On December 14, 2012, twenty children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I (Sara) remember thinking then, surely, this will lead to public outrage and there will never be another mass shooting in our country again.

I was wrong.

We were wrong.

In 2019 alone, there have been 250 mass shootings in our country as of this writing. One reporter in Tennessee noted we’ve had more mass shootings in our country than days in the year. (August 4th was Day 216.)

Let that sink in.

If it is sobering, it should be.

The unfortunate reality is this: we’ve been writing about responding to violence and hatred for years. That is not a badge of honor. It is a sad reality that must change.

The following resources are offered to help you navigate this time as a leader. The cities, circumstances, and names of victims vary, but the challenge to our society remains.

In Christ,

Tim Bias and Sara Thomas

Resources on Transforming Mission

11 Reflections on Responding to Violence

  1. A Response to Violence: Part 1
  2. A Response to Violence: Part 2
  3. A Response to Violence: Part 3
  4. A Response to Violence: Part 4
  5. A Response to Violence: Part 5
  6. Charlottesville
  7. Hope in Uncertain Times 
  8. What is Our Response?
  9. Holy Week Terror: Pause, Pray, and Wait
  10. Can We Be Forgiven?
  11. A Call to Ordinary Courage
Responding to Violence with Prayer Transforming Mission

A difficult prayer to pray in times of violence. Prophets often challenge us to experience God’s mercy in new ways. May God’s mercy be new each day for you and for the people you encounter today.

 

Prayer & Prayer Resources

30 Days of Prayer (use the arrows on the right to navigate to the next day)

These prayers were written at the beginning of 2017. Let us remind you, prayer is timeless.

A Prayer in Response to Acts of Violence

A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

Resources to Contact Your Elected Officials

US Senators for the 116th Congress (2019)

US House of Representatives (note the search box in the upper right-hand corner)

You local city officials can usually be found by a simple Google search.

Share the Love

We’ll offer one last suggestion. Remind the first responders, community leaders, teachers, and/or government officials in your community that you appreciate their service.

For many of the above individuals, their daily life involves being put in harm’s way. Often, the cost is high. Reach out to someone in your local community and remind them they are loved and appreciated. Not sure what to do?

7 Ways You Can Share God’s Love

  • Write a note of thanks on the back of a postcard to a police officer
  • Write a prayer on a notecard and mail it to a firefighter
  • Say thank you to a teacher. Do it in writing.
  • Personalize a psalm of thanksgiving for an EMT
  • Send a thank you along with a written story of witnessing the service of a community leader
  • Express gratitude and care for your local government officials
  • Remind someone you see in service today that they are appreciated. Simply say, “Thank you.”

It doesn’t have to be a long letter or note. It doesn’t have to be a grand speech. But it does need to happen.

Saying “Thank you” or”I’m thinking of you” can be as simple as that, “thank you.” You also don’t have to wait until tragedy strikes. As you already know, everyday work has its own challenges. Let someone know you noticed their act of service today.

Finally, your note/action doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. If you have children or grandchildren, they can participate, too. Your note or words of encouragement and care are appreciated more than you know.

Invitation

Soon, we’ll begin offering a downloadable card/postcard to recognize one person each month to shower them with God’s love. But, you don’t need to wait for us to get started. Use the resource above. Then, sign-up here to be notified about “Share God’s Love.”

We welcome your nominations for people who serve our communities that could use a little extra love from all of us. Simply email us at connect@transformingmission.org to nominate someone and we’ll share the next steps.

What are you waiting for? Go Share God’s Love!

Common Prayers for Ordinary Radicals Transforming Mission

 

 

Read Part 1: “Is Anybody Listening?”

As I’ve been preparing to share thoughts about listening with you, I read several interesting stories. Some of them were about listening. Others were about the lack of listening.

One of those stories was about Vincent van Gogh.

Before I share what I learned by “listening” to his story, I want you to know that I draw some parallels regarding his life and the life of leaders of our congregations.

It is my hope that as you read this story you will find places to stop and to ask yourself, “Am I listening to God in and through the people around me?”

Is van Gogh a Teacher?

At age twenty-four, Vincent Van Gogh was struggling with what to do with his life.  Although he was a successful art dealer, he felt there was more he needed to do with the life God had given him.

At this point, no one seemed to question is restlessness. His brother, Theo, who seemed to know him the best, encouraged him to become an artist.  But Vincent refused his brother’s advice.  Instead, he left a promising career as an art dealer and began studying to be a teacher.

Now, please know that being a teacher was a great life decision, but for Vincent, it was the beginning of a harmful pattern.

Is van Gogh an Evangelist?

Within the year, it became apparent that Vincent would not make it through the rigorous training required of teachers. He neither had the temperament nor the talent for it.  Again, he asked his brother, Theo, for advice.  But against the encouragement of Theo, his parents, and other relatives, Vincent decided to become an evangelist.

Again, I want to say, being an evangelist would have been a great life decision, but for Vincent, it was a continuation of a harmful pattern.

Who Am I?

The pattern?

Vincent van Gogh had a difficult time receiving the counsel and coaching of others.  It seems as if he had a strange sense of who he was.  At this point in his life, as religious as he was, instead of trusting God and others with his life, he trusted only himself with himself.

He refused to listen to the people around him, particularly the people who loved him and cared about him.  No matter what his vocation, his behavior was a sign, not of spiritual maturity, but of well-masked pride and arrogance.

Am I Listening? Transforming Mission

Am I Listening?

Here is where I want you to ask yourself the question, “Am I listening to God in and through the people around me?”

Only as an example and not to be overly critical, I want to say that over my years of ministry, I have met people like Vincent van Gogh.  People who have been greatly talented and skilled for what they are doing, but who think they can maintain a personal relationship with God while avoiding the relationships of everyday human interaction.

I have heard them say, “My faith is private.  It is between me and God.”

