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Five Points of Bitterness Common in the Missional Church -Dan White

Shel: This is SO SO good! Enjoy:
http://thev3movement.org/2014/08/five-points-of-bitterness-common-in-the-missional-church/

Forging communities on mission has been a refreshing and exhilarating experience. I’m a strategist and futurist by nature, so I have the propensity to convince myself I’ve sized up all the challenges that will come my way, before they come my way.

There was one issue that I was not prepared to run into so regularly and widely… bitterness.

Over and over again, our team has collided with the thick smog of bitterness that saturates many conversations and any intentional gathering related to Christianity. I’ve studied up on Post-Christianity but nothing could ready me for the discipleship challenge of very real and raw people being riddled with bitterness and cynicism.
Outside the Tent

For as much theological space and diversity our community embraces, for as relational as our ethos is, for as organic as our church ecclesiology is, we’ve found no way around colliding with deeply entrenched bitterness. I had a bit of a fantasy that because we were unlike institutional, hierarchical, consumer-oriented, more conservative expressions of church we would avoid this reality.

But bitterness travels.

Our bitterness goes where we go and it paralyzes our energy for mission and community. Any team pioneering ministry outside of evangelicalism will suddenly find themselves outside the “Big Tent.” It’s out here in this wide open terrain, that does not appeal to church-shoppers, that you will meet countless people who’ve seen, experienced or been through Christianity. They carry massive wounds from that experience. For them the church was crueler and colder than expected.
Our bitterness goes where we go and it paralyzes our energy for mission and community.

The Prevalent Poison

A missional church must come to terms with the overwhelming number of people that carry a burning-bitterness. In many ways, their inner turmoil towards the church and its extensions are justified. There is no erasing the experiences that they lived through. Many of these angers have been untouched but quite possibly have been stoked by others who are just as turned-off and angry.

I am so thoroughly convinced that bitterness and cynicism is the most prevalent poison in our times. When we are hurt, dashed, and royally let down, a villain is erected. It becomes a sub-conscious controlling figure that clouds our choices, opinions and spiritual trajectory.

Bitterness slowly burns a consuming mark on our outlook of the future. Emotional disappointment, if unaddressed, renders us perpetually frustrated and disillusioned even if the scenery changes.
5 Common Points of Bitterness

Here are some tangible and personal points of bitterness we’ve discovered in the city we love. In no way am I trying to stereo-type or demonize. In some ways, this is an over simplistic presentation. I find it a privilege to be in the presence of people who are genuinely skeptical. Still, these are real-life touch points that our missional church has encountered up close and personal.

1. Bitterness Towards Leadership

A Christian leader really let them down, dashed their hopes, made promises they never followed through on, used power for personal gain, treated them like a number, or gave them bad counsel. Their experience with Christian leadership colors their whole feeling towards authority.

Missional Challenge: For as gracious, hospitable, trusting and peaceable that your current leadership might be, often times you will still be viewed through that skeptical lens created by bitterness. Their radar is on high alert looking for signs that you are not who you say you are. Often they are expecting the other shoe to drop, feeling spiritual abuse is just around the corner.

2. Bitterness Towards Christian Parents

Parents gave them a faith of obedience that gave little space for exploration, mystery and independence. Their parents went to church regularly and even had leadership roles but were judgmental, unloving and selfish.

Missional Challenge: There are sores around this paternal relationship making it hard for them to cozy up to church, because in some way it symbolizes the faith of their parents.

3. Bitterness Towards Structure

Institutional Christianity may have tried to push them through an assembly line to produce a cookie-cutter Christian man or woman. Church seemed forced with subtle manipulation. If they had doubts, there was no room for them. If they had questions, there were glares directed at them. The black and white presentations of the church did not fit with the complications of everyday life. The Christian music, events, sermons and Christian lingo seemed like a sheltered sub-culture.

