There is something comforting about traveling throughout Ohio. There are familiar signs that remind me I’m never too far away from Jesus. Sometimes it’s a simple church sign. Most of the time, it’s the people I meet who remind me, show me, and embody the love of God I know in Jesus.

Collaboration & Community

But there’s also something that causes me to scratch my head and wonder out loud.

For over two decades of ministry, I have led, participated in, witnessed, and watched local churches in the same community behave in different ways. At times, I’ve stood in awe of how people shared Christ’s love, welcomed neighbors, and celebrated our common humanity. At other times, I’ve scratched my head and wondered, “How can your church building be within walking distance and you don’t even talk to each other?”

What I’ve come to realize, is collaboration expands our capacity to solve difficult, complex problems. Collaboration celebrates and utilizes the gifts of everyone, builds and fosters trust, opens communication channels, and ultimately creates a greater sense of belonging for everyone. 

It’s All Good

I’ve been known to say, “It’s all good!” I confess, sometimes I utter that phrase and mean something other than what the words alone say. But when it comes to collaboration, it IS all good. Collaboration is good for leaders, the church, the community, and it’s how God created us to live. 

Look at the creation account. God didn’t want us to be alone, so co-laborers were created. When Jesus sent out the 72, they didn’t go alone, wherever they wanted to go. They were sent out in pairs to all the places Jesus was about to go. And, as if those partnerships weren’t enough, Jesus didn’t do ministry alone. The 12 disciples were with him at every turn. Sure, Jesus went off to pray by himself and came back into the community to teach, preach, and lead people. Everywhere he went, he made sure in that community there were examples of love. 

Common Ground

Before I start preaching, let me ask you, “What do these examples have in common?” 

It’s the simple, yet profound, work of collaboration.

When I look at the word collaboration, do you know what I see? Co-laborers. We are co-laborers.

In my role as Regional Missional Specialist, I have the opportunity to come alongside leaders, local churches, and interact with different communities. Do you know the people and places that break my heart the most? The ones who are living isolated & inwardly focused. Whatever the reason, whatever the source, we are people created for community.

Collaboration Examples

Allow me to lift up two examples of collaboration. Over the coming months, Karen or I will likely share other examples with you. My hope is that God helps you to begin to explore what collaboration might mean in your local community. 

  • During a six-week sermon series, two churches came together to prepare, share, and meet together around Bible Study. The Bible Studies coincided with the Sunday sermon. The pastors swapped pulpits every other week. Throughout the study, they identified one way to be a blessing to the people in their local community.
  • When returning citizens and individuals and families experiencing homelessness seek to establish stable housing one of the barriers is furnishing their new apartment. Several churches collaborate with a non-profit organization and county social services to identify ways to pick up, store, and deliver gently used furniture to people establishing housing. Whether it’s donating furniture, picking up furniture, coordinating delivery, or volunteering to deliver furniture, together the church and community organizations are collaborating to remove a barrier to establishing stable housing.

Will You Be a Co-Laborer?

We have examples of churches that are already collaborating in their settings that we can connect you to.

What might God make possible if our local churches began collaborating within our local communities? If you’re ready to explore collaboration with other local churches, reach out to the District Office or Karen Cook or Sara Thomas.

Who you are is how you lead. Will you be a co-laborer with Christ in your local community?

Your assumptions make a difference. They affect how you relate to people, make your decisions, and how you understand God and God’s love for you and the people entrusted to your care. Your assumptions shape your political viewpoints, your view of social issues, and your relationships with people. Your assumptions shape your leadership. Your assumptions make all the difference. 

Over the years, I have learned that most of us do not take the work of assumption building seriously enough to understand why we think what we think or say what we say. We tend to accept what we think and do as being the right way. How do you go about forming the realities that influence your decision-making and your leadership? 

It is important that you understand how your assumptions are formed. Let us look at a scripture that can assist us in our assumption building. 

Read Genesis 3:1-7 

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ ”But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So, when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took off its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. – Genesis 3:1-7

Reflect

When I was in the ninth grade my English teacher and her doctor husband moved to our small town in West Virginia. We all attended the same church. They sat across the sanctuary from where I usually sat. The doctor had long hair, a beard, was a VietNam veteran, and drove a little red sports car. All topics of conversation at one place or another in the community. 

I remember the headlines of the local newspaper when they reported that the doctor had been arrested for the illegal use of drugs. The next Sunday in worship, I sat with my grandmother and a couple of her friends. Although the doctor and my teacher were not present, there were two different reactions to the doctor’s arrest. 

One reaction was, “I’m surprised. I simply don’t believe it. I’ve known his family for over 40 years. They are good people and I know he is too. He is so caring and attentive to the needs of others.” 

The other reaction was, “It doesn’t surprise me. I’ve never trusted him. Look at that long hair, the beard, and the car he drives. I have always been suspicious of him and his family.” 

I remember how confused I was. Two different views of the same event. It was not until years later that I began to understand the complexity of our human decision-making processes. Too often our decisions involve more than an objective response to facts. 

Over the years, I have learned our assumptions are important in how we deal with facts. We are rational and objective creatures. We end up with a conclusion that is shaped by our assumptions. Your assumptions make a difference. 

Where you start affects where you end. Whether it be in politics regarding reactions to vaccines, how we view our rights, health care, guns, etc. or it is in the church regarding reactions to decisions, who makes those decisions, and how people follow policies and guidelines, each of us responds or react based upon our assumptions. 

Our assumptions also affect how we view and live out our faith. It matters where you start with God. Do you start with trust or mistrust of God? Your assumptions make all the difference. 

A single event with two different reactions. Because the assumptions of each woman were different, each conclusion was different. Assumptions are critical in your decision-making. The question is, how do you go about forming these powerful realities that influence what you think and do? It is my assumption that we don’t take the work of assumption building seriously. We tend to be sloppy, irrational, and arbitrary which throws our decision-making processes out of alignment. 

Forming Assumptions

So, how do you go about forming your assumptions? Do you base them on solid evidence or arbitrary hearsay? Are you seeking truth through searching the scripture, praying, developing relationships, and testing what you are learning through conversation and interaction with others? Or are you reacting based upon something you learned as a child or taking the word of someone who might have ulterior motives? 

This scripture from Genesis describes how the first assumption of mistrust of God came into existence. It is an example of irrational assumption building. It was out of joy that God created the world. There were no ulterior motives. God wanted to share the joy, so God widened the circle by creating human beings. 

Having set the experiment of joy into action, God showed the man and woman how things were meant to be in the garden. God said they were free to eat the fruit from all the trees of the garden except one tree. It was the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God said the fruit of that tree was poisonous to their systems. It was placed there to serve a religious purpose rather than a nutritional purpose. 

God was pleased and saw that it was good. It was at that point the snake entered the picture. The snake addressing the woman asked, “Did God put you in the beautiful place and then prohibit you from eating all this fruit?” Notice the overstatement and false characterization. 

The woman replied, “Oh no. We can eat everything in the garden except this one true. God said it is poisonous to us.” 

The snake shook his head and said, “That old scoundrel. God is threatened by you. God knows that if you eat that fruit, you will be like God. You know God cannot stand that. You were created to feed God’s ego. Holding you down builds God up. If you know what is good for you, you will call God’s bluff. You will eat the fruit and take over this place.”

