SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & How and When Does Conversion Occur?

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D. (excerpted from Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey, Abingdon Press, pp. 140-143).

Does conversion occur in a flash, with miraculous transformations and heavenly encounters?  Does conversion take place over time?  Or perhaps conversion is a stumbling process, where the conversionary experience takes place in what Richard Peace calls “fits and starts.”[i]  Richard Peace, Scot McKnight and others have looked at the New Testament record and conclude that the answer is “all of the above.”[ii]  Let us look at three basic categories.

Sudden Conversion.  Sometimes conversion takes place “in a flash … a sudden point-in-time transformation based on an encounter with Jesus.”[iii]  This is the experience of Saul/Paul in Acts 9, and has became the standard way the evangelical church looks at conversion.[iv]  At the altar sudden and dramatic responses are often expected, door-to-door visits lead to a “prayer of commitment,” and mass rallies end with an appeal to come forward for conversion.[v]  While this may be required to facilitate a person on the verge of a sudden conversionary experience, not all conversions happen in this manner.  Psychologist Lewis Rambo, in an exhaustive look at religious conversion, concludes that “for the most part it (religious conversion) takes place over a period of time.”[vi]  Thus, the evangelical church may be limiting the number of wayfarers she can help by focusing too exclusively on sudden conversion.  

Progressive Conversion.[vii] A closer look at the Gospel of Mark reveals that Mark was describing a different, more gradual paradigm of conversion.  As Peace notes:

“What Mark sought to communicate in his Gospel was the process by which these twelve men gradually turned, over time, from their  culturally derived understanding of Jesus as a great teacher to the amazing discovery that he was actually the Messiah who was the Son of God. In showing how the Twelve turned to Jesus, step-by-step, Mark was inviting his readers to undergo the same journey of conversion.”[viii]

Peace concludes that “what happened to Paul, and what happened to the Twelve was identical in terms of theological understanding, though quite different experientially.”[ix]

Scot McKnight describes how progressive conversion can take place in churches that practice infant baptism.  McKnight states, “for many Christians conversion is a process of socialization,”[x] meaning that nurture is confirmed later by personal affirmation.  For example, an infant baptism or an infant dedication can be seen as a public affirmation that the church community and parents will nurture that child (i.e. via spiritual socialization).  After growing up in this environment of spiritual socialization and religious community, the grown child will be expected to ratify this effort via further instruction (i.e. catechism) and confirmation.  

Liturgical Acts and Conversion.  McKnight also notes that in some liturgical traditions, such as the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, while conversion is experienced, the sacraments are more involved.  Thus, baptism, the Eucharist and “official rites of passage” are where conversionary experiences often take place for “liturgical converts.”[xi]  There is nothing to preclude that God can use such spiritual rites as touchstone experiences where metanoia (repentance) is combined with pistis (faithin order to bring about epistophe (conversion).

Download the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT Spiritual Waypoints 10, 9, 8 & 7 and read more in Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey (Abingdon Press, 2010). Please remember, if you enjoy the free download please consider supporting the author and the publisher who invested in this book by purchasing a copy.

[i] Charles Kraft, Christian Conversion As A Dynamic Process,” International Christian Broadcasters Bulletin, [Colorado Springs, Colo.: International Christian Broadcasters, 1974], Second Quarter; Scot McKnight, Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels; Richard Peace, Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve, 6; Peace, “Conflicting Understandings of Christian Conversion;” Lewis R. Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993).

[ii] Scot McKnight, Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels

[iii] Richard Peace, Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve, 6.

[iv] Peace, “Conflicting Understandings of Christian Conversion,” 8-9.

[v] Donald Miller’s analysis of the results of crusade evangelism in the Harvest Crusades with evangelist Greg Laurie discovered that only about 10 percent of the decisions for Christ resulted in long-term changes in personal behavior (Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the new Millennium, Berkley: University of Calif. Press, 1997), 171-172.  However, Sterling Huston’s earlier research on the Billy Graham Crusades suggested the results were six times this (Sterling W. Huston, Crusade Evangelism and the Local Church [Minneapolis, Minn.: World Wide Publishing, 1984]).  Whether these discrepancies were the result of tactics, cultures, samples or eras remains to be researched.  The answer may lie somewhere in between. The ambiguity of these results begs further analysis by researchers. 

