Right beliefs must be wed to effective leadership.
The evangelical Christian world is increasingly divided between two groups: the Believers and the Leaders.
The Believers are driven by deep and passionate beliefs. They are heavily invested in knowledge, and they are passionate about truth. They devote themselves to learning truth, teaching truth, and defending truth. They define themselves in terms of what they believe, and they are ready to give their lives for these beliefs.
The problem is, many of them are not ready to lead. They have never thought much about leadership and are afraid that thinking too much about it will turn them into mere pragmatists, which they know they shouldn’t be. They know a great deal and believe a great deal, but they lack the basic equipment for leadership. As one proverbial deacon said of his pastor, “Oh, he knows a lot, but he can’t lead a decent two-car funeral procession.”
The Leaders, on the other hand, are passionate about leadership. They are tired of seeing organizations and movements die or decline, and they want to change things for the better. They look around and see dead and declining churches and lukewarm organizations. They are thrilled by the experience of leading and ardently study leadership wherever they can find it. They talk leadership wherever they go and are masters of motivation, vision, strategy, and execution.
Unfortunately, many of them are not sure what they believe or why it matters.
The decline of the Crystal Cathedral cannot be separated from the Schuller family saga.
by Url Scaramanga
The post mortem on the Crystal Cathedral continues. The iconic southern California megachurch pastored by Robert H. Schuller once represented the innovative and market-savvy dexterity of American Christianity. Schuller started his church at a drive-in movie theater, allowing visitors to stay comfortably inside their cars. Then he utilized television with the “Hour of Power” ministry broadcast. Its success allowed him to build one of the largest churches in the country.
But last year the church filed for bankruptcy, the soaring glass building was sold to the Roman Catholic diocese, and the ministry is in shambles. What happened?
Some view Schuller’s ministry as the canary in the megachurch mine. It was one of the first megachurches in the country, and does its demise forecast the fate of others? Others point to demographic shifts. When built, the Crystal Cathedral was in a young and affluent community. But today the area is more economically and racially diverse.
But there is another aspect to the Crystal Cathedral’s story worth exploring: family.
Can a name change rehabilitate the SBC's image in our culture?
by Url Scaramanga
Last month the Southern Baptist Convention decided to change its name, sort of. They have proposed using the informal designation of "Great Commission Baptists." It will serve as a kind of nickname for those congregations who deem "Southern Baptists" unhelpful or off-putting in their community.
The problem is one of branding. The SBC brand has suffered a number of setbacks in recent years. First, while still the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., the Southern Baptists aren't just Southern. And in many parts of the country the South is still associated with unpopular values and an unjust history. In fact, the "Southern" in Southern Baptists came from the SBC's allegiance to the Confederacy, and slavery, in the 19th century--a fact the SBC has repented of but it remains a stain on their image.
Secondly, cultural crusaders from within the SBC ranks have garnered negative media attention for the last few decades. Remember the boycott on Disney over the media company's decision to offer benefits to domestic partners of gay employees? Calling Micky Mouse public enemy #1 is not how you win public favor. And while there are culturally sophisticated and popular SBC pastors like Rick Warren, the impact of voices like Jerry Falwell's have done far more to shape the Southern Baptists' image in our culture.
Does a cosmic gospel diminish the call to personal evangelism?
by Url Scaramanga
This interview by Ed Stetzer with Mark Dever caught me by surprise. They're talking about the renewed interest among evangelicals in a "larger gospel" that captures a kingdom theology. Dever sees it as exceedingly dangerous because a focus on doing good may take away from evangelism. Check out this clip.
What surprised me was Dever's honesty. Consider his remarks:
2. But Dever worries that focusing on this biblical definition of gospel will diminish our focus on individual salvation and evangelism. So,
3. He wants us to rely on a "systematic" idea of what gospel means based on a "long tradition of reflection" that emphasizes the individual redemption of people rather than the cosmic restoration of all things.
Is Dever asking us to put theological tradition ahead of Scripture?
The deaths of Steve Jobs and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth reveal the church’s captivity to cultural values.
by David Swanson
Earlier this year, on October 5th, an influential and visionary leader died. His life forever changed the American experience, and his legacy will be felt for generations to come. An ability to see a future many thought impossible marked his work even as he inspired others to dream of that future. “No” was an unacceptable answer for this man; the status quo was meant to be shattered. Countless people see the world and its possibilities in profoundly different ways because of his passion and drive.
In a strange twist, October 5th was also the day Steve Jobs died.
The first man, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, was pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabaman, and an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement. Rev. Shuttlesworth was a catalyst at seemingly every stage of the movement for racial equality: forming the influential Southern Christian Leadership Conference, participating in sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, joining the Freedom Rides during the summer of 1961, and pushing for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For his efforts, at least three attempts were made on his life. When his home was bombed in 1956, the young pastor boldly claimed, “God made me dynamite proof.”
How many people in your church have heard of Fred Shuttlesworth? Too few, surely. How many sermons, in the Sundays following his death, cited his as a life worth imitating? Not many, I’m afraid. In contrast, I have a hunch that the life and death of Steve Jobs was fodder for countless sermon illustrations in the days following his death. This, I believe, is a missed opportunity. Whatever their many accomplishments may be, our culture’s heroes—and Jobs was that and more to many—should not always be our heroes.
What if your church gave volunteers, leaders, and money to other churches' ministries- on purpose?
by Skye Jethani
Read parts one,two, and three of "Recipe for Church365".
Ingredient Four: Decentralized Service
Over the last few years my travels have been taking me more regularly to Portland, Oregon. Portland is weird, and that’s how they like it. But it’s also inspiring. I’m thinking of Rick McKinley and his church Imago Dei. Rick and the leaders at Imago have done a great job inspiring their people to serve the community in Portland. But when members of the church approach a pastor about starting a new ministry, Rick has trained them to always say the same thing: “No.”
I know, it sounds counter-intuitive, but there is brilliance behind the madness. Leaders at Imago Dei know that in most cases there is another church, agency, or non-profit already engaged in the work. So rather than reinventing the wheel and launching a redundant ministry within Imago, they work to connect their members with other organizations all over Portland. As Rick said, “No logo, no ego.” If our church’s name doesn’t have to be attached, a lot more work gets done. As a result, Imago members have been seeded all over the city and multiplied their influence and impact.
As I discussed in my first book, The Divine Commodity, when church institutionalism grows out of control, we come to believe that programs rather than people are the vessels of God’s Spirit and mission in the world. When this occurs we begin to honor people for their involvement in, or service for, the church. But what they do with the remainder of their time gets little attention. When this assumption is reinforced over decades, a hierarchy of importance is established with church leaders (pastors and missionaries) at the top. Others are then only celebrated when they behave like pastors or missionaries, or when they leave their “worldly” professions to devote themselves to “full-time Christian service.”
What I’m describing is the contemporary Western church’s abandonment of a theology of vocation. During the Reformation church leaders began to apply the term “vocation” (Latin for “calling”) to all believers and not simply the clergy. It was understood that all callings were valid before God, and each glorified him and provided a critical service in the world. In other words, the life of the painter, politician, or podiatrist is just as God-honoring as that of the priest when done in communion with Christ and for the benefit of others.
Effort has been underway to recapture this theology for the American church. Andy Crouch’s book Culture Making has helped us re-engage the cultural mandate in Genesis 1, and Gabe Lyons’ has articulated the “7 channels of cultural influence” through the Q Gatherings and website. But what would this look like if embraced by a local church?
What if a church embraced the idea of institutional impermanence?
by Skye Jethani
A few weeks ago I had lunch with Darren Whitehead from Willow Creek. Darren is a great bloke (I can say that because he’s an Aussie), and we talked candidly about our experiences in the church, in leadership, and the way we see church adapting to the shifting culture. Toward the end of our lunch he asked me if I’d ever considering working on a church staff again. “I’ve learned never to say never,” I replied, “but it would have to be a very different kind of church.”
“Like what?” he asked. I rattled off some half-baked answer, but his question has lingered in my mind. What kind of church would I want to help lead?
As I’ve ruminated on that question, I’ve gone back and read a number of articles, blog posts, and editorials I’ve written in the past few years–pieces about the church’s narrow definition of mission, the tendency to over-institutionalize church, the false-belief that perpetuity equal success, rediscovering a theology of vocation, and the danger of making mission an idol at the expense of communion with God.
With all of these ingredients now in the mixing bowl of my mind, I’ve decided to give a more than half-baked answer to Darren’s question. What follows is not a complete recipe but an experiment. It’s my way of welcoming other cooks into my mental kitchen. I want your thoughts and feedback. Am I on to something, or am I completely out to lunch? And please don’t take these ideas as a criticism of other models of church. God has used, and will continue to use, many different churches to accomplish his purposes.
I am calling this experiment Church365, and so far I've outlined 5 ingredients. Here's the first:
A few weeks ago I was in New York City and I visited Ground Zero for the first time. Here is a reflection I wrote later that evening:
Despite the ongoing construction of the Freedom Tower and memorial, it’s hard to absorb that 10 years ago it was a scene of chaos and carnage. This afternoon, like September 11, 2001, was a clear and warm day. I walked though the canyons of Lower Manhattan trying to imagine what it would have been like on that history-changing morning. I couldn’t.
I hadn’t planned to visit Ground Zero on my quick trip to New York. But yesterday I got an invitation from Greg Wheatley at Moody Radio to be part of a panel discussion on his program, Inside Look. The special episode will air around the anniversary of 9/11, and will focus on the events of that day and what’s happened since.
Pedestrian walkways around the site include many renderings of the memorial that is being built. Years of debate occurred before a final design was chosen, but I think they got it right. If you have not visited the website and seen the images, you should now. Most striking are the two recessed reflecting pools marking the footprints of the World Trade Center towers. The waterfalls filling the pools are a beautiful, and eerie, reminder of the falling towers that scar our collective memory. I read that once the memorial is opened to the public on September 12 and the waterfalls turned on, they will run continuously.
Are seeker churches shallow? Are Reformed pastors doctrine snobs? Two young church leaders voice their differences.
by Url Scaramanga
Everyone in pastoral ministry has a bias. Some of us prefer deep doctrinal teaching. Others value ministry that is practical and immediately applicable. Others are all about reaching those far from God. And while there is nothing wrong with those different approaches, let's be honest--many of us hold judgments and feed stereotypes about ministers in other camps.
In this video from The Elephant Room event featuring Matt Chandler and Steven Furtick, they openly admit their judgments about each others' ministries. The tension is evident, but the honesty is refreshing.
A 9-year-old's observations from a liturgical and a contemporary service.
by Skye Jethani
Back in college my professor of American religion gave us an interesting assignment. We had to visit a number of local churches, sit in their sanctuaries, and write down our observations of the spaces. Based on these observations, we were to deduce the theological beliefs of each congregation. How were the seats arranged? What was the visual focus of the space? Why did the Presbyterian church have a soaring pulpit? Why did the Episcopal church have a baptismal font at the entrance? (The most intriguing churches were ones where their explicit theology did not conform to the implicit theology communicated by their space.)
Because of this assignment I was intrigued (and rather proud) when I discovered my 9-year-old daughter conducting a similar exercise. Zoe has joined me at a number of different churches this past year, and during one of the services I noticed her writing in her journal. She later showed me a list of things she had observed in the service that were different from our home church.
The fact that she did this on her own, with no knowledge of each church’s theology, ecclesiology, or philosophy of ministry means her observations are the simple insights of a 9-year-old. But I was fascinated by what she noticed, what she didn’t notice, and what left an impact on her.
