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    Entries in Church (18)


    What Makes a Great Church?

     photo credit: Thin blue line via photopin (license)

    What makes a great church? Not its size or buildings or heritage or preacher or quality of its membership. What makes a church great is the real-as-life presence of Christ and its faithful living of the story. What gave rise to Christianity? It was not the disciples' superior moral precepts. It was their proclamation that Jesus rose from the dead and was in some form still alive in them. This is what birthed the church, and what still holds a Jesus community together. Not rules. Not fear. Not causes. Not programs. Grace--the free gift of love and mercy that makes us participants in the divine nature--is the glue of Me/We solidarity.
    - Leonard Sweet, Me and We: God's New Social Gospel

    What, indeed, makes a great church?

    Dr. Sweet says that it is grace, a grace evidenced by the presence of Christ at work among his people, guiding the church by the Spirit into a faithful and fresh living of the story of God's people across time.

    Christianity arose, and is alive and well, where the gospel of Jesus' resurrection is proclaimed, and testimony is given in word and deed that in his resurrection, there is life. Christ reigns in heaven and on earth, and in us, forever.

    Often we believe that the greatness of a church is determined by size, influence, or fame. We mistakenly believe a church is great because of what we have made it. We envy a leader, a preacher, a budget, a facility, a programmatic innovation, and think, "If only we could have that here."

    But there is only one church, and it is great because of what God has made and is making it through Christ. Whenever we, made part of that church, experience the presence of Christ, give testimony to his life in us, share the gospel truthfully, or live the story faithfully, then there is only one proper response: humble praise.

    The very thing that makes the church great, Jesus the Christ, is available and accessible to all believers, in any time, at any place.

    We are invited to trust him, and open ourselves to his work in our midst. May his glory be revealed in his church, in all times, and in every place.


    Want to Know if Your Ministry Environment is Welcoming to New Students? Ask.

    This past week I sat down for coffee with two students. They have been part of our ministry for about fourteen months, and I've been in leadership for one year. I wanted to learn about their experience this past year, to hear their stories, and to discover how we are doing at welcoming guests. Our goal in student ministry is to create an environment where our students want to be, where they want to bring their friends, and if a friend visits, they want to come back.

    Here are a few questions I asked these two students: 

    1. What was your experience like when you were brand new? Was our group welcoming and inclusive? Could you jump in easily?
    2. Why did you hang around? Was there a person you connected with? Is there an aspect of our ministry you particularly enjoy?
    3. Do our rhythms make sense? Do our gatherings unfold in a way that is logical, and do we adequately explain what we are doing? Could a new person easily catch on?
    4. What do you think of our facility? Is there anything we need to add or change that would make it a better place for students to come and hang out?
    5. Have you invited others to join us? What, specifically, do you mention to your friends as a reason to come?
    6. Do you think there are any barriers to students inviting new people to come?
    7. Are there any lessons you remember from the past year that were helpful to you? Are there questions you or your peers need us to address in the coming year?
    8. How would you do my job differently if you were me?

    The answers I got were fantastic, and some will shape how I do my job for the next six to twelve months.

    But what if you haven't had anyone new visit your congregation in a while?

    Here's an idea: ask a student leader to recruit one of their friends to visit your ministry. Offer a meal or a gift card or some other incentive, and set up a time to sit down with that student and learn from them. Explain to them that you want your ministry to be a place where new students can feel welcome and fit right in. Communicate what you learn to your existing student leaders. Some things might need to be communicated to other adults in your congregation. The key is to make your environment more hospitable, inviting, and open to new people.

    If needed changes are identified, give it time. Cast vision. Get to work.


    Book Review :: Mindy Caliguire's STIR: Spiritual Transformation in Relationships

    Photo by Spyridoula Della

    Mindy Caliguire is a leading voice in the area of Christian spiritual formation. She writes with clarity and passion. In her book STIR: Spiritual Transformation in Relationships, Caliguire helps us to understand three basic elements in the spiritual journey that can help church leaders think through how we create contexts where people move toward maturity in Christ.

    Caliguire identifies three distinct phases as we grow: Learning Together, Journeying Together, and Following Together. In the first stage, we discover the basics of the Christian faith. We learn the Bible, acquire a theological vocabulary, and are taught very simple practices, such as prayer. We establish relationships with others that are highly directive--we rely on others to show us the way, pointing us to Christ. As those just beginning, we need a foundation that is solid and dependable. We need to learn.

    Once the foundation is set, we transition to Journeying Together. We find other Christian friends who are walking alongside us, committing themselves to the cause, and providing us with both direction and discernment. We are being taught, but we are also listening with others, discovering the will of God for us, in our lives as they unfold. This phase might be bolstered by participation in a community group, a small fellowship, or as part of a retreat.

    Maturity leads us to a place of Following Together. Having gained foundational knowledge, faced obstacles, and increased in our love for God, we have now become steadfast. We're running the race. As Caliguire writes, the primary goal of this stage is to keep going. We act as God has called us to act, and we invite others along. We impart the wisdom that we've gained, and we remain faithful to the end.

    At each stage, Caliguire helps church leaders to identify where we might find ourselves, and how to break through when we feel stuck. She describes what someone ministering in each stage might possess in terms of giftedness, the makeup of their character, and what their next steps might be. Caliguire's model is meant to establish a frame for a church ministry, calling people within that ministry to identify where they are on the journey, and to find a place where they are challenged to step forward as they continue to follow Christ. The entire model, being relational, requires not only participants, but leaders.

