Category Archives: Blog Posts

What do those stones mean to you? — An Exploration in Multigenerational Leadership (Luigi Peñaranda)

Not too long ago, I taught an undergraduate Bible course that provided a general overview of the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible). After conducting some preliminary assessments, it was clear that, though the majority of students were brought up in Christian homes. They were for the most part Bible illiterate. There were some, of course, who knew a few Bible stories, but they failed to recognize their meaning and their relation to the rest of the Bible. My initial attempt at providing students with good information was unsuccessful. Gaining factual knowledge did not have a transformative effect on the class.

Then, I assumed the challenge of exploring as many avenues as needed in order to engage this new generation of students in a way that was meaningful and transformative. A story found in Joshua chapters 3 and 4 contains a fascinating lesson on multigenerational leadership. In this passage, a new generation of Israelites (the second generation) was finally ready to cross over the Jordan River in order to enter the Promised Land. The first generation, those who experienced God’s awesome deliverance from slavery in Egypt, died during the journey through the wilderness. This second generation had the responsibility to take possession of the land. While the text is not explicit about the thoughts that went through the minds of the people, based on Joshua 3:7 it can be inferred that they were wrestling with one thought: Was God with Joshua (the current leader) like he was with Moses (the previous one)?

These two questions are crucial and often come up at every level of ecclesial leadership. Is God in it? And, do we have the right leadership? It is important to remember that, although God was with the first generation of Israelites and they certainly had the right leader, the people quarreled with Moses and disobeyed the Lord when things got difficult. This shows us that, just because people can say “yes” to both of those questions, it does not necessarily mean that things will go well. We must avoid the trap of thinking that “having the right leader” plus “having God’s blessing” means that there won’t be any bumps in the road. That view undermines the key role that followership plays in any collaborative endeavor.

In the case of the second generation of Israelites, they too were about to have the questions answered with a resounding “yes.” Just like God parted the sea and used Moses, He was also going to part the Jordan River and be with Joshua. But, the passage puts a spotlight on a symbolic act that some representatives of the community were to perform in an effort to engage the upcoming generation (the third generation). As the priests entered the Jordan River carrying the Ark of the Covenant, the waters were cut off. Just like the Lord had done in a previous generation, He turned the water into dry land. This crossing point became a landmark; the unexpected pathway to receive God’s promise and, also, the place where the second generation could say: “The story of our parents is now our story — the God of our parents is also our God.”

The priests stood in the middle of the dried riverbed, holding the ark until all the people crossed over to the other side. Joshua, under God’s direction, commanded a delegation of Israelites to pick up 12 stones. The text reads: Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.” (Joshua 4:4–7).

It becomes apparent that in God’s view, signs or symbols are helpful in order to engage multiple generations. Signs can outlive people and, if vested with the appropriate meaning, they point to deeper realities that help people make sense of their own lives in relationship to God and others. The power of a sign is not in its object but in its meaning (confusing these two gives place to idolatry). In this story, the stones serve as a sign not because there is something intrinsically meaningful about river stones, but because they would cause the following generation to ask questions about meaning. To answer those questions, one would have to retell the stories of how God opens pathways where people see obstacles.

Doing multigenerational work is difficult regardless of whether it happens in ministry contexts, in academic settings, in workplaces, or even at home. Today, we are experiencing rapid social changes at a global level, which shape the different generations in very distinctive ways, enlarging the generational gaps. It has become a common practice to refer to different generations in terms of profiles or collective personalities (e.g., Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials), which, in a sense, can convey the idea that the generations cannot relate to each other. How can we engage in the kind of multigenerational work that would teach the next generations to set their hope in God? Truthfully, this reflection cannot serve as a full answer to that question. However, I do think that this passage is helpful in providing us with a way to make steps forward.

In my own exploration, I discovered that teaching an Old Testament course that centers on biblical symbols caused my students to ask questions about meaning. Today, we can stop at the crossing points of our lives where we are seeing God at work. We can identify some elements (unimpressive as they may be) that can be used as signs or memorials that would encourage the next generation to ask questions and would allow us to share our stories. In our own way, we should make an effort to carry “stones” from the places God has taken us through, and use them as signs that would cause the next generation to ask the question: what do those stones mean to you?

Remembering (Safiyah Fosua)

Recently I was privileged with the task of transforming a worship module that had been written for clergy worship planners into one that was lay-person friendly.  The task proved to be more difficult that I had thought it would be.  We who plan and lead worship are so immersed in what we are doing that I wonder if we have a difficult time understanding how our programming and performances are actually received by the ordinary God-fearing churchgoer that attends weekly worship hoping for a word from the Lord?  I continue to wonder if our tendency to overvalue off the chart worship may have inadvertently produced a clan of spectator-worshippers who come expecting to be overwhelmed each week (by us). If our worship has too much focus on us – what we do, how we do it, how well we do it – and not nearly enough focus on the God who calls us to worship.

Don Saliers, in Worship and Spirituality (1996), reminds us that God’s call to worship is a call to remember.  When it is time for a sabbatical, I would love to take more time to explore the symbiotic relationship between faith and memory.  Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people were called to remember the mighty works of God in their lives.  They were called out people through Abraham and Sarah.  They were saved from starvation and relocated to Egypt.  When things there took a turn for the worse, they were delivered from Egypt and sent on a journey with God that led to a land of promise.  Every succeeding generation of God-followers was commanded to learn and carry the story forward.  Remembering this story out loud – repeatedly – was an important part of Old Testament worship.