Based on Zoe’s notes, I think I can conclude that the non-verbal elements of each service impacted her most. Symbols were very effective. What might we learn by viewing our worship gatherings through the eyes of a child? What values are we implicitly communicating by our spaces, music, and liturgy? What do we hope people leave with?
Here are Zoe’s observations from two churches. I’ve copied them here in their raw, unedited form:
You may be thinking, “But we are called to do things for God. And what’s the alternative--continuing to allow the people in our churches to be self-consumed Christians seeking only their own comfort?” That is a very fair concern. And I completely concur with the consumer posture that is choking much of the modern church both in North American and increasingly around the globe.
But the prescribed solution I hear in many ministry settings is to transform people from consumer Christians into activist Christians. The exact direction of the activism may depend on one’s theological and ecclesiological orientation. For traditional evangelicals its all about evangelism--getting believers to share their faith, give to overseas missions, and grow the church. For many younger evangelicals it may focus compassion and justice--digging wells and eradicating poverty. But what the traditional and younger evangelicals agree upon is that we are to live our lives for God by accomplishing his mission however we may define it.
The “life for God” view makes mission the irreducible center of the Christian life. And everything and everyone gets defined by some great goal understood to be initiated by God and carried forward by us. An individual is either on the mission, the object of the mission, an obstacle to the mission, an aid to the mission, or a “fat” Christian who should be on the mission.
Please don’t think I am trying to dismiss the importance of the missio dei or the church’s part within it. Like other church leaders, I greatly desire to see more Christians hear God’s call and engage in the good and life-saving work he has given us. And I am incredibly grateful for my friends in ministry who have awakened the church to the theological and practical necessity of mission in our age. But as Tim Keller has deftly observed, “An idol is a good thing made into an ultimate thing.”
The church and its leaders desperately need a vision of a life with God and not just for him.
by Skye Jethani
“There is a first-rate commitment to a second-rate mission.” That is what Roger, a leader in global church planting, said as he looked at the rock climbers ascending a cliff in the Alps. Many of us called into ministry feel the same way. Rather than giving our lives to climbing a rock, building a business, or amassing a fortune, we are committed to what really matters; a first-rate mission--advancing the Gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ.
But what if we’re wrong?
Roger spent decades serving Christ by planting churches on four continents. But after reflecting on his labors for the kingdom of God, his confession surprised many of us. “I’ve given most of my energy to a second-rate mission as well,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. Church planting is important. But someday that mission will end. My first calling is to live with God. That must be my first commitment.”
What Roger articulated was a temptation that many of us in ministry face. To put it simply, many church leaders unknowingly replace the transcendent vitality of a life with God for the ego satisfaction they derive from a life for God. Before exploring how this shift occurs in church leaders, let me take a step or two backwards and explain how I have seen this tendency within the Christian college students I’ve worked with in recent years.
Engineering a ministry around a single leader is inherently dangerous, but what's the alternative?
by Skye Jethani
I like airplanes, and given the amount I travel that is a good thing. Seeing these incredible machines--aluminum and composite monuments of human ingenuity--makes the atrocities of most American airports almost bearable. (My genetically tanned, ambiguously ethnic appearance must scream “al-Qaeda!” I get patted down more than Donald Trump’s mane on a windy day.)
Modern airliners, as one author put it, are “the most complicated machines man has ever built.” But they are still regarded as the safest form of transportation. There are over 20,000 commercial flights every day in the United States. If you were to drive rather than fly one of those routes, you would be 65 times more likely to be killed. Perhaps more surprising, since 1980 the number of airplanes, flights, and passengers has doubled, but accidents per year have been declining. Flying is five times safer now than 30 years ago.
How is that possible? There are many factors that contribute to air safety, but a significant one is what the industry calls “redundancy.” Modern airliners are engineered so that everything necessary for flight has a back-up--engines, control systems, computers, fuel lines, hydraulics, even the pilot. As a result no single failure should cause an aircraft to crash.
The brilliance of redundancy was displayed last year when a Qantas A380, the world’s largest passenger jet, experienced what the industry calls an “uncontained engine failure.” One of the airplane’s four engines violently exploded in flight sending metal shrapnel through the wing and fuselage. (I’m guessing what the passengers experienced at that moment would be called an “uncontained underwear failure.”) You can watch a video of the incident online.
The A380 was severely damaged. The engine was destroyed, numerous control systems had been cut by the flying debris, fuel was leaking, flaps on the left wing were inoperable, and the landing gear damaged. Still, the pilots were able to fly for almost two hours before landing safely. Redundancy saved the day.
This lesson from civil aviation may be relevant for the church today.
Piper, Keller, and Carson talk about aging and passing on their ministries.
by Url Scaramanga
Tim Keller and John Piper both lead very large churches. But what happens when they eventually leave their posts? It's a question that is facing many megachurches given that most were started by Baby Boomer leaders who are now entering their 60s.
Keller explains his church's 10-year plan to launch into four, and possibly eight, independent churches. This requires him to spend a great deal of time developing new leaders. Piper, on the other hand, shares tat his church has not yet discerned a plan for the future. They are engaged in a season of prayer to determine what to do.
However, since this video was filmed in April, Piper has announced his plans to transition from his role at Bethlehem Baptist in three years. He will step away from preaching and vision in June 2014 to give his attention to writing, speaking, mentoring, and teaching at Bethlehem College and Seminary.
After watching the video, share your thoughts. When should a long-serving pastor begin talking to the church about transitioning? Is there an ideal model? What have you seen work, or fail to work, in your congregations?
People engage electronic media an average of 8 hours a day. Do they really need more at church?
Read Mercer Schuchardt
The band is rockin', arms are swayin', and you're about to come on screen in high definition with such stunning visual clarity that even people in the nosebleed seats can see your perfect smile.
Is this a rock concert? A beer commercial? Or just a typical Sunday morning?
These days, it could be any of the above.
Whether you're a questioning congregant, a concerned pastor, or a perplexed professor studying the effects of media on religious practice (like me), the use of technology in the worship setting is worth considering.
Media are not neutral. Like ideas, they have consequences, especially in the church. And some of these consequences should give us pause. In Technopoly media theorist Neil Postman writes, "A preacher who confines himself to considering how a medium can increase his audience will miss the significant question: In what sense do new media alter what is meant by religion, by church, even by God?"
Given the impact of new media, we should carefully consider the medium of Christ's message.
Can the values of entertainment and hospitality coexist?
by Skye Jethani
Many churches focus on providing a compelling worship experience. The desire is to attract people to an excellent production where they can sing, learn, and leave feeling renewed. For decades we've called this approach "seeker-sensitive." But does that sensitivity have limits?
News reports broke last week about a 12-year-old boy with cerebral palsy being removed from Elevation Church for being a "distraction" during the Easter service. The boy's mother said, “Easter Sunday he got all dressed up, got ready to go, no small feat with a kiddo like him." But, according to the report, after the opening prayer inside the sanctuary the boy voiced his own kind of “Amen.”
“We were very abruptly escorted out," the mother said.
Following the incident, the boy's mother contacted church leaders with an offer to start a ministry for special needs children. She told reporters that the idea was "rejected."
After the story was broadcast on the local news (you can watch the video here), Elevation Church issued a statement in which they clarified that "...this young man and his family were not removed from our church. They were escorted to a nearby section of our church where they watched the service in its entirety."
The church also said, “It is our goal at Elevation to offer a distraction free environment for all our guests. We look forward to resolving any misunderstanding that has occurred.”
Explaining the American church's silence around The Cape Town Commitment.
By Scot McKnight
If you are an Urbanite then you know that last October church leaders gathered in Cape Town, South Africa, for the Third Lausanne Congress on Global Evangelization. It was the largest, most diverse gathering of Christian leaders in history. Our own Skye Jethani was there and reported from the event. One of the tangible outcomes of the congress was "The Cape Town Commitment"--a theological and missional document declaring our united focus as the church of Jesus Christ. In this post Scot McKnight asks why more people aren't paying attention to this brilliant and important work. His reflections are worth your time.
First, the silence about the CTC reflects America’s insularity and willful choice to ignore anything that is produced by Christians from other parts of the world. We talk universal church, we talk global church, and we participate in missionary work, but the lack of attention to this incredible unifying statement reflects that what comes from elsewhere belongs elsewhere. Perhaps I’m wrong.
Second, the silence about the CTC reflects American evangelicalism’s numbness about the vibrancy of gospel leadership in other parts of the world. We’ve got so much here, we’re worried about our problems, and we’re absorbed with our culture and consumeristic lifestyle to the degree that we are numb — and so we simply never awoke to the significance of the CTC and the Lausanne event in Cape Town.
Third, American evangelicalism has become tribal, and this silence reflects that what isn’t from our group isn’t important.
Why ministry models are not universally applicable.
By Brandon O'Brien
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at a gathering for small church pastors and lay leaders in rural eastern Michigan (locals call it “the thumb”). Eleven or so churches were represented; about 45 folks showed up, all members of the “Thumb Ministry Group.” They had read my book together as a group, discussed it at a meeting, and then invited me to come lead them in a daylong reflection/Q&A/workshop experience that would help them apply the principles in the book to their specific ministry contexts.
It was a great day, from my perspective. The group was interactive, engaged, and prepared. They are learning among them to approach ministry cooperatively, which I find very encouraging. Despite the fact that all of them minister amid tough social challenges–i.e. the unemployment rate is well over 10 percent in that part of the state; so many young working families are abandoning ship–they were all there bright and early, enthusiastic to seek the Lord’s wisdom for their churches.
One thing that struck me after our time together is how seldom I hear from church leadership experts and curriculum materials, etc., the importance of recognizing that all ministry is local. We seem to assume that what works in one place will work everywhere, as if programs and processes are universally appealing and applicable. They just aren’t.
Well, I hadn't planned on posting the second part of Dallas Willard's video from Catalyst. But since you are all getting so animated about part 1, here you go. In this video he discusses spiritual disciplines and the role of grace in our lives. Willard says, "Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning." And "Effort is action; earning is attitude." We are called to act, but we must avoid the attitude that we are earning something. Calvinistas...en garde!
It's about getting into heaven before you die, not after.
John Ortberg interviews Dallas Willard at Catalyst West about what the church is getting wrong today. In a nutshell, Willard says we're getting the gospel wrong. We'd love to hear your responses to this video.
Why we refuse to believe that God is eternal but our ministries are not.
by Skye Jethani
How do you define success? It goes without saying that those committed to Jesus Christ and his purposes in the world ought to define success differently than other people. After all, Jesus himself refused his culture’s narrow view of success; in fact he regularly clashed with his own disciples about it. While they were excited by growing crowds and political power, Jesus reminded them that “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). Faithfulness to the Father led Jesus to defy the crowds and accept the cross.
A lot has been said about the danger of putting church growth and effectiveness ahead of all else. Gordon MacDonald calls this temptation missionalism and powerfully explains how younger pastors are drawn into it’s grip. But I’ve started to notice another lure emerging even among those of us who have rejected church growth and the “bigger is better” mantra. It is the danger of defining success by perpetuity.
Many in ministry have come to believe that if something lasts, if it continues even after we have stepped away, then it can be considered a success. A church plant that grows, finds a property, builds a facility, hires a staff, and still exists 20 years later is deemed a success. The same might be said of a network of "organic" churches. If it's still going years later then we've built something successful. In each case the ministry is not assessed by how faithful God’s people were or even by the fruit exhibited, but by its ability to continue.
