Transforming the Church Through Conflict

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Over the past 15 years, I have served as a spiritual care coordinator, a pastor and a seminary professor. In all of these settings, I have discovered again and again that the most challenging moments in ministry are not tasks like sermon writing, visitation, funerals, creating new courses or developing curricula. What creates anxiety, frustration, disappointment and downright perplexity in ministry are the entrenched interpersonal impasses and conflicts among church members (and church members who are also family members), staff, committees and denominational factions.
Consequently, I have spent the past 10 years intensively learning a practice called nonviolent or compassionate communication. Developed by clinical psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, nonviolent communication has led to an international peacemaking organization (the Center for Nonviolent Communication) with people throughout the world practicing conflict transformation in homes, workplaces, prisons, community centers, preschools and graduate schools. Though not embedded in any particular religious framework, nonviolent communication can be integrated faithfully into Christian practice so that communities of faith can be transformed through conflict by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The church in North America today faces many challenges and crises. Denominations split over contested theology and practice. Communities of faith live from skirmish to skirmish without ever changing the underlying dynamics. Others falter under dwindling financial resources and loss of cultural capital. Clergy misconduct leaves congregational scars for generations. Polarizing discourse seems ubiquitous, and sisters and brothers in Christ treat one another as enemies. High levels of stress weigh clergy down and lead to high attrition rates. The list goes on and on.


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Freedom Sunday 2016: A Community Response

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Human trafficking is not the problem.
Current estimates indicate there are at least 36 million slaves in the world today (fmchr.ch/gsiorg). These are not people paid a low wage who go home at the end of the day. These are people trapped in violence, being threatened and abused in horrific ways. Ethiopia has an estimated 390,000 slaves. Bulgaria is a leading source country for modern slavery in Europe.
Modern slavery is not just a problem “over there.” A recent study of American cities found that sex trafficking generates close to $300 million yearly in urban centers like Atlanta (fmchr.ch/urbanss). There’s even slavery in little towns like Greenville, Illinois. It’s in our closets and kitchens, down the street and in every city and nation. But it’s not the main problem. It’s a symptom.
The real problem is that relationships, values, systems and communities are broken. Human trafficking and many other injustices are symptoms of brokenness. It’s not enough to treat symptoms. So while we need solutions involving prevention, advocacy, rescue and restoration, we need to do more than respond with compassion. Alongside effective, sustainable projects and programs, we need to work to bring healing to relationships, shift values and re-create systems. In other words, we need to lean into community.

How do we move from the problem to the solution?


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The Importance of Storytelling

 
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When my two teenage children are with my parents – their grandparents – in my home state, they consistently ask for stories about me as a child or teenager. They ask for stories to be told and retold. When they stumble onto one they haven’t heard before, they come to me and ask me to retell it also.

There’s more to this than the obvious surface stuff of finding out dirt on their dad. Hearing these stories helps my kids gain more of a sense of identity, connecting them to the lineage of their origin. The stories become part of who they are. The stories become their stories.

Throughout history, our current culture stands unique in our affinity to facts. Families, throughout time, have been more interested in stories. In fact, education in Jewish households was more about storytelling than anything else. Before anyone had a copy of the Bible or Torah in their homes, oral histories (not even printed stories, let alone printed propositions) were the primary means of remembering who we are, of remembering where we came from.

Case in point: the Passover Seder dinner is all about storytelling. Each element of a Passover dinner is meant to call up another important element of God’s great rescue, reminding the teller and listeners who they are as God’s chosen, as God’s beloved.


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Embrace the Chaos

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My teenage son Robert, like most of us, really likes his comfort zone. From a very early age, he hasn’t liked trying anything new, including foods. I would estimate that more than 95 percent of the time though, when he has finally tried something, he has gotten a sheepish grin on his face and said something like, “I do like it.”

