People are Watching, Wash Feet

This post was inspired by JE’s post “Leaders of the Towel and Basin”

I grew up in a faith community that practised what Jesus did with his disciples in John 13. Twice a year, Good Friday and Thanksgiving, we washed each others’ feet. Since leaving home as a young adult this Anabaptist ‘sacrament’ lost much of its meaning for me. As a pastor and a Christian of the Mennonite tradition I avoided the washing feet thing at every turn.

Then I visited Burma.

In the back waters of that nation I spent a week teaching and preaching an Anabaptist understanding of the Gospel to a Bible College student body and faculty. At the end of the week I spoke at their convocation service. Over 500 people gathered on a warm February Sunday afternoon to celebrate the 14 students who were graduating with their Bachelor of Theology degrees.

With input from the President of the school I decided I would dust off the Anabaptist ‘sacrament’ which I had grown to loathe. Nancy, my wife and fellow teacher, and I proceeded to wash the feet of these students. I was unprepared for the rush of family and friends who came forward to take pictures.

One of the faculty summed up the people’s curiosity around foot washing. “We have taught the importance of John 13 to our students but no one ever dared to think that a wealthy, educated, leader from the west would ever wash the feet of one of my people. We look up to you. We are your servants. That you would wash our feet is amazing to me.” 

Read JE’s post. Then, as a leader, go out and serve those who least expect it. You too may be as surprised as I was.

People are watching; wash feet! – BB

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Jesus liked A.P.E.s

Recently I noticed first hand a leadership reality which Alan Hirsch, an Australian Missiologist, teaches. “At the beginning of a religious organizations life the Apostles, Prophets and Evangelists are large and in charge and by the time the organization matures and plateaus the Pastors and Teachers have taken over the management positions. The ‘APE’s’ have either moved on or have been ostracized.”

I had the privilege of meeting with the National Executive of a 15 year old Christian non-denominational organization in Burma two weeks ago. It was a room full of passionate, fervent, God fearing, fearless, tireless, and generous to a fault men and women. The majority were self-proclaimed Evangelists with a couple of Pastors thrown in for some balance.

It didn’t take me long to realize that this room of large yet healthy egos would not be tolerated in the North American church circles where I typically move as a leader. At best these Evangelists would be gently ignored and at worst be treated with disdain and derision.

They taught me a valuable lesson. If I as a leader want to see new things begin or old ways truly renewed then I have to be able to identify the “APE’s” in the crowd, disciple them and then let them loose on the world.

This is what Jesus managed to do. Peter, ‘the Rock’; James and John, ‘Sons of Thunder’; Judas; were not gentle shrinking violets. I realize anew that Jesus chose leaders with large personalities who after three years of being discipled were going to be instrumental in starting a new thing; a large sustainable, life giving God thing.

It is an example worth following today. – BB

ReThink Everything

What we plant determines what we grow.  Farmers understand this but for an urban guy like me, it has taken a while to figure out.

For 25 years, I’ve been involved in what evangelical-Anabaptists refer to as, “church planting.”  The Christian world can be divided into those who think church planting is a good idea and those who are actually doing it.  I’ve lived in both camps, and I think that some of my fellow-travelers (myself included!) have been involved in a great adventure in missing the point.

 Leaders have engaged in church planting as institutional formation.  We focus on executing strategies that attract a collection of people who we hope find spiritual meaning in the church plant’s wonderful programs.  Growing a church requires the planter to commit to sustaining program excellence, manage costs, and form relational bonds through customer intimacy.  Mission agencies sustain this model by offering venture capital to the church plant with the expectation that a sustainable and self-funding church will emerge that supports the mission agency in return.  In short, the system demands we plant churches as institutions.

What if we did gospel planting instead?  What might it look like if we see every follower of Jesus as a church planter and believe every church can plant another church?  What if we incarnated the victory news that Jesus is Lord of everything?  

Gospel planting requires leaders to re-think everything:  our definitions of mission and church; our leadership cultivation and discipleship formation; and the way we use money in the formation of church plants.

Our current church planting models grow from the same Christendom assumptions that have informed much of the way we have done church over the past 1700 years.  Instead, let’s start planting the gospel, and experience the church fruit that grows from that seed.

 Scary, huh? – JW

Rezoning

When we started this church, one of our goals was to bless and serve the community that we were in as a church. I was convicted through a question posed in something I’d read which said, “If your church left, would the community notice?” We do this serving through a whole variety of events geared at sharing God’s love in tangible non threatening ways including neighbourhood parties, playing with kids in the park, Easter egg hunts, youth after school programs, etc. Our ability to engage the community has increased through a “community space” which our church leased just over a year ago across the street from the school where we meet Sundays. Getting the space was a succession of miracles, including getting the site rezoned to have a church group using it. In order for that rezoning to happen, the city does checks with the residents within several hundred meters of our building. At our annual community pancake breakfast last month, a woman came up to one of our pastors and said, “Someone came to our door asking us to sign a petition because they didn’t want the church in the area. But I told them, “The church comes to bring life not death. They have helped my children. I’m not signing this petition. So I started one of my own to support your church…” I didn’t know this person, and we didn’t get wind of either of these petitions. But I could not help but think that our presence in the community through acts of serving, helped give legitimacy to our being here. -JLT

 

Necessary Endings

Leaders can be encouragers, decision makers, listeners, teachers, doers, and admonishers. These abilities are required throughout the days of leading others. Dr. Henry Cloud in his book Necessary Endings points out another critical part of being a leader. There are times you must bring a relationship to an end simply because “this isn’t working”.

