Why we believe the group setting creates the best environment for producing healthy followers of Jesus Christ
In early 2000, our leadership team began asking the question: What does a healthy follower of Christ look like? If we are to be successful in fulfilling Christ’s commission to make disciples, we need to define the term disciple. Through a series of meetings, we determined that such a follower of Christ is someone who is balancing the five biblical purposes in his or her heart and life. A healthy follower of Christ, therefore, is:
We understood that unless you know what the target is you cannot hit it, so we ade our target health through balance. As believers, when we reflect Christ and become more like Him, the focus of our lives shifts away from self-centeredness toward serving Him through every area of life. That is health and balance.
As a church, if we were to produce healthy followers of Christ, then our leadership team had to decide what the best tool, or delivery system, would be to produce that desired result. Eventually we agreed that small groups would create the best environment in which to produce health through balancing the biblical purposes in each person’s life.
Whenever you start a new approach to ministry, the question “Why?” always comes up: “Why should we do small groups?” “Why are small groups a good method for helping people develop these five things in their lives?” Over the last 15 years, we’ve realized there are several things about small groups that make them an effective strategy for helping people grow in the Lord:
Small groups are biblical. We see in the book of Acts that the early church knew the value of small groups. In Acts 5:42 we read: “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (NIV). The early church met together for a large-group gathering in the temple courts because they knew the value of a corporate gathering of all the people. This is similar to what we do in churches today: The entire church gathers every weekend for large-group worship.
But the early church did not gather together just as a large group. They also met together in their homes for small-group fellowship. The early church knew they needed to grow bigger and smaller at the same time. They wanted to reach as many people as they could with the good news—as well as care for the needs of the people in the church and help them grow in relationship with God.
Small groups are convenient. One struggle many churches have is knowing how to get information out to their people in a way that everyone will hear it and be able to implement it in their lives. Weekend services help, but we know that people retain more when they interact with the information and ask questions. Since that approach isn’t a great option in a large gathering, small groups become a convenient place for disseminating information in a practical way that makes it more likely to be retained.
At Saddleback we learned the power of using video curriculum to launch our small groups. The group host doesn’t have to be a teacher, and the information being shared is consistent because we know what is being taught on the video. Because the host doesn’t have to teach, he or she feels more capable of leading a small group and is more open to hosting the group at home.
Small groups are economical and unlimited in size. The great part about groups is the fact that they are very affordable. Most churches run into budget problems, and the need for additional space is common. But everyone in your church has a facility they call their home.
When people open up their homes to host small groups, it eliminates the need for the church to build more facilities to reach people. Not only that, but small groups create the potential for unlimited growth, as more and more people in the church host groups in their homes. This allows the church to continue growing to the capacity of its attendees’ homes. It also provides a great way for congregants to go outside the church’s four walls and be in the community, instead of only seeing the church as a campus.
Small groups are unlimited in reach. The beauty of small groups is that they can happen anywhere and at any time, whenever the group wants to gather. This increases your ability to reach people.
With small groups, people can meet in the morning, the evening-—or even the middle of the night. Not only do small groups expand your church’s reach by offering a variety of meeting times, they also expand your reach through the different ways that groups gather together.
Small groups are not limited to meeting in people’s homes. Groups can gather online using Skype or some other software tool. They can meet in restaurants, subways, airplanes or businesses. When and how a group meets is limited only by the creativity of your people and their desire to reach out to people they know.
Small groups encourage accountability. Left on my own, I can fool myself into thinking I am growing in Christ. But something happens in my life when a friend who knows me and loves me takes the time to tell me about areas of my life in which I need to grow. When that happens, I am more likely to listen and make those changes, which in turn helps me grow as a follower of Christ.
Small groups provide a great setting for true accountability. When a member of a group is making a decision to do something that is wrong, they have to look each member of the group in the eye and explain why they’re doing it. That creates a natural accountability that can have a significant effect on the growth of everyone in the group.
