Shaping a Discipleship Culture

I recently had the honor of leading a workshop at the 3D Discipleship event held in Williamsport, PA. The event was sponsored by Growing Effective Churches of the Susquehanna Conference of the UMC. Here are some of my notes from the workshop.

Centre Grove’s Story
I shared a little about what God has been doing at Centre Grove, especially in recent years since engaging the Matthew 28 Initiative in 2011 and beyond (see my 2012 post). I talked about what has gone well (outreach) and ironically, our current challenges (shaping a discipleship culture).

Discipleship Puzzle
There are a lot of pieces to the discipleship puzzle. Thankfully, several of them were discussed at the 3D Discipleship event. What follows here are some pieces I want to focus on (but it’s not the whole puzzle).

Developing a Discipleship Culture
Having a discipleship culture matters. A discipleship culture helps people follow Jesus! A discipleship culture maximizes the quality (and quantity) of disciples of Jesus!

There are several components of a discipleship culture.

Culture is hard to define. Culture is everywhere. It’s all around us! It’s “The way we do things here” (Deal/Kennedy, Corporate Cultures). “Culture is to the church what the soul is to the human body” (Lewis/Cordeiro, Culture Shift). Culture is important because it ultimately determines behavior!

There are no cookie-cutter approaches to making disciples!

Discipleship is about building and growing disciples of Jesus. A disciple is a follower of Jesus, someone who has responded to Jesus’ call, “Come, follow me!” By definition, a disciple is a student, learner, and an apprentice of Jesus. As such, a disciple is teachable and coachable!

Interestingly, the word “discipleship” itself does not appear in the Bible. My favorite word in the Bible for discipleship is “training,” which I’ve written about before (see this post). In one of several uses in Scripture, Jesus told his disciples, “A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6.40, NET). I love the word training because it conveys that discipleship requires effort and is a process!

Many churches, especially churches that are plateaued or declining, do not have a discipleship culture. Many of these church cultures could perhaps be described as a “membership culture.” While membership isn’t inherently bad, it’s come to mean certain things in today’s culture (i.e., it needs redefining/reenvisioning).

In a Membership Culture, people tend to be self-centered and inward-focused. There is a consumer mentality. There’s apathy. And, “It’s all about me!”

On the other hand, a Discipleship Culture is all about Jesus. Disciples grow to become more and more like Jesus. People experience spiritual transformation. People are growing servant’s hearts and becoming more active as the hands and feet of Jesus in the world!

Shaping a discipleship is not easy because it involves significant change. Member values and Disciple values clash; they cannot coexist!

The leader’s job is to cultivate the culture as a gardener cultivates the ground. Here are some things to cultivate in order to help shape a discipleship culture …

Model Discipleship
First and foremost, leaders must model discipleship. If we’re not growing as followers of Jesus ourselves, others will not grow, either. We model discipleship through our attitudes as well as our actions. We must be lifelong learners!

Teach Discipleship
We must talk constantly about discipleship, training, growing in Christlikeness. This is certainly part of our Wesleyan Methodist tradition (sanctification, works of piety and works of mercy). At Centre Grove, we often say, “Stay humble! Stay hungry! Stay in tune with God!”

Plan Discipleship
We must model and teach discipleship, and there must be practical ways for people to grow: Sunday school, small groups, women’s and men’s fellowship groups, etc. Bishop Robert Schnase writes in Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, a book which we’ve spent a lot of time in at Center Grove in the past …

Growing in Christ-likeness is the goal and end of the life of faith. … This growth in Christ spans a lifetime. … Christian faith is not static but dynamic. It requires cultivation (64).

At Centre Grove, we encourage people to prayerfully choose a One Word each year to focus their spiritual growth for the year. We use the Events feature in the Bible App to share sermon notes so people can refer to them throughout the week. Find practical ways to help people grow.

Pray Together
I also believe it’s important for disciples of Jesus to talk to Jesus together. A few core prayers have developed at Centre Grove over the years, including …

  • God, give us hearts like yours!
  • God, break our hearts for what breaks yours!
  • God, do something unpredictable and uncontrollable!
  • God, please use us to make your name great!

I think these are some prayers disciples of Jesus should pray, and I think it’s important we spend quality time praying together. Let’s pray for the cultures of our churches, that they will be discipleship cultures where people grow more and more like Jesus, and reach out and engage their community as the hands and feet of Jesus!

