Category: leadership

The Promising Future of Small Churches Powerpoint

I have posted the PowerPoint presentation titled, “The Promising Future of Small Churches.” I gave this presentation at the BGAV’s most recent Small Church conference at Grace Hills Baptist Church in Appomattox, Virginia on August 25, 2018. I’ll be posting additional info on this in the future.

In addition, I have also created a new page on this blog titled, “Engaged Church Info.” I posted the slideshow on this page as well, and I’ll add other resources about churches engaging their communities in the future.

I really believe that the most promising future for small church vitality is community engagement. I’ll be describing, resourcing, and encouraging small churches to engage their communities in a variety of ways. A future conference on “engaged churches” is in the preliminary planning stages. I’ll keep you posted as that develops!

5 Evangelical Trends for 2014

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In keeping with end of the year predictions, here are mine. Of course, several years ago I predicted $5 per gallon gas. Thankfully, we never got to that point. But in light of my obvious fallibility I’m framing my prognostications in the familiar “what’s in and what’s out” categories. Here’s what I think (and hope) are in and out for 2014:

1. Out: Celebrity Christians. In: Communities that model love for God and others.

More articles and blog posts appeared in 2013 lamenting the culture of “celebrity” that has infected the evangelical world. Celebrity Christians include people who are already celebrities, like Paula Deen and the Duck Commander, but celebrity Christians also include regular guys and gals who are clawing their way to the top of the bestseller list and the next big conference. Christian book publishers love the celebrity culture, but the rest of us are beginning to feel a little used.

In for 2014 are faith communities that model love for God and others. These communities are multiplying in American Christian culture, and have great appeal to everyone’s target group, Millennials. Beyond their attractiveness, communities like Grace and Main in Danville, Virginia are replacing celebrity with service and fame with friendship. Watch for more like them in 2014.

2. Out: Big evangelical conferences. In: Small local peer groups.

Apparently there are about 75 major evangelical conferences each year. Most of these target pastors, and obviously no pastor can attend all or even most of these conferences. The big conference model is coming to an end, just like the big electronic conventions of years past. Time and cost will be major factors in their decline. Also, if celebrity Christians are out, conferences which feature celebrity Christians will also fade away.

In for 2014 are small local peer group conversations. Book discussions over lunch, peer-to-peer support, and contextual problem-solving will grow in importance in 2014.

3. Out: Coaching.  In: Spiritual direction.

Coaching has reached critical mass in the church world. Anyone can be a coach, and unlike in the sports world, church and pastoral coaches aren’t graded on the success of their coaching. Coaching is a metaphor borrowed from the sports world that is losing currency in the church world.

Spiritual direction, on the other hand, is a traditional and appropriate helping ministry in the Christian community. Spiritual direction focuses on spiritual disciplines and insights such as discernment, guidance, insight, wisdom, vocation, and mission. The growth of spiritual practices such as lectio divina, the daily office, and the use of prayer books portend the rise of the ministry spiritual direction in 2014.

4. Out: Major Christian publishers. In: self-publishing for local ministry.

With a few notable exceptions, major Christian publishers continue to churn out pop books from celebrity authors. The costs, distribution, marketing and mass audience targeting of Christian publishing results in fewer authors with higher profiles (“celebrities,” see Item 1).

However, self-publishing platforms like Amazon provide free access to the author who has something to say, but has a limited audience. More self-published books will be available in 2014, and more of these will be written for a specific congregation or community. Mass marketing, in other words, is out, and contextual publishing is in.

5. Out: Preaching for “life change.”  In: Pastoral care.

Rick Warren popularized “preaching for life change,” which most pastors interpreted as preaching topical sermons on practical subjects like parenting, finances, and marriage. But not everyone is as good as Rick Warren at this type of preaching, and it easily degenerates into telling people how to live.

Pastoral care in sermon and practice, however, walks with individuals and families through all of the significant passages of life, and life’s unexpected difficulties, too. This “alongside” preaching and practice ministers to people in their life experiences, and encourages them to find God’s presence in moments of joy and sadness.

Those are the trends I see for the coming year.  Of course, there are negative trends that we in churches will have to deal with, too. I’ll leave those to others, and wish you a Happy New Year!

1 + 1,000,000

I crossed two significant (for me) milestones yesterday. First, and most importantly (again, for me), Fuller posted my DMin degree. So, I am now official. As the old joke goes: “My friends call me Chuck; you can call me Dr. Warnock.” Or something like that. Anyway, here it is. The downside is that I still have to wait several weeks for the diploma to be printed, signed and mailed. (Apparently Fuller was not as confident as I was that I would actually graduate!)