In the New Testament, the human family made still more memories with God.   From the Incarnation to the Atonement and all points between, we have much more to remember, much more to add to the story of humankind’s interactions with God.  And, somewhere in the mix is your own personal story as well as the story of your worshipping community.  When we are called to worship we are called to revisit and rehearse any or all of these interlaced memories:  how we came to be called God’s people, how you or I came to be called God’s child, what has happened over the years to God’s children who worship in this field or on this corner….

Remembering is so much more, however, than a feel-good walk down memory lane.  Faith memory is a reliable foothold for climbers.  Remembering out loud enables us individually and collectively to find a place on the journey that is closer to God.  Oft-rehearsed memories are more likely to traverse the huge chasm between head and heart.  They remind us of our faith in times of trouble and provide comforting reasons to continue to trust in the God who has always been trustworthy and All-Wise.

In the midst of this remembering, we are called to worship at some midpoint between memory and the kind of faith that is the substance of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1), while avoiding the pitfalls of nostalgia.  This midpoint is an uncomfortable, tense place because it is much easier to dwell in nostalgic memories of the way things used to be than to adjust to the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Would you be shocked to discover that harsh economic times, political shenanigans, oppression and decaying public values were frequently a part of our world during the supposed golden ages of worship of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries?  The same could be said of the worship of first—third century Christians.  Yet, how many 21st-century Christians are known more for their pessimism about the future than for their hope?  Could it be that some of us have stopped remembering?

Remembering is an act of faith that brings us courage to believe that the pundits of this world do not have the last word.  We are citizens of the Reign of God where partly cloudy and threatening to rain might easily become a cloudless day to suit God’s ultimate plan.  How do we know?  We have memories and testimonies (both written and oral) as proof!

So now, pastors and worship planners, what will worshippers who take part in your next worship gathering be invited to remember?

Every Five Years… (Wayne Schmidt)

“We tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in one year and underestimate what we can accomplish in five years.”

This statement has often been attributed to Peter Drucker and I’ve certainly found it to be true in my own life and ministry (of course, Drucker is the “Apostle Peter” of the management field, and I wonder if he could have possibly written or said all that is attributed to him, even with his long life).

Wesley Seminary at IWU will pass the five-year milestone next month (the first cohort launched in August of 2009).  It has been a fast-paced, innovation-infused five years!  It’s hard to believe over 400 students, men and women of different ethnicities and generations and ministry contexts who serve in nearly forty different denominations, are now enrolled.  We have an amazing new facility on the Marion campus, but students gather in variety of settings nationally and internationally.   New degrees and certifications serve the needs of our students and the Church.  MDIV instruction occurs in both English and Spanish.  The Association of Theological Schools, the most widely recognized accreditation organization for seminaries, has wonderfully affirmed our mission, curriculum and personnel.  A gifted full-time faculty (and adjunct faculty) has been joined by staff in enthusiastically going above-and-beyond the call of duty to build strength and depth into the learning journey.

The five-year window can be a good way to assess and summarize the history of a church or organization…and perhaps even one’s personal growth and ministry development.  It can also be a helpful way to envision the future.  While many strategists prefer a shorter time frame (such as 2-3 years) due to the rapidly changing world in which we live, five years has a way of getting us past the “urgent” to the horizon of the “important” – what we are becoming over time.

These may be helpful questions for pastors and leaders to consider:

  1. If we looked at the history of our church or organization in five-year blocks, what are the significant positive or negative events in each block that have shaped who we are today?

I was privileged to serve as a pastor at Kentwood Community Church for three decades – I found that reflection at each five year anniversary (5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30…) was a great way to identify areas to celebrate as well as issues to address.

If we looked at just the most recent five years, what has aligned with our stated vision?  In what ways have we lived out, or failed to live out, our values?

Should the next five years be marked by continuity with the past five years, or discontinuity?

The Bible talks about seasons of planting and seasons of harvesting.  The spiritual life is characterized by times of fullness and times of dryness.  There are moments when huge steps of faith are required and eras where many small steps of faithfulness are what is most needed,  In churches, there are times of “reaching out” (focusing on unchurched people to be reached) and there are times of “raising up” (focusing on disciples being more deeply developed).  Ecclesiastes 3 enumerates a variety of “times” in life.

Our Seminary’s first five years has been characterized as a “start-up” phase, and it’s been suggested the next five focus additionally on “sustainability.”  So we’re wrestling with what should be changed and what should be continued.

What do we want to be true of the next five years?

This could be considered by age groups (children, youth, adults, etc.), by ministry areas (outreach, discipleship, worship, etc.), by resources (finances, facilities, paid and volunteer staffing, etc.) – or the combination of them all.  What do we “see” happening in the next five years if we live out the mission God has entrusted to us?  I love it when churches approach this not only strategically but spiritually – what if the congregation as a whole were to make each of one of these areas a weekly focus during their congregational/pastoral prayer time, small groups would prayerfully consider an area each time they meet, and personal prayer guides were developed so the congregation might collectively sense God’s leading?

