Tuesday, November 13, 2012

6 Shifts To Go From Preaching To Facilitating Bible Study

As I've mentioned in several other posts (like this one), we don't do traditional preaching (a sermon/lecture) as much as we have Bible studies during the service. Facilitating a productive Bible study requires a different approach than preaching. 

A pastor I know well--who has a sincere love for God and for his congregation--decided to include this Bible study idea in some Saturday night services. We set up the round tables. He prepared a study with handouts that had questions on them. And then he proceeded to preach a sermon, week after week, with people sitting around round tables and taking notes on the handout.

He loved the concept of getting his people more engaged, but he didn't know how to shift out of preaching mode. He didn't understand the six shifts he needed to make from preaching to facilitation:

Goal: Communicate truth in a memorable way
Goal: Encourage everyone in the group to talk about the truth in the verse
Your Words: Make Powerful Statements
Your Words: Ask Stimulating Questions
Flow: You decide final point before you start, then lead them to that thought
Flow: Stimulate them to come up with ideas, then summarize their thoughts
Skills: Organizing your thoughts logically, finding and using illustrations well, choosing words well
Skills: Reading the people in the group, asking neutral, open questions, summarizing others’ thoughts well
Initiative: You are the first to speak—you speak the most
Initiative: You are the last to speak—you speak only when required
Success: Measured by the quality and quantity of your content—what you say
Success: Measured by the quality and quantity of the discussion—what others say
What mode is your default mode? What shifts would be hardest for you to make?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

1 Powerful Question Trumps Pages of Pithy Statements

The Bible calls us to teach in church. It's a core purpose of the church. But the Bible doesn't mandate a particular method of teaching. Content, yes. But it leaves a lot of room for us be creative and strategic about how we teach.

The simplest and most basic method of teaching is to tell them the info you want them to know. It's also the least fruitful approach. There's nothing wrong, per se, with a consistent 30-fold harvest from your efforts. But if you could get 100-fold harvest, then why would you settle for 30-fold?

One method shift that will enhance the impact of your teaching is to craft powerful teaching questions, not just statements.

A typical pastor spends 10-20 hours each week crafting messages. And about .05% of that time (in my totally unscientific evaluation) is spent on crafting questions. Hours and hours are spent on getting the right sentences--distilling life changing principles into memorable and meaningful statements.

Don't get me wrong, I love doing that. I believe how you say it matters. I won't post on this or my other blog until I've spent a lot of effort crafting powerful statements.

But leading a member-driven church has shown me that one powerful question stimulates more growth than pages of pithy statements. I do prepare an intro and an ending for the teaching time at our church. But most weeks the core of our 45 min study time is a set of 3-5 questions. And those questions consistently spark deeper conversation and learning than I get by talking alone.

Let me take my own advice: Think back about experiences in your life that you have learned the most from--what do they have in common? Seriously, take a moment and create a list--even if just a mental one.

What themes do you see? What's the most common type of experience? Who else was involved? What was your posture (i.e. mental attitude, physical situation, etc)?

How can you recreate these kind of experiences (and similar levels of learning) in your church?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

3 Ways To Improve Your Spiritual Solitude

I've posted a few times about how the typical church structure does a poor job of developing authentic community. You can attend for years, participate in official activities, and not have true friends at church. For real relationships, you have to do something beyond the scheduled experiences.

Today, I'm going to flip the coin and say that the typical structure is also weak for helping believers learn how to make the most of solitude. 

There are a host of verses in the Bible calling us to the private relationship with God. Jesus pulled away from the crowds--even from his disciples--to be alone with God more than once (John 6.22-24) and there are many verses calling us to be private and intimate and still before the Lord (Psalm 46.10, etc).

The sad truth is that solitude and private intimacy with the Lord don't automatically happen when you're not connecting with other people. Real intimacy in the private moments--real spiritual solitude--requires effort.

