Monday, February 1, 2016

Expand - Theme word for 2016

When I asked God about a theme word for 2016, no single term immediately jumped out.

2015 was the year of Conversation; I talked to God and others with greater intention. 
2014 was the year of Awareness; I stretched my personal limits and flirted with burn out. 
2013 was the year of Follow through; I finished a few more projects or sentences than I would normally have completed. 
Writing this post to go viral.
What helped me make a decision for 2016 was a simple desire to grow my influence. I want to have a stronger voice in people’s lives, whether it be my wife, my children (speaking of expansion, I should have three living in home in a few months), my church, my fellowship, and blog audience. Not only do I want my voice to increase, but I want the ministry of my family and church to deepen.

The various words I toyed with to convey this increase of impact included increase, growth, maturity, discipline, and develop. None of these felt right. Then I landed on Expand. I thought of a territory stretching out, much like the kingdom of David or the global reach of the gospel. And buried deep in my memory was a little book by Bruce Wilkinson I read in college, The Prayer of Jabez, where the title character asks God to “expand his lot” (1 Chr. 4:10).

The word  has lingered. I've run it by Liz (to make sure it’s sticky) and through a search engine (to make sure it’s biblical). On both accounts, the term passed muster. Most notably, Paul writes to the Corinthians of expanding his ministry influence without boasting or building on another person’s lot. The expanse is natural, viral, and humble (2 Cor. 10:12-18).

“We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond our proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did not get as far with you as the gospel. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel to the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in another man’s territory. But, “let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”

As much as I may want God to expand my influence, grow my church, and increase my audience, I must let this passage guide my humble understanding of expanse. It is God’s increase, not mine. I must become less. Boasting and self-referential gain are useless. Paul avoided both pitfalls. They are the activity of fools. Those who fear God, on the other hand, enjoy an expanded life (Prov. 10:27, MSG).

Expanse implies an understanding of limits. I must recognize the territory of others, as well as blue oceans, unreached people, and untapped resources. Moreover, God has assigned lots. Any expanse must be plotted on the larger map of God’s gospel ministry. I must ask where He wants me to go help others’ faith grow.

As a result, I’ve come to apportion my time more strategically. In addition to family, personal, and local church ministry, I have secured three broader kingdom commitments. My board work with BMH/GraceConnect, Let’s Know the Bible Conference, and the Equipping Network serve different purposes. To maximize my energy for each one of these organizations, I have dedicated one Monday afternoon a month to each. And, in a stroke of genius (note to self: see comment about humility above), I have volunteered for writing assignments that I can re-purpose on my own blog. My interaction with these teams not only expands my influence, but broadens my base of personal connections.

Finally, since establishing this word as my annual theme, I have begun to let God nuance my definition through various study materials. Surely this is an example of “selective attention” –e.g.,  where a newly acquired love for Mexican food raises your awareness of Taco trucks on every corner – but the word expand, expanding, and expansion have proliferated in my reading (see below).

Now, dear reader, please aid this emerging author in his efforts to expand by featuring this post on your social media sites, sharing it at a family meal, or printing twenty copies and plastering them in local toilet stalls. 

Quotations from January reading with theme word:

In Praying with Paul, D.A. Carson reflects on the prayer in Romans 15:30-33. “I would not want to give the impression that everyone is called to expansive and immediately fruitful ministry. Some of us are called to situations where work is slow and difficult. Even so, if we do not dream dreams and envisage what might be, it is unlikely we shall ever pray for them or work toward them… How much better it is, wherever possible, to tie our immediate concerns to the larger possibilities of expanding ministry” (pp. 197-198).

Robby Gallaty writes in his new book Rediscovering Discipleship: “Discipleship is a means to expanding the ministry of Jesus” (pg. 40).

In a note of caution, Gordon MacDonald warns in Ordering Your Private World: “Here in North America we now live in what I call the era of the visionary church. Almost every pastor is judged on the basis of whether he/she has a vision. And this usually means a vision of how the church can grow, grow, grow… Doubtless this is not all bad if it results in bringing unchurched people into the kingdom of God. But one wants to watch a lot of this “vision” and ask how much of it is satisfying the need of a driven leader who has to see things expand at all costs” (pg. 25).

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