These are difficult times to be a leader. In addition to Covid-19, we continue to be challenged, individually and collectively, concerning systemic racism in our world. Engaging this issue takes a tremendous amount of physical, emotional, and spiritual energy. We are trying to learn to be better people while helping our families and faith communities listen to the voices of those who cry out for justice and peace. At the same time, we want to support those we love and lead who work in law enforcement, knowing they are also struggling during this time.
Being a person of peace is difficult. Resisting the urge to respond with anger and hate is exhausting. Endurance is key.
Years ago, I served as an adjunct at a local Christian college and a preacher for a congregation in the same town. A fellow professor, Dr. Dennis Lynn, stood before the packed house at a preacher’s forum to apologize on behalf of our college for the dismissal of a black student 40 years before. The school’s stance had been that the student had violated the code of ethics, but Dr. Lynn, believing it was racially motivated, repented on the school’s behalf.
The man’s response on hearing the apology was, “I felt as if I had been in the wilderness for 40 years wandering, and now I can enter the promised land.”
The Hebrews must have felt the same way when Moses told them he would lead them out of slavery in Egypt. “When they heard that Yahweh was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshipped.” (Exodus 4:31)
Their response to hearing that God knew they were suffering was to worship him.
People who are hurting, enslaved, and suffering can truly worship only when they know that God and others believe them.
Dr. Lynn’s apology was met with mixed reactions. I was surprised and angry that it wasn’t received with overwhelming support. I spoke up on his behalf and was called on the carpet for it. Some of my church leaders (to be fair, it wasn’t all of them) were upset that my sermon on racism made the church and the school look racist.
“Ask the black churches in town,” they said. “They’ll tell you it wasn’t racism.
Not long after that, I attended a wedding at a local church, one that is predominantly black. The preacher and I got to talking and the conversation came around to the student’s dismissal, Dr. Lynn’s apology, and my sermon on racism. The words of those two elders still rang in my ears. “Ask the black churches. They’ll say it wasn’t racism.” Yet here I was, at a black church with a black leader. And he was telling me, “Brother Ron, we all know it was racism.”
The student did not feel free true freedom until someone heard and acknowledged his pain. Only then did he feel he could enter the promised land. Only then could he fully worship. Even though it took 40 years.
People who are hurting, enslaved, and suffering can truly worship only when they know that God and others believe them.
In this and many other situations, I’ve learned that only those who are oppressed can understand the scope and meaning of the problem. The elders at my church thought they understood the situation, but the members of the black churches in town saw it as racism. It’s only through active listening for understanding that we can grasp where the true problems lie. Those of us who are not oppressed do not get to define what oppression means.
I encourage you to:
May God Continue to Bless You This Week
Centuries ago, the people of Israel were let loose into the promised land. Like a pack of school kids when the bell rang, the doors flung open, and the crowd rushed outside screaming, yelling, and cheering.
Alice Cooper sang it so well, “School’s out for summer! School’s out forever.”
Imagine the teachers, principals, and coaches yelling to the crowd saying, “Behave this summer, we will see you next year.”
A similar event happened with the nation of Israel. Deuteronomy ends with Moses telling the people stories of Yahweh’s love and faithfulness, and sadly, their stubborn resistance to that love. In an extremely intimate moment (Deut 31:16-18) Yahweh confessed to Moses, “You are going to rest with your fathers and after that, this nation will turn their backs on me…” It was a prophecy that was too true. I can imagine Joshua standing by thinking, “Not on my watch.”
Joshua led the nation forward with this “not on my watch” attitude. He also struggled with the people as well as himself, with his summer speech, “You choose whom you will serve, but me and my family will serve Yahweh,” (Josh 24:1-27). Two great leaders had impacted their community. These were men who loved God and were honored in the presence of all by their Lord. The bell rang and the kids went crazy. With Moses, Joshua, and the leaders of his day shouting, “Have a good summer and don’t forget God,” it seemed that this time would be different. However, Yahweh knew the hearts of those created in the image of their God. The book of Judges repeats the pattern so often described:
We can see what the problem is can’t we? People are just rebellious…isn’t that the main issue?
