Cool church?

This is so encouraging to read – especially from a church with the size and influence of Life Church:

The American Church is not lacking for “cool” pastors. Like a single guy who is trying just-a-bit-too-hard to impress a girl, some churches are simply trying too hard to be cool.

I’m very encouraged to see a shifting in direction. For years, many of us seemed focused on:

  • Designing relevant church experiences.
  • Producing entertaining videos.
  • Creating inviting environments.
  • Crafting sermon series to draw a crowd.
  • Writing sermons with shock value and plenty of humor or stories.

While all of the above can be effective tools, many of my friends are intentionally moving in a stronger direction. So many great Christian leaders are seeing far better results with:

  • Bathing a sermon in prayer.
  • Fasting regularly.
  • Practicing personal confession and repentance.
  • Preaching from the overflow of time alone in God’s word.
  • Caring deeply for others in biblical community.

I’m thrilled so many leaders are placing less emphasis on being cool and more emphasis on being like Christ.

Relevance matters as long as we define relevance as meeting people where they are at a point of need. But it’s so easy to spend time fighting a battle we won’t win. We can have fun and tell great, meaningful stories. That’s good and important. But if it’s about the flash and cool-factor alone, we’ll never beat Hollywood, Comedy Central, or even SNL! Creativity is great, but there’s something more to our message.

Who has the power?

It’s easy for Christians to struggle with this idea of “sacred” vs. “secular.” You’ve seen it. It’s the whole idea that “Christian” music is good, while “non-Christian” music is bad. Or that a “pastor” is more holy than a postal worker. Neil Cole has been doing a series of posts about this false division. I love what he says here:

The way we try and remove ourselves from the “secular” world for fear of losing our spiritual power demonstrates that we actually believe more in the power of the darkness than we do in the light of Jesus Christ. Ouch!

I would rather have small faith in a substantive thing than have great faith in a flimsy thing. Jesus said it only takes the faith of a mustard seed to move mountains when that small faith is in the right person.

Read his whole post here.

[thanks to Aaron for the link]

Catch some behind-the-scenes interviews on church planting and more

For those of you who may not follow some of the big blogs that are involved in it, Rick Warren is hosting a summit for a select group of pastors, and a group of bloggers has been busy live-streaming interviews all day. I just watched an interview with Rick McKinley and Bob Roberts – two guys I really respect for how they’re actually engaging the culture around them and the world. As a church we’re getting better at talking missional, but it’s great to hear some stories from some folks who are actually doing it.

Oh, and don’t tell my wife, but I’m about to order three books because Bob recommended them.

They’ll just have to sit on the shelf for a little while, but I’m excited to dig into some brain-stretching thoughts on how we can engage the world in a global society.

If you want to check it out, the interview is here. Seriously. If you’re interested in church planting or what it means for a church to step outside of it’s walls, this is a good place to learn a little about missional thinking, global engagement, and finding mentors.

The live stream is here with links to all of today’s interviews. There are a lot of big names – Perry Noble, Nelson Searcy, Mark Batterson, Kerri Shook, Mark Driscoll and more…

Becoming missional communities

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be a “missional community” – how small groups can organize around outward mission that enables those relationships with God and each other to grow and be developed along the way. Alan Hirsch has a lot of great things to say about this here.

The problem is, life isn’t giving me much time to think, and I haven’t been able to put much of it into words to share here. But never fear! There are people much smarter than I’ll ever be talking about the same stuff. Here are a couple of pieces of good “thought food” from Drew Goodmanson.

I’m serious. It’s good, thick stuff. Take some time to look at it. If you need more of an intro to some of the ideas, read the Hirsch article above first. It’s from a different perspective, but it’ll begin to give you a framework through which to process the ideas.

Organic Movement – Reverse Church Planting
Today, a lot of what is called church planting is really starting a new 1 hour service for people to attend.  There’s a belief that just by opening your doors and great preaching, you will start a revolution.

Leading a Missional Community
A Missional Community (MC) is a committed core of believers who live out the mission of God together in a specific area or to a particular people group by demonstrating the gospel in tangible forms and declaring the gospel to others – both those who believe it and those who are being exposed to it.

Multiplying Missional Communities
As our communities gather rdinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality, we should both pray for and expect the Spirit to work among us.

Jesus, sinners, and you

I’m always amazed at how Jesus not only hung around rough crowds filled with corrupt businessmen, prostitutes, and sinners but how those crowds actually wanted to be around Jesus. How does that happen? His message essentially tells them they need to change, but they invite him to parties.

