Monday, June 29, 2009

Half Empty or Half Full?

It has been said there are two kinds of people in the world, those who see the glass half empty and those who see the glass as half full. Also known as those who are optimists and those who are pessimists. As I go about this journey called life, I find there are people who would be doing well to see the glass as half empty, I have come across people who are not sure there is anything in the glass all together.

The issues is not whether the glass is half empty or full, or what level the contents of the glass are all together. The issue is why in the world are we looking at the glass, when there is a fountain available? Church people tend to be the most pessimistic people I know, how tragic is this. It would be easy to say that those who follow Jesus Christ should be glass half full people. I say forget the glass all together and drink from the fountain. The fountain of living water which flows from the grace of Jesus Christ.

Glasses and cups are so limiting, and the grace of God cannot be contained in such vessels. I wonder what would happen in the people of Christ stopped worrying about the level of the contents, and started drinking deep from the fountain? Would it me a renewed sense of hope? Would it mean a re-shaped sense of calling? Would people, not just those in the church, find streams of living water once again?

I say put down the glass. Check that, shatter the glass so we won't go back to it. Drink deep from the fountain of God. Fall in love with God once again. Follow God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. For those who are in Christ the future holds only hope and promise. Hard times will come, and hard times will go, but God will remain. When we drink from the fountain, we are filled with hope, grace and love. No glass on the planet can contain what the fountain offers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Leadership Commitment

Many have said it and John Maxwell is often given credit for saying the local church is the hope of the world and it rises and falls on leadership. Plain and simple leadership is where progress is found and driven. Yet there are many who shy away, or outright shirk, this responsibility. The reality is, of leaders do not step to the plate and lead the mission of God through the church suffers greatly.

It must be said however, leadership requires commitment. Leaders must have a vision, and be committed to seeing that vision into reality. Along the way there will be great testing and tribulation. Not everyone will think the vision is a good idea. Not everyone will be willing to sacrifice for the vision to come into being. More than likely at some point the leader will be criticized and possibly threatened. A leader must stay the course, they must have a commitment to a new reality.

How is this possible? First stay deeply connected with God. The single most important thing a leader does in their day is to engage in practices which foster connection of their heart with the heart of God. Second, Allow God to shape you, the vision and the possibilities. Third, secure support from a small group of people who will support, encourage and pray with you. Finally, commit your life and breath to the vision God has put in front of you.

In writing this I have run the classic risk. Some will read this and think right on. Others will see the missing pieces and focus there. No matter what, agree or disagree, there will be no difference if there is not a commitment to leadership. I wonder if there are people who are willing to commit all their being, and God-given life, to the pursuit of leading the people of God, all people, into being the present, anticipating Kingdom of God?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Court of Public Opinion

One of the greatest things about people is they all have and opinion. One of the most challenging thing about people is they all have an opinion. Over the past few months I have listened to the talk show people complain about our President, it seems like only a year ago they were complaining about the President, only it is a different President. The realization I have come to is the President of the United States needs to make the decisions they think best for the country. Obviously not everyone is going to like the decisions. There are polls which measure the response to decisions, but the president does not ask public opinion before making the decision.

In the world of the church decisions need to be made all the time. The frequency might be on par with the frequency of decisions the President makes. Whereas the weight of the decisions is very different. Still there are decisions to be made. Some people will like the course of action and others will not. Most of the time we do not need to take a poll of church people to find the people who do not like the decisions. Since conflict makes most in the church uneasy at best, many have endeavored to short circuit the process by doing an opinion poll ahead of time.

I took some time over the past few days to look at the models used in scripture when making decisions among the followers. Only once does Jesus take a public opinion poll, even then he asks the 12, "Who do the people say I am?". The early church elders, Peter, James etc... when deciding the matter of circumcision did not ask the people what they thought would be best. Rather they went to prayer, discussion and debate among the elders. Once the course was decided it was handed down, enacted and people could choose how they felt about it. If fact I struggled to find any place in the New Testament church where followers of Christ used the court of public opinion to determine what happens next. Now the religious leaders used public opinion often, including when they crucified Jesus.

So what are we to do in the church. People matter, not from the standpoint of being consumers in our religious goods and services business. They matter because of being a creation of God. Yet we as humanity do not always know what is in our own best interest. This is where church leadership comes in. Not through a single autocrat, but through a team of people, the vision and direction of the church forms. Decisions are made through prayer, conversation and debate among the leadership, and then enacted with the congregation. The court of public opinion will more often than not result in a stuck church, which does not follow the spirit of God, rather follows the desires of humanity.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Do You Believe?

The last few days I have been reading The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner. One of the points they make about leading an organization is the need of the leader to believe. The leader must believe the vision is a possibility. Any of you who are regular readers know I spend a lot of time writing and speaking about the need to reform the church again. In every fiber of my being I feel the church needs to function differently than it currently is. This last weekend I had to wrestle with the question, "Do I believe this can happen?". Do I really believe the church can be reformed, can the church transform itself in order to transform the world for the sake of Jesus Christ?

