More isn’t Better!

1More isn’t better – It’s exhausting and counter-productive

The editor of a GREAT blog started “thinking out loud” and, in the process, requested a bit more from a reply that I posted to “Volunteers Wanted.” This issue has been the story of much of my professional life in the Church.  Without bringing up at all any thoughts regarding the differentiation between “volunteers” and those using their gifts in ministry as an expression of their unique Kingdom calling, I’ll wade into the invitational waters.

I never thought I would say this much less write it, but I’ve lived a good majority of my 65 years of life involved in some manner or form of “Church.”  From parachurch ministries to outdoor ministries…from small congregational ministries to what used to be regarded as “large” church settings.  Thanks to the Lord, I’ve never had the opportunity to live my Kingdom life within the sphere of the megachurch.  There is a part of me that cringes simply imagining the intensity of financial and organizational pressure that goes along with the management of any large “company.”  As a “churchworld” (I’ll define that term below) leader, my responsibilities have ranged from that which would be regarded by some as the sphere of the Senior Pastor to the leadership of a plethora of “sub-ministries” including children’s, youth, music, small groups, leadership and theological/biblical development.  So, in regard to this issue of “Volunteerism” and what it takes these days to not only “do” ministry but enable and equip Jesus following people to be responsive to the call of God upon their lives, I’ve had my share of experience.

I must say that I’ve made some drastic, strategic and, in my mind, God-honoring changes in my ministry philosophy over the past two decades.  Much of those changes have occurred because of witnessing the futility and counter-productivity of the “more is better” mentality.  I’ve been involved as a leader in both “kinds” of churches…at one church, we had the philosophy that MORE ministries were better, in other words, it was like a smorgasbord of ministries that were available every week. We operated under with the mindset that the “calendar HAD to be full.”  Subsequently, it was.  It wasn’t simply the fact that I was out of my home probably five to six out of seven nights per week, but we constantly felt the overwhelming pressure as leaders to fill positions, fund initiatives, provide space, and pressure people to be involved. The key aspect of the previous phrase is “pressure people”…and, trust me, that’s what happened.  When Christendom ruled, the belief stood that the Church should be the center of life.  And, in some respects, Christendom did appropriately draw one’s faith journey into a rich life of worship, fellowship, and encouragement in faithfulness. Yet what has occurred over time as many Christians have bemoaned Christendom’s demise is that a form of institutional tyranny arose in its place.  The Church was no longer the center of culture, so Church people formed a hybrid (more of a mutation) of Christendom to take its place – something I call, “churchworld.”  When I talk about “churchworld” I am attempting to put into approachable language some way to clarify the overwhelming, insatiable “hunger” of religious institutionalism to demand the whole of a person’s life and attention.  “Churchworld” is one-part theme park and one-part assembly line…one part “money pit” and one-part shopping mall.  It is built upon the values of consumerism and utilitarianism – in other words, how can we get the most out of people in order to give back to people what we perceive they need.  In my humble opinion, that’s what “churchworld” does…just as the price of a ticket to any Disney park has insanely and prohibitively increased in cost for day’s excursion, so has the “cost” in time, energy, money, and “personnel” of feeding the demands of “churchworld.”  My wife and I have adult children that are involved in “churchworld” ministries.  They constantly give witness to the increasing demands for the totality of their lives to be focused on sustaining the institution’s strategy of ministry.  They have shared with me the fact that many people who are their friends in the Lord have made it a habit to leave churches after a year or so simply because of the increasing burdens and demands of involvement.  Once involved in feeding the “beast,” it is hard to back away graciously without risking the subsequent woes and grief given by overwhelmed staff.  I would never coin myself as a predictive prophecy individual, yet it doesn’t take much forethought to see the coming fall of “churchworld.”  One of my favorite authors, John Kavanaugh compares Ancient Rome’s adherence to “bread and circus” (the book, Following Christ in a Consumer Society; John Drane says the same in his books on the McDonaldization of the Church) to that of “churchworld’s” fascination with entertainment and feeding/attracting the masses.

