Passengers, Crew Members, Stowaways, & Pirates

One of the books I want to read next is Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement by Will Mancini. The book is intended to be “a field manual” based on Mancini’s “vision work and missional coaching with church leaders.”

Awhile back, I downloaded a free visual summary of the book (see churchunique.com). There’s a lot of good stuff there, but the part that’s stuck with me—the part I’ve quoted a few times here and there—is this …

There are four kinds of people in your church when it comes to vision.
Passengers to nurture and challenge
Crew members to equip and empower
Stowaways to find and convert
Pirates to confront and eliminate

It reminds me of Aubrey Malphurs’s early adopters, middle adopters, late adopters and never adopters. Mancini’s terms are more fun and descriptive, and certainly more provocative, especially “pirates.” Pirates are never adopters, but they’re more than that—they work against the vision!

Most churches (especially small churches, or larger churches with a small church mentality) never reach their potential because they are unwilling to confront the pirates. Until they confront the pirates they will always be held hostage by them and the vision will not be realized!

Good stuff. Help the Passengers, Crew Members, and Stowaways embrace the vision. Don’t let the Pirates keep you and your church from pursuing the vision God has given you!

The Price of Vision

In preparing for last week’s spiritual formation time at my monthly Matthew 28 pastors group meeting, which I wrote about recently, I came across (and used) a couple great quotes from Andy Stanley’s Visioneering: God’s Blueprint for Developing and Maintaining Vision.

Stanley talks about what it takes to pursue a vision.

Any vision worth pursuing will demand sacrifice and risk. You will be called upon to give up the actual good for the potentially best. You will find it necessary to leave what is comfortable and familiar in order to embrace that which is uncomfortable and unfamiliar. And all the while, you will be haunted by the fear that this thing you are investing so much of yourself in may not work out at all. (125)

This first quote speaks of the risk inherent in pursuing a vision. The next quote reminds us of the commitment that’s required.

Vision requires courage and confidence. It requires launching out as if you were absolutely assured of the outcome. Vision requires the commitment of a parachutist. You don’t ‘sort of’ parachute. You are either in the plane or in the air. You either do it or you don’t. The tendency is to approach a vision the same way a first-time ice skater takes to the ice: cautiously, and never more than an arm’s length from the railing. (126)

Courage is knowing the risks and doing it anyway because the vision is worth it!

Lessons I Learned from a Church Merger

In 2006, two of the churches I was serving at the time merged to form a new congregation, Hope UMC (Alexandria, PA). It was quite an intense experience. I was appointed to Centre Grove in 2008 so I only led the new congregation for two years beyond the merger, but ever since then, I’ve wondered what lessons I needed to learn from the experience. While I’ve thought about it from time to time, I’ve never really had a strong sense that I learned what I needed or wanted to … until a few months ago.

A few months ago, we were in Altoona on our day off. At the mall, I was pushing a napping-Sarah in the stroller while Joleen and Ethan shopped in a children’s clothing store. For some reason, I thought about the merger, and a couple of lessons suddenly struck me. I’ll get to them in a moment, but first, a little background.

In 2002, I was appointed to serve the Petersburg Charge, made up of three churches, Alexandria, Barree, and Crever Memorial (or Petersburg). Several months earlier, the churches had voted against merging (by all reports, it wasn’t a tumultuous ordeal). But during my first two years there, the idea of uniting came up over and over again in meetings and in conversations.

Finally, in 2004, a group of people from Alexandria proposed that the three churches worship together for the summer months at Petersburg. At a joint council meeting, the three churches voted to worship together for the summer.

Toward the end of the summer, it was time to decide the next step. We began working with a church consultant, who guided us throughout the journey. Council members of the churches voted to continue worshiping together for the last four months of 2004 at Barree. A second vote was taken immediately to continue the rotation and worship at all three churches in 2005, four months at each church (bringing the total time of worshiping together to 19 months).

We established an exploratory committee; I called them “Scouts.” Our key biblical text was the story of Moses sending scouts to survey the promised land. We chose three “scouts” from each church and we met together once a month.

Toward the end of the journey, the leadership group finally drafted a proposal to formally merge/unite the three churches to form a new congregation. When the vote was taken in February 2006, two churches voted in favor of the merger while one voted against it.

