Tag Archive for: God’s presence

This week, we’re looking back to look ahead.

Reflect momentarily on the people you’re leading and your leadership traits. What are you celebrating in ministry right now regarding your leadership? What areas are stretching you? Once you have a response to those two questions, below are three articles to review. Read all three or pick the one that will speak to your ministry and leadership in this seasons.

Here are two important reminders about leadership.

1. Remember the Golden Rule

First, the Golden Rule is familiar to many. Reflect on the Golden Rule in your ministry and leadership. When you consider, “do to others as you would have them do to you?” keep in mind God’s love and presence is already on the move in your life. Today, how we communicate and what we communicate are inextricably intertwined.

Read more and consider the Golden Rule of Leadership.

2. It Matters Where You Start

When Christ-centered leaders start with issues, preferences, and/or agendas, they’re by-passing what sets us apart as followers of Jesus. When leaders start with Jesus, you create an opportunity for open dialogue and discernment. The presence of the living God we know in Jesus is an essential element of your leadership.

Read more and be reminded that it matters where you start.

Where have the past eight years gone? It seems just like yesterday that I was first appointed to the Capital Area South District, then to the Capital Area North District, and then to the Olentangy River District. In many ways, the past eight years have been some of the best and most enjoyable of my fifty years of appointed ministry. 

I am at that rare juncture in life, which is at the same time fragile and strong.  Although it is most beautiful, it carries with it the possibility of being the ugliest of any transaction I can know. I am at the stage of giving and receiving a gift. 

On July 1, I will become the lead pastor of Christ Church in Charleston, West Virginia. So, as I am leaving the season of district superintendent, I’m entering a new season of being a pastor of a local church. As I am giving God thanks, I am receiving a gift. 

Grace 

Paul, more than any other writer recorded in the Bible, uses the same word for giving and receiving. The word is charis. It is usually translated as “grace.” But it can also be translated as “gift,” or “thanks.” 

When Paul uses it, you don’t know whether it is being given (thanks), being received (grace), or being given (gift). In a way, I am at a charis moment. It is as sacred as the Eucharist (thanks) and at the same time, it is charisma and charismatic. In other words, as I am giving thanks, I am both receiving and giving. 

Giving Thanks for You

All of that to say, I’m at a moment of giving thanks for you, but as I do, I am acknowledging what I have given and what I have received. May I say it again? I am at the juncture of the most beautiful and rarest moments that any one of us can know. 

So, with one last feeble attempt, I want to thank you for the opportunity and honor of serving with you over these past eight years. Using Paul as my guide, I want to thank you for helping me grow in my relationship with Jesus. Paul says, “I have been initiated into the mystery (secret). 

What is the mystery? What is the secret? 

Let’s see if Paul gives us a clue in his letter to the Philippians. 

Read: Philippians 1:3-11 

3 I thank my God for every remembrance of you, 4 always in every one of my prayers for all of you, praying with joy 5 for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.  

Reflect 

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a note of thanks. Throughout his letter he expresses his gratitude for them, his affection for them, and offers prayer for them. 

As I reflect upon his words, I want to use his structure to express my gratitude for you and your ministry.    

I Thank My God for Every Remembrance of You

Paul writes, “I thank my God for every remembrance of you…” 

Friends, I am who I am because of you. I am convinced that God brought us together so that I might become more who God created me to be. I am even more convinced that God puts people in my life because I still need to experience and to be shaped by God’s love. 

Bonhoeffer wrote, “In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.” 

I am grateful for you, your ministry, your friendship, and for all God has done to make me who I am in and through you. Please know that every time you come to mind, I will give God thanks for you as I pray for your health and well-being. May I ask you to do the same for me? Every time I come to mind, pray for me. Even if you don’t remember my name and don’t know what to pray, just pray, “Jesus, help that old man. He needs all the help he can get.” 

“I thank my God every time I remember you…” 

Paul writes, “praying with joy for your partnership in the gospel…” Colleagues in ministry, “I have you in my heart…and I long for you…” (Philippians 1:7-8). 

Paul gives thanks for the joy of their partnership in the gospel. They have taken up residence in his heart. Wow. I know what that is like. You now live in my heart. You have helped expand my heart to include not only you but many others I did not know existed until I opened my heart to you.

I am grateful. 

But there is something I am learning because I have allowed you into my heart. 

The Deeper the Bond…

The deeper the bond, the more painful the absence. 

How will I manage the separation from you and our ministry together? I have been thinking about it and I have concluded that it is a matter of memory.  I’ll remember the good times, the special occasions, the profound worship. I will remember the Lord’s Table (Do this in remembrance of me), baptism (Remember your baptism and be thankful), and the conversations we have had describing God’s call upon our lives. 

I will hold you in my heart, as I sing the hymns, pray the prayers, and preach the gospel. I will hold in my heart what we have experienced together, the memories that we have made, whether through celebrations of worship, one-to-ones, or strategizing mission. We have made memories together. 

As I reflect upon it, what we have shared together is what will sustain us tomorrow and beyond.  I have you in my heart, and I long for you to be who God has created you to be as a Christ-centered leader. You must know, that will never change. 

I am praying with joy for your partnership in the gospel…Know how much you are loved and appreciated. 

The One Who Began A Good Work in You

Then Paul adds, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”   

What do you think he intended to say with those words? If your reading continues to include verses 9-11, you will find an answer. Paul prays that they will grow and mature in love, a love that is undergirded by understanding and knowledge, a love rooted in experience and discernment, a love that is put to the test and strengthened in real-life situations, a love that is the foundation for making choices in matters that count. He assures them that God is working in and through them because he is certain that they are instruments of God’s love and peace.   

No prayer, no power. 

Little prayer, little power. 

Much prayer, much power.

Paul prays for them because he is holding them in his heart. If you take nothing else from this blog, take this, “No prayer, no power. Little prayer, little power. Much prayer, much power.”

Listen to me closely, for all the education and training you have, no one can teach, train, or give you the love you need for your congregation. 

There is no education that will break your heart for the church or your church’s heart for the community. There is no training that makes you get up early in the morning to pray for the people entrusted to your care. There is no one who can give you the burden for the broken and marginalized in your community. But that is what it means to be about God’s business. If God called you, God will equip you, but you have to be in conversation with God to keep God’s love at the center of who you are and what you do. Truly, it is a matter of prayer. 

What is Needed: Prayer

Let me say it another way. Education, knowledge, and training are good, but you do not need more training. I know you want to learn more about leadership and organizational structure. I have heard your desire to learn more of the scripture and to communicate with clarity. I have experienced your yearning to be effective in every aspect of your ministry. But from what I have learned over these past eight years, you do not need more training to be who God created you to be or who God needs you to be at this important time in history.

It is my “bias” opinion that what is needed most is prayer. So, more than anything else, here is what I hope you learn and put into practice. Learn to pray. Prayer is the good work God has started in you, and it is prayer that needs to continue until the day of Jesus Christ.

Prayer is Hard

Let me say it this way: prayer is hard. Effective prayer is even harder. A.W. Tozer, author, and preacher in the 20th century, had a person who sat outside his office door while he prayed each day. That person was not to let anyone interrupt him during his prayer time. Think about it. Learn to pray not as an exercise in worship but as an expression of your relationship with Jesus. The good work God has started in you is a matter of prayer.

At the end of Matthew 9, Jesus tells His followers to pray to the Lord of the harvest that workers would be sent into the harvest. With his own heart broken in compassion, Jesus sent his followers into the world, the community, because he saw the people as sheep without a shepherd. Think about it. Jesus is saying, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest so that your hearts will be broken in compassion for the people you encounter each day.” This is part of the good work God has started in you. It is a matter of prayer.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul calls the followers of Jesus to pray. He reminds them that they do not fight flesh and blood, but they fight against the spirits and powers of the day. He identifies prayer as the full armor of God. So, to fight the powers and injustices of this time in history, you first need to pray and then act. The action grows out of the love of God. This is part of the good work God has started in you. It is a matter of prayer. 

Clear is Kind

One of the things I have learned over these past years is “clear is kind.” May I be clear with you? Most of us, as leaders, lack a deep and meaningful prayer life. It is my experience that we are too busy. There are too many meetings, too many expectations, and too many demands upon time and energy. When translated, it means that your time and solitude with Jesus is cut short so you can “run the church” effectively. Your leadership is a byproduct of the good work God has started in you. To be connected to that good work, you first must pray, seeking to know about God’s business of loving others.

As a leader, your authority comes from your closeness to Jesus. The hours you spend in prayer will change your heart, will deepen your sermons, and be experienced in your compassion. You will lead with trust, compassion, stability, and hope.  This is the good work God has started in you. It is a matter of prayer.

Prayer is Our Primary Work

Now, please know that I understand that few churches allow their pastors to spend this kind of time and effort in prayer. Most church members don’t see prayer as real work.

So, let me once again be clear. Prayer is the primary work of the church. How can you be a Christ-centered leader if Christ is not the center of your faith and work?

When prayer becomes your primary work, you will provide and protect time to pray, to study the scripture, and to seek God’s guidance in loving others as you have been loved. This is what it means to be about God’s business. This is the good work God has started in you. You were created to be in relationship with God, to reflect his glory in the community and all your relationships.

I know this to be true, your time with Jesus will not only change you, but it will change your church, and transform your community and the world.

“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”  

Respond 

So, what is the secret Paul refers to when he writes, “I have been initiated into the mystery.” 

May I tell you what I think? It is gratitude. The secret of the fundamental relationship with God that sets you free is gratitude. The closer you get to Jesus; the more your gratitude grows and deepens. 

From my experience, people of gratitude are people of grace and generosity in their relationships. They are people of hope and compassion, as well as people of courage and care. I can tell that they have spent time with Jesus because they love the people Jesus loves, and they give themselves for the welfare of the people around them and for the community in which they live. 