The same is true with activities. Because he is one who likes routine and because of some negative experiences on the baseball diamond and basketball court, he is pretty content to stay inside and watch TV or play video games. That is his comfort zone. A couple of years ago, I told Robert that I wanted him doing something physical. He said, “There’s nothing to do that I like.” I recognized that what he was really saying was, “I don’t want to try anything new. I’m happy right here.”


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Sated With Food, Jaded With Memories, Peering Toward August

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Mashed potatoes light up the pleasure circuits of my brain the same way a glazed doughnut does. At our house, we still mash them — potatoes that is — the old-fashioned way with that squiggle of wire mounted to a handle. Ladle on a pond of shimmering gravy — Midwestern Nirvana!

About this time in the extended season of holidays, I’m stuffed with food; you may be too. If I eat one more Russian tea cake or peanut butter chocolate ball, I’m afraid I’ll explode into a confetti of red and green muffin papers.

Yet February’s coming.


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Affirm Me

by David R. Smith
What does a girl do when she needs encouragement? She could seek the validation of a family member. She might also take a friend out for coffee.

Of course, she could just fire off a “frext” message….

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The concept of “frexting” isn’t as new as the term itself. Essentially, it’s the exchanging of sexy pics between girls who are friends with one another for the purpose of encouragement or approval. For instance, if a girl breaks up with a guy, all she has to do is dress up in lingerie, snap a pic, and shoot it to her bestie with a snarky line that reads, “See what he’s missing?”

Cue girlfriend to say, “His loss, hot mama.”

First appearing on Adulting Blog, frexting was defined as “Friends + Sexting = Frexting.” Frexting is the latest evolution of sexting; it allows senders to show off their sexy side to a friend who is hopefully responsible enough to appreciate it and keep it private.

The key word there is hopefully.

There are expectations and prescribed etiquettes, but potential “frexters” are taught to believe, “This is a surprisingly fun and empowering thing to do.”

Until it’s not.

What if the friend changes her mind or proves untrustworthy? What if the relationship dissolves? Any number of realities could transpire, turning a young person’s need for affirmation into something far more desperate.

Does this mean all young women are frexting? Not at all. But this is yet just another symptom of young people in our culture seeking affirmation in the wrong place. Frexting is one of the most recent, risky ways young people glean validation from peers, but it’s not the only one.


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8 Steps to Accomplish Just About Anything in 2016

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It all started for me while I was climbing a mountain in Russia at 16,000 feet in a blizzard.

I could have written it off to oxygen deprivation, but something within me said it was more. On that mountain, God placed a dream in my heart, which eventually became so strong it was a burden. I knew I had to do something about it.

I was determined to help people gain a vision for their lives and lift their perspective, and I was certain God was showing me just the way to do it.

Outdoor adventure.

The problem was I had no success under my belt (I didn’t make it to the top of that mountain in Russia), no money and no connections. So when I looked at the dream He gave me, it seemed pretty close to impossible.

But now here I am 10 years later doing the exact thing I thought was impossible. I run a little operation called Summit Leaders where I lead conferences in the outdoors. I take authors who normally speak to arenas of 10,000 to 12,000 and have them speak to a small group of 10 to 12, Jesus-style while walking the trail.

Somehow I persuaded Bob Goff to hike to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro with me. I took Matt Chandler on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Mark Batterson climbed Half Dome and rafted the Grand Canyon with me.

Even as I write this, I still can’t believe it happened. God did the impossible.

So now, when I tell people what I do for a living, the conversation usually goes one of two ways. They either:

  1. Smile and say, “That’s nice.”
  2. A fire comes into their eyes, and they get really serious. They ask, “How do you start something like that?”

When I get the B response, I get excited.


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The Church of My Dreams. . . And Prayers

There is a growing trend and pursuit for one thing in the American church.  It is a consuming desire from many in the church today.  However, I must confess that it is foreign to me and my understanding of Christianity.  It is not foreign because it has to do with focus or one thing, but what that focus and one thing are.

