I have the privilege of providing leadership to the Spanish Masters of Divinity at Seminario Wesley at Indiana Wesleyan University. I often think back to recall how the journey began. I remember the first call from the vice-president, Dr. Wayne Schmidt (I will share that story at some other point). I remember my first visit on campus, first week on the team, first Spanish cohort…and many other ‘firsts’ in the program.
During the first phase of our program we focused on launching the first Spanish MDiv program in the United States available primarily available online.
- Since we set out to respond to the needs of the Hispanic church, we did not translate our praxis-focused curriculum. We chose to contextualize. Together with a group of scholars, church and lay leaders from different Latino backgrounds we followed rigid criteria to determine to include and add to the curriculum for the Spanish MDiv.
- With the help of so many departments within IWU we established the operational infrastructure necessary to recruit and process Spanish speaking students. This required the translation of many documents, a contextualization of the processes, and staffing those areas with Latino staff who not only speak the language but also understand the cultural differences. This involved the admissions office, the financial aid team, student services, the library and everything else in between. Truly a group endeavor.
- A true launching is not a launching unless it involves students and the adjunct faculty to teach the courses. And we set off to recruit our first pilot cohorts and adjuncts that would assist in the contextualization process. In 2014 our first two cohorts will graduate with their MDiv! Praise be to God!
And so we enter our 2nd phase. During this stage we focus on (a) student recruitment, (b) marketing, (c) funding for scholarships & program sustainability, and (d) partnership development.
In August 2013 we launched our first Iberoamerican cohort in Bogota, Colombia with 17 students. Gloria a Dios… In September we were in Chia, Colombia. I’ve just returned from the Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico where I held three informational meetings casting vision about our mission to be world changer. This week Moses Avila from the Admissions team is in the Dominican Republic, and will have the only opportunity to speak with the president of that nation about Seminario Wesley. In the next few weeks we will have informational meetings in Mexico and we return again to Bogota and add Medellin, Colombia.
We are grateful by the many doors God is opening in Latin America for our presence to be known. I must however confess it is a bit overwhelming. These are nations experiencing immense Church growth. They are also countries experiencing great turmoil in terms of violence and economic crisis. More than ever I am convinced there is a need for a praxis-oriented curriculum like ours to help pastors be the agents of change in their countries.
In my prayers I ask God for strategies to respond to the many needs not only in Iberoamerica and the United States but throughout the world. In the face of the needs and the crisis of the Latino church we appear so small and helpless. Particularly in the past two weeks I’ve come to the Lord with so many questions: What are we going to do God? How do we help these countries progress? Will the violence ever stop? If the church is growing in numbers than what do they need to be the agents of change to take back their communities? Overwhelming, overwhelming, overwhelming…
And then I hear the spoken word found in 2 Kings 4. The widow tells Elisha, her husband, a prophet on his team is dead and he left a debt that has to be paid. The payment to cancel the debt is her children who will be slaves if she cannot come up with the money. In verse 2 Elisha asks two questions: How can I help? and What do you have? [¿Qué tienes?]And those are the questions I hear from God.
What do you have? ¿Qué Tienes? My response: El Seminario Wesley ofrece un CURICULO MISIONAL que capacita PENSANTES PRACTICOS dentro de un AMBIENTE ESPIRITUAL utilizando METODOS RELEVANTES. What I have for these countries is a missional curriculum that equips practical thinkers in a spiritual atmosphere using relevant methods.
How can you help? God please use this program to impact the life of pastors that will change their countries and influence the world. Brothers and sisters can you please pray for our program and help share what God is doing through us?
Perhaps you have also been called to a challenge that appears larger than life. ¿Qué es lo que tienes? Estas en mis oraciones. You are in my prayers!
One of the most challenging dynamics of a Wesley Seminary education is also one of its most significant strengths. Unlike most traditional seminaries that invite students to take a respite from ministry in order to study, Wesley Seminary has intentionally positioned itself to equip students while they minister instead of before they minister.
