Understanding the Christian term “Breakthrough”

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“Breakthrough” image captured 21/Oct/22 Google Chrome-TJD

8 minute read.

Last year I had blocked out some time to do some evangelism on the NeedHim.org platform. I was encouraging a believer and when I offered prayer this person said, “pray that I have breakthrough.” Even though I thought I knew what it meant, I asked him/her, “what does this mean? What exactly are you looking for?” “What type of breakthrough?”

This person’s reply is what helped me get to where I am today with this blog post. He/she said, “you know, a breakthrough. You must be a brand new Christian. You don’t know what breakthrough is?” Apparently not. As I’m not a new Christian, I began to ask them further questions. “What kind of breakthrough? Where does the Bible mention this language? Can I pray something specific? Are you struggling with something in particular that the Holy Spirit can help you with?” I never really got an answer. They simply wanted “breakthrough.”

This person was slightly perturbed that I’d asked. Looking back, I realized I hijacked their request with my questions. I should have simply prayed for them and moved on…but I didn’t…and know I’ve found myself down a one-word rabbit hole.

As we chatted, my NeedHim.org friend didn’t seem to follow my line of questioning. They simply wanted ‘breakthrough.’ The conversation had me intrigued. I just didn’t understand what the person wanted. What exactly do people mean when they use this word? When did it become Christian “vogue” to talk about it when mentioning prayer, struggles, or who knows what? When did it enter into our music, conversation, and churches? What exactly do we mean when we say ‘breakthrough?’ Why does it seem so nebulous 90% of the time? Looking back on my Christian life I don’t recall this word being used. It appears to be used by believers fairly recently (last 10-20 years I’m guessing). Since this exchange, I started listening for this word. It’s everywhere! I was so intrigued!

Here are a couple examples from popular Christian music:

God turn It Around (2020, Church of the City, featuring Jon Reddick)

I’m praying, God come
And turn this thing around
God, turn it around
God, turn it around
God, turn it around…

All of my hope
Is in the name
The name of Jesus
Breakthrough will come
Come in the name

Katy Nicole, In Jesus Name (2022, Centricity Music)

… I pray for your healing
That circumstances will change
I pray that the fear inside will flee in Jesus name
I pray that a breakthrough
Would happen today

I pray miracles over your life in Jesus name
I pray for revival
For restoration of faith
I pray that the dead will come alive in Jesus name
In Jesus name

As I listen to Christian radio, I hear it more and more. I think, “what kind of breakthrough?” Then I remember it’s music. Sometimes it is meant to be nebulous. Your circumstances may be different than mine. One song touches me here, and you there. That’s why it works so well in this context.

Here are some well-known public figures using the term:

“As the world’s largest economy and second-largest carbon emitter, as a country with unsurpassed ability to drive innovation and scientific breakthroughs, as the country that people around the world continue to look to in times of crisis, we’ve got a vital role to play. We can’t stand on the sidelines. We’ve got a unique responsibility.” ~ Barack Obama

I am highly favored by God, I experience great victories, supernatural turnarounds, and miraculous breakthroughs in the midst of great impossibilities.” DMX

“Every time I have had a breakthrough in my life, it is because of prayer.” John C. Maxwell

Even in these examples I see vagueness. It’s not surprising that a politician would be vague. They generally are. DMX claimed to be a born again Christian. I had no idea! This man certainly was not the best example to follow, but maybe he was plagued with a legion of demons or struggled with mental health issues. Either way, his quote is interesting within the context of popular Christianity. Maxwell is vague, but his wording can help me get there. It points toward specificity. The Lord did something great when I asked Him and had others praying for me.

Examples from popular Christian writers and websites:

  1. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/praying-for-a-breakthrough
  2. John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life, chapter two “Breakthrough: The Beauty of Christ, My Joy https://app.rightnowmedia.org/en/content/details/200?session=2091
  3. The loose definition of a “spiritual breakthrough” pertains to a new level of spirituality being reached. The definition of “breakthrough”, in general, is a sudden, dramatic, and important discovery or development or achieving success in a particular sphere or activity. Some examples of a breakthrough are when a person gets saved, gets a deeper understanding of Biblical truth, receives an answer to prayer, or has victory over sin. https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/prayers-for-breakthrough.html
  4. Books available from Logos.com https://www.logos.com/search?query=breakthrough&sortBy=Relevance&limit=60&page=1&ownership=all&geographicAvailability=availableToMe
  5. Elmer Towns and Liberty University, Praying the Lord’s Prayer for Spiritual Breakthrough https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1166&context=towns_books (Complete eBook online)

A good explanation and definition: https://www.gotquestions.org/spiritual-breakthrough.html

I like the definition from Crosswalk (#3). It points to growth in Christ. Maturity. Discipleship. Sanctification. Words and concepts I can more readily see in scripture. Here’s what the author at GotQuestions said:

Should we seek a spiritual breakthrough? We can and should pray for wisdom (James 1:5), victory over sin (Ephesians 6:18), and the filling of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). But intimacy with God does not require a series of “spiritual breakthroughs.” Working under the assumption that a connection with God already exists (that is, a person has faith in Jesus Christ for salvation), spiritual growth occurs in that person as naturally as a tree growing in the soil and sun.

Reader, please don’t think I’m angry with anyone who uses this term. I’m not. I’m curious. It’s a word often used with vagueness. I’m simply wondering what people are saying when they use it.

