3 Qualities of An Aspiring Apprentice

This past Sunday I taught at Community’s Naperville Yellow Box Campus. Our Big Idea was apprenticeship, and I explained the three qualities we can look for when considering someone to be an apprentice.

1) The first quality is SPIRITUAL VELOCITY.

To have spiritual velocity doesn’t mean you live a perfect life or have it all figured out what it looks like follow Jesus. What it really means is that the trajectory of your life is moving you closer and closer to Jesus. You desire to live a Jesus-centered life. You are trying to be more like Jesus in how you treat people, how you manage your time, and how you steward your finances.

I’ve seen spiritual velocity illustrated this way.

Let’s say Jesus is represented by the cross in the middle of this diagram. We might look at this picture and think person “A” is living a Jesus-centered life, while person “B” is not.

But what if we add some movement to the picture?


God is always on the move, his mission is always moving into new places with new people. If person “B” is pursuing Jesus and following where he is leading, while person “A” is not growing – staying put and remaining where they are, it’s actually person “B” who has spiritual velocity.

So, ask this of someone you are considering to be your apprentice: Is the direction of his/her life leading him/her closer to Jesus?

2) The second quality is TEACHABILITY.

Apprentices are people who want to grow. They are willing to accept feedback in order to be developed. They don’t assume they know it all; they want to learn.

Does the person you are considering for your apprentice have an openness to grow and be challenged in new ways? If you answer “yes.” Then he or she is likely teachable!

3) The third quality is RELATIONAL INTELLIGENCE.

Relational intelligence is grounded in an understanding that all people are created in the image of God; people matter to him and they matter to us. A person with relational intelligence looks for the best in others. He or she genuinely cares about people and wants to help others find their way back to God.

When it comes to relational intelligence, I challenge people to make sure you pass the “Caller ID” Test. In other words, “How does someone respond when they see your name come up on their phone when you call? If it’s “Oh, it’s Jon Ferguson, I think I’ll let it go to voice mail.” That’s NOT what you want!

We believe the most effective way we can carry the Jesus Mission forward is to apprentice new leaders who will reproduce new small groups. This is by no means a complete list of qualities to look for in an apprentice, but it is a great start as you begin to look for someone you could lead down the path of apprenticeship.

If you would like to explore these and more concepts around the idea of apprenticeship, order a copy of Developing an Apprentice.

Free Resources

Along with the book, Finding Your Way Back to God and the corresponding video curriculum available through Multnomah, the creative team at Community Christian Church, led by Eric Bramlett developed an amazing array of free resources available for churches looking to hold a series based on the book. These resources include message manuscripts, a series bumper, real life video stories, website graphics, and teaching videos. Over 1000 churches have now taken advantage of the free resources available at www.yourwayback.org.

One of the churches who first took advantage of these resources was Westside Family Church in Kansas City, MO. Brian Phipps, Pastor of Small Groups at Westside said this about the series: “We at Westside Family Church LOVED Finding Your Way Back to God. We started just under 100 new groups and well over 50 people were baptized. The series was one of the best in our church history, and many started a journey back toward God through it… both believers who drifted and those who have just started that pursuit. If you are considering using this excellent tool in the new year, I highly encourage it.”

Click here for access to these free resources

Transform Your Thoughts

Series Big Idea: TRANSFORM

At Community, we just wrapped up a series called TRANSFORM. The last week in this series we focused on what it would look like for God to transform our thoughts, which of course led me to ask this question: Why is it so crucial that I let God transform my thoughts? Here’s why…Because My Thoughts Control My Life.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.” (GNT)

The power of your mind, the power of your thoughts, has the ability to shape your life for great good or for bad.   My thoughts impact my beliefs, which lead to my behaviors. Behind every act, whether good or bad, is a belief that is acted upon that begins as a thought. Maybe it’s an instant thought or it could be something that we have lingered on for quite a while, but our behaviors begin as a thought.

