Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ministry Beyond Our Members (Part 13: Values & Practices)

    Being in an community of rich relationships tempts churches to become internally focused and forget that the Bible repeatedly calls Christians to make a difference in the world--to be salt and light as Matthew 5:13-16 puts it.
    So a core practice for us it to help our members get involved in a ministry project that serves those beyond our community. My job as a leader in our church is to help them figure out how best to use their time, treasure, and talents to make a difference. My job as leader is NOT to decide what ministry activities they're supposed to do, but to enhance their decision making process.
    This involves asking the right questions and making them aware of resources. And their decisions change from person to person. The stay-at-home mom with small children has a very different range of options than the just-retired schoolteacher, for example. Members need to learn how to choose the best options for them in each season of their life. Spiritual gifts should affect their decision. And the needs of the community they're in should matter, too.
    By the way, this is a picture of one of our members, a stay-at-home mom, doing the ministry project she launched which now includes multiple churches and huge impact in a poor community--I'll share that story in a later post. Apparently, face painting was involved that day. :) It's awesome what can happen when you empower "regular" members.
    So I don't decide what the ministry departments are for the church. Except for our Sunday gathering, which requires a kids ministry department, everything we do is chosen by a member in our church.
    After getting an idea on how they want to minister, we tell them to first search for someone in our region doing that kind of ministry. Why should we compete with them? Why not join them? Who cares who's name is on the ministry? It's about Jesus, not our church.
    If they can't find anyone doing it (or, sadly, who will let them participate), then we'll help them start their ministry project.  This can include doing it through our church's non-profit status or even helping them set up a local non-profit (not hard or expensive where I live).
    We've designed a church structure that requires members to step up and be mature. Is it risky? Sort of. But you might be surprised at what your people do when you give them the opportunity to live like they really do have the Holy Spirit indwelling and empowering them. You might be surprised at what happens if you really let your members drive the ministry of your church.
    (For those of you thinking ahead, you're right. You can't do the money collection the normal way if you want to empower your members like this. More on that in a coming post.)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Risk of Weekly Teaching--Teaching at Practice Speed (Part 12: Values & Practices)

How do we find the time for a meal, Bible Study, and Open Ministry in our Sunday services? If you've read the last few posts on our defining practices (Eating MealsTogether, Bible Study, and Open Ministry), you might be doing the math and trying to figure out how we fit this all in one hour on Sunday morning.

We don't. And we're better off because we do less.

Seriously. Your math skills are on the money. First, we meet for much three hours (and it's not in the morning). But even still, we don't do all of those practices every week. Even with a longer service, we don't have time to do it all every week. We do eat a meal every week--it's the first hour of the service--and then we alternate with our after meal ministry theme for the day. One week we do Bible Study and the next week is Open Ministry, then Bible Study…you get the idea.

But I thought you had to have a teaching every week for it to count as a church service!

Show me the verse that says that, because I've never read one. What's I have seen calls us to study the scripture. But a deep dive into the scripture every week isn't required. In fact, engaging in powerful, life challenging teaching every single week can actually be counterproductive.

Yes, I said counterproductive. And it's not about sermons versus interactive studies (see earlier post on that). The more powerful the content, the more this applies.

See, people can learn more and grow more when we teach them less often.

Typical pastors spend hours and hours crafting powerful sermons--sometimes as much as twenty hours a week! I used to do that myself, when I worked at more typical churches. And on Sunday they deliver a message that grips your heart, stirs your soul, and convinces you to change your life.

It's awesome.

Then, seven days later, while you're still working on changing, he brings up another area of your life and does that same thing. Now you have two deep changes your convicted about. Then another challenge the next week, and another, and another, week after week, year after year. It's like trying to drink from a furiously gushing fire hose.

  Truly changing something in your life takes a lot longer than seven days to accomplish. Time and emotional energy and serious persistence are required. People need to process the ideas fully. People need to practice multiple times to move from sloppy to smooth execution.

But every Sunday, members in a typical church are masterfully persuaded that if they really love God they need to change this new area, too. It's overwhelming and discouraging and after a while can make people numb to the need to change.

So churches end up with over-educated and under practiced Christians. (Sound familiar?) They know all about dozens of changes they could make it their lives, but they gave up implementing them all years ago. They no longer plan to change after most of the sermons they hear.

Instead, in our member-driven church, we deliberately slow down our teaching pace to give our members more time to process and implement. We usually have themes we stay with for a few months, to give us all time to practice properly. Remember, we believe in Growth Through Practice.

