Essential Blog

Why Deacons Are Essential

Why Deacons are Essential- by Warren Mainard
     This Sunday will mark another significant step in the life and history of Essential Church as we commission our first group of deacons.  The New Testament leadership position of deacon is first described in Acts 6:1-7.  The church was growing rapidly, and certain groups of people were being neglected and were falling though the cracks because the Apostles could not keep up with the sudden growth.  The twelve Apostles discerned a need to expand the leadership within the church by identifying 7 men who would be able to lighten their load and increase their impact.  The initial search qualifications mentioned in Acts 6 are described in v. 3- “men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.”  Deacons
     As we began the process of identifying, training and commissioning spiritual leaders in the church at Essential, we determined that we would use the following process.
1.  Identify men who are growing in their faith and invite them to participate in the ASPIRE Spiritual Leadership development plan.  ASPIRE is a 2 year, weekly commitment.  For the past year, each of these men have faithfully met every Thursday morning at 6am for in depth discipleship.  During that time, I have continually been assessing them and holding them accountable in the things that we have been learning together.
2.  After the first year of ASPIRE, I met with each of the men individually and together we read through and discussed the Acts 6 passage on deacons.  Using the scripture, I assessed their readiness for the role of deacon based on the following qualifications-
* Good Repute: I asked each man to describe how they would assess their current reputation with their family, workplace, neighbors and church.  I also asked them if there was any sin or behavior that if it were to become public, would adversely affect their reputation.
*  Full of the Spirit:  I asked each man to assess their personal relationship with Christ.  Is it growing?  Do they sense the Lord is actively transforming them into a greater likeness of Christ?
*  Full of Wisdom:  I asked each man to honestly assess whether or not they are making wise decisions in regards to their lifestyle, their finances, their family and their time.
     Finally, I concluded my time with them by emphasizing that while the role of deacon literally means “servant,” it was important for them to realize their responsibility as spiritual leaders within the church body.  We read verse 7 which says that after the deacons were commissioned, “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of disciples multiplied greatly.” I challenged each of the men to see their role as spiritual leaders who will actively make disciples and live according to the Word of God.  
3.  Those men who have been approved to move forward in the role of deacon will be considered at the end of year two for the role of Elder.  While a deacon is a spiritual leader who leads through service and by modeling the Biblical values of Essential, the role of the elder goes an additional step further by serving as an “overseer.” For a greater description of the role of an elder, click here.  During this second year of ASPIRE, each of the men will be taking their wives through the year one ASPIRE curriculum.  The purpose of this will be to strengthen them as spiritual leaders within their homes and equip them for future leadership of individuals and groups to go through ASPIRE.  
     As we commission our deacons to serve and lead our church, we recognize that we all are in constant need of grace and that each of these men are continuing to work out their salvation as they grow further into the likeness of Christ.  With this in mind, we as a church should both hold these men to a high level of accountability as spiritual leaders, yet also pray for them and extend them grace when they fall short.  We must also keep in mind that because the Lord is working in them in this new way, they will also become a greater target to the enemy.  I encourage each of us to regularly lift these men up in prayer, asking God to protect them from the wiles of Satan and strengthen them for the calling of deacon.  In all these things, we believe that God will be honored as we continually strive to “Magnify Christ and Multiply His Kingdom.”  

