Tag Archive for: discipleship

As you engage in the mission of practicing your faith, you will find it to be the simplest yet the most difficult aspect of HOPE. (Read Preparing for Mission: Practicing Your Faith Part One and Preparing for Mission: Practicing Your Faith Part Two). 

It is simple because it is the one aspect of HOPE that you participate in the most. Whether it be Sunday School classes, small groups, worship, administrative meetings, rehearsals, training, the list goes on. You have the opportunity to rehearse or practice your faith through activities and programs. 

It is difficult because to practice your faith is more than anything goes.  To engage in the mission of practicing your faith means you are about God’s business, focused upon the mission, living out who God has created you to be. You are applying what you are rehearsing in your everyday living. 

Building H.O.P.E.

As you build systems of hospitality in which you reach out at receive people, of offering Christ in which you introduce people to the Christian faith, and practicing your faith in which you nurture people in their faith, you have the opportunity to assist them in learning about Jesus, what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and how to live out their faith in everyday situations and circumstances.    

So, you engage the mission of practicing faith as you invite people into the movement of God’s grace and equip them for the mission of God’s love, you provide opportunities for them to practice by learning and growing in their faith. As simple as it sounds, the difficulty is in keeping focused on God’s business of loving others as you have been loved. 

The Means of Grace

John Wesley knew it was difficult. That is why he developed what he called “the means of grace.” It is in and through the practice of daily prayer, reading, studying, and reflecting on the scriptures, regularly attending worship, celebrating Holy Communion, conversations about faith, regular fasting for reflection, and doing acts of mercy which include humanitarian acts of compassion or social justice acts of advocacy. People experience God’s love and learn to share God’s love through practicing the “means of grace.” 

We usually talk of the “means of grace” as personal practices of individuals. Wesley instituted class meetings and bands as ways of assisting individuals in their personal faith development. Individual practice of the means of grace is good and essential to personal faith development. 

But corporate participation in the “means of grace” leads to another level of practicing faith.  

Learn about God’s Business

Below are three ways of practicing the means of grace that will not add activities to your over-scheduled calendar. You already have the structure in place. 

Below are three ways to participate in the means of grace whether you are engaging in a Sunday School class, small group, administrative meetings (Administrative Council, Leaderboard, Finance, Trustees, Pastor Parish Relations, etc.) rehearsals, training, or other gatherings of your church community.   

Make every gathering, meeting, rehearsal, class, training, an opportunity to learn about God’s business. 

Ways to Practice the Means of Grace

At the beginning of every meeting, ask people to gather in groups of two or three.  Explain to them that our job is to be about God’s business and one way to be about God’s business is to read and reflect upon the Scripture. This exercise should not take more than 10 minutes. 

First, Read and Reflect on the Scripture. 

Be creative. You might use the scripture text you will be using on Sunday morning, you might provide a guided study of a book of the Bible, you might have a mission focus, or you might center on special events in the life of the church. (If you use a scripture like Isaiah 43:18 ff, you can use the text for several meetings). The point is to take advantage of every gathering. Every time you gather, read and reflect upon the Scripture. 

Second, Give a brief exegesis or explanation of the Scripture. 

Again, be creative. Don’t leave the context, specific intention, or form of the scripture to a “anything goes” interpretation. You are providing an opportunity for reflection and conversation by giving the context and the intention of what has been read. Take advantage of the opportunity to “do” a little Bible study. Every time you gather, read, reflect upon, and respond to the Scripture. 

Third, Provide a few minutes for conversation.

By providing a few minutes for conversation, you open space to talk about what has been read and expounded upon by asking several guided questions. For example: if the scripture is Isaiah 43:18-19, 

“Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?” 

It might help to give some directions at this point. The questions are not designed as “like” or “dislike” questions. They are questions to stimulate thought, reflection, and conversation. The questions you might ask are: What new things are happening in your life? What new things are you participating in with your family, at work, on the golf course? (You get the point) What new things are happening in our church? How are you participating in the new things that are happening? 

Fourth, have each little group pray for the others in their group. 

At first, you might have one person pray for their group. As you continue with this process of “practicing faith,” you might ask each person to offer a prayer for each person in the group.

