Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Leadership: a review


The New Church Leadership: A Downward Trend
Thomas Hogan

April 6, 2011


 On Developing Lasting Leadership:
In the faith community over the last decade, a shift has grown toward communal living. Not in the strict sense of monastic living or moving to a compound outside of the city, but on a subtler plane resembling growing with others in a close knit, open minded and authentic way. As this transition has exploded in the postmodern Christian church and proven effective in reaching an ever skeptical generation, the church has been forced to question “older models” and modes of growth. This has led to countless books being written in the last few years of how to manage what has been coined as the “Missional Movement”. Building and sustaining long-lasting and invested leadership has become increasingly difficult in missional minded communities over the last several years. Youth and young-adult leaders alike have attempted to embrace this generation with its many quirks but have found it extremely hard to cultivate a sense of deep rooted commitment to a specific long-term purpose or set of goals. This in turn has made large growth and successful programs but not necessarily long lasting ones due to lack of focus on growing leaders. The obvious reasons are easy enough to assess, however, there are nuanced behaviors and attitudes heavily contributing to a lack of leader growth in current missional minded community focused churches.

There are many factors that contribute to this problem. From the outside looking in, the apparent growth in the missional trend seems like a natural high end of the church recruitment cycle, but a better perspective can be seen below the surface of the churches modern landscape. (Barna, 2009) The “Jesus Movement” of the late 60s early 70s culture had a lot of the same conditions that exist today, including: civil unrest, a deep mistrust of authority, declining employment (leading to an unengaged/unoccupied demographic of young people), and finally a spiritually starved sub-set that desired an alternative outlet of expression. The opportunity was the same but the end-result was far different, so why couldn’t that movement gain traction?. At this point a certain perspective must be defined carefully before proceeding. There are two Christian “churches” that weave the tale of church history; they are the “Church as-it-is” and the “transitory Church that challenges old ways and traditions”. Both are valid from a theological standpoint, but differ largely in their approach and appeal. During the hippy procession the status-quo church along with the still young, still deeply conservative movement against that status were completely unwilling to validate or assimilate the “Jesus Movement”. Those small circles of influence were unable to garner support and encouragement and ultimately died out or “grew out of it”. The case is different today mainly because of the interconnected disillusionment of postmodernism. It was easy to feel the energy created in small communities 40 years ago, but the potential impact was veiled from the larger culture. Today we have a far more effective network and view of discontent. That recent tide bubbled over into what eventually became the “Emerging church” and “Emergent movement” approaches to the future of the church. Both of which proposed a reworking of current practices (with the emergent movement pushing a more deconstructionist approach). And this time, the larger church was ready to listen (maybe not change but definitely listen).

Out of this “come let us reason together” atmosphere grew what came to be known as “seeker friendly churches”, and here is where the initial problem of leadership growth comes in. There is a base assumption among many sub-pastorate church leaders that all followers really need is the right amount of dedication coupled with the right amount of guidance and one has the making of a potential leader. There is another perception that is equally detrimental and that is focusing on and promoting natural giftedness. A common tendency of leaders is to identify who the crowd is gravitating around and assess that individual for possible mentorship. These assumptions, without adequate assessment, can lead quickly to dysfunctional personal and professional growth. These faults in the leadership approach have highly contributed to the rate of invested leadership decline in missional communities. The first assumption leads to an immediate result of not making the pool of potential leaders wide enough and the second makes that pool contagiously (relationally and figuratively) shallow. The effect can be a lack of leaders; over-burdened with the weight of progress and unprepared for furthering the ministry because of resource and/or personal inadequacies; or it could create incredibly selfish leaders who refuse to build other leaders that may infringe on their own influence/authority. Of Course, many have learned where to strike a balance somewhere between the two, but the argument here is that the approach is flawed long before it is applied. Either way new approaches may need to be considered.

Building a lasting impactful community can be hard enough without the added pressure of developing leaders to cultivate and populate the movement. So what can be done to fix this trend? Perhaps it’s time to start asking these questions before the movement becomes unsustainable from the base. To be sure there are vast reaching implications if gotten wrong. Many leaders have taken this task head on. Leaders like Stephen Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church who holds leadership workshops on communal movements. His counterparts, Pastors Matt Chandler and Mark Driscoll work on similar lines to help train and equip potential leaders and church planters. The goal being to create a counterbalance as momentum grows that dissipates some of the discontent that caused the movement to begin. This time using a networked and connected base to troubleshoot these larger issues from within in much of the same way it was presented, by using social networks and small group discussions in a very grass roots way across the country. (Stetzer, 2009) It remains to be seen what the outcome of these recent movements will mean for the larger Christian church on a global scale, but as of now the fastest growing area of Christianity is also the least equipped to lead itself into the future.



References
Barna Group, Ltd. (2009, December 7). Report examines the state of mainline protestant churches. Retrieved from http://www.barna.org/leadership-articles/323-report-examines-the-state-of-mainline-protestant-churches
Stetzer, E. (2009, January 19). State of church planting. Retrieved from http://www.edstetzer.com/2009/01/state-of-church-planting.html

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The New Way of Becoming Bold(er). . . "Discipline pt.3"

This is the third blog wrapping up this topic, here are the previous sections: Part 1, Part 2

So what is spiritual discipline?

