Category Archives: Blog Posts

In Defense of “Religion” (Brannon Hancock)

At some point – I know not when – religion became a dirty word. And this attitude doesn’t just come from critics outside the church. I’ve heard many Christians make this distinction as well: “It’s not about religion; it’s about relationship.” Or “I’m spiritual, but not religious” – religion often serving as a cipher for rituals, moral codes, spiritual disciplines, and the like.

A couple years ago, this attitude was brought to its clearest – or at least loudest – articulation by Jefferson Bethke in his spoken-word video “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus.” The video had 1.2 million hits within its first 24 hours online (that’s an average of 14 views per second); 11 million hits the first week; and has been viewed nearly 30 million times in the three years since it was uploaded. (That’s off-the-charts virality, especially for a piece of Christian pop culture.) Continue reading

What’s the point? (Colleen Derr)

In one of my classes we are reading through Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, a classic on the spiritual disciplines. A student in the class shared with me that she found the first two sections, inward and outward disciplines, a drudgery and was overwhelmed at how foreign some of the disciplines were to her – things like meditation and solitude. She said that the idea of practicing those disciplines was horrifying because she is an action-oriented busy person who loves being around people, but the corporate disciplines – she was all over those!

The reality is the list of disciplines can be overwhelming. Even the title “spiritual disciplines” sounds like something to avoid. Foster’s work is compelling and his suggestion that the disciplines put us in the path of God’s grace is lovely but what exactly is the role of the spiritual disciplines in our spiritual formation? What is their purpose? What is the point? We know that the disciplines help us to grow, but how? Three things to consider:

#1 The spiritual disciplines help us to WAIT.
I always thought that spiritual formation began with obedience –God moves with grace and we respond in obedience – but perhaps there is something that comes before obedience.

What if, in our desire to be obedient we fill our lives with busyness (good things but busy things) that create chaos and a buzz that actually get in the way of hearing, knowing, seeing, and sensing what we are supposed to be obedient to? Is it possible to become so engaged in “doing good” that we miss His intended best? Perhaps the spiritual disciplines can help us learn how to wait – to be still – so that we can hear His voice.

I hate to wait; even when I have nowhere to go I don’t like to wait. Statistics suggest that we spend six months of our lives waiting in line and five months complaining – I’m convinced that the two are directly related!

Ortberg wrote in his wonderful book The Life You’ve Always Wanted: “People nowadays take time far more seriously than eternity” and calls hurry a sickness. He suggests we’ve all bought the line by the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland:
“Now here, you see it, it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place. If you want to go somewhere else, you have to run twice as fast.”

In our desire to grow – to experience spiritual formation – we “run twice as fast” and find ourselves exhausted when what we need to do is to stop and learn how to wait!

#2 They help us see in the dark.

The spiritual disciplines can help us lose our sight so we can truly see! We spend our lives (spiritual lives) looking for the light so we can find the path – the path to holiness, to growth, to God. But perhaps the place where we find God is not in the light but in the dark?

Gregory of Nyssa saw Moses’s cloud as a cipher for the spiritual life. Think about Moses’s encounter with God. Moses’ vision began with light (a burning bush). As Moses’s relationship with God grew, God spoke to him in a cloud, and eventually he was able to see God in the dark!

Barbara Brown Taylor in Learning to Walk in the Dark poses the question: “How do we illumine the night without turning on the lights?” She tells the story of an experience she had at “Dialogue in the Dark” – an interactive experience where sighted people maneuver through a typical every day life blind. In the end she was exhausted, frustrated, and humbled by her lack of ability: “But I was also aware of how blindness had split the distance between me and all these other people. Touching was inevitable; apologies were redundant. We were not embarrassed to be dependent on each other.”
Blindness split the distance between me and others
The darkness removed boundaries, limitations, assumptions, and preconceived notions – the dark helped her “see” what mattered.

