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

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Managed Schedules

I’m one who takes pride in managing my schedule.  If you ask me, Microsoft Outlook is a wonderful tool of ministry!  I like to have all of my appointments, prep time, meetings, planning, study, Sabbath play, and family events laid out nice and neat on the computer screen in front of me.  But life and ministry is always so nice and neat, is it?

The great 20th Century theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote:

“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.  God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions.  . . . it is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God.”

Have you ever considered that your schedule is God’s to arrange?  Look at your calendar for the coming week.  Is there room in it for God to interrupt?  If God did interrupt, how would you react?  With frustration or grace?

Wisely managing our schedule is an important task for any ministry leader.  But let’s not forget God is the ultimate manager of what happens in the days marked out on our calendars.  May we always have the discernment to recognize God’s interruptions.

Grace to you,

Steve Ebling

[i] From Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p.99.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Transformational Defining Vision, Part Three

In Part One of this series we looked at how your personally utilize your congregation's Defining Vision.  Part Two examined how ministry teams might better use their Defining Vision.

In this third installment concerning the vision of glorifying God, making disciples, and meeting human need, you are invited to reflect on the questions from a big-picture view of your congregation.  One overall question to ask is: Do you believe your congregation generally knows what the vision is?  Could most of the participants in your community of faith speak the words by heart?  From the viewpoint of standing on a balcony looking at your congregation as a whole, how much of your life together is driven by this vision?  Here are questions divided into the parts of the statement:

In Your Congregation:

            1)  How are you doing as a congregation in glorifying God?  If Christians don’t
                        only exist for themselves in a church, who does your church need to be
                        thinking about in terms of worship?  Who is not in worship that you are
                        called to reach?  Does your church need to offer something in the area of
                        worship that you do not offer at this time?  And in terms of your current
                        worship services, are they planned and executed as well as they could be? 
                        Could they be improved?

            2)  How are you doing as a congregation in making disciples?  Who do you
                        know who is new to faith in Christ and how is the church helping them in
                        their faith journey?  What is your congregation’s vision of what mature
                        disciples ought to look like?  Are you being called to be more intentional
                        about helping people get there? 

            3)  How does your congregation meet human need?  Do you sufficiently help the
                        community of faith to know they are “sent” to do Christ’s work and mission
                        in the world?  Are there fewer ways that you could serve in order to be more
                        effective?  Who asks the hard questions in your congregation about what
                        God wants your church to be doing and to not to be doing in mission? 
                        What service to others for Christ brings your congregation great joy?

Perhaps you might have your Acts 16:5 Team or your session focus on some of these questions this fall.  As I said in the first blog entry of the series, vital and energized people create vital and energized churches!  That is what God has called us to be and d0.  I hope the focus on your vision will help your congregation become more focused in your life together and in your work for Christ.

In Christ,

Anne Clifton Hebert

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Transformational Defining Vision, Part Two

In Part One of this series, we examined how you utilize a Defining Vision in your personal life.

In the second of this series concerning the vision, to glorify God, make disciples, and meet human need, I ask you to consider how your ministry teams and groups fulfill the vision.  What do your teams/groups consider to be their part in making this God-given vision a reality?  As a suggestion, take these questions to your next meeting and answer them together.  Another possibility is that you send them out ahead of time and ask people to come prepared to discuss them.  Groups might include older adult ministry groups, choirs, the session, the diaconate, men’s ministry groups, small groups, Presbyterian Women, prayer groups, your youth group, and your Church School classes.  How are the groups in your church reflecting the vision?

In Ministry Teams and Groups:

            1)  How does the ministry team/group in which you participate worship God? 
                        Does the team take time to do a Word, Share, Prayer?  Do you do more than a
                        quick opening prayer and a short devotion?  Are you deepening your
                        love of God together in a worshipful way?

            2)  How is your ministry team/group preparing disciples?  Do you plan activities and
                        experiences in the arena in which you lead to help people in your church
                        and/or community know God?  Has the discipleship of your own team or group
                        deepened?  Do you feel you know members of your team in a deeper
                        way in terms of faith and not just in terms of the work your team/group tries
                        to accomplish?  Are you helping others be included in your discipleship?

            3)  How is your ministry team/group meeting human need?  In what part of the life of
                        your ministry team or group are you reaching out to others and making a
                        difference in the world for Christ?

In order to help create vital teams and groups, our call is to be intentional.  The vision helps a church or organization have a common thread through all its ministry.  May God guide you as you explore these expressions of faith for your church’s teams and groups.

In Christ,

Anne Clifton Hébert