Friday, December 23, 2011

GPS and the Acts 16:5 Initiative's Principles

Not too long ago, I was driving somewhere I’d never been before.  I did not have a GPS, but I did have directions courtesy of Googlemaps.  I was doing fine for a while, but then, even though I was following the directions, I began to get the feeling that I had missed something.  That something wasn’t right.  Maybe there was a mistake in the directions I had.  Maybe I had missed a turn.  I kept checking the directions and I seemed to be following them, but I still had the feeling I was off-track.  The road I was on just didn’t look like I thought it should look.  It didn’t feel like I was making progress toward my destination.  It seemed to be taking longer than it should.  I was tempted to turn off on a road that seemed like it would get me where I was going faster.  But I resisted that urge and kept on following the directions I had. And just shortly after that, it became clear that the way I was going was the right way.  The directions I had were correct.  I just had to keep going, keep following them, even though it felt like maybe I wasn’t going the right way.

I think this happens sometimes when we are in the midst of engaging the principles and practices of Acts 16:5.  We have good directions.  The gatherings and manuals provide a GPS of sorts for the journey we embark upon when we begin the adventure of the Acts 16:5 Initiative.  But then we start to dream about what God wants to do in our church.  We get excited about the vision God gives us, and we begin to map out directions towards that vision.  We get a few Action Learning Teams working on opportunities and challenges we see around us.  

And then it happens:  we don’t feel like we are making progress toward the vision.  The way we are heading doesn’t look right, doesn’t feel right.  Maybe we had missed a turn.  Maybe our directions weren’t good.  And we begin to second-guess the directions and either turn back the way we came or turn onto another route.

When you get to this place—and you surely will get here at some point—let me offer you some advice:  Keep going!  Trust the directions—the principles and practices detailed for you in the manuals and the gatherings.   They have worked for many, many churches as tools for vitality and growth. 

Sometimes God does have to ‘recalculate’ our directions because we’re working with a faulty map.  But very often we have a good map, but we fail to trust that map, a map that—if we continue to follow it, in spite of how it looks or how we feel or how difficult the route—will get us to where God wants us to go.

So take the adventure God has for you!  And trust the directions.  They will lead to vitality and renewal and new possibilities in your church and community.

Wishing you JOY for the journey!

Kathi Busch

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Building One Another - Vol. 10, No. 29 
Dear Friend,
When is the last time something so moved you that you simply felt “wonder?”

A month ago I looked into the eyes of my then six-week old granddaughter.  It was wonderful. She is wonderful.  I was simply full of wonder!

After the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds who went to Bethlehem to see Joseph, Mary and the baby, “they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:17-19

The people were amazed and Mary treasured and pondered the shepherd’s words.  All of them were wonder-full.

I urge you this Christmas week to take a time-out from your busy life.  Simply reflect on the story of the birth of Jesus and allow yourself to get in touch with the wonder of the moment.

May you be wonder-full of this Lord who loves you!
Merry Christmas - E. Stanley Ott
Copyright 2011 E. Stanley Ott
*Scripture from the NRSV
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Thursday, December 15, 2011


Do you know that LOL is now an official word?!  It’s true: as of March of this year, LOL can be found in the Oxford English Dictionary.  We use it all the time in our texts and emails and social media:  we’re ‘laughing out loud.’  But of course, the person to whom we are writing it can’t hear us laughing or share our laughter with us, because we’re not actually together.

I’d like to propose another meaning for LOL, a way to describe the Defining Practice we call the With-Me Principle.  LOL means Life on Life.  Our lives as followers of Jesus are not meant to take place in isolation or even in the artificial kind of community we experience on Facebook.  Our lives as disciples are meant to be lived Life on Life.  Jesus' life on my life, my life on your life, your life on my life, and our lives on the lives of those in our communities and even the world.  Our God is the ‘with us’ God, and He created us to live a ‘with me’ life:  to experience deep communion with God and deep community with one another.  It’s LOL:  Life on Life.

So who are the people you have invited to be with you?  Who do you LOL with?  Are you in a small group or a one on one or two accountability group?  Maybe the Ministry Team in which you serve is intentionally working the ‘with me’ principle into what they do.  Whatever you do and in whatever setting—home, work, neighborhood, or church—make sure you LOL a lot!  Invite someone to be with you, to share life on life experiences together.  Not only will you grow and learn together, but I’m sure there will be lots of LOL, too!

