A Living Part of Our Communities

I walk down the halls of the local school, and I think of the kids and families of my community.  We are not unique, but an average Mid-American rural community.  Yet, the people are important to me.

  My wife an I have lived just under ten years.  We have watched children grow up from elementary through college, and some we have known since they we a few hours old.  I substitute  in the local nd help our local Youth For Christ leader, and it is great to see how young people are comfortable with me many time.

I learned long ago in ministry that I have a much more interaction with my community, by simply laying aside so called planned evangelistic outreach, and living life with the people of my community.  It is my community, and that is a key to small town and rural ministry, it may take time but when you really become a part of the community ministry takes a Kore comfortable and open place.

I encourage any pastor moving into a small town to get with other ministers for support.  However, to minister to people you have to become a true part of the community.  You have to work and play with them in the everyday, and in time you will hopefully be able to show them Jesus in all you do.

          Blessings on your ministry journey

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Taking the Risk of Openness and Vulnerability in Ministry

miners castle Pictured Rocks Fall 2015

We live in a time when we are encouraged to be more open and even show vulnerability than when I first began my ministry journey. Most ministers I have met, and I myself have built up walls of protection over time. We are very cautious over who we let into the most intimate parts of our life. It can be very scary to open up about our weak areas or the greatest failures that we might have. We may fear judgment or worse yet that someone might use our pain against us in some way.

Ministry in any capacity is filled with a variety of pressures and problems. The pressure of ministry can cause us to feel like it is hard to keep balance and control in our lives. Ministry sometimes is like being the plate spinner at the circus. Except we are balancing on the high wire in a fifty-mile-an-hour wind, as we try to keep all the plates in balance.

We who minister truly do want to be open and honest with people. We want to show them where God has helped us through difficulties and blessed our lives. However, too much revelation might make it seem like we are encouraging people to go out and commit the very sins we are trying to steer them away from. Some people might even take such deeply personal information to use against us. To be open with others is a real risk.

Sharing in openness and does have risk and vulnerability, but it can draw you deeper with people. You will be more effective by being more authentic as well. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but here are a few things that I have learned with experience and time. The risk is well worth it, but we can be better prepared if we keep a few things in mind.

Three things I Have Learned About being Open and Vulnerable in Ministry

1. We Must Realize That Openness and Vulnerability Will Open us to Pain

You must accept the fact that in ministry journey we are going to experience pain. We will be rejected. We will be hated at times. There will be some who are angry at us with intent, but most people lash out at us out of weakness and brokenness in their own lives.

Jesus warned the disciples of people. He said, “If they hate you, remember thy hated me first”. Jesus was often despised by people when he opened up to them. They also tried using everything they knew about him to destroy his mission. They belittled his family and where he had grown up, to try to discredit his authority.

In my life, it has taken time, for me to grow in becoming more open in ministering to others. I thought I was open to people in the early days of my ministry, and then years ago I was confronted about how unopen and closed off I really was. We had just finished an open survey in the church, in which we ministered, and I was going through the responses. In response to whether I, the pastor, was open and approachable only one person out of many said no. However, that one “no” dug deep into my heart causing me to take some time to think.

It took some time, in fact, it took years, but I began to make changes. I started sharing more of myself and being more open. I admit I started very slowly but the openness with others has changed my whole leadership style and ministry dynamic. It has also allowed me and my wife to develop some very deep friendships, which we never truly had with people before becoming so open and vulnerable. Today I really couldn’t see myself ministering to others without developing close and open relationships with those I serve.

2. Openness in Right Doses

You notice that I said this process took time. I opened up in small ways in personal relationships and small groups. Eventually, I began to show vulnerability in my sermons. It took a few years before I became more comfortable with sharing my heart in more open ways. I am still careful with how far I share depending on the group I am with.

Today’s more open and honest ministry is a wonderful change to pastors who seemed unreal and plastic. However, some in ministry seem to downplay the consequences of poor choices. In an effort to be open it is easy to appear accepting of sin and even to cause a weaker person to stumble.
This is why sharing in right doses is critical. You can share past sins without hearing the details that destroy the witness of God. You can learn to be more open and vulnerable in sharing while still being professional and shedding positive light on the position God has placed you in.

You also need to know the audience and persons with whom you share well enough to know just how open you should be. Relationships take time, and all of us have people in our circles and ministries that we know we need to be more protective with, and other with whom we can be fully open. To know this takes time, and occurs as we live life together working and playing in various ways.

3. Develop Needed Accountability Friendships with Colleagues

In order for us to minister effectively into the lives of those we serve we need others outside to turn to for accountability. They can give us help and can call us out, or up, when we are in need.

I really feel the church is family, and we are to have deep relationships. However, the strongest of families often have parents who have close friendships outside the immediately family. They are there to pray and lift one another through the deep issues, so the family can be stronger. Parents cannot dump all of their issues on their children or it will destroy them. We who lead in God’s family need to keep this in mind too. Instead, we need others to help us bear the burdens of some issues in our own lives.

Find a person or small group of like-minded colleagues or ministers with whom you can bear your heart and deeper needs. Together you will find blessing and strength for your ministry journey. Be sure that you keep an agreement of confidentiality in your group. Also, be willing to make time with these people a priority, so that you can be stronger for the ministry you serve.

