Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Volatility Yields to Vision

Last week we began a conversation about what it means to lead the church in a VUCA world, a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.  This military term has become a trendy word in business and academic circles to describe the new reality of a world that is rapidly changing all around us.  This VUCA world is having a tremendous impact on our churches and therefore, must have an impact on the way we lead as those entrusted with stewardship of the church.

So, let’s look at the first word that makes up the VUCA acronym.  Merriam-Webster dictionary defines volatile as “likely to change in a very sudden or extreme way.”  Volatile does not always mean dangerous, it simply means that the change comes quickly or at a much greater magnitude than was expected.  The volatile nature of our world can be seen quite clearly in the technology industry.  A company that once experienced long-term success can quickly find itself struggling to survive.  A great example of this is Kodak.

According to The Economist, in 1976 Kodak accounted for 90% of film and 85% of camera sales in America. Until the 1990s it was regularly rated one of the world's five most valuable brands.  With the rapid rise of digital photography Kodak has lost billions in recent years and, as The Economist says, “After 132 years it is poised, like an old photo, to fade away.”  The sad part is that leadership at Kodak saw this digital world coming.  What was their downfall?  I don’t have time or space to detail their full story (read it here), but it boils down to apathy and and a lack of clear direction. 

Is it possible that this has been our downfall in the church as well?  We have known for years that the world around us is rapidly changing and with it the religious landscape.  The magnitude of this shift slapped us in the face with the release of the 2014 Pew Report on America’s Changing Religious Landscape.  This study revealed that the percentage of American adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points since the 2007 report.  Over the same period, the percentage of American adults who are religiously unaffiliated (describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular”) has climbed from 16.1% to 22.8%.  These numbers reveal an ever increasing volatility for the church in America that has unfortunately been met with a certain level of apathy by most churches and its leaders.  The need for vision is urgent.  

I shared a principle last week from Bob Johansen, of the Institute For The Future, that states that volatility yields to vision.  The need for vision in the church is nothing new.  The ancient wisdom of King Solomon points to its necessity when he writes, “Where there is no vision, the people perish..” (Proverbs 28:18).  So, the need for vision is not new, but the demand for it has been increased by the level of chaos that has been generated by our rapidly changing world.  The church (and the world) is hungry for leaders who will stand up and say, “I know the world is confusing and many things are uncertain, but this is where we are going.  Now let’s figure out together how we are going to get there.”

The good news is that we are not left to our own understanding in seeking to define the future of the church.  Unlike the leaders of Kodak, our future does not depend on our ability to predict what’s next in this volatile world.  I still believe that we serve a God who longs to give us the wisdom to see His desired future for our churches and our lives.  If as leaders, we will diligently seek to hear his heart and then lead with the vision He has provided, then the church will do more than simply fade away.

What do you think?  How are you responding to the volatility surrounding your church?  Let me hear your thoughts.

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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Leading the Church in a VUCA World

Until a couple of weeks ago I had never heard the term “VUCA”, but when I first listened to an explanation of the meaning of this term I immediately connected with it.  It describes the environment in which I am seeking to lead my team and my organization each and every day.  My team just so happens to be a group of staff and volunteers, and my organization is a historical church in my denomination, but nonetheless they are looking to me for leadership.

VUCA is a military term that was introduced following the Cold War and was used to describe the landscape of a changing world where they were seeking to train and equip leaders to respond to a world that was volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.  Many of us were awakened to the reality of a VUCA world following the events of 9/11 and then again after the financial crisis of 2008-2009.  Businesses and organizations that once enjoyed decades of stability and predictability found themselves scrambling to make sense of this new world.

The Church has not been immune to these seismic shifts in the way this new world operates.  Most churches and leaders are confused about how to respond to this VUCA world.  The churches they know and love once enjoyed a great deal of stability and even predictability when it came to projecting what the coming year’s attendance, budgets, and ministry needs would be.  They are now left with a church that is staggering around dazed and confused, unable to gather themselves and respond to the VUCA that is happening all around them at warp speed.

Businesses are now taking their cues from the military and are seeking to train their corporate leaders to lead differently in this new world were VUCA is the order of the day.  If the church is going to adapt to this new world and seek to not merely exist, but thrive in this new world then we must learn to lead differently as well.  Bob Johansen, of the Institute For The Future, has helped businesses and denominations equip leaders to respond to these new challenges. He suggests that in a VUCA world volatility yields to vision, uncertainty yields to understanding, complexity yields to clarity, and ambiguity yields to agility.  These are specific responses we must provide as leaders in our new environment.

