I grew up under Communist Albania, where children believed they were the happiest in the world, but had never seen the world.
To be honest, I was happy. Even though we did not have many toys or clothes, we had a lot of friends as we played most of the times outdoors, in the nature.
I developed a love for arts, probably because we were forbidden to watch Hollywood, thus we were served with opera, ballet, classical music and classic films like “Le miserable” or ” Mozart”
I liked to read. I liked to paint. We did not have the fancy coloring that our kids have now. I would draw with white chokes, outside or with a stick in a ground. My friends told me that I was talented. I think I did well. At least I really enjoyed it.
My cousin, who lived right on the next building, loved to draw too. She started to go to the city painting club. One day I decided to join her with the purpose to join the club. The Pioneer’s House, this is how we called them in Communism, was cold and grey, kind of ugly. The painting class was in a big, not so nice room. There were about 20 students there and me. The teacher, a man at his 40’s, who looked like life had beaten him, with fuzzy curly hair, put in front of us two objects, told the students that they had 2 hours to work on them, and then left to enjoy his cigarette.
Nice start. The object was a white clay Hellenic ornament. As soon as the teacher left, I started my work. And after 20 minutes I was done. I looked around the classroom and everybody else but me, was still working. To my surprise they were not even close to finishing. I felt so proud of myself! To my greater surprise they had made a big rectangle and divided it in parts. I saw them stretching their arms, with their pencil up, eye blinking, measuring something and then drawing on their rectangle.
My cousin had a look on me and gave me that cheating smile. I gathered myself, stretched my arm, pencil up and tight in my hand, eye blinking, and then.. What do I do with that?
Later on, I realized that they were measuring the object in order to draw a faithful model of it. I was drawing a shadow model, something that looked very similar, at least to my opinion the shape looked the same, but the teacher and all of them would say that was not faithful to the model, it was not the exact thing. My other new friends had learned special techniques to achieve with excellence what was asked of them.
That day I learned that painting was science, and painting was hard work. It needed commitment and discipline. You could not ignore certain techniques if you wanted to succeed. And measurements were highly important. That day I decided to quit without starting! I considered myself as a free spirit artist, who could not be bound in rules less more in measuring techniques like arm stretched, pencil up and tight in the fist and eyes blinked! You know now that I never became a professional painter.
But that was my first experience or introduction with measurements.
I could go on with examples of how Communism helped me to hate measurements and what a struggle was for me as a young staff to fill stats. God is not bound in statistics. We could not measure His work. His Spirit worked according to His will, like the wind that Jesus mentioned to Nicodemus. I never forget that passage, as I came to Christ through the first 3 chapters of John. Another reasons I did not like statistics was that deep inside I was hurt. Because of my misunderstanding about the importance of measurements I felt like my leaders did not care about me, but numbers, results. Thus I would fill stats for them, not for myself. And I never liked that even though it made me feel good when I had high numbers to report.
One thing that I love about our walk with God is how he transforms us. He transforms our thinking and equip us with skills, so that we can faithfully accomplish the task that He has called us to do. In this process, to my surprise, I have come to love and appreciate measurements. Yes, it is true 🙂
They tell me the condition of my sheep. The bible tells us to know the condition of our sheep.
“Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds” Proverbs 27:23
They help me analyze the situation better and help me get a clear picture and understanding of where my time and efforts are spent and if they are giving results.
If I pay close attention to numbers, they tell me which tool is more effective in reaching others.
As a career consultant, when I read a client’s report, numbers are very important to me. I just cannot ignore numbers and metrics. And they make a difference in how to read the report and the kind of advice you give to your client. You can light his path or totally build up a big confusion and mislead him in another direction.
And I believe measurements are biblical. God gave clear measurements to Moses to build the temple, and He equipped him and the workers He called, through His Holy Spirit with the knowledge and skills they needed to accomplish what was required of them. Moses built the temple exactly as it was asked him. Why? Because he built by respecting those measurements. He didn’t just build a tent, a table, an ark according etc. He measured all the time and consulted the model that God gave him and accomplished everything with the exact given measures. He indeed succeeded and the Bible records that.