They believed they could experience all that God had for them without receiving the love of others. Vulnerability was seen as a weakness.  They isolated themselves. Sometimes the isolation was based upon ideas of purity or hard work and at other times it was based upon spiritual superiority. I have heard them say, “I have worked hard for what I have.  I am blessed.”

Are You Listening to God?

My question is, “Are you listening to God in and through the people around you?”

A quick look at the life of Jesus might help answer the question.  Jesus intentionally chose to live and work with fallible and ordinary people.

According to the stories in the gospels, the twelve disciples were not the model of perfection.  Jesus broke with the customs of his day and allowed women into his inner circle.  Even in the home of the rich and famous, Jesus allowed Mary Magdalene to minister to him. There are many other examples of vulnerability.  He chose a lifestyle of isolation over vulnerability.

Real-Time Relationships

Van Gogh recoiled from vulnerability.  He chose to abandon all his relationships, except the one with his brother.  Even with that relationship, he refused to listen to Theo’s ongoing insights into his artistic gift.

Van Gogh rejected the counsel and coaching of church leaders regarding his service.  In his isolation, he wallowed in self-pity.  He said he wanted to live for others but all is actions proved differently.

Ultimately, his remorse brought him to the point of giving up his faith.  He became disappointed with God because God did not reward his self-denial and pure aspirations to love his fellow humans.

I find it interesting that van Gogh never considered that God did not abandon him but rather was speaking to him in and through the people who loved him and who counseled and coached him.

Let me ask you again: Are you listening to God in and through the people around you?

Is van Gogh an Artist?

Van Gogh finally found his calling as an artist.  In a particularly dark moment in his life, he wrote to Theo, “I said to myself, ‘I’ll take up my pencil again, I will take up drawing,’ and from that moment everything had changed for me.”

He finally found his calling, but in doing so, he abandoned the relationships he longed for and needed, including his relationship with God. As a result, his capacity for creating art become a curse to him instead of a blessing.

Through his artistic career, van Gogh persisted in ignoring the advice of those who cared deeply for him, leaving a trail of broken relationships.  He pursued his painting with such an obsession that he demanded people accept his terms for living and loving.  His lonely life became representative of a person misunderstood and unloved by an antagonistic culture.

Was it Art or the Heart?

One tragedy of van Gogh’s career was his refusal to listen to the guidance of others.  If he had listened to those who he could trust, he would have begun painting much earlier in life, avoiding the frustrations and pain of choosing unwisely.

But the greatest tragedy of his life was he could not love others because he was not fulfilled himself.  He would not allow God or others to meet his deepest needs.

Can you image what he could have produced had he found his dream community of artists pursuing art for the common good?

But his desire to control and manipulate the lives of others got in the way.  Van Gogh drove people away. He would not allow people to come close to him, alongside him, to help him develop his real talents and strengths.  He would not allow those closest to him to address his personality flaws, weaknesses, or poor habits.  So ultimately, it was not his art that brought him down, it was his heart.

Ask Yourself: Am I Listening?

So, here is the question, “Am I listening to God in and through the people around me?”

That is a question, not only for you as a leader but for your congregation.  Are you listening to the community in which you are located?  As local churches, we can no longer be isolated, doing our own thing, and expect the community to pay attention to us.

What would happen if we began to listen to God in and through one another and the community?

We might just find our true calling.

Are you listening?

Coming Soon!

I want to Dare to Lead!
 
Send me more information about Dare to Lead and the next opportunity to participate in a workshop experience.

 

Last week when I sat down to write “The Bias Opinion,” I did not know what to write.  This week it is different. The writing still comes with pain, but this is pain that grows in my heart.

How can I be quiet when the images of children in detention centers keep flashing before my eyes, taking up residence in my thoughts, and knocking at my heart?

Children, who have been separated from parents, surrounded by strangers, confused, afraid, not knowing what will happen next.  There are children who have become abstract statistics and detached policy arguments.  Children, who have become the fodder of political debates.

How Can I Keep Quiet?

How can I be quiet when people, wanting to help children who are in need of drinking water, clean clothing, and soap, are told that their supplies cannot be accepted? The basis for the rejection is a federal mandate known as the Antideficiency Act.  Under the act, the government cannot spend any money or accept any donations other than what Congress has allocated to it. Really? Is that true?

(Spoiler Alert: Yes.)

The US Border Patrol reported to Congress that they were holding 2,081 children in detention centers. Children sleeping on concrete floors. No access to soap or showers. No access to toothbrushes or toothpaste. Inadequate food. Lord, have mercy on us! How can this happen?

Pain Intensified

As the pain intensifies in my heart, I try to make sense of such incomprehensible conditions and treatment. Oh, I hope I’m wrong but children have been used for political expediency throughout the ages. Didn’t the king of Egypt tell the Hebrew midwives when a child is born, “…if it is a boy, kill him…?” When the midwives did not obey the Pharaoh, he commanded, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile…?”1 How can little boys create such fear and anxiety?

And the one Christmas story we do not read each year is the story after the wise men from the East visit Jesus.  Wasn’t it after their visit that Herod, out of anger, ordered the death of all the children under the age of two in and around Bethlehem? There are times, even today when I can hear “Rachel weeping for her children.”

Whose Children Are They? Transforming MissionUsing Children for Political Expediency

I must confess, that doesn’t help. But isn’t it true? Children continue to be used for political expediency. Remember when World Vision, a humanitarian organization, announced a change to its hiring policy allowing people in same-sex marriages to work in its United State offices? In response, there was a group of people who rallied in protest, and within seventy-two hours, more than ten thousand children had lost their financial support from canceled World Vision sponsorships. Ten thousand children.

Then the CEO of World Vision announced the charity would reverse its decision and return to its old policy.  Children had been successfully used as bargaining chips in our culture war.

In February, as a result of the decision of the special General Conference of our United Methodist Church, several churches not only threatened to stop paying apportionments but did stop funding for projects in African countries through Global Ministries. I’m not sure who we thought we would leverage.

