Maybe you are not familiar with the term “futuring.” No worries, neither is my spell check. Researcher Stephen Millett writes, “Futuring is a systematic process of thinking about the future in order to frame reasonable expectations, to identify emerging opportunities and threats to the company or organization, and to anticipate actions that will promote desired outcomes.”
Futuring is an aspect of strategic planning that identifies market conditions and trends to help businesses consider what customers may be attracted to in the future. Some might confuse this with creating a vision. In fact, visioning is the opposite of futuring. Futuring is like a pair of binoculars we use to assess what is on the horizon. Visioning is donning a pair of bifocals to see what is within you in order to develop an intentional response to the perceived future. Both are necessary for a well-rounded, strategic approach to business…and Christianity for that matter.
These disciplines have become essential in my work as a church planter. I try very hard to consider the needs of the community as well as continually observe what is happening all around Christendom. I am committed to not to start a church without first addressing what kind of church—and even if a ‘church’—is needed.
I hope that by pulling back the curtain on the work of church planting, I might inspire existing churches and leaders that are also on the cusp of addressing current cultural shifts and hoping to connect with a lost audience in their area. I plan to share my thoughts in three parts, since we have quite a lot to consider.
Where We Are
First, let’s start with where we are now. It should come as no surprise to you that the Church is dying. According to the Barna Group, there are now half as many “Practicing Christians” as there were ten years ago.
Yes, you read that right.
Fifty percent of those surveyed in 2009 “identified as Christian, agreed strongly that faith is very important in their lives and attended church within the past month.” By 2019, this number was twenty-five percent. Wow. That sentence deserves a long pause to fully take it in. (Let me point out that these statistics DO NOT reflect fallout from the coronavirus crisis. That number very well may be even lower now.)
It doesn’t take an analyst to conclude that what we have been doing in churches seems to be connecting less and less with our audience. Something drastic may be in order.
There is hope. People do seem interested in tangible, fresh approaches that connect with their innate desires. Authors Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch (The Shaping of Things to Come) have found that “the advent of postmodernism has raised within the West many expectations for an experiential, activist form of religious, mystical experience.” I’ve seen this to be true. People are hungry and looking for authentic, meaningful connection to one another and the divine. They long for something to inspire them, something to move them beyond their current scenarios and perspectives. They are looking for this, but often they haven’t found it in the Church. Why is that?
Here are a few pointed questions:
I want to be the kind of leader who is willing to work through these complicated questions, to keep an eye on the horizon and try to develop tangible solutions to answer that call. I hope others are doing the same in their own ways and in their own areas. This work requires that leaders are brave. And it always helps to know that we are among good company.
Renewal. What a good word for 2021. We are ready for renewal after we emerge from the pandemic, of course. But considering renewal leads us to its deeper theological meaning.
In English, we make a distinction between renew and new. New means brand new, or something that has never existed before. We use renew to describe something that already exists that is being improved.
In commercials, they say something is "New and Improved!" It can't be both--It must be one or the other!
However, the Hebrew Bible does not make a distinction between renew and new. The Hebrew word ChDSh (chadash) can be translated “new,” “repair,” “renew,” or “rebuild.” It also is the same root for “month” or “new moon.” The ancients saw each month as a cycle of the moon which brought a new or renewed day.
God was not afraid to take what was broken, used, old, or bad and renew or repair it. It was then considered ChDSh.
In Genesis 1-2, Yahweh created the earth as new. After the flood God has continued to renew his relationship/covenant with people. In the prophets, God promised to return Judah and Israel from captivity to repair and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. This was described as a “renewed heavens and earth,” “renewed or repaired covenant/relationship,” “renewed Spirit,” “renewed life and resurrection,” and “repaired city of Zion,” (Is. 65:17-25; Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek.37:1-14; Zech. 12). As Isaiah 40 shifts from judgment to restoration, Yahweh describes the process of renewing the people in exile as childbirth, healing from sin, forming a new city, and restoring nature (Isaiah 40-42).
Renewal and repair have always been the work of God, especially for those seeking forgiveness, healing, and transformation.
Unfortunately, the Greek word for new (kainos) failed to capture the diverse meanings of ChDSh. We have typically understood many passages in the New Testament gospels and letters to refer to “new” as “brand new” or “newly created.” In the book of Hebrews the writer tells the audience to listen and trust Jesus, who is the author of a “renewed covenant” (Heb. 3:7-11). Rather than interpreting this with New Testament context, we can understand the letter to state that the old covenant was broken when the people disobeyed God; yet Jesus offered a chance for forgiveness and renewed the relationship/covenant…by giving his own blood. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus served a meal as a sign of this “renewed relationship through his blood” (Luke 22:20-22). Same relationship, same God, same humans…but repaired by the sacrifice of Jesus. The Apostle Paul encouraged Christians to be “renewed” by repenting of their sin and transforming their lives into the image of Jesus (Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 4:17-5:20; Col. 3:9-10).
