Some churches care more

A recent blog post from Alan Cohen about business startups has caught my attention. In surveying what “experts” say is needed to have a successful new venture, the author found evidence of what he calls “the start-up trifecta”:

A brief (and perhaps little unfair) survey of recent entrepreneurial literature boils down to what I call the “start-up trifecta”:

  1. Doing your homework about the market/having a brilliant insight about technology
  2. Gaining sufficient investment and strong investors/advisors
  3. Finding great talent: hire “A” players.

These are the things that most companies focus on, with the belief that, if they have them in abundance, everything will be okay. Not so, he says.

In his experience, companies that succeed want it more.

The Church Planting Trifecta

In the Church, we are guilty of this same line of thinking. Whether it is about starting new churches or saving old ones, we believe that if we just get our trifecta straight we’ll be golden.

In my denomination, whenever one pastor leaves and the congregation is searching for a new one, a usual practice is to do a demographic study of the community. They download data on median income, political persuasions, crime rate, age dispersement, racial/ethnic breakdowns, etc.  They do all of this under the assumption that knowing this information will help them to know what kind of ministry they should be about and, therefore, what kind of pastor is needed to lead the community going forward, given that information. It seems sound, but I have yet to find a congregation that has actually had that research impact their search process.

Likewise, there is a big push going on now about using new media as a part of your ministry toolbox. My friend Bruce Reyes-Chow is the best at this that I know of, and I think his insights are some of the more nuanced around. But he will be quick to tell you that he’s just helping folks gain basic competency with social media. He will be quick to tell you that this isn’t a panacea.

We also think that if we can attract the right group of people, we’ll be set. I address this at length in Open Source Church, but the idea that we can bank on “experts” to show us the way is a flawed notion.

However, finding “experts” is often a secondary concern. The primary concern is finding givers. Yep. We want cash. I’m convinced that part of the reason we do demographic surveys when planting new churches is that we want to gather a congregation in “growing areas.” You should read that as “young, middle to upper class families.” If we go where the cash is, we’ll be able to have a successful ministry.

And, finally, my uber-pet peeve: We want to hire the perfect pastor, the “local resident church expert.” Everyone in my age range (in particular) has heard it: “We’re looking for someone that can attract young families” or “We’re looking for a person with a lot of experience and vision.”

Yes, of course, we don’t want a dolt in our pulpit, but this will not save our church. Intelligence is not fungible. We’re not hiring a CEO. We’re hiring a teacher. She will not save us from ourselves.

Some churches care more

I agree with Cohen’s point, in that the trifecta will not ensure any measure of “success.” I have seen congregations with the trifecta in abundance, and ones that are severely lacking. But the ones that are the acknowledged leaders in the Missio Dei are those that, quite simply, care more.

These congregations, their members, and their leadership never seem to let the lack of an “ideal location,” wealthy giving base, or rockstar staff/volunteers inhibit their ability to offer tangible care for the poor, marginalized, and oppressed. I see this in small and large congregations; rural and urban ones. The congregations that make an impact simply care more.

There is a palpable feeling of concern for the other over themselves. There is a distinct lack of infighting. There is nowhere present the need to preserve the organization. There is a mindset of sacrifice and action.

In my denomination, there is one job requirement for being elected as a leader: A leader must demonstrate the New Commandment to love as Jesus loved as a matter of course. There is nothing that says they must be world renowned (or even passable) theologians. There is nothing about possessing a certain skill-set. They need to love. That’s it.

I spend a lot of time delving into and parsing the philosophy of ministry. However, at the end of the day, the things I write about are just tools and tips and tricks. They are not the solution.

If you want to be a vibrant disciple of Jesus, and if you want to be a part of a congregation that vibrantly participates in God’s Mission, forget programs and worship styles and whatever else. Just be Love and be a part of Love.

Being a gadget whore demonstrates my love for Jesus

And now for something completely different…

Confession: I am a gadget whore.

Lady refers to my iPad and MacBook as my fifth and sixth children. I think I have had a new cell phone every year since, well, they began making cell phones.

I bought a Kindle. Then I bought one of the first iPads, but then I sold it and went back to the Kindle. Then I sold that in order to get a 7″ Android tablet. Then a 5″ Android tablet, specifically for reading. Then another Kindle. Then another iPad.

I’m pining over the Kindle Paperwhite right now. Dear God in Heaven, that thing looks sweet.

It’s not that I’m not a serial gadget purchaser who’s trying to make himself feel better. Truly. I’m not the guy who buys gadgets because it’s some sort of retail therapy. That’s not it at all.

It’s that I’m trying to find the perfect one. I’m trying to find the right gadget so that I don’t have to go looking for the right gadget any more.

I’m tired of looking. I’m tired of this quest for the holy grail of electronics. I like to have gadgets that work the way I want them to work and for all the things I need them to work for.

I got rid of the Kindle because I thought I could do my reading on the iPad. I was right, of course, but it wasn’t the dreamy experience I thought it was going to be. Then I got rid of the iPad because, at the time, it wasn’t the content creation thing that I needed.

I tweeted about it one time, asking what the hell my problem was, and a friend of mine (who knows me well) responded, “Your problem is that you’re a purist. You want the right thing for the right job and nothing less will do.”

Yep. That sounds about right.

This has been a problem for me my whole life. I say “problem,” but sometimes it’s a bit of a blessing. It comes in handy being the guy in the room that can cut through clutter and hype and get right to the heart of the matter. But it is a problem, in that I am never satisfied. I am never content. I am never completely sure that I am doing the right thing or have the right tool or am enacting the right plan. And so, I am always on a quest.

But I’ve come to see it as an okay thing. Not being satisfied means that I am never settling. It means that I am never doing what one is supposed to do simply because that it what one is supposed to do. I may never get there (whatever “there” is) but I will always be trying.

I’ll always be trying to find the right thing because the right thing has value, and I have come to believe that the pursuit of that value is about as good as it gets.

It’s kind of like Merton’s prayer in relationship to my spiritual life: I don’t know if what I am doing is actually pleasing God, but I have to believe that my desire to please God is actually pleasing to God.

That may be all I’ve got, but I think that’s good enough.

The time is now

In the midst of the past week’s tragedy I have pondered a simple question: “Why now?”

Why are we angry now? Why is now the time that we say “no more”? Why has our collective will, it seems, turned to rectifying the violence that our nation is suffering now?

Is it because they were children? Is it because we can’t bear the thought of explaining to our 6 year olds what happened?

Unspeakable violence and death have occurred before. Unspeakable violence and death occurs every day, everywhere.

Why now?

I am reminded of Jesus’ words in the fourth chapter of Luke, where he offers his “mission statement” of releasing captives, healing the sick, bringing Good News to the poor, of proclaiming the Year of the Lord’s Favor. And he ends saying, “Today, this has been fulfilled.”

Jubilee begins now.

The time is now.

If Jesus was about anything he was about showing us the true love of God, a love that is enacted by one person sacrificing for another. “No greater love…” God has gathered the Church to be the place where we willing sacrifice our own rights, desires, wants, and wishes so that others may live.

We have been called as the Body of Christ. Christ has no hands or feet in the world now, but ours. We have been called and created to continue the work God in Christ began in Palestine those many years ago.

Whatever the reason, the time is now.

Just admit it: You’re wrong

Here’s your 18 minute educational experience for the day:

Kathryn Schulz’s “On being wrong”

According to Schulz, we travel through life trapped in a bubble of feeling “very right” about everything. If we can step outside of that feeling, she says, it will be the single greatest moral, intellectual, and creative leap we could make.

Confession and Assurance, anyone?