Words are Powerful

Are you familiar with the cartoon B.C.?

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

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

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

Yes, words are powerful.

Words Create Worlds

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

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

A word from the Word

As I have reflected upon our situation, I have wondered if we are anything like the church at Ephesus. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul wrote, “Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that builds up and provides what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.”

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

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

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

Ephesians 4:25 – 4:29

Let’s look at this passage closely.

Ephesians 4:25

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

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

Ephesians 4:26

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

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

Ephesians 4:28

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

Ephesians 4:29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Final Reminder

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

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

“Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that builds up and provides what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (Ephesians 4:29 TEV).

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

 

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

Over the past several weeks, I have been thinking of who you and I need to be in the midst of the stress and anxiety of our United Methodist Church. I’ve been thinking:

  • Who or what makes us who we need to be for the congregations and communities we serve?
  • What makes any one of us effective in our leadership?

Over the years of my ministry, I have learned that I become a more effective leader when I have clarity about who I am and why I do what I do. I have learned that I become a more effective leader when I trust who God has created me to be. Edwin Friedman calls this self-differentiation.¹

Self-Differentiated Leaders

How do you and I become self-differentiated leaders? What helps us remember who we are as Jesus followers and keeps us focused upon why we do what we do?

Jonathan Saks, in his book Lessons in Leadership, writes,

“The great leaders know their own limits. They do not try to do it all themselves. They build teams. They create space for people who are strong where they are weak. They understand the importance of checks and balances and the separation of powers. They surround themselves with people who are different from them. They understand the danger of concentrating all power in a single individual. But learning your limits, knowing there are things you cannot do – even things you cannot be – can be a painful experience. Sometimes it involves an emotional crisis.”

According to Saks, effective leaders are honest with themselves. They have the courage to say yes to who they are and no to who they are not.  Even in the midst of pain and conflict, they emerge less conflicted and more focused than before.

Great leaders practice self-differentiation. They know their strengths and build teams to support their shortcomings. Learn more on the blog post. #leadership #leader #transformingmission #bloggers Transforming MissionBiblical Examples of Self Differentiation

Saks uses examples of people like:

  • Lot, a Hebrew and not a citizen of Sodom. Lot leaves Sodom with difficulty. He has invested his whole future in a new identity for himself and his family.  Lot is paralyzed by ambivalence.  He is torn with inner conflict. Yet, he leaves Sodom. (Genesis 19:16ff)
  • Abraham’s steward is given the responsibility of finding a suitable mate for Isaac. The steward is ambivalent. He hesitates because he is conflicted between loyalty to Abraham and his personal ambition. Loyalty won but not without a deep struggle. (Genesis 24:12ff)
  • Joseph is living in a new and strange land. He is seduced by Potipher’s wife. He refuses her advances.  But he has great inner conflict.  He struggles with who he is. Why not do what the Egyptians do?  He struggles with is identity, “Am I an Egyptian or a Jew?” (Genesis 39:7ff)

Effective leadership, according to Saks, grows out of our struggle in the midst of a conflict of values.  So, in the midst of the stress and anxiety of our United Methodist Church, what helps us remember who we are as Jesus followers and keeps us focused upon why we do what we do?

Remember

At baptisms in our local churches, we hear the words, “remember your baptism and be thankful.” We are saying, remember who you are and whose we are.

In baptism, we acknowledge that we are claimed by God, initiated into the Christian community, and called to ministry.  In Luke’s story of the baptism of Jesus, the words are, “you are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”

As effective leaders, we remember that we are God’s beloved and that we are part of God’s plan and purpose.  So, in the midst of stress and anxiety, remember who and whose you are.

In the church, when participating in Holy Communion, we hear the words, “do this in remembrance of me.” In other words, remember why you do what you do.

The word “remembrance” means to “wake up, to open your eyes, to call to mind or action.”  In Holy Communion, we wake up to why we do what we do.

Integrity and authenticity are necessary for leaders. Being who you are is not an act of arrogance, it is an act of self-awareness. Learn more on the blog post. #self-awareness #leadership #leader #transformingmission #bloggers

Who Do You Need to Be?

As effective leaders, we must wake up to why we do what we do.  So, in the midst of stress and anxiety, remember why you are in this ministry as a follower of Jesus.

I have been thinking of who you and I need to be in the midst of the stress and anxiety of our United Methodist Church.  I believe we need to be leaders of authenticity and integrity.  We need to be courageous, more dependent upon character and charisma.  We need to be strong from the inside out and have the capacity to model and share God’s love in difficult situations.

Together, we need to be missional leaders who can and will lead our congregations to engage our communities, neighborhoods, and cities in love of God in the midst of stress and anxiety.  In short, we need to be self-differentiated leaders who know who we are in relationship with Jesus, our congregations, and our communities.

