Archives For Rebekah Simon-Peter

Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is a lofty vision. Precisely because it can never be fully realized is what stridemakes this vision worth striving for. When the fulfillment of an inspiring vision is just out of reach, it coaxes and compels you to reach just a bit harder.   My question is, are you making strides toward realizing that vision?

If you’re not making strides, or progress is slow, you’ll want to read the experiences of pastor Mike Schreiner and coach Ken Willard in their book, Stride: Creating a Discipleship Pathway For Your Church. Based on their experiences at Morning Star Church in the St. Louis area, it contains practical ideas for jump-starting intentional disciple-making in your congregation. Here’s what I gleaned in conversation with Ken Willard about the book.

 

Ken, were there any new learning experiences for you in creating a pathway at Morning Star Church?

There have been so many, Rebekah! If I had to pick one, it’s that discipleship is not linear. It’s messy. In the church world we tend to think in terms of 1-2-3-4. We offer classes in a certain order, and even title classes “Discipleship 101.” Even the image of a “pathway” can be misleading. People are at different places on their spiritual journeys; we need to meet them where they are and just help them take their next step. This realization is what led us to use more circular images of a fully devoted follower of Christ. We believe the church’s role is to help people move closer to Christ.

What challenges have you run into when a church tries to create a discipleship pathway?

One of the top challenges we’ve faced, Rebekah, is this: Even after the team has read Stride, and I’ve coached them, there is a strong pull to create new classes. This is a hard paradigm to shift. Classes are great. Many people will learn and grow as a disciple in a class of some type. However, we believe that classes should support the church’s discipleship process. Not be the main focus.

Ken, is there anything else you would like to share with churches? 

Yes, most of the issues and challenges at the local church level are Spiritual issues. Think about what the leadership team at the churches you work with have focused on the most during the last year or so. Someone’s bad behavior, lack of resources, challenges with filling serving positions, etc. We believe at the heart of these issues is a lack of discipleship. We would challenge all church leadership teams to focus as much time and effort on making disciples as they do on facilities, finances, and programs. Our job as leaders in the church is to equip others to make disciples. It must start with us. We need to be growing ourselves and other leaders first. 

 

I appreciated the conversation with Ken. While he sees lack of discipleship at the heart of church dysfunction, I see lack of vision. The two are deeply interrelated, of course. Their advice to grow ourselves as disciples of Christ as a first step on this path of discipling others resonated with me. Through my life-changing leadership training program, Creating a Culture of Renewal, church leaders actively take this step and continue down the path, maximizing their own growth as leaders, and empowering them to Dream Like Jesus®–effectively engage their congregations, increase financial support, bring visions to life, and partner with their communities. Groups are forming now!

In the meantime, you can order Stride and pre-order Stride’s participant handbook, (to be published 9/18) from Abingdon Press.

 

I spend a lot of time, intentionally, with the spiritual but not religious folks in my community.  I’m always amazed at the refreshing honesty stairs in woodsand humor in our conversations.  There’s a real willingness to laugh at former misfortunes, to give credit to a higher power, to talk of miracles and to be of service to others.  I’ve often wondered how to bring those qualities to the congregations I once served or now coach.  Turns out there’s a 12 step program for that!  It’s outlined in an intriguing new book, Recovering from Church and Discovering Jesus:  A 12 Step Program.  It made me wonder:  Do you need a 12 Step program to follow Jesus?

Retired pastors and authors Gerri Harvill and Stan Norman wondered the same thing.  They shared their thoughts and ideas with me.  Check it out; you’ll be inspired by the conversation.

Gerri and Stan, you have written a book about spirituality apart from the institutional church and organized religion.  Isn’t that an oxymoron for a Christian?

Well Rebekah, as pastors of a church we became aware that our own spirituality was gradually being taken away from us by the demands of the institution. We were told to pay attention to our spiritual health and then allowed no time or energy to do so. There was always one more report to fill out, one more person to visit, one more meeting to attend. We were stuck in upholding the institution at the expense of our spirituality.

