Friday, June 22, 2012

The Church Doesn't Exist For Me... or You.

I am here for the church.

The church here is for the world.

Simple enough, right?

Start with the statement: The church is here for the world.

Church: The Light of the World
  • Jesus said he came to call the righteous not the sinner. He lived to heal the sick, not the well.
  • We (followers of Jesus) are to be a light to the world.
  • We are to live in such a unique way that we season (make better) the world around us.
  • We are to be living IN the world (contrast with separating from the world.) so that we can bring the world to God.
  • We are to make disciples of the whole earth.

SUMMARY: The church as the body of Christ is God's gift to the world. We are the means by which God's grace is made known to those who are lost. (WE are the gift! The gift is not TO us)

My starting point (and the building block for the previous concept) is: "I am here for the church".
  • When I accepted Christ, I was baptized into the body of Christ.
  • Oneness is the operative concept in the church.
  • True love for my brothers is shown when I give up my own life for theirs.
  • I am to consider the needs of my brothers and sisters ahead of my own.
  • I have a unique role to fill in the church.
  • The growth and maturity of the church is my responsibility.
  • Everyone loses when I don't carry my weight.

SUMMARY: Every Christ-follower is a gift given to the church to enable the church to fulfill its mission.

If truly embraced, these ideas could change so much about how we "do"and "think" about church. Unfortunately, they lie in sharp contrast to the approach most (self often included) take to church. We too often believe:

The world is for the church... and the church is for me.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

5 Patterns to Keep You on the Right Path

Every day is different. They are different from each other, and they are different than we thought they could be. When you go to bed and recap the previous day's events, you undoubtedly sigh, "That didn't happen how I thought it would."

The unpredictable roadblocks that appear every day have the potential to throw us off track, and land us on a different life path than we wish to follow. If we want to keep taking each step in life in the direction we've plotted for ourselves, we'll need to develop consistent daily patterns that can serve as landmarks for our journey through life.

You can figure out what these patterns need to be for you, but here are some of the patterns I seek to implement in my life. They bring a level of consistency that enables me to begin and end each day making sure I'm still on the path I desire to follow. Borrow what you like, burn what you don't:

Patterns Help Us Stay on Life's Path
1. Find Inspiration.

The very first inspiration for my day usually comes from the coffee pot (it's actually a k-cup machine, but that doesn't look as good in print). Once my eyes are starting to open, I need to find a boost to get my day started. Perhaps it will come from a picture of my children on the refrigerator (reminding me why I do what I do), or from a note a wrote to myself the night before, or from reading a book that inspires me. For some people, a few minutes of meditation or silence can be the inspiration they need to get their day going in the right direction.

Walking the best possible path through my day will be impossible if my first step isn't the right one. Intentionally planning to start the day with a piece of inspiration is the best possible way to start out on the right path.

2. Give Something Away.

We are often held back from success because of our attachment to accumulation. The constant temptation to chase after more "stuff" keeps us from focusing on what is really important. The easiest way to begin combating this habit is to create a daily practice of giving something away. If you are committed to giving something away every day, you will quickly discover that it is difficult to accumulate. You will be so focused on finding people with needs and on ridding yourself of excess that the idea of gathering more for yourself will quickly become distasteful.

Regular generosity is one element of a positive life rhythm. As with most virtues, generosity isn't acquired overnight, it is developed over time through discipline and healthy habits. The daily practice of giving is one of the more powerful habits you can develop.

3. Cultivate a Relationship.

"One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."

The relationships you develop over the course of your life will either enable you to walk life's path successfully or they will pull you off the path and leave you wandering in the forest of ruin. Take the time to develop relationships with the people who will influence you positively, and choose to be the friend who sticks closer than a brother.

The path being walked by the people who influence you is soon the path you will walk. Cultivate relationships with the people who are walking the path you desire to walk!

