Sunday, December 25, 2011

It's not about a baby. It's about a King.

 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
         and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  Lk 2:14

The Nativity story isn't so much about a baby's birthday as it is the covert beginnings of a King moving his pieces into place to begin to take back his territory. With the birth of Jesus, the manger became the first piece of land where the Kingdom of God was established. The good news is that the Kingdom is still expanding today.

The soldiers of this great war aren't the king's guard or great warriors but the smelly, disheveled shepherds and anyone else who is willing to hear the good news and go worship the King.

The tools used to fight this war aren't weapons of death, but a message of peace.

This year join the work of the Kingdom. Lay down your weapons of war so you can the King in sharing this message of Peace.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The idol of acceptance and popularity

Way too many Christians put popularity ahead of their obedience to Christ. This is absolutely evident in the number of youth who walk away from their faith when they no longer fit in a youth group. It is equally evident in the fact that youth groups are often, maybe even in my church, a place that youth feel more popular. I know this is often the goal of church leaders and parents. They hope that youth group is a place where the young Christians can find acceptance with their peers.

That doesn't seem too wrong. We want our children to be accepted by Christian peers rather than be lost in the wrong crowd. The problem is that when that is the goal of youth group, the real purpose of the church is lost. The only valid purpose of the church is to hold one another up as we glorify God and spread his light to the world.

Glorifying God is not popular.

I have a challenge that hit me this week. Name one person in the Bible that God told to become popular and through politics of the day quietly bit by bit, with great sensitivity to the will of others develop a popular and comfortable community that glorifies God.

I can't think of one. The closest I can come up with is Esther. Her challenge from Mordecia was to gain political power to save the people of Israel. While this could be seen as a move to become political for a godly goal, the fact is that Esther didn't do what was popular. She stuck her neck out in great risk of becoming unpopular with the king. The fact that it worked was a blessing from God because of her obedience.

Of course in 1 Kings 12, the elders of Israel advised Rehoboam to lighten the tax load on the people after Solomon's expensive reign. One might interpret this as a step to make him more popular, but you'll see as that text progresses that the issue of seeking popularity is the downfall of Rehoboam. He was seeking to be popular among his peers. The elder's goal was less about popularity and more about wisdom of the moment.

As a follower of Christ and leader in a church, my goal cannot be about popularity. My goal is about obedience. Both my personal obedience to Christ and teaching others to be obedient. Church growth should be a natural outcome as more people obey Christ, but I cannot confuse the idol of acceptance with obedience in faith.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Leadership and Marketing: Are they the same?

Interact with me on this thought…

Marketers give people what they want. Leaders give people what they need. 

 I wonder if marketing is often confused for leading in a consumer-driven, populous society. In a couple days, I'll be attending the Willow Creek leadership Summit. I don't like this event but I go because my leadership team supports it and because I want to help them to interact with the different concepts that are shared their. I don't like it, because, in the end, I don't feel that the Summit trains leaders but marketers.

One speaker at this summit is a marketer named Seth Godin. I'm enjoy reading Seth Godin's books and his blog. I feel that Seth has a lot of excellent thoughts that should be considered by church leaders. However, recently, I haven't been so enthralled about what he has to say. My concern is that I have been drawn into the church leader as church marketer mentality. Godin constantly talks about getting people what they want.

What people want is often not what's good for them. I want a Rita's water ice right now. One was custard in it. But I don't need it. In fact it would be bad for me in the sense that I'm already overweight and I don't need the extra calories.

In many ways, the contemporary church is overweight. It's over program and most of these programs focus on giving people what they want, not good discipleship. Granted, the church, as a fully volunteer organization, must rely on people wanting to be a part of the organization. But maybe that's the problem right there; too many people are attracted to an organization before they are attracted to faith in Jesus Christ.

So am I right on this one? Is the job of a leader to give people what they want? Where is the job of the leader to give people what they need? Maybe it's a combination of both? What they want leads into what they need. But then I wonder, how do leaders know how to make turn from what they want to what they need so that the people are willing to move away from just the thing that they want. Is there any value in giving me a Rita's water ice but telling me what I really need is a well-balanced diet?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Gloves, opera and why dads are so important

I've thought a lot about being a dad this June more than past. As Moriah graduates and prepares to move on, I've had opportunity to reflect on my own fathering and also on the relationship I have with my father. Fortunately, for me, I've enjoyed both.

As I've reflected, I've come across a trend. I believe that moms are the most important person for teaching us to live and to love, but this trend has reinforced in me the crucial role that fathers play in the lives of there children. It comes from the world of music.

While listening to the live version of U2's Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own, I learned that Bono wrote this song to his father.

I also Bono's song took me back a few year to Dan Fogelberg and his song, Leader of the Band. Both artist connect their music to what their fathers taught them. Bono acknowledges his father singing "your the reason why the opera is in me." Fogelberg calls himself the "living legacy to the the leader of the band."

Peter Gabriel wrote a song to his dad called Father-Son. Gabriel sings, "I first found my courage knowing daddy could save." While not about his music specifically, Gabriel acknowledge his father for his strength. That strength certainly led to a long successful musical career.

There is something else in common with these father songs and some other songs about fathers, (i.e., Paul Simon's Father and Daughter and John Mayer's Daughters). It is that they all tend to be full of tention. Bono notes "we fight, all the time." Dan Fogelberg's dad has a "thundering velvet hand." John Mayer sees a poor father resulting in the next generation having to "clean up the mess he made." Gabriel's tention of learning to trust his father comes through fear of water and learning to swim.

These songs all lead me to a last song that I've been thinking about. Rich Mullins wrote a great song called Growing Young. It's is about a father, but not necessarily Mullins' father. It's a story about the prodigal son. The story that Jesus tells is a great story of the love of a father filled with great tentions.

I saw a story on ABC News this week that talked about a study that showed that a father's roughhousing is important to development of children. With roughhousing fathers demonstrate to their children appropriate measure of winning and losing. From rough play with dad, children learn to test their limits; they learn to discover their identity.

I learned something through this musical reflection. I learned that while it is from our mothers that we learn how to love, it is from our fathers that people gain their identity. More importantly, it is from God the Father that we gain the fullness of our identity as he allows us the right measures of winning and losing in this life.

We need fathers. We need strong, Christian fathers who are involved with their children, and let their children win; and let their children lose. We need fathers that discipline and teach our children the things like swimming that require trust. We need fathers who treat their daughters with grace and give their children a love for culture.

I've had a father that gave me this example. I hope that I'm that example to my children, especially now as Moriah will be moving to the next step of her life. As Paul Simon says, "as much as one and one is two, there can never be a father who loves his daughter as much as you."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What Mr. Geiger taught me

As Moriah comes into her last weeks of high school, I'm reminded of my senior year and Mr. Geiger. Mr. Geiger was my geology teacher. Think Mr. Feeny with a cowboy hat and much less refined. I liked his class because I like rocks. It even eventually helped me to discover my major in college, hydrology. It turns out that geology of water a closely related.

In the course of a year with Mr. Geiger, I can remember 3 words of wisdom that he freely offered even as they extended beyond the study of geology.

1) Mr. Geiger said, "When you have children someday, never respond to their questions with 'I don't know.' Instead, say, 'Let's find out.' And then do the research together to find the answer."

I've used this bit of wisdom often in my raising of Moriah and Elie. Google made it easier than Mr. Geiger could have ever imagined.

2) On a field trip when Mr. Geiger said, "If you're man enough to chew, you're man enough to swallow." He actually gave this advice as we road a bus to his garage. It was part of an invitation to chew tobacco if we wanted, but he didn't want us to spit on his flour. That was a different day, and probably still not kosher with the school administration, but I have never been man enough to chew by his standard. No one else was on that day either.

3) There is a mineral called halite. It is salt, just like the salt on your table. And it turns out that being salt, it tastes like table salt. In the mineral identification unit, Mr. Geiger offered this wisdom. "If you're in the woods and find something that might be halite, pick it up and taste it. If it tastes salty it might be halite...or some hippie and his dog was there before you."

I'll let you deduce the life lesson for the last one.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Teachers wanted

A few years ago, about the time I was in seminary, the general movement in preparing church leaders was to focus on the skills and gifts of organizational leadership. That trend is reversing in many circles as churches are more and more looking for pastors to be shepherds of the flock. A shepherd in the field has one goal: to help his flock thrive. This goal is met through two clear objectives: leading the sheep to fresh, healthy grass, and protecting them from danger along the way.

While thinking this over this morning I came to a realization about the first objective. That is, the shepherd doesn't regularly feed the sheep. He helps sheep to feed themselves. As such, leaders of the church need to be helping people to thrive through leading them to the place they aught to be. In modern language, leaders need to be about the business of teaching, not educating.

Defined by Merriam-Webster's:
teach: to cause to know something.
educate: to provide schooling for .

We often think of these terms interchangeably. They aren't. Teaching is freeing. It is about helping one to discover or uncover knowledge. Educating is about a system; it's about making sure that the person gets through all the important hoops so that they come out "qualified." Teachers think about expanding the student's mind. Educators think about expanding the students' portfolios. Teachers address the needs of the individual. Educators address the mechanism where many are processed as they are certified for something beyond.

The church needs more teachers to open the minds of the next generation. We don't need systems to process people. We need people who lovingly challenge others to seek out knowledge and use the knowledge so they can thrive.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

College students aren't learning and why many people are happy about that

Have you seen the study reported by New York University sociologist Richard Arum in the book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses? I haven't read the book because it isn't available yet and will cost more than $60, but I've read the summaries, and I think this is a very important issue for Christians to contemplate with respect to spiritual formation.

Yesterday, I had a discussion where I was informed that Bible colleges don't believe that learning to think about what one believes is the goal of their level of education. Their job apparently is to "teach the truth" to students. They anticipate that those students will go onto seminary where they will learn to think the why they believed what they believe. If true, that, in my opinion, is a tragedy of arrogance. A tragedy because I believe 3rd graders should be taught to think critically about their faith or they will grow up only borrowing someone else's faith. It is arrogant because it assumes that the schools and teachers can know truth completely. And knowing what my local bible colleges deems matters of knowable truth, it makes me concerned for the students who should be taught first that God is too complex for any human to know fully (Romans 11:34). If Bible colleges believe their job is to indoctrinate their students into a system, then I'm sure that many other colleges do as well.

Why do I think people are happy about this? Because, it is easy. It is easy to sit someone down and pound facts into their heads. It is easy to know which facts to pound into their heads. It is easy to measure when a student is "learning" and acting right. It is easier to become successful at the consumeristic level that makes us the most comfortable. It is easy when students don't ask hard questions that make us think or challenge authority. It is just plain easier for those in control, whether parent, or teacher, or political leaders, to create a system that doesn't encourage thought.

It is easy. But it isn't right and it isn't good.

God is a God of grace. Grace demands knowing truth but understanding that application of truth is difficult and varies. Grace teaches about the reality of judgement in real, tangible ways, but grace using good judgement in the exercise of judgement. Grace teaches that the best life isn't often the easy life. Rather the best life is the one that exercises grace through the practices of justice, mercy and love.

I'm glad that Grace Point has welcomed the teaching of Grace-Based Parenting (which continues Wednesday evening). This parenting course will challenge parents to work with their children in such a way that their children will more likely come to know their faith personally, to take ownership and to think critically about what they believe, because those critical thinking skills are the bases for godly grace.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Belonging is commitment

I recently read Search to Belong by Joseph Myers. Myers makes some strong points but ultimately he falls short on the purpose of the church. Myers seems to think that because people have limitation, the church should not encourage deeper relationships. I guess he presumes that most people are already at or near capacity. I don't think that is true. In fact, I think most people are looking for more personal and more intimate relationship, but struggling to find them. That is they struggle to find the godly form of those relationships and thus relationships often are a burden not a joy.

While Myers has some good point, particularly the need for the church to cultivate relational environments rather than to create artificial relationships through programs, I think the table below demonstrates the difference between my point of view and his. He sites the work of Bullard and seem to think that the "Community" is the goal of the church. (I'd actually argue that it is the goal of current culture.) I think that Family is the relational goal of the church. I added to Myer's summary of Bullard in thoughts in the last column and the last three.

Relational perspectives from 4 different church models*

Family Communities
Elected or appointed according to rules
Recruited or drafted to work on specific project
Voluntarily connected in search of genuine and meaningful experiences
Voluntary commitment, often unspoken, based on common experiences and a need for one another
Making decision or setting policies
Maturing to performing tasks more effectively
Add qualitative relationship, meaning, and experiences to the organization, organisms or movement
Move to meet the best of all—individually and as a unit
Fixed term
Serve for life of project
No bounded membership and members come and go as interest dictates
Members are received with both family and individual accept adoption; Membership loss is mourned
Outside Assistance
High quality training and consultants
Partner with respected practitioners or coaches
Align with advocates who come alongside
Relate to outsiders as extended family
People of respect
People of expertise
People of passion
People of mutual love
Build loyalty to mission
Create effect action
Provide enthusiasm
Create an environment of unconditional love
Style of Work
Making lasting decisions and manage resources
Debate strengths and weaknesses to develop the best product
Dialog to arrive at the best solution
Seek wisdom with reliance on patri/matriarchs to ensure the most loving decision for all
Share mission but seldom power

Share love both inwardly and outwardly
Look to created purpose for subcommittees or department
No real reason unless a new project comes long
Based on an individual or segment of the membership discovering an following a new passion together
When younger members mature an begin a family of their own
The Lost
At worst: a thread to the organization
At best: another project for another committee
At worst: Something that slows productivity
At best: A hill to conquer together
At worst: A distraction for the communities goals
At best: The passion
At worst: A threat to the family
At best: Objects for expanding the circle of love
* Adapted and expanded from George Bullard’s “Abandon Committees, Skip Teams and Embrace Communities” as summarized in The Search to Belong by Joseph R. Myers, pg. 14-15. (The shaded area represents Bullard’s work.)