Fuller transcript now showing my DMin graduation.

 

The other milestone happened yesterday —  I crossed 1,000,000 page views on this blog! Which means that Debbie has looked at this blog a lot! And maybe a few other folks, too, I hope. I’ve been blogging here since December, 2006. If I figured this correctly, that’s an average of 12,350 or so views per month. Compare that to an average month in which I preach to about 400-500 people total. Of course, I realize that some people spend 3 seconds or less on a blog site, including mine. But still social media enable us to have conversations with lots of folks in lots of places, and most of the time that’s a great thing.

If you’ve been here for awhile, thanks for sticking around. If you’re new, I hope you’ll check in often. In 7 years of blogging, I’ve made my share of mistakes, offended some, encouraged others, and enjoyed the whole experience. Recently I refocused my blog around the theme of my DMin study and dissertation — churches building communities of reconciliation. Reconciliation is like Will Roger’s famous quote about the weather — “Everybody talks about it, but nobody ever does anything about it.” On this blog, from this point forward, I’ll be highlighting how my church and yours can do something about reconciliation. Stick around. Thanks.

One Million Page Views!

 

A New Subtitle: Churches as Communities of Reconciliation

The new subtitle of this blog is Churches as Communities of Reconciliation. Let me unpack this phrase one element at a time.

Let’s start with churches. This blog began with a focus on small congregations, but over the past seven years’ of writing, I have come to the conclusion that size is the least significant factor in church vitality. Rather, a church’s sense of mission — missional consciousness, to use the jargon — is a better gauge of church vitality than size. Churches with a clear sense of purpose, whether large or small, thrive and are vibrant members of their communities. And, just to be clear, my confidence is in churches, not other organizations, to embody and exhibit the Kingdom of God as a contrast society in contemporary culture. Those churches can be traditional, seeker-sensitive, neo-monastic, denominational, or any of the other flavors that churches come in today. The form is less important than the way in which local congregations live out their calling to be salt and light to their communities and the world.

Secondly, I’m interested in churches which are practicing reconciliation. The Apostle Paul wrote, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…” (2 Corinthians 5:18 NIV). I’m convinced that the Bible is the story of God’s reconciling love beginning in the Garden of Eden and concluding with the New Heaven and New Earth in Revelation 21-22. The reconciling love of God finds its highest expression in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul continues the theme of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:19: “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

Down through the ages, Christian churches, evangelical churches in particular, have emphasized reconciliation between God and humankind. However, there exists also the unmistakable idea that we cannot be reconciled to God — we cannot say we love God — without being reconciled to one another. Theologians have called these the cruciform (meaning “cross-shaped”) aspects of reconciliation. We are “vertically” reconciled to God, while being “horizontally” reconciled to those around us, even our enemies. If God has given us the ministry of reconciliation — and I believe along with Paul that God has — then reconciliation should be the signature ministry of churches.

I wrote my DMin dissertation at Fuller on the subject of The Reconciling Community: The Missional Mending of Spiritual and Social Relationships Through Local Church Ministry. In my research and writing, I explored not only the theological and theoretical aspects of reconciliation, but the practical, applied aspects as well. Of course, I wasn’t the first to come to this awareness, and I discovered that scores of churches in the US (and, other places), are actively practicing reconciliation in their communities.

Finally, to put it all together, I am focusing on the result that churches practicing reconciliation are building peace communities. In reconciliation studies, much of the literature is theoretical. Authors focus on the theology of reconciliation, the multi-disciplinary nature of reconciliation, and stories of reconciliation in places like South Africa and Rwanda. However, I found very few resources that could describe what a ministry of reconciliation looked like on the ground in real life. To that end, I synthesized the best of the theoretical research to develop a list of criteria for what reconciliation looks like. I’ll list those in a later post, but my point is that for churches to be able to engage in a ministry of reconciliation, we have to know what one looks like, and what result we seek as agents of reconciliation.

The goal of churches which practice reconciliation is, in my opinion, to build peace communities. I don’t mean peaceful communities, although they certainly would be. Peace communities are those neighborhoods and areas included in a local church’s ministry influence, that have been transformed in measurable ways by the practice of reconciliation.

When Jesus sent out the 70 (or 72) disciples, among other things he instructed them in the practice of peace: “ “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’  If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.” (Luke 10:5-6 NIV). We have neglected this idea of speaking peace, finding the person of peace, and “staying in one place” to bring about transformation of an entire community. That’s what peace communities are — communities that have been transformed by the shalom of God into places where Kingdom ethics are lived out, hurts are healed, relationships are restored, and God’s children live in harmony. If that sounds like an improbably fantasy we must remind ourselves that Jesus said some pretty improbable things.

