Saturday, December 08, 2018

Holding on for dear life may hasten our death

We had an interesting discussion in our deacon board meeting the other night. Our Wednesday night supper is declining in attendance. Some have opted out of the meal because the meal tends to have what I will call "low nutritional value". Others have dietary concern. There are a few folks who don't like getting out to come to a church meal every week. For others, as the numbers have dwindled, it "just isn't there scene" anymore.

Related to this concern, there is a shortage of people willing to cook. Some folks are not capable of doing all the legwork that is required to prepare the meal. Others were, but are not longer capable of cooking a meal for a large group of people. People want to eat early, which means that working folks have to take vacation time to cook, which they are less willing to do. So, we beg and plead to get people to cover the meal, and it just limps along.

One of our deacons suggested a birthday dinner for folks might draw in more participants. Her idea is not a bad one. I think it may increase attendance slightly once a month, but it is not a long term solution to making a dying traditional program suddenly more relevant.

I commented that in this situation we need to examen the meal ministry, evaluate if the program is meeting the needs it was designed to meet, and then either modify the program, or realize its at the end of its life cycle and discontinue the program.

Some people disagreed. Other agreed with what I said. A few misunderstood what I said and labeled me as "against" the Wednesday Night Supper.

This is what I know about church programs and church development. Holding on for dear life to dying programs, events and traditions only hastens the death of both the program, and sometimes the institution.

In our fast changing world, adaptation in ministry is not a one time process, it is a continual process. We cannot rest on the change we just made in ministry we must have an ongoing process of adaptation and change in nearly all of our ministry nearly all of the time if we are going to be vibrant, growing churches.

I learned this lesson through failure.

In the last church I served I helped to reorganize the youth ministry and move it forward for a bit. For a season, this adaptation worked. We combined two smaller groups into a meaningful program. Kids were connecting with the church, the Lord, and one another. Because most of the ministry was with unchurched kids, it was a challenge for some of our church folks, but they did well. At the end of the first year we had some set backs.

In addition to this, my wife was diagnosed with cancer as I started my second year trying to help it develop. This forced us to adapt again, combining the church youth ministry and the contemporary service. For a season both grew and thrived.

The next year, we started a children's outreach at the same time. That had a good start as well. The kids outreach was going well. The youth ministry, without continuing to adapt and adjust, was struggling a little more, but still working well.

The following year, without being able to adapt and adjust, was beginning to struggle. Before wrong it shrank to nothing. The kids ministry followed suit. Then the contemporary service lost its key leadership due to a move, and everything slowly crumbled.

Here is the lesson I learned from that (among many), if you don't continue to change and adapt you begin to die.


Holding on for dear life may hasten your death.


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Book Review for Blue Ocean Shift

Image result for blue ocean shift

Blue Ocean Shift: Proven Steps to Inspire Confidence and Seize New Growth
by W, Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne
ISBN 978-0-316-31404-6
Hachette Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

In this wonderful follow up to Blue Ocean Strategy, the authors of Blue Ocean Shift seek to further plot the course toward reaching undiscovered and undreamed of markets for folks seeking to make their mark on the business world, the non-profit world and more.

First, it may be helpful to understand the language of "Blue Ocean" that the authors have trademarked in their studies of business development and adaptation. Markets that are saturated with customers and sellers are referred to as "red" and "Red Ocean".  Blue Ocean markets are unknown and undiscovered markets that businesses and salespersons can move into.

In Blue Ocean Strategy, Kim and Mauborgne seemed to advocate for the concept of "Blue Oceans", advocating entrepreneurs seek to be in this space. This book, as I understand it, is more about adaptation. How do you adapt your new or established business to move from "red oceans" to blue oceans"

Blue Ocean Strategy is filled with great stories and examples that push the reader toward embracing their viewpoint, and helping people move into open spaces in the buisness world. Thoughtful, inspiring, and smart, many business persons would be wise to read this book and seek their niche.

For me as a pastor, this book applies to church growth as well. In what ways are churches seeking an already saturated market, and in what ways can the church move into new space that are blue oceans full of outreach possibilities? Something to consider...

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

This blog is coming up on 14 years old. It is not as well read and active as it used to be, But I still love it.

I am going to try and write more here for the following reasons:

1.  I enjoy writing
2.  Thinking through things outloud in this venue helps me grow spiritually

Thursday, October 11, 2018

In the Morning

I was reading Luke 23 this week as I was leading a small group on "Learning to Fish", which is a class which aims to teach participants some basic tools to study the Bible for themselves.

