Archives For Congregational Development

There’s a lot of institutional despair these days.  “The church is dying, it’s in decline, it’s done for, it’s over.  The best days are behind us.” I'm Always Here For You. Indoor Shot Of Warm-hearted Young Afric But what if all that’s just a story?  And not a very good one at that?  The church is only done-for if we say it is.

Here’s what I say:  This Lent, don’t give up being the church.  The truth is, there’s nothing to worry about.  Worry doesn’t solve problems anyway.  Trust, faith, and positive action do.  So here are some ways to increase your faith and trust in God.

Take Positive Actions

Make a list of all the things your church provides to the community and get loud and proud about it.  Don’t keep it to yourself.  Count up the number of people you have helped in the last 6 months and publish it.  Count up the number of prayers you have prayed and publicize it.  While you’re at it, count up the number of meals you have served, food baskets you have given out, flood buckets you have compiled, walks you have shoveled, hugs you have exchanged, cups of coffee you have served, stranded travelers you have aided, sick people you have visited, schoolkids you have tutored, funds you have gifted, Bible studies you have conducted, protests you have attended, “isms” you have surrendered, prayer shawls you have knitted, blankets you have blessed, quilts you have sewn, books you have donated, trespasses you have forgiven, neighbors you have assisted, letters you have written, mission trips you have taken, public acts of witness you have undertaken, kids you have taught, scriptures you have proclaimed, grieving families you have comforted, celebrating couples you have blessed, worried people you have calmed, PBJS’s you have made, homeless people you have befriended, persecuted people you have comforted, acts of injustice you have interrupted, wounds you have healed, and songs of praise you have sung.  Tally the numbers and write up that report!

Got it?

Now, let it sink in.  Doubtless, your congregation has generated a treasure trove of blessing which has radiated out far beyond your comprehension.  You have packed love and care into the stream of life.  You have partnered with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit to channel extravagant blessing into the world. Allow yourselves to be touched and inspired by the knowledge that you are in fact making a difference.  Why would you ever want to stop being the church?

Trust and Trust Some More

Reinforce the good that you are already doing in the following ways.

  1.  Have church council meetings where you focus on all that you have accomplished rather than what isn’t going well.  See if that doesn’t shift the conversation in a positive way.
  2. Thank God for the good that has already been manifested through you, and all that God will continue to do through you.
  3. Refuse to worry about kids that aren’t coming, generations that are missing, funds that haven’t shown up yet, and committees that aren’t filled.  Trust that God has already heard and is answering your prayers.  Then re-focus on what is going well and right.  Be delighted and surprised when what you need shows up.

None of this is to say that there aren’t ways we can be more responsive, and things we can’t improve.  We absolutely can.  But taking positive actions and trusting God is far more likely to strengthen and empower you to take those steps than is indulging in worry or blame.  When you are ready to take next steps to create a culture of renewal in your congregation and community, please be in touch.

Creating a Culture of Renewal is designed to empower you to take a quantum leap of faith into dreaming like Jesus, manifesting the kingdom in miraculous ways, and creating a world that works for everyone—with no one and nothing left out!  You’re farther on your way than you imagine.  If you’d like to be part of a worldwide movement to shift the conversation about the value of church, please join us!  We’re here to empower and serve you.  Early Bird rates are available through March 31.

Curious about the other things to not give up for Lent? So far, I encourage you to not give up your voice, or your neighborhood.


During this season of Lent, people of faith are considering what to give up. In years past, I have given up despair, hopelessness, and the fast food, low carb diet, fattening and unhealthy eating conceptoccasional chocolate donut. I have even tried taking things on, when giving something up felt self-defeating. But this year, I want to make the case for 5 things your church definitely should not give up for Lent.

Give up diet sodas, but don’t give up these things: your voice, your neighborhood, being the church, people and love.   This week, I’ll lay out the case for not giving up your voice. As Lent unfolds, I’ll address the additional 4 things.

This Lent, don’t give up your voice. As United Methodists we take a vow to resist evil and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves. If you are uncertain about how to resist evil while not alienating folks, please read about how to take an ethical stance on tough issues by working with the Wesleyan quadrilateral. Don’t shy away from talking about volatile issues such as gun violence simply because everyone might not agree. Agreement is not required. In fact, competing ideas and conflicting messages underscore the need for your clear and courageous voice to be heard.

I know it takes courage to raise your voice. I know it takes time to figure out a faithful response.   Please garner the courage and take the time to make your voice heard. It matters.

