Waiting for Jesus, waiting for the Fellowship

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The Board of the Fellowship of Presbyterians is meeting in Chicago this week and will release (probably today or tomorrow) two important documents. One is a statement of theological essentials and the other will outline the polity requirements for the new reformed body. I’m really looking forward to spending some time considering these two statements since they represent both the DNA of the Fellowship and also have been put together by two talented working groups.

In advance of the release the board released a re-statement of the mission and values of the Fellowship of Presbyterians yesterday:

MIssion – to build flourishing churches that make disciples

Values – 

  • Jesus-shaped Identity: We believe Jesus Christ should be at the center of our individual lives and making disciples of Jesus at the core of our ministry.
  • Thoughtful Theology: We believe in theological education, constant learning, and the life of the mind, and celebrate this as one of the treasures of our Reformed heritage.
  • Accountable Community: We believe guidance is a corporate, spiritual experience. We want to connect leaders to one another in healthy relationships of accountability, synergy, and care.
  • Egalitarian Ministry: We believe in unleashing the ministry gifts of women, men, and every ethnic group.
  • Missional Centrality: We believe in living out the whole of the Great Commission – including evangelism, spiritual formation, compassion, and redemptive justice – in our communities and around the world.
  • Center-focused Spirituality: We believe in calling people to the core of what it means to be followers of Jesus – what “mere Christianity” is and does – and not obsess over the boundaries.
  • Leadership Velocity: We believe identifying and developing gospel-centered leaders is critical for the church, and a great leadership culture is risk-taking, innovative, and organic.
  • Kingdom Vitality: We believe every congregation should vigorously reproduce new missional communities to expand the Kingdom of God.
I like these values. I see in them a number of things that drew me to working for InterVarsity.
On initial read, a couple of these values jumped out for me. “Thoughtful theology” is essential and I’m glad to hear that the life of the mind will be a central value for the Fellowship. A critic of the Fellowship (not that I am one) could construe it as a pragmatic movement–a new community of churches centered around a methodology rather than theology. I think that’s a false criticism and this value demonstrates that.
“Kingdom vitality” is also critical. The Fellowship wants to be a movement that multiplies churches. One of the factors that demonstrates the poor health of the PCUSA is that it does not value and cannot actually do the work of planting new congregations in any meaningful number.
These values make me hopeful and eager to read the new documents coming out of the board meetings this week. Look for one or two posts this week taking a look at the theological and polity identity of the Fellowship.
I’m especially eager to see how the word “Reformed” shows up in the theological statements. There seems to be some disagreement about what the word actually means and how it is used in defining a denomination or movement. For some, Reformed means calvinist in the classical sense of the word. For others, it means influenced or informed by Calvin. Some think of Reformed essentials (i.e., to be reformed you need to believe this) and others prefer to think of reformed distinctives (i.e., this is what makes our tradition distinctive among the churches, but you don’t necessarily have to believe all of it).
I think the Fellowship will turn out to be a new reformed body that is essentially evangelical and informed by calvinism, but not necessarily Calvinist. Clearly classical Calvinists will be welcome, but being one will not be essential to belonging. For those who value a narrower definition of reformed, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church will probably become the destination of choice given that it is governed by the theological standards of Westminster.

[Series] Nine Things Successful People Do Differently

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Working in the worlds of the university and the church, I’ve had the occasion to meet and interact with a lot of highly successful people–university administrators, large church pastors, non-profit executives, and popular writers. Some are arguably almost genius; most are pretty normal. So what sets them apart? What do they do that others fail to do?

To answer the question, I turned to Nine Things That Successful People Do Differently (there’s a summary here) by Heidi Grant Halvorson.

Halvorson discovered nine things (or habits/practices) that successful people engage in.

Here they are:

  1. Get specific
  2. Seize the moment to act on your goals
  3. Know exactly how far you have left to go
  4. Be a realistic optimist
  5. Focus on getting better, rather than being good
  6. Have grit
  7. Build your willpower muscle
  8. Don’t tempt fate
  9. Focus on what you will do, not what you won’t do

In the coming weeks, I’ll be blogging through these nine habits and thinking through how they apply to those of us in ministry or academic life. I hope you’ll join me.

Large churches

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Leadership Network has just released the results of a study of large churches (defined as those with a weekly attendance in excess of 2,000 people). You can download a copy here.

Apparently about 10% of the protestants who attended church on Sunday did so in a large congregation. It’s interesting to note that the average church size in the United States is about 100.

Here’s what they discovered about large churches:

• These churches are wired. While 88% say their church/pastoral leadership uses Facebook or other social media on a regular basis, nearly three-fourths do podcasts and 56% blog.

• Multisite interest has grown dramatically. Half are multisite with another 20% thinking about it.

• Growth is steady. Despite occasional news reports that large churches are a Boomer phenomenon or are now in decline, a steady growth pattern remains evident, with these churches averaging 8% growth per year for last five years. Thus the stated average attendance for these churches grew from 2,604 in 2005 to 3,597 in 2010.

• The leader at the helm makes all the difference. Seventy-nine percent say the church’s most dramatic growth occurred during tenure of current senior pastor.