I’m also not convinced that it’s the best word we are looking for when talking about growth, an answer to prayer, or how we relate to God. Again, I’m not mad at those who use it. I probably won’t say anything to you if you use it (unless I need clarification, then I’ll ask for that). Here are a few thoughts I have about the nebulous meaning of breakthrough:

  • It might simply be used as “spiritual language.” Believers seem to use it as something to say that sounds spiritual (sort of like, “pray for me.”).
  • It could be used as a Christian “type” identifier. “What ‘type’ of Christian are you?” “I’m a Baptist, Methodist, or Charismatic.” Or as one young man said to me, “the Biblical kind.” He was serious. I laughed. He didn’t. I’m glad he didn’t ask me what ‘kind’ I was. He might have been disappointed in me. Guess the other kinds are not biblical.
  • It’s used as a Christian conversation/prayer starter of sorts. Again, context is key. The more intimate the relationship, the better you will understand the breakthrough to which your friend speaks.

As I think about this word, the following suggestions come to mind regarding breakthrough and Christian language in general:

  1. Be specific in your language. (One sweet saint said, “Let’s pray for all the lost people.” We were in a 30-minute prayer meeting. Let’s pray for some lost people by name. Who do you know that is lost? Be specific. Pray for those people.)
  2. Use the term and then tell people what breakthrough you are looking for and why you think the Lord wants you to pray in this manner. (It’s nebulous because our language is vague. I wonder if this is done on purpose to be able to “claim” any type of victory over any breakthrough?? This kind of thinking allows one to potentially manipulate a spiritual experience rather than recognize that the Lord does answer specific prayers in magnificent ways!)
  3. Ask the Lord to give you what you need/what/are looking for in this time or season. Ask in faith and expect Him to give good things to His children. Praise Him if the answer is ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or ‘wait.’
  4. Think through what your prayer requests sound to others. Can you clearly articulate your need so they can pray with clarity? (Instead of praying for breakthrough, tell people, “I’m praying for a breakthrough in my marriage. We need to communicate to each other more clearly so we can better understand each other’s needs. We are stuck and need to move past this point in order that we grow closer to one another and to the Lord.”)
  5. Embrace the supernatural nature of prayer. The Lord wants us to speak to Him and ask Him to do mighty things. There is power in asking others to intercede on our behalf as others pray with expectancy, compassion, and empathy. Our body language, fervency of immediate and ongoing prayer (public and private), expectancy, and loving follow-up is more important than using correct terminology.
  6. Recognize that your relationship with the Lord is not about the ‘next level,’ a series of trials God wants you to overcome in order to be in right relationship, or the next spiritual high. Our spiritual dopamine levels are not how we are to measure God’s love for us or where we are in relationship to Him. This can be a dangerous rubric of our spiritual health.

A Sample of Books From 2022

7 minute read

A few weeks ago I received a group text asking, “what books are you guys reading?” As we shared I was encouraged with the wide variety of genres that had been read throughout 2022. One friend shared his entire list of 2022 books and I was shocked at the number he had recorded. I thought, “there’s no way I read that many this year!” Out of curiosity I looked at my Amazon, Hoopla, Libby (soon to be gone), Kindle, and Logos accounts and was surprised. I read quite a few as well. Here are some that I really enjoyed and one that I didn’t.

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

John Mark Comer

I read this book with a cohort of pastors and we loved it! Comer’s easy-to-read writing style, frequent illustrations, and reminder that hurry is the enemy of a fulfilling spirit filled life was refreshing. The publisher went with a very large font (print version) that made the book easy to see and about twice as long as it should have been. The font size was a nice change of pace. At times his language was raw, yet unoffensive. It’s definitely a book I would recommend. I was reminded of several things from Comer:

  • I need to spend more time resting in my relationship with Christ.
  • I am in control (for the most part) of my schedule and how I spend my time. There’s no need for me to feel like I’m wearing myself out at the expense of my walk with the Lord.
  • Most leaders feel the same way and need this reminder. I’m not alone. Our spiritual work can get in the way of our spiritual walk.

Word and Spirit: Truth, Power, and the Next Great Move of God

RT Kendall

I learned about RT Kendall from listening to a podcast and found this book on Hoopla. It is amazing! Many churches are Word focused and others focus on the Spirit. Dr. Kendall foresees a day when churches focus and practice both.

Holy Fire

RT Kendall

I read this one right after Word and Spirit. Amazing as well! Many of his illustrations are repeats, but I didn’t mind. After reading this I began to listen to the sermons of Kendall’s mentor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. MLJ was truly a Word and Spirit preacher even though the church did not outwardly practice any spiritual gifts.

I’m Dead, Now What? A Planner

Morbid, I know.

A couple years ago I began digitizing all our important documents. After updating our last will and testament I began to think about how our children may have a difficult time finding everything should something happen to Christy and I at the same time. This book helped me with ideas to organize everything into an easily accessible digital folder that I can update each year with ease. Nobody likes to think about these things. I feel like this is a way I can love my family after I’m gone by having all our accounts, important information, and other documents in one place. I originally got the idea from Dave Ramsey, but this book helped me with ideas that I’d missed.

Even In Our Darkness

Jack Deere

Dr. Deere’s raw honesty was so refreshing! If many of us wrote a book after 40-50 years of ministry and told the whole truth about our personal lives and struggles, this would be it. It highlights the fact that you aren’t perfect yet God still desires a relationship with you and will use you if you let Him. It includes issues of depression, pride, addiction, and how the Lord sustained Deere and his sweet wife through a tragedy no parent should have to weather. The themes of redemption and listening/responding to the Spirit are really encouraging.

