Maintaining Momentum in Disciple-Making Ministry (Phase Five)

This is part of the series How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making. Listen below from 19:12–end.

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SM: The fifth and final part of the process is what we call maintaining momentum.

This is very important, because so often we get excited at the beginning of the school year, we launch a new ministry initiative, and maybe it runs out of steam by Christmas. We’re busy and we get tired. It’s very important to maintain momentum. Part of maintaining momentum is that constant cycle of reforming your personal convictions and doing loving honest evaluations.

How is the ministry growing? Where are we seeing gospel growth in people? Are there blockages that are stopping us? Do we need to change our tactics perhaps? Perhaps what we are doing isn’t working. We need to find another way of doing it.

Part of maintaining momentum (this might sound counterintuitive) is giving each other permission to fail. If we don’t feel there’s momentum and we realize it’s because it’s not working, it’s okay to say, “This didn’t work. Let’s fail forward. How do we learn from this? And then, how do we change it and then try a new initiative to do it?”

Another key component for maintaining momentum is what we call the Uluru Graph (as developed by Phillip Jensen).

Uluru Graph - Phillip Jensen tool for Leading Ministry

The Uluru Graph (above) contains an incline, a high long plateau, and then a decline on the other side.

When you think about the life cycle of a typical church or ministry, the first five to ten years is just starting up and growing. (That is the beginning incline).

At some point in the startup phase, you need to hit the line of viability. The line of viability is where you have enough people, enough finances, and perhaps a place to meet so that you’re a viable ministry. That can be anywhere from two years to ten years, depending on your context.

Eventually, the initial growth will wear off, and you will plateau. When you plateau, it’s important to understand that the length of that plateau will depend on your ability to reinvent yourself as a ministry – to innovate and implement. I’m not talking about being creative for the sake of being creative, but always asking ourselves, “How are we doing making disciples? Do we need to reinvent the way we do things? Do we need to keep innovating and growing?” So, I’m not talking about marrying the culture – just asking ourselves, “Are we reinventing?”

If you don’t reinvent, the plateau period will be shorter for your ministry, and eventually, you will start the long slow road of decline. Once you decline, it’s very difficult to turn around. Eventually, you will get below the line of viability, where you won’t have the finances or people anymore. And the ministry will end up dying and closing its doors. So, when you are on that plateau, you need to keep reinventing and implementing.

If you’re leading a ministry or church, it’s good to have a conversation and ask each other, “Where are we on the Uluru graph? Are we in the growing phase, or are we on that plateau? If we are on that plateau, how can we innovate and implement and keep reinventing what we’re doing so that we can maintain momentum? If we’re on the decline, where are we on the decline? What radical emergency steps do we need to take?”

If you are below the line of viability, maybe it’s time to have that hard conversation that it’s time to close the doors.

KH: One hard reality of the five-step process outlined in The Vine Project is that implementing the process takes time. You can’t just plow through it in a year or two. What encouragement would you give to a person who is a pastor at a church that just has an uphill battle of changing church culture?

SM: First, I would like to remind them of something I remind myself of that Martyn Lloyd Jones said many years ago: “Soul work is slow work.” I’ve called that to mind many times when I’ve been discouraged in ministry or I’ve been meeting with someone and feel like nothing is happening. The reality is that the truth takes time.

It’s helpful to remember that God is very patient with us. He is a careful gardener, pruning us as we go. It’s a process of years. When we were converted, it wasn’t overnight that we had all our theological “i”s dotted and our “t”s crossed and we were mature Christians. God is slowing pruning us, growing us, and transforming us in the image of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through the Word of God and prayer by the power of His Holy Spirit.

The second thing I would say to encourage people who are struggling is that, as you mentioned, this process doesn’t happen overnight. We want things to happen. I would say, realistically, depending on your context, you’re talking three to five years to see any significant change. And that’s hard for us to hear because we live in a culture where we want a quick fix. We’re looking for seven steps. Give me that secret silver bullet, that magical thing I need to do to build a bigger, better church. We need to release our minds from building a bigger, better church. We are not called to build a bigger, better church. We are called to make disciples of all the nations. Our goal is to be faithful. It’s to be faithful to God, it’s to be faithful to His Word, it’s to be faithful to people. That’s success.

