“Change the World”

As I wrote here and here, Mike Slaughter (chief dreamer and lead pastor of Ginghamsburg Church) was the guest speaker at the Bishop’s Clergy Retreat in Lancaster, PA, a couple of weeks ago. Mike’s topic was the same as his recent book, Change the World: Recovering the Message and Mission of Jesus.

I enjoyed reading the book in the days leading up to the retreat. Here are some of my highlights …

Many people in our churches today profess faith in God, but they embody the values of the dominant culture. (16)

To Jesus, the church was an active verb and not a passive noun. His followers practiced mission evangelism. They understood that the mission was not to get the world into the church but to get the church into the world. (17)

Those of us in the church have been guilty of creating a gospel that is self-serving and other-judging. We spend our resources and energies on building structures and creating programs for ourselves, and then call it mission! (22)

On the early church …

It was driven by a passionate belief that a revolutionary leader had come to establish a countercultural kingdom on earth. The early followers of this movement believed that the way of this Messiah-King was not just one alternative way among many but God’s true way. For these first Christians the kingdom of God was not a disembodied heaven after death but a ‘coming’ new way of living on earth. They were committed to being Christ’s body of transformation for a hurting, needy world. (51)

Disciple making is the business of the church! It is easy to forget our commission and to substitute church building for disciple building. (55)

At the retreat, Mike kept reminding us, “Movements are made in a lifetime, not in a moment.” In the book, he says …

… change is incremental and exponential. Fruitfulness is the consequence of obedient persistence in the same direction for the duration of a lifetime. (93)

Mike discusses the ongoing struggle between “mortar” (buildings) and “mission” (ministry). At one point, he writes …

But in light of the gospel mandate that directs the church to meet the urgent needs of the least and the lost, escalating utility costs, and the global economic crisis, churches must find creative ways to minimize brick and maximize mission. (96).

When I interviewed Mike and a couple staff members for my dissertation research in 2007, “Minimize brick, maximize ministry” was a common phrase I heard. And that was a few months before the economic collapse!

Architecture and space are irrelevant to Christian community and calling (96) … Buildings are not sacred—people are sacred! We need to let go of buildings and invest in the world God loves and for whom Jesus died. (97).

The leader of the missional church is committed to make sure that ministry and mission are not sacrificed on the altar of mortar. (104)

The last chapter is about courage. Mike writes …

At the heart of every decision we make about the future and purpose of the church is a choice between courage and compliance. (111)

Faith is not the absence of fear. Faith is feeling the fear and then acting on the promises and purposes of God anyway. (114)

God never intended for people to sit around and wait for heaven. Jesus calls us from our complacency and places of comfort to go into all the world and make disciples. (118)

Leaders, of course, play a key role in keeping churches on task. Mike gives this advice to missional leaders …

Ultimately, you must be a confident and courageous leader who says and does the hard things to ensure the success of the mission. (122)

The book concludes with this thought …

You and I are called to be part of a world-changing, Spirit-empowered ‘hell can’t prevail’ community of action. The outcome will not be determined by the size of your congregation or the abundance of your resources—only your willingness to leave the safety of your life raft and the compliance of those who choose to remain on it. (124)

Good stuff!

Psalm 119

I’ve read the Psalms more than any other book in the Bible (at least, more consistently). I love the Psalms. And I’ve been enjoying reading the Psalms in the newest translation, the Common English Bible.

This morning, I read Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible at 176 verses. The psalm was written in twenty-two sections, eight verses each, corresponding to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. That is, each verse in the first section (vv. 1-8) begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, each verse in the second section (vv. 9-16) begins with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and so on. Pretty awesome.

Psalm 119 celebrates God’s Word. The psalm uses a number of different terms to describe God’s Word. I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list, but here are a few words I noted (with the number of appearances in parenthesis) …

  • Instruction (25)
  • Word (22); Words (1)
  • Statutes (22)
  • Commandments (21)
  • Laws (21); Law (1)

Interestingly, “Instruction,” at the top of the list, is the only word on the list that is capitalized throughout the Psalm.