Let me say it this way. If I were on a Pastor Parish Relations Committee, waiting to receive a new minister for the church, and I had a chance to ask one question, before I would say, “Tell me about your preaching or about study habits or your leadership style,” I would ask, “What evidence of gratitude is there in your life?” 

How will you thank God for the people in your life today? Whether you call it grace, gift, or gratitude, keep your eyes and ears open to God’s good work in your midst. How will you live the good work God has started in you today? 

Prayer 

O God I am grateful for the good work you have started in my life, and I am grateful that you will continue your good work in me until the day of Jesus. By your grace, give me the faith to assist people to grow in their faith. Give me the courage to lead people into the community to love others as you have loved me. I am grateful for the opportunity to thank you for the people who have helped shape me into the person I am today. By your grace, give me faith to love and trust you more. Amen. 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. In whom did you meet Jesus? Where did you discover the need to assist people in growing in their faith? How did you respond to their need and desire to give care, support, encouragement, and hope to others? What good work has God started in you that you want to share with others? What did you learn that you will do differently tomorrow? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to become more who God has created you to be. Keep in mind, who you are is how you lead. 

Now, please pray for me as I turn my face toward Christ Church in Charleston, West Virginia. Just know this, “I thank my God for every remembrance of you…” I am grateful!

SPECIAL NOTE

If you receive reminders about the blog and podcast through the district newsletter and wish to continue receiving the blog, click the button below. 

The “Bias Opinion” and Transforming Mission Podcast are continuing. 

Tim’s transition to a new ministry setting will not stop the resources here. The blog and podcast will continue with the resources and insights you need to lead a movement of Jesus followers. If you do not receive the Tuesday email from Transforming Mission and wish to continue receiving the blog “The Bias Opinion,” click the button below to let us know. 

Engaging the mission is about following Jesus into the community and being about God’s business. It is a way of relating to and loving others within the community in which you are located.

To help resource you in Engaging the Community, we have explored The Seven Missional Questions (Engaging In Mission: Engaging the Community) and have done an overview of koinonia, the New Testament understanding of community (Engaging in Mission: Engaging the Community Part 2). 

Focusing On God’s Mission

Keep in mind that you are about God’s business. So, through the lens of being a follower of Jesus, what does it mean to live in community with other Jesus followers? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus amid diverse people and beliefs?  

As you reacquaint yourself with your local community and grow in your understanding of koinonia, it is important to develop relationships, deepen your faith, and deploy into mission the people entrusted to your care.  

As you move forward in engaging the community, remember that John Wesley worked to develop both an identity of personal piety and an identity of social holiness. Wesley developed and organized a system to help followers of Jesus grow in their personal faith and to live out their faith in the places they lived, worked, and played. Wesley said it this way, “true Christianity cannot exist without the inward experience and the outward practice of justice, mercy, and truth.”  

With that in mind, let’s look again at the Acts of the Apostles and focus specifically on the two verses below:   

Read: Acts 2:42, 46  

They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts…  

Reflect on Acts 2:42, 46

On the Day of Pentecost, one hundred and twenty frightened, self-centered, discouraged, and disheartened men and women were transformed into newly empowered followers of Jesus. They were filled with new life and perspective, intellectually, emotionally, and physically.  

By the power of the Holy Spirit, those newly empowered followers began to communicate the story of Jesus in ways people understood and responded to positively. The people were amazed and perplexed. They asked, “What does this mean?”  Others mockingly said, “They are full of new wine.”  

The First Christian Sermon

It was a careless, scoffing comment that prompted the first Christian sermon. When the followers of Jesus were accused of being drunk, Simon Peter took responsibility for telling the story of Jesus. He told the people about the life, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and presence of Jesus. He explained God’s offer in Jesus, what people did to refuse it, what God did despite the refusal, and what could happen to each of them.  

When the people heard Peter’s sermon, “…they were cut to the heart…” and they cried out, “What shall we do?”  

Repent

Simon Peter was ready with an answer and the first Christian invitation to a congregation was extended: “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  

The word repent means “to change one’s mind,” or “to perceive after a mind-changing truth or understanding.”  Peter wanted them to change their thinking about God’s messiah, the Christ, and to see their own need for him as the Lord of their lives.  

The word repent can also refer to becoming who you were created to be. By God’s love, you begin to live as God intends for you to live. Think of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. You are in the process of repentance as you begin to love more the way God has loved you. 

God’s Love and Power

Think of it this way. One of the things that changed for those at Pentecost was their way of communicating with one another. Instead of insisting that everyone learn to speak and communicate like they spoke and communicated, by the power of God’s love and presence, they learned new ways of communicating and relating to the people around them.  

The scripture says that those who welcomed Simon Peter’s message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added. They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 

That first community of faith was…:  

A learning community. 

They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching…  The word for “teaching” is a dynamic word. It means that they persisted in listening to the apostles as they taught.  

A fellowshipping community.

The word “koinonia” means having something in common or in fellowship. There is no true fellowship without Christ’s Spirit in us and between us. Jesus Christ is what we have in common. He is our common bond. That bond is greater than anything or anyone else. He draws us into oneness and loves each of us through each other.  

A praying community.

Life together was described as the breaking of bread and prayers. For people to be one with Christ and one with each other, it takes time to be together to listen to each other, to care for and be for each other. Praying together becomes the time of communication with the Lord in which we are replenished in God’s Spirit in order to continue unselfish and non-manipulative concern and caring for each other  

A worshiping community.

They had “gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God.”  Praise became an outward sign of the indwelling of the Spirit. It continued to be an outward sign as Jesus lived in them and in their fellowship. They could not praise God enough for what God had done for them in and through Jesus.  

A growing community.

People were attracted to the joy of the community and wanted to know the source of it. People wanted to be with those contagious, praising followers of Jesus and have what he had given them.  

At that time, the people began to gather in homes as they continued to gather in the temple. They broke bread together when they gathered and praised God with glad and generous hearts.  

Koinonia Helps Develop Community

An effective way of developing community in our day is to establish koinonia groups for personal faith development and for developing relationships that impact the community in which your church is located.  

To engage the community outwardly, you first develop relationships inwardly. Based on our scripture, five essential ingredients in developing relationships will make a difference in your local community:   

1. Study

“They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching…” Wesley called this “searching the scriptures.” One of the distinctive marks of the followers of Jesus is the understanding and engaging the gospels. Just as the apostles’ teaching was transformational in the lives of the early followers of Jesus, a focus upon the teachings of Jesus is essential in living out the good news of Jesus Christ and will be transformational both personally and socially.  

2. Fellowship

 “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship.” Koinonia Fellowship is both an informal time when people get to know and love one another and a formative time when people grow together in their personal faith and learn to give care and encouragement in their social interactions.  

3. Accountability

“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple.” Those early Jesus followers spent time together every day. I can imagine they were sharing stories, asking questions, learning, and growing together.  

Although most of us do not feel comfortable being held accountable, especially regarding our faith, koinonia provides a space and safety to develop trust and courage. We grow into our accountability. I can imagine that was what was happening as they spent time together.  

Think of it this way: if you are a koinonia group member and want to develop a pattern for bible study, you might say to the group, “Please hold me accountable to reading the Bible each day this next week.”  The following week your group would ask you, “How did you do with reading your Bible this week?”  You respond by saying, “Well, I read my Bible each day until I got to the weekend. I want you to keep asking me the question until Bible study becomes a regular daily practice.”  

As your koinonia matures, your group might agree to ask each other questions as you gather. Questions related to personal faith development and to your interaction with Jesus and the people you meet each day. We all need help in developing and maintaining our walk with Jesus.  

4. Worship and Prayer

 It is important that each group has a time of worship and prayer. Sometimes singing a hymn or a praise chorus will lead your group into worship. At other times, it will be prayer or sharing experiences of experiencing God’s love or how Jesus showed up unexpectedly, leading to “glad and generous hearts…”   

5. Mission and Outreach

Your journey inward leads to your journey outward. Your koinonia leads you into developing relationships outside your group. Together, you find ways to love others the way God in Jesus has loved you. You might feed people who are hungry or find shelter for those who are homeless. You might provide care for children or jobs for the unemployed. One way to discover where to be in mission is to ask the question, “What can we do that no one else is doing?” God always provides people to love and places to serve. Koinonia helps turn your inner faith into outward expressions of love and care.  

“They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts…”  

To engage the community outwardly, you first develop relationships inwardly. 

Respond  

How are you engaging the people of your church to engage in the local community? Which of the five ingredients in developing relationships does your church do well? Which ingredients are missing or not done so well? How will you help equip those entrusted to your care to become a koinonia that will make a difference in your local community? What will you start? What assistance do you need? 

Prayer 

O God, I am grateful for your call upon my life and for the opportunity to be a leader centered on your love of Jesus. By your grace, give me the faith to assist people in growing in their faith. Give me the courage to lead people into the community to love others as you have loved me. Thank you for the ways you have provided to become more who you have created me to be. Thank you for John Wesley and for the way he has modeled personal piety and social holiness. Oh, God, thank you for your love. Give me faith to love and trust you more. Amen. 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. In whom did you see Jesus? Where did you discover the need to assist people in growing in their faith? How did you respond to their need and desire to give care, support, encouragement, and hope to others? What do you need to do to lead others into koinonia? What did you learn that you will do differently tomorrow? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to become more who God has created you to be. Keep in mind, who you are is how you lead.

This is Part 1 on Hospitality

Read Part 2 Here

As a follower of Jesus, you have an opportunity for hospitality with every person you encounter. Whether family, friend, colleague, neighbor, stranger, or enemy, you have the opportunity to be God’s loving presence in the way you receive them and interact with them. Hospitality is part of God’s mission, and you were invited into that mission when you were claimed as a “beloved child of God, called and commissioned for ministry at your baptism

Explore more: Preparing for Mission: Being About God’s Business and Preparing for Mission: Hospitality is a Lifestyle

Why Does the Church Exist?

