Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2009: Year of the Missional "Reboot"?

Futurist Marian Salzman appeared on CNN this morning with some great insights into trends we can expect in 2009. One that caught my attention was the following:

It will be the year of the “reboot”. You know how when your computer just won’t respond to regular commands or nothing else seems to work, all you can do is reboot and start all over again? Well, Salzman observes that many of the segments of our society: education, economics, politics, etc. are at a point where none of the old programs seem to work and what is needed is a reboot, a totally new look at how we do things and what approach we will use for the future.

I thought the same could easily be said for the church. So much of what we have done in the past under the Christendom model just does not seem to work anymore. What’s needed is a missional reboot, a new look at how we do things and what approach we will use for the future. The direction that reboot will take is something we address in this blog all the time. The question is how stuck do some congregations need to get before they realize it is either reboot or crash?

Check the full CNN interview below, and if you want more on the practical task of "rebooting" a church for mission, check the excellent article from Alban Institute on "The Messy Work of Renewal." (Click here)

Embedded video from CNN Video

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Jumping the Missional Sigmoid Curve

Way back in 1994, Peter Drucker wrote a piece for the old Net Fax network on “Jumping the Sigmoid Curve.” (Click here for download It seems things last forever in cyberspace!)

Drucker pointed out that one of the more useful tools in understanding the natural life cycle of a product, an organization, a church or even a relationship is the sigmoid or S curve. The secret to constant growth is to start a new S curve before the first one ends and the right place to start the second curve is at point A when there is the time, energy and resources to get the new curve through its initial stages before the first curve plateaus and declines.

Most organizations, of course, do not begin a new cycle until point B. The reason is that at point A everything seems to be going fine, so why change things. Another reason is that change may initially produce a drop during a time of learning and acceptance, as shown in the shaded area, and so change is filled with anxiety.

As I speak to congregations about becoming missional churches, I often point out that churches go through this same life cycle of mission. I’ve made up a little chart using a fishing analogy.

When a congregation first starts out, it is focused around being “fishers of people,” and built upon the Great Commission. As time goes on, however, attention shifts from fishing to maintaining the shed. The congregation still knows where the fishing tackle is and still pulls it out for regular “evangelism” activities, but the energy of the congregation is on keeping the shed in good repair and those within it comfortable. Finally, a congregation may reach a stage where most of its energy is focused on maintenance and finance and structure and serving the needs of those within the shed. The bones of mission are dragged out a couple of times a year for a sermon or two, but they are not part of the fabric of the congregation.

Another illustration I use is this one. When a congregation starts out, it has mission and vision in the driver’s seat, but as time goes on, finance and structure move to the front and mission and vision take a back seat.

How long does the cycle take? For some congregations it takes only ten years, for others much longer. An expert in mission planting once said that the best place to plant a new church is not necessarily a new community or a growing community, but a community where all the churches are at least 35 years old. By that time most congregations have reached the peak of the sigmoid curve.

Where is your congregation on the sigmoid curve? Where are you in your own ministry? I found that every seven or eight years I had to do something significant to jump start my ministry like starting my doctoral program or taking a sabbatical. And every year I need to commit to regular reading and workshops and continuing education. Congregations need to do the same thing. How will you jump the missional sigmoid curve in 2009? Where will you begin? (Hint: Start with theology, not programs. What you need to do is change the culture of your congregation from an establishment culture to a missional culture. Your “culture” is like the default setting on your computer. A particular program may change the default while that program is being used, but unless the default (culture) is changed, you go right back to the default when the program is ended. Culture change starts by examining your theology and ecclesiology.) Who will help you change? Gather a group of like minded people and seek out a mentor for yourself.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Afterthoughts: The Wait is Over

One of the changes that comes from moving from parish ministry to judicatory or consulting ministry is that one gets to listen to other people preach on a regular basis. During this Christmas week I’ve been blessed to hear some fine sermons. One was by Pastor Tom Clocker, guest proclaimer at Holy Nativity Lutheran Church in Arbutus, Maryland, on Christmas Eve. (Click here for Holy Nativity) Pastor Clocker skillfully painted the word picture of a waiting room in the labor and delivery section of an old hospital where friends and relatives had gathered to welcome the birth of a long awaited child. All of the emotions were there: hope, anxiety, dreams. But this waiting room was filled with Old Testament personalities: Adam and Eve, Abraham, David, Moses, and others. And each of them shared the same longings, anxieties, hopes, and shortcomings as those of us who had gathered at Holy Nativity on this Christmas Eve. And then the Good News was proclaimed to all of us: The wait is over! The Child is born! All the longings, anxieties, hopes, and shortcomings have been addressed for them, for us, and for those to come.

