Tag Archive for: missional church

Defining Leadership in Today’s World

Who or what defines a leader? How do you understand the concept of leadership?

I am discovering that most people assume that they know good leadership. Their understandings are based upon what they have seen or experienced. Sometimes their view is limited to a particular place, like the workplace, a service club, the PTA, or the church. Other times their view is based upon a person who has helped meet a need or shown some particular interest in relating to people.

Shifting Views on Leadership

Some people experience leadership all the time. Whether at work, school, the grocery store, or wherever they interact with people. They experience some form of leadership. They understand themselves as leaders, regardless of position or power. Wherever they encounter people, they have the opportunity to influence and to motivate people in one way or another.

In today’s culture, there are many ways to define, think about, and approach leadership. Some say a leader is one who inspires and motivates action. Others say a leader influences and advances change for a more equitable world. Then, there are others who say that a leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential (Brené Brown). Regardless of your definition, your belief about leadership informs what you think about and practice as a leader. So, how do you understand leadership?

The Need for New Leadership Models

Over my time in ministry, leadership has been limited in understanding. It has been seen as either pastoral (caring for God’s people, counseling, and spiritual care) or entrepreneurial (the leader knows where the church needs to go and has the vision, passion, and strategy to take it there). Pastoral leadership has its roots in scripture. Entrepreneurial leadership has its roots in the sociological aspects of the culture. Both models have their strengths and have met particular needs at particular times.

Because of the cultural shifts being experienced today, the time has come to rethink our leadership models. Most of us have been trained to be good caregivers and caretakers of the people entrusted to us. As we seek uniformity and stability in our congregations, we have learned that good pastoral care helps to get better results. I agree that good pastoral leadership is needed, but it is not enough to navigate the shifts taking place.

Because of the sharp decline in church membership and worship attendance, we have decided to rethink how we develop congregations. Some of you have special gifts of vision and development. You know how to start new faith communities and grow new congregations. I agree that leaders with entrepreneurial gifts are needed, but entrepreneurial leadership is not enough to overcome the shifts taking place.

Please hear me, I am not saying we don’t need pastoral and entrepreneurial leadership. But I am saying neither are adequate, by themselves, to lead through the cultural shifts of today. Both models have their place in providing effective Christ-centered leadership. But, even together, they fall short of the leadership needed to navigate the shifts being experienced today.

Cultural Shifts and the Role of Missional Leadership

Several years ago, I read a story about Halloween Mischief Night in a Philadelphia neighborhood. Two boys broke into a store. They didn’t steal anything, but they did something worse. They went around and changed the price tags on everything in the store. The next morning, people found televisions selling for $10.00, while phone adapters were selling for $1200. What had been made valuable was made cheap, and what was cheap had been made valuable.

That story is a silly illustration of what has happened in our culture over the past several years. It is almost as though someone has broken into our culture and changed the price tags. What we once thought was really valuable and precious does get as much attention as what has always been considered frivolous and worthless. The ground seems to be moving under our feet, and there is no firm place to stand. We are in the midst of some sharp cultural shifts.

The Call for Missional Leaders

The followers of Jesus have navigated cultural shifts from the very beginning. In the early church, the followers of Jesus were sent to serve and convert the world, to care for the sick, the prisoner, the widow, the children, and the poor. They knew they had been called and commissioned by Jesus to carry on his loving service in the world.

They were to engage the world, not withdraw from it. In the middle of a hostile environment, they were to witness to God’s love The front door was the frontier into mission. They were compelled to take the life they shared in the congregation and cross over the threshold into the hostile world outside.

Baptism was a powerful symbol of death to things of the hostile culture and a new birth into the way of Jesus. It was their call to be missional leaders. It meant that they put their lives on the line for the love of God they had experienced in and through Jesus. (The Greek word translated for “witness” is the same word for “martyr”). Leaders put their lives on the line for the love of God.

Living Out the Mission

Then with the conversion of the Roman emperor, Constantine, Christianity became the official religion of the empire. The church was no longer in a hostile environment because the church and the culture became intertwined. The followers of Jesus were no longer called upon to witness in a hostile world because everyone in the culture was Christian.

Over time the church shifted from a community of convinced, committed, believers supporting one another within a hostile environment to a community of good, law-abiding citizens, who paid taxes and supported both religious and secular institutions. Unity was no longer centered upon Jesus but shifted to administration, theology, and politics. Institutional structures were developed to minimize discord and to reconcile differences.

To become a follower of Jesus was to be born into the church. Baptism was no longer a call to mission but an affirmation of your place in the church. People became organizational leaders who became loyal and obedient to the institution.

Today, we no longer live in a culture where we can assume everyone is a follower of Jesus. We can no longer assume that the church is part of the community or vice versa. Although the culture is not totally hostile to the good news of God’s love, A new way of living out the mission is emerging. The shift is back to the mission field being just outside the front door of the church, of the workplace, of your home.

