On his blog, Seth Godin writes “If you want to dig a big hole, you need to stay in one place.”
I wonder how this applies to evangelism? He explains that if you take your little shovel all over town, you’ll end up with a bunch of little holes – little impact. As a marketing guru, he applies this to sales: If you make 1000 sales calls, you’re likely to get 1000 rejections. On the other hand, if you work on one person and call him ten times, you might make a sale.
Back to evangelism: I think Jesus understood the “Law of the Little Shovel” pretty well. Think about it. He spent lots of time with the same 12 people (the disciples). He used his shovel digging into the lives of the same folks every day for three years of ministry. Those guys ended up changing the world and bringing Jesus’ message to the world as we know it – big impact.
I think it’s important to realize that when we truly invest our lives in people, (the same people year after year) we will dig much deeper in transforming both them and ultimately, the world around us. We should think in terms of changing a few people greatly rather than changing a great number of people in small ways.
His 19-month-old finger pointed awkwardly at the bottom of his cereal bowl and he grunted to get my attention. Kasen has been daddy’s shadow lately. Everywhere I go, he’s just a step behind. Miranda’s says he’s “daddy’s little boy” right now and she laments that she doesn’t get to be the “hero” like me. I’m not sure I’m a very good hero, and I know my influence on him is a huge responsibility, but I must admit that I really enjoy watching him try to be “like daddy.” This morning, we went on our walk together and then he ate breakfast with me. He tried to do everything in exactly the same way he witnessed me doing it. He even sat facing me so he could see everything clearly.
As a disciple of Jesus, I think I could take a few lessons from my son. Do I follow Him as closely? Do I sit facing Him? Am I one step behind Him? Is He truly my “hero?” Is being “like Jesus” my highest priority?
February of 1996. I was 26 years old. I had been a youth minister for 8 years. Full-time for 4. The youth had all gotten together for my birthday and given me $$ to go skydiving (on my bucketlist of things to do). My Pastor, Mike Mathews, (He is now my Father-in-Law) was organizing a trip to Israel and came to me saying he’d arrange for me to be able to go for free, but I’d still need some $$ for a passport, food, etc. I decided to skip the skydiving experience in favor of the trip. It was one of the best decisions of my life!
We got to walk in Jesus’ footsteps for 9 straight days. We saw Jerusalem and the temple mount, the wailing wall, the empty tomb of Jesus, Golgotha, Lazarus’ tomb, Bethlehem, & Nazareth. We rode a boat across the Sea of Galilee, hiked Masada, and explored Qumran. Seeing these sites was truly remarkable! I now understand why robbers placed themselves on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. (It’s a steep road and travelers would be too tired to fight them off.) I will never read the scriptures the same way again. Phrases like “Land of milk and honey” and “Armegeddon” have new meaning!
When Mike described the experience to me, he said that I’d feel like I had gone “home” when we got there. I didn’t believe him. How could I feel “at home” in a strange country, where most spoke another language, and machine guns were seen regularly? He was right! I did feel “at home.” There’s something about that place that goes beyond description. Well, it’s not “something” – it’s someone, and His name is Jesus. If you love Jesus, you will love Israel. Some have called it the “fifth gospel.” Just like the other four, Israel has as story to tell about Jesus, the land itself testifies to His glory!
I hope to go back one day. You should consider a trip too. It will change your life.
If you’re interested, here’s a link to my journal entries from the trip.
The trembling hands awkwardly grasped the air. . . faithfully reaching into the unknown. I stood there again, behind the cold glass, looking in on my precious new baby. Kesleigh Anne was born last night around 11:03pm. It was now about 2:30am. The hospital halls were silent and I just watched. I watched my baby girl tremble. Her tiny hands grasping the air. . . groping for something. . . something she didn’t know or understand. It was a new world to her. Just hours earlier she had been protected within her mother. . .floating effortlessly in a forever nourished state. Now she was breathing with lungs which had never tasted air before. Her skin was drying and she was missing the touch of her mother as she lay in this cold plastic box. Unable to see yet, she reached out. . . . longing for a touch. . . . longing for something to comfort her.