This is what I call a first order question. My whole life, mission and ministry has been centered around being a prophetic voice in the church. If I do not believe it to be possible, my life and effort have been in vain. Additionally, if I do not believe it to be possible, it is time to do something else in life. If transformation is going to come it is going to take leaders who really believe it is possible for the church to be different. Right now the United Methodist Denomination is inviting people to ReThink church. This will only matter if two conditions are true; one, if people see the need to rethink, two, if there are leaders who believe it matters to rethink the church.

Saying we believe is not enough, we must embody this belief. From every square inch of our lives we must exude believe in the vision of a transformed church. This cannot be false or pretend, we must have this belief become the very fabric of our life.

So the question remains, do I believe? Answer, yes. Not only do I believe, I am confident the Lord is using this generation of people to bring about a new reformation. To this I commit my life, mission and ministry.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Afraid of Excellence

Lately I have been reading books on Leadership based completely in the business world. I am often told I should only be reading books from the church world, but if you are going to read about leadership the pool in the Christian world can be rather shallow. That is for another day. What I have noticed is the striving for excellence. In no uncertain terms, excellence matters, and it begins with the work of leadership. Yet in the church we sacrifice excellence at the altar of mediocrity.

There are some clear indicators of when excellence is being sacrificed. If a idea is met with a phrase that begins with, well.... you know excellence is going to lose. Phrases such as the way we have always, or we have never, these all subordinate excellence. Whenever the conversation turns to finances, excellence is going to lose.

On the other hand there are some indicators of excellence having a place at the table. When words like opportunity, creative or possibility are a part of the conversation, excellence has a chance. If there is not such thing as a problem only an opportunity to see God work, excellence has a chance. When business as usual is challenged and possibly disregarded, excellence is given root.

For the church of Jesus Christ to be what it is called to be, the living, breathing, present anticipation of the kingdom of God, excellence must be a part of the dialogue. Good enough is not good enough, we should be bringing our very best. The only thing God has held back form us is the punishment we deserve for the ways we treat each other and God. Other than that God has held nothing back from humanity. Yet we hold back from God all the time. It is easy to put forth enough effort to get God off our back, but that is not what God is looking for. All the gifts, talents and abilities we have, are gifts from God. They were given to us to do something great. To live with excellence. Why do we settle for less?

I hear many people looking for more out of their relationship with God. I have now begun to ask not only what are you putting into the relationship, but what is the quality of what you are putting into it. Are we giving God the very best we have? Excellence is not an objective term, I realize. The baseline however, is offering the very best we have to offer. In human terms this may leave us short yet, ah but with God, the rest is the work of the divine.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Its An Epidemic

A few weeks ago every news outlet was filled with information about the Swine Flu, or H1N1 virus. Interestingly over the past few weeks we have shuffled that to the background as old news. The virus is still infecting people, in fact the numbers are growing, only now it is old news. There is another epidemic lose in our world that receives the same treatment. It is not something doctor's diagnose. It is not something which requires quarantine. It is not a new epidemic. I call it meitis(me-itis). This is a condition where it becomes virtually impossible for a person to take their eyes off themselves.

While a good portion of the world suffers from meitis, the most pervasive outbreak seems to be in the church in America. We have become so accustom to life being tailored to our standards, desires, hopes and dreams that we have lost sight of anything outside ourselves. Oh, in the church we have learned to put the right words to it so it sounds like concern for others, yet it really is about me. I am often overwhelmed by the number of people who share with me the ways the life of the church is not fitting what they want, or how the church should be specializing to them. The people refereed to are not new followers, the claim to people who are mature in their journey. Yet they are looking for the church and I suspect God, to be personally tailored to them.

Problem, that is not how Jesus ever portrayed live to be. Over and over Jesus showed how his followers were people who looked to God first, and themselves last. Meitis would not have been tolerated, just ask the rich young ruler, ask James and John who wanted seats of honor. Meitis causes us to think we should have a designer faith, like there is a religious buffet spread before us and we can pick an choose based on our likes and dislikes. Not once considering there might be more to life than me.

If the epidemic is not addressed the church of Jesus Christ will become a lifeless place of competing personal agendas. Everyone will want it their way, and to have everything meet their approval. Mark 8 reminds us we must deny ourselves and pick up our cross, this is where we begin to find the cure. But the medicine is not real fun because we might have to change and not be the person of primary importance in our lives.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Price of Change

As I read through the Scriptures I continue to be impacted by the way change agents are treated. It started with the prophets, continued to Jesus, and lived on through out the remainder of the New Testament. When we extend beyond the Biblical era, we find history shows the cruel to of humanity to humanity when change is the agenda. Whenever someone has challenged the status quo of the world there have been some who have been encouraged by the challenge and others who have been threatened.

