In the Cities

Greetings from Kansas City, Missouri, USA.  I am attending a Regional Leadership Conference and have been invited to be a part of a panel focused on “Mission to the Cities.” It is such an honor to speak about this topic along with many urban mission leaders and General Superintendents as part of the panel.

Each one of us will be giving a short introduction to our ministry context, and I wanted to share with you what I will be saying at the opening of the panel:

Good morning! ¡Buenos días!

I’m a Nazarene missionary in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  My family and I have lived in five different countries in the last 15 years, and now we are coordinating an initiative called Genesis. Genesis seeks to bring a new beginning to the big cities of the Mesoamerica Region, which is ironic, because just 8 years ago, I hardly cared about urban mission.

We began our missionary career by living in Guatemala City, Guatemala and San José, Costa Rica: two huge cities with lots and lots of need.  And, of course, as a missionary, I was passionate about winning the world for Christ!  But during that time if you were to have asked me why cities are important to God, I would have stammered and faltered.  Aren’t all places important to God? What’s the big deal about cities?

It wasn’t until 2011 when my family and I moved to Panama City, Panama, that I started to get it.  You see, we went from living in a house to living on the 19th floor of a high-rise. The view was amazing.  Because of a healthy fear of heights, I did not go out on our balcony often, but one night I did.  I thought about all those lights representing one person, or even one family. And in that moment – I don’t know where it came from, but – for the first time I stretched out my arms and I whispered the prayer that now I have prayed a thousand times: Lord, give us the city!

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About that time, our region was researching where we, as a Nazarene Church, were strongest and where we were weakest, geographically-speaking. We found out that 79% of our region lives in an urban context, but only 29% of our Nazarenes are there! In other words, in the most populated places, we have the fewest Nazarenes. We realized that ministry in our region had to be ministry to the urban core.  We have spent the last eight years training urban missionaries and equipping our existing churches to creatively reach their cities.  Maybe later we will explore how urban ministry needs to look different compared to rural and suburban ministry.

Some of you are wondering: “But that’s your region.  What does that have to do with us?” Well, the statistics in the USA and Canada are a bit different.  This region is actually the most urban of any in the world.  Nearly 9 out of every 10 people in these two countries lives in a city of 100,000 or more!

As a Church of the Nazarene in the USA/Canada, we are not quite as rural and suburban as the Mesoamerica Region.  Still, did you know that Nazarene membership is .17% of the total population in our big cities?  In other words, not even 1 of every 500 urban dwellers in Canada and the USA is a Nazarene.

That may be more statistics than you were bargaining for.  So let’s simplify it.

We have a lot of work to do.

And that work must be in the cities.

As author and pastor in New York, Tim Keller, says, “We don’t need churches only in cities. We need them everywhere there are people.  Therefore, we need them especially in cities.”

Think on These Things

By Carla Sunberg

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9 (NRSV)

To quote John Maxwell, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” This is often the case, whether in the secular world or in the church. These words from the Apostle Paul are a reminder that those who are in leadership must be careful about their attitude. The way in which leaders look at the world will have an influence on those around them.

I have recently read the book, “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things are Better Than You Think” by Hans Rosling. In this book, and in his TED talk, he begins to challenge our negative notions. Why do I bring this up? Because I find that the church often becomes a breeding ground for negative thinking and conversation. If we were to believe all we hear about Christianity and the church, we might all be ready to throw in the towel and give up. Spending much time on social media or listening to the news, can skew our perspective on the world. We have become addicted to negative news, and it is creating a crisis of anxiety in our world. Paul was trying to give us a prescription for that fear.

Rosling tells us that we have allowed the negativity instinct to kick into high gear, meaning that we focus much more on the negative than we do on the positive. Our instinct is “to notice the bad more than the good.” He gives three reasons for this: 1) “misremembering of the past,” 2) “selective reporting by journalists and activists,” and 3) “the feeling that as long as things are bad, it’s heartless to say they are getting better.”

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Just imagine if we were to put the church into this paradigm. Often we reminisce about the past and the “good old days.” We wish we could go back to those days when the “church was full” and “everything ran so well.” Unfortunately, we fail to remember the struggles the church faced then and that things may not be worse than that now. At the same time, we have a media that is ready to pounce on every negative story about a church leader they can find. As both religious journals and the secular news openly dissect them, we hear the details of major failures. Rarely is there news about the good work the church is doing in a community. Our hearts are stirred with empathy for the bad news we receive on a regular basis, but eventually compassion fatigue begins to settle in, and we become exhausted responding to the latest disaster.