“Moses inspected the work and saw that they had done it just as the Lord had commanded. So Moses blessed them” Eksodus 39:43
We too, like Moses, are called to God’s work in building His body, which is not a physical building but a spiritual one. We believe that our specific task that He has entrusted us is building churches that will multiply. Do we have to measure and can we measure what we are building? How do we measure it? If so, what do we need to measure in order to make sure that we are building the right thing and are not wasting our time, money and energy?
What do we need to do today in order to make sure that we are on the right track and are not wasting time, energy, human and financial resources in the wrong direction?
“You have to clean the vase from these Rudina, the soil needs to breath” my friend explained to me, while visiting with us. She was a student of environment engineering and as an expert I needed her opinion on how to take care for some of the plants in our terrace, that were not doing well. We have tried to water them as we were told when we bought them, but yet they were withering and loosing leafs every day.
“Really, I thought these would fertilize the soil?” I mumbled as I was looking at the dry leaves that I had put on the vases
“No, she smiled- these do not help them to breath. Also you need to remove these”
Those were tiny new branches here and there. “Should I remove those too?!” I could not believe my ears. Are not those a sign of a healthy shoot?
“These are temporary branches, they do not live more than a year, thus they take the sap from the main branches, for this reason you have to remove them” And she started to show me the main and important branches that needed to be helped to grow.
My friend started to prune the orange, showing me step by step which branch to prune and exactly how. All of a sudden I felt as a new world had been opened to me, a world full of simple secrets for which I was not aware at all, and have done them in the wrong way. For example, that little cute tiny snail, which I wanted to help to live and have made the apple tree its new home, was the reason why the apple tree was withering. Also, I had noticed other small plants and flowers sprouting from the soil of another plant, and I thought it was cute- two plants could be grown in the same pot. Wrong! I learned that I had to uproot the secondary plants and plant them in a different vase, as the soil in the vase was not enough for two plants to grow healthy. The next day I uprooted the fig young plant from the Lilly’s vase and planted it in another vase, without success. The following day, the green fig plant had withered completely. My friend would explain to me later that you could not uproot plants in that way, but you have to carefully shake them off the vase and then carefully dust all the soil so the roots would not be damaged. I had uprooted them by force. Another important lesson.
For a moment I felt as I was in my life’s grove. What was growing in my life? Were there weeds, secondary plants, snails that had invaded my territory and were taking away the sap from my life? Which were those temporary branches, focuses and activities, which should be pruned so that the main branches would grow and produce fruit? Was the soil of my life fertile? Plants and trees need a constant fertilization. How about me, how was I fertilizing the soil of my life? How was I taking care in order to grow healthy?
We are in ministry, we know these elementary truths so well, we teach it to others. But had I been wise and attentive to inspect my life and take the needed actions in order to be fruitful?
We all are familiar with the parable of soils. The good soil is the one that yields much fruit. When we think about the good soil, somehow we are tempted to think that that kind of soil happens to be, kind of you’re lucky if you find that soil. But as my friend was teaching me about gardening, I started to see the good soil from another angle.
The good soil does not happen to be; it does not appear overnight. The good soil has been cleaned from rocks, weeds and thorns and all other kind of plants that are not the focus of the harvest you want to take from that soil. This soil has been worked, plowed, prepared, fertilized, watered in a regular way according to the needs. It has not left unattended, but the owner has been intentional and committed to create the necessary conditions depended on him, to make sure that he will have a good harvest. Jesus’ audience, coming from an agriculture background, knew very well what that meant.
If we want our lives and ministries to be fruitful like the good soil, then we have to be seriously proactive and shake the passive mode. Yes, God makes it to grow, but He has called us to partner with Him in this endeavor. We need to take care for the seed of the Gospel planted in us and in others we are discipling, not allowing it to become fruitless. Those simple steps that we teach to young believers, are those simple truths who are the secret of fruitfulness. Feeding ourselves from the Word, cultivating godly character and habits, spiritual discipline, keeping our lives free and clean from sin- walking in repentance and humbleness, pruning our priorities and activities in order to rederict our energy and strength toward the main vision and call in our lives. Asking God to give us wisdom and discernment how to do pruning.
Today, if you do an inspection of your life and ministry, what would you say about them? What do you see growing in your personal and ministry fields? How strong and healthy it is what you have planted? Can you say that you will receive a plentiful harvest out of it?