There is a light that can illumine the night without turning on the lights…the spiritual disciplines help us experience this light as we learn to “use our senses to experience what is real”…as we learn to see in and embrace the dark. What Dionysius called “the unapproachable light in which God dwells”.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him;
and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him
and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy”
(I Peter 1:8) Continue reading

Culture and Christ: 3 Lessons (Bob Whitesel)

Lesson 1:

Carefully investigate and examine elements of a culture. Since modern culture is constantly adjusting and metamorphosing, the task of translating the Good News without surrendering its truth or disfiguring it is paramount and ongoing. This arduous task begins with thorough and careful examination of a culture. Anthropologist Paul Hiebert described culture as, “an integrated system of learned patterns of behavior, ideas and products characteristic of a society.”(1) Scrutiny of such an elaborate system is not for an immature Christian, since it requires investigating and evaluating a culture without being tainted by its more sordid elements.

However, a failure by Christian communicators to sufficiently investigate modern culture can make us look irrelevant. In an earlier book I interviewed Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church in Vista, California. Larry told me the phenomenal growth of the church was in part because he regularly studies modern culture by perusing secular business, entertainment, and lifestyle magazines. “If I don’t understand the business world, when a businessperson talks to me about his or her world, its like were using two different dictionaries.”(2) The use of disparate dictionaries can also dilute an exchange of ideas with the young culture.

Therefore stay current with today’s youth culture by cautiously scrutinizing their books, music, movies, music videos, computer games, web-sites, web-blogs, etc.. While the truths of the Good News must never be sacrificed nor altered, connecting and contrasting it with today’s youth culture can make it more comprehensible.

Lesson 2

Discriminate and sift elements of a culture. There is a tension between Christ and culture that must be examined. Richard Niebuhr in his classic treatise Christ and Culture suggested that there are several ways to look at Christ’s interaction with culture.(3)

One is “Christ against culture” a view embraced by the early church father Tertullian. In this view culture is seen as evil, thus requiring Christians to withdraw and insulate themselves, resulting in a monastic response. Charles Kraft exposes three fallacies in this view, demonstrating it is not in keeping Paul’s view that “nothing is unclean of itself” (Romans 14:14).(4)

Another view Niebuhr called “Christ Above Culture” which he divided into sub-categories.(5)  “Christ Above Culture in Synthesis” was held by Thomas Aquinas and views Jesus as the restorer of institutions of true society. This view believes that Christianity will one day totally transform culture, perhaps into a millennial peace. In another sub-category, “Christ Above Culture in Paradox,” Christ is seen above but in such tension with culture that a messy, muddled relationship results. Martin Luther grappled with this perspective, as did modern writer Mike Yaconelli who called this “messy spirituality.”(6)

However, a more valid sub-category may be “Christ Above but Transformer of Culture.” Embraced by Augustine, John Calvin, and John Wesley this view sees culture as corrupt but convertible.(7)  Kraft built upon this his position called “Christ above but working through culture,” explaining that “God chooses the cultural milieu in which humans are immersed as the arena of his interaction with people.”(8) Eddie Gibbs further elaborates that “such an approach represents a deliberate self-limiting on the part of God in order to speak in understandable terms and with perceived relevance on the part of the hearer. He acts redemptively with regard to culture, which includes judgment on some elements, but also affirmation in other areas, and a transformation of the whole.”(9)

If the “Christ above but working through culture” truly defines the tension and nexus between Christ and culture, then the job of the Christian communicator becomes challenging if not precarious. Therefore, our strategy must not conclude simply with step 1, investigating and examining culture, but also must continue through step 2, sifting and judging its elements. Here the prudent communicator must make qualitative judgments based upon Scripture, ethics, personal belief and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Lesson 3

Reject or affirm elements of culture. The end result of this examination or sifting, must be a rejection of elements in conflict with Christ, but also an affirmation of those elements that are not so. I found that leaders of the organic church usually sift carefully through the movies, television shows, music, games, online resources and literature of young people. And they routinely explain in their sermons how God judges some aspects of postmodern culture, accepts other elements such as an emphasis on helping the needy, and has as a goal the transformation of the whole.(10)

The Christian communicator wishing to make the Good News relevant today must carefully examine the media barrage engulfing young people, understand its messages, while at the same time sifting elements that are opposed to Christ and identifying touchstones that can make connections with unchurched peopled. Freeway’s use of comedic film clips to underscore or juxtaposition God’s Word and contemporary culture has helped this organic congregation connect the Good News to unchurched young people.

