Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Come On, Man...

It’s that time of year where you might hear a pastoral chiding along these lines:

How can people stand for three hours in a stadium out in the freezing cold and scream their lungs over a sports team but not have the energy to worship God for thirty minutes without growing bored…?

The comparison of worship at church with going to a football game is a likely one, especially if you are a professional pastor. Who doesn’t wish for the same kind of enthusiasm that sports elicits? But if we’re going to go there, why not take it all the way out to the edge?

Current Pastor, if you want the screaming, raving fan reaction, why not start by selling or at least serving beer at your church. Trade the Starbucks French Roast pump pot with a keg of anything cold. Football fan doesn’t need anything good; just potent. Don’t be afraid of charging a premium price for the stuff. Consider it a means of funding bible school this year.

Allow for all kinds of language and behavior. Don’t get too upset over fist fights or swearing. These are all a part of the stadium experience. Tell your janitor to wait to mop the pee off the floor of the toilets until after the worship service. It will only get worse as time goes on. And if women choose to not want to wait in the long lines for the ladies room and end up in the men’s room, turn a blind eye; it’s not that big of deal. It happens all the time at big events where there is fanatical crowd behavior that you want to have in church.

Before we shame people for not giving us the reaction we desire, let’s remember one important aspect about God:

He’s not that obvious.

Remember it was Elijah who looked for God in the Wind, the Earthquake and the Fire, but came up empty all three times. It was the Whisper that put him on his knees.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

Just finished up Drive by Daniel Pink and am trying to synthesize his thoughts into a concise package for future use. This is why I could probably never write a book; I don’t do filler very well. I try and cut to the chase and make sure my point is understandable in about a page or so and then trust that you might find it as interesting as I did.

The application of my reading usually falls in the direction of leadership and how it can make me a better leader. Whether as a professional pastor as I was for so many years, or now as a small businessman, leadership is indispensable if an organization or effort is going to effective for the long term. The Tea Party Movement may have its day at the polls today, but eventually it will need a head that can direct the rest of the parts in a coherent fashion. If everyone is in charge, no one is in charge.

But the way in which we lead is the operative story here. HOW will we move people from point A to point B? What method of motivation will be employed to accomplish the mission and achieve the objective? Will it be inspiration or intimidation, coercion or cooperation? And do I know myself well enough to recognize my default tendency?

Pink’s first point about motivation is that people need a sense of autonomy in their work. This is not to be confused with independence, or a go-it-alone, every man for himself mentality. Instead it is the ability to act with choice, to feel the freedom to set a direction, make a decision, or design a plan without fear that if it fails, I won’t be put to shame. Rather, I will be trusted as a part of the team or community that affirms I am capable to do the job.

I have to admit that I never felt this kind of belief growing up in The Church As We Know It. The fundamental paradigm I experienced was built on distrust, that I did not possess the ability to make the right call when it comes to matters of spiritual belief and formation. Consequently I was told I needed to be in attendance at meetings. To use Pink’s words, I knew very little autonomy.

I believe autonomy is not extended because it appears more difficult to manage, both in the Marketplace and The Church As We Know It. I recall a saying used to defend this mentality; “Don’t be so open minded that your brains fall out.” The implication is that I would no doubt make the wrong decision if I was afforded too much freedom.

To be fair, young faith might need these kinds of tight parameters as it develops. When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child. But when I became a man, I did away with childish things, included in that is a lack of autonomy. I wonder if those who are disillusioned with the Church As We Know It are so because they feel they are still being treated as a child.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

An espresso for me and these gentlemen...

Current Pastor, if you have not read anything by Daniel Pink, I suggest you put him on the top of your list. He has something to say that I believe is prophetic. If the Men of Issachar were alive today, I would bet they would have had coffee with Pink by now.

What does it mean to be prophetic? Is it some kind of psychic, fortune telling, future predicting ability that the odd men possessed in the Old Testament? I guess we could get lost in a discussion six ways to Sunday on that, but the point I want to address is how do we pay attention to the clues in front of us in order to make adjustments for tomorrow?

According to the Gallup Strength Finder, I have Futurist in my core set of five strengths. The consultant explained to me that there might be one in a group of fifty that possess this, and that’s because you don’t really need very many of them if they are exercising it fully.

As a Futurist, I realize I don’t need a whole lot of other futurists around me. A few, maybe, but like the ancient night watchman patrolling out on the city wall, watching through the night for anything of danger that might approach and attack his city, everyone inside the wall didn’t need to be awake at three in the morning while the watchman was out on patrol. If the watchman was doing his job, everyone else could sleep soundly, knowing that if in the event that watchman saw anything of concern, he’d sound the alarm at the appropriate time and the city would stand at attention, ready to respond to the oncoming movement.

Pink has noticed something on his watch, and it is causing me to take a further look.

I have been consuming two of his books in the past month, A Whole New Mind and Drive, and believe he has something to say to the Church as We Know It and to the pastors of the Church of the Future. My next few posts will outline in brief the importance of what he is saying, and what we as pastors might need to consider.

There have been plenty of books written about why people, especially men, are leaving the Church As We Know It. George Barna’s statistic-heavy Revolution and David Murrow’s Why Men Hate Going to Church are interesting reads, but neither gets as close to the core of what I believe is happening before our eyes, and Pink is articulating it about as clear as anyone right now about our culture and how it is shifting toward a new understanding of motivation.

Insight is always helpful, and wisdom is to be desired above gold, but without the ability to translate it into action, it becomes a dead study. The watchman can tend to his guard, but if no one hears and responds to the signal, the watchman’s effort is in vain.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Angry Politics

Since I’ve not been a part of the Church as We Know It for several years, I find that not being exposed to such an excessive amount of teaching about the bible on a near daily basis has actually helped me be more in tune with matters that I believe are really important and worthy of transformational consideration. I used to think that “more is better” when it came to Bible knowledge and exposure to Bible teaching. But instead what I think it led me to experience was excessive consumption, and hence I became fat on the Bread of Life. I never met anyone who actually believed you could actually spend too much time reading the Bible, but I now suppose that even such a practice can have a detrimental effect if expressed improperly.

I would never say reading the Bible is wrong, or that one should never study or memorize it. The practice of preaching is a good one, and I have a handful of memorable messages that have altered my thinking for the better. I just think it’s simpler than we have made it out to be.

For example, I have been camped out at the gates of the Sermon on the Mount for quite some time now, and specifically, at the first point in the sermon after the introduction of the Beatitudes. And since we don’t have a whole lot of Jesus’ sayings written down, it interests me to pay close attention to the very first formal message. I don’t take Jesus as one who minced words, nor wasted them. I believe he said things for a reason, and I want follow up and ask “why did he say that?”

Why did he make his first point about anger?

Your Bible notes might title the heading Murder, but I really don’t think that he’s talking about Thou Shalt Not Kill in the literal sense of pulling out a gun and blowing someone’s head off. Back up a little further as ask yourself what leads a person to pull the trigger? Is there any other answer than anger?

We don’t kill out of sadness, or poverty, or even pride. Bottom line is this: we kill because we are angry, and we are angry because we cannot have what we want.

This explains in my mind the state of politics today.

I will admit my conservative bent when it comes to matters of fiscal responsibility, limited government, belief in free markets, blah, blah, blah. But I find very few who I feel speak for me in the way I would like to be represented. It seems every voice out there is angry, regardless if you lean left or right. What the hell? What are we so pissed off about?

Next time you listen to a pundit, watch for their anger, especially if it is someone who defends your point of view. Bill Maher or Mark Levin, Keith Olbermann or Laura Ingram. I have a hard time listening to any of them. They are all far too angry.

I don’t think we will get anywhere in this country until we figure out what Jesus was teaching about anger. Anger is neither left or right, liberal or conservative. Both sides are plagued by it. Neither are justified in it.

With one point of his sermon, I’ve had enough to think about for a while.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How shall they hear...?

Your family always warned you not to mix politics and religion, not because they are incompatible, but because most people can’t separate the two and maintain any level of civility. They may seem like two different subjects, but they still possess some of the same baggage, carried in each arm by those who are convinced they own the truth.

I was never a good evangelist in my days as a professional minister. As a card-carrying Evangelical, I was raised with a mandate to tell the Good News to all I meet. I’ve been out of that scene for several years now, but those compulsive feelings quickly return when I watch or listen to politics on TV and radio.

What I feel about politics must be what folks felt about my attempts to communicate about my religion. Judgmental, condescending, conniving, insecure; these words come immediately to mind, because that’s mostly what I hear in today’s political debate.

I’ve grown and matured over the years since discovering faith nearly thirty years ago. I have tossed a good deal of flotsam and jetsam overboard. But I’ve kept some things locked up down in the hull of the boat that I don’t plan to jettison any time soon.

I still believe there is Good News. I still believe that Good News is to be told. It’s the ways and means of telling that Story that I’ve discarded.

I’m not even sure I could articulate how that should happen. I was always trained to “give a reason for the hope you have,” which generally justified the use of the mustard colored booklet or napkin drawing. But how does one reduce the Story of Stories down to a three minute drive-by version. The Lord of the Rings couldn’t do it in three separate films. It still left out parts that were essential to the story.

And on the heels of this admission, I recall one past scolding voice vividly, “I take my method of sharing it over your method of not.”

If I told you my method takes fifty years to tell, is that good enough for you?

With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, but we have taken time and put a fuel injector on it, seeking to turbocharge every moment of every day, “because the days are evil.”

But what if my life is about one opportunity; one long, seventy year opportunity (if the Lord wills)? Is that a copout?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Do you have something in my size?

The longer my dad has been gone, the more I miss him and wish for his words and wit to be given from his voice rather than from my memory. But he did give me much to remember, and this story is one of them. My dad’s father was not a kind man, given to anger, probably due in part to the difficulty of his life experiences. He lost everything in the depression, had to move his family west to find work, and eventually stopped in Gila Bend, AZ finding a job as a mechanic. They lived there a few years until they had enough to make it back to Oklahoma. Dad told me one time that he didn’t have shoes that fit for much of his childhood years, because when his dad would take him to the shoe store, he would take the first pair that was brought to him by the clerk. He told me he did so out of fear of his father’s wrath, and that if he said they were too tight or too big, he would be accused of complaining and ungrateful. So instead of leaving the store with nothing, at least he had a pair on his feet, whether they fit or not. The departure from The Church As We Know It is a little like this story. For many of us, we felt we had no other option. The form and function of the present model was all that was available, and according to certain voices in our lives, all there needed to be. If we registered a contrarian view, we were rebuked, corrected, or assumed we were destined for spiritual oblivion. So, like my dad, we learned to keep quiet and just accept what was handed to us as adequate. But as we got older, we learned this was not the case. Our complaint was not born out of ingratitude, but only from a realization that it simply did not fit. Staying in the form of The Church As We Know It made as much sense as walking around in 8D loafers when a 9 ½E looked more like my foot. We can now buy our own shoes. The contrast is a crude one, as it can certainly raise more questions about the movement than provide answers. To any detractors, it would not be a stretch to assume from this story that the guiding force of my life is comfort and doing whatever feels good. But think of it from the point of view of a little boy, living in fear of his dad. There is a generation who is discovering they no longer have to be afraid of the one they call Father.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

This Might Sting a Bit

If you give me a choice between getting my teeth worked on, or engaging in a political discussion, I’m going to opt for the drilling, grinding and Novacaine every time.

I finally figured out why I dislike politics so much, and it has to do with the same things I dislike about religion. Both seem hell bent on converting the opposition, but neither side seems very interested in listening to anyone else. I’m left feeling a little angry, and a whole lot confused, wondering, “Is this the way it’s supposed to be, or is it just the inevitable result of the human condition?”

Last year, I read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, at the behest of an employee. Labeled by many as socialist propaganda, the story looks at the horrendous working conditions in the Chicago meatpacking industry at the turn of the 20th century. Sinclair tells the story of mistreatment and misfortune of immigrant workers by the business owners, and leads you to his conclusion that the only logical answer for such injustice is to turn to socialism.

But Sinclair does what every other politician or pastor does when speaking about the point of view he is defending. He compares the strengths of his doctrine against the weaknesses of his opposition. Socialism, he says, is built on fairness and equality for all people, while Capitalism is driven by greed and avarice of the rich and few. Ironically, even in his own argument, he is in violation the very thing he espouses. He is not being fair to his opponent.

If you want to convince me of your point of view, don’t tear mine down. Instead, try to build a case by first understanding what I think and believe, and then compare strength to strength. Compare apples to apples, not apples to microwaves.

If Sinclair was truly fair, he would look at the strength of his foe, Capitalism, versus the strength of his Socialism. If Socialist doctrine is build on fairness, then to be fair, one must ask what is the equivalent positive trait of Capitalism. Granted, it may be hard to fathom, but it is a system of opportunity, rewarding hard work and determination.

On the converse, continuing to be fair, Sinclair would then compare weakness to weakness. He must admit that his Socialism has a dark side, just as he indicted Capitalism with a verdict of greed. Indeed, making money can lead to greed, but it can also provoke jealousy and envy in those who despise it.

