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Food for thought

Declaration of Independence?

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Declaration of Independence? Nope, older. This is the original charter of a 300-year-old church I had the privilege of working with this weekend. The charter was signed by John Morton, who later signed the Declaration of Independence.

Even though they’ve been active in ministry since 1720, this church is now boldly looking to the future. This weekend, I worked with leadership on a clear vision (what do we want to accomplish), education (how to secure buy-in from the congregation), and opportunity (some way or place each person can participate in being missional in a very tangible way).

The average lifespan of an American church is approximately 56 years. What does it take for a church to survive 300 years? What does it take for a 300-year-old church to keep thriving? I’m excited to be part of the team to figure that out.

-Kevin Graham Ford, Chief Catalyst, Leighton Ford Ministries

Embrace Messiness

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Right now I’m in the middle of a busy season working with several churches on visioning and strategic planning. Typical organizations express vision in dry, bureaucratic language that gets stuffed in a file cabinet and forgotten. But that’s not our goal! We want to help churches develop an authentic and accessible set of core values . . . a “True North” the congregation can truly embody and embrace.

“Embrace Messiness” is a core value of University Place Presbyterian Church, which I worked with in a visioning process in 2013 and 2017. This applies to how the church handles the messiness of life – young families with messy kids, single parent homes devastated by divorce, or neighbors struggling with homelessness and addiction.

By embracing this core value, the church now has the largest preschool in Washington State, serves 3,000 meals per month to families in need, and has established a Safe Haven house for immigrants! As a result of aligning to their True North, Pastor Aaron Stewart reports worship attendance has increased dramatically for the first time in over a decade, with over 5,000 in attendance over a 7 day period (pre-pandemic).

When a church truly aligns . . . or re-aligns . . . to their True North, amazing things begin to happen.

-Kevin Graham Ford, Chief Catalyst, Leighton Ford Ministries

A New Justice League!

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There’s a new “Justice League” and it’s part of Leighton Ford Ministries! Last month we were privileged to partner with a dear friend to launch a new mentoring community for women who minister and serve in the area of justice. Each participant drew her Spiritual Life Map and then shared with the group. This was followed by a time of silence when the group listened to God, then shared what they heard and prayed for the individual.

One woman shared, “I am going home renewed and inspired in a way I haven’t been recently.”

We thank Jesus for this “Justice League” of Christian women who choose to serve in very challenging contexts. Please join us in praying for their ministries, their safety, and their continued spiritual renewal.

The Next Generation

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As a grandfather, mentor, and evangelist, I am so proud of . . . and inspired by . . . these words from my granddaughter, Anabel, as she speaks to her generation about COVID-19:

“Normally, we’d all say that those events are too hard to endure. But, I wholeheartedly believe that God chose our group specifically to be the group to show where our joy and hope comes from, and how to stay strong and brave during a harsh time like now. And I have no doubt that we can do that. As the Class of 2020, it’s our duty to show what really matters to us now, and for years to come.”

Who will be the mentors for Anabel’s generation? Who will help her peers live out their passion for Christ?

That question is why Leighton Ford Ministries is actively pressing on with training new mentors and launching new Mentoring Communities, even in the midst of a global pandemic.

Thank you for praying with us as we work with a new generation to raise up leaders trained to lead like Jesus, for Jesus, and to Jesus.

I Can’t Breathe

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“I can’t breathe.”
“I can’t breathe.”
who moaned?
a black man
head locked by a boot
under a police car
in Minneapolis.

“I can’t breathe.”
“I can’t breathe.”
who couldn’t even breathe that?
a Jew man,
hands locked by nails
suffocating on a Roman cross
outside Jerusalem

that’s what crucifixion does.

George didn’t pretend to be Jesus.
Jesus did intend to die for George
and all the Georges of the world.
I wonder, was he there,
trying to breathe for George
or breathe out with him?

Oh, dear Jesus,
please breathe your breath
on us again,
for all those suffocating
in sin,
or sorrow,
in sickness
or servitude,
or slavery.
breathe out your pentecostal fire
on all flesh
black brown
yellow red white
burn out our hatreds,
our silences,
our forgettings,
before we all burn,
before we all die.

-Leighton Ford, Pentecost 2020

 

“Breathe on us, breath of God.”

Back Porch Devotional : Pruning

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Is Jesus using this unique season in our lives to do some pruning?

After all, Jesus said “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2) . . . and the Apostle Paul reminds us that “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). All means all . . . even a pandemic.

Much has been cut off in this season. Does what remain show the love of Jesus, the peace of Jesus, and the joy of Jesus . . . to a world that’s so hungry for those gifts?

Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves

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Every day, you and I are being challenged to practice social distancing as absolutely crucial in dealing with this global pandemic.

Jeanie and I are seeking to do that . . . religiously! As Christ followers we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.

A group of doctors are prescribing an additional way not only to defeat the virus but to improve our whole lives. They serve in such prestigious medical centers as Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Case Western Reserve, and Nemours Children’s Health Systems.

Here is a section of their report worth reading and passing around:

“As a society, we may come out ahead in the end of this epidemic, if, instead of social distancing, we instead pursue physical distancing with social connectedness. What if we kept apart physically, but used that new space – in our heads and our hearts and our habitats – to reach out to the most vulnerable and isolated in ways that are physically but not emotionally remote? What if we protected our physical selves while making our non-physical selves more vulnerable to the suffering of others? The current disruptions are a great opportunity if we keep grounded in core principles – such as investing in relationship – as we innovate, rather than letting the superficial conditioning toward greed, anger, and fear take the fore.

“Human connectedness – love – is more contagious than coronavirus.”

