Categories
Church Leadership

Fans are the enemy

Leading from Desperation Leads Us Astray

It’s counter-productive to lower the bar. I don’t know if it’s fear or flat-out desperation that leads us in church leadership to do this. But, in obvious and non-obvious ways, we think that more people will follow Jesus if we make it easier.

If you’re ready to take the next step in your walk with Jesus, it’s real easy.

“Take the next step in your walk with Jesus, just _____.” [Insert something non-committal, usually involving food]

What’s going through your mind at that moment is the felt need that you want as many people to follow Jesus as possible. (Which is good) And it seems like in order to do that you need to make it as simple as possible.

But you’re wrong. 

Hit the pause button and open your Bible to John 6. Let’s see how Jesus handled his fans.

This is one of those upside-down Christian leadership principles: To grow disciples of Jesus I need to make it harder, not easier. 

Jesus knew that fans came for the free magic show & food. They went from town to town. There was probably a guy selling glow sticks and two kids peddling t-shirts.

But when he told them that following him was going to mean eating his flesh and drinking his blood… most of them left. Jesus wasn’t out to make it easy. He knew that you need to test people and make it hard to find out who were the fans and who are the followers.

Christian leaders would be wise to follow Jesus’ example on this one.

Crosses Hurt

Luke 9:23 says, “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

Why don’t we take Jesus at his word?

Have you ever denied yourself, literally? I don’t mean skip a meal or do the 30 Hour Famine or skip a movie on HBO or choosing to go to a Christian college instead of a state one. I mean really deny yourself. Jesus’ early followers literally changed their zip code. They sold everything they had. (Acts 2:42-47) They gave up family life for community life. They redefind family. They ate what the deacons made. They suffered. Not because they had no choice… but because they had the choice and denied themselves! 

Have you ever picked up a cross, literally? You should try it. It’s heavy to drag that thing around– even for a few minutes. They don’t sand down the edges of crosses. They don’t remove splinters. It’s not a fashion statement.

Carrying your cross should be burdensome. It’s should cost you social status. It should hurt. If it doesn’t than you’re a fan, not a follower carrying a cross.

Following Jesus shouldn’t be easy. If, as a leader, you are calling people to an easy, simple form of discipleship… that check is going to come back as insufficient.

Ultimately you aren’t leading people… you’re making fans of yourself and not followers of Jesus. 

3 Ways that Form of Discipleship is Insufficient

  1. Fans of my ministry will kill my ministry potential – Fans just do what you say. Fans just want to hang out. Fans just want to say they know you. Followers of Jesus respect you as a leader, but spend their life copying Jesus and not you.
  2. Building my ministry around my church will kill my ministry potential – Seriously, the more time you spend hanging out at the Temple, the more time you get hung up in Temple life and deny the ministry Jesus has called all believers to… loving your neighbors as yourself.
  3. Fans build false assumptions of success – Having a full room and a stacked budget sure feels like success. But Jesus measures your success in ministry differently. He’s not impressed by what you’re impressed by. People showing up doesn’t mean lives changed. Jesus constantly tried to shake the crowd so he could meet the needs of the poor, practice healing, elevate the voice of the marginalized, on and on. Jesus never said… “Invite your friends to hear me preach at the Temple.” Never. Not once. And neither should you. 
Let your life preach and go to church to celebrate what God’s doing. 
Categories
Church Leadership

Conspicuous Thrift in Ministry

You’ve probably heard of the economic theory of conspicuous consumption. Where people go $350,000 into debt to buy a house in the right neighborhood. It’s ultimately a lie because they just went into debt to prove how much they were worth.

And the left-leaning Prius crowd has now lead to the study of a new theory called conspicuous conservation. People buy a Prius to look green. It’s ultimately a lie because just drinking less milk would be better for the environment than buying a hybrid vehicle. (Did you know that plenty of people install solar panels on the wrong side of their house just to be seen as green? Insane.)