Last summer I was in Colombia, South America. One of the churches where I spoke indicated that the problem of humanity was a rejection of authority. When I taught the class, I shared that this may be the case in Colombia, but in American our problem is that we have a “leadership crisis.” They disagreed with me, but I continued to mention that good leadership is needed and our only hope for the future. The church must actively lead in our world. I still stand by those statements.
Today we may feel frustrated at the events we witness. In addition to the Stay at Home Orders from our leaders and the anxiety we face with surviving Covid-19, we now wrestle with the anger from oppression and racism that continues to infect our world today. Peaceful protests coexist with riots, anger and hostility are spewed from both sides, and it seems that some of our leaders pour fuel on a raging fire. Leaders feel overwhelmed, law enforcement struggles to educate and hold officers accountable, and tired, angry, hurting people hurt others. Is this simply a problem of sin, rebellion, and people refusing to respect authority?
I would suggest that it is deeper than this.
In Judges 4-5 a wonderful story is interjected into the history of the school children on a Canaanite playground, monitored by a loving God. Throughout this book Yahweh raises up leaders, known as judges who “save” their people from oppression and maintain peace on the schoolyard. Yet in the midst of these stories two women Deborah (a judge) and Jael (a housewife) deliver the nation from a bully. Deborah, also a poet, shared a song about life on the playground.
5:2 “When leaders let loose in Israel and people willingly offer themselves, Yahweh is blessed by them…”
5:9 “My heart is with Israel’s leaders and with the people who willingly offer themselves, Yahweh is blessed by them…”
Notice the difference in these translations from our English Bibles.
In 5:2 the Hebrew word for leaders is similar to Pharaoh, rather than “princes.” Israel had no king, no royalty, and no princes at this time. No institution of authority but God. The word occurred twice, once as an intensive verb. It means to lead and to let loose (one’s hair figuratively, probably for battle or work). Deborah sang that Israel had leaders who “let loose” against the enemy. In 5:9 the word for “leaders” refers to “those who write decrees,” or “those who make rules.” The Hebrew word meant to cut or to write rules. Deborah indicated that the nation was saved when the leaders, the influential people, and the lawmakers led their people.
Another common phrase mentions the people who “willingly offer themselves” in service. This Hebrew word was used when the people freely gave to build the temple. For Deborah when leaders lead…people join, people serve, and people give themselves in support. As I mentioned in Colombia, we live in a time of “leadership crisis.” People will not support bad leaders.
Deborah’s song of victory honored the people who rose up to do what was right, and those who supported them.
Finally, while our versions may use “Praise Yahweh” (Jud 5:2, 9), the Hebrew word is an intensive form of “to bless” and is “imperative,” or a command. These texts tell us that when leaders are let loose, people follow, and they bless God. To put it another way, God is blessed when leaders lead and people support them.
The challenge today involves leaders, as it always has. The questions are not:
The questions are:
The text teaches us that when good leaders lead, people follow and ultimately, God is blessed.
Christian leaders…what are you willing to do to lead this nation, our communities, and our churches forward?
This is how we bless God.
Spring Surge 2020--Preparing for Pentecost
Some of you live in states that, beginning this week, are slowly opening businesses, including church gatherings. While there is much work to be done to guarantee the health and safety of congregants, this also offers us a chance to teach.
Living in Oregon, I wrestle with watching the rest of our country open. While hearing that we will not be ready until June, and some suggest September, I become frustrated. I have already been notified that some of our non-profits and small businesses will close due to the lack of hope for this fall. Yes, I feel we are being “held back from the rest of the country,” however I acknowledge that we need to continue to be a state that has one of the lowest infection rates and death tolls in the US.
I admit…I go through bouts of frustration mixed with realizing it is not about “me.”
