Why Going to Church Matters

Just a quick note here–I’ve been doing so much writing for my Fuller Seminary studies for the last few months that I haven’t had much time for blogging.  I thought this paper from my Biblical Theology of Mission Class might interest a few of you however.

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INTRODUCTION

Are large Christian gatherings anything more than Christian entertainment?  Mega-ministries fill stadiums with Christians enjoying highly produced worship bands presented with state-of-the art technology.  Charismatic speakers in skinny jeans skilled in the art of rhetoric thrill the crowd.  Do these exciting meetings signal revival or the church’s contamination by popular culture?   Dr. Paul Hiebert warns us, “The postmodern church is pulled toward becoming entertainment” (Hiebert 2008, Loc 5029).  The hate bloggers and the hurt are quick to decry these gatherings, with perhaps legitimate concerns about money wasted, shallow relationships, and ego-centric pastors.  This is a question that global church is asking, and church leaders need to be able to answer.

Most of my ministry experience has been gained on the front lines of large churches.  I’ve asked myself this question before in moments when I felt tired, and I knew my volunteer team was tired.  People who attend big churches seem to fall into one of two categories: a larger group of people whose connection to church life is their attendance every other week, and those who are deeply connected into community, perhaps even serving.  The few facilitate church services for the many.  The attenders-only group comes to church to be refreshed in their faith, and at times, I’ve resented them for it, perhaps unfairly.  This emphasis on receiving doesn’t reflect healthy Christianity, so does that mean that our churches are inadvertently facilitating immaturity, even in their apparent success?

The spiritual climate of the Western world has changed, and the prevailing attitude of society toward the church has changed.  The highly publicized downfall of notable Christian leaders in the eighties and the pedophilia scandals of the Catholic church have bred suspicion toward the church and slick presentations instead of trust.  Social media is full of Christians like Wendy Van Eyck who have decided that they love Jesus, but are opting out of church on Sunday (Van Eyck, 2016).  We have instant access online to the best sermons and all the Bible training that we’ll ever need—without ever setting foot in church.  In today’s world, is it time to consider letting go of the tradition of Sunday church?  Is a casual home Bible study enough?

Church leaders must have an answer from the Bible.  Our cultural expression of corporate worship should be shaped by loving deference to God’s preference.  This paper will study God’s purposes for Christians gatherings.  Eliminating church gatherings would cause us to miss a vital component of God’s design for his Kingdom people.  Church meetings are the primary vehicle for imparting our corporate identity as God’s people and his assignment.  The thesis of this paper is that when Christians assemble together as a local church, God unites individuals together in a new corporate identity as God’s people that contains our primary assignment—participation in God’s mission to reconcile with all of creation—and gives us the Holy Spirit’s power to accomplish it.  Churches today should shape their meetings around these purposes, and have worship experiences that are both attractional and missional.  Churches missing these elements are in danger of stagnation, which leads to atrophy.

This paper will examine four passages of the Bible that describe gatherings of God’s people, and extract shared principles from those descriptions.  The paper will conclude with a prescriptive model based on those principles.

ASSEMBLIES OF GOD’S PEOPLE

The word “church” appears first in the New Testament as a translation of the Greek word, ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia), which means “a group that meets together for various political, religious, and civic purposes” (Davis 2014, “Assembly, Religious”).  In Greco-Roman society, the ekklesia was a political assembly.  The Septuagint translates the Hebrew word, קָהָל (qāhāl), as ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia); this word is frequently translated “assembly” in the Old Testament, and describes the assembling of the entire nation of Israel as God’s people (Davis 2014, “Assembly, Religious”).  Raymond Zorn explains that for the Jews, to be part of the ekklesia was far more than simply a town hall meeting.  These sacred gatherings defined the covenant people of God and established their calling as a priestly kingdom of God and a display nation (Zorn 1962, 15).

The New Testament writers likely borrowed this concept from the Septuagint to describe the gatherings of the church.  Dr. Michael Goheen asserts that the use of the term ekklesia shows a direct connection between the Old Testament assembly and the New Testament church (Goheen 2011, 162).  Because the early church borrowed the Old Testament model for assembly, we too can glean insights from Old Testament gatherings for church today.

I will examine two Old Testament examples of ekklesia.  The first is 1 Chronicles 13:1-16:43, when David and the people of Israel escorted the Ark into Jerusalem.  The second is 2 Chronicles 5:2-7:10; Solomon’s dedication of the Temple.  I will also study two New Testament passages.  The first gathering is Luke 10:1-24, when Jesus commissioned the Seventy-two.  The second is Acts 1:13-2:47, when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost.

Old Testament Ekklesia

First and Second Chronicles are books of history.  These books preserve the covenant identity of the Jewish people and reminded the original Jewish audience of what produced God’s blessing, and what removed God’s blessing.

The occasion of 1 Chronicles 13-16 is a joyous celebration.  David, the undisputed king and conqueror, conferred with his leaders and decided to inquire of God.  In 1 Chronicles 13:5, David assembled all of Israel, and together they decided to transport the Ark of the Covenant from Baalah, in southern Palestine, to the new capitol, Jerusalem.  The atmosphere was festive until the frightening moment when Uzzah reached out to steady the Ark and died immediately in front of the entire gathering.  The party broke up, and the ark was abandoned, surprisingly, in the care of a Philistine man, Obed-Edom (Elmwell 1988, “Gittite”).  Despite his despised pagan race, Obed-Edom was blessed by God as result of the Ark’s presence in his home.  David’s abandonment of the Ark to a pagan seems almost defiant, indicating a faith crisis in David.  He was angry and fearful, wondering why God would reward his efforts with such harsh dealings.  Uzzah’s act of steadying the ark, while at first glance seems honorable although misguided, also demonstrates a lack of faith.  He presumed that God needed a hand, which added dishonor to disobedience.  Instead of demonstrating humanity’s dependence on God, this act arrogantly supposed that God was dependent on man for protection.

In chapter fourteen, the author establishes rhetorically that David had not lost the favor of God through this debacle, as evidenced by his fruitful lineage, his dominance over other city-states that sent him tribute, and various victories in battle.  In chapter fifteen, David humbly acknowledged his disobedience to God’s specifications about transporting the Ark.  After the Levites consecrated themselves, the assembly set out again on its mission to be reunited with the presence of God, this time correctly.  Interestingly, David included Obed-Edom the Philistine in the group of Levites who would escort the Ark, an indicator of the missional nature of this gathering (Curtis and Madsen, 215).  The people gathered and worshipped God; David worshipping so demonstratively that he shamed his wife by his lack of dignity.

This time, the venture was successfully completed, and chapter 16 describes the joyful gathering.  The people made offerings to God, and David gave food to all the people.  Some of the Levites and Obed-Edom the Philistine were appointed, “to extol, thank and praise the Lord, the God of Israel” (1 Chronicles 16:4).  Including a Philistine in the Levite duty roster must have been shocking to the people and communicated Israel’s identity as a display nation.

Asaph led the assembly in a psalm, presumably written by David, which instructed the people to praise the Lord, and “make known among the nations what he has done” (1 Chronicles 16:8-9).  Through this song, David reminded a new generation of Israel of their identity as a display nation.  Music grabs attention and recalls easier than prose.  This exhortation to sing to reveal God’s goodness to the nations was repeated in 1 Chronicles 16:23-24.  God used a musical performance to reveal his goodness to people.  The message got even more overtly missional in verses 25-26, convincing idol-worshippers present at the assembly that “[Yahweh] is to be feared above all gods.  For all the gods of the nations are idols.”  This mission is driven home in verse 31: “let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns!’” The assembly responded by joining in agreement and praise to God.

