Friday, March 31, 2006

The Vision of Nehemiah

In his introductory notes to the book of Nehemiah, David Charles Mainse wrote, "Nehemiah's prayer and fasting, qualities of leadership, powerful eloquence, inspirational organizational skills, confidence in God's purpose, and quick, decisive response to problems qualify him as a great leader and man of God."

Nehemiah is one of my heroes of the Bible. I love this book. We could camp out here for a whole year on Thursday Leadership Lesson to unpack leadership principles from this book. And we could initiate a whole new series exploring Nehemiah's visionary leadership. We certainly cannot capture all of the important things from this book in one day or in one article. So I encourage you to read and meditate on this book yourself. For today, let's pull out a few key examples.

The Vision Begins
It all began with a conversation of divine destiny in Nehemiah 1:1-3: "In late autumn of the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes reign, I was at the fortress of Susa. Hanani, one of my brothers, came to visit me with some other men who had just arrived from Judah. I asked them about the Jews who had survived the captivity and about how things were going in Jerusalem. They said to me, 'Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been burned.'"

When Nehemiah heard this, the trajectory of his life changed. This message catalyzed a career move. It was the first step from being a good leader (as cupbearer to the king, he was a trusted companion and advisor) to a visionary leader.

In discussing the principles of passionate vision on Thursday Leadership Lesson, we talked about principles of receiving a vision and doing the hard work of personal preparation. We have talked about how to go public with the vision. And we have talked about how to execute the vision. Let's look at how Nehemiah approached each of these.

Personal Preparation
Nehemiah's vision began when he heard the news of Jerusalem. I think it's significant that Nehemiah learned this news because he asked a question. Although Nehemiah served comfortably in the King's palace, his heart remained in Jerusalem, and the vision that God gave to him was tied to the passions of his heart. God has given each of us unique gifts, passions, and opportunities. Asking questions that are tied to the passions of our heart can lead to vision. A leader should always be learning about the issues that are meaninful to him.

Immediately, Nehemiah "sat down and wept." In fact, for days he "mourned, fasted and prayed to the God of heaven." He confessed his sins, his family's sins, and the sins of Israel. He recalled history and prayerfully considered the ways God had worked in Israel's past (Nehemiah 1:4-10). Nehemiah's vision was birthed and bathed in prayer.

Nehemiah was willing to wait on God's timing. He received the news of the wall in the Hebrew month of Kislev, which was in the late fall and most likely November or December. He did not leave for Jerusalem until the Hebrew month of Nisan, or April. He waited patiently and prayerfully for 4-5 months until the time was right. Sometimes, the hardest part of vision is the waiting.

To pursue his vision, Nehemiah was eventually required to leave his position in the court of King Artaxerxes to relocate to Jerusalem. To pursue his vision, he was required to leave what the security of what was known. He had to say "no" to one thing in order to say "yes" to something else.

Three days after Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he went out to survey the wall. At that point, he "had not told anyone about the plans God had put in my heart for Jerusalem" (Nehemiah 2:12). Nehemiah did not communicate his vision or go public until he gathered the facts, received direction from God, and formulated a plan. In Nehemiah 2:16, he said, "The city officials did not know I had been out there or what I was doing, for I had not yet said anything to anyone about my plans. I had not yet spoken to the religious and political leaders, the officials, or anyone else in the administration." Nehemiah moved slowly and wisely through the hard work of hearing from God and personally preparing for the vision before going public.

Personal preparation often begins years before a vision is revealed. Nehemiah obviously worked well for many years as the cupbearer. As cupbearer, he was trusted by the king. And when it was time to go public, his relationship with the king paid huge dividends. Good leaders will focus on developing Godly character.

Going Public
There were several stages of "going public" for Nehemiah. First, he had to go public with his boss, King Artaxerxes. In Nehemiah 2, when he had to make "the big ask"-- he had to sell his vision and get the king to buy into it. The king granted him permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall. But the king did not simply grant Nehemiah permission to go build the wall. He invested in the vision personally by giving Nehemiah an armed escort on the journey and timber for the construction project.

When communicating a vision, make sure to communicate it confidently yet respectfully to those who are in positions of authority in your life. They can give you guidance and accountability. If you have done the hard work of personal preparation, then it is likely they will not simply grant permission but also find ways to invest in you as a leader.

Nehemiah was required to go public a second time once he arrived in Jerusalem. As we read earlier, he initially did not tell any of the city officials, religous leaders, or political leaders what he was doing. But after he inspected the walls, he went public with the vision in Nehemiah 2:16-18. He said, "But now I said to them, 'You know full well the tragedy of our city. It lies in ruins, and its gates are burned. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and rid ourselves of this disgrace." When Nehemiah communicated, he gave a colorful illustration of the current status and a compelling picture of a possible future. He showed what was wrong with the wall- it was a tragedy and a disgrace. He told them about the "gracious hand of God" and how the vision fit into their calling as a people.

Executing the Vision
To execute his plan, Nehemiah developed a plan, harnessed the power of partnerships, responded to critics well, met the needs of his team, and kept the vision at the forefront.

Chapter three of Nehemiah is interesting. It is one of those chapters, like those in the book of Numbers, that we are tempted to simply skim because it appears to be only a listing of names and places. But chapter three is actually Nehemiah's strategy for executing his vision. It contains his plan and his partnerships. He broke the big vision down into smaller manageable and quanitifiable step by dividing the wall into sections. He enlisted and deployed approximately 40 groups of people to work at different places along the wall. They each had a specific job to do to make the bigger vision a reality. These were S.M.A.R.T. goals (see Executing the Vision).

Nehemiah understood the importance of harnessing the power of relationships. He had already learned the power of relationships through the investment that his former boss made in the project. In Jerusalem, he partnered with 40 groups of people to do the physical work of the vision. But he also partnered with Ezra and possibly Malachi to get their help in communicating the vision. Ezra worked with Nehemiah to orient the entire vision execution around the ways of God and to point people to God and his Law (Nehemiah 8). Ezra helped Nehemiah in the teaching, establishment, and enforcement of God's law.