Checking Your Assumptions

That one conversation put creation into a whole different light. There was no indication that such suspicion had ever entered their minds. There was no evidence for such an attitude of mistrust. Nothing up to that point had God done to give the humans reason to believe the snake’s accusations. So, without checking things out or going to the source trying to get the truth of the situation, the first humans bought into that unfounded suspicion. For no good reason, they embraced rumor and began to act as if it contained the truth about God. Such carelessness brought about devastating results. 

That is the point of this story. Our forebears took the word of a snake over the word of God the creator when it came to interpreting life. Because of their carelessness, the world became a conspiracy rather than a creation of joy. God became a foe rather than a caring parent of love. This is the story that explains why we humans continue to take life apart and try to put it back together in ways that do not work. 

The first humans drank the poison and got sick. That is how God got a bad reputation. It is based upon a flimsy accusation along with some sloppy careless assumption work. We, humans, even to this day, continue to build our assumptions in the same way. 

Impressions

I confess that my earliest impressions of God were negative. I thought if I became a Christian, I would be giving up all the fun things in life. Somehow I was convinced that if I did not live a certain way, God would send me to hell. The result was that I attempted to change my behavior, but my heart remained unchanged. Deep within, God suffered from bad press. 

So, how has God responded to our careless attitudes and assumptions? Did God blow up in rage? Did God become defensive or strike back? Was God revengeful? No. The single most creative thing God could have done is heard in the words of Paul to the Romans, “God did not spare his own son but gave him us for us all,” It is while we are yet sinners, missing the point of God’s love and joy for us, that Christ died for us. 

Reshaping Assumptions

My assumptions were reshaped, and my attitudes changed when I encountered God in and through Jesus. John Killinger said that “Jesus is God’s way of getting rid of a bad reputation.” In Jesus, I began to see and understand God’s love for us and God’s joy in sharing creation with us. It was over and against this confusion and suspicion, that God sent Jesus so could see what God looked like in history and understand what God looks like every day. 

Can you trust a God like you see in Jesus? If so, will you let Jesus reshape your assumptions about God and your assumptions about the people you encounter each day? To put it another way, are you willing to take the action of God, in Jesus, seriously enough to let it do its work in you? Will you allow the image of Jesus to penetrate your assumptions so your attitudes will change? 

When you are shaping your assumptions about God, politics, race, gender, health care, etc., will you do it carefully and realistically? 

Jesus is God’s way of getting rid of a bad reputation. Will you let God do his redemptive work in you? 

Respond

O God, I am grateful for your grace when it comes to my carelessness in forming my assumptions and my attitudes toward you and toward the people you send into my life. In Jesus, I have experienced your extravagant love. Again, by your grace, help me let Jesus do his work in me so that I take more seriously the work of building and shaping my assumptions. By your grace, help me become more the person you have created me to be and become a conduit of your love and joy to be people entrusted to my care. I offer myself to you in Jesus. Amen 

Return

In whom did you encounter God today? What were your assumptions of those persons? How were your assumptions formed and shaped? With whom do you need to confess your careless assumption building? With whom do you need to celebrate God’s presence and love? Give God thanks for the people you experienced today. 

It is my prayer that you will take your assumption building seriously. Your assumptions shape your leadership. Who you are is how you lead.

What kind of leadership is needed to address the mass shootings in our country? Are our thoughts and prayers enough? Is saying someone needs to do something making a difference? 

Since Sandy Hook, ten years ago when 20 children and 6 adults were murdered in their classrooms, mass shootings in schools have become part of who we are. It should not be a surprise that 214 mass shootings have taken place since January 1 of this year. With that said, what kind of leadership is needed to be effective? 

What Kind of Leadership is Needed?

In recent years, even when someone stepped forward to do something, a group of people grew indignant. “We have our rights.”  “You can’t take away our rights.”  And nothing changed. The outrage faded until another act of horrible violence, like the shooting on Tuesday, shocked us back into the reality of our inactivity. The truth is, we do have our rights. But to address the public health crisis of mass shootings does not take away anyone’s rights. In fact, it takes seriously the rights of others, particularly children. 

So, let me ask again, are our words enough to be effective? Are our broken hearts, whether rooted in compassion or outrage enough? Has standing in the pulpit and declaring, “In the name of Jesus, someone do something” been sufficient? Oh, there have been some changes. I want to applaud what changes have been made. But it is obvious, the changes that have been made are not enough. So again, what kind of leadership is needed to make the difference?

Who Pays the Price?

There is a story of a monk, Telemachus, from southern France, who went to Rome to take in the splendors of the Holy City. When he arrived, he was caught up in the crowd going to the Coliseum. He wasn’t aware of all that was involved in the entertainment of the day. Soon, however, he realized what was going to happen when the gladiators took their places on the field. They drew their weapons, waved them at Caesar, then called out, “We who are about to die salute thee!” 

At that moment, the young monk realized that the gladiators were about to fight each other to their death. He called out in the middle of the roaring crowd, “Stop! Stop! In the name of Jesus, stop!”

His voice could not be heard above the roar of the crowd. He rushed down the aisle to the barrier that separated the cheering crowd from the strutting gladiators. Again, he yelled, “In the name of Jesus, stop!” Still, no one noticed him nor heard his pleas.

He jumped over the barrier and ran out into the middle of the Coliseum floor. He stood between two of the gladiators and yelled at each of them, “In the name of Jesus, stop!” 

The two gladiators ignored his words. The spectators of the gladiator fighting grew indignant with the monk for interrupting their sport. So, they stoned him to death. 

Caesar was informed of the death of Telemachus. When he learned that Telemachus was now numbered among the victorious martyrs, Caesar put an end to the sport. ¹ 

From that day on, there would be no more gladiator fights in Rome’s Coliseum. An end to the brutality and the death all took place because one person was willing to pay the price and give his life.

There is a price to be paid if we are to stop the mass shootings and the violence. 

We Can No Longer Live Our Lives This Way

Let’s face it, no one wants the violence that has taken place at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, or at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut, or at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, or Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado or the hundreds of other mass shootings over the years. Yet, we have gotten to a point where we can no longer live our lives without the fear that every time we say goodbye to our children, spouses, and friends, it could be the last. The question is, what kind of leadership will it take to stop it from happening again? 

Courageous Leadership

As I think about it, it will take several courageous leaders to step out and risk who they are and the positions they hold to make the difference. It will take courageous United States Senators and Congresswomen/men to risk re-election. The time has come to stop politicizing such acts of violence and to step up and advocate for the rights of children, teenagers, and adults who have become vulnerable in places assumed to be safe. Whether it be schools, concerts, or grocery stores, courageous leaders need to protect the rights of all of us regarding public safety. These leaders must shift from thoughts and prayers to policy and change. 

Courageous Leaders in our States It will take courageous governors and state legislatures to do the same. As our country moves more to state rights, it is imperative that state and local leaders think first of the people they serve before thinking of position or prestige. Courageous leaders are vulnerable leaders. They take the risk of being authentic and trustworthy. These leaders too must shift from aspirational rhetoric to real action. 

