Equipping Your Reimagine Journey
The #ReimagineFORUM Coaching Session with John Barcanic
• Ministry Coach • Church Leadership Development • Community Transformation •
The mission Jesus gave us more than 2,000 years ago—to make disciples of all nations—hasn’t changed. (Matthew 28:19-20) However, we must adjust our methods as the realities around us evolve. We no longer live in a feudal society in medieval Europe, so we don’t do ministry like they did hundreds of years ago. We also don’t live in 1950’s North America, so we shouldn’t do ministry as if we did.
Society in Europe and North America have radically changed in the short 50 years I’ve been alive. Today, for every 1 person who trusts in Christ for the first time, 4 people leave the faith. Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the word; and the number of Muslims will equal the number of Christians within 30 years. (Muslims are not the enemy of Christians, by the way, but I want my Muslim friends and neighbors to know the joy and peace of a relationship with Jesus Christ.) In addition, 67% of missionaries around the world now come from Africa, Asia, and South America. By 2050 that percentage will be 75%. Things are changing everywhere we look. We need to listen to how the Holy Spirit would have us join him to meet today’s issues, not yesterday’s.
Mark Twain said, “Change comes from the edges.” In other words, most transformation doesn’t come from the top down or the center out. The people at the center and at the top often have too much invested in the way things are now to be willing to embrace the risks involved. Long-term effectiveness necessitates adopting new ways of seeing our context, learning new skills and habits, seeking to understand those who aren’t like us, and—most difficult of all—sharing power with others .
A “reimagine-journey” assumes there will be change to the status quo. In our consulting at Intersekt, we often ask people to create a “stop/start/keep” list. Of everything we’re doing now, what should we stop doing? What new initiatives should we start doing? And what are we doing that is important and effective enough that we should keep doing it?
In the same way that it can be difficult to part with those super-comfortable sneakers that are falling apart, it can be hard to stop doing things that were fruitful in the past, but simply aren’t as effective as they used to be.
I agree, but …
I absolutely agree we live in a time of extraordinary change. I also believe these times call for a radical reimagining of how we do what we do, including traditions, programs, models, systems, and so on. But I also believe this is a tremendous opportunity for the Church and her leaders.
When Mordecai and Esther first heard about Haman’s plan to commit genocide against the Jews, they must have been terribly frightened. I’m sure they didn’t see this as an opportunity to join God in building the faith of his people for generations to come. And yet, that’s what it was. God used Esther “for such a time as this” to show his greatness and his great love for those he called to himself.
Extraordinary change is always accompanied by turmoil. The days we live in are no different. Many of the changes feel like threats. But, God is not threatened. He still sits comfortably on his throne (see Isaiah 6). He is looking for those he can send into the midst of the change and turmoil to accomplish his purposes, show forth his glory, strengthen the faith of his people, and love many to himself.
If I ask you to imagine an elephant, an image of an elephant immediately pops into your mind. This picture is based on your knowledge and experiences of elephants in the past. If I ask you to imagine a church, the picture in your head will similarly be based on your knowledge and experiences of the past.
To “reimagine” is to carefully examine the images we carry. Are elephants really small, prickly animals that curl into a ball for self-defense? Of course not. (And if that was the image in your head, please get yourself to the local zoo immediately.) Are elephants large, lumbering animals, with huge ears? Yes. Are they kind of dopey and not very smart? Actually, no. Elephants are incredibly intelligent. Reimagining means we adjust the image in our head to match the image in reality.
Reimagining church and ministry involves a few extra steps. It isn’t enough that our mental picture and the external reality match. We need to examine our mental image and compare it to what “could be.”
Starting with Scripture, we begin by asking ourselves why church and ministry even exist. We compare our experience with the experiences of those in the Bible. We look at how effective they were and how they bore fruit and ask hard questions about our own effectiveness and the fruitfulness of our own ministries.
We must allow ourselves to dream, unhindered by the little voice in our heads that says, “That’s not possible.” With God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26) Starting with the end in mind, we ask, “What would God’s people look like if Church and ministry were maximally effective. How would lost people respond? We paint mental pictures of the transformation God could bring to our friends, neighbors, communities, and ourselves.
Once we are convinced that the picture in our heads is as vibrant, colorful, and brilliant as the picture in the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), then, and only then, we ask ourselves what kind of relationships, resource sharing, loving, learning, practicing, and activities, will help us begin to realize that picture.
As we ask these questions, we must always, always, remember that the primary transformation is within ourselves. If we, as ministry leaders, are not being daily transformed more and more into the image of Christ, then how can we ever think we can lead others in that direction?
