by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., excerpted from an address delivered to the Great Commission Research Network (GCRN), Asbury Theological Seminary, Oct. 19, 2017.
“How Changing Generations … Change: Harnessing the Differences Between Generations and Their Approaches to Change.”
This article will compare and contrast two leadership change strategies as observed in older generations (influenced by modernity) and younger generations (influenced by postmodernity). It will be suggested that modernist leadership strategies may focus more on command-and-control and vision. It will be further suggested that postmodern leaders may employ a more collaborative and mission-centric approach to change leadership. This latter approach will be shown to have been described in postmodern circles by organic metaphors and four conditions as set forth by organizational theorist Mary Jo Hatch. Subsequently, it will be suggested that the style of leadership embraced should depend upon the cultural context of the generational actors and the environment.
… Motivating by vision vs. motivating by mission
There is some confusion among practitioners regarding the difference between vision and mission. Kent Hunter and I, in an earlier book, sought to compare and contrast various ecclesial definitions of vision and mission and suggest an abridgment.
|George Barna||Elmer L. Towns
|Whitesel / Hunter|
|Mission:||A philosophic statement that under-girds the heart of your ministry.||Your ministry emphasis and your church gifting.||“What do we do” (and why do we do it, 2017)|
|Vision:||A clear mental image of a preferable future imparted by God, and based on an accurate understanding of God, self and circumstances.||Same as Barna.||“Where do we believe God is calling our church to go in the future?”|
My experience has been that older generations, influenced by modernity, typically emphasize the vision. By this, I mean they have a clear mental picture of the future and try to muster all of their forces to attain it. This can, and often does, result in a parade of different programs being promoted to the congregation which often – by their sheer frequency – overwhelms and wears out the congregants. Burnout is often the result.
I have noticed that younger generations are more likely to emphasize the mission that undergirds these various visions. This is perhaps because they have witnessed this in their parents’ congregations. According to Barna, a mission is “a philosophic statement that undergirds the heart of your ministry.” This leads postmodern-influenced leaders to emphasize less the different programs that are being implemented and instead to motivate by stressing the mission behind them.
An interview with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s in USA Today yields a useful example. In the article, Nadella criticizes founding CEO Bill Gates for mixing up the difference between a mission and a vision. Nadella states, “It always bothered me that we confused an enduring mission with a temporal goal… When I joined the company in 1992, we used to talk about our mission as putting a PC in every home, and by the end of the decade we have done that, at least in the developed world.”
“…we used to talk about our mission as putting a PC in every home, and by the end of the decade we have done that, at least in the developed world.” – Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s in USA Today
Nadella was right because “putting a PC in every home” is not a mission – it is a vision. It is something that can be reached, can be pictured in your mind and is temporally bound. You can see a vision in your mind. You can envision every house having a PC computer. That is why every house today doesn’t have an IBM PC. Instead, many have Apple Macs.
A mission, however, drives the company and its values, therefore shaping its decisions. It is much bigger and grander than a vision.
When Steve Jobs was luring John Scully from PepsiCo to become CEO of Apple, Jobs shared a mission, not a vision, saying: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”
A mission is just like that. It is exciting, world-changing … but somewhat imprecise so it could manifest in many different outcomes (i.e. visions). It is also not temporally bound, like “putting a PC in every home.” A mission drives your values and decisions through many different projects.
Apple’s mission reminds me of the trend I see in my youthful seminary students to emphasize mission over vision. They correctly understand that mission can be realized in many different visions. Apple’s mission would be realized in varied visions including: the vision to revolutionize the way music is purchased via iTunes, the vision to miniaturize the computer into a handheld device, etc. The result is that Apple devotees have a passion that IBM followers don’t. Apple has an ongoing mission that continues to be realized in various visions. As a result, the clarity of Apple’s mission, best exemplified in Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl ad, unleashes a passion in its followers.
Best practices for the church: When leading younger leaders, it may be helpful to emphasize the mission while letting many subcategories of vision come and go as opportunity rises and wanes. The younger generations appear to want to be reminded of the mission but allowed to create multiple visions of how it may be carried out. They don’t want to stick to one idea or tactic, but rather one mission. Therefore, the mission becomes more important than a time and measurement constrained vision which often influenced their parents’ church.
