Category Archives: Church Life

3 Errors to Avoid with Missional Life Transformation Groups

This is part of a series of posts on what a missional community is – check out the others and let me know if you have any thoughts or questions.

In case you were wondering, I was indeed trying to see how many Christian buzz words can fit in one title with this post.

As we talk about how Life Transformation Groups can be used for mission, it’s important to once again question how we view mission. As we talk about mission, we are mostly speaking of helping the entire individual conform to the life of Jesus Christ spiritually, physically, socially, and psychologically. Mission doesn’t just happen in one setting or in one meeting but throughout all of life.

When we grasp that, we see every arena as an opportunity to know God more and extend the gospel of Jesus Christ to others. This includes the joy from hanging out (Christianese translation: fellowship) with one another, enjoying a meal (Christianese: breaking bread), and sharing about your faith impacting your life (Christianese: outreach).

Most people think of Life Transformation Groups as a holiness endeavor for Christians, but seeing it as part of the Christian and non-Christian’s process of being more like Jesus expands our views and aims. We are ultimately creating space for anyone to explore God, see how He affects our lives, and actively pursue this change.

Jesus’ Life Transformation Group

When I look at Jesus’ disciples who followed Him for 3 years, Jesus was constantly on mission to them and with them. He was over-explaining his sermons, reminding them again of things they had forgotten, and inviting people who didn’t truly believe in Him to be near Him. He enjoyed time with them, laughed with them, mourned with them, spoke hard truths in very challenging ways, prayed with them, and taught them truth.

I want Jesus to lead my Life Transformation Group (and Community Group and church, ok, all of life). He’s the perfect leader.

His life is an example for us, but also the very thing that gives us and empowers our salvation. We can trust God like He did and be concerned with others knowing God even as we try to get to know God more ourselves.

We have to get this mentality before we ever try to be missional in Life Transformation Groups.

3 Errors to Avoid & The Way Forward for Missional LTGs

We will commit errors on the mission of God, but there are a few errors we must avoid in Life Transformation Groups for them to be a space where someone exploring Christ will want to be there.

1)     Don’t Act Holier Than Thou

The aim is not showing off our morality and confronting others lack. The aim is to acknowledge that we don’t match up to Jesus and that makes Jesus look awesome. Confessing your faults, errors, and sins is essential to making a disciple of Jesus Christ.

The Way Forward: Show that Jesus is Awesome for You.

Share how you struggle, where the Bible confronts your lack of faith and ways you want to change. Show that Jesus is the way forward as the only One who was perfect.

2)     Don’t Give The Answers

The learning is in the struggle. Let someone explore what the scriptures say about God without you giving them all the answers. They must learn to be a disciple of Jesus, not dependent on you.

The Way Forward: Ask Questions, Listen, and Fill in the Blanks

Most people will begin to explore their own beliefs and come to some conclusions. You become the facilitator of their exploration of God. Listen and remember your own journey in exploring faith. As necessary, fill in the blanks with other verses and thoughts. At this point, you’ve affirmed the value of their questions, thoughts, and you now provide them more context to understand.

3)     Don’t Ignore the Tension

At some point in your Life Transformation Group, you will come to a belief for followers of Christ that confronts the beliefs of someone who doesn’t follow Jesus. In the awkwardness, we all want to run and hide, downplay the tension, but you can’t ignore that Jesus confronts people. We also can’t ignore that he confronts the religious and irreligious, not just one or the other.

The Way Forward: Compassionately Align with Jesus

We must side with Jesus and take His positions on what is true, but we must also adopt His posture of compassion and understanding. Jesus engaged the tension humbly, but also confidently aligning with God in popular shared ideas and even in the unpopular. We must do the same.

As I’ve seen people be missional with their Life Transformation Groups, their vulnerability, honesty, and passion for Jesus is what provides the best opportunity for people to know God in Jesus Christ. The gospel of Jesus Christ frees us to acknowledge that we all have flaws, are imperfect, and that our sin caused Jesus’ death. But we also see that Jesus forgives us, invites us by faith to have a relationship with God, and that we are no longer defined by our flaws or sins.

