Tag Archives: disciple making

The Church vs The Body

Ok, I know, I’m probably taking this all way too seriously.

I started with an almost random thought in “What is the Church?” and perhaps should have let it go but continued in “Consumer Spirituality” I’m just trying to sort out how this whole “one body with one head” works in light of what seems to be an accelerated rate of division in the church.

To be fair I’m not trying to blame anybody here. I’m just pointing out what I feel is a disturbing observation, made even more disturbing for the fact that it seems to mirror the rapidly decomposing and increasing adversarial political landscape.

If I were to try to roll up all the comments I’ve had on the last two posts the theme that seems to emerge looks something like this:

“Yes, the global church should be more unified and it is something we need to work on but were all just broken, wounded people so it is good that we’re at least able to worship together in small groups or in local bodies.”

Wow. “Sorry Jesus, we know you’re the head and we’re supposed to be one body but we’re all broke up just now so we’ll get back to you.”

I wonder though…not to let us off the hook but, is it perhaps more of maturity issue?

Ephesians 4:11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Is Paul saying here that spiritual gifts were given with the intent in mind that they’d be used to bring the WHOLE Body to maturity and unity? Is it an end state or goal rather than an ongoing operating model? If so shouldn’t we be working towards that end?

In light of all of the “church advertising” that seems to want to say, “we’re more relevant than your old church” or “we do church different” or “we’re different that your parents church” or “we’re protestant not catholic” I wonder when we start to cross the line from being one Body unified in Christ and become a house divided against itself?

If this state of unity of the Body is a mature end state or goal what can we do today to help individuals and churches move in that direction?

Consumer Spirituality

Warning: Thinking out loud to follow…

On Monday I asked the question, “What is the Church?”

The answers some of you provided were all pretty solid. But they left me wanting.

Most of them took the tack of either describing the “real” church vs. something else, or the “localized” body vs. the larger all inclusive body. What I’m struggling with is the fact that almost everyone I know immediately takes the global body of believers and breaks it down into something more manageable.

I think we do it because we don’t see the global body functioning like one.

The trouble with that is that we go to a denominational distinction, or a theological distinction that separates, divides, sorts out rather than including and fostering unity. But should we be fostering unity? Yes, yes I know the New testament calls believers to unity in the faith but as soon as you start talking ecumenical-ism people get all fired up and start worrying about the One World Church of the Anti-Christ!!

In order to avoid THAT entanglement people start to talk about individual faith. Which leads to comments about individual faith experience, which leads to existentialism, which leads to Nietzsche, which is NEVER fun.

And while we’d like to think we don’t go THAT far…what about comments like these:

  • “We’re church shopping at the moment”
  • “The Bible calls us to give financially and you really ought to give where you’re being fed.”
  • “We really enjoy more of a contemporary service.”
  • “We’re looking for deeper teaching on Sunday.”

Nothing necessarily wrong with those right? Except that they sound an awful lot like someone trying to select a great restaurant: Right for the occasion, value for your food dollar, ambiance, interesting menu…

Is it possible that we’ve become so good at consuming that we’ve fit church into our shopping basket mentality too?

Before you go condemning the consumer wholly, (I REALLY wanted to typo there and go with Holy), you have to ask if the church models through which we browse doesn’t in some ways facilitate such thinking.

Churches can’t exist without offerings and we’ve all known church leadership folk who have bemoaned a congregation that isn’t giving and we’ve all heard THOSE conversations start to talk about the services the church provides and what might need to be cut if giving doesn’t come up…which sounds a lot like restaurant management conversation.

Please don’t hear me casting blame in ANYONE’S direction here. I’m just trying to sort it all out in my own head, but it seems to me we’ve gone off track somewhere along the line. If we’re all a part of the body, one body, with one head, what does that look like?

Maybe I asked the wrong question the first time. Maybe the question isn’t What is the Church. Maybe the question is:

Are “The Church” and “The Body” the same thing? If they are, why so many bodies?

 

 

 

 

What is the Church?

What was your first thought when you read that question?

Is it possible that your fist inclination there was influenced by your denominational background?

