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When Tim and I set up TransformingMission.org in 2015, we did so to share resources about disciple-making. From 2015 until now, we’ve experimented, pivoted, and developed resources to serve Christian leaders in changing times.

Why?

Because as Bob Dylan said all the way back in 1964, Times They Are A Changin’

We recognize the challenges Christian leaders face. We see the challenges within our own denomination. And most importantly, we want to serve you.

We are committed to developing and equipping Christ-centered leaders for changing times.

And by leader, we borrow Brené Brown’s definition. A leader is:

Anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.

If that’s you, we need your help.

Will you please take a few minutes and complete this simple feedback form?

Looking Back to Look Ahead

  • This is our 264th post.
  • We released Episode 087 of LeaderCast on October 1, 2019
  • I’ve lost track of the number of Bible Studies and reading plans we’ve produced. But, we’re working on two right now. One is on courage and another is on call.

Neither one of us ever envisioned a weekly podcast as a part of what we’d share with you. Nor did we envision regular Bible Studies. That may sound silly given our focus on disciple-making. But, really, we thought there we enough Bible Study resources available.

But, you guessed it…Times they are a changin’.

And we’ve recognized while the number of resources could never be larger (hello, Google), there are few places that help people follow Jesus every day.

You see, the broad concept of disciple-making is central to our lives and leadership. And, as we regularly take time to pause, reflect, and pivot so we can continue to serve you with excellence we recognize the critical pause has helped us:

  • Launch a podcast
  • Identify topics for Bible Reading plans
  • Curate blog posts that encourage and equip you as leaders

Our focus remains on Jesus, and…

Yes, we’ll refer to Bob Dylan once more: Times They Are a Changin’.

So when we recently took a critical pause to reflect on what we’re offering you here, we realized we never asked YOU what would be helpful.

You’ll have to trust us that we listen closely to the conversations we have with leaders like you and to the emerging needs in local congregations. But, we’d really like to hear from YOU.

If you’d like to help us serve you, please complete this simple feedback form before October 9 at noon.

Integration

If we’re going to live into our commitment to develop and equip Christ-centered leaders for changing times, we know that means helping you live an integrated life.

But, for many, following Jesus is simply showing up to a religious service on Sunday morning.

That means we have a long road ahead.

If following Jesus means your thinking, feeling, and actions are an embodiment of Jesus every day, we also know there is work to do. And we want to help you grow and develop as Christ-centered leaders. At the center of leadership is living on the outside what you know on the inside. We believe that is true for you and for every Jesus follower who seeks to lead.

Will you please take a few minutes and complete this simple feedback form?

Thanks, in advance, for your time. We know it’s one of the most valuable resources you have. Thanks for sharing your feedback with us.

In Christ,

Sara Thomas and Tim Bias

PS – We’ll keep the feedback link active until Wednesday, October 9 at noon.

Have you seen the television ad about the boy who learns sign language so he can share his sandwich with a classmate?  His name is Joey. The ad opens with Joey lying on his bed, looking at his phone, wearing headphones, and positioning his fingers as if he is learning sign language.

In the next scene Joey is in a swing, looking at his phone, wearing headphones, and again, positioning his fingers as if he is learning sign language. In the third scene, Joey is signing in a mirror while he is brushing his teeth.  The scene cuts to his father making a sandwich for Joey’s lunch.

Then we see Joey on a bus, looking at his phone, wearing headphones, and practicing sign language.  He arrives at school, walks down the hall, looking at his phone, wearing his headphones, practicing his sign language.  In this scene he is so engrossed in learning and practicing sign language, he does not hear his teacher say, “Hey, Joey,” as he walks down the hall.

The Final Scene

The final scene is in the lunchroom.  Joey enters the room with his lunch.  He spots a girl carrying her lunch tray.  As she sits at a table by herself, Joey walks up to her, with his sandwich, and signs out the words, “Hi. My name is Joey. Do you want to share my sandwich?”

And she signs in response, “I’d like that.” Joey sits down with her, offers her half his sandwich, and they eat lunch together.

The caption at that point in the ad is “Good feeds our connections. Good feeds us all.”

 

Connections

Wow!

When I saw that commercial for the first time, I could not believe it was a lunch meat commercial.  I thought it was an ad for a church.

