Thursday, March 31, 2011

With Me

Recently, I went to the home of a long-lived parishioner who had died.  I was going to meet with his family to plan the memorial service.  As I walked in the door, a boy came running up to me and said, “Who are you?”

I introduced myself and asked him what his name was.  “David.”  

“Oh!” I said, “My husband’s name is David.  I really like that name.”  

I found out that this David was one of the deceased’s great-grandchildren, and that he was eleven.  He had a beaming smile and a tender warmth about him.

After the memorial service, as the post-service luncheon was going on, I heard one of our church leaders come into the church office calling out, “Rev. Anne, there’s someone here to see you.”  

Yep, you guessed it.  David.
David comfortably sat down on a chair in my office and proceeded to tell me that he could help me quiet down the children who were running around the church.  I got up with David, and we went out to investigate.  Turned out there were no children, but a couple of the members of the family were loading up the arrangements of flowers.  I asked if David and I could help carry some of the arrangements, and we were welcomed into the activity.
Just before the gospel writer, Mark, names the twelve disciples, he says this: 

Jesus settled on twelve, and designated them apostles. The plan was that they would be with him, and he would send them out…” (3:14 from The Message)

The plan was that they would be with him

Jesus knew the importance and value of ministry as it was to be lived with his disciples.  Of course, there were moments when he went off to pray by himself, but his disciples were usually not too far away.   Most of Jesus’ ministry was lived with his disciples close at hand.
That plan of Jesus’ is one we can embrace as well.  When is the last time you invited someone to be with you in your ministry or your life?  There are many ways to engage in this form of ministry.  Here are some examples: invite someone to lunch with you after church on Sunday, invite someone to join you in reading a book of the Bible and discussing it, invite someone to go to see a movie with you, invite someone at your office to church and offer to pick them up, invite someone to make a hospital or nursing home visit with you, or invite someone to go with you to a ballgame.  The opportunities are endless!  However, it is easy to keep such a full schedule that we forget to take the time to think and act upon bringing others along with us. 
When I was a girl, I got to go to dinner with my Dad alone once every three months.  The reason it was every three months is because my two sisters got the other two months.  It was a way my father took me along with him.  I always felt very special when it was my turn.
We never know how God will use us as we bring people alongside us in ministry.  Although brief, my interactions with David came at an important time when his great-grandfather had died.  I believe even the smallest of tasks, like carrying out flower arrangements after a service, can be used by God for building relationships with others.

In Christ’s Service - Anne Clifton Hébert 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Trumpet

Building One Another Vol. 10 No. 9

Dear Friend,
The Apostle Paul said these amazing words about those in the town of Thessalonica:  “The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it.” I Thessalonians 1:8*

This is quite remarkable for a couple of reasons.  First, when Paul says, “The Lord’s message rang out from you,” he uses a very special word for “rang out,” a word that means to sound forth like a trumpet blast or a thunderclap.  The vibrant faith of the Thessalonian Christians spread like a thunderclap, whoomp, throughout Greece.

The impact of their Christian lives was so great, the wonderful way they lived like Jesus and spoke about Jesus did not turn people off, it turned them on to the reality of Jesus.  Their encounter with Jesus was so alive that others took notice and were very interested.

Ask yourself, “Is my Christian life a trumpet blast or a whisper?” Remember, trumpet blast didn’t mean pushy, overbearing, and religiously offensive.  It meant wonderful, noticeable, attractive.  It was the fulfillment of the words of Jesus, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

Second, Paul said, “Your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it.”  The Thessalonians were so effective in sharing their encounter with Jesus with their families, friends and co-workers that Paul had no need to come and do it.

That would be like Billy Graham saying, “I have no need to come where you live. It would be a waste of my time because the Christians where you live have been so winsome, so verbal, so attractive in the living of their faith in Jesus, in their talking about their Lord in Jesus that I have no need to say anything.”