We call this teaching at practice speed.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

SCAD, Design Thinking, & Pews

    The new differentiator in business is innovation. Thanks to my role at Chick-fil-A's corporate HQ, I had the chance to go through an innovation certification. In fact, just last night a group of us returned from spending three days at Savannah College of Art & Design, studying the creative thinking process they call design thinking.
    In general, you begin with walking a mile, so to speak, in the intended user's shoes. You go to the field and note details: specific actions, phrases, even facial expressions. You can take pictures or video clips, etc.
    Then you use that data to identify what problems/frustrations they might have and how you could solve them--especially those that they aren't verbalizing. There are many tools for this.
    Then you go through a series of exercises to generate a lot of ideas, then evaluate and combine your ideas. This is classic brainstorming. The problem is that most people only do this slice of the process when they want to be creative.
    Then you do a quick and dirty prototype of the idea and show it to others for feedback--try it out and learn from it. Lot's of ways to do this, too, from drawings to foam models to live improv (yes, like Who's Line Is It?).
    Then you "reframe". Before you finish, you go back to your core assumptions and rethink them all over again. This may result in a modest adjustment--or even starting the entire process over.
    NOTE: I'm trying to capture a two year degree program into a handful of sentences, so there's a lot more I'm sure I'm leaving out (in part because I don't know it myself).
    But a bonus feature of the trip was that each day we were in a different one of the more than 70 buildings that SCAD has purchased and restored in Savannah.
    The last one was an old nunnery/school (which is where Clarence Thomas was educated as a child, incidentally). Check out what they did to the room to make it more friendly and functional for creative dialogue and learning. I couldn't help but think that many old, dying churches should consider a layout like this. It wasn't just okay, it was actually very cool to do creative thinking in an ancient setting.
    They turned some of the pews in the back of the "church" around and put tables in between them. Plus, they put some cool pillows on the pews. That's not a weird idea or complicated. The building didn't need to be remodeled. But that simple switch completely changed the experience of the back half of the room.
    What simple changes could you make to your space to improve the experience in your church or your home?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Open Ministry: Chaos on Sunday? (Part 11: Values & Practices Unpacked)

If you thought our approach to teaching was risky, then this practice might worry you even more.

Our third defining practice we call Open Ministry. Put simply, it's an open time with no preplanned activities or even themes. Every member is expected to prepare throughout the week to offer ministry to at least one other member (based on their gifts) and/or request ministry (prayer, supplies, etc).

Even though I'm the leader of the church, I only prepare my 5-10 minutes of ministry activities, like every other member. And, as I've said to my church many times, if I'm the only one who comes ready to offer something then it will be a very short service! Our members share verses, play songs, pray with one another, give practical gifts (once, a member gave another a potted gardenia as a housewarming gift), whatever the Holy Spirit leads them to do that week. It's never the same.

At this point, you might be thinking, "Isn't that chaos? What about heresy? What about immature members offending people? Why would you allow this mayhem to do destroy the sacred time of Sunday worship?"

First, we think it's helps our members grow faster.

Our core values of Growth Through Practice (see previous post on that core value)drives us to provide regular time to practice. We don't want to only talk about our faith together and hope they plan to practice out in the world. We want to practice our faith together--getting better together in practical ways before we step out into the world.

We design our church more like we're a sports team, practicing weekly to prepare for the games, rather than a philosophy class, discussing ideas with no behavioral expectation after our meeting.

Very optimistic (you might still be thinking), but in real life this wide open time must result in chaos. What about 1 Corinthians 14? Paul gives instructions on how to organize church services and he says, "For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people….everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way" (verses 33 & 40).

Out of context, these phrases sound like Open Ministry is unbiblical. You should sit the members down and let the staff do all the ministry. It's more orderly that way.

But in that same chapter, in fact the verse that begins that same paragraph, is support for open ministry time.

1 Corinthians 14:26 says, "What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up."

In the early church, the expectation was that each of them brought something to the gathering. And Paul's challenge is to find an orderly way to allow everyone to share. Being orderly doesn't mean telling everyone else to shut up and sit down. It's about training the members to operator in an orderly fashion.

Most of the time, even though we all prepared without consulting each other, a clear theme emerges (i.e. many verse and songs about forgiveness). I suppose it shouldn't surprise me, if we're all really listening to the Holy Spirit as we prepare.