I can relate.  I’ve been there too!  How did you respond?

We were very frustrated with the unwillingness of the institution, and of many in the congregation of the church where we served, to try anything new or change from getting together with friends for worship on Sunday, to following Jesus as a way of life. Since we had reached retirement age, we decided to step away from the institution and pursue spirituality with a few like-minded individuals. We gathered as a small community for 8 months before we realized that we were addicted to the rules and rituals of the church ourselves. Our friends in the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) communities seemed to have a better, more authentic, handle on spirituality than we did as professional clergy.

What do you mean by that? Give me an example.

A few months into our gatherings we realized that we were becoming another church. We had only moved from the sanctuary to our living rooms and from Sunday morning to Saturday night. Our gathering time was scripted, we had liturgy and music and we were doing most of the talking. We had envisioned a community of equals gathering to help each other follow Jesus on a daily basis. But as leaders, we realized that we were still caught up in the rules and rituals of organized religion. We realized we were addicted.

What’s wrong with being addicted to the institutional church and organized religion?

The rules, rituals, and traditions of the church itself become our “golden calf.” Church and religion become the idol that replaces God in our lives.  It was a humbling experience to realize that we had become the very thing we had preached against for years.

So, is your book anti-church?

No!  But Rebekah, our book does call for the institution of the church to change and become more like the movement that Jesus intended his church to be. The institution needs to die to some things so that God can resurrect it to new life.

How did you make the connection between substance addiction and spirituality?

Well Rebekah, we were exposed to the 12 step programs of AA and NA through groups that met at the church where we served. Our reading and research lead us to writers and teachers like Richard Rohr, Frederick Buechner, Gerald May, and you yourself who had already recognized the intrinsic value of the 12 step programs for spiritual formation and growth.

What can 12 step groups teach the church about spiritual formation and growth?

Spiritual formation has to take place in community.  It’s hard work; we shy away from it because we are scared and lazy. The authentic sharing and caring that takes place in AA and NA meetings is largely missing from the institutional church, replaced by judgment and hypocrisy.

 

I came away from my conversation with Gerry Harvill and Stan Norman energized and inspired by the bold steps they’d taken in reinventing the idea of church using the 12 step process. In my 2015 article “15 Things AA Can Teach the Church”, I share their concerns about outdated rules and rituals impeding the process of spiritual awakening.  I think Stan and Gerri are on to something; read their book and join them in discovering new ways to follow Jesus.

If you are looking for a way to connect up with the larger dreams of Jesus, contact me at rebekah@rebekahsimonpeter.com to join my free one-hour webinar, Dream Like Jesus® on July 27 at 1:30pm Mountain Time.

woman looking awayWhat makes for a strong leader? I’m especially interested in that question as I train church leaders around the country in the skills of congregational intelligence, leadership smarts, and culture shifting. A recent conversation with noted pastor, James Howell, author of “Weak Enough to Lead: What the Bible tells us about Powerful Leadership,” (Abingdon 2017) gave me a brand new perspective.

Here’s a bit of our conversation.

James, how can this book help me as a leader?

Rebekah, this book won’t help you “succeed” or improve your metrics.  But it will help you grow as a leader in the sense of living in close solidarity with the biblical story, and to dig deeply to discern how you as a leader are both afflicted and gifted by the kinds of brokenness you share with biblical leaders like David, Paul, Moses and so many others.  I think a heightened intimacy with God and a deep immersion in the realities of Scripture may be the real stuff of authentic, faithful leadership.

James, how has knowing that the biblical story preferences leaders “weak enough to lead” impacted your own leadership and shifted your understanding of church?