Do you even have a denominational background?

I grew up in an incredibly solid Bible teaching, but not thumping, church. I spent more than a decade working in vocational ministry. I’ve taken classes at several different seminaries. My answer would have been:

The Church is the Body of Christ alive and active in the world today.

And while that is probably theologically accurate it is almost useless from any practical day to day perspective. Or is it? I’m not sure at the moment, hence this post.

Suddenly the question starts to get a little cloudy so we illuminate it with qualifiers: Do you mean the Church universal? Do you mean the local body of believers? Do you mean a group as defined by a denominational affiliation?

Sure.

But which ever definition we land on will carry with it a set of expectations. Expectations that will be met or, in the failing of their being met cause significant grief. We EXPECT “church people” to act a certain way and if they don’t they hypocritical.

I remember our high school winter retreat my senior year. I was one of the “leader kids” in our church youth group. We probably had somewhere between 100-200 kids at our bigger meetings. On the retreat we may have had 40 or 50.

We were having that sharing and prayer time that anyone who has been on one of these retreats knows oh so well. That time when people actually open up and share stuff that is sometimes deeply buried.

So it came as a bit of a shock to a lot of the kids when I, the leader kid, the guy the younger guys looked up to, they popular kid, said, “You know a lot of times I feel a whole lot more accepted by my non-christian friends at school than I do here.” Let’s just say it opened a bit of a can of worms which I am sure the youth pastor was glad to be finished with at the end of the night.

Now, I’m not saying the kids in our youth group were hypocrites, they were great. But there was SOME set of expectations alive and at play there that night that differentiated church people and non church people and the church folks were coming up short.

I have a worrying feeling that “The Church” today is not being what it ought to be. I have a worrying feeling that we’re redefining what we mean when we say “The Church” so that we don’t have to stare that shortfall in the face. I have a worrying feeling we’re trying to get over failed expectations by redefining how we answer that question.

So I’ll ask again…

What is The Church? And…what expectations are engendered by your answer?

 

Marketing the Church

Image courtesy of linder6580 at sxc.huNow that’s a loaded statement isn’t it? What do I mean by “marketing” and what do I mean by “church”? What constitutes a church “customer” and how do you know if they’re satisfied?

Way back in the day, when I was employed full time as a pastor, I often said that there was an incredibly fine line between marketing and ministry.

As youth guys we toed that line all the time…creating events that would have mass appeal to a teen target market in order to get them to attend:

  • All night scavenger hunts
  • Beach trips
  • Ice Cream Wars
  • Sanctuary baseball
  • Terminator laser tag
  • Disneyland trips

…just to name a few. We did all in the name of ministry and growth.

Having spend much of the last couple decades in marketing and watching the church from this side I’m afraid I can’t tell where the line is any longer.

It seems to me we’ve moved from trying to differentiate the church from the world into trying to differentiate one denomination from another, one local body from another, one style from another and of course the easiest way to differentiate is to show why “yours” is better than “theirs”.

Funny thing is that on top of that you hear a LOT of complaints about a consumer mentality that has “crept into” the church.

By way of contrast consider this little biblical nugget:

Acts 5: 12-16 (The Message)

Through the work of the apostles, many God-signs were set up among the people, many wonderful things done. They all met regularly and in remarkable harmony on the Temple porch named after Solomon. But even though people admired them a lot, outsiders were wary about joining them. On the other hand, those who put their trust in the Master were added right and left, men and women both. They even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on stretchers and bedrolls, hoping they would be touched by Peter’s shadow when he walked by. They came from the villages surrounding Jerusalem, throngs of them, bringing the sick and bedeviled. And they all were healed.

Seems like the objective of growth was accomplished without marketing.

Now I’m not saying we ought not be creative. I’m not saying we ought not create programs that appeal to our community. I just wonder what happened to the line.

How do you think marketing and ministry ought to play together? What does “customer loyalty” look like in the church?