But linking success to perpetuity bring two problems. First, it can make us deaf to God’s calling. We tend to assume that just because God has used a ministry or method in the past that he must desire for it to continue indefinitely. But this assumption means we may miss a new work that he has in store. Was this not exactly why the Pharisees could not embrace Jesus or his ministry as divine? He did not fit with their expectation. Their minds were so mired in the past that they could not imagine God doing something new.
It’s necessary to place the passage within the larger context of 1 Timothy 2. It seems that the end of chapter 2 which states that “women will be saved through childbearing” was correcting a heresy in the early church. As it is translated in English—and without a cultural understanding of the times in which it was written—it sounds as if women are saved by means of having children. But Paul was, in fact, correcting some proto-Gnostic heretics that claimed women were the cause of humanity’s fall and that God was very, very displeased with them. To be saved, then, women needed to give up their sexuality and become more like what really pleases God, namely men. For example, the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas (which is full of the very ideas Paul wanted to correct) says:
Simon Peter said, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.” Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.” (114).
These heretics were teaching that only by giving up intercourse and other “worldy” pleasures could women be saved. And if a woman had a child? Well, how evil to take part in sex and bring another person into this wicked world! (Clearly, this group didn’t last very long.)
Is it "creeping egalitarianism" or honest and humble wrestling with Scripture?
by Bob Hyatt
I was raised and educated in church communities and traditions that held a complementarian view of women in ministry. So when I helped plant Evergreen, our community here in Portland, I did so with complementarian values. My original vision for our community included a male “elder” board that handled the “shepherding” and a co-ed “leadership team” that handled the details of administration and ministry.
But a funny thing happened: I changed. I went back to Scripture, prayerfully re-examined what it said and what that meant against the backdrop of the culture at the time, and I came to different conclusions.
My process started when I heard someone describe the thesis of William Webb’s book, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals. Webb argues that when we compare Scripture against the cultures in which it was written, it is always progressive on the issues of slavery and women—Scripture consistently challenges culture to raise the status of women and slaves. But more than that, there is movement even within Scripture, a progression from what Moses taught about women, for example, to what the New Testament teaches. This progression is pointed toward an ultimate ethic of freedom and equality (see Gal. 3:28). (By the way, Webb doesn’t see this progression on the issue of homosexuality.)
Webb’s thesis planted some real seeds of dissonance in me. I was having a harder and harder time arguing that many of those whom God had gifted to lead (i.e. women) should or could lead only certain kinds of people. Fast forward to 2004 when we planted Evergreen. I was still complementarian, but we were planting a church community designed to make sense to and be a home for the unchurched and the formerly churched. I soon discovered that the role of women in ministry is a huge issue not only for the people we had built our community for, but even for those we had built it with.
What does "No one comes to the Father except through me" really mean?
We seem to be on a doctrine binge these days. First a run of discussions on the role of women in ministry, and now a conversation fueled by Rob Bell's new book about hell and universalism. Talking about damnation has certainly gotten folks stirred up. Some have been saying that by some standards, even C.S. Lewis could be branded a heretic because of his "locked from the inside" take on Hades. Does a view like Lewis', annihilationism, or an Eastern Orthodox take on hell automatically push someone outside of the evangelical fold? Is "heretic" a justifiable label for such teachers?
Just to keep the conversation going, here's an interesting video recently featured on The Huffington Post on how to refute popular Christian arguments based on John 14:6.
N.T. Wright gives a biblical case for the full inclusion of women in the orders of the church.
N.T. Wright is one of the more popular theologians today. When his views about the atonement are not stirring debate, then perhaps his understanding of the role of women in ministry will. In this video, Wright outlines the prominent role of women as apostles (Romans 16) and the counter-cultural fact that a women was the first person commissioned to announce the news of Jesus' resurrection (John 20). He chooses to read 1 Timothy 2 in light of these texts.
God's intent is for men to lead the family, and a church is a family. Agree?
The church is a family, and God has designated men to be the head of the family. That is the argument put forth by Bill Kynes in this Gospel Coalition video defending a complementarian understanding of the sexes. Does it work for you? Continue the civil dialogue below.
We begin a new video series looking at the different viewpoints on women in church leadership.
10 percent of Protestant senior pastors are women. That number has doubled in the last decade. But the issue is still debated and divisive. What role should women have in church leadership? Are certain responsibilities given to only men in the church, or should responsibilities be determined by gifting and maturity alone?
In the coming days we'll be posting a series of videos from both points of view. We realize this is a hotly debated and contentious issue, but we trust that Urbanites will be able to express their views with respect and with humility. First we hear from Rose Madrid-Swetman who co-pastors a church with her husband in Seattle.
Strategist Will Mancini says small, social, and tech-savvy churches will be gaining momentum in the year ahead.
Will Mancini, church “clarity evangelist” and author of Church Unique, is committed to helping churches find their vision for ministry. His work gives him an interesting view of the ministry landscape. Below are his predictions about new and enduring trends we can expect in North American ministry in 2011 and beyond. This post originally appeared at Will’s blog. We’ve condensed it here with his permission.
1: Increasing diversity of opinion about what good vision and strategy look like
In 2010, Craig Groeschel posted on the Death of the 5 Year Plan, yet vision mavens like Jim Collins still talk about 20-year BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). To add to the confusion, the list of “how-to-do-church” books grows exponentially. We’ve gone from simple, deep, organic and total to sticky, viral, dangerous and hybrid. Are we getting clear yet?
2: Articulating the biggest picture will be the leader’s greatest asset
Every church leader is saturated with countless best practices, bombarded with more communication, and ministering to people struggling with increasingly complex lives. This gives us a hyper-need for clarity. Communicating Jesus-centered meaning in life has never had more competition. The best leaders won’t take the most basic assumptions for granted.
3: Social media will open new possibilities for more churches
"Over time, the experts have done for church what postcards and PBS specials have done for the Grand Canyon: they've made it difficult for us to appreciate our own experience apart from theirs. We have lost the ability to see and experience and appreciate ministry for ourselves. All we can see is the disparity between what our churches are and what they are 'supposed' to be."
Excerpted from "An Unspoiled View" in the Fall 2010 issue of Leadership Journal. To read the full quote IN context be sure to subscribe to Leadership today by clicking on the LJ cover in the left column.
Brandon O'Brien is associate editor of Leadership and the author of The Strategically Small Church (Bethany House, 2010).
It is widely known that by 2048, if not sooner, non-Hispanic whites will no longer make up a majority of the U.S. population. Less clear is what these demographic shifts will mean for us who are living through these days of momentous and visible change. A friend who is a school social worker in the suburbs is watching the school diversify significantly and wonders how best to serve his new students. Another suburban friend is spending time with children of refugees and immigrants, looking for ways to explain how the majority culture actually works to those who learned about America on TV. Friends accustomed to being America’s minorities look on with curiosity—and perhaps apprehension—as certain pundits and politicians decry the changing face of the country.
The participants at the first Multi-ethnic Church Conference were asking questions along these lines. More than one speaker referenced 2048 as a societal tipping point. But while the conference addressed the wider culture, many of the most pressing questions were directed to our churches. Most of these complicated issues cannot be swiftly resolved, but I think they’re worth considering here. After all, the questions being grappled with by multi-ethnic church practitioners are surely not limited to the multi-ethnic church.
Do church leaders see the big picture of children in the Bible and across the world?
We cover a lot of topics on Out of Ur, but one area we have neglected is children. Let's be honest, children's ministry isn't the sexiest topic and it doesn't tend to draw the big names to the big conferences. But that says more about our bias than the critical role of children in God's kingdom.
At the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town last month, the Global Children's Forum presented a wonderful 4-minute video called "TODAY" to highlight the importance of kids in our mission. They've just made the whole video available for free to download on their website. Not only does it have a great message, but who doesn't love claymation?
Cape Town demonstrates that Christians are not immune to conflict, but neither are they strangers to reconciliation.
In the January 2011 issue of Leadership, we will be featuring an interview with Ken Sande, head of Peacemaker Ministries, which helps Christians and their churches respond to conflict biblically, and assists with reconciliation. This week, Ken Sande is in Cape Town, South Africa, for the gathering of 4,000 ministry leaders from around the globe. Ken's report (distributed through the Peacemaker.net email newsletter) for yesterday was so fascinating that we thought you'd appreciate it.
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As I entered the Cape Town Conference Center this morning, I encountered two young people who were struggling with serious conflict. So instead of joining the worship service, I spent an hour helping them apply the transforming promises of the gospel to some difficult issues in their relationship. It was time well spent, and at the end of our conversation they both expressed a renewed hope to continue serving Christ together.
While we talked, John Piper was teaching on Ephesians 3. Later a friend gave me the essence of his talk. John had challenged our group to remember that as important as it is to exert ourselves to obey Jesus’ command to relieve suffering in this world, we must give equal effort to the prayerful, diligent proclamation of the gospel, which is the key to preventing human suffering for eternity. It is so difficult to give proper attention to both of these messages. Churches that are strong in evangelism are often weak in engaging the culture, and vice versa. May God give us grace to preach and live out the gospel in all of its saving and transforming power.
After John Piper’s talk, we heard a gripping testimony by Libby Little, wife of Tom Little, who was killed along with seven other aid workers in Afghanistan a couple of months ago. Their sacrifice was a powerful example of another statement John Piper made: “The gospel isn’t going to spread without suffering and without prayer, because the places that remain to be reached are largely places that don’t welcome Christians.”
Two speakers from Nigeria and the United Kingdom challenged us further regarding our responsibility to take the gospel to people of other faiths. As one of them said:
The opening of Cape Town 2010 looks back at history and forward to heaven.
by Skye Jethani
The Third Lausanne Congress was officially opened on Sunday night in Cape Town, South Africa. The evening was dominated by history and context. Letters were read from Billy Graham and John Stott, the two leaders most responsible for the first congress in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1974. And a brief history of the Lausanne Movement was shared.
A beautiful video was shown tracing church and mission history from Pentecost through the 1910 missions conference in Edinburgh. Much was made of the Edinburgh conference. Many view that gathering 100 years ago in Scotland as the beginning of the modern missionary movement. Of course Edinburgh was dominated by European and North American church leaders with only a tiny number from other parts of the world.
A lot has changed.
After the video all 5,000 delegates stood to sing "Crown Him with Many Crowns"--the same hymn that opened the Edinburgh conference a century ago. And the amazing diversity at Cape Town 2010 was a moving testimony to how effective the 20th century missions movement was. Standing beside me was an African woman, an Australian man, an Asian couple, and a student from Latin America. I have never been in a more international gathering in my life. As I scanned the room I didn't see groups of white, black, or brown. The room was integrated, for lack of a better term--God's people from around the globe worshipping together. It was incredibly moving.
Turns out that atheists have fundamentalists and liberals too.
by Skye Jethani
Fans of the Beatles celebrated John Lennon’s 70th birthday this week. Lennon was killed by a gunman in 1980 in New York City, and his violent death is often contrasted with the utopian dream Lennon composed in his song Imagine. The song is a favorite among secular humanists (a.k.a. atheists) because it dismisses the existence of heaven and hell, and portrays religion as a source of endless conflict and disunity. Without religion, Lennon wrote, we can “imagine all the people living life in peace.”
Ironically, while Lennon’s fans gathered in Central Park to celebrate his legacy the largest atheist organization in the country gathered in Los Angeles for a conference marked by schism and disunity. The Council for Secular Humanism met to pour out contempt upon Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Religious faith was called “nonsense,” “superstition,” and adherents were described as “ignorant” and “stupid.”