The makers of the ad say,

“…choosing good isn’t always about grand gestures; sometimes it’s as simple as sharing a sandwich or doing the right thing by making better decisions when the path might be confusing and out of reach…choosing to be more imaginative, generous, kind, or loving, there can never be too much good in the world.”

Oh, one more bit of information.  The title of the commercial is “Connections.”

God’s Presence

Now, I don’t want to make more of this than it is, but I want to share with you what this ad has stirred up in me.  I experienced God’s loving presence in and through this story.

I experienced God’s love through Joey offering hospitality to someone who was marginalized by her disability.  Joey exemplified hospitality at its best.

  • Joey decided he wanted to connect with the girl in the lunchroom.
  • He learned what was needed to make the connection. Because she had a hearing disability, he needed to learn sign language so he could talk with her in her language.
  • He focused on making the connection. Joey not only identified what needed to be done (sign language), he took the time to learned and to practice the sign language.
  • Joey made his connection by sharing part of himself to meet her need. He not only learned the sign language but he developed a relationship with the girl by sitting with her, offering part of his sandwich, and making the connection.

…all in a 30-second commercial.

Sharing God’s Love Through Hospitality

Have you considered showing God’s love through offering hospitality? Consider the following:

  • “Welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Roman 15:7). What would happen if you welcome one another as God in Christ has welcomed us?
  • “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God came to be with us in a way we could understand. God relates to us to help us relate to God and to one another. What could happen if we engaged with our community or neighborhood in a way that takes the people seriously?
  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16). Love is the motivation for the connection. Do you and your congregation love the people in the community so much that you are willing to give yourselves?

The Question of Hospitality Transforming Mission

Consider Hospitality

Will you consider Joey’s pattern in sharing God’s love with your community and neighborhood? Consider the following:

  • Do you and your church want to connect with the community or neighborhood where you are located? Just saying you want to connect does not make the connection.
  • What is needed to make the connection? What do you need to learn about the community or the people with whom you want to connect?
  • We can and should pray. “O God, send us the people no one else wants and help us receive the people you send to us.”
  • We can and should engage people in conversation. Take a walk through the community and ask the people you meet these three questions:

1) “What do you love about our community/neighborhood?”

2) “What are the needs in our community?”

3) “Would you be willing to help us meet any of those needs?”

  • Are you willing to make your connection a priority? Are you willing to learn what you need to learn and to practice what you have learned to make the connection?

It’s time to develop relationships to make connections with others.

 

Hospitality as a Response to God’s Grace

The foundation of hospitality is found in responding to God’s grace in your life.  As individuals, we become hospitable when we receive God’s acceptance from others.  As a community of faith, we become hospitable when we live in an authentic relationship with one another.

So, who in your community would benefit from God’s love?  Are you willing to learn to connect with them? What part of yourself are you willing to give to love as you have been loved?

Your answer reveals your hospitality!

Prayer for Hospitality Transforming Mission

Read Part 1: “Is Anybody Listening?”

As I’ve been preparing to share thoughts about listening with you, I read several interesting stories. Some of them were about listening. Others were about the lack of listening.

One of those stories was about Vincent van Gogh.

Before I share what I learned by “listening” to his story, I want you to know that I draw some parallels regarding his life and the life of leaders of our congregations.

It is my hope that as you read this story you will find places to stop and to ask yourself, “Am I listening to God in and through the people around me?”

Is van Gogh a Teacher?

At age twenty-four, Vincent Van Gogh was struggling with what to do with his life.  Although he was a successful art dealer, he felt there was more he needed to do with the life God had given him.

At this point, no one seemed to question is restlessness. His brother, Theo, who seemed to know him the best, encouraged him to become an artist.  But Vincent refused his brother’s advice.  Instead, he left a promising career as an art dealer and began studying to be a teacher.

Now, please know that being a teacher was a great life decision, but for Vincent, it was the beginning of a harmful pattern.

Is van Gogh an Evangelist?

Within the year, it became apparent that Vincent would not make it through the rigorous training required of teachers. He neither had the temperament nor the talent for it.  Again, he asked his brother, Theo, for advice.  But against the encouragement of Theo, his parents, and other relatives, Vincent decided to become an evangelist.

Again, I want to say, being an evangelist would have been a great life decision, but for Vincent, it was a continuation of a harmful pattern.

Who Am I?

The pattern?

