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Action Changes Things

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It is kind of funny that the Bible says we are supposed to be “changing” all the time but it seems that many Christians do not like to even hear the word change.  Like it or not, things change, people change, styles change, and the culture changes.  Yes, followers of Christ must use great discernment in what areas they should or should not change.  Some say we should never strive to contextualize the gospel but is that not what Paul did in Acts 17 at Mars Hill?

It is strange how we decide what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in the area of culture and contextualization when the Bible does not address it.  For example many believe that not wearing a suit when you preach would be a sin but quite honestly the suit is a contextual manifestation of a particular culture, like it or not.  Would it not be ok to wisely and prayerfully choose to change in some areas if it would advance the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom?

Sometimes the only alternative to change is to pick a rut and make it deeper.  The truth is that many churches need to change and if they do not they will suffer a slow but sure death of their ministry.  Rather than being on mission with Jesus Christ some have opted to just fellowship with those they are comfortable with and seem content to go around in circles.  We are bound to the Great Commission and must move beyond only being concerned for those already in God’s family.

Recently a good friend of mine shared this convicting definition with me; “Failure is succeeding at doing the wrong thing!”  Have churches “succeeded” at becoming gathering centers more than being sending centers on mission for God?  Unfortunately, it is far too easy to fall into old and ineffective behavior patterns that are completely unproductive.  We are continually drawn to be inwardly focused on ourselves instead of remaining outwardly focused on others.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Another way to say this is, “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.”  Jethro told Moses to change the way he was overseeing the Hebrew children.  Samuel was told to change the way he was looking for a King.  Jonah was told to change the way he looked at his enemies.  The Pharisees were told to change the way they worshipped and six of the seven churches of Asia were told to change or else.

There are some things that definitely need to be changed (maybe I should have said transformed because that seems a little easier for some to swallow) in our lives and in our churches.  While my list certainly is not exhaustive, nor is it necessarily prioritized, allow me to suggest a few things.

  1. We need to change the focus from only bringing people to church to also need to be the church to them.
  2. We need to change our focus from developing more programs to discipling and developing more people.
  3. We need to change from how many we can gather around us to how many can we can send out from us.
  4. We need to change from institutional maintenance to incarnational influence.
  5. We need to change from talking about making a difference and start making a difference.
  6. We need to change from talking about Jesus to acting more like Him.
  7. We need to change from knowing what’s wrong with our communities and start doing something to transform them.

There should always be room for change in a follower of Christ.  That change needs to happen in our hearts, in our actions, and in our focus.  We have spent a lot of time and effort trying to do church better when what really needs to change is all of us to start acting like the body of Christ.

Reggie McNeal describes the problem well, “Many congregations have become sociologically cocooned, evidencing little interest in reaching beyond their family or tribe, however defined.”

 

Paradigm Shifts

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Today you hear a lot about the need for change or a “paradigm shift.”  Those who love new things and experimenting love this concept while others are not so sure.  A paradigm is defined as a typical example or pattern of something; a model.  A paradigm “shift” has been defined as a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions and a ​time when the ​usual and ​accepted way of doing or ​thinking about something ​changes ​completely.

Truth never changes but there are times we must evaluate assumptions, perceptions, and the way we are carrying out the Great Commission.  A paradigm shift is needed when the rules of the game change.  This is why Paul was so masterful in how he handled the Greeks, Romans,  Jews, and the Judaizers.  You see, a paradigm defines reality for the situation we are in and we must be aware of our audience and of the culture in which we are ministering.

This is what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

Paradigm shifts can correct past problems but they are not a fix all.  The reality is that new problems will arise.  Great paradigm shifts are occurring in churches, denominations, and in leadership.  These are usually needed because of momentum created by a certain focus that causes the pendulum to swing too far one way or the other.  One paradigm shift that should be applauded by all is in evangelism.  The goal has shifted away from scoring a decision to securing a disciple!

In Revolution in Leadership, Reggie McNeal says, “Paradigms inform both vision and values in people and in organizations.  They drive actions as well as influence attitudes.”  Paradigm shifts help us to refocus and to place the importance back where it needs to be because somewhere along the way we drifted.  This is why Reggie McNeal also says, “God has given each denominational system the freedom to become completely irrelevant or to be a relevant servant of the churches.”  Just remember “perception becomes reality.”

