C. How Do We Get There? — Seven steps to transform your local church

The transformation of a local church can be viewed in terms of a logical progression of steps. These steps don’t always follow one another in an orderly fashion. Nevertheless, I will present them as a coherent progression because it is easier to understand. Where there may be alternative paths, I will highlight this possibility and its significance at the appropriate time.

The seven steps of transformation of a local church

Transformation happens, not as a well-designed, planned program, but as a series of surprising changes – like a child growing. A church may plan a transformation program but it will never proceed according to plan, because the Holy Spirit is involved and a local church is complex. So, when you read the following Steps, think of them as overlapping, iterative and ‘messy,’ meaning never working exactly like you expect. It is best to think of transformation as a continuous learning process, with new understandings raising new questions and the need for more learning. Nonetheless, the work of each of these Steps is necessary so the local church ought to begin its ‘change journey’ by understanding the basics about each Step. This blog is only an introduction; I will be writing a detailed Guide and making it available when it is completed. But remember, there isn’t a ‘cookbook’ for transforming your local church. Real transformation is ‘advanced’ change, and there are no experts in local church transformation, only many students sharing their experiences.

Here, briefly, is the ‘100,000 foot view’ of local church transformation, to give you a perspective of what is involved involved.

Step 1.             Awakening – An individual or a group within a local church reads this Blog or has some other experience, and realizes that their local church needs to be transformed. These individuals are the Change Agents within the local church. They approach the Pastor and obtain his support to do Step 2, the Assessment Phase.

Step 2.             Assessment – A ‘Learning Team’ appointed by the Pastor, which includes the original Change Agents, reviews the church’s current ability to carry out Jesus’ purpose and presents their findings to the Pastor as well as other senior local church leaders.

Step 3.             Sponsorship – The Pastor agrees to be the Sponsor, and appoints and empowers a Transformation Team to design, plan and lead the rollout of the transformation. The original Change Agents ought to be part of this Team, or at a minimum be Advocates.

Step 4.             Design – The Transformation Team designs the future local church’s ‘Value Streams’ to better carry out Jesus’ purpose, and the changes required to build the future church. [There will be a future Blog covering Value Streams, a specific way of thinking about the ‘architecture’ of the functions of a future local church.]

Step 5.             Decision and Enrollment – The Transformation Team receives the Sponsor’s approval to implement the design and enrolls those people in the local church who are both the change leaders as well as the Beneficiaries of the new design.

Step 6.             Implementation – The change leaders, supported by the Transformation Team, do the detailed design and plan the required changes, then implement them, supporting the Beneficiaries of the changes as they make their own change journeys.

Step 7.             Guidance – All during this process, the Pastor and other appointed senior church leaders review and guide the progress of the transformation.

Again, these steps will be detailed in the Guide to be made available later.

The key roles involved in transformation of a local church

There are four key roles that are critical to the successful transformation of a local church. The people involved in these roles need to learn how to do them. It should not be assumed that people in these roles understand what is required of them just because they have read this Blog. This implies the need for an advisor (or teacher or coach) with experience and expertise to also be involved in the transformation process.

Sponsor (Pastor as Servant Leader) – A person who defines the intent of the transformation, allocates resources and enforces consequences of following (or not) the transformation initiative within the local church.

Change Agent (the core of the local church’s Transformation Team) – A person who sees the need for transformation, energizes the local church to change, and designs the changes in the local church required to accomplish the transformation.

Advocate – A person who believes in the transformation and actively persuades others in the local church to support it

Beneficiary – A person who must change in order for the transformation to happen, and who also receives the benefits of the transformation

These roles will be detailed in the future Guide.

Three major risks in transforming a local church, and how they must be mitigated

Lack of clarity – When the Sponsor, Change Agents and Advocates are unclear about the goal and process of transformation, a number of things can happen to endanger the transformational journey. First, the people in the church get mixed messages, which leads to added change resistance. Second, decisions are made more difficult because the choices are unclear. Third, energy is wasted pursuing tangents because the goal and outcomes are indistinct. This risk is mitigated by an early focus on achieving absolute clarity about intent and constant communications about this intent among the key players as well as the entire church – why we need to change; the desired outcomes and what the major steps will be to get there.

Change resistance – This risk is natural in every kind of change but especially in the fundamental changes involved in transformation. Many people may feel as if the church that they know and love is threatened by change, and they try to find ways to slow progress or even completely stop transformation. This risk is mitigated by helping such people adjust to change in small steps.

Poor management – The changes involved in transformation may involve all aspects of a church, many people and multiple tasks, all of which need to play together harmoniously. There needs to be an overall transformation initiative manager to achieve this result and many times that skill is absent in a church. The confusion that can result from poor management can demoralize the Transformation Team and even the whole church. The risk is mitigated by ensuring competent planning and management disciplines are understood and practiced.

Transformation as Cultural Change

The important thing to keep in mind is that transforming your local church is fundamentally about changing its culture. This generally means  ‘freeing’ it from the restraints that it has put on itself in order to ‘co-exist’ with the surrounding culture. Only if you see transformation in this light, will you focus on the right areas that need changing. A key barrier to cultural change is busyness. It is too easy to create activities that serve others but also serve staying in the status quo. Also, Jesus is the true leader of transformation and we always need to reflect and apply Jesus’ Principles before acting. “Who are we following in this area of church activities: the world or Jesus?” Since Jesus’ Principles are transformational, when we faithfully apply them, we will inevitably run into conflicts between the way things are now and the way they ought to be. That gap is an opportunity to transform the church’s culture.