 

5 Ways the American Church is like a High School Kid

Turn on any “coming of age” film or nighttime drama targeted at teens and you’ll see all the stereotypical high school cliques we’ve come to know and, well, maybe not LOVE but at least recognize:

  • The popular kids
  • Jocks and cheerleaders
  • Stoners
  • Band geeks
  • Wannabees
  • Gamers
  • Nerds

The themes are consistent over time too. The struggle for popularity, peer pressure, sexual and chemical experimentation, you know the drill. For some high school was/is “the time of their life” for some it is recollected with a shudder typically only reserved for the darkest of nightmares.

What has started to become more and more apparent to me lately though is just how much the church in America is starting to resemble high school. Now, to be clear, when I say “the church in America” what I mean is the closer to mainstream evangelical slice, and even THAT is hard to define or defend, but I think you get the picture.

I’ll offer up as evidence 5 ways in which I think this slice of the church is starting to look, feel, and smell and LOT like high school.

Fitting in

High school kids want desperately to fit in. Wearing the right things, saying the right things, hanging with the right people are all a part of the equation measured against the most popular kids.

It’s sadly comical how hard the church is trying to “fit in” these days with the popular kids. I’ve seen media centric church web sites that are cutting edge snazzy but say nothing about what the church believes or even how to contact them outside of email or text. They look COOL but feel hollow.

Defensive comparison

The constant evaluation against the popular kid standard results in defensive comparisons. “I’m not like her, I’m my own person” or “That guy tries too hard to be like the popular kids. I’d never do that”

It seems like 90% of the “church advertising” I’ve run across lately is based on defensive comparison, “We’re not like those other churches that make you feel guilty, we’re caring, authentic, accepting, etc. etc. etc. “

Shock value

The rise in social media now allows kids to “hide” behind the shield of the internet and say or do things they would never do first in real life.  You see kids who seem to have one personality in real life and a radically more aggressive, shocking one online.

In trying to fit in with a media saturated-what’s the latest sensation-what’s broken through the malaise-culture churches are trying more and more outlandish tactics to be noticed. I read today of a church in Pennsylvania that kidnapped youth group kids at gun point (not loaded) staging what looked like a real life abduction to dramatize what life is like in countries where Christians are persecuted.

Lack of confidence

Oh there are the cocky kids to be sure. Even most of them are hiding a lack of confidence behind the bravado. That lack of confidence breeds defensiveness in conversation.

Do I need to say anything here? Yes, I believe the church in the US is under attack. Yes, I believe that we need to be ready to defend our faith but no; I do not think we need to go about that defensively.

It’s funny how attractive the right level of confidence can be. And if we truly believe we “win” in the end why be defensive?

Rejection of parental norms

This is a given in high school yeah? Though most people will say the kids wake up and come back in their lat twenties.

How many examples of this do I really need to provide in the church?

  • “Expository preaching is dead”
  • “It’s about experience more than learning”
  • “None of those boring hymns”

Sad really that there isn’t a parental role over the church in America, someone who could offer up some wisdom and much needed discipline.

What does that say about the notion of being “one body”?

Am I wrong here? Is it ok that the church is going through it’s teen phase? Or am I just missing the point entirely?

Donor Loyalty: it IS about them.

Back when my son Nathan was a high school sophomore I had the chance to speak to his marketing class. At the time I was working for Compassion International, a non-profit child development organization.

“If you’re selling a product or service you’re asking someone to give you money in exchange for something that will either solve a problem or meet a need that they have.” I told them, “But in a non-profit world how do you convince someone to give you money to solve a problem for someone they’ll never meet in a place they’ll never visit?”

After a moment’s puzzled silence a kid half way back raised his hand and said, “You only have two options, shame or guilt.”

Wise kid.

Watch commercials on TV for non-profit organizations. Whether they are asking you to save children or animals or the rain forest the language is all about the same. The truth of the matter is that shame and guilt work to get peoples attention but over the long term the effects of this type of messaging wilt rapidly like a balloon sitting too long in the sun.

Non-profits then find themselves torn. They want to stay true to the cause they serve. “It’s about the _______” (fill in the blank) But at the end of the day without the donor the _______ don’t get served. It’s almost a chicken and egg problem with each unassigned dollar that comes in. Do they work to honor the donors or do they look to expand on the cause?