With joy,

Kathi Busch

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Open Heart Open Door

 Building One Another - Vol. 10, No. 28

Dear Friend,
December is often a time of more social gatherings in the life of the church and in our worlds of work, local neighborhoods, friends, and families.

Our normal tendency is to gravitate to those we know and to include those with whom we are familiar.

Indeed much of the joy of the season is gathering with those we know and love.

At the same time, this is an ideal time to open our circles a little. Thus we enjoy the dear one and include the new one.  The open heart leads to the open door.

As a matter of fact, this is often the practical key to including people who are newer to us because that very newness may make us a little uncomfortable in reaching out to them.

Invite those we don’t know so well to join us with those we do know well.

Remember the two friends on the road to Emmaus? “But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them.” Luke 24:29*

They had no idea it was Jesus, the sovereign Lord of the universe.  Secure in their relationship, the two friends who knew each other well invited the one they didn’t know so well.

It only changed their lives.
With joy - E. Stanley Ott
Copyright 2011 E. Stanley Ott
*Scripture from the NRSV
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Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Vision for Music in Worship

Music is essential and intrinsic to a congregation’s corporate worship experience.  All those who lead music focus on three goals:

1. Bringing glory to God
2. Assisting the Congregation to Encounter the Living Lord          
3. Making music to the best of their ability     

Bringing Glory to God
Glorifying God in music, calls for forethought and prayer. Selected music should reflect creativity by using a variety of music styles and tempos. Lyrics should reflect a theology compatible with our reformed heritage. God’s majesty, power, and grace should be constant themes echoing from our music. In fact, next to the Person of Jesus Christ and Scriptures, there is no greater way to express the nature of God, then through music.

There should be a close correlation between the music performed and the Word preached. Hymns, anthems, preludes, service music- should be tied into the theme of the sermon or the liturgical season of the year.

Assisting the Congregation to Encounter the Living Lord  
Musicians, through prayer and talent, lead a congregation to the throne of God. To accomplish this task, it is essential that musicians and those who lead them seek God’s direction and anointing. As a preacher must pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in selecting text and composing a message, so it is incumbent upon musicians to seek the Spirit’s empowerment and wisdom. The success of any preacher or church musician lays not so much in their skill as in the Holy Spirit’s presence in their efforts.

The drama of the gospel message finds a present day stage in music. Therefore, the music ministry must bring passion to congregational worship. Creative use of instruments, voices, spoken word, space, time and even silence moves the congregation to experience the profound presence of God in our midst.  It is not enough for musicians to experience this “God in our midst moment”, they are called out to bring the whole congregation into this Holy moment and place.
Making Music to the Best of Our Ability
Paid staff and volunteers shall take advantage of educational opportunities to enhance their musical abilities: for example a vocal clinic or using local professionals to train choir members. (Perhaps Waynesburg College would assist for little or no fee.)

Selected music should reflect the level of volunteer musical abilities. The best methods for rehearsing should be utilized.

Long Term Vision
A church offers musical training for instrumentalist, especially organ and piano lessons. Members are encouraged to write original music and lyrics that bring glory to God.

To facilitate the above vision, music ministry leaders will need to be energetic, flexible, creative and able to work well in collaboration with others.  They must be focused not only on the quality of music but also on transforming lives for Jesus Christ through music.  

In Christ,

Linda Jaberg

Monday, December 5, 2011

Recommendations for Church Transformation

The 90 Days of Prayer adventure really works in a small church. We began in our 36 member church on January 30. 13 members participated from age 13-90. Instead of the prayer trios meeting by themselves each week, we met as a group during the Sunday School hour and the result was been heartwarming. Everyone participated-from age 13 to 90 all speaking and praying together. One 18 year old even began bringing his friend. We took time at the conclusion for the trios to meet for a few minutes to share prayer concerns and to pray together. What an amazing experience, and it is so easy to get started and to do. God really works with us through this study. Praise him!  Judy Mayer,  CLP Washington Presbytery
Is your congregation looking ahead to 2012?

