Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Fear of Happiness

May is such a permissive month, just by virtue of her name. After a long season of winter, May is the first opportunity, day or night, that being comfortably outdoors is an option. May nights are the best, especially in a full moon, since the soft glowing orb sits low in the southern horizon here in my state. May brings more blue flowers than any other. Pulmonaria, catmint and a blue salvia appropriately called “May Night” all give the garden a soothing effect. Working so many hours in the restaurant, it can be easy to overlook the fleeting gifts like these. So to avoid that, I have purposed to take a few minutes each day to be more observant and lie in my hammock. Strung up between the 30yr old ash tree and the ever-growing-obsolete playfort, I kick off my kitchen clogs and stretch out. And most days, I fall asleep immediately. After only a few days of this practice, I discovered an anxiety creeping into my thoughts. Where would this be coming from? Our business is going very well. The garden is responding as it should to slow rising temperatures and occasional rains. The southern breeze felt as if God himself were sending it just for my pleasure and to cap it off, no artist could mimic the simple contrast of blue and white in the sky. Why so anxious? Everything around me at that moment was fragile. Prosperity, seasonal beauty, and a settled soul. These conditions could turn on a dime. Our business could get sued or a tornado could come through and wipe out our little urban oasis. I, or anyone I love, could get sick or worse, in an accident. Nothing I hold is very secure. Could it be that I am more comfortable being depressed than happy? I don’t want to be disappointed, nor do I want to be hurt, so I opt for a vantage point closer to the bottom of the canyon instead of ever working to climb higher to get a better view. This way, if the rock slide comes, I won’t be swept away from my desire to enjoy something more beautiful. I’ll still find myself at the same low place. I just won’t be as disappointed. Beth Orton sums up the logic of the fear of happiness in this line. “If I never saw the sunshine, I wouldn’t mind the rain.” Fear not. Hope you have a great Memorial Day Weekend.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Business of Church

Maria caught my intention in her comment on the last entry. My five questions were meant to reveal how we have adopted, as she worded it, an attractional model of church. Marketing has become such an ingrained aspect of our culture that it is difficult to imagine doing any new venture without it.

The Church as We Know It has probably formed more of its ideas about doing church from the business world than it has from the Bible, although most of its leaders would probably deny it. Take it down to core questions like, “How will people find us?” reveal more of a product mentality than a spiritual one. But websites and logos are plastered all over our clothing, our food, our transportation and entertainment, they are hard to ignore, and ever harder to imagine life without them.

Even the boys over at ChurchMarketingSucks are using the same marketing tools they loathe to promote their own deal. We hate the church marketing itself, but we don’t mind you putting an ad and logo to promote what we are doing on your website. Future Pastor, this is not new thinking. It’s more sofas and candles and Starbucks coffee in the foyer.

We started a restaurant about nine months ago; we did so without an ad campaign. The newspaper folks found us, the direct marketers came calling, the “creative ad teams” stopped in, all with their schpeal about how important it is to get your name out there right away. According to them, we had a crucial window of time that may get away from us if we weren’t careful.

But we were convinced that if we did our job well, which was to give people food that they really enjoyed and not just settled for, then the customer would take the place of an expensive ad in the Friday dining section. So far that had stood true.

Future Pastor, this advice might sound like a dangerous proposition, but give people a church they want. You and I have been told that church is not about what people want, but about what they need. I believe they are one in the same.

The Gospel is supposed to offer peace. Will the Future Church do the same?

The Gospel is not burdensome, but will the Church of the Future make it so?

The Gospel is good news, and good news usually travels fast. Will your church impede it?

Give people the real deal, Future Pastor, and you won’t need to even worry about a cool logo.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

So you want a revolution?

It’s extremely hard to try and communicate to people what the Church of the Future will look like, since in most part it is still in the future. Usually what you come up with in conversation about new models are nothing more than a former model with candles and sofas.

If you are serious about revolution, you need to get serious about getting back to a fundamental essence of what church should be about. We are trapped by our familiarity and it will take more than a conference on how create cool postmodern churches to break us free.

Many of us are in agreement that the Church is not about a building. We got over that one about 25 or so years ago as the new wave of congregations started meeting in schools and even a few gigs way out on the edge met in clubs or bars. So lets keep pushing the envelope.

As you think about the kind of Future Church you want to be, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Can it exist without a website?
  2. Can people know who we are without a logo?
  3. Can it grow without a billboard or some kind of signage?
  4. Can people find us without a phone number?
  5. Can we be effective without printed material?

Future Pastor, I’ll expound on these later, but first I’d like to know what you think.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Stories without numbers

I remember reading a book several years ago in my other life about how to free yourself from the seduction of success in vocational ministry. It was no different than most every other person I’ve heard giving advice to guys in midlife pastoral crisis. “Don’t focus on numerical statistics.” “God is more concerned with the inward, not the outward.” “Stay faithful.” And so on…

But despite knowing all the right answers, ask any pastor, any one you choose about how his or her church is doing and you will get the same kind of answer, something along these lines:

“We had over 100 for the first time…”

“We have added 40 new families this year”

“50 people prayed to receive Christ…”

No matter how hard you try, numbers are hard to get away from when communicating anything about the condition of the Church As We Know It.

Is there anything wrong with this? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not sure, but Future Pastor, I would like to issue you a thought to consider. Can you take a different approach?

Next time someone asks you about your church, tell stories without numbers attached. Resist the temptation to define what you do with statistics. Watch how difficult this is to do.

It’s difficult because 99 times out of 100 the person asking the question wants to know how many you have attending. It’s the only point of reference we are accustomed to giving, and the only one we are accustomed to hearing.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Is that what they're calling it now?

I can always tell when my first generation Greek neighbors are arguing. Their tone is elevated, their speech more rapid, and they always speak in Greek. To do so requires less thought. It comes naturally.

Greek is the language of their heart.

Language is a funny subject. What are words but symbols to convey meaning? I don’t know how it happens, but over time, (and sometimes right before our very eyes) meaning becomes understood and accepted by the masses and before you know it, you’ve adopted into your vocabulary a new word, or an old one with new meaning,

Take the restaurant Hooter’s, for example. Known for their hot wings, a sports bar theme and female servers that have at least one physical quality in common, our culture has deemed it OK to have a place with a name corresponding to female breasts. We can call the place “Hooter’s” but couldn’t get away with calling it “Titties.”

But who’s to say that in four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten years from now, the word “Titties” won’t have different meaning? This happened with the word “suck.” My first recollection of the use of that word was at basketball games during college. It was usually in conjunction with a referee’s bad call against our team. Some half (or completely) drunk guy would yell, “Hey ref, you suck!” or “That call sucks…” I’m not na├»ve enough to think that the he was implying a reference to a vacuum cleaner.

But before long, the crowd embraced the phrase and it became a chant across the student section in the arena. One side would yell, “Hey ref….” and the other section of students would return with “…you suck!” Over time, the term became innocuous and nobody really thought about what it meant.

In my other life, I once remember hearing a guy use nearly half a sermon to explain why nothing should ever “suck” to a Christ follower and how all good people need to strike that word as an option. Afterward, nearly every student I talked with asked, “What was that guy’s deal?” He was not tuned into the heart language of his audience, and was applying a law of language that never needed to be enforced.

My point is this; words are what they are because of the meaning WE give to them.

Don’t get hung up on how people talk or the words they use; don’t try and change the way they speak. Don’t have an unwritten glossary of words that are unacceptable and cannot be used. Remember to listen to the heart speak and not just the words. Sometimes to focus only on the words that are being said is the quickest way to misunderstand what a person is trying to say.