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.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Is This Kids Church Coloring Page More Tragic or Funny?

This is an actual children's coloring page my wife found online (she leads children's ministry for our church). It's title: Resisting Temptation.

I'm not sure if it's more tragic or funny. This drawing warns our children of the evil path in life, which includes swimming pools and swing sets. And it encourages them to  live as a true Christian: avoiding fun and attending services at your local church.

Note 1: This children's ministry website has provided many other wonderful coloring pages for us. How this one slipped in, I don't know, but the rest of the site is great.

Note 2: There's no special significance in the "Baptist" title of that church. I've seen this mentality (if not this coloring page) in many, many denominations.

Note 3: Though you probably just laughed at the absurdity of this picture, you may have reinforced this same message with your kids. If you've ever required that your family attend church, no matter how tired you are or busy you've been, because that's what good Christians do--and if in that same week you did nothing else with your faith (talk about the Bible, pray for each other, serve someone less fortunate, worship God together, etc)--then you gave the message that the heart of the Christian life is attending services. You inadvertently passed on the message that despite all our rhetoric on Sunday about making a difference in the world, the fundamental Christian duty is attending services (and if you're very committed, tithing 10% to that church, of course). The other items are icing on the cake.

I'm not against attending services. The Bible does challenge us to "not forsake gathering together" (Hebrews 10:24-25). And I'm not saying that skipping church during a busy week helps your kids. I'm concerned about how our focus on church services has dominated our concept Christian living. We've become comfortable with a Christian life that includes only service attendance.

Hold on, Scott. Better a little something than nothing at all, right? At least we're going to church regularly. Actually, Jesus said to the church in Revelation 3:15-16:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.

God would rather you be cold than be comfortable with a passive Christian routine. He might prefer you stop attending altogether and face the fact that your relationship with Him isn't a real priority in your life. He might be disturbed to see you keep coming to church week after week, doing nothing else, and patting yourself on the back.

We find this coloring page funny precisely because it hits close to home. (There's a nugget of truth in every joke that works--that's what makes them funny.)

Is your church inoculating you from real engagement by implying that Sunday services are the primary responsibility you have as a Christian? (Think about what they do as much as what they say from the pulpit.)

If you'd like to learn more about what a totally different approach to Christian living can look like (and it's not about being more busy at more church services or giving more money to missionaries) check out my book at Amazon or email me for a free e-book copy at scott@memberdrivenchurch.com.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How Long To Go From Acquaintances To Authentic Community?

Authentic community is the foundation for all the other purposes of the church. The more you know each other--really know each other--the easier and more effective all the other ministries of the church, from teaching to giving to evangelism.

Several aspects of the member-driven church model are designed to build this authentic community. I've posted about some of them previously. But I've not talked about how long it usually takes to build.

It usually takes about six months of sustained effort to really get a strong foundation of real relationships.

That's based on some assumptions:

1. You're meeting weekly. The more often you meet, the faster this goes--the less often, the slower.

2. You don't have any preexisting hostilities or competitions when you begin. If you do, this can take much, much longer. Normal human insecurities are challenging enough.

3. You are doing something to build community every single week. I'm talking about six months of constant community building, not a big event every four to six weeks. Regularity is more important than infrequent events--even if they're grand events.

4. You don't radically change the members of the group, especially having lots of new members join. This isn't an abstract timeline. It takes that long for specific people to build trusting relationships with other, specific people. Change those people and you have start from scratch with the new people.

(Side note: once it's established, it's much easier to graft someone into a strong community. But while you're building it for the first time, new people dramatically slow it down. I'm not saying you should avoid new people, but you do need to know they impact this process.)

5. My experience is only with Americans. It may move faster--or slower--in other cultures. Can anyone with international community building experience share how it works in the other cultures you know?

Remember, this is only a generic prediction. Don't make too big a deal out of it being exactly six months with your group. I just wanted to give you something of a realistic expectation, based on my experience in several different settings for many, many years. It's not a hard, precise rule.

In fact, my final statement trumps everything I've just said: Relationship building is never efficient or predictable.

(More posts on the implications will come later.)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The 6 Phases To Building Authentic Relationship (& 5 Implications For Your Life)

In general, here's the process, in sequence from 1-6, that people go through in building authentic community:

  1. Knowledge  about each other
  1. Experiences (do stuff together)
  1. Opinions
  1. Feelings
  1. Failures/Struggles
  1. Successes/Big Wins

1. In most cultures (at least the Western cultures I know), the most risky thing to do, drawing the most judgment and displeasure, is to truly share your victories--excitedly and unvarnished with self-deprecating comments. Saying you've messed up is usually more socially acceptable than saying you were awesome. Certain competitive environments, like cutthroat corporations, may have these levels reversed, though. If you think for a moment, you'll know whether failures or successes is more risky in your setting.