Vincent van Gogh had a difficult time receiving the counsel and coaching of others.  It seems as if he had a strange sense of who he was.  At this point in his life, as religious as he was, instead of trusting God and others with his life, he trusted only himself with himself.

He refused to listen to the people around him, particularly the people who loved him and cared about him.  No matter what his vocation, his behavior was a sign, not of spiritual maturity, but of well-masked pride and arrogance.

Am I Listening? Transforming Mission

Am I Listening?

Here is where I want you to ask yourself the question, “Am I listening to God in and through the people around me?”

Only as an example and not to be overly critical, I want to say that over my years of ministry, I have met people like Vincent van Gogh.  People who have been greatly talented and skilled for what they are doing, but who think they can maintain a personal relationship with God while avoiding the relationships of everyday human interaction.

I have heard them say, “My faith is private.  It is between me and God.”

They believed they could experience all that God had for them without receiving the love of others. Vulnerability was seen as a weakness.  They isolated themselves. Sometimes the isolation was based upon ideas of purity or hard work and at other times it was based upon spiritual superiority. I have heard them say, “I have worked hard for what I have.  I am blessed.”

Are You Listening to God?

My question is, “Are you listening to God in and through the people around you?”

A quick look at the life of Jesus might help answer the question.  Jesus intentionally chose to live and work with fallible and ordinary people.

According to the stories in the gospels, the twelve disciples were not the model of perfection.  Jesus broke with the customs of his day and allowed women into his inner circle.  Even in the home of the rich and famous, Jesus allowed Mary Magdalene to minister to him. There are many other examples of vulnerability.  He chose a lifestyle of isolation over vulnerability.

Real-Time Relationships

Van Gogh recoiled from vulnerability.  He chose to abandon all his relationships, except the one with his brother.  Even with that relationship, he refused to listen to Theo’s ongoing insights into his artistic gift.

Van Gogh rejected the counsel and coaching of church leaders regarding his service.  In his isolation, he wallowed in self-pity.  He said he wanted to live for others but all is actions proved differently.

Ultimately, his remorse brought him to the point of giving up his faith.  He became disappointed with God because God did not reward his self-denial and pure aspirations to love his fellow humans.

I find it interesting that van Gogh never considered that God did not abandon him but rather was speaking to him in and through the people who loved him and who counseled and coached him.

Let me ask you again: Are you listening to God in and through the people around you?

Is van Gogh an Artist?

Van Gogh finally found his calling as an artist.  In a particularly dark moment in his life, he wrote to Theo, “I said to myself, ‘I’ll take up my pencil again, I will take up drawing,’ and from that moment everything had changed for me.”

He finally found his calling, but in doing so, he abandoned the relationships he longed for and needed, including his relationship with God. As a result, his capacity for creating art become a curse to him instead of a blessing.

Through his artistic career, van Gogh persisted in ignoring the advice of those who cared deeply for him, leaving a trail of broken relationships.  He pursued his painting with such an obsession that he demanded people accept his terms for living and loving.  His lonely life became representative of a person misunderstood and unloved by an antagonistic culture.

Was it Art or the Heart?

One tragedy of van Gogh’s career was his refusal to listen to the guidance of others.  If he had listened to those who he could trust, he would have begun painting much earlier in life, avoiding the frustrations and pain of choosing unwisely.

But the greatest tragedy of his life was he could not love others because he was not fulfilled himself.  He would not allow God or others to meet his deepest needs.

Can you image what he could have produced had he found his dream community of artists pursuing art for the common good?

But his desire to control and manipulate the lives of others got in the way.  Van Gogh drove people away. He would not allow people to come close to him, alongside him, to help him develop his real talents and strengths.  He would not allow those closest to him to address his personality flaws, weaknesses, or poor habits.  So ultimately, it was not his art that brought him down, it was his heart.

Ask Yourself: Am I Listening?

So, here is the question, “Am I listening to God in and through the people around me?”

That is a question, not only for you as a leader but for your congregation.  Are you listening to the community in which you are located?  As local churches, we can no longer be isolated, doing our own thing, and expect the community to pay attention to us.

What would happen if we began to listen to God in and through one another and the community?

We might just find our true calling.

Are you listening?

Coming Soon!

I want to Dare to Lead!
 
Send me more information about Dare to Lead and the next opportunity to participate in a workshop experience.

