The Challenge of Making Disciples: Four Findings

Diverse Business Group

Dr. Heather Heinzman Lear is the director of evangelism at Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church.

In her research for her doctor of ministry degree, she focused her research to determine what congregational practices are necessary to help churches fulfil the denominational mission statement: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

She worked with six congregations of various ages, sizes, and geographic locations to determine if there are consistent trends across United Methodist churches in the United States.

She writes:

The lack of a holistic understanding and practice of evangelism was evidenced in the following four findings:

The overwhelming majority of the participants were unable to articulate why Jesus is important in their lives and how offering Christ to another person would benefit their life.

The majority of congregations did not create intentional space for people to practice sharing their faith or foster an environment of authenticity where members felt they could be vulnerable and express struggles. 

The majority of participants could not differentiate good works done by the church from those of a civic organization or non-Christian. 

The majority of participants indicated that their congregations were not known in their community and that mission opportunities were developed based on member preferences instead of community needs.

Wow!

What are your thoughts about her findings? How do they match your experience, your context or your denomination if it is different from the UMC?

Heather concludes: “We can no longer assume that people who attend church on Sunday have been formed in the faith without creating intentional faith practices and education for all ages and stages of faith. Five of the six churches in my study did not create intentional space for people to share their faith and ask deep, theological questions. They also did not encourage or actively seek to place people in small groups for discipleship and accountability. Finally, congregations need help understanding that their purpose in making disciples is for the transformation of the world.”

What does this suggest to you about what is needed in your personal ministry? What does this suggest to you about what is needed to help you equip others in the ministry of evangelism? What steps can you take this week to begin addressing these four significant findings?

Source: Making Disciples, Obstacles and Opportunities in Urban Congregations. You can find the article here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/irom.12123

Men of Character

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By Chris Holmes, guest contributor

In the transition from boyhood to manhood, something deep within our nature shifts -it is gripping, definitely tied to our sexuality, and feels innately wild. This enigmatic hormonal assertiveness wells up and finds healthy expression in intense passion and sexual desire. This drive is divinely created and should be celebrated.

Unrestrained predatory behavior is not organic to manhood or inherent in male character. Abuse, violence, unwanted aggression and sexual assault are grotesque distortions of the healthy male drive and cannot be blamed on hormones or “boys just being boys”. This abhorrent conduct is more often rooted in a distorted sense of male privilege or a misogynist view of women, neither of which are of divine creation.

We men clearly have work to do in reinforcing healthy expressions of manhood and repelling social norms that justify or support abusive male behavior. We must unequivocally state that the line between healthy sexual expression and predatory abuse is not only a clear line, but a wide one, and is not crossed by men of character, no matter how powerful they are or how upstanding they may otherwise seem.

10 Rules for Addressing Panhandlers

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Dr. Pete Gathje, Memphis Theological Seminary 

“If a panhandler asks me for money, what should I do?”

This question is asked almost every time I give a talk about homelessness, or when people find out I help run Manna House, a place of hospitality for people on the streets. Here is my advice based upon my knowledge of homelessness, and talking with panhandlers.

1. Give or don’t give. It is really your choice. But always look the person in the eye who is asking, and say “Hi.” If you are not going to give then add, “Sorry I can’t help today.” If you are going to give add, “Hope this helps.” Either way, always treat the person with respect. They are human beings, made in the image of God.

2. If you do give to a panhandler, remember it is a gift, and the person is free to do with it whatever he or she wants to do. The person is not homeless because of some personal moral failure, so do not get into making moral evaluations and judgments.

3. If you do not give that is OK. Panhandlers know most people will not give. One said to me, “It is like cold calling in sales. I expect to get turned down most of the time, and it doesn’t bother me. Just treat me with respect.” (See Rule #1 above).

4. If you feel unsafe or the person panhandling is being aggressive or threatening, leave the area and don’t give. As one panhandler said to me, “There are jerks in every line of life. Don’t reward them.”

5. Sometimes give more than you are being asked for. So, if someone asks for a dollar, give them five! Both you and the panhandler can share in the joy of that unexpected gift.

