The idea for the title and approach of this book comes from Steven Covey's popular book entitled, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." I will talk a little more about this further on in the book but suffice to say that Mr. Covey's research found that highly effective and thus successful people who made an impact in their various fields shared a specific set of character traits and habits which he analyzed and summarized in seven categories.
I believe that the same case can be made for the church and those who play different roles in the church. From the saints in the pew to the ministers in the pulpit, from those who have special responsibilities to those who are responsible for the overall leadership. There are characteristics and habits that distinguish those who are effective and successful in their personal walk with Jesus as Christians, as well as those who serve as preachers, deacons and elders.
As Christians, we all need to examine ourselves in order to carry out a more dynamic ministry to one another and the community. I think it is important to have a clear standard to strive for and to measure ourselves against as we serve the cause of Christ in the various roles we have been given by the Spirit.
Please know that all of you will have some of these habits developed to various degrees depending on your maturity, knowledge and commitment. Please realize also that none of us will have all of these habits perfectly developed. What I am giving you is the ideal to shoot for and a template to copy in your striving to grow as Christians at every level of maturity and responsibility.
Remember, the title of the series emphasizes the fact that Christians at every stage have certain habits that enable them to be effective and thus successful. So, if we parse the title, we have two key words:
HABITS – These are actions that are engrained, that have become natural because of continued repetition. They are the things we do without thinking but accomplish with skill and precision.
EFFECTIVE – This word refers to the quality of our lives and our service. People can be Christians, deacons, preachers and elders in name and in title. But to be effective as disciples of Jesus, or effective as His ministers, elders or deacons, means that we produce fruit in our personal spiritual lives as well as our particular ministries. A person can wear a title without actually being effective.
This book, therefore, will describe the habits cultivated and engrained in those who actually are effective as Christians and as Christian leaders, something I hope all of you will begin to strive for from this day forward.
We know that Christians do not simply come out of the waters of baptism and immediately become effective saints. We observe that through practice and discipline in the Holy Spirit they cultivate habits that become a natural part of their lives and eventually enable them to become more effective as Christians in the service of the Lord and His church. There are many, but I have chosen seven common habits of highly effective Christians that I have read about in the Scriptures and seen over the last thirty-five years in brothers and sisters who have had great success as disciples of Christ.
Effective Christians Read and Obey God's Word
Effective Christians are effective because their lives are powered by the Word of God. They know what God says and that knowledge empowers them to make right choices in more consistent ways. They resist temptation because they have God's Word on their hearts and on their minds. They are more able to stand up for right, give right advice, say the right thing at the right time because they know what right is, they can even quote it.
Paul congratulates Timothy in II Timothy 3:15 because he knew the Holy Writings from an early age, and this knowledge led him to salvation. But this knowledge also led Timothy into his vocation as an evangelist, as a partner with Paul in missions and as an example of effective Christianity for all future generations.
You cannot be very effective as a Christian (in preserving your faith or sharing it with others) if you do not know and obey the Word and you cannot know it if you do not read it. Effective Christians begin to pull away from immaturity and entanglement with sin and the world to the degree that they develop the #1 habit of reading the Bible on a regular basis.
Effective Christians Have an Active Prayer Life
We cannot effectively experience the life of Christ unless we read about it in God's Word. God cannot effectively change, shape and mold our lives unless we share it with Him in prayer. Look at those people in the New Testament that God used in a mighty way, were they not men and women of prayer? Jesus prayed at every step of His ministry. John the Apostle was in prayer when he had the vision to write the book of Revelation. Paul prayed constantly for direction in his ministry. Lydia was at a prayer meeting when converted. (Acts 16:13-15)
The habit of prayer is what keeps us tuned in to God and sensitive to the Spirit. Without the habit of prayer the noisy demands of the world and the impulses of our flesh are all we can ever hear. The effective Christian succeeds in keeping the faith and growing in faith because he stays in touch with the Spirit of God through prayer.
Effective Christians Set "Spiritual" Goals
There is a saying in business, "If you don't plan for success, you are planning to fail." Whether it is a business or a school, a family or a sports team, everyone needs to plan ahead. What makes us think it is any different for our spiritual lives? Effective Christianity requires that we set personal spiritual goals and actively work towards them, making the necessary sacrifices to eventually reach them. No gold medalist at the Olympics ever stood on the winner's podium without having made a decision to pursue a personal goal long before. No politician ever won an election without setting this victory as part of his or her career strategy.
So whether it is to be more faithful to services, or starting to help out in some way; a commitment to changing a bad habit for a good one, or doing a better job in what we have already been given to do… We do not become more effective as Christians unless we visualize a realistic goal, strategize a way of achieving it and commit ourselves to reaching it in a certain time frame with help from God through faith in Christ.
Paul the Apostle saw and heard Jesus, could perform miracles, established the church in the Roman Empire, but he was continually setting new goals for himself (to go East to Asia, to evangelize Spain) in order to widen his vision for the future and keep his spiritual adrenaline pumping.
Effective Christians Cultivate Talents of Others
I don't know where I would be without Jim Meador, Hemzie Brown, Charles Branch, Stafford North, Louis Thompson, Edsel Hughes to name a few… These are all people who at one time or another in my Christian life helped me to grow spiritually. Each of these were effective Christians who took the time to help cultivate different aspects of my Christian walk and ministry. They were my mentors at various stages of my development. Jim taught me how to study the Word. Emmie encouraged me to preach. Charles made it possible for me to get training. Louis showed me how to do local work and Edsel's encouragement gave me the strength to pull up roots and move my family to a place where I knew no one. Part of their effectiveness was helping me to become more effective as a Christian and then as a minister.
Barnabas was one of those people in the Bible who so clearly demonstrated this habit, starting with Paul as a new convert and later continuing with Mark the young missionary.
Effective Christians realize early on that in order to stay effective they need to build up others in the body.
"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."
- Proverbs 27:17
Paul says it in another way:
"…we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love."
- Ephesians 4:15
Note that the body builds itself up. When I build you, I also build me. Effective Christians are easy to spot, they are the ones asking for volunteers.
Effective Christians Take Responsibility for Souls
Paul says to the Philippians in chapter 2, verse 12 of their letter,
"…work out your salvation with fear and trembling." And it was said of the Bereans that they, "… (examined) the Scriptures daily."
The Bereans did so to verify if Paul's preaching was accurate according to God's Word. Highly effective Christians take responsibility for their own souls and the souls of others, especially the lost. They are effective because they know that Christianity is not a game and faith is not a crutch for the weak. Effective Christians make a difference in their congregations and in the world because they understand that the stakes are very high (eternal life) and the enemy is very dangerous (Satan).
Harry Truman, the former President of the United States, was very popular as a tough minded, no-nonsense leader. He had a sign on his desk that said, "The Buck Stops Here." This meant that he was the President, he was responsible, and he knew it.
We are each responsible for our souls (not the preacher, not the elders), in the end we will be judged on what we said and did (II Corinthians 5:10). Effective Christians know this and do not waste their time or spiritual energy on things that would endanger this most precious possession. They have the habit of putting what is good for souls first. This is why these brethren are so interested in saving souls, why they are good at it, why they work hard in evangelism and visitation: they know the value of a human soul. Think back to the one who brought you to Christ or brought you back to Christ… I am sure that that brother or sister fit very well my profile of the effective Christian.
Effective Christians Serve Others
"…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…"
- Matthew 20:28
Do you think any of us would be here if Christ came as a royal king with attendants receiving the service He actually deserved? No, we are here with a hope of heaven today because Jesus Christ "emptied Himself," as Paul says in Philippians 2:7, "…taking the form of a bond servant." What saved us was His very effective service on the bloody cross of Calvary. What continues the salvation He delivered once for all is the effective service of millions of men and women who give themselves in service to reach each new generation of souls who are lost without Christ.
Effective Christians have cultivated the character of Christ within themselves by cultivating His character of selfless service to others for their good, their advantage and their salvation. For effective Christians, service is not an inconvenience they must bear in order to avoid guilt. No, like Epaphroditus, service is a way of life born out of love for Jesus.
Effective Christians Remain Focused on the Kingdom
More Christians lose their way because they just do not pay attention! In the parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus describes the person who receives the Word and grows for a time but the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of riches chokes the Word and stops his growth (Matthew 13:23). Note that the man was not a great sinner, he did believe, he did practice his faith, he grew! What destroyed his soul were the things we all face each day as Christians: the things that do not seem dangerous: worry about deadlines, debts, health, family, busy-ness, activities, emergencies, making it, looking good, keeping up. He became focused on these things and these things drew his attention, his energy and eventually his soul into their orbit.
Effective Christians have learned to keep the kingdom first and have not allowed the "cares" and the "desire for riches" overwhelm their spiritual lives. When they do, they are quick to repent and refocus their attention to where it needs to be. As a matter of fact, effective Christians continue to increase their involvement, their love, their very lives in the affairs of the kingdom and decrease their involvement, their love and their lives in the world. Effective Christians know that the kingdom is forever, is reality, is life itself, and the world is temporary, is sinful and full of death. They know this and live accordingly.
Well, there you have them, 7 habits of highly effective Christians. There are Christians who have managed to cultivate a lifestyle that incorporates these habits. In other words, practicing these habits has created a certain Christian character and ability that makes these women and men highly effective as disciples of Christ. If you are a new Christian wondering "where do I go from here," or if you are an experienced Christian wanting to go to a higher level, then pursuing these 7 habits will provide direction to more effective Christian living and service.
Once again, to become more effective as Christians, you need to develop the habits of:
- Reading your Bible regularly
- Praying to God daily
- Setting personal spiritual goals
- Cultivating your abilities and the abilities of others
- Taking responsibility for your soul and then the souls of the ones who are weak or lost
- Stepping up your rate and intensity of service
- Remain focused on spiritual instead of worldly things
Of course, all of this is for those who want to become effective as Christians as opposed to those who simply want to affect a Christian pose.
For some, there is no spiritual effectiveness possible because there is no Spirit within them. They have not yet obeyed the Spirit's initial command to repent and be baptized in order to be forgiven of sin and wear the name and person of Christ.
For the brethren, I hope you will see more clearly the narrow path before you in Christ that leads to effective, joyful, spirit-filled living, powered by the cultivation of these habits.
God bless you as you grow to become highly effective Christians.