After that day, David appointed Obed-Edom and 68 of his associates, presumably Philistine, to minister alongside the Levites in perpetuity.  The Jews not only heard about their identity as a display nation, but saw a real-life result of that calling—the inclusion of Obed-Edom the Philistine into God’s chosen people.  He wasn’t a second-class citizen either, but given a role of the greatest possible prestige: ministering before the presence of the Lord.  Obed-Edom’s name is mentioned nine times in this passage, showing the author’s emphasis on this foreigner’s role. This history reminded generations of Jews that God welcomes foreigners who honor him.

This gathering demonstrated Israel’s centripetal mission: outsiders attracted to and included in the community of God by hearing the people of God sing praise for his exploits.  The display of supernatural power in this gathering reminded Jews of God’s omnipotent power, and established worship marked by humble dependence and obedience.  At the same time, this was an atmosphere of great joy, because the presence of the Lord produced blessing for both Israel and the Philistine family.

2 Chronicles 5:2-7:10 occurred a generation later, and contains a description of another ekklesia of Israel around the Ark, this time to dedicate Solomon’s Temple (2 Chronicles 5:6).  The gathering began with animal sacrifices too numerous to be counted, then the Levites moved the Ark into the Temple and the singing began: a simple, joyful refrain. “He is good; his love endures forever” (2 Chronicles 5:13).  Solomon stood on a platform before all the assembly and after introducing the Temple, he knelt, and raised his hands toward heaven.  He prayed that the presence of God would come and live in the Temple, and that God would forgive Israel’s sin and bless them.  Solomon prayed that when foreigners hear about Yahweh’s greatness and goodness and come to seek him at the Temple, that God would answer their petition, “so that all the people of the earth may know your name and fear you” (2 Chronicles 6:33).  This prayer reminded a new generation of Israel of their identity as a display nation.

God’s response was immediate and intensely dramatic.  Chapter seven describes how fire from heaven consumed enormous piles of sacrificed animals.  The heat and smell must have been dizzying.  The glory of the Lord filled the temple and was so physically overwhelming that the priests could not even go into the Temple.  The Hebrew word, כָּבוֹד (kā·ḇôḏ) translated glory, means a manifestation of power (Swanson 1997, 3883).  This was so tangible that it was visible above the Temple, and all the people assembled could see it.  Their all-too-appropriate response was to kneel with their faces to the ground and worship, singing the same song that the musicians had led them in at the beginning of the ceremony, and to offer more sacrifices.  The significance of God’s response could not be missed.  He answered Solomon’s prayer, and showed his pleasure with their gathering.  Yahweh led Israel through the desert with a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud, so this demonstration of fire and power was clear evidence that the Temple wasn’t just another political institution set up by Solomon, but that God himself had taken up residence.  Their covenant with Yahweh was secure, and they went home joyful.  In chapter seven, the Lord spoke to Solomon and confirmed that he would answer Solomon’s prayer for Yahweh to dwell in the Temple.  However, if Israel worshipped other gods, failing to be a display nation, then God informed Solomon that instead of being a nation to be emulated, they would become a nation to be ridiculed.

Chronicles records that Egyptians were present at the seven days of feasting that followed the dedication of the Temple, perhaps having heard about the dramatic demonstration of power, and come to acknowledge the sovereignty of Yahweh (2 Chronicles 7:8).  Solomon conscripted 153,600 foreign men living in Israel and forced them to build the temple (2 Chronicles 2:17-18).  These men would likely have witnessed this demonstration of power at the Temple they had labored to build.  They were not the only foreigners to be attracted to this gathering.  Two chapters later, a foreign queen heard about Israel’s blessing and visited Solomon.  She gave praise to Yahweh, and her faith was a fulfillment of Israel’s mission as a display nation (2 Chronicles 9:8).

This assembly put God’s power and favor over Israel on full display before many nations. Like the 1 Chronicles passage, this gathering includes the elements of sacrifice, worship, feasting, the power of God, prayer, joy, and centripetal mission: establishing Israel’s identity as a display nation, and inclusion of outsiders.

New Testament Gatherings

The New Testament contains similar themes.  Luke chapter ten describes a gathering of Jesus’ followers.  The book of Luke was probably intended to be read to Gentile Christians after the fall of Jerusalem (DeSilva 2004, 309).  This gathering took place while Jesus was traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem, apparently with a large group of followers.  This journey had been marked by difficulties.  Luke 9:52-55 describes a Samaritan village’s rejection of Jesus.  He sent messengers ahead of him to prepare things for his arrival, which likely meant Jesus intended to stay a few days and do some ministry.  He wasn’t simply passing through.  The disciples were frustrated by the village’s rejection and wanted Jesus to destroy them, but Jesus rebuked the disciples.  Given the disciples’ likely opinion that Jesus’ ministry to Samaritans was demeaning, then the Samaritan rejection would have been infuriating.  Jesus calms them, however, indicating his desire to minister to the Samaritans, not alienate them.

After this rocky start, Jesus gathered his followers and selected seventy-two to represent him directly (Luke 10:16), and do ministry in villages where he was planning to go (Luke 10:1).  This must have been a fairly large group of followers because Jesus weeded out unfit followers before selecting the seventy-two (Luke 9:57-62).  He gave them power and authority for a specific purpose: to heal the sick, and to preach the good news of the gospel (Luke 10:9).  Jesus instructed them to pray for more workers and then sent them out with some instructions.  They were not to take supplies for the journey, presumably instead to depend on God as their source.  They were not to dawdle in side conversations, but to stay focused.  Jesus instructed them to come in peace, and not try to make demands about food requirements.  Luke was hinting that change was coming about dietary restrictions, and would perhaps have included this instruction to the early Christians so that they would be seen to include themselves in the Pax Romana, and not as disruptive social outcasts.

In Luke nine, Jesus had a similar conversation with the twelve disciples, so it’s possible Luke was juxtaposing the numbers 12 and 72 as a rhetorical device.  12 may represent the twelve tribes of Israel.  The ancient world recognized 72 nations, so the number 72 may have alluded to a mission to Gentiles, or possibly the 72 translators of the Septuagint, who first enabled Gentiles to read Hebrew scripture (DeSilva 2004, 319).

Jesus prophesied doom for the Galilean villages of Chorazin and Bethsaida, who had seen Jesus’ miracles but did not repent.  He had a different attitude toward the Syrian cities Tyre and Sidon, predicting repentance from those cities.  This contrast of Jewish villages and Gentile cities paints the Gentiles in a positive light, and reveals Luke’s agenda to include the Gentiles into God’s people.  It is likely of rhetorical significance that the parable of the good Samaritan follows this passage.  For early Jewish Christians reading this missional call and struggling to love the Gentiles, this parable was the perfect follow-up.

After a time of ministry on the road, the seventy-two returned to Jesus with joy and were excited at the level of power they had over demons.  Jesus explained that Satan’s power is over, which would have comforted the beleaguered early church reading Luke’s monograph.  Jesus refocused them, affirming the value of eschatological salvation over their newfound power.  Luke emphasized that moment of revelation and success with a description of Jesus filled with the Holy Spirit and with joy, worshipping God.

This assembly in Luke ten included a call to centrifugal mission, an impartation and demonstration of power to do ministry, prayer, worship, and joy.  This call to mission is also a call to dependence on God and sacrifice.