A New Way of Leading: Missional Leadership

In a time in which the mission field is changing, pastoral and entrepreneurial leadership alone are inadequate. The cultural shifts call for more than transitional change. There is a deep need and yearning for transformation. There is a call for a new understanding of leadership. Although pastoral and entrepreneurial leadership are part of it, a new way of leading is emerging. The orientation of leadership is different.

For the sake of clarity, I am calling this new leadership orientation missional leadership. It is not a new leadership concept or model, but it is a new and different orientation for most Christ-centered leaders today.

Missional leadership has its roots in the love of God. At the very heart of missional leadership is the development of a congregational environment where God is the center of conversation and where God shapes the focus and work of the people. It is about a cultural change that is powered by curiosity and imagination more than new techniques or programs.

Shaping Cultural Imagination and Embracing God’s Love

It is about shaping cultural imagination in order to create an environment where people, both in the community and in the church, are embraced by God’s love and set free to love others as they have been loved. It is a missional orientation that cultivates the practice of searching scripture, discerning prayer, and Christian conversation for the purpose of discovering places of God’s life-giving future in Jesus.

Missional leaders know the difference between transitional and transformational change.

They know that transitional change is focused on maintaining stability. What changes are made are reactions to what has caused a disruption or discomfort. The ultimate goal, whether intended or not, is stability at all costs, while transformational change names current reality, focuses upon the goal of new life, and leads the necessary change to build upon the fundamentals that bring about new life.

Differentiating Transitional and Transformational Change

They understand that transitional change is concerned with creating as little pain as possible, while transformational change is “ripping off the band-aid” and moving toward a new reality.

They recognize that transitional change works to maintain the status quo, even if by a different name, while transformational change works to adapt to the changing world and is willing to pay the cost to become effective and fruitful.

Missional leaders have a growing understanding that the church, which is made up of Jesus followers, lives the gospel message that not only embraces personal salvation for individuals but also embraces salvation for communities, cities, social systems, and all of creation. They lead by putting God’s mission at the center.

With entrepreneurial gifts, they develop relationships that assist people in understanding that God’s mission is not about personal preferences, pleasing people, or promoting prosperity. With the care and compassion of the pastor, they lead the shift from program-focused ministry to people-focused ministry. They model leadership by engaging with the community, adapting to societal changes, and helping people become followers of Jesus. They highlight the need to understand and embrace the local community, moving from attractional models to celebrating what God is doing in the community and in the lives of the people.

Engaging the Church and Community

Missional leaders engage the church in God’s active healing and wholeness, leading people to break down the barriers and navigate the obstacles to God’s mercy, equity, justice, and reconciliation. They engage the church and community to “scatter across the countryside” with the love of God experienced and known in Jesus.

So, said in another way, missional leadership isn’t about getting people to a church building on Sunday mornings; it’s about meeting people where they are and forming genuine connections. These connections are the catalyst for healthy and mutual transformation.

In a culture that feels like the price tags have been changed, missional leaders help the church be who God created the church to be at unexpected times in unexpected ways.

A few years ago, in a small rural community Presbyterian church, a young single mother brought her baby to the church to be baptized. On the day of the baptism, she stood alone before the congregation, holding her baby in her arms.

The pastor had not recognized the awkwardness of the situation. He came to the part in the baptismal service when the questions were asked, “Who stands with this child to assure the commitments and promises made here will be carried out? Who will be there for this child in times of need and assure that this child is brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?”

It was then that the pastor realized there was no grandparent or godparent to answer the questions. But without hesitation, as though on cue, the entire congregation stood and with one voice said, “We will.”

Missional Leaders Embody God’s Love

At the very heart of missional leadership is God’s love for all people. Missional leaders develop a congregational environment where God shapes the focus and work of the people. They help shape the cultural imagination in order to create an environment where people, both in the community and in the church, are embraced by God’s love and set free to love others as they have been loved.

Although there is much more that can be and should be said about missional leadership, I will end with this: How do you understand the concept of leadership? Who will stand with the community to ensure the love of God is experienced and known in and through the church? Will you be present and available in times of need and assurance to nurture and guide the community to become who God has created the community to be? Who is ready and willing to be a missional leader? Who you are is how you lead.

What does it mean to be the church today? 

There are several answers to that question. 

For some people, it means being a member of a religious community that shares common beliefs and practices. It involves participating in worship services, engaging in spiritual development, and contributing to both the missional and social activities of the congregation. Although the makeup of the church varies based upon location and beliefs, the congregation is held together by the involvement of its members in the programs and activities offered.   

