Randy Raasch has served as pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church of Cedarburg, Wisconsin, for 24 years. Here he shares with LCEF’s blog readers about our connected vs. committed culture:
We live in a culture that prides itself on being connected. The Internet allocates the opportunity to be connected to endless information. It is believed by some that today’s student can access more information from the Internet in 8 hours than students 25 years ago could acquire in 8 years of classroom experience. Social networking sites allow us to be connected to over one billion people! It is fun to see how many “friends” we can accumulate on our social network—many of whom we may never meet. Texting has connected us with people and established a whole new language. Gamers on the web will compete against playmates on the opposite side of the world with people they will never get to know. We are a large, connected community. Perhaps, at times, we are overly connected.
The Christian Church has become a victim of the connected culture. We can sit alone at home and take online Bible classes. We can watch worship services on our computer and listen to sermons on the radio and on our phones. There is nothing wrong with these modern means of making connections. But as we are called to be followers of Jesus, we are called to something deeper than a connection. We are called to commitment.
When fishermen like Peter and Andrew, James and John, were called by Jesus, they left their nets and followed Him. When Matthew the tax collector was beckoned by Jesus, he left his lucrative position and followed Jesus. These were committed individuals. On the other hand, the rich man in the Gospel of Luke (chapter 18) was connected to Jesus as he asked the Savior about life eternal. But when Jesus told him he should sell everything he had, give it to the poor, and then follow Him, the rich man went away sad. He couldn’t make the commitment.
Let’s not misunderstand commitment. Jesus is not telling us we must quit our jobs or rid ourselves of possessions. What He does indicate is that our relationship with Him is to be the center of our existence and the foundation of our lives. Our Lord gives us His Holy Spirit not that we would have a casual encounter with Him every now and then. He calls us to be committed. Jesus calls us to a commitment when He says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” We are called to commitment when the Scripture rings out, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” When our Savior says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me,” we are called to commitment. Our redeemed and sanctified lives are now lived to the glory of God, carrying out the work that He has prepared in advance for us to do.
In those times when we are less than committed to Christ, He is still committed to us, calling us to the foot of His cross, that in repentance we may receive forgiveness from Him who is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And again we are, by the mercies of God, called by Him to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship.
Those were the closing words to an initial introduction when I was at a congregational gathering in Texas a few weeks ago. As a capital stewardship consultant I usually become “part of the family” of the congregation that I’m working with over a several month period of time. Almost always I’m blessed with grace and warmth and welcome that continues to exceed my expectations.
I hadn’t met this gentleman. But he was on a mission to introduce himself to me. He’d heard me preach and teach and probably thought it was time for me to listen to him! (A reasonable exchange.) Al leads a survey of the Bible class at his church. In fact, he’s completed a several year writing of the course and companion book “What’s the Message?” My guess is that he’s lead hundreds of people through this journey through the scriptures. When he finished telling me about “What’s the Message?” he slapped a plastic box fastened to his waste and concluded: That’s why I’m still alive. That’s why God has kept me around.”
Of course I had to ask about the plastic box on his belt with wires coming out of it! “That’s my left ventricular assist device.” he proudly exclaimed. Ventricular sounded something like heart but it registered nothing more. Al translated. “This is my mechanical heart! This thing has me standing here today.” … Along with an even quicker acknowledgment that God was the chief surgeon behind this operation!
You can check out Al’s life work. He’d love for you to take a look and see if it could be useful to you. (Thus his introduction to me that Saturday afternoon.) Al is part of a wonderful church that proclaims the Gospel so clearly and values the Word so deeply and extends itself into its vast mission field so intentionally. …but my reason for telling this story? … not only to offer a “take a look” for my new friend Al.
But rather… I met a man who knew he was alive by the grace of God! He knew that he had a “new life” because Jesus gave his life and lives again after Easter! And this guy had a passion for living out the “calling” that he sensed God had for his life earlier cemented in his vocation and now expressed mightily while in retirement in his “extra years.”
It’s a sharp contrast from a lot of what’s around. The people of God forgetting “whose” they are. Forgetting the gift of grace that exceeds all gifts for which they’re grateful. Forgetting that God’s got a purpose for their lives to passionately live out within their contexts and conditions.
So? How’s that working for you?
Jock is passionate about the future of the church and serves as vice president, Large Church Ministry for Capital Funding Services. He leads a team of consultants specializing in discovering the joy of generosity primarily in the context of capital stewardship campaigns. He loves pastors and leaders! He and his wife Gail partner together in leading missional communities and coaching emerging leaders.
Dave Ficken is a church planter with a passion to take the Good News of Jesus to disconnected people. Here he shares with LCEF’s readers his thoughts on church leadership:
In the ever-changing Post-Christian context in which we live, the need for clear articulations of vision for our churches is rapidly increasing. People outside the church need to know what we are about and where we are heading. People within our churches need to see where God is leading us as families on mission.
Vision articulates the destination. It is the preferred outcome. It is what we believe God will do in our churches, communities, and cities when His Kingdom intersects people’s lives. It will be a beautiful glimpse of what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer when we ask for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.
The vision is very different from the vehicle. If the vision is the destination, the vehicle is how we will get there. Too often we confuse these and vision statements end up sounding something like this:
…to be a growing church of small groups.
…to be a church of missional communities.
…to be a church of online communication.