I’ve come to believe that this is short term thinking. What donors want, after getting over the initial shame and guilt, is to feel they’re making a real, tangible, and measurable impact. They want to know they’re making a difference.

Every penny that gets redirected into the cause but which also results in less ability to report back to a donor makes it more difficult to keep donors. Helping donors feel their impact greases the skids on getting the next donation.

The conundrum is that when it comes to REALLY large donors, people who get to find themselves referred to as philanthropists, is IS about the donor. The news is all about the latest cause behind which they’ve put their money.

So why can’t we build in the mechanisms to treat them all that way?

What are the causes to which you donate? Do they make you feel like you’re making a difference? How?

Customer Loyalty Programs: Some Do’s and Dont’s

I knew I had a couple loyalty program cards around somewhere. It turns out this wasn’t even all of them.

Let’s face it everybody has some flavor of loyalty program these days. Almost every last one of them is designed to do the same thing: get you to come back to buy more. Airlines, hotels, grocery stores, restaurant chains, they all have something to offer.  In fact the notion of a loyalty card or membership card is so pervasive we almost take them completely for granted.

So how do you rise above that mess on my desk?

1. Don’t assume: just because they come back doesn’t mean they’re loyal.

Loyalty programs are funny beasties. On the one end you have people who love you and WANT to come back. In the middle you have people who feel they OUGHT to come back, they’re more loyal to attaining the next level than doing business with you specifically. On the far end you have those who feel that they HAVE to come back because that’s where they have all their points.

I confess I’m typically of the ought to variety. Old Chicago’s World Beer Tour is one of the loyalty programs to which I am most loyal. I’ve completed the tour twice and am working on my third trip. But that doesn’t drive me in there any more often. It just makes me mad when I forget to bring my beer card.

DO pay attention to whether your loyalty customers are WANTs, OUGHTs or HAVEs.

2. DON’T forget: Loyalty and Appreciation are close relatives

Most loyalty programs include discounts. I’m becoming less of a fan of discounts because they seem to speak to value. I rather like the Chick-Fil-A approach, if they’re going to give you something they’ll give it to you for free. They aren’t going to comment on the value by discounting.

While discounting does make me feel appreciated as a customer it’s really just price manipulation. I’d rather get “something else”. Maybe it’s a particular set of items only available to members, even the standard “tenth one is free” is ok.

Even better though I’d like you to tailor offerings to how I do business with you. For example, United Airlines should know by now, after hundreds of thousands of miles, that I will do whatever I can to get an aisle seat. What if in knowing that preference they offered me priority aisle seating? Not only would I feel appreciated, I’d feel like they knew me.

DO appreciate your loyalty customers by showing that you know them.

I could go on for quite some time on this topic, and probably will. For now though ask yourself two questions:

1. How do I get my loyalty customers coming back because they love us rather than because they are after the next point level?

2. Do I know my loyalty customers well enough to appreciate them personally?

More to come…

In some industries it cost cost as much as five to ten times as much to get a new customer as it does to keep an old one. What are you doing to keep your old ones? What does loyalty look like in your customer base?

 

4 Strategies for Surviving a Full Frontal Assault on Christianity

Sorry for the long title, just tired I guess.

Let’s make no mistake about it any longer there is a full frontal assault on Christianity in our country. It’s direct and it’s subtle, it’s overt and it’s clandestine, it’s emotional and intellectual and clever and base all at once. And, if we were watching the evening news trying to keep score, you’d have to conclude the Christians are losing ground. Yes, we are. No, you can’t convince me otherwise.

Ok, so what do we do about it?

Allow me to suggest four strategies that I believe will not only help you survive the onslaught, assuming of course that you’re a Christian, but also help to, in the end, win the war.

Strategy #1: Shut up
I know, it’s an odd start, but remember this ultimately isn’t a battle against flesh and blood. We either throw cliche’ re-quotes of religious slogans that were fresh in the 40’s and 50’s as Facebook stati or throw ‘those people’ under the bus because ‘our version of church’ is ‘fresh and different’. Thus strategy one, shut up.

