Being Real

Pastors and leaders are growing too

It had been a rough week and I was not in the best mood. It was one of those weeks full of challenges—personal and work-related— and I felt God wasn’t answering my prayers and giving me what I believed I needed. I started complaining to my wife about going to church and putting on my “church face.” You know the one I’m referring to—looking happy and giving the impression that everything is good, and my life was just wonderful. Further, I had to preach that day, meaning I felt I had to make God look good when I didn’t feel he was being so good to me at the time.

Cheryl first told me I had to go to church because I was the pastor, and then she said, “Rick, just share your struggles with the congregation. They will see that you face the same things they face, and they will love you for it.” It was just one more of those times the Holy Spirit spoke, and it sounded just like Cheryl. “Don’t focus on your frustration with God,” she continued, “focus on your love for the members.” It was good advice. By the time I got to the parking lot I was very much looking forward to being with my church family. I didn’t have to put on a church face, I sincerely greeted and smiled at the many members I had grown to love.

My topic that day was Jesus telling the disciples about his betrayal and upcoming death. They argued with him—this wasn’t the way they saw that things should be. Peter pulled Jesus aside and chastised him. In the middle of my sermon I realized I was Peter. My bad mood came from God not doing things the way I saw they should be done, so I shared that with the audience. I saw nods of affirmation. I was not alone in my frustration and lack of faith. My way made so much sense, but God had a different plan.

It was one of those sermons that resonated far more than I could have ever planned. Sharing my story and being honest about my angst enabled many to personally relate to what I was saying and to better relate to me. Further, it made it OK to be transparent with each other about our struggles and challenges. I heard a lot of stories that week from the members. A connection was made that I hadn’t planned on. I went home in a much better mood and praising God for the breakthroughs.

It is a misnomer for pastors to believe they cannot be honest about their humanity—their joys, their struggles, their passion, their fears. Pastors are not more spiritual than their members; they do not have a special line to God that is not available to members; they are not more important, more special, more inspired, more anything. They are men and women God has called to shepherd others. It’s a special calling, but that doesn’t make pastors special in the sense of better.

In GCI, we encourage our pastors to be real—to be who God created them to be—and not put on a different persona when they preach or come to worship services. The Bible gives us wonderful examples of the humanity of the leaders God chose to build his church. Moses, Abraham, David, Peter and Paul all had serious flaws that God shared in the pages of his story. Today in GCI we have leaders, pastors, national and regional directors, superintendents and a president, all of whom have flaws. We love the people God has chosen because they are transparent, they don’t put on airs, they are relatable because they know their own humanity and they are devoted to Christ and to GCI.

I still have rough weeks; I still get in bad moods from time to time; and I still have the Holy Spirit speaking through my bride and others reminding me to always look to him, to trust him, to rely on him, and to grow in his grace and knowledge of him.

When leaders do this, GCI grows in grace and knowledge, we become more relational, we live in communion, and we become the healthiest expressions of church we can be.

Being real,

Rick Shallenberger

PS In this issue of Equipper, we continue the Hope Venue. Randy Bloom shares two articles about preaching. In his first article he shares the different between teaching and preaching—an important distinction. In his second article, he encourages us to share stories and our passion for Jesus. Bill Hall wrote about using the RCL (Revised Common Lectionary), and lists a number of resources.

God Opened My Eyes to Worship

God used a tent full of teenagers to change my life.

I used to believe my church was the only true church. (This is not a unique way of thinking; I have found this thinking is common in many denominations.) Because I was in the only true church, I questioned the Christianity of others who did not attend my church. And before you ask, yes, I have deeply repented of this way of thinking, but I needed to share this to tell the following story.

I was invited to a youth conference sponsored by another denomination. I was invited to set up a booth, share some things I’d written, and be available to talk to the youth who were attending the conference. Though God had been working with me to see there were good Christians in other denominations, I was still struggling with my “only true church” way of thinking, I wondered if God was sending me to this conference so that I could help others have a better understanding of who God was. I believed most of the teens attending the conference likely had a wrong view of God, and they needed to know God loved them and was for them.

After setting up my booth, I went to the main hall, where worship had been going on for several minutes. I expected to see a band on stage and teens sitting in rows listening to music. Instead, I walked into a room of thousands of teenagers worshipping. Many had their arms raised as they sang, several had tears rolling down their faces, almost all were singing and praising God in a way I had never experienced. People didn’t raise their hands or show emotion in my church; we simply stood and sang. These kids weren’t just singing—they were worshipping. They knew the one they were worshipping. It was beautiful.