You can read Psalm 119 at biblegateway.com. As I read through the psalm this morning, here are several verses that especially struck me (verse number in parenthesis) …

I have sought you with all my heart. Don’t let me stray from any of your commandments! (10)

I will always keep your Instruction, always and forever! (44)

My comfort during my suffering is this: your word gives me new life. (50)

The Instruction you’ve given to me is better than thousands of pieces of gold and silver! (72)

I’ve seen that everything, no matter how perfect, has a limit, but your commandment is boundless. (96)

Your word is so pleasing to my taste buds—it’s sweeter than honey in my mouth! (103)

Your word is a lamp before my feet and a light for my journey. (105)

Keep my steps steady by your word; don’t let any sin rule me. (133)

Look at how much I love your precepts. Make me live again, LORD, according to your faithful love! (159)

The people who love your Instruction enjoy peace—and lots of it. There’s no stumbling for them! (165)

I’ve wandered off like a sheep, lost. Find your servant because I haven’t forgotten your commandments! (176)

God’s Word is not just information or rules; it’s a way to live. The phrase “make me live again” also caught my attention. “Make me live again” appears 7 times in the psalm (plus “Let me live again” and “Now I can live again” once each). God gives us instruction to live a way that leads to life!

Great words from Psalm 119!

(This post is part of the Common English Bible Tour.)

Family Time at the Bishop’s Retreat

One of the nice things about going to the Bishop’s Retreat each January is that it’s an opportunity to go as a family. This was the fourth retreat that Joleen and I have attended. Amazingly, this was also 4.5 year-old Ethan’s fourth retreat and almost-3 year-old Sarah’s third retreat!

The retreat begins on Monday and concludes Wednesday at noon. We usually make the three-hour drive on Sunday afternoon so that we get settled in before the retreat begins on Monday. Even though it’s more of a “working retreat,” we still have some quality time together when we’re not in session (there are fours sessions over the three days). When we’re in session, the kids play in childcare. This year was the best that they’ve handled being dropped off among “strangers”!

The kids also enjoy the meals, including the desserts after lunch and dinner. Yesterday, while eating pistachios (which have healthy fats), I was explaining the difference between good and bad fats. I said we try to limit how much fat we eat, especially the bad fats. Ethan said, “You mean like the ones at the Bishop’s Retreat?”

The fountain at the DoubleTree Resort has always been a kids’ favorite, but this year, the kids’ pool was added to their lists of favorites!

Bishop’s Retreat: Mike Slaughter on Growing a Missional Movement

As I wrote last night, we are the Bishop’s Retreat in Lancaster, PA. Mike Slaughter has been our guest speaker in three sessions (last night, this morning, and this evening).

I’ll do more in depth reflection later, but in the meantime, a few thoughts. This morning, Mike talked about a strategy for growing a missional movement. Mike said, “Movements are not made in a moment.” Ginghamsburg Church is a testimony to that. Mike went their in 1979 and has been the pastor for 33 years. It’s a good reminder to be patient and persistent!

Mike said pastors have to continually nurture the vision. He challenged pastors have a time and a place to nurture vision. In discussing his weekly routine, Mike noted that he spends a good deal of his time in his home office where he spends time with God, works on sermons, reads, writes, and nurtures vision!

Mike says pastors must have a robust devotional life, and study both the Word and the culture.

This evening, at the conclusion of Mike’s teaching, retreat leaders asked us to write a personal commitment on an index card to be placed on the altar table, something that had impacted us.

It was a challenge to distill three sessions into a statement on a card, but I wrote, “I renew my commitment to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I want to focus on getting the church into the world more than getting the world into the church.”

I will need to make some other commitments in response to this week’s teaching, but will need more time to process it!

Bishop’s Retreat: Mike Slaughter on the Great Requirement

We are at the Bishop’s Clergy Retreat in Lancaster, PA. This year’s speaker is pastor of Ginghamsburg Church and author, Rev. Mike Slaughter.

I’ve been looking forward to this week ever since we learned at last year’s retreat that Mike would be with us for this retreat. I’ve long been impacted by Mike. In fact, the highlight of my D.Min. dissertation project was interviewing Mike at Ginghamsburg Church back in 2007.

The topic this week is also the title of his 2009 book, Change the World: Recovering the Message and Mission of Jesus. I have been reading the book in the last few days (I have one chapter to go, which I hope to squeeze in soon). The book is impacting me and will definitely have implications for my life and ministry!

