We do a lot of talking about mission, especially the mission of the church, “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” My perception is that you, as a leader, keep that mission in mind in most of what you do. My question is, do you feel connected to the mission? Do you feel what you are doing really makes much of a difference? 

You might be doing all the right things. You love the people entrusted to your care. But you just don’t feel the spark any longer. What’s happening? What’s going on? 

Bring Meaning to the Mission

What I am learning is a sense of fulfillment is needed to bring meaning to the mission. The question is, what brings that sense of fulfillment? 

You might think of it this way: goals are good and necessary. You can define and track your goals and you can show how you have reached your goals. Yet, you can feel disconnected from a larger sense of purpose. Chasing goals day after day, week after week does not bring the engagement needed to bring a sense of fulfillment. 

Interrelated Leadership Models

Over the years, I have identified and defined at least three models of leadership. Each model is needed to be an effective and courageous leader, but it is only when the models are intertwined and focused upon the mission that they are effective. Refining your leadership skills in each area will help you become the missional leader needed today. 

Qualities of the Leader

One model of leadership is defined by the qualities of the leader. Are you a person of integrity, transparency, and empathy? Do you inspire loyalty, communicate clearly, and develop relationships? These qualities are necessary and vital to effective leadership. But you can learn all the right qualities and do all the right things and still feel disconnected and unfulfilled. 

Servant Leadership

A second model of leadership is servant leadership. It is best seen in how you care for the needs and interests of those entrusted to your care. Have you developed an environment of support in which people can flourish? Are you providing what followers want from their leader: trust, compassion, stability, and hope? These qualities of servant leadership are necessary and vital to effective leadership. But you can care for the needs and interests of people and still feel less than fulfilled as a leader. 

Missional Leadership

A third model of leadership is missional leadership. When grounded in a mission, people become both leaders and followers. They lead by living into their strengths and by offering their expertise. People follow by learning how to work in partnership with others. They share the values of the group and share a mutual sense of purpose. Missional leadership is an integration of servant leadership and the qualities of the leader. The three together provide what is needed for leading in the times in which we live. 

Many of us do well in leading by the criteria of models one and two. We offer clear direction and guidance, stay connected with people, and care for their needs. Yet, in midst of all the good work, we do not feel fulfilled. We can articulate the mission with little connection to it. 

More to Explore

You will find these blogs to be helpful in becoming a missional leader.

 Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church

Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church-Part 3

Mobilize for Ministry

So, what do we do? Below are seven questions that will assist you and the leaders of your church to brainstorm, reflect, and mobilize for ministry. They will require prayerful reflection, dialogue, and discernment. Some of the questions will require you to move beyond the walls of the church building and to talk with people in the community. Others will require you to explore the areas of overlap between the mission and the responses to the questions. 

These questions are simple and challenging. I can promise that, when you take these questions seriously, you will find meaning and purpose in your leadership. For a more detailed explanation and direction click here.

The 7 Missional Questions 

1.      God’s Presence: Where have you witnessed God’s presence in your community? Neighborhood? 

This is a good question to ask at the beginning of every meeting, with small groups, and at the end of each day. It is one of two foundational questions that contribute to congregational health. People who follow Jesus should be able to articulate God’s movement in their lives and identify God’s presence in their communities. 

2.      The Church’s Mission: What is the mission of the church? 

This question is not about mission projects or service opportunities. The question is about purpose. What is the purpose of the church? Does everyone know the mission? Do they not only repeat it but embody it? 

This is the partner question to naming God’s presence. Recognizing God’s presence and embodying the mission of the church are essential for healthy disciple-making movements. 

3.      The Mission Field: What is your mission field? 

Your mission field is the geographic region in which your church is located. Once you have decided your geographic region, define who lives within the mission field. After you know who lives there, define their habits and interests. Listen to their stories. Pay attention to their symbols. What do you need to learn about the people in your mission field, the people entrusted to your care? 

4.      Assets: What are the assets of your community? 

Make a list of the assets of the people who live in your mission field You are identifying skills, resources, and relationships. Other assets to explore include property, service, businesses, a community focus or physical attributes like a beach, a park, etc., and financial assets. 

To identify assets, take a walk through our community and meet the people in your mission field. Ask people this question: “What do you love about our community?” Neighborhood? City? 

5.      Needs: What are the needs in your community? Neighborhood? 

Make a list of the needs of people in your community. Remember that food, water, and shelter are the most basic needs. These are followed by safety, love, belonging, self-esteem, and respect. Recognizing and realizing your potential, learning, faith, and service round out your list.

To identify needs, when you take your walk through your community and meet the people in your mission field, ask this question, “What do you love about your community?” This question follows the question you asked in #4. 

6.      Relationships: What relationships exist with leaders in your community? 

Who are you and other church leaders in relationship within the following areas of your community: education, business, government, social agencies, first responders, faith/religion, arts and entertainment, health (hospitals, doctors, nurses, clinics)? What relationships need to be nurtured, reconciled, and re-established? 

A good place to start building relationships beyond the walls of the church building is with the principal of your local elementary school. 

7.      Collaboration: What is one way you can collaborate with another church? 

Develop relationships with other church leaders. Listen to their stories and how they express their mission, and what disciple-making loos like in their faith communities. Even though theology and practices might differ, you are on the same team. How do you join together to cover the community with God’s love? 

What Overlap Exists?

Now, here is where your missional leadership is most needed. What is the overlap between the mission and the responses to the other six questions? 

Your overlap might be where you see God at work in the lives of children, or in community leaders of in service organizations. Begin to tell the stories of God being at work in your community and invite people to participate in what God is doing. 

You can also go to the LeaderCast podcast for helpful information. Here are episodes that will help in becoming a missional leader. Purpose and Presence  Set the foundation for missional leadership with these two questions. Needs and Assets Bridge the needs and assets of your community with these questions. Relationships and Partnerships Leverage the people and connections of your community for kingdom impact.

It is time to move from talking about the mission to becoming the missional leader needed to have influence in the world today. I can promise you and the people entrusted to your care that once you are focused on the mission of the church, you will find the meaning and purpose that has been missing in your life and in your church. 

It is my hope that you can and will begin to build a file of resources that assists you in becoming the leader that makes a difference. 

Remember, who is 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.

Wow. We have come to the end of September. Where has the year gone?  Over the past nine months, you have moved forward in your leadership by adapting to unexpected changes and developing new relationships. You have navigated a pandemic and established different patterns. From my perspective, you have learned to lead in surprisingly new ways. 

Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn

In his book, Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn, John Maxwell, playing off the quote, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose,” points out that we learn from our losses.  He writes that if we apply what we learn in the midst of our losses to the situations and circumstances in which we lead, we will be much closer to reaching our goals. I’m guessing you have learned a lot over the past nine to eighteen months. 

Learning is one of the key values of leadership. Effective leaders are learning leaders. Learning is as much a part of your life as eating. Leaders who are learners improve the environment for everyone around them. Learning is key to improvement.

What have you been learning?

So, what have you been learning over the past nine months? As I have been listening, I have heard you say you have learned:

New Technology

You said, “I need to learn how to…” and you learned what you needed to move forward with worship, bible study, virtual gatherings, etc. You learned to approach routine encounters in fundamentally different ways.

Alternative strategies

You have experimented with different ways of living out the mission by engaging a coach and/or peers to provide feedback regarding what you have learned.  

To become a more effective leader

You have been determined to learn useful insights by reflecting on what worked well, what didn’t so well, and what might work better next time.

I know you have learned much more than what I have listed above. But from my perspective, you have learned some significant patterns for effective leadership.  I am grateful for you and for what you are learning. You were created to lead for this time.

What Have I Learned?

Over the past nine months, I have learned some things as well. I have learned:

Effective Christ-centered leaders become part of the fabric of the community

To be the leader needed for today, you must be intimately involved in the life of the community. You know the assets as well as he needs. You know the marginalized as well the influential people by name. You are recognized and known by people in the places you show up. (For help in becoming the fabric of the community, check out 7 Missional Questions).

It takes courage to follow Jesus

If you assume I should have learned this early in my ministry, you are correct. But I think it takes more courage today than in my earlier years. In the culture in which we live, “you can safely assume you have created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do” (Anne Lamott). It takes courage to show up in the places Jesus leads and to love the people Jesus loves.  I saw a sign recently that read, “I love you. You’re probably thinking, ‘You don’t even know me.’ But if people can hate for no reason. I can love.” When you invite Jesus into your life, he tends to bring all his friends with him.

It matters where you start

I have known this for a long time, but it seems more applicable today. 

You might think of it this way, the starting place is not whether someone or some issue is progressive or evangelical, liberal or conservative, socialist or capitalist. To start with a political stance is to argue your political stance. Starting with this, does my action love my neighbor, look out for his or her interests more than my own, and produce the fruit of the Spirit? It matters where you start.  I am learning that when we figure out that God is more concerned with loving creation than judging it, we will then be part of the transformation of our churches, communities, and the world. As Jesus followers, we start with Jesus.

Effective Leaders are Learning Leaders

Just like you, I have learned more than I have listed. The point is learning leaders are effective leaders. Learning leaders model for others what they are learning and invite others into learning as well.

An Invitation

I want you to join me in an experiment for the month of October. I have been reflecting on one way you and I, as leaders, can model God’s love for those entrusted to our care as well as our communities. This is an experiment in courageous leadership. Remember, who you are is how you lead.  

Here is what I want you to do. Whether you are in an urban church, suburban church, or a rural church, get in your mind one of the persons you encounter at an intersection holding a sign. 

The sign usually says something like, “Homeless. Need Help. Hungry. God Bless you!” or “Homeless and hungry vet. Anything will help.” Get the face of the person in your mind. Regardless of what you feel or think, God loves that person as much as God loves you. So, this month, as a child of God, try something other than passing by another child of God. 

Do one of the following: (Just try one for the month)

  • Pray asking God how you can best share God’s love with the person
  • Prepare a sandwich and/or some fruit and hand it them
  • Give them something to drink. Something warm on a cold day, something cold on a hot day
  • Better yet, park your car, get out and introduce yourself to the person, and listen as he/she introduces themselves to you.
  • When you get to know the person by name, take food to them on a daily basis.

When you have done one of the above, give God thanks for loving you in and through the person at the intersection. I promise your action of care and compassion will transform your life and make you a more courageous leader. Who you are is how you lead.

Sometimes You Learn

Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn. Let me know how you are doing with the experiment. I’ll check back with you. May what you learn assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be.

And remember, who you are is how you lead.

We are living in a unique time filled with opportunity and promise. It is a critical time in the life of our country, our communities, and our churches. It is a time that calls for courageous leadership. This is the time for you to be the leader you were created to be. To step up and be the leader needed for this time, you must be in tune with yourself, because who you are is how you lead. 

A Few Reminders

We are in a two-part series on Leading Through Racial Unrest. In part one, you were asked to reflect upon the question, “How did I first learn about race?” You were asked that question because much of the way we view the events that take place around us and what we believe about the people with whom we interact has been shaped by the attitudes and behaviors of the people in our lives. So, to recognize your condition, or why you believe what you believe, or react the way you react is essential to leading courageously in the midst of racial and social unrest. 

In part one we explored an understanding of what racism is and what we believe as Jesus followers. What we know is the reality of racism is perpetuated in powerful ways. It comes through the clash of nations and races. It comes through the differences of cultures and politics. It comes through the assumptions we make about one another. It comes through the experiences we have and the teaching and modeling we have received from those who have gone before us. Racism is passed on when we teach our children what to believe about race. 

If you want to catch up quickly, you can read Part One or you can take a few minutes to do the following: Answer this question: “How did I first learn about race?” Write your thoughts down so that you can get a clear understanding of your first awareness and learnings. What experiences do you remember? Who was involved? What happened to leave an impact upon your memory?

Am I Willing?

Now, after you have an understanding of what racism is and how you first learned about race, you have another question to answer regarding leading courageously in and through racial and social unrest. It is the most important question regarding your leadership. The question is, “Am I willing to be transformed by the love of God?” Let me be clear, if your answer is “no”, there is no reason to continue reading this blog. If your answer is “yes”, then continue reading to become the leader needed for this time and place in history. 

With what you have learned or are learning about your condition is key to our hope in addressing the evil of racism. If you are ready and willing to be transformed by the love of God, read on. 

Biblical Foundations

My point in writing this next section is to lay a biblical foundation for courageous leadership. I am not writing to present a political point of view or to debate the meaning of certain passages of scripture. It is simply to lay a foundation for you and for me to answer the question, “Am I willing to be transformed by the love of God?”

There are several things we know beyond any doubt. Things that are not even debatable. Each statement is found in the scripture and is plain in its meaning. There are many passages throughout the bible. 

