Tag Archives: clergy

Carolyn Moore ~ Spirit-Filled Ministry: “I Forgot How Big”

Do you mind if we drive around a bit in the Word? I’d like to show you some points of interest that changed the way I understand Spirit-filled ministry. If you need to set your GPS, we’re going to start in 2 Timothy, where we’ll pick up a three-letter key. Then we’ll stop in Luke 9 for a map and we’ll stop for gas in Matthew 8.

That’s where someone is going to ask us: “Have you forgotten how big?”(Remember that question.) And so you won’t have to ask, “Are we there yet?” we’ll be ready to come home to the Holy Spirit when we hear Jesus telling his disciples to stay right where they are until they receive power from on high.

In 2 Timothy 4:5 (NIV), I find a three-letter word that seems remarkably poignant for ministry. In this passage, of course, Paul is talking to his friend, Timothy, who he’s mentoring in the ministry and he says this: “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

Until recently, the word I’ve always latched onto in that passage is the word, “evangelist.” My first semester at Asbury, a wonderful evangelist from Australia (Alan Walker) came to speak in chapel. And I went home that night and told my husband, “I want to be an evangelist.” Of course, I had no clue what I was saying. At the time, I thought evangelism was preaching a good message and giving an effective altar call. Or possibly memorizing the four spiritual laws or the Roman Road or working the Evangicube. Or putting tracts in a public bathroom or adding a line to the end of every email that says, “If you love Jesus, forward this to ten friends.”

(I knew a guy who was a genius at asking the ultimate evangelism question – you know the one – “If you die tonight, do you know where you’ll go?” He worked out at the Y every morning, and he said he’d usually wait until he was in the sauna alone with someone – nothing but towels on – and that’s when he’d pop the question.)

I thought that was evangelism and while that may be part of it (though probably not the more effective part), Paul challenges me to think deeper. Here in his letter to Timothy, Paul challenges Timothy to discharge ALL the duties of his ministry. That’s the word that jumped out at me: all. What a loaded three-letter word! It feels like that line at the end of a job description— the one that says, “other duties as assigned.” You don’t find out until you take the job that the “other duties as assigned” take about 40 hours of your work week.

What Paul is trying to tell his first-century audience and also me is that evangelism is a package deal. It is preaching and acts of mercy. Word and works. To do the work of an evangelist, we have to discharge all the duties of ministry. Thomas Fuller, a Puritan, once said that the words of the wise are like nails fastened by masters, but our examples are like the hammers that drive them in. Word and works. In other words, what good is a bucketful of nails if you’ve got no hammer?

I think I found those “other duties as assigned” in the first couple of verses of Luke, chapter 9. This is where Jesus sends out the twelve to do evangelism, and here’s how he defines that little word. Luke 9:1-2 says, When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

So when Jesus gave normal people the power and authority to do evangelism, here’s how he defined that little word “all.” He sent them to drive out demons, cure diseases, preach the Kingdom of God, and heal the sick. Because this is how Jesus believed the Kingdom of God could best be explained. Word and works. Just like Jesus did it; that’s the job description.

To flesh that out, go back to Matthew, chapter 8. This is an amazing chapter, actually — a fireworks display of healing. Right off the bat, Jesus heals a man with leprosy, and by touching him, he heals him all the way through. Then he meets up with a centurion who came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith…Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour. (Matthew 8:5-10, 13)

Now, contrast this guy’s faith with something that happens just a few paragraphs down in the same chapter of Matthew. They’ve been healing people and casting out demons and now Jesus has crawled in a boat just to get away from the crowd for a bit. To take a nap. The followers and Jesus are all there in a boat crossing a lake when a furious storm crops up and scares the heck out of his disciples. Jesus is sleeping, of course, so they wake him and that’s when he says, “Oh, you of little faith, why are you so afraid?”

Picture this: On one hand we’ve got a handful of guys who make their living evangelizing and they are scared to death and faithless. On the other hand, we’ve got your average Joe Centurion who actually knows nothing for sure, except his need. And the power of God.

I understand these people better than I want to admit. I know what it means to become so focused on the work and the politics and the systems and the next big book that’s going to tell us how to really do it right, that I can forget what Jesus is capable of and why he’s filled me with the Holy Spirit and what he’s called me to do. Somehow (I’m sure this is not the correct theological language), it seems like the Spirit leaks out. Or maybe I push him out. I know it has happened when I find myself telling God how big my storm is, rather than telling my storm how big my God is.

Does this sound familiar?

My daughter says I can trace every sermon point back to a scene from Joe Vs. the Volcano. I don’t know if that’s true, but there is this scene in Joe vs. the Volcano. It comes after they’ve survived a typhoon and a shipwreck and they are stranded on a raft in the middle of the Pacific. They’ve been through so much, and now Joe is as close to death as it gets. And that’s when he remembers. He is on his raft facing the moon as it rises over the horizon of the water. It is huge and just there before him, almost as if it could be touched. Joe is delirious, and for him this moon is something supernatural — perhaps even God himself. As the moon rises, Joe sinks slowly to his knees, places both arms in the air and says, “Thank you. Thank you for my life. I forgot …how …BIG …”

How easy it is, in the midst of ministry, to forget how big. All the hoops we jump through and all the personalities we juggle can sap the joy right out. Before we know it, we’ve forgotten just what it is we signed on for, and just how big our God is. Have you forgotten how big? I wonder how it might change the spiritual atmosphere if we could all just put our hands in the air and confess together, “God, I forgot how big!”

My experience after fifteen years of ministry and the start of two congregations is that the only thing standing between me and complete burn-out is not success, but the power of God. It is the power of God that saves me from myself. And make no mistake about it: until we get the bigness of God, we won’t be qualified to discharge the “other duties as assigned.” All the duties of ministry. To cast out demons, cure diseases, proclaim the Kingdom, heal the sick. Because that’s what they are hungry for, these people who come limping into our faith communities. And clearly, this is the work of ministry Jesus expected of his followers.

But here’s the shame of it. The very things Jesus sent his followers out to do are the very things we’ve lost faith in. In fact, our culture has come to accept an hour in church and a blessing before meals as the center of the Christian experience, while driving out demons and curing diseases…well, that’s just weird. But folks, when I read in my Bible what Jesus did and then read what he teaches followers to do, this is what I hear: that followers have power and authority to drive out demons, cure diseases, proclaim the coming Kingdom and heal things that destroy people’s lives. This is the center of the Gospel, and the power of it!

I once visited with a pastor who serves a downtown church. We talked about a mission center he was asking his church to develop for their community and he said, “Some of our people don’t get what we’re doing. And I tell them, ‘If you knew Jesus better, you’d get it.’” He went on. “I’m trying to get my people to meet Jesus, so theyll get it.” Because when we get Jesus, we get what it means to follow him. And as we follow, we find ourselves more and more in the company of the broken-hearted, the blind, the poor, the prisoners — even those oppressed by demonic forces. People who are hungry for healing, and who need spiritual leaders who have a heart for healing — not because were that big-hearted, but because God is that big.

This is where most of us need to glance at our spiritual GPS. We understand the destination, but how do we get there from here? Jesus maps it out plainly to his followers in the last chapter of Luke, even using Paul’s powerful three-letter word. There he is, standing with his friends after the resurrection and he says, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’” And then Jesus says – listen to this: “You are witnesses of all these things. And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But (and this is the punchline) stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.” (Luke 24:46-49, NLT)

Here’s the secret: don’t leave here until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven. This seems too simplistic to be enough, but it is a critical piece. The fact is, Jesus’ Church has met its quota of pastors who can get the bulletin printed, follow an order of worship and preach three points and a poem. But the Kingdom Church is starving — and “the fields are white” — for Spirit-filled followers who are willing to do all the work of an evangelist.