What are some of the key points to keep in mind about cultural change?

  • A church may (and most likely does) have multiple cultures within its congregation. This usually results in clashes within the church that slow its overall transformation but also ensure that many different Beneficiaries, both internal and external, have their needs met.
  • Culture has many subtle yet powerful ways to defend the status quo.
  • Culture changes slowly, especially if there is a ‘paradigm shift’ involved.
  • Changing culture requires Change Agents who are willing to stay out of their personal ‘comfort zone.’

Are you kidding me? The World is filled with grace? What about Auschwitz or Rwanda?

How could grace have been present when millions were murdered in concentration camps, or in genocidal racial conflicts? We know that broken and sinful men and women did the awful deeds at Auschwitz and in Rwanda. We know that the “system of the world,” political and religious, stood by and let this happen. Where was grace? That question boils down to how does God see the world and how does he want us to act in the light of these undenible horrors?

In a word, God sees the world as being profoundly “wounded” and in need of healing. Many modern secular thinkers are beginning to see the same thing and have written scholarly studies about what has been happening in our world, good and bad, over the past 500 years since the ‘enlightenment.’  The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu coined the term “Précarité” (precariousness) to describe what ensues, when all our trustworthy structures and rules seem to many to fall apart. The foundations have been removed from beneath everything western civilization thought was reliable only a few years ago.  Now, many people feel that there is nothing solid underneath our ideas, and certainly nothing that transcends these ideas. This emptiness creates a vacuum of values, one that has no solution because we ‘deconstruct’ any solution that is offered.  We cannot fill the vacuum we create with postmodern scientific and philosophic views with anything reliable.  There is no language, at least that we trust anymore, to express true values. Religions have such language but they are not trustworthy according to our rational standards of truth.

At the core of our being is a paradox that we cannot resolve: We hunger for meaning, yet, in the deepest sense and as far as our minds can reach, we sense that we cannot create trustworthy meaning for ourselves. “The western mind . . . by the late twentieth century had largely dissolved the foundations of the modern world view, leaving the contemporary mind increasingly bereft of established certainties, yet also fundamentally open in ways it had never been before.”  [1] The only solution is trusting in  meaning outside ourself, in acknowledgement of our dependence. But another modern crisis – reducing our ability to trust — does not permit us to do this! Catch 22. So, the vast majority of people simply refuse to think about such ‘deep and meaningful’ things at all! The explosion of ideas on the Internet and of chatter on Mobile Phones is how many people hide their emptiness from themselves.

Trust is based on reliable people and reliable institutions. While we may still trust our spouse or our neighbour, there has been an almost universal loss of trust in institutions, especially religion in the twentieth century. How often have you heard, “I’m spiritual but not religious” or “organized religion” used as an epithet? Consequently, as trust in churches and religion eroded, as it has in the west, trust in Jesus as a leader has also eroded.

Finally, there is a crisis in the use of power, reflected primarily in the economic system of the world. The “new economy” is creating great wealth for a few but is also creating deep feelings of anxiety and confusion.  “The rewards of the new economy are coming at the price of lives that are more frenzied, less secure, more economically divergent, more socially stratified.” [2] Everyone has been exposed to the financial insecurities caused by the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). More to the point, billions of people on our planet are living marginal lives while a relative handful lives in extraordinary comfort, controlling most of the world’s wealth.

At long last, the voices of women are also being heard about the misuse of power in the system of the world. “There is a white patriarchical male system. The dominant system is destructive to people . . .” [3] Small wonder that many women feel like second class people in American and Australian society, and poorly used in most organizations. The women in every society on the planet feel (and many millions are) oppressed by a male-dominated system! Perhaps, the wounds of our world are becoming apparent to you.

In summary, we find ourselves at an apparent dead-end. The daily deconstruction of what we previously believed in has removed the safe harbours of belief of the past.  We can’t go back and find safety.  There is a widespread sense of something being missing or lost, creating emptiness and the inability to act.  “Mental depression – a feeling of one’s impotence, of inability to act, and particularly the inability to act rationally, to be adequate to the tasks of life – becomes the emblematic malaise of our late modern or postmodern times.”  [4]

The mind of man has created many wonderful things – but it has also created the situation that I have just described. How? By its insistence, particularly in the western world, that the mind of Jesus has no power in modern society. There are many ‘humanistic’ programs trying to deal with the situation – feeding the poor, healing the sick, sheltering the homeless, providing ‘safety nets’ to the ‘have nots’ – and I applaud these. Many are sponsored by Christian organizations. But these programs do not (and cannot) heal the deep wounds that I have described. That is why Jesus came to earth and commanded the Christian church to grow and make disciples of all mankind – to heal the wounds that man’s power and pride have inflected on the human race and the world.

By now, the mind of God must be obvious to you, once you begin to see the world and leaders as wounded. Empathy, compassion, going out and searching for those in need, self- forgetfulness, practical help not words. All these characterize Jesus’ ministry and the ministries of many Christians over the past 2000 years. Yet, Jesus was focused on individuals and, when he encountered the ‘system’ did not seem to explicitly try to change it, even the Jewish religious system.

So, you may say that one way of healing the world might for us to simply imitate Jesus – ignore the system and heal individuals. A case can be made for that. But, to me the lessons of Auschwitz and Rwanda are too plain — tending to the victims of the wounded system is not enough. Jesus’ transforming power shines ‘light’ on the system too. Christians must also change the system that allowed (and still allows) such crimes to happen, while ministering to its victims wherever they may be found. That is another reason why we must transform local churches!

