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The Office of Congregational Transformation

 

One of the best known descriptions of Jesus inviting persons to join him in mission is found in Mark 1:16-18:

 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  At once they left their nets and followed him.

 From these verses (and those also in Matthew 4:18-20) come the most popular image for evangelism: fishers of men.  People wear little gold fish hooks on their coats and have “Gone Fishin’!” on their bumpers or t-shirts.  This has always seemed somehow off to me for two reasons. 

First, who wants to be caught on a hook or entrapped in a net?  Just how does this communicate God’s gracious love to someone?  If I wasn’t already a follower of Jesus Christ, I don’t think that I’d respond well to a bunch of people who wanted to “catch me” for Jesus.  Doesn’t extending the radical hospitality of God in this fashion objectify (as in de-humanize) people?  “There’s a new one; what sort of bait should we use to reel her in?” 

The second reason this metaphor for evangelism seems off-putting to me is that, well, I’ve never particularly enjoyed fishing.  My Dad loved to fish; my son loves to go fishing, too.  But while I enjoy being outside and on the water, I’ve always found fishing boring.  (Probably, because I never seem to catch anything.)  So, the thoughts of me giving my life to following Jesus in order to learn how to be a fisher of persons just doesn’t float my boat. 

But what if we have been missing something critical in this passage?  What if Jesus never intended fishing to become our main metaphor for evangelism?  What if Jesus was only inviting Simon and Andrew to be “fishers of men” because that’s who they were — fishermen?  Think about it.  If Simon and Andrew had been carpenters, would Jesus have invited them to be “fishers of men” or might he have invited them to follow him and learn how to be “builders of the God Kingdom?”  If they had been physicians, mightn’t Jesus have invited them to follow him and learn how to be “healers of people’s souls?”  Or if they had been weavers, mightn’t Jesus have invited them to follow him and learn how to “weave people into God’s community of love?”  Or if they had been mechanics, mightn’t he have invited them to follow him and learn how to “repair broken lives?”  In short, I think Jesus invited Simon and Andrew to follow him and joined him in God’s work in a way that fit for them!

Now, if this is true, it suggests that Jesus calls us to follow him and join in God’s work in ways that fit who we are, too.   We don’t have to become something or someone that we aren’t in order to follow him.  Instead, he frees us to bring the best of who we are to him and offer it up as we join him in God’s work in the world.  Whether you are a lawyer or an artist, a nurse or a stay-at-home parent, a teacher or a supervisor, a rocket scientist or a ditch digger, Jesus calls you to use the talents and strengths and knowledge and passions that we have to make the contribution to the God’s Kingdom that you alone can make.  Imagine the freedom and purpose Jesus offers each of us by inviting us to join him by being who we are and investing this in blessing others? 

So, if Jesus calls us to invest who we are in serving others, it also means we can (and should!) quit focusing on what we don’t have or who we aren’t as an excuse for not ministering to others.  I don’t have to be as rich as someone else, or as smart or as winsome or as “successful” or as educated or as able to speak in public or as able to teach as anyone else in order to minister.  In fact, focusing on what I don’t have is really just a way of avoiding my responsibility for making my contribution to what God is doing in the world. God has already equipped me to make the contribution that God wants me to make.  Sure, I grow and learn as I follow Jesus, but that doesn’t mean I’m trying to be something or someone I’m not.  It means that as I follow Jesus, as I offer up to him all that I am, I become more fully who God created me to be. 

What if we quit making excuses and did these three things as disciples:  “Be who you are.  See what you have.  Do what matters.”  How would that free you from focusing on what you don’t have and free you to be a blessing to others?

Imagine if every person in your church followed Christ like that?  What if every person heard Jesus inviting her or him to follow him being who they were  and investing their amazing gifts and talents, skills and experiences, passions and knowledge to service others in His name?  Imagine the impact that could have on people’s lives and on the community in which your congregation is located? 

 

Many of these insights regarding Simon and Andrew’s call to become fisher of men come from, The Future Starts Now: The Renewable Organization for Faith-based Groups  (Kelly A. Fryer, scribe for a whole team of persons. Chicago, Illinois: A Renewal Enterprise, Inc., 2009).  The book can be found at www.arenewalenterprise.com. 

 

If you find the CT Blog thought provoking,
even if at times irritatingly so, consider forwarding it to
other leaders in your congregation and encouraging them to
sign up at
www.congregationaltransformation.com.

 

Blessings,

Jeff

Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Office of Congregational Transformation

Over the last several years, Phil Maynard and I have often spoken to congregational leaders who were surprised that there were financial costs associated with the different transformational processes currently used by the conference: Natural Church Development, Refocus Networks, transformational coaching and New Realities.  Generally, the cost is about $85 a month.  In this blog post, I’d like to share first our philosophy about this and then ten ideas on how to raise the money other than taking it out of your budget. 