Whether you are worn out or burned out, you owe it to yourself and your sense of call to find a place of prayer, then shake the gates of heaven asking for the Holy Spirit to come and fill you, or fill you again.

Don’t leave that place until your heart aches again for those who are hungry for healing and waiting for someone to come, who brings with them Holy-Spirit power to cast out demons, cure diseases, proclaim the Kingdom and heal the sick. Don’t let go of the hem of Jesus’ garment you until you’ve received that. After all, what good is a bucketful of nails if you’ve got no hammer?

For more reflection from Dr. Moore, check out her Art of Holiness podcast here. This piece from the archives originally appeared on Wesleyan Accent in 2014.

Featured image courtesy Joshua Earle on Unsplash.

“Overwhelmed”: How Our Pastors Are Coping with Pandemic

Recently I asked clergymembers from several Wesleyan Methodist denominations in the United States about what it’s been like coping with a pandemic. Ministers in other parts of the world have experienced these dynamics before, and pastors a hundred years ago went through this in America. For many church leaders in the U.S., these have been uncharted waters, new territory. A number of pastors answered my questions, and their time is an especially valuable gift right now. I watched as more than normal intended to reply but could not, pummeled by to-do lists and coping with news cycles demanding last-minute updates from clergy, denominational leaders, and churches. One pastor unable to participate was busy responding to a crisis outbreak in their rural community – a town with one of the highest per capita case loads in the country.

Church leaders are finding unexpected support, bright spots, or new skills; many pastors miss seeing their church members face to face; and many are grappling with uncertainty, overwhelming demands, or the need to quickly implement new platforms and tools.

In addition to basic questions on how church leaders are coping, I also asked some pastors, “If you could travel back to December and leave a Post-It note for past-you, what would you say to prepare yourself or your people for the current situation? One pastor reflected, “The Church is not the building. We all know that, but we are about to live it.

We are grateful for the glimpses into leadership life right now.

Elizabeth Glass Turner, Managing Editor

Coping: “How are you?

  • I am anxious about what the church may look like in the next few months. People need community, and online platforms – as helpful as they may be to keep us connected – can’t take the place of mutually sharing and experiencing physical presence. I am constantly preoccupied and thinking about what we need to do. This often leads me to feel overwhelmed and inadequate, as I try to anticipate what we need to be doing next.”
  • “I’m learning it’s best not to ask on Wednesdays. I’m not sure why this is the day I feel least on top of ministry, and the most fragile.”
  • I miss my people. I love being a pastor; pastoral care may be my favorite part of ministry, so I am really missing that connection. But personally, I have enjoyed being able to spend more time with my family. It has been nice to just have lazy time with them. Going into the living room and joking with my kids during breaks. Time from all the pressure of activities at night. That has been life-giving for me.”

Discerning: “What’s been an unexpected source of guidance?

  • Learning from what others are doing and reaching out to friends to ask their views about concerns and ideas I have. Reading articles about our current challenges and how we can use this time as an opportunity to create a new future dimension of ministry.”
  • “The World Vision pastors group, “We the Church.” The Barna Group’s Covid tool kit.”
  • Unexpected friendship. There are pastors in our conference who I admire, but I’ve never really had much of a relationship with them. It’s been a joy to get to know them better and turn to them for advice in difficult situations.”

Equipping: “What resource do you wish you’d had?

  • A break. More clear guidelines or suggestions for funerals at this time. ‘How to transition appointments during pandemic’?”
  • “I wish I had better tech skills. I’m pretty good, but there are so many things that I don’t know and haven’t had the time or patience to learn.”
  • “Instead of ‘playing catch-up,’ I wish we would’ve had a well-organized and implemented digital ministry in place. I wish we had these online tools we are using now already at work. Now, in addition to created online content, we also need to train our leaders and laypeople on how to access them.”

Enduring: “What’s been a source of sanity for you?

  • Good friends and family. I’ve got a text thread with a couple of pastors; we turn to each other for advice. That’s been a real blessing and source of hope.”
  • “This will be one of the most cherished times for my children. As much as they miss school and friends, they loved being at home and spending quality time with mom and dad. We started new activities together like biking and going for walks almost daily, and that has transformed how we relate to each other. We are no longer ‘on schedule’ but have liberty and flexibility on how we use our time together. This has been a blessing to us as a family, one that has provided me with healthy feelings and thoughts.”
  • Solidarity – knowing so many others are going through the same ministry challenges.”

Expressing: “What do you wish your denomination or church members understood better?

  • “Just the emotional energy pastoring takes right now. I’m not sure what leaving well looks like.”
  • “I don’t think I can speak to what anyone is doing, or could have done better. Everyone is trying their best to figure out ministry in this challenging season. I am grateful for the hard work my colleagues and others are doing to provide us with resources.”

Grieving: “If you could have or do one thing right now, what would it be?

  • Have a gathering of my graduating seniors; have regular youth gathered for fellowship.”
  • “Between Zoom meetings, homeschooling, creating online content, writing Bible studies and sermons, I wish I could see everyone every day to talk about how they are really doing and to encourage them. It is hard to feel so powerless to support my congregation in their struggles. We have an active pastoral care ministry. I just wish I could visit with every one of them.”

Praying: “How can we pray for you?

  • “I ask for prayers of encouragement, strength, and good health. But most importantly, I ask for those same prayers for my congregation.
  • That I would clearly hear the Holy Spirit’s guidance for ministry and family. I don’t know the best way to navigate these uncharted waters, but I know the One who does.”

Hindsight: “If you could travel back to December and leave a Post-It note for past-you, what would you say to prepare yourself or your people for the current situation?

  • “I would make sure that I prepared my teams to view online resources as essential and not secondary. We had just completed a shift in our online giving platform and moved to PushPay. Had it not been for this move, we would be seeing a significant financial challenge. As for other platforms, I would have prepared our leaders to see digital platforms as an essential (not supplemental) resource for ministry, as there are already many people waiting to be reached via these platforms. We are reaching nearly twice as many people weekly through our worship services and 8 times (you read that right) as many people through our discipleship classes. I would have done crisis management training for all of my leaders.
  • “I think I would say, ‘Pace yourself‘ and ‘Go see your mom and dad in early February.‘”
  • “Ok girl, big changes are coming. No weddings, no dining out, and no church in person. So here’s what you need to do: Don’t cancel your hair appointment for the last week in February. You are going to miss a lot of things. But you are going to gain a lot of perspective on what’s most important: family, friends, the warmth of an embrace. The Church is not the building. We all know that, but we are about to live it. And embrace the deep connection that stands even when we are socially distanced. Sharpen your media and tech skills. You are about to become a videographer, editor, sound technician, and production guru. Get ready for all the kids to crash into your nest. Try not to get too bent out of shape about any of this. Enjoy it if you can. It’s a strange season we are passing through.”
  • “Good computer and editing skills, basic internet skills, Zoom and Conference Call 101 lessons for my members and myself!
  • “Let’s prioritize our media ministry and start livestreaming our worship celebrations. Part of who we are in the community means having online presence. We can do so much ministry online through these digital platforms. True story: Prior to March 22, we had little to no online presence. We went from in-person worship on March 15th to Facebook Live from my living room on March 22nd!”
  • “Expect the unexpected. You can build community online – software that allows response is better than software that doesn’t (so, as beautiful as watching the service at the National Cathedral is, I probably get more out of wonky Zoom with my 20 congregants). Christians have been here before and the church survived. Your theology meets reality when you have to decide whether you are afraid of dying.”

