Imagine the impact on the United States if Christians here were known – first of all — for being people of action.
If we were regarded as people who leap when there’s an opportunity to help others.
People who jump at the chance to undermine injustice?
Those who are swift to relieve suffering?
What if Christians were known for bravery?
And for personal integrity in doing the kinds of things Jesus did?
What if we were vigilant in our intolerance of hypocrisy, dishonesty, and favoritism—especially in ourselves, and then, in society as a whole?
Christianity, for many, has been boiled down to an intellectual acceptance of religious premises. It’s been reduced to a fairly flimsy apprehension of select promises—while we disregard many other promises that deal with obedience, sacrifice, and judgment.
What’s become of the confidence of the early church that Christ – through us – will change the very fabric of society? “…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors…” [2 Cor 5:17-20a]
What has become of our embodying the hope of the world? “…God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” [Col 1:27b]
Or, being the light of the world? “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” [Mt 5:14-16].
Or just being light? “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.” [Lk 11:33]
Maybe it’s that the Protestant Reformation was so intertwined with the Renaissance that we’ve become transfixed on defining the Christian faith intellectually, cerebrally, and propositionally.
What if we committed to be the change Christ promised to make in the world?
Coaching Distinctions #13
Leadership Courage Series # 41
A week ago, my pastor announced that last year’s tithes and offerings – totaling more than $5 million – came from 15% of the congregation.
The rest – thousand of them — gave nothing, financially.
Sad. Isn’t it?
We leaders get to become more determined and intentional if we’re to break through the culture of cowardice and provoke our people to love and good works. [Heb 10:24]
One: Think like a people-developer, not a gatherer of spectators.
Jesus did not say: “Go and entertain people” in Mt 28. Nor did he say we’re to “Go and educate people.”
The point of all discipleship is that we are to be like our role model, Jesus. [Luke 6:40]
Two: Stop counting the numbers of spectators who show up for your events. Instead, count those who are intentionally and fruitfully living like Christ— and summon the courage to count them only. What does it matter how many people consume what you give them for free? What does it matter how many come and leave unchanged. Un-matured. Un-discipled.
Why do we care so much about numbers and ignore fruitfulness?
Three: Innovate ways to involve everyone, every time. What if you devoted 80% of the time your staff now gives to developing a slick religious education and entertainment event —- you call it a “weekend service” —- to innovate ways to challenge, involve, and stretch your people?
What if you gave them ways to practice being like Jesus every time you gather?
What if they were expected to risk, to try, to fail, and to learn from the experience?
What if you measured your success by the impact your congregation is having on the surrounding community?
“Oh no”, you say, “our people will leave if we expect this much of them!”
Are you sure?
My seminary professor, with his doctoral students, studied more than 1,300 biblical, historical, and contemporary Christian leaders in a stellar career spanning decades. One conclusion he calls “Goodwin’s Expectation Principle”. My rendering is this: “People will rise to the level of the expectations of those whom they respect.”
What if you began to expect your people—all of them – to live more and more like Jesus? What if your congregation became passionate about doing what Jesus did, both within the church and outside it?
Or, what if they don’t?
Do you not see American society disintegrating before you eyes?
Don’t you see godlessness taking the culture by storm?
While ministers inform and excuse and soothe and placate those who gather in our sanctuaries, the society that Jesus gave us to redeem [2 Cor 5:18-20] is speeding to its destruction.
It needs our salt and light.
Leadership Courage Series # 32
In the home stretch of this Series, we’re considering the ninth characteristic of those who would lead well in a culture overrun with cowardice. Early in this series we examined why comfort-craving, security-seeking, spiritless stagnation is common to the Church. Sad, when you consider how we behaved in the Book of Acts.
Christ gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of their ministry. [Eph 4:11-16] Strange, though, for several generations there’s been almost no evidence of the first three of these essential graces in the North American Church. One quality of “going first” is to restore these missing graces in every church.
What’s the impact on the Church is when the evangelistic impetus is in scant supply?
Because of the preponderance of the teaching grace, you get a dysfunctional over-emphasis on teaching as the means of evangelism.
See, when you keep trying to teach those who are not postured to learn you create an experience in those you’re with. That experience is irritation, annoyance, condescension, and frustration.
And, this we do in the name of Jesus.
The second thing you get is a dearth of actual “evangels”.
An angel is a messenger.
An “ev-angel” is a messenger of good.
