Good article on a difficult, cultural topic and struggle – “Does God see me as a Heterosexual?” and other thoughts on Sexuality by Brant Hansen

BrantHansencropI don't know Brant…but I'm making it my week's goal to listen to his podcast and order his book.  This is a VERY HELPFUL article for many reasons.  It is good theology, good practical conversation regarding a very "hot" topic in culture; it is sensitive as well as empathetic.  The article communicates what has not been an oft seen reality in recent months and years, "compassionate and humble" truth-telling.  I believe Brant did something that not too many people have been able to do – speak the truth (from his vantage point) in love.  If this topic has been something you've struggled with…if you need a place from which to evaluate and "feel through" as well as think through some of your own perspectives and beliefs, this article will stimulate that process.  Thanks Brant!

You can check out Brant's website and podcast here! 

Download "Does God See Me as a Heterosexual"

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Thinking About Transitioning A Church? Don’t Do It! UNLESS…

0626e12db9ad5b4e82f028d82e16bdefThinking About Transitioning A Church? Don’t Do It!

This post is one I adapted/structured from a blog post that originally appeared on the Missio Alliance website in July 2015

UNLESS…

1.  You have an imagination for a new logic for leading toward transformation.

A Failing Strategy – Top down, Compliance change – Eager to jumpstart transition, many pastors employ de-personalized, top-down, programmatic logic. We make pronouncements about where the church is headed, meet with a few focus groups, create new branding, and preach a brilliant sermon series.

  • This strategy assumes a quick transition.
  • This strategy assumes the most fundamental work is in the realm ideas (i.e. transferring ideas to those who don’t yet know).
  • This strategy assumes leaders must remain in control for fruit to be born.
  • This strategy assumes success can be measured quantitatively (e.g. how many buy-ins, new groups, new members, etc.).

New Transitional strategy:

  1. First and always be personal or person-centered – always seek to cultivate deep faithfulness to Jesus from the inside-out and bottom-up through life-on-life connection.
  2. Surrender the desire to control the process and control outcomes.
  3. Learn to measure qualitatively and invest in growth through multiplication.
  4. Become an expert in change dynamics and the realities of organic systems.

2.  You expect to be understood, to be liked, and to keep everyone feeling good.

Realities: 

  • The process of transformation is slow.
  • The existing culture is based on an implicit contract with members that assumes and functions under a particular set of values and goals (which are unspoken, unnamed, and often connected to people’s emotions).
  • Leading a congregation through transition gets “internalized” by the people as a breach of that contract.
  • There will be people who misunderstand you and take changes personally.
  • You will face the temptation to give in to the loudest voices and capitulate to complaints – or – to push forward, using power and control, by eliminating and marginalizing dissenting voices.

New Transitional strategy:

  1. Calibrate empathetic understanding.
  2. Learn not to take their feelings of hurt personally.
  3. Learn to “sit” in the midst of confusion, frustration, and disappointment.
  4. A posture of presence (through listening, praying, crying) is crucial to leading people through the process of change.
  5. Lead not to “get people on board” or “to get them out of the way,” but because Jesus wept even as he was about to bring resurrection.

3.  You can fail without identifying yourself as a failure. 

Realities: 

  • Evaluate if you love the vision/idea of culture change more than people
  • Ask – “how do I feel about failing?” Every leader wants to succeed, to win, to achieve, but do you HAVE to? Is who you are and how you see yourself dependent on it?
  • When leading through change, transformation of people and culture is messier and slower than we envisioned.
  • For those who are particularly ambitious, this reality will be frustrating and exhausting.
  • Instead of loving people in discipleship and mission, an aversion to failure often causes leaders to use people to fulfill the vision.

New Transitional strategy: 

  1. Learn to embrace failure as good news.
  2. Be open to the possibility that the best thing for the community and for us is failing in the way we wanted most to succeed. Failure is often a catalyst for softness of heart, which is a necessary condition for spiritual transformation. Failure is the gateway to learning, repentance, humility, tenderness and sensitivity.
  3. We cultivate the character to be with people in their transformation when we have befriended our own failure. When we don’t need to succeed, we are freed to be present to people wherever they are. 