Western culture certainly isn't teaching us how to do this. Quite the opposite. We live is a world of constant distractions. On every stretch of road, someone is putting up their sign or their billboard. On every bench and bus, there are more bold colors and flashy distractions. And then we all have TVs and now phones that have constant noise and lights and entertaining distractions.

Don't get me wrong: I love my new smart phone and I do watch TV from time to time. Technology isn't bad.

But because it's constantly on, being alone no longer means having to pay attention to your heart and mind, let alone connecting with the heart and mind of God.

And our church services aren't much different than our culture. Typical churches fill every second with activity and sound and entertainment. Music is always playing, or someone is speaking. There are even advertising posters up in the lobby and spiritually inspirational images in the main sanctuary.

When is the last time you were in a church and there was true silence for more than a couple of seconds?

What would you do with that silence?

Most of us have no idea what do with it. Maybe pray? But let's be honest. In true silence, most of us would have a hard time staying focused on prayer for more than a minute or two.

We can't assume the people in our churches are doing this well on their own. And preaching a sermon on solitude and spiritual intimacy in the private moments won't cut it. People generally understand the need for it. What they need is help practicing.

Here are three elements of spiritual solitude you can practice with your church members (and on your own):

This is NOT the same as eastern religious meditation. They advocate you empty your mind, etc. Biblical meditation is about filling your mind with the laws, ways, deeds, and precepts of God. It's about mulling over the things of God again and again. You could call it worry in reverse--a similar rethinking over and over, but on truth and goodness and God. There are tons of verses about meditation (i.e. Joshua 1.8, Psalm 119.15, etc).

This requires that you have information about God to load into your mind--and then that you engage God and mull over His ways together. Meditation is not the same as study. (More on doing this well in a later post.)

Many verses talk about how God reveals the heart, how God searches our souls and brings things to light (i.e. Psalm 139 and 1 Corinthians 4.4-5). Again, this should be done with God, guided by the Holy Spirit. Done separated from God it can lead to shame--or self-justification. Done with God, I usually go through a process of experiencing his love to discovering the 1-2 areas He wants me to work on back to being loved, without losing the sense of what I need to change. (I'll talk more on this process in another post.)

Waiting on God and Refreshing Your Soul
Many other verses talk about the need to wait on God and restore our soul (Psalm 23, VERSE etc). You don't empty your mind in this posture, but you don't have to push hard to a particular point, either. This is the one where you might put on some worship music or go into nature and soak in God's creation. Again, the goal is to engage God, not get your refreshing from nature or music alone.

Like a marriage, we need to be alone and intimate with God. We need to go on regular "dates" with God (get one on one time). And, like a marriage, being alone with God shouldn't be a passive ritual. Doing it well takes real effort and regular practice. If you want to keep your spark of love going strong for God, you need to regular "dates" together.

But how do you do this at church? Think about marriage retreats. Good ones have sessions where they teach, but also built in time for couples to get alone and practice what they're learning. You could do the same in church, if you really wanted to.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What Keeps Sincere Leaders From Collaborating With Other Churches

We're all in the same body of Christ, on the same team, right? Our churches are facing the same cultural challenges, all working for the same goal--spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ and bringing glory to God. So why are churches collaborating with each other?

Think about it. How many of your church's ministries include another church? How many of the food drives? How many of the evangelism efforts? How many of the youth events or Christmas programs involve Christians in your area that are members of another church?

The answer for the vast majority of churches in America is: NONE. Not a single ministry effort includes cooperation with another church. (By the way, I'm very curious to see if this problem happens in other countries.)

Think about how many times churches duplicate the efforts of other churches; how many extra items are purchased when they could be shared; how many times churches are struggling to have enough people or money to make an event happen. And think about the powerful message to a community when churches do collaborate. It elevates the attention to Christ, not our particular congregation or our particular pastor.

So why aren't churches in America doing this?