At one point in Spring Training our Chicago Cubs thought they could go to the World Series. Cubs first baseman, Anthony Rizzo, predicted the Cubs would win the division back in Spring Training! Yes, our behaviors begin as a thought!

Every single action always begins as a thought. If you don’t think it, you don’t do it. That’s both for good and bad.

  • Good thoughts lead to doing good.
  • Destructive thoughts lead to destructive behavior.

Our thoughts control our life.

And the good news is this: You and only you have the power to control your thoughts!

It’s kind of like having a TV remote in your hand. If you’re watching a channel and you don’t like what you see, what do you do? Change the channel!

  • You don’t have to think about what you’re thinking about.
  • Nobody is forcing you to think those thoughts.

You can change them. You can change the channel. Your thoughts are highly controllable.

In his letter to Christ-followers in the city of Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote this: “… we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:3-5) The word for “captive” literally means to conquer. To bring under control. To capture.

Growing up playing baseball, I remember coaches telling us when it comes to hitting, “You can’t hold back, you have to attack the ball.” You have to be aggressive when it comes to hitting a baseball. The same is true here. We need to be aggressive when it comes to controlling our thoughts and taking them captive.

Paul says we take our thoughts captive and we make them obedient. — Confession time here. My thoughts often disobey. — They rebel. — My mind often has a mind of its own. It can go off thinking all kinds of crazy lies if I let it.

That’s why Paul says I need to take my thoughts captive. I’ve got to make them obedient. He’s saying that I have a choice. When a lie enters my thoughts, I can choose to . . .

  • Stop it in its tracks.
  • Call it out for the falsehood that it is and take it captive
  • OR I can let it linger and begin to believe it.

So, what thoughts do you need to take captive? What lie are you letting linger in your mind? Take it captive now and make it obedient to what Christ believes about you and what he wants for your life. You can control your thoughts.






Is It Really Empty?

The walk up our stairs toward our bedroom demands that I walk past what seems to be the empty bedroom of my son, Graham, whom we just dropped off to begin his freshmen year at Northwestern University. And each time I walk past, the battle emerges – do I look or not? Looking beyond a glance runs the risk of me being overwhelmed by a rush of emotions that can almost make my knees buckle. I have looked beyond a glance several times. And while I know millions of parents have survived their first child going to college, and others have experienced the excruciating grief of losing a child, letting go and looking into that empty room will take some getting used to for me.

So I’ve started asking myself, “What do I really see when I look into his room? An empty room or a room full of incredible memories and blessings?”

I’m not there yet, but I’m determined to see a room full of blessings rather than a room empty of someone I love and dearly miss. So, here are just a few of the blessings I am determined to see when I look in that room:

  • The blessing of bringing him home from Hinsdale Hospital, and me nearly hyperventilating from the weight of responsibility: “This little guy will call me, ‘Daddy’. I have no idea what I am doing.”
  • The blessing of walking him around the block and down to Triangle Park in Wheaton to swing, while he would repeatedly point to anything and everything with tremendous curiosity, and say, “Whattsat?”
  • The blessing of playing Little Tikes Basketball for hours and mimicking MJ”s dunks, hoping somehow he might actually remember Michael Jordan, the player, not the hall-of-fame inductee.
  • The blessing of little league baseball, YBA basketball, and Wheatland Soccer. And yes, being “that dad” who for a few short years actually thought my son might be good enough to play major league baseball. (Don’t tell me you never entertained that thought.)
  • The blessing of countless treks (mostly by his mom) to Wheaton College for piano lessons and being concerned that if he took too much of an interest in music that he might not like sports anymore. (That was really dumb. He loves them both!)
  • The blessing of our move from Naperville to Chicago and the late night, heart-wrenching conversation we had about how difficult it might be while hoping he understood that we believed this was an adventure God had us on together.
  • The blessing of his first days at The Latin School of Chicago and the miracle God worked to send us an angel who helped provide the resources necessary for him to enter his 8th grade year.
  • The blessing of more baseball, more basketball, a little more soccer, lots of cross-country, a whole lot of late nights doing homework, and a slowly increasing interest in girls.
  • The blessing of our first conversations about college: Big or small? City, suburban, or rural? East Coast, Midwest, or West Coast? Major? Early decision? It all seemed so overwhelming, but exciting at the same time.
  • The blessing of graduation from high school and him saying goodbye to his friends as they one-by-one left home to begin their own college experiences. For me, it has felt like a countdown, knowing my time was coming.
  • The blessing of standing in a little circle Thursday morning before we left for Northwestern – me, Lisa, and Graham, carrying out a ritual we started years ago, praying before he left for school in the morning. (Trust me, it wasn’t always that spiritual) Only this time, he prayed for us because we couldn’t get word out. In that moment, I realized once again how blessed I am to call this young man, “My son.”