Letters to the Church

Francis Chan

Francis Chan’s account of going from a mega-church pastor to a house church network pastor was fascinating. I bought a Kindle copy and read this in a few sittings. I planted a house church in Kansas City MO with several friends and really enjoyed his thoughts on this model of church. He openly shared his thoughts on what he was seeing as the pastor of a very large church and how it was beginning to change him. I was encouraged by his words that a relationship with the Lord is what He truly desires. We often find our identity in our work, academic achievements, or family name. These things can and often do change throughout our lifetimes. Christ alone remains the same.

Letter to the American Church

Eric Metaxas

I purchased a Kindle copy not long after it was released. Metaxas did a wonderful job engaging the reader with his great knowledge of Bonhoeffer and the Nazi regime. He begs the American church to wake up from its slumber and cry out to the Lord regarding the atrocities of legalized abortion. He tackles other current issues and likens the church today to the sleeping German church of the 1930’s and 40’s who passively stood by as millions of Jewish men, women, and children were gathered up, tortured, and murdered not far from their places of worship.

A Church Called Tov

Scot McKnight

Do you ever wonder what created the environments that allows a pastor/leader to abuse those who are entrusted to them for care and protection? McKnight and daughter Laura Barringer call on their experience from Willow Creek to encourage churches and leaders to create a culture of Tov, or goodness. Every pastor needs to read this and ask, do I do this-am I creating an environment where abuse could occur? and what can I do to help create an environment where this doesn’t happen. Every church member should read it and ask, is this (abuse) happening at my church? and if this isn’t happening, how can I make sure it doesn’t?

Gift and the Giver

Craig Keener

New Testament scholar and professor Dr. Craig Keener gave me a gift (see what I did there?) through this book. My professional goal for 2022-23 was to learn how to listen to others more clearly and to focus on listening to the Lord more fully and intentionally. Keener’s work was the best resource I used this year for the later. While it is a tad more on the academic side, I would recommend this book to anyone desiring to learn more about the Spirit and His work in the believer’s life.

Miracles Today

Craig Keener

I brought Miracles Today with me on vacation and read it while sitting on the beach in about four days. It’s the smaller version of his two volume work on miracles found here. Every miracle listed in this book is verified by medical professionals or a large group of people. Keener encourages the read that the Lord is still working today for His glory in ways that are unexplainable. Highly recommend!

Least Liked: AWKWRD

Sean Benesh

AWKWRD was not a favorite of mine. The author had been hurt and I could feel it in his writing. Many of the chapters were helpful, but the overall tone caused me to NOT recommend this work to any colleagues, pastors, or planters. Once the author shared his history I could understand his tone. I’ve been hurt denominationally when planting and it takes time and forgiveness to work through things that were said, left unsaid, and done. I certainly won’t air any of my past hurt/issues/mistakes here, but am very thankful to the Lord that He allowed them. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was handed an invaluable gift during that time that would shape me and enable me to care for planters in a way that I would not have understood otherwise.

I’m looking forward to 2023. It’s my goal to buy very few paper copies and read mostly on Kindle or through Hoopla or Logos. I’m planning on reading more from RT Kendall, Keener, and other authors from faith traditions that I’ve not spend much time in. I’m hoping to read more academic books (Grudem’s Christian Ethics is being read now), biographies of American heroes, and fiction to wind down before I go to bed.

I’ve been reading the Bible in larger chunks this past year and love it! Some years I’ll focus the majority of my personal Bible reading time in shorter pericopes, but in 2023 I plan on continuing a read through of the OT in a year and the NT once a month. This habit through the NT has allowed me to see new things as I’m coming across them more often. I’m also reading with my Logos app open and stopping to make personal notes in my Bible and in a notebook.

What are some of your favorite books from 2022?


A Word of Encouragement for My Chinese Brothers and Sisters.

I’m currently listening to Faith in the Wilderness by Hannah Nation and Simon Liu. It’s highly convicting. This book reminds me that there are faithful brothers and sisters throughout the world who hold fast to the teachings of Christ and deeply love His Word, abide in His Spirit, and live in such a way that their lives are not counted as dear as the gospel they preach.

As I’m encouraged through the words of these Chinese pastors and Christians, I want to encourage them to continue to stand fast on the Word of God, sharing it as they go about their day as the Spirit allows. I want to thank these believers for not bowing to the intense pressure of their government, family, friends, or co-workers who have not repented of their sins and placed their faith in Christ.

As an American Christian I cannot relate to the actual or perspective persecution that occurs on a daily basis. I’ve been spit on once, yelled at plenty, mocked, and have had doors slammed in my face a time or two. I’ve never had handcuffs on me for the sake of the gospel. I’ve never been on the inside of a police car or jail cell for the cause of Christ. I’ve never been followed, my family targeted, or my phone tapped (at least I don’t know about this one). Chinese brothers and sisters, thank you for showing us what a faithful gospel witness looks like in the face of persecution.

I listened to the audio version of this book and one brother said he began to share the gospel and meet fairly openly over Zoom during the pandemic. I’m always encouraged as I’m reminded that believers all over the world are sharing the hope the have in Christ with others!

Chinese believers, thank you for your commitment to live a countercultural life; one that exemplifies what it means to be a disciple of our Lord Jesus. If you have an opportunity to read or listen to this book, you’ll be greatly encouraged!

“Thank You for Serving Me!” Gospel Card: Five Ways to Share with Those Who Serve


6 minute read.

I’ve been praying about designing a business card-sized tool that communicates the gospel yet isn’t wordy or looks too ‘busy.’ After reviewing my handwritten notes for the past three years, I’ve finally finished what I think may be an excellent tool to help believers naturally share the gospel with those who serve them.