Small groups provide a safe environment. Most people do not open up and share what truly is going on in their lives in a large group. The beauty of a small group setting is that it creates a safe place for people to share their struggles, successes and dreams and provides a built-in support system of people who will pray and be available to help at any time. It is also where people can try out their gifts and abilities in a safe place and discover where they might serve best.
Small groups provide focus. If directed correctly, a small group is a collection of people working on common goals—not just one person teaching while the others listen. The teaching method that requires listening and taking notes is good for helping people understand knowledge and learn new things.
The downside of it is, people have a difficult time applying that knowledge to their everyday lives. A small group setting enables people to work together and talk about what they are learning, which are practical actions that help them grow.
As mentioned previously, our church’s target is the five purposes of growth. We believe the more that a small group balances these five areas within the group, the healthier and more focused the group becomes. That health and focus then creates the right place for true growth to happen in the lives of each member of the group.
Saddleback’s strategy for making healthy followers of Christ (disciples) is small groups. We have no other plan; we have no other delivery system. We believe this is the most effective way to make disciples and lead people to live healthy and balanced lives. We are not a church with small groups; we are a church of small groups. The figures on this page illustrate how this strategy works.
Our small group ministry is not just another program. It’s an embedded, integrated piece of everything we do as a church. It is where care happens, and our delivery system for all spiritual formation. It is our method of balancing biblical purpose and creating healthy lives.
Steve Gladen has overseen the strategic launch and development of more than 4,000 adult small groups at Saddleback Church. He is the author of Small Groups With Purpose and Leading Small Groups with Purpose, and co-author of 250 Big Ideas for Purpose Driven Small Groups. For more information, go to smallgroups.net.
A worshiping church won’t just happen. It starts with a leader who places a high value on personal worship.
I remember only two things about my college biology class: the broken clock that hung on the wall behind my professor’s desk and this definition of culture: “A colony of microorganisms or cells grown in a specially prepared nourishing environment.” Sounds like the church, doesn’t it? Each congregation is a colony—an outpost of the kingdom (to mix metaphors)—that is grown in a specially prepared, nourishing environment.
Here’s another definition of culture; this one from my sociology class (which, by the way, also had a broken clock hanging behind the professor’s desk): “The values, beliefs, ideas, customs, skills, arts and traditions of a people that are passed along to succeeding generations.”
That sounds like the church, too.
The church is a culture, in the sense that it is a living organism, and the church has a culture that is a reflection of its values and beliefs.
With those definitions in mind, let’s think about this: How can we as pastors and leaders create a culture of worship in our churches? How can we prepare the “nourishing environment”? How can we transfer our values, customs and skills for worship to the succeeding generation?
A worshiping church won’t just happen by itself. It must start with a leader who places high value on his or her own personal worship life and then infuses that value into the culture he or she is creating. When it comes to spiritual leadership, there is no substitute for a healthy, personal worship life.
How often do you talk with God—not because you need something but simply out of friendship? How often do you spend time in the Word—not for the sake of public ministry but for personal renewal? We cannot lead people where we are not going ourselves.
Here are some ideas to help you infuse your value of worship into the culture of your church, as well as some questions to help you dig deeper into these key topics.
Preach sermons that help your congregation understand the role of worship in their lives. Start with Romans 12:1-2 and teach what it means to live all of life in an attitude of worship to God. Teach biblical principles for offering our bodies as living sacrifices. Why does God want our bodies (see 1 Cor. 6:19-20), and what are the implications of Spirit-filled worship?
Teach from John 4:23-24 about what it means to worship the Father in spirit and truth. What was Jesus telling the woman at the well about the difference between form and function in worship?
Teach about the relation between worship and the throne of God, as described in Psalm 22:3 and Isaiah 6:1. What happens when we align ourselves with God’s throne through worship?
Teach from Psalm 105:1-5 about what it means to summon forth, send forth and sing forth the name of the Lord. God’s names represent His character, and his character is manifested through His actions.
His name is Savior because He saves. His name is Healer because He heals. His name is Comforter and Counselor because He strengthens us and gives us wisdom. By what names do your people need to call on the Lord in worship today?