Tears ran down my face as I began to realize why God wanted me at that conference. Not because I could teach anything to anyone, but because I had a lot to learn. I had to learn to stop judging others, I had to learn from others; I had to learn how to worship. I went to my motel room that night and asked for forgiveness. I wept as I wondered if I was even a Christian. I had answers to a lot of biblical and theological questions, but it was head knowledge. I realized I did not know God. I’d never worshipped like those kids worshipped. My relationship with God was knowing about him; those kids worshipped as if their relationship was with him. That event changed everything for me—God used it to start me on a journey of walking with him that will never end.

Worship can be life changing. Since that day, I’ve participated in wonderful worship services around the world—dancing with worshippers in Ghana, participating in worship in Malawi and South Africa, Bangladesh and Nepal. I am moved watching worshippers dance and clap, wave scarves and show amazing joy as they worship. I experienced it just today during a sermon when the pastor broke into song during his sermon, the worship team joined him, and soon the whole congregation was making worship a significant part of the sermon. It was powerful, it was encouraging, it was hopeful.

I wonder, sometimes, if we realize the power a worship service can have on people who are looking for hope. When guests and friends visit our churches and see others pouring their hearts into singing songs of praise, it’s uplifting to them; it’s powerful and hopeful.

We refer to worship as part of the Hope Venue because we know the power of hope. Hope is what brings a lot of people to church. They come hoping to find answers to the pain and trials they are going through. They are tired and they hope there is more to life than what they face on a daily basis. They are afraid to hope that maybe, just maybe God will help them. They have lost hope that he loves them just the way they are, but they still have a glimmer of hope that they have not been rejected.

When they come, we want to provide a joyous and worshipful atmosphere where their hope can be restored. We worship a God of hope and we want others to know him, so they can worship him and live in his hope.

In this issue of Equipper, we are focusing on hope in worship. We start by being reminded of giving special attention to the Christian worship calendar—there are a number of special days throughout the year when guests are more likely to visit. Just for fun, we have included a tongue-in-cheek article about how to keep guests from returning. We also have a couple articles about worship reminding ourselves that worship isn’t about what we want and what makes us feel good—it’s about God: Father, Son and Spirit. It’s asking God to open the eyes of our heart so we can see him. It’s about the light of the world coming down into our darkness and opening our eyes to let us see. It’s about shouting Alleluia, for our Lord, God Almighty reigns. It’s about providing opportunity to change hearts.

One day God used a tent full of worshipping teenagers to start me on a journey of worship I hope to never end. My prayer is that God can use GCI worship services to start many others on their personal journeys of worship, where they find hope restored, where they find like-minded people pouring their hearts out to the one who is our hope.

Still worshipping,

Rick Shallenberger

Church = Hope

What is the first word that pops into your mind when you think of church? Fellowship? Potluck? Sermon? Worship? Communion? God? Hope?

I’ve been blessed to travel to many countries around the world and meet people from several cultures. I’ve rubbed shoulders with the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh and Nepal, and with people of status and wealth in several countries. Like most of us, I’ve seen people in their highest highs and their lowest lows. I’ve been with several family members and friends as they have faced horrendous trials and losses. One common theme I’ve encountered all over the world is the need for people to have hope.

Wherever you go, you see people without hope. The homeless population around the world is staggering. Whatever country you live in, people face trials they simply cannot bear on their own. Poverty, sickness, corrupt government, abuse is rampant. People struggle to make ends meet. Like Jesus, we can look around our neighborhoods and cities and see a great crowd of hurting people. Our hearts fill with compassion, “because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34 NRSV).

Where can people find real, tangible hope and assurance? The answer of course, is in relationship with Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:27; 1 Timothy 1:1). Where does that relationship have opportunity to be introduced, supported, and realized? In a healthy Christian church.

Our GCI theme is Healthy Church, and to work toward this goal we focus on the three venues of Faith, Hope, and Love, based on Paul’s words to the church in Corinth, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NRSV).

The last three issues of Equipper focused on Love—encouraging us to see people in their true identity as children of God, although many do not know their Father. This issue of Equipper begins a three-month period of opening conversations concerning the Hope Venue. We will be undergoing a deeper dive into the Hope Venue in Equipper throughout 2020.

Our vision—which we believe is Holy Spirit inspired—is for Grace Communion International to be a denomination filled with churches that provide hope.

We envision churches filled with members who reach out to their communities and neighborhoods because the love of Christ compels us to teach that Christ died for all. Because of this, we no longer regard anyone from a human point of view, but as God’s beloved (2 Corinthians 5:14-16).

We envision congregations willing to make whatever changes are necessary to make church accessible to others. This may mean changing the day of worship, location of worship, or time of worship. Healthy churches are more focused outward than inward.