Old Testament 

Here are just three passages from the Old Testament:

  • Every person is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
  • When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19:33-34)
  • Be careful when you pass judgment. You aren’t dispensing justice by merely human standards but for the Lord, who is with you. Therefore, respect the Lord and act accordingly, because there can be no injustice, playing favorites (II Chronicles 19:6-7).

New Testament

In the New Testament, every chance Jesus gets, he says and shows that every person matters to God and is a person of worth. Regardless of who the person is or what the person has done, he teaches and demonstrates that all people are equal in the sight of God. 

We have stories throughout the gospels of Jesus demonstrating the love of God. Do you remember the conversation he had with the woman from Samaria? She was at the well to draw water. Jesus asks her for a drink. She is the one who points out the racial divide. She says to Jesus, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink when Jews don’t associate with Samaritans?” Before the conversation is over Jesus has given her hope that will change her life. Why? Because Jesus will not let a racial divide keep anyone from hearing the good news of God’s grace. He will not allow a racial divide to get in the way of loving people. 

Jesus Bridges Racial Divide

Jesus was and still is the bridge of the great racial divide on this earth. Read the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church (Ephesians 2:14-20). Paul tells the people in Ephesus that Christ broke down the racial barriers on the cross. His statement came in the midst of a deep racial divide between Jews and Gentiles. The Jews hated the Gentiles. They called Gentiles dogs. They saw Gentiles as less than human. The Gentiles felt the same way about the Jews. They saw themselves as superior in culture and in language over the Jews. 

These two groups of people, who hated each other, God brought together to be the Church. It was the experience of God’s love that brought hope in the midst of hatred. Jesus taught love for all people. He demonstrated love for all people. His love was greater than human differences. The presence of God’s love in Jesus, lived out in and through the people called the church, was greater than historical, social, cultural, and racial differences. 

Our Hope is in Jesus

Where is our hope as a country? As a culture? As a Church? It is in the love of God found in Jesus. He is the bridge over the great racial divide in which you and I live today. 

I just heard one of you scoff. I just heard you say, “this is not realistic.” I want you to hear me clearly, God’s love for God’s creation is the only way we have not attempted to answer the racial divide we face today.

The Answer is NOT…

The answer to racism is not in the political workings of a nation, though politics are important to getting things done. Political leverage has never transformed a heart. It has shaped attitudes and behaviors to the extent we get what we want. It creates lots of rhetoric and even incites fear, but the political power and persuasion of groups of people is not the answer to racism. If it was the answer, we would not be living with the racial unrest we experience today. 

The answer to racism is not about our laws. Laws about equality are good, but laws don’t transform hearts. Jesus transforms hearts. Jesus can take a heart of hate and make it a heart of love. Jesus can bring enemies together to start a movement that transforms the world. Laws do not start such movements. In fact, many laws try to keep such movements from getting started. If laws were the answer to racism, we would not be living with the racial unrest we experience today. 

The answer to racism is not about training. Even though it is wonderful and each of us needs the training to respect and understand difference , to be empathetic, to not put people down or dismiss them, to understand different cultures, and to be tolerant of others, our hope is not in the training. Our hope is not even about tolerance. It is not about good behavior. Hear me, both are important and are needed. If training were the answer, we would not be living with the racial unrest we experience today. The answer is in the living and loving transforming power of Jesus Christ. 

Are you willing?

To move forward, my question is still the same, “Are you willing to be transformed by the love of God?” 

As Jesus followers, we know that the way to life is the way of love. Because love is the way, then leading through racial unrest is based upon allowing ourselves to be loved by God in and through the people around us. To love God and to love your neighbor are related to understanding yourself being loved. No matter who you are or what you think and do, you are loved. It is God’s decision to love, so if God loves you and all the people around you, then love yourself and all the people too. 

Bishop Michael Curry, in his book The Power of Love, writes that loving God and loving neighbor are based on a conviction that God knows what God “is talking about.” With that conviction he tells the following story:

I was a parish priest in Baltimore, and our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, was probably three years old. My wife went off to teach school, and I think our oldest daughter went off with her. It was up to me to take the young one to nursery school. So, I said, “Elizabeth, I need you to go and put your raincoat on.”

And she looks back at me, at three years old now. Mind you, I am the rector of St. James Church, the third oldest African American church in the Episcopal Church. A historic church, the church that gave you Thurgood Marshall and Pauli Murray. Yes, this is a serious church, and I’m the rector talking to this little three-year-old person. I said, “Elizabeth, go put your raincoat on.” And she said, “Why?”

I said, “Because it’s going to rain.” She ran to the window in the living room, and looked out the window and said, “But it’s not raining outside. I said, “I know that, but it’s gonna rain later.” She said, “Mommy didn’t say it was gonna rain.” I said, “I know Mommy didn’t say it was gonna rain, but Al Roker on the Today show said it was gonna rain.” I tried to explain to her about weather forecasting, and showed her the newspaper. And I finally said, “Why am I doing all this? Elizabeth, just go and put your raincoat on!”

She actually thought she knew better than I did. I spent more time in seminary than she’s even been on the earth. And she actually thought she knew more than I did. And it occurred to me that must be what we look like to God. 

Bishop Curry continues, “I have this fantasy of God putting his hands on his cosmic hips and just saying, ‘They are so cute! They think they know so much, but don’t they know that I was the one that called this world into being in the first place? Don’t they know that I created the vast expanse of interstellar space? Don’t they know that I told old Moses, Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land, and you tell old Pharaoh, let my people go? Don’t they know that I’m the author of freedom? Don’t they know that I’m the creator of justice? Don’t they know that I’m the God of love? Don’t they know that I came down as Jesus to show them the way of love, to show them the way to life, to show them how to live together? Don’t they know how much I love them?’” 

God’s Transforming Love

On the day of Pentecost, God’s love was fully proclaimed and experienced. People were filled with the Holy Spirit. Another way of saying this is, people were filled with God’s presence and God’s power or by God’s transforming love. 

People from every nation under heaven were gathered. It was the greatest ethic, racial, and cultural division to ever gather. And the coming of the Holy Spirit, God’s transforming love, on that day brought unity to the greatest diversity imaginable. 

The answer to racism that day, on the day of Pentecost was the Holy Spirit. God’s holy presence and power. God’s transforming love. 

The answer to racism today is the Holy Spirit. God’s holy presence and power. God’s transforming love. 

