Thursday, December 1, 2011

'Tis the Season

I'm writing this between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The turkey is gone but the aroma of dressing and cranberry sause are still in the air.  Black Friday and Cyber Monday are behind me, but I've still got lots of Christmas shopping to do.  It's a time of betwixt and between, of giving thanks, of making lists and anticipating something special.  So it seems appropriate as I write this, my last blog of the year, that I spend a moment sharing some of the things I'm thankful for and wishing for in my role as Executive Director of Union Baptist Association.

 

Giving Thanks

I have had the opportunity to serve in the role of executive director of UBA for more than a decade now.  I began serving on the associational staff in a full-time capacity twenty years ago and moved into the role of executive director in the late nineties.  Over the past two decades I've seen many, many things change in our association.  We've grown in significant ways.

  • We have more churches and baptize more folks than any association in Baptist life.
  • We are one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse associations in Baptist life.  Once UBA was all Anglo association.  Today one third of our churches are Anglo, one third African American and one third language churches with Hispanic being the largest group.
  • We work cooperatively with Baptists and non-Baptist groups so long as they share our vision and values.
  • I serve with an outstanding team of leaders -- on our UBA staff and with our subsidiary corporations.  I don't spend time motivating people to work; my job is to resource them and get out of their way!  I could not ask to work with a more highly competent, trustworthy and dedicated group of people.  Thanks team!
  • We enjoy the support of churches aligned with both state conventions.  Years ago we decided as an association not to make state convention alignment an issue at the associational level.  Consequently, we've maintained a high level of collegiality and cooperative among all our churches.  If you looked at the money we receive from our churches, we enjoy strong support from both BGCT and SBTC churches.  Thank you all!
  • UBA has been known through the years as innovative and a leader in Baptist life.  That's due in great measure to the permission-giving culture of UBA.  We are not afraid to experiment, to try new things.  We are not tied to doing it the way we've always done it.

I didn't realize when the UBA Executive Director Search Committee informed me I was their choice as the new ED for UBA that it was one of the greatest days of my life.  Looking back now, though, I know that it was.

 

Wishing for More

Just because I have so much doesn't mean I don't wish for more, though.  (Isn't that just the way we are?)  So what would be on my wish list as ED of UBA?


A positive view of the church. I hope in 2012 we can begin talking more positively about the church.  The church in general suffers from a lot of negative press and bad attitudes, even among believers.  We talk about losing ground, being in decline, having apathetic and uncommitted members ... and there's some truth in all of that.  But it's also true that the world is a much, much better place because of Christ, the Christian faith and the presence of the church.  In 2012 one of the key initiatives for UBA will be promoting the positive aspects of the church!


Bold steps forward! Since the events of 2001 in Houston (the national economic downturn, flooding from Tropical Storm Allison, 9/11, the collapse of Enron), UBA has been in a protection mode.  We've had to reduce our budget, release staff, limit what we do.  We've lived all the cliches -- "work smarter, right size, think outside the box, focused on our core competencies, managed expectations, innovate" -- in our effort to do our job.  Truthfully, I believe we've done well.  We really have done these things, but it's not enough.  After a decade of consolidation, I believe it is time to take bold steps forward; to think about expanding, not retreating; to challenge our churches to take things to the next level, to push the envelope, to give 110% … I know, they're just more cliches, but they can also reflect our high level commitment to make a difference for Christ.

The list could go on ... more churches, more baptisms, more openness to the gospel  ... but this blog cannot, so I'll stop here.  As I do I want to say thanks to all once again for the privilege of serving as the executive director of UBA, and to wish you a Merry Christmas and a very happy new year!

 

Feliz navidad, y prospero año y felicidad en Christo.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Toppling Governments -- Spreading the Faith


A question:  what do secular movements like the revolutions in the Middle East and the protests against Wall Street have to do with the growth and spread of Christianity?
I've read accounts of what's going on in our world and wondered.  Here's some of what I've concluded:  these movements began when someone, deeply committed to a cause, starts to rally those closest to him or her to action.  Using Twitter, Facebook, texting or old fashioned word of mouth, the cause spread from one person to another along already established social and relational networks.  Movements spread like viruses, going from person to person, among those who are in close contact with one another -- a friend connects with a friend who connects with a friend.
According to Dr. Rodney Stark in his books The Rise of Christianity:  How the Obscure, Marginal, Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force and the just released The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World's Largest Religion, that's how Christianity spread in the first three hundred years following Christ.
Dr. Stark says by 40AD the movement Jesus founded had only about 1,000 followers.  By 300AD the number of Jesus followers had grown to around 6,000,000, or about 10% of the Roman Empire.  Never has any movement--social, religious, or political--achieved such a rapid advance in the dominant culture without the aid of a military force! How did this happen?
The book of Acts tells the story of the growth of the early church.  Much of Acts focuses on Paul and his missionary activities.  While we usually think of folks like Paul as being responsible for the spread of Christianity, according to Dr. Stark the spread of Christianity didn't depend upon religious professionals so much as on ordinary folk who shared their faith with family, friends and neighbors (you can catch a glimpse of this happening in Acts 11:19-26),
Dr. Stark writes:
Christianity was spread, not so much by the professionals, but by ordinary people whose names and deeds are not recorded.  Christian conversions followed networks of relationships.  Missionaries often led the way making initial contacts.  Once some insiders were converted, they became the key to the gospel spreading throughout the rest of the social network.
[T]he spread of religious movements is not accomplished by dramatic events and persuasive preachers, but by ordinary followers who convert their equally anonymous friends, relatives and neighbors.
The Roman authorities attempted to halt the expansion of Christianity by targeting its leadership.  Men like Peter and Paul were arrested, imprisoned and executed.  But that didn't stop the rapid, widespread growth of Christianity for it was a movement of the people, not the professionals!
We can find something very much like the growth of the early church happening in China today.  Despite decades of religious persecution, the church in China is growing and spreading.  The communist government tried to stop it by expelling missionaries and arresting and imprisoning pastors, but the church continued to grow because it was a movement of ordinary people.
Christianity conquered the Roman world without a strategic plan, without an organizational structure, without access to significant resources, without academic institutions, and without a professionalized clergy.  How?  Ordinary people, on fire with the love of Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, told their families, friends, and casual acquaintances what God had done for them.  There are many factors that influence a person's decision to become a Christ follower, but the most important factor seems to be a close and positive relationship with another committed Christ follower.
In my last few blog entries I've focused our attention on the concept of movements, wondering what it would take for there to be a spiritual, transformative movement of God spreading across our city like a wildfire. For there to be a movement of God do we need to call a group of pastors together, write a vision statement, develop a strategic plan, then figure out how we are going to fund it?  I don't think so.  There's nothing wrong with that approach, and it may help.  But whether there is a strategic plan in place or not, the only thing that really matters is this -- as Christ's followers we must be deeply surrendered to him, and then just begin sharing our faith with our those closest to us -- family, friends and neighbors. If this simply formula can be used to topple governments and change social policies, surely it can be used to bring Christ to our world.