Five years is a measure of time the Bible describes as “chronos” or chronological time.  It may provide the “frame” for the pictures of our history or future.  It can mark chapters closing and new ones opening.  It can raise questions that need to be asked.  But it can never be a substitute for “kairos” time – making the most of opportunities that God creates that no calendar can fully capture.

VBS…David Was Wrong! (Joanne Solis-Walker)

It is summer time and all across the U.S. churches host Vacation Bible Schools (VBS). My daughter has two particular VBS’s she attends and everything else on our summer schedule must revolve around those particular dates. It’s funny and very interesting how persistent she is about not missing VBS. It’s made me think about my love, as a child, for VBS. Not only did it contribute to my spiritual formation. The Mennonite church not far from my neighborhood in Vineland, NJ was a loving and welcoming place. Even though Spanish was my primary language, they took the time to share about God’s love in ways I could understand. (Just in case you are wondering, Spanglish has most recently become my primary language!)

One of the main things I remember from my VBS days are the songs. I remember singing Psalm 51:10-11. “Create in me a clean heart, oh Lord. And renew a right spirit within me… Cast me not away from thy presence oh Lord. Take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation. And renew a right spirit within me.” It is almost impossible for me to recite that verse without singing. I’ve always loved the words of that psalm. It’s one of those sections of Scripture that expresses my heart and tells bits and pieces of my story, as a child and into adulthood. It wasn’t until much later in my spiritual journey where the words of that song would take on a new meaning.

So I tend to be a ‘stickler’ about lyrics. I’ve ‘grown up’ (sort-of) to be a person who wonders about the story behind the words in a song. You can imagine my amazement when I turn to the Bible to make sense of the Psalm 51 song, and it points me to 2 Samuel 11&12. Unlike the song, I did not classify this bible story as VBS material. Quite the novela! (That is ‘soap opera’ in Spanish.) While still a sticky topic to address even amongst adults there are so many lessons to learn from both of these portions of the Bible. One day I shall work on a sermon series based on these passages. (If you’ve already done it please share!) For today I seek to share one point, I believe is vital from an ecclesial leadership stance.

I don’t know how easy it is for you to admit you were wrong! I find that acknowledging fault is one of the most challenging and yet important elements of the faith walk. No one wants to be wrong. At least I don’t. However, which of us could say I am right 100% of the time? I admire David’s response to Nathan: I have sinned against the Lord (2 Samuel 12:13) and in Psalm 51:3, David tells God he recognizes his transgressions. The New Century Version says, “I know about my wrongs…” In summary, David was wrong! It wasn’t just a given. When he recognizes his fault, David admits he was wrong.

Within the diverse Hispanic cultures, you learn at an early age that if you admit a mistake it is a sign of weakness and failure and it will come back against you. I have come to learn this is not unique to my culture. There seems to be this notion that leaders (Christians or non-Christian) should never admit they are wrong.

Forum shares its finding (pp. 6-8) on a global leadership survey they conducted in 2013 (http://www.forum.com/_assets/download/c2a5e850-a50b-48ed-ad3e-dc732d27fb6a.pdf). When leaders were asked about admitting their mistakes and apologizing, 87% of the respondents in a leadership position indicate they apologize often or almost always. However, only 19% of the employee state the leader apologizes when making a mistake. That’s quite a large gap; astonishing.

As a leader in a position of power, I work hard on recognizing when I am wrong. When I am not able to admit I made a wrong decision, I tend to shift to what I call ‘justification by reason.’ I place the blame on others or find ways to ‘save face’ and even though it doesn’t necessarily feel great to say I was wrong, it feels worse to pretend I wasn’t. I’ve also come to learn that the people I get the privilege of working with do not expect me to be 100% right. (AMEN?) It takes vulnerability and transparency to admit you are wrong, which are elements of authentic leadership, transformational leadership…spiritual leadership.

I like Paul, do not profess to have achieved it (Philippians 3:13) and the Forum study serves to remind me I must continue to press on towards the goal to a place of deeper awareness and self-evaluation. I don’t want to act like I’ve reached a place where I can admit I was wrong, only to find I was never really there and it had little impact upon others and inherently negatively impacted the work God entrusted to me.

So during this time of the year where VBS is at its max, I take advantage to tell you my VBS experiences at the Mennonite church remain a part of my spiritual formation. Support those involved in your local church VBS and others in your community. It also serves to remind me to examine my heart and actions to see if I really am able to admit when I am wrong. As I go through this process should you see a shortcoming, would you be a Nathan in my life and lovingly speak truth?  Thanks!

How about you? As an ecclesial leader in a position of authority, are you able to admit when you are wrong? Are you sure? I’m praying we all stay faithful to His call and humbled at His feet.

How to “Hit a Home Run” in Your Next Sermon Series… (Charles Arn)

Here’s how to be guaranteed that listeners will eagerly anticipate your next series of messages, waiting to hear your words—and God’s—on the selected topic.

First, some background…

A few years ago the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps asked me to research the attitudes of incoming 18-, 19-, and 20-year old recruits toward religion and church.  I interviewed young men and women across mainstream America.  One of the questions I asked was, “What is your opinion of church?”  Two words came back over and over: boring and irrelevant.

