Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Get Off Your [Donkey] and Help Someone

Here's a presentation by Reggie McNeal that should be required viewing for all church leaders in North America.

Reggie McNeal Main Session Unleashed Conference 2010 from Unleashed Network on Vimeo.

Pastor Rod

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Cool Jesus
Originally uploaded by isc_luis_herrera

I have the key to reaching the world for Jesus: We ride the popularity wave of the iPod, iPhone and iTouch and market a reinvented iJesus.

The traditional Jesus is as dated as 8-track tapes. In today's world, even CDs are being replaced by mp3s. We need a Savior who is technologically savvy.

We've been doing cross-marketing for years, what with the John 3:16 guy in the end zone and athletes thanking Jesus for helping them to be successful. We just need to be more diligent. Maybe we could buy the naming rights to Wrigley Field. How does Jesus Saves Stadium sound?

Of course, we'll have to update our logo. The cross is iconic, but overdone. We need a fresh, new twist. Even Pepsi has updated their logo.

We need a cool Jesus, one that will boost consumer confidence and turn around our economy.

If this sounds like a good idea, head over to and read Jesus Is Not a Brand by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson. Here are a few quotes:

When it's just you and Jesus, you (the consumer) "invite him" (the product) "into your heart" (brand adoption) and "get saved" (consumer gratification).

If you feel like a used-car salesman talking about Jesus, the solution to the perceived lack of authenticity isn't a smoother pitch—it's a renewal of the church.

In a consumerist society, my identity comes from what I consume.

Spiritual consumers, therefore, will approach the church with the same narcissism they bring to other brands. What am I expressing about myself if I buy Brand Jesus? How will Christianity fulfill my vision for me?

Preaching and evangelism that focus on the benefits of becoming a Christian present a message not fundamentally different from commercial advertising about the existential benefits of this car or that soap.

We live in neighborhoods of single-family homes populated by people like us, go to church with people like us, consume media targeted at people like us, and shop with people like us. All of this makes us more reluctant to inhabit a world with people who are not like us.

If we treat the gospel like a commodity, can we fault nonbelievers for thinking that the cross is just another logo?

Spiritual consumers will come to Christianity as do window shoppers at a mall, wanting a spirituality tailor-made to their preferences.

Tyler focuses on evangelism, but consumerism is deeply embedded in North-American Christianity. It won't be long until we have Consumer Reports reviewing churches and rating the programs that they offer.

Pastor Rod

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jesus Christ Superman?

To demand from strength that it does not express itself as strength, that it does not consist of a will to overpower, a will to throw down, a will to rule, a thirst for enemies and opposition and triumph, is just as unreasonable as to demand from weakness that it express itself as strength.
Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay

According to Nietzsche, Christianity is an attempt by the weak and powerless to control the strong and powerful.

The original morality was the morality of the noble. These are the elite people, the people who naturally rose to the top in society. They were powerful, courageous, happy, energetic, optimistic and confident. They considered everyone like them to be "good." The others, they viewed as "bad."

These people were "bad" because they were weak, timid, fearful, pessimistic, and resentful. They saw themselves as victims.

Because there were more of the weak people than the strong, the weak banded together to promote a new "slave morality."

This was their attempt to make life better for those who suffer. And it also served as leverage against the powerful.

The weak defined themselves as the "good." The powerful now became "evil."

The virtues of this new morality became
  • Patience
  • Humility
  • Love
  • Forgiveness
  • Compassion
  • Equality
  • Submissiveness

This morality is used to keep the powerful in check:
The practice of judging and condemning morally, is the favorite revenge of the intellectually shallow on those who are less so, it is also a kind of indemnity for their being badly endowed by nature, and finally, it is an opportunity for acquiring spirit and becoming subtle—malice spiritualizes. They are glad in their inmost heart that there is a standard according to which those who are over-endowed with intellectual goods and privileges, are equal to them, they contend for the "equality of all before God," and almost need the belief in God for this purpose.

But this morality is against nature. It becomes the enemy of life. It focuses on an "afterworld" and resigns itself to suffering, to trying to make the best of a bad situation.

According to Nietzsche, egoism is the very essence of a noble soul.

The hope for mankind is to be found in the √úbermensch, the Overman or Superman.

The Overman lives for the earth, not some future life that may or may not arrive. He makes himself, not depending upon anyone or anything. He is confident, optimistic and strong-willed. He is not afraid to take risks. He creates his own values, not submitting to the mores of society.

