GCI President Greg Williams gives an update on Grace Communion International. He shares our focus on Hope for 2020. This will also be the theme of our Denominational Celebration this summer. May we remember throughout this year that Jesus is our hope.
Dear GCI Family and Friends,
The phrase “High Support, High Challenge – Grace Always” is the ministry philosophy of Grace Communion International. We have a sign in the presidential suite to remind us of this every day.
I would like to unpack this philosophy to help you better understand the depth of its meaning. Let’s begin with the inspiring words that the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus. His letter begins by focusing on the God revealed in Jesus and who we are as adopted sons and daughters. Then he continues with the theme of how we come alive in Christ and what the community of the church will look like. He says in chapter 4:15, “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
It is Christ in us that forms the maturity and provides the ability to speak the truth in love. I think we all know that truth often brings challenge, and if the truth is given out of frustration or anger, it tends to engender frustration and anger in the person being challenged. Christ’s love in us gives us the ability to whole-heartedly love God and our neighbor. Love for our neighbor is having his or her good in mind. Therefore, we bring challenge to our neighbor with their good in mind, and ultimately any challenge we raise is seasoned with grace and humility. This most often means it is done privately, with sensitivity and respect.
The interaction of Jesus with Simon Peter over the span of less than a week is the apex of High Support, High Challenge – Grace Always. You will recall that Peter was the one disciple who identified Jesus as the true Messiah, the Son of the living God, and Jesus told him that his Father in heaven had revealed that truth to him (Matthew 16:13-17). Moving forward in the story you will recall on the evening of the Last Supper that Peter pledged his allegiance to Jesus even unto death.
Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. (Matthew 26:31-35)
The rest of the story is that after Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter followed at a distance to the courtyard of Caiaphas the High Priest, and it was there he was confronted three times and all three times he denied Jesus. Matthew’s gospel says he went outside and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75). How much pain and sense of failure did Peter experience?
Even after Jesus was resurrected and had appeared to the disciples, Peter decided to return to his nets. Going back to the fishing trade seemed his only option, since denying Jesus in such grand fashion was the ultimate ministry washout. It is on the beach of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus graces Peter.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)
Thrice Peter denied Jesus and now thrice Jesus restores Peter. Peter is humbled by the truth that his love for Jesus is not superior to that of his fellow disciples. Do you sense the grace of Jesus in the fact that he never once talks about the three denials, and he simply reaffirms Peter’s calling to care for the church that will be formed on the coming Pentecost? Peter was smarting under these three confrontations of Jesus, and yet he was simultaneously being healed and restored. Peter could finally leave his nets for good and be the “Under-Shepherd” that Jesus had made him to be.
Love is the driving force behind high support and high challenge. It is through the love of Jesus that we can be honest and challenging with one another. It is by the power and presence of Jesus that GCI can and will live out our philosophy. Just as the sign in the office is a reminder to me, may you also think about our High Support, High Challenge, Grace Always philosophy daily as we march forward as a global church family.
Did I hear a chorus of all of us shouting together, “High Support, High Challenge – Grace Always?”
Dear GCI Family and Friends,
The National Association of Evangelicals in the US is a body of evangelical denominations, organizations, schools, churches, and individuals. There are 40 denominations that represent 45,000 churches across America. The NAE works to connect and represent evangelicals with a desire to be an influence for good.
In early December, Susan and I attended the two-day executive meeting where denominational leaders meet with the NAE President for an open forum. We sit in an informal circle and we discuss whatever topics the various leaders bring up.
The meetings informed and inspired me on several levels. Many of the denominational leaders identify themselves with the role of being the chief executive and spiritual leader for their organization, and this is a specific job that only a few people hold. So, it is a marvelous opportunity to be able to discuss how each of us approaches our day-to-day work, the challenges we face and the trends we are seeing. The comradery we share and the noticeable love for Christ and his church are palpable.
