Thursday, May 31, 2012

What's the Point of Preaching?

Why do we teach in church? Why have sermons? If you don't know the purpose, then how do you know if you're accomplishing it? How will you know when you've been successful?

For many, the answer might be: The Bible commands us to do it, so we do it. That is true and important. But that's also unhelpful when it comes to evaluating how well it's being done. Maybe we could ask, "Why does the Bible call us to teach?" What is God's purpose for having teaching in His church? Some might answer: To inform and educate the people of God. But that's a circular answer. That's like saying we teach so people will be taught.

Here's my answer: We teach biblical truth so people will think and act more biblically--through the Holy Spirit for the glory of God, of course.

You know your teaching is successful when the people you teach are living differently. Put another way, we measure application, not awareness. Information is essential to growth, but not sufficient. People must translate your ideas in to specific changes in their lives (whether internal or external changes) for your teaching to be sufficient.

That doesn't mean every sermon has to be a topical, "4 steps to a better..." sermon. I'm a huge fan of exegesis sermons (where you go through a Bible passage line by line to see what we can learn). But whatever your format, your members need to have the chance to translate those biblical ideas into their lives--even if the "behavior" is better thinking. So, not only does your teaching need to at least finish in some tangible way, your people need the time to try to apply it in their lives before you dump the next big idea on them.

Are the sermons at your church more geared to be spiritually inspiring and impressive, or to help the people think through how they'll live differently in the next few days? How much time are you allowing for people to process the ideas being shared?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Excellence vs. Development: Which Should You Choose?

There's a tension between maximizing excellent performance and developing people. It applies to every organization I know, including churches.

If you, as the leader, decide to emphasize excellence, then it's easiest to do just do it all yourself. Maybe you also find the few others who are as experienced as you and have them do the parts you can't. This small group of highly skilled performers can achieve high levels of excellence week after week. Mission accomplished.

But maximizing excellence this way means that anyone outside this small group doesn't get to practice anything new--they might make mistakes. In order to help people grow fast, you have to let people step outside their comfort zone and allow some risk of failure. You have to be willing to endure lower levels of excellence.

Almost every church I know of has made a clear choice to value excellence over people development. They measure their leadership by how excellence their services were and allowed people development only up to the point where it couldn't threaten the excellence of the service.

I'm more interested in maximizing the growth of our people. I'm willing to look less impressive to accelerate the development of our members. For example, anyone who wants to sing or play an instrument can join our worship band any week--just show up to the practice time before the service. Many of us are experienced musicians, but a few have never played their instrument for others before. Could we make tighter music if we picked only a few (the best ones, of course) and sent the others home? Yes. But we'd be achieving maximum excellence at the expense of their growth.

Having said all that, the most mature approach is to live in the constant tension between both excellence and people development--to not permanently choose one over the other. Excellence and people development actually need each other. And this is what we're working as a church right now--trying to raise our excellence a little bit more without walking away from people development.

Some tensions aren't meant to be permanently eliminated and mature living means managing them well for the rest of your life.

What have you chosen to emphasize in your organization? In your life? What has the impact of that been?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Don't Confuse History With Theology

Many of our mistakes in church life come from missing the difference between how we should use sections of the Bible that are primarily history vs. theology. (Yes, there are other categories, like poetry and prophecy,  with their own distinctive features--that's another conversation.)

History books and doctrine books should be read differently. There is overlap in them, of course, with events being mentioned in the epistles and teaching points cataloged in the history books. But in general, historical passages describe what happened and are a poor source for determining what ought to have happened.

In histories, we get details on how Sampson thumbed his nose at God's rules for his life, one by one. We aren't spared learning of the adultery and murder plots of King David. Just because it's mentioned in the Bible doesn't mean God's endorsing it. History is crucial to Christianity. We base our faith on a real person who did specific acts. We believe in far more than abstract philosophies.

However, when we're establishing patterns for our lives, habits for our churches, bare history leaves us guessing.  This is where theology books come in. They tell us the reasons behind the particulars and help us interpret the histories.

Just because Paul traveled by ship didn't mean all missionaries must. Just because the first church met in homes doesn't mean God prefers homes for church services.