It’s just like marriage. A successful marriage is a marriage where you are faithful to one another, right? I’m not talking about the basics of marital faithfulness – you’re faithful to one another in all things. Ministry is the same way. It’s about being faithful to God and His Word and His people. That’s success.

[Read our quotation summary of Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent Hughes.]

The reality is that it takes most churches about five years to turn the first corner. The hard thing about that is, typically in a church, most pastors last three to five years, and then they move on. They get frustrated, or the congregation gets frustrated with them. “We’re not seeing enough change, and it’s time for you to go.” Or the pastor thinks he’s not seeing enough changes and, “It’s time for me to go.”

And I say, “Stop! Actually, this is where you just might turn the first corner.” Don’t leave after five years. After five years have an evaluation with your team and ask where you are going. Then ask what’s next?

KH: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a disciple-making church isn’t built in a day either. And trying to shortcut the process can potentially do damage to the real work in ministry.

SM: Absolutely.

KH: As we said, the fourth “P” of the four “P”s of discipleship is perseverance. So, may the Lord help us persevere, and may those who are reading persevere in the ministry of making disciples.

SM: Absolutely. And I just want to say as well, Kevin, that we need to remember that people are not projects. God has called us in ministry to shepherd His people. People take time, and every person is different. So, when you go through these phases of conviction with your church, some people will be on board with you right away. Some people will need time to be convicted and convinced that this is the way to go. And some people might stand against you. That’s just the reality of ministry. So, you’re working with people, and every person is different. It just takes time.

Learn more about The Vine Project or Vinegrowers Ministry.

How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making

We long to see the Word of God flow mightily through every church to every nation. For the Word to flow powerfully through a church, it must start with leadership and flow to members who labor toward gospel growth in their own lives and the lives of others. We want the Word of God and prayer to drive the church culture.

We’ve shared our love for Colin Marshall and Tony Payne’s book The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Around Disciple-Making on the blog before. This new series of posts shares the transcript of a conversation between Sean Martin and Kevin Halloran through the five phases of The Vine Project.

How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making

  1. The Foundational Convictions of Expository Ministry (Phase One) | 0:00–07:54
  2. The Four “P”s of Disciple Making Ministry | 07:55–10:30
  3. Reforming Your Personal Culture (Phase Two) |10:31– 13:46
  4. Honestly Evaluating Your Disciple-Making Ministry (Phase Three)| 13:47–16:11
  5. Discipleship in the Church: Innovation and Implementation (Phase Four) | 16:12–19:11
  6. Maintaining Momentum in Disciple-Making Ministry (Phase Five) | 19:12–end

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Discipleship in the Church: Innovation and Implementation (Phase Four)

This is part of the series How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making. Listen below from 16:12–19:11.

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The fourth phase is what we call innovate and implement.

At this point we know what we need to be doing in ministry. We need to make disciples of all the nations so that they might obey all that the Lord Jesus Christ has commanded. And the way, the means, of making disciples is the Word of God and prayer. As the Spirit of God backs the Word of God, people become disciples

Innovating and implementing is asking ourselves: Where has God placed us? Who are our neighbors? How do we make disciples of those people? And that’s going to look different depending on your context.

How we go about discipleship is different in different contexts – whether you’re a pastor leading a church, whether you’re a student working on a campus, whether you’re a youth group leader during the week, or whether you’re the person who helps lead Sunday School classes for children on Sunday morning. It’s thinking through pathways for disciple growth:

  • How can we engage people?
  • How can we evangelize people?
  • How can we establish them in the faith?
  • How can we equip them to do the work of ministry?

That cycle repeats itself. The person who is equipped now engages people, evangelizes and establishes them, then equips them, and the cycle repeats. That’s how God is building His kingdom. Be creative: think through the ways you could prayerfully meet people with the Word of God in the context God has placed you in.

I want to give you an example: Some years ago in a country I was pastoring in, we had a young man who was a student thinking about ministry. He was a surfer. He left for the summer, and we didn’t see him.

Four months later he showed up with long hair and a glowing suntan. We said to this young man, “Where were you?”