I watched behind the glass. I felt so proud. Proud to be her father. Proud of her mother. And yet. . . there was something else underneath. . . something which took the edge off the pleasure of the moment. I was scared. Scared of responsibility. Fearful of what it would be like to have a 2nd child in the house. I imagined brushing her hair as a little girl and tucking her into bed at night. I imagined the day when I would one day walk her down the aisle and give her away. I wondered if I could do it. I wondered if God would give me the strength to be the father that she would need?
As she grasped the air, so did I. Trembling, I awkwardly stretched out my arms and decided to reach into the unknown. . . . longing for a touch. . . . longing for something to comfort me.
“Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola and George Barna is an interesting read. I read it a few months ago, and quite honestly, I’ve been wrestling with it ever since. I haven’t blogged or posted anything, ’cause I simply don’t know what to think.
The book is written to describe the origins of many of our church traditions. By the title, you’d accurately presume that most of our traditions are heavily influenced or even completely based upon Pagan practices. This is true. The authors make a strong case and truly have their “ducks in a row” in regards to documenting these things. Here’s the problem though – just because something has it’s origin outside of the church, doesn’t make it wrong or even unbiblical. For me, these ideas expressed in Pagan Christianity, have helped me to consider and think about what practices are truly “necessary” according to the Scriptures. Acts 2:42-47 describes the things the early church concerned themselves with:
Teaching/Learning, Fellowship, Breaking of the Bread, Prayer, Filled with awe by signs and wonders (by God), Shared with one another and took care of each other, were intentional about being together, Praised God
Now, somewhere along the road, the church became much more and people began to focus on other things. Some of those things have benefited the church over the years, but that doesn’t mean they are necessary. The message of the Gospel will never change, however, the methods must change with culture.
Below is a list of the origins of many of our quote/unquote “Christian” traditions as described in the book. The authors give much more detail and do a very thorough job, but this is just a basic list. There’s a lot here so you might just want to “skim” it.
1. The church building – was first constructed under Constantine in AD 327. They were patterned after Roman basilicas/Greek temples. Before that, Christians met in homes, community centers, and Jewish temples.
2. Sacred space – was a borrowed idea from pagans in the 2nd-3rd centuries. Burial places of martyrs was considered “sacred” and when churches were built above these cemeteries – they became “sacred” too. Sacred space for the Christian is everywhere since the Holy Spirit resides in us.
3. The Pastor’s chair – came from the cathedra, which was the Bishop’s chair or throne. It replaced the seat of the judge in the Roman basilica.
4. Tax-Exempt status – came in AD313 for clergy and 323 for churches with Constantine. Pagan priests had enjoyed this privilege prior to that.
5. Stained-Glass windows – were first introduced to the church between 1081-1151 AD.
6. Gothic Cathedrals – were built according to the philosophy of Plato in the 12th century.
7. Steeples – are rooted in ancient Babylonian and Egyptian architecture and were popularized in London around 1666.
8. Pulpits – came from the Greek “ambo” which was used to deliver monologues. They arrived in churches as early as AD 250.
9. Pews – evolved between 13-18th centuries in England. (Participants became spectators.)
10. Order of Worship – Evolved from Gregory’s Mass in the 6th century and revisions were made by Luther, Calvin, Methodists, etc. Early church meetings were marked by spontaneity, freedom, every-member functioning, and open participation.
11. Centrality of the Sermon – Martin Luther in 1523.
12. Candles – were used in Roman ceremonial courts in the 4th century and made their way into the church at the same time.
13. Lord’s supper taken quarterly – was practiced first in the 16th century under Zwingly. He also introduced the communion table.
14. Congregation standing and sitting when clergy enters/exits – borrowed practice from Roman emperors in the 4th century – brought to church by John Calvin.
15. Somber attitudes – were practiced by John Calvin and Martin Bucer based upon the medieval view of piety.
16. Guilt/Condemnation for missing a Sunday – came with the 17th century New England Puritans.
17. Long Pastoral Prayer before the Sermon – 17th Century Puritans
18. Altar Calls – were instituted by 17th century Methodists and popularized by Charles Finney.
19. Church Bulletins (and written liturgy) – came to the church with Albert Blake Dick’s stencil duplicating machine in 1884.