Big Idea Brief – Hunger

Series Big Idea: Thy Kingdom Come

This weekend at Community we wrapped up our series, THY KINGDOM COME and touched on the topic of “Hunger.” We defined God’s Kingdom this way: “When God gets what God wants.” Now, I know that definition can leave someone thinking, “That makes God sound like some sort of narcissist, doesn’t it?” But God doesn’t operate like we do. Turns out, his self-interest is everyone else’s best interest.

We don’t have to look far in scripture to see that God has a very keen interest in seeing that no one goes hungry. The story of the Feeding of the 5000 is great example of God’s interest in this matter (John 6). And while this story may be familiar to most Christ-followers, I love how Matthew, the Tax Collector, in his telling of this story, makes a point of letting us know where the food came from and who was given the task of distributing it to Jesus’ hungry listeners. The food came form a boy who had just 5 loaves and 2 fish. And Jesus’ disciples – his followers, were tasked with distributing the food.

Some 795 million people in the world experience food insecurity…meaning they live without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of nutritious food. That’s one in every nine people on the planet! And in certain places in the world, like Sub-Saharan Africa, one person in four doesn’t have access to proper nutrition. And this isn’t something that only happens on the other side of the globe.  In 2013, 49 million Americans lived in food insecure households — nearly one-third of them children. Here in Chicago, more than 800,000 individuals in Cook County don’t know for sure when or where their next meal will come from.

Food supply is not the problem. For the past two decades, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of population growth. The world already produces more than 1½ times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. That’s enough to feed 10 billion people. We don’t have a food problem. We have a distribution problem. And who is tasked with distribution? Jesus’ disciples – his followerskingdom people – US!

Now, I know the challenge of distribution is significant:  corrupt leaders, terrorism, and broken systems contribute to the problem of hunger. But maybe like the boy with the 5 loaves and 2 fish, God is waiting for Kingdom People like you and me to give our little to him, and then ask him to help us solve the challenges of distribution. Isn’t that how God often works? Doesn’t he often wait for us to step out in faith first, then act?

So, what can you do now? What might be your five loaves and two fish? Here are a couple of ideas . . .

1) Pay attention to the end of the month. For families struggling with food insecurity, a common pattern is that the family runs out of food before the end of the month. So, what if we kept that in mind, and at the end of the month as we’re preparing our meals, we intentionally make a little more than we’ll need for ourselves and ask God if there is someone he’d like for us to bless with a meal? Or what if toward the end of the month, we bought an extra bag of groceries for someone we know is struggling to get by?

2) Tutor – We know education is key to helping children escape poverty and hunger. The connections between food deprivation and how well children do in school are well documented. Our church has partnered with Kids Hope, a mentoring program which pairs mentors with one kid (1st-2nd grader) for one hour, once a week. This is a great way to bring your “little” to Jesus.