But what got the Los Angeles Times’ attention was the conflict that erupted between two camps within the atheist movement. On one side were the “new atheists.” These folks might be called the fundamentalists (although I’m sure they would object to such religious language). The new atheists believe in open confrontation with religious believers. Rather than a “live and let live” approach, they believe religion must be called out for the sham that it is.
On the other side are the “accommodationists.” These more moderate (dare we say “liberal”) atheists don’t believe direct confrontation with the religious is warranted. They even advocate partnering with religious people to advance issues of mutual concern.
Next week is the largest, most diverse gathering of church leaders in history. And Ur will be there.
Last week Leadership's editor-in-chief, Marshall Shelley, brought you live posts from the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta--one of the most influential and popular ministry conferences for younger church leaders.
For those unfamiliar with the Lausanne Movement, it was launched by Billy Graham and John Stott in the late 1960s. The first congress occurred in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974. Time magazine called the meeting “a formidable forum, possibly the widest-ranging meeting of Christians ever held.” Out of that first congress came the Lausanne Covenant--a widely affirmed and celebrated document of Christian conviction and mission.
A second Lausanne congress was held in Manila in 1989. This gathering is where the "10/40 window" idea was widely introduced to the global church. It led many denominations and missions agencies to focus their efforts for the next two decades on the unreached nations in the Muslim world.
Does video preaching help or hinder church planting?
The Gospel Coalition has released this fascinating conversation with Mark Dever, Mark Driscoll, and James MacDonald regarding multi-site church. Both Driscoll and MacDonald are proponents of multi-site churches utilizing video preaching. Dever is not. He sees more value in raising up more preachers to lead autonomous churches rather than using video to increase one preacher's exposure. Driscoll and MacDonald disagree and make the case their they are raising up more preachers through their model.
Check out the video and share your thoughts. Does Dever have a point? Do Driscoll and MacDonald seem too defensive? Is there an angle on the subject they didn't cover but should have?
Ed Stetzer interviews Brandon O'Brien about his book, "The Strategically Small Church"
Brandon O'Brien, associate editor for Leadership Journal, has written a new book, The Strategically Small Church. In this work, he seeks to demonstrate how small churches are uniquely equipped for success in today's culture. Ed Stetzer interviewed O'Brien about his book and why being small may be more missionally strategic.
Ed: What do you mean by "strategically small church"? Is this a new church model, like "simple" or "organic" church?
Brandon: A "strategically small" church is one that has learned to recognize and leverage the inherent strengths of being small. Being strategically small means that instead of trying to overcome your congregation's size, you have learned to use it to strategic ministry advantage.
In other words, I'm not advocating a new model of doing church. Instead I'm hoping that by telling the stories of some truly innovative and effective small churches, other small congregations will stop viewing their size and limited resources as liabilities and begin thinking about them as advantages.
Ed: What keeps small churches from becoming "strategically small?"
Brandon: Many small churches try to operate like big churches. The idea seems to be that if we imitate what the megachurches are doing--if we do ministry like them--then we'll grow like them. The trouble is, operating like a big church can undermine the inherent strengths of being small.
Is national patriotism inconsistent with Christianity?
by Bob Hyatt
I’ve been a part of numerous churches that celebrated American Independence Day with abandon: 80-foot flags hanging from the ceilings, singing the “Star Spangled Banner” and “I’m Proud to Be an American” and even— most disturbing to me as I reflect back—saying the Pledge of Allegiance during our corporate worship.
If some visitor had asked us on those Sunday just what we were worshiping, I think that might have been a very perceptive question.
For many, the Fourth is about gratitude for the blessings of freedom. And as far as that goes, I’m in complete agreement—though to see only the “blessings” of freedom and not also repent of all the many varied and creative ways we’ve abused it might be a bit short-sighted. Still, yes to gratitude.
For others, these celebrations go beyond merely the gratitude and obedience that Scripture commands, into something else, something entirely absent from the God’s Word: Patriotism.
Years ago I worked for a visionary pastor who saw ‘the city on the hill’ that he believed our church could become and then he proceeded to lead us there. Using his preaching, pastoral care and personal charisma, he got everyone – or nearly so - focused on the one main goal of impacting our city for Christ. And because of his single-minded devotion, in time his vision became a reality. The church prospered, the community was blessed, and hundreds of lives were touched with the Gospel.
Unfortunately, that was the extent of his success. In subsequent years he lost his way. He regularly generated new ideas and strategies but hardly focused at all on the need for more organization and structure. He continued to change out staff and lay leaders, but spent almost no time building community with the ones who stayed. And he gave too little attention to the necessary practice of self-leadership. That, unfortunately, resulted in a tragic moral failure. Too bad Scott Belsky’s book Making Ideas Happen wasn’t around then. It might have saved our pastor, his family, and the church a lot of heartache and wasted resources.
Are intentionally small churches any better than intentionally big ones? It depends.
by Brandon J. O'Brien
In a conversation last week about the virtues of small churches, a pastor friend of mine, Chuck Warnock, quoted a passage from John Zogby’s 2008 book The Way We'll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream (Random House). Zogby prophesies that “The church of the future will be a bungalow on Main Street, not a megastructure in a sea of parking spaces. It’s intimacy of experience that people long for, not production values.”
On the face of it, I couldn’t be more pleased with that prediction. I’ve pastored two small congregations and am now a member and deacon in another, where my wife serves on staff. My experience with these churches has led me to believe that small congregations are uniquely positioned to carry the gospel into the world in the 21st century. Few things would make me happier than if the “next big thing” in Christian ministry conversations was the small church.
But the context of Zogby’s forecast gives me pause.
How Url Scaramanga thinks about cool new church names.
Have you noticed that church names are getting increasingly strange? Our friend Dennis Baker has. He's been keeping a list of church names in order to document how far we've come from the days of "First Presbyterian" and "Springfield Baptist." He sent us the following list of 129 church names. I've added my reactions in parentheses.
2. Revolution (Where only senior pastors get beheaded.)
3. Radiance (Where the female vocalists all glitter like Mariah Carey.)
4. Elevation (U2 songs every bloody Sunday.)
6. Renovation (You can do it! God can help.)
8. enCompass (Wii th-|-nk [outside] the box. We R crAtiVe.)
9. Epiphany Station (Next stop, Conjunction Junction!)
10. Soma (Our pastor knows Greek.)
12. Rock Harbor (If your life hasn’t run aground yet, we can help.)
13. Journey (“Don’t Stop Believing” is our theme song.)
Can we know who is, and who is not, going to hell?
Our dive into damnation continues with Greg Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church. After explaining our human tendency toward poor self-assessment, and our need to be in a right relationship with God, Boyd says, "I don't know who's going to heaven and who's going to hell. It's not for me to judge.... I can't say, and I don't think anyone can say, that so-and-so, and so-and-so, and so-and-so, are or are not saved."
We've heard from N.T. Wright, John Piper, and Tim Keller about the doctrine of hell. What do you make of McManus' understanding of hell and God's character? He seems to echo the perspective of C.S. Lewis who wrote that "The doors of hell are locked from the inside." That's certainly more palatable in our anti-damnation culture, but do you think it's right?
What a not-so-Christian movie says about the goal of the Christian life.
by John Ortberg
I have been thinking a lot lately about Colossians 1, where Paul writes: "We proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this reason I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me." It strikes me that this comes close to a creedal text for those of us involved in church ministry. Sometimes we get so immersed in the X's and O's of church work that we forget to step back and ask what 's the real reason we're doing all this. Paul has great clarity on it, and is more concise than usual: "so that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
If your church is looking for a big hairy audacious goal, this will do for starters.
The scale: everyone.
The outcome: mature in Christ.
That's not common language in our day. So recently I have asked church leaders in a number of settings to take a few moments to describe what someone who is "mature in Christ" looks like. Certain words always make the list: loving, joyful, peaceful, forgiving, serving, courageous, loyal, humble, generous.
And when "mature in Christ" is explained in those terms, there are not many people who are uninterested. This offer has remarkably broad appeal. I went with a friend to see Avatar last week. The 3-D thing is pretty cool. The writer does not actually attach a denominational label to the script, but it was pretty obviously not produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. However, the qualities in the heroes are remarkably consistent with many of the words listed by church leaders: courageous, loving, giving, loyal, generous. What it means to be a good person has been embedded by God pretty deeply into human consciousness.
Are you unknowingly encouraging your attenders to commit "spiritual adultery"?
by Skye Jethani
Does your church emphasize, encourage, and value membership? In many places the notion of church membership has fallen out of favor. Rick Warren thinks that is a “serious mistake.”
Speaking this morning at the Radicalis conference at Saddleback Church, Pastor Rick challenged pastors to rediscover the importance of commitment to a local church through radical membership. “Membership is a word that has been perverted and abused,” said Warren. “It’s not putting your name on a roll. It’s not about knowing the insider lingo. That’s not what membership is all about.”
Using Scripture to show the importance of commitment to a local congregation, Warren said membership was about being “a member in the Body of Christ.” And therefore membership is “organic not organizational.”
The Bishop of Durham kicks off our new series on eternal damnation.
We're starting a new weekly series on Out of Ur about the doctrine of Hell. Each week there will be a post (video or written) from a church leader on their view of Hell and the role of the doctrine today. Given the diversity of views, and the different ways evangelical churches talk (or don't talk) about Hell, we hope this series informs your own thinking and communication.
What really produces transformation in the church?
What causes people to change? What creates behaviors? It may not be what you think. According to Andy Stanley, many church leaders assume that the right programs, great teaching, or really inspiring events will foster transformation. But they don't.
There wasn’t much that could have distracted me on the way to the train station on a recent Saturday evening. After two days at an outdoor music festival—in the rain one day and under the blazing sun the next—I wanted nothing more than to return to our apartment for a long shower and some blessed quiet. Lollapalooza was a blast, a great opportunity to see some new bands and observe Chicago’s diverse youth culture. I might have stayed for the day’s final acts, but I’m a pastor and my ringing ears and tired legs needed a good night’s sleep before Sunday morning.
Before I’d walked even a block from the festival, I bumped into a small crowd whose attention was fixed on two men speaking loudly to the bedraggled onlookers. One held a handmade sign that read—I kid you not— “TURN OR BURN!” He spoke into a bullhorn, warning the young people of God’s coming judgment and listing in vivid detail the sins that would lead them to an eternity burning in hell. The other man held an open Bible and vigorously debated anyone who disagreed with his companion’s portrayal of God.
For the past two days, I’d watched these young people pursue beauty and friendship and community. Groups of sunburned 20somethings had made their way from one stage to the next, avoiding mud puddles and speaking with awe in their voices about their favorite musical experiences of the weekend. And now, as they left the safety of the festival grounds, they were immediately confronted with Jesus. Or at least two of Jesus’ representatives.
Do your assumptions about leadership reflect the values of your generation?
by Jimmy Long
In recent years we have entered into lengthy discussions about how worship, spiritual formation, and evangelism are transitioning in the church. However, the most crucial area of transition, leadership, has received minimal attention. For more than 35 years, I have been overseeing the ministry of young InterVarsity staff and college student leaders. In that time I have seen a significant swing in how these young leaders view leadership. The emerging generation of leaders desires a context that fosters community, trust, journey, vision, and empowerment.
If we are going to transition the church to the next generation, both existing and emerging leaders will need to understand and appreciate each other's values. This quiz, developed in conjunction with the editors of Leadership, is a helpful start.
This tool is intended to foster dialogue between older and younger leaders about their divergent views and contribute to greater understanding between the generations. No test can fully reveal the nuances that exist within an entire generation, and you may agree with more than one answer for a question. Mark the answer that best fits your approach to leadership.
