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Sunday, July 26, 2009

70 Main Street: The Great Adventure Begins.

Somewhere in the middle of the week I was struck with a realization so moving that I teared up and had to tell Tricia of what God briefly made me aware.

As a number of you know, this Thursday we will move to 70 Main Street in Northampton, right in the middle of town; right on downtown Main Street! A year before we moved to Sunderland last summer we prayed that God would put us in the center of town. He moved us to Sunderland first, especially to give our daughter, Eslie, time to gather money for going to school. She is now at the Le Cordon Bleu School in Cambridge, MA. It was the right move to make.

So as I was sitting there, it suddenly became crystal clear that our moving was momentous, filled with portent for the future of which we grasp little now. I was overtaken briefly by the awareness of what God was doing. It is no small thing that we are there in that exact location. While I do not have little clarity about what he has it will all look like, I am convinced God is up to something "immeasurably more that we can ask or imagine," right now. Phew.

Interestingly, as each of the team members are moving into town, the spiritual warfare is fierce with obstruction after obstruction. It seems the invaders and usurpers are aware that something threatening is about to take place and they are trying to make it as difficult as possible for us to make the move. We are all aware of the adversary's efforts.

And...lest anyone think we suffer from delusions of granduer, please don't waste too much time on it. None of us feel special or superior. We are constantly made aware by the Holy Spirit of the stark fact that if anything is going to happen of Kingdom import through us in Northampton it will be solely and utterly his doing, period. I can't tell you how many ways he reminds us of this.

So there I was last week being absolutely transported for a moment by the sheer amazement of what God just did to get us on Main Street accompanied the unmistakable assurance that this was the beginning of an adventure all of us were made for.

I think Steven Curtis Chapmen's song The Great Adventure seems to fit well:

"Saddle up your horses, we got a trail to blaze.
Through the wild blue yonder of God's amazing grace.
Let's follow our leader into the glorious unknown.
This is life like no other.
This is the great adventure."


Make it so, Jesus, and let us miss nothing of what you have charged imagine/northampton to do, for as long as you have charged us to do it - not one whit!

Soli Deo Gloria.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

What a Year It Has Been: Taking Stock.

Last Wednesday marked the 1-year anniversary of Tricia and I moving from Simsbury, CT to Sunderland, MA. We left with high hopes and great expectations for launching imagine/northampton. We knew it would not be a cakewalk, but we are pioneers of a sort, so blank canvasses are not frightening propositions to us.

However, I must say right off that bat this Kingdom adventure appears the hardest one we have undertaken to date with the possible exception of moving to Stahlstown, PA in 1974 to be a part of ELAN, one of the pioneering, if not the pioneering Christian fusion band.

What have been the highlights of this first year?

1. Soon after we moved, we went to England to lead the Spiritual Formation Workshops at the C.S. Lewis Institute's Oxbridge, 2008 in Oxford and Cambridge. (Not directly related to imagine, but we were able to make connections).
2. We leased our present offices in Northampton just before we left for England.
3. We did an Open House in September and met people in the community.
4. We led 6 Conversations at the Northampton Friend's Meeting House from October, 2008 to February, 2009 laying out our Core Values and continuing to connect with the community.
5. We did 5 Strategic Prayer Huddles in March and April, 2009.
6. In May, we launched a weekly imagine group comprised of people who have shown interest in continuing with us. 2 Sundays/month we gather to study the Book of Acts and learn spiritual formation tools. 1 time/month we do a fun thing together.
7. Catherine connected with folks doing a soup kitchen in Northampton and we plan to participate. We also visited the Northampton Survival Center to see how we could support them.
8. Prior to my knee injury, I was meeting with different folks in the community to build relationships and increase interest.
9. We have procured the site for our first worship in September: The Northampton Center for the Arts.
10. We have found musicians to help us lead worship.
11. Kit and Tricia will move onto Main Street in Northampton on July 30th.
12. Jim and Karin LaMontagne have sold their house in Simsbury and look to be moving to a new home in South Hadley in August.
13. Matt and Karen Bayne moved to temporary quarters in Tariffville, CT and are looking for an apartment in Northampton - to move in August.
14. Jim has landed a new job and will begin in late July.
15. We have created a means by which people will be able to be assimilated into our community if they so choose.

What have been the challenges?

1. We were not able to move into Northampton right from Simsbury.
2. Imagine/northampton continues to be seriously under-funded, especially in terms of new donors.
3. I had a very serious knee injury in February that took me out of the game for 4 months.
4. The costs for living (rent and skyrocketing utilities' costs) here were far more than Tricia and I anticipated creating almost constant financial stress.
5. Jim had his position eliminated the day before Thanksgiving and searched for 7+ months for a job.
6. Matt and Karen were surprised to have to move from their quarters in Simsbury to a temporary place before moving here.
7. The spiritual warfare in this area is unrelenting and of a degree we have not experienced. It wears Christians down because of its constance.
8. We still do not have enough counseling and spiritual direction clients in Northampton.
9. We have not been able to connect with artists or influencers in the town like we'd hoped.

And yet...

We are still here after a year and no one is quitting. We have been able to connect fairly well with the Christian community around us, especially some of talented and influential people. We are encouraged by that. Also, the people who come to the imagine group seem to care for the vision and mission.

All of us on the team have had our faith tested substantially. We are having to learn tenacity in discouragement, perseverance in setbacks, and a certain sense of humor about it all. We still hold to the vision and mission. We desire to be a part of God's awakening this area again. We know we have something to offer, but we also know that only Jesus will make it happen.

