By Frank Decker
When the Rev. Richard Gongwer of Indiana said goodbye to his oldest son and family, including his only grandchild at the time, he didnt realize that a parenthetical comment he made would plant a seed that would continue to bear fruit more than a decade later. His physician son Cameron, daughter-in-law Anne, and their infant daughter Caylor were leaving Indiana to serve as missionaries in West Africa. Anne explains, As we were preparing to leave, Camerons dad quietly said, You know, over the years Ive noticed that the missionaries who stay a long time are the most effective.
In the days when missionaries traveled by ship, missionary service was commonly characterized by long, even lifetime terms of service. Today, however, rapid transportation and electronic communications have made the world a smaller place, contributing to a trend of shorter missionary tenures. That is why, in todays world of quick-strike missions and the perpetual quest for increasingly efficient means of sharing the gospel, I am encouraged by the example of those who go and stay for many years.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of The Mission Society. To represent the approximately 500 missionaries whom that agency has sent out, I asked Cameron and Anne to reflect on what has enabled them to serve for eleven years in a village named Ankaase, where the Methodist Faith Healing Hospital has combined a focus on faith in Jesus Christ with medical service.
In retrospect, Cameron and Anne shared that the single most important ingredient necessary to establish a solid foundation for enduring ministry is to enter that work with the attitude of a learner. The Gongwers said that listening to their hosts was absolutely essential in beginning their service. In addition to the initial challenge of learning a new language, Cameron states that instead of inserting his opinion from the perspective of an American doctor, I simply had to listen in order to understand why they did certain things differently, whether it applied to sterilization techniques, the organization of medical files, or how they set up the accounting system for a clinic. When a problem at the hospital arose, I would often go to the Ghanaian regional health officials and ask for their counsel concerning the best way to approach the issue. Likewise, as Anne became involved in literacy worka pursuit that has resulted in the training of many literacy teachers and the establishment of the Reading Town library in Ankaase she listened and subsequently relied on wisdom from methods that had previously been proven in that African context, rather than simply import her own ideas and programs into the situation.
While initiating their missionary careers with the posture of learners provided a healthy taproot for lasting ministry, the Gongwers agree that perseverance and patience enabled them to build upon that foundation. Anne states, The Ghanaians have a common phrase, exercise patience, and that as she and Cameron witnessed their hosts abiding by that axiom, it served as a great encouragement to them. Cameron adds that remembering their initial call to serve in Africa was essential in their persistence. He references J.T. Seamands definition of a call as an inner abiding persuasion that will not let you go. Thus, while facing situations (including the scarcity of resources that even the smallest hospitals in the U.S. take for granted) that could discourage the most dedicated medical technician to the point of giving up and going home, remembering their missionary call was crucial.
The Gongwers are now planning to move to the capital, which will enable their future work to have a wider scope. In the village they leave behind what is now a highly respected hospital with 65 beds and a staff they have seen grow in number from 13 to 130, including four full-time Ghanaian doctors. As they look back on the past decade they are quick to point out that the success of this ministry has been the result of collaborative efforts from many nationals and expatriots. Indeed, Cameron and Anne emphasize the importance of the deep and trusting relationships that resulted in a synergistic quality of their ministry. Anne summarizes, It takes time for people working together to gain a vision, share a vision, and grow a vision.
It takes time. There are no shortcuts to incarnational ministry. As The Mission Society moves into the next 25 years of service there will continue to be an emphasis on sending those who, like the Gongwers, seek to impartrather then importthe life-giving message of the Kingdom of God.
By Steve Beard
It is with great confidence and humility that I pass the mantle of leadership to Jonathan Dow. I pray that God will give him a double portion of the anointing that has been upon my life as he leads this ministry into the future, said the Rev. Gary Moore as he marked the transition at Aldersgate Renewal Ministries (ARM) during a March 7 gathering. Moore had been executive director of ARM for the last 20 years. His work with ARM will continue as Networking Ambassador, as well as launching a new preaching and teaching ministry called Fan Into Flame.
