June / July 2017 - Vol. 92
Awake O Sleeper
Pastoral Priorities for Building
Strong Committed Families and Communities
by Bob Tedesco
This article is addressed primarily to pastoral leaders and members of the Sword of the Spirit, an international network of covenant communities. The practical wisdom and principles addressed here can be helpful for any group of Christians who seek to build and maintain strong committed relationships in their families and communities.As we move through the calendar we are reminded by certain days and seasons to consider our progress, our purpose. Some of them are natural (New Year’s Day), and some are spiritual or church oriented. In these seasons, we are challenged to grow, to change and to improve. These tend to be personal seasons, but they can also be corporate: our communities and groups can also be nudged to improve, to grow and to change. We intentionally challenge our lethargy and consciously raise our awareness…to be present to the Lord.
In the overall scheme of things, Christian community is a complex network of many different kinds of individuals in many kinds of relationships who are determined to live the Christian life. Foundational is the relationship with the Lord in the power of the Spirit. That relationship joins us and strengthens us in brotherly and sisterly, pastoral, small group, service, parental and single relationships. In our community we have a whole network of summer camp relationships. This network has even joined us to other communities as their members joined the staff in the yearly effort for a weekend of evangelizing and training our youth.
Most of these various relationships are intentional and are of some substance. Some are mainly pastoral; some are mainly mission-oriented; most are centered in community. They all can serve as a sort of fabric that supports us in both difficult times and in more peaceful times. Those who center most of their relationships in the community know the value and stability of long-term relationships supportive of the Christian life. The locus, the main place of our relationships, is most logically the center or the main thing that we are intending to do: to live life as a disciple of Christ.
Relationships require work and the investment of our time and resources to succeed. Those which fail have often been neglected and decisions are often made without concern for the relational stress and destruction that they cause. It follows then, that communities (a network of relationships) require work and the investment of time and resources. A typical community schedule describes some of the work of building community: 1) both individual and corporate prayer nurture and support our relationship with the Lord; 2) gatherings and small groups build our relationships in community. So both the first commandment (love God) and the second (love your neighbor) are supported by the most basic schedule. The Lord’s Day celebrations build community in similar ways, and they also serve to build family life and undergird our approach to family order.
Our covenants describe how we plan to nourish and support these relationships, while some of the general statements of the covenant are given more detail in our courses. For example, we learn how to forgive in the Christian Personal Relationship course, and how to financially support the community is described in the Living in Christian Community course as well as preparation for public commitment.
To summarize this introduction, relationships require investments of time, money and intentional connection. Community requires a deliberate centering of our lives and relationships together.
Focus is a similar, but not identical personal quality. Some examples of focus are: 1) you are single minded, you know what you are called to and most of your available energy and resources are there; 2) you are not easily conscripted or lured into some other group or movement; 3) you are not easily scattered to multiple activities outside of the community; 4) if you are serving outside of the community (and some of us should be), you are careful to still be able to be significantly engaged and centered in community life and relationships.
If we are lacking in these two qualities, our life and our service can become scattered and incoherent. It is worth noting that those of us who are in a community will be engaged in some sort of balancing act with parish/congregational service. As an example, I led a parish contemporary choir for 29 years where I was able to share the scripture-based music that is a fruit of our international community. It was fairly easy service since the choir was mostly community members who knew all of the music; it did not require an extra evening of practice. I know the call that is on my life for community building, yet I can still serve in my parish.
are in social/hobby groups we’ll have to be “limited”
members to be available for mission and service. I am
a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association,
where I serve in a limited way.
example: one of our founding brothers was given the
nickname of “old flint face” for his steadfast and
resolute commitment to his calling. His dedication was
a support to the rest of us in times of trouble. The
name is reference to Isaiah 50:7 which reads,
“Therefore, I have set my face like flint.” Some other
applicable scriptures are:
A few things are worth noting: 1) 50% is not a good attendance (a coach who shows up for only half the team practices would not win the “Coach of the Year” award); 2) these are not all of the elements of our way of life; 3) this tool provides a quick thumbnail sketch of the health of the community and covers areas that commonly slip when a community is growing and maturing; 4) one could argue that these are not the most important elements of community life, but a missionary coordinator would know how important tithing is for a community’s youth work and for getting the help it needs from the community building team (travel expenses, etc.)
of our community life is the place it holds in our
heart. That is a hard one to evaluate, as each person
is more aware of that than the pastoral leaders.