Some situations may include restaurant wait staff, home repair technicians, bank tellers, utility workers, hair salon stylists, etc. I showed this card to a coworker, and he said, “I wish I had this when the fast food attendant brought my food to the car! We had a good conversation. This would have been perfect!”

Like any other material or tool, it helps to know how to use them in differing situations best. I have a drawer full of screwdrivers in my garage. I also have some on the peg board, in a toolbox, and on the window ledge in my shed. The big red flathead in the garage is often used as a pry bar (because it’s mine, I can, and it works!), the little ones on the peg board get used in tight situations, and the blunt, dirty old one in the shed scrapes the grass from under the push mower. They are all screwdrivers, but I use them differently. Gospel tools are much the same.

I rarely walk up to someone and say, “Here’s some literature. Have a good day!” If someone did that to me, I’d politely thank them and think, “Okay. What now?” I’ve passed out tracts at festivals and have shared hundreds, maybe thousands, at Mardi Gras, but this isn’t everyday evangelism for me. I like to use them as a springboard, a supporting help, or a way to get the gospel in their hands if I don’t have the time to share it properly.

Here are a few examples of what I do:

  • In quick situations, I’ll hand out a Good News tract and say, “have you had any good news today? This message changed my life. If you have 5 minutes today, I’d love for you to read it.” I’ve never had anyone get upset with me.
  •  “Thanks for listening to my story. Can I share something that I wrote?” What is Truth?
  •  “My friend and I like to pray and thank the Lord for our meal and ask His blessings upon those who serve us. How can we pray for you today?” 9/10 are generally receptive and talk to me for a moment. After I get a feel for their mood and see how open they are, I try to share the gospel, often by letting them know I’m a Bible teacher, pastor, or church helper. 9/10 are open to sharing their religious experience. Usually, I’ll ask, “Do you have any spiritual beliefs?” “Are you walking with God regularly, or are you still on a journey learning about Him or different religions?” Their answers generally tell me where to go next. People are super open and honest! If they don’t want to talk, you’ll know it! I asked this first question to two people at Cracker Barrel. They both returned to the table and shared more, received prayer, heard the gospel, and were so very kind and gracious.
  •  My favorite for the past couple of years is this question, “I like to ask people how I can pray for them. Is there anything I can pray for you today?” This is a low commitment for them. They can tell you as little or as much as they want. Some people say, “Just that I have a good day!” Others have taken a seat beside me and poured out their hearts. I asked one telemarketer on the phone, and she broke down in tears. Her daughter was missing, and she didn’t know where she was. We prayed, and she said, “I’m not even going to try to sell you anything today! Thank you so much!” After praying for someone, they are often open to hearing the gospel and receiving some follow-up material.

“Thank you for serving me!” is intended to be used with words and preferably after an offer of prayer or a short spiritual conversation in conjunction with a person who is taking care of you in any way. It can be left at a table with a great tip, in a ‘thank you’ card, or at a service desk. Kindness is key! I say this because many Christians will read this post and say, “I hate those things. It’s cowardly evangelism and highlights pushing one’s faith on another.” (Or some other thing. It doesn’t matter. Someone will complain.) They usually have a story about how someone left a million-dollar bill tract instead of a good tip. I agree. That’s wrong and a terrible witness. Once I saw a Chick Tract on the top of a urinal in a public restroom. Nope. I’m not touching that rascal! Just because someone does evangelism in a way you don’t like, it does not mean we should stop sharing our faith. I’m at the stage of life where I’m comfortable listening to someone tell me that they don’t like how I do something. I usually say, “Okay. Thanks for sharing!”

“Thank you for serving me!” has several ways you can share the gospel with others. I can see five ways so far.

The first way is to ask a server if you can pray for them as you pray for your meal. Have a friendly conversation with them, and on the way out, say, “Thanks for taking care of me today and allowing me to pray for you. Please scan this code to the right. Have a great day!”

The second is if you had a great conversation about the gospel or the Lord. They need some time to think or need some more information. Maybe you only had 3-5 minutes and needed 20 more. Ask them to scan the code to the left. It will take them to the Good News for You gospel page and provide more in-depth information.

The third way is to use the 3-Circles illustration on the back as a way to share the gospel. You can click on the link to learn how to use this tool. Walk the person through 3-Circles and ask them where they think they are on the illustration.

The fourth way is to thank them for serving you and share the code on the back. It’s a video that explains the 3-Circles gospel presentation in about 5 minutes.

The fifth way is to hand someone the card, say thanks, and go about your day. I put this one last because it isn’t the most ideal. Most people (especially the younger ones) are very familiar with QR codes and will know what to do with them.


How would you use this card? What would you do if you could customize it? Share your comment below, or send me a comment through the ‘About Toby’ page.

I’ve got a couple friends who are “field testing” this new tool with me. Here’s a text from one below.

Starting a Local Leader’s Cohort: Six Principles Toward Starting a ‘Band of Brothers’

Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on Pexels.com

Eccles. 4:12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Six Principles in Starting a Band of Brothers

  1. Prayer, 2. Discernment, 3. Focus, 4. Defined Time, 5. Size, 6. Purpose

Sometime in 2016, I took a church revitalization elective at MBTS as part of the requirements for a degree program. Dr. Rodney Harrison and another professor tasked the small class with starting a local leader’s cohort to meet once a month and to help me work through some church revitalization issues. We were to pray about who we should invite, design a discussion time, and put together a survey that would serve as a case study for discussion during the in-class portion of the seminar. I promised the group lunch, and a couple books as a ‘thank you’ and ensured they understood that it was for a limited time.

