Transition Gone Bad

Speaking of a generation having to lead churches through transition, the Crystal Cathedral is unfortunately a perfect case study of how quickly and easily this can all go wrong.

Yesterday, Crystal Cathedral Ministries died. The music stopped playing. In its place, in three years time, will reside the Catholic Church. The namesake of the ministry will be no more. Just like Esau, their birthright was sold.

I’d like to tell you this brings me comfort knowing that orthodox Christians will continue to worship in this building. But I can’t say that. It’s like telling a grieving a widow there are many fishes in the sea.

In one respect, this human metaphor falls short. The Crystal Cathedral isn’t a person, it is an institution. As such, its problems were not terminal. They could have been solved. My father attempted to fix these problems during his short tenure as senior pastor. He saw the Crystal Cathedral was headed toward bankruptcy. He attempted to restructure the board, cut his sibling’s salaries and establish fiscal responsibility. For these actions, he was fired by the board, which consisted of . . . you guessed it, his siblings.

Read the rest of Robert Schuller’s granddaughter’s thoughts here

Learn to Parallel Path

“All I ask of you, especially young people…is one thing. Please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere.”

~ Conan O’Brien from his final Tonight Show

It seems amongst my generation, especially when it comes to church, people move to one of two extremes. They either get cynical or overly idealistic. Really, in a lot of ways, they are two sides of the same coin. Cynicism happens when you stay focused on the present reality and can’t see beyond it, while idealism happens when you’re focused on what your preferred future is and you can’t see the present.

The problem with both of them is that they leave you paralyzed. I’ve talked with person after person who has left the church because they’re cynical – the church has hurt them in some way, it hasn’t done what they think it should do, or they can’t see past specific people or behaviors in a certain church, and so they give up on church. And at the same time I’ve talked with a large number of overly idealistic people who aren’t a part of any church, because they can’t find one that lives up to their standards and what they think church should be.

Several months ago, a friend, Nick Boring, introduced me to a concept called Parallel Pathing. It essentially looks like this

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The concept is this – that you have to work within your present reality, with an eye towards the preferred future. As you do that, slowly your present reality will begin to fade out as your preferred future begins to take over. The reason a cynical person gets stuck is because they can’t see past the present reality and they stay in that place, and the reason an overly idealistic person gets stuck is because all they can see is the preferred future and they can’t deal with the present reality.

The person who will really gain traction and make a difference is the person who can learn to parallel path. They learn to operate in the midst of the present reality, while at the same time working towards a preferred future.

In the church world, in the next decade or so, we will see more and more baby boomers who grew their churches and had long tenures end up retiring out of their churches. There’s going to be numerous problems facing those churches as they try to figure out how to take steps forward, but one of them will be learning to parallel path.

I think a part of the reason that so many people in my generation aren’t able to take on an established church and be able to lead it into the future is because we struggle with this concept. There are great, established churches that will need to be lead into the future, but it will take leaders who can work with patience in the present reality and at the same time have a keen eye for the future, who will know when not to stay stuck in one or the other and who can navigate the convergence of the present reality with the preferred future.

I’m currently reading Eric Metaxas’ Biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from his book, Life Together.

“He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest andsacrificial”

If my generation is going to lead the church in a significant way into the future, it will take a rejection of cynicism and a rejection of over idealism, and an embracing of the church right where it’s at while being able to live in the tension of also having a vision for the future.

Do Something Difficult

I recently had the opportunity to sit down at dinner with an incredible leader who I have a huge amount of respect for. As he was sharing some stories about leading his church, he told me about a time 10 or 15 years ago when they were growing rapidly and had quickly become the hip young church to be at, and as a result, they started attracting all the hip young people from all the other churches around.

When most people wouldn’t have paid much attention to where people were coming from, they would just be glad that more people were coming, it bothered this guy. He said he decided that for 3 months not to do worship music, and instead of doing a typical sermon, that he would each week give a 1 hour social commentary from a biblical framework on films. He said all the Christians who had left other churches went back to their church because they weren’t getting what they wanted, and the people who weren’t believers who were coming loved it. He told me that early on in his ministry, this decision helped to define who they church would be.

