Getting real about where we are at

10 02 2009

The loss so many of us have suffered (directly or indirectly) as a result of the dramatic downturn in our economy has been both very real and very painful. As a result there has been a contraction that is not only felt in the economy but in our ability to see the magnificent opportunity we have at such a time like this. We know the facts: 1) God is good – He cares about me and my family; 2) Our relationship with Christ is strengthened during times of suffering; 3) There are others with greater needs then us; 4) The gospel is for exactly such a time as this; and 5) We are the ones blessed and now called to bring Christ’s redemption to those around us.

What we don’t know so well (because so many of us have never experienced times like this before) is the opportunity. What if the vision to build bridges to our community was for such a time as this? What if that vision was manifest primarily by reaching people in real need? What if living that vision started now – completely disassociated with any relocation plans? What if we trusted God with our future and focused on the needs at hand?

Some of us have answers to these questions: 1) It’s not that bad in Tallahassee; 2) Give it a year or two and things will be getting back to normal; 3) We are already serving the community – look at what OFS does each week.

Let’s say for argument these answers prove to be true – can we say we have acted like Christ by just maintaining the status quo? What if it takes five years to “get back to normal?” What if things get worse?

Here’s a course of action that needs our serious consideration (pertaining to Wildwood Church):

1) Admit that the relocation project is stalled.
2) Admit that leadership has been detached from one another and in disunity for some time and that only recently have steps begun to correct this problem.
3) Admit that our finances are in decline – presumptively because of the economy.
4) Admit that we are not sure when we will move forward with relocation plans but to do so now would be not only imprudent but an unethical use of resources with the increasing needs in our church and community due to the state of the economy.
5) Offer to return funds to people who gave to the relocation project who are experiencing financial hardship or who are dissatisfied with the lack of progress with the relocation plans.
6) Get permission to use the funds given to the relocation project to meet extraordinary needs of individuals and families in our community who have been affected by the economy.
7) Implement a church-wide collaborative form of communication to identify those extraordinary needs and solutions for those needs.

Risky? Without a doubt. What if people take us up on the offer to get their relocation contributions back and we give the rest away to people with extraordinary needs (and we do all that with a diminishing general fund)? But then think about the risk if we don’t act. What value is a vision to reach our community that we largely ignored during a time of crisis?

Perhaps it is premature to sound the alarm – perhaps this recession will not get much worse and be over sooner than expected. I am not a pessimist by nature but these are truly uncertain times – we have never tried to come out of a recession when the rest of the world was in it with us and the financial system had experienced such widespread failure.

No one knows the rules of how this game gets played out. Hoping for a soft landing and a speedy recovery is not a bad thing but I also don’t think it is a bad thing to discern what God would have us be about. Could it be that these uncertain times are the very windows of opportunity to advance God’s kingdom in our community? I think that this may be the real – the reality of what God is up to – that we need to be about.

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Thinking logically about leadership

13 12 2008

Logical thinkers love linkages – and cause and effect linkages are particularly satisfying.  Of course not all cause and effects are cleanly linked so we often go with corollaries to allow for some slippage.  Much of this blog has focused on leadership and leaders but not much has been said about non-leaders (perhaps a bit elitist?).  Well here’s a post that includes the non-leaders – specifically how leaders effect non-leaders.

I recently read a paper titled Leadership in the New Testament (2007) by Len Hjalmarson, a DMin student at Trinity Western Seminary.  If you read this blog more than occasionally Len will be familiar to you – he has an excellent blog – nextreformation.com – that I read regularly and have quoted from on earlier posts. I was struck by a correlation he drew between practices of the modern church and the effect on believers in such churches.  As leaders we are often frustrated with why so few people serve in the local church – I think the corollary Len presents in his paper helps paint the cause and effect picture explaining that frustration:

The modern church generally is (“cause”):

