Discipleship Pathway

In my article last week, I addressed Jesus’s call for all who are his followers to be disciple makers.  This is something we often hear and proclaim in our churches and conferences.  One of the missing components that I often observe is the lack of a clear pathway of discipleship.  If the goal is to help turn “irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ,” then it is necessary for churches to have a well-defined and well communicated strategy. The question that needs to be answered by every congregation is, “How do we move people from one end of the spiritual continuum to the other?”  “What is our operational means of helping a person move from being far from God to being a missional disciple maker?”  This is to be thought out both organizationally as well as individually.  As a church everyone must understand the ways and means that the congregation collectively works together to accomplish the mission of disciple-making.   This is the body life of Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12.  This is pastors and teachers helping members identify their gifts and using them in a synergistic way to carry out the Great Commission.  At the same time, the strategy must be communicated and facilitated in a way that every individual member knows their next step.  This is helping believers understand the pattern of participation that leads to their spiritual growth like Peter describes in his first letter (1:5-8).  A discipleship pathway is all about knowing the target and helping the church collectively, and believers individually, know how we can get to where we need to be together.  It is a map that describes the journey and provides the mile markers that indicate if we are making progress.  Having a good strategy will be the difference between activity and momentum – between growing old in Christ and growing mature in Christ.  – Dr. Gary Mathes


One thing we can all agree on is that the undisputed and universal mission of the church is to love God, love people, and make disciples.  The Great Commandment and the Great Commission give us our marching orders. Our mission will never change, and we are charged to carry it out until the end of the age.  Yet, I am intrigued that even after two thousand years of history how that many average church members struggle to define what it means to be a disciple or even how to make one.  This lack of awareness is reflected in the research discovery that 1 out of 3 evangelicals believe that involvement in a local congregation is necessary for spiritual growth.  This may answer why only 1 out of 3 people on our membership rolls ever show up on Sunday morning in our churches.  If discipleship matters and disciples are what we are commissioned to make, then we need to go back to the basic fundamentals of our calling as followers of Jesus.  It is critical that we have a clear target in mind when defining what a disciple is as well as a well-defined and intentional strategy of how we can help our congregants work together to make disciples. As we look to Jesus as our model, he invited people to “come and see” (John 1:39-41), “follow me” (John 1:43), “abide with me” (John 15:4-5), and “go and tell” (Luke 8:38-39).  As disciples we can use that same strategy.  Paul commended people to “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).  Jesus made clear in the Great Commission that obedience to all his commands is the mark of a disciple.  This is passed on from one disciple to another by instruction and mutual accountability.  Paul instructed Timothy to take the things he has… heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).  This is our mission; this is our calling – make disciples who make disciples. Next week I will share how developing a pathway is key to doing this successfully. 

– Dr. Gary Mathes

The Night Rider

One of my favorite Old Testament leaders is Nehemiah.  Studying his leadership strategy is one of learning the importance of prayer and planning.  Even though I know better, I have been guilty of planning and then praying for God to bless my plans. Nehemiah presents a man who was burdened by what he had heard regarding the condition of Jerusalem.  His first response was not to call a whiteboard session and dream up a vision. Rather, he sat down and wept.  And then he spent time fasting and praying.  He knew that to restore the walls and gates of Jerusalem, and thus remove the disgrace, required divine intervention.  He was right and the Lord was faithful.  As Nehemiah served the king, God had worked in the kings life and blessed Nehemiah with the time and resources to go and repair the walls of Jerusalem.  Upon his arrival, Nehemiah waited three days and on the third night took a few men to ride around the city and inspect the true condition of the walls. In the morning he called for the city leaders to gather, and Nehemiah shared his vision of what could and should be done.  The citizens rose to the occasion and began to rebuild the walls, and despite opposition and potential set backs, they completed it in 52 days.  When it comes to leading a church forward to a better future, we can learn a great deal from Nehemiah’s example.  Before we get out the white board, we need to pray and get an accurate picture of what is our current reality.  Only then can we develop a vision and a plan to move forward together.  Only then will God intervene and provide what is necessary to accomplish what He alone can do – so that He might receive the glory! – Dr. Gary Mathes

