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Archives for November, 2016

Dimensions of leadership

The noted theologian Jürgen Moltmann remarked that in “every period the church has a duty to be clear about its commission, its situation and its goal.”These three things – mission, context and purpose – are very significant for congregational leaders. And each of these things can quickly and easily be lost in the rapidly changing world we inhabit.

  1. Mission – The inevitable reality of any community is the loss of its sense of mission. For congregations, the shift from being God’s sent community to serving our own personal agendas is often slow and subtle. But it does happen! Every congregation deserves to have leaders who constantly remind both themselves and the church that the church’s existence is for others – not for itself. When mission is first and foremost in a leadership team’s mind and practice, other things gain greater clarity and focus.
  2. Context – We are living in what Alan Roxburgh calls the “great unraveling.”2 We face unprecedented change and upheaval in our culture and society. To assume that Christian practices can remain the same and still shape Christian community is to bury our heads in the sand. Rather, Christian leaders must be willing to honestly and openly examine culture and, with imagination, offer hopeful new practices and ways of doing church. God is always doing a new thing; being attentive to our culture helps us to see what that new thing might be!
  3. Purpose – As the people of God our task is to partner with God in the transforming work He longs to do in our world. Our purpose informs our actions, reminding us that God is the agent of transformation and that we do our best work when we are faithful in responding to God’s leadership and action in the world.

I would suggest that leadership teams might find a useful and important conversation by exploring together the questions that follow:

  • How clearly are mission, context and purpose present in your meetings?
  • Do you begin your meetings with a reminder of the sent nature of your work?
  • Are you cognizant of the dynamics of your particular context and what it means to live out mission in your location?
  • Are you paying attention to the ways that you can partner with God’s new work?
  • Does your current ministry demonstrate a clear connection to God’s purpose in the world?

We will never do these things perfectly. However, we will find joy and meaning in our congregations whenever we are leaning into these questions.

Blessings in your practice of leadership!

Carson


[1] Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit trans. Margaret Kohl (New York: Harper & Row, 1977).
[2] Alan J. Roxburgh, Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World: The New Shape of the Church in Our Time (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2015).

NEWS & NOTES

‘The Crossroads of Art and Faith’ – A Contemporary Christian Conversation

In “The Crossroads of Art and Faith,” Siburt Institute spiritual director Randy Harris interviews Dan McGregor, professor of art and design at ACU. McGregor discusses the value of art to faith in an image-based culture. He highlights how art has the potential of conveying the divine in a way that words alone cannot. As with previous videos in the series of Contemporary Christian Conversations, Harris focuses on the timely issues within the context of personal stories, allowing the interviewee to share how they have been shaped by the topic of discussion as a follower of Christ. Watch the video here.

Electing to follow Jesus

What kind of stances should Christians take in an election year (or any year, for that matter)? Randy Harris and Greg Taylor, co-authors of Daring Faith, dive into this complex question in a five-part series published on CHARIS in the weeks leading up to and immediately following Election Day. But don’t worry – in this series you won’t find the names of any political parties or political figures, nor will you encounter name-calling or positions on current hot-button issues. Rather, Harris and Taylor explore broader topics such as how Christians’ allegiance to the Gospel affects the ways we act in the world, whether it’s an election year or not. We hope you will find some valuable reminders and thought-provoking questions throughout these five posts: Claiming Our Baggage, The Gospel of Peter vs. the Gospel of Jesus, How to Be a Loser, Strangers in a Strange Land and Prophets of Mercy and Justice.

McLaughlin to serve as keynote speaker for ElderLink Houston 

The ElderLink team is excited to announce Don McLaughlin, pulpit minister of the North Atlanta (Ga.) Church of Christ, as the ElderLink Houston keynote speaker. McLaughlin will deliver complementary plenary messages: “Prepared to Receive” and “Prepared to Give.” He and his wife Susan have served their congregation since 1997. A greatly sought-after speaker, McLaughlin focuses his ministry on raising up and equipping Christ-centered, diverse, community-impacting churches.