Because of the way the proposal was written (i.e., merge all three churches), it was determined that a second vote should be taken in the two churches that voted in favor of uniting. When that vote was taken a month or so later, Alexandria and Barree chose, overwhelmingly, to unite and form a new congregation.

While the two-year journey was challenging, there was a strong sense, at the time, that we had followed God’s leading. In July 2006, we celebrated the formation of Hope UMC.

Well, as with anything, there are things we did well and things we could’ve done better. Here’s what I think, a few years removed …

Things We Did Well
I think the Scouts did a good job. There were things we could’ve done better, but overall, we did a good job of seeking God’s will, focusing on mission, and leading the congregations in the discernment of God’s will.

I wrote emails to the Scouts regularly. My role was to keep the leaders on mission, not to unite churches (as we said then, it would be a decision they’d have to live with much longer than I would!). I had a strong sense of God’s presence and guidance throughout the journey that I’ll never forget.

I also tried to keep the congregations on mission through weekly preaching. We didn’t talk about it all the time, but there were stretches where we’d focus on God’s mission through various sermon series.

Things We Could’ve Done Better

I think we needed better communication between the Scouts and others in the congregations. That was supposed to happen informally, but we should’ve been more intentional.

I think we took too long to come to a decision. While no one wanted to rush to a decision, we let the process drag out too long. The Scouts had a very difficult time making the final decision to propose a merger, mostly because they didn’t want to hurt other church members. On the one hand, we wanted to give plenty of time for God to work in people’s hearts, but on the other hand, the longer it dragged on, the more exhausted people got.

Toward the beginning of the process, we should have established a new mission/ministry that people from all three churches could have united around during the discernment process. Because the process was so consuming, very little ministry seem to take place during the process.

Lessons from a Church Merger
Now, back to my day at the mall. Nothing earth-shattering, but if I had to do over, I’d make it a little harder for them to merge. Specifically …

I’d ask “Why?” (over and over). Why do you want to unite? If the response was right (it’s about mission, not survival!) …

I’d ask, “Are you sure”? Are you sure this is what you want to do? Are you sure this is the best way to live out God’s mission? Are you sure this is what God is calling you to do?

For the Scouts, it was primarily about the mission, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for everyone. I think merging was the right thing to do, and while asking these questions might not have changed the vote (I hope not), it might have helped some people be more clear about what they were doing and to be more committed to the outcome.

The bottom line: churches should only merge for missional reasons. Survival may be a factor, perhaps even a precipitating factor, but it can’t be the primary motivating factor. It has to be about the mission. Also, there has to be a strong core group who take ownership of the mission and to be strongly committed to the vision!

The larger leadership lesson is that leaders must help people make the right decisions for the right reasons. Leaders must be missional and they must work to shape missional cultures in the churches they lead!

Impatience vs. Urgency

Following up on my Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry post, I’ve been mulling over the difference between urgency and impatience for a while now. On the one hand, impatience is obviously a bad thing. But I believe that having a sense of urgency is a good thing. What’s the difference?

Impatience is defined as …

a dislike of anything that causes delay.

Urgency is defined as a …

pressing importance requiring speedy action.

I grew up in a Christian tradition where urgency was a core value, a character quality. It was part of the mix of who we were. Because there was a strong belief that Christ’s return was imminent, there was an urgency about evangelism.

The denomination was less than a century old at the time so it was still a passionate movement, for the most part. Over time, movements tend to institutionalize and lose their passion — their fire — in the process. In other words, they lose their sense of urgency.

Of course, urgency can turn into impatience, and when it does, it becomes a bad thing. Proverbs 19.2 (NCV) says …

Enthusiasm without knowledge is not good. If you act too quickly, you might make a mistake.

Similarly, Proverbs 21.5 (CEV) says …

If you plan and work hard, you will have plenty; if you get in a hurry, you will end up poor.

There have been times in my life that I’ve gotten an idea that I have wanted to implement right then and there. I’m growing, though, and I’m learning to not act as quickly, to let the idea simmer a while in my heart and mind, giving me time to process it before moving toward implementation.

I think a key difference between impatience and urgency is a sense of trust in God’s timing in the whole process. If I trust God’s timing and leadership, I will be less likely to rush the process. But when I lose sight of God’s leadership and timing, I get out of sync with God’s timing and may move too quickly.

