Post Valentine’s Day Thoughts

Learning to love well…

It’s been said that loving well is the essence of true spirituality. Loving well involves authentic interaction (or communication) with God, with ourselves, and with other people.

“Love reveals the beauty of another person to themselves”  –Jean Vanier, friend and mentor of Henri Nouwen

Jesus epitomized – and modeled spiritual and emotional health for us.

[Jesus said], “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” –Matt 22:37-40 (MSG)

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were not able to make the same connection with people as he did. They were competent, diligent, zealous, they were absolutely committed to having God as the Lord of their lives…they memorized entire books of the Hebrew Scriptures, they prayed five times a day, they faithfully tithed off all their increase — plus gave money to the poor, and they evangelized – yet there is little evidence that they delighted in people.

The word incarnate come from a Latin word that means – in – flesh. Jesus choose to limit himself to the confines of human history and a human body.

John 1:14 in the MSG translation says:

“The WORD became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes.”

Today the incarnated presence of God is intended to be the Church – identified in the Bible as the Body of Christ.

3 Dynamics of Incarnational Life…

1. Enter another’s world. James 1:19; Philippians 2:5-8

“Understand [this], my beloved brethren. Let every [person] be quick to hear [a ready listener], slow to speak, slow to take offense and to get angry.” James 1:19 (AMP)

What does it mean to enter “another’s” world?

To care means, first of all, to be present for each other. — Henri Nouwen

What does it mean to be fully present, or become “a ready listener”?

  • Put your own agenda on hold
  • Look people in the eye
  • Practice reflective listening:
  • Allow the other person to speak until their thought is completed
  • Try and restate their thoughts in your own words
  • Don’t try to fix people.
  • Be cognizant of body-language (only 10% of communication is verbal!)
  • Validate people’s feelings. We can validate without being in agreement. (Feelings are neither right, nor wrong, they just are.)
  • Try not to become defensive…

2. Hold on to your world. Ephesians 2:10; John 15:15

“For [you] are God’s masterpiece. He has created [you] anew in Christ Jesus, so [you] can do the good things he planned for [you] long ago.” Eph 2:10, NLT (singular & plural)

In The Emotionally Healthy Church Pete Scazzero states that this dynamic (holding on to our world) is the most difficult and challenging principle to apply. He asserts…

“It is the key to conflict resolution. It is the key to responding in a mature loving way when other people push and challenge your desires, values, and goals inside or outside the church. It is the key to serving as a leader, in any capacity…Without this ability to hold on to yourself, it is not possible to be an imaginative, creative leader who breaks from the status quo and leads people to new places.” (p. 185)

What does it mean to “hold on to your world”?

  • Recognize that we almost always have a choice. (The choice often involves choosing between “peacekeeper” or “peacemaker.”) Peacemakers create false peace.
  • Determine and set clear boundaries:
  • Identify and be clear about limits. Don’t allow people to make demands of you. Allow people to make requests, but not demands. If you hear a request that makes you uncomfortable, your discomfort may be a signal that this is an attempt to invade your boundaries.
  • Learn to say The Graceful “NO.”

“Good boundaries attract good friends.”

3. Live in the tension of both. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Matthew 22:37-40

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 1 Cor 13:4-7 (thought to be a description, not a definition)

  • Living in the tension of another’s world and your own world happens when we are willing to authentically connect with people across our differences (including religion and politics). Civil, or respectful, dialogue…
  • When authentic, incarnational Christian love, or spirituality, is released in a relationship God’s presence is manifest.
  • When we ignore conflict we create a false peace. Jesus was murdered because He disrupted the false peace all around him. True peacemaking disrupts the false peace.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matt 10:34

  • We cannot have true peace in the Church, or society, with pretense and façade.

To care means, first of all, to be present for each other. –Henri Nouwen

44 Lessons On Church Leadership From Lyle Schaller: A Compilation (4 of 4)

You might ask, “Who is Lyle Schaller?” Quite simply, he may be America’s best church strategist in the last 30 (or so) years. He has a demonstrated genius for practical solutions to a myriad of organizational issues and problems. Schaller, a Methodist, has over 140 titles listed on Amazon.com. My assumption is that he is mostly retired now. What follows are the final of 44 lessons for church leaders…

35. The least happy staff arrangements “tend to be those that include two or more first-born staff members or an only-born senior ministry and an only-born associate….The happiest staff combinations tend to be those that include a middle-born senior minister and a middle-born associate minister….The most relaxed and the least competitive staff teams include a last-born senior pastors and a last-born associate minister….The most effective ministerial teams tend to be composed of a middle-born senior minister and a first-born associate.” The Multiple Staff and the Larger Church, p. 102.

