Unexamined Impulse is Prejudice | #missional

My buddy Sam Davidson at Cool People Care highlighted this 10 courageous actions to building community in your neighborhood community. It had me thinking that, 1. community is what people are looking for 2. people really do not know how to go about it anymore because we’ve spent a few generations segmenting our lives to our own personal bubbles. So when it comes to images of church, do we actually know how to build community? We might not..

So here’s some added thoughts to this list of actions for those who would be called ‘people of the church.’

  1.  Take interest in other people’s passions as much as you want them to be interested in yours. We all have ideas for how life should be. The thing is that, unless we are unsurpassed geniuses, we only see a small part of the picture. Asking others what they see can only enhance understanding. [Tough one, stop concerning yourself first and get on with someone else and the things that are important to them. We probably do this very well for a children, but when it comes to our neighbor?..]
  2. Become a mentor to others less involved in their community. In every community there is a small, overworked group of leaders who try to figure out everything for everyone. They go to all the meetings and take on huge loads of work while others are silent—until it is time for them to complain. This will not do. If you are such a leader, mentor someone with less experience. If you are not, approach someone and ask them to mentor you. [I have many gifts and skills that could be shared. Beyond my youth work, which I do this often, do I do that in avenues for people in my neighborhood? No, and that is not something I’m proud of. Could do better to share skill sets to others in my community and who knows the impact that could be.]
  3. Support a cause with no direct personal benefit. We are involved with things we care about the most. That’s natural. My experience tells me, however, that the most interesting and possibly most important discoveries happen in the spaces between interests and disciplines and ideologies. Step outside your natural zone—it’s necessary for uncovering new solutions. [Giving of self with out some “return on investment” is tough cultural impulse to break from. We go to church because we ‘get something’ be it uplifting feeling from worship, friendships, networking, etc. Love doesn’t expect or need a return.]
  4. Invite “them” to your meeting. It is convenient to show our importance by pitting “us” against “them.” But “they” may have insights that will help us better understand the problem and appreciate the marvelous tensions that form a healthy community. [With the diverse & numerous platforms of niche news and neighborhoods we have made it easier to only focus on & affirm our current viewpoints. If you are conservative church type what would it be to go to the liberal group meetings on/about the church? Is it scary to think you will find out they are real people like you?]
  5. Reject the tendency to blame. Everyone plays a role in the problem and everyone must participate in the solution. Practice compassion towards those who, like ourselves, unwittingly contribute to the problem they wish to solve. [We play victim many times. Accountability is hard to come by so much that it is treated in very conflicting manners when it happens. Poverty is an issue and instead of blaming some group or a system, what would happen if we all assumed responsibility for doing our part of the solutions.]
  6. Confront internal contradictions. Claiming that the problem is someone else’s doing conveniently absolves us from doing our part. If I drive my car to a transportation meeting and complain about traffic jams, it’s necessary that I acknowledge my contribution to that traffic. At the very least, acknowledge the irony of the situation. [Chances are we do not even realize the many depths to which we play a part in the problem]
  7. Practice industrial-strength listening. Do not react until you’ve received. [Holy Listening or Spiritual Direction should be part of every Christian’s practice]
  8. Render unto community… Shrink your home to what is necessary and conduct the rest of your life in the community. For example, resist a “theater” room and visit your local theater instead. Anytime you bump into others you make your community a bit stronger. [How big is your church that it becomes so much the focus of your ministry that you have no energy to do anything outside in the community?]
  9. Clarify your image of the future. I find that most decisions we make are shaped by impulses so deeply ingrained we fail to be aware of them. Unexamined impulse is prejudice. Examined impulse, once confirmed, is guidance that leads to something better. Examine your embedded assumptions, embrace the relevant ones, and discard the rest. What remains is a clear intuition, an image of a possible future. Then engage with others to make it a reality. [Know thy self. As Jesus asks, “Who do people say I am?” “Who do you say I am?”]
  10. Resist the temptation to choose between the ideal and the reality. Hold them both in your awareness. Learn to enjoy the creativity and humor this tension offers. It can be quite funny. [You can’t do everything otherwise you’ll get yourself in trouble, you can’t do nothing otherwise you are not living up to the calling of Jesus Christ.]