“Relevance” is one of the hallmarks of an effective, contagious church. Attendees who find their church speaking clearly and creatively to life issues not only return, but bring friends. “Relevance” is found in the words and rhythm of songs…in the style and appearance of facilities…in children’s Sunday School and topics in the adult classes.  But perhaps more than any other area, relevance must be found in the sermon.

In his book, What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary, veteran pastor James Emery White talks about how to make preaching relevant: “The most important thing has to do with your sermon topics. They should address people’s life issues and questions about the faith… That means you try to bring as much of the counsel of God as you can to them through the door of their interests.”

How do you learn the interests, concerns, and needs of your congregation so that you can connect God’s Word with their world in a relevant way?  Rather than guess, why not ask them?

HERE’S HOW… 

Insert a 3×5 card in each church bulletin or program for the next several weeks, and point it out during the service.  Explain that one of your goals, as pastor, is to help the Word of God to be understood and applied in people’s daily lives so that it is relevant to both those in the church, and those in the community.  Describe the purpose of the card—to list key life issues they are facing at the moment.

Give listeners time to think about their responses to three questions, and then write them down on the card. At the end of the service attendees should drop their completed “answer cards” in one of several marked boxes on their way out. The cards should, of course, be anonymous.

THE QUESTIONS ?

  1. What do you wonder about?  What do you just not understand—or wish you did understand—about how life works?  Is it “Why bad things happen to good people?”  Or, maybe “Does prayer really work?”  Perhaps you wonder about “What happens when you die?” or “Why do innocent children suffer?”  If more than one thing comes to mind, write them all down.
  2. What do you worry about?  What keeps you up at night; causes your heart to beat faster, your anxiety to rise?  Perhaps it’s a financial issue.  Maybe a relationship gone bad.  Is there realistic hope in your worse case scenario?
  3. What do you wish for?  If money were no obstacle, time or other commitments could not stop you, what is your dream?  What would you love to see, or do?  Maybe travel somewhere. Have lots of money.  A particular job, or a special relationship?  Dreams are powerful motivators.  What’s yours?

After the service, collect the cards.  Repeat the process for the next two weeks so that people can add additional items, and those who did not attend the previous week can contribute.

On your computer create three different documents (one for each question) and transcribe the responses.  (Asking a secretary or volunteer to help may be a better use of your time.)

Then, review the responses to each question and look for common themes.  Identify general response categories for each question and make tic marks (IIII) for similar answers.  Finally, identify the most frequent responses to each question.  Once you have identified what people wonder about…worry about…wish for… you have tapped into relevance.

Your congregation will be interested in the results.  On the Sunday after your last survey, share the list and frequency of the responses.  A visual illustration or printed document will add interest.

Explain that you will be taking these responses seriously, doing research, and sharing messages in the coming months that speak to these issues.  If you are organized enough, print a list of upcoming dates in which the service will address these topics.  Encourage members to bring a friend or relative on the day(s) which may be relevant to them.

AND THEN…

Ask a group of creative people to help you plan the services.  Use the entire service to focus on the issue.  Consider drama, a panel discussion, personal testimonies, video clips.  You have an hour to address the issue.  Remember that the sermon is not the message…the service is the message.  Make it a comprehensive and engaging growth experience.

Use the series as an opportunity to invite past visitors, parents of VBS kids, inactive members, and other groups with whom you have a connection.  And in this context, communicate to all who come that Christ’s “…grace is sufficient for all your needs”  (2nd Cor. 12:9).  That’s another name for relevance!

 

Multi-cultural Ministry: Ask the Hard Questions First (Kwasi Kena)

Nearly a decade has passed since I first heard the United States referred to as “the most multi-cultural nation state in the world” during an evangelism presentation. That phrase sent my mind racing back to biblical times to the church at Antioch. Unlike Jerusalem, the epicenter of Jewish Christianity, Antioch was mélange of diverse cultures. While the presence of the temple and Torah imposed a strong Jewish influence on Christianity in Jerusalem, Jewish and Gentile cultures shaped Christianity in Antioch.

Paul and Peter pioneered the terrain that lay before infant Christianity. What had been a religion exclusive to Jewish converts was expanding to believing Gentiles. When diverse cultures and ethnicities huddle around religious matters, had questions come.

What is essential Christianity and what is cultural preference? On what can we compromise? Who mediates? Who decides? Who has the final say?

Paul, with his cosmopolitan background, handled diversity better than Peter did. Galatians 2:11-14 reveals a classic Christ versus culture clash.

11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

The believers at Antioch were beginning to learn how to bridge the cultural divide. We must remember that believers at Antioch were the first to be called Christians. Unfortunately, voices of dissent (“men from James”) gradually persuaded Peter to promote culture first and then Christianity. For this acquiescence, Paul “opposed him to his face” (Galatians 2:11b NIV).

Becoming Culturally Bilingual
What transformed Paul from zealous “Pharisee of the Pharisees” to “Apostle to the Gentiles”? The answer lies in Paul’s life-changing confrontations to his personal beliefs.

First, the Lord confronted Paul (then Saul) on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-5). The converting encounter with Christ begins the transformation necessary to do multicultural ministry.