Missional Challenge: These realities make people skittish about any type of intentionality; meeting on a regular basis, regular teaching, regular stewardship, rhythmic community or purposeful mission. It is hard for them not to establish a posture of overreaction to protect themselves against previous oppressive modes of church.

4. Bitterness Towards Stifling Theology

The Theory of Evolution was called heresy, woman were relegated to children’s ministry, God was a detached Almighty who controlled everything including suffering, the Bible was a rule book, God was first feared then followed, a personal relationship with God didn’t seem all that personal. There are embedded visceral emotions connected to this brand of theology that they perceived alienated them.

Missional Challenge: This is not a god they want to be associated with at all. Recovering a better image of God is hard because of their ingrained response to the God of their youth. They are a bit embarrassed to be aligned with God even though they are drawn to him.

5. Bitterness Towards Community

Christian friends let them down, they got offended, and then found no reconciliation. Their expectations were never met and they were perpetually disappointed with a lack of intimacy. It seemed liked few ever reciprocated when they reached out for connection.

Missional Challenge: Being connected with Christians seems to be more trouble than it’s worth. Their first position is one of distrust that keeps them cautiously distant. Unknowingly their thoughts on community are filtered through idealism and expectations no one can meet.
A Space for Recovery

Time does not often heal these issues. In many cases, time builds deeper tracks for bitterness to ride on.

Missional Communities need to become incubators of grace, patience and carefulness for the sake of long term healing. Eventually, you will need to address bitterness within discipleship. You cannot dance around this issue for too long because it eventually will sabotage partnering with God and each other.

Underlying cynicism often creates a spirituality that is afraid of connecting to actual people doing actual mission. Bitterness legitimizes keeping a distance from loyalty, giving us space to stay critical.
Underlying cynicism often creates a spirituality that is afraid of connecting to actual people…

To the degree that we are unable to admit we are bitter is the degree that we are impaired in our clarity of vision. When unearthing this, we might find we don’t want to let go of something that we feel justified to hold onto. In many ways, bitterness can get all intertwined in how we’ve identified ourselves being “against certain things and certain people”.

We desperately need to help each other pick through the clutter of past worship, bible-studies, sermons, relationships, and spiritual experiences to find something of value. We need to gently and patiently coach each other to forgive, to let go of grudges and discontinue our railing against the villain in our emotional memory.

This work cannot be avoided or we will fragment and choose an autonomous spirituality that doesn’t root in actual flesh-and-bone community. It becomes very difficult to submit to Jesus if we cannot make peace with the past. It becomes very difficult to work peaceably for His Kingdom if we are constantly bated by the present Christian buffoonery that assails overhead.

Cleaning the slate is mission imperative.

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Pesonal Ministry Updates

There has been so much going as of late that I've not had many first person entries here.

To bring my three readers :-) up-to-speed, my heart is full of so many things to be thankful for, while at the same time I've been in a sort-of wilderness experience.

First off, I am thankful for my family and their flexibility. Anne is a great half of this team and I am thankful for her daily.

I do not share much about my family on the blog to protect some of our shared and sacred space as life partners. But I will share more about my journey. I use "I" language intentionally here because often "we" language is used to soften or distance oneself in the name of "inclusion." There are appropriate uses of "we" language. I could write this all as a "we" but I would be assuming I know a lot more about others and their hearts than I do.
So I will start with the more recent trips and destinations on this journey - that is obviously a "we" journey for our intertwined lives - but I will not play god and assume I know the "we" perspective ;-)

.

After my first lead pastorate of 10.5 years, a church which we started with a small group of people with vision, we sensed God calling us to leave and that we did with great blessing in October of 2014. That church has now called it's first FT pastor on it's own after the planting and initial seasons of "cutting teeth" and into adolescence (if you permit me the metaphor). I am so very excited that a church which was not "mothered" in a mid-size city has been blessed by God to continue past it's founding and founding pastor. That is not something you see everyday. Many more end than carry onto a second generation of leadership.