In our first session this evening, Mike talked about the Great Requirement (in later sessions, he’ll talk about the Great Commandment and the Great Commission). The Great Commandment comes from Micah 6.8 …

He has told you, human one, what is good and what the LORD requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God. (CEB)

Mike uses the phrases from the NIV …

  • Act justly
  • Love mercy
  • Walk humbly with your God.

Mike noted that there are 2,000 references to social justice in the Bible. It was inspiring to hear how Ginghamsburg lives out the Great Requirement, particularly their work in Darfur.

One other thing I’ll mention before turning in for the night. Mike talked about four worldviews in the world today …

  • Secular (do life as if there is no God)
  • Soft-secular (believe in God but trust their possessions to give them security)
  • Post-secular (the present is the only thing that matters; it’s true if it works for me)
  • Christian (Truth will prevail; it may cost me my life; it’s not about me; it’s about God’s purpose)

Mike pointed out that one of the challenges in the church today is that many Christians, particularly in The United Methodist Church, are soft-secular in their worldview. They have invited Jesus into their worldview but haven’t allowed Jesus to transform them into his worldview.

Well, we’re just getting started. And, while I’ll try to post some snippets over the next couple of days, I will write more in depth later this week after we return home and have had a chance to process the retreat (and the book).

Isaiah, the Trash-Talking Prophet

Whenever I read through Isaiah, I always find his trash talk about idols somewhat humorous. Here’s a sampling of Isaiah’s attitude about idols …

So to whom will you equate God;
to what likeness
will you compare him?
An idol? A craftsman pours it,
a metalworker covers it with gold,
and fashions silver chains.
The one who sets up an image
chooses wood that won’t rot
and then seeks a skilled artisan
to set up an idol that won’t move. (Isaiah 40.18-20, CEB)

Isaiah’s just getting warmed up. Awhile later, he turns up the heat …

Idol-makers are all as nothing;
their playthings do no good.
Their promoters
neither see nor know anything,
so they ought to be ashamed.
Who would form a god or cast an idol
that does no good?
All its worshippers will be ashamed,
and its artisans, who are only human.
They will all gather and stand,
tremble and be ashamed together. (Isaiah 44.9-11, CEB)

Isaiah has more to say about idols and their makers …

Those who pour out gold from a bag
and weigh silver with a balance
hire a metalworker;
then he makes a god.
They bow down; they worship;
they carry the idol on their
shoulders and support it;
they set it down, and it stands still,
unable to move from its place.
one cries out to it, it doesn’t answer.
It can’t save people
from their distress. (Isaiah 46.-7, CEB)

Isaiah takes one more shot at idols and those who worship them toward the end of the book …

Come here, you children of sorcery,
offspring of adultery and prostitution!
Whom are you mocking?
Against whom do you
open your mouth wide
and stick out your tongue?
Aren’t you children of rebellion, offspring of lies,
who console yourselves with idols
under every green tree …
When you cry out,
let those things you’ve gathered
save you!
The wind will lift them all;
one breath will take them away … (Isaiah 57.3-5,13, CEB)

Isaiah the prophet tells it like it is!

(See follow-up post: Psalm 115 and 135 on Idols.)

(This post features the Common English Bible and is part of the Common English Bible Tour.)

7 Keywords for 2012

As we began the new year, I started thinking about some keywords for the year. Here are some keywords that I hope will shape (and describe!) me this year …

  • Passionate
  • Hungry
  • Disciplined
  • Unsatisfied
  • Teachable
  • Obedient
  • Tenacious

Interestingly, these keywords are also forming the basis of the first sermon series of the new year at Centre Grove, a series called “Pieces of the Puzzle.” We’re all unfinished puzzles, works in progress. There are some important pieces that we need to put in place in order to become all that God wants us to be. These are several pieces that I think are critical to our growth.

So far, I’ve talked about passion and hunger, which are very similar. Next up is discipline (as in self-discipline or self-leadership). I’m still settling on the remaining pieces, but they could very well be the ones I’ve listed above.

As 2012 gets underway, what are some of your keywords for the year?

“If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat”

A number of years ago, I read If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg. Ortberg is one of my favorite writers (and preachers), and his book titles are the best (e.g., Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them and When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box).

Earlier this year, I listed this book in a post on the 15 Books That Have Shaped Me as a Leader. As I said there, it’s not specifically about leadership, but it’s a great book for people who want to do something great for God!

Of course, the book is based on the story where Jesus comes to the disciples walking on water (Matthew 14.22-33). Peter chose to walk on the water while the other eleven disciples remained in the boat.

Ortberg argues that it’s “primarily a story about obedience”; “it’s about extreme discipleship” (16).

There are a lot of great statements in the book. Some of my favorites deal with the fear that keeps us from getting out of the boat …

If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat. I believe there is something—Someone—inside us who tells us there is more to life than sitting in the boat. You were made for something more than merely avoiding failure. There is something inside you that wants to walk on water—to leave the comfort of routine existence and abandon yourself to the high adventure of following God. (17)

In the story, Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid” (a common command in the Bible). Ortberg writes …

The choice to follow Jesus—the choice to grow—is the choice for the constant recurrence of fear. You’ve got to get out of the boat a little every day. … Here is the deep truth about water-walking: The fear will never go away. … Fear and growth go together like macaroni and cheese. It’s a package deal. The decision to grow always involves a choice between risk and comfort. This means that to be a follower of Jesus you must renounce comfort as the ultimate value of your life. (21)

When you are in a situation that creates fear, but you face it head-on, you will feel a rush of satisfaction in knowing you displayed courage. … But when you wimp out by refusing to take the difficult step … you die a little. If you live in fear, you will never experience the potential God has placed in you … growth always involves risk, and risk always involves fear. (126-127)

Good reminders for all who follow God, and for all who lead adventures for God!

“Resonate”: Bringing it All Together

This is the final post in a series of posts on Resonate by Nancy Duarte. Previous posts include …

Well, obviously, I love the book. I knew it was going to be a great book when I first heard Duarte’s Ted Talk several months ago. But now that I’ve written about a few different topics, I want to bring it all together and share what I plan to do with it as I go forward.

1. Improve my process for preparing messages.
On pages 142-143, Nancy includes a visual summary of the process (which I described earlier). I want to internalize this process and adapt it to my own process (see The 4 Ss of Sermon Preparation).

2. Create messages with an understanding of the story pattern.
I love the discussion about the story pattern, especially its use in movies. Now, as I’m watching movies, I think about the “likable hero,” the “inciting incident,” and the shape of the “character arc.” Now, I need to make sure my messages have these elements as well.

3. Build more contrast into my messages.
Contrast is certainly one of the key principles in Resonate. I need to be intentional about creating contrast (in both “analytical” and “emotional” content; i.e., head and heart).

4. Write better sticky statements.
I learned to write single sentences that try to concisely state what I want people to know through Stanley’s one-point preaching approach, which he calls “sticky statements.” But in the past year, this part of my prep has gotten a little stale. I think Nancy’s material on writing statements will help revitalize this process for me.

5. Be more intentional about creating S.T.A.R. moments.
This was one of my favorite concepts in the book (I devoted a post to it). As I said, this concept wasn’t new (Stanley talks about the need to “make it memorable”), but I really like the memorable, creative acronym. It challenges me to be more intentional about creating these kinds of moments—Something They’ll Always Remember. Duarte lists five types of S.T.A.R. moments: memorable dramatization, repeatable sound bites, evocative visuals, emotive storytelling, and shocking statistics. As a preacher, it’s a challenge to create these kinds of moments every week, but one thing that helps is that the Bible itself is full of S.T.A.R. moments that can be tapped into.

6. Help people to cross the threshold.
This was one of the last concepts that jumped out at me as I did a final review for this post. Duarte discusses the hero’s journey …

There is a moment in every story where the character overcomes reluctance to change, leaves the ordinary world, and crosses the threshold into an adventure in a special world. (32)

This is certainly my goal in preaching, to help people cross the threshold in their spiritual journey!

Well, these are some of the ways I hope to incorporate principles from Resonate. Thanks to Nancy Duarte for writing it. And thank you for reading. I hope these posts have been helpful!