I went to listen to some songwriters perform a few weeks ago. In Nashville, events like these are easy to find. What I like most about these events is listening to the stories behind the songs. Usually, you’ll hear something like, “When I wrote this song with Joe and Tom…” or “As Jane and Wanda and I wrote this…” Go to enough of these and listen to enough of these stories and you’ll realize that no one writes songs alone. Look at the liner notes to any CD in your collection and you’ll see.

And, in Bill Gates’ recent piece for the BBC, he wrote:

Communication skills and the ability to work well with different types of people are very important too. A lot of people assume that creating software is purely a solitary activity where you sit in an office with the door closed all day and write lots of code. This isn’t true at all. Software innovation, like almost every other kind of innovation, requires the ability to collaborate and share ideas with other people, and to sit down and talk with customers and get their feedback and understand their needs.

In other words, we’re not alone. We can’t be our best alone. We need community like we need air, shoes and wi-fi.

There’s a difference, however, between community and communitas. Community can simply mean some sort of loose grouping, without any kind of real connection. Our neighborhood, our city, or our classmates can be considered our community. But we can still not know anything about another person in this community.

What we need then, is communitas. This is a Latin word that describes a more intense type of community – one that usually undergoes some sort of bonding experience or rite of passage together. Fraternities and sororities are a shallow form of this, sharing a common initiation ritual. Guys who stormed the beach at Normandy and firefighters are a more intense version.

Phyllis Tickle, Freakonomics & a ‘vital’ congregation

In my latest posting of my newfound Neflix documentary watching I choose to watch Freakonomics. I am fascinated with Levitt’s concepts and numbers crunching analysis. This is rather funny to me because I am far from a numbers type person. However, he seems to tap into something that I believe for many of my church and cultural observations and that is that the numbers are never quite what they seem or presented to us. More times than not our conventional look of cause & effect on actions of our world are probably not what they are.

As a documentary Freakonomics was entertaining in this way for me. One of the Feakonomics case studies that had me intrigued most was the reasoning for the drop in crime starting in the 90’s after huge rises in crime through the 70’s to 80’s. Government officials and experts were extolling practices of police practices, tougher sentencing, and a few other items. What was an interesting connection was that those couldn’t tell the whole story and the rest of the story was filled out by the passing of Roe vs Wade and the availability of abortions. This kept a generation of unwanted children from ever being born and the numbers fall into line of the drop of 20 something population who were the crime offenders at that point, but had huge statistical drops. Is it right? I’d like to think there is a lot of credibility to the whole thing.

As I work with my United Methodist church who is trying to label and build “vital” congregations I cannot help but wonder that the numbers are not what they seem. I do not have some great answer, but it feels that our metrics we measure our “vitality” is too conventional and not dynamic enough to represent what is truly going on.

One of the things that is commonly referenced is that the United Methodist Church is dying in America. The UMC’s heyday was the 1950’s and many times the church entity keeps trying to replicate that era.

Was sitting in with Phyllis Tickle a few months back where she was going through her patterned history lessons of the faith and church. She had some interesting connections that in the 20th century at the break of the Great Depression and the start of the World War II for Americans the women took up the tools of the men’s trades and became the iconic “Rosie the Riveter.” The culture of Rosie was that they would go off to work becoming exhausted from a day of work and do what the man would do to unwind, stopping by the bar. When the war ended and the men came home Rosie went back to the daily duty of the home. She was left without something very important for her community. Rosie was left without a “third place.” The bar was the important “third place” for community for the group of men and ladies. However, for a group of ladies community was gone. So what became the new third place? The church?..

Maybe the boom of the United Methodist Church in the 50’s was less about the church’s evangelism and disciple making, but more about a sociological need for the ladies of the home to re-find community.