Through the resurrection of Jesus, we are “repaired,” “renewed,” and “rebuilt,” to live to the glory of God.
Same person, same relationship, same God…but rebuilt to live a different life.
Those of us who have planted churches understand this concept. We do not plant brand new churches, we learn from the best and rebuild ministries to serve those who live in our contexts. We preach and teach from old texts that repair lives both young and old. We reestablish relationships with people who remember the Jesus of their past, but who have lost touch with their first love and Savior. We guide people to see Jesus and reignite their passion through the Holy Spirit. Church planting restores relationships and lives in the image of the one who created all things new and repairs them when they are broken.
What will 2021 hold for our Kairos network? We hope that this year will bring change and healing. All kinds of people are asking all kinds of questions.
I encourage you to join us in considering renewal.
Easter 2021 will be April 4. What a perfect time to share how the resurrection of Jesus rebuilds lives. Your people, your community, and you personally need to experience repair.
I challenge you to dig through the Biblical text, look for themes of renewal, repair, and rebuilding. Share them with us, your churches, your family, and your community.
“Behold I renew all things…” Rev 21:5
I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism. Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands and do not share in the sins of others.
Keep yourself pure…
The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden forever.
1 Timothy 5:21-25
Moral Failures in Spiritual Leadership
Last winter, as I was preparing to step into my role as executive director of Kairos Church Planting, I decided to read a few of my “ministry” and “church planter” leadership books which focused on character and integrity. One book had been given to me by one of our brotherhood leaders whom I deeply admire. The book was over 15 years old but had timeless wisdom. In one chapter there was a reference to mega church minister Bill Hybels and a discussion of how he had spent years developing a routine to prevent “false accusations” of sexual misconduct. I remember hearing Hybels talk years ago about his elaborate efforts to avoid the appearance of sin and evil.
Bill Hybels resigned from ministry in 2018 in the wake of multiple accusations of sexual misconduct spanning more than a decade.
My work involving domestic and sexual violence within faith communities has proven to me that leaders don’t fall, they intentionally violate boundaries.
In 2020, Hillsong Church pastor Carl Lentz and Liberty University president Jerry Fallwell Jr., both of whom accepted the highest calling of Jesus, made choices to shame the name of our Lord. This is a reality in which we live.
In December 2020 I was asked by our county to do abuse and faith community trainings with a specific focus on abusive, controlling, and sexually inappropriate faith leaders. So many people in our community have been hurt by these leaders; several community leaders told me that their congregation did little to confront the leader and protect the flock.
Promise of Integrity
As a planter with Kairos Church Planting, one of the many blessings I received was the Ethical Conduct Agreement. Kairos staff introduced this document to us over a decade ago. We were encouraged to read the document and sign it in front of our congregation. My wife, Lori, and I did this on a Sunday every January Sunday at Agape Church of Christ, and we asked our staff to do the same. Our members were always encouraged by this; on several occasions, visitors to our church that particular Sunday would tell us they had never witnessed anything like it. In fact, some would tell us stories of a past minister “falling from grace” as their church turned a blind eye to the issue.
Reading and signing an Ethical Conduct Agreement or Covenant before a church not only serves as an encouragement to our congregations, community, and those who have been hurt by church leaders, but it also provides a level of accountability for ministers. Knowing that I have made a covenant with my God and my church to reflect the life of Jesus has kept me from saying, posting, and even acting in ways that would not honor my calling from Jesus. On occasion, I have been called out by others, which has prompted me to apologize and make changes. Christian leaders have a powerful opportunity to grow spiritually while encouraging their churches by simply promising to be who God has called them to be.
In the scripture passage above, Paul offered advice to Timothy, a young intern/evangelist who was sent to Ephesus to extend Paul’s ministry while caring for the church in his absence. Paul gave three major instructions in this passage.
First, Paul warned Timothy not to show favorites in his ministry. He was ministering in the presence of Jesus, God, and the angels. He was to avoid participating (the Greek word for fellowship/communion) in sin by allowing others to get away with inappropriate conduct. Timothy was to see his ministry as being under the eyes of heaven and was to be honest and hold people accountable for their sin.
Second, Paul simply told Timothy to be pure. He did not tell Timothy to “watch out for those wild women,” or “make sure it doesn’t look like he is sinning,” or even “blame others for his temptations.” Paul told Timothy that he was responsible for his own actions, and he needed to set healthy boundaries.