20. Solo hymns, Door-to-door witnessing, and Evangelism Campaigns – were started with D.L. Moody (1837-1899)
21. Decision cards – were introduced by Absalom Earle and popularized by D.L. Moody.
22. Bowed heads, eyes closed, raise your hand to respond to the Gospel – was first done by Billy Graham in the 20th century.
23. Solo/Choral music during the Offering – 20th century Pentecostals.
24. Sermons – were borrowed from the Greek sophists. John Chrysostom and Augustine popularized the Greco-Roman homily and made it a central part of Christian churches.
25. Long sermons, notes, sermon outlines – 17th century Puritans
26. Pastors (as an office) – did not exist until Ignatius of Antioch in the early 2nd century. They didn’t prevail in most churches until the 3rd century.
27. The Clergy/Laity split – didn’t occur until 100AD with the writing of Clement of Rome. By the 3rd century, Christian leaders were universally called clergy. Prior to this, clergy and laity were equal in standing/reputation/etc.
28. Ordination – evolved between the 2nd and 4th centuries and was based upon the Roman custom of appointing men to civil office.
29. The title “Pastor” – wasn’t popular until the 18th century under the influence of Lutheran Pietists.
30. Wearing your “Sunday Best” – began in the late 18th century with the industrial revolution. The emerging middle class sought to be like their wealthy contemporaries.
31. Clergy attire – began in AD 330 and was based upon Roman officials garb.
32. The Clerical collar – was invented by Rev. Dr. Donald McLeod of Glasgow in 1865.
33. Choirs – were first introduced in the church in the 4th century as Christians copied the idea from Greek dramas and temples.
34. Boys choirs – were also borrowed from pagans in the 4th century.
35. Funeral processions and Orations – were borrowed from Greco-Roman paganism in the 3rd century.
36. Worship Team – was first used in Calvary Chapel in 1965 and was patterned after secular rock concerts.
37. Tithing – was not a widespread practice until the late 18th century. The tithe was taken from the 10 percent rent charge used in the Roman empire and then justified using the Old Testament.
38. Clergy salaries – were instituted by Constantine in the 4th century.
39. Collection plates – can be traced to the alms dishes of the 14th century. “Passing” the plate began in 1662.
40. Ushers – can be traced back to the 3rd century as a “church porter,” but truly began with Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)
41. Infant Baptism – was brought into the Christian faith in the late 2nd century due to the superstitious beliefs of teh Greco-Roman culture. By the 5th century, it replaced adult baptism.
42. Sprinkling replaced Immersion – began in the late Middle Ages in Western churches.
43. The “Sinner’s Prayer” – was first used by D.L. Moody and popularized by Billy Graham’s Peace with God tract and Campus Crusade’s Four Spiritual Laws.
44. The term “Personal Savior” – spawned in the mid-1800s by the Frontier-Revivalist influence and was popularized by Charles Fuller (1887-1968).
45. Lord’s Supper – was condensed from a full meal to just bread and a cup in the late 2nd century as a result of pagan ritual influences.
46. Sunday School – was created by Robert Raikes from Britain in 1780 in order to educate poor street children. They were not given religious instruction, but a basic education.
47. Youth Pastors – developed in urban churches in 1930s-40s as a result of seeking to meet the needs of a new sociological class called “teenagers.”
Now, that’s a lot to take in. Viola and Barna (the authors) are very intentional about saying that just because these traditions are not rooted in Scripture, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t practice them. For me at least, they do however, raise the question, “What are the practices which are necessary in our culture?” And what would a church look like if it focused only on those things deemed necessary? If a church wants to focus on “teaching/learning” as the Bible describes, what is the best way to do so? In years past, Sunday School was the answer, but what about today? What avenue is best in our culture?
What about a building? Could a church function and be healthy without a building? The answer is absolutely “Yes!” It did quite well without a building for it’s first 300 years. But in our culture, a building is just assumed. Could a church actually be more healthy without a building? What provisions would need to be made? What else would need to happen to function without a building?
Anyway, as you can see, these ideas and their implications are huge. I haven’t gotten it all processed out, and probably won’t for a while. I just wanted to share some of it here and see if you guys have other ideas or thoughts. Please respond. I’d love to know what everybody else thinks.