May that trumpet sound out through you! 
With joy - E. Stanley Ott
Copyright 2011 E. Stanley Ott
*Scripture from the NIV

Friday, March 25, 2011

Transformation Fueled by the Acts 16:5 Initiative

Reflections from an Acts 16:5 Pastor                                         Part Three

Thomas Presbyterian Church is celebrating a renewed passion for "Glorifying God and Serving Others".   It took fourteen years to transform a "social" congregation based on friendships to a Christ centered congregation united to serve Christ by making disciples, loving each other and serving the greater community around us.

This transformation has been shaped and fueled by our participation in the Acts 16:5 Initiative training four years ago. Furthermore, the principles taught in Stan Ott's materials continue to mold and direct our leadership and 300 member congregation.

Because of the energy from new emerging leaders, we launched  a new outreach event - The Thomas Day of Caring.  We set a goal of engaging 50-75 volunteers in a one day effort to make significant changes in people's lives and homes.  God blessed the vision with a volunteer planning team of eight and 78 volunteers working on eight community projects.  The planning team held to the vision of reaching homeowners that were not members of Thomas Church.  To layer evangelism with meeting human need, we added the following aspects to the day:
1.     At the kick off breakfast, participants were given simple tools for sharing their love of Jesus Christ with the homeowners they helped.
2.     Each participant wore a tee shirt with not only the PCUSA symbol but also our mission statement… "Glorifying God and Serving Others."
3.     Signs were placed in the homeowners' lawns with our vision statement.
4.     Homeowners were invited back to our facility for dinner with the whole team, and one homeowner is now attending worship regularly
There was so much energy and enthusiasm during and after the day, we are making plans for the 2012 Thomas Day of Caring.

v There are Acts 16:5 Principles Just Beginning to be Utilized.

1.     Leaders beginning to  "layer"  REACH aspects of all present programs.

2.     I am launching a new emphasis on faith sharing ... "saying your faith story in 2 minutes."

3.     Hosts with "people-eyes" are now recruited for major outreach events.

By the way, we emerged  from our leadership conflict with renewed strength and faith in God's healing power.  Yes, we lost some members and leaders in the process, but God's renewal has touched every aspect of congregational life.  In 2010-2011 we-
·       Added 27 new members
·       Launched another round of Lenten small groups
·       Increased giving to all time new levels
·       Added new leaders to planning teams
·       Started a parish nurse ministry
·       Renewed Stephen Ministry
·       Started our own Christian preschool
·       Expanded the use of our facilities by the community at large

Jesus Christ has used the Acts 16:5 Initiative to bless his work in and through Thomas Presbyterian Church!  

In Christ - Reverend Linda Jaberg


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Emerging from a Leadership Meltdown

Reflections from an Acts 16:5 Pastor                                         Part Two

Thomas Presbyterian Church was on the incline by all measurable standards until conflict within the leadership core boiled over into a win or lose dynamic.  Over a ten-year period, I had indeed made several administrative mistakes that had caused conflict within a small leadership group of the congregation.  With Stan Ott's assistance and the Presbytery's active intervention, we came through this painful three-year period healthier and stronger than before the conflict.  Indeed, we lost 100 members for various reasons; but we emerged wiser and more focused on being a congregation that glorifies God, makes disciples, and serves others in the name of Jesus Christ.  As a byproduct of that focus, our financial health has soared well beyond what it was before the conflict.

Though the conflict interfered with our progress to make additional transformational changes, we emerged ready to implement additional Acts 16:5 principles. Here are a few of those changes:

1.     Our Acts 16:5 Vision Team adopted and adapted the "Personal Discipleship Plan " ...organized it according to our Vision Statement and provided copies for the whole congregation to take a more focused approach to becoming disciples of Jesus Christ.  We are still using this resource in new member classes and at least annually as a congregation wide emphasis.

2.     To promote leadership training, I taught a Methodist course, "Leadership from the Heart”. I recruited seasoned and new emerging leaders for the 8-month long class. Of the class of ten, eight new leaders have stepped into positions of leadership within the last 2 years.  Presently, I am using Stan's "7 Circles of Leaders" as a yearlong study at Session meetings.