As you and I stay home, wear our masks, and stand 6 feet apart . . . what an opportunity to practice what these doctors recommend! – Leighton Ford

Thoughts During the Pandemic – a brief essay from LFM’s Jim Osterhaus

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Dr. Jim Osterhaus is Senior Executive Coach for Leighton Ford Ministries and has authored or co-authored 10 books on leadership

 

Like most of you, I’m basically sheltered in place with my wife at home, catching up on a good deal of reading, and trying to stay in contact with family and friends.

I just got off the phone with Wendy Der, who along with her husband Ivan, lead a ministry of evangelism in Mexico that extends around the world. As we free associated on what is happening, it occurred to me to put down some thoughts that might prove helpful to the mentoring community.

I have done some reading on the Black Death plague in the 14th Century that basically killed a third of Europe, and on the Swine Flu epidemic that swept the world during and shortly after World War I killing between 50 and 100 million people worldwide (more exact estimates are impossible because of faulty data from the developing world). I am struck by the fact that these pandemics triggered a paradigm shift throughout the world. This shift saw the fundamental altering of theories and methodologies by which society saw itself, ran its core institutions, conducted its business, and basically went about its daily living patterns.

Depending on the length and severity of Covid-19, the world may experience the same phenomenon within the next year or two.

David Brooks (columnist for The New York Times) has noted that differing from war crises that tend to drive people together to address a common threat, pandemics tend to drive people apart as they worry about contagion and compete for dwindling resources (e.g. The run on toilet paper).

It seems to me that this new crisis presents us with two interrelated challenges. On the one hand, we must look inward to see how each of us individually is being affected. On the other hand, we must look to our communities, and in particular our kingdom communities, to see how this crisis is affecting them.

As Thomas Boswell, columnist for The Washington Post, said: “Perhaps what is most endangered now is neither our lives nor our jobs nor our savings – though all are in peril – but our internal lives.” He goes on to ask whether, after this pandemic has run its course and the isolation has ceased, will we keep intact all of our best qualities?

When so much of the external world shuts down, we find ourselves left with only ourselves. And for many of us, we have not taken much time to cultivate a rich inner life as a viable default position. That being the case, we find ourselves going ‘stir crazy’ unable to decide how to proceed.

It seems to me that this present situation presents to our kingdom communities a unique opportunity. Called to be salt and light, it now behooves us to begin strategizing how we can move into this very anxious externally focused world in authentic kingdom ways. And as Boswell so aptly states, it is our internal lives that now need to be the target of our strategies.

For the past year, I have been partially retired, retired enough if you will to understand what it’s like to have many of the normal distractions of an active employed life peeled away. And now all of us are finding ourselves in a very similar place, even if we’re 25 years old.

Within our mentoring community, it behooves each of us to begin, or to ramp up, or to continue our diligence in inner life development. A good place to start might be to turn to the experts. Richard Foster and James B. Smith have edited Devotional Classics, a compilation down through the centuries of some of the best in devotional literature. Leighton Ford (A Life of Listening and The Attentive Life) and Ken Shigematsu (Survival Guide for the Soul) have written very useful books along these lines. Added to these are the countless tomes that have been penned through the ages by St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, etc. etc. This will help us get our own houses in order.

As we continue to focus on our inner lives, we need to focus on our kingdom communities. It is these communities that will sustain us going forward in our journeys of faith.

It is obvious there are old ways of gathering together in worship, fellowship, teaching and prayer that are no longer possible, at least in short run. Churches like my own have shifted to online services. Small groups are zooming to maintain continuity.

But as I think about it, there are a myriad of stylized ways of doing community that are currently being altered or discarded, and arguably should be altered or discarded as we confront the fearful post-Christian world.

Crisis presents opportunity, and this pandemic is no exception. And as a kingdom community, I think it is important that we now bring our collective heads together to begin to explore what opportunities God is currently placing before us during this crisis.

I would like this to be the beginning of a conversation for all of us to reflect on the following two questions, and to share with one another what God is and has been telling us as the pandemic unfolds.

First, what are ways that we have existed in the past with ourselves and in our mentoring groups that are simply not possible currently? This question can also apply to all faith communities in which we are currently resident. I think it is critical to first begin to identify all of those behaviors that we have possibly held dear that no longer can be relied upon.

  • Intentional face-to-face connections with people important to us.
  • Partnered kingdom projects within the community.

Second, what adaptions have we made or could make to maintain our continuity within our mentoring community?

  • Zoom calls.
  • Internet community reach outs.

Let’s get our collective heads together, and take this opportunity to possibly explode our old paradigms and expand our thinking. Remember, necessity is the mother of invention. And quite possibly God has given us this opportunity to create new ways of furthering His kingdom.

What is God Doing During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

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A friend asked me yesterday what I thought God was doing through the coronavirus pandemic.

I hesitated to come up with an answer, remembering that God told Isaiah “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways (Isaiah 55:8).  He also rebuked Job’s speculations about the reason for his misfortunes, asking, “who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38.2).

So how could anyone be presumptuous enough to try to explain what God is doing?

On reflection, though, I can venture to say that He is reminding us control freaks how little we really do control.

And perhaps He is reminding us to “be still and know that I am God.”

I understand that there are many who desperately need and want to be able to go to work, and I hope they will soon.  And there are over-stressed doctors and nurses who can barely keep going.

But I am also reminded that the French thinker Pascal famously wrote that the cause of many of the world’s problems is that we do not know how to sit still alone in our room for one hour.

For some of us, could it be that the LORD is whispering, “This is a time to be still.  And to listen for My voice while you wait?”

 

-Leighton Ford, March 2020