With that in mind, think of the church as a community of Jesus followers who exist primarily for people who are not members. As a follower of Jesus, you are an instrument of God’s love for people who do not know or understand the love of God.  The apostle Paul instructed the church in Rome, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Hospitality is your response to God’s grace, God’s great hospitality offered to you in Jesus.  

Said another way, as a beloved child of God, you love others for the purpose of being who God created you to be. You become an instrument of God’s grace, extending a welcoming heart and hand in the name of Jesus. Hospitality becomes who you are. It becomes the way you live your life. God sends people your way every day. So, reach out and receive them for the glory of God. It is who you are. Love them the way you have been loved by God in and through Jesus.  

The story of the road to Emmaus gives us insight into Luke’s understanding of hospitality. 

Read Luke 24:28-32 

When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So, he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” 

Reflect on Luke 24

Luke’s story clearly reveals his understanding of the resurrection faith being an act of hospitality. It is a story of two Jesus followers, walking to Emmaus, having a conversation about the events over the past couple of days. 

In the middle of their conversation, Jesus joins them on their journey. He is received as a stranger. Luke writes, “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” This is Luke’s way of saying that being with the earthly Jesus, hearing his teaching, seeing his miracles and knowing the example of his life are not enough apart from an experience of the risen Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In other words, to recognize God’s act in Jesus is not a matter of our human insight but is a divine gift. 

Understanding the Divine Gift

Jesus, the stranger in their midst, asks, “What are you talking about?” The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place over the last few days?” And Jesus asks, “What things?”

The two Jesus followers began to give a summary of what had happened. Their summary was not wrong but, because of his death, they did not perceive that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the anointed one. They recited the correct events but had a different perception of what had happened. The events did not fit their understanding of Messiah. 

One of them said, “We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.” It is important to understand that Jesus’ followers believed that God was present in what Jesus said and what he did. They believed that God’s kingdom of justice was about to dawn. 

There is Always Hope

Then came the crucifixion and the shattering of their hopes. Their human wisdom said, “While there’s life, there’s hope.” The death of Jesus was the death of their hope. Even though they had his message, his example, and his ministry, the crucifixion meant that Jesus was another failed idealist. They had no reason to think differently. 

Their hope was that God would send the Messiah to restore Israel and set Israel free from oppression. These two on the road with Jesus perceived God’s redeeming work in nationalistic terms. For them, it was over. Hope was gone. 

A Clue About Hospitality

While on the road with the two travelers, Jesus is not recognized as the Christ but only as a weary fellow traveler. The two extend an invitation to food and fellowship. As they offer hospitality, Jesus is revealed to them. It is here we get a clue about hospitality. 

Luke tells us, “So, he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him…” Luke 24:29-31. Jesus did not force himself on them, but when invited, the guest became the host. The meal was an ordinary meal, but the words were the familiar words of Holy Communion. The words, “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it…” reflect the language of the liturgy of the Lord’s Table. It was the language of “do this in remembrance of me.” 

Hospitality is Demonstrated

Hospitality was shown in the blessing and breaking of the bread. Blessing in the Greek is the word “eulogy.” To bless was to eulogize God. 

Three times in Luke’s gospel, we get a story of eating with others: feeding of the 5000, last supper in the Upper Room, and with the travelers on the road to Emmaus. In each story, we have the “blessing, breaking, and giving” of bread. Could it be that hospitality is extended in and through Holy Communion?

The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, is central to the life of the Church. In the house at Emmaus Jesus is a stranger, yet a guest. Even though he is the guest he becomes the host. 

It is in the breaking of the bread that the stranger, the outsider, becomes known to them as Jesus himself. 

Hospitality to the Stranger

For Luke, this is the church. To read and understand the scriptures is not solely a matter of human intellect and insight but is a gift in and through Jesus, the risen Christ.

When the Lord’s Supper takes place, there is an invitation to the outsider and hospitality to the stranger. It is in the breaking of bread that the risen Christ is made known to the community.

Even though there were only three at the table that day, the table was large enough for the stranger. 

Respond to Luke 24: Four Ways to Extend Hospitality 

(Read the blog: Extending Hospitality is Offering Hope

Here are four practical ways you can extend hospitality: 

1.      Be Curious and Become a Learner 

 Seek to understand. Jesus was interested in the two walking on the road. He asked questions and listened. His offerings in the conversation were for clarity and direction.   

Seeking to learn or to understand could be as simple as getting to know your neighbors. Learn their names, their needs, talents, and interests. Show an interest in people as a way of building relationships. Soong-Chan Rah writes, “In the household of God, we are called to a humility that places our relationships in a new light.” 

2.      Learn the language of the community.

Although Jesus was the Risen Christ, he took an interest in the two on the road. Even though they did not know who he was, He was able to communicate through their grief and hopelessness. 

Learning the language of the community could mean learning the language of teens and young adults.  It could also mean communicating with a Hispanic population, Congolese, or Vietnamese population. You might consider it could also mean that you are sensitive to different styles of music, and that you learn and participate in different cultural experiences. It means listening to the community and learning to communicate in ways that the people who live in the community understand and appreciate. Attempting to learn the language is a sign of hospitality that brings hope. 

3.      Share a meal together.

Jesus shared a meal with the two. Although Jesus was invited to eat with them, Jesus extended an invitation as a stranger. Jesus was present as a stranger. 

It is around the table, sharing a meal, that you have the opportunity to make room for others, especially the strangers and the outcasts. In the fourth grade, I had a Sunday school teacher who taught us, “There is always enough room at Jesus’ table.” You can always add an extension to the table. 

We extend hospitality when we bring children, teens, and senior adults together. How could you create cross-cultural connections with another congregation or with other groups of people in the community?  What would happen if you offered to provide the food they liked and gave them the opportunity to prepare it for everyone? 

4.      Examine and Evaluate

How are you inviting people to the movement of God’s grace and the mission of God’s love? Within the church building, practice hospitality by offering people opportunities to interact with one another. Even if they know one another, offer opportunities to practice hospitality.  “Welcome one another as God in Jesus has welcomed you.” And remember, your extension of hospitality is always to God’s glory. 

Be aware and sensitive to the practices you take for granted. Make everything you do an extension of hospitality. Do strangers know your routines? Who explains to people why you do what you do? Do the announcements include language that outsiders can understand? Do not assume people know the Lord’s Prayer, how to respond following the reading of scripture, and/or how to pray before worship begins. Just simple acts of hospitality are signs of hope to those being included.

Practice Hospitality

As you are working on the four practical ways to extend hospitality, practice praying, “Lord, send us the people no one else wants” and “Help us receive the people you are sending to us.”  When you do, you will find the above suggestions helpful. 

Remember, we love like Jesus because that is the way we thank Jesus for loving us.  I am convinced that when you extend hospitality, you can expect your church and community to experience the beauty, complexity, and love that comes with recognizing Jesus in the strangers you meet along the way.

Welcome one another as God in Christ welcomed you. Engaging in mission is extending hospitality. And hospitality is a sign of hope. 

Prayer

Lord, send me the people no one else wants and help me receive the people you are sending to me. By your grace, help me welcome others as you have welcomed me. Make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you invite strangers into conversation? How were you curious? What questions did you ask? What did you learn about others as you asked questions and listened? Do you learn new ways to communicate with the people encountered today? How will you incorporate what you have learned? Did God send you anyone? How did you receive them? How did you express God’s love? What will you do differently tomorrow? 

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the opportunity to invite people to learn of Jesus and to immerse them in God’s love in such a way they too will love others. 

The movement of God’s grace and the mission of God’s love is made real in and through your relationships as you interact with the people entrusted to your care.   

You offer Christ, God’s agape, by the way you receive and care for people. Your action of agape is a greater invitation than your words. You become so immersed in the love, the movement, the mission of God, that all you say and do invites others to love as they have been loved. 

The Invitation to Love

So, as a follower of Jesus, you have an opportunity to offer Christ to family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers, and even enemies, by the way you receive and interact with them. The invitation to love is part of God’s mission. As a baptized follower of Jesus, you were been invited into God’s mission when you were claimed as a “beloved child of God” and called and commissioned for ministry at your baptism (Read Preparing for Mission: Being About God’s Business)  Offering Christ, God’s love, is who you as a follower of Jesus.  

As a Christ-centered leader, you have an opportunity to offer Christ as you model God’s love in your leading. In and through your relationships with people, you are inviting them into God’s movement of grace and God’s mission of love.

There are two examples of “offering Christ” found in John 1. The first is when John the Baptist points out Jesus to two of his disciples. “When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’  When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus” (John 1:35-37). The second is when Philip invites Nathanael to “Come and see,” when he tells Nathanael that he had found the one Moses wrote about in the Law (John 1:43-46).

But the example I want to use is found in Matthew’s good news.

Read Matthew 9:9-13 

9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax-collection station, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with Jesus and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Reflect

Here is where the blog “Preparing for Mission: Answering God’s Call” can be helpful.

The call of the first disciples is the beginning of the church. Matthew uses Hebrew history as the background for his story of the formation of a new community. When he tells the story of Jesus’ baptism and temptation, he is summarizing the history of Israel in the Red Sea and testing in the wilderness. Matthew wants us to know that the new community, the church, is being formed in response to God’s action in and through Jesus. 

Matthew has placed the call of the disciples in a context in which his hearers can understand and respond. So, look at the story from Matthew’s perspective.  

Just like Simon Peter, Levi is already at work. He is a tax collector. He has something useful and important to do and is not looking for a new life. In verse nine, the words “as he walked by” are taken from the same encounter as the call of the fishermen along the lake. Just as with the fishermen, Jesus does not fill an obvious vacuum or meet an obvious need in Levi’s life, But, like the call of prophets in the Old Testament, the call is intrusive and disruptive. Levi is being called to reorient his life and work.   

Reoriented to the Mission

When Jesus said, “Follow Me,” Levi got up and followed him. The mission of God became his priority and purpose. The mission permeated his living and reoriented his relationships.

