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Guest Post ~ Is "Out Of Season" The New Normal?

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 I wanted to make sure you saw the recent podcast with Pastor Bil Cornelius.

He says a few things that were relieving-- and freeing-- to hear.

(A few of those things where you think, "I can't believe someone actually said that." Then, after a moment, you relax and feel, "Oh, I'm SO glad someone ACTUALLY said that...")

 

One of the biggest lessons of this post-pandemic season, according to Bil?

We are learning NOT to worship at the feet of numbers. That’s always been a tendency for church leaders.

“Preach in season and out of season,” Paul tells us (2 Timothy 4:2).

“This is,” Bil says, “an out of season season.”

(Let's just go ahead and admit that together-- so we can move through it together.)

 

Furthermore, Bil adds this: it’s a time in which we need to realize that the “numbers” we have now ARE the actual numbers. In a sense, we’re not at 50% or 70% or whatever-% of our capacity… we’re at a new 100%.

(Yes, someone-- Bil-- said that, too!)

But that’s OK.

You’ve grown “the numbers” before, so you can do it again…

 

Sure, the numbers are important.

They represent real people.

 

But, we need to focus on the things that really matter—

Your marriage.

Your children.

Your health (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual).

If you have these, you’re “winning” in life AND in ministry…

(And aren't those the VERY THINGS we all gave thanks for as we spoke with our closest friends and family just a few days ago?)

That is definitely a LOT to be thankful for…

Your Friend & Coach,

Shawn Lovejoy

 

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Guest Post ~ We Are Not Inerrant

“You must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Physicist Richard Feynman

In Leo Tolstoy’s novel The Death of Ivan Ilych, the protagonist, Ivan Ilych, is a smart, competent attorney dying from an unknown cause. Tolstoy describes a scene in which Ivan has a sobering realization while gazing at his sleeping daughter, Gerasim.

“Ivan Ilych’s physical sufferings were terrible, but worse than the physical sufferings were his mental sufferings which were his chief torture.

“His mental sufferings were due to the fact that at night, as he looked at Gerasim’s sleepy, good-natured face with its prominent cheek-bones, the question suddenly occurred to him: ‘What if my whole life has been wrong?’

“It occurred to him that what had appeared perfectly impossible before, namely that he had not spent his life as he should have done, might after all be true.”

What a probing and hopefully troubling question.

We are all wrong. Both as individuals and collectively, we are wrong about many things.

As a species (homo sapiens), we are undoubtedly and currently doing things that are terribly wrong. Just look at some of the failings of the recent past.

    • Slavery in the United States was the legal institution of human chattel, primarily of Africans and African-Americans, that existed from our country’s founding in 1776 until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 (only 250 years ago).
    • After 3,000 years of being considered a wise medical procedure, bloodletting has only recently—in the late 19th century—been discredited as a treatment for most ailments. America’s first president, George Washington, allegedly had 80 ounces of blood drained from his body in a last-ditch effort to save his life.

In the near and distant future, and for the rest of human history, humans will look with aghast at things we now consider normal and acceptable. What we accept as best-practices in the 21st century will be considered uninformed, unnecessary, even harmful, and wrong. (I’ll make a prediction: in the near future we will wonder why, in this modern era, health care was not readily available to every person on the planet.)

On a personal level, you and I are wrong about many things. There are specific areas of our lives that are wrong and need to change. 

      • What if you have lived a self-centered life?
      • What if you have neglected your family?
      • What if you have not lived authentically?
      • What if you have pursued the wrong career?
      • What if you are racist?

When was the last time you admitted being wrong and revised your opinion accordingly? Know this: there are areas of your life in which you are wrong. If you think you’re an exception to this statement, your pushback betrays your naiveté, lack of self-awareness, and error.

The good news is, we can change. Thoreau said, “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life through conscious endeavor.”

