Why Your Church (Family, Organization) Needs Education AND Training

I am a college president.  In some ways, college ruined me.  In other ways, it made me better and deeper.  Now, as I enter into my 5th decade of formal leadership roles, I am concerned for what I often see missing in my own life, the lives of people I’ve led, pastored, and parented.  I’m speaking about the seeming conflict between education and training. 


Education, at its most basic form, is equipping learners with knowledge and tools to help them see and understand the world most broadly.   Training, at its most basic form, is about mastery and being able to learn, grasp, and become proficient at reproducing a skill in a narrow sense.  And therein lies the seeming and apparent conflict.  I have to confess that at times my education caused me to be broad and unfocused.  I had great training when I was younger and at times my education caused me to reject the narrowness of my training.  Today, in our diffused and unfocused culture where I lead a complex Christ centered university, I wish that I had been able to better navigate the tensions between my education and training.


            Education broadens, deepens, grows, enlarges, and removes barriers to understanding in a world of diversity of perspectives and worldviews.  Training develops, deepens, sharpens, refines, equips, and has reproductive capacity built in to its disciplines.  I’ve been reflecting on grace and truth a lot lately.  In some ways, I think Education is like grace and Training is like truth.  Which is better?  In this brief article, I’m going to make a specific argument about spiritual life.  But, I think the applications are for parenting, organizational leadership, and cultural influence.  Join me in the journey and let’s figure out how education and training work spiritually and then you can apply it in other realms as well.   I’m still figuring it out, but hoping these reflections will encourage you in your leadership and influence journey.


The Miracle of “And”


            I believe in the “miracle of and”.  Many years ago, as I was in the process of educational endeavors, I learned about the “dichotomization fallacy”.  That is the tendency we have in human experience to think “either/or”, and to believe that any issue we are facing has a singular answer in the form of an “x or y”.   The truth is often more likely “both/and”.  Rarely is there a single “silver bullet” to what ails our family, organization, church, or ministry.  So, I’ve learned to look for multiple factors that may be contributing to the overall culture or blockage that is preventing success rather than assuming a singular point of blockage.  The seeming conflict between education and training is one such area where I have come to believe that the “miracle of and” is imperative.


            When pastors are surveyed about whether they are making reproducing disciples in their ministry, a shockingly high percentage of 99% say NO! This is a crisis of epidemic proportions in the American Church and simply must be addressed in prayer, repentance, and Jesus honoring leadership for the future health of the people of God and our witness in the community. In ministry contexts, I think that discipleship (helping a learner become a follower become a teacher/trainer) is BOTH education AND training.  When we are growing people from infancy to adulthood, there is both a content aspect to our faith and a conduct dimension to our faith.   Beliefs and Behaviors are intertwined, organically related, and should automatically and robustly result from great spiritual environments.  Healthy churches and leaders want to see both evidenced in the lives of those who come into relationship with Christ.  But, I think we have sadly seen the separation of content and conduct and therefore often produce followers of Christ who are either full of grace with very little truth foundation in their lives, or followers of Jesus who have strong truth content to their faith, but live with very little grace.  Healthy followers of Jesus are full of grace and truth, as He was and is (John 1:14). 


Education in Spiritual Formation


            Discipleship is about forming Christ in the life of a believer through the spiritual transformation of the mind (Romans 12:1-2).  Obviously, the Holy Spirit is the only one who produces genuine growth for a young man or woman, but the “seedbed” of that growth is an increasing understanding and application of God’s Word into their thinking and living.  Churches across America and the world are grappling with how to teach, transmit, and reproduce the content aspect of our faith.  It seems clear, upon reflection of the church in the US these past several decades, that we simply must have increasingly systematic, reflective, and relationally mentored truth streams in our churches.


 I’m very sure that there is no “silver bullet” in the form of a class/seminar/workbook process for every new believer in Jesus.  But, I am equally sure that baby Christians do not become mature and healthy reproducing disciples of Jesus without being discipled in relationship and learning that comes from “fathers and mothers” in the faith.  Sadly, too few churches are arranged around the principles of fathering and mothering that we know produce strong spiritual sons and daughters.


Training in Spiritual Formation


            Discipleship is about forming Christ in the life of a believer through continual surrender of our will to His will (Colossians 2:6-7).  Most parents know Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it”.  Study of that text reveals that one of the meanings of the word “train” is to “make narrow”.  Discipleship is about training in that we are helping men and women to become more and more like Christ in the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we live.  The Apostle John is clear that if we know Him (Jesus), then we “must walk as Jesus did” (I John 2:3-6).


