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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.

Words are Powerful

Are you familiar with the cartoon B.C.?

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

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

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

Yes, words are powerful.

Words Create Worlds

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

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

A word from the Word

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

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

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

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

Ephesians 4:25 – 4:29

Let’s look at this passage closely.

Ephesians 4:25

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

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

Ephesians 4:26

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

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

Ephesians 4:28

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

Ephesians 4:29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Final Reminder

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you’re feeling…

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

An Invitation

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like a tree planted by the water:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be a Courageous Leader

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

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

 

Take Action:

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

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

051: We have a disciple-making problem

052: Can I trust you?

053: Four Essential Phases of Building Relationships

054: Habits that Keep us Grounded

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

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

 

Note:

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

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

During the 1880’s, there was a bishop in the Brethren in Christ Church by the name of Milton Wright. Bishop Wright, a bishop in Indiana at the time, invited a guest speaker to the annual conference.  

His guest, a futurist, was invited to challenge the conference of church leaders. The Bishop wanted participants to grasp the possibilities of the 20th century.  His task was to capture their imagination in regard to what they could expect by the turn of the century.

Bishop Wright was so impressed with the presentation, he invited his guest to dinner. He wanted to hear more about the possibilities. It was during dinner that the Bishop asked his guest to tell him one thing they all could expect by the turn of the century.

The futurist replied, “In the 20th century, human beings will fly.” Read more

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?  Click the “Get Real” below to join the journey this Lent.

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

 

Faithful followers

Jesus invited ordinary people to follow him. They were fishermen and tax collectors who became faithful followers. I imagine today Jesus would invite baristas and stock market brokers, parents and school teachers, the one selling cars and the one washing our cars. Read more