This is why our office has stressed so strongly, “Churches do not exist to serve us but we exist to serve churches and help you carry out the Great Commission.”  The center of the mission of God is the local church (Eph.3:10).  There are a couple of paradigm shifts here that are occurring:

  • From a church has a mission to God’s mission has a church to carry it out!
  • From missions driven by an office or organization to missions driven by a local church!
  • From the mission field being “over there” to we live in a mission field!
  • From we will send our money to accomplish missions to we will also get personally involved!
  • From planting churches to planting churches that plant churches!

Never fear, there is still plenty of work for us to do in coming alongside churches to help them develop their missionaries through assessment, training, and coaching.  Also, we have a network that enables everyone to help financially in getting missionaries and church planters to the field.

Churches are also going through paradigm shifts:

  • From being inwardly focused to becoming outwardly focused!
  • From being performance focused to concentrating on developing disciples!
  • From busyness and frenetic activity to spiritual health and vitality!
  • From one doing everything to the team being trained to do the work of the ministry!
  • From seating capacity to sending capacity!

What paradigm shifts might you or your church need to consider?  How well are people progressing in their spiritual walks?  Are you making disciples who are making disciples?  Is your church behaving like the body of Christ is supposed to behave?  What are the easiest changes you could make to get back on the right path?

The two biggest mistakes many churches make is, first, an unwillingness to evaluate their spiritual health.  The problem is that we know how to count but we do not know how to measure.  The second is this, an unwillingness to take the necessary steps the evaluation uncovers.  Once we discover our errors we must first repent and then begin to take the necessary steps for our behavior to change.

Healthy churches are willing to embrace paradigm shifts that are directed by the Holy Spirit!

Holy Desperation

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     “Holy Desperation” has been defined as when a congregation humbles themselves before God and realizes they can no longer keep doing ministry the same way and expecting a different result.  Holy desperation describes a church that is honest about its critical condition and need for a fresh vision and strategy.  Holy desperation means that a church is no longer satisfied with preservation over productivity.  Holy desperation characterizes a mentality where it is no longer acceptable to go through the motions without truly living on mission!

     “Doing” church on Sunday can lead to becoming an incredibly well-oiled machine that chugs along and gives us a false sense of accomplishment.  Steve Ogne says this about Holy Desperation, “Desperation becomes holy when we humble ourselves, release control and desperately seek God for a new future (not a restoration of the past).”  It is when a church desires a fresh wind from God, a new beginning, and is eager to do whatever God asks of them.  It is a willingness to focus on what needs to be done not on what has been done in the past.

     First, we must humble ourselves!  We must stop making excuses and rationalizing away our ineffectiveness in reaching our communities for Christ.  Humility is about self-abandonment and demands self-denial in acknowledging that Christ is above all and greater than all, especially ourselves.  When we see God for who He is we then can see who we are not; in charge!  John 12:24 describes the humility necessary, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”  A church must be willing to die to some of the old ways of doing things before they will be able to embrace a new vision and fresh start!   

     Second, we must release our control!  Churches have members who are more interested in their own personal preferences, desires, and in being served.  Releasing control gives rightful ownership of the church back to God and makes our pursuits secondary to His will.  One example of this is in the area of traditions.  There are good and bad traditions.  Good traditions are never equal to the scriptures and are always subservient to the Bible.  Bad tradition becomes equal to the word of God and in some churches even above the scriptures.  We must stop reading the Bible through the lens of our own personal preferences, desires, and traditions.  The form or structure of our church must bow to the functions of the church.  Are we obeying Christ’s commands and are we fulfilling the Great Commission in our Jerusalem?

     Third, we must seek God for a new future!  All too often we are so absorbed with facilitating the people we do have that we forget about those we are striving to reach.  Jesus commanded us to leave the ninety-nine and pursue the one lost sheep.  We must be willing to make decisions based on the next one hundred people we haven’t reached rather than the strong opinions and personal preferences of those already there.  We must dream and imagine what kind of new things God might want us to do in our community and city.  Seeking God on this is the key as we begin to pray and prepare for a new beginning with a multiplication DNA.  Many do not like any kind of change but we must ask ourselves if we like being unfruitful any better?