-------------------
For those interested in more books by Dr. Stark, just click here.  It will take you to Amazon.com.  Not only will you have access to Dr. Stark's books, but UBA will receive a little income on everything you purchase using this link.  Other books you might consider are:
Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome
The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Question: why? Our answer: "cause."

There are certain answers that fit most any question. As an adult my favorite is "that depends." Try it out.
Which shirt (dress, etc) do you like best? "That depends" (on whether you intend to use if for dress or casual wear, on whether you wear it with blue jeans or shorts, etc.). Do you like to listen to music? "That depends" (for example, on what I'm doing). It even works for highly specific questions which you might think have only one answer. For example, is Washington DC the capital of the US? "It depends" (on whether you mean political capital, or entertainment capital, or financial capital).
"It depends" can be used to answer many questions. It is my default "adult" answer. As a kid my favorite response was probably "because" which I shortened to "cause." It works best with why questions.
Why did you hit your brother? "Cause" he hit me first, or he took my toy. Why didn't you take out the trash? "Cause" it was too heavy or it smelled too bad. Why? "Cause."
Today "cause" isn't an answer so much as it's a question. What "cause" are you living for?

I've been writing about movements and asking what it's going to take if we are ever going to see a great movement of God in our city. I believe great movements occur when people find a cause worth giving their lives to completely!

John Wesley didn't plan to start a movement, but nonetheless that's what happened. The founder of Methodism, Wesley lived at the epicenter of one of the most significant religious and social movements of the eighteenth century.

Wesley's goal was to reform a nation by spreading Scriptural holiness over the land. Wesley believed that people without Christ were lost, that sin brought destruction in this life and the next, that faith in Christ should result in loving obedience to his commands, and that by faithfully following Christ the world could be changed!

Denied access to the church, he declared "The world is my parish!" He began preaching in open fields and public places. In his lifetime he traveled almost a quarter of a million miles on horseback, preached 40,000 sermons often preaching two or three times a day, and saw over 100,000 conversions.

Wesley didn't work alone. Wherever he went he appointed local lay preachers to carry out the work of ministry. This expansion of lay preachers was one of the keys to the growth of Methodism.
Wesley's commitment to Christ and his cause never wavered throughout his lifetime. He endured opposition and derision from ministers and magistrates alike. Mobs often turned up at his meetings to disrupt his work, but never wavered in his commitment to Christ and his cause.

When Wesley was carried to his grave, it's been said that "he left behind him a good library of books, a well-worn clergyman's gown" and the Methodist church. Records show there were 71,463 Methodists in Britain and 61,811 in the US around the time of his death (1791). By 1850 Methodists were the largest Christian denomination in the US! (For the story of how this happened check out my blogs on "How the West Was Won.")

Summarizing his life and impact, Steve Addison says: "Although there were many factors that fed into this amazing expansion none were more important than Methodists' discipline and commitment to their cause." [italics mine]

Why am I writing about movements and how they come about? Because I believe a great movement of God is needed -- in our city, among our churches, in our denomination. Christian influence is waning. Our denomination is poised for decline. We can't just keep on as we are and pretend everything is going to be better.

That's why at UBA we have a cause: to mobilize churches to take on lostness. We believe that without Christ people are lost, that sin destroys but faith transforms, and that following Christ can truly change our world. We believe that the church is God's instrument in society for change. Only by sparking a movement of God that ignites our churches to take on lostness in exponentially greater ways is there hope.

You might ask, Do you really think if people follow Christ it will change the world? Based on the way I opened this article you might think my answer would be "that depends." Not this time. This time my answer is a definitive "yes."

Will it happen? Will we see a movement of God? This time my answer is "that depends." Do we have a white-hot faith? Are we committed to a worthy cause?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A White Hot Faith

When Jesus said, "I will build my church"* I am confident he was starting a movement. He spoke with authority and conviction, and the common people heard him gladly and followed him devotedly. What began as a mission in the heart of God has become a transformative movement that has circled the globe and lasted for two thousand years!

Movements don't follow formulas; they follow passion.

The first great Protestant missionary movement began with Count Nicolas Zinzendof. His story is fascinating. Zinzendorf was born into one of the most noble families of Europe. As a young man he struggled with his desire to study for the ministry and the expectation that he would fulfill his hereditary role as a Count. As a teenager he formed a secret society, The Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed, whose stated purpose was that members would used their position and influence to spread the gospel.

When he came of age as a young man Zinzendorf took a Grand Tour as was expected of a person in his position. On his tour he visited an art museum in Dusseldorf where he saw a Domenico Feti painting titled Ecce Homo, "Behold the Man." It portrayed the crucified Christ with the legend, "This have I done for you - Now what will you do for me?" The young count as profoundly moved and appears to have had an almost mystical experience while looking at the painting, feeling as if Christ himself was speaking those word to his heart. He vowed that day to dedicate his life to the service of Christ.