 

Leonard Sweet, in his book Out of the Question…Into the Mystery, writes, “We know how to save the world.  We just don’t realize that we know what we know.  The way to save the world is not through more rules to live by, but through right relationships to live for.  People are fast losing the art of being with one another.”

I experienced this recently in a church meeting (of all places).  It was a meeting where information was being shared. The people in attendance were giving their opinions and offering their advice.  The group was seeking direction.

Although everyone in attendance had something to say, not everyone in attendance was heard.

One of the people who offered, what I thought was a good direction, was not even acknowledged.  In fact, it was as if this person was not even present in the meeting.

Although there was nothing malicious, my attempts at getting this person recognized were dismissed as the group discussion moved on to other topics.

As I reflect on this experience, I know this is not new for those historically marginalized.  People have been fighting for a place at the table, struggling to be heard, to be taken seriously for too long.

  • Why is it that we recognize some people but not all people?
  • Why is it that we look over some people without even noticing we have done so?
  • And, if we do this with individuals, do we do this with the community and our neighborhoods as well?

 

Is Anybody Listening? Transforming Mission

Are You More Willing to Talk than Listen?

From my perspective, we live in a time when we are more willing to talk than we are to listen.  As I write these words I am aware that I am talking through this blog.

If you can give me a moment to offer my “bias” opinion, I want to enter into dialogue with you regarding our disconnection with one another and the disconnection between our local churches and our communities.

I want to find out if anyone is listening.

Is Anybody Listening? Transforming Mission

Five Reasons We Don’t Listen

Is it too harsh to say that we don’t listen because…

1.We are too busy. It is not even about time.

We seem too preoccupied with our own thoughts, needs, technology, worries, and problems. Perhaps we’re too busy talking about ourselves to listen to others.

2. We don’t know how to listen.

Listening is the ability to relate to people with a genuine interest in them and compassion for them. It not easy and it takes practice. It does not come naturally.

3. We think faster than we talk.

Our brains can receive spoken words and still have time for thinking.  Anyone sitting through a sermon on Sunday morning knows that to be true. Too often we go on mental sidetracks and miss what is being said or we are formulating our opinions without taking seriously what is said.

4. We don’t hear what we want to hear.

When someone hits upon one of our issues or prejudices, we stop listening and begin rehearsing our objections, without listening to what is being said.

5. We don’t particularly care for the person speaking.

In this situation, we form our opinions and dismiss someone without giving them the opportunity to be heard. I think that is what happened at the meeting I attended.

Too_____.

I’ve grown to understand that when we don’t listen, we fail God.  I think it is important to remember that God has given us two ears and one mouth.  Could it be we have opportunities to listen more than we do to speak?  God has given us the capacity to listen, but we misuse that capacity when we are too busy, too distracted, too preoccupied, too privileged to hear what the other person is saying.

When we don’t listen, we shut ourselves off from one another.  We give up the opportunity to learn from one another, to understand one another, and to love one another. We give up the opportunity to develop the relationships that help us become who God created us to be.

I think Sweet is on to something when he writes, “The way to save the world is…through right relationships to live for.”

Is Anybody Listening? Transforming Mission

Five Characteristics of a Good Listener

I offer the following to assist us in developing the relationships that make a difference? I believe listening will help us connect with one another and connect our local churches with our communities.

What does it mean to be a good listener?  A good listener is a person of:

1. Compassion:

The word compassion literally means “to suffer with” or “to empathize.” To listen with compassion means to relate to persons as individuals and not as “types” of persons who we have classified and labeled. To listen with compassion means to relate to the community with an open heart and mind, not telling the community what it needs, but listening to what the community says it needs.

2. Concentration

This means focusing attention, eyes as well as ears on the person, concentrating on what is being said and not on what we want to say next. This means focusing on the community, learning the assets as well as the needs, in such a way that the church interacts within the community and not interjects into the community.

3. Control

This involves patience and self-control. We learn when to speak and when not to speak. As individuals, we do not need to have an answer to every question.  As the church, we do not need to be experts on all the issues.  We don’t need to feel threatened when church and culture collide. But we do need compassion to be with the community in uncertain times.

4. Comprehension

The responsibility of the listener is not to agree or to get others to agree with him or her. As the listener, it is your responsibility to seek to understand “what is going on” and “what is being said.” The same can be said for the church.  The responsibility of the church is to understand the dynamics of the community and to engage in the life of the community, connecting assets with needs and developing relationships of trust and care.

