Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Branding the Church

Since we are starting a new business soon, I’ve been reading up on marketing and the act of creating a recognizable brand, which is known as “branding,” Similar to a rancher putting a mark on the hip of his cattle, branding a business helps it stand out from another herd. Branding is an identifier. One way a brand is created is by the use of catch phrases, or by-lines, that summarize the product or business. Coke is identified as The Real Thing.” McDonald’s changes theirs from time to time, lately it seems like they want me to know that I’m lovin’ it.” I even remember back when I was a kid, the fuel additive, STP, was known as The Racers Edge.” The catch phrase attempts to connect the product to the consumer, by making the brand seem like something worth having. Coke thinks you value authenticity, so you would probably want The Real Thing. Nike thinks you will buy into the discipline it takes to get good at a sport, so it tells you to Just Do It. You get the picture The Church As We Know It plays the same the same branding game by using its own by-lines. Here’s a few I’ve come across recently:

  • A church of Broken People
  • A bunch of messed up folks, so you’ll feel right at home.
  • Not perfect, just forgiven.

I get the idea of trying to connect with people who have needs, but at some point doesn’t this kind of marketing break down? In the attempts to build a bridge between church and culture, does it help to say that the only difference between you and me is that I’m forgiven? It may inspire you, but it leaves me a little flat. I’ve got my weaknesses like the next guy, but I certainly don’t want to stay there. I don’t want my Achilles heel to be my identity. I want to be different. I want to grow and change. I want to leave that old stuff behind and live free. Can I do that among a bunch of people who boast about being messed up? The Church As We Know It needs to be aware of this focus. If it is to live by marketing, it must be willing to die by that same marketing. Branding itself as a Not Perfect, Just Forgiven will only lead to a church with no visible differences from its culture. At some point, who wants be a part of a group of people whose forgiveness doesn’t really lead to anything?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


One of my earliest memories of my dad was sitting in his lap while he communicated to others via shortwave, also known as ham radio. He had a wall full of gear, among it was a SWAN transceiver over which he could talk around the world. It was his generation’s form of the World Wide Web. Old school hams would use morse code, of which he was one, and able to utilize this skill in the Army. He could very accurately transmit and receive the short and long tones, which to my young ears were called dits and dahs. I would mimic the sounds coming over the airwaves out in the garage for hours, according to my mom. DaDaDaDitDitDaDitDitDa. Over and over again, imitating my dad’s tapping on the key. Every once in a while he would get a postcard in the mail from a fellow ham radio enthusiast with whom he had made contact. The card was known as a QSL, which in the lingo of their world, it was an indication of receipt of transmission. When you made contact with someone, you could request a QSL, and guys like my dad would collect these postcards that had their call letters. (Dad’s was WA5JSE. The JSE stood for “Jesus saves everyone”) The cards might come from anywhere in the country, sometimes from around the world. Seems like I remember among them were Alaska and South American. I thought that was way cool. My kids don’t think this story is such a big deal and understandably so. It’s nothing to them to contact someone in Alaska or South America. Their world is smaller. They don’t get postal mail anymore. They are not as fascinated as I am in our ability to communicate around the world in an instant. I, on the other hand, am always amazed to think that when I publish this or any blog post, it becomes instantly accessible to anyone with a computer hooked into the Internet from anywhere around the globe. Such is the generation gap. So if you would humor me a bit, allow me to go back to my childhood and relive the fond days of my dad and bringing in from the mailbox those QSL cards, If you read this blog, could you simply leave a comment stating your city and state, and country if outside the US? I would greatly appreciate it. Over and Out.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Disease of Comparison

Those of us afflicted with the Disease of Comparison know the effects it has within. See, the soul is just like any other part of the body when it hurts; it demands relief. The headache begs an aspirin; the heart looks to contempt. When you feel like a nobody, you have two options available to relieve that pain. You can use contempt on yourself or you can use it on other people. Either is an attempt to try and feel better. It’s ironic that both are equally destructive. What does this have to do with anything? With all the change that is occurring in the Church As We Know It, naturally what comes with it is comparison. Take Emergent Guy for example. Let’s say he doesn’t fit in with MegaChurch Guy and what he is doing. Emergent Guy finds himself feeling marginalized and left out and doesn’t know where to turn. This is where contempt comes in. Emergent Guy has the option of pouring contempt on himself or upon MegaChurch Guy, the one with whom he compares himself. Since he doesn’t know what to do with the pain of feeling like an outsider, he may beat himself up for not being a better person, assuming he is to blame. He buys the line, “If God feels far off, guess who moved?” thinking he must be the problem. It’s easier to feel bad and guilty that to risk doing something legitimate about how he feels. His other option is to turn his contempt outward, toward MegaChurch Guy, making him the problem. He immediately feels better as he passes judgement on all the money and people MegaChurch guy has show up at his deal. He condemns their work, calling it shallow or soft on real issues. I’ve used both pain relievers in my day. I’ve been from one extreme to the other. I’ve felt contempt for my own work and I’ve had plenty of bad things to say about others. I wish I could take back the number of times I bad mouthed other collegiate ministries. I now see I did so because my soul was not healthy. Comparison is a sad disease. It stunts growth; it keeps one very small. It limits potential. I’m finding that its only effective tonic is joy. A happy heart is good medicine. Its only downside is that it is in short supply and often very hard to find. When my spirit is inebriated on joy, comparison seems a million miles away.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

