Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Every Member Is A Minister

Lot's of churches have "every member is a minister" as a slogan. But there's a crucial difference between that slogan and "every member ministers".

The first is a spiritual identity, but doesn't require action. Sure, we'd like you to take action--we're preaching sermons about it, right? But that's not what that slogan focuses on. It focuses on a received position. Sound like your church members? (By the way, I totally agree with that theology--upon salvation, we do receive through grace a new spiritual identity, including being a minister of God's gospel.)

The second goes a step further--it's a behavior description.

What is your church more oriented towards? Establishing theological principles or engaging in ministry activity? Behavior or belief?

We do need both and I think we should work on both (this blog is about evaluating our beliefs). But James says faith without works is dead (James 2.) Maybe you could paraphrase it to say that members who don't minister aren't really ministers?

Does every member minister in your church? (Before you write this off as a pipe dream, consider that we literally have every member minister every week on Sunday in our church. Yes, that is one of our value statements, but it's also an accurate description of a normal Sunday gathering.)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

3 Weeks On 1 Question

If your idea is important to your church, then you shouldn't just drop it like a bomb (usually done via sermon) in one week and assume it was fully incorporated into their lives. Change requires time. So give your people the time to pray, process, and change.

Just recently, our church took three weeks and focused on one question: What is the one thing God is calling you to work on in your life over the next season?

See, God has a general pattern of focusing on one issue at a time. While there maybe 10,000 areas of my thought and behavior that need to adjust to be more holy, God isn't asking me work on all of them right now. This isn't a spiritual rule--He can certainly choose to do differently from time to time. But I've seen in my life and the lives of many, many others that God is usually only pressing on one of them at the moment. Once you deal with that one, of course, He'll draw our attention to the next one. But He gives us the grace of not dealing with all of them at once.

So we asked our members that question: What's the one thing God is do. I don't mean I preached a sermon on that question and sent them home to hope they thought about it. During an open ministry time, I literally asked the question. I did explain it a bit (like I'm doing here) and then we discussed the idea. Then we had time for people to sit silently and start asking God to speak to them about this. Then we prayed as a group about it.

We asked them a question and then gave them time--during the service--to answer the question. But all of that was only week one.

In week two, we did a bible study on cooperating with God as he works in our lives the next week--His part and our part--and talked and prayed more about what God was saying to each of us about our top focus.  And the third week we spent our open ministry time focusing on hearing from God and sharing to each other what God had been saying to us over the last few weeks.

The first week, even after some listening and prayer time, almost no one could name what area they thought God was pressing on in their life. But in that third week, almost every single person in our church shared an area that they believe God had spoken to them about. And the majority of them were able to layout specific steps they were going to take cooperate with God--to accelerate what He was doing in their lives.

Take time to let them grow. Slow down and teach at practice speed--you'll see much more real growth (see previous post for more on that idea) than rushing from idea to idea because you're "supposed to". Success isn't about how many great sermons you can produce. It's about how much change your members experience.

Of course, for us, the next challenge is to tailor our discipleship to the growth areas our members have identified. I'll post on that as we dig in.

Oh, and what is the one thing God wants to work in your life right now? What can you do to cooperate with Him? (Give yourself the time to stay with it and really figure it out. It might take three weeks or more, but it's worth finding out the answer.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Don't Confuse Teaching Your church With Leading Your Church

[from Awake From Atrophy, Chapter 19...]

“I don’t understand,” Jessica said. “Are you saying spiritual leaders are supposed to stir up conflict so they can have hard conversations? I thought pastors were supposed to be teachers and guides—making sure we stay on track. To borrow a metaphor from my medical world: isn’t an ounce of prevention—good teaching—worth more than a pound of correction?”

“Oh, I’m all for good teaching to prevent errors,” Jacob replied. “That’s why we study the Bible intently every other week. I’m just saying that most spiritual leaders design services so that the members can’t disrupt their careful plan. These leaders are actively avoiding one of the roles they’re supposed to play as spiritual leaders. In an effort to keep out incorrect content, they’ve shut down their members. They end up reducing Christian leadership to teaching and administrative oversight. To be hard on my own kind—and, yes, I used to do this, too—many pastors dodge the hard work of dialogue and settle for predictable monologue. Leading is not the same function as preaching. There are some similarities. But they are not the same.”

Jacob had remained casual talking about the confrontation with Ted. Apparently that wasn’t a big issue to discuss. But church leadership was a topic that stirred him.

“Well, I suppose that you can lead an organization without being a preacher,” Drew said reluctantly. “But clearly preaching is among the most significant ways that pastors lead people, spiritually speaking.”