    As far as model books go, this is a good one. It clearly expresses basic principles and key narratives that lead to the creation of environments that are conducive to formation in Christlikeness. If you're familiar with contemporary writings on Christian spiritual formation, you won't be surprised with new information in this book, but you will be helped by the clarity Caliguire brings to the application of these ideas to the local church. Her emphasis on the relational side of formation, of the essential aspect of community, is a needed balance, considering some spiritual formation literature focuses primarily on individual practices.

    But the book is not without a couple of shortcomings. First, I think there is a great deal of overlap between the ideas of Journeying Together and Following Together, and while I do find Caliguire's shades or degrees of maturity somewhat illuminating, the division here, in my mind, is rather small. Perhaps this is a limitation in myself as the reader, and not in Caliguire's presentation. But if I understand her correctly, the Journeying phase is where our commitment is deepened and our focus is established. During this period, we have set our mind on Christ, and we are determined to pass through any obstacle, even the challenge of the desert, to remain faithful to him. But once we transition to the Following Together stage, our primary goal is to stay the course. We're to remain with it. Everything that was established in the second phase of the model is solidified in the third. We cultivate our inward life, we commit ourselves to God's purpose, and we bind ourselves more fully to our company of Christians. There is a division, perhaps, but it is very fine, and I'm not sure how I'd fully apply these distinctions if I was developing my own model or asking those who I lead to locate themselves within this framework.

    As a second desire, I would've liked one example of how a local church has put the STIR model in to practice. An appendix with a narrative description of a single person's growth, and the relationships that were most helpful, would've created a fuller picture. If there are programs that have been used to foster the kinds of relationships Caliguire describes, I would've enjoyed a description of how those settings made an impact. While Caliguire provides examples of contexts where the stages can be experienced, I would've liked to see those elements compacted in to a single narrative.

    But however significant these shortcomings were for me personally, they do not negate the value of the book. If you're a church leader who is seeking to apply principles of Christian spiritual formation to your context, Caliguire is an instructive and clear voice. She gives you much to consider, and forces you to establish a narrative frame within which those you lead can find themselves. She knows and understands that the Christian life is a growth process, and that maturity does not come overnight. I'm thankful that Caliguire helps us to see that there is movement within our own spiritual journeys, and with God's help, there is progress. As church leaders, we are called to show others the way, to help those we pastor and shepherd to discover God's grace, and to fully rely on his power for transformation. Oftentimes, the vehicle through which God brings our greatest challenges is found in the lives of other people--change comes directly through relationships.

    I've already introduced these ideas in my student ministry, and they'll continue to serve as a subcurrent running beneath our efforts. Check it out.


    Hello, My Name is Christ

    Photo by nicnac1000

    You might have caught the Huffington Post article "Hello, My Name is Church" cycling through social media. If you didn't, read it. It's worth the time. The Unappreciated Pastor captures everything we've heard or thought about Church, and maybe even some things we have experienced. The turn is briliant: confession and repentance. The invitation is clear: "God wants you here...I miss you. I love you. I'm sorry. Can't wait to see you."

    As a member of the church, for all those who have been outcast, hurt, afflicted, rejected, spurned, or forgotten, I would personally like to invite you to come and join our fellowship.

    But beyond a gathering or an organization, I invite you to Christ.

    Let us never forget that Jesus did not command us to go and start churches. He commanded us to go and make disciples. Christ died to make Church possible, yes! Of course. But there is more. He did not die, resurrect, ascend, and send us off to be about our business, to be inspired by his teachings, left striving to do our best and reliant on our own power. When Christ is with us, there is another presence, a power. His life. Him. Jesus charged his followers with teaching all who would come after him to do as he did and said, to baptize in his name, to never forget that he remains with us, and that all authority is his.

    While churches, when at their best, seek out and welcome those that have been lost or disposed of, we must never cease to recall that the invitation to return is first and foremost an invitation, a beckoning, from the one who calls us in the first place. It is not enough to call people back to Church. We must call them back to Christ. We must call ourselves back to Christ. We, the Church, must turn and say, "Hello, Jesus. We've wandered. Sorry. Help us."

    And even before we turn, it is Jesus preceding us, saying, "Hello, My Name is Christ. Remember?"

    He was not only shamed, beaten, killed, and resurrected so that Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male and female could worship together in the same room. He underwent all those things for you, and for the glory of his Father.

    If a congregation has seen Christ, has truly beheld him, I can promise you that church will not be perfect. But I can promise you that they will know that they are not perfect. And to the degree that Christ is indeed proclaimed as Master, I can assure you that that company of disciples will challenge, sharpen, strengthen, and humble you, in so far as your collective confidence is placed in him. These people, this church, may be messed up, but they are being renewed in their inmost being; their lives are hidden in Christ with God.

    The one who calls you is Christ himself. He extends his greeting. His hand is outstretched. Say hello.


    Tim Keller :: Creating Business and Spiritual Partnerships to Reach the City

    Tuesday, November 29, I was lucky enough to attend a presentation by Tim Keller at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood.  The topic: "Creating Business and Spiritual Partnerships to Reach the City".

    I recorded the presentation from my table near the front of the auditorium.  I apologize for the audio quality.  You may hear the sound of plates and utensils being moved.

    Listen to the talk and the Q and A session here:

    Or, right click and "Save As".  

    Tim Keller is one of my favorite pastors and thinkers.  He has a profound ability to pull from a broad range of scholarly, literary, and theological sources to craft coherent and compelling messages.  He is engaging, humorous, and thoughtful.  He also has a passion for evangelism and church planting.  If you like what you hear and would like to download more talks from Dr. Keller, visit here for a collection of free sermons.

    I hope you enjoy Dr. Keller's talk.  Check back soon--I'll be giving away one of his books.

    Click here to find out how to obtain a free copy of Tim Keller's book, Generous Justice.