It is not a trend for passionate pursuit of the Lord.  It is not to be holy before the Lord; or to seek Him, His will and Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  It is not to stand as one forgiven and healed and holy conformed to His will.  It is instead a focused pursuit to be authentic, transparent and vulnerable.  It is to identify with others among whom we live.  It is to be open about brokenness rather than pursuing healing from the brokenness.  Relationship is key.  But, it is not relationship with God that will expose our weakness and powerfully and graciously eliminate it and empower us to help those with whom we are in relationship.  But, it is simply building trusting relationship with people- not necessarily for their pursuit of Christ and life change, but for the sake of identification.  That’s the aim:  to be authentic, transparent and vulnerable.

It is foreign to me since it is focus on a byproduct of living the right life and a method of living rather than the life itself.  As a parent, it would be similar to my saying, “My aim is to be authentic, transparent and vulnerable with my children.”  Actually, though I fully expect to be all of those, I have a rather higher aim than that- to aid them in becoming all God created them to be.  My aim is their wholeness, not the way I am perceived by them, though the latter should follow if the former is achieved.  If they are saved, loved, secure and understand their significance, while I have demonstrated authenticity before them, then my goal is accomplished.

I don’t understand the form of Christianity that focuses more on a messenger than the message. 


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Kiddie Kollege Gives Back

by Jennifer Nier
Kiddie Kollege decided to give to others during the holiday season.  We took a trip to  Grace Village at the beginning of December to visit residents in the Assisted Living Center. The children sang songs, shared cookies and gave the residents door hangers that were made for them during class.

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We also asked for families to help donate toothbrushes, toothpaste and soaps to put in bags to give to

Fellowship Mission. Our goal was to fill 100 bags to give away to those that needed them, and we were given enough items to fill 120 bags!

 



It’s Time For Another Good Idea, Bad Idea

by Rick Nier

As we read through the scriptures, we can see many examples of men and women who had a plan for direction in their lives. Of course, many of them were misguided, either in what they thought was God’s plan, or in how they attempted to achieve that plan.

Case in point: Abraham. He received word from God that he would become the father of a great nation.  Naturally, he assumed that meant having lots of babies. Seeing as how he did not even have one son, and his wife didn’t seem to be able to get pregnant, Abraham, with Sarah’s approval, tried to see God’s promise fulfilled through Hagar, the maid-servant. Let’s just go ahead and call this what it was: a bad idea.

Another example could be found when King David first attempted to bring the Ark of the Covenant to the holy city of Jerusalem. Without first checking with God on how the Ark was to be handled, David’s attempt ended with the loss of life. David also tried to lay out plans for building a Temple for God. He was rebuffed by God, who informed David that He had plans of His own.

While these might sound like failures, and we can find many more in the pages of the Bible, I do see a positive in these stories. Abraham and David, along with many others like them, were thinking about the things of God. At least when they failed, they did so falling forward.

Pursuing the things of God will often take planning on our part. It will require a willingness to do something different than you are currently doing. We may not always succeed on a first attempt. After bringing the Ark to Jerusalem failed the first time, David went back and discovered more of God’s plan. His second attempt ended with a dance party.

In our youth ministry, we are changing our current schedule in order to pursue a deeper connection with God. We’re starting (or rather, re-starting) something called Ministry Team, a program aimed at developing leadership in our teens.

In our adult ministry, we will be introducing new Connection Groups, all with the goal of helping us achieve   discipleship within smaller communities. One example of this is The Bridge, a new group for ladies of all ages. We’re hoping this group will connect more generations of women, where the older can mentor the younger. Who knows, you may even hear of a similar group for men starting soon.

There is no better time than another when it comes to pursuing God, although sooner is always better than  later. But for those of you who enjoy making a New Year’s resolution, consider now how you and your family can connect in deeper ways with your Church family, all while pursuing God. I can’t guarantee instant success, but at least you’ll be falling forward.