Although I attended a traditional seminary, and a very good one at that, I had the privilege of serving as a pastor while studying. I remember the rigorous balancing act. Juggling ministry, marriage, and the Master’s degree brought out the best and, I confess, the worst in me. I experienced seasons of fatigue, frustration and fear. There were days when I wanted to quit ministry to focus more time on the MDiv and marriage, or quit the MDiv to focus more on ministry and marriage. Quitting the marriage was not an attractive option, since I certainly got the better end of that arrangement
I decided to stick it out and learned to navigate the Masters, marriage, and ministry or, as I like to call them, the “3M challenge.” I’m glad I did. The 3M challenge is an ideal way to “do” seminary, which is one of the many reasons why I love serving at Wesley Seminary. Here are some of the benefits of the 3M challenge I see among Wesley Seminary students:
-Learning and doing reinforce each other. The learning we experience sticks most when it is immediately applied. In my preaching course, for example, students will read Augustine and Wesley’s guidance on sermon delivery. We will discuss what we learned from these saints of the past, as we also explore current best practices for sermon delivery. Then, students will devise criteria to guide their delivery of sermons. Finally, they will deliver a sermon in their ministry context governed by their thoughtful criteria. Wesley Seminary students immediately and consistently integrate learning and doing in a manner that maximizes both. Our students are thoughtful practitioners.
-A community of real life ministers grapples with real life questions. Our students don’t learn in the vacuum of some ivory tower. They are immersed in the trenches of ministry. So they come to class with real questions that reflect the complexities of contemporary ministry. In the classroom, actual or virtual, students wrestle with these practical questions and are guiding by the Bible, theology, church history, each other, and experts in the field. Essentially, our students experience their entire seminary journey as a robust supervised ministry education. This particular seminary model diminishes one of the most severe ministry hazards- loneliness. Our students are not swimming alone but have a cadre of classmates and professors to help them navigate the real challenges of real ministry today.
-Scrupulous time-management is a necessary pastoral skill. Our students don’t have the luxury of studying 15 hours per day. Most of them have families to love and all of them have churches to serve. And this is a good thing. The unfounded assumption among many traditional seminary students is that life will become less complex once they achieve their degree and enter full-time pastoral ministry. This is a myth. In order to endure and thrive in ministry, the pastor must develop the skill of time-management, and quickly! Wesley Seminary students are immediately thrust out of the nest and into the rigors of strategic time-management, or “priority discernment.” Our students must decide at any given crunch-time, which priority most warrants their attention. Sometimes a student will need to give their undivided attention to family and postpone study and ministry. But, there are also times when study requires a devotion of time that necessitates the deferring of ministry. And, of course, there are times when the student must choose ministry over time with family or in study. These are the current realities of life and ministry. Wesley Seminary students traverse these tensions and, we hope, learn the scrupulous time-management skills that will serve their families and churches for the long-haul.
I could cite more benefits of serving and studying simultaneously. Room remains for you to jump into the conversation and list some strengths of Wesley Seminary’s unique approach to ministerial formation.
Looking forward to your thoughts,
We moved because we were not being fed. How many times have you heard similar conversations about worship and spiritual nurture? Comments like these may be heard across the country, across denominational lines, and across generational lines. Sadly, our youngest generations are not as likely to go from church to church in search of bread. They often just leave altogether – and they freely share their reasons for leaving!
The complaints of the hungered have spilled out of the church house and onto the bookshelves of major booksellers to become bestsellers: Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor (2006), Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner (2007), Unlearning Church by Michael Slaughter (2008), Begging for Real Church by Joseph Daniels, Jr. (2009), and, perhaps more familiar, Dan Kimball’s They Like Jesus but Not the Church (2007). This seeming epidemic of spiritual hunger forces us to ask ourselves if something has gone awry with the way that we disciple our members into mature Christians.
Bethlehem meant house of bread. Bethlehem was the birthplace of the Bread of Life who feeds our hungry souls and it was once an adage that a Christian was just one beggar, showing other beggars where to find bread. The Christian faith is replete with so many images of bread and much conversation about the empty being filled.
If this is true, why are so many people in our churches complaining of hunger?
Flaws in our present thinking
I have come to believe that many churches and church members have come to this crisis through flawed thinking in at least two significant areas:
- One area of flawed thinking lies in the assumption that just attending church will give us everything that we need, spiritually. Subsequently, a significant number of people have lagged behind in attending to their personal spiritual disciplines because they regularly attend church. The popularity of Wesley’s class meetings demonstrates that the same spiritual hunger that has risen to the forefront today existed in the 1700s among churchgoers. Wesley’s solution was to give attention to spiritual practices in such a way that the tenets of the Christian life and the rituals of the church became more meaningful to those who attended class meetings. Wesley and company pursued an inward holiness of heart that resulted in an outward holiness of life by meeting to pray, study their Bibles and hold one another accountable to godly living. Similar things could be said about the renewal movement that Phoebe Palmer led a generation or so later and of the notable Christian leaders that God sends to renew the faith of each generation. The leaders who have had the greatest impact upon our collective spiritual lives have frequently been those who have called us back to the basics of personal spiritual practices.