3.     In addition to VBS, we launched another major community "Reach" event - the Thomas Summer Fest ...pig roast plus... The focus is on reaching the community beyond our congregation. This year we hope to partner with a local High School Band ... they will receive the profit from the festival and provide entertainment for the day.

4.     The Evangelism Planning Team has been renewed with new people added to the team.  They are sponsoring a community wide Dave Ramsey Financial Planning seminar this fall; and we have a team planning "Girlfriends" events {a Group Publishing program} as a Reach ministry.

5.     We updated our vision statement to "Glorifying God and Serving Others". 

6.     Our Youth Ministry Team completely made over their ministry built upon a defining vision rather than "just what is fun for the leaders to do."

7.     Implementing a Lenten Small Group / Large Group strategy has engaged the congregation far beyond my expectations! Last year, I recruited a small group to dream of ways we could immerse the congregation in a study of Psalm 23 for Lent 2011.  Their dreaming resulted in an Art Show, video, special music, nine small groups, and a study guide.

Our Thomas Church congregation is once again on the incline by, not only adding new followers of Christ, but also with renewed leaders. 

In Christ - Reverend Linda Jaberg

See tomorrow's conclusion - Transformation Fueled by the Acts 16:5 Initiative

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reflections From an Acts 16:5 Pastor - Part 1

Fifteen years ago Thomas Presbyterian Church was a midsized congregation, settled into the countryside of southwestern Pennsylvania.  This group of social friends had fun together, worshiped together and had begun stretching into missional outreach. Since then we have become a Christ-centered, disciple-making, welcoming, and mission focused congregation. From 1996 to 2006, we grew from 240 members to 398, and our annual income grew from under $100,000 to over $240,000. An ambitious building expansion and renovation project was also completed. We developed new ministries and added part time staff to not only bring growth but to provide for the spiritual needs of those God added to our faith family.

When the Acts 16:5 opportunity was presented to Thomas Church, we were at the tail end of a 2 year visioning process and at the beginning of a three year "all hell breaking loose" era.  The time to make deep systematic changes coming out of Acts 16:5 materials coincided with a volcano of deep conflict boiling over within Thomas’ leadership core.   The source of the conflict was totally unrelated to the Acts 16:5 process or materials. Instead, like most congregational conflict, the underlining issues were around who held power and influence. More about this dynamic in part two of this article.
There were several transformational changes already happening that Acts 16:5 affirmed and expanded.

1.     We moved from "committees" to "Planning Teams"...85% of them have developed their own Vision statement, Goals, and Team member "job" /ministry descriptions
2.     The "With- me" principle birthed a whole new set of Christian Education leaders (With-me principle based on Mark 3:14)
3.     We launched four rounds of startups for new small groups
4.     We "blessed" a long standing ministry to senior adults and "added" a new ministry....{the former has since ceased while the latter continues}
5.     VBS is seen and planned as a major outreach to the community and not just providing for our own kids.
6.     We have strengthened our "communal" ministry by a layered approach to caring for the needs of our congregational by implementing or using:  Small groups, Deacons, Stephen Ministers, Prayer Chain, Healing services, Pastoral care.}  An article describing these layered ministries is published regularly, so people can see where help is available.

The Thomas' Acts 16:5 Vision Team not only faithfully participated in the training seminars but also worked to make Stan's teaching materials work for Thomas. 

The Presbytery Clergy Support groups were especially helpful to me in changing established congregational norms in a way that honored both Christ and the traditions of Thomas Church.  My colleagues asked excellent questions that helped me clarify my goals and they held me accountable to follow through on my established next steps. 

In Christ - Reverend Linda Jaberg

Tomorrow read Part 2Emerging from a Leadership Meltdown

Monday, March 21, 2011

Incarnational Ministry

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”

Incarnation - God, the infinite creator of the universe with neither beginning nor end, the invisible and holy One, became finite, visible, and common.  Think about that!  To make a quick point of this, the preacher of Hebrews said, “But we see Jesus…”

This theology of incarnation - of a visible God - is an important one.  This concept of incarnational ministry is needed in the church.  However, it is too often ignored.  Incarnational ministry is ministry that is both ancient and modern; grounded yet relevant. 