Take an audit of your life; particularly consider areas in which you have a fixed mindset – areas that have been unassailable, uneditable, and beyond reproach. Also investigate areas that are part of your cultural heritage – ideologies that you inherited from your family and society. (Remember, you were not born with any opinions or beliefs; they’re not part of your DNA, you choose to endorse them.) Consider your blind spots; everyone has at least one. (You’ll need help you on this issue because you are…blinded…to your your blind spot.)

If taken seriously, this exploration could be one of the most significant and revealing events of your life.

We often think that if we admit we are wrong, people will think less of us. I think just the opposite; people will admire us. I’ll close with this story from Adam Grant’s book, Think Again (page 73).

“In the early 1990s, the British physicist Andrew Lyne published a major discovery in the world’s most prestigious science journal. He presented the first evidence that a planet could orbit a neutron star – a star that had exploded into a supernova. Several months later, while preparing to give a presentation at an astronomy conference, he noticed that he hadn’t adjusted for the fact that the Earth moves in an elliptical orbit, not a circular one. He was embarrassingly, horribly wrong. The planet he had discovered didn’t exist.

“In front of hundreds of colleagues, Andrew walked onto the ballroom stage and admitted his mistake. When he finished his confession, the room exploded in a standing ovation. One astrophysicist called it “the most honorable thing I’ve ever seen.”

 

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Guest Post ~ Why Most Churches Need Revitalization

 

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Sam Rainer

November 25, 2018

 

A need for revitalization does not necessarily mean an entire church is unhealthy. Even the healthiest of established churches have at least one area requiring work, if not several. Sometimes the entire church needs revitalization. In other cases, a particular area of the church needs revitalization.

In fact, the majority of established churches could use some degree of revitalization. Around 65% of churches are in plateau or decline. This one statistic reveals close to 7 out of 10 churches are in need of revitalization. Granted, a lack of growth does not mean the entire church is failing, but it does indicate something is missing—somewhere the church is deficient.

What happens to cause this problem? The reasons are numerous, and each church’s story is different. However, one key theme is simply the patterns a church develops over time. Established churches have established patterns. These congregations have a consistent (or established) schedule. They keep doing the same established programs year after year. Annual events become embedded into the culture. Such is the nature of an established church. But these patterns can create either a healthy movement or an unhealthy movement in the church.

Healthy established patterns create healthy churches. Unhealthy established patterns create unhealthy churches. Clearly, more churches have unhealthy patterns as compared with healthy patterns. The stats are undeniable. But I’ll dig deeper. There is more beneath the surface. Numerical declines are merely a symptom, not the root problem.

Pastors become comfortable. Status quo pastors have status quo churches. Once a church has accepted a pastor, it’s easy for that pastor to cruise. Change always comes with a level of risk. Shepherding is impossible detached from risk-taking. When pastors stop taking risks, churches become complacent.

Budgets get messy. Churches can go years without a budget strategy, creating a jumbled mess of operating line items and an endless list of designated accounts. I recently saw a church budget with a designated account for a cassette tape ministry. Church budgets are often the most common area in need of revitalization.

Ministries linger without purpose. Established patterns of programs are wonderful, until they stop working. Unfortunately, churches are guilty of hanging on to programs instead of desiring the fruit they produce. When the program itself is more important than the results, a church loses the purpose of ministry.

Facilities become cluttered and dated. Deferred maintenance has killed numerous ministers with good intentions. Neglected facilities become an albatross around the neck of many pastors. Even the best established churches often have closets full of junk—old trophies, dusty puppets, and binders of music from the 1970s. In severe cases, the entire campus has not been touched in decades.

Technology outpaces staff. When a church has established patterns and rhythms, the temptation is to neglect technology. In a lot of churches, a decade can pass before it becomes necessary to adopt new technology. Unfortunately, by then it’s often too late and staff are too far behind.

A church needing revitalization in one of these areas is not necessarily unhealthy. However, most established churches need help with at least one. When multiple areas of the church fall behind, the effects are compounded.

 

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Guest Post: Be ~ Church. Witness.

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Being the Church: Witness

Hard to know what to protest.

Everywhere we look, something clamors for attention—loudly.  Racism.  Gender discrimination.  Police violence.  Misinformation campaigns.  Border patrols.  Climate change.  International politics.  Gun violence. Economic inequities.  Each item on this list represents a genuine, life-altering, probably life-threatening emergency.  And that’s to say nothing of less-visible, or less-approachable, threats to justice: mathematical algorithms, gerrymandering, dark money in politics, and (at least in the United States) Christian nationalism.

Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly before your God—what does that look like nowadays?

There’s no shortage of people expressing themselves.  I see actual protests, or videos of protests, multiple times a day, every day, protesting everything under the sun, and many of these are warranted.  Each protest involves a group of people holding up signs, chanting or shouting.  Some involve considerable shouting.  A few involve property destruction or violence.  Many involve identifying and dehumanizing one or more enemies.  There’s a lot—a lot, a lot—of anger.

I see anger on social media, too, sometimes explosive but more often preemptive.  A friend posts a meme, tersely phrased, all of twelve words to “sum up” an enormously complicated and highly emotional issue.  The meme itself will be plain-spoken and absolutist, with no room for discussion, and it’s often accompanied by commentary from the person who posted it: “If you don’t agree with this, unfriend me right now.”

If we’re truthful, we must confess that almost nothing can be fully expressed in twelve words.  Things are nuanced.  Even something we believe to be a moral absolute most often cannot be expressed in a meme or a protest sign; when we try, we have to oversimplify or use coded language that creates an insider-outsider dynamic.  And when we decline to engage with the other—“if you don’t agree with this, unfriend me right now”—we put an end to any potential for relationship.  Change doesn’t happen in the absence of relationship.

What I see happening on both ends of the political and cultural spectrums is something that feels like idolatry of purity, as if our continued moral righteousness depends absolutely on never mixing with anyone whose viewpoints differ.  Some of us fear being influenced by the other.  Some of us fear appearing to approve of the other.  In either case, it feels neither productive nor loving.

Sometimes I wonder whether our faith communities are feeling called to change hearts or change the rules. Obviously, what governments dictate matters.  But it’s not all that matters, and it’s not what matters most.  I suspect that God would prefer we be transformed by Spirit than forced to behave in certain ways by a legal system.  Both matter—but I want to talk about transformation first.

Transformation, or the changing of hearts, simply doesn’t happen at scale because big groups of people get really loud about it.  Protests, hate speech, and expressions of anger are all extremely unlikely to change hearts.  When I think back to the times when I have been changed, I realize it usually hasn’t been the result of a single dramatic experience; rather, it’s the accumulation of many surprising acts of love.  

When someone I disagree with (or fear) demonstrates love and care for me personally, and when that happens repeatedly over a long period of time, then my point of view might be changed.  It’s about relational contact, and it has to happen more than once.  Quippy slogans, harsh words, and even logical arguments cannot do what sharing a dinner can do.

This is one good argument for faith communities to seek relationships with each other, with faraway faith communities.  In the United States, most people don’t live in places where political views are mixed.  Most people live in places that are either solidly Democrat or solidly Republican.  If we hope to engage meaningfully with fellow human beings about social or political matters of the day, we have to escape the echo chambers.  Can your faith community seek relationship with a faith community that’s physically and culturally different from your own, but still within your same country?  Can you do it seeking genuine, long-term relationship with mutual listening and worship and prayer?  Or can you consider encouraging the individual members of your congregation to seek and maintain such relationships?

All this is not to say that protest and witness are unimportant.  One-on-one relationship can change hearts, but not laws—at least not quickly—and sometimes what’s needed is a change of law.  But again, this doesn’t happen as a result of social media posts. 

Strikingly, in the past year, people (at least in the United States) don’t trust their government or nonprofits (including religious groups) as much as they trust business.  That’s right—business.  The corporate sector has a higher trust rating than any other sector in the United States.  People trust businesses to make moral decisions and enact them effectively.  Moreover, there’s data to indicate that a statement on an ethical issue that comes from a high-level CEO has as much effect on public opinion as a statement coming from a politician or celebrity.

On the one hand, this feels utterly bizarre as we draw the natural conclusion: groups attempting to influence public policy might have a greater effect if they lobby the C-suite instead of government officials.  (And of course, nothing says you can’t do both.)  But on the other hand, if we’re looking at this as members of faith communities, that’s not so strange, historically.  Have faith communities not always had a responsibility to minister to all people, including those in positions of tremendous economic power?  Whether we’re happy about today’s trust and power landscapes or not—and most of us are not—can we acknowledge the dynamics and speak loving truth to those who hold power?

The church has always had a place in the broader questions of society, both in terms of speaking to individual lives and in terms of speaking to laws and societal norms.  Faith communities don’t get to make laws, and that’s crucial, but they do have a responsibility to lovingly, consistently articulate truth as best they can, even (or especially) in times of radical social change.

But the tools of people of faith must differ from the tools of the world.  Though God is very much with us in moments of righteous anger, that anger, if separate from love, generally doesn’t provide openings for someone else to change.  Though God is unlikely to insist we engage with someone whose words or actions harm us, complete and categorical refusal to engage provides relative safety but not potential for transformation.  We cannot forget that God changes hearts, but God most often does so through human interactions.

So what does God ask of us?

How do we witness now?

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Guest Post ~ Our Paralyzing Fear of Openness

The longer I have grown into my vision of missional-ecumenism the more I become aware of the paralyzing fear most of us have to real openness. Be honest, most of us prefer the status quo. This fear thwarts innovation and spontaneity. Most Christians, and maybe even most pastors, discourage exploring new roads into “the mind of Christ Jesus.” Keeping things the way they are is their goal. New roads automatically introduce insecurity. But “love casts out fear.”

The problem is that we have failed to experience the love of Jesus crucified in our inner being. We know all about the cross historically. We even debate theories of atonement vigorously. But too few know “Christ and him as crucified.” St. Paul knew him in his innermost being and lived out his trust in discipleship. 

The ecumenical movement has experienced the ebb and flow of the consequence of our primal fears. In the mid-twentieth century the tides of ecumenism were flowing in, especially after Vatican II. In the late 1960s there was a rising tide of global movements. But these movements failed to move a significant number of pastors and non-pastors alike. Today we have withdrawn on the local front and remain satisfied with our previous gains.

Something fresh is clearly needed. Citywide movements of unity are emerging but the high tides of the mid-century have receded into a flood of insecurity. My experience among Protestants reveals several concerns. We are trying so hard to repair our broken systems (denominations/para-church structures), or to advance our partisan political views, that we play down our unity. Or we seek to protect our churches from secularism and wave false flags rooted in fear. As a result we try harder and harder to “get along” without serious united prayer and the dialogue that we need to face our greatest challenges. 

My experience among Catholics is slightly different. While there are bishops who deeply work for ecumenism, many of whom I have had the privilege of knowing first-person, these are only a few among the 260 bishops in America. Some priests are involved in their area but most are overwhelmed by the work of their parish. Those who do love this work for unity received little training for the work and very few get personally involved. Most parishes have someone designated for this work but few do much more than hold a title. Everything needed on on the institutional side is prepared but few are compelled to spend time in this harvest field. On the local level there is little practical cooperation and scant personal dialogue going on between pastors, churches and laypeople.

The famous Yale theologian George Lindbeck addressed this several decades ago when he wrote: “The official facade can even be dangerous as a psychological device permitting a denomination to consider itself ecumenical, while it continues, undisturbed, in its self-centered and self-satisfied groove.”When I am asked what is the first thing we should do to restore the prayer of Jesus in John 17:21 to our lives and churches I answer, “We need to surrender our security seeking instincts and embrace the ecumenical principle of reciprocity.”

This movement is really a call to deep relationships, the kind of relationships that will always disturb the status quo. Dear Lord, please disturb us! Set us free from our fear of the other which profoundly hinders true unity.