6. Set a limit or a boundary to your giving. Mine is $5 per day. Once I have given out my $5 then I respond to anyone who asks, “I’ve given out already what I give each day.” I consider this my “street tax.”

7. There are people who panhandler who are not homeless. They are simply poor. It is near impossible to tell the difference between a homeless panhandler and one who is not. So, again, give if you want, or do not give if you do not want to, but treat everyone with respect. (See Rule #1 above).

8. Feeling awkward or uncomfortable when you see a panhandler or are asked for money is OK. It means you have a conscience and some compassion.

9. If you have time, and are so inclined, volunteer with an organization that works with people on the streets offering food, or shelter, or medical care etc. You will get to know some really interesting people, and they will get to know you. And you might see them on the streets from time to time, and you can wave and yell “Hi!”

10. If you really want to help people who are homeless, then advocate for housing for all homeless people and free shelters. Support organizations in your area that practice a “housing first” approach to homelessness. Also resist all efforts to dehumanize, disrespect, and criminalize people who are on the streets with laws like “No panhandling” or myths like “Panhandlers make a lot of money panhandling.” (See Rule #1 above).

(This article originally appeared in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, 9/7/18)

Longing for Better Balance

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By Teresa Angle-Young

In a recent coaching session with a pastor, he said, “I simply cannot hear God’s voice anymore.”

He said this with a combination of fatigue, exasperation, fear and anger.

After an hour of deeply listening to him, what I heard was a life too full – full of meetings, commitments, and stress – a life overextended. Surely there was no time to stop and listen deeply to God. There was no time to listen deeply to his congregation. There was no time to listen deeply to the wisdom of scripture. And it was showing in a diminished quality to his sermons.

Most clergy have big hearts, full of compassion, and have a tendency to want to be all to all, usually at the expense of their personal lives, their health, and their own needs and desires, and often at the expense of being able to listen to God. While Jesus does call us to give selflessly, even Jesus took time away from the demands of ministry to take care of himself, to pray, to dine with friends, to form and nurture relationships, and to rest. He took time to listen deeply, to those around him and to God.

Why do we feel we can do more than Jesus?

One of the biggest challenges of ministry is knowing when to shut off the phone, to turn off the computer, and to simply rest and enjoy life. In order to provide care for others, we must care for ourselves. And in order to be an effective preacher, we must create boundaries to protect both our “down” time as well as our sermon preparation time.

Here are a few suggestions. Not everyone will work for you, and some will not even apply to you. Boundaries are not the same for everyone, so consider these and pick the ones that you want to try.

  • Schedule one hour on your calendar at the beginning of the week to simply read your sermon text, pray over the text, and reflect on the text. Do not take calls or allow interruptions during this time.
  • Observe a weekly sabbath. I know. I know. It is hard. But it’s also a commandment, and there is a good reason for that. Just do it.
  • Look at your entire work week and try to map out where you spend your time. For example, there are 168 hours in a week. A clergy colleague suggests that you sleep/rest 1/3 of the time (56 hours), work 1/3 of the time (56 hours), and spend the other 1/3 (56 hours) in recreation, hobbies and other non-work-related pursuits. Most clergy spend far more than 56 hours a week in ministry, at the expense of either sleep or family, friends, pets, fun, relaxation, hobbies, sabbath, etc.
  • Read a lot of non-religious writing. You’ll be shocked at how many sermon illustrations you’ll suddenly see.
  • Go to movies, watch the news, and read blogs on the Internet. Listen to music. Read poetry. Read fiction. Eavesdrop on conversations! People watch! Stay up on current affairs. Again, it’s sermon illustration fodder…
  • Eat the best, most nutritious food you can afford, and drink a lot of water. Not only will your body thank you, but your vocal chords will too. Cut out sugar-laden soft drinks.
  • Exercise. Take a walk. Get your body moving in some way every couple of hours for at least 10 minutes or so. If you have physical limitations, consult your doctor and do what you are able to do. If nothing else, move to a different location and give yourself a few minutes just to drink in a new view or get some fresh air.

