Methods and Content and Needs (oh, my!)

There is a tension between methods, content, and needs. With tensions we often pit one against each other, or take the “both/and” approach. This pours into another tendency; using nebulous terms such as balance, equilibrium or compromise. Everyone defines balance differently. We love to prioritize, especially if we’re analytical types, or just make bigger messes, if we’re mystical ministry as art types. How do we navigate these big three things?

The big three defined
What do I mean by methods and content and needs? Here are some definitions with examples of how they look when taken to an extreme:

Methods: What we do.
On steroids? Over emphasis on the non-biblical.. aka maximizing leadership, synergistic program developments, the latest greatest book based on statistical analysis.

Content: Who we are, theology.
On steroids? Over emphasis on the biblical… aka comatose preachy preaching, Word studies from languages we don’t speak, dead orthodoxy.

Needs: Where people around us are at.
On Steroids? Over emphasis on doing… aka the social Gospel, building self-help groupies, incredible families enterprises, political action.

What we need is balance right? In a word, no. Equilibrium? Not so much. Both/and? Sigh. These concepts often get people thinking in terms of 50/50 or compromise. I believe God cares about all three.

Think organic
The body is an incredible organic analogy. No one thinks to prioritize the heart, lungs or brain. Without each of these things you’re quite dead, and perhaps this is why many ministries are dying. We think in terms of health. We seek to sharpen our minds, and build a strong cardiovascular system. These are both keys to a long healthy life.

How the disciples succeeded
In Acts 6 the church was not healthy in an area. Hellenistic widows were being overlooked (need). The old program was not working and a new one was needed (methods). The Apostles recognized that focusing their energy on that problem would take away from what was essential, God’s Word and prayer (content). These things could have been in tension, but they weren’t. Rather the situation called for radical change, an opportunity to live out the Gospel and repentance, and a chance to reaffirm who we are. The church moved forward and God’s power was unleashed.

Where the disciples learned success
WWJD? Luke tells another story. 5,000 men were hungry and in need of food (need). The disciples thought the best idea was to send them away: there wasn’t enough food or enough money to feed everyone (program). Jesus was not about to stop what was essential, His teaching (content). Did  the disciples pass this test? No. But, they learned and God’s power was evident. (When we lack in an area, God will provide.)

The lesson
The disciples learned from failure that ministry is about health. Methods, content, and needs must have an intentional active focus. They did not sacrifice one area to bolster another. They brought up the weaker area through the power of God, while continuing the other essential areas. They changed when needed, tackled opportunities when they arrived, and kept their message front and center.

The bottom line
Think organically. The overall health of your ministry is related to the health of the three areas discussed. Ask: How is your health?

Methods:
Are in you a rut or open to radical change?
How well are you leading?
What steps of change or improvement have you taken lately?

Content:
How well do you know and understand God?
Are you still a student to the Bible & Theology?
What was the last theological topic you’ve studied lately?

Needs:
Do you know where your people are at?
When was the last time you studied your community to see how you can best serve?
How has your ministry demonstrated compassion?

Why Not Wednesday: Touching History…Creating Irony

There are few times when you realize that you’re not just seeing or reading about history, but you’re touching and hearing it in a way that is profound. I’ve had a few of those moments, but this one was unique. Not long ago I went to the Restoration Center for the Museum of Flight in Everett, Washington. I went to see a plane, but walked away with something unexpected. This event led me to believe we need more irony in ministry.

The Story

Being a plane buff, and not losing my awe and wonder aspect from my childhood, I just had to visit the center (I was afraid to fly as a child, ironic). The main reason for my visit was in having hopes fulfilled of boarding a de Havilland Comet. The Comet was the first jetliner, designed during late WW II in Britain. To actually board one was a dream come true. I remember seeing pictures of it in books or web sites about aviation. It was a beautiful plane. Amazing how the one I was on flew in 1959, ten years after the first one flew. (It was also a bit ironic to be onboard a British made plane that was used by a Mexican airliner only yards away from the Boeing factory.) So, mission accomplished, I set my mind to look at the other stuff, and then head for home.

Irony is the state of affairs that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects to find. As I interacted with some of the volunteers who restore aircraft, I was amazed by the quality of their work and the amount of time they took, normally about 10-15 years per aircraft. These guys in their retirement years seem more productive then many my age. A whole blog post could be written on their work ethic. Some of the guys took us to a photo album and shared stories about war stories, lost friends or projects they had done. This moved beyond the seeing history to hearing and touching it in a profound way. One gentlemen really stood out, though.  Ironically again, he doesn’t like planes, he just loves electronics.

This gentleman grew up in Eastern Europe and started to head West during WWII. He learned multiple skills, languages and talents to gain the “freedom” (as he put it) of the West. This eventually led to him being able to come to the New World. Feeling a lack of education, he had a passion to be a life-long learner and still pursues that, though his time is invested more in reflection now. Visiting with me at the time was a friend who works regularly with electronics. My friend stated, “This man has already forgotten more than I’ll ever know.” The gentlemen worked on technologies still employed successfully today, and is still hard at work using his skills. His story was the interaction of history, passion, family, love, pride and work. His last words to me were: “Pastor, I don’t know why God put me through all this and allowed me to go through what I did. But, I pray the Lord’s Prayer every night, in the five languages I’ve learned. This gives me great peace.”

