Archive for December, 2014

2014 in review

December 29, 2014

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,200 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


We Are Holding Ourselves Back

December 1, 2014

Imagine that you are feeling tired and lousy and unmotivated. You think you must be sick. You think that there must be something medically wrong with you. So, you go to see your doctor and she examines you and runs some tests. Then she tells you that you do not have a disease or a virus or an infection. The problem is that you are smoking too much, drinking too much, eating too much, and exercising too little. If you make these changes, you will eventually feel great, have lots of energy, and have a more positive outlook on life. So, you ask your doctor, “But can’t you just give me some pills that will make me feel better?” She says no, there is no magic pill. You don’t want to just treat the symptoms, you want to treat the causes. You have the ability to get yourself into better shape. You are the only one who is holding yourself back. If you change your way of thinking and your habits, you can change how you feel and how you act.

I believe this is what is happening in the church in North America today. I think there are churches that have lost their passion, their energy, and their enthusiasm. I think there are churches that have lost their way, lost their sense of mission, and have difficulty articulating why they exist. I have visited worship services that made me yawn and attended committee meetings that made me wonder why we even met. I think there are churches that know that something needs to change, but have no idea what to do or how to go about it. They are looking for that magic pill or that perfect pastor that will make everything better. But, they don’t realize it is their own habits and patterns and lifestyles that are holding them back.

As George Bullard has recently written, “In American culture, too many congregations are looking for a short-term fix rather than a long-term solution. They want a pastor who is a magician who can help them become something extraordinary without having to change their church in a way that moves it outside their comfort zone. They want leadership that does not require them to alter their pattern of life, make sacrifices, or confront the fact that they prefer the comfort of their culture to the confrontation of living a prophetic lifestyle.” We are holding ourselves back.

I can’t count the number of church meetings I have sat through that have felt like a waste of time. Leaders have come in unprepared to lead a discussion or not knowing how to move a group forward. People have come in having done no homework and without any mental preparation to contribute to an important discussion. I have seen a lack of goals and direction. I have seen a complete focus on process without any consideration to a final product. I have sat through hours of “getting to know you” conversations, where we incessantly keep going around the room introducing ourselves to each other. Leaders don’t seem to realize that the way people really get to know each other is by engaging in some kind of missional activity together or by spending significant amounts of time in the scriptures together. We are holding ourselves back.

When people are invited to dream and imagine new possibilities for the future, they keep thinking of the greatest hits of the past, which worked many years ago, in a different cultural context, but which have little to no chance of working today. We live in a little church bubble and design events for the same small group of people who always come, not realizing that the vast majority of the community has absolutely no desire to come and see what we have planned. We are answering questions that no one is asking. We have become out of touch, isolated, and insulated from our communities. We don’t know how to think outside the box. We don’t know how to dream. We are holding ourselves back.

80% of churches in America today are plateaued or declining. There is a spiritual stagnation. There is a deficit of dreams. There is a failure of nerve. There is a loss of courage. Many churches are afraid to stick their necks out, to experiment, and to try something new. Many don’t succeed because their fear of failure gets in the way. We are holding ourselves back.

Sometimes the problem is that the leaders are afraid to lead. Sometimes the problem is that the followers refuse to follow. Sometimes it’s because we think that if we have been to the meeting and have talked about it, that we have done the work . (This is not true). Sometimes we don’t think to question others when they say that “this is just the way things are in the church” without realizing that they actually don’t have to be this way in the church. Sometimes we accept others’ answers that “we just need to go through the process which is really slow and takes a very long time” when that doesn’t have to be the case. We are holding ourselves back.

The problem is that many church cultures have built up bad habits and poor practices over many years. These become ingrained and can be very hard to change. If all we do is talk, nothing will change. A stagnant or declining church culture will only change when people begin to act differently. It will only happen when people get so desperate that they will risk being embarrassed, risk failing, and risk feeling awkward, that they are willing to try something new. The Bible calls this living by faith. We don’t think our way into new ways of acting. We act our way into new ways of thinking.

It is very hard for individuals to do this on their own. Most of us need the moral support of some others around us who are willing to go on a journey with us. We call these people the Body of Christ. It is a recovery of the Exodus story – God’s people on the move, going from one place to another, entering strange lands, trying new things, learning new things, and discovering a new and faithful way of life.

The church spends too much talking. The church spends too much time talking about the wrong things. We are holding ourselves back. A culture shift is needed in the life of the church today. Many churches are so stuck in a particular mindset, that they cannot make the needed shift by themselves. They need someone to come in from the outside and help them develop some new hypotheses, launch some new missional experiments, and see how the Holy Spirit will lead them.

We are holding ourselves back. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Churches can re-discover a new way of life in Jesus Christ. Old dogs can learn new tricks. The scriptures are all about the resurrection. What we thought was going to die can come back to life again. God can bring about new life in the valley of dry bones. God can restore hope where there is hopelessness, faith where there is doubt, and vision where we are blind. It’s time to stop holding ourselves back.
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