I willingly take that mantle, greatly humbled by the divine mission before us, deeply grateful for the willingness of the Board to entrust the responsibilities of this role to me, said Dow. I step into this role with a passionate understanding: The empowerment of the Holy Spirit is essential to carry on the ministry of Jesus. Individuals and churches who are moment by moment filled, gifted, empowered and led by the Holy Spirit will be used by God to minister to the worldwhether right next door or across the globe. The Holy Spirit, Gods divine power, has given us everything we need to pray, to worship, to share our faith journey, and to heal the sickcarrying on the ministry of Jesus. Dow is only the third executive director in ARMs 32-year history.
The summer of 2009 has turned out to be a season of transitions for a number of United Methodist-related ministries and institutions. In addition to Good News and ARM, changes in leadership have also been announced at The Mission Society, The Institute on Religion and Democracy, The Confessing Movement, and Asbury Theological Seminary.
Mission Society: On May 19, The Mission Society Board of Directors elected the Rev. Dick McClain as the organizations next president. McClain will become the fifth president of The Mission Society since its inception in 1984. He follows in this office the Rev. Dr. Phil Granger, who has served as The Mission Societys president/CEO since December 2001, and will retire the end of this year.
Of McClains nomination, Granger commented, I firmly believe that the experience God has given him was in preparation for the challenges that lay ahead in this rapidly changing world. I am excited about the future of The Mission Society with Dick at the helm!
McClain began his career with The Mission Society in 1986 as director of missionary personnel. The son and grandson of missionaries, McClain was born in China and grew up in India and Hong Kong. An ordained United Methodist minister, he served pastorates in West Michigan for 11 years. (There will be fuller coverage about McClain and The Mission Societys 25th anniversary in our next issue.)
IRD: Mark Tooley has been appointed the new president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), an organization Tooley has been with since 1994, directing its program for United Methodists. Retiring IRD President Jim Tonkowich plans to remain with IRD as a scholar.
Tooley is a lifelong United Methodist from northern Virginia andhas been active in United Methodist renewal for over 20 years. Over the last 14 years at IRD, his commentaries have appeared in Good News, The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, and The American Spectator, among others. Previous to IRD, he was employed with the Central Intelligence Agency.
The IRD advocates that churches uphold theological orthodoxy, espouse a responsible political witness, and plead for persecuted religious believers around the world. The chair of IRDs board, Mrs. Terry Schlossberg, commented: The board of directors is pleased with Mark Tooleys acceptance of this appointment. Mark brings to the position a level of intelligence and Penergy that have been characteristic of the IRDs impact on the church and the world.
More than ever before, the IRD is needed today to continue to challenge Americas churches to be faithful to their great traditions and to shun liberal fads that always spiritually and culturally marginalize once great churches, said Tooley. The IRD will continue and expand its critique of the Religious Left while urging churches to uphold their great doctrines and to offer America a responsible social witness.
Confessing Movement: With the Rev. Rob Renfroe becoming the president and publisher of Good News, the Confessing Movement announced that the Rev. Gregory McGarvey will become President of Board of Directors of The Confessing Movement, the office that Renfroe filled. McGarvey currently serves as the 1st Vice-President of the board, having served on the Board of Directors since 1999.
Greg McGarvey has been a part of The Confessing Movement from the beginning, observed Dr. Maxie Dunnam, co-chairman of The Confessing Movement. I am excited about his leadership. He knows the issues and he loves the church. Senator Patricia Miller, Executive Director of The Confessing Movement, stated, I know Greg as a strong and compassionate leader, who is faithful to our Lord and Savior and lives out that faith in his daily life.
A six-time delegate to General Conference, McGarvey has been the Senior Pastor of Carmel United Methodist Church, Carmel, Indiana, since 2001. He was instrumental in starting the renewal movement in the South Indiana Conference and developed the Bloomington Declaration, modeled after the Houston and Memphis Declarations. Part of Gregs continuing concern for the United Methodist Church is the need for ongoing discussions of the role of the church in America in a global strategy of missions.
In the last issue of Good News, it was announced that Dr. Tim Tennent would be the new president of Asbury Theological Seminary.
Steve Beard is the editor of Good News. Information for this story was provided from assorted news sources.
UM church plants
By John Southwick
Though accurate statistics are hard to assemble, one can state with some certainty that few annual conferences in the United States have started more than 20 new churches in the last 20 years. The most active conferences may start upwards of 20 over a decade, with a very few doing better than that. Best estimates are that the entire UM Church in the United States starts between 80 and 100 per year.