Nietzsche sees Jesus as someone who came close to becoming an Overman. He was his own person. He did not bow to the current cultural norms. He was confident and self-directed.

But he had a serious flaw.

He depended upon God—and called for others to do the same. He talked about love, forgiveness and humility. He sacrificed himself for the "kingdom of God."

According to Nietzsche, the weak deserve what they get. The strong have an obligation to take over. The future of the earth depends upon the success of the elite. (Think Hitler.)

The morality of Nietzsche has more influence in modern culture than people generally recognize.
  • Donald Trump embodies the attitude of the Overman and has encouraged a "take no prisoners" approach to business.
  • We applaud sports figures who use subterfuge and deception in the name of "doing what it takes" to secure victory.
  • We admire celebrities who Did It [Their] Way.

Even in the Church, we covet power, wealth and influence. In fact, Nietzsche considered the church of his day to be a parody of itself. It preached the "slave morality" but lived by the "master morality."

Nietzsche was right in his assessment of the Church. Far too often the institutional church has failed to live by the very principles it expects its members to practice. And he is partially correct in his distinction between slave morality and master morality.

But he is wrong in at least two particulars.
  • The morality of God (not necessarily that of religion) is life affirming and optimistic. It is the selfish morality that in the end is deadening and pessimistic.
  • The way of Jesus (the way of the cross) is the way only of apparent weakness and apparent defeat. It is through his "weakness" and "defeat" that Jesus Christ overcame the powers of evil and oppression.

So here's the question: Are we going to follow the teachings of Jesus or the teachings of Nietzsche?

Jesus said, "Bless those who curse you."
Nietzsche said, "It is inhumane to bless when one is being cursed."

Nietzsche writes:
What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? All that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome (The Antichrist).

Jesus said:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25–28).

What do you think?

Here are some questions you might wish to answer:
  • What are some examples of a "morality" of resentment?
  • In what ways do the presidential campaigns appeal to "slave morality"? To "master morality"?
  • How has the institutional church denied the teachings of its founder?
  • What positive insight can the followers of Jesus Christ take from the criticisms of Nietzsche?
  • In what ways are the teachings of Jesus life affirming?

Pastor Rod
"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Domesticating Paul

The Apostle Paul writes these provocative words in his letter to the Philippians (3:7–11):
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

But modern-day Christians have taken all the sting out of them. We read them something more like this:
I have given up my old ways so that I can trade them in for God's declaration that I am righteous because of what Jesus Christ did for me. The most important thing to me is knowing that salvation is by faith in Christ and not by my trying to be good. I want to keep this straight in my mind and never forget that it is Jesus' death for me that makes it possible for me to get to heaven.

Not only is this not what Paul is saying, but it is nearly the opposite of what he is saying.

He means something more like this:
All those things that I used to count on to make me feel significant and accepted by God I now realize were worst than useless. In fact, all the things that seemed important I now consider sh*t, because my only hope is in my participation in the life that can only be found in Jesus Christ. The most important desire I have is intimacy with Christ Jesus who is my Lord. I yearn to experience the power of his resurrection at work in my life as I follow in the way of the cross. And while I enjoy life now that has an eternal depth, my ultimate hope is in the final resurrection when God's perfect kingdom will be realized.

Of course, that is just my clumsy attempt to paraphrase what Paul wrote in carefully crafted Greek that borders on poetry.

C. S. Lewis did a much better job in this poem:

As the Ruin Falls

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love —a scholar's parrot may talk Greek—
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

That's what I was trying to say.

Pastor Rod
"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Master and the Musician

Anyone who says that Christian music is vapid has never heard Phil Keaggy play.

I recently attended a concert performed by this amazing artist.

The stage was bare except for a stool and microphone. Just after 7:30, Phil walked out with a single Olson acoustic guitar and plugged in to his direct box.

He combined vocals with long stretches of instrumental interludes. He finished his third song at 8:00.

Phil used his patented looping technique to build complex layers of thumps, strums and finger picking. And he did this so seamlessly that I had difficulty telling when he was starting and stopping the recording of each loop.