And a message is “good” when those who receive it define it that way.
Think about it. What was the angels’ message at the first advent? “Turn or burn”? “Close this clinic”? “Vote for my candidate”?
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today … a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah…Glory to God … and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” [Lk 2:11-14] However that message might be interpreted today, it meant something really good to the Hebrew people enslaved by Roman oppression in that hour.
Our society thinks it has heard our “evangel” and they’ve judged it as anything but “good news”.
They think they’ve heard enough from us. They’ve decided we are rigid, judgmental, hypocritical bigots who oppose many of the darlings of what is considered to be progressive, enlightened culture. And, since we’ve reduced Christian ministry to explanation and oration, we keep trying to teach them the right way to think, believe, and act.
Did Jesus do it this way?
Consider the Campaign of Nain, recorded in Luke 7:11-17. Jesus approaches the town, sees a funeral procession, a widow weeping over the death of her child, and a lot of people in despair.
What does he do?
As he sizes up the situation, his heart goes out to her. He walks up, touches the casket, raises the boy to life, and hands him to his mother.
No commercial about Sunday’s meetings on Solomon’s Colonnade.
He doesn’t tell them to do anything.
Jesus brings the Kingdom and people are blessed. Here, he is a messenger of good.
And they all get it.
Their conclusion: “God has come to help his people.”
Is that what they conclude when you and I come to town?
Leadership Courage Series # 29
Could you imagine the impact of a largely leaderless Church for, say, 400 years? Well, look around…
We’re heading for the home stretch on this examination of courageous Christian leadership. The impetus for my challenges and observations is Edwin Friedman’s wonderful book: A Failure of Nerve. Thus far, we’ve made eight observations about leadership amidst a culture of cowardice:
One: Courageous leadership is not about skill, technique, or knowledge. It is, most of all, about the presence of the leader as he or she moves through life.
Two: Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.
Three: Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.
Four: Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come.
Five: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.
Six: Undermine the 80/20 Rule.
Seven: Reintroduce yourself to the adventurous life.
Eight: Disengage an unreasonable faith in reasonableness.
This brings us to the ninth principle: Go first.
Ever wonder what happened to the Church the Apostle Paul envisioned in Ephesians chapter four? A Church in which the saints are the “ministers”.
Paul is clear:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… and become mature… Then we will no longer be infants… Instead… we will grow to become in every respect the mature body… the whole body… grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. [Eph 4:11-16]
What have we had, almost universally, since the Reformation?
Religious educators who teach and teach and teach the saints who sit and sit and sit while they learn and learn and learn.
The saints serving.
The body maturing.
Every part working.
Now here’s a shock. What if the culprit is not so much the laziness and lethargy of the saints but the focus and function of the clergy?
See, Christ himself gave apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral, and teaching gifts to equip his Church for maturity and ministry.
Imagine a softball team in which all nine positions are played by catchers. Very well equipped catchers.
Can you see it?
Catcher’s glove. Catcher’s mask. Shin pads. The whole get up.
Now, put that catcher on the mound and ask her to pitch… Put her in left to run down a deep fly ball… Or, at short to turn a ground ball into a double play.
This is the Church in the West today.
What do teaching-gifted ministers produce?
People who learn lots of things, important things, and not much else.
I’m not denigrating the teaching gift. I’m denigrating the notion of the teaching-only ministry. I’m inviting you to look at the results of recurring generations of pastor/teacher-dominant ministry in the West.
Are you impressed by what you see?
Leadership Courage Series # 23
We’re looking at another characteristic of the culture of cowardice that’s become normative in North American Christianity: the 80/20 Rule is flourishing! As senior pastor, elder, or lay leader, what can you do to Undermine the 80/20 Rule in your congregation?
Decide to jettison the notion—promoted by almost three hundred years of post-enlightenment Church culture—that your role primarily is to educate and entertain church dwellers. Instead, become primarily a disciple-maker and maturity-provoker. When your purpose is to catalyze people to live like Jesus, so much of the activity that fills and frustrates your workweek will change.
Think about it.
What if your senior staff took 80% of the hours it devotes to preparing for and pulling off a slick service –- an education and entertainment event – and dedicated that time to imagining ways to provoke Christ-likeness in your people?
What if you became trainers, coaches, and equippers rather than event planners and producers? What experiences would support your people’s growth into maturity?
- What skills would you be sure to have them practice: discerning God’s voice, praying for others effectively, listening well, etc?