Here is what I mean.  Jesus didn’t come to earth in general.  He came specifically.  He was born into a real family.  He grew up in a real culture.  He spoke real language in a real dialect.  And yet, he was God.  The divine attributes of the Almighty never changed.  God was not diminished in his becoming common.  The truth of God in Genesis Chapter One did not change in Matthew Chapter One.  It just became plain to see.

Therein is the challenge and beauty of incarnational ministry.  As the church, we hold on to the never changing truths God gave to us in his timeless word - and it is those truths alone we share with the world.   However, as the church, we learn to speak the language of the culture that God has placed us in. 

Too often the modern church attempts to change what it professes in order to fit the culture.  They become a reflection of the culture rather than a redeemer of it.  This can be true in its theology as well as its praxis.  On the other hand, there are churches who don’t take the culture seriously enough.  They have remained so ancient that they are not speaking the language of the people.  They have lost touch with what it means to be common. 

In his incarnation, Jesus did not abandon the reality of his deity or reject the confines of the culture in which he was sent.  Paul was a man who got “incarnational ministry.”  We would do well to embrace his model…
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews… To those not having the law I became like one not having the law… so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings.”  1Corinthians 9:19-23        

The Vital Churches Institute promotes ministry that is not afraid to live in the tension of holding tight to an unchanging God while speaking the common language of our changing culture.  Churches walk a razor’s edge when they strive for this kind of incarnational ministry.  The only way to not fall off on one side or the other is to make sure that we fix our eyes on Jesus, because in Him alone did God become flesh and make his dwelling among us.

Grace and Truth,
Rev. Scott Castleman
First Presbyterian Church, Ocean Springs, MS

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wait - Building One Another - Vol. 10, No. 8

Dear Friend,

There are many immense things to ponder that are dominating today’s world stage from the tremendous unrest in the Middle East to the ongoing devastation and trauma of Japan.

I found myself remembering the scene in the movie, Chariots of Fire, in which Eric Liddell reads selected verses from Isaiah 40 in the King James Version.  As Eric reads, the movie shows the athletes’ greatest efforts coming to nothing.

Daily, we are reminded of our finitude and our need to wait upon the LORD.

15 Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance…*

23 That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.

28 Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?

29 He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.

31 But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. 

With joy - E. Stanley Ott

Copyright 2011 E. Stanley Ott
*Scripture from the KJV, Isaiah 40               

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Prayer for Japan

Reverend Linda Jaberg asked Jeff Bowman, a nuclear engineer, to give us guidance in Praying for Japan...  

Our Father,

We pray for the people of Japan who are coping with an unimaginable
tragedy.  They mourn thousands of dead and fear the worst for thousands
more who are missing.  The survivors have lost their homes and must
endure a harsh climate without shelter, food, or even drinking water.

Yet in the midst of this suffering, the survivors fear another
impending calamity from the damaged nuclear facility.  We lift up the
50 courageous technicians who are working tirelessly in a dangerous
environment to restore each of the damaged reactors to a safe
condition.  They are faced with unprecedented challenges, well beyond
their training, and with overwhelming consequences for the surrounding
population.  Grant them strength to endure this challenge and grant
them wisdom and innovative minds to successfully restore cooling to
each of the reactors and bring this crisis to an end.  Protect them
 from the radiation surrounding them so that they may survive this

We also pray for the families of the technicians, who are fearful for
the danger faced by their loved ones.  We ask that your spirit be in
the midst of all who are engaged in this battle and grant them success.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Hang Ten

Ready for a surfing lesson?  Disclaimer: I've never surfed.  Also, I was raised in the corn and soybean fields of the upper Midwest where on Lake Michigan the largest wave is seldom more than a foot or two.  Let the surfing lesson begin.