This gospel is our freedom and we have the opportunity to invite everyone to know this freedom.

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Wisdom from Weakness

Weakness is not touted in our culture. We are taught early on of the importance of strength, performance, and reputation in our society. We learn to hide any and all measure of weakness because it will affect our ability to seem strong. The weight of this can be crushing and your weakness, whether it’s personal or professional, becomes the thing you fear the most.

If it is exposed, what will people think of me? How will I ever be respected? So we hide. We fear failure because of its destructive nature to our psyche and our reputation. We also watch as the strengths of other people are magnified and exalted so we long for similar strengths or for our strengths to be magnified.

No doubt our strengths are important and we need to identify where we excel as part of living a fulfilling life, but we should never fear or avoid our weaknesses.

Strengths are helpful, Weakness can be powerful

I’ve read plenty of books written by people touting their strengths and accomplishments, I’ve been to plenty of conferences where the best of the best share about their methods and how you can do it (usually for a fee to the speaker or buying their book).

I’ve learned much from people’s strengths, but I’ve been deeply impacted when people share about their weaknesses. There is something powerful when someone humbly shares about the wisdom and lessons they have learned from “failing” in certain areas or “failing” to live up to expectations, whether it’s personal expectations or other’s.

It seems to be in this humility of someone else that we are invited to be weak ourselves, to be set free from the façade of strength that we feel we must put up to be accepted and promoted. It is powerful in its countercultural nature.

Wisdom from Weakness

On top of its invitational nature, there is so much wisdom with those who walk through their weakness with humility and transparency. Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthian church is very transparent about his weakness, longing for it to be removed (don’t we all want that), but then recognizing that God’s power is perfected in our weakness.

I’ve learned a ton from people that have opened up about their weaknesses in financial management, parenting, leadership, teaching, evangelism, and friendship. Likely, more than I have learned from the experts and I’ve seen people thankful from learning from my weaknesses even though I find in myself a wishing for people learning from my strengths.

Paul even goes so far as to say he would boast in his weakness. This makes me and many of us cringe, wondering what would happen if we would so boldly proclaim our weakness. How did Paul get to this place?

Strength in Identity, not in Activity

Paul cared more about Jesus and his relationship with God than he did about his own reputation. He pleaded with God for his weakness to be taken away, but seeing God’s work in it, he became all the more concerned that people who care more about Jesus than they did about associating with Paul.

In Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, the invitation of faith is to admit weakness and need to God first. Faith sets us free from reputation management, self-promotion, and fear. It’s a freedom to forget about yourself and be most concerned with the benefits of others. My failures, past and present, my weaknesses and mistakes become a way to serve and bless others, giving them freedom to be weak and wisdom to walk through life.

It’s ok to be weak, to fail, and to make mistakes. We don’t have to hide them, but in Christ we are able to acknowledge them. No more shame in weakness or failure, and no pride in success or strength. Freedom.

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Life Comes Before Blogging

It’s been 6 months since I’ve blogged and most of that has been the result of life happening. It’s been a really busy season and I’ve missed blogging, but I am also thankful to have a 6 month break from it.

Blogging didn’t used to be a thing. Not for me, not for anyone, but it has become a somewhat healthy and sometimes unhealthy outlet for people’s thoughts and opinions. If you’re not careful and blogging becomes your thing, writing a blog can be similar to Instagram, presenting a snap shot as reality when life doesn’t match it. It’s not always the case, but it’s a perpetual temptation. In truth, most of our life is lived by presenting images and snap shots as the whole. Whether at work, at church or elsewhere we can present a picture that doesn’t match the reality of our hearts and real lives. Not everyone gets the grainy Instagram video version, but I do think life would be better if they did.

As life has gotten busy for me and I’ve had many things to process in the midst of it, blogging has taken a back seat. The interesting thing is that my January blogs were all about being present with my marriage, my kids, and my role as a pastor and friend at our church. As excess time became more limited and energy was spent to be present elsewhere, I had to drop something and that was blogging. If I had continued blogging, I would have been expressing incomplete, unprocessed, and unrealistic ideas and thoughts because life needed to happen and change me in the process.

