Living into Easter

I have a confession to make. Over my years of ministry, I was much busier on the Saturday side of Easter than I was on the days following Easter.

The week preceding Resurrection Sunday, beginning with Palm Sunday, was full of activities. Each activity had its own meaning and purpose. Everything from the children singing in the parade of palm branches to the sounds of silence in a darkened sanctuary. From egg hunts with children running and laughing to holy communion with adults somber and reflective.

Add to those activities Easter Sunrise service, Easter breakfast, and Easter worship, with people busy cooking, singing, teaching, and preaching, I was worn out on Easter Sunday afternoon. Although it was all good and mostly went well, I was relieved when it was over. I could go back to my routine where everything was not so special.

May I state the obvious? There is nothing profound here, but I have to say it. The important part of Easter happens after the resurrection, not before. As good and as necessary each and every activity is leading up to Easter, what is vital and what gives life and hope to the world comes after the resurrection celebration.

Now what do we do? Transforming Mission

What do we do now?

In John 21, we have a story that captures the mood and dilemma of the followers of Jesus after the Resurrection. In my imagination, I can hear them asking one another “What do we do now?”

So, what do we do after Easter?

A Conversation Between Jesus & Simon Peter

Simon Peter and six others went fishing. Easter was over. It was beautiful while it lasted. So, Simon Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” While he was fishing, the Risen Christ shows up and asks, “Simon, do you love me?”

Based upon my years of ministry, I can imagine the conversation going something like this:

Simon Peter responds, “Well, truthfully, that question is embarrassing; it makes me uncomfortable. It isn’t that I don’t like questions. I like questions. I like to discuss and entertain ideas. There’s something about the uncertainty that keeps my mind open. And I like the sophistication of considering various viewpoints on every issue. I like to be tolerant and open. I especially liked the three years we spend together in conversation and discussion. That’s why your question is embarrassing. ‘Do you love me?’ Maybe if you would rephrase the question. Ask me: ‘Are we good friends?’ I can answer that. What a friend we have in Jesus.”

Or maybe like this:

Simon Peter says, “I don’t think you’ve asked me the right question. What difference does it make whether or not I love you? That’s not the important thing. Faith has its own objective reality and we shouldn’t go around talking about how we feel. We should just present the message as it is. We should just read the scripture and express our thoughts. Ask me another question that is more appropriate to the three years of learning that I’ve had with you. None of those old questions that make a person feel guilty. Ask me about Christology or ecclesiology. I like essay questions.”

The Right Question

I can image Jesus responding, “But, Peter, it is the right question. What is to prevent you from being arrogant when you’re successful if you have not answered this question? What is to prevent you from being depressed at failure if you have not clearly faced up to this question? When it has all been said and done, it is the quality of the relationship you have with me that will make all the difference in your life.”

Now Simon Peter asks, “Would you repeat the question?”

“Yes.”

“Do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” said Simon Peter.

Jesus responds, “Then tend my lambs and feed my sheep.”

Your Assignment

This is the assignment of Easter. Because of the resurrection, this assignment is made meaningful each and every morning. You and I have the opportunity to translate it into our everyday living and into the life and ministry of our congregations.

But after all the activity on the Saturday side of Easter, who has the energy to tend the lambs and feed the sheep on Monday? Some of those lambs will still be lambs 40 years from now. Some of them will refuse to eat.

Now what do we do?

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in moments of exasperation reminding them of the long-term meaning of Easter. As an example, we started the bible study “Following Jesus Every Day: Galatians, Gospel of Grace.” This is one of the letters Paul wrote to a church struggling to decide “what do we do now?”

According to our story in John, Jesus said, “I want you to keep doing what I was doing. As the Father sent me so I send you.”

So, what was Jesus doing? He was feeding people, caring for people who were pushed aside, healing those who were broken, restoring relationships for those who had become disconnected, serving in humility, and dying on a cross.

Now, do you believe that?

Easter Sunday is over. Now, what will you do? Go back to business as usual?

“Simon, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

“Then tend my lambs and feed my sheep. As the Father sent me so I send you.”

Now, what are you going to do?

Sometimes when I gather for the business of the church, expecting a report, I receive invitations that surprise and move me. You may have been there with me when I heard this invitation. Perhaps you heard the invitation at another location or even watched on a video in the days following.

As I sat in the sanctuary at Peace UMC – Pickerington listening to Bishop Palmer debrief General Conference proceedings, we were invited to respond in several ways. Two of those responses included studying Galatians and A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.

Listening to the invitation shared with all of us, I was surprised by my response. There were no plans detailed, but I was being nudged by two very different thoughts. First, with a question of curiosity, “Why Galatians?” Second, with an imperative, “Study Galatians.”

Following Jesus Every Day

As has often happened in my journey with Christ, when I hear an invitation, a message, a prompting that piques my curiosity, I jump in…with both feet…to the deep end of the pool. That’s my mojo when it comes to following Jesus every day: I’m all in.

That’s exactly what happened with Galatians.

I would love to tell you the imperative touched me at the depths of my soul to “study Galatians” was because of memories of the complexity, beauty, and challenge of this book. That wasn’t the case. I’d studied Paul’s Prison Epistles, I’d taught Romans, I’d explored many of Paul’s letters. But, most of my time with the Book of Galatians was spent in Chapter 5. You know, the chapter where Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit.