As you can see, this exercise provides the opportunity to practice the “means of grace” as well as assist leaders develop healthy relationships.  As simple as it sounds, it will not be easy. But it is one way to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the church and community. 

Practicing the Means of Grace – Example 2

Another way to make every gathering, meeting, rehearsal, class, training, an opportunity to learn about God’s business is similar to the exercise above. 

Again, at the beginning of every meeting, ask people to gather in groups of two or three.  Explain to them that our job is to be about God’s business and one way to be about God’s business is to recognize God’s love and God’s presence in everyday and ordinary experiences. This exercise should not take more than 10 minutes. 

Over a period of time, weeks if your group meets weekly or months if your group meets monthly, ask a series of questions. In the beginning, limit the discussion to “one question” per meeting. Below are examples of questions that will help people be more focused on God’s business. 

  • Where did you see or experience Jesus this past week? 
  • Who has God unexpectedly put into your life who has helped you learn about yourself? 
  • Where or with whom have you experienced God’s love? 
  • With whom have you shared God’s love? 

Be creative with your questions. The point is to assist people in recognizing God’s love and presence in everyday situations and circumstances. Providing an opportunity to practice will help them become more aware of what God is doing in their midst. It also helps shape them into followers of Jesus who make a difference in their everyday living. 

Celebrating Holy Communion is Practicing the Means of Grace

As you assist people in practicing the “means of grace,” what would happen, if once a quarter or twice a year, you celebrated Holy Communion with every gathering, meeting, rehearsal, class, or training? As a means of grace, Holy Communion keeps you focused on God’s business. In fact, Jesus’ words “do this in remembrance of me” provides the invitation to keep your focus on God’s movement of grace and mission of love, whether the meeting is Administrative or spiritual in nature. 

Providing opportunities for people to engage in the mission of practicing their faith is part of your work as a Christ-centered leader. You are assisting them to develop their inner faith so they can and will practice their faith beyond themselves. As they practice their faith together, they will practice their faith outside each gathering. As you help them identify Jesus in their midst, they will discover new ways to love others as God in Jesus has loved them. Your church and community will begin to change as the focus on God’s love becomes a way of living for the people entrusted to your care. 

It’s Your Turn to Practice the Means of Grace

How will you participate in the “means of grace” today? With whom will you practice your faith? In what new way will you love others the way God in Christ has loved you? 

Practicing your faith helps to turn your inner faith into an outward expression of love and care. How will you practice your faith today? 

Take a moment to pray: O God, make me aware of the people around me today. By your grace, help me be an extension of your love in the lives of the people you send my way. Help me yield a little more of myself so that I may love others as you have loved me in Jesus. Help me be faithful to your call upon my life so that I may be a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Amen

 

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you practice your faith? How did you participate in the “means of grace.” With whom did you share God’s love? Where and in whom did you experience Jesus today? With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced today? What will you do differently tomorrow?

Keep in mind, as you engage others in the mission of practicing faith, you are becoming the Christ-centered leader God has created you to be.  Who you are is how you lead.

Let’s begin where I ended Part 1. 

Here are a few reminders to ground us: 

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

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


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

Trend 1 – Declining participation 

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

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

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

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

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

Trend 2 – Reinvent Ministries at Least Every 3 years

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

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

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

Why do I say every reinvent every 3 years? 

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

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

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

What’s Reinvention About?

Reinvention is about:

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

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

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

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

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

Reinvention includes the following three elements:

  1. Anticipate
  2. Design
  3. Implement

What happens if you only do 1 &2?

You’re going to burn out.

What happens if you only do 1 & 3?

You’re going to live in chaos and craziness. 

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

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

Trend 3 –  Location Independent Church and Localized Community Development

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

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

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

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

What possibilities does this create?

Here are just a few ideas to get you thinking:

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

Question: What does this trend make possible?

Trend 4: The  Rise of Web3 and AR/VR

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

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

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

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

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

Trend 5: The Great Resignation and Well-Being

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Now What?

