When I was a young bright-eyed seminary student. God introduced me to another young radical seminary student and, we became life-long friends. Our paths took us in very different directions but through all the ministry challenges and movements of God among us, we remained friends and hopeful about the church’s future. During our time at Seminary, we said, “The church needs a second reformation.” The first one was a course correction of some major theology issues plaguing the church. This new one is about correcting action that is crippling the church: releasing the people of God.
In this next series of blog posts, I will unpack more what that means and pray it will help empower the church to understand it was made for more. Made for more was the theme of a conference I just attended and it rekindled in me the ideas I and this young seminary friend thought and wrestled with some thirty (oh my. has it been that long?) years ago.
Here is the scriptural foundation for this series and a little snapshot of what is coming.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.Ephesians 2:8-10
We were made to be more (the believer’s identity in Christ), made to do more (purpose) and made to go more (mission impact). Stay tuned I think this will be a blessing to you and your ministry. The series will launch next week on Tuesday.
Think about the most tired you’ve ever been at work. It probably wasn’t when you stayed late or came home from a road trip — chances are it was when you had someone looking over your shoulder, watching your each and every move. “If we know that micromanagement isn’t really effective, why do we do it?” asks entrepreneur Chieh Huang. In a funny talk packed with wisdom and humility, Huang shares the cure for micromanagement madness — and how to foster innovation and happiness at work.
During the Thirty Year’s War in Europe (1618-1648) they slew the King of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus while his troops were winning the Battle of Lutzen, in what is now Germany. Sweden was thrown into mourning, and government officials met to determine how to replace the king. Some suggested a republic; others thought the crown should go to Adolphus’ cousin, the king of Poland. The chancellor of Sweden arose and said, “Let there be no talk of a republic or of Polish kings, for we have in our midst the heir of the great Gustavus, his little daughter, 6 years of age.” Some protested that they had never seen her. The chancellor said, “Wait a minute, and I will show you.” He brought in Christina, daughter of the king, and placed her on the throne. One representative who was especially suspicious of the move pressed forward and gazed intently into her face. Then turning to the assembly, he exclaimed, “Look at her nose, her eyes, her chin! I see in the countenance of this child the features of the great Gustavus. She is the child of our king!” From all quarters of the room rang the proclamation, “Christina, Queen of Sweden!” – Source Unknown
In the beginning of Ezekiel 34, there is a serious condition God is addressing. If you look into the eyes of Israel’s priest you would not see the nature of God. They didn’t behave like God, they didn’t reflect God’s nature and they didn’t care for the people the way God intended. Hear the charges against them in God’s own words,
“The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. 
There is a perception that the Old Testament God is an angry, wrathful, quick to punish being. What is often missed, even ignored, is the patience and the amazing love of God. The Almighty, upon closer review, is dealing with sheep who are obstinate, stubborn and rebellious, but still, God reached out to them. God is patient with His people. Israel was guilty of committing great sin but in spite of their failings, God is merciful and forgiving. God offers them time and time again a pathway back for their wanderings. All they had to do was repent and remember the covenant God made with His people. I love this observation from Jeffery, “God’s love is not soft and weak, as if it cares nothing about sin, but, rather, exactly the opposite. He cares deeply and sin grieves him. While he will not tolerate it or excuse it, he will pardon it, and it is against this backdrop of divine holiness that God’s love shines most brightly.”
The reference to unfaithful shepherds referred to Israel’s kings and could include their spiritual leaders. How were they unfaithful? The leaders sought to be served, rather than to serve, they were indistinguishable from having no leader at all. Maybe you have been in a situation like this in ministry or life. Where it is obvious your leaders are only concerned about themselves, their career, their personal gain. That attitude destroys the heart of the people. These leaders left the people of Israel like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus points out a similar spiritual condition in Matthew 9:35-36,
“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
When this happens to the people of God, they wander aimlessly and are easily attacked and became food for their great enemy Satan and the world. It is the role of the shepherd to care for the sheep not feed on them.
Dear Father God, I pray for you to provide Your flock with faithful shepherds who love the sheep as you do. In Jesus name. Amen.
Next Week the Series Continues: God’s heart reflected in going after the Scattered.
Several of my readers picked the word restoration for their word for 2019. The key to restoration, is you can’t have restoration until something breaks and it needs repair. Usually that something is severely damaged. This illustration helps frame our devotion.
A few years ago, an angry man rushed through the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam until he reached Rembrandt’s famous painting “Nightwatch.” Then he took out a knife and slashed it repeatedly before they could stop him. A short time later, a distraught, hostile man slipped into St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome with a hammer and smashed Michelangelo’s beautiful sculpture The Pieta. Two cherished works of art were severely damaged. But what did officials do? Throw them out and forget about them? Absolutely not! Using the best experts, who worked with the utmost care and precision, they tried to restore the treasures.