We knew that God was calling us out in our last season of that church. However, the clarity on where to was not there. Yes, I've read about Abraham (being called out to head to a place he did not know), and Paul (again being called to "apprehend Him who has apprehended me") not exactly getting a roadmap. It's about relationship not a roadmap with discerning God's leadings.

In the meantime we had several church callings before us from wonderful congregations. In the end we went with the one that seemed like the most stretching and outside of what we had done before in ministry. We responded to a call to what would be considered a site-pastor role - an outpost of a larger church. We helped (I use the word "help" because we have/had an amazing team from the local site to the production site team) launch a new site for this church.

Some of our skills have been used well here. We've used our planting skills to help something new start. This is similar to my first ministry role as an associate staff pastor for ~7.5 years. Although, in that role I had amazing freedom, blessing and developed new missional connections in an established church, and had platforms for teaching/preaching. It was after this that we planted.

In the current role it has clarified some things for me and our family in terms of ministry and Anabaptist ways of embodying structure, worship and community. One of the clarifications was in the skills/gifting area. I am wired for teaching/preaching, big picture vision, networking, execution of plans and leadership. I have learned in this season that my experience of leading, vision, teaching from small groups leadership and missional worship gatherings at my first ministry in a large congregation (also with church-wide leadership opportunities and practice) and then in a new church, lead pastoring, teaching/preaching that I have a skill set, passion and gifts which I want to continue to be used in. This also includes a passion for supporting and encouraging multi-cultural, lingual and new peoples church-planting.

These are real gifts and are my wiring. In fact, when I am not able to do these things, I start looking for ways to do them outside of my "official role." That realization of feeling the desire to work outside of a highly structured system to reach more people started to clue me in that this present position is part of learning journey, and as currently configured is not a long stop. Put another way, I love the bus I'm on, but the seat doesn't fit and there were not clear paths to other possibilities, so I am stepping off the bus. I have had a season of wilderness as a result of that. But God prepares us, breaks us and re-shapes, refines, and even re-fires us in the wilderness.

While in the midst of trying to serve our current group well I got a call from a conference minister who was doing an interim ministry in an Anabaptist church. He had seen my profile in a denominational list and called asking if I/we would consider a possible call to the church they were serving as lead pastor.

Initially I had great resistance to the idea. But I have this one gift that guides them all - intercession. So I added this to my prayers. It started to become clear that perhaps the Holy Spirit was working where I am to connect me with some amazing people, but for something very different than I (and obviously the church here) had planned and moved for. I was here to pray, obey, and be willing to leave in order to serve better the larger Kingdom of God.

During this time I talked with several mentors and people who were part of our spiritual discernment community. They affirmed the direction and one who has worked with me and former leadership teams, said something to the effect of "well, duh! It's not a surprise that if you are not using most of your core gifts you're going to struggle with fit based on what God has used you for and wired you for." Wise, if not blunt.

In case you missed it, before coming here we served in two VERY different faith communities for 17+years (18.5 if you include my volunteer staff team role before I was hired FT). Two churches, 18.5 years. I am NOT a "hopper" in anyway. I love experimenting and enabling new ministry and new gifts in people within a context - but not switching the context very often. My main ministry mentor in those first years served that ministry for 29.5 years! I am firm believer in the "grass is greener where you water it." HOWEVER, sometimes God and the communities of faith we discern through have another plan in mind - a different set of relationships.

To some, our leaving a mega-church site lead role(that many would 'die' to be in) would seem like a strange move. To me, however, I see it as the upward and forward call of God. (Note to self - avoid future phone conversations with conference ministers).

In case you are not following, starting in August, I (and my family) will be leaving Toronto and moving to take a lead pastorate at a wonderful Evangelical, Anabaptist, (even some Spirit-filled -in the charismatic-sense) church in Florida.

I cannot tell you how excited we are to get on the ground and be in a church with both history, great forward missional vision, and wanting to empower next generations in real ways. A place I believe that will help spread the Jesus-message/way from an Anabaptist view.