The Same Love

We are the church, the body of Christ, the bringers of the love of God to a racially divided world. The same love that came to us in a baby, the same love that was shown to us on a cross, the same love that came in and through the Holy Spirit. 

So, are you willing to be transformed by the love of God? You were created to lead at such a time as this. As a Jesus follower filled with the love of God, you are what the love of God looks like in the 21st century. You are the answer to racism. By God’s grace, you can lead a movement of Jesus followers who will change the world. Filled with God’s love, you are a bringer of hope in the midst of racial unrest. Who you are is how you lead!

Your Next Step

This week, what is one thing you will do to show the love of God? Who will you contact? What action will you take? If you are unsure, contact me. It is the greatest joy of my life to introduce you to God’s transforming love in Jesus and get you started on the path of putting an end to racism.

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this week, Sara and I present some ways you might rest, relax, and play. Join us for Episode 182 for a fun episode about Ingredients for Joy and Meaning. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

It has been a while since I checked in with you.  How are you doing? You have done well leading through a difficult time. I have said it before and I believe it today, you were created to lead in such a time as this. 

Which brings me to the question, “How have you been leading during racial unrest?” I’m curious. I am learning that each of us leads in different ways. Some believe that the less said the better. Others believe that they should call out racism when they see it. Some dismiss racism saying, “this too shall pass,” while others have difficult conversations. How have you been leading people to respond to racial and social unrest? 

We may be coming to the end of the COVID pandemic, but we are not coming to the end of racism. The day I am writing this blog is the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. 

The Tulsa Race Massacre

My guess is that you are just learning about this event in our history. I say that based upon my own experience.  I did not read or hear about the massacre in high school. It was only after I was in college, as a Social Studies major, that I heard about it. And at that time, it was still called the Tulsa race riots.  

Just to refresh your memory, on May 31, 1921, a white mob marched into the predominantly Black Tulsa neighborhood of Greenwood, known as Black Wall Street, and set fire to businesses, homes, and churches. Over 300 black lives were lost, thousands of people were left homeless, 35 blocks of the city were burned, all within an 18-hour period. For many years there were no public ceremonies, memorials for the dead, or any efforts to remember the events of the massacre. In fact, until recent years, the event was not even taught in Oklahoma classrooms. 

How are you leading?

How do you lead in that kind of racial and social unrest and denial? I know that it takes some courage to even talk about race and the differences that have kept so many of us apart as human beings. But I think courageous leadership can be shown in another way which might bring about the deep change that is so desperately needed.  This week we will look at our condition. Next week we will look at our hope. 

Our Condition

Let’s start with our condition. An honest look at current reality will help you lead effectively with conviction and courage.  

What do we know? We know that racism is the belief that:

  1. Human beings can be divided into separate and exclusive biological entities.
  2. These exclusive biological entities possess distinct characteristics, abilities or qualities, that distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another. 
  3. These exclusive biological entities are inherited physical traits and traits of personality, intellect, morality, as well as other cultural and behavioral characteristics.
  4. The systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantages of another racial group

In other words, racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism, in our attitudes and actions, toward people who are different in ethnicity or race. Our attitudes and actions are usually rooted in the idea we are superior to those who are different. 

What else do we know?

We know that as Jesus followers, we believe:

  1. Racism in all its forms is sinful (James 2:1, 8-9)
  2. Racism goes against God’s design for the world. All of us belong to the family of God, we have a high calling to love other people as Christ has loved (John 13:34-35)
  3. Every person is created in the image of God and is worthy of our deep respect.
  4. When we treat anyone as lesser than anyone else, we simply are not in line with the gospel of Jesus.
  5. When we see life through the lens of God, every person we see is loved by God and equal in the sight of God.

The Reality of Racism

Even with an understanding of what racism is and what we believe as Jesus followers, the reality is racism is perpetuated in powerful ways. It comes through the clash of nations and races, the differences between cultures and politics. It also comes through the assumptions we make about one another.  Finally, it comes through the experiences we have and the teaching and modeling we have received from those who have gone before us. Racism is passed on when we teach our children what to believe about race. 

To understand our condition and to lead courageously in and through racial and social unrest, it is helpful to know how you first learned about race. What attitudes, actions, or events have shaped your life and ideas?   

South Pacific

As you think back upon your life experiences, let me tell you about the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, “South Pacific”. The issue of racial prejudice was explored through the musical. 

One song in particular created a controversy. It was sung by the character, Lieutenant Joe Cable, a United States Marine. He was in love with Liat, a young Tonkinese woman. Yes, he explored his fears of what might happen if he married her.  He struggled with his own racism. Lieutenant Joe Cable is able to overcome it sufficiently to love Liat, but not enough to take her home. He said, “Racism is not born in you, it happens after you are born.” Then he sings: 

You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught

From year to year,

It’s got to be drummed

In your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a different shade,

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You’ve got to be carefully taught!

The production of South Pacific was almost cancelled because of this one song. Written in 1949, based upon the book, Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener, the producers were told to remove the song, or the production would not go forward. Rodgers and Hammerstein defended the song. They had a story to tell, so they built the musical around the song and its implications. Even if it meant the failure of the production, the song was going to stay in the musical.

Is the Song Correct?

Think about it.

Is the song correct?

Is racism taught?

How did you learn about race when you were growing up? Are you able to trace back to when, how, and by whom you were taught? Your understanding of yourself, attitudes, thoughts, and actions regarding race is important to you being the courageous leader needed to navigate the racial unrest of our day. 

This week, to better understand your current reality and to navigate the obstacles of racial unrest, reflect upon this question, “How did I first learn about race?” Set aside a few minutes to write your thoughts down so that you can get a clear understanding of your first awareness and learnings. What experiences do you remember? Who was involved? What happened to leave an impact upon your memory? 

Recognizing Your Condition

Recognizing your condition is essential to leading courageously in the midst of racial and social unrest. You are at a critical point in your leadership. This is a unique time filled with opportunity and promise. Who you are is how you lead. Will you step into this opportunity to explore who you are in relationship to the people around you? 

We will continue this discussion in next week’s blog. We will explore our hope in part two of “Leading Through Racial Unrest.”

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.   

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this week, Amy Burgess, Rosie Red, is our guest are we explore the theme of “Rest, Relaxation, and Play.” Join us for Episode 181. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

People are ready to resume the social interactions they missed during the pandemic. They are yearning to get back to the groups and activities that brought meaning to their lives. They have rediscovered the importance of relationships and are ready to fill the void that has been created.   

