In the 4 years that we’ve lived in San Diego I’ve learned to love bodyboarding. It’s one of my favorite Sabbath activities. And while I’m not great at it I love trying.
The concept of bodyboarding is fairly simple.
You swim out past the break point of the waves. (Just past where they are cresting) Most often for me this isn’t really swimming as you can still touch the bottom. I’m kind of a wimp so I don’t like to go out past where I can touch the bottom.
You bob around going over small waves and diving under bigger ones, waiting for the right wave to come along that you’d like to ride.
When you see a wave you’d like to ride, you position yourself by paddling or pushing off the bottom so that you and your board are on the shore side of the wave… then go.
When you are on the wave you are kind of at the mercy of it. You can steer a little and you can decide when to hop off. But riding a wave is done with the understanding that the wave is really in control and you’re just along for the ride.
When it goes perfect is exhilarating. But when you do it wrong you get beat up, held under water, flipped, and dumped off where the little kids play near the shore. It’s humiliating and painful to get it wrong.
This weekend, at Open, I heard a few things. Some were from attendees, some speakers, and others from the Holy Spirit.
Most of the thoughts that stuck are along the lines of change. People are ready for change. They are hungry for it. And the pain of continuing this cycle of depreciating returns is too depressing– finally overcoming the reality that making some levels of foundation shifting change is worth the cost.
Thoughts like this…
how we as a tribe gathers needs to change
how we gather teenagers needs to change
how we disciple teenagers needs to change.
how we think of ourselves needs to change.
how we fund the movement of ministering to adolescents needs to change.
With declining numbers in all of the categories that seem to matter, the reality is that there are so few winners and far too many losers.
We all need things in our life and vocation to change. And we are in the position to do something about it.
People, like you and me, are beginning to realize that it is up to us to make these changes instead of waiting for someone else. (Cough, be a leader. Cough, cough. Entropy. Cough, cough. I KNOW! Cough, cough.)
The Pain of Change
Actually changing things will cost you something. It might make people hate you. It will be messy. It might lead to your organization losing money or even closing. There’s a pretty good chance that you could get fired.
But I want to encourage you as you think about change. When you lead towards what you feel God is calling you to move towards… it’s always scary. It’s always full of fear. It’s always brought with some pain.
Sometimes in Scripture we need to read between the lines a little bit. I think of people like Noah going home and telling his wife he needed to build an ark and gather animals. I’m guessing he and his wife didn’t see eye to eye on that at first blush, something tells me he slept on the coach, and maybe it was a little while until she accepted the lunacy of her husbands vision. Rest assured… building an ark isn’t good for your sex life. Or I think about the Centurion in Acts… I’m sure it went well when his boss in Rome found out he and his entire house converted to the religion he was paid to squelch. I don’t think that guy got a raise. Or I think about the Peter on the day of Pentecost… I’m sure that his message of Jesus as the Christ went over like a pile of bricks. Remember, most of the people in the audience walked away saying he was drunk.
So this is what I know. Not just from the Bible but from my own life: Until you suck it up, accept that the changes you know you need to make will involve some pain, you’re just going to keep doing nothing.
No sir. Not for me. I want to sleep at night. The word regret will not be on my tombstone.
Things will change because they must. Pain will be overcome because its just pain. And the vision and dreams God has laid on our hearts should scare the hell out of us.
But fear of pain preventing me or you from the leaders we can be?
I think many Christians confuse nice with kindness.
Kindness speaks the truth even if it hurts a lot, nice just lets you keep living a lie in hopes you’ll figure it out.
Kindness sits you down and listens to your pain, nice adds you to the prayer list or gives an empathetic response with no follow-up.
Kindness invests in a young leader for the long haul, nice smiles as you fail.
Kindness invites you over for dinner, nice says, “Good to see you.”
Kindness tells you when your idea sucks, nice wishes you well without believing in you.
Kindness gives you space to grow, nice expects you to gloss over the yucky parts.
This list could go on for a while but the point is clear: Nice isn’t a biblical virtue, kindness is.
When I describe a neighbor as “nice” it really means that I don’t know them all that well. “Oh, their nice…” That means they smile and say hello as I walk by with my dog. Or that means that they turn their light on at Halloween.
I’ve found that my best friends aren’t always nice, but they are kind to me. They tell me the truth no matter what. They listen when I’m hurting. They invest in me beyond what I can do for them. They make time for me. They tell me when my ideas suck instead of letting me fail. They expect me to grow and give room/time for that to happen.
But people in my life who I’m just nice with? Yeah, none of that is consistently true.
As I reread the Gospels this summer I was overcome by this reality: Jesus wasn’t all that nice, but he was deeply kind.