I noticed something I know I had never read before, but did not pay much attention to. Luke's account has Jerusalem going dark between noon and three in the afternoon. Jesus died before this had happened. Therefore, Jesus's crucifixion and death all happened in the morning. If anyone would have slept in, they would have missed it!

I'm not sure that means anything, but I thought it interesting to meditate on.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The mall, the church and the changing face of the world around us

A couple of weeks ago, while on vacation, I returned to the Kansas City area for a visit. Most of you know I lived in Kansas City for a little over three years in the 90s as I studied for the ministry and began my ministry career.

It was an interesting visit. I have been back to Kansas City a few times since I left school. My most recent visit was in 2006, or about 12 years ago, when I was leading a youth mission trip back to that area. Some things had not changed at all. Other things have changed a lot. New neighborhoods and establishments have been born. Still other establishments have ceased to exist as I knew them. As I observed the changes I began to observe that there was a lesson to be learned in all this.

When we arrived in Kansas City, I began to research a way to visit the "Great Mall of the Great Plains". It was one of the biggest malls in the country when it was built, which was while I lived in the area in 1997. Turns out, the mall was closed and has been demolished.

Is the mall dead?

Earlier that day, I had taken I-635 past where I used to live. I looked out where the Indian Springs Mall was, which was a mall that was struggling when I lived there, supposedly because of the difficulties of dealing with urban youth that wanted to loiter there. Here is a picture of that mall today:

Image result for indian springs mall

As you can see both malls, one in the suburbs and one in the city, have ceased to exist.

I currently live in a small midwestern city where we have a mall. In the last year, the mall has lost three of its anchor stores. Because of the decline of these anchor stores, several other stores in the mall have closed as well. This has been a disappointment for many folks in our community. And so, the stores, the mall, and some people blame their customer's internet shopping habits, and decry the citizens unwillingness to "shop local".

At the same time, there is a subtle effort to seek to "save the mall". People wonder how we can get new stores in, wonder if we can help them survive, so that we can keep this mall thing going. My question is, "Is it a good thing that the mall survives?" and "Are malls a thing of the past?" You see, I think it might a good thing if the mall is demolished here, and the business community begins to reimagine what consumers need today in North Platte instead of depending on a business structure and model that has been declining in relevancy for over 20 years. The mall has not always been the center of shopping experiences for consumers. Before the mall developed, people shopped in thriving downtown storefronts. Before that, if a community was not developed, they shopped from a Sears catalogue, which is not all that unlike ordering from Amazon.

Why is this important to a Baptist pastor in the middle of Western Nebraska? Becuase I think we are as tied to irrelevant methods of doing church as commercial real estate investors are tied to irrelevant ways of organizing businesses to sell their goods. Furthermore, I think many believers often conflate methods of doing church and living their faith with the real message of Scripture.

So, then, how do we lead communities of believers so that they are not investing themselves in forms and methods of doing church that will lead them to irrelevance and closure? Here are a few of my thoughts. I would love to hear yours.

1.  We need to work hard not to conflate "church" with a brick and mortar structure
A church congregation is a group of people locally covenanted together to fulfill God's mission in cooperation with one another in a particular locality at a particular time. Churches are not buildings. They are communities of believers. Yet, much of our congregation's emotional reserve and resources are invested in caring for and maintaining a building that is occupied for a limited time each week.  If your church has a building, it needs to make sure the building does not define them, control them, or guide their ministry. When the building gets the devotion and care, our devotion for the Lord is lessened and our care for other people is missed.

2. We need to work hard not conflate discipleship with service on committees
A person is not more mature spiritually because they serve on the Executive Board of a congregation. Participation on the property care committee does not necessarily mean a greater depth of faith. No where in the bible does it say that followers of Jesus will grow closer to Jesus by serving as a Women's Ministries officer. As a matter of fact, frequent attendance at church meetings can be detrimental to one's spiritual well being.

3. We need to realize that our commitment to managing church business with more and more meetings is running more and more people out the door
People are not eager to commit to institutions, especially when their primary goal is their own viability and longevity. When we welcome people into fellowship, and then try and encourage them to be involved in a number of groups that debate inessential issues for extended periods of time, we run those folks out of church that love Jesus, but don't feel attached to institutional maintenance. And, people with this love for Jesus and detachment from insitutional trappings is LEGION. Therefore, we need to focus more on gatherings that meetings.  Our committee work should not be as concerned with procedural matters as we are with equipping, training, and planning for effective person to person ministry. There will always need to be folks managing adminstrative details, but this can be done by a cadre of committed leaders with gifts in such matters, not gobs of committees mired in mediocre leadership.