So, why should there be any cost associated with transformation.   While the conference underwrites the salaries of Congregational Transformation staff, there are about 800 congregations: way more than our staff can cover.  Consequently, most of the costs for transformational processes go to reimburse coaches and facilitators for their time.  In each case, these persons have gone through significant training.  Additionally, there is preparation time and travel time, as well as face-to-face time.  These are costs that the conference cannot afford to cover through apportionments.  It seems only appropriate that those who benefit from these services bear the expense of them.  Like counselors, our experience is also that people commit emotionally to processes they invest in – and vice versa.

Many leaders have said they understand, even agree, but just don’t have the money in their budget.  And with the economic downturn, most congregations have some tough choices to make regarding how best to spend the money they receive.  But I’d like to challenge congregational leaders to step outside the budget box.  In fact, if the trajectory of a congregation into the future is going to change, church leaders will have to think creatively beyond “the way we have always done it.”  Instead of focusing on what they don’t have, transformational leaders focus on the resources (people, time, talent, energy, money and opportunities) God has entrusted them and leverage these resources to join Jesus in ministry that makes a difference in people’s lives and blesses the community.  In short, I challenge church leaders to see raising the costs of transformation as a warm-up exercise to the significantly more vigorous task of leading your congregation to be increasingly faithful and fruitful. 

And to assist in doing this, let me share 10 ideas for raising these funds outside of the church budget. 

1.    Talk to Miss Sarah & Uncle Jim.   Their names will be different, but every congregation I’ve served had people I knew I could talk with when I really needed funds for something special.  If four people would just agree to give $20 a month extra for the year, you are home free. 

2.    Identify several Sundays during the year for some special offerings to be taken toward raising the money needed.  Caste a vision for the congregation entering into a guided process in which they seek God’s will for their ministry.

3.    Publish monthly in the bulletin or newsletter both the total dollar amount needed for the discernment process and how much has already been given for it.  Express great appreciation for those who have contributed generously and great expectation that the process will help the congregation choose a future that will bless others and cause God to smile. 

4.    Hold a special event to raise the funds.  These might be a community fish fry or a talent show or a turkey shoot or a silent auction (with contributions from local businesses).  Make sure that people connect the dots between the money they are raising and the congregation stepping into God’s next chapter for their congregation. 

5.    Look at existing designated funds.  Are there some accounts that actually might fit congregational transformation?  Are there some accounts that were given for something years ago but never spent and now could be used if the people who gave the funds agree?  Are there some accounts that have been kept on the books so long that no one remembers who gave them or what they were for, and now the Finance Committee can choose to redesignate them for congregational transformation purposes?

6.    Begin now putting aside some money each month into a designated fund for Congregational Transformation. 

7.    Ask someone (Miss Sarah or Uncle Jim) to do matching funds for what people give.  This could be one for one or two for one or one for two.

8.    Is there a local business that might help underwrite the costs, recognizing the difference it could make in their community?  Believe it or not, I have heard of several examples where business leaders are willing to invest in a congregation they believed would be good for their community.  The biggest challenges may be deciding to ask, whom to ask and how best to do so. 

9.    Do a work project for someone in the community for which you are paid and donate the proceeds to congregational transformation.  For example, one Sunday School class I was part of in Hollywood would paint the exterior of people’s houses for $500 plus materials.  Several people would pressure wash the house and dig around the walls during the week; then everyone would show up early Saturday and before mid afternoon the job was done.  We did about 3 of these annually for several years running. 

10. Ask people to skip going out to eat one time and to donate the money they would have spent so their congregation can become more missionally effective.   

If you find the CT Blog thought provoking,
even if at times irritatingly so, consider forwarding it to
other leaders in your congregation and encouraging them to
sign up at
www.congregationaltransformation.com.

Blessings,

Jeff

Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Office of Congregational Transformation

Twice Matthew tells boat stories (Mat. 8:23-27 and 14:22-32) in which Jesus encourages the disciples not to be so afraid.  There has long been an association between these boats and the church.   I don’t want to push it too far, but in tempestuous times when the waves of change threaten to overwhelm many congregations and their leaders, like the disciples, are fearfully in survival mode, maybe there is a Word from God here that can bless us.  Let’s see:

In the first boat story, Jesus and the disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee when a fierce storm suddenly strikes – something that still happens today as the wind whips down the valley and across the plain of Gennesaret.  Jesus is asleep in the bow when the disciples call out to him: “Lord, save us!  We are about to drown.”  Jesus wakes, gently rebukes the disciples: “What little faith you have.   Why are you so afraid?”  And then, he calms the stormy seas. 