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

Over the past several months, you have learned new ways to stay healthy physically, spiritually, and emotionally. You have learned different ways to communicate with and stay connected to the people entrusted to your care. You have discovered innovative ways to be and do church. Each of these experiences has helped to shape you into the leader needed for this point and time in history. My question is, how have you kept yourself relationally healthy? 

We know that relationships create the conditions that lead to trust, hope, and satisfaction. So, how are you doing in caring for and cultivating the relationships needed to navigate the uncertainty and confusion of a pandemic and of anti-racism?   

A Person and a Story

G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The only two things that can satisfy the soul are a person and a story; and even a story must be about a person.” How are you keeping yourself focused and healthy regarding your relationship to Jesus, the people with whom you live, work, and associate, and the community in which you live?  

Let’s focus upon two relationships that are necessary for leading today. These relationships are with God’s story and with God’s people. 

Your Relationship with God

Let’s start with your relationship to God’s story. 

1. Listen to God’s story.

Listening keeps your relationship alive. As you listen:

  • Put yourself in the story.  Ask yourself, “What voices of truth do I hear in the story?”
  • Reestablish your relationship with stories that have grown too familiar.
  • Give God thanks and express your gratitude for others.

2. Learn God’s story

The Christian life is a story of relationships. It is your RELATIONSHIP(S)…

  • with others and a peace regarding those relationships that is the number one ingredient in a quality life.
  • to God and to the people God has entrusted to your care that has you in your leadership role at this time. 
  • that help make you who you are. God is Love, and love is impossible outside of relationships. In relationship to God and to one another, you have no choice but to live with, listen to, and learn from the people around you.

3. Live the story

Christians live the story of Jesus.

  • God gives you a new heart and puts a new spirit within you. The word dwells within you. You become a living container for God’s word.
  •  When you tell the story of Jesus forgiving his enemies, you become someone who forgives his or her enemies.  When you tell the story of Jesus’s crossing the street to help an outcast, you cross the street to help the nearest outcast.
  •  Remember your relationship with God’s story is hazardous to your status quo. God’s story has the power to change the world. Be grateful for the ways your life is transformed. 

Your Relationship with God’s People

Another relationship necessary for leadership today is the relationship with God’s people. 

Whether you like it or not, as a leader, you are in the people business. Loving and caring for people has become a way of life. It is never easy but greatly rewarding. It is in and through the people God has put into your life that God shapes you into the person and leader you were created to be. With that in mind, here is a little exercise to assist you in becoming a healthier and more effective leader: 

  • Think of one person for whom you are grateful. A person who helps keep you healthy by reminding you of God’s love and acceptance.  A person who encourages you.
  • Get a face in your mind and a name on your lips. Keep that person in mind as you read the following:

Was It Just Two Pieces of Paper?

Sister Helen P. Mrosla, an assistant professor in the School of Education at Seattle University in Washington, tells the story of Mark and his classmates in a ninth grade math class she taught in Minnesota. One Friday, things just didn’t feel right. The class had worked hard on a new concept all week, and she sensed that the students were frowning, frustrated with themselves, and edgy with one another.

Two Pieces of Paper

To stop the crankiness, she asked the students to put their books away and to take out two sheets of notebook paper. She then asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on their paper, leaving a space between each name. Then she asked them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and to write it down. It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment. As the students left the room, each one handed her their papers. One of the students, Charlie, smiled.  Another student, Mark said, “Thank you for teaching me today, Teacher. Have a good weekend.”  

On Saturday, she wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper and she listed what everyone had said about that individual. On Monday, at the beginning of the class, she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. She listened as the students said things like, “Really? I never knew that meant anything to anyone!”  “I didn’t know others liked me so much.” After a few minutes, the class went back to studying math. There was no mention of those papers in class again.

A Common Experience from an Uncommon Moment

It was several years later that Sister Helen learned that Mark had been killed in Vietnam. She had gotten word that Mark’s family wanted her to attend his funeral. At the funeral she watched and listened. One of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her and asked, “Were you Mark’s math teacher?” She nodded “yes”. He said, “Mark talked a lot about you.”