Some churches disagree strongly over doctrine, including substantial biblical issues. That does make it harder to work together. But that still doesn't explain the lack of collaboration. Most churches in the same denomination in the same town do only the required minimum of collaboration. And that's usually giving a portion of their income to the denomination at large and attending an annual gathering of leaders--not actually doing any ministry together.

I've don't ministry in a town with a 1st Baptist Church, 2nd Baptist Church, and 3rd Baptist Church--all within 10 minutes drive of each other, none of whom collaborated on a single ministry event. And don't think it's limited to Baptists. I led a parachurch youth ministry project in another town and on a major intersection found four churches--one on each corner. These churches were all fairly large and successful. And not one staff member at any of the churches had ever even met another staff member from any of the other churches. They could see each other from their front door and didn't meet. Oh, and while they weren't all the same denomination, they were all from mainline denominations with very few doctrinal differences.

They weren't enemies of each other. It just hadn't occurred to them to meet the other church people, let alone work together.

In fact, what's much more likely is for a typical church to be in active competition with other churches. Their leaders work to convince their people that their church is the best church in this area, trying to get their attendees to commit to their church as their church home (and not any of the others).

Think about the mailers you get (or the ones you just sent out). Boil the advertising down and here's what the vast majority of churches are saying to their communities:

Our church isn't like all the other churches you've been to--we're better (i.e. more casual, more open to non-believers, or more spiritual, or more friendly, etc)

I don't think churches compete (vs. collaborate) because their leaders don't love Jesus or are a bunch of hypocrites. In fact, in my encounters with hundreds of church leaders across dozens of denominations I find church leaders to be overwhelmingly sincere and truly committed to serving God.

So why are these sincere followers of Jesus not working together? I think it's actually driven by the system of modern church life--and the economics built into the system.

Typical churches are dominated and defined by their Sunday services. Not only is it the central element of their Christian duty ("being a Christian means attending church"), Sunday services are the venue for collecting income (call it "tithing" if you like, it's still the income stream for the church). And no matter how much we believe in the abstract that we're all in the body of Christ, the typical church measures it success by: 1) how many people come on Sunday morning;  and 2) how much those people give during the Sunday services.

And that creates a zero-sum game for churches. If a person goes to another church on Sunday morning at 9am, then they can't also be at your church at the same time. If they give their tithe to that church, they can't also give it to your church. One church's gain is another church's loss. So collaboration is dangerous because the attendance and giving get muddled. If you hold a joint service, how do you split the offerings received? If you hold a joint community outreach program, where do you tell the new believers to come to on Sunday morning--and who will get the tithe we will tell them God requires?

As long as Sunday service attendance and 10% tithes are the core definition of being a Christian, then churches will always be driven to compete with the other churches in their area. In this environment, the ministries you offer aren't just a method for reaching the world (though they are that, too). They are also your unique features that are used to convince customers to plug into your church--and not the others.

It's just the natural consequence of their system.

However, when you don't have services at the same time and don't require a tithe to a general fund (see my earlier posts on tithing and a simple weekly schedule) the freedom to truly collaborate is amazing. Our church has done this from the start. The amount of shared ministry projects has gone up or down over the years, but we've never had a time when we didn't have at least one shared project--where we were either sending people and money to support another church's ministry efforts or having them join something we were leading.

It's not because I am more holy than the other leaders. Not even close. It's because I didn't have anything to lose--no money I was counting on. We've had members attending multiple churches (our and another) almost continuously since our founding. Because our system makes it easier to do.

What does your church system encourage? How dependent are you on the tithes of your members? What if you weren't?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Do You Suffer From Confrontation Atrophy?

Christians are bad at confrontation. It used to be a regular part of the church experience. (Read the apostles Paul, Peter, James, the whole book of Acts...these guys spent a lot of time challenging people.)

No, sermons don't count as confrontation. While they can challenge how people think, that's teaching. I'm talking about a person talking to another person, saying, "Scott, what you are doing is wrong."