In contrast, consider one United Methodist pastor working in another country who started 100 churches there in the last 8 years, with most being within the last 4 years. The Rev. Vang is a native of the noted country, but has lived most of his adult life in the United States. He has been a lifelong Christian and active UM layperson as an adult. He has served in various volunteer ministry professions over the years prior to becoming a full-time GBGM missionary in 2006. His church planting efforts began in 2001 on a short-term mission trip and continued over the years until his deployment in 2006. As of today, 77 new churches have gained official status and 38 more have been started but are not yet recognized. Approximately 6,000 people are now part of these churches. This has taken place despite restrictions on religious practice unfamiliar to the United States context, making the accomplishment all the more remarkable.
When asked how he has done this, the Rev. Vang responds in a way that does not immediately connect with a U.S. audience looking for the next model, method, or technique. In fact, he insists that he does not have any such thing to share. An outside observer, however, can see similarities with some approaches that should be familiar. One is found in Luke 10 as Jesus sent out the 70. The other finds commonality with some aspects of the early days of Methodism, both in England and America.
The Rev. Vang does share some observations about his work. He says it is essential that the planter be really called by God and that this person respond with the Here I am. Send me. This reflects his belief that this work is of God and he or she is just the tool that has had the courage to be used. While he is humble and does not expound on the personal cost of this work, circumstances are much more difficult than U.S. church planters are accustomed to. For example, he and his wife had to move very frequently over safety concerns in their field of service. They have both had severe health issues since going to the field. (As of this writing Mrs. Vang is under medical care in the U.S. Please keep her in prayer.)
Another observation the Rev. Vang makes is the need to be a leader in community involvement and in the spiritual realm. When starting a new work, a team is sent to a village and then starts by contacting officials and letting them know they are there to help needs. As they do this, they are very careful to live exemplary lives befitting the gospel of Jesus Christ. The big impact upon the community well-being opens doors on many occasions. Sometimes after churches are established, local officials will watch the new Christians to see if they are living up to the standards they claim to follow.
Additionally, quality training contributes to the church start success, notes the Rev. Vang. The planting teams sent out are grounded in Bible doctrine, since many of them have never seen a Bible before. They are also taught basics of UM structure, polity, and other disciplinary items. The Rev. Vang is also quick to point out that prayer is essential to the new church planting work. Before someone goes to a new location, they participate and are bathed in prayer.
The new congregations vary in size, from a group of families up to 400 persons. They worship in homes, under trees, and in a variety of settings. Wednesday gatherings are mainly prayer times.
The Rev. Vang describes his ministry in this way: As a missionary to my country, I sow the seed of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, sharing life with the people, church planting, training lay preachers, lay leaders, women, and youth from over 70 congregations up from the ground, organizing training programs to support poor families, self-sufficiency projects, clean water, women/children prenatal care, counseling the broken-hearted, heal the sick by Gods power, feed the hungry, and bring the lost to God, teaching Gods words and Gods love to the people. I strongly believe that Jews and Gentiles have the right to receive Gods grace through Christ, under just and equal umbrella of Gods wonderful words, and will worship God, will send out my countrys missionaries all over the land to sow the seed of the gospel, saving souls and establishing the living water, the Fresh of the Son.
One delightful work project is hand-making beautiful ties, complete with cross and flame. These are sold in the U.S to support the ministry.
The Network of Congregational Developers recently met for their annual meeting and was privileged to have the Rev. Vang speak to them. Following his presentation, the developers heard a suggestion that as their conferences started a new church, they could partner with a new start in a developing country through the GBGM. It is clear that this new church movement in the Rev. Vangs country is able to happen because the churches reproduce themselves. There is a vital DNA which is passed on. A new U.S. church start partnering with a church like this helps infuse missional DNA in the U.S. church from the very beginning and thus increasing the likelihood that it will be a reproducing church as well. This concept was well received by those present and may start a new connection that brings life and vitality to both the U.S. and abroad.
John H. Southwick is the editor of Background Data for Mission. This article was adapted with permission from the April 2009 issue of Background Data for Mission 2009. Published by the Office of Research of the General Board of Global Ministries.