It is clear that many of us are frustrated by those in our communities who seem to be insensitive to the health of others, as well as the potential damages that unemployment, poverty, and paying rent and utilities with no income will have on others. We are truly in a quandary…but isn’t that where the church has always been called to minister?
Some of you have shared your concerns with the “insensitivity” of a few people concerning Covid-19, conspiracy theories, and “fake news.” I feel this same way when I wear a mask in the store and witness people who are not, or who blatantly violate personal space, suggest that masks are ridiculous, or make it difficult for employees to do their jobs while staying safe and healthy themselves.
Even more—we are frustrated when we see or hear this behavior from Christians.
However, we have a great opportunity upon re-opening our congregations to address this. We have the chance to teach, encourage our people to reflect on core Christian principles, and prepare for a Spring Surge beginning with Pentecost (the end of May). The Gospel can once again explode throughout the world with more than proclamation and church attendance.
Paul offers this core value of authenticity in his letter to the Corinthian Christians. They were a church that struggled to be authentic in a world that was fake, an illusion, and that encouraged people to compete and defeat others to move up the social scale. In 1 Corinthians 8-10 Paul took on a concern that was not only a problem at Corinth, but one that was common in most of the churches he led. In The Better Way: The Church of Agape in Emerging Corinth I make the case that one of the members of the church, Erastus, may have been a wealthy individual who had to host fundraising dinners to support the Isthmian Games that were held at Corinth.
The presence of meat markets, some supplying temples, would have presented a problem to the Jewish Christians. Idolatry had been a problematic event in Jewish history and hosting these dinners with meat offered to idols would have caused the Jewish members to feel uncomfortable, especially if one of their wealthy members was hosting a meal.
Paul explained that, while idols were nothing to the Christians, they were something to those who come from a culture where fleeing idolatry was the normal practice. As you read this section notice how Paul describes the issue:
Visit this link to view the planter discussion on ideas to encourage Authentic Christianity in your community.
God bless you this season.
Restoration and Healing
The Feast of Weeks was a Jewish holiday celebrated 7 weeks after Passover. Later this became known as Pentecost (the 50th day after Passover). This was the day that Jesus asked his disciples to wait for the promise of the Father. Jesus prepared his disciples for this day by spending 40 days with them. Jesus prepared them by breathing the Spirit upon them (John 20:21-23), helping them understand the Jewish Bible (Luke 24:44-49), and hanging out with them (Acts 1:2-6). The resurrection happened with or with out the Apostles. Pentecost, however, was a prepared event.
Pentecost 2020 will occur at the end of May. Not only would this have been the time that the Spirit of Jesus was poured out on the Apostles, it is the time that many predict Americans will be given permission to return to work (on a small scale). Small groups will begin to gather, people will slowly connect, and businesses will try to recover.
In the Hebrew Bible God claimed that pouring out the Spirit brought healing, life, and hope to a nation struggling in Babylonian/Persian captivity. A people who were also quarantined, were slowly released to rebuild their city, their faith, and their lives. Seventy years of exile had ended, but the faith would not be the same.
The Jewish nation also felt a different captivity. While this captivity was not geographical, it was social. With Caesar claiming to be Lord and all Jewish currency retaining his image, the people of God once again felt isolated, trapped, and spiritually captive. Yet Jesus came to free these social exiles. On the day of Pentecost the Spirit was once again poured out to show that God welcomes captives and provides relationship, hope, and healing to those under a burden of fear.
What will happen when we emerge this summer? Will the surge focus on businesses, reviving our economy, money, or will it be a time to connect with Jesus?
Join us Monday, April 20, 10am PST as we discuss the Restoration of Pentecost. We want to hear what you are doing, and learn what Jesus is doing in all of us to prepare for June.