Because of this longing to reestablish relationships, you are at a critical point in your leadership. You have an opportunity to step into this void and to nurture community. So, how will you lead? 

Relationships are Essential for Community

I know there are several alternatives, but the reality is you will either slide into the way things were before the pandemic or you will nurture people into new relationships. You will either allow people to close their circle of influence or you will lead them into deeper and broader interactions in their neighborhoods, towns, and cities. So, how will you lead? 

As you are thinking about it, remember that community is about the interrelatedness of people. It’s about belonging to something larger than ourselves. It helps people say, “I am a valued part of this body and have contributions to make”. The essence of community is a feeling of being in relationship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals centered in Jesus. 

Three Aspects of Community

This interrelatedness is seen in three aspects of community:

Connection

Nurturing communities facilitate connections between people. They are the places that help you develop relationships with others on several levels. There are immediate, superficial connections that cause you to look around the room and ask, “Who here is like me?” And on a deeper level, you connect with people around your stage of life, life experiences, likes, dislikes, interests, etc. When you experience connection with other people, you know you belong to something bigger than yourself.

Contribution

Nurturing communities invite you to make a contribution. Your connection leads to contributing to the community with your skills, gifts, and passions. Through your contribution, you are saying, “I am a valued part of this group and I have something to offer.”   

Care

Care is the integration of connection and contribution. When people know that you care about them, care about their talents, care about their contributions and connections to the greater community, they are more likely to be involved in the community. This doesn’t mean you have to offer all the care, but it does mean you are offering God’s love in every situation and circumstance of the community in which you are leading. Simply stated, you are loving God and loving neighbor in all that you do. 

Every community is made up of different members who work for a common purpose.  Effective leaders recognize those differences and understand that the differences are crucial for healthy community interaction and function.

Every Member 

Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth, uses the metaphor of the human body, to illustrate this point. He writes that even though the body is made of many parts, it is still one body. And even though the body includes great diversity, every member is equally a part and important to the function of the body. 

As you know, his point had nothing to do with human anatomy.  He used the metaphor to show that every follower of Christ is important and for the body to function properly, all parts of the body are needed. He points out that no one has the right to act as though he or she is separate from the body and no one has the right to exclude others from the body. For the body to function properly, all parts of the body are needed. 

God created each of us and expects us to faithfully serve according to our unique giftedness. As a leader, you view every person of your community as a crucial part and you assist every person to live out his or her giftedness in relationship with others. 

“Members of the Body”

Maybe you can think of it this way. 

One day it occurred to the Members of the Body that they were doing all the work while the Stomach did nothing but store all the food. So, the Members of the Body held a meeting and decided to strike until the Stomach consented to do its share of the work. 

The strike began. 

The Hands refused to take the food, the Mouth refused to receive it, and the Teeth had no work to do. After a day or two, the Members began to find that they themselves were in poor condition: the Hands could hardly move, and the Mouth was parched and dry, while the Legs were unable to support the rest of the Body. It was at that moment, the Members of the Body discovered that the Stomach was doing necessary work for the whole Body to be healthy.  The Members decided that they all must work together for the Body to function properly. 

Your Role as a Leader

As a leader, you work to make sure every person of your community makes their contribution to the whole of the community. 

Maybe you can think of it this way. A great orchestra had gathered to rehearse with a celebrated conductor. As the music reached a crescendo, every instrument was being played, except for one.  Distracted, the piccolo player had momentarily lost his place on the page of music.  He hoped his instrument wouldn’t be missed.  Suddenly, the conductor brought down his arm and silenced the orchestra.  He looked over the group of musicians and asked, “I didn’t hear the piccolo. Where is the piccolo?” A skilled leader, like a skilled conductor, assists every person in the community, regardless of perceived importance, to make his or her contribution. Every part of the system is crucial, even those that seem small and less significant.

Now, why is this important? For God’s love to be known by all people in creation, it takes all of us, related to each other and working together, to connect with the people beyond ourselves. Each of us has our part in the body. 

Four Functions of a Nurturing Community

To use Paul’s metaphor, what does it have to do with our part in the nurturing community, the Body of Christ? It means the following: 

1. We see through the eyes of Christ

When we see each other as God sees us, we see with the love of God. There are distinctions and differences, but no one distinction has greater value than the other. In other words, there are distinctions of black and white, male and female, east and west, but all are one in Christ. Through the eyes of Christ every person is a child of God, a person of worth. As a leader, nurturing community means, you are leading people to see each other as God sees them and to see the world in loving concern. 

There is no selective service in caring for people. Seeing through the eyes of Christ means we see all people and not just the people who are like us. Where there is suffering, poverty, injustice, hatred, etc., you assist the people entrusted to your care to see Jesus.

2. We speak with the voice of Christ

When you speak, use words of care and compassion. Don’t confine the voice of Christ to those with whom you agree or with those who agree with you. Speak to human beings in every situation and every condition.  It is not a matter of a social gospel or a personal gospel.  Nor is it a matter of who is progressive or who is conservative. No, it does not matter who is a Democrat or who is a Republican. It is a matter of God’s love spoken into the lives of every human life.  Remember Jesus’ sermon recorded in Luke 4? He used the words of Isaiah, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He had sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). 

To speak with the voice of Christ is to use your voice with words of love (agape).  Whether it be in our families or with our enemies, no area is off-limits to God’s Word (Jesus, the Word made flesh). As a leader, you have been anointed to speak the good news and to equip those entrusted to you to speak to all who will listen. 

Paul in this letter to the church in Ephesus wrote: “Let no evil talk of out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). As a leader, speak with the voice of Christ, so that those who need a kind, caring, and encouraging word, hear your voice of love, support, and care.  

3. We heal with the hands of Christ

 When you respond to human need, respond with the hands of hope and healing. Sometimes hope and healing come with grace and forgiveness. Do you remember the story of Hosea? As a prophet to Israel, Hosea’s job was to predict the nations’ exile and later restoration.  In order to illustrate God’s love for the nation, he was commanded to marry Gomer, a prostitute. He did so, but his heart was broken when she proved unfaithful and left him. Later, Hosea sought out an emotionally broken and financially destitute Gomer, forgave her, and renewed their marriage relationship.

Hosea’s love for Gomer serves as a picture of God’s love for unfaithful people.  It serves as an example for us to follow.  There will be times you are called upon, as the leader, to seek out, forgive and restore those who have wronged you. Such actions will require the compassionate and grace-filled hands of Christ. 

