Vague Pastors

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Last week, Carl Lentz, the pastor of Hillsong NYC made his rounds on CNN and Huffington Post. The interviews were fascinating to watch and see what God is doing through Lentz and Hillsong.

In those interviews, gay marriage came up as it always does if you are a pastor.

His answers were an attempt at a non-answer. He said in a sermon, “Some churches want us to give blanket answers on huge issues. Well, my Bible says, be attentive to individual needs. So I’m not gonna make polarizing political statements about certain things in our Christian community right now. No matter who says what, we won’t be pressured into giving blanket statements to individual needs. Never.”

He has also said he won’t “Preach on homosexuality.” But that is misleading.

When you don’t preach on something, you are preaching on that thing. You are just saying what you think won’t be as controversial or the thing that won’t lose you your following.

He says that “Hillsong has a stance on love, but has conversations on everything else.” On the surface, this sounds nice.

But he is falling into the trap so many pastors and leaders fall into: being vague.

The problem is this, homosexuality is talked about in the bible. Not as much as some Christians make it out to be. It is listed with other things for example in 1 Corinthians. The amount of sermons and blog posts on gay marriage dwarfs the amount of sermons and blog posts on adultery, stealing, greed (except at Christmas time), getting drunk, revilers, or swindlers.

Let’s take another example from 1 Corinthians 6. It talks about our bodies being the temple of the Holy Spirit and  yet, there are a lot of Christians who are unhealthy and destroying their bodies because of what they eat and drink. Every time there is a potluck at a church, there is a good chance we just sinned according to 1 Corinthians 6. Not always, but most of the time.

There is a clear problem when a pastor is vague and it is this: The problem with not preaching on things in the Bible is that Christians and non-Christians then don’t know what is in the Bible. They don’t know what they believe about something. They don’t know what God thinks about something. A Christian can’t have a conversation with a non-Christian about an issue if they aren’t taught. In the same way, a non-Christian can’t be confronted by truth if they don’t hear it.

This is one reason I think it is important to preach through books of the Bible. It keeps pastors from preaching on their soap box issues (and only talking about their soapbox issues), but it also allows pastors to not skip things. When you say, “I won’t preach on _____” you’ve just said I will skip passages in the Bible when I get to them because I don’t want to talk about them.

That is a low view of the Bible. God inspired those words for a reason.

What do you think? Should a pastor say they won’t speak on a certain topic? Is that ever an appropriate step?

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Shouting So They’ll Listen

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In his new book, A Call to ResurgenceMark Driscoll shares some eye opening stats about our culture:

  • 88% believe Jesus existed.
  • 78% believe God exists.
  • 73% believe in evolution.
  • 71% believe in karma.
  • 68% believe in heaven and hell.
  • 67% believe spirituality exists in nature.
  • 65% believe in angels and demons.
  • 59% believe Jesus rose from the dead.
  • 53% believe in the devil.
  • 46% believe in extraterrestrials, aliens, or UFO’s.

This is the culture we live in, work in, play in, and pastors, this is the culture you preach to each week.

So how do Christians tend to communicate to this culture? By shouting.

We don’t necessarily walk up to people and start screaming, although, I’ve seen people with signs stand on a corner and shout at people.

Have you ever seen someone try to communicate to someone with a language barrier? Americans when they encounter someone who doesn’t speak English, they talk louder. As we’ve brought Judah into our home from Ethiopia, we have a language barrier to overcome as he speaks little English and we speak very little of his language. Our boys, in an effort to get him to play with them or do something, simply talk louder if he doesn’t respond.

That’s what Christians do.

We don’t change what we are saying, we simply say the same things only louder and with more force.

Yes, but the message doesn’t change.

That is true. The gospel is the same. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. We never stop talking about the glorious news of Jesus’ sinless life, our brokenness and need for a Savior and how Jesus met that need by dying in our place and rising from the dead and sending us the Holy Spirit. We never stop talking about that.

But, we can change how we talk about that.

Instead of shouting, find common ground, a common language. Answer questions and needs that people have.

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The Importance of Organizational Culture

organizational culture, analysis and development concept

What an organizational culture does to a church:

  1. Culture shapes our lives and all our beliefs.
  2. Culture is vital to effective ministry.
  3. Our culture affects the way we conduct our ministries in the church.
  4. Culture helps us understand better the different people we seek to reach for Christ.
  5. Cultural understanding is essential to leaders if they are to lead their established churches well.
  6. Cultural understanding is essential to leaders if they are to lead their planted churches well.
  7. Culture may cannibalize strategic planning.
  8. Understanding culture helps the church cope with changes in its external environment.