If not, what do you need to change today to make sure you will ripe a good harvest in its season?
I would love to leave us with this vision from the Psalms that has always been an encouragement to me:
“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
13planted in the house of the Lord,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
14They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,
15proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”” Psalmi 92:13-15
When people ask what I think the best leadership tool is today, they’re expecting me to respond with a particular book, program or course. While all those are helpful none of them rank at the top of my list. The one thing that produces the greatest leadership development results every single time is hands-on work under the watchful eye of a mentor.
If you want to develop someone to be a small group leader, then put them in your small group and start giving them the tasks of a small group leader. If you want someone to be a manager, then bring them along side you and start giving them the tasks of a manager. If you want someone to be a worship leader, bring them along side you and give them the tasks of a worship leader.
But wait!!! They’re not ready!! Exactly! That’s why you give them the tasks before you give them the title. There’s nothing like the messy soil of failure to learn how to lead well. For example, the best way to teach a young leader how to lead a meeting is let them lead a meeting while you watch. Then immediately afterward discuss with them what they did well and what they could do better. This type of coaching has a powerful impact on learning.
Each baseball season a whole new crop of youngsters line up to play the game for the first time. Months before they ever take the field for a game, they start practice with a coach who guides them each step along the way. Each practice they go through a series of repetitions learning to throw, catch and swing. Then when the pre-season of practice is over, and it’s game time these little rookies take their positions on the field with a new level of confidence and competence. The coach’s observations and feedback have transformed their skills and readied them for the game.
Remember it’s not experience that produces the transformation, its the evaluated experience that makes the difference. What hands-on experience can you give your leaders this week that will give them the swings at the plate they need to develop into great leaders?
Author: Mac Lake
When you think about key women of faith in the New Testament, who do you think of? Do you ever think of Martha? Her brother Lazarus had been dead 4 days when she said, “Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” (John 11:22) Wow! I usually think of Martha as the worried hostess, not the woman who told Jesus I believe you can raise Lazarus from the dead. There are some other women who surprise us when we look closely.
My favorite woman in the Bible is a church planter. When I think about her ministry, it makes me wonder how many of us husbands miss out because we don’t allow God to use our wives in ministry. Before we look at her, her husband, and how their ministry changed history, let me tell you about some women God is using to start churches today in Eastern Europe. Recently my wife met Marci Totos at the introduction of “The Significant Woman” life-coaching outreach material in Hungary. Marci told Luiza, “My heart is planting churches.” She and her husband just started one church near the airport, found a good leader for it, and want to start another near their home in the center of Budapest.
We met Tatiana and Vasile in 2013 at the MC2 training in Romania. They are from Uncesti, a village of 200 people north of Vaslui County. In Uncesti people cannot find jobs easily, so most people work in agriculture. The harsh life conditions and the lack of money has driven many men to become alcoholics, to abuse their wives and children, to steal and end up in jail. The wives and children are left to work in the fields alone.
Tatiana met Jesus first, then shared Christ with her husband Vasile. They were attending a church in a city 60 minutes away. Their church would come each month to feed poor children. Tatiana was encouraged to show the Magdalena film to the moms and begin a Discovery Bible Study for women. She did. Eventually a few men would come to bring their wives, but would hang around outside. “We can’t come in, we are bad people, we smoke and drink.” Vasile kept telling them, “God loves everyone. Just come and listen.” They did and now a Bible based church has begun in Uncesti.
There was also an Orthodox church in Uncesti, where Romeo rang the bells and Luminitsa sold candles. One day the priest fired Luminitsa (her name means “little light”) and found someone else to sell candles. Luminita got mad and decided to get revenge by going to the “repenters” (Tatiana and Vasily’s). She liked the Bible study a lot, began to attend regularly, and announced to Romeo that she decided to repent and follow Jesus. Romeo went to the priest and told him that his wife had lost her mind and gone to the “repenters”. This created a scandal in the small village so the priest called Luminita back and offered her the job back on one condition, that she leave the “repenters”. Even though they needed the money Luminita refused because she really wants to follow Jesus. “God will take care of me and my family. We don’t have money, but I have Him”.