He said, “I was surfing all summer.” We thought, “Well, that’s a nice way to spend your summer!” And he said, “Actually, I wasn’t just surfing. I was making disciples. Because I can surf, I met with other surfers. All these people in the surfing community are not Christians, but because I’m a good surfer, they respected me. They let me join their surfing community. God opened doors for me to evangelize these surfers all summer, hanging out with them on the waves and having picnics on the beach at night.”

By the end of it so many people came to Christ that he said they needed a church. It was hard for him to put people in other churches. He asked us, “Would you train me to be a planter for the surfing community?” So, we trained him to be a planter, and he went back to that surfing community and planted a church.

So, there’s a situation where a guy was just innovating and implementing along the way. How can I reach surfers with the gospel? How can I get trained, so I can plant a church for surfers on the west coast? He made disciples in a creative way but did it around the Word of God and prayer.

Honestly Evaluating Your Disciple-Making Ministry (Phase Three)

This is part of the series How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making. Listen below from 13:47–16:11.

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Sean Martin: Phase Three of The Vine Project is what we call loving honest evaluation. Loving honest evaluation is having a conversation amongst leaders about where we’re at currently. So, it’s like doing a diagnostic of your church, small group, Sunday school program, or whatever you’re doing.

How are we doing as leaders? Are we prayerfully teaching the Word of God? Are we seeing gospel growth? I’m not just talking about numbers, but are we seeing gospel growth in people? Are we seeing them grow in Christ? Is the place we meet the right place?

For example: I did a workshop some time ago with a church, and one of the things that came out of a loving honest evaluation we had with the leadership team was that the building they were meeting in wasn’t a helpful building to meet in. It was far away from any neighborhoods, it was difficult to find, there was no parking, and they soon realized they weren’t really going to make disciples there. They were always going to have the same people coming all the time because their location was an impediment to disciple making.

Sometimes it gets more personal. Sometimes the thing that comes out of loving honest evaluation is, “Maybe I’m not the actual person to lead this ministry any further. Maybe someone else needs to lead it.” Kevin, those are really hard conversations to have, but they are very important if we are going to grow in our ministries and if we are going grow as disciples of Christ ourselves. We have to have a loving honest evaluation with ourselves and with our leadership teams quite regularly.

Kevin Halloran: Anything worth doing is worth having hard conversations about.

SM: Absolutely. I think one of the reasons we avoid this is because many of us are afraid of conflict. But we need to learn to see that conflict is creative. If conflict is done with godliness and love and care, it can be a real pastoral opportunity for someone to grow and change.

If you are ever having a loving honest evaluation and you realize you need to move someone on to another ministry, it’s okay to say, “I don’t think God has called you to do this, because He hasn’t gifted you do this.” So, if you do that with sensitivity and Christian love, it can be a pastoral opportunity for someone.

Reforming Your Personal Culture (Phase Two)

This is part of the series How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making. Listen below starting at 07:55.

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Kevin Halloran: Can you explain Phase Two of The Vine Project?

Sean Martin: Phase Two is about reforming your personal culture. This isn’t just a one-time thing when we become converted to Christ and we agreed with Him that we want to live under His authority, making disciples as He commanded us. Reforming your personal culture is an ongoing thing.

To give an example: some of the questions I’m always asking are:

Who am I training? Am I making any disciples? Do I even pray for people who aren’t Christians yet? When’s the last time I prayed for someone who wasn’t a believer that God would open a door to share the gospel with them? When’s the last time I prayerfully sought to make a disciple of someone by sharing the gospel with them?

Continue sharpening your convictions. Ask yourself, “Do I believe the Word of God and prayer is the basis of all ministry? Am I seeking in my week to spend as much time as possible to make disciples through the Word of God and prayer?”

If you’re a leader and you’re encouraging your congregation to be disciple makers and you’re not doing it yourself, you’re in a dangerous place.

KH: They’re never going to follow.

SM: Exactly. We need to be leading by example. If people see that the leader is a disciple maker, then they are going to be disciple-makers as well.

I’ll share another example of this: We recently had a potential missionary come to the mission board of our church and say, “I’d like to go to such and such a country and become a missionary. Would you guys support me?” One of the questions I like to ask people who are thinking about being missionaries or gospel workers is: “Are you a missionary here and now?”