After the funeral, most of Mark’s classmates headed to Chuck’s farmhouse for lunch. Sister Helen was invited to come by the house. When she arrived, Mark’s mother and father met her at her car. “We want to show you something,” Mark’s father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.” Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded, and refolded many times. Sister Helen knew what it was without looking at the paper.

A Folded Treasure

Mark’s mother said, “Thank you so much for doing that. As you can see, Mark treasured it.”

Mark’s classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, “I still have my list. I keep it in the top drawer of my desk at home.”

Chuck’s wife said, “Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album.”

“I have mine too,” Marilyn said.  “It’s in my diary.”

Then Vicki reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. “I always carry this with me. I take it out and look at it every time I need encouragement. I think we all saved our lists.” 

Your Turn

  •  Do you still have a person in mind? Sometime today, tomorrow or this week, practice addition. Add a word of gratitude to their lists.
  • Make a phone call. Send a Text. Write an Email. Write a note and let them know how much you appreciate them and care for them. It can be as simple as “Giving God thanks for you today. Know how much you are loved and appreciated.” 

Relationships create the conditions that lead to trust, hope, and satisfaction. There are two relationships necessary for leading today: relationships with God’s story and with God’s people.

So, how are you doing in keeping your relationships healthy? Remember, Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are available to assist you along your journey. Please do not be afraid or hesitate to ask for help. Let us know what questions you have or what you might need as you develop the relationships that help make you the leader needed for this time in history.

God became flesh and moved into the neighborhood. “Love one another as I have loved you.” You and I are a part of that story. May your relationships always reveal the blessing!

On Friday, May 1 Tim and Sara hosted a Facebook Live question and answer period to respond to questions submitted. You can find the list of questions and approximate time stamps below.

You can also find the original Facebook post here.

Approximate Time Stamps, Notes, and Questions Covered 

[00:00:00] Welcome and greeting one another
[00:02:45] Defining the purpose/boundaries of this video
[00:04:39] How do we best love one another in a way that shows a witness to the rest of the world?
[00:06:17] You are loved.
[00:07:07] Timeframe of Phase 1-3: The Virus Doesn’t Know a Calendar
[00:11:30] What will stage one, stage two, stage three, what is going to look like, and what is expected of us come May 24
[00:14:23] How long will Phase 1 -3 last? What does the calendar look like?
[00:18:19] Story of one Freshman in High School – Expectation Setting
[00:19:42] What about VBS, summer activities, and outside groups using the church building?
[00:21:05] Are there recommendations somewhere for proper cleaning?
Here are two documents from the CDC:
[00:22:50] Explain what 10 people in the building means? Per space or total?
[00:24:17] Are the phases set by each individual church or do we follow the guidelines given by government officials?
[00:25:24] What is, what’s the age for, what is the age at which we’re talking about folks being at risk? What about at-risk groups?
[00:29:50] What is the significance of May 24?
[00:33:19] Why can we not use bulletins? What’s the thinking on that? And if we just put the bulletins out for people to pick up on their own, could we do it that way?
[00:36:26] Are there additional guidelines that can be offered? Can we continue to celebrate communion if you already have the authority to do so?
NOTE: As we concluded the live stream it occurred to us that during phases 1 and 2, face masks will be worn. It is impossible to partake of the elements with a facemask on. When you take a face mask off, you should wash your hands. As you can see, the logistics of celebrating Holy Communion in person are challenging, if not impossible.
[00:44:16] What about hallways and aisles?
[00:45:45] What about the length of service?
[00:48:30] Why no responsive readings?
[00:50:35] Why wear masks?
[00:52:30] Wrap-up and reminders
[00:54:24] Closing Prayer

If you’ve spent any time with me at all, you likely know one of the questions that I will ask at some point. The question is some variation of, “Where have you experienced God’s presence?” 

The simplicity of the question can stun people to silence.

When I first started asking the question, I thought the silence I received was my failure to communicate. Then I learned the truth.

To answer the question, you have to be paying attention to where God is at work in your life. In nearly a decade of asking questions about God’s presence, one thing has become clear: most of us are beginners on this journey.

Before you reply, “I was raised in the church. I’m not a beginner!” Let me explain. Read more

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

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

Running, Running, and Running…

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

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

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

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

He said, “No, I don’t race anymore.”

