Church Leadership

3 Things I’m Wondering About What Church Leaders Believe

Yesterday, Kristen and I went to the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. It’s an event I’ve always loved… I’ve gone 3-4 times in the past decade and the years that I couldn’t make it I always wanted to. Looking back, it’s an event where I always learn a lot.

I’m probably a lot like you. I’m tired of talking about why humpty dumpty sat on a wall, why he had a great fall, or why all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put humpty dumpty back together again. Deconstruction is so… 2005. My time is spent coming up with ways to reconstruct the church in new ways, in ways that people currently disconnected from Christ want to connect with Him. It comes from a deep respect for the Scriptures, leaning into the truths of the Gospel, and a relentless hope that our best days must be ahead.

All that to say– I walked away with 3 things I’m wondering about based on what I heard yesterday. These were the working, meta-narrative, definitions of how the speakers/hosts seemed to view the world around them. And it left me wondering… is this what they really believe?

  1. The church is the hope of the world – I walked away wondering… Is that really a true statement? I know I just have an undergrad Bible college degree. And I picked Spanish in college because Greek and Hebrew didn’t seem all that practical for youth ministry. But I think Jesus is the hope of the world. I think the church is the bride of Christ. The church is Hope’s wife, they are wed, they are one… but the church is not the Hope of the world. Jesus is. (I can accept the phrase as a metaphor but the phrase was not said as a metaphor– it was said as an axiom/truism/fact.)
  2. Neighbors are people you invite to church – I walked away wondering about the application of one of the stories… Bill Hybels told a story about a man who came to their property looking for his cat. The man asked Bill, “What is this place?” (Assuming it was a college) Bill used that story to illustrate that they, for the first time in 30 years, needed to do some marketing to retell the Willow story to people in their community. His story left me screaming inside! Dude, you blew it. Jesus didn’t say, “Love your neighbor and invite them to church.” He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The guy didn’t come and ask Bill for a flyer or an invitation to church. He wanted help looking for his cat. It was an invitation for Bill to go to the man’s house! It was an invitation to get to know his neighbor— not fill his mailbox inviting neighbors to hear him preach. Oh, I really wanted that to be a turning point for Bill to see that a church dispersed in its community, as Hope’s representative and wife, is far more potent than a church coming to his “college.” [If you know me, you know my prayer is that the church becomes Good News in the Neighborhood.]
  3. Leadership is the most important spiritual gift – Oh, there was so much insider language and playing to a senior pastor audience about “leadership!” Bill Hybels repeatedly pumped up leadership as the only important spiritual gift. He “thanked God” that he didn’t have the other gifts. (There was a lot of woman bashing from the stage, too. I hope someone mentions that to him. That’s beneath leaders of his caliber.) It made me wonder about the definition of Christian leadership. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 12, no one is more important in the body of Christ than anyone else. And Jesus corrected his disciples again and again… to be great, you must be a servant. (Mark 10:42-45) Those weren’t popular concepts at Willow’s Summit. In fact, in an interview with an organization that has two equal leaders the question came up again and again… “Is it possible to have 2 leaders?

So that’s what I left wondering with after day 1. Just wondering. Not criticizing or tearing down. Just wondering. 

If you went to WCAGLS— what were your highlights? What did you leave wondering about? 

QUICK UPDATE: Day 2 of WCAGLS was very good, I didn’t stick around for Bill’s closing talk, but really enjoyed all of the speakers today. Pranitha Timothy was absolutely stunning today. Very thankful for that talk.

youth ministry

The cup is 95% empty

“Adam, why are you always assuming that the cup is half empty?” 

Youth workers say this to me over coffee. Their lives are run wild with activities, planning, teaching, and meetings. Their ministries are full and something I’ve said has called that busyness into question.

My response, not trying to be trite, is “Oh no, I’m not saying the cup is half empty, I’m saying the cup is 95% empty.

Again and again I’ve challenged folks to do the math for themselves. Most people can do it in their head. You don’t need a scientist to measure impact if you know basic facts about your community.

