Step Two: Learn from Others
Step Three: Imagine and Construct a New Idea
Throughout the year I’ve tried to carry on a “conversation” with you about the work of UBA churches in Houston. Let me take a minute to summarize what I’ve said. The mission of the church is to make disciples of all people (panta ta ethne), to lead the unconvinced and unbelieving to become fully devoted followers of Christ. The work of the association is to assist the church in carrying out that mission.
I've said that, frankly, if that's our task we are not doing a very effective job. While we can show that our churches are baptizing folks (a measure of our effectiveness in making disciples), we are doing it at a rate much slower than the population growth of the city. We can show that we are starting new churches each year, but we are doing it in multiples of ten when we need to be starting them by the thousands!
So, we are doing good, just not good enough. It a little like bailing the water out of a ship that is taking on water faster than you can bail it out -- you are working hard but you are fighting a losing battle, and the projected end is not good.
I've said we can't just keep doing what we've been doing and expect things to get better. We need to do things differently. But we will never do things differently until we begin to think about things differently. So my theme throughout the year has been "think different(ly)."
Think different(ly). I've discovered that's much easier said than done. Why? Because God didn't really design us to think differently. He designed us to think in repeatable patterns. (I'm tempted to follow this line of thought in my blog, but instead let me point you to the "Think Different(ly)" videos on our UBA webpage www.ubahouston.org where I show you in detail just what I'm talking about.)
So the question then becomes, what is it going to take for us to learn to think different(ly)? (I'm glad I asked.)
I think it is a process that begins with defining the problem. How you define the problem determines the solutions you develop. For example, Henry Ford and Will Durant (the driving force behind General Motors) saw the mass market potential of the automobile. The question, how can we produce cars people can afford?
For Henry Ford, cost was the primary focus. How could he keep the costs down so that he could produce a good product at an affordable price? The solution? He developed a wonderfully elegant system -- the assembly line process -- for producing cars. There was only one model -- the Model T ... one color -- black. "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black" he said. Everything was designed to keep costs down. A friend told me he even arranged for his suppliers to send parts to him in crates of a certain size. He would disassemble the crates and use the wood for the floorboard in his cars. Everything was designed to keep the cost down.
Will Durant also wanted to make cars people could afford, but he took a very different approach. Instead of focusing on the cost of the car, he focused on paying for the car. Drawing on his experience in the carriage business, Durant sought to create automobiles targeted to various incomes and tastes. He created General Motors by consolidating his company (Buick) with twelve other car companies and various parts and accessories manufacturers. With so many options and so many different cars, how did he make cars affordable? He created a finance company, GMAC, that allowed people to buy a car and pay for it in affordable monthly installments.
Both men were interested in mass producing and mass marketing automobiles. One defined the problem as cost, the other as affordability. The way they defined the problem determined the kinds of solutions they developed.
We are commissioned by God to make disciples of all peoples and we are doing that less effectively than we've done it in the past. So what's our problem? Is it that church members have become consumers rather than contributors ("folks just aren't committed like they used to be")? That our society has become postmodern and pluralistic? That Christians are afraid of being rejected if they witness (maybe even fired)? That the church has become irrelevant and outdated? That churches focus more on providing for their members than on making disciples? All the above? Some combination of the above? Something else?
How we define the problem is critical. I know how I would define the problem. How would you?
Learning to Think Different(ly)
Step One: Define the Problem
K.I.S.S. -- you probably recognize the acronym. It stands for "Keep It Simple Stupid." That much may be familiar, but do you know about the man who developed the acronym and all he accomplished?
KISS was first coined by Kelly Johnson (Clarence Leonard Johnson), an aircraft engineer and aeronautical innovator. Johnson led or contributed to the development of a number of aircraft including the P-80 Shooting Star, America's first operational jet fighter. He was the team leader of the Lockheed Skunk Works which was responsible for the design and development of the F-104 Starfighter and the secret reconnaissance planes U-2 and the SR-71 Blackbird. When the Blackbird was developed, it flew so high and so fast that it could not be intercepted or shot down.
