Month: April 2008

Sermon for Sunday, Apr 6, 2008: Living in Exile

Living In Exile

1 Peter 1:17-23 NRSV

17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. 18You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. 21Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

Continue reading “Sermon for Sunday, Apr 6, 2008: Living in Exile”

Christian leaders manage meaning

Making Spiritual Sense I’m reading a great book by Scott Cormode, the Hugh De Pree Associate Professor of Leadership Development at Fuller Seminary.  Titled, Making Spiritual Sense: Christian Leaders As Spiritual Interpreters, Cormode says,

To the extent that Christian leaders provide people with a theological framework for action, they are proclaiming God’s message of love and justice….Pastors lead by providing God’s people with the theological categories  to make spiritual meaning.

That, he says, is the difference between leaders of organizations and leaders of the community of faith called the church.  Unlike the leadership models borrowed from corporate, military, or sports worlds, Christian leadership is about “the leader as ‘manager of meaning.'”  I like that.  After all, that is what Jesus does, and Cormode gives plenty of examples of how Jesus redefined reality in his “you have heard…but I say unto you” statements.  This is far different also, than tacking Christianity onto the culture in which we live, or adding “spirituality” to all the other consumer choices available to us today.

Cormode argues that we use a repertoire of tools to interpret and decode the world around us.  One of the most intriguing examples he cites is how humans use stories to interpret events.  He gives the example of seeing a crying child in a grocery, then watching her run to an adult male with great relief.  Cormode says that before he realized it, he had told himself the story of a little girl who got separated from her father while they were shopping, only to be greatly relieved to find him again.   The stories we tell ourselves help us interpret events around us.  It becomes the task of the Christian leader to lead church members to see events through the story of God’s work in this world.

Another pertinent point is that we all have expectations.  Churches often have expectations that a new pastor will solve all their previous problems, including attendance, budget, fellowship, and vision.  But, Cormode says, sooner or later, pastors will fail the expectations of their members.  Quoting Ronald Heifetz, Cormode reminds us that ‘leaders have to fail people’s “expectations at a rate they can stand.”‘

If you are looking for a very helpful, solid book on the task of leadership, pick up a copy of Making Spiritual Sense.   You might find it a refreshing break from the leader-as-hero myth that dominates our culture, including our church culture.

-Scott Cormode is also the founder of the Academy of Religious Leadership, and the Journal of Religious Leadership, plus the website,

The stories we tell ourselves

I was actually going to write a post about “the stories we tell ourselves” tomorrow, but then I read Seth Godin’s post “Which comes first (why stories matter)” and he says it very well. Substitute “ministry” for “work” in his piece and you’ll see how this applies to church.

5 Church Growth Lessons from Your Garden

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.” — Paul, I Cor 3:6

Our garden plot. We have an organic vegetable garden this year, which got me to thinking about growing churches. Knowing and doing are two different things in both gardens and church growth. I thought I knew a lot about gardening until we started the vegetable garden this year. Here’s what I’ve learned about growing churches from our garden experience so far–

  1. Preparing takes work and time. We have been working on our garden plot for weeks. We built four 4’x4′ raised beds, a fence, a garden gate, hauled in mulch, bought compost, peat moss, and vermiculite, mixed it all together, and filled the beds. We’ve spent time and money just getting ready. And, we haven’t even planted anything in the garden yet. Which should give us a clue about church growth, both numerical and spiritual. Preparing the “soil” takes time. Jesus told a parable about different soils and there’s nothing like preparing your own garden soil to drive that truth home.
  2. We can’t grow bananas. Bananas will not grow in Chatham, but tomatoes and beans will. So we’re not trying to grow bananas, even though there are other gardeners in other places — Florida, California, Mexico — who grow bananas successfully. We can’t copy other gardeners and their crops because we have to figure out what grows here. Ditto for churches. Rick Warren wears a Hawaiian shirt at Saddleback; I wear a black robe here in Chatham. Neither is right or wrong, but both work in their own context.
  3. Some plants need special help, others don’t. We planted tomato, cucumbers, and pepper seeds in sprouting trays that we’re starting inside where the temperature is warm and we can keep an eye on them. Other seeds we’ll plant directly in the ground when the weather warms up. Some plants will survive frost; others won’t. Not all plants are alike. If plants are this different, think about people. Willow Creek just discovered that their one-size-fits-all program didn’t work either.
  4. Harvest will not come quickly. Tomatoes take about 70-days from garden-to-table. So, we’re patient, but attentive to the signs of growth and productivity. Plus, a lot happens between planting and harvesting — weeding, fertilizing, pruning, protecting, and watering the plants. Same in church — there’s lots of time between beginning and maturity, and that requires work and patience.
  5. We won’t be able to eat it all at once. We have 72 tomato plants. Some are slicers, some for sauces, and some for canning. We’ll eat some fresh, make some into sauce, and can the rest. In other words, we’re already planning how we will conserve the results of our labor. The last thing most churches need is a hundred new members because most of our congregations aren’t prepared for a big harvest. Figure out what you’ll do with the harvest when it comes in.

Jesus used a lot of agricultural analogies to illustrate the kingdom of God. Plant a garden yourself and you’ll have a new appreciation for their meaning. But in the end, God makes both church and garden grow.