Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Importance of Early Stages

"Institutional decline is like a disease: harder to detect but easier to cure in the early stages; easier to detect but harder to cure later."
Jim Collins
I'm no perfectionist. I don't expect to get things right the first time around, but I'm always up for finding ways to prevent unnecessary future barriers. My wife gets annoyed when she waits for me as I stand by the door before heading out, assessing whether I have everything in my bag and pockets. Even when I'm in a rush, I often feel like lingering at the door to assess possible forgotten items is worth the delay if it could possibly prevent the devastation (couldn't think of a less dramatic word :) that comes with clinching empty pockets as the bill comes around. The earlier I catch the mistake, the easier it is to solve the problem. I eat with my mouth open, grind my teeth, slouch while typing on the computer, and my wife recently informed me that I walk with a funny bounce. We have bad habits because we didn't fully realize its eventual chronic implications. It appears harmless and fragile in its embryonic stages, but it becomes destructively concrete as it ages. This time of year is a great opportunity to assess the disciplines and habits we live out day to day and to discern whether it is helping to build upon the vision God has placed before us.

I just spotted this helpful article on a site my friend posted on facebook that details the importance of the early stages of a church. Be sure to check out the link.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Missionary Body

"The church cannot understand itself alone. It can only truly comprehend its mission and its meaning, its roles and its function in relation to others"
Jurgen Moltmann

"The Church is the Church only when it exists for others."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

"What the church does internally with no intention of impacting the world outside itself is not mission. But when a local congregation understands that it is, by its nature, a constellation of mission activites, and it intentionally lives its life as a missionary body, then it begins to emerge toward becoming the authentic Church of Jesus Christ."
Charles Van Engen

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Changing the Way We Change

I'm finding more recently that my main issue with mainstream churches today is not with their attractional models, extravagant sanctuaries and inward focused programs, it goes much deeper than that. The root of my issue is the lack of capacity to effectively adapt. The church today is realizing its need to change in this uniquely dynamic era, but change, in the way we've seen it in the past, is not adequate to describe the kind of shift that needs to take place today. I have been learning more recently that the way in which we change requires change itself.

In the book, The Missional Leader, Alan J. Roxbury and Fred Romanuk make an important distinction between continuous and discontinuous change that help us understand why leaders are finding it difficult to effectively adapt to the current mode of change in society. "Continuous change develops out of what has gone before and therefore can be expected, anticipated and managed", it's change within a familiar paradigm. "Discontinuous change is disruptive and unanticipated; it creates situations that challenge our assumptions", an "unpredictable environment were new skills are needed", so dynamic that a static set of skills will prove insufficient to stay in stride. We simply do not live in a linear, cause-and-effect predictable world. Many leaders are trained to have skills that function within the framework and linear path of continuous change, but it requires a completely different process of learning to construct within a discontinuous changing environment. Roxbury and Romanuk say that
"the classic skills of pastoral leadership in which most pastors were trained were not wrong, but the level of discontinuous change (in this postmodern era) renders many of them insufficient and often unhelpful at this point. It is as if we are prepared to play baseball and suddenly discover that everyone else is playing basketball. The game has changed and the rules are different." (p.11)
As I alluded to in a previous blog, I feel as though we underplay how exponentially rapid change is occurring and how much reform and adjustment needs to be made as we expand the kingdom of God. The simple acknowledgement that the way we learn and adapt requires a new set of skills and a revised frame of thinking is a step in the right direction. The book The Missional Leaders probes deeper into this subject and gives great clarity in how leaders can facilitate change within their congregations. It's a great resource! This blog basically scratches the surface of what this book discusses.

Related blog:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Miracles & Mission

For the past two weeks, I've been surrounded by conversations revolved around the need for miracles and the supernatural in our proclamation of the gospel. As interesting it is to talk about missional strategies and discipleship models, the framework and structure is essentially lifeless without incorporating people whose lives have been encountered by the living God. We really need to believe that God can work miracles, that we can receive a prophetic word for another, and that we can caste out demons and call forth peace for those around us.