- A second area of flawed thinking is rooted in our reliance upon other people to do spirituality for us. Could it be that we have come to rely too much upon others for our spiritual wellbeing. Explain the Bible to me, feed me! Somebody pray the prayers for us, (for pewdwellers do not know how to pray such pretty words…). Sing to us; sing for us (your voice is so much better than mine!) So many people have relied on “the people up front” for worship leadership and to actually do all the spiritual work in worship that they have forgotten how to enter into private or personal times of worship when they are alone! Yet, we take hope in the reality that many of our young people want to be spiritual for themselves. We hear it in their attempts at new songs or when they pray sincere heart-felt prayers about things we have stopped talking about in church.
The way forward
So what is the way forward? This blog post is an attempt to spur new conversations about ways that worship and Christian formation intersect. To indict the handful of pastors that are leading cotton candy worship services is not the answer. It would be more productive for each person who designs or leads worship to begin to construct a mental checklist to use when designing worship. Your checklist might include questions like:
- How many times are we modeling prayer in our worship services? The question is not such so much how many times do we pray, or who is praying, but what are our prayers teaching new members (and old ones) about prayer?
- Do our prayer concerns communicate that God is concerned about everyone, and not just the few who attend our services?
- Do our prayers teach the timid how to pray at home? Do our prayers unwittingly communicate the message that praying is for “super” Christians, or do we model conversational prayer in ways that the even the timid might use for an example?
- Do our prayers teach the strangers visiting in our midst that God is concerned about them?
In addition to learning about the Bible and how Christians should live through the sermon, liturgical scholars remind us that worship is one place in the church where we also learn how to practice several of the Christian disciplines like prayer. I invite you to engage in or initiate conversations with other worship planners in your congregation and in your networks to consider the formational aspect of worship. Begin by replacing my questions with more contextual questions of your own.
In my next blog post, I would like to take a similar look at the formational potential of church music.
This month began with a celebration and a dedication.
A celebration of our 4th “birthday” or “anniversary” as a Seminary. We held our first cohort in August of 2009. Here’s a snapshot of how we’ve grown in enrollment:
August: 2010 2011 2012 2013
Students: 187 243 278 401
Of the 401 students enrolled in August of 2013, 41% are Wesleyan with 59% coming from 42 other denominational groups (including nondenominational). 68% of the students are male and 32% female. 29% identify themselves as ethnic minority. They are residents of 40 different states, and 28 of them are international.
That places Wesley Seminary at IWU in the top 15% of student enrollment in member institutions of the Association of Theological Schools. Numbers themselves are not the whole story, but they do answer a question that Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church, raised at the Seminary facility dedication – “With most Seminaries experiencing declining enrollment, why would IWU and The Wesleyan Church choose 4 years ago to start a Seminary?”
The answer? Those who founded the Seminary believed there needed to be a different model – one that is
- affordable and accessible
- geared to those already in ministry (they stay in and apply what they learn in their ministry context)
- practical, not only because the assignments are relevant to their everyday ministry but because the disciplines (Bible, theology, history) are integrated with the practices of ministry
- spiritually formative, as they journey with a small group of fellow students in reflection and formation throughout their time in Seminary
This approach to Seminary is serving students from 22 to 79 years of age, with the average age being 40. There is such richness to intergenerational learning with leaders in different seasons of ministry.
At the dedication of our new facility on October 3 a standing-room-only crowd gathered to
- be welcomed by Academic Dean Ken Schenck, with Russ Gunsalus and Keith Drury standing with him – the three principal designers of the Seminary’s unique approach.
- receive an update from Seminary Board Chair Stan Hoover, who also prayed for our gathering.
- hear from IWU President David Wright, who has been a consistent supporter of the maximization of the Seminary’s mission.
- get a glimpse of the life of Seminary student Johanna Rugh, who takes classes in both the Spanish and English versions of the Masters of Divinity
- be led in a litany of dedication by General Superintendent Jo Anne Lyon and the full-time faculty of the Seminary, with Dr. Lyon then praying for the future of the Seminary.
- move from the indoor common space to the outdoor amphitheatre to receive a benediction in song from the 80-voice IWU chorale.
Our new facility is not only beautiful and functional, but “tells a story” of the vision and values of the Seminary. To take a tour is to experience visually what we seek to always be true missionally of our Seminary.
While the facility is truly a gift, we were also reminded that our Seminary is not limited to a location at Washington & 45th in Marion, Indiana. In June of this year we launched the M.A. in Ministry Leadership with intensives meeting at 12Stone Church in Atlanta, Georgia – our first “Teaching Church partnership” nationally. In August we launched the Spanish Masters of Divinity in Bogota, Colombia – our first international partnership with the Church globally. In obedience to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and in the spirit of John Wesley, “the world is our parish.”