[vi] Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion, 165.

[vii] Charles Kraft introduced terminology to distinguish the different types of people that experience sudden conversion or progressive conversion.  On the on hand, Kraft saw people who undergo radical and sudden conversion as usually “first generation Christians” who previously had only been moderately influenced by Christian principles.  On the other hand, Kraft saw “second-generation Christians” as those who were raised in Christian homes and in which “there may be little or no behavioral change evident as a result of the conscious decision to personally affirm one’s commitment to the Christian community in which one has been practicing since birth” (Charles Kraft, Christian Conversion As A Dynamic Process,” International Christian Broadcasters Bulletin, 8.)  While the terms “first” and “second generation Christians” have been widely used, these terms cause some problems. First, Paul’s conversion was certainly radical and sudden (Acts 9), yet he had been practicing a devout lifestyle (Acts 23:6), so in Kraft’s paradigm he should have had a more progressive experience.  In addition, McKnight’s story does not fit with Kraft’s paradigm, for in the interview that concludes this chapter McKnight states that he underwent a radical behavioral change in a progressive sequence.  Thus, the value of Kraft’s insights may be that there are numerous ways that conversion is encountered and that whether a person is a first- or second-generation Christian has some, though limited, affect.  Instead, the emphasis should be upon the fluid role of the Holy Spirit in individualizing conversion to each traveler, for as John 3:7 states, “So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God” (The Message).

[viii] Richard Peace, Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve, 4.

[ix] Ibid., 10.  Some may argue that progressive conversion as described in Mark was necessitated because the Holy spirit had not yet been given at the Day of Pentecost.  While this is a valid critique, Lewis Rambo’s research suggesting that most conversion is progressive (Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion, 165) may indicate that both examples are valid.

[x] Scot McKnight, Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels, 5.

[xi] Ibid., 7.

ABCD & The basics (w/ examples) of Asset Based Community Development. #DukeDivinitySchool #Faith&Life

A church-run business incubator grows its community’s own solutions to poverty

Under the Rev. Barry Randolph, a thriving Detroit church has brought a young community together to improve their lives with their own ideas.

By Angie Jackson, Faith & Leadership, 9/1/22.

…“You can’t throw money at it. It’s not about just getting somebody a job. Now you have to teach people how to keep the job,” said 57-year-old Randolph. “And it’s not about just bringing people up. Sometimes you gotta bring up the whole community.”

… This approach helped Randolph transform the church, once on the verge of shuttering, to a community hub that’s now more than 300 members strong, racially diverse and majority young.

Randolph and his parishioners see the church as an incubation center. At the church, someone with a business idea can team up with accountants and attorneys to get it off the ground, and many have.

“You need your phone charged? Here’s a charging station,” said Bishop Bonnie Perry of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, referring to Church of the Messiah’s four solar-powered community charging stations. “The entrepreneurial spirit, that kind of spirit, is what our church longs for.”

People returning home from prison can seek help getting a job from the church’s employment office. The church is also the home base for a marching band that secures college scholarships for teens who once thought they wouldn’t graduate from high school.

To Randolph, it all ties back to providing people a path out of poverty.

…The hardest aspect of this type of community building is for churches to shift their mindset from focusing on what people are missing to realizing what they have, said the Rev. Michael Mather, the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Boulder, Colorado, and a faculty member at the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at DePaul University

Mather is a former pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, where he revamped the church’s approach to ministry by asking people what their gifts were and looking for opportunities around those talents.

“One of the rules that we followed and that we’ve tried to think about a lot was that money should always flow into the hands of the people who don’t have much,” Mather said. “In the past, what we’ve done is we would pay ourselves to run programs for people whose problem was they didn’t have money. But we didn’t see the irrationality of it when we were doing it.”

Read more at … https://faithandleadership.com/church-run-business-incubator-grows-its-communitys-own-solutions-poverty

GROWING THE POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH & Angela Duckworth, author of the bestseller “Grit,” explains why, two years into the pandemic, even the grittiest people are quitting, stepping down, or scaling back. And, she suggests three things to do to address this.

by Danica Lo, Fast Company Magazine, 6/15/22.

