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Say Goodbye to the ‘Armor Bearer’ Mentality

My friend Charles wanted a mentor. He was eager to learn the ropes of ministry, so he asked an older pastor for training. The pastor agreed—but Charles soon realized the man wanted a valet, not an apprentice. Charles became the man’s “armor bearer.”

The man never took Charles on hospital visits, involved him in ministry assignments or prayed with him. Instead, Charles was expected to carry the pastor’s briefcase, fetch coffee and take suits to the cleaners—with no salary offered. In this case, “armor bearer” was a spiritualized term for “slave.”

This bizarre trend became popular in churches 20 years ago, but it still thrives. It appeals to insecure leaders who need an entourage to make them feel important. Some pastors have even assigned trainees to serve as bodyguards—complete with dark glasses and concealed weapons. These young men are instructed to keep people away from the pastor so he doesn’t have to talk to anyone after a church service (because, after all, the poor preacher might be “drained of his anointing” if he fraternizes with common folks).

Excuse me while I barf!

I’m not sure what is more nauseating: That some pastors think they are discipling young leaders by exploiting them, or that church members tolerate such pompous behavior from a so-called man of God. And we wonder why many young people have stopped going to church?

When I turned 50, I decided to spend most of my energy investing in the next generation. This became my passionate priority because I met so many gifted men and women in their 20s and 30s who craved mentors. Many of them, like Charles, were looking for authentic role models but could only find self-absorbed narcissists who were building their own kingdoms.

If you want to make a genuine impact on the next generation, please make sure you are not infected with the armor bearer virus. Take these steps to adjust your attitude:

  1. Get over yourself. As soon as Jesus began his earthly ministry the devil tried to strike a deal with Him. Satan offered the celebrity spotlight by showing Jesus the world’s glory and saying, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me” (Matt. 4:9). But Jesus didn’t buy it. He chose the path of servanthood even though He knew it would lead to the cross.

Today’s insecure leaders don’t realize it’s the devil tempting them to become rock-star preachers. Fame is too alluring. Before they realize it, their heads have swelled and ministry becomes a means to prove their imagined greatness. A leader with an inflated ego will have zero interest in investing in others. You must tell yourself daily: “It’s not about me!”

  1. Stay accessible. Earlier this year I led a retreat for young Ugandans who are training for ministry. We prayed together, shared meals and swam at a local pool in the afternoons. When we finished three days of teaching sessions I asked them what they enjoyed the most about the retreat. One guy summarized everyone’s sentiment: “We loved that you were with us.”

Young people today don’t just want our sermons. They want to sit down for coffee after the sermon. They want to ask questions. They can listen to a hundred preachers on You Tube, but when you invite them to dinner, offer to pray with them or take them on a mission trip, you mark them forever.

  1. Keep it real. Older Christian leaders have picked up some bad habits that turn off young people. Some ministers preach with affected voices, wear weird hairstyles and insist on dressing like funeral parlor directors—even on their days off. Please talk in a normal voice when you preach so young people won’t dismiss you as a fake. Be transparent, admit your faults and let everyone know you’ve had struggles. Young people don’t want to follow someone who pretends to be perfect. 
  2. Pour on the encouragement. Many young people today struggle to stay disciplined. Some have addictions. And many of them have attitudes! But you will never reach them if all you do is point out their faults. You have to win their hearts before you address problems. If you saturate them with the love of a caring father or mother, their spiritual growth will amaze you. 
  3. Don’t cling to power. Jesus was the Son of God, yet He willingly handed His authority over to His disciples and told them to finish the job. Likewise, Paul invested his life in Timothy, Titus, Silvanus, Phoebe and others—and he expected them to go farther than He did. Every good leader is already thinking of his succession plan. If you have a tendency to control, dominate or manipulate people, you must wrestle with God until your pride is crushed.

Young leaders today don’t want to be your butler or your valet. And they won’t follow people who strut and swagger. They are looking for mentors who walk with the limp of humility.

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Reclaiming the Forgotten Timothy Principle

Last week I went to the nation of Colombia to preach in a conference sponsored by two churches in the city of Barranquilla. I could have gone alone, but I asked Jason, a young pastor from South Carolina, to accompany me on the seven-day trip.

When we boarded our first flight to Panama I said to Jason: “You are going to grow two feet during this adventure.” He told me yesterday when we were preparing to come home: “I think I grew two-and-a-half feet.”

Nothing thrills me more than challenging young leaders by taking them on the mission field. I’ve done this in Nigeria, Ukraine, India, Peru, Bolivia, South Africa and other places. It’s not always convenient to share a bathroom or double the travel costs, but the reward comes when I see how much the experience stretches their faith and accelerates their spiritual growth.

It’s what many call the Timothy Principle, and it’s found in Paul’s words to his spiritual son in 2 Timothy 2:2: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

Paul discovered long ago that the most effective way to expand the reach of the gospel was to invest deliberately and personally in younger disciples. Although he preached to crowds, he always traveled with a small team. He wasn’t a one-man show. He shared his life with people such as Timothy, Silas, Phoebe, Lydia, Luke, Priscilla and Aquilla—and they became spiritual giants. We would be wise to reclaim this forgotten art of personal discipleship.

