thoughts on showing up to all that is

Posts tagged ‘change’


So do you remember how you used to purchase a song?  Way back when you had to go to a place called a record store.  And then you had to buy an entire LP and pay for 12 songs you didn’t want to get the one you did want.  And today, to the extent we even buy music, you go on-line, and download the one song you want and make a customizable play list.  This is the trend of unbundling, and it’s effect is being felt everywhere.

I heard this provovative comment from David Wilkens, a Harvard Law Professor, speaking at an event at Hamline University.  His address was about global trends and its implications on the practice of law, but those same trends are affecting religion too.  This one of unbundling hit home with me.

Wilkens further explained that buyers today are way smarter and more sophisticated and have access to a whole lot more information.  That has changed the fundamental nature of competiion.  It used to be about reputation and experience.  Now it is about outputs.  What are you offering that is of value to me?  And those outputs are being measured by sophisticated metrics such as Craig’s List, Angie’s List, Rate My Professor.  It has changed the nature of production.  It is no longer about law firms but networks, with information, ideas and people being co-developed.  The good news he said is that the world is becoming more complex, and people are going to need help figuring out this complexity, but they are also going to push aside the idea that the only way to do that is to get a customized, built from the ground up solution.  They are not interested in a beautiful legal product but they want a solution to a problem that is repeatable and affordable and that reality is allowing different kinds of competitors to compete to solve these problems.  The traditional legal business is being hollowed out by these other competitors taking pieces of it.

So when was the last time your church has a monopoly on all the people who moved into your community seeking a Christian community or even one with your particualar brand?  It used to be that way.  There are folks who remember starting their church in the 1950’s and 60’s where they would put up the sign “new United Methodist Church” and all the United Methodists in that community would go there, and to think about starting a second United Methodist church in that community was unheard of.  Why would we give people a choice?  And when people came to us, we met them on our terms.  They got Jesus and spiritual community in the way we packaged it.  There was a onse size worship fits all, and it only happened at 10am on Sunday mornings.

So how is that working for us today?  The resource providers to religion and spiritual practices have mushroomed. I can go to a paid spiritual director.  I can read all sorts of books that I can download on Amazon and read in the comfort of my home.  I can go to a yoga class, or take a spiritual pilgrimmage with a travel group.  I can go on a mission trip with a variety of non-profit organizations.  I can buuld houses with Habitat and feed children with Feed My Starving Children, and I can have an Outward Bound experience in the summer to stretch myself emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  All good things, by the way.  And that is just to name a few that come to mind, let alone all the choices I have for worshipping communities.  The church is not the only place to meet my spiritual needs.  So how do we respond to this phenomonon?

One of David Wilkens parting shots to the law community was that they needed to innovate to meet this changing landscape.  He said, “whatever you think about billable hours, flat fee billing is not the iphone.”  I would say adding a contemporary worship, or screens in our sanctuary,  is our flat fee billing.  We think we are being innovate and creative (and it is a step) but an incremental one at best.  No matter how much we might wish it differently, the information revoution has changed everything.  People don’t need to come to us to learn about Jesus.  But they are still looking for someone to help them to make sense out of all the competing information out there and they are looking for help for the problems in their lives and hope for their future.  So how do we need to change our delivery system because they aren’t going to come to us for the LP anymore if that is all we have to give them?


The Marks of a Movement

A movement is a group of people who intentionally, at their own risk, join together to make a change in the status quo.

That is how Gil Rendle defines a movement in his book Back to Zero: The Search to Rediscover the Methodist Movement.  My deep question as the Director of Ministries is how do we move from a declining denomination…losing members, confidence, influence and impact…to a thriving, missional church that is making a significant difference in all corners of our state.  What Gil Rendle powerfully reminds me in his book that becoming a movement is an intentional choice.  I am not part of a movement because I am ordained into it, baptized into it, make an occasional financial contribution to it or live in the shadow/neighborhood of it.  So if we believe that the status quo needs to be changed, then we need join together to make the change.  And he suggests that it will require risk…putting aside our self interest for the sake of the common purpose.

What was powerful about the early Methodist movement in the United States is that there was clarity about purpose: spread scriptural holiness across the land, reform the nation, beginning with the church.  There was shared risk by those circuit riders who put their lives on the line to travel by horseback to preach the word, to form class meetings, and start churches in order to raise up leaders who were transforming the world.  They believed this mattered so much…people lives and the world would be a better place with the life changing message of Jesus offered through the Methodist movement, that they were willing to sacrifice many things…the comforts of wealth, home and security, and a willingness to go where sent.

So what I am wondering is do we have a clear, shared purpose that matters so much to us that we are willing to band together to do something about it…and what are we willing to risk, let go, sacrifice for the sake of this shared purpose?  From what I observed at General Conference and in my own life, if I am honest with myself, it is easy to talk about movement, but when push comes to shove, I don’t want to have to give up anything to make it happen.  Then I really haven’t chosen to be part of the movement have I?



A Way of Life

General Conference Day Two

In the laity address, one of the speakers talked about his personal health transformation.  He is a doctor and he said that his patients did not take him seriously about his advice on diet and exercise as they saw that he was not living it himself.  But once he lost the weight and totally remade his health habits, he noted that his patients began asking him what he was doing.  He didn’t need to preach, just embody the change for change to happen.