      Holy desperation is when a church realizes it is on the downside of the lifecycle, some are on life-support, and is in desperate need of a fresh vision and recommitment to the Great Commission.  Your churches willingness to make some changes will determine its ability to survive.   Holy desperation comes about because of a lack of vision, lack of effectiveness, and the reality that disciples are not being reproduced.  How can we not have a holy desperation when we cannot remember the last time someone in our ministry gave their heart to Christ and was gloriously transformed by the gospel?  How long will it take for us to finally admit that something has to be done in our church or it will not survive?

     In order to get healthy a church must first have a holy desperation!        

OLD VERSUS NEW

OLD VS NEW

     Newer churches usually see more growth than older churches.  It has been estimated that it takes 88 members in a church over 15 years old to being one person to Christ.  Yet, in a church 5 years or younger it only takes 8 members to bring a person to Christ.  Why are new churches more effective? Why are newer churches so much more evangelistically inclined?  Here are some possible answers to these questions from Dynamic Church Planting International Training, Churches Planting Churches:

     First, it could be because of FOCUS!  “Established churches tend to focus on ministering to those already present.  The older a church gets, the easier it is to concentrate on nurturing and satisfying those who are already involved.  This tendency is very difficult to fight, even among people with the best of intentions.  In many new churches, the core group is small and those people know they must focus on winning the lost, or else the church will not survive.  New churches tend to concentrate on evangelism and the goal of establishing a new congregation.”

     But an older church can refocus on evangelism and pursuing the lost as Jesus did.  Luke 19:10, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”  Begin living as missionaries in your zip code.  Churches should approach every day as if they are headed out on a short term mission trip because they live and minister in the third largest mission field in the world.

     Second, it could be because of STYLE!  Dynamic Church Planting International puts it this way.  “Established churches tend to prefer to use the style of ministry that was relevant and

effective when the church was started. Such traditions are usually very hard to change.  Style includes issues such as: music—old style or new, dress—traditional formal clothing or come-as-you-are, vocabulary—words and phrases that are not understood in today’s culture referred to by some as “Christianeze.”   Christians in established churches often resist changing with the times.”

     But older churches can take steps to change their approach to ministry in order to reach more people with the gospel.  You can remain Biblically sound while also remaining culturally relevant.  Truth never changes but methodology can.  Remember, form follows function!  Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

   Thirdly, it could be because of a lack of VISION!  DCPI Churches Planting Churches says, “New churches begin because of a vision of starting a church to reach the lost. Established churches tend to become comfortable and satisfied with the status quo and lose their vision for reaching lost people.  Proverbs 29:18a says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  Over time most churches lose their vision and passion for reaching the lost.  Instead of fishers of men they become keepers of an aquarium!”

     Once again, an “older” church can regain a vision for the mission of God.  If a church is not living on mission for God to reach the lost, disciple them, and reproduce themselves then they have lost the reason for their existence.  Jesus made it clear in Acts 1:8, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

     DCPI Churches Planting Churches training reminds us that, “From 1800 to 1960 the number of Baptists grew from 100,000 members to twenty million!  Lyle Schaller estimates that 60-80% of the people in a new church become Christians through that church, therefore it is likely that 12 to 16 million came to Christ through these new Baptist churches.  The facts are clear: Associations that aggressively plant churches reach people for Christ and grow. The more aggressive they are, the greater the evangelism and growth.”

      Do we need to plant more churches?  Most definitely, but we also need all churches to return to a passionate desire to do whatever they have to do to make sure their church is fulfilling the Great Commission in their Jerusalem!  

 

TURNING THE SHIP AROUND

Aircraft Carrier

When I was teenager my brother, Gary, was in the Navy.  He joined the military with a vision to see the world but ended up stationed in Pensacola, FL, just one hour from our home.  Twice my parents and I had the privilege of going on his aircraft carrier, the USS Lexington, for a dependents’ day cruise.  I will never forget the jets being catapulted off of the deck, disappearing for a second, and then roaring off into the sky.  We were warned about getting too close to the edge and falling off because, “you can’t turn an aircraft carrier around overnight!”    

Good advice to churches also!  You may have a clear vision of the necessary changes needed in your church to become healthy, but it’s like turning around an aircraft carrier; it takes time.  The task of leading a church to where the members are living out biblical values every day is not an easy task.  Leading a church to be healthy will require endless energy and an unrelenting determination to be the church God wants it to be!  The journey is difficult and full of challenges but make no mistake about it, well worth it!

