The SHAPE Journey: A Maturing Ministry
A Good Journey
Since its inception in late 2002 and early 2003, SHAPE—Sustaining Health And Pastoral Excellence—has had an impact on the lives of hundreds of pastors within the Church of God through the development of loving, caring communities of leaders growing together into the fullness of Christ. The SHAPE journey has taught us many lessons and resulted in changes that have strengthened this ministry. As we keep learning from our experiences, adjustments will continue to be made for the optimal effectiveness of SHAPE. We are deeply indebted to the many persons who have committed and contributed to this ministry over the years. We are deeply dependent upon the continuing involvement of our regional directors and coordinators, as well as the emergence of new leadership to guide us into the future. While we have made strides to move beyond a programmatic mentality to truly become a force for lifestyle transformation, we have much yet to accomplish. We must begin to embrace covenantal relationships and trust in the broader context of kingdom life rather than merely cluster life.
To maintain relevance and growth in transformational effectiveness, SHAPE must continue to emphasize these key areas of concern in the life of the pastor:
• ongoing growth in character, competence, and community;
• journeying together with other pastors in community in fulfilling the kingdom mission;
• living in safe, trusting relationships of support and accountability;
• avoiding the pitfalls of independence and isolation while seeking the benefits of interdependence and ministry connectivity;
• journeying with other pastors in the implementation of SHARE—taking the principles and practices of SHAPE to congregational leaders—and in the development of specific training initiatives for each congregation;
• encouraging and supporting one another in a way that enables each pastor to finish well in life and ministry.
Expanding Our Thinking
It is possible to utilize the ministry of SHAPE/SHARE to draw pastors and leaders into new practices of holiness and unity—the combination of theology and practice that, taken holistically, helps define our distinctiveness as a church group—that are critical to the transformation of the Church of God movement. There must be intentional, courageous steps taken in order to call pastors to a new level of relationship, accountability, and responsibility to the Lord and to the body of Christ we are called to lead into the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:13). Movements are empowered and propelled forward, not by institutions, but by relationships and shared passions. Significant conversation and a renewed commitment to prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit must occur to establish a credible plan for the strengthening of leadership within the Church of God.
Program or Lifestyle?
One of the most significant misconceptions regarding SHAPE that we are addressing is the idea of a “three year and out” program. SHAPE was never intended to be a three-year program. It was believed that a three years was sufficient time to grasp the value of life and ministry in community that would continue beyond those three years. However, language and practice—a SHAPE “graduation” after three years, for instance—perpetuated the idea of a three-year program. Efforts are now being made to change language to help reduce the impact of that concept and move us more effectively into a “lifestyle transformation” paradigm. It may be good to think of the first three years of the SHAPE journey as an initiation into a SHAPE lifestyle of life and ministry in community.
As we move beyond the perception of some of SHAPE as a three-year experience, we must not lose the power of the four key elements of the SHAPE experience: the cluster, the cluster leader, the curriculum, and the LAMP. Cluster meetings will continue to be the focal point of the SHAPE/SHARE journey. The cluster meetings should continue monthly. While greatly discouraged, some flexibility is allowed after the initial three years of the experience for groups to adjust their meeting schedule as befits ongoing ministry. However, care should be given to the reality that meeting too infrequently can weaken the connectivity and trusting relationships that have been built. If we have made it three years into the experience of monthly meetings, we should be able to carry that on with an increasing effectiveness in ministry and strengthened ministry community. If we are too busy to meet together monthly for this journey in corporate ministry, we may be too busy doing the wrong things, not developing a ministry team as we ought, or just too lazy. Obviously there may be extenuating personal or health circumstances and unresolved issues within the cluster that may preempt any of those reasons. Such issues should be dealt with redemptively within the cluster or with the help of the regional pastor.
The Big Picture—the “Bigger” Picture
We have yet to emphasize how the commitment to trust and confidentiality can transfer from the cluster to the broader SHAPE community and to the Church of God. If we experience a caring, trusting relationship within the cluster, what can we do to expand that kind of trustworthiness and care beyond the cluster to other pastors involved in the SHAPE journey? We must also consider how covenantal relationships can help lead to transformation throughout the Church of God. One of the most effective ways to accomplish that is to model such behavior in all of our relationships. While trust-building, confidentiality, helping build one another up in Christ, and journeying together into the fullness of Christ are multifaceted relational experiences, we are each individually responsible for what we bring to our relationships. Modeling trusting behavior can greatly enhance our corporate ability to move into a higher, more God-honoring realm of relationships.
The key to long-term impact rests in the regional director/coordinator’s commitment to establishing leader connectivity and growth as a major component of strategy for state/regional ministry. While numerous initiatives regarding congregational health and growth are being embraced in parts of North America, SHAPE/SHARE continues as a viable option for long-term development due to its inclusion of spiritual growth and development and relational connectivity as part of its vision and also because of its relatively low financial burden on already stretched budgets. The more regional leadership can move toward a relational paradigm in all structuring and programming, the more effectively we can build a strong foundation for the implementation of effective ministry tools for optimum kingdom service.
Annual regional rallies could enhance the ability to widen the impact of the SHAPE experience to the broader SHAPE community (beyond one’s cluster) and contribute to our ability to transition from one cluster/region/state to another and maintain a SHAPE relationship. The more we can extend the SHAPE experience to settings beyond the cluster, the more we can influence the church to see SHAPE as more than a program and instill “ministry in community” as the way we do ministry in the Church of God.
A Road Well-Traveled
We have travelled far; we have travelled well. But in many ways the journey is still young and there is much to experience and learn. This journey is much larger than the ministry of SHAPE. As we journey onward, let us think more and more from a kingdom perspective rather than from a SHAPE perspective. If SHAPE is truly a gift from God, then I am certain God’s vision of the future of this ministry is much larger than anything we have asked or imagined!