with Phillip Mutzelburg
I begin this discussion by teasing out some remarks I made on the subject of humility in the first article of this series, Identifying our Distinctives.
The nature of our humanity defaults to the dark side, and it creates a competitiveness in us that wants to get to the top of the pile and be the star. This is the exact opposite of what Jesus demonstrated, and highlights the difference between the example of servanthood and that of the chest thumping Pharisee who stands where all can see his bogus greatness.
This counterfeit prominence destroys authentic community, and isolates many leaders and congregants leaving them feeling defeated, devalued, and a failure. The level of devastation that this God dishonouring behaviour causes is widespread, and nothing short of evidence that the enemy of us all is at work to steal, kill, and destroy at every opportunity in the life of leaders. Put simply, I see this dark side of leadership as an extreme abuse of power.
One of the most common discussions I have had with church leaders during my time in vocational church work has revolved around feelings they have even in the crowd. They feel loneliness, pessimism, a lack of appreciation, and a disappointment that leaders without biblical humility create too often in the environment of church leadership.
When dealing with broken people in our congregations there is a level of grace given to the church leader which protects their heart from disreputable behaviour, as life transformation is taking place. But the assault on their spirit that comes with the self-importance of some prideful leaders is unexpected, and blindsides them and is therefore all the more damaging to the wellbeing of the leader.
A leader without biblical humility harms the reputation of Jesus in the earth, and reinforces the cynicism many irreligious Australians have of church leaders.
Biblical humility as a distinctive
We want to be a movement that is known as one where every leader is included and encouraged, and able to celebrate authentic community one with the other. We want A2A to be a safe place where a church leaders regardless of the size of his church, and regardless of how measureable their success might be can come and be celebrated for who they are, and for the sacrifice they make in faithfully serving God.
A distinctive is a visible distinguishing characteristic about a person or organisation. It is encouraging for us that visitors to our gatherings where leaders are together regularly make a spontaneous and telling observation about the environment of our get-togethers.
Consistently church leaders from mega churches, large churches, large independent ministries, small churches, and as individuals say we stand out in the Australian context as an all-inclusive group of church leaders who are comfortable in our own skins and enjoy an authentic level of community not commonly seen on the Australian landscape. I know Australian leaders who regularly tell me that the spirit we have amongst the church leaders at A2A does not exist anywhere else.
Least we become immediately prideful of these welcome appraisals, it is not impossible that regardless of the overall healthy environment, there is someone who feels isolated and dishonoured. We are doing ok, but we have not arrived. To think more highly of ourselves than we ought will quickly put us on a slippery slope towards prideful God dishonouring habits that will quickly destroy what God has done in us.
Defining biblical humility
Humility is generally defined as unpretentiousness, modesty, self-effacement, and similar words of explanation. Biblical humility certainly contains all of these characteristics, but more. It is the more that makes the difference and gives us the key to the way we should pursue humility.
Biblical humility is placing our gifting, our strengths, and the power gained by our position in leadership in submission to God so that they are always under His control.
Understanding the biblical basis of humility
In the greatest sermon in history, Jesus includes a few lines about humility. Matthew records his words in chapter 5 verse 5; Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth. This comment is the foundational thought that should effect all of actions in Christian leadership.
This is the biblical picture of meekness or humility. Humility is having your strengths under the control of King Jesus. In this section of scripture we learn that the person who puts their strength under the domain of the King [king-domain/kingdom] gains their inheritance. The implication is that if you do not humble yourself before King Jesus, you will not gain your inheritance. This is a law of the kingdom.
Jesus was the greatest example of humility. He had great strength and power yet he resisted the temptation from Satan to use it. As he approached Calvary in the moment of his greatest testing, He did not call down ten thousand angels to destroy the world and set himself free. He put his power under the Father’s control and as a result he gained his inheritance and sits at the right hand of God today. And we are part of his inheritance.
Peter wrote to Christians scattered all over the world with some sensational advice. What he said is found in 1 Peter 5 verse 5; ……All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another because, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
I say this is sensational for these reasons;
Have you ever considered the delusional aspect of pride. Leaders without humility are deceived. They believe their own propaganda. They think everyone thinks as highly of them as they do themselves. They think no one notices when they are positioning themselves for the best seat at the table. They think no one notices when they drop a name, or look over your shoulder when you are in conversation with them. Most of all they think God will not notice.