In short, it's sketchy to made a rule for living based on a historical example only. Know the history, but put extra weight on theology books (like the epistles) for deciding controversial issues.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Stooping To Greatness

I recently heard a presentation from Pat Lencioni (Bestselling author & CEO of The Table Group) about doing the simple, humble things that create great organizations. He says that time after time people study the great leaders to see what they're doing. They discover that what's unique about them are behaviors that they could easily implement. "But only if they're willing to stoop down and be human, to treat their customers and one another in ways that others might find corny."

Greatness, it seems, comes to those who are willing to stoop low enough to reach it.

Jesus didn't just preach to the lepers--he touched them (Matthew 8.1-3). Jesus was known for the low class company he kept, not the opposite (Luke 7.34). Jesus came to us as a vulnerable, pooping baby instead of glowing warrior on a chariot.

Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. --Mark 10:42-45 NASB

And I know that this challenge isn't limited to CEO's. Pastors struggle with this, too.

Servant's don't get special parking spots next to the door. Servants don't have special seats on the stage. Servants don't ask others to add special titles of honor to their names...but many pastors do.

Trying to live this out, I don't introduce myself differently on Sunday (I'm just "Scott"). When I teach, I walk around the room or even sit at a table and just talk to people. And I don't give myself extra time during the open ministry sessions we have. Some Sunday's I take a turn in the children's ministry watching the babies while another elder leads the teaching time. Why wouldn't I sign up for what we ask others to volunteer for?

If you're a pastor and people choose to show honor to you (as the Bible does command them to do), maturity says you accept their gift gratefully. But requiring honor from your members, allowing special treatment to be an official part of your church's routine, is entirely different than accepting a gift. If you tell your friend they're supposed to buy you a particular present and give it to you every week, is it still a gift?

Just because others allow you to claim a high position doesn't mean God is pleased with your posture. God might get more glory if stooping was more normal than standing tall.

Monday, May 21, 2012

My Childhood Church's Extra-Biblical Rule

Recently, I posted about the importance of being cautious when speaking on a topic that God chose to be silent on. If He didn't give us a rule in the scriptures, let's not declare with biblical authority that we know the universal rule.

Here's a classic example:

The first church I remember being a member at was an independent, fundamental Baptist church (I was there from age 5 to age 10). My mother taught at their Christian school and was required to attend the church. Great Bible teaching program, especially for kids. But, let's just say they didn't have the same view point on being cautious where the Bible is silent.

For example, while I was there, we sang only hymns...and we knew we were more holy because of it. I literally heard teaching on how drums were an instrument of the devil--how they stirred up sin in your soul and opened the door for demons in your life.

Music in church history:

There's always been music. But at first, it was an open "jam session" where anyone could bring something and the whole room would sing along as they could.  Around 300 AD, as Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire, choirs were established (choral introductions were a standard part of Roman ceremonies). Things changed fast at this point, as Roman ceremony protocols began to invade the church service. By 367 AD congregational singing was banned (only the choirs were deemed skilled enough to be worthy of singing to God). Sit quiet and don't interfere, members were told. Oh, and the choir only sang during the Communion portion of the service.

It wasn't until the Great Reformation in the 1500's that they began to allow "regular members" to sing along with the choir. Then they got crazy and wrote Christian lyrics to bar tunes, since they were the only songs the members knew (we now calls these hymns). And the Reformers also moved to emphasize the sermon more than Communion, so they shifted to 3-4 songs to the beginning as sermon intro music. The choir was still around, so they had them lead the singing.

Hear me clearly, I'm not saying choirs are wrong. I'm just saying that the early church didn't have 3-4 songs chosen in advance that a "music team" prepared. For about 300 years, there was no music team. The music didn't even happen at the beginning of the gathering. We made all that up.

I'm not saying 3 songs in the beginning is wrong. We did it in our member-driven church this past Sunday. I'm just saying that it makes fights over musical style seem kind of silly. This is one of those areas of church we made up.

The Bible doesn't even require we sing every time we get together--it is fun, though, so we usually end up doing it a lot.

What extra-biblical rules have you seen Christians fight over?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Playing Playstation 3 During Church

I just read that a Playstation 3 controller was passed around a church as a part of their service--an Anglican church, no less. The members played a game called Flowers (demo video here, if you're curious) while they talked about being good stewards of God's creation.

