DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Great Transformer

Written by: on February 26, 2015

Over the last few months, it has been a privilege for me (on an interim basis) to be part of the youth ministry of our church family. One of the goals for my involvement has been to challenge our youth to develop critical and biblical thinking within the world they live. It’s been an exciting journey! Last week, we sat around late into the night, eating pizza, listening to and talking about music – the difficulties involved in making good, God-honouring choices as well as the temptations to be swept into the subtle (and overt) agendas that are being conveyed through mainstream music. Instead of me “teaching” – we learned together, laughed a lot, and learned how to shine the light of Truth into the often private, ear-budded world of music. For most, it was refreshing, for some, hopefully penetrating and foundational. More than that, this group of young people actually were moving out of Charles Taylor’s view of the degeneration of Western Church, which he describes in his book, The Secular Age.

 “The point is, once more, not that we need to leaven Christianity with a dose of paganism, but that our Christian life itself has suffered a mutilation to the extent that it imposes this kind of homogenization. The Church was rather meant to be the place in which human beings, in all their difference and disparate itineraries, come together; and in this regard, we are obviously falling far short.” (Loc. 12293-12296)

Some, perhaps many would write-off these students based on their outward expressions. However, when, with our leaders, we can actually take some time to interact around real life matters you recognize all the more, as Taylor notes, that they have depth to them that is not being filled by the world or even by the church in its traditional forms:

“Many young people are following their own spiritual instincts, as it were, but what are they looking for? Many are “looking for a more direct experience of the sacred, for greater immediacy, spontaneity, and spiritual depth”, in the words of an astute observer of the American scene. This often springs from a profound dissatisfaction with a life encased entirely in the immanent order. The sense is that this life is empty, flat, devoid of higher purpose.” (Loc. 8065-8068)

hands

The message from our youth is consistent with Taylor’s research. Our churches need transformation, our church leaders need transformation and where better to learn transformation than through the Great Transformer, Jesus. The transfer of “form” for Jesus, from that of a divine being into that of a human being is not easy for us to comprehend. Central to our faith is the fact that Jesus retains the fullness of his deity, while living the fullness of his humanity. Instead of wielding his power to create distance between himself and those he was called to serve, Jesus instead causes us to think differently about power as we reflect on how he leverages his power by divesting himself of it, in order to fully identify with all people through a willing submission to the power of God.

This willing action of self-emptying goes beyond the notion of giving for the benefit of others. It speaks to a sacrificial generosity that is willing to suffer so that others might gain. This level of generosity is part of what makes the incarnation so awe inspiring. Jesus doesn’t give out of abundance, but gives himself abundantly. He gives himself respectfully within the confines of excarnated (to borrow a word from Taylor) religious practice as well as giving himself incarnationally to those, who are truly searching for meaning and purpose in life. As human leaders, we have the capacity to participate in and be transformed by the presence of the divine nature through our faith in Jesus Christ. In so doing we gain access to those virtues which shaped his character and informed his actions.

Taylor, in examining the life of St. Francis says: “The transformation beyond our usual scope was a crucial part of what seized him (Franceis); not as a greater personal power (this is a danger of deviation), but as a participation in God’s love.” (Loc. 11598-11601)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,

who came from the Father

full of grace and truth.

John 1:14 (NIV)

The beginning of the Gospel of John makes a direct connection from the eternal aspect of Jesus Christ as the “Word” or “logos” of God (John 1:1). The One who was actively involved in the creation of the world makes a startling transition at a certain point in time, by stepping down into the middle of the created order to tangibly live among the very people he created. This is not just another religious act rather his life becomes a transformational focal point from which everyone needs to give account. The experiences of forgiveness of sin, salvation, and the capacity to daily move through life take on new definitions because of the incarnation of Jesus. Taylor would say that leadership that has ever made a difference is a reflection of the incarnational effect of Jesus: “The irony is that where clerical leadership really managed to transform a community, it was through the personal holiness of the incumbent, and not through his parading the horrors of Hell.” (Loc. 7919-7920)

In his humanity Jesus demonstrated grace in all matters while being fuelled by the truth of God. It is Jesus’ extension of both grace and truth beyond the limitations of his own needs and toward the needs of others that makes His life a compelling example to emulate. “Christians today… live in a world where objectification and excarnation reign, where death undermines meaning, and so on. We have to struggle to recover a sense of what the Incarnation can mean.” (Loc. 11999-12001)

Leadership that reflects the virtuous life of Jesus can turn the tide on the listless, predictable, lifeless, religious orders of our times and serve to stimulate, awaken, encourage and spur on the many people who are seeking to find sacred vitality in the world around them.

