Monday, August 20, 2018

Honestly...Mediocre vs. Honestly Mediocre

There’s an author and blogger named Carey Nieuwhof that pastors a large church in Canada and has become one of the leading voices for church leadership and growth in North America. I read his blog regularly and he often provides helpful thoughts about pastoring, leadership, and being a healthy church. But I also find many of his articles focus way too much on size, greatness, and success.

There’s a blog post he wrote recently that is making the church leadership rounds entitled Seven Signs Your Church is Honestly…Mediocre. In the article, Nieuwhof essentially argues that “many churches are neither great at things or terrible at things. They’re just…mediocre.” He proceeds to provide seven causes for mediocrity in the church, with the understood assumption that mediocrity is bad. But the “mediocre” ministry he’s referring to are things like mediocre worship music, poor quality live streaming of worship services, and lame church websites.

But if church “success” means having professional quality music, technology, and websites, then count me out of trying to be “successful.” Those aren’t the organizational values that I would use to measure success. Sure, I want to do ministry with excellence. Absolutely! No question! But I’m more interested in our church being true to who we are as a church, even if the rest of the church world would call our ministry mediocre. I’m only interested in us being who God has designed us to be as a local body of Christ.

So, in that sense, while Nieuwhof calls many churches “honestly…mediocre,” I’m more than fine being honestly mediocre (that phrase must be read with no pause and an emphasis on the honesty part). As long as we’re being honest to who God has made us as a church family—not trying to look and act like the cool church down the street—then I’m totally fine being called “mediocre.” Let’s stay consistently committed to growing as disciples of Jesus and to reaching out into our community with his good news, and let the chips fall as they may. If we grow as a church…awesome. If we never get big and “successful”…that’s okay too. Let’s try to be excellent in the organic, natural, honest ministry that God has called us too—and be okay if the world calls that “mediocre.”

If you're interested, HERE is a critique of Nieuwhof's article from Michael Frost

Monday, August 13, 2018

A Good Reminder in an Unexpected Place

Last night my family went to a fun, family event in Bozeman: a movie night on the jumbo-tron at the MSU football stadium. We laid out blankets and chairs, and sat on the field with a thousand other people, eating popcorn and watching the new kids’ movie, Ferdinand. What a great night!

Now, for those of you who haven’t read the children’s book or watched the movie, I’m about to spoil some of the plot. Essentially, the movie is about a massive bull who would rather smell flowers and roll in the grass than be a world-renowned star in the bullfighting ring. Ferdinand doesn’t have a violent bone in his body, but is constantly hounded and harassed about his need to fight. He’s relentlessly mocked for his weakness and cowardice—for being ‘soft.’ To exist in his world is to fight. That’s just the way things are. If you don’t leave the ranch in a trailer heading for the glory of the ring, you eventually leave in a trailer heading to the meat-packing plant. There’s only those options: kill or be killed.

The Empire is everywhere. It mocks weakness and tempts us toward violence. It sells the false narrative that violence, power, and control are normal. It hypnotizes us into believing its lie of ‘might makes right’; tricks us into thinking there is only one way to the top.

But Ferdinand doesn’t buy the lie. He is never persuaded to violence. When he’s paraded into the ring of death, to kill or be killed, he constantly and insistently chooses peace over violence. And even when the matador has finally cornered Ferdinand—the unwilling participant in this imperial sport of violence and death—the mighty bull plops onto his haunches and refuses to fight back.

And the beauty of Ferdinand’s non-violent resistance to the violence and evil of the empire was that he won over the crowd, who insisted on his life being spared. Peace had conquered violence; death had been defeated.

Ferdinand is Jesus. I proudly worship a non-violent savior—who refused to fight back amidst mockery, suffering, and death—and in doing so, exposed the impotency and cowardice of the empire and made a way for death to be defeated and a new life-giving way to emerge. And Jesus invites us into this same way of creative, prayerful, non-violent resistance to the status-quo of the empire—the quest for money, power, and self-gratification. We are called to lay down our swords, absorb the violent barbs of the empire, and reveal to the world a new way of peace and love.

I know it’s just a movie, but may we have the courage of Ferdinand—to stand up to the powers and ways of the world that directly oppose the way of Jesus. May we be strong enough to be weak; brave enough to be peaceful; heroic enough to step out of the false-binary of ‘fight or flight’ and find a new Jesus-centered third way to engage with the world.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

An Open and Ready Spirit

I devote a pretty massive part of my life to my work at the church—my official ‘ministry’—but I also have a life outside the church. There’s family events, kid activities, and my own hobbies. There’s parenting groups and soccer teams, basketball friends and school functions, softball teams and work colleagues. We keep pretty busy with non-church events.

It’s crazy how often, however, that these activities turn into opportunities for ministry.

Yesterday, for instance, our kids’ swimming lessons became an opportunity to talk with another pastor family about ministry, connect with a different family that is new to Bozeman and looking for a church, and meet another family that lives in our neighborhood and attends school with Zoe. All in the hour spent at the pool. And today, a quick lunch at Costco before stocking up for our church picnic, unexpectedly led to sharing a picnic table with a student who recognized me from The Rock. I couldn’t find a place to sit and he graciously invited me to share his table. We had a great conversation about his impending senior year, his plans after graduation, and the church he attends. All while just grabbing a slice of pizza.

But these encounters rarely happen unless we are ready, willing, and open to sharing our lives with others.

For each of my fun, encouraging, and unexpected encounters, I’m sure I miss dozens of opportunities. I’m not always ready and open to engaging with others—especially when I’m ‘off the clock.’ My eyes are not always open and my heart is not usually tender enough to recognize the potential for ministry and engagement right in front of me. Or even if I do see them, I’m not always courageous enough to act on those opportunities.

So, here’s to having an open and ready spirit for community and connection as we enter the world. Here’s to always being ‘on-call’ when it comes to engaging our world. Here’s to eagerly putting ourselves ‘out there’ and welcoming the dozens of opportunities to befriend, encourage, and bless others that greet us each day. May we have eyes to see, hearts to care, and the courage to act on those communal possibilities.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A Heart of Compassion

I've been thinking about compassion today...or more accurately, my lack of compassion.

This morning, in Bible Study, we read about Jesus feeding 4,000 people in Mark 8. The way the story goes, Jesus and his disciples had been with these people for three days in some unspecified, rural location -- and now, they're hungry. And there's no McDonald's Big Macs to run and grab, no freaky-fast Jimmy John's delivery service, or grocery store to get bread and peanut butter for sandwiches. They're stuck and starving.

Then, as Mark tells the story, Jesus had compassion on them. He felt sorry for them. He was with them in their suffering. He cared.

And I'm quite convinced that Jesus cared about EACH and EVERY one of those 4,000. In Mark's telling of Jesus feeding the 5,000 (a few chapters earlier in the gospel), after feeding the masses, Jesus sent his disciples away in a boat while he dismissed the crowd. He cared about EVERY person in that massive group, and he continues the same spirit of compassion in Mark 8.

Which is just incredible! I don't think I would have felt the same. 

The scene would have been loud and chaotic, and you couldn't blame him had he quickly slipped away without feeding his followers. But Jesus, like always, chooses to be present in people's lives and care for their needs with a spirit of compassion. I'm sure he was exhausted after three days of ministry. I'm sure this massive meal was an administrative nightmare. But, regardless, Jesus shows up in people's lives in a substantial way. 

May we be challenged and encouraged by the compassion of Jesus, may his compassionate heart beat strongly within us, and may we be people who daily display the love, care, and compassion of Jesus to all in our path.