As the well-documented extended-crisis adrenaline slump continues to hit caring and serving professions – from ER physicians to nursing home aides to church leaders – there are sure to be resources emerging for coping with the fallout of crisis. Pastors drained from an extraordinary season of unexpected challenges still face uncertainty, changes, conflicting perspectives, and health ramifications, while shepherding church leaders and members through those same dynamics.

If it has been difficult coping with the sudden changes and demands of ministry in pandemic, here are additional resources on possible signs of exhaustion or burnout and resources for leader self-care in the face of extended crisis:

The National Center for PTSD Clergy Self-Care page on “potential emotional reactions to working with trauma survivors”

Toll-Free Clergy Care for Pastors & Families in The Wesleyan Church: 1.877.REV.CARE

Clergy Care Wellness Resources in the face of Covid-19 (especially for United Methodist clergy)

The Lilly Endowment National Clergy Renewal Program Grants

Emerging Insights on Sabbaticals

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ A Prayer for Burning Grace: Protocols & Pentecost

Pastors and denominational leaders face tough decisions right now. The Christian faith is inherently embodied; we gather, we meet, we celebrate the Incarnation – the Word Made Flesh. For millenia, we’ve celebrated the Eucharist, finding Christ’s presence in the tangible – wine and bread, a burning grace.

The Christian faith is also inherently self-sacrificial; we mend, we serve, we search out the vulnerable, we protect, we value. We “look out not only for (our) own interests, but also for the interests of others,” being told, “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” who “took the form of a servant.” (Phil. 2) Early Christians rescued abandoned babies on hillsides and cared for their own plague-stricken members as well as caring for poor members of the Empire (to the Empire’s chagrin).

In gathered worship or scattered and serving, Christians have been told that whatever we do, we should do with good cheer. Rejoice in worship, rejoice in giving. Rejoice in getting together, rejoice in serving others. Grumbling is apparently not a Fruit of the Spirit. We value creation; and we show it by serving.

Originally seen as shared by Dr. Holly Taylor Coolman.

The Body of Christ is essential even if meeting together is interrupted. Churches are essential insofar as the Body of Christ is essential; but access to church buildings is not an absolute, essential piece of the puzzle. While the Body of Christ, existing in the life of congregations, is essential, congregants are not expendable. We are a people who value life and promote its flourishing.

The Christian faith is inherently embodied; but it is also inherently self-sacrificial. And so many face tough decisions. Leaders of all denominations have an opportunity to take strain off of individual clergymembers by continuing to create contingency plans and best practice protocol:

plans, practices, and protocol that cheerfully look out for the value and dignity of each church member and potential visitor.

When the strain is greatest, let’s continue to forge ahead with creative resilience.

By doing so we march hand in hand with the midwives of Egypt, who protected vulnerable newborns at risk to their own lives, thwarting the easy call of casual contempt, by the burning grace of God.

By doing so we march hand in hand with Moses and Miriam, called to distance from the land of their upbringing, caught between warriors and water, carried to the other side on dry land by the burning grace of God.

By doing so we march hand in hand with Elijah, who poured water on his altar, making sure every single witness knew that it was only God who could make the fire fall, watching the revelation of God crack the sky, vindicated by the burning grace of God.

By doing so we march hand in hand with Esther, who found herself vulnerable in halls of influence and power, carried by the urgent encouragement of one who saw clearly the stakes for a whole people group. She found favor with the powerful, toppling corrupt schemes and protecting the innocent by the burning grace of God.

By doing so we march hand in hand with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who found themselves caught in the crucible but discovered in it the presence of a fourth – “I see a fourth man, who looks like the Son of God” – rescued from the inferno by the burning grace of God, not even smelling like ash.

By doing so we march hand in hand with Paul, who cried out in his letter to his fellow church members in Philippi how much he longed to see them face to face, person to person; how intently he prayed for them, by the burning grace of God.

By doing so we march hand in hand with John Wesley, who as a child was rescued by community members during a roaring house fire, grabbed from a window, a “brand plucked from the flames.” His early memories were seared by other people sacrificing in order to protect him; later he experienced his very soul being warmed, not by trauma but by the burning grace of God.

We have nothing to fear from closed doors; we have everything to fear from closed hearts.

Our hope is not in “business as usual,” our hope is in the fourth man, who looks like the Son of God, wandering around casually in the crucible with us – the Ascended Christ.

Our hope is not in the Pentecost banners we’re accustomed to seeing in church sanctuaries, our hope is in the Holy Spirit, who descended on believers – only to scatter them.

In this moment we still have a choice of what we are going to be: a dead, rotted stump of former things, or potent seed bursting with latent life, willing to live scattered by the Spirit.

By the burning grace of God, we pray, Christ Ascended, that you will char away our bent to dry rot; scatter us like fresh, powerful seed, holding the promise of fruit we can only imagine, because it is only possible through the radiance of your Holy Spirit.

We do not like feeling scattered, God; we would rather stay close to each other.

Remind us that You are enough.

Remind us that you bind the stretches of the universe together and you bind us together, too.

Remind us that your Holy Spirit is faithful to keep us sensitive to each others’ needs if we will listen to Your Spirit who binds us together.

You are not just God who sustains gravity; you are God who knits with quantum entanglement for fun. Entangle our spirits with Your Holy Spirit, like particles that, “cannot be described independently from the state of the others even when separated by large distances;” entangle our hearts with each other.

Christ Ascended, in you we find wholeness; Holy Spirit, entangle those of us who feel distanced, lonely, despairing, afraid.

By the burning grace of God, keep us from being overwhelmed by distancing; sustain us with Pentecost entanglement that scatters and connects at the same time.

Through Christ our Lord, the only open door we need – Amen.

Priscilla Hammond ~ How to Communicate Change in Church Policy during Chaotic Times

If you are you struggling to make decisions about policy and how to communicate those decisions to your church during this chaotic time, you are not alone. In this new normal of remote church, much consumes our day-to-day activities. It is difficult to plan and communicate future steps, sometimes even seemingly futile given the rapid changes occurring around us.

In his book In the Leadership Mode, Don Dunoon provides a helpful path forward, beginning with the difference between leadership and management communication. One is not better than the other. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens,” both leading and managing.

There are times when a leader has to put on a management hat and focus on processes. Right now, many pastors are engaged in process management. The tasks of initiating online services and producing content each week have taken precedence. Management mode focuses on “things” – technology and systems, strategies and plans, and the measurement of how well those things are working. Completed tasks become a measure of productivity that help managers to feel effective. Management problems are solved through technology and a focus on the explicit problem at hand. Managers rely on their formal authority to get things done, delegating tasks and taking action. For example, in Exodus 18, Jethro gives great advice to Moses about delegation and decision-making.

There is a lot of management required during this time of change in the church, but leadership is needed even more. Dunoon has created a process for leading through contentious change, and one could argue that there is no time more contentious than the present. The rate of change has been increasing exponentially. It took over a millennium for the church to embrace the organ as a worship instrument, and another millennium for some churches to be convinced that it is not the only instrument that can be played in church.1 But along came the coronavirus, and it only took a few weeks for church leadership to figure out that the internet was a positive way to connect with parishioners.

Interestingly, many pastors during this time of Covid-exile say they most miss relationships, but relationships are often the one thing absent from our decisions about what to do next. If we operate in management mode, we may appear to be detached, problem-solving machines. In leadership mode, we comprehend that the problem isn’t technology, systems, or the need for a new plan, but the problem is perception, paradigms, and relationships. People don’t need to just understand the explicit problem (e.g., “we can’t meet in person”); change is needed in behavior and thinking. And if the church tries to change systems, people get defensive (if you don’t believe me, try changing from the organ to electric guitar), and defensive people defend systems.