While on his "Drops Like Stars" tour, Rob Bell spoke with Michael Paulson from the Boston Globe. (Read the full interview.) The conversation turned to the meaning of the word evangelical. Bell provides an interesting, and likely contestable, definition. The excerpt is below.
But the interview raises an important question--has the word evangelical been corrupted? Is it still useful? And do you still embrace the category or have you abandoned it for another label?
From The Boston Globe:
Q. What does it mean to you to be an evangelical?
A. I take issue with the word to a certain degree, so I make a distinction between a capital E and a small e. I was in the Caribbean in 2004, watching the election returns with a group of friends, and when Fox News, in a state of delirious joy, announced that evangelicals had helped sway the election, I realized this word has really been hijacked. I find the word troubling, because it has come in America to mean politically to the right, almost, at times, anti-intellectual. For many, the word has nothing to do with a spiritual context.
Q. OK, how would you describe what it is that you believe?
In some circles, the term "church programs" has become an epithet for all that is wrong with the institutional church. For a generation hungry for authenticity and community, "programs" feel staged, impersonal, and cold. For a generation increasingly skeptical of government, big business, and corporate machinery in general, "programs" reek of institutionalism, bureaucracy, and insensitivity to human need. Programs may not be the problem, but they are certainly a symptom. They give us something to throw stones at.
To a certain extent, these feelings are justified. After all, programs are the means by which we draw people into our churches. Once they're in, we get them involved by participating in or leading our programs. Participation in programs becomes the way we judge how "involved" people are - if they're engaged in our programs, we call them "committed." Programs become a means by which we judge our effectiveness as ministers - we can know we're doing a lot for Jesus, because we're running so many successful programs. In some churches, it appears the congregation exists to serve the church's programming.
Unlike his previous volumes (Pagan Christianity and Reimagining Church), Frank Viola's new book From Eternity to Here is not about church practices and forms. Instead, it tells the story of God's eternal purposes in redemption from Genesis to Revelation. "I wrote the book," Viola explains, "to bring back into view the greatness, the supremacy, the centrality, and the incomparable glory of the Lord Jesus Christ in the face of God's immense purpose." Leadership assistant editor Brandon O'Brien asked Viola a few questions about what his book means for local churches.
Do you think that someone could agree with you completely about what the church is and could be but disagree about the form a local church should take (i.e. traditional, denominational church vs. house or organic church)?
Absolutely. In fact, Christians from a wide variety of church forms and expressions have been encouraged by the book: Ed Stetzer (Baptist), Alan Hirsh and Dan Kimball (Missional), Shane Claiborne (New Monastic), Myles Munroe and James Goll (Charismatic), Brian McLaren (Emergent), Greg Boyd (traditional evangelical church form), Leonard Sweet (Methodist, and who knows what else!), Michael Spencer (New Covenant-Reformation), Ralph Neighbor (Cell Church) are just some of them. In addition, I've received a fair share of enthusiastic mail from Anglicans on the one hand and Reformed folks on the other, both of whom have resonated strongly with the message of the book.
All told, From Eternity to Here is a book written for all of God's people irrespective of which church forms and structures they might embrace.
I was sick in bed, my poor wife by my side, during a class reunion weekend in South Carolina this past weekend. I usually make sure I get the remote control quickly in hand, so I can steer the programming toward the exercising of my mind: ESPN and Fox Sports are two of my top choices. But my wife beat me to the coveted piece of gadgetry in our hotel room. So I spent the day watching or hearing HGTV design shows. I had nausea when they started, but after awhile watching design shows, I told my wife it was getting worse.
Really I did like some of the shows, like Color Splash by this cool Asian guy with tats on his arm. But the take away after a saturation of design tips and styles were some thoughts on how design is a reflection of us, how we see ourselves, and who we want to become.
Ever faced a leadership decision, and didn't feel you had all the information you needed to decide? For instance, to hire or not to hire? To discipline or extend more grace?
Andy Stanley opened the Catalyst West conference with the best leadership talk I've ever heard from him. He clearly connected with the 3,200 attenders by describing the inescapable fact of life for leaders: you have to lead even when you don't know for certain what to do.
Or, as Andy reframed the issue: "uncertainty is why we need leaders." "God gets more out of chaos than out of wrinkle-free days." If every situation were clear, no leadership would be needed. "Uncertainty underscores the need for leadership. Uncertainty is the arena in which leadership is recognized." For leaders, "Uncertainty is job security!" The crowd laughed. Nervously.
Those of us who've followed Andy for a while recognize this theme as one that he first explored in 2003 in an article in Leadership ("The Uncertain Leader") and in his book The Next Generation Leader. But Andy has continued to develop his thoughts nicely since then. And with the current economy, the awareness of uncertainty has, uh, certainly been heightened.
When you're uncertain, Andy told the assembled leaders, focus on two elements:
The author of Pagan Christianity on the upside of organic churches.
This video comes from Lance Ford, one of our partners over at Shapevine.com. After Frank Viola's opening impression of Dirty Harry, he talks about the nature of Christian community. How important is proximity and frequency to fostering real community? And does a house/organic church structure foster healthier community than a more institutional model? Of course Viola struck a nerve last year with his book Pagan Christianity. A review of his follow up, From Eternity to Here, will be posted on Ur in the coming days.
I've been to a lot of potlucks. Growing up in church and being a pastor has meant many, many casseroles and Jell-O salads. After a recent preaching gig at a suburban church, I was treated to an entirely different version of the potluck: fried chicken, ribs, spaghetti, and kimchi-stuffed dumplings. Not a casserole or gelatin-inspired food product to be seen. The menu perfectly reflected the ethnically diverse congregation of students, families, and retired folks.
Contrast these eclectic culinary delights with the weeklong theology class I took earlier this year. The professor provided an overview of church history that hit all the high points: canon, creeds, schism, reformation, awakening, evangelicalism, and so on. Curiously, there was no mention Christianity's early spread to Africa and India and not a word about the faith's new center in the global south. In the past, both church and neighborhood reinforced this mostly European perspective on history. Of course I knew about the Middle-Eastern roots of and some of the global influences on Christianity, but didn't most of the important stuff happen to guys with vaguely European-sounding names? History and tradition through a Western lens made sense when I lived and worshiped with people whose great-great-grandparents came from Germany, England, and Sweden.
Theologian J. I. Packer on restricting the Lord's Supper
Late in 2008, theologian J. I. Packer sat down with a few CTI editors to talk theology. Here's what Dr. Packer had to say when the conversation ranged to Communion.
Do you believe that access to the Lord's Table should be restricted, and if so, how does the church do that in a way that's inoffensive?
Yes, I believe access should be restricted at two points. First, the folk who come to share the Lord's Supper with the congregation should be people who have shown that they can discern the Lord's body. In other words, they understand what the Communion service is all about: Christ crucified for us.
The second point of restriction is when individuals in the congregation are known to be living in sin. If the attempt has been made to wean them away from sin according to the rules of Matthew 18, and it's failed, then the text says, "Let him be to you as a heathen and a publican," a tax collector, someone beyond the pale. The pastor, with the backing of those who were trying to wean the person away, should say, "Don't come to the Lord's Table. If you come, the bread and wine will not be served to you. I shall see to that."
In a self-obsessed culture, pastors have exchanged “death to self” for self-promotion.
by Scot McKnight
I think I was in college when I first saw that title of a magazine that brazenly called itself SELF, and it was so bold it could have been called SELF! Nurtured in a theology that drew its juices from the Bible and influenced by the likes of Augustine and Luther and Calvin, I was taken back by anyone or any magazine that would advertise itself with the word "self." The self, so I was taught, was to die daily (Luke 9:23) or be put to death (Romans 6). In fact, my pastors often spoke of the "mortification" of the flesh (and self).
Nurture, then, put me on my heels when I saw a magazine called SELF and when that sentiment made its nest in Whitney Houston's famous song "The Greatest Love of All." Its clinching words tell us that "learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all." Well, yes, I say to myself, we do need to have a proper love of our self ? but how can our "greatest" love be one directed at ourselves? The Me Generation has created what Jean Twenge is now calling Generation Me. Others call it iGen. This value is everywhere; it's the air GenMe breathes; and it has made potent inroads into the church.
Recently I saw a church's website where instead of finding "Pastors" or "Staff" it listed "Personalities." A click-through revealed the "personalities" of these personalities, or at least the "personalities" these people wanted others to see. I don't recall all the details, but I read things about what they ate for breakfast and what they'd do if they weren't doing their church jobs. It went on and on, but I had had enough so I clicked the red X at the top and went to my favorite chair and just wondered awhile.
The remarkable story of Flight 1549 carries lessons for church leaders.
by Gordon MacDonald
This morning I took a few minutes to watch video of the remarkable rescue effort in the Hudson River yesterday. For a long, long time, this will remain in the minds of people as a highpoint in the American experience. It appears to have brought out the best in just about everybody. And it provides a dramatic contrast to those who, in recent months, have ripped off people for billions of dollars and cared only for themselves.
These themes come to mind from the so-called "Miracle on the Hudson River."
The way of an airline pilot (age 57) who has spent his professional life becoming an expert in safety. He is a glider pilot, a military pilot, and an airline pilot. It looks like there could hardly have been a better person at the controls. In the impenetrable mysteries of a providential God, does He nudge a man prepared like this into the pilot's seat for that flight? Just wondering.
Story-tellers will celebrate his quick decision-making. He had less than a minute or two to decide whether to try to land at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey or land on the river. No small decision. Made in seconds.
Some will highlight his courage in sticking with the plane, walking the aisles twice to make sure everyone was evacuated. Would you and I have done the same?
Then there's the co-pilot who, in the process of exiting the plane, took off his shirt and gave it to man who, apparently had taken off his coat, to give to a woman who had none. There's a Christian thought here.
Whether we heard it first in Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code, in a Church history class, or in a book, most of us were probably surprised by the political machinations behind The Nicene Creed. I first heard about it from theologian Harold O.J. ("Joe") Brown. More than once I've told my audiences that Constantine should have kept his nose out of the Church's business, that there was too much political unity in mind, and that some of those theologians were anything but noble. It seems most everyone agrees with me. But there it is - the faith we all confess - debated and drafted up in extraordinary lines by ordinary human beings who were embroiled in more than exegesis and theology.
Most explanations I've heard try to hide the obvious: "Constantine's impact was actually minimal," or "that's the way they did things back then." Perhaps we need to ask what folks would like to have happened. If we had our wishes, The Nicene Creed would have been drafted by theologians without spot or wrinkle, men (and women) in whom their was no guile, church leaders who resisted every attempt to grasp power, and political leaders who know the difference between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of the world to come. In other words, we'd prefer The Nicene Creed to have been drafted by God Incarnate.
In the Fall issue of Leadership journal, you'll find David Swanson's review of Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church, by Paul Louis Metzger. Metzger, a professor of Christian theology and theology of culture at Multnomah Bibllical Seminary in Portland, Oregon, also agreed to speak with David about his book. Today you'll hear a brief portion of their conversation. There will be more to come in the future.
In this installment, Metzger talks about the temptation every movement and ministry effort faces--the urge to turn a vibrant move of the Spirit into a cumbersome institution. He suggests that it's not the institution that's the problem, but rather the priority we place on it. We'll look forward to your reflections at the end.
Temper fashionable cynicism by focusing on our strengths.
by Scot McKnight
I'm proud to be an evangelical. I think we do many things well.
