In some sectors of the church today there’s great momentum, clarity of mission, risk-taking experimentation, courageous leadership, and fresh reliance on the Holy Spirit for direction, empowering, and transformation.
Churches are breaking out of the attractional paradigm and are moving their ministry focus off their facilities and into the community where those who need Christ are. Committed to love and serve people until they ask why, Christians are living the Gospel among the unchurched – and they are responding with surprise, with gratitude, and with saving faith in Jesus.
And, in other sectors, churches, ministers and members are bewildered. Attendance is falling. So is giving. Enthusiasm for church programs is low. Discouragement is high. Anxiety is epidemic.
Denominational systems feel this more intensely. Local churches are less able or willing to send money ‘up the food chain’. Regional and national budgets are being slashed. Programs and staff are being eliminated. Every forecast is more sobering than the last. The Church is aging…more rapidly than ever. Since most giving comes from the more senior members, their mortality portends the same for the systems their generosity built and sustained for decades.
The advantage is if you’re going to bunt, it’s the best stance to be in. The disadvantage: you can’t do anything but bunt from that crouch. And, here’s where many in the Church find themselves today.
Not sure how to stem the receding tide of dollars and attendees, Church leaders cycle from one well-worn, low-risk program to another.
Bunt down the middle.
Trouble is, the “score” is so lopsided that laying down bunts won’t move us forward fast enough.
What’s needed is to restore apostolic momentum to the Church.
Apostles are “sent ones”. The apostolic Church was a sent church. In contrast to today’s stogy institutions, the early Church was on the move.
Its message: Jesus.
Its focus: heart transformation.
Its method: personal encounters as the redeemed loved, healed, and shared their stories.
For this to recur, our churches need to mature and mobilize Christians as ministers to those outside.
In May, my CRM team will equip pastors, church planters, and lay leader to do exactly that.
At reFOCUS: ATLANTA we’ll introduce tools we’ve developed working with more than 5,000 pastors and churches. Strengthening pastors to lead, Christians to mature, and churches to engage their cities with the lived-and-proclaimed Gospel.
Join us for these three very important days: http://www.refocusing.org/events/
Coaching distinctions #49.doc
In many quarters of the Church, the contemporary understanding is that Christianity is lived in the passive voice. Wikipedia says: “the passive voice denotes the recipient of the action (the patient) rather than the performer (the agent).”
The assumption is that the Christ-follower empties herself of all ambition and self-determination and simply waits, patiently, for God to move gloriously upon her life.
Problem is, it’s not biblical. It’s Buddhism.
How much ‘straining’ and ‘pressing on’ do you see in the Church today?
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door...” [Lk 13:24 NIV] In the Greek “make every effort” is agonizomai. Sounds a lot like “agonize” doesn’t it?
Consider Mt 11:12 “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of Heaven has been taken by storm and eager men are forcing their way into it.” [Philips New Testament]
Are these texts familiar to you?
The assumption that Christianity is lived in passive reflection—and our preoccupation with what we’re against—may have contributed mightily to the historic decline in Christian adherence in the West.
Especially among those under 35.
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who … if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
How well Terry Roosevelt’s words describe the noble and rigorous Christian life!
Around the US, pastors are breaking out of the “please-the-parishioner” mold, and are leading members into their cities, daring valiantly to minister regularly and unconditionally to those outside. Though they make mistakes, the sincerity of their motive procures a response of surprise and gratitude from those outside… and eventually, an openness to the claims of Christ.
And, in their churches some oppose and criticize, hoping to undermine these risky and selfless ministry endeavors.
Cold and timid souls.
Coaching distinctions #47.doc
How does a minister develop tenacity … particularly when the surrounding culture is increasingly committed to relieving tension—in the short run—without regard to the long term consequences?
Tenacity is defined as the capacity to stick—like super glue—to one’s commitments. The word comes from the Latin tenere which means “to hold”.
This isn’t new.
The collapse of just about every great empire has been presaged by a similar shift. These once-great societies collapsed from within. Like tall trees hollowed by pine beetles, when opposing winds came, they lacked the fiber to stand.
I’m reminded of a moment early in the “Battle of Carthage” scene in Gladiator when Maximus draws his fellow gladiators into a tight circle, shields surrounding them. As well-armed chariots approach—and their every impulse is to run—he urges them to “Hold!…Hold!…Hold!” ‘till the charioteers are almost upon them. As a result, they overthrow their attackers and win a most improbable victory.
It is this act of holding that is essential to pastoral leadership in our day.
