Preach it Brother, or … maybe not.

So I’ve been thinking a fair bit about possibly the central thing we do as pastors – at least in terms of time spent on any single thing (research, preparation and delivery). We would take a half-day as a preaching team to work through a message, then I would take a day to write it and then about another half day spent marinating on it before delivery. So all up we’re looking at about fifteen hours of preparation and delivery for one message. Which I think is probably about average.

Recently I read Pagan Christianity by Viola and Barna, which was a really good read and instrumental in helping the church move beyond its institutionalization. They claim that preaching was never central to the church until a couple hundred years after Christ and really came into primacy with Luther who claimed it was the central part of the sunday service. He changed the term “priest” to “preacher”. Understandably preaching the word for Luther, who was putting reformed theology into the hands of hungry hordes of protesting catholics departing the catholic church in utter ignorance, was of utmost importance.

Viola claims that preaching in the NT was only done by apostles – church planters/workers in the process of establishing churches and on special occasions (Solomon’s temple etc.). They also claim that the office of Pastor is not an office, but a function and pastors didn’t preach.

I kinda disagree. I think pastors did preach because I believe Timothy was a pastor (Viola suggests he was “apostolic” because he obviously wasn’t an apostle, but his theory about pastors would fall over) and Timothy was urged by Paul to preach. Furthermore in Acts where it says the early disciples met from house to house and in the temple, would suggest it was a weekly occurrence.

Here’s where I get really creative now. Try and keep up.

Public teaching was done in the synagogue for centuries, so was embedded in Jewish culture. Furthermore, rhetoric was one of the most popular of entertainment of the day among the Greeks. Rhetoricians were public speakers who became famous and well paid for speaking eloquently (subject matter was inconsequential). So culturally in Judea, public speaking was the best form of communication and entertainment – infotainment would be a good word to describe it in today’s parlance. So it seems Jesus and his followers were using the best and most modern forms of communication that was most effective for their culture and the people of the day – preaching and teaching.

Translate that into today’s culture which is neither Greek nor Jewish. Preaching like we live in 100 A.D. in Judea simply isn’t cutting it. I even had trouble remembering what I preached the week before let alone thinking anyone else remembered (and I’m a good preacher). Which is why I resorted to The Big Idea which is simply one singular idea that I wanted people to leave the building with (there were other reasons to adopt it, primarily to use a preaching team and being able to keep a multi-site church moving in the same direction). I mean, how many sermons have you heard and actually implemented? It’s a completely modernist idea to think that simply giving people information will change their lives. We all know it doesn’t work like that, yet we continue doing it because it’s part of the consumer contract we have with our congregants (search this blog for consumerism).

Researchers on adult eduction have found that while teaching children “by rote” – in other words, I tell-you listen-you learn works, it doesn’t work with adults. And because preachers have all been to school and know nothing about educating adults, we use the only model we’ve known. Adult education doesn’t work like that. In fact when it comes down to it, experts concede that adult educators can only “facilitate” another adults learning. I won’t go into all the reasons for that. But bottom line, you can’t teach someone anything until they are ready to learn it. Kinda sounds like that old chinese saying “when the student is ready, the master will appear” – except we’re not masters… but you get the point.

The other thing that complicates the issue is that we live in the information age. No-one knows how vast the internet is. It’s not measurable. That’s how much information is out there. I can download the best preachers in the world hours after they deliver the sermon. And they’re way better communicators that you or I. I can download theology, christian books, magazines and blogs. I can even check the lexicons and commentaries while you’re preaching to see if your exegesis and hermeneutics are up to scratch. So that’s what we’re up against. So if we’re going to trade in information, I guarantee you, your congregation can get better information any day of the week.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us reaching for the best communication forms available to us for today’s culture and not simply dishing out information because adults don’t learn like that (and neither do you by the way so don’t be surprised that no-one else does either), but rather facilitating an experience. How’s that for radical? I’ll let you think about that for a bit, and I’ll unpack my conclusions later.

Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church…

Did you hear about the Reveal Survey?  This was conducted by one of the largest (and best in my opinion) church in the US – Willow Creek. I remember keenly waiting for the results when Willow Creek launched it because I knew something was wrong about the way we did church because it consumed people and all but neutralized their effectiveness as believers. Willow wanted to know if people were actually growing as a result of their church involvement. The results shocked them, and I’m so glad they’ve been honest about it and are looking for new and better ways of being the church.

in Willow Creek Repents? Executive pastor, Greg Hawkins says, “Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.”

This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity.

But in a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might sound crazy but that’s how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation.”

Having put so many of their eggs into the program-driven church basket, you can understand their shock when the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT correlate to someone becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT correlate to whether they love God more or they love people more.”

Speaking at the Leadership Summit, Senior Pastor Bill Hybels summarized the findings this way:

“Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back, it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.”

Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake-up call” of his adult life.

Hybels confesses:

“We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ ”

In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.

Does this mark the end of Willow’s thirty years of influence over the American church? Not according to Hawkins:

“Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.”

And I say what a dream!

Decline in Church attendance.

In our nation, our movement (the largest pentecostal movement in our country) we’ve noticed a decline in the frequency of attendance even though our databases remain the same. Only a few of our really big churches are growing, but as usual most is transfer growth.

A survey was released in March 09 profiling the Christian Church of our 2nd largest city. It has a population increase of 90,000 every year yet there is a decline of Christian worshipers to the tune of 4,500 per year.

Across the denominations the Church averages two converts per annum per Church. In traditions that tend to baptise their converts like the Baptists, 93% of the Baptist Churches average 1.4 baptisms per year.

The senior pastor of the second largest church in that city wrote:

“Somewhere along the way a new generation of pioneering leaders must rise up who are more concerned with making disciples than anything else….