The old world in which the church existed is gone for good and with it our idols of comfort and stability.  Over the next couple of weeks my goal is to unpack how we can lead more effectively in this new world.  It’s a world with immense possibilities to the leaders and churches who will choose to adapt and respond.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Power of Word Pictures

Jesus employed analogies to describe salvation: born again, bread of life, justification.  These metaphors are inspired, because Jesus used them in his own salvation preaching.  The analogies remain with us today showing how these word pictures still communicate.  We can make use of these scriptural analogies while evangelizing.  These analogies can become background for scripting conversations with our hearers.  Jesus was very keen on this method of communication.  For example, he used Bread, a staple of sustenance, and living water, a necessity for survival. People could immediately understand how important these items were in their everyday life.  Jesus used these metaphors to teach spiritual lessons. 

We can also find our own cultural analogies for engaging people in spiritual conversations.  For example, movies often portray themes of forgiveness and sacrifice. Popular songs speak of desire for commitment and true love. Movies and music are ordinary activities in which virtually everyone participates.  In both the Old and New Testaments God uses ordinary objects to communicate extraordinary truth. God employs the same principles today to communicate His truth to individuals.  He uses signs, symbols and stories from everyday life.

Contributed by Dr. Lyle Pointer

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Values-Discerning Witness

We can show people what is right in God's sight.  Worldly priorities, such as fun and escape, have simply been misappropriated as ultimate values.

Upon sensing what is valued, the encouraging Christian witness says "yes".  We need not take the position, "No, you are wrong."  We can say, "Yes".  For instance, Marilyn, an accountant for twenty years and a mother of three boys, observed, "Nothing is more important in this world than family."

Jodie, her coworker and a member of the Methodist church, responded, "I, too, love my family.  Isn't God good to allow us to share in close, loving relationships!  I thank Him all the time for giving me my husband and daughter."  Most human values generally reflect something of what God feels is important, too.  The most constructive evangelism takes a "yes and" position, not a "yes, but" position.  This is a powerfully effective way to witness, for the listener serves as a cooperative partner in exploring what Christ has to offer.

A "yes and" approach acknowledges God is already at work in the life of the unconvinced.  When unbelievers identify God's truth in their perspectives, the work of evangelism advances.

Contribute by Dr. Lyle Pointer

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Authority of Reason

There are two types of revelation–special revelation and general revelation. The witness of God's Spirit through Jesus as attested within the Bible is an example of special revelation.  General revelation is God's handiwork seen in the natural world. The Christian witness should stand strong on this claim: science tells us about God.
At first glance, this appears to be a controversial claim, for no one will agree unless he or she already acknowledges God's existence.  Our hearer will probably not acknowledge God's existence at the same level as we do.  So we will have to warm our hearers to the idea that if there is a God, and if we understand God as creator--one who is all powerful, and all knowing—then his creation will be reflected in nature.  Since science is the key to understanding nature, God willingly allows science to testify to his creation.

The universe works in an ordered manner.  For example, the moon remains at a consistent range of distances that has varying positive effects on the earth, such as gravity.  For the moon to get out of its orbit would cause the earth to disintegrate.  The same is true of the sun.  The conclusion is that we live in a rational universe.  Otherwise, science would yield no knowledge in the face of chaos.  We should pose this question to the hearer: how long of a jump is it from the fact of the universe to a rational mind that created the universe?

Contributed by Dr. Lyle Pointer

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Prayer Without Perspiration Leads to Paralysis

In our last blog post we began to explore the process of renewal through the lens of the story of Nehemiah.  It is a story that continues to remind me as leader of renewal that this journey requires courage, wisdom, God’s favor, and an enormous amount of prayer.

Andy Stanley writes, “Visions are born in the soul of a man or woman who is consumed with the tension between what is and what could be.”  It is out of this tension that God-sized visions are born.  This was certainly the case for Nehemiah. He received word about the poor condition of the city of Jerusalem and the burden of that drove him to his knees in prayer to the God of the city.

In the midst of this season of prayer Nehemiah gets a glimpse of what could be and a God-given vision is born.  We know it’s God-given because in Nehemiah 2:12 he reveals to us that these plans are “…what God had put in my heart.”  How does Nehemiah respond to this God-given vision?  He responds with more prayer. 

Nehemiah realized that this was no small task that God was calling him to.  In fact, from a human perspective it seemed impossible.  And from where you are standing, what God has called you to may seem impossible as well.  But let me tell you something – a God-given vision will always be bigger than we can accomplish on our own and the magnitude of that vision should always drive us back to our knees. 

As your read through the story of Nehemiah you are going to find that prayer played a critical role at every point.  But one thing you may not notice as readily is that these prayers were always followed by action.

Here is what I have come to realize.  Many of our churches in need of renewal aren’t lacking in the area of prayer.  They pray a lot!  They are lacking in the area of action, and prayer without perspiration leads to paralysis.  At some point you have to get up from your praying and actually DO what God has called you to do.  Otherwise, the church becomes paralyzed and renewal is an impossibility.