As Jesus followers, be who you are. Even if leading is painful, stand firm in faith and move forward with grace.

 

  1. Edwin Friedman, Generation to Generation and A Failure of Nerve

I wrote a few weeks ago that every Friday I am answering four questions. The first question is this: Who or what am I trusting?

In the midst of the decisions made at General Conference and my desire to coach our pastors through this season, I answered that question by saying, “I’m trusting Jesus.”

My purpose here is not to delineate the plans or debate the choices made at General Conference. My purpose here is to say, I am trusting Jesus to help us embody the love of God to one another in our words, our actions, and our interactions.

I am trusting Jesus to help us remember who we are and whose we are. All so we can love God, love our neighbors, and change the world.

To that end, Tim and I extended an invitation to the appointed pastors in Capitol Area South District to join us on Thursday at one of two clergy gatherings. Our desire is to help the appointed pastors continue to be the leaders they need in this season of ministry. (Appointed Pastors, please contact the CAS Office if you didn’t receive the invitation last Friday.)

As Christian disciples, in the midst of times of stress and conflict, we trust Jesus. Read more at the link above. #trust #jesus #church #faith #pastors #coaching #transformingmission Transforming MissionWhat values are at play?

If there is anything that I can say one week after General Conference, it is this: there are A LOT of intense feelings swirling around us and in our faith communities.

So, in addition to the questions above, I invite you to consider this question: Underneath the feelings you have, what values are at play? This question is meant to help you begin to process what you are feeling, not to debate the merits of the General Conference decisions.

Our feelings are often driven by our values. When our values are pressed or denied, we can find ourselves in conflict. To explore what you’re feeling, consider the 3-4 values driving your feelings.

If you’re feeling…

  • anxious, what value is underneath it?
  • victorious, what value is underneath it?
  • hurt, what value is underneath it?
  • confused, what value is underneath it?
  • relieved, what value is underneath it?
  • sad, what value is underneath it?
  • ___, what value is underneath it?

An Invitation

I have had countless conversations with pastors and people in our congregations. General Conference has left a large number of individuals with a need to further explore their reactions, feelings, and responses. Helping people in processing is what I have been trained to do as a coach – in complete confidentiality and impartiality.

As many of you know, we created Coaching Cohorts for pastors in the district. In addition, I am making myself available for one-time, individual coaching conversations for pastors during this time.

I have created some space in my calendar over the next several weeks.
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This conversation would be different from some interactions you might have because the purpose is not to commiserate, celebrate or persuade. My commitment is to objectively help you explore your feelings, needs and responses in an environment of complete confidentiality.
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Click here to let me know if a generative conversation for the purpose of processing would be helpful to you right now.

I’m trusting Jesus. Are you? Wherever you find yourself, may you be reminded of the love of God we know in Jesus. Or as I often like to say, “God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like a tree planted by the water:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be a Courageous Leader

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

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

 

Take Action:

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

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

051: We have a disciple-making problem

052: Can I trust you?

053: Four Essential Phases of Building Relationships

054: Habits that Keep us Grounded

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

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

 

Note:

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

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

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

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

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

Shaping a Generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Participating in God’s Story

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

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

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

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

An Invitation to Tell Your Story

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

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

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

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

 

There is a one in seven chance that you’re reading this on Friday. Why then, am I writing about TGIF? If you think it’s about Friday being a “day off” or the importance of Sabbath, no, that’s not it. It’s not about the TGIF (Thank Goodness It’s Friday!) most of us know.

It’s about asking different questions. This is about being intentional with living and leading. And, it’s about what a weekly ritual is teaching me.

Life moves at a crazy, quick pace. As a result, I found myself, at times, going through the motions and not always being intentional, grateful, or consistent in reflecting on my life, leadership, and ministry.

TGIF is more than thank goodness it's friday. It's a weekly practice of reflecting on where God is moving in the midst of trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith. Read the questions at the link above. #church #faith #jesus #tgif #transformingmission Transforming MissionThe Ongoing Work of Transformation

Colleagues and friends would ask me questions, on occasion, that moved me to a new place. But, if all leadership begins with self-leadership, there were things that needed to improve. In short, I was seeking the ongoing work of transformation. I also know all too well the impact reflection has on transformation. If you want growth, stop and reflect.

Somewhere in 2018, I read about a TGIF practice. I wish I could put my fingers on where it came from. All I remembered is it didn’t actually stand for Thank Goodness It’s Friday. TGIF stood for four different words. Here’s how I’ve chosen to represent TGIF: trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith.

Then, I put those four words into four questions I’m answering every Friday (or Saturday, Sunday, or Monday…more on that in a minute). Here are the four questions:

Four Questions

❶ What am I TRUSTING?
❷ For whom or what am I GRATEFUL?
❸ What is INSPIRING me?
❹ How am I practicing FAITH?