In the second boat story, the disciples cross the Sea of Galilee back to Capernaum after Jesus feeds the 5,000.  Jesus stays the night on the western shore praying and then comes walking across the water in the morning midst.  The disciples see him, and cry out in fear, thinking him a ghost.   “Take courage,” Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid!”  Peter surprises everyone by saying, “Lord, if it is you, let me come to you on the water.”  Jesus says, “Come,” and Peter steps out into the waves of chaos. He’s doing fine until his focus shifts from Jesus to the wind and water swirling around him.  Suddenly, he sinks and sputters: “Save me Lord.”  Jesus grabs him: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 

In a world where the future seems to be gusting toward us with ever increasing speed and new waves of change wash over us before we can catch our breath from the last, it is easy to become afraid.  How can we possibly face the storms and adjust?  Pick any significant aspect of our lives and there have been changes that cause us to hold on to our seats least we lose our balance and get thrown overboard: technology, communications, demographics, economics, generations, family, political, social, cultural.  It is difficult to find an aspect of our lives that has remained the same!  I was speaking with an older lady recently who said, “The church is the one place in my life that seems constant and comforting – and now ‘they’ want to change it, too.”  It didn’t seem the teachable moment to point out that Scripture claims God to be the same yesterday, today and tomorrow – not our experience of church.  It is God who is the rock when all else turns fluid.  And indeed, in both stories, it is Jesus, not the boat, that secures. 

Did you notice that Jesus isn’t even in the boat in the second story, until the very end?  Jesus doesn’t just hang out in the boat – in the church – with the disciples.  Jesus is out and about doing the work the Father sent him to do.  John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world . . .” It doesn’t say, “For God so loved the church.”  It doesn’t even say, “For God so loved people.”  It says, “For God so loved the world.”  The “world” (in Greek, the “cosmos”) means all of creation.  God sent his Son to make new all of creation, to bring reconciliation, healing and wholeness, and to invite people to join him in this mission of transformation.   In other words, Jesus is at work not just in the church, but in the entire cosmos: in our churches, yes, but also in our communities, across the tracks, in other countries, to the ends of the earth . . . and beyond. 

People often want Jesus to stay put and hang out with them.  Mark tells of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law and then how many people came to him to be healed.  Early the next morning, Jesus is praying alone when the disciples finally find him.  They exclaim: “Everyone is looking for you.”  But instead of going to be with them, he tells them he is going to other villages to preach.  The disciples scurry to follow.  (Mark 1:29-39)  In Matthew’s telling of the transfiguration, Peter, James and John are with Jesus on a mountain when Moses and Elijah suddenly appear.  Peter, not knowing what to say, but never at a loss for words, offers: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.  Would you like me to build us some shelters” so we can hang out together in comfort?  Jesus eventually heads down the mountain and out into a world in need of reconciliation and freedom.  And the disciples scurry to follow. (Matthew 17: 1-13)  Jesus doesn’t stay put and hang out with us.  He keeps moving on to those that need him – and he invites us to join him in ministry.  Because he is Jesus, this invitation feels like God’s call. 

The two stories Matthew tells really aren’t boat stories, are they?  They are stories about Jesus.  Together they suggest that neither our security nor our mission is about hanging out in the boat.  Our security is seeing where Jesus is and joining him in mission to the world, whether that’s in the boat or out on the sea, whether in the church or out in our community or to the ends of the earth.  I’ve often suspected that Peter was nuts asking Jesus to join him on the sea.  But the more I think about it, the more it seems that Peter was the only one of the disciples who got it.  Jesus wants us to join him in his work out in the world.  John Wesley said, “The World is my parish.”  People have always been tempted to turn this safely around: “the parish is my world.”  But Jesus heads out into the tempestuous chaos of the world and bids us to join him still. 

I was visiting with a group of church leaders during their leaders’ council.  “Tell me what was going on around here.”  They went around the table and every person save one told stories of things not going as well as it once had.  Only one person shared a story about something transformative that God was doing in a person’s life.  After they shared, I gently pointed this out.  “You know, I didn’t ask what was going badly, just what was going on.  Yet, all of you focused on what’s not working.  Only one person focused on what Jesus was doing in someone’s life.”  They were a little shocked.  Then I added:  “I wonder how it would change the dynamics of your congregation if you, their key leaders, were more focused on what Jesus was doing in the church and in the community and less on what didn’t seem to be working as well as it once did?”  We talked about this awhile and then I challenged them whenever they gathered, to begin by sharing with one another where they had seen Jesus at work recently bringing reconciliation and freedom in their community and in their church. 

That’s no magical cure for the deluge of change that rocks our boats, but it was when Peter took his eyes of Jesus and focused on the watery chaos around him that he began to sink.  What if instead of focusing on whether we can swim or on how many people we don’t have or how old we are or how much money we don’t  have or what talents we don’t have – what if we simply keep our eye on Jesus and use whatever resources we do have to join him in ministry to others?  Maybe it’s that simple.  Maybe that’s all Jesus ever asks of anyone:  keep your eye on me, use what I’ve given you and join me in serving others.  Maybe if we did that more, we’d be less afraid.  And more faithful and more fruitful. 

