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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Engendering a Culture of Spiritually Fecund Leaders and Jesus-Followers, Part 2.

Continuing with Part 2 of our response to the question put: how can we engender that sort of leadership, that conviction that it is the "normal christian life" I'll begin by averring that a spiritually fecund culture I began describing in Part 1 will gradually be characterized by individual and corporate devotion to Christ, the One who is ever alive and present in our midst, coupled with a consequent lived-out devotion to what matters most to him. Character development, then I think, becomes centered in spiritual formation lived out by sacrificial love and service as the way of life.

In my mind, that means at least three things - under the guidance and with the help of the Holy Spirit of course: 1.) followers of Jesus taking responsibility for their emotional and relational health/maturing; 2.) followers of Jesus taking responsibility for their on-going spiritual growth; 3.) followers of Jesus taking responsibility for embracing God's mission, culminating in embodying the Gospel of Christ in a person's world.

Let me set the stage of bit. Beginning at age 35, the Holy Spirit began to pull me into the world of inner healing, first my own healing, then Tricia's. It took a couple of years. But the end of my soul work, a leash to self-hatred and fear had been cut. I was freed. I knew what it felt like and looked like. I knew how God did it.

Very soon after, God brought someone to us and our 26 years of inner healing and counseling began. Over the course of those years, I started to notice an unmistakable pattern emerge. I saw that men and women who decided to "own" their responsibility for pursuing healing got better. Those who didn't, for the most part stayed bound to their pain and/or darkness. They dwelt in immaturity unawares. It soon was plain to me that an engaged will cooperating with the freeing work of the Holy Spirit increased a likelihood for emotional, psychological and relational maturing. Conversely, when people came to my office looking mostly to blame others, find an easy, painless fix, or were not really serious about heading into distress, fear, and sin, it never went well and they remained spiritually infantile or adolescent . . . again unawares.

To the point of this blog, engendering a spiritually fecund culture of leaders and Jesus-followers requires leaders model and facilitate, i.e., foster the setting where wills are motivated to engage such spiritual maturing because spiritual maturing is communicated as the desired Christian life, and opportunities for such growth are many. In such a cultural atmosphere, people become well aware that emotional and relational maturing is not solely the job of the pastors, elders, Sunday School teachers, small group leaders or "spiritual parents." People are poked graciously, creatively and often to "do what it takes" to mature, as well as, heal rifts between one another. Help is generously offered, but people must step up and engage. Then again, time, emotional and relational growth is not seen as an end in itself. Rather, it is viewed as a gradual spiritual tempering and tuning, deepening character and making one fit for the Kingdom work to which he or she has been summoned.

Therefore, in my eyes, emotional and relational maturing is foundational to engendering a culture of spiritually fecund leaders and Jesus followers. Graciously expecting everyone is summoned to do such internal work themselves as the Spirit prompts is a Kingdom enterprise of leaders no matter how programmatic their church milieu. If it's not done, a church can wind up with perpetual "feed me" spectators, and burning out leaders scrambling to pour milk into all the open mouths gaping from one week to the next. 

In my work helping people free and grow up, I also realized those who pursued (as the normal Christian life) knowing Jesus intimately became spiritual leaders from their heart-driven following of him. Merely going to services on Sunday to sing, hear a good, uplifting sermon, and be prayed for after church was not enough for them. They took and held responsibility for finding and using the richness of what God made available to the Church for learning and followed hard from a surrendered heart and an informed mind. I liken it to becoming deeply knowledgeable or skilled with the essentials of one's work. There is investment and motivation and individual effort. Such people don't have to be enticed, or prodded. They embrace Jesus, His Gospel and Kingdom mission as their primary identity out of which all life flows - their normal Christian life.

Therefore, engendering a spiritually fecund culture of leaders and Jesus-followers in this regard means being less: "well, how about if we do this or offer that? Maybe this will be an exciting sermon series, or let's bring in that big gun, or have you heard about what's going on with revival over there; how about we get in on that? I'm not saying  new ideas or nascent moves of the Spirit are to be ignored outright, but the discipling bar has to be held high, and kept there, not as some legalistic super-spiritual club for elites, but as an inestimable treasure, well-worth everyone giving their all for, even if a person's life is a mess and it's going need some fixing. Spiritually fecund leadership and followership must reflect a passionate longing and resiling dedication for the glory of God manifested, so the bent-over are given generous dollops of the Good News. It's a matter of the heart in leaders and followers; what it truly desires . Hungering for spiritual growth and maturing is like glimpsing the beauty of heaven's standing invitation because one is family member, and spending life pursuing it, and then out of a joyous overflow, reflecting the family values to family members who've never dreamed they're invited. 

I'll close my post with the idea that engendering a spiritually fecund culture of leaders and Jesus-followers will be a training environment, particularly as it pertains to fostering a growing embrace of God's Mission culminating in embodying the Gospel of Christ in a person's world. Everyone in church communities should be gradually trained to recognize they are a Kingdom missionary selected by God, sent into the world under the guidance of the Holy Spirit "to proclaim the excellencies of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light," (1Peter 2:9), and to enflesh his love through sacrificial service and manifesting the good. The Gospel mission of God is entrusted to the people of God, each and every one. It is their calling and their completing.

Therefore the normal Christian life is life on mission. Church leaders are tethered to the task of proclaiming, modeling, counseling, exhorting, encouraging, and inspiring people to follow Christ into their neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, towns and cities - ready to live the Gospel in a way others can make it out, and be intrigued (even if,at first, they're antagonistic, by the way). Leaders do well to communicate the reality of the call in a way that people can see it's really possible for "ordinary ol'" them to take up the mission. It will require patience and time to help people unlock or open to the possibility God uses folks, and the story they have to tell of how Jesus moved into their lives, changing the whole deal.

Leaders also need to train people how to overcome the relentless intimidation (at least, at first) of their adversary who assaults them with fear, lulls them into spiritual sleepwalking, or obstructs with life's exasperating entanglements and roadblocks. They must be given spiritual eyes to see (read discern) the tricks and subterfuges of the one who seeks to grind them down, turn them aside, or trap them in labyrinths of sin. He's part of the missional landscape, but we've the Cross, the Resurrection, the Scriptures and Spirit.
Leaders give them spiritual tools for the fight and fight along side them. Spiritual fecundity grows strong in the fight when people press on because Christ in them has overcome the world, the flesh and the devil.

By the way, lest I sound insensitive to the reality of crippling human pain, sorrow and suffering, I'm not. I know what it looks like from the work I've done, and what my family has endured. I've been asked to help in almost every variation of evil possible within the human condition, at least in my various necks of the woods. I agree leaders must create healing communities as well where the wounded and breaking can come to rest and refresh. Sometimes that takes a while . . . a long while. Occasionally, there are tragic casualties. The world we find ourselves in gives place to the church as a sanctuary and spiritual hospital. Our leaders are to help care for the sick, wounded and deeply tired or severely broken in our midst as they are also training up people to: mature emotionally and relationally, take responsibility for their spiritual growth, and enter the mission of the Kingdom in their sphere's of influence.

I know there's much more to be said about this spiritual fecundity business, but I'll let you chew on what I've offered for awhile. 

I'd love to hear your questions and concerns.

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