Finally, Paul reminded Timothy that good and bad works were obvious to people. Ministers who believe that they are “getting away with” or “successfully hiding” sin need to look at this verse. People know, people find out, and people see what goes on in a leader’s life. Even in this day of social media, the public knows who is authentic and who is hiding something.
At Kairos Church Planting Support, we are encouraging planters, ministers, campus leaders, and our staff to take this covenant with their congregations or ministry teams. We believe that this will not only strengthen their personal walk with Jesus but will help our churches become healthy. When we are open and honest concerning holiness, people tend to come forward and seek guidance.
Please pray for planters, staff, and leaders as we commit ourselves to Jesus, the calling to ministry, and our churches. If you'd like to watch a short video about the Integrity agreement, click here. To download a copy of the integrity agreement, click here.
This is Why We Plant Churches…
It was a sunny Saturday morning in Portland. We had taken a team from our supporting church in Oklahoma downtown to Pioneer Courthouse Square to make one last connection with people before we launched our new church, Agape Church of Christ. This year Easter was in early April and we were lucky to have a sunny day so early. Lori and I had been meeting in our home for nine months with a small group of five families, preparing to launch a church that would reach people on the margins. I had made many trips downtown to connect with others and listen to what they needed from a church.
We divided into teams to canvas the area, hand out flyers, invite people to our worship service, and have discussions with those who were interested in Jesus. I had my two-year-old son, Caleb, with me who was riding on my shoulders. I was quickly walking along the light rail (MAX) tracks to the center of the square. As with any sunny Portland day, people and their children, homeless youth, and others were gathered throughout the square visiting, eating, or soaking up the sunshine.
“Spare some change?” a quiet voice said as I passed. I stopped and turned around. I noticed a young woman, wearing black with black fingernails and thick black eyeliner. She was in her early twenties and took the spot where many young people sit while spanging (asking for spare change). I had been walking so fast and was so preoccupied with directing our teams that I almost missed her.
“Sorry, I don’t have any money. Something to eat?” I asked.
“No, I’m not hungry but would like something to drink,” she responded.
“I can go to the Starbucks over there and get you some coffee or juice. Would that be OK?” I responded. “No, that would be too expensive,” she said.
“No problem,” I said, “if you like I can get you something.”
“OK.” She smiled, “I would like some juice.”
I hurried to the Starbucks with Caleb on my shoulders and returned with apple juice. She drank it, thanked me and we talked. She said she had come to Portland from the Midwest for work and adventure. Unfortunately, life was hard for her and her boyfriend and they were sleeping in his car under one of the bridges. She talked to Caleb, said he was cute, and asked what I was doing. I told her about Agape as a new church and invited her.
“Naw,” she said, “my boyfriend and I don’t do church — that’s cool for everyone else but not us.”
“No problem,” I said, “I will see you around. My name’s Ron.”
“Cassy,” she said, “thank you for stopping and listening, a lot of people don’t do that you know.”
I smiled and waved to her and walked away. I had to smile because I was almost one of those who did not stop, listen, and offer help. It was convicting. I almost told myself not to bother because “I was too busy…” I almost ignored someone who was asking for help.
In Luke 18:35-43, Jesus and his followers were headed to Jerusalem. Luke indicated that Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was a type of “travel narrative,” (Luke 9:51; 19:28). His journey will end at the “city of David.” He has told his disciples often that his destiny was to die at Jerusalem and rise after three days. He has a calling, a journey, and a direction he must go. Jericho was the last city he would pass through before fulfilling this prophecy. As Luke progresses more and more people join Jesus in this journey.
A blind man was sitting by the road that day in Jericho. He asked for help and begged for money—spanging. However, money was not the issue—he simply wanted mercy. When he heard it was Jesus, he asked for mercy. Oddly, alms (gifts to the poor) and mercy are similar in the Greek language. Did he want spare change or mercy—or did it matter?
Luke tells us that Jesus’ group was “leading the way…” (Luke 9:39). It was Jesus’ journey, but now he was not setting the pace—his followers were. This is the only place where Jesus does not lead…until we get to the crucifixion…there the soldiers “lead the way,” (Luke 22:54).
In typical Jesus fashion, he heard the man, stopped, and “called them to lead the man to him…” Many of us know the rest…Jesus talked with him, healed him, and gave him what he wanted. While this was more than “apple juice” I see a similar point.
Luke wanted us to know that sometimes Jesus’ disciples lead the way, or maybe push him past the voices on the road needing attention. We often believe that “Christianity is about the cross…so let’s get Jesus to the cross so he can die and we can have our sins forgiven. Then we can move on to the resurrection. There is no need to doddle along and help every person who asks for it.” In the end we forget that he is supposed to lead us, not the other way around.