Sabbatical Reflections

My last post shared hopes and plans for our summer sabbatical. We are grateful to God, and to our congregations, for the gift of this time!

Sabbaticals are often called “renewal leaves.” And, this time was certainly important for our renewal both as pastors and as followers of Jesus!

During our sabbatical, our main goal was to REST, PLAY, and STUDY. Overall, we did pretty well in these areas. We got some rest (as much as we were able to with 7 and 9-year-old kids). We played a lot, and we were able to do some study, mainly reading some books and attending the Global Leadership Summit, which we have been doing for the last several years.

We also enjoyed worshiping together as a family in several different United Methodist congregations. We are grateful for these rare opportunities to worship together. They were also opportunities to observe and learn from other churches!

My primary learning during the sabbatical can be stated this way …

Create space for what matters most!

Actually, while this idea began forming at the beginning of the sabbatical, it wasn’t until the end of the sabbatical that I was able to put it into a short, simple phrase!

As a pastor, the activities that matter most to me are mainly Time With God, reading and personal growth, sermon prep, and visioning. Going forward, I want to create ample space for these critical tasks so that God can work in and through me more effectively! Of course, making more room for these things will also necessarily mean removing, or minimizing, some other things from my plate. I’ll have to figure that out as I go along!

In the near future, I plan to post some reviews and reflections on the books I read during sabbatical. As expected, I didn’t make it through all twelve books on my list, but I got through seven of them, and will continue reading the others!

Now that we’re back, we’re looking forward to the next leg of our journeys here. At Centre Grove, I’m especially looking forward to deepening our commitment to corporate prayer and being more intentional about our discipleship strategy, as well as focusing on our ongoing commitment to being the hands and feet of Jesus!

The Role of Tribal Leaders in the Church

In 2012, Centre Grove UMC’s church council read Winning on Purpose: How To Organize Congregations to Succeed in Their Mission by John Edmund Kaiser. At the time, we were transitioning from a traditional United Methodist multi-committee structure to an alternative single-committee structure.

In the book, Kaiser shares Paul Borden’s somewhat humorous metaphor of the board, or council, as a group of tribal leaders …

Paul Borden, author of Hit the Bullseye, compares the board to a group of tribal leaders in the rain forest. The chief of the tribe climbs the tallest tree in order to direct the establishment of the village in a new location. From this high vantage point, the chief can see the big picture and call out where to build the huts, where to plant the crops, where to post lookouts, etc. At the base of the tree stands a circle of tribal elders with long pointed spears. If the chief tries to climb down and deny the village the benefit of the chief’s guidance, they point their spears upward to send the chief back to the high vantage point. If any tribespeople leave their work and try to pull the chief down, the elders turn their spears outward and send them back to their duties. That’s a picture of no-nonsense accountability and support. (113)

Years later, this description has stuck with us!

This is how healthy councils (or Staff/Pastor Parish Relations Committees) view their role and their working relationship with their pastors. Council (or SPRC) members hold the pastor accountable by encouraging them to focus on their primary leadership role. Kaiser describes the pastor’s leadership role in three key arenas: inspiring council, directing staff (paid and unpaid ministry leaders), and teaching the congregation. Healthy committees also support and protect the pastor when others attempt to pull her or him down.

This metaphor still comes up from time to time at Centre Grove. I’m grateful for all those, past and present, who carry spears (metaphorically speaking!) on behalf of the ministry at Centre Grove!

Short-Term Sabbatical

United Methodist pastors are encouraged to take sabbaticals on a regular basis. Our conference allows for one-month sabbaticals once every four years (longer sabbaticals are available, a little less frequently). This will be our first sabbatical since beginning ministry in the UMC in 1998.

The appropriate committees from both Centre Grove UMC and West Side UMC, as well as the Bishop and District Superintendents of the Conference, approved a one-month sabbatical for each of us (plus, we’re adding two weeks of vacation). We trust this will be a time of growth and renewal, which will benefit us and also our congregations!

What is a sabbatical?
A sabbatical is not a vacation. It’s a scheduled time of rest, reflection, and renewal for ministry. According to Alban Institute, a sabbatical should have a balance of four components: 1) spiritual renewal, 2) physical rest and refreshment, 3) emotional recharging, and 4) intellectual stimulation.

