More Peaches, Better Peaches

By David Busic

A few months ago, I spent the afternoon with Junior and Jaci Rodrigues. They are Nazarene church planters who have helped to birth five congregations. Although they are both from Brazil, they have planted and are pastoring a church in Argentina. The city where their church is located is hard soil. It is the academic capital of the country and home to many universities. Being very secular and post-modern, the city is more aligned with North America and Western Europe than many other places in South America. A high percentage of the population are atheists and agnostics. They are the only evangelical church in their entire urban neighborhood.

The church building is in a semi-commercial neighborhood with many apartments and small houses close by. They were able to purchase it for a good price because for many years it was an illegal abortion clinic. The proprietor of the clinic died in the clinic and was not found for several months. Thus, many in the neighborhood believe the building is cursed. The church meets on the first floor and the Rodrigues’ live on the second floor with their two children. The congregation is growing and is having a Kingdom impact among their neighbors.

The back area of their small building opens up into a little courtyard. There is a peach tree there that had never produced fruit before. However, shortly after they moved in, the peach tree suddenly began producing peaches. Lots and lots of peaches! So many, in fact, that they could hardly keep them off the ground, and a number of peaches began to fall into their neighbor’s back yard area. One day their neighbor came by to pay them a visit. Jaci invited her in and said “I’m sure you’re here because of the peaches falling into your yard. We are so very sorry. We will be happy to come and clean them up for you.”

73cf57e0-ebf7-4c5e-b3d8-bfed915bda4f.jpg

The neighbor woman replied: “I am here about the peaches, but not because I am upset. I am curious and have a question. For the last 20 years, I have lived next door. This house has been an abortion clinic and that peach tree has been dead. It has produced no fruit — not a single peach. But when you moved in with your church it suddenly came alive and became fruitful. I want to know what happened? Did you put a spell on that tree?”

Jaci was surprised but prepared. “No,” she said, “There is no spell. All I can tell you is that this was a dark place of death, but now it is a shining place of light and life. I guess that is why God is blessing our peach tree!”

Their neighbor was intrigued and began to attend their church. Today she is a new Christian and growing in her faith.       

This amazing story reminds me of what Jesus said to His disciples about missional fruitfulness: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing . . . [but] if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:5, 7 NIV).

Pastor Junior and Jaci Rodrigues are remaining in, relying on, and abiding with Jesus. Christ in them is bringing light and life to dark places. It was my privilege to ordain them as elders in the Church of the Nazarene.

In the inaugural chapel sermon for Nazarene Theological Seminary, General Superintendent J. B. Chapman challenged the faculty and students with a clear mission: “More preachers — better preachers.” I have always liked that phrase. I would like to suggest a small twist to the phrase and turn it into a prayer. What if all of our missional outposts, every local church, had a similar refrain: “More peaches — better peaches.”

More fruit — better fruit. May it be so for all of us.

Advertisements

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.

zheng-hong-chua-731780-unsplash.jpg

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.

Great Leaders Think Small

By Gustavo Crocker

In a well-known story, D. L. Moody was asked how the night’s evangelistic meeting had gone. His celebrated response was, “We had two and a half conversions.” His interviewer responded, “You mean two adults and one child?” “No,” Moody replied, “two children and one adult. The adult only has half his life left to follow Christ. The children have their entire lives to do so.”

This exchange reminds me of the inclination to think about children as “not-yet participants in the kingdom of God.” This cannot be further from the truth! Great leaders think of children as essential players in God’s kingdom and God’s plan of reconciliation. They see them as central to their mission.

Jesus used children to illustrate some of the greatest truths about the kingdom of God. Jesus reminded the disciples that not only are children a model of faith to enter the Kingdom, but we are required to examine ourselves on how we welcome children in our midst.

What does it mean to put children in the middle?

2e2cfaee-11cf-4256-9a6d-6e4d74380933.jpg

Matthew records the disciples discussing greatness in the kingdom of heaven. Before Jesus responded, He painted a vivid metaphor in leadership: He placed a child in their midst. Putting children in the middle means that we cannot think of children as peripheral. True leadership conversation must start with the perspective that children matter and are at the core of God’s plan of redemption.

Children are a model of faith. Jesus’ bold response to the disciples highlights the damaging power of “growing up” (Matthew 18). “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Child-like faith is absolutely necessary to enjoy the fullness of the riches of His kingdom. A child’s faith is unspoiled, genuine, and unbiased. As children grow older, their faith, already tainted by the Adamic propensity to sin, becomes spoiled by the agnostic, materialistic, self-centered societies that shape and train them. As our faith becomes sophisticated, we begin to question even the most evident truths. To enjoy the rich, unadulterated blessing of God’s kingdom, we must become like children.

Children are the most ripe and ready mission field. Around the world, in any country or culture, more than three-fourths (75 percent) of adults now filling our churches received Christ between the ages of 4 and 18. Missiologists have defined this group age as the 4/14 window, the world’s most ripe yet unreached people group.

Unfortunately, we think of them as “ways to attract their parents,” “a drain on our budgets and programs,” “a distraction to our solemn services,” or even as “non-productive entities who do not vote and who do not give.” The disciples were in the same boat. Matthew 19 narrates another event with Jesus and children. As people brought their children to Jesus for Him to pray and bless them, the disciples rebuked the parents. Jesus’ response was emphatic: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Do not hinder children. You were one of them.

Throughout church history, theologians and practitioners have discussed the “reliability of the faith of a child.” Well-intentioned leaders, infected by the “grown-up bug,” question the validity of a child’s conversion. To them, D. L. Moody responded: “It is a masterpiece of the devil to make us believe that children cannot understand religion. Would Christ have made a child the standard of faith if He had known that it was not capable of understanding His words?”