4. Invest in the Future.

If you never think about the future, you'll never get there. The best way to arrive at the future you envision is to invest every day in that vision of the future. Your investment might be something small like setting aside a couple dollars, or it might be large like signing up to begin a new degree program.The size of the investment is not nearly as important as the consistency of the investment. Creating a healthy rhythm demands that you lock yourself into the habit of investing in the future.

Don't, however, be narrow minded about the future. It may be that the best investment you can make in the future is an investment in others. Your personal future is not the only future. Your children have a future, your friends and family have futures, your neighbors have futures. Investing in their futures may sometimes be the best investment you can make in your own.

Whatever you do, don't get so bogged down in the minutia of today that you forget to think about the potential of tomorrow.

5. Be Grateful.

At the close of every day, you decide how the summary of that day will read. Was it a good day? Was it a bad day? Was it a difficult day? Was it the best day ever? Only you will get to evaluate the day, and only you will determine how it ends.

Remember, you cannot change what has happened during the day; you can only change how you respond to it. The trouble of the day won't go away, but you can decide not to dwell on it. The mistakes of the day won't get changed, but you can determine not to obsess about them. Choose instead to be grateful.

Before you fall asleep, count your blessings. Mentally walk through your day and remember all the good that happened to you and for you. Let yourself bask in all the experiences, relationships, and possibilities that are yours to enjoy. Be thankful and commit to an even better day tomorrow.

The Inability of Metaphors and Similes to Describe the Church

The difference between a metaphor and a simile is the word "like."  (that's perhaps overly simplistic, but useful:

Metaphor: You're a Dog.
Simile: You're like a Dog.

Of course, neither a metaphor nor a simile really does a good job of proclaiming reality:

You aren't a Dog.

Often times, Jesus and His friends used metaphors and similes to describe the church. Some of them would be:

  • The church is (like a) house
  • The church is (like a) family
  • The church is (like a) body
  • The church is (like a) temple

All of these are useful for helping us understand some nature or function of the church, but none of them are terribly effective as a comprehensive description of the reality of the church:

  • The church is not a house
  • The church is not a family
  • The church is not a body
  • The church is not a temple

The church is the church. It is completely different than any other organism/organization known to man. It is a spiritually-joined, missionally-driven, redeemed, justified, progressively-sanctified collection of people that extends through time and into the future.

...and that description doesn't even do it justice.

So I would offer up two suggestions:
Those who take offense whenever the picture of a corporation is used to explain or describe a function or segment of the church should realize that whether metaphor or simile, symbolic language is not a statement of reality, it is the verbal painting of a picture to aid in understanding.
Those who have turned the church into a corporation and would rather hear what Steven Covey, John Maxwell, and Seth Godin have to say about buildings, leadership, org charts, and marketing than they are about what the Bible says about elders, deacons, discipline, and communion need to take stock of whether they are pastoring churches or leading non-profits...
Those are two long and convoluted sentences. But they say what I meant to say, so you should read them again and then tell me what you think in the comments!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

4 Different Perspectives of the Church

This is part two in my reposting OLD thoughts about the church. Part one was posted yesterday (read it here).

People think of church in a lot of different terms. Most of the times, we fixate on one particular concept, and as a result have a less than full understanding or just plain mistaken understanding of what church is.

My contemplation preceding ReNew has led me to note at least four distinct ways we identify the church:

What is Your View of the Church?
This is often associated with place and time. When we were young, we were always taught that "church was not a place", but that teaching was confusing for me because it went something like this:
1) we dress up and act "reverent" when we come to church.
2) church is not a building, it is people
3) stop running in the church.

Many churches identify themselves (even in their names) by associating with the churches that believe the same things as them. for many people, this identity is the most important. I recently has someone say to me in link-up, "we're looking for a good baptist church". what he meant was, "we want a church that believes what we do". this isn't necessarily bad, it's just another way we identify the church.