Sometimes hope and healing come with justice and compassion among the poor and the elderly; in the divisions that continue between races, the inequities that continue between female and male, and the widening economic gap between rich and poor. The healing of hands of Christ are needed among those who are economically deprived and politically oppressed, as well among those who have everything except what they need to make what they have worthwhile and meaningful. As a leader, assist those entrusted to you to heal with the healing hands of Christ. 

4. We breathe with the breath of Christ

We are not only a human organization or institution, we are living and breathing organisms. In fact, we have no community without the breath of Christ. On the day of Pentecost, God sent the Holy Spirit to empower the church to be agape for all people. Because of God’s love for each of us, regardless of who we are or what we have done, God uses us to reach all people with his love. That is why, as a leader, assist people in finding connections in the community and in making their contributions of hope and healing. 

A Critical Moment

You are at a critical point in your leadership. This is a unique time filled with opportunity and promise. Will you step into this opportunity to nurture community to see with the eyes of Christ, to speak with the voice of Christ, to heal with the hands of Christ, and to breathe in the breath of Christ? God has provided the people you need to take a step into this opportunity. 

Think about it and reflect upon it. How can I come alongside you to assist you in making the connections needed, to make your God-given contribution to your nurturing community? 

Remember, who you are is how you lead. Your next steps reveal your place in the Body and the God given contributions you are making. 

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.   Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this week, Sara and I  introduce our theme for June, “Rest, Relaxation, and Play.” If you want to build community, or deepen community connections, join us for Episode 180. Become a regular LeaderCast listener. Subscribe and listen to a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021.

Have you sensed the excitement of the people around you as the directives of the pandemic are being loosened? People are ready to get back to gathering. Whether it is with family, neighborhoods and playgrounds, schools and churches, weddings, graduations, birthday parties, reunions, funerals, etc., people are ready to get back to the community aspects of their lives. 

Before the pandemic, community life consumed most of our time.  Our interactions with one another influenced the way we thought and felt about the world and each other. We came together to exchange information, to inspire one another, and to develop relationships that brought a deep richness and joy to our lives. 

Community

Over the past year, the absence of gathering in community groups and activities has left a void that many people are ready to fill. Because people are hungry and yearning for the relationships of community, you have a unique opportunity to develop and nurture the social interactions people are missing. You were created to lead at this point and time in history. So, how will you lead? There might be other choices or alternatives, but the way I perceive it, you will either slide into the way things were before the pandemic or you will lead into a new way of living and loving. 

Remember, community is about the interrelatedness of people. It’s about belonging to something larger than ourselves. It helps people say, “I am a valued part of this body and have contributions to make”. The essence of community is a feeling of being in relationship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals centered in Jesus.  

With that in mind, I am assuming that you want to lead people into relationships that bring value and joy to their lives. So, how can you take advantage of this opportunity? Below are three questions to help bring clarity to your leading. 

1.What is the purpose of your gathering? 

To nurture community, you must keep your purpose or your mission in mind.  Your purpose becomes your plumb line for your decisions. 

Maybe you could think of it this way: We gather to worship. We gather to solve problems and make decisions. We gather to celebrate, to mourn, and to mark transitions. We gather because we need one another. We gather to honor and to acknowledge. We gather to strengthen our schools and neighborhoods. We gather to welcome, and we gather to say goodbye. There are many good reasons for coming together as a community, but too often we don’t know why we are getting together. What could happen if you looked at each gathering as an opportunity to focus upon your purpose?    

You nurture community by bringing meaning to your gathering. Without a focus upon why you are getting together, you end up meeting in ways that don’t connect with or nurture the people entrusted to your care. 

IRL Example

Let’s say the purpose of your community is to grow Jesus followers who live, and love like him.  Your Finance committee is gathering for their regular meeting. What is the purpose of their gathering? If you say the committee is meeting to oversee the finances of the church, to pay the bills, and to discuss ways to raise revenue, you would be correct in that is what they do. To focus only upon what they do without the plumb line of your purpose, people begin to solve all the problems of the church. They begin to talk about the people who only take but never give. The idea of scarcity sets in and they begin to protect the assets of the community. There is an uneasiness and tension which tears at the fabric of trust and compassion. 

I think you would agree, that is not the purpose of the Finance committee. You nurture community by leading the Finance community in developing the relationships that help people grow as Jesus followers who live, and love like him. So, as the leader, how do you take advantage of the opportunity? Could you introduce a devotional moment focused on scripture? Have members of the group answer a question like, “Who was someone who was influential in you becoming a follower of Jesus?” Or have members pray specifically for one another? 

You already know you can do the same with any group that meets. The question is, how will you take advantage of these opportunities to nurture relationships. 

Explore the blog and podcast page to explore examples of how others are leading and loving in a new way. (Note: Episodes 159 – 162 of Leadercast are all about Purpose.) The point is there are resources to assist you in developing and putting into action a plan for living into your purpose. 

2. Who are the people involved in your gathering?

To nurture community, you build up and equip the people entrusted to your care. People are your greatest resource. 

Every group is made up of different individuals who work for a common purpose. As the leader, you look for the potential in each person and you develop that potential. You not only recognize their strengths and gifts, but you also realize that a diversity of strengths and differences in ability are crucial for the health of the group.  

Each person has unique strengths and gifts for the good of the community. Individuals might find pleasure and joy in their specific gifts, but the gifts are given to the group. As a leader, you have the opportunity to assist in discovering and developing the strengths and gifts of the group. To put it another way, you have the opportunity to lead people into becoming who God has created them to be. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, wrote it this way, “…until we all reach unity in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of God” Ephesians 4:13.

According to Paul, Jesus understood the importance of building up and equipping people.  From his perspective, the people nurtured by Jesus were the foundation stones of his movement, “some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 14:11). Each person was given unique gifts to enhance the community of followers.  The gifts were given not only for the enjoyment of the recipients but for the purpose of having all people become who God had created them to be.

Building Up and Equipping People

By building up and equipping the people entrusted to your care, you can find pleasure in developing their strengths and capabilities. There is satisfaction in finding the potential in others, treating even difficult people with dignity and compassion.

Maybe you will consider this. Jesus saw great potential in his disciples. The potential that might have been overlooked by others, was developed by Jesus investing his life in them.  Barnabas did the same in his relationship with Saul. He worked to develop that potential until he had the pleasure of seeing Saul become Paul (Acts 11:1-14:28). Paul did the same with Onesimus (Philemon 1-25). Consider the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 and Paul’s emphasis upon building up the lives of others in II Timothy 2:2

People are your greatest resource. Who are the people entrusted to you? In whom will you invest your life so they and you will become who God has created you to be? 