Courageous Spiritual Leaders

It will take courageous spiritual leaders to risk popularity and acceptance. Your leadership helps to shape the thinking and the action of the policymakers. You have the opportunity to model responsibility and accountability, not only for governmental leaders but for people who vote. Through your word and action, you will find a way to assist people to contact their United States senators and congresswomen/men to address mass shootings. You will find a way to contact the governor, state representatives, and local authorities to address the violence. You have the opportunity to step up and lead in an effort to hold the sanctity of life before policymakers as well as those who vote. 

Courageous Leaders who Vote

It will take courageous voters to risk voting for candidates who might not be members of their own political party. If there is to be any positive change, you, as a leader, must take advantage of the opportunity to assist people to vote and elect the leaders who will step up to make the changes needed. Help people be an educated electorate so that they will understand who they are electing and what each person stands for. Help people elect leaders who will have the courage to develop and deliver the policies needed to put an end to children being killed in our schools, racial hatred, and the availability of guns without appropriate laws and guidelines. 

Jesus taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” In leading through this crisis, you will be living as a true peacemaker. 

Leading at this time is not easy. But you were created to lead at this time. You have everything you need to step up and provide the leadership to change our accepted culture of violence. 

Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Resources to Respond to Violence

Below are several resources to help respond to violence.

Even though these resources were produced several years ago, the need remains the same:

A Response to Violence, A Response to Violence – Part 2, A Response to Violence – Part 3, A Response to Violence – Part 4, A Response to Violence – Part 5 

Other resources on the blog are: Prayer in Response to Acts of Violence, Responding to Violence as People of Faith, What is Our Response? 

Finally, here is podcast resource: Episode 201: The Intersection of Immigration, Faith and the Future Church with Scott Hicks 

What kind of leadership is needed to address the mass shootings in our country? Courageous, grace-filled, and action-packed leadership. Your leadership will make the difference. 

Know of my prayers as you become the leader needed for this time. Remember, who you are is how you lead.

  1. Story adapted from Let Me Tell You A Story: Life Lessons from Unexpected Places and Unlikely People, by Tony Campolo and Favorite Monks: Telemachus: The Monk Who Ended The Coliseum Games, by Monk Preston.

Hey, before you go…

Will you answer ONE question for us?

Who you are is how you lead. Authenticity and integrity are two characteristics of effective and courageous leadership. What is the basis of those characteristics? Today, let’s explore one fundamental truth of leading as a Jesus follower.

Read Exodus 20:7

Below are three different versions of the same scripture text. Each version portrays the same message but each in a unique way.

  • New King James Version: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”
  • New Revised Standard Version: “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.”
  • Common English Bible: “Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way.”

The message?

Don’t mess around with God’s name. Take it seriously. Live it in high regard. Who you are is how you lead. 

Reflect

Name

Name is important to God. There was a moment when Moses had the nerve to ask God, “Who shall I say sent me?” or “What is your name?” God was gracious and answered, “I AM.” The name translated in Hebrew is YHWH.

Hebrew scholars have noted that the letters YHWH, when pronounced, sound like breathing.

YH (inhale) WH (exhale).

There is so much more to say at this point, but what is important to know is that God’s name is as important as breathing. YHWH. YHWH. YHWH. Name is important to God.

The Hebrews were a nomadic tribe. They did not stay in one place long enough to take the name of a nation like the Canaanites, the Egyptians, or the Assyrians. So, they took the name of their deity, YHWH. For them, taking the name was serious business. As the scripture says not to be taken lightly or in vain. They understood that their very lives depended upon the name of God.

As a Christian, you have taken the name of Christ. You have particularly taken the name of Jesus Christ, God’s name in the flesh. In the same sense as the Hebrews understood their very lives depended upon the name of God, who you are, as a Christian, is important.

In Vain

The words “in vain” mean “empty and meaningless, of no account, of no seriousness.” For the Hebrews, to take the name of God was to live a holy and different life. So, to take the name of God in vain meant that taking God’s name had little significance or impact on their lives. Instead of being holy and different in their living, they continued to live the same old life, have the same old attitudes, and relate to people with the same old prejudices. The name meant nothing, so life did not change.

From this perspective, there are two more things to consider. The first is, taking God’s name in vain is more than saying God’s name in profanity. You don’t take the name of God in vain with your lips. You take it in vain with your living. Somehow, in our culture, we have reduced taking God’s name in vain to saying God’s name in a vulgar way. Please understand, I am not saying that is good. But I am saying, you take God’s name in vain when you confess you are a child of God, and you live contrary to God’s purposes.

The second thing is, you can’t take God’s name in vain if you have not taken God’s name. We often point to people outside the church who use God’s name in profane and vulgar ways. But, if they have never taken the name of God, how can they take God’s name in vain? It is those of us inside the church, we nice people who would not dare let one little cuss word fall over our lips, whose lives are totally unchanged by the grace of God, who take the name in vain. In other words, if you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus, but you live your life outside the love of God for you and for others, you have taken God’s name in vain.

If you are still with me, let’s go a little deeper. Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Those words can be translated as Jesus saying, “Be different as I am different” or “Be different as God is different.” The question is, what is it that distinguishes you? What makes you different?

The Hebrews had the idea that when God gave you a name God made you a daughter or a son. You were adopted into God’s family. You were a child of God. From that time on, God’s name was important to you. That is what Jesus is teaching when he says to pray, “Hallowed be thy name.”  Let your name mean something.

At your baptism, you were given God’s name. You were baptized in the name of the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You were claimed by God as a daughter or son of God. As a child of God, you live as one of God’s beloved children.

In the Flesh

Why is this important?

God is made known to people and is identified in and through those of us who wear God’s name. You can see God in the lightning and hear God in the thunder; you can experience magnificent sunsets and breathtaking views of mountains; you can experience God in the wind and watch the mighty waves roll; but God is made known to us in human flesh.

If God is to be known in the world around us, and known by the people we encounter, it will be because we are wearing God’s name. We are identified as God’s children.

In John 17, Jesus prays that his followers might be kept “in the name.” The way our churches and our communities will experience God’s love is to see and experience God’s love being translated into flesh, your flesh, through your living and loving relationships. Just as Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” You and I continue the incarnation over and over and over again. We live our lives in such a way that we say, “If you have seen me, you have seen Jesus and if you have seen Jesus, you have seen God.” The world will be transformed by God’s name becoming flesh in you and me.

You translate who God is by your words, your prayers, and your preaching, and ultimately by the way you relate to people in God’s name. To take God’s name in vain is to give people the wrong or distorted image of God.

Your Identity

As a teenager, I delivered newspapers, cut grass, and did odd jobs in the neighborhood to earn money for school. I opened a bank account at the bank in town. When I needed or wanted spending money I would go to the grocery store and cash a check. It was easy and simple. I made my check out for cash and Freda, the woman at the cash register, would give me the amount of the check. The system worked well until I graduated from high school and went off to college.

When I got to college, I opened an account and transferred my money to the bank where I was living. One weekend, while home visiting, I wanted spending money. I went to the grocery store, where I had gone for years, to cash a check. I made my check out for cash and gave it to Freda, the same woman who had cashed my checks for years. She looked at the check and then looked at me, and said, “We don’t cash out-of-town checks.”

I said, “But you have been cashing my checks for years. Can’t you cash this one for me?”

Before she could say anything, a man standing in line behind me said, “Freda, cash his check. That is Dick Bias’s boy. Look at him. He is a spitting’ image of his old man.”