Sway Session 5 – Leadership Lessons from Tom Ricketts

Yesterday I went to Wrigley Field with my friends, Eric and Jessie, who kindly bought tickets as a gift for my birthday. While we were sitting in the upper deck stands, Tom Ricketts, owner of the Cubs came walking down the concourse. He was dressed in a blue oxford button down and khaki pants. He had a sports bag in tow, full of Chicago Cubs baseballs he was passing out to junior Cub fans. As he walked down the concourse, I couldn’t help but tap him on the shoulder, explain that it was my birthday we were celebrating, and ask him if he would mind taking a photograph. In those few moments I learned a few valuable leadership lessons.
1) Children Matter More Than Anyone Else.  Tom Ricketts walked the concourse with a bag full of baseballs to pass out to children. He knows that these kids are the ones who will be filling that park for years to come. He also knows that if you take care of someone’s child, you have a customer for life. Maybe this is a stretch, but it reminded me of Jesus telling the disciples to let the children come to him when they thought the kids were more of an annoyance than anything else (Matthew 19:13-14). When I first asked Mr. Ricketts to take a picture with me he said, “Just a minute.” Then he turned to sign another baseball for a little guy who was reaching out to him. It’s more than good business or savvy politics to honor children in this way, it sets an example of giving attention to those who are not in positions of power or influence, but rather to those who may be most influenced by it and are often overlooked.
2) A Firm Handshake and a Friendly Smile Still Mean A Lot. Tom Ricketts wasn’t behaving like a politician. He didn’t have an entourage surrounding him. He wasn’t parade-waving as though he was the center of attention, expecting everyone to notice him. He  came across very humble and matter of fact. He seemed like just another guy who was enjoying a day at the ball park. He just happens to be worth a few billion dollars and owns one of the most storied franchises in the history of sports. He didn’t seem the least bit bothered, and while he wasn’t seeking the attention, when he was confronted by a crowd of strangers he quickly acknowledged everyone and gave his full and undivided attention to anyone who asked for it.
3) You are Never Too Important to Say “Thank You!”  I’ve been a Cubs fan since I was 5 years old. My first game at the Friendly Confines was to see the legend, Ernie Banks. I have witnessed nearly 50 of the Cubs over 100 seasons without a championship. Watching Tom Ricketts walk the concourse shaking hands and passing out baseballs to little kids was a huge “Thank You!” from the man who is responsible for the direction of this franchise. Thank you for remaining loyal.  Thank you for not giving up. I am told he does this at every home game, and I am sure there have been more than a few afternoons at Wrigley when he didn’t feel like greeting fans and taking photos with “Average Joe’s” like me who just want to post it on Facebook. I’m sure there have been plenty of times when he was watching the game with people who are “much more important” than the fans sitting in the nose-bleed section of the upper deck, but nonetheless, he made the trek up there to say “thank you.”

Big Idea Brief – Slow to Fast

Series Big Idea: Ancient Practices

So I’ll admit I am a very late adopter when it comes to fasting. I haven’t experienced it much, and truth is, I get cranky when I don’t eat. However, I have been convicted by how Jesus talked about fasting. He didn’t say, “If you fast . . .” He said, “When you fast . . .” (Matthew 6). He expected his follower to fast. And if you look at the history of fasting you will find that for centuries fasting was a regular practice of Christ-followers.

A few weeks ago we started a new series at Community called Ancient Practices where we are challenging our church to take a new look at some old practices of the church. This past week talked about the ancient practice of fasting and how it can help all of us focus in on 2 different aspects of “self.” I know that might sound counter-intuitive, because fasting seems like something to get us to stop focusing on ourselves, but here is what I mean.

Benefit #1: Self-Control

Fasting helps us develop the muscle of Self Control. It’s like working out and building a muscle most of us have forgotten that we even have. Self-control is something we hear very little about anymore. It’s a forgotten muscle we need to exercise in order to develop.

After all, who wants to be known as someone with little or no self-control? Nobody, right? If we don’t learn self-control, we’re left with what? Yes, self out-of-control! And I don’t want to be the kind of person who makes impulse purchases that wreck my finances. I don’t want to be the person who blurts out hurtful words that damage my relationships. I want to be the kind of person who exercises self-control. And fasting is a discipline that can help train my body and my mind to grow in that way.