Along with several breakout sessions, ElderLink Houston will include a panel discussion on “Models of Governance: How Do Elders and Ministers Work Together for the Sake of God’s Mission?” On hand to share their experiences within their respective contexts will be an elder and minister pair from each of the following Houston-area churches: First Colony Church of Christ, New Beginnings Church and West Houston Church of Christ. Dr. Carson Reed will facilitate the conversation.

ElderLink Houston will be held at the West Houston Church of Christ on Saturday, Jan. 28. Register yourself and your leadership team today!

MARK YOUR CALENDARS

THOUGHTS TO PONDER

“The true leader serves. Serves people. Serves their best interests, and in so doing will not always be popular, may not always impress. But because true leaders are motivated by loving concern rather than a desire for personal glory, they are willing to pay the price.” – Dr. John White, Excellence in Leadership

“Leaders take three dimensions of leadership into account: the leader’s preferred style, the style (or styles) or the followers, and the particular demands of each leadership situation. The unique mix of factors inherent in each leadership situation shapes the leader’s response to and success with that specific pacesetting opportunity” – Dr. Robert D. Dale, Good News From Great Leaders

Stoicism is one route to pseudo-peace. Making yourself indifferent to the world around you might numb the senses and the mind but it does not bring true peace. True peace doesn’t come through indifference. True peace is found in the tension of living in and through difficult, even dire, circumstances while recognizing that we don’t have to allow those things to make us anxious or afraid.

We are called to be peace, not stoicism. We are called to find peace without indifference, which often means our peace must be found not in spite of things like mercy and compassion but through things like mercy and compassion and love.

Peace does not come through toughening ourselves up to be unaffected by the world. To be unmoved. No. Peace comes while still being moved by things that should move us. It is found through our connection with the world around us through by our recognition that there truly is One who is sovereign over all of it, who at the end of the day has every knee bow and tongue confess to His Lordship…and we are His. We can be people of peace not because all is well or not because we learn to ignore it but because this world belongs to Him and by faith we live in the present in light of the future when God finally rights all wrongs and makes all things new.

If you find your soul hardening and your heart calcifying against the world in order to distance yourself toward finding peace in your soul I hope you will reconsider.

I learned to drive years before I got a permit. One of the things I have enjoyed since I was very young was observing the world around me…always watching for how things worked, how people behaved, and trying to figure out my place in it all. I learned to drive when I was very young and I learned it by watching what others were doing. I watched how my parents drove. Not only did I watch and learn how to drive the car itself, I watched how one behaves themselves behind the wheel. I saw this in other people to by observing their behaviors, seeing how people treat each other on the road and learning the all important principles of the art of passive-aggressive driving.

Out of all of this in my early driving years I drove quite a bit more aggressively than I do today. I can’t say that I have mastered the art of pacifistic driving but I have toned it down quite a bit. I am still working on not honking the horn. I see it as one car talking to another. Missy sees it as rude. She is probably right.

One of the things that has been hardest to let go of is that I am a rule follower. I am a concrete thinker and the rules are the rules. In an idealistic sense those who follow the rules get rewarded and those who break the rules should be punished…and somehow in my younger years I thought I was the person who needed to dole it out. That person who cuts in at the last minute shouldn’t be let in. They should have known better. That person who is on your bumper sure needs you to slow down even more or maybe even a tap of the breaks to teach them not to get so close.

One of the things that I found in being the keeper of the rules and the deliverer of the punishments was that you never have any peace when you are behind the wheel. You are constantly looking. Constantly anxious and constantly making others anxious.

As it turns out those who fail to see room for grace are never at peace.

This is a fundamental principle of life. If you want to have peace you need to be a person of grace.

This is true in theology and ministry. The most dogmatic and vicious among us are never at peace. There is always one more false teacher that needs to be found and punished…one more person who got their atonement theology wrong or their worship practices out of kilter. They need to be found. They need to be punished. The TEP (Theology-Ecclesiology Police) has put out a warrant for them and the bounty hunters commence the search.

Those who make it their mission to punish others will never find peace. Those who determine to be people of grace will find their life to be a lot more peaceful.

This is why grace and peace go together.