The tip of an iceberg
These approaches to change are just the tip of an iceberg of divergences between the leadership modality of the modernist and postmodernist. I’ve compared and contrasted more areas in my Abingdon Press book ORGANIX: Signs of Leadership in a Changing Church. The reader may be interested in how I delve into the striking difference regarding how younger generations offset the disadvantages of homogeneity. For a thorough investigation of the distinctions between modern and postmodern leadership, I would encourage the reader to consult this volume.
 The Atlantic magazine, March 25, 2014.
 Generation Z has been suggested as the descriptor for this generation by the New York Times, see Sabrina Tavernise, “A Younger Generation is Being Born in Which Minorities are the Majority,” New York Times, May 17, 2012.
 Bob Whitesel, “Toward a Holistic in Postmodernal Theory of Change: The Four-forces Model of Change as Reflected in Church Growth Movement Literature,” The Journal of the American Society for Church Growth, Fall 2008.
 Bob Whitesel, Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church (Indianapolis: The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2007, pp. 53-56.
 Eddie Gibbs in Church Next (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2000, p. 23) explains that though Frederico de Onis created the term “postmodern” in the 1930s it was not until the 1960s that it gained popularity due to its use by art critics.
 Emil Bruner, trans. Harold Knight, The Misunderstanding of the Church (London: Lutterworth Press, 1952), pp. 15-18.
 Mary Joe Hatch, Organizational Theory: Modern, Symbolic, and Postmodern Perspectives (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 53-54.
 While Hatch utilizes the term requisite harmony, I have substituted the helpful term dissonant harmony as employed by Bruno Dyck and Frederick A. Starke, The Formation of Breakaway Organizations: Observations and a Process Model. Administrative Science Quarterly (1999), 44:792-822. I have applied the Dyke-Starke model to the church in Bob Whitesel, Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change and What You Can Do About It(Abingdon Press, 2003).
 Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1979), pp. 113.
 Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth, op. cit., p. 120.
 Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), p. 92.
 See for the example the hedgehog versus Fox’s comparison in Abraham Zalesnik’s book, hedgehogs and foxes: character, leadership, and commanding organizations parentheses New York: Palm grave McMillan, 2008). Zalesnik use this is a metaphor of hedgehogs who live by unwavering rules with the more long-lived foxes who adapt to their environment..
 Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776; reprint, Chicago: University of Chicago press, 1976), books 1 and 4.
 Quoted by Daniel Boorstin, The Americans: The Democratic Experience (New York: Vintage, 1974), pp. 368-369
 Harrison Monarth, Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009), p. 55.
 Bruno Dyck and Frederick A. Starke, The Formation of Breakaway Organizations: Observations and a Process Model. Administrative Science Quarterly (1999), 44:792-822.
 For more on this seek Bob Whitesel, Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change, And What You Can Do About It (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002) and the chapter titled “Go Slowly, Build Consensus and Succeed” in Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church (Indianapolis: The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2007, pp. 151-169.
 Harvard Business Review (Boston: Harvard Business Press, January 2007).
 Bruno Dyck and Frederick A. Starke, ibid., 44:812-813.
 ibid., 44:813-819.
 Bob Whitesel and Kent R. Hunter, A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001), p. 107.
George Barna, The Power of Vision: How You Can Capture and Apply God’s Vision for Your Ministry (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1992), pp. 28, 38–39.
 Elmer L. Towns, Vision Day: Capturing the Power of Vision, (Lynchburg, Virginia; Church Growth Institute, 1994), pp. 24-25.
 Whitesel and Hunter, op. cit., p. 107.
 Barna, op. cit., p. 28.
 Marco della Cava, “Microsoft’s Satya Nadella is Counting on Culture Shock to Drive Growth,” USA Today, Feb. 20, 2017.
John Sculley and John A. Byrne, Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple: A Journey of Adventure, Ideas, and the Future(New York: HarperCollins, 1987), p. 90.