Here’s what’s at stake: If you silence your voice in the world, then you abdicate your place at the community table.   No one is asking you to do that. Your community needs you—more than they know and probably more than you know. Please don’t complain that no one listens to you anymore if you aren’t in fact speaking up.

The challenge is how to articulate your vision and stake your claim without making others wrong. Note: making others wrong gets people riled up. They’ll simply want to make you wrong, in turn. That won’t get you anywhere. I don’t believe you have to make enemies of people with whom you disagree in order to take a principled stance on matters of justice.

Here are three suggestions for how to claim your voice without stomping on other people:

  1. Proclaim your vision of the Kingdom. Let it transcend the current reality and paint a new picture of what is possible. In Dr. King’s day, civil rights activists were met with water hoses, attack dogs, tear gas, and swinging police batons. Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech posited a future reality in which sons of former slaves and former slave owners would be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. What’s your dream?
  1. Frame your message with Gospel values. At the same time, don’t assume that people who see things differently than you do don’t also abide by Gospel values. They probably do. They simply may not think about things in the same way that you do.   Respecting people with whom you disagree will elevate the dialogue. I lived in Colorado when the Family Values movement was in full swing. This was long before twitter and hashtags. It was interesting how competing bumper stickers proclaimed both “Homosexuality is not a family value” and “Hate is not a family value.” Because of the way they were worded, I’m not sure either one left room for faithful disagreement.
  1. Leave room for disagreement. Create a space in which people can join you even if they don’t fully agree with you. It’s not necessary to have total consensus in order to work together.   Some of my dearest friends and I disagree on important topics including appropriate human sexuality, to biblical interpretation, to the nature of God, to the existence of heaven and hell, to the veracity of climate change, to the power of prayer.   But we don’t allow our differences of opinion to kill the relationship. The truth is, we see eye to eye on most other things. We have left room for disagreement. It works for us.

As you practice using your voice, you’ll develop your own list of what works and what doesn’t. The point is to start speaking up and speaking out. Keep your seat at the table. Your community is listening.


Can churches be involved in the most volatile issues of our day? The Parkland FL school shooting begs the question. Seventeen more Empty Wood Seat On Swing Outdoor Gamepeople are dead, most of them children. It’s the 25th fatal school shooting, and the 208th school shooting overall, since Columbine HS in 1999. That’s almost 11 per year. If the church can’t or won’t speak out against this sort of violence, then what hope is there for a voice of conscience in our world?

Here’s the trouble, though. When we try to speak to wrenching issues like school shootings from a political perspective, we get caught in either/or choices. Our two-party political system creates a win-lose situation with no room for nuanced disagreement. Either/or choices are destined to polarize. Churches are reluctant to get involved. I get it. I’d like to offer an alternative that every church can use.

Thankfully, speaking from a political perspective is not the church’s only choice. Churches can and should speak from an ethical perspective. Webster defines ethics as “moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.” For the church, ethics are the living out of our faith in a world in which choices are rarely black and white.

When churches speak from an ethical position, we are able to discern and articulate truths that go deeper than the artificial either/or choices created by our two-party system. Adopting an ethical perspective means we consider how core values of the Gospels and Jesus’ teachings impact public policy. Viewing current events through an ethical lens also empowers us to address how the gifts and potentials of human life impact our responsibility to the common good.   Finally, because we believe in a hopeful future for all of God’s good Creation, an ethical perspective enables us to react not just to what is, but to powerfully envision what could be.

Clearly, if we don’t want 11 more school shootings per year, not to mention 6 church shootings per year, we have new choices to make about how we approach the following: access to deadly weapons, gun policy, public health, the safety of our children, and the way boys and men express their rage and disenchantment. (Yes, almost all these shooters have been men.)

In the United Methodist Church, members take a vow to resist evil and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves. That’s as clear a call for an ethical response to current events as I’ve ever heard.

How do you respond ethically? I suggest this 7-step process. It’s not perfect or complete, but it will give you a starting point. United Methodists will recognize elements of the process as it engages the Wesleyan quadrilateral, the four sources by which we live out our faith.

When it comes to thinking ethically, the first and most important step is to get the facts. That means looking beyond Facebook memes and polarizing talking heads. It means digging deeper to find out what’s really going on. “Some moral issues create controversies simply because we do not bother to check the facts,” observe the authors of Thinking Ethically.