There’s a difference. Nice rips a whole in the Gospel and backfills it with religious jargon and feel good sand. Kindness stops you in your tracks, bandages your wounds, heals your dysfunction, pisses you off with its truth, confronts the lies of those in charge, and charges forward towards a new Kingdom reality.
Oh, that we would be a people of kindness!
Prayer: Lord, make us Christ followers who are kind. Help us forsake the nice for the full power of the Gospel in our lives, families, and ministries. Amen.
I have a fundamental belief that the problems we experience in church leadership are technologically based. It’s not that we have the wrong mission or wrong people, it’s often that we are working on the wrong technologies. (Programs, agendas, projects)
You might not see the connections between this presentation and your church. But the parallels are stunning.
Just like at this company, there are lots of committees and their agendas at play.
Just like this company, we have legacy programs which are expensive to maintain.
Just like this company, there are people who work at your church doing things deemed mission critical that aren’t actually critical to the mission of the church.
A grocery store company isn’t in the IT business any more than a church is in the building maintenance business. Contextualize that for your church. There are lots of things that each church does which are deemed mission critical but aren’t actually critical to the mission of the church.
Yet, when we talk about foundational changes in the church, getting back to the core mission, there’s tons of fear internally. Fear is what stops all change. Fear is what stops all dreaming.
Here’s what we learn from this talk that transfers right into the church.
Different people buy into change for different reasons. The CFO wants to hear you’ll save money. The user wants to know you’re making their life better. Fiefdom owners want to know their fiefs are respected.
End-users are wondering what’s taking you so long.
The hardest shift is within the staff, it’s all about control.
Continuous improvement is an expectation of the end user, even old people. And it changes the culture of the staff.
Spend the time not on making changes but on change management. The changes themselves can happen quite quickly.
Real-time collaboration is a better learning and leadership tool than presentations. (Though presentations still have a place.)
Changing the focus back to our core mission helps the whole organization dream about new ways to live out the mission. Thousands of brains and hearts focused on the same thing is so much more powerful than a handful of leaders guiding the mission.
I don’t have the power in my organization to do anything about it.
We make changes incrementally, it takes time.
We aren’t ready for that.
That’s on the agenda to do, just not something we can address right now.
These are the excuses of people who value the status quo more than they want to see change occur in their midst. At the end of the day they’d rather lose their job in an attempt to protect it or see the church close it’s doors or continue to see their church reach the same saved people year after year than take the risk to lean into the calling God has for them.
Then they whine when they lose their job. They point to their job description but miss the point. Someone paid them to be a leader and they didn’t lead their churches anywhere. You can do all of the tasks perfectly– but if you fail to lead than you aren’t a leader!
In the end, the people of your church will always decide they don’t need a “leader “who will take them where they already have been. They need a leader who will take them where they don’t want to go. (Or are afraid to go, or don’t even know exists.)
I’m sick of the excuses. I have a feeling you are, too.
It’s like Genesis 18.God is on the hunt for one person. One. ANYONE who your people where they need to go instead of placating them for another budget cycle. Fire & sulphur are on order. This world will be destroyed. Is anyone going to lead people to safety? Anyone?
God is looking for one person to rise up, take control, and lead His people where they are unwilling to go on their own.
Are you that person? Will you lead today?
The bell has rung. The crowd is looking in your corner. Are you going to rise to the challenge?
Or will you sit through another staff meeting, silent– lamenting– and wishing you had the power to change things?
“You are crazy enough to think you can change the world.”
This was the negative criticism of my ministry nearly 10 years ago by an elder. I took it as a compliment.
When I read Revelation 2-3 I see that Jesus will not judge individual churches or communities of faith. That’s not what John saw. (Revelation 1:19) Instead,
I see Jesus judging entire towns based on both what they’ve done and where their hearts are collectively.
As we look forward to that future judgment, we as church leaders in each community cannot be satisfied with reaching 5%-10% of the population. A logical conclusion would be that how we are doing things will only result in reaching 5%-10% of the population going forward. Simply put, f we want to reach exponentially more we, collectively, must change.
Most people realize that. But they don’t actually know how to make change happen.
Here are 5 ways I make change happen:
Present the facts, repeat them often, write them on the walls. Do your homework, get behind the evidence.
Persistence. Be a bulldog. Don’t let the issue die. No isn’t an answer, it’s an opportunity to try a different approach.
Stop the presses. If something is really important you need to stop everything else, at all cost. We can’t go on like this.
Tell a great story. Remember, a well-told story is your most powerful weapon.
Outwork everyone else. Know why everyone says hard work pays off? Because it does. You can’t ignore hard work.