 The 1984 Apple commercial is available on YouTube and is best described by MacWorld writer Adelia Cellini in the following: “Apple wanted the Mac to symbolize the idea of empowerment, with the ad showcasing the Mac as a tool for combating conformity and asserting originality. What better way to do that than have a striking blonde athlete take a sledgehammer to the face of that ultimate symbol of conformity, Big Brother?” “The Story Behind Apple’s “1984” TV commercial: Big Brother at 20,”MacWorld, 21 (1), p. 18.
Download the article here… ARTICLE Whitesel 2017 Changing Generations Change GCRJ GCRN 17.10.17
Bob Whitesel D.Min. Ph.D. holds two doctorates from Fuller Seminary and is the former founding professor of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. A speaker/consultant on church health, organic outreach and multiethnic ministry, he is the award-winning author of 13 books published by national publishers. National magazines have stated: “Bob Whitesel is the change agent” (Ministry Today) and “Bob Whitesel is the key spokesperson on change in the church today” (Outreach Magazine). The faculty of Fuller Theological Seminary awarded him The Donald McGavran Award for outstanding scholarship in church growth and The Great Commission Research Network awarded him The Donald A. McGavran Award for outstanding leadership in church growth.
Speaking hashtags: #Kingwood2018 Theological Reflection Seminar #TheoReflect #GCRN #CLIOrlando2018
by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., excerpted from The Healthy Church: Practical Ways to Strengthen a Church’s Heart (2013).
“… the Hebrew word for “worship” implies God-directed, not neighbor-directed reconciliation.(Footnote 1)” p. 64
(Footnote 1) The Hebrew word for “worship” means to come close to God’s majesty and adore Him. It carries the idea of reverence, respect and praise that results from a close encounter with a king, see Francis Brown, S. R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament Based Upon the Lexicon of William Gesenius(Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1974), p. 1005. Thus, worship should not be about fellowship (the New Testament Christians had meals for that), but rather worship was to be about personal communing with God. This reminds us that worship should be about connecting with God and not about creating friendships among people (we have time before and after “worship” for getting to know one another in “fellowship” halls and in common areas). Making worship into a fellowship among humans, robs its place as the supernatural intersection between humans with their heavenly Father. We shall discuss the Multicultural Blended Model shortly, but I have noticed in most blended models I have attended, that supernatural connection is not the focus or their aim, but rather unity is the objective. While the later goal (unity) is needed, it should not be attained at the expense of worship which is primarily intended as a environment in which to connect with God. p. 158
Slowly over time most churches grow primarily inward in their focus, rather than focusing outward to meet the needs of those outside the church.The result of this inward focus is that churches stop reaching non-churchgoers because they are less frequently meeting the needs of those outside of their fellowship.
Most non-churchgoers will avoid an ingrown church all together because it does not appear to be sensitive to their needs. Even newly launched and emerging churches are not immune to becoming ingrown. The close fellowship created in new church plants, multiple-site churches, cell-churches, art churches, café churches, and house churches often subtly redirect the leaders’ attention inward and away from their mission field.
Ask yourself, “How much of my volunteer time at church do I spend on meeting the needs of the congregation rather than meeting the needs of those who don’t go to church?” If you do not see a balance, then the church you attend may be ingrown.
Good churches have this problem too
Ingrown churches actually arise for a good reason. A church’s fellowship often is so attractive, compelling, and beneficial, that before long most of a congregation’s attention becomes directed toward these benefits. Donald McGavran in Understanding Church Growth summed up these positive/negative attributes by saying a good church will create “redemption and lift.”By this he meant that once a person is redeemed (restored back to a relationship with God), the person’s fellowship with other Christians will lift him or her away from previous friends who are non-churchgoers. The cure, according to McGavran, is to realize that this lift is good (it raises your life to a new level of loving Christ) but also bad (it separates you from non-churchgoers who need Christ’s love too). McGavran argued that balance is needed in meeting the needs of those inside the church and those outside of it, and so does this post.
Let’s look at four common church characteristics characteristics that when left unattended can unintentionally redirect a church into a closed, inward focus:
History Trap—A church with a long history.