Digging in a Dry River Bed for Water

The first image that came to my mind was the little girl digging in a dry river bed in Nigeria. She and other children in her village would spend hours each day, digging in the sand to reach water so their families would have enough for that evening and the next morning. When I heard of the decisions to withhold apportionments, I thought of the well that Global Ministries had provided in her village.

Children, more often than not, pay the price in our attempts to leverage the system to get what we want. Even when we are acting for the right reasons, we might be doing more harm than good.

When Mark wrote, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children…,”3 he was not implying that children are perfect or that we should become more like children.  We all know that children, if given matches, can burn the house down, or given a saw, and cut the family dog in half.  No, what Mark implies is that children are vulnerable and powerless.  And Jesus says, “Let the vulnerable and powerless come to me…Let those who have nothing to offer but themselves come to me…” 

As Jesus followers, as kingdom people, we receive the vulnerable and care for the powerless.

How Can We Be Quiet?

So, as a Jesus follower, how can I be quiet?  At the border, when the children arrived with a parent or a relative, the border officials separated them. How can I be quiet? When many of the children have parents and relatives in the United States who are able and eager to care for them, yet the children remain in limbo, pawns in an ongoing battle over immigration enforcement, how can you and I be quiet?

Would it be different if they were our children?  Would we find ways to hold them, to defend them, to soothe them, and to set them free?

Peter Arnett, former CNN television reporter, tells the following story:

I was in Israel, in a small town on the West Bank, when there was an explosion. Bodies were blown through the air.  Everywhere I looked there were signs of death and destruction.  The screams of the wounded seemed to be coming from every direction.

Shortly after the explosion, a man came running up to me holding a bloodied little girl in his arms.  He pleaded with me, “Mister, I can’t get her to a hospital. The Israeli troops have sealed off the area.  No one can get in or out.  But you are the press.  You can get through.  Please, Mister! Help me get her to a hospital.  Please! If you don’t help me, she is going to die!”

I put the man and the girl in my car, got through the sealed area, and rushed to the hospital in Jerusalem.  The whole time we were traveling through the city streets, the man was pleading from the backseat, “Can you go faster, Mister? Can you go faster? I’m losing her.  I’m losing her.”

When we finally got to the hospital, the girl was rushed to the operating room.  Then the man and I sat in silence in the waiting area.  We were too exhausted to talk.

After a short while the doctor came out of the operating room and said, “I’m sorry.  She died.”

The man collapsed in tears.  I put my arms around his shoulders to comfort him.  Not knowing what to say, I said, “I can’t imagine what you must be going through. I’ve never lost a child.”

The man, with a puzzled look on his face, said, “Oh, Mister, that Palestinian girl was not my daughter. I’m an Israeli settler.  That Palestinian was not my child.  But, Mister, there comes a time when each of us must realize that every child, regardless of that child’s background, is a daughter or son.  There must come a time when we realize that we are all family.”

So, whose children are these children in the detention camps at the border of our country?  If they aren’t our children, whose children are they?

An Invitation from Bishop Palmer

The United Methodist Church has spoken very clearly on this matter. General Conference delegates from around the world call on us to advocate for the “elimination of indefinite detention [and the] incarceration of children.” (Book of Resolutions 3281). We also stated very clearly that we “oppose immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of families with children. (Social Principles paragraph 162.H).

I am asking you to join me in these actions:

  1. Organize a public prayer vigil. A resource to assist you in organizing one is found on our webpage.
  2. Contact your Congressional Representatives and our two Ohio Senators. Let them know that you are a United Methodist, a follower of Christ and that the separation and detention of children is cruel and immoral. Demand they work together to find a moral solution to the care of children fleeing violence and civil unrest. Click Here.
  3. Help your children and young people draw pictures and write letters to send to members of Congress. Click Here.
  4. Join the West Ohio Immigration Network. Email Dee Stickley-Miner at  dstickley@wocumc.org

Regardless of what you and I may think or feel.  The children are not a political issue. It doesn’t matter whether you are Democrat or Republican, Libertarian or Independent. As a follower of Jesus, as a Christian, it is time to speak on behalf of the children.  Whose children are they anyway?

  1. Exodus 1:15-22
  2. Matthew 2:16-18
  3. Mark 10:13-16

Additional Resource

Looking for a book to explore the stories of Scripture about migrants and the meaning of belonging in a Christian context? Here’s a book that is a part memoir and part Biblical exploration by Karen Gonzalez. The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible and the Journey to Belonging.

Karen Gonzalez immigrated to the United States from Guatemala. She explores the Biblical stories about migrants and shares her personal stories and reflections in The God Who Sees. Meet people who fled their homelands: Hagar, Jospeh, Ruth and Jesus.

Sometimes when I sit down to write “The Bias Opinion,” I do not know what to write.  Even though I have more than my share of opinions, I do not see myself as a writer.  So, often times writing comes slowly and with some pain.  Not physical pain, but the pain of not being able to express myself the way I want to in the written word.

Today is one of those days.

So, I am just going to let a couple of my thoughts and opinions flow.  Hopefully, I can and will express myself in an intelligent and Christian way that will be in service to our work together.

Where Have All the Christians Gone?

Recently, I have been reflecting on a couple of issues.  One of the issues focuses upon the condition and position of the United Methodist Church. I have been asking myself, “Where have all the Christians gone?”

Now, I know most of us say we are followers of Jesus, but, friends, we are known by our fruits.  What fruits are we producing?

 

The Church that Forms

My life and ministry have been shaped by the church. It was the church that pointed me to Jesus and taught me the Jesus way of living. The church taught me that my relationships with the people of this world are shaped and directed by my relationship with God. Those relationships when shaped by Jesus are characterized by mutual love, respect, trust, and vulnerability.

