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What is God’s leadership training like?

The leaders God is looking for are very different to the leadership the world is looking for.

God is looking for those who walk with a limp; those who, like Jacob, have surrendered unconditionally to God. He's looking for those who have been through his wilderness training school, educated in the college of hard knocks and disappointment, graduated from the seminary of insignificance on the backside of the desert. 

God is looking for those who are dead to their own ambitions, crucified to any desire for limelight and public praise. They have nailed to the cross their own agendas and ministries. They have no need to control. They are willing to go unrecognized, to be of no consequence in the world. They are looking for ways to lay down their lives for others.

Wolfgang Simson describes these leaders as "weeping fathers and mothers, longing for their sons and daughters to overtake them.

These are the men and women God trusts to lead others.



What do we expect of our leaders?

God's ways are not our ways.

People like their leaders to be like King Saul–head and shoulders above everyone else. They like them to be charismatic, outgoing, well qualified. To have university degrees, communicate persuasively, lead convincingly.  Leaders are to be out front, envisioning and inspiring, with larger-than-life personalities.

Taller sunflower

In the church at large, we are no different. We place pastors on a pedestal. Our pastors are expected to have seminary degrees, to have no personal problems and perfectly behaved children. They receive God's vision for their church. They are expected to deliver inspiring sermons, to personally look after their flock, to attract new people to the church.

Small wonder they are burned out and many are leaving the ministry. We've applied the world's standards to an impossible task.

God never intended it to be that way.


Do organic/simple churches believe in leadership?

People often say that simple/organic/house churches do not believe in leadership.  Is that true? 

No! It's just that the leadership we do believe in looks completely different.   This is what is usually thought of as leadership:

Hierarchical leadership

Jesus said, "It shall not be this way among you!" (Matthew 20:26)

We'll explore it in the next few posts.

Organic/missional principles in a legacy environment

Mega churches are starting missional communities in many areas around the country.  (Exponential, the largest conference available for church planters, has several organic church people speaking at the main sessions this year –I've even been asked to take a workshop!) But I  haven't yet heard that many stories from slightly smaller churches.  However, here's a great story of what can happen in a more typical legacy environment.  It's slightly longer than my usual posts, but you'll enjoy hearing what God is doing.

Jim Street contacted me, and when I asked for his story, shared about Listening Posts–which are based on the Life Transformation Groups started by Neil Cole and Paul Kaak.  Here's part of what he wrote:

"I started Listening Posts after attending one of Neil's Greenhouse events. The one I attended was led by Ed Waken. I was looking for a way to engage legacy church folks in a more missional way. Some are, frankly, a little afraid of bold evangelism and many have been shaped that way by churches which have left the 'heavy lifting" in evangelism to paid staff. Further, they have been well trained by the attractional model of doing flashy things up front. 

Anyway, I thought the emphasis on listening would provide them a way to be out in the marketplace, etc. without feeling intimidated at the prospects of being "bold evangelists." (Little did they know they would find those opportunities once they got out there! ha! The Lord has sent many people our way.)

We have the same emphasis on reading scripture but have not insisted on the more direct approach to accountability. I've taken the approach that if they are listening to the Spirit as He speaks to them through the word that they will have plenty to share when they get together. We also pray for 3 people but are emphasizing what I call 'implicating prayer'…that God would use us as answers to our prayers as God wills. 

Our church is very small…about 60 members. About 40% of our adult members are currently involved. 

I approached Atlanta Christian College, where I teach in their adult program, about the possibility of engaging their students in LPs, especially as a way to get them off campus and into the community. They went for that and so LPs are a major component of their students' spiritual formation. Not sure how many groups we have there but there are many.

I have also taught LPs in almost every class I teach. Pastoral Counseling (where I teach that the church and not the pastor-as-therapist-in-residence is called to provide the care and counsel for the people.) I have suggested that LPs would be a good way to get out into the community as a way to provide such care and counsel to the lost and hurting. 

I also teach LPs in my class on Administration and Leadership, which I teach as admin and leadership of a missional movement…I use Alan Hirsch's Forgotten Ways as the text. There the emphasis is more on the missional side of ministry but, in many ways, mission through the provision of "tiny missional communities of disciples of Jesus."

