As Jesus followers we are called into the Kingdom Life. This blog will help us converse and learn what that means. It will contain thoughts on Scripture, Sermon Reflection, Leadership Training and interesting reads. -Pastor Jeff

Monday, August 25, 2014

4 Damaging Decisions Churches Make

In any organization, including churches, there are explicit values (those that are articulated) and implicit values (those that inform the actions and ambitions of an organization that few people name.)  The problem I encounter often, especially in churches, is that the explicit values don't match the implicit values.  Explicit values can be honorable and noble, however, if they are only values in name, and less noble values drive the organization, explicit values are worthless.

Values may be implicit, however, we are prone to make decisions that reveal these values in key ways.  Implicit values are revealed in structuring, budgetary concerns, human resourcing, agendas, and systems of reward.  Below I've listed 4 decisions churches make that reveal the implicit values behind their operations.

Statistics over Stories:  In a bottom line culture, numbers drive the agenda for most organizations.  Numbers are metrics through which the health and vitality of an organization is measured.  There is nothing inherently evil about numbers and statistics.  Quantifiable results can be helpful in a number of ways.  Unfortunately, when statistics are enmeshed in a system of reward, statistics become the primary target churches aim toward.  For instance... "How many got saved this year?"  (This question is asked to evaluate the effectiveness of a church and the esteem that should be afforded the leader)  Enter number X.  Now ask the question, "What are their names?"  Enter Blank Stare.  There's even an anger present in such moments.  "Why does that matter?"  This is a result of statistical pressure.  The church should value people as names and stories before being numbered and categorized.

Production over Preparation:  Last week I had the pleasure of walking through a large manufacturing plant.  I was amazed at the strategic exactness that goes into every minute detail present in the process from beginning to end.  Efficiency is key in an operation as large as the one I witnessed.  Output is essential to the economic strength of the company.  In a setting like that, conveyor belt production is absolutely necessary.  When did the church start thinking it could replicate that process?  We are so consumed with the production of vital statistics mentioned above, that we will look for those with an eye for efficiency, a knack for charisma, and need to succeed and drop them into process and then (due to the implicit values) pressure them to produce.  However, we failed to ask the question as to whether or not this person has been properly prepared for the role they are assuming.  Preparation, mentorship, and patience are key in the health of churches that seek to train up followers of Jesus instead of mass-producing statistical results.    

Vanity over Vulnerability:  We have succumbed to the cult of personality that drives our culture.  We are enamored with big names, best-selling authors, leadership moguls, and those that have the appearance of having it all together.  Leaders often feel implicit pressure to compete with others in their line of work.  Church leaders work to preserve image even in the face of trying and sometimes suffocating situations.  Admitting need is akin to weakness or letting down those that have entrusted you with the task of preparation.  Admitting need might negatively impact the possibility for future advancement.  This implicit value contributes to the collapse of too many ministries.  What is required is a culture of vulnerability that makes possible sustaining relationships of accountability, encouragement, and mutual support. 

Organizational Structure over Organic Life:  This one is tough for me.  I love organizational structures.  I love schematics.  I appreciate flow charts.  I love long range planning meetings.  Please hear me...THERE IS  PLACE FOR ALL OF THIS IN THE CHURCH!  However, when this becomes an implicit value over people, the structuring forgets the primary mission of the church is people.  Organizational structuring mustn't be so sterile and "pick-n-plug" that it negates that real life people with real life struggles and issues make up the organization.  Too many church leaders are frustrated by the inability of their volunteers to yield the expected results, especially since they developed a "can't fail" organizational structure.  This frustration is often the result of blaming the inefficiency of volunteers to produce the metrics by which the church leader will be approved.  The church is not primarily an organization.  It is an organism, a living breathing entity made of living parts.  There is an ebb and flow to life in an organism.  There are seasons that organisms weather.  Sometimes parts of the organisms get sick and need to nurtured back to health.  Organic life takes into account the peculiarity of living beings who don't always do what is expected.

