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I was speaking with some friends last night and the subject of church came up and I had an opportunity to share about a paradigm shift I’ve made over the past few years that has revolutionized some real key aspects of being a Christian.

The first thing is that I believe God has given ME a ministry – to my wife, my kids, my neighborhood, my workplace, my church, etc. He desires me to live out my faith both with Him and the world around me daily – with passion, integrity and complete abandon.

Secondly, He’s given me a proper perspective on the role of my local church in that ministry. In the past, I felt like I was part of the ministry of my church – one small part of a much larger effort. This meant that I felt obligated to make sure I was operating within organizational parameters. From the curriculum I was taking my small group through, to the volunteer role I was playing on Sunday morning, to the various service activities I put my hand to – all of it was the ministry of the church and I was there to help fulfill it as I could.

That’s not how things are today. Remember, God has given me a ministry and is holding me responsible for it. It is personalized to me and takes into account who I am: my strengths, weaknesses, personality, experiences and the specific skills and talents He chose to endow me with. As such, the local church has become a resource to my ministry. Let me say that again – the local church is a resource to MY ministry; not the other way around.

This has produced a confidence of responsibility that frees me up to listen to the Author of my faith and the Designer of my ministry and move according to His plan. All of a sudden you have a new grid to filter opportunities through and it puts the power and accountability squarely on your shoulders, which can be a bit daunting if you think you are doing this on your own strength. That’s another post altogether though.

The local church’s proper role is to equip and unleash God’s people to pursue Him and His purposes in their lives. Sometimes this is easier for them to say than do, but I think we can help if we will adjust our thinking just a smidge to take responsibility for what God has given us and make that our focus.

As with other paradigm shifts I’ve talked about, there needs to be a cautionary note to prevent misinterpretation. I’m not saying that we should ignore and abstain from getting involved with what the local church is doing. Often, these events are great ways to grow relationships, meet new people and be a blessing to the world around us. The shift is in motivation. No longer do you have to do these things as an obligation to the church, but rather as a strategic choice in serving your God – and there could be no more lovely fragrance to Him than a right heart that’s passionate to serve Him and be a part of His plan for His people.

So, the question comes down to motivation. Are you abdicating the responsibility for your faith to the church or are you taking personal responsibility for your ministry and seeking His guidance about what’s next? You don’t need permission from anyone to do what God is calling you to – you only need faith expressed in courageous obedience.

The title for this post actually came to me in a dream and I was describing to someone in a heated debate how their version of organizational effectiveness was like throwing dice in the dark: gambling and guessing about success.

This post (and the dream) come in the wake of years of passionate thought around what it takes for organizations to realize their potential and prevent the loss of toes at their own hands.

To me, it comes down to just one thing: metrics. Every action can be measured in some form or fashion. Consequently, that measurement can be evaluated against a standard and determined to either exceed or fall below that standard. The difference (or delta for any math majors) between the standard and the measurement will help determine next steps to either help maintain an exceptional result or correct a sub-standard one.

The real money is in answering some very key questions:

  1. What’s the question? Most want to ask a different question first – what to measure? But, before you determine what you are going to measure, you must first know what question you are trying to answer. Of course, there is an endless number of questions, so you have to be willing to ask the best and most important questions. How do you determine that? The mission statement of the organization should be your guide.

    For example: If the question is how to determine sermon effectiveness on a given Sunday, someone might suggest you measure attendance. Is the question a good one? Sure it is because spiritual growth is most likely part of any church’s mission statement. Can you measure attendance? Sure, just count the people in the seats mid-way though the service. Does that number correlate to effectiveness of a sermon? Unless you’re sole reason for preaching is to fill seats, then the answer is no. Silly example? You would be surprised how often this metric is used to answer all kinds of questions.

  2. What to measure? Now that we have our question, we can now get down to defining the measurements we need to make. Even still, a deep understanding of what success looks like must shape our thoughts in this regard. To be truly beneficial, success must be defined AND agreed upon before we can measure and draw conclusions from the data we collect.
  3. What to conclude? Ever heard of a police detective determining the suspect before any evidence has been processed? That’s called predetermination and just as in police work, making the data fit a predetermined conclusion is – simply put – wrong. Why go through the exercise of asking good questions and putting together meaningful metrics only to get the answer you wanted anyway?The truth is rarely easy to uncover and  sometimes less easy to swallow. It’s our nature to want to shortcut the process and our brains automatically make connections that aren’t based totally in factual evidence. That’s why we must resist these urges and maintain the integrity of the process. The only way to move forward toward a better tomorrow is to let the unfettered truth come to light and allow it to dictate next steps.