Sometimes you’ll be met with a quizzical look when you ask that question. But it’s an important question. Because if your conviction now isn’t, “I want to be making disciples wherever God’s placed me,” it’s not like going through missionary training, receiving funding, and being dropped off in a country suddenly makes you a disciple-making missionary. That has to come out of your conviction about making disciples wherever you are.

KH: We can misunderstand the Great Commission that says, “Go and make disciples,” and think, “I have to go somewhere really far to make disciples.” No, it’s as you’re going in life, wherever the Lord has placed you.

SM: As you go, starting in Jerusalem, then Judea, and Samaria, and then the ends of the earth. Some of us will go to the ends of the earth, but some of us will stay here. We need both. We need people to stay here and make disciples in the workplace. For example, in a full-time ministry, I am not working in the secular workplace. So, I’m not able to make disciples of people working for XYZ Corporation. But if I’m training people to be disciple-makers, they will reach people in places that I can’t reach. And they’ll become disciple makers in that context. You’re a missionary wherever God has placed you.

The Four “P”s of Disciple Making

This is part of the series How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making. Listen below at the timestamp 07:55–10:30.

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KH: There’s something I found incredibly helpful in Phase One. It’s the four “P”s of ministry, the four “P”s of discipleship. Would you mind sharing those?

SM:  The first is the Proclamation of God’s Word in many ways.

We don’t believe that expository ministry is limited to the pulpit. We think that there are a variety of venues for expository ministry because it’s simply teaching God’s Word with God’s intent. Therefore, the first “P” is that we want to find as many venues as possible to proclaim the Word of God because that’s the means of making disciples.

The second is Prayerful Dependence on the Spirit.

As Paul reminded the church in Corinth, one waters and one sows and one reaps, but God is the one who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3). Yes, we can pray; yes, we can prepare; yes, we can teach the Word of God; but we need to prayerfully depend on the Spirit. He is the one who makes the difference. He’s the initiator. He’s the evangelist. It’s by the Spirit of God that people come to faith in Christ. And it’s by the Spirit of God working through the Word that people grow as disciples of Christ.

The third “p” is People.

Ministry is about people. So often we think of ministry as programs. So we have the Sunday service, we have Sunday School for adults, we have Sunday School for children, we have the youth group on Wednesday night, we have small groups in homes. We have all these ministries, and we think that because we have all those programs in place, we’re a godly church. There’s nothing wrong with any of those programs, but again, those programs are trellises. They’re structures we put into place so that hopefully we can do prayerful people work as we proclaim God’s Word to them. We want to see ministry about people, right? So, how do I minister to these people? Prioritize people before programs.

The fourth is Perseverance.

This is a very important thing because of our culture’s inner and outer pressure to be successful. Our culture focuses so much on growth, numbers – what is dynamic and exciting. But the reality is that most of ministry happens in the trenches. It’s slow work. People work is slow. God takes His time. It doesn’t happen overnight, and God often works in a small way. It’s small, slow, and quiet, but over a period of time, you will see that the Spirit of God, through the Word of God, does terrific work in people.

Perseverance is very important, because so often, as things are small or we’re working through difficult situations with people, we’re tempted to give up. We need to press on and persevere.

It’s worth sharing a familiar passage of Scripture that emphasizes the perseverance aspect of discipleship: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1–2, ESV; emphasis added).

The Foundational Convictions of Expository Ministry (Phase One)

This is the first part of the series How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making. Listen below or read the transcript.

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Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran: One of the major goals of Leadership Resources’ ministry in the U.S. and abroad is to develop an expositional mindset for ministry in the pastors and leaders we train.

I’m here with Sean Martin, who is the Program Director for our training in Europe. Sean would you tell us . . . What is an expositional mindset, and why is it so important?

Sean Martin

Sean Martin: I’d be happy to, Kevin. Before I talk about an expositional mindset, let me just define expository preaching or expository ministry.

There are many definitions out there about what expository ministry is or what an expository sermon is. Quite simply, the way I like to define an expository sermon is: teaching God’s Word with God’s intent.