Johnson's fourteen rules of management are built around the idea of keeping things simple and uncomplicated (which is amazing since he was involved in creating the most sophisticated aircraft of his time). One time he handed a team of design engineers a handful of tools and told them the jet aircraft they were developing must be repairable by an average mechanic in the field under combat conditions with only these (handful of) tools. Now that's keeping it simple!!
I concluded in my last blog with Einstein's maxim -- "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." Leonardo da Vinci said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." Antoine de Saint Exupery said, "It seems that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."
If we were to make church simple, if we were to reduce it to it's irreducible minimum, what would we have? I think we would have a group of people in whom Christ dwells focused on being disciples of Christ in the world. The Bible would be their curriculum. They would reveal Christ to others daily as they interact with them. They would be led by one of their own. Their desire would be to see others become disciples of Christ. Their tithes and offerings would be used for ministry to others.
Keeping church simple sounds like a desirable thing to do, but it's not as easy as it seems because we have come to expect certain things of church.
Church has become too much about facilities, professionalism, dynamic ministries and glitzy programming ... and less and less about disciple making.
Please, hear me. I am not an angry "outsider" casting stones at the church. I am a professionally trained minister with an earned doctorate that led a large congregation that had many ministries, a big church plant, a large staff and a budget bigger than UBA's today (and that was 22 years ago). I'm a loving "insider" who realizes that continuing to think of doing church this way as the only way we can do church is not going to reach our city for Christ. (Just read my previous blog and you'll see why.) We must find a way of starting churches -- lots of churches -- that focus primarily on making disciples without the complexity required by the traditional way of doing church.
At the heart and core of what it means to be church is the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. We are to make disciples and love one another. What could be more simple than that?
When I began my quest to think differently, Albert Einstein's name kept popping up in things I read. So I started reading a bit more about him. Here are some of my favorite Einstein quotes:
OK, I don't know if he really said the last one, but I like it.
But the Einstein quote that's getting the most circulation right now is his redefinition of insanity. He said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." (I think that's a definition of my golf game, but that's better saved for another blog. Then again, maybe not.)
Doing the same thing over and over. That basically describes how we've started churches for years. Here's the formula: get a church planter, gather a group of people, secure funding from various sources, find a place to meet, as you grow hire more staff, eventually buy property, build a building, expand your programming ... wallah ... a church. We've done it the same way for years and years expecting this to help us reach our city, make disciples, transform communities, fulfill the Great Commission.
Seems reasonable, but if you've followed my blog for a while, you know that it's not working as we'd like. (Check "A Parable Inverted" under March.)
Let me be clear, I'm a church man. I believe in the church. I believe it was founded by Christ, ordained by God, and is an effective means of fulfilling the Great Commission. Much of who I am today is the direct result of the ministry of various churches I've been associated with throughout my life. I'm pro church!
Here's the thing -- I'm not sure church the way we've been doing it is working the way it needs to. Just consider one thing -- the number of Christ followers in our city is declining.
In 1990 the population in Houston was 3,731,131. In 2000 it was 4,669,571. According to religious demographers (www.thearda.com), only 20% of the population in Houston could be identified as Christians (active followers of Christ as we understand it) leaving 80% that need to be reached with the gospel. Eighty percent of the 2000 population is 3,735,657 or roughly the same number as the total population living in Houston in 1990.
Estimates put the current Houston population at about 5.99 million. If 80% of them need to be reached with the gospel, let's see ... that would be 4,792,000 people need to be reached.
How many churches do we need to reach 4.79 million folks? A medium-sized UBA church in the Houston metro area has about 300 members. Using that as a basis, it would require 15,793 new churches to reach the 4.79 million unreached people in our city.
What would it cost? It takes about $3 million to fund a traditional church -- to buy land (you'd need at least 3 acres of property), build the first unit buildings, pay a staff, funding programming over the time it takes to become a 300 member congregation. Truthfully, $3 million is a conservative estimate.
What would it cost to start and grow 15,793 new churches? Are your ready? $47.9 billion dollars!
How long would it take? At our current rate of growth (110 new churches per decade), it would take 1,452 years.
1,452 years and $47.9 billion ... and that's just to reach our current estimated population.