Let us listen again to the words of Paul. “Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” This is the antidote we all need because it will help us to reframe our lives from a positive perspective. According to Rosling, “The loss of hope is probably the most devastating consequence of the negativity instinct and the ignorance it causes.” Leading people to a place of hope is possible when we pull away from the negativity instinct.

Leaders must intentionally lead the way, helping the church community develop a more positive manner of looking at our world. God is still on the throne. Christ has not changed His mind about His bride, the Church! Remember, Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” The reality is that in many ways the world is getting better. There will still be bad news and difficult times, but overall there is improvement. I believe this is true in the life of the church as well. Is the church in some parts of the world aging? Yes! Is that creating an issue that makes it difficult to show that there is a net positive increase? Yes! However, that does not mean that the church is not reaching out and still leading thousands of people to Christ every year. Did you catch that? Somewhere around 120,000 people made a profession of faith last year through the work of the global Church of the Nazarene. Last year 501 new churches were organized, and over 100 of those were in the United States and Canada.

As I write this article, I am in Mozambique. Yesterday I sat with leaders in this country who are passionate about following Jesus. A few years ago, the district superintendents and other leaders got together to talk about what was happening in their country. They recognized a deep spiritual hunger among the people and an open door to the gospel. Realizing that they had been handed a significant opportunity, they knew they needed to act. The synergy of God and man, working together, resulted in a five-year strategic plan for the expansion of the work of the Kingdom in Mozambique. This included the addition of new districts and centers for discipleship and pastoral development. In the first three years, the church grew by 10 percent, and soon they will be meeting to assess the current effectiveness of the plan. They could have been overcome by poor conditions in parts of this country. They could have made excuses about the lack of funding and the challenging climate. Instead, they chose to focus on the positive and move in a direction where God was leading.

It is time to change our thinking and allow the Holy Spirit to transform our minds. Then we can lead the church in the direction where Christ is going. This will only happen when we intentionally practice truthfulness, focus on what is honorable, do what is just, have pure thoughts, engage in pleasing actions, practice excellence, and spend time praising and commending others. Let us think on these things.

Many Ways to Worship One God

By Saraí Ramos

A few weeks ago, God gave me the opportunity to travel to Hyderabad, India where I participated in Third Wave, a global gathering of emerging leaders within the Church of the Nazarene.  The main purpose of the event is to provide a space for youth to connect in a cross-cultural setting through fellowship, training, and group dynamics, in order to develop leaders who will make a global impact.

260 people from 61 countries came together January 8-13, 2019, and you can just imagine all the differences in language, forms of dress, food, and other craziness that we lived through there!

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In fact, one of the most memorable times of the event happened the first day when I was able to meet Olly and Clayton, two young men from Australia that love their Samoan culture and enjoy sharing it with anyone who will listen.  Throughout the week we were delighted to get to know them and admire their Hakas, typical Samoan dances, language, clothing, and many other things.

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Saraí with Olly and Clayton

But the thing that impacted me most was the passion on their faces when they danced during the talent show.  Clayton, Olly, and the Asia-Pacific Region made us all feel like we were part of a Samoan movie.  It was as if we were all in Disney’s Moana!  Can you imagine the excitement in the room when we were all experiencing that dance?!

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You know what? All of the time spent with them reminded me that there are innumerable ways to praise the Lord and share his love with others.  I believe every one of us should be like Olly and Clayton: proud of our Christian culture and passionately sharing the love and joy we have found in Jesus at every opportunity.

*Saraí Ramos is president of Nazarene Youth International in the Gulf District of Mexico.

The “Softer” Side of Leadership May Be Stronger Than You Think

By Dan Reiland

It’s true that no one wants to follow an insecure, indecisive, or ineffective leader.

Qualities like confident, decisive and courageous are essential and needed. Great leaders can handle the tough circumstances that come their way.

But tough-minded leaders must also be tender-hearted, or their leadership becomes cold and hard.

The strength and power of Jesus’ leadership was signified by things like a dove, a cross, and a towel. These are clearly symbols of qualities such as humility, sacrifice, love, and obedience to name just a few.