If you find the CT Blog thought provoking,
even if at times irritatingly so, consider forwarding it to
other leaders in your congregation and encouraging them to
sign up at
www.congregationaltransformation.com.

Blessings,

Jeff

Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Office of Congregational Transformation

Mickey Wilson, our conference treasurer, keeps reminding us:  “There are no free lunches.” 

What he means is that when a congregation doesn’t pay their health insurance premiums or their property & casualty insurance, they don’t just go away.  Sure it seems like there are no consequences because the pastor still has health insurance and the P&C coverage is still active.  This happens because we are part of a connectional denomination.  But the consequence is that full-paying congregations have to underwrite more than their fair share to offset what others fail to pay.  In effect, it amounts to an unauthorized subsidy to congregations who do not pay in full. 

Now I know that many congregations are struggling to make ends meet these days and sometimes just don’t see a way to cover their bills and continue ministry in their current fashion.  They find themselves facing some pretty tough decisions. 

One scenario played out with many variations goes something like this:  Financial struggles gradually slip up on a congregation’s leaders.  Maybe the congregation slowly declines in number for decades.  People get older.  Before long most people retire and find themselves living on fixed incomes or incomes derived from investments.  Meanwhile the costs of maintaining a church facility and having a full-time pastor keep escalating.  Then the economy takes a tumble: people are losing their jobs; investments aren’t paying nearly what they used to.  Giving drops.  Perhaps congregational leaders let go some program staff and cut ministries that, as the congregation ages, they feel aren’t needed any more.  Maintenance on the facilities is deferred.  Maybe the pastor’s salary is cut in order to be more in line with the worship size and financial capacity of the current congregation.   Anywhere along this scenario of decline, a congregation’s leaders may decide one year not to pay all of their property & casualty insurance or all of their health insurance premiums.  Spring still comes next year and, other than the DS maybe asking about it, nothing terrible happens. Other congregations just pay it for them (usually without realizing it).   So, if things are tight again the following December, it seems like a reasonable strategy (after all, it worked before!) to balance their budget again by not paying all of their insurance premium bills.  And again other congregations pay it for them (again, usually without realizing it). 

Now I knew that this happened occasionally, because I saw it happen several times when I was district superintendent.   But what I didn’t understand until just recently is how common this has become across our conference — and what a drain it is on congregations that do pay their premiums. 

The amounts we are now talking about are in spite of the fact that Florida is setting the benchmark in our denomination for prudent and exceptional health and P& C insurance programs.  Other conferences are learning from our example and copying us.  Please do not consider this a criticism of our insurance programs!  We have excellent insurance coverage at competitive rates.  The issue is that many congregations are not paying their fair share of the costs and that other congregations must pay it for them. . . because, “There are no free lunches.” 

In the past, congregations that paid 100% of their apportionments were listed in the Annual Conference workbook.  Starting this coming year, only those congregations that pay 100% of their apportionments and all of their health and P&C insurance premiums will be listed.  Why?  Because in 2008 there were 171 congregations (almost ¼ of all the congregations in our conference!) that paid all of their apportionments and not all of their insurance premiums.  The average outstanding balance in 2008 among these 171 congregations was $4,600.  17 congregations carried into 2009 between $5,000 and $9,999 in unpaid premiums.  20 congregations carried outstanding balances of over $10,000. 

I know some of the stories of these congregations.  I know that many of these congregational leaders found themselves between a rock and a hard place with no other option available if they were to maintain their current level and style of ministry.   But I also know that this is a trend that we cannot continue without financially hobbling our larger and most effective congregations.  

By the way, the same dynamic, though with far more complexity, gets played out in our General Church, Jurisdictional, Conference and District apportionments.  For example,  Mickey Wilson said that at General Conference in Ft. Worth, the General Agencies submitted a budget almost $100 million more than needed in order to receive what they believed they would need, knowing that their budget requests would not be fully funded.  Similarly, in 2008, the total apportioned to Florida congregations was $21,665,000.  In a year of significant financial turmoil, we underwrote 79.9% of this – only a little below the previous year.  From one valid perspective, we did well.  Very well, indeed!  Still, $3,432,000 was not paid, which essentially drives up apportionments for congregations in our conference and in other conferences in subsequent years. 

According to Mickey, “The quickest way to reduce apportionments, property & casualty rates, and health insurance premiums is for everyone to pay the amount apportioned or billed.  The quickest feedback loop is with P&C and health insurance premiums.  In other words, by recognizing that we are part of an interdependent connection (“There are no free lunches.”) and by paying our entire congregation’s premium bills, we will not only remove our current insurance burden from other congregations, but we will also find that our premium bills – all other things being equal – will decline in subsequent years. 

