How should church leadership respond to challenging days? How do we stay on kingdom business regardless of what is going on around us? Excellent thoughts in this article —

[Reblogged from Bob Rognlien, March 19, 2020]

As Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray… But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:3, 36)

We live in uncertain times. The coronavirus. A plunging stock market. Cancelled flights. Closed borders. Schools and workplaces shutting down. Empty grocery shelves. It can feel like this is a new thing, but it is not. The truth is, life in a broken world is always uncertain and disruptive. While most of us have never experienced these dynamics before, the fact is that unexpected and upending disasters have been a constant of human history.

When his disciples asked him what the future held, Jesus warned them of sudden and calamitous events to come: “wars and rumors of wars,” “nations will rise against nations,” “famines and earthquakes,” “tribulations,” “lawlessness,” and “false prophets.” It didn’t take long for Jesus’ followers to experience these very things.

Some sixteen years after Jesus said this there was a massive famine that hit Judea and so affected the early Christian community that Paul carried out an extensive relief effort among the new Gentile churches to help the believers in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-28). Forty years later rebellion against Rome broke out among the Jews which resulted in Roman legions destroying Jerusalem and slaughtering large swaths of the population, just as Jesus predicted. Sixty-two years after that a second Jewish revolt resulted in all the Jews, including the followers of Jesus, being driven out of Jerusalem by the Romans.

While Jesus warned his disciples that these kinds of experiences were coming, he repeatedly told them that there is no way to predict exactly how and when disaster will strike. What he did tell them is to prepare for these challenging times by being focused on doing the Father’s will no matter what is happening in the world around us. So then, what does it mean for those of us who follow Jesus and lead others to “stay awake” and be “faithful and wise servants” in times of turmoil and uncertainty? Here are six lessons I am learning about Jesus-shaped leadership in times of crises, like a pandemic:

1. A Non-Anxious Presence: Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. (Matthew 5:25) The followers of Jesus are by definition people of faith which means we are certain of things we cannot yet see. Although we don’t know what specific events will happen or when they will come to pass, we do know our future destiny and that the One who will

bring it about is incredibly good. This means, in the face of unexpected challenges, we can live in peace and hope as fruit of the Spirit, even if we feel fear or dread in our flesh. Those of us who lead must model what it means to exercise faith in a good God during uncertain times, even as we are open about our very real human experiences. Faith comes by hearing and it is those who are listening and responding to what God is saying in times of crisis who find the faith it takes to help others navigate seasons of uncertainty.

2. Gathered and Scattered: From the very beginning believers followed Jesus’ pattern of gathering and scattering. The first church in Jerusalem gathered in the Temple courts to hear the teaching of the Apostles and then scattered to extended family homes to share life and carry out the mission of Jesus. When persecution hit, the followers of Jesus were scattered out of Jerusalem to Samaria, Cyprus, Antioch, and north Africa just as Jesus had foretold before he ascended into heaven. This is how the movement of Jesus began to spread. For many of the first three centuries Christians were not able to gather in places larger than an extended family home and yet the movement was unstoppable! Why should it be different in our time? Maybe the current restrictions on large group gatherings will help us to recapture this healthy and fruitful rhythm of a decentralized church that knows how to function in both large gatherings and in extended spiritual families? We can take the opportunities God is giving us in this season to become a more Jesus-shaped church.

3. An Anti-Fragile Church: Some mechanical systems are so complex and dependent on each component working a certain way that it only takes one small disruption to bring the whole thing to a screeching halt. Think of the copier in your church office. All it takes to bring it down is for one tiny part to fail. The fact that the copier repair person knows everyone in your office by first name tells you it is a fragile system. Organic systems are quite the opposite, what we call “anti-fragile.” Biological organisms are designed to thrive under pressure. Some parts of your body, like your bones and muscles, actually require stress in order to remain healthy and become stronger. The early church was a profoundly anti-fragile system which only grew stronger the more it was subjected to stress. When our church programs rely exclusively on an elite few to lead them and a public gathering place to hold them, it becomes a brittle, fragile system. This is an opportunity to learn how to operate as a spiritual family with a network of vital relationships where everyone is being trained to lead someone so that our churches become a more fruitful, adaptable, and vital movement of God’s Kingdom, especially in times of disruption and uncertainty.

4. A Balanced Wisdom: Stress and uncertainty tend to polarize people who don’t have a solid foundation. When we are afraid, we move toward either extreme reactions or irrational denial. Should we hide out in our homes hoarding toilet paper or ignore the warnings of health officials and party at the bars? Uncertain times create dilemmas we must face and navigate wisely. The Word of God, both the written Word of the Bible and the living Word of Jesus speaking to us through the Holy Spirit, is an unchanging, unshakable Rock on which we can stand and discern the will of God in disorienting times. When we are isolated, we can lose sight of reality and fail to rightly interpret the data we receive. When we live in community and benefit from the wise counsel of the saints, we gain perspective and insight. This is why it is so important to listen to God’s Word and hear other perspectives of faith before we face the roar of news outlets and social media! Are you trying to lead by yourself? Are you listening to

the wrong voices? To lead effectively in times of uncertainty we need listen to the Spirit speaking to us through God’s Word and God’s people.