Follow Jesus every day by studying the book of Galatians. We offer a reading plan, reflection questions, and a daily prayer. #bible #scripture #biblestudy #galatians #prayer #pray #transformingmission Transforming MissionThe Transformative Power of Scripture

As I began to explore the letter, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, I found myself seeing the diversity of gifts offered in the church, the tension of our current situation as United Methodists, and the gospel of grace Paul challenges us to live in new ways. I am encouraged, challenged, and humbled as I continue to study the Scriptures.

The transformative power of studying the Scriptures comes in the challenge of living out what I am learning. Said differently, it’s in following Jesus every day that the Scripture moves from words on a page to life-giving fuel for our soul.

The study of Galatians continues to offer that reminder.

As a result, Tim and I started working on a reading plan for Galatians to share with you after Easter. Because many of us were listening that day, a team of us from across the conference are working to create resources for worship and small groups. Watch for more information very soon.

An Invitation


Today, we invite you to a daily study of Galatians we’re calling, Follow Jesus Every Day: Galatians, Gospel of Grace. The daily study runs April 22- June 2, coinciding with all other conference resources being developed. We’ll journey through each chapter and verse of Galatians, offering questions for reflection, a daily prayer, and opportunities to interact online.

Following Jesus Every Day: Galatians, Gospel of Grace can be used as a companion or independently from the conference resources being developed.

What to do next:

We look forward to exploring the depths and breadth of Galatians with you starting April 22. In the meantime, sign-up and explore the daily reading plan.

Did you hear the story of the little boy who fell out of bed? When his mother asked him what happened, he answered, “I don’t know.  I guess I stayed too close to where I got in.”

It is easy to do the same with our faith.  It is tempting to stay close to where we got in and never move.

Growth is important to every Christian. When a Christian stops growing, help is needed.  If you are the same Christian you were a few months ago, be careful.  You might need a checkup.  Not on your body but on your heart. You don’t need a physical checkup, you need a spiritual checkup.

Growth is especially important in becoming a courageous leader.

Courageous, faithful leaders are growing leaders. Courageous leaders know when change is needed. Here's a four step check-in process for staying in touch with your growth & development. #tgif #grow #courage #faith #christian #transformingmission Transforming Mission

 

Becoming a Courageous Leader – Grow

A few weeks ago, 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. What is INSPIRING me?
  4. How am I practicing FAITH?

T.G.I.F.

Today, I want to share my experience with this spiritual habit.  It has become a weekly checkup for me.

Trusting

What am I trusting?

I am trusting the habit of prayer. I have been reflecting upon Paul’s words to the Roman Christians, “Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer” (Romans 12:12 CEB). I have learned that the only way I can deepen my prayer life is to pray.  In fact, I am trusting a shift in my habit.  It is a shift from having a prayer life to living a life of prayer.

I have also learned that courageous leaders have a habit of prayer.  So, let me offer you some encouragement.  If you want to deepen your prayer life, then pray.  Trust your relationship with God and pray.  Don’t attend a prayer lecture, engage in prayer discussions, or read “how-to” pray books.  Each activity is important, but the best way to establish a habit of prayer is to pray.

Grateful

For whom or what am I grateful?

This week, 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. I am grateful for the habit of meeting with or connecting with those who can speak truth with such love that I want to be more like Jesus.

It has been my experience that courageous leaders are surrounded with trusted friends who love so deeply they can speak the truth that brings transformation. As leaders, we have the opportunity to model such love.  I have learned that without those trusted friends, it is easy to compete with one another, insist on our own way, and quarrel with one another.  Courageous leaders, surrounded in love, step into the world to live and lead in such a way that we model the love of Jesus.

Inspiration

What is inspiring me?

This week, the habit of worship is inspiring me. Consider the words from the letter to the Hebrews, “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing.  Instead, encourage each other especially as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25 CEB).  Because I worship in different churches, with different Christians, at different times, I have learned to celebrate God’s love in every act of worship.

Through my experience of worship, I have learned that courageous leaders are inspired in and through a habit of worship. So often, as leaders, you and I need support and encouragement.  We need to be with people who celebrate God’s love in Jesus and who share God’s love as natural as breathing. We need the fellowship of like-hearted people, focused upon Jesus, leading the mission of reaching out and receiving people in God’s love, introducing people to God’s love, practicing God’s love, and engaging the community in God’s love.

Faith

How am I practicing faith? I am practicing faith by fixing my eyes on Jesus. My Lenten journey has me engaged in reflecting and sharing the grace I have experienced in and through Jesus and my friends.

This week I have reflected upon Jesus looking at the broken and distorted parts of my life. Instead of judging and condemning me, Jesus knelt in front of me and, from the basin of grace, he scooped a palm full of mercy and washed away my sin.  This week I have reflected upon how he has taken up residence in my life and has given me the opportunity to offer the grace I have received.  Because he has a forgiving heart, I have a forgiving heart.  Because he has forgiven me, I can forgive others.

Are you growing in your faith? Courageous leaders know when change is needed. Here's a four step check-in process for staying in touch with your growth & development. #tgif #grow #courage #faith #christian #transformingmission Transforming Mission

Courageous Leadership

John, in his Gospel, writes, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash each other’s feet.  I did this as an example so that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:14-15).