I also approached a large legacy church on the SW side of Atlanta, one pastored by an old friend, about starting up these groups. They are on board and I am hearing some incredible stories of transformation as people actually sit down and read the scripture together and open themselves to the moving of the Spirit!

I spoke a couple of weeks ago to another large legacy church, a church, which at one time, was a very large mega church but which has now shrunken down to less than 400 members. They meet in a gargantuan building. The Lord impressed on me that they should start at least 50 groups by the end of January…and that's what I told them. (One very well-heeled woman has begun one with another woman I know who is a recovering drug addict with an armload of felonies…homeless, unemployed, penniless. Wow!

We are seeing people come to the Lord through this ministry, seeing people being reconciled, being transformed…people who were afraid of being seen with a Bible in a public place boldly praying in those places. 

It is a great, great thing to behold!

I am pressing on to speak in as many churches as I can as a way to encourage people in legacy pews to get out into the community where they listen to God, to one another and to the world. 

It's all about discipleship, community and mission and these little groups are helping people get that. 

Sorry, if I rambled on too much…I'm stoked. 🙂

And, it's great to be stoked at 60! "

Why be like a jar of fleas?

Why it is that very capable people do not take more initiative when it comes to things of the Kingdom? Check out this brief video.



Within simple/organic church we can be like those fleas.  If we are from a traditional church background, we may have become accustomed to passivity. We have become conditioned not to rock the status quo, not to color outside the lines.  We have been trained to follow the lead of someone else, to let others take the risks.  It's not just church that has trained us this way.  Life has trained us that way.  In school we are expected to conform.  If we are employees, we have parameters around which we have to perform.  

[Please note this is not meant as a criticism of legacy church.  Most of us came from this kind of background, and it was how the Lord was leading us to do things at that time.]

Even though within simple/organic church we all now have complete freedom to do whatever it is that God is calling us to, it's often hard to break free from that training. But if we will learn to hear and trust the Holy Spirit, he has all kinds of creative ideas and initiatives for us to involve in.   We can all participate actively when we get together, taking a lead as the Holy Spirit directs.  We can reach out in missional ways.  We can dare to live a 24/7 Kingdom lifestyle in the workplace.

Let's leave the flea circus behind!


Do we expect to be missional?

There were some great comments on my last post on whether to create community at the expense of being missional.  I recommend especially clicking through to Chris Jefferies article.

I'd also like to respond to a couple of posts about the organic nature of mission.  Few of us enjoy the prospect of programmatic mission, and as someone commented, people intensely dislike being made into a project, albeit a worthy one.  That is not at all what I am talking about.

In every aspect of life, we need to listen to the Lord and respond to what he says. This is especially true in the context of mission. However, what we hear is often colored by our sense of expectancy (or lack of it).  If we never expect God to say, "Go and start a conversation with that person," we're not likely to hear him say it.  Do our lives, including our prayer lives, have an outward focus or an inward one?

If we are already praying for the not-yet-believers in our lives, if we are asking God for opportunities to share the story of our walk with God with someone, we are much more likely to recognize his promptings to share our faith.

The same is true for us as a group.  If the focus of our simple church is ourselves and our own situations, and we never pray for our neighbors or different groups within our cities, we are not likely to hear him say, "There's a refugee work I want you to involve in," or "Go and prayer walk this low income housing project."

Let's ask God to give us his heart for the world around us. It's a prayer he delights to answer.

Two more stories from gathering to listen

Here are a couple more stories from when our group gathered with no other purpose than listening to God:

A beautiful illustration comes from our gathering time in Basel, Switzerland.  Our host had procured a bronze model of King Arthur and his knights surrounding the Round Table.   The king and his knights had drawn their swords, laying them down and centering them at the middle of the Round Table.  It was a picture of laying down their personal agendas and swearing allegiance to the king and to each other.  This art piece spoke to us of the absolute necessity that each of us be willing to stand at the table with our king, shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters. We also learned that, even though we are ready to slay the dragon, we always need first to lay down our swords and be willing to listen for direction from our king. 