Some of the church leadership people met with Dave Herman, (our “Transformation Coach”) this morning and I created a few diagrams to help explain some of the things he shared. Although we talked about quite a few other topics, most of the conversations centered on changing a culture.
I think it’s important to first define culture. For the purpose of this conversation, we are not talking about the culture at large but rather “organizational culture” and specifically our own church (Lake Jackson FUMC) culture. In my “Christian Leadership” classes at CBS, we learned that organizational culture is defined as “that which is assumed.” People assume things to be a certain way because a culture has told them so. Assumptions are made based upon the way things have always been done within the culture of that particular organization. Culture is an understood (and mostly agreed upon) set of rules by which everyone plays within that organization. Culture was also described like an iceberg. The way an organization does things (what is seen) helps us understand it’s culture, but there’s usually a lot more under the surface. You can change what is seen, (like core values or mission statements) but without changing the cultural support, nothing will really be different. The look may change, but the direction and momentum remains fixed because culture carries so much weight.
Anyway, here’s the first diagram:
The congregation is represented by the blue line and the leadership by the green.
Church/organizational culture is portrayed by the purple wave which flows in and out of it’s members as a story. The church culture is very difficult to define (a wave) because it is ever-changing and organic in nature. Culture is created, reorganized, and understood by the average member throughout their lives. When they hear stories of things going on in the church or are reminded of memories of the “good ol’ days,” they instinctively define the church by those stories. Although it changes often, the church culture is mostly defined by who the people are, and what they’ve done in the past. This results in a status quo or good ol’ days mentality. Some of the members, are also leaders. They may not hold positions, but they have influence and others hear their stories with greater appreciation.
The leadership of the church is called by God to direct, empower, and equip it’s members to live out the story of God rather than the story of the status quo. They should be mostly concerned about the future of the church and should speak a new story into the lives of it’s congregation. A story which represents the calling they believe God has placed upon them collectively. The red wave represents this “God story.” It’s also important for this story (vision) to be clear, concise, and compelling. (not like a wave)
I should be clear to say that the purple wave may very well be Godly too, but it is fluid in nature and much less defined. Setting a church on a specific course requires strategy which calls for definition and focus.
Too many church leadership teams function the wrong way. They call members to join them. Yet, in the servant leader model, the leaders are called to serve their members – step out of their positions to work alongside them. In doing so, they build relationships which allow them to gain influence. Once that influence/relationship is built, the leader can tell the new story and begin to have an impact on the culture from the ground up. A leader serves. That means culture is formed as leaders kneel.
As those relationships grow, the members, become leaders/interpreters/proponents of the new story which they have seen lived out in their leaders. Pretty soon, enough members have become a part of the new story that the church culture approaches a tipping point. Then the culture truly begins to be shaped by the new story/vision as it ripples through the congregation. Unfortunately, there will always be a few people who will never join the new story. When the whole culture changes around them, they find themselves trapped. Some will leave the organization. Others will just go into hiding, hoping that the new story will fail so they can come out and say “I told you so.” Some will just live out the rest of their lives in bitterness – always trying to regain their personal story. The good news is that God’s story has room for everyone! Some (the disciples) will choose to follow while others (the Rich Young Ruler) will hold on to their own and miss out on God’s best.
I’m excited to be a part of a new story here at Lake Jackson FUMC. I pray that I can be one of those green X’s who will serve this church family by humbly telling a new story and seeking to love in such a way that the culture, community, and my friends will know Jesus more.
Just a final note of thanks to Dave Herman. This is very insightful information, which will benefit us greatly as we seek to be a part of God’s work in the transformation of His church. I also want to apologize if I have misrepresented him in any way. The explanations are a combination of his words and my own thoughts. Dave, if you’re reading this, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Did I get it mostly right?
No matter where you are in life, you can probably say, “Wow! I’ve never been here before. Life has thrown some things at me, but I’ve never felt like this before.” It seems that even in our “normal” everyday lives, there’s still always something new – something different that turns things at a new angle so it all seems new. Consequently, we’re always breaking new ground – walking into uncharted territory. New terrain is normal – it’s what we do, if we’re alive. This means we’ve gotta always be ready for the unexpected and it also means that life is truly an adventure.
