Over the past year, I am thankful to have been involved with a couple of initiatives through ECO. The pilot project of the Discipleship Initiative was a great learning experience on how to develop a disciple-making culture within a church. Also, I have been actively involved with one of our Mission Affinity Groups which includes four churches who are going through the Elder Leadership Institute (ELI) together. I remain thrilled with and excited about the development of the Becoming a Flourishing Church resource and cannot wait to hear responses to it from ECO leaders!
Each of these initiatives has a common thread within them, and it is something that we have talked about for a while now. It seems so obvious and maybe even a bit trite, but I think it is worth reiterating. There are a couple of different ways this common thread can be worded. One way is this: The strength of my ministry is my relationship with God. Tim Fearer introduced us to this statement from a pastor with whom he served while in the mission field in Turkey. Another is this: We lead from the inside out. Jo Saxton made this statement during the women’s pre-conference at the 2017 National Gathering. Another is this: Follow me and I will make you fishers of men. If you don’t know who said this, well then we’ve got bigger problems that this blog post certainly can’t solve….! The bottom line is this: If we are not growing personally as disciples and followers of Jesus Christ, then we cannot begin to hope to be leaders that help build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ.
One of the first steps in ELI invites members of the session to write and share their spiritual autobiographies. The purpose of this activity is to begin a transformation of session meetings and the role of the elder leaders from a mentality of a board of directors into a group of shepherds of the congregation and disciples of Jesus Christ. We call this moving from the “boardroom” to the "Upper Room". When session leaders share the experience of their relationships with Jesus Christ with one another, the business of “running the church” becomes lessened, and the vibrancy of the Holy Spirit focuses the leadership on the kingdom building work of God. Fostering a sense of intimacy within a session that is focused on the work of God begins to transform the church from the inside out. One of our ECO church leaders describes the transformation this way:
After our first ELI retreat, we resolved to begin each session meeting with an elder reading a favorite passage from the gospels about Jesus. They explain why it is meaningful to them. This practice has furthered our goal that elders will grow through their service, and it builds relationship. At the same time, I have noticed a growing sense of expectation. We expect the Holy Spirit to move. We do not expect to always know how the Spirit is moving, but we have seen enough to be confident that he is.
-- David Mauldin, Pastor, Westminster Presbyterian Church Mobile, AL
So, ECO leader, let me conclude with these thoughts / questions. How are you doing in growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ? Are you committed to the mission of ECO to build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ? And if so, are you committed to growing in Jesus? If your answer to these questions is “YES!” but you would like a refresher on how to get started, then you may want to take a peek at Session II and Session III of the Becoming a Flourishing Church resource. Enjoy!