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A biblical look at how to steer a congregation in a new and exciting direction aligned with God’s unique purpose for them.
Transitioning is written to help church leaders and their congregations successfully navigate change and discover that the rewards far exceed the risk. Drawing principles from the book of Nehemiah, Southerland maps out an eight-step strategy for moving from being a traditional, ministry-driven church to a purpose-driven ...
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A biblical look at how to steer a congregation in a new and exciting direction aligned with God’s unique purpose for them.
Transitioning is written to help church leaders and their congregations successfully navigate change and discover that the rewards far exceed the risk. Drawing principles from the book of Nehemiah, Southerland maps out an eight-step strategy for moving from being a traditional, ministry-driven church to a purpose-driven church.
Transitioning illustrates practical, field-tested concepts with examples from the Bible and Southerland’s own experience. A detailed workbook section with fill-in-the-blanks, scripture passages, and action steps helps pastors and their leadership teams convert knowledge into reality.
In my family, we grew up with a standard vacation plan. Every year we would drive from whatever part of Texas or Oklahoma we were living in at the time to the same lake in Arkansas where we would go tent camping. And we would spend every waking moment skiing, swimming, fishing, and motorcycling.
Taking a family of six on a two week out-in-the-woods style vacation was not a small venture. Although the journey to our destination was not long (five-six hours), it took weeks of getting ready. It was such a major change in lifestyle to transition from the suburbs to the lake shore that it took some very deliberate preparation to pull it off.
Vision is not just a destination; it is a journey
Preparation is a major part of vision. The reason lies in the essence of vision itself. Vision is not just a destination; it is a journey. Vision is not just a product; it is a process. Vision is not just the finish line; it is the whole race.
Any business guru can tell you that research and development is a major part of producing a winning product. Any athlete knows that winning the competition begins with training. Any seasoned traveler can testify that front end preparation is vital to a successful trip.
Paul captured the essence of vision when he wrote these words:
"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him." 1 Corinthians 2:9
For our eyes to see God's vision, for our ears to hear God's voice, and for our minds to conceive of God's plan, we must spend time in major preparation. Before we can receive God's vision for His church we must prepare for vision. God's vision for your church is big stuff so the preparation for that vision must be big stuff as well.
Our plans versus God's vision
I love this verse about vision:
Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails. Proverbs 19:21
This verse was written with today's church in mind. Today, our churches tend to have many plans. They have numerous programs and multifaceted ministries. Never before in history has the church tried to offer so much.
Yet I wonder if most of our churches have discovered God's vision. Have they found the "purpose that prevails"-which is God's purpose? I believe that the numerous plans that we come up with won't get the job done. Only God's plan will prevail.
What is vision?
Henry Blackaby's study, Experiencing God, is nothing short of life changing for those who have been through it. The essence of Blackaby's work can be boiled down to one idea: see what God is doing and join Him. Rather than asking God to bless our plan and our vision, we must see what God is doing around us and join God in His plan and His vision.
What is vision? Vision is a picture of what God wants to do. Vision is a picture of what God will do in His church if we get out of His way and turn Him loose to do it. So the process of vision is the process of joining God in what He is doing and wants to do in His church.
As a junior in high school, I was part of a youth mission trip to a small church in Idaho. When we arrived, the girls were taken to homes for lodging while the boys set up quarters in the church building. The only problem with this arrangement was the lack of a place for the boys to shower and clean up. After a few days this problem was becoming apparent to anyone within several hundred yards of the boys. So our youth pastor asked the pastor of the host church where the boys could clean up. He informed us that just beyond the tree line at the edge of the church property was a beautiful, crystal clear river that flowed straight down from the mountains and that we were welcome to bathe there.
That discovery changed the entire trip. Every day thereafter the boys would spend a few minutes of much needed fun and refreshment (and odor improvement) in that river.
I have thought often about that river over the years. I am convinced of this truth: the river of what God wants to do is flowing nearby every one of our churches if we will just discover it and get immersed in it. God has a river of vision for each of His churches-and most of us are not even aware it is there.