We need to have a sense of urgency, but we also need to understand that urgent doesn’t always mean acting on an idea right now. The time of waiting between the inspiration and implementation is a time of preparation. Preparation is an important part of the process!

Listening to a sermon podcast by Ed Young recently, I heard him say …

God is preparing you for what he has prepared for you!

He talked about how God led the Israelites through the wilderness. At one point in the story, we’re told that God led them “around” a particular town/area. Ed noted that the Hebrew word indicates that God actually led the Israelites in circles, apparently because they were not prepared for the battle that was sure to occur. Sometimes we may know where we’re headed, but we’re not yet ready to be there. We need time to prepare!

We need to live with a sense of urgency, yes, but we also need to live with a sense of patient trust in God’s timing and leadership. Do you have a sense of urgency or are you driven by impatience? Do you sense how God is preparing you for what he has prepared for you?

4 Talking Points about United Methodists

During one of the meals at the Bishop’s Retreat last week, each place setting included a 1-2-3-4 card which is intended to describe United Methodists.

The folded card is designed “to provide talking points about our church and its mission,” states …

We are the people of The United Methodist Church.

  1. We believe in—
    making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
  2. We live by two kinds of holiness.
    • Personal
    • Social
  3. We follow three simple rules.
    • Do no harm.
    • Do good.
    • Stay in love with God.
  4. We work in four areas of focus.
    • Developing leaders
    • Creating places for new people
    • Eliminating poverty
    • Improving health globally

I’m a huge proponent of vision-casting that’s clear and concise. The 1-2-3-4 card is a great way to understand and communicate who we are and what we’re about!

How well do you think it communicates the heart and mission of United Methodists?

Tomorrow

Sometimes “tomorrow” is a bad word — “Instead of doing (fill-in-the-blank) today, I’ll do it tomorrow!” (i.e., procrastination).

But, other times, tomorrow is an inspiring word. Tomorrow gives us the opportunity to dream, envision, and plan for the future. Tomorrow is an opportunity to take what we’ve learned yesterday and today and apply it on the next leg of our journey.

Scripture cautions about how we view tomorrow, though. James wrote …

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil. (James 4.14-16)

And, Jesus said …

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6.34)

However, Jesus also talked about the importance of looking ahead in counting the cost of being his disciple, saying:

… don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’ (Luke 14.28-30)

I think one lesson is that we need to entrust our tomorrows to God — don’t take them for granted, don’t worry about what may or may not happen — but be prepared to pay the price of following Jesus and helping others follow Jesus, too, for the transformation of the world!

So tonight, June 30, 2008, we look ahead to tomorrow when we (officially) begin the next leg of our journey in Clearfield. We look forward, with great anticipation, to all that God will do in and through us as we seek to serve God faithfully!

Back on Mission

It’s our first day back to work (after parental leave). As we get back to the cause of leading our churches in mission, I’m thinking about an image I saw while we were in Korea.

"The world is my parish!"

“The world is my parish!”

During our tour of Kwanglim Methodist Church, I saw a large wall poster of John Wesley on horseback, which included the phrase (in English and in Korean): “The world is my parish.”

I saw the poster as we walked by it in the hallway. A couple minutes later, I went back to take a picture of it because it had really caught my attention. Here was this incredible church (70,000+ members) — plus all of the other Methodist churches in Korea — that was the fruit of John Wesley’s amazing ministry.

It’s a good reminder that what we do for God can make an impact on the world — in our lifetimes and beyond. It’s also a good reminder as Joleen and I get back to the mission of leading our churches in the work of God’s kingdom.

Don’t just believe stuff, do stuff.

Do you have a tool, an appliance, or a gadget somewhere around the house collecting dust, something you bought (or were given) one time but have never used? A lot of us probably do, and it makes me (Randy) think of Radio Shack’s slogan, “Don’t just buy stuff, do stuff.”

Radio Shack’s slogan also makes me think of a good slogan for Christ-followers: Don’t just believe stuff, do stuff!

Following Jesus involves more than attaining knowledge about God and the Bible. That’s important, but following Jesus is a way of life. When there’s a disconnect between what I believe and how I live, there’s a problem!