Several days later Petronela, her friend and neighbor, stopped Luminita and told her, “Luminita you changed. I don’t know why, but you really changed.” Luminita shared that she attends a Bible study at Tatiana’s. Petronela begged her to ask Tatiana if she can come too.
Now Petronela is part of the Bible study.
Encouraged by what God had done, despite her struggle with diabetes and frequent visits to the hospital, Tatiana started a group in another village, Satu Nou, where already 2 women have become believers. She works with Corina in another county to start a group there too. Tatiana remembered a neighbor, Mariana, who would come and listen but never made a decision for Christ. Mariana’s husband was drinking a lot and he would be abusive. He beat her so badly that one day Mariana left him, got a divorce, and moved to another village. Tatiana lost all contact with her but she started to pray for Dobroslovesti, the village that Mariana moved to, that God would open a door there.
One day a woman named Stratica came to Uncesti from Dobroslovesti where Mariana is now, so Tatiana asked if she knew her. Stratica knew Mariana and told her that she remarried and now has a little girl. “Why do you want to find Mariana?”, Stratica asked. Tatiana explained, “To start a Bible study in her home.” “Why not in my house!?”, Stratica exclaimed.
When Tatiana went to Dobroslovesti where Stratica and Mariana live she took Luminitsa along to train her (Petronela asked to come too). They began a Bible study in Mariana’s house with 7 women. At the end of the meeting one of the woman named Pamela asked if they could start a group in her house too, since Mariana’s house is quite small and she wanted to invite other friends and neighbors. So Pamela invited other women and they started a group in her house too. None of these ladies Petronela, Mariana, Pamela are believers yet, but they are active in three Bible study groups. When we ask God to open a door, we need to be ready for Him to open more doors than we are expecting.
My time is up and I still haven’t told you about my favorite church planting woman in the New Testament. That will have to wait for another article. Meanwhile let me encourage us as husbands to be more like Vasile and look for ways to encourage our wives in ministry. Be a good steward of her spiritual gifts, not just your own. You might be married to a very significant woman. Together you could change history.
I am Polish, and I am a twin. Out of 7 couples of twins they had in that hospital 45 years ago, my sister and I are the only twins who are still both alive. We were born in winter. It was a very cold winter, that’s why my parents had to wait two months for the temperatures to rise close to 0 C, in order to baptize us. So I was born Catholic.
When I was 6 years old we visited our grandparents. The street where they lived was named after a church, but there was no church there. So I asked about that. I found out that their town used to be a German town before the war and they had two churches, one Catholic and the other one Protestant church. After the war the town became Poland. The other church was empty for many years and they destroyed to build a block of flats, but the name of the street did not change.
I asked my mom: “Who are Protestants?” She answered: “They are like us but they do not recognize Mary”. I am 46 year old now, and I still hear the same answer from different people, and I still have the problem to understand what that answer means.
When I was 14 years old, I was not only the altar boy, but I became also a lector. A lector is the altar boy who can read aloud the Scriptures during the services. I was part of a group of 11 boys who got our first Old and New Testament Bibles. The priest wrote a sentence for each of us saying: “Believe in what you read and do what you believe”. So I started to read from the beginning and got stuck in Genesis or Leviticus. My twin sister was in a better situation as she got only New Testament for her first communion and when she was a teenager she started to read from the beginning and got stuck in John.
When I was 16, our philosophy teacher claimed to be an atheist. So together with my classmates we went to our priest and asked him how we could make an atheist a believer. After a while he answered: “You need to do it by words and works”. The answer was wise, but we still had problem because we did not know what that answer meant in practice.
When I was 18, a freshman at the college, two students from Campus Crusade came into my room and wanted to talk about Jesus. I was interested, but not very friendly as I thought that Catholics do not do things like that. They presented me the Four Spiritual booklet. Two things touched me. These guys were different, in a positive way. I had never met anybody like them. And that conversation started to give me the answers that I could understand and apply. I liked that but could not trust them. So I started to read the Bible to see if what they said was true. I started to read John as they suggested. Somewhere in the second part of the Gospel I prayed to receive Jesus into my heart. He started to change me and I started to talk to others about Him but now I knew how to do it and I knew how to help others.