This time in-between has been a time of wilderness where we have also been sharpened, rested in some ways from the very hard years of planting and cutting our teeth in our first lead-pastorate role, reflection, healing and ready for the new thing.

To be clear, we love the people we've been in church with, the leadership and overall vision of where we are, have strong affinity with the Brethren in Christ, and absolutely love the city (and the TTC! Yes I said that - compared to most US cities...) and Canada is just fine. In fact some of my extended family settled in Canada. Some Boese's (Mennonite Christians) went to the US others to Canada. I also went to a seminary of a bi-national denomination for my MDiv (North American Baptist Seminary) and we had some Canadians around.

I am still young in ministry, but entering my mid-years of service. I believe that this will be a season of breakthrough, new anointing, and re-rooting. Also a time to help multiply the kingdom of God, from new believers, more multi-cultural ministry empowerment, to leaders of new sites and churches (I hope).

Please be in prayer for us and remember the importance of face-to-face community in worship, study, service and living the faith.

If you want to know more, I will be updating this some.

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How Weekend Church Services Will Change

Good Stuff #3 and #4 are speaking my love language...
http://careynieuwhof.com/2015/07/how-weekend-church-services-will-change-in-the-future

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Boyd: On Demons

Are you Afraid of Demons?
23 ReKnew by Greg Boyd
http://reknew.org/2015/07/are-you-afraid-of-demons/

I remember learning about germs in fourth grade. We were told our world was saturated with tiny invisible creatures that can infect wounds and make us sick. I immediately stopped sharing already-chewed gum with other kids, stop using my sister’s toothbrush and started washing my hands after going to the bathroom. Most kids had similar reactions.

But I’ll never forget how my friend Stephanie reacted. She got weird! About the only thing she ever talked about after this class was germs. We were playing badminton in gym class the next day, and she didn’t want to touch the badminton racket she was given until it was washed off. “It’s probably filled with germs,” she said. In fact, Stephanie didn’t want to touch anything that had been touched by anyone until it had been cleaned.

Stephanie had developed germ paranoia. I remember feeling bad about this, mainly because Stephanie was really cute and I had hoped to recruit her to join in a delightful but germy game some of us had recently discovered called spin-the-bottle. Now that Stephanie had become a germ freak, I realized this was probably never going to happen.

Experience has taught me that a certain percentage of people react to the teaching that the world is populated with hostile demons the way Stephanie reacted to the teaching about germs. They become demon paranoid. They fearfully obsess on the topic and tend to see a demon behind every headache, sneeze or computer glitch.

This is obviously not a sound biblical response. Despite the fact that Jesus and his disciples certainly believed the world was oppressed with evil forces, they exhibited a complete freedom from fear in regard to such entities. In fact, the fearlessness of the early Christians was one of the chief “selling points” of early Christianity, since most people in the ancient world lived in fear of demonic forces.

The reason the early church was so free from fear was because, as powerful as they knew the fallen powers to be, they were perfectly confident that Christ was far stronger and that he had in principal defeated the powers on Calvary. They knew that Jesus came to destroy the devil and his works (Heb 2:15; 1Jn 3:8) and to thereby set people free from any fear of the devil. The early Christians knew that in Christ all their sins had been nailed to the cross and that this meant the powers have been disarmed and made a laughingstock (Col 2:13-15). They knew that they were “in Christ,” and Christ was seated “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that can be invoked” (Eph 1:21). They were confident that the one who resided in them (the Holy Spirit) was more powerful than the one who was “in the world” (1 John 4:4). And they knew that, as powerful as the fallen powers may continue to be, they could not separate disciples from the love of Christ (Rom 8:38-39).

The cure for demon paranoia is not to pretend the world isn’t populated with demonic forces, anymore than the cure for Stephanie’s germ paranoia would have been to deny the pervasive reality of germs. You never improve things by denying reality. To the contrary, the cure for demon paranoia—or germ paranoia—is to broaden your understanding of reality.