But as captured in the responses of the litany of dedication, we were not only presenting a facility but presenting ourselves:
All: We dedicate this place, and ourselves to make disciples of all nations.
All: We dedicate this place, and ourselves knowing the triune God.
All: We dedicate this place, and ourselves to the communication of the Gospel.
All: We dedicate this place, and ourselves to prayer.
All: We dedicate this place, and ourselves to edify the Church and one another.
All: We dedicate this place, and ourselves to understanding and obeying God’s Word.
All: We dedicate this place, and ourselves to practice hospitality.
A celebration and dedication that leads to a presentation of ourselves – now that is “true worship” (Romans 12:1)
Conflict happens. It happens often. Some people seem to thrive on it and probably like it a little too much. Others do not voice their concerns and frustrations because they want to avoid conflict. They may unhealthily avoid conflict.
But inevitably, conflict comes. Some conflict happens cleanly. People disagree, but they keep their disagreement from getting personal. They do not attack each other, but they hammer out their differences in ideas or in course of action. In the end, they do not hold a grudge. If a decision needs to be made, it is made by those in authority and accepted by the party that loses.
When conflict happens in this way, it can be very healthy and beneficial. If those who disagree keep silent, the rest of those involved may miss out on important insights. Still more, sometimes new and better ideas emerge in the give and take of disagreement. If those who disagree are silent, they may find their concerns overlooked. Similarly, those making the decisions will usually make a better and more informed decision if all voices are heard.
The problem is that conflict often happens in a way that is hurtful. To some extent, it doesn’t matter whether the hurt was intended or not. If a person feels hurt, the hurt is real. Friendships end this way. Enemies develop this way. The easy way is to let the divide take over, to avoid the other person indefinitely and carry a grudge.
This is the human way, but it is not the Jesus way. No matter how hard it is, as Jesus-followers, God calls us to do the hard work of reconciliation. And what is impossible in our fallen humanness, God can give us the spiritual power to do.
1. Reconciliation is the Jesus outcome.
It takes two parties to have reconciliation. Sometimes one half of a conflict is willing to work to be reconciled but the other isn’t. In such cases we can only do our best and leave the rest to God. It may take a while to heal from conflict. Especially if we are the one by whom the other party felt injured, we should not expect immediate reconciliation always to be possible.
But reconciliation is the goal. In our humanness, God will give us some time to say, “Not now,” but he never gives us the space to say, “Not ever.” In Matthew 18, Jesus tells Peter that we must forgive our brothers and sisters seventy times seven. He tells one of the scarier parables, one in which the debts the master has already forgiven are unforgiven because a servant refuses to forgive someone else. Scripture gives no promise of forgiveness to the person who refuses to forgive others.
Reconciliation is always God’s preferred outcome, even though it is usually the hardest outcome.
2. Motion brings emotion.
We can do the loving thing even when we do not feel very loving toward another person. We know what we want to do, what we feel like doing. But we should also know what we should do, what Jesus would do. We may want to avoid the other person and perhaps we should for a while. We may want to hurt the other person one way or another–which we should never do.
By God’s grace, we can still “love our enemy” in our actions even if we do not feel like it. We can kill them with kindness. We can heap coals of fire on their heads (although we must be careful not to be passive-aggressive here, sneaking in hate in the guise of doing good). Just because we do not feel loving toward them does not mean that we cannot act lovingly toward them. And the more we act lovingly toward others the more we will feel forgiving of them.
3. Stay away from bad situations.
If we know that we will not be able to control our tongue in a certain situation, then we should avoid it. If we know we will not be able to be loving around someone, we should stay away for a while. Again, no one said reconciliation is easy. At some point we have to jump into contact or else it will never take place. But we should be wise about the time and the place that we work for reconciliation.
The best way to be reconciled is of course not to become alienated in the first place. And here, following the basic rules of respect comes in very handy. We can disagree agreeably.
Anyone who has written a book knows the feeling of satisfaction when you finally see your long, hard hours of work make it to the printed page. (It usually takes about a year even after the completed manuscript is turned over to the publisher before the book finally arrives!)
So, I am particularly excited about a book I have been working on for nearly ten years which Wesley Publishing House will soon be releasing—Side Door. It’s my effort to share with church leaders a powerful missional process that has a proven track record in almost every larger growing church today. But the strategy of building church side doors is definitely not limited to larger churches. In fact, it has tremendous potential for medium and smaller sized churches that want to “break the mold” of traditional (and often ineffective) outreach methods, and begin a strategic new missional ministry in their community.
