Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Half the Church: Book Review & Giveaway Coming April 6

I just closed Half the Church. The book cover, that is. After reading Carolyn Custis James' latest book, I can say that it will clearly be my favorite book of the year. This paragraph alone may tell you why:
"When half the church holds back--whether by choice or because we have no choice--everybody loses and our mission suffers setbacks. Tragically, we are squandering the opportunity to display to an embattled world a gospel that causes both men and women to flourish and unites us in a Blessed Alliance that only the presence of Jesus can explain. 
-Half the Church
We are living in a time when women have unprecedented opportunity--but men and women are still trying to figure out how to work together best in their homes, in their workplace...and especially in the church. Perhaps, like me, you will read Half the Church and come to believe that the gospel transcends the roles and categories with which we like to define ourselves.

God's Kingdom is advancing. The question is, are men and women cooperating in a fashion in which the body of Christ will simply limp along...or will we come together to do battle, presenting the whole gospel to the whole world?

Your turn. Biblically speaking, what do you believe is God's primary mission for women in His Kingdom?

Come back next Wednesday, April 6, to win a copy of Half the Church. (valued at $18.99)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pastoral leadership perspective #2: He's an networker

Jim flew this Diamond Eclipse for 30 minutes. A gift from his congregation!

When it comes to talking about himself, Pastor Jim Kane is decidedly understated. As a senior pastor of a rural congregation—First Church of God in Kendallville, Indiana—Jim has a surprising commitment to studying cutting-edge leadership in the church. In fact, he’s probably read more books on leadership than almost anyone I know, save a couple of professors. He’s also quite attached to his IPad, and you can easily connect with him on twitter. I know—you like him already, right?

The first thing I noticed about Jim is his focus on reciprocity. That’s a big word that simply means he seeks out and grows through interactions with others—and in turn, he’d like to encourage you to grow, too. We met up first on twitter, where Jim contacted me about grantwriting for his church. I encouraged him to seek out another person for his grant, but that one Skype call led to two growth opportunities for me: 1) I asked to interview Jim for my leadership paper; and 2) Jim asked me to preach at his church. As you can see, Jim is not only a networker and encourager, he is also brave.

Leadership in a Rural Church:
Jim pastors a church that almost shut its doors in 1999; he started his ministry there in 2000. Citing a resource that says a rural church takes about 15 years to turn around, Jim sees slow but steady growth in numbers—and more importantly, a change in the spiritual temperature of the church. As he models leadership for the church, he crafts his 30-minute sermons to include some evangelism, but mostly discipleship, as he teaches them how to become all God has created them to be. Additionally, Jim recognized the need to attract young people to the church and started a second service where a group of teens now lead contemporary worship music.

On Being a Change Agent:
Jim believes the core of the Christian life is about change: as we center on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ we proclaim change to the world. Jim does this through preaching, he does this through involvement in the community, and he encourages a “flattened-out” leadership approach”—informally mobilizing those with leadership gifts to offer what they have to the church. He’s an “early adopter,” always reading to learn about new ways to attract leaders to growth and service opportunities.

Advice for New Church Leaders:
For some reason, Jim’s simple answer to “listen” first sticks with me. He spent a year visiting attenders of his small, struggling congregation to get down to the pulse of the church, to listen to them so he could effectively lead them.

Current Reading List:

Blogs He Follows:
-Will Mancini Clarity Evangelist -
-Michael Hyatt (CEO, Thomas Nelson Publishers) -
-Samuel Bacharach (Professor of Labor Management, Cornell University) -
-Alan Fadling (Spiritual Direction and Leadership Development) -

Find Rev. Jim Kane on twitter.

Pastoral leadership perspective #3 coming soon: Anthony Payton

Your turn. What can you do in your sphere of influence to initiate change for Christ? Let's hear your tiny, small, medium-sized, and super-sized ideas, please. (Can I have fries with that?)

Monday, March 14, 2011

What the "Big-C" Church Does Right--and What We Need to Change

Last week I got a birds-eye view into the North American Church. I peered into its denominations and the temperature of its services and its methods. I came back smiling—and the next minute asking myself how we can do better, how we can get it right.

My friend, author Don Piper (90 Minutes in Heaven), met David and me last week at Starbucks as he was passing through town. It was a real thrill to get to visit with him again. Don is a New York Times Bestselling Author, and his true story of death and life has captivated millions. (If that sounds like a spiel, it's because I marketed his book for three years while working at Baker Publishing Group. I thought the book sounded crazy myself until I actually read it.)

For the past several years, this former Southern Baptist pastor has been traveling around the country (and the world) talking about heaven and about what it takes to be right with God. He's spoken in megachurches and tiny churches--Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Assemblies of God, Presbyterian, Lutheran, the list goes on. You name it--he's preached there. He's got a way of fitting in wherever he goes, and I truly believe God's gifted him in this way.

So our questions to him were: What about the Big-C Church encourages you the most? What most needs to be improved?

Don was excited as he shared that people of all denominations are becoming more accepting of each other and their differences. For instance, he can tell a Baptist that he was at a charismatic church, and they will be excited for him, in many cases, and ask about his ministry there. Don speaks 200-300 x per year, so his observations are based on thousands of encounters. The church, he feels, is becoming more accepting of believers from all denominations.

But what needs to be improved? Don has noticed we are missing a "clarion call." We're missing a clear message to the world of what it means to be a Christ-follower and to join God's Kingdom. As my husband likes to say, the church should be "majoring on the majors, and minoring on the minors." And that is the problem, according to Don's observations. We're not doing that. We're muddying the waters, throwing in this and that, instead of clarifying the gospel for a world who desperately needs it.

So that's the bad news. The good news is that God has a plan to fix that. It involves you and me and everyone who has received Christ's love. We are to clarify the gospel, to be Jesus with skin on. We are the change.