4.  You can handle the persisting tension of having to deal with the old culture/DNA.

Realities: 

  • In the beginning, the gap between the existing culture and the new will be perceived as an adventure. 
  • Most often leaders are eager to begin the work and are exhilarated by challenges.
  • But tension between the old and new inevitably persists.
  • Initial gains could turn out to be false positives.
  • Some won’t want a new culture or will find the change too costly.
  • New vision often gets hijacked under old programs and old DNA/paradigms.
  • When tension persists, leaders often become discouraged and even bitter often loathing their role and/or fantasizing about “greener pastures” where they can start from scratch or commiserate with people who “get it.”
  • Having compassion for those struggling in the old culture becomes increasingly difficult; it becomes easier to see others as enemies and problems.

New Transitional strategy: 

  1. Learn patient perseverance with yourself and with others
  2. This transition will be something that only can occur over the long haul.
  3. This is not something we try harder to do – this is not a mind trick.
  4. Patient perseverance means choosing to trust that God is forming Jesus’ image in us and in the community in and through the frustrations, disappointments, and struggles.
  5. This is a sacred work but remember and realize (accept) that you may never see it birthed.
  6. Be attentive to the grace God is making available.
  7. Don't ignore the struggle.
  8. Learn to feast on God’s presence – to listen for his voice – amidst the struggle rather than nurturing discontent.

Bottom line – Transitioning a church culture is probably a terrible idea. The whole process will be completely different than you imagined.   But God cares about people in the community more than you do, and he wants to take you, as a leader, on a journey deeper into his life.  If you’re open to that – then DO IT!    

A truer article I haven’t read in a while…transitioning a faith community!

1ohyes1aI read this article yesterday and again this morning.  As a person who is attempting to do JUST THIS I found it to be accurate and prophetic.  Thanks to Jesus that someone had the courage to write this!  If you are a part of a faith community that is attempting to embrace significant transformation and change, read with an open heart for encouragement as well as challenge!

Thinking About Transitioning A Church? Don’t Do It!

Appearing on the Missio Alliance website July 2015

This post is a joint effort by Seth Richardson and Matt Tebbe.

By the time I (Seth) started seminary, I was well on my way to wrecking my life. It was the kind of wrecking that happens slowly, under the radar. The extent of the damage is often realized ten years down the road after you’ve built your life atop a mountain of ruin and everything crashes down with serious collateral damage.

But I was interrupted in the most troubling and gracious of ways. While I barreled toward the rocky-yet-enticing shore of religiously sanctioned arrogance, the church saved my life.

Well, Jesus saved my life. But not ideas about Jesus.

A community of people who knew Jesus – who knew, not just how to talk about him, but how to follow him in the grittiness of daily life – helped me come apart under the cross and begin the slow process of coming back together in resurrection life.

I learned how to follow Jesus because I was immersed in a community surrendered to Jesus himself – on his way, under his authority, in his power. Because the community knew this way, not just in abstract, but in its body, I learned it in my body. Yes, we talked about it, but more importantly we practiced it.

Learning to surrender to the renewal God is working in Christ was hard. It’s still hard – mostly for the same reason it was hard initially, but now also for a different reason: I’m no longer immersed in that community AND my primary vocational task in this season is cultivating that Jesus-shaped culture in an established church that needs it.

Planting and growing a new community from the ground-up has its unique challenges, for sure. I (Matt) am currently neck-deep in it. But transitioning an existing community, planting seeds of change in an existing culture, is equally as challenging and potentially as treacherous. I’ve been there too.

Leading through transition may obliterate your confidence and leave you sour and cynical toward the church. You may come out the other end with little perceptible shift in the existing culture of the congregation, or you may look back and realize change took place through force and coercion.

In fact, transitioning a church culture is a terrible idea. Don’t do it.

That is, if you don’t have an imagination for a new logic for leading toward transformation – then don’t do it.

Eager to jumpstart transition, many pastors (especially those with the leverage to make it happen) employ de-personalized, top-down, programmatic logic. We make pronouncements about where the church is headed, meet with a few focus groups, create new branding, and preach a brilliant sermon series.

People often get really excited about this stuff. It feels like something is happening. But often these efforts never truly escape the existing center of gravity. We try to use the same levers, the same logic, and the same fuel that got us to where we are. One program is simply traded for another.

The “old logic” assumes a quick transition. It assumes the most fundamental work is in the realm ideas (i.e. transferring ideas to those who don’t yet know). It assumes leaders must remain in control for fruit to be born. It assumes success can be measured quantitatively (e.g. how many buy-ins, new groups, new members, etc).

However, if we are called into this season, we need a new logic. One that is first and always personal – always seeking to cultivate deep faithfulness to Jesus from the inside-out and bottom-up through life-on-life connection. We must be willing to surrender the desire to control the process and control outcomes. We learn to measure qualitatively and invest in growth through multiplication.

If you expect to be understood, to be liked, and to keep everyone feeling good – then don’t do it.

The process of transformation is slow. It hurts. Your existing culture already has people who have bought in. There is an implicit contract with members that assumes and functions under a particular set of values and goals (which are unspoken, unnamed, and often connected to people’s emotions).

Leading for transition in a local church gets internalized as a breach of that contract. There will be people who misunderstand you and take your changes personally. The temptation then becomes to give in to the loudest voices and capitulate to complaints – or – to push forward, using power and control, by eliminating and marginalizing dissenting voices.

However, if we are called to this season, we need to calibrate empathetic understanding. We must learn not to take their feelings of hurt personally. We must learn to sit with them in their confusion, frustration, and disappointment. A posture of presence (through listening, praying, crying) is crucial to leading people through the process of change.

Calibrating connection, empathy, and understanding is paramount for the pastor who will lead transition in their church culture. We lead in this posture not to “get people on board” or “to get them out of the way,” but because Jesus wept even as he was about to bring resurrection.

If you can’t fail without identifying yourself as a failure – then don’t do it.

A good way to evaluate if you love the vision/idea of culture change more than people is to ask yourself how you feel about failing. Every leader wants to succeed, to win, to achieve, but do you HAVE to? Is who you are and how you see yourself dependent on it?

Most leaders have an amazing vision for where to lead the community. But, when leading through change, transformation of people and culture is messier and slower than we envisioned. For those who are particularly ambitious, this reality will be frustrating and exhausting. Instead of loving people in discipleship and mission, an aversion to failure often causes leaders to use people to fulfill the vision. Great vision combined with using people equals bad pastoral juju.

However, if we are called to this season, we must learn to embrace failure as good news. This looks like being open to the possibility that the best thing for the community and for us is failing in the way we wanted most to succeed. Failure is often a catalyst for softness of heart, which is a necessary condition for spiritual transformation. Failure is the gateway to learning, repentance, humility, tenderness and sensitivity.

We cultivate the character to be with people in their transformation when we have befriended our own failure. When we don’t need to succeed, we are freed to be present to people wherever they are.

If you can’t handle persisting tension with the old culture – then don’t do it.

In the beginning, the gap between the existing culture and the new is an adventure – leaders are eager to begin the work and are exhilarated by the challenge. But tension between the old and new inevitably persists. Initial gains turn out to be false positives. Other staff/elders don’t want a new culture or key members of the community find change too costly. The new vision gets hijacked under old programs.

When tension persists, leaders often become discouraged and bitter – loathing their role and fantasizing about “greener pastures” where they can start from scratch, commiserate with people who “get it,” or find a job outside the local church. Having compassion for those struggling in the old culture becomes increasingly difficult; it becomes easier to see others as enemies and problems.

However, if we are called to this season, we must learn patient perseverance with ourselves and with others for the long haul. This is not something we try harder to do – a pastoral mind trick. Patient perseverance is choosing to trust that God is forming Jesus’ image in us and in the community in and through the frustrations, disappointments, and struggles. If we don’t stick around to tend to this sacred work, we may never see it birthed.

Practicing patient perseverance looks like attentiveness to the grace God is making available. This does not mean ignoring the struggle. It means learning to feast on God’s presence – to listen for his voice – amidst the struggle rather than nurturing discontent.

Transitioning a church culture is a terrible idea. The whole process will be completely different than you imagined. But God cares about people in the community more than you do, and he wants to take you, as a leader, on a journey deeper into his life.

If you’re open to that – then go for it.

Some encouragement for leaders of faith communities…PRIME TIME!

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“Prime time or peak time is the block of broadcast programming taking place during the middle of the evening for television programming.” Wikipedia

Television Executives are smart! They know when the vast majority of people in our country are sitting in front of their televisions. It’s been called, “PRIME TIME” and it has been the concept in visual media that has driven the television industry from its infancy to the behemoth that it has become. It is probably beyond our wildest imagination to sense or guess how much time, energy and money is spent to fill that PRIME TIME with the programming and advertising that feeds the media desires of a massive population. In fact, even as you read this people are writing, filming, planning and acting their way into the attention of the country vying for coveted Neilson rating points that will insure that they stay relevant in the country’s waning attention span!