There are toxic people who will seek to corrupt you, others and the whole organization. These are the easy situations to detect although managing a smooth ending is a daunting task. There are also those less obvious necessary endings that call out to leaders. There are well meaning, good hearted, and salt of the earth people who are in the wrong position at the wrong time or they’ve been accidently promoted beyond their abilities or the organization has out grown them. A leader must discern for the good of the organization. Cloud argues that if you’ve done everything in your power to train, educate and empower the well meaning, good hearted, salt of the earth under-performer a leader gets to say, “I’m sorry but this isn’t working.”

Personally, I like to be the nice guy and I find no joy in necessary endings because I’m then seen as the hard hearted guy who doesn’t understand. But then I realize that not even Jesus tried to work with or rescue everyone who crossed his path in Galilee. I suspect the Rich Young Ruler was a salt of the earth kind of guy but Jesus did a ‘Necessary Ending’ on that relationship before it even had a chance to begin.

It’s hard but sometimes endings are necessary. – BB

Don’t Be Sheep – Ask Questions!

Two viral videos have caught my eye in recent weeks.

The first is this very funny, controversial video made by a couple of guys questioning some of the laws and controls imposed on us here in the UK – laws which seem to have crept in and become accepted and obeyed without anyone daring to question why.  With an incredible wit and with the passion and communication skills of a seasoned evangelist they enable the scales to drop from our eyes and give us permission to ask why we don’t think twice about complying with so many unwritten and arguably unhealthy laws and expectations. (It is 8 mins long – so grab a coffee before you watch – and make sure you don’t spill it because you will laugh!)

The second video appeared on BBC News yesterday and tells of a 2yr old girl in China who was hit by a van.  Not only did the van drive off but CCTV shows that no less than 16 people walked past the fatally injured girl before someone stopped to help.  The reasons seem complex and  knee-jerk theories appear to centre around people being reluctant to help for fear of  being liable for fees for medical help or being blamed for the incident.  One quote said:

“There’s been so many cases where people have been treated unjustly after doing good things”.

A modern day Parable of the Good Samaritan if ever there was one!

These two stories cause me to ponder the gift of asking questions and I find myself reflecting on why many people, organisations and churches find it so threatening when people pose them.  Is it because when people ask questions it opens the possibility of those in authority losing control?  Is it because most of our self-confidence is so low that questions feed our insecurities?

But yet asking questions can help us to reflect on why things are the way they are and seek better possibilities.  Asking questions also releases us from the disabling fear of not conforming and gives us power to act justly even at the risk of personal cost or false accusation.

I am intrigued by the fact that Jesus seemed to ask many more questions than he appeared to give straight answers.  In fact I could well imagine Jesus standing with a megaphone pointing out the obvious, asking the questions, mocking the system, making people think and reminding people that there are always other options.

The opening verse of Romans 12 challenges us:

‘Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.’

Let’s not be sheep – Let’s ask questions!

JK

 

 

Jim and Casper

It sounds like the set up for a classic joke:  “A Christian and an Atheist walk into a church together…”  But it’s no joke, it actually happened.  In the summer of 2006, Jim Henderson, a former pastor, and now publishing executive went on a road trip with his best friend, Matt Casper, an avowed Atheist.  They visited eleven churches across the USA:  mega-churches with superstar preachers and mainline congregations with mind-numbing liturgy and an Anabaptist-related house church (way to go, Jason!).  They pooled their insights into a book:  Jim & Casper Go to Church (Barna:  2007).  www.amazon.com

At the end of the book, Jim reflects: “Casper saw and experienced – over and over and over again – what Christians do when they do church.  He saw it done with big budgets and no budgets, in large stadiums and in small buildings.  The same format repeated itself regardless of the setting.  The greet-sing-preach-collect-present form played out in front of us with unrelenting predictability.  And when it was all done, he would turn to me and ask, ‘Jim, is this what Jesus told you guys to do?’”

Ouch.

Jesus told us to go into the world and share the victory news that God does not hate anyone for anything; that God loves everyone, all the time.  Only then can we baptize – forming communities of Jesus followers.  Together we figure out how to live faithfully, in love with Jesus.

Yes, sometimes we get it backwards. We figure out how people should live; try with all our might to assemble a group of those folks; then tell them God loves them.

Is that what Jesus told us to do?  What would it look like to start a church whose focus was not on the “show” or the “shoulds” but on the good news?