As courageous leaders, you and I must look beyond the literal reading of that scripture and allow ourselves to be washed by God’s love.  Courageous leadership is rooted in the message of God’s mercy.  Jesus offers unconditional love so we can offer unconditional love.  God’s grace precedes our mistakes, so our grace precedes the mistakes of others.  Those of us in the circle of Christ have no doubt of his love.  We now have the responsibility of enlarging the circle to include others who should have no doubt of our love.

If you and I are going to be who God created us to be, we need to keep growing in our faith. So, how are you growing in faith? What are you trusting? For whom or what are you grateful? What is inspiring you? How are you practicing faith?

Courageous leaders don’t make the mistake of the little boy.  They have habits that help them grow beyond where they started, engage in God’s love, and grow to become who God created them to be. So, let it be!

 

Words are Powerful

Are you familiar with the cartoon B.C.?

There are two characters I want to point out: A woman who carries a big stick and a snake. In one cartoon, the woman is beating the snake with her stick.

One day, as she is walking up one side of a hill, the snake is coming up the other side of the hill. They meet at the top. At that moment the woman realizes that she does not have her stick. So, she looks at the snake and says, “Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!”

In the next frame, the snake is in a hundred pieces. The caption reads, “Oh the power of the spoken word.”

Yes, words are powerful.

Words Create Worlds

You can use words to create images and assumptions. Those words shape the way we view one another and the world. You can use words to encourage and build up as well as discourage and tear down. Words feed our prejudices, cultivate relationships, and set the course for decision-making.

Over the past several weeks, in the United Methodist Church, there has been a plethora of words that have given birth to disillusionment and disappointment. I have felt the distress, anxiety, and pain that have come with words like anger, fear, and defeat.

A word from the Word

As I have reflected upon our situation, I have wondered if we are anything like the church at Ephesus. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul wrote, “Do not use harmful words, but only 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.”

Because Paul wrote those words to a church, does it mean that there were problems with the way people spoke to one another?

The church in Ephesus was a diverse church. Because of its diversity, there was a conflict of values. The Jews, who had a deep ethical background, were people who lived with religious values. The Gentiles, who did not have the same background or heritage, had a different set of values.

I can image there were times when the two sets of values clashed and created tension. So, Paul is teaching about the new life in Christ. He was teaching what would become some of the values of the Christian faith.

Ephesians 4:25 – 4:29

Let’s look at this passage closely.

Ephesians 4:25

“…putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors.”

In other words, stop making up what you don’t know and tell the truth. You don’t have to exaggerate your importance or project a more desirable image. You belong to one another. Your life and talk are dedicated to the truth rather than to yourself. So, give up falsehood and speak the truth.

Ephesians 4:26

“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not make room for the devil.”

Anger is not necessarily evil or sinful, but nursing a grudge or unforgiveness is. It poisons your life and the life of the church or community. It is in the unforgiveness that gives root to evil. So, care for your anger. Understand your emotions and respond appropriately.

Ephesians 4:28

“Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.” Paul gives a warning against stealing. The assumption is that those who have the world’s goods will share with others.

Ephesians 4:29

“Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (TEV)

In a time of conflict, Paul is instructing the church to say kind, supportive, encouraging words. When you open your mouth, do not let evil talk come out of your mouth. Don’t diss one another. Say only what is useful for building up as there is need so that your words may give grace to those who hear. The teaching is similar to Jesus saying, “it is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles…”

What are the courageous words you're speaking today? How are your words building people up, encouraging them, and helping them? Explore what Ephesians has to say to us in this blog post and hear the wisdom of a modern truth teller along the way. #courage #ephesians #bible #leadership #leaders #transformingmission Transforming MissionWhat Is Paul Teaching Us?

May we learn something from Paul here? In times of stress and conflict, use kind, caring words of truth. Be a courageous leader. Step up and name the current reality while speaking the truth with care and encouragement. Be the leader who uses helpful words to build up those who hear them.

Although she is writing about more than words, Brene Brown writes, “In times of uncertainty, it is common for leaders to leverage fear and weaponize it to their advantage…If you can keep people afraid, and give them an enemy who is responsible for their fear, you can get people to do just about anything.”¹

Consider for a moment: How have your words created fear? How are you creating time and space for safe conversations?

Brown also says, “…when we are managing during times of scarcity or deep uncertainty, it is imperative that we embrace the uncertainty…We need to be available to fact-check the stories that team members may be making up, because in scarcity we invent worse case scenarios.”²

Consider for a moment: Are you making up what you don’t know? How are you helping lower the levels of anxiety with your words?

A Final Reminder

In times like these, we don’t need to be right. But we do need to be righteous. Not self-righteous but holy as God is holy. If you are unsure about God holiness, look at Jesus. In Jesus, you will find the embodiment of God’s holiness and love.

Remember, it is Jesus who said, “it is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles…” As a leader, take the time to allow God’s Word, Jesus, to take up residence in your life. When you do, it will be Jesus who comes out.

“Do not use harmful words, but only 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.” (Ephesians 4:29 TEV).

