Tom Ward Sr., Lead Pastor of Eastpoint Church in Newark, DE recently joined the Ecclesia board at our annual meeting in early January. We are really honored to have someone of Tom’s wisdom and experience journeying along with our network at this significant level. Tom has been in vocational ministry for over 40 years and planted Eastpoint Church in the early 2000’s. Get to know Tom on one of the recent additions of the Ecclesia Leadership Podcast – https://ecclesianet.org/leadership-podcast/.
by: Chris Backert, Ecclesia Network Director
Many of my friends within Ecclesia would know that, at best, I am a “low-church” liturgist. A few years ago, most of the rigidity of the liturgical calendar was more binding than loosing to me – both as a pastor and as a Christian. While I certainly still lean away from the fixed rigidity of the liturgical calendar in terms of the specific days and texts, I’ve learned a lot from some of my fellow Ecclesia leaders over the past few years, particularly regarding the broader sweep of the liturgical year. I am drawn, like many of them, to the sense that we need to “re-order” our way of ordering our time according toGod’s grand narrative and less of the way we normally look at a year in the modern world. We should ebb with the momentum of God’s drama and not the script propelled before us by most of those who pass us by.
When it comes to the Advent and Christmas season though, the irony within this is that for many people, this season IS the high point of the year (save the possible exception of when school gets out if you are a child, or when it goes back in session if you are a parent). Yet, for those of us who are attempting to enter into God’s grand narrative, in many ways the seasons of Advent and Christmas actually are our lowest points.
It might be strange to think about Christmas as the low point in a year, especially for a Christian. Yet, I’ve come to see that the liturgical year arc’s upward, ultimately climaxing not in Easter, but in Pentecost. This too might be strange to suggest since most tend to regard Easter as our high point, especially when so many within evangelical circles in particular have certainly heard a sermon during Advent about how Jesus was “born to die” or for those with a bit more of our understanding even “born to rise”. But, perhaps it is more aligned with the purposes of Jesus himself and the Father who sent him to say something like he was “born to release the Spirit upon and within the Church”.
Of the many reasons for Jesus coming, one of the most often overlooked is that he came to make way for the Spirit’s perpetual arrival, and he left (death, resurrection, and ascension) to make way for that arrival to be ongoing, permanent and always present, upon the church in particular. A few years ago we had the fantastic opportunity to have Dallas Willard with us at the Ecclesia National Gathering, and one of the many incredibly powerful things that he shared was that the Spirit was given in succession to Jesus so that Jesus might be everywhere that he needed to be. He went on to say this:
Jesus was aware that as long as he was here, as we say, in the flesh, he was an obstruction to the power of the spirit coming into the very lives of people he was training. Limited to flesh he was not able to everywhere he needed to be, as he can now, because the Spirit brings him everywhere he needs to be. His death and resurrection was, among other things, Jesus’ way of getting out of the way of the Spirit.
If this were not his ultimate intention, how else could Jesus articulate something like he did in John 16 so clearly. “But, I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you, but if I go, I will send Him to you … He will glorify me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of mine and will disclose it to you.”
We are reminded in this season of Advent that the word became flesh and, as Eugene’s version says, “moved into the neighborhood”. He became a person to dwell among us as a person. But he did this so that he as the“Word” might become unfleshed so that it – by the power of the Spirit – could be everywhere and with everyone who is in the flesh – that is why he calls the Church his body.
The view of Advent then is not just historical, as in we remember the past, nor is it merely eschatological, in that we anticipate the future. In addition, and perhaps even ultimately, it is first pneumatic, then ecclesial, and then missional. The word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood, and then he moved out, so that He might move, through the Spirit, back into the neighborhood – not just with us – though he certainly is – but also within his body, the Church.
Perhaps this season moves us beyond reflection and nostalgia toward attentiveness (and ultimately action) to the ways in which the Spirit is bringing the person of Jesus into our specific neighborhoods, and among specific people, through “we” the church. It is a season about the coming of Jesus, but the most faithful way to live within that is by actually sharing in his current presentness. It should also cause us to ponder whether or not we are moving within the arc of Advent—the beginning of the Church year– and it’s forward path from now until June. Is the Spirit’s presence among us increasing? Is our dedication to a Spirit-empowered Church strengthening? Is our love for this community and for its purpose abounding? If we love the season of Advent and the liturgical flow, then we will love these things as well.