5. Commitment

Good listening is built on love and care. As Christians, you and I do what love demands. If we are genuinely concerned for others, then we make ourselves available.  As the church, if we genuinely care about the community, then we make a commitment to listen, to interact, and to respond with the appropriate action.

Let me ask you again, is anybody listening? Let’s see if we can listen to a conversation between a pastor and church leader and discover our response.

Is Anybody Listening?

Is Anybody Listening?

There once was a church who developed a community meal for the neighborhood.  The people of the church, most of whom lived in other communities, wanted to help feed the people who seemed to be hungry and who lived close to the church building.

Over time, the guests who came on Thursday evenings to the community meal started to attend Sunday morning worship.  The people in the church began to feel a little uncomfortable.  They had moved out of the community because it had changed.  The one thing that had not changed was their church.

Eventually, one of the leaders took the pastor aside and asked him, “Do these people have to here with us.  Can’t we provide a special service just for them?  You know, on Thursday evening when they are here to eat?”

The pastor answered, “Well, I think everyone should have a chance to meet Jesus face to face.”

The leader replied, “Of course everyone should have a chance to meet Jesus.  I think they should have the same opportunities to meet Jesus as we all do.”

The pastor responded, “I’m not talking about them! I’m talking about you.”

We know how to save the world.  We just don’t realize that we know what we know.

Is anybody listening?

 

Your Next Step

Pick one action below to act on in the next three days.

  1. Explore the LeaderCast Podcast Episodes and listen to one episode in the next three days. Here’s your opportunity to practice what you’ve just read!
  2. Download the Workbook for 7 Missional Questions and listen to one of the accompanying LeaderCast episodes below.
  3. Sign-up to learn the skills to lead with courage – and yes, that includes the skill of listening!

Transforming Mission exists to help you transform your relationship with Christ, with your congregation and with your local community. If you can’t find a resource on this site to address your needs, please contact us. We’re here to help!

 

 

Over the past two weeks, my wife and her sister have been preparing for an estate sale.  They are sifting and sorting through 60+ years of financial records, photographs, keepsakes, furniture, clothes, etc.

Since the death of both of her parents, the house is sitting empty, filled with years of memories and stuff. I use the word “stuff” because what was once seen as a keepsake, Kim and I are questioning, “Why do we need to keep that?”

For example, my wife ran across the candles, the table decorations, worship folders for our wedding. They were neatly tucked away in a box, placed in a closet, and forgotten. Kim and I have been married for 43 years.

Do we need the candles, the decorations, and folders of our wedding? We have some very good memories over our 43 years together. Those candles are a part of those memories. But we have long passed the time to keep those candles.

Moments of Nostalgia

For some reason, my dear mother-in-law kept all the little dresses my wife wore before she ever started to school. Over the years she added my daughter’s dresses, and my son’s pants and shirts, along with some boots and shoes. Oh, there have been some moments of nostalgia, but we have long past the need to keep those clothes, just for the memories.

So, Kim has been placing most of the “stuff” in the “for sale” pile. There are tears, as well as laughter at “one person’s trash, is another person’s treasure.”  It was not difficult to decide that we needed an estate sale. Even with all the memories, my wife said, “It just is not the same without Mom and Dad here. They were the ones who made this house a home.”

The 500 Year Rummage Sale

Phyllis Tickle, in her book The Great Emergence, used the analogy of “The 500-Year Rummage Sale” to describe religious change over the years. She wrote that historically, the church “cleans house” roughly every 500 years, holding what she calls a “giant rummage sale,” deciding what to dispose and what to keep, making room for new things.

She wrote that the time of Christ was the first rummage sale.  It was an era she called “The Great Transformation.” It began when Jesus, who was “Emmanuel, God With Us,” created a new understanding of our relationship with God.

Then five hundred years later was the collapse of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages. It was in this period, the church entered an era of preservation as the church went underground with monks and nuns practicing the monastic tradition in abbeys and convents.

At the beginning of the new millennium in 1054, came “The Great Schism,” when the Christian Church split into the Eastern and Western branches that we still see today in the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.

Then in the 1500s, “The Reformation” resulted in new branches of the Christian tradition, with different understandings of how people relate to God personally through direct prayer and individual interpretation of the bible.

