Your Church in Rhythm

Your Church In Rhythm: The Forgotten Dimensions of Seasons and Cycles. By Bruce Miller. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011. xxvii + 194 pp. $24.95.

Miller proposes a paradigm shift to help address the issues of pastoral burnout and loss of joy in the pastorate in this book. Rather than a focus on keeping everything in balance, Miller proposes that churches and pastors adopt another approach, rhythm. He argues that the pursuit of balance usually results in guilt and unhealthiness. Instead, rhythm creates a greater focus, more effectiveness, and increased strength.

At first it might appear that Miller is presenting another church model, but the author calls this a “metaconcept” that transcends all models and can be applied to any already existing church model. Ultimately, Miller wants his readers to “see six rhythm strategies for wisely leading our churches so that we are more fruitful in ministry and ministry has more joy” (xvii). “The intent of this book,” writes Miller, “is to offer you concepts and tools to make your church more effective and more enjoyable” (xxiv).

Rhythm is viewed through the lens of two Greek concepts of time: karios and chronos. Miller believes that rhythm is a better metaphor because it fits the natural progression of life cycles. Not only is rhythm seen in the cycles of nature but he also provides biblical support from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. Often pastors are blindsided by unexpected events and circumstances. The balance approach may dismiss these as growth opportunities, but the rhythm approach welcomes new seasons, even if they appear to be an interruption. Miller also uses the scientific study of time (Chronobiology) that reveals natural rhythms in living things, such as heartbeats and temperature.

Miller observes kairos and chronos through three lens: language (two distinct Greek usages), theology (God is the creator of rhythm), and experience (both individual and corporate). In chapter three, “Discerning Your Organizational Stage,” Miller examines how to identify and discern stages of life in churches. He reflects on the predictability of natural stages of life and makes the same application to the church. Problems in the church find a context within rhythm, which can help the pastor “effectively manage transitions, and monitor warning signs of decline” (p. 31). The next chapter gives some guidelines to be used to evaluate a church’s life stages. Usually the seasons come through difficult and unexpected life experiences, such as a youth pastor’s resignation, a lawsuit by an unruly parent, or grief that strikes the church at the loss of a loved member.

In the next section, Miller outlines three karios rhythm strategies; releasing expectations, seizing opportunities, and anticipating what’s next. In the first strategy, Miller challenges pastors to have realistic expectations and to be willing to release them when life change occurs. The second strategy, seizing opportunities, allows for pastors to be proactive, to be on the lookout for organizational stages and ministry opportunities. The final karios rhythm, anticipate what’s next, encourages churches to view slow or limited growth as a season of preparation for the next stage of life.  Once a church gives credence to rhythm, Miller concludes, “You coast more peacefully by releasing false expectations that don’t fit your current rhythm; you rise with more impact and joy by seizing unique opportunities this kairos season offers you; and you find more hope in anticipating the waves that still lie ahead of you” (p. 104).

The next section introduces four aspects of chronos rhythm in the church: pace, oscillate, build mission-enhancing rituals, and intensify and renewal. Chronos rhythm is based on seasons as seen in the calendar. Instead of keeping everything in balance or operating always at a highly intense level, Miller proposes that a church should pace itself. Not doing everything at once allows leadership to spread out major events throughout the year. The second aspect promotes rituals, but rituals that enhance the mission of Christ such as a discipleship study for a sermon series. Finally, in order to protect church leadership from overexertion, Miller suggests oscillation between intensity and renewal. With oscillation, churches experience “the joy of maximum exertion or the joy of deep relaxation” (p.145). Miller recommends making a yearly, monthly, and daily intensity graph to identify times or high and low intensity. By implementing the four chronos rhythms, he says, pastors will help their churches decrease the chances of burnout and “will advance Christ’s mission further with more joy” (p. 152).

Your Church in Rhythm makes a compelling and challenging case for church leaders to reconsider their approach to ministry. Readers will enjoy the practical applications and examples, exercises at the end of each chapter, interactive charts, and an intriguing subject matter. Bruce Miller concludes his work by encouraging his readers to embrace rhythmic living and implement rhythmic paradigm into their churches. Church leaders and pastors are encouraged to take these ideas and build on them. The author believes this will create a church leadership life with less stress and guilt and filled with more joy and peace.

