A More Effective Approach

“Even the visionary companies studied in Built to Last need to continually remind themselves
 of the crucial distinction between core and noncore, 
between what should never change and what should be open for change,
between what is truly sacred and what is not.” 
Jim Collins
     Jim Collins states that enduring organizations have two dominant characteristics that are complementary opposites.  The first is a strong conviction about core ideals that never change; these are purpose and values.  The second is a clear understanding that everything else must change in order to preserve the core.  Collins says it takes clarity and discipline to understand which things in the organization belong to which category.
     People who populate our churches often demonstrate little clarity about the difference.
Take Sunday school as an example.  Few know that the origin of Sunday school dates back to 1780.  Four purposes or needs were identified in the community and Sunday school was an experiment as a means of addressing those needs.  As the idea of Sunday school spread and the culture changed, the four original needs became reduced to only two: building relationships and nurturing discipleship.  These two remain as the core purposes of Sunday school.
     If Jim Collins would to look at our example, he would say that the core that should never change would be building relationships and nurturing discipleship.  He would then identify the noncore, or method for accomplishing the core objectives, is the traditional Sunday school hour on Sunday morning.
     Simply, what the church is about is the core, or the essentials, and not about the method.  Building relationships and nurturing discipleship is at the core of our mission.  The method, the traditional Sunday school hour, is not.  The question before the church is, “Are you emotionally attached to the method or the core?”
     Jim Collins is correct, of course.  Sometimes emotional attachments get in the way of intelligently discerning the difference between what must never change and what can change, the difference between the core and the noncore.
     Make no mistake. The Sunday school example should not be heard that I am against Sunday school.  Nor is it my intention to eliminate Sunday school from our ministry.  I use this as an example of the difference between what is “method” (Sunday school hour) and “core” (building relationships and building disciples).  When we realize that it is the “core” that is important and not the “method”, then we can explore additional methods for advancing the “core.”
     I have invited a few of our leaders to share with me in a period of discernment.  From the outside, their work together may be called long-range planning.  Though this is what they will do, their real work will be to clarify the difference between what is at the core of our mission and what is merely method.  As our world changes; so do methods.  Rotary style phones were only a method, the idea of easy communication is a core.  Rotary phones have been replaced; the core value of easy communication has not.  I wonder where the rotary phones are in our shared approach to ministry.  And once identified, are we prepared to get over our emotional attachments to them for a more effective approach?

Making Choices

“More and more people spend their time just shopping around, 
looking for diversion while avoiding commitment.” 
Eddie Gibbs
     Alan Hirsch, one of the brightest thinkers today on building authentic Christian churches, argues that many churches today use a seeker approach to evangelism and entertainment to attract people to Christ.  The devastating result is that ministry becomes another cultural form of consumerism that successfully attracts crowds but fails to transform lives.  Rather, the crowds continue to play the soundtrack of the culture – “give me more and more and if the quality isn’t up to my expectations I will shop somewhere else.”  The fact that such an approach to ministry builds more religious consumers shouldn’t surprise us.
     Hirsch suggest that authentic faith communities must demand that members become “self-feeders” who take responsibility for developing significant personal relationships with other Christians and develop practices that counteract culture and changes us into the image of Christ.  This, of course, runs counter to a consumer mentality that is heard by some: “This or that church simply wasn’t feeding me.”  As parents we expect our children – at some point – to begin feeding themselves.  Why should church leaders expect less from persons committed to following Christ?  To advance an argument that one church or another “isn’t feeding me” is simply an indicator of personal laziness.
     The Apostle Paul speaks of the Christian journey as a race that must be run well.  Training, argues Paul, will be required just as athletes train for competition.  Of course, this means more personal effort than popping in a video about Jesus and grabbing a bowl of popcorn.  Locating ourselves in small group for accountability, intentional engagement with the scriptures, scheduled and purposeful quiet time with God and developing conversational skills to share our relationship with Jesus with others will be required.  I do not promise that any of this is easy.  But didn’t your parents teach you that anything great in life is rarely obtained easily?
     Consumerism is the dominant worldview of North America.  As such, it is competing with the kingdom of God for the hearts and imaginations of God’s people.  Heaven watches to see the choices we make regarding our desire to grow into the character of Christ.

The Spiritual Life

“The spiritual life is not something that is gotten for the wishing or assumed by affectation.  
The spiritual life takes discipline.” 
Joan Chittister
     Bill Hybels has introduced in one of his books the idea of Holy Discontent.  The question Hybels raises is, “What is your Holy Discontent?  What is that one thing that you can’t stand anymore and desperately want to do something about?”  Usually, a Holy Discontent is something so great that it cannot be accomplished by one’s own strength.  It will require prayer and reliance upon the Holy Spirit.  But if pursued vigorously, mixed with a healthy dose of prayer and trust in God, one’s Holy Discontent can result in activity that significantly advances God’s Kingdom.
     It should be no secret that my Holy Discontent is people who have said they will follow Jesus but show little personal discipline in growing into the character of Jesus.  As Joan Chittister says, the spiritual life is not something that is gotten for the wishing.  It takes discipline. As your pastor it is my desire, my Holy Discontent, to see every member of this congregation become a vibrant, growing follower of Jesus.  That will not happen just because it is something I want for this church.  It will happen, person by person, as each member recognizes personally and deeply what God has done for them in Jesus Christ.  That ability to see what great love God has lavished on us results in the natural response to know God more, to love Jesus more profoundly.  That is what “Spiritual Formation” is all about.  And spiritual formation requires discipline.
     Part of my vision for this congregation is to assist people in their Christian journey with a Center for Life-Long Learning.  The idea is to provide, throughout the year, opportunities to learn from seasoned Christians how to go deeper and further in our shared walk with Jesus.  The first opportunity will be this November, when we welcome to our church Dr. Greg Ogden, author of numerous books including Discipleship Essentials.  During Dr. Ogden’s weekend with us, he will provide two classes, one for our elected spiritual leaders, the Elders and Deacons and another class for the membership of the church.  In both opportunities, Dr. Ogden will address the great need in our churches today for greater depth in faith development and provide a pathway forward.  I hope you will be intentional in blocking-out Saturday, November 9th and share in this marvelous opportunity.