Understanding Change

Last week I shared about understanding change and how it is a constant in our life and ministry.  We can either choose to be reactive or proactive.  Leaders are in a position to be proactive and able to help lead their teams and organization in change.  The fact that change is often difficult requires that we approach it wisely.  Here are some of the important questions that need to be asked when leading change.  Is this change essential to the mission?  Does it help our church become more effective in carrying out the Great Commission?  If you are not able to help your people understand the “why” it will be difficult to motivate them to embrace the change you are suggesting.  After understanding the “why” a leader still needs to ask, “Is this the right time?”  “Is there a true sense of urgency that will foster the needed motivation to embrace the change?” “Have I accurately and frequently communicated well the reason for change that allows my people time to understand and accept the change?” (Remember that you have had ample time to think about and work through the change you are proposing, but for some it is the first time they have heard it and need time to catch up with you.)  “Have I made a solid case for how this will be an improvement?” (Note: you can change without improving, but you cannot improve without change.)  “Is there already a group of people willing to support and follow through on implementing the change?”  “Am I wiling as a leader to see the change through to completion?” “Have a fostered good will by previous short-term wins?”  “Am I as a leader willing to spend the relational capital I have to bring the change about?”   These and other questions are helpful to assess the viability of the proposed change. As a leader, this is often the biggest challenge you will face but can also be the most rewarding as well.  Remember, the heart of the gospel is change. It is a call to repent, to change direction and our allegiance from this sinful world and corrupt nature to follow Christ.  But the results are glorious and eternal! – Dr. Gary Mathes

Understanding Change

“The day you put a screen over our baptistry is the day I will take you outside and work you over!”  That is truly what one deacon declared to his new pastor at his first deacon meeting.  Certainly not the best beginning into a new ministry.  While this is an extreme response, all of us are guilty of resisting change.  This is why it is difficult for many churches to see change happen, and honestly why leaders often struggle to suggest and bring change about in their congregation.  Yet change is one thing that is constant in life whether we welcome it or not.  Scientist, historians, physicians, and experts in various fields will all agree – change is inevitable. The only question is whether or not we will be reactive or proactive.  In the last number of weeks, I have shared articles about the need for churches to understand their mission, values, community and then develop a vision for the future.  All of these things are proactive endeavors to help a church navigate their way to a better future. Once a church understands their current realities and then makes plans for a more healthy and fruitful future, one thing is required – change.  However, the one common denominator that prevents achieving a brighter future is – resistance to change.  Often this resistance is related to either fear or lack of urgency.  We either fear that suggested ideas for change will fail, lead to our discomfort, eliminate our preferences or we are not convinced that it is needed or a better option than the status quo.  However, if a church hopes to reach the next generation, advance the gospel effectively in a changing world, and faithfully fulfill the Great Commission change is necessary.  Not our message, but our methods.  Next week I’ll share some principles of how to lead effective change.  By the way, that deacon mentioned earlier recognized he was in the wrong and eventually the screen was installed – and the church saw revitalization happen, not because of a screen but because of a willingness to change and do whatever is appropriately necessary to advance the gospel. – Dr. Gary Mathes

Understanding Vision

You have heard the phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  When it comes to vision that is very true.  While “mission” is what we are called to do, “vision” is our best attempt to paint a picture of what fulfilling the mission in our local context will look like.    Vision pictures the end of a ministry at the beginning.  It is intended to inspire, motivate, and energize a team toward a common goal. Vision dispels fear of the future with confident clarity of what can be.  A good question to begin forming a vision is to ask, “Where do you see our ministry in 5 to 7 years?”  More importantly, “Where is God taking us in the next 5-7 years?”  Vision therefore is not looking backwards with the longing of capturing the ‘good ole days,’ but is purposely future oriented.  It is shaped by a holy discontent with the status quo and moves toward what can be. While the mission Jesus gave his church never changes, vision is simply describing how that mission is fleshed out in our local context, with the people God has assembled in our local congregation. That will change from year-to-year.  Vision is birthed by much prayer, diligent research and clarity of what the true mission of the church is. It is the convergence of the church’s mission, the leaders’ passion, and community need.  Vision is developed by asking, “How can our church take the unique gifts, talents and resources of our people to reach the unique community that surrounded us?”  When communicated well, vision becomes the beautiful travel brochure that inspires us to jump on board and take part of the wonderful journey the Lord has called us to travel together. Henry Blackaby encouraged us years ago. “Find out where God is working and join “…him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think according to the power at work in us.” – Eph. 3:20  That is vision!  – Dr. Gary Mathes

Understanding Vision

When I was in second grade, I remember that the school I was attending was giving all students eye exams. I remember stepping up to the line and was asked to tell the person by me which direction the letter “E” was facing on each line. I got the first two lines right but couldn’t discern the lines below that. It was the first time I realized I had a vision problem. Not long after that I went to the eye doctor and was fitted for a new pair of glasses. Since then I have always worn corrective lenses. As I have had the opportunity to work with churches all across Missouri, I realized that many have a vision problem. George Barna researched churches and concluded that less than one out of every ten pastors can articulate what he believes is God’s vision for the church he is leading. If over 75% of churches are plateaued or in decline, what does this say about vision? I believe doing the hard work of clearly articulating your mission, defining your values, and understanding your community can help bring about a clear vision for your local congregation. Aubrey Malphurs defined a vision as a clear, compelling picture of God’s future for your church as you believe it can and must be. Having a clear vision is valuable. Without clarity regarding the future, it is difficult to effectively lead a team, organization, or congregation forward toward accomplishing what God has called them to do. While mission defines what we must do, vision is visual and gives us a picture of where we must go. Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you just might end up somewhere else.” It is important to pray and seek the Lord to help you as a leader develop a picture of a preferred future. Next week I will share some keys to developing a God inspired vision.