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

He said, “No.”

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

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

“Well, did you win anything?”

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

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

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

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

He said, “No, no.”

Then what?

He said, “I quit.”

“You quit?”

He said, “Yeah, I quit.”

“Why did you quit?”

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

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

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

Chasing What is Real Transforming MissionChase What is Real

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

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

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

So, what is real?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission1. Relationships

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

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

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

All the activity has worn us out.

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

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

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

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

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission2. Holiness

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

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

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

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

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

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission3. Integrity

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

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

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

Let’s chase what is real!

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

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

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

Following Jesus Every Day

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

That’s exactly what happened with Galatians.

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

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

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

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

The study of Galatians continues to offer that reminder.

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

An Invitation


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

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

 

It is not uncommon in the church for us to urge each other to witness to our faith. Sometimes we assume that sharing stories of our faith is easy to do. I must confess that I have found it incredibly difficult. It might be my personality, but it is tough to talk about things so deeply meaningful and profoundly intimate.

Several years ago, I had a businessman, a young father, by the name of Dan, call me about his church membership. He said he was tired of searching for God and was leaving the church. As I listened to him, I tried to understand his dissatisfaction. We talked about his work, his family relationships, and his contentment with his life. During our conversation, he said, “I feel like I’m running the bases but I never reach home.” Then he said, “I am not sure I really believe in God.”

God Believes in You

My next words to him were words I had used before.  I had heard them as a teenager in a Sunday school class.  It was there they had taken root in my life and began to shape my understanding of God’s love. Because they were meaningful to me, I had offered them to others through sermons, bible studies, and conversations along my faith journey.

So, I offered them these words to him. “Dan, at this moment, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in God or not.  God believes in you.” I said, “I know you are searching for God.  But have you ever thought that God is also searching for you?  Can you imagine that God believes in you so much that God is searching for you?”

What Will You Offer?

I remembered words that had profoundly shaped my understanding of God’s love.  They were words of one of my instructors in seminary.  At that moment, I offered them to Dan.

“When our parents, Adam and Eve, left the garden of Eden, God whispered in their ear, ‘I will come for you.’  Adam and Eve didn’t understand God’s word as a promise.  They interpreted the word as a threat.  So, they ran and hid.

As human beings, we have been running and hiding ever since.  But God has come searching for us.  God has come as a fragile, vulnerable little baby, growing up with the comforts and restraints of home, family, community, and culture.

As he grew up and matured, he worked hard. He experienced both joy and exhaustion. He learned what it was to love and be loved. He experienced what it was to have people betray him. He had a dream of making the world a better place. His dream was rejected. He experienced the pain of having his friends turn against him. He suffered and died for his dream.  That is how God has come searching for you and for me.”

Being Found

I wish I could say that Dan said, “I never thought of it that way before.” Or, “Now, I know that God loves me and my family.” Or, “Thanks Pastor.” The reality is, I had the opportunity to offer hope by offering Christ.

What would happen if you and I began to tell our stories of “being found” by God? What would happen if we took John Wesley seriously and began to “Offer them Christ” as we developed relationships and talked about what was deeply meaningful us?

To Offer Christ, Is to Offer Hope

What I know is this, to offer Christ is an offer of hope. The offer is more than sharing “spiritual facts” which lead to a mental assent to correct understanding and logical decisions.  You and I don’t experience hope as a form of indoctrination.

The offer of Christ is not, what I grew up hearing, “closing the deal” for Jesus.  You and I don’t experience hope by being manipulated into saying “yes” to carefully worded questions.

The offer of Christ is a two-way process of honest interaction. Because you and I simply do not see everything the same way, we develop a friend-to-friend relationship.  So, the offer of Christ is not a single encounter.  It is an extended relationship of mutual respect and care.  It is within the relationship that hope is developed, experienced, and lived out.

As important as it is, the offer of Christ is more than inviting people to worship or to participate in the programs of the church.  To offer Christ is to offer hope to those who are discontent and dissatisfied in their search for God. It is in and through our relationships that we can share our experiences of God searching for us in Jesus.  Hope will be found in the love we share.  Because hope becomes a sign of who we are.