By James V. Heidinger II
In 1990, a pastor wrote in a conference paper a defense of United Methodisms being a liberal denomination. He insisted the L-word was not bad. For support he cited Websters Dictionary which defined liberal as generous, openhanded, broad-minded, etc.
Such shallow thinking compels us to look again at theological liberalism to see where it came from, what it affirms, and what it does not affirm. Most certainly, the presuppositions and principles of liberalism are still present in United Methodism.
Most lay people have little interest in liberal theology. When they hear modern brands of liberalism preached they are likely to respond kindly, That sermon was profound. Im not sure I understood it though. It was over my head.
But if the last three decades have shown the mainline churches anything, it is the bankruptcy of theological liberalism. Realizing this will be an important key to mainline church renewal.
Roots of liberal faith
Liberalism began to move upon the American church scene around 1880. It brought sweeping changes to Christian churches in America during the first third of the 20th centurya period when a tide of secular thought was flooding in upon traditional American ideas.
Theological liberalism was the religious system that blended with the late 19th century, new scientific worldview. The new science claimed all events could be explained by universal laws of cause and effect, leaving no place for unique events or divine revelation. All data should be subjected to empirical tests for verification, it insisted. Liberalism was essentially, then, the movement which accommodated the Christian faith to anti-supernatural axioms.
The first step in accommodation was to qualify certain doctrines. Harvard dean Willard Sperry characterized liberalism as the Yes, but religion. It would say, Yes, I believe in the deity of Christ, but the language of Chalcedon has become meaningless. We must redefine the doctrine so as to make it intelligible to us who live in the 20th century. Yes, I believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ, but by that I mean. And on it would go.
While denying tenets basic to historic Christianity, liberalism believed itself to be helping preserve traditional Christianity by making it relevant for modern man. Kenneth Kantzer said religious liberalism was an attempt to update an old and beloved religion so it could survive in the modern world.
Tenets of theological liberalism
During the first third of the 20th century, liberalism clashed head-on with evangelicalism. We see why when we consider the basic tenets of liberal faith:
1. Gods character is one of pure benevolencewithout wrath. All persons are his children, and sin separates no one from his love.
2. There is a divine spark in every man and woman. All persons, therefore, are good at heart and need only encouragement and nurturing to allow their natural goodness to express itself.
3. Jesus Christ is Savior only in the sense that he is our perfect teacher and example. He was not divine in any unique sense. He was not born of a virgin, did not work miracles, and did not rise from the dead.
4. Just as Christ differs from other men only comparatively, not absolutely, neither does Christianity differ from other religions. It is just most prevalent among the world religions, all of which stem from the same basic source. Thus, missions should not aim to convert, but rather to promote a cross-fertilization of ideas for mutual enrichment.
5. The Bible is not a divine record of revelation, but a human record of the religious experiences of a nation. Thus few doctrinal statements or creeds are essential to Christianity. The only things unchanging about the Christian message are its moral and ethical teachings.
Negation of orthodoxy
An important characteristic of liberalisms tenets has been that they are primarily negationsthat is, statements of what liberalism disbelieves about traditional orthodoxy. Liberalism almost always defined itself over against historic Christianity.
Consider the points cited above as negations for a moment. All persons belong to God, with none to be lost. Thus, universalism is affirmed, the need for salvation denied. Men and women are basically good, not sinful (original sin denied). Jesus was only a man like other men and did not atone for our sins (Christs virgin birth, atonement, deity, and Resurrection denied). Christianity is not unique, but just a bit more developed than other religions (churchs missionary mandate denied). And the Bible is only a human record, not the revealed Word of God (authority of Scripture denied).
Impact on American Christianity
Theological liberalism was euphoric early in this century, for it believed it was riding the new intellectual wave of the futureand it was. It believed it could rid the Christian Church of its restrictive, outdated worldview and help prepare it for a new, golden era.
So as a strategy by well-meaning churchmen, liberalism set out to attract people to Christianity by accommodating the Gospel to the wisdom and worldview of secular, scientific modern man. It was determined to preserve and strengthen Christianity. Unfortunately, the impact was just the opposite as liberalism devastated the vitality of the Christian Church in America.