It's so easy to fall back into a place where the supernatural becomes unpractical and unlikely. We revert back to the natural means of communicating the gospel and we tuck away the supernatural options into our old keepsake boxes. We mix it along with all the other objects that represented a radical childlike faith that once caused us to rely fully on the Holy Spirit. The courage and leaps that were once highly esteemed as youth have now become childlike to a fault, irresponsible and not relevant for this context or demographic. At what age do miracles become not relevant? At what level of education or towards what demographic is prophetic words unnecessary? There comes a point where many of us stop believing that God heals, that he speaks, and that he intervenes in our world. We say we believe in our minds, but our inaction reveals the true state of our faith.

The video below is a great preaching by a friend named Brian Orme who inspires us to do missions in a way that involves a greater reliance on the Holy Spirit. Side note, this guy is one of the funniest preachers I've ever heard. I hope you receive as much out of it as I did.

Brian Orme - Spiritual Warfare

Monday, November 2, 2009

factor Beta

In the 1960's a man by the name of Wesley Baker gave a new name to a phenomenon common knowledge to many church leaders - "the disturbing difference between the committed few and the uninvolved many" (149). Baker calls this phenomenon "factor Beta".

"Look at the perish today. Made up, usually, of a small inner core of believers who assume the necessary posts of leadership with gratitude and devotion (albeit frequently naive), and surrounded by a cloud of uninvolved and mildly approving witnesses,..."
Wesley Baker

Even to this day it is common to see churches comprised of 10% active, core, dedicated people and 90% inactive, peripheral, semi-interested people. The question is how we are to work with this problem? Is it too much to ask the 90% to embrace their missionary call? Do we simply ignore the 90% and settle to work with the 10%? How much does this problem have to do with our ecclesiology? What must be rethought in order to redeem and reinstate the 90% towards it missionary calling?

Laity & Clergy

Charles Van Engen elaborates on this idea by explaining the wrongful distinction between the laity and clergy. "It's biblical to distinct the laity in gift, function and ministration - but there should not be a distinction in holiness, prestige, power, commitment, or activity...." we seem to assume "that the layperson in a certain discipline is one who dabbles, muddles, tries hard, but certainly does not have expertise.... there is no biblical basis for such a distinction in the Church." (151). Fullness will be found when the other 90% join in ministry.

Separating the Converts from the Workers

Neil Cole argues that we have drawn a wrongful distinction between the convert and the worker. "They are not two, but one." In most cases the convert functions as a better worker within the harvest than one who is mature in the faith. The new believer is probably the best evangelist to be sent into the fields, the most capable and authentically charged individual whose words and life transformation will do more for his/her community then any paid charismatic professional can do within that same context. Cole says that "all these advantages are lost if we immobilize new converts out of a desire to protect them". The failure to instill a missional mindset early on simply propagates the 90%. Instead of equipping the believer as a missionary, we train them for ministries oriented around maintaining the status quo of the 90%.

Santa's Little Helper

The error most common with the church is the way in which they equip the 10% to do ministry simply within the church - such as visiting the sick, ushering, leading prayer or Bible study groups, and teaching a Sunday school class. Van Engen points out how that "lay ministers" function like "little elves in Santa's toy shop, scurrying around doing and making goodies which Santa (the "minister") will dispense." (153). The church needs to stop underestimating the capability of the laity. It needs to function differently than a our world of specialists and empower the ordinary to accomplish the great commission. The church needs to shift its emphasis towards equipping the whole church to be a missionary people, a whole body that is actively engaged in the community in which it resides.