Here's a video of Phil talking about the looping technology:

Of course, he made expert use of hammer-ons, pull-offs and bends. On one song he used two capos, each covering only two strings to produce a unique celtic sound. He used several unorthodox tunings, all on the same guitar, all while talking and noodling around on the fretboard. He also changed the tuning of individuals string while they were vibrating in the middle of songs. He used the classic ebow for the eerie theremin sound. He used an egg shaker to strike the strings. He even used his pick to create the hip-hop scratch.

Here's Shades of Green:

Early in the evening he played Salvation Army Band:

He played two songs inspired by poems written by C. S. Lewis, and sang a third, "As the Ruins Fall." He played several older songs from his more than 50 albums, as well as some brand new ones. He even threw in a "Beatles" version of an Elvis song as an afterthought.

One of the two songs inspired by Lewis, "Addison's Walk":

Phil played some of his classics:

True Believers

The Maker of the Universe

Thank You for Today

Your Love Broke Through

Phil also did a more recent piece, "New Song":

In response to a request, Phil performed "Time"

Pay special attention to his comments near the end of the video.

After the intermission, Phil started with "Here Comes the Sun":

Here are a couple of clips of more of Phil:

Phil performed the confrontational "Why."

The final song was "Let Everything Else Go."

After a prolonged ovation, Phil came back out for "John the Revelator":

All this from one man with one guitar—and nine fingers!

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Measuring Success Missionally

Conventional wisdom says that it is impossible to manage what is not measured. And in the church, we've been told "God cares about numbers because numbers represent people and God cares about people."

So under the banner of accountability and stewardship, church leaders collect statistics to measure the effectiveness of ministry.

Eventually, we end up with thinking like this:
A [church] that is falling far short of excellence will be motivated to improve by learning from consultants and other [churches] at the top of its peer group; the [church] will also be able to mark and show donors its quantitative progress toward measurable excellence. Meanwhile, top performing [churches] not only help other [churches] emulate their success, but they are also motivated to keep setting the standards of excellence even higher. Most importantly from the fundraising perspective, a [church] has an instant report card that it can show its donors (noting both areas of excellence and areas for improvement). Finally, if a networked [church] is to invest in a consulting team for help, it must be equipped with tools allowing it to challenge and motivate each [church] affiliate.
(Each occurrence of [church] replaces either "organization" or "non-profit.")

But the church is not a business. It is the body of Christ, a living temple of God's presence. And our evaluations need to reflect that reality. Yet not everything that counts can be counted.

It seems to me that there are several issues here:
  • God's kingdom is not identical with the church, even though there is considerable overlap.
  • Jesus Christ is the head of the church and builds his church in his own time and in his own way.
  • While we have responsibilities regarding the advancement of God's kingdom, many of those responsibilities are difficult or impossible to define in quantifiable terms.

  • Measurement has several pitfalls
    • If the wrong things are measured, the focus gets diverted from what is truly important.
    • Over emphasis on the numbers can lead to the assumption we are totally responsible for increases and declines.
    • The most important factors cannot be reduced to a number in a spreadsheet.
    • While "numbers represent people," most statistical systems reduce people to just numbers.
  • "Growth" easily becomes an idol with pressure to improve the numbers from the previous reporting period.

I suspect that collecting stories is more important than collecting statistics.

But if we were going to collect numbers, what numbers would be useful?

Doug Resler published a list of Missional Metrics written by Hugh Halter
  • Number of new relationships formed where I know their names and they know mine.
  • Number of people who have been uniquely blessed by me and my community.
  • Number of people who invite me to be with their friends who don't follow Christ.
  • Number of ways, my street, neighborhood, or community are more livable because of my influence.
  • Number of Christians that are actively confronting their consumerism and making adjustments at the life level.
  • Number of Christians that I ask or persuade NOT to go on mission with us.
  • Number of incarnational communities that commit to form around benevolent action instead of just a bible study.
  • How long people remain at our weekly gathering after the formalities are over.
  • Number of community-based initiatives our people are supporting with their time or money.
  • Number of young leaders we're intentionally developing.
  • Number of people baptized for the first time.
  • Number of Bibles purchased because someone asked for one.

These are helpful as pointers toward missional-incarnational living. But I wonder how well they avoid some of the problems I identified above.

We certainly want to evaluate certain aspects of missional-incarnational living:
Genuine relationships with people, not prospects
Missional-incarnational influence in the neighborhood
Discipleship that bites into real life
Healthy community (communitas)

Perhaps more helpful than numbers would be a rubric to help us evaluate each of these areas.