The final passage to examine is Acts 1:13-2:47.  Acts is a sequel to Luke, likely also written by Luke to Theophilus and Gentile Christians, and shows further progression of Gentile inclusion into God’s people (DeSilva 2004, 307).  The occasion for this gathering was a prayer meeting after Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

When the apostles returned to Jerusalem, they gathered about 120 of the followers of Jesus to pray, and during that meeting, the Holy Spirit came and filled them.  The Holy Spirit revealed himself as Yahweh through the use of the Old Testament imagery of fire and wind.  F. F. Bruce pointed out this continuity: wind represents the Spirit of God and appeared in Ezekiel 37:9-14, causing dry bones to come to life (Bruce 1988, 50).  God revealed himself in fire on multiple occasions in the Old Testament.  Like Moses’ burning bush, this fire didn’t consume but hovered over individual people.  This outpouring of God’s power touched three senses; they could see the fire, hear and feel the wind.  This was a physical, tangible experience, and as the Holy Spirit filled each of them, they began to speak in other tongues.

This must have been loud and in a relatively public place, because a crowd of 3,000 formed around the gathering.  An early church theory posed that the upper room was in the Temple itself (Glasser 2003, 153).  Acts 2:46 says that after this event, they continued to meet in the Temple every day, which lends strength to this idea.  The gathered crowd was made up of Jewish pilgrims visiting Jerusalem from all over the world to celebrate the feast.  They could understand the glossolalia as proclamations of the wonders of God—spoken in their native languages.  They were completely confused, but clearly very interested and attracted to the visible display of God’s power.

Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, stood up and gave the church’s first altar call.  The old Peter denied Jesus just a few weeks earlier, but this was a new Peter, full of boldness because of the Holy Spirit.  In that moment, Peter’s identity changed from awkward fisherman, bumbling and frequently corrected; to Peter the Apostle—audacious, full of power, and articulate to share the gospel.  He became a man of God with a mission.  Harry Boer said, “The descent of the Spirit at Pentecost made the disciples apostles, i.e., missionaries” (Boer 1961, 62).  The gift of the Holy Spirit caused Peter to discover a new identity within this new corporate missionary responsibility.  According to Glasser, “Peter saw the age of the church and its worldwide missionary responsibility as the beginning of the penetration into human history of the eschatological Kingdom of God” (Glasser 2003, 153).  This revelation gave him an urgency and passion to lead this meeting.

The results of Peter’s sermon went beyond the conversion of the crowd; his message initiated a strategy for the followers of Jesus that waited, gathered in prayer.  Peter’s message signaled to them that the wait was over, and the moment had come—tell everyone about the resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus told them before he left, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7).  The pistol had gone off, and they were out of the starting gate, on mission, and this time with the Holy Spirit to guide and empower them.

That day, Peter preached about Jesus, the resurrected Messiah, and the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit.  Luke’s account foreshadowed Peter’s coming revelation of inclusion for the Gentiles: “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21).  Peter called the Jewish pilgrims to repentance, baptism, and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Luke made it very clear that the gift of the Holy Spirit was more than just one powerful moment.  It was indeed for the new believers that day, but also for their children and the next generation (likely Luke’s audience), for those who are yet far off (you and I), and for anyone that the Lord calls.  They baptized 3,000 that day—people from different cultures all over the world with possibly nothing else in common except their faith were fused together into a new collective identity: Christians, the people of God.

This gathering was marked by the sensory power of God, and that power was attractive.  Other elements of this meeting included preaching, prayer, and centripetal mission.  Luke describes their future gatherings briefly before the close of chapter two.  In their meetings, they included teaching from the Apostles, fellowship, eating, prayer, sacrifice, joy, praise, and miraculous signs and wonders.  These meetings attracted outsiders.

The Holy Spirt changed things forever; gatherings of God’s people would never be the same. “[The Holy Spirit] creates a world of his own, a world of conversion, experience, sanctification; of tongues, prophecy, and miracles; of up-building and guiding the church” (Berkhof 1946, 23).  The Holy Spirit’s presence has empowered God’s people to do his mission of reconciliation and healing in a way that the Ark of the Covenant could not.

Justo Gonzalez points out that these gatherings in Acts were marked by joy.  They met on Sundays to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection, not for the purpose of repentance (Gonzalez 2010, 107). These were happy occasions.  From this point forward, Luke uses the term ekklesia to describe the gathering of the church in Acts 9:31, and 15:22.  Paul frequently used ekklesia to describe the gatherings of the church, notably in 1 Corinthians 11-14, where he outlined the proper use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit inside a church gathering.  Matthew quoted Jesus using the word ekklesia in Matthew 16:18, possibly prophesying Peter’s sermon in Acts two, and foretelling the power that God would give the church.

Shared Themes

These Old and New Testament gatherings have shared characteristics.  All of these gatherings share themes of prayer, worship, joy, teaching, and sacrifice.  These gatherings all were marked by a demonstration of the power of God.  In the Old Testament passages, when God’s mission was almost entirely centripetal and attracting followers to his display nation, Israel, the power demonstration seems to have a centripetal purpose.  The power of God that killed Uzzah sent a clear message: God is all-powerful and untamed.  This message focused David and all of Israel’s attention on worshipping God, and the resultant blessing was attractive to their neighbors.  At the Temple dedication, God’s power display demonstrated his supremacy to all of Israel and the nations represented that day.  These power encounters established and reminded the Jews of their identity as God’s people, on display before the nations.

In the New Testament, mission became more centrifugal, and God used gatherings to empower people to do the work of persuading people to be reconciled to God.  In the gathering described by Luke chapter ten, Jesus gave the disciples power and authority to heal the sick, drive out demons, and preach the gospel.  In Acts, the Holy Spirit empowered the new church to do these works after Jesus ascended.  These demonstrations of power revealed God’s goodness.  Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:22 that tongues are a sign for the unbeliever.  As people encounter the power of God, they learn to believe, and so this dispensation of power is intended to convince the world of God’s existence and worthiness.

The Luke and Acts passages show people learning a new corporate identity as the church.  Once they were fisherman, tax collectors, businessmen—ordinary individuals.  After these gatherings, they were a select group, entrusted with the power of God and authority to carry the message of salvation.  Peter’s life and identity were transformed by this power.

APPLICATION

Centrifugal and Centripetal Mission

God’s mission is still both centripetal and centrifugal, and that balance should be reflected in our church meetings.  We should experience a constant current of movement both into the gatherings of the church and out of the gatherings of the church, reflecting Old Testament centripetal mission as well as New Testament centrifugal mission.  This flow is what produces life instead of stagnation.  Richard Bauckham said, “the mission of God’s people is both centripetal and centrifugal. It is first of all centripetal: the people of God are to ‘manifest God’s presence in [their] midst’” (Bauckham 2001, 77).  We invite people into church community to learn a new shared identity, membership in a group purposed by God to do his mission.  Inside this gathering, people experience the empowering of the Holy Spirit, and then we send them out to do God’s work.  We regularly re-gather to refresh our corporate identity through worship, and this current flows cyclically.

Church gatherings are then both for the believer and for the unbeliever.  In these environments, the believer is empowered, trained, and commissioned, and the unbeliever is attracted and sees first-hand how to begin a journey of faith.

Church Services Today

Our church services need the elements presented in these four passages for us to walk out our missional calling.  Christian gatherings should be attractive, joyful events where we worship God, give sacrificially to support the work of God, pray, hear teaching, socialize over meals or coffee, and welcome God’s presence and power.  Michael Goheen says that preaching should never just be for our Christian consumption, but should propel us toward mission (Goheen 2011, 206).