Excerpted with permission from Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Abingdon Press).

Endnotes

  1. Paul Hiebert, Cultural Anthropology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1983), p. 25.
  2. Bob Whitesel, Growth By Accident, Death By Planning, op. cit., p. 26.
  3. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper & Row, 1951). A second view is beyond the scope of our discussion. Labeled by Niebuhr “Christ of culture,” it was embraced by early Gnostic heretics. They interpreted Christ through cultural trends, rejecting any claims of Christ that conflicted with their culture. Counter to this, Isaiah 55:8 reminds us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, or our ways his ways.
  4. Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1979), pp. 105-106.
  5. Kraft, ibid., pp. 108-115 sees five subdivisions of the “Christ Above Culture” position. However, for this discussion only three are required. The reader seeking more exhaustive insights will benefit from a careful exploration of Kraft’s work.
  6. Mike Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002). Yaconelli’s viewpoint has been popular among postmodern Christians, And, before his untimely death, Yaconelli was in demand as a lecturer. Young people often saw in his perspective one more in keeping with their untidy journey towards discipleship. To understand the angst and anxiety many young people sense today between their Christian understanding and their vacillating demeanor, see Yaconelli’s insightful volume.
  7. Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture, p. 113.
  8. Ibid., p. 114.
  9. Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth, (Grand Rapids, Mich,: Eerdmans, 1981), p. 92.
  10. In my travels through the organic church, I found it’s leaders usually approached the rejection or affirmation of cultural elements in a circumspect and serious manner. Whether it was the “discothèque clubbers” of England who had to decide at what point youthful fashions became lewd, or the film clips that Freeway employed to illustrate a point; young organic leaders typically see the rejection of base elements of culture as not only required, but judicious.

Being Missional to Immigrants (Zach Szmara)

As a pastor, this week is one of my favorite weeks of the year.  It is a week that seems to end in confusion, defeat, and despair but on Sunday I have the joy of proclaiming hope, restoration, transformation, life, and a future.  This message means even more to me recently as I’ve had the amazing privilege of sitting on the front row and witnessing a resurrection miracle over the past three years.

It was three years ago, the week after Easter, when my family reluctantly came to Logansport, Indiana.  We were excited about other ministry possibilities, but felt compelled to give this declining church at least 2 weeks of our time before we moved on to exciting other places and left the church in Logansport for someone else to take care of it until it closed its doors.

I wanted to move on because I honestly love Jerusalem, Judea, and the far parts of the world, but I don’t care much for Samaria.  Logansport, Indiana was a small city that had gone through a rapid change from being a Jerusalem of middle-class, Anglo, English-speaking, conservative Midwesterners to a city in which almost 1 in 3 who lived in Logansport were from an immigrant home.  A school system that had less than 20 students out of 4500 learning English a decade ago, now has 1758 students learning English because their heart language spoken at home is a language other than English.  The community was changing, but its residents and its churches were unprepared for the dynamics of that change.

On the second (and what I thought was last) Sunday I preached in Logansport, an immigrant family asked us to come to dinner with them.  During that meal, Samaria became more than a place to avoid as Samaria now had faces and stories.  We decided after that meal that we were home – that we would stop avoiding and bypassing Samaria, but we would actually set up residence in Samaria.

In Samaria, I learned that God called me, as He calls all His followers, to Biblical hospitality.  The Greek word used throughout the New Testament for hospitality is philoxenos, which literally means, “love” (philo) “immigrants” (xenos).  As we began loving, learning from, serving, and worshiping alongside immigrants, I found out that one of the major felt needs that immigrants face is the confusing labyrinth of the current immigration system.  Many immigrants find themselves lost amidst the countless rumors swirling around immigration and others have given their whole life savings to fraudulent individuals (called “notarios”) that actually are detrimental to their process.

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) of the United States government has a provision to allow a representative to legally guide someone through the complex and confusing immigration system.  After receiving the necessary training and experience, our application was approved and The Bridge Community Church in Logansport became the very first Immigrant Connection legal site in The Wesleyan Church and one of the first local church-based sites in the nation.