One of the disadvantages of waiting until March 1 to be fully on board with Kairos is that it puts me behind in preparations for Easter Sunday. As you may know, this is one of the largest attendance days for any church. Some churches use this to an advantage and try to connect with new people, those seeking to return to Jesus, and others who may desire a relationship with God. After preaching for established churches for 20 years, I did not notice how well this day could bless a congregation until we planted Agape Church of Christ. Easter took on a different dimension as we planned, strategized, prepared, and invited as many people to
church as we could during the Spring. Easter also provided a powerful boost to “snapping out of the February Funk” that we so often experienced.
Last year we followed the Spring Surge program with Kairos and saw an increase in our attendance along with two baptisms. While we were not prepared enough to offer Spring Surge again this year, I would like to encourage you to develop your own Easter plan. I will also point you to free or low cost resources for you and your congregation. Three simple steps can help you plan to make Easter a convenient way to reach new people for Jesus while energizing members to break out of their comfort zones and invite others.
Decide that Easter Sunday will be a special focus Sunday. Whether your group will meet on Easter Sunday in one location, or you are moving to small groups due to the Covid-19 Virus regulations, you can decide that Easter Sunday will be a special day of worship. Easter is a time that people think about the resurrection, so remind people to be aware of this.
Develop a plan to connect with people who attend. Try something creative: prepare a lesson that addresses resurrection themes, encourage the group to share how God is putting people in their lives in preparation for Easter. You will find resources for your Social Media, Website, and
Worship program through these website/online companies.
Proclaim and Faithlife
Outreach and Prochurchmedia.com
Do you know of others?
Dedicate extra time to not only recognize your guests, but follow up with them. Give them a gift
for coming. Get them to fill out an information card and encourage them to follow the ministry. I know that we have heard individuals suggest that guests don’t want to be bothered, or that people flee churches that encourage members to be friendly. I am sure these people exist. However, after 13 years as a church planter and 35 years in ministry I can tell countless stories of people who came to church high, hungover, hurting, feeling alone, and needing hope who have testified later that someone in our church greeted them, sat by them, or even talked extensively with them—and that changed their life. Let God’s people encourage your guests—that is their ministry!
Years ago we had a visitor who sat in the back, wore sunglasses, and hurried out the door when we ended service. She returned the next week, and the next, etc. Six months later during our Christian arts day she read a poem she created. In the poem she said she planned to end her life one Sunday, but came to Agape instead. She tried to leave and had to speak to three people who invited her back. She finished her poem with, “I wanted you to leave me alone but you wouldn’t. I wanted to die but you reminded me that people cared. I wanted to not believe in God but you showed me a God who pursued me. That is why I am here today.”
What a testimony!
I know that these seem like 3 small steps, but many times we become so advanced in our ministries that we forget the basics—love God and love our neighbor. I will be praying for you this Easter and will pray that Jesus will not only send people, but inspire his people. We pray that the Resurrection is a celebration not only of Jesus in you, but Jesus in your communities as well.
Discovery Lab Out On the Range
Discovery Lab #24 was our first lab we've held in Texas. But for sure it won't be our last. The clear skies and warm days were a welcome break from winter for our mostly northern team. And the warm Texas welcome made us feel right at home.
We had the privilege of assessing 3 couples as future church planters and campus ministers. This is the work we love. To listen to what God has been doing in these young leaders and to speak truth into their futures brings us great joy.
Bruce Bates, our lab leader, reflected on the week with these words: "It's inspiring what we do. Lifting up leaders, letting God build their platform and then letting them fly. Sometimes we truly have the best job in the world."
The work of discovery is both invigorating and exhausting. Interviews and observations are interspersed with personal stories and worship. Nights are short and days are long. Above, one of our candidate couples leads us in a time of praise.
We were blessed to have some interviewers join us who are not part of the regular work of Kairos. Among them was Tod Vogt, executive director of Mission Alive, a sister organization to Kairos, and a partner in the Gospel. Also on the team were Aaron and Tricia Vann, counselors from WV who are a regular asset to these labs, and Brad Perrigo, whose work with helping hire our new director sealed him as one of our champions. And let's not forget Kevin, a former Discovery Lab participant, who returned to bless us as our lab cook!