Pride, which of course is the opposite of humility, is the single reason why seemingly successful leaders are brought down. In the decades I have been in vocational ministry I have seen great leaders on the national and international stage come crashing down. I have been personal friends with some of them. In recent times one of the most prominent leaders of the church in the western world has come crashing down because he did not place his strength and power under the hand of God. God opposed him.
Peter finishes his thoughts on humility with these equally sensational words. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
This is the key to success not only in vocational church work, but in the market place, wherever God has placed the Christian to serve him.
Walking in humility
When God spoke clearly to the National Leadership Team in February 2017 and helped us to identify our distinctives, humility was not the entirety of what we heard about humility. The Holy Spirit talked to us about walking in humility.
A form of the word walking is used about 130 times in the bible. It always has with it a sense of plodding along, travelling along, treading along through life. It has the feel of consistently doing something about it.
On that February day I am certain that the Holy Spirit was telling us to keep this distinctive of humility as a constant in the life of our movement. We are encouraged to live in humility so that we can continue to be a life giving movement to each other, and not a life sapping movement to each other.
I believe there is a genuine humility becoming more and more visible in the culture of our churches. It is something to be guarded at all cost so that all of us can enter into our inheritance which scripture tells us is the right of every believer.
I look forward to walking in humility with you all.
by Phillip Mutzelburg
Most bible based Christian churches would claim to do “Spirit empowered mission” and this claim is not argued as all Christ followers have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide them in mission from the moment of conversion.
A2A would consider that there is an extra dimension of the Holy Spirit available to every Christ follower, which gives them a dynamic empowerment to do mission.
We believe that Jesus makes it clear that we should wait until we are baptised with the Holy Spirit before we do mission. For this reason, it is worthwhile giving further comment to this important biblical truth.
The Baptism with the Holy Spirit defined
The baptism with the Holy Spirit takes place when a Christ follower who earnestly and diligently desires it, makes themselves available for Jesus to immerse them in the fullness of his power.
Unfortunately, due to the undue emphasis and consequent excesses of some charismatic and Pentecostal groups, this biblical truth is seen in some circles as highly controversial, and even something to be avoided at all costs. For these reasons it is considered important to make some statements about this amazing phenomena which Jesus called a gift.
a. The Baptism with the Holy Spirit is not a relatively recent addition to Christian belief:
The Baptism with the Holy Spirit is not charismatic, Pentecostal, or “third wave” theology; it is New Testament theology which was embedded in the experience of the early church. It has been identifiable through every season of church history since the inception of the church. There have been seasons where it almost entirely disappeared in practise, but in more recent times it has once again been restored since the renewal took place at Azusa Street in the early part of twentieth century.
b. There are several reasons every Christ follower should seek the baptism with the Holy Spirit:
c. The baptism with the Holy Spirit is available to every Christ follower at or subsequent to their salvation experience:
Some Christians are baptised with the Holy Spirit at the time they make their first confession of faith in Christ. Others are baptised with the Holy Spirit subsequent to their salvation experience. Within our churches a Christian who has never had this experience is not considered a “second rate” Christian.
d. The baptism with the Holy Spirit is not the central doctrine of the bible:
The prominence given by some Christian churches to this teaching implies that it is the central doctrine of the bible. We believe all truth is important to our spiritual growth, and we endeavour to teach the whole counsel of God.
We do not believe that being baptised with the Holy Spirit makes you a better Christian. We believe the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit at work within the Christ follower that changes us, and that it is this work evidenced by the “Fruit of the Holy Spirit” in our lives that makes us more like Christ.
e. Speaking in tongues is the most common evidence of being baptised with the Holy Spirit:
Speaking in tongues is the most controversial aspect of this dynamic experience of being baptised with the Holy Spirit. It is controversial because some Christians argue that unless you speak in tongues you are not baptised with the Holy Spirit. Within our churches we are resistant to this being a divisive issue.
f. The baptism with the Holy Spirit is the usual gateway for the Christ follower to operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit:
This is also somewhat controversial as there is evidence that many Christians who do not claim to be baptised with the Holy Spirit, or speak in tongues, function in some or all of the gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12. Within our churches we are resistant to this being a divisive issue.
