What an ancient mystery means to America’s future—and your ministry
What could an ancient mystery more than 2,500 years old mean to the future of your ministry? To understand its relevance for today, let me set the stage and go back to the last days of ancient Israel.
Before Israel’s destruction as a nation, nine harbingers appeared—nine warnings of destruction in a biblical template of national judgment. These same nine harbingers of judgment are now reappearing in modern America in specific detail. Some have appeared in New York City, some in Washington D.C., some have involved the highest leaders of the land, even the president of the United States. The manifestations of the harbingers involve such things as the Stone of Judgment, the Sign of the Sycamore, the Tower, the Utterance, the Prophecy and more.
The pattern begins with a national wake-up call: The nation’s hedge of protection is breached in some way. Years before the judgment, an enemy is allowed to strike the land. In the case of ancient Israel, that assault took place in 732 B.C. with the Assyrian invasion. In America, it happened on Sept. 11, 2001. After Assyria’s attack, Israel did not repent or turn back to the Lord. Neither has America. In fact, both nations descended deeper into apostasy. And in both cases, the first strike led to further shakings. In America, we saw the second strike as the U.S. economy collapsed. Behind this modern-day collapse was a stream of ancient mysteries, some of which actually identified and ordained the very dates, days and hours of the greatest economic crashes in American history.
The supernatural story of how The Harbinger found its way to the nation
Based on your reading this magazine, I assume you’re the type of leader who wants your life—and ministry—to make a difference. Yet if you’re like me, you know that something serious is happening in America today. Rabbi, pastor and best-selling author Jonathan Cahn understands both of these dynamics, which is why I asked him to serve as guest editor of this issue of Ministry Today on ministering in the last days. Rabbi Cahn’s best-selling book, The Harbinger, has served as a national wake-up call. Through its narrative, he connected the dots for us to see that God is warning America in the same ways He warned Israel in Isaiah’s day through prophecies and harbingers of things to come!
I had the privilege to publish The Harbinger. Though having a best-seller like this has been a blessing to my company, I appreciate The Harbinger even more because I believe it’s the game-changer book I had asked God for and believed He would let me publish. The Harbinger came to me as a result of prophecy not once, but twice.
Here’s what happened. In late 2010, I was seeking God for a book to put into perspective what was happening in the world, how God viewed these changes and what Christians should do. I knew a man who had what I thought was this message, and I recruited him to write a book like this. Looking back, my journal during that time is full of references to this book and my wondering if it would impact a nation. Sadly, for a variety of reasons, the book was never written.
God had a better idea.
I have been a pastor for more than 29 years and have ministered to hundreds of pastors and visited numerous churches over the past three decades. During this time, I have noticed often that key marketplace leaders who love the Lord have a hard time connecting to a local church.
Because of this, some in the marketplace have felt compelled to consider their businesses and employees as their local church! In my opinion, this should not be necessary. The following observations are based on interaction with entrepreneurs and business leaders. Here are ten reasons business leaders reject their local churches:
If you think the church can’t solve the world’s problems, think again. We were made to bring the good news—and Jesus modeled exactly how we can.
The greatest need in the world today is to release the latent energy bottled up in believers who are doing nothing for the kingdom of God. It’s time for the church to rise up and be the church. The church is the body of Christ, but it seems like our hands and feet have been amputated, and most of the time we’re just a big mouth. It’s time for the church to stop being known for what we’re against and start being known for what we stand for: grace, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, salvation and new life in Jesus Christ.
That’s why we began rethinking our mission strategy at Saddleback. Jesus tells us to “go everywhere in the world, and tell the Good News to everyone” (Mark 16:15, NCV). Go is a key word for believers. You can’t spell gospel without “go.” You can’t spell good news without “go.” You can’t spell God without “go.”
Editor’s Note: Daily during January and February, MinistryTodaymag.com will feature an article from pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren and his staff in conjunction with his new book, What on Earth Am I Here For? Warren is the guest editor for Charisma’s Ministry Today magazine for its January/February issue.
Rick Warren knows it’s not about him.
Because of this, it wasn’t a stretch for the pastor to begin The Purpose Driven Life with the now-famous line: “It’s not about you.” Indeed, as author of the No. 1 best-selling hardback book in American history other than the Bible, he’s reaped enormous rewards. Yet he’s also used that wealth to further God’s kingdom rather than his own.
First, reimbursed his Saddleback Church for his salary since day one; and for years, he has since “reverse tithed,” which means he gives 90 percent and lives on 10 percent. Rather than neglect his church, as many pastors tend to do, he remains very much hands on—and that was obvious the day I visited Saddleback’s main campus in Lake Forest, Calif., a few months ago. That day, Rick preached an inspiring message and then baptized about 50 people after the service.
Growing a church doesn’t happen without first growing a person. Here are eight core principles we adhere to in our discipleship model at Saddleback Church.
The discipleship process at Saddleback Church is based on the belief that if we focus on building people, God will build the church. Through a study of how Jesus helped people grow spiritually, Saddleback senior pastor Rick Warren developed these eight laws for spiritual growth.
1. Spiritual growth is intentional.
Spiritual growth is not accidental. You must intend to grow; you must make a choice to grow. This means that we grow by making commitments. People in churches are at one of six levels of commitment: community, crowd, congregation, committed, core or commissioned.
The community is anyone within driving distance of Saddleback Church. There is no commitment at the community level. We want to get the community to come to a weekend service, and we want to move them from the community to the crowd. What’s required to be in the crowd? One commitment: show up at church.