Kevin Ewton with Glenn R. Kreider

Along came Poly…carp

Polycarp

You and I have heard it many times, “We need to be like the first century church.” I often wonder if they have read some of the writings we have from the first few centuries of the Christian churches. One such writing worth our time and wonder is the Martyrdom of Polycarp. Perhaps we should be more like “the first church” and perhaps we can learn greatly from the example of Polycarp.

If you have never read the Martyrdom of Polycarp, take a few minutes; make it your morning devotional. You can find a few translations online and those will do just fine. This writing is the oldest account of a Christian martyr outside the New Testament. Polycarp, the bishop of the church of Smyrna, was martyred for holding fast to Jesus Christ instead of acknowledging Caesar as Lord, thus also making him out to be an atheist.

Throughout the letter, readers are exhorted to imitate Christ, serve others, love God, and other various instructions to wives, widows, younger men, and presbyters. Mainly, the writing accounts for the story of Polycarp, who was being searched for by the authorities. Being found sleeping in an upstairs room,Polycarp came down to speak with them and “those who were present marveled at his age and his composure and wondered why there was so much eagerness for the arrest of an old man like him.” (7.2) After praying for two hours, he was taken into the city and was commanded to claim Caesar as Lord, but Polycarp denied even the suggestion. Once in the stadium with the deafening roar of the crowd, the even higher authorities (Proconsul) gave him a chance to change his beliefs.

“Have respect for your age,” said the Proconsul, “Swear by the genius of Caesar; repent, say ‘Away with the atheists!’”(9.2) I suppose sometimes it is good not to repent.

Polycarp responded, “For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” (9.3)

They threatened him further with releasing wild beast, but Polycarp stayed strong. They threatened that he would be burned, but Polycarp replied, “You threaten with a fire that burns only briefly and after just a little while is extinguished, for you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment, which is reserved for the ungodly. But why do you delay? Come, do what you wish.” (11.2) The crowd herald in unison that Polycarp was a Christian and the sentence was death by being burned alive. Wood for the fire was gathered quickly, he was tied to the stake rather than being nailed.

Alas, before Polycarp would be martyred, he prayed this prayer:

“O Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved  and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of you, the God of angels and powers and of all creation ,and of the whole race of the righteous who live in your presence, I bless you because you considered me worthy of this day and hour, so that I might receive a place among the number of the martyrs in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection to eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among them in your presence today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as you have prepared and revealed beforehand, and have now accomplished, you who are the undeceiving and true God. For this reason, indeed for all things, I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly high priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be glory to you, with him and the Holy Spirit, both now and for the ages to come. Amen.” (14.1-3)

All quotes taken from Holmes, Michael W. The Apostolic Fathers. Edited and Translated by Michael W. Holmes. 3d Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007).

A Homeless Man and Tacos

Busy and yet bored was the day I had work done on my car. Fortunately my mechanic is in a random industrial area of Garland, so I wasn’t too bored. The work on the car was slated to be 6 hours, so I walked to the nearest fast food restaurants to spend the day. I spent a few hours at Wendy’s and a few hours at Braums, reading and writing. Before I knew it, it was lunch time.

As I began my trek to find a place to eat, a homeless man crossed my path. I casually said hi and thought nothing of it. On down the road, I sat under a tree and began reading my bible for a few minutes when I saw the same homeless man asking for money from cars at the street light intersection. I thought, “I should help him out and offer to buy his lunch or at least give him some money.” But avoidance set in. You know that feeling. The thought of, “I REALLY don’t want to walk that direction. Perhaps I will wait and he will carry on down the road.” Isn’t it great how God supersedes our avoidance tactics.

Nevertheless, I was getting hungry, so I walked to the Taco Cabana, of course I walked across the street and not the crosswalk that would have placed me right in front of the homeless gentlemen. I got my lunch and sat down to eat. ENTER GOD! As I ate, that same man asking for money sat down at the table next to me (without food). Well, this was obvious so I offered to buy him some tacos and we had lunch together.

I learned a great deal about Jim. He was not fond of Churches or Christians or the book I had been reading called, “The mission of God.” He said, “How could anyone know the mission of God?” Nevertheless, Jim is a very intelligent guy and I am glad that I got to have lunch with him while my car was in the shop.

Avoid the road of avoidance when you have compassion for others. It is great that God works with our stubbornness and unwillingness, but open obedience is better. I hope that you are encouraged to help those in need and if you are like me, be encouraged that God still works through our avoidance schemes.