Second, turn to the scriptures. Discover the biblical stories or principles that might apply. This means thinking deeply and widely about meta messages of the Bible. Resist the temptation to pluck one or two scriptures out of context that seem to fit the situation. Many of the ethical dilemmas we face today were never mentioned in scripture. Similarly, the scriptures themselves were written over centuries in response to situations that are far from our post-modern context.

Third, look to other commentaries or sources of your faith. United Methodists will want to consult the Book of Discipline, the Social Principles, and the Book of Resolutions, to see how other informed persons of faith have approached these issues.

Fourth, look at the history of the issue. How has it been dealt with in the past? What has worked? What hasn’t? As thinking persons of faith, we engage our faculties of reason.

Fifth, engage in prayer. A word of caution here. I wouldn’t necessarily ask for specific answers to your specific questions; this prayer may lead to confusing our own solutions with God’s divine guidance. Rather, I suggest praying for guidance and wisdom as you discern together.

Sixth, engage in respectful, patient, discussion about the resources at hand. To do so, first decide on ground rules and boundaries, so that your discussions don’t become polarized or violent. At this point, don’t try to come to final solutions or absolute positions. Rather, keep an open mind. Keep prayer present even in the discussion. Over time, discuss possible ethics-based approaches to addressing the problem at hand.

Don’t worry if you don’t all come to the same conclusion. You probably won’t. That’s okay. Here’s what you will have done: you will have thought faithfully and ethically about the issues at hand. This ethics-based process creates trust, the ability to move beyond polarizing politics, and increased skill at diving deep as a community of faith.

Finally, take action. Establish new ministries. Establish new policies. Pray new prayers. Preach new sermons. Encourage new conversations. Draft new policies. Call the powers that be. Write letters. Speak up.   Get together with other like-minded folks. March. Cry.   Shout. Pray. The actions you take will be dependent on your setting and circumstances. The main thing is to act.


On Ash Wednesday, we remember how Jesus loved sacrificially. Jesus loved God, his neighbors, and even his enemies. His love for us has ash wednesdaytransformed the world.

As powerful as these forms of love are, though, there is another kind of love Jesus practiced that is even more powerful. And more rare. This love is the 5th quantum leap of faith Jesus invites us to make. All other attempts at love are diminished without this particular expression of love.

It’s tucked into Jesus’ most famous teaching on love: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.

Most of us—even the highly accomplished among us—can’t help but compare ourselves to others or put ourselves down. We make a national pastime of beating ourselves up. We can’t help it. It seems to be part of the human condition.

Each one of us has an internal voice that judges, assesses, and evaluates. It’s bad enough when we turn that voice on others: “Boy, they’re never going to make it; those poor souls, what’s wrong with them? Why does he always have to look so ridiculous? Why does she DO that? I’m glad I don’t look like that, act like that, talk like that, eat like that, or live like that.”

But the internal voice is downright abusive when we turn it on ourselves: “Geez, you really look fat in those jeans. Look how old you are getting. Rebekah, why did you say that out loud? Now everyone is going to think you are stupid. I’m not a very good friend. Why can’t you be more like him?” And on and on and on. We say the sort of thing to ourselves we would never allow others to say to us.

Can you imagine Jesus having that sort of internal dialogue?

Can you imagine Jesus saying to himself: “Geez, what a jerk I am. I know Peter would have stayed on top of the water, if I had just been more caring or instructive or given him more faith. What’s wrong with me? I know the disciples could’ve cast out the demons on the first try; I am a terrible teacher. If only I was a better lover of God they wouldn’t be marching me off to the cross right now.” Me neither.

“But Jesus was God,” you protest, “Of course he didn’t put himself down.” Yes, Jesus was fully divine. But he was also fully human. That means he must have had that internal voice too.

I wonder if that’s what the story of the temptation in the wilderness is all about. The voice of the tempter tries to lure Jesus into breaking his sacred connection with God. Jesus resists at every turn, instead, elevating God’s word and voice above the destructive one at hand.

Deep down inside, Jesus knew he was one with God, one with the Spirit, and one with all Creation. That knowledge allowed him to transcend the constant negativity that so many of us are saddled with.

Jesus wouldn’t be able to love God or us very well if he was constantly putting himself down. True love of others doesn’t flow well from self-denigration. True love of God is almost impossible from a foundation of self-hate. I believe Jesus was able to love us fully because he didn’t waste any time hating himself or putting himself down. Nor did he blame God for the way things were going in his life.