Here's a suggestion for Genuine Relationships from a personal perspective.
-1I have neighbors, relatives or co-workers that I am "not talking to."
0I get along with my neighbors, relatives and co-workers.
1I know the names of my neighbors.
2I know personal information about my co-workers such as birthday, anniversary, names of family members, hobbies.
3I have bought a gift for a friend just because I saw something I thought they'd like (not for a specific occasion).
4I have done a favor for someone anonymously.
5I have a relationship with a non-relative with whom I spend time at least weakly.
6I have a relationship with a person who does not attend my church, and we talk about spiritual things
7I have a relationship with a person who is not a follower of Christ, and we talk about spiritual things.
8I have a relationship with a person who is an atheist or agnostic and we talk about spiritual things.
9People frequently ask me to pray for them.
10I frequently offer to pray for people.
11I frequently pray for people when we are together and they mention a need.
12I have non-relatives in my home at least once a month (besides church groups).

This would be more helpful than a raw number. Similar rubrics could be developed for each of the values of missional-incarnational living. Rubrics could also be created for congregational evaluation.

I would be interested in any comments you might have to improve the suggested rubric and any suggestions you might have for other rubrics.

Pastor Rod
"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Stubborn Passion

Once again "missional theologian" Tom Peters provides us with an important insight:

[There is] a Very Sensible Saying that I think is pure, unmitigated crap, in fact the World's Worst Advice: "Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em."

As I said ... pure crap.

Forget "fold 'em."

Drop it from your vocabulary.

Excise it.

Bury it.

Stomp on its grave.

If you care, really care, really really care about what you are pursuing, well, then, pursue-the-hell-out-of-it-until-hell-freezes-over-and-then-some-and-then-some-more. And may the naysayers roast in hell or freeze in the Antarctic or bore themselves to death with the sound of their "statistically accurate" advice.

The smart people know when to give up. Most failures have the sense to sulk off and leave the stage to the super stars. But some are too stupid to give up.

Tom shares this paragraph from The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company, by David Price:

One of the curious aspects of Pixar's story is that each of the leaders was, by conventional standards, a failure at the time he came onto the scene. Lasseter landed his dream job at Disney out of college—and had just been fired from it. Catmull had done well-respected work as a graduate student in computer graphics, but had been turned down for a teaching position and ended up in what he felt was a dead-end software development job. Alvy Ray Smith, the company's co-founder, had checked out of academia, got work at Xerox's famous Palo Alto Research Center, and then abruptly found himself on the street. [Steve] Jobs had endured humiliation and pain as he was rejected by Apple Computer; overnight he had transformed from boy wonder of Silicon Valley to a roundly ridiculed has been.

Success is not guaranteed, at least not in the conventional understanding of success. But if we believe in the God of Abraham who "gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were," how can we ever give up?

Triumphalism has distorted our view of the biblical narrative.

We forget that

  • Jacob was a scheming cheater.
  • Gideon was a frightened nobody.
  • David was an obscure shepherd boy.
  • Peter was a sniveling coward.
  • Jesus was a total failure by any human standard.

We speed-read through the book of Job until we get to the "pay off":

After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before (Job 42:10).

We see Jesus as a deus ex machina figure who confidently acts out his role wearing his "costume" of "human flesh." Consequently, the crucifixion becomes little more than a theatrical special effect.

The scene in the Garden of Gethsemane fades into a shadowy prequel to the didactic moral: "Nevertheless, not my will but your will be done."

However, if Jesus was "tempted in every way just as we are," he must have experienced uncertainty and even self-doubt.

He endured opposition in ministry, despising the shame of being misunderstood and refused to allow the false expectations of his friends or the false allegations of his enemies to define who he was.

Philip Greenslade, A Passion for God's Story, p. 248

A servant is not greater than his or her master. We must follow the same path, if we are to be genuine disciples.

The way of the cross sometimes leads us into those places where all we can do is hold on. We can't see our way forward, we are confused that God isn't doing what we expect, and we can't see any meaning for all the pain and frustration.

Allen Mitsuo Wakabayashi, Kingdom Come, p. 170

As Tom reminds us:

If you really really really really really care ... then there ain't no time to fold 'em until your last breath is drawn—and even that's too soon if you've bothered along the way to inflame others about your presumed Quixotic cause.

In the (doubtless not) immortal words of Tom Peters: "There's a time to hold 'em and a time to keep on holdin' 'em—if you really really really care."