A church that is focused internally will eventually lose sight of its original mis- sion and gravitate toward being an organization consumed with helping itself. Years and years of internal focus will result in a church that knows little else. Leaders raised in an internally focused church will think that the volunteer’s role is to serve the existing congregation, perhaps to the point of burnout. Time erases the memory of the earliest days of a church conceived to meet the needs of non-churchgoers.
The Organizational Trap—A sizable congregation that must be managed.
Have you ever noticed that when new churches are started, they often have an outward focus? This may be because a newly planted church is often keenly aware that without reaching out to others, the new church will die. However, I have noticed that once a new church is about eighteen months old, it starts becoming so consumed its organizational needs, that it spends most of its time internally focused. Thus, any church with a history over eighteen months long will usually be internally focused.
The Experience Trap—A church with a talented and long-serving team of volunteers.
When a church has a cadre of talented and gifted leaders, these volunteers are often asked to stay too long in their positions. They thus become regarded as experts by others and newcomers. The result is that leadership unintention- ally becomes a closed clique, which newcomers with innovative ideas will often feel too intimidated to penetrate.
The Infirmity Trap—A church with a ministry to hurting people.
Hurting people are often seeking to have their hurts healed by the soothing balm of Christian community. A church that is offering this is doing something good, because to help hurting people is what Christ calls his church to do (James 1:27). And a ministry to hurting people must be conducted with confidentially and intimacy.
An unintentional result of such confidentiality is that these churches can become closed communities too. Subsequently, churches often thwart their mission to reach out to the hurting and instead gravitate toward a closed fellowship where outsiders find it increasingly harder to get in and get the help they need.
There is a difference between an internally focused church and one that is balanced with equal emphasis upon internal and external needs. Check all that apply to your church. The column with the most checks may indicate whether your church is growing in, growing out, or is equally balanced (the goal of an uncommon church).
Is your church ingrown?
Check all that apply to your church:
More curated ideas from professor, award-winning writer and consultant Bob Whitesel DMin PhD at ChurchHealth.wiki, WesleyTours.com, MissionalCoaches.com & ChurchHealth.expert
Excerpted from Cure For The Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health,by Bob Whitesel (Wesleyan Publishing House 2012).
Read more at … https://www.biblicalleadership.com/blogs/4-traps-of-ingrown-churches/
Turning trials into triumphs created a degree of fame for the Wesleys. John, who had become a teaching fellow at Lincoln College in Oxford, came to the attention of James Oglethorpe, whose efforts for prison reform prompted the Oxford prison ministry of the Wesleys and their friends.
Now Oglethorpe had a bigger vision. He was a founder of the colony of Georgia, covering roughly the northern half of the modern-day state of Georgia. It was there Oglethorpe envisioned a haven for people who had been imprisoned in debtors’ prisons. In this vast colony, there was no official Church of England or designated pastor. In 1735 John Wesley became Oglethorpe’s choice to pastor the first church in the colony.
To Wesley, this was an opportunity to experience Christ more deeply by preaching to others in the unpretentious, natural environs of the New World.1 Little did he realize this experience would bring one of his greatest trials.
This church launch was well organized. Financial support was secured in advance and a meetinghouse in Savannah was designed. As they embarked from Gravesend, England, John felt everything was in order. Yet, in hindsight, John would recall his life was not in order spiritually.
Accompanying them on the voyage were German Christians called Moravians, after the region from which they came. They believed humility coupled with quiet reflection upon Scriptures and Christ was helpful in strengthening faith. John had the opportunity to observe their method firsthand when the ship encountered several unusually destructive storms. As one relentless storm dismasted the ship, hardened sailors abandoned their posts and cried out to God for mercy.
John, too, had a fear of death, which had developed prior to his Oxford years when he attended Charterhouse School in London. A hospital was housed in the same building as the school, and young John daily watched individuals die, some in comfort, others in fear.
As the ship appeared to be sinking with all hands doomed, the Moravians showed not fear but trust. They sang and praised God with a confidence and calm that moved John to declare it as one of most glorious things he had ever seen.2
At the same time, John’s reaction to the ship’s peril showed him he was no different from the fainthearted sailors. He too was “unwilling to die,” shaking with fright and crying out to God to save him.3 This was not the example he wanted to show to those who traveled with him. Nonetheless, that was his experience at this stage of his life.4
The prophet Ezekiel had a similar experience.