Dunoon’s process to work through contentious change is ARIES: Attending, Reflecting, Inquiring, Expressing, and Synthesizing. It’s a relational process, and managers struggle with this because listening and reflecting doesn’t get the content produced for the next livestream. But if pastors spend some time processing what is going on within people instead of video content to push toward people, you will make better policy decisions that will be received, not without pushback, but definitely with more understanding.


Dunoon encourages us to set aside our achievement orientation and truly connect with others. Attending requires interaction. There is a setting aside of our agenda. Instead of producing a weekly church service, a daily devotional, and online small group interactions next week, could you have a town hall Zoom meeting where members can communicate what they’ve been going through and their perceptions about how the church could respond to this crisis? Could you make some calls? Attend to the perceptions of those in the church.


After we hear people, we need to reflect on what was unstated. Are there ways that people of faith are expected to act, in order not to be judged, that leave gaps in our depth of understanding of true feelings? People need to have a safe space to think, process, and continue the conversation. Is there a path you can create for congregants to communicate their fears to you? Can they tell you how they really feel about what might change about the church, moving forward? Create a safe space for those in the church to reflect.


Leaders often feel pressure to have all the answers. People come with us with questions, not for questions. Managers have answers because they have been given formal authority over systems that are static. But in chaotic times, we don’t always lead with answers; leaders ask questions. Contentious change means there is no perfect answer. There are myriad perspectives represented in the church, and by asking relational questions, shared meaning is developed. Inquire, listen, and allow the congregation to teach you and communicate back with you.


In our sermons, the goal is to preach truth. But generally, pastors don’t just get up, read the lesson, and sit back down. We spend time fashioning our words in a way that will help the listener understand that truth. We give the history, the context, tell stories, and offer take-aways. We care enough about each person that we take the time to craft our message in order to persuade them of this truth. The message matters because the people hearing it matter, and this is the case for all church communications, not just Sunday morning. Expressing involves building a shared meaning, including our own views, so that individuals know they have been heard and are a part of the solution. Everyone’s view matters, including our own. Policy changes that result from this process are not dictated by managers, but rather develop as expressions of our collective fears, assumptions, and hopes that demonstrate a relationship with leadership.


Task-focused decisions about things like systems and policies that are communicated from the top-down will be met with defensiveness. Even decisions that are made through relational processes as described above will not be received without pushback. There are no perfect answers, but when problems are solved together and people feel they’ve been heard, the solution can be communicated as a shared vision for moving forward. Ongoing discussions about the changes will continue in relationship because, even though everyone may not agree, they know there is a safe process for them to participate in church leadership.

1 See https://westfield.org/programs/curious-facts/ for fun facts about the organ in church.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Discussing Theological Education on the Wesley Seminary Podcast

Recently I had the joy of chatting with Dr. Aaron Perry on the Wesley Seminary Podcast he hosts; our conversation ranged from theological education to vocation to Wesleyan Accent and global Methodism to leadership and gender. He is a regular contributor to Wesleyan Accent, providing a hearty voice from the academy, and teaches at Wesley Seminary where he is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Leadership.

The Wesley Seminary Podcast, “seeks to provide relevant content to those in ministry while addressing questions of faith with intention and thought. Centered around audience interaction and listener feedback, the podcast provides an outlet for questions…and also serves to minister to those who need encouragement within their ministerial journeys.”

This was recorded before the world went on lockdown; a few mid-quarantine postscripts are included below. Click the play button to listen here:


Wesley Seminary is affiliated with Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana. Founded in 2009, it offers a variety of Master’s degrees as well as a Doctorate of Ministry degree, highlighting online accessibility.

Wesleyan Accent is unique: our site is a hub featuring voices from a variety of Wesleyan Methodist denominations, in a time when institutional silos tend to run deep. United Methodists might be surprised to learn that 85% of Wesleyan clergymembers don’t have a Master’s degree, while Wesleyans might be surprised to learn that ordained United Methodist elders don’t have to wonder if a particular congregation will provide health insurance and pension.

Theological education in North America is prone to the same pressures undergraduate institutions or liberal arts programs endure; debates about accessibility vs residential programs, in-person classroom discussions vs online engagement, bang for education “consumer” buck vs holistic development, and job preparedness vs academic rigor will surely re-emerge in the eagerly awaited post-quarantine world. Perhaps these straining values will be thrown into sharper relief as false dichotomies; likely, future debates will resound with fresh insights gained from the massive shift to remote working and learning.

Whether or not we can collectively master our moment (a deliberate higher education pun), surely our current circumstances force our attention to certain realities:

  • Modern online technology can no longer be considered an optional add-on; the internet should be approached as an essential utility.
  • Congregations, nonprofit organizations, and academic institutions that are nimble and had already integrated into online existence well have had fewer hiccups adjusting to remote living.
  • There are deep inequities in accessing the internet and owning the technological tools to utilize it, from rural areas to urban areas.
  • Economic stability is fragile; many congregations and academic institutions will be affected for years to come, and some potential students weighing student loans now consider theological education from a new economic footing.
  • Theology matters; pastors and chaplains with robust appreciation for theology are well-positioned to engage with the massive wave of deep questioning on the nature of suffering; death and dying; the value of the body; missiological contextualization and the Sacraments; uncertainty and addiction, substance abuse, and trauma; Divine sovereignty and human free will; and more. Theological education isn’t a luxury; it’s essential.
  • Some things that pastors and academics thought the church (broadly speaking) in North America does well, were in fact things that organizations did well as long as circumstances were ideal; some things that pastors and academics questioned about the church in North America have proven stronger or more resilient than expected. So it goes with crisis: revelation ensues.
  • Leaning into the global nature of the broad Church is always a strength: it helps highlight our blind spots and provides insight we simply don’t have. Early in the pandemic, an American pastor asked for leadership advice from a pastor from the Congo, who had led church members through significant upheaval, including public health crisis. He gave excellent advice. North Americans don’t know everything; and we need to know that.

Are you a layperson, pastor, or professor? What dynamics of church life are you grappling with? If you’ve been to seminary, what’s been one of the most valuable elements of your theological education during the past few weeks? If you grew up outside the U.S., wherever you live now, what are your observations about theological education, infrastructure, church life, quarantine, and leadership?

Wesleyan Accent ~ Practical Coronavirus Communication for Congregations

Note from the Editor: It can be difficult to discern timely responses when so much shifts in just a week. Equipping yourself with resources is challenging when you not only must sort facts, probability, and panic, but you must also keep up to date with relevant developments. And so everyone from Old Navy to Christian denominations to the NBA is forced to rely on phrases like, “we are closely monitoring…” and “we have been in contact with” (which probably means an intern was on hold for 90 minutes) and “it is an evolving situation.” Yet there have been some beautiful responses from a variety of Wesleyan Methodist denominations to the spread of Coronavirus. Certainly many communities have been stepping up in a variety of ways; it is heartening to see. Christians certainly aren’t alone in that. Yet I have been moved repeatedly to see excellent resources and postures recommended and shared from a place of deep thoughtfulness, compassion, historical awareness, and humility. What was intended to be one post has grown into two: one focusing on Coronavirus communication tips and another reflecting on intentional posture and spiritual formation in the midst of outbreak disruption and upheaval. I hope these voices expressing Coronavirus communication resourcing for Wesleyan Methodist congregations will encourage, guide, and inspire. Elizabeth Glass Turner

Every denominational connection and individual congregation is assessing how to engage with emerging needs during a crisis, without worsening difficult circumstances or contributing to virus spread. Depending on the local context, that will look different from town to town, city to city, where dynamics differ. Naturally, resources for pragmatic service will continue to be driven along existing lines – relationships with food banks, local schools, senior citizen centers, ministerial associations, and chaplains in hospitals, public service agencies, incarceration facilities, and so on. (If your congregation would benefit from a Coronavirus-specific disaster preparedness plan, see this resource from the Wheaton College Humanitarian Disaster Institute – with an eye for highlighting a few of the most relevant/pressing sections.)