Six years later, that group is still meeting. A friend calls it the ‘Band of Brothers.’ A few guys have come and gone, books have been read, debated, loved, and one or two hated. But several principles have remained, and many lessons have been learned. I’ve learned how and why leaders need a group of like-minded friends who gather together regularly to laugh, cry, build up, encourage, and sometimes lovingly chide a brother. I’ve learned why many groups don’t last very long, the type of person to be invited, and why utilizing the seasons is your best friend in scheduling meetings and breaks.

My first exposure to a leader cohort was with a friend (he’ll remain nameless to protect his innocence), who took me to a Monday morning pastor’s meeting. He used to take me on evangelistic visits, to the hospital, and to widows’ homes to teach me about pastoral ministry. I’m forever grateful for his love for me! The visit to the Monday meeting was different. He wasn’t happy. He was aggravated while heading there, at the meeting, and on the way home.

“You didn’t appear to like that meeting. Why?” “They are a waste of my time. We get together every Monday, and everyone goes around the room talking about ‘how many did you have yesterday’ and ‘we had an altar full’ or ‘the deacons are upset.'” He said, “the bivocational guys can’t come because they are working, the guys who come discouraged leave discouraged, and the ones who are looking to brag gets their moment to shine.”

” Wow! He took me to about two of those and said, “there, you’ve been exposed. I’m not going anymore.” Hahaha! I don’t blame him. He didn’t find value, so he didn’t continue going.

Several years later our family moved to a large city and I was invited to a few cohorts. One was at a local associational building on Monday and was like the experience above. One difference was that I didn’t feel welcome. “Oh good. Another student.” Another group I tried to join was with church planters in the same area. Again, a no go. We were planting a house church and trying to start a network, but I had a difficulty relating to this group. I was also working 50-60 hours a week and trying to complete my master’s degree. Christy and I were using our days off and work schedule to keep the kids out of after-school care. It was a busy time!

I wasn’t off to a good start with my experience and view of cohorts. Dr. Harrison had his work cut out to convince me that this exercise would be worth my time in the long run.

The way he had us start the group was beneficial. He told us to ask the Lord for up to ten pastors who might be interested in learning more about revitalization and who would be able to meet for six to eight weeks. I didn’t realize it then, but this narrowed my focus considerably. In the pastoral leadership world, if I’m meeting guys for lunch, I’m probably going to attract fully funded and the occasional bivocational leader. Knowing this gave me limitations on whom to invite, and the number of guys in the group made it large enough to account for the 3-5 who would come for one or two meetings and drop out, making the group intimate and open for good discussion. These guys finished the assigned group with me and almost all of them said, “do we have to stop? Can we keep going and do another book next month?” While I’ve started several other groups over the years, this Band of Brothers that still meets has been an absolute blessing for me! Each month I look forward to meeting with them, laughing, learning, and loving each other in the Lord. Below are the six principles I’ve learned over the past several years in starting a Band of Brothers.

Principle One: Prayer (Matt. 7:7-8)Is the Lord calling you to encourage a small group of people in your leadership network? Maybe you are fully funded, bivocational, or simply seeking others of like mind. Begin with prayer. Ask the Lord if this is something that would benefit you and others. As a former church planter, I think in the way, ‘what could be?’ “I don’t have it, I need it, nobody is doing it, let’s start it!!” Ask the Lord. Maybe He will say, “come on, you have 47 other things going on right now, along with your third job. Let’s do those first.” OR “Yes! You’ve been seeking this type of fellowship for some time now. I love you. Let me help you find the right ones.” The Lord is good. He will lead you. Ask Him.

Principle Two: Discernment (who to invite and not) (Prov. 16:21) Let’s face it. Some people will kill a group. Why? 132 different reasons. They just will. Ask the Lord, and He will guide you. Ask a trusted friend about a guy’s character. Listen. Trust their judgment. We’ve all come home from a group meeting and said, “I’m never returning to that group! That one guy alienated everyone/talked WAY too much/told too many jokes/promoted himself endlessly/etc.” Invite those who want to learn, have the same concerns, need fellowship, and can meet when the majority are available.

Principle Three: Focus/Affinity (Acts 18:3) I like squirrel hunting with my friend in January. We use a .22lr because the leaves are off the trees, and we don’t care if we miss all day. We don’t set up in his field with shotguns and start blasting at the wood line, hoping something will fall. We are specific with our choice of gun, the round we use, and the animal we hunt. Be clear with whom you focus and what you are doing. The ‘Band of Brothers’ group started with revitalization leaders. We were all fully funded, at about the same stage of ministry, and could relate to one another very well. When you invite “whoever wants to come,” you get no one or the wrong group. What are you trying to do? Maybe you’d like to start an encouraging group for bivo guys who want help with sermon prep once a month? A cohort for new youth leaders in a metro area? A Zoom group for rural church planters? Add some focus before starting.

Principle Four: Defined Times/Seasons (2 Sam 11:1) Use the seasons to your advantage! Leaders will carve out time from January to the front of May and late August/early Sept through early November. I work within these bounds. This just works. When I start a group I like to let the guys know how long we plan to meet, and I do my best to keep within those parameters. If it’s a book group, we define the length, and everyone can agree to hang out for a certain time. Start on time and finish on time. Don’t let the one habitually late guy make you start late and punish everyone. Honor everyone who showed up on time by starting on time. Finish 5 minutes early and set the next meeting date before everyone leaves. This will help you get it on your calendar to remind everyone 3-4 days before the next meeting.