Is conflict going to happen from immature members making mistakes? Yes. Is heresy going to be proclaimed by a confused member? Probably. But rather than use that as an excuse to restrict Sunday ministry to the leaders, I see those as reasons to make practice time a high priority. The alternatives are to 1) hope those immature members never try to minister to anyone during the week; or 2) require them to make all their mistakes with those they're trying to impact for Jesus.

Open Ministry isn't preplanned. But it isn't a free-for-all with no rules, either. The leaders of the church have to engage--challenging and encouraging the members as needed. But there's a huge difference between overseeing members who minister to each other and doing all the ministry yourself.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My First Video Post! Teaching That Honors Our Members (Part 11: Values & Practices)

My first attempt at a video blog post--on the shift in the leader's thinking necessary to do member-driven teaching.

I'd love feedback on this video. I've got one more video I'm working on posting already, and am hoping to do more of these. So I'd love any comments as I keep learning!

Monday, December 5, 2011

No Sermons on Sunday? (Part 10: Values & Practices Unpacked)

    Sermons aren't a necessary element of church. Studying the Bible is necessary; but sermons are not.
    The modern sermon--a lecture from the pastor--isn't based off the Hebrew model of discipleship. Yes, Jesus did address crowds and the Sermon on the Mount is awesome. But with his disciples he spent much more time asking questions, working on ministry projects together, in dialogue (not just monologue).
    Our current sermon template emerged in the middle ages of Europe when the entrance exam to become a priest included proving you could read. So each priest had all his illiterate members sit down and be quiet while he explained what the Bible said.
    Bible Study is crucial for a healthy church. It's our second defining practice. But exclusive use of the sermon format actually weakens a church.
    I not only work as a pastor, but also as a consultant and speaker to all sorts of organizations, from multi-billion dollar companies to start-up ministries. And if all I did was lecture, I'd get fired.
    Ask any school teacher. Read any book on professional training. Listen to any news show on education reform. All education professionals agree that lecture-style teaching is among the least effective methods of teaching.
    Only pastors don't seem to think so.
    And pastors only think this way about teaching on Sunday morning. Churches who do small groups don't require sermons during those meetings. Once freed from the assumptions on how Sunday mornings have to be done, they get very creative on how to teach and train people, with videos followed by interactive discussions while using workbooks, for example.
    Don't get me wrong. My spiritual gifts include teaching. I love to teach. And the church needs great teaching. The church even needs great sermons, from time to time. I'm not anti-sermons. I'm anti-sermons-all-the-time. We can do better than medieval teaching strategies.
    One of the leaders of our member-driven church (chosen in advance) stands up and presents an introduction, outlining the theme for the day's Bible study and explains any key background or context that people would need to know to read the scripture passages well. This takes maybe 5-7 minutes.
    Then we release our members to their table groups. Our members sit tables surrounded by chairs, the same tables we ate lunch at (see the post on our practice of Eating Meals Together).  Each table is given a page with scripture passages listed and questions about those passages. We also have a Table Leader--trained in Bible Study principles--assigned to each table who facilitates the discussion for that table.  And our members open their Bibles, read verses out loud to each other, ask questions, and discuss the scripture's application to their lives.
    After a while, the teacher who delivered the introduction stands back up and leads the room in some closing thoughts.
    And then we practice whatever we taught (see the post on our value of Growth Through Practice). If it's a study on prayer, we pray for a while. If it's something harder to practice on the spot, then we give ourselves time to make plans on when, where, and how we'll practice when we leave (and probably pray with each other about our practice plans, too).
    Are there topics that require teaching longer than 5-7 minutes? Absolutely. Some ideas are so new and complex that I've spent 30 min setting the stage. But even then I make at least a little time for the table groups to discuss what's been shared. Because lecture-only teaching isn't as fruitful as allowing the members to drive their own learning through discussion and discovery.
    How do you think the members of your church would respond if they were given the chance to have group discussions this coming Sunday? How would the staff of your church respond?

Friday, December 2, 2011

What used to be the centerpiece of the early church service? (Part 9: Values & Practices Unpacked)

Did you know there's a half chapter in the Bible on how to handle the meal portion of your weekly church service? 1 Corinthians 11.17-34 covers principles like: choose pot-luck approach over everyone providing only for themselves and if you're too hungry to wait then have a snack because it's important for the whole church to share the meal. Paul also challenges us to take seriously the communion portion of the meal. That's usually the only section referenced in a typical church.

There are multiple mentions of eating meals as a regular practice of the early church. Acts 2:42; 2:46; 20:7;  etc. In fact, scholars believe the early church centered their gatherings around a shared meal. They called it the Agape (godly love) Feast. Meals as a spiritual practice is all over the Bible, from the Passover to the Lord's Supper to Heaven described as a wedding feast.