With my CRM teammates, I facilitate a leadership development and change process with Senior Pastors and their churches. Our goal is to strengthen the leadership character of pastors so they can lead their congregations through a massive cultural change: from consuming religious education and entertainment to ministering influentially to the un-churched in their communities. It’s been my privilege to work with dozens of churches all across the denominational spectrum. Initially, almost everyone agrees to become a missionally-effective church.
Yet, saboteurs abound!
Like the pine beetle, their largely covert opposition eats away at the church’s commitment to what it knows it must become.
Quick-fix fantasies emerge and gain a ready following. People take sides.
The lead pastor’s tenacity is essential.
So, from the outset, we work to strengthen the pastors’ capacity to hold.
By creating scenarios that invite opposition on a small level while monitoring, via coaching, the pastor’s responses to it. Over many months of facing gradually-increasing resistance, reFocusing pastors increase their capacity to tolerate anxiety—first in themselves; then in their congregations.
Walking with a coach and several other senior pastors who are encountering the same challenges in their congregations, the pastor develops the fiber to Hold!…Hold!…Hold! to what God has called them.
Coaching distinctions #41.doc
We’re considering the idea that each of us is an invitation. We’re always inviting people toward us. They come for what we offer. Many times, we have no idea what that is.
If not, you might want to re-do your invitation.
So, how do you decide what to invite? The answer lies in what you’re for. Why are you living, breathing, taking up space? Why did God put you on the planet at this moment in history?
It’s absolutely true that you were made to glorify God, through Jesus. And you get to love your family faithfully and establish the way of Christ in your home and relationships. Beyond all that, each of us gets to bring a unique brand of “good” to the world.
Ephesians 2:10 is clear. You’re created in Christ to do good works that God prepared before hand. There’s more to life than working, eating, sleeping, entertaining ourselves, and attending church. As God’s workmanship, you’ve been prepared to bring good that the world around you needs. Knowing what that good is, and who it’s for, you’ll be able to determine the invitation you want to be.
CRM reFocusing developed two workshops to help people do just that. Anchored in the bedrock of Eph 2:10, the Awaken & Activate Workshops provide a step-by-step process to determine God’s unique calling. You’re invited to examine your most influential life experiences.
An inescapable truth is that we’ve all been shaped by our experiences. All of them. Curiously, the painful ones often shape us most powerfully.
Awaken invites an interpretation of those experiences via a biblical view of God. Instead of interpreting your painful past through the lens of a distant, disinterested creator or a punitive, angry monarch, you’re supported to consider that a loving Father, aware of your life experiences, desires that they work for good [Rom 8:28].
- What’ve you learned?
- How’s your character been refined?
- In what ways has God been faithful to you—even through the hardships?
- What goodness has come?
- How’ve the passions, longings furies, and desires of your heart been ignited?
These considerations hold clues about who you’re called to influence and the difference you’re equipped to make in their lives.
Imagine this. In Awaken you realize you care deeply about the impact of job stress on law enforcement professionals, growing up with your mom, a correctional officer. While struggling with alcohol in your teens, you learned a lot about substance abuse. A decade later, you enjoyed satisfaction in the field of counseling. Suddenly, you recognize that training as a substance abuse counselor will allow you to capitalize on your relationships with local police.
You begin to invite them toward health and freedom.
Coaching Distinctions 37.doc
A friend challenged me once: “Kirk, you think you’re planting tomatoes, but you’re harvesting beets. And, when you don’t get tomatoes, you just work harder and harder planting and watering and fertilizing those same seeds. Beet seeds.”
Derek wasn’t taking about vegetables; he was taking about my marriage.
Unwilling to examine the seed I’d been sowing in my family, I just upped the ante, laboring more diligently…producing more and more “beets”…
Last night I met a wonderful pastor and the elders of his church not far from Miami. A member of my CRM team and I were there to introduce them to the amazing reFocusing Network Process: a two-year transformational pathway for churches desiring to impact their communities for Christ. Never have I met a more sincere team of leaders, each wanting to introduce the Savior to neighbors who – presently – have no interest in Christ.
Their enthusiasm for the community was palpable, contagious, inspiring. As we were introduced, the pastor spoke confidently of their commitment to engage those outside the church. “We’re very active in the community”, he explained. “We’ve adopted a public school and, when school starts, we provide backpacks with school supplies for the students. At Thanksgiving, we give turkeys and groceries to families in need. And, at Christmas time, we give $50 and $100 gift cards to school families who otherwise couldn’t afford gifts for their kids. We do this with no strings attached; not to coerce them to join our church or to promote ourselves. We do it to love them in Jesus’ name.”