I can relate to that.  I underwent my own health transformation, losing 75 pounds, and maintaining my healthy way of life for close to two years now.  What has surprised me the most is how many people have told me that I have been an inspiration to them and they started on their own journey as well.  Now, I have not kept my story a secrett, but neither was I preaching to everyone I meet about why they need to exercise and practice portion control.  The visible changes in my life spoke for itself.

So what I have learned about this process of transformation is that it is hard work and a daily discipline.  I got the sense as people asked me what I did to lose the weight, they were looking for some secret that would change everything for them.  I simply said I ate less and exercised more, and I did it as a way of life.  They seemed disappointed with my answer.  They already knew that, but for some reason, were not ready or able to commit to it.  There is no quick fix to transformation.  It is choosing to do different things and to do them everyday.  And that was my biggest aha as I moved into maintenance.  I could not go back to the way it was before.  I had to keep doing what I had done to lose the weight to keep it off.  I had to choose these habits for my life…which is why I was out running at 6am this morning even when we have 13 hour days here.

So here is the connection to General Conference.  We are hearing messages of needing to change, and how the disciples went to follow Jesus immediately.  And then we spent hours debating the rules of the general conference, only to finally adopt them as printed.  We are preaching one message, but our daily habits suggest that we really don’t have a desire to do things differently.  So how possiible is transformation really?

The Power of Belief

I am reading  The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.  it is a great read and provoking all sorts of thought for me.  One is do we believe that change is possible and things can get better for the church?   We have been hearing a story of malaise of the mainline church for so long, do we believe that story more than we do about the possiblity of God doing a new thing?  Are we so convinced that the U.S. is increasingly  a post-modern, post-Christian culture in which the church will continue to decline and be less and less relevant that we do not see any way for the church to have a new and different future?

What got me thinking about this was the idea that for a habit to permanently change, people had to believe that things could be better.  The book gives a couple of examples.  Alcoholics Anonymous is built on a process of teaching people new habits.  For many people it works.  But some, when they hit a crisis or stressor, return to old habits and fall of the wagon and others don’t.  What was the difference?  What researchers found was  the power of belief.  Those who believed in a higher power, had developed a capacity to believe.  And that translated to  other parts of their life.  They began to believe that they could cope with the stress  without alcohol.  They believed they could change.  “AA trains people to believe in something until they believe in the program and themselves.  It lets people practice believing that things will eventually get better, until things actually do.”

So what I am wondering: what do we believe?  I am off to General Conference next week…the global gathering of the United Methodist Church.  I have been known to be cynical about the ability of a 1000 people to legislate themselves toward a new future.  We know the church will not continue in this same form if we are going to be relevant to the world we find ourselves in.  But do we believe we can change?  We can post statistics weekly to a dashboard.  We can change our structure, which personally I think is long overdue and needed.  But none of those things will change us unless fundamentally we believe God is still alive and at work in the people and churches called United Methodist, and even though it will be different, our future can be even better than our past.

Ironically, we are in the belief business.  Of all people and organizations, we should be training people in how to believe…in God, in themselves, in the reality that transformation is possible and does in fact happen.  But in my conversations with clergy, with congregnants, with ordinary citizens…I don’t hear many people express much sense of believing the church can be on a different path than growing older, growing smaller  and growing more and more sidelined in our world.  So what is up with that?  And how do we start believing in a different story?

Do we believe we are an Easter church?

I heard a respected church consultant say that every church could potentially have in weekly worship the number of people who attend on Easter Sunday. He was consulting with a church of about 1,100 people who attend on Easter; on a “normal” week, they have about 500 in worship.

It was intriguing to consider what this church would be doing differently, what the staffing would look like, what systems would need to be in place to effectively disciple that number of people on a weekly basis. An even more provocative idea was setting the intentional goal of being an Easter church, and how they could embody that day in and day out.

Of course, the irony is that this is what sets the Christian church apart. We are an Easter church. The Christian Sabbath is Sunday because that was the day of the resurrection. Even in Lent, as we are reflecting on the journey to the cross and the crucifixion, Sundays are not considered a part of the forty days of Lent because every Sunday is a mini-resurrection.

In this Easter season, reflect upon Easter services you have attended. What set them apart? In many of our churches, children, youth, and adults are in worship together. The music is joyful and celebrative and there is lots of it. The worship space is filled with flowers and other visuals to make it colorful and alive. Often there are special components such as skits, movie clips, and multi-sensory experiences to help people experience the power of the resurrection.

Easter worship shouts that something significant happened and it has changed everything. Those who plan that worship hope that everyone present will feel and know that so they can have the promise of new life.

Celebrate the resurrection year-round

What if every week we were as intentional and creative about worship as we are on Easter? What if we asked ourselves how we can embody the resurrection in our congregational life in all that we do?

If we truly believe that Jesus Christ is risen, then the body of Christ should be a community where people experience God as alive and well and present in our midst. And what if we believed and acted like an Easter church 52 weeks a year? Yes, that requires energy and resources. But it might just be what people are looking for in a church: that we believe our own story enough that we act like it is true!

I believe the world needs the hope of a God who can heal, make whole—and yes, bring life out of death and new beginnings out of dead ends. When we go back to “business as usual,” we send the message that Easter is only a day and not a way of life; not a real possibility for life after all. What would it take for us to be the Easter church that the world needs?