by Aaron Graham, Lead Pastor at The District Church (Washington, D.C.)
Originally Posted on November 16, 2017.
This last Sunday we had the privilege of hearing from Pastor Don Coleman from East End Fellowship and Pastor Stuart Royall from 180 Degrees Church. We had a conversation about discipleship and what it means
to be a spiritual mother or father to a younger son or daughter in the faith.
Our Scripture was 2 Timothy 2:2 “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”
We were highlighting our value of being a multiplying church that develops leaders and churches in DC and beyond and how this all starts through the process of multiplying disciples.
During my freshman year at the University of Richmond almost twenty years ago I met both Stuart and Don. Don was discipling Stuart as they ministered in a under-resourced community in the East End of Richmond and then Stuart started meeting with me to disciple me weekly.
The Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 4:15 that you may have many teachers, but you do not have many fathers. Having a spiritual mother or father in your life is a rare gift and something to be cherished.
Spiritual mothering and fathering is a great goal to reach toward in discipleship, yet the reality is that most discipleship relationships occur on the counseling and mentoring level. But we must start somewhere and the reality is that spiritual fathering relationships always start off on the teacher or mentor level. But the key is that they progress toward a deeper level of trust and maturity.
Here is a helpful framework that I’ve used when it comes to thinking about discipleship in a 1:1 context. There is:
- Counseling – this is when you meet with someone to work through a specific challenge you are facing in your life.
- Mentoring – this is when you meet with someone to learn how you can grow in a specific area of your life.
- Spiritual Parenting – this is when a relationship moves beyond just mentoring to a life-long relationship because of trust and spiritual authority the person has been given.
One of the ways you know if you have a spiritual mother or father in your life is when that person delights in your success as a son or daughter more than their own. Spiritual fathers are willing to lay down their life for their sons.
We have many teachers in life that help us learn. We have many counselors who give us advice. We have many mentors who helps us grow to reach our goals in life. But there are few spiritual mothers and fathers.
My prayer for our churches is that God would raise up men and women of God right here to help mother and father the next generation of disciples.
The huge prayer response from Sunday gave me the sense that there is a real hunger for this.
To God by the glory!
Cyd Holsclaw, Ecclesia Board Member and Life on the Vine Member (Chicago, Illinois), shares her reflection
Let me start by saying how unqualified I feel to write anything at all about cultural identity and race… and yet, I’m also about as white as white comes. I was born and raised in western Michigan, attended schools where all of my classmates were white, went to college in Minnesota where whites of northern European heritage were the dominant culture on campus, got a masters in environmental education where I was surrounded by crunchy white folks, moved to Santa Cruz California where those crunchy folks were just the ‘normal’ folks, married a white guy, and now I live in the suburbs of Chicago in a solidly middle / upper class community where most of the minorities are doing their best to assimilate to the dominant white culture. Although I have never consciously bought into any racist ideologies, I confess I spent most of my life believing that colorblindness was the right approach, the Christ-like approach.
A few years ago, through listening to some powerful voices, I learned that colorblindness is, in reality, a blind spot. Since then, I’ve been trying to be honest about my lack of awareness of cultural identities – both my own and those of my brothers and sisters of color. I’ve been trying to educate myself about the histories I was never taught, listening to sermons / podcasts from people of color, watching documentaries, and reading fiction by non-white authors. But the feeling that I’m not doing enough has often frustrated me. I’ve been overwhelmed by the nagging question of “what am I supposed to do?” Maybe some of you can resonate with that question, with that tension.
So when I saw Daniel Hill’s book, White Awake, and the subtitle read, “An honest look at what it means to be white,” I knew I had to read this book. What I found was a graciously urgent call from a white brother to all his white sisters and brothers to “let go of preconceived notions of expertise or understanding that you feel you might be bringing to this… pray like the blind man: ‘Lord, help me to see.’” Throughout the book, Hill is honest and authentic about his own misshapen theology, his misguided motivations, his failed attempts, and his weariness. By his admissions of weakness, he invites all white people to journey with him through the stages of waking up to cultural identity. He urges us to ask the question “can I see?” before we ask what to do. We can only actively participate in the kingdom calling to considering all of humanity as image bearers when we learn to see and dismantle the ways our culture perpetuates broken ways of naming humanity.