Teach from Hebrews 13:15 about the importance of Christ-centered worship. Teach a biblical study of physical postures of worship: kneeling, lying prostrate, lifting hands, standing before God.
Teach about the spiritual dynamics of singing praise to the Lord: Prison doors are opened and captives are set free (see Acts 16); battles are won and our enemies self-destruct (see 2 Chron. 20). In other words, teach your congregation what the Bible says about the principles, practices and power of worship.
A friend once told me, “I would rather hear my pastor sing than eat—’cause I’ve heard him eat!” Even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket, you can still be a worship leader.
You can lead through example. Let your congregation see through your life and behavior that you are a worshiper. Don’t hide in the greenroom until the music is over. Sit where people can see you openly participating in corporate worship. This doesn’t mean you should be ostentatious or showy; but when people, especially men, see that you are worshiping it gives them permission to worship, too. Your example tells them that worship is important.
Before I was a pastor, I was an event producer. On the opening night of a worship conference, I asked the evening speaker if he would like to join the audience during our worship time. He replied: “That’s not necessary. I’m on TV time. I know when to come out.”
So the preacher didn’t show up until the worship ended. God, on the other hand, doesn’t show up until the worship starts. The people experienced a powerful, palpable sense of God’s presence during worship that night. The preacher opened his message with a joke and missed the God-encounter moment because he was disconnected from his audience. Instead of pastoring the moment, he wasted it.
I often change the introduction to my message to reflect something that was said or sung during the worship time. It lets people know that I not only was paying attention but also sharing the moment of worship with them.
We allocate money, time and staff to things that are important to us. How does your investment in worship reflect your value of worship? If you are going to create the “specially prepared nourishing environment” to grow the culture of worship, then you have to provide sources of nourishment.
Budget for worship in dollars and time. Is your worship team adequately funded? Do they have time to be creative? Creative people must have time as well as resources so they can think and dream without pencil pushers looking over their shoulders. At the same time, creative people need administrative support and loving discipline to help keep them focused and on budget.
Provide products and services that will help develop the personal worship lives of your congregation. Sponsor worship concerts and conferences at your church. Recommend books, music and small-group studies that will help people understand and experience worship.
The culture of worship is built on historic and memorable moments. Find songs that will capture the memory of those moments for your congregation, such as theme songs for sermon series or songs that coincide with special seasons of ministry or times when the Spirit of God is moving in a unique way.
Let’s go back to my sociology class for a minute. Remember, a culture is defined as “the values, beliefs, ideas, customs, skills, art and traditions of a people that are passed along to succeeding generations” (emphasis added).
Do you want to know what the future of worship-leading looks like today? It looks like a 9-year-old girl singing into her hairbrush in front of the bathroom mirror. It’s a 10-year-old boy who just picked up a guitar for the first time and is stretching his fingers into a G chord. The future of worship-leading just might be sleeping in the bedroom at the end of your hallway.
Are you raising a new generation of worshipers? The only way to do it is to invest in the next generation of musicians in your church.
My favorite ministry at our church is run by a tough, talented, loving and crazy young guy named Taffy. Think School of Rock meets Jesus and youth ministry. Taffy trains young teens to become worship leaders. He auditions them, puts them in worship bands, rehearses them, mentors them and then gives them a platform to lead worship in our student ministries. Many of them migrate to leading worship in our adult weekend services.
Two of my kids have been through Taffy’s training. One of them is now a songwriter and worship leader with Youth With A Mission. The other leads worship for 600 women who come to our Thursday women’s Bible study.
Had it not been for Taffy, they just as easily might have found their musical outlet in a garage band playing music that is anything but worshipful. Find your Taffy!
Whatever your leadership position is, you have a role to play in creating a culture of worship in your church. God’s people are looking for leaders who will teach them, show them, empower them and release them to be worshipers. God has called you to lead them. The future of your church depends on it.