MOST pastoral leaders know the truth – we have a vast majority of the people who are either members or who align themselves with our faith communities on Sunday morning during worship experiences. In almost 100% of the cases that I have studied over the years, congregational ministry is at its numerical peak during the expressions of the “gathered” church. It didn't take me long as a leader to see what Sunday morning actually is…it is where I have the highest potentiality of having a person’s “ear and heart,” as well as their attention focused on issues having to do with discipleship, spiritual encouragement and, ultimately, vision casting and the solidification of a mission mindset. In other words, the DNA of a congregation’s life is most felt and is at its peak of vulnerability during our Sunday morning gatherings. Worship experiences will either continue to cement existing organizational values and priorities, introduce dynamics of change and transformation that could lead to revitalization, or “stir the pot” as new elements of biblical encouragement regarding discipleship and faithfulness are explored. These gatherings set the tone for corporate ministry, they “nourish” the people in the truth and challenge of God’s Word, they soothe the hearts of disciples as Jesus’ presence is experienced in the Sacrament, they ground them in prayer, and they provide the optimal context for the deepening of relationships. Without a doubt, these times have become what I have called over the years, “PRIME TIME.”

So the question begs to be answered for congregational ministry leaders, “How do you use that PRIME TIME?” “Do you infuse congregational worship with shared vision?” Do you often highlight the fact that those experiences are the PRIME context from which we encourage and train disciples (in addition to proclaiming God’s grace and love)?”

I believe we either lie to ourselves or live with false hope that people, at least the vast majority of people in any given congregational setting, will attend “other” events from which we can effectively train and equip them for 21st century discipleship. In my context, I’m happy to get about 20% of active Sunday worshippers to attend any event (retreat, weekend spiritual growth conference, adult bible study, etc.). But that is just it – I have 20% at these “other” events far from the majority of people who call our congregation’s ministry their spiritual home. Because of that, I intentionally LEAN INTO prime time. I structure sermons, announcements, video and other visual media, even music to reflect some of the emphases I believe are necessary for our community to grow in our commitment to Jesus and to His mission.

What do you do? How do you use PRIME TIME? There are a number of things you can do to infuse your worship experiences in a manner that will encourage the overall growth of your congregation’s mission-driven potential. If you purposely shift your mindset about what CAN occur in worship, if you can intentionally say to yourself, “this is the forum where MOST of our people are here, ready to listen and learn and grow,” and if you remember that you have at your disposal the promises and presence of God in and through that worship experiences, the possibilities are endless. Below are just a few ideas that I’ve used to lean into PRIME TIME:

a. Have an Annual State of the Church message – reviewing the purpose of ministry and discipleship, your congregation’s values, and how the congregation is accomplishing or actively pursuing faithfulness to those values. I use these times to review the past year and look to the next year with “fresh eyes” to renewed energy, emphasis and focus.

b. Teach intentionally on discipleship from the gospels – there is a measured difference between proclamation and teaching. Proclamation is usually focused on inspiration and encouragement. It is truly a “prophetic” gift that is meant to be used by the Spirit of God to enlighten, convict, convince and challenge God’s people. Teaching, on the other hand, has a divergent purpose. It is based on an assumption of change…it is built on actualization of new and/or structured information as well as the inculcation and application of truth in such a manner that it is personally owned and effectively applied. Two years ago, I decided to teach through the gospels for an entire year looking at every text from a discipleship perspective. I asked the congregating to ask themselves not, “What would Jesus do?” but rather, “What is Jesus doing in and through us and in our world? How do we join HIM in mission?” We learned from every text essential Jesus following principles as prayed together that they may be made real in our lives.

c. Frequently write introits, calls to worship, prayers and litanies that are focused on the call of discipleship, our ministry to the world and culture, and the challenges we face as followers of Jesus as we take steps of faithfulness to Christ. Add another section of scripture to your lectionary readings one that is specifically mission focused.

d. Tell stories of people (especially YOU!) engaging the culture and community as Jesus followers. Tell stories of you and your neighbor’s relationship…your struggles to be a Gospel person in your daily life…the books or articles you are reading that encourage YOU in discipleship and mission. If you desire, present videos that encourage mission. Check out the videos that are available on sites such as Verge, Ecclesia, Exponential, and FiveTwo. Edit the videos as you see fit and use “snippets” or small tastes of presentations to encourage vision and discipleship.

If you were a television executive, you would cringe at the idea that any of programming personnel were ignoring the potentiality of PRIME TIME. My question to you as a fellow leader is, “are you ignoring the potentiality of the PRIME TIME God gives you with your faith community?”