End of the road

I finished the book Fail by J.R. Briggs.

While I’ve only blogged on about half it, I have come to this realization: It is time to shut this blog down. I have my own personal blog and my goal for this blog was much “grander.”

It was to invite conversation and other voices.

I have been the only voice for a very long time and there are some really great blogs now focusing on small church pastors. They are doing wonderful things and I’m just too tired to try to keep up two blogs.

For those who blogged in the past, thank you.

For those who read along the way, thank you.

Please read J.R. Briggs’ book. Please soak up Eugene Peterson, Henri Nouwen, and Dallas Willard. What we do is still important!

All blessings.

The way of the wilderness

So many stories in the Bible revolve around the wilderness or desert.

J.R. Briggs notes this:

No one chooses the wilderness; the wilderness chooses us.

Too often we want to learn the lessons of the wilderness from someone else. We want the lessons without the experiences.

Or, if all else fails… forget the wilderness AND its lessons!

The wilderness has paradox. It has beauty… and harshness. There is a desolation… and tranquility. There is danger… and refuge.

The biggest lesson?

The wilderness is the place where only God provides, the place where if God does not show up, people will surely experience death.

There is manna in the wilderness. There is water from a rock in the wilderness. There is the still small voice in the wilderness. The struggle in the wilderness is that we would know him more intimately. We don’t always get quiet waters.

The swampland of the soul

We have recordings the mind will play in us:

“I am not good enough.”

“Who do you think you are?”

Counselors, according to JR Briggs in Fail, have called shame the swampland of the soul. It will play those recordings over and over, bringing us to a place where we are alone. We don’t feel worthy to be connected. We don’t want others to know our failures. Our weaknesses. We are unworthy of connection.

What is needed is the courage to be vulnerable. It is the hardest place, but when we find that courage, it is truly freedom.

When I was planting a church in Kansas, there was another guy starting a church in the same metro area. I was struggling and felt like I was drowning. I felt pretty sure he was NOT drowning. He had far more support. After a pastors’ meeting one day he came up to me and asked how it was going.

I gave the obligatory, “Fine.”

He gave the honest answer and it blew me away. “You know what? I’m drowning. I don’t have any idea what’s going wrong.”

He gave me permission to be vulnerable because he decided to be vulnerable himself. It set us both free.

Have the courage to be vulnerable. Have the courage to turn off the recordings, find someone to be honest with, and, above all, find a way to shut off the noise in general and pick up the tools of solitude and silence. Allow the SAVIOR to pour in the words of healing that are needed.

Lord, help us to get out of the swamp!

Surefire, can’t miss, equation for success in ministry

We all want one. At some point in time, we’ve all wanted some sure fire metric to know we’re being “successful” in ministry. And we’ve usually measured it by people in the pews and dollars in the plate.

What if it could be more than that? What if it might be something with a great Kingdom measure, but it doesn’t run directly to the numbers we have on any given Sunday? The problem with that? It’s hard to brag on! It doesn’t get you on the platform at your denominational meetings!

This past week I had lunch with a good friend. I’ve been in their life for awhile now because I want to see what God could not only do in their life… but mine. Can I learn to truly love, stretch, bring Kingdom blessing into their life even if I don’t understand what is exactly going on? Can I just trust the work of the Spirit without seeing something tangible result (specifically, see them come to my church)?

This past week I was at a fundraising dinner for our public high school. My private Christian college had their dinner the same same night. I was asked to give the invocation at the public high school scholarship fundraising dinner. Go figure.

I was able to touch base with people who love their schools, love their kids, and don’t go to my church. I touched base with quite a few believers who go to other churches and love the school district where they work. They live as light in the place where they serve.

And on this Sunday, I won’t see any of those folks in my church building.

What a waste.

J R Briggs in his book, Fail, has a different thought:

The metric of ministry in the way of Jesus is rooted in the kingdom, which is more expansive than just a local church. It is oriented around a process, not a product. It does not ask, “Have we arrived?” Nor does it say, “Show me what you’ve done.” Instead, it wonders if its people are moving toward or away from Jesus.

Are we delivering an efficient product, or are we developing the character of Christ in others? Are we developing Christ in us?

The measure of “success” in ministry

J R Briggs in his book Fail lays out our current matrix for success. I have found that no matter how much leaders try NOT to make this the measure… and SAY from the platform it isn’t the measure… it IS the measure. It’s what it all comes down to.

Buildings. Bodies. Budgets.

How many? How often? How much?

Then we have added in a new measure into that equation: efficiency. The more efficiently we can address issues, tackle problems, or generate numbers, the more “successful” we are. We are more product-oriented.

The more efficiently we operate in ministry, the less intimacy we experience in our relationships.

Jesus was incredibly inefficient. He spent time with people. He wasted time with people. He build the rule and reign of God in the lives of people. He didn’t lead one building project. He actually predicted a building destruction project which tore down the finest construction project of the time period.

…we have swapped faithfulness and fruitfulness for progress and efficiency. We run our churches efficiently, yet we are left with an ineffective movement.

We are really called to be active participants in the kingdom of God, not build bigger buildings. Where is the kingdom of God in our culture?

Shopkeeper or pastor?

The claim Eugene Peterson made years ago is that pastors have morphed from being pastors into being shopkeepers.

“They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns — how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that customers will lay out more money.”

We have become very good at shopkeeping. We’ve become really good at market strategies.

And it may be ruining future pastors. They think because their numbers don’t “pop” fast enough, they may not be good pastors. The first few years at my church, the numbers were definitely not “popping.” They only “popped” in the fact that everything staying shockingly “small.” (Numbers still don’t “pop” for me.)

I remember a couple of board meetings where I wept and told the board members they should re-evaluate my “services.” Maybe I wasn’t the guy for them.

We need this reminder from Peterson (by way of JR Briggs in his book Fail):

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them.

The duty of the pastor in all this? Keep the community attentive to God.

Dear friends, please do not abandon that duty!

Gaining perspective on failure

We chase methods. If we want “successful ministries” we chase methods. We often forget to watch over people and simply chase methods that will put more people in the building. Yet, we often ignore the very people we may be bringing in.

We chase methods because more people is better. It’s simple. That’s success.

Briggs brings us a reminder, a perspective, of “numbers” in his book Fail.

The median church in the US: 75 regular attendees on Sunday morning.

Some studies show an average weekly attendance as low as 58 and almost 180,000 churches in America (9 million worshipers) have fewer than 100 each Sunday. Almost 60 percent of churches in North America.

We elevate the few large churches as “norm.”

There are approximately 1500 megachurches in the US, making that less than one half of one percent of churches in the US.

A few years ago I sat in on a denomination sponsored event (my own denomination) where the speaker (NOT from our denomination) made the flat declaration that churches under 200 simply won’t exist in 10 years. That was 5 years ago.

He may need a calculator.

Our problem may not be our “size” as blue chip pastors. Our problem is our insecurity. We keep comparing ourselves to a model that is simply… well… small. 

Yet, we still feel inadequate.

We have, in some sense, failed. 

This is our challenge.