Well, at 62 years of age, I’ve spent years trying to be as good a leader as possible. I’ve been told that I exhibit strength and charisma, and I’ve led by force of will. At the same time, I come from a family that’s just a disaster; I carry that stuff around. I used to think of it as an enemy to overcome, but now I see that my strength in ministry comes from that broken place. I understand human brokenness. Everybody’s got dysfunction. And it’s not all about getting better, it’s about being community together. The church is broken people being real community together.

James, what’s the main thing you want people to get from reading this book?

Rebekah, I want leaders to understand God’s ways more profoundly, and thereby not be demoralized by snazzy leaders they don’t measure up to, but buoyed by the mercy of God, the fact that throughout the Bible God uses the weak and unlikely, and the knowledge that even the greatest of leaders are sinful, flawed, foolish and broken.

Reflecting on my conversation with James, and my own imperfections, emphasizes for me the importance of self-awareness and personal spiritual growth for leaders. The kind that twelve step communities specialize in. Next week, come back to read about people who follow Jesus in a community modeled after the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

_ _ _

If you’re weak enough to lead, and strong enough to know you need help, then take the next step in creating a powerful, authentic community by ordering James Howell’s book and registering today for Track 1 of a Creating a Culture of Renewal cohort. This year we’ll have groups in New Mexico, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Ohio, Iowa, Western North Carolina, and Maine. This leadership development gives clergy and church leaders the skills to ultimately shift the cultures of their own congregations into the real communities of which James Howell spoke. The communities that have arisen as a result of their leaders’ engagement in the Creating a Culture of Renewal program have not only healed the broken, but thrived and grown in ministry, creating and fulfilling visions that they’d never have thought possible.

 

I recently read A Higher Loyalty, by James Comey, former FBI Director. Comey, as you may recall, was fired by President Trump for his roleSquare Cube With Ethics Word, 3d Rendering in the Russia investigation. The book was a fascinating and instructive read for observers of leadership in both church and state. Comey lay out a strong case for ethical leadership which he describes as “seeing beyond the short-term, beyond the urgent…with a view toward lasting values.” He highlights truth, integrity, and respect for others as key lasting values, saying these “serve as external reference points for ethical leaders to make decisions, especially hard decisions in which there is no easy or good option.”

He goes on to say that “a commitment to integrity and a higher loyalty to truth are what separate the ethical leader from those who just happen to occupy leadership roles. We cannot ignore the difference.”

It’s no secret that Comey finds President Trump sorely missing in qualities that make up ethical leadership. Trump’s tendencies to bully, demean, malign, lie, and create chaos are well-documented. Leaders across the political and religious spectra have noted them.   Although these personal qualities are generally separate from the policies his administration seeks to enact, all the same, they hinder his ability to effectively inspire trust across national and international borders.

As institutions central to democracy, such as a free press, agencies of law and order, and truth itself come under attack by Trump, we need to ask ourselves, “Should the church care about what is going on in the government?” Click To Tweet

My answer is a resounding yes. There are three lessons for us to learn here.

Democracy is designed reflection of its citizens

If we abandon the democratic process, and leave it to “the professionals,” we abandon ourselves. Our republic is designed to be a reflection of society as a whole; thus our voices need to be heard. At the same time, it’s important to note that the move toward undermining a free press, truth-telling, and agencies of law and order, represents a slide toward fascism. This doesn’t bode well for the church. History shows that repressive governments ultimately repress human rights, religious rights, and rights of minorities. This undermining of ethical values impacts every single one of us.

The Ends Don’t Justify the Means

Many in the Church have taken a stance that Trump’s means justify the ends. If he is delivering policies amenable to “our” worldview, then don’t worry about how we got there. Just be glad we got there. Personally, I’m not a conservative, so his policies don’t line up with my understanding of a safer, better, more prosperous country. But even if I was and even if they did, there’s still trouble with this way of thinking. When the ends justify the means, we sacrifice ethical behavior in the short term. This has disastrous consequences.

For instance, very few people remember how much good Richard Nixon did for the environment—establishing The Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Rather, we remember Watergate and his impeachment.