What will we do on sabbatical?
Our basic goals are to renew our relationship with God, to retool for pastoral leadership through engaging in study, to seek spiritual renewal, and to experience physical renewal through a focus on healthy living.

The sabbatical will include time for intentional study, focused prayer, conversations with mentors, time at a clergy retreat center and visiting vital churches. It will also include our annual attendance at the Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit.

It is said that healthy pastors build healthy churches. We pray this focused time will benefit our congregations as we return with renewed vision and passion for ministry!

We will do our best to “unplug” from phone, email, and social media, and will look forward to catching up with our congregations upon our return. We also hope this will be a time of renewal for our churches, as God’s Word is preached by different voices.

Please pray for us during this opportunity for spiritual growth and renewal. Pray for Centre Grove and West Side that God will continue to do great things in and through us!

“Autopsy of a Deceased Church”

Thom Rainer’s book, “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” (2014), grew out of a popular blog post he wrote in 2013. In the book, Rainer looks at ten common traits of dying churches based on his research of deceased churches.

Rainer estimates, “As many as 100,000 churches in America are showing signs of decline toward death” (7). He estimates that only approximately 10% of churches in America are healthy, while 40% have symptoms of sickness, 40% are very sick, and 10% are dying (86).

Slow Erosion
Rainer talks about slow erosion, which “is the worst type of decline for churches, because the members have no sense of urgency or change … decline is everywhere in the church, but many don’t see it” (13).

The Past is the Hero
Rainer writes, “The most pervasive and common thread of our autopsies was that the deceased churches lived for a long time with the past as the hero” (18). He adds, “Yes, we respect the past. At times we revere the past. But we can’t live in the past” (21).

The Church Refused to Look Like the Community
“When a church ceases to to have a heart and ministry for its community, it is on the path toward death” (28).

The Budget Moved Inwardly
“In dying churches the last expenditures to be reduced are those that keep the members comfortable” (33).

The money … was symptomatic of a heart problem. The church cared more for its own needs than the community and the world. And no church can sustain such an inward focus indefinitely. It will eventually die of heart failure. (36)

The Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission
When Rainer looked at dying churches, he noticed “Obedience to the Great Commission faded; it usually faded gradually” (42). He notes these churches “chose not to remember what to do” (43).

Members of the dying church weren’t willing to go into the community to reach and minister to people. They weren’t willing to invite their unchurched friends and relatives. They weren’t willing to expend the funds necessary for a vibrant outreach. They just wanted it to happen. Without prayer. Without sacrifice. Without hard work. (44)

The Preference-Driven Church
“A church cannot survive long-term where members are focused on their own preferences” (49).

Pastoral Tenure Decreases
“The problem is that many good leaders are leaving churches before they reach their prime leadership years at a church” (55).

The Church Rarely Prayed Together
“Not coincidentally, prayer and the health of the church went hand in hand. When the church is engaged in meaningful prayer, it becomes both the cause and the result of greater church health” (66).

The Church Had No Clear Purpose
Rainer notes, “the dying churches, at some point in their history, forgot their purpose” (75).

The Church Obsessed Over the Facilities
“A number of the fourteen churches became focused on memorials” (79). Rainer adds, “Dying churches, more often than not, experience severe battles over facility obsession before their demise” (80). This is certainly not to say that facilities are unimportant. Rainer contends, “Being a good steward of those material things that God has given our churches is good. Becoming obsessed with any one item to the neglect of his mission is idolatry.” (80)

At the end of the book, Rainer offers twelve responses that may help churches that have symptoms of sickness, are very sick, or dying. The book is helpful for churches in any stage. For healthier churches, it’s a good reminder to stay alert and to avoid some of the pitfalls and slow erosion that can happen in the life of the church!

6 Takeaways from the 2015 Global Leadership Summit

We recently attended our fifth Global Leadership Summit in a row. They’ve all been great. This year was no exception!

Here are some of my key takeaways …

1. Develop grit!

As usual, the talk which impacted me most was the opening session by Bill Hybels, who talked about the intangibles of leadership, inspired by the book, The Intangibles of Leadership by Richard A. Davis.

All of the intangibles Hybels talked about resonated with me and challenged me, particularly the first one, grit. An example of grit is The Little Engine That Could: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” Real-life examples include, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Hybels said, “Gritty people don’t quit!”