  • It was in the church that I experienced that the last are first and first are last and where those who hunger and thirst, physically, spiritually, emotionally find what is needed to be who God created them to be.
  • It was the church where I experienced that there was room at the table for everyone: regardless of economic status, whether they had positions of power or were marginalized with no one to call family or a place to call home.
  • It was in the church where I learned that the kingdom of God knows no geographic boundaries, no political parties, no single language or culture.  It was the church that taught me that life was not about power and might but about acts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

What Has Happened to the Church?

Over the past several weeks, months, even years, I have wondered “what has happened to the church where my faith was born, shaped, and nurtured?” Have we lost our focus? Have we lost our identity in Christ?

  • Where is “love one another as I have loved you” being practiced?
  • Where is “don’t use harmful words, but helpful words, the kind that builds up and provides what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you” being lived out?
  • Where has “they will know we are Christians by our love” gone?

Are we so focused upon ourselves that we no longer follow Jesus? Are we so blind that we are not aware of God expressed in the everyday, ordinary acts of love and kindness?

I have begun to think that we are like Herman, the 90-year-old gentleman who was driving down the interstate. His cell phone rang.   It was his wife.  She said, “Herman, I just heard on the news that there is a car going the wrong way on I-71. Please be careful!”

Herman answered, “It’s not just one car, Dear, it is hundreds of them!”

Tell me that is not where we are at as a church? You do know that the chief sin of a good person is thinking that your experience defines reality.  What if, like Herman, you are right in all the wrong ways?

So, what do we do?

Where You Begin Matters

For years, I assumed that the church pointed me and the world to God.  Boy, have I been naïve. What I have learned is this, if we begin with the church, the kingdom of God may or may not be recognized. But, if we begin with Jesus, the church becomes an instrument to participate in the kingdom of God.  When we begin with Jesus we can and will point people to the reminders of God’s love.

So, what do we do?

Pointing People to Jesus quote Transforming MissionPoint People to Jesus

I have been in conversation with a friend and colleague.  In our conversation, we recommitted ourselves to this: “Let’s point people to Jesus.”  That means you and I need to be related to Jesus, constantly nurturing and deepening our relationship with Jesus and with one another.

If we are going to point people to Jesus, then Jesus is to lead and we are to follow.  We must get out of the way and let Jesus have his way.

Will this be easy?

No!

It will require integrity, choosing courage over comfort, what is right over what is fun, fast, and easy.  It means practicing our values, not just professing them.

Valuing Jesus Means Encountering Jesus

If Jesus is the center of our faith, the reason for our faith, and the invitation to faith, we are saying we value Jesus.  And if we value Jesus, we need to do more than giving Jesus lip service. We need to be constantly looking for, pointing people to, and inviting people to encounter Jesus.

So, if you get frustrated, like I do, because people around you are focusing on issues, what are you doing to circle back and to focus on Jesus?  If you get frustrated when there are inconsistencies in actions, what are you doing to point out the inconsistencies? What are you doing to circle back and to attempt consistency again?

I know it is not easy. But here is where the rubber hits the road.

Growing In Grace

You and I are not perfect. The church is not perfect. But we are growing in grace. Growing in grace, God’s grace, is one of the highest, if not the highest, values we hold.  God is not finished with any of us yet. We’re on the way to becoming more like Jesus, so let’s stop getting in the way of Jesus.

Maybe the best I have to offer today is this: let’s point people to Jesus in the midst of this lousy, screwed-up, glorious community called the church, which by God’s grace is enough.

Well, I have taken all my space expressing only one opinion.  So, I’ll keep the rest of my opinions to myself until next time.  Until then, will you join me in pointing people to Jesus?

 

Pin it for Later

Pointing People to Jesus Transforming Mission

I have always heard that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  Is that the same for the church? Are we, as the church, beyond learning new ways of relating to our communities? Are we too old to share God’s love with one another and with the people around us?

I remember a story told by Fred Craddock.  He said he had never been to the greyhound races, but he had seen them on television. He said:

Running, Running, and Running…

They have these beautiful, big old dogs. I say beautiful, but they are ugly old dogs.  These dogs chase that mechanical rabbit around the ring. They run and run, exhausting themselves chasing that rabbit. When those dogs get to where they can’t race, the owners put a little ad in the paper, and if anybody wants one for a pet, they can have it. Otherwise, they are destroyed.

I have a niece in Arizona who can’t stand that ad.  She goes and gets one every time. Big old dogs in the house. She loves them.

I was in a home not long ago where they had adopted a dog that had been a racer.  It was a big old greyhound, spotted hound, laying there in the den.  One of the children in the family, just a toddler, was pulling on its tail, and a little older child had his head over on that dog’s stomach, using it as a pillow. That old dog just seemed so happy. I watched the children and the dog for a few minutes.

Then I said to the dog, “Are you still racing?”

He said, “No, I don’t race anymore.”

I said, “Do you miss the glitter and excitement of the track?”

He said, “No.”

“Well, what’s the matter? Did you get too old?”

“No, no, I still have some race in me.”

“Well, did you win anything?”

He said, “I won over a million dollars for my owner.”

“Then what was it? Did they treat you badly?”

“Oh, no, they treated us royally when we were racing.”

I said, “Then what was it? Did you get hurt?”

He said, “No, no.”

Then what?

He said, “I quit.”

“You quit?”

He said, “Yeah, I quit.”

“Why did you quit?”

And he said, “I discovered that what I was chasing was not really a rabbit.  And I quit.” Craddock said the dog looked at him and said, “All that running, running, running, running, and what I was chasing wasn’t even real.”

Craddock finished by saying, “If you believe in God, you can teach an old dog new tricks.”

Is it the same for the church? If we trust God, can we learn new ways of loving our neighbors?

Chasing What is Real Transforming MissionChase What is Real

Our culture is going through some massive changes.  These changes are shaping our values regarding how we define family, live our faith, gain knowledge, and understand science. The changes we are experiencing are complex and coming at lightning speed. As a result, the church is being left behind as a quaint spiritual artifact and dusty theological antique.

In such an open arena of competing values and counter-Christian views, what do we need to learn to step into the future? How will we make an impact in our communities and the world?