Given that local relationships will drive much of the local response, the following examples help address a couple of immediate needs faced by clergy and congregational members: church Coronavirus communication and communicating with vulnerable populations with proactive hospitality.

As we survey some great examples of communication under pressure, let’s keep in mind a United Methodist congregation in South Carolina has two confirmed cases who, along with the pastor, are currently self-quarantined: so pastors, develop a contingency plan in case you personally have to be physically isolated at some point.

Communicating Changes in Gathered Worship Routine:

A week ago, Rev. Eric Huffman, Lead Pastor of The Story: Houston was one of the first clergypeople on my social media feed to announce substantive changes to Sunday gathering practices. Just a few days before, the first confirmed case of Coronavirus had popped up in the high-density population area of Houston. Though some state governments are requesting limitations on public gatherings to fewer than 250 or 100 people, others haven’t yet; this puts congregations in a tricky situation. Do you keep the doors open or not? For churches in regions where public gathering hasn’t been addressed officially, The Story: Houston church made some sensible changes and communicated them clearly:

Five ways COVID-19 will affect tomorrow’s events:

We’re still gathering as scheduled – 8:45, 9:45, 11:05 in the morning. Things will mostly be the same as usual, with some exceptions:

1. Hugging is not allowed. Not even side hugs. If you attempt to hug someone, one of our several Krav Maga Houston specialists will respond accordingly.

2. We will not share Communion tomorrow. There will be a way to share Communion safely in the future, but until all our volunteers are up to speed on new processes, we’re not going to risk it.

3. OFFERING-FREE WORSHIP TOMORROW!! Kinda. Not really. Instead of passing the baskets, we’ll encourage you to use the wall boxes to make your offerings!

4. Hand sanitizer will be everywhere. We might even start baptizing with it.

5. We’ll worship Jesus. We’ll pray for those affected by Coronavirus, for those paralyzed by anxiety, and for those who are working to treat the ill and to develop vaccines.

If you’re sick, stay home! If you’re well but anxious, join us online at 11:05! If you’re well and you want to join us in person, I’ll see you tomorrow!

Announcements like this balance humor with respect for the gravity of unintended consequences: no one goes to church planning on unwittingly exposing everyone to illness just by taking the offering plate when it’s passed and handing it to the person next to them. This points to another strength in this communication: contamination hubs have been identified, analyzed, and named so that those who attend know what to expect. Passing the peace, passing the offering plates, and passing Communion elements all put people in close contact or involve multiple people touching a shared item. In the conclusion, an alternate mode of participating – “join us online” – is mentioned so that people can be comfortable with whatever decision they make about attendance even if they’re not ill.

Some regions have moved beyond these precautions to banning large gatherings and others are likely to do so soon. In the meantime, it’s still valuable to identify practices prone to spreading contamination and then proactively communicating planned adaptations.

Communicating District or Conference-Wide Worship Cancellations:

On a different level of church Coronavirus communication and preparedness, yesterday morning (March 13) an episcopal communication helped shoulder the burden of congregational decision-making: Bishop Mike McKee of the North Texas Conference relayed news of prohibition of large gatherings in Dallas County, given the announcement of a state of emergency.

The Bishop requested that all churches in metropolitan districts, not just large ones, cancel services for the next two Sundays at least and asked that rural district congregations choosing to gather provide additional sanitizing resources. He further requested that all church members in the conference over 60 or with vulnerable health conditions stay home and join worship virtually online, linking to a document providing a list of congregations offering livestream. (Since yesterday, I’ve learned of other Bishops requesting services to be cancelled.)

Bishop McKee wrote, “In this moment, the way that we as people of faith can do the most good and do no harm actually is to refrain from coming together. Practicing social distancing can be a way for us to prevent further infections and literally save human lives. While worship services and other church gatherings are canceled, it will be even more important for pastors and lay leaders to be attentive to our older and more vulnerable members. The ramifications of this pandemic are more than about health. People are at risk of loneliness and of suffering economic impacts.
This unprecedented moment gives us the opportunity to witness to our faith in ways other than gathering for worship. Pray for healthcare workers, community leaders, those suffering from the virus and their loved ones, and those who are being negatively impacted by this pandemic. As individual disciples and as churches, keep your eyes open for emerging needs and find creative ways to meet them. Be a source of hope in your circles of influence.
You will hear from me again soon as this situation continues to unfold.”

We live in interesting times when Bishops request that people stay home from church, but it is extremely valuable when leaders pave the way for a sensible response. Through this announcement, the Bishop has taken responsibility for closures (because there is usually some resistance from at least a few church members when services are canceled, no matter the reason). In doing so, he has also given permission to earnest church-goers and conscientious pastors to stand down from stoically carrying out weekly worship.

This is a slightly different angle from which to approach faith-based Coronavirus communication: when leaders carefully gather and analyze information and proactively collaborate on a clear response, they can be ready to implement a plan when officials announce and enact a policy. (As someone who expresses criticism of the episcopacy from time to time, it is important to pause and express appreciation when I believe something has been done especially well. Thank you, Bishop, for taking leadership on this matter.)

For Bishops or General Superintendents or District Superintendents, implementing decisions at a district or conference-wide level can alleviate stress on their clergy and congregations. Additional statements from Methodist denominations with an episcopal form of church government include this one from the College of Bishops of the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) church and this one from the Board of Bishops of the AME Zion church (under Focal Point – statement on the Coronavirus).

At the time of publication, several queries have been made with pastors and leaders in a couple of Wesleyan Methodist denominations with congregationalist-style forms of church government. Responses indicate that communication from District Superintendents has been limited to encouraging clergy to follow any official protocols on public gatherings. (These queries were not exhaustive; in a “rapidly evolving situation,” it is probable we will see more statements in the days to come from district leaders in these denominations. Let’s hope that we do, for the sake of the decision load their clergymembers are carrying.) Official statements from denominational leadership teams include this one from The Wesleyan Church, these daily statements from the Board of General Superintendents of the Free Methodist Church, this one from the Board of General Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene, and this one from the Church of the Nazarene on local church recommendations.

Communicating Virtual Worship Tips:

A lot has changed in just a week, and a large number of churches are livestreaming worship this weekend (even small congregations can put a phone on a tripod to livestream to their Facebook page: click here to watch a short simple video called “Local Church Guide to Using Facebook Live”). My own pastor emailed a worship guide file, with prayers, responses, texts, and sermon included so that it’s easier to follow along with the livestream.

Livestreaming is a good move in the current circumstances but in the past, watching a livestreamed service sometimes emphasizes the gap between presence and absence, simply because many worship leaders or pastors forget it’s happening and don’t address remote, virtual participants! For pastors preaching from empty sanctuaries or their living rooms, it will now be difficult to ignore the remote, virtual participants.

Enter this helpful reflection from University AME Zion in Palo Alto, California, where Rev. Kaloma Smith is Pastor. It’s a unique congregation that often practices fresh communication takes. Yesterday, the church shared these virtual worship tips: We know watching church service online can seem distant and impersonal, so we put together a list of tips to help you get the most out of this experience.

Here are simple tips to get more out of virtual worship:

MAKE IT COMMUNAL: As you get ready to watch a service on live stream, don’t do it alone. Invite those in your house to join in watching the worship service, invite friends and family to watch it even if they’re not in the same house, or start a watch party on Facebook.

GET IN THE RIGHT MINDSET: Say a prayer before you start watching, asking God to allow you to be brought to a place of worship, where you can experience his glory and presence.