  • Who or what has helped you to break free of religious lifelessness (excarnation) and discover sacred vitality in daily life (incarnation)?

About the Author

mm

Deve Persad

16 responses to “The Great Transformer”

  1. Michael Badriaki says:

    Great post Deve. You scratched where I was itching while studying Taylor’s material this week. I have found Taylor’s work extremely helpful in the way Taylor means to write about the issues he discusses. Taylor’s work has filled in some of the gap for me even arena of global Christianity.
    Your story about the work you and the your church are doing with the young is great. Uganda is currently one of the youngest nations in the world with such a high youth population and we are working to share truth with the youth there as well.

    You also note, “Some, perhaps many would write-off these students based on their outward expressions. However, when, with our leaders, we can actually take some time to interact around real life matters you recognize all the more, …” That resonated with me because too often young people are looking for options which the church if prepared could be in position to offer as your church is doing, but evangelicalism tends to miss the point. As I wrote in post on a different matter, Christians resort to the process of “othering” the youth and people, treating them like “at risk” people which in turn victimizes young people who simply need love, guidance, discipleship and to be embraced. What is the response from the youth towards the approach your church is using as you shared earlier on in your post?

    Thank you.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Michael, it’s probably too early to say, but at this point we have had an excellent positive response from our youth. As they know they are being listened to, they are feeling free about sharing their perspective and then re-listening to God’s perspective. A better indication is that they are beginning to invite their friends to join in. We’ll see where the Lord leads us in this…

  2. Deve…

    Interesting isn’t it how the call to transformation is in essence our response to be conformed to Christ for the sake of others. It keeps one “porous” rather than closed and humble rather than one with all the answers. And it takes such a long time. Even more than my seminary studies for my MDiv, I am realizing how formational our DMin studies are. I am being formed (and I hope transformed) because of and through the structure and engagement of our courses. I did not expect the depth this program has brought. One of those is the realization of community. Surely, as you referenced we do have to struggle to understand the depth and implications of the incarnation. Thanks Deve for your good work.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Carol, the DMin structure really has been the inspiration for this new youth ministry model. I have also benefited greatly from our interactions and shared learning. Knowing that we are all looking for ways to serve the Lord makes it so refreshing to engage, question, listen and discern. Thanks for adding value to it.

  3. Deve,

    You say, “Leadership that reflects the virtuous life of Jesus can turn the tide on the listless, predictable, lifeless, religious orders of our times and serve to stimulate, awaken, encourage and spur on the many people who are seeking to find sacred vitality in the world around them.” I agree 100%. Thanks for being one such leader. I long for that in my own life. Thanks for the reminder this week of how to do that. Thanks for your refreshing, thoughtful post.

    As to your final question…I am not out yet; rather I am still trying to figure this out. But at least I am now in the process. Our readings, ours blogs, and my personal research are helping me to learn how to break free. Thanks for being a part of that journey.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Professor, so many remain apathetic or even discouraged in their journey of faith – your open questions and honest admissions help us all in our faith; knowing that together the Lord is going to use us for His purposes. Keep up the journey!

  4. mm John Woodward says:

    Deve, you have provided a wonderful overview of what incarnation and transformation mean from a Biblical perspective. Very well written. I would concur with your take on two points: One is your description of young people, it is so spot on, as I have found from my own work with college students, as those who “have depth to them that is not being filled by the world or even by the church in its traditional forms.” And your second point that our leaders don’t demonstrate the abundance of self-giving that is so evident in Jesus. It is no wonder that young people who look to the church and to its leaders for that which is lacking in their lives, don’t find a whole lot of hope. This (for me) has been clearly seen over the last 40 years, as the trend has been from a time where young people looked to church leaders and often wanted to follow in their footsteps by going into ministry; where today, there are so few young people that have any interest in going into ministry, let alone pointing to a leader as someone they look up to and want to immolate. What do you see much positive movement or response from your young people that you work with toward spiritual things or interest in the church? Thanks for doing the hard and challenging work of serving our youth!