Walter Brueggemann in Finally Comes the Poet summarized God’s transformational view of our situation. “When that speech of God’s fidelity, sovereignty, and presence is uttered again, the world is changed. The silence of God has been oppressive, but somehow we had not noticed. We imagined we were children of modernity: liberated, autonomous, on our own. We thought the speech of this other one had been banished and with good riddance. But the ideology of autonomy is not sufficient. It leads eventually to alienation, isolation, and rage. In our autonomous silence, we deny our true selves, created as we are, for conversation, communion, trust, and yielding.” Brueggemann then quotes the prophet Isaiah: “For a time time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself ; Now . . . I will lead the blind in a way that they know not, in paths that they have not known I will guide them.” [Isa 42:14-16] Transforming your local church means taking this promise of God seriously. Christians need to become God’s right arm of loving transformation, fulfilling His purpose of rescuing the human race from its stubborness and ignorance –even though we believe our knowledge of the world and our ability to find solutions on our own are sufficient.


[1] Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind, Ballantine Books, New York, 1991, p. 394.

[2] Robert Reich, The Future of Success, Knopf, new York, 2000, p. 8

[3] Anne Wilson Schaef and Diane Fassel, The Addictive Organization, Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1988, p 44.

[4] Zygmunt Bauman, The Individualized Society, Polity Press, London, 2001, p. 43.

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Unity — Who is a Christian?

A Christian is a person who loves Jesus Christ and follows him as their leader.  [1] There are many types of Christians: Roman Catholics, Anglo Catholics and Protestants, evangelicals and eucharistic, orthodox and modern, eastern and western, believers in the Bible as the sole guide and believers in the Bible and tradition, and other variations as well.

But what characterizes all Christians? All of us are individuals and have our own experiences of the realities of living as a Christian and we also have many debates about what it means to love and follow Jesus. But I believe that if we are to transform the world as Jesus wishes us to, we also need to see each other as brothers and sisters who have been given some common gifts by Jesus, and because of that, share some things in common. “Yes, that’s what a Christian is! I hope to become more like that.” Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” There is only one vine, one body of Christ. We all belong to the same body and share Jesus’ life in the Holy Spirit flowing through one vine.

I offer the following statements that describe what a Christian is, not to spark debate but to spark recognition and alignment among all of us, no matter which local church we attend. These statements describe our aspirations as Christians, and describe who we hope to become. These ideals are unchanged since the earliest days of the church. My hope is that we can all agree on them, share them in common and pledge to each other to follow them as we gather and do our work together, as a global Christian community.

1. Christians are “Jesus-centric”

While the world may shy away from talking about Jesus, Christians don’t. This doesn’t mean that there is any specific or right way of talking about Jesus; there isn’t. Each Christian has her or his own unique encounters with him, no matter how subtle or hidden these may be. We know him and recognize his voice when we hear it.  Some may proclaim him quite easily and openly; others may view their relationship with Jesus as quite private and be more diffident. The point is, Jesus is part of our conversations and the wise counselor / facilitator of all that we do. Non-Christians may try to be more politically correct and refer to God as ‘the Universe’ or some other name, but Christians are certain about the name of God’s Son.

2. Christians have a different way of thinking than non-Christians. We are “in the world but not of the world”

Basically, this is a cultural statement. If culture means sharing common ideas, common language and communication, and alignment about how things ought to work, Christians share a culture that is different than the world’s culture. We see and speak about the world differently than non-Christians. To be “of the world” means you buy-in to the conventional culture. Christians are “not of the world.” We don’t see things in the world quite the same, use quite the same language about them or believe things ought to work quite the way that they do in the ‘system.’ In a few words, Christians have different hopes for the world, love it differently and have faith that they will, with the Holy Spirit’s help, ultimately transform it.

3. Christians experience time differently. We are “already but not yet completely” living in a time when the promises of Jesus are fulfilled.

We live in a world where we say in the Lord’s Prayer that the kingdom has already come on Earth but not yet fully as it is in heaven. We live in the 21st century of the Christian era but we also live in the last days, working and waiting for the complete fulfillment of Jesus’ promises. We live in a time of horrible events in the world but we see them differently and believe that their present outcome is already being transformed, in some mysterious way, but not yet fully. Christians distinguish between the appearances of the space-time continuum, and the reality of God’s time. One is measured by astrophysicists and the other is unmeasureable, safe in God’s care, flowing toward His desired eternal state.

4. Christians use the word ‘power’ differently. “We are Easter people who are empowered by the Holy Spirit”

As Paul said, when we do good, it is not us but Jesus’ power in us that does it. This power was given to Paul and to us because of what happened on the Cross, at Easter and Pentecost. We live mindfully and prayerfully, able to distinguish between when God’s power is empowering us, versus when we are doing “our own thing.” We also distinguish between having gifts of the Spirit and our own self-development. Our gifts are meant for others; our efforts at self-development, while understandable, are focused on ourselves.


[1] Every Christian ‘loves’ and ‘follows’ Jesus in their own unique way. There are no widely accepted criteria for how much a person must love and follow Jesus in order to be a Christian. Jesus loves us first and tells us that his ‘yoke is light,’ which is a gentle invitation to follow him. Therefore, if you feel that you love not hate Jesus (although you may hate the church at times) and would like to follow him if you could only figure out how in this complicated world, then you are a Christian as I mean the term.

Angry Christians

Sometimes, I notice different kinds of anger when I talk with Christians or read their Blogs:

  1. “The church doesn’t give me what I need”
  2. “Those other Christians and their churches are heretics, apostates or just irritating.”
  3. “The Pastor offended me.”
  4. “They are ruining the church.”