In 1722, Zinzendorf became intrigued by the story of the Moravians after granting a group permission to live on his land. So taken was he with them that in 1727 Zinzendorf left public life to spend all his time working with the Moravians.

In 1731, Zinzendorf met a converted slave from the West Indies. The tale of his people's plight moved Zinzendorf deeply. As a result two young men were sent to St. Thomas to live among the slaves and preach the gospel. This was the first organized Protestant mission work. It grew rapidly spreading to Africa, America, Russia and other parts of the world. In two decades the movement resulted in more missionaries being sent out than all Protestants had sent out in the previous 200 years!

The missionaries that went out were were laypeople, mostly farmers and tradesmen; trained as evangelists, not theologians; receiving scant training in language acquisition and cross-cultural ministry; with no financial support and no organization to look after them. They were simply people of passion on mission for Christ.

Movements don't follow formulas; they follow passion!

In the book Movements that Changed the World, Steve Addison identifies a "white hot faith" as one of the characteristics of a dynamic missionary movement. How does God develop a white hot faith in us?

Addison suggests two things:

(1) A crisis which results in a surrendered life. Thoughout Scripture God takes the initiate to call a person to His service through a powerful encounter (Moses before the burning bush, Isaiah's vision in the Temple, Jesus in the wilderness, Saul on the road to Damascus). Before there is any outpouring of vision, there is a deep experience of surrender to God followed by an outpouring of God's spirit (remember Pentecost?). An experience of crisis, surrender and empowerment is central to Count Zinzendorf's story as well as throughout every missionary movement.

(2) A process that results in a disciplined life. Just what that process is varies from movement to movement, but deep personal devotion to Christ and highly disciplined life are always evident. The early disciples met regularly to read Scripture, hear teaching, pray, confess and share with one another. The Moravians and Methodists met in classes to do much the same thing. These classes also became accountability groups with confession of sin and repentance key components.

While we cannot orchestrate a spiritual crises, we be open to God at all times, look for Him in all our life experiences, ask God what He is trying to say to us at all times. We can consistently spend time in his Word and prayer, listen to good biblical teaching and stay in community with fellow believers. In other words, we can make sure we are in the right condition for a God to ignite a white hot faith within us.

Due to extreme heat and dry conditions wildfires are igniting all over Texas right now. The wildfires can result when a tiny spark meets just the right conditions. While we can't control the spark (that comes from God), we can make sure our hearts are in the right condition. And we can pray for a movement of God to break out in our city, a movement that will ignite the church to share the gospel with the nearly five million people in our city who need to know Christ.


__________

*Matthew 16:18

For more on Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, check out: http://www.zinzendorf.com/countz.htm

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Church on the Move(ment): One Solitary Life

Dr. James A Francis was the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Los Angeles, California nearly a century ago.  You've probably never heard of him.  There are not many hits for him on Google.  There is no Wikipedia article on his life or ministry.  But probably everyone who reads these words has been impacted in some small way by something he said.

In a sermon, "Arise, Sir Knight," delivered on July 11, 1926, he spoke these words:
"Let us turn now to the story. A child is born in an obscure village. He is brought up in another obscure village. He works in a carpenter shop until he is thirty, and then for three brief years is an itinerant preacher, proclaiming a message and living a life. He never writes a book. He never holds an office. He never raises an army. He never has a family of his own. He never owns a home. He never goes to college. He never travels two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He gathers a little group of friends about him and teaches them his way of life. While still a young man the tide of popular feeling turns against him. The band of followers forsakes him. One denies him; another betrays him. He is turned over to his enemies. He goes through the mockery of a trial; he is nailed on a cross between two thieves, and when dead is laid in a borrowed grave by the kindness of a friend. Those are the facts of his human life. He rises from the dead. Today we look back across nineteen hundred years and ask, What kind of a trail has he left across the centuries? When we try to sum up his influence, all the armies that ever marched, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned are absolutely picayune in their influence on mankind compared with that of this one solitary life."
Dr. Francis' sermon was published in The Real Jesus and Other Sermons (Judson Press, 1926).  He apparently edited these words a few times into the version we know today as "One Solitary Life."  Somehow over time his association with the words was lost and they came to be attributed to "Anonymous."  Ironic, isn't it, that the Jesus of whom he wrote was born and lived in relative obscurity though he had a profound impact on mankind, and Francis' association with "One Solitary Life" likewise became obscure for over three-quarters of a century though his words are known by many.

When talking about Jesus, Dr. Francis asks:  What kind of a trail has he [Jesus] left across the centuries?

I believe it is fair to say that when Jesus established the church he started a movement that is transforming our world for the good.

Most folks don't think of the church as a movement.  Today we tend to think of it more as a place where people gather, a building, an institution.  I'm rather confident that's not what Jesus had in mind.  When he told his disciples they were to be witnesses to all people throughout the earth, I don't think he had in mind building an auditorium in the heart of Jerusalem (just down from the Temple), installing Peter as pastor and inviting folks to come hear him preach.  I think he wanted to start a movement where all people could hear the good news, become Christ followers, and find the abundant life they long for.

Just look at the language of the book of Acts.  It's not about an institution.  it's all about movement.  The Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples as a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire.  Wind implies movement -- there is no wind unless there is movement.  And fire is in constant motion.  Again, movement.  Later the disciples are scattered by persecution like seeds scattered by a farmer as he throws them to the wind and they fall upon the ground.  Movement!

In the book Movements that Changed the World, Steve Addison defines a movement as "a group of people pursuing a common cause ... movements are characterized by discontent, vision, and action."  For good or evil, he says, movements change the world.  In the weeks ahead I'm going to consider the five characteristics Addison identifies as characteristics of dynamic missionary movements.  For the record here they are:
  1. White hot faith
  2. Commitment to a cause
  3. Contagious relationships
  4. Rapid mobilization
  5. Adaptive methods
Dr. Francis wrote of that one solitary life that has had more influence on the world than the combined impact of "all the armies that ever marched, all the parliaments that ever sat, [and] all the kings that ever reigned."