2. The process is a progression of adding a new layer without dropping what you've been doing. For example, you keep learning more facts about each other (level 1) while you're doing things together (level 2) that include conversations about opinions (level 3). If you want to open up and share feelings, you don't stop doing everything else--you add that element to what you're already doing.

3. Generally speaking, people need mutual validation at each level before being willing to move to the next (higher) level. Skipping a level is much riskier. Yes, there are individuals who will make a leap with you, but it's extremely rare to find an entire group who is willing to leap like that. One step at a time.

4. It may take a lot of time for the group to be comfortable with one level. This isn't a six week process--one level a week. In fact, in another post, I explained that it usually takes six months with a new group.

5. It's  not a steady, evenly-spaced out process. While it may take an average of six months, it's not usually one month spent working on each level. In my experience, it's generally slow at the start, fast in the middle, and slow for the last two levels.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Still Segregated On Sunday--Why We Overemphasize Subtle Differences

A friend of mine preached a bold message to a group of our peers--risking his reputation and, to a certain extent, risking his career. But he was right. (He did it well, too, in love and humility.)

He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he said in 1963, "11 o'clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week." Then my friend said that despite all the progress that's been made in the last three decades, this statement is still true. The Christian Church, by and large, is still a segregated institution in America. What should be the most unified and multicultural organization on the planet is among the least.

Yes, there are exceptions--some of which I've been blessed to be a part of for years. But they're far too rare.

Why? Maybe I'm naive, but I don't think it's because of deliberate prejudice, for the most part. Certainly, there are pockets of that, just as there are places where other sins have a stronghold. But I know many, many believers who honestly say they don't feel prejudice, but they still attend racially divided churches (and this goes for Whites, Blacks, Hispanic, Asians, etc).

Note, I'm not opposed to churches in specific languages for those who don't speak the tongue of their resident country. I'm not even opposed to diversity--they don't all need to act like the same church. I'm concerned with the lack of interaction and sharing between these diverse groups. For example, I know of a racially-distinct service housed within a larger church that secretly decided to split off to form their own church because they didn't need them anymore. Not only am I concerned about the splitting group's low value on the rest of their fellow believers--I'm also saddened that the leaders of the larger group that didn't have enough relationship or connection to know it was happening.

I'm going out on a limb and offering my speculation on why people who love God--who truly believe that in Christ there is no slave or free, male or female Jew or Gentile--end up separating from others down the street based on color of skin and style of music.

I think one major factor--one that isn't discussed--is that all these segregated church share the same model of church. The musicians lead the congregation and preacher preaches at the congregation--and the people sing along and take notes. When the model of so many churches is so narrow and uniform, the small, subtle differences become magnified. When all you eat is bread and cheese, bread and cheese, bread and cheese--meal after meal--the difference between Gouda and Cheddar define the meal. But if you're able to choose from a huge variety of foods every meal, it doesn't matter as much what kind of cheese comes with it. These style differences can still matter. I'll still prefer Gouda to Cheddar, whether I eat it often or not. But I'm not defined by that preference and I'm much less threatened by seeing Cheddar on my plate instead of Gouda.

Humans have a need for a unique identity--to have some distinct features from the masses around them. So when all our churches are stuck in the same model, we make a big deal out of the style of music. We base our identity on the style of preaching. And we get so accustomed to Gouda, Gouda, Gouda, that Cheddar is deeply "other" to us, foreign enough to become uncomfortable.

Yes, we need to be more deliberate about seeking out diversity and befriending the "other". But we also need a structure that makes variety and creative expression normal and not a special event.

If our churches, for example, allowed for open ministry where each church had a very different experience (based on the very different spiritual gifts of their unique group of members) then the style of music or preaching would become just one of many things that made a church unique--and it would lose some of it's stranglehold on our concept of church. Your church can be defined by much more than the style of your music and preaching--it can be defined by the particular spiritual gifts of your members (not just the gifts of the handful of  leaders).

Of course, none of this is intended to downplay the very real problem of judging those who are different than us--and clinging to a group of people that make us feel like we are better than others. But the answer isn't only an internal one. We also have external structures that encourage us to exaggerate these subtle differences.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Typical Church Leadership Is More Like Obamacare Than We Realize

In March, 2012, the Supreme Court heard an unprecedented three days of arguments on whether the government can make citizens do what's "best" for themselves--i.e. pay for healthcare, eat low salt foods, etc. In late June, they announced their ruling: Obamacare is constitutional--because it really is a tax, that is. This leaves that big question somewhat unanswered.