Contrast that experience with what happened in my life as a leader and fellow disciple when I started leading a church where the only ministries we had were the ones that “surfaced” within the Body itself…in other words, people who felt the leading of the Lord to begin a ministry started them and “staffed” them with like-minded people they knew who shared their passion and sense of calling for that ministry.  Some call this ministry strategy, “Organic.”  Truthfully, that kind of language aptly describes what occurs in reality.  The kingdom of God that Jesus described is viral, organic and, by nature, a movement.  It grows where no apparent strategy or potential can be found…and it lives, not by human energy and ingenuity, but by spiritual mystery.  In the organic ministry realm, we are much more apt to be praising God for his leadership and fruitfulness in people’s lives than praising ourselves for the plethora of activities that we can effectively manage and multiply by sheer effort and relational intimidation.  Personally, I found so much freedom living as a living “organism.”  With that mindset, with a renewed embrace of the dynamic spiritual nature of the Body of Christ, I found that the ministries took care of themselves better over the long haul.  For example, in my current congregational setting, we have a few teenagers who would benefit from a good youth ministry program.  Now, I could for a ministry team, hire a youth worker and build an entire infrastructure to handle that ministry need…that’s the programmatic approach.  Even so, we have no one in the church who is sensing the “call” of God to form another program.  In the past, I would have beaten down people in an attempt to build another program.  I chose not to do that.  Instead, I called a pastor friend of mine who leads another church in town.  They have an amazing youth ministry program and have built a solid ministry strategy to disciple teens.  I talked to the pastor; told him I was interested in “investing” the kids in our church into their youth ministry program.  I felt that partnership was more important than simply duplicating what is happening right down our street (so to speak).  I talked to the parents of the teens, the youth themselves and now they are loving what God is doing in their lives as they participate in that other church’s ministry.  Some might say, “well, aren’t you fearful that you will lose that family to that other church?”  No, I’m not and if they did leave, I would bless them on their way.  I’m not going to try to be “all things to all people” any longer.  I’m not going to fear ministry partnerships…in fact, I want so desperately to affirm them.

Church, at least in what I read in the New Testament, has more to do with organic living than most people want to admit.  I am now a firm believer in “less is more”…in fact, in most of the churches I’ve led since my “smorgasbord” days, the church has been healthier because we have allowed the Lord to lead us in birthing ministries instead of having a busy “template” for what church should look like. In fact, I think for most churches, they could let about 1/2 of their ministries “die” and they would be happier and healthier. The issue is giving people the freedom and encouragement to build their lives in the Lord IN the midst of their lives instead of forcing them to live the life we think they should live…one built around church activities instead of simply living for Jesus in the spheres of influence that is their daily life. This explains why Jesus did not ask us to go and “make gatherings or churches or home groups or…”  He did not ask us to go and “make house churches.”  He said, “go and make disciples.”  Discipling viral disciplers is the end game.  This places YOU and ME squarely in the midst of reproductive life that the kingdom is intrinsically about.  We become movement-starters, not church-starters.  We release disciples who will influence the world throughout their lifetime and beyond.  When we start “churches, communities, meetings, etc.”, our focus tends to be on the communal gathering—what to do, how to do it, what it looks like, etc.  We may say to ourselves that we are learning to “be” the church but often our priority remains on developing the structure/form/institution.  When following Jesus and inviting others to follow him becomes our focus (discipling viral disciples), we have to shift from the “gathering” mentality to the “lifestyle-going” mentality.  This shift will propel us from being church-starters to movement starters (where churches and gatherings spring up along the way).

One more thought  – consider “wiki-based ministry.”   In other words, I desire to build a “Collaboration based” ministry environment. I believe that God is active in EVERY person so that our community creates meaning – our ministry partnership is a reflection of a descriptive process with no prescribed meaning; we fix us, no experts are needed; leadership teams and pastors are good but only one of the gifts of community.  We believe in a distinctly relational ecclesiology.  That is organic…that is a celebration of less is more.

For more information on Ministry Dynamics and Organic Systems – download a document here.



Re-post – “Doesn’t Christianity Denigrate Women? (Musings on Science and Theology, thanks!)

