The first goal of the “Men’s Leadership Class” that I teach each year for 8 months to approximately 12 men is “That each man will faithfully practice the basic disciplines of the Christian Life”. They are called disciplines because our flesh hates to do them, the devil will work overtime to keep us from them, and the world will suck away all of our time so that we don’t have time to do them, so it will take self-control, discipline, accountability, and hard work to keep these disciplines in our life. As long as they are in our life we will grow in character, grow closer to the Lord in intimacy, and bear much fruit, but if our flesh, the devil, and the world squeeze them out of our life we are doomed to a life of mediocrity at best.
The first discipline is Bible, the second is prayer, the third is seeking wisdom, the fourth is worship, the fifth is giving our money to God’s work, the sixth is self-examination and confession of sin, and the 7th is gathering together.
This seventh discipline is an action and an attitude. The action is to regularly and often gather together with our church family and also with other men in a small group for the purpose of practicing the “one another commands” in the letters to the church’s in the New Testament, and holding each other accountable for our goals and the basic disciplines. Hebrews 10:23–25 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
“God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble”, and pride is saying or thinking, “I can live the Christian life successfully without you, I can do it by myself!” We all struggle with this attitude and it is a killer .
The 6th basic discipline that I teach is “Examine your life for sin, and confess all known sin to God everyday”. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.That is about as succinct and clear as a verse gets. The key word is the first word of the verse, “if”, because most don’t. The first thing Adam did when he sinned was to hide, and then when confronted by God for his sin he blamed his wife. We are so prone to protecting ourselves that denying, blaming, hiding, justifying, and ignoring our sin is what we do naturally without any teaching or coaching. That is why this is a “discipline” because if we don’t discipline ourselves to do it we won’t.
Unconfessed sin results in a conscience that grows more and more calloused and insensitive to sensing God’s pleasure in us, our prayers are not answered by God, we will have a hard time understanding the Bible when we read it, God puts us on the bench and doesn’t use us, we feel tired, sin gets a tighter and tighter hold on us and we can’t seem to help ourselves, we will begin to doubt God, and we will move farther and farther away from Him in our love.
I practice this discipline right before going to bed each night by replaying the day in my mind. Most of the sins I commit now are with my mouth and in my thoughts. I am not obsessing over every little slight, but I do want to be totally transparent with God, after all He already saw it. I journal regularly attempting to look at myself as a third person and write what I did, said, and what I thought, and then I write what I should have done, and a commitment to do it that way the next time I find myself in a similar situation.
Faithfully practicing this discipline each and every day results in a healthy soul, and a steady growth in character and righteousness before God. A man who faithfully practices this discipline grows stronger every day in his love for God, he becomes more and more secure in who he is, and becomes transparent and stops being an image manager. There are so many blessings that come into our life from God when we confess all known sin to God everyday.
I have been sharing about the structure, strategy, methods, and goals of the class I teach for 8 months each year to a group of about a dozen men. Leadership doesn’t mean power it means influence, other people’s lives change because of the influence of leaders. The ability to influence those around us comes in great part to the authority we have been given by God. When Jesus taught the crowds marveled because He didn’t teach as the Pharisees who used power and position to control and dominate, but He taught as one who had authority. All authority comes from God, and He gives it to those who have earned it. When we have God’s authority people want to follow us and to live the way we live. As I wrote earlier when you have God’s authority leadership is easy, and if you don’t have His authority leadership is impossible. So how does a person earn God’s authority? By being faithful. In Matthew 25:21 Jesus said to the servant He had entrusted responsibility to, “well done, good and faithful servant, you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things”.
The 5th discipline that I teach in the class is “Giving our money” to the work of God, to support our church, and to help others who are in need. I don’t emphasize “tithing” as the standard or goal in our giving, but I do emphasize systematic, based on previously thought out and made commitment, and sacrificial. In 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 the Apostle Paul gives instruction on giving, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
In Luke 16:10. Jesus teaches, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous money, who will entrust the true riches to you?” The “true riches” that Jesus is speaking of being put in charge of are people. God loves to give His authority to faithful people whom He can trust to use it wisely and well. Those who are faithful to the “basic disciplines of the Christian life” especially to the discipline of sacrificial giving of their money, those “who sow bountifully will also reap bountifully”.
