Violence in the M.E. – Let’s Make a Movie Part 2 – Responding to the Polite Push-backs

In my previous post, I suggested that Christians make a documentary “Open-Letter” style movie to Muslims in the Middle East in an effort to seek forgiveness, reconciliation and peacemaking.

Like many blogs, there are a number of hits but only a few comments. The ones I receive are generally positive (which I am grateful for) and the push backs that I get are usually from my friends in the form of emails or conversations (which I am grateful for as well). But it does make it a bit more challenging to facilitate conversation here so I asked permission to share a few thoughts in response to the push backs. I hope I communicate them clearly and fairly.

The first is “Let the Arab world take care of itself …. In fact, whenever America (or the West) gets involved, we’ve added further hurt and done more damage.”

This is problematic for me on a number of levels.
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Responding to the Violence in the Middle East – Let’s Make a Movie

Between the busyness of the ministry fall launch, my thoughts have been pre-occupied by the violence in the Middle East in response to the offensive YouTube movie The Innocence of Muslims.

Today, I find myself reading news of the violence in Pakistan that is said to be in response to this film and now it’s almost two since weeks since the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in the American Consulate in Benghazi and I find myself wondering what should/could be down about this.

Every time I see an angry demonstration in the Middle East, I think the following things:
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Church Programs – “Is This Stuff Really Worth It?”

Intended Primary Audience – Church ministry types, vocational, non-, bi-, and all who labor for the Kingdom.

As church staffs, ministries and calendars are gearing up for the respective fall launches and kick-offs, just about every September I ask myself in exhaustion something similar to what so many other ministry-types ask, “Is this stuff really worth it?”

There’s the mad rush to find volunteers, the countless emails, the meetings, the copier that gets jammed, the complaints, the apathy, and the overly-excited folks which leaves you wondering if you can deliver up to their high expectations, therefore making them future complaints.  It’s ridiculous to say out loud, there’s the fear of punishment with shame (“This is not only your job, but your calling“), and so many do not vocalize this until they have their foot out the door.

You hear a lot of complaining about “programs.” That word has been the whipping “individual” (this blog is politically correct) for missionals, emergents, neo-reformed, youth ministry types, and anyone disenchanted or overworked in the Church.  We say things like we should be more about people than programs. And it’s easy to agree with a statement like that.  We talk about over-programming. We talk about Purpose Driven Church (Purpose not programs!). We talk about Simple Church (Simpler Programs!)  We say Jesus didn’t have any programs but we create dozens of them based on a pattern of ministry.  (Groups of 12, pairs, inner circles of 4 and then there’s Acts 2, Pauline models, etc).

If we look at most church websites, we see a variety of ministries, “programs” with descriptions that some times promise more than a presidential candidate. “Come to Thirst/Fountain/Oasis/The Well ;) and the Bible will finally make sense to you!” (For the record, I teach a ministry called Oasis so know I’m poking fun of myself too.)

Be fair though, if you click on a church website and don’t see any ministries, you might assume that they are not doing much outside of their Sunday morning worship service.  And frankly, for most, I’d say that’s a fair assumption.

Like it or not,
Small groups is a program.
Simple Church is a program.
Churches meeting in bars, living rooms, coffee shops, abandoned dealerships in the heart of the city offering presence-centered incarnational redemption to the community, is a program.

I like a lot of these things – One of my main responsibilities is supporting small groups, I liked the Simple Church concepts that Rainer and Geiger helped us work through, I like pub church gatherings and value incarnational ministry.

But we have to admit, some of this is quite semanticical (that’s a word right?).  And while we generally mean the same thing – all these things are programs because we are dealing with numbers of people.  And groups of people need organization.  They need a dedicated time and place needs to be organized. Volunteers need to be found (we do rightfully criticize if everything is professionally run), but that means these volunteers need to be vetted and if they work with children, they need background checks, and it there are not enough, there needs to be a rotation schedule, which requires a spreadsheet, database and an email chain. Curriculum, worship elements, service opportunities, refreshments, I could go on and on but in some form or another, this is a program. Especially if you do this with any type of regularity.

The problem with programs is that they tend to take a life of their own. They tend to become a ministry monster, gobbling up attenders, volunteers, the staff, resources, and time. It can be a very hungry and insatiable creature. When it becomes untamable, we fight back and look to pull the plug, resolving that programs are a terrible idea and we should avoid them.

Those who are faithful to their local church can feel overwhelmed and taken for granted by the needs of the program. Those who are new to a church or on the fringes can have an “impersonal” experience because of the program. Regardless of where one is coming from, often many will express, “This place is fake – it doesn’t care about people – only about _____ (the blank is filled with “numbers” or “money” or “being known as the cool church”, etc. ).