Inspired by a reading of God's Missionary People by Charles Van Engen.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Church Planting Movements (CPM)

The video below is a great resource in beginning to learn about Church Planting Movements. I'll start this blog with David Watson's bio that I took from his website so you know where he's coming from:
"David Watson serves as the Vice President of Global Church Planting with CityTeam Ministries, San Jose, CA. His primary responsibility is to catalyze Church Planting Movements in difficult to reach cities and countries around the world. The primary methodology used is the training of local leaders in evangelism, discipleship, disciple making, church planting, leadership, church planting strategies and church planting movements. God has used the leaders David trained to start over 40,000 churches in the past 15 years, and more than 2 million people have been baptized as a result of God’s moving in the areas where trained local workers have devoted themselves to God’s work."

Highland Oaks Church Planting David Watson - 3/22/2009 from Mike Stahl on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Responsive Echo

In relation to the previous post I wrote (Cooking Class)...

"An exposition, no matter how true to the text, will die away ineffectively in a vacuum, if there is no possibility of a responsive echo from those who hear it."
Karl Barth

I've recently been focusing my attention on the need for a consistent obedience-based congregational response. In structuring the ministry there is a tendency to overemphasize how much and how to deliver the content. We place high efforts in packaging and deploying the words but we often fail to lay out a framework that encourages, monitors, enables and enhances obedience in the disciple. We toss up the application points and hope that it lands on the fertile surface of their will. Although diligence in teaching and explaining the word of God is key, creating a system or environment that fosters digestion and obedience should have equal consideration and attention.

I've been attempting to place a greater weight on obedience in my community group and I can see that this shift is not an easy one to make. I think by nature consumption is easier than application. Applying God's word takes courage, time, and discipline. It's not easy to bring God's word full circle. I think that's why many of us leaders don't take the time to foster a structure that emphasizes this unpopular half. Environments that expect a response are not popular. Settings that challenge sin or requires accountability don't rank high among the masses. I think that's why we unconsciously default to the easier half of packaging and deploying. It's clean, it's easy and no one gets uncomfortable.

Over the past few years I have been challenged to step back and wait for a response. Instead of filling the void and silence with my own thoughts, jokes, examples and prepared teachings, I've taken a more conscious effort to let the awkwardness ride. To stop compensating for an inactive audience and to start letting the silents reveal our true state. It isn't easy, but its definitely necessary in being a responsible leader... a leader who values the state of the disciple more than his/her popularity.
"Simply to live by the scriptures as you understand them. Simple, but revolutionary."
A.W. Tozer

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Cooking Class

In the book The Shaping of Things to Come, Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost explains the organic rhythm of the biblical church in the book of Acts and observes that...
"The missional-incarnational church...sees itself as part of an ongoing process, not an end itself"
Frost & Hirsch
As subtle as it may appear, many Sunday services function as an endpoint for many churches and believers. If not implemented correctly and in the right time, the Sunday service with its standard format of musical worship, preaching and announcements can act as a counter-productive mechanism in the goal of reproducing disciples. While many churches are able to produce knowledgeable and committed members they often fail to produce disciples who can make another disciple. The mechanics of an average service working as the sole provider of scriptural substance cannot help but create a body of consumers. An example that reveals this distinction is a comparison between a restaurant to a cooking class. In a restaurant, the food is prepared in a kitchen that cannot be seen and is then delivered by well-dressed waiters that present the professionally made food with a smile and polite service. The food is consumed with satisfaction or disgust followed with either compliments or bad reviews to friends and family. A cooking class, however, brings the student into the cooking process. The chef is present and the students watch as the meat is fried and the vegetables are cut. Although the class might be long and within a hotter, messier and less convenient atmosphere, the interactions are stimulating the mind in a different way than in the restaurant. Although the cooking student will finally eat a subpar self-made dish over a tall counter filled with debris and oil, he/she cannot help but think about all the dinners he or she will host with this newfound recipe. While the restaurant satisfies the immediate hunger with speed and culinary excellence, it fails to offer the tools, ingredients, and skills to be able to make that same dish again. The problem that occurs when Sunday services are not coupled with spaces in which the words are discovered in community, is that the student will have no way of knowing how to create that sermon themselves. If the sermon becomes the sole provider of spiritual nourishment, the church member will never know how to cook and will simply become a specialized eater. Although sermons are biblical, sermons that stand alone produces knowledgeable Christians that will only know how to talk about food and compare restaurants.
(insert from a recent essay I wrote)