Let’s stop chasing what is not real and begin to chase what is real.

So, what is real?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission1. Relationships

Develop faithful, trusting relationships with Christ, within the congregation, and in your local community.

Let me be clear. I’m not talking about adding more activities to keep people busy. We’re busy enough!

When I started in ministry 45 years ago, the focus was upon the “7 Day a Week Church.” The idea was to have some form of activity in the church building every day.  There was to be no “white space” on the church calendar.  This activity form of ministry was based on getting people into our church buildings. Although it created lots of opportunities, we did not develop what was real.  Our focus was on activity and getting people inside a building.  We did not focus on developing relationships with people.

All the activity has worn us out.

We have three types of relationships that need to be nurtured: our relationship with Christ, relationships within the congregation, and relationships in the community. If one of those relationships is missing, the other relationships suffer.

Our relationship with Christ and with one another in the congregation can always deepen. Often, we fail to see the community right outside our doors. The people who live in our communities who do not have a relationship with Jesus or a church continues to grow.

Go outside the church building and into the community. Get to know the people who live in your city, neighborhood or town. Listen to their stories, their dreams, and their needs. One of the greatest gifts you can offer to others is your time. As you take the time to nurture relationships, you’ll also have the opportunity to embody the love of Christ to others.

What would happen if we were less mesmerized by numbers and more involved in developing relationships Christ, the congregation and your local community?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission2. Holiness

Be intentional in strengthening your inner life and bringing together your personal faith and your missional participation in the community. John Wesley called it personal piety and social holiness.

You are a child of God, free to serve in God’s love.  As God’s love takes root in your life, serve the community, neighborhood, or city in God’s love.

Be the person God created you to be. As a responsible representative of God’s love, you are free to take initiative to test your thoughts, to honor your intuition, to see what requires doing, and to accomplish it. At the same time, you are free to trust God and the people around you. You can be faithful in your living because you believe God is faithful to you.  When you face anxious times, your inner life allows you to test your wisdom, your patience, and your hope.  You draw courage, trusting God’s grace and the relationships you have developed with God’s people.

Knowing and trusting your relationship with God through Jesus, you are free to model God’s love.  You know that God is with you.  Others will come to trust God’s love because they see and experience God’s love in and through you.

What would happen if we were less concerned about looking good and more concerned about being centered upon the well-being of others, loving as we have been loved?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission3. Integrity

Be the person God created you to be both in what you say and what you do. Model integrity by living the life that produces the behaviors of love. When you are in Christ and are moved by the Spirit, the unexpected acts of Christian love will come in response to God’s grace.

What would happen if we were less focused upon being successful and more focused upon developing lives of love from the inside out and living lives of love, both inside and outside the church building?

I think we could teach an old church new ways of living and loving.

Let’s chase what is real!

Over the past two weeks, my wife and her sister have been preparing for an estate sale.  They are sifting and sorting through 60+ years of financial records, photographs, keepsakes, furniture, clothes, etc.

Since the death of both of her parents, the house is sitting empty, filled with years of memories and stuff. I use the word “stuff” because what was once seen as a keepsake, Kim and I are questioning, “Why do we need to keep that?”

For example, my wife ran across the candles, the table decorations, worship folders for our wedding. They were neatly tucked away in a box, placed in a closet, and forgotten. Kim and I have been married for 43 years.

Do we need the candles, the decorations, and folders of our wedding? We have some very good memories over our 43 years together. Those candles are a part of those memories. But we have long passed the time to keep those candles.

Moments of Nostalgia

For some reason, my dear mother-in-law kept all the little dresses my wife wore before she ever started to school. Over the years she added my daughter’s dresses, and my son’s pants and shirts, along with some boots and shoes. Oh, there have been some moments of nostalgia, but we have long past the need to keep those clothes, just for the memories.

So, Kim has been placing most of the “stuff” in the “for sale” pile. There are tears, as well as laughter at “one person’s trash, is another person’s treasure.”  It was not difficult to decide that we needed an estate sale. Even with all the memories, my wife said, “It just is not the same without Mom and Dad here. They were the ones who made this house a home.”

The 500 Year Rummage Sale

Phyllis Tickle, in her book The Great Emergence, used the analogy of “The 500-Year Rummage Sale” to describe religious change over the years. She wrote that historically, the church “cleans house” roughly every 500 years, holding what she calls a “giant rummage sale,” deciding what to dispose and what to keep, making room for new things.

She wrote that the time of Christ was the first rummage sale.  It was an era she called “The Great Transformation.” It began when Jesus, who was “Emmanuel, God With Us,” created a new understanding of our relationship with God.

Then five hundred years later was the collapse of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages. It was in this period, the church entered an era of preservation as the church went underground with monks and nuns practicing the monastic tradition in abbeys and convents.

At the beginning of the new millennium in 1054, came “The Great Schism,” when the Christian Church split into the Eastern and Western branches that we still see today in the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.

Then in the 1500s, “The Reformation” resulted in new branches of the Christian tradition, with different understandings of how people relate to God personally through direct prayer and individual interpretation of the bible.

Is the Church Ready for the Next Rummage Sale?

Every 500 years or so, Tickle wrote, there are tectonic shifts in the Christian tradition, resulting in huge changes of both understanding and of practice.  So, it’s been 500 years since the Reformation. Is the church ready for its next giant rummage sale?

Over the years of my ministry, the world has changed tremendously. Our understanding of science has progressed exponentially, forcing us to reconcile scientific and religious thought. We are culturally more diverse. We are living longer. Family units take a variety of forms. We are a global community, no longer confined to the boundaries of our physical neighborhoods. We have access to facts, data, opinions, and information instantly through computers we keep in our pockets. Communication and access to news are immediate and unfiltered.

We change our minds, for better or for worse, with every bit of information we process. How could these things not alter how we understand who we are, why we exist, and where God is in our lives?