I may not blog as consistently as I would like going forward, but here’s an update of all that has gone on this year as I attempt to re-enter the blogging world.

Transitions, Transitions, Transitions

In June, our church’s founding pastor, JR Vassar, announced his resignation and his move for all the right reasons. He loves his family and ministry and wants both of them to flourish. It’s a great reminder to put first things first.

That means we are and have been in a season of transition as a church. The beauty of it is that we are not changing directions as a church, but drilling deeper in the vision God has been cultivating for many years. We are moving even further into being a network of neighborhood congregations worshipping Jesus, engaging in gospel-centered communities on mission to love our neighbors and extend God’s grace to them, and plant new congregations on the back of these communities to meet the needs of our city.

In a few weeks we will launch Apostles Brooklyn as the fruit of God multiplying communities and providing local leaders to communicate truth and model the love of Christ to others. I’m excited about the future of Apostles Church, praying that continues to grow us a community that loves Jesus and loves others well.

It has been busy though during the transition, as I’ve taken on more responsibilities. I’ve preached more consistently than ever and I’ve actually enjoyed it more than ever before as well. I’ve had the privilege to be more involved with the talented members of our staff and working to grow together as a healthy team. But the best part of these last 6 months job-wise has been interacting with the amazing people of Apostles Church more. I’m amazed at God’s gift to our church in the people and community that He has brought and formed here. They are a huge gift.

I started a Coaching Business

What is coaching? Coaching is coming alongside people and leaders as they navigate through decisions, plans, and vision for their life and work. The aim is to empower people through coaching to achieve their goals and their growth.

It is something I’ve been doing informally for a while, but have recently made it more formal for a few reasons. I want to see God’s people and Jesus’ church flourish wherever it is and by God’s grace I have been able to help pastors, leaders, and Christians explore how that will look in their context. I love being a resource to our church and other churches to empower the spread of God’s love and mercy through Jesus.

This also provides an opportunity to bless my family and church by earning some additional income outside the church. Our church takes care of us well, but I also don’t want to be a burden on them in an expensive city as my family grows up here.

My Wife and Kids are Awesome

Speaking of my family, I have awesome kids and an amazing wife. The last 6 months has been amazing to watch them grow up even more into their own unique personalities. Calvin tested into the Gifted & Talented Program (way to go Cal!) in the NYC public schools and will start Kindergarten this fall at Eli’s school while Eli starts 2nd grade. They are too old! Mya continues to be too cute and is growing into a beautiful and outgoing little girl. She has yet to meet a stranger.

Our summer has been amazing. We fell in love with upstate New York this July with two small vacations and took the train down to South Carolina to enjoy time with extended family. The city during the summer is a dream as well and we’ve almost enjoyed everything on our summer bucket list from the beach to the various water playgrounds, the public library and the parks. It’s been incredibly refreshing.

Life will always come before blogging for me, but I do enjoy this being an outlet of my processed thoughts on life, the church, missional communities, and family. We’ll see if I can find adequate time for it.


Filed under Church Life, Life, Missional Communities

2013 Resolutions: The Fourth of Four

Recently I read the book Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp. He openly discusses the culture of the church that typically views the pastor as having it all together all the time and how this pressure can be challenging on pastors. While God has called qualified people to be pastors, they are still people, flawed and in need of a Savior. Their character, convictions, and competencies are those of a leader, but no leader is perfect and expectations must change.

My last resolution is to be a faithful shepherd, pastor of my church, but also to be a fellow brother in Christ with my church. The fourth of four resolutions is simply to be a friend and to be a friend in need. 4a & 4b if you will.

To be a friend & a friend in need

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a powerful thing, powerful to save anyone from a life bent away from God’s desires, transform anyone, and empower all who embrace it by faith to meet the needs of others. Throughout the scriptures, God speaks about blessing people with Himself in order that they would be a blessing for others.