Whenever you pursue vision, people will criticize you. Rick Warren said, "When you're small, they'll dismiss you; when you're growing, they'll criticize you; and when you're large, they'll resent you. So ignore 'them' and get on with whatever God has told you to do!" Nehemiah was plagued by the criticism of the three stooges- Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. Sanballat, whose name means "Sin gives life, " was the ringleader of this crew. One piece of leadership advice: Never listen to a person whose name means "Sin gives life."

How did Nehemiah respond to the three stooges? He prayed (Nehemiah 4:9), he encouraged the people on his team not to be discouraged (Nehemiah 4:14), he gave people additional resources and a plan so they could focus on getting the work done (Nehemiah 4:16-18), and he narrowed his focus to the goal and worked so hard that he never even changed his clothes (Nehemiah 4:21-23).

If you are pursuing God-ordained vision, people will criticize you and they will misunderstand and misrepresent you. In chapter 6 of Nehemiah, the critics started spreading rumors-- we hear you plan to rebel, you plan to make yourself king, you appointed prophets to prophesy about how great you are. They sent him a letter threatening him that he had better "come and talk it over" with them. On five different occasions, the critics asked Nehemiah to come talk with them. Nehemiah simply responded, "I am doing a great work. I cannot stop to come and meet with you" (Nehemiah 6:3)

As a general rule, follow Nehemiah's lead. Ignore the critics. But let me bring some balance. Scripture does teach us that there is wisdom in the multitude of counsel. We must keep soft and humble hearts before God and place ourselves in accountable relationships with Godly people. In general, criticism that is most constructive will come from those who love you but love God more. Many times, criticism comes from folks that don't know you and don't love you. Pastor Mark has a good rule of thumb regarding how we should respond to criticism: Do not allow an arrow of criticism to pierce your heart unless it first passes through the truth of Scripture. In Nehemiah 2:20, Nehemiah tells his critics, "You have not stake or claim in Jerusalem." Listen only to critics who speak Biblically and have a personal stake or a claim in the vision.

In Nehemiah 4:9, we read Nehemiah's most basic plan for executing his vision: "But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves." In short, he prayed like it depended on God and worked like it depended on him.

Team Training
Nehemiah met the needs of his team while staying focused on the vision. In Chapter 6, we read of struggles with famine and oppression. Like every leader, Nehemiah found himself navigating problems with his team. He appreciated them, valued them, and worked to implement Godly rules and to create a fair working environment. But he always kept the vision of rebuilding the wall front and center. It is easy to spend all of our time managing the urgent issues and responding to the crises. Leading a team requires lots of time, compassion, and patience. But your vision will never come to pass if your team is not cared for well. Address the issues, but never lose sight of the vision. Keep one hand extended to the team, but keep one hand in the workd of the vision and always keep your eyes squarely focused on the vision.

The wall of Jerusalem was completed in 52 days.

Finishing Well
One final note. After the wall was rebuilt and the people of Jerusalem were reconnected with God, Nehemiah returned to his position in King Artaxerxes' court (Nehemiah 13:6). When he returned to Jerusalem later, he realized some vision decay and drift had occured. That old goon Tobiah had even weasled his way into a room in the Temple and taken up residence. Nehemiah had to clean house and re-orient the people around the ways of God. The hard work of vision is never done. The critics never go away. You have to keep communicating, keep leading yourself well, and keep pointing people to God.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Resource: A Discipleship Journey

On Sunday night, I connected with Dave Buehring, the discipleship/equipping pastor from my church in Nashville. It was good spend some time picking his brain, hearing what God is doing in his life, and gleaning wisdom.

He has written a great resource for small groups: A Discipleship Journey (not to be confused with our own NCC Journey small group curriculum). It is an in-depth, powerful, intense spiritual workout. My husband Ryan led a men's small group based on the book last semester. Check it out.

Buzz Commandments

Mark Batterson is posting a series of Buzz Commandments on, and I thought today's article on "Thou Shalt Withdraw to the Wilderness" was particularly good. For those of us involved in relational ministry, finding that time in the wilderness is critical.

In Exodus 33:7, we read that Moses would set up a tent outside of the camp to be with God. As leaders, we must lead ourselves well. And one of the most important things we can do is get outside the camp of ministry and be with God.

By the way, the Buzz Commandments tie into our upcoming Buzz Conference-- an open-source event on creative ministry.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Today's Thoughts

Just thinking a couple of things this morning (which actually demonstrates an increase in brain activity over typical mornings).

This Pastor of Discipleship job has been an interesting journey for me. In my two previous careers (environmental engineer and legislative assistant), I was responsible for producing tangible products- erosion control plans, artificial wetland design for wastewater treatment, policy position papers, legislation. At the end of the day, I could look back and hold in my hands the work I had done. I could send something home to my mom and say, "Here's what I did today. Thought you might want to put it on the fridge."

In this new job, there aren't many tangible products. At the end of the day, I often look back and wonder what in the world I did all day. There's nothing to show for it and I wonder if I am wasting the NCC tither's money. Usually, the days are filled with just being with people. Talking, listening, praying. And I am slowly beginning to realize how important that is.

Margaret Feinberg
said something at Catalyst which has helped me make a lot of sense out of all of this. I can't quote her directly, but she was talking about ministry with today's emerging generations. She said that ministry in today's context requires us to spend significant amounts of time just being with people. The emerging generation wants to connect and process and find quality time with others. And that's the most important thing we can offer them-- our time.

My goal is to facilitate changed lives. Lives that follow Christ more closely and that look more like Him. That's not something you can measure at the end of the day. It takes time. I can invest my time, but I need God to step into the equation and miraculously turn that time into small moments of growth. He turned water into wine and a few fish into a feast, so I figure he can do something significant with the time we invest in others.

I'm still trying to figure out exactly what it is that I am supposed to be doing. And in some ways, I hope that I am always trying to figure things out to some degree so that I stay completely reliant on the Holy Spirit. I don't even know where I am going in this post, so I am going to stop there.

