As Jesus followers we are called into the Kingdom Life. This blog will help us converse and learn what that means. It will contain thoughts on Scripture, Sermon Reflection, Leadership Training and interesting reads. -Pastor Jeff

Friday, May 27, 2016

Show and Tell: Recovering Christian Mission

How is it that Kindergartners have managed to capture a balance that so few Christians seem to hold?  We all remember that favorite day of the week, the “Show and Tell” day in Kindergarten.  You prepared for weeks.  You knew days before what sweet little gem of a toy (authorized by your teachers and parents which made it even better) that you’d carry to the school.  You couldn’t wait to show off to your friends what you were convinced was the greatest toy EVER!  See Kindergartners get it!  You don’t just bring in the toy and set it on the shelf hoping everyone will see it.  Likewise, you don’t forget it at home and just try really hard to describe it.  No!  You bring it and you talk about it.  The two go hand in hand.  Let them see it, feel it, experience it, right?  But then tell them about it.  Ohhhh, to be more like children.

I’ve spent the last 13 years of my adult life running in multiple Christian traditions.  I call home a conservative evangelical tradition.  I’ve got an advanced degree from perhaps one of the most liberal divinity programs.  I’ve been enriched by the various voices I’ve listened to and been challenged by.  However, I find myself wanting to yell (too often I might add), “Quit telling me it’s either/or!  The Kingdom of God is both/and!” 

The Loss of Balance
There are many in Christian circles that want to suggest that the Kingdom of God is about Local Social Transformation.  They are the pioneers of social activism, racial reconciliation, economic equality, and distributive justice.  They get things done.   They start food pantries, shelters, orphanages, and social movements to challenge the powers of injustice.  They are often both socially and politically liberal (and a lot of fun to hang out with I might add).  However, the thought of “getting someone saved” makes many of them a bit nauseous.  They believe that’s the residue of a misappropriated understanding of Jesus’ gospel.  They would prefer the often attributed statement of St. Francis Assisi, “Preach the gospel always, use words if necessary.”  Though they’d tweek that a bit.  They might say, “Preach the gospel always…through what you do.  Shut up and just do it.  Quit trying to ram Jesus down their throats.  Transform communities and that will suffice.”  They are big on the “Show.”

Then there is my native tribe, the evangelicals.  We prefer a different route.  All that liberal, social transformation seems to miss the point.  Unfortunately, much of this reluctance toward the “liberal agenda” is based on a misunderstanding of the Kingdom of God and the future of all things.  Anyways, there is a tendency to believe among evangelicals that to focus on the “show” part of the equation is nothing more than gospel that feeds people but leaves them stuck in their sin.  Getting them saved is what’s important!  We are big on the “Tell.”  Evangelicals talk A LOT!  We talk A LOT about EVERYTHING!  We tend to be more conservative socially and politically (this current election season notwithstanding…we Evangelicals have lost our minds and abandoned all good sense).  We are passionate about prayer and the Word (and some are a lot of fun to hang out with because we’ve got great stories of people’s lives transformed by the power of God.)

But “show” and “tell” don’t often know how to play well with one another.  You either sit it on the shelf hoping everyone sees it or you leave it at home and try really hard to describe it.

Two Sides of the Same Coin
When we lose balance, I fear we cease to be the church that God called to give witness to His Kingdom in this world.  I believe that Gospel Saturation and Local Social Transformation were meant for one another.  I was grabbed at a recent conference by the language of Gospel Saturation.  We’ve got really good news as Christians!  It’s really good!  Our story is one of redemption and the power of God.  It’s a story that suggests that the forces of evil and darkness have been conquered by the love and power of God.  It is a story that makes space for every outside and outlier.  It’s the story of Jesus, the one who proclaimed the coming of a Kingdom where God makes right what’s wrong…and then…He invites us to join Him in that venture.  He calls us to leave behind our old lives and join Him in the New Story…by which we are “saved (or being saved)” and becoming followers of Jesus!  Gospel Saturation is courageous telling.  It’s the belief that the broken and sinful need a better story.  Why on earth would we keep that story to ourselves.  We got to tell!  We got to share!  We got to invite! 

As we…

participate in the Local Social Transformation of our communities.  We are talking about a Kingdom folks.  That’s big news.  The invitation Jesus offers is not just to fix my soul.  It’s the call to join Him as he fixes the world.  Living in the balance is the belief that Jesus has a bigger vision than just getting a few isolated souls out of hell.  He wants to remedy the hell on earth that so many live constrained by.  We might even suggest that only by participating in Local Social Transformation, by “showing” the Kingdom will people be able to hear what we seek to “tell” them.  By participating with Jesus in healing a broken world, feeding hungry people, standing against racial, social, and economic injustice gives powerful witness to the full ramifications of redemption here on earth.  This is not social activism.  This is Kingdom transformation.  We got to act!  We got to work!  We got to feed!

As we…

extend the invitation that could literally transform a life. 

The Power of Show AND Tell
The confusion of which we ought to do has left too many churches confused about their identity.  One preacher tells them to help at the soup kitchen.  Their next preacher tells them to learn methods of personal evangelism.  For preachers that lose their way, they focus too much on the administrative and organizational efforts of the church and whine incessantly because of all the obstacles preventing them from growing their little kingdoms. 