For other people, it means being a member of a religious social club that shares common political and social views. It involves participating in worship services and in the activities and services that best reflect the political, theological, and missional preferences of the majority of members. It implies that membership has its privileges. 

And for others, it means being a follower of Jesus in relationship with other followers of Jesus in growing together in faith and in engaging the community in love, particularly God’s love. It involves worship, spiritual development, and growing in God’s love as experienced in and through Jesus. The congregation is held together by an intentional focus upon Jesus and less by common activities, political views, beliefs, or preferences. 

Rooted in Christendom

Each of the three answers is rooted in Christendom, but the last answer best reflects what it means to be the church today. Confused? Let’s put it into context. 

Regardless of your definition or understanding of church, we all consider ourselves to be Christian. With our formation rooted in a culture assumed to be Christian, we understand ourselves to be born into the church. So, what is the problem? We are good, law-abiding, tax-paying, moral, God-fearing, Americans. For too many of us, being Christian is more about being a good citizen than it is about being a follower of Jesus. 

As church members, we are products of a culture that has less to do with God’s love than it does with believing the right beliefs and behaving in socially acceptable ways. 

Have You Replaced Jesus?

How has this happened? In many churches, we have replaced Jesus with theological beliefs, denominational structures, political views, preferences, and even the Bible. Each of these things are extremely important and have their place in our lives, but the church, at its best, is a community of grace-filled Jesus followers seeking to put their faith into action. By God’s grace, we seek to love people and to love the community in which we are located.   

I believe we want to be that community of Jesus followers, but we are blinded by the culture that has shaped our faith and our living. 

For example, our churches live with the idea that everyone is Christian when in reality up to 60% of the people in our communities have no Christian connection or memory. That means you can no longer assume that your neighbor is a Christian or that your community is living out values derived from the Gospel. This has been a reality for a long time, but our assumptions have not changed. 

Fall in Love with Jesus Again

How do we reconnect with the people in our communities?

To reconnect with the people in your community, fall in love with Jesus again. As a follower of Jesus, Jesus informs who you are, what you say, and how you act.

Jesus is our focus in the church. This is a shift from Christian faith being faith in general to a particular faith centered in a person, Jesus. It is a shift from Christian faith being a philosophy to being a way of living in relationship with others. It is a shift from faith being a system of moral ideals to a way of loving others the way God has loved you. It is a shift from faith in a set of biblical beliefs to faith centered in the person of Jesus, the anointed one of God.

It is Jesus who makes possible a right relationship with God, who properly relates you to your neighbor, and who helps you establish a healthy relationship with yourself.

Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” And “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The implication is, you and I love others as God has loved us. He teaches, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” The implication is, Jesus is the way to understand the way, the truth, and life of God.  

Fall in Love With Your Community Again

What does it mean to be the church today? It means you learn about, love, and follow Jesus. You love others as God in Jesus has loved you. You live your life in such a way that others experience God’s love in and through you. 

To reconnect with the people in your community, fall in love with your community again. As a follower of Jesus, you follow him into the community, and you look for what God is doing in the community. 

So, in the church today, your community is your mission field. This is a shift from the mission field being somewhere outside the borders of the United States to being at your doorstep. This is a shift from doing something to and for people in need to developing relationships with people who can help you become more who God created you to be. This is a shift from competition with community activities to compassion for the people who live in the community. This is a shift from doing mission at an “arm’s” distance to loving others, even in your community, as God in Jesus has loved you.   

Get to Know the People in Your Community

What does it mean to be the church today? It means falling in love with your community by getting to know the people who live and work there. It means praying specifically for neighbors.  Take a walk, visit the businesses, and speak to the people you meet along the way. 

Ask the people you encounter what they like about the community and what they would change if they could change something. Listen closely. God will be inviting you into a relationship with those you encounter. Pay attention. God will lead you to places that especially need love, care, and compassion.

As you reflect upon the people you meet along the way, ask yourself, “Where did I experience Jesus today? and “Where did I see a need for God’s love?” Then pray, “God, make me an instrument of your love and peace in this community. In Jesus’ name. Amen”

Falling in love with Jesus and falling in love with the community are only two aspects of the church today. To fall in love with Jesus, the church has to take the initiative to teach the ways of Jesus.

Seek to Understand: Who is Jesus?

Here is one way to fall in love with Jesus again. John Wesley called it “searching the Scriptures.” You and I call it Bible study. To fall in love with Jesus is to understand who Jesus is in relationship to God and to the people around us. Because we have assumed all the people are Christian, we have also assumed everyone knows the truth of the Bible, the holy scripture.

Most people today are biblically illiterate, including many of us sitting in the pews of our churches. So, what does it mean to be the church today? It means paying attention to the teachings of the scriptures in the context in which they were written, discovering the truth, looking at the truth through the lens of Jesus’ teaching, and living that truth in relationship to God and to our neighbors. 