Executing the Vision

There have been numerous times in my life where I have found myself thinking, "Uh-oh. We really have to do this thing now."

It doesn't matter what the project is. At some point, you have dreamed and talked enough and the time has come to do.

It happened to me when I worked in the U.S. Senate. We talked for years about creating a new wildlife refuge in Alabama. As I left a meeting with the city and county officials, representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service, interested local citizens, and the U.S. Army (who owned the property), I was fired up and excited about the possibilities. And then it hit me. Um, we really have to do this thing now. We had talked. Now it was time to do. There was legislation to be written and edited and re-written. There were letters to be sent. There were committee chairmen to convince. I had to build relationships and develop talking points and move the vision from head to paper to reality. There were critics to battle from all sides of the issue.

It happened to me again after I developed the discipleship map. It was an exhilerating 6 months to pray and dream at Great Falls, to research discipleship methods throughout history and contempory small group models, to talk with people about how they grew closer to God. Sketches were scratched onto napkins and in notebooks. We stretched and twisted a tweaked images until a map emerged. The map became the subject of Thursday Leadership Lessons, the centerpiece of the Leadership Retreat, and the creative element of our 2006 small group promotional video. As I left the retreat, I said, "Wow, we really have to do this thing now."

Receiving the vision and communicating the vision can be thrilling. There is no feeling in the world like realizing your heartbeat has jumped to a new frequency as it beats in sync with the heart of God. There is an energy and excitement that stimulates leaders as they give voice to their vision. But there comes a moment where you have to take that first step forward into the ocean of the unknown to bring your vision into being.

There is something a little scary about taking that first step towards executing your vision-- moving it from the quiet place between you and God to the public attention to the first step into reality.

Taking that step towards executing a vision is like clinging onto a train for dear life as it leaves the station at an acceleration of 60 miles in 2.8 seconds.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Develop S.M.A.R.T. Goals
The first steps is to prayerfully take the big vision and break it down into steps or goals. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Requires Faith, and Time Related.

We need goals that are specific enough that we know and can communicate exatly what we are trying to accomplish.

The goals should be measurable. At the end of a game, anyone can determine who won by looking at the scoreboard. What will be the measuring stick for determining the accomplishment of the goals and the movement towards the reality of the vision?

The next two -- achievable and requires faith-- characterize the tension that must be managed when setting goals. You don't want to set goals that are unreasonable and can never be realized. Otherwise, discouragement can derail the good work you are trying to do. Vision excution is often a series of sprints. At the same time, your goals should be big enough for God to fit into. The goals should leave allow room for you to stretch and grown.

Finally, your goals should be time related. You want to put timetables on those goals to help you stay on track and moving.

Orient all of the activity of your organization around these goals. Activities that are not goal-related will suck valuable time, energy, and resources away from the accomplishment of the vision.

Enlist Others
The primary purpose of communicating your vision is to enlist others. As John Maxwell says in The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, "One is too small a number to achieve greatness." We need to get others involved in our vision because we can't do it all on our own. Woodrow Wilson said, "We should not only use all the brains we have, but all that we can borrow."

At some point, you have to make the "big ask" and encourage others to jump on the train with you. If you have done a good job of communicating your vision, then you are 95% of the way there.

It's also important to seek the approval and advice of those who hold positions of authority in your life. In the marketplace, this could include bosses or those responsible for financial implications. In ministry settings, that could include leaders, mentors, and those in spiritual authority. Getting those folks on board may seem like an overwhelming obstacle at times, but it will serve you and the vision well in the long run.

Ignore Critics
Rick Warren said, "When you're small, they'll dismiss you; when you're growing, they'll criticize you; and when you're large, they'll resent you. So ignore 'them' and get on with whatever God has told you to do!"

What if Nehemiah had listened to critics? The wall of Jerusalem would not have been rebuilt. What if Moses had listened to critics? The Hebrews would have re-enlisted in the Egyptian slave corps. What if Joshua had listened to critics as they marched around Jericho? What if Jesus had listened to the critics? When executing a God-given vision, you must keep your heart soft before God and his church while ignoring unconstructive crticism.

Proverbs tells us that there is wisdom in the multitude of counsel. And we should be open to correction if our vision is not aligned with Scripture. Here are the two tests I use:

  • Criticism should only pierce your heart if it passes through Scripture (thank you to Pastor Mark for that helpful advice)
  • Criticism should be embraced primarily from people who love you immensely, but who love Jesus more.

Keep Communicating
Like physical objects, vision follows the second law of thermodynamics and is subject to entropy. It moves towards disorder. Vision can decay and drift over time if the leader does not continue to communicate the main thing. As I said last week, you must keep saying it and saying it until you are sick of saying it and people are sick of hearing it.

Check out Wineskins for Discipleship next week as we explore the life and ministry of Nehemiah: A Biblical Case Study in Vision.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Resource: Catalyst Monthly and Podcast

There are a couple of new resources that have been very helpful to me in re-imagining leadership and discipleship. One is the Catalyst Monthly. This is a free, online magazine written by leaders in the innovative church. The other is the Catalyst Podcast. The inaugural podcast included an interview with Andy Stanly, pastor of Northpoint Community Church.

While I am talking about Catalyst, you gotta go to the conference! Find out more information here.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Communicating the Vision, Part 2

I still remember the vision of my college church: Preach the Gospel to all people, Pastor believers, Prepare disciples, and Plant leaders in all nations.

I have not heard that phrase or been in that church for about 7 years. But I will probably always remember that vision. In fact, even though I am no longer a part of that church (and that catchphrase is no longer at the forefront of that church's ministry philosophy) I think that Preach, Pastor, Prepare, and Plant will always provide reference points for me as I travel on my ministry journey. Why? What makes a vision so powerful and memorable? In this particular case, the vision was communicated, illustrated, and embodied until individual members of the church embraced it as their own.