Those are all great vehicles, but unhealthy vision. To say that your vision is to be a church of small groups is the equivalent of asking me where I want to go on vacation only to hear me respond “Toyota.” It doesn’t make sense! The vision is the destination, and the vehicle is what you will use to get there.
To guard against this, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Pray fervently and immerse yourself in God’s Word. The kind of vision that the people of your city need is a God-sized and God-given vision. Yours is probably too small or too self-serving.
- Before you begin to consider what vehicle you want to use, first discover God’s vision for your church. A wise friend helped me begin to discover this by asking me two questions “What is it about Jesus that you absolutely have to share with the people of your city and are willing to die trying to communicate” and “considering your contextual circumstances, how does that uniquely fill the needs of your community?” This will begin to unravel the details of what it will look like when God issues the coming of His Kingdom through you (vision).
- When determining what vehicles to use to get you to that destination (vision), only use vehicles that will get you to that destination. If I want to go to a Caribbean Island for vacation, I better not expect a car to get me there, or I will sink. The vehicle serves the vision, not the other way around. Let your vision be the filter in determining what your vehicles look like.
Pastor Dave Ficken is an avid Chicago Cubs fan that has recently moved to Nashville, TN to plant a new church. He has a passion to take the Good News of Jesus to disconnected people. Dave is 27 years old and probably enjoys Starbucks coffee just a little too much!
What about me?
This could be the toddler you’ve encountered, or the well-dressed person sitting to your right at the Board of Directors meeting. Even if the arms aren’t crossed, it doesn’t take much imagination to picture them folded so. It’s the same with the words. They might not be actually saying, “What about me?” but dressing the words up with church-speak doesn’t make them any less selfish underneath.
Ironically, sometimes objections to their objections come from the same human what about me core. When this dueling what about me dialogue starts to spin, a downward spiral vortex begins to form. There’s lots of hot air spinning real hard with the threat of a full blown tornado likely to be spawned. At the center of the storm is the phrase, what about me?
The journey from what about me to the clear-day of what about you is in the “vision-outreach” connection. Making regular opportunities for focusing out ahead provide the occasion for the swirling to diminish long enough to turn our attention and energy toward our destination. Note well that Biblical prophecies number in the thousands. God meets his people in the present to point them to his future. Each is an exercise in uncrossing one’s arms and opening up to God’s future.
This is one of the reasons I love the ministry of Capital Funding Services (CFS). Whether it is a capital stewardship campaign, strategic planning, or pastor coaching, each calls for an outward focus that transforms the posture from closed to open; from selfishness to self-lessness by the power of the Spirit! It’s really a marvelous paradox.
” Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” – Jesus (Matthew 16.25)
There’s a Spirit-driven power that comes with visions that call for adventures of faith, trusting God’s promises and living with a strong hope. God has this incredible design for us – when we serve others, we receive wonderful blessings.
The VisionPath experience of CFS is but one expression of this paradox of transformation. My call to you as a leader in God’s church is to regularly build in re-focus times to meet God’s people in the present moment and point them toward God’s future.
It’s hard to keep your arms crossed while walking, working and pursuing God’s future!
As a consultant and pastor coach for Capital Funding Services (CFS), Karl provides exceptional spiritual counsel to pastors and congregations in their pursuit of God’s mission. Karl is author of “The Love Paradox: Lead Others by Loving Your Self.” The accompanying discussion guide, workbook and other resources for well-being are found on his website, KarlGalik.com.
Tom Eggebrecht is Senior Pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church in Casselberry, Florida. Here he shares with LCEF blog readers how to come out in the black in the context of ministry:
Today is “Tax Day.”
They say that nothing in life is certain except death and taxes. In ministry, we could also say with certainty that there will be taxing times for leaders:
-Your church struggles to meet its budget.
-People leave the congregation allegedly because of something you’ve done (or didn’t do).
-You are criticized for the style of Sunday worship.
-You work extremely hard behind the scenes but no one seems to notice.
All of that, and more, can be taxing. If a leader isn’t careful, and doesn’t care, it could be devastating not only to those one leads, but to oneself.
Here are a few “Tax Day” suggestions to get a nice refund on your investment in ministry, instead of having to pay the piper:
- Eat right and exercise. A healthy you is the first step toward making a healthy leader… and a healthy church. If you don’t feel well physically it will be hard to keep up with the demands of ministry.
- Surround yourself with supportive, creative leaders. It’s imperative to know that you are supported. It’s also difficult to be creative on your own. Sometimes these lay leaders are “official” and sometimes they are informal. One way or the other, find a support group and/or creative team.
- Stay the course. It’s awfully easy to get sidetracked or give up when things are taxing. A good leader knows not to give up, to keep pressing on, to keep moving forward. That doesn’t mean ignoring or disregarding people’s thoughts or opinions. It means taking stock of them, weighing their worth, and using what you learn to reach mission, visions, and goals.
- Be earnest in prayer and study of the Word. This is by far the most important investment in order to receive the blessings of leadership in ministry. Without the intimacy of prayer and guidance from the Lord, the “taxing” nature of ministry will be too much.
As ministry leaders, we know that Jesus paid the most taxing penalty for our sins of thought, word, and deed. It is He who enables us to move through the taxing times and brings us through them with His love and forgiveness.
Tom Eggebrecht is Senior Pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church in Casselberry, Florida. He is an active blogger (http://www.tomeggebrecht.com), biker, and music lover. He loves to enjoy dinner with his wife, Tammy, and their two grown children, Ashlyn and Benjamin.