Here are some key items healthy church leaders focus on:

  • Assimilation—making visitors and new members feel welcome.
  • Participation—finding ways newer members can participate in worship services, ministry and mission, as they are made to feel comfortable and vetted through the personal care of the members.
  • Intentional preparation—pastors, worship leaders, and teachers working together to provide meaningful and inspiring worship services.
  • Celebration—celebrating Jesus first and foremost, then taking time to celebrate key events in members’ lives as well as the fruit that comes from the missional events and activities of the church.
  • Inspirational preaching—staying in tune with the Christian Calendar and commemorating Christ events throughout the year. Using the RCL, which integrates worship and educating the congregation, and takes the congregation through most of the Bible every three years. giving the congregation a more holistic approach to Scripture.
  • Developing others—liberating leaders to be leaders and watching how ministries grow and multiply.

People need hope, and church is the place where they can find the answers to the questions they face daily.

May God continue to bless GCI as our worldwide congregations provide places of healing and hope.

Loving church,

Rick Shallenberger

Seeing Through God’s Eyes

Several years ago, I had two individuals in one of my congregations who monopolized my time. Every week they came up to me sharing their woes, asking for advice and just wanting to talk—about anything. There were several occasions when I missed other important conversations because one of these individuals was bending my ear.

I’m ashamed to admit I got to the point where I tried to avoid these encounters. I even had others run interference for me. I’ll never forget the one Sunday I was driving home, and I told my wife it was a great day at church, I didn’t have to talk to either one of these individuals. She just looked at me and smiled—you know, one of those smiles that lets you know she’s about to say something you don’t really want to hear. I can’t recall exactly what she said, but it was one of those moments when the Holy Spirit talks to you and sounds just like your wife.

I spent time in prayer that week asking God to help me see those two individuals through his eyes. The first thing he reminded me was both of these people were as precious to him as I was. I needed to focus on who they were—beloved children of God—rather than on their behavior or how much of my time they took.

A few weeks later as I walked into church and saw one of these individuals, I saw something I’d never noticed before. I saw hurt, and fear, and an incredible desire to be acknowledged and heard. Rather than look for an escape, I looked this person in the eye and said, “Tell me about your week.” Then I listened. I didn’t try to fix anything, I simply listened. Later that same Sunday I had a chance to interact with the other person in the same way.

For a few weeks I sought them out to see how they were doing. I showed them I was interested and that I cared. When I saw them from God’s perspective, I wasn’t thinking about my time, or my desires—I was focused on them—the hurt and rejection they had experienced for a long time. They simply wanted to belong and be accepted.

Within weeks, they were no longer monopolizing my time. They still came up to me, but it was often for just a few minutes to share something that had happened. I was amazed at the transformation, which began when I started treating them like they mattered—which they do.

I’ve carried that lesson and I’ve shared it a number of times. It’s helped me in relationships in church, and in relationships in the community. This is part of the Love Venue found in healthy churches.

A big part of the Love Venue is reaching out to our communities and sharing God’s love with others. This can be intimidating, but I believe one of the best things to pray as we prepare to reach out or walk through our church community is to ask God to help us see people the way he does. Ask him to help you recognize they are his beloved children—some of whom don’t yet know they have a Father who loves them. Ask God to help you notice things, hear things, and open up when opportunities arise. Ask him to help you treat others as his children—because that’s who they are. Ask him to help you not look at others as being lost in the sense of not belonging, but more as those who don’t realize they do belong.

Ask God to help you love your community and the people in it. It’s easy to say we love the community, but communities are made of people. We should be asking God to help us love the people. And there again, it’s easy to love people from a distance; we should be asking God to help us find ways to love them in relationship. When you are in relationship you can see people the way God sees them. This takes time.

So how do we start? Walk the neighborhood around your church and keep praying as you do.

As you are walking and praying, be observant. Don’t just notice someone is present, look at them. Smile. Say hello. If they ask what you are up to, tell them you are walking the neighborhood because you want to become more familiar with it. If they ask, tell them you are with a church who wants to serve the neighborhood and the best way to serve is to get to know the people.

Over time, some will come out and start chatting. As they do, focus the chats on getting to know them. Be interested in them. Ask about their job, their family, the things they like about the neighborhood. Don’t throw your stories in unless they ask. Show interest in their story.

People desire affirmation and acceptance. They desire to be seen and heard. They desire to belong. These are the needs we help fill when we share God’s love and life with them. This is the Love Venue.

Still learning to see through his eyes,

Rick Shallenberger, Editor

Love Is a Verb

A deeper look at Jesus’ New Command

Most of us can recite John 13:35, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I’ve spent most of my life wondering why Jesus referred to this as a “new command.” After all, it was very similar to the great commandment discussion Jesus had earlier in Matthew.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40).

So why did Jesus, on his last night with his disciples before heading to the cross, say he was giving them a new command, and then say the new command was to love one another? Wasn’t this already a command?