The church began as a movement and became an institution.  At UBA we are committed to helping the church reverse it course and once again become a movement that will change our world!

For more information on One Solitary Life and Dr. Francis:  http://www.sjvls.org/bens/bf007sl.htm
To purchase Steve Addison's book Movements that Changed the Word: http://www.ubahouston.org/589318.ihtml

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Call to Prayer on August 6

A few weeks ago (on May 18) Texas Governor Rick Perry wrote a letter to the governors of each of the other states inviting them to join him on August 6 at Reliant Stadium in Houston "for a solemn day of prayer and fasting on behalf of our troubled nation."

Why?

He wrote: "As governors blessed to serve our respective states, we are all too aware of the struggles our citizens face that are often beyond the power of government to solve. Try as we might, we cannot right every wrong, prevent bad things from happening to good people or sign laws that cause people to treat one another with love, decency and respect.

"Given the trials that beset our nation and world, from the global economic downturn to natural disasters, the lingering danger of terrorism and continued debasement of our culture, I believe it is time to convene the leaders from each of our United States in a day of prayer and fasting, like that described in the book of Joel."

He is referring to Joel, Chapter 2, and I'm betting you haven't read Joel lately. I hadn't. So I went back and read it again. A plague of locusts had devastated the land, the economy, and with it the social infrastructure of the nation. The people were in great despair. Joel calls upon the people to gather for a solemn assembly. Everyone needed to be there--even the aged, the children and nursing mothers. Get the just married out of bed (yes, he really says that) and get them there, he says. After you've gathered, cry out to God and see what He will do. "Even now--[this is] the LORD'S declaration--turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Tear your hearts, not just your clothes, and return to the LORD your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and He relents from sending disaster. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him..." (Joel 2:12-14).

Governor Perry concluded his letter: "Our nation was blessed to have founders who were both righteous and prayerful. I am not one who believes that our culture and society cannot be redeemed and renewed. But I believe it will take a great amount of prayer, and a renewed commitment to spiritual principles, to get our nation back on track. Let us not delay in doing what is right for our people and their future."

Once word got out that Governor Perry was calling for people to gather for a solemn assembly folks started asking questions: why would Governor Perry do this, is it an election ploy since he may be running for President, won't this turn into a political rally for the conservatives ... on and on the questions go.

When I was invited to meet with some of the organizers of the event, I had questions going into the meeting. (I sometimes think I have the spiritual gift of skepticism. ) I'll just be candid -- a city-wide solemn assembly is not the kind of thing I am naturally drawn to, but as I listened to Doug Stringer and others speak I decided this is something I need to support. Why? Here are some of my thoughts:

1. This will be a solemn assembly, not a political rally. Governor Perry is not organizing this event. That has been turned over to a group of folks, many of whom I know and trust, who are committed to keeping the event's focus spiritual, not political.

2. Our attention will be focused on God in worship and prayer. It will not be a celebrity parade; most of the folks who will lead in prayer will be folks you've never heard of ... ordinary folks like you and me. There will be no sermons or speeches; the organizers promise every speaker's platform time will be limited to a period of 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

3. While anyone is welcome to come, this is an event for the Christian church. The focus will not be on "political correctness." When folks pray, they will pray in the name of Jesus.

4. Originally, it was to be in Dallas, but the venue they wanted wasn't available. So the organizers turned to Houston. It seems providential to me, given the recent media attention surrounding the national cemetery in our city, that the event should be here rather than Dallas!

5. There is risk involved. Someone could say or do something inappropriate, but safeguards will be in place to keep things from getting too far out of hand. Even though there is some risk involved, I believe it is a risk worth taking.

6. The greatest risk may be for Governor Perry. If he is interested in running for President of the United States, being so clearly identified as a Christian who believes the future of our country rests on the providential and intervening activity of God may be more detrimental to his political campaign than helpful.

I have adjusted my schedule so I can participate. I'll be there to pray with brothers in sisters in Christ. I probably won't have on sackcloth and ashes, but I will be there in a spirit of humility. The body of Christ is so diverse I don't expect to be comfortable with everything that happens, but that's not the point. I can handle a little discomfort if what we are doing honors Christ.

I ask you:

1. To join me in Reliant Stadium, August 6

2. To reach out to your network and circle of friends and invite them to come with you

3. To pray for this to be a day that honors God and blesses our nation

Monday, June 6, 2011

Why Add When You Can Multiply?

"We're not smart. We're just relentless." -- Ralph Moore

Ralph Moore is a pastor in Hawaii. I'm guessing, like me, you probably haven't heard of him before. I just learned about him today. If he had planted a church in Hawaii that grew to 10,000 people, we'd probably know him, but he didn't do that. Instead, he planted a church that multiplies churches that together amount to 70,000 people. Learning that intrigued me. I wanted to know more about Moore.

In 1983, after starting a church in California (Hope Chapel Hermosa Beach) he moved to Hawaii. The new church, Hope Chapel Kaneohe Bay, began under a hau tree in a Kailua Beach Park with 71 folks in attendance. Within six months they planted their first "daughter" church. Today, HCKB had grown to more than 1,700 people. Under Ralph's leadership Hope Chapels have planted more than 700 churches located on six continents.

Ralph Moore believes church should be simple and it should reproduce. Ralph's strategy is to multiply through MiniChurches. The MiniChurch is where church members are discipled and cared for and new leaders are identified and nurtured. MiniChurches are small groups. They meet weekly to review the Bible teaching from the previous weekend's services. The format is simple (of course). They ask, what did you learn, what did God say to you, and what will you do? (Today Hope Chapel Kaneohe Bay has over 115 Minichurches.)

Faithful group members who are influencing others are recruited as apprentice leaders and trained. Faithful apprentices can become MiniChurch pastors. MiniChurch pastors who are effective in multiplying other groups and leaders participate in the "pastor factory" where they are receive theological and practical training for current and future church leadership. The "pastor factory" becomes the talent pool from which future church planters are drawn. (Think of it as a kind of farm system for church planters.)

Mel Isara was one of the new Christians in Hawaii. He became a MiniChurch pastor and began multiplying other groups. Mel caught Ralph's vision for church planting and started his first church in 2001. Six months after starting the church, Mel told them he would only be their pastor for two more years.

True to his word, two years later Mel left to start another church. In the first service in the new church he told the congregation he was going to be the laziest pastor they had ever met because he was going to equip them to do the work of ministry. He told them he would be leaving in two and a half years and "Junior" would be their new pastor. Junior was a former alcoholic and drug addict Mel had been equipping for the past four years. In 2005, Mel kept his promise, left that church and headed to another city in Hawaii to plant another church.

Since 1972 Ralph has seen over 700 churches, large and small, started in North America and the Asia-Pacific region. Many of those churches have started churches that started churches that started churches, on and on out several generations. In human terms, some of these churches are parents, some are grandparents, great-grandparents and even great-great grandparents of new churches!
Ralph Moore isn't just a church planter. He's a movement maker. (Don't count baptisms, he cautions. Count new churches. That's the way to multiply.)

For many, many months I've said we need to think different(ly) if we are going to reach our city for Christ. One thing we need to do is shift our way of thinking from addition to multiplication. If multiplication (multiplying disciples, multiply churches) was our aim, what would we do? What would we stop doing? What would we do differently?

I'm convinced Jesus didn't come just to establish the church; he came to start a movement, a movement which grew exponentially. But what does it take to have a movement, whether social, political or religious? That's a question I'll explore next month as we look at the church on the move(ment).

Note: For more on Ralph Moore, visit www.hopechapel.com and www.ralphmoorehawaii.com, or read Ralph's book How to Multiply Your Church with Ed Stetzer.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

It Matters if You Pray

Today is the National Day of Prayer. The Continental Congress issued a day of prayer in 1775 to designate "a time for prayer in forming a new nation." As this nation continues to form, it only seems right to set aside time to pray for our country, her leaders, our place in the world of nations.
I'm not one who believes ours is a Christian nation (though I do believe there are biblical principles that form the framework for our country's foundation). I don't see us as godly and those who oppose us as ungodly. It's far too complicated to take that simplistic an approach. But I am proud to be an American. My heart beats a little faster and my emotions move more to the surface as I think about this nation of ours and how fortunate we are to be here. But that's not the focus of my thoughts today.
Does it really make any difference if we pray? That's a question that often comes to mind as I sit (or stand or kneel) in meetings like I will all day today to pray for our nation. I will confess, sometimes our praying (even my own) seems perfunctory, superficial and far too generic to be much good. Does it really matter if we pray?
Every time I ask myself this question I remember something a seminary professor and friend, Dr. Huber Drumwright, taught me about prayer. He had me look at Paul's prayer request to the church in Rome (found in Romans 15:30-32). Paul asked the believers in Rome to pray for him as he journeyed to their city. He asked them to pray for three things specifically: (1) that he would be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, (2) that his service in Jerusalem would be acceptable to the saints there, and (3) that by God's will he would be able to come to Rome and meet with them. Then Dr. Drumwright had me read Acts 20-28. I smiled as I did. "You see," he said, "it really does matter that we pray."
You'll want to read Acts 20-28 for yourself (I'd encourage you to read it in "The Voice," the new translation of the New Testament published by Thomas Nelson). What is recorded there? It's the story of Paul as he leaves Ephesus and returns, after many years, to Jerusalem with a financial gift for the church there. Along the way he heard people were plotting against him. Many believers warned him not to go to Jerusalem, but he continued on his journey. Initially, he was well received by the church there (the first answer to prayer), but things turned against him quickly.
The story begins to read like a Grisham novel now. After Paul had been there a week or so, those who were plotting against him started a riot and tried to kill him in the confusion. Roman soldiers came to Paul's rescue and stopped the crowd from beating him. Paul is thrown into jail. He needed to be transported to another city far away to stand trial. Men take a vow to kill him while he's in transit. A boy overhears their plot, persuades the Romans the threat is genuine and under heavy Roman guard (about 200 soldiers!) Paul is taken to Caesarea. Answered prayer again as he is rescued from the unbelievers in Judea!
Before Paul is taken to Caesarea God assures him he will testify about him in Rome, the third thing Paul asked the believers to pray for. It doesn't happen quickly. Paul would stand trial several times more before various officials, a process that will take years, not days, before he was ensconced on a ship to sail for Rome. Strong winds, unabating storms and a hurricane force "northeaster" lead to a shipwreck. Again, God intervened several times to save his life. You'll want to read the story for yourself. It really is almost too good to be true, but true it is.
Finally, finally, Paul arrives in Rome where he is able to preach the gospel, meet with the church, and fulfill his mission. Answered prayer a third time!
Every time I wonder if it makes any difference when we pray, I remember this story and I am encouraged to keep on praying. I hope you are, too. Reflecting on the story, I also realize that while God will answer our prayers, those answers may be a while in coming. So I not only need to be positive as I pray, I need to be patient and persistent as well.
As you pray, pray for the churches of Union Baptist Association and the leadership of the UBA. We've got a big job to do as we try to strengthen churches and mobilize them to take on lostness.
As a quick-witted friend from seminary days said to me one time, we definitely need the prayers and you probably need the practice. (*smile*)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Good, Better, Best