Exiled to Babylon as a young man of twenty, Ezekiel, like Wesley, had been trained to follow in his father’s footsteps as a priest. But in Babylon, Ezekiel found himself in a new land with a new role. When Ezekiel was thirty, about the same age as Wesley when he went to Georgia, God revealed His power to the prophet in a vision (Ezekiel 1:4—3:15). That vision made Ezekiel realize the inevitability of judgment upon each person for their sins. Later, God showed Ezekiel another vision, indicating that though His people felt as good as dead, God could recreate them as living, healthy people.
He said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, Dry bones, hear the Lord’s word! The Lord God proclaims to these bones: I am about to put breath in you, and you will live again. I will put sinews on you, place flesh on you, and cover you with skin. When I put breath in you, and you come to life, you will know that I am the Lord.’ (Ezekiel 37:4–6)
John Wesley must have felt the same way. Though he had had early success in ministry, when the threat of death came near he found himself empty, discouraged, and unprepared.
This might have been how Ezekiel felt looking upon the disheartened Israelites who had been deported into Babylonian captivity. Yet just as God gave Ezekiel a vision of a revived nation, John would soon be revived too. In hindsight, John would describe these times of discouragement as the product of his fair-weather faith, stating:
I went to America to convert the Indians, but O! Who shall convert me? Who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of mischief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near, but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled.5
From these stories emerge at least two lessons.
1. Early success can lead to overconfidence.
Some people encounter early successes they are never able to replicate. It’s important not to live in the past or on past glory. The lesson for John, and for every enthusiast, is God may give you early triumphs only for them to be followed by trials. But as God reminded Ezekiel, God can again bring about triumphs in our ministries and in our souls if we allow our faith to mature.
During Wesley’s life, he wrestled several more times with fair-weather faith. Though he felt like his life and career had dried up, he discovered fair-weather faith could be reinvigorated by God.
2. Fear of death can test our readiness to be judged for our life.
From the stories of John Wesley and Ezekiel, take the lesson that a fair-weather faith must be replaced by “a mind calmed by the love of God.”6
Consider what God’s Word says about this:
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me. Your rod and your staff—they protect me. (Psalm 23:4)
Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
I assure you that whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and won’t come under judgment but has passed from death into life. (John 5:24)
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
Consider these questions
Have you found yourself thinking back to past successes, maybe even more than you dream about future opportunities? Recall a time when you had a spiritual breakthrough. How did it make you feel? What lessons did you learn?
Now picture in your mind a future success that could make you feel the same way. In the future, use this rule of thumb: for each minute you spend thinking about past successes, spend two minutes dreaming about what God can do.
Ask yourself, “When have I been near death, and how did I feel about the prospect of standing before God?” Were you timid? Were you fearful? Were you happy? Wesley would write years later to a friend, “Do you sit in heavenly places with Christ Jesus? Do you never shrink at death? Do you steadily desire to depart and to be with Christ?”7
Excerpted fromEnthusiast!: Finding a Faith That Fills,by Bob Whitesel (Wesleyan Publishing 2018).
1. John Wesley, “Letter to Dr. Burton,” October 10, 1735, The Letters of John Wesley,The Wesley Center Online, http:// wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-letters-of-john-wesley/ wesleys-letters-1735/.
2. John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, vol. 18, eds. W. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1988), 143.
3. Ibid., 140.
4. Ibid., 169. John experienced other terrifying storms on the voyage, as well as in America, all resulting in the fright that led him to ask himself, “How is it that thou hadst no faith?”
5. John Wesley, The Heart of John Wesley’s Journal(Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 29.
6. John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley,vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 22.
7. John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 499.
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There are many ways to describe the church: a fellowship, a congregation and a community. But, I’ve noticed a refreshing alternative among those who lead young churches. They often find the terms fellowship, community, etc. as too associated with a complex organizational structure. Instead, they often use a word borrowed from the developing world: tribe.
At a church called “The Tribe of Los Angeles,” a young attendee described it this way, “Tribe tells people we are doing something different at church. It means we are close, like a family. And, it also says we are in this together in this, (that) we are small but mobile, that we have a closely held, common task. It’s just like a tribe in the developing world that must work together to survive.”
