Leader Longings

This Advent season, I have simply been unable to let go of this picture.  It showed up the very first day of our Advent Devos  this year—and I literally find myself coming back to look at it again and again.  (A little aside, my husband discovered the online Advent Calendar produced by Biola University last year, and we honestly look forward to our devotions every day.)
 Text here
The picture described here is one depicting the Old Testament story of Hannah longing for a child.  Her eyes are just haunting for me.  I hadn’t thought of the deep aching sense of emptiness that goes with unanswered longing in this way before.

We all have personal voids and disappointments in our lives,  but I believe that ministry itself is fraught with a depth and breadth of longing beyond our own places of emptiness.

A friend was recently describing a pastor that she knows as “a faithful leader,  a good preacher, but a man whose disappointment in his congregation was palpable.”  I wonder how true that is for many ministry leaders. We long for rich communities of faith.  We long for lives and hearts to be changed by faith in Jesus Christ. We long for God’s kingdom to break in.  All those longings are a part of what draws us to ministry.
text here
It’s not hard to be disappointed by the church these days, isn’t it?  Whether by the distracted nature of our community life, or by the growing sense we have as leaders that no matter how hard we work, we will not be able to make our churches or ministries grow just by doing a better job.  Of course, though that is misplaced longing, don’t we all with empty eyes land there at some time or another?
text here
And how do we then enter into a new year with hope?  Could it be by holding on to dear Hannah–both in letting God fill our disappointed, empty eyes and hearts, and by seeing ministry through the eyes of the rest of her story– the promises God filled and fulfills?
Thank you Hannah, for not giving up and continuing to plead with God.  Your empty eyes were a rich witness to Samuel then and to us all these years later.   Come Lord Jesus, Come.
Nancy Going~Nancy Going

Frayed by the Pressure of Advent?

You may have started your Advent devotions yesterday, or maybe you’ve been too busy to pick them out yet.  In any case, I’m imagining that your mind is urging you to slow down—to actually be able to DO what you are encouraging the people you lead to do, while at the same time you have so MUCH on your ministry leadership plate for the next three weeks.  And then you also want to be able to create and share a meaningful Advent life with your own family too.

It’s the Advent tension of ministry, right there in our faces. 

And to add to that tension, there is almost always real frustration and added annoyance with the people who share in our ministries at this time of year, either the volunteers or partners in leadership. In this important time of preparing our hearts, and learning to wait, and re-awakening ourselves to what God is doing all around us, it is just profoundly hard to dwell in that spiritual richness when we are anxious about the uncertainty of budgets and rehearsals and programs that can go with leading a church during the Christmas holidays.
I found these sentences today from a team covenant posted by the Renovare organization.  I think you might find them to be a very helpful way of thinking about actually living Advent as a ministry leader.
Establish trust through vulnerability
“For a team to establish real trust, team members, beginning with the leader, must be willing…to be vulnerable without knowing whether that vulnerability will be respected or reciprocated.” 
 –Patrick Lencioni

Establishing trust through vulnerability means that we’re comfortable being exposed by one another. We have the courage to say things like, “I was wrong” and “I made a mistake” and “I need help” and “I’m not sure.” Like Mary, in John 12, we expose our weaknesses before Christ and each other relying on his love and mercy to flow through us.

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

–Colossians 3:13-14
I pray that you will Let your Advent be “hopefully” real.  And you may just be able to slow down and dwell in the ever-growing fullness of a life with the one who gave up all to be “God with us.”
You can find the entire covenant here Renovaré Behavioral Covenant
Nancy Going~Nancy Going

Five BIG Questions You Will Want to Answer



FAMILYING:  The relational processes the Spirit uses to form faith.

At Vibrant Faith, we are desperately aware that both of the institutions in our society that have historically functioned as the greenhouses for the nurture of faith—the church and the home – are experiencing tremendous change.  Daily life for families has changed dramatically: the impact of social, technological and economic realities. The church often finds itself scrambling to respond and engage people, much less lead them.  There is new urgency about the processes of faith formation.

That’s why we are proposing a new/old focus for engaging this reality: FAMILYING. We’ve been talking about it here for the last several weeks.  Here’s a re-cap of what we mean by familying:

Familying focuses on the relational processes that are the vehicles the Spirit has always used for the formation of faith.

Familying has rich biblical and historical Christian roots. Jesus’ ministry from beginning to end a process of familying.  The earliest glimpses we have of the Christian church are the stories of their familying.

Familying processes happen powerfully within both blood and non-blood relationships.

Familying happens most significantly in extended family groups.  This is NOT and has never been the work of the parents or the nuclear family functioning alone.

Evangelism is a natural outcome of familying.

The FAMILY itself is not the end goal. Familying is for the sake of the God’s mission in world.

Programs that allow for multiple generations to be a part of a church community together can help the process of familying.  But  impact-rich Familying relationships don’t end with the program.

Familying happens through the kind Developmental Relationships as described by Search Institute:  Express Care, Challenge Growth, Provide Support, Share Power, Expand Horizons. Many adults, however, do not know how to have these kind of relationships.

Familying creates developmental relationships for the sake of vibrant faith in Jesus Christ.

Familying can happen as powerfully through local faith communities and families as well as camps and other para-church organizations.

Familying does just happen.  But there is every sign that it is “just happening” for fewer people, especially children.

Familying is a deep, natural human desire.  This desire is often at the root of misguided attempts to fill one’s life.

At Vibrant Faith, we believe that as local faith communities are able to structure themselves for familying they will thrive.

Here are FIVE FAMILYING questions for your ministry:

  1. Who in my church is in need of FAMILYING?
  2. Who in my church community is being intentionally “FAMILIED” by my church?
  3. What systems or programs in my church intentionally create space for FAMILYING by your church community?
  4. How could my church use our skills in FAMILYING to connect with our community?
  5. What skills will you need to teach to help others to FAMILY?

Nancy Going ~Nancy Going

Week Five :: Familying TRUTH

Familying Truth

It is time for some truth. Here’s the tough reality: neither our churches nor our world is currently set up to family. That’s the hard position from which we at Vibrant Faith are sending out this urgent call to re-focus on this central task of Christian life. We are not pretending that anything less than an act of God lived out through God’s people will change American Christianity’s ability to family the current and next generation.

Why does being structured to family matter? Because familying is the relational process that the Spirit uses to form faith.

We know that as you continue re-claim this powerful focus for forming faith, there are significant challenges that might get in the way:

People no longer connect faith in Jesus with a “know and be known” community. It’s American individualism; it’s our mobile society; it’s a failure of the church to be church; it’s the results of a “me and Jesus” Christianity. It’s all those things. The number of people living in extended families has dissipated until it is no longer the norm and often physically just very hard to do.  At the same time our churches have more and more lost the ability to BE defining community for people.

But have you ever stopped to wonder about what drives the popularity of several television hits of the last 15 years? Friends, Modern Family, Parenthood, Downton Abbey… These are all examples of extended families in action, and we love watching them. People connect with these families at a deep level because these shows reflect our heart’s desire. Maybe familying is simply built into us. That wouldn’t be surprising, since familying reflects what it means to be made in the image of this triune God of ours.

As you face the challenges of structuring to family, you will need to re-connect people’s faith in Jesus to their deeply buried desire to know and be known, and help them find that in and through extended family-like Christian community.

People believe that the nuclear family is the key family unit. Those people who have nuclear families, that is. The nuclear family (one set of parents and their children) is currently the default American picture of family.  When the church talks about strengthening and encouraging families, we too focus on the nuclear family.  But living in an intact nuclear family is a life situation that people in our country are as likely NOT to have as they may have. In 2013, almost half the children born in the United States were born outside of marriages. The divorce rate still hovers between 40 and 50 percent.

As you face the challenges of structuring to family, the moving target that is the nuclear family will be a challenge for the intentional creation of families of faith. However, structuring churches to develop and nurture families of faith will become a welcome gift — for both a vibrant faith in Jesus and for human thriving.

This is where we get to most profoundly re-connect to who we are as followers of Jesus. Have you noticed that the story of Jesus shows him familying from birth? Much of the biblical narrative tells of his drawing together, sharing his days with and profoundly changing the lives very disparate people–including but moving beyond his blood family. Even in death, in his last words, Jesus was familying from the cross:

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
John 19: 26-27

Familying is inherently challenging.  Structuring to family will be too.  But creating and tending families of faith will change everything.

Nancy Going~Nancy Going

The Scary Bridge

I love bridges. But I didn’t used to.

A couple of days ago, I drove over the causeway bridge that leads into St. Petersburg, FL. It’s a long bridge with a super high point. It was a beautiful drive. As I began the ascent a memory came to mind:

When I was a child we went on a family vacation to Galveston and I experienced my first tall causeway bridge. I’ll never forget looking up and seeing that bridge that seemed to go straight up into the clouds and not come down. I remember the lump in my throat and the butterflies in my stomach. And I remember the climb that seemed to go on forever and there was no end in sight until we got all the way to the peak of the bridge. And then it happened – my dad said, “Whoa! Here we go!” And the descent ensued with laughter from me and my siblings and a huge, “Wow!” as we headed down to the other side.

Are you looking at a bridge with fear and trepidation in your ministry? Are you hoping for change but not sure how to get there?

Maybe you need a bridge.

Many congregations are in need of a bridge, a bridge that leads to the place that you know you need to go but seems a bit scary. Where do you want to be? One of our consultants Jim LaDoux has great insight on the image of being a bridge to 21st Century Faith Formation. Check it out.

At Vibrant Faith, we see ourselves as people who accompany leaders and congregations as we pass over the scary bridges, knowing that God is with us all the way. There is no question that as we lead the church in the 21st Century, we need to look at innovative ways to equip the church to be God’s love.

And that’s faith. It’s like looking up to the top of the bridge trusting that there is hope on the other side. And boy, when we make that descent we can enjoy the rush of God’s life-giving Spirit as we are led into the future of the church. And we can joyfully say, “Here we go!”

Don’t be afraid of the bridge.

TomPromo copy 3 ~ Tom Schwolert tschwolert@vibrantfaith.org