  • Leader centered
  • Program driven
  • Dualistic
  • Isolationist
  • Consumer driven
  • Seeker sensitive
  • Information oriented
  • Attractional

As a result, believers in the modern church tend to be (“effect”):

  • Passive
  • Self-centered
  • Undisciplined
  • Individualistic
  • Un-Christ like

Staying with the logical framework one would conclude a different and more desirable “effect” could be achieved if the “cause” part of the equation adjusted.  Len states that the church needs to become:

  • De-centered
  • Leaderful
  • Formational
  • Covenanted community
  • Missionally engaged

To make these changes leaders need to embrace paradox, admit how little we know, and be prepared to grieve the loss of the old world along with the identity we personally invested in those places and ways.  To do this we need nothing less than divine intervention and conversion. We can’t merely graft a new theory of formation onto an old root; we need a new tree. We are dealing with believers that don’t even see the need for spiritual formation.

More specifically, leaders need to get better at:

  • Supporting self-organizing activities
  • Creating conditions rather than giving directions
  • Moving from an activist stance to a reflective stance
  • Focusing on conversations that lead to clarity of purpose
  • Creating a learning culture by encouraging continual questioning
  • Rewarding innovation
  • Facilitating connections
  • Calling people together often so that everyone gains clarity about who we are, who we’ve just become and who we are becoming (by doing this leaders don’t have to undertake the task of trying to hold it all together)




Five things

13 10 2008

Andy Stanley closed the last session of the Catalyst Conference last week talking about stuff that he has on his mind. Tim Stevens summarized those five things on his blog Friday:

1) To reach people no one else is reaching, we have to do things no one else is doing (Craig Groeschel) – we have 175,000 people within 10 miles of Northpoint, and we aren’t reaching them. We aren’t going to reach them by building another church building. We have to do something no one else is doing.

  • Become preoccupied with those you want to reach rather than those you are trying to keep.

2) The best idea for reaching the next generation isn’t going to come from the existing generation, it’s going to come from the next generation.

  • If you are over 45 years old, you aren’t going to have any good ideas. It’s your job to recognize the good ideas.
  • Don’t do to the next generation what the previous generation did to you.
  • Be a student, not a critic.

3) I’m looking for what can’t be done in church, but if it could be done would fundamentally change the church.

  • It always used to drive me nuts that the communicator and the leader had to be the same thing.
  • Multi-site solved this. Now the great leader doesn’t have to be the teacher.
  • Like that, you may be the one to crack the code on something no one else has figured out that will fundamentally change our “business.”
  • Pay attention to people who are breaking the rules. It’s the rule-breakers who are oftentimes the problem solvers.

4) If we got kicked out by our board, and they hired a new guy, what would the new guy change or do different? Let’s walk out the door and walk back in, and make those changes.

  • The problem with ministry is that we’ve fallen in love with the way we’ve done ministry.
  • It’s not “no pain, no gain” — it’s “no pain, no change.” Without pain, there typically isn’t any change.
  • Ask: “Where are we manufacturing energy?” The things we aren’t very excited about, it takes energy to get it done, but the results aren’t stellar.
  • Acknowledge what’s not working. Own up to it. And own up to why you aren’t willing to do anything about it. What is it you fear? You need to deal with that. It is a leadership lid for you.

5) When your memories exceed your dreams, the end is near. You look back with smiles and lots to celebrate, but you don’t have a lot to work forward to.

  • Are you willing to be involved in the future more than the present?
  • Don’t let success overshadow your vision.
  • Success breeds complacency and complacency breeds failure.

Need ideas about what to do next?  …these sure are some great starting points.





The Bottom Billion

2 10 2008

Being “missional” is a recognition that our mission as followers of Jesus is to advance His Kingdom in the world.  As North Americans we have historically viewed that mission as primarily being outside our culture – we are now waking up to the reality it is also very much within our culture.  So, does that mean we stop doing “foreign missions?”  I don’t think it means that at all – in fact I think it would be very selfish to do so.  I do think, however, that there are critical things we need to learn about other cultures (just like there are things we need to learn about our culture) if we are going to be effective and good stewards of what God has given us and the life we  are called to live.