Part of this reality is that I am have been given certain gifts and a certain role in the body of Christ, for me it is to be a pastor. This involves studying the word of God, praying, counseling people in the scriptures, dialoguing about Jesus and His gospel with anyone regardless of their beliefs or background, and cultivating communities that do the same. If you were to boil it down to one idea, it’s to be a true friend to anyone I meet, to love them with the love of Christ that they might know about a relationship with God.

But the gospel of Jesus Christ is also powerful enough for me to confront my weakness. This brings freedom to acknowledge that there are times when I am a friend in need and that God has provided people in my life, from all background or beliefs and especially in the church that share my beliefs to help me when I am in need.

The perception that the pastor has it all together all the time is an impossible expectation because no one does, except for Jesus. We are all in progress, constantly learning and growing, and the gospel of Jesus Christ brings freedom to walk in this reality. This allows me to sit down with a friend and be honest. I can let people know that there are times when I’m tired, times when I’m not as happy as I wish I was or had been last week and that I need their help to change. That there are times when I’m not fired up about reading the scriptures or talking about the Lord, but I don’t want to feel this way and many times it is the help of other people in our community, using their stories and their gifts that God provides a path toward change.

Use My Gifts and Benefit from the Gifts of Others

This also provides me perspective on how I’m gifted and to celebrate how others have been gifted. It takes the pressure off to always have the solution, to be able to say I don’t know, and to honor how God has uniquely gifted other people. God’s design was to gift all of God’s people to serve all of God’s creation.

When all gifts are celebrated, honored, and embraced by the church, the church truly begins to embody Jesus Christ who possesses and exercises all of the gifts perfectly. The church would like everyone they interact with to experience Jesus through them, but it’s only possible when individuals are introduced and invited to experience the entire community of Christ followers.

I hope this year involves helping people identify how they have been uniquely designed and gifted by God to serve others, to equip them and empower them to do so and to see those gifts be used to love others well.

These are my resolutions and I hope that I can look back at the end of the year having been fully present to enjoy my marriage, love my kids, and serve the city we live in by empowering and serving my church. Here’s to 2013.

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Soccernomics & Church: British & American Cultural Influence

(This is post 6 in a series of blog posts on how a book on soccer, Soccernomics, can teach us much about the American church. I took a couple of weeks off, but hope to finish the series soon.)

One of the most interesting chapters in Soccernomics focused on the difference between American football and British football (Americans call it soccer). Soccer has become the global sport, but American football remains America’s favorite sport with little influence throughout the world. This chapter forced me to reflect on the church as it seeks to influence the world for the good of the entire society. The approach of the church has largely mirrored the American approach to influence around the world, while it could follow and learn much from the British approach.

The spread of soccer as the global game also can be attributed to relational influence the British tend to use as the means for creating culture.  The church has often aimed for positional influence in the culture and often finds itself on the losing end. There is much to learn from the British approach. The authors began describing the different approach of the British and Americans in fighting wars and colonization by quoting John Gray, a professor at the London School of Economics.

“The United States has rarely even aspired to vast cultural reach. The country fought wars, but mostly tried to avoid creating long-term colonies… In Vietnam and Iraq, for instance, the aim was to “go in, do the job, get out.” Unlike Britons, Americans generally didn’t want to be in the business of empire.” Soccernomics p. 160

The authors went on to describe the British & American Army’s use of different tactics in working with local officials in the Green Zone during the Iraq war. These tactics reveal the different approaches to influence.

“We know an American lawyer who spent a few months working for the British government during the occupation of Iraq. In the “Green Zone” in Baghdad he noticed a difference between the way Brits and Americans operated. When American officials wanted an Iraqi to do something, the lawyer said, they would generally call the person into the Green Zone and if necessary “bawl him out.” Sometimes this strategy worked. Sometimes it didn’t. But the Americans summoned Iraqis only when something needed fixing. British officials worked differently, said the lawyer. They were always inviting the Iraqis in, for parties or just for chats, even when there was nothing in particular to discuss. This was exactly how the British had operated both in their colonies and in their “informal empire”: they made long-term contacts.” Soccernomics p. 161-162 Emphasis mine

Positional vs. Relational Influence

The contrast is in using positional influence vs. relational influence in culture shaping. The church is famous for culture wars, seeking positional influence to primarily legalize morality. It rarely works, when it does it alienates people and places a judgmental label on the majority of the church. It seems to be an inherited trait from a time where the church played a vital, and in many cases, helpful role in society. The church no longer finds itself in this position, she finds herself on the margins of society.