            Discipleship training is the aspect of spiritual formation where we cultivate surrender of our will to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and learn to follow God with our mind and with our heart, and with our feet.  In my experience, this never happens until we are in relationship with others where we allow genuine and grace filled accountability; in essence, that we allow other people to speak truth into our lives.   So much of our modern experience of Christianity is full of anonymity, crowds, and lack of any real accountability.  I have led churches that were structured to take people from anonymity to intimacy and we had some really awesome experiences with success.  My burden is that I think far too many get accustomed to and remain at the point of anonymity and therefore are never trained in righteousness, but believe they are “Christian” because they have been exposed to the environment of the church without an encounter with God.


            Using retail terms, I’m very concerned that we have sacrificed much of the American church to a very “low barrier to entry” and “low cost” orientation.  The gospel, as seen in the pages of the NT, clearly is a “high price” strategy with a “low barrier to entry” (there is that “both/and reality again!).  As church (and family and organization) leaders, we simply must find the pathway to lead our people into deeper encounters with Jesus that produce a deeper desire to follow Him on the “narrow” path (Matthew 7:13-14)


The End Result


My prayer is that Christ is shaped into our hearts and we progressively learn to surrender to His Spirit as we learn to speak the truth to one another and grow up to maturity as disciples of Jesus (Ephesians 4:29-32).  When we think like and act like Jesus as the result of education and training that comes from organic and healthy relationships, we will reproduce health in the lives of those we are able to impact for the sake of His kingdom.


Your church, your family, and your organization need fantastic education and fantastic training. Educating and deepening the people in your life by teaching them how to think well, believe well, discern between truth and error, and understand worldview will hold them in good stead for the course of their lives.  Training and equipping the people in your life by helping them to master skills and life application content will enable them to reproduce life and health in others.   I pray that you experience the “miracle of and” in your church, your family, or your organization so that those you love and lead will be BOTH educated and trained towards greater fruitfulness and reproductive health.






“Discovering and Moving Past Elder Brother Faith”

In most movies we can identify the hero.  And the villain.  The protagonist and antagonist are pivotal characters in a story.  But I have spent the last several years pondering a Biblical story where, hard as I try, I do not most naturally identify with the hero or the villain.  I identify with a lesser character.  While I long to be most like the hero, I see my natural orientation in a character adjacent to him.  Let me explain.


The Biblical story of the prodigal son is a tremendous source of insight into the heart of our loving Father, the nature of the rebellious heart and the tragic consequences of the younger son’s actions.  If you are familiar with the story that Jesus told in the midst of judgmental attitudes by religious leaders about his fraternizing with messy people (Luke 15:11-32), you have had your heart poked in the pain of the arrogant and destructive attitudes and action of the younger son.  You have imagined the broken heart of the loving Father and wondered why He did not run after the younger son.  You have heard about this story and been saddened at the chaos and hopelessness of the younger son as he sits in his pig pen of despair.  And we rejoice at the moment where the repentant son slinks his way back to the family estate in expectation of a punitive greeting only to be embraced by a waiting Father (how did he know?) and swept up into a party of full acceptance and restoration!


This part of the story is known, celebrated, and rehearsed.  I love it!  The amazing heart of the father is a type of our heavenly Father who longs for our repentance and restoration.  The Father redeems and restores, waiting and seeking for the wayward son to be returned to his rightful place with acceptance and joy.  The prodigal son is showered with gifts and celebrations, and the larger community of the family and surrounding area is invited to join in the life lesson and supernatural reconnection that has occurred.  I LOVE this story, celebrate it, and consider as a core message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  While I have never personally experienced prodigal behavior in such external fashion, I know that I have a prodigiously prodigal heart and I have witnessed thousands of divine restoration projects where prodigals like me and others are fully restored to the household of God.  I long to manifest the matchless love of the Father and bring multitudes of prodigals to His welcoming arms.


But, the part of the story that has been increasingly settled in my soul these past many years revolves around the elder brother (Luke 15:25-32).   There are half as many verses in the story that revolve around the elder brother as around the prodigal and father, but those verses are troubling to me.  The elder brother is doing what he has always done.  He is out working in the field.  The noise of the emerging party reaches the elder brother’s ears while he works.  The discovery of the source of the sound (the emerging party for his wayward younger brother) is not only ironic, but angering to him.  He is incredulous that even more of the family’s resources are now being spent on this rebellious laggard (I can hear the elder brother screaming these words in my mind!).  His plea to the father includes the wail that he has never once been able to have a party with his friends and yet he has “done all the right things”, in sharp contrast to his disgusting younger brother. 