Ready to put your words and actions together? Download the Rumble Starter Kit and Listen to Episode 059 of LeaderCast: How to Rumble

 

  1. Brene Brown, Dare to Lead, p. 104
  2. Ibid., p. 105

Recently, while reading and reflecting upon the lectionary scriptures for the week, I read the very first scripture I remember using in a devotion. I was in junior high school. I had opening devotions for our Sunday School class. I remember reading these words from Psalm 1:1-3:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law, he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (RSV)1

Reading those words took me back to that Sunday morning where I was given the opportunity to step up in leadership for the first time. That reflection led me to think about you as leaders in the churches of the Capitol Area South District.

We are in a season of stress in the United Methodist Church

We have entered a time when our congregations need leaders of authenticity and integrity. Be the courageous leader we need. One who is more dependent upon character than charisma; who are strong from the inside out and who have the capacity to model and share God’s love in difficult situations.

More than any time in recent history, we need missional leaders who can and will lead their congregations to engage their communities, neighborhoods, and cities in the midst of the tension and stress. In short, our United Methodist Church needs you. We need you to be the leader who knows who you are in relationship with Jesus, your congregation, and the community in which you live and serve.

We need leaders who are like trees planted by the water, who produce the fruit of love and who stand firm in courage. We need you to be less focused upon pleasing people and more focused upon loving and leading people. We need you to lower the levels of anxiety and raise the possibilities of creativity.

In times of stress and anxiety, we need to lead with courage. Here are 10 ways to be a courageous leader. #courage #leadership #leader #church #pastor  Transforming Mission

Like a tree planted by the water:

1. Keep yourself centered upon following Jesus. Read the scriptures and pray daily. Surround yourself with persons who challenge you to grow in your faith and who will keep you focused upon Jesus.

2. Base your decisions on “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Being a disciple of Jesus and discipling others by loving them and modeling Christlike behavior is the leadership needed at the point and time.

3. Be a courageous leader. It is okay to be afraid. Face your fears and anxiety. Be the person God created you to be and stand in the middle of the chaos. With your eyes upon Jesus and being centered upon the mission of the church, you can be a courageous leader.

4. Guard your personal integrity. Failure to self-manage will destroy you as a leader. Remember your baptism. Remember who you are and whose you are. Remember what God has gifted you to do at this point and time in history.

5. Create a space where people can reflect and have a conversation. As the leader, take the initiative to create a space where people have the opportunity to think and reflect. Then create the space for people to express their thoughts and feelings.

6. Be approachable. When making decisions, let people know you what you are thinking. Listen to others. Engage others in conversation. Keeping your eyes upon Jesus and being centered upon the mission of the church, lead in making the decisions that keep the congregation growing as Jesus followers and engaged in the community. There is nothing weak about listening and learning as you are leading.

7. Learn from your mistakes. No one of us gets it right every time. Just have the courage to make the tough calls. Lead by being a grace-filled follower of Jesus. Invite those around you to put their faith into action.

8. Make prayer and reflection a part of everything you do. Prayer in the midst of tough calls is a sign of strength. It comes from practicing prayer in the midst of all times. Reflect upon the day. Where did you see Jesus? How did God get you through the business of the day?

9. Trust God in all you do. God would not have called you to be a leader if God was not going to equip you to be a leader.

10. Remember that God is the One who planted you. You are not alone. There will be storms with wind and rain. Stand firm and lead as God has created you to lead.

Be a Courageous Leader

In this season of stress, anxiety levels are high. At times like this, people become more reactive and less thoughtful. Their world closes in upon them and their capacity to love shrinks to the size of their arrogance, manipulation, and control. Our church needs you to lower the anxiety level and to lead people to become who God has created them to be.

Like a tree planted by the water, our church needs you to step up as a leader. Now is the time to be a courageous leader and to produce the fruit needed for this season.

 

Take Action:

Listen to Episodes 050 – 056 of LeaderCast. At the end of each episode, we offer a resource to help you practice courageous leadership.

050: What Gets in the way of disciple-making?

051: We have a disciple-making problem

052: Can I trust you?

053: Four Essential Phases of Building Relationships

054: Habits that Keep us Grounded

055: Let’s Get Ready to Rumble – Part 1

056: Let’s Get Ready to Rumble – Part 2-Psychological Safety

 

Note:

1. Last week, when I read Psalm 1:1-3, I was reading the Common English Bible:

The truly happy person doesn’t follow wicked advice, doesn’t stand on the road of sinners, and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful. Instead of doing those things, these persons love the Lord’s instruction, and they recite God’s instruction day and night! They are like a tree replanted by streams of water, which bears fruit at just the right time and whose leaves don’t fade. Whatever they do succeeds.

Evangelism is inviting other people into a relationship with Jesus by telling your stories of Jesus. Your stories become the spiritual interactions that assist them in experiencing God’s love, that allows them to journey with Jesus, and to make his story their story.

My mother was a storyteller.  For much of my life, she was one of the best storytellers I knew. Whether she was talking about growing up in Virginia or teaching my sister, brothers, and me to tell a joke, she entertained us in the car, on camping trips, and at family dinners. Although she told her stories over and over, I never grew tired of hearing them. The words she used, the descriptions she provided, the details of the conversations between the characters, seemed better each time she told her story.