Here’s a great post that I, essentially, “borrowed.”  Musings on Science and Theology is an awesome blog that regularly reviews books and articles that impact contemporary Christianity.  This article is worthy of your attention…most of the culture, in my opinion, is not asking this question…this is a question I hear more from WITHIN the Church than outside of it.  I think the culture “gets” the idea of equality (in fact, culture fights for equality).  The Church?  Now that’s another story.  There are ALL sorts of subtle and blatant issues in the Church regarding misogyny and keeping “women in their place”…which primarily means out of key leadership and “submissive” within marriage.  That’s why this article is worthy of your attention.  In addition, the author actually “takes on” the book he is reviewing for NOT going far enough when it comes to our mutual “submission” to each other in Christ.  But you can read that for yourself…

hans_memling_-_triptych_of_jan_crabbe_-_wga14810Doesn’t Christianity Denigrate Women?
How can you be a Christian?

In my experience there are three big subtexts to this question these days, science, women, and sexuality. Other questions are important as well … but these are the showstoppers.

How can you be a Christian when it is antiscience, oppresses women, and is homophobic?

Rebecca McLaughlin addresses these as seven, eight, and nine in her book Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion….

The short answer to the second question doesn’t Christianity denigrate women? is a resounding no. Christianity might not go as far as some in our culture today would like, but it certainly does not denigrate women. Women play important roles in many places throughout Scripture. I’ve highlighted a wide selection of these in several posts – most recently A Look at Biblical Womanhood and Women of the New Testament.

Rebecca emphasizes the way women are portrayed in the Gospels to make the point.

The portrayal of women in the Gospels – particularly in Luke’s Gospel – is stunningly countercultural. Luke constantly pairs men with women, and when he compares the two, it is almost always in the woman’s favor. Before Jesus’ birth, two people are visited by the angel Gabriel and told they are going to become parents. One is Zechariah who becomes John the Baptist’s father. The other is Jesus’ mother Mary. Both ask Gabriel how this can be. But while Zechariah is punished with months of dumbness for his unbelief, Mary is only commended. (p. 136)

The pairings continue – with Simeon and Anna, the lost coin and the lost sheep, the parable of the persistent widow followed by the pharisee and the tax collector. The Twelve were all male – but for the most part, the segregation stops there. Women were with Jesus and involved in his ministry from beginning to end, at the cross, the first at the empty tomb. And turning to Acts, they were with the apostles in Jerusalem where … They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (1:14)

Many of the first converts in Acts or mentioned in Paul’s letters are women, important for the prominent roles they play … Junia, Lydia, Priscilla among them.

There is a reason why women are heavily represented in the church today and throughout history. For all the human failings that crop up from time to time, women acknowledged as equal before God. “Jesus’s valuing of women in unmistakable. In a culture in which women were devalued and often exploited, it underscores their equal status before God and his desire for personal relationship with them.” (p. 138)

Paul puts it succinctly in Gal. 3:26-29: So in Christ Jesus, you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

This is powerful stuff.

But then we come to marriage. Here Rebecca and I part ways, slightly. This isn’t surprising in a book published by Crossway and TGC. She looks at Ephesians 5:21-33 (below) and focuses on the metaphor. “Ultimately, my marriage isn’t about me and my husband any more than Romeo and Juliet is about the actors playing the title roles.” (p. 140) and later “Ephesians 5 grounds our roles in marriage not on gendered psychology but on Christ-centered theology.” (p. 141) Here is the point as I paraphrase it – when we play our proper roles in marriage we are enacting the metaphor and mirroring God to the world. Women submit as to God and husbands love as Christ.

But read the passage below. Is this really about enacting a metaphor? I would suggest that the first line interprets the whole. It is about mutual submission in a partnership before God that revolutionizes relationships. Paul uses a metaphor that illustrates the truly revolutionary nature of our relationships in Christ. Throughout history, husbands have generally been the ones with power and have often exercised it for their own benefit and women have often resorted to nagging and subterfuge (a kind of revolt) to assert and strengthen their own positions. I rather expect that this was as true in the first century Greek and Roman world as at any other time in history. But in the Christian message, this should all go out the window along with many other human failings. Positions of power should be exercised on behalf of the others involved, and this includes the husband’s role toward the wife. The socially acceptable practice of women gossiping about and undermining their husbands is no better than practice of autocratic authority.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her …. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. … However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

No mere human truly stands in the place of Christ. But we are all called to follow his lead. Marriage isn’t about authority and submission. When the topper question is “who gets the last word?” the focus is entirely wrong.