The term is "hang ten."  Most of you reading these words, if you take off your shoes and count the phalanges or more familiarly your toes, you'll count to ten. To "hang ten" is a surfing technique. It seems that when you're on top of the surf board to control to the speed and direction of the surf board--I believe it is actually to slow down the board--the surfer scoots to the front of the board whilst shooting down the face of the wave and slows down by hanging ten toes over the front edge of the board.  That is to "hang ten."  In other words, it's a surfing control technique.

Surfing, church leadership--connection?  Yes, there is a connection.  No one will argue that management requires staying on top of things.  For example, how does one keep track of one's finances without balancing your checkbook balance, etc?  Why do we understand this concept regarding our money, but take lightly to hanging ten on leadership?  Whether or not you discriminate between the meanings of management versus leadership; please, I insist that leadership requires staying on top of the surfboard, ergo, to hang ten.

Leadership in the church is not so much happening by preaching a sermon and running committee meetings.  But it is hanging ten, on top of the board.  So what does hanging ten look like as it relates to church leadership?  Let me offer just a few ideas:
--In between the meeting, do you ever hang out and share with key leaders in your church and ask “What's going on?” and “What you're trying to get done?”
--MBWA--"ManagementByWalkingAround" or in this case, leaderhsip by walking around.  Check in routinely with your key leaders.  Ask “How's it going?  What's the struggle?  How can we help one another?”
--Ask people what are they doing, and how what they're doing connects with your purpose or mission?

It's not enough merely to cast a vision, but to hold the team in contact with the vision, and accountable to the vision.  That's staying on top of the board, that's hanging ten.  No warning or alarmism intended, but surfing is all over if one doesn't stay on top of the board.  So it is with leadership.  It's being just as intentional about what we're doing as the surfer is to be on top of the board.

Joyfully - Dale Patterson 

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Discipleship Tool

For a number of years I’ve known of Greg Ogden’s book, Discipleship Essentials, but until last year, I had never used it.  It consists of 25 chapters on the basics of living the Christian faith.  Each chapter is a mix of Scripture and readings on the given topic with study questions included.  Scripture memory is also a part of each week’s lesson.

The content is solid but the real impact of the book comes by following Greg’s pattern for its use.  He suggests the book be used in a group of three, and then following the example of Jesus who invested his life in a few others, when the group of three finishes the study, they are each charged to find two others to begin their own group of three.  So, by the second year nine are involved in the study, the next year, twenty-seven, and so on.

A year ago, I started the study with two other men—one person who was mature believer, and another who was relatively new to the faith.  We met once a week for 90 minutes unless one of us was out of town.  I was amazed at how rich our fellowship was week-after-week!  By the end of the year we had become close friends united in a growing faith.  But more importantly, both men by year’s end were eager to start their own group of three.  So, this year we have three groups of three using Ogden’s study, and two other groups of three women each preparing to launch.  We’re discovering these studies are a wonderful complement to our existing small group ministry.

If you are longing for a tool to help your people develop a heart to come alongside each other with a common aim of growing in faithfulness to Jesus Christ, take a look at Discipleship Essentials. 

With Joy - Steve Ebling

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Praise from a Acts 16:5 Initiative Participant

The major work of the Vital Churches Institute is the Acts 16:5 Initiative bringing fresh vitality to denominational regional areas and to congregations whether they are small or large, flourishing or floundering. 

In his March 3, 2011 blog entry, Michael Kruse describes his own experience attending the launch event of the Acts 16:5 Initiative in the area around Kansas City...

As someone who has read tons on congregational transformation and seen many models come and go, and as someone who spent almost a decade working for transformation in a congregation that finally dissolved, and as someone who has consulted and participated with other struggling congregations, I come with some skepticism toward transformational programs. My impression is that Vital Churches has incorporated the best of what has been learned from previous transformational efforts. I think a key piece they offer that fills a critical gap in other processes is the development of a cohort of congregations who go through the process together with periodic input by a coach over an extended period.