By creating boundaries you also have the opportunity to create balance, and in that balance, you’ll have time to listen, deeply, to the voice of God.

Is your life in balance?

Click here to download a free life-work assessment tool.  church-coaching-solutions.lpages.co/work-life-balance-tool/

And, if you’d like to work with a coach who can help with your work-life balance, you can apply for a coach at http://www.clergycoachingnetwork.com/apply-now

Exemplary Leaders Possess Grit

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As we have learned from our mentors, adaptive leadership skills set great leaders apart and when practiced with passion allow us to achieve a level of excellence that is needed and desired.

Angela Duckworth, in her groundbreaking book GRIT, makes a case for one of the essential components of such a skill set. Her conclusion is that effort and hard work “count twice.” When we approach our lives with grittiness, we can deliver on achievement. A person may not be a genius or possess the highest level of natural gifts, but if she or he is gritty, works hard and is committed to achievement good things happen.

I am a Memphian, and we have a professional NBA team nicknamed the Grizzlies. For many years, they have made the playoffs and on occasion taken down teams with much more natural talent. Their achievements fit their mantra, “Grit and Grind.” I do not know all that is intended by that phrase, but it certainly meant that their effort and passion could exceed that of other teams and enable them to win when not expected. To give stronger effort, to practice more diligently, and to outhustle your opponent will yield the right stuff.

In the practice of life and ministry, there are so many implications for this principle that we will simply call grit.

We can establish a culture of grit in our homes and workplaces. In the middle of Duckworth’s book, she quotes a section from a JPMorgan Chase manual, titled HOW WE DO BUSINESS.

“Have a fierce resolve in everything you do. Demonstrate determination, resiliency, and tenacity. Do not let temporary setbacks become permanent excuses. And finally, use mistakes and problems as opportunities to get better and not reasons to quit.”

Persevering will take you to good places and create the right results. It is summed up well by Brene Brown when she offers a snapshot of her book RISING STRONG.

“Fall. Get Up. Try again.”

Remember the woman in Scripture who persisted in prayer. She had grit. Remember the coach who required you to shoot a hundred free throws every day after practice. He taught you grit. Where are the spaces and places in your life that a renewed grittiness might make a huge difference?

We All Need “A Quiet Place”

A QUIET PLACE

Rick Kirchoff

A few weeks ago my wife and I went to see the movie, “A Quiet Place.”  If you’ve not heard about the film, it’s one of this year’s top-grossing films, earning just under $185 million over the last month.

Without giving away too much of the plot, it is the story of a family that must live in complete silence to avoid being attacked by a vicious alien with super-sensitive hearing. Silence, in the film’s post-apocalyptic world, saves lives.

I was reading a blog post about the film by David Chatham.  In the post, David asks us to consider how we can use silence to our advantage. He offered “three times when silence is golden.”  So, when is silence golden for a preacher or Christian leader?

1st — When you have nothing to say

It’s OK not to have an opinion on a popular/trending issue. Chatham says that we need to fight the urge to conjure up something just to be a part of the conversation. He invites us to resist the temptation, and be contemplative rather than risk being seen as exploitative or ignorant.

2nd — When someone else is more qualified to speak

Providing the insight of experts can add value and communicate that we care enough about our audience to bring them relevant content.

3rd — When it’s time to listen

Over and over we’ve all been reminded to listen twice as much as we speak. This is especially true for Christian leaders as we face the challenges of ministry.

This 3rd point brought to mind the powerful message in Psalm 4:4-5: “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it in your beds and be silent.  Offer right sacrifices and put your trust in the Lord.”

Ruth Haley Barton writes, “There are times when the most heroic thing a leader can do is to remain in that private place with God for as long as it takes to keep from sinning.  In silence, we consciously trust ourselves to God rather than following our human impulses to fix, control or put people in the r place.”

This is not to suggest that we never speak.  Certainly, we are to courageously speak justice and compassion and hope.

But she cautions, “The more we are called upon to use our words the more distressing things are, the more that active leadership is required of us, the more silence we need. The greater the call for decisive action, the more we must be sure that we have waited long enough to receive clear direction.”