As a nurse, Mom worked several years in an industrial setting and later in a mental health hospital. Her patients were eager to listen to her stories and to tell their own stories. She kept anyone who would listen on the edge of their seats or doubling over in laughter.  She could hold their interest in the midst of the workplace as well as their never-never land of wide experiences.

Shaping a Generation

When I went off to seminary, my professor of preaching was Dr. Fred B. Craddock.  Without question, no one has had more influence in shaping a generation of preachers than Fred Craddock. He, more than any other preacher I know, could tell stories in a way that made me, as a listener, feel as if I was in the midst of the events of the story.

Given my mother’s influence and what I learned from and experienced with Fred Craddock, it should be no surprise that I find storytelling important in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. But even more than my experience, it is a well-known fact that telling God’s story has the power to warm your heart, transform your living, and to keep your relationship with God and others healthy and alive.

As we share our God stories and the stories of God we're helping others people to see they have a story. #jesus #faith #church #story #transformingmission Transforming MissionTelling God’s Stories

I learned long ago that evangelism is not convincing other people to accept what I believe, but is telling the world a better story, a story of love, peace, and forgiveness. In a world where people are seduced by the wrong stories, you and I have the opportunity to tell God’s story.

One of the fascinating things I have learned about telling God’s story is this: the more I tell the story, the more I live the story. As I grow in my relationship with God, the more I become part of God’s story.

Martin Buber, in his book Tales of the Hasidism: The Early Masters, tells the story of a grandfather who was paralyzed. One day one of the grandchildren asked their grandfather to tell about an incident in the life of his teacher, the great Baal Shem. So, the grandfather began telling how Baal Shem, when he was at prayer would leap about and dance.  The more into the story the old man got, the more he became Baal Shem until he stood up from his wheelchair and, to show how the master had done it, began leaping and dancing. From that moment the grandfather was cured.  Buber went on to say, “That’s the way to tell a story.”

Participating in God’s Story

It works like this: when you tell the story of Jesus forgiving his enemies, you become someone who forgives your enemies.  When you tell the story of Jesus crossing the street to help an outcast, you cross the street to help the nearest outcast. When you tell the story of Jesus being open and accepting of persons living on the margins of life, you become the person who is open and accepting of those marginalized. As Christians, we don’t just tell the story of Jesus, we become part of the story of Jesus.

Now, you have a story that no one else can tell.  It is important that you tell your part of the story.  Here is why:

  • You are a Christ introducer and a life connector to an ongoing, never-ending story of love, peace, and forgiveness. When you don’t tell your story, your silence is saying that God has done all that God is going to do. Your silence turns the work of evangelism into a program. You are no longer a storyteller but a salesperson of a tradition.
  • You are the giver of living water and of the bread of life. When you don’t tell your story, your silence is saying that the water stagnates and the bread is stale. The work of evangelism is “one beggar offering another beggar bread.” It is inviting other persons to drink of the water that quenches their thirsts.
  • Your story is a gift of grace, grafted into God’s story. When you don’t tell your story, your silence is saying that the experience of God’s grace is nothing more than a “box” to be checked and an addendum to a busy life.

So, let me say it again, evangelism is not convincing other people to accept what you believe but is telling the world a better story, a story of love, peace, and forgiveness. In a world where people are seduced by the wrong stories, you and I have the opportunity to tell God’s story. We invite them into a relationship with Jesus by telling our stories of Jesus. Our stories become the spiritual interactions that assist them in experiencing God’s love, that allows them to journey with Jesus, and to make his story their story.

An Invitation to Tell Your Story

Today, I invite you to step up and to step out to tell your story. When you are motivated to share your story, share it.  When your story makes you think of another person; call, text, email that person and share your story with them. You have a story to tell, so tell it. You have a story to share, so share it.

N.T. Wright wrote it this way, “If you want to know who God is, look at Jesus. If you want to know what it means to be human, look at Jesus. If you want to know what love is, look at Jesus.  If you want to know what grief is, look at Jesus.  And go on looking until you’re not just a spectator, but you’re actually part of the drama which has him as the central character.”

As Christians, we don’t just tell the story of Jesus, we become part of the story of Jesus. The more we tell the story, the more we live the story.

The world around us is setting on the edge of their seats waiting to hear the greatest story ever told. So, let me tell you a story.

 

Tom Wiles, while university chaplain at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, purchased a new pickup truck.  While the truck was parked in his driveway, his neighbor’s basketball post fell against the truck leaving dents and scrapes on the passenger door.  The scratches looked like deep white scars on the new truck exterior. 

A friend happened to notice the scrapes and asked, “What happened here?” 

Disciple-making involves building relationships. Growing in love with Jesus is at the heart of discipleship. But, we have a challenge in western culture. #jesus #disciple #discipleship #faith transforming mission

Tom replied with a downcast voice, “My neighbor’s basketball post fell and left those dents. I asked him about it. He doesn’t feel responsible for the damage.” 

“You’re kidding! How awful! This truck is so new I can smell it.” His friend continued, “Did you contact your insurance company? How are you going to get him to pay for it?” 

Tom replied, “This has been a real spiritual journey for me.  After a lot of soul-searching and discussions with my wife about hiring an attorney, it came down to this: I can either be in the right, or I can be in a relationship with my neighbor.  Since my neighbor will probably be with me longer than the truck, I decided to focus on our relationship.  Besides, trucks are meant to be banged up, so I got mine initiated into the real world a bit earlier than I expected.”¹

In Relationship or In the Right?