Think about an area in your life where you lack self-control? If fasting could help you with that, would you give it a try?

Benefit #2: Self-Forgetful

Another way fasting helps develop me from who I am to who God wants to be is that it teaches me to become Self Forgetful.

In Isaiah, God sets the record straight on what he wanted the Israelites’ fasting to be about. He continues: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58: 6-7)

God wants fasting to be an opportunity to enter into the poverty of others. Fasting gives us the chance to become self-forgetful and engage the needs of those around us.

In the early church, when someone was in need, Christ-followers would often fast for 2 or 3 days and send that person the food they had prepared for themselves. Fasting was something people practiced in order to share with the poor.

God’s idea is that when we fast: We DON’T eat so that others CAN eat. We GIVE UP so others can RECEIVE. We do with LESS so that others have MORE. Through fasting I become less focused on me, more focused on becoming the person God wants me to be, and I help others in a very tangible way.

The Awakening to Longing

A few days ago Todd Adkins was tweeting excerpts from Dave and my book, Finding Your Way Back to God. He referenced the first of the 5 Awakenings: The Awakening to Longing. Moments later, I received a tweet message from someone asking me if those who “seem to have it all” experience this first awakening…Do they really feel like something is missing when they seem to have everything anyone could ever want?  I was reminded of my friend, Chris, who recently found his way back to God. This is an excerpt from his story:

My name is Chris, and I am in the process of finding my way back to God. I say finding my way back as though I once was with God and then drifted away, it really didn’t happen that way for me. I was born into an Irish Catholic family in Northern New Jersey, I was Christened at birth, received my Holy Communion in 2nd grade, my Confirmation in 8th grade and I’ve always considered myself a Catholic, a man of faith.

Church was a place I went on Sundays, okay some Sundays and major religious holidays. It was an obligation, not something I necessarily enjoyed or looked forward to, but who really looks forward to going to church? Mostly, I went out of guilt.

So I’ve always tried to live a good life, always tried to do the right thing.  I have a loving wife, a wonderful daughter, a successful career, a nice home, some money in the bank.  I’ve had my share of disappointments, my mom died in a tragic car accident when I was 25, I went through a divorce at age 40, but I kept an optimistic outlook, worked hard and have done the right things which I believed was the reason why, generally speaking, things have worked out pretty good thus far. I fell victim to a belief that many of us in the U.S. get sucked into. We live in a country that affords us the freedoms and the economic environment to make us believe that we are in control of our own destiny.  If you get a good education, work hard and get a little lucky, you can have the American dream.

I’m 50 now. Probably more than halfway done.  I’ve worked hard to get here. Many would say that I’ve achieved the American dream, and yet there’s something missing. There’s something big missing. So I’m on a search to find out what it is.  And I think I’m on to it.

Sway Session 4 – Dreaded Meetings

A while back I had one of those meetings, that in all honesty, I was absolutely dreading. I’d been looking for an opportunity to have this meeting for months – translated — I’ve been doing everything in my power to put it off. The reason I was dreading this meeting was because it had all the potential in the world to erupt in conflict and anger.  The particular issue we needed to address was beginning to divide our team, and I had waited too long, hoping somehow it would take care of itself. In this case, however, it became increasingly obvious that it was not going to take care of itself.

Now that the meeting is over, I feel huge amounts of relief. Yes, it went well. Yes, hurt feelings were expressed. And yes, now I can look back and offer a few quick thoughts about how to facilitate that dreaded meeting.

1) Set the table for the discussion. In this meeting I said, “The way I see it, we are family – brothers and sisters. And like most families, for various reasons, you are closer to some siblings than others. Sometimes you are closer due to proximity, other times it’s because of schedules or maybe even birth order. Nevertheless, we are still family, and when the family can finally get everyone at the table together, a healthy family needs to talk about whatever it is that is coming between them.” That metaphor seemed to work. We had an understanding for why we needed to have this talk.