I believe we can change the world by offering Christ.  It is in the offer of Christ that we offer the hope we have experienced in and through Jesus. T. S. Elliot wrote, “the life we seek is not in knowing but in being known, not in seeking but in being sought, not in finding but in being found.”

To offer Christ is to offer hope!

 

 

During the month of March, there are abundant reminders of the importance of resilience, fortitude, and determination. Lent always has these reminders.

But, there’s another event that happens annually that’s also hard to miss. Whether or not you’re a college basketball fan, the stories that unfold during the NCAA Tournament can leave you sitting on the edge of your seat.

More than once over the weekend, I thought to myself, “It’s over.” And then…

The Unimaginable Happened.

Late Saturday night, the Michigan Wolverines were in a battle with Houston. With 3 seconds on the clock, Houston was in the lead, 63-61.

They had a chance to add two more points but missed two free throws.

At the opposite end of the court, Michigan passed the ball to a freshman, Jordan Poole, who had not scored the entire game. He lobbed a 3-point-shot in the air with one second on the clock, and at the buzzer, won the game. (Perhaps much to the dismay of Buckeye fans following their 86-90 loss to Gonzaga.)

The Wolverines said, “the game is not over.”

After the Michigan v. Houston game, Coach John Beilein said of Jordan Poole, “He practices that shot at the end of every practice.” They also made their free throws, a fundamental shot in basketball.

Reminders of Resilience

Sunday’s games reinforced the message of resilience:

  • Nevada, down 22 points, came back to beat Cincinnati in a 75-73 stunner. The Nevada team said, “the game is not over.”
  • Syracuse, a first four qualifier, beat Michigan State, a favorite to be in the Final Four, 55-53 in the last minute of the game.
  • The 2017 National Champs, North Carolina, fell to 7 seed, Texas A&M.
  • Xavier, another favorite, fell to Florida State. The Seminoles showed the Musketeers “the game’s not over” with four minutes on the clock. Florida State won 75-70, knocking off a number one team.

Perhaps you’ll say, that’s why they call it March Madness.

Or, perhaps, you’ll say, “the game is not over.” While there is nothing about leading the church that is “a game,” I do believe God’s not finished with us yet.

God is NOT Finished With Us Yet

Just like the players, the coaches, fans, and referees, we have a choice to make as we lead the church. God’s not finished with any of us. The challenges leading the church can feel like the pressure of a big game.

Whether you’re frustrated because of leadership challenges in your church or trying to navigate a changing community. God’s not finished with you yet.

Whether you’re lamenting the demands of the church or yearning for the Easter morning celebration. God’s not finished with you yet.

Whether you’re feeling your church is disconnected from your community or you’re tired of trying to connect with little support from your church. God’s not finished with you yet.

Whether you’ve raised money in your church for special ministries or you have run out of money to be the special church in your community. God’s not finished with you yet.

To stay the course and embody the resilience, determination, and fortitude of those who are “playing to win” we need to practice our fundamentals.

If we’re honest, we all know how easy it is to overlook the daily practice of reading Scripture, prayer, and reflecting the love of God in my life. Busyness and the weekly rhythms of the local church can wear on even the most faithful.

You’re Invited to Practice

We’re on the Saturday side of Easter. Sunday is coming. There are opportunities to continue to live as faithful followers of Jesus who are filled with resilience and fortitude.

During the season of Easter, we’re heading into spiritual spring training with Parables: Reflections of Reality.

Sign up below. You’ll practice the disciplines that remind you, “the game is not over.” Or more importantly, God is not finished with you yet.

Sign me up!

 

 

I grew up listening to the Cincinnati Reds on the radio. I remember placing my transistor radio under my pillow and listening to Waite Hoyt call the play by play. Over the years I have listened to Al Michaels, Joe Nuxhall, Marty Brennaman, and “The Cowboy,” Jeff Brantley. Today, I still wait to hear Marty say, “This one belongs to the Reds.”

In recent years, I have had the opportunity to attend several Reds’ Caravans. I have met some of my favorite players, talked with new prospects, gotten autographs, and listened to the hopes and expectations of those in the front office.

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