Likewise, when church leaders circumvent ethics, morality, and human decency, when we forsake the truth for a lie, others won’t ultimately remember the good we have done. Rather, they will remember the harm we caused along the way. The rampant culture of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is an example of that. How many thousands of Catholics have left the church because of pedophilia? A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a Catholic friend. She told me she felt such anger toward a church that preached holiness and personal responsibility but made no amends to the many thousands of families directly and indirectly impacted by the unsafe culture.

The values Jesus’ own life demonstrated—truth, integrity, and love—resulted in his crucifixion.   But if he had avoided crucifixion, he would have side stepped every lesson he was here to teach.

When it comes to leadership in both church and state, unjust means undermine ethical ends.

Resisting the Future is Resisting God

In the end, The Bible foresees an end time that is diverse, rich, and joyous. The Bible teaches that we will worship God alongside people of every nation, tribe, and language. Yet many in the church resist this very future. To resist this move toward embracing diversity is to resist the movement of the Spirit itself

Russian interference in the elections aside, new studies show that voter support for Trump may have been more grounded in fear of losing cultural status than in fear of economic loss. The common wisdom was that Trump won because he spoke to “the little guy” about economic gains. A new study reveals a more likely explanation: white Christians voted for Trump because they feared the loss of cultural and religious ascendancy. In other words, they feared change.

When our government opposed the abolition of slavery or civil rights, it was on the losing side.

When the church stands against the unfolding evolution of the world, it is on the losing side. White people have to learn how to live in a plurality of ethnicities, to be one among many. Christians have to learn how to live side by side with people of other religions. These emerging pluralities are not going away. It doesn’t mean you can’t be white, or Christian. And that those identities aren’t important. But you can can’t insist the whole world is just like you, because it’s not.

In closing

We in the church understand the concept of a higher loyalty. The lasting values that provide external reference points for us include love, grace, truth, honesty, compassion, equity, justice, freedom, unity, and creativity. It’s time for us to live by those once again. And to call our government to account for operating ethically. We may not, and we need not, agree on policies. But we must insist on ethical leadership.

Jesus was the exemplar of that higher loyalty. He sacrificed his own life in pursuit of this loyalty. Shall we do less?

 

 

As Earth Day approaches, it’s time to take a look at how green our practices are.  Every Sunday we offer people the bread of life, yet our fellowship hour boasts some of the unhealthiest practices of the church. Taking a close look at how and what we eat at church is an Family Holding Earth Planet In Handsimportant part of going green, as is maintaining and sustaining good health. Dealing with unhealthful food, toxic cleaning supplies, and wasteful practices are simple ways of deepening our commitment to greening the church.

Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, has greened its kitchen––no small feat for a 5,000-member church that prides itself on environmental stewardship. Dwight Tawney, administrative pastor,reports, “We serve 300 people every Wednesday night for dinner. Three years ago we were using paper, plastic, and Styrofoam. We disposed of 300 sets of that every single week. Now that’s completely gone. We don’t use it at all.”

Gold and green melamine dishes grace the tables of their dining areas. Reusable silverware rounds out the table setting. The Styrofoam is long gone, as is the sizeable amount of trash generated each week. “There’s a little tradeoff,” Tawney notes. “We have to wash the dishes.” Even so, the amount of water used to wash the dishes is insignificant compared with the manufacturing, transportation, and disposal process that used to be involved. Unlike smaller churches, a full kitchen staff takes care of cleanup here.

Not just the dishes have changed at Village Presbyterian; what is served on them has also changed. “In season we serve local produce,” says Tawney. “And we have virtually eliminated fried food from our menu.” A dietician attends the monthly meetings of the Environmental Action Committee. Not only does she bring great ideas to the table, she brings purchasing power.

