June / July 2017 - Vol. 92

                  Ladder and vision of stairway to heaven

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.

Commitment and Focus
Commitment and focus are two attributes of the Christian disciple. They are also crucial to the kinds of relationships mentioned earlier: those relationships of family and Christian community. Some examples of commitment (for this community/discipleship application): 1) commitment to the elements of our community covenant (most of our communities have a covenant; a disciple takes this seriously and intends to apply it to his or her life); 2) your word is reliable (if you say you’ll be there, you are…some say showing up is 80% of the battle!); 3) if you say you’ll tithe, you are tithing or have a clear, pastoral plan to get there; and 4) if you are taking a community course, you are serious about attendance; 5) you are “blooming where you are planted”.

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.

If we 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.

Another personal 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:

Luke 9: 51 When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

Matthew 24: 13 “…But he who endures to the end will be saved.”

Acts 20:24  But I do not account my life at any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the grace of the gospel of God.

2 Timothy 4:7  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Community Building
In the Sword of the Spirit we have missionary coordinators and senior women’s leaders to help newer or in-formation communities. Missionary coordinators usually have personal pastoral tools that help assess a groups development and to identify areas needing work. One such “rough” pastoral tool that has emerged follows. We first make a table that lists all of the full members (publicly committed, initiations completed) on the left side. Second, to the right are four columns: 1) gathering attendance; 2) small group attendance; 3) service; and 4) tithing. These are important elements of our life together and they can be measured. The third step for the tool is to enter (for each person) a “yes” in the first two columns if their attendance is 50% or more. If their attendance is less than 50%, a “no” is entered. In the third column are entered the types of service the person performs in the community. If none, a “no” is entered. In the fourth column, “yes” is entered if they are giving 5% or more of their income to the community. If less than 5%, “no” is entered. One “no” would be considered an item that the pastoral worker would address. Two “no’s” would signify a need for a more serious intervention by either a coordinator or a senior woman leader. Three “no’s” and we should ask the member to do what they agreed to or consider some other status such as associate or friend.

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.)

Another element 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 intentional covenant 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.

Haggai 1:5b,6,9   Now therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. You have sown much, and harvested little…You have looked for much, and lo, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? says the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while you busy yourselves each with his own house. 

Hollywood teaches 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!

Another little 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 love eternal 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. 

Evaluating our Personal Vision
As individuals, we can evaluate our vision in terms of relationships, attendance, tithing, etc. First, we should look at our relationship with the Lord: are we faithful to daily prayer, and scripture study? Are we sensing a closeness to Him?

Are we 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?

Are we 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 improve.

Speaking of 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.

So, we 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.” 

One 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 now 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.

So we have to love the call, love the community, and love the church.

It’s a blessing and an honor to be serving the Lord in the greatest event of the 20th century!

Awake O Sleeper!

Therefore it is said, “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.” - Ephesians 5:14

Young people, career does not trump community! That makes decisions easier. Take seriously where the Lord has planted you!

Older 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 be contagious. 

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. - Matthew 6:21

Let us decide to:

Respect the call.
See the privilege of our call.
 Love the call!

In the holy days and seasons to come, may the Lord help us to grow in our commitment to him and to his people.
Bob Tedesco Bob Tedesco is former President of the North American Region of the Sword of the Spirit, a founder of the People of God community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, and has been one of its key leaders for the past 40 plus years. 

Top illustration of Jacob's ladder and vision of stairway to heaven, by Clive Upton

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