For some, however, God does speak up and reveal a chosen path before it even makes sense, and such was the case with Paul.
  2. His call was confirmed by his internal spiritual drive, which he could not ignore (1 Corinthians 9:16-18; Romans 15:14-29). There are some things about ourselves that we can deny, but others, which we cannot. For Paul, his desire to preach the gospel to places where it has not been heard was a driving passion he could not ignore. He felt like his unique calling was something that he had to steward. Most spiritual gift tests rely completely on preferences, and as we see here, that is part of the puzzle, but only a small part. In Paul’s case, calling it a preference is not enough; it was an internal compulsion that drove his whole life. In fact, you could say that he even had to surrender his own preferences to this stronger internal impulse.
  3. The church’s testimony confirmed his gift (Galatians 2:6-10). The leadership of the church confirmed publicly that Paul was indeed an apostle. This is based upon a proven track record that was obvious for all to witness. There is no substitute for the confirmation of the body that you should be doing the things that you are doing. Without this confirmation, you should be plagued with doubts about your calling. Not that you are driven by the opinions or prejudices of others, but that over the time you serve Jesus if the body is not better off in obvious ways, than you likely are not functioning in your sweet spot.
  4. The price that he paid for the sake of the role verifies his gift (Galatians 6:17; 2 Corinthians 11:1-33). When pressed to prove he was indeed an apostle, Paul pointed most to the price that he had paid to live out his apostolic calling. This is a confirmation that we should look for more often, because it not only verifies your calling, but the commitment level you have to that calling. Like many of these confirmations, it takes time and experience to verify them.
  5. The fruitfulness of his ministry confirms his gift (1 Corinthians 9:1-3; 2 Corinthians 3:1-3; 12:11-13). Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.” There is nothing that substantiates a gift more completely than pointing out the fruit left behind as a result of your gifts and calling. If your energy and efforts are not producing any results then it is likely that you do not have that gift. If you can demonstrate that lives have been changed and ministries ignited by others because of your investment of time and abilities, then you likely have a gift in that area. This is one confirmation that no one can really argue with, but again, it takes time and experience to verify.
I would recommend you look for all five of the above to confirm what sort of conduit for God’s blessing to the body you are meant to fulfill. If you are younger, however, perhaps 3 out of 5 of the factors can at least send you in a reasonable direction. To be content with only two of the above factors may not be enough to claim any of the roles for yourself. The more confirmations you have the greater confidence you have in your gift and calling, and the greater confidence others can have as well.

There is nothing like serving others in the Body to discover our own unique calling. Even failure is a great instructor, but it tends to cost a bit more than the typical survey.
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This is adapted from my book Primal Fire.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Shortcomings of Spiritual Gift Inventories

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The discovery of spiritual gifts is a prolific subejct these days. While I believe we should pursue our gifts (and wrote a book about it), I do not believe spiritual gift tests are a good idea. I believe they tend to produce negative results that outweigh the positive. Here are six reasons why I do not like using gift inventories:

1. They peg people for life. We don’t need the “I don’t have that gift” excuse anymore.

2. They carry undue authority. A survey doesn’t tell us our gifts. The Holy Spirit working through the body of Christ does. The Spiritual enablements are given by the Holy Spirit, and the APEST gifts are given by Jesus, a gift inventory should have no say in the matter whatsoever.

3. They have an inherent bias that slants the questions and produces tainted results. Whoever develops the tests has a bias in some way and therefore the questions and the results reflect that bias.

4. They take the focus away from the collective body of Christ and place it on the individual. We are already prone to self-absorption; these tests encourage us to look in on ourselves and make spiritual gift discovery about fulfilling our own needs . . . the opposite of what the gifts are about.

5. They make gift discovery a matter of personal preference rather than true effectiveness. Most of these surveys identify what we prefer, rather than what we actually do. The spiritual life is not driven by personal preference; in fact it begins with dying to yourself and all your own preferences (Galatians 2:20).

6. They suggest that gift usage is a matter of job placement rather than Holy Spirit-led effectiveness. Churches that are already organized along hierarchical lines tend to define roles for the gifts that fit the system and limit creative expression. The APEST gifts are useful in many more ways than a typical church allows.

7. They reduce service to what takes place between the hours of 10 AM and Noon on Sunday mornings, and some gifts should not even be there.

This post is adapted from Primal Fire. In the next week or so I will be posting some excerpts from my book Primal Fire addressing gift discovery and usage.