J.I. Packer, contemporary theologian and author, summarized liberalisms disastrous impact upon evangelical faith, saying Liberalism swept away entirely the gospel of the supernatural redemption of sinners. It reduced grace to nature, divine revelation to human reflection, faith in Christ to following his example, and receiving new life to turning over a new leaf.
Liberalism was determined to rid Christianity of its supernatural elements (miracles, the Resurrection, etc.) which just might cause a thoughtful enquirer embarrassment. And it succeeded.
What concerns me about all this is how much it sounds like modern day theology. Students at our denominational colleges and seminaries often report encountering these same negations in their classes. And several years ago our denominational journal ran an article in which the author/theologian recommended we forget the troublesome aspects of Christianity such as Jesus miracles, deity, and resurrection. The author suggested we focus only on the ethical teachings of Christianity, for they are what is most important. Alas, the present generation stands on the shoulders of the previous one.
I am sometimes amazed at how patient the Church has been toward liberalism and its subsequent offspring. (I realize there have been times of hostility, such as during the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy of the 1920s and 1930s.) Of late, however, we seem to have become theological pacifists, no longer shocked or offended by theological distortions regardless of how bizarre they might be. We calmly, benevolently discuss liberalism or its latter-day derivatives as we would the Sermon on the Mount, not realizing that in liberalism, historic Christianity has been gutted.
And while they mean well, those who reduce the faith to make it more acceptable to the modern mind do the Church no service. Liberalism in its various shades is still a shrunken Christianitythe pathetic result of sinful men and women who, in their quests for intellectual autonomy, would make man the measure of all things. It is a halfway house from faith to unbelief, from Christianity to secularism.
One hears Dorothy Sayers imploring, You do Christ no honor by watering down his personality so he will not offend. If the mystery of the divine drama of God enfleshed in Christ shocks and offends believers, let them be offended.
As long as our society is free, we will have those who wish to improve upon Christianity by restructuring it. But lets be sure we know when this is happening.
In the meantime, let us boldly and unapologetically commend Gods revealed Word to our unbelieving world. Lets not cower from the scorn of intellectual sophisticates for whom the word of the cross is still a rebuke. Lets be workers who need not be ashamed, proclaiming the Gospel with no disguises, revisions, or scholarly addendums. And let us have the witness of his Spirit so we may, indeed, be preaching in demonstration of the Spirit and of power (I Corinthians 2:4).
On July 1, James V. Heidinger II retired as the president and publisher of Good News. This article originally appeared in the November/December 1990 issue of Good News.
Cheers and Jeers
As a follow-up to Les Longdens article, Wesley and Predestination (Good News May/June 2009), we can be profoundly grateful to Wesley for preaching that one who has trusted Christ can have the assurance of salvation.
The doctrine of predestination, of course, does not stand alone; it is an integral and necessary part of a theological system based on the doctrine that Christs death actually paid the penalty for sins. On that interpretation, as I learned from John Mileys Systematic Theology in seminary, then either everyones sins have been atoned for and everyone will be saved, or the sins of only a limited number of persons were atoned forpersons arbitrarily chosen by God from antiquityand only they will be saved. (The latter, of course, is the generally accepted Reformed theology view.) Then, since God cannot require or permit a person whose penalty has been paid to pay his penalty again, these elect must accept their forgiveness, and they can never lose their forgivenessunconditional election, limited atonement, and absolute eternal security.
One problem, among many, of this interpretation, is that assurance of salvation is impossible; for no one can know whether he is one of the elect. And in Wesleys time and long before, this theology prevented sincere Christians from having the blessed assurance of salvation.
Another problem is that it makes Gods moral standard for himself lower than he requires for us; for if he chooses some persons to be lost eternally, he does not love them, and no specious argument can change that fact. Yet God requires us to love everyone.
John Wesley saw correctly that the Atonement was not a substitute in penalty, as Miley calls it, the actual payment for sin; but rather a substitute for the penalty, whereby as many or as few as accept Christs atoning death receive forgiveness and new life. Only on this basis can anyone have the assurance of salvation.
