January 12, 2009

Mind Stretch by Group

I was at Group Publishing today in Loveland Colorado to dialogue about the condition of vision and leadership development in the church.  I had a great morning with Thom and Joani Schultz (Thom founded the organization 35 years ago.)  The facility is impressive with 350 employes and two notable accomplishments: 1) The sell more VBS curriculum than any other publisher, 2) They are repeatedly mentioned as a great place to work from folks who measure those sorts of things. What I liked best about the place is that you could sense the ministry-corporate culture they have created. 

I enjoyed time with the new leadership of the pastor resources (including Rev magazine) – Dave Thornton and Brian Proffit.  In particular, I was struck by a mind stretch vision that Group has with the Church Volunteer Central initiative. They call it the 80/20 vision by 2020.  The idea is that they want to reverse the 20% of the folks doing all the work in the church by seeing a general trend toward 80% involvement from churches who use their equipping resources. Is that a Big Hairy Audacious Goal or what?  The heartbeat of the place was inspiring! 
January 11, 2009

Defining the Essence

On my way to the airport today for my next two days in Denver and then Tampa, I realized that I left my computer at home. Losing 30 minutes compromised my finely tuned planning, which has developed over 8 years of departing from Houston’s Hobby airport. After my time loss, I knew I could still make my flight but not check-in my extra bag. There was only one solution-eliminate and do it quickly. The next 20 minutes of driving I went through the “essentials only” mental checklist. In the parking garage I rearranged and eliminated until my bulging carry-on could take no more.

Interestingly it was a satisfying experience because all the essentials made it. Once again I felt the complexity and weight of allowing non-essentials into my mind and ultimately my suitcase. The forced “concentration by elimination” exercise was ultimately refreshing though initially frustrating.

This is the exact kind of exercise that individuals and organizations can go through to clarify and apply the essence of their calling or their mission.

As coincidence would have it I started a new book on the plane- The Power of Less by Leo Babauta (2009). What’s his first principle? “By setting limitations we must choose the essential. So in everything you do learn to set limitations.”

January 9, 2009

Creative Problem Solving

Years ago, I digested materials related to "creative problem solving" (CPS) and practiced the skill with the Auxano team at one of our annual off-sites called "Resync."  I am amazed at how valuable the experience can even though it is rarely used in the church.  In fact, in the last 20 years of ministry (from seminary, to pastoring, to carnivorously devouring conferences, to full-time consulting)  I HAVE NEVER HEARD ANYONE TEACH OR PRACTICE CPS in a ministry setting. 

Here is the basic assumption of the process:  We starting solving problems too quickly, before we have really defined the nature of the problem. Therefore we must brainstorm and collaborate to state the problem accurately before we impatiently run at potential solutions.  It is in the process of determining the precise way of stating the problem that genius arises. 

Yesterday at Faithbridge, I facilitated a problem solving meeting that arose from a 700 person unanticipated attendance spike on January 4th services.  Even though we only had a 3-1/2 block of time, I spent the first 45 minutes stating the problem. Here are some of the alternative ways we stated the problem:
  • How might we shift satisfied worshippers at the 9:30 and 11:00 to a different service time?
  • How might we provide three "Live" venue worship opportunities on Sunday morning?  
  • What's stopping us from creating alternative entrance/exit access roads?  
  • How might we simply shift services times in a way that solves every other problem?  
  • How might we accommodate 1000 more people without modifying the facility? 
  • What's stopping us from doing a capital campaign/phase II immediately? 
  • How might we better clarify our long-term strategy with worship styles and venues?   
  • What's stopping us from adding 250 parking spaces immediately?
  • How might we add more square footage for worship venues with the existing facility?  

Next time you are solving a problem, start by trying to state the problem in the form of a question as may ways as possible using the "How might we…" and "What's stopping us…" question template.  

January 8, 2009

Geeks and God: Church Unique Shout Out

Picture 11
While at Concordia Lutheran in San Antonio today, TJ, their tech guru, mentioned that the Geeks and God podcast/resource did a nice promo of Church Unique. Check out the three minute review at 12:20 in the podcast entitled "Tech You Can't Live Without."

January 6, 2009

Excerpt from Andy Crouch’s Culture Making

From the chapter “Gestures and Postures,” Andy Crouch clarifies how the Gospel writers worked to contextualize their message about Jesus Christ to the culture.

How have Christians related to the vast and complex enterprise of culture?  The answers are as varied as the times and places where Christians have lived. When Christians arrive in a new cultural setting, whether a village in the highlands of Thailand or a Thai fusion restaurant in the East Village, they encounter an already-rich heritage of world making.  One of the remarkable things about culture, as we observed in chapter four, is that it is never thin or incomplete.  Culture is always full.  Human beings need culture too much—language, food, clothing, stories, art, meaning—to endure its absence.  So from its first years taking root in Palestine to its astonishing dispersion into nations around the world, Christian faith has always had to contend with well-developed and, usually, stable and satisfying cultural systems.

What have Christians made of the world? Consider the four Gospels of the Bible, each one a cultural product designed to introduce the good news in a culturally relevant way.

Matthew begins his Gospel this way:  “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mt 1:1).  His story finds its place in the meaning-making system of Jewish symbolism and textual interpretation.  Matthew’s Jesus correlates closely with major figures of Jewish history—Moses on the mountain, David the King—recapitulating familiar stories and fulfilling long-held expectations.

Mark, while just as aware of Jesus’ Jewish heritage, seems much more engaged with the cultural heritage of Rome.  He begins:  “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1). The Greek word euangelion, here translated “good news” but commonly translated “gospel” (making Mark the only Gospel writer to actually call his work a “gospel”), referred to an official proclamation of good news, in particular the Roman practice of sending out heralds to declare victory of Rome’s foes.  But this euangelion is about a very different kind of victory, one that is paradoxically won at the very moment of apparent defeat by Rome itself.  Mark’s story, in distinction to Matthew’s, is not about fulfilled expectations but confounded ones.

Luke, meanwhile, takes on the mantle of a Greek historian, beginning his stately and rhythmic account with the epistolary preface that Greek readers expected, addressing his reader, “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3).  He is careful to note that he has consulted a wide variety of sources and pays close attention, in both his Gospel and its sequel, Acts, to details of medicine, business, politics and geography.

John takes up the Jewish philosophical tradition of a thinker like Philo, blending in the first sentence of his Gospel the Hebrew creation story (“In the beginning…”) with the rarified vocabulary of Greek metaphysics (“…was the logos”).

And in the end each Gospel writer also adopts a different attitude toward the prevailing culture.  Luke is broadly positive toward the righteous Gentiles who were probably his primary audience.  He traces the apostle Paul’s journey to Rome, the center of the dominant culture, with evident hope that this journey would spread the gospel to the ends of the earth.  Matthew, Mark and John each seem less certain that the cultures they engage will be welcome homes for the message they are bringing.  The world that “God so loved” in John 3:16 is by John 15:18 the world that “hated me before it hated you.”  The Jewish tradition that Matthew so reveres is also the source of the Pharisaism that his Jesus excoriates.  The euangelion of Mark is upside-down good news, in which the King goes willingly to defeat rather than bravely to victory, overturning the expectations of friend and foe alike.

So already in the four initial, inspired retellings of the story of Jesus, we start to see divergent approaches to culture.

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