Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Small Sips Ends Up Ranting a Little

Well, how about that. Charles Arn shares a "surprising secret" to church growth, which is neither surprising nor a secret:
Several years ago, a study by the largest Protestant denomination in the country found a startling relationship between the length of time pastors had been in their churches and the growth or decline of those churches. 
Their finding? 
Approximately three-fourths of their growing churches were being led by pastors who had been in their church more than four years, while two-thirds of their declining churches were being led by pastors who had been in their church less than four years. Their conclusion (with which I agree): Long-term pastorates do not guarantee that a church will grow. But short-term pastorates essentially guarantee that a church will not grow.
You may recall when I made it a point to study what goes into building a long-term pastorate a few years ago. My reasons at the time were more personal: I wanted to break out of the cycle of moving all the time that I'd known my entire life up to that point. I just wasn't used to staying in one place for longer than a certain amount of time, so I decided to read up on what might go into staying longer.

Some might ask what the usefulness of this topic is in a broader sense. Why should anyone have a vested interest in maintaining a longer pastorate beyond just not wanting to move as often? Well, here's your answer: Arn finds that longer pastorates tend to produce growth, stability, and trust.

Who knew? Oh wait, I did.

So many laughs. We've been enjoying these "Kid Snippets" videos. The gist is that kids come up with the dialogue and then adults act it out:

Get with the program. Or better yet, don't. Jan at A Church for Starving Artists shares thoughts on the usefulness of church programs:
The worst kind of programming – in my estimation - involves going, sitting, hearing, and leaving with new information. But nothing changes. No souls have been transformed. No cultures have been shifted. No vision has been cast.  
The Program Church is Over. The Relational Church is Essential in 21st Century ministry. 
For the record, some of the best ministers I know do what they do best via programs. But the difference is that the purpose of their program planning is about building relationships between each other and God. It’s not about college-application-resume-building or making the elders feel like the staff is earning its money because the calendar is so full of stuff to do.  
Especially during Lent, you’d think we would slow down a little. But alas . . .
In part, this sounds like a quality vs. quantity issue. Are we "program-sized" churches throwing out tons of activities just to look busy, or are we intentionally planning events or groups to help transform lives and build relationships?

I'd rather just quote this whole thing. Gordon Atkinson reflects on questioning the beliefs of one's tradition:
If you are part of a religion or spiritual tradition with a bible, scriptures, traditions, steps, or any sort of received wisdom, you should embrace your tradition’s teachings with humility. 
And you should be encouraged to take any two doctrines and throw them out. You get two. Any two that don’t sit well with you. And I don’t mean you should just ignore them. I mean go outside, look up or down or sideways or in whatever direction you think points toward your god and say, “Hell no. I’m not going to do that!” 
Stand on your own two feet and use a firm voice. Explain yourself. 
“I’m not going to do that because I think it’s evil. I think it’s going to hurt people. And it violates a sense of rightness I have inside of me. A rightness that I feel has been enlarged by my devotion to my faith tradition. And if you are the kind of god who demands such a thing from your followers, I don’t think very much of you.”
Hopefully that whets your appetite to read the rest. The journey of faith includes wrestling with questions and authenticity in profession. It also includes, if you have chosen a specific tradition to follow, striking the right balance between adherence and honesty. Those probably aren't the right words, but they were the ones that came to mind.

Ten. Thousand. Maybe you heard about World Vision's recent announcement regarding acceptance of employees in same-sex relationships, and their subsequent back-tracking. Matthew Paul Turner reflects on the fallout:
It took several days to count the total loss of sponsorships, a number that eventually rose to “just about 10,000 children,” according to Stearns. A handful of people did call back, hoping to start up their sponsorships again. But the majority did not. 
And that breaks my heart. 
It should break all of our hearts, regardless of whether you praised World Vision’s initial decision or panned it as “godless.” 
Even still, those three words should break us friends. Because it’s a number that represents 10,000 needy children, flesh and blood of various races and nationalities, little ones who are precious in God’s sight. 
And yet, a large number of so-called born again Christians treated their relationships with their kids like they were little more than subscriptions to HBO. Sure, some people probably stopped sponsoring their kid and began sponsoring another kid through a different organization. But that’s not any better. A child sponsorship is not a product that can be returned and exchanged for a different brand. There’s nothing “moral” about using a kid as a bargaining chip to punish a Christian organization for making a decision that you don’t agree with. There’s nothing honoring about using children to force an organization’s hand. There’s nothing “pro life” about that. There’s nothing remotely “Christlike” about that. It’s downright disgusting, manipulative, and sad. If I was a Pentecostal, I might even call it demonic.
Hey, remember that quote from Gordon Atkinson I just shared about rejecting parts of your faith tradition that may call you to hurt people? Ta-da!

Hey, you. Yeah, you who are mad about marriage equality and homosexuality; who was scandalized by World Vision's original announcement: remember God's repeated claims to care for the orphan in the OT? How about Jesus saying that causing "one of these little ones" to stumble should earn you a millstone around your neck and a trip to the bottom of the sea?

No, you're too busy Taking A Stand for the Sanctity Of Marriage. Meanwhile the kid you just dumped is starving. Think about how First World Problem the nature of your cancellation is. You have a choice, that kid doesn't. And don't give me the whole "but I started sponsoring another child through this other much more Biblically faithful organization" stuff. The original kid still ain't eating, thanks to you. But hey, enjoy your feelings of self-righteousness. You have the leisure to do that.

Misc. Carey Nieuwhof on cultural trends that church leaders may want to take note of. It's not ground-breaking, but a good reminder. Jan on clergy salaries. PeaceBang on supervising church staff. Jamie on living with someone with a different process of doing things. Rachel on leaving evangelicalism, sort of. I think I have more to say about this later.