If we bash each other it makes it easier for others to bash us. Most non-Christians will tell you  they “don’t want to hear it”, as was evident in the midst of the Tebow phenomena. Ok, let’s oblige them and NOT preach to them.

When someone talks incessantly no one wonders what they’re up to. When someone is quietly and effectively about their business it makes people wonder what they’re thinking…and eventually those people start asking questions…

Strategy #2: Live it
I think we passed through a period where it was important of Christians to be socially relevant. I’m starting to think that time has past. Daniel and his buddies are the classic example. If you’ve forgotten the story read it again. Overt social disobedience coupled with respect, a very interesting approach.

This strategy is easy to dismiss because it sound so familiar but I think in our context today living it means:

  • Caring for those in need in your immediate surroundings without hope of recompense
  • Taking a stand, not vocally but economically, against mind poisoning media
  • Finding joy in a relationship with Christ that shows in your face no matter what the circumstances
  • Being often enough in the word and in prayer that we’re confident in what we believe

Strategy #3: Choose Wisely
My wife Libby and I had a chat this afternoon en-route to IKEA about this very topic. It struck me that Jesus typically only “preached” in a couple settings:

  • The synagogue
  • With the Disciples
  • In small group settings where people came to hear him
  • In large group settings where people sought him out to hear him

I doubt he would have been tweeting the beatitudes or “rendering unto Caesar” as a Facebook status. Oh He was ready to tell it when the opportunity arose but I can’t find instances where he went out and created public opportunity. It seems to me He more often tended to pick and choose when, where, and with whom.

“But wait”, you might say, “He commanded us to go and make disciples.” Yep, He did. And how did HE go and make disciples? He chose wisely.

Strategy #4: Pray
…for opportunity to exercise the other three strategies.

I had the opportunity a couple weeks ago to go to my daughter’s middle school and teach improv skills to a couple of drama classes.  One of the concepts you always teach in that kind of setting is “show me, don’t tell me”. Don’t say “I’m sad” show me sadness in your face, don’t say “I’m hungry” show me hunger in your actions. It’s the same thing here.

In the face of full frontal assault it’s time to stop telling and step up the showing.

Which of these strategies do you find the most difficult to master? Why do you think that is the case?

Four Tenets of Servant Leadership

Whether you are a Christian or not the story of Christmas is the story of God becoming man.  That is to say, you don’t have to believe the story is true to understand that this is what the story is all about.

I’m not really too surprised then that in this Christmas season I have found myself involved in several different conversations on what it means to be a servant leader. I know, I know, much has been written on the topic, some good, some not so good but from the conversations I’ve been fortunate to be a part of four particular themes have emerged.

Even if you only give credence to the Christmas story as historical fiction these four principals or tenets, examples of what it means to be a servant leader, are startlingly relevant today.

Tenet 1: It takes a leader
It amazes me how many people miss this and land on some very spongy, soft definition of servant leader. The phrase itself indicates a leader, modified by the word servant. This is NOT the servant who leads. This is a position of strength, of authority, not egotistically swung about like a cudgel but judiciously exercised on behalf of those being lead.

Read the narratives, the stories of Jesus life. From a young age he displayed leadership characteristics. As he grew into a man people followed him. He lead, and served those he lead.

If you don’t know how to lead you can’t be a servant leader.

Tenet 2: It takes commitment
Servant leadership is not a string of random acts to occasionally help someone out. It is a commitment to regularly set the needs of those you lead as primary. Not in some sort of socialistic/Mr. Spock “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” thing, but in a way that sacrifices self promotion in favor of people development.

Jesus went from being God to being man, not transformed into a full blown adult but born as a baby. That’s not a one time act. That’s not a string of wishful helps from a genie. That’s a commitment, probably a bigger commitment than we can even imagine.

We’re talking about a commitment to develop and grow those whom you lead.

Tenet 3: It takes proactive movement
The servant leader is not one who sits around and wits for his followers to make requests. He doesn’t stand at the proverbial door like a butler waiting for orders. The servant leader anticipates the needs and desires of those being lead and seeks to meet those needs. This isn’t a posture of gift giving benevolence but rather an anticipation of what will contribute towards growth, development, and the achievement of organizational goals.