Wow!  How many times have we sacrificed being “in relationship” for the personal satisfaction of being “in the right?” How many times have we won the argument, but lost a friend or damaged a heart?  

Did Jesus come to teach us “right” theology? Or did he come to redeem our relationships with God and with one another? Jesus’ own prayer in John 17 revolves around the stewardship of his relationships.  He saved the world by teaching twelve individuals how to get along and to belong to one another.  In other words, Jesus saved the world by teaching them how to be in a relationship with one another. 

This should not surprise any of us who call ourselves Christian. Relationships are central to Christian theology because God is love. Love is impossible outside of relationships. Relationships are central to God’s kingdom, the new creation.  From my perspective, we have no choice but to live with, listen to, and learn from one another. 

We have a disciple-making challenge in western, American culture. At the root of the challenge is relationships. #faith #jesus #disciple #discipleship #transformingmission

Courageous Leadership

In our work of developing leaders, we have learned that improving relationships and sharing the stories of those relationships are indicators of courageous leadership. We are learning:  

  1. Nothing takes the place of being a Jesus follower.  Being in a relationship with God and with one another, in and through Jesus, is central to our witness and to our leadership. Relationships are key to Jesus followers and are taken seriously by courageous leaders.  
  2. The Word of God, the scripture, bears fruit, not when it is comprehended, but then it is lived. The fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) found in Galatians 5:22-23 is proven in and through relationships. Knowing about Jesus; his life, teaching, and message, is part of being a student of Jesus. But following Jesus, becoming like him, growing in grace and sharing that grace, requires not only thought but a transformation of heart, soul, mind and strength.  No one has ever become more like Jesus by saying, “If I just think hard enough about Jesus, I’ll become more like Jesus.” When relationships are healthy, our lives, our work environment, and our congregations become healthier.   
  3. Developing healthy relationships is hard work. Because it is hard work, it is hard to identify quantifiable behaviors (relational ministry), so we end up focusing on what we can count (membership, attendance, finances, etc.). When relationships are healthy, there are stories to back up the relationships. Relationships, not numbers, show if growth is biblical, healthy, and truly fruitful.  

Evidence of Spiritual Fruit 

So, maybe it is time to declare a moratorium on statistics in the church. What if the one thing we reported on was the answer to this question: “What is the evidence that spiritual fruit being produced in my church?  Give us the stories, not more statistics.    

When we are focused more on being right than upon relationships, our disciple-making conversations are reduced to what we do not have in the church.  It is at that point we begin to protect what we have and yearn for the “good ole days” when we had children, youth, young families, people involved in church activities, and money for ministry. 

It’s Not a Scarcity Problem

It is difficult when the focus is on shrinking resources and lack of people who want to engage in the mission. But the disciple-making challenge is not a scarcity problem.  More money and more people will not fix it.  If we go back to the “good ole days” and project forward, we don’t have a scarcity problem, we have a disciple-making problem.   

Read more or listen to Episode 051 of LeaderCast: We Have a Disciple-Making Problem

The disciple-making challenge is not focused upon getting more people into the church building, although we all would welcome more people. The disciple-making challenge is focused on leading and assisting people in becoming Jesus followers. And that begins with relationships.

It’s a Relationship Problem

We don’t have a scarcity problem, we have a relationship problem. We are convinced that when God’s love is lived out in our relationships: reaching out and receiving new people in God’s love, offering God’s love in Jesus, practicing God’s love in relationships, and engaging our communities in God’s love, our greatest focus will not be upon “do we have enough money or people,” but will be upon “are we breaking God’s heart?”  

There is no quick fix program for our disciple-making challenge.  We can’t expect to fix it overnight. But we can start today. Ready to get started?

We invite you to begin the experiment introduced at the end of LeaderCast Episode 050 and Episode 051 of LeaderCast. No time to listen? Download the Sqaure Sqaud experiment here. Whatever you do, take a step toward building new relationships with people in your community.

In Christ, 

Tim Bias and Sara Thomas

 

  1. Story adapted from Out of the Question…Into the Mystery, by Leonard Sweet. Chapter 7, Loving the ‘One Anothers’: When Being Right Is Just Plain Wrong, page 91. 

Imagine picking up your car from the shop after a routine tune-up.  The technician says, “Your car is in great shape. You do a great job in maintaining it.”

On your way home the brakes fail.  You discover there is no brake fluid.

Now, how do you feel?

You go to the shop, find the technician, and say, “Why didn’t you tell me there was no brake fluid in the car?” And the technician says, “Well, I didn’t want you to feel bad. I was afraid you would get upset with me and I want us to be friends.”

Just how furious would you be?

Would you say something like, “I don’t come here for a fantasy-based ego boost! I come to have my car maintained.  When it comes to my car, I want the truth.”

Imagine going to the doctor for your annual check-up. At the end of the examination, the doctor says, “You are in great shape. You have the body of an Olympian. Keep up the good work.”

Later that day, while climbing the stairs, your heart gives out. Tests show clogged arteries.