5. Abiding and Fruitfulness: Jesus was very clear that good and lasting fruit comes from intentional connection to him. He also explained that those branches on his vine that bear fruit will get pruned in order that they might bear more and better fruit. The frenetic pace of our modern western culture often keeps us from the consistent abiding that would dramatically increase our fruitfulness. As public institutions shut down and we practice social distancing it is clear that this is a season of pruning meant to give us an opportunity to slow down, rest, and take more time to connect with God and the people closest to us. We will squander this opportunity if we simply isolate ourselves, nurture fearful stress, and try to escape by binging streaming and social media. Jesus-shaped leaders set an example for those they lead by modeling this Way of Jesus and teaching their people how to establish predictable patterns of abiding in God’s Word and Spirit. Don’t miss this opportunity which will lead to greater fruitfulness!

6. A People for Others: When we are subjected to threats, our natural survival instinct turns our focus on ourselves and our own needs. When Jesus was on the cross, his moment of greatest crisis and disorientation, he comforted a dying criminal and ensured his mother would be recognized as part of the spiritual family. This was the final expression of Jesus’ consistent orientation toward caring for the well-being of others. The German martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing from a Nazi prison cell called Jesus “the man for others.” The early church followed this pattern of Jesus’ life and become known as those who showed extraordinary love and generosity, even toward those outside their own community. The Antonine Plague of the second century and the Cyprian Plague of the third century wiped out a huge part of the Roman empire, but the followers of Jesus became known as those who courageously cared for and ministered to the sick and dying. What are the opportunities for us to love our neighbors in this pandemic even as we exercise wise discernment? When we take our eyes off ourselves and consider how we can show others the love of God we are learning how to lead like Jesus.

I believe with all of my heart that times of challenge and suffering are when the true church of Jesus shines! I am so grateful that we don’t have to live in fear even when we feel anxious and don’t know exactly how or when challenges are going to come. I am so glad we don’t have to face it alone when the crisis hits. If you are called to lead others in the midst of uncertainty, keep your eyes on Jesus, listen to what the Spirit is saying, share the journey with others who are doing the same, and he will show you the way forward.

Not “Accept” but Follow Christ

* Guest blog, Susie Walther,

Did you know that the religion of Jesus begins with the word follow (as in follow Christ) and ends with the word go (as in go into all the world and make disciples)?

Did you know that Jesus never told anyone to “accept Me,” but instead said in no uncertain terms to “follow Me?” Did you know, then, that the opposite of rejecting Jesus is not accepting Him, but rather choosing not to follow Him?

Until we begin to export en masse to the Church and the world the same kind of gospel Jesus lived, died and rose again to give us, bucket loads of people will continue to flounder in sin and compromise and/or remain spiritually sterile believing a version of “Christianity” that has no power to transform them or bear eternal fruit. But that will mean we’ve got to stop making this stuff up as we go along and just start believing what the Christ of the Bible told us, whether it fits our denominational SOP for doctrine or not.

And while I still have the mike, I’d like to say one more thing about this business of “acceptance.” Do you know that the ones who need to be accepted are us? We are rotten, miserable, self-centered creatures who intrinsically don’t know a thing about holiness or righteousness and we are the ones who need to be accepted by the Father, and He has ordained that the only means for His acceptance of us is through the blood sacrifice of His son, Jesus Christ. For crying out loud, Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Why does He need to be accepted by us? We need to be accepted by Him!

So, we can make “decisions” and “professions of faith” and we can be baptized and confirmed all day long, but the Bible still says that to be accepted by God we must receive Christ which means we must repent of our sin. To repent means to surrender all rights and control of our lives. To surrender means to follow after Jesus. To follow means to obey Him, and to obey is to love God and others enough to go and make disciples!

This is Christ’s version of Christianity, ladies, and it’s the one that’ll revolutionize your life, this city, and the world.

Trying to squeeze Jesus into your busy life?

Guest blog – by Susie Walther,, a women’s bible study and training ministry in Tampa, FLSusie Walther

Quiet Time, Prayer, Scripture Memory, Accountability, Bible study, Obedience, Application, Inviting Women, Sharing Your Testimony, Sharing the Gospel, Going for Coffee – these are a regular part of the language and dialogue you’re exposed to at The Well.

However, you need to know we’re not encouraging you to try and “add” these spiritual disciplines to an already busy and/or mostly secular life.