People flocked to Jesus not because of his power, but because of His compassion. He had power, but he never flaunted it.

People listened to Jesus’ teaching not because of his status but because of his wisdom. Yes, Jesus taught with authority, but it was authority under submission. Jesus only did the will of His Father.

This “softer” side of leadership demonstrates true Kingdom strength. This kind of strength is much more challenging to live out over the long run.

We are tempted to adopt “fast” power. It’s easier to declare, command and control, but that kind of strength doesn’t last. People resent it and will leave you at the first sign of difficulty or struggle in ministry.

Kingdom strength is the opposite of worldly strength. It is birthed in submission, thrives by obedience and is sustained through love.

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7 Kingdom demonstrations of authentic spiritual leadership strength:

(Which ones are you good at and which one do you need to work on?)

1) Grace

We are called to a ministry of reconciliation. Our focus is redemption. And we are responsible to not only communicate but also demonstrate grace. Our salvation is based on grace, and therefore our leadership must follow that example.

Grace doesn’t suggest sloppy execution, low standards or avoidance of tough decisions. It means that your heart leans toward mercy, forgiveness and second chances. The disposition of your heart guides your leadership. It takes much more strength to forgive than to condemn.

Grace doesn’t dismiss the law but mediates it to embrace our humanity. Grace does the same for our leadership.

2) Appreciation

Appreciation is oil to the friction of leadership. Leadership causes motion and motion causes friction. Without something to soften the friction in ministry, it can become too much for staff and volunteers to endure.

When leaders are under pressure, the expression of appreciation is one of the first things to go out the window. That’s a big mistake. Clear expectations are important, and genuine appreciation allows you to hold fast to those important expectations.

Appreciation lifts the spirits of the volunteers and staff that you lead!

3) Humility

Even though Jesus was in His very nature God, He did not insist on equality with God for His own advantage. In fact, he emptied himself to serve.

It’s easy for us to get messed up according to where we land on the organization chart. Even though we know that position has almost nothing to do with our real influence, we still care about titles.

Jesus traded his title for a towel and washed people’s feet. He was the King of Kings but lived as a servant to all.

Giving up our “rights” is core to leadership strength and Kingdom based power.

4) Encouragement

One of my favorite leadership traits or skills to teach is encouragement. Probably because it’s so misunderstood. It’s often seen as the “soft” side of leadership, and sometimes even considered a waste of time.

Encouraging leaders have a giving heart, and they are anything but weak. It takes a strong, secure, and mature leader to consistently give credit to others, build people up and inspire them to greater ministry.

Encouragement provides the emotional fuel that enables the people you lead to hold on longer, reach farther and dig deeper than they ever believed possible.

5) Love

In its purest form, the strength of love comes from selflessness. A loving leader is a selfless servant of the people.

It required incredible strength for Jesus to go to the cross and give his life for us. That strength originated in God’s love, and out of obedience, Jesus loved us beyond anything we could ever earn or deserve.

When I reflect on this kind of love, I’m challenged to examine the depth of love I have for those I serve and inspired to love even more deeply.

Love brings great strength, power, and effectiveness to your leadership.

6) Listening

The best leaders listen well. They don’t jump to conclusions, they ask good questions and communicate they care by seeking to understand.

Most of us would rather talk, direct and “make things happen.” But it takes patience and wisdom to know when and how to listen with genuine empathy. That requires the strength of personal discipline.

When people know you care, your influences rises.

Leaders who refuse to listen often get themselves in trouble. When leaders don’t listen, eventually people stop talking to you. The result is that you don’t know where they stand, and you can end up blindsided. The most common phrase I hear from a leader who doesn’t listen is, “I didn’t see that coming.”

7) Kindness

Kindness is a leadership quality that allows trust, connection, and genuine exchange to take place. There is real strength in kindness.•

  • Kindness brings peace and joy into pressure-filled situations.
  • Kindness wins the hearts of those who are far from God.
  • God delights in kindness.

. . . but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 9:24

You can see the balance. Justice, righteousness, and kindness.

It’s not complicated to be kind, but it can be difficult to practice on a consistent basis at the pace that most leaders run.

Kingdom strength for spiritual leadership doesn’t always look like strength as the world sees it. Learning to blend the two takes intentional effort and practice.