During our time at my mom’s house for the hurricane evacuation, I was watching Kasen and learned something about new terrain. Let me explain: He has been walking for about a month, but he’s still working on it. He still stumbles around a bit when there’s an incline or a little step – or if he’s going from concrete to grass, etc. My mom has a concrete porch in the back of her house with stepping stones in the grass leading to another bricked area with a porch swing. The weather was beautiful while we were there so we spent quite a bit of time outside. Kasen loved the stepping stones, but couldn’t navigate them very well. They were too far apart for him to use them properly, and so he would step into the grass and then up on a stone, then down into the grass again. . . .you get the picture. If I walked all the way out to the swing, he’d just stop and cry for me to pick him up and take him there, but if I went a couple steps ahead of him. . .he’d give it a shot and walk to me. He fell almost every time he went from the stone to the grass, but each time he got up again and would clap for himself and say “Yeah.” (That’s something else he’s learned recently.) Each time I’d join him in the applause and he’d continue. Whenever he made it without falling, he also clapped and I joined him then too. He needed the encouragement either way – besides that, the applause is what made the whole experience fun. As a father, I loved cheering for him when he’d get up after a fall and also when he made the step and kept his balance. I know he loved it too.
I wonder if this hurricane and the new terrain that we’re learning to navigate is similar? Do we have enough people around us who will cheer for us whether we succeed or fall? Are we being the kind of people who will cheer for others either way? As we enter into this new terrain, will we continue to walk – taking one step at a time, or will we be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task? Do we have people in our lives who will go with us through it all without getting too far out ahead? Will we go through it with others?
For that matter – isn’t this the case with anything new in our lives? Isn’t it better when we do it together? When there are people to encourage us and walk through it all with us?
I once heard Rob Morris, an amazing Christian speaker and co-founder of Love146, talking about how much he loved his son. He described how he used to sit up late a night with a video camera zooming in and out of his little hands, and then his feet, and then. . . Anyway, his wife came in and told him to come to bed, but he was too excited to sleep and was having so much fun watching and treasuring his son late into the night. I didn’t really understand how true this story was until Kasen was born. This video will probably be boring to everyone else, but I love it. The music was written by a good friend of mine and I wrote the lyrics to make it a lullaby when Kasen was born. I wonder if God looks over each part of me and rejoices the way I do over Kasen?
This weekend, I experienced the sacred mystery of an amazing cathedral. Entering, I was first struck by the arches of east Texas pine stretching to a ceiling of endless blue. An easiness washed over over me and the world’s worries disappeared as I became overwhelmed by a sense of peace. We rested on old rocking chairs at a humble altar of two by four decking where we offered up our most lofty dreams and concerns communing with each other and the Creator. We laughed around a table sharing something more than our lives – truly sharing the present moment. It’s a sacred place – a holy place – where God engages us and helps us to think bigger stretching our hearts beyond the corners of our present state. It’s truly a joy to be in this place – an experience that I’ll never forget, and yet it’s also one which is not alone – I have come to expect and long for these experiences.
Thank you Godbolds! I truly consider our times with you in Livingston sacred.
Kasen wouldn’t sleep tonight. He was too distracted. He went to bed fine, but then woke up around 2am. Miranda rocked him. It didn’t work. I walked him. It didn’t work. When you start rocking him, he normally closes his eyes and rests and soon he’s asleep. When I walk him it’s the same way, but tonight his eyes were wide open. I watched on as he studied my shadow as it flowed across the ceiling. Then he looked for the source of the gentle hum coming from the computer and although it was dark, he tried to make out the images in the frames on our wall. Almost like he thought it was morning and time to get up. I walked him again and by about 2:45am, he was finally back to sleep. Now it’s 3:35 and I’ve been wide awake since then.
Anyway, I’ve been up tonight thinking about God. I wonder how many times He wants me to rest, but I’m too distracted looking around at all that fills my life? How many times has He walked me hoping that I’d just rest in His arms and feel comforted by His presence? I wonder how often I have been resting with Him and then been distracted in such a way as to miss out on His real blessings? I wonder how often I have imagined that it was time to be finished with my time with God when He had more for me?
Lord, help me rest in You without distractions.