Oops. I guess I got a little ahead of myself by beginning to answer this question earlier. Leaders have a lot invested in the status quo. After all, they helped build it. To recognize the need for change and to be willing to tear down what they so carefully built with their own hands in order to facilitate that change takes an amazing amount of courage and humility. Pride will never allow us to be as effective as humility will.
Fear exacerbates the problem. In one sense, the enemy of a ministry that bears much fruit is a ministry that bears some fruit. It’s easy to abandon an idea that clearly isn’t working, but how do you give up on something that is working some? At least, better than the church down the road? Fear of what others will think, fear of the inevitable pushback from powerful people, fear of losing power, fear that the new thing won’t be as effective as the old thing, fear of failure, fear of monetary loss, and a hundred other well-founded fears, mean courage and faith are essential if we are to embark on a journey of reimagination. (At this point I will shamelessly plug my book, God Confidence: Cultivating Courageous Faith in Jesus Christ, as a way of moving beyond those fears.)
Opposition complicates everything. And opposition can come from surprising sources. Other leaders, elders, staff, influential members of the congregation or ministry, even friends and family members may advise us not to mess with success. The vast majority of people aren’t naturally inclined to change. They will fight it with varying degrees of ferociousness, but they will fight it.
Finally, lack of persistence will doom any change initiative before it has a chance to take its first breath. In the early days of a reimagine journey we stand high up on a mountain, look across to a higher mountain and say, “There. That is where God wants us to go.” Our minds are full of the images God has given us for the future. We see marriages healed, the lost found, the hungry fed, the poor empowered, and disciples growing in Christ and multiplying. Very quickly after starting our journey, however, we realize that our first steps do not take us higher to the next mountain, they take us down into the valley that separates the mountains. If we are to achieve the vision God has given us, we must be willing to journey all the way down to the lowest point of the valley before we begin to climb the mountain he’s promised us. Too many leaders, facing discouragement, disillusionment, and resistance in the valley, give up too soon. We must persist until we accomplish the goals God has given us, or until he clearly tells us we are to go another way.
If we are to be Scripture-fed, we must start with Scripture. If we are to be Spirit-led, we must also start with Scripture. While the Spirit may speak to us in many ways, the one way he has promised to speak most clearly is through his Word, the Bible.
Start by examining the various images and metaphors God uses to describe his people: temple, flock, body, family, and so on. As you dig in, don’t just look at the New Testament, but explore the ways God depicts his people in the Old Testament as well. Studying the construction of the tabernacle and the temple, for instance, can give insight to what God means when he says we are his temple and his dwelling place. The goal here is to get a fresh perspective on who we are, and why we exist as God’s people. We reimagine our purpose.
Next, take a look at the various commands God gives us. Ponder the “one anothers,” the variety of Old Testament laws that apply to interaction within the community and those that relate to the foreigners and sojourners. Consider the commands and admonitions Jesus gives about how his people should act. At this point, we are looking for new insight into our impact and what God wants us to do. We reimagine our mission.
Then, observe the variety of methods God uses to accomplish his purposes. How does he work through Joseph in Genesis, Moses in Exodus, Joshua, Samuel, David, and Solomon? How does he use Peter, Phillip, Stephen, and Paul? In this stage we want to gain a deeper understanding of how God works in the world. We reimagine our activities.
Finally, after synthesizing what you’ve discovered so far, begin to ask yourself the question, “What if we changed everything?” I’m not suggesting that you actually change everything, but starting here will keep you from prematurely closing off paths of thinking that might be valuable. Don’t allow yourself, or anyone else to say, “That’s not possible; we can’t do that; we shouldn’t try that; people won’t like that; it will never work.” Having re-imagined what’s possible, you can then choose from the great number of options to begin designing what you will actually do.
Having said that, a few leaders to consider checking out: Tim Keller (timothykeller.com, redeemer.com, gospelinlife.com) brings a wealth of experience and theological solidity to the conversation. Alan Hirsch (alanhirsch.com) has a track record of asking good “why” questions and pointing us back to the New Testament experience for answers. I’ve recently been checking out what’s happening at dmmsfrontiermissions.com (dmmsfrontiermissions.com) as they encourage focusing on disciple making movements. Nik Ripken’s work has a way of stripping away the nonessentials.
Here are a few thoughts I’ve been noodling on recently. I’d love to hear what you think about them.
Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you know the beginning from the end. You know the season of history we are in right now. Nothing we face is a surprise to you. You have all the power in the universe at your disposal. And you have invited us to ask, seek, and knock, to pray for wisdom, to pray with audacity for what we need as we proclaim the gospel of your kingdom.
More than anything right now, I ask that you would unify your people. Jesus, you told us that it would be our love for one another that would show others that we are yours. I fear we are deeply divided over issues other than your cross. Help us, like Paul, to decide to know nothing but Christ, and him crucified, allowing nothing less to capture our vision and our energy. May we proclaim Christ boldly, humbly, courageously, lovingly, consistently … together. In the power of the name of Jesus, Amen.
Reflection on John Barcanic’s post - Part 1
Why is it important for Christian leaders to begin a journey of rethinking ministry? - because, while the Gospel doesn’t change, the world continually does. It’s not that the Gospel needs to change, but as Paul says: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Cor 9:22) But what does this mean for the church, its leaders, and its members?
“…Very quickly after starting our journey, however, we realize that our first steps do not take us higher to the next mountain, they take us down into the valley that separates the mountains. If we are to achieve the vision God has given us, we must be willing to journey all the way down to the lowest point of the valley before we begin to climb the mountain he’s promised us. Too many leaders, facing discouragement, disillusionment, and resistance in the valley, give up too soon. ..”
“The people at the center and at the top often have too much invested in the way things are now to be willing to embrace the risks involved” - so don’t expect the institutional / denominational church to change. Tradition is valued - maybe too highly - probably more highly than the risks needed to reach the lost.
“Change comes from the edges” - so change is more likely with discipled lay people than with clergy who are flat out doing what they think is expected of them by tradition (within the church and denomination).
“Long-term effectiveness necessitates adopting new ways of seeing our context, learning new skills and habits, seeking to understand those who aren’t like us, and—most difficult of all—sharing power with others.” - for me, whilst this affects the church, it is more a vision for discipled lay people than for the church as a whole. It requires church leaders (clergy) to share in ministry with lay people, and to trust them.
Decades ago, church services incorporated both worship (which gathered God’s people around him in praise and adoration), and outreach (which allowed the lost to hear his voice and come to faith). God’s people would invite their “lost” friends to church as a means of bringing them to Christ. Generally speaking, the lost don’t come to church any more, and God’s people have largely stopped inviting them, so most services are now primarily worship not outreach. But God has always commanded us to “Go, make, grow, disciples of Christ”. Who then is responsible for outreach: the clergy who lead the church, the church (collectively), or its members (individually)? I have always believed that it is the church’s role to equip the saints for their works of service in the world (Eph 4:11-16), and that outreach is a principal part of that service. Church can then focus on worship and the equipping of God’s people, and God’s people can then focus on living the Gospel in the world: serving the needy; being salt and light to those around them in their daily lives; seeking opportunity to find and lead the lost to Christ; and inviting the saved to worship God with them in church.
I believe this model is both biblical, and unchanging, even in a rapidly changing society, for each of God’s people must adapt to the changing world in which they live whilst standing firm on the rock of Christ, in the strength and power of the Spirit; each person making the most of the networks and situations in which God has placed them to seek and save the lost. Besides worshipping as a church, the church must also serve as the fellowship’s mission centre, for the equipping, training, prayer support, and resourcing of its missionary members. Equipping the saints for their works of service is as critical to the health of the church body as its role in leading corporate worship.
But this model is not new. It may sound new because it isn’t what is happening in most churches. So why is this model not working? Is it because some of those in church are not God’s people? Is it that God’s people are refusing to reach out with the grace, the Good News, and the gifts that God has lavished upon them? Or is it that the church has failed to disciple them, for if God’s people had indeed been discipled, then by definition they would be out discipling others! I would contend that most of God’s people are inadequately discipled, that they fail to recognise their responsibilities before God, and that they are inadequately supported, resourced, and encouraged, by their church. I believe discipleship comes hand-in-hand with (progressive) sanctification, the filling and joy of the Spirit, the dying to oneself, and the growth in Christ-likeness.
For me, a proper focus on the effective discipleship of God’s people does not cause the collective church to descend its mountain, but to remain the strong light on the hill (Mt 5:14-16). It is for its members to be his torch-bearers, descending the mountain to the dark places of the world inhabited by the lost in order to save them and to bring them back into the strong light on the mountain, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them (Mt 16:18; Jn 1:5). But see Part 2 of my response.