500 Year Rummage Sale for the church? Transforming Mission

We’re In a New Era

I remember when the church was the religious and social center of the activities of most families. Everyone went to church on Sunday morning and often Sunday evening as well. Today, church affiliation, not to mention church attendance, is no longer the norm. Yet, people who identify as “spiritual but not religious” are on the rise. God is still important, but identifying with a religious brand is not.

Tickle said we are in a new era of “The Emergent Church.” It is a religious movement that crosses denominational boundaries, seeks common ground, engages diverse cultures, and embraces social causes as ways of living out Christ’s call to serve others. It is interesting that it takes place largely outside of church buildings.

Just for the Memories…

So, have we come to the time for our next great rummage sale?  Reflect upon your faith. What is necessary for you to be a Jesus follower?  Consider what you need to love the people around you as God in Christ has loved you? What do you need to give away, throw away, or move past? Even though it brings good memories or it has helped you become who you are, what is it that you have no need of keeping, just for the memories?

I have given my life to the church.  I admit that change is hard.  Yet, because our world has changed and our culture is different, it is time to give up what is no longer useful and to take up what best shares God’s transforming love.

Weighing What’s Important

Glen Adsit served most of his years of ministry in China.  He was under house arrest in China when the soldiers came and said, “You and your family can return to America.” The family was celebrating when the soldiers said, “You can take two hundred pounds with you.”

The family had been there for years.  They had a lot of stuff. It was when they got the scales out and began to weigh their belongings, that they began to disagree on what to take with them. He, his wife, and two children all had something they wanted to take.  They weighed everything. The vase, the new typewriter, the books.  Finally, they got the weight down to two hundred pounds.  It was painful but it was done.

The soldiers returned the next day and asked, “Ready to go?”

“Yes,” was the reply.

“Did you weigh everything?”

“Yes.”

“Did you weigh the kids?”

“No, we didn’t.”

“Then, weigh the kids.”

It was at that moment that the vase, the typewriter, and the books all lost their importance.  Each item became trash.

A New Life is Ahead!

As painful has it might be, it is time for an estate sale. God is calling us to something bigger than ourselves, bigger than the United Methodist Church, even bigger than the church universal.

The message of our Christian faith is one of resurrection and renewal. Paul wrote, “The old life is gone; a new life has begun.” It is time to give up some of the “stuff” we have been hanging onto. It is time to move boldly and faithfully into the future. Let’s follow God’s lead and stay focused on Jesus. I believe a new life is ahead for you, for me, and for the church.

This past week, I ran across a story I first read over 15 years ago. I remember liking it then, just as I like it now.

There is a story of two brothers, John and Joe, who lived on adjoining farms. They worked side-by-side for over 40 years, sharing machinery, trading labor and goods as needed. Then one day, the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding, but it grew into a major difference. It finally exploded into an exchange of bitter and angry words, followed by weeks of silence.

The rift moved from weeks into months. Then, one morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened the door to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. John asked, “May I help you?”

The man replied, “I’m looking for a few days’ work. Do you have a few small jobs here and there I could do for you?”

John thought for a moment and answered, “Yes, I do have a job for you.” Leading the man out into the yard, John pointed over to his brother’s farm and said, “Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor. In fact, he’s my younger brother. Two weeks ago there was a meadow between us. One we shared for over 40 years. As you can see, he destroyed the meadow and built a creek to separate us. I can’t bear looking in his direction.”

“So, here is what you can do for me. See that pile of lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence, an 8-foot fence, so I don’t see his place or his face anymore.”

The carpenter said, “I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to build just what you need.”

So, John, before leaving for the day, helped the carpenter get the materials together. The carpenter worked hard all that day; measuring, sawing, and nailing. He finished his work just as John was returning. John’s eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped. The carpenter had not built a fence. He had built a bridge.

The bridge stretched from one side of the creek to the other. It was a fine piece of work, with wide steps, smooth handrails, and a bench to sit upon.

It was at that moment, Joe, came toward them. With hand outstretched and a smile on his face, he said, “John, you are quite a fellow to build this bridge, after all, I’ve said and done.”

The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met at the bench in middle. They started by taking each other’s hand, but they ended in an embrace. As they were offering each other words of confession and forgiveness, they noticed the carpenter hoist his toolbox onto his shoulder.

John called out, “Please wait! Stay a few days. We have other projects for you.”

“I would love to stay, but my work here is done. I must be going. I have other bridges to build.”

Imagine Your Church Transforming Mission

Take a moment to imagine your church as a bridge. What needs to be in place to “bridge” the creeks, the barriers, and the thoughts and emotions that keep the people in your church from connecting with the people in your community?

Imagine your church as a bridge. What if you extended an invitation to hurting and hungry people offering faith, hope, love, and dignity? What would need to be overcome, set aside, or changed to extend such an invitation?

Imagine your church as a bridge. What if you extended grace to the people on the outside just as God has extended grace to you? What fear or anxiety would you have to overcome?

The reality is, Jesus the Carpenter, has not only built the bridge, but Jesus is also the bridge. God has come over the Jesus bridge to us. Although in our good intentions, we have built a beautiful place along the river, God’s relentless love, will not allow our creeks, our ideologies, our rituals, nor our requirements to get in the way of God’s love for God’s people. When we least expect it, the carpenter shows up to give us what we need.

Imagine Jesus as the bridge. We’re expecting a fence and he builds a bridge. A bridge of grace. His toolbox? A Roman cross. His outstretched hands looked out upon those who hang him there and declared, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” His work? Grace!

So, what if the Jesus bridge is grace? Let me ask you again, what fear or anxiety would you have to overcome? What would you have to set aside to extend grace to hurting and hungry people? How much grace do you need to offer faith, hope, love, and dignity to the people in your neighborhood, community, or city?

Let me offer a suggestion. Give the carpenter the materials, he will build just what you need.