The general concept of both is that we are motivated to spend money on things that represent the person we’d like to be seen as being. Even if that’s not truly who we are. Trillions of dollars per year are spent (or indebted upon) because of these theories.

Both of those got me thinking about the church and parachurch ministry world I live in. And, while very few of us have Bentley… or even Prius kind of money… many of us practice an economic theory I’d like to call, conspicuous thrift.

We fall over ourselves to show how little money we’re making. And while many of us struggled at the beginning of our careers we are doing OK now. Sure, compared to a peer who owns a car dealership or is an accountant we can’t keep up.

But we will do everything in our power to keep up the appearance of thrift.

  • I don’t go on a nice vacation unless someone from my church hooked me up with a timeshare in the Keys.
  • Vacation? Yeah, we can’t really afford that because we are so involved in short-term missions.
  • Yes, this is a nice grill. Thanks for saying that Tim. A guy from my church installed it for me as a gift.
  • I love golf but I only get to play when someone from church invites me. Plus, I’m super busy leading Bible studies.
  • Yes, our kids do attend a private Christian school. But I get a discount because I’m a pastor.
  • Yes, it is a new couch. I mean new to us. I got it off Craigslist.
  • We have student loans because I went to a private Christian college. But it was for ministry training.
  • I keep a very casual look, mostly from Kohl’s. Or the Salvation Army.

You get the idea. But the reality is that the prevailing concept is that ministry people don’t ever want to be seen as high on the hog. And they’ll got to great effort to make sure they are seen as thrifty.

I suppose we all have Jim & Tammy Faye to thank for this.

[And certainly, most of my peers in youth ministry will roll their eyes because they actually do make so little money that those are aspirations and not conspicuous thrift.]

Categories
Church Leadership hmm... thoughts

What Good Works?

church-ephesians-2-10

I’m a rubber meets the road kind of guy. I want to know the big picture early on in a discussion. And I want to know what I’m being asked to do.

Perhaps that is why I’ve always wrestled with Ephesians 2:8-10.

For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith– and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

In this passage Paul addresses the question, “Why are we saved?” More importantly, he points us to the biggest struggle of the church today: Do we exist, as believers, for the church’s good works or for the good works of the city we live in?

I think church leaders morph the meaning of this verse and lift it out of context for their own purposes.

Church leaders interpretation: You were created in Christ Jesus to do good works, and we’re going to point you to good works right here in the church building. We have many programs of the church that could use your good works… especially in the nursery. Did you know we have a growing nursery and a shrinking pool of volunteers willing to hold babies so their parents can worship Sunday morning?

Let’s be honest. That’s a very seperatist view of the the world. Much of what we do as church leaders is kingdom building for our local church. We address our most current need as if it were the communities most current need. In America, our view of a  good church is one that is full of people, has a great pastor, and has a huge building. But what good are those things to the people of the community? Do they see the church as a place of good news for them? In most cases they don’t. American churches serve themselves more than they serve the community! Most churches in our country have little to no impact on the community they live in. They reach 2-3% of the populuation and all of their programs essentially benefit themselves or that 2-3% of the population who come to their building to worship.

To the community– a lot of churches are bad news.

Paul’s explanation in Ephesians 2:12-13: (The part pastors don’t read when asking you to volunteer for something) “Remember that at that time [before you were saved] you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ”

Paul is reminding his people… you were once locked out of the being a part of God’s family because you weren’t born into it. But Jesus tore down that wall of separation. There is no “good works for Jesus” and “good works for the world” in God’s eyes. A good work is a good work. Verse 14 makes this even more explicit, “For he himself if our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.

So… why are we saved? What is our purpose in the city we live in? To do good works both within the church and outside. There is no separation and one is not better than the other. They are both good works! The purpose of the church isn’t to create a holy huddle… it’s to create a sending place of good works and renewal into the places we live.

Perhaps this is why the program-driven church is so repulsive to people exploring a walk with Jesus today. They read the New Testament for themselves and cannot reconcile what is described as a movement of God’s people to change the world with the church they are presented with… one that exists to feed its programs.