Saturday, July 31, 2010

Determination…an Asset?

We as Christians, particularly as Christian leaders are (generally) known as people of conviction.

And that’s good.

But I fear that often we confuse conviction with bull-headedness (see illustration). I”m not talking about obnoxious Christians who make us all shake our heads at the foolishness of their stubbornness over the smallest things.

I’m talking about holy, sanctified, good intentioned stubbornness.

“Changing game plans does not make a quitter. It makes you smart.”

--Dave Buck, Coachville

image We need to leverage our successes, but let go of the methods that aren’t working. So we can open up our energy, our eyes, our time to see the things that are right before us, but we can’t see them because we are too busy.

But sometimes we (I) are either to meek (bad meek, not good meek) to stand up to those who are just bullheaded, but are directly standing in the progress of the church. Other times WE are the ones who are bull-headed. We confuse every human design with divine Scipt.

What have you found helpful in deciding when it is time to stand your ground and when it is time to try Plan B?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Economy: Foxhole Religion or New Tractors?

Earlier this summer I was talking with my friend Kevin Ingram, the president of Manhattan Christian College (my alma mater).

I was asking how the economy was affecting donor income, particularly among the predominantly rural farming constituency that support the school. He made an interesting comment. (I’m paraphrasing). “You imagewould think that when the economy is good that our income would be good and when the economy is bad, our income would be bad.

“That’s not the case,” Pres. Ingram went on. “When the economy is good, the farmers pay off debts incurred from the bad times and invest in farm equipment.

“When the economy is bad, many of them remember where the true imagesource of their security lies and they increase their giving to the work of the Lord.”

Maybe that is unique to midwest farmers.

An article in this week’s Newsweek by columnist Lisa Miller suggests that it certainly is a much fuzzier picture than that for the rest of us.

The article focuses on a Notre Dame University economist David Hungerman and an (unrelated) Gallup survey on church attendance and economic decline and recovery.

The conventional wisdom is that when the economy tanks, religiosity, prayers and church attendance go up. No one seems to be wanting to gauge prayer, so they are measuring church attendance.

And what they are finding is surprising (at least to me).

While there is some correlation between lack of economic health and church attendance, what the researchers are noting is that when men & women are unemployed, they attend church LESS. There seems to be little “If I pray more, maybe God will give me a job.” (I hate to see that as a good thing or a bad thing—for different reasons—so I’ll just note it.) Depression sets in and the unemployed stay away from church. Embarrassment or fear or ridicule? Who knows. (Ministry opportunity there for some entrepreneurial-type).

image And instead of the poor being “more religious” than the wealthy, the poor actually attend church less than the more financially stable. Miller quotes Larry Iannoconne in his “Introduction to the Economics of Religion”: “Religion is not the province of the poor or uninformed.” As individual financial prosperity increases, so does church attendance.

So what correlation is there between the economy and church attendance? While you should really read the article to get the full sense, the article concludes with a good quote from Hungerman:

“Maybe when the economy turns sour, no matter how much money you make, you get nervous and decide to go to church and talk with your buddies and get a sense of what’s going on in your community. Or maybe people’s desire for spiritual guidance is influenced by their perception of how the world’s doing outside of themselves. Church attendance may not reflect our own circumstances but our own idea of how the world is doing beyond us.”

And that’s not an altogether bad thing. Again, you can find the article here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Church & Controversy: How One Church is Handling It

Anytime a church takes a position against the “conventional wisdom” they take heat for it. 

image With all of the media press over the past few months about laws to "kill gays in Uganda", I found Kevin Odor's explanation of their church’s support for Martin Ssepma helpful. It made me feel better about the Ugandan church & about Canyon Ridge Christian Church.

You can find a video of a statement that Odor made to his congregation here

Monday, July 26, 2010

When Delay Allows Us to Review Our Priorities

(If you don’t receive my Cal Habig Coaching newsletter, this was the featured article in the April 2010 issue.  If you want to subscribe, go here.  My next newsletter will be coming out within a week.)

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?"  ~ Robert Browning, 'Andrea del Sarto'

One of the most common frustrations of ministry is our desire for things to happen faster than they usually do.  We may think they should go faster (and perhaps according to some standards, they should), but they don’t. 

How do we react?  Do we redouble our efforts?  Do we work to motivate staff to do more?  Do we take projects away from volunteers and staff and drive them forward ourselves?

It is hard for us to recognize and cope with the fact that the delays may be of God.  “God’s timing” truly “may not be our timing” as much as we hate to hear it.

Ted Engstrom has a good reminder in the old classic  “Renewing Your image Church Through Vision and Planning” from the Christianity Today “Library of Leadership Development” series.

Engstrom notes that when he became frustrated with “the gap between what we think should be done first and what we can actually do, it usually arises from the pull between priorities and our ability to move the resources needed to attack the priorities.”

He talks about his three foundational priorities in his life. 

  1. Bedrock for Engstrom is his relationship with Jesus Christ. (as I hope it is for all of us).
  2. Second is his commitment to the Church.
  3. Third is the work that God has given to him.  That work “rises directly from my commitment to Christ and his church.”

Engstrom notes “Usually, if I appear to have a conflict, a clash between what I think I should do first and what I’m actually able to do because of the people involved, I need to examine these levels to see if my priorities are in the right order. This forces me to put people before programs. If I find myself frustrated in driving toward a goal, I need to check and see if I have put level three before level two. Have I put the work of Christ ahead of the body of Christ? That’s very easy for any of us to do, especially in light of the fact that our families are part of the body.” (p. 160)

Here are four red flags Engstrom uses to keep us out of the ditch of misplaced priorities.

1. Are my motives pure? Why do I want to accomplish a particular task or promote a program? Will it make me look good? Will it move me up a rung or give me a little more leverage?

