Archives For Congregational Development

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 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?

 

 

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.