I am also inspired by the magnificent work of planting and growing churches that are being accomplished by several movements. City-wide campaigns to tangibly share the love of Christ and the message of the gospel are taking place in Omaha, NE, Austin, TX, and Fort Wayne, IN. The stories were inspiring and humbling. In representation of GCI I stated my amazement of these wonderful efforts and then shared that we are making a humble effort to engage the one-square-mile neighborhood where our church meeting halls are located. I was affirmed by several leaders that this may seem small, but you must start from where you are.
It is a good place to start – wherever it is that God has placed us to meet and worship and share his love with others. I pray that our 900 churches around the world are getting started in this endeavor to know your one-square-mile neighborhood and the neighbors who live there (if you are a rural church the area would expand beyond a mile). Our challenge is getting to know the rhythms and activities of our neighborhoods, and to discover the connecting points. There are many ways to connect to life in the neighborhood — a weekend farmer’s market or a community Facebook page — the question is how do we then connect the neighbors back to the life of the church? Maybe it’s a free hamburger at a fun day in our parking lot? Maybe it is a seat in one of the member’s homes at a small group meeting? Whatever the connection is, it must be about the relationship and valuing each person in that one square mile as a beloved child of God. This is the gospel engagement we are aiming for.
In Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells us we are the light of the world and a city built on a hill cannot be hidden. As a church, we want to be reflecting the light of Jesus to the neighborhoods we inhabit. This is how we share God’s love and life with others. If the church is being the body of Christ, it will be known, and it will continually aspire to be an influence for good as the love of Jesus is freely shared. In essence, GCI needs a big debut to spread the life and love of Jesus that we all possess and want others to experience as well. Share the story of your debut and let’s celebrate together.
Praying over the one square mile,
Dear GCI Family and Friends,
I was introduced to Marva Dawn as an author early on in my post-graduate work. Her book Unnecessary Pastor, which she co-wrote with Eugene Peterson, resonated as she opened my mind to the power of worship and how singing our faith unites us relationally to the heart and mind of Christ. Her approach is thoughtful, spiritual, and valuable to the church.
In another book, Reaching Out without Dumbing Down, Marva proclaims that our churches aren’t bombarded by hostile outsiders, and the source of our struggles is not wrath and hostility, rather, we custodians of the church (pastors, ministry leaders, and congregants) are confronted by apathy, reticence, and intellectual feebleness. Let’s look at these three.
Apathy means a “don’t care” attitude. Practically speaking, when has anyone critically evaluated how we are doing as a worshipping church? Have we asked anyone to evaluate us, or have we gotten into a routine that is acceptable, and in which we’ve grown comfortable? Can we be more worshipful and better at pointing the worshippers to Jesus? What would happen if this was an ongoing conversation happening with worship leaders and team members who are organizing our weekly worship services? What if the pastor involved herself in these conversations as well? If this isn’t happening, the debilitating state of ritual and routine can easily become the norm.
Over the weeks, months and decades we have been “doing church,” have we allowed worship to become repetitive and hollow? Marva expresses that we often make this worse because of our present-day need for efficiency: How do we do what we do faster and effectively so we can get back to the other activities vying for our time and attention? This is one of the reasons we are focusing on the Hope Avenue (venue) this year in Equipper. It is the responsibility/opportunity of the church to make worship meaningful for any and all who step foot into our sanctuaries. It is easy to slip into apathetic tendencies and give the impression that Jesus is not the center of our worship. May the Spirit always stir us out of complacency.
Reticence means a reluctance to speak up. We don’t give constructive criticism; we hold back from getting involved. I have attended a few of our GCI churches where I have been surveyed with a list of questions about my worship experience, or directly asked by one of the pastoral leaders. I love this openness with a willingness to receive feedback and a desire to expand their expressions of worship. Will we become a church that gets past our hesitancy and seeks to make Jesus more fully known in our worship services? May I suggest you invite a friend or coworker to church and ask for an evaluation. Invite your Regional Director to come evaluate the worship service. His schedule may not allow a visit, but he can certainly recommend someone to help.
Intellectual feebleness is not a huge obstacle for GCI folk. Our journey into the depth of “Who God is” has expanded our understanding and awareness of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The opportunity for us is to place the emphasis and attention on the Triune God as we come together in corporate worship, and not fall back into making it about us (e.g., “This is my favorite song,” “These are the activities going on in my life,” etc.).
Marva isn’t simply a disrupter to the church for the sake of disruption. Her motivation is to help the church plumb and discover the depths of knowing God in his fullness and for the church to be healthy in our representation of the living Jesus. I recommend her book to our pastors and worship leaders — not merely as an educational exercise, but as an opportunity to be inspired for greater creativity and fresh expressions of worship.
As we have just experienced the grandeur of Advent and Christmas, I challenge you to continue in the seasonal cycle of the calendar and make worship in your congregation more meaningful than ever. Let’s put Christ front and center of all our celebrations.
Making Him Known,
P.S. As we begin the new year of 2020, it is my privilege to inform you that not only will we focus on the Hope Avenue, but we will also be focusing on our GCI Worship Calendar. Our vision remains Healthy Church, but doesn’t the number of the year 20/20 just scream for clarity of sight? We will methodically dig deeper and wider into the many aspects of the Hope Avenue, and this will crescendo with our Denominational Celebration in July. We are serious about making Jesus the center of the center and fully known in our quest for Healthy Church.
Correction notice: When first published, we stated that the introductory book by Marva Dawn was entitled Worship Evangelism. However, it was brought to our attention that the book referenced is actually Unnecessary Pastor, which she co-wrote with Eugene Peterson.
Clearing Up Communication.
Dear GCI Family and Friends,
As President of an international denomination, I am learning more and more how clear communication is both difficult and rare. Some words and phrases can seem so logical and clear to a GCI team in one part of the world, only to find those same words have quite different connotations in another part of the world. Miscommunication happens more often than any of us like, and that is why in a healthy relationship or healthy organization we need to continue to ask clarifying questions, and we need to listen to the input of others. When we agree on language, the words and concepts that matter must be stated and restated.
In GCI we are striving to communicate the vision of “Healthy Church.” We have done this through a variety of platforms, including the monthly Equipper publication for pastors and ministry leaders. Another such platform is the GCI website, which offers support articles, video segments and podcasts on ministry practices that support the cause. On top of the media offerings, the denomination holds annual conferences, and our Regional Directors facilitate cohort groups of pastors who are making progress toward the vision of Healthy Church. We have been educating, training, consulting and coaching in the long journey toward Healthy Church. It is a good journey, and you have my word that we will stay on this path.
One important piece of “Healthy Church” is our style of church governance that we call Team-Based Pastor-Led, and the accompanying ministry priorities that are described as the Love, Faith and Hope venues. A recent meeting with the international supervisors showed me the need to adapt the term venues to “avenues.” Venues has a different, and sometimes negative, connotation in some international areas. What may work in one area of the world, simply does not in another. As a result, we need to be able to adapt. While the word “venue” seems to work in the US and some other areas, the word “avenue” gives a clearer picture in other parts of the world. Either works for me and we will include both as we move forward.
This is just part of our forward movement, a movement I see as the ongoing renewal of our fellowship. It is vital that we not only grasp the concepts but learn how to apply these concepts in how we live and operate as the church. After all, the ministry outlined in the three avenues of faith, hope and love is the ongoing ministry of Jesus, and they serve as markers showing us where to join in.
I think we are making good progress overall and this letter is an opportunity for me to restate the foundational purposes for the church.
Vision: Healthy Church
Mission: Living and Sharing the Gospel
We seek to make Christ known, to help non-believers become believers and be given opportunity to participate in the life of the church.
Love Venue (Avenue): We seek to make authentic relationships where the love and truth of Jesus is shared. This is practiced in neighborhood engagement as we serve and relate to our neighbors by the power of Christ’s love through us.
