Why Sifted?

He was successful in business, and in his new non-profit career he was the natural leader of the group.  He was often set apart by the founder, indicating some special anointing.  He was the first in the group to confidently call Jesus “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”   He was the only one to step out of the boat and try to walk on water.  He was even called out by Jesus as the one upon whom Jesus would build his church.

Peter and Judas were both sifted with radically different outcomes!

Peter was full of zeal, pursuing the greatest cause of his lifetime.   Although he’d sacrificially left everything behind to follow Jesus, his new life of significance had him riding a high.  He said he’d do anything for Jesus, including fight to his death.   He was a Type A, High D (on the DISC profile), self-starter and entrepreneur.

He was, in many ways, the profile of most church planters.  And like most planters, he was about to experience loneliness, discouragement, grief, fear, and a host of other emotions.  He would even question, and deny his calling.  He would be “Sifted!”

At the supper before Jesus was arrested, Peter was part of the group arguing over who was the greatest disciple.  Just a few hours later, Jesus rebuked him three successive times for not staying awake to watch and pray as Jesus was overcome with sorrow.

During the last supper, Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” But Peter replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

Over the next 12 hours, Peter’s world was rocked, and he did disown Jesus three times.  From pack leader and chosen one to disgrace and confusion in an instant.  God used the experience to prepare Peter for what was to come in building his church.   God needed a more fully surrendered disciple.  He had some character work to finish in Peter.   He needed a disciple who would lead from his own position of weakness and God’s position of strength rather than in his own power.  He needed a man who’d be stronger by being broken.

While Peter had three years to train at the feet of Jesus, the painful process of “sifting” needed to happen to produce the man God intended to use in accomplishing his bigger purposes.

Peter and Judas faced very similar troubles for three years.   Both were sifted (the Luke passage tells us Satan asked to sift all the disciples).  Peter survived, but Judas did not; Peter turned back and did strengthen his brothers.   In some people, sifting leads to strength and Kingdom impact.  In others, it leads to weakness and death.

Sifting does not equal seasons of simply surviving trouble.  Even pagans do that.

Sifting does equal seasons of trouble that produce increased surrender to and trust in Jesus!  We are changed in the process.   Biblical sifting is intended to accelerate our becoming more like Jesus.

Church planting is hard, lonely and discouraging.  It has its share of trouble.  The journey is not for the faint of heart.  Over 4,000 new churches start each year, which means upwards of 20,000 planters are in the trenches in years 1-5.  Many of these leaders have considered, are considering, or eventually will consider quitting.  Most planters will at some time feel like Peter did the morning after denying Jesus three times.

In a recent national report issued by Exponential, planters universally cited the following struggles:  (1) the internal battle to overcome pride, self-reliance, drivenness and an uncoachable attitude; (2) loneliness and isolation; (3) mistrust; (4) lack of rest; and (5) maintaining joy.

Should we be surprised that God would use seasons of sifting to grow his church leaders?

Although most planters understand the importance of making personal development, soul care, and family nurturing top priorities, these things often get lost in a planter’s busyness. The result is a fragile foundation for dealing with the discouragement and loneliness of planting. Eventually, any unresolved family of origin issues or weaknesses in the marriage will surface, often in the midst of the planter’s other struggles.

Many planters simply are not prepared to see this as a season of sifting through which God intends to grow and strengthen the leader.  Many become tired and seek to avoid or ignore the sifting rather than embrace and confront it.  Unfortunately, too many become hindered in their own strength.

“Sifted”, the theme of Exponential 2012, highlights the importance of the spiritual, physical, and emotional health of the church planter as a vital component in catalyzing leaders who reproduce.  Where most resources focus on the “doing” of models, approaches and innovations, “Sifted” focuses on the “being” and health of church planting leaders.

What is your story of sifting?

Through the “Sifted” theme, Exponential seeks to create a national conversation around helping church planting leaders embrace and grow in their unique story of sifting.   We seek to highlight the Sifted theme through the following:

  • A new book called “Sifted” by Wayne Cordeiro with Francis Chan and Larry Osborne.  This new book in the Exponential Series debuts at Exponential 2012
  • Stories of Sifted Web Site (www.sifted.org) – This new web site seeks to provide inspiration and encouragement to church planters amidst their sifting.  The site will be full of resources and stories from other planting leaders (as well as the stories of sifting of over 20 leaders in the Bible).    Over the coming weeks (and months) we will actively add content to this new web site.
  • Exponential 2012 – The Conference theme is Sifted.  The conference features over 100 national speakers, over 125 workshops, and nearly 5,000 church planting leaders.   Visit www.exponentialconference.com for more information.

Over the coming days and weeks, we will continue the discussion about being “Sifted” and will highlight “Stories of Sifting” from many leaders.   In our next post, we will take a deeper look at a working definition of “sifting.”   Visit https://sifted.org to join the conversation or subscribe to the Stories of Sifted feed at http://feeds.feedburner.com/sifting