Thankfully, Hybels said …

Grit can be developed, but the arch enemy of grit is ease. Grit development demands difficulty.

This also has implications for parenting, as Hybels mentioned. When we try to make our kids’ lives easy, we prevent them from developing grit!

It also caught my attention when Hybels noted that “many top leaders push themselves physically.” This gives a whole new sense of motivation for things like exercise!

Hybels said, “When senior leaders demonstrate grittiness in their day to day leadership … the organization gets grittier.” He added, “Gritty organizations are unstoppable!”

Other intangibles of leadership include self-awareness, resourcefulness, self-sacrificing love, and a sense of meaning. All equally important!

2. Increase commitment!

Craig Groeschel focused on five areas …

  • Build your Confidence
  • Expand your Connections
  • Improve your Competence
  • Strengthen your Character
  • Increase your Commitment

I especially loved what he said about commitment. In fact, this statement is worth remembering …

There is more in you! Your brain does not understand what God is capable of doing through you.

Groeschel quoted Ephesians 3.20, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since …

Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us. (CEB)

After telling the story about a board of ordained ministry rejecting his call to ministry (incidentally, it was a United Methodist board, though he didn’t name it in his talk), he said he sensed God speak to him …

You are not who others say you are. You are who God says you are!

3. Lead with courage!

Leadership requires grit, tenacity, and courage. I love what Brené Brown said this year, as well as last year …

As leaders, you can choose courage or you can choose comfort. You cannot choose both.

It’s a good reminder!

4. Lead with right motives!

Too often, leaders simply focus on gaining followers. Nigerian pastor, Sam Adeyemi, made two points …

  • “You will not find the definition of success for your ministry or organization until you help the
    people I sent to you to succeed.”
  • “The object of leadership for many leaders is their own success, but the object of Christ’s
    leadership was the success of His followers.”

Leaders must have a healthy, biblical view of success!

5. Be shaped by worship music!

As great as the talks were, and I enjoyed all of them, some of the most-impacting moments were the music. On the first day, Sharon Irving sang “Calling on Fire,” which was awesome. I love the line, “Come set our hearts ablaze!”

On the second day, Bill Hybels led a segment on leadership and music where he shared how music ministered to him at crucial times in his leadership. This segment, which was not a typical leadership conference segment, really resonated with me. I’ve written posts about the role of worship music in my life, including Songs for Leaders, Songs for the Valley, and Sing Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs!

Hybels said …

Music and leadership have an interesting juxtaposition. The leaders I know who face the greatest pressure, climbing the biggest hills, have the closest affinity to the power of music.

The segment was interspersed with songs. I was especially impacted by Sharon Irving’s rendition of “No Longer Slaves,” especially the line, “I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God!” Another important reminder!

After this segment, I posted on Facebook, “I listen to a lot of worship music. So do our kids (Sarah calls it ‘God music’). Pretty sure we’ll ramp it up a few notches after that session!”

6. Keep growing!
There were so many takeaways, it’s impossible to focus on all of them. In fact, Bill Hybels said his goal is for leaders to grow 5% each year. You can do that by focusing on a few key takeaways.

And, growing is so important. Hybels often says, “Everybody wins when a leader gets better!”

Paul & Silas Were Pot-Stirrers!

I’ve said before, Leaders are Pot-Stirrers. I’ve also listed 3 Ways Leaders Stir the Pot.

First-century church leaders were clearly pot-stirrers. In Acts 16-17, there’s a story that describes how Paul and Silas were pot-stirrers.

“These people are causing an uproar in our city” (Acts 16.20, CEB) … “These people who have been disturbing the peace throughout the empire”; other translations say, they have “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17.6, CEB).

Paul and Silas were pot-stirrers, holy troublemakers!

Of course, people can also be unholy troublemakers. That’s the case with the mobs in the story: “some thugs … formed a mob and started a riot in the city … This provoked the crowd and the city officials even more” (Acts 16.5,8, CEB). “The Jews from Thessalonica learned that Paul also proclaimed God’s word in Beroea, so they went there too and were upsetting and disturbing the crowds” (Acts 16.13, CEB).

If we want to be used by God to change the world, we must be holy pot-stirrers!

One of the best ways Christ-following leaders stir the pot is through prayer. Pot-stirring prayers include asking the Holy Spirit to CONVICT people of their sin and to CONVINCE them about the truth of the Gospel. As that happens, we, too, will turn the world upside down!