Principle Five: Size (Eccl. 4:12) Keep it smallish. 3-8 leaders are ideal for me. Anything over this gets impersonal and my personality is to remain quiet in larger groups unless zero leadership emerges. I shoot for 8-10 and generally end up with 5. I call it member math. I did the same thing when I was pastoring. If I needed 10 people to help with an event, I told the church I needed 20. I always got the number of people I needed. You are looking for a size that will comfortably gather at a local coffee shop or around a table at church.

Principle Six: Purpose (What are you doing and why?) (Ps 57:2) “Hey Toby, want to get together?” My first inner thought most of the time is, “why?” or “what do you want?” It’s probably yours too, if you are honest. Tell them why upfront. Take away the “why” and “what do you want.” (The same thing goes for those texts you receive from a church member saying, “we need to meet.” About what? Why? 90% of the time it’s not good. Church members, tell your pastor what you want before you meet!! Pastor, ask your member what they want!) Be very clear about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Give them time to check their calendar to accept or to graciously decline. Define the follow-up date and mark it down on your calendar. Follow up with the stragglers once, then move on. They’ve ghosted you. It happens.

When inviting someone, say, “hey brother, I’m praying about starting a cohort for leaders once a month in the afternoon at the local coffee shop. I’m praying for five guys who would like to go through a leadership book and encourage each other for an hour and a half. Here are the two books I’m thinking about. Here’s who I’m planning on inviting… Can you pray about it and let me know next week? Can I follow up with you if I don’t hear from you?

Eccles. 4:12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Some great resources include:

Dr. Bryan Hurlbutt’s Cohorts: Forming a Legion of Disciples in the Local Church (FREE)

An academic dissertation on the benefits of a leadership cohort

Calvin’s Company of Clergy

Principles from John Wesley

MLJ on Training Pastor/Leaders (Audio-67min)

“How Much do You Read your Bible?” Convicting Thoughts Inspired by RT Kendall

How Much do You Read your Bible? – RT Kendall Ministries
— Read on rtkendallministries.com/how-much-do-you-read-your-bible

Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile on Pexels.com

I’ve recently discovered Dr. RT Kendall through listening to a podcast. I’m now reading a few of his books and online blog posts. A week ago I read Word and Spirit and I’m currently reading Holy Fire: A Balanced, Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit’s Work in Our Lives. Kendall pastored Westminster Chapel in London for 25 years and was the pastor who followed and was personally mentored by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

Dr. Kendall’s passion for the Word of God is encouraging! I’ve only read a few articles and the above books, and I’m seeing that he uses several of the same stories throughout his work that I’m finding to be encouraging. Some may say, “he’s already used those, I wish he’d find some new ones!” I find this helpful and instructive! The points are being made, driven home, and I’m better able to apply the principles to my own life for application.

One of his repeated points/principles is the application of God’s Word in our lives. In Holy Fire, Kendall says, “the average church leader today spends four minutes a day in prayer.” (p37) Four minutes! When he retired from Westminster, he was asked to give a 10 minute sermon to 100 ministers at the Holy Trinity Church in London on prayer. He said, “I took the whole ten minutes to urge every minister there to spend at least one hour a day in prayer. Two hours is better.” (p120)

Lloyd-Jones and Kendall both followed Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Bible reading plan. They rightly believed that both the Word and Spirit are needed for formation and growth. Regular prayer allowed one the time to spend with the Father to learn from and listen to the Spirit and regular Bible reading formulated one’s Biblical mind toward correct doctrine and theology-a way to keep within the spiritual bounds. MLJ said, “The Bible was not given to replace the miraculous, but to correct abuses.” (p153)

I was listening to Dr. Craig Keener the other day while driving and his words struck me. I couldn’t get them out of my head. He said that when he came to Christ out of atheism, he got serious about God’s Word and started reading 40 chapters of the New Testament A DAY! He was reading the NT through once a week! God has gifted Dr. Keener in an incredible manner. One of the reason’s he can explain, share, and encourage through God’s Word so heartily is his love of reading God’s Word. One of my friends and mentors, Dr. Tom Johnston, posts a picture of his Bible reading each day on Facebook. One of his favorite things to do is to handwrite scripture. Deuteronomy 17:18 says, “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests.” A good friend of mine uses the YouVersion Bible app and allows it to help them through a scripture reading plan. Early this year I started using the BibleTracker app to remind me where I am in my personal reading.

I love the picture of the man reading his Bible above. Do you see how actively he is reading? He looks like he woke up ready to read! I want a heart toward the Lord that says, “here I am. Your servant is listening. Speak to me through your Word. Allow me to listen to your Spirit throughout the day.” May this be our heart and desire as we open God’s Word with expectancy. Who are you reading/watching/listening to that is encouraging you in Bible reading? Do you use any helps/tools to keep you in God’s Word? Do you find it helpful to read with a friend, study group, or whole church?

You can listen to me speak about this topic on my podcast at Anchor.fm.

Prayer Stand Evangelism

21 Sept 2022

Several years ago I purchased a prayer stand for use at events. It’s highly visible, does a great job letting people know what you are doing, and helps you organize gospel material. Here are a couple videos that show an example of what you can do on your own with the prayer stand: Prayer Stand Conversation; Evangelistic Praying.

I’ve attached a training guide that I put together to accompany my prayer stand. I’ve lent it out to many pastors and churches and in the process I’ve learned a few tips that I share in this document.