In simple terms the disciplines are – practices built on principle applied practically to our daily lives. (like the alliteration, I learned that in 8th grade English class and every pastor known to man. Thanks Mr. Bradford.) 

An example of this would be:

-principle- Tim. 3:15-17 you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 

-practice- I read the bible consistently 

-applied practically- Daily bible reading with the purpose of revelation and the expectancy of something being deposited in me that will not only make me a stronger Christian but a better human. 

That would be reading the bible, a very important discipline, and the list goes on and on, I don't have time to get into journaling, critical thinking, fellowship, serving others, fasting, offering, worship, questioning everything, love, etc. etc, you get the point. 

Now everything in the mature Christian life is a discipline.  And it would be impossible for me (or anyone else) to tell you which ones you need to work on the most.  The whole point of this text is to get you to start pouring these things into your life, to start asking yourself the hard questions of faith. 
It is all so much but so worth it.  Start finding the things in your life that need it and apply discipline to them (hint: everything requires discipline, from how you spend your money to your sleeping schedule, God has a purpose and will for it, it's our job to find it). 

These things are what give you the authority and power to reach the lost, encourage the weak, feed the hungry, accept the outcast, challenge the faithful, and be the church. When we get to this place together, falling back won't be an option because your faith will be at a place where mature belief sustains your relationship with God.  Weakness swallowed up in power (1 Corinthians 15:54).  Instead of relying on people and your circumstances to pull you through life, you'll be the one others rely on to encourage them.  But you'll never get to that place without spiritual discipline. 

You have to start considering this now, and thinking on this level.  This isn't the type of thing that you put off until you're "ready" or "mature enough" because until you devote yourself to this purpose you will never mature spiritually.  It's all about devotion, committing to something.  God's judgment lies in our motive, it hinges on what you are committing yourself to.  Are you committing yourself to this world and its obligations?  It's system of greed and strife, self-motivation and lust?  Or can you want what God wants. Can you commit to His standards, not a pastor's or your friend's, but His discipline? His motives. The long-lasting effects of that kind of faith are evident in lives like Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, AW Tozer, Moody, and Thomas Aquinas.  These people got it, that discipline isn't something that others can force on you to get you closer to God, these things are what you place on yourself to get others closer to God. To “know Him, and make Him known.”

Friday, April 1, 2011

Community can fail (perspectives)

So here's some of the incredible input and advice that others had to back up and give insight into this idea (thanks everyone that helped me organize the background of this):
-it's God's community and He's in charge.

-It doesn't matter if you're seeking community, that's awesome and you'll find it if you are.  The real purpose of community is not to seek it, it's to seek others and bring them into it so “Authentic” community goes to the individual, out of love, and draws them back in.  Unless God (only Him) has called them away, then “authentic” community encourages them, prays over them and sends them out with blessing, and remains available to support and strengthen them in God's call.

-A bigger point of community is not to be sought out, but to go and seek others.
The thing about community is that it’s like a living organism.  Sometimes it's running full speed, adrenaline pumping and all.  Other times, it's in recovery mode (pacing itself, trying to stabilize).  So it expands and contracts like everything else in nature. [Beautiful picture made through wisdom]
 Discipleship [as applied in community] really just depends on how God's Spirit moves people.  Despite our best efforts [or motives, or intentions], God is bigger than this issue and will bring about good fruit in community.

I am (or "we are") not really the linchpin(s)[.e. the ones holding this thing together].  Community is much larger than little ole' me [or us].  It’s not up to us to hold it together, it’s up to us to hear God and apply His voice to the conversation and climate that He is weaving.

-This "fall" is not necessarily a bad thing.  We define "success" differently than Jesus did in terms of what a successful community looks like.  If Jesus' community was successful (which I believe it was), then we must admit that a truly successful community is one that falls apart from time to time.  It is one where every time it gets too big (or ineffective), Jesus (the Gospel) pulls a few weeds, or even uproots some of the stronger plants (to move them to a larger garden).  On the outside this looks like a complete failure (accident), I know.  But we couldn't have stopped it if we knew it was coming years prior to the crumbling.  In fact, if we could, I'm not so sure it would even be a good thing.  As we have said in our community (about dying ministries), "let the dying horse die!"

People do community (and accountability) for the wrong reasons all the time.  In fact, we as leaders often fail (depending on the week).  It doesn't seem helpful to insist that everyone always have the right motives when seeking (or returning to community, or seeking accountability).  It seems more helpful to talk about those reasons once they’re "in" (or back in).  Again, our motives are constantly changing colors and deceiving us.  Let us not judge the motives of others too harshly, but instead simply be glad for their participation / return.

-My heart goes out to community everywhere ‘cause it's a hard call. The weight of ministry and relationships is heavy and without a team to bare those burdens it's even tougher.

- Sure it'll look different, but that's ok if it does.  God is going to do what He's done for thousands of years and His will is going to prevail.  As hard as it is to watch it change and even fall apart, the most loving thing I can do for the community I gave everything to is to step out of God's way when He calls me out and let him work on those hearts.  That doesn't mean that on a personal level I abandon them all together.  I still love them, but I love them too much to continue protecting them from what God expects of them.

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