When Levi followed Jesus, it impacted his personal passions, relationships, and decisions. He began to relate to others in a different way. His orientation was no longer upon himself but upon the people around him. Verse 10 tells us that Levi is having a dinner party with other tax collectors. Among them was Jesus and his disciples. Levi offers his friends and colleagues an opportunity to meet Jesus and to experience the love and acceptance he has experienced.

Levi offers Christ to his tax collector friends. He introduces them to Jesus and to the people whose priorities have been reoriented by following Jesus.

It is important to understand that the people invited to the party were tax collectors who were widely regarded as thieves, liars, and traitors.  The others were sinners, those who violated the biblical and traditional purity laws. They were ceremonially unclean. Matthew wants his readers to know the objections the religious leaders had of the early followers of Jesus. In other words, why does the church violate the biblical and traditional standards of God’s holiness by “eating with tax collectors and sinners.”

Offer Them Christ

Here is where “offer them Christ” comes in. When Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick,” he is adapting a proverb to express the mission of God. It is the healing power present that overcomes sickness. It is healing and not sickness that is contagious. So, the holy love of God present in Jesus is not contaminated by his association with sinners but overcomes the brokenness and sin. It is holiness as right living and right relationships that are contagious.  

Jesus came to break down barriers and restore relationships between separated groups of human beings, and between human beings and God.  

So, this story of Jesus calling Levi to follow is an example of who you are is how you lead. Being called and chosen by Jesus is to have your priorities of living and loving directed by Jesus. It is to offer Christ at all times and in all places with all people. The offer of Christ is not based upon another’s worth; it is based upon God’s love. You have the opportunity and responsibility to offer Christ where you are and with whomever you encounter. Why? Because God’s love is always at work in the lives of people you meet and whom you introduce to Jesus.

Sharing God’s Love

Let’s take a moment to reflect upon a similar story. Think about another tax collector who followed Jesus. Luke tells of a time when Jesus was traveling through Jericho. “A man was there named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector” (Luke 19:2). He wanted to see who Jesus was, but he couldn’t because of the crowd. So, he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus (Luke 19:3-4).

When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).

My question is, did Zacchaeus met Jesus at a dinner party at Levi’s house? And when he heard that Jesus was coming to Jericho, did he want to see Jesus for himself? Could it be that when Jesus saw Zaccheaus, he told him to come down out of the tree because Jesus was ready to call another tax collector and sinner to reorient his life and to follow?

As a follower of Jesus, you are a channel of God’s love to others. Who is Jesus inviting to follow because of your offer of God’s love? Offering Christ is who you are as a follower of Jesus. And who you are is how you lead.

Respond

Today be aware of the opportunities you have to offer Christ. Who might Jesus be calling to follow because of your offer? Take notice of each person and your response or reaction to offering Christ. Be mindful of the impact of introducing people to God’s love in the way you receive them and respond to them. Be aware of what you think and feel about each situation and circumstance. Begin to be intentional in offering Christ in the ways you live your life.  

Prayer

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

Return

As you reflect upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you offer Christ? With whom did you share God’s love? How did you invite people into God’s movement of grace and mission of love? Where did you notice others offering Christ to strangers, outsiders, and to those considered unworthy? With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced in and through them? What will you do differently tomorrow?

As a Jesus follower, you have been called and gifted to be a Christ-centered leader. You have a responsibility to live and lead as God has created you to live and lead. The question is, “What does it mean to live and lead as a Christ-centered leader?

The Role of a Christ-Centered Leader

Your first and primary task is to be faithful to Jesus. So, your first task is not a political or social one, though you will certainly make an impact politically and socially. Your first task is to be shaped by God’s love so you can be who God created you to be. It is to live and be the truth of God’s love in everyday situations and circumstances.

Your goal is not success in terms of bigger and better or more people means more money. Your goal is to demonstrate that Jesus makes possible a new order based not upon what works or competing self-interest, but upon the truth of God’s love.

Living Out God’s Love in Everyday Situations

This is not a withdrawal from the world. God’s love invites, leads, and drives you into the world to work for justice and peace. You must take seriously the political processes that change systems and structures. You develop relationships with political leaders and assist them in working for the common good.

But you don’t put your hope in the political systems that serve self-interest or in societal norms of personal preference. As you live and lead you offer an invitation to the people entrusted to your care to confront the world. In obedience to Jesus’ invitation, you are first focused upon who you are by responding to, “Come unto me,” and “Do this in remembrance of me,” and then upon living as you have been created to live, “Follow me” and “Go into all the world.”

Balancing Belief and Behavior

As a leader of the people of God, you serve the church and the community. Your service is not in running errands but in providing light. You lead to provide an imaginative alternative to the culture. As you model leadership, you are providing hope for people who are struggling to create the structures and alternatives that the world cannot achieve through governmental power of self-interest.

You might wonder if your leading is worth the hassle. Here is where your courageous leadership comes in. Keep your eyes, heart, and mind on Jesus. When you feel your living and leading are ineffective, remember that Jesus appeared ineffective in the world. Then remember that his power was the truth of the nature of God and not power, strength, and violence within the culture.

Modeling Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Modeling God’s love will always be more radical than the world can provide. Legislation cannot serve the poorest and most powerless. The best policies can do is to give the less powerful a little more power and call it justice. The world cannot give dignity to the young, the old, the sick, the disabled, the marginalized. All it can do is hand out a few meager rights and call it compassion.

For the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick, there must be hope that is not dependent upon public policy but upon the promise that God’s love is stronger than death, and that nothing can separate them or any of us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. You living into your call and giftedness helps bring that about.

As a Christ-centered leader, your living and loving help develop and provide a radical hope that forms a community of faith around the truth of God’s love as experienced in and through Jesus.

So first be faithful to Jesus.

Putting Faith into Everyday Action

Your second task is to live your faith in everyday relationships, encounters, situations, and circumstances. It is important to put belief and behavior together. As a leader influenced by John Wesley, you balance personal piety and social holiness.

In the scripture, proper behavior is a response to faith in God who is acting on your behalf. God’s requirements are always preceded by God’s actions. In the Old Testament, belief and behavior are brought together, “Hear O Israel: The Lord your God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4). That is the belief. Then follows the response: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). So, to be faithful to Jesus is to live your faith in everyday relationships, encounters, situations, and circumstances.

The Ten Commandments begin with the words, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). That is faith and belief. The commandments represent appropriate behavior in response to God’s acts of deliverance from slavery in Egypt.

The Good News in the New Testament

In good news according to Mark, Jesus walked along the lakeside announcing, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). That was an invitation to faith. It was an invitation to believe that God was bringing a new world. Then comes the appropriate response, “Repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). All of Jesus’ demands, from “Come follow me” to “Take up your cross,” from “Go sell all you have and give to the poor” to “Turn the other cheek and go the second mile” are rooted in God’s invitation to love.

Paul in his letter to the Galatians writes, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). That is belief. Jesus has set us free. Then comes the invitation to respond, “Stand firm, therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters” (Galatians 5:1, 13). Then Paul offers the expected behavior, “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another” (Galatians 5:13). So, to be faithful to Jesus is to live your faith in everyday situations and circumstances.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (II Corinthians 5:19). God acted in Jesus to reconcile us to God, to our true selves, and to others. In other words, God has acted in Jesus so we can be who God created us to be. The question is, what is the behavior to be balanced with this good news? Paul answers the questions for us, “And entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us” (II Corinthians 5:19-20). Your response to God’s reconciling love is to model through your leading the gifts of forgiveness and reconciliation.

The Leadership Role of Gratitude

At the heart of your faith and action is gratitude for God’s faith in you. Gratitude transforms obedience from a dreaded duty to a joyful expression of love. We simply enjoy doing what we do out of gratitude and love.

I remember a friend of mine telling me about his wife being on a business trip and what his children did to surprise her. On the day she was to return, my friend said he tried to persuade his son and daughter to help him clean the house before she arrived. He said they grumbled and procrastinated because they had other things to do.

As he served them their lunch, he said to them, “You know, Mom has been very good to us. She works hard and long, and she loves us very much. She will come in the door tonight with a hug and a gift for each of us. That is who she is. We are lucky to be loved so much. Why don’t we give her something as a gift? Let’s give her a clean house.” The children agreed. After lunch, they helped clean the house and even had fun making a game out of it.

I remember thinking that a clean house became a grateful response to a loving parent. That is behavior linked to belief. What a beautiful expression of faith in Jesus lived out in everyday situations and circumstances. That is what it means to lead as a Christ-centered leader. First you are faithful to Jesus, and you live your faith in everyday relationships, encounters, situations, and circumstances.

The Impact of Leadership

As a Christ-centered leader, why do you put your faith in Jesus into everyday action?

Several years ago, I read a story of a Canadian photographer by the name of Yousaf Karsh. The only portrait he took of a person’s back was taken of Pablo Casals in a small French Abbey in 1954. Karsh said he was setting up his equipment when Casals began playing Bach on his cello. Karsh was so taken by the music that he said he almost forgot why he was there. He took his portrait of Casals with the musician bent over his cello, frozen in time against the plain stone wall of the chapel. Karsh said that he took it that way to capture the loneliness of the truly great artists and the loneliness of the exile.

You are God’s Masterpiece

Years later, when the portrait was on exhibit in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, another old man came day after day and stood for long periods of time in front of the portrait. The Curator of the Museum noticed him, and when his curiosity got the best of him, he went over, tapped the man on the shoulder, and asked him why he stood so long before the picture. The old man, with obvious irritation, turned toward the curator and said, “Hush, young man. Can’t you see I’m listening to the music!”

Karsh watched Casals play his cello and presented a picture. The old man, looking at that picture, could hear the music.

You have been called and gifted to be a Christ-centered leader. You have a responsibility to live and lead as God has created you to live and lead. As a leader, you are God’s model, God’s picture, God’s music of what God wants your community, your neighborhood, your city to be.