What am I saying? It's not enough just to start more churches the way we are currently doing it! No matter how hard we try or how many we start, it will never be enough. There're not enough trained leaders, not enough money, not enough available land to do it the way we've done it for many years. We've got to think differently about the kinds of churches we start, where we get our leaders, how we reach those who we are not reaching with our current strategy. This is not to say we need to stop planting traditional churches; the point is that's not the only kind of church we need.
Otherwise, we just doing the same thing over and over expecting different results ... and thanks to Dr. Einstein we know what that is.
So what do we do? Maybe another Einstein quote can help us: "make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." Hummm, but I'll save that thought for another time.
A Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian and an atheist were riding together in the same car. Sorta sounds like the start of a joke, doesn't it. It's not.
The other day I was in a Starbucks when a friend, a fellow church member, came in. We were talking about how much Houston is changing. "It was really weird," he said. "We were working on a project at work and broke for lunch. Four of us decided to go together. We were a kind of mini-UN (United Nations). I drove. There was a tech guy from India. He was Hindu. A guy from Pakistan. He was Muslim. And another guy from the US. I know he's not a Christian. I'm not sure he has any kind of faith. And there was me. [It was close to Easter.] I was playing Christian music on the radio and one of the guys started asking me about it."
Houston is changing, diversifying. Folks from all over the world come to our city to live, work and play. The mission field has come to Texas. As Christians we know we have a responsibility to share the gospel with everyone. The Bible tells us to go into all the world and share the gospel (remember Acts 1:8). Leaving home, going abroad to share the gospel ... that's what missionaries do. And our job is to support them with prayer and finances. But what is our responsibility toward the world citizens who now live in our city?
Let's do a little Bible study. On one occasion Jesus said to his followers, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations [panta ta ethne]..." (Matthew 28:19). When most folks read this they assume nations means a country, like India, China, Pakistan. But look closely at the word ethne which is translated nations. Remind you of any word in English? Right! Ethnic. Now read it again using the word ethnic in place of nations. Go and make disciples of all ethnics. That gets closer to what Jesus meant. Why? Because the word nations has morphed (words tend to do that ... charity doesn't mean today what it did to the King James translators).
Now go to Acts 2. The story of Pentecost. Remember what happened? The disciples were gathered in prayer when the Spirit of God fell upon them and they began speaking in different languages (2:4). It was Passover in Jerusalem. Folks from all over had come to the city to celebrate. It's obvious from the listing of countries in Acts 2:9-10 that they came from countries spread across the Mediterranean, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. As the disciples spoke, the people there understood what they were saying. It didn't matter where they'd come from, what language they spoke, what people or ethnic group they represented, they all heard the gospel in their native language.
The miracle at Pentecost is a picture of what God desires for people around the world and in our cities today. God desires that everyone have a chance to hear the gospel in their native tongue so they have a chance to be saved. That means that the 350+ ethnolinguistic people groups living in Houston, speaking 215+ different languages all deserve to hear the gospel in their native language and to have a church that reflects their distinctive culture and tradition to disciple them.
What is our responsibility? As churches we are responsible for reaching across cultural and linguistic barriers to reach folks who may not be like us. Most churches never do this and have no strategy in place to change! Just look around your church this Sunday. You'll probably only see folks who are like yourself ... white, black, Chinese, Korean, Hispanic, Vietnamese, whatever. We all do it. That's not necessarily bad. We like to be around folks who are like us. It's only bad if the church doesn't have a strategy for reaching those who are not like themselves as well.
Folks who are not like us are all around! Take a look. See who lives in your neighborhood, who you encounter as you shop, maybe who you see when you go into the city. If you are really adventuresome, drive into parts of the city where you don't live. Look for folks who don't look like you. Stop by the Galleria. Notice the many different ethnicities. Drive down Westheimer. Notice the restaurants. How many different kinds of food (Chinese, Thai, Indian) can you identify? Can you find street signs in languages other than English? Can't get out? Turn your radio on during the daylight hours and cycle through all the AM channels. How many different languages did you hear? Start looking and listening for the panta ta ethne. They're here and they are our responsibility.