Next, we want to move people from being an attender to being a member of the church—to move from the crowd to the congregation. At Saddleback, you do this by coming to know Jesus as your Savior, being baptized, attending our membership seminar (Class 101) and signing the membership covenant.
People then move from the congregation to committed. We do that with a course called Class 201, where we teach the habits for spiritual growth. The class doesn’t make you a mature person; it just shows you what it takes to become spiritually mature and ends with the opportunity to make a commitment to growth.
From the committed, people move into the core—serving Christ by serving others. They take Class 301, sign the ministry covenant, discover their S.H.A.P.E. (each person’s unique blend of Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality and Experiences) and start actively serving.
The commissioned are those who made it all the way into not just ministry but also mission. They have taken Class 401 and made a commitment to go into all the world as Jesus commanded.
2. Spiritual growth is incremental.
We know that incremental change is true in physical growth—so why not in spiritual growth? We know children grow in stages: They learn to breathe first; then to eat, to walk, to talk. No child has ever taken those steps out of order. They are developmental stages.
The same is true in your spiritual life. The order that we have here at Saddleback is all about helping people grow closer and closer to Christ. We want to see them know Christ, then love Christ, then grow in Christ, then serve Christ, then share Christ. Those are the systematic steps to spiritual growth.
3. Spiritual growth is personal.
You cannot mass-produce disciples because every person is different. There is no one-size-fits-all for spiritual growth.
To be a disciple is to be a learner. That’s the literal meaning of the word disciple. Because we all are different, we all learn differently. For instance, some learn best by listening, others by reading, some by discussing, others by doing a project.
One major tool we use to help people grow personally is our yearly growth campaign. For it, the entire church focuses together on some area of personal growth: 40 Days of Purpose, 40 Days in the Word, 40 Days of Love and so on. Our campaign for 2013 will be “What on Earth Am I Here For?” (To join us, go to saddlebackresources.com).
In these campaigns, the entire church studies the same thing for six weeks. We make use of all the different ways of learning so that everyone can grow. People hear it on Sundays, they read it in the book, they discuss it in a small group, they memorize a verse about it and they have a project to do for it.
4. Spiritual growth is practical.
God gives us practical ways to participate in the growth that He is causing. One of Saddleback’s goals is to help people grow by developing good spiritual habits. They’re called spiritual disciplines or devotional practices, but they’re really just habits.
For instance, we encourage the habit of spending time with God every day. Prayer is also a spiritual habit. Bible study is a spiritual habit. Tithing and attending a small group are spiritual habits.
In the end, we will become whatever we do habitually. To try to be a disciple of Jesus without developing the habits of a disciple is simply impossible.
5. Spiritual growth is relational.
We only grow if we are in community with others. This is one of the most misunderstood facts of growth among American Christians. American Christians think you can grow on your own. If I have a Bible and I have Jesus, I don’t need anybody else, we tell ourselves.
That kind of thinking is wrong! You cannot grow without the church. The Bible says in Hebrews 10:24-25: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another” (NLT).
6. Spiritual growth is multidimensional.
At Saddleback we have learned that in order for us to grow spiritually, five purposes all are needed: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and mission. We are to grow stronger through worship, warmer through fellowship, deeper through discipleship, broader through ministry and larger through mission.
If you go to a gym and get a trainer, you’re going to be required to work on the areas in which you are weakest. Do you have a weak shoulder? You’ll have to work on that shoulder. You have weak knees? Let’s work on your knees, your trainer will say. Spiritual growth is like physical therapy: God wants to strengthen us in all His purposes.
Of course, this means you can’t do the job alone as a church leader. But none of us are meant to do it alone! In Ephesians 4:12 we’re told to “equip” God’s people for works of service.
If I were starting a church again today, I’d get a volunteer leader to help me with each of these five purposes so he could grow as he helped the church to grow. At Saddleback, we now have entire staff teams dedicated to helping people grow in each of these five purposes.
7. Spiritual growth is seasonal.
You’ll relieve a lot of guilt in your people when you help them understand this one truth: that spiritual growth is seasonal. Nobody grows at a constant pace all the time. Plants don’t grow constantly; they grow in spring and summer and then are dormant in fall and winter. The same is true in our spiritual lives.
Some people are going through winter: “I just don’t feel like I’m growing much right now,” they say, “even though I’m doing the right things to grow.”
It will encourage them to know that’s OK. It’s part of life. In fact, there are some things that happen in winter that don’t happen in spring and summer. You deepen your roots in fall and winter for the next spring when you will have the next stage of growth and fruitfulness.
8. Spiritual growth is incarnational.
The final truth is that growth is not about what you can accomplish. Rather, it’s about the person of Jesus Christ living inside you. Galatians 2:20 says: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (NKJV).
The goal of the Christian life is to live like Jesus. But it won’t come from your trying to be like Jesus. It comes from trusting Jesus to live inside you. The secret of the Christian life is not imitation but incarnation—letting Christ live through you. Nobody can live like Jesus better than Jesus!
None of these eight principles for growth can be done in our own power. It’s God who works in us because of the cross. We need to remember that, for the sake of our own growth as well as the growth of the church. This frees us from the frustration of what we can’t seem to get done and releases us from the even more dangerous temptation to try to do it on our own power.
We get to be fellow builders. Under Jesus’ leadership, and by following biblical principles for spiritual growth, God will build His church!
Tom Holladay is associate senior pastor at Saddleback Church, where he has served for almost 21 years, and teaches at Purpose Driven conferences worldwide. He is the author of The Relationship Principles of Jesus (Zondervan). Hear his podcast, “Drivetime Devotions,” at drivetimedevotions.com.