This, of course, fits in with the Old Testaments foreshadowing of Christs death. The death of the animals sacrificed on the annual Day of Atonement did not carry the sins of a specific number of the Israelites; it was accepted by God for as many as believed in that sacrifice. The bronze serpent that Moses set up after the people were bitten by poisonous snakes (Num. 21:9, Jn. 3:14) did not contain a specific number of antitoxin doses; the healing was for as many or as few as looked on the image in faith.
So let us rejoice in John Wesleys message of assured salvation.
Harold Greenlee, via e-mail
Shortly after the Good News Board of Directors announced the selection of the Rev. Rob Renfroe to replace Dr. James V. Heidinger II upon his retirement, letters of congratulations were received at our office from friends of this ministry. What follows are a few of the messages.
Congratulations and best wishes on your retirement from the position of president and publisher of Good News. I should have known, but had not realized the length of your tenure as President and Publisher of Good News. You are to be congratulated on length, but more than that the effectiveness of your ministry. I once told my bishop that Good News had kept a million people in the United Methodist Church. You have produced a fine magazine that is a credit to the faith. You have done it without bitterness or rancor.
I am sure that there have been times when you could have descended into a spirit of bitterness and recrimination but didnt. I know there must have been times of disappointment and frustration. I want you to know that I have appreciated your fine spirit.
I also am grateful to have had you as a friend. I trust that you and that dear companion of yours will have many more years of happiness together. He is risen!
Virgil and Jane Maybray
It is your fine work that will serve as a broad platform on which your successors will build. You have pioneered in molding a dynamic and fruitful approach to calling the UM Church to greater faithfulness and accountability for being what Christ calls his church to be. You have helped achieve great change, building a foundation for still greater change. Now we are in a much, much better position to move forward.
Thank you for years of faithful service. Well done!
Gerry Charlotte Phelps
Retired United Methodist pastor
The May/June 2009 issue of Good News arrived and I compliment you on another excellent issue. The article, The Changing Map of Global Christianity, was outstanding. Timothy Tennant matches commitment with scholarship in this comprehensive article.
I also read your editorial, Reflections on Passing the Torch. Jim, it has been a personal privilege to know you. I appreciate the leadership that you have given the crusade begun by Charles Keysor. You always spoke with conviction, you were ahead of the nominal church executives in your vision, and you had a workable strategy to represent our Wesleyan heritage. You have been a been a friend, both personally and professionally.
Retired United Methodist pastor
I want to personally thank you for answering Gods call to Good News 28 years ago. Your excellent leadership has made an impact upon our United Methodist denomination. Your prayers for our UM Church, I feel, helped birth Celebration Womens Ministry I co-founded 10 years ago. We have joined you in bringing renewal and revival to the UM Church.
A call to renewal is not an easy one, but you have exemplified such gentlemanly qualities in the face of opposition. You are a man of integrity who never waivered. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Well done, good and faithful servant of the Most High.
Celebration Womens Ministry
I want to say with heartfelt sincerity, Congratulations, Jim Heidinger, for a job faithfully and well done. You have provided a lifetime of leadership for the Good News movement and now you leave a well-established ministry in what appears to be good hands for the unknowns of the journey ahead.
Retired United Methodist pastor
You will be missed. Thanks for the years and service for God and us. I have been a subscriber and supporter of Good News since at least the spring of 1970. I have been a part time local pastor and associate pastor for many years. Rob Renfroe is from the Texas Annual Conference and I know he will do well leading Good News.
I want to congratulate you on a job well done. Your investment in the kingdom of God is one of immeasurable proportions. We at the American Family Association and I personally appreciate you for your stand for righteousness in the United Methodist Church. Without your leadership in the Good News movement, the great Wesleyan vehicle of Methodism would, indeed, be in a much worse state.
Thank you for your boldness, your insight, your wisdom, your courage, your life. May our gracious God continue to guide you and use you in his kingdom work.
I want to thank you for your service and leadership at Good News over the last few years in our effort to bring new life to this old denomination called United Methodism. I personally have been a proud supporter of Good News since the late 1960s. Thank you again and may the blessings of God be upon you in your retirement years. We appreciate your work and effort to try to bring about renewal of the church.