Last week, we focused on the personal preparation that is required for communicating a vision. Before we go public, we must do the hard work of understanding, writing, embracing, and living the vision. Today, we will talk about going public with vision.

Here is the ultimate goal in communicating your vision: You want people to know, understand, and remember the vision.

Write It Down
First, create your vision statement. This was mentioned last week. Habakkuk says "write down the vision." In your own personal preparation time, you should write out a long, detailed version of your vision. What is the picture of the future that God has given you? Who does it involve? What action is required? What are the principles and values that undergird the vision? What is the Biblical mandate that drives and provides the framework for your vision?

For going public, you should shorten that vision to no longer than 2-3 sentences. If the statement is too short, it will not give people enough information to know what action to take. If it is too long, people will not remember it. In The Power of Vision, George Barna said, "For vision to be effective, it must be simple enough to be remembered and be specific enough to give direction."

Drive People Crazy
Next, say it until people are sick of hearing it. Sometimes it is hard being around visionaries because they can't stop talking about their vision. I cannot tell you how much I hated hearing "Preach, Pastor, Prepare, Plant." But I remembered it! Communicate it with enthusiasm, confidence, and relevance. In the book Leadership Jazz, Max DePree said, "I learned that if you are a leader and you're not tired of communicating, you probably aren't doing a good enough job."

When you speak about your vision, share it with enthusiasm (no one is going to be more excited about the vision than you), confidence (no one wants to follow someone who isn't sure about where they are going), and relevance (no one wants to go somewhere that will not benefit them).

And keep saying it over and over again.

Harness Relational Power
Begin sharing your vision one-on-one and in the context of group relationships. Community will come before action. People want to know they can belong before they believe in your vision. Next, find various and creative ways to share your vision. Use every outlet available. If you are writing your group members an email, get the vision in there. If you have a blog, put it right at the top and find ways to develop it through regular posting. Share it at the beginning of every group meeting.

Illustrate It
Use stories to illustrate your vision. Imagery is more important than dry details or numbers because people are willing to adjust their lives when they see God at work. In Spiritual Leadership, Henry Blackaby says, "Graphs and charts can convey data and engage minds, but a story detailing God's activity in the midst of a secular world can engage people's hearts and gain their commitment."

There are amazing storytellers in the Bible. Moses told stories of the past to motivate the Hebrews to continue marching to the Promised Land. Joshua told stories of the present to give real-time context to the vision they were living in. Jesus told stories of the future to describe the Kingdom of God. God is the master storyteller. The entire Bible is His vision for His relationship with His creation. At NCC, we like to tell stories (and occasionally throw out moonpies) to people and teams whose lives and ministries reflect the vision we are running after.

Tell stories of the past, present, and future to illustrate your vision.

Sell It
Finally, you have to sell it. You have to demonstrate how the vision benefits and adds value to the individuals you wish to involve. Henry Blackaby in Spiritual Leadership: "Vision can motivate followers to do things they would never attempt otherwise." Think about the following questions:
  • Who should be involved?
  • Why should they be involved?
  • How does it help them grow spiritually?
  • Does it help them grow personally or professionally?
  • Are there emotional, physical, or intellectual benefits?
  • Does it tie in to other goals that they have set for their lives?
  • How does it tie into Biblical commands or help them fulfill God's purposes for their lives?
Final Thoughts
In a recent article in Leadership Now, Mark Sanborn said, "To translate values and vision into company culture, they must be communicated repeatedly and modeled consistently. Until an organization's vision and values become a common refrain in the speech, writings, and personal example of leadership, they will remain empty slogans and ineffectual intentions."

To communicate your vision, you must do the hard preparatory work of digging into the Word of God, praying, writing, and living it. Then you must find a way to say it, opportunities to say it, and increase its stickiness by repeating it, illustrating it, saying it in different channels of communication, and demonstrating its value to the individual.

Next week, we will explore the principles behind the execution of your vision.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Reinventing Spiritual Disciplines: Stations of the Cross

As described in the earlier post, pilgrimage is an ancient discipline that I now seek to incorporate into my spiritual life. Another ancient discipline that I am currently experimenting with is the Stations of the Cross. In many ways, it is another form of pilgrimage.

I have participated in two official Stations of the Cross services. The first service was several years ago at the St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter in New Orleans. I don't remember a lot of specifics, but I do remember experiencing God in a way that I had never sensed before. The other service was a physical walk along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem during my pilgrimage there in Fall 2005. The pictures included in this blog are from the Stations in the church at Bethphage.

If you have watched Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, then you have also experienced the Stations of the Cross. He used the traditional 14 stations as the storyboard for his movie.

Matthew 16:24: "Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me.’"

For centuries, Christians have journeyed to the Holy Land to walk in the actual footsteps of Jesus. They follow a path known as the Via Dolorosa ("Way of Sorrow"), which is believed to be the actual route Jesus walked from Pilate’s court to his crucifixion at Golgotha to his burial in the tomb.

The path has also been called Via Sacris ("Sacred Way") and Via Crucis ("Way of the Cross").
The early literature does not specify a number of stations. They range from 7 to 37. By the 17th century, 14 stations seemed to be the most common number and the Roman Catholic Church formalized it. The Roman Catholic Church connected indulgences to praying the Stations but that stopped with the spread of the Reformation.

The 14 Stations of the Cross trace Jesus’ path from Pilate’s house to Golgotha to his tomb, mixing some events we find in Scripture with some that come to us via the tradition of the church. Nine stations are drawn from Biblical accounts; the others are rooted in church tradition. Legend holds that Veronica added herself. Some churches have added a 15th station for Christ’s resurrection. But many people believe that is to be celebrated on Easter Sunday, not during Lent.

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land required a tremendous financial investment. Soon, replicas of the Via Dolorosa were erected throughout Europe so that people could participate in the devotional exercise without going to Jerusalem.

One of the most famous sets of Stations was erected outside the Colosseum in Rome. A Franciscan Friar leads the processional every Friday, and the Pope leads it on Good Friday.