She said, “He does resemble Richard. Why didn’t you tell me you were Richard’s boy?” With that, she took my check and cashed it.

The man in line had seen in me the image of my father. I didn’t have a name on my forehead. I didn’t tell him my name. He said it was the “image of my father” that identified me.

The Image of God

When people see you as a person of peace, of reconciliation, of mercy, of humility, of kindness, they say “I know who you are. You are God’s daughter,” or “You are God’s son.” They see Jesus, the image of God, in you.

The apostle Paul called it the “fruit of the Spirit,” “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If you live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.”

In other words, “Don’t mess around with God’s name. Take it seriously. Live it in high regard.”

Respond

How will you define God’s name today? What will set you apart? How will you live differently with the people you meet? What will you do to show them whose name you wear? In whom will you identify God’s image? How will you let them know you have seen Jesus in them?

Return

Inhale YH, exhale WH. YHWH.

  • How did you define God’s name today?
  • How did you live in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control with the people around you?
  • In whom did you see God?
  • With whom could you have responded with more grace?
  • With whom might you need forgiveness?
  • Give God thanks for the day and for the people who are helping you become more who God created you to be.

“O God, you have given me your name and you have asked me to keep it holy, to keep it different. By your grace, keep me in your name so that the world might see you in me and experience your love through my living. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Who you are is how you lead.

You have been leading through difficult times. I don’t have to tell you how difficult it has been or what you have had to navigate. But I imagine that about the time you are ready to take a breath and to get some traction, there is a war breaking out and denominational turmoil unfolding. So, how are you doing today? 

If you are wondering if there is any hope in the midst of all the difficulties, chaos, and confusion, I can tell you there is hope.  Hope centered in Jesus. Hope for our future. I’m sure of it. 

It has been my experience that in the midst of change, whether I want it or not and whether I like it or not, God has something new and exciting on the other side of the difficulties and confusion. 

Remembering Hope

Take a journey with me today that will lead to remembering the hope that God has offered to us in and through Jesus. As we start this journey, there are several things you can do.  

You can remember the past. 

You can think about how things used to be and yearn for something that is never coming back. You might be thinking of your congregation during its “glory days” and are convinced that with the right leadership, (young pastor with a family), your church could get those glory days back…just as you remember them.   

You can remember the present. 

You can think about how things are now and enter survival mode. You are realistic about the uncertainty of the future, not only of the denomination but of your own congregation. People are getting older, there are fewer and fewer young people, so let’s go into a holding pattern and “wait and see” what happens. 

You can remember the future. 

With the mission as your guide, you can think about what is possible at the moment with the resources you have been given. 

Revelation

The writer of The Revelation of John remembers the future.  He “pulls back the curtain” of the future and presents a vision of hope. 

So, this is what I want you to do. Take a day this week, or better yet, take the days of this week, and READ the scripture, REFLECT upon one aspect of it, RESPOND by focusing upon that aspect during the day, and RETURN at the end of the day to reflect upon and assess what you have experienced and learned. 

Participating in the practice of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return, can and will lead you into remembering the future with hope. 

READ: Revelation 21:1-7 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  

I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  

I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning, and the end. To the thirsty, I will freely give water from the life-giving spring. Those who emerge victorious will inherit these things. I will be their God, and they will be my sons and daughters. 

REFLECT 

The world in which John and the people entrusted to his care have been living is in turmoil. Their lives have been interrupted and what they have known as normal has been changed. John is writing to give them a vision of the future. The image that comes to mind is, “he pulls back the curtain to the future” and he tells what he sees.  

“I saw a new heaven and a new earth…”  This is a way of saying that he saw a new day, a new order, a new life. He sees healing and hope. 

“The former heaven and the former earth had passed away…” He is saying that what has been known as normal is gone. There is good news in that statement because what has been normal was separation and chaos.  His next statement, “and the sea was no more” is a hope-filled statement. The “sea” was a symbol of separation. When he says, “the sea was not more” he is saying that there will be no more separation or that in the new day there will be reconciliation, a bringing together of the people who have been separated from one another.  

“I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…” He is saying that in the new day there will be a shift from being good enough to get into heaven to God getting heaven into us. And it will be as “a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” Those words are words of intimacy and relationship. God has come to be intimately related to us. It will be God’s relationship with us that gets heaven into us.

“I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” John is saying what he just said in another way. He is telling his followers and us that God is with us. We are his people. We can trust God for this new day. 

Then he quotes scripture to tell us what is going away, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” It is a new day in relationship to God. What has been normal, including the terror of death, is behind us. There is a new day, new life, a new order. 

Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning, and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring. Those who emerge victorious will inherit these things. I will be their God, and they will be my sons and daughters.” John is trying to get his point across to the people he loves, the people entrusted to his care. He repeats what he has been saying, again, in a different way. 

God is making all things new. We are God’s children. God will provide for us. 

By pointing out the future, John is offering hope to his people. 

RESPOND 

Take one of those themes and live it out each day this week. 

  • Day One: Where will you experience new life or a new order? Where will you experience healing and hope? 
  • Day Two: Where will you experience change or transformation? Where will you experience reconciliation?  With whom will you experience reconciliation? 
  • Day Three: Where will you experience God’s presence today? Where will you see Jesus? 
  • Day Four: Where will you experience being so close to God that you will stop and give God thanks for God’s presence and love? 
  • Day Five: Where will you experience God’s healing and wholeness today? With whom will you experience love and peace today?  
  • Day Six: Where will you experience new life today? Where will you be renewed by God’s grace? 

RETURN

At the end of each day, take time to look back over the day and reflect upon the experiences you have had, the encounters you have had with individuals, and the places you saw Jesus, God’s love, at work. Give thanks for the new life God is giving you. Give thanks for the people God placed in your life today. With whom did you experience forgiveness? Who might you need to forgive? 

As you come to the end of this part of our journey, remember God is doing a new thing in our midst. John pulls back the curtain of the future to let us see the hope that God provides as we step into the days, weeks, and months ahead. It will be different.  But with God with us, it will be just what we need to be who God created us to be. 

You are a beloved child of God and a hope-filled leader with Jesus at the center of your life. Pull back the curtain and catch a glimpse of what God has in store for you. You were created to lead at this time in history. Be the hope-filled leader God created you to be. 

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

If you sat down with any group of people and said, “Today, our subject for discussion is temptation,” someone would quote Oscar Wilde, “I can resist anything but temptation.” The discussion would go from there to stories of pranks, parties, and pies. Each story illustrates some form of temptation. But the point of our reflection today is not to reduce the temptation to a few harmless activities. 

You, as a Jesus follower and a leader, are tempted, in one way or another, to be successful. Being successful, by itself, is not a bad trait. But how you get there can be. Whether you are a pastor, a parent, a small group leader, or an executive, the temptation to be someone other than who God created you to be is always present and sometimes overwhelming. 

To discover the key to becoming a hope-filled leader in the midst of temptation, let’s use the pattern of READ, REFLECT, RESPOND, RETURN as a lens to look at Matthew’s story of the temptation. 

1. Read Matthew 4:1-11 

Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.” 

 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.” 

 After that, the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.” 

Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.” 

Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.” 

Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, you will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him. 