I usually emphasize how simple it can be to implement the member-driven church model. A pot-luck meal isn't complicated or expensive. Bible studies with discussion actually take less time to prepare for than sermons (if you already have people who can be discussion leaders at each table).

But there's no reason you can't go technical, too. You could also put on the projector one of the world's most advanced electronic devices and pass around a controller with 17 buttons and a motion sensor built inside.

If you want to read all details on exactly what they did, check out the blog post where I read about this via this link. But whether you go there to see what they did in detail or not, take just a moment and think about why someone would do this.

Video games can be described as interactive movies. Rather than just watch something, you get to shape and create it. It's similar to how member-driven church requires it's members to co-create the service together, rather than just consume a predetermined experience. Oh, and in case you hadn't heard, the video game industry is now larger than the movie AND music industries--put together.

People crave the chance to be engaged more deeply--and they grow more in the process.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Teens Aren't Kids On Sunday

We don't include our kids in the adult services (see earlier post), but we don't treat our teens as kids on Sunday.

Yes, I do realize that teens are still kids by a legal definition. But God established age thirteen as the age of adulthood when he designed the first Israeli government (see Exodus). The One who designed humans believed teenagers were capable of making real decisions. So we don't treat them entirely like kids on Sunday. I'm not saying we let our kids drive and vote when they turn thirteen. We don't even let them out of the authority of their parents. But if God thought they're capable of adult interaction in society, then we believe they're capable of joining the adults learning and ministry time.

1 Timothy 4:12
Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.

We have pretty typical children church lessons up until age twelve (songs, crafts, a bible story, discussion on how that applies to their lives, and snack time, of course). But at age thirteen we ask kids to join the adults. We ask them to bring something to minister during our open ministry. We expect them to offer their thoughts during bible studies. And we expect to learn and grow from them like any other member. They really can inspire us the rest of us to think and change.

So...does that mean youth group? Actually, I totally support many typical youth group activities for the teens. I was a youth pastor for several years and I understand well that teens benefit from a social space just for them, where they can build friendships and seek God together. So retreats and recreation and teen bible studies…all are good ideas for teens.

But when Sunday comes--when the church gathers together--they are not pushed to the side. God used young people throughout the Bible. Why couldn't do it in your church? How much ministry are you leaving undone because you undervalue your teens? How does it impact teens to separate them from the adults on Sunday?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Best Mother's Day Service I've Done

Our grand Mother's Day plan--we cancelled services and said, "Spend the day blessing the mother(s) in your life. Give her a day of rest."

Think about it. In a typical family, who does a lot of the work getting the kids ready for church? And it's no secret that women do the majority of the volunteering at churches.

And I don't know about your mother/wife, but when you ask a mother what she wants: more rest! I think it's part of the definition for the word "mother": woman so busy caring for her children (and husband) she has little to no time left for herself.

The idea of having all these overworked women gear up for another major event, during which they'll do the lion's share of the work, seems counterproductive. So we gave them all the day off and encouraged everyone to take that extra time to bless the mother(s) in their life.

But, good Christians meet every week, right? Actually, the Bible encourages us to meet regularly, but does not say anything about a weekly requirement. Generally, we do meet every Week. But we also don't want to dogmatically uphold a rule that God didn't establish.

One family in our church told me the day off allowed them to take a family trip to CallawayGardens (about 2 hour drive from them). My family let our wife sleep in, to have her wake up to pictures from our kids (see above pic) and a big breakfast I made--rest and quality time, exactly what she needed.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Creativity Through Ignorance?

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I when I first started writing my book on a new approach to church services, I stopped reading other books about new ways of doing church. Why? To be really honest, I was afraid I’d find out someone had already written my book. I wanted my book to be my original ideas, even if it was an unknowing copy.

A common understanding of creativity and insight is that you have a "eureka" moment--a sudden creative flash that's mysterious and wonderful. (It offers great stories and makes the creator look awesome.) I wanted to be that creative thinker who went off on his own and came back with a great idea.

But creativity doesn't actually work that way. And what's most embarrassing is that I knew that.