Thousands of pilgrims still trek to the Holy Land every year to walk the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem. At each of the 14 stops, there is a plaque where groups will pause to read Scripture, meditate on the events, pray, and perhaps sing a hymn. The group is typically led by a person carrying a cross.

The Stations of the Cross can be observed as a private discipline, but it is best done in the context of community. The Stations are most often used in corporate worship experiences during the season of Lent and Holy Week. Good Friday is the most common day for the observation of the devotion.

Here's how it usually works. Most Catholic churches have erected symbolic representations of each of the 14 stations. I have seen stations that depict the 14 stations through drawing, painting, sculpture, stained glass, and wood carving. Led by a priest or minister, the congregation proceeds from station to station stopping at each for relevant Scripture reading, prayer, meditation, and singing.

Amazingly, there is no prescribed prayer for each station. Many different prayer books and articles for reflection have been written to complement the Stations.

Stations as Pilgrimage
Observing the Stations of the Cross is really a virtual pilgrimage. It is an altar moment. One of the greatest dangers we face spiritually is remembering what we should forget and forgetting what we should remember. People in the Bible were always making altars to remember what God had done for them. The Stations of the Cross are altars, and practicing this devotional exercise is a virtual pilgrimage.

Tony Jones said, "It’s as if each time I walk them, I’m also walking with my past." I feel like that is very true for me. As I reflect on the Stations of the Cross, I am swept back to the first time I walked the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.

Margaret McKenna explained the Stations as follows: "The walking of the Way of the Cross is the lifestyle of Christians, celebrated ritually in the Stations of the Cross but lived daily."

It is an opportunity to connect with Christ in a very raw way. In Ancient-Future Time, Robert Webber describes his experience, "I have celebrated this service many times, but each time it brings me into a fresh encounter with the journey of Jesus into death. In every step of that journey I carry with me my Lenten experience and my commitment to change from a servanthood to the evil one into living in the likeness of Christ. When Jesus is condemned to death, then nailed to the cross, and finally placed in the grave, I experience my sins being placed upon him, nailed to the cross with him, and finally buried with him in the grave. In this way, the Stations of the Cross service readies me more intensely for an internal experience of the resurrection soon to come."

Stations in Community
It’s also a time of community building. Like baptism, communion, and other spiritual practices, it unites me with other believers across the millennia who have physically and metaphorically walked in the footsteps of Christ through this devotional exercise.

Stations as a Pathway Through Suffering
In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on justice issues related to the practice of the Stations of the Cross. In this approach, Jesus’ suffering is connected to and compared to suffering that exists in the world. Many approach the Stations as a lens through which to view suffering and to consider the Christian’s response to poverty and justice issues.

Megan McKenna says, "The Stations of the Cross are a compass, a guide for the heart, a blueprint, and a source for sounding out our responses to what prevails and happens in our world today. They offer wise counsel on how to walk with dignity, with grace, with compassion, and with the freedom that the children of God have, no matter what they encounter along the way...It is the way of God’s agony among us and how God draws our attention to injustice and sin among us."

Henri Nouwen’s book on the Stations of the Cross, Walk With Jesus, focuses on the stations as a discipline for examining our response to suffering.

This semester, I am leading a Stations of the Cross small group.

The purpose of the group is stated as follows: To explore the devotional tool of the Stations of the Cross within the context of community. We will study both the traditional stations and the new stations and seek opportunities to experience them in different formats and environments. We will also strive to discover ways to make the Stations of the Cross experience available to others at National Community Church.
Many protestant churches totally miss the agony and mystery of Easter. Because we neglect the Passion week, it is difficult to fully enter into the celebration of Easter morning. Practicing the Stations of the Cross can help people prepare spiritually for the joy of Easter.

For futher reading, I would recommend the following books:

Ancient-Future Faith (Robert Webber)
Ancient-Future Time (Robert Webber)
The Sacred Way (Tony Jones)

Examples of Stations of the Cross meditations and prayers:

The New Stations of the Cross (Megan McKenna)
Carrying the Cross With Christ (Joseph Sullivan)
Walking the Way of Sorrows (Katerina Whitley)
Walk With Jesus: Stations of the Cross (Henri Nouwen)
Christ's Passion (Mary Beth Young)


New Stations of the Cross (authored by Pope John Paul II to include only Biblical accounts)
Wikipedia- Stations of the Cross
Catholic Encyclopedia
Online Stations
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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Reinventing Ancient Disciplines: Pilgrimage

Last fall, I went on my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I kept a journal of the entire trip which can be found on here.

I am convinced that pilgrimage is a discipline that we need to re-discover and re-invent for emerging generations. The following article was written to capture my overall reflections and reasons for the value of pilgrimage.

The Lost Art of Pilgrimage

My Journey
"And now I am going to Jerusalem, drawn there irresistibly by the Holy Spirit, not knowing what awaits me." (Acts 20:22)

Two Presbyterians, an Episcopalian, a Lutheran, a Baptist, and a rapper named SaulPaul board a plane...sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, doesn't it? And yet my travels with this eclectic band of sojourners may have forever changed the trajectory of my own faith journey.

Representing the "emerging church" community, I joined six other clergy at St. George’s College for a two-week pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I ignored my friends’ concerns, my own fears and doubts, and my mother’s desperate pleas to remain safely in the United States. Like Paul, I was irresistibly drawn by the Holy Spirit toward this adventure, but I could never have imagined what would await me and how the journey would impact my life.

The Lost Discipline
Contrary to popular opinion, pilgrimage is not a lost discipline in our Western culture. Every year, thousands of Americans flock to historical sites, make etchings at the Vietnam Wall, and shoot off fireworks to connect with their heritage, destiny, and the men and women who walked freedom’s path before them. Americans can feel patriotic anywhere, but something swells in their hearts as they stand at those shrines and connect with their history and with hundreds of others who have experienced the same feeling in that place throughout the years.

Likewise, baseball fans flock to stadium after stadium on a quest to visit every shrine of their favorite national pastime. Similarly, hundreds of people descend upon Graceland every year to visit the grave of a man who changed history by swinging his hips on television.