Sara Thomas can assist you in discovering the strengths of the people entrusted to you.

3. How will you model the love of God with the people around you? 

Jesus told his followers to love one another in the same way he loved them. This was a new and different kind of love. You live this love by:

  • Being quick to listen and slow to speak. You elevate the importance of a person when you take them seriously by listening. It is important for people to know that you care enough to listen to them.
  • Being patient and slow to anger. Regardless of how unkind and hurtful people might be, you show the same patience with others as God has shown to you.
  • Being kind. You build meaningful relationships when you are kind. Being kind helps with connection and cooperation, as well as trust and well-being.
  • Being generous. You are slow to pass judgment and quick to offer grace. You freely offer space and time for people to be who they have been created to be. Ask questions like “How can I help you?” or “What do you need from me to do what you need to do?”  

Showing Love

The early followers of Jesus showed love in everything they did.  For them, to love God and to love the people around them was the motivation for everything. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Everything should be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:14 CEB).

If you need assistance in living in the love experienced in and through Jesus, invite 3 to 5 people to join you once a week for an hour to discover and discuss what it means to live in a relationship with one another. Remember, at the heart of our relationships is the love of God we know in and through Jesus. Jesus is our common bond and it is greater than anything or anyone else.  It is the love of God who draws us into community and who loves us in and through each other. 

Again, you can explore blog posts and podcast episodes to encourage and guide you. In fact, this section on “How will you model the love of God with the people around you?” is directly from two blog posts: One Never-Before Opportunity to Lead and One Thing More Important Than Mission.

People are hungry and yearning for the relationships they have missed over the past year. You have a unique opportunity to develop and nurture those relationships for this point and time in history. So, how will you lead? Will you slide into the way things were before the pandemic or lead to a new way of living and loving? 

Who you are is how you lead. What is one thing you will do this week to help you lead into this new way of living and loving?

Reminders

As I have mentioned throughout this blog, when you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.  

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this week, Sara and I continue our conversation with April Casperson, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the West Ohio Conference. This will be Part 2 of our conversation of working better across differences.   

If you want to build community, or deepen community connections, join us for Episode 179. If you have not been a regular LeaderCast listener, you will want to start with this episode. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021.  

We are on the downhill side of the pandemic.  Several of the mandates, like wearing masks outside and the number of people gathering in public places, are being relaxed. Much of what we could not do over the past year is coming back. With that in mind, how are you leading or preparing to lead into this “new normal”?

Are you expecting things to go back to the way they were? Are you building upon some of the things you learned? Do you have a plan for bringing people back together into community? Things have changed. How are you leading your community out of the pandemic and into a new reality? 

The Moment Things Changed

As you reflect upon these questions, let’s look at a moment in time when things changed and a new way of leading emerged. The moment of change is recorded in the bible as The Day of Pentecost found in the second chapter of The Acts of the Apostles. 

On the Day of Pentecost, one hundred and twenty discouraged, self-absorbed, willful, frightened, powerless men and women were transformed into new people. They lived through an experience that brought about a new intellectual and emotional reality.  

Through their experience, they began to communicate in ways that connected with people. In that connection, the people who were curious asked, “What does this mean?”  As in all new experiences, the people who were cynical viewed the experience as nonsense. 

An Opportunity to Lead

Both the curious questions and the cynical comments were received as an opportunity to lead people into a new reality. Simon Peter, taking advantage of the moment, began to give his account of what had happened, beginning with his experience of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and continuing through the presence of Jesus on that very day. He explained God’s offer of love (agape) and relationship (community) in Jesus. He clearly named current reality when he told them about people who had refused God’s invitation. Then he offered hope when he explained what could happen to those who would receive the invitation. 

Many of the curious, when they experienced the leadership of Simon Peter asked, “What shall we do?”  He was ready with clear direction. “It is time to change the way we have been looking at things. A new normal is here. God’s love is greater than we have ever imagined.” Then he gave clear directions for living into the new normal.   

A New Way of Leading

In the midst of the change, a new way of leading emerged. The people who followed, were received in a new normal of love and relationship, They devoted themselves to learning new ways to live together in koinonia (community). 

If you are saying that there is a world of difference between a COVID pandemic and the Day of Pentecost, you are correct. But just as the Day of Pentecost was an opportunity to love and live differently, the COVID pandemic provides the same opportunity.  

Do you have a plan for bringing people back together into community? Even though some things have changed, other things have not changed. As you are leading your community out of the pandemic and into a new reality, keep in mind the following:

1. You are part of a learning community

Be persisted in learning new ways for a new day.  Learn from the people around you. Learn from authors and teachers. Learning is at the heart leading.

2. You are nurturing community

The word “koinonia” means having in common or in fellowship.  At the heart of fellowship or relationship is the love of God (agape). We know that love in and through Jesus. Jesus is our common bond and it is greater than anything or anyone else.  It is the love of God we have experienced in Jesus who draws us into community and who loves us in and through each other.  

3. You are in a community of prayer

Community life is lived out as unselfish and non-manipulative concern and caring for one another. It takes time to be together to listen to each other, care, and be for each other.   Prayer together becomes the time of communication with God, who replenishes us, so we are unselfish in care and concern.

4. You are a worshipping community

In worship, we express outwardly the presence of God’s love living within us, as we affirm our love for one another. People are attracted to the joy of the community. They want to be with loving people. 

A New Way of Living

The reality is you are on the downhill side of the pandemic. You will either slide into the way things were before or you will lead into a new way of living and loving. 

You have an opportunity to lead into a new day. This opportunity never presented itself before and will be present only for a short period of time. So, what one thing will you do to change and be the leader people need and want for this new day? 

Remember, who you are is how you lead. So, keep your purpose in mind. Love the people around you. Communicate clearly and directly. And when the time is right, invite people to join you on this journey into a post-pandemic reality. We have been created for this moment in time. 

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.  

A Reminder

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this week, Sara and I have a conversation with April Casperson, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the West Ohio Conference. April shares grace-filled wisdom about community, relationships, and  diversity. Her role is to help people work better across differences. 

If you want to build community, or deepen community connections, join us for Episode 178. If you have not been a regular LeaderCast listener, you will want to start with this episode. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021.  