Right now, we want to say...we don't do that.  We don't value those things.  You might be right.  However, if you consistently yield unintended consequences, it may be time to evaluate whether or not there are implicit values driving the organization. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

6 Failings a Leader MUST Correct

I am a big believer in the power of failure to shape and mold a leader into a more proficient person.  If as a leader we aren’t failing, then we probably aren’t trying anything worthy of following.  Failures are the anvil on which our leadership potential is hammered out.  However, there are a few failings that I believe, if aren’t corrected, will eventually erode potential and make illegitimate supposed success. 

1.)     Failing to be Sensitive to the Needs of the Family:  Most leaders feel the constant pressure to perform and produce.  Unfortunately, succumbing to that pressure often leads to a great strain upon the family.  Families suffer when success is placed over the stability of the household.  A leader must be sensitive to the family, carving out strategic time for children and emotional availability to the spouse.  Failing to listen to the family may produce quantifiable results in your field of leadership, but it leaves in its wake a whole host of regrets and pain.

2.)    Failing to Ask for Help:  Most leaders feel the need to portray an “I got this” attitude.  They feel that strong leaders cannot be vulnerable.  Any organization worth leading can’t be led by one person.  We are by nature limited.  We encounter (or should) situations outside our proficiencies.  Sometimes the very weight of responsibility is far too heavy to carry on our own.  Leaders must be willing to let down the guard.  They must be willing to recognize that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness but a sign of integrity that often garners the respect of those being led. 

3.)    Failing to Identify Strong Mentors:  Let me help you out leader… “You are not the greatest leader ever to step foot on the planet….You have much to learn.”  Each of us must have voices that we trust and that intentionally speak into our lives.  We need those that will challenge us in areas where we are slipping (especially as it pertains to character), those that will ask probing questions, those we trust to hold us accountable in all areas of our lives.  Strong mentors play a vital role in refining our character, our proficiencies, our attitudes, and our potential.  

4.)    Failing to be Consistent:  A leader who wears two faces is a poser.  Leaders will often master the art of appearing one way in public and another in private.  Those in the private spaces of life are those that most often suffer.  A true leader is one that is the same in whatever places they find themselves.   They are consistent.  They have integrity.  Producing results and leading people to accomplish something larger than themselves are two different things.  Any poser can produce results.  However, only one who is authentic, genuine, and consistent can lead people well, leaving a legacy of which they can be proud.  

5.)    Failing to be Patient:  Potential, promise, and preparedness aren’t the same.  Leaders often stand out in organizations.  If not careful, they can fall prey to the rock star pressure or the poster child syndrome.  Organizations can put pressure on promising leaders to step into roles that they are not prepared for nor adequately equipped to succeed.  However, because they are considered rock stars and promoted as poster children, such pressure strokes the ego and causes the leader to give in, even when patience, learning, and waiting would have been the best option.  A true leader knows the power of discerning the time.

6.)    Failing to Learn from our Failing:  This is huge!  Failure as a leader is inevitable.  If you think you can lead your whole life and never fail, you will have a stroke by 40.  No, accept it.  You will fail.  And remember those failures can be an anvil on which our potential is hammered out.  However, if we are bound to repeat our failures, attempting to do the same things over and over believing “this time it will work,” we will undermine the power of failure.  Our lives will erode.  No matter how much potential you have, it will be wasted.  Acknowledge failure.  Name the failure.  Learn from the failure.  Move on toward a better outcome!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

More than Keeping the Card Handy

Yesterday, we began breaking down unconditional love.  Unconditional love is one of the core values of BridgeWay and has been essential in creating a contagious culture.  However, yesterday we started to discuss how difficult that value is to embody.  So for the next few days, I am going to break down in detail what I shared briefly yesterday: Uncondtional Love is an Experience, an Orientation, an Encounter, a Way of Being, a Struggle. 

An Experience:  When you are playing Monopoly, everyone likes to keep a "Get Out of Jail Free Card" handy, just in case.  It means we get off free and don't have to pay a dime.  You never know when you might need that.  Unfortunately a lot of Christians treat salvation like a Hasbro Monopoly Card.  When we think of salvation, we often think solely in terms of exchange. - I did bad.  I deserved jail time (hell).  Jesus rolled the dice.  He paid the price.  He gave me the card.  Now I get off free. - Sound familiar.  If you've grown up in a protestant evangelical church, you've probably heard some version of this exchange.  So our appreciation for what the Story of God reveals in Jesus can be boiled down to God dealing with the guilt I have over the my sin.  Is that really it?