Some will roll their eyes at those first two statements. Why? Criticizing evangelicalism is fashionable and evangelicals have joined the fashion, sometimes with apocalyptic fervor. I wonder if the relentless critique of (sometimes hardheaded) evangelical pastors, theologians, and authors--not to mention blogs and internet sites--is not the place we ought to urge the beginnings of reform. I'm sure that most critics have their heart in the right place: they want evangelicalism to be more biblical and more robust. (I hope those are my motivations in my own critiques.) But there sure are a lot of critics. This is what I mean:
Can mystery shoppers help your church retain visitors?
by Brandon O'Brien
The Friday (Oct 10) edition of the Wall Street Journal contained an article whose title and deck pretty much say it all: "The Mystery Worshipper: To try to keep their flocks, churches are turning to undercover inspectors, who note water stains, dull sermons and poor hospitality."
The numbers aren't staggering. Alexandra Alter, the article's author, references "at least half a dozen" consulting firms that have sent covert church-goers to between 20 and 50 churches each. So we're talking about somewhere between 120 and 300 documented instances. Not a trend; not yet. But this is just the sort of thing evangelical church staffs seem to love - it's an opportunity to quantify, qualify, and create an action plan for maximizing ministry impact.
And I understand a church's wanting to know a first-timer's impressions upon visiting its services. Just as you don't recognize how weird your own family is until you bring a girlfriend or college buddy home for a holiday, churches can easily become so introspective and insular that they forget how other congregations operate or how they are viewed by "outsiders." For that reason, I see value in outside consultation, if the consultant is helping an otherwise myopic group of folks recognize its own dysfunction. It would be great, for example, for a visitor to tell you that women seemed underrepresented in the service, that the children appeared marginalized in worship, or that the congregation communicated a tangible sense of dissatisfaction.
But what concerns me about the professional mystery worshipers in Alter's article are the types of observations they are making. In one church, consultant Thomas Harrison noted "a water stain on the ceiling, a ?stuffy odor' in the children's area, a stray plastic bucket under the bathroom sink and a sullen greeter who failed to say good morning before the worship service" among that church's chief infractions. One pastor praises Harrison's attention to detail in this way: "Thomas hits you with the faded stripes in the parking lot?If you've got cobwebs, if you've got ceiling panels that leak, he's going to find it."
This morning kicked off with a time of singing led by the worship band from Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas - one of the churches being highlighted at the conference for their strong REVEAL survey results.
One of the often repeated findings from REVEAL is that frequent engagement with church activities does not predict one's spiritual growth. That being the case, I was curious to see how they redefined the purpose of the Sunday/weekend worship gathering. Many churches, especially the seeker-driven variety, have seen the worship event as the center of the church's missional solar system. Would that still be true in a post-REVEAL era?
The answer seems to be, Yes. Robert Morris and David Smith, both pastors from Gateway Church, were interviewed about their worship services. Morris said, "Worship is not about observing God, it's about experiencing God." Both Morris and Smith talked about the importance of giving people the opportunity to respond through a "ministry time" when people can come forward for prayer.
Gateway's church members expressed a high level of satisfaction with their church's worship services in the REVEAL study. REVEAL also showed that people in most churches want to be more challenged and given practical applications.
Last week it was Catalyst in Atlanta. This week's it's Willow Creek's REVEAL Conference in South Barrington, Illinois. (At least I'm closer to home.) I'll be here for the next two days with a number of updates from the conference. First up: Bill Hybels.
Greg Hawkins began this morning with a recap of the mission - to move people who are far from God toward being fully devoted followers, which means increasingly loving God and loving their neighbor. In churches we create services, classes, small groups, etc. He said, as people participate in these activities, we assume, they will become disciples - those who love God and their neighbors. REVEAL was designed to measure how effective the church's programs have been in order to refine programs and allocate resources to those that work best.
Willow first conducted the REVEAL survey with its members and attenders in the fall of 2003. The results, says Hawkins, showed that "participation in [church] activities doesn't predict whether people have a heart for God and a heart for other people." Instead, one's maturity was not related to activity but intimacy.
After the opening remarks, Bill Hybels took the stage to talk more about REVEAL's impact from his perspective. He began by noting that this past weekend marked the 33rd anniversary of Willow Creek Community Church, and how one kid reminded him that Jesus lived for 33 years and "then they killed him." The laughs showed Hybel's strength - his amazing ability to connect with an audience.
"Most people go to conferences to get their current way of ministry reinforced," he said. But he promised that the REVEAL conference would screw with our heads and cause disequilibrium.
Sometime last year, a short passage of Scripture lodged in my brain. It's been rubbing and needling there ever since and challenging the way I think about ministry.
The passage is from Isaiah 42. Describing Jesus, the Suffering Servant, the prophet says: "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out." These beautiful snapshots of compassion and tenderness bring to mind the ministry Henri Nouwen describes in The Wounded Healer (Image, 1979). They present a vision of Christian service that suits my personality. That's why I find it so troubling how discordant this sentiment is with the following words of Jesus: "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?"
To put the matter bluntly, this offends my understanding of authenticity. When I think of someone being "real," I usually have in mind that said person behaves the same way around everyone. He's confident "being himself." That's what makes the TV doctor House so endearing. He's a jerk, sure; but he's a jerk everywhere and always. He's so authentic. And, because authenticity is such a central cultural value for people my age, it's easy for me to adopt the mantra, Be yourself. If you're nothing else, be real. But Jesus - he interacted with some people in one way and others in another. That's the textbook (if junior-high) definition of "inauthentic."
Visionary preaching taps into people's innate longings.
by Bryan Wilkerson
As men and women created in the image of God, believers are designed to become like Christ in ever-increasing measure. Effective, biblical preaching taps into this innate longing by helping people envision what God created us to be in Christ. This is the definition of visionary preaching.
Visionary preaching is not content merely to instruct people in the ways of God, or to confront the sin in their lives and the world, or to exhort believers to do better and try harder. Visionary preaching empowers people to pursue God's better future by painting a vivid and compelling picture of that future with words, images, and stories.
One megachurch pastor believes small is the new big.
"I love the church. It's God's vehicle for transformation. But I don't want the church to become so centralized that it can't reproduce, can't adopt multiple forms. And that works better when you're small, when you're on the verge, on the edge. Small is the new big. Big isn't bad, but it's overrated."
-Dave Gibbonsis pastor of NewSong Church in Irvine, California. Taken from "On the Verge" in the Summer 2008 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
Willow Creek tries to set the record straight about their changes.
In a video released on June 5, Bill Hybels discusses the "unfortunate" reporting that has revolved around Willow Creek's REVEAL survey. The video refers to a recent Christianity Today article and Out of Ur posts as examples of "misinformation." You can watch Hybels' full interview with Jim Mellado, the president of the Willow Creek Association, here.
After watching the video you may want to read the articles in question and post your feedback:
A guide for the next time you pick up a Christian leadership book.
Beware of any literature that starts with these words: "Jesus was the greatest leader of all time." The sentiment behind those words may be true, but the point they make is irrelevant. It doesn't matter if Jesus was the greatest leader of all time. Jesus is our leader (and, in a holy sense, we're stuck with him).
The issue at hand is far from nit-picky. Evangelicals have long been accused of domesticating Jesus - making him one of "us" (often white, middle-class, socially respectable, and politically conservative). The glut of Jesus-as-leader books runs a tremendous risk as it attempts to introduce Jesus into the economy that surrounds 21st century leadership.
Jesus the leader endangers our view of Jesus the savior. Frankly, Jesus the leader is less threatening. He's an organizational director that would fit in wearing business casual and sitting in a conference room. I believe wholeheartedly that Jesus wants to control how I behave, think, and lead in when I'm in the conference room, but I don't have much confidence in Jesus as the teacher of strategic leadership lessons.
In the first part of this post, I discussed my suspicion that we have confused the church (the community of God's people) with the church institution (the 501c3 tax-exempt organization). This leads to a myopic understanding of Christian mission and service. We can slip into the idea that the only legitimate use of one's gifts, time, and energy is within the institutional structures of the church organization. In part two I want to explore why we may have fallen into this mindset, and how we can begin to think differently.
Without doubt there are numerous factors behind our exaltation of the church institution above the community of saints that created it, but one critical component may be cultural. In our consumer culture we've come to believe that institutions are the vessels of God's Spirit and power. (The reason for this is a subject I explore in more depth in my book due out next year.) The assumption is that with the right curriculum, the right principles, and the right programs, values, and goals, the Spirit will act to produce the ministry outcomes we envision. This plug-and-play approach to ministry makes God a predictable, mechanical device and it assumes his Spirit resides within organizations and systems rather than people.
You often see this mindset after the death or departure of a godly leader. A man or woman powerfully filled with the Spirit's breath demonstrates amazing ministry for Christ. Others are attracted to the leader and over time a community forms. But once the Spirit-filled leader is gone, those remaining assume his or her ministry can and should be perpetuated. The wind of the Spirit may have shifted, but they want it to keep blowing in the same direction. So, an institution is established based on the departed leader's purpose, vision, and values. If these are rigorously maintained, it is believed, then the same Spirit-empowered results that were evident in the leader's life will continue through the institution. Many ministries and denominations originated in just this way--with success defined not merely by faithfulness but by longevity.
Have we confused the community of God’s people with the structures that support it?
Dan Kimball, a regular contributor to Leadership and Out of Ur, has written a book titled, They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from emerging generations. The book chronicles the attitudes of younger seekers - they feel a strong affection for Jesus but they harbor distrust, even disgust, for the church.
I can relate to that perspective. In college I studied in the comparative religion department of a secular university and was closely involved with a parachurch ministry. During those years my fascination with Christ and my devotion to him was budding. But I carried a lingering resentment toward the church. For a number of legitimate (in my mind) and illegitimate reasons, I had pushed the church to periphery of my life. I saw it as a superfluous appendage to faith; like a sixth finger or third nipple - pretty harmless but best removed or kept hidden to avoid embarrassment.
That sentiment changed in me, however, through prayerfully reading the New Testament. I came to see that is was impossible to love Jesus but not his church. As the "Body of Christ," the community of believers is at the center of God's mission and work in the world. As Saint Augustine says, "You cannot have God as your Father and not have the Church as your mother."
I repented. I prayed for weeks asking God to fill me with a love for his church that I knew was absent from my soul. In time my heart caught up with the biblical truth my mind had already conceded.
Fifteen years later I now find myself struggling with a new dilemma. As a young Christian I loved Jesus but not the church. As a more mature believer, I now describe myself as one who loves the church but not the institution. Let me explain.
David Swanson reports on opening events from the National Pastors Convention.
David Swanson agreed to leave frozen Chicagoland to labor in sunny San Diego at this year's National Pastors Convention. He'll be sending us updates throughout the week of the goings on there. This is his first post.
I arrived at the National Pastors Convention in California a day early to catch one of the pre-conference seminars: Emerging Critical Issues Facing the Church. (For this Midwesterner, the sunny blue skies of San Diego were another reason to come early.) The seminar featured four panelists - Scot McKnight, Phyllis Tickle, Andy Crouch, and Tony Jones - addressing four critical issues: the role of Scripture, the church and politics, homosexuality, and religious pluralism.
One pastor believes franchising congregations is the model of the future.
"Church plants," "sister churches," and "satellite congregations" may be a thing of the past. In 2008, the language of missiology is changing, so look for "church franchises" in your town.
Eddie Johnson, the lead pastor of Cumberland Church, espouses the franchising concept when it comes to the relationship between his church in Nashville, Tennessee, and North Point Community Church in metro Atlanta. On his blog, he states, "Just like a Chick-fil-A, my church is a 'franchise,' and I proudly serve as the local owner/operator."