One of the greatest compliments our church ever received came in the form of a negative Yelp review.  This young woman said that she was looking for a church where she could take a break from a busy workweek and be refreshed by enjoying a service and good teaching, but that City Church Chicago distastefully encourages people to activate their faith in serving and giving.  Goheen’s response for this woman is profound.  “When the church takes up the role assigned it within a consumer culture and allows itself to be shaped by that story, it becomes merely a vendor of religious goods and services” (Goheen 2011, 14).  Our church services must not be reduced to spiritual oases, rather be empowering centers for mission.  Urban and suburban churches not growing with new believers should reexamine the content of their gatherings.  Services focused entirely on meeting Christians’ needs are more likely to stagnate or see predominately transfer growth, competing with the church down the street rather than partnering.

Although meals and social interaction are important for building community, our primary purpose for gathering should be to corporately meet with God.  We can seek God individually, but we will not learn God’s intended identity for us outside these gatherings.  Dr. Lingenfelter noted that “vision is given not to individuals but rather to the body of Christ” (Lingenfelter 2008, Loc 622).  I propose that God is far more interested in what we can accomplish together than what we accomplish individually.  This is why unity is a dominant theme of the New Testament, and perhaps nothing creates richness of relationship quite as effectively as this mutual identity and mission.

Our church services should experience the power of God.  For some, this may sound intimidating.  Sherwood Lingenfelter explains that if we deny the power of God a place in our church services, then we deny our own dependence on God.  If the sum total of our church experiences are of human creation, then church gatherings are simply a human religious exercise.  We must avoid Uzzah’s mistake of thinking God depends on us, and reaffirm our dependence on God’s power.  For the Western mind, the idea that we can heal the sick, even in the name of Jesus, can be pretty intimidating, but this power is an essential part of ministry.  “Kingdom work is impossible without power and authority from God” (Lingenfelter 2008, 501).  God uses gatherings to give us power to do the work of ministry—both to heal and to share the gospel.  Our dependence on God’s power keeps any ego in check.

On the other end of the spectrum, some charismatic/Pentecostal churches get so caught up in pursuing the power of God that they also become stagnated, lacking an outward flow of mission.  Jesus’ correction to the seventy-two in Luke ten is a prescriptive for these churches; focus on eternal salvation first.  Dr. Arthur Glasser explains the necessary balance; any activity that claims to be the mission of God should produce disciples of Jesus Christ.  This is the only real test for whether a work is genuinely of God (Glasser 2003, 13).  Perhaps it’s time to measure church success differently.  Traditionally, the church has valued “the three B’s: bodies, budget, and buildings” (Stetzer and Rainer, 2010, 26).  Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer call us to measure beyond this, to look for tangible measurements of discipleship and true life change, including how engaged church members are with the mission of God in their community—both the healing touch and the message of the gospel (Stetzer and Rainer 2010, 31-32).

Glasser also points out that the way our ministries look will change as we grow and develop (Glasser 2003, 207).  We can’t look to tradition alone as the formula for church services.  In John chapter four, when the Samaritan woman asked Jesus whether the Samaritan method of worshipping on the mountain was more correct than the Jews’ worship in Jerusalem, Jesus picked neither option, and instead told her that true worship comes from the heart.  She asked the wrong question.  What mattered to Jesus was not a formula, but engagement, which was a dramatic departure from the religious activities of that era.  Jesus gave permission for our worship to creatively reflect our hearts, rather than forcing our heart to follow a set tradition.  Our church services should be more than rituals, but be joyful, living expressions of our worship.  They should adopt new and fresh methods that connect with the culture around.   “Church people worry that the world might change the church; Kingdom people work to see the church change the world” (Glasser 2003, 198).  To those who worry about the slick presentations and view them as evidence of the secular world’s influence: Jesus gave us the freedom to express our worship from our own cultural framework, as long as it authentically expresses our hearts and is not simply ritual.

We do need to be smart about how we steward our financial resources, but what cost is too high when it comes to worshipping God or a person’s soul?  When Solomon dedicated the Temple, he didn’t think that a sacrifice too big to be counted was wasteful.  Jesus instructed Judas not to correct the woman who anointed him with expensive perfume.  “You will always have the poor among you,” he said (John 12:7-8).  As long as our gatherings initiate mission, then spending money to facilitate them should not be viewed negatively.  If we neglect the poor, we are in disobedience, but how we spend should be in balance.

City Church Chicago and Missio Dei

God has been leading my church, City Church Chicago, into mission, and we have begun to practice the principles from this study in our church services.  We have focused heavily on ministering to felt needs in years past, and are making changes to walk in obedience.  Our leadership team is encouraging every person in our church family to take a step forward into the mission of God.  We want our Sunday church services to inspire and empower Christians into mission through encounters with the Holy Spirit that fill us with faith, and shape our identity as a church as a people called by God to love people to new life in Christ.

Last month, we launched a church-wide theme of Missio Dei as a prescriptive.  This theme is a multi-layered approach.  May 1, we began a six-week teaching series about the mission of God.  In tandem with that series, our pastoral ministries team wrote a small-group curriculum that our Life Groups are all working through together.  Each week’s small group lesson expands on Sunday’s topic around Missio Dei and provides questions for thoughtful conversation.

In order to experience the Holy Spirit’s empowering, we need to create margins in our programming to make space to listen to him speak.  To this aim, our church held five Missio Dei corporate prayer meetings this week, inviting God to speak to us about his mission in our world, and what he is asking us to do to.  We have sensed the Holy Spirit in those meetings, speaking to our hearts, bringing refreshing and miracles.  About a quarter of our church attended these meetings, and we will continue a weekly corporate prayer meeting, in addition to praying together for a half an hour weekly as a leadership team.  We want to see those numbers rise as people make prayer a priority.

Corporate worship has been an important component to these meetings, and as we worship, we have had a powerful sense of the visitation of the Holy Spirit that brought refreshing and miracles.  One of our families gave birth to a baby, 18 weeks premature, four days ago.  His doctors gave him a one percent chance of survival, but he is miraculously thriving.  Another member found out yesterday that her breast cancer is miraculously in remission.  We are seeing things that can only be explained by the powerful intervention of God.  We teach our church that the touch of God is always for the task of God, and so we are mobilizing our church as well.  We are praying that God moves in every heart in our meetings, prompting them to join with the church and take a step forward toward God’s mission.

In our Missio Dei church services, God has been speaking both to individuals and to the entire church through prophecy, and people are beginning to respond to his call.  We have planned projects throughout the summer for our church to serve our city, and inviting each of our Sunday services to join us.  We had our first event, Faith in Action, over Memorial Day weekend.  150 volunteers brought free food, kids games, face paint, basketball and fun to a violent neighborhood in west Chicago that has experienced five shootings in the past month.  We partnered with another local church to provide a safe haven for children to play and eat for free Memorial Day weekend.  The mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emmanuel, came and we prayed together for peace and unity in Chicago.  Our future events focus on serving our community, and mentoring young people.  In one of our Missio Dei services, a dozen people sensed God calling them to full-time mission work.  We’ve planned mission trips to Peru, Ethiopia, and Thailand over the next twelve months—the first teams our church has ever sent on the mission field in other countries.

Part of our Missio Dei initiative this year is fundraising to expand our auditorium.  We believe that sacrifice is an important part of the way that we support the mission of God.  In the same way that Old Testament animal sacrifice demonstrated dependence on God, financial sacrifice does today.  On a practical level, we have four services Sundays and we are nearly out of room.  This year, an average of 52 people per Sunday have made decisions to follow Jesus in our church services, and we need to accommodate the growth.  We are a diverse church, with immigrants from all over the world, and our prayer is that God continues to knit our hearts together as a church as we seek him together.  We plan to revisit this theme of Missio Dei every year.