Yes, germs are everywhere. But they are not usually life-threatening, and there are simple things you can do to protect yourself against them. It’s important to know about them, but never appropriate to obsess on them. So too, it’s true that hostile demonic forces populate our environment. But for people who have made their life a domain in which God reigns, these forces can’t ever threaten the life we have in Christ — the only life that really matters to us. And there are simple things we can do to protect ourselves against these forces. It’s therefore important to know about demonic forces, but never appropriate to obsess on them.

The main thing believers need to do to counteract demonic forces is to simply remember who they are in Christ. In Christ, we have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control (1 Tim 4:7). In Christ, we are seated far above all rebel powers (Eph 2:6). In Christ, we have the same authority to vanquish evil powers that Christ had himself (Luke 10:19-20).

If we remember who we are in Christ, we have nothing to fear. Instead it’s the demonic forces that fear us. We are the aggressors who are breaking down their defensive gates, not the other way around.

Image by B Rosen via Flickr

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Catholic Thoughts from Canada On The US Ruling

http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/07/happy-canada-day

From Douglas Farrow, professor of Christian Thought and Kennedy Smith Chair in Catholic Studies at McGill University and a member of First Things ’ advisory council.

Farrow argues from natural law philosophy that the US court's ruling at its foundation undermines all sense of authority outside of the State. I would call it an increasing of the Civil Religion against all others. In short a statist totalitarianism, hiding behind "rights and justice" language.

The state, IMHO would be better off OUT of the marriage business all together, to best protect all people's rights. This requires a deeper understanding of checks and balances of power beyond the federal government, and all governments. I am quite libertarian in this regard. There are ancient laws that are above the state at any time or place.

"Obergefell makes every American, in that sense, a ward of the state, stripped of his or her primordial and familial defenses against the encroachment of the state. It may be one of the most incoherent judgments ever delivered by SCOTUS, but there is a logic to it nevertheless, the tyrannical effects of which will unfold inexorably unless and until it is overturned by some later revolution. "

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Leadership Pondering on the 1/3rd of Ministry

Christian leaders should understand the 1/3,1/3,1/3 concept. You spend the first 1/3rd learning to serve well, learn to push through the fog of learning new things, deal with character issues, develop basic leadership skills.

In the 2/3 you are more fruitful in serving particular contexts and people well- you hone the gifts and are more aware of your strengths and battles in your heart, you discovered in the first 1/3. You also start to focus more on leading those in the 1/3 stage.

Then, in the 3/3 you step back a little bit and turn more exclusively into raising up others and building up those mainly in the 2/3 and some in the 1/3rd. That last season is one most leaders fail to embrace - they still want to call all the shots and only in a tokenism way empower the 2/3 and 1/3rd. So we have a lot of 2/3rd stage leaders who never get to the work of the 3/3 stage - because the leadership generation (spiritually or literally age-wise) before holds on to the wrong things and does not grasp the right things to be doing in leadership. A refusal to keep growing and take on the mantle of 3/3 life Kingdom-focused leadership.

The church needs to also value, call, affirm, support and prayer for "laborers" in all these stages.

One tragedy is that it stops/slows Kingdom multiplication of women and men of God to carry the message of Jesus onward. Technology in our generations has also simply exaggerated the good and bad of our embrace or rejection of natural leadership stages. The Apostle Paul talks about this problem in the church as "not having many (spiritual) fathers". Still an issue today.

What do you think?

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Same Sex Marriage Spreme Court Initial Thoughts

My first pastoral concern in the wake of the decision was posted on FB (https://www.facebook.com/shelboese).

Same-sex marriage is legal nation-wide in the US. No matter where you stand as a follower of Jesus on this identity issue - will you love outrageously those who you find most disagreeable to you on this (and every issue)? This is the litmus test of Christian discipleship - loving someone else who you sense at the core of your being, reason, emotion and experience is wrong (and that cuts all ways).