Pilgrimage is not a lost practice. But as a tool for spiritual formation, it has faded into the background of our faith history, viewed as an outdated activity of odd desert monks, thrill-seeking explorers, or misguided Crusaders.

My own journey led me to a new conclusion. Pilgrimage should be resurrected and promoted as an important tool for spiritual formation. Specifically, the call of pilgrimage connects with the inner cravings of emerging generations, who know intuitively that the Christian life is a greater journey than a 100-foot walk down the center aisle of a church.

Emerging generations recognize that faith is a life-long journey, and pilgrimage appeals to those yearnings to enter into outward physical expressions of their inward faith journeys. It gives them a sense of history, context, community and authenticity.

Pilgrimage gives meaning to our spiritual journeys by reminding us that we are part of the Story of God and are connected to thousands of events and people across the centuries.

In The Place We Call Home, Murray Bodo says, "There is something of time-travel in all pilgrimage."

The stones and pillars of the crumbling ruins of the Holy Land are bursting with stories of faith, betrayal, mystery, and hope. When we walk around the holy places of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee, we are transported back in time and immersed in the story of Scripture.

Emerging generations understand the importance of history and sense they are a part of something larger than themselves. The stones of the sacred places connected me with my roots as a Christ-follower. As I ran my fingers across the Crusader crosses etched into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, I connected with thousands of pilgrims who walked this land before me.

Everywhere I traveled, I was drawn into the massive adventure that God is writing. I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the Story, but I was also able to ponder my role in His epic, and I can pass my own tales of spiritual journey to the next generation.

Pilgrimage gives us the perspective of history.

Pilgrimage brings context to our creeds. St. Jerome called the Holy Land the "fifth gospel." He saw the land itself as another revelation of Christ. Because of my study of this "fifth gospel," I am now in love with Jesus more than ever. Our faith is not tied to a particular place, but I believe that certain environments are more conducive to experiencing Christ. Perhaps He was able to do things in my life that would have been impossible with feet firmly planted at home in Washington, DC.

I felt like Christ took me by the hand to personally show me the places of his life. I will never again read the verse "And Jesus went to Galilee" as merely a transitional verse for a Scriptural scene change. Now, I experience that trip with him, aware of the distance, sights and sounds.

My mind will be forever captive to the images of the land that Jesus called home. I cannot sing about the blood spilled for me without feeling the cold bedrock of Golgotha. I cannot read about his rejection without remembering the spit and insults hurled against me as I carried the cross along the Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross). I cannot read the account of Peter's denial of Christ without hearing in my head once again the cock crowing during the first few steps along the Via Dolorosa.

Pilgrimage moves our creeds from an intellectual framework to a description of something we have physically touched and a life we have lived. It draws us into a deeper understanding of Christ and the life to which he has called us.

Pilgrimage gives us a new understanding of community. I have always found great value in exploring other denominational traditions because they stretch me and spur me to grow. Pilgrimage was a total immersion into the larger Body of Christ. It was baptism.

We are all different parts and we all need each other, just as Paul says in Ephesians. Despite our theological, cultural, and intellectual differences, our diverse team shared the same spiritual path for two weeks. We ate together and swam in the Sea of Galilee together. We argued and hurt one another and forgave and prayed with one another. We shared laughter and tears. We saw Christ together and became the Body of Christ as we worshipped together.

Now, when I think of Episcopalians, Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Urban Ministries, I no longer think of a particular creed, theological position, strength, or weakness. Instead, I see the faces of people who love Christ and shaped my spiritual development.

At the Catalyst 2005 Conference, Bill Hybels said, "Most twenty-somethings are impressed with the concept of community, but they are completely incapable of living it." Pilgrimage baptizes us into Christian community in its purest sense.

Discipleship does not happen in the classroom. It happens in the trenches. Pilgrimage breaks down the mirage of Sunday morning Christianity and exposes the raw elements of our faith. In Genesis 32:22-31, Jacob wrestled with God. He named the place "Peniel," meaning "face of God." He came face to face with God and walked away with a limp.

For two weeks, I wrestled with God. Sometimes, it was fun. Like a father wrestling with a child. Other times, it was a painful struggle. Both types of wrestling are good.

I wrestled with God on the Temple Mount, while remembering Jesus' anger against the money changers and considering the times I have mixed my faith with impure motives for personal gain.

I wrestled with God in the Judean desert, trying to out-worship the rocks which cried out in praise as they reflected the majesty of their Creator.

I wrestled with God at Golgotha as I encountered what I can only describe as a near death experience. I stood holding a cross at the rock which should have been the place of my own death and cried at the realization of my helplessness and his sacrifice.

I wrestled with God in Gethsemane while trying to pray the most excruciating prayer of all--"Not my will, but yours"—and feeling the first pains of dying to self.

This trip was my personal Peniel. I feel a slight limp, but I have seen God's face and that makes the pain more than worthwhile.

Follow Him
Like Peter, the emerging generation would prefer to jump out of the boat and take the risk of sinking rather than to never experience the momentary thrill of walking on water. As leaders, we need to find opportunities to let them take that leap.

Jesus challenges us: "Come follow me." We can follow him right where we are, but our best attempts often leave us longing for something more.

Emerging generations struggle to find authentic expression for Jesus’ call to an adventure that extends beyond the walls of a church building. Pilgrimage conveys the mystery and adventure of our faith better than thirty minutes of our best exegesis and metaphors on Sunday mornings.

It’s time to call the emerging church to an exploration of the 5th Gospel.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Reinventing Ancient Disciplines: Introduction

Recently, I have been experimenting with ancient spiritual disciplines and expressions of Christian faith that were not a part of my own denominational heritage. There are two that really stand out to me as valuable practices for emerging generations: Pilgrimage and Stations of the Cross.

I believe that emerging generations long for more than an hour-long Sunday morning service. They want a faith that is integrated with their life. They want authenticy. They want reality and mystery. They want to put feet to their faith.