I have reproduced a conversation that recently appeared in the Wesley Publishing House blog about the idea of side doors. I hope you find it instructive in learning more about the principles behind the book, and that you will be encouraged to consider how a side door building strategy could be a breakthrough for new ministry and outreach in your church…
Wesley Publishing House: Thanks for joining us, Dr. Arn! Your book is called Side Door. What is that all about?
Charles Arn: Every church has a metaphorical “front door”— referring to the people who visit on Sunday, some of whom like the church and stay. Then, of course, every church has a “back door”— those people who leave through transfer, inactivity, or death. “Side doors” add a positive new aspect to the “people flow” equation of a local church, and provide a tremendous opportunity to increase the number who become part of their faith community.
WPH: So, what exactly is a “side door”?
Arn: A side door is a church-sponsored program, group, or activity in which non-members can become comfortably involved on a regular basis. Such gatherings provide an opportunity for non-members to develop meaningful and valued relationships with people in the church. The goal of an effective side door is to provide a place where participants (both Christians and non-Christians) can develop friendships around something important that they share in common.
WPH: Why are side doors so important?
Arn: A big problem most plateaued and declining churches have is that their major source of prospective members comes from their church visitors. This passive approach is becoming less and less effective as fewer and fewer people take the initiative to visit church. In contrast, side doors are a “proactive” way to increase the number of connections the church has with unchurched people, and then nurture those connections into genuine and meaningful relationships with members.
WPH: What are some examples of church side doors?
Arn: Most successful side doors are started by lay people, and are based around special interests, needs, concerns, or passions. A side door can grow out of a recreational interest or a significant life experience. It can focus on a specific age, or span generations. It can be based on a challenging circumstance or a favorite past time. Todd Pridemore, an associate pastor in Missouri and practiced facilitator of side doors in his church, says: “There is almost no activity that is so secular that it cannot be used to create a side door into your congregation.” What makes side doors work is that they bring together people who have something in common.
For example, I have seen successful side door groups in churches for people who: ride motorcycles…have children in the military…own RVs…are recent widowers…are newlyweds…enjoy reading books…are unemployed…suffer from chronic pain…have husbands in jail…enjoy radio controlled airplanes…are nominal Jews…have spouses who are not believers…are fishermen… are single moms…want to get in better physical condition…wish to help homeless families…play softball…are interested in end-times…have a bed-ridden parent…are raising grandchildren. When I think of the hundreds of possibilities for creative side doors, I can’t help but be reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (I Cor. 9:22).
WPH: So, the key to a successful side door group is that it’s based on people’s interests?
Arn: Exactly. Pastors have told us that one of their greatest challenges is motivating people to be involved in the ministry and work of the church. As a result, in most churches, 10% of the members end up doing 90% of the work. But the idea of starting new ministries around topics that people are already interested in means that pastors don’t need to try and change people’s interests, they simply need to channel them! That is, churches with a good side door strategy allow people to do what they already like to do…but now it’s with a great commission purpose.
WPH: Most larger churches have a variety of these creative side door groups and activities. But what about smaller churches?
Arn: While side doors are an important part of the growth mix in many larger congregations, it is a strategy that is also very well suited for churches under 200. The personal relationships that develop among people in these side door groups provide the best way for smaller churches to connect with people in their community, particularly since they can’t compete with the facilities or programming of larger churches. The key to effective community outreach is: meaningful relationships with unchurched people. Any size church can—and should—be doing that. Building side doors is simply an easy, yet effective way to do so.
WPH: Why did you write this book?
Arn: In my 30+ years of church consulting, I’ve become convinced that side doors work. The examples are all over. I wrote this book because I have found that many pastors and lay church leaders are not aware of:
1. what side doors are, or how missionally effective they can be
2. how to go about building them in their church
So, my goal in this book is to introduce this important idea to readers, and then provide a hands-on guide for how to apply it.
Speaking of applying the idea of side doors, I am also very excited about a free resource that Wesley Publishing House is providing to readers. It is an 80-page downloadable workbook called the “Side Door Planning Guide.” This is a practical guide, especially for laypersons who have an interest in starting a new ministry around their passion. For example, suppose you are a pastor and you approach several young motorcycle enthusiasts in your church with the idea of starting a motorcycle ministry. Their first question will likely be: “How would we do that?” This 80-page guide is the answer to that question. It’s a workbook that provides a step-by-step process for starting a successful new ministry. The book (Side Door), together with the guidebook (“Side Door Planning Guide”) are a powerful combination of tools to help any church apply this idea in their context.