Attraction vs Influence

Mitch Joel had some interesting thoughts the other day in regard to our obsessions with attracting the big crowd as a media & market solution. He threw out that Charlie Sheen has garnered over 1 million plus twitter followers within days of creating a profile. He even admitted that he is one of those followers (I’m hoping it was just for case study work). However, he notes, which is what I would feel is the norm, that few of those watching Charlie on tv or on twitter would actually take action based on him. If they did it would probably be more gimmick action (buying some #winning t-shirt). Somewhat like a circulating Justin Bieber t-shirt that goes around my Sunday school class’s ‘dirty santa’ Christmas party. You don’t really want one, but it is funny to force others to have one. Tangenting!

Mitch goes on to lift up Howard Stern. Howard has far fewer twitter followers as a social media platform. But Mitch is sure, and I’d agree, that if Howard asked his people to do something (other than a Retweet) they would move the proverbial market meters. Howard has influence. Heck, I went to watch his movie because he talked it up so much on his show.

This has me wondering about church membership. We often get pre-occupied with the attraction of numbers. “This is the biggest church of ….” “This was our highest attended ….” “How can we get more people to show up for ….” are phrases if you hang around church long enough you will hear quite frequently. Size is a measuring stick.. but is it the right measurement?

All the good church people are out there saying, “Oh no! It’s not about the size.” But if we are honest, we many times will feel inferior because we are not part of the big thing around the corner or the other side of town. I don’t see a problem being honest about that… something we need to work on.

We need to look at the people that we have and ask ourselves, how are we building our influencing with those with us? I am so much more impressed with churches that can inspire/influence their people (and not just the chosen 10% that do everything for the church operations) to get out and do & be church.

Those are places that I’d want to be a part of.

Should we ask ourselves as a marker of ministry, how have we positively influenced our communities? Or should the ‘size matters’ mantra continue to stick?


branding your YOUth ministry

I wrote up this posting for YouthWorker Movement & encapsulates some of my ‘short session’ from Perkins School of Youth Ministry last month.

Last month I did a session at Perkins School of Youth Ministry on “branding” ones youth ministry (the image above is my whiteboard, minus that “revitalize church” not sure what that’s from).

Brand, is a very ambiguous term. In many ways its best to understand what some brands are. Mac/Apple, has the bitten apple logo. McDonald’s has the big yellow ‘M.’ Nike has it swoosh. Beyond just a logo though, Coca-Cola has a very distinct and branded glass bottle, so much so that it was designed to be recognized even when broken (true story). ‘Your’ brand is more than just a logo. So how does one identify and move forward developing a brand in the church environment?

Well, this is how I see it happening.

Acts 2: “..because each one heard their own language being spoken..”

I have this idea of Pentecost being about the enabling of effective communicating to the masses through the power of the Holy Spirit. Read the story, that scene was a mess before the Holy Spirit came to inspire & enable the leaders. Today it is a present reality that we speak and understand in brands, that combination of who we are along with our sensory identifiers. My opinion is that we need the Holy Spirit in finding out who we are and what we are about to us and others to be able to accurately and adequately communicate to others about our ministries.

Matthew 16: “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

I love this scripture, in part because I feel this is all about identity and many of us, our teens especially, struggle with identity. Christ outlines those cores questions we need to answer for ourselves & our ministries. Ourselves? Yes, as I’ve highlighted in Christ’s responses, he renames Simon to Peter, which translated is “rock” and so “on this ‘rock’ I will build my church” telling me that we are integral to the identity and ‘brand’ of our ministries. Are our ministries all about us, heck no! but they are very much a part of us and many times take over traits and gifts unique to us. That isn’t a bad thing. God gifts us & enables us for ministry. We bring that to whatever ministry we enter and lead.

So, how do we go about answering the questions?

I have a process of discernment that I feel has value to help us open to the Holy Spirit and find the answers. Only after this can we move forward in doing the ‘things’ of branding our ministries.


Prayer – Emptying Prayer, get rid of all the junk in you head about what could be, what the Baptists are doing, or what the big mega church in your area is doing. Certainly get rid of those advertising ideas from some national chain that you think are cool. (Do this first as individual, then as a group)

Prayer – Return to prayer after you are rid of all that junk and ask God to give you clarity as to “who you are?” and “what do others say you are?”  (Do this first as individual, then as a group)

Reading – Because God doesn’t give answers immediately (that’s my experience, maybe it isn’t yours). Spend time in reading, read scripture (Searching the Scriptures), art books, local newspapers and magazines, read poetry and creative writing, etc.  Stay away from church growth books are my suggestion, they don’t translate often and confuse, plus you need to go back to that emptying prayer exercise.

Conversations – Begin conversations with a myriad of people. Those involved in your ministry and those outside your ministry. Ask those people the two questions, be okay with whatever responses you get.

Visualize – At some point around here you will see some themes emerging. Start to jot them down and then organize the themes of your ministries identity. What do you want to change? What do you want to emphasize? What do you want to be about? Vizual how you might want to get there.

This becomes then a planning process where you want to go back to many of those people you had conversations with. As you present you leadings from the Spirit you will find that others will understand as well and jump in to help making this new branding a reality.

At this point you might have some specific planning options to help along the way.

  • What is your name? I can’t example that one for you
  • What is our visual identifier, ie. logo? How to create it?
  • What is our language?
  • What do we do? Mission, Discipleship, Worship?.. I’m a fan of identifying three key words, forget mission statements, they are useless and communicate nothing to teenagers. imho
  • What do we do best? Discipleship?..
  • How are we going to do this? Detailed plan for reshaping or building your culture
  • What do we want others to know us by? How to share that; email, outreach projects, community events, etc?
  • How to keep doing that? I call it the, rinse and repeat

In our workshop session on of the participants brought up how Gatorade was re-branding itself. Which brought up for me an important example of jumping this process and mis-branding your ministry. Note: I have this information on good knowledge because my brother-in-law is a national sales member to the Gatorade team. A few years back Gatorade heard that Tiger Woods was entertaining a new brand of Powerade line with his name on it. Someone in Gatorade felt, and enough others agreed, that they couldn’t allow this to happen so they rushed to jump over Powerade and sign Tiger to a huge endorsement and created a whole line of favorite Tiger flavors of Gatorade. Well, the whole line was a super flop (financially speaking) and when Tiger got into trouble it was a fortunate circumstance to break from that failed venture. Gatorade got away from “who they are” and more into who they wanted to beat. It failed for them & will fail for any of us who go that route in ministry as well.

Do you have any questions about branding a ministry?

bringing back the blog : an idea for the future

i basically took the month of june off from blogging, in case you
didn't notice.. part was work induced, part was family induced, mostly
though, i needed to take a break & figure out how to come back to
blogging and feel good about it.

i figured to come back july 1st.. oh well.

new ideas to the blog, will be to integrate more video commentary &
teaching into my postings. this will mean less posting (which probably
should have happened years ago), but hopefully a broader sharing of
thoughts in not just the written medium but branching into video. we'll
see how that goes. my goal is to integrate one to two postings a week
in that format.

another spot too, as fillers to commentary, is to
put in more practical looks into youth ministry & technology. its
my calling & i've strayed way too far from it in the past few years
getting caught up in some big church things. i still love the big
church stuff, but i've been narrowing my 'responsibilities' and helping
to distribute talents to some of the networks i've developed over these
last 15 years of ministry so to tend to my flock God blessed me with
more fully.

i might fall off what stool i was on in the big
church landscape, but that is totally cool & totally necessary. not
really sure how i got there in the first place, probably my own pride
& ambition. regardless, i'm feeling really good going into this new
phase of ministry & how to share it with others.

looking forward to reconnecting with you all again soon.