The one thing that every program has is people. If ministry is not centered on people than its doomed to be “successful” in any Kingdom sense – we all know this. But “programs” can be a beautiful experience of the Christian faith IF …

… they are truly Christ-centered. However the purpose is stated, if it’s more about following Jesus than “keeping the kids happy” or “giving adults a break from the stress of life”, it will have long term life-giving Christian potential.

… there is opportunity for authentic Christian community. Not just Christians socializing and mingling with other Christians, we’re talking sharing in the experience and mission of the gospel message together.

… there is commitment from all aspects. Anytime the commitment pendulum swings too much to one side for too long, resentment builds and the ministry lags.

It’s so important that we ask ourselves why are we doing what we are doing. Especially during the craziness of launching the fall “programs.” Lives have changed and more can. It’s good that we are seeing that we can do better. It’s good that we are critiquing (hopefully ourselves too). And in some ways, it’s good that we are hustling hard to get done what needs to be done.

One of the lessons that I am learning in the large church model is there are so many different types of people and we need many different types of churches of all sizes and methodologies. Regardless of what context we find ourselves in, what we do matters to each other.

It’s essential that we ask the questions regarding sustainability, mission effectiveness and make paradigm changing decisions but if we are waiting for the perfect ministry model, we’re going to not only find our that our ministries struggling but we will also squander our God-given callings and opportunities.

Are church programs worth it? Well, depending on how you unpack that – yes.

Wishing all those laboring a Christ-filled year.

Reflecting on our Presidential Elections Post 1 – The Post-Conversation

Our Presidential election campaigns are the main subjects of conversations, both in person and in social media. The Republican National Convention just wrapped up and now the Democratic National Convention is about to begin. I’m going out on the limb here but I’m predicting that there’s going to be a lot of trash-talk and things are going to get even uglier on both sides (and all sides).

In past posts, I generally insist that as people who have passionate convictions, we still need to come together and dialogue. There is so much great potential in sitting down with another and discussing our differences and our similarities. It’s not just that we [Read more…]

The Willow Creek Leadership Summit Post 1 – After 20 Years, Willow Is Growing On Me

Grace Chapel was a host site for the Willow Creek Leadership Summit that took place August 9-10. They’ve been part of this for a number of years and it’s a great development opportunity for our staff, our attenders and many pastors and lay people in the Greater Boston area. I kept hearing how people were really looking forward to the Summit and by the time it rolled around, I found myself getting excited about it too. But as I was sitting in our sanctuary, I couldn’t help but reflect on my evolving impressions of Willow Creek.

I remember one night back in high school my dad and I were watching tv and a feature on Willow Creek came on one of those Nightline or 20/20 shows. I remembered thinking a church that looked more like a theater was a great idea, incorporating drama was cool and Hybels came off looking much better than most evangelicals/televangelists tend to do – I was interested. Willow was huge by then but in the early 90’s, it was just coming on the national scene (or at least on my personal radar). They became the thing but like all big things, there was a flip side.  It was half-way through being an undergrad that I could no longer handle the term “seeker-sensitive” and about where I got off the WC/Hybels boat. Between the celebritism of Hybels/Ortberg, the hype created by the countless other churches that were now Willow-like, the Association and a couple of friends I knew from college who had various experiences there, I got “Willowed-Out.”

Then I got John-Maxwelled-out and read Hybel’s Courageous Leadership, went to a couple a simulcasts of the Leadership Summits and while I enjoyed parts/aspects of them, I couldn’t really do any more. During my first few years of ministry, I was leery of just about everything. There was the Purpose-Driven Life books, resources, calendar, mugs, coasters ,and … ;) There was also the Prayer of Jabez merch line, the Left Behind series was the fundamentalist Hunger Games. I avoided the CBD Catalog the way I avoid mall on weekends.

Now some of this was where I was personally, some of it was the sub-culture, some of it was bad marketing but I identified Willow as a part of all that. I’m not sure I knew enough to take issue with Willow and while it would take some time to learn this language, I would now say “they” represented the attractional model that so many churches wanted to imitate and my feeling was, “That’s great for them, you/we are not them …”

That started to shift for me a few years ago when I attended a Summit in Wyckoff (thanks for hosting Cornerstone). Then even more so, I started paying attention to WC when they put out their Reveal series as I found myself appreciating their humility and was very interested in their findings. The Post-Christian culture caught up with them and their insights are helpful to the North American Church as a whole. It’s been since the Reveal series that I’ve been most interested in the Summit and again, I found myself excited for this year.