The response of the father to the elder brother contains some of the most sobering revelations in all the pages of Scripture.  The father is clearly in deep pain as he realizes the emptiness of his oldest son’s soul.  Everything that has belonged to the father has always belonged to the son.  The son has never been able to access, receive, or benefit from the wealth and resources of the father.  The son has worked his way into a fever, but his very efforts have kept him from entering into joy and rest. 


Further, the father is clearly saddened that the elder brother has missed the most joyous of life experiences; his own brother has been lost and virtually dead and now has life and hope and peace.   The eyes of my own heart have often grappled with how I might have responded in this story.  My conclusion?  I long to be the merciful and compassionate father, I recognize and believe in the power of the father’s redemptive love for the prodigal, but my “natural” state is to be like the elder brother.  And while that recognition makes me profoundly sad, I also gratefully recognize the transforming work of the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life so that I can live and love like the father.


So, how can I explain the past several years of pondering?  I think my brooding over this story and passage relates to what has been called, an “orphan spirit” (see here for an article that explains some of Jack Frost’s work on this from the early 2000’s:  http://www.reviveus.org/do-you-struggle-with-an-orphan-spirit/).  The first time I heard that phrase in 2006 and saw a listing of characteristics, I had a troubling inner groan.  The groan was the revelation of truth and the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  That moment was in the stream of a journey that continues to this day, though thankfully from the perspective of a son and not an orphan.  During these past several years, I’ve been exploring the prodigal son story and thinking consistently and from different perspectives about the elder brother.   If you come from any form of religious family or Christian past, you may be carrying an orphan spirit or confused perspective like I did.


All my religious training and foundations were a glorious inheritance.  But it would be many years before I would realize that I had learned to “do good’, but not to “rest in Him”.  Verses like Romans 14:17 which describe God’s reign as “the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” were largely absent from my life.  I knew what “rightness” was, but had very little space for “peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” in my life.  By the way, you can measure righteousness (or at least I thought I could…it is a list of do’s and don’t’s and the corresponding moral superiority), but how do you measure “peace and joy” in the Holy Spirit?  Seems to me like so much of my Christian life, and the Christian life of others, tended towards an externally oriented faith.  In another context, I would even describe my pastoral leadership as helping people to fulfill the purposes of God without ever enjoying the presence of God.


The journey to “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” is a daily adventure in relationship to the One.  I’m not finished yet (and may never be!), but here are a couple of things I’ve learned and lifted up from the story as I have been musing over it these past years:


1)    It is the heart of the Father to redeem.  Always.

2)    The prodigal has to return in order to receive the fullness of the Father’s embrace

3)    The elder brother keeps score and knows the score and will gladly tell you the score

4)    The elder brother is all work and no joy…and he’s mad about it.

5)    The elder brother is angry when other people receive grace he is unable to receive or give

6)    The elder brother lives in abundance and is unable to access it or receive it

7)    The Father longs to give, but the elder brother is unable to receive (at least at that time)

8)    The Father’s heart is saddened that the elder brother misses life’s most profound moment of joy; the resurrection of what was dead to life and the finding of what was lost

9)    The story ends in Luke 15 without telling us how the elder brother responds.  The challenge of every generation of followers of Jesus is to be full of grace and truth to those outside the family of God. 


These 9 observations are not exhaustive, but they have surely helped me reflect on my life, my loves, and my leadership.  I want to love like the Father and long for the prodigals to return.  I want to lead my life and exercise my leadership in ways that honor the One who first loved me (1 John 4:19).  I’m praying for a Church that loves our world like the Father loved the prodigal.  I want to be “that guy” in the story, and not the elder brother.  However, knowing about the elder brother reminds me of what comes “natural” and I know that surrendering to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is the only path to living “supernaturally” in the Father’s love. 


Thanks for listening; I hope it helps you on your journey in this world of prodigals.

