Monday, December 22, 2014

Trust Jesus To Speak and Lead

Last week I was in a room discussing established church structures and change. The meeting was in another state. These were good discussions that could result in some very revolutionary influence. I was the “purist” organic church leader in the meetings; at least that is how others described me.

At one point someone was drawing on the white board, designing a potentially hierarchical structure of leadership. Because I know the man and the context of our discussions, I was confident it wasn’t actually a hierarchy, but it was sounding a bit like it. I'm confident that anything that can be construed that way will be abused that way in a traditional church environment, so I mentioned that this cannot ever be a command and control structure. The reaction of the others was to be expected. They saw Neil Cole being the “Organic Purist” and resisting any semblance to a leadership structure. Who knows, maybe that is exactly what was happening and I have likely earned that reputation.

As we continued the discussion, they mentioned that some degree of oversight is necessary and that if we let it all go without any leadership it will fall apart. That is a common concern and often the reason (or excuse) people use to enforce some leadership oversight and accountability. My response is that it will not fall apart if a healthy DNA is intact and Jesus is indeed the one who is leading. The fear is that people will not be motivated to continue on without leaders holding them to it. There is also a fear that they will compromise truth if there is not some degree of leadership looking in on them to make sure that they don’t.

I said, as I often do, that we can in fact trust Jesus to lead. If the goal is a movement that spreads beyond driving distance to your church and beyond your eulogy we must trust that people with Jesus will carry it forward without us. I asked if it was at all possible for people to carry the life force of the church forward without someone looking over their shoulder?

Everyone smiled and obliged my rant and we went on. That was a fairly typical discussion for me. I understand that people are all in a process and I no longer expect everyone to have the same way of thinking immediately.

Later that evening something remarkable occurred. We all went out to dinner and went back to the host’s home for cake, coffee and conversation. He had two sons in their early twenties who joined us as well as one of their best friends. All three young men went to different universities and were part of different church ministries near their schools. Because of the holidays everyone was back together and enjoying this discussion with some “famous” Christian authors in comfy sofas around a fireplace.

As we were talking it became clear that all three of the young men were involved in Life Transformation Groups (LTGs) even though they were at different churches and universities. The boys had no idea that I had been the one who innovated the strategy many years ago. When they found out it was quite a surprise. I love it when that happens.

An LTG is a simple way of being and making disciples that needs no oversight or tracking. It is two or three people meeting weekly in a gender specific group. They commit to do three things together: read the same portion of Scripture repetitively during the week, confess sins to one another when they meet using some character conversation questions, and pray for the souls of friends that need to know Jesus. It is simple, non-hierarchical and establishes a healthy DNA in the smallest unit of life in the church. It is a group that doesn’t need a leader, because everyone is benefiting from the group and the accountability is mutual. Each disciple is responsible to hear God’s voice in the Scripture and to be vulnerable, authentic and transparent in relationship to one another and to keep the needs of hurting people around them foremost in their hearts and minds. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and still value it for my own spiritual life. I don’t do it to just make better disciples but to be a better disciple. [You can read more about LTGs in my book Cultivating a Life for God or Ordinary Hero).

You couldn’t have orchestrated a better way to demonstrate that we can trust the DNA and let Jesus lead in a movement that spreads far away from the source and yet maintains a pure DNA. These young men were far removed from the original source that created the LTG system, nevertheless it still held together and it still worked. They had no idea where it came from or who developed the idea, and didn’t need to know. The evening meeting had something to say to the one earlier in the day. 

The very man who sketched the potentially hierarchical diagram was the one who made the observation later that evening about the LTG and its author to the young men. I didn't need to connect the dots because the One who actually leads such meetings had already done so.

Is it feasible that we can trust Jesus to speak to us directly in his church? Can the Head be the director of the body? I believe it is not just possible but preferable. I have seen it work spreading many generations removed. I’ve even had people try to convince me that LTGs are great and that I should try it, with no clue that I originated the idea. I love that! It requires that we not get credit or have our own control of everything. It also requires that we not get rich in the process. But I believe the rewards of such a movement are far greater than fame or fortune.

I could never have been able to provide leadership and oversight so far removed, but Jesus is capable, and He has done it. Trust him. In fact, trust him more than you trust yourself. He will not disappoint you. 

Note: This blog post is dedicated to my friend and co-laborer Jim Rutz who recently went to be with our Lord. He was a pioneer in Open Church meetings and he will be missed.


Tim said...

I rejoice for Jim in glory with Jesus. Open Church was the first book I read 17 years ago as I was struggling to find some brother brother somewhere that had the same thoughts I was seeing in the Word and not seeing in church.

Thanks for the living story of the leadership of Jesus pressing in to lead those who think they are the "under-shepherds", the sole figures through whom Jesus will pass his vision, truth, wisdom, and character.

Keith Giles said...

Great post, as usual, my friend. So blessed to read this testimony and to know your heart for serving as an example for others to follow.

Neil Cole said...

Thanks Keith!

You're welcome Tim.