Go, Make, Grow, Disciples of Jesus
Reflection on John Barcanic’s post - Part 2
“Here are a few thoughts I’ve been noodling on recently. I’d love to hear what you think about them.
● Church is not an event.
● Ministry is not a program.
● Everything rises and falls on relationships.
● Authentic transformation isn’t optional.
● Community engagement is essential.”
John, I love your “noodling”! Please noodle some more!
Church is not an event
The church should recognise that it is engaged in spiritual warfare (Eph 6:12) for the souls of the lost - it is the call of God that brings the dead to life - individuals to himself, and into relationship with one another through faith in him. Thus the church belongs to God as a manifestation of his supernatural power: the people of God in the Kingdom of God; it is not a man-made club. The church is ordered by, and in response to, God’s Word: its rules of membership and conduct are apparent in, and derived from, the Scriptures; they are God-given and must not be changed by its human leaders to accommodate the changing values of the world. It follows then that “church is not a building”; “a church service is not an event”; and even when watched remotely during a pandemic, it never constitutes “entertainment”; but church occurs when two or more of his people meet together in his name, for then they are gathered around him spiritually - he is with them (Mt 18:20); such meetings not being in “name only”, but for his purposes, for his glory, in his presence.
Ministry is not a program
If the above is a definition of “church”, then “church” extends way beyond scheduled worship services to include every church ministry and every Christian activity conducted by two or more of his people in his name. In this sense, two or more of God’s people working together to serve the needy, and to seek and save the lost, do not simply represent Christ, or the church, but - spiritually speaking - they are Christ, and they are the church. Ministry is supernatural from beginning to end. It is definitely not a man-made program of the church, but a Spirit-led movement of God’s people (Eph 4:11-16): Christ serving the world through his church.
Everything rises and falls on relationships
Too many people, who consider themselves to be Christians, know about God, yet seem not to know God: they know of him from the Bible, but have no relationship with him through the Spirit. In Acts 8:14-17, Luke records how people in Samaria had “accepted the Gospel”, and “been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus”, yet had not received the Holy Spirit, who came upon them later when Peter and John placed their hands on them. This sounds like intellectual assent, despite Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 2:14.
Luke does not record the why’s or wherefore's of those in Samaria receiving the Holy Spirit through the laying-on of hands, but Paul spells it out in 1 Thess 1:4-5.
“For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.”
Those “chosen by God” (his elect), demonstrate the work of the Spirit in their lives: “deep conviction” and “power”. These people in our church need to be discipled to disciple others. Those without deep conviction need to hear the Gospel, and maybe also need to be prayed over, with the laying-on of hands, until their profession of faith also exhibits deep conviction and concern for the lost, for without the Spirit there is no relationship with God in Christ, and without a relationship with Christ, they cannot serve as his ambassadors (2 Cor 5:17-20).
So then, Christian members of the church do not simply build new relationships with the un-churched: rather, God’s people (who are “in Christ”) take Christ to the lost, and make his appeal through them as his ambassador: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor 5:20b). This is spiritual, supernatural, and relational, from beginning to end!
Authentic transformation isn’t optional
True repentance forsakes the world and the flesh to accept Christ as Saviour and Lord (1 Jn 2:15-17). True repentance is necessary to become one of God’s people: to be saved, and to serve.
While an individual’s sanctification may be progressive, “worldliness” will delay it and can drastically impact one’s service for God. Continued worldliness can bring shame on the individual and the church. Authentic transformation isn’t optional.
Community engagement is essential
We are called to Go, make grow, disciples of Christ (Mt 28:18-20). We are called to be salt and light in the world (Mt 5:13-16). We are called to be Christ’s ambassadors seeking to reconcile the lost to God (2 Cor 5:17-20). We are to be prepared to answer those who ask us about the reason for the hope that we have (1 Pet 3:15-16).
It is impossible to do any of these without being “in the world”; without engaging with our lost community.
In all of this:
God calls people to accept Jesus as their Savior, for they cannot save themselves.
He calls them to accept Jesus as their Lord: to live for him, not themselves.
He calls them to repent of their sins, to turn away from their worldliness.
He calls them to trust him, to have faith in him.
He calls them to follow his Son in order to live like him, to become like him.
He calls them to do his work in the world.
He calls them to love him with their heart, soul, mind, and strength - to bring glory to him.
He calls them to love their neighbor as themselves.
People need to be discipled for salvation, from darkness to light, from “lost” to “saved”
People need to be discipled for sanctification, for growth in Christ-likeness
Discipled people need to make disciples of others.
Go, Make, Grow, Disciples of Jesus