A lot of churches wear labels based on their primary activities (usually Sunday).They are seeker, contemporary, blended, traditional, etc... I can hear the expression now, "we're a seeker church." in more recent years, this type of identification has grown beyond just Sunday and other lables have been developed (purpose driven, church OF small groups, simple church, yada-yada-yada).

Here's a novel thought. the church isn't an organization at all. It cannot be defined by structures or systems. It is a fluid organism, always in flux because it is nothing more than the relationships holding a community of redeemed people together. It exists to the extent their connectedness allows, and it doesn't exist
where relationships don't exist. This one might need to be chewed on a bit, as there are some very attractive ideas here, yet they don't necessarily mesh with the way things are or how we might interpret Scripture.

so, when you think about church, how do you think about it?

  • is it a building? (the big one on the highway)
  • is it a time? (Sunday morning)
  • is it a belief set? (Baptist; Reformed)
  • is it an activity? (morning service)
  • is it people? (Shawn McPherson, Keith Knapp, Sue Proctor)

But... What if none of these was a full reflection of the church. What if we had a better way of thinking about the church. What if we had new terms to use to better identify the biblical story of God's community of redeemed?

What might that look like?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pastoring Isn't Always Easy...

As I've been preparing for our next sermon series, I've been reading through a bunch of my old writings on the church. Some things I read and I wince because I'm not really comfortable with where I was and some things I read and I wince because I recognize I was right then and not now...

Anyway, I'm going to post some of my old stuff this week, just to get the juices flowing as we prepare for this four week RENEW series.

Sometimes pastors get grumpy...
Pastoring is hard work. Seriously. All "working one-day-a-week" jokes aside, I really do believe this is one of the most difficult "occupations" in existence. I'm not saying that because the actual labor is intensive. I don't mind that. In fact, often I love the tangible things I do. It is a great joy to be paid for studying, teaching, and implementing the Bible. Even in my seventy-hours-a-week youth days, I never disliked the labor side of the job.

The thing that makes pastoring hard is the never-ending push-me-pull-you between pragmatic ministry and spirit led ministry. I've invested a ton of time reading the top secular authors on leadership, business, marketing, etc. I have a pretty good idea on what the experts are currently saying in all these arenas. I am aware of how we could implement these truths into our church and make it function much more efficiently. Sometimes, I wish we would.

I also have invested a good amount of time reading about emergence theory, organic growth, third places, and other social sciences. Much of this material flies in the face of things I wrote about in the first paragraph. When I read these things, I find them resonating far more deeply with the church and the Christianity I find in the Bible. (admittedly, this is because I now read the Bible more as a comprehensive revelation from God as opposed to a series of formulations designed to be dissected for our increased knowledge)

This creates a vicious tension for me, and i think for those who are willing to truly be honest with themselves.

We could build a megachurch. The formulas exist. If you are "driven" by the right things, use the right tools, become innovative enough, and drop eggs from helicopters at Easter you'll grow. Really. You will... and that isn't necessarily bad.

But it isn't necessarily good.

Because as a pastor, I have to sit down at my desk every morning and ask my real boss if I'm pleasing him. I have to close the door of my office every evening and wonder if my day's work built Christ's church, or Calvary's church, or "my" church. When I write out my todo list at the beginning of the day, I have to wonder if my next action is "purpose driven" or "spirit driven" (not that it can't be both, it can).

Sometimes, in our culture, we can't be considered successful or important or significant if we decide to build the church God's way.

Andy Stanley doesn't have to be the yin to Joe Myer's yang. But sometimes he is.

John Maxwell doesn't have to be pitted against Neil Cole. But sometimes he is.

Patrick Lencioni gets a lot of things right. But maybe not everything.

Barry Schwartz and Rick Warren seem to have mutually exclusive philosophies. But I like both.

I read an article today that highlighted this tension for me. So much of the American church is built around Western polity. Our church governance resembles congress. our pastors resemble CEOs. Our program guides look like OCB. Our congregants are like Webkinz crazed parents, racing from store to store to find the koala...