CONCLUSION

Church services can be large or small, but should gather both Christians and unbelievers in worship, prayer, teaching, fellowship, and sacrifice, and lead Christians to receive the power of the Holy Spirit and a new corporate identity as the people of God tasked with partnership in the mission of God.  The measurement for successful gatherings is new converts joining the community.  These meetings bring people together in community through a united purpose and identity who may come from very different cultures and have very little else in common.

It’s only through these gatherings that we understand the true nature of our calling.  Dr. Mark Labberton says that, “My vocation can be discovered only in the context of our vocation…Being part of ecclesia—the called ones—means practicing this identity of belovedness together” (Labberton 2014, 103).  To those who discount the importance of church attendance today, heed the encouragement of Hebrews 11:25.  According to Scripture, God uses the gathering of the ekklesia to teach us our identity as a church called to his mission, and to empower us to be obedient to that call.

 

WORKS CITED:

Bauckham, Richard. 2001. “The Restoration of Israel in Luke-Acts,” Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives, edited by James M. Scott. Leiden: Brill.

Berkhof, Louis. 1946. Systematic Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Boer, Harry. 1961. Pentecost and Mission. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Bruce, F.F. 1988. The Book of the Acts: Revised Edition. Vol. of The New International Commentary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Curtis, Edward Lewis, and Albert Alonzo Madsen. 1976. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Books of Chronicles. Vol. of The International Critical Commentary.  Edinburgh: T&T Clark Ltd.

Davis, Derek Leigh. 2014. “Assembly, Religious.” Lexham Theological Wordbook, edited by Douglas Mangum, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, and Rebekah Hurst. Lexham Bible Reference Series. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. Logos edition.

DeSilva, David A. 2004. An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. 1988. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI:Baker Book House.

Glasser, Arthur F., Charles E. Van Engen, Dean S. Gilliland, Shawn B. Redford. 2003. Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God’s Mission in the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. Kindle edition.

Goheen, Michael W. 2011. A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.  Kindle edition.

Gonzalez, Justo L. 2010. The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Reformation. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Hiebert, Paul G. 2008. Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. Kindle edition.

Labberton, Mark. 2014. Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Lingenfelter, Sherwood G. 2008.  Leading Cross-Culturally: Covenant Relationships for Effective  Christian Leadership. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. Kindle edition.

Stetzer, Ed and Thom S. Rainer. 2010. Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.

Swanson, James. 1997. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Van Eyck, Wendy. 2016. “Why I’m Coming Out as a Christian Who Doesn’t Go to Church.” The Wendy van Eyck blog, accessed Monday June 5, 2016. http://www.ilovedevotionals.com/2015/03/why-im-coming-out-as-christian-who.html

Zorn, Raymond O. 1962. Church and Kingdom. Philadelphia: P&R.

All Bible references are from the 2011 New International Version, published by Zondervan.

 

 

 

 

Weakness: Ignore or Shore Up?

powerful girl

It’s a question as old as poultry origins: the chicken or the egg?  Should we focus on developing strengths, ignoring or delegating our weaknesses, or should we try to strengthen our weaknesses?

This has been a particularly interesting question for me in the last few months, since I started seminary.  I’m getting mentally stretched in directions I never expected—in the best possible way.  What I’ve found is that the discipline and the stretch are producing some budding growth in new areas.  It has not been time or money wasted, and I’m just inches off the starting line.

Have you ever wondered about an area of your life that you felt uncertain about?  Maybe it’s something you just don’t feel very good at, or you feel embarrassingly ignorant.  Maybe it’s time to have another look at it.  You may have potential there that you haven’t yet identified because it’s so hidden or because you have seen past failures.  Don’t give up on it just yet.

Even the experts at Harvard now say that simply focusing on your strengths is dangerous, despite what we’ve been told for years by leadership gurus: Strengths-based Coaching Can Actually Weaken You.  I think too many of us simply accept ourselves as is, and miss out on developing some of the latent gifts inside because we have written them off as weaknesses.

The Apostle Paul talked about the right attitude to have toward weakness.  He understood that when we humbly recognize and don’t try to hide our own weaknesses, we get access to Christ’s powerful help.  Facing our weakness builds character. 

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 9-10, NIV)

If we will ask the Holy Spirit to help us with our weakness, he will.

So how do you know what weaknesses could be turned around?  I have many things I’m not good at, so I need a way to narrow the field a bit.  Here are a couple of thoughts that may help you identify potentially undeveloped strengths currently masked as weaknesses:

  1. Don’t write off something as a weakness that could be corrected with more education or knowledge.

This one hits home for me in this season for obvious reasons.  This requires being brutally honest with ourselves and facing down what intimidates us about education, whether it be lack of confidence, lack of time, lack of discipline, or whatever.

  1. Don’t write off something that could be strengthened with discipline and practice.

We tend to write stuff off that just seems too hard, but if you chip away at a skill just a little at a time, it will slowly get better.  You might need a spouse or an appointment in your calendar to remind you to get in there and work on it regularly.

  1. Don’t write something off if no one in your world can do it for you.

No one can develop character for me.  I can’t delegate prayer, Bible reading, worship, or loving people.  I can’t delegate marriage, parenting, friendship, or managing my money.  None of these things can go in the category of, “I’m just not good at that.”  These are things the Holy Spirit works in us as we submit our lives to his leadership.

  1. Don’t write something off if a leader in your life or your spouse believes that you can, or is asking you to grow in that area.

The best leaders see things in us before we see them in ourselves.  They don’t settle for the skills they know we already have—they coax us forward into the fullness of God’s plan for our lives.

  1. Don’t try to develop something that you hate to do.

I’m never going to be an accountant.  I would become a deeply depressed person!  Trying to get better at running accounting software would be a waste of everyone’s time.  Unless it falls in the you-have-to-do-it category, then don’t worry about everything here.

  1. Ask yourself if the cost of getting strong will be bigger than the potential reward.

So for me, learning quantum physics or brain surgery falls into this category.  This would cost too many years for too little benefit to me or the rest of the world.  On the other hand, getting stronger at the gym or going to seminary does not fall into this category.  The cost to reward ratio balances out nicely.

  1. Ask yourself if this the right season or if the other things you are working on are more important right now.

If you are a mom with tiny kids, then most the other things you are called to do are on a part-time hold.  It’s not forever, but they might have to wait until your kids go to school.  Timing.

I think that the moment to take a hard look at developing weaknesses is when you feel like you keep hitting a lid.  This might be a promotion that you have been consistently overlooked for, or an opportunity that excites you but you feel like is out of reach.  Maybe God has been putting a dream or a vision in your heart for a project that you aren’t qualified to do yet.

At what point in life are you hardened concrete or reached your full capacity?  We lose our capacity for growth when we feel like we know everything that we need to know already, or we have accepted our weaknesses into our identity.  As long as we are humble enough to look for mentors and teachers and have a desire to grow, then it doesn’t matter how old we are.  God will continue to shape us and use us.

What could you be great at if you learned more?

What could you be great at if you practiced more?

What could you be great at if you dared to believe you could?

 

8 Steps to Appointing Leaders Well

Leadership succession

The appointing of church leaders can be pretty murky territory.  I can’t even begin to count the number of leaders I’ve spoken with who felt like they carried the responsibility for an area without having the authority to lead it well.  This happens for all kinds of reasons.  Regardless of whether your church’s leadership culture is more hierarchical in style or more team-led, the Bible has examples that can teach us about appointing leaders well.  When we do appoint leaders well, the result is peace and an area that flourishes.  When there is a lack of clarity about succession or a new appointment, division follows.