Even so, purchasing decisions are carefully weighed for economic feasibility and environmental sustainability, which means the church uses paper napkins, albeit with a higher recycled content. After careful consideration, staff realized that the cost of laundering cloth napkins would be prohibitive.

Traditional cleaning supplies have been replaced with a greener alternative. “We now use low volatile organic compound (VOC) cleaning agents,” Tawney says. “Our building superintendent is part of the Environmental Action Committee. It is important to have him in on the decision-making process.” The superintendent helps them make and meet policy guidelines that keep this facility on the growing edge of green.

Even the coffee has gone green at Village Presbyterian. “We drink a lot of coffee here,” Tawney says while giving a virtual tour of the facility. “We had coffee pots going all the time, but we were consuming a lot of energy and wasting a lot of product. Now we have on-demand coffee.” Using a rental system that includes frozen coffee concentrate means no waste and a guaranteed fresh cup of coffee every time. “It actually ends up being cheaper,” he says.

It is easy to reference intangibles such as carbon foot- prints when talking about the need for environmental stewardship, but all Tawney has to do is point to one steaming cup of coffee in a real mug. Through his eyes, it is easy to see that going green makes sense for the climate and the pocketbook.

Ready to try some of these things yourself?  Check out the following options:

The Basics

  • Encourage the use of mugs instead of paper or Styrofoam cups at coffee hour. Create a wall of mugs that can be used and reused. Be sure to include mugs for guests.
  • Use the “good” dishes and flatware at church dinners instead of throwaways such as Styrofoam, plastic or foam plates, and plastic utensils. Alternatively, ask people to bring their own table service for meals.
  • Use dishtowels instead of paper towels and maybe even cloth napkins instead of paper napkins. When using paper, make it recycled.
  • Wherever possible, buy organic foods. Pesticides harm the health of growers and consumers; and they taint soil, water, and air.
  • When eating fish, choose species that are not being overfished. For more information, go to montereybayaquarium.org.
  • Purchase and serve fair-trade coffee, tea, and chocolate. Fair-trade items emphasize responsible steward- ship of the land and provide a good living for the growers. Shade-grown coffees, planted and harvested under the forest canopy, are particularly bird-friendly. For more information, go to coffeereview.com.
  • Compost leftover food.
  • Reuse plastic bags as garbage can liners. When purchasing new plastic bags, look for ones made of recycled plastic. Choose those with a high post- consumer waste (PCW) content.
  • Look carefully at the cleaning agents you are using. Many contain harmful or toxic ingredients. Purchase and use environmentally-friendly cleaning agents.
  • Refrain from buying antibacterial soaps. Generally, plain soap and water are as effective. Antibacterials seem to cause more problems than they solve.
  • Try toilet paper and paper towels made of recycled paper.
  • Just say no to commercial air fresheners; many contain phthalates which are linked to human health problems. Fresh air, sunshine, fans, and baking soda in the bottom of a garbage can provide natural air freshening.

Get Creative

  • Make your own green cleaning supplies.
  • Experiment with natural sachets for bathrooms that make use of essential oils or natural herbs and spices.
  • Establish a scent-free zone in the sanctuary to accommodate those with asthma and allergies.
  • Try holding meat-free potlucks. Bovines such as beef, buffalo, lamb, and goat produce methane, a greenhouse gas that is twenty-three times more potent than CO2.Choose poultry, grain, beans, and eggs to achieve a lower carbon footprint.
  • Make your own communion bread out of organic, whole-grain flour.

Go All Out

  • Ask church members to observe one meat-free day per week and to limit seafood consumption to species that are not being overfished.
  • Hold cooking classes to help people rediscover the art of cooking using natural ingredients. Invite children to help. Use a cookbook such as Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon.

Adapted from 7 Simple Steps to Green Your Church by Rebekah Simon-Peter. To purchase copies of Green Church:  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rejoice!  Or 7 Simple Steps to Green Your Church, please contact us directly: office@rebekahsimonpeter.com.  Downloads also available on Kindle.