If you are a white person, know any white people, pastor any white people, or live with any white people, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Language shapes our understanding of our experience, and Hill gives concrete language for white people to understand what’s happening when they are first coming to terms with privilege. He begins with the first ‘encounter’ with race and white supremacy, concisely unpacking American history in such a way that anyone who has not yet encountered white privilege will be faced with some new realities. He lends grace for the ‘denial’ that usually follows this encounter and urges us to face the trauma we feel in discovering our complicity. Helpful metaphors / parables help us explore the resulting ‘disorientation’ and lead us into unpacking our ‘shame’ reactions that push us into ‘self-righteousness’. Along the way, he lays out spiritual practices to move us out of each stage and into the next: confronting narratives, facing trauma, deepening theology, lamenting, repenting. He provides some markers of what it might look like to be more culturally ‘awake’ and offers suggestions for possible ways to move from contemplation to ‘active participation’ in change.
As a board, we have had conversations about building cultural awareness within our network. We want to be honest about the ways in which the evil behind systems of racism have influenced our structures, our communication, and our inclusion (or lack thereof) of our sisters and brothers of color. I’m asking my white family, will you join us in taking an honest look at what it means to be white? This book is a great first step, and I would love to talk more with anyone who reads it at our national gathering in the spring.
And to my brothers and sisters of color, thank you so much for your perseverance. We don’t even know all the ways we have unintentionally made you feel unwelcome. You have been patient with us, showed us grace in our blindness, spoken into our lives, shared your stories with us, and longed with us for a community where all will be seen, heard, understood, and celebrated. Thank you. Let’s continue, together, to imagine a network that more fully anticipates the Revelation vision of a great multitude of culturally diverse people worshiping Christ together.
This summer Rachel and I have been gearing up for something we both thought we would never do – homeschooling! For a variety of reasons we have discerned this is the best path for our family in the near-term. As we have tried to dig ourselves into the world of curriculum for elementary school age children, we have found out just how much education has changed since we were little! One of our favorite resources that we stumbled upon as we’ve tried to put together a stellar plan is the “timeline” song used by some who take the classical approach to education. If you have never heard it before, you should look it up on Youtube. It is sung to a relatively catchy tune for elementary age children and will refresh your memory on everything you were once taught in history classes that you have long forgotten. The song lasts almost 13 minutes and ends with a reminder to the children that they are now part of the time-line of history and indeed can make some history of their own!
Ecclesia is coming up on 10 years since we “officially” started this Fall. Our time-line began with a collection of 4 churches scattered across the country who envisioned a family on mission with one another. The task of cultivating faithful expressions of the gospel in community seems more daunting now than when we first began a short decade ago. The cultural landscape in the US has changed a great deal during that time, presenting great challenges to the people of Jesus who wish to provide a faithful and compelling witness. Yet, with those great challenges are also great opportunities.
As I’ve thought about Ecclesia’s timeline and the timeline of many of the churches within our network, I know that many of you have experienced a season of challenge in the last year. Some of you hoped that the challenges of 2016 would not carry into a new year. For some that has turned about to the case, for others you find yourself still amidst of hardship. In many ways, what the churches of Ecclesia experience in their life is what “we” as a network experience. If it’s a tough year financially for you, it becomes a tough year financially for us. If you are navigating thorny issues and conflict, we are navigating thorny issues and conflict, because we are committed to walk together. Simultaneously, when new people enter the kingdom of God, or a family or neighborhood begins to be transformed, we all celebrate that with one another.
As I look over our collective timelines and with the jingle of the “timeline” song in my head, it’s a relief to remember that history is full of ups and downs, of seasons of fruitfulness and seasons of pruning. The fruitfulness comes in cycles, as does the pruning. Some years back Mike Breen spoke at our Ecclesia National Gathering and he reminded us that in seasons of pruning, our primary task is to abide (John 15). We draw close to Jesus during those moments, we place ourselves mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically at rest and under his care. We connect ourselves more to the source of life and in so doing, we will be renewed when the season of fruitfulness comes again. Just as we are intended to abide and Christ during those moments, I hope that we can also abide/remain/be connected to one another. For those who are in a different season, we celebrate with you and share in the joyful progress of the ministry Christ has given to your hands and heart. It’s a tangible reminder that these seasons come and go. In truth, it’s rare that fruitfulness and pruning are that distinct from one another. The reality is that often they are both happening simultaneously, but our experience is identified by one more than the other.