One of my favorite images of Advent is one I heard from John Eldredge many years ago. He described this season as “God quietly seeding His revolution behind the scenes of time in the most quiet and unexpected manner in an exceedingly out of the way place.” Now, the revolution continues on, not having yet met its match. Undoubtedly it will not. The quiet revolution is in the neighborhood of your church right now, because Jesus is there, and you are too, even if it is happening in an exceedingly unexpected way.
This post was written by a member of Life on the Vine, an Ecclesia congregation in suburban Chicago.
On October 30, 2004, I found out that my mom had died earlier that morning. At seven years old that put me into a pit of grief; which I’ve struggled with for the past eight years. I would have many nights where I would cry myself to sleep and days where I would take out my anger on my brother, sister and anybody that I could without getting in trouble for doing so. For several years I tried to work through my pain counseling and some other things, but not much seemed to help. My dad got remarried in 2008 and I felt sad because in my mind, a new mother meant that I had to leave behind the old one, which was a lie that I thankfully later had my eyes opened to.
Over the past few years I have been having long painful conversations with my parents and other family members about my grief. Often I would break down into tears and sobbing. At some point I realized that it was as if I had been paying a penance for my mom’s death that I didn’t need to pay. I felt guilty about being happy and alive while my mom was dead. Unfortunately, realizing this didn’t mean it was over; I still had more work to do.
Fast forward to this past summer, when I was part of the Youthworks mission team that went to Oklahoma. While I was there I was able to share my struggles about my mom’s death with my teammates. Through that I learned to trust non-family members with this heartache. I felt supported in my struggle and that I had the team’s understanding. During the trip my relationship with God had been renewed. I then felt God wrapping me in His love and I knew that somehow I’d make it through.
When October came around this year, I was nervous that it would end up being a pit of despair like every other October had been so far. Through talking with my dad I was lead to be at peace with the fact that God didn’t owe me an answer as to why she died. If God wants me to know why my mom died, He’ll tell me, if not, He won’t. Another thing that helped was that I was able to just think about all the good memories and most importantly about how far I had come from the little boy in the corner worried that everything that could go wrong would. I also realized, and applied, the fact that just because my mom died doesn’t mean that I did. I’ve still got a life to live right in front of me. I now know that I can be sad and grieve her death and not lose hope.
One thing that really helped me was the All Saints Day service that we had a few weeks ago. It helped me to see that I’ll see my mom one day when there’s no death, sorrow or sickness. At first it was hard to think of her from a perspective of hope and joy after years of thinking about her with despair and cynicism. Though I didn’t mention her name when we named those who have gone before us, just bringing her picture and setting it on the altar with the others was another step out of my hole. I still have those times when grief overwhelms me and I just have to take in sadness like an old friend, have it over for a while and send it out after a day or two; but thankfully God carries me through those days just like He did through the eight years that I felt like a dead man walking. I still have to keep working on this but God has carried me this far and I can say that God has and still is redeeming my life in the midst of this tough situation.
Ecclesia Thinks and Links is a monthly publication of The Ecclesia Network that highlights articles, blog posts and publications from members and friends of the Network.
by Bob Hyatt
In this three-part article Bob lays out a model for discernment. In this series of posts, you can also get a good look into Evergreen’s story.
by Geoff Holsclaw
You might notice that this is an older post, but Geoff addresses the question of leadership in a missional context – particularly how leadership and co-leadership works out at Life on the Vine.
by Gary Alloway via J.R. Briggs
J.R. Briggs posted a great story from Redemption Church of Bristol in Suburban Philly.
7 Questions with Scot McKnight
by Dave Kinnaman
Scot McKnight talks about his book One.Life, The Blue Parakeet, Women in the church and women in leadership.
by JR Woodward
This isn’t really a post, this is a whole book. JR’s book was released by IVP in July. Check out his new website and be sure to get a copy of his book.
My Journey with Apostolic Ministry
by Bob Roberts, Jr.
Bob talks about his jouney in discovering his apostolic gifting.
by Winn Collier
Drawing on the story of Lazarus, Winn reflects on the trajedy in Aurora, CO.