WPH: What one message do you hope readers will take away from the book?
Arn: It is that fewer and fewer people are visiting churches today. If your church is primarily dependent on visitors as your source of new members, the handwriting is on the wall. Your church will die. You need a new approach to connect with the people in your community and see them become part of the Christian family. I can guarantee that—when done right—side doors will help you do that.
Pre-order your copy of Side Door from WPH at 800-493-7539.
“Charles Arn’s Side Door is a much-needed resource for the church…” Jim Dunn (Executive Director, Church Multiplication and Discipleship, The Wesleyan Church)
“Side doors are a very useful approach that can help churches become more missional. This is a well-articulated book…” Alan Hirsch (author, missional spokesperson)
“Side Door is a must-read for missional practitioners looking to connect incarnationally with their communities…” Mike Slaughter (pastor, Tipp City, OH)
Book Review: The Thirteenth Discipline: Formative and Reformative Discipline in Congregational Life by Lionel Moriah
Reviewer: Kwasi Kena
Is Your Church Ready for New Christians?
A few years ago, I read a blog presented as an open letter from a layperson who stated a laundry list of demands regarding what a church should or should not do to attract new members. The article betrayed the prevailing consumer-centered attitudes so often catered to by church development literature. I agree that churches should be aware of prevailing sentiments regarding treatment of first-time visitors (don’t embarrass them), understand the need to create user-friendly bulletins (“When do I stand up and what do I say?”), and provide clear statements of faith (“What do you believe?”). However, these items are side dishes and not the main meal.
Catering to consumer demands should not preempt higher priorities such as forming Christian disciples and engaging them in mission and ministry. Visitors and new Christians need to see a clear Christian distinctive demonstrated by the membership. They also need to see evidence of a disciple-forming process in place.
A fundamental question facing churches today is how to develop Christian character among current and new members of the congregation. For author Lionel Moriah, the answer to this question is a matter of discipline — the thirteenth discipline, to be exact.
The Thirteen Discipline
In his book, The Thirteenth Discipline: Formative and Reformative Discipline in Congregational Life, Moriah promotes Christian discipline as the “central to the modus operandi of a healthy church.” The book title intentionally references Richard Foster’s classic Celebration of Discipline, in which Foster names twelve “classical disciplines” as “essential to experiential Christianity.” Foster organizes these twelve disciplines into three categories:
Inward disciplines: meditation, prayer, fasting, study
Outward disciplines: simplicity, solitude, submission, service
Corporate disciplines: confession, worship, guidance, celebration
Moriah aims to persuade readers to add Christian discipline to Foster’s twelve, thus creating a thirteenth, essential discipline.
Churches, Reclaim Your Distinctive Character!
The early church once demonstrated its distinctive character and witness as a people of God by exercising the ministry of Christian discipline within its ranks. Author Lionel Moriah urges clergy and church leaders to help congregations reclaim their distinctive character by incorporating discipline into congregational life that will promote spiritual maturity and restoration of those who wander into ungodly behavior.
Historically, the church has embraced the virtue of exercising discipline internally. The author notes the consistent practice of church discipline through his Reformed tradition. People from a Wesleyan heritage could do the same through examination of the class and band meetings instituted by John Wesley.
Sadly, many members of churches in our Western culture now hold a negative view of discipline. We live in a culture of individualism that shuns and decries the notion of submission to mutual spiritual authority. One’s Christian development is considered “a private and personal matter” in such an ethos.
The Dual Function of Christian Discipline
The term discipline conjures negative connotations within the minds of some. Such notions must be dispelled. Moriah demythologizes false beliefs about Christian discipline and its practice through a concise examination of discipline in biblical, theological, and historical records.
Here are some key points:
Christian discipline (also called church discipline) carries a dual function: formation and reformation. The Great Commission commands us to engage in formative discipline—teach them to observe all things (Matthew 28:19-20).
Covenant, which forms the basis for relationship with God and others, also serves as the foundation for the exercise of Christian discipline.
Reformative discipline (which many people believe is the sole definition of discipline) must be motivated by agapé. Even in extreme cases such as excommunication, the ultimate hope of the church must be for restoration of the transgressor. We clergy should take every opportunity to publicly address and emphasize any principle involved through teaching and preaching when a sin is committed.