So our first defining practice is Eating Meals Together. For example, one of our members brought the dish below not long ago. And it's not cupcakes. That's actually meatless meatloaf with mashed potatoes and cherry tomatoes. It was delicious! (I'm still trying to figure out the "meatless meatloaf"--is that just called loaf?)

Don't get me wrong. Eating meals during Sunday gatherings is not a biblical requirement. But we do think it's a great way to live out the mandate to pursue Authentic Community. It also reflects our value of Growth Through Practice. (See other posts for more on our core values.)

If being a real community, the family of God, is so important to having a healthy church (and I don't know a church leader who doesn't say so), then what are you doing to stimulate that during your services?

The "shake-your-neighbor's-hand" time in the service? Seriously? Does anyone actually believe that's going to build authentic relationships? If anything, it encourages us to be more fake! It's harder to reveal that I'm hurting knowing I'm about to sit right back down. So I've just smiled and said, "I'm fine" in response to the standard "How are you?" greeting.

What it looks like practically:

Our meals typically last an hour. As a result of having a weekly meal, we don't meet on Sunday morning, but start at lunch time and go into the afternoon. It's harder to get up earlier to cook and breakfast food doesn't have as much variety and lunch/dinner food. The food is placed on long folding tables. A handful of members sanitize their hands and stand on the back side of the tables, dishing out food. And each week I email a food theme for variety without boredom. Some of our favorites have been: casseroles, kid's favorites, red & green (where each dish should have red and/or green in it)…it's fun. And delicious!

The question isn't really why we choose to eat together, but why don't all church still eat meals? It's so effective for building community. It's not hard or expensive to do. So what happened? Seriously, what do you think happened?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What's the point of sermons or passing the plate? (Part 8: Values & Practices Unpacked)

Before I post the next handful of blogs about our defining practices, it's crucial that I put things in perspective.

The core values I've already blogged about are crucial and required. They are what drive us as a church. The handful of defining practices I'm going to blog about are NOT held at the same level. They are merely our best guess on how to live out our core values.

Yes, biblical examples support each of the practices and I'll explain why we chose them. But they are not required by scripture. And if we're not clear on what takes priority (core values vs. defining practices), we could end up in the same mess we're trying get out of.

We could end up "sanctifying" particular practices and forgetting the reasons behind them.  For example...

We could end up fixating on the lecture-style sermon as the "right" methodology for teaching and forget that the Bible calls us to teach and develop each other, not to a particular way of teaching.

We could end up passing an offering plate so our members' finances can be collected in a general bank account, forgetting that the apostles didn't have general bank accounts. How funds are collected and distributed affects how believers think about their giving (more on that in the coming post on Member-Driven Funding).

Sermons and general funds are not bad or wrong. But they aren't necessarily better than other teaching or funding methods, either. The Bible certainly doesn't require those methods. Determining which method is best requires the point behind the method. The values should always drive the practices.

So, while it's important to clarify how your values show up practically, I will happily change any of the defining practices when I learn a better way to live out our core values.  In fact, I have changed some of our defining practices since first launching member-driven churches.

The habits of a church do matter a whole lot. But, for us, they'll always be just our best guess, not a holy requirement.

Monday, November 21, 2011

More Than Stage Ministry (Part 7: Values & Practices Unpacked)

More than Stage Ministry is so simple we left it off the original values list. We value all forms of ministry equally. Specifically we don't treat stage presentations (i.e. preaching, leading singing, dramas, etc) as more valuable or important.

What you probably just thought was my thinking. Who doesn't already agree with that? How is that a special core value defining us? We've all read Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-26 about the different parts of the body of Christ and how one gift type isn't better than the others.

When I looked closer, though, it became clear this was not as universal as I thought.

True, I've never encountered a church leader who elevated group presentations over the other ministry expressions--at least by what they said. But when you examine their behavior, a different story emerges. Only group presentations are given regular time when on Sunday mornings, for example. Not to mention what their budget allocation and staff hierarchies say about their values. (If you want to know what someone really values, examine their calendar and their bank ledger.)

And it's not just the leaders. Honoring stage gifts more than the other spiritual gifts pervades the church. I have heard, time and time again, the "lay" members who sit quietly in the seats on Sunday speak in reverent awe of those few who are allowed to speak/sing/perform in front of the whole church on a regular basis.