Read some of the highlights:
  • it is the entrepreneurial church (congregations of roughly one thousand and above) that seems particularly clueless about the shift from the passive to the reflexive.
  • Large-church leaders have been trained in the modern, command-and-control paradigm for thirty years.
  • The mechanical paradigm of organization largely explains why modern church leaders are trained as CEOs, not shepherds.
  • Sheep have their own ideas of what, where, and when they want to eat. They may not want to lie down by quiet waters and go to sleep at eight. They just might want to check out the watercress down by the streambed. Or they might want to head out over the next ridge to see if there are any other flocks out there. Conveniently, machine parts don’t get ideas. They just get to work, and they work according to specification.
  • One doesn’t have to be on the pastors’ conference circuit long to figure out that prime-time clergy (ages forty to fifty-five), are marinated in this kind of thinking. They have been told repeatedly that this is the only leadership model that will ensure success. (And make no mistake: in new millennium America, success equals the greatest number of seats filled on Sunday morning.)
  • if there is anything the entrepreneurial church is good at creating, it is compliant cultures—those Stepford-like minicities populated with otherwise savvy, creative human beings. Is it any wonder that megachurches proliferate in areas of the country where the church attendance percentages are well above the national norm?7 This is not quantum physics. It’s the law of supply and demand. They know who their real target market is: it is hothoused Christians.
Sure, some of this is harsh. And, no, i wouldn't want to do anything else (and honestly, i don't want you to feel sorry for me). And if you're wondering, i've had a pretty good week, with minimal complaining (but perhaps too much reflection).

However, next time you are thinking about your pastor(s), remember Hebrews 13:17:

They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.

and believe me, sometimes that is a tall order in a society that has such a warped view of success.

Monday, June 18, 2012

6 Keys for Successful Evaluations

Just finished a difficult two days of making phone calls to soccer players and their parents who didn't make the West Michigan Storm team. I love coaching, and I love coaching kids; but this is the absolute worst part of the job. Although it doesn't make it any easier for me, the parents, or the kids; I try to follow these rules about evaluations so that the entire process can be long-term helpful even if it is short-term painful:

  • Criticism without relationship or context is deflating
  • The only bad evaluation is a dishonest evaluation
  • A poor review in a loving culture is an opportunity for growth
  • An evaluation tied to job security is a reason to be nervous
  • An evaluation tied to growth potential is a reason to be excited
  • Team evaluations lessen the potential for interference by personal agendas
These same rules are useful for any part of life which requires evaluation. Whether you're a teacher, a boss, a parent, or a coach; you can consider adopting these (or similar) guidelines to enable you to create and engage in a more healthy process.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Would You Rather Be Obedient or Wealthy?

I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. (Psalm 119:14 NIV) 

At first glance, this verse seems fairly normal for Psalm 119. Much of this chapter is dedicated to extolling the virtues of God’s Word, and this verse is no exception.

Most of us would not quibble with the sentiment of this verse: God’s Word is valuable.  Don't we all believe that?

But do you really value obedience to God’s Word as much as you value wealth? Do you rejoice in opportunities to follow God’s Word the same way you would rejoice in great riches?

How would you respond if you won the lottery? How did you respond the last time you had an opportunity to obey Scripture? Were the two responses comparable?

Do you rejoice when you get the opportunity to obey passages like James 1:2-4?

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4 NIV) 

Why would anyone choose trials and suffering over wealth? If I am honest with myself, I know that I would rather be rich than in pain. Is that okay? How am I to understand Psalm 119:14?

Quite simply, I think it should look like this: Our response to all circumstances should be the same. We should always rejoice, because we are confident that whether we are becoming rich or whether we are heading into a trial, God is in control.

The situation that is happening to us is far less important than who we are becoming through the situation. Are we becoming anxious, embittered, or apathetic? Or are we learning to rejoice?