As a Christ-centered leader, when you live and lead with God’s love you provide a radical hope all people need. Your music, your leadership, will permeate the whole of life and people will listen to you and follow you to Jesus.

Remember, who you are is how you lead!

May I state the obvious? We are living in a time of great division in our country, our communities, and even our churches. Whether it be political divisions caused by particular agendas or a cancel culture perpetuated by social media, there is a tension that leads to fear and a lack of trust. 

There are no easy answers on how to lead through divisiveness. One of the first places I go to is to the scripture. But we have just come through a time in the church when scripture has been used to separate people. It has been painful to experience. Something like this has happened: If you and I don’t agree on the interpretation of certain scriptures then there must be something wrong with you or at least one of us. Because of how scripture has been used as a weapon, it is hard to trust the truth that leads us to God’s Word made flesh in Jesus. 

Don’t Confuse Your Understanding of Scripture

At other times people have confused their political views with their understanding of scripture. Because we have made scripture more about morality than we have reality, people use scripture to support their views more than allow scripture to transform their lives. There is a culture of fear growing around the understanding of scripture. I think of it this way. You start talking about God’s love for all people and an old snake will come crawling out from under a rock to scare you away. 

So, let me put it into context and then we will explore a scripture that can be helpful in meeting the challenge of divisiveness. 

The Word Made Flesh

As Christians, we believe in the Word made flesh, not in the Word made words. The scripture points us to Jesus, God’s love in human form. Following Jesus is more than a set of beliefs. It is a way of life. Following Jesus is about loving one another, especially those who are strangers or who are different from us.    

According to the scripture, the world will know that we are followers of Jesus, God’s love in human form, by the way we relate to, interact with, and love one another. When I start with that perspective, I am convinced that Scripture provides a way to lead through divisiveness. 

Read Acts 17:24-25 

For the total story, read Acts 17:16-34

24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.  

Reflect

The apostle Paul found himself in a new world. His old world in which all questions had clear, precise answers had been shattered by his Damascus Road encounter with the Risen Christ. 

He had to sort out that experience and its impact on his perception of himself, his tradition, and what he believed. He needed direction to begin his mission of love and acceptance of the Gentiles. Before his experience with Jesus, he had considered the Gentiles beyond mercy. Now, he was an ambassador of love to the Gentiles. 

New World Required New Tools

He traveled to Athens, a center of Greek culture, where new ideas, competing values, and diverse philosophies were the norm of the city. Sharing the gospel of God’s love in that setting demanded that simplistic answers to difficult questions would not suffice. 

The new world required new tools. So, Paul had to learn new ways, understand his context, and earn respect to deal with the new world that was thrust upon him. He had to take what he knew and what he was learning to meet the demands of faith in the pluralist environment in which he found himself. 

How did he respond to the demands of the new environment? What tools did he use to meet the challenges of the new culture? 

Leading Through The Lens of Scripture

One of his tools was his grounding in the Hebrew scripture. In this story, he is surrounded by a different worldview. He was dealing with people who were more familiar with Zeus than with Yahweh. Their heroes were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle rather than Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

Paul saw the situation through the lenses of scripture. The Old Testament’s emphasis on belief in one God and its warning against graven images shaped Paul’s perception of and response to the Greek world. His grounding in scripture shaped him and provided a framework for approaching a different culture. The scripture provided a foundation upon which his new faith in Christ was built. 

The shifting sands of our world today, with its conflicting values and diverse relationships, call us to reexamine the primary tool for discerning God’s presence and purposes. The Bible has always been our primary witness to God’s revelation and loving activity.   

Use the Bible for Illumination

John Wesley dealt with the changing social currents of eighteenth-century England with his faith firmly rooted in scripture. He was so steeped in the biblical story that every personal and societal issue he faced was shaped by the bible. 

The Bible remains the primary tool we use to approach the issues of our time. The question is, how do you use the truth of the scripture to address the challenges of our day? William Sloan Coffin, former chaplain of Yale University and senior minister of Riverside Church in New York City, once wrote, “Too many Christians use the Bible as a drunk does a lamppost, more for support rather than for illumination.”   

Instead of scripture providing a light to help us navigate our way through conflicting values, it is being used to support our political and theological perspectives. Instead of scripture being a framework for approaching cultural change, it is being used to separate and divide people. 

How Do You Read Scripture?

As I have written before, it matters where you start. If you start from the perspective that scripture supports your point of view, you will use scripture as a weapon to get what you want. If you start from the perspective that scripture gives you direction on loving and relating to people, you will be transformed to love others as God in Jesus has loved you.   

Paul used his grounding in scripture to shape his understanding of people and the culture in which they lived. The scripture became his framework for approaching a different culture and a foundation upon which his new faith in Jesus was built. 

The Tool of Tradition

Another one of Paul’s tools was tradition. As a respected Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, Paul was accustomed to interpreting and applying Jewish tradition to new situations. He knew the Torah and rabbinic literature. He drew upon his tradition when confronting the alien gods and philosophies of the Greek world. It is obvious from Paul’s speech to the philosophers that passages from the Wisdom of Solomon, from Isaiah 42, and from Psalm 74 were in his mind and heart. 

He not only drew upon his own tradition, but he took the tradition of the Athenians seriously. He quoted from their philosophers and called attention to their heritage. He saw connecting points between his own tradition and those of the people whom he confronted in Athens. 

Responding to Cultural Change

When confronted by personal tragedies as well as new challenges in the form of cultural change you must not only stay in touch with your values and traditions. You must also learn about and understand the values and traditions of others. 

You need to be clear about who you are in order to stand firm when the ground starts moving. But if you are aware only of your own tradition you will not be able to develop the relationships needed to address the complex challenges when the ground is moving. 

Claiming Tradition and Relating to Others

Please continue to learn about and stand upon the tradition of historic creeds and liturgies, the great stories of faith, the bloodstained examples of the martyrs, and the heartwarming sermons and hymns of our ancestors. They are part of who you are as a follower of Jesus. 

But, at the same time, don’t forget that those to whom you are trying to relate have their own creeds and liturgies, great heroes of faith, and heartwarming stories and songs. Remember, it is God’s love for you in and through Jesus who is at the heart of your tradition. 

The Power of Experience

For Paul confronting the Athenians, scripture and tradition were not enough. He had to call upon another tool in order for the gospel to be relevant in a new setting. Paul met the Athenians at the point of their experience. 

He acknowledged their desire to know the Divine. Rather than put down their experience, he affirmed their genuine search for the ultimate. He accepted the validity of the insights of their traditions and heroes. Rather than introduce them to God, as if they had no experience of the Divine, Paul named that which they had experienced but had labeled unknown. 

The Validity of Experience

Here is a clue to courageous and faithful leadership in a world of conflicting voices and values. If there is validity in your experience, then you will allow others the validity of their own experience. As a follower of Jesus, you know that God is present in and with every person and in all of life. 

In other words, God is not present with some absent from others. All persons experience the reality of God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). But, not all persons, know that it is God whom they experience.  

In Jesus, God has claimed each and every one of us. You have been claimed as a member of a loving household and called to be a giver of God’s grace. The scriptural story is a story of God’s love for all persons, but not all people know they have been claimed by God. Your experience of God’s love is a tool to connect with the experience of others and to identify the intersections of God’s grace and their experience. 

Love as You Have Been Loved

Just as Paul with the Athenians, it is your task as a Christ-centered leader, to be open to God’s presence in others and to hold the common experience in the light of scripture and tradition. God often comes to us from the experiences of those whom we assume do not know God. 

So, keep in your heart and mind the command to love as you have been loved. It remains at the center of what it means to be faithful to God. In the world in which we live, many complex realities are before us. The fundamental question remains the same, “Where have you experienced the presence and reality of God? 

The Tool of Reason

Notice that Paul did not stop with the Athenians’ unnamed experience. He connected their experience to the Risen Christ, who is the shape and source of authentic love. Scripture, tradition, and experience were resources used by Paul as he stood in the Areopagus. But he had one more vital tool, reason. 

The Athenian philosophers worshiped at the altar of reason, so Paul met them there. Drawing upon the insights of their philosophers, Paul attempted to connect the Greek culture to the God made known in Jesus. Paul told the Athenians, “From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth” (Acts 17:26). He then quoted their own thinkers and poets: “In him we live and move and have our being…For we too are his offspring” (Acts 17:28). 

Reason, motivated by love, under the banner of faith, can be fertile ground for eternal truth to grow and mature. In 1768, John Wesley wrote a reply to a theologian at Cambridge University, “To renounce reason is to renounce religion…for all irrational religion is false religion.” 

Reason as a Path of God’s Presence

When I was in Peoria, there was a young man, a physicist, who had difficulty believing God’s love for him, especially in and through Jesus. He spent hours reading, researching, and asking questions. Eventually, he took a step toward God. 

He found the universe to be full of mystery and wonder. He made his way to worship. In the liturgy, he found a way to express his sense of praise and adoration toward a reality he called God. Through many conversations and reading the writings of theologians, he was challenged to read the scripture with a fresh openness and to recite the creeds with integrity. Reason was a path of God’s presence for him. 

Ask Your Questions

I know a pastor who tells the story of receiving a letter from an eleven-year-old member of his congregation. Here is part of the letter: 

In the Bible, it says that several days after making the earth God made Adam and Eve. But in science, it says that no one lived before the dinosaurs or while they were living. How could dinosaurs have lived for millions of years before people if God made Adam and Eve seven days after the earth was made? …I hope you won’t be mad at me, but sometimes I have trouble believing…but I still believe in God. 

The pastor encouraged him to ask his questions. Somewhere this bright and articulate eleven-year-old got the notion that to use his mind was outside of having faith. Because he asked questions it meant he did not or could not believe. On the contrary, through reason, he and many others have come to glorify the God who is the source of all truth. 