But on this Rebecca and I both agree. The command to follow Christ does not denigrate women, in fact, it empowers and promotes women in ways that are more often than not revolutionary in the surrounding culture.

Much more could be said. Rebecca has a discussion of abortion and sexual freedom, both issues where Christianity is said to denigrate women. And she does not really touch on the questions surrounding women in ministry. But this is a good start.

The GOOD NEWS and why it is GOOD and what you should do about it!

3Over the past couple of weeks in our faith communities in Idaho, we’ve been talking about “evangelism.” Over the years and for many Jesus followers, just hearing the word raises fear, apprehension, nervousness, and even a sense of regret. For it has been the experience of many Christians that evangelism in our past has been filled with feelings almost like that of a phobia…we were taught a “content-driven” formula and then “guilted” to act. That frightens many people to death! Many of us, compelled by guilt, have traded integrity filled, loving relationship or friendship with a manipulative “presentation” of the Gospel that was centered more on BAD news (or scary news) than GOOD NEWS.

Yet, don’t miss this – the GOOD NEWS (Jesus – Jesus IS the Gospel) can change and transform people’s lives as it has ours and Jesus calls us to share simply what we have experienced in a relationship with Him. As we share Jesus, we want to build and have real, integrity filled, loving relationships with people without some hidden, manipulative agenda. As we share Jesus, we want to LIVE OUT the presence of Jesus in and through our lives in such a manner that the GOOD NEWS is not only GOOD NEWS but redemptive, transformational news. As we share the GOOD NEWS, we want to do so in a manner that does NOT come with relational or spiritual threat but comes to people from the love that we have for them that is just as everlasting, just as unconditional, just as life-changing as the love and grace that we have received from Jesus ourselves.

So, every Jesus follower MUST be clear on the GOOD NEWS we share. What is the GOOD NEWS and why is it good?

Well, GOOD NEWS is what changes our past and that which affects our present and also completely changes our expectation for the future…Jesus has impacted our past, and continues to change our present while giving us a HUGE promise for our future.

The GOOD NEWS changes our future because the GOOD NEWS is filled with the reality of Jesus and His kingdom coming in full. That’s the fulfillment and the answering of our prayer, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s the promise that we recite every week in the Apostle’s Creed – “I believe in the HS, the holy Christian church, communion of saints, forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” That’s a vision of eternity in relationship with God and each other. The GOOD NEWS reminds us what is in store for you and me through Jesus (the GOOD NEWS) – we don’t have to fear the biggest enemy of humankind…death. Jesus conquered death – Jesus put to death, death, and through Jesus and God’s eternal love, we don’t live under a curse, but under a promise that when we breathe our last, that we walk through an open door into the eternal presence of God.

Now, all of that is VERY GOOD NEWS! The question is though is, “why not just stop there?” Well, what we are discovering more and moreover the years is that a faith and GOOD NEWS that doesn’t change the PRESENT isn’t really the good news that most people want. Most people can’t even think about what’s going on tomorrow, so thinking about eternity is a whole nother story. Faith (Jesus) has to change the PRESENT. People need to see that Jesus isn’t just about “pie in the sky when you die” but that the good news changes the present. If we could just catch a glimpse that God wants to invade the here and now with His Kingdom and His presence, it would change the way we LIVE. Jesus wants to invade every area of your life with the Kingdom. In other words, it’s not enough for us to just embrace the new reality of the work of the cross and empty tomb FOR us and our future, it also must work IN us for our present; it needs to embody how we live our lives. When we have truly encountered God and His grace, we are changed…we are transformed…we have a new identity TODAY!