Today Catholics are similar to me: they ask questions and have a problem to find the answers, they want to help atheists to believe; they need to understand the Gospel; they need to read the Scripture looking for answers.
Let me give you some examples from our neighborhood.
Our son, who is 15 years old, went with me sharing Christ a few times. First time during the summer when Pope Francis visited Poland and second when we took our friends and went sharing to strangers in the streets in our city. He talked to his classmates about Jesus and presented the Four Spiritual Laws booklet to a few. Last Friday he started ALPHA group for youth in our home. His religion teacher encouraged kids to come. Three girls came. They had pizza and great discussion. One of the girls said: If we are to discuss these things, I would like to prepare myself and read a Bible. Today he gave her a New Testament encouraging her to start from John.
Ania – my wife, shared Christ some time ago with Beata. Beata has a little shop where she sells food for pets. She knows half of the district. Some time ago Beata started to share Christ with her clients everybody is interested to know why she is reading her Bible all the time. Beata now meets with two ladies. The first one has just received Jesus and wants to know more and she wants her friends to have what she already has gotten. The other one is a believer for a longer time and wants to learn from Beata how to share Christ to others. You do not have to ask me to what church do they all go on Sunday.
Basia received Jesus about 30 years ago when we had here a big revival in a Catholic Church. She became a religion teacher and started to teach in our school. She quickly realized that most of children do not have Bibles at homes so she decided to change it, and made sure every kid graduating our little public school would have a Bible. If you could be then on the bus that went from her home to our school and you would meet a young tiny girl with bags full of Bibles that was her! When we met her a few years ago, we encouraged her to prepare her testimony and talk to others. Now she talks about Jesus to other teachers and Ania is training her how to lead another teacher who just received Jesus in a discipleship process.
Today Catholics are similar to me: they ask questions and have a problem to find the answers, they want to help atheists to believe; they need to understand the Gospel; they need to read the Scripture looking for answers.
Are we going to help them?
That is almost half of Europe, almost the second part of Europe.
And a little boy will lead them. (Isaiah 11:6b)
I’ve been involved in the ministry in Eastern Europe for a long time. Over the years I’ve really appreciated the emphasis that Larry Thompson and Virgil Anderson placed on simplicity. One of Larry’s key principles in working with volunteers was the ministry needed to be easy. It should be easy for anyone involved with GCM to succeed.
This focus on simplicity was also emphasized at Saddleback Church which we attended from 1999 to 2005 when we were in the US. Rick Warren always told everyone at church that what you needed to be able to do in order to lead a group, was to be able to operate two devices: a coffee machine and a VCR (DVD player). Obviously the volunteers who opened their homes for small groups received additional training later, but the basic entry point was very simple.
Simplicity is one of the things I also like about MC2. Vital Biblical fellowships do not have to be complicated. In our home fellowship, we practiced Discovery Bible Study. It’s simple enough that everyone in our group has led the study at least once–everyone except one of our children. A few weeks ago, I was in Budapest for our GCM team meeting. Before I left, I asked Anton, our 13-year-old to lead the group while I was gone. We spent time praying and preparing. He and our other children have always been a part of our group. So they’ve observed how we do things and participated in the reading, retelling and application-focused discussion. So while I was gone, Anton led our home fellowship (yes, my wife helped him some). He asked everyone if they had applied the lesson from last week, started the worship (we use YouTube to stream worship karaoke on our TV), led the Bible study, and helped the group members come up with application questions. He didn’t do a perfect job, but it was a good step of faith for him and I appreciated his willingness to serve. In fact, I was really proud of him.
The principles in MC2 are so simple that even a child can lead a home fellowship group. That’s not to say that a child can do everything that is necessary to make a home fellowship succeed in the long run. There’s a lot more needed: cooking and organization, building relationships with the people in your group, caring for them in difficult times, providing mentoring and support, while reaching out to new people over coffee. But the basic mechanics of our time together is simple enough so that even a child can lead us. I like that.
And I think that should encourage us to challenge everyone in our home faith communities to take a turn leading the group, because stepping out in faith to lead the group is really easy and it’s also really rewarding.
What about you? Whom in your group can you challenge this week to take a step of faith?