Next, Paul had to rely upon Ananias, a Christian, for help when Paul was struck blind. In both cases, Paul experienced humiliation that ultimately led to personal humility and openness toward others different from himself.

Paul also endured death threats by Jews in Damascus (Acts 9:23-25) and rejection by Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26). Finally, at Pisidian, Antioch, Paul accepted a ministry focus to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46-47).

Learning to become culturally bi-lingual takes time, intentional interactions and self-imposed humility.

Contact with Fellowship
Curtis DeYoung, noted author and professor of reconciliation studies at Bethel University, is a European American who learned how to interact with people different from himself by attending an African American church in Harlem. DeYoung states, “The key experiential transformation for me was attending an African-American congregation and learning about church in another kind of way and from another perspective. It so enriched my life that I simply didn’t want to go back” (Faith and Leadership interview, http://www.faithandleadership.com/qa/curtiss-deyoung-the-early-church-reconciliation)

Following his church experiences in Harlem, DeYoung attended Howard University at an historic African American institution. These encounters enabled DeYoung to learn to function cross-culturally with integrity. DeYoung practiced what renowned theologian/philosopher Howard Thurman called “contact with fellowship”.

The Power of Personal Encounters
Paul’s personal encounters undoubtedly influenced him and sensitized him to the plight of the marginalized. Each experience prepared Paul to relate to Gentiles with authentic care and concern. The same can be said of DeYoung and his experiences. Personal encounters—particularly ones in which you are the minority—prepare you to see the world through different lenses. Just as you can learn a foreign language through immersion, you can learn to be culturally bi-lingual through immersion.

What has Prepared You for Cross-Cultural Ministry?
Before diving headlong into multi-cultural ministry, read Acts 9 and ask yourself some hard questions.

1. What life-changing encounters with Jesus Christ have prepared me for multi-cultural ministry?2. How have I changed because of these encounters? (Be specific.)
3. How often do I interact with people from different ethnic groups?
4. What is the nature of these interactions?

  • Work—as co-workers or supervisor or subordinate?
  • School—as classmate or teacher?
  • Personal—acquaintance or close friend?
  • Dating or marriage relationship?

5. What have I learned from these interactions?
6. What barriers do I think exist within a particular ethnic group with regard to people from my ethnic group? (Choose a specific group for discussion.) How might I overcome these barriers?
7. What bridges (commonalities) exist between my ethnic group and another ethnic group?
8. Am I committed enough to multi-cultural ministry to endure rejection, personal suffering, and sacrifice?

Discover Your Cultural Preferences
Much of what we call culture revolves around what we value and how we do things. Terms such as style or method can also help us discover what our culture deems important. Some cultures value spontaneous worship while others prefer tradition and contemplation. Some cultures prefer teaching that emphasizes fact and empirical data, while others prefer personal application and transformation. Some cultures prefer apolitical sermons, while others prefer social commentary and activism.

When one culture dictates the sole terms that govern Christianity, multi-cultural ministry stalls. Ask hard questions whenever you reach an impasse.

Multi-cultural ministry poses great challenges and tremendous rewards. It also requires us to determine whether we are promoting more culture than Christ. Peter and Paul stand as constant reminders of how to fail or succeed at multi-cultural ministry. Encounter Christ, immerse yourself in another people’s culture and ask the hard questions; then evaluate your readiness to lead a multi-cultural ministry.

Help! I Need Somebody! By Colleen Derr

“Help! I need somebody. Help, not just anybody. Help, you know I need someone, help” (Beatles). Do you ever find yourself singing or maybe even crying the words to that song?

Chances are if you lead a ministry you have sung those words (or some form of them) at some point in time. Ministry to kids, teens, emerging adults, adults, seniors, and families requires lots of hands and feet – we cannot effectively serve alone. We need help! We need volunteers, lots of volunteers.

The dictionary’s definition of volunteer is “a person who freely enlists for service” and its synonym is altruism, defined as “unselfish concern for the welfare of others.” Those two definitions combined give a great glimpse into the people who are ministry volunteers.

The Church has always relied on volunteers to fulfill its mission and carry out the work of ministry. From the New Testament church’s Priscilla and Aquila, through centuries filled with men and women devoted to carrying out ministry concerned only for the lost, to today’s volunteer work force comprised of teens, young adults, grandparents, moms and dads, aunts and uncles, and friends volunteers have been the hands and feet of Jesus in the day to day Kingdom work.

It is our privilege to minister alongside people who give so freely of themselves.

Scripture gives us some insights into what kind of people we should be and the kind of people we should look for who can be “entrusted with God’s work”! The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to Titus, a worker in the early church, in which Paul described to Titus what a worker or “overseer” of the ministry should look like – who they should be and what they should do. Paul suggested in Titus 1:7-9 workers should:

Be Blameless – Pure, without sin or corruption, filled with the attributes of righteousness available only through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
• Not overbearing
• Not quick-tempered
• Not given to drunkenness
• Not violent
• Not pursuing dishonest gain
• Hospitable
• Loves what is good
• Self controlled
• Upright
• Holy
• Disciplined

Wow – that is a tall order. The Apostle Paul identified incredible expectations for those who were entrusted with God’s Message and the ministry. The reality is we can’t do all those things on our own strength, it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can remain calm when situations get tense, remain honest when no one is looking, maintain personal discipline and self-control through all situations, and be welcoming, loving, and godly when the pressure is on. We need to be people who trust in the Lord and do not lean on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5), and we need to find people to help in ministry who do the same.

