Monday, February 19, 2007

Leading for Change: Notes from Hope for Cincinnati

Every quarter, a group of pastors meets together under the auspices of Hope for Cincinnati. The purpose of this group is for pastors and ministry leaders to encourage one another in prayer and with solid equipping. In years past, this group was instrumental in bringing Billy Graham to Cincinnati, in working on racial reconciliation, and in providing cross-denominational fellowship and support.

This year's theme for teaching is "Leading for Change" -- Gary Sweeten is teaching the series (check out the great material on his weblog -- some wonderful stuff about families, personal growth, and church life). Read Gary's summary of what he presented (and see if you can spot the photo featuring a certain dashing blogger) -- in short, he gave us the 6 phases of change. Change is never an instantaneous event. Gary cited that at any given time in our group, congregation, class, workplace, etc, only 20% of the people there are at a place where they are ready to take action -- and even then you may not be addressing the change that they're contemplating.

I won't rehash what Gary writes in his summary -- but I'll share some moments that stuck with me.
  • Gary asked us all what kind of change we were wanting to effect in the church -- most of us quite honestly fumbled with some kind of canned response -- however the brightest light came when Liz Bowater (of Vinyard Central) spoke up -- "I want the church to be brilliant -- so we can't be so easily ignored" -- that statement has been banging around in my brain for the past several days. That, my friends, is a change worthy of yearning for. (Careful Eagle and Child readers may remember that Liz was featured in an earlier post about House Concerts)
  • Gary talked about Luke 10 as his paradigm for change - Jesus sends out the 70 and tells them they are as lambs among wolves. Gary lingered on this for a while. He talked about how the mockers and the scoffers aren't worth arguing with. You won't change their minds by argument -- but if you go out as lambs, and if you pray, the Holy Spirit might bring about some softening. So don't get sucked into that online argument with the angry atheist -- it's just a waste of your time.
  • When he got to the section on "conviction" (stage 2), Gary dropped this little tidbit "testimonies are the best ways to get people to change" -- hearing the stories of changed lives will encourage other people to examine themselves with the possibility for change. This struck a chord b/c this year I'm working on having people share in worship about non-church ministries and activities with which they are involved. The idea being that "Wherever you are, there is the ministry of our church."
  • Prepare people to count the cost. Gary handed out little checklists -- one a "depression analysis" and the other an "alcoholism analysis" -- if you marked 3 or more of the items on the list, it might mean that you need help. He suggested that little tools like this to help spur people to counting the cost will help accellerate the process for change.

The whole discussion kept me thinking about the Puritans. The Puritans understood that conversion was not a matter of simply walking forward. It was a process of coming under conviction and counting the cost and then committing. People would attend church for months on end before they might consider themselves being Christians -- a far cry from the Finney methods designed to get people to sign on the dotted line as a convert. The Puritans understood that Sanctification was a process superintended by the Holy Spirit.

And that continues to be a key element -- the Holy Spirit makes the change happen -- we are but instruments. We need to be smart instruments, but we are instruments nonetheless. A continual prayer for the Spirit's power in someone's life is a key factor.

The final thing that continues to be nice about Hope for Cincinnati is the connections one makes -- I finally met the uber-prolific Mark Daniels, whose blog I've been following for a couple of months now. I also met Doug Cornelius, who is a local rep for an international evangelistic newspaper called Challenge , a nice paper published from Australia featuring good news about ministries, Christian Life, and testimonies of personal change. Others were there as well -- a great opportunity to see what else is going on.

Soli Deo Gloria