REMOVE DISTRACTIONS: Treat this time as special and Holy. Stop scrolling, turn off the news, don’t multitask, let those around you know that this time is sacred, and you shouldn’t be disturbed. You will get so much more out of this experience if you focus and allow yourself to connect with the worship and God in a new way.

INTERACT WITH THE SERVICE: When you start watching, say hi in the chat and let people know where you’re from, type in your prayer request, respond to the praise team and preacher with emojis and gifs. We are a community, and we want to hear from you.

PARTICIPATE IN THE WORSHIP: Sing along with the music team, clap your hands, open your mouth in prayer and praise, write notes from the sermon. The service is not a show to be watched, but an experience that you are an essential part of.

SUPPORT OUR MINISTRY: During these difficult times as you’re watching University, we really need your financial support. You can give the following ways…

Not only was it savvy for this congregation to address what are often invisible or unspoken hurdles in joining worship online, it’s also a church that is already well poised to remove hurdles to giving when physical gathering is limited. The avenues to continue financial support included traditional snail-mail and a link to give through the website but most notably mentioned the “text to give” option. (In fact, Rev. Smith was quoted on the situation a few days ago in USA Today, here.)

Let’s name this as part of congregational Coronavirus communication: during uncertainty characterized by “panic shopping,” if you’re a part of a faith community whose budgetary decisions you support and trust, it’s important to continue whatever capacity of giving you’re able to exercise. Many faith communities will be front-line resources partnering with local efforts to protect and shield vulnerable church members and community members.

A quick note on utilizing technology for virtual worship: some church members may need guidance on how to find the church Facebook page. If congregations tap a few people to make quick phone calls on Sunday morning to assist any who struggle to navigate emerging technology, a quick, easy walk-through or step-by-step instructions before service begins could help everyone be prepared to participate. (For instance – in a time when many grandkids might help a grandparent navigate technology, some grandparents live in assisted communities that are now closed to visitors.) If those who are livestreaming begin the stream early with music, greetings, or announcements, it will help people know they’ve arrived at the right “place” virtually.

Communicating with Vulnerable Community Members:

After processing many ramifications of disruption likely to accompany the spread of illness, Jennifer Crispin shared pragmatic Coronavirus communication insight about living well individually through intentional community in ways that support and serve others. Her thoughts have been echoed by others who similarly spent the week thinking through the likely scope of impact:

“There are still ways you can continue to SHOW UP for people, even if you can’t show up in person:

*Donate cash to your local food shelter. A whole lot of people are about to get more food insecure, and cash donations go so much farther than canned goods. Plus, you’ve spent enough time at the grocery store already.

*Get take out from your local Chinese restaurant. You may not have seen people being racist in your community, but lots of these businesses are taking a hit.

*Call your friend with a chronic health condition that you probably don’t fully understand and say, “I am going to the grocery store, what can I bring you?”

*Write a letter or call your loved ones in retirement centers, assisted living, long term care. Many are or will soon be curtailing visitors, and these folks are socially isolated enough. Remind them they are loved.

These are all different forms of communication. Financial support of food banks, organizations, and local businesses communicates; contacting someone in a vulnerable health position communicates; contacting loved ones or church members or simply any residents who are shut-in or live in long-term care facilities – that communicates.

What do these actions communicate?

They communicate solidarity and community identity. They communicate welcome (through hospitable gestures), humility (through the willingness to serve), and value (through reinforcing the worth of those whose actions are limited in public and community space). A hospitable posture isn’t solely practiced in welcoming people to a center of activity, like a church building; a hospitable posture actually reaches out and engages people where they are. (Engaging people doesn’t have to be a physical action, exposing a body to added risk factors.) It may sound odd to say that communicating with people who are isolated is an act of hospitality, because we think of hospitality as hosting people in our space.

But what if we think of it this way?

When I call aging adults in my family, faith community, or extended community – when I speak to them over the phone, which may be their default communication style more than it is mine – I am saying, “you belong here, you are welcome here, you are a gift here. You are not forgotten or irrelevant. You belong; you belong; you belong.

When I donate cash to a food bank or to my faith community’s emergency fund – when I give to a stressed organization with stressed volunteers or employees who are working long hours on policies that inevitably will be criticized by some – I am saying to the organization, to the ministry, and to each person depending on it, “you belong here, you are welcome here, you are a gift here. You are not taken for granted or at fault. You belong; you belong; you belong.”

When I contact friends who have a kid who’s immunocompromised or text someone going through chemo – when I tell them what I’m praying for them, and ask them to tell me something to do on their behalf – I am saying, “you belong here, you are welcome here, you are a gift here. You are not a liability or hassle. You belong; you belong; you belong.”

When I order take-out from a restaurant owned and staffed by immigrants – when I show up or delivery arrives and I smile and make eye contact and say thank you – I am saying, “you belong here, you are welcome here, you are a gift here. You are not alone or unwanted. You belong; you belong; you belong.”

Many of these dynamics – church communication, what it means to extend hospitality – aren’t new to our sisters and brothers in the faith who live in different parts of the world. It seems appropriate to acknowledge and repent of times when, in our distraction or self-centered routine, we displayed casual disinterest when other regions have been rocked by outbreaks, sometimes of illnesses much more devastating than the Coronavirus.

Mother Teresa shared a great deal of wisdom on many occasions. Several of her insights are timely right now; one in particular comes to mind as we consider how we communicate and what we are communicating.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Talking about Jesus in A Complex World

World Methodist Evangelism (WME) is proud to work with partners around the world to train indigenous, front-line evangelism leaders to talk about Jesus in a complex world. Usually lasting one week, these evangelism seminars provide laity and clergy in the Wesleyan Methodist family the opportunity to explore the nature and practice of evangelism in a cross-cultural environment.

Pastors and laity from the United States are encouraged to join with international church leaders in learning, worship, and mutual growth. We have three seminars in 2020: Indonesia, Fiji, and Romania.

These unique learning opportunities address topics important to Christ followers in these respective locations. Some topics include:
–Ministry in migrant communities
–Faithful creation care
–Providing a faithful witness under the pressures of an increasingly secular society
–The role of healing in evangelism and discipleship
–Addressing local and global poverty from a biblical perspective
–Ministering in places where folk religion is being mixed with Christian teaching

These issues are of increasing importance and provide helpful insights for leaders around the world. In addition, these seminars provide an arena for the World Methodist family to meet together for sharing, learning, and preparing for evangelism. Teaching is led by local church leadership as well as pastors and scholars from the United States.

These experiences are perfect opportunities to grow as leaders and faithful followers of Jesus, and to encounter the wonderful things God is doing in the church around the world. Additionally, continuing education credit is available while experiencing evangelism and church leadership in these exceptional environments.

Upcoming Opportunities:
– Indonesia
– Fiji
– Romania
To learn more, click HERE.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_facebook][vc_tweetmeme][/vc_column][/vc_row] [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Here is the Church

By Rev. Dr. Robert Haynes

When I was a child, my grandmother taught me an old saying, a little rhyme that she would act out with her hands. It went something like this:

“Here is the Church”

(She interlaced her fingers, hiding them inside a two-handed fist)

“Here is the Steeple”

(She pointed her two index fingers upwards to make a steeple”

“Look inside, there’s all the people”

(She turned her palms upwards, revealing her wiggling, interlaced fingers)

With all due respect to my loving grandmother, is it fair to divide the church and the people that way? What does the Bible say about what, or who, the church is?

The New Testament gives no formal definition of the church. However, looking at contextual clues for the church’s own understanding of itself provides important insight. From its origins, the church understood itself as a gathered group in, and for the sake of, the world. The term used in Acts to describe the gathering of Christians, the church, is ekklesia. At the time of the writing of the New Testament, the term was already in common use to describe the gathering of the people of the city at the bidding of the municipal leaders. Ekklesia is a term that was used in Ancient Greek to describe the assembly called by the town clerk. It was the role of this clerk to call the people to assemble for his purposes: to make an announcement, dictate a policy change, or conduct some business. The gathering, the ekklesia, was called together by their leader for the purposes that leader wanted to fulfill.