I'm not much of a poet nor a lover of poetry. But here's a little verse that's worth remembering.
"Good, better, best ...never let it rest,
until your good is better and your better best."
I think I read that little verse in a book given to me at college graduation. It's certainly not great poetry, but it is a worthy challenge ... especially in the realm of ideas.
In my previous blog on "iNnovation and Discernment" I concluded: "The creative process isn't about accepting every new idea that comes along. It's about taking the best ideas and enhancing them -- finding their strengths and building on them, finding their weaknesses and eliminating them."
When we are trying to solve a problem or come up with an innovative idea, it's easy to stop with the first good idea we have. It takes great discipline not to jump immediately into action. After all, we don't just want to come up with ideas. We want to solve problems, to take action, to get things done. It takes great discipline to say (to yourself or others): that's a good idea; now let's see if we can build on it and come up with a better idea.
Thomas Edison came up with a marvelous invention, the phonograph, which created a whole new industry. The story is beautifully portrayed in the movie "Edison the Man" staring Spencer Tracy. Edison didn't so much invent the phonograph ... he stumbled upon it quite by accident (like many great discoveries). He was trying to create a way of capturing the dots and dashes of a telegraph message when he wondered if his device might capture the human voice as well as an electronic impulse. Amazingly, it did. Voilà. The phonograph. It became one of Edison's greatest innovations. (Pictured: Edison and his early phonograph)
That was in the summer of 1877. But the fame bestowed on Edison for this invention (sometimes called his most original) was not due to its efficiency. Recording with his tinfoil phonograph was too difficult to be practical, and its reproduction of sound was distorted and squeaky, good for only a few playbacks. Alexander Graham Bell had a better idea. Use wax instead of tinfoil (better). Emile Berliner had an even better idea. Why not use flat, wax platters rather than can-like tins. Production would be cheaper, easier and faster. Good --the tin foil disk. Better -- the wax disk. Best -- the wax platter ... which was the market standard for almost one hundred years!
Though I'll not take time to tell the stories, the same kind of thing happened to two of Edison's other great inventions: the electrical lighting system and moving pictures. Both inventions were innovative. Both created new industries. Both transformed the way we live. But no matter how good Edison's ideas were, someone else came along and improved on them. Westinghouse changed the electrical lighting system from direct current to alternating current. Charles Jenkins and Thomas Armat took Edison's concept of moving pictures (the one-person-at-a-time, peep-holed Kinetoscope) and developed a way to project them on a wall so a room full of people could watch at the same time.
My point in all of this is to say every idea, no matter how good it may be, can be improved upon. Even the wax platter, an industry standard for nearly one hundred years, was supplanted by the CD and digital technology.
So what ideas might we consider improving upon? How about the church? The concept of church is biblical. Jesus established the church and I'm confident it will last until he comes again. But the way we do church, that's where we need to be open to new ideas. Do we meet in a building and listen to one person teach or preach? That's one way of doing it. Are there better ways?
The idea of churches in a geographical region working together to promote education, church development, benevolence and missions is a good idea (it's called an association). Is there a better way of doing those things?
Is there a better way to start churches? A better way to train leaders? A better way to meet the needs of those around us? A better way to share the gospel? A better way to make disciples? Better ways to do missions?
Innovative thinkers are linked to the past, but they are not chained to it. They are constantly taking good ideas and improving upon them making them better.
In UBA we are re-tasking to mobilize churches to take on lostness. We know what we are doing is good (like Edison's phonograph), but we are convinced there are even better, more effective ways of carrying out the Great Commission and we are committed to finding them. It's not in the Bible, but it's well worth remembering: "Good, better, best, never let it rest, until your good is better and your better best."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

iNnovation and Discernment

The "i's" seem to have it these days. iPod. iPad. iPhone. iMac. And my personal favorite these days: iNnovation.
I'm convinced we've moved into an era when innovation is the great new leadership skill ... and most of us don't have a clue how to be creative or innovative. Innovation and creativity aren't skills being taught in our seminary classes, so it is something we as church leaders will need to learn on our own. That's why I've spent the last two years learning all I can and sharing some of my thoughts with you.
I especially believe it is important for the church to be creative and innovative. One would think that since we serve the great Creator God that innovation and creativity would come naturally for the church. Quite the opposite is usually true. Taken as a whole, highly religious folks seem to value preserving the past more than being innovative or creative. Jesus ran into that with the scribes and Pharisees. (Remember his conversation about new wine and old wineskins?)
And it's not just religious folks that have trouble with new ideas.
"In 1968, the Swiss dominated the watch industry. The Swiss themselves invented the electronic watch movement at their research institute in Neuchatel, Switzerland. It was rejected by every Swiss watch manufacturer. Based on their past experiences in the industry, they believed this couldn’t possibly be the watch of the future. After all, it was battery powered, did not have bearings or a mainspring and almost no gears. Seiko took one look at this invention that the Swiss manufacturers rejected at the World Watch Congress that year and took over the world watch market.
"When Univac invented the computer, they refused to talk to business people who inquired about it, because they said the computer was invented for scientists and had no business applications. Then along came IBM. IBM, itself, once said that according to their past experiences in the computer market, there is virtually no market for the personal computer. In fact, they said they were absolutely certain there were no more than five or six people in the entire world who had need for a personal computer. And along came Apple." (Michael Michalko, "A Theory About Genius")
Being creative and innovative isn't easy, but it is essential if the church is to continue to have an impact in our world.
Thus far I've said that to be innovative we must (1) carefully define the problem, (2) learn from others who are successfully solving problems like the ones we face, (3) use what we learn from other like building blocks to construct new ideas, (4) give the new ideas time to germinate ... and now (5) be discerning. What do I mean by that? (Refer to my prior posts for more details on the process.)
When we first come up with a new idea, it is easy to think "that's the answer ... let's do it." But a good problem-solver will be discerning. Let the euphoria of a new, novel idea pass and take time to look at it critically. Look for strengths and weakness in the new idea. See if there are ways to make you good idea even stronger.
Here is where a critic can be really helpful. Most of us don't like critics, especially when they're critical of our new ideas. But the critic can turn out to be a benefit and a blessing if they help you look at your new ideas objectively.
Critics are usually folks who are looking at things from another point of view. During his lifetime, President Abraham Lincoln was the most unpopular president that ever lived. From our point of view, he was one of the greatest presidents that ever lived. We are looking at the same man, but our point of view is different.
Walt Disney learned to look at ideas from three points of view: the dreamer, the realistic and the critic. When he considered a new idea, he would begin by exploring all the possibilities. He would let his imagination soar without worrying about funding, implementation, technology, anything. Sometimes he would take new ideas and combine them with other ideas. Talking mouse? Why not! That was the point of view of the dreamer. The next day he would bring his fantasies back to earth and be the realist. How can we make this idea workable? Practical? Finally, he would play the part of the critic and poke holes in his ideas. Who's going to believe a mouse can talk? Is this really feasible? Can we fund it? Will people respond? Can we make money? By looking at his own ideas from these three different perspectives he learned to be discerning.
The creative process isn't about accepting every new idea that comes along. It's about taking the best ideas and enhancing them -- finding their strengths and building on them, finding their weaknesses and eliminating them.
That's what folks like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels did years ago. The took the idea of church, looked at its strengths and weaknesses, and figured out how to do it better to reach their communities. It's what the great church leaders have done throughout history. They haven't sought to preserve the past, but to build upon it in new and creative ways.
So here's the process we've discussed to date:
Step One: Define the Problem
Step Two: Learn from Others
Step Three: Imagine and Construct a New Idea
Step Four: Give Your Ideas Time to Germinate
Step Five: Be Discerning (Cast a Critical Eye)
The next step: start all over again and see if you can come up with something even better this time.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Give Your Ideas Time to Germinate