As our presentation began, they were invited to consider that, excellent as their intentions are, they’d been in the wrong game. “See, people don’t need your stuff nearly as much as they need you.”
These days, people stay away from church on purpose. They’ve decided Christianity doesn’t have the remedy for what ails them; we don’t have the scratch for their itch. And while it’s not a bad thing to provide what people lack, receiving things from well-meaning people does little to uproot these assumptions.
Regular, repeated, positive, life-on-life experiences with Christians who are postured to love and serve them unconditionally.
As people have multiple, positive encounters with you, they begin to question some of what they’ve assumed about Christ. Over time, you become credible – not based on what you know – but how you live. Eventually, some will trust you with the most important conversations of life.
Coaching Distinctions 33.doc
It’s just that most of what the Church does doesn’t have anything to do with what Christ’s followers are supposed to be about.
It’s not that we’re not working hard or that we’re insincere. Most ministers, elders, and lay leaders I know serve pretty diligently and they’re very sincere about what they’re doing. I’m suggesting that we’re just diligently and sincerely in the wrong game.
And, when we get into the right game, it’s amazing what can happen.
When I met Dave Scott, Pastor of New Hope, a Free Methodist Church a few years ago, he was a very sincere, hard-working guy. And, discouraged. Attendance was stagnant, money was tight. More troubling, through, was the pervasive fatigue inside Dave and his congregation.
New Hope wanted to be an effective, community-impacting church. So they entered CRM’s reFocusing process and, within a few months Dave’s leaders experienced a powerful paradigm shift. During the Awaken and Activate Workshops they discovered that God has been preparing and positioning each person to care for people in their community who don’t attend church. Encouraged, members began strengthening relationships with those outside the congregation.
They examined the makeup of their members and the surrounding community and identified a few focused, consistent, intentional ways to demonstrate Christ to others. Realizing that a number of congregation members work in law enforcement, they began serving the correctional officers at a state prison nearby.
In the next few years, teams of New Hope members put on barbecues and picnics for the correctional officers on their turf, invented creative ways to express appreciation to the guards inside the prison, partnered with them in community events, offered classes requested by prison employees, and made themselves available to serve any way they can.
Along the way, attitudes are changing. The officers—curious about what motivates these regular, genuine expressions of support—are having important, meaningful conversations with Dave’s folks that are becoming easy and common. New Hope members are maturing in Christ and those they’re going to are experiencing “good news” in human form.
Not long ago, an exec indicated that the culture in the prison is changing. Why?
Dave’s people are in the right game.
Coaching Distinctions 32.doc
Imagine the impact on the United States if Christians here were known – first of all — for being people of action.
You could be reading these blogs and conclude: “Good! We’re doing all kinds of ministry in our city: we donate used clothes to the homeless shelter, canned goods to the food bank, we give a little bit of money to a women’s shelter, drug rehab, an afterschool program, a hospital, and to a convalescent center. Hey, we spent one Saturday working on a Habitat home.”
Many churches do give to causes that, it is thought, advance the cause of Christ in their communities. Trouble is, these efforts are often so small, so diverse, and so impersonal as to have no lasting Kingdom influence on the people they intend to serve.
These are mere “gestures”. And, churches make good-hearted gestures all the time.
Church members are on hand every day: assisting teachers, aids, and staff any way they can. They sponsor student awards, help with the booster club, and are on campus to support and encourage students’ progress in academics, citizenship, health, and teamwork. They donate materials and supplies for every homeroom before each semester and they give themselves along with the donations to help the teachers prepare for the students’ arrival.
They are on hand to help by providing dinner when standardized tests or parent-teacher meetings keep the faculty on campus day and night. Regularly, they honor the teachers who they observe investing so devotedly in their students. And, members of these churches are regularly in prayer for the health, safety, and well being of the students, faculty, and their families.
This is “committed action”.
These actions are so regular, so costly, so focused, and so personal that the recipients of their service cannot mistake the generosity, the selflessness, and the love they are experiencing.
Commonly, those we intend to serve will be cautious, even skeptical that somehow they’re being duped—that there’s going to be a “hook”, a “gotcha” where the church people reveal their true, self-serving motives.
When our motivation is only to serve and love and bless the recipients, for their benefit, over time the barriers dissolve.
And when they do, we will be prepared to give an answer for the hope we have [I Pt 3:15] and the love we so generously give.
Coaching Distinctions #16