  Picture 1


Our time in Plano, Texas illustrates the value that each person plays in corporate listening to God.  One of us had a picture of a scroll, which was torn in several pieces.  Each of us had a piece of that scroll, and as we shared what God had spoken to us personally it formed a whole scroll, a complete word from God. From this experience, we are learning that God speaks to the whole community.  Even the times when some of us felt like we had nothing of importance to share or nothing at all, each message was important and formed a beautiful tapestry—one message from God.  And we needed each piece of the message.  We needed each person to listen and obey.  We needed to trust each other and God in each other.  


Gathering to Listen #3

Continuing the story of the listening gatherings:

The next morning, we started to pray through the things D.B. had described. The first place we prayed was on a hilltop where the scene with the Native American man had taken place. We repented for what had been done to his people in that area and bound the effects of the curse on the city and reservation, proclaiming blessing instead on both regions.

The next place we went to was the school, which looked more like a prison than an educational center.  We walked all round the school and prayed for the students, the faculty, and the administration.  We sensed we were supposed to anoint the doors and had brought a bottle of oil for the purpose.

The strange three-level house was next on our agenda.  It appeared from the outside like a normal, single story house—nothing unusual about it.  Behind it was a gorge, spanned by a footbridge.  As we stood on the bridge, praying about the picture, a lady came out of the house.  D.B. approached her.

“I’m interested in old houses,” he said.  “Can you tell me about yours?”

“It’s kind of unusual,” she replied.  “It has two basements with a swimming pool in the lowest one.”  She went on to describe the elevator down, the secret passage, as well as the identity of the owner during the era of the vision.    And it was all in perfect alignment with what God had revealed.

We were astounded at the accuracy of the picture.  Our praying took on urgency as we realized the reality of the vision.

We ended our prayer walk at city hall, where one of us envisioned a chain of corruption linking it to the police station and other government buildings.  We prayed that God would break this chain and bring righteousness to these seats of power.  

What were the effects of our prayers?  See the next post


Description of a Spirit-led gathering #3

How many sermons can you remember a month later?  A year later?  A decade later?

When we were in medical school, we were involved in a controversial church plant–the Christians at the hospital decided they were a church.  Since they spent most of their time in the hospital and experienced great fellowship together, it was artificial to go to somewhere else on a Sunday morning for an hour.  Many of the medical students, nurses, physical therapists, cleaning staff, even some doctors, came together as a church in the consultants' dining room.  We were spoken against from some of the best pulpits in London! (How can a group of students start a church?  Who is going to teach them, etc.)  We were thrown out of the national organizing body for Christian student groups (although many of the leaders came to us privately and encouraged us to follow the Holy Spirit).

Together we were going through the book of Nehemiah. 

Ancient walls Nehemiah chapter 3 is one of those passages that most people skip.  It lists all the people and the area of the wall that they were rebuilding.  Basically it's a list of names, followed by which part of the wall they were responsible for.  We debated leaving that chapter out and going on to the next one, but eventually decided to study it anyway.  As we went through the passage, there was a mounting and almost palpable air of excitement.  The Holy Spirit revealed clearly to each of us the truth that as everybody does their part, the Kingdom is built.  Everybody is important within the body of Christ.  Today we take that for granted, but it was revolutionary thinking to us in that fledgling church.

What is perhaps most remarkable is that I still remember that time clearly, even though it was decades ago!  The Holy Spirit is indeed an amazing teacher, and even the way that we learned with everyone participating was a picture of the truths he was imparting.

Description of a Spirit-led gathering #2

Several simple/organic churches had come together for a celebration gathering.  At one point, it was suggested that people get into smaller groups to pray for each other.

Over in one corner, a family–mom, dad, and their two kids–were praying together.  Each had tears running down their faces. God was touching them.

I was close to a group of kids, ages 6 to 10.  Most of them were from Christian families, but there was one young lad there from the housing projects.  I was interested to see how they would react to him.  Most of the kids shared similar needs.  "My aunt's car has stopped running, please pray."  "My teacher at school is off sick," and so on.

When it came to the turn of the kid from the projects, his need was in a different category.  "My mom has thrown my dad out of the house because he was doing crack.  And now we don't have any money to pay the bills or buy food!"  How would these young Christian kids cope?

I needn't have worried.  They all prayed so simply, each tackling a different aspect of the problem.  Kids don't have a junior Holy Spirit! They can follow Jesus, sometimes more easily even than adults!

Child praying

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