Over the next two days, I will talk a little about my personal experiences with these disciplines and why I think they are valuable discipleship tools for emerging generations.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Resource: Leadership Wired

One resource that I use regularly is John C. Maxwell's Leadership Wired. It's delivered straight to my inbox every other week and is packed with practical leadership articles. The newsletter is primarily aimed at business leaders, but I always find ministry applications.

It contains articles on teamwork, leadership, interviews with well-known business leaders, book reviews, and quotes. I love the quotes section. Each month, I copy those quotes into a Word document for easy archival and retrieval.

To learn more or to sign up, go here.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Communicating Vision, Part 1

For the past several weeks, I have been sharing about vision for Thursday Leadership Lesson over at Zone Gathering. We have explored what vision is, the power of passionate vision, and how to receive vision. I want to continue posting those thoughts over here, as well.

Today, I want to start talking about how to communicate vision by focusing on the personal preparation and preliminary communication a leader must implement.

Habakkuk 2:2 says, "Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it." The Message version says it this way: "Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters."

We can have all the vision in the world, but it will not move people unless it is communicated. It must be spelled out plainly in big, bold letters that everyone can understand.

First, search the Scriptures. First, we should examine the Scriptures to ensure that the vision we have is truly from God and in accordance with His word. Secondly, the Bible contains many stories of God carrying out his vision through ordinary people. We can learn from those. Look for examples of that type of vision in the Bible. Learn from the visionary communication of leaders in the Bible. Nehemiah was an amazing vision-caster, and we can learn a lot from his story. In Nehemiah 2:17-18, he declares his vision:
But now I said to them, "You know full well the tragedy of our city. It lies in ruins, and its gates are burned. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and rid ourselves of this disgrace." Then I told them about how the gracious hand of God had been on me, and about my conversation with the king. They replied at once, "Good! Let's rebuild the wall." So they began the good work.
The Bible contains amazing stories of God's vision being embraced and carried out by ordinary people. Dig into the word to ensure your vision is Scripturally sound and to learn from how God has worked in the past.

Second, pray. Godly vision is not man-conjured. Rather, it is the revelation of God's will to a leader. God will guide you through prayer to the right timing and the right words for communicating the vision. Let's look to Nehemiah as an example once again. We read in Nehemiah 1:4 that he mourned, fasted, and prayed for days before he approached the king about his vision. The vision may be from God, but we must ensure that the way in which we communicate it and execute it is also from God. It is easy for me to get so excited about a vision that I just run off and jump into it on my own, forgetting God in the whole equation. Praying and fasting keeps us aligned with God.

Third, write down the vision. As God instructed the prophet Habakkuk, write down your vision in plain, understandable language. Your vision should make sense and be memorable. In his book The Power of Vision, George Barna says, "For vision to be effective, it must be simple enough to be remembered and specific enough to give direction." You should be able to sum up your vision in 2-3 sentences. The macro-vision for NCC Small Groups is Be One, Make One, For One. We flesh it out by saying "Be a disciple, Make a disciple, and do it all For the glory of One- Jesus Christ." We flesh it out even further through sermons, blog posts, etc. But the main points are Be One, Make One, For One. It's simple and memorable.

Finally, begin to live out your vision. People should see the vision in action in your life before you share it verbally. People will adjust their lives to join where they see God at work. Give them a picture, a story, and a living symbol of your vision before you begin to ask people to join you in that effort. Pictures are worth more than words. If you set the example, you will be able to communicate your vision with the same confidence as Paul when he said, "Imitate me just as I also imitate Christ" (I Corinthians 11:1)

Before we take our vision to our groups and ministries, we must do the hard work of preparing ourselves to communicate the vision. We must spend time alone with God searching the Scriptures and aligning ourselves with his will. We must pay attention to the details of the language of the vision and begin to embody it to provide a living symbol and story of the vision.

Next week, we will talk about going public with the vision.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Alpha Launch

We launched our Spring Semester Alpha Course at Ebenezers Coffeehouse last night. It was amazing! I am a big believer in Alpha, and it is the launching pad for our Discipleship Map. We encourage every NCCer to go through Alpha. We have found it to be valuable for the most sincere seekers to the most hostile cynics to the most mature disciples.

The Alpha Course, developed by Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity Brompton, is a practical introduction to the Christian faith.

Here is how it works in general: Alpha is hospitality on steroids. It's all about loving people into the Kingdom. It all starts with a big kickoff event and a video of Nicky teaching on Christianity: Boring, Untrue, or Irrelevant? Then, guests are invited to sign up to be a part of the 10-week course. Each week, the participants will be served dinner, hear a talk on some aspect of Christianity (Who is Jesus? What about the Bible? etc), and then break up into small groups to discuss. Some churches get their pastors to do the talks live. We have chosen to stick with the videos for now because Nicky is such a great communicator. About 8 weeks into the course, the participants attend a "day away" (also known as the Holy Spirit Retreat) where they learn about the role and function of the Holy Spirit. It's good stuff.

At this week's Kickoff, we had 77 guests. Of those, 71 signed up to return for the course. Four people crossed the line of faith. Our worship band played "Where the Streets Have No Name." We catered in some great Italian food.

Here are some ways it works for us:

  1. Front door to the church- We encourage new NCCers to go to Alpha. It's a great way to meet other NCCers and to get plugged in.
  2. Nursery of the church- People who ask for information on following Christ are guided towards Alpha to get their questions answered. People who cross the line of faith or go public with their faith are guided towards Alpha to put down some roots and get connected to other believers.
  3. Connecting Place- since Alpha is so focused on hospitality and community-building, it is a great place for people to get connected. That's why we encourage all new NCCers to start with Alpha, regardless of their spiritual maturity.
  4. Leadership Launching Pad- we have discovered that Alpha is a great way to get people involved in leadership at NCC. We have a couple dozen people on our Alpha leadership team. With the exception of a few of those people, most of those folks were not plugged into leadership, ministry, or small groups before Alpha. Now they are leaders in the church!