The answer is in the preceding verse in John 13 – and this is what we need to unpack for our congregations as we focus on reaching out in mission.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

If Jesus says he is giving us something new, it seems imperative we pay attention. This isn’t just anyone giving us a new command, this is Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, Emmanuel – God with us.

So what is new?

I would suggest it is in the phrase, “as I have loved you, so must you love one another.” Let’s look at how Jesus loves us and discuss how that relates to our GCI Love Venue.


Jesus came to us – Love Venue: Identify Target Community

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” The reason Jesus came was because of love. He didn’t come presenting himself as God to rule over us and make us conform. Rather, he came and presented himself as one of us—fully human—and lived among us. The fact that he took the initiative is the key to understanding how his command to love is “new.”

Jesus didn’t demand we come to him; he came to us. He entered our world. He ate our food. He lived as we live. He walked the roads we walk. He dressed the way we dress. He spoke our language. He didn’t wait for us to come to a certain level of understanding, or change our behavior, or demand a certain lifestyle—he simply entered our world. As GCI congregations, we can’t just wait for people to come to us—we need to go to them. We want to be intentional about going to others—loving outside the doors of the church. We want to enter the neighborhood God has called us to. We want to walk the streets, eat the food, speak the language, spend time with others.

Jesus didn’t go all over the world; he came to a specific region to start his ministry. Jesus had a target community where he did his ministry and mission.

Where do you meet for church? Is this your target community? Is this where God has placed you? (In some cases, we may find we are not meeting in the best place for mission. If this is the case, please talk to your regional director for guidelines to help you identify your target community.)

Your target community is the area (neighborhood) surrounding where you meet. It’s not the whole township, city, county, or state. Be specific in determining where Jesus is inviting you to love others as he loves them. Then ask God to help you see people the way he sees them, and to love them the way he loves them.

Jesus built relationships – Love Venue: Ongoing Relationship Building

Jesus didn’t stay at home and wait for people to come to him. He went to them – into their neighborhoods, into their communities. He went where people were gathering. He went to those who were hurting, and had needs, and he went to those who were ostracized by others.

When he encountered others, he didn’t just say “follow me” and then go about his business hoping they would follow. He spent time with his disciples. He built relationships with them, and with many others. People followed him because he was relational. He was invited into people’s homes because he showed them love and they reciprocated. He was enjoyable to be around. And note that some relationships were closer than others. Jesus was intentional in his mission.

The way we show love to our target community is to go out and spend time in that community talking to people. Get to know them. Find out what their interests are. Find out what the neighborhood needs. Be present at community events so you can build relationship. Be interested before being interesting – in other words, get to know their views, their hopes, their fears, before sharing your hope and your faith. When they see you are interested in them, they will show interest in you. Again, ask God to help you see the people in the neighborhood through his eyes. See them as his beloved – those he loves so much he sent his Son, and now he is sending you.

Jesus got involved – Love Venue: Missional Activities and Events

Jesus loved people by getting involved in their communities and in their lives. He spent time in public places – going where the people were celebrating, mourning, meeting, learning, shopping, debating.

A way to show love for a community is to go where the people go: school events, local sporting events, community picnics, celebrations and meetings. Go to funerals of family members of those you’ve met. Go to restaurants and coffee shops in your target community. Let people see you and become familiar with your presence. Let them know the congregation cares for this neighborhood or community. Let them know they can call you when they go through trauma or need to share. This is being interested before being interesting.

Jesus gave us this new command—to actively love others as he loves us—because he knew he was going to send us just as the Father sent him. He knew he was going to invite us to participate in his mission of sharing his love and his life with others.

The new command Jesus gave us—to love as he loves—is to reinforce that love a verb.

Continually learning to love,

Rick Shallenberger

Behind the Missio Dei

When people talk about the church’s mission, they refer to what is called the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20 ESV). I used to read this with more than a bit of apprehension. How was I to go and make disciples? How was I to go teach others to observe all Jesus commanded? I didn’t know where to start, and the whole concept of a Great Commission seemed ominous—a huge amount of work I didn’t feel qualified for. I’ve since learned I am not alone in how I viewed this passage.

Like you, I’ve been taught this is the Missio Dei—the mission of God. I’d been taught that God is a sending God and an important part of his purpose to call us was to send us. While all of this is true, I felt like he was sending us out like a lamb to a den of wolves. I could not possibly do what he asked me to do, and it frightened me that God was putting this responsibility on my shoulders.

I did not realize my apprehension was due to reading this verse out of context. I was missing what I now see as not only the most important part of this Great Commission, but what would qualify me to participate in making disciples. Notice the word, “Therefore.” Therefore means “for that reason,” “consequently,” or “that being the case…” It is raining; therefore, the grass will get wet. I broke my arm; therefore, I need to see a doctor. Seeing the word “therefore” points us to something stated earlier.