What is Jesus’ mind when it comes to such anger? I suspect he would tell them a parable, like this one.

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Jesus says, how can I show you my love unless you empty yourself of your anger?

Transformation needs a realistic assessment

How much does our local church need to change? Are we already doing our ‘utmost for his highest’ according to Oswald Chambers’ famous yardstick? How do we measure ourselves, and against what standards?

I offer the following standard as a starting point for discussing and answering the question how much do we actually need to change? Christians should break Jesus’ mission into three fundamental areas of focus of a church’s activities – Welcoming, Belonging and Serving. These three areas can be directly tied to Jesus’ own life and teaching so we can be confident that they are truly transformational activities. They can also be measured, which allows us to objectively assess how much we actually need to change.

  • Welcoming: Our attitude toward strangers and what we do to invite them to experience Jesus’ kingdom.
  • Belonging: What we do to grow the maturity of Christians, especially in regard to strengthening them in Jesus’ alternative cultural reality.
  • Serving: What we do to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc, following Jesus’ first Principle of the Preferential Option for the Poor.

Each church most likely will have on-going activities in each of these three areas. The question is not only how well we are doing these, but also what are we not doing? That is why I included “strangers” under Welcoming, Jesus’ “alternative cultural reality” under Belonging, and “preferential Option for the Poor” under Serving. We need to measure ourselves using the mind of Jesus and our measurement ‘yardstick’ must have some ‘bite’ to it. Looking at other options for these three areas, and applying Jesus’ Principles to decide whether they ought to be done is a good way to answer the question how much do we actually need to change.

 

Applying Jesus’ Principles to decisions

Imagine that Jesus is sitting in your Parish Council meeting. Eleven people are discussing some decision that needs to be made, e.g., should we construct a quiet room in the church so parents can attend services but their babies won’t disturb the rest of us? This room will cost a significant amount of money. Jesus sits silently and listens to the discussion, which winds on and on. The hour is getting late. Finally Jesus speaks. He doesn’t say what the decision ought to be; he just lays out the pros and cons from his way of thinking. He leaves the decision up to the rest of us.

Jesus is showing us how his mind works in this specific situation. If he does this for enough different issues, over time we begin to get a sense of the ‘mind of Jesus’ when it comes to the ordinary life of our parish. We can infer certain common principles about how Jesus thinks about the pros and cons of the everyday issues in our local church. Eventually, Jesus doesn’t have to speak up in the Parish Council at all because we understand and apply his principles to our choices. He may occasionally nod, “Yes, you’ve got it right” or shake his head, “That’s not quite the way that I think about this situation.” We gradually become comfortable that we are making the choices that Jesus desires. When that happens, the local church is thinking and making choices with ‘the mind of Jesus.’ There are no guarantees that we are 100% right all the time, but in prayer, before and after serious decisions, we sense whether Jesus is nodding ‘Yes’ or shaking his head ‘No.’ We are doing the process of Principle Based Decision Making based on common principles that we have tested with Jesus.

When Christians accept Jesus as their leader, in practical terms they believe that they can understand Jesus’ plan and his guidance on how to ‘execute’ it. Otherwise, saying Jesus is our leader would be just an empty statement, because Christians would have no practical way of following him. A usual way that all Christians use to understand what Jesus wants of them is by using the Bible. From reading, discussing and praying about relevant passages in the Bible, Christians understand Jesus’ teachings and his way of life, especially how he made practical choices.

Life in modern society is complex. We are faced with many practical choices each day, e.g., How to use our time, how to use our money, how to relate to people, how to relate to political and legal systems, etc. Part of becoming a mature Christian is learning what the mind of Jesus is about our choices in life and how to follow his example and teachings. This is a life-long undertaking. All of us miss the mark sometimes; nonetheless, we know in our hearts that following Jesus as our leader means that we must take his guidance and plan seriously.

When it comes to the choices that a local church makes, following Jesus’ leadership is even more important because the choices that a church makes affect many people. There are many ways that different churches try to guard against making the wrong choices. In this regard, most churches are conservative and avoid making abrupt or sweeping changes. But when transformation seems called for, we obviously need to understand the mind of Jesus.

I am advocating Principle Based Decision-making as an appropriate way for local churches to make difficult, perhaps controversial choices and, at the same time, be respectful of the mechanisms that are in place to guard against the risks of wrong choices. Obviously, how this process is implemented will vary from church to church. Nonetheless, by applying the principles I provide, which overtly bring the mind of Jesus into every serious choice, churches will take a fresh look at how they are living out the plan and guidance of their leader. That is an important step towards transforming the local church. [Click here to download a pdf of a starter set of Principles and Process for Christian Decisionmaking]

Jesus was focused on helping people find the freedom that God intended, and healing whatever ills they were suffering from. He wanted to shock the local church into paying attention to God’s priorities, which weren’t following rules but feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, freeing the imprisoned, healing the sick, etc. This would require changing how people thought about the structure of society and the church’s role in society. Jesus knew that this would transform everything in his disciple’s lives.

Each local church needs to decide how to transform itself and engage in actions that further Jesus’ mission. This requires that we know how Jesus would decide and act if he were present with us in the various situations we face, so that we can decide and act like him. This, in turn, requires we agree on a set of principles that will guide us as we make choices, as individuals, as small groups and ultimately as a whole local church.