A Truly Cooperative Spirit Supporting the Mountains

Ken and Merrel

As I drove east from Bowling Green toward Manchester on Saturday, the sky opened and rain steadily began to fall. This was far from ideal as I was on my way to help KBC-assisted church planter John “Boo” Smith in helping replace mailboxes in and around the flood ravaged town of Manchester

The previous week, this area had seen the worst regional flooding in anyone’s memory. After I arrived and got in Boo’s Jeep, we connected with church members from Manchester Baptist Church and their pastor, Ken Bolin. Bro. Ken had put out a Facebook request for people to send new mailboxes, as many people lost theirs in the flooding. Boo said, “not only do they need to get their mail, but emergency workers need to know where addresses are so they can help people. Sometimes mailboxes are the only thing that have a house number on them.”

While we drove, the devastation of homes, property, and livelihoods were tremendous! Homes were flooded, moved from their foundations, and still in the process of being mudded out and repaired. I saw complete layers of asphalt removed from the road and moved into ditches and creek beds. A semi-truck was picked up, moved with the water, and destroyed. As we drove, I could see places where the road had been completely rebuilt with loads and loads of gravel and where bulldozers had moved load after load of dirt and mud that had come rushing down the mountain side.

Layer of asphalt moved

The truly amazing thing to witness was the spirit of cooperation and unity of not only the community, but of those from across the United States. In the steady rain, we were in traffic jam after traffic jam of people on their way to help! Groups were busy assessing the damage, mudding out homes, and going door to door making sure people had food and water. Several teams and groups were set up at Oneida Baptist Institute providing food, clothing, and other assistance. I met people from North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, and Pennsylvania volunteering to help. People came to help from everywhere!

Mountain traffic jam

As our little team of Manchester Baptist and church plant Cross Mountain Fellowship worked to replace mailboxes, we got to listen to the stories of those who survived the flood, provide love through a donated mailbox, and share the hope that can only come through repentance and faith in Jesus. At one home, I listened to a 4-year-old show me his creek, mud puddle, and new pencil stash as Pastor Ken faithfully shared the gospel with his mother. At another home as we fought the muddy gravel with a post hole digger, the homeowner came out to express her thankfulness and love of her community.

Toby and Ken

I left Manchester that day praising the Lord for Pastors Ken and Boo and their churches for ministering to their community by organizing and replacing mailboxes and hearing their stories of doing mud-outs and ministering to those in need. What a wonderful example of churches partnering together to meet both physical and spiritual needs! If you or your church would like to help with the Eastern Kentucky flood relief, please go to https://www.kybaptist.org/flood/.

This article can also be found here.

Residencies and Internships: Brainstorming Toward Reproducing the Next Generation of Leaders

I see this sign everywhere I go and so do you!

Every now and then I tease my wife and say, “I suppose each of us could go get a couple part-time jobs and help the economy out a little bit more!” To which she replies, “Let’s just keep the one’s we have and not make the problem any worse.”

While I have yet to see a literal “help wanted” sign on a church building door, there might as well be. I speak to leaders each week who say they are looking for a pastor, youth leader, music minister, next generation pastor, or discipleship pastor. Churches need more ministers, leaders, counselors, and staff. The market is not flooded with leaders!

As I dialogue with local pastors and leaders, I often hear the same questions; “Why aren’t our Bible colleges and seminaries sending out more leaders? Why do our young men and women go off to school and never come back?” I have a few theories, but the ones that rise to the top answer the above questions.

  1. Our colleges and seminaries ARE sending out those we send them. The schools serve the church, not the other way around. To answer this question, I ask another one: What is your church doing to encourage, call out, and physically/spiritually/theologically train the next generation? Does your church encourage local, contextual training coupled with the theological education that a Bible college or seminary can offer? You can easily utilize free (or free with convention partnerships as found at CCBBC) training found at CCBBC, MBTS, and SEBTS as a few examples. Have you thought about starting a cohort, internship, or residency?
  2. Often our future ministers go off to our schools and do not come back because they didn’t see the need (or were not told about the opportunities to serve at home) to return to their context to minister. Does our next generation feel wanted, valued, and see the need to serve within their own context? It’s interesting that we can see missions and ministry opportunities across the state, in the large city, or on one of the coasts, but often have a hard time seeing them at home. I’ve done this, and probably you have too!

Below are some examples of churches/networks who are currently discipling the next generation of leaders through internships and/or residencies. I’ve included several examples for different areas of ministry, styles of church, and methods of funding and philosophy of training leaders. Please remember that not all of these examples are of “your tribe” and I have not vetted each of their theological stances. They are simply examples for you to learn from and to gain principles for developing a leadership pipeline using an internship/residency model.

I’ll highlight each of the interesting things I learned from each in the bullet points below. If you’d like to share your experience, please let me know! Also, if you’d like to brainstorm about starting either or both at your church, reach out to me and I’d be glad to talk to you. It’s my conviction that each church can be a training and sending church for gospel ministers. We need more proclaiming the Good News of the gospel and our churches can train and send them!