I had not heard of Dr. Paul Collier until I recently stumbled upon him on Ted. Dr. Collier is a professor of economics and Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economics at the University of Oxford. He is a leading authority on African economics with a focus on the causes and consequences of civil war, the effects of aid, and the problems of democracy in poor countries.

What he has to say is not only very interesting but has has direct implications on how we can best help the poor and the consequences if we don’t. The gap between the developed and the developing world and the bottom billion widens ever year. Failure to act effectively will have disastrous effects on our next generation.

A few additional notable items:

  • In January United Nations Secretary-General Ban Kimoon declared 2008 to be “the year of the bottom billion” citing the work of Paul Collier. 
  • Marvin Olasky interviewed Paul Collier last year in World Magazine linked here
  • “One of the most important books on world poverty in a very long time.”–Richard John Neuhaus, founder of First Things Magazine




Karios

29 09 2008

 
Karios is a Greek word that means “when all things come together” and the identifier for a network of neighborhood churches in the Los Angeles area.  Their web page is worth a visit to get a flavor for what this new church is all about. They are part of Great Commission Ministries, an affiliation of missional churches – many of which serve university campuses (including a new church plant at FSU). Yes, this is cutting edge but not without solid backing (with guys like Rick Warren, Howard Hendricks, John Maxwell and Luder Whitlock on their Council of Reference).

In particular I thought their vision statement was well written and provides an excellent example of what a church in our post-Christendom culture should be about: 

As a community we are
          gathering a variety of wounded people together
                    crying out to our Creator
                              “breathe new life into us.”
                                        so we can see broken communities…
                              becoming communities of faith
                    bringing the reality of God’s reign
          neighborhood by neighborhood





Redefine, restructure, repackage and refocus

24 09 2008

Chuck Warnock pastors a small Baptist church in Chatham, Virginia, is a writer for Outreach Magazine and an alum of Mercer University, Southwestern Baptist Seminary, and currently working on a DMin. at Fuller Seminary.  I found his thoughts regarding the future of the (North American) church in the context of the economic, energy and environmental crises to be both well reasoned and compelling.  Is it coincidental that these crises are producing pressure in much the same direction as changes needed to become missional in the context of our post-Christendom culture?

Here are Chuck Warnock’s thoughts:

“I see churches adapting to these three interrelated crises – energy, economy, and environment – in several ways:

Redefinition of “church.” Church will no longer be the place we go, church will be the people we share faith with. Churches will still meet together for worship at a central time and location, but that will become secondary to the ministry performed during the week. Church buildings will become the resource hub in community ministry, like the old Celtic Christian abbeys. Church impact will replace church attendance as the new metric.

Restructuring of church operations. Due to the high cost of fuel and a struggling economy, churches will become smaller, more agile, and less expensive to operate than in the past. Churches will need to provide direct relief to individuals and families with meal programs, shelters, clothing, job training, and more. In the not-distant-future, we will live in a world where government is increasingly unable to fund and provide those services. Church buildings will become increasingly more expensive to maintain, and churches with unused weekday space will consider partnerships with businesses, other ministries, and helping agencies. Or churches will sell their conventional buildings and reestablish in storefronts that operate as retail businesses 6 days a week, and gathering places on Sunday (or Thursday or whenever). Churches will focus outwardly on their “parish” more than inwardly on their members. Church staff will become more community-focused rather than church-program focused, and become team leaders in new missional ventures.