By Joe Carr
A couple of days before the new year, I got a call from a local ministry friend. He told me that a minister he knows in California had met a young man in need of help. The young man (we'll call him, "Seth") had grown up in New Hampshire but had been living on the street after losing his job and all of his money due to his addictions. Seth had recently had something of a mystical experience where he felt as if he was suddenly awakened by someone while sleeping alone in an abandoned warehouse. This experience also seemed to awaken a desire in him for getting sober and putting his life back together. And so Seth went searching for help, and that is when he ran into this man that knows my friend. It was Christmas day. He and this minister met over lunch at Burger King. After hearing his story, this man offered to buy Seth a plane ticket home if he thought there would be someone there to see him get the help he needed.
I couldn't help but wonder why I was getting the pleasure of this nice story. That's when my buddy added, "So apparently this guy is standing on the curb at Logan airport and the folks who were supposed to meet him have changed their minds." Seth, not knowing who else to call, had reached back out to the minister in CA who had in turn called my friend who was out of town for the week. Since we live six minutes from the airport, I guess I was the obvious next phone call. "Yeah, give me his number and I'll arrange to pick him up."
I found Seth where we agreed to meet and he climbed into the car. After exchanging some pleasantry, he began telling me his story. His genuineness and authenticity drew me in. In fact, I was so enthralled by his story that I missed my exit and turned a six minute drive into twenty. It was Sunday and lunch at home was already being prepared. Seth was so happy to eat with us, meet our children and my parents who were still visiting after Christmas. We offered that he stay with us for the afternoon, join our Bible discussion group, and then we'd get him a place to stay.
The next morning, Seth and I got into our van and began driving towards New Hampshire. The whole time we were on the road, he was attempting to get in touch with old friends. He was looking for work and a temporary place to stay. (Yes, I was driving and I had no idea where he was needing me to take him!) Seth must have made 8 or 10 phone calls and wrote twice as many text messages. Eventually someone answered. This person knew Seth's situation, was glad to hear from him, and wanted to help. But the friend had a condition. "He wants me to call this other guy I know who runs a sober living house and see if I can get into the program," he relayed. There was a sudden silence in the car. I sensed hesitation. I guess I assumed that maybe Seth wasn't ready to make a permanent change. I was wrong. "I really want to do this, but I'm a little afraid that I won't get into the program since I don't have any insurance or any money." I encouraged him to call and find out more information.
Seth got off the phone. "He has a bed for me. It is two hundred a week." I nodded and said, "That's very reasonable; if your other friend has work for you, you could totally swing that. And maybe I can help with the first week's fee." His immediate gratitude showed and he started to cry.
It was one of the moments we long for in ministry. We want to help, but we're not sure if our small aid will make a difference or lead to lasting change. But you know that you never really know. What if helping a person this one time doesn't last? Does it mean we wasted our kindness? I mean, how many people can name the ONE act of love in our lives that keeps us going years later? It is possible for one moment to shape us, but it is much more likely that we have experienced a COLLECTION of kind acts that remind us of our worth and push us to move forward. Even if one demonstration of grace doesn't solely change a person, it could start to tip the scale. And if it not now, maybe it could be a difference-maker in the future.
The amazing news is that the kindness we were able to give to Seth--alongside that of many others--put him on a path toward lasting change. He told me so himself when I asked this morning if I could share his story. May we be about the business of tipping scales with our radical love and generosity this, and every, day. Thank you for your love and support and prayers as we do what we can.
Joe and Lauryn Carr
To Follow the Carrs' ministry in East Boston, visit their blog.
8 Steps To Ministry Apprenticeships That Are Good for Your Church AND Your Apprentice
Purposeful apprenticeships are one of the best ways to raise up new leaders for the future of the church. But having an apprentice at your church as a go-fer or a warm body can lead quickly to boredom, frustration, and stagnation. Below are some ideas to help engage apprentices in your church's work and prepare them for ministry beyond their time with you.