Then later in the evening, he was talking about something completely different, when he shared how they were recently $1 million behind on the annual budget, and at that time decided to get more invested outside their church and to challenge their church to give away huge sums of money. During 1 month, they gave away more money than they had given away in the entire history of their church up until that point. He then said this, “when we did that, we recaptured the soul of the church”

He told these two stories independently, they weren’t really about each other, and they occurred almost 15 years apart. But I left there remembering why this particular guy inspires me and why I respect him – he’s willing to try difficult things. He did it early on in his leadership to define the community he was leading, and he did it as the community had matured as a way of recapturing the soul of who their church is.

I wonder if the thing that simply separates the people who lead in a significant way, who end up defining for the rest of us what we want to do and who we want to become – is just simply that they are willing to continually do difficult things. Maybe the thing that separates someone like that from someone like you and me is just that they’ll do the difficult things that don’t make sense.

What’s the difficult thing that you need to do that will help to define the community that you lead, or that will help to recapture the soul of the community that you lead?

Operation Christmas Child

Our family went shopping today to buy presents for our Operation Christmas Child boxes. If you’ve never participated in Operation Christmas Child before, it’s essentially a way to share Christmas with kids around the world by purchasing small gifts and packing them into a shoebox that will be given to them as a Christmas gift.

We’ve participated in this every year we’ve been at Parkcrest. What we’ve started doing, is buying presents for a boy Isaac’s age, and for a girl, Kate’s age. The kids help pick out the presents, pack the boxes and write them a note with pictures they’ve colored. This year, we’ll register our box online and watch where it gets delivered to.

As they were packing up the boxes, I was reminded of this picture that a woman from Parkcrest sent me last year. She was traveling on a bus in Fiji, having participated in Operation Christmas Child a few months earlier, and saw this boy.

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As she asked him about it, he shared with her how important this box was to him and said that it “made his Christmas extra special.”

Although this weekend is the deadline to turn your boxes in at Parkcrest, you’ve still got time to help make Christmas extra special for a child on the other side of the world.

 

Spend the Right Time on the Right Things

I was recently reflecting with a group about the church planting kick off event we recently had. Someone made the observation that with the time that it took for Rick Warren to be a part of the event, and how long he stayed hanging out with people that he probably invested at least 5 hours into being with us. If anyone has a thing or two on his plate, he’d be at the top of the list.

It reminded me of a screenshot I had taken from one of Jon Acuff’s tweets a while ago (not in a stalker kind of way…but because the significance of it really struck me).

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A random observation that I’ve made recently – people who seem to be leading well make enough time for the right things. The people I know who lead the most significantly, have the most on their plates and who have the most responsibility, also have learned how to make the right time for the right things.

Somewhere a shift happens in order to lead more effectively where you move from being constantly busy, hurried and pulled in a lot of different directions by a lot of different people towards having even more responsibility and more to do, but handling it in a different way. Some people never make that shift and never gain more responsibility.  Some people gain more responsibility and yet never make this shift, and as a result never learn to lead in a more significant way.

That’s one of the things I’m trying to learn right now – spending the right time on the right things.

Growing a Healthy Church

I recently was asked to write an article for the Pastors in the Foursquare Denomination based on a message that I gave earlier this year.

Here’s an excerpt…

Far too many of us have bought into the fallacy that the way to accomplish this mission is to have really great and attractive church services. Is it possible that we have become too focused on the church service, believing that the service itself would accomplish the mission of the church? It seems we have lost sight of empowering our people to live out that mission, instead training them to become consumers of a church experience.


As leaders, we need to stop blaming those whom we lead, and instead recognize that we’ve played a role in creating the vast consumerism that’s running throughout the church in North America.

 

You can read the rest of it here

(also, thanks to Marcia Graham for getting me to do this and editing the final draft)

The Tension of Middle School

This American Life is one of my favorite things to listen to. I listen to very little music, almost all podcasts, and This American Life is one that I never miss. This week’s episode is on Middle School. If you have any kind of influence with Middle Schoolers, as a parent, pastor, teacher, whatever, it’s worth a listen (This American Life makes only the show from the previous week free to download, so get it before Sunday if you want to listen to it).

A couple of things I was reminded of as I listened (it’s got much more in it than this, but these were two overarching ideas I left with after listening):

Middle School is hard. Those can be some of the roughest years for a kid as you’re growing up.

Middle School is exciting. It’s a time where you form who you are, try new things and experiment.

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That makes such an interesting tension for those who do ministry to that age group. It takes the right person and personality type. It made me really proud of our Junior High Ministry and Scott Schlatter who leads it. He’s been doing this ministry much longer than the average tenure of a Junior High Minister and gets better and better every year.