“You can exercise leadership by preaching,” Jacob conceded. “But speaking to a group doesn’t mean you are always leading. If you look at the biblical passages on spiritual gifts, like 1 Corinthians 12, you see that leadership and teaching are listed as distinct spiritual gifts. Most typical pastors don’t have a biblical definition of church leadership. What they have is a medieval definition of church leadership. Leading the church, they believe, requires being the primary teacher. And that assumption has really damaged the church—including harming the pastors themselves.”

Drew had a sudden flash of concern. “I can see what you’re saying about the need to do more than preach,” Drew acknowledged. “But you can’t abdicate your role as the primary teacher without your leadership suffering. Doing that damages the church. You asked about concerns earlier, I do have one concern about your church model. When you turn over the pulpit to your members at large, then you end up weakening your spiritual authority. You can’t limit the authority of the leaders of the church like that without the church suffering. Take this guy you corrected on prayer! Yes, when you corrected him in front of the group, he backed down. But what if he hadn’t?! When you give up control of the pulpit and let others speak to the church like that you risk someone undermining your authority and creating real division in the church. What if a clever, charismatic speaker with bad theology grabbed the attention of the room and didn’t allow you to quiet or correct him? You have to be careful who you allow to teach the church. You have to be careful to whom you hand that kind of influence.”

Jacob met Drew’s charge with an uncharacteristically blunt reply, “Drew, you’re still stuck on Christian leadership being defined primarily by teaching. You think that when I’ve reduced teaching time, I’ve reduced the leader’s authority. But I disagree. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that those leaders who are uncomfortable with members disagreeing with them—who feel that their authority needs to be protected by not allowing dissenters to speak—those are leaders who are insecure about how much authority they really have. Spiritual authority does not mean you’re the only one who gets to speak. Spiritual authority means you have the respect and wisdom to exhort and even rebuke others when they wrongly speak. Avoiding hard conversations not only keeps the members’ immaturities hidden, but robs the leader of the chance to exercise real spiritual leadership.

“Drew, it requires more leadership to develop authentic relationships, to coach people to become better ministers, and to confront people about inappropriate behavior, than it does to prepare a solid three-point sermon.”

Drew expected Jacob’s usually gentle manner and was taken back. Jessica had gone quiet, both fascinated by the sight of a man on fire and a little intimidated by it. But Jacob’s passion was not spent yet...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

3 Ways A Local Church Went "Member-Driven" Without Knowing It

I recently talked with an old college friend who also leads a church in my area. When I shared some of the basics of the member-driven model of church he not only immediately resonated with them, he offered examples of how they have made their church services more member-driven.

First, they begin each Sunday gathering with 20-30 min of prayer. It's not a "before-the-service" meeting. It's the first item on their agenda. He says that it sets a crucial tone for the rest of the meeting.

Also, once a month they won't include any music as a part of the service. No, it's not to give the musicians time off. :) It's to help their members to step out of the "consumer mentality" our culture and typical churches encourage (something he's passionate about).

He talked about moving from declaration of a truth to demonstration of that truth in their services. (His more intelligent version of Growth Through Practice.)

I'm not saying that these are habits every church needs to adopt. That would just be replacing one non-Spirit-led assumption about church for another. The particular ministry mix used in your church needs to be based on the leading of the Holy Spirit.

I am saying I was encouraged to see these demonstrations of member-driven principles--whether or not they originally called them "member-driven".

What are you doing in your church? What creative approaches to "spurring one another to good works" can you share with the rest of us (Hebrews 10:24-25)?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Stage Has Hijacked The Church

When I was developing the model that we now call member-driven church, I did a 2 year study of what the Bible actually said about how to do church. I slowly realized how much of what we do for church is "extra-biblical". Over the centuries, we added rules and rituals--defining the "right" way to live out the biblical commands.

Those methods increasingly became centered on a professional few standing on a stage, inspiring the passive members watching from their seats. And in the process, we've forgotten all the other forms of ministry that aren't stage-based.

In short, the stage has hijacked the church.

Churches first used raised platforms in the third century AD. For three hundred years, a stage in your church was a strange idea. But it's grown and grown in use until the modern concept of church services is entirely defined by what is done on a stage to inspire the members sitting and watching.

Hold on--isn't doing everything on a stage simply a practical consideration? There's just no other way to handle a gathering where hundreds--maybe thousands--are in the same room. The stage is the only viable option, right?

That assumption is exactly what I'm concerned about. There are many ways to engage a crowd without using the stage--even crowds of thousands. You can break them up in small groups, each with their own table (think banquet). You can set up stations around the room and allow them to choose what activities to do (think expo). You can have a room set up with activities in some places, food in others, and lounging areas in others (think family reunion).

That's not practical in our sanctuary, you might be thinking. And that's exactly my point. Churches have spent millions to build buildings--and a culture--that allows for only stage performances. Room layouts exist for the non-stage crowd experiences I mentioned above. But the stage has so hijacked our understanding of church that we can't think outside that box.