In future blog posts, I’ll tell the stories of churches that are practicing reconciliation and building peace communities in their own neighborhoods. I’ll also present resources, books, seminars, and organizations that can be helpful in your church’s quest to become a reconciling community. I’m convinced this is the church of the future — engaged, vital, and transformative — and I hope you’ll continue the journey with me.

My Dissertation Arrives

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Two bound copies of my dissertation arrived today. The title is The Reconciling Community: The Missional Mending of Spiritual and Social Relationships Through Local Church Ministry.

I lived with writing this for almost two years, so it is very gratifying to see it done, bound, and approved. Still waiting for my DMin degree to be posted and for my diploma to arrive.

The next project is converting the academic research into a more accessible form for publication. Two years to publication probably. Sisyphus redux.

The Pastor as Artisan

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Over the centuries of church history, various metaphors have been used to describe the role of God’s chosen leaders. Some metaphors have lodged permanently in our collective consciousness, while others have not passed the test of time. I suggest that there is one more metaphor for the pastor’s role that might be a welcome addition to the others — the pastor as artisan.

Perhaps the oldest metaphor used to describe the pastoral leader is that of shepherd. The second metaphor used in the New Testament for church leaders is overseer. Both of those metaphors are enduring and widely used today.

Another metaphor that emerged in the early centuries of the church was that of pastor as the “physician of souls.” Sin was viewed as a disease and pastoral care was seen as the “cure of souls” with the priest as the administrator of that cure.

As the church growth movement took root in the 1980s, the popular metaphor of pastor as CEO was drawn from the corporate world. Successful churches, church growth advocates argued, concentrated authority in the pastor as CEO because this was the most effective means toward church growth. However, in retrospect the metaphor of pastor as CEO and the church growth movement have both proven to be inadequate for the complex task of shaping and leading twenty-first century congregations.

Of course, there are other pastoral metaphors in use as well. The popular triad of pastor as prophet, priest, and poet brings together several facets of pastoral ministry. From the sports world, the idea of the pastor as coach plays off popular sports imagery with the pastor as team strategist, and church staff and members as team players who execute the game plan.

To this wide-ranging mix of metaphors I would add one more — the pastor as artisan. At their height in the middle ages, artisans were skilled master craftsmen who produced goods that were beautiful and functional. These artisans included goldsmiths, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, weavers, tailors, shoemakers, hatters, tinsmiths, carpenters, potters, stonemasons, and so on. Master artisans took apprentices and trained them to become master craftsmen after apprenticeships lasting seven or more years. Artisans organized themselves into guilds which set standards and ensured that their particular skill and craft would endure.

There are six reasons I believe the artisan is an appropriate metaphor for pastors and their work.

1. Artisans focused on one product. They learned one trade which required them to learn how to select raw materials and how to craft those raw materials into a unique, finished product. Artisans lived in the vertical silo of their own trade. Silversmiths did not work in leather, cobblers did not make barrels, and carpenters did not branch out into stone work.

2. Artisans trained apprentices to continue their craft. Skills, insights, and trade secrets were passed from master artisan to his apprentices carefully. This hands-on training and mentoring assured the continuation of the traditions of each craft, but also allowed for advances and improvements as new tools and techniques were developed. Artisans brought on new trainees each year, assuring their workshops a continuing supply of understudies at different stages of learning.

3. Artisans were successful when their workshops produced both quality products and skilled apprentices. An artisan without an apprentice limited his future and the future of the trade in which he was engaged. Successful master artisans realized that their survival meant not only producing goods today, but continuing the trade for generations through the lives of apprentices they trained.

4. Artisans maintained important traditions while incorporating best practices as they became available. The purpose of the apprentice system was to pass on the skills and trade secrets developed over decades of skilled work techniques. These traditions became marks of pride, honor, and identification for each artisan guild. Guilds guaranteed that standards were followed, while also vetting newer practices. This process assured that the entire guild would continue to be well-thought of, and its products would be valued and purchased.

5. Artisans depended on other artisans for products they did not produce. The carriage maker, for instance, depended on the wheelwright for wheels. The wheelwright, in turn, depended on the blacksmith for the iron bands wrapped around the wooden wheel. Because artisans specialized, they depended on and supported each other’s work and products.

6. Artisans were themselves master craftsmen. While this might seem self-evident, they knew what it was like to be a novice, and then to progress to the more complex skills as their knowledge and craftsmanship developed. Master artisans knew the frustrations of apprenticeship, learned to endure the seven or more years their apprenticeship covered, and valued their training as they set up their own workshops as master artisans. There was no shortcut to becoming a master craftsman, and no absentee ownership of a skilled craft workshop. Artisans were hands-on masters, trained to train others while producing their own quality products.