[1] There are many other ways as well, which are not universally practiced across all churches, such as tradition, authoritative teaching, discernment in prayer, and others. Because this book is for all Christians, I will only use the Bible as my source for understanding his mind and purposes.

Cocoon to Butterfly; The Church’s Journey

Human beings first understand things metaphorically. When we encounter something new, we understand it by comparing it with something that we already know.

Many of us have never encountered the idea that the Christian church, like all living things, is on a journey. If we want to understand its ongoing life journey then the transformation of a butterfly, from egg to larvae to cocoon to butterfly helps us understand this.

After Jesus died, the church was in its primitive egg stage, tiny but with tremendous potential. Then it began to grow, becoming an organization among other organizations in the world, and entered the larvae stage. It was in this stage of its life for many centuries. This was the ugly, squirming stage, almost painful to consider in retrospect, with schisms and crusades and reformations and many excruciating learning experiences as it tried to survive as an organization as well as apply itself to Jesus’ vision. At some point it started to become more self-reflective about what it had become and entered the cocoon stage. That is where it is now. In the mysterious dark place where it finds itself there is change and growth but this isn’t visible. But now, finally, it is struggling to emerge from this cocoon and ‘reinvent’ itself as a butterfly, to better live as Jesus intends, and ‘fly’ so the world can see God’s kingdom as it is actually present today. The world is already filled with grace, and all human beings can access it to transform the world.

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Change starts with a mindset

There are two opposed mindsets and viewpoints about the world in general:

  1. Disengaged Viewpoint. The world? I don’t pay any attention to it. It is, always has been and always will be filled with problems.  There aren’t any reliable facts about problems and there certainly aren’t any global solutions. The best you can do is make your own little part of the world as secure and comfortable as you can, for yourself and your family, and keep your head down.
  2. Engaged Viewpoint. It’s important to know about the world. After all, I’m part of it. The world has enormous problems and all of us have an obligation to do something about them, beyond just making ourselves and our families secure and comfortable. Even if I can only do something small, it may help make things better on a larger scale.

Christians with the Disengaged Viewpoint quote certain of Jesus’ sayings to strengthen their position. Their position is commonly called a “judging” view, where the world will be judged and destroyed in a final judgment.

  • “You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.” [John 15:19]
  • “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” [Matthew 13:41]

Christians with the Engaged Viewpoint quote other verses to strengthen their position. Their position is commonly called the “Incarnational” view, which says that Jesus became man to transform the world, which is the will of the Father.

  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” [John 3:16-17]
  • “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” [John17:18]

I am an advocate of the Incarnational view.  My purpose is not to debate the Bible or theology but to enable Christians to transform themselves and their local church, to increase their ‘saltiness’ so that they can more effectively participate in Jesus’ work of transforming the world.「あこや本真珠≪グッドクオリティ花珠真珠≫パールネックレス ホワイトピンク系 7.5-8.0 AAA ラウンド」≪花珠鑑別書付≫(アコヤ本真珠・花珠ネックレス)[真珠 パール ネックレス][CO][n
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Christians and Muslims; A Way Forward

Jesus shines his light on the  most difficult issues we face in the early 21st century. Let me illustrate this by discussing a possible way forward toward peaceful collaboration between Christians and Muslims, to solve many of the economic and social issues our world faces. The issues between Islam and Christianity are extremely complex and I will not discuss them in depth.  Rather, I want to illustrate how one might discern the mind of Jesus regarding the entire global relationship, both cooperation and conflict, that exists between us today.

The mind of Jesus is especially plain in the Bible about the relationship between Christians and Muslims. In Chapter 4 of John’s Gospel, Jesus has an extended conversation with a Samaritan woman. She states the situation between Jews and Samaritan’s very succinctly at the outset, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans).” [John 4:9] Jesus’ mind is completely clear in his response. He simple ignores such conventional distinctions, and proceeds to engage in a deep spiritual conversation with this stranger. He offers her ‘living water’ and invites her into the Father’s household, “Jesus declared, ‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem . . . A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.’” [John 4:21-23] Then he reveals who he is to her, the Messiah, which he reveals to very few others in his public ministry. At that point, his disciples joined Jesus and the woman and were surprised to see him talking with a woman (let alone a Samaritan!) Jesus uses the opportunity to teach them, about the harvest: “I tell you open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” obviously speaking about the woman and her friends that were coming out to see the person she told them about, Jesus. [John 4:35] [1]

In this story, and in many other ways throughout his ministry, Jesus showed his followers that man’s distinctions and prejudices are not his. The parable of the Good Samaritan showed that goodness trumps religious membership.  He emphasized that following him means associating with whatever wounded person needs to be healed. “[The Pharisees asked] ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. But go and learn what this means [from Hosea 6:6] ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” [Matthew 9:11-13]

To illustrate how a local church might begin to apply the mind of Jesus toward issues between Christians and Muslims in the current global situation (and toward all religions for that matter); I will quote from Hans Küng’s magnum opus Islam.