I'm not opposed to the stage. In fact, I love the stage. I grew up performing on stage, doing my first play at age 4, going on to act, sing, dance, do comedy, Shakespeare, lead a band...I even  got my bachelor's degree in musical theater performance. And the stage isn't just a fun, personal hobby--it's a  powerful tool, changing lives every week.

I don't want to remove the stage from our services (thereby making another error swinging the another extreme). I'm interested in adding back in the non-stage ministry to our Sunday services. That would require reducing the stage in our services to make room for other ministry experiences. We've come so far from the practices of the early church. Maybe we can take a couple of steps back toward a healthy middle, incorporating the best of today's performance skills and the original discipleship methods that changed the world.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

How Did We Get the Pulpit? (It Wasn't In the First Churches)

When I was developing the model that we now call member-driven church, I did a 2 year study of what the Bible actually said about how to do church. The biggest revelations came when I realized how much of what we do for church is "extra-biblical". We added rules and habits the Bible doesn't require.

A great example is the pulpit.

The Bible calls us to teach the word, to study the Bible, naming teachers and preachers as spiritual gifts from God. And we've had sermons delivered from a pulpit for centuries. So when we read the Bible today, it's easy to assume that it has always been done this way. I once did.

But it's simply not true. Our modern practice a weekly sermon delivered from a pulpit was added to church life many centuries after the church began. The Bible calls us to teach, yes, but not necessarily to use the sermon method of teaching every week. It's merely one of many good options. (Think about the variety of ways Jesus developed his disciples.)

And here's how the pulpit became the centerpiece of the typical church. Here's the History of the Pulpit. (Note: the pictures are illustrative, not the actual items. Those weren't considered important enough to capture in images.)

1st-2nd Century - Adding a Chair To Communion
Sometime around a hundred years after the cross, many churches put a chair behind the Communion Table, and the leader would sit there and offer spiritually encouraging thoughts before passing out the bread and wine. Then they shifted to a desk--a chair with a flat surface to hold papers--to make it a more practical space for him to read from documents during this time.

The most common centerpiece of the service was Communion and the speaking was a bonus while they passed out the elements.

3rd-5th Century - Raising the Desk (Birth of the Stage)
By around 250 AD they put the desk on a stage and by around 300 AD a few churches started raising the desk platform higher so the leader could stand instead of sit. It was the birth of the modern pulpit--but the big shift, sparking a new name, wasn't about a place to put notes, but having leaders stand on a stage. (Pulpit comes from Latin, "pulpitum", meaning stage.)

However, the teachers didn't talk weekly and were still considered a support feature to Communion.

6th Century-16th Century - Pulpit Becomes Standard Architecture
Even then, it wasn't until  between 500-600 AD that it became standard for churches to build a what we'd consider a true pulpit. And it wasn't until then that sermons were a weekly occurrence. But these weekly sermons were typically merely 3-5 min long. It was still an inspirational bonus to the service, not the main event.

16th Century-21st Century - Sermons Supplant Communion
It wasn't until the Great Reformation that sermons began lasting 25-45 min. It was also during this time that the Reformers decided to make the sermon the centerpiece of the Sunday service..

Today's Assumptions
 It's often assumed that being called to ministry means being called to preach.

Pastors today protect the pulpit (who gets the speak behind it and what they say) as if it was the cornerstone of their church. So letting someone speak from the pulpit is considered something to be preciously guarded. I'm not arguing for careless preaching. I'm just saying it wasn't always that big of a deal.

Our Approach
We don't have a pulpit in our church. Before you nod and say, yeah, we don't either--I'm not saying we use a simple music stand or even a super-hip iPad stand (I just saw one for the first time--the medieval church goes 21st century). Remember the original Latin root word was about the stage, not the note-holding stand.

Our members sit in circles to study the word. If I need to introduce the Bible study, I like to walking around the room as I talk. Often I'll get out a chair to sit down and talk with them about the Bible (it's a true dialogue where I ask questions and they even ask questions). I don't raise myself above them or restrict the conversation to my thoughts only (lecture-style).

Final Reminder
Keep in mind, I'm not opposed to a stage. The stage is my personal background and gift-mix. I've seen many life impacted by stage-based ministry--mine included. Our music team doesn't sit around a table when they play. We have the drums and keys and guitars clustered at one end of the room. Stages have very practical purposes.

I don't want us to mindlessly become anti-stage and reject that tool. I just don't want us to be mindlessly stage-based and assume that teaching means stage-delivered lectures. They're not wrong, per se. They're just not required by the Bible.

What would it look like for you to take one step out of your assumptions? Maybe you could get down from your stage and walk around this Sunday? Maybe you could get out a chair and sit down on the floor level with everyone?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

You Don't Have To Guess Whether Your Teaching Is Effective

Just because people learn biblical truth doesn't mean a sermon is successful. Just because they even learn how to practically apply that biblical truth doesn't mean your sermon is successful.