Buddy Owens is a teaching pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., focusing on spiritual formation and the role of worship in a believer’s life. He is the author of The Way of a Worshiper: Discover the Secret to Friendship With God (Purpose Driven Publishing) and Finding God in the Desert of the Soul, and is the general editor of The NIV Worship Bible.
Rick Warren is a global strategist, philanthropist, pastor and author. His book The Purpose Driven Life is the best-selling hardback in American history. It has sold more than 30 million copies in English and is published in more than 50 languages.
In 1980, Warren founded Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., with one other family. Today it is one of America’s most influential congregations, with more than 100,000 names on the church roll and 20,000 people attending services each weekend on a 120-acre campus. In addition, the church offers more than 300 ministries and support groups for parents, families, children, couples, prisoners, addicts, and people living with HIV/AIDS, depression, MS, Parkinson’s, autism, and many other conditions.
Warren built the Purpose Driven Network, a global alliance of pastors from 162 countries and hundreds of denominations who have been trained to be purpose-driven churches. He also founded Pastors.com, an online interactive community that provides sermons, forums and other practical resources for pastors—including archives of a biweekly newsletter sent to more than 100,000 pastors and ministry leaders.
Warren and his wife, Kay, give away 90 percent of their income. They are passionate about global missions and what he calls “attacking the five global giants” of poverty, disease, spiritual emptiness, self-serving leadership and illiteracy. His solution—The Peace Plan—is a massive effort to mobilize Christians around the world into an outreach effort to attack these five global giants by promoting reconciliation, equipping servant leaders, assisting the poor, caring for the sick and educating the next generation.
Warren earned a bachelor’s degree from California Baptist University, a master’s in divinity from Southwestern Theological Seminary and a doctorate in ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary. He has lectured at Oxford; Cambridge; Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government; the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland; the United Nations; the Global Health Summit; the Aspen Ideas Institute; TED; and numerous world congresses. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
At some point we’ve all questioned why we’re alive. Whether you or someone you know is struggling to find their life mission, here are five specific purposes for which God created us.
Everyone in your congregation wants to know if life really matters. Members, visitors, even your staff want to know:
What on earth am I here for?
Essentially, they’re asking three basic questions. First, there’s the question of existence: Why am I alive? For thousands of years people have asked this question. Many people of the Bible did. Jeremiah asked: “Why was I born? Was it only to have trouble and sorrow, to end my life in disgrace?” (20:18, GNT).
Second, there’s the question of significance: Is there some meaning and purpose to my life? Is all that I’m doing just a waste of time and energy? Is my life significant?
In Psalm 89, David remembers how short his life—and every human life—is and asks God: “Why did You create us? For nothing?” (see v. 47).
Job also asked the question, “Why should I work so hard for nothing?” (see Job 9:29). In other words, if there’s no meaning and purpose, why am I even doing this?
Solomon, in all his wisdom, questioned the significance of pleasure. In Ecclesiastes 2:2, he says: “Laughing and having fun is crazy. What good does it do?” (CEV). We all want to know: “Is there any significance to what I do? Why keep going?” Without meaning, life is petty, trivial and pointless.
Third, there’s the question of intention. Is there a purpose for my life? Isaiah said this: “My work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose” (49:4, NLT).
The British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, who described himself as an atheist, said, “Unless you assume a God, the question of the purpose of life is meaningless.” In other words, if there is no God, there is no grand scheme or significance to anything. If there is no God, your birth was an accident. You simply represent a random chance. If there is no God, there is no right or wrong and no heaven or hell.
This is why it is so important for us to teach our people that God made each one of us for a purpose. They need to know that nothing matters more than knowing God’s purpose for their lives, and nothing can compensate for not knowing it—not success, wealth, fame or pleasure.
We need to teach that without purpose life is motion without meaning, activity without direction and events without reason—yet underscore that it is never too late for any of us to discover our God-ordained purpose. People need to understand God makes everything with a purpose. Every plant has a purpose; every animal has a purpose.
