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May 14, 2016

Back from the future…

By Shelley G. Trebesch

Now that you’ve “lived” in the future, your church community has imagined the vision as if it’s already happened,  it’s time to step back into the present. I find that while most church planters are entrepreneurial and therefore visionary, we’re also activists. We like doing! Programs, services, small groups, outreaches, dinners, music, etc. Great stuff! But will they lead to God’s intended future as expressed by the vision he gave? And do they richly connect with the context of the city, for which, presumably, the church exists?

Exegeting the Context

Standard, “church planting 101,” points toward exegeting the context, yet I find the discipline of reflection, listening, and praying as precursors to strategy development difficult. As my British friends say, I want to “get on with it.” It’s interesting that Jesus waited until well into his adult life to start ministry and at that, only after forty days of prayer and fasting followed by resisting temptation. There’s mystery in these episodes of Jesus’ life, but we know Jesus wisely learned his context, as evidenced in his insightful communication strategies and his ability to connect. I encourage us to pause and prayerfully reflect, listen, and research before initiating programs and activities. Here are a few ideas.

Strategy is the means to work toward the vision.

Strategy(ies) can be expressed in programs, activities, events, practices, and so on, BUT effective strategies flow from the intersection of the strengths of the faith community and the opportunities of the context. Notice that I depart from typical convention regarding church and strategy, which usually focuses on the church meeting the needs of the community. Rather than forming strategy to address needs, which I believe creates the potential danger of consumerism and dependency, create strategies by noticing what God has already provided in the team and where God is already at work in the community. Take time to know who you are as a team or church, as well as the context you’re in.

Consider these questions:

  • Strengths: What are the gifts, talents, assets, competencies and connections of those in your church? (or in the team of persons starting the church?)
  • What political, educational, demographic, societal, technological and religious trends do you notice in your context? These are potential opportunities.
  • What assets can you identify in your context? These are community resources, such as thriving businesses, gatherings, leaders, special places where people meet, institutions, etc.[1]

Capture these observations in ways that everyone can see, such as on flipcharts. Then list your church’s (team’s) strengths alongside the contextual factors you captured. I’ll address these in the next blog posting.

[1] For further guidance in this process, see Shelley Trebesch, Made to Flourish: Beyond Quick Fixes to A Thriving Organization, Downers Grove, IL: 2015, p. 157.

Featured Image: Screen grab from Back to the Future (1985, Universal Pictures)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shelley G. Trebesch

Shelley G. Trebesch (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) has served as vice president for capacity development for Prison Fellowship International, as well as assistant professor of leadership and organization development at Fuller Theological Seminary and in Singapore as global director for Membership Development for OMF International. An active consultant, trainer and seminar leader, Trebesch has facilitated complex change processes and developed leadership curricula for churches and organizations around the world.

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