Michael is the chairperson of the General Assembly Mission Council of the Presbyterian Church ((U.S.A.) which is the group that works to implement the policies of the denomination's top governing body, the General Assembly. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Leading Transformation Face to Face in the Information Age

It’s the people stuff that really sucks the life right out of me.  I’ve just been through a week that started with an email on Monday (note to self:  Don’t read email on your day off!) from a church member that began this way:  “Although it saddens me to write this, I feel compelled to share my feelings.”  The attached document was filled with anger about the way an HR issue was being handled and assumptions and accusations that were incorrect and frankly, just mean-spirited.  It was sent not only to me, but to another staff member, the chair of the Personnel Team and the clerk of session.  Game on.  Now the rest of the week would be devoted to conversations and meetings to process what had been done and said and to attempt to bring reconciliation and resolution.  Did I mention that it’s the people stuff that really sucks the life right out of me?

I have two rules for email that I’ve stolen (er…borrowed…) from Stan.  “Email is for information and for affirmation.”  Email is great for giving or getting data:  What time the meeting is or who said they would bring soup and who’s bringing the salad.  It’s also fine for giving an atta-girl or an atta-boy.  But that’s it.  Anything else, pick up the phone, or better yet, get face to face.  When there are powerful negative emotions involved, it’s even more important to get face to face.  But email makes it so easy to hit and run that it’s become the weapon of choice for those who want to criticize, condemn, and complain without having their opinion or complaint challenged in any way.  And the collateral damage relationally can take hours to resolve or heal.

When leading transformation in a congregation, it’s almost guaranteed that somebody—perhaps several somebodies—will be upset, hurt, offended, or just plain angry about some of the changes we plan.  And you’ll probably get an email like the one I got last week.  When I get an email like this, I just refuse to play, if I can. I don’t mean that I ignore it, but I do resist the urge, strong though it may be, to just fire back my own version of the issue. I immediately contact the person and attempt to get face to face with them so that the issue can be (hopefully) quickly resolved.  Very often, there has been some kind of misunderstanding which can be put right.

Fortunately, I was able to persuade the writer of the email to meet face to face with me and the chair of Personnel within a few days of his note.  We did the best we could to respond to his concerns, apologize for anything we did to create the misunderstanding and hurt feelings, and ask for forgiveness.  The meeting was also a good chance to remind us all that the best way to communicate hurt feelings, anger, and frustration is in person, rather than through email.  At our session meeting next week, I’ll be reminding our leadership team about my email rules:  information and affirmation ONLY.

Yes, it’s harder to share feelings and opinions in person that you know have the potential to lead to conflict or disappointment, but we must operate this way.  God says we belong to one another. (Rom. 12:5)  As difficult as the “people stuff” is sometimes, ministry is all about people.  So let us take to heart Paul's words to the church at Ephesus in the first century—for surely they are written also to our churches wherever they may be in the 21st century.  

Let us live (and email!) “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:2-3, NRSV)

In Christ - Kathi Busch

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Wonder - Building One Another, Vol. 10, No. 7

Dear Friend,

Every now and then when reading the Gospels, the good news story of Jesus, I come across a sentence I have read many times that just leaps off the page as if I had never seen it before.
That happened to me this week when reading the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to Mark.

Jesus has had a dazzling meeting with God, his Father, and the story resonates with the astonishment of Peter, James and John who were with him. 
Jesus famously walks off the mountain to discover his disciples in a squabble with the scribes and the sense of awe experienced on the mountain seems to quickly dissipate until these words:

“As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.” Mark 9:15 NIV

When is the last time you reflected on the life and love of Jesus – as recorded in the Bible and as you have witnessed in your own life and simply marinated in a sense of “wow” – and been overwhelmed with wonder?
Think of the times you have marveled with awe at some wonder?  I think of the birth of my children, of watching a total eclipse of the sun, of the beauty of the Hawaiian waters.  Such natural moments in life are God-given clues to the wonder our Lord may inspire in us.

When I think of the forgiving grace of Jesus, when I think of the embrace of Jesus in every single situation I have ever or will ever face, when I think that the God who adopted us as God’s children loves us as much as God loves Jesus, I am overwhelmed with wonder.
May you reflect on the presence and love of the Lord who embraces you, be overwhelmed with wonder, and as Mark reports what the people in his day did, run to greet Jesus.  He loves you! 