There has been a lot written about the culture wars and the majority written from my generation is tired of it. The next question is how to move forward. There continue to be faults in the response to culture wars and much seems to be a pendulum swinging in the opposite direction. Many seeking to have a voice in the culture compromise aspects of the Christian faith that have been held to since the beginning. In doing so, they sacrifice the benefits to society of Christianity they are trying to bring into mainstream culture. Still others dig their heels in and maintain the core tenets of Christianity, but adopt an us-against-the-world posture continuing in the war on culture despite poor results.

There’s another way forward for the church and there are great examples of people pursuing it. It seems to match the British approach to colonization and long-term influence.

Creating Culture that is Attractive

Before describing the Green Zone differences, the authors of Soccernomics discuss British colonization, specifically how sports and culture were shaped by the British for centuries in countries they no longer occupy.

“From about 1850 until the First World War, Britain was the sole economic superpower. As late as in 1914, Britons still owned about 42% of all the world’s foreign investment. The British expats who inhabited the informal empire represented the empire’s economic might. The men tended to work in the railways (like Charles Miller’s father in Brazil), or as businessmen (like the Charnock brothers, who set up Russia’ first soccer club for their mill employees outside Moscow), or as school-teachers (like Alexander Watson Hutton, the Scottish teacher who in the early 1880s introduced soccer in Argentina).

These people only had “soft power”: the wealth and prestige of the British gentleman. That was enough to spread their games. Men like Hutton taught foreigners to see sports as an upper-class and hence aspirational product. If you were a young man like Mandela who wanted to become a British gentleman, one of the things you did was play soccer… Soccer conquered the world so fast largely because the British gentleman was such an attractive ideal. A century later a new British archetype, the hooligan, in his own way probably added to the game’s glamour.” Soccernomics pgs. 159-160

The “attractive ideal” was so compelling that it created a long-lasting culture. The church has lacked in presenting an attractive ideal, but Jesus was very much the attractive ideal of his day. People traveled to find him, to be around him, to learn from him, and many to follow him.

The church today has a massive opportunity to create culture that aims to benefit society, enhance current cultural beauty, but also to redeem and heal the brokenness in our society. Only the church has the tenets, grace, and wisdom of God that shapes a culture for its full joy, concern for the collective over the individual, and sacrificial generosity of time, resources, and energy to long-suffer in caring for the poor, needy, impoverished, and orphan.

Now some may say, the British empire has lost its power, why should the church mirror it? Christianity was never about power or about creating a Christian political nation. It’s an informal empire that moves beyond boundaries to the entire world.

How Does the Church embody Jesus as the Attractive Ideal?

First, the church must shift its method of engagement with the culture. Similar to how the British army engaged in dialogue with the Iraqis, the church must engage in dialogue with the culture with and without an agenda. This type of engagement creates relationships and relationships are the context for influence and change.

Relational influence carries more weight, but the aim must be the relationship over the influence. Aiming for influence only is engaging as the American army, only when it’s time to fix something, but aiming for relationship allows for influence and cooperation to seek long-term benefits for all in a contextual manner.

Secondly, the church must begin creating good culture, not settling for a knock-off subculture. The Christian subculture has become a Christian ghetto walled off to the outside world, turning inward which leads to foolish battles. Creating culture is seeking to provide an alternative way in which society as a whole, not just those of similar beliefs, benefits.

The early church humbled the government in its care for the poor, sick, and those without a voice. The government would then ask them for assistance when interacting with this sector of society because their influence was about relationships and caring. The church must embody a holistic gospel that matches the lifestyle of Jesus and the actions of Jesus, returning to the consistent practice of church history.

When we do this, we create culture worth participating in and a great example of this can be found in artist known as Lecrae.