NB: The reader could be frustrated in some regards by the lack of a more detailed explanation of some of these views, and the lack of biblical reference to them all. This paper is not meant to be a comprehensive doctrinal document, but rather an overview of a distinctive of our churches. It is written with the commitment to the celebration of diversity which we enjoy in our movement.
The primary purpose of the baptism with the Holy Spirit is to empower us to do mission
In many charismatic and Pentecostal churches, including those under the banner of the older traditional denominations who have embraced the “charismatic” experience, this primary purpose of the baptism with the Holy Spirit being an empowerment for mission has been ignored.
Instead of the focus being outward, the focus has become inward. In some places the focus is about “my healing”, “my prophesy”, “my word of knowledge”. The mindset is the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for me. We would not suggest that the ministry of the Spirit should not be extended to the already convinced, but in the process of doing this the primary purpose of using this power to reach the masses of unchurched people in our community must not be lost.
Within our movement of churches there will be a constant challenge to use this dynamic power available to the Christ follower who is baptised with the Holy Spirit to do the main thing. And the main thing will always be the main thing, “to go into all the world and preach the gospel and make disciples”.
The baptism with the Holy Spirit without the balance of the Fruit of the Holy Spirit disempowers effective ministry to the unchurched community.
Paul speaks about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and then makes an amazing statement about these dynamic gifts. He says “I will show you the most excellent way” and goes on to talk about the power of love over all the gifts. Becoming a person who loves at all times is a result of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
Love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Love must overshadow our ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. When love is lacking the gifts regardless of how astonishing they may be, are lost in the intrigue associated with anything not easily explained. Without love, we are effectively disempowered in our effectiveness. Love must be evident so that the Spirit of God at work in them can be seen.
Developing a Christlike character must be our first priority if we want the dynamic of the Holy Spirit to do its work in the hearts of the unchurched.
by Phillip Mutzelburg
This article continues the series on the distinctive of A2A. To help with continuity of thought, I include again the six distinctive we sincerely hope and pray will gain traction throughout the churches of the movement.
Defining Healthy Leadership
Our mission statement says, “To raise enduring leaders who build prevailing churches”. As has often been stated, the first phrase, “To raise enduring leaders...” deals with the health of the leader.
“Raising enduring leaders” is a descriptive phrase. It infers that there must be a proactive process for growing and educating our leaders so that they last over the long haul in the demanding and challenging role of Christian leadership.
When we raise something [or someone] we imply that it grows, and the natural desire is that it grows in a healthy manner so that it reaches its full potential. There is also the notion of something organic in the nature of growing.
Enduring implies a whole bunch of admirable qualities like lasting, continuing, durable, stable, permanent, long-term, and persistent. Clearly a healthy body, emotions, and spirit are essential for any leader to gain these qualities.
1. The Challenge
Healthy leadership is still not given the attention that is vital for a leader to gain the capacity to endure in ministry. This is despite several attempts by the NLT to convince leaders to take advantage of the mechanisms we have made available. I have heard it said that our mentoring programme has not really worked. This is correct, but a principal reason for this is simply that leaders have not taken advantage of it.
For healthy leadership to become an authentic distinctive of our movement, there must be a greater “buy in” resulting in participation from our leaders. I have had some discussion with a number of our leaders, and leaders from other movements regarding what the road blocks are that prevent engagement in a disciplined programme that makes for healthy leadership. In summary these are my findings:
I want to briefly address these roadblocks in the hope that they will be demolished as barriers to engaging with our mentoring strategy for developing healthy leaders.
Regarding roadblock 1. Almost every leader in scripture struggled, many with issues far greater than those you or I face. Everyone on the NLT is aware of their own humanity, and has nothing but sympathy and compassion for the struggling leader. We lead on with our limp and you can also.
Regarding roadblock 2. Confidentiality is seriously honoured. As you would honour the confidentiality with a congregant who comes to your office for help, so will a mentor do the same. The struggles you face are between you and the mentor, and will not be shared with any member of the NLT without your permission. The only exceptions are those which are required by law to be reported, and those which have serious spiritual implications on your ministry such as immorality and marriage difficulties. Even in these cases it will be done with great sensitivity to your right of privacy, and in many cases the whole NLT would not be informed.
Regarding roadblock 3. Pride is a spiritual issue. Only you can deal with this. The only help I can offer from a distance is to repeat that we all have our struggles, and you are not alone in your brokenness.
Regarding roadblock 4. To be honest, we have considered making having a mentor mandatory, and conditional upon receiving your ministry credential. Many of the most successful market place organisations have done this. It is a condition of employment. However, it is not our plan to do this as we would consider that free will is paramount to a successful relationship with a mentor. The downside of mentoring remaining voluntary is that it does project that it is not highly valued. This remains an issue for each leader to put before God.
It remains our intention to offer mentoring experiences to every credentialed minister and spouse so that not one of these courageous leaders feels they have to walk alone. In 2018, mentoring will again be offered throughout the movement, and a list of available mentors will be made available for leaders to choose as their mentor. This will be visible on our A2A Pastors and Leaders FB page. The mentoring programme will be led by Pastor Mark Ansell, but I will remain involved in the programme.
2. Defining Mentoring
It is considered that there is widespread confusion between mentoring and coaching. It is our belief that the role of a mentor and the role of a coach are different, and each can be defined in clear terms.
A mentor is a friend with a purpose. The purpose of this friend relationship is to bring experienced and trustworthy advice which will help grow the leader so they last over the long haul.
Another way of defining mentoring is to say, mentoring is about who the leaders is.
An Analogy for Mentoring
Healthy Leadership is a combination of the condition of the leader’s heart and the way he/she leads. It goes without saying that an unhealthy leader leads in an unhealthy way. A healthy leader will lead in a healthy way.
As previously mentioned, the first phrase of the A2A mission statement says “to raise enduring leaders...”. If I wanted to raise a plant so that it grows strong and healthy and is able to last through the storms and seasons, that implies attention must be given to the soil, fertilisers, watering, pruning, and where it is positioned. This is because a plant is organic in nature, and living organism. By simply planting a seed in the ground and then leaving it to grow and develop on its own is likely to see the plant die prematurely, or grow well within its potential.
Because we as leaders are living beings, I do not think it is too much of a stretch to say that leaders will only last through the storms and seasons of life and reach their full potential as leaders if all care is given to our development as well. To this end I believe a leader will best grow to be healthy if they have some to walk with in that process. That person is their mentor.
3. The Difference Between a Mentor and a Coach
So there is no confusion between mentoring and coaching, coaching gives special instruction on leadership skills so that they systematically build local churches that dominate our culture.
Another way of explaining coaching is to say, coaching is about what the leader does.
It will be impossible for a mentor to always avoid questions that fall into the category of coaching. Nor should they be avoided. This is understood, but the mentor will be coached to stay on their main area of responsibility, and defer the detailed and ongoing skills questions to a coach.
4. The Focus of Mentoring
Mentoring focuses on the well-being of the individual in three areas. We are tripartite beings, and are made up of body, soul, and spirit. These three areas most affect the way we function. The mentor will focus on the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of ministry couples.
The leader must pay attention to his/her physical health. The mentor will not usually be an expert on how to maintain physical health, but they will strongly encourage the leader to pay attention to such things as weight, diet, exercise, work and sleep patterns, and regular medical checks. With the leaders cooperation, the mentor may refer the leader to a proven health consultant, or dietary expert, and then help hold them accountable to a recognised programme.
The mentor is not normally a counsellor but they are a listener. By listening and helping the leader to express their feelings about the various situations of ministry life, it can become clear whether or not it is advisable for the leader to seek help from a counsellor.
The emotional well being of a leader can be helped enormously by just talking with a mentor. In the process of talking many issues can be resolved. Emotional health includes such things as recognising what and who drains your tank, and what and who fills your tank.
Too many leaders do not practise basic spiritual disciplines. These include such things as daily bible reading, journaling/meditating, prayer. Other spiritual disciplines include solitude, retreats, serving in a programme that keeps your heart soft.
The mentor can help the leader to make these disciplines a way of life.
A2A talks a lot about the health of the leader. From many conversations with leaders of other movements, and the pastors of other movements, no one is making as much effort as we are to make this an authentic distinctive in our movement.
But we must do much more than talk about it.