It brought to mind a poem I also read this week. The poem is by Todd Hiestand and entitled “The Wait is Over”. (Click here for a slideshow presentation of Hiestand’s poem.)

God is with us.
Listen again…
God is with us.
God. Is. With. Us.
God is with you.
But God is with me?
You don’t need to come to Jesus.
He’s has come to you.
He has pursued you.
Loves you.
Yes, you.
The wait is over.

Another fine sermon I heard was by Pastor Martin Schultheis at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Catonsville, MD, (click here) on the Sunday before Christmas. Pastor Schultheis preached on the OT lesson for Advent 4, Year B, 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, a portion of which is as follows:

7:1 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent." 3 Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you." 4 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: 5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" 8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: … the LORD will make you a house. 16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.

Pastor Schultheis connected with the busyness of our culture getting ready for Christmas. All the emphasis is on what WE are doing as we shop, bake, visit, prepare. Even in the church, we may think of our Christmas celebration as something we do for God. The truth is that Christmas is about what God does for us, not what we do for Him. When David wanted to build a house for God, God said, “Have I ever asked, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Instead, He tells Nathan to tell David that God will make a house for David – not a house of cedar, but a house and a kingdom that shall be sure forever. At Christmas God still is the giver, the doer, the servant. Christmas is not what we make it, but what He has made it. It is a gift from God, and a gift that shall last into eternity.

The following video gives a similar message:

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Christmas Gospel in a "Peanut" Shell

Charles Schulz,raised in the Lutheran Church and later active in the Church of God (Anderson), often had his "Peanuts" characters speak a gospel witness. This Linus monologue needs no comment.
Blessed Christmas to all!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Luke 2 as a "Wordle"

"Wordle"s are word cloud pictures computer generated from any text according to a formula weighted by the number of times a word is used in a text. You can create your own Wordle at http://www.wordle.net (click here).
Just for fun I ran the Christmas story,Luke 2:1-12 (KJV), through the Wordle generator and got the "word cloud" you see in this post. What impressed me about it was how non-theological the whole thing appeared. No big words like redemption, reconciliation, expiation, justification, or even incarnation. Yet the whole message is the mystery of the incarnation--God coming down into a real world filled with place names, people's names, fear, joy, taxation, government, poverty, childbirth.
Kelly Fryer, in her book, Reclaiming the "L" Word, ("L" for Lutheran) tells a story in which a professor goes to the chalkboard, draws a big arrow pointing straight down, and says, "If you want to know what it is to be a Christian, and especially to be Lutheran, you better remember this: God comes down! God always comes down. He comes down whether we are rich or poor, white or Black, healthy or ill. God comes down because we cannot come up to Him." That' s what happened at Christmas. God came down into this Wordle -- or World-- because we could not come up.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Consumerism, Credit (credo) Crisis, and the Church

I ran across this picture a couple of days ago. A collage of prosperity and poverty created in the 1940’s and upon which someone has superimposed “2008”. It says much about race and class and economic theory and a host of other issues that are foundational, cyclical, yet seldom in the forefront of our consciousness. But an economic downturn and a credit crisis can bring some of those issues to the forefront of our thought and make them cry out for examination.

One of those issues is that of “consumerism.” Consumerism is the theory that a progressively greater consumption of goods is economically beneficial. On a personal level, consumerism is the equation of personal happiness with consumption and the purchase of material possessions.

Many critics reduce consumerism to the individual pursuit of material comfort that inevitably leads to spiritual bankruptcy. In this time of economic recession, especially as it coincides with the Christmas shopping season, the Christian media and many sermons are full of moralistic pronouncements that denounce a society for its wickedness, and prophesy its downfall. A few, however, go beyond condemnation to help us understand how the church might respond to a society whose faith in consumerism has been shaken.

