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.)
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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.
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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?
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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

Five from Moses for a New World

Five from Moses for a New World

There they were — reportedly there were millions of them, camped on the edge of the promised land.  Moses knew he wasn’t going with them.  Moses also knew that there was so much that they likely didn’t understand about the land and the very different shape their lives would take in that new land.

The shape of worship and the traditions that had become their way of life as the children of Israel in the wilderness were about to change dramatically. They couldn’t fully fathom it yet, but the customs that they had grown into for survival over generations of necessity just weren’t going to work as lasting patterns for following the Lord their God as they settled and became immersed in this land.  They were about to leave the world of the wilderness and move into the land that God had promised, filled with “cities you did not build, wells you did not dig, vineyards you did not plant.” (Deuteronomy 6:11)

Have you ever thought about what it was like to be THOSE parents, headed with the children they loved into that new land?  Yes, it was a land filled with milk and honey. But it was also a whole new world, filled with people who didn’t share their God or their way of living.  There would be consequences as their children became natives of this new culture. Did they sense how hard it would be to make sure their children continued to worship the Lord their God?

So here are the five things Moses told them to do: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

Moses knew that the ways of here would not be enough for there.  He knew it was going to be about remembering what God had done, and literally attaching that story to their children and doing it in multiple ways in the midst of everyday life.  He didn’t tell them to take the Ark and immediately build a temple.  He told them that only FAMILYING the faith would have an impact in this new world.

So here we are. We too are looking at a new land.  We are heading into a boundary-less, technology-driven new world where 4000 churches close their doors each year.  Whew.  Not surprisingly, the customs and church cultures that we have known for the last several generations don’t appear to be working in the same ways in THIS new land either.  But this is the only world our children and grandchildren will know.

But it’s okay, children of God.  We’ve been here before.  God is still using that reluctant servant Moses and has already given us the tools to handle this:

  1. Impress.
  2. Talk.
  3. Tie.
  4. Bind.
  5. Write.

See you there.

Nancy Going~Nancy Going

You Too Can be a Hula Hoop Champion

One toy that has not changed a bit is the hula hoop. There’s nothing you can do to innovate it. It’s simply a round circle of plastic that comes in various colors. Pretty basic, and it has never changed.

When I was a kid, everyone had a hula hoop in the neighborhood. Occasionally we would gather all the kids together on the block and have a contest to see who could hula the longest to be the hula hoop champion. I must confess: I was not very good at it and never won the championship. It always seemed to be the girl from down the street who was in dance class and could just go on forever without any effort. But hey, it brought everyone together for lots of fun and laughter. Oh yeah, and it was “groovy” and we wore bell bottoms.

Another circle that hasn’t changed is the circle of relationships that we all need surrounding us in our walk of faith, even in the forever changing landscape of ministry. If your faith is central to your life, I’ll bet you could sit down right now and write down the names of 5 people who have influenced your faith. After all, it’s how God chooses to show up in our lives – through the hearts of others. When we are encircled by a supportive, faith-filled circle we tend to stick around in the church and our faith tends to become the central compass of our lives. During the last few years of working with a youth group, I had them interview each other, and one of the questions was to have them make a list of people in their circle. There was always a marked difference in the youth who had several on that list and the ones who had one or two.

So leaders of churches, do these two things:

  1. Write down the names of at least 5 people who have nurtured your faith over the years. Then write them each a hand written letter thanking them. Even if they are no longer living, you can still write the letter. It can be transformational.
  2. Begin to cultivate circles of faith nurturing relationships in the lives of the young. Start with what they do have. Ask them. Then explore with them how you can grow that circle. (also, see yesterday’s post)

So don’t worry about having the coordination to be a hula hoop champion. How about championing circles of relationships?

Tom Schwolert ~ Tom Schwolert

The Magic Pill

The Magic Pill | Tom Schwolert

There are a couple prescriptions in our family that are very important. If we forget to fill one and a day is missed there can be some anxiety until we can get the refill. I know many can identify with this. Whether it’s a regular prescription or one that is for sickness that has come unexpectedly, it is important to take it as the doctor prescribed so you can get on the right track to being healthy.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), there is no perfect prescription in ministry. So I’m going to remind you of something you already know:

There is no magic pill in ministry!

I’ve been reflecting lately on exactly what it is that we as leaders and churches need to nurture faith for a lifetime. We live in a constant tension, don’t we? There is an urgency that we live in to reach our community with the love of God. We feel that urgency deeply. We also hear the cries of the people who come through our doors. We want so desperately to help them “get better” that we grasp for whatever quick fix program in hopes of making a difference.

In lifelong faith formation, ministry is more about improving spiritual health for the long haul rather than quick remedies. Ministry is about surrounding people with relationships that last a lifetime. And most of all, ministry is about trusting that the great Physician will do things in people’s lives that only God can do.

So think about these questions:

What are you currently doing that is not contributing to lifelong faith? Can you stop doing it?

Are young people in your faith community encircled by multiple, faith nurturing relationships to equip them with a sustainable faith?

How are you thinking about ministry beyond next week or next month? How are you equipping people with lifelong faith practices?

Tom Schwolert ~Tom Schwolert

At Vibrant Faith, we work with congregations to develop lifelong faith. Contact us.

It’s In Their Hands

It's In Their Hands - Nancy Going,

I love reading my Bible on my phone.  It really has been an amazing discovery for me.  I used to mostly force my devotional life before, and I never realized that it was because I was overwhelmed by the amount of print on the page of my Bible.  Reading on my phone, I just get a small section at a time, and I get to scroll to keep going. I love it!   I can do this much more easily now, and my Bible is always with me.  How cool is that?

That is a gift your families and kids have received too.

There have always been distinct processes that the Spirit uses to form faith—

  • Content—the story of God passed down from generation to generation.
  • Spiritual Experiences where the Spirit meets us—like worship, prayer, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and time in nature.
  • Relational Communities—families and familying groups.

Church leaders often had and have primary responsibility and for delivering the content.  We find and shape, and do a lot of delivering of the curriculum.   But just like it is for me, the content is now in their hands.  How cool is that?

Ah, but I can already hear you reacting—“but there is so much religious JUNK on the internet.”  Yep, you have to point them to GREAT content.  There is great content there too.

But Spiritual Experiences and Relational Communities are simply lacking for most people, especially for most young people in our world today.  They need new groundwork and nurturing and discipling and tending.

And you get to do THAT.  Tending those two things is in YOUR hands.  How cool is that?

Nancy Going~ Nancy Going