Our people need to grasp the same truth about their lives. We should teach them: “If you are alive, it means God has a purpose for your life.”
The New Testament teaches that God created each of us for five purposes. These are explained by Jesus in the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:35-40) and the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19), were demonstrated by the early church in Acts 2, explained by Paul in Ephesians 4, and prayed about by Jesus in John 17. Here they are, briefly summarized:
1) Planned for God’s Pleasure
The first purpose of your life is this: You were planned for God’s pleasure. I think the two words that best describe the Christian life are love affair. God wants you to know Him and to love Him. Everything else is secondary to that purpose.
There is a word for how we express love to God: It’s called worship. Worship is both expressing love to God and living a life that’s pleasing to Him.
You know, there’s a big myth in Christianity. In the minds of most Christians the word worship is a synonym for “music.” We say things like, “Well, I liked the message, but I really liked the worship”—as if the message wasn’t worship.
Worship is more than music. It is everything you do that brings pleasure to God or glorifies Him. Your whole life is to be a life of worship.
2) Formed for God’s Family
Just as worship brings God pleasure because He wants us to love Him, fellowship with other believers brings God pleasure because we’re formed for God’s family.
One of the most misunderstood ideas about the Christian life is that it’s just a matter of believing. But God says: “No, you’re not just ‘believers’; you’re also ‘belongers.’”
You belong in the family of God.
Did you know that the term one another is used 58 times in the New Testament? Love one another, care for one another, pray for one another, exhort one another, encourage one another, greet one another, and on and on and on. God wants you to care for other people. That’s called fellowship. Enjoying God’s family is called fellowship. It’s the second purpose for your life.
3) Created to Be Like Christ
You were planned for God’s pleasure (worship), and you were formed for God’s family (fellowship).
Here’s the third reason God made you: You were created to be like Christ. It’s called discipleship. God made you in order to transform you into a likeness of His son, Jesus Christ. God is far more interested in what you are than what you do. He’s far more interested in your “being” than in your “doing.”
A lot of people ask, “What is God’s will for my life in my job or my career?” Know what? You probably could have two dozen different careers and God would think that’s fine. He is more interested in your character, and I’ll tell you why: You are not taking your career with you when you die; but you are taking your character into eternity.
There is no problem you have that you can’t grow from if you’ll learn the right response for it. If you respond to it the way God wants you to, then you become like Jesus. This is God’s third purpose for your life.
4) Shaped for Service
The fourth purpose is this: You were shaped for service. God made you to serve Him. You’re planned for God’s pleasure; that’s worship. You’re formed for a family; that’s fellowship. You’re created to be like Christ; that’s discipleship. And you’re shaped for service; that’s called ministry.
Every Christian is created to serve—called to ministry, created for ministry, saved for ministry and gifted for ministry. The Bible makes it very clear that every Christian is a minister (see 2 Cor. 5:17-19). Not every Christian is a pastor, but every Christian is a minister because to be Christ-like is to be a minister. You can’t be like Jesus Christ without serving others.
What is ministry? It is any way you use the abilities God has given you to help someone else in Jesus’ name. God uniquely wired you in a certain way for a purpose. God gave you your abilities—not for your benefit, but to use to bless other people.
5) Made for a Mission
The fifth reason you were put on this earth is that you were made for a mission. The apostle Paul was extremely passionate about this particular purpose. He says in Acts 20:24, “I only want to complete my mission and finish the work that the Lord Jesus gave me to do” (GNT). And what did he say that work was? To tell people the good news about God’s grace.
Fulfilling your mission in the world—there’s a word for that in the Bible. It’s called evangelism. And it is the fifth purpose God has for your life.
My dad was a man on a mission. He was a pastor for 50 years, but a few years ago he died of cancer. The last week of his life he was delusional, very frail and had lost all this weight from cancer. One night he became agitated and tried to get out of bed.
My wife, Kay, said: “Jimmy, you can’t get out of bed. Lie back down, you’re very weak. You’re dying.”