Hold Firmly to the Message –
All of us who are entrusted with God’s good work must never sway from the message of the cross and salvation through Jesus Christ alone – His miraculous birth, death, and resurrection.

There are many things that demand our time, grab our attention, and peak our interest. There are things that are exciting, interesting, new, and trendy, things that help us relate and be relevant, things that are important to teach and share, but there is only one message, one lesson, one thing that we must hold firmly to and never loosen our grip. Everything else will fade and become outdated or tired or stale, but this one thing will remain – the life-transforming and life-saving message of Jesus Christ!

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess,
for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23)

Encourage and Refute:
The youngest to the oldest are bombarded daily with diverse messages vying for their attention, their hearts, and their minds. It is easy to become distracted and swayed. As workers entrusted with God’s good work, we must encourage children, teens, emerging adults, adults and families to hold tight to their Christian faith and to walk in that faith. The ability to refute false teaching requires discernment – the ability to see and know what is right, the ability to “think biblically”.

“But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;
abstain from every form of evil” ((I Thess. 5:21-22).

The ministry needs volunteers to help all those entrusted to our care to come to know God and His love, to teach them to live a life of faith and faithfulness, and to equip them to live out their faith in the everydayness of life. Godly volunteers – blameless, who hold firmly to The Message, and are prepared to encourage and refute.

“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2)

The call to ministry is compelling, the work of ministry can be exhausting, and the need for help is critical. It is vital that we recruit the right people, equip them well, and keep them as a valuable member of the team.

Recruit people with:
• Passion
• Giftedness
• Spiritual Maturity

Equip them by:
• Providing Clear Guidelines And Expectations
• Sufficient Resources
• Continued Training And Spiritual Development

Keep them as a valuable member of your team:
• Say “Thank You”
• Show Them Their Kingdom Value
• Supply Lots Of Reasons To Stay

There is great joy in doing ministry together; releasing people to experience the joy of serving, and helping them find their passion and calling! Ministry to your volunteers is just as necessary as ministry to the children, teens, emerging adults, adults, and families. The truth is we need Help! We need somebody – “not just anybody” – but someone to help. “Won’t you please, please help me?”

 

Dr. Colleen Derr is Associate Professor of Congregational Formation and Christian Ministries at Wesley Seminary, Indiana Wesleyan University

Wesley on Online Education (Ken Schenck)

OK, so John Wesley didn’t actually write anything about online education. It just didn’t occur to him while riding on horseback or writing with a lantern.

But I am convinced that if Wesley were here today, he would reluctantly support online education. I say reluctantly because Wesley’s biases really were traditionalist. Did you know that he much preferred to preach in a physical church behind a physical pulpit? Did you know,that he did not want to start a new church? Did you know he didn’t want to ordain ministers in America?

The thing about Wesley, though, is that he could tell the difference between what was non-negotiable and what was only preferable. We repeatedly find him doing things that were less than preferable (to him) for the sake not only of spreading the gospel, but for the sake of seeing believers deepened in their faith and walk with Christ.

For these reasons, I am completely convinced that Wesley would be “all over” distance and online education if he were alive today. I can see him hesitating at first. At first, I can see him wondering whether you can really do spiritual formation in anything but a face to face format. At first, I can see him struggling to find ways to continue to get people to come to a college or seminary campus, maybe if only for intensive face to face experience.

But I think that phase wouldn’t have lasted long. In fact, I think he would have been into online education for at least 15 years by now. By now, he would have been utilizing it to its full capacity. By now, he would be trying to find ways to get smart phones into the hands of people in Sierra Leone or Bangladesh so they could study by phone. Sure, he would set up societies and bands on location to get the face to face in. But he would be using his considerable intellect to “do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can” (technically, Wesley didn’t actually say this quote, but it fits him).

Business as usual ministry today is like insisting on preaching from a pulpit then. What are you doing in your ministry to do all the good you can in all the places you can to all the people you can?

Pastoral Resignation: What to do on Your Way Out

Background

In April of 2010, I announced my resignation as Lead Pastor of a thriving congregation that I loved. We were experiencing significant God-momentum, with more people coming to faith in Christ and coming to our weekend services than ever before in our 95 year history. We were serving our community in substantial ways. Yet, I sensed God was calling me to another place of ministry. Pastors don’t usually leave when momentum and congregational love is at a heightened level, but I did.

That church went without a Lead Pastor for nearly a year. The four other pastors on staff guided the church with skill and integrity, as they rotated the preaching and shared the leadership load. Some might think that a local church would tank without a senior leader, but the church continued to emanate vibrancy in worship and vitality in mission. I am convinced that the church’s present health is due, in part, to how we weathered the transition from the announcement of my resignation until my last day as pastor 10 weeks later. If you are planning on resigning from the church you serve, here are some things to keep in mind on your way out.

