Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Purpose Centered vs. Preference Driven Church

I am in Seattle today sitting at the PNW cabinet table listening to consultant, Rev. Doug Anderson's teaching. Leadership is often about asking the right questions. He is asking three questions. The first is this.

Why are 90% of United Methodist Churches either at a plateau or declining?

purpose centered_______________________________preference driven

Doug's response: All churches are on a continuum between purpose centered and preference driven. Churches who are strongly on the preference driven side will be in decline. Preference driven churches tend to be churches where a small group of people have gained the power to make most of the decisions. How does this happen?
1. Money
2. People who do many things in the church
3. Certain families have clout
4. Conflict - Power group often wins.  Others lose.
Churches in a regular cycle of conflict are often on the preference side of the continuum.

Difference between power and energy.  Energy is non-directional, unharnessed.  Power is directed energy that leads to actual work.  Preference driven churches may or may not have energy.  But purpose centered churches have power.

When speaking to SPRC's of Alaska churches receiving a new pastor this year I have said, "Don't ask your congregation what you want in a new pastor. Ask them what you need in a new pastor that will help you achieve your mission." Church really needs to be about mission and purpose, not our personal preferences.

More to come!


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Venture in the Desert

I am in the desert. Spiritually, I am not doing well. At least in the sense that I am not feeling God's presence. I still pray in my prayer closet which is an empty space under the stairs in my home, but not as much. I still worship in our churches. I still give. I still try to do acts of love. But inside I am feeling the ache of emptiness.

And all of this is actually a good thing. In church culture we all too often create an environment where very real human experiences like loneliness, emotional distance from our spouses, and lack of connection with God cannot be shared. So we force a smile and pretend that everything is okay. Do you ever wonder how many broken lives in our churches lie just behind the smiles we see on Sunday mornings?

And then there is the pressure pastors feel to have it all together for their congregations. Surely, everyone expects their superintendent to be spiritually together! Well, I'm not! People still ask me how I like my job. I always hesitate because I am weighing which answer to give them. The one they likely want to hear, that it is all going very well. Or the one that is honest and doesn't lend itself very well to moving on to the next topic of conversation.

Ash Wednesday is a great time to acknowledge before my spiritual community that I am in the desert. As the Psalmist says, "It is a dry and weary place where there is no water." Lent is a time for all of us to come out of the shadows of a pretend spiritual life.

Last week I was holding my granddaughter, Isabella. Here is a child of God who does not yet know that she is loved by her grandpa. She even cries while in my arms, seemingly unhappy to experience my love. But there will come a day when Isabella will know in her heart that Grandpa loves her.

So it is that I hold onto the promise of God that one day I will feel the breath of God in my soul. Until then I walk by faith. I walk in the desert. And it is all good.

Grace and peace,

Monday, February 13, 2012

Generation Gaps

Last week at the Professional Church Worker's Retreat we heard generations expert, Amy Lynch, talk about how generational differences affect how we do church.  It was eye-opening for all of us as we began to understand, for example, why young people of the Millennial generation are not coming to our churches.  Rather than label a generation as being "lazy" or "old-fashioned" we learned to appreciate the forces that have shaped each generation.

I suggest our preachers consider holding a Generations Sunday where we all would address the topic in a sermon and find creative ways to get our generations to understand one another.  What if some churches invited Millennials who don't go to the church come and help us understand why they don't?  What if Baby Boomers talked about their optimism and understanding of endless youth?

The most important learning I received was that we need to eliminate the labeling and blaming across generations.  We need to appreciate the gifts of each as we strive to include all people in the work of God in the Church of Christ.

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Reasons for the Ruts

Last Sunday I shared with Anchor Park UMC in a sermon the reasons why the distance between our railroad tracks is four feet, eight and one half inches.  The reason the rail distance is this odd number is because that's the way they built them in England, and American railroads were built by British expatriates.  Why did the English adopt that particular gauge?  Because the people who built the pre-railroad tramways used that gauge.  They in turn were locked into that gauge because the people who built tramways used the same standards and tools they had used for building wagons, which were set on a gauge of four feet, eight-and-one-half inches.  Why were wagons built to that scale? Because with any other size, the wheels did not match the old wheel ruts on the roads.  You see where this is going, don’t you?
So who built these old rutted roads?  The first long-distance highways in Europe were built by Imperial Rome for the benefit of their legions. The roads have been in use ever since. The ruts were first made by Roman war chariots.  Four feet, eight-and-one-half inches was the width a chariot needed to be to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses.
Someone has said that the seven last words of the church are: “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”  Perhaps you are the kind of person who dislikes this attitude.  Such an attitude stifles creativity and ingenuity.  It conjures images of stuffy people who wouldn’t change their routine if their lives depended on it.  We need to understand and appreciate our history so we can understand the ruts that keep us on a certain road. 
But we also need to step out of the old ruts so we can forge a new path, one that will put us in touch with people where they are.  We need to be on a path that stretches and challenges us and moves us out of our comfort zones.  We need to be on a path where the Spirit of God guides us, not the old ruts!  
Old ruts.  It can feel comfortable to know where we going, or rather, where we are NOT going.  In this age of change the Church needs to cultivate a culture of experimentation.  Try new things.  Take some risks.  The Church can not afford to be on the tail end of a cultural shift.  We need to be at the forefront.  We need to get our wagons out of the ruts!

Grace and peace,