Hope Venue (Avenue): We seek to make worship meaningful and transformative for persons in our present culture, as we gather as a church, especially in our weekly worship services.
Faith Venue (Avenue): We seek to create environments and events that foster genuine Christian community, promoting relational growth with Jesus and one another. This often occurs in small group settings and other relational events where people gather to strengthen their walk with Jesus and fellow believers.
In my earlier years as an athletic coach, I discovered that success for the players and teams happened when we stuck to the fundamentals. If it was basketball, then dribbling, passing, and shooting had to be developed through much repetition and long practice sessions. Christian ministry has similar qualities in that we must first realize the basic skills that need attention, and then put in the days, weeks, months and years of practice that elevate us to the place where we are operating with consistency and quality.
I believe that GCI is in a good place. I believe that 2019 has been a good year of understanding the basics of ministry and many are beginning to practice these afresh. If you have never dribbled a basketball, it takes time to develop the eye-hand coordination to get the feel. First-time dribblers must watch the ball hit the floor and then return to their outstretched hand, and repeat. After enough practice and with muscle memory kicking in, a player can begin dribbling without looking down and can then play with their head up watching the activity around them. All of us are first-time dribblers in some aspect of Christian ministry, and that is okay. Go ahead and dribble with your head down for a while, and I bet when you first look up, you may very well see the face of the one whose ministry it belongs to.
As we collectively move forward toward Healthy Church, let’s not allow miscommunication to be a roadblock. Please access the vast array of ministry tools designed to serve you where you are in the journey and please feel free to access your ministry supervisors as well. It is imperative that we contextualize what it means to be Team-Based and Pastor-Led in our multiple cultures around the world, and in the midst of our cultural nuances that we share the Christ-like principles of understanding, respect, collaboration, and love, which apply in all circumstances.
As 2019 quickly draws to a close, many of you have held strategic planning meetings with your leaders, seeking the Lord’s direction for your congregation, and you have formed annual budgets. As you prepare to launch into 2020, it may be helpful to meet again and evaluate whether your plans and budgets fit into the avenues of Love, Hope and Faith. Let’s not miss what it means to participate with Jesus, the living and active Head of the Church.
My prayers are with you for this upcoming New Year and I am poised alongside you to receive the gifts that the Father may have in store for us. And there is none greater than “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” Could the Father’s love be more clearly communicated?
Clearly, it is about Jesus!
By now you have likely viewed my video update inviting you to come together in the keeping of the annual cycle of worship that we call “GCI Worship Calendar.” Our denominational calendar is designed to guide and direct our worship out of the seasonal flow of celebrating the life and salvific work of Jesus. We are not simply borrowing or importing another calendar. We are endeavoring to design a calendar that our church family around the world can embrace.
The initial diagram of the annual calendar that we sent out rightly displays Jesus in the center. I especially like the outer ring that shows the progression of our Lord’s coming, life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and the continual building of his church. Is there anything greater, that we can rally around and make the focus of our praise and worship? A Christ-centered church is “Healthy Church.”
I just completed an outstanding week of meeting and planning with the GCI Superintendents. They are all enthusiastic and supportive of having a GCI Worship Calendar. However, through their wisdom and experience, they have convinced me that some of the wording of our initial design deserves reconsideration. So, we will take the necessary time to provide a revision that will allow us to move forward together.
Keep in mind, the calendar is a framework that guides us through the seasons of the life and work of Jesus. Living out of this calendar and ordering our worship must be done nation by nation, and literally congregation by congregation. There is more education to come and much more practice as we seek to make Jesus the center of our center. This is a long journey in the right direction, and I solicit your prayers as we attempt to craft a calendar that rightly represents who we are.
Please know that our desire for a GCI Worship Calendar is not a step into legalism or ancient rituals of the historical church. Pure and simple, this is a step toward Jesus, the true object of our worship. I am convicted that our GCI Worship Calendar can be unifying and life-giving to our global church, and I especially believe it will be a blessing to our children and grandchildren.