We believe that God is a speaking God. That’s our conviction as evangelical Christians. God speaking through His Word always has intent. God’s Word always has a purpose. And so, expository preaching and teaching is quite simply teaching God’s Word with God’s intent so that the result will be life and transformation, which is always the goal of God’s Word. So that’s how I define expository.

An expositional mindset comes from a conviction. I might be provocative in saying that expository ministry is not limited to the pulpit. Why? Let me ask you a question: Is the Word of God just as powerful between two little old ladies reading the Bible at Starbucks as it is in the pulpit? How you answer that question is foundational. I would argue that the Word of God is just as powerful between two little old ladies reading it at Starbucks as it is in the pulpit.

Has God set some apart to be pastors and preachers? Absolutely. Do we feel the Sunday sermon is paramount in the ministry of the Church? Absolutely. Do we want to see godly men filling pulpits in this country and throughout the world? Absolutely.

But what we also want to say is: “Hearing God’s Word with God’s intent is so great. Do we really only want to have it a half an hour a week on a Sunday, or do we want it all week?” I hope the answer to that question is, “Yes, we want it all the time.”

If expository ministry isn’t just limited to the pulpit, then we’ve got to ask, what does it look like during the week? I would argue that an expositional mindset is having the theological conviction that God’s Word always speaks with a goal of intent, life, and transformation. That does happen in the Sunday sermon, but it also happens in Sunday school. It also happens in a one-to-one Bible meeting. It also happens in small groups. It also happens as you teach your family the Scriptures at dinner. An expositional mindset is the conviction that we want to find as many venues as we can where the Word of God can be prayerfully spoken to other people.

We want to see expository ministry in every single part of the church. We want to see the Word of God and prayer in the driver’s seat in the church. We want to see the Word of God working itself into every ministry of the church. We want to train one another so that we can be expository disciple makers who are in the world with our neighbors, our co-workers, and our family members who are not believers, speaking God’s Word prayerfully into their lives, so that they will become disciples.

KH: How do you see the expositional mindset working itself out practically in churches? How should it work itself out?

SM: First of all I think a helpful thing to do is to read The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, because that book lays the theological and philosophical groundwork about how all ministry is about what we call “vine work.” “Vine work” is Word-based disciple making. Trellises are the structures of ministry, like buildings and meetings, that enable vine ministry to happen.

We need ministry trellises—we need some kind of a structure to do ministry. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but the trellises exist so that we can do the vine work. We want to see God’s work grow. We want see the nations become disciples of Christ. I think reading that book is very helpful because it’ll either be something new to you or a reminder of what ministry is really all about: making disciples.

The follow-up book, The Vine Project, is very helpful because one push back they received from the first book was, “You guys intentionally didn’t give us your seven steps to grow a bigger and better church.” And Colin and Tony would say, “We don’t have seven steps. We don’t have secrets. We’re just taking you back to the scriptural principles of what ministry is all about.” And people would say, “Well that’s fine, but still I go back, and where do I start? How do I start an expositional ministry in my church?”

The Vine Project works through five phases sharing how to grow a Word-focused and discipleship-oriented church.

Phase One: Sharpen Your Convictions

They call the first phase, “Sharpen Your Convictions.” It’s the why, what, who, when, and where of making disciples. Sharpening your convictions really comes back to asking ourselves questions like: Is my conviction that God’s Word brings life and transformation? Is my conviction that the Word of God needs to be in the driver’s seat of every ministry in our church?

KH: . . . making sure you have a solid foundation on a Biblical understanding of discipleship.

SM: Absolutely. It’s coming back to that foundation and asking, “What is ministry all about?” The only way you’re going to have an expository mindset for all of the ministries in your church and in your life is if you have those convictions – that the Word of God and prayer must be in the driver’s seat, and I want to build all my ministries around the Word of God and prayer. That’s how God works. As we prayerfully depend on God’s Spirit and as we teach His Word, God makes disciples. God grows disciples. God equips people for godly living. God equips people for the work of ministry. We have to sharpen our convictions.

Next time we’ll look at the 4 P’s of Disciple making ministry.

How to Prepare to Preach When You Have No Time

According to an unscientific poll, Thom Rainer found that approximately 70% of pastors spend 10 to 18 hours in sermon preparation before preaching.

What about the pastors without 10–18 hours?