From a kingdom perspective, it's about more than just passion:

We must always do what we know is right and true before God even if it doesn't seem as if it produces results.

Allen Mitsuo Wakabayashi, Kingdom Come, p. 172

So it's not time to fold 'em, but it's time to go all in.

God's kingdom strategy sometimes feels like a long shot, or even an impossible dream. But he is the God of the unlikely and the impossible.

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Rethinking the “Day Off”

My exploration of missional living has led me to rethink the idea of taking a day off from ministry.

One the one hand, missional living must seep into every part of life, or it is not missional living. If we construct levees to hold back the river of ministry to a particular place or a particular time, then we can hardly consider ourselves missional.

Yet Sabbath is a deep value throughout the biblical narrative. The meaning of Sabbath is rooted in the creation account. And Sabbath-keeping became the identifying mark of God's people in the Old Covenant.

(I'm not endorsing Sabbatarianism. As it is typically practiced, I think it misses the point of the Sabbath.)

When we look at the example of our Lord, a "day off" seems entirely out of place.

For example: can you imagine Jesus ever taking a day off from teaching his disciples? He seemed to go out of his way to perform miracles of healing on the Sabbath. He frequently sought out solitude, but we have no indication that he observed any kind of weekly schedule with breaks from "ministry." And when his solitude was interrupted, he did not run people off with some line about it being his "day off" as Messiah.

However, most pastors are too busy and overstressed.

The last thing they need to hear is that they need to be "on" 24 hour per day, seven days a week. Perhaps the idea of being "on" is part of the problem.

It would seem that a pastor needs to discover a way to live that he can maintain indefinitely.

But how can this be done? Ministry too often feels like a job—with a starting time and an ending time. Pastoral families often are neglected (or worse) for the sake of church work. And most pastors can't wait to get time away from their church.

Perhaps part of the problem is that they have "created a church they don't like or wouldn't attend."

Here's one of the dirty secrets of pastoral ministry: We try to get people to participate in activities that we participate in only because it is our job.

Participating in the kingdom should be meaningful, rewarding, enjoyable, life-giving, fulfilling and satisfying.

  • If we have to bully people into participating, something is wrong.
  • If we have to bribe people to get them to participate, something is wrong.
  • If we have to baby people to keep them participating, something is wrong.

But if the pastor doesn't find his ministry meaningful, rewarding, enjoyable, life-giving, fulfilling and satisfying, no one else will.

Yet a missional approach to ministry demands selflessness. It requires us to be other-focused. How does this square with a view of ministry that resembles a vacation in Sicily more than it does working in the coal mine?

Then there's the airplane-oxygen principle. If I am not "taking care of myself," then I cannot be of much help to others.

But does this mean that I should be selfless for six days and then reserve one day to be selfish?

How would I take a day off from ministry without taking a day off from following Christ?

Can I clock out of my calling once a week?

If my calling is "full-time," then my ministry must also be full-time. How, then, does Sabbath fit into full-time ministry?

First, the lives of Jesus' disciples are to be characterized by rest.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:28–29).

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his (Hebrews 4:9–10).

There should be an ease that permeates our lives, including our ministry. We cannot save the world. That is God's job. Even when we are "struggling with all his energy" (Colossians 1:29), our lives should exhibit peace, joy and patience.

Second, many of the things we do to "take care of ourselves" do not deepen our souls and strengthen our spirits. Most of us do not have enough solitude in our lives. Yet when we have a "day off," we fill it with noise and commotion and call it "unwinding."

Third, if our view of ministry is healthy, then we will not feel "entitled" to some time off. Too often we do double-entry bookkeeping with our ministry efforts. We build up a balance of "things for others." Then we draw down that balance in personal indulgence. Ministry should be fully integrated into our lives. Paul says, "Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:17). If we really understood what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, it would not be possible for us to take a day off from ministry.

Fourth, we need space in our lives. We need space to process our thoughts and our feelings. We need space to speak with our Father. We need space to hear his still, small voice. Busyness, activity and anxiety are the enemy of depth and spiritual health. We need more than a day off from meetings, programs and commotion. We should build solitude and reflection into our schedules. That is something we see Jesus doing regularly.

So here's my plan (for now): I no longer talk about a day off. But I keep my schedule free of most obligations on Mondays. I approach every encounter with others as an opportunity for ministry. (At least that is my goal.) I give myself permission to take a nap if I get tired. I try to do things that I enjoy with others.