But!!  When the church recovers the both/and of “show and tell,” of Gospel Saturation and Local Social Transformation, the church becomes a powerful vessel through which the love and grace, the passion and power of God can spill out into communities.  Both/and helps the church recover its Missional Identity in this world!  It ensures that both actions and words are offered to the glory of God.  It ensures that those whose external circumstances are transformed by the generous faithful actions of God’s people also have the opportunity to have their internal circumstances transformed as they are liberated from sin’s clutches. 

We have much to learn from kindergartners.  

Thursday, May 12, 2016

10 Rules for Ministry Leadership

Ministry is tricky.  It's about love, patience, tenderness and compassion, right?  Yes, absolutely.  But sometimes in ministry we actually find ourselves leading people.  In fact, for many people in ministry, they lead people everyday.  That's not easy and it requires a certain kind of moxy.  It demands a certain kind of integrity.  I don't know that we often take the time to really evaluate key principles of what it means to be an effective ministry leader.

The following is a short list that I belive will help a ministry leader evaluate their capacity in leading those that they've been entrusted with.

10.)  If you break it, you own it.
This doesn't mean that if you break a piece of equipment you need to pay for it (though it might).  Actually this means that if you botch something, PLEASE have the integrity to name it.  Don't try to juke and jive to get out of it.  Raise your hand around your team and say, "That's on me.  I own it."  Chances are they already know it, but your stock goes way up as a leader if you have the courage to take responsibility.

9.)    If you don’t know it, don’t say you got it.
There are few things more frustrating for a senior leader than someone that is inexperienced always trying to ensure others, "I got it, I got it."  There is a reason that senior leader is having a conversation with you.  They can tell, "You don't got it."  Coaching is a part of leadership development but requires a teachable spirit.  If you are bound and determined to convince people you know how to do what you have no experience doing, you will be destined to repeat mistakes.  Ask questions when you don't know.  Admit weaknesses when you have them.  You will do much better on the learning curve.

8.)    If you are struggling with it, name it.
No one's life is perfect.  This tends to be one of the glaring and most unfortunate misnomers about leadership.  "I can't let people see me sweat."  We assume that ministry leadership requires us to put off a pristine persona.  NOPE!  A lack of vulnerability leads to a crash.  A strong leader finds a trusted confidant and a trusted supervisor and shares struggles.  They have the capacity to name needed intervention early rather than damage control after the fact.

7.)    If you forgot about it, don’t justify it.
Excuse my language for a moment.  We all have a "brain fart" from time to time.  It's normal.  However, when you lack the courage to name what you forgot, you force your team to spend a great deal of time navigating around your error wondering if you knew you had an error.  Likewise, don't make an excuse for why you forgot.  We all have excuses and generally few people care what they are.  Say, "It slipped my mind and I'll work to do better next time."  Then move on with your bad self.
6.)    If your team blows it, don’t pass off blame about it.
DON'T throw others under the bus.  You know what makes leadership hard?  At some level the responsibility lands with you.  That's why so few people want to lead.  If your team messes something up, a strong leader steps in and owns responsibility.  It doesn't mean they don't have a conversation down the road, it just means they take the first shot for their team.  Much ministry is voluteer based and the last thing volunteers need is to feel like failures.  You take a bullet for your team and you gain loyalty.

5.)    If you are frustrated about it, be careful where you complain about it.
Ministry leaders don't have the privilege of "running off at the mouth."  Unfortunately in my nearly 15 years of ministry this is often forgotten.  Peopel listen.  When you communicate your frustration with "so and so" or the other leaders or even the board, those listening will run with that, twist it, and you can quickly find yourself in a mess you never intended.  Leaders have the moxy to go directly to the person with whom they are frustrated and understand the prudence of where to speak, when, and with whom.  If you are running your mouth in the lobby, it will hit you like a truck later in your ministry.

4.)    If you start your week unsure of what you will do with it, you will waste it
This is specifically for pastors.  Don't go into Monday completely unsure of what you are going to get into.  Make and keep a calendar.  Block out your time.  If you have an administrator share it with them.  This ensures you have a game plan, steward your time well, and don't arrive at the end of the week wondering what on earth happened.  

3.)    If you’ve got something to say to them about it, do it, time it, be appropriate about it.
There is nothing worse than a leader that does end arounds or takes passive agressive stabs.  Both of these tactics are cowardice.  Yuck!  No, have the kind of mojo where you will take the Bible seriously about going to the person with whom you have an issue.  Don't say to others about a person what you aren't first willing to say to their face.  If those following you hear you do this they won't know if you can be trusted and if you are doing the same to them later.  

2.)    If you succeeded in it, pass off the praise to your team for it.
This is the flip side of Rule #6.  Everyone like kudos, but teams like "we win."  Leaders who are self-aggrandizing "stars" who love to see their names in lights are annoying to the teams that put them there.  Leaders pass off kudos.  True leaders don't need to be the center of the spotlight.  Instead they are like a prism that reflects the spotlight to the team that surrounded them.  

1.)    If you are passionate about it, you will be careful how you treat it. 
News flash...MINISTRY ISN'T A JOB!  It is a CALLING!  When we treat ministry like a job we are constantly worried about upward mobility, time clocks, and compensation.  Yep, that sounds like the Jesus model, right?  NOPE!  In fact, a calling is something shaped by passion.  We don't hire "ministers" we call them.  We don't merely recruit "volunteers" to plug our organizational holes, we are helping people discover their full-redemptive potential.  That means some late nights.  That means you might not get paid enough.  However, when a passion for the Kingdom usurps the calculations of job performance, amazing things can happen.  

I hope this short list helps you to evaluate your ministry effectiveness.  Are you the kind of leader people will follow?