The conversations with these seasoned men was a profound experience. It led to a greater appreciation for life, freedom, hard work, and friendship. Reflecting on this experience, I wonder how many people would actually hear and understand the implications of what these men shared. Then, I realized some would. It may be one, it may be more, and the epiphany may come years down the road. It happens at ironic moments.

Here is the Why Not:

We need to cultivate irony. Preaching and teaching cultivates and readies the ground for the ironic moments of life to take route. Learning may happen during teaching and preaching, but change, understanding and epiphany often occur in the most weird or unexpected venues. It occurs in the hallway, the older person sharing a story or comment, bed time conversations, but rarely in the classroom. Training your ministry team to cultivate and prepare for irony, or the unexpected, is just as important as training to teach well. And this thought came from a person who was scared of flying as a boy, is a plane buff… well, you heard the story. But, here is the thing: The one group of people who have the ability to fully produce irony in our ministries is seasoned saints.

Book Review: Think Orange by Reggie Joiner

“As leaders our primary purpose is not to keep our children in church, but to lead them to be the church.” (p. 217)

Think Orange will be the defining work on Children’s Ministry & Family Ministry for quite some time. A significant discussion within the church is the relationships between the church, the family, and the various generations within both. From a methodology standpoint, Think Orange gives a road map to answer these questions. The book’s strengths are in explaining the why and what questions of a Family Ministry. There are other resources by the ReThink group that address the how.

The why question is critical
While there are many who do not appreciate or think philosophically, what you believe truly effects what you do. Reggie Joiner does an excellent job of explaining the essential role of both the family, the church and how they are combined and interact through leveraging community. A continual frustration of mine in Children’s Ministry is how programs or materials merely view parents as important, not essential. Think Orange views parents as essential! The combination or synergy of the family with church produced produces a powerful result. Reggie states: “2 combined influences make a greater impact than just 2 influences.” (p. 15) This principle, along with others, gives practical guidance to living out the truths of Scripture, in particular the parents’ role in discipling their children and the church’s role in equipping the saints for ministry.

The what question is helpful
What is needed is a collaborative model for family ministry, and not a hap hazard, random, or departmentalized one. Essential #1: Integrate Strategy, starting on page 110, is the most critical section answering what we need. A professor of mine often used the term “braiding,” getting various things to work together.  Having an integrated strategy helps all areas of family ministry to be on the same team and working towards the same goal. Said another way, it teaches children about the church by being a church. As a child grow up in the church, he or she is taken to another level at each life stage, including transitions between life stages. With society causing more and more fragmentation, the church needs to be a place that brings people together. Think Orange understands the equilibrium between families together, age appropriateness, and being one church. This equilibrium is a result from Reggie high view of community. Children are not the church of tomorrow but the church of today.

Final Thoughts
The book’s design and layout is helpful for those who are sequential & analytical thinkers, or the more abstract & random thinkers. It offers many ideas, discussion questions and insights. The book can be read sequentially, treated as a manual or encyclopedia on family ministry methodology. The charts and quotes that stand out were extremely well done and help to navigate the book.

Reggie shares frequently how the ideas translated into what was done at North Point. One should be careful to distinguish between example and what is/ what works at North Point. This is normally distinguishable, but there are times when it may be confusing. This is not a criticism, just something to be aware of. Another point that stands out and one should be aware of is Reggie’s humility. He gives permission to disagree with him, and even states that he may disagree with himself. This tone and attitude is refreshing and should be more prevalent within the church.

The Bottom Line
Think Orange is a critical work to navigate through if you are serious about impacting yours and other children to be the church, not merely attend church! Its strength is in family ministry methodology, with a close secondary strength in ministry philosophy.

Good Friday?

The name Good Friday seems weird to me. It does not quite fit. As I reflect on the death of Jesus, I wish I could rename it. Good Friday does not capture the full essence of the day.

The Good is not good

That Jesus had to suffer the absolute greatest injustice of all doesn’t fit the word good. Jesus did no wrong. He was the epitome of holiness, both perfect and set apart for God’s Will. It is marked by the rejection of a promised one who would usher in a new era of peace, prosperity, and worship. The rejection, used for the benefit of many, is still a rejection and not good. On top of this, the day is marked by death, an unnatural state that exists because of sin. Again, not good. That a father had to turn his back on a son who did nothing but obey and honor his father’s will is at the heart of sadness. None of this is good.

I know, the adage is that we call it good because Jesus died and paid the penalty for our sin. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t cut it for me.

The Good is an infinite understatement

Any sporting event we watch where a person does the impossible, we don’t say “It was a good game.” Good does not capture the incredible essence of what was done. Jesus demonstrated the impossible. He demonstrated perfect humility. He demonstrated the very essence of sacrifice both in a religious sense and love. Jesus, in utter agony, lead a person to heaven, took care of his mother, friends and enemies, and honored the Father who turned His back. On top of all this, Jesus did not abolish the sin of the present, or the past, but all eternity! He started the countdown to making sin only a somber historical concept and not a current struggle. To merely call this good seems shameful.