From Look Before You Lead: How to Discern & Shape Your Church Culture by Aubrey Malphurs.

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Look Before You Lead: How to Discern & Shape Your Church Culture

bookEvery Tuesday morning, I review a book that I read recently. If you missed any, you can read past reviews here. This week’s book is Look Before You Lead: How to Discern & Shape Your Church Culture (kindle version) by Aubrey Malphurs.

I can’t even begin to describe how good and helpful this book is. The appendixes alone are worth the price of the book as they essentially give you Malphurs consulting toolbox.

The struggle many pastors have when it comes to leadership, making changes, preaching, leading their staff, working with volunteers is that they don’t understand the culture they work in. They are simply trying to put ideas into place, move things forward or make a difference. Until you understand the culture you have as a leader, those you lead, the world around your church and the world inside your church, you won’t be able to move anything. This book is particularly helpful for pastors about to move to a new church as Malphurs has an entire checklist of questions to ask a church board who is interviewing you. I found that extremely helpful from the other angle as it gave me questions I need to know for Revolution and questions I would ask a leader to determine if they fit our culture.

The reality is that every church is different. Every church has a different history, different set of leaders. So what works in California doesn’t work the same way in New York. In the same way that what works in one part of a city doesn’t work in another part of a city.

But what is culture? According to Malphurs, “The church’s congregational culture as the unique expression of the interaction of the church’s shared beliefs and its values, which explain its behavior in general and display its unique identity in particular.” And, “a primary responsibility of today’s strategic church leaders is to create, implement, and re-implement an organizational culture that rewards and encourages movement toward the church’s mission and vision. Every pastor must understand that to a great degree his job is to lead and manage the congregational culture, but if he doesn’t understand that culture as well as his own, he won’t be able to do the job.”

Here are a few other things that jumped out:

  • The organization’s beliefs and values intermingle and are seen in the church’s behavior or outward expression of itself. This is the first layer that is represented by the apple’s skin. Churches express themselves through their behaviors and outward appearance.
  • The behaviors and outward expressions are what an observer, such as a visitor, would see, sense, and hear as he or she encounters a church’s culture. Some examples are the church’s physical presence (facilities), language (multi- or monolingual), clothing, symbols, rituals, ceremonies, ordinances, technology, and so forth.
  • Churches are behavior-expressed but values-driven. The inward values drive and explain the church’s outward behavior. These values explain why the church does what it does at the first behavioral level and why it doesn’t do what it should do. When a church culture acts on its beliefs, they become its actual values. Until then they are aspirational in nature and inconsistent with the church’s actual observed presence and expressed behavior.
  • Churches are behavior-expressed, values-driven, and beliefs-based.
  • These three elements of organizational culture—beliefs, values, and their expression—work together to display the church’s unique identity.
  • Congregational culture as a church’s unique expression of its shared beliefs and values.
  • “The most important single element of any corporate, congregational, or denominational culture . . . is the value system.”
  • A ministry based on clearly articulated core values drives a fixed stake in the ground that says to all, “This is what we stand for; this is what we are all about; this is who we are; this is what we can do for you.”
  • An organization’s core values signal its bottom line. They dictate what it stands for, what truly matters, what is worthwhile and desirous. They determine what is inviolate for it; they define what it believes is God’s heart for its ministry.
  • Core values are the constant, passionate shared core beliefs that drive and guide the culture.
  • The key to understanding what drives you or your ministry culture is not what you would like to value as much as what you do value.
  • To attempt change at the surface level is problematic and disruptive. People persist in their beliefs and resent the change because leaders haven’t addressed it at the beliefs level. Thus the leader or change agent must discover the basic beliefs and address them as the church works through the change process.
  • Every thriving, spiritually directed church is well fed and well led.
  • We cannot do anything we want, because God has designed us in a wonderful way to accomplish his ministry or what he wants. Only as we discover how he has wired us will we be able to understand what specifically he wants us to accomplish for him in this life, whether it’s through pastoring a church or some other important ministry.

As I said, if you are a pastor, this is an incredibly helpful book to work through.

You Lost Me Notes

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Yesterday, I spent the day in Phoenix at the “You Lose Me” conference. A lot of the data in the conference can be found in UnChristianThe Next Christians and You Lost Me3 books that every church leader should read.

Here are some things that jumped out:
  • Make the gospel simpler, but no simpler. By making things too simple, dumbing down, we lose entrepreneurs and scientists. It is complex, we need to communicate the complexity and simplicity of the gospel.
  • The gospel is a simple message.
  • Because of brokenness in families and fatherlessness, we need call on strong families in our churches and call them to be on mission with other people’s kids.
  • This isn’t the first time that believers have faced complicated cultural realities.
  • The best biblical metaphors for our time is exiles in Babylon.
Money
  • This generation want to have money mean something, to be more than a paycheck.
  • The high unemployment rate is one of the reasons this generation feels so disconnected.
  • There is a generational desire to make change.
  • The tough reality for millennials is they graduate college with 27K in debt. 1 in 3 18-29 year old are unemployed after college.
  • We need to show students that there is no wall between sunday and monday.
  • Millennials need to see how Jesus can transform their jobs, lives and monday’s.
  • This generation is more in debt than any other generation.
  • You don’t get to be in the disciple making business if you aren’t talking about money.
  • The problem is faith and money rarely meet.
  • The leading cause of divorce is money. It’s because of our relationship with money and if 2 people can talk about money.
  • The frequency of arguments about money, statistically the chance of divorce goes up.
  • Training on money and faith needs to be more than just classes and workbooks, we need people who walk with others and disciple them through money.
The way people leave church
  • 7 out of 10 people lose their faith as young adults.
  • Most of them are leaving church, not Jesus.
  • The least common, 1 in 10, become an ex-Christian, people who grew up in church and drop out.
  • The more common is nomads, 4 in 10, are lost to church. They say things like, “going to church is optional, I have no interest now. I grew up as a Christian but have since tried other faiths or practices.”
  • 69% of Americans say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus, yet many are spiritual nomads.
  • 3 in 10 Americans are exiles. They say, “I want to follow Jesus but connect with the world. I want to help the church change its priorities to be what Jesus called it to be. I don’t want a comfortable faith that my parents have.”
  • This generation is more willing to be challenged than we are willing to challenge them.
  • Exiles seek to do mission in the areas the church has tuned out: fashion, business, film, science.
  • Churches need to stop talking about people who leave the church as though they are stupid.
Not your Father’s Babylon
  • We live in digital babylon.
  • We live in a culture dominated by multi-national corporation.
  • This generation is a selfish, narsisstic, sexualized, brave and loyal to their peers.
  • We need to teach our churches how to live on mission in the midst of a digital, sexualized culture.
Why Millennials are Different
  • We don’t have a mainstream culture anymore because of the news cycle
  • The most diverse religious, ethnic and sexual culture ever
  • The typical teenager uses on average 10 hours of media per day
  • Indifferent towards denominations and religions, distinctions don’t make any sense to Millennials
    • They ask, “why do I have to be a certain kind of Christian?”
  • Because of the change in media, Millennials are looking for meaningful relationships. They are skeptical of the celebrity Christian.
  • Socioligists say that peple are launched in life when you leave home, finish school, financially independent, get married and have children.
    • In 1960, 70% of adults completed these 5 things by 30.
    • 37% of adults complete these by 30 today.
  • % of live births to unwed mothers:
    • 5% in 1960
    • 41% today
  • All the best human inventions in history are now in our pockets on our phones.
  • This generation doesn’t bank at a bank, buy music at a store, but they have to go to a church to find Jesus.
  • This generation is not just sort of different, our culture in discontinusouly different (and we’re all immersed in it).
Reversing the 59%
  • The first thing to reverse the trend is meaningful relationships.
    • 7 in 10 who left the church do not have a close friend in church.
  • The second is practicing cultural discernment together.
    • Reading scripture and watching film together.
    • Watch film and culture and talk about it with students.
    • Talk about the values in the media we are consuming.
  • The third is reverse mentoring
    • We need the next generation to help us
    • Younger generations become the kind of Christians that older generations are.
    • Just because you attend church or student ministries, does not mean you are being discipled
  • The fourth is vocational discipleship
    • Helping your church see that vocation and calling matter
  • The fifth is tune young people’s ears to the voice of God
    •  Teach them how to hear God

6 Questions Parents can Ask to Be Discerning about Media for their Kids

bookI get asked by parents a lot how to make media choices with and for their kids. What shows should they watch, what music should they listen to. Here are some helpful questions for parents to ask taken from Give them Grace

  1. Does this media outlet have any redeeming value to it? In other words, is there any way that we can use it to illustrate the one good story? Are the great themes of the gospel apparent (even though it may not be a “Christian” production)?
  2. Are our children unduly influenced by this movie or program? Do they mimic inappropriate words or phrases after spending time interacting with it?
  3. Are our children able to articulate what is lacking in this video or song? Do they see how it is contrary to the gospel? Are they able to tell you where they see the one good story in it?
  4. What is your child’s attitude when he’s denied access to this program? Has it become an idol in his heart, a god that promises him happiness?
  5. Is there any way that you can demonstrate a willingness to compromise with your child over this song? For instance, instead of saying no to an entire album, perhaps you could find a couple of songs on it that would be acceptable.
  6. Are you being ruled by fear of what might happen if your child watches or listens to this program or album? Or, are you able to think clearly about the influence the entertainment may or may not have over your child?