Reality

I am sure most of you have heard of the game show “Jeopardy.” It is one of the most-watched television game shows in the United States. It is a game that challenges one’s knowledge and quickness regarding answers to questions from a variety of categories. In a recent episode, there was a question from the category “The Bible.” The question was, “Matthew 6:9 says, “Our Father, which art in heaven, (THIS) be thy name.” 

When the camera cut to the three contestants, not one of them buzzed in with a response. In fact, the question went unanswered. 

The words “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” are from the most recited Christian prayer in the world and all three contestants were stumped by the clue.  We can no longer assume everyone is a Christian nor that everyone knows the Bible. 

Understanding the Scripture

Along with Christians not knowing the Bible, there are conflicting views regarding understanding the scripture. One way is to interpret scripture through the lens of your life and experience. The other is to interpret your life and experience through the lens of the scripture. 

The difference is significant. The first way is called “proof-texting.” You have an idea, perspective, or political view and you look for scriptures to support your idea, perspective, or politics. 

The second approach is called “contexting.” You study and search the scripture within the context in which it was written. Then you look at the truth of the scripture through the lens of the life, ministry, and teaching of Jesus to apply its meaning and purpose to your context today. 

What Scripture is NOT

Scripture is not a link to recipes, principles, or directives. It is not a book of philosophical ideas or of moral teachings. In reality, it is a window to the truth that interprets our lives. To experience the truth, you have to look through the window. At other times it is a mirror that reflects back the reality of your life. You have to look into the mirror to see and experience the truth. 

The church today is a community who teaches, encourages, and supports us in experiencing and living God’s love in everyday relationships, situations, and circumstances

Become A Learning Center

So, how does the church help people fall in love with Jesus? 

Become a learning center of Christian faith: With the understanding that more and more members of the church start with no understanding of the scripture or of Christian values and that many young people and adults have no previous experience with any religious group or tradition, help your church become a learning center of Christian faith. 

Instead of having “new member” classes that introduce people to the systems of the church, have learning experiences that bring the scriptures to life. Provide opportunities that allow people to experience the truth and challenges of the scripture. Introduce people to Jesus and to how Jesus leads them into the community. 

Become a Birthing Center

How does the church help people fall in love with the community? 

Become a birthing center for baptized believers and doers. With the understanding that we have assumed people are born and nurtured into the church, help your church become a birthing center for baptized believers. 

Baptism of infants made sense for the Christendom mindset. But we cannot assume that our children are being nurtured within our churches. It is time to rethink what it means to be baptized and what it means to grow into a mature follower of Jesus. This rethinking involves more than tinkering with the age of baptism and when one is permitted to receive holy communion. It involves more than a ritual event that is scheduled when out-of-town families can attend. 

Call to Ministry

Introduce people, new followers of Jesus, the parents of infants, and the congregation, to baptism as a call to ministry which automatically leads to loving the community and to loving the people that Jesus loves. 

Improve the acoustics so that baptism becomes the clear call to the mission field, the community. Teach people that baptism is the doorway through which they put their faith into daily living.   

Think of baptism this way. Through baptism you are sending missionaries into businesses, schools, and day care centers. You are sending missionaries into police cruisers, delivery trucks, and courtrooms. Wherever people go, it is their mission field. Remind them of this, “as you go, look with the eyes of Christ, listen with the heart of Christ, and speak with the love of Christ.” 

Pay Attention to God’s Movement

Send people out to pay attention to God’s movement in their lives and in the life of the community. Teach people to pray with co-workers and to bless one person each week. Teach people to ask themselves at the end of each day, “Where did I see God’s presence today?” Teach them to give God thanks for what they have experienced and ask God to “do it again tomorrow!”

Embrace the Challenge 

Over time, you’ll become a birthing center for baptized believers and doers, because people will begin to see ways to live out their faith at work, in their homes, and even at times of recreation.  People will begin to love the community the way Jesus has loved them, and they will begin to embrace the challenges of the missional church.

So, what does it mean to be the church today? It means falling in love with Jesus and with your community. It means building relationships, living your faith in daily life, and being faithful to God’s call upon your life. It means encountering the living God we know in Jesus. It is God who has called you and gifted you to be who you are, and who you are is how you lead. 

For Further Reading and Listening

Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church – Part One

Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church – Part Two

Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church – Part Three

Listen to Episode 285: Then and Now – A Call to Missional Leadership

Listen to Episode 286: Church and Society – A Call to Missional Leadership

Listen to Episode 287:  Missional Leadership – Define Your Mission Field

How are you doing this week? Over the past several months we have talked about navigating a pandemic, addressing the evils of racism, and becoming the leader God has created you to be.  We have not focused as much upon our mission. So, my question today is related to our mission, “How are you doing with leading and nourishing Jesus followers to make a difference in their communities and the world?” 