The emphasis in “Men’s Leadership Class” is, you don’t get better by trying harder, you get better by training. Training is a process that is is guided by routines and habit development like training for any sport. We have basic practices or disciplines that we build into our lives as a routine or habit by accountability with friends who are pursuing the same goals as disciples of Jesus. The first of these disciplines is Bible reading, memorization, and study, the second is prayer, private , corporate, and with our wife, the third is seeking wisdom, and the fourth is worship.
Worship is a little difficult to set a goal for because it isn’t as definitive as Bible reading or prayer. In “Men’s Leadership Class” we define this discipline as becoming a person who rejoices about everything and grumbles and complains about nothing. The foundation would be praising and thanking God for all of His blessings to us starting with the fact that we exist, we think, we feel, we are a unique person created in God’s image by His sovereign choice. Then moving to the fact that He saved us from our sins, and that we get to live forever and ever with Him with incomprehensible joy, wow, how did that happen? A key part of the discipline of worship is rejoicing in the midst of trials because we understand that God is using them to shape and mold our character to be like His so that when we move into eternity we will be like Him so that He can enjoy fellowshipping with us and we with Him. Another motto of the class is “Character is not created in us by God in a moment of time, it is developed in us by trials over time”. But the problem is that the trials don’t produce godly character if we complain and grumble and feel sorry for ourselves, so we learn how to “consider it all joy” even if we don’t feel like it.
Another motto of the class is, “We will never do better privately in the disciplines than we do corporately”. We are part of the “Body of Christ” and learning to live our life in an interdependent relationship with others in our church family is crucial to steady growth as a disciple of Jesus. In our country one of the plaques of the church is the independent, I can do it by myself, I don’t need you attitude that most have. God didn’t create us capable of growth and accomplishment independent of others. All that to say if we are going to become a positive, rejoicing, never complaining kind of person we must worship well corporately when we gather as a church family. Most men worship poorly because of their pride, self consciousness, and worry about what people will think so they sing softly or not at all. Singing is a major emphasis in the Bible as how we are to worship God, especially in a corporate setting. If we worship well corporately we will worship well all day long, and all week long.
The first of 7 goals in the 8 month Leadership class for men that I teach each year is that they would all “Faithfully practice the basic disciplines of the Christian life”. In the various books and teachings on this subject up to 31 disciplines have been listed, but I emphasize just 7 in the class. The first is Bible reading, the second is prayer, and the third is “Seeking Wisdom”.
Proverbs 2:2-6 “Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding; For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the Lord And discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”
One of the motto’s of the class is “leaders are readers”. Over the years I have collected books that are very good in content for men, and they are “readable”, that is they are written in such a way that they hold your attention. I have about 20 copies of a dozen different titles of books that I loan to the guys to read, the requirement for the class is 25 pages each week, but most of them end up reading more.
Another requirement for the class is listening to one sermon a week “On line” or from a CD on leadership. There are many excellent ones by John Maxwell, Andy Stanley, Bill Hybels, and others. I encourage the guys to listen to good teaching whenever they are doing something like mowing the lawn, working on the house, etc. Another motto of the class is “When you are sitting read, when you are moving listen”.
One other emphasis that I make repeatedly is “seek wisdom from wise people”. Look around and find those people that are successful at what you want to be successful at. Raising godly kids, have a good marriage, doing well financially, in good shape and healthy, or whatever skill or character trait that you want to acquire. Find a person doing well in that area, invite them to lunch or breakfast, have good questions written down, take good notes as they talk, and pay for the meal. Most men don’t ever do that because of their pride, but those who do are following a major Biblical teaching and will be blessed by God and will grow, learn, become successful themselves, and become very usable for God.