Reading the Great Commission passage, we need to ask what precedes this “therefore?” Then we will realize we are quoting only part of the Great Commission. Jesus began by saying, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” Muse on that statement for a moment.

How much authority does Jesus have? All authority in heaven and earth. Is there anything, then, that Jesus does not have authority over? No! It’s important to get this in heart and mind. The King James translates this as “all power.” The point is, Jesus knows all things and is in complete control.

So, when Jesus tells us to go and make disciples, we should listen, not just because he has the authority to tell us what to do but because he has authority over everything—circumstances, systems and resources. The point of his statement is to encourage us that he knows what he is doing. Everything is subject to his authority—including the enemy. Nothing can stop what Jesus has started. And in Christ we have everything we need.

But there’s more. At the end of the Great Commission is another powerful statement: “And behold, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Who is with us always? The one who has all power and authority over heaven and earth. How long will he be with us? To the end of the age. So, the one who has all power and authority promises to be with us always as we go and make disciples.

Suddenly, the Great Commission doesn’t seem so ominous or frightening. In fact, if you allow me a bit of “literary license,” I suggest reading it this way:

“Friends, I’ve got some news you want to hear. I have been given all power and authority over heaven and earth. Think about it, nothing can stand in our way. This gospel will be preached, and guess what, I’m inviting you to join me. That’s right, I’m inviting you to participate in this incredible journey of bringing many sons and daughters to glory. I’d like you to walk right alongside me as I live in you through the Holy Spirit. Let’s make disciples, let’s tell them they are forgiven and let them share in my baptism. Let’s teach them the New Commandment I taught you—you know, to love one another as I have loved you. Let’s walk together in communion to bring about kingdom change in this world. I’ll never leave you alone, it’s you and me all the way to the very end of the age. Are you with me?”

God sends us by inviting us to join him in his Missio Dei. He sends us because he wants to share his life with us and experience the joy of watching sons and daughters come to glory. He sends us because he loves us, and he loves those he sends us to.

This is the “rest of the story” of the Great Commission. This also starts our next series of articles unpacking the Love Venue of healthy church, that aspect of church life that entails outreach to others. I pray our response to Jesus’ call will always be: “Here I am, send me!”

On a journey with Jesus,

Rick Shallenberger

Finding Leaders

Dear Pastors and Ministry Leaders,

One of the greatest joys in ministry is developing other leaders. One of the greatest challenges many say they face is finding leaders to develop. One might ask, “Where do I find good leaders?” A reasonable response to this question would be, “Where are you looking, and what are you looking for?

The answer to these questions often reveals two things: First, it becomes very clear where many are not looking, and second, it becomes clear many are looking for what they term “natural born leaders.” This indicates some don’t grasp the truth about leadership—leaders are mostly made, rather than born, and it takes time to invest in and help develop leaders. The question of whether leaders are made or born is still debated among certain circles, with the latest research—and experience—telling us that while certain traits of leadership do come naturally to some people, most leaders are made by being engaged, equipped, empowered and encouraged. Regardless of where you land in the “made or born” spectrum, leadership development is vital, and it takes time. Let’s briefly look at both questions—where to look and what to look for.

Where to look for leaders

When I say the first place to start is in prayer, I’m not just giving the expected Christian response. I say this because many times we overlook people for a variety of reasons—we remember when they were children, we know of a mistake (or series of mistakes) they made, we’ve seen them fail in some area, they are too soft-spoken, they just don’t seem like a leader. Some seem to look for reasons a person cannot or should not lead, while others look at the same person as someone worth investing in.

Let me share a bit of personal history here. In my 60 years, I’ve been told by various “leaders” that I was too young and too immature, not educated enough and not smart enough to lead. I was told I was more of a problem than a leader, that I would never be a pastor and certainly I would never be a denominational leader. It was reinforced to me that I would never be someone others would want to follow. These statements were made by people who were often focused on insecurities—mine and theirs—rather than on my heart and my potential. These discouraging statements weigh heavily on a person—trust me—and can lead to more insecurities.

Thankfully, during that same 60 years, I was told by various leaders that I was wise for my years, a leader worth following, and someone who would go far in the denomination. These leaders recognized potential and that any lack of leadership traits I expressed was likely due to insecurities, discouragement and lack of training. Yes, you read that correctly, lack of training. These leaders invested time in me—which told me they believed in me. That was huge! They realized the first step was to engage with me. (See Jeff Broadnax’ article on engaging leaders)

I suggest starting in prayer—asking God to help you see others from his eyes—because very likely there are people in your congregation that need you to believe in them, and then be willing to invest time in them.