According to Johnson, his job is to "establish a local, autonomous church that has the same beliefs, values, mission, and strategy as North Point." He completed a three-month internship at North Point and continues to receive training and support. He claims to rarely deviate from the "training manual."
"Just like that Chick-fil-A owner/operator," he says, "I'm here in Nashville to open up our franchise and run it right. I believe in my company and what they are trying to 'sell.'"
One sociologist says Willow Creek’s research may not be as revealing as we think.
The research conducted by Willow Creek and published last year in the book REVEAL: Where are you? has generated a great deal of conversation on this blog. Some have heralded the findings as conclusive evidence that Willow's popular philosophy of ministry is fatally flawed. Others have applauded Willow for the courage to be transparent about its shortcomings and seek more effective methods of making disciples. While the discussion has been stimulating, most of us lack the credentials to offer anything more than a layman's opinion about REVEAL. But not Bradley Wright. He is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, and has written an 11 part analysis of Willow's study on his blog. Wright has summarized his take on REVEAL below.
When I go to my physician for a check-up, he starts with a series of simple tests - shining a light in my eyes, looking at my throat, listening to my breathing, and so forth. If the results of these don't seem right, he then orders more sophisticated tests, such as blood work, a biopsy, or x-rays. I would hope that he wouldn't cart me off for surgery or chemotherapy based solely on the initial, simple tests.
This illustrates how we might think about the REVEAL study conducted by Willow Creek Community Church. As described in the book REVEAL: Where are you?, this study collected data from about five thousand respondents in seven different churches. Its results have caused quite a stir. Critics point to them as evidence against the Willow Creek model of ministry. In the foreward to the book, Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek, describes the findings as almost "unbearably painful." The findings of REVEAL, he writes, "revolutionized the way I look at the role of the local church." Coming from as successful a pastor as Bill Hybels, this is a powerful statement.
Is such a strong reaction warranted? I would say probably not, and here's why...
Should the church be striving for excellence, or is it time to abandon the loaded term?
Last year I met with a team of leaders from my church. Our task: to rethink and rearticulate the guiding values of our congregation. The work was relatively easy. Upon investigation we determined that most of our core values hadn't shifted. We still believed in the centrality of relationships to ministry, our bent toward creativity, and the importance of participation. But then we came to "excellence."
For years our church has listed "excellence" as one of its core values. Support for this word, if not the idea behind it, has been slipping for years. A growing number of leaders are uncomfortable with excellence for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most common objection is that it's a more subtle way of saying we are perfectionists. Others object that the word is off-putting to people in the church that cannot achieve "excellence." It's exclusionary.
Defenders of the term say it has nothing to do with perfectionism or elitism, but a desire to "do our very best for God." And one person's very best may differ significantly from another's, but both are upholding the value of excellence. In the end the decision was made to change the articulation of the value and drop the word "excellence." But what word should we use?
Why the big-name celebrity leaders are turning me off.
Angie Ward, Leadership contributing editor, calls for a boycott on worshiping ministry heros. It isn't the popular Christian leaders that she has a problem with, but the clouds of zealous followers that seem to follow them wherever they go. Below is an excerpt from her article. You can read the entire piece here.
We'd like to hear your thoughts about ministry heroes. Who do you celebrate, listen to, and admire? How do you choose your heroes, what do you find so attractive about them, and what are the dangers? We may reprint your comments in the upcoming Spring issue of Leadership.
A few years ago I attended a large ministry conference that included breakout sessions featuring a variety of speakers and "experts" on all things related to ministry and leadership. At one point during the conference, I was waiting in the lobby when one of the speakers (we'll call him Mr. Jensen) walked by, surrounded by at least 25 groupies who hung on this man's every word, nodding their agreement. I actually like this man's writing and philosophy, but was struck by the groupie mentality. A friend who was with me observed, "You know, I like what Jensen says, but God save us from the Jensenites."
Sadly, I've seen that "Jensenites" are becoming the rule rather than the exception. I've heard dozens of pastors speak breathlessly and reverently about their ministerial and spiritual heroes, reading their books and their blogs, listening to their podcasts, following them at conferences, hoping just to get a glimpse of them or to touch their robe so they can receive some magical leadership or teaching power that will result in overwhelming ministry success and their own fame...
Greg Hawkins responds with the truth about REVEAL.
Last week's post about Willow Creek sparked a lot of conversation. It all flowed from comments made by the church's leaders following a three year self-evaluation of Willow Creek's ministry effectiveness. Your comments caught the attention of Greg Hawkins, Willow's executive pastor. Below Hawkins reponds to your thoughts, clarifies what Willow has learned, and discusses the church's future.
I'm thrilled to see the high level of interest and energy behind the blogosphere comments about REVEAL. But I've read enough postings to think that it might be helpful to provide a few facts on three issues that keep coming up. Trust me. I'm not into "spin control" here. I just want to fill in some gaps.
1. It's Not About Willow
? REVEAL's findings are based on thirty churches besides Willow. In all thirty churches, we've found the six segments of REVEAL's spiritual continuum, including the Stalled and Dissatisfied segments. And these churches aren't all Willow clones. We've surveyed traditional Bible churches, mainline denominations, African-American churches and churches representing a wide range of geographies and sizes. Right now we're fielding the survey to 500 additional churches, including 100 international churches. So, while REVEAL was born out of a Willow research project in 2004, the findings are not exclusive to Willow Creek.
Why the most influential church in America now says "We made a mistake."
Few would disagree that Willow Creek Community Church has been one of the most influential churches in America over the last thirty years. Willow, through its association, has promoted a vision of church that is big, programmatic, and comprehensive. This vision has been heavily influenced by the methods of secular business. James Twitchell, in his new book Shopping for God, reports that outside Bill Hybels' office hangs a poster that says: "What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?" Directly or indirectly, this philosophy of ministry - church should be a big box with programs for people at every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage - has impacted every evangelical church in the country.
So what happens when leaders of Willow Creek stand up and say, "We made a mistake"?
Not long ago Willow released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry. Basically, they wanted to know what programs and activities of the church were actually helping people mature spiritually and which were not. The results were published in a book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek. Hybels called the findings "earth shaking," "ground breaking," and "mind blowing."
If you'd like to get a synopsis of the research you can watch a video with Greg Hawkins here. And Bill Hybels' reactions, recorded at last summer's Leadership Summit, can be seen here. Both videos are worth watching in their entirety, but below are few highlights.
The purveyor of overpriced coffee has a lot to teach the church about community.
Once an article is published in Leadership one never knows the ripple effect it will have. Greg Asimakoupoulos, pastor of Mercer Island Covenant Church, wrote for Leadership about the community-forming power of Starbucks in his neighborhood. He confesses, "We like to say that our church is a genuine community of faith, the kind of place people can feel at home. Still, you may have to go down the block to get to see that become a reality for lots of people. We need to be honest and admit that people are lining up to get into Starbucks, but they aren't lining up to get into many of our churches."
For this reason Asimakoupoulos refers to the coffee shop as St. Arbucks.
This week, Terry Mattingly drew heavily from Asimakoupoulos' Leadership article for his column which appears in over 100 local newspapers and at GetReligion.com. Mattingly recognizes the draw of Starbucks as a "third place" - "a safe zone between home and office. For generations, bars, diners, barbershops and a host of other locations have played similar roles." And he notes, "This kind of hospitality has become rare in this rushed world."
Diversity is another strength Starbucks exudes more than most local congregations. Mattingly continues:
Writing in Leadership Journal, Asimakoupoulos noted: "At St. Arbucks, I've seen a rabbi mentoring a Torah student. A youth pastor disciplining a new convert. High school girls working on a group assignment. A book club sipping mochas while discussing a fiction author's plot." Could churches try to be more open to outsiders?
And he wrestles with the advantages and disadvantages of mainline and nondenominational churches.
How does a former pastor choose a church? That is the question Andy Rowell and his wife are facing after their relocation to a new community. The process has opened their eyes to the differences and blessings of denominational and nondenominational churches. Although they've still not made a decision, Andy shares his reflections on the process so far.
"Occupational hazard," that is what my wife and I call it. We cannot help but thoroughly analyze churches we visit. My wife and I both have M.Div. degrees and have served as pastors. So when we need to pick a new church, overanalyzing churches is almost inevitable - an occupational hazard.
A month ago we moved to Durham, North Carolina so I could begin the 4-5 year Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) program at Duke Divinity School. We have visited seven churches in the last six weeks here and have not yet made a decision on where we will attend.
Our backgrounds are mostly in churches and institutions that were nondenominational or interdenominational - where denominational affiliation was played down. But around Durham, many of the churches that have been recommended to us are mainline churches. They are led by pastors that are theologically orthodox, yet the style of these mainline churches is different from what we are accustomed to.
Two non-Christians paid to visit churches are impressed with charity not facilities.
It's been done before. A non-Christian is paid to attend church and provide their honest feedback about the experience. The latest rendition of this experiment is occurring north of the border in Canada. Christian talk show host Drew Marshall has paid two college students, one male and one female, to attend five different churches in the Toronto area. Their observations can be read on Marshall's website, but below are a few highlights from their excursion into Christendom.
The two students visited one of the fastest growing mega-churches in Toronto. Like many megas it has positioned itself as "the church for people who aren't into church." On this Sunday the pastor spoke about wealth and possessions. What did Drew Marshall's guinea pigs think?
Why is it that I should not seek out possessions and money, but the church is permitted to do just that? Does taking 10% of every congregant's income not count as seeking out money? Why should the institution be rich, and the congregation not? If you really believe you should be living the aesthetic life led by Christ and his apostles, why aren't you doing it? If money and possessions aren't important, why aren't you meeting to discuss the meaning of Christ's ideas and life in the local park? Notwithstanding the need to broadcast to your rather large congregation, and obviously you'd have to come up with a solution during the winter months, but really: why the son et lumiere? I found the medium more than a bit out of whack with the message.
What the growing gap in our culture means for churches, leaders, and volunteers.
Leaders should be concerned about the disappearing middle, according to Chad Hall. That bulge in the middle of a bell-shaped curve that represents the great mass of consumers and citizens and churchgoers and volunteers is getting squeezed. The result is the shrinking of the middle and the swelling of the ends, and it's this growth of the extremes in all aspects of our society that has church planter and leader coach Hall intrigued. Here he offers some thoughts on its effects on money and manpower, faith and ministry.
A while back I heard Len Sweet say that our society is moving away from the "bell curve" and toward something called the "well curve." His comment got me doing some research on the topic and thinking about what all of this means for church leaders. Who knew that bells and wells were such important topics for church leaders to consider?
Since high school we've known all about the bell curve: that fundamental law of natural science and statistics that defines normal distribution as being massed near the middle while being low on the extremities. Represented on a graph, the distribution looks like a bell-shaped curve. The bell curve implies that most people gravitate toward the middle or average and avoid the extremes. For example, most people are of average height, have moderately sized families, and earn a "C" in statistics; few people are really tall or really short, few have very large or very small families, and few earn A's or F's.
But within the turbulent days we live, a new phenomenon is being recognized. The distribution for some of our choices is an inverted bell curve, or a well curve. In these cases, the population gravitates toward the ends or extremes and is lowest in the middle. The well curve describes many economic and social phenomena. For instance, television screens are simultaneously getting both larger (60" plasma!) and tinier (watch the latest episode of 24 on your i-pod!); stores are getting larger (Wal-Mart) and smaller (specialty boutique stores); people are eating more healthful foods (organic) and more fast foods (McDonald's).
