It is frustrating to be thinking instead of sleeping at five a.m. After a month of struggling, I'm finally trying to write some things down in the hope I can then lay my thoughts aside for a while and hopefully return to them with more clarity.
A while ago our church completed a survey (Natural Church Development) to help us identify areas of strength and weakness. Our district leadership is offering tools to help those of us in declining or plateaued churches. I began to read and think about my role as pastor-leader in a more specific way.
This leadership pondering began in earnest when my church embarked, along with 20 others, on a two-year venture to revitalize our congregations. Drs. Wayne and Sherry Lee, professors at Southeastern Assemblies of God University, are our "guides, along with Roy, the man who gave us the survey and other evaluation from NCR.
What wonderful people the Lees are! Scholarly and while not young, are full of passion and energy for God and the people of God! Wow, can Dr. Lee pray.
Among other assignments we've complete a boatload of assessments and there are many more to come. These are both personal and church related. But one assessment was to help us identify the "style" of our church. Mine was, as usual, not very clear. We came out as part traditional, part modern and, to my great surprise, part emerging.
I was intrigued. I started looking more closely at writings about the postmodern and emergent church. I was surprised to find that one recognized searcher and budding "expert" was Dr. Earl Creps, located right at our own Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, MO. Interesting links found here:
My friend Galina sent me in the direction of Brian McLaren. I don't necessarily agree with all he says, but he sure makes me think in new ways....always good for me. However, I began to feel rather split in half! I am a middle-aged, Protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal, thank you very much!
But I understand on a deep level that the new generation is not "getting" church and that our methods must change. I recalled preaching a sermon a couple of years ago titled "The Times They are a-Changing" complete with song by Bob Dylan. I was trying to communicate to my congregation that we were in a major culture shift and not much was going to be the same. I admit, I find this frightening, challenging, sad, and exciting, by turns.
I have been whining to God about my age, my lifelong membership in very conservative churches, my years of struggle with egalitarian Christian thought (thank God for for CBE, found at http://www.cbeinternational.org/) and my reluctant status as somewhat of a pioneer as regards women in ministry. I'm not as resilient as I used to be. (God knows this, I suppose :-) ) Can't I just have a nice little rural church in the pastoral state of Wisconsin and do weddings and funerals and baby dedications and preach sermons?
Apparently not. Something deep inside says no. Not that I will not do those things. Instead that I am not meant to be comfortable and traditional and well-thought of in a quiet way. Sigh.
All right, dearest Lord Jesus. All right. I will follow where you lead me. Just typing this is bringing tears to my eyes.
I was assigned the book "Courageous Leadership" by Bill Hybels. Now, Hybles is rather a hero of mine, and I love what he writes. I am not saying Hybel's leadership book is bad. There is much that is valuable and praiseworthy. But the more I read the more I despaired. I began to feel that I might as well give up. There was no way (I figured, anyway) that I could be the kind of leader he was telling me I must be. I slogged on--after all, Dr. Lee had assigned it. And then one day I just stopped reading. I knew that whatever was happening to me was not good. Again, not saying the book is not valuable. It is. It simply was not, somehow, good for me right now. Perhaps I will go back to it later.
Then my cyber buddy, Dr. P. (find him at http://disertpaths.blogspot.com/ ) mentioned the following article.
WOW! Leadership Frodo Baggins (or Dorothy of "Wizard of Oz") style? Oh my.
When I read it I felt like fresh air blew in the window. Thank you, Dr. P. and thank you God! It is long, but so thought provoking.
But I was not quite comfortable with FRODO BAGGINS as my role model, much as I love Tolkien and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy! Ha! And it still didn't give me much of a sense of direction.
Meanwhile, having put "Courageous Leadership" aside, I sensed that God had a book for me. Long story and this post is long enough, but end result is that I have on my desk a book titled "No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a Come As You Are Culture in the Church" by John Burke. Both Hybels and McLaren (how ironic) endorse it enthusiastically. Dan Kimball too.
Here is a link to it on Amazon.
I perused the table of contents and my eyes probably got bigger and bigger. These very issues are what the Holy Spirit has been speaking to my heart ever since I arrived at my church, Jubilee Assembly of God. Truth, authenticity, community, family, freedom. And I have searched (mostly in vain) for the way to change CULTURE in my church.
Just a few days before the book arrived in the mail I think the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart that we (Jubilee) are a gateway. We are studying the Sermon on the Mount and had arrived at the passage about the broad versus narrow gate. We are a gateway. Over and over. A gateway. I started reading scriptures about "gates." I prayed and pondered about that one for days. I "accidentally" ran across a picture of my church's original sign. It was--a gate! (Eerie music plays here! ;-) )
Imagine my surprise when, getting past the table of contents to the dedication page, I see that Burke has dedicated his book to his congregation. His congregations name? GATEWAY! No, I'm not changing our church's name. It just came as a little shock....confirmation...whatever....that this book is for us. Right now.
As for Frodo-style leadership--my dear friend and Jubilee deacon, Pat, sent me to Hebrews 11. While reading it, God spoke to my heart again. It is Abraham. It's not just fictional characters like Frodo and Dorothy who lead without always having everything clear. It was Abraham who, hearing the voice of God, got up and led his family out...to an unknown destination.
GOD IS PLEASED with this journey I am on! I feel stunned.
Still scared, still inadequate, but excited as well.
Tomorrow I meet with Dr. Lee. Wonder what he will say when I tell him that I can't be a leader Hybels style, and that I am about to find out about leading Frodo style? Better pray.