Bill led off with a long, semi-self-depracacting story of him grilling the Thanksgiving turkey and accidentally leaving the grill on for 7 weeks. This opening illustration served as a fairly accurate microcosm for the rest of his presentation. He incorporates great story-telling features (context, the problem, the proposed solution, complication, suspense, etc.) reveals his strengths (all leaders have some), his weaknesses (all leaders have some), he’s both relatable and unrelateable but he’s being himself so that’s good, and then finally offers a conclusion that is both satisfying, humorous, and for the most part, insightful. I think it’s fair to say that’s how the remainder of his hour went and I was happy to listen.

I found myself warming up to Bill, talents, faults, humor, wisdom and all. Scattered between his main points were context fillers like when he admitted that Willow Creek is finally using Alpha and that the tongue-and-cheek reason they hadn’t before was because they hadn’t created it – so they didn’t use it. I don’t know how Alpha people felt about that, I thought it was funny, a bit sad, but revealing.

I also loved the story of the guy who lived so close to Willow Creek that he lost his cat on the church property and told Bill that he mistakingly thought it was a community college campus. I’m not exactly sure why Bill decided to include these points in his message, I don’t believe they were birthed out of any false sense of humility. Instead, I think this is very consistent with the background context of the Reveal study (and I speculate that this story actually happened quite some time ago). It’s the perfect illustration for the short-comings of a strictly attractional model and the need for the church to be missional – the community simply doesn’t care to know who you are – you might as well be a local community college.

Hybels spoke for at least an hour (no countdown clock like Q Ideas ;), shared Willow’s plan of succession with candor and openness (not specifics but the process), gave a couple of his classic leadership insights and themes (like his 6X6 plan) and got the Summit off to a solid start.

I’ll mention more later but I did love the diversity of the presenters, ethnically and the different organizational sectors they represented. While Willow is not the most natural environment for me, I did appreciate so much of what they’ve been doing and couldn’t help but think how much this ministry has grown on me these last few years. Grateful that our church could be a part of this, hoping to post more soon.

If you are interested in attending the Summit next year and live near Lexington, MA – join us – the date is August 8-9, 2013.  In the meantime, you can learn more at

Reflecting on the Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day A Week Later – Post 3

I concluded Post 2 by mentioning I would respond to a couple of the pushbacks I received and then I’ll finish this little series with my suggestion of what Chick-Fil-A could do now. So it’s said, I appreciate how polite those responding have been. I’ve received texts, emails, FB messages, and a DM with various thoughts – all have been gracious, which isn’t always the case in the blogosphere. As always feel free to reply somehow or comment below but thanks for keeping it all so classy.

The first was on what do I think Dan Cathy should have said? Before I go further, if this is the first time reading this series, [Read more…]

Reflecting on the Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day A Week Later – Post 2

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, though it’s been a week later since Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, I’m still processing.

This whole Chick-Fil-A scene affirms the position of the futility of the Christian engaged in the “culture war.” Last Wednesday, “taking a stand”, ordering a chicken sandwich and setting a sales record galvanized countless people. But at the same time, it hurt countless others, those within our community and those outside. The point is simple, If the Church truly desires to reach out in love, the culture war is the wrong approach.

I know some are eager to point out that “the truth hurts” and so forth and I get all that. This is ever more reason that the culture war [Read more…]

Reflecting on the Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day A Week Later – Post 1

I took some time off last week, hung out with my family and decided to cut back on my social media intake and blogging. I know I’m late in posting on this but like with many things, I want to add to the conversation and be counted for whatever it is I am for/against. These thoughts have been brewing for a little while now and though I thought twice about posting on the Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, I am getting a handle on my words now.

I had the privilege of given the sermon last week; it was on the imprecatory Psalms, specifically Ps. 109 and was called, “A Song to My Enemy.” Toward the end, I tried to make the point that Christians can not simultaneously build the Kingdom of God and fight a culture war. They are mutually exclusive and simply put, Jesus calls us to seek first the Kingdom of God.

I also tried to make the point that “others” are not our enemies and that includes “liberal ‘whatevers’, ultra-conservative (insert [Read more…]

Reflecting on Sunday’s Message, Women In Ministry, Depression and Hope

This past Sunday, our Pastor of Global and Regional Outreach, Jeanette Yep gave a powerful message as part of our summer series entitled, “Psalms: A Soundtrack For Our Lives.” You can watch/listen to it here.

Jeanette got me thinking about a number of things. This is the first church that I’ve served at where we’ve had women preaching from the [Read more…]