If we do not engage with mentoring on a voluntary basis, it is likely that in the near future it will become mandatory because of government legislation. The recently concluded Royal Commission into child abuse has made the following recommendation:
Recommendation on 16.45
Consistent with Child Safe Standard 5, each religious institution should ensure that all people in religious or pastoral ministry, including religious leaders, have professional supervision with a trained professional or pastoral supervisor who has a degree of independence from the institution within which the person is in ministry.
by Phillip Mutzelburg
This article continues the series on the distinctives of A2A. They represent what the National Leadership Team believes the Holy Spirit confirmed to us with our spouses early in 2017. It is arguably the most difficult to make comment on without including models and examples. The purpose of these articles is not tell you how to do it, but to provide enough material for thought to allow each leader to arrive at the conclusion that best fits their church.
Usually any discussion on discipleship includes a model, but my experience is that as soon as a model is presented, many leaders stop thinking and fall into “copy-cat” mode. This rarely works, so these short comments will hopefully give you enough to catch the principle, and the inspiration to work out how it can look in your church community.
To help with continuity of thought, I include again the six distinctives we sincerely hope and pray will gain traction throughout the churches of the movement.
Defining "Disciple Making"
In my opinion, the very unique Christian term “disciple” has taken on a number of different meanings over time which have significantly changed the original understanding of what Jesus meant to convey when he said in Matthew 28:19 “Go and make disciples…..”
Perhaps the simplest definition of discipleship is someone who follows what Jesus said to do, and actually does it.
I will say little about the variations of meanings that have minimised the effectiveness of the intent of Jesus other than this. It is my observation that when many Christians think discipleship they immediately think teaching in the sense of classroom activity. The end result is endless “discipleship classes” which often get little adhesion in the life of a Christian. There seems to be a presumption that if you sit in a classroom you will naturally go out and do what has been taught. This is not the case in the majority of cases. Classrooms are comfortable, discipleship is not.
The Challenge of Discipleship
Even a casual read of scripture will make it clear that the greatest challenge for the Christian is to be a true disciple of Jesus. It is not comfortable.
Matthew 8:18-22, Matthew 16:24-26, and Luke 9:57-62 each highlight the challenge of discipleship. Jesus said it would be hard. It is recorded in John 6:66 that when Jesus dialled down on what discipleship really meant, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him”.
The Main Thing is still the Main Thing
Regardless of how hard it is to be a disciple, there is something vitally important about what Jesus said that we should not overlook. “Go and make disciples” was something Jesus intentionally integrated into the very last words he spoke on planet earth before He ascended back into heaven. Matthew records them as the absolute last words He spoke. This is worth contemplating.
If you knew this was your last day on earth, what would be the main thing be that you wanted to say to your loved ones? You would chose to say something that would have lasting impact on them. I am certain you would choose to say something that would ultimately maximise their potential to live a happy and fulfilled life.
Jesus gave us a life mission with these last words he spoke. If you “greek” this out, you will see that while Jesus intended for there to be teaching, he also intended that what was taught was something that we actually did. His emphasis was on what we did as a result of being taught.
He commissioned us to “make disciples”. If you want to make a cake you do not sit in a classroom and learn about how to make a cake, or simply read a cook book. You have to do something before the cake is made. Disciple making is about doing something. You are not a true “Christ follower” until you are doing what Jesus has taught us to do.
The disciples of Jesus listened to his teaching but then got on the road and did what he taught them to do. They made what Jesus taught them to do the first priority in their life.
What Does Making Disciples Look Like?
Again, I want to resist the temptation of describing a model of what I think disciple making looks like, but I can give a general overview of what I think Jesus meant it to look like.
Making disciples does not begin after someone makes a decision for Christ. Our tradition leans heavily into this perspective, and it is for this reason that I think most of our endeavours, as well meaning as they have been, have not been effective.
Our potential to make a disciple begins the first time you engage with someone who is not a follower of Christ. By your lifestyle and demonstration of Christlikeness, you gain favour over time with a new friend, earn the right to share your faith and tell some personal life transformational stories. Either in the process towards a faith decision, or after they make a decision to follow Christ you teach them from scripture about what kingdom living is, or you connect them with someone else who can teach. This can take the form of formal classes. The end result is that they then go and engage with someone who is not a follower of Christ.