  • How many students are in middle & high school in your community? How many students attend a youth ministry in your community? Divide. Probably less than 10% of the eligible population. (If you factor in students who attend youth group by choice… this number dramatically falls, doesn’t it?) 
  • How many years has the current model of youth ministry been impacting your community? 20, 30, 40 years? How much have churches grown as a result? At best, church attendance has flatlined over the past 20 years, likely declined compared to 30 or 40 years ago. 
  • You might be able to point to a couple of exceptional examples. (Communities of great impact or individuals greatly impacted) But for the amount of effort, amount of investment, in most communities the impact is pretty small.

My point is not to tear youth ministry down down. It’s to rebuild. We can’t think about the future until we can make a sober assessment of what our tribe has accomplished.

It’s not that the wrong people are in youth ministry, it’s not that they are uneducated, don’t care, are lazy, or even under-resourced. I actually think the frustration, the quitting, angst, and the burnout we see in youth ministry is because we have the RIGHT people working 24/7 [largely] on WRONG strategies. [More fairly, their current strategy is OK, just limited in impact.]

That’s not tearing down at all, is it?

My point is that the strategies we’ve used to date have a finite impact. We can look at 40 years of history and say “youth group” will impact less than 10% of any given student population. (How much more evidence do you need to see that this is true? 50 years? 100 years?)

The challenge to anyone who will listen is to think about the 95% of un-impacted adolescents in their community and ask themselves, “What are other strategies that might impact these students lives for the sake of the Gospel prevailing?

That’s not being negative. It’s missiology 101.

Photo credit: Mykl Roventine via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Christian Living

The Hopeful Lean

He leaned across the table and told me a secret in a hushed tone. “This neighbor loving neighbors thing. It really works. It’s incredible!”

He then went on and talked about all the things that are going on in his neighborhood.

Over the past months I’ve had several conversations that essentially went the same way. I hang out with a former youth worker, a person like me, who left full-time ministry on some sort of a quest to find their first love, ministry. And that position they take when they lean across the table? I call that position HOPE. 

With excited hushed tones they start talking about what happened when they gave up the podium.

  • They stopped talking and started listening.
  • They stopped looking for their next illustration and started noticing what was going on.
  • And they got involved. And it lead to more cool things. And now Good News is on fire on their block.

This life reorientation is disorienting at first. It causes them to lose their balance and go through a period of questioning, often times slipping into a period of depression.

And what they find in that dark place of self-reflection is that they live in a neighborhood. There are people, often just like them, living next door. And this newfound disequilibrium causes them to be open to something they never were before… listening to what God wants them to do… regardless of if their church is behind it or not.

That was funny to write. That people who have spent decades working at churches started to listen to what God wanted of them only after leaving their church work. And I’m sure that some may take offense at that. All I mean is that these folks feel free to listen to God’s voice in a different way, not through the filter of leadership, but with a more simple posture, “Lord, what will you have for me to do?

And almost universally the answer to that question involves simply reorienting their life around serving the needs of their block. It’s not a program and it’s not a paycheck. But it’s the ministry they always wanted.

It Was There All Along

It’s kind of funny having these conversations. Each of them is unique. With each person finding a new kind of ministry that fits their neighborhood differently. Big smiles emerge as they share this secret they’ve discovered: It was there all along. 

Hope has a flavor to it. It’s having tasted the bitter root of despair, rejected popular fast-food cynicism, and popped out the other side with a big smile on your face. Hope is like taking an overcooked steak and decided to chop it up and put it on a salad. What was once not-quite-right is now the star of the meal.

Hope has derivatives. It’s contagious. As one neighbor ventures out of the front-door and meets others, others do likewise. Suddenly, hope spreads down the street. A person shares a garden. A guy cut a neighbors grass when they are sick. A block party pops up. And neighbors begin to slow down and enjoy where they live as opposed to just seeing it as a place to store their stuff and relax between activities. Kids start to play outside again. Kids start to be kids again. Crime goes down. On and on and on.

All because a family on the block decided to reorient their lives.

The Bible doesn’t lie. Each of us were created in Christ Jesus to do good works. (Ephesians 2:10) And when we lean into that the rewards are everywhere.