One of the foundational grace passages of Scripture is Ephesians 2:8-9 “8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done so none of us can boast about it.” It is one of the most freeing passages. Paul states God restores fallen humanity by His grace and His grace alone. We play no role in this restoration it is a gift. Here is where the above illustration comes into play. When we ask why did God restore? Why does it even matter to an All-powerful Being? The often skipped following verse explains the mystery.
“10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”We matter to the Creator because humanity is His crown jewel, His masterpiece. God cares because every one of us were uniquely created for a divine purpose. So, what do you do with something unique and valuable when it is broken? You spare no expense to restore it. What did it cost God to restore His broken masterpieces? His one and only expert repairer, Jesus Christ.
Thank you, for loving us to so much that you sent Your son, Jesus Christ to restore the damage sin caused Your people. Paul reminds us of the repair work of our Savior. “18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.”2 Corinthians 5:18-19 Because of what Jesus did for us we are now also in the restoration business. Help us be Ambassadors of restoration. In the precious name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
You must abandon your preconceived notions about community.
“To enter into true community, our ideal community must be surrendered.” – “Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities.” When we think of forming a community, our rose-colored glasses picture a place where everyone gets along, and conflict is absent. While this lack of discord would be lovely, it is unrealistic. As long as we live on this side of heaven, sin will always disrupt the community. Conflict, tension, and disagreements in our relationships do not surprise God in fact, these moments afford, Him the opportunity to point us back to the grace and forgiveness offered through Christ. We should expect even welcome imperfection, as grace moments.
You must embrace imperfection
Remember putting your face above a headless frame painted to represent a muscle man, a clown, or even a bathing beauty? Many of us have had our pictures taken this way, and the photos are humorous because the head doesn’t fit the body. If we could picture Christ as the head of our local body of believers, would the world laugh at the misfit? Or would they stand in awe of a human body so closely related to a divine head? – Dan Bernard.
When we stop and look at the parish, this statement seems fitting. We have the perfect head of Christ on the imperfect body of the church. It seems odd to be a community who carries out our mission and make a kingdom difference we must embrace this imperfection. Believers live with the anxieties this absence of perfection brings. The church’s deficiencies allow for the unbelieving world to see a transparent organization that unlike many organization give and receive grace. Members of this flawed community by God’s grace forgive one another and receive forgiveness all under the work of our head Jesus Christ.
You must embrace brokenness.
So, every single one of you who judge others is without any excuse. You condemn yourself when you judge another person because the one who is judging is doing the same things. Romans 2:1
When I was a parish pastor, I devoted most of my time with church folks. Which is positive but you can get a little too comfortable in that setting and forget there are other people around you whose lives may be less neat and tidy. Not implying that church folks don’t have their issues because we do, which is the point that Paul establishes in the verse above. It is a caution for Christians not to get too high and holy and become judge and jury when we, in fact, are suffering from the same sin condition. To be a part of a transformational community means we embrace brokenness. We are all broken, we all fall short of the standards of God. In a Christian community, we point each other back to the forgiveness of the cross.
Next week: “What is the Leadership structure in Missional Communities?”
Other posts in this series:
I have to admit I have been one who has complained unconnected people only want to be entertained or view the church as a product and themselves as consumers. Often pondering the “what do members want from church discipleship or services question?”
Upon further review and distance, whose fault is that? Are churches sending the wrong message to Christ’s followers and to those we are attracting? Do church leaders have a pathway to make disciples or a strategy to attract customers to improve the ministries bottom line? The answer is not an either/ or, but a both/and when times get tough and dollars tight you will drift toward survival. Survival mode leads to an overemphasis on transactional ministry model.
When I graduated from the Seminary, our commencement speaker made a horrible analogy. He said, “When you get into the parish view your people as cows, not pigs. Cows you can milk for years. Pigs are only useful when they are killed for food.” I was stunned and horrified by that example. This is my flock he is talking about. I am called to care for them provided them with ministry services not milk them and cast them aside. We are called to shepherd. A word of caution of we turn the church into an organization which only provides ministry services, i.e., Sunday school, Bible classes, various affinity groups we risk shifting our congregations into a transactional consumer driven destination.
“The Transactional Mindset is actually an old sales philosophy that has 4 main tenants:
Paul Hiebert makes this observation in his book, “Transforming Worldviews” about the church.
“Modern Christians tend to organize their churches the same way they organize corporate action in other areas of their lives. Consequently, many churches are religious clubs. They focus on a single interest (religious life), have voluntary membership, follow democratic procedures in organization, and have their own symbols, property, and patterns of behavior. There are attempts at building deeper fellowship through small groups and church dinners, but few members are willing to pay the price for real community: involvement in members’ daily lives and willingness to bear one another’s burdens through sharing and financial assistance. When a church organizes itself using the social principles of a club, it soon becomes a club, no matter what it preaches about community.”