This is why you’ll normally see us use the description, “Christ-follower,” as opposed to descriptions like “Christian” or “believer” (not that there’s anything wrong with these tags, necessarily). I like “Christ-follower” because it indicates action. I believe God expects more from me than simply believing some things about him.

I believe God expects us to live out our beliefs!

Interconnectedness

I just wrote this for our charge’s (monthly) church newsletter (November 2007) …

Currently our sermon series is based on Acts 2.42-47, which gives us a snapshot of what the first century church looked like. They were a faith community, living their lives together, giving away their lives to others.

Being together lends itself to the concept of interconnectedness. We are connected to one another and we are not complete without the other. As believers in Jesus Christ, we are one body (Ephesians 4.4-6).

Perhaps the image of a puzzle is helpful. Each piece of the puzzle is unique and distinct to itself, yet it is pretty meaningless apart from the whole. You rarely know what the completed puzzle looks like when seeing only one piece. But when all the pieces are connected, a complete picture emerges.

We’re connected to one another. We’re not complete without each other! Imagine those puzzle pieces are people, imagine yourself to be one piece of that puzzle. God designed us to connect with others.

In Acts 2, the believers connected to study the Scripture, to pray, for Holy Communion, to worship, and to eat meals together. They connected by pooling their material means and giving to anyone in need. Their connection was a witness and many came to know Christ because of it.

I hate when I put a puzzle together and there are missing pieces. It’s so disappointing after all that work! And yet there are pieces, people, missing from our life together as the church.

Do you sense their absence? They may be absent from our Sunday worship gathering. Their gifts may be absent from our midst. There are those absent for they have not yet recognized God’s saving grace. And there are those people groups who are absent for they have yet to hear the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Who are you missing?

“Making Vision Stick”

Andy Stanley has written a must-read book for leader/communicators who want to maximize the adhesiveness of their vision!

Andy Stanley, founding and lead pastor of North Point Community Church, is one of a handful of writers that I read everything they write. The latest book I’ve read is Making Vision Stick (see Google Books’ limited preview), part of the new Leadership Library series from Zondervan.

The first thing I love about the book is that it’s only 74 pages long. If all books were as short, I’d be able to read a lot more books!

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

One of the greatest challenges is making vision stick. Vision doesn’t have much adhesive (12).

To get people to sit still long enough to understand your vision is hard enough. But to get them to actually organize their lives around it is supremely difficult. The urgent and legitimate needs of today quickly erase our commitment to the what could be of tomorrow (15-16).

It’s the leader’s responsibility to ensure that people understand and embrace the vision of the organization (17).

5 things you can do to increase the adhesiveness of your vision …

1. State the vision simply.

Andy writes …

if your vision is going to stick in people’s minds, it must be memorable. […] People don’t remember or embrace paragraphs. They remember and embrace sentences (19). […] And, If the vision is too complicated, nothing changes (23).

2. Cast the vision convincingly.

In this section, Andy says leaders must define the problem, offer a solution, and present a reason for the solution. He writes …

Every vision is a solution to a problem (25).

Buy-in by others hinges on your ability to convince them you are offering a solution to a problem they are convinced needs to be solved (26).

Further …

A leader points the way to a solution and gives a compelling reason why something must be done now (30).

3. Repeat the vision regularly.

As committed as I am to the idea of casting vision on a regular basis, sometimes I feel a bit guilty. I like I’m repeating myself (35).

I was glad to read this statement. I’ve been saying/feeling something similar in the last couple of years. But as Andy points out, the repetition is an essential component of vision-casting.

4. Celebrate the vision systematically.

Celebrating a win incarnates the vision, bringing clarity in a way that words cannot. (40)

5. Embrace the vision personally.

Your willingness to embody the vision of your organization will have a direct impact on your credibility as a leader. Living out the vision establishes credibility and makes you a leader worth following. When people are convinced the vision has stuck with you, it is easier for them to make the effort to stick with the vision (47).

Andy wraps up the brief book saying …

If God has given you a picture of what could and should be, embrace it fully and refuse to allow the busyness and urgency of life to distract you. […] Seeing a vision become a reality requires more than a single burst of energy or creativity. It requires daily attention. Daily commitment (72-73).

Making Vision Stick is more good stuff from Andy Stanley. A must-read for leader/communicators.