Please pray for us. It makes a huge difference.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

When Leaders Fall: What Must We Do?

1Cor.13:11-Finally, brothers rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace and the God of love and peace will be with you.

Gal. 6:1-Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

Over the course of my life with Jesus I have had the sad experience of witnessing, and sometimes, walking through chaotic fire with Christian leaders who have stumbled and fell because of sin. With many, the results were devastating to them, those they loved, and those who trusted them. The pain for a few involved can be excruciating to the degree they even leave the faith as a result.

I am doing so again these days.

Most of us are well aware, I think, that leaders in the church are held to greater standards because of the amount of trust given them to lead. They are granted unique influence and power in the lives of people who follow them. People assume integrity and feel safe under their leadership. They count on substance and strong character.

Church leaders are expected to exemplars: real people, but Christ-like to a different degree than the rest of us it seems. Nevertheless, leaders should be people we can look up to, even with feet of clay. Only Jesus is Jesus, remember.

And our expectations can be wildly unrealistic and tragically unfair. Leaders suffer when that is the case.

The harder issue, I realize, has to do with what a church and other leaders within it do when someone in their ranks, perhaps the senior leader falls. What should be our response? Unfortunately, I have not witnessed well-handled crises like this. I am sure there are good examples, but I have not been privy to them, at least as I remember.

To me, the central questions are: 1.) Should a church be the community in which this person can heal? 2.) How does a church help restore the fallen leader - assuming he or she wants it? These are complicated questions I know, but a way forward is possible.

I understand that, depending on the reason for the fall, great care needs to be taken. For instance, sexual sin involving another member of the congregation will require much wisdom, prayer, and dialogue to respond well. And no one should be put in harm's way because of the leader's sin. Forgiveness is not foolishness.

No matter the leader's type of fall, there also needs to be time given for the initial trauma wear off and to healed in the church. It may take awhile. People must be able to process their conflicted emotions over the crisis. There will be all sorts confusion and turmoil to calm. The unthinkable has happened and people need to make some sense of it to feel safe.

So, should the church be the community in which a fallen leader can heal? According to Paul the answer looks to be yes. He is writing to people in community as the church. He says that restoration is to be the goal and that people who are spiritually mature should take the lead in making that happen. Although leaders have a particular influence in the community they are also a part of it and should benefit from the grace God gives to everyone. The restoring should be done as gently as possible without glossing over the severity of the sin. The goal is living at peace with one another, a hallmark of the Kingdom of God of which the Christian community is its earthly expression.

I am firmly convinced that the Christian community is central to healing and restoring a fallen leader. In Christian community we all learn to deal with learning to accept human brokenness and sin in such a way that forgiveness and restoration are constantly practiced. We need to find ways to overcome our fears in this regard. By being together in the awkwardness of having to work our way through tough stuff is God's way. No one is to ever be shunned or treated as a pariah, including leaders who betray trust and fall.

The question remains how does the church go about restoration, especially when emotions are high, every one has been hurt and the sin was particularly egregious?

1. The leader is asked to step down into the care of elders or other spiritually mature leaders who have wisdom, gentleness, and discernment. He or she stays away from the larger community for as long as it takes for things to settle.
2. A prayer team is comissioneded with the express purpose of interceding for the fallen leader, the elders/leaders and the church. They are kept abreast of the restoration process as it unfolds and are commissioned for the entire duration.
2. A formal process is put in place by elders or leaders to let people ask questions, express their anger, confusion, hurts, and fears. It is done with both individuals and as a group. The goal is understanding and to set the stage of the fallen leader to be reintroduced into the community. This may take weeks as well.
3. The fallen leader must get into counseling and stay accountable to the elders as to his/her progress. He meets regularly with them to discuss what he is learning
4. When it seems right to the Holy Spirit and the elders/leaders (after frequent prayer), the fallen leader and the community meet to engage in a dialogue with the goals of forgiveness and healing. The ultimate goal is restoration to community worship and fellowship at this point. More than one meeting may be necessary. This process should not be interrupted until all that needs to be said and heard, is.
5. If this stage of restoration is achieved a support group of leaders and others in the community is formed with the purpose of deepening fellowship and aiding restoration. The fallen leader is a member, not the leader. It continues through the duration of the restoration process.
6. As counseling continues and healing seems to be occuring in the leader and community discussions can begin about his or her involvement in service or ministry as a member of a team.
7. If the person continues to get better and relationship with the community grows and normalizes the leader should invited to partner with another leader in ministry for a number of months both for assessment and restoration.
8. The final step is to begin an evaluation period to begin with leaders, elders and members to assess the leader's suitability for restoration to individual leadership responsibility at a level determined by this group. his assumes all are in agreement that such a leadership should be restored.

The process I outlined should take 1-2 years depending on the leadersd and community involved and the seriousness of the sin. Some leaders may never be restored to a leadership role for a number of reasons. Some should be restoreed to a leadership role. All should be give the chance to do so. The betrayed community should have the chance to learn how to work through the trauma of when leaders fall.

Lastly, the miracle of the Kingdom God is establishing in and through us as the church is that we have the chance to work through hard issues in a way unfamiliar to most people. We are to love and forgive one another . We are to aim for restoration of people who fall into sin. We are to live at peace with one another in such a way that demonstates the Kingdon have God has begun on the church and even peole of great influence have another chance when they fall from grace and hurt people who have trusted and followed them.