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Place-sharing with Jesus

Copyright 1984 Doug Hall and Christianity Today International/BuildingChurchLeaders.com. Used with permission.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Many of you reading this are leaders in GCI churches and denominational ministries. And as the cartoon above suggests, sometimes you are inundated with offers of books, programs, consultants and the like that tend to emphasize efficient program management and guaranteed results more than what is central to Christian ministry—journeying with Jesus as he, through the Holy Spirit, fulfills the Father’s mission to our world.

Theologian and Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to what Jesus is doing in the world as our Lord’s ongoing “place-sharing” ministry. The gospel declares that the incarnate Son of God, through the Holy Spirit, is sharing the “place” or life situation with every person on earth and is at work acting on their behalf.

Many people are blind to this presence and activity of Jesus in their lives. We refer to these people as nonbelievers. However, Jesus, their true Shepherd, refers compassionately to them as his “lost” sheep (Luke 15:4). As believers who know Jesus as their Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), we are aware of his place-sharing ministry and his call to us to join with him in “finding” his lost sheep.

If we are to join actively in what Jesus is doing, we must hear his voice. We must discern the nature of his ongoing place-sharing activity in the world around us, and the nature of his call to us as a community of believers to join in. This participation is not a pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all program. Rather, it is a dynamic, active lifestyle that involves us in Jesus’ missional life, being lived out through the Holy Spirit in our world.

So what place, then, do programs and consulting services have in that context? Theologian Thomas F. Torrance referred to the church’s organizational structures and programs as “scaffolds” that, when used appropriately, can greatly assist the church in doing what it is called to do. Sadly, structures and programs can begin to take on a life of their own, being seen as the ministry itself, rather than as tools to facilitate ministry. When that happens, they become impediments to participation. Scaffolds can be a help to construction, but they can also be used as frameworks for hanging people! Obviously, we need to be selective and discerning in how we use them.

Thankfully, some books, programs and consulting services are helpful scaffolds. They teach us skills of discernment, and processes and approaches that help us join with Jesus in his place-sharing ministry. GCI U.S. Church Administration and Development (CAD) offers US churches one such resource. It’s called Transformational Church (TC) Consulting. It utilizes a survey instrument produced by LifeWay (called the Transformational Church Assessment Tool) that assists congregations in discerning the work that Jesus has been doing among them.

The survey is followed by a daylong Discovery Retreat. At this retreat, which is facilitated by a CAD consultant trained and certified by LifeWay, congregational leaders come together to clarify the Lord’s call to them to share more effectively in the work that he has for them. Following the retreat, the CAD consultant prepares a report that gives form to what the congregation has discerned and committed to do.

For information about CAD’s TC consulting services go to http://mindev.gci.org/services.htm (look under consulting services). For those who do not have access to a CAD consultant, it would be helpful to read and then discuss the book Transformational Church, creating a new scorecard for congregations (by Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer, B&H, 2009).

I am deeply grateful that God has given us a theology that grounds us in the love and life of Christ, and helps us understand more clearly the nature of his ongoing work, and thus of our work. This theology helps us to use wisely and effectively certain helpful ministry tools. My prayer is that our understanding of all these matters will continue to grow so that our ministry activity will be even more focused on what really counts—a life of place-sharing with Jesus.

It is a joy to share the journey with you.

In Christ’s service,

Joseph Tkach