Our Responsibilities

Maybe a better way to ask the question is, “How are you leading the people entrusted to your care in responding to the pandemic and to racism?”  One of the misunderstandings of Christians today is to think that the Gospel offers us salvation while relieving us of responsibility for the life and well-being of the people in our communities, neighborhoods, and cities.

The pain and sorrow we have experienced over the past several months is interwoven into the fabric of our culture and deeply influence the thoughts and actions of all of us. Our mission, as Jesus followers, is to invite and equip people to not only address the pain and sorrow but to address the evil, the root causes, of the pain and sorrow. 

How are you doing in leading your congregation in reaching out and receiving people, introducing them to God’s love in Jesus, practicing the teachings of Jesus, and engaging them in God’s love as they navigate the pandemic and respond to racism? 

It’s NOT About a Political Position

To make disciples of Jesus is to call and equip people to be signs and agents of God’s justice in all human affairs. An invitation to accept the name of Jesus but fail to call people to be engaged in God’s love in everyday life is not Christian and must be rejected as false. 

How are you leading the people entrusted to your care in responding to the pandemic and to racism? Another misunderstanding of many Christians in our culture today is to think that the Christian faith is a particular political position.  People tend to politicize everything from “wearing a mask” to “Black Lives Matter.”

Our mission is not a political mission, it is a Gospel mission. A mission of love. Another way of saying it is, “Jesus didn’t call it ‘social justice.’ He simply called it love.  If we would only love our neighbors beyond comfort, borders, race, religion, and other differences that we have allowed to be barriers, ‘social justice’ would be a given.  Love makes justice happen.” (Bernice King in response to the death of John R. Lewis). 

Jesus Moves Us Beyond Self-Interest

Now let’s be clear, the uncomfortable and unsettling conversations we are having about racism, white privilege, and white supremacy are not on the same scale as what many in our marginalized communities have experienced.  Yet, the conversations are necessary.

The mandates to wear masks for the health and well-being of the people around us are not on the same scale of Constitutional rights. Yet, the wearing of masks is necessary. Our mission moves us beyond self-interest to moral conversations and actions. As uncomfortable as any conversation or action might be, loving our neighbors is enough to motivate us to change our behavior for the sake of God’s love and care for all people.  

To make disciples of Jesus is more than inviting people to the church.  It is to equip them to be signs and agents of God’s justice in all aspects of human life. To invite people to accept the name of Jesus is not an invitation to a particular political platform but is to immerse people in God’s love and to engage them in developing life changing relationships in their communities and the world.   

Reminders

So, as you are leading the people entrusted to your care, remember:

  1. We are all created by God.  No one is created to be superior or inferior. Each of us, as human beings, regardless of color, race, nationality, or gender is created by God.
  2. As Jesus followers, we know that to love God is to love our neighbor and to love our neighbor is to love God.  Regardless of political persuasion, to love God is to love neighbor.  Regardless of color, race, or gender, to love God is to love neighbor, to love others, and to love one another.
  3. Each human being, regardless of race or color, is created in God’s image and is called to faith.
  4. To love one another is one-way people will know that we are Jesus followers and that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
  5. The way we treat one another we treat Jesus.

Your Next Step

How are you leading the people entrusted to your care in responding to the pandemic and to racism? Take a moment to think of the people entrusted to your care. With the people God has given to you to love in mind, I want you to do the following: 

  • Give God thanks for the opportunity to live and work in this time of chaos and confusion.
  • Confess your need for a relationship with God and with the people entrusted to your care.
  • Place the people, situations, and circumstances into God’s hands.
  • Ask God to use you as an instrument of peace and love.  

O God, thank you for the opportunity to live and work at this time in history. I confess that I do not know what to do, but I do know I need you and I need the people you have given me to love and to serve. As I place my relationships, the church, and the people around me into your hands, I pray that you will use me as an instrument of your peace and love. By your grace, I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus.  Amen.  

If you need and want help, contact us, Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are ready to assist you in leading the mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world.    

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.

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.

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.

Last week I called my pharmacy to have a couple of prescriptions refilled. The pharmacist took my name, date of birth, and said, “You will have to check with your doctor before I can refill your medications.”

So, I called the doctor’s office. I explained to the nurse what I needed to refill my prescriptions. She put me on hold. When she came back to the phone, she said, “To refill your prescriptions, the doctor wants to check your heart, blood, and cholesterol. He wants to assess any changes so he can make necessary adjustments to your medications. You know he wants you to be as healthy as you can be.”

Later that day, after I had complained about the inconvenience and unnecessary cost of a doctor’s appointment, I began to reflect upon the ministry of the churches in the Capitol Area South District.

