Catalyst: Rivers and Floods

30 05 2008

READING: James 2

LEARNING:The river illustration really hit home as we move forward as leaders. When you’re in a flood, the first thing to go is vision. You’re doing-doing-doing. but where are you going? Effectively channeling people, time and resources on Epic’s focused vision is so critical for us to become the community God has called us to be.

I remember years ago listening to Ed Young from Fellowship Church describe the difference between the church when it was 100 and now that it’s 20,000. He said, “The biggest difference is I say NO a lot more. People come with ideas. ‘We need to do this. We had such and such ministry at my other church. We need that here.’ Why? If it doesn’t fit with our vision, No. We need to stay focused. Doing less is more.”

To do that means we have to do three things:

  1. Be crystal clear on God’s vision for Epic (we have four environments)
  2. Pursue our activities and the people we lead with innovative creativity, ongoing excellence and increased enthusiasm
  3. Have to have the guts to say “No” and the confidence to know when to say “Yes”

Our mission is to challenge people to discover their role in God’s story. There are so many good ideas we could do, but to do them would take us off God’s vision. I’m learning that my role as lead pastor is not to make people happy, but to lead people forward with God’s vision, which is hard for a guy who wants to be liked.

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8 responses

31 05 2008
eric

I agree that focus is good and important in leading groups. It helps develop group identity, feelings of togetherness, and it helps get things done. Now without going through the poor analogies that compare corporations focused on material profit and production with the corpus (body) of believers, I feel compelled to point out that focus is a double-edged sword. The moment a group of people declare a focal concept stuff gets excluded, i.e. our group is about this and not about that. Of course this is fairly obvious and is essentially why focusing on a specific ministry or service is beneficial. Paul talks about the body this way. However, the challenge I have encountered, and I imagine most people have found this somewhere, is the harm that occurs when something good is excluded by a narrow focus. Again, I recognize that a focus, a goal, a unifying principle/identity, etc. are good and helpful things but this does not answer for the harm done by exclusivity. For instance, many ecosystems depend on seasonal or occasional flooding in order to maintain a healthy, thriving environment. And to return to a poor analogy, what happened to the American auto companies that focused heavily on large, fuel-inefficient vehicles? With this is mind I have to question the life expectancy of specifics. Certainly not all goals, objectives, identities, concepts will last as long as others. A colleague of mine recently quoted his grandmother to me, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” Floods appear as good things when we recognize God’s hand in them, since it is against the flood that our hands appear most futile. Well, I apologize for the rant but it appears to me that focus is worthless without diversity; floods and rivers are good and they need each other. Again, as Paul describes it, the body of believers has many different parts, each with a specific focus. Here lies the real challenge for a community and for a leader; finding the appropriate focus for the time being and being open to God’s hand shifting and exploding certain focal areas. I think this might be especially important for smaller churches since they don’t have the resources of a mega-church in which it is easy for any individual to find a niche. And yet, exclusivity is often the appeal of smaller churches “where everyone knows your name.” New characters are not added to the cast of Cheers however, they merely visit as guest appearances. Granted, that fiction is based on one instance of reality. There are plenty of ways to be a close-knit community and be warm and inviting. Hospitality, which is a type of service ministry, is one example. In fact, this takes us to the book of James where the emphasis is on doing. Luther was not keen on the teachings in James because they are weighted differently than Paul’s letters. But the two different focuses (when reduced we can say Paul emphasized faith and James emphasized works, but I don’t think it always helpful to reduce the two different writings to this dichotomy) complement each other. Christian life suffers without movement back and forth between these two approaches, if I can even call them that. After looking at the notations in my study Bible, I am reminded that both Paul and James were writing within different contexts and situations and Luther had his own situation, which called for a reminder of Paul’s teachings. This situation, of course, became the Reformation. These spiritual leaders were attuned to their surroundings and the Holy Spirit and then they acted accordingly. I am enjoying reading James at the moment because the works/deeds detailed in the text are usually oriented toward the other person in the same way that hospitality is about the visitor, the guest, the stranger, the needy, and the marginalized. This orientation toward the other is interesting in that it is continually disintegrating as opposed to integrating or maintaining a group’s togetherness. Also interesting is the Abrahamic example in James 2:21-24, which complicates everything because it emphasizes that one’s ultimate orientation is toward God and for Abraham to serve God was to sacrifice his son, i.e. cease serving, ministering to his son, and perform the exact opposite (murder). Once Abraham demonstrates that he is clearly willing to do this, God delivers him and his son from the situation revealing God’s character as zealous for our love and obedience to Him but also considerate and supportive of our love for others. Thus, there is only one focus that never changes whereas all the others ebb and flow like water. I suppose the conclusion I am getting at in this convoluted post is that there are times for floods and times for focus. And here I am thinking about a flood as more than a person or group trying to do too much. The flood I am thinking about is the moment when God shows one focus to be inadequate or no longer appropriate given the situation/context. At this point in my life I am much more interested in floods than in rivers (a weak attempt to keep the metaphor), and I think the book of James with its emphases on doing and on the other may actually focus on floods. Granted, I’m only on chapter two and this just occurred to me.

To those who regret spending the time reading all of this post, I apologize for its length. Clearly, I did not have much to do today, but I did. “We kill time; time buries us,” (f/The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas), here are different kinds of time and today I chose the latter.