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The Environments of Your Church

In his book Creating a missional cultureJR Woodward lays out that a church should have a culture that is learning, healing, welcoming, liberating and thriving. I found this section of the book to be particularly helpful, especially the questions he asks to evaluate your culture.

Learning Environment

  • In what ways does Scripture shape the community you serve?
  • Is the community listening to God through the Scriptures and practicing in their everyday lives what they are learning? How?
  • In what ways are people actively reflecting on what they are practicing?
  • What percentage of the congregation is immersed in God’s story and teaching the Scriptures to others?
  • How many are actively interacting with God’s story as it relates to their local context and mission?

Healing Environment

  • Do the rhythms of the church make space for people to have down time and just hang with each other?
  • Are their regular times for people to be genuine with one another – with no masks?
  • How well do people know each other and share life with each other?
  • What percentage of the congregation considers the church as family?
  • How many are experiencing healing from past hurts and moving toward wholeness spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally?

Welcoming Environment

  • How many people genuinely welcome others into their tight community?
  • How well does the faith community reflect the diversity of the neighborhood?
  • What ministries are in place to help orient people into the life of the congregation?
  • What percentage of people meaningfully connect with others in the neighborhood, at work or in other missional spaces?
  • How well does the community incarnate the good news within the various missional spaces?
  • How willing are people to sacrifice their own cultural comfort to meet people where they are?
  • How many people willingly initiate with people who are different than them?

Liberating Environment

  • What percentage of the congregation is pursuing God’s shalom in the power of the Holy Spirit?
  • How many people are actively using their spiritual gifts to build the body and serve the neighborhood?
  • Is the congregation walking alongside the poor and oppressed? In what ways?
  • How is the congregation speaking to the powers and subverting systems that perpetuate injustice?
  • How much of the congregation seeks to be good stewards of all creation for the sake of the whole world?

Thriving Environment

  • How many people are discovering their calling and living it out with great passion?
  • To what degree is the multiplication of disciples taking place?
  • What percentage of people are being mentored and are mentoring others?
  • Are there apprentices for each ministry?
  • What percentage of people has a sense of ownership in the congregation?
  • Are there ministries in the congregation that intentionally help match people’s passions with the needs of the church, the neighborhood, the missional spaces and social justice issues?
  • How many people see their work as a sacred vocation by which they are able to serve their neighbor and bring glory to God?

Great questions for leaders to think through.

Redeeming Halloween

I get asked each year at this time if I let my kids go trick or treating. Within the Christian community, there has always been a polarizing debate about halloween. Do we as Christians reject it, receive it or redeem it?

Rejecting it would mean we turn our porch light off, pretend October 31st, does not exist and shun those who participate in a day dedicated to eating too much candy. Receiving it would mean we simply go along with what our culture does, participating mindlessly. I think both of these fall short of what God calls us to as his followers.

While there is some history about the origins of Halloween that Christians should be aware of and Justin Holcomb has a great look at that history here.

Practically, the question remains what you’ll do on that day. For our family, we’ve chosen to participate with our neighbor and seek to redeem Halloween. Here are some things we’re doing:

  • Stand out in our driveway. Be out front to say hi to everyone, talk to them. This is a great opportunity to meet your neighbors. Everyone is out walking around. Not sure how often that happens in your neighborhood, but it isn’t an everyday occurrence. Being present in your neighborhood is a great step forward in being on mission in your neighborhood.
  • Build a fire in your fire pit  If you have one, do it. It makes people hang out longer when there is a fire. Put some chairs around it and invite people to sit down with you.
  • Have the best candy. Your house as a follower of Jesus should be the house kids want to go to 5 times because your candy rocks.
  • Have something great for the adults. We often have hot apple cider or some other treat that adults can take with them. Maybe bottle of water. Something they can take with them.
  • Include your missional community. Because the mission of our MC is our neighborhood, many from our MC will come and trick or treat with us and spend time helping to hand out candy.

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