Keeping Your Church Young

By Dan Reiland

Churches age and churches die. But intentional leadership can make that divine journey significantly longer and much more spiritually productive. There are several things you can do to help keep your church young, alive and vibrant even though the chronological aging process continues.

This post isn’t about an ecclesiastical fountain of youth. However, I believe “aging” can pivot to “maturing” by making a few key decisions and commitments towards keeping your church young.

1) Choose young leaders.

Mature staff are extremely valuable on your team. Their experience is needed for successful ministry. However, the absence of young leaders, lots of young leaders, is a decision to allow your church to age unnecessarily.

Some churches don’t like to use young leaders. It’s messy. Young leaders lack experience, I know. But young leaders will keep things alive and fun. Young leaders are also full of energy and great ideas; they help you stay relevant with current culture and vision for the future.

Leadership development for your leaders, and especially for your young leaders is essential. 

2) Place a premium on children’s ministry.

When I say premium, I mean choose great leaders, invest significant time and energy, and be as generous as possible with the budget. Without this you are absolutely capping your ability to reach your community.

Please don’t confuse relevant ministry to children with childcare. They aren’t the same. In order to reach kids you need to keep up with the world they live in. That world is fast-paced and built around technology. When you add to that mix loving adult leaders who truly care about children, you create a winning program that the kids will love.

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3) Design your Sunday morning service with a relevant feel.

What is and isn’t young and relevant is subjective. But the big issues are clear. First, choose your music wisely. If you are still singing and playing the stuff we did in the 90’s, it’s time to freshen up what you do.

Second, involve young leaders on the platform. The young musicians and singers will lead you to younger music and a younger vibe overall.  Again, this attracts young people to your church!  If you are thinking, “What about the older people, don’t they matter?” Of course they do. I am one, and I can still make a difference. But we should be more mature. We know that this is not about us, the mission is to reach the lost, and if you reach the next gen, other generations will follow.

Last, make sure all the components of the service reflect a young culture. As you think about humor, video, illustrations, art and especially technology, think young.

Again, if you focus on a younger crowd, the older generations with join in. If you lean toward older, the young will leave.

4) Invest in the next generation.

Raise up and train young leaders, invest in student ministries, and champion the call to vocational ministry among your young adults. Communicate that you believe in the next generation! They are the future!

The vision of the church must capture the young people, and at the same time be compelling enough that older generations get excited about the vision in such a way that they will invest both time and resources. Let’s face it, middle-aged and older generations have no trouble loving and believing in kids; just watch a grandparent with their grandchildren!

This article was originally published at: DanReiland.com

Urban Evangelization – Part 2 of 2

*This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

We must be a continual presence in our city.

Jeremiah continues his prophecy and tells the Israelites to involve their children in marriage ceremonies and to increase in number. We are talking about generational impact in the city – our evangelism must produce transformation and change that will be seen for generations in the city.

In order to impact generations through our evangelistic methods, we must embrace a posture of challenging the broken social systems of our day. We must begin to know the young people that are being courted by the gangs in our neighborhoods, the children that are being forced into human trafficking, the broken families that seek healing in alcohol and drugs.We have to get our hands dirty. Urban evangelism is not easy – it’s heartbreaking. When we begin to see the people that NEED the good news of Jesus, we begin to respond to those environments differently.

Recently I spoke with some urban church planters that are in an area that is filled with apartment buildings. They told me about the building that they felt the most comfortable in – the building where the neighborhood gang is in charge of who’s coming in and out!  At first, they were nervous every time they thought about going into that building.  But because they are now known by the neighbors as “good people who are serving God”, the gang extends their “protection” over them. I smile to think about the day when we hear that the gang members have given their lives over to Christ, and they start to see generational and societal changes in their lives. 

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We must pray for our city.

Perhaps the most blatant instruction we can take from Jeremiah is: seek the peace of the city and pray for her prosperity

Praying for the city is one of the most important parts of urban evangelism. The spiritual forces at work in the city are battling every day, and we engage in spiritual warfare when we step into its realms. We must pray and truly long for the SHALOM, the holistic well-being, of our city. And to pray effectively, we must deeply know our city. We need to know her rhythms, her hurts, and her people.