However, the early church was not just a gathering of people to fulfill a political purpose. Rather, they were the gathering of the people at the request of the Highest Authority: a Christian community proclaiming that God was calling all believers for his purposes. Such a bold proclamation said that Jesus’ lordship is over all aspects of life. As such, they were publicly declaring all other religions and societal structures as inferior to God, Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son of God. Even the government and its leaders were to be molded and shaped by the teaching of Scriptures and lived out by the people gathered and scattered—the Christians, the church. What made the members of the early movements of Christianity distinct from the world was that they saw themselves as not just a gathering of people, rather as the gathering of the people of God.

By choosing to call themselves ekklesia, the New Testament church desired to be a group gathered among the whole city and desired that they could, one day, be a gathering of the whole city. Christians, from the very beginning, were a movement of people launched into the public life. They lived in such a manner that the social, political, and economic structures would reflect Christ’s teaching. They expected others to be transformed by Word: the teaching of Scripture, Deed: their acts of mercy and service, and Sign: the divine works of the Holy Spirit. They did not leave this work to a select few, what we today might call the “clergy.” Rather, they understood this to be the work of every Christian.

John Wesley understood this at many levels. For Wesley, the empowering of the laity in ministry was the way that God’s Kingdom is demonstrated through a community of believers demonstrating the love of God and neighbor, therefore fulfilling God’s commandments. Wesley sought to revitalize the church by re-energizing the laity in the Christian faith they seemed to profess, but failed to demonstrate. The early Methodists exemplified the lesson that the laity embodies the church, visible in the world. The Wesleyan Methodist movement continues to thrive where this is embodied today.

It is important to remember, that from the earliest foundations of the Christian movement, the church is not first a building or the clergy leadership. Rather, the church is just that, a movement of people who have been transformed by Christ and are inviting others to experience that transformation as well. The church is not merely the building, nor is the church merely the clergy. Rather, as another old saying goes, “If the building burned down and the preacher left town, what you would have left is the church.”

Dr. Haynes is the Director of Education and Leadership for World Methodist Evangelism and the author of Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage. He is an ordained member of The United Methodist Church. He can be reached at rob@worldmethodist.org.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_facebook][vc_tweetmeme][/vc_column][/vc_row] [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Priscilla Hammond ~ What Change Models Look like in Your Congregation

If you have been a leader for very long, you have heard the question, “Why do we need to change?” In 1967, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson declared, “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” (1) So we must change if we want to live. Long before the 1960’s, philosopher Plato used Heraclitus’ axiom, “Everything changes and nothing stands still.” For millenia, humans have adapted to survive – or they haven’t, and didn’t.  So asking why we need to change is really like asking why we need modern medicine or why electricity is useful: there are many examples all around us of why significant change can shift life for the better. 

Instead of asking why we need to change, then, leaders assess the landscape and ask what, who, how, and when we will change. These are the questions that are answered when you engage in an organizational change process, and there are multiple change models to consult.

Depending on the type of organization and the type of change, there are plenty of change process models to consider as you navigate how to lead fruitful change. The ways to lead change vary; I will highlight some of the better-known models and theories so that you can answer the questions of what, who, how, and when we will change as you initiate and manage fruitful change in your context.

But first, a word of caution. In 2007, researchers at Gallup asked a series of questions on whether Christians rely more on human reason or on an outside power such as God for moral guidance and for planning for their future. For many, human reason trumped God in their responses. (2) The organizational change management processes, models, and theories highlighted here are helpful tools in determining the what, who, how, and when. But in all of this, I encourage you to make sure to remember Who leads you as you lead change.

The following three change models illustrate planned organizational change (as opposed to unplanned change). They are intended to illustrate changing organizational systems processes. Let’s take a look at the theory of the change models and then the application of how they might look in a real life church setting.

Unfreeze: Change: Refreeze – Lewin’s Model of Change

A social psychologist named Kurt Lewin researched group dynamics and the impact of leadership on groups. His model is not a prescription for change with a step-by-step how-to process; rather, it’s an explanation of how change occurs.

First, the organization becomes aware of the need to change. When the status quo is no longer working, the organization must unfreeze – releasing its grip on continuing to do the same things in the same way. The second step is implementing change. The organizational participants react to the lack of equilibrium by generating new responses and actions that are more effective. Finally, the organization refreezes  as it assimilates the changes and regains equilibrium, operating effectively again.

For instance, during any snow event in the American South, “is it sticking?” is the first question asked. In the South, the ground isn’t frozen. When snow falls, it melts. Unless there is an extreme environmental change (temperature drops and snowfall increases), the snow disappears on contact. Lewin’s refreezing takes place after change has been implemented. It is the time when leaders check in to see if the new responses and actions deemed more effective are “sticking.”

What it looks like in your church: print & digital communications

Every process in a congregation can be evaluated in light of the Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze model. It provides the language of change to every level of leadership, whether staff, lay, or volunteer. In this way, everyone can discuss change in terms of solving a problem and increasing effectiveness.

For example, let’s say there are complaints about church communication. Many churches have leaned into social media and multimedia communication, leaving print-lovers behind, while other churches refuse to leave the Gutenberg era to embrace the opportunities of electronic communication. Both can result in frustrated churchgoers or visitors. This is a problem.

Using the Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze model, we see a basic movement unfold: first, discover the need for change due to consistent communication problems affecting daily function; then, identify new processes and activate new approaches that will lead to effective communication with multiple constituents; and finally, implement the new processes and approaches and evaluate their impact.

Lewin’s ideas have been used as the basis of many modern change models in which you will see elements of unfreeze-change-refreeze. For example, Harvard Business School Online has a course that uses Lewin’s model as the framework for change. (Visit here for a modern, expanded example of Lewin’s model.)

The Change Path: Awakening: Mobilization: Acceleration: Institutionalization

The change path model of organizational change is another adaptation of Lewin’s model (3), in which there are four stages:





This is an excellent model for making changes to processes within an organization (which is distinct from changes in culture, mission, or values). The awakening stage is similar to Lewin’s unfreezing stage. More than just an awareness of the need for change, in awakening, the organization must consider the nature of the change (planned or unplanned, internal need or external pressure) and its alignment with the organization’s vision. Once the awakening is defined in a way that everyone can understand, mobilization begins. Mobilization is the process of identifying the distance between the current and desired states: what needs to be done, who needs to do it, what the cost is, and other questions. In the acceleration stage, plans are drawn up in response to the mobilization questions. Institutionalization is the implementation of the plans and refreezing of the organization around the new process.

What it looks like in your church: gaps between denominational statement and practice

In the past 15 years, one denomination with which I’ve interacted was awakened to the fact that many churches had local membership processes and requirements that varied from the denominational membership requirements. The policy “on the books” did not match the policy in practice. This was a problem.

Several decisions could be made: ignore the discrepancy, allowing local churches to continue to be out of alignment; put pressure on local churches to conform to the denomination’s membership requirements; or adjust the denominational requirements to better match the local churches’ current practice.

Awakening includes defining the nature of the change and describing it in the vernacular (in this case, proposals submitted to the General Board).

Mobilization took place in the General Board sub-committee, which was tasked with reviewing the various proposals and determining the gap between the present state of some churches and the future state of membership in the denomination.

Bureaucracies have specific processes in place to manage planned change, so the mobilization phase is clearly defined, but to allow for some collaboration, plans for bridging the gap through action planning and implementation were drawn up. When the final proposals were presented, they had been combined and rewritten in a way that reflected that collaboration.