This is how Jesus made disciples. Jesus engaged with the fisherman and the tax collector before they were followers. He shared his life with them, and taught them, and overtime they became his followers who did what he did. They changed the world. This is what true disciples of Jesus do.
It is worthwhile making this clarifying comment. While I firmly believe that making a disciple begins as soon as you engage with someone far from God, that person’s journey to becoming an authentic disciple of Jesus does not get traction until they make a faith decision which includes Jesus as Lord of their life.
As I often say, “it is not rocket science”.
A disciple of Jesus goes into the community they live in and look for someone to engage with so that they can develop a relationship that gives them the right to share their faith. They then walk with them on their journey of discovering a relationship with Jesus, and teach them or place them in a teaching environment where the values of the kingdom of God are presented so that they can in turn go out and make disciples. True disciples of Jesus change their communities.
What to do Next?Steve Addison has contributed significantly to this subject of disciple making. He has presented at A2A events in the past, and will be taking two sessions at the coming annual conference in 2018. Get out your notes, or search for them in A2A archives and look again at what he has taught.
As suggested in previous articles, gather with your pastor friends in your geographical area over a cup of coffee, and share how each of you are addressing the issue. Be authentic and share the successes and failures of your discipleship programme. Ask lots of questions of each other so that you can arrive at a place where making disciples is a joy for your church community.
These prompters may help in a discussion:
Some further prompters on this:
Over to you.
by Phillip Mutzelburg
This article continues the series on the distinctives of A2A. They represent what the National Leadership Team believe the Holy Spirit confirmed to us at a retreat with our spouses early in the present year.
As I begin I want to extend my comments in the introduction of my last article. Apostolic leadership is something we as a leadership team believe is fundamental to good biblical leadership. The NLT could easily be called the Apostolic Leadership Team but we choose not to do this because of the abuse of authority that is often associated with apostolic leadership, and a desire not to project an authority beyond what is biblical. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
When we took the bold step of dismantling CLCI, and inviting three other movements to join with us to form a new national movement, it was because of a dream to establish a movement of churches that more closely reflected a God honouring expression of what the church could look like. After extensive discussion and prayer together, only CLCI acted on this leading, but some courageous elements of the other movements, and some other equally courageous individual churches from other long established denominations, caught the vision and became key in establishing something new with us. It is pleasing that people from many of these groups are now represented on the NLT. As this movement, which we call A2A, has been establishing itself, the distinctives which we want to typify our movement have become more visible, and recently confirmed by the Holy Spirit.
The NLT want to strongly encourage you to be intentional about introducing these distinctives into the life and language of your individual churches. As a local church is led by an anointed leader, so our movement is led by a group of anointed leaders. The local church will not be healthy and thrive unless the congregants acknowledge and trust the authority of its leadership. It follows I believe that a movement will not be healthy and thrive unless the member churches and leaders acknowledge and trust its leadership.
Having said all of this, one of our values remains the autonomy of the local church. We believe the ultimate authority of God in the earth is worked out through the local church. This is not a contradiction to anything I am laying out with these introductory comments. Your NLT will never interrupt the vision and mission of your local church unless it steps over the clear boundaries of scripture on essential doctrine, but from time to time we will ask you to implement what we believe is essentially a word from the Lord for your church. This is the purpose of these articles.
So please trust us and ramp up your intentionality to teach, model, and talk these distinctives so that we can become the movement God wants us to be.
The Distinctives of A2A
So we can maintain continuity as we establish these distinctives, I want to list again all six for your reference:
Defining “Celebrating Uniqueness”
What do we actually mean when we say we want to celebrate each other’s uniqueness?
Here is my cut at it. Celebrating uniqueness means we take genuine delight and authentic pleasure at the distinguishing characteristics that are typical of a ministry that is different to ours. Doing this can in reality be challenging because it means we may often have to deal with our own disappointments and insecurities when observing another ministries success.
We are not Meant to be the Same
There is a well-known expression that helps to position us in a mindset that celebrates uniqueness. “Unity is not conformity” We do not have to do everything the same way to have to have unity. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:3 “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. Our unity is based on our faith in Jesus, not in doing everything the same way.