But he tried again to get out of bed, and my wife said again, “No, please, lie back down in the bed.” She forced him back down in the bed and then asked him, “What is it you need?”
He said: “Gotta save one more for Jesus. Gotta save one more for Jesus. Gotta save one more for Jesus.” He said this over and over and in the next hour must have repeated it 100 times. “Gotta save one more for Jesus.”
As I sat there by his bedside, I put my head down, praying, and tears were running down my cheeks. My dad reached up and put his hand on my head—as if he were blessing me—and said: “Save one more for Jesus. Save one more for Jesus.”
I intend for that to be the theme of the rest of my life. And I invite you to make it the theme of your life. You were made for a mission.
The Bible says that David “served God’s purpose in his own generation” (Acts 13:36, NIV). I can’t think of a better epitaph. That’s what I want said about my life—that when I die people will say of me, “He served God’s purpose in his generation.”
And that’s what I want people to say about you. In this article I’ve shared from God’s Word what it means to live a life of purpose, a purpose-driven life. What are you going to do about it?
Despite authoring one of the most successful books in history, the Saddleback Church pastor remains focused on something even greater
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, Rick 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 celebrity 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.
He remains a pastor’s pastor, which is why I invited him to be guest editor of this issue on knowing your life purpose. In a day when scandal among clergy is far too common, Rick is a shining example of what can be accomplished when a man knows his purpose in life. I hope you’re inspired as you read these articles, and that you share them with friends—either in print or online. In addition, we want to do our part to enlist your participation and thousands of others’ in his PEACE Plan to:
Plant faith communities
Equip servant leaders
Assist the poor
Care for the sick
Educate the next generation
To mark the 10th anniversary of The Purpose Driven Life’s release, he’s rereleased the book for a new generation and is focusing on encouraging the church to truly be the church through projects such as the PEACE Plan.
In a culture increasingly gone haywire, and at a time when most “successful” pastors are seemingly more concerned with being liked and making people feel good rather than sounding a prophetic alarm, Rick is a role model. He isn’t afraid to speak out. Though the liberal media doesn’t favor him more than any other Bible-believing leader, at least they can’t blast him for saying off-the-wall things. He’s savvy yet sticks to the Word of God. And he does this while battling behind the scenes some enormous challenges that would crush many men or neutralize their influence.
I believe part of this favor is because Rick doesn’t just rail against the culture but offers solutions. He pastors one of the nation’s largest churches in arguably the most liberal state in the Union. Yet by every indication—in reading about it and visiting firsthand—Saddleback is growing, healthy and making a true difference.
The articles here from Rick and his staff are meant to inspire you to do the same wherever you are. I ask you to not only read them but also devour them, meditate on how they apply to you and resolve to put them into practice. But don’t stop with print. Visit ministrytodaymag.com to read fresh content each day during January and February on this issue’s theme of knowing your life purpose.
You can also get this 24/7 on our free Charisma News app, available at any app store or by texting “charisma” to 24587. Once on the app, click the “Ministry” tab to read content directly related to the ministry world. In addition, you’ll have access to breaking news and spiritual insight from Charisma News, daily devotionals and other good stuff. We recently added this tab to the app and are experimenting to see how many people use it. Eventually we may develop an app exclusively for Ministry Today. So let us know what you think by downloading the app, using it and giving us your comments.
You’ll also be interested in Daniel Kolenda’s article on finding God’s will. Though it’s the lone entry from a non-Saddleback contributor, it fits perfectly with this issue’s theme. Look for more from Daniel, who is Reinhard Bonnke’s successor at Christ for All Nations, online at ministrytodaymag.com, where we’re also giving away copies of his new book, Live Before You Die.
Ultimately, I hope all these resources help you either discover or reaffirm your life purpose.
You don’t have to be afraid of discovering God’s will. The process is always covered by His grace and the natural giftings He gives us.