2. Reflect

Immediately following his baptism where he has been claimed by God as “my beloved son in whom I am pleased,” Jesus entered a time of fasting. This was a time for Jesus to come to terms with who he was as “God’s beloved child.”

I find it fascinating that Matthew tells his story of Jesus like the story of Israel. Israel passed through the waters into the wilderness, was tested, and failed. They were disobedient and worshiped other gods. Jesus, the true Son of God, repeats Israel’s experience in coming out of Egypt, is tested in the wilderness, and remains obedient to God. He refuses to worship another. In contrast to Israel in the wilderness, whose faith faltered until restored by the miraculous manna, Jesus is hungry but remains faithful without the miracle.

After fasting for forty days, Jesus is prepared to be who God has claimed him to be. The story is not about Jesus deciding whether he is God’s beloved child but about what it means to be God’s beloved child.

Question for Reflection

Here is the question for reflection. What does it mean for you to be a leader who is a beloved child of God? Keep in mind, who you are is how you lead.

Henri Nouwen, in his book, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, tells how Jesus overcomes the three basic temptations leaders face.

First Temptation: Please People

The first temptation is to please people. For Jesus, the temptation was to live into the Jewish expectations of the Messiah. He was challenged to use his power to not only gratify himself but to meet the human need around him. Both are good actions, but to “Turn these stones into bread,” was not who he had been created to be. Jesus replied, “People do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

It is not wrong to want to please people or to make them happy, but if you form your leadership around applause, you will soon be unproductive and fruitless in your ministry. The temptation is not to please others as much as it is to become someone other than who God created you to be. Hope-filled leaders do not always please people, but they lead courageously in assisting people into becoming followers of Jesus who make a difference in the lives of the people with whom they encounter each day.

Jesus found his identity and strength in being who God created him to be. He experienced God’s love to the point that he trusted God’s direction in loving people and giving them what was needed so they too could become who God had created them to be. He often disappointed people, but he was true to being a beloved child of God.

As a leader, you are a beloved child of God. Who you are is how you lead.

Second Temptation: Impress People

The second temptation is to do something to impress people. For Jesus, the temptation was to make some sensational demonstration to show he was the Son of God. He is challenged to do something spectacular like “Jump from the pinnacle of the temple!” Jesus resisted and said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:6-7).

It is not wrong to set lofty goals and high expectations, but if you form your leadership around unrealistic accomplishments, you will soon be burned out and cynical in your ministry. There will always be pressure to do something new, exciting, bigger, and better. There will always be people who want you to do something that is not true to who you are as a leader. Your temptation will be to feed your ego, to compare yourself to your peers, and to slip into a behavior that is less than authentic. Hope-filled leaders do not always impress people, but they lead courageously in assisting people into becoming followers of Jesus who make a difference in the lives of the people with whom they encounter each day.

You don’t have to be a hero. But you do have to love people for who they are and to teach them the very things you have been taught about loving one another, forgiving one another, and leading one another to become the people God has created them to be.

As a leader, you are a beloved child of God. Who you are is how you lead.

Third Temptation: Compromise Who You Are

The third temptation is to compromise who you are by focusing upon something or someone other than the God who has created you. For Jesus, the temptation was to control the kingdoms of the world. He could do all the good he wanted to do, by giving up who he was created to be. He responded to the temptation by saying, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (Matthew 4:10).

It is not easy being a Jesus follower when you are taught to “turn the other cheek,” “to make things right with those who have something against you,” and to “love your enemy.” It is not easy to “forgive 70 x 7 times.” But to give into the temptation to control your life and relationships is to compromise who God has created you to be. Hope-filled leaders are flexible. They know to pivot to lead people to the hope they desire. But they do not comprise who they are. They lead courageously in assisting people into becoming followers of Jesus who make a difference in the lives of the people with whom they encounter each day.

Jesus didn’t use his power to build an empire. He didn’t make people serve him, he served them. He included persons no one else wanted, washed the feet of those who hurt him, and cooked breakfast for those who had given up on him. He made friends with the poor, associated with outcasts, and disciplined them to be leaders. He helped them all discover that they were beloved children of God.

This is what Matthew is teaching us. To be a follower of Jesus means to have a trusting relationship with God that does not ask for miraculous exceptions to the limitations of being an authentic human being. You have been claimed by God, gifted to lead at this time in history.

You are a beloved child of God. Who you are is how you lead. 

3. Respond

Today, be aware of the temptation to be someone other than who God has created you to be. Be aware of where you are tempted to gratify yourself? And where you might compromise who you are to please or impress others. Look for Jesus throughout the day. Be aware of how being a Jesus follower helps you make the decisions needed to help others.

4. Return

  • Give God thanks for the day, for the people you have encountered, and for the places you have encountered God? 
  • What temptation did you face? 
  • In what situations did you try to please people? 
  • Impress people? Compromise who you are to get what you want? 
  • Who are some of the people who enriched your life? 
  • Who are some of the people you need to forgive or who you need to ask for forgiveness? 
  • How have you grown to become more of who God has created you to be? 

You are a leader at an incredible time in history. You were created for this time. So, don’t give in to the temptation to be someone other than who God has created you to be. You are needed just as you are…a beloved child of God.  

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Let’s begin where I ended Part 1. 

Here are a few reminders to ground us: 

  • God is good, faithful, just, and right on time.
  • The church is the body of Christ and we are members of that body, each with different functions and gifts.
  • Our mission is focused on disciple-making.
  • The love of God we know in Jesus is hope incarnate. 

In part one I explored two current realities and expanded on the reminders above. Today, let’s look at 5 trends. These trends might just prompt you to have conversations with friends, colleagues, and the next generations. 


Before we explore these trends, I want to invite you to put on the hat of a “Reinvention Specialist.” The reason for that will become clear shorty. 

Trend 1 – Declining participation 

This is not a new trend. It’s an accelerating trend. In a survey of 15,000 churches across the United States, in 2020, the median worship attendance among US congregations was 65. In 2000, it was 137.

About 7 years ago, while serving at the General Board of Discipleship, I began to explore the pattern of baptisms and professions of faith. I was looking for a positive trend to celebrate. Instead, what I found was it is the exception, not the norm, for baptisms and profession of faith to happen in local United Methodist Churches.

In 2021, for the first time ever in the United States church membership dropped below 50%. Please hear me, membership is not the only number and probably not the best number to look at. But it is an indicator of an ongoing trend.

What does this mean? One thing I think it means is our current approach to church isn’t working. Dare I say, it has not been working my entire life. The church has been in decline for decades. 

At the end of each trend, I’ll offer a question for you to consider. Here is your first question:
Are you willing to change your methods to amplify the mission? What does that look like? 

Trend 2 – Reinvent Ministries at Least Every 3 years

That means anticipating, designing, and implementing change every 3 years. Please DO NOT read that as “It’s 2022, so in 2025 we need to start focusing on reinventing ourselves.” 

No, you’re going to be reinventing all the time. And it doesn’t have to be exhausting if you’re anticipating, designing, and implementing change. It will necessitate building a system of leadership and processes to listen, pay attention, experiment, and assess effectiveness.

By the end of 2022, you will likely have a different church than you did in 2019. Because of all the changes in the past three years.

Why do I say every reinvent every 3 years? 