When I’m in a new group and want them to “like” me, my first instinct is to impress them. If I look the right way and say the right things, they’ll think I’m cool and want me around, right?

Yeah. It’s a lousy approach. You can work to impress people, or you can try to connect with them. Impressing involves working to send all the right signals. Connecting involves spending a lot more time listening, asking questions, and sharing stories. It’s being who you are and caring about the other person rather than showing off a certain look or feel.

So the down-and-out crowded to be around Jesus. But today, most people outside of church avoid Christians like the plague. Part of the problem, it seems, is that while Jesus worked to connect, we’re working to impress.

I’m convinced it’s all about love. Jesus’ love was attractive. Somehow, the amount he cared about the people he was around came through enough that it was the message.

For us as individuals and the church, it’s a freeing message. Be yourself and love people.

It doesn’t mean we have to soften the rough edges of Christianity that might offend. Just be yourself and love people.

It doesn’t mean we have to lead perfect lives so everyone can see what a Christian should be like. Just be yourself and love people.

It doesn’t mean that our creative church services must be perfect every Sunday. Just be yourself and love people.

For some folks, this call is more difficult. It’s easier to put on a show than to simply be. But God’s call to love God and love others is centered around that type of relationship. Jesus’ call to “follow me” focuses on those relationships as well.

So how about this. Stop worrying about impressing people. Follow God. Be yourself. Love people.

Remove jargon. Communicate clearly.

The more you’re a part of a subculture, the more you speak that culture’s language. That’s all fine and good until you need to communicate with someone outside of that culture.

It happens in the church world. Phrases and expectations can be completely odd to the newcomer. And let me tell you – seminary doesn’t help. Most Christians wouldn’t know what half the stuff seminary students talk about means.

Want to know what it feels like to be someone walking into a jargon-filled church for the first time? Watch this…

[ht: 22 Words]

Presence and proximity

Real connection – real progress – is about presence and proximity. This even applies in businesses. Google talks about it below (From the Google Blog).

Traders in the same location tend to make the same trades at the same time. The trades of cubemates within a small radius is the best predictor we found. By using a record of historical office changes, we could observe that the correlation begins shortly after people are seated nearby. It makes sense, because the physical proximity enables easy communication. As Eric Schmidt (our CEO) and Hal Varian (now our Chief Economist) advised in 2005: “The best way to make communication easy is to put team members within a few feet of each other. No telephone tag, no e-mail delay, no waiting for a reply.” As you can see below, our finding about the importance of proximity holds, even once we account for many other factors.

This is stepping past what they were discussing, but I really believe that intimacy comes in moments. We get close to people over a long period of time, but it’s just because it takes a long time of having fun together, building trust, and spending our lives together for those moments to happen that bind us. It’s those memories of moments of laughter, of pain, of life-changing realizations.

Sometimes, the most important factor in connection is simply presence.

Monday Morning Links: Christianity on CNN and Leadership

Just a few things that caught my eye this morning…

> Ed Stetzer was interviewed on CNN recently about some of the research he’s done on unchurched folks’ opinions about Christians. Here’s a clip.

> John Moore of Brand Autopsy posts a great quote from Tom Peters on how leaders are rarely the best performers. It’s encouraging, because I find myself in the place often where I’m more passionate and gifted at helping other people find their fit and succeed in a role than I would be at doing that role myself. I care more about the equipping, vision, and people side of it. Sure, we need to be competent and ready to do that same work, but leadership is a different gift that is worth focusing on…

Challenged by action

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I’m glad I am taking the time to go through seminary. It’s a chance to ask the big “God questions” before someone else asks me. It gives me the time and tools to consider what I really believe. It gives me a background and perspective on the Bible that enriches my ability to follow God and to lead and teach others.

But sometimes it’s … so … draining. If you’re not careful, it can become completely removed from any sort of “real life” or any sort of real application. “Faith” can become something that’s all in your head – not something that’s believed with your heart and emotions or your feet and actions.

That’s why I love hearing stories like Aaron‘s. He’s a guy I kind of worked with at NorthWood. He’s working in a group called Intentional Communities in Fort Worth and headed out to Las Vegas. God’s using him to do some awesome stuff. Here’s a little of what he has to say. Take some time to read a few of the stories linked below.