What a wonderful time to begin a transformation experience of prayer.  Please see Vital Churches Resources page for more details.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sunday Morning "Serving"

I recently spoke with some of our church leaders about how we might serve the family of God on Sunday mornings.  In other words, we talked about how we can be an encouragement to others before, during and after worship each week.  We came up with a lengthy list of ideas.  Here’s a sampling:

  • Arrive a few minutes early (even as few as five minutes) for the purpose of greeting others before worship.
  • If you see people coming into the building who look like they don’t know where to go, help them find their way.
  • Pray during worship—for those sitting around you and for those leading up front.
  • Make it a point to speak to people you don’t know.  Aim to meet one new person or family a week.
  • Learn the names of our children and young people so that you can greet them by name on Sunday.
  • Sing joyfully!
  • Thank those who serve us on Sundays, e.g., nursery workers, church school teachers, ushers, and musicians. 

Of course, our primary purpose on Sunday morning is to worship Jesus Christ.  But as we come each week to re-center ourselves in Him, through the simple ways listed above, we can encourage others to encounter Christ, too.  What a wonderful gift!

With joy,

Steve Ebling

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Drawing People to Your Church and Ministry

In his book, Sticky Church, Pastor Larry Osborne (Zondervan, 2008) says that the best way to “Velcro” people to your church is to “Velcro” them to the two things they need most to grow as disciples:  the Bible and other Christians.  We have found VCI’s Pray Daily devotional booklet to be a simple yet significant way to Velcro people to the Word of God and to each other.  Which has the added bonus of Velcro-ing them to our church’s mission and ministry.

It’s simple:  groups of three people commit to the 90-day adventure in prayer, reading a short passage of Scripture each day, reflecting on some aspect of their life in the light of that passage, and then lifting to God whatever is on their heart that day.  Each day’s reading, reflection, and prayer can be completed in about 15 minutes, but can fill as much time as one wishes to devote.  Sounds like any other devotional book we might recommend, right?  But here’s the difference:  once a week, the triads commit to meeting face-to-face for one hour.  In that hour they:

·       share which was the most meaningful Scripture from that week’s readings and why
·       share one blessing they experienced that week and one prayer request; and
·       have the opportunity to pray aloud for each other, though no one is required to pray out loud.

It is these face-to-face meetings that have been so significant.  Here are just a few comments I’ve received from our folks: 

“I have found the weekly meetings to be so special as I get to know my partners a little bit better and we get to pray for one another.  When one tells you that they almost didn’t come the week before because they were feeling down and then come back and tell you that after that get-together their whole week fell into place and they feel so much better it makes it so worthwhile.  It’s amazing how many of the Scriptures are just what you need on a particular day!”

“Pray Daily has been good for me, as I am doing a much better job at being disciplined.  It probably would not have happened otherwise.  Plus, it is wonderful getting to know your partners better and having them specifically pray with and for you.  All in all, it is terrific!”

“This 90 day adventure has been most meaningful because of the sharing and praying with each other and discussing the scripture passages as they relate to our relationship with God and one another. We also act as accountability partners in our faith journey as a result of being together each week.”

We used Pray Daily coming out of our annual Leadership Retreat with our elders, deacons, and staff.  We just had people count off by threes and put them together in groups. The only rule was that they must not be related to each other or already in another face-to-face group, like a LIFE Group or ministry team.  Some of the groups include people who might never interact with each other on this level in any other way in our church.  What a simple way to get people reading and reflecting on Scripture, discussing it with one another, and praying with and for each other.  This 90-day adventure in prayer engages our folks in the principles of Witness-Prayer-Care-Word and With-Me.  Then each week, they Send one another into their families, workplaces, and neighborhoods with prayer and blessing.  Simple, but oh so catalytic for spiritual growth.

In Christ, 

Kathi Busch

Monday, November 14, 2011

God's Vision: Seeing What He Is Doing in Our Midst

I often return to the first shift concerning vision and expectation that Stan Ott talks about in the Acts 16:5 Initiative and in his book, Twelve Dynamic Shifts for Transforming Your Church.  The reason I keep going back is because I need to be reminded to “see” what God is doing in our midst.  In my personal experience, and in the experience of many I interact with across the denomination, what we imagine in our mind’s eye is sometimes not a very encouraging picture.  The first time Dr. Ott talked about having this kind of vision, I am embarrassed to say that it was like a light bulb that lit up in my mind.  Why hadn’t I thought of asking God for a vision?  Why hadn’t I thought of praying for a vision?  And, much worse, why didn’t I have much of a vision at all?

“How you picture that future has a great deal to do with what will happen by God’s grace.  Imagine your church as a vibrant, transformational fellowship that pulses with life and energy.  How would it look?  How would it feel?” (Ott 25).