Opening an Immigrant Connection site has sparked transformation on countless levels.  In one year’s time we have helped close to 300 different individuals from over 22 nations spanning North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Pacific.  We have reunited families who had not seen each other for decades.  We have helped young people receive DACA and become eligible to go to college for the first time.  We have been instruments of redemption to victims of violent crimes and helped them find a hope and a future and a way forward.  We have helped make crooked paths straight and brought truth into situations wrought with rumors and lies.

Our church family has quadrupled in size from the time we decided to launch an Immigrant Connection site.  This growth has been across cultural, ethnic, and linguistic lines with multiple cultures worshiping together in both English and Spanish every Sunday.  Even more, the spiritual growth that has occurred is remarkable as Anglos, who believed the worst of immigrants their whole lives, and immigrants, who believed the worst of Anglos their whole lives, now share life together in small groups and call each other friends and family.

The transformation has overflowed into our community and we are living what it looks like to bring God’s Kingdom to our city as a voice for the marginalized, advocates for the disenfranchised, and leaders in bringing education, empowerment, and reconciliation.  Our school system regularly invites us to share with faculty, students, and parents.  Recently we were asked to form and lead a countywide diversity task force.  When city leaders, organizational leaders, and business leaders think about how they would like the future to look, they think of The Bridge.  Each day I am amazed by all that Jesus is doing in us and through us because we answered His call to love immigrants.

I am so excited that Immigrant Connection of The Wesleyan Church is partnering with Wesley Seminary and World Relief to support a class on church-based immigrant ministry held at the seminary in Marion, Indiana and also here at The Bridge Community Church in Logansport, Indiana. This course provides understanding of the immigration system in the United States in preparation for taking the exam for BIA recognition and approval. It also provides the Biblical and theological foundations for Christian engagement with issues of immigration.

I would encourage you, whether you are a Wesley Seminary student, pastor, or just an active member of a local church that has a heart for immigrants, to consider engaging in this class to learn the tools that make it possible to see lives transformed in your community and get a front row seat as to what resurrection and new life looks like.  The need is great and it exists in almost every area of the United States, from large urban areas to suburbs to small towns like Logansport.

May you lean in to what Jesus is calling you to do in your community.  May you choose to go to Samaria rather than bypass it or turn a blind eye to it.  May you enter into the despair, defeat, and confusion that exists and be an instrument of truth, hope, transformation, and resurrection!

Revisionist Ritual (Safiyah Fosua)

Times are a-changing!  From where I sit, the greater challenge in worship is not the change itself, but rather the rationale for change and the theology of emerging forms.  We do not contextualize worship for the sake of making ourselves appear more attractive to seekers, but change is needed when the old ways of saying, doing, singing, or communicating no longer convey the message to new (or existing) ears.

A time of liturgical renewal
We are living through several major shifts in worship.  One obvious shift has been the huge change in the music and worship styles of weekly worship.  Another, less obvious shift is in how and when we use liturgy and ritual forms.  Some regard liturgy as fragments of historical faith, transmitted to us alongside the Bible that we are obliged to use dutifully.  Others regard liturgy as dated artifacts of the faith of saints past to be abandoned.  Exceptions would include several songs that have attained universality, and certain service music – like the doxology – that, for some have become synonymous with Christian culture.

How could such a large body of tried and true liturgy fail to connect with twenty-first-century worshippers? Most frequently cited: “those people do not sound like us.”  And, there is some truth to this.  We no longer think, speak, write or sing in iambic pentameter. Vocabulary is shrinking in one area and expanding in another.  But, I would like to suggest that this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Perhaps we experience this disconnect with older liturgy because liturgy is often written from both theological perspective and social location.  So, while we might resonate with the universal theological needs of human nature found in centuries’-old liturgies, we are still left with the glaring spiritual needs created by a culture characterized by individuality, leisure time, affluenza, and other postmodern concerns.   My suggestion:  don’t just throw out the old!  Why not write new liturgy or rewrite existing rituals that are also mindful of the spiritual needs attendant to our present social location?

New rituals for new times
For more than a decade, notables like Dan Kimball, Sally Morgenthaler, Marsha McFee, Brad Berglund, Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Enuma Okoro and others have been experimenting with new forms of liturgy, presented in recognizable and understandable forms that function to assist congregational approaches to God in corporate settings.  Hundreds of congregations have adopted this “new liturgy” for weekly worship.  Hundreds of pastors have found value in writing their own liturgy.