36. “The larger the congregation, the more important it is to build a staff that complements and reinforces the priorities of the senior minister.” The Multiple Staff and the Larger Church, p. 81.

37. “In the smaller congregations the role of the patriarch, or tribal chief, usually is filled by an older lay person. The minister is the visit medicine man. Tribal identity is in the laity, not in the pastor. By contrast, in congregations with a multiple staff, and especially the huge and mini-denomination size churches, the role of the tribal chief is filled by the senior ministry. Frequently the corporate identity of the very large church is in the personality of the senior ministry who has served that congregation for a decade or longer.” The Multiple Staff and the Larger Church, p. 41.

38. “The larger the congregation, the more vulnerable that church is to an inappropriate match of pastor and people.” The Multiple Staff and the Larger Church, p. 25.

39. “The larger the congregation, the greater the expectations that institution placed on the senior minister to be the initiating leader.” The Multiple Staff and the Larger Church, p. 19.

40. “The ability to understand, accept and enjoy the ambiguity may be one of the most important characteristics of the happy and effective pastor of the middle-sized congregation.” The Middle-Sized Church, p. 17.

41. “In the best of…churches…leaders have created, sometimes over a period of several generations, a rich tapestry of symbols, parables, folk sayings, favorite expressions, beliefs, legends, stories, rituals, customs, and festivals which reinforce the feeling that indeed this is a unique congregation. By contrast, the weak churches are swathed in layers of gray cloth—ready for their funeral. The congregational culture gives meaning to life for many of the members.” The Middle-Sized Church, p. 30

42. The greatest measurable difference that distinguishes congregations is whether they are accumulating capital or living off the accumulated capital. The Middle-Sized Church, p. 33.

43. “Don’t Be The First Associate! Be The Third!” Survival Tactics in the Church, Chapter 6, pp. 166ff.

44. “Very few chapters in an effective pastorate extend beyond three or four years.” Survival Tactics in the Church, p. 29.

How Vision is Achieved – Pt 2 of 3 (or 4)

• Again, “leaders in every generation have been distinguished as those with ability to see in the mind’s eye what others cannot yet imagine.” The question, then, is how is their imagination quickened? It all starts with spending quality time with Jesus. To do this one must develop eyes to see what Jesus is already doing in the midst of a congregation. Give prayerful thought to the following questions:

o Who has he assembled in this place and what gifts are predominate?
o How are these gifts currently being expressed?
o Who is already being blessed?
o What is Jesus doing in the lives of those in the (surrounding geographical) community that he is preparing to be part of this congregation?
o What changes in the surrounding community past, present, or future impacts the opportunities for ministry?
o In other words, what is the Lord of the Church already doing to extend his reign over the lives of persons in this congregation and in the community?
o Then the question is, how do we join Him?

• As leaders develop the eyes to see Jesus in the “fields white for harvest,” and mobilize people and resources to reap the harvest he has prepared, the vision for ministry will be clearly visible and the congregation will be contagious with it.

• Methods, strategies, and ministries follow vision. Innovative ways of doing ministry are needed to realize Christ’s vision for a particular congregation. Each congregation has a unique opportunity to contribute to the completion of the making of disciples of panta ta ethne. This is because the opportunities before each congregation are unique to where God has positioned them, at a particular time, with the resources to bear fruit for the Kingdom.

• “Can vision be induced?” “Are there tools, concepts, and practices that can be trusted to help leaders weave the threads of their dreams into the tapestry of tomorrow’s reality? Are there rational tools, with a logic that can be followed?”

• Vision can, indeed, be induced. The Apostle Paul spent a great deal of his time persuading (inducing) a vision for the completion of the Great Commission. His vision was simply Jesus – to know him and the power of his resurrection realized on earth. Paul’s primary strategy was to incarnate himself and those who followed Jesus within every culture, society, and network of persons through which the gospel could be communicated most effectively. Becoming all things to all people that by all means he might win some.

• Vision for the ministry of any particular congregation is seeing how their ministry can most effectively be incarnated. Leaders contend for this and persuade others to pay the price.