Insight is essential to growth--and also insufficient. Satan has more knowledge and had more interaction with God than us and it's not benefiting him (James 2.19).

That's why one of our member-driven church principles is: measure application, not awareness.

Nice idea, but how do you do that? Are we supposed to follow people home and legalistically measure their lives? No. Not only is that impractical, it's unhealthy.

Instead, you can just ask them. Done right, there's simple (even free) ways to do this well. Once a quarter, for example, you could survey your members. 

There are a ton of free internet survey companies (I use that make this very easy to do.

1. In the last 3 months, what have you done differently as a result of the bible studies at this church? [this question is an open comment box]
2. What percent of the change was due to those bible studies (vs. other life factors)? [this answer is given in percentage format]

The second question recognizes that you might not be only spiritual influence in their lives and makes the answers more realistic and reliable.

If you aren't doing a survey like this, fine. How are you measuring whether your teaching is effective? If you aren't measuring, then how do you know you're doing well? Because it feels effective to you? Because people say encouraging things?

If teaching the Bible is really important to your church, then good stewardship as a leader demands you do more than guess about how well you're doing.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Sunday Isn't Really A Day Of Rest

I'm sitting at the beach, on vacation with my family (see the view from our room below), and realizing the  importance of true rest. And as I'm reflecting on it, it seems that churches seem to have forgotten what the Sabbath really is. God said, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work…" (Exodus 20:8-10; Leviticus 23:3; Jeremiah 17:22; etc) This holy day is supposed to be a day of rest.

This crucial aspect needs to be built into your church culture and routines. How are you guys doing this?

Important Note: I'm not advocating a return to the Law of the Old Testament. While the Sabbath was included in the Law, it preceded the law. It began at creation when God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3). I'm not saying we need to return to precise, one-size-fits-all rules like those of the Old Testament Law. I am saying we need to examine our churches and see if we are living out this universal principle at least in some form. One day a week--to name the general principle--God wants us to stop producing , stop laboring, and rest. Are you doing this?

The standard answer for churches is that we do this on Sunday. In fact, that's why we have church on Sunday, because it's the holy day we dedicate to the Lord. But think about it for a minute.

Does your heart go to a place of rest on Sunday? Among all the good things that happen on Sunday, is rest a normal feature?

Rest, defined by Webster's dictionary is:

  1. the refreshing quiet or repose of sleep: a good night's rest.
  2. refreshing ease or inactivity after exertion or labor: to allow an hour for rest.
  3. relief or freedom, especially from anything that wearies, troubles, or disturbs.
  4. a period or interval of inactivity, repose, solitude, or tranquility: to go away for a rest.
  5. mental or spiritual calm; tranquility.

Does that sounds like Sunday in your church? Or does Sunday sound more like this:
Hurry to get your family out of the door…
So you can get there early to volunteer (because everyone who's serious about Jesus volunteers at church), then…
Head to lunch…
Catch a few hours of quiet, then…
Come back to evening church/youth group, then…
Get your kids homework done (that you didn't do earlier) and get ready for Monday

For the most part, we've taken a day of rest and made a day of labor for the kingdom of God.

Just because it's fun or meaningful doesn't mean it's rest. Just because it's about God doesn't mean it's rest. God said His work of creating on the first six days was good--even very good at the end. But he still rested and didn't create anything new. Just because God calls us to gather regularly (and He does), and just because those gatherings are good for us doesn't make it restful.

So maybe you're a pastor and your day off is Monday (the most typical day off for church staff). You get your rest then. When is the rest day for your members? Because if you think they're resting on Sunday, you're wrong. If they're doing all the things you're pressuring them to do, they're not resting on Sunday. If you expect them to be resting on Saturday, then make that very clear. And don't call Sunday your Sabbath day--call it your work hard for the Lord day. Because that's what most churches have made it.

In our member-driven church (called Collage), we make an effort to do this in 3 ways:

  1. Simple schedule--we only have one official meeting on Sundays, leaving the rest of the week open for family time and being a part of the community...and resting.
  2. Sunday afternoon start time--we currently meet at 4pm on Sundays, in part to make meals together easier and more varied and in part to easy the Sunday morning stress.
  3. Taking some Sundays off--from time to time we cancel our services to give our people the chance to truly rest. We did it for Mother's Day (see my earlier post on that) and a few other days each year just to give people a chance to rest.

Resting is a powerful and spiritual experience. Don't underestimate it. Don't get sucked into being busy for Jesus and missing the greater choice like Martha did (Luke 10:38-42). Exercise restraint and build rest in to your church culture. And do it on purpose. God reminds us again and again--I think in part because we need to be reminded to rest. Many of us don't drift towards regular rest, but away from it. Help your people and build in healthy--even holy--rituals of rest.

So, what's your rest plan for your church?