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      John, it’s been about 10 years since I was involved in youth ministry on a regular basis; but I’ve got to say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. The source of that joy comes from the conversations rather than the activities. In terms of the response from the youth; early indications are good – the youth seem to understand that they have the capacity to think and engage and that, as leaders, we are genuinely interested in their view. They are starting to take more ownership of the ministry direction. It will be exciting to see where this leads.

  5. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Deve
    An excellent post as usual 🙂
    I appreciate where you wrote, “The irony is that where clerical leadership really managed to transform a community, it was through the personal holiness of the incumbent, and not through his parading the horrors of Hell.”
    Transformation – that’s what God wants for all of us. In our church, it’s even more pertinent for those who’ve come out of backgrounds of addiction or prison. They know they need transformation and they want it.
    God is a God who transforms us from the inside out. I love that about God. There’s no life beyond His marvellous reach. He turns ashes into beauty. What a wonderful God we serve!

  6. mm Deve Persad says:

    Amen, Liz. As you well know the demands of ministry on the life of the leader are numerous. The danger is to relegate the on-going transformative work of the Spirit in our lives. That neglect robs us and our congregational communities of the blessings that God has waiting for us.

  7. Russ Pierson says:

    Wonderful and perceptive post, Deve!

    As you and your bright cohort colleagues well understand by now, trans/formation is the proverbial “name of the game”. You are all in a crucible of transformation through the LGP program, and God, too, is all about transforming us–and all of creation, uniting heaven with earth in the age to come, and calling us change agents in this present age.

    I love your connection of transformation with incarnation, too.

    Thoughtfully written!

    Thanks,

    Russ

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Thanks Russ, I appreciate the feedback. I would agree that the LGP experience has been a transformative experience for me/us. I have gained much through the insights, questions and reflections of the others.
      The more I consider the incarnation, the more I am captivated by the limitless potential to benefit from Jesus’ fullness of grace and truth into our lives; thereby allowing us, by His power, to engage the darkness of the world around us with His Light.

  8. mm rhbaker275 says:

    Deve,
    Thanks for your insightful application of Taylor. I always read your post as soon as I complete my own. From week to week I love your pastoral application of our readings. In fact (without your permission) I cited your post in a group study I lead on Sunday! We are studying Rolland Daniels book “Church in the Middle: Stepping Outside the Building to Reach the Church of tomorrow.” I was making the point that in moving outside the church, we seek to be the Word made flesh, incarnational in our neighborhood. I used the the Message translation: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish ( John 1:14 (MSG). How amazing on Saturday evening to read your post and the photo illustration was terrific! So, I cited you and your youth group and downloaded your photo. Thanks, Deve, I’ll say it again, I love your pastoral heart.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Thanks for the encouragement Ron. I am thankful for the practical application of what we’re learning and discovering. I appreciate you pointing out another resource – I’ll have to check it out. As the Lord would have it, yesterday, I also preached a message on this passage: one of the questions that we left hanging for people is to identify those elements of our society that would be considered as “darkness”. Then we challenged them to think about how the incarnation Jesus would interact in that darkness if He moved into that neighbourhood. I’d love to hear how your group develops Ron.

  9. Excellently written post. I would even encourage you to seek publications where you could publish this.

    Such a great point regarding the incarnation of Christ. My dissertation subject is becoming evident that I will be looking at contextualization and incarnation and how CQ can assist with our own transfere of the life of Christ. I appreciate the quote from Taylor that you brought out, “The irony is that where clerical leadership really managed to transform a community, it was through the personal holiness of the incumbent, and not through his parading the horrors of Hell.” If culture intelligent could assistant a person in becoming humble and assuming more of a position of student to the culture and servant to the people, perhaps his personal holiness would be accentuated even over his preaching. Thus, according to Taylor, the leadership would manage greater transformation in said community.

    Fodder for my research. Hummmmmm. Thanks Pastor.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Mitch, thanks as always for your encouragement. I’m very intrigued by the refining of your research paper as it looks like we could have some mutually beneficial overlap. The concept of becoming “a student of the culture and servant to the people” seems to be a key facet of leadership for the times we live in. Let’s keep grinding away at this, thanks for your help along the way.

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