As a little boy raised in the church, I was often confused by the words of certain songs. For instance, whenever the song “Bringing in the Sheaves” was sung, I thought we were singing about bringing in the “sheeps.” I always wondered where we would get these “sheeps” and why we wanted to bring them in anyway. Spiritual themes, whether spoken or sung, can easily confuse the simple mind of a child; and while I learned quite early that “sheeps” is not even a word, the topic of God’s will continued to be a point of confusion for a long time.
I remember another song we used to sing, usually after a missionary had told depressing stories about the hardships and toils of the mission field: “Jesus, use me / Oh, Lord, don’t refuse me / Surely there’s a work that I must do / And even though it’s humble, help my will to crumble / Though the cost be great, I’ll work for You.”
As wonderful as those words are in and of themselves, there was something about the combination of the lyrics, the music and the context that made me afraid of God’s will for my life. I thought He must have something simply dreadful for me to do. I just knew He was going to send me deep into the jungle where I would live in a mud hut, survive on a diet of grubs and wind up being eaten by cannibals.
Looking back, my naïveté is quite amusing now, but the reality is that many people—ministry leaders included—really are afraid to discover God’s will for their lives, even if subconsciously.
They think: What if God wants me to do something I don’t want to do? What if God wants me to do something I’m not good at? What if doing God’s will means I have to give up my hopes and dreams? I think sometimes people haven’t discovered God’s will simply because they are afraid to.
God’s Will Fits You
After I preached at a certain Bible college one of the students approached me. He was nearing graduation and had been seeking God’s will for many years but still had no direction. He asked me, “How can I figure out what God wants me to do with my life?”
We were standing next to a lamp, and I noticed that it had been unplugged. I pointed to the plug lying on the ground and said to him: “How do you know what that three-pronged contraption is for? Should I stick it in my ear or use it to comb my hair?”
“Of course not,” he replied. “It goes into the electric socket.”
How did he know that? Because of its shape. That plug fit so perfectly into that electric socket that there was no question that it was made for it. Even a child who had never seen a plug or socket before could figure out that they were made for each other.
This is one way you can know what God wants from you. Where do you fit? What do you enjoy? What brings you delight and satisfaction?
I have heard people teach that God’s will is always difficult and requires great sacrifice. But I have seen that the most effective people in any ministry or occupation, or just life in general, are not the ones forcing themselves to do some dreadful task because they feel it is God’s will. Rather it is the ones who are doing something they enjoy so much that they feel guilty taking a salary for it.
When you find something that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning, when you find something that challenges and thrills you, when you find something that you sense you were made to do, chances are you are getting close to discovering God’s will for your life.
This does not mean that obedience, death to self and sacrifice are never required or necessary. But when a person is doing what he or she was created to do, there is a taste of sweetness in the sacrifice, a sense of fulfillment in the obedience and an enduring hope in the suffering.
With Your Gift Comes His Gift
We often talk about the fivefold ministry gifts—apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher and evangelist—that are listed in Ephesians 4. But it is vital that we remember what it says in verse 7, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
Grace comes with every gift! Jesus is the fullest expression of all of the five ministries, but when He ascended He distributed 20 percent of His ministry to the apostles, 20 percent to the prophets, 20 percent to the pastors, 20 percent to the teachers and 20 percent to the evangelists. Not only did He give the gifts, He also gave grace according to the measure of the gift.
Did you ever receive some special gift for your birthday as a kid, then after you had torn open the package you realized it needed batteries to operate? When Jesus gives a gift, He also gives the batteries the gift requires to operate. The battery for “the gift of Christ” is grace. But He will give you only the measure of grace you need for the gift He has given.
I hear a lot of preachers talking about “burnout” these days, and it doesn’t surprise me. Imagine a pure pastor who is wonderfully gifted in his pastoral office. He is using 100 percent of his God-given ministry gift, yet his gift is only 20 percent of what his congregation needs. This precious pastor is working around the clock, attempting to provide 100 percent of what the church requires to be perfected and edified in the way Ephesians 4:12 describes, yet he has only 20 percent of the grace to do that job!