The final step was institutionalization. Just changing the written “rules” of the denomination was not enough to institutionalize the change. The change had to be implemented at all levels. Resources were created for churches to initiate the change. Annual processes changed at the local organization level, which carried the weight of making significant changes not only to processes but also in local culture. The change needed to be measured to determine effectiveness of the change initiative, which required changes in data collection and reporting.

The challenge for many leaders is the desire to jump straight from awakening to institutionalization: “I have identified a problem and the most logical solution—make it so” (as we dictate the obviously logical solution to the staff/board/volunteers). The process of moving from awakening into a time of collaborative analysis and planning prior to institutionalization is imperative to the success of the change. The contribution and buy-in of those who need to activate the change cannot be overemphasized. That process is even further explained in Kotter’s model.

Kotter’s Eight-Stage Change Process

Task-oriented planners (or those who need someone to provide a step-by-step process so that they will not venture off the change path) will appreciate John Kotter’s detailed map for planned change. The eight steps begin by creating a climate for change, by

1) Increasing urgency

2) Building a guiding team

3) Getting the vision right, and

4) Communicating for buy-in. This moves the entire organization in the direction of the change,

5) Enabling action and

6) Creating short-term wins. The implementation and maintenance of the change continue as the change leaders then

7) Don’t let up and finally

8) Make it stick.

This framework was first introduced in Leading Change, further supported by real-life success stories in The Heart of Change and, because winning the first step is imperative, an entire book dedicated to A Sense of Urgency.

What it looks like in your church: a must-have/user-friendly resource

In Kotter’s best-selling book Our Iceberg is Melting (similar to the popular Who Moved My Cheese?) he walks the reader through the change process in an easy-to-apply parable. This is a great resource for a local board to use as a small group study in order to illustrate the process of change. It is also helpful to leaders to find their fit on a change team as they identify with characteristics in the illustration. It is also helpful in demonstrating to church leaders what has been shown to cause organizational change to fail time and time again, equipping them with steps to guide the organization through a difficult change initiative.

When Change Processes Aren’t Planned

These three organizational change models are all options for moving through planned change initiatives. However, we all know that circumstances external to the organization can force change and internal situations can pop up without notice. In the next post, we’ll examine helpful models for those times when we cannot respond to change with a strategic, step-by-step blueprint but rather are forced to make changes in the midst of chaos.  

1 Wilson, H. (1967, January 24). Speech to the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France, January 23, 1967. The New York Times, p. 12.

2 Gallup, G. H., Jr. (2007). Total trust: Trust is one of the basic bonds of relationships. Leadership Journal. Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2007/july-online-only/day45.html

3 Cawsey, T. F., Deszca, G., & Ingols, C. (2020). Organizational change: An action-oriented toolkit (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

James Petticrew ~ Squeezing Jesus Out of the Church

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about you,
It’s all about you, Jesus
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about you,
It’s all about you, Jesus

Some of you may have groaned when you read those words. Many congregations have sung that song to death for over a decade – but perhaps we did it because its words deeply resonated with a fundamental fact of our Christian walk and life as the Church: that the centrality and rule of Christ is something about which we need constant reminding.

I am a year back into pastoring, a year back into preaching regularly to a congregation, a year back into church leadership, a year back into trying to express God’s love to people. And a year on as I reflect on each of those areas and many others, I’m finding myself recalling Matt Redman’s words not as an expression of worship but all too often as a confession. I have come away from meetings, walked down from the pulpit on several occasions, and finished conversations thinking to myself:

I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about you,
It’s all about you, Jesus

One the main lessons I’m relearning after being out of formal church leadership for a while is simply that church life so easily becomes about so many other things than Jesus, and as that happens our agendas, priorities, and busyness slowly squeeze Christ from the Body of Christ. When Christ is squeezed from the Body of Christ church becomes “all about” other things: budgets, people and their problems and feelings, my self-esteem as a pastor, the quality of weekly worship music, song choice – just about everything except Jesus. I’m not naive enough to claim that some of these things aren’t important in church life; but I am coming to realize that when church life is all about those things, it ceases to be the Church and doesn’t have much life in it. When Christ is squeezed from the Body of Christ by our own priorities and agenda as a congregation or through our busyness as leaders or disciples, what is left is little more than a corpse masquerading as a church.

While thinking about the way in which Jesus so easily gets sidelined in the church, I read these words from Paul:

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” (Colossians 1:15-18)

It strikes me that Paul was writing to a church also in danger of squeezing out Jesus, not by the busyness of church life or the disordered priorities of the pastor but likely by some sort of early Gnostic teaching that sought to diminish Jesus. (I’ll leave the exact nature of the Colossian heresy for budding New Testament scholars looking for PHD topics.) Both Paul’s “Christological song” above and Matt Redman’s 90’s worship song both convey the same message in different ways: it’s all about you, Jesus. Paul writes a theological tour de force in Colossians 1, reminding us of Jesus’ divinity, creative power, resurrection, and headship of the Church; then, Paul sums up the implications of all this truth about Jesus by saying, “so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” 

Perhaps it’s the tendency to diminish and demote Jesus from the place he should have that was behind Christ’s complaint against the church at Ephesus in Revelation: “I hold this against you, that you do not love as you did at first.” (Revelation 5:4) This tendency within the Church to make things other than Jesus supreme seems to be in pastor-theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s aim when he wrote, “Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”

In their book ReJesus, Michael Frost and Alan Hirschoffer a devastating critique of what Bonhoeffer called “Christianity without Christ,” the Body of Christ with Christ squeezed out:

We do not like gatherings [speaking of church services] of strangers who never meet or know each other outside of Sundays, who sit passively while virtual strangers preach and lead singing, who put up with second-rate pseudo-community under the guise of connection with each other, who live different lives from Monday to Saturday than they do on Sunday, whose sole expression of worship is pop-style praise and worship, who rarely laugh together, fight injustice together, eat together, pray together, raise each other’s children together, serve the poor together, or share Jesus with those who have not been set free.

But they don’t just offer criticism, they offer a journey to a remedy, claiming that the church needs to be “re-Jesused.” Simply put, “re-Jesusing” the Church is making church life and disciple life centered on Jesus again. To use Paul’s language, it means deliberately focusing on Jesus having center stage in our church life, not just giving lip service.  I think it means re-turning to Jesus again and again, making sure Jesus is the focus of our preaching, the model for our discipleship, the source of unity in our community, the inspiration for our worship, and the aim of our hearts. “Re-Jesusing” our Church life will surely mean choosing to live by his Spirit in every way, each day. It will mean being utterly committed to becoming like Christ in the desires of our hearts, in what we think and do.

I remember a significant afternoon during my year of Doctorate of Ministry studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. Dr Dennis Kinlaw came to speak to us, but he did more than speak. He shared his heart. He spoke about his then-new book, Let’s Start With Jesus. He made an impassioned plea that as pastors and disciples, in every facet of our life and ministry, we start with Jesus. As I embark on my second year at Westlake Church Nyon, that is my guiding principle. In whatever I do in the life of the church or my own discipleship, I am asking, “what does it mean to start with Jesus?” I want my life to be “re-Jesused,” I want our church to be “re-Jesused.”

What about you? In your life, in aspects of church life for which you bear responsibility, can you really say with Paul that, “Christ has the supremacy?” Has church life become about other things than Jesus?  Are you absorbed by budgets, people, your self-esteem as a pastor, the quality of weekly worship music, song choice – anything except Jesus? Has Jesus been squeezed out of the Body of Christ? Maybe we could allow “The Heart of Worship” to make a brief reappearance in our services, just to remind us that, “it’s all about you, Jesus.”