  • In the 1900s, organizations reinvented themselves every 75 years.
  • By 1989, it went down to every 15 years.
  • In 2020, that went down to 6 years. The pandemic accelerated this and it is anticipated we’re now at 3 years.

If you want to lead successful reinvention, you’re going to do it when the church is still growing, moving toward its prime. 
Only 10% of organizations who try to reinvent themselves are successful on the downward slope. Yes, many of us find ourselves in congregations that are past our prime. But, if we are resurrection people, and we are, there is hope. You can be the 10%. Or, consider this: sometimes death needs to occur so the new life can emerge. 

What this means is something is always going to be being reinvented. We’re not living in a time when you’re going to settle on the next method and keep at it for the remainder of your life. We’re living in a cycle of ongoing change that requires us to anticipate change, design change, and implement change at least every three years. 

What’s Reinvention About?

Reinvention is about:

-Embracing change by reimagining and remaking something so that it manifests new and improved attributes, qualities, and results.

-A systematic approach to thriving in chaos that includes ongoing anticipation, design, and implementation of change via continuous sense-making, anticipatory and emergent learning, and synthesis of cross-boundary, cross-disciplinary, and cross-functional knowledge.

-A way to foster sustainability of a system by dynamically harmonizing continuity and change.

-An immune system designed to ensure systematic health for individuals and organizations

-A structured and deliberate effort to engage in healthy cycles of planned renewal, building on the past to ensure current and future viability. 

Reinvention includes the following three elements:

  1. Anticipate
  2. Design
  3. Implement

What happens if you only do 1 &2?

You’re going to burn out.

What happens if you only do 1 & 3?

You’re going to live in chaos and craziness. 

What happens if you only do 2 & 3? You’re going to be too late. You’ve designed for the wrong thing. Arrogance is what often keeps us here. 

Question: What do you need to work on the most: Anticipating change? Designing Change? Or Implementing change? 

Trend 3 –  Location Independent Church and Localized Community Development

Location independence creates opportunities for you to worship and be a part of a church in Cincinnati while living in Columbus and not going anywhere. 

The church has tried to exist on 1 hour of contact a week. This makes a one-hour experience the primary connection point. Often, this results in little integration of faith into daily life. Further, it means people exist in silos.

This trend, location independence, coupled with localized community development is about the integration of life. The trends are all pointing to a world that is interconnected. This isn’t new. But it is accelerating. What is important about this trend is creating spaces where people are known and participating in spaces where being known is already happening. 

This doesn’t mean everyone is going to know everyone’s name. But it does mean everyone has an experience of being known. That “being known” likely will happen in a localized, integrated way, rather than a siloed approach to life.

What possibilities does this create?

Here are just a few ideas to get you thinking:

  • It could mean your church on the westside may have people living in California with a home group doing life-on-life discipleship.
  • Integrate Jesus into the daily fabric of life. 
  • Equip globally and nurture locally. It means relationships are central to everything we do. There’s something that has NOT changed!
  • Move discipleship to our neighborhoods and homes.

Question: What does this trend make possible?

Trend 4: The  Rise of Web3 and AR/VR

Here’s something that is already a reality: hybrid church is simply becoming church. There are people who connect online, there are people who connect in person. But, technology is also taking us to new places. Consider for a moment what augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) mean for the church? Will I be able to put on my VR headset and sit in church in Florida?  What do cryptocurrency, web 3 mean for the church?

If you just completely zoned out because those letters and numbers mean nothing to you. It’s ok. 

Go back to where we started. Are you willing to shift methods to amplify the mission?

The big question I see emerging with new technology is this: How do in-person and online portals share information and invite transformation? Said differently, what is informational and what is transformational? Where can technology help us share information and where do local relationships help us create transformational experiences? 

Only time will tell how AR and VR change the landscape of our world. But if you know any teenagers, ask them. They’ll likely be willing to show you their VR goggles.

Trend 5: The Great Resignation and Well-Being

I touched on this in Trend 3. But, it bears its own trend. People are longing for an integrated, holistic, life that acknowledges their wellbeing. It’s estimated that at least 50% of working-age people will think about leaving their current workplace in 2022 at the cost of billions of dollars to organizations. The same statistic for clergy is hovering around 40%.

Why? One of the reasons is this: our well-being has plummeted. The two primary drivers of wellbeing are liking what you do every day (career) and having meaningful friendships in your life (social). 

There are many reasons “the Great Resignation” began. One of the reasons is this: work became complex, at home, and we became disconnected from the people we love to spend time with the most.

If you want a quick check on your own well-being. Pause and explore these five questions:

  • Career: Do you like what you do every day?
  • Social: Do you have meaningful friendships in your life?
  • Financial: Are you managing your money well?
  • Community: Do you like where you live?
  • Physical: Do you have the energy to get things done?

Before you ask, “where is spiritual wellbeing?”allow me to say this. Here is the danger and the possibility for the church. We pick one of these areas and say “that’s where faith/spirituality lives.” Instead, faith is the foundation of our wellbeing.. Our spiritual well-being grounds our career, social, financial, community, physical, wellbeing.  

These things are not addressed in a one-day seminar. Or even a 2-hour workshop. They’re addressed when people do life together. 
Imagine what begins to happen when disciple-making moves to homes and neighborhoods. You begin to see the emergence of an Acts 2 Church – Where people are caring for the well-being of others.


Question: Which aspect of well-being are you thriving in? Which aspect of well-being needs attention?

Now What?

I’ve offered five trends for the future of the church. There are probably five more trends you could name, too. While none of us know how these emerging trends will play out, we do know that God is good. These trends invite us to be a part of the Great Reinvention and to consider again if our methods amplify our mission. I don’t know about you, but when I consider what God can do in and through people open to transformation, I see great possibilities for the future of the church and the people in our communities.

In her book The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle uses the analogy of “The 500-Year Rummage Sale” to describe change within the church. Tickle notes 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.

Every 500 Years

Looking back over 2000 years, the time of Christ was the first rummage sale. Tickle calls this time “The Great Transformation,” when Jesus who was “Emmanuel, God With Us” created a new understanding of our relationship with God.


Five hundred years later saw the collapse of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages. 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, convents, and priories. 


At the beginning of the new millennium in 1054 came “The Great Schism.” This is 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 Great Reformation” resulted in new branches of Christian tradition. The reformation leads to different understandings of how people relate to God personally through direct prayer and individual interpretation of the bible.  


Every 500 years or so, writes Tickle, there are tectonic shifts in the Christian tradition. These shifts result in huge changes in both understanding and practices of the church.


In 2017, we marked 500 years since the Reformation. With the changes and disruptions that continue to unfold, it appears the church is ready for its next giant rummage sale. Or perhaps we are already holding it. I think we are. 

  • What is the purpose of the church? 
  • What are her defining characteristics? 
  • In 2022 and beyond, what methods will allow that purpose to be amplified? 

While the purpose of the church will not change, how we live out the purpose will. The ways we connect with people to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world continue to shift and change.

The First Shift: VUCA 

Change and disruption are happening all around us. To be more specific, we’re living in a time of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (vuca). 

Volatility

Unexpected and rapid change is happening. Consider the protests at the border, what is or isn’t unfolding with Russia and Ukraine, violence in our communities, and the increase of domestic violence. If I were to write this next week, the list would likely grow and change. That’s a characteristic of volatility. Opinions of individuals (or groups) escalating out of proportion with reality are also an example of volatility.