No, no, my dear, what we’re encouraging is the surrender of your busy and/or mostly secular life for the spiritual lifestyle of the Kingdom of God.

Why? Because Jesus doesn’t want to be added to where you can fit Him into your life. Jesus wants to be your life because He is your life! Jesus has the right to define your life, rule your life, and control your life because He’s the Lord of Life and He bought you for a price.

You belong to Him, and not vice versa.

Jesus wants to expose you to Himself, so you can have the kind of relationship He has with the Father.

Jesus wants to impress His life upon your character, upon your day and upon your Friday and Saturday nights.

Jesus is soooooo not interested in you picking up a few religious habits or mostly just blocking off time to attend church or The Well. He wants you 24/7, not the things of God and the Kingdom you’ve determined you can add or fit into your schedule.

The Well is a place to begin learning how to live your life oriented toward the Kingdom of God (not to be confused with a life oriented toward church, because they’re not the same thing).

Adding some spiritual things here and there, and dropping others that don’t fit so well isn’t Kingdom living.

Surrendering and following at all costs is Kingdom living.

He descended into hell – What?!

I was ambushed at lunch yesterday.

“What is up with the “He descended into hell” part of the Apostle’s Creed? What does that mean, and how come some churches say it and others don’t? Why don’t you write a blog on that?”

Well, alright then, it being Easter weekend and all… Here’s a round of what I call Coffee Cup Theology.

This is the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.

The “descended into hell” part is controversial, and has been debated for about 1,000 years. Remember that the Apostle’s Creed is a confession of faith (in this case it was a baptismal statement) that was developed around 350 AD and made an official around 750 AD. It is not a piece of scripture but a statement designed to clarify what the church believes.

So here’s my one cup of coffee commentary:

A literal translation of “descended into hell” is “went into the grave”. All the creed is saying is that Jesus was really dead. He was not an illusion. He was nailed to a post. He died. He had a real body, a corpse, that was placed in a tomb. He was not merely unconscious, the death of Jesus was not just a swoon or a coma, but death in every sense of the word. In the South we would say he was “deader than a door nail”… like really, truly dead. The reason that phrase was a part of the creed was to combat other heresies – unacceptable beliefs that Jesus wasn’t really dead.

Got that? So when you come to the “descended into hell” bit just say to yourself “He went down into the grave”. And you’ll know He was really, truly dead for your sins.

Who’s got time for a second cup of coffee?

Let me start by saying this – There is no place in scripture where it clearly says what Jesus was doing on Saturday of Easter weekend. He was dead, in the grave remember? He died on Friday and was resurrected on Sunday, the third day. So nothing is really said in scripture about what happened in between. You’ll have to ask Him when you get to heaven. Add it to your list of Unanswered Questions.

Today, as best I can figure out, the Catholic church has dropped the “descended into hell” line as have the Methodists. The Episcopalians/Anglicans have kept it and teach it in the catechism. I don’t know about the Presbyterians, and if you’re Baptist it’s possible you have no idea what I am talking about. LOL. (Tell me what you know, girlfriends!!)

However, there is a church tradition that on this occasion he took the souls of those who had died trusting in the promises made under the Old Covenant before Christ — Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Isaiah, and many others — and brought them out of the realm of the dead who are waiting for resurrection and judgment and into heavenly glory. In the Episcopalian catechism (get out your Book of Common Prayer) the question is asked, “What do we mean when we say He descended to the dead?” The Answer: “We mean that he went to the departed and offered them also the benefits of redemption.”

This tradition is based on an interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-20

18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

I have no idea what verse 19 really means. (Luckily it has no real impact on my life today!!)

I do know that it opens up many questions regarding what you believe about what happens between when you die and the resurrection at the Judgment Day. I can’t do three more cups of coffee today. I have Easter eggs to boil and color with my kids today. No eschatology – maybe another time.

Except one last interesting thought – this week as you read and hear the dialogue between Jesus and the thief on the cross remember that the spoken word has no punctuation. In Luke 23:43 did Jesus say,

“Truly I say to you – today you will be with me in paradise.” or
“Truly I say to you today – you will be with me in paradise.”

I had to throw that out there, just for fun!

It doesn’t really matter. What we know for sure is that we all gonna die one day and then there will be a resurrection and a judgment. You can be scared about that, or you can be excited about that… it all depends on what you do with Jesus and his teachings.

Jesus really did die on the cross and bore the full wrath of God that we deserved for being full of sin and our self-righteous, independent-living ways. The promise of Romans 10:9 is the same for all of us, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

“Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me;
Buried, He carried my sins far away;
Rising, He justified freely forever;
One day He’s coming—O glorious day!”

Sing it this Easter weekend, and every day of your life! He is risen, hallelujah!

More reading for the curious: