Category Archives: Leadership

Preparing the Village

A remarkable thing happens when a grandchild arrives. The house needs to be “baby-proofed”. It’s been quite comfortable for adults for years, even decades, but suddenly it needs to be looked at with a different set of eyes altogether! Parts that have been comfortable and convenient for adults are realized to be hazardous or inappropriate for a little person.

A house that on one level is “perfectly adequate” gets a necessary transformation, all determined by the weakest, smallest family member – who perhaps hasn’t even arrived yet! It might be bemusing, even bewildering. It might be frustrating, too – oh, the things we suddenly need to fuss about! But deep down we know it’s right and good and also exciting.

Our churches need to be regularly “baby-proofed” for spiritual children – even those we haven’t yet seen. Many churches are predominantly filled with those who have been Christians for decades. And until we deliberately look – even seeking outside advice – we can be quite blind to how ill prepared we are for new believers.

From time to time I hear people say they would “never” invite an unbelieving friend to their church. I always press them to think specifically about just what it is that would be unhelpful to an enquirer. Sometimes it’s one big thing, sometimes it’s fifty little things. But they need to be named, and they need to be attended to.

A great (and brave) question for leaders to ask congregations is this: “Is there anything we’re doing, or not doing, that keeps you from inviting a friend?” These little ones – immature, messy, noisy, demanding ones – perhaps ones we’ve not even met yet – these are the VIPs of God’s extended family. Not only must we ask “What hazards need to be removed?” but then also “How could we make this place wonderfully welcoming for children?”

It takes a village to raise a child, it’s said. Nowhere is this more true than in the task of spiritual parenting – of making disciples. Christians grow through exposure to the whole body of Christ. It’s not realistic to raise children in isolation until they are ready for the village. The village must get ready for them. How ready is yours?

Getting the Band Back Together

What’s the role of an evangelist? What do they look like and how do they fit in to the church? These are some of the most pressing questions facing us. To the last one, some say “They don’t!”

Evangelism is a vital part – but only a part – of the mission entrusted to us. With the demise of the (usually evangelistic) Sunday evening service many sacred agents are relatively unpractised in corporate mission – mission where the whole church works together.

God has shaped us to play like a band. Some are guitarists, some are better at keyboards. The tone-deaf can be drummers, the shy can be roadies, the nerds can work the mixing desk.

Now a few are lead singers. These are the evangelists. They bring the words to the music. They don’t mind being up front, and they have knack to interact with the audience and lead them along.

For too long, however, we have sent the evangelists out like solo artists and expected them to play all the roles – one man bands. Some do OK, but it’s just not the set-up you see in the New Testament. Jesus never sent out individuals on mission, and nor did the early church.

What would it mean in your context to get the band back together? To identify an evangelist and integrate their words with the music (deeds) of the rest of the church? The band might need some practise, but what a show it has to put on!

There seems to be a painful divide between the actions-without-words mission and words-without-actions mission. It’s true that actions speak louder than words. But words speak clearer than actions. When you put the two together you can be heard loud and clear.

How about it Elroy? Let’s get the band back together. We’re on a mission from God. And if mission is the work of the whole church, then I need you, you, you…

Plan It Like a Robbery

I want to tell you about something God told me directly. Now, I’m not normally one to sprout “God told me this” and “God told me that”. Mainly I hear from Him through Scripture and through people filled with His Spirit. But I’ll tell you the story, and you can make up your own mind.

I was walking in my local neighbourhood several years ago, and vaguely praying. I looked at street after street and house after house and they all seemed so private and closed off and unreachable. So I prayed, “God, how can our little church even come close to connecting with these people? How can they possibly ever be won to you?” (Read into that my great faith!)

Immediately six words zapped straight into my mind, so clear and stark and, well, zany, that I knew that the thought was not my own. These were the words: “Plan it like a major robbery.”

Well, God knows how to speak to each of his children in a way they can get it, and this totally appealed to my manstinct for action and adventure. But the main point is that it got me thinking more deeply and indeed Biblically about the practice of local mission:

-          The people we are sent to are not merely “disinterested”, they are bound and blinded. Jesus spoke of his ministry as “search and rescue” and indeed as plundering the house of a strong man (Lk 19:10, Lk 11:14-23), and we are entrusted with the continuance of that same ministry.

-          To bring the people of the neighbourhood into the light is not something that I can do casually, easily, or alone. To plan it like a major robbery requires gathering an “Ocean’s Eleven” team of like-minded adventurers who will each contribute their unique abilities.

Those six simple words have stuck with me and remind me of the sacred agent’s need to be intentional, patient, daring, and most of all, aware of the incredible value of the people God longs to see returned to their rightful owner. There’s no heist movie that compares to the one we’re really in!

Does Exercise Work?

I need to exercise. Power walking, riding, exercises, weights, even (gasp!) running. Nearly all of us need to take time for exercise – and it’s become a huge industry. The most recent City to Bay Fun Run was entered by no less than 30,000 people. Have you ever wondered why our grandparents and great-great-grandparents didn’t do that sort of thing? No, it’s not because they’re really, really old.

It’s because they worked. Physical work. Standing up work. At least, a lot more than we do today. I need exercise because I spend so much of my time doing what I’m doing right now – sitting in front of a screen. I have machines to do hard labour for me. But exercise isn’t real work. It’s simulated work. It’s play-work.