I know that this has been a complicated post, but I suspect that many leaders in our congregations never really thought about how, when it comes to P&C and Health insurance premiums, “There are no free lunches.”

If you find the CT Blog thought provoking,
even if at times irritatingly so, consider forwarding it to
other leaders in your congregation and encouraging them to
sign up at
www.congregationaltransformation.com.

Blessings,

Jeff

Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Office of Congregational Transformation

I had the blessing of going with the second year RIM group to the Leadership Institute at the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City recently.  The RIM group is the ongoing nurturing process for clergy from the time they are received as provisional elders and deacons until they become ordained elders and deacons.  It is an excellent addition to the process since I came through the system.  Going with the 16 members of the RIM group was a blessing because it gave me a chance to get to know some of the incoming clergy who give me great hope for our future.  Going to the Church of the Resurrection was also a blessing because this United Methodist congregation (http://www.cor.org/) is one of the largest churches in the country and one of the most missionally impressive congregations I have ever experienced.  Their founding pastor, Adam Hamilton, spoke to over 2,000 church leaders from around the country. 

I want to share two things that Rev. Hamilton told us: some good news and some not-so-good news. 

First the not-so-news: while it appears that the Florida conference may be beginning to move in a more positive missional direction (for example, for the first time since 2001, we had an increase in Professions of Faith in 2008!), this is certainly not the case for United Methodists as a whole across the United States:

Lovett Weems has written that the future of the United Methodist Church depends on us reaching “more people, younger people and a more diverse people for Christ.”  Clearly, the issue is not saving our denomination, but fulfilling the mission to which Jesus has called every congregation: making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. 

Now for the good news – and why this post carries the odd title: “Time to run around the bases the other way?”  Adam Hamilton told us that in their efforts to reach “more people, younger people and a more diverse people for Christ” they have discovered a strategy that is effective in reaching younger generations. 

He reminded us of Saddleback Church’s purpose driven ball diamond, developed by their founding pastor Rick Warren (http://www.saddleback.com ).  In this model of ministry, new people begin heading to first base through worship.  They reach first base by becoming a Christian and a member of the congregation.   Going to second base involves being discipled toward spiritual maturity.  Going to third base involved getting to know your gifts so that you can develop a ministry inside the church family.  And then running to home plate involves getting involved in missions out in the world.  This is the simple way Saddleback has used for years to communicate their intentional discipling process and what they hope for every person in their congregation.  This ball diamond with its four bases is simple enough to be drawn on a napkin!

Adam Hamilton said that while their congregation has also for years used a similar discipling model, what they are discovering is that younger generations seem to be running around the bases the other way when they get involved at Church of the Resurrection!  That is, most often the first contact that church members have with youth, young adults and even middle aged persons is when they join them in serving others.  Hamilton said that younger generations have a deep desire to make a positive difference.  So while they do not have a lot of confidence in the church and would probably never come to worship on their own, they are open to joining in repairing a houses in a rundown community or painting a school or serving in a soup kitchen or teaching in a literacy action program.  Then, as they are serving others side by side with Christians, these people begin to learn that Christians aren’t what they had thought.  Through natural conversations, church members are able to build relationships in which spiritual matters can be discussed and the door opens to them coming to a class or giving worship a try.  In effect, Hamilton said that through inviting normal people (that is unchurched unbelievers) to join them in service to others, people are finding their way in to the church community and faith in Christ. 

My son told me the story of a man whose wife was attending their church in 2005 when hurricane Katrina hit southeastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi, and southwestern Alabama with such devastation.  Their congregation started having mission trips to help clean up in the aftermath and this man who had never been to church before expressed an interest in being part of a cleanup crew.  His wife spoke to Kalon and Kalon encouraged him to join them – which he did several times.  During these days of working side-by-side he and Kalon developed a relationship that opened doors for spiritual conversations which led to him starting to come to worship with his wife and eventually to him becoming a Christian.  In other words, he ran around the bases the other way!

As you think about reaching younger generations in your congregation, are you offering normal people (again, that’s people outside your church) the opportunity to join you in serving others?  Are you helping your church members think about how to develop honest caring relationships with them so that the love of Christ might shine through and lead them perhaps into the community of faith and to faith in Christ?  It’s certainly gotten me thinking.  How about you? 

If you find the CT Blog thought provoking,
even if at times irritatingly so, consider forwarding it to
other leaders in your congregation and encouraging them to
sign up at
www.congregationaltransformation.com.

Blessings,

Jeff

Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Office of Congregational Transformation

The gap between the world inside local congregations and the world outside local congregations has widened increasing in recent decades – at least for many churches.  In talking about relevance, Alex McManus asked, “Is your congregation relevant to outsiders?”  He went on to say that the most effective strategy for closing the gap will involve overcoming the dual caste system of ministry between clergy and laity.  In other words, it will involve laity remembering that by virtue of their baptism, they – as much as any clergy – are called to join Jesus in Kingdom ministry.  So how does this work to make ministry more relevant to outsiders?