Recently I was visiting a network church and talking with one of our pastors who was sharing with me how they occasionally lament that they don’t have a building as it often feels like a barrier to growth in their community. He then went on to tell me how his wife recently corrected him about his lamentations as they have 80-100 people within their congregation who really “get it” and are genuinely pursuing Jesus and His mission. As he sat with those words he told me that he came to see what a beautiful thing he has caring for in those 80-100 people. I couldn’t agree more.
Whether you have 500-1000 in your congregation (as some churches in Ecclesia do) or 30-40 (as others do), helping the people of Jesus loves to grow up into the measure of the statue of the fullness of Christ is an awesome and history making task within itself, particularly as you help them come to understand their role in the great time-line of God’s kingdom action here on earth. Each week you preach or pray or create or counsel is a critical task. And, in spite of the odds, we can take great joy in knowing that those who have gone before and those who will come after have felt this same way. So, let’s take joy in hardship and celebration and let’s do it together!
Pastors and Kingdom Leaders,
We were scheduled to meet Tuesday in Plymouth Meeting, PA for an event featuring Dr. Darrell Guder. Unfortunately, Dr. Guder recently informed us that a medical emergency has occurred in his family and he will be unable to join us for the event.
Therefore, we are postponing Tuesday’s event. We will find another date that suits Dr. Guder’s schedule in the near future and let you all know when the reschedule date is for this event.
Keas Keasler Accepts New Role with Friends University & Apprentice InstituteSarah and Keas Keasler are moving to Wichita! After five and a half years of serving at Ecclesia’s Rhythm Church in Miami, Keas has accepted a professor position at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas.
Starting in August he’ll be the Assistant Professor of Christian Spiritual Formation at Friends University, a Christian liberal arts college, teaching undergraduate students as well as working with James Bryan Smith to build a Master’s program for higher-level thinking in the field of Christian discipleship and formation. Sarah will be pursuing her master’s degree in business administration (MBA), something she has been wanting to do for some time now.
Keas says: “This move is bittersweet for both me and Sarah. We couldn’t be more excited about stepping into what God has for us in this next season of life and joining the team at Friends University. But we feel a great deal of sadness that we’ll no longer be a part of Rhythm and our community in Miami. I don’t have words to express what a joy and privilege it has been to lead a community like Rhythm and do ministry with my best friends. “Love God Love Miami” will be something we hold onto forever!”
Mark Moore to Serve as Next Lead Pastor of River Valley Church!
After a lengthy search process, River Valley Church in Mishawaka IN has selected Mark Moore as their next Lead Pastor. He is set to begin July 31st. Previously, Mark serves as Director of Church Mobilization for International Justice Mission. Prior to that he served a short season on the staff of Ecclesia as Director of Coaching and Missional Formation.
“It was just a few days after I learned that River Valley’s former Lead Pastor, Rick Callahan would be concluding his time at River Valley that I called Mark to mention that a position might be opening”, relates Chris Backert, Eccelsia’s National Director. “From walking along with several of River Valley’s leaders the last several years, I had a sense of the kind of person the church may need during this next season. Of course, I’m delighted that as they worked through their own process and time-line that out of dozens and dozens of candidates, they also believe Mark would be the kind of leader to shepherd River Valley in this next era.”
We’re pleased to welcome two new members to our Ecclesia Board…
Next Gen churched was formed from a gathering of friends longing to see a new expression of the gospel that was explicitly multi-cultural formed several years ago. Under Mia’s leadership, Next Gen has proven to be a mission-shaped and spirit-empowered congregation that is reaching across a wide range of ethnic and economic situations in central New Jersey.
Jon comes to Ecclesia as a result of his friendship and support of both Ecclesia leaders and Ecclesia congregations. He has more than 30 years experience in leadership in the insurance industry. He has been recognized as an outstanding leader in his field and as a dedicated contributor to the non-profit sector.
On these new additions, National Director Chris Backert shares, “With Mia and Jon joining our leadership team, we are adding two people of both high competence and high character. Many in our network have learned from Mia in the areas of multi-cultural ministry and life in the Spirit. We are excited to have her shaping our collective efforts in these and many other ways. Jon is also the right addition at the right time for Ecclesia as we seek to solidify the organizational aspects of our ministry. He has a unique blend of organizational and administrative expertise, while being invested in the local church and new congregations in particular.”