This is what marks followers of Jesus - extending out love to those you see as ideological enemies (even if you won't call it that). The worst believers tend to be on the far right or far left theologically - because they all think God's/Nature/Reason justice is on "their side" and stop loving people so they can judge according to their version of justice. Last time I checked we are all "worthy of death" therefore let us lay aside death-dealing rhetoric, and put our hope in Jesus (Romans 3:23, 2 Pet 2:9, 3:9).

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My second concern: Followers of Jesus (and we believe all people) should not look to the State for our hope. When we do, we turn the State into a stronger civil religion. The State should not be given ultimate place in our lives. Too many Americans and Canadians see the state now as their "final authority." They have lost pushback and critique in love.

The church, and very much so the Anabaptist movement, has always declared at it's best the state is still a fallen Babylon. So I am entirely unfazed when Babylon tries to redefine marriage, kill black people by it's over militarized police, create cycles of violence in the world, creates arbitrary "winners and losers" economically based on whose friends are in power, etc. Babylon is Babylon. God does not bless nations - he blesses his people, the set part holy nation as we follow Jesus life, teachings and worship Jesus as Lord. That blessing by the way often comes through persecution and not seeing the world as our final destination. We can do more good and be more loving NOW in THIS world when we realize there is a bigger thing afoot - the Kingdom of God sustained by the work of the Holy Spirit.

If you've been overly invested in centralized, Statist, political solutions on the left or right - your idolatry is being called out. You're putting all, or most of your eggs in the wrong basket. In Jesus' day the left and right did the same thing - and tried to entrap Jesus in it. Whether is was collaboration with the Evil Roman Overlords or trying to foment a violent revolution - or degrees in between - Jesus did not take their bait. He kept on mission with God and what he left behind eventually eclipsed the empire.

Did you know there are now more Christians in China than Communist Party members? It is through sharing Jesus you change a society. The 1980-2000s (and some still today) American evangelicals bought the age old Satanic lie that the Kingdom of the World political process is the way to change and power. Jesus rejected it on his first day of ministry, every day in between and his last. The church grows where we are not looking to Rome or Babylon for power and security - but only to Jesus. Let's get back to loving outrageously and critiquing our own house first - it will keep us all humble and useable. We all have sin, worthy of death, to be working with the Holy Spirit and local church on with.

So we can and should continue to build our lives around Jesus, christian community of love, service, and prophetic critique - but in love. However our hope should NOT be in Oh Canada or God Bless America. Our nations will be blessed as we become more Jesus-love driven and centered.

My third concern: Christians stop wrestling with the nature of the body, sin, and sexuality/behavior. We either go into our camps of left/right, OR we can keep wrestling with Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience in community (the local church). There is STILL more light coming forth from the Living Word and the Scripture. Just because the left/right have calcified in their trenches of "justice" does not mean we should abandon a third way rooted in Scripture and the Great Tradition of the church universal.

Marriage from a tradition perspective is about holiness from joining with the other and the struggle of staying in sustained relationship developing deeper kinds of love (Paul says this is what marriage and the church exist to do). The biologically same and yet other (male/female and in the church different cultures, gender, personalities, social class, etc).

We need to lean more into the fact we are all sinners worthy of death - that should temper our justice claims. I refuse to give up the theology of sin. It is the universal human experience, contrary to what anyone claims - there is a war within. This touches our bodies and sex. To deny that (either end on the spectrum tend to believe their view is perfect and "all holy") is to walk down the path of more psychological brokenness. We need to affirm that none of us has it together and that we are BOTH blessed (yes yes yes) and broken. But healing is a life-long process empowered by the Love of God in Jesus.

Interestingly Jesus does not marry, teaches us that sex/marriage is only temporary, and all longings physical and emotional for the other are just part of this creation. They will be fully satisfied and whole in the life to come.

So we need to wrestle more as a church than the progressives/liberal and conservatives/fundamentalists are willing to do in their self-righteous might.

More to come...