A more critical evaluation of our methodology needs to take place….

There is a serious need to move away from what the weekend service feels like or even the thought that the worship service is Church….

The mission of God needs to move with the people of God into their work-place and social life….”

All good food for thought.

My diagnosis of today’s church.

So… I’ve been thinking for a few months now, reading anything I can get my hands on, and talking to anyone who’ll listen and I’ve come up with some ideas.

First I should say, I led the second largest church and the church with most sites in our humble state, was our movement’s vice president and I love the church. I say those three things because I think I’m qualified to say what I’m about to say and I’m not critical.

I feel a bit like a doctor when they diagnose someone’s condition. No-one goes to the doctor and accuses the doctor of being negative or critical when they get the diagnosis (a humerous satire just flashed across my mind). Granted, if the doctor only stopped there and didn’t give a treatment, it would only be partial useful.

But anyway, I’ve looked down the throat of the church and told it to say “Ahhhh” and this is what I found. There are three things that I think might define the condition of today’s contemporary church (traditional churches have their own issues and I’m not really interested in them because I’ve only ever been in pentecostal contemporary churches). And if you can add to my list, that’d be fantastic.

1. Institutionalization (tradition, religiosity, top-down directed, sterile, programmatic)
2. Modernism (systems, productivity, teaching, information, principles)
3. Consumerism (Jesus and me, church hopping, products and services, contractual nature)

The early church had none of these, and to be honest neither does the pentecostal movement in Asia, Africa or South America suffer from these conditions and this is where Christianity is exploding. Not so in the west – it’s declining *.

* According to researcher George Barna, there are 11,400,000 Christians who gather completely outside the institutional church in the U.S. (*Data is from September 2009.)

You can share this!

I’ve managed to sort out a “share this” button, so if you like a particular post, you can spread it ’round like you had swine flu! Click on the button on the left of the post you like (or don’t like, I don’t care), and pick your sliver bullet of choice. Spread it around if you think it might help someone.

What is a pastor for anyway?

I was one, but I must admit, I don’t even know what a pastor is really supposed to do. Which doesn’t really help when you are one. Maybe everyone is different, so it’s different for every pastor. The bible basically just says that pastors are there to care for the flock, so not a lot of help there – which is obvious. We wouldn’t need the holy spirit if the bible laid everything out!

Unfortunately though the current role of pastor is a mixed bag of church tradition, modern-day leadership theory, current management practices, and cultural influences thrown in for good measure. There are so many hats the modern pastor wears, it’s not wonder that schizophrenia sets in sometimes! We are a friend, a brother, a coach, a mentor, a leader, a carer, a counselor, a manager, a visionary, a part-time theologian, administrator, philosopher, follower, a CEO, CFO, fund raiser, missionary, elder, chairman of the board, shepherd of the flock, protector, nurturer, preacher, strategist and most importantly, all round good-guy.

Oh, I forgot to add, we also walk on water and our shit doesn’t stink. Well, according to the congregations expectations anyway.

I mean, I’m getting shaky just looking at that list that came right off the top of my head! How in hell is anyone supposed to fulfill those roles effectively? Seriously, what day of the week can we go home and say “my job’s done for the day, I can relax with my family.”

And how is the average pastor equipped to do all of those things? On average, a lame correspondence ministry or theology diploma, a calling and loads of passion.

I will never be a pastor again. It’s a setup. Destined to fail. Don’t believe me? Every time something good happens, we attribute it to God and only God. Every time something bad happens in the church, it’s the pastors fault, because according to popular leadership theory, the buck stops with the leader, so on that basis, if you’re leading an imperfect church, the imperfections are your fault, not God’s.

A dirty obsession – with the notion of leadership

One of my facebook friends just posted this question: ” Dan wonders why Christians are so obsessed with ‘leadership’?

Craig Davidson posted:
because of the weak social construct of the church. What we have created doesn’t naturally default to or promote true unity nor community – hence the one-up-manship.

Also, leadership and influence sounds very kitch. ‘I’m a leader…’ it kinda sounds sexy to the masses.

Studying this very topic at the moment Dan – you’re an insightful little happysnapper.

Jade posted:
I wonder if part of it comes from a narrow view of being a “shepherd” – ie. that he’s the cool dude that leads his posse of sheep around everywhere rather than the dude who goes and lives outside in the cold and rain with the sheep, makes sure they all get fed, are safe from wolves and are always accounted for.

Jack posted:
I don’t think christian leaders are obsessed with leadership because it’s sexy or one-upmanship Craig, although I do agree about the weak social construct and what we’ve built does tend to revolve around the leader in a fairly sick way.

And in saying the obsession is because leadership is sexy, or glorious, or cool, probably takes away a bit from the genuine heartfelt sense of call and responsibility and sacrifice christian leaders make.

I think it comes from more like what Jade is saying… a narrow view of leadership from many sources. The corporate world, a steady fiber-free diet of John Maxwell, contemporary leadership theory and our hugely charismatic “heroes” of the faith that we compare ourselves to….

There’s nothing wrong with developing a gift, it’s when we become obsessed with techniques, skill sets, knowledge, methodology etc. that it becomes an issue. Then it’s no longer about “being” but “doing” and the best advice that Paul said to Timothy was “let your growth be evident to all” – in other words, “let people watch how you grow through difficulties, pain, hardship, good times and bad. Follow Christ and that will be the most powerful leadership you can give.”

Dan, contemporary Christianity is obsessed with leadership because that’s what you get pounded into you, and it’s pounded in because it’s one of the hallmarks of pentecostal and charismatic Christianity. It’s one of the aspects of church growth we “discovered” and “implemented”. Basically it works – to an extent (but has a massive downside) and I think the bubble is going to burst on this one and the next “reformation” of the church is going to restore leadership to what Jade just said.