On Evolution, Biology Teachers Stray From Lesson Plan
Researchers found that only 28 percent of biology teachers consistently follow the recommendations of the National Research Council to describe straightforwardly the evidence for evolution and explain the ways in which it is a unifying theme in all of biology. At the other extreme, 13 percent explicitly advocate creationism, and spend at least an hour of class time presenting it in a positive light.
That leaves what the authors call “the cautious 60 percent,” who avoid controversy by endorsing neither evolution nor its unscientific alternatives. In various ways, they compromise.
Here’s the kicker to the article: (read carefully)
But Dr. Moore is doubtful that more education is the answer. “These courses aren’t reaching the creationists,” he said. “They already know what evolution is. They were biology majors, or former biology students. They just reject what we told them.
No doubt this article will make a lot of Christians chuckle. As a whole we aren’t big fans of evolution, nor are we fans of the compulsory indoctrination of children to the theory.
In truth– we should cringe at what this reveals about our condition in youth ministry. We do the same thing.
Just like schools can’t get biology teachers to teach evolution the way the government requires, we often refuse to change the ways we minister to students. Just like America’s biology teachers, we can read study after study or attend seminar after seminar… but we are ultimately going to teach the way we want to teach using methods we want to use. To quote the article, “They just reject what we told them.”
If it was good enough to reach us, it must be good enough to reach today’s teenagers. Right? Wrong.
Truth + human behavior = no change
I could overwhelm you with evidence that your communication methods are ineffective. And you wouldn’t change.
I could show you longitudinal research proving that your programs don’t deepen a students walk with Jesus. And you wouldn’t change.
I could prove, from your own experience, that other methods of teaching Biblical truth could deeply impact your students. And you would not change.
I could show you study after study that shows that the way you do youth ministry reaches a decreasing percentage of students in your population. And you wouldn’t change.
I could point you to studies which show how certain types of strategies affect long-term change while others seem like they affect long-term change but ultimately don’t. And you wouldn’t change.
That’s not how change works. You and I don’t change for rational reasons. We say we do. But we don’t.
You can’t expect change from people who won’t acknowledge their failure.
Some of you will read that list above and say… “But if you showed me that evidence, I’d change.” No– you probably wouldn’t. You might say you will. But if I come back to you in six months you’d fill my time with excuses.
This is a big organization, it takes time to turn the Titanic. (True, but it sank in just a few hours.)
I couldn’t convince leadership to make any of those changes. (Um, and they call you a leader?)
We already had a plan when we learned those things, but we are planning on implementing them this summer. (Really? I bet if the internet broke in your building you’d get it fixed today.)
I want to do things differently but we run this ministry as a team. (Consensus is the way to go. Just ask the federal government how that’s working for them.)
Change is intrinsic. That’s why extrinsic evidence is often a waste of brain cells.
You won’t change who you minister to until something changes in your heart. You won’t change how your programs work until something changes inside of you. Your behavior won’t change until you take the time to internalize who you are, what you believe, why you do this, and count the cost of change.
Each of us in youth ministry is faced with the same challenge. We are called by God to help adults form meaningful connections with adolescents. And we are called to go and reach students with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Will we continue to do things the way we have always done them and watch the church reach 8% of the population. 7%, 5%, 2%… 1%. Or will we snap out of our trance, look in the mirror, and make the changes in ourselves needed to reverse that trend?
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Here’s a list of things that I’m coming to terms with…
Things that I see which don’t change people or organizations but should: (Generally speaking)
Their current reality, state, or condition
Current position, authority and/or aspirations of
Scientific research or law
Reading books about other organizations or people who change the world
Inspirational stories on the internet, television, or radio of success and/or failure
A new program at their school, work, or place of worship
Now, if you are part of an organization, think about the amount of money you spend on the list above. Probably most of it.
Chew on this…
Things that I see which do help people and organizations change behavior: (Generally speaking)
Selfish ambition, money
Accessibility to something which feeds their ambition, money
Fear of losing their family, friends, position, income
Losing family, friends, position, income
Fear of being discovered
Peer pressure, positive or negative
Cultures laws, mores, and taboos
Thought #1: Behavior change isn’t the point of the Gospel.
Thought #2: Behavior change can be a manifestation of the Gospel in an individual or organizations life.
Thought #3: The majority of my time/my resources/my energy is invested in things that should change behavior but don’t. There’s a gulf between “ought to affect change” and “does affect change” that people I need to wrestle through.
Thought #4: When I stop trying to be the answer for the top list and start building community where the bottom list is shared openly, then I see the Gospel go places I never thought it would.