Here are four guidelines I’ve developed for effectively training the next generation:

Get on the same level. One young leader I have been mentoring for a few years, Charles, once told a pastor that he wanted to be trained in ministry. The pastor explained this training process would require Charles to carry the pastor’s Bible, pick up his dry-cleaning and serve as a chauffeur. The pastor didn’t offer to pray with Charles, take him on a trip or share how to hear the voice of God or lead a sinner to salvation.

Some pastors even groom young leaders to be “armor bearers” who are nothing more than unpaid valets. I’ve seen some big-city bishops with celebrity entourages—including a guy to carry the preacher’s Bible, another to carry his water bottle, another to carry his handkerchief and a fourth to fan him when he’s sweating.

This type of leader is infected with a virus known as egotisticus giganticus. He may call himself a “spiritual father” to these men, but they really don’t have access to his life. They might as well be his slaves. This is not biblical discipleship. Any real spiritual father (or mother) will invite his disciples to get on his level and learn both the practical and spiritual sides of ministry.

Be a genuine friend. Young leaders today don’t just want to listen to a pastor’s sermons or wait outside an office door until he asks them to bring him a cup of coffee. They crave real relationships with humble, accessible men and women of God who can model authentic Christianity. That requires plenty of one-on-one communication. You must invite younger leaders into your life and let them get up close and personal.

Some charismatic churches today have developed a weird lingo that prevents genuine discipleship from happening. While I certainly believe in the role of apostles and spiritual mentors, I don’t think we have to throw these titles around. Don’t strain the relationship by insisting on a title. Just be yourself, and the anointing on your life will do the rest.

Offer plenty of ministry opportunities. Before I arrived in Colombia last week, I let my hosts know that Jason was available to speak in churches and youth meetings. Even though they had invited me to speak at a conference, I wanted Jason to be stretched in his faith. He ended up leading several powerful meetings with youth in the city. Then, on the last night, when I was addressing a group of leaders from two churches, I called Jason to come to the platform with me so he could pray and prophesy over people.

We won’t effectively raise up younger leaders if we only allow them to carry our briefcases or work at our book tables. They have to do the real stuff! I was so proud of Jason when he called several people to the front of the church and offered anointed prophetic encouragement. The Colombians loved him, and the youth who had been in his meetings lined up to hug him when we left. In the end, Jason realized that he was a ministry partner with me, not just a trainee.

Impart your life. Young leaders today need to become effective communicators, and they must learn how to flow in the Holy Spirit’s power. But we can’t just give them a dry, mechanical education. We have to follow the apostle Paul’s model. He told the Thessalonians: “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8).

Discipleship requires sacrifice and genuine love. And it focuses on individuals. As much as I enjoy speaking to crowds, I have learned that often the most effective ministry in the kingdom of God is to the one, not the multitude. Please don’t ignore the Timothys you are called to encourage.

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Listen to the Cry of Today’s Generation

I love all four Gospels, but Mark is my favorite. I describe it as the Gospel for teenagers—or for anyone with a short attention span. It is the shortest account of Jesus’ ministry, and the most fast-paced. It is focused on Jesus’ actions, not His sermons, and the word immediately appears in it 47 times. If a movie were based on Mark it would be a noisy action flick, complete with screaming demons, instantaneous healings and rioting crowds.

But what I love most about Mark is the back story of its author—who is sometimes referred to as John Mark. He is young when we first see him in Scripture. He was related to Barnabas and closely associated with Peter. (Scholars believe Mark’s Gospel is based on what Peter dictated to him). Yet Mark created an embarrassing dilemma for the apostle Paul. We are told that Paul separated from Barnabas in Antioch because Mark deserted the team (see Acts 15:37-40).

We can speculate about what caused this conflict. We don’t really know why Mark went AWOL. Did he fear persecution? Did he wimp out because he missed his mother’s cooking back in Jerusalem? Or did he go through a period of rebellion? Perhaps. But in the end, the prodigal came home. The epistle of Philemon says Mark began traveling with Paul again (v. 23).

Paul eventually told Timothy: “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (2 Tim. 4:11b, NASB, emphasis added). “Useful” is putting it mildly! This young guy who experienced failure early in life later wrote a key portion of the Bible!

The lesson is clear: Don’t give up on young people. They are totally worth the investment, even if they encounter ups and downs and zigzags on the journey we call discipleship. Those of us who are in the “older” category must recognize how useful these young Marks are in the plan of God.

I am blessed to have many young Marks in my life these days. They go with me on some of my ministry trips—not to carry my suitcase or to sell my books but to see what it’s like on the front lines. The personal time I spend with them is just as important as any sermon I preach to a crowd. I have come to realize that when I invest in a young Christian, his or her life is marked forever.

Recently a young ministry leader came to me for some counsel. He was frustrated because older people haven’t seemed interested in building a relationship with him or in giving him opportunities to grow spiritually. I asked him for some honest feedback about how leaders relate to the younger generation. I felt his answers needed to be heard by a wider audience. Our conversation went like this:

What do you want most in a mentor?