I find something refreshing in terms that sum up for younger people a family-like dependence. Now, I am not recommending that churches adopt such terminology to be voguish or appear relevant. But I find that using the term on occasion reminds us all that the church is on a mission and the accomplishment of that mission depends upon the church being a mutually supportive team.
The power of unity
In John 17:20-23 Jesus prayed that all believers, throughout all time, would demonstrate a supernatural unity. And, He stressed that this unity would amaze the world:
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us….
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me. (MSG)
Such a passionate desire from the Son of God cannot easily be dismissed. But this was more than just a longing. Jesus emphasized a purpose in this unity when He stated, “Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that you’ve sent me and loved them” (v. 23, MSG). Let’s look at a few practical ways that a church can give evidence that God is working through it.
1. Unity supports God’s mission
God’s mission (sometimes called the missio Dei) is that He wants to reunite with His wayward offspring. Jesus made it clear that only through His sacrifice was this reconciliation possible (John 14:6-7, Romans 3:23-24, 5:8, 6:23). And through the Church supports this mission in many ways, there are at least three important ways church unity contributes to reconnecting people with their heavenly Father.
2. Unity influence the community.
Jesus wanted His church to be so loving, forgiving and united that the secular world would take notice. He desired the evidence of this amazement to not be theatrics, but to “give the godless world evidence that You’ve sent me and loved them” (John 17:23 MSG). And so, when a church is uncommonly united, this contrasts with the disunity found in most worldly organizations. It reminds the watching world that something supernatural is at work in our churches, and it models to the world the undivided nature of God.
3. Unity can impact cross-denominational influence.
I’ve noticed that church leaders often influence other congregations by packaging innovative programs and selling them as growth inducers to other congregations. But, too often these are only tactical programs, that may work only for a short time. Churches who latch onto such tactical programs often adopt tactical names, such as Seeker-friendly Churches, Cell Churches, Missional Churches, Body-life Churches or Samaritan Churches. But, as seen in Jesus’ prayer, it might be more fitting for networks of churches to be known for their unity more than their innovations. Congregations that are united can model important attributes of forgiveness, harmony and agreement that the secular world finds hard to muster.
4. Unity influences a congregation.
A united congregation provides an environment where congregants can spend more time and energy focusing on the needs of those outside of the organization, rather than scrutinizing the differences of those within. I have often observed churches so focused on their internal squabbles that they miss (and usually repel) visitors and seekers who God is sending their way. But when churches become more united, they recycle more time and energy into the dire problems of those not yet reunited with their heavenly Father.
5. Unity influences non-churchgoers.
The secular realm can be a bastion of antagonism, rancor and factions. Little wonder that weary souls worn down by this often search for an environment where divisiveness is minimal. Many hope to find in Christ’s Church this harbor. If they instead encounter false-compassion and hypocritical jockeying for influence, they can easily conclude that the church is hypocritical: promising solace but offering rancor. As Paul noted, a united, loving and forgiving church means “no going along with the crowd, the empty-headed, mindless crowd” (Ephesians 4:17 MSG).
The church should strive, with God’s help, to be increasingly united. The goal is not perfectunity, but more unity. Two colleagues of mine label this “dissonant harmony.” By this, they mean that a church can never attain perfect harmony, but it can attain a degree of harmony (though not perfect) that is increasingly harmonious but acknowledges some dissonance and dissension.
Christ’s prayer is not that churches fabricate mindless slaves to corporate vision. Rather Jesus emphasized that Church unity was to be a earthly reflection of the miraculous oneness amid diversity of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And so, striving to be more unified has benefits and caveats that still make the effort worth it.
Excerpted from The Healthy Church: Practical Ways to Strengthen a Church’s Heart, by Bob Whitesel (Wesleyan Publishing 2013).
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by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Jan. 2018.