We'll see how well this works. So far it seems to be working.

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

One-Buttock Leadership

Watch this engaging video of Benjamin Zander at TED. (HT: Rex Miller).

What are the implications for leadership?

  • Leaders must stay focused on the vision.
  • If everything is important, nothing is important.
  • The leader must stop thinking about every note and concentrate on "the line from B to E."
  • While the details are necessary, they should not be given too much focus.
  • A mechanical approach to anything is rarely engaging.
  • A leader has power only as he or she helps others powerful.
  • A leader can tell if he or she is awaking possibility in other people if their eyes are shiny.
  • A leader's success is measured by the number of shiny eyes.

A missional leader will stay focused on God's grand story and be surrounded by shiny eyes.

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"

Monday, August 11, 2008

Forgetting to Breathe

It goes without saying that our efforts to promote our individual congregations "are nothing if God isn't working through them."

Kevin Hendricks tells us:

It's like breathing. Life doesn't work so well if we forget to breathe. That's how I see the role of God in church growth--or any of the marketing and communications we talk about.

He reassures us that methods are just methods, as long as we rely on God:

Trying to bring people to Jesus should never be about mindlessly following a set formula. We certainly have to do our part, and that may mean following a standard formula, but we also need to rely on God to work through that formula. Notice that the reliance is on God, not the formula, and as long as we rely on God there's nothing wrong with the formula.

I used to think like this and talk like this.

But I've since repented of my stupidity and my self-delusion.

There are several problems with this kind of thinking.

First, breathing is automatic. Under normal circumstances, people don't need to think about breathing. Relying on God is far from automatic. It requires focus, concentration and a degree of self-discipline. The default attitude is to trust in ourselves and in our "formulas."

Second, methods are not just methods. Every strategy is based upon several assumptions. We often use methods and strategies that are not consistent with the essence of the gospel. For example, motivating people through guilt or pride is an affront to the good news of grace.

Third, this kind of thinking is at its heart based upon the deadly misappropriation of God's mission as our mission. It is not our job to convert people. It is not our job to save the world. It is not our job to build the kingdom. It is God's mission in which he has invited us to participate.

Fourth, we have narrowly defined making disciples as getting people signed up for heaven. We assume that fulfilling the Great Commission is equal to increasing the weekly attendance at our church.

Fifth, this approach easily becomes a cover for ego-driven "ministry." I make all these great plans and ask God to bless them. I use my God-given skills and God-given resources to produce results. I give God credit for what happens. But this ends up being the same as an actor in his Oscar-acceptance speech thanking his parents because "this wouldn't have been possible without you."

Depending upon God and living missionally do not happen automatically.

  • All our natural instincts work against us, especially our egos.
  • Our materialistic, consumer culture distracts us from focusing on God's kingdom.
  • The busyness and stress of "ministry" squeeze out the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit.

Relying on God requires

  • Intentionality (The first step must be to intend to trust in God.)
  • Commitment (We must practice the spiritual disciplines that will allow the Holy Spirit to produce his fruit in our lives.)
  • Focus (We must cut through all the distractions.)
  • Trust (We must let go of the feeling that it all depends upon us.)

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"

Saturday, August 09, 2008

This Is Not Your Father’s World

The hymn "This Is My Father's World" uses an antiquated view of the universe as a poetic device:

This is my Father's world,

And to my listening ears,

All nature sings and round me rings

The music of the spheres.

"The music of the spheres" comes from the idea that the earth was surrounded by rotating, transparent spheres upon which were fixed the sun, moon, stars and planets. And these spheres operated according to ratios similar to those found in reflected in the harmonic scale. No one still believes that the earth is the center of the universe or that the sun rises and sets every day, but we still use that language metaphorically.

The key is that we know this is figurative language. It doesn't shape our actual perception of the world.

Every fifth-grader knows that the geocentric view of the universe was replaced by a heliocentric view. Johannes Kepler then refined the sun-centered model by discovering that the orbits of the planets were ellipses rather than pure circles.

A similar transition has happened in the world of communication.

Marshall McLuhan popularized the phrase, "The medium is the message." The point is that the method we use to communicate is at least as important as the message we think we are transmitting. As new communication media appear, they also shape the culture.

M. Rex Miller has written an analysis of these changes from the perspective of the church. The Millennium Matrix suggests that the way we store and distribute information changes our worldviews.