5. We need to understand that efforts on making our churches bigger is not making said churches healthier, more viable, or more effective at reaching people with the gospel.
Malls were a part of the "bigger is better" model of the consumer experience. People have slowly rejecting the mall experience as desirable.  Larger is not necessarily better.

A similar dynamic will soon play out in churches. I know of larger churches that are unhealthy, and smaller churches that have a lot to offer. Four congregations of 100 are more effective at reaching the unchurched and caring for one another than one church of 400, yet we seem to place a higher value on the church of 400.

What are your thoughts on this comparison. What else would you add? As you can tell from reading this, I am a still struggling to bring together this comparison of the mall and the church. I believe that there is a lot to the comparison, but I am still hoping to find more words to it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Book Review of Best Bible Books by Glynn and Burer

Best Bible Books

Best Bible Books: New Testament Resources
by John Glynn
Editor Michael H. Burer
Kregel Ministry
ISBN 978-0-8254-4398-5

Best Bible Books is, simply put, a resource that almost every pastor would love to have on their shelves. Many lay folks that love studying the Bible may like having this fine text as well.

When I first picked up this resource, I was a little unsure if I would like it. As many of my readers know, I am on the conservative side of mainline churches, but compared to many more fundamental/evangelical congregations, my interpretation of Scripture and culture may be a little more progressive. The authors clearly hail from more fundamental institutions, especially the editor Michael Burer.

The authors do rank each commentary and resource into categories of "good", "better" and "best" when they are used in the annotated bibliography. When a traditional bibliography is shared with non-annotated resources, commentaries and books that bear special consideration are highlighted. Each Bible book has a chapter, as to books and commentaries that provide studies over sections of the New Testament (Jesus and the Gospels), and other issues (cultural and historical background). This resource is really quite comprehensive. The scholars clearly share what the commentary is like, but aren't pushy toward selling one over the other. For instance, they not that Craig Keener's study on Matthew has over 12,000 references, including 10,000 primary resource references (p. 53). This lets readers know that the text is going to be quite dense, but also academically sound and well thought out.

Although Burer admits the book is "shooting a moving target" (p. 17), I think it will be helpful for me for years to come.

This book is a great idea, and a wonderful resource for many for years to come.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Thoughts on Change: Lessons from failing

Image result for team of teams

"There is a temptation for all of us to blame failures outside of our control: "the enemy was ten feet tall." "we weren't treated fairly", or "it was an impossible task to begin with." There is also comfort in "doubling down" on proven processes, regardless of their efficacy. Few of us are criciticized if we faithfully do what has worked many times before. But feeling comfortable or dodging criticism should not be a measure of our success. There's likely a place in paradise for people who tried hard, but what really matters is succeeding. If that requires you to change, that's your mission"--Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams, p. 8

Don't just embrace change, embrace a continual process of changing

While serving in Hot Springs, I spent about 4 of my 6 school years with hands on involvement in helping lead the youth ministry at United Churches. I was encouraged to do this by some key current and former leaders, and was glad to do it because our youth ministry had a lot of potential but needed leadership and guidance. 

When I jumped in and helped, we had multiple "youth groups". In some settings this is not a bad thing, but in our setting both our kids and our leadership needed accountability and structure. 

The first year we made a change to have the groups meet on Thursday evenings. Since Hot Springs had a four-day school week, this was really like their Friday. It coincided with some other church activities. It was a good fit. The group grew. There was a lot to celebrate.

The next year my wife had cancer, we had to survive sabotage by some rogue leaders (both within and without our youth group), and I gave the leadership team two options. First, go on Thursday without me, or combine our ministry with our Sunday evening worship. I was willing to serve, but I was going to limit my evenings away from family during chemotherapy. The thing is, the church grew during that season as well. The following year the growth slowed. The year after that attendance was virtually non existent. 

There were several things that played into this attendance pattern, some beyond our control, and some in our control. However, one thing I took away from the experience is that if we were to continue to remain relevant we needed to not only change for one or two years. We needed to continue to change over and over again. We needed to be committed to a process of adaptation to keep pace with the missional task of our community youth ministry.

What is true of youth ministry in Hot Springs may also be relevant to all ministry in the coming years as we seek to adapt in order to reach the world around us. Perhaps we need to begin to think of church transformation, not so much as an event or a process with a beginning or ending, but a continuing habit of our lives together. 

Admittedly, this sounds scary. I know when I lead worship if there are changes in the order of service it takes me a while to adapt. Heck, I am still adapting to the folkways of serving the Lord's supper here in North Platte. But, if we don't make continuing change and transition a habit, the changes we recently endured may be for naught.