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Friday, December 28, 2012

Transformation is Not a Passive Process


“Transformation is not a passive process.  
It is a process in which we continue to make choices and our character develops.” 
Dallas Willard

     Ask anyone in church if they desire to grow in their faith, to become more like Christ, and the usual response is “Yes.”  Follow that question with another, “What are you doing now for that to happen?” and the usual response is a puzzled look.  Rarely does the average church member think about intentional steps for growing in their faith.  Others mistakenly believe that regular attendance in worship does the job.  Make no mistake, regular worship is vital for a growing faith.  But alone, from any other intentional practices, worship will accomplish little in spiritual growth.

     I have written a book, Faith Journey: a Pathway for Traveling with Christ, which is really a curriculum in Christlikeness.  This fourteen-week journey with a small group looks at the nature of discipleship, the five irreducible faith practices of a follower of Jesus and guides each person in the development of a personal, intentional, spiritual growth plan for becoming more Christlike.  In one sense, this curriculum is a “starter kit” for beginning an authentic walk with Jesus that leads to personal transformation.

     Dallas Willard is right that spiritual transformation does not just happen because we wish for it.  We clearly see this truth with our physical bodies.  If we desire to be physically fit and full of energy what is required is intentional practices of regular exercise and good choices with our diet.  No one has ever “wished” pounds off.  Choices must be made and acted on.

     Fortunately, there is help with nearly every desire for change.  Alcoholics Anonymous has helped countless people move away from an unhealthy dependence on alcohol, Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig have assisted many in losing weight, and similar support groups for other difficulties abound.  Rarely does someone have to “go it alone” when seeking transformation.  But in every one of these organizations, membership is followed by intentional practices.  Faith Journey (available on Amazon.com by placing “W. Douglas Hood, Jr.” in the search engine) was written to be your partner in spiritual transformation.  Naturally, there are other resources available that guide the individual along a pathway of spiritual growth.  One of the best is Discipleship Essentials by Greg Ogden, also available on Amazon.  Regardless of the resource selected, transformation of character into that of Christ will require the kind of intentionality these resources provide.  Yes, each of these resources requires energy and effort.  But I ask you not to think of it as “homework” but, rather, as “faithwork.”  Your life will be changed.

Joy,

Thursday, December 20, 2012

New Models for Ministry



“Why do we keep doing church the same way even when we know it’s in critical decline?”

“The problem is that our present evangelical ‘Come to us’ paradigm of the church has not been an appropriate missiological response to the paradigms that exist in our world.”

Both quotes from, The Tangible Community: Creating Incarnational Community

     I agree that that second quote is fairly jargon laden.  But the insight is an important one. The problem with the way many congregations do church is that they attempt to “institutionalize” the way church was once done, and the way we like it, and expect people to come and share our preference.  Examples abound.  We want worship that only uses music that suits our taste, Sunday School that uses traditional curriculum and programs offerings “like we remember it used to be done.”  Rather than asking the important question, “How might we connect more people to Jesus Christ?” we become guardians of “old” church.

     Consider this quote from another book, A Field Guide for the Missional Congregation.  “The speaker was trying to be gracious, but he also wanted to be honest.  Addressing a large number of pastors of a midsized mainline denomination, he remarked, ‘You know, if the 1950s ever come back, your congregations are well prepared to respond.’”

     Fortunately, the numbers of people in our church who are discontent with “old” church are multiplying.  They are persons who have a contagious passion to share Jesus Christ with others.  And they are determined to do so even if it means developing new models for ministry.

     This, of course, does not mean that everything old is bad.  Traditional worship, with its traditional hymns, continues to speak to the deep needs of many persons.  Traditional Sunday School curriculum can still be effective for some and programs that have been repeated for years may still have value.  The conversation here is not about “out with the old and in with the new!”  The point these books wish to make is that it is shortsighted to expect unchurched persons in our community to be spiritually nurtured in the same way that we are.  Rather than wholesale dismissal of everything old and embracing only what is new, these authors suggest a principle of “and also.”  This principal simply means that the church continue with what still works while exploring “also” other approaches to connect people with Jesus and nurture their faith.

      In the New Year, your leaders will be wrestling with how we might keep our focus on the main thing, bringing more people to Jesus Christ.  Celebrating what already works while developing new approaches will require much discernment and care.  Your continued prayers for your Elders is solicited and appreciated. 

Joy,

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Building a Great Church


“Let us build a church so great that those who come after us may think us mad to have attempted it!”
Unknown Christian leader whose words led to the building of the Cathedral of Seville

     Naturally, the definition of “great” is subjective. Different people will have different notions of what “great” looks like. Yet, many members of any church would say they would like for “their” church to be “great.” Some might say that their church has already arrived – that their church is now a great church. I believe that it is safe to say that the unknown leader whose words are quoted above defined “great” as a building of incredible size and beauty.

     Some members of First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach believe that this church has already arrived – that this is a great church. I have heard some mention our “great music program.” Others have pointed to the beautiful Sanctuary. Still others speak with considerable delight about the positive impact the church makes in the community addressing homelessness, hunger and addiction. Each one is right, of course. By each of these measures, First Presbyterian Church is a great church.

     But let’s return to our original notion that “great” is subjective. It all comes down to what any particular person considers “great.” While celebrating what First Presbyterian Church already does well, there remains other areas where “great” is still out in front of us. Each person will have their own list; their own idea of where this church can still achieve greater distinction. Permit me to share my dream list:
*    Increasing numbers of people organizing themselves in small groups for the purposes of intentional spiritual formation.
*    Increasing numbers of people who equip themselves for contagiously reaching others for Jesus Christ and inviting them to full participation in the life and ministry of the church.
*    Increasing numbers of people who chose to give-up the notion that they have “done their duty” to the church but continually look for ways to be in ministry that the church may be more effective.
*    Increasing numbers of people who chose to live with a spirit of financial generosity to the church recognizing that nothing has greater value than the impact of the church upon the world.

     Your list may be different. But I hope that you have a list. It is dangerous not to have a list. The absence of a list suggests that nothing more needs to be done, that God is satisfied with the current ministry. That kind of thinking not only results in smugness and eventual lethargy and death of the church, it is simply not faithful to the Bible. God simply will not rest until every human heart has been fully transformed from thoughts of entitlement and self-interest to the selfless character and generosity of spirit that possessed Christ. 

Joy,

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Our Shared Ministry


“Victimized by nostalgia and buffeted by fear, the church is focused too much on
 merely holding the small plot of ground that it currently occupies to
 confidently reimagine a robust future.”
-Michael Frost

     Frost argues that many churches today have become so preoccupied with self – the preservation of old programs, maintenance of old leadership models and a “good-enough” attitude toward its facilities – that they no longer are a major force in the community for God.  Such churches spend more energy on resentful sadness about what was, and now is not, than on confidently listening for God to lead them into a robust future.

     Amazingly, I am hearing something different from many members of this church. I hear that you understand people today expect quality and our church must meet that expectation in all that we do, that the needs of people have changed so our approach to ministry must change, and that God will never be honored with a “good-enough” attitude.  These comments and many more have been on the lips of church members in the short time I have been with you. These comments are not typical for a church as old as First Presbyterian. 

     As I complete my first six months as your pastor, I am continually surprised and delighted by the number of persons who have been seized with a forward view for our shared ministry.  You are not a people who desire to rest upon past success.  God has much more to accomplish – until every nation has acknowledged Jesus as Lord – and you seem energized by how God will make you a part of that future.  For that I am deeply grateful.

Joy,