At the time of Jesus, the culture was oral. This prevailed until the advent of the printing press which gave birth to a print culture. Television ushered in the broadcast culture. Finally, computers and the Internet produced a digital culture.

The book contains a detailed matrix of the various cultures and their characteristics. (A brief PDF version can be found here.) For example, in the oral culture truth is relational. The credibility of a message is based on the credibility of the messenger. In the print culture truth is based on principle. Logic and other tools of deduction are used to verify the message. In the broadcast culture truth becomes existential. The message is validated through experience. In the digital culture truth is contextual. Community tests and validates reality.

We'll return to some other aspects of The Millennium Matrix, but first I want to make clear that this is not a generational analysis.

In 1990, I attended a seminar sponsored by The Church Growth Institute called "How to Reach the Baby Boomer." It was based upon research described in the book Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation, by Landon Y. Jones. This seminar had a profound impact on the North American church.

The idea was that Baby Boomers had similar experiences and expectations. Formulas could be devised to reach them with the gospel and to get them involved in attending church. Demographics became an essential tool in church growth. The seeker-driven model was canonized. Consumerism became the focus of church programs and ministries.

This approach was so "successful" that church leaders tried to adapt it to the following generations. Various names were suggested (gen-x, busters, MTV generation, millennials) but none of these really caught on. Furthermore, those who followed the boomers were not as monolithic in their attitudes and experiences. Many of their characteristics were seen as reactions to the values of the boomers.

The church growth industry produced strategies, methods and programs to reach these generations. But something just didn't click. These approaches were not as effective.

Into this milieu came the emerging and missional movements. The resulting confusion has left pastors and denominational officials baffled to this day.

First, they tend to see these movements as identical. Even though there is considerable overlap between the emerging and missional movements, they are significantly different.

Second, they tend to view them as a generational phenomenon. While many of the people who make up these movements are younger, they are not simply expressions of age and shared experiences. In fact, many of the key figures in these movements are boomers.

We now live in a world where generational analyses are less and less useful.

It is important that The Millennium Matrix not be understood as a description of younger generations. It is rather a description of the world in which we all live. Yes, some older people still try to live in the print and broadcast cultures. But we all live in a digital age.

Let's look at the way the oral, print, broadcast and digital ages view leadership.

In the oral culture the leader is a steward. The steward acts as a caretaker for the entire household as a representative of the owner, fulfilling his intentions.

In the print culture the leader is a manager. The manager uses command and control, division of labor, and vertical integration to maximize efficiency and production. The assumption is that people need to be structured and tightly supervised to be productive.

In the broadcast culture the leader becomes the inspirational leader. The focus becomes releasing the potential of individuals.

In the digital culture the leader becomes a facilitator. Management takes on a less definable structure and acts more like a web of collaboration.

The church still seems to be enamored by the larger-than-life leader. (See Joel Osteen.) Yet the digital culture requires something very different:

Congregants in the emerging digital culture are hungry for leaders who are approachable, touchable, accessible, transparent, and real. They want to connect with someone who is unscripted, unrehearsed, and not "on." They want a real person who walks among them, not someone who periodically comes down from the mountain to deliver a prescription for life or platitudes of hype.

M. Rex Miller, The Millennium Matrix: Reclaiming the Past, Reframing the Future of the Church, pp. 154–155

The values of these cultures are also different. The oral culture valued reliability. The print culture valued productivity. The dominant value of the broadcast culture is quality. The highest value of the digital culture is creativity.

In the print and broadcast cultures, community is a technique.

Community becomes a strategy, a means to retain the numbers, instead of the end or the purpose from the very outset. That inversion seems to be an inherent trap that many churches focused on numerical growth succumb to.

M. Rex Miller, The Millennium Matrix: Reclaiming the Past, Reframing the Future of the Church, p. 260

But in the digital culture, community is the goal.

If what we offer is a weekly experience or presentation that does not raise the urge or provide the opportunity for connection resulting in community, then we might as well take down our label as church and proclaim our facility a house of religious entertainment.

M. Rex Miller, The Millennium Matrix: Reclaiming the Past, Reframing the Future of the Church, p. 182

Miller suggests that the church needs to embody eight values in the digital age:

  • Agility
  • Authenticity
  • Cohesion and balance
  • Resiliency and forgiveness
  • Sustainability
  • Open-endedness
  • Accessibility
  • Collaboration

This book does not provide the final word on the factors that shape our world and the context in which the North American church finds itself. But it does provide important insights and raises significant questions.