Another place we find this is when we struggle to give ourselves grace. A few months ago our youngest, Elijah (who just turned 6) was cheating on Solitaire. When we asked him what he was doing he said, “I am just giving myself some grace!” That isn’t exactly what I am talking about here but the sentiment is correct. Often the person we struggle the most to extent grace to is ourselves. Once again we find ourselves unable to find the peace that we so desperately desire.

No wonder Paul begins his letters with “Grace and peace to you…” because he knows they go together.

For more on the historical/cultural background on Paul’s use of “grace and peace” see the last section of this article – Ephesians: Purpose, Background and Structure

Do you struggle to find peace in your life?

Do you struggle to be in tune with the work of the Holy Spirit in your life?

Those two questions go hand in hand.

As Paul contrasts the life controlled by the flesh and the life controlled by the Holy Spirit he shares an insight that allows us to understand why we struggle to find peace. Those who allow their fleshly desires to dominate control of their behavior will exhibit sinful behavior and will never find peace. Those who allow the Holy Spirit to control their behavior will produce things in line with the Spirit, including a peace only the Spirit can provide. Paul calls these things the “acts of the flesh” (Gal 5:19) and the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22).

The third fruit that Paul lists is “peace.” This word in Greek is used 91 times in the New Testament and it can mean harmony or well being. As is often noted, the word peace in Hebrew and Greek are less about an absence of war and disruption as they are about an inner state of being. When the Holy Spirit dwells in you, the Spirit produces within the believer an inner harmony that will not be rattled by the things of the world. What is more, this inner harmony works as an inoculation against the acts of the flesh because the acts of the flesh are produced by and perpetuate inner conflict.

That means the peace the Holy Spirit brings is not based upon circumstance and feeling. It is more in line with our being that God is constantly working to transform by the Spirit. This transformation by the Spirit gives Christians a peace and consistency that is not shaken by external variables.

Oddly enough, often our churches are not characterized by peace and I cannot help but think that also means that the members who gather are struggling to be in tune with this aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work in their life. This may also have something to do with a denial or the Spirit’s working in the life of the Christian. If we don’t believe the Spirit is at work in our lives then how would we expect to have produced in our lives those things the Spirit alone produces? I say that with one disclaimer and that is this…I don’t think the Spirit is fully limited in what the Spirit can do based upon our beliefs about what the Spirit is or isn’t doing.

We must get more in tune with the Spirit. When we do so we will find an inner peace like we have never had before because we are no longer resisting or ignoring the work of the Holy Spirit, rather we are working alongside or in accordance with what the Spirit is doing in our being. We will find that the acts of the flesh are no longer so appealing and that working in partnership with the Spirit is much more fulfilling. We will finally find the peace our soul so longingly desires.

We live in anxious times. Some in advertising say “sex sells” well, anxiety sells just as well if not better. Our world has upped its game when it comes to producing and transferring anxiety. This is true from parenting to politics.

The good news is that we have a Savior who is not in the anxiety producing business. He doesn’t need anxiety to sell us on his message or to get our attention. Instead, Jesus offers us the opposite. He offers us peace. This is not just the peace of a stilled storm. This is the peace of a life lived often (too often, really) in the storm. Out of our control. Nothing we can do but hold on and listen for that gentle but firm voice that says “Peace, be still.”

It is a command that comes out of absolute authority…fully expecting compliance. We realize the command is just as much to us as it is to anyone or anything going on around us.

Peace, be still.

No matter what happens…no matter who gets the votes, who is appointed, or who is “in charge” in this world we know who is truly in charge…truly Lord (which means master). He is working to bring us peace…to bring us wholeness in the midst of a world that would rather create anxiety than produce peace.

We talk about unconditional love. It is time we talk about unconditional peace…peace that isn’t determined by our circumstances. This sort of peace can only come from the One we call the Prince of Peace.

If your peace is based on who wins the next election then it isn’t the kind of peace Jesus offers because it isn’t unconditional. It is time we stop allowing culture and circumstance have a stronger pull on our lives than Jesus does.

Unconditional peace is our theme for the month of November. I hope this month’s issue feeds your soul and reminds you of exactly who you are and whose you are.

Peace.