Robert L. Kates
I want to join the many others in expressing thanks and appreciation to you for your leadership in the Good News movement for the past 28 years. I received a copy of the first issue of the magazine in 1967 after reading Chuck Keysors Methodisms Silent Minority in the Christian Advocate in 1966. I dont recall missing any issues since.
Thanks, Jim, for your deep dedication to Christ and the faith once delivered to the saints. I know Good News will be in good hands with the Revs. Rob Renfroe and Walter Fenton.
Daryl K. Williams
Retired United Methodist pastor
By Sue Nilson Kibbey
As an adjunct instructor at United Theological Seminary, I teach a course for Master of Divinity students called Leadership for Ministry. Most in my classroom already pastor local churches, so during the semester I hear stories of their victories and challenges. Through them all runs a common theme: the ability (or inability) to lead successful change. To articulate and then direct the way on paths of changespiritual, missional, and organizationalis often intimidating and unfamiliar to both the leader and the people, even though Gods vision of a new destination may be appealing. The willingness of the leader to courageously undergo and lead healthy change always ends up as the make or break point for ongoing ministry effectiveness.
I was catapulted into a personal, foundation-shifting awareness about the dynamics of the process of change late last year. After a two-year dance with colon cancer, my husband took a downward health spiral and was suddenly gone. To some looking on from the outside it likely appeared that his death, while significant, was the only difference in my daily circumstances. I have still continued living in the same house, serving on staff at the same church, pursuing the same mission, sharing time with the same friends. But what I discovered through traveling the dark valley of grief was a clearer template of how a central major change ripples smaller changes into everything else.
In Deep Change, Robert Quinn identifies the kind of soul-jolting impact I encountered. This change, Quinn writes, requires new ways of thinking and behaving. It is change that is major in scope, discontinuous with the past, and generally irreversible. The deep change effort distorts existing patterns of action and involves taking risks. Deep change means surrendering control.and walking naked into the land of uncertainty (Jossey-Bass, 1996).
Quinn also defines another concept: incremental change. This type of change is more limited, is usually reversible, and keeps us in control. Incremental change is like painting the walls blue instead of yellow. Or maybe its a new style of haircut, frequenting a different grocery store, or switching from traditional to contemporary worship music on Sunday mornings. But certain important incremental changes are only possible as a byproduct of deep change.
God has taught me new truths on a personal level as Ive found my way through a deep change with Chucks death, and the resulting incremental changes Ive undergone. These truths have given me new eyes to see how they also apply to leading change as a ministry leader. My willingness as a leader to embrace deep change is what triggers healthy corresponding incremental spiritual and organizational changes to ripple out and fall into place within my church family. Here are some of the applications I see.
1. Deep change as a leader begins in my relationship with God. It is impossible to be a successful leader of change for or within my congregation without fully surrendering myself to the lordship of Jesus, the deepest change possible in all eternity. The lifelong active transformation process into Christs likeness brings a wave of ongoing incremental change into every area of my living and leading. I have to be willing to submit to these changes to begin to understand the mind, heart, and mission of God. Only then will I be able to discern, as a leader, Gods path of change and transformation for my church and its people.
2. My own change muscle, or practice of change, will be a contagious example for others. All true leadership begins with self-leadership. I cannot effectively set the stage for others spiritual deep change/incremental change processes without actively and transparently embracing it myself. My courage to undergo change inspires others with the courage to come along as well.
3. My entire church needs to be built around supporting change processes. We are called to invite others to deep eternal change through the gospel of Jesus. Everything about what we do needs to be organized to support this, plus the resulting incremental changes rippling into all aspects of peoples practical daily lives: relationships, finances, spiritual disciplines, service.
4. Sharing the stories of deep change in peoples individual lives in Christ helps bolster the courage of the congregation to embark on collective deep change. Hearing about Gods miraculous power of transformation in individuals creates the atmosphere of possibility of what God might want to do supernaturally through all of us together.
Yes, the concepts of deep change and incremental change apply not only to personal life, but to leading successful change in a ministry setting. As Paul wrote, If anyone is in Christ, you are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Embracing deep change is a journey only God can empower us to take. Have confidence that the newness in store will be worth the trip!
Sue Nilson Kibbey is the executive pastor at Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio. She is the author of Ultimately Responsible and Transformation Journal.