  • Southland Church
    • Available Ministry Areas I really like their diversity! This is evidence that they have thought through their process and see a need to train many in varying areas.
      • Worship and production ministry
      • Children’s ministry and student ministries
      • Groups and guest experience ministries
      • Creative video and communications
      • Biblically based justice ministry
      • Multi-site strategy and campus pasturing
      • Church planting
  • Southeast Christian Church
  • Family Church Network
  • Immanuel Baptist Church
    • IBC Residency Program Here is an example in my state. IBCLex is a large church who sees the need to train the next generation to serve within their own church and others.
      • College ministry resident
      • Worship ministry resident
      • Student ministry resident
      • Communications resident
  • Redeemer Church Network
    • Church Planting Residency I love their philosophy of partnering with those who have experience and are currently planting.
      • Residents are placed with planters who are 3+ years ahead
      • They are taught to plant churches who plant churches
      • Two-year process with 3 phases
  • Crossway Network
    • Interesting ways to fund a resident: Awesome funding structure! Inventive and helpful.
      • 1/3 from the local church
      • 1/3 from Crossway Network (max $2k a month)
      • 1/3 from fundraising/bivo-covo work
  • Pinelake-Learn+Live+Lead
    • Using NAMB’s SEND materials, the resident is fully immersed into the pre-launch stages of vision refinement, leadership competencies, core group development, funding strategies, and systems creation.
    • Here is a partial list of responsibilities. Here’s an example of learning and doing. NAMB’s SEND material is great for planters!
      • Live in humble submission to Christ, learning from the Word and from others.
      • Develop a working understanding of ecclesiology, missiology, and theology in regard to the church plant.
      • Development of a prayer support ministry for the new church plant.
      • Research, define, and develop a comprehensive launch plan for the new church plant.
      • Actively recruit, enlist, and equip core launch team.
      • Develop and execute a strategy for donor support.
      • Visit other church plants to assess, learn, and strengthen personal leadership.
      • Involvement in selected activities with the Pinelake Missions Team.
      • Other responsibilities as assigned.
  • Veritas Church
    • Focuses on recently graduated college students. Are you a student who is not sure what to do after graduation? Serve at your church as a resident!
  • Perimeter Church
    • Interesting 10-week summer internship w/ job descriptions. Super helpful to use as a template.
  • Grace Church KS
    • Cool training philosophy idea and graphic
      • 70% of learning is doing the work
      • 20% of learning is being coached by supervisors
      • 10% of learning is formal training
    • Cool pics of students near the Union Station in KCMO. 😊
  • Calvary Church CO
    • They have a residency program for replanting and revitalization as well as church planting
    • They also have two cohort tracks. They are worship ministry and missions.
  • Parkview Christian Church
    • They feature a model for funding residence that includes a stipend of $650 per month in the first year and $750 per month in the second year. They also award scholarships to residents who carry student loan debt up to $3500.
  • Living Hope Baptist Church Bowling Green KY
    • https://livehopeful.com/ministries/mit/
    • LH has two tracks; church ministry and vocational training.
      • LH has a great idea in creating a cohort for those who are in a vocation, but desire more training to be more equipped to reach people in their work context.
  • Christ Fellowship Bowling Green KY
  • Riverwoods Baptist Church Benton KY
    • Riverwoods has a campus model and seeks apprentices and interns to learn at their Benton, Murray, and Morris Valley KY locations.
    • They are currently working to build a church planting residency program that both serves their model and will help provide biblically sound church planters in the Western KY area.
    • https://riverwoodschurch.com/
  • Jennings Creek Community Church Bowling Green KY
    • JCCC is a church plant that begun in 2022.
    • Pastor Derek has a vision to reach the Jennings Creek community with the gospel and to train biblically qualified believers to serve within their spiritual giftings.
    • JCCC is utilizing a summer intern program, primarily among college-aged adults exposing them to evangelism, disciplemaking, and leadership.
    • He hopes to expand to include a pastoral/church planting residency in 2023-24.
    • https://www.kybaptist.org/churches/jennings-creek-community-church/
  • Converge Church Planting Residency
  • Redemption Church Residency
  • The Village Church and Acts29
  • City Church Fort Worth TX
  • Lebanon Baptist Church Bloomsdale MO

Here are some more resources/ideas you might think about with your team:

  • Begin praying with your leadership about starting an internship or residency. Use some the examples above to show the benefits of raising up our own leaders. Take some time to search scripture and learn about biblical residencies (Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Timothy, Paul and Titus, Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark…). Ask the Lord to reveal your strengths, weaknesses, and to show you where your church can make an impact with this ministry.
  • https://www.vanderbloemen.com/blog/components-church-residency-program
  • https://www.newchurches.com/resource/resources-for-residencies/
  • “How to Start a Residency” https://www.churchplantingpodcast.org/new-city-network/dhati-amp-clint-how-to-start-a-residency
  • Use the internship/residency with undergraduate and graduate students: pay their tuition (partial or full) and set up a customized track or cohort.
  • https://leadershippathway.org/churches sort of a residency clearing house.
  • Begin with a summer internship and work toward developing a strategy for a residency. Your local association/network may have some resources/examples to help you. State and national agencies may be able to offer examples, stipends, and other tools as well.
  • Set up a budget line item focused solely on internships/residencies. Develop a plan, set a yearly budget, and ask members to give to this ministry. Celebrate wins, promote those who are personally benefiting from the program, and make sure there are tracks for men and women.
  • Work with a small group of local churches/pastors to start a cohort of learners in your community. Share the workload!
  • When the internship/residency has been completed for the year, do some evaluations. Sit down with your leadership and reflect upon what you have learned, what you would like to do better, and what you would never do again. Create an exit survey for the interns/residents. Getting their feedback will help future generations have a great experience.
  • Get a short list of churches/leaders in your area or state who are currently using a residency as part of their discipleship ministry. Ask questions that lend to you learning about transferable principles, land mines to avoid, and other tips that will help make your first year or semester a success.
  • Tools from NAMB to help others discern their calling/aspiration to ministry.

Here is an audio version of this article. 17 minutes.