You go back to the doctor and say, “Why didn’t you tell me about my condition?” The doctor says, “Well, I did see that you were one jelly doughnut away from the grim reaper, but I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.  I didn’t want any problems between the two of us. What if you started liking another doctor?”

Now, what would you say? “I don’t come here to be pacified about my health. When it comes to my heart, I want the truth!”

When what gets in the way becomes the way transforming misssion

The Truth of Courageous Leadership

When something matters to us, we don’t want a false comfort based on pain avoidance. We want the truth. In any discussion of leadership, we if we are to build trust, we must deal with the risk of honesty and the gift of clarity. Truth-telling in the church is about courageous leadership. Specifically, it’s about embracing the skill of vulnerability.

Being a courageous leader is hard work. No one is writing hymns that sing, “Amazing truth, how sweet the sound.”  As a leader, the closer the relationship, the harder the truth. In every one of us, there is the feeling that we do not want to hurt those who mean so much to us.  That’s why so many leaders, in their relationships, run into the “Jack Nicholson theology.”

You Can’t Handle the Truth

Remember Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men?”  Remember that famous scene near the end? It’s the one scene that even people who never saw the movie know. Nicholson’s a marine officer on the witness stand.  He is angry.  Out of his anger he shouts, “Do you really want to know what happened?”

Tom Cruise says, “I want the truth!”

Nicholson shouts, “You can’t handle the truth!”

A lot of leaders run on Jack Nicholson theology. We act like people can’t handle the truth. We don’t want to hurt others and we don’t want others to hurt us. Since when did caring for people and truth become divergent paths? When we give up our role as a leader for the sake of not hurting feelings, or being liked, or for keeping things peaceful, even our silence speaks loudly.

What Gets in the Way of Courageous Leadership

The question is, “What gets in the way of you being a courageous leader?  We have learned that what get in the way usually becomes the way. We abdicate our role as a leader, contributing to establishing a church culture that becomes a barrier to disciple-making.

After reflecting on the work Brené Brown has done around courageous, daring leadership, we had to ask ourselves the question: What behavior and church cultural norms stand in the way of courageous leadership?

We need courage to focus on our mission of disciple-making. Do any of the following behaviors and church culture sound familiar? Do any of these behaviors stand in the way of your courageous leadership? Because what stands in the way, often becomes the way.

13 Behaviors that Get in the Way

  1. Do you avoid tough conversations?
  2. Are you being nice and polite in the place of being truthful and compassionate?
  3. Do you say one thing to the pastor’s face and another to your friend?
  4. Are you undermining the leadership of the church by gossiping or by making up what you do not know and passing it off as truth?
  5. Do you avoid talking about Jesus or the mission of the church because you don’t want to offend people?
  6. Do you participate in parking lot meetings? The meetings that take place after the meeting where you agreed with the decisions but outside the meeting you disagree?
  7. Do you fail to acknowledge your fears and feelings in regard to change in the church? Changes like a change of pastors or sharing a pastor or having fewer people capable to serve and to give.
  8. Does your church lack connection to the community? Are you no longer vulnerable? Do you avoid relationships with people in the church because you were hurt by someone or offended by someone in the past?
  9. Are you afraid of failure? Do you fear looking stupid or saying something wrong about situations, relationships, or opportunities in the church?
  10. Do you explain away or ignore external criticism? Have you ignored or rationalized the ministry environment and the current cultural situation inside and outside the church?
  11. Has denial and blame of others taken priority over examining your soul?
  12. Are there needed changes that no one is willing to make? Are there untouchable areas and unspeakable issues that are debilitating but are declared to be “off limits” from critique or discussion?
  13. Do people have a sense of hopelessness? Is there talk about tomorrow with any sense of clarity or excitement, or has nostalgia for an unreturning yesterday replaced the stepping into the future?

What’s the Solution?

There are no quick fixes or easy solutions to the complexities of the behaviors and cultural norms we just named. But one of the ways to address these behaviors is to develop our skills as brave and courageous leaders.

And that starts with learning the skill of vulnerability. If we want to share the truth, we’re going to need to practice the skill of vulnerability.

We can’t lead with courage without embracing vulnerability. No, we’re not talking vulnerability for vulnerability’s sake. What we’re talking about is relational vulnerability.

Here’s how Brené Brown describes vulnerability from her decades of research, “Vulnerability is the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”

Disciple-making necessitates vulnerability. Without vulnerability, there is no connection with people, let alone a connection with Jesus. To love is to be vulnerable. If we love God and are going to love our neighbors, we are going to be vulnerable. From the place of vulnerability, we can learn not only to tell the truth with compassion but to ask for what we need.

when what gets in the way becomes the way transforming missoin

An Invitation to Practice

We know practicing courageous leadership means sometimes we will fall, sometimes we will fail. But we also know, “our ability to be daring leaders will never be greater than our capacity for vulnerability.”1 Vulnerability is a skill. It’s a skill we can learn.

It’s time to talk about what’s getting in our way so we can get it out of the way. If you’re willing to go on this journey with us, head over to the LeaderCast Podcast and listen to Episode 050: What Gets in the Way of Disciple-Making? We talk about the 13 cultural norms and behaviors above as well as share an experiment to begin practicing courageous leadership.