More than anything I want someone who will listen to me. Whether I’m right or wrong about something, a mentor should take time to listen. I’d love someone to ask me questions about what’s in my heart.

How do you want to be treated by a mentor?

I want to be treated like a son. I know how deeply I love my sons and how I constantly pour love, confidence, wisdom and strength into them. When I correct them, it’s gentle and helpful—even when I discipline them. I want the kind of close, relational Christianity I see in the New Testament. But I don’t want to be treated like a child. I do know some stuff!

What character qualities do you look for in a mentor?

First of all, I want someone who is real. Please relax and stop acting like a preacher. Let’s laugh a lot. Let’s hang out and have fun. Let’s enjoy each other. I also want someone who is eager to teach me! I want to know what it’s like for you when you sense the power of God when you pray for people. How do you prepare your messages? Keep me by your side when you’re operating in one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Tell me what’s happening along the way. Then let me minister with you.

Also, please share your power just like Jesus did. Don’t show hostility to other ministers. Realize that your “camp” does not have God in a box, and that there are a lot of things you can learn from other brothers and sisters in Christ. Be willing to learn and grow. Don’t fight technology. And please put your wife and family before ministry!

Are you listening to the cry of this emerging generation? Everywhere I go today I remind churches and denominational leaders that we are missing the boat if we aren’t investing the bulk of our time discipling a new generation. The church is graying, and many young people have checked out because our approach to ministry has become irrelevant to them.

If we would listen to their hearts, treat them like sons and daughters, invest our time in them and recognize their gifts, they will—like John Mark in the first century—make an amazing impact on history.

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God Wants You To Multiply

My wife and I have four grown daughters, and the youngest of them is 24. We are not planning to have any more babies. Our girls are the joy of our lives—and we love it when they visit our empty nest.

But even though we’re finished with the task of bringing Grady children into the world, I’m not finished reproducing. I believe every Christian is called to bear spiritual children. Jesus called us to make disciples, and this is what He was referring to when He told His followers: “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit …” (John 15:8a).

So for the past several years, I’ve invested most of my waking hours discipling younger Christians. I offer them counsel and share the life lessons I’ve learned in ministry. We meet for coffee or meals and take trips together; we also chat using every medium available—phone, text, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and Skype. I love watching young people grow spiritually.

Discipleship is not just a hobby—it’s my passion. But something dramatic happened a few months ago that proved to me how serious God is about this process of spiritual multiplication.

I was preaching at Berean Church in Pittsburgh on a Sunday morning in October. After my message, I invited people to the altar who wanted to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I also had a word of knowledge that there was a young man in the audience who had a porn addiction.

Many people responded, but I noticed a tall guy right in the middle of the group at the altar. I laid hands on his head and prayed, and then moved on to pray for the others. When I looked back I saw that this young man was on the floor. He was trembling and speaking in tongues.

When I finished praying for everyone, Pastor Mark Moder closed the service. But the young guy was still on the floor, so I sat down next to him and prayed quietly. I could tell the Holy Spirit was doing some deep work in him. He must have stayed horizontal for 20 minutes.

When he finally sat up and gained composure, I asked him a few questions. He told me he was 20 years old. He told me he came to the altar because he’d been a slave to pornography. He said it was his first visit to this church.

“What’s your name,” I asked.

“Dante Lee Grady,” he replied.

“Huh? You’re kidding,” I said.

“No, seriously! I was surprised to find out the preacher this morning has my name!” he said.

Since that day, Dante Lee Grady and I have become close. He came to my home in Georgia in January for a discipleship retreat, he traveled with me when I preached last month in Pennsylvania, and he’s joining me on another ministry assignment in May.

This guy is on fire for God now. He’s ravenously reading the study Bible I gave him, he’s plugged into Berean Church and he feels a call to fulltime ministry. And he texts me often to ask questions about his faith.

I never had a biological son. But now I have a spiritual son who actually bears my name.

When I asked God about this unusual experience, I sensed that my encounter with Dante was a prophetic sign—not just for me but also for the body of Christ. God is reminding us that we must take the command to make disciples seriously. Our priorities must shift.

We’ve all read the research about the younger generation in the United States. Statistics show that many young adults have left the church or have no interest in Christianity. Yet I’ve also seen that when I offer to be a mentor or a spiritual father to young people between the ages of 18 to 34, they are eager to latch on.

When I offer love and encouragement to these young adults, they can’t get enough. This generation isn’t interested in dry religious programs, but they crave an authentic and relational connection with a mature Christian who is willing to spend time with them.

The spiritual sons and daughters I’m investing in today love worship, they want to experience the Holy Spirit’s power, and they are eager to share their faith everywhere. Dante has almost 10,000 followers on Twitter (@whoknowsdante), and he loves to tell them about Jesus.