That !@#$ Dalmatian

The megachurch had their big Easter show Sunday and was reported to have 6000 people show up. I would be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t jealous. Competition and comparison was something that ate at me like a nest of termites in the walls of an old house. I knew they were in there, hidden out of sight to the visitor, but occasionally if I’d lean in close enough, I could hear their destructive movement and gnawing. I don’t know how prevalent competition and comparison really are, because they are two issues not easily discussed among colleagues. Who do you talk about your problem of comparing yourself to the performance of other pastors? Certainly not with the guy you compare yourself to. That’s kinda like a guy asking a girl to forgive him for his lust problem. What’s she supposed to do about it? The counsel I was given over the years all seemed to center around a core belief that results don’t matter, which is usually the source of comparison. The little guy looks at his labor and holds it up against what the big guy is doing. Then the little guy is supposed to simply say it doesn’t matter. I’m just not that spiritual. It does matter what I do. It does matter what fruit I bear. It does matter to what I have to show for my labor. So why does ChristianMan try and talk me out of it? In order to pay my way through seminary, I worked as a gardener for some rich people near our school. I had one lady give me pretty much carte blanche over her yard. I could plant whatever flowers I thought looked good for the season. She even gave me her credit card to purchase the necessary plant material. It was a good gig. Until the day the Dalmatian showed up. Her goofball husband bought an equally deficient puppy for her for Christmas. To cut to the chase, the !@# dog proceeded to tear up everything I ever did in the yard and garden. It frustrated me to no end. I told her “Sheri, you can either have a dog or a garden, not both,” but she didn’t heed my advice. Her reply was to just go buy and plant more. But part of what I loved about the job was to look back on my work and admire its beauty. I took pride in what I did in making her house look well kept, and in doing so, making her very pleased. The dog thwarted this desire, and the job was never the same. I continued to serve her, but the joy was gone. But if that was a ministry job, I would be told that I shouldn’t care whether or not the dog digs up my work. I’d be chided with a statement like, “It’s not about you.” I would be made to feel guilty for taking pride in what I accomplished. So what am I to do with the longing to have my best to offer? How do you turn that off? Even the successful guy can’t revel in his work. I would be willing to bet that at the big megachurch show this weekend, the 6000 sets of ears heard some kind of downplay of all the work that went into getting to that point. I’m not ready to act like results don’t matter. I just don’t want those results to rule over me.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter Morning

Up early as usual on this Easter Sunday, my day off. Sleeping in means getting up at 5 instead of 4:30am. I love the mornings, and always have. I was a bit of an oddball in college. I went to bed by 11pm often, while that was just about the point most guys in Sager Hall seemed to be getting ready for their day, or rather, night. Stillness always leads me to my innermost thoughts, which is probably why I seek it so often. I can’t get to those places with a lot of mental clutter scattered around, which comes in the form of noise and other demands. Sometimes I wish I was more like the guys in college who seemed to need chaos in order to thrive, since its much easier to create and maintain that kind of environment, but for some reason I think better in tidy places, thus my love of the early morning hour. Today’s quietness in the house with a fresh pressed cup of Dark Kenyan roast led me to think over many past Easter Sundays, where by now at this time of hour I would be in full gear, getting ready for leadership of multiple services, helping the band feel confident and prepared, praying over the needs of people who would enter in and experience our presentation. We all have our recognizable voices that speak so loudly in our mind, regardless of the decibel level of other kind of activity, but being this still brings about a sort of democratic process, and lets the littler, and most times, most important voices be heard. One of those voices this morning said, “You miss that, don’t you?” Instead of being rude and dismissing the statement, I chose to ask for clarification, and here was the answer. “You miss the feeling of importance. You liked that rush of having to come through, of having to deliver in the clutch. By this, you mattered. Unlike many who would rather die than get up in front of a 900 pairs of staring eyes, you felt alive in front of the crowd.” After the small voice spoke, I waited and waited. I kept waiting, but my expected follow-up never came. I expected shame. My knee jerk reaction was to brace for a condemning voice of shame for enjoying those past days of leadership. I just assumed the voice in my head was giving me a lead in for a good spanking. But it never happened. The voice just went away. And such is the nature of Quiet. If I turn the volume of silence up loud enough, it’s all I hear. And now at this early hour on Easter Sunday, I’ve already attended my sunrise service. I’ve already heard the sermon, and am ready to enjoy my day of rest. Happy Easter.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

"It’s not about the building"

The big megachurch in town has built a massive new auditorium structure just in time for Easter, so we’re hearing a lot about it. We got the usual bulk mailing piece designated to our zip code that had the catchy graphics and title of the sermon series that tries to get you to think that church is full of messed up people like yourself and so you’ll feel right at home. (Not really inspiring to me, but that’s another post.) I know quite a few people who go to this megachurch and it’s funny to hear how people justify such a large outlay of cash for an auditorium that will be used in its capacity maybe one day a week. Some of my friends are conflicted, but won’t come right out and admit it. Most that are leaning to the side of thinking it’s a good idea inevitably slide this little caveat into the conversation: “It’s not about the building, you know?” Why does ChurchGuy feel the need to continually justify what he is doing for the sake of the gospel? I somehow don’t picture Giovannino de Dolci repeating over and over again, “It’s not about the building, you know?” while he oversaw the construction of the Sistine Chapel. Why do we look at the ceiling of his building and what Michelangelo painted there and have a different response than walking into a 10 million dollar state of the art sound and lighting, media communications, plasma TV-walled wonderland? One we label as a masterpiece and the other judged as a waste of money. My point is not whether or not the megachurch should keep building something bigger and better, I’m intrigued by the need to constantly justify doing so. Worship leaders are notorious for this same rationalization. Their phrase “It’s not about me” is used ad nauseum. Why do we need songs to remind us over and over again that it’s not about me, unless I have a problem with it being about me? If ChurchGuy needs to keep reminding me that it’s not about the building, its going to make me think that the building really is causing some internal strife. We are planning to open a restaurant this spring. To do so I had to leave my vocational ministry job, which didn’t pay much or have many benefits. I now face the possibility of making quite a bit more money than before. But wouldn’t you feel suspicious of me if I constantly reminded you that this business venture is “not about the money?” The reason I don’t feel the need to justify my change is that I don’t feel guilty, so I don’t really even think about it. Plus I don’t assume you are looking at me and judging my decision to change careers. And if you are, that’s a You-problem. God, bless the megachurch this weekend, and the poor tormented folks who are still trying to reconcile the need for their new building. Amen.


I’m currently pondering this question concerning the phrase; the joy of the Lord is my strength. Is there really any other kind? I feel like I have been told for years that there is a difference, and have just assumed that being joyful in the Lord was some kind of state one should attain by “appropriation” of some sort of right formula of scripture memory, self denial and church attendance. I’m not doing much of any right now and am feeling more filled with joy than any time I can remember. Is my happiness the wrong type? I’d like to think that if “all truth is God’s truth,” then all joy should also be the Lord’s. If the rain falls on the just and the unjust, then does it matter if that rainfall is a gentle spring shower or a punishing deluge? Both experience it, regardless of any kind of relationship with God. So if listening to the rain, or watching a sunset (or any other form of beauty) makes me, a person of faith, and an atheist happy, is that joy somehow different for him than it is me? Same with the birth of a baby, or a sweet reunion, or a moving song, or a fascinating meal, or a long walk with a dear friend. Is this joy the Lord’s, too? I place the blame on my confusion of my past way of thinking. I used to try and divide everything into a sacred/secular category. You had your Christian friends, and then you had the ones you were trying to witness to. There was “Christian” music, and then there was “secular.” No matter if one was nicer and more kind, or technically and artistically better than the other. The former was somehow sanctioned, while the latter was not. Today I worry less about these little categories, because now that I see they were created to try and limit me and keep me safe. Thanks for your concern, Whoever Led Me to Think This Way, but I find that I now trust in bigger parameters to keep me in check. I’m moving on now. Beginning my day with faith, hope and love seems to lead me to better places.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Every person has this in common; we all want to be happy. It’s the pathway we each choose to find that destination that differs broadly. This is a hard pill for many to swallow, especially for many church-goers and people of faith. Happiness, by some, is equivalent with being shallow or superficial or not living in the real world. Do you know someone who is genuinely happy? Probably not many of us do. The reason being happy is so hard to accept as legitimate is because our happiness is being assaulted every single day of our lives. Tragedy strikes us on every front. Our world is broken, and pain and sorrow often stand waiting for us at the edge of the bed as we rise. Many of us, survival is our first thought. “How will I make it through the day?” Take mountain climber Aron Ralston for example. Survival instinct led him to cut off his hand after four days of being pinned under a boulder. I watched an interview with him and heard the responses of a sample of viewers to the story. Some thought he was courageous, most thought he was an idiot for getting himself in such a dangerous situation in the first place. Regardless, I’m impressed with his choice. Instead of resigning, giving up and rolling over to die, he was willing to exchange the loss of his hand for more days to be alive and enjoy life. When it got difficult, he didn’t quit. Grief, sorrow, illness, pain and cutting off your hand are not what we wake up in the morning looking to find. These things find us. But we must contend with them if we are to take our joy seriously. It is far too easy to let the circumstances lead us to stay in the dark. The phrase, the joy of the Lord is your strength, must be taken as seriously today as in the days of Nehemiah. The effect is simple. The more we are familiar with joy, the more we want to experience it. Similar to our vacations in Colorado, the reason we love going back year after year is this; we have a wonderful time there. You may find yourself stuck in the wilderness and far from the joy of the Lord, but keep listening for its invitation back.