12 Witnesses

Let these stones be a witness to what we have done here this day.

Why is it?

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Why is it that after a prolonged absence, we feel the need to explain where we’ve been to the odd half dozen or so folks who still check in from time to time?  Really, most of the traffic (I still get some, can you believe it?) comes from search engines that are funneling folks to specific articles I’ve written in years past.  A few still hit my home page, lately to find my last article from October 31, 2011.  Yes.  8 months ago.

It almost begs an explanation, though I recognize that I’ve already published several over the last couple of years.  The only thing to do is ignore it or come clean.  Never one to miss an opportunity to over share, let’s go with coming clean.

Several things have conspired to to keep me from writing.  Among them

1) Discovering an emptiness in the topics of political observation within the SBC.  Old news and no reason for further comment.

2) Busy-ness within the responsibilities of the Pastorate that kept me from managing this blog and my church responsibilities.  I was new to the pastorate in 2006 and new to my church as well.  It takes a while to become fluent with the minutiae of any job and I had plenty on my plate.  Add to that the changes that we were working through and I was tired of writing.

3) (This is the coming clean part…) I had several church members that were frequenting my blog, often misconstruing or just misunderstanding what I had written (sometimes years before) and then repeating their misconstruction/misunderstanding to others at the church.  It’s no secret that change is rarely embraced readily by all and we had all our plates could handle moving through ours.  When some were adding the misinformation coming from others claiming this blog as the source, it just wasn’t worth it.  So I quit writing to remove a source of misunderstanding.

I should add that I am not accusing everyone from my church who read my blog of misrepresenting me to garner political support within our church.  I think that was actually quite rare.  Nevertheless, any stream of misunderstanding that can be removed, should be.  I prioritized the church over this blog and I doubt anyone would second guess that decision.

So what’s changed? Several things!

I’ve had a personal spiritual growth like I’ve never experienced before.  Call it a Gospel Awakening.  I’m sure we’ll get to that in the near future.  For now, simply consider that God, in His mercy, considered it His pleasure to crush me in order to shape me in an image more like His Son.  For this, I am grateful.  Honestly, “grateful” doesn’t cover it.  Even for an aspiring writer, I have no words for how I feel about this.  I consider it worth everything.  More later.

The church has come to a place of peace.  We still have some issues and we honestly need to move forward in some areas, which means change.  Small ones, but still…  Nevertheless, Earlier this year, God wrought a situation that allowed us to finally air our heart in a loving way.  It has brought a tremendous peace on the church and we gather together without fear of dissension breaking out.  We are praying for Spiritual Awakening and have been since the Spring.  We are beginning to see the fruits of it and have enjoyed God moving among us significantly over the last couple of months.

With my life and the church in the throws of burgeoning renewal, the desire to write as presented itself once more.

And since I’m paying good money to host this blog, I thought I would be a better steward of that opportunity.

If you’d like to subscribe to an email notification, there is a box at the top right to let you do that.  Every time I write a new article, it will let you know and should give you a preview of what’s here.

Casting Vision

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I was asked yesterday what I had learned about pastoring that would be different if I had to do it all over again.

Lots of stuff.  Among the most critical: Casting Vision.

Essential to moving an organization from one way of doing things to another is the understanding of where they are going and why it must be done in the most proficient way possible.  I’ve learned a few lessons the hard way.

  1. Don’t assume that because you understand it anyone else does.
  2. Don’t assume that another person understands because they say they do.  They may honestly think they do, but they aren’t the best judge of that.  Ask clarifying questions to make sure they “get it.”
  3. Communicate in multiple ways.  Not everybody understands things the same way.  Some are visual and need diagrams.  Others are verbal and need rich descriptions.  Communicate the same message in every conceivable fashion to hit everyone.
  4. Cast your vision in smaller, non-pressure settings where questions and dialog are not threatening.  If an impending change is scheduled and you are under the gun to get everyone on board by a certain date, you begin to talk with large groups of people, which cut down on dialog, and you try and move quickly – both to meet your deadline and to make sure everyone’s question gets answered.  Doing it this way rarely gets all the questions asked, fewer answered and very few answered satisfactorily.  Don’t plan a move until you know the vast majority of the group is on board.
  5. Study your organization first.  Find out what they expect when it comes to making changes.  Are they willing to follow because they understand and believe or do they need to be a part of the crafting of the vision before they buy in. Give them what they need to make the move.  Asking them to move in the way you are most comfortable only works if everyone is exactly like you.
  6. Not everyone will come along.  Don’t take people for granted and don’t be callous about some leaving, but don’t have expectations of perfection.