Over the past year, in the midst of a pandemic, you have done some amazing things. You have kept yourself and the people you are leading focused upon the mission. You have learned new ways of doing important things. You have identified obstacles and navigated around them. You have even discovered and developed the potential in people who have stepped up to serve. Well done! 

As you reflect upon what you have accomplished, what would you say has been the most important thing you have done as a leader? Now, you might not agree with me, but as I look at it, the most important thing you have done is nurture community. 

What Does It Mean to Nurture Community?

Community is about the interrelatedness of people. It’s about belonging to something larger than ourselves. It helps people say, “I am a valued part of this body and have contributions to make”. The essence of community is a feeling of being in relationship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals centered in Jesus. 

Through a stressful time of disconnection, you have been a catalyst to holding people together. You have done more than manage people and coordinate events. You have nurtured community.

What does it mean to nurture community?    

Agape

To answer that question, let’s start with the biblical image of “agape”. Although “agape” is not a word we used in our everyday language, it is a concept found in the New Testament of the Bible. It is a Greek word, rarely found in the non-Christian Greek literature, used to describe the distinct kind of love found in the community of Jesus followers. It is the love embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus. This kind of love is at the heart of Christian community.  

Agape defines God’s immeasurable, incomparable love for us, all of us, as human beings. It is God’s ongoing, outgoing, self-sacrificing interest and concern for creation. God loves you, me, humanity, and all creation without condition. 

To put it another way, this love is not contingent on any value or worth of the object being loved. It is spontaneous and does not consider beforehand whether love will be effective or proper. It is the extension of God’s love lived out in and through our relationships with each other. 

Agape love is: 

More than an emotion. 

It is the highest form of love described and experienced in the Bible. As much as I like Hallmark Christmas movies, the love that holds the community together is not a Hallmark movie love. As much as we talk about the church being a family, this love is greater than friends and family. In fact, this love is greater than race, color, or belief.

More than unity. 

As much as I dislike conflict, this love is not about “getting along” with one another. Sometimes, for the sake of unity, we set this love aside and become nice instead of loving. It is in the midst of our differences and disagreements that this love is the source of our relationships. The purpose of the early church was not unity but agape, the love of God as experience in Jesus.

More than transactional. 

Too many times we talk of loving others so we can save their souls, get them into the church, or meet our budgets. This love is greater than our institutional concerns.  We love because God in Christ first loved us.  Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This love is about being who God created us to be for no other reason that being who God created us to be.

Expressed through action. 

Too often we talk about love and loving others but are slow to live the love we talk about. John, in his first letter wrote, “Those who say, ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen! This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also” (I John 4:19-21).

I have a friend who tells of when his son came into his office one day and said, “Dad, can we go to the park and practice ball today?” My friend said he was busy and told his son they would go later. His son came to him everyday that week asking him to go to the park and practice ball. It so happened that every time his son came to him, he could not go to the park at that moment. At the end of the week, the boy came to him again, “Dad, can we go to the park today?” My friend replied that they could go later. It was at this point that the boy looked at his father and said, “Dad, we have been talking about going to the park all week.  When are we going to do it?”

A different kind of love. 

Jesus told his followers to love one another in the same way he loved them. This was a new and different kind of love. You live this love by:  

Listening

You are quick to listen and slow to speak. You elevate the importance of a person when you take them seriously by listening. It is important for people to know that you care enough to listen to them. Too often, in conversations, we are forming our responses and interrupting before the other person finishes speaking.  As important as your position and opinion might be, it is more important to listen, especially to those with whom you disagree.

Being Patient

You are slow to anger. You are patient with people more than patient with circumstances. Regardless of how unkind and hurtful people might be, you show the same patience with others as God has shown with you. The patience of love always wins.

Being Kind

On one hand, you are quick to compliment and to affirm, and on the other hand, you are clear with feedback. You build meaningful relationships when you are kind. Being kind helps with connection and cooperation, as well as trust and well-being.

Being Generous

You are slow to pass judgment and quick to offer grace. You freely offer space and time for people to be who they have been created to be. So, when people don’t move as fast as you, you are generous with “they are doing the best they can do.” Then you ask, “How can I help you?” or “What do you need from me to do what you need to do?” Being generous means, you are providing what is at the time. 

This love is so important, that the early followers of Jesus showed love in everything they did.  For them, to love God and to love the people around them was motivation for everything. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Everything should be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:14 CEB). Agape love is the essence of God. So, it makes sense to love one another as God has loved us. 

With that in mind, there is one thing more important than the mission. Without it, there is no mission and there is no church.

One Thing More Important

Fred Craddock tells the following story, “I was walking one afternoon, and I passed a corner where a man was doing something that fascinated me.  I stopped my walk and watched him.  He had a pile of bricks, and the thing he was doing was measuring each brick; how long it was, how wide it was, and how deep it was.  He threw a bunch of good-looking bricks out.  He said, “I have to get them all exactly the same.” 

I asked, “Why?” 

He said, “I’m building a church and I want it to stand.” 

Craddock said, “There are people who think that the way to really have a church is to get people that are from the same economic and social and educational background, then they will all be together.”  He said, “The man started stacking those brinks; they were all just alike.  I went by the next afternoon, and they were all just piles of brick.  They fell down.” 

I went on around the corner, and I saw a man with a pile of rocks.  You have never seen such a mess in your life.  No two of them alike, round one, dark ones, small ones, big ones, and little ones.  I said, “What in the world are you doing?” 

He said, “I’m building a church.” 

I said, “You are nuts!  The fellow around the corner had them all alike, and he couldn’t make it stand.” 

He said, “This will stand.” 

“No, it won’t.  It won’t stand.” 

“Yes, it will.” 

Craddock said, “You can’t get it to stand.  The fellow around the corner… 

The man said, “It will stand.” 

The man went over to a wood tray, took something like a hoe, and began to stir something back and forth.  It looked a lot like cement to me, but that’s not what he called it.  He put healthy doses of that between the stones.  I went back thirty-four years later, and it was still there.  It was that stuff in between that looked a lot like cement that made the difference.  That’s not what he called it.  But you know what it’s called. 

There is one thing more important than mission. You know what it is, don’t you? Let me know what difference it makes in how you lead within your community.

Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

A Reminder

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this week, Sara and I continue our discussion on “community” with our guest, Christ Wiseman. Chris is the pastor of the Marne, Smith Chapel, and Perryton United Methodist Churches. If you have not been a LeaderCast listener, I invite you to join us for Episode 177. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021.