© 2013 John Casimir O'Keefe

How Love Moved Us Forward

Over the past few months I have received messages, emails and calls from people who want to know what we are doing at Generations. Actually, I am always pretty surprised to hear from them, because we are just a Community of Faith seeking to walk a deeper walk with the Divine, we are not looking to be an example. But, people are hearing about us, and the changes we are making. Pastors and other Church Leaders want to know what we are doing, and how we are going about it. They want to know how we went about making the changes that have caused us to grow and move from a traditional church, to a very nontraditional Community of Faith.

When I speak with others, they always ask me two central questions:

  • How do you take a traditional church and move it to the point where they are seeking to be an emerging/missional Community of Faith?
  • How do you take a church on the brink of closing, and bring new life into it so that it grows and reaches out to the larger community?
  • But mostly, I get the question, “How can we do it?”

To be honest with you, most of the time I have to answer “I’m not sure!” To say we have a magic formula that will bring life to your church would be dishonest. I don’t have a predefined program for you to follow, or set formulas that everyone can use; a check list to make the transition easy. All I can do is share what we have done and are doing, how we got here and where we think the Divine is leading. I can share with you what we have done, and leave it to you to see if it would work in your Community of Faith.

With that, with the desire to share with you what we have done, let me just say that change is not impossible and it is not as scary as you think. My hope and prayer is that what I share can help. With that, let me share with you what I think have been so very important at Generations to make this change possible.



First, and foremost, I have to say I believe the people at Generations love – we love everyone, no matter where they are in life; no matter what they have done in the past. Love moves us, defines us and encourages us. The people at Generations simply love. The beautiful thing for me is that I did not have to teach the people at Generations to love, they have always loved others. I believe that it is impossible to teach someone to love; love is who we are and if you are in a Community of Faith where love is not alive, love others and it will awaken. When we decide to follow the teaching of Jesus, we are called to love – this is not an option, it is a reality.

Your Community of Faith needs to love the people living in the larger community, not just those in the church,  – honestly, openly, and sincerely love them – no strings attached. I have been connected, and interviewed, with many churches who say they are a “loving and friendly church” – and they are, to those already in the church, not those outside the church. When you love others, you care about what is happening in their lives, you care about families, you care about singles, you care about young and old, you care about that single mom striving to feed her kids, or that single dad working long hours trying to get his kids soccer practice. When you love, you are concerned about their lives, loves, needs and wants.

When you honestly, openly and sincerely love you move from the idea of being a church and move to becoming a Community of Faith. By doing so, you willing go beyond yourself and into the lives of others.

At Generations, I have seen our people go out of the way to help others, without trying to get them to come to our Community of Faith. Our desire is not to “share Jesus” but rather share ourselves, and let Jesus shine through our actions. People see that our heart centers on them, and not on “growing our church.” When people feel loved, they come – they connect – they get involved and they desire to see others do the same. They do all this, because they are honestly and openly loved for who they are, and not what others except them to be.

This love in the Community of Faith starts with the Leadership. I love what I do; I love being a Pastor (let me rephrase that, I love being a missional/emerging Pastor) and I love the people I serve. I love helping people start their journey of faith, I love it. I love helping people see the kingdom of the Divine around them and in them; I love helping people connect to the Divine, and see how truly living brings us back to the Divine. But mostly, I love the people set before me to serve – not only the Community of Faith I serve (Generations) but the larger community where we live. To truly move forward, the people around you need to know that you love and care for them, just as they are – and you are willing to help, without strings; you need to truly love them.


Get Out

While love is the first thing that needs to happen, getting out has to be the hardest thing you will have to do. For many older traditional churches, getting out of the church, getting past the box, and live in the larger community is the scariest thing they can imagine. We have spent decades (maybe centuries) telling people how evil the world is, and now we are telling them to “Get out there and help others.” I have served churches before where many of the older people came to church for an hour and go home – they did very little in the way of getting involved in the larger community.

To move from Church to a Community of Faith, you need to be involved in the large community – get to know the people in the larger community. Shop where they shop, eat where they eat, drink (yea, drink) where they drink. Go to the local sporting events; get involved in the social networking. Let the people around you know you care for them, and that you are not focused inward. Let them know you care about the larger community – not by protesting, but by caring, loving, honest conversations.

At Generations we have people actively involved in the larger community. We volunteer, we start things and mostly we give of our time and gifts to the larger community. One event that brings us out to the larger community is our Friday Night @ The Movies. We host an outdoor movie every Friday night. We project the movie on the wall of our local Chamber of Commerce Building, a neutral place, invite everyone in the larger community – it is not a time to evangelize, or preach or teach a lesson – we simply show a free movie and offer free popcorn. This shows the larger community that we care about them and want to share our lives with them.


It’s not about you

OK, now it is about to get personal; this is going to be painful for many reading this article. This is the hard one, but one that is so very important; it is not about you. It is not about how long you have been a member, or how far back you can trace your family tree at the church or how much money you put in the plate. To be honest, it does not matter if your great-great grandfather helped lay the foundation of the building; or your great-great-grandmother hand sewed the drapes in the kitchen. It does not matter how much money you give or what your family help fund– it is not about you, it never has been about you, and it will never be about you – it is about God (Period). If you think it is about you, you are missing the point of following the teachings of Jesus.

I have been involved with churches where they believe it is all about them – THEY built the church, THEY pay the bills, THEY saw the church through hard times – so, THEY demand THEIR music, THEIR style, THEIR desires and if others do not like it, too bad – come anyway. They see it as THEIR church, and if others want to come to THEIR church, they need to change to fit THERE understanding. At one church I served, there was a core group of older members who traced their family involvement in the church three generations and they got upset with some of the younger families that started to attend. It seems that during a worship service, one of “those new mothers” spilled some juice on the carpet – well, that was all it took for the older people to get angry and require me to “speak with the new families and explain the rules.” According to them, the new family destroyed all the carpet in the church (never once realizing that the carpet was put in around 1960). Two things struck me about that conversations, first the older members did not desire to talk with the new families and second, we somehow developed a list of rules – that was so very new to me.

I love the fact that the people at Generations get this – they know it is not about them, it is about God and getting the message of the Divine out to others in a way they can understand. It is about helping others develop their faith journey and share the love of God through Christ to others. Because of that, no one demands things their way, and when decisions are made to do certain things we always take into account the needs and desires of others. Do we get it right 100% of the time? Not even close. But because we love others so much we are willing to go beyond ourselves and into the hearts of others. I have to say, that of all the communities of faith I have served, I have enjoyed every meeting of the Leadership Team, they are a great group of followers who truly get it.



I can tell you this, Generations has the best Leaders I have ever had the pleasure of working with, they get it and they are committed to the possibilities – no matter what it takes. This may seem silly to say, but those who are Leaders need to be committed to change, to the process, and they must also speak positively about any changes that are happening. We have spent decades building into the DNA of the church, stability; now, we need to be committed to building into the DNA of the church the ability to change an ability to accept the chaos. Some will say “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water” but when they do, what they are truly saying is “I am not committed to change.” If you are afraid of throwing out the baby with the bath water, may I suggest you take the baby out of the water, hold the baby tight, and toss out the bath water.

This commitment also includes a commitment to prayer. Leaders need to be on their knees praying, and not standing on their feet stomping around – this is the ability to be humble, and not stand on human pride. It does not have to be formal, weekly prayer meeting. That becomes a program and I believe has very little value. I am talking about all the Leaders need to be people who pray for the needs of the Community of Faith on a daily basis.

The Leadership Team at Generations is very committed to seeing our Community of Faith move forward. They are committed to seeing the changes happen, and they move at the Speed of God, and sometimes this is uncomfortable, but you would never guess it by speaking to the Leaders at Generations – They are very positive and very excited about what is happening in our Community of Faith.



There are no sacred cows, and if you find one – have a BBQ.

No matter what, no matter how crazy it may sound, no matter where the brass plaques are hung, no matter how much anyone gave to building any part of a building, or a wall, or anything – everything must be on the table for change; including worship style, music, order of worship, style, design, structure, name, absolutely everything is fair game. It is not that everything must be changed, but everything must be on the table for change.

When I was interviewing with Generations I was asked, “What would be one thing you would change about our church?” My reply was, “How tied are you to the pews?” The cool thing is that this did not freak out the Leadership Team. The Leadership Team at Generations knows it was important to be open to anything, and have a willing heart to change anything. If your church is unwilling to change even one sacred cow, nothing will actually be changed – that is important, please remember that if just one sacred cow is kept off the table, nothing will change – nothing. think of it this way, they hired a crazy Pastor who lives and loves change, with a shaved-head, earring plugs, tattoos, and one who wears t-shits, jeans and flips – all the time – would your church hire me?


Fuzzy Leadership

If you are the Pastor, let me say this – don’t be the boss, be the Pastor. You are not a CEO, you are a Pastor – be a Pastor; love on the people around you and let them know you trust them. Realize that God will surround you with amazing people, with amazing talents, with amazing hearts who truly desire to see things change and move forward. Trust them. Share with them the big picture, but please (please, please, please) do not micromanage.

Those in Leadership need to know the bigger picture, and invite others to fill in the details. At Generations we knew we wanted to pull out the pews and add couches, tables and chairs. When the time came to purchase the needed furniture, I was not concerned with color, design or style. We had a group of people who were and they made the decision on what it would look like, and I supported their decision without nitpicking over color, design or style. As a Pastor, it is our role to invite others to move us forward, not to ask people to get out of our way as we push them from behind.

The idea of having fuzzy leadership is that you do not control every detail; you are not the only one God speaks too. You do not need to be the final word. If you are on the same page with God it all works out, you do not need to be in control or make all the decisions. I have found that Pastors who need to have the final say are more into control and less into love.



At Generations our faith journey is moving us; it is moving us closer to God and closer to each other. We are experiencing growth, but that is not because we designed programs to attract people, we simply let people know we loved them and wanted to share our journey of faith with them. Sometimes we take baby steps, other times we take giant steps – but all the time we take steps forward, not steps backwards. We move in the direction we believe God is moving us and we are blessed and excited about our journey.




  1. Michelle Bull
    Posted 2013/08/10 at 4:35 pm | #

    this is cool. Where is this church community? How long have you been doing this sort of thing?

  2. john o'keefe
    Posted 2013/08/29 at 9:04 am | #

    we are located in Waynoka, OK

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