To the Glory of Jesus,
GCI President, Dr. Greg Williams, gives an update on Grace Communion International. He shares the importance of a worship calendar to help churches keep Jesus at the center of our church services and rhythms.
A recent Christianity Today article stated that “Sixty percent of Protestant churches in America average less than 100 people in weekly worship.” And the abundance of small churches is growing. I found encouragement in this that we are not alone in this trend, and I believe we should take heart that this similar pattern in GCI is commonplace among the body of Christ.
Small is not automatically indicative of bad or unhealthy. Yet when a church is small, it is easy to become fixated on growth strategies. How do we get new people through the door? How will we fill the seats? Will there be people to contribute to the offering basket? The downside of this thinking is that we start thinking about people as projects, and not as beloved children of God who are made in his image.
Because Jesus Christ is the center of our theological understanding, we understand that all humans are under his spilled blood. And because atonement has been made for all people, we cannot look at anybody outside of that atoning blood. This core understanding not only prevents us from devaluing people, but it also prevents us from approaching evangelism as a growth strategy.
In GCI, evangelism is relational and invitational. Relational evangelism teaches us that people matter, that building chemistry, and trust is hugely important, and that as believers we are to be prepared to give an answer of our hope when the conversations turn toward God. That’s when invitational comes to play. Once a relationship is built, then we invite them to join us in worship. Regardless of their initial response, we continue the relationship.
At a recent US Regional Celebration, I watched how the Spirit guided the speakers as each of them made presentations about how they are connecting with the neighbors around their church buildings. One presenter discerned that the word engage was better than outreach. Outreach sounds as if we are extending ourselves to help others who are somehow less than us, and it can subliminally make us treat them as a project rather than as a person created in God’s image. Another presenter said, “We want to be in face-to-face relationships with our neighbors.” I liked the movement toward deeper, personal connections.
We’ve also come to learn that beyond our individual efforts, the church must work together corporately through active engagement with the neighborhoods where we meet, and develop an annual rhythm of activities that allow us to invite new people in (see the Equipper articles in April, May and June on the Love Venue).
I hope you have noticed that our GCI leaders around the world are working diligently to help your church be healthy, vibrant, and effective at the size it is right now. Being healthy, vibrant, and effective is what allows us to be the light on the hill that radiates Christ’s love and truth.
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15).
It is within our movement toward health, vibrancy, and effectiveness that we glorify our Heavenly Father and more readily represent the light who is Jesus.
The Lord is not surprised by the condition of the church that Christianity Today documents. And Jesus, the Head of the church, continues to work through his church no matter how large or small. It is simply our calling to actively participate with him in the opportunities he provides and allow his light to shine through us, and we trust him to add to the church daily as it pleases him.
May your church shine brightly in your little corner of the world!
Loving our small, but far-reaching denomination,
Almost one year ago, on October 22, 2018, the Christian community lost scholar, pastor, and Bible translator, Eugene Peterson. Peterson was a pillar for the Christian community and at age 85 he completed his “long obedience in the same direction.” Christianity Today interviewed eight different leaders to offer their reflections about Eugene. See the comments from Trygve Johnson below.
Pastoral ministry is serious, consequential work.
I first heard the name Eugene Peterson in college. My chaplain, after listening to me wrestle with a sense of calling, squinted like a doctor making a diagnosis, pulled a book from his shelf, and handed me The Contemplative Pastor. “Read this!” he said. I did. In Eugene’s words, I found a vision for pastoral life I had always hoped existed but did not know how to articulate.
Years later Eugene befriended me. He had recently retired to Montana. I was a young aspiring pastor, and he took me on, inviting me into a mentoring relationship through letters, conversations, books, and pilgrimages to Flathead Lake. This invitation changed my life and my ministry.