Equipping Vital Congregations

At the 2015 Annual Conference of the Susquehanna Conference, I had the honor of being part of a team presentation on Equipping Vital Congregations.

The presentation was facilitated by Janet Durrwachter (First UMC, Williamsport). Other team members included Jaime Carpenter (Christ UMC, Selinsgrove) and Rev. Rich Morris (Hicks Memorial UMC, Duncansville).

Jaime talked about “Passionate Connections.” Rich reminded us, “It’s all about Jesus!” And, Janet encouraged us to “Stay the course!” My challenge was, “Reach out!”

For my 6-minute segment (plus 3-minute video testimony), I briefly shared the story of what God is doing at Centre Grove, then highlighted three elements from Acts 6

  1. Proclaim the Word!
  2. Mobilize people for ministry! (The Matthew 28 Initiative helped us; see my post, The Matthew 28 Initiative In Review)
  3. Pray to be empowered!

The session lasted one hour; my segment starts at 19 and a half minutes.

We hope and pray that leaders are encouraged to move toward greater vitality!

Core Prayers

Are there certain things you find yourself praying over and over, such as when you pray for yourself, your family, and your ministry?

I do. I have a list of some things I pray regularly. These have become some of my core prayers.

I’m sure there is no perfect list of core prayers, and I’m sure it varies from person to person and situation to situation. That said, here are some of my core prayers.

Personal & Family

  • Wisdom
  • Love
  • Health
  • Peace & Protection
  • Strength & Energy

Leadership & Ministry

  • Wisdom & Knowledge (“Give me wisdom and knowledge so I can lead this people, because no one can govern this great people of yours without your help.” 2 Chronicles 1.10, CEB)
  • Clean Hands & Pure Heart
  • Courage
  • Clear Vision
  • Passion & Energy
  • Patience & Persistence
  • Fruit & Joy
  • Change & Transformation
  • Favor & Power

For more on praying for leadership and ministry, see A Prayer for Transformational Leadership.

On favor and power, especially for preaching, I often pray Acts 4.29 and a prayer based on some of Paul’s words …

“Lord, … enable your servants to speak your word with complete confidence.” (Acts 4.29, CEB)

“Lord, please let my message and my preaching be presented, not with wise convincing words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power and with deep conviction … so that people’s faith won’t depend on human wisdom but on the power of God (based on 1 Corinthians 2.4-5 and 1 Thessalonians 1.5), for ‘God’s kingdom isn’t about words but about power” (1 Corinthians 4.20).

During the course of my leadership at Centre Grove (almost 7 years, so far), four prayers have become part of our church culture …

What are some of your core prayers, for yourself and your family, and for your leadership and ministry?

A Prayer for Transformational Leadership

On July 1, 2009, the beginning of our second year in Clearfield, I wrote a prayer in my journal for our ministries. Though the prayer has been revised over the years, it has stuck with me ever since (in fact, I posted an earlier version of it in 2011).

A few months ago, the Clearfield Cluster of United Methodist Churches had responsibility for planning and leading worship for a district pastors’ gathering. As part of the worship, I led a responsive prayer based on the 2009-prayer.

This continues to be my prayer for Joleen’s and my ministries, and I invite you to pray it as well.

A Prayer for Transformational Leadership

O God, give us clean hands and pure hearts, hearts like yours. Break our hearts for what breaks yours!

Give us strength. Be our Rock, our firm foundation. Provide us with the spiritual grounding we need for the journey ahead. As we build our lives on Christ the solid rock, develop your character in us!

Give us favor with the people you call us to reach and the people you call us to be in ministry with, especially the leaders and influencers in our churches!

Give us wisdom to lead well, and discernment to sift through all of the distractions in order to focus on the things you call us to be about!

Give us patience and persistence to stay the course in the midst of the challenges and obstacles that will arise during the slow-going work of transformation!

Fill us with passion and energy that will sustain us for the long haul! Give us courage to do what’s difficult. Help us to follow you even when it’s hard!

Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us and cause us to bear much fruit! Do something unpredictable and uncontrollable. Please use us to make your name great!

Through your leadership in our lives, expressed and lived out in the places we serve, create communities of faith that will be fully engaged in the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world! Amen.