How would your church look?  Where does God take your imagination as you dream, pray, and envision the liveliness of your community of faith? 

Personally, as I began to dream about the church where I serve, I started seeing people interacting with energy and with smiles on their faces.  I began to see people who were studying the word of God and were moved by their love of Christ to share it with people in their lives.  The picture kept coming to my mind of people being the hands and feet of Christ as they left our doors, spreading joy out into the community.  A while back, a mother and daughter I had known in a previous church came to visit.  After the service they commented on how lively our congregation is.  Could it be that God was fulfilling the vision, and it took someone from outside to help me see it?

The Dr. Ott’s second question above is equally important.  How would your church feel in a transformational situation?  Answering this question well might take real imagination.  How do the hands we clasp during the passing of the peace feel?  How hard or soft is the chair or pew?  Is the fabric covering it smooth?  Who is sitting next to you?  What does the music “feel” like?  Does it wash over the congregation with notes of warmth and harmony? Is the music lively and energy generating?  Is it like listening to angels singing?  Do you find yourself thanking God when the music elevates like a prayer?    What words of inspiration and faith does the preacher say that lifts your hope to a higher plane?  How do those words “feel”?  What does holding the elements in communion feel like?  Is the bread soft or like a cracker?  Is it wine or grape juice?  How do they taste?    One could walk through every element in the life of the congregation and imagine what it feels like.  If you do this exercise and what you find is not very uplifting, perhaps that is the very place your prayer life and God’s vision need to focus.  Can you imagine it even if it is not happening right now?

I invite you to form a prayer team or ask another person to join you in this work of imagination.  Working through you, God has the ability to do powerful things.  “Remember, ministry begins as an act of faith in God”  (Ott 27).  And may it be so!

In Christ,

Anne Clifton Hebert

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


"Nobody cares about me." It's not uncommon that when disgruntled members in a church leave it's because they claim no one cared." 
It's a sad truth.  
However, it is also true that Small Groups can be the best antidote to overcome this complaint. Small Groups are the place where true friendships are established; people nurture those friendships; and members experience listening to one another and even caring for one another. 
If a church is serious about caring for one another, there is no substitute for involving people in a Small Group.
Now, it's also true, someone may want to be cared for, but not want to establish relationships or get involved in a Small Group. But that brings up the old proverb: You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. Our job is to make sure there is water to drink. 

The caring waters of your Small Group help people connect with the water of life.



Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupy the Neighborhood

Building One Another - Vol. 10, No. 27 
Dear Friend,
The Occupy movement has captured the attention of many cities around the world with its focus on economic injustice and its method of literally occupying a place in order to make a point.

The verb “to occupy” means to engage the attention and energies, to take up a place or reside as an owner or a tenant (Merriam-Webster).

Our Lord has always occupied our world having taken up residence among us with an eye to engaging our attention and energies for our restoration, redemption and renewal.
“I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: ‘Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They're his people, he's their God. He’ll wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” Revelation 21:3a (The Message)

Our Lord occupies our neighborhoods and offers to those who live there the love, compassion, and justice of our Lord. We as God’s people are called to do the very same thing.

We may simply withdraw into our homes with no significant interaction with the immediate people who live and work around us in our neighborhoods or we may “see ourselves as sent to occupy the neighborhood,” and be our Lord’s agents of grace to those around us.

“As the Father has sent me, I send you.”  - Jesus (John 20:20b NRSV)

With joy - E. Stanley Ott
Copyright 2011 E. Stanley Ott
With joy - E. Stanley Ott
Copyright 2011 E. Stanley Ott
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Monday, October 17, 2011

Charity Begins at Home????

There is no question God calls us to care for the needs of our personal family, but he also calls us to care for the needs of the members of our local congregations. Theologically that is called being “communal” or caring for the needs within the Body of Christ.

Often church Deacons organize and deliver meals to homes, offer financial assistance in times of crisis, stay in touch with college students via gifts during the school year, and offer tangible support to those in the armed services and those in prison.

Health Ministry teams keep in contact with members struggling with illness and offer support and guidance. The Stephen Ministry provides one on one compassion and care during times of stress, loss, or illness.

Small groups frequently offer the most comprehensive support and care!  Small groups support each other in so many practical ways: ...Showing up with chain saws to clear fallen trees … helping someone pack up for a move … meals shared and prayers offered! Charity {compassion and care} is indeed extended and available to each of us in our local congregations.