The Apostle Paul wrote some interesting and relevant words in 2 Corinthians 5:

“For if we are beside ourselves (literally, “out of our mind” it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls (compels) us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”

Paul had a HUGE story…he had everything going along in life VERY well, but then Jesus invaded his life. He went from respectability and authority and status to, well, soon after following Jesus he got shipwrecked, thrown in a prison, beat up, and riots broke out wherever he traveled. He exchanged a very predictable, good life for a very unpredictable, tough life. People in his time most likely wondered why ANYONE would do that! But right here in 2 Corinthians 5, he tells us why – he’s going through all hardships that he is going through for one reason – he was compelled by love he had experienced. That love changed his life and his relationships and how he DID every aspect of his life. The love of God for him caused him to fall in love with Jesus Christ which then caused him to share in God’s love for people…love compelled him. Paul wasn’t motivated by any law code. He wasn’t motivated by any should or fear or guilt because Paul knew that being motivated by love and love only is always the only kind of fuel that the kingdom of God can run on. Read that clearly friends – LOVE is the only fuel that the Kingdom of God can run on. Good doctrinal understanding and adherence is just that…good.

Participation in the Body of Christ is something that should be the bedrock of every Jesus follower’s existence. Love for God’s Word is something that should cause our hearts to beat fast as well. But it is NOTHING ELSE BUT SHARING LOVE, sharing IN God’s love and living OUT that love in our lives to others that really should be that which marks our lives. When it comes to sharing faith in Jesus, don’t be compelled by legalism. Don’t be compelled by “shoulds,” “oughts,” or “guilt.” Anytime evangelism is motivated by any of those realities, it is just not right. But it’s altogether different when you’re compelled by love. You see, the GOOD NEWS changes your present…it changes your motivation for living. We are now compelled to share our lives and live out our faith in our everyday lives. Once you have experienced Jesus, the goodness of Jesus, is going to ooze out of you. If you’re going to be a bearer of GOOD NEWS, it is going to come naturally.

So, what is evangelism? How do we live out the good news? First of all, the GOOD NEWS should change the way you look at people. In other words, who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing should change the lens you use when you look at the world. In Jesus, you see people differently. Remember that Paul also wrote that IN JESUS the old things have passed away? You see, the cross changed everything not just for you but every person you see. One of the ways that changes everything, Jesus starts to reveal, challenge and then collapse your judgment mechanisms. You know this – we all have this compulsive thing that we do where we judge and assess people. We often don’t know that we do it, but we do – because we’re so used to doing it. We look at people and we decide what we agree with or we don’t agree with; what we like what we don’t like; there’s a gossip column going on in our brain. But if you allow the Holy Spirit to collapse those judging mechanisms and you start agreeing with God that because of what Jesus did every person you see has got unsurpassed worth it if you do that, you begin to see what God sees. You begin to see what God sees and then you begin to love what God loves. That’s the love that compels us towards evangelism that neighbor of yours.

Friends, some of your friends think they really are worthless. But you know they are not…they have got unsurpassed worth in the heart of God. Some of your friends are miserable because they think they’ve done the unforgivable sin. But you know that all sin has been taken care of two thousand years ago on a cross of love. Some of your friends think that they’re going to be addicted the rest of their lives and that they are no better than that. But you know that that addicted self was crucified 2000 years ago. And better yet, you know that the gulf between those two things creates a yearning in your heart (because God is changing your heart to be more and more like Jesus’ heart) to set people free.

Friends, that is our message. This is the good news. God’s not holding your sin or anyone’s sin against them. God is 110 percent in favor of you and every person you meet! Because of the Cross and empty tomb, everything has been changed. When you see anyone, you know that God is on their side. That He’s for them. He just wants to have a relationship with them.

Friends, because of Jesus, you have “new creation” eyes and those eyes, the eyes/lens of Jesus, sees every person you see as one for whom Jesus died and therefore they have unsurpassed well worth. I encourage you to consider this – when you find yourself thinking these “old creation” thoughts, those judgmental thoughts, self-righteous thoughts, ask the Lord for the Spirit’s power and love to put them aside and agree with God that that person that you are with has unsurpassed worth in the heart of God. And lastly, pray that you can become a blessing “machine” in life. Bless everyone you see. Friends, we’re missionaries here on assignment. We’re ambassadors and our job is to demonstrate God’s love by how we live day to day. If you have any judgments towards anyone, put them aside and pray a blessing on them. I pray that you see the world with new creation eyes and be a new creation person compelled by the love of God to spread good news (of Jesus) to people who very desperately need it. That’s our call…that’s our purpose!