So, here is the question.  How can we mobilize our congregations from the posture of prayer to the place of action?

Please leave your comments!

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Burden Gives Birth to Vision

After twelve years of ministry in the same church I have been doing a lot of reflecting on the process of renewal and the ongoing work of building a vibrant church.  The journey has been filled with some overwhelming challenges that taught me to lean deeply into my Creator for wisdom, strength, and assurance.  It has also been filled with amazing times of joy and fulfillment as we have watched God transform many lives and the church he chose to partner with in that transformation.  It has been an incredible journey thus far.

I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days with a sister church in a neighboring community to share with them a few of the lessons we have learned on this journey of renewal.  Over the next few weeks I want to share with you some of the principles I have found in God's word about renewal that I believe have proven themselves time and time again along our journey and in many other places that have experienced vibrant renewal.

Principle #1: Burden Gives Birth to Vision

One of the books I return to often when teaching and preaching on vibrant church renewal is the book of Nehemiah.  There are so many ways that the process God took his people through mirrors what we have experienced, and as we read in Nehemiah 1:4, it all begins with a burden for the city of Jerusalem and the people living there.  When Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem lay in ruins it says, "When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven."  Nehemiah is overwhelmed with a heavy burden for all of Jerusalem.

One of the things I find so interesting about Nehemiah is that at this point he had never been to Jerusalem.  Nehemiah was born in captivity following the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar around 587 B.C. He had grown up in Babylon and it begs the question, if Nehemiah had never been to Jerusalem then why would he be so burdened for the city and those who lived there?  

Assume for just a moment that Nehemiah grew up under the teachings of parents who were devout Jews.  In that case, he likely grew up on bedtime stories that retold the history and adventures of his Jewish culture.  Stories of heroes, like Moses, Joshua, King David & his mighty men.  Many of those stories included stories of Jerusalem…like when David killed Goliath, cut off his head and carried it through the streets of Jerusalem!  Those stories have a way of sticking in the minds of young boys, and even though he had never been there, Nehemiah had developed a passion for the city of Jerusalem…the city of his people…the city of God.

And so when some of the Jews had been given permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city…Nehemiah had high hopes of a new day for the people of God and the city of God.  I’m sure somewhere in the back of his mind he hoped to visit there someday and to see the city in all of it’s splendor in a way that would glorify God.  So, when Nehemiah gets word from Hanani, who is traveling from Jerusalem, that the city he loves is in poor condition he is heartbroken; he is overwhelmed with an enormous burden.

Before we move on to how this enormous burden gives birth to a God-sized vision for the city, lets not be so quick to move on from the place of overwhelming pain for the condition of the city of Jerusalem.  We love to talk about vision, but how many of us are willing to spend some time in a season of brokenness in order for that vision to truly be rooted in a passion to see God transform our cities?

Our American culture does not deal well with seasons of pain and brokenness.  We do everything we can to ignore it, deaden it, self-medicate it, or prescribe it away.  Christians and church leaders are just as guilty as anyone.  We run from pain and as a result we miss what it means to wrestle with God through the pain and to hear His voice gently leading us out of that place of darkness and into the future that He desires for us.

It was during such a season of pain that God would begin to speak to me about the steps to take that would lead to the renewal of Springfield First Church of the Nazarene (now One Life Church of the Nazarene).  I had been the pastor for a little over three years and while we had experienced marginal growth we had just gone through a staff transition that was painful to me personally and had caused several young couples to leave the church.

It was in the midst of this painful season that I found myself crying out to God.  I was heartbroken over the current condition of the church.  I was grief-stricken about our inability to make a significant difference in our city and our inefficiency to reach it for Christ.  I had a choice to make.  Would I run from it and move on to another church?  Would I ignore the pain, try to deaden it?  Or would I remain in it until God used it to give birth to a vision that would renew and restore.  I chose to remain in it and for the next several months I brought that burden before God and listened to his voice. 

Nehemiah didn't run from the pain of the burden he had for Jerusalem.  In fact, before Nehemiah ever did anything; before he ever cast a vision or made a request of anyone for support he spent 5-6 months fasting and praying, wrestling with God.  It was out of that season of pain that a vision, a dream for the future of the city of Jerusalem was born.

Here is the lesson for us today.  We will never accomplish anything of significance where God has placed us until we are first willing to be overwhelmed with a burden.  Let me ask you a question.  If Nehemiah was burdened for a city he had never been to, how can you and I not be burdened by the decay of the cities, schools, and neighborhoods that we are surrounded by each and every day?  It is out of this deep pain that God-sized visions are born.

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