• Worship options extend beyond Sunday morning. While virtually all have multiple Sunday morning services, 48% have one or more Saturday night services, and 41% have one or more Sunday night services.

• They are both big and small. Eighty-two percent say small groups are “central to our strategy of Christian nurture and spiritual formation,” and 72% put a “lot of emphasis” on “Scripture studies other than Sunday school.” They report that 46% of their attenders are involved in small groups.

• They have a high view of their own spiritual vitality. An overwhelming 98% agree that their congregations are “spiritually alive and vital.” In addition, 98% say they have strong beliefs and values, 95% say they have a clear mission, and 93% say they are willing to change to meet new challenges.

• Newcomer orientation is constant. Forty percent of regular participants age 18 and older are new to the congregation in the last five years. And 70% of participants are under the age of 50.

• The dominant identity is “evangelical.” Of eight options offered, the majority chose the word evangelical to identify their theological outlook.  Interestingly, barely 1% chose labels at the two theological extremes – either fundamentalist or liberal.

• The vast majority do not have serious financial struggles. Only 6% say church’s financial health is in some or serious difficulty (and only 7% said that for five years previously). However, half adversely felt the effects of the economic crisis and 5% fewer report their financial health as “excellent” compared to five years ago.

• Staffing costs are comparable to those of other churches. Forty-eight percent of the average large church’s total expenditures go to salary and benefits.

• They are not independent. Seventy percent say their church is part of a denomination, network, fellowship, or association of churches. For those who are currently non-denominational, 33% say they were once part of a denomination.

Several of these findings surprised me. Did any of them take you by surprise? If so, which ones?

Five reasons you should have a personal development plan

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I’m on my way home from three days of leadership meetings for ministry in which I serve. We’ve focused our attention on creating a culture of leadership development. We heard some excellent presentations from several key leaders within our movement as well as very effective training in a variety of skills related to our theme.

One of the keys to creating a culture of leadership is giving staff and supervisors permission to invest in themselves by creating a personal development plan (PDP). A PDP is a tool that allows us to identify some key areas of work and life where we wish to invest strategic effort in the hopes of becoming more effective in work and life.

I think that PDPs are a really powerful way of investing in ourselves and creating the mental environment in which change can really begin to happen.

So…here are five reasons that you should get a personal development plan:

5 – It narrows the scope of your focus–excluding is a helpful exercise
4 – Ultimately we each have to take ownership of our story
3 – Consider the value year-over-year of small changes–it could be significant
2 – It allows us to introduce conversation partners into the process of change more easily
1 – It is concrete, measurable, and transferable

Do you have a PDP? How has it helped you grow?

Can a leader be spiritual?

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This week I’m in Chicago meeting with other middle and senior leaders in Graduate & Faculty Ministries. We’re focusing on creating a culture of leadership development within our corner of the InterVarsity movement. It’s not that we don’t think that leadership development isn’t happening, it’s just that we see that in order to make the leap to a deeper and more effective mission on campus we need a common, shared sense of the importance of developing leaders and an effective approach to carrying that element of our mission out.We want to be as intentional about developing staff, whatever their career stage, to be more effective leaders who are using their gifts and their wisdom to serve the kingdom of God as we are about doing this for students and faculty.

In discussing the topic of leadership there is often a degree of discomfort around the intersection of leadership and spirituality. Perhaps because there is such a shortage of healthy leadership in the ‘Christian world,’ we often associate leadership with things like the unhealthy use of power and influence. The word often conjures up images from the world of politics or of business. We wonder how can following Jesus be compatible with leadership–especially point leadership where you’re out front saying “this is where we need to go, come join me”?

Some observations…

Effective ministry leaders are always growing disciples of Jesus Christ. Godliness is the foundation of ministry leadership–where it is not present, the rest of the metaphorical building has been build on sand. Before anything else, ministry leaders are followers. We are called to follow Christ in obedience to express commands to us in the words of Scripture and to the guidance of the Holy Spirit as he leads us in making decisions and planning.

Perhaps the fact that we so often place spirituality and leadership at odds is a sign of a weak theology of leadership or of a weak theology of discipleship? Are we bracketing the task of leading the people of God and setting it apart from the touch of Jesus’ renewing and sanctifying work in us? May it never be!

Effective ministry leaders always consider others more important than themselves. I don’t mean that leaders ought to vacillate or equivocate on leadership decisions. I do mean, however, that leaders ought to love and value their staff and/or volunteers in such a way as to mean that their decisions always consider them. I am convinced that good leaders don’t consume and discard staff, but value and lead them into deepening effectiveness in their ministry.

I’ve got a long way to go in thinking about this topic and, frankly, to living out true discipleship in the context of ministry leadership. However, I’m convinced that unless and until we as ministers are able to find healthy, biblical ways of talking about the spirituality of leadership we will perennially be hamstringing the church and ministries we serve. We will be creating a culture of leadership apathy or avoidance rooted in the desire to remain a growing Christian and, ironically, for many, depriving them of one of the ways in which Christ wishes them to grow–using their leadership gifts to guide the people they work with.

What are your thoughts about leadership and discipleship?


Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership
Bob Fryling, The Leadership Ellipse
Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership