The One Thing the Church Must Change

After twenty-four years of pastoral ministry, I have found the one thing the church in our day loves most is change and innovation. This is because modern culture has had more of an effect on the contemporary church than the modern church has had on our present culture. 

If you have been around church culture long enough, you will have heard pastors talking about Good to Great as if Collins was the replacement for Judas rather than Mattias. You would have heard people say (as I have said myself) the message doesn’t change, but the methods do. This sounds good, but as Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.” What we say is of great importance; how we say what we say is of equal importance. There are few things modern Christian leaders fear more than receiving the moniker “irrelevant.” 

I have come to realize that there is something inside of us that fears the steady truth and ministry that is mundane. We want to be known as innovative. For years my drive was to be known as an innovative leader. I spent more time looking forward than learning from the past. I knew what apps were out, read every leadership book I could get my hands on by all the current whos who in the secular world and church world. It wasn’t until my forties that I read a book by some who lived before. I was guilty of what C.S. Lewis calls chronological snobbery. The arrogant idea that what we know today is all we need to know. That modern problem can not find solutions in ancient answers. 

Since graduating from seminary, I can now read books on my list to read that I haven’t read for the past five years. One of those books was from G.K. Chesterton. I don’t see eye to eye with Chesterton on everything but in reading Orthodoxy, my modern mind was challenged by old ideas. Ideas that have stood the test of time, this is why I like reading books by dead people the books that have survived have something to say not only to their generation but to ours as well. Chesterton’s words hit me like a ton of bricks. He was telling me from nearly a hundred years ago how to survive our modern age with our faith intact. He is saying we need a greater capacity for wonder and the ability to exult in the mundane. 

Greater capacity for wonder. 

Chesterton, in his typically Cherstertonian way, says this:

“Everything is in an attitude of mind; and at this moment I am in a comfortable attitude. I will sit still and let the marvels and the adventures settle on me like flies. There are plenty of them, I assure you. The world will never starve you for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”

What Chesterton is saying is profound. To put it in economic terms, we do not have a lack of wonder because of a lack of supply but because of a lack of demand. I have found in my life that the relentless desire for innovative thinking and wondering at what is next leaves me, over time, unable to wonder at what is. I find myself working to make ministry exciting and new rather than taking time to observe and pay attention to what God is doing in others around me and in the world he has made. Excessive innovative thinking leads me to have a soul that is unsatisfied with what God says is “Good” to chase what Collins says is great. 

Often my drive to do and be the next best thing left my soul impoverished and my imagination limited by what is possible. Wonder doesn’t do that. Instead, wonder sees the world God has made the miracles of healing and salvation in the community I serve as what they are products of God’s miraculous handiwork and my faithful service.  

We have to stop with our drive for innovation at all costs. If this pandemic has only taught us to innovate in delivering our religious goods, we have missed the purpose of this trial. We need not think the next frontier in the church is us having church on Zoom. Instead, we need to slow down and wonder. The only way we can expand our capacity to wonder is to begin to wonder and allow God to do his work in our church families and in us. When we “do anything short of sin to reach people,” it is easy to forget the wonder-working power of God, who is the author and finisher of our faith. 

We need to exult in monotony. 

Growing up Charismatic, one of the things we were implicitly taught was monotony was sinful. For example, written or repeated prayers were insincere, and they can be. But it wired me to believe that monotony was to be avoided at all costs, especially in all things having to do with our creative all-powerful spontaneous God. I have come to learn that monotony is not something that should be shunned but something we should aspire to. I learned this from teaching kids for over twenty years and from reading Orthodoxy by Chesterton. In Orthodoxy, Chesterton makes a powerful observation about children and the nature of God that I have been meditating on for days. He says this: 

“The thing I mean (speaking of monotony) can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again,”; and the grow-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.

But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.”

What a powerful picture of what Jesus meant when he said unless we become like a little child, we will never see the kingdom of heaven. Because unlike a little child we will not be satisfied with this life’s mundane plainness, we seek to build our own kingdom, one that has better bells and whistles. To exhult in monotony is something that takes strength of mind, not the simplicity of mind as we often think. 

We think that the goal of life and ministry is to come up with a better version of a daisy a daisy 2.0 if you will. God delights in the perfection of his creation so much that he never gets tired of making them. We think that the way forward for the church is for God to do a new thing. What we really need is for him to do an old thing again. We need him to send his spirit again, we need him to transform our hearts again, we need him to change our desires and our affections to match his…again. 

Our emergence from this pandemic and our new place as a minority status in culture will not be overcome through innovation but rather through a people of God captivated by the wonder of God able to rejoice in the beauty of monotony just like God. 

As the church emerges from the cocoon of this present trial, my prayer is that we do not try to remove our cocoon through artificial means. But allow God to do his work in us, and when he is done, to look with wonder at what he has done and say, “Do it again.” 

Build Something Worth Building

Are you building something that has worth?

Building something of worth doesn’t happen just because you work at a church or volunteer at one. Building something of worth isn’t taking some good idea you hear at a conference and force it on your church with the ferocity of a hostage negotiator. Many Churches struggle with what it means to build something of worth. One of the reasons for this struggle is many churches have a warped view of worth. Often we equate success with worth. Often having the right people think highly of us equals worth. At times we actually think that becoming famous builds the kingdom of God when the weight of scripture goes out of its way to communicate that our job is not vine building and fruit-bearing but just being a stick that derives it’s life and produces fruit because of the vine it’s connected to. We need to understand what Jesus considers valuable.