In a nutshell, McManus said that spiritually alive laity can use the gifts and passions that God has given them to connect with normal people outside the church.  (Lenard Sweet reminds us that people “in Christ” are not normal; normal in our world means being unchurched and unbelievers.)  Then, over time, the Holy Spirit will help them naturally discern ways to have spiritual conversations in which normal people can be invited to explore what being part of a community of faith and following Jesus may mean for them. 

Let me unpack this a bit, because for many laity, I suspect that this sounds way outside their comfort zone. 

Here’s an example which McManus gave:  what if several men who love Jesus and also enjoy going fishing got together and decided that they were going to use fishing as an intentional means to connect with men who are outside the church.  Then, as relationships develop while fishing over weeks or months or longer, they watch for the Holy Spirit to provide natural avenues to have conversations of a spiritual nature in which they can share in non-preachy ways what Christ and being part of Christ’s followers means to them.  Maybe they will be interested in going on a mission trip or getting involved in a service project in which other church members are involved.  Maybe they would be interested in a financial peace university class (www.daveramsey.com/fpu/home/ ) at the church.  Or maybe the disciple fishermen discover a new set of spiritual needs that would be more relevant to normal people.  The point is for laity to be intentional about relating naturally to people outside the church (using their own strengths and interests) and seeing where the Holy Spirit leads them.

Here is another example given by McManus: He has been involved in several urban settings in starting what he called “culture pubs” (http://voxtropolis.com/culture-pubs-voxtropolis/).   His website describes them this way: “A Culture Pub is a performing arts experience where local independent artists can make their voices heard and where local communities can be shaped.  Each Culture Pub exists as a local public benefit for local independent artists and also as a global public benefit for the poor, exploited and enslaved of the world.”  At the core of the club is a group of Christians musicians and others who want to connect with unchurched artists as together they serve a cause that draws people together – for example child hunger.  A benefit concert is offered to the community to raise money and through relationships that are built with normal people (non-Christians) the Holy Spirit can use to begin to address spiritual issues.  The Culture Pub was envisioned by Alex and Niza McManus as a way of developing community among local independent artists, bohemians, thinkers and activists. The Network began to grow as others began to see a new way of working together to make the world a better place.  In short, this is a strategy for building community in which Christ can relate in relevant ways to unbelievers through disciples.

Let me share another example of what McManus is talking about that I experienced.  Phil Maynard and I met with Mike Ellis (http://ow.ly/ubsd) at Panera’s Bread in Daytona to talk about using Twitter as a tool for reaching normal people.  We were put in touch with him through Tom Nelson, pastor of First Port Orange UMC where Mike goes to church.  Mike has been coaching Tom about using Twitter to build a social network of normal (unchurched) people within a 10 mile radius of his church.  When I walked into Panera’s that night, I was surprised to find five people waiting for me.  Mike had brought along three people who have been attending Orange Park UMC as a result of relationships that developed through Twitter.  One person is a single mom that has an interested in Nascar.  Tom had been tweeting people who were following a race one Saturday.  Something he said caught her attention and, after almost giving up on church years before, this single mom gave church another try – and Tom remembered her!  The other two persons were a couple, wife and husband, who have recently given worship a try.  For months Mike had been tweeting with a group of people with whom the wife kept in touch.  After reading of a need that the couple had, Mike was able to find help for them from a group of Port Orange members who keep in touch with him through Twitter.  As a result, this young couple – blown away by the help they received from church members – is now visiting church and exploring what being a Christ follower might mean for them.

It might be sewing or car repair, scrapbooking or bird watching, training to run a marathon or a group discussing cosmology – it really doesn’t matter.  The point is to use whatever gifts and passions disciples have to make connections with people outside the church . . . and then to allow the Holy Spirit to use these relationships to invite people into life in community following Jesus. 

If you find the CT Blog thought provoking,
even if at times irritatingly so, consider forwarding it to
other leaders in your congregation and encouraging them to
sign up at
www.congregationaltransformation.com.

 

Blessings,

Jeff

Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Office of Congregational Transformation

In our last blog post, I shared Alex McManus’ comments about ministry that is relevant.  He framed the discussion by three questions: “Are we being relevant to Jesus?”  “Are we being relevant to our congregation’s future?”  “Are we being relevant to outsider?”  I promised in the next blog post, to share some of McManus’ thoughts about reaching outsiders – and I’d like to start doing that now.  In fact, he spent over half of his talk sharing creative examples of persons doing just this.  But before doing so, he said that we had to recover from our practice of a ministry caste system. 