-Ride Out the Wave of Emotions

The weekend I announced my resignation was one of the most difficult moments of my pastoral ministry. I was sure that once I announced my resignation, my sense of relief would increase and my grief would decrease. Such was not the case. I did have moments of extreme excitement about the new ministry before me. At other times, however, I was deeply saddened by the thought of leaving a group of people I had come to love. There was no easy way to navigate the variety of emotions I was expriencing, but I did try to keep a couple of things in mind. First, I tried not to get so excited about where I was heading that I didn’t finish well where I was serving. Additionally, I tried to avoid becoming so sad about leaving that I didn’t prepare internally for the coming transition. By God’s grace, on most days I was able to avoid both extreme excitement and extreme sadness. While I allowed myself to feel the various emotions, I tried not to allow my emotions to detract from the congregation’s healthy processing of my resignation. Of course, on my last weekend as pastor I cried like a baby; I couldn’t help it even if I tried. My tears were, however, ones of healthy celebration, love, and release, not guilt, manipulation, and regret.

My congregation was dealing with their own emotional roller-coaster as well. I was not prepared for the wide array of emotional responses within the church. I expected the sadness, shock, and disappointment that the congregation felt, but I wasn’t ready for the anger that a handful of good, loving people released. One of these people was a guy my age whose first Sunday at the church happened to be my first Sunday as pastor. I met with this friend weekly during his early days in Christ, walked with him through the pain of his divorce, officiated at his wedding, and dedicated his first born son. After my resignation, I heard second-hand that this friend was angry. He would not return my calls, text messages, or emails. He accused me of abandoning the church for greener pastures and threatened to look for a new church, even though he had been a very active member. I was not only surprised by his angry response to my resignation, I was crushed that he would question my motives for leaving. This person knew me better than most people in the church. I was hurt until I came to realize that some people treat a pastoral resignation like a death; some get angry, some get sad, and some get both. It is important to allow everyone to ride out the wave of emotions they may feel, even if those emotions seem unreasonable. Many of those who seem angry will, after some processing, move from anger and sadness to celebration and support of you and your new ministry opportunity.

What can you do to ride out the emotional wave you and your church are experiencing on your way out?

-Stay Out of the Pastoral Search

One of the hardest but most necessary commitments of the resigning lead pastor is to stay out of the pastoral search as much as possible. This is easier said than done. This congregation and I had experienced a significant turnaround over the years that we were together. The church had nearly tripled in size and, more importantly, developed a missional posture toward the community. In short, God had taken this group of people a long way and I didn’t want any incoming pastor messing things up. Sure I cared and wanted to know who the search committee was considering. I never solicited information, but it did come to me several times. When it did, it was an overwhelming temptation to say about prospects, “that person would be a perfect fit” or “that pastor will take us backwards for sure.” Although these thoughts went through my mind, I never verbalized them to members of the search committee, even when they wanted my opinion.

I stayed out of the details of the search, but I did offer some general tips to the search committee and board. I made sure to include important items on our monthly board meeting agenda. I helped the leaders identify the congregation’s missional DNA and what kind of pastor will match and enhance the congregational DNA. I also initiated discussions focused on how to welcome and encourage the new pastor and his/her family.

What can you do to stay out of the pastoral search process on your way out?

-Hang Out with People

After I announced my resignation, a part of me wanted to stay in my cave (the office) and hide out for two months until my last day of work. Afterall, I had lots of administrative loose ends to tie, not to mention an overly cluttered office to pack up. I knew in my gut, however, that the best use of my time between the announcement of my resignation and my last day of work was to spend time with people.

A resigning pastor, especially in a large church, cannot hang out with everyone. So, who do you spend time with when your time at the church is running out? I focused my time on three groups of people: people who invested as much in me as I did in them (friends), people who represented the backbone of the church’s future (leaders), and people who needed some of the dignity that life circumstances had stolen from them (marginalized). Some individuals fit into all three groups.

There were several individuals and couples in our church who had impacted me and my family in profound ways. Some were like grandparents to our three small children. Others were more than just church congregants; they were friends. While it was impossible to “hang out” with all of these friends, I made every effort to grab a few minutes with many of them.

The second group of people I sought out when my time was running out was leaders. This group included present leaders such as pastoral staff, board members, and key ministry leaders. Additionally, I was intentional about not only meeting with present leaders but potential leaders too. When I announced my resignation I was most concerned about how potential leaders might respond. Some of them had only been attending the church for less than a year and were not real connected. They were excited about the vision of the church and had the kind of character and competence to help us fulfill that vision. I didn’t want my announcement to shake them up and cause them to leave the church. So, I hung out with as many potential leaders as possible and told them how much their involvement, especially during a pastoral transition, really mattered.

Over the course of my time at the church, we had attracted lots of marginalized people. They were coming to us in droves. This group included those battling addiction, poverty, and mental illness. It was impossible for me to spend time with all of the precious people in this group, but it was important for me to grab quality time with as many as I could. In the mad-dash to pack my office and lead the leaders it would be easy to overlook marginalized people who were seeking refuge and healing in Christ. I tried hard not to let that happen.

Who are the friends, leaders, and marginalized people you will want to hang out with on your way out?