When our churches reduce ministry to service-rendered (transactional), budgets become inundated with programs, and we pray these programs are what our members (customers are seeking.) Are these programs changing lives? Do they help make disciples? To be fair some do, but that is not usually what the ministries are created to accomplish. Our focus is on attracting people to our church to get them to buy into joining and being a repeat customer. This must be balanced with creating a culture and space for relationships, or our ministry can become mainly services provided driven.
I am aware the term “transformation” makes people nervous. Allow me to ease your minds, The Biblical concept of transformation flows from a personal relationship with God. It is a Romans 12 concept, “2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Breathe easy, I am not inviting you to go off the deep end spiritually, into some touchy-feeling time of internal soul-searching. A transformation ministry mindset is God working regeneration of our being, our thinking, and changing our families and communities. It God doing a work in the heart and soul of our church community and our church’s community. It is reflected in how we witness and share the truth in the communities that called the church to serve with love and compassion.
I truly believe people want their lives to make a difference. People desire to live lives that are transformed by the power of the Gospel. These converted people ask different questions about their faith journey. It is not what can the church offer me (transactional) but what am I called to do for God (transformational). Imagine your church making this shift in the thinking of its members?
Instead of your members looking to attract more people to fill their pews instead, we are looking for ways to build an authentic community to share the gospel in Jerusalem, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Here is how that would look.
Not that transactional is wrong, but transformation offers so much more. If you like this share it.
Other posts in the series:
What is culture? It is the ways of thinking, living, and behaving that define a people and underlie its achievements. It is a nation’s collective mind, its sense of right and wrong, the way it perceives reality, and its definition of self. Culture is the morals and habits a mother strives to instill in her children. It is the obligations we acknowledge toward our neighbors, our community, and our government. It is the worker’s dedication to craftsmanship and the owner’s acceptance of the responsibilities of stewardship. It is the standards we set and enforce for ourselves and for others: our definitions of duty, honor, and character. It is our collective conscience. – Robert P. Dugan, Jr., Winning the New Civil War, p. 169.
One of the biggest barriers to organizational change is culture. You have a big, bold, new vision for your group but until you solve the culture issue, nothing will ever change. In this post, I will give you four key steps you can implement to shift the culture of your team and members.
Vision is an elusive concept. A God-given vision is one that flows from intense time with God in prayer and study. It is always larger than ourselves. You can only accomplish the vision with the power of God driving it. That being said, here is a great quote about vision. “All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds awake to the day to find it was all vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for the many act out their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible…” – T.E. Lawrence. To move your people forward you must help them see their future selves in the vision you are communicating.
Where most churches fall short is training its members for service. If you want to observe this first hand at your next large gathering ask former elected officers, “What orientation and training did you receive when you were elected?” To add to the conversation share the results with us in the comment section.
Paul’s counsel to young Timothy, “Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”- 1 Timothy 4:11-13 (ESV)
My mom’s favorite saying was, “You can talk until you are blue in the face.” As you attempt to get people to follow your vision, know that people will follow what you are modeling.
One Sunday morning in 1865, a black man entered a fashionable church in Richmond, Virginia. When communion was served, he walked down the aisle and knelt at the altar. A rustle of resentment swept the congregation. How dare he! After all, believers in that church used the common cup. Suddenly a distinguished layman stood up, stepped forward to the altar, and knelt beside the black man. With Robert E. Lee setting the example, the rest of the congregation soon followed his lead. – Today in the Word, September 1991, p. 15.
People need to see the standard you are trying to achieve lived out in you first before they will follow.
Finally, to change your culture you must be willing to die to self over and over again as you invest in the lives of those around you. When the vision becomes about you and not God, you are reaching a danger zone. At every level you and your organization climb, a piece of the old you dies to allow you to reach the next level. Let me give you an example.
I am not the same pastor I was when I graduated from the Seminary. In 1993, I was a “wide-eyed, transforming the world, rookie pastor.” Now some twenty-four years later I still desire to change the world, but armed with bruises from battle, I know change comes at a high cost. The cost of the death of past failures, broken relationships based on overzealous passion, and the death of a rookie’s enthusiasm, yet better positioned with a balanced view of my role in transformation.
You must not take this journey alone. No one should hang around you for an extended period of time and not experience transformation. They could be transformed by the God-given vision, or the training system to equip them for service. Some will be transformed by the ministry itself, regardless if this is from God. Lives will be changed. Go, change the world with the unique vision God has implanted in your heart.
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