What to look for

Think outside the box. Don’t just look for those who give the appearance of being good leaders; look for those who have a heart for others. As we shared in last month’s Equipper, following the FATE acronym, look for those who are faithful, available, teachable, and enthusiastic. This requires knowing them beyond the surface. This takes time and relationship. I’ve written before—from personal experience—about how easy it is to allow other’s opinions to impact your own about people. Again, prayer is the key here. When you ask God to see someone from his eyes, you get a different perspective. You often see their pain, their insecurities, and their belief in the lies they’ve heard about how little value or worth they have. You see people who want to serve, but don’t feel there is a place for them because they believe they aren’t needed or qualified.

Let’s be honest: many people have never been given the opportunity to lead. You could very well be the one to offer that opportunity. I’m reminded of the young man who came to one of our denominational leaders in frustration: “I know I have the gift of leadership,” he shared, “I just can’t get anyone to follow me.” Now, before we chuckle or jump to the conclusion that he is not a leader, perhaps we should ask what he has been taught about leadership, or what leadership traits are important to him. He may be turning people away due to his methodology, not because he can’t be a good leader with proper leadership development.

This issue of Equipper addresses equipping, empowering and encouraging others toward good leadership. We share a GiANT tool called “Developing Others,” which gives you a step-by-step process of developing leaders, and talks about the “Pit of Despair” potential leaders can fall into.

As we will keep emphasizing in GCI, our goal is healthy church, and healthy church begins with healthy leadership. Healthy leadership takes time to develop.

May God bless us with healthy leaders moving forward in sharing the Good News of Christ’s redemption for all.

Striving for healthier leadership,

Rick Shallenberger





Pastoral Self Preservation

Dear Pastors and Ministry Leaders,

I’m pretty adept at self-preservation—building walls to protect myself. These walls often prevent me from disclosing too much, from entering deeper relationships, from bringing challenge to others, from succeeding in certain areas because of fear, anxiety or trying to prove something. And I’m not alone.

Prior to studying for my MA in Biblical Studies, I decided to enter a MA program specializing in Marriage and Family Therapy at Azusa Pacific University. To prepare myself, I took a number of undergraduate classes in counseling and psychology. I quickly learned about the many walls people put up to protect themselves. And I became more aware of the walls I had built to protect myself.

I built walls to keep people out, and I built walls that prevented me from fully opening up to God. The irony, of course, is that walls mean nothing to God—he sees right through them. This doesn’t, however, prevent us from attempting to build them.

A few years ago, I needed to bring high challenge to a few people I worked with. I asked my peers to pray about the situation, asking them to ask God to give me clarity and courage. I was in a leadership training session and brought the topic up on more than one occasion. At one point the leadership consultant turned to me and said, “Rick, we all believe you know what you need to do. What is preventing you from moving forward?” Then he brought out the GiANT tool “SELF PRESERVATION” to emphasize his question.

“Here are three questions you may want to consider,” he said, “Let’s start with the first. What are you afraid of losing?”

It was a good question. I knew the answer, but I didn’t want to admit it. After a few moments I said, “I’m afraid when I bring this challenge, they won’t like me anymore. I am afraid of losing relationship.” This admission was the start to seeing the situation differently. In striving to be a healthy leader, I could focus on being liked, or I could focus on leading leaders. My healthy leadership goal is to be liked by those I lead; reality reminds me I may not be liked by everyone and that’s OK; I still need to lead.

Self-preservation is something we all face. Let me share a few self-preservation statements I’ve heard from pastors and ministry leaders over the years.

  • If I train this person, he/she will end up taking my job and I’m not ready to retire.
  • I don’t need to train anyone, we are a small congregation and I don’t need any other leaders.
  • I spent three years working with someone who ended up leaving the congregation and serving at another church.
  • New leaders make too many mistakes. It’s better if I just do things myself.
  • I really don’t have anything to offer another person.
  • Truth be told, I feel unqualified to lead, so how can I help others lead? They will soon see how much I don’t know.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Walls are easy to build, and we may have multiple walls. Let’s briefly look at all three questions and the impending result.

What am I afraid of losing?

I was afraid if I brought challenge I wouldn’t be liked as much. Guess what? That’s true some of the time. At other times, however, relationships have deepened as a result of bringing challenge. Some people get offended when you bring challenge; others are grateful. I learned a long time ago that taking offense is a choice. For me to take offense requires me to conclude your intent was to offend me. Even if that is the case, grace should cover even intended offenses. To build healthy leadership teams, it is sometimes vital for leaders to bring challenge. The GCI mantra is High Support, High Challenge, Grace Always.

