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

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

Just What is Faith Formation?

Just What is Faith Formation-

How would you respond if a parishioner asked, “So what do you really mean by faith formation?”

I asked myself that question this week as I worked toward launching our new training program for congregational leaders: DO WHAT MATTERS! Faith Formation for a New Age. If we’re going to invite leaders to do what matters in their faith formation efforts, we need to be clear about what faith formation is, yes?

Problem is ‘faith formation’ has become a catch-all term that can mean just about anything a church or Christian community does—from the parish picnic, to Bingo nite, to team sports in the gym, to Sunday worship. It’s all faith formation, right?

Well, potentially yes, but there are some criteria that our programs and activities ought to meet in order to fall under the faith formation umbrella.

In a single line we could say faith formation is: equipping people to live as disciples of Jesus.

In his latest book, Generations Together, John Roberto reaffirms a traditional, but very rich notion that faith formation informs, forms, and transforms the person—whether child, youth, or adult—into a robust, vital, and life-giving Christian faith that is holistic: a way of the head, the heart, and the hands.

And faith formation does the very same for the Christian community as it immerses people into the particular practices and particular way of life that identifies them as followers of Jesus.

Roberto goes on to say, “While expressed in many different ways, faith formation seeks to help people:

  • Grow in their relationship with God for the whole of life
  • Live as disciples of Jesus at home, at work, in the community, and in the world
  • Develop an understanding of the Bible and their faith tradition
  • Deepen their spiritual life and practices
  • Engage in service and mission to the world
  • Participate in the life and ministries of their faith community”

So, faith formation may indeed occur at the parish picnic or on the gym floor, but it has little to do with eating hot dogs or sinking baskets, and whole lot to do with forming disciples. Much more on this when you join us for DO WHAT MATTERS! Coming to a city near you!

Leif Kehrwald,– Leif Kehrwald

Without a Building

Vibrant Faith blog

One of the many BIG changes that we’re making at Vibrant Faith is closing down our offices in Bloomington, Minnesota.  Our decision to stop selling resources coincidentally happened at the same time that we lost the lease on our offices.  We talked about the possibility of finding new office space, and quickly decided “No.” Our team make their homes and initiate their work from all over the country.  We actually love how this forces us to find and meet in other spaces wherever we are gathering as a team.

Our Tom Schwolert has written a couple of posts recently about what church might be like without all the buildings (read them here and here).  He was reflecting the huge changes in the ways that we function as a society and as families because of technology’s ability to connect us at a distance.  It has in many ways brought lots of churches (the people) to a place where they are living beyond buildings.  Even though their church has buildings.

I don’t know any leaders who aren’t struggling with the consequences of this new reality on some level. We only walked away from having a central office. But we are more committed than ever to walking with you as leaders and churches in the midst of walking away from what is no longer necessary.  We’re hoping that our unsettling will encourage you to look beyond many of the things that matter less in this new world of ours.  We want to help you focus more than ever on vibrant faith in Jesus Christ – nothing more, but nothing less either.  We’re so excited about that task!

Here’s the link to the page that tells you where you will still be able to get the resources you love in the future.

And here’s our new address and phone:
Vibrant Faith
PO Box 22009
St. Paul, MN 55122-22009

We are a catalyst for Christian congregations, communities and households striving to practice vibrant faith in a dynamic world.

Nancy Going-Nancy Going

No Church Buildings

Look deeply into this question.

What would the church look like if we had no buildings?

And by church, I mean you and me, the body of Christ. Think long and hard about this. We have invested a ton of money, technology, planning, time and energy into building and maintaining church buildings. I can drive in a few mile radius and pass all kinds of churches and some really big ones (I live in Texas). I’m amazed sometimes at how much we put into these structures. We have gyms, conference rooms, classrooms and worship centers set up to hosChurch-Construction-Framet all kinds of events. Not only do we put lots of energy into building them but we also put lots of energy into filling them. We constantly push out publicity in hopes that people will show up to fill these structures so that we can captivate their attention, if just for an hour, in hopes that they will become deeply connected with Christ.

But what if we didn’t use buildings like these? What would we do and where would community happen? Could we still be the church without these buildings? Don’t worry, I enjoy going to worship in a beautiful sanctuary but I often wonder if we invest way too much in them. The reality is that much, if not most, of
ministry happens outside the church walls. Sometimes it is intentional, sometimes the Spirit blows randomly.

When we experienced the devastating loss of a child, the church showed up at our doorstep. When I saw my neighbor (whom I hardly know) in his yard yesterday I walked over and talked to him. We talked about life and faith, God was present. A group of high schoolers after spending a week at camp recently spent each day texting encouragements and Bible verses to each other. A mom takes her two young children to the park and reads Bible stories to them as they lay on a picnic blanket in the sun. A man consoles a friend in the parking lot of the grocery store after hearing of the loss of his mother. A group of parents get together on a Friday night for dinner to talk about the challenges of parenting and pray together. Neighbors get together for a backyard worship. The list goes on (or should go on).

The church is a living, breathing thing and we need to trust it to be that rather than trying to box it in to an hour a week. What if more of our time were spent seeking out ways to bring God into our daily conversations? What if more of our time was spent building circles of faith nurturing relationships around people? So take some time to wrestle with the question, deeply and long. Look for places outside the church walls where God is mentioned and questions of faith are asked. Intentionally seek ways that the arms of Christ can reach out into the community.

Perhaps the walls will grow thin and God’s unending grace will pour out into the community.

Tom Schwolert  ~ Tom Schwolert