Jesus taught us how to do it well in Matthew 18:15-17:

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

In summary:

1. Privately offer correction, if they won't listen…

2. Bring one or two others along (probably they should be mature & mutually trusted, like church elders), if they won't listen…

3. Bring it up to the church, and if they still won't listen…
Treat them like a pagan.

First, notice that this process provides for as many opportunities for you, the "corrector", to discover that you're wrong as there is for the" correctee" to listen and change.

Second, notice that you don't ask around and get the whole church in agreement before you work up the nerve to challenge. You don't call the prayer line. You don't even shop around for a lot of advice before you work up the nerve to ask.

Caveat: If you're not sure whether someone is actually in the wrong or not, then I completely support talking to an elder or counselor you trust to keep something private. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about when you believe someone is in the wrong, but get a group of people supporting your position before  approaching the other person.

Third, the worst case scenario is that you treat them like pagans. Ok. How did Jesus treat pagans? What does the bible say about how should treat those outside the church? With some distance and caution, sure, but also offering them grace and the hope of redemption. In essence, if it gets that far, you change the standard you hold them to, realizing that at this point they're rejecting God's standard entirely. You don't become enemies.

In 1 Corinthians 5:6-13, Paul makes it clear that we are to hold those in the church with a high standard and be very diligent to not allow them to dilute the name of Christ. But for those outside the church--those who have not declared that they are submitting to God's standards--we are not to take the position of judge and jury (that's God's role, he says).

This process isn't that hard. It's easy to remember and is very low-drama. In fact, I'd bet that you've been taught this more than once already. I'm teaching it to my little children (who are currently ages 7, 5, 3, and 1) and they can do this process. So why don't we do this at church? Why is it that Christians seem to do the opposite of this?

My guess: We don't have real relationships in our church. And we don't see or hear of our leaders do anything other than preach to a crowd. We never practice this. There's no place built into church life to practice this. And no amount of sermons on this topic can make up for a total vacuum of practice in the context of healthy relationships.

The point of church isn't to confront. But if we are building and experiencing real relationships (which is one of the central purposes of the church), then confrontation is inevitable. In fact, it can even be one of the most fruitful and helpful aspects of healthy community. It can be one of the features that shows the difference in a community of disciples of Jesus. But that's probably not how you feel about confrontation and conflict, is it? I mean, I could be wrong. Does that describe your church experience?

What should be normal for the family of God feels strange and hard and exhausting. It's like the whole relationship muscle, including the confrontation aspect, has atrophied from centuries of neglect. The stage-dominated culture of typical churches has been like a cast put on a broken limb, keeping us safe from messy relationships. But it's also kept us from using those muscles to build healthy relationships. And when we're asked engage in conflict, even thinking about it can tire us. And if we actually have to confront that muscle complains and complains.

It's so much easier to just sit quietly and listen to songs and sermons. Relationships are hard work!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Turn-&-Greet-Your-Neighbor Time Could Be Backfiring

[from Awake From Atrophy]

“If we truly believe that it’s essential for us to build real relationships with each other to be a healthy church," Jacob continued, "then I think it’s essential that we build time for that in our services. As I already said, it’s na├»ve to expect this to happen without our members making a concerted effort. In ancient times, when the practice of eating was dropped from church life, their members came to church from the same community. They lived together, worked together, and already had relationships. But that’s not how life works anymore in the Western world. Most people in America, for example, attend church with people who would otherwise be total strangers to them.”

“I can see that,” Randall said.

“Unfortunately, the typical church design leaves relationship building to the ‘leftover time.’ If you want to build real relationships, you have to come before the services or stay after to connect with people.”

“Well, we make at least some effort,” Drew protested weakly. “Every church I’ve been in has at least the ‘greet your neighbor’ portion, as you called it.”