Proverbs 3:13-15. How blessed is the man who finds wisdom. And the man who gains understanding. For her profit is better than the profit of silver. And her gain better than fine gold. She is more precious than jewels; And nothing you desire compares with her.
I have 7 goals for my Leadership Class men. The first goal is that each man would totally see the importance of the seven basic disciplines of the Christian life, and would be committed to daily doing each one of them. Most books written about the disciplines have many more than 7, but I have found that too many disciplines tend to overwhelm them, confuse, and demotivate them. The first discipline is to read the Bible everyday and get them to commit to reading using a plan that would get them through the Bible at least once through in a year, and that they would rarely miss a day in this important and foundational discipline. Also they would become guys who spend time every day memorizing key Bible verses and passages and learn the discipline of “setting ” their mind on those verses memorized and meditating on them as a key discipline to changing their behavior. Along with the reading and memorizing they would also learn to study the Bible in depth using good techniques and good tools, and writing down their conclusions.
A second basic discipline that is taught is to spend time with God in prayer each and every day, and that they would learn to use a prayer journal with many names of people written down that they are committed to praying for, both saved and unsaved. The minimum goal would be 15 minutes every day. Also that each guy would faithfully attend a corporate prayer time once each week at JBC. A major push in the class to get every married man praying with his wife at least 3 times each week, and that he as the spiritual leader would initiate when they prayed together, and he would lead well and make sure that it happened. “Much prayer = much blessing; little prayer = little blessing; no prayer =no blessing.
Over the last 42 years of pastoring at JBC my favorite part has been teaching my “Men’s Leadership Class”. It is a class of about a dozen guys that meet with me weekly for 9 months with class lectures from me, reading assignments from good books, scripture memorization assignments, writing assignments, and group accountability for those assignments. At the end of the 9 month class each man gives a 15 minute sermon in a regular church service as their graduation exercise. I schedule 3 guys per service until they have all spoken, and they are easily my favorite services of the year. Tonight in our Saturday evening service 3 men spoke and there will be three more in each of the two services tomorrow. The 3 tonight did amazingly well and I expect that tomorrow will be equally as good. It has been so long ago I can’t even remember what prompted me to start that very first class, but I did, and it was pretty basic and bare bones, after all I was just off of the farm and I didn’t know very much to teach. But I kept reading the Bible, reading good books, going to seminars, going to graduate school, and gradually learning the principles of living life God’s way. As I learned new truth, I wrote it down as simply and as understandably as I could, then I would teach it to my “Men’s Leadership Class”. It wasn’t hard to tell from the reaction of the guys in my class if I had accomplished my goal of making the truth practical, understandable, and motivational. When it was obvious to me that my lesson was as clear as mud, I reworked it and eventually got it to the point where when I taught it I saw guys looking back at me with “bright eyes”, that expression and look that said, “I get it”. In over 40 years of teaching the class there are literally several hundred men in our church who have graduated from the class. These are the men who are giving leadership to much of the ministry happening at JBC. They initiate and start new ministries, they do this without supervision, they do it faithfully, they think creatively how to make it better and more effective, and a key component is that they pursue and maintain the unity and love in our church which is crucial to God’s blessing us. Over the years certain motto’s have arisen which we picked up in the various leadership books we have read that describe what “Leadership Class” is all about. “Leadership is Influence”, “All leadership is earned, never demanded”, “Everything rises and falls on the quality of the leadership”, “You can’t lead others until you can lead yourself”, “God loves to give His authority to people who are faithful”, “When you have God’s authority leadership is easy, when you don’t have His authority leadership is impossible”, and there are dozens of others. This year I started a ladies class, and it has turned out super enjoyable for me, and I am feeling much more confident that I can actually teach ladies successfully. This year was a pilot class and I learned a lot that I will incorporate into next years class and I will keep adjusting the content and the method until I get it fine tuned. I have 7 clear goals for the “Men’s Class”, and I will share them tomorrow. I am still working on what my goals are for the ladies class, and I aim to have them done by the time the next class starts this Fall.