Like I said in the beginning, I believe this is the crux to discovering the potential for an organization’s effectiveness, but it is by no means the only piece of the puzzle. The process of examining decisions for success takes time, resources and energy – all of which are in short supply in America and especially in our churches.

It is my assertion that until we are able to ask the BEST questions, measure the RIGHT criteria and conclude HONESTLY the truth of a situation, we won’t BE better tomorrow than we are today. Until then, we are just throwing dice in the dark.

I’m starting a series of posts that will talk about sermons topics I wish would be taught on a regular basis – every year or perhaps even every quarter. These are the key truths that seem to be the linchpin to unlocking vast treasures of understanding – at least the way I see it (it is my blog after all).

The first one will be no surprise to those that know me: MARGIN.

Margin, by definition, is extra space allocated for a particular reason. We see it in books, roads and even in how the chairs are arranged at church. Have you ever seen a book where the words ran right up to the edge of the paper? It’s maddening to try to read – your eye has an extremely hard time transitioning from one line to the next. Or been driving in a construction zone where the road narrows and there just isn’t much room between you and oncoming traffic? Or sat down to someone and felt like you were too close?

Principle One: The lack of margin requires that you pay extra attention to the edges.

I don’t desire to have our pastors teach on proper book formatting or how to properly space the chairs in the worship center, but the concept of margin exists in some very key areas of life:

  • Time
  • Finance
  • Morality
  • Energy (physical)

Margin in our schedule is probably the one that we just hear and shake our heads at and say, “Yep – I know, but I’m simply too busy.” We know that we are running too hard and are missing life as we hurry along. Strategies and principles of how to create margin in one’s schedule is needed.

Financial margin is another place where we know the good of it, but don’t have any idea how to achieve it. Unless you have a money tree that you haven’t planted, obtaining financial margin will require some very hard lifestyle choices that hurt on the front end, but bring freedom in the end.

Moral margin is not talked about much, but it is simply staying far away from situations that pull you into the deep weeds. We live in a world that is ruled by one who would love nothing more than to see you and I be pulled into something that takes us out of the game. Thinking strategically about this area is what we need help with.

Finally, margin with our physical energy is something that is tied to all other areas. We are either too busy or too stressed to do what is right for our physical bodies. Physiologically, our bodies need rest. When we sleep soundly, our body goes to work repairing all of the crap we do to it when we’re awake. If we either don’t get enough sleep or aren’t able to sleep deeply, that regenerative process can’t accomplish its goal. The results are numerous and affect our lifestyles greatly.

Margin isn’t just a concept to be admired from afar and it’s not a fairy tale either. It is a choice. A personal choice. A personal choice between life and death – literally in some cases and we need our spiritual leadership to lead by word and example to embrace the importance of margin.

Margin is simply putting space in one’s life that is left for God to fill as He sees fit. The margin-filled life is the key to experiencing God’s spontaneous nature and associated blessings..as we go.

I’ve been listening to Matt Chandler (http://www.thevillagechurch.net/) and really like not only what he says, but how he says it. There’s passion and reverence and deep logical thought behind his messages. In his message to pastors at Advance ’09 (Video), he talks about how he and the staff at The Village are working to create what he calls a “culture of confession.” He goes on to describe a place where people are open about the dark places and struggles in life.

This is nothing short of amazing because Christians are notoriously wicked when dealing with another’s mistakes. This is, by my estimation, one of the greatest hurdles the Church has to overcome. The minute we see someone stumble and judge them with condemnation, that’s the minute we expose our own dark heart, and more profound, our gross lack of understanding of what was done for us via the Cross. Do you see the irony and hypocrisy?

So, what are the elements needed for people to be willing to talk openly and honestly about the anguish of being a depraved man serving a holy God?