This is why I assign students in WSHP600 the task of writing a wedding liturgy without the benefit of their denominational handbooks, commercial publications or other assists. This requires that the student understand the function of the wedding ceremony in order to supply understandable forms — language, symbolic actions and gestures — that convey meaning and accomplish the task. The results have been encouraging.

One area of contextualization that I had always hoped students would examine is the traditional practice of giving away the bride.  To me, that portion of the traditional ceremony has always felt as irrelevant as an arranged marriage or the bride price.  Over the years I have seen students have both parents give the bride away, make provisions for a male relative in the absence of a father or father figure, or have the bride and groom walk down the aisle together.  This semester, however, I was delighted and surprised by a number of students who decided that both the bride and the groom should be given away, publicly, by their families, citing Matthew 19:4-6 (NRSV):

4 He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

What an excellent redemption of traditional liturgy!  In one new gesture accompanied by pastoral instruction and scripture, these emerging theologians have managed to reframe the traditional ritual of giving away the bride, by nuancing it toward leaving and cleaving for both parties–one of the first developmental tasks of the new couple!  Truly ears have not heard and eyes have not seen what God has in store for us liturgically.

Liturgy, simply defined, is the work of the people.  This includes the people in the pews and not just the people up front.  My prayer for you is that the winds of liturgical renewal will blow through your congregation.

Recommended Reading:
Berglund, B. (2006).  Reinventing worship:  Prayers, readings, special services, and more.  Valley Forge, PA:  Judson.

Claiborne, S., Wilson-Hartgrove, J., and Okoro, E. (2010).  Common prayer: A liturgy for ordinary radicals.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan.

Kimball, D.  (2004) Emerging worship: Creating new worship gatherings for emerging generations.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan.

McFee, M. (2002).  The worship workshop:  Creative ways to design worship together.  Nashville, TN:  Abingdon.

Bittersweet Ministry (Wayne Schmidt)

There are many ways to describe the life of a minister.  Having been blessed to serve as a pastor for over 30 years, and now to regularly interact with ministry leaders through the Seminary, one descriptor that comes to mind – “bittersweet.”

There are certainly times that are sweet – sweet fellowship (Psalm 55:14) with other believers and ministering from the sweet spot of passion and giftedness.  But other times are bitter – like Jeremiah the prophet, those in ministry may feel besieged and surrounded by it (Lamentations 3:5).

Being able to discern between the bitter and the sweet helps prevent a “woeful” life (Isaiah 5:20).  They are not always easy to distinguish, like the wounds of a friend and the kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:6).  Not all that is bitter is bad, and not all that is sweet is good.

Ministers get wounded – it’s an occupational hazard.  We are in the people business, and people (even ministers) can be mean, petty and vengeful.  Thankfully, God’s abundant grace is a salve to the wounds.  The danger is missing the grace God has for us, bitterness taking root in us, and then rippling into the lives of others –

“Make every effort to live in peace with all people and to be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” – Hebrews 12:14-15

Bitterness is the breeding ground of cynicism and negativism.  People are repelled by a bitter person and avoid that person whenever possible.   It contributes to an exit from ministry, if not actually at least emotionally

There is “bitterness blindness” – those around me can see it in me, and yet it’s a blind spot for me.  Being in denial about bitterness only deepens its roots and spreads its effects.

Many are familiar with the verses that begin Romans 12, but the ending of that great biblical chapter addresses difficult relationships.  These relationships leave us feeling persecuted, like we’ve met the enemy.  They ignite in us a compelling desire for revenge.

Wrestling with these verses has led me to a series of questions I ask myself to probe unresolved relational issues and check the soil of my heart for a root of bitterness:

____      Do I find myself unable to BLESS others (14)?
____      Am I preoccupied with REVENGE (17a, 19)?
____      Do I treat people differently depending on who is LOOKING (17b)?
____      Am I unwilling to do MY PART in resolving the conflict (18)?
____      Am I unwilling to meet another’s legitimate NEEDS (20)?
____      Am I becoming CONSUMED with evil rather than good (21)?