SAMUEL AND SAUL

Ignore for the moment that you know that Saul’s reign does not end well.  Put aside the Sunday school teaching that ingrains the idea that Saul is bad and David is good for a minute.  This is not about their character or the success of their leadership, this is about the success of the early years of their leadership, and the affect of their leadership on the people they were leading.

In first Samuel chapter eight, the story of Samuel’s succession teaches us an important leadership lesson.  The prophet Samuel was getting old, and he started setting up his sons to be the next judges in Israel.  Unfortunately, the people did not respect his sons and rejected them as leaders.  They told Samuel they were tired of having a judge, and they wanted a king like everyone else had.  A felt need for leadership percolated through people’s conversations.  The way that Samuel handled this situation resulted in a peaceful transfer of power and provides us with some clear steps that can be used in appointing leaders today.

The way Samuel appointed King Saul:

  1.  The overseer asks God about the leadership role, whether its needed and if so, who to choose.  Thought and prayer go into the choice.

Samuel asked God if the new leadership role was needed, and God revealed his choice to Samuel—Saul.  (1 Samuel 8:21-22, 1 Samuel 9:17)  The Holy Spirit will help us identify someone who he has chosen that is able, humble, and ready.

  1.  The overseer has conversations with the potential leader about the potential role.  The potential leaders needs to have confidence in God’s call on their life, in the leader that they will be following, and in their ability to lead.

Saul gained confidence in Samuel’s leadership and ability to hear from God when Samuel gave him prophetic insight into a personal problem. (1 Samuel 9:20) Samuel helped Saul understand that he was specially suited for the role. (1 Samuel 9:20) Samuel identified three confirmations for Saul that this was indeed God’s will for him. (1 Samuel 10:2-6)

  1.  Anoint the leader first in private.

Samuel anointed Saul in private.  (1 Samuel 10:1) Notice this meeting had more spiritual significance to Saul (anointing) than practical significance (appointing).  This first step is about a leader accepting God’s call on his or her life and saying yes.

  1.  God changes and supernaturally empowers the leader to be what He calls him or her to be.

God changed Saul to become the man he needed to be to be king. (1 Samuel 10:9) Saul led people spiritually before he led them as a king. (1 Samuel 10:10) This work was inward within Saul before it became outworked through his job as king.  Samuel left some time between the anointing and the actual appointing.  Evidently, Saul needed some time for further development before he was fully ready.

  1.  The leader does not tell the people in his new area of responsibility about his new title—his overseer does.

Saul didn’t announce his own leadership to people.  He kept a low profile until Samuel made a formal announcement. (1 Samuel 10:16)

  1.  The overseer brings the entire group together for an announcement about the new leadership, and gives them confidence that this is a God-led decision.

Samuel brought everyone together for a meeting.  He drew lots for the role, again choosing Saul, to explain everyone that Saul was indeed God’s pick for the job. (1 Samuel 10:24)

  1.  The overseer clearly explains to the entire group the new leader’s role and the boundaries of his or her authority.

Samuel explained to everyone the parameters of Saul’s authority in detail, in public, and then wrote it down so that everyone would remember. (1 Samuel 10:25)  No one was left wondering about grey areas.

  1. The new leader gives people space to adjust and does not get offended by people in the group that struggle with the new leadership.

Saul gave people grace as they got used to the new authority structure and new leadership.  Some men followed Saul, some did not.  Saul didn’t try to defend himself with those who did not.  (1 Samuel 10:27)

The end result of Samuel’s leadership transition to Saul was peace.  Israel enjoyed good years unified under Saul’s leadership.  They knew what to expect and Saul knew what was expected of him.

LEADERSHIP SUCCESSION

The needs of a rapidly-growing ministry can make it easy to fast forward through steps one to four.  Once we appoint a leader, it’s very very hard to get that leadership back.  A rushed leadership appointment leads to regret.  On the other side of the coin, seasoned leaders who have been bitten by this mistake in the past can be too slow to appoint leaders, paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong choice.  Lack of clear leadership constipates everything.

When God made clear to the prophet Samuel that Saul had disqualified himself and it was time for new leader, Samuel anointed David, but never appointed him.  Saul never acknowledged the fact that Samuel had anointed David as the next king.  Saul was so determined to hang on to his own power that he ignored what would happen after his inevitable death.  He was entirely focused on preserving power and didn’t set up anyone to lead after him.

When David finally did take the throne, it was a bloodbath—a total mess.  The kingdom was divided over who should be the new leader, and all kinds of people died to try and reunite the country.  If we appoint someone privately and don’t acknowledge them publicly, like Samuel did with David, then we can count on the civil war that will follow and the inevitable frustration of the person appointed to leadership.  In most cases, we have set that person up to fail.

David learned from Saul’s mistake, and before he died, he clearly appointed Solomon as his successor.  Not only that, but he left Solomon with a mission—to build God a temple.  He gave Solomon explicit plans for how to build that temple and then gave him all the resources that he would need to fulfill that mission.  David’s vision was larger than he could accomplish in one lifetime.  He was looking far beyond his own leadership tenure, and as a result, he gave Solomon the greatest setup possible.  David is remembered as the greatest king that Israel ever had.

David challenges me to dream bigger and connect with causes that can’t be accomplished in my lifetime alone.  His leadership so inspired his successor that even after David’s death, Solomon carried out his father’s instructions.  David’s authority was finished, but his vision was large enough to inspire another generation of leaders.

Identity Without the Crisis

young woman looking into a mirrorIt’s no wonder that we have trouble “finding ourselves” today.  My Facebook feed is full of conflicting messages.  One post is teaching me how to apply makeup like a professional, and the next tells me to celebrate the beauty of a natural body and not to worry about how I look.  Another tells me about how courageous Bruce Jenner is for surgically altering his body to become Caitlyn, and the next criticizes Hollywood for celebs who get too much plastic surgery, or too much Photoshopping models in magazine pics.  Pop culture is very confusing.

In the midst of it all, we are all trying to find a way to be authentic to ourselves.  We are all working on loving ourselves, as is.  It’s easy to love the person we are trying to become, but in the meantime…  Should I love the real me that I am right now and be content to be right here forever, or should I love the me that I am working toward?  And which me is the real me?

Is being authentic being true to the person I am, or the person I am becoming?  Growing up in church, my pastors taught me to “fake it ’til you make it.”  What they meant was that I should adopt the behaviors of the me I wanted to be, and my core identity would follow.  For example: If you’re not a runner now, but want to be one, then start running.  Buy the gear; get outside and go—even if you are doing more walking than running.  Call yourself a runner, even if you are more of a walker.

Things are different today.  Calling someone a fake is one of the worst kinds of insults.  We put so much value on individualism and tolerance that I think we have lost our appreciation for evolution.  My identity is not static; it is changing daily.  Hopefully I am looking more and more like Jesus.

Even as leaders, we may spend years finding our identity.  We get so consumed by all the demands of ministry—answering people’s crises, fixing things, finding new leaders to help us, paying the bills. In the midst of a myriad of responsibilities, we may find it difficult to explain who we are as a leader.  Even tougher is translating that identity into a “brand.”  Our ministries often look more like the team members that we work with than what we had originally envisioned.  Leaders often struggle to shape culture and church identity because we have what seem to be bigger issues we save our emotional energy for.

Before we can shape our ministry identity, we have to have a concrete sense of our own identity. All of it—what we are good at, bad at, character strengths and weaknesses, goals and past triumphs.

Miley Cyrus recently decided that she doesn’t identify as male or female, gay or straight. She/he has decided that her/his identity is to not identify with anything. She/He is a product of today’s American values. Her/His decision not to choose an identity doesn’t leave her/him without one, however. It just created a very confusing paragraph, which probably reflects this confusing identity.

In this very confusing climate about identity, how do we navigate?

Who am I philosophical questionIn the midst of all these confusing identity messages, I’ve put together some thoughts on what has shaped my own sense of identity.

1. Identity is a journey.  

Who I am is not fixed in stone.  Experiences shape us and as we evaluate new ideas with an open mind, we change.   As Christians, we must pick up the mission that this is indeed a journey.  We should not be the same in a year.

Changing doesn’t mean that we don’t love ourselves right now or that we have lost our authenticity.  When you have a child, you go from being a daughter to being a mother.  Your identity has changed, and it’s an amazing, beautiful, authentic change.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!  

(2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

2. You don’t have to love every part of who you are today, but you can love who you are becoming.

Chances are, you aren’t where you want to be yet. Welcome to humanity—no shame there. If Jesus has grace for us today, then we can give ourselves grace for the places we are still developing.  Feeling badly that we are not further along is a waste of emotional energy.

A sense of dissatisfaction propels me forward, but it does not make me hate where I am today.  Sometimes we just have to pause and remind ourselves of what we have overcome.  You’ve come a long way, baby!

If I have a healthy self-awareness about what the Holy Spirit is still working on in me and give him the freedom to coach me, then the results are going to look good. He is going to chip away the rough edges and make me look like Jesus. That is the true, authentic me that is my God-designed identity. That’s a me that I can love.

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

(2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV)

3. Your identity comes as much from whom you are connected to as from yourself.

We get so very inward-focused when we think about identity.  We tend to think about what we are good at, what we look like, our job, our Facebook marriage/partnership status.

Looking back, I realize that who I have been has just as much been defined by who I am connected to as who I perceive myself to be.  My family has been part of my identity, as well as my church family.  My leaders and teachers and who I follow are a major part of my identity.  We overlook this one frequently.

Who do you admire?  Who do you follow closely in the media?  What do you fill your spare time being interested in?  You may not have noticed it, but they are defining you too.

The people in my inner circle affect my identity. Conversely, the person I choose to be impacts the people in my world.  We are connected.  What feels good or right to me is not always good for my family or for my community.  When we make a decision about our identity, we have to think broader than our individual preferences.

Western culture encourages us to prioritize me first.  We choose who we are, and everyone else has to just deal with it, and support us.  This is not the way Jesus taught us. He taught us to love your neighbor as we love ourselves, and that if you want to be great, learn to serve others.

If we recognize and acknowledge the connection between our identity and the people we love, it feels right and good to consider the impact of our personal decisions on others before moving ahead with them.  What isn’t good for my family isn’t good for me.  What isn’t good for my church community isn’t good for me. I am connected to a larger identity—the body of Christ.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

(1 Corinthians 12:27, NIV)

4. You are more than your mission, but your mission is part of your identity.

Your true identity is bigger than the borders of your life.  One of the greatest things that we can become is to be part of something larger than ourselves.  It goes beyond our family, our house, our 401K, and our vacations.  These things are important, but a sense of mission extends our identity wider.

Some people’s sense of mission seems to be limited to promoting tolerance and acceptance.  This seems like a low-level mission to me.  It’s super non-confrontational in a world that needs change.  Not every choice that everyone makes is okay or deserves our tolerance.  A sense of mission makes us need to make things better, not more accepting of what exists.

Sometimes a job is only about paying bills–just a job.  Hopefully that is a temporary situation.  I very much believe that ultimately, we should choose a profession that we can be passionate about.  As we work, we work out our mission.

What we do to serve God’s kingdom should be motivated from the deepest place in us.  That sense of mission from the Holy Spirit compels us to bring his abundant life to other people.

Paul got a whole new identity when he changed missions. His mission as Saul was to kill Christians. When God got a hold of him, his mission changed. He started working to convert new Christians.

While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

(Acts 13:2-3, NIV)

From this point forward in scripture, Saul is referred to as Paul.  His mission changed his identity so much that it changed his name.  He was so different he had to be called something different.  Just like Paul, our calling changes who we are.  It changes our motivations and our values.  It is part of our identity.

5. You are more than what you look like, but what you look like is part of your identity.

Nobody likes being ignored or underestimated based on their appearance.  What we look like is a major way we communicate our identity to other people.  It explains part of who we are.  We don’t have to look like everyone else, but we should be intentional in the way we look.  People interpret what we say through the filter of what we look like.  My appearance expresses my inner identity.

Jesus was highly critical of the Pharisees, who were so focused on looking right that they neglected to be right.  He said they look like whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but filled with dead things. (Matthew 23:27)  While the way we look matters, it can’t become the primary focus of our identity.  If it does, we run the risk of making the same mistake.  Who we are in the inside matters first, before what we look like.

6. You are the only you.

As middle school kids, most of us felt like we just want to fit in and be like everyone else.  At some point in life, we realize not only that we’re not like everyone else—but that everyone else isn’t like everyone else.  We are all different.  When we get comfortable with that and stop trying to be the same, the happier we are.

Our differences make us interesting.  By nature, we are attracted to people who seem to be like us because the familiar is less scary.  It is also far more boring.  Being comfortable in our own skin means that we are less intimidated by the differences we encounter in others. We can appreciate and enjoy them rather than feeling uncomfortable or envious.  Everyone has a different journey, and we can cheer people on in that discovery process.

You are an amazing, awesome you, created to look like Jesus on the inside and your fabulous self on the outside.  (I’m glad he gave us a pass on looking like his outsides because a beard would not look good on me.)  Go be your strong, gorgeous, God-called you today.

Why I Still Respect Russell Wilson

Love these thoughts from my friend Justin!

Justin Tarsiuk

The only thing deflated from last night’s Super Bowl game is my heart. What a tough way to end the night and a football season. From my previous post, I think you already know who I was rooting for. If you’re new to “Justinland” then you should know that I enthusiastically bleed Seahawk blue and green. If you were one of the 110 million+ people that watched the showdown between Seattle and New England, then you know the outcome came down to a call made in the final 30 seconds of the game.

In the last 2 minutes of regulation Seattle had marched down the field with a couple of clutch plays, including a miraculous catch by receiver Jermaine Kearse. As the game clock ticked away, the Seahawks found themselves just one yard shy of the end zone and down by four points; only a touchdown would suffice. With several chances to punch the ball across the line Seattle made…

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5 Ways To Increase Your Leadership Confidence

A few weeks ago, I w10440915_843298495700826_2761295077630191807_natched Malala Yousafzai accept the Nobel Peace Prize.  At seventeen, she is the youngest person to ever become a Nobel Laureate.  She didn’t betray even a shred of nervousness as she delivered her speech to an auditorium full of international leaders and dignitaries, cameras broadcasting her ideas to the world.  I felt a wave of admiration for her confidence pass over me as I watched.  I have been a teenager myself and parented three teenage girls.  This kind of poise in a high-pressure situation is almost unheard of, especially for girls.