- What would you have them role play: communicating parts of their Christ-story so as to connect with a variety of people in any number of typical life situations, responding biblically to universal ethical and moral challenges, selecting appropriate scriptures that might support people facing common difficulties, life experiences, and perplexities?
- What field trip experiences would be core to your disciple-making process: serving those outside the church who are culturally similar to your trainee, volunteering with secular service organizations, interviewing community leaders about the true needs of neighboring residents [police officials, mayor’s office, school administrators, YWCA director, city council members].
- How would you insure that your people applied whatever is taught when you do an education event? What pathways can you pave in advance of your weekend education event so that every person could take action in line with their new learning?
Fix your attention on those who are making a difference for Christ.
Decide what maturing in Christ looks like in your context: serving the un-churched, giving sacrificially of one’s money, time, and talents, etc. Count those who live this way. Who contribute, who serve, who minister outside as well as inside the church.
Count only those who do.
Focus on their progress. Use them as examples when you teach and train. Make them your visible heroes.
Pay attention to their growth. Who among them is God stretching, growing, maturing, strengthening?
What can you, as a senior leadership team do, to provoke your people to love and good works? [Heb 10:24]
And, while you’re doing that, wean yourself off your fixation with how many attend this or that. To undermine the 80/20 rule, stop yourself from caring about how many come and listen… to you. Stop asking about how many came and sat and took and left.
Three: Innovate ways to involve everyone, every time. A lot of people come to my church, seven services a weekend, I think. So … what if, routinely in our services, we grouped people and asked them to find someone in the group with whom they discover they have something in common, then turn that common ground into prayer?
What if our greeters grabbed the first ten strangers who walked in, and asked them to help?
What if our ushers randomly asked people to help them?
What if our trained prayer team folks picked a handful of people who they quickly trained to pray then had them come alongside and assist them when praying for others?
What if every ministry team, the weekend before they do some local ministry, randomly ask people in the service to come and do it with them? What if they kept asking until 15 people agreed to come and help?
What if you made it clear that this is a community where, from day one, everyone gives.
Where everyone contributes.
Where everyone plays.
What if giving, and contributing, and playing is how mature disciples are made?
Leadership Courage Series # 22
Why is it that 20% of the people in our churches are doing all the giving, all the serving, all the ministry?
What are we communicating such that the vast majority of church dwellers feel great about coming, taking, and contributing nothing?
And, though you’re unaware of it, pastor, what if this is exactly what you want?
I invite you to ponder: what are you doing to perpetuate 80/20 in your congregation? And, since, according to Edwin Friedman in A Failure of Nerve “No one has ever gone from slavery to freedom with the slaveholders cheering them on” I fully expect to encounter your resistance to this claim: 80/20 is yet another evidence of the culture of cowardice that is alive and well in much of the American Church.
So, take a breath. Set your resistance aside, and gather your key leaders together. Lock yourselves in a conference room until you can identify at least ten ways your church communications, culture, and leadership promote and preserve 80/20.
Think about it.
When a thousand gather for “worship” what do they see?
Another one does announcements.
One or two run the soundboard, show the videos, dim the lights.
Maybe a dozen play instruments or sing in a worship band. Or, maybe you have an organist. One organist…and a soloist. One soloist.
A couple dozen function as greeters and ushers.
And, several dozen teach the children—but that happens elsewhere… out of sight of most of the adults.
What you model reinforces a culture in which very few exercise their gifts and very many do next to nothing.
Two: what expectations are communicated to those who gather at the weekend services?
Don’t smoke in the building.
Sign in your kids. Take a pager.
Leave your coffee outside the sanctuary.
Give, if you want to.
Take part in this class, that event, the other small group experience.
You can boil down the “contract” you make with most of your folks this way: “You come back and we’ll take care of everything else.“
And, if they come back, they do exactly what you’ve asked: nothing.
And this often goes on for years…
Three: how frequently and how clearly do you teach your congregation about giving?
Funny, isn’t it? Jesus spoke more about money than any subject other than the Kingdom of God. Why? Because what you treasure reveals your heart. [Mt 6:21] Yet, most pastors dread speaking about finances. “People will think that all we care about is money” some of you say. So, you rarely teach the topic and how closely allied it is to all issues of the heart of your people…and yet you think about money all the time.