With joy - E. Stanley Ott
Copyright 2011 E. Stanley Ott
*Scripture from the NIV
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Monday, March 7, 2011

Transformational Ministry is All About Life-Change

Change is always a loaded word. A friend once said to me that getting us to change our preferences in worship services was harder than getting us to change our morning bathroom routine.  Considering that most of us start each day with the same routine I could see what he meant.

“Transformation” (its other forms are transforming and transformational) is a very popular word in the conversation about the dynamics of congregational life today.  Transformation is certainly about change but not just any kind of change.  I find it useful to contrast the words “conform” and “transform.”

“Conform” means to change the shape of something or to mold something in the pattern of another. If I take a handful of modeling clay, I can mold it – conform it – into a variety of shapes.  To “transform,” on the other hand, is to change not merely the shape of something, but its very nature or essence.  If I change that handful of clay into gold, now that would be a transformation (and a rather exciting one at that)!

Transformational ministry is all about changing lives – not merely change for its own sake or change just in outward appearance but change in the inner being and experience of growing as disciple-followers of Jesus.  It is also about changing our congregations - not merely re-shaping a few programs and activities but embracing new ways of being and doing church.  A transformational congregation is an agent of change in the lives of its people and in the lives of people in its community.  It is so by the grace, love, and initiative of our loving God working in and through the congregation.

For those of us who have been involved in the life of the church for a fair number of years, we have seen all sorts of re-organizations in congregations and denominations. Virtually every such “re-org” genuinely begins as an authentic effort to be a more vital and fruitful fellowship of God’s people.  I suppose one could become cynical about such re-orgs after awhile and call them mere movement of the deck chairs on the Titanic but the truth is deeper than that.  As we open ourselves to new approaches while affirming those practices of deep and intrinsic value to us in our faith traditions, the God who is “doing a new thing” will in fact do a new thing!  It’s better than refusing to change and actually ending up like the Titanic!

By the way, growing transformational momentum does not mean “we have to change everything!”  There are many facets of our Christian life from the celebration of Lord’s Supper to the centering of our lives on our understanding of Holy Scripture as well as various activities and church programs that we value deeply. To change them would be only for the sake of change.

Some questions to consider:

What do you see are the key issues of transformation for the individual and for the congregation?

How can we honor what is precious in conviction and present practices and also seek and allow new things to happen?

“Do not be conformed to this world,* but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.*” Romans 12:2 NRSV

With Joy - E. Stanley Ott

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Translating Our Language of Faith to the Unchurched

Scott D. Anderson writes about a flight he took during which a woman sitting next to him, a Methodist, and he, a Presbyterian, began a conversation about why our Lord’s Prayer versions differed.  They talked about several matters in the church.  After twenty minutes, the high school student sitting on their row, asked, “What exactly is the Lord’s Prayer?”  Anderson writes:

I sat in stunned silence.  How could anyone not know about the Lord’s Prayer? And then I felt flush with embarrassment.  It was as if the Methodist and the Presbyterian had enjoyed an insider twenty-minute discussion about baseball, insensitive to our seatmate who didn’t really know anything about the game itself.  (From Presbyterians Being Reformed, Robert H. Bullock Jr., editor, p. 101)
That’s the kind of world we live in today.  Many of us in the church do not realize the extent to which the sea change has occurred.  We assume language, faith, knowledge, understanding, action and theology that may not be mutual at all.  The need for us to be patient and kind in conversations like the one above is critical.  We can make a judgment that shows up in our expression or in our words – “How could anyone not know about the Lord’s Prayer?” – before we even think about it.

That kind of judgment keeps people from returning to the church, if they make it through the doors in the first place.  They pick up quickly that they are not part of the “club” and we, even if it is unconscious on our part, are, somewhere deep within us, glad to be part of it and not sure we want to have to accommodate someone with very little knowledge of the Bible, the church, or God, for that matter.  We can make the good news and/or the church into a worthiness contest, which is not the way Jesus led his people.