If you train someone who ends up being more qualified than you, God bless you. That’s true leadership – coupled with humility and grace. That doesn’t mean that person will take your job. But when the time comes for you to turn over the reins, you can rest assured your congregation will be led by a healthy leader. If you train someone and they leave and serve another congregation or denomination, you’ve still blessed the body of Christ. And again, God bless you for it.

What am I trying to hide?

Most of us spend a lot of time hiding our insecurities and fear of failure. I’ve never met a current denominational leader who believed he or she was perfect for the job. All of us feel inadequate and insecure on our own, and we thank God we are not on our own. Jesus is the head of the church, and the perfectly healthy leader. The Holy Spirit continually teaches and guides us. Healthy leadership includes knowing our limitations and finding others who can help fill in the gaps. All of us have brothers and sisters who help make us look good; that’s the sign of a healthy team.

Give your insecurities over to Christ. Acknowledge your mistakes and failures – learn from them. Let others learn from their failures. When they do, they likely won’t make the mistake again.

What am I trying to prove? To whom?

Years after my father had died, I found myself still trying to prove my worth to him. Because I grew up in a non-affirming household, I found myself constantly seeking approval and affirmation. Over the years I’d been told by several that I would never be in pastoral ministry. Sometimes I find myself wanting to prove to the nay-sayers that I made it. These are unhealthy self-preservation tools that not only prevent me from being a good leader, but also keep me from developing some good relationships. When my focus is on self-preservation, my focus is on me. See the problem?

The solution to getting past this wall of self-preservation is knowing who we are in Christ. My real identity is child of God, and the same is true of you. You are a beloved child of God because of who he is, not because of what you’ve done. You are chosen, adopted and loved because of a Father who loves you, not because you have to prove anything to him or anyone else.

What walls have you put up? What are you afraid of losing? What are you trying to hide? What are you trying to prove? To whom? Asking and answering these questions from time to time helps us break down the walls of self-preservation, enabling us to build deeper relationships and influence leaders.

And if you really want a challenge, ask other leaders in your faith community to help you acknowledge and face your walls of self-preservation.

Breaking down the walls,

Rick Shallenberger
GCI Equipper Editor-Publisher and US Regional Director

Healthy Church Begins with Healthy Leadership

Dear Pastors and Ministry Leaders:

What is it like to be on the other side of you?

I’ll never forget the first time I heard that question from a leadership consultant. He used the illustration of broccoli in your teeth—everyone else knows it’s there, but you don’t see it until you look in the mirror.


I’ve spent the better part of the last 25 years learning about leadership. I’ve read many books, attended many conferences and taken many courses. Most of what I have learned, however, has been on the ground—learning through experience—allowing others to speak into my life while sharing successes and failures with others. Unfortunately for some who have worked with me, you know I continue to learn from my mistakes.

I don’t like making mistakes, but I know they are part of the learning curve of moving from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence—moving from not knowing what you don’t know to leading almost instinctively. While we all like to learn from our mistakes, none of us likes it when our mistakes cause confusion, offense, or hurt to others. My prayer is that I never graduate from the school of self-awareness. My goal, and the goal of each of the US Regional Directors is to know ourselves better in order to lead more effectively.

When the consultant asked the question, “What is it like to be on the other side of you?” I had to stop and think. I’d never asked myself that question or even considered it. He continued by talking about tendencies we all have that lead to patterns of behavior (good and bad), which determine the actions we take. These actions then lead to consequences—again, good and bad—that shape our reality. Here’s a graphic that illustrates the point:

Let me give you an example of how this works. For years I’ve practiced what is called autobiographical listening. You are telling me a story about how you broke your leg, and in my effort to show I can relate to your story, as soon as you finish, I share a story about how I broke my leg in three places and it took months to heal. This tendency toward autobiographical listening had become a pattern in my life, which led to an action of interrupting the person speaking and/or failing to ask follow-up questions.

As a result of these tendencies, you quickly conclude that I am more concerned about sharing my story than about listening to yours. You can see how this could lead to a negative conclusion: “Rick doesn’t care about me; he is only interested in himself.” As a result, you share less and withdraw. This changes my reality: “Hey, I’m a friendly guy, why are people withdrawing? Perhaps I need to be more open, share more about myself so others can see I really do relate to them.” And the sequence continues.

Once I was made aware of the broccoli in my teeth, I learned to start asking follow-up questions and to not share my stories unless asked to do so. When I do this, you begin to conclude I’m interested in you. This action leads to positive consequences and a healthy reality. The infinity circle in the graphic above makes the point that we never graduate from the school of growing self-awareness.

What is the broccoli in your teeth? Are you willing to ask those you work with? Those you lead? A word of caution: before you point out the broccoli in someone else’s teeth, either wait until you are asked, or until you ask the important question, “May I raise a challenge for you?” If the answer is in the affirmative, you know the person wants to grow.