Thank God that Jesus is different…he hears, he listens, and he says, “lead them to me,” rather than “drive me past them…” or “let us hurry along now…”
Thank Jesus for the interruptions that remind us to do his true work.
By the way, Cassy’s boyfriend went to jail. She showed up three months later at Agape…pregnant, trying to recover from drug use, and feeling alone. Lori, our interns, and the women at Agape welcomed her, accepted her, walked with her. She became active at Agape, occasionally sang on our praise team, and came to our home community. Everyone loved having her there and she connected with many of our young people, also working in some of the community outreach programs. Lori and I were there to witness the birth of her first daughter, and I remember holding her second one just after she was born. She now has a college degree, has been sober for seven years, has three wonderful children, and lives a stable life back in the Midwest.
I am often reminded in prayer…what if I would have kept walking that day?
In the United States it seems that “Thanksgiving” has become a silent or overlooked holiday, overshadowed by After Thanksgiving Sales, Christmas, and an unrealistic history of the early colonists. And now, it is “to be celebrated under quarantine.”
Will this be a time to celebrate or mourn another passing holiday?
Our family has always used Thanksgiving to invite those in our church who needed family.
The past few years, we would have a full home with those who had no family locally, those who were homeless, women leaving the sex industry, couples wanting to join us and encourage our guests, and others who found this as a time to stay clean and sober another day. We spent the day eating, playing games, visiting, or watching football.
This year, with statewide restrictions in place, I must reflect on what this day represents. In my opinion our Oregon Governor has not “forbid” Lori and I from having our usual Thanksgiving celebration. She has forced me to address what is truly important about my life.
Think about the term “Thanksgiving.” Before it became the title of a holiday, it simply meant “giving thanks” for what we have. It is a time that we set aside to be appreciative for what God has given us. However, during a pandemic, can we find room for appreciation and gratitude—even if we cannot gather with our families and friends?
Thankfulness, gratitude, kindness, and appreciation are clusters of words that reflect our attitude toward life. In his book, The Five Side-effects of Kindness, David Hamilton provides evidence that kindness, gratitude, and appreciation aid in the physical and emotional development of humans. First, he suggests that when humans practice kindness toward others they are happier than those who only perform kind acts toward themselves. Second, his research indicates that practicing kindness or gratitude develops strong bonds of trust with others. Finally, gratitude and appreciation allow us to navigate difficult times in our lives with hope and compassion.
“Gratitude doesn’t ignore difficult times, nor does it pretend they don’t exist. A regular practice of gratitude merely trains the mind to scan the everyday landscape of our life and settle more on the light than the dark. That’s all. And as it settles on the light, it makes us feel better.”
In reading the books Tortured for Christ and I am N, I was struck by how Christians in persecuted countries survive their oppression by choosing kindness, compassion, gratitude, and forgiveness. It may be difficult to imagine this, but evidence indicates that this practice helps us emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
Being thankful is healthy.
The Bible indicates that gratitude is also an important spiritual quality. The famous Thanksgiving Psalm 136 calls the congregation of Israel to give thanks/praise to God four times. Every verse has a repeating phrase explaining why we are thankful. God’s faithfulness or mercy endures forever. The Hebrew word usually translated “love” is chesed which means faithfulness/loyalty. When Jesus confronted the Pharisees over their loyalty to traditions rather than people, Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6 and translated the word chesed as “mercy” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7) indicating that chesed described a relationship that God upholds and nurtures. Truly God’s enduring quality is persistent faithful and merciful action toward those of us in relationship.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman Christians that humans who refuse to be thankful or give glory to God live in darkness (Rom. 1:21). Just as Hamilton suggested earlier, gratitude and appreciation can lift us out of chaos even as Paul suggested to the Asian Christians, who had left darkness and sin, that being thankful reflected a spiritually healthy life (Eph. 5:4; Co. 2:7).
Appreciation, gratitude, thankfulness, and kindness are not simply good ideas, or good for you, they are strong indicators of spiritual and emotional maturity. Oddly enough, the older I get the more I wonder if these indicators are missing in our world, and sometimes our faith communities.
Is this also true of our communities during a pandemic?
Are we grateful, appreciative, and thankful? Do we thank people for their help? Do we thank people for their acts of kindness? Do those of us with children teach them to be thankful?
I want to encourage you to see November 26, 2020 as an opportunity to express thanks, gratitude, appreciation, and kindness. Here are some suggestions…
Either way, I am thankful that you took the time to read this.
God bless you and we appreciate your love and support!
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.