I'm sorry, I can't believe that's it.  I really tend to believe that something bigger is happening here.  I believe that what salvation restores is a relationship and doesn't simply offer a convenient card.  According to the story of God, relationships are restored through the actions of love.  In the case of humanity and God, the relationship is restored through the Self-Giving Holy Love of God.  God gives himself in the person of Jesus as an act of superabundant love, a love that knows no boundaries or limits.  It is a love that springs from a resevoir that never runs out.  It is a love that plumbs the depth of human brokenness and sin, a love that confronts the darkest evil and most vehemently rebellious.  It is love that isn't easily deterred.  It is love that reaches down into the muck and mire of this world, risks all measure of pollution, perversion, and pain in hopes to reclaim what we

The call to unconditional love begins at the point of experiencing that unconditional love.  When the full power of God's passion for us, the full weight of His patience, the full grit of His tenacity meets us head on, the journey begins.  In that moment we are undone.  We are unraveled.  How is it that the One who is Holy Love, whose identity is pure love would rescue a sinner such as I.  Our "who is man that you are mindful of us?" is eclipsed by God's response "you are mine, I love you and would do anything for you."  This love overwhelms, overshadows our shame and guilt.  It encompasses, wrapping us in a shroud of God's intimate desire to know us and be known by us.  It is a love that pierces through our most fortified resistance and peers into the darkest corners of our lives.  It is a love that dismantles our insecurities.  The story of God is NOT about a Hasbro Monopoly card transaction.  It is about a love affair.

It is here that the response to live by unconditional love begins. 

 Ephesians 3:14-20 (The Message)
My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

An Experience, An Orientation, An Encounter, A Way of Being, A Struggle

Today we pick up where we’ve left off.  We’ve been defining the contagious culture of BridgeWay.  We’ve been looking deep into the core values, our DNA, those values that form the foundation of all we do.  As you may have noticed, I’ve slowed down on my blog posts recently.  To be honest, I thought authenticity was difficult.  Then I arrived at today’s core value…and it stopped me in my tracks, again. 
unconditional love.  What do you do with that?  There isn’t one of us that wouldn’t admit how imposing this value is and how difficult it is to live out.  Many of us would want to say, “unconditional love is beyond me.”  I’d want to say…you are right (I’ll explain that more in a moment.)  So, if we are going to look at unconditional love, we can’t be trite or offer sweet sentimentality.  We’ve got to take this seriously…because Love is at the heart of God’s Story and the identity of God himself.  What I want to suggest to us today is unconditional love aren’t so much words to be defined as it is an experience, an orientation, an encounter, a way of being, and a struggle.   Let me explain (and I may expound on this for the next couple of days). 

1.)     An Experience:  I believe our journey into unconditional love begins with an experience of God.  In a sense, unconditional love is a value that is better caught than taught.  Those who’ve been turned upside down and inside out by the all-consuming nature of God’s love know what I mean.  God loves without limits.  God loves prior to us deserving to be loved.  God loves in a tenacious never give up kind of way.  God loves even when we have turned our back.  God loves us often in spite of ourselves.  Those that have encountered the richness of God’s love and allowed it to seep into the core of their being have started the journey toward unconditional love.

2.)    An Orientation:  Having been unraveled by the love of God, we have placed in our hearts the capacity to see the world differently than we once did.  We see the world as broken, pained, sinful, desperate, and needy.  We see it that way because we realize God first saw us that way and still loved us.  In seeing the world differently we find ourselves oriented to the world in the posture of compassion, acceptance, mercy, forgiveness…all components of unconditional love.  Instead of beginning by looking for boundaries and markers of who is loveable, our orientation believes that all are loved by God and hence loveable by us.  