-Finish Out Those Procrastinated Projects

Most outgoing pastors want to have a heroic ending. We want to ride out of town on our white horse with the song Desperado playing in the background. There is a cowgirl or cowboy in most pastoral leaders. God, let’s face it, is not nearly as concerned with us finishing heroically as he is with us finishing well. This means completing those less-than-glamorous tasks on the to-do list so that our successor does not have to come and finish out what we left undone.

There were several things I did so that my successor wouldn’t have to. Once I announced my resignation, financial giving began to take a dip. I did two things to address this on my way out. I challenged people, I hope with gracious love, to “raise the bar” of their financial support for the church. This was hard for me because I don’t particularly enjoy preaching about giving, especially when we were reaching un-churched seekers just about every weekend. Pastors who want to go out like the heroic cowboy on the white horse don’t talk about money. But I invited our people to take on the challenge of giving. I even appointed a Stewardship Task Force to begin considering ways to enhance financial generosity in our church.

I also addressed a few personnel and policy issues before I finished out my time. One of the biggest favors you can do for the incoming pastor is remove personnel and policy obstacles that are getting in the way of the church’s health and mission. Again, this won’t make you a hero, but your successor and the church will be blessed by your forthright intentionality.

What procrastinated tasks do you need to finish out on your way out?

Conclusion

In my final message as pastor of the church, I shared the following words:

“Most of us know that too many churches are destroyed by the heat of a pastoral transition. The change melts some churches like wax. This reality causes many of us some concern. But there are other churches that become stronger, more rock-like, through the heat of a pastoral change. Time will reveal the true fiber of this church, but I will tell you what I think. You will come through this pastoral transition stronger and more vibrant than ever, because I believe the best churches are at their best when they are under heat! The impact of my ministry will be most evident in between me and the next lead pastor. If I’ve done my work in connecting you to God, you will become an even more beautiful bride of Christ during the transition than you already are! If my ministry has really connected you with God, then you will hold onto him for dear life as you go through this change.”

The church exceeded my hopes and dreams for them.

Lenny Luchetti

© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Vacationing in Rome by Dr. Safiyah Fosua

Summer’s coming along with vacation time and, in some churches, lower church attendance as church families take to the roads (or to the streams) during the hot summer months.  Depending upon where you serve, your summer worship planning may be scaled down or ramped up!  Either way, a series is an excellent way to organize your worship planning for this season.

There are several schools of thought around the topic of series planning.  A series might be planned around a single topic, a series of interlocking themes, a Bible person, a doctrine, or it may be an intentional teaching through one or more books of the Bible. Topical and thematic series are often easier to plan when a pastor has been in leadership at a congregation long enough to know the congregation and its needs.  For example, a rural congregation whose members have suffered from the unpredictable nature of rains and drought may need a series designed to remind them of the love and mindfulness of God toward His creation.  While leadership teams attempting to shape an overarching vision with their congregations might do so through a series of interlocking themes, intentionally placed in a progression that leads to their final visioning process.

Leaders of established congregations, looking to increase the discipleship of the congregation might select a series that highlights the growth and development of one or more notable bible characters, like David or Moses.  And for those congregations that are more mature (or looking to become more mature) a doctrinal series that highlights the teachings of Jesus or Paul may prove to be helpful.

A series of any length requires advanced planning that offers both the preaching pastor and his/her worship team an opportunity to do their best work. Though a pastor might “wing it alone” by focusing only the sermon on the series, congregations tend to hear and receive the themes of the series in a deeper way when those ideas are offered throughout the entire worship service:  woven into the songs that you select for singing (any style), the creeds or affirmations spoken as an act of worship, or the prayers prayed (written or spontaneous) with your selected themes in mind.   It does not matter if you are a solo pastor with one lone musician, or the leader of a tribe of worship planners, the process is similar – pray through the themes together far enough in advance to allow all participants to bring their best efforts to the worship experience.

You may not realize that the Revised Common Lectionary http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/ has been carefully constructed to offer pastors several summer series options.  For example, this year’s readings after Pentecost offer a through-the-Bible type study of either Genesis/Exodus, or Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Since congregations often hear bits and snatches of Romans in our sermons, I am suggesting that you consider vacationing in Rome this year!

Look at the possibilities:

  • Proper 4:  Romans 1:16-17; 3:22b-28, (29-31) which begins with the familiar ‘for I am not ashamed of the gospel…’
  • Proper 5: Romans 4:13-25, which reminds us that we are saved by faith and not the Law…
  • Proper 6:  Romans 5:1-8, reminding us since we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ, we have peace with God…
  • Proper 7:  Romans 6:1-11, with Paul’s familiar ‘should we keep on sinning so that God can keep on forgiving us?’

This summer walk through the pivotal doctrines of Romans continues for 12 more weeks!  Pastors and planning teams could easily select any number of these for a preaching series or for a summer Bible study series that would deepen the discipleship of your local congregation and those who visit you during the summer.  And, for those who are interested, IWU’s Dr. Kena has written a 16-week series on Romans using the Revised Common Lectionary texts that may be accessed from http://www.gbod.org/lead-your-church/evangelistic-preaching-helps/resource/book-of-romans-sermon-starters.

So, where will you take your congregation during the lazy weeks of summer?  How about vacationing in Rome, with Paul?