Recommended books on the topic:
The McDonaldization of the Church (John Drane)
The Shaping of things to Come (Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch)

Friday, October 2, 2009

How to Strategize in a Dynamic Context

I just spotted this on Neil Cole's (author of Organic Church) facebook status and thought I'd weigh in on this idea.
"The best strategic plan is to plan to act strategically when the need arises. Adapt to what comes, don't hold to a plan formed in absentia."
Neil Cole
Although a Pharisee in Jesus' day would have been an obvious example of one who swiftly walks past the evident needs of their community in pursuit of upholding their plans and traditions, I think many leaders in the church, including myself, fail to adjust their strategies in order to stay faithful to the plan. Too much was invested into the program, too many people heard the announcement, how is the board going to react to these changes. The burden of adaptation is heavy, however, static plans can be destructive when the weight of its strategies prevents mobility and flexibility. A.R. Bernard once stated that "change is the essence of maturation", Paul writes that "the man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know." (1 Cor. 8:2). The vulnerable position of a teachable student is the sign of a smart and relevant leader. It's funny how we can create strategies that fail to factor in unseen variables. We assume the world functions in a vacuum where good ideas yesterday will surely avail today. Neil raises a great solution to this problem and points us in a direction that requires quick thinking and a trust that God will supply the ideas, resources and plan once the needs arise. It's definitely an uncomfortable method in leading a church, however, I think we'll be giving God a whole lot more glory as a result of it.

How does Neil's quote challenge the way you strategize? Weigh in your thoughts.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Finding the Essence

I think this video is a good introduction into finding the essence of church. The question this entry aims to discuss is...
What are the essential parts of church that a community of believers cannot be without?

The part that stood out to me the most was how Floyd emphasizes the substance within the container rather than the bottle, can or cup itself. In discussing different ways in approaching the harvest I find that our critiques meander on the issues that reside on the surface, the container that merely holds the substance. Some have problems with church buildings while others are offended by calling a house a sanctuary. In finding healthy strategies to building the Kingdom of earth, we need to look deeply into the substance before shaping the container. It's easy to get wrapped up in practicing how you are going to preach a sermon before working through the text in finding out what you're going to say. In the same way, its easy to devote all our time in figuring out how we're going to break up a small group, arrange the spotlights or construct our buildings. We do this all while failing to train leaders in knowing how to lead their groups, missing out on actually being the light to our own communities, and neglecting to build the body of believers that will one day fill those cathedrals (if that's what your into). In some cases, the container influences how the substance grows and matures (which is another blog in and of itself), however, Floyd brings up a good initial point that everyone should consider on their journey in building a healthy church.

Blog Theme

Over the past few years, I have found that a great passion of mine is understanding how the church works. In my desire to communicate the beauty of God's love to the world, I have always found myself deeply immersed into Ecclesiology (the study of churches and its structure). I love it! It just gives me so much joy and satisfaction to figure out ways in which the community of God can influence and transform culture in a loving, fruitful, and self-perpetuating way. This blog exists for the purpose of exposing different thoughts, strategies and methods I have found helpful for my ministry in hopes that it may push us all to think more deeply about why we do what we do. So join in the conversation (funny how that word somehow made its way into everyday Christian lingo), and contribute your comments.

I'll start off this blog with a great quote I read a few years back that has helped defined why the church exists...

" doesn't exist for the benefit of its members. It exists to equip its members for the benefit of the world."

Brian D. McLaren
A New Kind of Christian p.155