3.)    An Encounter:  Unconditional love is never a theory.  Unconditional love requires the regular practice of encounter.  To love unconditionally is to put ourselves out there, willing to encounter “the other,” those most unlike us, where they are.  This encounter shifts the ground underneath our feet.  Every encounter carries with it the implicit possibility of being affected by the encounter.  We learn to love unconditionally as we practice encounter and learn how difficult some make it to love them well.  But remember our initial experience always reminds us how difficult we can make it for God to love us.

4.)    A Way of Being:  Truthfully this should have come earlier in the list.  When we began I noted that unconditional love is beyond us and I hold to that.  That should make this blog rather unnecessary right?  No.  Unconditional love is beyond us in our natural selves.  We are too inclined to choose practices of selfishness, stipulations, and affinity for those most like us.  However, unconditional love pushes well beyond that.  We are only able to love unconditionally as we are filled with the Spirit of God regularly.  The Spirit of God active in our lives becomes the source and well-spring of love.  It requires a peculiar way of being in this world.  It is a way of being that requires regular surrender and submission to the Spirit.  It means the practices of regularly nurturing our relationship with God.

5.)    A Struggle:  This should be self-explanatory and in some ways it is.  It’s tough to love unconditionally and is worked out in daily interactions and relationships that often push us to the edge.   But it is also a struggle because we have to define that love in light or our relationships.  Context is important.  Unconditional love is not a one size fits all prescription.  Unconditional love doesn’t mean we allow ourselves to be door mats for abuse.  Unconditional love in some instances requires tough love.  Unconditional love refuses to enable destructive behavior.  Unconditional love stays open to forgiveness, embrace, and mercy.  However, it recognizes the need for justice and protection of the weak and vulnerable. 

So yeah, this is a start.  I think perhaps we will look at some of this a bit deeper throughout the week. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Let's Get Real

So, I've been wanting to write this blog for the last few days, but I haven't felt comfortable with the direction it should take.  We've been exploring the contagious ethos of BridgeWay Community Church for the last week, the contagious culture that has continued to reach people throughout the communities.  This culture has been given descriptive voice through the core values of the church.  So far we've looked at intentionality, transformation, and 100% Commitment to Christ.   We move to our fourth core value, authenticity.  Now this should be a no brainer...right?  We value everyone being real, no need to put on a show or be fake.  Done...short blog.  Hold up, not so fast.  I think there is more to authenticity than that.  Here is why...

1.)  Perhaps, you've been in churches where there has been a pressure to be something you are not.  It's as if some churches have a mold that in order to fit, you must pour yourself into the mold.  If it fits, you fit.  If it doesn't, you won't last.  If you've had that kind of experience, the thought of authenticity can be very contagious.  God has wired all of us in very unique way.  Our call to follow Jesus takes very seriously our specific place in a life, our life experiences, our personalities, our wiring.  Being a Jesus follower is definitely not a "one size fits all" mold.  Being a Jesus follower is given expression in our own unique lives. 

2.)  Authenticity gives people the permission to come as they are.  There is no pressure to clean up your act before you come.  Jesus meets us right where we are, each and every day.  That's awesome right?  At BridgeWay we have people arrive from all walks of life.  They come!  No pressure!  Acceptance is an integral part of valuing authenticity!  That's awesome right?  Authenticity acknowledges that we are all very much on a journey of Jesus following.  None of us have arrived and we aren't given permission to look down on those that are at a different place in their journey.  We walk together, honestly without the need for masks.

Here is where most of us would stop with our description of authenticity...but here's where we have to push on a bit further.

3.)  If we aren't careful, "authenticity" can be a word we use to make excuses for our spiritual complacency, our unconfessed sin, or our sloppiness in following Jesus.  This is what I call fake "authenticity."  This is the kind of authenticity that demands to have things my way on my terms.  As followers of Jesus, we celebrate the call to acceptance, we don't celebrate overt rebellion against God's intentions in the name of "letting people be who they are."  Wait, Jeff...this is sounding pretty judgmental...I know right.  Now you know why I hesitated a week in writing this.  I have seen conflict, pain, disorder, chaos, hurt feelings, abuse, neglect all in the name of letting people be "authentic."  That doesn't cut it for Jesus followers.