It’s been six years since psychologist and University of Pennsylvania Professor Angela Duckworth published her bestseller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. After more than two years of behavioral and societal shifts that have drastically altered cultural values around work and achievement (see: the Great Resignation), Duckworth discusses Grit in hindsight in the first episode of The Next Chapter, a new podcast created for the American Express Business Class platform, out today.

For Duckworth, the tenets of Grit still hold true—that high-achievers are people who not only possess passion, but who also persevere. But, especially in these post-pandemic years, finding passion, or a directional focus, an be difficult and confusing. “For many of us, work ethic, getting feedback, practicing things we can’t yet do, being resilient—all that is easier than knowing what to be persevering about,” she says.

…“When someone is super-gritty, it’s because they’re pursuing something they really love and they actually feel there’s hope to make progress on [it],” Duckworth says. “One reason people might be burning out right now is that, for whatever reasons, there is some erosion of that hope that the future is bright for what they’re doing.”

…“The lesson in the pandemic is that if we want to be grittier or if we want to understand how to make other people grittier, there has to be some valid sense of hope for that person—that what they’re doing is going to be enough and that the future has some reason to believe that it’s brighter,” Duckworth says.

1. Mentorship …

2. Connect workers to a higher purpose

3. Establish a culture of grit …

Read more at … https://www.fastcompany.com/90761050/burnout-angela-duckworth-grit?

PREACHING & TEACHING: Researchers have found that framing is important; human memory doesn’t seem to fully engage in the absence of meaning and relevance. Explain how the biblical story is relevant to the listener, before telling the story.

Michelle D. Miller. (2014). Minds Online : Teaching Effectively with Technology. Harvard University Press.

Take a moment to read over the following set of instructions:

The first thing you want to do is decide how many items you want to incorporate. Take t hem out of t he container — it doesn’t matter which ones, as long as there aren’t any obvious signs of damage. Place them somewhere secure, as they tend to move without warning and this can be disastrous. Take the first one you want to deal with, and grasp it lightly along the short axis, then make contact between this and a fi rm but not sharp object. Be sure you also have an adequate container for the material inside. You can repeat this pro cess up to two times, but after three, you should probably start over. With practice, you will end up with a clean separation, but even experts find that it’s diffi cult to keep the various components totally under control. Remember, this is a skill that gets better with practice, and physical strength is less important than dexterity and fi nesse.45

If you read this paragraph in an online course, do you think you could accurately remember many of the key points? Or would it simply go past you in a swirl of confusing, disjointed details? But what if I told you that this “mystery process” was a description of cracking an egg? Look back at the paragraph— it probably seems far more memorable with that key piece of context. Framing is important; human memory doesn’t seem to fully engage in the absence of meaning and relevance. Thinking back to the “function-alist agenda,” this makes a lot of sense— why should we invest scarce cognitive resources on information that doesn’t complement what we already know about the world?

45 This “myster y pro cess” description is adapted from the experimental materials in J. D. Bransford and M. K. Johnson (1972), Contextual prerequi-sites for understanding: Some investigations of comprehension and recall, Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 11(6): 717– 726.

GROWING THE POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH & Here are the handouts for Sunday seminar attendees at the San Antonio, Texas seminar.

What a magnificent welcome you provided me at the “Growing the Post-pandemic Church seminar in San Antonio. Your passion for the Great Commission is evident. And your enthusiasm for continuing to grow into a multi-ethnic and hybrid (online and onsite) ministry is inspiring.

Here is a link to the PowerPoint slide deck (it has live weblinks to the best tools) >

And at the bottom is a link to download these handouts >

GROWING THE POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH & Handouts for Houston, TX seminar attendees.

Thank you for the kind and enthusiastic response to my seminar on “Growing the Post-pandemic Church.” It is my prayer that these tools and principles will empower the Black church to make a lasting impact at this critical time in history.

Here is a link to the PowerPoint slide deck (it has live weblinks to the best tools) >

And at the bottom is a link to download these handouts >

SERMONS & To enhance retention, ditch ProPresenter and PowerPoint during the sermon! Instead write out your points on one of these four onstage boards. Communication researchers say audiences will retain more of what you are saying. #SundayChurchHacks

Communication researchers know that audiences will retain more of what a speaker is saying, if he or she writes writes something down in front of viewers. 