Is the Church Ready for the Next Rummage Sale?

Every 500 years or so, Tickle wrote, there are tectonic shifts in the Christian tradition, resulting in huge changes of both understanding and of practice.  So, it’s been 500 years since the Reformation. Is the church ready for its next giant rummage sale?

Over the years of my ministry, the world has changed tremendously. Our understanding of science has progressed exponentially, forcing us to reconcile scientific and religious thought. We are culturally more diverse. We are living longer. Family units take a variety of forms. We are a global community, no longer confined to the boundaries of our physical neighborhoods. We have access to facts, data, opinions, and information instantly through computers we keep in our pockets. Communication and access to news are immediate and unfiltered.

We change our minds, for better or for worse, with every bit of information we process. How could these things not alter how we understand who we are, why we exist, and where God is in our lives?

500 Year Rummage Sale for the church? Transforming Mission

We’re In a New Era

I remember when the church was the religious and social center of the activities of most families. Everyone went to church on Sunday morning and often Sunday evening as well. Today, church affiliation, not to mention church attendance, is no longer the norm. Yet, people who identify as “spiritual but not religious” are on the rise. God is still important, but identifying with a religious brand is not.

Tickle said we are in a new era of “The Emergent Church.” It is a religious movement that crosses denominational boundaries, seeks common ground, engages diverse cultures, and embraces social causes as ways of living out Christ’s call to serve others. It is interesting that it takes place largely outside of church buildings.

Just for the Memories…

So, have we come to the time for our next great rummage sale?  Reflect upon your faith. What is necessary for you to be a Jesus follower?  Consider what you need to love the people around you as God in Christ has loved you? What do you need to give away, throw away, or move past? Even though it brings good memories or it has helped you become who you are, what is it that you have no need of keeping, just for the memories?

I have given my life to the church.  I admit that change is hard.  Yet, because our world has changed and our culture is different, it is time to give up what is no longer useful and to take up what best shares God’s transforming love.

Weighing What’s Important

Glen Adsit served most of his years of ministry in China.  He was under house arrest in China when the soldiers came and said, “You and your family can return to America.” The family was celebrating when the soldiers said, “You can take two hundred pounds with you.”

The family had been there for years.  They had a lot of stuff. It was when they got the scales out and began to weigh their belongings, that they began to disagree on what to take with them. He, his wife, and two children all had something they wanted to take.  They weighed everything. The vase, the new typewriter, the books.  Finally, they got the weight down to two hundred pounds.  It was painful but it was done.

The soldiers returned the next day and asked, “Ready to go?”

“Yes,” was the reply.

“Did you weigh everything?”

“Yes.”

“Did you weigh the kids?”

“No, we didn’t.”

“Then, weigh the kids.”

It was at that moment that the vase, the typewriter, and the books all lost their importance.  Each item became trash.

A New Life is Ahead!

As painful has it might be, it is time for an estate sale. God is calling us to something bigger than ourselves, bigger than the United Methodist Church, even bigger than the church universal.

The message of our Christian faith is one of resurrection and renewal. Paul wrote, “The old life is gone; a new life has begun.” It is time to give up some of the “stuff” we have been hanging onto. It is time to move boldly and faithfully into the future. Let’s follow God’s lead and stay focused on Jesus. I believe a new life is ahead for you, for me, and for the church.

Some of you are stepping into new appointments in a few weeks. You will transition from one congregation to another, learn the names and lives of another group of Jesus followers, and develop life-long relationships which will bring meaning to your lives.

Others of you will return to faith communities where you are investing your lives in developing relationships, learning the needs and assets of the congregation, and engaging the congregation with the community.

Whether stepping into a new appointment or returning to a congregation, I want to remind you of three basic practices for leaders.

Three Essential Practices Transforming MissionPractice 1: Prayer

The first practice is Prayer. As a pastor, I learned early that most people wanted something from me or wanted me to do something for them. Early in my ministry, I liked the idea of being needed and wanted. The demand-filled day was welcomed. It was nice to be needed. After a while I realized that all requests for my time and energy were urgent. Even the trivial actions were dressed in words of importance.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but the edge of the flattery began to wear off when I realized no one demanded that I practice a life of prayer. Even though I thought prayer was at the heart of my ministry, I was not praying. Oh, I prayed in worship and in public events, but I was not personally listening to God or guiding others into listening to God.