This month, Lecrae, a hip-hop artist who happens to be a Christian, released his latest CD Gravity. It currently sits at #3 on the top hip-hop albums two weeks after it was released and has been number 1 for the majority of these two weeks. It’s quality hip-hop/rap music and Time Magazine published a bio of him online and an interview in their latest print magazine in the culture section. The reason was that his music was really good while also contrasting the prevailing culture in hip-hop. It presented attractive ideals for culture and people responding by listening, praising it, and telling the world about it.

When the church creates a good culture, the world will listen. We follow the most attractive ideal in Jesus and when we live like Him in the world, our workplace, our neighborhood, and our city will benefit. They most likely won’t beg us to lead or give us power (remember that they did kill Jesus), but our aim is to bless others not ascend to earthly power.

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Soccernomics & Church: Lack of Innovation

(This is post 5 in a series of blog posts on how a book on soccer, Soccernomics, can teach us much about the American church.)

From hiring practices to game strategy, soccer clubs love to do what has always been done which leads to unprofitable and unsuccessful soccer. The church is also notorious for lacking innovation in methods and this lack of innovation would be foolish in a culture that is changing the way they interact, plan their lives and engage with the wider society.

Lack of innovation in soccer

Soccernomics highlights the glacial pace at which most soccer clubs embrace new ideas and innovation. Often the ideas do not come from within a soccer club, but from an outside observer. One example was the Taylor Report in 1990, which simply evaluated the benefit that teams would receive from investing in their stadiums. The outside report led many soccer clubs to consider this for the first time resulting in growth in crowds and popularity. It’s as if soccer clubs discovered the world was filled with consumers for the first time. The authors also highlight the often foolish, yet ingrained way “things have always been done” in soccer clubs.

The hiring practices for a new manager for soccer clubs is often based on perception of his star power. This aim leads to managerial hiring that is often quick, lacking a thorough interview process, not assessing qualifications, but looking for immediate availability and making a media splash. Then when he fails, the cycle repeats because it was not the process that failed, but the specific manager.

The soccer clubs are often so concerned with the immediate fan reaction that they make foolish decisions about players, thinking a big signing will generate fan interest immediately rather building for a long haul and we’ve already addressed the suspicion of outside ideas about soccer strategy.l

Lack of innovation in the church

The way it’s always been done is not only cherished in soccer clubs, but in the local church. It is often unquestioned and off limits for being challenged in most churches.

One thing is certain for churches, theology does not change. We are a modern expression of an ancient faith articulated extremely clearly and well in the scriptures. Culture would like much of it to change, but changing God’s words are impossible since they originate from the unchanging, eternal God. We embrace the fullness of God in Jesus letting His truths shape our life, ministry practices, and the mission to meet the needs of others with the message and mercy of Christ.

Theology doesn’t change, but methodology must be evaluated and this is where the glacial pace of embracing change is so easily seen. I’m no stranger to this myself, as I once hated the idea of changing of a method of small groups to missional communities. Sunday services, Mass, and gathering mid-week at the local church only are not enough. This has become clear from declining numbers that churches aren’t the most welcoming places for people who are far from God. If the mission of the church is to help people who are far from God grow near to God, why are we waiting for those far away to stumble into a church?

Away From Programs & On toward Mission

There are too many churches that are filled with programs. There’s a pre-school ministry on Sunday morning, another one (Awanas) on Monday night and a Mother’s Day Out program during the week so your child can overdose on church meanwhile the rest of the world takes their kids to the local playground. There’s a men’s ministry, women’s ministry, singles ministry, marrieds, retirees, pre-retirees, and the list goes on. For every affinity, the church has adopted the Field of Dreams “If we create a niche ministry, they will come.”

The church is meant to be a community on mission and over-programming a church leads to death of the mission for outsiders at the embrace of a mission for insiders. In churches that are under-programmed it can be difficult for people to feel involved because this mentality of over-activity at the church has become so ingrained over the last few decades.