Scripture, Tradition, Experience & Reason

Paul used the tools of scripture, tradition, experience, and reason to relate to the Athenians and to introduce them to the God who they had labeled unknown. These same tools are instruments by which God comes to us from that world out there beyond our church walls. They are the means by which God transforms the world through us. 

Respond

As a Christ-centered leader, how will you lead through the divisiveness of our culture? Here is something to keep in your heart and mind as you navigate the separation and pain of our day. 

  • It is not scripture, tradition, experience, or reason that creates the hostility we experience today. It is fear. So, as you lead with courage keep this in your heart. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). 
  • It is love that banishes fear and prejudice, which allows us to grow in understanding, freedom, and compassion. It was love that made Jesus draw to himself those who the world abandoned. It is love that will assist us to do the same. 
  • In the midst of the divisiveness, be who you are supposed to be. Love as you have been loved. Learn from Paul’s response to the challenges he faced in Athens and lead as you were created to lead. Be who you are because who you are is how you lead. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. Where did you see God? What new thing was taking place? Who from the community did you meet? What did you learn about them? How can you best develop a relationship with them? Through whom did you receive love and care? What will you do differently tomorrow? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer

O God, give me eyes to see and ears to hear you in the lives of the people entrusted to my care. Create a pure heart in me, because I have learned that the pure in heart can see you. With my pure heart, and open eyes and ears, help me experience you in the people I meet tomorrow and every day. In the name of Jesus. Amen

Have you ever had a member of your congregation approach you and say something like, “I’m not being fed”? Most of the time it comes out like this, “My family and I are leaving because we just aren’t getting what we need here. We are going to go to a church where we can get what we need.” 

The underlying assumption for such statements is passive consumerism. “I am not being fed” are code words for “I’m not getting what I am paying for.” 

Vicarious Spirituality

We have cultivated a culture of performance where people show up to be entertained, delighted, or made happy. If the entertainment, whether worship style, quality of preaching, or the temperature in the gathering space does not meet their expectation, then there are better places to get what they want. 

We have narrowed our responsibility down to paying the pastor/leader and staff to do ministry for us, which has cultivated a vicarious spirituality. As long as we feel good about what is going on at our church and the pastor/leader is providing leadership and care regarding our preferences for ministry, we feel good and faithful, whether we participate or not. 

Discipleship has been reduced to showing up for worship a couple of times a month, attending a study to gather information about topics of interest, and maybe participating in a fellowship gathering at particular times of the year. 

Caught in Christendom

With all of that being said, the expectation for you, the leader, is to attend all the administrative, social, and spiritual meetings because your presence validates the purpose of the meeting or gathering. And because it is a church, you do all it in the name of Jesus. 

I know it feels like I am being overly negative and that I have overstated the current reality of many of our churches, but what I have stated above fits most of the congregations still working within a Christendom model of ministry. 

In fact, it is not a stretch to say that many leaders, as well as people participating in the life and ministry of the church, feel caught in a system that is burdensome and unproductive…and that is just the local church. 

Enslaved to the Way Things Have Always Been

So, I think it is fair to say that many leaders feel enslaved to the way things have always been done. Whether it is because of dwindling funds or fewer people, you are being told that you are responsible for the decline. The members like you, but you aren’t bringing new people in, and please don’t make any changes, we don’t want to lose the few dollars and people we have left. 

I have just described what I call the enslavement of many of the churches in our culture. We find ourselves in a new missionary age while living in the old Christendom mindset. Although most of us still believe we live in a Christian culture, we can no longer assume the church has the interest or influence it once had. A new way of living out the mission is emerging. 

Let’s use our pattern of READ, REFLECT, RESPOND, and RETURN to discover the hope God is offering us as we shift from the Christendom mindset to a missionary approach.   

Read Isaiah 43:14-24 

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: For your sake I will send to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation. I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army, and warrior; they lie down; they cannot rise; they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:

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?

I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals, and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.

Reflect

Isaiah wrote these words to the people who have been enslaved by Egypt. They have been separated from what they held important: family, community, country, religion, etc.  They felt overwhelmed and hopeless, because of their enslavement, lack of trust, and the circumstances beyond their control.  Isaiah reminds them that God created them, that God cares for them, and that God has been with them through the trials of their uncertainty and separation.  

God Makes a Way

Isaiah announces to them that God is going to set them free from their enemies. “For your sake 

I will send to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation.”  In the midst of their situations of slavery (hopelessness), God is making a way for them. 

For them to be set free, they are challenged to set the past aside, to reframe their future. God is doing a new thing, a new work in their midst, and they are challenged to see it.  He reassures them that they can trust God because God is able to make a way in the wilderness and a river in the desert. Isaiah is offering them hope.

God is Offering You Hope

As you reflect upon this story, could it be that Isaiah is offering you hope as well? In the midst of what you have experienced over the past several years, the isolation, disconnectedness, political polarization, being stuck in old ways, etc. it would be natural to feel overwhelmed, hopeless, and even enslaved.

But God is doing a new thing so that you might declare God’s praise. Speaking on behalf of God, Isaiah tells the people that God is not only making a way for them in the wilderness and providing a river in the desert, but God is giving them water to drink because they are his beloved children, created to declare God’s praise.

God is With You

When the going gets tough, remember, you are a beloved child of God, created for the purpose of bringing God praise by living, loving, and leading as God has gifted you.  Even when you feel alone and are thirsting for love and connection, God is with you, providing for you. 

Your connection to God is the heart of being a Christ-centered leader. Your work is to help others know of God’s love and presence in the midst of the chaos and disconnection. When people feel hopeless and entangled in behaviors that keep them from moving forward, look for what God is doing in your midst to set you free.

God is Doing a New Thing

God is doing a new thing. You are no longer being sent to other places to be a missionary. God has gifted you to love and serve right where you are. Your mission field is no longer limited to faraway countries. There are people hungering and thirsting for love just outside your door, in your community. God has created and gifted you to be a missionary just by stepping out the door of your home or leaving the church building. 

You are a missionary wherever you encounter people in your everyday life. It is in and through your interaction with people that God is setting you free, releasing you from the burden of doing to and for people. God is making a way in the wilderness for you by sending people to you who need love and care. It is in your response to the people God is sending your way that sets you free to become who God created you to be.

Teach and Model God’s Love

This is your work as a Christ-centered leader, to follow Jesus out the door of your building and into the community. As much as people want you to meet their preferences or demand a better performance, your work is to teach and model God’s love.  You love people by learning and understanding where they live, by meeting their families, and discovering what is important to them. You love people by becoming aware of their traditions, needs, and giftedness. 

As you follow Jesus and learn about your context, you develop relationships, by listening, learning, and responding. You bring praise to God by the way you love people. The larger community will know that you are following Jesus by the way you love and care for the people around you. You will be transformed by God’s love as the community is transformed by God through you.

The Time Has Come 

God is doing a new thing. As much as passive consumerism has enslaved the church, God is making a way for you to lead people into positive actions of love. The day of preferences is ending. The day of insisting on what you like, being the center of your church participation is over. 

The time has come to give yourself in love and service to the people around you. Be open to new ideas and approaches to ministry. There is no longer time or energy to cling to traditional methods that are no longer effective. God is doing a new thing, so let Jesus set your agenda and let his agenda become your new preference for ministry.

What is God Already Doing?

You might think of it this way. God is doing a new thing. The shift is from “How do we get people to come to our church?” to “What are people doing that we need to know about and join in with them?”

As a Christ-centered leader, you are responding to God’s grace. God is setting you free to declare God praise by loving and caring for God’s people in the places you live, work, and play.  

Respond

Just as the people of Israel were challenged to set the past aside, as a Christ-centered leader, you are being challenged to do the same. God is doing a new thing, a new work in your midst and you are being challenged to see it. Just as Isaiah reassured the people that they could trust God, you are being invited to trust the One who has created you, who loves you, and who called you to this work. 

Be The Leader God Has Created You to Be

Become the leader you have been created to be. God has given you strengths and gifts for leading in a challenging time. Are you able to recognize what God is doing in your life and leading? What must you set aside to see and participate in what God is doing?

What I know is this, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” It is difficult to change course when all you know is what you are doing.

But what I believe is this, “the answer to being the leader God has created you to be is already within you.” You have what is needed to be the leader God has created you to be. It is seen and experienced in your faithful response to God’s love where you are living, loving, and leading at this very moment.

Two Questions

So, here is what to do to strengthen your faith and to equip the people entrusted to your care. These two questions, by God’s grace, will assist you in making the shift needed to experience what God is doing. Start today with the leaders of your congregation and ask the following questions for reflection and discussion: (For more details see the blog: Who or What is the Church Today

1.      Where have you seen/experienced God in the past week? 

2.      How are you living out the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?”

Seriously reflecting upon and answering these two questions will help you strengthen your identity as a follower of Jesus. You will fall in love with Jesus again, love the people around you more deeply, and learn to love your community. In other words, it will help you see and participate in the new thing God is doing in you, your community, and your church. 

So when you are facing difficulty leading in this new age, remember you are a child of God, loved and gifted by God, to lead with love the people of God. Yes, iIt is difficult to be a Christ-centered leader in the midst of chaos and disconnection, but God has put within you the gifts and strengths to lead people into the new thing God is doing.

So remember, who you are is how you lead. God is doing a new thing, Even in the midst of the difficulty, now is the time to participate. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. 

  • Where did you see God? 
  • What new thing was taking place? 
  • Who from the community did you meet? 
  • What did you learn about them? 
  • How can you best develop a relationship with them? 
  • Through whom did you receive love and care? 
  • What will you do differently tomorrow? 

Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer

O God, give me eyes to see and ears to hear you in the lives of the people entrusted to my care. Create a pure heart in me, because I have learned that the pure in heart can see you. With my pure heart, and open eyes and ears, help me experience you in the people I meet tomorrow and every day. In the name of Jesus. Amen

What comes to mind when you hear the word “church”? A building where you worship? An organization of which you are a member? A place you work or volunteer? A community of believers who gather for Christian worship, fellowship, and learning? What comes to mind?

