Over the years since first going into ministry in 1997 I have been involved in lots of kinds of ministry – counseling, coaching, spiritual formation at one end, and citywide coalition building, racial reconciliation, grant writing for ministry projects, prayer initiatives, pastor summits, training churches, with occasional preaching on the other. With age and experience, however, my focus has narrowed, not by dropping some activities for others so much as narrowing the purpose of whatever I do to one life message. That message is this: “Christ is a caged Lion, waiting for us to release Him into the wild by our love and unity as a Body under His leadership.” Although Jesus is sovereign Lord, there is a sense in which He choses to limit His activity by our willingness to cooperate and submit to Him. It is my conviction that love and mutual submission in the Body will:
- be exponentially more powerful and effective than even the most gifted among us in isolation;
- be the most attractive thing for a lost world;
Whereas during my tenure in Richmond my goal was to facilitate the relationships that would build that unity, I later became somewhat disillusioned with the process, because I saw a lack of willingness to die to self for others and a lack of understanding of what unity really demands. What I came to understand was that I was no less passionate about the “how” of relationship building than about the goals themselves.
Fast forward to the present. I have been writing, implementing, developing, teaching, and training leaders around a curriculum. I have become only more excited over time about what I am doing because of how significantly it is impacting people. A team has formed around the material and the process. We are working on making a board game to teach the fundamental principles. In a word, I am getting more and more focused on my life purpose.
The genesis of this post came about after one incident a few months ago in interactions with the leadership of one church with whom we are in relationship back in the U.S. The missions pastor thought that what I am doing could be a way to bless their congregation while helping developing even deeper relationships between the church and us. So she set up a meeting with their director of Christian Education and another leader who had been in a training I led there a few years ago. The reactions of all three to this meeting are representative of how I feel people in general respond to our ministry.
- The Christian education director left the meeting before we had covered much, but her response later was, “I’m sure that’s great for the Russians, but Americans don’t have that kind of need.”
- The lay leader who knew me best was impressed, saying, “I like and value whatever Lyle does.” But later when the missions pastor asked her to describe it, she was unable to do so to the pastor’s satisfaction.
- The missions pastor was herself extremely excited about what she heard, but she didn’t seem to be able to pass along that excitement with a clear explanation of what was being proposed. Thus she was unable to garner any enthusiasm for the project, so she lost her enthusiasm as well.
So as you can guess, the project died. Sure, I didn’t like losing their support without even talking it over with me, but I have a more important point in telling this story, or three:
- The Christian educator represents a host of people who don’t understand what I am doing beyond a superficial level, and so they don’t appreciate either how important it is, or how universally relevant it is. It’s akin to a house painter. Many people think they can paint, when they really can’t do it well. Many people are not aware of tremendous blind spots in their relational skills and in their own heart.
- The lay leader is like many people who can tell, can feel, and when they get a chance, experience what we have to offer as really good and important, but they are dependent on gatekeepers to make the decisions, and if they cannot articulate a really powerful case, there is no hope.
- The missions pastor represents those whose interest depends on what influences are most present.
In all three cases the common thread is a lack of understanding of what we do. So is that on me? Yes. And I don’t know what to do about it. We are working on this very issue here in Russia as we are working on how we communicate what we do here for our growing online audience. We have had marketing experts speak with us, and the problem seems to be that what we are offering is so universally applicable that it can’t seem to be described well in normal marketing terms. Amazing problem to have! We are promoting a universal “grammar book” for relationships, and it’s too broad to work in the normal ways.
But it gets even bigger. Building biblical relationships is only the start. From there we build biblical community, which extends to building relationships with those far from God. By the end of our “unique process” people have formed a functioning team (“Body” in biblical terms) that work together to reach a new community of people who do not know about who God is. In a word, our mission is fundamentally about Kingdom expansion. Yes, we invest in leaders. Yes, we do some (intensive at times) marriage work. Yes, we train churches. Yes, we do counseling and healing prayer. We do all these things because we can’t see one thing in isolation from the others. They all revolve around an overall vision to equip the Body with the transformational processes, skills, and renewed vision to become a dynamic, Kingdom-focused community that wants to reach those outside the faith, and who are actually attractive to such people.
But, wait! It gets bigger. The aim of this kind of work is to spark a network of leaders, communities, and teams that will have Kingdom influence on leaders and teams in positions of influence in the various sectors of society, commonly knows as the 7 Mountains. Society will never be fully transformed this side of eternity, but there can be pockets of change that serve as witnesses to a Kingdom not of this world. That is my vision. I wish I could communicate it well!