  • Humiliy | We all are completely unable to reach God on our own. It isn’t our worst that separates us from God, it is our best. The very best we can do is nothing more than rubbish to Him. Let us not forget our place.
  • Confidence | God holds us in His hands, yet we allow man to hold us captive with approval ratings and external appearances. That’s silly nonsense. Why should we cower to what man thinks when the God of the universe saw fit to send His Son for us. Look over your shoulder and you’ll see the Big Man standing there – He has your back, now move forward.
  • Community | One thing we all have in common is our natural separation from God – i.e. our innate propensity to do evil. Why should it be a surprise when we make mistakes? How can we be disappointed? Because we worship the person and not the God inside them.Let us both recognize that is only by His grace that we aren’t dead because of our depravity and just how special He is to have reached down and pulled us from the muck. Love is the theme of the Bible – let us make it he hallmark of our lives.
  • Courage | Sharing your junk out loud is hard for two reasons: 1) We fear how the judgment of our peers 2) We don’t want to hear the words out loud – to give a voice to our sin. The paradox is that by doing this with one another is the first step on the path to freedom. What we think can only kill us will actually give us life and make the love of God much more tangible.

What emotions are stirred in you when you hear about a husband cheating on his wife? Or a teenage girl getting pregnant out of wedlock? Or a pastor sent to jail for possession of meth? How would you feel if those emotions were directed at you?

The bottom line is this: our willingness to love and cry for the sinner is directly proportional to our love for God. It is also directly related to our love for the lost.

Lord, may I not pretend to be you by judging in my heart another man’s life. May you break my heart for my brother. May you give me the courage to be a catalyst for confession by trusting you with my heart and my future. And may your love for me spill over into every decision I make.

Rejection

Steve —  1.26.2010 — 3 Comments

RejectionHave you ever known anyone who just always seemed to be on the outside – perhaps a kid in your class back in grade school or the guy at the end of the hall in your college dorm. Maybe that was you. It was me in certain circles. I was an awkward fella in high school – not athletic and just smart enough to be considered a nerd. I think a difficult transition to my school in eighth grade got me labeled as an outsider and it stuck throughout high school.

But in college, things were different. I was able to start over and I took advantage of it big time. I played every intramural sport (even spades and chess – yes, they were sports at my school) and won more than I lost. I played on the varsity tennis team, one year on the soccer team and even was an assistant coach for the women’s volleyball team. I was part of one of the more elite majors (very few members) on campus – physics. I was cool. I found confidence in who I was, which helped make friends – the “right” friends this time.

Then Jesus happened. He changed everything – especially my aspiration to be cool. I now wanted to be effective for His Kingdom on a campus that rejected religion and did its best to satisfy each and every one of man’s desires. Rejection was again part of my daily life, but the difference was no matter who rejected me, He wouldn’t. Sure, I didn’t like someone telling me I was a mindless fool for following a God that allowed poverty and Aids and [______], but for whatever reason it was different.

Perhaps it was because I was part of a team being trained to be leaders of what has become an officially recognized organization on campus. I was on a team that saw value in my inclusion and participation. One where I was learning and being invested into with gusto. One where I had immense value to the mission of bringing the Light to my school. One that loved me to help me with my weaknesses rather than ostracize me because of them.

It’s amazing how powerful the words of affirmation from those you respect can be. That’s another topic, but suffice it to say – at that time, it gave me the courage of a lion and the fortitude of an army.

I have been serving my church with my leadership skills as a small group leader for about 10 years after a man looked at me and said, “I think you have what it takes to lead a group – are you interested?” Can you say confidence boost?

The past 6 I have been given leadership responsibility over other leaders after another man said, “I want you on my team because I believe our church and our leaders can learn from you.” Can you say affirmation of self.

Over those six years, I have been trusted with increasing amounts of responsibility and access to some pretty neat conversations at the heart of one of the largest and more influential churches in my state. God was using me to contribute to what He was doing in big ways and it felt natural and my confidence grew tremendously.

Today; however, I find myself back in high school. Rejected. Alone. In the belly of the valley and unsure of the future. I can’t go into the specifics and it really isn’t the point. The point, I’m realizing, is that we are creatures that need continued affirmation of our value to what’s going on and how we fit into what is really important. Furthermore, it isn’t just affirmation from a few, it needs to be felt throughout. If you get a whiff of rejection (real or phantom) from anyone, all of the positive comments are somehow tainted and they lose their power to propel.

My heart is fragile. My confidence is based on results. My significance is based on man’s affirmation. Conclusion: I have a long way to go and the valley has brought to light the truth of it. I’m stuck in the valley right now. At times, I feel petty. Other times, weak. Other times angry. I desire answers with very little hope of getting them.

Thank you God for loving me in the valley – I know you are here with me and I’m sorry that fact isn’t making more difference in the way I feel right now. I pledge to put one foot in front of another and find the courage to listen as you lead the way…