Many pastors (especially bi-vocational pastors and church planters) have to balance the rigors of a full-time job, family responsibilities, and shepherding the flock into their work week, and an extra 10 hours isn’t possible. And what if someone dies? Last-minute funeral sermons don’t prepare themselves during already busy weeks.

What is one to do?

This is a question we think about regularly, usually in regard to bi-vocational pastors we train around the world. My colleague and LRI trainer, Sean Martin, suggests overloaded preachers consider this simple method for squeezing in more prep time:

  1. Get up thirty minutes earlier than normal and work your way through the text with a hermeneutical principle, taking notes along the way. For example, Monday might be the day for Asking Good Questions, while on Tuesday you consider the structure of the passage.
  2. Keep your notepad with you during the week, and squeeze in times of meditation and reflection on your text, taking notes as thoughts percolate. Your lunch hour may prove fruitful, as well as other random times in the day.
  3. Before bed, take 20 or 30 minutes more to think and pray through the text.

When this is faithfully practiced during the week, it may open up an additional five or six hours for study and meditation on your text.

  1. Come Saturday, a substantial part of the work is done, and you would then need to organize your thoughts and finalize sermon details.

Six months after recommending this method to a group of Haitian pastors we train in exposition, Sean returned and asked what was new. Arnaud, a bi-vocational pastor, eagerly shared how much of a difference this method made in his preaching. With extra study and meditation time, and thus a better grasp of the passage, Arnaud testified that this method has changed him. Now he feels more confident handling God’s Word, and many in his congregation have noticed a positive difference.

Pastor Arnaud (blue shirt) works through 2 Timothy with other pastors in Training National Trainers program.

While there are reasons why following this method isn’t the ideal situation, many busy pastors will never have the “ideal.” If you are able to have considerable sermon prep time, rejoice!—and don’t take your privilege lightly.

But if you struggle to balance full-time work with shepherding your flock, take heart that God knows your situation. He is not a taskmaster demanding you prepare more hours than you are able. He knows your sacrifice and effort. Do the best you can with your time, and pray for grace in your preparation and preaching of God’s Word. God will both help you and honor His Word.

Tracing Theological Themes Through the Whole Bible Story

The Bible is one main story with one main focus, sharing what God has done and will do through His Son Jesus Christ. Like any epic story, there are many threads that run through it. Understanding those threads and how they develop aids our study of Scripture. LRI’s Kevin Halloran interviewed Tim Sattler, International Training Director for Leadership Resources, on the importance of tracing themes throughout the whole Bible.

Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran

Kevin: Tim, can you explain the importance of tracing Biblical Theological threads?

Tim: Sure. The Bible’s one story, and like a story, there are multiple threads that develop and are involved. These threads hold the story together all the way along. We don’t have a series of disconnected stories. There are threads that pick up early on.

Example 1: Comparing Genesis with Revelation

Tim Sattler

Tim Sattler

If you have ever looked at the beginning chapters of Genesis and the ending chapters of Revelation, it’s interesting how many of those threads come together. We see the heavens and earth being created in Genesis and the new heavens and new earth being announced in Revelation 21. We see land and water and sea at the beginning, and land and no sea at the end. We see a garden in the presence of God and God dwelling with man—the great announcement of Rev. 21 is the dwelling of God is with man again.

Example 2: The Promised Seed

There are these different threads that pick up through the storyline. One key thread would be the promised seed that is going to conquer Satan and overcome sin (Genesis 3:15). The whole genealogical structure of Genesis follows this thread along. Abraham it picks up again. Later in the Davidic promise focused more specifically so that we would know who we are looking for in this king that would come.

Example 3: The Temple

One great thread is the temple, the idea of God dwelling with His people. They were pushed out of that dwelling because of their sin. They were pushed out of that place of His presence but the tabernacle, the temple—all these symbolic images where God comes and dwells among His people. Interestingly, both the tabernacle and temple are filled with God’s glory, but the third temple after the exile isn’t. You don’t see that glory come back to the temple. There’s something missing.

But then you have Jesus standing and the Spirit descends on Him like a dove. We understand that He came and tabernacled among us. This is God Himself tabernacling. It’s not an accident that John uses that terminology in John 1:14. All along we see that God is wanting to restore His presence with His people.