Change is messy.  Doing it poorly is more messy, so do it really well.

Institutional v. Missional: 12 Marks of the Missional Church

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click on logo for IVM page

I found a great article from the Acts 29 church planting network on the Missional and Institutional church.  The article is written with an overview of terms and cultural contexts from which the terms arise.  If the terms “institutional” and “missional” don’t make much sense to you when applied to the church, this article will help.  It’s well worth your time, if you choose to read it.

Though I am unconvinced the Missional Church’s worship must be unpredictable and messy (sounds like chaos?) as described in point 12, I would agree that routine within worship kills.

At the end of the article, the reader is given an opportunity to evaluate the church of which they are a part by judging 12 markers of either the Missional Church, the Evangelical Church or the Institutional Church.  Just to whet your appetite, here are the 12 marks of the Missional Church:

The Missional Church:

1. Sent by God as missionaries in their own culture (Mt. 4:19).

2. Exists to take Christ to the lost: Go to the world (Mt. 28:18-20).

3. Members are personally engaged in their communities (Acts 16:20; 17:6).

4. Submerged into its culture like Christ (Luke 7:34).

5. Main focus is training and equipping others to be missionaries (Eph. 4:11-16).

6. Dependent upon Holy Spirit to use individuals as agents for evangelizing (Acts 1:8).

7. Develops relationships with the lost on purpose (Matt. 5:13-16).

8. Relationships are the means to influence others in their journey toward Christ (John 1512-17; 1 John 4:19-21).

9. The goal is to help others find Jesus in their own way and timing (1 Cor. 9:20-23).

10. Participants are affected in every way through a calling by God to be an agent for the gospel (Acts 4:13, 31-35).

11. Faith is practiced in community – groups of people together (Acts 2:42-45; Phil. 1:27).

12. Worship is unpredictable, spontaneous, Spirit-directed and messy (John 4:23-24).

The Evangelical Church:

1. Has a program of missions alongside numerous activities of the church.

2. Exists as a place for the lost to find Christ: Come to the Church.

3. Members are supportive of mission efforts.

4. Separated from its culture as a holy quest.

5. Main focus is supporting mission works – mainly overseas.

6. Dependent upon altar call and big events as its main tool for evangelization.

7. Knows a few lost people and prays for their salvation.

8. Uses marketing techniques & business principles to draw people to a corporate gathering.

9. The goal is to produce salvation results.

10. Participants conform to man-made standards through guilt and pressure. Change is through self-will, not Spirit.

11. Faith is practiced at the church building during prescribed gathering times.

12. Worship is structured, predictable and orderly.

The Institutional Church:

1. Sends money to missionaries in foreign countries if it is convenient.

2. Exists for the members of the church: Join the Church.

3. Members expect pastors to bring in the lost and unchurched.

4. Has become a sub-culture of Christians living in a parallel universe.

5. Main focus is supporting church activities to attract new families.

6. Dependent upon pastors and staff to evangelize the lost.

7. Stays away from the lost; has very few dealings with those outside the church.

8. Uses tradition, denomination and family ties to attract and keep members.

9. The goal is to increase attendance.

10. Participants compartmentalize their religion and their lives – generally facades of religious adherence.

11. Faith is a routine activity that is private and personal.

12. Worship is ritualistic.

You can find the scoring tool at the end of the article.

Transitions: Culture

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I have not dropped off of the Blogosphere again.  i have actually been working on yet another graphic, affectionately dubbed “Art’s Charts” by Marty Duren.  At least I think that it is affectionate.  Maybe I’m deluding myself again.

If I am, I can only say that life’s more fun that way.