Four Weeks to Healthier Relationships

A number of years ago while I was pastoring a church in NV, I got the opportunity to write a little book on relationships called “Four Weeks to Healthier Relationships”. There is a weekly overview, a daily guide, and then a reflection section. You can get a copy on Amazon here in Kindle for under $5!: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07MYDKR2Q

Here is a bit about the book that might help you decide if you want to read it:

We are, by design, relational beings. God intended us to live in relationship with Him and with each other. So if you are breathing, this topic applies to you. Relationships permeate our lives. You may be reading this because you are thinking primarily about a marriage relationship. You may be thinking about a parenting relationship, or perhaps a friendship or an extended family member, or co-worker. Every single one of us is involved in relationships and we know that part of being healthy people is having healthy relationships. C.S. Lewis said it this way: “We are born helpless, and as soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness.” We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually – we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.

Sometimes, laws which govern our physical universe also can govern our relationships. Take for example this one: Anything that is neglected will go from order to disorder. If relationships are not tended to, they move towards decay. Healthy relationships are part of healthy living and healthy relationships need attention. Being healthy means having healthy relationships. Romans 12:10 puts it this way: “Love must be sincere, hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to each other in brotherly love, honor one another above yourselves.” The Message translation puts it another way, in a way that really strikes me: “Love from the center of who you are; do not fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.”1

Two phrases in those verses jump out at me: Be good friends who love deeply. Practice playing second fiddle. Now the truth is that I know how to hydroplane through life. I have mastered the art of quick and low-flying trajectory through life. I have learned to love superficially. But, when it says be good friends who love deeply, I am pulled up short. How many relationships in my life can I truly say I love deeply? To love deeply takes a lot of my self – it takes energy, it takes effort, it means I have to take risks. Loving deeply is part of what it means to be a healthy person in healthy relationship.

Favorite Book Lists...Reprise

Did this post years ago…felt like it was worth reprising…but I should update it..maybe soon!

9/9/2007 8:20:37 PM

A long time ago, I did a blog post where I listed two lists of favorite ministry and leadership books…I thought that list might be helpful to reprise here for your potential use with your leadership teams:

I wanted to list my "Top 20" books by 12/31/05..didn't happen. So..I pushed it to 6/30/06...I'm going to meet that deadline with this post (sort of). HOWEVER, I just couldn't narrow it down to the Top 20...so I'm going to "cheat" a little....I have to split it up into a few separate lists over the next few posts...I'm excluding the Bible, but obviously God's Word is the critical foundation book for everything I do and am.

Here are my TOP MINISTRY WORLDVIEW BOOKS...not affirming all the content in them, but their "frame bending" use in developing your ministry worldview. What would you add to the list??

1. Reforming Fundamentalism by George Marsden

2. Christ and Culture by Rheinold Niehbuhr

3. Future Edge by Joel Barker

4. How Should We Then Live by Francis Schaeffer

5. Prayer (all of his books!) by E.M. Bounds

6. Knowing God by J.I. Packer

7. Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby

8. Taking Our Cities for God by John Dawson

9. With Christ in the School of Disciple Making by Carl Wilson

10. The Master Plan of Discipleship by Robert Coleman

11. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis

12. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

13. Three Kings by Gene Edwards

14. Victory over the Darkness by Neil Anderson

15.The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard

16. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

17.Wild at Heart by John Eldredge

18. Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen

19. Kingdoms in Conflict by Charles Colson

20. Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

21. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Rich Sider

22. Know Why You Believe & How to Give Away Your Faith by Paul Little

23. The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter

24. Case for Christ & Case for Faith by Lee Stroebel

25. Evidence and More Evidence by Josh McDowell

26. Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders

Here's List #2 in my own personal "Great Books" collection lists...these are books that have shaped me from a Leadership & Financial perspective...not including the Bible which is obviously the most influential and formative leadership and financial peace book ever written...so...what would you add to this list??

1. Walking with the Giants by Warren Wiersbe

2. Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robinson

3. The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner

4. The Situational Leader by Hersey & Blanchard

5. 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell

6. Developing the Leader Within You & Around You by John Maxwell

7. Failing Forward and 360 Degree Leader by John Maxwell

8. Purpose Driven Church & Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

9. Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley

10. Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels

11. The Unity Factor by Larry Osborne

12. The Power of Vision by George Barna

13. The Very Large Church by Lyle Schaller

14. Unleashing the Church by Frank Tillapaugh

15.The Law of Rewards & The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn

16. Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey

17.Rich Dad, Poor Dad and Cash Flow Quadrant by Robert Kiyosaki

18. Business by the Book by Larry Burkett

19. Master Your Money & The Debt Squeeze by Ron Blue

20. Sound Mind Investing by Austin Pryor