I started to think about this question: what gives some people this kind of confidence?  Confidence is one of the key features of successful leaders.  It’s clearly something we have to cultivate, but so intangible.  I’ve chatted with pastors’ wives and church girls who struggle with this, particularly when it comes to getting up in front of a crowd of people.  They are often intelligent, beautiful, well-spoken girls, who just don’t see public ministry as their thing.  It makes their voice quiver and their hands shake.  They are content with behind-the-scenes leadership.

This is totally fine if this is what you are called to do.  I’m certainly not advocating that every girl needs to be good at preaching to be effective at ministry.  Leading a team, however, will require that we have the skill set and the confidence to lead a meeting, whether small or large.  We need confidence to make tough choices, and to confront the things that need changing.  Some of us girls, comfortable in the background, need to start saying yes to husbands who push us to speak up in church.  To do that, we need to develop greater confidence.

We all have insecurities that rob confidence, and I am no different from the next person. We can change the externals with the right outfit, the perfect makeup and hair, or being seen with the right people. These things can help us put a brave face on it.  True confidence, however, comes from the inside.  It makes us attractive and real to people.  After a few days of contemplation, I’ve come up with five things that have helped increase my confidence over the years.

1. Get a fresh revelation that you are treasured by the one whose opinion matters most.

I will never forget those months when my husband, John, started dating me.  He was decisive and deliberate in his pursuit of me, no games.  I felt incredible, desired and valued.  When a real man pursues you, it brings with it a whole new level of confidence.  You feel smarter, more beautiful—more everything.  When I’m with John, I feel confidence from his support and his value.  If you have ever experienced this, you know what I mean.  If you have never experienced this, don’t worry.  You get an even stronger rush of confidence from the revelation of just how important you are to Jesus.

The Psalmists struggled to express how vast the love God has for us is. They described it as so great that it reaches to the skies.  God told us that we belong to him, that he considers us treasure, his mostly highly prized creation.  “You shall be My own peculiar possession and treasure from among and above all peoples.”  (Exodus 19:5 AMP)  He feels incredibly protective of us as his treasure. “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies sent me against the nations who plundered you. For he said, ‘Anyone who harms you harms my most precious possession.’” (Zechariah 2:8 NLT)

He is willing to sacrifice what is most dear to be with us forever, to cover our imperfections with love.  “For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.” (John 3:16 AMP)  This was not grudgingly given as a bailout, but given with great joy.  “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.’”  (Zephaniah 3:17 NIV)

Understanding that the most powerful being in the universe is completely gaga about you, just as you are, brings confidence to your heart.  It causes your shoulders to straighten a bit, and your chin to lift, and a little smile to hover around the corners of your mouth in every-day circumstances.  That kind of man is pursuing you.  You must be pretty awesome.

2. Know that what you do matters: you have a very great cause.

Malala Yousafzai is Pakistani.  She grew up in the Swat Valley with parents who are educators.  The Taliban gained influence in the region during her childhood, and ruled her valley by the time she was eleven years old.  As one of their first acts, the Taliban decreed that no girls would be allowed to go to school.  Malala started a blog advocating for education for girls and has continued to work as an activist since then.  Two years ago, she was shot in the head by a Taliban agent and survived.  Two weeks ago, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  You can watch her acceptance speech here.  As I mentioned earlier, she is remarkably poised and confident.

What is the difference between Malala and every other seventeen-year-old girl?  Why is she so confident?  She has facial scarring from being shot, is from a backward part of the planet, without the family connections that could teach her grace and poise.  She has every reason to be a shrinking violet, inspiring but retiring.  She has one thing though.  She is deeply passionate about a very righteous cause—the right for every girl to get an education.

When the Philistine giant champion, Goliath, threatened the armies of Israel, David stepped up for the fight.  His older brother saw his confidence and accused him of arrogance.  David’s response was simple but so profound. “And David said, “What have I done now? Is there not a cause?” (I Samuel 17:29 NKJV)  A great cause gives us great confidence.

Sometimes we minimize the importance of our work in church.  Leaders may hesitate to encroach on people’s busy schedules and family time.  We need to draw on the confidence that comes from deep passion for the great cause of salvation.  People nearby have an urgent need to hear the truth of Jesus’s saving grace.  Is there not a cause? Remembering the urgency of our cause makes us very confident.

3. Think the right thoughts: Choose to view the team around you as an extension of your abilities instead of competition.

We females are notorious comparers.  We walk into a room and check out who is prettier; who is thinner; who is more talented.  Ladies are notorious for picking on the pretty girls.  We have to change our mindset about this, and stop thinking of these girls as a threat.

Paul said we run this race in such a way as to win a prize.  This race, however, is more like a relay than a hundred meter sprint.  It’s a team race.  We only win when we make sure a bunch of other people cross the finish line with us.  Because this is true, the people on our team are not the competition. The leaders at the big church in town are not our competition.

If you take a sense of ownership of what the team achieves as a whole, who gets the credit matters far less.  You can be excited for the achievement of others, and the strengths of others, because this improves what the team accomplishes.  Their abilities make your efforts more effective.  You won’t be as nervous to get up in front of gifted leaders if you take as much pride in their work as in your own.  In this kind of environment, no one is judging or evaluating anyone else.  We are working together toward a common vision.

This thought can build great confidence.  You don’t have to be the best at everything, or even the best at one thing to lead.  We can find confidence in the fact that we have awesome people working with us, supporting us.

4. Find the balance: Care what people think but don’t care what people think.

This sounds confusing, but it’s true.  We have to care what people think if our job is to influence people.  The way they respond to us matters.  But there is a difference between caring what people think and caring so much that you internalize their rejection.  Okay so maybe it’s still fuzzy.  This is what I mean: If I am so worried about what people think about me that in an effort to impress someone, I change who I seem to be, I’ve crossed a line.  At that point, I’ve cared too much what people think about me.  On the other hand, someone needs to be following where I lead, so I have to pay attention to what is happening around me.

So how do you do find the right balance?  This comes from a soul that is rooted deep in Christ.  He defines our ideals.  If you shape your identity to look like Christ, who you are is never in question.  When you know who you are, you don’t change depending on whom you are with.

Our culture is obviously obsessed with celebrity, aka fame and fortune.  Unfortunately, people who have achieved this certainly aren’t guaranteed happiness, latest case in point being the tragic and sad death of Robin Williams.  We don’t have to work the room or chase the right connections in an effort to be someone important.  It’s this simple: Know what you are called to do, and do it.  Invitations to minister somewhere else do not validate your ministry.  Fruit validates your ministry—the fruit of your life and character, and the fruit of what you have cultivated in people’s lives.

Everyone will have an opinion about our leadership, and every opinion will be different.  To some extent, you have to shut out the voices and just push forward.  On the other hand, we need Godly coaching, and we need to make sure someone is following where we lead.  Understanding this balancing act and getting it right produces confidence.

5. Keep going

Have you ever noticed that old people have no verbal filter? My eighty-four year old grandma will say anything. This is sometimes good and sometimes bad. She swears like a sailor, but in between, pops out great nuggets of wisdom that I treasure. Things like, “The best mom you can be is a happy mom. Do what makes you happy.” Then she drops the S-bomb two minutes later.  Experience has given her confidence to speak her mind.

Practically nothing builds confidence like practice.  When you have done something a thousand times, you know you can do it.  You know your material, and it’s easy to pop into the familiar rhythms.  If you just keep going and don’t quit, you will develop experience.  If you keep educating yourself and practicing, you will get better. Experience and growth develop confidence.

We all fail sometimes; it comes with the territory.  Don’t freak out about it.  Just stay focused on vision for the future instead of failures of the past.  The longer you are in this journey, the better and stronger you will become.  This will produce greater leadership confidence in you.