Perhaps more significant than the rise in the extremes is the decline of the middle: consider the disappearance of the middle-class, the demise of mid-sized companies, the loss of status for anything considered average and the polarization of politics in America. Our tastes and choices are shifting away from the middle and toward the extremes. The well curve helps describe a number of interesting church trends going on these days...
Everyone knows church attendance slides in the summer, but should we care?
This week Americans are celebrating their independence by watching parades, enjoying backyard barbeques, and by not going to church. If your congregation is anything like mine you know that during the summer worship attendance slips noticeably, and the week of July 4th is typically the low point. Family vacations and parties draw people away for some valuable R and R. I'm not pointing a self-righteous finger at church slackers. Last Sunday my family and I were not seen in church either, we were away camping.
But the "summer slide" raises a question. Why is Sunday morning attendance the one measurement we cannot escape? Why is Sunday morning attendance the make-or-break number; the figure we proudly display or secretly despair? Like a corporation's stock price, worship attendance seems to encapsulate a church's entire mission and health in one simple, if volatile, number. A number we watch carefully week to week praying for its increase.
At my church I am aware of a number of families and individuals who won't be attending Sunday worship very frequently this summer, and I'm thrilled about it. These people won't be in worship because they'll be overseas helping missionaries, or taking inner city kids to a camp in rural Michigan, or they'll be making meaningful connections as families on vacations- something valuable in a culture where families are struggling. Don't misread me, I think gathering regularly as a community for corporate worship, confession, and learning is both good and important. I just don't think it's so important that it should be the singular measure of missional impact, or even the primary one.
Are we experiencing the next Reformation of Christianity?
Conversations about the future of the emerging church can be overheard at conferences, seminaries, chat rooms, or anywhere church leaders congregate. Does the movement have legs? Does it represent a passing trend or a new Reformation? Not long ago we sat down with author/scholar/editor Phyllis Tickle to discuss the subject. Tickle, a feisty Episcopalian from Tennessee with an intellect matched only by her sense of humor, has served as a religion editor for Publishers Weekly and has written over two dozen books. Her three-volume prayer manual, The Divine Hours, has renewed the discipline of fixed-hour prayer for Christians in many traditions.
What do you see happening to Christianity in the twenty-first century?
Many people have observed a five hundred year cycle in western history - a period of upheaval followed by a period of settling down, then codification, and then upheaval again because we do not like to be codified. So, about every five hundred years the church feels compelled to have a giant rummage sale, and we're in one of those periods now.
The Reformation was about five hundred years ago. Five hundred before that you hit the Great Schism. Five hundred more was the fall of Rome and the beginning of monasticism. Five hundred before that you hit the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, and five hundred before that was the end of the age of judges and the beginning of the dynasty.
So, how is the current upheaval different from what the church has experienced before?
For the first time we've done it in an age of media where we are historically informed and we can perceive the pattern, and for the first time we've had the ability to talk to each other, to be self-conscious about what is happening, and be somewhat intentional. This is very exhilarating.
"When a church focuses on trying to grow, the larger mission suffers and the church can actually become less attractional."
-Chad Hall is a ministry coach living in Hickory, North Carolina, and the co-author of Coaching for Christian Leaders (Chalice Press, 2007). Taken from "Missional: Possible, Steps to transform a consumer church into a missional church" in the Winter 2007 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
Our historic church finds renewed meaning in a new name (and in the slow process of changing it).
Gordon MacDonald told us a while back that the church he serves was considering changing its name. It has finally happened. His account of a 180-year-old congregation's year-long wrestling with its identity is amusing and instructive. Read on.
About a year ago I filled some of this space with comments about changing a church's name. At the time our New England congregation (Baptist in background) was thinking about exchanging its 180-year-old name for something more adaptable to the times. I invited comment from all my readers. And all four of you wrote to me. (Just fooling). Actually, there were a significant number of responses.
Many e-mails were thoughtful and gave evidence that people had done their homework and accumulated useful insight about how and why a church's public moniker ought to be reappraised occasionally and sometimes changed. One or two respondents trumped me by writing that if I prayed more, Jesus would provide the name since it is his church.
A name is important. It can say something about who you are or who you want to be.
What churches can learn from the anti-Starbucks movement.
Believe it or not, not everyone loves Starbucks. The Wall Street Journal's Janet Adamy has written about the growing resistance the Seattle-based coffee cartel is facing in many communities. The issue - Starbucks ignores local culture in favor of maintaining its brand-identity.
The already omnipresent Starbucks has plans to triple its locations worldwide to 40,000, but Adamy says the plan has alarmed some communities. "The proliferation of [Starbucks] stores has prompted a small number of cities to block it from opening out of concern the chain will erode the local character."
I've attended a number of conferences and read many reports in recent years about the popular multi-site church model. Invariably these sources will reference Starbucks as an example for churches who wish to establish themselves in multiple communities. But what should the church be learning from the rising anti-Starbucks sentiment?
"The church has bought into this idea that if we make Jesus look cool, we win. But we're really trying to make ourselves look cool, not Jesus. We certainly need to repent of that."
-Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz and speaker at the 2006 Catalyst Conference Taken from "Not Here to Make Jesus Cool" in the Summer 2006 issue of Leadership Journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article discussing conflicts caused by pastors seeking to implement the popular Purpose-Driven Church model in their congregations. Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament at North Park University in Chicago, and one of our favorite bloggers writes here about the WSJ article and asks some important questions about the Purpose-Driven philosophy of ministry.
The gist of the Wall Street Journal article is that some churches split or experience serious tension when pastors try to implement the Purpose-Driven Church model. The pastors who are trying to implement such changes seem to have good reasons: they want their churches to gain a clear mission and to grow, but it always comes at the cost of change for the parishioners.
The Purpose-Driven model focuses on these five elements: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism. It also seeks to move people from community, to crowds, to congregation, to committed, and then to the core. Thus, it leads from knowing Christ to growing in Christ to serving Christ to sharing Christ.
Here are the questions that come to mind for me from this article about churches struggling over adapting the model, and I'm keen on hearing what you have to say.
David Fitch was recently invited by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to speak on a panel during their new student orientation. Each of the five panel members was to present a response to the question: "Where is the church now and where should it go?" Fitch, who is a pastor, professor, and regular contributor to Out of Ur, shares his response with us in this post.
Where is the church now and where should it go? When I say church here, I speak about the evangelical church, the church where I have been born, become a pastor and an ordained servant of Christ. I believe we as a church in America are in trouble. I believe we've lost our way. I believe we have a.) accommodated ourselves to American culture in such a way that we have become another example of the mistake of protestant liberalism. And in the process, I believe we have b.) lost our calling that is given to all "the saved," that is the calling to be the embodiment of Jesus Christ amidst society and the nations.
The summer issue of Leadership, arriving in mailboxes in July, focuses on the impact of consumerism on ministry. Some people have equated the church growth movement with the rise of "consumer Christianity." Others believe the church growth philosophy has brought innovation and health to ministry.
Our friends at ChurchMarketingStinks.com are hosting an interesting conversation on the blessing/curse of the church growth movement. Here is a sample.
Start talking about church growth and things can get ugly. Eyebrows raise. Tempers flare. Comments explode. Just ask any blogging pastor who has broached the subject. It's as if growing your church is taking the on-ramp to the highway to hell.
If Jesus walked into your church this Sunday and preached, what would he say? That's a question pastor Jim Martin has asked on his blog, A Place for the God-Hungry. Jim is pastor of Crestview Church of Christ in Waco, Texas, and below he shares his thoughts about what Jesus might say to the "mature" in his congregation.
I am thinking about my teaching/preaching. I am thinking about my words, my sermons, and the over all message these people hear.
I am thinking even more about my own life. At times, I feel like I have gotten lost in a system that has eaten me alive. At other times, I think that I am simply coming back to what really matters most to me. This is why I am thinking about the following two questions:
What if Jesus were the guest speaker at our church this Sunday? What would he say?
Leadership's editorial team is posting from sunny San Diego this week. We've gathered with 1700 other church leaders for the National Pastors Convention. At the opening session Methodist bishop Will Willimon spoke (with his charming and colorful Southern humor) about our pastoral tendency to control and squelch the Spirit of God.
Building his case from John 3 where Jesus speaks with Nicodemus about being born from above, Willimon found it interesting that the only person Jesus told, "You must be born again" was someone "like him" - a church leader. Nicodemus' responds to Jesus with a question church leaders can relate to, "How?"
To its credit the seeker movement has made church leaders everywhere more sensitive to the presence of non-Christians in our congregations. But, as the epoch of the seeker-church continues to wane, what enduring lessons will we carry with us into the future? Curt Coffield, a worship leader at Shoreline Community Church in Monterey, California, and former worship leader at Willow Creek, notes that newcomers have changed. "People aren't coming as much to be convinced of the relevance of Christianity as they are coming with a hunger for God."
As the church moves further away from familiar cultural paradigms, the paradigms that gave rise to seeker-churches, we need to seriously rethink the assumptions behind "seeker-sensitive" ministry.
Marshall Shelley becomes a fan of the newly well-led White Sox.
Though I've lived in Chicago more than twenty years, when it came to the White Sox, I was only a casual fan (is that an oxymoron?). Until recently.
Yes, I attended games in both old Comiskey Park and more recently "The Cell" (it's still hard for me to endorse a telecommunications product every time I want to refer to a ballpark). I rooted for the South Side Hit Men of the 1970s and witnessed the infamous Disco Demolition night.
I understood the Sox' inferiority complex. They frequently voiced sour irritation over a city that gives preferential treatment to the Cubs. But let's face it, in a long-term relationship, lovable losers are easier to identify with than sore losers.
The following is from Jennifer Oxford, one of our Leadership team in Atlanta for the Catalyst Conference.
Erwin McManus took stage and continued to expound upon the very clear message of the entire Catalyst event...that it's not about formulas...the church, I mean. That there are no formulas that will enable a church to structurally meet every person's needs. Currently, when a new believer joins a church they are plugged into the structure where the church needs them most. They are discipled and led in ways that make them all look the same. For people outside of the church, who inherently know (and cling to the fact that) we are all unique, the sameness of the church, and the structure that they are potentially being asked to fit into doesn't work.
Leadership editor Marshall Shelley offers this report on his conversations with young leaders at Catalyst.
"It's funny. It's like theology is back," said Rusty, who is planting a Methodist church near Auburn University in Alabama. The church is meeting in a skate park, mirror ball on the ceiling and all.
Rusty put his finger on a reality that many at the 2005 Catalyst Conference identified with. Theology and a skate park don't seem like a matched set, but theology is increasingly a subject of great interest to younger leaders, in fact, it's of great interest to younger people in general.
Leadership editor Marshall Shelley reports from Catalyst, a conference for young leaders.
After two days at the 2005 Catalyst Conference in Atlanta, I've picked up the mixed feelings that the emerging generation has about leadership. Even though Catalyst is billed as a conference for "young leaders," the attendees I've talked to don't openly aspire to leadership, at least not "the strong, dominant leader" model.
No one openly and forthrightly says (as I heard young people say 20 years ago), "I want to be a leader." Or "I hope to be a person of great influence someday." Instead, the conferees at Catalyst carefully parse the meaning of the word leadership. The attendees see the importance of good leadership, and everyone appreciates being in a group that's well-led. But when picturing such a group, very few mentally picture an individual leader. The mental image of a group that's well led doesn't have a clear and established leader. In fact, a person who identifies himself or herself as a leader, too openly, is viewed with suspicion and maybe even scorn.
The attitude is reminiscent of "the tall poppy syndrome"