Manifesting the Spirit Among Us

Marketing data increasingly shapes our lives, as every mouse click, google search and Amazon purchase is analyzed somewhere in a big supercomputer.  Jeanne and I spent time over the weekend finding a hotel room in Newport for my son’s wedding in September, and now when I read the news online, the side advertisement says, “Best Room Rates in Newport.”  I check the movie times, and suddenly they start appearing on Facebook.  For some reason Facebook also thinks I would be interested in Kate Middleton’s wardrobe malfunctions.  (She seems like a very attractive young woman, but she needs to stop stalking me on Facebook, or I’m writing a letter to the Queen.)

As a pastor I get a lot of posts like “Text in Church” Visitor systems, make your sermons memorable, and how you can break the 200 people in worship barrier.  I glean a lot of ideas from these posts, but I also have to sort through a lot of worthless, even detrimental advice. Last week I read an article on six things growing churches do that others don’t.  “Have strong faith in God.”  Thanks Captain Obvious!  “Bias toward innovation and action.”   Growing churches know how to celebrate.  Amen!  Growing Churches are outsider focused, looking to serve well new people who come in the door.  Absolutely.  Here’s one that will get your attention:

In growing churches, the Senior Pastor is allowed to lead and make decisions based on the vision God has given him for the church. The Senior Pastor is allowed to hire his own staff as the budget allows. The Senior Pastor decides what ministries to add and what ministries to cut. The Senior Pastor decides what events should take place and which shouldn’t.  In dying churches, the church or church board lead and make decisions.

Before you start looking for your copy of the bylaws, my goal this morning is to say why this wrong, both theologically and practically for our church.  The Apostle Paul would say, the authors do not understand the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding the church as a gathered body.  Martin Luther would nail the words “priesthood of all believers,” to the church door.  Paul was a church planter and unofficial bishop for a dozen or so Christian communities around the Mediterranean.  His letters we read as scripture are largely motivated by concerns over leadership, power and conflict in those churches.   In Corinth, there is a power struggle and factionalism running amuck.  Some people thought they were wiser than everyone else, claiming to be prophets or have ecstatic experiences or special charisma that set them apart from everyone else.  This is the kind of stuff that drives people out of church.  You can’t have a primary organizational value of “Love your neighbor” and only do that at coffee hour, and not love at Council and the Budget meeting.


I Corinthians 12 is Paul’s theological grounding about how community and power works.  I Cor. 12:7 is one of the most important verses in the Bible, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  Manifestation is a great word!  It means that something is made visible, like the appearance of a spirit or ghost.  Scrooge sees manifestations in Marley and the ghosts of Christmas. To make something manifest makes it real.  A manifesto is a set of clear principles and goals.  The Spirit of God is known when we see a manifestation in ourselves or others.  It can be a heady, emotional, exciting experience to feel God’s spirit stir in you, but in that ferment, we have to realize that God is manifest in everyone, in different and unique ways.  Everyone has a manifestation of the spirit.  In other words, you are all possessed.  And in church we see being possessed by the Spirit as a good thing.  We are not here to exorcise your spirit, as in the exorcist, we are here to exercise our spiritual gifts, like the exercise done at a gym.  The Common Good is best served when we get as much of the manifestation of the Spirit of God within everyone in the mix.  The common good is hindered when we either exclude others or do not share our own gifts.


Paul’s theology is in complete harmony with the creation story of Genesis.  All people are created in the image and likeness of God (you may have to look carefully some cases, but it is there!)  We are given the the responsibility of stewardship within creation, as co-workers with God.  We are God’s hands in the world.  That is why the highest authority in a Congregational or Baptist church is the congregation, discerning together the work of the Spirit.  The early Salem Covenant is “We do hereby bind ourselves together to walk in all of God’s ways.”


Let’s talk about how we make this real, or manifest, within our congregational life and through our Vision process.  First, here is why you should not just turn all the Vision work over to me and  Sarah.  First, we have too many ideas and would just run you ragged and burn you out. Second, if we propose everything, then, every time it fails to be perfect, it will be my fault.  We will fail to adapt, because it would be about me, and not enough about us.  Ron Heifetz, who is the leadership guru at Harvard, notes that the task of leadership is to learn how to disappoint people responsibly, because there are not easy answers and quick fixes, rather leaders organize people to develop a culture of adaptation, shared responsibility and innovation, not simply a follow the leader culture.


Here a classic reason this is important.  Remember when Tylenol was poisoned and quite a few people died and we had a recall off the shelves.  While this was terrible, Johnson and Johnson company is a case study of correcting a problem and protecting consumer safety.  Unlike the governor of Michigan, who looked the other way to the poisoning of the entire city of Flint, Michigan and their water supply, here’s the inside story.  Two years prior to the recall, the CEO tore up the mission statement, because he said it was not being followed.  He went through a months long process to create a new shared Vision Statement about the corporate culture, based on this key vision, when a parent uses our product for their children, they can trust us.  So when the Tylenol poisoning hit the news, the CEO was on an airline and unreachable.  By the time the wheels of the plane hit the ground, the decision to pull things off the shelves at the loss of millions of dollars, had already been made, because that was their shared culture.


Pastors are the caretakers of a healthy culture.  Healthy cultures are engaged cultures.  That is what the survey is all about.  People feel engaged when they feel cared for, their ideas matter, they have friendship, and clear organizational goals, support for personal growth, and opportunities for service. This survey will help us find out how we are doing.  Since it is a Gallup survey, we can compare our results with thousands of other churches, and work to improve engagement.


In the last two minutes and want to say something important about the pastoral role here.  Last August, Sarah and I had a one-day training in how to apply life coaching and organizational coaching strategies to church life.  We chose this workshop because we have had many discussion about finding a better way to organize and get things done standard committee structures just aren’t working any more.  Since September, I have training to be a certified coach because I think it will really help us be a more vital church.


Here’s how that happens.  First, coaching is mostly listening deeply.  Good listeners create good thinking.  Groups that create listening environments encourage better ideas.  Second, coaching focuses on asking the right questions. A good question creates new awareness.  For example, churches often ask “How can we get “them” to come and join us?”  What if we ask, “How can go out into our community (them) and make a positive impact?”  Or churches ask “How can we get more people to improve our budget?   Does that question inspire you?  No, that is a death spiral question.  What if we instead reflect upon, “How can we create a center for transformation, so that our church life becomes a community center of energy, so that is reverberates? What do you think of that question?  The final step of coach is this; once we have good thinking, new ideas and awareness, we figure out what it will take to get it done.


The coaching strategy does what Paul is preaching, gets everyone’s manifestation of the spirit of God into the mix.  The Holy Spirit works when we pray, and the Spirit works in our processes together.  To close, look around the room.  You are looking at the best possible consulting team for this church.  We have everything we need.  Here is my hope: Not only will we create a vision for a dynamic church, but that you will find your own spiritual cutting edge as you take the journey together.

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