One writer described our culture this way: "This is the age of the half-read page, and a quick hash and a mad dash; the bright night with the nerves tight, the plane hop and the brief stop, the lamp tan in a short span, the big shot in a soft spot, the brain stain and the heart pain, the cat naps 'til the spring snaps and the fun's done!" Pass the Valium, please.

When our kids were growing up Sandra and I had a cassette tape of children's songs we played for our boys. One song played so many times I recall the words now, many (many) years later: "Have patience, have patience, don't be in such a hurry. When you get impatient you only start to worry. Remember, remember, that God is patient to. Just think of all the times he had to stop and wait on you."
I suppose as an adult that song had more meaning to me than it did to our kids, but they got the message -- patience is a godly virtue. Unfortunately, it is not something most folks seem to practice ... especially when things aren't going well.
I mention this because I've also discovered patience is critical to the creative process ... and that's what I've been writing about for some time.
Jesus told a story about a man who scattered seed on the ground (Mark 4:26-29). After a time the seed begins to sprout and grow. He doesn't know how; it just does. He waits patiently until the plant (crop) fully matures before he harvests it. Jesus tells this story in reference to the kingdom of God, but, like any good story, there are layers of meaning. I even think there are lessons here for us on how to think creatively and be innovative.
Notice what the farmer does ... he gives the plant time to grow before he harvests it. That's what we need to do with ideas. We need to give them time to grow, to mature, to season. It's pretty obvious how you do that with a plant, but how do you do that with an idea?
Pray. 'Nuff said. Seriously. Pray, ask God to work through your heart and mind to formulate new, creative ideas.
Give your unconscious mind time to work. We have this sense, sometimes, that great ideas come like blinding lights on the road to Damascus. That's rarely true. Usually the really creative ideas come after we've spent time working on a problem, finding out how others have solved it, playing around with ideas, then focusing our attention on something else for a while. The process is much like the farmer planting the seed below ground and giving it time to sprout, establish its root system and begin to grow. Sometimes to solve a problem I have to get away from it, go running, sleep on it for a while. How many times have you had it happen that you worked on a problem, couldn't solve it and woke up in the middle of the night with the answer (or some version of that story)? It's the way God made us. We've got to give ideas time to grow in the soil of our subconscious mind before they sprout into really creative ideas.
Sometimes, like the farmer, we've got to work the soil to bring forth a crop. The farmer needs to clear out the weeds, loosen the soil, fertilize when appropriate, water if needed. Sometimes, even with ideas, we've got to work the soil if we want to bring forth the good fruit. Dr. Blaine McCormick is the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs at the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University knows how to work the soil for a good idea. In his book At Work with Thomas Edison he says he will give a problem to his students and tell them they must come up with a list of at least 40 ways to solve the problem. After they've done that, he will ask them to identify their best idea. Almost always the best ideas come somewhere between number 16 and 32 on the list. Good ideas take time to develop!
Why even mention this? Why send this word out to churches? Simple. This year we are focusing on re-designing UBA "to mobilize churches to take on lostness." If we are not careful, in the name of trying to do something creative and new, we will just keep on doing the same old things we've always done. We will repackage our ideas, give them a new name, think that putting concepts on the internet rather than printing them out on a mimeograph machine (anybody remember them?) make them modern. It doesn't. Consequently, we will keep getting the same lackluster results we've been getting.
No, the really creative ideas come after hard work and lots of prayer. Like seed, ideas grow when the conditions are right. Our job is to do all we can to make the conditions right. Define the problem. Learn from others. Play around with our ideas. Give them time to develop. Next step, be discerning.
Step One: Define the Problem
Step Two: Learn from Others
Step Three: Imagine and Construct a New Idea
Step Four: Give Your Ideas Time to Germinate
Step Five: Be Discerning (Cast a Critical Eye)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Another thought about Imagineering