Now, imagine your church…

Some of you are stepping into new appointments in a few weeks. You will transition from one congregation to another, learn the names and lives of another group of Jesus followers, and develop life-long relationships which will bring meaning to your lives.

Others of you will return to faith communities where you are investing your lives in developing relationships, learning the needs and assets of the congregation, and engaging the congregation with the community.

Whether stepping into a new appointment or returning to a congregation, I want to remind you of three basic practices for leaders.

Three Essential Practices Transforming MissionPractice 1: Prayer

The first practice is Prayer. As a pastor, I learned early that most people wanted something from me or wanted me to do something for them. Early in my ministry, I liked the idea of being needed and wanted. The demand-filled day was welcomed. It was nice to be needed. After a while I realized that all requests for my time and energy were urgent. Even the trivial actions were dressed in words of importance.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but the edge of the flattery began to wear off when I realized no one demanded that I practice a life of prayer. Even though I thought prayer was at the heart of my ministry, I was not praying. Oh, I prayed in worship and in public events, but I was not personally listening to God or guiding others into listening to God.

It was only when I began to intentionally focus upon prayer and to develop a life of prayer that I began to focus upon God’s desire for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of prayer. Please don’t let the urgent keep you from focusing on and listening to God.

Practice 2: Reading, Reflecting, and Responding to the Scriptures

The second practice is the reading, reflecting, and responding to the Scriptures. Again, early in my ministry, I found myself reading, teaching, and preaching the Scriptures more for information than for formation. Although reading and reflecting upon the Scripture was basic to my work, I began to realize that using the Scripture was not the same as listening to God.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but I began to recognize that I was out of relationship with God and with God’s people. I began to understand that a major part of my work was to listen for God in and through the Scriptures. So, I began to study Scripture more for formation. I began to listen for God in and through the Scriptures. I began to ask God to help improve the acoustics so I could reflect and respond more clearly.

It was when I began to intentionally focus upon the reading, reflecting, and responding to the Scriptures that I discovered more of God’s design and desire for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of Bible study. Develop a pattern of reading, reflecting, and responding to Scripture. Improve the acoustics so you can hear God more often and more clearly.

Practice 3: Self-Awareness and Self-Leadership

The third practice is to be who God created you to be. Over the years of my ministry, I have wasted too much time and energy focused upon pleasing people. There have been times when I have lost myself in wanting people to like me. My insecurity showed up when I worked harder for compliments than I did at caring and compassion.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but trying to be all things to all people got old in a hurry. I learned that for me to be my best was to be who God created me to be. So, I surrounded myself with people who loved me as I was but who would not let me stay the way I was.

Through the development of mature and intimate relationships, I learned and experienced God’s love in life-transforming ways. I was encouraged to be who God created me to be which set me free to lead courageously with hope.

It was when I began to intentionally focus upon developing caring relationships that I truly began to trust God and the people around me. It was when I began to be who God created me to be that I began to live the life God desired for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of getting to know yourself. Surround yourself with people who love you and who will clear a space for you to be who God created you to be. It will be in living out God’s design for your life that you will make the greatest impact upon family, friends, and congregation.

You and I have the opportunity to shape the course of our lives. As you enter this next season of your work, develop a life of prayer; and, read, reflect, and respond to the Scriptures. Let’s grow together in becoming the leaders God has created us to be.

Last week, I received a call from my doctor’s office.  The voice on the line said, “Mr. Bias, it is time to schedule your next checkup.  May we schedule your appointment today?”  I wanted to say, “No,” but I knew that my regular checkup helped to keep me physically healthy.

Over the years, I have learned the same is true about effective leadership.  I have not always called them checkups, but I have regularly stopped to evaluate or to take an account of my life and actions.  For me, regular checkups are necessary for effective leadership.

At the beginning of the year, Sara Thomas introduced us to a weekly checkup called TGIF: Trust, Gratitude, Inspiration, and Faith.  She wrote, “…if all leadership begins with self-leadership, there are things that need to improve.”  She continued, “I know the impact reflection has on transformation.  If you want growth, stop and reflect.”

She proposed taking time each week to reflect upon four TGIF questions to assist in growing in faith and in developing as courageous leaders:

  1. What am I TRUSTING?
  2. For whom or what am I GRATEFUL?
  3. Who or What is INSPIRING me?
  4. How am I practicing FAITH?

So today, I am sharing with you my most recent checkup in regard to becoming a more compassionate leader.

Leadership Checkup Transforming Mission

Trust

What am I Trusting?

I am trusting my listening skills.  Over the past several weeks, I have listened closely to the needs, aspirations, and mission of our local churches.  At the same time, I have listened closely to the strengths, skills, and needs of our clergy.

I am trusting what is emerging.  In the midst of listening, what emerges is not exactly what I have in mind.  I am trusting the new things God is doing.

I am also trusting the shift in my prayer habits.  I continue to make the shift from having a prayer life to living a life of prayer.

Gratitude

For whom or what am I grateful?

I am grateful for trusted friends. I am grateful for those so close they not only love me just the way I am, but they give of themselves so I can become who God created me to be. I am grateful for the embodiment of unconditional and unselfish love in their lives. I am grateful that the love I experience in and through them encourages me to be more like Jesus.

Because I am surrounded by friends who embody such love, I am becoming a more compassionate leader.

Inspiration

 

What is inspiring me?

Most recently, the Galatians: Following Jesus Every Day reading plan. It is this habit of reading, reflecting, and responding that helps keep me focused and growing.

This past week, to hear the names of the persons participating in the study lifted in prayer was an awe-inspiring experience.

Faith

How am I practicing faith?

By God’s grace, I am working on being clear about what I think and how I act. I know that might sound strange, but I am trusting that God wants me to live in the real world.  There are times that I find it easy to “interact” with God in seclusion, where I can escape from responsibility.  I find it more difficult to follow God into the office, the community, or into relationships I cannot control.

I am practicing faith by stepping away from a fear of failure.  It is my fear of failure that keeps me from taking risks and keeps me in my comfort zone. I am also practicing my faith by not talking about success, but by stepping into the arena to participate in the possibility of success.