Read more

We’re not in Kansas anymore.

…or in Columbus, Ohio, circa 1975.

We’ve been saying it for a while…allow me to say it again: We’re living in a missionary time.

Last week, more evidence emerged that calls us to sit up and take notice. Barna and the Impact 360 Institute published a new study about the next generation: Gen Z. While there is still much to learn about this generation, there are themes that emerge that should give us reason to pause and pivot.

As you do, the sign you’ll see will read:

Digital Babylon Transforming MIssion

A Wake-Up Call From Gen Z

Born between 1999-2015, this generation is fully immersed in Digital Babylon. Reflect on the Babylonian exile and what Babylon meant. In Babylon faith was in the margins. Society was pluralistic and diverse. Now add handheld screens and four hours of every day mediating relationships on technology and you’re beginning to get a glimpse of the landscape of Digital Babylon.

Maybe you don’t think you’re living there.

But, you are.

We’re surrounded by Digital Babylon. The question is, will we recognize it and respond? Failing to do so will mean one more generation living at a distance from the church. Gen Xers are the parents to Gen Z and their absence from the church has been an unnamed reality for decades. Yes, that means three generations are now moving into exile from the church. If you don’t believe me, I’ll be happy to talk with you about being in my forties and feeling very young when I’m with church groups. (It’s good for my psyche, but it’s not good for the kingdom of God.)

While the oldest members of this generation are eighteen and nineteen years old, there is still a lot to be learned. However, some foundational elements of this generation are already firmly in place. Here are five things to know about Gen Z.

1. Worldview

Their worldview is open-minded and inclusive. They are highly individualistic and see this as an advantage. As a group, asserting one view as right or wrong is not a stance they are willing to take. While they often have a hard time articulating what truth is and where truth comes from, they have hearts that see an inclusive world with differences being an advantage to everyone.

Questions to consider

How does your understanding of Jesus, the incarnation, and humanity shape how you embrace others? As Jesus followers, how do you articulate what you believe? Clarifying “why” you believe in Jesus and how Jesus shapes your worldview not only important, it is necessary. Your testimony to who God is and how Jesus has transformed your life is being viewed through the lens of integrity. If there is no alignment between the words you speak, the actions you take, and how you interact with people on a daily basis, you’ll likely not be taken seriously. While this should be true for any generation, remember, Gen Z is living in Digital Babylon. This is a mission field, not Christendom. Read more: “Post-Christian” – the statistics of Gen Z who have attended worship in the past six months and those who claim to be agnostic, atheist or “none”.

2. Technology

You’re looking at it. Technology is a shaping force in their life. From handheld devices to screens in the car, they have always had, known, and experienced screen time. Most of them spend at least four hours every day in front of a screen.

Questions/thoughts to consider

How does technology shape relationships? In Gen Z’s world, their relationships are formed on screens. While many older generations say, “that can’t replace in-person relationships” Gen Z doesn’t know any different. Could this be an opportunity for the church to create space for Gen Z to learn how to be in face to face relationships with others? Read  more:  “Interpersonal Relationships” – the story of one Youth Pastor teaching teens the importance of eye contact. 

3. Identity

For the first time ever, the family is not the shaping factor in this generation’s identity. When asked to complete the statement, “My ______ is important to my sense of self,” Gen Z noted professional and academic achievement (43%), hobbies (42%), friends (35%), and gender (37%) before parents and family (34%). For Boomers (46%), Xers (40%), and Millenials (40%)  family and parents are the primary influencers of a sense of self.

Gen Z’s views on gender identity inform their sense of self. Here are a few insights from the report:¹

  • One in eight describes their sexual orientation as something other than heterosexual (12%).
  • Those who identify as bisexual make up more than half of that proportion (7%).
  • Seven out of ten believe it’s acceptable to be born one gender and feel like another (69%).
  • Three in ten teens report personally knowing someone, most often a peer, who has changed his or her gender identity.

Questions to consider

If family and parents are no longer the shaping forces of a sense of self, with whom is the church partnering to develop relationships with Gen Z? Or, how might the church intentionally develop relationships with Gen Z to participate in their identity formation? Do you notice what (and who) is missing from the influencing factors for this generation? This didn’t happen overnight. Continue reading… A perspective on “Generational Failures”

Digital Babylon - Gen Z & the church

4. Security

Gen Z are mostly children of Gen X. Their not so optimistic parents have struggled with work and security. Keep in mind, Gen Z’s social awareness was emerging just as a recession was hitting the nation in 2008. As a result, Gen Z has never experienced a time when employment was dependable and social safety nets were abundant. While they’ve grown up with “safe-spaces” they are not altogether clear on what evils need defeating and how those “safe-spaces” truly provide security. Fast facts:

  • Two-thirds want to finish their education (66%), start a career (66%) and become financially independent (65%) by age 30.
  • Only one in five wants to get married by age 30 (20%).¹

Questions to consider

What role does the local church play in creating, influencing, and supporting employment and security? How does your understanding of employment, success, and safety differ from the next generation? What would need to change in the life of your local church to engage Gen Z in developing sustainable, relational networks? How do you define security? How does the understanding of security differ across generations?