Uncertainty 

The lack of understanding is all around us. Technology changes, new modes of communication, economic shifts, public health, and employment instability are just a few ways uncertainty is playing out. We live in a time when information is available and information can be disseminated from platforms that provide no insurance that the information is true, reputable, and/or factual.  

Complexity

Complexity is about the presence of multiple variables and interconnections – some seen and some unseen. Complexity leads us to say, “Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.” But, we can always approach complexity with grace. Decision-making, when there are competing demands, or complexity, is less about right and wrong and more about navigating the tensions of the complexities. Many, if not most, of the decisions we make as leaders right now are complex decisions.

Ambiguity

 “I don’t know” is a complete sentence. As Christ-centered leaders, I see colleagues try to have all the answers. We’re living in a time of ambiguity. Hold on to what we do know: God is good, faithful, just, and right on time. And, recognize there are a lot of unknowns. As Christ-centered leaders, our job isn’t to remove all of the ambiguity. Our role is to use our gifts and the gifts of the people around us to get perspective so we can creatively move forward. 

Polarization and VUCA

Taken together, you can likely see how VUCA and polarization go hand in hand. 
Since at least 2015, and probably before, the increased polarization/volatility in our country has been redefining our culture. I’d love to say the church has offered a counter-culture. Instead, in many places, the church is adopting the patterns of the surrounding culture. 


People need you to continue building trust, offering stability where you can, embodying compassion, and being a person of hope. VUCA certainly presents challenges. The people you lead don’t need you to “fix” what is happening. They need you to lead. Often that means being the calm presence that knows who to invite into conversations and recognizing when you don’t have the answers. 


Shift 2: Hybrid is Here to Stay

The second big shift is this: the world is now hybrid. We don’t worship and work in person or online. We work and worship in both. That’s the reality of a hybrid world. The question is not virtual or in person, it’s both. It’s here to stay. Hybrid meetings, hybrid work, hybrid worship will continue to be present. This one might be easier to navigate, but it also adds to the complexity and ambiguity above.

Reminders for the Journey

In a volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous, and hybrid world, there are three things I hold on to:

1. God is good, faithful, just, and right on time

Chronos time is for our brain to try and make sense of things and keep order. The reality is kairos moments are happening all around us. 
Pause and pay attention to God’s presence. God’s timing is perfect. It may frustrate the heck out of us sometimes. But, if we start with the goodness of God, we can quickly recognize that frustration is often more about our expectations, needs, or wants than it is about God. 

2. The church is the body of Christ

The church is the body of Christ and we are members of that body, each with different functions and gifts. The church, the body of Christ, is not an institution. We’re a part of an institution, it’s called a denomination in church language. The body of Christ and institutions are designed for two different purposes. 


To be a part of a living, breathing, life-giving organism, is to be a part of the church. Don’t expect the institution to be the body. It can’t and wasn’t designed for that. It provides structure. Which, in any institution, is perfectly imperfect. To focus on the institution, you’ll risk losing sight of the body, and the gifts of the body. And yes, I say all of that as someone who has a position in the institution. I have different expectations of our denomination and the local church.

3. Our mission is focused on disciple-making. 

To add another biblical metaphor, the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few. Whether you go to Matthew 28 or Luke 10 for the mission, our purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. 


Jesus told us to go. Jesus did not say, “stay in holy huddles.” Jesus sends us out two by two to immerse people in God’s ways, to teach and to model God’s ways, to walk with people, to do life with people, remembering Jesus is always with us. In short, our methods must change to amplify the mission. 
If you’re going to consider the future of the church. Begin with the three reminders about whose and who you are. 


Next week I have 5 trends that can add some context and color to the two big realities I named this week. Until then, remember this: the love of God we know in Jesus is hope incarnate.

Leadership is about inspiring and empowering people to become who they were created to be.  It is about relating and connecting in such a way that the world is impacted and changed for good. 

You have what it takes to be a leader! Facing the reality of the pandemic, you continue to stepping in, create strategies, and lead. You are engaging the people entrusted to your care in new ways of being and doing, and you are using your God-given talents, what you have learned, and the resources on hand to get face what you feel you are not equipped to do. 

Let me remind you what I have seen over the past several months. I have seen you as:

A compassionate leader. 

You are providing for the well-being of the people you are leading. It has not always been easy, but you are nurturing them to their full potential. You are intentionally developing authentic relationships for the purpose of helping people become who they were created to be. 

A hope-filled leader. 

You are holding before the people a picture of what is next. You’re empowering them to look beyond the darkness of today’s challenges and to see the light, God’s light, shining brightly upon a new day. You are leading them toward the future, adjusting and adapting to the changing landscape.  

A stabilizing leader. 

You are modeling integrity and consistency. You are addressing the fears of the people by leading with confidence and humility.  With competence, you are helping people name and understand the challenges of the future. You are using insight and wisdom from past experiences to show people how they can and will be part of the future.  

Leading with Self-Doubt

You have what it takes to be a leader, yet you are filled with self-doubt.  Because this is not what you were trained to, you are feeling tentative and a bit insecure. And because you don’t feel you are living up to expectations, you are lonely and somewhat isolated. This is not what you envisioned ministry to be and, at the very least, what you would be doing.  

What Do You Have Left?

I recently read a story of Itzhak Perlman. At age 75, he is known as one of the finest violists of our time. You might already know that as a child, he contracted polio. Today, he wears braces on both legs, and walks with the aid of two crutches.

Several years ago, while he was playing at the Lincoln Center in Washington, D.C., one of his violin strings broke. A gasp could be heard throughout the Center. The conductor as well as the audience knew that it is impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings. But Perlman refused to stop and signaled the conductor to continue.

People reported that they could see him changing and recomposing the piece in his head. When he finished, there was absolute silence in the room.  And then, the audience and the orchestra jumped to their feet, cheering and applauding. They had experienced an artist at work, and they were appreciative.

Perlman smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, and raised his bow to quiet the audience.  And then he said, You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

You Are Gifted to Lead

You have been created and gifted to lead for this very time and place in history. If I may continue with this metaphor, God has put this incredible score in front of you. It is a masterpiece titled “Your Life.” You have what it takes to be a leader. Sometimes you feel a few strings short, but how much music can you make with what you have left?  If God has gifted you, what are doing with what you have been given?  

What Will You Do With What You’ve Been Given?

In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells of three servants who are given responsibility for the master’s property. Each is given a different responsibility. In other words, no one was given a complete set of strings.

When the master returned, two of the servants said, “We played the best we could with what we had.” The master says, “Well done, good and faithful servants, you’ve been faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

The third servant, who had convinced himself that he was “just a one string fiddler,” said to the master, “Look! I didn’t break any more strings.”

The problem is the music doesn’t depend on what you have. The music depends on what you do with what you have. And if you do nothing…?

Use your Gifts

God has gifted you and wants you to use your gifts, talents, strengths to lead God’s people through the confusion and chaos of the days in which we live. You have what it takes to lead.

Even though you might not in the best situation or have a lot of resources. Even though the work might be hard and exhausting, and the people are unkind and hurtful, you are gifted for this time. The question is “what will you do with what you have been given?”

