Culture Building Memo #2: The basics are always basic

There was an embarrassing silence in the room. The question by a church leader put the pastors ”on the hot seat.” What was so embarrassing? Here’s the question.

“How many of you are practicing a daily time of Bible meditation and prayer that is designed to only feed your souls — not a time for message preparation or for a class?”

No one’s hand went up. No one was practicing what we would call a daily “quiet time.”

This conversation reveals a troubling reality among many leaders. There is little time set aside to experience God through Bible meditation and prayer, what we call the discipline of a devotional or quiet time. As one pastor confided in me, “They never talked about this at seminary.” The lack of this practice leads to what another leader calls a “thinness” in people’s lives, a superficiality that comes from inadequate time in the Scriptures.

Did you notice the phrase “experience God” in the above paragraph? Culture builders move beyond helping people read the Bible. We want to help people experience God in the Scriptures, an experience that brings closeness, comfort, communication, and conviction. Author Ruth Haley Barton writes, “Amid the welter of possible distractions, an essential discipline for leaders is to craft times of quiet in which we allow God to us those things that we might otherwise miss.”

Time after time, I‘ve seen the Lord use this simple discipline to transform a leader’s life. “Learning to stop, meditate on the Word, and listen to the Lord’s voice has been one of the most transformative things I‘ve done,” said one pastor. This discipline is so basic that we substitute its simplicity for sophisticated leadership training or ministry methodology. As culture builders, we must remember that the basics are always basic.

How do you keep this “basic” of a quiet time basic? Here are some suggestions.

  • Focus on the main course not the appetizer. Devotional aids and books are “appetizers” — they whet our appetites for the main course of the Bible. Help people to minimize the appetizer and feast on the main course.
  • Buy a quality journal. When discipling or coaching another, demonstrate how you journal what God is teaching you. Spend some money and buy a journal for someone else.
  • Talk about the Word every time you meet. My favorite question is, “What is God showing you from His word lately?” I place the focus on meeting with God not the accountability question, “Did you have a quiet time this week?” I want to encourage relationship not performance.
  • Use the analogy of “fresh bread.” Just as Israel gathered fresh bread daily in the wilderness (Exodus 16), so we need to receive fresh bread daily from the Lord. Israel gathered the manna daily. It would not last until the next day. We need a fresh word from the Lord daily not the stale reminder of last month’s quiet time.
  • Have a quiet time with them. Skype or Zoom technology allows us to meet with someone face-to-face. I’ve had quiet times with pastors across town, in another city, and in another country. The “with him” principle can work through our current technology.

My heart skipped a beat when a pastor shared this insight with me, “You know, the Bible used to inform my ministry. Now it shapes my ministry.” “Yes, Lord!” I said to myself. It all started with helping this leader develop a daily habit of meeting with God in His word and prayer. The basics are always basic.

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