Vision is an active process, an ongoing process. It is a continual search for what God is doing and wants to do.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJ)
Unfortunately, in many of our churches, we have changed that verse to read like this:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is an old creation; new things have passed away; behold, all things have become old. (Modern Church Perversion)
This translation would be especially liked in those churches who cling to the seven last words of a dying church: "We never did it that way before." But churches who are vision driven are more attached to a present tense version of this verse:
Therefore, if anyone stays in Christ, he is a renewed creation; old things keep passing away, and all things keep becoming new.
That is vision. Vision is the active process of following a dynamic God-which means we must keep dreaming and keep visioning to keep our churches, ministries, and personal lives from perishing.
The art of spiritual surfing
One of the finest books ever written about vision and purpose is Rick Warren's book The Purpose Driven Church. Rick opens his book with an analogy about spiritual surfing. Spiritual surfing has three parts:
See the wave of what God is doing. God is at work in the world today in major ways. You must first see what God is up to and wants to do in your community. Have you seen those pictures within a picture? The kind you must stare at for a while before you can see the real but hidden image? Vision is the same idea. Anyone can see the obvious stuff. But what is God doing behind the scenes? Catch the wave of what God is doing. After you spot the wave you must catch it. That in itself is no small feat. It takes timing, courage, and skill. It also requires risk taking -because you must leave the safety of the shore to catch the biggest waves. Ride the wave of what God is doing. A lot of surfers can get up on a wave. The goal is to stay up and surf the wave as far and as long as you can. You don't want to abandon the wave; you want to ride it out all the way.
The importance of preparation
Follow this logic with me for a moment:
If vision is a picture of what God wants to do in His church And if the key to vision is joining God in what He wants to do in His church And if God wants to give us His vision Then when we are prepared for vision, God gives it to us! So the question is "What are the steps of preparation?" That is a great question.
Nehemiah: A study in vision
The process of vision upon which this book is based comes from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. Why Nehemiah? Two major reasons. First, Nehemiah was one of the most visionary leaders of the Bible. He pulled off a project that is one of the most amazing in all of Scripture-the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem. Second, the book of Nehemiah contains the step-by-step process of vision. In the steps that Nehemiah followed, we find the steps we need to follow in order to lead our churches through transition.
In Nehemiah chapter one, we find five steps of preparation for vision.
1. Collect information
Notice how Nehemiah opens his book:
The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, "Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire." Nehemiah 1:1-3
Nehemiah questioned those with firsthand experience about the conditions in Jerusalem. He gathered all the information he could. He studied the circumstance. Why would he do this? Because Nehemiah understood this vital principle: vision is best birthed out of thorough knowledge. Contrary to what some people believe, it is not unspiritual to think. Or to study. Or to do some basic research. In other words, it is OK to use your brain. Thinking is actually allowed.
Time to go to school
There are two areas where we must go to school in order to collect the necessary information to prepare for vision.
First, go to school on the unchurched people in your community. From time to time, I will hear some well-intentioned preacher say, "All we need to do is preach the word of God." That statement is not true. The preaching of the Word is central and is fundamental. We must in fact have Biblical preaching for people to come to know Jesus Christ. But if good preaching alone would win the world to Christ, we would have finished the job long ago. We also need to understand the people we are trying to reach.
Paul-one of the main visionaries of the early church-said:
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
How did Paul know what it would take to win the Jews? Or to reach those under the law? Or to relate to those who did not have the law or to the weak? He studied them. He collected all the information he could about those he was trying to reach.
I spent thirteen years of my life in youth ministry. During those years I observed that some youth pastors were really effective in reaching teenagers while others were not. One of the characteristics of those who were effective was an understanding of adolescence. Those who understood teens did not expect them to behave as adults-but neither did they treat them like children. They customized their ministry to meet the needs of the group they were trying to reach.
Do not make the mistake of thinking you know the unchurched people in your community. Chances are you might be surprised at what you find if you take the time to do the research.
The second area we must go to school on is churches that are reaching unchurched people. When we began studying how to reach the unchurched people in our community at Flamingo Road Church, we went to school on those churches in our country that were reaching large numbers of unchurched people. Our list included First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Willow Creek Community in Chicago, Saddleback Church in South Orange County, Eastside Foursquare Church in Seattle and Wooddale Church in Minneapolis.
When you want to learn how to do something, go to school on the folks who have proven they know how to do it because they are doing it. Learn from practitioners-not from theoreticians. Many claim to know how to do it. Those who really know how to do it are doing it.