At times these questions have revealed a “root” issue of bitterness that was impacting my relationships.  That led me to a series of commitments for reconciling relationships and ways of demonstrating the willingness to overcome bitterness:

____      I focus on RIGHTEOUSNESS rather than revenge (17)
____      I do my part to create PEACE-FULL relationships (18)
____      I actively place my TRUST in God to bring justice (19)
____      I choose to OVERCOME evil with good (20-21)

Now I must admit that at times the motivation for loving my enemies is the anticipation of them facing God’s wrath (19).  But even when my mixed motives need to be purified, I’ve discover that my willingness to face and repent of bitterness gives God room to work in the other person’s life.  The bitterness that closes my heart may also lead me to behavior that closes their heart.

When I leave room for God to work in the lives of “enemies” – I leave God room to work in mine.

Immigration is an issue; immigrants are people. (David Drury)

“It was my first memory in life,” this 20-year-old continued, “being carried over and the current was smashing into my mother’s body and my legs. I was so very scared. My brother nearly died in that crossing.”

This young woman shared her story to me and a few other church leaders in Austin, Texas and the tears started to flow. She kept telling her story through the tears…

“From that moment on I’ve lived in America. It’s all I’ve ever known. Only when I tried to apply to go to college did I discover that I was undocumented. I realized that because of what my parents did way back when I had to be carried across, I didn’t really belong here or anywhere.” Up to this point I had thought of immigration concerns as a big political issue. But as she shared I was overwhelmed with heartache for her situation, and that of millions of others in a similar status.

“I just wanted to continue a normal life, better myself, and serve in my chosen field. But it turned out I was in limbo. I had nowhere to go with my life. It felt like my life was over as I learned that truth.”

Immigration is a hot issue. News channels blare out headlines, blogs rant and rave, politicians pick a lane and try to stick to it. In the midst of it a person who is an immigrant feels like a political football and it’s hard for the church to know what to think or do. We don’t want to be overly “political” but as Christians we also have compassion for people in need like this young woman I met in Texas.

This is why we have chosen a simple refrain to begin the conversation about this matter: “Immigration is an issue; immigrants are people.” Whatever we think about the issue of immigration we, as the Church, look at immigrants as people. We remind ourselves that these are people we are talking about, not merely issues.

For this reason The Wesleyan Church launched the Immigrant Connection ministry which is a grassroots network envisioning the Spirit of God bringing immigrants and churches together through awareness and action to cultivate relationships, share resources, and provide legal services. Churches who want to take bold action to care for and reach out to immigrants can launch an immigration legal ministry site right in their church. People sometimes say, “why don’t those people stand in line like everyone else?” Well, as those who know the system will tell you, the line barely exists for most, and would be 20 years long for people like this young woman in Austin (which is why her parents did what they did.) The beautiful think about our work is that we can actually create a line for people to do things legally, and that line leads right into your local church. This enables your church to become a part of the solution to the problem for people in your community.

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) of the United States government has a provision to allow a representative guide someone through the complex and seemingly arbitrary immigration system. These can be set up in a church facility and there is no restriction on the ministry, including sharing your faith. This can have a transformative effect on a church and it’s ability to serve its community.

Immigrant Connection of The Wesleyan Church is partnering with Wesley Seminary and World Relief to support a class on church-based immigrant ministry held at the seminary in Marion, Indiana and one of our Immigrant Connection sites in Logansport, Indiana. This course provides understanding of the immigration system in the United States in preparation for taking the exam for BIA recognition and approval. It also provides the Biblical and theological foundations for Christian engagement with issues of immigration.

I would encourage you, whether you are a Wesley Seminary student, pastor, or just an active member of a local church that has a heart for immigrants, to consider engaging in this class to learn the tools that make it possible to see lives transformed in your community through this unique method of witness and service.

That young lady in Austin, Texas was able to get help from people that knew the immigration law like our Immigration Connection representatives in churches today. She found legal steps to go to school, study for the future, and contribute to her country—the only home she’s ever known. She praised God for how her life has been transformed because of it.

Head to www.Indwes.edu/CBIM for more information.

David Drury is the Chief of Staff at The Wesleyan Church Headquarters, Director of Immigrant Connection, and Co-chair of The Immigration Alliance.

THE GOD OF SORPRESAS (Joanne Solis Walker)

The verdict is still out on surprises. I love surprising but I’m just not sure how I feel about being surprised. I guess it depends on the person, the kind of surprise and how well they know me. I am also not easy to surprise. I am too much of a planner! So outside of my hubby Dan, not many people have managed to surprise me.

And then there is God! He sure does know how to throw a surprise! Sometimes I am thrilled by the unexpected but other times…well…¡Sorpresa!

I decided lent is a great time to reflect on the many ways God has  surprised me. As I prepared to write this post I thought particularly about the many wonderful surprises related to Seminario Wesley and IWU. Too many to share so here’s my short list:

  1. Surprised by how God arranged for me to be a part of Wesley Seminary. It’s such a great story. A divine appointment. Maybe I will blog about it next time or you can  ask me during residency.
  2. I never thought I would be involved with the launching of an online Spanish M.Div. with the distinctives of this program. ¡Sorpresa! Solo Dios.
  3. Surprised that last summer IWU acquired Universidad FLET, now known as GAP (Global Academic Programs). Through GAP, we offer in Spanish an A.A., B.A. and various M.A.’s which serve as feeders to the Spanish M.Div.

I have a history with FLET, so I was very excited to learn GAP was joining our IWU family. You can’t imagine how thrilled I am by the many opportunities this affords to GAP and Seminario Wesley. Together we will greatly influence the present and future of the Hispanic church in the U.S. and la Iglesia Latina in all of IberoAmerica. Mark my words! I look forward to sharing more of what we’ve been strategically planning together!

Recently Dr. Bob Brumley (Director of GAPS) and I were able spend a few hours strategizing and having a grand time. Do you know that feeling when you are in a meeting with someone who has the right heart and a kingdom focus and all the ideas that surface are like yes, yes, YES? It was awesome!

So I want to end this post by formally welcoming GAP to our IWU family. BIENVENIDOS, Bob and all of the Miami team. Estamos para servirles.

I love those kinds of surprises. They are God surprises and He has many more. As John Wesley once said, “the best is yet to come.”

Please join me and take time during lent to reflect on the many ways you’ve been surprised by the God of sorpresas.

Top Ten Leadership Lessons I’ve Learned (Ken Schenck)

By now most in the Seminary have heard that I am stepping down as Dean and going back to full-time teaching. I viewed becoming a Dean a calling and a ministry. It was also a great learning experience in leadership, gaining insights from the likes of Keith Drury, Wayne Schmidt, Russ Gunsalus, and colleagues like Bob Whitesel.

As I was recently reflecting on some of the lessons I’ve learned, I boiled them down to 10. All these leadership lessons are transferable to pastoring.

10. There isn’t just one type of leader.
Different situations call for different kinds of leaders, and individuals with different strengths can lead in different ways.

9. An effective leader leads from his or her strengths and manages weaknesses.
We tend to get preoccupied with our weaknesses and waste a lot of time trying to improve them. But our time would be much more effectively used developing our strengths and finding ways to manage our weaknesses (e.g., by delegating and surrounding ourselves with support systems whose strengths complement our weaknesses).

8. Without an adequate infrastructure, an organization won’t last, even if it starts on good ideas.
There is a certain glamour in American culture for the dreamer who has big ideas and the great speaker/entertainer. But like Whitefield and Wesley, it was the organizer Wesley whose followers are still with us today.

7. Over time, organizations gravitate toward the bureaucratic. Policies then tend to replace the common sense and competence of people.
I think IWU was coming dangerously close to this trajectory a few years ago. Thankfully, the situation has solidly changed directions, in my opinion. It’s important for an organization to remain flexible and open to new ideas.

6. Good leaders are attentive to people but don’t let what others think get them down.
Anyone in leadership is going to get criticism. You have to care about what people think, but there is also a need not to worry too much about what people think.

5. It’s best for an organization to have a variety of personalities and styles around.
If everyone thinks the same and has the same gifts, an organization will be very heavy in one set of weaknesses or blind spots.