Here are five steps when trying to consider leading in healthy change in your church:

First, you must see the need to change!  There has to be a reality check where hard questions are being asked.  Are we maintaining the programs and machinery of the church or are we seeing people’s lives transformed?  The pain of remaining the same must be greater than the perceived pain of changing.  Some churches prefer the pain of a slow death over revitalizing their church to be what God intended.  You must be willing to pay the price for the necessary change to occur! Winston Churchill said, “There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction!” 

Second, we must know why we are changing!  All churches at some point need a reassessment of who they are, what they are doing, and why they are doing it.  You need to realign your values with Christ’s values and make sure you are living out those values every single day.  Because we live in a sinful world we tend to drift from God, not towards Him.  Reassessment can lead to realignment and when churches do realign themselves to God’s mission and purpose for their existence, revival often comes.  Change just for change’s sake is not the right motivation but when our desire is to please Christ He blesses that effort!

Third, begin by building trusting relationships!  Change in churches begins with trust.  Kevin Ford, a church health consultant, in Transforming Church says, “In church after church, I have seen leaders fail because their passion for change far exceeded the trust they had earned.”  Some leaders introduce change too quickly and sacrifice trust while others wait for that magical moment of no resistance and move far too slowly.  Trust is earned by fulfilling the expectations of the church that are realistic and biblical.  It begins by loving them and then over time will allow a leader to move from meeting expectations to challenging them. 

Fourth, change does not happen overnight!  Remember, you are not guiding a jet ski and effective leaders understand that change is usually best introduced incrementally, one step at a time.  You will never remove all stress and conflict but they can be greatly reduced by a careful and prayerful approach.  Some think that all they have to do is come up with the coolest vision statement and core values and the ship will turn.  The reality is that most “vision” statements do not bring about actual change.  Most leaders overestimate what they can accomplish in one year and underestimate what God can do in five years. 

Fifth, remember that no matter how hard you might try, you will not please everyone!  My favorite story here is of a man going to his pastor and telling him that if Jesus ever saw those drums on the stage He would roll over in His grave.  In an interview on effective leadership Ron Heifitz said, “Many people have a ‘smiley face’ view of what it means to lead.  They get a rude awakening when they find themselves with a leadership opportunity.  Exercising leadership generates resistance—and pain.  People are afraid that they will lose something that’s worthwhile.  They’re afraid that they’re going to have to give up something they’re comfortable with.”

There will always be some resistance to change and that is an indicator that biblical leadership is being exercised.  Churches must make the necessary changes to align themselves with the mission of God!

Leading Change Part 2

Leading Change

John Kotter has written a lot about change (Leading Change & Our Iceberg is Melting) and has made it his business to study the successes and failures in change.  He writes, “The most general lesson to be learned from the more successful cases is that the change process goes through a series of phases that, in total, usually require a considerable length of time. Skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed and never produces satisfactory results” and “making critical mistakes in any of the phases can have a devastating impact, slowing momentum and negating hard-won gains.”

First, he suggests that you must Establish a Sense of Urgency –Talk of change typically begins with someone noticing vulnerability or weaknesses that need to be addressed.  (See Blog on Jan 23. 2013).  The following is a formula for change: A + B + C > D.  A = Dissatisfaction with the status quo.  B = Knowledge of a better alternative.  C = Knowledge of first steps.  D = The cost of making the change.  

Second, Form a Powerful Guiding Coalition – Change efforts often start with just one or two people, and should grow continually to include more and more who believe the changes are necessary.  What if a group of burdened believers in every church covenanted together to pray daily for their pastor, their church, and other churches for God to move in a mighty way?  The sense of urgency already mentioned must begin with someone who cares enough to begin to do something to change the status quo.  What better place to begin than on our knees?   Zechariah 4:6 says, “Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.”  There is no coalition more powerful or wiser than our Lord!

Third, Create a Vision – Successful transformation rests on “a picture of the future that is relatively easy to communicate…. A vision helps clarify the direction in which an organization needs to move.” The vision functions in many different ways: it helps spark motivation, it helps keep all the projects and changes aligned, it provides a filter to evaluate how the organization is doing, and it provides a rationale for the changes the organization will have to weather. “A useful rule of thumb: if you can’t communicate the vision to someone in five minutes or less and get a reaction that signifies both understanding and interest, you are not yet done with this phase of the transformation process.”  It is necessary for churches to determine their present reality, their preferred future, and then develop a plan on how to get there.