Back to my friend. He is in his car with a Hindu, a Muslim and another fellow who was not a Christian playing Christian music when one of the others in the car ask about the music. What does he do? What does he say? Nothing. He just turns off the music so they can talk. Why? He didn't know what to do, what to say, how to respond. And that's true of many churches today. It's not that we don't care. It's that we just don't know what to do. That's where the associational staff can begin to help.
For a good while now we have tried to learn how to be missionaries in our own culture and context and to teach others to do the same. We've learned from missionaries and gone to the mission field for first hand field work in order to be able to help our churches reach all the people, the panta ta ethne, in our city. It's all part of UBA 4.0. More next month.
Throughout the year I am engaging in ongoing conversations with our UBA leaders about re-tasking the association to take on lostness in our city. But I don't want to limit the conversation to the opportunities I have for a face-to-face dialogue so I've decided to expose my thinking to all who stop by and read my blogs. (Thanks for doing that, by the way.) So let's have an open conversation about UBA 4.0. (Please, feel free to use the comment feature and let's talk.)
In my previous blog (UBA 4.0 ... read below) I postulated that the association has always been designed for the times. During the first three iterations of the association, the association helped churches focus on starting churches and getting pastors on the frontier (1.0), developing our Baptist identity in a predominantly Christian context (2.0), and strengthening churches and helping them change to reach an increasingly secular community (3.0). Today things are continuing to change and the major change is demographic. I referred to it in my previous blog, but let me amplify that thought a bit.
It all began in 1965 with the "Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965." I mentioned this in my previous blog, but let me expand upon it here. (I can tell you are excited about this part of the conversation, but stay with me. It's important.)
Prior to 1965 almost all who immigrated to America were white Europeans. They primarily came from the northern portion of Europe and the British Isles: England, Ireland, the Scandinavian countries, France, Germany, Poland. To a lesser degree they came from the Mediterranean region of Europe.
From 1492 to 1965, 82% of all who came to America, came from Europe. Another 12% were African-Americans, originally brought here as slaves. (Congress banned the importation of slaves in 1808.) A small number of Chinese and Japanese worked as farmers or laborers in California and Hawaii. The border between the US and Mexico was relatively open allowing cheap laborers to come and go as needed, but only a small percentage took up permanent residence. So, for the most part, America was a "white" nation.
From 1924 to 1965, immigration was even more tightly managed. 98% of all immigrant visas granted went to Europeans.
By controlling immigration the government was creating an essentially homogeneous population.
* Prior to 1965 America was predominantly White (Caucasian, Anglo, call it what you will, I am using this designation because it has been the designation used by the government on census forms). Immigrants who came to America typically wanted to "become Americans" which meant learning English (especially making sure their kids spoke English), blending in, becoming part of the great melting pot. Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians often felt like (and were often treated as) second-class citizens. They found it hard to move into the mainstream of society and culture.
* Prior to 1965 the predominant American worldview was Judeo-Christian. Writing in the 1950's sociologist Will Herberg said to be American was to be either Protestant, Catholic or Jew (Protestant, Catholic, Jew. Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1955). Herberg cited data showing 68% of Americans were Protestant, 23% were Catholic, 4% were Jewish (the remaining 5% expressed no religious preference). Whether Protestant, Catholic or Jew, the Bible was foundational for one's worldview. Consequently, the Judeo-Christian worldview was almost universally shared by Americans.
But all that began to change in 1968 when the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 became law. This particular act has been called "the most important piece of legislation no one has ever heard of." Sometimes called the Hart-Cellar Act, it abolished the National Origins Formula that had been in place since the Immigration Act of 1924 making it possible for immigrants from other parts of the world to come to America. By equalizing immigration policies, the act resulted in new immigration from non-European nations which has essentially changed the ethnic and demographic makeup of America.
Today only a small percentage of the folks who come to America come from Europe. Most come from Asia, Africa and Latin America. That means their skin is of a darker hue and their religious background may very likely be something other than Christian.