In Christ,

Tim Bias and Sara Thomas

 

 

  1. Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. , p. 11

Frederick Beuchner writes, “According to Jesus, by far the most important thing about prayer is to keep at it.”  In October, I shared Bishop Palmer’s invitation to pray daily for the Special Session of General Conference to be held February 23-26 in St. Louis. (You can review Bishop Palmer’s invitation in this post.)

Today, I am writing to invite you to join me to continue praying. Specifically, I’m inviting you into a 31-day journey to pray for the Special General Conference. On January 27, we’ll begin sharing daily prayers. You’ll continue to receive one email on Sunday afternoon with prayers for each day of the week.

Simply click below and let us know, “I will pray!” and you’ll start receiving the email on Sunday afternoon.

Many of you are praying daily. As the Special Session of General Conference draws closer, we are preparing daily prayers. We will continue to pray from 2:23 – 2:26 each day. If you are already receiving the weekly prayer, you don’t need to do anything. You’ll continue to receive prayers.

If you missed the opportunity in the fall, you are invited to join the prayer journey. Click below to be a part of the 31 days of prayer.

Let us become more who God has created us to be by praying together for one another and our church.

As a preacher of the good news of Jesus Christ, what does it mean to start the year with new resolve, new hope, and new vision? If I may be so bold to offer some advice at the beginning of this year.

Preach like you know they almost didn’t come. That is what Bill Muehl said to his students when he was a professor of preaching at Yale.  “Remember, about half of your congregation almost didn’t come this morning.”

Improving the Acoustics Transforming Mission Blog

The trend seems to be that our most committed people are attending worship less frequently. Yet, if we look carefully, we will see many who could have chosen to be elsewhere have come back early from a meeting or vacation. There are others who are so sad, lonely, or distraught that the emotional toll of coming to church is huge.

Don’t take them for granted. The preaching task is too important. There is never a good excuse not to handle the proclamation of God’s word with great thought, preparation, and integrity.

Important Events

Several years ago, Fred Craddock told the story of a young woman who attended a service at which he was a guest preacher.  She told him that when she anticipated that a sermon might make her feel uncomfortable or call her to change something about her living, she brought her three small children into the sanctuary with her.  She said the distraction usually worked.

On another occasion, he asked a young visitor, a 20 something, about his first visit to a church.

He asked, “Do you remember ever being in church before today?”

The young man replied, “I’m sure this is my very first time.”

“Well, how was it?”

“A bit scary.”

“Scary?”

“Yes, I found it a bit frightening.”

“How so?”

“The whole service seemed so important.  I try to avoid events that are important; they get inside my head and stay with me.  I don’t like that. To be honest I prefer parties.”

“Then will you come back?”

After a long pause, the young man answered, “Yes.”

A Day Ruined by Jesus

As a preacher, to start the year with new resolve, new hope, and new vision is to remember that the subject matter is so important that it is life changing. It is possible that the one who listens can be radically affected in relationships, in ethical standards, and in moral decisions.

As you step into this new year, preach like you know that they almost didn’t come.  There will always be resistance.  Who wants to be disturbed by the truth?

  • There are 1300 children killed and 6000 children wounded by gunfire every year.
  • Twelve million children go to school every day in clothes given to them and thirteen million children go to bed hungry every night.

Who wants to have a nice day ruined by Jesus?

Listen to him:

If you have two coats;

go the second mile;

turn the other cheek;

if you love only those who love you;

forgive seventy times seven;

love your enemies;

your will be done on earth as it is in heaven;

I was hungry, naked, a stranger, in prison;

you fool, where is all your stuff now;

God is kind even to the ungrateful and wicked;

do not be anxious about tomorrow.

Improving the acoustics Transforming Mission

New Resolve, New Hope, New Vision

As difficult as it is to hear, it is extremely important to listen. Preach the good news.  Sometimes, Jesus gets into your head and your heart and stays with you.  I think that is what Paul is referring to in his letter to the Romans. “So how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher?”

Step into this new year with new resolve, new hope, and new vision. Remember that the subject matter is so important that it is life changing.

Since I’m handing out advice, what does it mean to start a new year as a leader of a church, a congregation, a community of faith with new resolve, new hope, and new vision? Again, it is Paul in his letter to the Romans, “Welcome one other, in the same way that Christ has welcomed you. All for God’s glory.”

Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk

It is my opinion that we have told ourselves that we must walk the walk and that our living is our witness, to the detriment of telling people who we are and why we do what we do. Without giving testimony with our words, we are telling only half the truth. It’s not enough to walk the walk. Someone has to talk the talk.

What would happen if you and I began to tell how God, in Jesus, has made a difference in our lives? What would happen if we came alongside of persons, in the community as well as the church, created a space for conversations, developed meaningful relationships, practiced our faith of loving as we have been loved, inviting people to engage in developing their faith, not with easy answers, but to become who God created them to be?

I believe people would begin to discover how they could make a difference in their families, in their employment, and in their communities.

Improve the Acoustics

As we step into this new year, let’s improve the acoustics.  Let’s speak more boldly and clearly the truth of God’s love.  Let’s preach like we know they almost didn’t come. And let’s tell how God, in Jesus, has made a difference in our lives. That is my resolve, hope, and vision for this new year.

O God, give us the words that give witness to your Word in our speaking and in our living.  Amen