The reality is that consumeris
m is not simply about individual greed, but has played a foundational role in a culture that values liberty and democracy and has made it a part of “The American Way of Life”. Gary Cross, in his book, An All-Consuming Century: Why Commercial-
ism Won in Modern America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000, points out that consumerism gave concrete shape to liberty by providing various means for personal expression. It fostered democracy by enabling diverse groups to share in the ownership and use of goods. What is consumed is not only material goods, but personal identity independent of the old world social and class constraints on what persons could enter the cultural mainstream. But Cross also notes that it has done this at the cost of other values. The satisfaction of immediate needs may replace the desire to search for higher goals. Immediate satisfaction takes the place of constraint. The need to fulfill my need makes the need of community secondary and undermines long-lasting commitments. We risk losing key virtues that stabilize and promote social life: care for others, compromise, friendship, responsibility to the past, and a felt obligation for the future.

America’s faith in consumerism has been shaken by the twofold developments of environmentalism and recession. The god of Mammon has not only failed many, but it has corrupted our environment and shown its evil head in new ways never envisioned by even the strongest proponents of consumerism and unfettered capitalism. Adam Hamilton, in an article, “Faith, Hope, and the Credit Crisis,” (click here for full article) points out that “credit” is a word that is a p
art of the language of faith. It comes from the Latin credere—to believe or to trust. The present active form of this word—credo, “I believe”—opens the Apostle’s Creed. In the case of credit, belief or trust is placed in the borrower and his or her willingness and ability to repay. Our current economic crisis is in part about misplaced trust or faith between debtors and lenders.

Hamilton observes that neither the $700 billion bailout package, nor a Federal Reserve interest rate cut, nor presidential calls for calm seem to adequately speak to the underlying issues that precipitated this crisis of faith. This is a moment when the Bible and people of faith have both the timely word that can calm fears, the most accurate assessment of what fundamentally led to the current economic debacle, and the demonstration of hope and concern from a reconciling community.

The opportunity is there for the church to speak once again to society about those values which bring true meaning, purpose, and identity to life. But our message must not simply be one of condemnation, but of demonstration. A group called “The Advent Conspiracy” puts forth a message direct
ed primarily at Christians, but which also communicates to non-Christians. (See video)

A key message of the video is that Jesus gave himself relationally, incarnationally, with time, space, and presence. During this difficult economic time, the church has opportunity to reach out as Jesus did: relationally, incarnationally, with time, space, and presence to those who feel abandoned by the god of Mammon – the homeless, the unemployed, the hungry, and those who feel worthless because they are worth less. (Click on the post “The Year of the Grasshopper” on my “Consecrated Stewards “ blog for more thoughts.) Certainly this is done through the contributions we make to charitable groups, but even more effectively when the local church and the individual Christian reaches out not just financially, but relationally, incarnationally, with time, space, and presence to those who feel abandoned.

the witness to be given in these times is not simply one of condemnation and repentance. There is a witness of God’s redeeming grace that gives true joy and meaning to life. Fellow Lutheran, Art Simon, in his book, How Much is Enough? Hungering for God in an Affluent Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003) shows that when the church is faithful to the mission of Christ it produces personal and social well-being that far surpasses the gains of consumerism. The call away from consumerism is not a call to dour asceticism, but rather an invitation to joy, an invitation to celebrate, as Simon says, God’s extravagant grace.
Simon also points repeatedly to the social and community dimensions of Christian living, dimensions of life ignored by consumerism. Christian life is lived outward, which means that it is directed to others in acts of sharing, encouragement, and mutual upbuilding. “Power used selfishly is power corrupted. Ability wasted is power corrupted. But opportunity to do good, received as a trust from God and exercised to help others, is power ennobled” (p. 100).

The church, in these difficult times, has opportunity to do good, received as a trust from God and exercised to help others. And in that exercise, it becomes power ennobled, for it becomes an instrument of the gospel to bring the good news to the poor – who finally realize how poor they are, regardless of their bank accounts.

+++ For additional resources on stewardship and consumerism, including art, worship resources, articles, study guides, see Baylor University Center for Christian Ethics. (Click Here)

Monday, December 15, 2008

O Come, Emmanuel! Rejoice and Reach Out

A blessed Advent season to all! As you listen to the ancient hymn below, sung in contemporary style, consider the fact that God in His nature is a missional God who comes into the world to be Emmanuel, “God with us.” Once again He comes to us in this Advent season, and once again He sends us to a world waiting for the good news He still brings. “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel!”