Repackaging of “sermons” and Christian education. With fewer people “attending” church, fewer will also attend Christian education classes. Churches will deliver Christian education content via mobile devices. Short video clips accessible from iPhones (and other smart devices) will be the primary content carriers for church and culture. Church “members” (if that quaint term actually survives) will still gather, but more for monthly celebrations, fellowship, and sharing than weekly meetings, worship, or learning. Of course, there may be several monthly celebrations geared to different lifestyles (tribes), schedules, and preferences. Again, the abbey concept of the church as hub with many smaller groups revolving around the resource center.

Refocus from institution to inspiration. Okay, so I went for the easy alliteration there. Restated, less emphasis on the “church” and more on how the church enables its adherents to live their faith. Declining church attendance is not a crisis of faith, it’s a crisis of delivery. We can bemoan the fact that fewer people come to church, but ballgames are not suffering from declining attendance. People go to what they want to go to. Church ministry has to focus on engaging people in meaningful ways that enable their spiritual journeys. In a world in crisis, people are looking for something to believe in as institution after institution crumbles. If banks, businesses, and whole countries fail, where can we put our trust? Church should have the answer 24/7, delivered like everything else is delivered now – when people want it, at their convenience, and in a way that resonates with them.

None of the things I have suggested here are new. But, the thing that makes them more viable now is the convergence of all three crises at one time.”





Flat church

19 09 2008

If there was ever an issue of Leadership Journal to read it is Spring 2008. In this issue some of the key church leadership in liminality issues are explained and discussed. Fortunately several of the articles are online – I discussed one of them in a previous post titled Are We Missing The APE’s? 

In addition to the main content of this issue, Skye Jethani, the managing editor, wrote a few introductory comments that provide a good framework to view the leadership issues faced by many churches in North America:

Facebook, a social networking website with over 67 million members. The premise of the site is simple-create a profile about yourself and then assemble a network of friends with whom you share your information. The intriguing part is the way Facebook will automatically alert you to people within your friends’ networks that you may want to “friend.” It’s like playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with your own life. Within days of launching my profile, my network of friends spanned four continents.Open source websites like Facebook, YouTube, and Wikipedia represent a shift in the way we access information and understand authority. To borrow Thomas Friedman’s popular terminology – the world is flat. Traditional hierarchies are being leveled by the forces of globalization and technology. Bloggers now break news stories before network media can, and Hollywood studios have seen box office sales decline as they compete with independent movie makers on YouTube.

These same leveling forces are at work within the church. Brian Gray, a pastor from The Next Level Church (page 24), says, “Our generation is redefining authority. . . . The previous generation viewed authority organizationally. You knew who had authority because of their title and where they were on the chart. For us authority is more about character and authenticity.” Eight years ago TNL Church dispensed with a senior pastor to implement a team leadership model.

They are not alone. I’m in touch with churches from South Carolina to California that intentionally avoid a “senior” pastor in favor of a team model. But, as TNL’s Dave Terpstra says, “Just because we believe in a flattened structure doesn’t mean we don’t believe in leadership.” These flat churches prefer a more collaborative, open source style, but they are still committed to seeing the mission advance.

Others embrace a team model in order to restore spiritual gifts that have left the local church. On our blog Out of Ur (www.OutofUr.com), a vigorous conversation erupted over why so many gifted evangelists and thinkers leave pastoral ministry for parachurch or academic settings. Alan Hirsch (page 32) contends that traditional church hierarchy has elevated the gifts of teaching and shepherding and marginalized the apostolic, prophetic, and evangelistic gifts. A flatter leadership structure is one way to keep these vital functions within the church.

Most congregations haven’t responded to the flattening cultural forces to this degree, but that doesn’t mean they have not felt their effects. The importance of “teambuilding” has been on the radar screen of most pastors for years. Managing team systems among the staff, volunteers, or elder boards is a core challenge of pastoral ministry today.

Is a level church structure with team leadership more biblical? More effective? Will it lead to anarchy or gridlock in the pews? Time will tell. But I hope the articles in this issue help you navigate the flat new world of 21st century ministry.

Skye Jethani
Managing editor
Leadership Journal