Collecting information is the first step of preparation for vision because you need to understand the people you are trying to reach.
2. Holy discontent with the status quo
What Nehemiah learned about the conditions in Jerusalem changed Nehemiah's heart forever. Check out his response to the information he received:
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. Nehemiah 1:4a
Nehemiah was heartbroken. The walls had been down for years, but all of a sudden he experiences a holy discontent with that fact. God gave him a bad case of holy heartache. God broke his heart over the people of Jerusalem and their desolate condition. God let Nehemiah feel about Jerusalem the way that He felt about Jerusalem. God let Nehemiah see Jerusalem the way He saw Jerusalem.
Don't miss this major principle of transitioning: vision is usually birthed out of heartache and burden. It must come from the heart.
How many times does the Bible tell us that:
Jesus wept over the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 10:6).
Moses stood in the gap for the Israelites (Exodus 17:4).
Jeremiah wept over the burden he carried (Jeremiah 3:21).
As long as we are content with the status quo, we will not discover God's vision.
I had the privilege of teaching this material not long ago in the state of Missouri. Just before we were about to start the conference, I met a local pastor. When I asked him how things were going in his church, he replied, "Well, things are comfortable." To this pastor's credit, he came up after the conference and said, "That was the wrong answer, wasn't it?"
As long as we are comfortable with the way things are, we cannot receive God's vision. As long as we are happy with the status quo, God won't speak. If we are more concerned about not rocking the boat than we are with storming the gates of hell, we will never discover God's plan and power in our churches.
Vision often comes in times of desperation
Some of you are reading this book because you are desperate. I want to congratulate you. That is a good thing. You will receive more from this book than those who are content with what is happening in their churches.
God gives us His vision when we are desperate. He speaks to us when our whole heart and mind and soul is set on Him. When we are really hungry and thirsty for God, we find Him. Jesus said it this way: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matthew 5:6, NAS).
The point of desperation came for us at Flamingo Road Church in the spring of 1990. There were four of us on the pastoral staff at that time. We had been at the church six months. During that six months, the church had grown in worship attendance from 300 to 500-which was pretty impressive. In fact, we were pretty impressed with ourselves.
We went away on a staff retreat to pat ourselves on the back. But while we were on that retreat, we did some analysis of our growth and made a life changing discovery. We learned that 90 percent of our growth were transfers from other area churches. Only 10 percent of our growth came from people we were winning to Christ. We were growing by swapping sheep! Our church had simply become the hottest church in town and every Christian who was unhappy or disgruntled in the least with their church was joining ours.
I cannot describe adequately the heartbreak that settled into our souls at that moment. We went from being as high as a kite about our growth to being broken and desperate. We made a commitment to learn to do church for the unchurched -and we have been learning ever since.
I am convinced that a major reason we do not discover God's vision for our churches is that we are content with business as usual. Vision must be fueled by a holy discontent with the status quo.
Nehemiah had just received the devastating news about the conditions in Jerusalem. What was his next response?
For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:4b
Nehemiah fasted for several days. Although fasting was practiced throughout the Old Testament and New Testament times, it is almost nonexistent in many churches today. In the Old Testament, fasting was practiced in four ways: as a way to humble yourself (Ezra 8:21), as a form of confession (1 Samuel 7:6), as a sign of repentance (Jonah 3:5-8), and as a form of prayer (Daniel 9:3). In the New Testament, fasting is seen as a part of serious prayer (Acts 14:23) and is assumed to be a normal part of the Christian life (Matthew 6:16; 9:15). Jesus fasted regularly-including a forty day fast at the start of his ministry (Matthew 4:2) and shorter fasts before major ministry events.
Excerpted from Transitioning by Dan Southerland Copyright © 1999 by Dan Southerland.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword by Rick Warren...9
The Flamingo Road Story...11
Step 1: Preparing for Vision...20
Step 2: Defining the Vision...43
Step 3: Planting the Vision...67
Step 4: Sharing the Vision...84
Step 5: Implementing the Vision...97
Step 6: Dealing with Opposition...110
Step 7: Making Course Corrections...129
Step 8: Evaluating the Results...149
Posted April 15, 2000
Dan has captured the Biblical process of change described in Nehemiah. This book is practical and illustrated from the transitions made at Flamingo Road Church.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.