Children are the most prolific mission field. Harvest it!

Children can be agents of God’s mission. We cannot stop at ministering to children and youth only. Great leaders invest in children and youth as agents of the transforming mission of God. Children and youth are capable of sharing the love of Christ to their relatives, friends, and social networks and leading others to join them in their faith.

The Scripture is full of stories of children and youth used by God to accomplish His mission:

…a trafficked child, Joseph, brought hope to his people…

…a shepherd boy, David, defeated a giant and became king of Israel …

…a young minister, Samuel, led God’s people while serving in times of dryness and desperation…

…an anonymous, well-prepared boy provided resources for Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand…

…and Jesus Himself, while still a young boy, declared His commitment to the Father’s business…

It was said by the prophet Isaiah: “…and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).

Great leaders express their greatness by thinking small. We must focus on the child in our midst.

The Reformation(s) of the Church

*During the month of October we will be focusing on the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

By Charles W. Christian

Looking back on the Protestant Reformation reminds us of God’s continual desire to be in right relationship with His Church. 

church_small.jpeg

Reformation before Luther

Though the catalyst to the series of events known today as the Protestant Reformation was sparked in 1517 by Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses to the church doors at Wittenburg, the Church had long before been engaged in the process of reformation. In fact, one could argue that ever since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, God has been reforming. The Church continues its process of reformation today.

The coming of Jesus and the new Kingdom He embodied was a clarification of the reform that God had been attempting throughout the Old Testament. Even after the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples felt the need for ongoing reform. The experience of Pentecost in Acts 2 assisted the Church in carrying out the admonition of Jesus (Matthew 28) to “go into all the world,” because the Kingdom of God defies societal limitations and borders.

The work of God among the Gentiles through the ministries of Peter and Paul added another dimension of reform, culminating in key agreements among early church leaders in Acts 15. Through the words of Paul and other writers, the rest of the New Testament demonstrates a variety of “mini-reforms” needed among a growing and changing constituency. God lovingly and consistently reforms the Church.

The “next generation” believers, commonly referred to as the Church Fathers and Mothers, experienced a myriad of reformation opportunities, the best known of which were the Ecumenical Councils and the formulation of creeds in the first eight centuries of the Church’s history. These steps toward reformation led to unity among several groups, but also resulted in schisms. Most notably, the Eastern and Western branches of the Church (the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic groups, respectively) experienced an official schism in 1054 A.D.

On Luther’s Doorstep and Beyond

Around the time of Martin Luther, the stage had been set for a particularly earth-shaking renewal. A century before Luther, for example, a Czech priest and professor named Jan Hus (1369-1415) had been put to death for writings and protests regarding the actions of key church leaders. In fact, after Luther posted his 95 theses, many began referring to Luther as a “modern Huss-ite.” Many factors surrounding Luther’s contribution to reformation in the early sixteenth century, such as his education, the invention of Gutenburg’s printing press, and Luther’s powerful friends, allowed Luther’s message to transcend the confines of his village and of Germany and become a key catalyst of reforms already taking place throughout the world. From there came other movements: Calvinists, Arminians, Anabaptists, Quakers, Puritans, and Wesleyans, just to name a few.

This article was originally posted at: Holiness Today

 

Heart of God: Parable of the Mustard Seed

By Howard Culbertson

Though [a mustard seed] is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” — Matthew 13:32

Matthew 13 contains over half a dozen of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom.  Jesus opens with the parable of the sower.  Then, He talks about an infestation of weeds, a mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a valuable pearl, a fishing net and a homeowner.

To explain the mustard seed parable, Pastor Leo Hartshorn uses only eight words: “A handful of disciples become a worldwide church.”  That the Kingdom of God is going to be large is without question a central point of the mustard seed analogy. There is, however, one detail in it which gets little attention: the birds.

The transformation of a mustard seed into a giant bush emphasizes the Kingdom’s organic, continually expanding aspect. What those birds emphasize is that the Kingdom is open to all. Unfortunately, if people think about the birds at all, they see them as “window dressing” or as simply an indication of how big the bush is.

Sadly, that misses the point of the birds. Here, as in a similar scenario in Ezekiel 17, birds represent various people groups. Jesus mentioned birds to say that the Kingdom is not just for “my kind” of people (those who think, act and speak just like me).  The Kingdom is for all kinds of birds!

Bird watchers say that the land of Israel is a paradise for them.  Indeed, it is. In that fairly small area — 70 miles wide and 270 miles long — more than 400 species of birds have been sighted.  That is because the area where Jesus lived and ministered is a main bird migration route to and from Europe and Asia to the north and Africa to the south.

Imagen relacionada

In light of that, the “birds of the air” (in King James and English Standard version wording) surely means more than a few sparrows or starlings. Palestine had 70 indigenous bird species.  With those different kinds of birds around, plus all the migratory fowl passing through, wasn’t Jesus likely trying to get us to think about how inclusive the Kingdom of God is?

Furthermore, the birds illustrate that the Kingdom is beckoning to all peoples.  Where the King James version speaks of “perching,” translations like the New Living and New American Standard use “nesting.”  The Kingdom thus is to become a “home.” “Nesting” means that the Kingdom we proclaim is something that is inviting and attractive.

The inclusiveness portrayed in the mustard seed parable evokes for me words I have sung often: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.  Red and yellow, black and white . . .”

The wonderful thing for us is that we get to point all the different “birds” (peoples of the world) toward that extraordinary tree called the Kingdom of God!