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Craig Keener: Are the Spiritual Gifts for Today?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWZbaNApGl8

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWZbaNApGl8[/embed]

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Carey Nieuwhof: 3 Essential Ingredients for Every Leader’s Inner Circle

3 Essential Ingredients for Every Leader's Inner Circle
by Carey Nieuwhof http://careynieuwhof.com/2013/10/3-essential-ingredients-for-every-leaders-inner-circle/

[Shel: Previously being in a community for 17 years this was easier to develop. Now having moved into new communities this very difficult to develop. Any thoughts on best practices if you have recently moved? Curious to hear from leaders out there. contact(at)shelboese.org.]

If you’re going to make it in leadership over the long haul, you need a strong inner circle.

And that’s exactly what many leaders don’t have.

inner circle

Too many leaders I talk to are isolated, a bit lonely and as a result, are frustrated.

When leaders don’t have a cultivated inner circle, their frustration comes out in unhealthy ways:

They suffer through unnecessary discouragement.

Many quit too soon.

Their complaining places undue stress on their family (your spouse was not designed to hear every frustration every time).

They end up carrying a load that’s far heavier than it needs to be.

Left unchecked, the lack of a healthy inner circle can lead to things like substance abuse or even an emotional or physical affair.

Cultivating a great inner circle of key people who love you, support you and tell you the truth is key to overcoming all of that.

But the question is, how do you develop one?

It’s taken me a few years to figure out the inner circle I need, and while all of us will have slightly different needs, I think a lot of the principles transfer.

I love the people I consider to be in my inner circle. They are a gift from God. And without naming names, here are the categories those people fall into.

Three Essential Ingredients

1. An inner circle of people who are aligned around the mission, vision and strategy of your organization and who possess ample character, competence and personal chemistry. Yep. That’s seven characteristics in one sentence. I know. But each one is essential. When I have had leaders around me who miss one of those characteristics, the team feels it and so do I.

Aligned with the mission, vision and strategy simply means that people around you need to be the most aligned and passionate people in the organization about what you’re trying to accomplish. If they are not passionate about your collective mission vision and strategy, they shouldn’t be in your organization (there are lots of other churches with different strategies). Now—don’t miss this—because there is alignment around what matters most, you are free to disagree.

This is not a yes culture, this is a healthy leadership culture. And you will discover that you enjoy hanging out together, even when you disagree.

If those aligned people also display deep character, competency and chemistry, you have a winning combination. They’re smart, have exemplary character and they you like being around each other (that’s what chemistry is), you have a recipe for a fantastic inner circle. We have enjoyed all seven ingredients with our elders, staff, leadership team and many of our key volunteers. That is a winning team.

The upside? You’ll be able to discuss church issues and disagree without being disagreeable. You’ll have people you love to work with and can talk to about 90% of the issues in your life. And work/ministry will be fun and deeply rewarding most days. A disunited team can never lead a united mission.

2. A few friends who accept you for the person you are, not the position you hold. You just need friends who see you as you, not your title. I have a few of these. We go biking, we hang out, we laugh. And often we don’t talk about church life, which is perfect. I have a few friends in this category I just call on bad days to talk things through. It’s necessary and so refreshing.

3. Peers who are managing the same leadership and life issues you are. This one’s vital. Miss it and you miss the 10% that makes all the difference. You can’t go to your elders or staff with every issue you’re facing. It’s not always appropriate or even fair to them. That’s why I always have people who are managing a similar leadership load and life that I am. This is where I can air my deepest frustrations and they can air theirs. And we usually end up laughing about it in the end. And somehow just talking about it feels better.

So that’s how I’ve put together my inner circles. As long as I have a few from each group in my life, my leadership is healthier (and so is the church). If I’m missing some for a season, it leaves a significant hole.

The one thing I didn’t mention, of course, is a good Christian counselor. He or she can help you so much. But you still need a great inner circle to keep you going day to day and week to week.

What have your experiences been with cultivating an inner circle? What’s worked? What hasn’t?

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A pastor-theologian who loves the questions…