Watching Dante Lee Grady become a mature follower of Christ gives me great hope for the future. It reminds me that every Elijah should have a young Elisha following him and begging for a double portion of the Holy Spirit. And if you read that story in the Bible, you learn that Elisha surpassed his mentor. That is my heart’s cry—that those I invest in will do greater things than I did!

Don’t miss the greatest adventure of the Christian life. Don’t let the life of Jesus end with you—pass it on to the next generation. Be a multiplier. God wants you to reproduce His life in others.

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Discipleship Is Not a Dirty Word

I get funny looks from some charismatic Christians when I tell them I believe God is calling us back to radical discipleship. Those in the over-50 crowd—people who lived through the charismatic movement of the 1970s—are likely to have a bad taste in their mouths when it comes to the dreaded “D word.”

That’s because the so-called Discipleship Movement (also known as the Shepherding Movement) turned a vital biblical principle into a weapon and abused people with it. Churches that embraced the warped doctrines of shepherding required believers to get permission from their pastors before they bought cars, got pregnant or moved to a new city. Immature leaders became dictators, church members became their loyal minions, and the Holy Spirit’s fire was snuffed out because of a pervasive spirit of control.

I don’t ever want to live through that again. I know countless people who are still licking their wounds from the spiritual abuse they suffered while attending hyper-controlling churches in the 1970s and ‘80s. Some of them still cannot trust a pastor today; others walked away from God because leaders misused their authority—all in the name of “discipleship.”

Yet I’m still convinced that relational discipleship—a strategy Jesus and the apostle Paul modeled for us—is as vital as ever. If anything the pendulum has now swung dangerously in the opposite direction. In today’s free-wheeling, come-as-you-are, pick-what-you-want, whatever-floats-your-boat Christianity, we make no demands and enforce no standards. We’re just happy to get warm rumps in seats. As long as people file in and out of the pews and we do the Sunday drill, we think we’ve accomplished something.

But Jesus did not command us to go therefore and attract crowds. He called us to make disciples (see Matt. 28:19), and that cannot be done exclusively in once-a-week meetings, no matter how many times the preacher can get the people to shout or wave handkerchiefs. If we don’t take immature Christians through a discipleship process (which is best done in small groups or one-on-one gatherings), people will end up in a perpetual state of immaturity.

David Kinnaman, author of the excellent book unChristian, articulated the problem this way: “Most people in America, when they are exposed to the Christian faith, are not being transformed. They take one step into the door, and the journey ends. They are not being allowed, encouraged, or equipped to love or to think like Christ. Yet in many ways a focus on spiritual formation fits what a new generation is really seeking. Transformation is a process, a journey, not a one-time decision.”

Reclaiming this process of discipleship is going to require a total overhaul of how we do church. Do we really want to produce mature disciples who have the character of Jesus and are able to do His works? Or are we content with shallow believers and shallow faith?

A friend of mine had to face this question while he was pastoring in Florida. As a young father, he had a habit of putting his infant son in a car seat and driving him around his neighborhood at night in order to lull him to sleep. Once during this ritual the Holy Spirit spoke to this pastor rather bluntly. He said: “This is what you are doing in your church. You are just driving babies around.”

My friend came under conviction. He realized he had fallen into the trap of entertaining his congregation with events and programs, even though the people were not growing spiritually. He was actually content to keep them in infancy. As long as they filled their seats each Sunday, and paid their tithes, he was happy. Yet no one was growing, and they certainly were not producing fruit by reaching others for Christ.

How can we make this paradigm shift in to discipleship? How can we add “the D word” back into our vocabulary?

  • Churches must stop exclusively focusing on big events and get people involved in small groups, where personal ministry can take place.
  • We must stop treating people like numbers and get back to valuing relationships.
  • Leaders must reject the celebrity preacher model and start investing their lives in individuals.

When we stand before Christ and He evaluates our ministries, He will not be asking us how many people sat in our pews, watched our TV programs, gave in our telethons or filled out response cards. He is not going to evaluate us based on how many people fell under the power of God or how many healings we counted in each service. He will ask how many faithful disciples we made. I pray we will make this our priority.

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10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 30

When you get to be my age, birthdays can be a bummer. I don’t really want to be reminded that I’m old. So I discovered a way to ease the pain: I surround myself with younger people. At my birthday party last week were several young guys I am mentoring. They are 30, 27, 24, 23, 22 and 20—most of them younger than my own kids.

One of my greatest passions in life is discipling the younger generation. I love it partly because the young men I mentor are so hungry for spiritual direction they literally pull it out of me; I also love discipleship because it is indescribably fulfilling. It really is more blessed to give than to receive.

Discipleship is not just leading a Bible study or helping a person understand a dry spiritual truth. It is imparting your life—sharing the wisdom you’ve gained from years of personal experiences. That’s what a father or mother does with their children; that’s what Paul did for the Romans. He told them: “For I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, that you may be strengthened” (Rom. 1:11).

I often tell the guys I mentor: “I wish I had known this when I was your age.” And they recognize the blessing of getting some wise counsel they can put into practice now. I’ll share a few of those nuggets here. Feel free to pass them along to other young (or old) disciples who are eager to grow spiritually.