It’s time for A Check-up

It is nothing spectacular. But being a healthy leader allows me the opportunity to see the people around me as God sees them, to understand more who I am becoming in God’s work, and to catch a glimpse of God in and through trust and obedience.

So, how are doing with Trust, Gratitude, Inspiration, and Faith?

Church leader, it is time for your next checkup.  Are you willing to participate in it today?

When do you do it?

John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, tells the story of the first time he attended worship in a Christian church. He said he didn’t know what to expect, but what he thought was going to happen did not happen. After attending worship for three Sundays, he became frustrated.

One Sunday, after worship, he approached a man who looked like someone with authority.

Wimber asked, “When do you do it?”
The man, who was an usher that morning, asked, “When do we do what?”
Wimber answered, “You know, the stuff,”
The usher replied, “And what stuff might that be?”
Wimber said, becoming more frustrated by the moment, “The stuff in the Bible.”
Now the usher is frustrated, “I still don’t understand. Help me. What do you mean?”
Wimber said, “You know, multiplying loaves and fish, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, giving sight to blind people. That stuff.”
The usher replied somewhat apologetically, “Oh, we don’t do that. We talk about it and pray about it, but we don’t actually do it. No one really does it, except maybe those crazy fundamentalists.”

What does the church value?

The values of the church in the above story are revealed through the actions and inactions of the congregation. Anyone of our congregations will reveal who we are to the community through our actions and inactions with the people we encounter.

Often our values are unnamed. When this is the case, it is only when a conflict of values occurs, that we become aware of what we value. As a congregation, when conflicts arise around core values, consider whether you have stated your core values.

But don’t stop there.

Name the behaviors that bring the values to life. When you do, you’ll be better able to encourage people as well as define expectations of within the church culture. people understand the expectations of following Jesus. Afterall The core values point to who we are as Jesus followers.

After all, if our core values are going to help reveal who we are as Jesus followers, they will propel us to action. If this seems like a challenge, remember, you’re not alone on this journey. Scripture reveals the conflict of values that can unfold as we encounter the love of Jesus.

As a leader, consider exploring the core values of your congregation. Then, identify the behaviors that accompany the values. You'll be better able to encourage your congregation to follow Jesus. Find out more on the blog. #values #church #jesus #faith #transformingmission Transforming MissionA Conflict of Values in Scripture

Look at the story in John, chapter 9. It was the Sabbath day. A blind man comes to Jesus for healing. With a little spit, dirt, and a loving touch, Jesus restores the man’s sight. You would think the church would rejoice and celebrate this miracle performed in their very midst. But they are working from a different set of values.

A theological debate breaks out. It goes like this:

Part 1

“Wait a minute, doesn’t this man know that it’s against the law to heal on the Sabbath? The man must be a sinner, or he wouldn’t break the law like that.”
“Yes, but if he’s a sinner, how did he heal the blind man?”
“Well maybe the guy was just pretending to be blind.”
“His whole life he’s been pretending to be blind? I just don’t think he could pull that off. He’s not that smart, you know. He’s never even been to school. What would have been the point? You can’t teach a blind man to read and write.”
“Well, let’s go ask his parents. They ought to know.”

Part 2

So off they go to question the man’s parents.

“Is this your son?”
“Well, yes, he looks like our son, except for the fact that he can see and our son has been blind all his life.”
“Well, how could it be that he’s been blind all his life, but now he can see?”
“I don’t know! You’ll have to ask him.”

So, they question the man again.

Part 3

I can imagine this conversation going like this: “Hey you. Yes, you, the one who was once blind. You! What is going on here? We better get some answers from you, or you’re going to be in serious trouble.”

And the man replies, “Look, I really don’t know how to answer you. All I know for sure is that I was blind until Jesus came along, and now I see. Can’t you just accept that and leave me alone?”
“Oh, we’ll leave you alone, all right. Get out of here, and don’t come back! Find someplace else to go to church!”
Now, why would they do that? The answer is, or at least my answer is, they are operating out of a different set of values. Even though they say they are God’s people, they are revealing a different identity.Your value comes not in what you do or accomplish. Your value comes in following Jesus. As a leader, consider exploring the core values of your congregation. #values #church #jesus #faith #transformingmission Transforming Misssion

Walk As Children of the Light

This story reveals a conflict of values. The one who was born blind learns to walk in the light, while those who were gifted with normal sight choose to remain in darkness.

When we consider our own calling to “walk as children of light,” it’s easy to recognize which character in the story we ought to imitate. Like the man born blind, we too have been restored by our encounter with Jesus. We too have been saved by God’s free grace, and our eyes have been opened to see the world in a new, counter-cultural way.

If God’s grace is a value we’re willing to claim, our response to God’s grace will also come from our values. The challenge is, when aspirational values lead the way, we leave people wondering, “Is this who we are?” “Is this what defines us?” Instead of questioning who we are, let’s help people celebrate who we are as followers of Jesus.

Our core values motivate and sustain our behavior over the long run. Our values guide our behavior as well as our relationships with one another and with the community. Let’s be intentional in developing, sharing, and teaching the core values that focus our ministry and mission. When we do, we’ll be better able to help others encounter Jesus – the One who feeds, heals, and gives us eyes to walk as children of the light.

So let it be.

What’s Your Next Step?

  1. Download the Congregational Core Values Companion Sheets. You’ll be guided through leading local church leadership in identifying the congregation’s core values and the accompanying behaviors the church seeks to encourage.
  2. Listen to LeaderCast Episode 062: Are You Walking Your Talk? A conversation about congregational core values and behaviors
  3. Participate in Following Jesus Every Day: Galatians, Gospel of Gracea daily Bible Study that invites you to read, reflect, and respond to Scripture every day. We’ll deliver an email to your inbox each morning to help you journey through the book of Galatians. Sign up today! We’re starting April 22.