We may frown at the idea that we could be less than sincere, but motivations are complex. We all struggle daily against the desire for recognition and power. The same program, for example, that will comfort the sick may also score points for the pastor. This is where our human reasoning often fails us, and we need to ask the Spirit of God to search our hearts. This is a time to pray as David did, “Search me, O God, and know my heart … and see if there be any hurtful way in me” (Psalm 139:23–24, nasb).

2. Do the goals of the program fit my theology? Time magazine told about a church in Florida that runs a bar in its parish hall. The pastor believes it brings people together in a good setting and contributes to the life of the church. That’s an extreme example, and most of us would fault the practice. But the issues are often more subtle, and while we’ll always have well-meaning people who will think up off-the-wall programs, we must test all proposals through the grid of our theology. If we don’t—and find ourselves stymied along the way to implementation—perhaps we have skipped this important question.

3. Will the program enhance the lives of the participants? A ministry to the medical complex might change the lives of many patients, but it may also jeopardize the workers. We have to ask whether this or that program will put novice Christians in leadership roles, tempt the weak with celebrity status, or pull mothers and fathers away from their children one more night of the week.

These are tough questions, but they provide the checks we need to avoid putting level three before level two.

4. Have we been seduced by our culture? Do we have a numbers orientation? Are we prone to think bigger is automatically better? Has society’s worship of size, success, speed, production, promotion, and glamour crept into our evaluation of church programs?

I don’t like to think along such lines.  I LIKE to think that my priorities are always upfront and known to me.  But, they’re not. Sometimes God has to slow me down IN ORDER to make me reevaluate.  Or simply to have think time. 

Or simply to be reminded that He is God…and I am not.

What do you think?  Drop me a line & let me know. 


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Internal Judge

This week I was coaching with a ministry leader who highlighted a problem that many of us have.  I had asked him to list 101 goals for his life (one of my early exercises I use with most of my clients.)  The goal is not perfection.  The goal is not even that you will actually accomplish all of them. (Although by listing them out, you will almost certainly accomplish more of them than if you hadn’t listed them out!)

My client suffered from what lots of us suffer from: an over active editor.  He wants to do right.  It has been inbred spiritually in him to do right.  Our culture is incredibly performance based.  And so every word has to be exactly right.  Every word means something (which IS true.  But it doesn’t have the eternal consequences that many of us feel that it does). 

image He wanted to put down “Climb Mt. Everest” on his list of 101 goals.  “Great!” But he wouldn’t do it.  “I’ll never accomplish that.”  he said.  “I don’t know why I want to put it down…it’s not something I really even want to do!” 

“What were you thinking when you thought of it?” I asked.

“I wanted to do one big adventure before I die.  That’s what I really want.”

“OK, you could put that down on your list, “I want to have a really big adventure.”  That would be OK. But I think you should leave it as “Climb Mt. Everest.”  THAT is what came to mind when you thought of a big adventure.  Even if you realize you don’t want to do it, now is not the time to make that decision.  That’s not the purpose of this exercise.  This is to brainstorm.  It is to write down what comes to mind. 

And I liked leaving it at “Climb Mt. Everest” because it was bold, rash and outlandish!  When it came time to edit that one, he wouldn’t already be hindered by “Do one big adventure before I die.”  (That is a little more ho-hum than “Climb Mt. Everest”.  And if you begin with ho-hum, it will only go down from there. 

We will go back later and do the “editor’s job”.  We will look at the list and ask, “Which ones do I immediately want/need to jump into.”  Which ones need to be adjusted.  Which ones are really an expression of wanting to do something else?  (Like Mt. Everest) 

Which ones does something else have to happen first before you can do it.  On my personal 101 goal list was to pay off the debt of my alma mater, Manhattan Christian College.  (I think it is like $2-3 million).  Is it realistic?  Well, no, not now.  I’m not even sure how we will; be able to afford health insurance this fall.  But it is a goal, that I WANT to accomplish if some other situations come into place (i.e. I get rich). 

But my friend (and me, if I can admit it) is plagued with the overactive editor.  It is a spirit of judging ideas as soon as they come out. 

  • That’s too expensive!
  • What would other people think?
  • That’s irresponsible!

What happened with my friend in his 101 goal list happens way too often in church.   “I have an idea,” someone says. 

  • That’s too expensive!
  • What would other people think?
  • That’s irresponsible!

come the replies. 

In what ways have you found to combat “over-active editor?”

Monday, July 19, 2010

Methodists and Healthy Churches


The United Methodist Church has released a study for which they  paid “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to find out what makes vital churches. 

Beliefnet reports:

The church recently concluded a study of more than 32,000 Methodist congregations across North America, seeking the "key factors impacting vital congregations." The study surveyed everybody from bishops to district superintendents to people in the pews.

They identified four factors that “fuel vitality”:

  1. Small groups and programs;
  2. Worship services that mix traditional and contemporary styles with an emphasis on relevant sermons;
  3. Pastors who work hard on mentorship and cultivation of the laity;
  4. An emphasis on effective lay leadership.

I find it interesting that they discovered four of the eight characteristics that Christian Schwartz identified in his monumental Natural Church Development study of a few years back:

  1. Empowering leadership
  2. Gift-oriented ministry
  3. Passionate spirituality
  4. Functional structures
  5. Inspiring worship service
  6. Holistic small groups
  7. Need-oriented evangelism
  8. Loving relationships

While there is a not a direct correlation between “Pastors who work hard on mentorship and cultivation of the laity” and NCD, that characteristic could manifest itself under either Gift oriented ministry and/or loving relationships.

Whatever you think of the survey, the article is at least worth being aware of.  Find it here

Monday, July 5, 2010

Quote on Open Doors

When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.

--Alexander Graham Bell

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