Hear me clearly, It's not that honor isn't appropriate for those who minister well--that's not what concerns me. It's the lack of similar honor for anyone else! Think about who is most honored in a typical church culture. There's a direct relationship between how much stage time they get on Sunday morning and how much honor as a spiritual leader they receive.

So while I don't know a church leader who would say that they value stage gifts more than other gifts, their actions send a very different message to their members.

"But it's just not practical to do anything else when we all gather! We don't value one gift over than the other. It's just a logistical planning thing." This common response actually reveals how deep are the assumptions about presentation-style ministry.

We have gatherings without group presentations all our lives. Think about it. If they wanted to, Christians could design church services to operate like family reunions, block parties, or even sports team practices. But typical churches don't use those formats.

Why not? Why do they believe that the "right" use of their time is inspiring presentations to the crowd? Because despite the rhetoric about all gift types being equal, the last 1500 years of church history have trained us to view spiritually inspiring presentations as the most valuable--the most spiritual--way to spend our time together.

Let me be very clear, I am NOT trying to eliminate or discourage the stage gifts. The member-driven model of church isn't anti-group presentations. In fact, those are my gifts! I'm a teacher/musician. We work hard not to just swing the pendulum to the opposite imbalance where we devalue stage gifts in favor of non-stage gifts. That's not an improvement at all.

Our value isn't Less Stage Ministry, but More Than Stage Ministry. It's stage ministry-plus.

Still skeptical? Having a hard time seeing how this works practically? Check out the next posts on some of the practical ways we live out our core values, including this one. It's not even complicated to do.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Blog: (Part 6) Values & Practices Unpacked

At first glance, "Every Member Ministers" looks identical to a core value held by many churches. I know more than one church that even has the phrase "Every Member Is A Minster" printed on their weekly service bulletins.

But those two phrases are NOT the same.

Every Member Is a Minister (the typical phrasing) names a spiritual identity. I agree with this. 1 Peter 2:9 is one example of many verses on the priesthood of all believers.

But while I agree, I also find the typical phrase insufficient. It names a passive status and leaves members in a typical church sitting quietly, with no regular opportunity on Sunday to live out the truth of their spiritual position.

Of course, they always have the chance to serve as ministers on their own throughout the rest of the week. But if it's so critical (printed on the bulletin implies importance), then why is it relegated to the leftover time? (See the posts on Growth Through Practice for more on why we try to practice our ministry skills in the service, not just talk about them.)

In contrast, our value, "Every Member Ministers", names both the identity AND the behavior of our members. We literally design our gatherings so that every member engages God and each other every week. No, that's not a typo--every week.

Most people considering our value quickly realize this isn't very practical in a typical church service. The closest service element I've seen in a typical church is an optional prayer and ministry time at the end of the service. But it remains optional and only for counseling prayer. It's good to do, but falls far short of the full expression of the variety of gifts God has given to his body.

And I understand why. Restriction makes sense. It really isn't practical given the structure and elements typical churches use for their gatherings.

But rather than restrict the expression of our value because the service structure makes it impractical, we decided to rewrite the structure of our services. We are called, every one of us, to serve as ministers and we want to practice that profound truth every week. And in our church, it's literally true that every member ministers. (More on how that works practically in other posts.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Part 5: Values & Practices Unpacked

A metaphor from Awake From Atrophy explaining Growth Through Practice:

[After demonstrating three chord formations on his guitar...]

Jacob strummed through a few chord transitions and stopped.

“Have I been clear with all of this? Would you say you understand these principles about playing the guitar?”

“Um, I guess so,” Randall obliged.

“Now you can say you know how to play the guitar,” Jacob said proudly. He put the guitar down.

“Well…I don’t know about that,” Randall muttered.

“You wouldn’t say that?” Jacob asked Randall. “Why not? Didn’t you understand the principles? Should I show you them again?”

“No, I saw what you did,” Randall replied. “But that doesn’t mean I know how to do it.”

“But I just showed you how,” Jacob said. He was using a very gentle tone to offset otherwise combative words—sounding curious, not frustrated. “You said you saw and understood. What’s wrong?”

“There’s more to playing the guitar than just knowing about it,” Randall asserted.

“Yeah,” Randall's wife, Laura, jumped in. “Playing the guitar isn’t just about knowing concepts. You have to train your fingers to do it. I understand the concepts. They’re not that different from piano chords. But, well, when you play the piano you have to train your fingers to move how your mind imagines. Playing the piano is fairly easy to explain,” Laura continued. “Each key matches a note on the written page. You push each key for the length of time the page says. An uncultured person I know, whom I won’t name at this time,” she shot a look at her husband, “has called piano playing musical typing.”