What kind of leader are you? Are you a healthy leader? Do you want to become a healthy leader? Before you can effectively lead others, you need to be a healthy leader yourself. A follow up question would be this: is the congregation you lead team-based and pastor-led, or is it pastor-led and team-based? There is a difference (click here to read an article in this issue describing the difference).

In GCI we believe that healthy ministry is Team Based Pastor Led. This is practiced at the top levels of our denomination and it is our goal that our congregations will practice a team-based, pastor-led form of ministry. GCI President Greg Williams has been working with Church Multiplications Ministries National Coordinator Heber Ticas, the U.S. Regional Directors, and the GCI Media team to find the most effective means of sharing what team-based, pastor-led ministry looks like. In this issue of Equipper, we share illustrations to help make our focus as clear as we can. We will be unpacking these illustrations in the year ahead. We have also included in this issue an article that describes the three venues of ministry that we believe should be the primary focus of a team-based, pastor-led congregation.

This issue of Equipper provides a brief outline of where we’re headed in 2019. I hope you enjoy the journey as we move toward our vision of healthy church where each congregation becomes the healthiest expression of church that it can be.

Praying for Healthy Leadership,
Rick Shallenberger
GCI Equipper Editor-Publisher and US Regional Director

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Dear Pastors and Ministry Leaders:

Ted and Donna Johnston

During the season of Advent, which prepares us for Christmas, we share in the hope, peace, joy and love of Jesus as we contemplate his three-fold coming (advent) for our salvation: Jesus came 2,000 years ago through the Incarnation, permanently uniting his divinity with our humanity. Jesus comes now through the Holy Spirit, indwelling those who believe. Jesus will come again bodily at the end of the age, ushering in the fullness of the kingdom of God.

During Advent this year, in addition to contemplating our Lord’s comings, my wife Donna and I will be reflecting on the ways our triune God has been faithful to us throughout the many years of my employment with WCG-GCI in ministry (I’m retiring shortly after Christmas, though I’ll continue teaching and serving as a board member at Grace Communion Seminary, and volunteering as a GCI ministry coach). Let me share some of those reflections with you (including ones related to Equipper). I’ll also share some thoughts concerning the road ahead for GCI, then conclude with an outline of the contents of this issue.

Looking back

In 2006, Dan Rogers (then Superintendent of U.S. Ministers) asked that I launch Equipper (click here for the inaugural issue). The goal then, as now, was to equip GCI pastors and ministry leaders to participate with Jesus in his ongoing ministry. After taking on Equipper, I was asked to also produce The Surprising God blog and GCI Update. To that was added work on GCI websites and Facebook groups. Throughout the years, this editorial work has been informed by my concurrent service in ministry as a pastor, district superintendent, Generations Ministries director, regional pastor, mentor and ministry coach. Add all these up, and it’s been 32 years of GCI-employed ministry.

Shaped by a sense of calling from God, my passion and focus throughout those years has been “to equip [God’s] people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Eph. 4:12). What a journey it has been! Though sometimes overwhelming, it has always been a blessing and privilege, leaving me with many wonderful memories. For that, I thank our Lord, my wife, and all of you, the men and women I’ve been blessed to journey alongside. Many of you have given me lots of encouragement, along with direction and support in multiple forms. Most importantly you’ve given Donna and me your prayers and friendship.

Looking forward

As a Christ-centered, gospel-focused team (We are GCI!), I see our future as bright, despite the challenges of living and sharing the gospel (our mission) in ways that lead to healthy church (our vision) in a world that grows increasingly postmodern and post-Christian. We need not fear this reality, and we must not hold back in moving forward. Jesus has this! (Eph. 3:20-21).

Though I’ll miss working with Equipper, I’m grateful to be leaving it in capable, dedicated hands. As Greg Williams mentioned last month, Rick Shallenberger is taking over as editor and publisher of Equipper later this month. I know you’ll support him as you have me.

In this issue

We hope you like the new look for Equipper introduced with this issue. The changes we’ve made bring this publication into alignment with GCI’s new branding, seen already on our new websites.

Within this issue, in addition to our regular Equipper features, you’ll find various tools designed to help your congregation pursue our shared vision for healthy church. You’ll also find two articles that conclude our series on worldview conversion—whole-life discipleship. I encourage you to use the articles in this series for personal study and for guided discussions in your congregation. To minister well in a post-Christian, postmodern world, it’s vital that we be equipped to deal with the challenging issues these articles address.

It’s my prayer that all the resources we provide in this issue (along with all other issues of Equipper) will help equip you for the gospel ministries to which our Lord has called you.

Journey on with Jesus!
Ted Johnston, Equipper editor-publisher