How often do you hear or say:

  • “I am going to the church?”
  • “I am a member of First Church,”
  • “I attend worship at Good Shepherd Church?” or
  • “That used to be a church?”

What is the Church?

The exact meaning of “church” varies based on the context in which the term is used, as well as the experience of the person using the term. So, who or what is the church to you?  

Throughout history, the church has been defined and understood in different ways. It has been most effective when it has responded to and addressed the needs and concerns of the community or city in which it is located. It has been less effective when it has turned inward attempting to protect itself from theological challenges and cultural changes. 

As we have said, it matters where you start. Whether being vulnerable in moving outward or in preservation moving inward, the church has usually entered an identity crisis when it has moved away from its purpose. That is why I am asking the question, who or what is the church today?

What Shaped the Church

Before answering the question, let’s take a look at what has shaped the church as we experience it. This is a much too simple overview, but it will help with context.

The early followers of Jesus found their identity in his mission. They understood themselves as evidence of the resurrection and that they became part of the loving, healing, feeding, serving, and dying of the Risen Christ. Their witness was seen in their loving, serving, and caring for the sick, the prisoner, the widow, the fatherless, and the poor. 

They engaged the world and witnessed the work of Jesus in the midst of a hostile environment. Whether it was living in tension with the established religion (Judaism) or being persecuted by the government (Roman), they did not withdraw from the world or forsake their mission.

Baptism was a powerful symbol of new life in Christ. It symbolized death to things of the world and new birth in the way of Jesus. Through baptism, believers knew they had been called and commissioned by Jesus to carry out his loving service. How they lived out their call and commission was determined by their context. They were driven to ask “Who are we in relationship to those around us? To whom are we sent?” They struggled with their answers as they worshiped week by week and listened to the stories of Jesus and his mission. It was out of their daily experiences in relationship to the people around them that their understanding of mission emerged. 

They put their lives on the line for Jesus as they witnessed God’s love across boundaries of race, nationality, and economics. The mission field was at their front door.   

The Early Years

Loren Meade in his book, The Once and Future Church, called this initial stage of the church the Apostolic Age. Along with his book, you can read stories of the emergence of the church in the New Testament, especially in The Acts of the Apostles and in the letters of Paul. 

Then, with the conversion of Constantine, the church shifted in its identity and mission. It shifted from being a voice and force in a hostile culture to becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. The mission moved from the front door of the congregation to areas outside the boundary of the empire. Over time, the life of the empire and the mission of the church became so intertwined that to be part of the empire made you a Christian.

Shifting Landscape

The responsibility of a Christian moved from witnessing in a hostile world to being a good, law-abiding citizen, who paid taxes and supported both religious and secular institutions, which in turn was supporting the empire, the government, or the culture. 

Unity was no longer centered upon Jesus but upon theology, administration, and politics. The shift moved the church from being a community of convinced, committed believers supporting one another to an organized hieratical structure with believers working, at times, in competition with one another.

The demand of faith was uniformity. Loyalty and obedience were primary virtues. Discord within the church became the enemy of the church. When there were disagreements, people started their own churches and even denominations.

Baptism shifted to a rite of passage. It affirmed what was already a reality, you were born into the church. A call to follow Jesus became a professional decision more than one of dynamic faith and transformation.  

The Christendom Church

The church became a business more than an instrument of faith and cultural change. Over the years it has aligned itself with governments, movements, and philosophies. Because of its alignment with governments, at times the church has been used as an excuse for rivalry and warfare. Most recently, some forms of the church have aligned themselves with capitalism which shows up in different forms of consumerism. Programs and preferences have become the prevailing reasons to include people in the church.

Even attempts to move the church back to effectiveness use the very alignments that have moved the church away from its roots. This stage in the life of the church has been commonly known as Christendom. All of us, in the church today, are products of the church formed in Christendom.

Where is Your Faith?

I know my brief synopsis sounds negative, so I will let you answer the question regarding your own faith. Is your faith in Jesus or in the systems and structures designed to help the world know Jesus. There is a difference.

So, who and what is the church today?  A simplistic answer is the church is part of both the Apostolic Age and of Christendom.  A more realistic answer is the church is in the midst of an identity crisis. 

I am sure we want to thrive as a vital witness in the world, but we are struggling to survive as an organizational institution. The struggle to be faithful in the midst of hostility still exists in the DNA of the church. The shift has been from facing cultural hostility to creating hostility within our internal structures. In other words, the church is no longer at odds with the culture but is fighting within itself. Again, I know that sounds negative and hopeless, but I believe there is hope for the church.    

A New Missionary Age

Part of the struggle is, we are in a new missionary age while living in the old Christendom mindset. Although most of us still believe we live in a Christian culture, we can no longer assume everyone is Christian or assume that the community is part of the church. A new way of living out the mission is emerging. The mission field is, once again, just outside the front door.

So, what does that mean? Let me illustrate with a story.

Our Town

When I was a freshman in high school, the junior/senior play was “Our Town.” It was a story/play written by Thornton Wilder. It was that play that drew me into drama class and into participating in drama productions in both my junior and senior years of high school. I apologize for my reminiscing.  

In the story “Our Town,” A young woman and wife, Emily, dies in childbirth. Given the opportunity to return to one special day of her life, she chooses to go back to a birthday she remembers as a child. She sees her family, her loved ones, going about their ordinary routines. They can’t see her or the beauty visible to her from beyond the grave. It is painful and disturbing for Emily. She watches for a short time and then returns to where the pain is at least bearable.

Wilder has given us a portrayal of what it is like to be awakened in a new paradigm and the difficulty of communicating with those still living in the old one. Emily could not stand the pain. As I reflect upon it, the younger generations of today might be suffering a similar painful contradiction. They are born into a new paradigm and are unable to communicate with those of us who inhabit the old one. 

According to Loren Meade, our situation may be even more desperate than Emily’s. We are losing our home in Christendom and have little clarity about how to be at home in the turbulence of what is emerging. As much as we want to lay blame either on what has been or on what has gone astray, the real truth of our situation and our hope lies within our own hearts.

Who and what is the church today? 

I believe the answer is within you and is experienced in and through your faithful response to God’s love in the community in which you live.

Here is what I want you to do to strengthen your faith and to equip your church for ministry in this new missionary age. These two questions, by God’s grace, will assist you in making the shift needed to impact the world. Start today with the leaders of your congregation and ask the following questions for reflection and discussion:

1.      Where have you seen/experienced God in the past week?

Ask your church leaders to join you in praying for the next 40 days. Pray for a pure heart, because “blessed are the pure in heart, they will see God.” Make every meeting, study, gathering, a prayer meeting focused upon recognizing God’s activity in your life and the life of your neighborhood, community, or city. 

After 40 days, begin every meeting, study, or gathering with the question, “Where have you seen or experienced God since we last met? Note: it is important that you pray together for 40 days before asking the question. This is not a program of prayer. The point is to pray for 40 days. You are not seeking results. You are praying, asking God to help you recognize God at work in your community, neighborhood, or city.

This seems simplistic, but when you begin to see God at work you can join God in God’s work.

2.      How are you living out the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

After your 40 days of prayer, have your church leaders and congregation decide if they want to offer HOPE to the people of your community? If the answer is “No, we do not want to offer HOPE to the community,” please continue to pray to see and experience God in the places, you live, work, and play.

If the answer is “Yes, we want to offer HOPE to the community,” then take every program, project, activity, committee, and ministry of your church and evaluate them by this pattern of HOPE for making disciples of Jesus. This is a pattern based upon Paragraph 122, “The Process for Carrying Out Our Mission,” in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.

Think of the statements in the paragraph as HOPE: reaching out and receiving as Hospitality. Introducing others to faith as Offering Christ. Nurturing people in the faith as Practicing faith. And sending people back into the community to serve as Engagement.

Use HOPE to evaluate your congregational ministry.

Hospitality: How does this program, project, activity, committee, or ministry help us reach and receive new people? How does it help us relate to people in the community?

Offer Christ: How does this program, project, activity, committee, or ministry help us introduce others to Jesus or to the Christian faith?

Practice: How does this program, project, activity, committee, or ministry help us grow and mature in our faith?

Engage: How does this program, project, activity, committee, or ministry help us engage our community? Build relationships with the community? Engage resources to meet needs in the community?

When any program, project, activity, committee, or ministry is not helping with the mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world, or is not offering HOPE to your community, then ask the question, “Why are we doing it?” Then decide how you can reshape the ministry to meet the mission of making disciples.

Identity and Hope

This process will first help you with your identity as a follower of Jesus. You will begin to shift your focus from protecting a building, institution, and theology, to focus on loving people. 

Second, it will help you fall in love with Jesus again. You will become more of a follower, being transformed as you look for Jesus in the lives of the people you meet each day. Third, it will help you fall in love with people. You will discover that the people you meet each day, in whatever context, are helping you become the person God has created you to be.

Fourth, it will help you fall in love with your community, neighborhood, or city.  You will begin to meet Jesus in the lives of the people you encounter, and you will want to be where Jesus is, in the community, involved in the lives of the people.

Who or What is the Church?

Who or what is the church today? The answer is within you and is experienced in and through your faithful response to God’s love in the community in which you live.

Now that you have finished reading this blog post, what comes to mind when you hear the word “church?” Remember, you are living in a new missionary age. So, when you walk out the door of your home, your office, or out the door of any building in which you encounter people, you are entering the mission field where people need a kind, caring, supportive, and encouraging word. And God, by grace, has given you the word needed in and through Jesus. The joy and peace of this life comes from sharing what you have received. So, wherever you are, be at peace and experience the joy in the name of the God who loves you in Jesus and who empowers you to be an impactful missionary witness by the Holy Spirit.

Let me tell you who comes to mind when I hear the word “church.” You come to mind. You are a beloved child of God, gifted to live God’s love with the people you meet each day. You and I are in the church together. And remember, who you are is how you lead!