Why?...and here is what the Lord added to all this for me.

4.)  To be authentic means to be genuine, the real McCoy, the original.  But here's the problem.  When we are living outside of who Jesus called us to be, we are all fakes, cheap knock-offs.  God has an intention for each of our lives.  He has dreams of who you and I would be.  We were "knit together in our mother's wombs" and we are "fearfully and wonderfully made."  Messy, sinful, and rebellious living leads us far from that intention.  We can only be authentic as we follow Jesus.  If authenticity is used as permission for people to live as cheap knock offs...we are doing them a disservice.  We are to encourage one another to press on and take hold of that which Christ has taken hold of us.  We are called to take the journey toward becoming more and more authentic each day.  We model "real" authenticity by chasing after Jesus. 

At BridgeWay we very deliberately say, "Come as you are."  "Come as who you are."  "We have no one-size-fits-all mold."  "Just come!"  But in the name of authenticity we also say, "Who you are right now is not the genuine authentic you God has created you to be."  Only in following Jesus can that person be realized.  Only in following Jesus within the context of a community will we even know what that means. 

So let's get masks we get busy about getting real (following Jesus) together! 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Contagious Ethos = Core Values (Part 3) let's review.  Throughout this week we are looking at what makes the culture (ethos) of BridgeWay Contagious.  The leadership team of BridgeWay has been strategic throughout the life of the church to lay a foundation of core values that influence and affect everything that's a part of BridgeWay's Vision.  Some might say it is the DNA that runs through the life of the church.  So far we've dealt with:
1.)  Intentionality:  BridgeWay is picky, ensuring that what we do is in line with our Mission, Vision, and Strategy.  We always want to err on the side of being strategic instead of throwing stuff together or doing anything just because it's a good idea.
2.)  Transformation:  We value life change.  Period.  We long to create an environment where we arrive as we are but give God access to the deepest places of our lives to do a work of change...making all things new.  We seek to allow God to make us into the people God has created us to be. 

Today...let's deal with number 3!

3.)  100% Commitment to Christ:  This morning I was deeply convicted.  I was reading in the book of Joshua and in the 14th Chapter Caleb is described as following God "whole-heartedly."  That's quite a descriptor right?  Would people say that of my life I wonder? 

Caleb was a key player in the life of the people of Israel in the early journey in the Old Testament.  He was a man of faith, he stood on the side of God even when a majority of voices opted for fear.  He waited patiently for God to work out his plans.  He fought faithfully in battles against the enemies.  Near the end of his life as God is about to reward him for all Caleb has done, he is described as a Whole-Hearted God Follower.  That's huge!

I think many of us would like to say, "That's me!"  It has been my experience, however, that most of us reserve a portion of our hearts to serve our own desires, our own agendas, our own security, our own comfort.  Come on now, be honest.  Where do you fall...30%, 50%, 83.25%?  How much of your heart have you reserved for other things? 

Being contagious with our faith is about being on the journey toward 100% commitment to what God has called us to in Jesus Christ.  Remember, yesterday we talked about being on our way.  However, being on our way means we are yearning to be "all-in." We are, by the grace of God, through the power of prayer, by radical submission, seeking to give Jesus our all...without remainder.  Being contagious means constantly aligning ourselves to Jesus' Kingdom purposes in this world.  It means yielding every corner and crevice of our lives to Him who longs to do more with our lives than we could ever imagine. 

Being contagious means as a church that we are not known for Sunday Morning Experience, cool music, fun events or any of that stuff that is very good and very important.  It means being known throughout the community as those that place Jesus at the center of everything we do.  It means making His passion priority over our preferences.  It means following Jesus by giving ourselves away to those that He gave himself away for, the least, the last, the lost! 

How all in are you?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Contagious Ethos = Core Values (Part 2)

A friend of mine is fond of saying, "God loves us just as we are, but loves us too much to leave us as we are."  I think this one statement captures much of what is at the heart of God's passion for our lives.   God without a doubt meets us where we are.  He loves us.  His love is preemptive.  It comes before anything we do and anything we change in our lives.  In fact the Bible says, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)  There is nothing more you could do to earn the love of God.  It comes completely without any of our own merit.  That is very good news. 