Everyone chucked.

“But knowing what the page of music says still leaves you a long way from being able to actually play that music. Understanding the ideas written on a page of music still leaves you a long way from being able to call yourself a musician,” Laura finished the longest speech Drew had heard her deliver all morning.

“Exactly!” Jacob exclaimed. “And I believe it’s the same for being a Christian. That’s why one of our core values is Growth Through Practice. We believe becoming a mature Christian requires more than intellectual understanding. ”

--Awake From Atrophy

The typical church design produces educated people who can barely play their instrument, so to speak. We need a design that's more like a live jam session with expert players explaining what they're doing, where we all try out new principles and get feedback.

Instead, most churches today provide a professor to lecture on music theory and history while members take notes, their instruments safely locked up in their cases. No musical mistakes allowed.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Part 4: Our Values & Practices Unpacked

Truth is essential for growth, but insufficient. That's why Growth Through Practice is our fourth core value.

Yes, the truth can set us free (John 8:32), but Satan knows the truth that Jesus is the Son of God (James 2:19) and his failure to align his behavior with the truth leaves him damned.

Many church leaders would agree with this core value. At this point, they're nodding their heads and thinking about how they also incorporate this value in their church services. However, their strategy is probably to make sure that they always include practical application examples in their sermons.

That's a step in the right direction, but far short of what this value means to us.

We design our weekly Sunday gatherings so we can practice living out our faith while we are gathered together. We build practice time directly into our services. We don't just talk about idea and leave them to practice on their own.

There are so many ways this plays out in our church that it's going to take multiple posts to talk about them all. But a quick example: rather than only talk about the importance of being an authentic community, we eat meals together every week to build relationships.

"Becoming a mature Christian is like becoming a musician. You can sit through brilliant classes on music history and music theory; even study the science of how musical instruments work. But that training doesn’t make you a musician. It just makes you educated." --Awake From Atrophy

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Blog Post: Sunday Service Satire

Mark Miller (@LeadersServe), "We don't get any points for doing the wrong thing well."

"Sunday's Coming" (link below) is a great satire on the typical church service design--funny without being nasty.

Typical churches execute the medieval model of church with world class skill (trained experts on stage inspiring the crowd). They have figured the "formula" out. But is that right model?

Anyways, enjoy this clip! (It's 3 min long.) It will make you smile and think at the same time. Thanks to Mark Simmons for sharing it with me.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Blog Post: (Part 3) Member-Driven Values & Practices Unpacked

Authentic Community is how we sum up many, many, many verses calling the church to pursue honest relationships, godly love, and practical support.

A couple of examples:

John 13:34-35 (Jesus speaking)
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

Galatians 5:13-15
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Pursuing Authentic Community is a biblical mandate. And…

Authentic Community is the foundation for all the other purposes of the church. Being in relationship with each other, being a true community, multiplies the effectiveness of every other church activity.  For example:
Teaching to people you know helps you select content.
Serving your friends makes it easier to discover needs and meet them appropriately.
Worshiping with family allows freedom of expression.

We carefully defined this crucial phrase.

Authentic Community is a place where we…
Know and are known,
Love and are loved,
Serve and are served,
Challenge and are challenged,
Celebrate and mourn together.

"Authentic Community functions for the church body like the nervous system in our physical body. It provides awareness of pain, enabling us to better care for wounds, and awareness of pleasure, motivating us and allowing us to celebrate together. Physically, the nervous system also provides feedback that is critical for coordinated muscle movement. It’s much harder to move a limb when you can’t feel it, like when you wake up with an arm that’s fallen asleep and numb. It’s a foundational system that enables the other systems to work the way they are supposed to." --Awake From Atrophy

Real relationships of love in our church are too important to leave to the leftover time. Developing this requires serious time and energy every week.

Unfortunately, during a typical church service in America,  maybe a couple of minutes is dedicated for people to shake hands and exchange simple greetings. They hope the members will come early or stay late to connect further.

Even the design of a typical church sanctuary discourages authentic building. With both pews and chairs-in-rows, it's physically uncomfortable and socially awkward to turn and face anywhere besides the stage.

