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.