The Widening Gap Between Cultural & Church Norms

I am not advocating for any kind of aim toward cultural relevance, I’m asking that we as the church evaluate whether we place unnecessary burdens and barriers towards encountering our culture to provide a complex dialogue about faith and life. Are the activities of the church normal to our society or have the methods become so abnormal that they are uncomfortable to those outside the church? Think about the ways churches gather as small groups or form for mission.

These small groups often meet in a local home, gathering in a circle to discuss the bible and the challenges of life. Where does the rest of the world gather? Local restaurants, pubs, playgrounds, school yards, PTA, and sports clubs to discuss how their worldview is shaping their experience of life. They might not describe it as their worldview, but their frustrations at home, work, or in relationships are because of their aims in life (i.e. worldview).

Looking at the life of Christ, it is easy to see one who is confident in God, freed to enter into every arena of life, risking reputation, to demonstrate the goodness, strength, and love of God to those far from God. Those who claim to represent Him are called to do the same. Our methods of church are not the silver bullet to seeing people come near to God, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God to see people be reconciled to relationship with God. But our methods can have a way of distracting from the gospel, of bottling the gospel, and hindering it from being demonstrated and declared.

Preaching to the Choir or those who aren’t there?

As this gets demonstrated in soccer clubs at matches where the team with foolish practices doesn’t do well on the pitch, Sundays demonstrate the culture of the church. Music, sermons, and whether a people are welcome demonstrate if we are preaching to the choir or preaching to those who aren’t there.

Are we simply gathering to comfort and enjoy our fellow Christians or are we hoping to bring a friend, neighbor, or co-worker? If we did would they hear preaching that is aimed at the long-time Christian or aimed to exalt Christ for Christian & non-Christian alike? Our Sunday gatherings should be a reflection of our community life outside Sundays. If neither reflect a desire to connect with the people of our culture to engage in a complex dialogue the way Christ did, our methods are failing our gospel.

Since the gospel of Jesus Christ never changes, we should be ready, willing, and quick to evaluate and embrace new ideas in methodology rather than write them off because they don’t fit into what we are used to. The mission of God was made to enter into any environment with grace, love, and power. Innovations in pursuing this mission without compromising the truths of the gospel are a gift from God rather than a diversion from Him.

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Soccernomics & Church: The Wisdom of Crowds

(This is post 4 in a series of blog posts on how a book on soccer, Soccernomics, can teach us much about the American church.)

Decisions can often be made in a vacuum in business, professional sports clubs, and churches. They lack information from a variety of sources that allows them to make appropriate decisions.

The authors of Soccernomics highlight the French soccer club Olympique Lyon, a club that in 1987 was unknown and unloved even by local residents, but now consistently finds itself competing in the Champions League as one of the sixteen best teams in Europe. The rise of this soccer club is largely attributed to their management over their coaching and Soccernomics highlights their use of the wisdom of crowds in decision-making when choosing their players, which is large part of the success of a soccer club.

“Lyon’s method for choosing players is so obvious and smart that it’s surprising that all clubs don’t use it. The theory of the “wisdom of crowds” says that if you aggregate many different opinions from a diverse group of people, you are more likely to arrive at the best opinion than if you just listen to one specialist…If you ask a diverse set of gamblers to bet on, say the outcome of a presidential election, the average of their bets is likely to be right. (Gambling markets have proved excellent predictors of all sorts of outcomes.) The wisdom of crowds fails when the components of the crowd are not diverse enough. This is often the case in American sports. But in European soccer, opinions tend to come from many different countries, and that helps ensure diversity…

At most clubs the manager is treated as a sort of divinely inspired monarch who gets to decide everything until he is sacked. Then the next manager clears out his predecessor’s signings at a discount.” Soccernomics p. 68-69

Lyon’s stability of leadership and method of incorporating a number of voices when selecting a player provides a consistent strategy that leads to success regardless of the manager.

The wisdom of crowds involves incorporating team leadership and cultivating a collective vision. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth the challenging process for guiding people toward a common mission.

Could the American church benefit from using the wisdom of crowds?

The church tends to lack this mentality and can often operate like an English soccer club, where one or two individuals are the divinely inspired voice to make each and every decision. The result for the church is often copying the latest trends, adopting someone else’s methods, and doing little in the way of applying biblical principles to the local community of God.