When I am weak then I am strong –

2 Corinthians 12:8-10
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

To build something of worth, weakness is the way. The older I get the more I realize that what I thought was valuable 20 years ago is worthless. The more I know Christ the more I understand the gospel. The more I realize that Christ is my treasure. He is infinitely more valuable to me than anything. When I understand that I am free to not have to be the man I can make mistakes I can love those who take advantage of me, I can build in a way that checks my ego at the door because It’s not about me being remembered it’s about Christ getting all the glory. Being in the same church for over 17 years I have come to the understanding that if I left not long after I left I would be forgotten.  When we build our own kingdom we waste our strength building what we could never sustain. When we spend our lives glorifying God we pass to the young leaders God has entrusted to us to lead a rich heritage of faith that will outlive us.

Be a good branch –

John 15:1-5 
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

There is a misguided and if we are honest an exhausting truth that the bigger deal we become the broader our ability to make Jesus more famous. Are we supposed to work hard? Yes. But what we don’t get to do is determine what we want the outcomes to be. We are called to abide to be hidden with Christ. It’s very easy for us to get distracted by the promise of deeper truth or the desire to become Christian famous when all we are called to do is abide. Abide. Our ability to build something that produces fruit is not in how much how hard or how deeply we are connected to the vine but simply that we are connected. If you want to build something of worth and you should. Abide in Christ. What does it mean to abide? Trust Him. Talk to Him. Think about Him. Place your hopes and dreams in His infinite hands. Abide.

You don’t need another good idea –

Ephesians 3:7-9

7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,

Everyone likes a good idea. In fact, I think many of us are addicted to them. I know I am. When I get in trouble or something isn’t going right, attendance is below last year, giving is down. What do I do? Do I ask God for help? No, I go into my thought palace and try to find a good idea to help me out of the hole that I have most often dug for myself. Why do I try and come up with a good idea? Because many times a good idea works for a while. Until it doesn’t then we look for another good idea. We become good idea junkies. We go to conferences to get the next good idea to keep our church or our ministry going. What we fail to realize is good ideas are a by-product, not a source. Good ideas come for principle-based, gospel-centered, Christ exhausting ministries who exist to Glorify God for who he is not just for what he can do for them. Our ability to minister in whatever capacity we find ourselves in a work of grace. Recognize you are a great sinner, preach the riches of Christ because of the miracle of grace by which you have been saved. Do that and no matter what happens in your life you will build something bigger than you. You will build something that will outlast you…..something of worth.

Weakness produces humility, abiding produces dependence and principles sustain.

How do you want to build something of worth?

1. Make sure your life is hidden in Christ. (Col. 3:3)
2. Remember your weakness is a showcase for His glory
3. It’s our connectedness that makes us fruitful
4. Be principally based not idea driven
5. Make sure that you never forget that you are a great sinner who has a great Saviour.

Do those things and your impact may never be felt on twitter but it most definitely will be felt in eternity.

Submission Not Innovation

In seeking innovation are we missing what's better?

I have always thought of myself as an innovative person. Twenty years in kids ministry with many of those years having a very small budget to no budget at all, I had to learn to be innovative. The problem came for me when innovation became part of my identity. I identified as an innovative person. I liked finding new solutions to problems. I would find out new tricks and shortcuts that made my life easier and the lives of those around me easier. I was praised as an innovator. I thought innovation was always the answer. New ideas to new problems.

A Darwinian Dilemma

The problem was that I started to measure success in terms of progress. I saw all change as good. I thought in terms of trying to come up with solutions to new problems. This is what I call Darwins Dilemma. We don’t even fully realize how much Darwin’s theory of evolution and his idea of the survival of the fittest has infiltrated our thinking. The Greeks measured their thought in terms of geometry it was a mental puzzle to be solved (this isn’t perfect either).  After the release of The Origin of Species that rational geometric thought was exchanged for a more biological framework. We no longer look at problems in terms of logic but in terms of progress. Darwin has sewn into the fabric of the west this pernicious idea that all change is good that all progress is right. Innovation at all costs. We may not even believe in evolution but we have collectively bought into the faulty framework of ideas that new is better that progress is good.

This was the way I thought for years. What changed my viewpoint was reading old books. Books written before Darwin’s theory became the new gospel of our culture and a  functional reality in our churches. So many of the church planting ideas and strategies are Darwinian. Church growth is hard work coupled with deep trust with an attitude of gospel humility. The gospel of pragmatism, if it works do it and is based on Darwinian thinking.

Why Apple is slowly losing me

I am not sure if there could be a bigger fanboy of the Apple universe than me. I love all things apple, but the grip Apple once had on me is lessening, Apple is slowly losing me.

I have never owned a PC every computer I have owned has been a Mac. I used to wait for Steve Job’s keynotes like a small boy waiting for Santa, who fell asleep on the stairs and woke up magically in his own bed. Only to head downstairs the next morning to be wowed by the amazingness under the family tree. I am no longer that boy. I am now the boy that was told by his best friend that Santa Clause is mom and dad. The presents are fine, but the magic is gone.

This year I switched to an Android phone mostly because I save 120.00 a month on my phone bill and other than the texting being a nightmare I prefer the phone. This week I switched from AppleTV to Roku for a two reasons. Control and innovation.

Two Questions that change how you see everything

This past week I was at CPC a conference for Kids Pastors put on by INCM. One of the speakers was Charles Lee found of theideation.com In the breakout I attended he was talking about clarifying your brand. Towards the end of his breakout he said that in our brand management and in our lives we have to ask ourselves two questions.

  1. What matters most?
  2. What is enough?