Jesus didn’t stand next to the door as the disciples came in to the last supper and ask if he could wash their feet. “Foot wash today Simon? John? anyone?” He took the proactive step.

The servant leader doesn’t wait to react to a request. The servant leader proactively anticipates needs and meets them.

Tenet 4: It takes succession planning
If you’re going to commit to helping people develop and grow you’ve got to have a target of some kind in mind. Whether you are growing YOUR successor or growing folks who can move up into other positions in your organization you’re growing people in a direction.

Jesus didn’t show up, do his thing, and bail. He grow up some guys who could further His efforts after He’d gone. He was quite intentional about preparing them for the role. In fact, in an interesting twist, the less you believe in Jesus as the Son of God, the more you have to believe that the disciples did a great job growing a religious movement beyond the guy who trained them! In either case Jesus was quite the succession planner.

The servant leader doesn’t just grow an organization. She grows the people who will continue to grow the organization after she is gone.

At the end of the day it is about heart, you can’t adhere to these tenets over time without a heart commitment. Lead, commit, move proactively and take your people to the next level. Watch what happens. You might just change the world.

Have you ever had a leader who exemplified these tenets? What did that look like?

The Five Degrees of Owning Up

I’ve been playing Mr. Mom the past few days. Work, soccer practice, dance rehearsal, cooking, driving, driving, driving. In the midst of keeping it all together one of the kids failed to call at the appointed time to communicate his plans. This resulted in an extra 45 minutes of driving out of the way, multiple unanswered phone calls, and 15 minutes sitting outside the house where he turned out not to be. His response when he finally did call from a strange number?

“Sorry dad I can’t find my phone.”
I didn’t bite his head all the way off…but it was a near thing.
None of us likes to admit we’re wrong. Sadly, the truth is we all are from time to time. The way we handle it when we are wrong has a significant impact on our relationships both professional and personal.
When you start to listen to the way people deal with being wrong you find what I’ll call the five degrees of owning up.
1.     I’m sorry but…
This really isn’t an apology at all but an excuse in disguise. What is actually being communicated is, “I know what I did resulted in negative consequences for YOU but you see there were mitigating circumstances and so you really shouldn’t blame me.”
“Sorry dad but…I can’t find my phone.”
2.     My bad…
Also not really an apology but more of a kind of hip, smack-on-the-arm.  What is actually being communicated is, “Yeah, that wasn’t good but we’re cool and you really wouldn’t make a big deal out of something like that would you?”
3.     I’m sorry.
Shweew, finally an apology. Funny thing is that the Bible doesn’t command us to apologize. It commands us to forgive, confess and ask for forgiveness. Once you start to look closely you’ll see how infrequently people even get this deep. Typically they land on sticking their big “but” in there.
4.     I need to ask your forgiveness for… 
What cracks me up about this one is that there isn’t an asking for forgiveness! What is really being communicated is a NEED to ask for forgiveness. The key here is control. In each of these first four examples the person who is in the wrong hasn’t wanted to admit it and that desire to NOT admit it is so strong they hold tightly to control of the situation.
5.     Will you please forgive me for…
It isn’t until this point that the person who is in the wrong actually surrenders control. While this may seem trivial it is actually connected to some very deep psychology. Even more than not wanting to admit we’re wrong we REALLY don’t want to release control.
When our kids were little they learned early to apologize and could do it readily if not begrudgingly. But when the situation called for it and we instructed them to ask for forgiveness the tears would begin to flow! Even as young as 5 or 6 they instinctively understood the difference between keeping and releasing control.
When we’ve wronged someone we need to not only admit it but relinquish control by asking forgiveness. The Bible is pretty clear when it paints the picture of confession and forgiveness restoring relationship. This is true not only between man and God but between men and women as well. Just think about the application of this thought process in the context of marriage!
When was the last time you were wrong and willing to admit to it? I used to frequently catch myself at #4, where do you typically land?