I know. It sounds more spiritual to call it an altar, not stage. But it functions like a stage--a raised platform to make it easier to see the people performing--than an altar. Nothing on that platform is being consigned to the flames as a sacrifice to God--unless you count pastoral burnout. :)

I'll share practical ideas on how we do that in other posts. For now, know that this is a huge value for us with tangible expressions.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Blog Post: (Part 2) Member-Driven Church Values & Practices Unpacked

"Relationship With Jesus" wasn't on my original list of core values. Don't worry, I do think it's important. I just figured our first core value, Biblical Foundation, made calling out having a relationship with Jesus redundant. I mean, that idea is kind of all over the Bible. :)

But I was convinced by my fellow church members that it was necessary to name it separately.

Sadly, it IS possible to be educated on the Bible but reject Jesus. It is not knowledge of God that brings freedom and life. It is a relationship with God.

James, as usual, puts it pretty bluntly: "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder." James 2:19

Jesus Himself said in Matthew 7:22-23 (one of the most sobering passages in the Bible to me), "Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me you workers of lawlessness.'"

Yeah, after being reminded of these verses (among others), it wasn't hard to convince me that 'Relationship With Jesus' should get its own listing in our core values.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Blog Post: (Part 1) Member-Driven Church Values & Practices Unpacked

Biblical Foundation, claims first on our list for a reason. All belief systems begin with axioms--core assumptions that can't be proven. The starting point you choose dramatically impacts the conclusions you end up with. All of us--Christian, Buddhist, or Atheist--believe and behave as we do because of our axioms.

For member-driven churches, the source for all truth is the belief the Bible was inspired by God, is inerrant, and has been preserved throughout the centuries. We evaluate every idea by how it aligns with the Bible.

We base our doctrines solely on the Bible (like many churches). This was one of the pillars of the Great Reformation in the 1500's (Sola Scriptura is the fancy Latin name). The Reformers demoted the teachings of the church fathers from equal status with the Bible. Doctrines not supported clearly by Bible passages don't have great weight.

We also base our church practices solely on the Bible (unlike many churches). Studying the Bible and church history, I realized that much of modern church practices are "extra-biblical". They're not in direct conflict with the Bible, but they aren't required either.

"The Great Reformation changed the world for the good in the 1500’s. But its improvements were largely confined to doctrinal practices. There were massive problems with the doctrine of that era and their thinking desperately needed to be reformed—to return to a biblical foundation. While many of the leaders of the Reformation called us to continually rethink and reform, we pretty much quit after they died. And they didn’t examine their church practices much at all. Yes, some of the most glaring church practices were stopped, like the selling of indulgences, where people could buy the 'right' to sin. But the Protestant church that emerged from that turmoil carried with it a structure and strategy that was very similar to the culturally compromised church it had broken away from. That medieval model of church solidified in an era when being clergy meant being one of the elite who could actually read. The educated few stood in front of the ignorant many and explained the scriptures to them. It was a church model shaped by the cultural forces of its time, not through serious study of the scripture. We don’t live in that era anymore. It’s time to finish the Reformation and return not just our beliefs but also our behavior to a radically biblical foundation.” ~ Awake From Atrophy

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Blog Post: What is a "Member-Driven" Church?

I ought to define the phrase I use so often. It's the name of the model my church uses (collagechurch.com) and it's what my book Awake From Atrophy is about. What does it mean?

First, it's NOT:
a new denomination
a new theological approach
a house church movement (you can be member-driven with few OR many)

We're probably very similar to you in our doctrines. And if we differ on an issue, it's probably has nothing to with us being member-driven.

It's a new (based on ancient) leadership structure and liturgy.

Our Core Values (foundational truths that shape us):

Biblical Foundation--what it sounds like
Relationship with Jesus--it's not just knowledge about God
Authentic Community--the platform for all the other purposes
Growth Through Practice--information by itself isn't enough
Every Member Ministers--not just an abstract identity, but a weekly behavior
More Than Stage Ministry--giving honor and time on Sun to more than group presentation ministry methods

Our Defining Practices (our best guess for practicing our values):

Eating Meals Together--our primary community building time
Bible Study--every other week small group discussions (not sermons)
Open Ministry--every other week each member comes prepared to minister to others based on their spiritual gifts (music usually fits in here)
Ministry Beyond Our Members--each member finds a way to make a difference in the world based on their gifts & resources
Member-Driven Funding--members don't mindlessly give 10% to a general church fund, but ask God how much to give to whom (leaders make members aware of needs rather than decide for them)
Simple Schedule--only one official gathering each week leaving time for our members to be in community as well as be salt and light to the world

For multiple years I studied the New Testament and church history, asking, "If I could remove all my cultural assumptions, what would the Bible say church is supposed to look like?" I discovered a lot of what I call "extra-biblical" ideas shaping our church practices. When you remove our cultural additions over the centuries (who says sermons are the required/best teaching format?) the above list of values and practices is what I found in the Bible.