31 05 2008
Larry

This section on the Rivers and Floods was a great corollary to what happen in the business field, and I am find similar issues in the religious area. As the examples illustrated, too many companies want to diversify outside their competency. They feel that if they are good in one area, they will be good in all areas. Knowing what their skill sets are, enables growth with minimum risk.

In the religious environment, churches need to stay within their DNA and focus. Communities are littered with small churches that don’t grow beyond a few members or cease to exist. Those that do remain and grow, maintain a clear communicated vision for all to follow.

2 06 2008
Tim Kade

Eric,
I love your mind and your flood of words. LOL. I agree with you in theory on a macro level that there are times that the Holy Spirit brings a flood to redirect the church (Reformation, etc). Hey, God even flooded the earth. But could it be that God did it so that the church can get back to the original river focus? During the reformation the church was way off base, and the focus was not on “Scripture, Grace and Faith” which are pretty foundational. A lot of churches even today have lost their focus to “go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” They are doing a lot of things, but are new people being reached and discipled?

On a micro level, I couldn’t agree more on what you said, “Finding the appropriate focus for the time being and being open to God’s hand shifting and exploding certain focal areas” is very critical.” This is how we live out God’s mission in a relevant and obedient way in our cultural context right here in the 21st Century.

5 06 2008
Amy

This chapter reminded me of the importance of finding and following the vision of God for our lives and ministies. In college our ministry had the mission statement of winning, building, and sending Christ-centered multiplying disciples. Often people would say “Why don’t we do …?” and we would have to compare it with our mission statement to see whether it was something that we should consider doing. All of the things people mentioned were God honoring activities, like working at a soup kitchen, but they were not always keeping with our mission statement. It is important that ministries have a clear mission so that people involved in that ministry can have the same vision for the work God has for them.

I also think this principal applies to our personal ministries. We can often be more affective if we focus our energy on a few things instead of wearing ourselves thin. This is not to say that we shouldn’t try new things, especially if we feel God calling us into something else, but it can be beneficial to emmerse ourslelves in serving in the areas God has gifted us.

Personally, week after week this study is showing me that I need to really figure out what my passion is for my personal ministry. I need to figure out where God is leading me so I can be focused on where he wants to use me to do his work.

6 06 2008
Tim Kade

Amy,
I’ll be praying that God would reveal your unique passion for a specific ministry area. You are so gifted and have so much to offer the kingdom. . Last year we did a series called Chazown which is the Hebrew word for Vision which helped to bring clarity for God’s vision. I’ll bring a copy of the book “Chazown” by Craig Groeschel to our next Catalyst Meeting for you.

13 06 2008
Jacklyn

My brain is a flooded mess. I have a constant run of “great ideas” that I want to go with when prepping for a class, (or in my personal devotional time). I find that I have to look at the lesson early on so that I have the time to pray hard and let God in to focus on the goal of that lesson, with the ultimate goal of possibly opening up a student to seeing Him in a new, personal way. I have to work at allowing God to mentally “put up the sandbags” and “wall back” the uncontrolled flood of thoughts and directions “I” wanted to try to accomplish. When God controls things, He opens up a deliberate river and direction, of flow and things work so well that I walk away from that time wondering what happened back there. He never fails, only I do by not disciplining my thoughts and allowing His control. Isn’t God Great! Lord, help “me” be less so that “YOU” can be more!

13 06 2008
Tim Kade

Jacklyn,
You’re not alone in the flood when preparing a message. I often have two big distractions in the initial stages 1. Interesting, but info irrelevant to this message 2. too many ideas without a clear focus. Here’s 4 practical things I’ve found that have helped me “Sandbag.” ( I love the analogy!)

1. Write the Outline First. I often write the outline before I fill it in with all the details of what I’m going to say (even though seems backward).

2. Have the Outline Finished Early. That gives me more time to reflect on it, live it and apply it personally. The best and most authentic ideas come when I give God time to speak to me as I’m praying through it during the week.

3. Routine in Meeting with Jesus. To block out other distractions, so I have to get out of the house. I go to the same coffee house on the same days, which helps me relax on other days. I buy a drink I only get on that day. Sometimes it’s a discipline to meet with Jesus and sometimes I can’t wait to hear what He’s going to say.

4. Talk to Others. In prepping for Sunday, I meet with my Propel Partner every Tuesday for lunch to bounce ideas off of him. This has been the most helpful thing I’ve ever done and Scott loves helping out. God speaks through him big time and It helps my confidence. Talk to your PP and You can always call me if you want to bounce any ideas around.

You are a wonderful teacher and do a great job with the kids! Christ uses you in awesome ways.

13 06 2008
Tim

I remember my senior year at CMU, our staff coach for Campus Crusade had suggested that it would be a good thing for the ministry if many people left. The people who left, he suggested, would be the people who were constantly trying to move the ministry in a different direction from our vision. While it was difficult to think of these people, many of them my good friends, leaving our movement, I understood his point. As a mostly student run ministry, we couldn’t afford to be constantly fighting to get back to our vision. By allowing people who weren’t in line to leave the movement, we would be able to start fresh with people who were excited about the vision and we would be able to better carry out God’s vision for our ministry. While this pruning of the ministry would be hard, it was necessary for what God had in store. We could work better as a small group of committed people excited about the direction we were moving than as a large group pulling in all directions.

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