5. Diversity

“The kindergarteners who started school in 2016 were the first American class in which minority ethnicities made up a majority of students, and whites the minority. For the next generation on the brink of American adulthood, different is ordinary.”² Ethnic and generational diversity is a norm of this generation. They have grown up in homes with multi-generational families and know that the fastest growing ethnic group is multi-racial.

In what may startle some, “Complete acceptance, and even elevation, of non-male and nonwhite, is a generational marker.”² More females than males will attend colleges and universities this fall, more movies with female lead characters have shaped their adolescence, and more female success stories are highlighting the news.

Questions/thoughts to consider

How does leadership in the church reflect Gen Z’s current reality? 64% of non-Christians in Gen Z noted, “church was not relevant to me.” While there are multiple factors contributing to this perspective, who does Gen Z relate to in your local church? How do gender, ethnic, and racial diversity come to life in your local congregation?

Final Note

While this report gave me many reasons to pause, it also gave me reasons to connect. Andrew, Noah, Joshua, Julia, Colin, Lila, and Aiden are just a few of the amazing young people I know who make up Gen Z. And guess what? When I talk with them, listen to them, and spend time with them, I can see the above stories and data in their lives. It’s honestly not difficult to notice if we pay attention. But, we must do more than simply look at data and talk amongst ourselves. We must go to them and to their families if we desire to connect.

Capitol Area South churches, we continue the journey we started at our regional charge conferences last fall answering seven missional questions. The information above can be helpful to you and the local church whether you found it easy or difficult to name the assets and needs of your community.

But, more importantly, it may help you understand one more reason we continue to focus on naming God’s presence in your daily life. Without the named, lived presence of God active and available to you, Babylon will consume you. Dare I suggest, there are abundant symptoms that Digital Babylon is impacting our fruitfulness. We know you have a theological understanding of God’s presence. We celebrate that you’ve got that covered. What we’re calling forth is a plain account of where God showed up today. In Digital Babylon, how will you celebrate that God is real, present, and accessible today?

Because if you don’t, who will?

Download this article additional data on Gen Z for discussion with the church:

Notes

  1. Barna Group and Impact 360 Institute Report, Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation, 40.
  2. Ibid, 34.

We ask leaders seven questions to guide us to a process of personal and congregational transformation. The process and questions begin with naming God’s presence. If you’re thinking…“Why do this?” “Who needs one more thing to do?”

Let me frame the expectation.

  • We’re asking you to lead a congregation to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.
  • We’re inviting you to be open to the transformative power of God in your life and the lives of the people in your local context.

The process we’ll outline over several weeks (perhaps months) is a journey of transformation – for all of us. It begins with a focus on the purpose of the church and the presence of God.

Naming God’s Presence

Today, we begin with naming God’s presence. This is the first foundational element of a transformational process. We know and believe God is with us. But, it’s a whole different task to actually pay attention to how God is moving. So let me ask you:

  • Do you and leaders in the church experience God’s active presence in the congregation? How do you know?
  • Can you articulate what God is up in the congregation?
  • How is God moving through the congregation and its people?

This is not something we do once and move on. It is an ongoing, integral part of daily life as a disciple of Jesus. It is a simple, yet profound act of being in God’s presence and responding to God’s movement.

Awaken the City

While serving a church in Cincinnati, I had the privilege of starting a ministry we called Awaken the City. (It’s now called Summer Impact.) Every summer we hosted teams of people for a week at a time for the purpose of introducing them to ways to serve as disciples in the city.

On Sunday evening, we’d lead a prayer tour of the city. Every week, we’d pray for specific ministries, people, and situations. For between 90 minutes to 2 hours, we knew the city and her people were covered in prayer. As teams piled into mini-vans and 15 passenger vans to go from one location to the next, we were sharing what God was doing, the needs of the community, and asking God to open us to use us in service every day that week. We’d return for a worship experience where I invited people to respond to a simple question from Scripture that set the context for our prayer experience.

Often, the question that started the week was, “Where did you see the light of Christ tonight?’ The response on the first night was underwhelming. One of our interns would inevitably get uncomfortable with the silence and name a place where they witnessed Christ’s presence. Often a leader or pastor offered the next observation. At the start of the week, usually, 2-3 people wanted to speak. No more. No less.

Three-Fold Pattern

Throughout the week, every day, we would practice this rhythm:

  • Study Scripture and pray for our ministry partners
  • Serve in the city during the day
  • Celebrate through worship in the evening

From the Scripture for the day, a question emerged that individuals reflected on as they served. In the evening, during worship, we’d share our reflections.

Every week the same thing happened. Sunday: crickets. Minimal responses. By the end of the week, either on Friday or Saturday morning, we came together for a final worship experience. When it came time for me to invite reflection, I reminded the teams that there were 40-50 of us, everyone wants to speak, and we need you to depart in less than to be 30 minutes.

They never got the point. 🙂

The stories unfolded about their own life-changing, about the people they met who were different from them and learning that Jesus is what makes us all the same. Every summer I had the privilege of my bucket overflowing witnessing, hearing, and seeing how God’s presence was transforming lives.

Focus and Themes

At the end of every summer, I knew where we needed to focus for the coming year in our community and global outreach ministry. One year we needed to develop a deeper relationship with a ministry partner working with children, the next year a local school, the following year, I realized we needed to be in the urban core fulltime. I also learned about where and how people found their place of passion to serve in the church.

The intent of Awaken the City was not to name priorities or develop a process for claiming a ministry passion. The intent was to help people engage in service in the city – in their local context. Over the years, I’ve shared this online in different forms. Inevitably, the same thing happens. We move from crickets to a concert of voices naming and witnessing God’s presence to people adapting it to their daily life.

A couple years later, I learned that a mainline denomination had done research, showing that God’s presence and God’s purpose were foundational elements of congregational vitality. I laughed and said, “Would you like thousands of stories to prove that is true?” When I finished my doctoral work on this very topic I knew the challenge we faced. How could others embrace something so simple, yet transformative?

The Invitation

First, we have to want Jesus to transform our lives. Letting Jesus into our lives means giving up control of where and how Jesus will show up and show off. It means letting go of what we want and sitting at the feet of Jesus long enough to hear his hope for us.

Second, transformation does not occur without reflection. Transformation necessitates reflection. Trevor Hudson, a South African pastor, notes, “Unless we value and practice reflection, little personal transformation occurs. Unreflected-upon experience seldom yields its life-giving secrets. Too many of us work and live without reflection, without gaining any objective perspective on our behavior or any understanding of why we do what we do.” When we pause to reflect, specifically on God’s presence, faith is articulated and becomes a lived reality.

Third, transformation has stalled for many of us. How do we know? Some people reading this are thinking a basic practice of Christian discipleship is another task to do rather than a way of living as a disciple of Jesus. Transformation necessitates a relationship with Jesus, each other, and your local context. If any of these relationships are lacking, you’ve likely stalled in growing to become more like Jesus.

We get it, it’s a busy season. We’re inviting you to lay aside the excuses that have appeared as obstacles and focus on the transformative work of Jesus.

A Vision for the Coming Year

Tim Bias offered, “At the end of next year, I want to hear how your life and the place where you live and worship are changing.” How will this begin? It begins when you pay attention to where Jesus shows up and by choosing to join in God’s movement in your local community.

That can’t happen if we don’t stop and pay attention to God’s presence. It can’t happen if we’re living vicariously through others.

It happens because we are in touch with the Spirit of God moving in our midst. As leaders, then you can come together and share how you’re experiencing God. Listen closely and deeply. You’ll start to notice patterns of where Jesus shows up and shows off in your life and the lives of those around you. Then, jump in and follow Jesus’ lead.

God with Us

During this season of Advent as we’ve invited you to reflect on God with Us, we’re seeing anticipated and unlikely patterns. The depth of hurt, illness, and loneliness is sobering. The power of music this time of year is a reminder that music is a language of the soul. Music evokes memories and emotions while moving within us. From the ordinary moments of being with kids to the extraordinary moments of sitting with others in hospice and the hospital, the abiding presence of Christ is evident.

The example of God with Us is an invitation to read, reflect, and respond to one scripture, one word, and one question for the day. At other times we might say, let’s focus on “Scripture, serving, and celebrating.” You may even say, let’s look at “Word, work, and worship.” It doesn’t matter what you name it. What matters is that you integrate reflecting on God’s presence into your daily life. And, in case you missed it. No, this isn’t something you do at special seasons or times of the year.

Can you imagine what might happen in our cities, towns, and neighborhoods if we focused on naming God’s presence? What might happen if we then joined God in ministry where we live, work, worship, and play? I believe our lives and our communities would change.

The question of God’s presence will stay before us in the coming weeks as the first foundational element of a transformational disciple-making process.

  1. Trevor Hudson, A Mile in My Shoes, p. 57

 

Programs are a leadership challenge for the missional church.

“What?” you ask.

“Programs are central to our church’s ministry.”

So let’s ask different questions:

“Why so many programs?”

“How do the programs help the church focus on our mission?”

Read more