But remember, this is not our Church or our mission. It is God's. We are not charged with saving the world. It is not our job to devise the ideal strategy.

Our responsibility is to be aware of the world in which we live, to be open to the various ways in which God is working in that world, and to be willing to assume the role that God calls us to.

While this is not your father's world, it is your Father's world:

O let me ne'er forget

That though the wrong seems oft so strong,

God is the ruler yet.

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Here's a poem by 17th-century Welsh poet Henry Vaughan with a few notes.

Award, and still in bonds, one day
I stole abroad,
It was high-spring, and all the way
Primros'd, and hung with shade;
Yet, was it frost within,
And surly winds
Blasted my infant buds, and sin
Like clouds eclips'd my mind.

Storm'd thus; I straight perceiv'd my spring
Mere stage, and show,
My walk a monstrous, mountain's thing
Rough-cast with rocks, and snow;
And as a pilgrim's eye
Far from relief,
Measures the melancholy sky
Then drops, and rains for grief,

So sigh'd I upwards still, at last
'Twixt steps, and falls
I reach'd the pinnacle, where plac'd
I found a pair of scales,
I took them up and laid
In th'one late pains,
The other smoke, and pleasures weigh'd
But prov'd the heavier grains;

With that, some cried, Away; straight I
Obey'd, and led
Full east, a fair, fresh field could spy
Some call'd it Jacob's Bed;
A virgin-soil, which no
Rude feet ere trod,
Where (since he slept there,) only go
Prophets, and friends of God.

Here, I repos'd; but scarce well set,
A grove descried
Of stately height, whose branches met
And mixed on every side;
I entered, and once in
(Amaz'd to see't,)
Found all was chang'd, and a new spring
Did all my senses greet;

The unthrift sun shot vital gold
A thousand pieces,
And heaven its azure did unfold
Checker'd with snowy fleeces,
The air was all in spice
And every bush
A garland wore; thus fed my eyes
But all the ear lay hush.

Only a little fountain lent
Some use for ears,
And on the dumb shades language spent
The music of her tears;
I drew her near, and found
The cistern full
Of diverse stones, some bright, and round
Others ill'shap'd, and dull.

The first (pray mark,) as quick as light
Danc'd through the flood,
But, th'last more heavy than the night
Nail'd to the center stood;
I wonder'd much, but tir'd
At last with thought,
My restless eye that still desir'd
As strange an object brought;

It was a bank of flowers, where I descried
(Though 'twas mid'day,)
Some fast asleep, others broad-eyed
And taking in the ray,
Here musing long, I heard
Which still increas'd, but whence it stirr'd
No where I could not find;

I turn'd me round, and to each shade
Dispatch'd an eye,
To see, if any leaf had made
Least motion, or reply,
But while I listening sought
My mind to ease
By knowing, where 'twas, or where not,
It whispered: Where I please.
Lord, then said I, On me one breath,
And let me die before my death!


Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rest After Struggle

Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "I wouldn't give a fig for the kind of simplicity which exists on this side of complexity, but I would give the whole world for the simplicity that exists on the other side of complexity."

I've thought a lot about my changing views about the role of pastor. I've wondered what I would do differently if I could start all over.
  • I'd focus more on people and less on tasks.
  • I'd resist the pressure to have all the answers.
  • I'd be more "wasteful" of my time.
  • I'd learn to enjoy the present and not mortgage it for "someday."
  • I'd let go of the dream to "make something of myself."
  • I'd enjoy life more.
  • I'd worry less about what other people think of me.
  • I'd be more open to see God working in unconventional ways and in odd places.
  • I'd be less of a lecturer and more of a poet.
The problem is that I'd probably make the same mistakes all over again.

In fact, I wonder if it's possible to get to the proper kind of rest without going through the struggle.

Jacob had to struggle with God before he could quit playing the trickster and receive his blessing as "Israel" (Genesis 32:22–31).
  • It is only after we try and fail that we are we ready to listen to a different way.
  • It is only when we recognize that we are sinners that we are ready to accept a Savior.
  • It is only when we exhaust all the other options that we are ready to rest in God's grace.
One cannot be a poet without experience. It seems that we don't know how to live until we die.

Pastor Rod
"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"