VISION: 10 Ways We Keep The Vision In Front Of Us At Essential Church

I was recently asked how we communicate and keep the vision at Essential Church.  Our simple vision is, “Magnify Christ, Multiply His Kingdom.”  Here are 10 things we do to stay focused on the vision.
1.  Explain our vision to our church every single Sunday during our morning welcome.  Each week I take about 90 seconds to include in the welcome a short summary of our vision like this- “Our vision is to ‘Magnify Christ, Multiply His Kingdom.’ What that means is that everything we do is focused on bringing Christ the glory.  It’s not about the people on stage, it’s not even about our church, it’s about making Christ great in our lives.  We are also about multiplying His Kingdom, which means our focus is not on growing our church but on making disciples and serving in the community where God is at work around us.”  This weekly vision casting is simple and memorable enough that everybody who has attended Essential church more than 2 or 3 times knows it.  We want everyone who ever attends our church to know from day one what Essential Church is all about.TheVisionoftheFoundation
2.  We go deeper with our vision during our Discover Essential Class.  Our Discover Essential class is the pathway to membership at Essential.  During that time we take a more extensive look at our vision and communicate with prospective members how the vision plays out both in our personal lives and church ministries.
3.  We do an annual “Vision Sunday” message in September (2015 message here.)  The Vision Sunday message is both a reminder of our broad vision as well as an unveiling of our specific vision goals and how we are seeking to contextualize the vision in the year ahead.  We emphasize that the vision is much more about what we are striving to become than what we are striving to do.
4.  We have an annual theme which accentuates a special emphasis of our vision each year.  The first three to four messages of the year focus on that theme.  Our 2015 theme is “Relentless: A Relentless Pursuit of God, A Relentless Pursuit of the People He Loves.” In January we began the year with four messages that unpacked how that theme looks in our personal lives as well as our church.  We also created a nice banner that stays up on stage all year long as well as “Relentless” t-shirts that we gave to our members.
5.  For church partners, we create a prospectus that highlights our vision.  As a church planter, I am still casting vision to potential church partners.  The prospectus is a necessary tool for summarizing the vision and the plan for those churches that are interested in partnering with Essential.  With our current partners, I regularly reach out to them for prayer, share highlights of what God is doing and cast vision for future involvement through mission teams and special ministry needs.
6.  Every summer, I take a personal prayer and planning retreat to seek the Lord’s direction in our vision and next steps.  This time allows an opportunity for reflection, prayer and strategic thinking as well as reading and being challenged through extensive time in Scripture.
7.  Bring the vision to our Spiritual Leaders and Staff.  We have been raising up Godly men who are being trained for Spiritual Leadership within the church through the ASPIRE process.  As the Lord lays the vision before me, I am bringing certain vision related decisions to them before bringing it to the larger congregation.  I also take this same approach with our staff team, giving them an opportunity to hear and get excited about the vision before the congregation.  This enhances vision “buy in” as they help create a culture of acceptance and excitement for the vision.
8.  Submit the vision to the wisdom and approval of our Essential Advisory Team.  Every vision related decision is discussed and approved by our Essential Advisory Team (this is an outside leadership team in place for us until we commission local Elders).  It is important for me to have a group of men who have wisdom and authority to speak into issues related to our vision.  I must continually humble and submit myself to their guidance so that we discern rightly what the Spirit is leading us to do as a church.
9.  Hold our Spiritual Leaders accountable to living out and modeling the vision.  If the leaders of the church are not embodying the vision, we cannot expect our church to do so.  We continually train, inspire and challenge our leaders to stay Christ-centered and focused on being kingdom minded.  We also expect our spiritual leaders to be praying, serving, tithing, worshipping and making disciples.
10.  Embodying the vision myself.  As the old saying goes, “leadership is more caught than taught.”  The greatest impediment to the vision is a pastor who does not model it himself.  I am continually evaluating myself and asking the Lord to search my heart and reveal to me where I need to grow in living out the vision personally.  When the Pastor is actively seeking to live out the values he is proclaiming from the pulpit, it gives great credibility and authority to his message.
No church is perfect and there will never be a perfect execution or embodiment of the vision.  These simple steps help us to keep the vision “front and center” before our church as we continually strive to “Magnify Christ, Multiply His Kingdom.”

A Biblical Portrait of Church Planting (Part 2 Leading by Serving)

Biblical Portrait of Church PlantingA Biblical Portrait of Church Planting (part 2)
Acts 20:17-38

     What does a Biblical church plant look like?  In this 8 part blog based on Paul’s summary of his church planting experience in Ephesus, found in Acts 20:17-38, we will see a Biblical portrait of church planting.

Read Part 1: Incarnational Ministry

Part 2:  Leading by Serving:  “Serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials…” (19) “by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (35).