  1. Never let your failures or flaws stop you from chasing your God-given dreams. The biggest obstacle between you and your dream is not the devil, demons, your past sins, your family dysfunction or your lack of money or opportunity. Your biggest enemy is you and the way you see yourself. You must come to see that your heavenly Father loves you (1 John 3:1) and that He wants to know you, bless you and use you.
  2. Never, ever neglect the Bible. Jesus said His words provide a strong, secure foundation for life (Matt. 7:24-27). But you cannot experience that security if you treat God’s Word flippantly. You need to feed on it daily. The loudest voices in our culture today tell us that the Bible is irrelevant; don’t listen to them. Let God’s Word become the steel framework of your life.
  3. Relax! God wants you to enjoy the journey. When I was young I often got anxious about God’s plans and I fretted too much. I finally learned to stop striving. I quit trying to make things happen—and I surrendered to God’s timing, knowing that only He can bring about His will. This is true whether you are praying about marriage plans, your career, your ministry or any other desire. Don’t let anxious thoughts steal your joy.
  4. Saturate your life in prayer, and never make a decision without seeking God’s guidance. Life is really a journey, and God wants to steer us every step of the way. The closer you are to the shepherd, the clearer you will hear His voice telling you to turn to the left or the right.
  5. Stay filled up with the Holy Spirit. The biggest mistake we could ever make is to try to live our lives with an empty tank. Don’t ever try to follow Christ in your own strength. Let the Holy Spirit empower you. Who wants dead, lifeless, boring Christianity? Seek close fellowship with the Spirit, pray in the Spirit and pursue spiritual gifts so you can experience the supernatural realm.
  6. Life is supposed to be an adventure. Never play it safe. Every true follower of Christ will come to the place that Peter did when Jesus called him out of the boat. Peter left his comfort zone and stepped onto the water. You must do the same. My biggest mistakes in life happened when I let fear of the unknown choke my faith.
  7. Relationships are the key to success. The world tells us that life is about chasing fame, money, cars, houses, toys or sex. But I’ve learned that God wants us investing in people—and that is where you will find the greatest satisfaction. Material possessions can’t give lasting fulfillment, and pleasure only lasts for a moment. If you want the abundant life that Jesus promised (John 10:10), pour your life into others.
  8. It’s really okay to admit your weaknesses. Most of us come to Christ in a state of bondage; we struggle with all kinds of hurts and addictions. I finally learned that God never intended for me to deal with these issues alone. Just as we learned in the story of the Good Samaritan, we need someone else to bandage our wounds (Luke 10:30-37). True healing is found through the close friends God gives us. Open your heart to them.
  9. Be as generous as possible so you can become a channel of financial blessing. When I was young I never imagined I could bless others financially. Yet even with my tiny ministry salary I began to tithe and bless people—and God multiplied my resources. Don’t wait until you have lots of money to start sowing. Sow even in your season of famine and watch God release miraculous abundance.
  10. Don’t take your parents for granted. Because my father recently fell and incurred a serious brain injury, I’m relocating to Georgia to care for him and my mother. I’m grateful that I can spend these last years with them, but I’m wishing I had made the most of every moment we shared. You won’t have your parents forever. Cherish your time with them and do everything you can to honor them as you honor Christ.
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10 Spiritual Lessons I Learned at the Gym

I started a serious fitness plan in 2015. I had gained weight, and I was watching guys my age pack on pounds. Because I have some big dreams that will take several more years to achieve, I need to stay healthy and able to travel. So I talked to some friends about their workout routines, joined a gym and changed my eating habits.

The hard work is paying off. I’ve not only lost weight and gained muscle but I’ve learned some valuable spiritual lessons in the process. God speaks to me even while I do planks, sit-ups and bench presses! Here are 10 lessons I’ve learned that will help you get fit both physically and spiritually:

  1. Your DIET makes all the difference. If you don’t eat right, no exercise routine will benefit you. Some people talk themselves into believing if they run on a treadmill for 30 minutes they can binge on ice cream, Big Macs or bags of Doritos. Good luck with that! If you want to lose weight and add muscle you must cut the empty carbs and eat more protein and power foods.

The apostle Paul scolded the Corinthians because they wanted spiritual “milk” instead of “solid food” (1 Cor. 3:1-2). You will not grow spiritually until you wean yourself off of spiritual fluff and start eating the meat of the Word. Bible study is hard work, but when you dig deep you will grasp revelation from the Holy Spirit.

  1. Develop a PLAN for growth—and follow it. If you approach exercise haphazardly, the results will be minimal. The same is true about discipleship. Some Christians are tossed around by every wind of doctrine or every wave of trendy teaching because they have no goal. But the apostle Paul was focused. He said: “I press toward the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). Your goal should be to know Jesus and to make Him known to others. Don’t get distracted.
  2. To grow muscle you must RESIST. When I lift a 30-pound dumbbell or do push-ups, I am using weights or my own body weight to create resistance. The tension caused by the resistance, called hypertrophy, causes muscle fibers to expand. The “burn” you feel after exercise is evidence that your muscle is growing. The same is true in the spirit. If you resist temptation, you will grow spiritually even though it may hurt. But if you give into temptation, you will stay spiritually flabby and weak.
  3. CORE exercises are vital! The best fitness instructors will tell you’ll never be truly fit if you don’t pay attention to your abdominal muscles. You may hate planks or crunches, but a healthy core is the foundation of a good physique. The same is true for you spiritually. The core of a Christian is his or her prayer life. Neglect prayer and you will lose your power. The secret of the apostle Paul’s spiritual life was 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray without ceasing.”
  4. You will never make progress if you aren’t CONSISTENT. Because I travel a lot, I cannot always go to a gym. So I found a fitness routine that I can use no matter where I am. All I need is a floor, a chair and some rubber exercise cords and I can work out for an hour using body weight alone. But having this plan is useless if I don’t do it four times a week. The more consistent I am, the more results I will see. Don’t be a quitter. He who endures to the end will be saved!
  5. VARY your exercise routine. Our body is like a computer, and it can get used to a routine if we do the same exercises week after week. Trainers recommend that you “surprise” your body by mixing up exercises. You should do the same in your spiritual training. Don’t get in a religious rut. Sing a “new song” to the Lord. Be open to the new things He wants to teach you.
  6. You’ll make more progress if you have a COACH. When I decided to start my routine, I asked a friend from South Africa named Jabin to devise a plan for me. Jabin is an athlete who knows a lot more about fitness than I do. He not only made a plan but he showed me how to do each exercise.

A lot of Christians are trying to become disciples on their own, without a mentor. Jesus showed us the model of discipleship; He invested in His followers and then commissioned them to train others. You will grow spiritually if you have someone to help you.

  1. TWO are better than one. I don’t always get to exercise with a gym partner, but when I do I find that I have a better workout with better results. I push harder when someone is there to encourage me. The same is true in your walk with God. So many of us try to live the Christian life alone, yet Jesus sent out His disciples two by two. Every David needs a Jonathan to reach his full potential. Having a friend to “spot” you is a sure way to grow as a disciple.
  2. Fitness requires REST. One of the first things my friend Jabin taught me about weightlifting was the importance of resting in between reps. Muscles will not grow if you push them incessantly without breaks. Rest is a spiritual principle that was programmed into our world when God rested on the seventh day. Some people think they can get ahead by working 24/7, but work without rest only leads to burnout. In your spiritual life, take the needed time to relax, unwind, play and reflect on God’s goodness.
  3. God can use FAILURE to help you grow. I have another fitness coach, a pastor named Mark, who encouraged me to use the principle of “failure” in my weight lifting. He taught me that on my last set of each exercise, I should keep lifting until I can’t go any more. “Lifting to failure” increases blood flow to the muscle and boosts muscle growth. It will also make you sweat!

The old gym slogan, “No pain, no gain,” is also a spiritual truth. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says: “Whatever your hands find to do, do with your strength.” Don’t be halfhearted in serving the Lord. Throw all your energy into whatever He calls you to do, and you will reap the blessings.

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10 Qualities of a Healthy Mentor

Throughout my Christian journey, God sent special people to be my role models and mentors. One of those, a youth pastor named Barry, invited me to his home for a weekly Bible study when I was just 15. He taught me how to have a private prayer time with God—and now, many decades later, he’s still a close mentor and an example of how to be a man of God.

Yet I meet many Christians today who never had a mentor—or they had a bad experience with someone who tried to disciple them the wrong way. If you want to begin a relationship like this, you can find God’s pattern for discipleship in the Bible. Here are 10 qualities to look for in a healthy mentor:

  1. Healthy mentors have mentors. The greatest leaders I know talk often about the people who helped them grow as Christians. No mature leader is “self-made.” Even the apostle Paul had Ananias and Barnabas to disciple him when he first came to faith. If a mentor claims he or she “learned everything directly from God,” you can be sure they have a spirit of pride. Never trust a loner.
  1. Healthy mentors are accessible. Some mentors keep an arms-length distance from people, and they make you wait until the planets align to schedule an appointment. That is not the Jesus way. The apostle Paul told the Romans: “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift (Rom. 1:11a). Don’t be aloof or play hard-to-get. If you are called to help other disciples grow, give them your phone number, answer their texts and open your heart as well as your office door.
  1. Healthy mentors don’t just talk—they listen. Jesus is the source of all wisdom, yet when He was with His disciples, He didn’t just lecture them. He often asked them questions (see Mark 8:27-30) and listened to their answers. God gave us one mouth and two ears—so we should listen twice as much as we talk. Good mentors know how to use their ears to comfort and care.
  1. Healthy mentors are patient and understanding. If you are called to be a mentor, you must realize that people don’t always take your advice the first time you offer it. Young Christians will make huge mistakes, ignore your counsel and frustrate you so much that you’ll be tempted to get angry, pull out your hair (or theirs) and give up on them! Be there for them when they stumble. Cry with them when necessary.
  1. Healthy mentors have the courage to confront. The apostle Paul told the Thessalonians that he cared for them “like a nurse caring for her own children” (1 Thess. 2:7b). But he also sternly warned his followers to avoid sin. Don’t compromise biblical standards to show compassion. Love is kind, but it is never soft. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is rebuke a person who is acting foolishly.
  1. Healthy mentors are committed to confidentiality. When your disciple bares his soul to you, cover his sins with the blood of Jesus and never tell others what he said. 1 Peter 4:8b says: “Love covers a multitude of sins.” You are betraying your disciple if you tell others about his private confession. Unless he confesses to child sexual abuse or murder (which you are required by law to report to the police) his confession is between you and him. Give your disciple a “safe place” to heal.
  1. Healthy mentors live what they preach. Anybody can post their sermons on YouTube and attract a huge audience. But sermons alone don’t make a man or woman of God. Don’t be duped into following people just because of pulpit charm or online popularity. What you need in a mentor is tested character, not the wow factor. And true character is not formed in the spotlight but in the darkness of life’s trials.
  1. Healthy mentors focus on a few. We are all tempted to measure success by numbers. But Jesus turned this mentality upside down. He focused His time on a small, unimpressive group of followers. He taught us that quality comes before quantity. Good mentors, even if they preach to huge crowds, invest most of their time in helping a small number of disciples reach maturity.
  1. Healthy mentors are always growing spiritually. Jesus said a good steward in His kingdom “brings out of his treasure new and old things” (Matt. 13:52). Good mentors aren’t effective if they only teach what they learned 40 years ago. They must stay current. Good mentors are always reading books, learning new things and applying old truths to new challenges so they can train a new generation.
  1. Healthy mentors know their limits. Jesus was the Son of God, but He got tired because He was also fully human. When the crowds drained His energy, He would often slip away to the wilderness to pray (see Luke 5:16). Good mentors know when their tanks are empty—and they withdraw from people to get refilled. Don’t make the mistake of seeing yourself as a Messiah. You can only give people what God gives you.

If you need a mentor, look for a healthy one. And if you are a mature believer, make it your goal to impart what you’ve learned from Jesus to a whole new generation of Christians who need healthy role models.

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Let’s Trade Our Titles for True Humility

Last week when I was preaching in the nation of Iceland, I befriended three young foreign students from Africa who were visiting our conference near Reykjavik. I noticed these guys were sitting in the back of the auditorium, so I invited them to sit with me up front. They later admitted to me that I was the first preacher they’d ever met who greeted people before a service.

“In my country, most preachers come into the auditorium after the worship, and they don’t speak to anyone,” one of the brothers told me.

When I told these brothers they could call me Lee, they were shocked. They expected me to demand a long-winded ecclesiastical title.

I’m often asked if I have a title, and my answer doesn’t satisfy some people. I don’t consider myself a pastor because I travel so much. All kinds of labels have been pinned on me: reverend, prophet, apostle, even bishop.

Once I was introduced to a church as “Dr. Grady,” and I almost crawled under my seat. I only have a college degree. There are no letters after my name.

Today it seems we’ve developed a title fetish. For a while everyone in charismatic circles was becoming a bishop, and some were installed into this office with rings, robes and funny-looking hats. Then the same guys with the pointy hats started calling themselves apostles. Then the prophets got jealous and started calling themselves apostles too! I knew one lady who, not to be outdone, required people to call her “exalted prophetess.”

Now the latest fad is requiring church folks to address certain people as apostles. As in, “When apostle Holy Moly arrives, please only address him as, ‘apostle,’ and then make sure he is seated in a private room while his two ‘armor bearers,’ wearing dark glasses, guard his door.” I know of one popular preacher who sends his hosts a letter explaining that he must be called “apostle” anytime his name is used from the stage!

Some of these title-seekers have even invented an elaborate theology to go along with their ridiculous rule. They say you can’t receive the true anointing from a man of God if you don’t honor him with his right title.

Sounds so very oooh-oooh spiritual to the naive. But it’s charismatic garbage.

Jesus didn’t play this religious game, especially when he was around the grand poobahs of His day—the long-robed, nose-in-the-air scribes and Pharisees. After accusing them of loving the best seats in the synagogues, He pointed out that they loved to be called “Rabbi” by men (see Matt. 23:7).

Then He warned them: “But do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brothers … For he who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt. 23:8,12).

People have quibbled over these words for centuries, insisting that pride is what Jesus was rebuking, not titles. I would agree that Jesus was going to the root sin. But He was also asking these guys if they’d be willing to ditch their labels and act like normal people.

When I was in China several years ago, I met some amazing leaders who had planted thousands of congregations. They had also spent a lot of time in jail for their faith, and they’d been beaten with iron rods for preaching the gospel. They were the bravest apostles I’ve ever met.

But when I asked them if they used “apostle” as a title, one guy said: “We believe in those roles in the church. But we prefer to call each other ‘brother’ or ‘sister.'”

That settled the issue for me.