If you go to Parkcrest, listen to this episode, be reminded of what that age group is like and thank Scott and the incredible volunteers who serve our Middle School students.

 

 

 

 

Jump Farther

I was reminded last night of a story I shared with Parkcrest a few months ago.

One of the ways I bond with my daughter Kate is by jumping. Don’t judge me…it’s hard for me to figure out ways to connect with a 4 year old girl. We like to see how high we can jump, and what she thinks that I can jump on top of. But she also gets really excited to jump to me.

Last night, she got on the couch, asked me to back up and jumped to me. She kept having me go further and further back until she wasn’t able to make it to me.

After she tried to jump that far, Isaac, being the taller and older brother realized that he could jump that distance and further, so he then asked to jump to me. Isaac though, kept sending me further and further back. He knew that because he’s older, taller and more mature that he could jump farther.

I had this simple realization when this same scenario happened several months ago – the more mature you are, the farther you can jump.

The thing is though that most of us don’t live our lives this way. As we grow older and more mature, the more comfortable we become and the less risks we take. People who consider themselves mature in their relationship with Christ can also sometimes be some of the most cautious and risk adverse people. But that’s not how it should be.

God is calling you to risk…to step out of what’s comfortable and into the unknown. The more mature you are, the farther you should jump.

What’s God calling you to? Where do you need to jump farther?

What Makes it a Church?

I was driving with Allison not long ago when we came across a church that had a sign to attract people to come to this particular church. Although it was worded much more eloquently, the sign essentially said, “Don’t like that contemporary music at your current church, then come to ours – we’re doing it the way that you got used to 50 years ago”. Again, they said it in a much nicer way than that, but that was it’s essence.

It got me thinking about churches that I know of that actually aren’t doing anything to reach people far from God, but instead have gotten really good at collecting disgruntled believers from other churches. Most churches are good at hiding that, by having something in their mission statement about reaching unbelievers or something like that, but their reality hasn’t reflected actually doing that in 30 years. At least this one church was being honest about what they’re doing – trying to connect with Christians who are looking to leave their church.

All this led me to ponder out loud – can those churches actually be defined as a church? Isn’t one of the core, defining characteristics of what makes a church, a church, that it actively lives out the mission of Jesus? Would the New Testament call it a church if it wasn’t doing that? Is it a church because they read the Bible and sing some songs? Is it a church because the name on their sign says so?

As we move forward on seeing 50 churches planted in the next 5 years, one of our expectations is that we would be seeing new churches help people discover faith in Jesus. Shouldn’t our expectation be the same for the long established churches as well? And if they aren’t, what should we call them if they’re missing one of the essential defining characteristics of what it means to be a church?

What is it that makes a church, a church?

It’s Time to Start Planting Some Churches

On Tuesday, I got to be a part of something incredibly significant. We publicly launched our movement with other churches in our city to plant 50 new churches in the Long Beach area over the next 5 years in order to see our city transformed.

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It was great to have Rick Warren there for us, kicking off the event and talking about how you don’t need a building, money or many people to plant churches. He was a huge encouragement, and worked the room better than anyone I’ve ever seen.

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Miles McPherson shared about what it looks like to be a church that cares for the needs of your city and does something about it.

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It was a huge gift to have these two very gifted leaders, who lead some of the largest churches in the country (and who actually planted those churches) help us kick off this movement, but what I was more impressed by was who was in the room. There were church planters and potential church planters. Urban leaders and business leaders. Incredibly wealthy men and women, some of whom lead large companies, as well as leaders who lead nationally recognized ministries. There was socio-economic diversity, denominational diversity, and ethnic diversity. The more than 260 people who filled up the room, looked like Long Beach, and the buzz was palatable.

As I talked with one person after the event they told me about how emotional they were during worship to see the spirit of unity in the room amongst such a diverse crowd. When the church unites, not just for unity’s sake, but for the sake of mission, something powerful happens…and we saw that Tuesday. I’m so grateful for the leaders who have stepped up and who I get to lead in this alongside. It is no small act of humility and sacrifice for each of these pastors to contribute their time, finances and even at times their reputation in some circles in order to see the mission of Jesus moved forward in our city.

Now’s the time when we get going, put our money where our mouth is and get some churches that reflect our city planted. But that was an incredible way to get started.

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