God is already at work in the city, and prayer is our connection to Him and His work.  When we engage in the prayer of peace for the city, God begins to guide our path to the daily encounters that He wants us to have, and He replaces fear with love. Then and there, in the supposedly mundane and secular, God uses us to evangelize: to bring His good news to the people of our city.

Evangelism in the city is not about the latest and greatest technique (we wish it were that easy!). Urban evangelism is based on creating strategic and intentional relationships. And quite simply, that takes time. If you are called to urban evangelism, you are called to a long-term vision. Consider moving into a neighborhood where you see God already at work. Spend time with people in their places of work and times of entertainment. Get to know the people that are involved in systemic sin and befriend them. Above all, pray for peace in your city. Trust that your city is on God’s heart and that He desires to use your daily testimony and interactions to bring peace to your city.

Urban Evangelization – Part 1 of 2

By Scott and Emily Armstrong

The city has it all, doesn’t it? Schools and universities, hospitals and doctor’s offices, theatres and shopping malls – the list goes on and on! With more employment opportunities and access to health care and education, it’s obvious why people want to live in the city. Global statistics tell us that the Mesoamerica Region is already URBAN.  Over 80% of our people live in a heavily-populated city, and many of these people are unchurched.

You might be thinking that city evangelization is no different than in the suburbs or rural areas, but you’d be wrong. How do we make Christlike disciples of people that live a fast-paced life and don’t have time for Jesus? How do we create relationship and gain the trust of someone that works 7 days a week? What does hope look like in the midst of substance abuse, gangs and poverty?

First things first: God has a plan for the city.  You have to believe that truth if you ever want to be a successful urban evangelist. Oftentimes when we think about the city, we think about the problems found there – everything from traffic jams to air pollution to stressful schedules to gangs.  However, we must begin seeing the city as God sees it: a place of influence where righteousness and peace can be obtained.  Imagine with me for a minute the vision revealed to us in Revelation 7:9-10,

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”

That’s the CITY of ZION that we are reading about!  God’s infinite story goes on forever IN A CITY.  We will gather together with every nation, tribe, and language and praise God forever! Isn’t it interesting how our cities are already becoming the home to so many cultures at the same time?  Could we even imagine that maybe, just maybe, God is already giving us an opportunity to experience a glimpse of heaven on earth right in the heart of our cities?

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Jeremiah 29:4-7 is another passage that speaks to us about God and His desire to use His people to impact the city:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’”

This passage offers us three principles we must keep in mind when we evangelize the city:

We must live in our city to love our city.

We must be a continual presence in our city.

We must pray for our city.

We must live in our city to love our city.

Jeremiah bluntly tells the exiles of Jerusalem (city dwellers by the way!) to “build houses and settle down…”  He didn’t say to enjoy a short respite there or to view it as a temporary tourist destination. He told them to settle down there. 

I recently sat in a workshop listening to urban church planters tell of their experiences and one of them said, “If you are commuting to the city, it means you work there, not that you care for the neighborhood.”  What he was saying was that the city is a hurry up, come-and-go environment for so many people that are only there for 10 hours during a workday. But the people that LIVE in the city? They are always there!  The decisions that are made in local government affect their personal lives, the school systems mold their children, and the lack of public transportation there affects their employment capabilities.

How are you going to care about all of the dynamics of the city if you don’t live there? Often times we see evangelism as a task to accomplish, but this model will not work in the city.  If you are only coming into the city to evangelize every once in a while, the neighbors will begin to see your evangelism as WORK and not as love.  And every neighborhood is different: a single city can be home to hundreds of different communities that all have their own culture and opportunities.  Thus, it’s so important to live where you are evangelizing, because it’s the normal everyday interactions that speak loudest.

Because life moves at such a fast pace, our relationships in the city are typically built around economic activities.  We purchase our groceries every few days, and we go to the same supermarket and get to know the local employees. We go to a sporting event and meet fellow fans that hold similar interests.  We enjoy the community of a local mall and come into contact with others that are enjoying free entertainment as well.  Our interactions with people are numerous every day, but turning it into an intentional meeting is key to evangelism in the city.  One contact – or even a dozen contacts – does not necessarily make a lasting relationship.  We must live in the city, allowing us to live life with our neighbors as well, which then opens up the door to deeper spiritual conversations and continual evangelism through our daily testimony.

*This article will continue in the next post.