– Dr. Gary Mathes

Church Planting

This past week I have had the privilege to partner and participate in church planting endeavors.  On August 21 one of our own CPBA churches, Northland Baptist Church, led by Pastors Matt Marrs and Rustin Umstattd, have raised up a leader and a core group to launch yet another church plant.  The new congregation is meeting in North Kansas City and is being led by Dan Cogan.  I had the joy of attending this past Sunday and was blessed to see how the Lord is working to expand His kingdom here in the Northland.  Please be in prayer for this new launch as they faithfully fulfill the Great Commission in the NKC area.  I was also blessed this week to partner and participate in a NAMB Church Planters Assessment. Twelve couples were assessed as church planters and as part of their journey toward leading future church plants.  It is a wonderful process that is proven to increase the success rate of church plants.  I was excited to see a good number of CPBA pastors involved in the effort.  It is a wonderful example of partnership across the various levels of SBC life – national, state, association, churches and pastors – all working in a collaborative way to raise up and send out church planters.  As our two counties continue to grow in population, we will need to see even more churches planted.  I am thankful for an association that is committed and invested in helping in that effort.  To God be the glory!

Loss of Association Disaster Relief Director

Our hearts and prayers go out to the family of Artie Horn who passed away this past Wednesday.  Artie was currently serving as the director of our CPBA Disaster Relief team.  Artie had a true passion for the Lord and faithfully led our DR team on several “call outs” here in our region as well as around the nation.  He was a humble and gracious individual and he will be greatly missed. 

Understanding Your Community

Last week I shared the importance of knowing and understanding your community.  It is not an accident your church building is where it is.  God has a plan for you to reach your neighborhood and serve those who live closest to your address location.  Unfortunately, many churches lose touch with their neighbors and miss a great opportunity to be a light in the darkness or life raft in the sea of brokenness that surrounds them.  The second part of the Great Commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves.  That cannot happen unless we know them.  As important as it is to exegete Scripture to faithfully interpret and apply its truth, leaders also need to exegete their community and faithfully interpret and apply the gospel with those within their reach.  Fortunately, there are several tools and resources available to help churches understanding their community well.  The MBC makes available to churches wonderful demographic reports that help identify basic information about the population characteristics in their area.  This allows a congregation the ability to see how closely they match the people who live in the neighborhood where their church exist.  Other means of knowing your community are talking with and interviewing government officials, police officers, school administrators, civic leaders, business owners near you.  They will have a valuable perspective on the greatest needs of the community.  Prayer-walking in the neighborhood is a great exercise that combines praying for the Lord to open our neighbor’s hearts as well as opening your eyes to what is obvious and apparent by what you see and hear.   Another valuable tool is using a survey to interview neighbors and explore what concerns and needs they identify that your church might be able to meet.  These tools provide a window that allows you as leaders to exegete the needs and opportunities before you to make an eternal impact on your community.  As an association, we stand ready to help you with any of these tools and strategies.  – Dr. Gary Mathes

Knowing Your Community

A few years ago, I went to help a church in a small town in central Missouri.  My GPS landed me in a bank parking lot, so I went to a nearby McDonald’s and asked those helping me if they knew where this church was.  They did not.  I went across the street to a C-Store and asked several people there if they knew.  No one did.  Finally, the person who originally contacted me called and I let them know I was trying to find them.  They asked where I was, and I told them at the C-Store across from McDonald’s.  “Oh, well look out the window to the right and you should see our steeple.”  This was not a big town, but those who worked within a few blocks of the church didn’t know it existed.  The church I was helping thought they knew their town, but their town didn’t know them.  One of the key principles of living on mission is the capacity to know the people you are trying to reach.  I believe God has located your church exactly where He wants it in order to reach the people that live within your shadow.  A good but maybe difficult question that must be answered is: “If your church ceased to exist, would your neighborhood know it or miss your presence?”  To make an eternal impact on the community we reside in it is imperative to get outside the four walls and into the life and activity of your community.  It is then that you begin to understand the needs around you and how to address them with gospel solutions.  Next week I will share ways you can get to know your community well in order to better serve them.  

 – Dr. Gary Mathes