Richard Rohr puts it this way:

So why do we make the Gospel into a cheap worthiness contest?  After all, we have all fallen short of the glory (Romans 3:23, 5:12) and all are saved by mercy (Romans 11:32-36).  Even Mary proclaims it of herself (four times!) in her “Magnificat” (Luke 1:47-55).  Popes and priests, presidents and politicians are all saved “en Cristo” and by mercy and in our undeserved state.  No exceptions.  God does not love us if we change.  God loves us so that we can change.  These are two very different scenarios, but most of Christian history has sadly chosen the first.  (From Rohr’s email meditation on January 26, 2011, “Opening Our Eyes to St. Paul”)

I invite you to think carefully about how you talk to others about your experience in the church and with your faith in Christ.  There will be opportunities where you, while being surprised, might need to have patience and understanding with someone who doesn’t know the language of faith.  We are reminded in Galatians 5:22-23, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  Let us use these fruits when we engage in these types of conversations.

Let me be clear that I am not laying a guilt trip on those of us who’ve been in the church a long time.  We come by our language of faith naturally, having been steeped in it.  Many in the communities surrounding our churches have not.  What better way is there to love someone into the faith than to gently and kindly talk with them about things that truly matter?  Keep your “people-eyes” open for the wonderful human beings God will most certainly put in your path. 

And, then, don’t forget to wear your nametag on Sunday morning so newcomers won’t feel awkward.  You may not like wearing them, but it is not about us, is it?

In Christ’s Service - Anne Clifton Hébert 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Eyes of Faith, Building One Another, Vol.10 No. 6

Dear Friend,

We may think of bearing witness to the reality of God and the person of Jesus as something we do to awaken those who have not entered Christian faith, but it is also a wonderful way to encourage your own life and others who share faith in Jesus with you.

The Book of Acts tells us of the time when the apostle Paul came home from a missionary journey:

From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had completed.  When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles.  Acts 14:26-27 NRSV

In the case of the apostle Paul, God was doing amazing things during a journey that encouraged Paul even as he was encountering many stressful situations.

I love to reflect on the phrase "and related all that God had done with them" and think about all God has done with me, and with those with me, and with many others I know.  It's humbling and faith building at the same time and has a way of helping me to re-engage the life before me with hope for the future, because that future is literally in God's hands. 

So, think for a moment about all that god has done with you, and with those with you, and with those whom you know or are aware of.  

In what people interactions have you seen God at work?  In what events?  In what things?

The Lord who loves you is doing remarkable things in your life and around you all the time.  All you need to do is to ask for the eyes of faith to see God at work and the grace to share what you see.

With Joy - E. Stanley Ott

Copyright 2011 E. Stanley Ott

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Gut Values Connections and the Missional Church

I find an interesting analysis of American culture, with all sorts of implications for ministry, to be Applebee’s America by Sosnik, Dowd, and Fournier.

The authors reflect on the second presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush that won against the odds, the success of the Applebee’s restaurant chain, and the fruitful work of Pastor Rick Warren. They draw from these very different figures some intriguing insights about what it takes to connect with American’s today.

The authors identify what they call “Gut Values Connections.”  They argue that people want authenticity and community (not surprisingly two core values of the emerging/emergent church movement) as well as empathy, optimism, belonging, and purpose among other values. When a politician or a business or a church connects with people at an emotional “gut values” level, the authors contend that people will respond in positive ways.

For those of us who imagine that people should respond first to our convictions and our understanding of truth and its consequences, Sosnik, et al are merely showing that their research at the present time suggests we have to reach America’s gut at the same time we speak to its mind and heart.

Applebee's America offers countless implications for the vibrant church in its transformational and missional initiatives.  Obviously values such as community, belonging, purpose, and many of the values Sosnik et al identify are very much a part of our understanding of what a healthy, vital transformational and missional congregation is all about.

Some questions to consider:

What “gut values” do our present congregational ministries connect with?

How can we shape our emphases in order to make effective “gut values connections” not only with our communities but with our own participants?

With Joy - E. Stanley Ott