In summary, the pastor as artisan is an apt metaphor and here’s why.

 Like artisans, pastors…

1. Focus on one product — proclaiming and practicing the good news of Jesus Christ.

2. Train others to do what they do, thereby ensuring continuity of Christian witness now and in the future.

3. Are most successful when they not only produce effective ministry results, but when they also work closely with others to do the same.

4. Value age-old traditions, such as doctrinal orthodoxy, while incorporating new expressions of the faith into their practice.

5. Depend on others, as members of the body of Christ, to provide those gifts they do not possess in order to function faithfully as the Church.

6. Have learned important lessons from skilled leaders who have gone before them, and have incorporated those lessons into their own mature practice of ministry.

Viewing pastors and other church leaders as artisans helps us to take a long-term approach to ministry. Apprenticeships that lasted seven years required patience, consistency, and perseverance from both master artisan and apprentice. However, by taking the long view , artisans created beautiful products and an enduring legacy. Pastors could learn from their example.

Picking Up The Mantle of Leadership

prophet-elijah-ascending-to-heaven-on-a-chariot-of-fireSunday I preached on the story of the prophet Elijah and his protege Elisha from 2 Kings 2:8-14. Elijah knew he was nearing the the end of his life, and asked Elisha what he could do for him before he departed. Elisha replied that he wanted a “double-portion” of Elijah’s spirit.

Of course, this is the Elijah who had defeated Ahab and Jezebel’s prophets of Baal, all 450 of them. This is the Elijah that had saved the widow of Zarephath and her son by assuring her that her flour and oil would not run out until God brought rain to end the drought. This is also the same Elijah who raised the widow’s son from the dead. So to ask for a “double-portion” of his spirit was to ask a lot.

In Elijah’s passing of the mantle of leadership to Elisha, there are four things we can learn:

1. To pick up the mantle of leadership, you have to want it.

2 Kings tells us there were 50 other prophets following Elijah, but Elisha was the only one to ask if he could inherit Elijah’s ministry. Of course, back in 1 Kings 19, God tells Elijah to select Elisha, and he does so by temporarily wrapping his mantle around Elisha’s shoulders. Elisha indicates that he wants this mantle of ministry by immediately ceasing to plow his fields, slaughtering his oxen, and building a sacrificial fire from the wooden plows and harnesses he is using. In short, Elisha wanted to pick up Elijah’s mantle.

2. To pick up the mantle of leadership, you have to wait for it.

We don’t know how much time elapses between Elisha’s selection by Elijah in 1 Kings 19, and Elisha’s inheritance of Elijah’s mantle in 2 Kings 8. But, however long it took, Elisha had to wait for the time God had appointed for him to assume his prophetic ministry. When Elisha asked for a “double-portion” of Elijah’s spirit, what he was really asking for was that he would be seen as the rightful heir to Elijah’s prophetic work, just like a first-born son would have inherited the material possessions of his father. An heir has to wait to succeed his father, and Elisha waited patiently for God’s timing.

3. To pick up the mantle of leadership, you have to witness the power of God.

When Elisha asks Elijah for a double-portion of his spirit, Elijah says, “If you see me when I’m taken from you, it will be yours–otherwise, it will not.” But paradoxically, Elijah tries three times to dissuade Elisha from following him. Each time, Elisha says, “I’m going to stay with you.” Unless Elisha sees the power of God, he can’t inherit the mantle of prophetic leadership. While others were intimidated by seeing the power of Israel’s evil kings, Ahab and his son, God’s prophets had to see and embrace the power of God in action. When Elisha sees the chariot and horses of fire, he cries out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horses of Israel!”

4. Once you have picked up the mantle of leadership, you have to wield it.

As Elijah is being carried into heaven, his mantle slips from his shoulders. Elisha picks it up, rolls it up, and strikes the waters of the river Jordan, just as Elijah had done not long before. As he does so, Elisha asks, “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” By his action and his prayer, Elisha invokes the power and presence of God as he assumes the prophetic mantle. When Elisha strikes the waters of the Jordan River, the waters part just as they had for Elijah. Had Elisha not wielded the mantle of leadership, he would have never received confirmation that Elijah’s leadership had indeed passed to him.

Leadership succession isn’t always neat or simple. But church leaders can benefit from the lessons of Elisha’s succession to Elijah. By wanting to assume the leadership to which God has called them, by waiting until God’s timing is right, by witnessing the power of God in the transition, and by wielding the mantle of leadership once it has fallen to them, the transfer of leadership from one leader to another will follow an extraordinary biblical model.