I read with fascination an interview last year with Adelaide Crows fitness coach, Stephen Schwerdt. He attributed a plummet in the Crows’ injuries that season to a new approach to training. They spent less time isolating certain muscles on fitness machines and more time in general wrestling and boxing, to become more rounded athletes and more closely simulate their match-day work. In other words, they got real.

It got me thinking about churches. And mission. How much of what we do is real gospel work, and how much is exercise? Do we talk (and blog/read – look, right now you and I are equally guilty) about evangelism so much because we do it so little? Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for planning,  training, reading and debating. But it needs to be real. It has to be connected to real doing.

It’s one thing to be keen on fishing, to read fishing magazines, to buy fishing equipment, even to go fishing. It’s perhaps another thing to get good at getting fish. This may be true not just of evangelism, but also of our worship, our fellowship, our discipleship. Are we fit and strong for the real thing, and from the real thing, or  just buff from exercises? Do we have the burns and scars from real-world mission, or just a spray-on tan from talking about it? Is play-working a way towards real work for us, or a way out of it?

Missional Specificity

It’s been 4 years since Kevin Rudd dropped the phrase “detailed programmatic specificity” to bamboozled translators in Berlin. But I still can’t get it out of my head – such an wonderfully incoherent call for clarity.

Many a sacred agent could really use some… …let’s just say DPS. The mission of God is such a vast, vast adventure that anyone who tries to narrow it down sounds like a heretic. God loves all people, everywhere, all the time. But we can’t. We’re not called to. So narrowing down is a must. Although a captain in a war does not understand the global strategy, still s/he is responsible to get a clear sense of local orders and tactics and be able to report of specific progress. This is my mission. This is what I’ve attempted. This is how it’s going. This is what needs to change. This is what’s needed going forward.

I’ve attended many church meetings in my years and barely ever has there failed to be a finance report. It’s unacceptable for a treasurer to stand up and say “Our finances are OK. They’d be better if we all gave more and spent less.” No. We want the details – printed reports detailed to the last cent are standard. But to what extent do we report on our mission as a church? And if so, do we ever get past generalized motherhood statements about us all needing to pray more and to shine the love of Jesus everywhere?

A sub-conscious avoidance of accountability is often behind a lack of specificity. If we don’t clearly define any goals, or report on any particular activity, we can’t be seen as failures. Just try that in the world of finance or in the army! Yet we sacred agents are entrusted with a mission that far outweighs that of bankers or soldiers.

Might we not learn to communicate as specifically as possible our sense of calling – “particularly to these 1500 people”, our current endeavours – “this year we have been trying this and to be open and frank with one another about our success or otherwise? Or in fairness could we relieve our treasurers from counting cents if we won’t count souls?

2013 Resources of the Year

The highly recommend Outreach Magazine has just announced its 2013 Resources of the Year. Here are the category winners:

Evangelism
Telling the Gospel Through Story: Evangelism That Keeps Hearers Wanting More  By Christine Dillon (IVP)

Apologetics
A Shot of Faith to the Head: Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists  By Mitch Stokes (Thomas Nelson)

Preaching
Missional Preaching: Engage * Embrace * Transform  By Al Tizon (Judson Press)

Leadership
Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City By Timothy Keller (Zondervan)

Church Transfusion: Changing Your Church Organically From the Inside Out By Neil Cole and Phil Helfer (Jossey-Bass)

Culture
A New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common Good  Edited by David P. Gushee (Chalice)

Missional Church
Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission By Tim Chester and Steve Timmis (Crossway)

The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church By Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim (Jossey-Bass)

Cross-Cultural
The Post-Black & Post-White Church: Becoming the Beloved Community in a Multi-ethnic World  By Efrem Smith (Jossey-Bass)

Global Outreach
The Future of the Global Church: History, Trends and Possibilities  By Patrick Johnstone (IVP)

Compassion and Justice
Compassionate Justice: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue With Two Gospel Parables on Law, Crime, and Restorative Justice By Christopher D. Marshall (Cascade Books)

The Global Orphan Crisis: Be the Solution—Change Your World By Diane Lynn Elliot (Moody)

Missional Living
The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door By Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon (Baker)

Biography
In the Land of Blue Burqas By Kate McCord, a protective pseudonym (Moody)

Small Group Curricula
It’s Not Too Late: How God Uses Less Than Perfect People  By Tony Evans (LifeWay)

Undaunted: Daring to Do What God Calls You to Do  By Christine Caine (Zondervan)

Pass-Along Resources
Empty Promises: The Truth About You, Your Desires, and the Lies You’re Believing By Pete Wilson (Thomas Nelson)

Children
The Action Bible Devotional By Jeremy V. Jones and Sergio Cariello (David C Cook)

Just a Minute: In the Heart of a Child, One Moment … Can Last Forever By Wess Stafford with Dean Merrill (Moody)

MEGA Sports Camp: Beyond the Gold By Gospel Publishing

Youth
The Jesus Survey: What Christian Teens Really Believe and Why By Mike Nappa (Baker)

Life in 6 Words: The GOSPEL Explored By Dare 2 Share

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