What impact has all that had on a city like Houston? Dr. Stephen Klineberg of Rice University describes the Houston of the 1960s as a "bi-racial Southern city." In 1960, 74% of the population was White, 20% was Black and almost everyone spoke English. That's no longer the case. Houston is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in the US.
Whites (Anglos) are no longer the largest ethnic group in our Houston. The largest ethnic group in Harris County is now Hispanic. (Interestingly, this is a trend that is growing throughout the top 100 cities in the US.)
The number of Hispanics living in Harris County today is greater than the total population of Harris County in 1960 and greater than the number of Anglos living here has ever been! (This is the reason that no matter what other changes we may make in the association, we will maintain a strong focus on working with our Hispanic leaders and churches.)
Houston is a major immigration portal into Texas and the US. One out of four immigrants that live in Texas live in the Houston area.
The number of Asians in Harris County today is greater than either the number of Blacks or Hispanics in 1960.
We know that four out of ten Harris County residents do not speak English when they go home at night. With nearly 215 identified languages spoken here, it may even be that the majority of folks who live here prefer a language other than English (they may be able to speak English, but it's probably not their first language).
What does all this mean? It means the folks who live in Houston can no longer be described as "homogenous." Far from it. We are a diverse people from many faiths -- if any at all (but more on that in a later blog), speaking many languages, with differing sometimes even conflicting worldviews. We are a world mission field, and all evidence suggests we are not doing a good job of reaching our burgeoning mission field. Every day that goes by Houston becomes more diverse and more lost. More about that next.
(If you want to learn more about immigration and the history of America, I'd encourage you to explore the Library of Congress webpage:
We don't see trees grow or notice ourselves aging each day, but these things happen. Sometimes slowly. Sometimes only when viewed through the lens of time. But things change.
Associations, like trees, change, grow, develop over time. Take UBA, for example. UBA has gone through three distinct stages in her 170 history (yes, UBA was begun in 1840 and is 170 years old this year).
UBA 1.0 -- In the beginning was the church, or churches to be more accurate. Three churches joined together to form Union Baptist Association. Associations were formed for several reasons: to promote Baptist understanding of doctrine and Baptist church polity [our Baptist identity], to provide fellowship, to encourage starting new churches and to promote benevolent work.
When UBA began there were no national or state conventions and no agencies. They came later. As they developed, the focus shifted from the association and the local church to conventions and agencies. This led to the next stage of associational life for associations.
UBA 2.0 -- As national agencies developed, the focus shifted from the local church to the state convention and national agency. National agencies began developing programs to be implemented by churches all across the convention. Baptist churches became standardized. It didn't matter if your church was in California or the Carolinas, it was like virtually every other Baptist church. Local associations became implementers of national programs at the local level. The primary purpose of the association was to help produce good Baptists.
Houston is a city of entrepreneurs. Innovation, creativity and risk-taking are accepted, even encouraged and highly rewarded. The leaders of UBA reflect the spirit of Houston. UBA helped start two major universities -- Baylor and Houston Baptist, Memorial Baptist Hospital (today part of the Memorial-Hermann system), Center for Counseling before Christian counseling was well-established, Union Baptist Foundation for starting churches, Baptist Mission Centers and Trinity Pines Conference Center. So it's no surprise that when church life began changing in the late 80s and early 90s, UBA began to change.
UBA 3.0 -- UBA transitioned from being a promoter of Baptist programs to a team of consultants for churches and community transformation in the mid 90s. Rick Warren once referred to UBA as transitioning from being a program-driven association to a purpose-driven association. UBA led the way in leadership development with programs like Young Leaders (later LeadersEdge) which was duplicated in associations across the country, church planting and community transformation. Mission Houston grew directly out of the community transformation initiative of UBA.
Beginning in 1965, Houston began to change dramatically. Prior to 1965 almost everyone that immigrated to the United States came from the British Isles and northern Europe. That meant they were predominantly white and Protestant, Catholic or Jew. American immigration laws changed in 1965 and the face (literally) of America has dramatically changed since, with Houston leading the way in this new diversity.