     Sacrificial, unconditional service is the most powerful apologetic for the Gospel in the life of any believer, but in particular, a church planter.  More than intellect, charisma or marketing savvy; humble and compassionate Christ-centered service opens up people to the authenticity of the Gospel because it demonstrates a heart that has been radically transformed from its selfish and sinful default position.  Paul describes four characteristics that should mark the manner of our service individually and as a church-

     1. All Humility: Not just a little humility… “all humility.”  This means that in no way do we seek our benefit or our glory in anything that we do in service.  This is truly an expression of Christ as no other human being has ever done any act of service in “all humility” apart from Christ.  

     2.  With Tears:  We should be emotionally engaged with the people whom God has called us to serve.  Whether tears of sorrow or tears of joy, we must be filled with compassion like Christ.  Matthew 20:34 is one of many passages in the Gospels in which Jesus demonstrates the compassion with which we must also serve- Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.”

     3.  With Trials:  Gospel centered service nearly always comes at a cost and with opposition.  In some situations, it can be severe trials and tribulations for choosing to serve in dangerous places or dangerous people.  In other situations, it can cost us our “free time” (or “me time”), opportunities to do other more pleasurable things, or even financially from either working less in order to serve or contributing personally toward the service.  We can experience criticism from those who do not understand our choice to serve as well as from the people whom we are actually serving.  We must not be surprised by the presence of trials in our service to others, but rather, “consider it pure joy” (James 1:2) because God is using them to produce the Christ like qualities within us that only serve to strengthen our testimony of faith.  In the case of Martin Luther King Jr, it was not his renowned “I have a dream” speech that most dramatically impacted the civil rights movement he led, but it was his steadfastness in the face of various trials (imprisonment, persecution, slander and ultimately his assassination) which most powerfully demonstrated the intrinsic value of his message or reconciliation, restoration and redemption. 

Leading by serving involves “working hard” in order to “help the weak.” As a church planter, you are teaching and equipping your church family to embrace this countercultural ethic as a way of life, just as Paul did with the churches which he planted.  Paul did not take the credit for this sacrificial lifestyle, but rather used it to point his people and his community toward Christ by connecting the service to the weak with the life and words of Christ who said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” This statement is more than a warm inspirational thought; it is a scriptural promise.  As wonderful as it is to receive blessings from others, there is an even greater blessing available to those who give.  A church and a people who are generous givers of their personal and corporate finances, time, service and resources will be greatly blessed.  The blessings and rewards of giving are not always immediately experienced, but over time, the cumulative impact of a church that finds its greatest blessing from giving to missions, ministry, community and service will become beautifully apparent.    * The next post will be on “Courageous Proclamation.”

What to do with the 10am Seahawks Game?

What to do with the 10am Seahawks Game?Seahawks Serve

I get the inner conflict… I love my Seattle Seahawks and I love my Washington Huskies.  Just this weekend, I passed up free Husky tickets to serve with my church on Saturday, and I will be faithfully preaching the Word of God as the Seahawks game is raging on Sunday morning.  As one who has a closet full of purple and gold and blue and green, I feel I have an opportunity to speak into this subject- What to do with the 10am Seahawks game?  As a pastor in the Northwest, with all of the busyness and beauty that surrounds us, it seems like we have about 4 or 5 Sundays a year where we can potentially see a very high percentage of our people and potential guests participate in worship.  In my opinion, the second and third weeks of September are two of those “prime Sundays” for a church to really see where it is at in terms of attendance and commitment.  Accordingly, we planned our “Vision Sunday” on September 13th as an opportunity to share our upcoming vision for the church at a time when we would potentially have a high attendance day.  This makes the 10am Seahawks game all the more challenging!  Yet, if we truly know and love Jesus Christ, should there be any question whatsoever as to where we should be on Sunday morning?  I am not speaking to unbelievers here, but to those who have professed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior King.  As I was praying about this silly conundrum that many Christians are working through today, I was reminded of Joshua 24:15

“Choose this day whom you will serve… but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

It’s not that difficult.  Each of us make a choice for ourselves and our families, and the choice reflects whom we truly have chosen to serve and worship.  We either serve the Lord, or we serve something else.  As we prepare for our Vision day tomorrow, I am reminded of these words from the great hymn “Be Thou My Vision” and I am challenged to ask if this is truly my hearts desire:

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart

Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art

Thou my best thought by day or by night

Waking or sleeping Thy presence my light