Welcome to a new publication of the Ecclesia Network: Ecclesia Thinks & Links. What follows is a collection of some recent articles, blog posts and news from people within and outside the network. As I’ve been collecting links over the past few weeks, I was reminded that we have some amazing voices that are part of our community.
Of course, a disclaimer is necessary: While the articles below will be mostly written by Ecclesia pastors and leaders, not all of them will be (Those with an ** on articles written by people directly connected to Ecclesia). Obviously, there are some really helpful writers and thinkers outside of Ecclesia and we’re excited to highlight them too. Of course, nothing we link to below shows our complete endorsement of whatever is said in a post or whatever they have said elsewhere on their blog, on facebook, twitter or while they were talking on the phone last night – hopefully this goes without saying.
If you have read or have written articles or blog posts that you think could be included in upcoming issues of Ecclesia Thinks and Links, please forward them to Todd Hiestand (email@example.com)
by J.R. Briggs
A great look at the nature of the church through the metaphor of church dinners by the pastor of the Renew Community in Lansdale, PA
by Matt Tebbe
Matt reflects on how we are discipled through parenting.
Who Imitates You? 9 Ways to Invite Others In
A great list from 3DM in the UK about mentoring and discipling others.
by Aaron Graham on the Exponential Network Website
Get to know a bit more about Aaron, a pastor in Ecclesia, and his churches mission. Aaron was recently interviewed by the Exponential Network.
More Than a New Color
by Lance Ford
“Missional doesn’t visit the neighborhood. Missional moves into the neighborhood.” A great short reflection by Lance Ford.
by David Fitch
David Fitch, pastor at Life on the Vine, recently had this aritcle published on Christianity Today. Provacative as usual, he asks hard questions about being rooted locally.
by Winn Collier
Winn, pastor of All Souls Charlottesville, reflects on why he became a pastor and, more importantly, why he stays one.
by Ben Sternke
Ben, pastor at Christ Church in Fort Wayne, recently published a series of excellent posts on his philosophy and practice of discipleship. Very, very well worth sinking your teeth into!
Again, if you have any questions, please send them Todd’s way!
By Chris Backert; Ecclesia Director & Organizational Architect
The Changing Nature of Leadership Development in Emerging Networks
In many established associations, there have been programs put in place for leadership development among both congregations and clergy. As with several of these other practices, leadership development was carried out through the centralized office of the denomination, either at the regional or national level. In contrast, emerging church networks will focus on leadership development as a key aspect of their agenda.
However, leadership development will be carried out through mentoring relationships and leadership-training events put together through the shared work of the network. Acts 29 has the most developed system for this ongoing equipping and leadership training of any network at the moment.
As with all the prior practices, leadership development will be distributed instead of centralized. Network leaders can work with pastors and key laity in the congregation to construct development plans that access the resources of the persons involved in the association community. For instance, in addition to providing training for leadership development, the new network will highlight particular churches that are carrying out this task effectively. Those seeking to learn and develop will be encouraged to engage in conversation with practitioners that are involved in successful ministry in a comparative context. This approach builds community and can develop a culture of generosity, reciprocity, and mutual equipping. The network can serve the churches in its community by developing lists of strengths and areas of expertise from among the leadership of the network. As will hold true in the area of resource development, the best practices for ministry in this new era will be developed from those working on the ground.
Leadership Development within the Ecclesia Network
Within Ecclesia, this continues to be an area for our growth and development. As the regional activity of our network is bolstered, we expect that more and more of these opportunities will begin to take place. In addition, we are looking at piloting a few learning communities over the next two years that will allow churches in a region to work together with members of their congregations toward some shared development. Also, an increasing number of congregations within Ecclesia are developing residency or apprenticeship programs. The Renew Community outside of Philadelphia, the District Church in Washington D.C., and Imago Dei in Richmond, VA all have active residency opportunities. Lastly, we are working at increasing the visibility of all of our congregations to one another by highlighting regular stories of their work throughout the year. This will provide a better vantage point for network members to know who they can look toward related to their experience and expertise. Hopefully, with greater connectivity among all members of Ecclesia, we will see signs of the natural and organic growth we are all experiencing as we are on this journey together.