This blog is Part Two of It Matters Where You Start and the conclusion of the series, “Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry.” Although Part Two can stand on its own, it might be helpful to read Part One for greater context.

Read Part 1 here

Thanks for joining me on this journey of reflections on ministry. I hope you discover them to be effective and fruitful in your ministry as a Christ-centered leader. 

Another important thing I have learned over my years of ministry is people tend to put more faith in the Bible, the written word of God, than they do in Jesus, the living Word of God. Both are important, but one is a written document and the other is a living person. 

The Word of God

It matters where you start. It is one thing to say, “The bible is the word of God” and go no farther, and it is another thing to say, “The Bible is the written word of God that shows us the living Word of God, the Word made flesh, Jesus.” 

The distinction is subtle, but the difference is a matter of who or what you trust. As a Christ-centered leader, your life is transformed by God’s love in and through Jesus. Your response to God’s love is a response of faith. Where you place your faith impacts who you are as a leader.  Who you are is how you lead. 

As far back as I can remember, the Bible has been important to me. I learned a lot about the Bible and its importance through my formative years. From the influence of my grandmothers to the lessons of my fourth grade Sunday School teacher, to the devotions I led or experienced in youth fellowship, the bible became an anchor in my faith.   

Faith in the Bible or Faith in Jesus?

I was in my first year in college when I experienced my initial crisis with the bible. Up to that point, my faith was anchored in the bible. In my freshman year, I had an “Introduction to the Bible” course. Without going into all the details, my faith was tested. Because I had put my faith in the bible, and not in Jesus, any questions of faith related to the bible, challenged my faith. With the assistance of a trusted friend and mentor, I came through my initial faith crisis. What I learned was, I had put more faith in the bible than I did in Jesus. 

Let me say that in another way. Faith in Jesus and faith in the bible are not the same thing.  The written word of God points us to the living word of God. Over my nearly 50 years of ministry, I have learned that most people conflate the two, the written word is not the living word. Jesus is the living word in the flesh. The Bible is the written word that points us to Jesus.

Living Word and Written Word

I am sure I have said more than enough to create some anxiety, so let’s move to our pattern of READ, REFLECT, REPOND, and RETURN to focus on the living Word as he is talked about in the written word. 

Before we move to scripture, there are two things to keep in mind with each scripture reference and reflection. The first is context. Each gospel writer is addressing people in a specific context. So, we want to look at the scripture from the point of view of their context. The second is the understanding of “to believe.” The word believe in the scripture means to trust and obey. It is an action of trust and obedience as opposed to a passive acceptance of a list of beliefs. 

All of that is to say, it matters where you start. 

Read Matthew 28:18-20 

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

Reflect

The good news in Matthew is “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live before God.” So, to believe in Jesus, to trust and obey Jesus, is to live a life of righteousness. When you read Matthew’s story of Jesus, righteousness is not the purity of living as much as living in right relationship with God, “Love the Lord your God…” and right relationship with others, “love your neighbor as yourself.” 

When Jesus says, in what we know as the great commission, “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you,” he is referring to living in a loving relationship, working for the well-being of, neighbor, stranger, and enemy. Jesus is referring to the way you make promises and commitments to the people around you. Jesus is referring to forgiving others as you have been forgiven. 

Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel

Matthew writes for a Hebrew Christian community. The people in his community know the Laws of God, but there has been a shift in their faith. They have placed their faith more in the Law than in the God who gave them the Law. So, you have Jesus teaching them, “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you…” 

It matters where you start. When you start with Jesus, people and relationships are a priority. To believe is an active response of trust and obedience in developing healthy relationships, working for the good of others, and living with integrity. 

Read Mark 1:21-27 

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He[a] commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 

Reflect

The good news in Mark’s Gospel is “God sent Jesus to oppose all the evil, suffering, and pain in the world.” So, to believe in Jesus, to trust and obey Jesus, is to oppose the evil, suffering, and pain in your communities, neighborhoods, and the world at large. A close read of that scripture implies that there are opposing forces and views at work. 

Mark is writing to a community whose life has been disrupted by persecution. He is offering hope in the midst of suffering and pain by telling stories of Jesus restoring relationships. When Jesus heals a man with leprosy, he is restoring the man to his family, to his community, to his synagogue, to his job. When Jesus encounters a man with demons in the cemetery, he frees the man from living life as if he were dead, trapped in the evil of his living. 

Jesus in Mark’s Gospel

Over and over in Mark’s story, Jesus is facing and overcoming evil, suffering, and pain. Half of his story is about Jesus’ own suffering and death. The question is, “Did Jesus overcome the conflicting forces in the sanctuary?” Did he overcome evil, suffering, and pain? 

It matters where you start. In the story, the unclean spirits know who Jesus is, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” There is no change of behavior. No love of neighbor or enemy. Just a disruption of the life of a man, who knows who Jesus is, but who does not live in trust and obedience. 

Yet, over my years of ministry, I have experienced hundreds of people who have given hours upon hours of their lives to relieve pain and suffering, to work for mercy and justice. Again, with his response to the evil, suffering, and pain did Jesus win in the sanctuary that day? 

The answer to the question is found in your own living, in your own heart. When you start with Jesus, people and relationships are a priority. Your response of trust and obedience makes a difference in opposing the forces that separate people from God and one another. To believe is an active response of trust and obedience in developing healthy relationships, working to address evil, pain, and suffering in whatever form they present themselves. 

Read Luke 4:14-21 

14 Then Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding region. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

Reflect

The good news in Luke is “Jesus not only possessed the Holy Spirit but offers the Holy Spirit to his followers.” So, to believe in Jesus, to trust and obey Jesus, to have the power to communicate across the barriers of race, nation, gender, and culture. When you read Lukes’s story of Jesus, you read stories of the Holy Spirit moving the church past theological, cultural, and marginal differences. 

When Jesus says, “let the children come to me. Do not hinder them…” he is addressing the need in the church to accept persons who have little to offer, and who are not candidates for ministry. When he says, “If they are not against us, they are for us,” he is addressing the concern that there are persons outside of the group of disciples who are working for the good of others. 

Jesus in Luke’s Gospel

Luke tells stories of Saul of Tarsus, who we might say was theological and religiously misaligned with the new community of Jesus followers, he is telling his community that Jesus is greater than the barriers of theology and religion.  When he tells the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, he is telling his community that Jesus cares for those who have been pushed to the edges of society, cut off from the community of faith, and who are not taken seriously. When he tells the story of Simon Peter visiting Cornelius and his family, he is telling us that Jesus is greater than cultural norms and religious laws. 

Luke helps his community understand that even Peter, the leader of the whole movement, had to learn that God does not create anyone to be profane. The power to overcome the barriers comes from the Spirit who is in Jesus, who is in the church, and in you as the followers of Jesus. 

It matters where you start. When you start with Jesus, people and relationships are a priority. God provides the power and insight to navigate the barriers that separate people from God and one another. To believe is an active response of trust and obedience in developing healthy relationships, working to overcome the barriers that separate us from one another, and living with integrity. 

Read John 4:5-9 

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. 

Reflect

The good news in John is “If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God.” So, to believe in Jesus, to trust and obey Jesus, is to trust and obey God. When Philip says, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied,” he is speaking on behalf of all of us. humanity. Just show us God, that is all we need to trust and obey. Jesus responds by saying, “Have I been with you all this time and you still do not know me?” 

John tells his followers that they see God at work in and through Jesus when he feeds 5000 people with loaves and fish, when he heals a woman pushing her way through the crowd, when he relieves a boy of seizures, when a man returns to his family after being healed of leprosy, when he washes their feet, and when he dies upon a cross. John’s good news is experienced in Jesus saying, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” 

The implication is that the work of God is seen in the work of Jesus. The work of God’s love is seen in the way Jesus loves. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God. 

Then, as if to turn things around, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” In other words, to trust and obey Jesus is to live the life of Jesus, loving people the way Jesus has loved you. 

It matters where you start. When you start with Jesus, people and relationships are a priority. To believe means you will be loving others through your feeding, healing, loving, and serving. To say you believe in Jesus is to love others the way God in Jesus has loved you by developing healthy relationships and living with integrity. 

Respond

Over my years in ministry, I have learned that making assumptions is an essential part of leadership. But, when you fill in the gaps in your understanding with unchecked and unexamined assumptions, you set in motion a set of chain reactions of bad decisions and miscommunication. 

Your unchecked assumptions pertain to the scriptures as well. I have experienced gifted leaders who have been fairly accurate in their assumptions. I have also experienced gifted leaders who have alienated themselves from the people they are serving because their assumptions were not accurate. 

The tricky thing about assumptions, especially regarding the scripture, is that you don’t always know when you are relying on them. You are designed, as a human being, to develop shortcuts and to eliminate excess mental processing. The problem is that once your assumptions have been established in your mind, they tend to be enshrined in your heart, never to be questioned again. 

When it comes to the interpretation and understanding of scripture, inaccurate assumptions are blind spots that lead to misconceptions and misunderstandings. When you place your faith in misconceptions and misunderstandings, you cause unnecessary pain and anxiety. The pain and anxiety can be cured through healthy self-awareness and a clearer focus on the living word, Jesus. 

It matters where you start. As a Christ-centered leader, you start with Jesus. It is Jesus who makes you who you are, and who you are is how you lead.   

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. How did you experience placing your faith in Jesus? How did the scripture point to Jesus? In whom did you experience God’s love? With whom did you share God’s love? Who is helping you grow as a leader? What will you do differently tomorrow? Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be. 

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A Final Note

Again, thanks for the opportunity to share a few reflections on my years of ministry. As you already know, a few weeks of blogs does not reflect a lifetime of ministry, so watch for more reflections on ministry. 

Other Posts in the Series, Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry:

It Matters Where You Start, part 1

The Difficulty of Prayer

The Grace in Gratitude

Words are Powerful

The Importance of People