In the meantime, I need to prepare for that post by writing this one regarding culture as it relates to transitioning a church (or any organization, for that matter).

Culture can simply be defined as a system of values commonly held within a community.  These values guide the actions of the individuals and the whole.  Culture is also fluid as each individual within the community influences the others to increase or decrease its specific values.  So, culture is not uniform across a community.

As an example, within the world community, America has its own culture, distinguishable from England, French, Russian, Ugandan, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, Mexican and Kenyan… just to name a few.  Yet even within America, the differences between regions (North/South, Midwest/Northeast/West Coast) and even within regions (Louisiana/Georgia) is obvious to those immersed in those cultures.

All of this is to say that culture is as specific as the community to which it belongs.

For American churches, we deal with a massive host of ingredients: National, regional, state, local, evangelical/liturgical, denominational (or “non-denominational”) and so on.

The sway of these components create expectations among the individuals, and those expectations are as diverse as the individuals within the community.

If culture is a fluid, dynamic system of commonly held values that govern our behaviors, then there will be a fluid, dynamic of commonly held expectations that everyone involved will adhere to those values.  This in itself creates and holds tension within the community.

To attempt transition means that you are saying to the community that certain commonly held values are no longer held as high as they once were while certain other things previously not valued should be.  Some are likely to respond well as you will be championing similar values.

For others, it will seem that you are telling them that they are and have been wrong.

That may not be what you are trying to say (most times it shouldn’t be), but that’s the undertone and it will be noted.  And, it creates resistance.

It is why transitioning a church is one of the most difficult things we can do.  It is why deconstructing everything is important.  You need to understand the current culture to influence it.  You need to know what is going to cause people to throw out the anchor, and what is going to motivate them to make a change.

Questions to ask:

  1. What is the history of the church?
  2. What do they consider to be the “signature” of the church to the community?  What does that tell you of the values of the church?
  3. Who makes up the church?  What are the demographics?
  4. How open to change are they?  Have they realized that a shift in values is necessary?  To what extent are they ready?
  5. Find the primary influencers within the community. What do they value? How open to change are they?
  6. What does the church “do?”  What it does should tell you what it values.

Transitions: Deconstruction… Yes

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The Great Commission Task Force gave its preliminary report to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention last night.  To listen to the rearrangements proposed, you would have to consider that they did choose to deconstruct… I wonder if they deconstructed everything.

This is not an endorsement or even a commentary of whether or not I agree with their report.  It’s not a response in any way.  But it is a recognition that in moving the SBC from one thing to another, the group responsible for the initial direction has had to go through some similar processes as Pastors and lay leaders do when transitioning a church.

You do have to deconstruct – that is break down the elements that make the whole, understand how they work and why, comprehend the intended result and the actual result.  Then, knowing where you need to go, you can map out a change.

*Please note that deconstruction is not destruction.  I had one person message me with that misunderstanding and, of course, the two things are quite different.

The question I posed the other day was when transitioning, do you have to deconstruct EVERYTHING… or could you just process through the major systems?

While I asked for opinions, the only ones I received were in email form and twitter direct messages.  On the other hand, it was read at a much higher rate than any of my other posts in the year.

Nevertheless, even if everyone else is shy, I promised my answer and so I’ll give it now:  Yes.  You must deconstruct everything.

Truly, there will be things that you will not think to evaluate, but that you really should.  Simply put, the better you understand it all, the easier it will be.  While solid deconstruction and the understanding it produces does not guarantee success or even ease and failure to accomplish the process of deconstruction does not promise failure in the transition, the fruit of your efforts is greater and sweeter to all when a sweeping inventory is undertaken.

Transitions: Deconstructing… everything?

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As you may know, I’ve been pastor of Skelly Drive Baptist Church for three and a half years now.  The stated intent when I was called, by both the church and myself, was to transition the church from what it was into a church more effective at reaching today’s society.  You can read more about what I think that church might look like here: IVM.

While the specific form of the church is not the subject of this series of articles, the act of transitioning a church is.