However, God not only calls us to be "communal” but also “missional” {offering God’s compassion and care to those outside our faith family.} We are sent into the world to bring God’s healing to people’s lives and society in general.

It is not a question of being either communal or missional.
 We are called to both!

When I hear someone say, “Charity begins at home.” …I must admit it sounds selfish with the underlying message - “Charity not only begins at home, it stays at home.” 

Oh, yes, we must care for the needs of family, but we care at home for the purpose of making us stronger for ministry outside our walls!

Maybe this is a better way to say it,

"Charity begins in the heart of God, flows through us for each other, and streams into the world!"

 Grace and Peace in Jesus,    

Linda Jaberg

Friday, October 14, 2011

Who Is Jesus?

Building One Another - Vol. 10, No. 26 
Dear Friend,
“Hesaid to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.’” Matthew 16:15-17*

I have long loved the view of Jesus expressed by Napoleon Bonaparte to General Bertrand who followed him into banishment on the island of St. Helena.

“I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man.         Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires, and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and whatever other religions the distance of infinity . . . Everything in Christ astonishes me. His spirit overawes me, and his will confounds me. Between him and whoever else in the world, there is no possible term of comparison. He is truly a being by himself. His ideas and sentiments, the truth which he announces, his manner of convincing, are not explained either by human organization or by the nature of things . . . The nearer I approach, the more carefully I examine, everything is above me— everything remains grand, of a grandeur which overpowers. His religion is a revelation from an intelligence which certainly is not that of man . . . One can absolutely find nowhere, but in him alone, the imitation or the example of his life . . . I search in vain in history to find the similar to Jesus Christ, or anything which can approach the gospel. Neither history, nor humanity, nor the ages, nor nature, offer me anything with which I am able to compare it or to explain it. Here everything is extraordinary.”**

Who do you say that Jesus is? It is the most profound question you can be asked and your answer is of the highest significance.

“Because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

With joy - E. Stanley Ott
Copyright 2011 E. Stanley Ott
*Scripture from the NRSV
**Vernon C. Grounds The Reason for Our Hope (1945) Chapter Five

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Transparent Leadership?

In the 21st century, leadership styles have changed.  Not long ago, the leader was the captain of the ship, and the captain stood stoically on the bridge, a rock of courage, with unflinching determination and decisiveness.  But times have changed.

Today we live in a much more transparent world.  The captains, the leaders, are considerably more open, revealing their thoughts, concerns, fears...but how much transparency is too much?

A WWII movie of not long ago, U 571, had a scene that always rattles around in my thoughts when I ponder what is the wisdom of transparency for the church leader of the 21st century.  In the movie, a young executive officer takes charge through a series of peculiar events; he is now the captain of the ship.  Yet in the midst of a terrible crisis, the entire ship looks to the new captain for a command decision.  However, the rookie captain doesn’t know what to do;  clearly he is unsure, maybe even afraid to make a call, and even appeals to the other sailors at the helm?

 "What do you think we should do?"  

In that moment a grizzly ol' swabbie petty officer interrupts, "Captain, could we meet in your quarters?  We need to talk."  

Moments later the veteran old salt asks the unsure captain, "Sir, permission to speak freely."  

Then he speaks freely.  "Captain, if you don't know what to do, or are not sure, there's one thing a captain must never do.  You can be unsure, but you can never let the crew know that.  You must look like you know what you're doing even when you don't know what you're doing!"

Admittedly, church leadership is not the same as commanding a ship of war.  But in our day of team leadership and transparency, how much is too much?  How much self-revelation leads to disheartening the team, and the church at large?

So, how much?  In truth, I don't know, and I'd answer with the famous, "It depends."  

Maybe the answer comes from the example of Jesus.  Those closest to Jesus got a deeper peek into his thoughts than those more toward the periphery.  For example, the 5000 didn't get much explanation or exposition, but The Twelve often got deeper insights.   Peter, James and John, more than anyone else, received even deeper insights.

By analogy, in these days of transparency, a leader is often wary of too much transparency to the congregation at large and large subgroups.  Yet as a minister's circle of leadership narrows to the closest few, I am convinced that the stoic lone commander on the bridge and no one knows what's going on inside her/him—this model of pastoral leadership is not necessary, and more than likely is not wise.

Even the "supreme leader" needs a closest few, to live out "bearing one another's burdens," not only to fulfill the mind of Christ, but to exercise faithful leadership in the Body of Christ.


Dale Patterson