In Ephesians, Paul says we are being built up into the true temple, the dwelling of God in the Spirit. You can follow the theme of the Holy Spirit from the garden all the way through the book of Acts. It’s God’s presence restored through Christ that makes us the indwelling of God.

Example 4: A sin-atoning sacrifice

The strand of sacrifice goes along right from Genesis 4 all the way through to the cross.

These stories ebb and flow in the overall story but they are all pulled together like the strands of a rope. As a rope has many different strands, so the story of the Bible has many different strands.

Kevin: It’s rich to see how the story develops and those threads develop, how the Old Testament points forward to Christ. Also, as we understand who Christ is for us, we can look back at the Old Testament and see the build-up and appreciate Christ all the more.

Tim: You can. That’s right.

Kevin: You’ve mentioned to me in the past that you prefer to say tracing Biblical Theological threads rather than themes. Why is that?

Tim: It’s not a big deal to me frankly! I would use theme and thread interchangeably except for this: As we have been training pastors and sometimes use the word ‘themes’, it gets confused with thematic preaching. Instead of telling the story or understanding the development of Biblical Theology in a storyline, it becomes a topical proof-texting of a theme in the Bible—which really doesn’t help. That is more systematic theology (which is fine) rather than biblical theology.

As we are talking about tracing a thread or a theme, we are really trying to unfold the natural development of each part of the story. The tabernacle isn’t as great as the temple, is it? One’s a more permanent place, there’s been a development from one dwelling place to another. It’s there to show us that God wants to be in a permanent place with His people. In Genesis the dwelling place was lost, but it will be restored. We find out that that the tabernacle and temple were never intended to be the permanent place—the permanent place is the New Heavens and the New Earth.

What we’re trying to do is keep it in language that helps us understand the development of a storyline. Not simply tracing thematic theological ideas.

Kevin: How do you recommend tracing Biblical Theological themes?

Tim: Read the Bible.

Kevin: Good answer.

Tim: We need to know the Bible.

Kevin: There’s no shortcut. We shouldn’t want a shortcut.

Tim: If you really want to know what David Copperfield is about, read David Copperfield. You need to read the whole book; you need to read the whole story. Dickens put a marvelous story out there for us and the Bible is an even greater story. We really do need to read the Bible. We need to know how each book fits with the unfolding of the story, which books are really mainline in the story, and which are commentary on the main story. We need to know what’s happening.

Kevin: Which biblical books are main-line verses commentary on the main story?

Tim: Genesis and Exodus would be mainline. Leviticus would be commentary into the story because it’s not moving the story along, it’s bringing more depth to the story. It’s the whole sacrificial system. Numbers is moving the story along, in the wilderness. Deuteronomy at a point where you are getting ready to transition, but is at a moment in time as Moses is giving his last words. Joshua moves us along. Judges moves us along. 1 & 2 Samuel move us along. Kings does as well. Ezra and Nehemiah coming back from the exile carry the story along. Most of the prophets would be voices spoken into the people and the times. The Psalms speak into the times. Basically, Psalms are songs about the times that are put together in kind of a symphony looking back, the last compilation of these is looking back over Israel’s history from Moses all the way to after the exile coming back into a temple that’s been rebuilt. It’s a commentary into how God has been working among His people and that it’s God’s king meets God’s people through this valley to God’s grace. There are books that carry the story along; there are books that speak into it.

The storyline is contained in fewer books than we think so it’s easy to get that storyline.

Kevin: You had mentioned before that you recommend four key questions for understanding Biblical Theology as it pertains to a passage.

Tim: Yes, they are questions a friend Phil Wheeler from Sydney, Australia, put together. I think they’re really good questions:

  1. What’s the story so far?

Wherever you are in the Bible, you need to know what the story has been leading up to that point in time. What’s happened so far?

  1. What’s this story about?

Now we are looking at what a particular story contributes. What is it about?

Take Judges, for instance. What is Judges about? It’s about everybody doing what’s right in his own eyes. That’s commentary. It’s also about a leadership gap after Joshua. There’s a question, who would be king? The more you study these judges the more you see they are trying to fill a leadership void. But they are going about it the wrong way. We find out the end in the next story, not Ruth, but Samuel—God provides a king. He wants it to be His king and His way: David.