However, God's love is thorough.  It's a love that once received moves into the depths of our being and "transforms" us from the inside out.  In the love of God, who we are now is not who we were created to be.  We are all on the way...all on our journey of becoming.  That's humbling right?  None of us have arrived.  None of us are a finished project.  God is at work in each of our lives refining, pruning, reshaping, changing, remolding and any other descriptive term you can think of that signifies transformation. 

Here at BridgeWay, we value transformation.  We believe that transformation creates the contagious ethos, culture, environment that we've been describing these last couple of days.  People are drawn to movements that have the potential and power to change their lives.  There is nothing compelling about a message that leaves us stuck in the same spot day in and day out.  Why get up early on a Sunday morning, invest hours in reading the bible, serve selflessly people you don't know or give up unhealthy compulsions if at the end of the day there is no change?  Only when our lives are transformed by the love of God through the power of God are we able to serve as a shining light in a dark world. 

NOTE:  Your light should brighten year after year as you grow in faith.  If you are only as bright as you were when you began this journey...God longs to do a work in you.

There are no excuses as a follower of Jesus.  When we get angry, resentful, bitter, easily frustrated or whatever, we can't simply say, "Well, that's just how I am."  That may be how you are right now, but I promise you that if you give Jesus full access to every aspect and element of your life that He won't leave you like that for long.  Ultimately, God's hope and promise for your life is that you begin to resemble Jesus more and more daily.  This journey of growth and intentional transformation is the path to becoming the person that God envisions us to be, the person that he desires to use in powerful ways.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Contagious Ethos

For many the word ethos might be a new word.  In the theological world we use it all the time.  It’s a Greek word that describes the atmosphere, culture, environment of a particular group of people, a community, organization, and yes…even a church.  BridgeWay Community Church has established a contagious ethos over its nearly 10 years of existence.  Those who speak of BridgeWay speak of it in terms of being captured by the spirit, the mood, and atmosphere of this community.  This is awesome, but this doesn’t just happen.  BridgeWay has been strategic in implementing a set of core values and strategies that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit create that “atmosphere” or ethos that has been captivating for so many. 

To ensure the continuance of this contagious ethos, we must again and again be reminded of the core values that BridgeWay has established as the bedrock on which all ministry takes place.  For those that have called BridgeWay home for years, these values run deep in their veins.  For those of us that are new, we might have experienced them, but it is often helpful to name them as well.  For the next few days, I am going to walk us through the core values of BridgeWay Community Church to ensure that these values are maintained even as we transition together into the next chapter of our ministry together. 

1.)     Intentionality:  What does this mean?  Simply stated, it means that BridgeWay is picky.  We are picky about what we do, when we do what we do, how we do what we do, and even the words we use to explain why we do what we do.  Too often in churches things get thrown together.  People with good hearts quickly put something together last minute for an event, a service, or ministry.  Don’t get me wrong, God can use stuff that is thrown together.  However, we believe that every moment someone spends with us at BridgeWay is vital.  Every moment is an opportunity to spread the contagion of the gospel.  Sloppy planning, poor implementation, and unwise words can be hindrances to someone hearing the message they need to hear or experiencing God in ways that can transform lives. 

Therefore, we work hard to remove all obstacles and hindrances.  We try to ensure that everything that occurs from Leadership Community to the announcements on Sunday Morning is done purposefully.  We believe that there are many good things that a church can be involved in, but not every good thing is our thing.  If we can’t ensure that what do can be done and maintained with an intentionality that sets us up for one of our other core values, excellence, we don’t do it.  We are intentional about the songs we sing.  We are intentional about our leadership development and apprentice programs.  We are intentional about the money we spend.  One of the ways to ensure the continuous nature of a contagious ethos is to make sure that we constantly ask ourselves the question about the intentionality of our actions.  Anything we do that fails the intentionality question must be revisited, refined, or tossed out altogether.  These are often difficult decisions.  However, the damage done by sloppy planning and poor implementation far exceeds the necessary changes that come with faithful tweeking and deliberate action.