In 1 Corinthians 12:12 through 26, Paul makes it clear that we should celebrate the different part each of us has to play in fulfilling God’s plan in the earth. It is worth a read to remind us that God has designed us differently so that God’s redemptive plan has maximum potential in transforming the life of irreligious people.
Psalm 139 is another reminder of how differently God has designed us.
With these reminders from scripture, we must be more expansive in our thinking about a ministry that s different to ours. A favourite saying of the late great Trevor Chandler in many of my conversations with him was “different is not wrong, it is just different and I have learnt to celebrate it.” Let’s learn together how to celebrate from our hearts those things which are different to what we are doing.
We all do Church Differently
One of the observations I have made as I travel around our own movement is the different ways we all have of doing church. We vary in our worship styles, the focus on worship, preaching styles, content of our preaching, the use of the arts, the non-use of the arts, formality in our churches, and informality in our churches. We also have a different emphasis on some of the fundamentals of our movement such as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, church government, and the great commission. Regardless, I can say in all sincerity that I celebrate them all.
Another expression of our uniqueness and diversity can be found in who we have looked to for inspiration. Bethel, Toronto, and Saddleback are just a couple. Twenty years ago when I hooked up with Bill Hybels and the Willow Creek Community Church, I received considerable and at times aggressive criticism. My inspiration was grounded in the sensational success WCCC had in reaching people far from God. For all our noise about the numbers of people who made “decisions” for Christ in our charismatic and Pentecostal streams, we did not even come close to how effective and life transforming the ministry of Willow Creek was.
The strategy God gave them was one of producing “thematic” services with a major use of the arts to help visitors connect with God. The arts in church had long been a dream of mine, so there was an immediate connect with this strategy. Over the years we had this ministry focus, we saw hundreds of people come to faith in Jesus, and our church grew and became a dynamic church in our community which was easy for those outside of church life to belong.
Some of the criticism we received revolved around our use of audio visual aids and drama in our services. Catalyst was arguably the first church in Australia to use audio visual on a regular basis. We were also criticised because of the way we encouraged visitors on their journey of faith. We had the view that a decision for Christ was more about a process than an event. In other words, our confidence in the altar call as the catalyst for a faith decision was low was statistically proved not to be a life transforming experience. When we allowed people to journey towards a decision where they understood a faith decision was going to mean life change, those decisions stuck and became pillars in the church.
The overwhelming criticism we received in those years came from the Pentecostals with outrageous claims such as “you are prostituting Pentecost”.
So the reason I include some of my story at Catalyst Church in this article is to highlight how crazy, stupid, time wasting, energy wasting, and just plain wrong it was to miss the opportunity to celebrate with us. Today, almost everyone uses AV, drama, and believes in a discipleship track to faith. I hope you get the point.
We must be slow to criticise another ministry for being different and not doing it our way, and see the wonderful plan God has for reaching all kinds of people.
Celebrating Other Movements and Denominations
One of the unexpected surprises of my life in church leadership has been interaction with other movements and denominations. I was birthed in the Baptist tradition where the Baptism with the Holy Spirit was not taught or believed to be of value to the Christian. Eventually we moved into the charismatic stream because we were unable to develop spiritually in the hostile environment of the day. Today that would not have been necessary because not many Baptist Churches deny the value of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit.
Forty five years after leaving the Baptist Church I still celebrate the grounding in the word of God and the excellent discipleship I received in the church of my youth.
When I became involved with the Willow Creek Association, I learnt to celebrate the many different Christian expressions without agreeing with everything they did which was different, including the Catholics and high church Anglicans. I have loved being with these brothers and sisters who worship differently, preach differently, and practise their faith differently, and I have learnt much from them. I celebrate their uniqueness, and have been enriched by my association with them.
I have a high regard for many of their leaders, and many of them are genuine friends. One of the friendships I enjoy the most is with a Catholic brother who has become filled with the Spirit. I have rubbed off on him, and he has rubbed off on me.
I hope you look for time to love the wider Body of Christ at every opportunity given to you.
What to do Next
I believe that best way to celebrate uniqueness is to make the time to meet and coffee with someone who is doing it different to you. Get into their heads and understand what they are doing. Encourage them in the things they are doing and you will make a new friend who will contribute to your ministry in surprising ways.
Blessings to you all,