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What is your personal currency?

In the "influence economy" of the modern church, "1%" leaders lecture the 99% on how to be more influential.

In the “influence economy” of the modern church, “1%” leaders lecture the 99% on how to be more influential.

You know, the thing that you strive to collect, to store up, to hoard. That stuff that drives you to do one more thing before you go to bed. The thing that gets you up an hour earlier in the morning. The thing that keeps you up at night, worrying that you don’t have enough.

The American church has done a pretty good job of convincing us that money is not our personal currency. (I suppose it’s easy to tell ourselves that money is not that important to us when we have quite a lot of it, relatively speaking.)

No it’s not money that we are grasping for. Go to churches, go to conferences, go to seminars, read the books. What is the core of what church leaders are peddling?

Influence.

The church has figured out how to make the pursuit of influence sound noble, righteous, even necessary. Now, all of the books are written and all of the conferences are led by guys who obviously have a lot of it. A lot of people listen to the guys at the top. And so they tell us how we too can have it all.

When we talk about our church’s “relevance,” try switching in the word “influence.” There will be almost no difference.

When a conference speaker is discussing “impact,” just sketch the word “influence” in your notes.

When a pastor is talking about “evangelism,” just imagine the word “influence.”

It is influence that, well, influences most of our pursuits. And I have to admit that for most of my adult life, I have been no different. I have hungered and thirsted after it. I have wanted people to give me attention, to do what I say, to respect my opinions.

What I’ve found is that there are a lot of problems with influence being our personal currency.

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Many people would claim that America is a “Christian” nation…

The most post-Christian place in America...

The most post-Christian place in America…

Or at least, it was a Christian nation.

My news feed is kind of a continual flux when it comes to just how Christian our culture is today. If I want, I can find no shortage of doom and gloom, prophets and pundits who are always showing just how bad things are for Christianity in America. On the other side of things, there are a few lone voices who speak up every now and then to say, “Wait! It’s not as bad as it seems.”

This week, I saw another survey from the Barna Group which shows just how “post-Christian” American cities are. My hometown, Kansas City, comes in at number 38, with a total post-Christian population at 33%. Albany, NY is the most post-Christian city, along with most of the Northeast, while Knoxville, TN ranks near the bottom (or top, depending on how you look at it.)

I tend to take these surveys with a grain of salt, but something particularly struck me this time about how we typically measure “Christian-ness.” I started reading their various “metrics” (a term that sounds more at home in a tax accountant’s office) that were used to calculate our cities’ rankings, when something occurred to me.

I don’t know if we have a problem of lack of faith in our culture. But we certainly have a problem when it comes to how we measure faith.

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I have a confession to make.worship_by_knilvrie

I have spent my life in church. A preacher’s kid, then a seminary grad. Now, after seven years of house church ministry, my wife and I are embarking on a new chapter. We don’t even know what the chapter is. There is no invitation to another church, no greener pasture that we are making a break for. We have done this thing longer than the average pastor stays at a full time church ministry.

What we do know is that making a transition, finding a new place is going to be hard. We both feel like we have some odd angles, some characteristics that make it challenging for us to settle into a new place. She is a raving introvert, while I am an introvert who can act like an extrovert…sort of.

And what we find to be the case is that church is a decidedly extroverted place. A bunch of extroverts usually stand up front. By and large, modern worship, church life and leadership values extrovertism over characteristics, such as contemplativeness.

And so, as we prepare to embark on a transition we are both kind of dreading, it makes me think of all of the churches I have visited, all of the places I have worshiped (or at least tried to worship.) It makes me think of all the reasons that two pretty introverted people have kind of a tough time with church, even though we love it.

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Most businesses fail in the first five years.63399507023589182799

We know what failure means when it comes to business. It means that the business did not make enough money. It means that the owner could not feed his or her family. And beside the financial cost, there is probably a big emotional cost to a failed business as well. People pour their hearts into something that they hope will succeed and when it does not, it feels more like a personal failure.

But what does it mean for a church to fail?

This last week, I saw not one but two blogs about churches that “failed,” meaning they closed shop, went out of business, so to speak.

My heart went out to the authors, because I’ve been there. I’ve been a part of a church that ended. And it is heartbreaking.

But at the same time, I ask myself, what do we mean by a church failing? A church is not a business. A church is not a corporation. So what happens when we define a church in the terms of a business? What happens when we define “success” and “failure” the same way Wal-Mart defines those terms?

I have made a realization in the years since my own church failed. What happens is that the church has not failed. We have failed to define “church.”

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You know, for all of the free market competition we have here in America, we have a real tendency toward conglomeration. Depositors Waiting for Bank to Open

You knew that already, I bet.

Of course, you know that scads of retailers have gone out of business, while just a couple have risen to the top and consolidated the market. Amazon dominates online retail because they are dog gone good at what they do, better than anyone else.

The food we buy at the supermarket has the appearance of variety, but really the vast majority of foods that we buy come from just a handful of conglomerates. Think you’re sticking it to Starbucks by purchasing the cheaper Seattle’s Best? Think again, sucker. Seattle’s Best is a secret Starbuck’s brand to trick all of their haters.

The vast majority of the news and information we are exposed to comes from just about half a dozen conglomerates a far cry from the thirty or so media outlets of a few decades ago.

And most of our nation’s money goes into the vaults of just a few banks. We saw all of the benefits of that in 2008 and beyond.

So what does all of this conglomer-ization have to do anything?

It has everything to do with the economy of the American church, which just might be situated for economic disaster.

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What if your church was infested?

After they burned Heretic Steve, the congregation enjoyed their monthly potluck dinner in peace.

After they burned Heretic Steve, the congregation enjoyed their monthly potluck dinner in peace.

Not infested with roaches or termites. What if your church was infested with heretics?

What if there were people who were actually inside your church, people who sat in church every Sunday, who pretended to be like you and me, but they were anything but? What if they were imposters who did not catch the “vision” of your church? What if someone was not so sure about some of the basic faith tenants that your pastor teaches?

Would you round them up?

Would you interrogate them?

Would you “bug bomb” your church to get rid of the heretics once and for all and keep the church pure and clean?

Well here’s the thing, people. Our churches are infested. And it’s up to us to decide what we are going to do about it.

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