1. Appoint a Director
The adage "If it's everybody's responsibility, it's nobody's responsibility" is certainly true for apprentices. You can't assume that an apprentice will find his or her own way around and will figure out how to spend time. Having an intern with no director can easily lead to one of two extremes: someone who ends up sitting around with nothing to do or a someone who ends up inundated with all the tasks no one else wants to do. One extreme leads to stagnation and the other leads to resentment and burnout.
In order to make the apprenticeship a positive experience for everyone, your apprentice should have a director or supervisor. The director should establish expectations and schedule regular meeting times. Consider setting up a weekly one hour meeting just before or after your regular staff meetings to go over the past week and set goals for the coming one.
2. Expose Your Apprentice to a Variety of Ministries
Your apprentice should be exposed to as many ministries as possible. This might take the form of a weekly rotation (Mondays in the preschool, Tuesday at Alpha, etc.) or could be set on the calendar according to the church's cycle of busy seasons. The children's minister will need help planning VBS. The youth group can always use a chaperone on summer mission trips. And there's always room for someone to take responsibility during busy holiday seasons like Christmas and Easter.
3. Assign Your Apprentice Quality Reading Material
There are so many great books on developing leadership. We highly recommend "Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership" by Ruth Haley Barton. A couple other books to consider are "The Hero Maker" by Dave Ferguson (this one is for the director, too!) and "Evangelism as Exiles" by Elliot Clark on sharing faith in a culture that no longer welcomes Jesus.
4. Give Your Apprentice Opportunities To Meet Your Congregation
The first chunk of time can be spent getting to know your church and its culture. Get your apprentice a stack of index cards to write down the names of the people they meet, what their life situation is, and any other snippets of personal story each person offers. Have them visit your various Bible classes, small groups, and other regular activities to get an overview of what your church is about and who your people are.
5. Ramp Up the Responsibility
Your apprentice might start out just getting to know people, but as time goes on, responsibilities should increase. Move your apprentice from basic faith conversations to leading classes or groups. Not sure how to do that? Consider working through the Emerging Leadership Training Course on Sharing Faith. It gives regular assignments that will increase your apprentice's involvement and level of responsibility.
6. Teach Your Apprentice How to Have Spiritual Conversations
One of the skills covered in the Sharing Faith ELT is how to have 3 question conversations that move you from asking polite questions to interest questions to caring questions. Give your apprentice opportunities to speak with strangers and move them from small talk to real talk. During your weekly debrief, ask about these conversations. What went right? What went wrong? What will he do differently next time?
7. Expect Your Apprentice to Establish Regular Spiritual Rhythms
Of course, you can't expect to form a new habit in someone you're training if you don't practice it yourself. Encourage your apprentice to establish a daily office of prayer and study, weekly rhythms of prayer, and regularly scheduled chunks of time spent in silence, stillness, and solitude.
8. Help Your Apprentice Figure Out "What's Next"
As you get to know your apprentice, you'll start to see giftings, strengths, and weaknesses. Pay attention to these and encourage him or her to seek out the next step that will play to their strengths, but also have room for growth in areas of weakness or inexperience.
A Year of Kairos
Last year was a busy year in the Kairos network--but what year isn't? A new church born, another closed. Planters assessed. Apprentices trained. A new staff member. And more forward movement for the future of God's kingdom across America.
We hope you enjoy the slideshow that gives a quick visual of what Kairos Church Planting is all about.
See the Full Article on the Wineskins Site
A disturbing prospect looms before us as the fact of our decline of Churches of Christ (CoC) has moved from unbelievable to undeniable. The question we must answer is no longer, “How are we doing;” our question is now, “What shall we do about it?”
I've written articles for The Great Commission Journal and in collaboration with Tim Woodroof addressing the urgent need to plan for the future of Churches of Christ before it's too late. In my most recent article at wineskins.org, I offer 3 of the biggest challenges facing the Churches of Christ and 3 strategies to meet those challenges.
If God has invested heavily in this branch of the tree of Christianity, can't we do the same?