Sometimes even the individual is surprised when their
commitment is tested by an outside event: an illness,
a job loss, a promotion. As I’ve worked with a number
of immigrant communities over the years I have
recognized certain strengths and weaknesses. One
strength is their tightly-knit relationships. Most of
their friendships are in the community. For some,
their itinerate lifestyle and their career-based
mobility is a weakness. Since we are building
communities, this can present stability issues. I
was discussing these concerns with several community
coordinators when one of the men anticipated my line
of questioning and said, “Without a doubt, with some
of our people, career trumps community every time!”
They had left country and family to come to America to
“make it”. Furthermore, they had been raised by
their parents to take that approach to life.
Are we raising our children to seek first the kingdom of God? Or are we also raising them to “make it big”? Without the right orientation of our children in the family, we will never be a transgenerational community. If our children are raised to think that their career success is of the utmost importance they will have a hard time making the change to be servants of the living God.
you that your dream comes first…before marriage,
family and any other relatives or relationships. I may
be the only one who was more than a little nauseated
by “LaLa Land” when the young man gave up his
“soul-mate” for a jazz club. I know that shallow
approach to life was the point of the movie, but in
many other movies, that is the happy ending!
story here…After my Air Force service, I got a degree
in aerospace engineering from the University of
Pittsburgh. There was much clawing and scraping to
graduate since we had seven children at the time. I
was quite impressed with myself since this was
considered one of the tougher engineering disciplines.
My first job after graduation was working for the
Boeing Corporation on the 747. One day I was standing
on the flight-line looking to the left and right to
survey these behemoth machines of aviation. Feeling
quite satisfied with myself, I thought, “I am working
on the largest airliner in the world!” I heard a voice
say clearly, “So what?” “So what?” I was devastated.
It had taken me eight years with a mix of night and
day school to get to this place. I thought I deserved
to at least brag a little. The voice was not audible,
but it was even more piercing and impacting. I knew it
was the Lord. I thought, “He could have told me this
eight years earlier!” He was clearly unimpressed with
my “accomplishments”. I have spent 45 years of the
remainder of my life studying, building, and declaring
the kingdom of God. I still like nuts and bolts but I
things. I got the message: Career does not take
precedence over the kingdom of God and we should raise
our children with an eternal perspective.
close to the brothers and sisters, or to our small
group members and pastoral workers? Do we try to
center our lives on the community?
faithful to our financial commitment? In our
Community, we teach a 5%-5% split, tithing equally
between the community and our denominational
parish/congregation. If we’re not there, we need a
pastoral plan to get there. For example, if I get a 3%
pay raise, I’ll add 1/3 of that (1% gross) to my
tithe. I will do that with every successive raise in
order to keep my tithe commitment at 5%. Exceptions to
the covenant should usually have a plan to grow and
growth, we might be reminded of Talk #6 in the “Life
in the Spirit” series entitled: “Growth”. The
Wheel of Growth has four spokes: prayer, study,
community and service. When doing a personal review of
vision and commitment, service is one of the areas
needing a heart check. Do we serve with a good
attitude? Would we be embarrassed if the Lord revealed
our heart’s posture toward our assigned service? Every
one of us should serve in some way and no area of
service is too unimportant for us to be called to.
occasionally evaluate our core values; what we live
for, what we’re passionate about, what takes first
place in our thought life, how we make decisions, etc.
Good news! The kingdom of God trumps everything else.
That reality makes decisions and choices easier… “Seek
first the kingdom of God.”
question is revealing when we are evaluating vision:
“What would you say is the greatest event of the
twentieth century?” At one time, I would have answered
that it was the invention of the airplane. It’s a fun
question since it can be approached from different
directions and generates a lot of discussion. I would
answer, “The Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit
and the resulting communities and ministries.” From
Topeka, Kansas, and Azusa Street (circa 1900), up to
and including the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Over
one hundred million Catholics along with untold
numbers of Protestants and non-denominational
Christians have been baptized in the Holy Spirit.
Multiple Pentecostal Churches and even whole
denominations have been formed. Many
thousands are in communities of disciples who raise up
and train more disciples. Most of these
communities have campus outreaches to evangelize and
work with the next generations of Christians.
have to love the call, love the community, and love
blessing and an honor to be serving the Lord in the
greatest event of the 20th century!
Therefore it is said, “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.”
people, career does not trump community! That makes
decisions easier. Take seriously where the Lord has
community members: Our level of commitment and focus
speaks volumes to the younger generations. When we are
passionately committed to our call, more of our young
people are likely to catch fire. When our time and
money are radically committed to our call, that will
holy days and seasons to come, may the Lord help us to
grow in our commitment to him and to his people.
Top illustration of Jacob's
ladder and vision of stairway to heaven, by Clive