I’m only five weeks into fifty-two weeks of TGIF. Here are the lessons I am learning.

Five Lessons I’m Learning from TGIF

Lesson 1: Practice Doesn’t Necessitate Perfection

I’ve completed TGIF five times and only two actually happened on a Friday. There are times I can beat myself up for missing a routine, ritual, or daily practice. This time, I’m trying to remind myself practice doesn’t need to be perfect. Sometimes late is better than never. This isn’t a tax deadline, after all. It doesn’t matter when I do it. I can’t fail at a ritual I created and started on my own!

Your turn: What expectations do you place on yourself? Are the expectations realistic?

Lesson 2: Be Surprised By the Past

Sometimes reflection takes you back 20 years. During the first week of TGIF, I learned of the death of one of my grad school professors. While it was almost 20 years since we were last in the same room together, his death reminded me of what he taught me about trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith. He was larger than life and wise beyond comprehension. I’m not sure I would have paused to give God thanks for Peter’s life and legacy if I hadn’t adopted this practice.

Your turn: Who is influencing your life, ministry, and/or leadership?

Lesson 3: Random Weeks v. Theme Weeks

There are weeks in our lives that are filled with a theme. Other weeks are filled with a million random things. Trying to make sense of what I am trusting, grateful for, inspired by, and how I am practicing faith during the “million little things” weeks seem like a leap of faith. Both are ok. Just be aware of what is happening.

Your turn: Are you having a theme week or a random week? Which would you prefer?

Lesson 4: Reflection Multiplies Learning

Over the first five weeks of the new year, I continue to learn more about myself as a leader, a person, a friend, etc. For years, I have a daily practice of reflecting on where God is moving. But, stopping to ask a question of trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith is making me dig a little deeper, reflect a little more, and pay attention to the moments I’m not trusting, feeling grateful, inspired, or faithful. No, I don’t beat myself up, I simply pause and notice that it’s happening. Usually, it points to something else stirring in my soul.

Your turn: When will you pause and reflect on the four questions above?

Lesson 5: Social Media is weird.

You weren’t expecting that one, were you? Me either. I’ve accidentally posted portions of my reflections on Facebook from Instagram two times. (oops!) Each time, I’ve been surprised that people have been curious, commented on needing to pause to reflect, and wanting to embrace this practice. And now you know why I’m posting this here. Sometimes accidents bring lessons that we need to share with others. Social media may be weird, but it can also be helpful if we use it appropriately.

Your turn: What mistakes have you made on social media that surprised you with goodness?

Keep Growing

The greatest gift of the first five weeks of 2019? Pausing to see a thread through my life that calls me and others to deeper self-awareness so I can continue to grow. After all, if I’m going to be who God created me to be, I’m going to need to keep growing.

Wondering what this looks like in practice? You can find last week’s reflection here SaraThomas.net  Here’s last week’s reflection. Or follow me @sara.b.thomas on Instagram for a brief reflection each Friday (or Saturday.)

Perhaps you’ll adopt or adapt this practice to make it your own. Or maybe you have your own self-reflection. Let us know below in the comments!

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Relationship or In the Right?

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

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

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

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

Courageous Leadership

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

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

Evidence of Spiritual Fruit 

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

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

It’s Not a Scarcity Problem

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

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

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

It’s a Relationship Problem

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

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

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

In Christ, 

Tim Bias and Sara Thomas

 

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

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

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

Now, how do you feel?

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

Just how furious would you be?

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

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

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

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

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

When what gets in the way becomes the way transforming misssion

The Truth of Courageous Leadership

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

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

You Can’t Handle the Truth

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

Tom Cruise says, “I want the truth!”

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

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

What Gets in the Way of Courageous Leadership

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

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

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

13 Behaviors that Get in the Way

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

What’s the Solution?

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

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

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

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

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

when what gets in the way becomes the way transforming missoin

An Invitation to Practice

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

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

In Christ,

Tim Bias and Sara Thomas

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improving the Acoustics Transforming Mission Blog

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

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

Important Events

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

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

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

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

“Well, how was it?”

“A bit scary.”

“Scary?”

“Yes, I found it a bit frightening.”

“How so?”

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

“Then will you come back?”

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

A Day Ruined by Jesus

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

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

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

Who wants to have a nice day ruined by Jesus?

Listen to him:

If you have two coats;

go the second mile;

turn the other cheek;

if you love only those who love you;

forgive seventy times seven;

love your enemies;

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

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

you fool, where is all your stuff now;

God is kind even to the ungrateful and wicked;

do not be anxious about tomorrow.

Improving the acoustics Transforming Mission

New Resolve, New Hope, New Vision

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

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

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

Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk

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

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

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

Improve the Acoustics

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

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