Houston has transitioned from being a bi-racial Southern city (1960) to being one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in America. We've identified about 350 different ethnolinguistic people groups in Houston with 215 languages spoken. Four out of ten people living in Houston will not speak in English when they go home tonight. There are more Hispanics living in Harris County today than the total population of Harris County in 1960!
The folks moving into our neighborhoods from around the world are no longer predominantly white, Protestant or Jew. Many will be Catholic (often a syncretized version of Catholicism). More likely they will be Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, animist, or of no religious faith whatsoever. This provides the greatest opportunity for world missions at a local level we have ever known. While our forefathers learned about missions in a study group, we can learn by doing it firsthand in our city. This is one of several reasons it may be time for UBA 4.0.
What might the next iteration of Union Baptist Association, what I'm calling UBA 4.0, look like? That's yet to be determined, but I believe it must focus on our Great Commission responsibilities.
Peter Drucker said every organization must answer two questions: what business are you in? and how's business? I believe churches are in the Great Commission business. We are in the business of making disciples of all peoples. If that's true, then how's business? (I addressed this a bit in my previous blog "A Parable Inverted.") The short answer is this -- "not good!"
If the Great Commission is the church's primary task, and if we are not doing that job very well, and if it is the function of the association to assist the church in fulfilling it's purpose, then maybe it's time for us to rethink the purpose and function of the association.
I continue to wonder what would happen if the association, UBA or any association, saw as it's primary purpose to mobilize churches to take on lostness - intentionally and persistently.
I think it's time for UBA 4.0. What do you think? Feel free to post your comments.
One is such an important number.
True or false? A proposal to make German the official language of the United States of America was defeated in Congress by one vote! If you said "true" you are almost correct. Here's the story. In response to a request from a group of German-Americans from Augusta, Virginia, a House committee recommended publishing 3,000 sets of laws in German and distributing them to the states (with copies of statutes printed in English as well). The House debated this proposal without reaching a decision, and a vote to adjourn and consider the recommendation at a later date was defeated by one vote, 42 to 41. There was no vote on the actual bill, just the vote on whether or not to adjourn. Because the motion to adjourn did not pass, the matter was dropped. If they had considered the bill later, would they have voted to publish in German? Probably not. The House, a month later, debated a similar issue and decided to publish only in English. But the legend persists to this day that the German missed becoming the official language of the US by one vote.
There's no denying that one was an important number to Jesus. He told a parable about the importance of one, three parables in fact, all found in Luke 15. A shepherd had one lost sheep, a woman lost one coin, a father had one wayward son. The shepherd left ninety-nine sheep in the fold and risked everything to find his one lost sheep. The woman turned her house upside down trying to find her one missing coin. The father abandoned decorum and protocol to welcome back his one wayward son. These parables show us God's heart for the lost, his willingness to do whatever was necessary to bring one more person into a relationship with him.
Last week our staff went away for 3 days to begin trying to "think different(ly)" about UBA and to ask what our responsibility was to our churches. [see my January 2010 blog] We are not interested in thinking different just to be different. We recognize there is a significant gap between what God wants and what is going on in our churches and in the world.
We didn't just talk about things. We sought God. We prayed. We read Scripture. We listened to God and shared with one another what God was saying to us. And there was amazing, amazing clarity and consistency in our conversation.
One of the things we discussed was the parable of the lost sheep. The good shepherd left 99 sheep in the fold to focus all his attention on rescuing one lone, lost sheep. Rescuing the one lost sheep became his priority! He risked everything to rescue that sheep.
Then we looked at the way the church (not any specific church, but churches as a whole) does things. What did we observe? We've inverted the parable. We focus our attention on the sheep in the fold, not on the lost sheep that need to be rescued.
We may say lostness is a priority, but what do the records say? In 1999, with 489 churches, UBA churches baptized 9,596 people. In 2009, with 599 churches and with 583,771 more people living in Harris County, we baptized only 9,595 people. With 110 more churches and almost 600,000 more people living around us, we baptized the same number of people. You tell me, is lostness really our priority?
I wonder what would happen if the association, UBA or any association, saw as it's primary purpose to mobilize churches to take on lostness - intentionally and persistently.
We're just one association, but if we did, maybe others would follow.