Do you want to love like Jesus? Then it’s time to take the last quantum leap of faith. To love like Jesus means to love ourselves, and our neighbors, and God. No one of the three kinds of love can be left out.

So how do we love ourselves? First, notice negative self-talk when it begins. Don’t let it go unchallenged.   Second, surrender it to God. Only a spiritual connection can adequately counteract that voice. Third, laugh at it. Seriousness intensifies the voice. Taking it lightly is essential to disarming it.

Though we may never be able to turn off the judging, assessing and evaluating completely, with conscious practice, we can turn the volume of negativity way, way down.   It’s all about practicing grace with ourselves, and others.

When we practice self-hate, self-neglect, self-abasement, or self-denigration, we harm and damage ourselves. When we practice self-love, we increase our ability to love others. On this Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day it’s clear that more love—not more negativity—is what’s needed.

Ready, set, leap!


While in Cincinnati a few weeks ago, I met up with my friend Lia.  Lia works out on a trampoline.  Before she can get much air, she warms Senior Couple Bouncing On Trampoline In Gardenup with smaller bounces.  Her story reminded me of the quantum spiritual leaps Jesus invites us to take.  Warm up bounces are a necessity here, too.

Chances are, you’re not going to leap straight into believing like Jesus.  It’s too big of a leap.

But now that you’ve got some momentum with the first leap: being fruitful and multiplying like Jesus; the second leap: being empowered like Jesus; and the third leap:  being accountable like Jesus; it’s time to get some air.  It’s time to launch into the fourth quantum leap and believe like Jesus.

Jesus makes it clear that he wants us to have the same kind of faith he himself has.  He sends his disciples/apostles out to perform miracles.  They heal the sick and cast out demons.  Later, they participate in multiplying loaves and fishes.  After that, Jesus even invites Peter to walk on water.  How do they do all these things?

When it comes to walking on water, we usually look at the story of Peter sinking as a morality tale that centers around the problem of having too little faith.  “You of little faith!” Jesus says when Peter begins to go under, “Why did you doubt?”

Reducing this story to a morality tale, however, misses the bigger picture.  First, Peter did actually take some steps on the water.  That meant he manifested some water-walking faith.  Second, Jesus wants Peter to share the same level of faith that Jesus himself has, the kind that allows Jesus to traverse the seas on foot.    Otherwise, Jesus never would have said that Peter lacked faith; he never would have asked Peter why he doubted.  He would simply have called Peter a fool and told him to be humble.  Third, Jesus is all about sharing his power and duplicating his capacities in his followers.

In my mind, the story of Peter walking on water brings up the question, “What does Jesus believe?”  If we’re going to take this quantum leap of faith with Jesus, we need to know what it is he wants us to aspire to have faith in.  Let’s pause for a minute and consider what we’re talking about here.

  • Jesus had faith in his relationship with the Source of all Being; he understood at a deep level that that there was no separation between him and God, or between him and the Holy Spirit.
  • Jesus had faith in the rock-solid knowledge that with God all things are possible.
  • Jesus had faith in his ability to co-create miracles with God.
  • Jesus had faith that he lived in partnership with God.
  • Jesus had faith in his life purpose.

I don’t think Jesus wants us to simply give our assent to the fact that Jesus believes these things.   I think Jesus invites us to believe these things about ourselvesThis is where the quantum leap of faith comes in.  So try the following on for size, reading each statement out loud.

  • Jesus wants me to believe that there is no separation between me and God, between me and the Holy Spirit, or between me and Jesus.  Ever.
  • Jesus invites me to believe with rock-solid faith that with God all things are possible.
  • Jesus invites me to believe in my ability to co-create miracles with God.
  • Jesus invites me to live in partnership with God.
  • Jesus invites me to have unwavering belief that my life has purpose.

The difference between the two sets of bullet points is the difference between having faith in Jesus and having the faith of Jesus.

So, what does it take to make this quantum leap of faith?

Notice where you get a glitch when you repeat the above statements.  Ask God to show you what causes you to sink.  Ask God to show you why you doubt.  Ask God to answer your prayer, the Prayer of the Apostles, “Lord, increase our faith.”

Moving into apostleship takes more than one leap of faith.  It’s about constantly refining the faith you do have, throwing out beliefs that limit your faith, being willing to let go of doubt, and to step out on the water.

The level of faith you currently have is enough to have gotten you to this point. But it’s not enough to go where Jesus is calling you next.  Next week we’ll look at the final quantum leap of faith for the new year:  Love Like Jesus.  It will bring all this together.