It is easy to not like those who have been threatened, those who would persecute change agents. Before we run down that road too far it is important to understand why people feel threatened by change. I am learning that most people do not like the uncertainty of the unknown. Often people want to know if everything is going to work out if we try this new thing. Another option is the challenge of comfort. Change causes people to intentionally move out of their area of comfort and into a new reality. This is not an easy task. Others are threatened because they just plain do not like what is happening. Still others are threatened because they feel they have something to lose, power, control, influence etc....

As a change agent when we encounter the resistance there is a choice to be made. Do we stop and allow things to go on as is, or do we push ahead knowing conflict and struggle lie ahead. Change always comes at a price. The change agent will expend many resources to help usher change. In a church setting, change will often result in people leaving. People saying some harsh words. Lose of revenue, and more. The will be a cost, and we should understand that at the outset. Still it should not keep us from forging ahead.

The reality is, even if there is not change, the cost will be the same. The only difference is the end result will be death. A slow agonizing death. Change comes with a price, yet it brings life. Especially in the church. Throughout the Biblical record and into the rest of history, those who have counted the cost and were willing to incur the cost, brought new life. It is time for change agents, modern day prophets, to step to the plate.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Redefining Pastor

These days I am thinking a lot about what the role and job description of a pastor is. As many people as you ask, different answers will be found. The greatest factor I have found in how people understand the pastor is age. Understand this is not an exclusive or exhaustive study, only what I have experienced in my corner of the world and life.

For those who have mainline church connection from before 1960, the view of the pastor is very different than those from 1960 to 1990. Likewise when we move from the 90's to present there is yet another understanding. Before taking a brief look at each area I need to communicate this is not about right or wrong, rather it is about the changing era, and the reconnection of what it means to be a servant leader to the people of God.

For those connected to the church pre-1960 the pastor is viewed in some specific roles. In this grouping the pastor is seen as a care giver. Pastoral care is often seen as the most important role of the pastor. Being nice is a premium, it is acceptable to sacrifice missional development for the sake of keeping people happy. With this era of understanding the pastor functions more as a chaplain, than a leader. The image of the shepherd and the flock is key among this group. The primary role of the pastor is to care for those who are members of the church, and the church was focused around the pastor.

The next 30 years, 1960-1990, the pastor was the purveyor of spiritual goods and services. Consumerism exploded in the church and the pastor was there to provide for the programs, classes and worship services people were looking for. Pastors became more entertainer than care-giver. The seeker driven model was established and focus was placed outside the membership of the church. Congregations were pushed to care for each other, and invite others to meet Jesus. The primary role of the pastor was to equip the members seek the lost, and the church was still focused around the personality of the pastor.

Once we hit the 1990's the baby boomer bubble was beginning to burst. New generations of people emerged looking for more than goods and services, and looking for more than a nice pastor who would be their chaplain. The understanding of the pastor pushed for the recapturing of the pastoral office. Highly relational, there was not a need for someone to care for them, they had that covered. No longer would programs and rote responses work. Members, used loosely, wanted someone who could guide them in the process. A leader who would lead, who would answer questions and wrestle with life's tough questions. Thinker and scholar were reclaimed, not as a giver of knowledge, rather as a coach pointing to sources of knowledge. The primary role of the pastor is to challenge and guide people on the journey, and the church focused around knowledge and debate.

It is time once again to redefine the pastor. The pastor as chaplain model resulted in an ingrown church with very little witness to Jesus Christ. The Boomer church was high on witness to Jesus Christ, but shallow in depth. The post-boomer church focused on relationship, but lost sight of the Jesus behind it all. The church of today and tomorrow needs leaders who will recapture the essence of church. Pastor as leader, as teacher, as guide into mission. The most important thing a pastor can do today is live a live deeply rooted in Jesus Christ, and lead others to do the same. This will mean those locked in a different era will become discontent with pastors who lead for a new reality. Pastors must break out of outdated molds. It will do not good to rethink church, if we do not redefine pastor.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Are You Transformed?

Yesterday was big fun in our congregation. We celebrated, some were seen dancing, clapping and generally connecting with God in deep ways. As we moved to the teaching time of our gathering, I found myself ready to issue a challenge. What difference has Jesus and the Holy Spirit made in your life.

It seems week in and week out people all over the world attend services. They sing, pray, hear a sermon etc. then go home to continue their daily business. It is almost as if we lose sight of what is really happening. Engagement with a church community on Sunday morning becomes an empty ritual that is more of a to do on the list, than a opportunity to meet God and continue the transformation. The most common error for many is to see church as mere information. I can give the congregation books if it is about information. The times when we gather as the community of God, should move us to further transformation. We should live differently because we have spent time with God and each other.

There is a two pronged responsibility to the continued work of transformation. First, the leadership of a church needs to be able to create an environment for transformation. Second, each person must be willing to engage the journey of transformation. Only when these two things are present and functioning can the church be a place of transformation.

This is not about style, music or any of that trivial stuff. It is about people yielding their lives to the work and mission of God. Allowing ourselves to be transformed by an encounter with God. If you are feeling un-effected by the gatherings at your church, perhaps it is time to look at which one of the prongs is out of step. However, recognition is only part of it. There must be a willingness to change.