Waypoint 11 – Churchgoing versus Conversion
In the fall of 1740, parishes in the English countryside were emptying as people moved to the cities to find work in newly built factories. Farmworkers left an uncertain economic life for the promise of financial stability, even though factories were known for inhumane working conditions and squalor. Cities teemed with disadvantaged strangers from the countryside. This was the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
City dwellers, feeling more sophisticated than their country cousins, treated these economic immigrants with disdain, suspicion, and exclusion. Wesley saw the church as God’s instrument to reconcile this cultural hostility, though his message gained little headway.
All this changed after his Aldersgate experience. He started to preach that poor and rich alike would instantly change their outlook when they realized they were God’s children and not His servants. For a servant, loving people who are different from oneself is a duty. But loving those who are different is a personality trait of the sons and daughters of God.1
The idea that such a change of heart might happen quickly came from Wesley’s theological colleague Peter Bohler,2 as well as Wesley’s reading of Jonathan Edwards’s descriptions of conversions in New England.
John measured his own experience with the guidelines given by Paul, and added a commentary. Paul wrote, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17 kjv). John commented: “First, his judgments are new: his judgment of himself, of happiness, of holiness. . . . Secondly, his designs are new. . . . Thirdly, his desires are new. . . . Fourthly, his conversation is new. . . . Fifthly, his actions are new.”3 And later he stated, “Love of the world is changed into love of God, pride into humility, passion into meekness; hatred, envy, malice, into a sincere, tender, disinterested love for all humankind.”4
Outlooks, intentions, desires, conversations, and actions had changed and would continue to develop in both John and Charles. They were not continually happy, nor free from worry,5 but the faith of a child signaled a new trajectory.6
Wesley entered English pulpits with the message that churchgoers must be converted from the faith of a servant to the faith of a son or daughter. Since poor and rich alike dutifully went to church and struggled to obey God’s commandments, both groups resonated with the idea that He wants a relationship rather than just cold, religious duty.
Not all resonated with John Wesley’s teachings. Some were threatened. Churchgoers, pastors, and even bishops, who had long preached service to God out of duty and obligation, were offended by Wesley’s message that the rabble of the city should think of themselves as God’s children. John used his own life as an example, pointing out that he had been an Oxford lecturer, even a renowned church planter, but still had not been converted from the faith of a servant to something better. He invited his hearers, parish priests, and bishops, to be converted to the faith of a child.
Not surprisingly, some pastors who opened their pulpits to Wesley were not overjoyed. They felt that Wesley insinuated that they might not be converted. Furthermore, some congregants didn’t like to hear that their years of service and church attendance didn’t alone please God.
Enthusiasts move beyond religious observance to embrace a parent-child relationship with God.
The Bible reminds us that serving God is not about obligations such as laws and rules, but rather is an opportunity to have a personal relationship and journey with God.
Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth. (Matt. 5:5)
Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full. (v. 6)
Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children. (v. 9)
An instantaneous change and a new beginning brought about by accepting our father-child relationship with God was at the heart of Wesley’s message. Is it at the heart of your faith?
[Special block or other formatting.] For personal devotion, read the questions, meditate upon each, and write down your responses. For group discussion, share, as appropriate, your answers with your group and then discuss the application.
Are you going through the motions of being a Christian because of fear, guilt, or even expectations? Or do you have the liberating and empowering sensation of serving God because He loves you like a daughter or son?
In the following list, circle all the statements that represent your true feelings.
Faith of a Servant
I fear going to hell.
I serve God because of duty.
I serve God because people expect me to do so.
Faith of a Son or Daughter
I look forward to meeting God in heaven.
I serve God because of my relationship with Him.
I serve God because He daily empowers me to do so.
Ask God to show you the faith of a child rather than the faith of a servant. Read seven Scriptures that depict our relationship with God. Start with those below, then add at least three more.
You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:26)
Because you are sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and if you are his child, then you are also an heir through God. (Gal. 4:6–7)
See what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are! Because the world didn’t recognize him, it doesn’t recognize us. Dear friends, now we are God’s children, and it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be. We know that when he appears we will be like him because we’ll see him as he is. (1 John 3:1–2)
Finally, ask God to transform your faith today to that of a son or daughter. Did you feel something happen inside of you? If you didn’t yet, keep praying and seeking God. And when it happens, tell someone!
Speaking hashtag: #Kingswood2018