Anyone can see that this is a formula for disaster. If a person’s body has only 20 percent functionality, we would say that person is handicapped. If an airplane lost all but 20 percent of its mechanical capabilities, the pilot would bring it in for an emergency landing. If a business operated at only 20 percent output, it would soon go bankrupt.
In Philippians 1, Paul is talking to his ministry partners (the ones who were supporting him financially). In verse 5 he expresses his gratitude for their partnership in the work of the gospel, and then says in verse 7, “Ye all are partakers of my grace” (KJV). Do you realize that you can actually tap into the grace that is on someone else’s life? By partnering with Paul’s gift, the Ephesians became partakers of the grace on his life!
Let’s go back to my example of the pastor who is burning out. Rather than attempting to provide 100 percent of his church’s needs with 20 percent of the gift and grace, he should partner with others who are gifted in the areas he is not. When he partners with their gift, he will also become a partaker in their grace, and the whole church will benefit.
The principle is simple but profound, and Eph. 4:7 encapsulates it: “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” The grace comes with the gift!
Although this verse is set in the context of the fivefold ministry gifts, it is not applicable just to those called into “full-time ministry.” The Bible says this grace is given to every one of us according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
Whenever God calls you to do something, He will always supply the perfect measure of grace so you will be able to operate in your gift. But whenever you try to operate outside your gift, you will find it difficult, burdensome and miserable because there will be no grace for it.
Take, for instance, someone who is called to live a celibate life. The apostle Paul was called to this. In fact, he said in 1 Cor. 7 that remaining single was a good thing, and he went so far as to say: “I wish that all men were like I myself am [in this matter of self-control]. But each has his own special gift from God, one of this kind and one of another” (v. 7, AMP). Although Paul preferred singleness and wished everyone would remain single, as he was, he had the wisdom to recognize that his ability to lead a happy and full life without a spouse was a special gift from God.
Paul understood that without the gift, there would be no grace. This is why he warned against those who would forbid marriage (see 1 Tim. 4:3). We have seen in the modern Roman Catholic Church priests who have been forbidden to marry, though many neither have the gift nor the grace to remain single. The result has been an appalling international scandal that has shamed Christianity and landed many priests behind bars.
Paul’s singleness was a gift, and with the gift God gave him the grace. Without the grace Paul would have seen his singleness not as a gift but as a burden.
An interesting side note here is that because Paul was given the calling, gift and grace to lead a celibate life, he said, “I wish that all men were like I myself am.” I have noticed that when the gift and grace are on a person’s life to do something, it seems so natural and obvious to them that they think everyone else should be doing it as well.
Grace Makes All the Difference
There are two lessons to learn from this principle:
1. Don’t make the mistake of trying to force those around you to do what God has called you to do. And don’t look down on them for doing something other than what you think is so important! Recognize that, as Paul said, “Each has his own special gift from God, one of this kind and one of another” (1 Cor. 7:7, AMP).
2. If you think everyone should be doing one particular thing, chances are that is what you are called to do! If you think everyone should be an evangelist, you are probably an evangelist. If you think everyone should be a political activist, then that is probably what God is calling you to do! When God’s gift and grace rest on a person for a certain task or calling, he is able to do with joy what seems difficult, or even impossible, to others.
It is interesting that as a boy I dreaded the thought of being sent into the jungle in obedience to the call, but today I often go to the “jungle,” preaching the gospel in Africa and around the world—and I don’t know of anything I would rather do. I love my life, and I love my calling as a missionary-evangelist.
What I had not taken into consideration as a child was this great truth: The grace comes with the gift, and the grace makes all the difference.
With this understanding, you never need to be afraid to discover God’s will for your life. If He calls you to do something, He will also give you the grace to do it. When you are in God’s will, covered by His grace, it is the most wonderful place to be in the whole world.
Daniel Kolenda is a missionary evangelist who has led more than 10 million people to Christ face-to-face through massive, open-air evangelistic campaigns in some of the most dangerous, difficult and remote locations on earth. He is president and CEO of Christ for All Nations and hosts an internationally syndicated television program.