Pax Christi,

JohnMy new book, Tear Down These Walls: Following Jesus Into Deeper Unity (Wipf & Stock, 2021) will be out on August 1. You can pre-order it for 40% off retail price ($23.00). This offer will not be the same after the book is released. You can order as many copies as you'd like at this great price bef. 

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Pray-Care-Share

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A Paradigm Shift for Business Leaders

 

A Paradigm Shitf for Business Leaders (BL) 

by Thomas Bush

As the pandemic begins to wane, many areas of ministry are doing a “reset.”  Asking the question, “How should we emerge from the pandemic to serve the purposes of God.”  I have been thinking with leaders who gather BLs in their community for equipping and fellowship.  The thoughts represented here are from my training as a community transformation specialist.  

  1. All ministry must "pastor-ed." God had given pastors and ministry leaders as a gift to the Body of Christ to equip believers for ministry. (Eph. 4:11-16) In order to provide a solid, Biblical ministry framework, BLs should seek supportive pastor-ministry partnerships when developing ministry plans – to leverage the training and expertise of pastors and ministry leaders.   
  2. Ministry outside of the local church is necessary.  The community cannot be transformed directly by what happens inside the local church.  The BL should be seen as a sent missionary from the local church.  A BL needs to be equipped to see him or herself as a spiritual force for good in their community. (Example:  The "Good Samaritan" Luke 10:25-37) 
  3. BLs need to be equipped to minister to people in their circle of relationships.   BLs may be the only Bible their co-workers read.  God has placed them where they are to be a fragrance of Christ to them. 
  4. There is a need for BLs to be equipped to lead where God places them. “When things go well for the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish, there is joyful shouting.” (Proverbs 11:10 NAS) This includes, leading his business or department in a Christ-like manner, being open to share his faith and Christian world-view with those in his circle of relationships and doing what he can to influence the culture of the business for Christ (Work/life balance, ethical practices, dignity of work, caring for each other, etc.) 
  5. Business leaders should be given a vision for serving together as the "Body of Christ” (BOC) in a locality. Let’s say a group of BLs from the US travel to Mongolia to share their business acumen and faith with native Mongolian people.  They attend different local churches, but choose to work together for the purposes of God in Mongolia. As such, when they choose to work together, they represent the BOC in Mongolia.  
    1. The BOC in a given locale exists across sectors of society.1 It is one of the few entities that crosses sectors.  The BOC exists in the center of the community through its people. A Business BL working with a Non-Profit BL to clothe orphans is “crossing sectors.”  
    2. In the center of the community, the BOC should: 
      1. Collaborate - within sectors and across sectors.  
      2. Communicate:  Share perspectives and insights learned in their sector with other BOC leaders, that is, sharing their learned point of view. 
      3. Cooperate:  Help the BOC grow and excel by sharing expertise, skills, people, etc. when mutually beneficial outcomes can be achieved by BOC partnerships.  
      4. Co-create:  When synergy exists between or across sectors, there are opportunities for the BOC to create something new that never existed before. 

        1As described in “To Transform a City” (Authors: Eric Swanson and Sam Williams) Cities can be described as having 3 sectors, PRIVATE Sector (For-Profit Businesses), SOCIAL Sector (Church, Family, Non-profits) and PUBLIC Sector (Education and Government)
 

©Thomas Bush, Director, Community Impact ROI. communityimpactroi.org, Email: tbush@visionsd.org, (619) 742-8694 

 

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Thomas BushDirector, Prayer Assist Ministries (http://www.prayerassist.org/), and Men Praying Everywhere CA, Email: tbush@visionsd.org, Cell: (619) 742-8694, New Address: 4755 71st St, La Mesa, CA 91942

Prayer Assist consults with and equips pastors, leaders and faith-based organizations to produce more prayer-energized disciples and ministries.

"Prayer is responding to God's invitation to come into His presence"

 

#ReimaginePRAYER... #ReimagineCITIES...

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