Formation Precedes Reformation
Moriah provides concise exegesis of passages of Scripture pertaining to reformative discipline. Included among the examples are Jesus and the adulterous woman (John 8) and Achan’s plunder of items devoted to idols (Joshua 7). In each case, Moriah offers thoughtful commentary and arrives at reasonable conclusions. Jesus demonstrated a balanced approach between truth (condemnation of sin) and grace (withholds condemnation of the sinner). From the extreme discipline applied to Achan, Moriah extracts this principle, “discipline is only legitimately applied where there has been adequate teaching or instruction as well as voluntary commitment to the principle and intent of the command.”
Does Your Church Develop Christian Character?
In the introduction, Moriah grabs readers by the collar with a gripping, modern parable about a new pastor who soon discovers the laissez faire attitude among church leaders toward a member involved in an adulterous relationship. The new pastor admonishes the offending party and seeks to apply church discipline, but leaders prefer to protect the stability of the congregation by sweeping the incident under rug and letting things take their natural course. Ultimately, leaders favored resignation of the new pastor to applying church discipline.
Some churches suffer from a “culture of niceness.” In short, personal holiness falls a distant second to maintaining cordial relationships among church members.
A Call to Be Courageous
Near the end of the book, Moriah points readers toward The Cairns Decision, a sobering civil law case in Canada, in which the court, despite its lack of expertise, engaged in exegesis of Scripture and determined that a church had wrongfully applied a biblical principle from Matthew 18 to a case of sexual assault. The issues raised by this court case and the subsequent discussions about the need to create process and protocol for the application of discipline, make The Thirteenth Discipline a must-read for all clergy and church leaders who desire to foster spiritual maturity through formative and restorative Christian discipline. Caring for the Christian community through reformative discipline in today’s litigious society requires courage and wisdom.
The Author’s Hope
Moriah hopes his book will begin to satisfy the current need for resources that support the sound practice of Christian discipline, stimulate further research on the exercise of discipline, and assist those who struggle to minister amid “a culture of fear of giving offense.”
Each chapter concludes with devotional material and questions, making it suitable for personal or group study.
Read this book, talk about its content, and develop your Christian distinctive through formative and reformative discipline. By so doing, your congregation will be better prepared to receive visitors and new Christians.
Remember invisible ink? As a kid you could send hidden messages to your friends that others couldn’t see by writing them with this special, hidden-message pen. In theory, the hidden message was not visible until you wrote over it with the “message-revealing pen”. Of course the quality of the child’s toy and the lack of skill employed in attempting to create a hidden message actually created more of a “not-so hidden” message.
I wonder if our gatherings for the purpose of discipleship, worship, and fellowship contain some “not-so hidden” messages? Could it be that amid the intentionally orchestrated moments for instruction and formation we are communicating through unspoken sayings something that has far greater impact than our carefully planned orations? Messages that we didn’t intend to be hidden, messages that were not part of the planning process and were not intentionally deployed, but unintentional messages that to our people, to our congregants, and to our guests were actually not-so hidden; messages that are perhaps clearer and louder than the intended message.
There is this wonderful little video clip of Tim Hawkins (a Christian comedian) called “Hand Sanitizer” that depicts Tim as a church greeter. What he is saying sounds very warm and welcoming, and if you just listen to the audio you would think his message is exactly the kind you would want the greeters in your ministry to project. However if you watch the video as you listen, you get a completely different message, because while Tim is verbalizing a wonderfully passionate welcome, his actions in the over-use of hand sanitizer are screaming a completely different message (check it out at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wzxlv5vdN9I).
That video compels us to ask: What did they just “hear” spoken far louder than his words of welcome? Likewise we must ask ourselves if we are communicating some not-so hidden messages that may have a far greater impact than the intended one?
When your people gather together for small groups, corporate celebrations, Bible studies, or special events what is the intended message and what is really being communicated? Are they the same thing or are they different?
Reflect on your last corporate gathering.
What was the intended outcome? What message did you want the people to hear and what did you do intentionally to communicate that message?
Make a list of all those elements that were a part of your intentional planning.
Now reflect again and ask yourself: What unintentional messages did we send?
• What did we “say” through our actions, attitudes, and non-verbals?
• What did we teach by who was up front, who did the talking, and how they spoke? What gender, race, and generation were represented or not represented and what did that communicate?
• What did we “say” through our furniture, displays, visuals, and projected imagery?
• What did we “say” by the atmosphere, the temperature, the lighting, and the smells of the room?
How did the not-so hidden messages impact the intended one?
Keith Drury (2012) reminded us that “The Church Cannot Not Teach” (p. 245) suggesting that everything the church does teaches something and sometimes the unintentional, not-so hidden messages teach a great deal louder!