What does that have to do with church leadership? At the core, the question was about the government's right to force people to do the right thing. And this question is very pertinent to church leaders. The argument goes something like this...

Our government was not designed to give our leaders great power to effect great change. The Framers designed government to limit the damage leaders can do.  They believed in the fallen nature of man and feared what fallen men in power would do. Most of all, they feared another monarchy, saying, "A government capable of doing great good quickly is also capable of doing great harm quickly." Limited government, based on an educated and mature citizenry.

If you have the power to make people's lives better, shouldn't you? Don't parents make their kids eat their vegetables? I do. My 2 year old daughter doesn't get to choose whether she eats green beans at dinner.

And those same Framers also said, "Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint."

We already have to drive the speed limit. I live in a neighborhood association that requires us to keep our house presentable. (I'll refrain from discussing the picture sent to me of our offending overgrown vine trellis...that had to have been taken from within my back yard! Nothing quite like petty tyrants, eh?)

This is a fundamental leadership question--not just a governmental leadership question. Maybe we should also require everyone to go to church? In Austria, where my brother lived up until this past December, if you register as a church member your tithes are automatically deducted from your paycheck--government enforced. Isn't that good? They're helping people make the choice they're supposed to make anyway. It just makes it easier for them to do what's right.

My position depends on whether we're talking short-term or long-term--oh, and there's a crucial assumption required.

We're assuming that the government will choose well, when it tells us what to do. We're assuming that our leaders won't enforce the wrong thing. No, I'm not about to suggest that Obama and his party are out to destroy America. That's as immature as blindly accepting their judgment. I think they're doing their best. But government leaders aren't any more free of the struggle with sin than the rest of us--complete with the blind spots and miscalculations we all have. But, for the sake of our argument, let's make this HUGE assumption and move on.

In the short-term, it's very good for people to have their leaders require them to make wise choices. Good behavior increases and lives are improved. Success!

But in the long-term, there's a terrible price to pay. The more leaders decide for their people, the more they remove the need for people to learn how to make good decisions. The wisdom of the people will atrophy. Yes, I do require my toddler to eat well, but if I continue to treat my children like toddlers as they grow up, I will stunt their ability to think and choose wisely when I'm not around.

From Awake From Atrophy:

Jacob frowned back and leaned forward intently. “I would agree that most of the believers in a typical church wouldn’t know what to do if you said, ‘Go minister to each other.’ But I believe members’ inability to minister without being told exactly what to do is an indication of immature or selfish leadership, not immature or selfish members.”

Drew’s eyebrows rose skeptically. “How is that the leader’s fault? We’re wearing ourselves out trying to get them to grow up!”

“It’s kind of like bad parenting,” Jacob explained, unfazed by Drew’s outburst. “You may have seen parents who did so much for their children, who worked so hard, but allowed their children to do little, so that their children became adults in name only. The adult children remained dependent on their parents. It’s like always making your child drink from a sippy cup, even into their teens, to be sure they don’t spill anything. Instead, as every good parent knows, as children grow they need increasing opportunities to make their own decisions. Yes, they will make mistakes. Yes, when you take the lid off the cup, they will spill their drink sometimes. And, no, it’s not wise to leap from zero responsibility to total life responsibility. I wouldn’t move from sippy cups straight to crystal goblets. But to never take the lid off their cup is even worse.

“When pastors decide that members will never be able to minister as mature adults because they aren’t ready, it usually comes from one of two postures. In the best case, they have no idea there is another option, which I think describes the great majority of pastors. But, in the worst case, there are probably a few pastors who also crave the sense of importance that comes from having members so very dependent on them—just like poor parents.”

Most churches have more of an Obamacare-approach to leadership than empowering the individual. They're deciding for their people. On giving: they advocate a 10% tithe left up to the staff to manage. On music and teaching: the staff (and a few key volunteers in small churches) decide what happens--and then do all the execution on Sundays. Even in small groups, the rare opportunity for members to minister in a typical church--they're given step-by-step curriculum. Typical church leaders choose everything that needs to be done, then they teach, cajole, and pressure their members to do what exactly that. When do members get to make any decisions?

The more policies like Obamacare that are enacted, the less individually mature our citizens will become. If you want a preview of an immature nation, over-dependent on their leaders, just look at a typical church--at the prevalence of "cultural-Christians" and the edge-of-burnout lifestyle of the staff and few volunteers.