Transitioning anything, especially an organization of people joined around a common perceived purpose, requires some level of deconstruction.  You must look at what the systems are, what they intend to produce, what they actually produce and what you want them to produce.  Only then will you be able know what to change to get them from one inefficient or misapplied system (if they need change) to the more efficient system.

But the process of deconstruction is a dangerous one.  Not everyone, particularly in a church that has it’s own history and exists within the American church culture, is a fan of change or is even capable of it.

And the nature of deconstruction in the collective mind is to explain to everyone why the way they’ve been doing it is WRONG.

That’s the way it is perceived, anyway, and it creates resistance.

All of this begs the question(s):  When transitioning, must you deconstruct everything?  Must all deconstruction be revealed to the full organization?  What is public and what is private?

I’ll leave you to opine on this today (if you will).  My thoughts and experiences later.

The Missional Church: A short, simple video

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I have been driven from my bloggy slumber by this awesome and short two minute video on the Missional Church.  If you already get the difference between a missional church and an institutional church, repost it for others to share.  If you don’t get it, then by all means, spend the two minutes to watch.  It is as simple a representation as you might possibly ever see & hear.

First seen by me on Todd Littleton’s blog, but then seen on Ed Stetzer’s blog just a few minutes later.

Yes, I read Todd’s blog before I read Ed’s.  Sorry, Ed. ;)

The year ahead and the swirl of uncertainty

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I drove home from Church Sunday after worshiping together with the Skelly Drive family for the first time in two weeks.  A blizzard had hit and knocked us out of our Christmas Eve service and later the Sunday morning service on the 27th.  The latter service being canceled kept everyone from being together, though our family had crept out of town on snow and ice covered roads to go with family to ski in New Mexico.

The crowd was down and I imagine that it had to do with people traveling and the fact that our roads were still a bit sketchy and we had another small bout of snow the night before.  It was good to be with my church family.

Still, as I drove home the powdered snow moved like vapor down the road before me and the city had a desolate look about it.  The dregs of the blizzard had been shoved to the side of the streets, building 2 foot high curbs of crusty slush now gray with dirt and exhaust and very few were out and about.

As I drove, I was mesmerized by the ebb and flow of the snow dust that swirled on the road before me, being chased by the wind that came from behind, it created a surreal vision.

There are so many things that are swirling through our church and my life right now, that the scene before me took on a deeper representation for me.

Curious to few, then, that I had felt led to preach on Matthew 11:25-30 just a few moments previous.  God’s like that.  Knows what you need before you have the slightest idea.

The Scripture?  You might recognize the closing words:

Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

I still feel a bit overwhelmed by it all, but I am so grateful that the success of all that swirls around me is not dependent on me, but upon the One Who Is Author of all things, simple and complex.

More to come soon…

Could it be?

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Has it really been 2 1/2 weeks since I last posted? And that just a video link?


Well, I haven’t lost my passion for writing.  Far from it.  I really miss it.

But I have been consumed with a fascinating task – that of leading my church through a major transition.

I plan on blogging this as well – particularly the specifics of the form to which we aspire – since I think it will be relevant for the majority of those who still drop in on this blog.

The transition?  From a Sunday School/Program primary structure to a Small Group/Corporate Worship primary structure.  Which is to say that we will still have some Sunday School and some programs, but they will be secondary in the self perception, intentionality and processes of who we are.  We are looking to change our DNA.

This is opposed, you might surmise, to simply adding Small Groups as yet another program to the church in hopes that this program will be the one that revitalizes a flailing church.

Well, again, I’m going to blogging about that in the future, and it is my great passion to do so, but I haven’t had the time.  My energies have been dissipated in the various tasks involved in actually doing that thing.

PS – You could pray for us.  It is difficult to accomplish such a change and we are laboring to do a great work.  Thanks!

Ed Stetzer & David Fitch

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A while ago, I posted a great video as pt. 1 of a Missional Conversation between Ed Stetzer and David Fitch, but I never saw the follow up videos.

I found them today and wanted to share, so here are all of them:

Ed Stetzer & David Fitch – a missional conversation from Missional Tribe on Vimeo.

Pt 2:

Pt. 3


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