Thought #5: As a believer, according to Scripture, I am the answer to the change the people in my life so desperately search for. The question for me to wrestle with is this, “Do I want to be the person people expect me to be and focus on the things that ‘ought to affect change’ or do I want to look in the mirror, deal with my own mess, and help people exchange solutions that don’t fix a thing for solutions that are really hard but affect long-term change.”
Cumulatively, the American church is likely the largest private land owner in the country. Most zip codes contain at least one house of worship. In my zip code alone there are more than 30. In many communities around our nation the church occupies some of the prettiest property in town. It’s square footage competes with all other public buildings in girth and consumption of natural resources.
Cumulatively, the American church is likely one of the largest private employers in the country. Each of those congregations in my zip code employ at least one individual. But when you include secretaries, janitors, and associates, the number goes up. Nationwide hundreds of thousands of people are employed by churches.
Churches pay no property taxes
Most church staff do not pay full payroll taxes.
Think about the fiscal crisis your state is going through… not taxing churches and their staff comes at a pretty high cost, right?
Why is that so?
Have you ever thought about it? Why don’t churches pay property taxes? And why are clergy taxed differently than other types of employees?
The best I can tell there are two main reasons for this:
In the last 70 years, there has been an increasing desire to keep church and state separate. The Supreme Court has, again and again, affirmed a desire to not sniff around in the churches business too much. Collecting property and payroll taxes would probably require audits which the federal government wants no part of.
Historically, there was an understanding that the local church was the primary provider of social programs. It didn’t make sense to tax the entity taking care of the sick, feeding the poor, and often providing meeting space for the community.
If I were to walk to the front door of most churches in our country today and pull the handle of the door I’d find it locked. (And not because it’s a holiday, it’s locked nearly every day. Even if unlocked I don’t have access to use the space.) I’ll quickly be told it is private property.
The simple truth is that the church is one of the largest private land owners and largest private employers, but it is generally closed to the public. The possibility of its existence is financed by 100% of the community whereas the benefits of the property, staff, and resources, are functionally only available to the 5% or so who attend.
For years I’ve heard the local church referred to as a country club and scoffed. But largely, it is true.
The public is not welcome.
My dream for the church
It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I will watch the speeches. (And make my kids watch them, too.) I will remember the effects of his ministry. And I will be inspired by the quotes on Twitter.
More importantly, I am empowered by Dr. King’s message to keep dreaming.
When I close my eyes these are the things I dream about:
One day, the churches facilities will embrace the implications of its tax status. It will be a place truly separate from the world because it serves the world. So separate that people coming into her doors will wonder if they are in an alternate reality. I dream of a church who flings it’s doors open to the public Monday – Saturday from 6:00 AM until 10:00 PM. It’s a place the poor are served. A place the sick go for healing prayers. A place the elderly use as a resource. A place high school volleyball teams practice. A place kids go for tutoring. A place of civic debate. A place the arts are celebrated. A place local business people use for meetings. And a place where people go to find out how they can serve their fellow neighbors.
One day, the churches staff will see themselves as employees of the community. The skills Paul talks about in Titus 1 & 1 Timothy 3 will be used not just to run programs attended by the faithful but cast upon the community for the common good of all people. Sure, there will be sacramental duties performed by the staff. But they will be kept in focus by the needs of the community. The pastor will see himself as not just the pastor of the people who come on Sunday morning, but as the pastor of the community he’s been called to serve. (Using “he” in an inclusive mode, my egalitarian friends.)
The church will no longer be dictated by fears of lawsuits. They will rise above the desire to protect its assets in realization that the assets came from and belong to the community in the first place. The church will no longer be stricken by a separation of church and state because it is too busy embracing the needs of the state’s citizens. You want to sue us? Then sue us because we have made our property open to all. You want to close our doors? Then you are closing the doors on the place of refuge for refugees and the place of stability for those lacking the stability of a family. Let our good works be our best defense.
The church will be a physical manifestation of the redemptive work of the Holy Spirit. The church will be a continuation of the ministry of Jesus. It will be a place every person can both be served and serve in the fullness of their spiritual gifts.
What will we see than?We will see Jesus at work. We will see the irresistible draw of our Savior on the hearts of the community. The church will cease being a place for the 5%-10% on the fringes and regain its place as the centerpiece of our communities. We will see that the church will be the waypoint when giving directions to people around town. We will see that the community will look at offering tax breaks to churches and clergy will be a bargain and a burden its people happily bear for the greater good of the community.
This won’t wallow in a social gospel. Instead it will embrace that the Gospel is social. It’ll be the embrace that the Gospel isn’t just about renewing of our hearts but also a renewing of our community.
Let the religious among us be skeptics of what can happen when we embrace our role in society. In the meantime, when we step into these things, we will see today’s skeptics give their hearts to Jesus when they finally see the Gospel alive with their very own eyes.