See, profound books loaded with big questions got me thinking differently about church in the first place.  I didn’t create my ideas in a vacuum. Beyond thought-provoking books (i.e. A New Kind of Christian, The Present Future, etc.), it was through hearing stories from my Dad, Fred Wozniak, about his incredible experiences with the Jesus People (fascinating Christian movement in the 70's), it was through many four-hour lunches and late night conversations with a friend, Scott Ringo, that my ideas moved from vague principles to tangible practices. The member-driven church model wasn’t all original to me anyway!

Creativity doesn’t come out of the blue, despite popular opinion. Actually, those who are experts in their field make the biggest breakthroughs (Einstein had a PhD in physics, Picasso had professionally painted for decades--before they had their breakthroughs). The more ideas hanging on our “creative tool belt” the more creative choices we can make.

After enough prompting from the Holy Spirit (persistent, isn’t He?) I decided to read more books about new ways of doing church. Not because I ceased to be afraid I wasn't an original thinker—not at first. It was hard to let go of the idea that writing an original book would validate me as a thinker/leader. In the end, I had to care about the quality of the ideas more than my own reputation.

Now, after coming through this character test, I’m not sure if I’m glad or not that I still haven't found any books saying the same thing as mine. (To be clear, there are many parts of the member-driven church model mentioned here or there.) But I do know that I adjusted how I said several things in my book thanks to what I read. And, eventually,  I was able to let go of my selfish ambition for the book.

I now wish I’d read even more while I was writing the book. I would have been more creative as a writer AND as a pastor. Well, I can't change the past, and I'm reading now.

Where do you need to be more creative? Where can you get more ideas to add to your "creative tool belt"?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bored At Church?

Can we be really honest for a moment? Are you bored at church? It might not be a fault on your part--not a lack of love for God at all. For years, my boredom--and the accompanying guilt--was a weekly burden.

In fact, there might be a very good reason you're bored. It could be because your church services are more stifling and passive than God intended. It could be because all you're doing on Sunday is talking or singing (which is talking set to music) about being a Christian. Except for prayer (5 min if you're lucky), there's almost no practice time on Sunday for typical church members.

It's like signing up to be a musician, joining God's orchestra, if you will. He gives you a world class instrument. You search around and join a group of other new musicians for weekly lessons....and each week you sit quietly, for years and years, and watch a small group of special leaders talk about what their life as musicians. They might play a little music as a demonstration, but you and me certainly don't get to make any noise during the lesson.

At first, that can be inspiring and exciting. But after a while you realize that your weekly training session will never offer you the chance to play any music--not unless you can somehow get onto the elite team that plays in front of the crowd. You're on your own if you want to practice your instrument.

But that's just how church works (you might be thinking).  Pastors "equip" the saints on Sunday and it's up to us to practice on our own during the week. That's biblical, right? And everyone who loves Jesus comes every week, sings the songs, and takes good sermon notes on how to be a Christian.

Actually, James talks pretty harshly about this approach.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that —and shudder.
James 2:14-19

Typical churches (even the huge, "successful" churches) do a terrific job inspiring faith and a terrible job of helping people practice their faith. They spend Sunday after Sunday convincing people to believe in God, so to speak, and give no time to putting that faith into practice. Members are just supposed to sit there and silently think about what we believe. (And we wonder why so many churches are dead.)

Yes, most churches offer "side ministries" where people can walk out their faith during the week, but that still leaves the question on why Sunday--the premier gathering time for the whole church--is designed as such a passive experience. And in case you're wondering, this approach to church (presentations only on Sundays) is not required in the Bible. Our current church service pattern was established during the middle ages, actually.

There might be a good reason you're bored at church. Your church might be boring. You might be spending each Sunday becoming educated on music theory, but still not actually be a musician (able to play well).

But you don't have to be bored. Maybe it's time to find a church where you can actually play your instrument during the lesson--where you can practice your faith. That's not going to happen if you spend then next 10 years sitting quietly while the leaders talk. To paraphrase James: ideas without action produce no life.

(If you're excited about this idea, but dismissing it as impractical, don't give up too soon. Check out other posts on how our member-driven church is actually doing what I'm talking about. It's not hard and you could do it, too.)