My point is this: Take time to listen and understand those who hold an opposing view to yours. Be secure enough in your own belief to not react defensively, but see if you can clearly articulate back to your rival what it is he believes. Compare strength to strength and weakness with weakness, and don’t confuse the two. See if this leads anywhere.

What have you got to lose? It can’t possibly make things any worse.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Seeking a Simple Solution

Cowboys & Indians

Cops & Robbers

Saints & Sinners

Democrats & Republicans

We like categories. They simplify our choices and help us delineate good from bad. It’s easy to have clear cut lines that distinguish between right and wrong. Much like Ryan Bingham in the film Up In The Air, speaking of his experience getting through airport security quickly. “It’s not racist, I just stereotype. It makes things go faster.”

Categorizing our beliefs would be helpful in bringing clarity if the belief only had two sides. You believe in God, or you don’t. You want healthcare reform, or you don’t. You support gay marriage, or you don’t. The Bible is true, or its not. But I doubt that there are very few issues you and I would come down on either side, with a stark black and white line dividing us.

This is my problem with politics and religion. Both require a choice based on an either/or assumption of any given issue. Religion taught me that I was either for God, or against Him. Politics taught me that I am either Republican or Democrat. If I check the Independent box, I don’t get to play in the regular season.

Yes, it’s easy to categorize, but easy doesn’t always translate into effective, especially when it comes to making progress in religious or political discussion.

I believe there is a simple answer, but simple is not to be confused simplistic.

Digging a foundation is simple, but the work is hard. All it takes is a shovel, a strong back, and a little determination.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Jesus, save me from your followers

I intentionally steer away from writing about politics, or even discussing them for that matter. It’s such a polarizing subject that it’s rare to find someone with whom I can air my thoughts and not fear I will be labeled a hypocrite, homophobe or some equally endearing kind of moniker. But it’s because of this reason I’ve decided venture out into the unknown.

As a writer, I have the tendency to stick with what I know and with that which I am most comfortable. But as I get more serious about writing, I am beginning to see how this will act as a major hindrance if I ever desire to improve my craft. One author puts it this way, “I write to learn and discover, not to air what I already know.” I like this approach.

Another part of my resistance in openly engaging in political discussion is because of the dissonance that is created by my faith. For some, it is their faith that pushes them into the political arena. For me it is just the opposite.

Faith and politics are two extremely personal and emotional subjects. Both elicit responses from the viscera, and in turn, wind up exiting the mouth before passing through the brain for a much needed inspection of humility and civility. What you end up with is a shrill debate with no understanding or progress.

In the days ahead, I will attempt to sketch out a series of conflicts between my faith and my politics, not for the purpose of resolving them, but more as an exercise to communicate my desire to hold both in tension. I’ve watched too many of my friends abandon one or the other because of this friction. I don’t subscribe to either/or thinking any longer. My world view is not that tidy, even as much as I wish it could be.

Faith would not be faith without the handmaiden of doubt, the doubles partner of uncertainty, and the antagonist of chaos. Faith blooms and flourishes because of what is unseen, not because of what is visible and obvious. For me, politics plays this role. It is my Lex Luther, my Mr. Glass, waiting to test the strength of its counterpart.

Karen asked me a question this week that I can’t get out of my head. She said, “Do you think more people would be interested in Christianity if it weren’t for the reputation of its followers being so judgmental?” In my mind, the essence of its Good News is anything but judgment, so how in the world did it get to this point? Jesus; OK, Christians: Not so much. The bumper sticker sermon that reads, “Jesus, protect me from your followers.” is not hard to comprehend.

This blog was born first for my sake. My first motive was to write for myself and not for an audience. I needed this blog more than you did, and still do. And if that ever changes, you will be able to tell. I will hang up writing.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Doing the Lord’s Work

One of my servers came back into the kitchen during service last night and relayed the message, “Table 52 wanted me to tell you guys specifically about the brisket, “Oh my Lord!”

It told him that’s evidence that we are doing the Lord’s work.

The same was used in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle by the workers in the early twentieth century Chicago slaughterhouses to keep their sense of humor while toiling under grueling subhuman conditions. When the pace of the line was forced unbearably forward, they would chide each other, “Now we’re really doing the Lord’s Work!

I defined the Lord’s work for years as a vocation with a certain look and appearance within a dedicated organization, defined by activities of preaching, teaching, and organizing events and activities for people. We called it ministry, and its meaning was commonly understood. This language is now changing, and so is its definition.

I remember my student director in college telling stories about the days of the sixties, when his culture was clamoring for spiritual truth, and how he took a semester off from college in order to travel around to campuses, preaching and leading people to faith. This model was used as a template for countless students, myself included, who were interested in trying to make their lives count for God. “Go into ministry,” was the response standard response to that yearning. And so we did.

As a businessman now, the terms Supply and Demand are a daily part of my thinking, but I think they should also be considered by the leaders of the Church As We Know It when thinking about how to counsel young talent and their vocational direction. Is the current Demand for spiritual direction from our culture equivalent to the Supply of people who make their living from the gospel?

Will the Church of the Future be better served by fewer professionals?

As a former professional, I always felt the need to justify my existence with stories of people and how their lives were improved because of my work, and the more of these I collected and dispensed, the better I felt about having you write me that support check. Now that I make my living from another enterprise, that pressure is off, freeing me to actually enjoy both my work and my faith to a fuller extent.

I am a pastor at my core. This is my gifting, but no longer my profession. And as with any true gift, it will work itself out in whatever I do. My reflex is to know you are taken care of, and to lead you to green pastures. I can’t help it, and neither can you.

Future Pastor, your gift is not based on your office, but found deep in your soul. It will percolate up from that source wherever you find yourself, be it in a job called Pastor, or in one with a seemingly unrelated title. How many of us know a pastor who hates his life? I bet we could make a sizable list. And how much of that disdain extends from the inorganic, unsustainable design of the Office of Pastor? The Church As We Know It chews you up and spits you out, and your average pastor stays in one congregation for an average of two years before he feels the “leading of the Lord” to move someplace else.

Find what makes you alive and exercise your gift within that realm. The seeds of your fruitfulness will grow much better in that soil.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Getting Out of the Insurance Business

“Your child may be buckled in, but is that car seat they are riding in really safe? We’ll tell you in our report at 10.”

“Drinking Water: What you don’t know could kill you. Tune in at 10 to find out why.”

Undoubtedly you’ve heard these and many more like them. They are teaser lines for news shows to try and lure you into consuming the products they are producing. They need you to watch, so they will use one of the most effective motivational tools known to mankind: Fear.

Y2K. Global warming. Swine/H1N1 Flu. Just to name a few off the top of my head. We could together make a long list of fears for which we are being told to brace ourselves for impact.

Fear makes a great sales tool in aiding the salesman to move his wares. I wonder how many transactions were made for computer back ups, tune ups and reconfigurations at the turn of the century when we were told Y2K was going to bring our whole society to its knees? If you were in IT, it was a good year. I don’t know the figures, but I would guess the folks selling H1N1 vaccine have seen an increase in their numbers as well.

The Church of the Future has a lesson to learn from this paranoia. I was raised with a fear of God, fear of death and fear of hell by the leaders of the Church As I Knew It. While I still believe we have an eternal destiny, my outlook on it is shifting from one of selling fear to one of embracing love. How does this work? Let me illustrate it this way.

Fear cripples and clouds sound judgment. How did you act when the clerk at Best Buy asked if you wanted to buy the extended warranty on that printer you just purchased? “For an additional $19 you can have the peace of mind that if anything goes wrong, it will be replaced at no extra cost to you.” Did you think about it for a bit? Were you struck with a little twinge of regret when you said no? As you walked to the car, were you ruminating on whether or not you made the right decision? If so, thank Fear for doing its job.

This is a small example of how faith was sold to me as a young man. My entire reason for being was reduced down to having the right answer for these two questions. If I only knew how many times I was asked and taught to ask others, “If you were to die tonight, where would you spend eternity?” and, “If you were to stand before God and he asked you why should I let you into heaven, what would you say?” In essence, I was sold an Extended Warranty out of fear, not a Life of Faith with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

I think insurance is a good thing. I have plenty of it. I have it to cover my life, my disability, my cars, my house, my business, my health. I believe it’s a wise decision for anyone. But if the determining choice that drives my decision to buy insurance is fear, I will never have enough. I will constantly be plagued by every “what if” scenario I see on the 10 o’ clock news. And the way litigation goes today, I’m sure I could be sued beyond even my insurance company’s ability to pay. So what will I allow to rule my life, Fear or Love?

Peace of mind will never be brought about by insurance, an extended warranty or having the right car seat for my child. Peace is the by product of a bigger source, one that only love can produce. If my life with God is carried along by fear, I’ve missed the boat. And yet the beautiful thing about Grace is, that even if I am following in fear, I am continually invited to step out of that boat and to walk on new places in freedom with Him.