The Bible speaks to a different way that actually precedes the theory of the wisdom of crowds and speaks to the value of seeking counsel and plurality of leadership. Proverbs 15:22 says “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed.” Proverbs 20:18 “Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war.”

In the New Testament, the church in Acts, the instructions of the authors of the Epistles, and the method of Jesus was a plurality of leadership. It was 12 apostles that Jesus sent out, it was different gifts that Paul pointed to in Ephesus as the equippers of the saints of the church, and elders were always to be appointed to lead in the church. The wisdom of crowds appears to be God’s idea and design.

While the American church agrees with this, it has adopted the CEO model of the business world pointing to the idea of ‘first among equals’ in leadership which tends to place final authority in the hands of one. 9Marks, an organization focused on building healthy churches, has some good thoughts on this here.

While there is inevitably a first among equals that has to make the final decision, does that authority come from the teachings of scripture or from the position? While there can be a specialist on a church staff in community, preaching, mercy & justice, counseling, and even vision, that does not negate the wisdom from other members of that staff and church. The specialist actually improves their ability to lead by listening to other voices, diminishing their pride in their own ideas to let the wisdom of crowds shape a better path going forward.

Sounds like a great idea, but how would this practically function in a church, a small group, or other ministry?

Develop a Collective Vision: Come with a Plan & Open Hands

I can speak to how I’m seeking to incorporate this into my leadership and in leading a small group. I’m a internal processor who likes to think through every aspect of a plan, develop a strategy and assume it’s bulletproof, but as I’ve come to find out (shockingly) my ideas are not always comprehensive, complete or perfect.

So as we enter into a new season of Community Groups, I’ve chosen to solicit feedback and create environments to utilize the wisdom of crowds. I still have a plan, a rather thorough one, but I come with open hands to listen to how the plan may shape out in a particular area or to see what holes I may be blind to.  This is kind of a first draft of a vision if you will. Effort is put into it, but I’m not holding it so tight that it cannot evolve to the ideas and wisdom of other invested members and leaders.

On our church staff, I’ve become known as someone that develops lengthy documents on ideas because I want the document to be the beginning of a brainstorming process. From there it’s been a hard, but good process to let my ideas be shaped, critiqued, and molded by the wisdom of others.

For our community groups, I’ve set up a community group roundtable dinners with different sets of leaders to allow them to ask questions, solicit feedback on what they hear when the vision is set before them, what areas are unclear and how they see this vision being accomplished in their local community. These are often refreshing times for me to listen to what is going on in each community, hear their questions and challenges to incorporate these ideas in shaping the final direction of the vision.

In our community groups, I encourage our leaders to think through how to incorporate our core values of Gospel Enjoyment, Intentional Community, & Prayerful Mission practically in their local neighborhood. After they think through this, I encourage them to discuss these ideas with their community, invite their feedback and form a collective vision and understanding going forward. This collective vision process creates ownership and momentum towards the entire community being on board to implement their vision and not the dictated vision from above.

Do we believe God has gifted every believer or is that just rhetoric?

For the American church, and likely the global church, we have to confront whether we truly believe what the scriptures say about the gospel of Jesus Christ. The New Testament clearly states that every person who has placed their faith in Christ and seeks to live their life following His ways is empowered by God the Holy Spirit with gifts that are used to build up the body of Christ. Every church leader cognitively believes this, but not every church leader practically believes this.

The professionalization of the ministry and mission of God tends to lead to a separation between church staff and church attenders. The staff has been given by God to spend their energy listening to God and forming a plan, but incorporating and empowering the members of the local church to shape, finalize and join the mission of God to love, care for, and speak into their neighborhood with the gospel.

The wisdom of crowds is not merely a sociological idea, it’s the design and gift of God as He gives the church a community to establish their collective vision for extending the good news of Christ to their city. When the church moves beyond rhetoric and begins listening to the empowered believers in their church, it will benefit greatly. It does not negate the value of church staff, but rather enhances their leadership.

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