As a leader, gifted for this time, focus upon the following:  

1. Mission

Regardless of the situation or the circumstances, the mission remains the same. With the mission in mind, lead with conviction. Be clear about where you are going. When you are clear regarding your direction, you can focus upon the people entrusted to your care. It is your focus that helps instill confidence and brings stability.  

2. Opportunity

Now is the time to deepen your relationship with God and to understand yourself. When you are in tune with God and with yourself, you can touch people in beautiful ways.

Let’s use one more violin illustration. A violin is a musical instrument that is both sensitive and strong.  It is sensitive in that it is affected by the slightest touch, and it is strong because its strings can withstand a good deal of pressure  A violin must be continually and properly tuned to be played well, for if it is not, even the finest violinist cannot call forth beautiful music from it. It is when you are in tune with yourself that God makes the greatest music.   

3. People

Build relationships with the people entrusted to your care. Be genuinely interested in them. Help them to discover how God has gifted them. As you develop your relationships, you will create a healthy environment of trust where everyone is supported, encouraged, and celebrated. I know you don’t have to be reminded, but you are in the people business. The best out who and what you have.

4. Being generous

Extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others. Assume the best of others. Give them the benefit of the doubt. When you are generous with others, they will be generous with you.

When in doubt, seek to understand and be slow to judge. Remember, people can only act upon what they know. Don’t hold them responsible for what they don’t know.

Brene Brown writes, “Our relationship is only trusting if you can assume the most generous thing about my words, intentions, and behaviors and then check in with me.” Be generous. Assume people are doing the best they can with what they know. 

5. Navigating the challenges

With your eyes on the mission, deepening your relationship with God, focusing upon the gifts of others, and being generous with those who seem slow coming around, move forward with confidence and grace.

Adapt to unexpected changes, face the unanticipated obstacles, and depend upon the strengths and gifts of others to follow through to reach the goal. Because you have developed your relationships upon trust and credibility, you have what is needed to complete the journey.

Your Next Step

In the words of Perlman, “Sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.” You have everything needed to make the impact people want and need in their lives and in the world. So, what are you going to do about it?

Take a moment to think of the people entrusted to your care. Every day this week, get one or two of them in mind and ask yourself “What is one thing I can do today to let this person know how much I appreciate being their leader?

When you start sharing your appreciation, listen closely. You will begin to hear that you have what it takes to be a leader. 

When you need and want help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. We will assist you in deepening your relationship with Christ, the church, and your community.

How are you doing this week? Last week I asked that question in relation to leading the mission. This week I am asking the question in relation to you personally? How are you doing? To be the leader needed for this time, you must keep yourself healthy and focused.  You can’t lead others to become who God created them to be if you aren’t at peace with yourself, your work, and with God.

In the midst of all the noise and chaos of our everyday living, it can be hard to feel at peace. It can be so hard that we can go days, weeks, even months without feeling a true sense of calm. I understand. There are days that it would feel good just to feel good for a change. 

You Are a Leader

I want to remind you that you are the leader for this time. You are leading in ways you never imagined. Now I get it. On any given day, as you are learning another aspect of technology, there are people upset that they are not back in the sanctuary. 

As you work with them, you get an email from someone who points out that the guidelines say “no more than 10 persons” should gather. Then, there is the person who is upset that you have said something about racism and loving your neighbor. All you want is to be the pastor, preacher, and leader you know you can be. 

Before the Pandemic

Before the pandemic, you had time to read and reflect and enjoy the relationships. Now, you feel as if you are rushing from event to (virtual) event, from conversation to conversation, and you might even feel the world would be a better place if it weren’t for people. (It’s ok to admit you’ve said it, too.) 

I get it. It would be nice to have a little time and space for yourself. It would be great if you felt some peace and calm.  

If you are willing to take a little journey with me, I guarantee peacefulness at the end. So, if you are willing, here is what I want you to do.

1. Read

Get your Bible or open your Bible app.

  • Read Lamentations 3, paying attention to verses 22-24. I am using the Good News Translation. “The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, Fresh as the morning and as sure as the sunrise. The Lord is all I have, and so in him I put my hope.” (Good News Translation)  

2. Reflect

Consider the context of Lamentations.

Israel is in captivity.

The people are grieving. The writer, speaking on behalf of the people, writes, “I am the one who knows what it is to be punished by God. He drove me deeper and deeper into darkness and beat me again and again with merciless blows.” (Verses 1-3) All they have known and depended upon is gone. Their lives have been disrupted.  The people are totally preoccupied with their own pain.

They are grieving physically.

The people are weary. “He (God) has left my flesh open and raw and has broken my bones” (Verse 4). When you are physically weary, you will do just about anything, other than what you are doing, to get past the weariness.

 They are grieving spiritually.

“He (God) has bound me in chains; I am a prisoner with no hope of escape” (Verse 7). The people feel like there is no future and things will not get better. They want God to comfort them, but God cannot be reached. “I cry aloud for help, but God refuses to listen” (Verse 8).

They are grieving psychologically.

Read verses 10-18. The imagery is of being attacked and alone, humiliated with no hope. “The thought of my pain, my homelessness, is bitter poison. I think of it constantly, and my spirit is depressed” (Verses 19-20). No matter how much we think we are prepared for the loss, it always comes with pain. The writer of Lamentations had been preparing for this for 40 years, yet the people are still surprised.

But they continue to pray.

They do what they know to do. Earlier in the chapter, they could not pray.  They didn’t feel like praying. They didn’t think praying made any difference.  Remember, “Even when I cry out, God shuts out my prayer” (Verse 8).

So here is a turning point. 

What do you do when your experience does not match what you have been taught or what you expect? The writer chooses to embrace hope. The writer chooses to hope in God’s goodness. Remember, hope is shaped and strengthened through a personal and internal struggle. “The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, Fresh as the morning and as sure as the sunrise. The Lord is all I have, in the Lord I will place my hope” (verses 22-24).

The writer, speaking on behalf of the people, places their confidence in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God.  God’s mercy never ceases.

3. Respond

Take the reflection of this scripture with you today. Think about how the truth of this scripture will come alive for you. To help stimulate your thinking:

  • Where might you experience God’s unfailing love and mercy?
  • In what you are facing, where will you embrace hope?
  • As you navigate the changes brought about by a pandemic, how will you show your trust in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God?
  • As you lead and teach about anti-racism, how will you show your trust in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God?

4. Return

At the end of day, or at a time of reflection upon the scripture and your interactions of the day, consider:

  •  Where did you experience God’s unfailing love and mercy today?

Remember, God’s love will not run out.  God’s merciful love will not dry up. The love of God is created new every morning. Great is God’s faithfulness.

A Pattern for Living with Jesus 

This pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, Return” is a great practice of creating a little time and space to be connected to God. It provides you the opportunity to recognize God every day even in the midst of the chaos and confusion. Your connection to God is what brings the peace that allows you to become who you were created to be.

So, what is one thing you will do to create a little time and space for yourself?  What is one thing you will do to place your confidence and hope in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God?

Remember, Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are available to assist you along your journey. Head over to the podcast and explore episodes 122-128 or 129-131 to use this pattern to explore discipleship in the context of Matthew or John’s gospels. 

So, now, how are you? May you always be as blessed as you are a blessing!