It was only when I began to intentionally focus upon prayer and to develop a life of prayer that I began to focus upon God’s desire for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of prayer. Please don’t let the urgent keep you from focusing on and listening to God.

Practice 2: Reading, Reflecting, and Responding to the Scriptures

The second practice is the reading, reflecting, and responding to the Scriptures. Again, early in my ministry, I found myself reading, teaching, and preaching the Scriptures more for information than for formation. Although reading and reflecting upon the Scripture was basic to my work, I began to realize that using the Scripture was not the same as listening to God.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but I began to recognize that I was out of relationship with God and with God’s people. I began to understand that a major part of my work was to listen for God in and through the Scriptures. So, I began to study Scripture more for formation. I began to listen for God in and through the Scriptures. I began to ask God to help improve the acoustics so I could reflect and respond more clearly.

It was when I began to intentionally focus upon the reading, reflecting, and responding to the Scriptures that I discovered more of God’s design and desire for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of Bible study. Develop a pattern of reading, reflecting, and responding to Scripture. Improve the acoustics so you can hear God more often and more clearly.

Practice 3: Self-Awareness and Self-Leadership

The third practice is to be who God created you to be. Over the years of my ministry, I have wasted too much time and energy focused upon pleasing people. There have been times when I have lost myself in wanting people to like me. My insecurity showed up when I worked harder for compliments than I did at caring and compassion.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but trying to be all things to all people got old in a hurry. I learned that for me to be my best was to be who God created me to be. So, I surrounded myself with people who loved me as I was but who would not let me stay the way I was.

Through the development of mature and intimate relationships, I learned and experienced God’s love in life-transforming ways. I was encouraged to be who God created me to be which set me free to lead courageously with hope.

It was when I began to intentionally focus upon developing caring relationships that I truly began to trust God and the people around me. It was when I began to be who God created me to be that I began to live the life God desired for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of getting to know yourself. Surround yourself with people who love you and who will clear a space for you to be who God created you to be. It will be in living out God’s design for your life that you will make the greatest impact upon family, friends, and congregation.

You and I have the opportunity to shape the course of our lives. As you enter this next season of your work, develop a life of prayer; and, read, reflect, and respond to the Scriptures. Let’s grow together in becoming the leaders God has created us to be.

When do you do it?

John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, tells the story of the first time he attended worship in a Christian church. He said he didn’t know what to expect, but what he thought was going to happen did not happen. After attending worship for three Sundays, he became frustrated.

One Sunday, after worship, he approached a man who looked like someone with authority.

Wimber asked, “When do you do it?”
The man, who was an usher that morning, asked, “When do we do what?”
Wimber answered, “You know, the stuff,”
The usher replied, “And what stuff might that be?”
Wimber said, becoming more frustrated by the moment, “The stuff in the Bible.”
Now the usher is frustrated, “I still don’t understand. Help me. What do you mean?”
Wimber said, “You know, multiplying loaves and fish, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, giving sight to blind people. That stuff.”
The usher replied somewhat apologetically, “Oh, we don’t do that. We talk about it and pray about it, but we don’t actually do it. No one really does it, except maybe those crazy fundamentalists.”

What does the church value?

The values of the church in the above story are revealed through the actions and inactions of the congregation. Anyone of our congregations will reveal who we are to the community through our actions and inactions with the people we encounter.

Often our values are unnamed. When this is the case, it is only when a conflict of values occurs, that we become aware of what we value. As a congregation, when conflicts arise around core values, consider whether you have stated your core values.

But don’t stop there.

Name the behaviors that bring the values to life. When you do, you’ll be better able to encourage people as well as define expectations of within the church culture. people understand the expectations of following Jesus. Afterall The core values point to who we are as Jesus followers.

After all, if our core values are going to help reveal who we are as Jesus followers, they will propel us to action. If this seems like a challenge, remember, you’re not alone on this journey. Scripture reveals the conflict of values that can unfold as we encounter the love of Jesus.

As a leader, consider exploring the core values of your congregation. Then, identify the behaviors that accompany the values. You'll be better able to encourage your congregation to follow Jesus. Find out more on the blog. #values #church #jesus #faith #transformingmission Transforming MissionA Conflict of Values in Scripture

Look at the story in John, chapter 9. It was the Sabbath day. A blind man comes to Jesus for healing. With a little spit, dirt, and a loving touch, Jesus restores the man’s sight. You would think the church would rejoice and celebrate this miracle performed in their very midst. But they are working from a different set of values.