  • “In an age of ecumenical awareness – more than ever after the attacks in New York and Washington on 11 September 2001, in Madrid on 11 March 2004 and in London on 7 July 2005 – I want to argue for the overall responsibility of all for all. . . Such inter-religious responsibility means we must all be interested in the well-being of Islam.” [2]
  • “No religion – neither Judaism nor Christianity nor Islam (nor the religions of Indian and Chinese origin) – can be satisfied with the status quo in this time of upheaval . . . Like Judaism and Christianity, in this transitional phase of world history Islam is involved in a fundamental conflict of tradition and innovation.” [3]
  • “Will the Islamic peoples, who are caught up in a tremendous crisis of existence at the height of modernity as a result of their confrontation with western imperialism and colonialism and with European science and economics, technology and democracy, succeed in accepting the challenge of a new era and work creatively toward a new post-modern form of Islam? In this globalized world, all the great religions are in transition from the crisis of modernity into a ‘postmodernity’ of some kind (or under whatever name) and are thus exposed to the same kind of structural problems.” [4]

I think the lessons to be learned by a local church from this brief discussion are this. First, we can have hope that even the greatest global conflicts can be transformed, when the mind of Jesus changes our narrow way of thinking about our neighbor and strangers. Second, because we Christians are going through the same emergence from a ‘cocoon’ as our Islamic neighbors, we can empathize with each other, and perhaps even heal each other. And finally, in our own small corner of the world, we can heal some of the wounds that underlie this global conflict, by following Jesus’ Principles as we seek out the Muslim ‘strangers’ and learn from them about our own path toward transformation. The local progress we jointly create with our Muslim neighbors can ripple throughout the world and help transform it too.


[1] I am not trying to make the case that Christians must ‘convert’ Muslims. To the contrary, I believe that this story shows Jesus’ invitation as well as acceptance and respect of the Samaritan woman personal journey to the Father. He offers her living water (the Spirit) unconditionally, while also telling her that he is the Messiah. This is obviously an issue that some churches may wish to debate, to discover the mind of Jesus in this situation. I am simply inviting local churches to remain open to the possibility that Jesus’ mind looks beyond our certainties.

[2] Hans Küng, Islam, Past, Present and Future, Oneworld, Oxford, 2007, p. 24

[3] Küng, Ibid, p. 22

[4] Küng, Ibid, p. 22

C. How Do We Get There? — Understanding the ‘Journey’ of Transformation

The best way to begin to understand what transforming a local church means is to use the metaphor of a ‘journey.’ There are a number of  journeys in the Bible but I will use the exodus from Egypt to illustrate the major features of a ‘journey of transformation.’ [1]

There are three major parts to the Exodus story: preparation and the decision to make the journey, the actual journey, and arrival in the Promised Land. I will briefly summarize some of the main features of each of these and relate them to transforming a local church.

Preparation and the decision to make the journey

From our perspective, looking back thousands of years with the eyes of faith, Moses is one of God’s heroes, so when we use the exodus journey as a metaphor for transforming a local church, we may become confused. Should we wait for a ‘hero’ to arrive, to lead us? Are we inflating the role of Change Agent, which we must fulfill, so that it requires heroic qualities beyond the reach of ordinary people? I suggest putting ourselves in Moses’ shoes, and seeing him as a reluctant leader and unlikely hero. That is precisely who we are, as we consider being Change Agents in our local church. [2]

The journey of transformation in Exodus begins with Moses’ personal change. He became aware of how badly the Hebrews were treated by the Egyptians, and killed an Egyptian who was beating one of the Israelites. To escape Pharaoh’s vengeance, Moses fled to escape being killed himself. “I can’t stay in this situation anymore” is generally the experience that starts an individual down a path toward finding ways to change the status quo.

Moses created a new life for himself as a shepherd in Midian, but he wasn’t yet a Change Agent. That was God’s work. God chose Moses, to transform the situation of his Chosen People. “God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.” [Exodus 2:22] The sequence of events leading to Moses acceptance and performance of his role as Change Agent shows us our own personal path toward becoming ready to transform our local church. There are three steps in this preparation stage:

Encountering God

One day, while he was tending his father-in-laws’ sheep, Moses had an encounter with God. The burning bush got his attention, and he heard God’s voice calling him, “Moses! Moses! And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’” [Exodus 3:4b] God’s call collided with Moses own awareness of the Hebrews situation. Our personal struggles as Christians are the preparation for God’s call to us. Our willingness to listen is how we play our part in His plan to use us to fulfill His purposes. That may include becoming a Change Agent in our local church, if we open ourselves to that possibility.

Overcoming doubts

“So, now go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” [Exodus 3:10] God’s call is very clear and explicit in the Biblical retelling of the Exodus story. But you can also see how difficult it was for Moses to respond to God. “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh   and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’” [Exodus 3: 11] In the verses that follow, Moses throws up one question and doubt after another, which God answers patiently, “How do I prove that God actually is behind this? What is your name?” “Why should the Israelites listen to me? What if they don’t believe me?” We can easily identify with these questions. Discerning a call from God is difficult, especially when we can so easily be misled by our own ego or give in to our fears. God’s reassurance to Moses was to provide other like-minded people to support him in the journey. God sent Aaron, Moses’ brother with him as a companion on the journey. “I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.” [Exodus 4: 15b] In transforming a local church, a small group of like-minded Change Agents is crucial in discerning the mind of Jesus and having the courage and resilience needed to undertake the difficult journey of transformation.

Decision to make the journey

The final step in preparation is taking the first irrevocable step on the journey, which involves a firm decision to leave the status quo. In Moses case, he first asked Jethro his father-in-law for permission to leave Midian. “Let me go back to my own people in Egypt to see if any of them are still alive.” [Exodus 4:18] He met Aaron and then all the elders of the people of Israel and, with Aaron’s help, convinced them that God wanted them to leave Egypt. In the case of a local church, this decision step involves convincing and aligning the Pastor and important people in the local church about God’s desire that the whole church begin the journey of transformation. This can be a difficult and discouraging process. “The Israelites did not listen (to Moses) because of their discouragement and cruel bondage.” [Exodus 6: 9] But God was insistent, even though Moses was discouraged. “Moses said to the Lord, ‘If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?’” [Exodus 6:12] And God kept on saying to Moses, “I am the Lord. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.” [Exodus 6:29] That is the choice that Change Agents must make: to focus on their own internal self-doubts or to focus on God’s insistent urgings to make the journey of transformation that God desires.