We need a new name

What Jesus did is the epitome of the commonly used word Epic. What Jesus did was perfect Sacrifice. What Jesus did was THE mark of Grace. What Jesus did was the greatest act of Reconciliation. We for sure need a new name.

If you could rename “Good Friday,” what would you call it?

Relevant!

Relevant, defined by the Oxford American Dictionary, means closely connected or appropriate to the matter at hand. If there is ever a battle in any ministry, it is relevancy! The key issue is that to be relevant means to change to match or be appropriate to the matter at hand. You cannot remain relevant and have no change. To keep relevant is to keep changing. Experiences in my life often get me to ponder what exactly the battle for relevancy is.

The battle of relevancy is keeping our mission as the driving force of our ministry.
What too often happens in ministry is that program drives the ministry and not the mission. (For those who like things defined, a program is simply what we do. To have no program is a program in and of itself.) Both the refusal to change (stubbornness) or the fear of being irrelevant (restlessness) are examples of the program driving the ministry. Change for change’s sake is not relevancy any more than maintaining traditions is faithfulness. In both cases the driving force is not the mission.

Relevancy is faithfulness to the mission!
As situations, opportunities, or just plain life occur, so will the need for change. The question that should drive change is: Are we fulfilling our mission to the fullest of our ability?  If the mission is what drives the ministry there will be times when a good program must go for a better one. If the mission is what drives the ministry there will be times when everyone else is changing, but we must maintain what we are doing. In the battle of relevancy, we rejoice when the answer is to keep doing what we are doing, and we roll up our sleeves with eagerness when the answer is a call to change. Faithfulness to our mission is demonstrated when we constantly live out our mission in our ministry. Relevancy is lost when the goal is relevancy or when change never happens. In both cases the program drives the ministry: ‘We gotta keep current.’ ‘If it was good enough for Paul.’ Both are ill. But when God gives us a mission, life happens. We ask for the mountains to conquer. And if we see a more effective way of doing things, we celebrate what God did with the former, and we act in faith with the new changes ahead.

Halls of Fame…
The real tradition of a church is God’s Word, and the specific mission that God has called a particular church too. Programs will change if a church is relevant. But, what God’s Word teaches, and the mission God calls a church to should not. It is very easy to begin equating our programs with or as theology. Such is false. Programs serve the the function of living out what God’s Word says and what the church’s mission is. As the meaning of God’s Word is specific, the application is often broad. As we better understand God by studying His Word (theology), it should be readily apparent the need to change ourselves and our churches to match up with who Christ is (application). Churches must never become ‘museums.’ In our communities churches must become ‘halls of fame’ of God’s Grace. For in times past, today and in the future, the church must proclaim the immeasurable greatness of who God is. They must inspire anew those who are seeking to become like Christ while eagerly expecting His return. Halls of fame celebrate and respect the past, while at the same time inspire and build anticipation of what is to come. And, while the actual game changes very little (all analogies break down at some point) how new generations of players engage in the ‘game’ keep it fresh, alive and exciting. God’s Word never changes, nor our mission. But, with a never changing foundation begs the question: What’s next?

Why Not Wednesday?

This is my redux into blogging. Writing helps sharpen and clarify ideas, generate discussion, and help expand one’s thinking. I find blogging to be a great forum because ideas can be fairly processed, and still “raw” or in their infancy.  What I enjoy about blogging is you enjoy the real-time struggle of ideas, or a person’s reflection on them. After being away for a while, I thought it was time to jump back in.

Why Blog?
I love books, classes and workshops (oh my). However, the ideas are often much more polished and removed. This is a good thing. Polished presentations are not an enemy. What I find is great works later generate into workshops which then generate books and then generate into classrooms. They are far removed from the start of their “success” or venture, often by years. Who wouldn’t like to be a fly on the wall during early discussions of great works? Blogging allows some insight into this.

The Idea
I read a quote that many great ideas were lost because they were not written down. Or, perhaps failed and did not have the resources or discussion needed to make them great. The other side of great works is they just pursued something and it happened. Success is based on two things: God and community (1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4). The advantage now of social media is the expansion of leveraging community.  I am not saying I have great ideas, or even good ones for that matter. Many have heard the cliche the journey is more important then the destination. That’s the intent of this blog. It’s my journey for better or worse.

Why Not?
“Why Not Wednesdays’ deals with creativity and off the wall ideas. It’s the drawing board, or better said the napkin. The ideas may not work, barely work, or are just out there. They can be as little as a game idea, or as big as a new methodology. Living out what we believe should encourage us to take risks, fail often, and be pleasantly surprised when God crabs a hold of something and lets it work. That is another aspect of ‘Why Not Wednesday;’ If it aint broke, break it!

The bottom line:
I’m blogging to sharpen my ideas and writing ability. I will be discussing things I’m passionate about: learning, dreams, and living out what I believe. I thought it would be appropriate to start posting on Wednesday, as that is the day I’ll deal with the dreaming and creativity aspect of life and ministry.