In another place she tells of how a wise, spiritual director once said to her, “Ruth, you are like a jar of river water all shaken up.  You need to sit still long enough so that the sediment can settle and the water can become clear.” Be still!  Let things settle!  Take the time to quiet and calm your soul.

We all need A Quiet Place, a space to be with God and God alone, where we take the time to quiet and calm our soul and where we listen twice as much as we speak.

Where is your Quiet Place?

Strategic Planning or Herding Cats

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The Reverend Dr. Teresa Angle-Young, Church Coaching Solutions

If strategic planning with your church feels like “herding cats” then listen up!

Clergy from around the country share with me that strategic planning can be one of their most frustrating processes, for the following reasons:

  • Getting leadership and/or staff to agree on strategy can feel like herding cats. As one pastor shared, “If we have 12 people in the room, that means there are 24 opinions on every issue.”
  • The strategic planning process results in too many ideas and priorities, so that the church tries to do too much and spreads itself thin.
  • After the leadership ratifies the strategy, the church doesn’t have the bandwidth to execute it, and so the strategy sits on shelf.

Strategy doesn’t have to be stressful. You can get your leadership aligned and in agreement about your church’s strategy. You can set up accountability structures so that your team implements the strategic plan. And you can do all of this while building your church’s capacity to be stewards of your mission and vision.

To begin:

  • Answer the most important strategic questions to set your church up for realization of its mission;
  • Choose only the right number of priorities required for success; and
  • Put in place accountability and a structure to make sure that your strategy actually gets implemented.

Let’s break those down a bit.

One: Answer the “big” strategic planning questions. The big questions include: Who is our mission field and how can we better serve them? What do we do best and how can we build on that edge? How can we prepare our church to seize opportunities? What are potential scenarios that we need to consider for the future, and how will we prepare for them?

Unfortunately, many churches debate these issues with academic discussions and confusing jargon. They are like philosophers trying to decide how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. At the same time, some churches come up with brilliant answers to these questions, but can’t quite take them to the point of clear initiatives that get done.

The big strategic planning questions are worthless if they don’t result in a few clear, compelling strategic initiatives to strengthen the church.

Two: Set a few clear priorities and an overall strategic theme. The most important outcome of the first part of the strategic planning process is to identify the most important priorities for the church. Starting with a long list of potential priorities, the leadership discusses the relative value of each, and hones in on only a few key priorities. This discussion can also lead to greater clarity about the big strategic planning questions, especially about what the church should do best. No church can be everything to everyone. What makes your church special?

Once a list of no more than three to five priorities is agreed upon, the team can come up with a strategic theme. This is a one-line statement that conveys the overall strategic push for the organization. Examples could include: “Pay off building debt!” “Expand to a second campus.” “Start a new student ministry.” “Increase membership by 20% in 18 months.”

During this phase, many churches settle for a long list of priorities. This has the benefit that nobody feels excluded or insulted. However, it makes it highly unlikely that the church will get anything done completely.

Three: Implement. The biggest complaint we hear about strategy is that it never seems to get executed. There are a few reasons why:

  • Neglecting to commit essential resources to the strategy, including capital, training, technology, and people.
  • Failing to take things off the plate of busy staff and volunteers, and instead just stacking more work on them.
  • Having lack of will to stop old initiatives that compete with the new, even when the old ministries are no longer fruitful.
  • Not setting clear roles, responsibilities, accountability, and rewards systems for volunteers.
  • Giving up after a few setbacks or initial resistance.

A sound strategy spends as much time on implementation planning as it does on the more glamorous work of answering the key strategic questions and setting priorities.

Which of the above areas is weakest in your church? Some churches are strong at asking the big picture questions, but fail to follow up. Some set too many priorities, and can’t say “no” to good ideas, despite limited resources. Others are strong at executing, but lack the vision to develop compelling strategic initiatives.

A strong and focused strategic process gives everyone in your church a common language for talking about strategy, so that everyone is included and can contribute. It draws on the knowledge and expertise of your leadership and members. And it’s laser focused on a few key initiatives.

To learn more, download a Strategic Assessment by clicking here.