There are guys in the “emerging/organic/simple/house church” movement who are somewhat disenfranchised with the church as an institution. Many of them have taken up a new hobby of bad mouthing the church that doesn’t look like theirs, which happens to meet in a living room. This is a terrible approach. Not only does this cause even more division among the body of Christ, it is arrogant and prideful. Philippians chapter 2 speaks of a unification that occurs through humility. Thinking that I’m right and everyone else is wrong is not humility, and cannot birth unity. The issue is not a debate between who is right and who is wrong. Too often in the church time is wasted arguing and discussing who’s right about this and that, who does church “right”, who’s doctrine is correct, etc. I wonder if the Lord isn’t thinking to Himself, “man, they just don’t get it…I thought I made it pretty clear in my word that their purpose is to glorify me, and become more like me.”

Knowing is great, but Jesus’ main call was simply, “follow me.” I want to follow Jesus

Partner for impact

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I mentioned Elevation in an earlier post. In my “research” (aka googling “Elevation Church”), I also found a site that tells how you can connect with the church. They’re doing something cool for outreach

“Instead of replicating ministries already doing a great job reaching out to meet specific needs in our community, we’ve identified the need and defined local programs we see as best matching up with the heart of Elevation’s Core Values.”

Partnerships to two things – they help churches multiply impact by not recreating the wheel and they allow Christians to form relationships with and work alongside people who aren’t Christ-followers.

In churches that stay busy, it’s easy to be doing so many things “on the campus” that all of your real friends are members of your church. By partnering with organizations – and actively pushing your church folk to get involved serving somewhere – you actively serve the community and develop relationships with others.

It’s one way to look outside as a church.

Something I love about mega churches is …

… that they do the communication thing really well.

Great pastors. Great teaching. Great media and videos.

Like the piece at the end of this post from North Point.

Like almost anything LifeChurch(.tv) does.

Even cool stuff from Granger. Newspring. Elevation.

Mosaic does some amazingly creative stuff.

Because of where I am and how God’s leading me, I’m interested in some styles of church that look different from the mega models. But I love the way they communicate with excellence.

Leadership hinges on discipleship

We all have different giftings and passions. Even in the same field, one person may have a different emphasis than another. When I was in journalism, I worked with writers who focused on sports, features, and “hard news.”

It’s time to see pastors in the same light. There’s not one proper style for church leadership. Most pastors see themselves in a traditional “shepherding” role, but God calls different people to different places at different times. That’s why I love how Alan Hirsch talks about APEPT leadership. People are each gifted with different pieces of the Ephesians 4 model.

I’m more of an “Apostolic” type of guy. I get fired up seeing the church mobilized to serve and reach out to the world around them. I really do believe that if we try to start with ministry, we’ll never get to mission. But if we start with mission, ministry will happen along the way.

So when a guy like Bob Roberts writes something like this, I just have to post it.

If churches, denominations, networks, etc. put as much energy and resources into making disciples as they did organizing events, institutions, etc., I’m convinced it would speed up engagement dramatically. I hate the terminology using “platforms” to engage society. You don’t have to. Make disciples, help them understand their primary ministry is their vocation and that it should be lived out as a disciple and you’ll see God work and move. This is the only way the Gospel can, and will ever, be viral. I heard an incredible preacher last night at a gathering and he said, “too many churches have become like prisons. We’ve built prisons and the pastor is the warden. We should be in the business of releasing–not holding on.”

Preach it, Bob!

Here’s Alan’s take on a similar subject:

If this is not already obvious by now let me say it more explicitly: the quality of the church’s leadership is directly proportional to the quality of discipleship. If we fail in the area of making disciples we should not be surprised if we fail in the area of leadership development. I think many of the problems that the church faces in trying to cultivate missional leadership for the challenges of the 21st century would be resolved if we were to focus the solution to the problem on something prior to leadership development per se, namely that of discipleship first. Discipleship is primary, leadership is always secondary. And leadership, to be genuinely Christian, must always reflect Christlikeness and therefore…discipleship.

Study finds that most young non-Christians don’t like Christianity

LA Times: Christianity’s image taking a turn for the worse

Christianity’s image in the United States is declining, especially among young people, according to a new study.

A decade ago, an overwhelming majority of non-Christians, including people between the ages 16 and 29, were “favorably” disposed toward Christianity’s role in society. But today, just 16% of non-Christians in that age group had a “good impression” of the religion, according to research by the Barna Group, a Ventura firm that has tracked trends related to values, beliefs and attitudes since 1984.

Evangelicals come under the severest attack, with just 3% of the 16- to 29-year-old non-Christians indicating favorable views toward this subgroup of believers.

… Among the most common perceptions held by young non-Christians about American Christianity were that it is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%) and too involved in politics (75%).

Read the whole article here. Most of the info is from the new book, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity … and Why it Matters.

There’s a lot that could be said here, but what do you think? What does this mean for Christians today? For churches?