Eugene gave me a vision and a language for who I could be as a pastor. He restored honor and dignity to the calling of the pastor. Eugene revived a vision of a pastor as someone serious, intelligent, savvy, creative, playful, and prophetic. Eugene encouraged those in ministry to resist the seductive sirens of the pragmatic pastor, in favor of a ministry animated by the patient and cruciform witness of a long obedience in the same direction.
Through this encouragement, Eugene pulled me into a larger world of consequence. His words and vision helped me see and experience the wide-open country of salvation. Here, Eugene invited me to explore the geography of the Trinity, which expanded my imagination and bent my reason back into shape. The use of cliché or paint-by-numbers theology was unworthy of the work. The pastor, Eugene counseled, required a charged imagination, an earthy piety, with a double shot of humor! He showed me that a ministry at play in the expansive fields of the Triune God was a more interesting place to spend the day.
The key to this larger world was the Bible. Eugene showed me how to read with a scriptural imagination. He taught me that the goal of reading Scripture was not to know more, but to become more. His great lesson was that Scripture had everything to do with the neighborhood, because the neighborhood is where Christ shows up.
Maybe Eugene’s greatest legacy on my ministry was that he taught me to love by simply loving me. Eugene gave me time. He always wrote back. He never refused a call. He always welcomed me into his home. Never was I treated as an abstraction or a project to solve. He treated me as a friend. He showed me that healthy ministry requires, even demands, relationships where we can be known and understood.
Receiving the news of Eugene’s death feels like what the Fellowship of the Ring in the Tolkien novel of the same name must have experienced when they lost Gandalf. What do you do when your guide is gone? But Eugene taught us well, for he reminded us to practice resurrection. And so we carry the Message on! — Trygve Johnson, Hinga-Boersma Dean of the Chapel at Hope College
What a testimony. Eugene Peterson impacted scores of people with his life-on-life style of mentoring and friendship. He instructed and mentored even more through his prolific writing.
Certain lines stuck out in Johnson’s tribute. “Ministry at play in the expansive fields of the Triune God” is such a brilliant way of characterizing the context of pastoral ministry. It is finding the rhythm and dance steps that allow us to commune with Father, Son, and Spirit, while experiencing the peace, purpose and passion that flows from the divine relationship. It is joining in with what God is doing within our sphere of life and entering this divine participation that penetrates the human realm.
“Reading the Bible with a Scriptural imagination” is another choice line. As pastors and ministry leaders we don’t approach the scriptures with a clinical mindset attempting to exegete properly with the sole purpose of constructing a sermon. The Bible is God’s inspired word to us and ultimately points us to an engagement with the Living Word – Jesus. The words of the Bible should wash over us afresh each time we read the ancient words, and our imaginations should be re-ignited.
The final line that I want to highlight is “Scripture has everything to do with the neighborhood.” Pastoral ministry must navigate out from the private study, out from the sanctuary, and into the streets of the neighborhood. The Bible clearly communicates human nature and all its pitfalls; it communicates a broken world in need of deliverance, and ultimately it communicates about the Savior who is uniquely drawing all humanity unto himself and is in the process of redeeming all that is broken. This is the story that rings true for all peoples, in all places, at all times, and it needs to be proclaimed in all neighborhoods.
Thank you, Eugene Peterson, for a life well-lived, with long obedience in the same direction. And thank you GCI pastors for your long obedience in the direction toward Jesus and his eternal kingdom.
P.S. In addition to The Message Bible, Eugene Peterson has contributed an entire series of books that help to guide and influence pastors in a true course. Here are a few titles of his books that are “must-reads” for any pastor who takes his/her calling seriously.
The Contemplative Pastor
Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work
Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity
The Unnecessary Pastor
The Pastor: A Memoir
Featured image credit: Eugene Peterson lecture at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Washington, sponsored by the Seattle Pacific University Image Journal, by Clappstar via Wikimedia Commons.
GCI President, Dr. Greg Williams, gives an update on Grace Communion International.
He highlights October being Pastor Appreciation month and how appreciative we are for our pastors in GCI.
We say THANK YOU for your service and sacrifice!