2) Give specific time parameters for the meeting. I didn’t actually set a specific time for this meeting to end, which was a mistake, particularly in this instance. Fortunately, one person on our team was called out of the meeting at just the right time to go and address an urgent matter. And while it was a little disruptive and brought our meeting to an abrupt end, in retrospect, it gave us a great opportunity to end the meeting after we had accomplished plenty, and yet before it spiraled or dragged on beyond what was constructive.

3) Trust your team. If you trust your team by giving them the opportunity to talk honestly about difficult matters, they will handle that trust with care, knowing you took a significant risk. If they respect you as a leader, they won’t want to let you down, and will more than likely do all they can to keep the meeting and conversation moving in a direction that will lead to understanding and restoration.

4) Pray like crazy. The enemy seeks to divide. He does not want teams to come to mutual understandings. He specializes in exploiting unresolved conflict. The apostle Paul reminds us that our battle is not against what is seen, but what is unseen (Ephesians 6:12). And while we don’t like to think about the evil one working through really good people with really good intentions, he does that every day. Praying for the Holy Spirit to work in and through your team to resolve conflict so that the mission can be furthered is the best preparation you can make for a meeting you dread.

HPFTWBTG – “We’re In This Together”

I love the headline that the Daily Herald chose for the print article they published about Dave and my new book. The headline read, “We’re in This Together.” They were referring to the fact that Dave and I started Community over 25 years ago and still lead the church together, but the headline also referred to the title of our book and Community’s mission statement: “Helping people find their way back to God.”

I have realized over and over again since the book was released just how people seem to resonate with this idea of finding their way back to God. Hardly a days go by where I don’t hear someone make a comment about themselves or someone they know finding their way back to God. And so, not only do I love the title of this new book, “Finding Your Way Back to God,” for several reasons I love that it continues to be the mission of our church in Chicago.

1) HPFTWBTG Speaks To A Journey. We never fully arrive because we are always finding our way back to God. In the series of weekend messages we just completed at Community, we said over again that finding your way back to God is a life-changing moment as well as a life-long process. And since we’re all on this journey, our mission statement makes a project out of no one. As the headline in the Daily Herald read: “We’re In This Together.”

2) HPFTWBTG Tells A Story. In a phrase, this mission statement conveys the big idea of one of the greatest stores in all of literature – The Story of the Prodigal Son. Our young church was just 18 months old when we heard Lyman Coleman, at a small group training conference, tell the story of the prodigal son. He reminded us that we are all prodigals and that there are prodigals in all of our neighborhoods and communities who desperately want to find their way back to God. People relate to stories, and the story of the prodigal son is your story and my story. It is our story.

3) HPFTWBTG is From Scripture. In his second letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul, a prodigal himself, writes: “When anyone lives in Christ, the new creation has come. The old is gone! The new is here! All this is from God. He brought us back to himself through Christ’s death on the cross. And he has given us the task of bringing others back to him through Christ. God was bringing the world back to himself through Christ. He did not hold people’s sins against them. God has trusted us with the message that people may be brought back to him. So we are Christ’s official messengers. It is as if God were making his appeal through us. Here is what Christ wants us to beg you to do. Come back to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:17-20 NIRV)

4) HPFTWBTG is Short And Memorable. Several years ago, author and speaker Ed Stetzer visited one of Community’s locations for a weekend celebration service. Afterwards, he along with Dave and I had lunch at a local restaurant. Ed began the conversation by saying, “Thirteen times . . . no less than thirteen times did I hear someone use the phrase ‘Helping people find their way back to God’ this morning. From the the greeters at the door to the announcements on stage to the message given by the teaching pastor.” Most everyone at Community knows our mission statement. I read an article awhile back in the Harvard Business Review where the author said that a good, memorable mission statement needs to be 8 words or less.

For those reasons and more, I love our mission statement of “Helping people find their way back to God”