• However, there can be a pattern of insidious trends that capture a congregation over time that need to be identified and repented of. Until this ground is covered, few will pay the price of change necessary to incarnate their ministry. These trends hold the congregation captive to the old paradigm. New forms, tools, concepts and practices are not usually accepted by a rational process or persuaded by logic. The emotional attachment to the old and fear of loss overrides the rational process. The old paradigm for ministry must be revealed as inadequate to exploit the new opportunities to expand the Kingdom. Israel had to give up the paradigm of a “temple cult” captured by legalism and the traditions men. Jesus fulfilled all that was good in the old paradigm and replaced it with a new paradigm of bring the Kingdom to earth, which included persons from all peoples. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount gave the new forms, tools, concepts and practices of the Kingdom. He contrasted the old paradigm with the new.

• The old forms, tools, concepts and practices of westernized Christendom are woven into a tapestry of yesterday’s reality. This tends to blind church leaders to the present reality. This is why a Kingdom intervention is often necessary. Tomorrow’s reality will be woven from what the church sees Jesus doing in the present reality and from what it learns from joining with him as he is incarnated in the new opportunities for making disciples of all peoples. Just as Peter saw God do a new thing with Cornelius and his household, and through the Apostle Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles, the church must see new forms, tools, concepts and practices that allow the incarnation of its ministry within those “fields white for harvest” where Jesus stands and calls us to join Him.

How Vision is Achieved – Pt 1 of 3 (or 4)

A couple of things…I stopped blogging a while back and I’ve started back up again. I didn’t have the foresight to save my earlier posts, so I’m really starting over.

I’ve recently done some fresh thinking on the issue of attaining vision. This will be a 3-4 part post. I should mention that I am grateful for the thinking, writing, and friendship of Dr. Bob Brady – a long-time mentor of mine.

Here’s my equation for the work that needs to be done: Values + Mission = Vision

Values = Abstract qualities that we prize.

Mission
= What we are here to do and our unique approach to the enterprise we are in.

A mission statement is text that states the chief activity that the organization wishes to engage in and gives specific guidance on the direction the organization should take in regard to programs, services, and activities. Additionally, the law obligates the trustees/board of the organization to limit their activities to those covered by the mission statement.

Vision = A description of the reality you expect to create; it is the discovery of God’s will for a congregation.

We don’t DECIDE on a vision, we DISCOVER vision through commingling core explicit values with the organizational mission.

Preliminary Thoughts How Vision is Achieved:

• From more sophisticated uses of the imaginative capabilities of our minds to our inner ears seeking to be more attuned to the voice of the Holy Spirit — the path to vision will be discovered. How we have learned to think about ministry in times past will require, of some, extensive relearning in order to cope with the kinds of discontinuity forecast for the future.

• Leaders in every generation have been distinguished as those with ability to see in the mind’s eye what others cannot yet imagine. Can vision be induced? Are there tools, concepts, and practices that can be trusted to help leaders weave the threads of their dreams into the tapestry of tomorrow’s reality? Are these rational tools, with a logic that can be followed? Or, must we wait in a desert without foresight until a burning bush signals a new order? “The future ain’t what it used to be,” and that’s the good news. Much of tomorrow is waiting for someone to invent it.

Some Noteworthy Quotes:
• “Every institution is perfectly positioned to obtain the results it is currently achieving.”

• Leadership: the process of aligning a church to God’s mission and vision.

• The gospel is primarily something to be embodied and proclaimed, rather than a set of beliefs that people assent to intellectually.

Further Thoughts
• The underlying presupposition is that Jesus Christ is the chief shepherd and vision caster, and that he has a definitive future for every congregation that he is working out. The task of church leaders is to join with him as co-laborers in the realization of his kingdom at a particular place and time with the resources and opportunities he provides.

• If this is true, then it follows that one of the main hindrances to the realization of Christ’s kingdom through a particular congregation is failure to let Christ be the head of his body in that place. This can take several forms:

o Unqualified leaders who are incapable of providing examples of Christlikeness and authentic discipleship.

o Structure/Systems that work against community building and one-another relationships.

o Misuse of resources both financial and the spiritual gifts of the Body.

o Protection of the vested interests of members overshadows the needs of the lost.
o Unresolved conflict that poisons the fellowship.

o Failure to mobilize the power of prayer in seeking God’s will.

• Now, assuming all the above are addressed and corrected as needed, how is a vision discovered by biblical leaders who are following Jesus Christ and desire as first priority the realization of His kingdom through their congregation?