What do you intend to teach? And what are your unintentional, not-so hidden messages teaching?
In your prayerful planning be intentional even with the unintentional or as Oswald Chambers suggested, be “determinedly disciplined”.
In his devotional My Utmost for His Highest, Chambers (1995) urged readers to be “determinedly disciplined” and suggested that much of our Christian work is “instigated by [our] own human nature” and is created through “impulse” rather than through spiritually determined disciplined (September 9 reading). How do we work so that the unintentional conveys a message of grace, love, forgiveness, freedom, and welcome to all? We must be “determinedly disciplined” in our planning and assessment of our ministries, understanding that our people learn through more means than just their ears; we must also work to capture what they see, feel, smell, sense, taste, and touch – the not-so hidden messages – for the sake of the message and ultimately for the sake of the Kingdom.
2 Corinthians 10:5 -
Chambers, O. (1995). My utmost for his highest. Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House.
Drury, K. (2012). “A Church Cannot Not Teach” in J. H. Aukerman (Ed.) Discipleship that transforms (pp. 245-256). Anderson, IN: Francis Asbury Press.
In the most recent Cultural Contexts of Ministry class on campus, Dr. Kwasi Kena used a tool to guide the class in its discussions with one another over sensitive topics: RESPECT. They say you shouldn’t discuss religion or politics in polite conversation. Yet religion is our business. And when it comes to questions of culture, politics is never far at hand.
So every day the class signed a covenant, to follow both in class discussions as a whole and when no one was looking in small group discussion: RESPECT. Here are what those letters stand for:
R: take Responsibility for what you say, and feel without blaming others.
It should be one of the basic skills you not only have as a pastor, but as a person in general. Don’t make excuses for why you said what you said or did what you did. Own it. “I goofed,” and leave it at that.
One way to protect yourself and others is to express a sentiment as how you experienced it rather than in an accusatory way: “It felt like you were attacking me when you said that.” You can’t argue about how someone feels. The opposite, when you accuse–”You said I was a liar”–only leads to an escalation of conflict.
E: use Empathetic listening.
Basically, act like you’re really interested. Don’t be off somewhere else dreaming or counting until you can get your next punch in. Wait your turn and listen to what the other person is actually saying.
S: be Sensitive to differences in communication styles
We have a tendency to think our personality and way of doing things is the best. One person is very expressive, another very quiet. One person has a southern accent, another mismatches singulars and plurals. These styles are not a reflection of intelligence. They are cultural. There is a difference between form and substance, and we need to be able to discern the substance of what someone is saying from the surface form in which it comes. Otherwise we end up looking superficial.
P: Ponder what you hear and see before you speak.
James 3 tells us about what great damage the tongue can cause. How many marriages could be saved if husbands and wives developed the ability to hold their tongues? Instead, we have a tendency to let fly, especially when we think we are in the right or are standing up for the right. But Jesus bids us be loving with our tongues, even when we think we are in the right. We do not get the right to be hateful even though we think we are correct.
E: Examine your own assumptions and perceptions.
It doesn’t take much reflection to recognize that we must all be incorrect on many things. There are too many things about which we all disagree for us to be right about all of them, maybe even most of them. If we are really interested in truth–what God thinks–then we must be willing to re-examine our own assumptions and perceptions. The person who is “always right” is probably mostly wrong.
C: keep Confidentiality.
Many of us like to talk, and many of us love a good story. But it is the height of betrayal to share sensitive things someone has shared with you. One of the most effective ways to shut down communication between two people is to share with others things that have been said in confidence.
T: Trust ambiguity because our goal is not to prove who is right and who is wrong.
There is right and wrong, and God knows exactly what it is. Those of us who are Christians also share significant common ground on what is right and wrong. But you cannot force someone else to change his or her mind. As Dale Carnegie used to say, Those convinced against their will are of the same mind still.
Seminary classes are not about indoctrination. Professors should not grade students on the basis of whether they agree with them or not. Education is a journey, and the classroom is a place of transition. The journey may lead you right back to the place from which you started, but you will get there wiser for the trip through ambiguity.
The classroom is certainly not the place for students or professors to get into some immature game of one-up-manship.
Someone who doesn’t know any ministers might think that pastors of all people do not need to hear any of these principles. But we know better. Some of the personalities most attracted to the ministry fall easily into some of the traps above. As we walk through this seminary journey together–professors, students, administrators, and staff–let us continually reaffirm these “common Jesus sense” principles. They are not common sense to the world, but may they be for any of us whose goal is to become more like Christ.
Here is a link for more information on RESPECT: http://www.kscopeinstitute.org/