“Yes, they do,” Jacob returned. “But does that facilitate real relationships? Are people more authentic with each other as a result of that time?”

“Well, no, not really,” Drew admitted.

“You know,” Jessica piped up, “if you think about it, that element might actually have the opposite effect.”

“How so?” Jacob asked.

“Well, I think a lot of people put on a ‘happy face’ during that time,” she explained. “We all end up pretending things are great. We don’t have time for a real conversation and we don’t want to share something vulnerable and awkward about ourselves only to sit down right after.”

“I hadn’t thought about it that way,” Jacob said. “It makes sense, though.”

“It seems like those attempts at relationship building actually make people less authentic,” Randall mused out loud.

[check out the rest of the book at http://www.amazon.com/Awake-From-Atrophy-Reformation-Member-Driven/dp/0983756228/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1346842280&sr=8-1&keywords=awake+from+atrophy or email me for a FREE e-book version of the book at scott@memberdrivenchurch.com]

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 surveymonkey.com) 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?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

2 Tests To Reveal What Your Church Really Values

What your church (or any organization) really values is revealed when you look at : where you put your money and your time.

Ignore your carefully crafted list of values for now. Maybe you want to value those things--good for you. Do you know what your organization currently values? Answer these questions and you'll pretty much know.

What ministry forms get the most time in Sunday services? (Sunday is the prime time with the most people involved, so 20 min here is more way more precious than 20 min on Thu evening.)
How is the staff time spent (how much on each ministry)?
How is the volunteer time spent? (A harsh truth is that volunteer time counts less than staff time--we put our precious few staff on the what we value most.)

What is the church budget--where is the money spent? Who gets the most?
What ministry positions are paid positions (and which are volunteer)?
Who decides how the money is spent?

Oh, and if you're trying to change your culture and establish new values--you'd better address these questions. Any effort to change your culture and values that doesn't include a change in how you spend your time and handle your money will suffer. Time and money are such powerful forces in your culture and can make or break your efforts to grow maturity.

Don't just preach another sermon about your new values--make a change to your weekly schedule and staff budgets.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How Looking Bad Frees Your People To Build Relationships

Leaders go first. It's the fundamental definition of leadership--the person leading the way, walking in front, blazing the trail. So if  you want your people to be authentic and real with each other, you have to go first.

Sure, you can overdo it. Sharing too much, too fast can actually be awkward, not helpful. (See my earlier post on the general process of relationships building if you're curious about what moving too fast looks like.) But people in a group generally match what's already been shared. They share at the existing levels of depth and openness in the room--and the leader is the most noticed person in the room. If you want others to talk about their feelings or struggles--you have to share your feelings and struggles first.

BIG WARNING: If your idea of sharing struggles is limited to stories of past struggles you've conquered, this isn't going to work. You have to give up believing your people need a leader who has it all together. Yes, we need you to not live in defiant rebellion or have your life controlled by an addiction. But we also need you to show us what it's like to pursue God in the midst of uncertainty, pain, and failure. If you aren't comfortable sharing that--worse yet, if you don't see your own Christian walk as including any of that--then you will establish a barrier almost no one will go beyond--limiting real relationships in any group you lead.

You need to be comfortable with yourself as a person who loves God, serves God, and still struggles. You need to be able to like yourself--accept yourself--when you're not measuring up.  (God does, by the way.) Only then, gently and patiently, can you invite others to come to the same place. Only then can you help your church become comfortable with themselves and each other as people who struggle as well.

Your vulnerability makes it safe for them to be vulnerable, too. Your lack of knowledge gives them permission to admit ignorance, too.

This isn't about lowering the standards, but helping ourselves and others be more honest about when and how we miss those standards. We're not making it okay to fail in the sense that we stop striving or change the standards. That kind of acceptance and "safety" is the easy way out and harms us all.

I'm challenging us to take the harder path--to accept and share God's love while we face head on real failure. That's life-changing, authentic community. And the leader goes first.