After doing church like this since 2006, I can tell you that not only does it work, but it's the most spiritually stimulating and refreshing way to do church I know. It's not duty because it's biblical. It's wonderful!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Food At Church

Recently, I discovered that I love bobotie, an African casserole, at our member-driven church (see the pic for an example of bobotie). That day, I also discovered that one of my fellow church members had her computer stolen by her adult son.

See, we eat meals as a part of our church gatherings every Sunday. We do this because one of our core values is developing Authentic Community and another is Growth Through Practice. If being the Family of God is important (the Bible's most common metaphor for the church) then we want to do more than talk about building relationships. We want to practice that during our church gatherings.

We believe that Authentic Community is a multiplier of all the other functions of a church. The more you know each other--really know each other as friends--the more effectively you can teach, encourage, serve, and give to one another. When  you don't really know the others in your church, you're forced to guess--or choose the lowest common denominator in hopes that most of the room will get something out of it.

Eating a "share-a-dish" or "potluck" meal at church every Sunday is a crucial practice for establishing Authentic Community in our church family. There are other ways to catalyze community, and we do those from time to time, but we schedule meals every week for three reasons:

1. Examples of this are all over the Bible, including a half chapter of rules on handling the meal portion of your church service (1 Corinthians 11.17-34).

2. Eating together is one of the most effective AND easy ways to foster relationships. God wired us to bond over food and every human culture in history reflects this.

3. It's fun! We name a food theme for each week and people prepare dishes accordingly (if they want to--no requirements). That's how, on African food day, I discovered that the unique mix of beef, scrambled eggs, fruit, curry, etc that is bobotie was a new favorite of mine. (I've made it twice so far.)

And, during the conversation over food, I was told about the adult son who had run off and took their property (again). That authentic conversation led to another family sharing their troubles with a sister, and another family with their in-laws. and in the end we chose our current teaching series on setting godly boundaries.

More and more churches I know are adding this element to their church, even if on a monthly basis. It's so easy to implement and makes a big difference right away.

Here are some creative meal theme ideas to make it interesting:
  • African
  • Finger Food
  • Red & Green: bring dishes that include one or the other color--or both colors
  • C-Food: bring something that starts with "C" (great choice if you want to make sure chocolate shows up)
  • Kid's Favorites: bring what your kids love most--or what you loved most as a kid
If you don't choose to eat meals at church, that's fine. Let's not confuse the method with the purpose. (I still recommend trying bobotie.) But if not food at church, what is your strategy for stimulating relationships in your church family? I'd love to learn what you are doing.

Whatever you do, don't just cross your fingers and hope something happens. Building relationships is far too important to leave it to the "leftover" time.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

First book finished--Now What?

At long last, the book Awake From Atrophy has been sent to the printers and should be in my hands by the end of September. The ebook version is available at Barnes & Noble's and Amazon's ebook selling sites.


It took me over four years to write that book, getting up early and going to bed late. So now what?

I've already had conversations with a few church leaders who had read an earlier (typos included) version of the book. We're working on implementing the principles of member-driven church into their existing structure. I hope more of that happens. But I can't make people come to me. So what do I work on in my spare time?

For now, it's not a second book. Eventually, I hope to write many book. But the main point of writing the book was stimulating a larger conversation (and Reformation) in the worldwide church. So now it's time to figure the best ways to get the larger conversation going, to move from something a few know to a worldwide movement.

I don't have the money, time, or interest in doing a standard media-based marketing campaign. I'm already doing to try to blog. Any ideas on how best to do this?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Free Stuff & Construction

This blog is undergoing major construction and will become fully functional with a great new look and new feature by the end of July (maybe sooner).

In the meantime, if you would like a free copy of my book on the member-driven church, Awake From Atrophy: Rethinking Church (Not the Bible) And Finishing the Reformation, send me an email at scott@memberdrivenchurch.com and I'll send you an email with the book attached. Yes, the e-book is for sale at Amazon and Barnes & Noble (and the printed versions will be finished around the end of July, too), but I don't want money to be a barrier for the spread of these ideas. So if you don't want to buy it, I will literally just give it to you for free. It's a fable of Drew & Jessica Walker going through a crisis and discovering the member-driven church. Enjoy!