See, if you’re in the business of packing the pews and parking lot [what I call the “religious education and entertainment business”], you’ll avoid all the topics that invite people to take offense (and reveal their values). Isn’t it strange that Jesus wasn’t smart enough to remember this, since he addressed the topic so very, very often? In fact, of you study his behavior, you’ll conclude that keeping the crowds coming back for more wasn’t nearly as important to Jesus as it is to us.
What was Jesus’ priority?
Why did Jesus say what he said? Why did he teach, tell the stories he told, and live among people the way he did? I assert that Jesus was in the people-development business. Jesus was making Kingdom citizens of people. And, when it happened, these people lived in very distinct ways.
“Discipleship”, to Jesus, had everything to do with how people live, and why they do what they do. The heart-posture and motivation of one’s actions.
Discipleship began with the renovation of the heart… and that heart-posture expressed itself in a way-of-being in the world that was… well, remarkable. [Acts 16:7]
Yet, in North America, church dwellers’ way-of-being in society seems anything but remarkable.
Funny, too, that when pastors teach about finances, giving almost always increases… at least for a time.
Ever wondered why cults get a following? I offer that one reason is that they communicate clear expectations of their members. Very rigorous expectations. Misguided, often. Theologically corrupt as well. Yet, people by the thousands “pony up” whatever is required. Maybe the cult leaders abuse the scriptures that you avoid…
Still, Jesus said: “If anyone will come after me, he (or she) must take up their cross daily and follow me.” [Mt 16:24, Mk 8:34] Yet, such preaching is rarely heard in the politically-correct Church of our day.
I wonder what prices we pay, as a result.
I wonder what prices American society is paying, too.
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part nine)
Examining courageous leadership, a fifth principal is: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight. Watching ministers lead for more than thirty years, it’s breathtaking how diligently and fruitlessly so many of us labor to lead those who are least-motivated to follow.
No wonder the burn-out rate in the pastorate is dwarfed only by the drop-out rate.
Here’s an alternative, practiced by the most effective leaders in ministry: Pastor, live with your pioneers.
Make sure those most ready to follow your leadership populate your appointment calendar. Every week, spend most of your time with the pioneers: those who’ve trained themselves to take risks, to try new possibilities, to leap into the unknown just to see if something better can result. Ask about their passions for the things God has laid on your heart. Listen for the overlap between your vision and theirs, your heart and theirs, your passions and theirs. This area of overlap is where you and they get to play!
Pray with them. Dream with them. If your dream is to touch the un-churched, envision the kinds of impact you’d most want to have on the lives of those you’ll serve. Imagine yourselves serving authentically, regularly, generously—for their benefit.
Do some planning and strategizing…but please don’t get a brain cramp trying to figure it all out in advance. Planning for ministry is an almost irresistible temptation for church people. Don’t waste your vigor over-planning in the comfort of your church conference room.
Quick, before you lose your nerve, get out there and bless people. Thrust yourself into action with your pioneers. Get off the property. Meet with civic leaders. Learn where your congregation can help, where you can make a God-honoring difference, and go after it. Love people. Serve them.
For Heaven’s sake, experiment.
Go-again, fearlessly and flexibly.
When what you tried doesn’t work—do something else.
Do anything else. Let these be rich times of learning and of enjoying the adventure together.
As your pioneers love and care for the un-churched in ways that bless their lives, they’ll be skeptical initially. They’ll be wary that church people would serve without an agenda, a “gotcha”, a hook. As you keep being with them for their benefit–and not for yours–their skepticism will be replaced by gratitude.
Communicate their appreciation broadly through the congregation. Raise the visibility of your pioneers; make them your “heroes” and make a big deal of their willingness to risk, innovate, and lead in the change.
Over time, the belongers will decide it’s beneficial and safe to join in. Have places ready for them to serve. Plan these in advance. Eventually, more and more belongers will embrace the changes, until they become the “new normal” for your congregation.
All the while, another amazing transformation is taking place. As you continue serving the un-churched, from a place of humility and unconditional love, their gratitude will be accompanied by openness. When they ask about your relationship with God, then you answer.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” [1 Pt 3:15b]
The key, Pastor, is to give yourself to the pioneers, the “yes” people, the adventurers. Suspend your preference to win over the resisters and to bring along the belongers. They will watch—from afar—and when it seems safe to them, they will begin to play.
In the meantime, have a blast with your pioneers. Make a difference in the lives of those you’re serving. Enjoy what God does.