The actual journey

The actual Exodus journey seems to begin after the Pharaoh relented and let the Hebrews go. Before that happened however, there were the plagues, culminating in the ‘Passover’ when God killed the firstborn of every Egyptian but spared the Hebrews who had showed their faithfulness in smearing blood from a sacrificed lamb on their doorposts. Were the plagues and Passover part of the journey? Yes, because every significant change journey can only begin with an ‘ending’ stage. The Hebrews had to experience something that would make them leave their usual surroundings behind and end their familiar life, even slavery, to set off into a barren desert toward an unknown destination. That didn’t just depend on Moses and Aaron’s persuasion but on God’s clearly demonstrated support for their journey. The plagues and Passover were unmistakable evidence of this and bound the Israelite community together in a common purpose: to make a dangerous journey to find the Promised Land.

How can we relate the plagues and Passover to what we can expect from God in transforming a local church? God doesn’t always signal his support so dramatically. Elijah experienced God’s support for his mission and journey as a ‘gentle whisper.’ [1 Kings 19: 12b] The question is, should Change Agents expect some sign of God’s support for their mission of transforming a local church? Or should they depend on their own powers of enrollment and persuasion to unify their community at the beginning of the journey of transformation? As I ponder this, I believe that Change Agents should not depend on their own talents and resources. God will send signs of His support but they may be surprisingly ordinary ‘whispers’ not dramatic plagues. This highlights the strong need for prayer and discernment at the beginning of the change journey, when ‘endings’ and leaving the familiar behind will be required. Combine this with the requirement that the whole church community must make the journey, not just a few ‘early adopters,’ and the ending and setting off stage may be quite protracted, as the community waits and discerns God’s support for the journey.

The Israelites’ journey also started with great drama. Pharaoh let them go, then changed his mind and descended on the helpless Hebrews with his entire army. They wailed in fear, “What have you done to us? . . . It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” [Exodus 14: 11-12] We all know the story of what happened next, and probably have an image of Charlton Heston stretching out his hands and parting the waters for the Hebrews, and then stretching out his hands again and bringing the waters on top of Pharaoh’s army to drown them all. What can this mean for our journey?

This is a story of learning to trust, in God’s promises and in our own decision to set off on a journey of transformation. If we unpack the story in Exodus, Pharaoh’s change of heart can be seen as a loss of comfortable assumptions about transforming church and a collision with the harsh realities of opposition and discouragement. In the exodus story God told Moses what was going to happen, in advance, and Moses reassured the people.  I heard another story years ago that helped me understand this same situation.

I was leading a Change Team in a large Insurance company a number of years ago, and one of the executives described the ‘change journey’ like this.

“I was flying across America a few years ago on a brilliantly clear day. We were at 39.000 feet as we approached the Rocky Mountains, and I happened to notice some small towns in eastern Colorado. If you have ever been there, you know that the eastern third of Colorado is all barren, dry plains, with few trees and very little water. As I looked at these small towns I wondered why anybody would ever settle in a place like that. Then a reason occurred to me.

“I imagined that some poor farmers in Missouri, a thousand miles to the east, had heard about California and decided that the farm that they struggled to make successful wasn’t worth the effort. So they talked to some of their neighbors, who basically felt the same way and they all decided to go to California. They sold their farms, bought covered wagons and set off for the ‘promised land’ in California.  After traveling without any particular difficulty for a month or so, suddenly they saw the Rocky Mountains in the distance, on the horizon. Every day the mountains grew in size until, one day they seemed to fill the horizon with an impenetrable barrier.

“The farmers had a map someone had given them, and it showed a trail through the Rockies but it also showed that the journey to California would be all mountains and desert from now on, as soon as they entered the mountains. It all seemed too hard, almost impossible, so they just gave up their dream about a new life in California and settled right where they were, in those desolate plains of eastern Colorado.”

That business executive told his story to illustrate the importance of understanding the barriers and risks of the change journey – and the vital need of having guides on the journey who understand what will happen, who can help the community get past these barriers. That is the vital role that Change Agents must fulfill in transforming local churches. That is what Moses did for the Israelites, reassuring them that God had promised to be with them and was actively working on their behalf. “But Moses said, ‘Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. . . The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.’” [Exodus 14: 13-14]

Arrival in the Promised Land

When does the journey of transformation end? Do we really ever arrive at a new church? Indeed, perhaps we never fully arrive until the final coming of Jesus. We always remain a ‘pilgrim church.’ So, how can we understand ‘arriving’ as a result of transforming church? The Israelites journeyed in the desert forty years before they entered Canaan. Arrival was a process that happened to them both before and after they reached the political border of the physical land that was given to them. This process can be seen as a ‘continuous arrival in the Promised Land’ in God’s time, according to his plan. We can expect the same ‘continuous arrival at new church’ on our own journey of transformation. How does this process of ‘continuous arrival in the Promised Land’ work?