God calls us to be open, and vulnerable. To minister deeply requires developing more intimate and honest relationships. It is a risk, but one with both eternal and tempera rewards. I pray that God guides you in wisdom as you seek to lead and minister in His family.

Blessings on the journey with Jesus.

A Tribe We Call Church

 

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Photo Courtesy: freedigitalphotos.net, by Vlado

 

Most of the Bible is filled with tribal languages, especially through the Old Testament. Abraham was the leader of a small tribe, which would grow with his children and grandchildren into what we know as the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus comes on the scene and calls twelve men and a group of women together to continue his mission into the world. The day of Pentecost comes and we find that about 120 people were gathered together. This, in reality, is a tribe. It is a group of people joined together in all aspects of their lives, and working for the common goal and mission.
Early Church gatherings and church formations throughout much of history have operated much like the tribal system from which Israel formed. A leader or a handful of leaders formed a church, what some might call a small group today. That group would grow, but in most cases because they were meeting in homes the group size eventually was forced to split. When we read Paul’s writings to the churches of the New Testament. These writings are often to a group of leaders, who likely had churches throughout the cities and provinces that he was writing. It would have been impossible for a persecuted church to gather inthe hundreds and thousands in one location without drawing the unwanted attention of Rome. We have to remember that at the time Christianity was considered illegal atheism to the Roman Authorities.
Following this beginning, the Church Universal grew through people carrying God’s word, in small groups, out to the world. Churches were established in villages, towns, cities, and rural areas of the world. These establishments started much like they do today, with a handful of people joining together for study and encouragement, again what some would call small groups. Family leaders brought their families together, and out of these groups a church formed. Even the early beginnings of American Christianity, from the small tribe of pilgrims to the many established churches that popped up with settlers as the nation grew, was built upon the joining of several families in a common focus. This is still the basis of a majority of the churches in America, where most churches remain under 150 people in weekly attendance. In fact, if you seriously study the growth of small groups in the mega-church movements you will find that successful growth beyond the 150 mark entails some sort of formation of groups of tens, the twenties, and even fifties, for deeper study and fellowship. This is because people tend toward a deep relationship in a smaller group, and most of us have deep relational needs. It is how we are created to live and work by God.
Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fisher-Wright have written an organizational leadership book entitled, “Tribal Leadership”. It is a great book for learning about the dynamics for leading and strengthening your leadership as a tribal leader. I would encourage anyone interested in tribal leadership or who leads a small group or smaller church to look into the thoughts of this book. In the beginning, of their book, they describe some information about what tribes are. Here are a few descriptions they give:

  • “Human beings form tribes”. (Introduction)
  • “Every organization is really a set of small towns. We call these small towns tribes.” (p.3-4)
  • “A tribe is a group of between 20 and 150 people.” (p.3-4)

I found the number “between 20 and 150” very interesting. I’ve been told for more than twenty years of pastoral ministry that a small church is a church under 150 people. I have also been taught that in most cases a person can only effectively pastor about 150 people before they must call on others for help and expand the pastoral care. It was refreshing to see in print what God was already laying on my own heart, that I must change my ministry from being worried about super growth, numbers, or trying to lead a corporation. A few years ago I fought my own ego and the pressure of many in the background in which I find myself ministering. I began seeing that the smaller or small-town church isn’t a bad thing, its simply different than the larger church focus, of most books out on church health. I began to see that, like much of the Biblical history and much of human history, we in small town ministry operate more as a tribe than a corporation.
I am being encouraged through this book on “Tribal Leadership”. I am starting to see some better ways to lead the tribe in which God has called me to lead. I am also understanding in my experience more and more that, like Abraham, Jacob, and others in the Bible, I am not some general out in front of troops or leading from behind to get people to do what I want to be done. Instead, I am living life with the people. I am going through the trials and problems with them. When they hurt, I hurt. When they cry, I cry. When they celebrate, I celebrate. I know many larger church pastors say these things about those they lead, but the reality of psychological and personal dynamics show us that it is impossible to really know thousands of people personally at a level that makes us a family with them. A tribe is, in essence, the agreement of a group of families to form a united family group. In the smaller church the pastor, and more often the pastor and spouse, are called to be the leader of that family group, that tribe.
I want to encourage others who are on this same journey, in a similar call to the smaller parish life. Yes, there will be painful experiences in your ministry. Yes, there will be times you hurt so badly and hope so hard that you loose sleep over those whom you have let into your heart. It is the risk of being in a family. The risk of being a part of a tribe. Stopping thinking that you are leading some business organization, and start simply living life with the tribe God has called you to. You may not have your name on the cover of a major leadership magazine or ever speak to hundreds of thousands of people. However, you will know the joy of seeing children grow into adults who carry God into their own families and daily lives. You will be blessed to have a family unit far larger than just you, your spouse, and your children. You will find ties that really can last a lifetime. In the end, you will not know just how many people you have affected within the greater community that you have become a part of. This is especially true if you can help to bring true Godly love and unity into the DNA of your tribe.
I pray that God blesses you, as you lead the tribe you are called to lead. I pray that God gives you the daily call to be the leader who unites and encourages the tribe toward greater things in His purpose within the community that you are called to live.

(Book note: Logan, Dave; King, John; Fischer-Wright, Halee (2009-10-13). Tribal Leadership. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.)