Our Biblical heritage - a theology of lay ministry:  We have inherited a rich theology of ministry which understands that every Christian is called to ministry (diakonia or service) by virtue of their baptism.  “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)  Indeed, the Bible gives no indication that you can even consider yourself a disciple without also recognizing that you are called to ministry; as part of the call to follow Jesus, we are called to join Jesus in servant ministry to others.  “Each one should use whatever gift he [or she] has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he [or she] should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he [or she] should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God would be praised through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10-11).  Paul’s image of the church as the Body of Christ in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 offers us a vision of congregations full of persons each of whom is called and equipped for significant ministry.  In this rich Biblical understanding of ministry, clergy and laity alike are called and equipped for ministry that cooperatively encourages and supports one another as together they serve Christ and Kingdom causes.

And then there’s the real world:  While we have inherited – and at times even preached – the biblical theology of ministry, in practice, we too often live out a very different dual layered misunderstanding of ministry.  Often, people raised in a consumer culture see themselves as recipients of pastoral care provided by the paid clergy (and staff).  In other words, there is a clear distinction between those who provide ministry and those who receive ministry.  In a similar vein, there has developed a professional clergy culture in which clergy are seen as the “ministry experts” who are educated and trained and set apart to know how to minister.  Laity, by contrast, may “support” the ministry of their pastor by serving on different committees, but at best they provide “ministry lite,” an inferior subclass and pale reflection of the real thing done best by clergy.  (Notice the difference many people feel between having a dedicated lay minister visit them in the hospital as opposed to having “the real minister” visit them.)

While we often talk about the call of persons to professional, ordained ministry, when was the last time you heard laity challenged to discern how God has gifted them for ministry (through their spiritual gifts, talents, skills and passions) and to hear how God has called them to be involved in ministry that makes a difference?  The Biblical notion of call is just as appropriately applied to all disciples; indeed, only appropriately applied to all disciples!  So why should laity, in practice, often have such underdeveloped identities as servant ministers?  Jesus was addressing all believers (not just clergy) when he said: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that would last” (John 15:16).  If so, we have some serious intentional discipling work to attend to in our congregations. 

The first step that Alex McManus listed on the way to becoming relevant to outsiders is for us to overcome our practice of caste system ministry – as if the clergy provided first class ministry and laity, at best, second class ministry. 

And the other step Alex mentioned – well, we’ll save that for the next CT Blog. 

What would the leaders of your congregations do differently fully to embody the Biblical understanding of every disciple being equipped and called to servant ministry?  What would clergy have to do differently . . . and give up?  What would laity have to do differently . . . and give up?

 

If you find the CT Blog thought provoking,
even if at times irritatingly so, consider forwarding it to
other leaders in your congregation and encouraging them to
sign up at
www.congregationaltransformation.com.

 

Blessings,

Jeff

Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Office of Congregational Transformation

At a SC District preacher’s meeting – of all places! – I heard Alex McManus speak earlier this week (http://alexmcmanus.org/about-alex/).  Alex is the brother of Erwin McManus, founding pastor of Mosaic.  Like his brother, Alex challenges church leaders to be creative missional entrepreneurs. 

I was just sitting back taking him in until he asked: “Are you the kind of leader that needs the church or are you the kind of leader the church needs?”  Then I started taking notes.  It’s a powerful question.  Am I the kind of leader that needs the institution of the church to keep taking care of me and thus afraid to be a missional change-agent for fear of disturbing my own comfortable status quo?  Or am I the kind of leader that the church needs to help it be missionally relevant for the future? 

Then he talked about what he meant by relevant.  And that’s what I really want to share with ya’ll, because he started by saying he didn’t mean relevant to the culture.  Rather he reframed the issue of relevance with three stirring questions.

First Question: Is our ministry relevant to Jesus Christ?    

My take on what Alex meant was: is our ministry a faithful continuation of the missional movement that Jesus began and, by His Spirit and His people, continues today?  Or has our congregation’s ministry slowly morphed through the years into something that once was faithful, but now has drifted off course.  Is it now less concerned with “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” than with maintaining a certain set of programs that are meaningful and comforting to our current members?  Answering this question honestly takes some prophetic courage, selfless distancing and a whole lot of prayer. 

Second Question: Is our ministry relevant to our congregation’s future?

Too often, Alex observed, congregations are relevant mainly to their past.  In fact, some are like cultural time machines in which you can return to the 1950’s.  Leaders are committed to maintaining their beloved traditions, rather than stepping into the future of ministry to which Jesus is calling them in and for their community.

When I heard him say this, I couldn’t help but reflect on the church where I had preached two days before.  They had two services and many gracious people.  The contemporary service filled their fellowship hall with youth and other youthful persons largely under forty.  The traditional service had maybe half again more worshipers scattered sparsely around a sanctuary that decades before had held over 650.  As I was preaching the second service, I kept thinking: “Ten years from now, short of a medical or missional breakthrough, this sanctuary will pretty much be empty.” 

As long as the question of relevance is addressed in terms of “to us or to them” . . . “their style or our style,” the future for any congregation as a whole is not bright.   Instead, Alex invited us to wonder together about being relevant in ministry to the congregation’s future. 

Third Question: Is our ministry relevant to outsiders?

Alex reminded us that Jesus came not to care for insiders, but to connect outsiders to what God was graciously doing and to invite insiders to join him in doing so.  Like the shepherd that leaves the 99 and goes after the 1 sheep lost in the wilderness – though the ratio would be a shifted in the other direction today – disciples who join Jesus on mission today find themselves moving out of their comfort zones into the wild chaos of normal life beyond the church. 

Once, after a day of healing and preaching in Capernaum, Jesus was praying early in the morning.  When the disciples found him they exclaimed, “Everyone is looking for you.”  Obviously, the disciples expected Jesus to come take care of all the people they knew and loved.  But Jesus shocked them all saying, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”  (Mark 1:38)  Again and again, we see Jesus not settling down with the insiders (those who are already in the “church”), but stepping out, going out, reaching out to outsiders – and inviting the insiders to join him.   Evidently, the temptation to domesticate Jesus, to get Him to “stay with us” started a long time ago.  (Notice Peter thought “it is good for us to be here” and offered to construct tents on the Mount of Transfiguration so everyone could settle in . . . just before Jesus headed down the mountain and out into the communities where more people needed healing and teaching and to experience the Good News.  That time the disciples followed.  See Mark 9.)

I’ll save Alex’s comments about how to reach outsiders for the next CT Blog post. 

Enough for now.  Let me to invite you to reflect on the relevance of your own congregation’s ministry.  Are your leaders seeking to be relevant to Jesus, to your congregation’s future and to outsiders?  Obviously, the questions are connected.  If you are joining Jesus in ministry to outsiders, then your congregation has a future.  And if not . . .

If you find the CT Blog thought provoking,
even if at time irritatingly so, consider sending it to
other leaders in your congregation and encourage them to
sign up at
www.congregationaltransformation.com.

 

Blessings,

Jeff

Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Office of Congregational Transformation

It was one of those throw-away comments Bishop Whitaker made during a Cabinet meeting recently that kept echoing in my thoughts: “You can tell a lot about the depth of discipling in a congregation by what they usually pray for.” 

It seems that some congregations’ prayers are almost entirely taken up by petitions for Bob’s bursitis, Gale’s upcoming gall bladder surgery, Katie’s recovery from knee replacement, and sympathy for the Smith family on the death of Sam.  Often the lists are quite long and exhaustive.  There is certainly nothing wrong with praying for the health and healing of those we know and love – after all, Jesus did say the tell-tale characteristic of a community of his disciples is the love they display one for another!  But shouldn’t the prayers of a community whose mission is “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” include some broader concerns?

For example, wouldn’t a community committed to growing more and better disciples want also to pray:
 For the Holy Spirit’s guidance and constraint so that people around town this week will see in our congregation a Christ-like difference in how we respond to them and be curiously drawn to Christ. 
 For the pastors, teachers and leaders of our congregation – that their lives, seen through word and action, would increasingly be winsome examples of maturing discipleship.
 For this week’s worship service, classes, small groups and programs effectively to draw people to Christ and his community, helping them to discover the next step in their spiritual journey and challenging them to take it. 

Wouldn’t a congregation committed to joining Jesus in transforming mission want also to pray:
 For our members to find ways to invest their gifts and abilities in service to others that bless with words  and deeds of mercy and justice. 
 For eyes to see the silent suffering of people throughout the week, for hearts that break with compassion , and for wills that creatively step out of their comfort zone to be God’s own instruments of hope and grace. 
 For our members to sense Jesus calling us into relationships with neighbors who are different from us. 
 For our congregation to learn to order their financial lives that they will be able and willing to respond with joyful generosity to people’s needs and God’s causes.

Wouldn’t a community committed to loving as Christ loved also want to pray:
 For those who have lost their jobs and others who are struggling to make ends meet financially.
 For hungry children in our own state where so many prosperous people struggle with being overweight.
 For homes fractured by alcohol or anger, violence or estranged relationships, pornography or escalating debt. 
 For people in the Philippines whose lives have been washed away by torrential floods.
 For world leaders struggling to make wise decisions regarding our global economy, the care of our earth and weapons of mass destruction.

The truth is that when you begin to think about living into the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” the variety of prayers we might pray as we seek be God’s people are amazingly diverse. 

Which leaves you wondering why so often our prayers are taken up largely with concerns for Bob’s bursitis and Gale’s upcoming gall bladder surgery? 

Blessings,
Jeff

Dr. Jeff Stiggins
Office of Congregational Transformation

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