  1. What do we learn about how God does things?

Before we even look at leading us to Christ there are lessons about the way God works. The way God is accomplishing things in the world.

  1. What do we learn about the way God does things through Jesus?

Not every story is on a major highway towards Jesus. We need to learn about the way God does things. But there are major stories; every book is contributing to the major story of Jesus. So, what do we learn about how God does things through Jesus.

Often times we miss true Biblical Theology because we don’t get it on the book level first; we are looking for Jesus in every little detail. A lot of preachers look for Jesus in too many places and make too many wrong connections. We need to understand what the book contributes to the story first.

What we learn about how God does things through Jesus and then how pieces unfold that. There may be more than one strand in a book, but at the same time, we want to be with those major strands as we are talking about Christ.

Rejoicing in the Promised Shepherd-King

The Shepherd — Ezekiel 34

One of the scary facts about life is that a bad leader can greatly damage to a nation and its people. People don’t want their lives in the hands of people who don’t know their needs and seem only out to help themselves!

The book of Ezekiel chronicles the horrific consequences of Israel’s bad leadership. Israel had been taken captive by Babylon. Jerusalem had been pillaged, and many began to doubt God’s care for His people. God’s promises to bless Abraham and to crown an everlasting Davidic king in seemed like wishful thinking, or even a lie.

Ezekiel 34 diagnoses the leadership problem, lambasting Israel’s leadership for failing to care for God’s flock and only being out for themselves (Ezekiel 34:2). Instead of caring for the weak, sick, injured, or stray sheep, leaders ruled violently and with cruelty, leaving Israel to become food for the wild animals. This selfish and corrupt leadership kindled the anger of God enough to say, “I am against the shepherds. I will demand My flock from them and prevent them from shepherding the flock.” (10).

When God’s appointed leaders fail, He took matters into His own hands and promised a future leader, His “servant David”, to make a covenant of peace between God and His people (25), bring “showers of blessing” (26), create peace and prosperity (28–29), and usher in God’s glorious presence for His people (30–31).

Oh, how we need such a shepherd!

The Coming of the Promised Shepherd King

Six centuries after the initial promise, the Davidic Shepherd-King finally arrives in the person of Jesus Christ, and His coming couldn’t be better news for a vulnerable world longing for a good leader.

With the words of John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd”, Jesus identifies as the promised Shepherd-King who would feed His sheep lasting food, care for and protect the sheep entrusted to Him, seek out lost sheep (John 10:16), and know His sheep intimately (John 10:14). Far from fattening Himself by feasting on the sheep, this Shepherd provides spiritual nourishment to the vast multitudes that draw near to Him (Mark 6:30–44) and loves them so much that He laid down His very life (John 10:11).

Jesus Christ: Our Good Shepherd

We all have moments where God’s promises seem too good to be true. But as we ponder how Christ cares for us each day, we will see just how great and glorious His coming into the world is.

  • When it seems like God has abandoned you, trust that Christ, “God with us”, has sought you out and signed a covenant with His own blood, bringing peace with God and His comforting presence.
  • When you don’t know what to think in our truth-starved, relativistic world, listen to the Good Shepherd who speaks eternal truths to His sheep.
  • When you feel like no one cares for you, draw near to Christ your shepherd who knows you intimately and loves you enough to lay down His life for you (John 10:15).
  • When the world’s many dangers bring fear, rejoice that He will protect you from the worst spiritual assaults, bring perfect justice to the false shepherds and that He will not let anybody or anything separate you from His love.
  • When you feel like you can’t go on spiritually, the Bread of Life will satisfy your hungry souls by leading us beside still waters and green pastures (Psalm 23:2–3).

God has not left us helpless!

The Good Shepherd Jesus Christ, through His Word and Spirit, and through the care of faithful pastors and leaders, provides for us more richly than we could ever imagine. Let us give glory to Him!


    Launching Pastoral Training Movements Worldwide


    The mission of Leadership Resources is to launch pastoral training movements worldwide. This blog shares articles, resources, and updates from staff of God’s work around the world through our training. If you’re new to our blog, start here.


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