As the Israelites were about to enter Canaan, Moses looked back over their forty years in the desert. [3] He reminded them of everything the Lord had done for them, in spite of their continued grumbling and losses of faith. He reminded them that they hadn’t trusted God before they fought the Amorites. “You grumbled in your tents and said, ‘The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us.” [Deuteronomy 1:27] And, indeed, because they were hardhearted and did not trust in God, the Amorites “chased you like a swarm of bees and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah.” [Deuteronomy 1:44] Moses told them this story before he retold their encounter with the Law, which established how they were to live in the Promised Land. “Walk in all the ways that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.” [Deuteronomy 5:33] What do these two stories say about ‘continuous arrival’ in a journey of transformation?

God promised to give a homeland to the Hebrews, and led them through transformational experiences to prepare them to live in this land as he wishes them to live. He fed them with Manna when they were starving and provided water from the rock. He clearly showed them that when they trusted him, he did great works in their behalf – but when they didn’t trust him, they were like any other people and could be defeated. He gave Moses very explicit instructions in the Law, which described life in his kingdom. “If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your forefathers.” [Deuteronomy 7:12] Seen from this perspective ‘continuous arrival’ means gradual growth of a community into God’s people. In the journey that a local church makes, we should expect the same type of gradual growth, as well as times of forgetting and backsliding. The Change Agents must create the desire in the community to continue the journey no matter what happens in the short term.

Viewing the full sweep of the history of the Israelites from our current day perspective, you can easily see that they and their descendents are still ‘arriving’ in the Promised Land, and not yet fully there in the 4000 years since Abraham. And we Christians are just the same as them, ‘continuously arriving’ in God’s promised kingdom of the New Covenant but not yet there. While we may feel that we have learned a great deal from our transformational journey over 2000 years, we are still in the arrival process, with all its human foibles and need for divine forgiveness. Change Agents need to understand that whatever accomplishments may be achieved by the local church as it tries to more closely follow the mind of Jesus, the journey will continue. This awareness of the local church’s role in ‘Salvation History’ as well as learning to be mindful of its practical consequences in the life of the church is one of the important steps in the journey of transformation.

The final irony in Deuteronomy is that Moses could not enter the Promised Land. He “broke faith with (the Lord) in the presence the Israelites . . . and did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.” [Deuteronomy 32: 51-52] This is a clear warning to Change Agents and leaders in local churches. There are risks in the transformational journey, and those who lead the church need to be aware of them and take them seriously. These risks should not discourage the community from undertaking the journey. In God’s Plan, churches cannot opt out of making the journey. To me, these risks once again emphasize the need for prayer. Only by trusting that God is going before the church, to prepare the way and the Promised Land, can we find the courage to be Change Agents and leaders of this journey.

Lessons from Exodus for the church’s journey of transformation

Briefly, here are a few lessons that we can learn from Exodus about each local church’s journey of transformation.

Lesson 1. The change journey of a local church is difficult.

Exodus does not describe a ‘change project,’ or finding practical everyday solutions to help the Hebrews live better and serve God in the land of Egypt. It describes an incredible adventure, of leaving, being pursued, almost starving, facing countless enemies and finally arriving after many years of wandering in a vast wasteland. Understanding this, preparation for the journey is vital, especially of the church’s leaders.

Lesson 2. The change journey needs dedicated people – Change Agents — who can see where the church must go and help the church’s leaders see the path and guide them through the steps.

The Hebrews would never have left Egypt unless God had sent Moses to them. They were trapped in slavery and surrounded by a formidable barrier, the vast desert. They didn’t know where to go or how to get there. Local churches need Change Agents who, with God’s help, can persuade the church’s leaders that the journey must be made, and then support them and the entire community as the journey progresses.

Lesson 3. The change journey needs leaders who are strongly committed to help the entire church community make this difficult journey

God led the Hebrews using a few people, the leaders and elders. They were the essential intermediaries who, with Moses help, saw what God was doing on the journey and communicated this to the Hebrews. Transforming a local church is not a ‘one person job,’ for a charismatic leader or anyone else. It requires that a number of people in the church fulfill leadership roles in the journey.

Lesson 4. The ones who actually have to change – the entire community, including leaders and Change Agents – need to be supported every step of the journey.

The Hebrews constantly struggled on the journey. If they could have gone back to Egypt, they would have. They lost trust in God and even worshipped a Golden Calf. Yet, God chose the entire community as his people, not just a few people that were ‘good enough’ to make the journey.  Helping people change their long established habits is one of the key challenges that Change Agents and leaders must deal with when transforming a local church.

Lesson 5. The leaders and Change Agents need to anticipate the risks of the change journey and put plans in place to lessen or eliminate those risks proactively.

God knew what the Hebrews faced before they did, and prepared ways to help them get past these risks. The Lord told Moses what he should do, to help the people find Manna or defeat their enemies. In the same way, Change Agents and leaders need to depend on God to help them past the difficulties they will surely face. Some of these risks are common on any change journey, such as change resistance. Some are unique to the challenge that the church faces in the 21st century. Prayerful awareness and preparation are an essential undertaking for leaders and Change Agents.


[1] I will use the terms journey of transformation and change journey interchangeably. While all changes may not be transformational, transforming a local church is generally concerned with making numerous changes, some small and some large.

[2] There is a mythic dimension to undertaking a journey of transformation, which Joseph Campbell described in his classic Hero with a Thousand Faces. He described this mythic journey as ‘a hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” In this sense, the Change Agents I describe in this book are heros, because they intend to leave the everyday common world of church and, with Jesus’ help, successfully help their fellow Christians find the ‘boons’ of a new way of being church. However, I will not expand or emphacize this heroic aspect of transformation. Jesus never saw himself as a hero and neither should we. See Philippians 2: 6-11.

[3] This retrospective look is contained in the Book of Deuteronomy.