In my humble opinion (and I believe I have Scripture on my side), we won't do that through politics. We won't do it through alienating people we don't agree with by legislating morality. We can only do it through loving. We can only do it through sacrifice and the modeling and teaching of repentance and restoration. We can only do it through loving the broken, as Jesus has called us to do. This is our clarion call. This is our Kingdom business. For better or worse, we are the workers God has chosen to get the job done. I pray we get it right.

Your turn. What do you think the Church is doing right? What do we need to improve on?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pastoral leadership perspective #1: She's a connector

Mention Carla Sunberg and most people in the Nazarene denomination probably know who she is. What makes her stick out from the pack is her tireless vision to see God's Kingdom advance and to shepherd His children to deepen their walk with Christ. She's fluent in three languages and currently pursuing her Ph.D in Historical Theology. (Her thesis: the influence of the Cappadocian church mothers on the early church.)

I suppose what makes her stick out all the more is that she's a pastor--and she's also a girl. For the majority of evangelical churches, that is an oxymoron. But that's not the point of this post. I'm simply naming the elephant in the room. For three years now, Carla has been modeling to me what it means to use leadership gifts in a feminine, life-giving way. I'll be forever grateful. 

She's currently on staff at Grace Point Church of the Nazarene, where she serves as our Evangelism and Discipleship pastor. Here are some of her perspectives on leadership and change in today's church.

Leadership, Decentralized:
While churches all over are instituting formal leadership programs, Carla's approach is organic. She's been reading a book titled The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations—and she's come to see herself as a connector. By spotting the good (and the gifts) in individuals in the church body and bringing them together with people or ministries they may have synergy with, she's decentralizing church leadership. This is a non-forceful approach that offers opportunity by suggestion or invitation. 

On Mentoring and Discipleship:
When Carla and her husband Chuck came to be pastors at our church five years ago, they joined a 75-year-old church with history and habits. Carla soon realized that instead of injecting discipleship opportunities mainly into the lives of well-established members, she'd get farther by inviting in new converts and attendees and discipling them from the start.

This led her to begin teaching a Sunday School class for seekers, new attendees, and those who don't feel comfortable elsewhere. She also started a BASICS class that she calls the DNA of the church: a 5-week opportunity to investigate the importance of the Bible, Accountability, Service, Intercession, and Community in our spiritual walk.

The approach: grow leaders from the bottom up, and they will in turn lead others to enter life with Christ. 

Advice for New Church Leaders:
Carla's helpful advice for new pastors—when they interview you, they say they want change. Most likely, they don't. Go slow, come in and love on your people,  understand their history, and eventually change will happen. "If they know you love them, they will follow you to the moon."

Current Reading List:
-Who Moved My Cheese?  by Spencer Johnson, M.D.

Find Rev. Carla Sunberg on facebook.

Pastoral leadership perspective #2 coming soon: Jim Kane

Your turn. How do you feel about the new trend toward decentralized leadership? Any other ideas about effective discipleship efforts in the church?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Half the Church: A Call for Every Woman...and Every Man

Last night, I got home from class at 9:30 pm and there was a package from Zondervan sitting in our living room. I tore it open. Here's what I found inside:

Chapter five kept me up till...I don't know when. Here's the bottom line. God has a plan for his daughters. Millions of them are suffering around the world. Millions more are wondering what to do for God here in the U.S.--and in what roles they should go about doing it. This book bravely, and thoughtfully, answers that question.

Come back the week of April 4 for a full review and the chance to win a free copy. For now, noodle on this:
Male/female relationships are strategic. God laid out his game plan in Genesis, and the team he assembled to do the job was male and female. Men and women working together actually predates men working with men and women working with women. It would be one thing if God confined this male/female team to home and family and then mapped out the remaining territory into separate spheres for men and for women. But he didn't do that. Their mission--together--is to rule and subdue the whole earth on his behalf. Men and women together. Our relationships with God and with each other are the load-bearing walls of God's original design. -Half the Church: Rediscovering God's Global Vision for Women, page 139
Oh, yeah. And there's more where that came from, too. Whether you consider yourself a complementarian or an egalitarian (and I don't like either of the labels, personally), you'll be amazed at the razor-sharp theology James has mined from Scripture's pages. If I were you I wouldn't even wait for the chance to win a giveaway copy. Only $12.39 on Amazon. I should get a commission. I'm that excited about what could happen if "half the church" (that's us, ladies) gets on board with God's Kingdom mission.

Male or female, how are you currently joining with the opposite gender to do God's Kingdom work at home, work, in ministry, etc? What are the results?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Coming soon: 3 pastoral perspectives on leadership

You're about to be blessed . . . and challenged. I recently interviewed three pastors in very different situations to get their insights on leadership and change in their churches. Over the next few weeks, I'll be highlighting their ministries and their leadership philosophies, in the order I interviewed them.

Pastor #1: Carla Sunberg
Pastor Carla heads up evangelism and discipleship activities at our church, Grace Point. She's got a passion for mentoring women and a vision to see God's church become all it can be in our world.

Pastor Carla, evangelism and discipleship

Pastor #2: Jim Kane
Pastor Jim sometimes calls himself the "smalltown pastor" and heads up a small Indiana congregation with innovative strategies that contribute to slow but steady growth in his rural church.

Jim Kane, rural pastor 

Pastor #3: Anthony Payton
Pastor Anthony leads Come As You Are Community Church, a growing multi-cultural body that uses entrepreneurship and discipleship to engage the community around them. The results have been truly inspiring.

Pastor Payton in action
Y'all come back to hear their diverse perspectives on leadership, mentoring, being a change agent, advice for someone new to the pastorate, and more.