Here are a few examples below from a previous article.

A. Clear boards

https://www.displays2go.com/Guide/How-to-Choose-a-Whiteboard-4A
https://vault50.com/alternatives-to-whiteboards-top-5-office-classroom-use/
For more ideas see: https://vault50.com/alternatives-to-whiteboards-top-5-office-classroom-use/

BLACK CHURCHES & What My Black Students Told Me About Their Preference for the Baptist Movement 

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Biblical Leadership Magazine, 1/17/22.

Numerous times over the years I’ve tried to help unaffiliated students who were pastors to become affiliated with The Wesleyan Church or another denomination. My rationale was not to grow any specific denomination, but because I believed accountability was good for unaffiliated pastors. Many of my students were pastoring independent churches with little accountability. I didn’t sense they needed accountability then, but I was worried they would need it sometime in the future and it would not be available.

All of my efforts were usually unsuccessful with African-American students. I often asked why. And their answers helped me understand why Baptist historians have pointed out that many black churches have affiliated with the Baptist movement. The Baptist movement was, in part, a reaction to the hierarchies found in many denominations. In hierarchal (Episcopal or Presbyterian forms of denominational government) a group of denominational leaders outside of the local church would often decide who would be ordained. 

But not so in much of the Baptist movement. They embraced an organic and indigenous route to leadership. This meant that a person first distinguished themselves inside of a congregation and then after being mentored with the local pastors might be ordained. This natural and field-based route to leadership had at least three advantages in my mind.

Firstly, you could see how a pastor led a flock from a longterm experience with that pastor. Their strengths were known, as well as their weaknesses. In many ways the congregation was the accountability factor for the pastor in training.

Secondly it created mentor/mentee relationships between senior leaders and upcoming leaders. This fostered an environment of apprenticeship and training for future leaders. Another benefit was that if a volunteer saw a senior pastor training younger leaders, the church volunteer leader might start training others under him or her. In my clients I have seen that the mentorship model runs very strong and deep in the African-American church.

And thirdly, it was less likely that powers outside the church would make decisions about the leadership suitability of people immersed in the local church culture. In many denominations, including my own, the highest leadership positions are held by people who are mostly of one ethnic culture. African-American students whom I encouraged to connect with our denomination often told me that they preferred to be independent rather than to be accountable to people who might not understand the culture celebrated in their local church.

In hindsight, this third aspect is exceedingly important for judicatory leaders to grasp. And I’ll admit that I missed the mark. These churches need to develop their own culturally relevant systems and ministries. To draw them into a bigger denomination that is largely of a different culture may, in my view, undermine their uniqueness and cultural relevance.

But what about the argument that “They need to join us and influence our leadership culture?” I believe there is an answer for this. It’s a lesson to all judicatory leaders. We need to intentionally balance our leadership diversity by promoting and hiring at the highest levels of our denomination more diverse leaders. Just having a department or a director will not change the perception that a denomination is led by those of a specific culture. And, often leaders are elected because they have a family or professional history in a denomination. We must move away from these habits and affirmatively welcome, hire and promote the “other.” If not, we may unintentionally harden those invisible denominational boundaries that further divide the Christian landscape.

Read more at … https://www.biblicalleadership.com/blogs/what-my-black-students-told-me-about-their-preference-for-the-baptist-movement/?

Read more articles by Bob Whitesel published by Biblical Leadership at … https://www.biblicalleadership.com/contributors/bobwhitesel/media/

GROWING THE POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH & My latest article published by @BiblicalLeader Magazine: Vision Statements & How to Adjust Them to Grow a Post-pandemic Church (plus pics of 2021 Missional Coaches Reunion in Orlando).


Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: To grow the post-pandemic church you must adjust your Vision Statement, especially if you have …

  • aging buildings,
  • plateaued/declining attendance,
  • overbuilt sanctuaries &
  • underfunded staffs. 

In my newly publishing article in Biblical Leadership Magazine, I explain the importance of post-pandemic adjustments to your Vision Statements in an article called: “Vision Statements: How they are underused, overemphasized and mostly ineffective.”

Check it out.  Then, check out pictures below from our 2021 Missional Coaches Reunion in Orlando as well as pictures from my seminars from the Midwest to the South.

And don’f forget –

  • If you or someone you know wants to join 44 other grads who have shadowed me in my consulting work,
  • Only 5 shadow me each year,
  • But Missional Coaches applications are now OPEN (scholarships to the first 3 who request this)>

MISSIONAL COACHES APPLICATION > https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2022MissionalCoaches

Bob
BOB WHITESEL, DMIN, PHD
COACH, CONSULTANT, SPEAKER & AWARD-WINNING WRITER/SCHOLAR

CONTEXT & What these rappers taught me about church planting. A guest post by #theCharlieMitchell

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Someone you should follow on Instagram, who has amazing insights and a beautiful way of explaining them, is Charlie Mitchell, founder & lead pastor of Epiphany Church in Baltimore. You can find him on Instagram at: theCharlieMitchell. Below are important insights, stated exceptionally well, on the power of context in church planting and planning.

MISSIONAL COACHES & As part of the MissionalCoaches.network these 3 African-American church planters are shadowing me (pictured w/ client church pastor In the middle). It feels good to give back the tools I’ve discovered from 30+ years of coaching / consulting & 2 doctorates. www.Leadership.church

Learn about a opportunity to shadow me and learn my tools from two doctorates and 30+ years of consulting at … MissionalCoaches.network

GROWING THE POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH & Downloadable Notes For My Seminar.

Whether you are attending live, online or watching at a later date, this is my PowerPoint presentation with downloadable notes. For more info, read Growing the Post-pandemic Church available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Growing-Post-pandemic-Church-Leadership-church-Guides/dp

Download my notes .pdf at this link:

#COGO

GROWING THE POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH & The meaning of life, death and the afterlife will increasingly be on people’s minds and must be addressed in church teachings. #eReformation. #GrowingThePostPandemicChurchBook

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., excerpted from Growing the Post-Pandemic Church, 8/9/20.

Eschatology, the study of one’s final destiny, will be of increasing interest as the world grows smaller and waves of illnesses travel the globe at increasing speeds. 

The problem:

In recent years the church shifted away from eschatology, to topics of how to live a better life here and now. And while that may be important, it is eternal questions that will begin to dominate people’s interest as catastrophes circle the globe. 

The solution:  

Start preparing now: churches need to be prepared with orthodoxy and in clarity to address the issues of life, death and the afterlife.  

Remember …

Jesus told us, “Take a lesson from the fig tree. From the moment you notice its buds form, the merest hint of green, you know summer’s just around the corner. And so, it is with you. When you see all these things, you know he is at the door. Don’t take this lightly” (Mark 13:28-29, MSG).

Christ knew today’s catastrophes would happen. He is not surprised (John 16:30, Rev. 2:23). So, as knowledge of a fig tree tells an orchardist about the coming season, so too must Christian leaders discern the season we are in. It is time for church leaders to carefully adapt electronic tools, the way it once did the printing press, to better communicate the Good News.

Click to learn about the “9 other marks of the eReformation” in Growing the Post-Pandemic Church.

GUEST SERVICES & Your window to connect is 6 minutes according to this research.

I am writing a new ChurchLeadership.university course (hosted by uDemy) titled: “Church Guests 101.” It explains four (4) pivots churches must undertake to make guest services more effective. Check out those crucial pivots on ChurchLeadership.university.

Improving guest services begins my knowing your window to connect is very small. Here is a paragraph by Mark Collins, Certified Missional Coach, 10/1/19.

Mark Collins (right) at dinner with Bob Whitesel (left) and another Missional Coach in training (middle) Jeremy Schell.
We had an exciting day of discussing church growth and health with a client church.

Mark writes:

Your window to connect is 6 minutes. 

Research indicates that guests decide whether or not to come back within the first 6 minutes of arriving on campus (“Secrets of a Secret Shopper: Reaching and Keeping Church Guests” by Greg Atkinson).

This means that parking lot and pre-service experiences are crucial. 

Is the signage clear?

Do they feel safe leaving their kids?

Do your guest services volunteers seek to know the needs of the visitor?