4. It’s important for leaders to be transparent and genuine and yet to have wisdom on when to speak.
No one likes a sneaky leader. But a leader with a big mouth will inevitably turn off all sides and sabotage the strategic progress of an organization.

3.  Conflict isn’t bad if everyone wants the greater good and submits to the final decision.
I don’t like conflict and those who do are no fun to be around. But there is something to be said for conflicting perspectives being expressed with a genuine desire for the best outcome. But once a decision is made by the appropriate individual or group, it’s time to move on.

2. An organization needs something new to shake things up every couple years.
I can already see that my shift is bringing good reflection and I think the Seminary is going to be better than ever next year. It’s so easy to get into a rut.

1. A person’s greatest contribution to the kingdom may not be in the area they thought it would be.
I always thought my greatest contribution to the kingdom might be in biblical studies, but it will probably turn out to be my part in the starting of Wesley.

Break the Silence (Kwasi Kena)

I once lived in a condo community, which included the obligatory fees and membership in a home owners association (HOA). One day officers in the HOA sent a notice to all residents notifying us about a matter that required our vote. The first part of the notice contained the typical details one would expect to help owners vote intelligently on the matter. The last portion of the notice, however, contained an unexpected twist. It stated that “Any non-votes will be counted as ‘yes votes’ on this matter”. I couldn’t be believe it! If I did not vote, the HOA officers would consider that an affirmation of the proposed plan. Said differently, my silence was treated as if it were an action.

How Would You Fill in the Blank?
For several years I taught an oral communication course. In that class, we examined a communication phenomenon called “filtering and completing”. Here is a brief explanation of these two concepts. When we are bombarded by too much information, we make conscious and subconscious choices to filter out what appears to be extraneous information in order to make sense out of what we hear or see. Conversely, when some of the message is missing, we complete or fill in the blank to create what we think is the intended message. We complete the message based on our own perceptions, life experiences, biases and worldviews.

For example, if you heard “Mary had a little _____, its ___________________________”, you would be able to compete the sentence based on your previous knowledge of nursery rhymes. If, however, you heard the following phrase “When elephants fight ________________”, you may not have enough previous knowledge or experience to fill in the blank correctly. While a person living in West Africa would recognize the proverb “When elephants fight the grass suffers”. Without context, shared memory, or the intention of the speaker, we are clueless.

Silence in Multicultural Ministry: Friend or Foe?
When engaging in multicultural ministry, when should you speak and when should you keep silent? The answer perplexes many people. It is not unlike the feeling one gets when reading the book of Proverbs where one verse urges you not to answer a fool, while the next verse contradicts the previous advice and states that you should answer a fool (Proverbs 25:4-5). If you find yourself struggling with such a decision, remember in cross-cultural ministry, silence sends multiple messages.

I sometimes use the following scenario to illustrate the effect of silence when attempting to reach people from a different ethnic group. We are all familiar with churches whose neighborhoods have shifted from one dominant ethnic group to another. Members of “drive-in churches” who often want to open the church to everyone usually don’t understand why community members do not come and join their congregations. Perhaps this issue of silence holds a clue to the answer.

In the midst of your congregation attempting to become more multi-ethnic, suppose a major disturbance occurs in the ethnic community you want to reach. Perhaps the local news airs a special report noting that an absentee landlord failed to maintain his apartments causing the ethnic residents to suffer unnecessary illnesses due to poor heating and insulation. Or, what if you learned that community members live in a food desert and their children’s cognitive development is stunted due to malnutrition? Or, what about the recent 911 caller who reported that a twelve-year-old boy was playing with a gun that was “probably fake” resulting in Tamir Rice being shot and killed by a policeman four seconds after the squad car arrived? If some tragedy like this occurred in which members of the community were angry, hurt, distraught, and outraged—how would your congregation respond?

If your church responded to any of these incidents with silence, how might the ethnic community you wish to reach “fill in the blank”? How would your congregation’s reputation in the community inform the way outsiders complete the void left by your silence? If visitors came to church the Sunday following a tragic event, would they hear anything in the sermon or pastoral prayer or any portion of the service that addressed the sorrow experienced by the parties involved? Can your church afford the cultural baggage of a silent response?