I'll go on with the next installment of creative/innovative thinking ("Give Your Ideas Time to Germinate") in the next few days, but I came across this story which I thought would help explain the concept of imagineering.
The basic idea is this ... when creating a new idea, begin with an old idea ... I don't mean "old" in the sense of outdated ... I mean old in the sense of "prior." Use other ideas as building blocks for a new idea. Find a way to combine technologies to create something new, or maybe find new applications for existing technology (e.g., sometimes medicines designed for one purpose are found to discover other uses, which is how a certain medicine designed to control blood pressure was found to have other uses, but I'm not telling that story).
At Methodist Hospital here in Houston, Dr. E. Brian Butler had a hunch. Dr. Butler is the chairman of radiation oncology at Methodist. His hunch was that the 2-D black-and-white images created from CT scans, X-rays, MRIs and other tests could be combined and layered to create 3-D images. So he asked some gaming engineers if they could help him. He said to them, "I use radiation to kill cancer. I want to figure out where to drop my bombs on the enemy, and where not to. Can you help me figure out how to do that, in a 3-D simulated environment?" "Sure," they said. "You want sound effects?"
Now doctors use video game technology -- including Wii and PlayStation controllers -- to "travel" inside a patient's body and preview the landscape in 3-D before surgery. The images are shown on a 16-by-9-foot screen in a room that Dr. Butler and project co-developer Paul Sovelius dubbed "Plato's Cave."
"When I show my patients a photo of the thyroid gland in a book, there's no real depth of understanding," says Dr. Eugene Alford, an otolaryngologist and facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Methodist. The 3-D images shown in the Cave, however, make more sense to patients. "Fade out the skin, then see the muscles; fade out the muscles, see the arteries and veins of the neck, the windpipe, and how they relate to the thyroid gland," Alford points out. Now, perhaps even cooler yet, they take the 3-D experience to the patient's bedside using the iPad.
Notice how 3-D computer gaming technology combined with the older 2-D medical technology to create something entirely new (and cool!).
It just makes me wonder what new ideas are waiting to be discovered that can help the church do a better job communicating the gospel and making disciples. Some creative mind ought to be able to combine technology and incarnation (or some other combination) to help us find better ways to fulfill the Great Commission. I'm not that smart, but maybe you are.
_______
The source for the story on what's going on at Methodist Hospital is the January, 2011 issue of Continental's flight magazine. There's even a great story on how Memorial Hermann's autism clinic is using iPads (I've just gotta get one of those) to help autistic children learn to organize their thoughts and learn the names of things.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Become an Imagineer

Imagineer. I don't recall ever hearing the term until I heard the late Dr. Randy Pausch use it in his famous Last Lecture. I had a fair idea what an imagineer was, but I took time to look it up anyway. Any imagineer is "a person who devises and implements a new or highly imaginative concept or technology, in particular one who devises the attractions in Walt Disney theme parks."
As I am using the term, though, I think of an imagineer as someone who uses his or her God-given gift of imagination. Imagination may be one of the most powerful tools in our mental arsenal. Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." Though known for his use of logic, Einstein also said, "Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere."
When it comes to thinking differently, not just any kind of imagination will do. What's needed is a well-informed imagination. That brings me to the third step in thinking creatively.
Let me review what I've said before (for those who haven't read my prior posts). When faced with a significant challenge and you need to think differently, step one is to define the problem. The way you define the problem sets the stage for the way you will develop a solution. Step two is to learn from others. Brilliance is borrowed, so go exploring. Find out what others have done to solve problems like yours. Don't limit yourself to just folks who have the same problem you've had. Be intensely curious. Look at what folks have done in other fields. See what you can borrow from them to solve your problem. What you learn from others becomes the basis for your well-informed imagination.
That leads us to step three: imagine and construct a new idea.
For centuries manuscripts were produced the same way. A scribe would carefully and meticulously copy a manuscript by hand. It was a long, laborious, expensive process. Books were rare. Only the very wealthy could afford them. Consequently, not much was written and not many could read.
Around 1440, Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized the world with the invention of the printing press (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Gutenberg and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Printing_press for more background).
Johannes Gutenberg was a goldsmith whose invention of mechanical movable type printing started the printing revolution and is widely regarded as the most important event of the modern period. But where did he get the idea for movable type printing? “In 1448 Johannes Gutenberg combined the mechanism for pressing wine and punching coins to produce movable type, which made printing practical.” (Cracking Creativity, 114)
The Wikipedia article says: “Among his many contributions to printing are: the invention of a process for mass-producing movable type; the use of oil-based ink; and the use of a wooden printing press similar to the agricultural screw presses of the period. His truly epochal invention was the combination of these elements into a practical system which allowed the mass production of printed books and was economically viable for printers and readers alike."

Charles Darwin combined ideas from various disciplines in the development of his concept of evolution. While many naturalists noted the differences between species, Darwin noted their similarities, for example the similarities between the human hand and a bird's wing. But this was not enough to give him the idea of evolution. He borrowed key ideas from others. He was influenced by Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology in which he said geological formations developed naturally over long periods of time. Add to that ideas influenced by Thomas Malthus' Principles of Population in which he said populations tend to grow beyond their natural resources and are "checked" by natural processes (starvation, disease, conflict) and you have the basis for Darwin's theory of evolution.
As we look at what will be needed to reach the vast, diverse, unreached population of Houston with the gospel, we will need to pray earnestly and think creatively. If we continue just doing what we've done, maybe just trying harder, we will fail to fulfill our Great Commission responsibilities. I believe, as I always have, that the church is the basis for reaching our city with the gospel. But doing things as we've always done them isn't enough. We need to think differently, creatively, about the kinds of churches we start and about the ways we start, fund, and support them. We need to move from addition to multiplication. We need to think more creatively about church leadership, about leadership development, about evangelism, and about every aspect of our work.
So what can we learn from others? From social media? From broadcasting? From medicine? From the Salvation Army? From the U.S. Army? From al queda? From social enterprise? From business? From the Mormons? From musicians? From IMB and IBM? And how can we use what we learn as components to create new ideas? To paraphrase the wedding ditty, instead of something borrowed, something blue, we want to use something borrowed to make something new.
Feliz año nuevo!
Learning to Think Different(ly)
Step One: Define the Problem
Step Two: Learn from Others
Step Three: Imagine and Construct a New Idea
Step Four: Give Your Ideas Time to Germinate (coming in February)