A theological debate breaks out. It goes like this:

Part 1

“Wait a minute, doesn’t this man know that it’s against the law to heal on the Sabbath? The man must be a sinner, or he wouldn’t break the law like that.”
“Yes, but if he’s a sinner, how did he heal the blind man?”
“Well maybe the guy was just pretending to be blind.”
“His whole life he’s been pretending to be blind? I just don’t think he could pull that off. He’s not that smart, you know. He’s never even been to school. What would have been the point? You can’t teach a blind man to read and write.”
“Well, let’s go ask his parents. They ought to know.”

Part 2

So off they go to question the man’s parents.

“Is this your son?”
“Well, yes, he looks like our son, except for the fact that he can see and our son has been blind all his life.”
“Well, how could it be that he’s been blind all his life, but now he can see?”
“I don’t know! You’ll have to ask him.”

So, they question the man again.

Part 3

I can imagine this conversation going like this: “Hey you. Yes, you, the one who was once blind. You! What is going on here? We better get some answers from you, or you’re going to be in serious trouble.”

And the man replies, “Look, I really don’t know how to answer you. All I know for sure is that I was blind until Jesus came along, and now I see. Can’t you just accept that and leave me alone?”
“Oh, we’ll leave you alone, all right. Get out of here, and don’t come back! Find someplace else to go to church!”
Now, why would they do that? The answer is, or at least my answer is, they are operating out of a different set of values. Even though they say they are God’s people, they are revealing a different identity.Your value comes not in what you do or accomplish. Your value comes in following Jesus. As a leader, consider exploring the core values of your congregation. #values #church #jesus #faith #transformingmission Transforming Misssion

Walk As Children of the Light

This story reveals a conflict of values. The one who was born blind learns to walk in the light, while those who were gifted with normal sight choose to remain in darkness.

When we consider our own calling to “walk as children of light,” it’s easy to recognize which character in the story we ought to imitate. Like the man born blind, we too have been restored by our encounter with Jesus. We too have been saved by God’s free grace, and our eyes have been opened to see the world in a new, counter-cultural way.

If God’s grace is a value we’re willing to claim, our response to God’s grace will also come from our values. The challenge is, when aspirational values lead the way, we leave people wondering, “Is this who we are?” “Is this what defines us?” Instead of questioning who we are, let’s help people celebrate who we are as followers of Jesus.

Our core values motivate and sustain our behavior over the long run. Our values guide our behavior as well as our relationships with one another and with the community. Let’s be intentional in developing, sharing, and teaching the core values that focus our ministry and mission. When we do, we’ll be better able to help others encounter Jesus – the One who feeds, heals, and gives us eyes to walk as children of the light.

So let it be.

What’s Your Next Step?

  1. Download the Congregational Core Values Companion Sheets. You’ll be guided through leading local church leadership in identifying the congregation’s core values and the accompanying behaviors the church seeks to encourage.
  2. Listen to LeaderCast Episode 062: Are You Walking Your Talk? A conversation about congregational core values and behaviors
  3. Participate in Following Jesus Every Day: Galatians, Gospel of Gracea daily Bible Study that invites you to read, reflect, and respond to Scripture every day. We’ll deliver an email to your inbox each morning to help you journey through the book of Galatians. Sign up today! We’re starting April 22.

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

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

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

Self-Differentiated Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

Saks uses examples of people like:

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

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

Remember

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Do You Need to Be?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like a tree planted by the water:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be a Courageous Leader

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

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

 

Take Action:

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

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

051: We have a disciple-making problem

052: Can I trust you?

053: Four Essential Phases of Building Relationships

054: Habits that Keep us Grounded

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

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

 

Note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Questions

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

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

Five Lessons I’m Learning from TGIF

Lesson 1: Practice Doesn’t Necessitate Perfection

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

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

Lesson 2: Be Surprised By the Past

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

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

Lesson 3: Random Weeks v. Theme Weeks

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

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

Lesson 4: Reflection Multiplies Learning

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

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

Lesson 5: Social Media is weird.

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

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

Keep Growing

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

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

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