Fourth, Communicate that Vision – Kotter suggests the leadership should estimate how much communication of the vision is needed, and then multiply that effort by a factor of ten. Do not limit it to one congregational meeting, a sermon by the minister, or a couple of mail outs to members. Leaders must be seen “walking the talk” – another form of communication — if people are going to perceive the effort as important. “Deeds” along with “words” are powerful communicators of the new ways. The bottom line is that a transformation effort will fail unless most of the members understand, appreciate, commit, and try to make the effort happen. The guiding principle is simple: use every existing communication channel and opportunity.

Please remember to wait on the Lord when working through the process of change.  Waiting is not bad and all you have to do is read verses like Isaiah 40:31 “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Also, my personal favorite in Psalms 27:14, “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.”  When God has shown you what to do move forward but if He has not spoken clearly wait until He does.  In a recent message by my Todd West, my pastor, said, “Sometimes it takes more faith and courage to wait on God than it does to move forward!”

LEADING CHANGE

 Leading Change

            Change is necessary!  As a matter of fact, if we do not change anything in 2013 we will end the year just like 2012.  The question must be asked, “Is that acceptable?”  The need for change is quite apparent in some areas:

  • ·        Desire to be closer to God.
  • ·        Burden to share our faith more often.
  • ·        Churches to experience vibrant worship.
  • ·        Closer and deeper fellowship with other believers.
  • ·        The power of God evident in our lives.
  • ·        The need to learn how to rest in the Lord.
  • ·        The ability to prioritize better.

John Kotter has written a lot about change (Leading Change & Our Iceberg is Melting) and has made it his business to study the successes and failures in change.  While his focus has been primarily in the business world, truth is truth.  It is interesting how many of his observations sound very familiar to the process of change in a church.  He writes, “The most general lesson to be learned from the more successful cases is that the change process goes through a series of phases that, in total, usually require a considerable length of time. Skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed and never produces satisfactory results” and “making critical mistakes in any of the phases can have a devastating impact, slowing momentum and negating hard-won gains.”

Kotter’s eight phases of change are:

  • ·        Establish a Sense of Urgency
  • ·        Form a Powerful Guiding Coalition
  • ·        Create a Vision
  • ·        Communicate that Vision
  • ·        Empower Others to Act on the Vision
  • ·        Plan for and Create Short-Term Wins
  • ·        Consolidate Improvements and Keep the Momentum for Change Moving
  • ·        Institutionalize the New Approaches

First he suggests that you must, Establish a Sense of Urgency – Talk of change typically begins with someone noticing vulnerability or weaknesses that need to be addressed. The reality of not being where God wants us to be can be used of God to motivate His people into action, and they, in turn, try to communicate that sense of urgency to others.  Kotter notes that over half the companies he has observed have never been able to create enough urgency to prompt action. “Without motivation, people won’t help and the effort goes nowhere.”

  It is reported that 85% of all churches have either plateaued or are declining.  Of the 15 % growing only 1% is growing because of conversions.   When does the urgency level get high enough for change to occur?  Kotter suggests it is when 75% of your leadership is honestly convinced that business as usual is no longer an acceptable plan.  Do we not see and know enough right now to see the need for a sense of urgency?  It has been said by many that we will not change until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change!

Leading a church to change is not easy and in many ways more difficult than leading a business to change.  There is always the concern that the gospel or doctrine would be changed or threatened, but you can change many things while protecting the truth of God’s word.  The following is a formula for change: A + B + C > D.  A = Dissatisfaction with the status quo.  B = Knowledge of a better alternative.  C = Knowledge of first steps.  D = The cost of making the change.  Change begins with an honest evaluation of our present reality followed by a vision for our preferred future.  Then you can begin working on how to get there.

Change for a Christian and a church should be the normal natural pattern.  You cannot become a child of God without repentance; a change of mind and direction.  Once you become a child of God you are to be transformed and that means changing every day to become more and more like Christ.  We need an ABC moment.  Awareness that something needs to change. Belief that God will transform your church.  Crisis you are willing to deal with for the change to occur. What is it that we need to change in our lives and in our churches to see God move in 2013 in a powerful and mighty way?