If you would like to read more about Alpha, you can read it here, here, and here.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Da Vinci Code Resource

Willow Creek has published some small group resources on The Da Vinci Code. You can find out more here. I have not personally read it (the book in question or the Willow Creek curriculum), so I am not necessarily endorsing the materials. What I am endorsing is that we recognize this window of opportunity and be prepared to harness the renewed discussions in spiritual things that are bound to happen as a result of this movie.

In my former life, I worked on Capitol Hill. When The Da Vinci Code was released, people came up to me every day asking my opinions about something in the book. It was a wide open door every day to share my faith.

I think we will see a similar phenomenon when The Da Vinci Code movie is released. Everyone will be seeing it. Everyone will be talking about it. And it may give us a window of opportunity to talk about our faith.

When The Passion of the Christ was released, we launched some movie discussion small groups. We showed the movie one Sunday morning. And then we started discussion groups the next Sunday morning before church. They did not work as we had hoped. Why? Because that's not where people were talking about the movie. Rather, people were talking about the movie in their normal every day lives. They were talking about it where they lived. They were talking about the movie around the water coolers at work. That's where they wanted to talk about it. Not in some artificially constructed set of relationships.

If I could travel back in time, I would do something differently. Either I would have focused more on equipping all of our NCCers to engage in these water cooler conversations. Or I would have focused on launching our discussion groups in the marketplace. I probably would have done both.

I think the Da Vinci Code may offer us another unique opportunity to talk about the truth of God's word. There will be a momentum and energy generated by it, and people will be talking about spiritual things. It's not about us endorsing the movie. It's about us being ready to give an answer to people who ask the reason for the hope that we have (I Peter 3:15).


Vision: a picture of the future that produces passion (Bill Hybels)

Vision is a frustrating topic. I have a vivid memory of the frustration that can be caused by this word. I was speaking at a church retreat and had just rambled for about 45 minutes on the importance of vision. As I walked around during the "reflection time," I noticed someone looking very puzzled. I walked over to her, and she said desperately, "I want a vision. How do I get a vision?"

Uh...(a few moments of awkward silence) The truth is...I didn't have a clue. I knew vision was important, but I did not know how to guide her to get it. So she was frustrated. And now I was frustrated. As far as I knew, vision just "happened."

Here is one thing I have realized- vision comes more naturally to some than others. I am a daydreamer. When I was five, I dreamed of becoming the first female in Major League Baseball. When I was in 4th grade, I envisioned a "human video" of Carman's The Champion that would set the world on fire to follow Christ. In high school, I dreamed of working with NASA to design a lunar-based space station. Just a few years ago, I designed an entire theme park during lunch.

Vision comes naturally to some of us.

But here is the second thingI have learned: Just because vision comes naturally does not necessarily mean that the vision is from God (as clearly evidenced by some of the things you read above).

In this post, I am going to share some things that can help ignite passionate vision in our lives. But first, I want to talk to those who have vision pouring out of the ears.

I think those of us who "get vision" may sometimes have a harder time with spiritual vision because our own aspirations and dreams can cloud the path that God wants us to follow. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

So how do we capture God thoughts? That's really what vision is-- catching a piece of the heart of God and personalizing it according to your unique gifts, passions, and circumstances. How do we think God's thoughts and envision a future that produces passion in others?

Now, both the dreamers and the realists are all starting at the same place. We want God vision, not vision of our own making. There is no formula. And I certainly don't have a lot of answers. But I will share a few things I have learned.

First, we need intimacy with God. We cannot think God's thoughts if we are not spending time with him. Think about some of the most powerful visions in the Bible. Acts 10 describes the vision that catalyzed the spread of the Gospel to the gentiles. Would we be following Christ today had Peter not taken the time to be with God and see that sheet of unclean animals? That vision sparked a meeting with Cornelius which in turn fueled the spread of Christianity outside the borders of Judaism. Or think about Paul in Acts 16 and the vision of the man from Macedonia asking for help.

Vision comes in times of intimacy with God. We need to be close to God. And we need to come with no agenda. Peter and Paul didn't sit down and say, "Okay, God, let's have a vision brainstorming meeting." They were just walking day-by-day in deepening relationship with God. And God gave them visions that altered the course of history.

Secondly, we need to examine our own history with God. How has God worked in your life in the past? What brought you to Christ? What have been some of the major turning points in your spiritual life? The answers to those questions may be the keys to unlocking God's vision for you as a leader.

If your life was revolutionized in a small group, then you may be passionate about discipleship. If you came to Christ as the result of an evangelistic crusade, you might be passionate about evangelism. If someone close to you was healed, you might be passionate about prayer and miraculous gifts.

God has worked in your life in a unique way for a reason. Looking back over your history with God may produce keys to help you see the road ahead.

In the Bible, we see constant reminders of "history." In Hebrews, we read a who's who list of the faithful. The book of Deuteronomy is basically the same book as Leviticus. In Deuteronomy, Moses is re-issues the law to the second generation of Israelites who will possess the Promised Land. But the tone is different. In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the story of God's faithfulness to the new generation so they will know who they are, whose they are, where they are going, why they are going there, and what they are supposed to do once they get there.

History is the key to unlocking destiny.

Next, we need to be in community with visionaries. As we discussed last week, people with vision are contagious. If you want to be a person of vision, just get around people with big vision. Read people who have big vision. Get involved in a big vision.

Finally, we need creativity. This actually takes us all the way back to the beginning-- we need intimacy with God. If we want to dream God-sized dreams, then we must have creative margin in our lives. It is impossible to think outside the box within the structure and pressures of day-to-day life. We must be intentional about setting aside some time to pray big prayers and to listen to God. We need time to pray big idea prayers, hear clearly from God, and then wait for God to stretch that idea.

Before we wrap up, two big warnings. One, make sure your vision is consistent with Scripture. Two, get feedback from wise counsel.

Next week, we will explore some ways to communicate your vision.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Gladwell Blog

Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink, is now blogging. You can find it here: