What are you reading now? Rachel Young edition

“Right now, I’m reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I’m also in the middle of Canoeing the Mountains by Todd Bolsinger, and it’s really blessing me. It’s about adaptive leadership — how do you lead in uncharted territory? I think it’s a helpful perspective for our staff and elders. I’ve asked my leadership team to read it too.”

Rachel Young, Associate Pastor of Spiritual Formation
Clear Lake Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX

#StartWithaSmile at smile.amazon.com/ch/20-2433799 for your holiday gifts and Amazon donates to Ascending Leaders.

A Framework for Focus: The Key to Getting Unstuck

One of the most important parts of my role as Communications Lead for Ascending Leaders is understanding not only what it is, exactly, that we do as an organization, but also why it’s needed. If I don’t understand the difference we make, then any communication of what we do or how we do it would be an empty vessel, words without meaning. I was drawn to Ascending Leaders because of my own passion for seeing people grow in Christ. In my ongoing quest to assimilate over a decade of work helping churches get more effective at doing just that, I’ve spent the past month researching our relationship with a few specific churches, each chosen to provide an example of churches at different—dare I say—stages of coaching. Here I’ll share the information I found most illuminating, before stating my personal understanding of the “why”.

Madison Church in Grand Rapids, MI, is crafting testimonies around the stages of faith to help people articulate their faith and understand the stages. Would you like to try your hand at it, and see what you might discover about yourself? Visit our blog for a guide on how to do just that.

A video of Mike Johnson’s “Stages of Faith” testimony is available to watch on our website or YouTube channel. Keep an eye out for more testimony videos from Ascending Leaders staff, as we continue to practice what we preach!

In Conclusion

Several key words and phrases came up repeatedly the research process: alignment, defining, assessment, measurable, outcomes, focus, perspective. The consistent theme I found was that the framework Ascending Leaders uses to help churches clarify their discipleship process takes “stuff” (and usually good but confusing stuff) and turns it into a well-defined pathway. Vital to this transformation is an outside perspective from a coach with an adaptive spirit, a common vocabulary among leadership, perseverance, a sensitivity to what God is already doing in the church, and a clearly defined and measurable desired outcome. The “why” a church might call us in to help turns out to be surprisingly simple: Do their people know where to grow? If they don’t, then they are STUCK. Coaching for clarity leads to momentum—and that means movement, or becoming unstuck.


DiscipleshipDare: Fasting to Feast on Joy

Whether it’s the gloom of early winter, the speed with which the sun seems to flee below the horizon, or the bittersweet memory of happy times spent with lost loved ones, the holiday season leading up to Christmas is for some a time of sorrow or melancholy.

In recent years, the growing pressure to de-commercialize the family Christmas experience, while a noble and worthy cause, has piled on guilt and anxiety as we try to do everything just right.
For the next month, we dare you to identify what is keeping you from Christ in Christmas and to make a decision to fast from it.

Is it fear, overwhelm, worry over finances, the stress of holiday overeating, a sense of loneliness? Much like our physical need for food, all of these are natural and some are unavoidable. But the answer to that question is probably getting in the way of a relationship of greater intimacy with God. When you are confronted by the urge to give in to the emotion, action, or thought pattern, understand that personal will power is not a healthy solution during a spiritual fast.

Trying harder isn’t the answer.

Instead, bring it God with words similar to this: “Father, I’m experiencing (fill in the blank) right now. I believe this is in response to a deeper longing for something only your presence can fulfill. I implore you to meet this need. I trust in you.”

Then walk away from the thing from which you’re abstaining, whether it’s physical or emotional. You could cement your strong sense of God’s provision by meditating briefly on a Psalm from God’s Word, or spending a few minutes in your advent reading for the day.*

*Adapted from Simplicity and Sacrifice: Embracing More with Less (FREE download right now!)

Resources for Advent

For more Advent resource suggestions, follow us on Facebook, where we’ll be sharing our personal favorites and books for each stage of faith!

#StartWithaSmile at smile.amazon.com/ch/20-2433799 for your holiday gifts and Amazon donates to Ascending Leaders, at no extra cost to you!

Telling YOUR Faith Story by the Stages (with an example by Mike Johnson)

Before you start, keep in mind:

  1. Each person’s story is unique to their relationship with God. There is no one “right” story.
  2. People come to love God and grow in Him at different rates and in different ways.
  3. There is no need for embarrassment. There’s no stage that’s better or worse than any other stage – what matters is that your faith isn’t stagnant, and you are moving closer to a deep relationship with Christ.
  4. While your complete story might be quite long, for most purposes, your testimony should be quite short – 3-5 minutes.

Developing your faith story:

Now you can begin to create a testimony of your past and current journey through stages of faith. Use the thoughts and questions below to help you.

  1. Brainstorm what experiences have shaped your story and specific events or revelations that moved you into a new stage. Use stories as much as possible.

  2. Determine where you are today in terms of your stage of faith.
  3. Write or type your story. This will help you stay focused.
  4. Use your own creative gifts to develop a word picture, an image, a drawing, or write out the words of a song that symbolizes your unique experience up to this point on your journey of faith.

Helpful Questions for Each Stage

 The list below is meant to assist you in writing your testimony. They are suggested ideas or questions that are meant to prompt you.  Only select one to three prompts from each stage. One option to prevent overwhelm is to use a highlighter to quickly mark the questions that jump out at you.

Stage 1:  Exploring Christ

  1. Describe your life prior to your relationship with Jesus Christ as your Savior.
  2. What word or adjective would best describe your relationship with God during this stage of your life?
  3. If you have not yet made a commitment to Christ, what are the questions you are wrestling with?
  4. How did God move in your life to warm you up to the Gospel?
  5. What events in your life caused you to come to faith in Jesus Christ?
  6. What were the circumstances around your coming to faith in Jesus?
  7. When and why did you make a commitment to follow Jesus?

Stage 2:  Growing and Serving in Christ

  1. Describe the most influential practices and people who have influenced growth in knowledge about Christ and your relationship with him.
  2. What word or adjective would best describe your relationship with God during this stage of your life?
  3. Who and what have you confidently relied on for answers to faith questions?
  4. Who makes up your significant circle for friendship, encouragement and what impact have they had on your faith journey?
  5. What are your spiritual gifts and how are they in play in your life and faith community?
  6. Who are the spiritual heroes and heroines that you follow?
  7. Where do you experience a sense of accomplishment in your spiritual life?
  8. When have you accepted a spiritual responsibility in a community?
  9. Are you working on any particular spiritual goals?


Stage 3:  Journeying deeper in Christ

  1. Have you experienced a significant faith or life crisis that has shaken your sense of spiritual well-being?
  2. Describe how your image of God changed from earlier times?
  3. If you felt like your faith was falling apart, describe how or what was causing it.
  4. Have you experienced a nagging search of personal meaning? How? When?
  5. Have you lived with a deep sense that there has to be something “more than this” in your spiritual life, or experience of God?
  6. Can you describe a “dark night of the soul” experience?


Stage 4:  Abiding in Christ

  1. Describe how you are experiencing God’s presence and guidance in all aspects of life.
  2. Have you sensed a new, more focused sense of calling or ministry?
  3. What word or adjective would best describe your relationship with God during this stage of your life?
  4. When have you been given more energy or stamina than you’d had previously to survive a crisis, illness, growth time (and not experienced burnout)?
  5. Do you have a glimpse of God’s purpose (vocation, call, ministry) for your life?
  6. How are you detached from self and the world and attached to God?

Congratulations! You’ve completed a very important step towards sharing your faith story to honor God and encourage others.

We encourage you to prayerfully consider sharing your story in a safe, intimate group of friends. Doing so will help you understand your own journey more richly and your shared vulnerability will open you to deeper, spiritual friendships.

If you are feeling bold, we’d love to see your faith stories online! Share a video or written story with the hashtag #MyFaithStory and tag us @ascendingleader (Twitter) or @ascendingleaders (Facebook) so we can celebrate your story with you!

Highpoint Bonus: Rachel Young on the biggest challenge facing the church today

spiritual-friendship-coverInterested in learning more about spiritual friendship? We recommend Mindy Caliguire’s excellent book on the subject.

Spiritual Friendship introduces you to principles of friendship that bring focus to your spiritual life. You’ll discover what it takes to have a rich, God-centered relationship that will nourish your soul. You use this book in small chunks of daily reading, covering the whole book in the course of four weeks. Also included are four guided group discussions for use with a small group or a spiritual friend.

#StartWithaSmile at smile.amazon.com/ch/20-2433799 for your holiday gifts and Amazon donates to Ascending Leaders.

From Blog

Name the Monkey: Poll


Subject Line Testing


Proud Pie and Pumpkin Spice: Day 1 of Prayer (the intense way)


DiscipleshipDare: John 21 Imaginative Entry


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