If these Chinese giants of the faith—and true apostles—don’t require to be addressed with titles, then Your Worshipful Grand Master Rev. Dr. Bishop Big Deal Jones who claims oversight of maybe four churches shouldn’t wear his ministry role around his neck like a tacky neon name badge.

If people can’t see the anointing on your life through your character, then don’t cheapen the gospel by wearing a title you don’t deserve.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t use reverend, minister or even bishop to identify their roles in the church. One of my mentors is a bishop, and he is one of the most humble men I know. But can we please dispense with the insecurity and the childish “I’m more important than you” appellations and get back to the simplicity of the gospel? Let’s get over ourselves!

Jesus is the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Son of David, the Prince of Peace and the Apostle of our Confession. Yet when He came into this world, He laid aside His heavenly glory and took on the lowly name of Jesus. He wore no fancy robes. He demanded no titles. He had no “armor bearers.” He even bore His own cross until He was too weak to drag it to Calvary.

If we want to serve Jesus honorably, we must forsake our need for fame and cast our crowns at His feet.

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We Need More Women Like Beth Moore

I’ve been in countless Christian meetings over the years, but last week, I witnessed one of the most remarkable spiritual moments of my lifetime.

I was attending a gathering of Pentecostals held at a convention center in Orlando, Florida. When the speaker concluded the sermon, people began to stream to the altar. Many of them—including pastors—lay prostrate on the floor. Many were sobbing uncontrollably. Some people wept and prayed for an hour after the meeting was dismissed.

You may ask, “What’s so remarkable about that?” This meeting, held on July 26, was unique because the speaker was a Southern Baptist—and a woman. Yet her message was so convicting and so saturated in the Holy Spirit that people ran to the stage even though she didn’t even invite people to the altar.

The woman was author and popular women’s speaker Beth Moore, and the occasion was the 28th General Conference of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church. Leaders from the Assemblies of God, the Church of God and Nigeria’s Redeemed Christian Church of God were in attendance, along with thousands of Pentecostals from all over the world.

Moore based her message on Jeremiah 12:5: “If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses?” Without a tinge of self-righteousness or condemnation, Moore lamented the powerless state of the modern church and called us back to the raw authenticity of New Testament faith.

“We are settling for woefully less than what Jesus promised us,” said Moore. “I read my New Testament over and over. I’m not seeing what He promised. I’m unsettled and unsatisfied.”

She added: “I want holy fire!”

I don’t know what is more fascinating—that a Baptist challenged Pentecostals to embrace Pentecostal fire or that a woman who is not supposed to preach to men in her own denomination brought male pastors to their knees in repentance.

“We’ve lost our tolerance for pain and given ourselves to whining,” Moore declared. “We have settled for the spiked Kool-Aid of cool, cultural Christianity. What will make us relevant is not our cool factor. It’s time for leadership to repent.”

I’ve heard a lot of excellent preaching over the years. But listening to Beth Moore was uncanny because her sermon was not about her, and it didn’t draw attention to her. There was no swagger. There was no pretense. The sweet dew of heaven rested on this woman.

I could hear the Holy Spirit speaking loud and clear through a broken vessel.

That’s why people responded so dramatically, even though Moore simply closed her Bible and sat down when she finished her message. Everyone in the room knew they had heard God speak. They hit their knees because the anointing of the Holy Spirit wooed them to surrender pride, complacency and man-made religion.

What is baffling about this whole experience is that there are large numbers of Christians today who don’t believe Beth Moore should be preaching to audiences like the one in Orlando. In fact, some fundamentalists have launched attacks on her because she preaches authoritatively from pulpits. One online blogger says Moore “puts the ‘her’ in heresy” simply because men listen to her teaching. It grieves me that this anointed sister in Christ has been subjected to such disrespect.

The old argument employed by some conservative fundamentalists is that Paul, in 1 Timothy 2:12, forbid women to preach. They seem to ignore the fact that 1) Paul empowered many women in other locations to speak and that women such as Phoebe, Priscilla, Chloe, Euodia and Syntyche were on his ministry team; 2) that the Bible offers other examples of godly women leaders and prophets; and 3) that Paul’s unique concern in 1 Timothy 2:12 was about women in Ephesus who were “usurping” authority and teaching twisted doctrines.

The New Testament is clear that God has called all Christians to be His witnesses, and that both “your sons and your daughters” will prophesy in the last days (Acts 2:17). Our passion should be to see everyone empowered—regardless of race, class, age or gender. If we truly want Pentecost, we should want to see the flame of the Spirit resting on the heads of every person—not just white males over 50.

We really shouldn’t be too worried if God wants to use a woman today to call people to repentance. If He used Catherine Booth to shake England in the 1800s, or missionary Mary Slessor to plant the gospel in Nigeria, or Sojourner Truth to challenge slavery through her powerful preaching, or Kathryn Kuhlman to spark a healing revival in the United States in the 1970s, why are we still arguing about this?

We need an army of women like Beth Moore, and my prayer is that more women will seek the Lord and dig into His Word with the same passion that Moore has. I believe she is a forerunner for a new generation of both men and women who will carry a holy Pentecostal fire that cannot be restricted by gender.

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