For those of you reading this who aren’t familiar with Franklin Lakes Baptist Church (FLBC), an explanation of what this is and why we’re doing it can be found here.
Last night we continued our series of discussions on the church and the changing cultural and religious climate of our world. The following series of posts (Meetings 1-8) are meant to serve as a basic review, general impressions/observations and follow-up to each meeting.
OPENING UP – Underprepared
This was an interesting meeting. To kick it off we talked, briefly, about Paris, shared some family prayer requests and I explained why I felt underprepared for this particular meeting. In short, I had been blitzed with requests to write about how a Christian should respond to the Syrian refugee political debate (which I did and the response can be found here).
I’ll get a request like this from time to time, but typically the person is asking for a personal, private response. On this day, I received a couple emails and quite a few direct Facebook messages from friends, fellow pastors and one atheist (who I count a dear friend). What’s even crazier is that the majority of the requests were asking me to produce a public response online so that it could be shared with their friends.
So . . . I did and if you read it you’ll know why it took me the rest of the day.
Needless to say, I had not dedicated as much time to preparation for this meeting as I have the others, but it may have been the most productive meeting yet.
BASIC REVIEW — Chapter 7
Chapter 7 of Who Stole My Church opens with a heartfelt conversation concerning evangelism methodology and the 21st century. So, I opened up the conversation to my church family by asking, “What evangelism strategies can you remember that produced some sort of spiritual fruit, in the past, but seems to be less effective today?”
There were a number of responses:
- Backyard Bible Club
- Bus Ministry
- Sunday School
- Door to Door Evangelism
- Vacation Bible School
- Evangelistic Meetings
- Revival Meetings
- The 4 Spiritual Laws
- Street Preaching
- The Wordless Book, and so on…
We acknowledged the validity and effectiveness of each of these and I made sure to say that many of these methodologies still produce spiritual fruit. However, by-in-large these various evangelistic strategies have lost a significant amount of their momentum in our world today.
While I have seen a number of attempts to “revolutionize” a few of these (Cru and their iPad presentation comes to mind—and props to them because they’re setting trends and engaging the digital world better than most. I’m keeping an eye on Cru), there has been very little intentional effort, on the part of the church, to proactively respond to the swing of the evangelistic pendulum. It’s almost as if we’ve lost a major piece of our identity and the gaze that seemed to set firmly outside the church, on the lost, has turned inward and possibly blind.
So . . . what are we to do? [Enter chapter 8]
BASIC REVIEW — Chapter 8
Now it’s time to talk about church lifecycle (a formula which can be plugged into every ministry or business). It’s here that the conversation had the potential to be difficult, but (as I have previously stated) I have a pretty amazing church family.
Simply defined, a church lifecycle is a useful analogy for the various stages, from conception to death, that a church body goes through. It’s not groundbreaking, but it can be mind-bending and heartbreaking if you’re truly willing to engage with and honestly evaluate your church.
The stages (as put forward in this book) are:
- NEED/OPPORTUNITY – “a realization on the part of some person—a founder, for example—or some group that there is something that has to be accomplished. There’s a problem that awaits a solution or an opportunity that has to be seized. there’s a product that needs to be produced. Or there’s a church that needs starting.”
- VISION – “the moment when someone—maybe even the same person who first articulated the need—says, ‘this is what we should do about the need.’”
- INITIATIVE – “the first experimental efforts that make the vision real.”
- PROGRAM – “that point where you have tested your key initiative and you know that you can do it over and over again with the same results.”
- INSTITUTION – “a bundle of programs that have worked reasonably well over a long period of time. But now things get complicated . . . strategy, space and staff . . . if leaders are not alert, people become more interested in running the institution than in getting the results defined by the need and the vision.”
- TRADITION – “a stage of shelf life where people do certain things over and over again but have no idea why. They’ve lost their memory of the original need and vision. you could say they’ve become addicted to institutional life and keep doing things over and over again without really asking why. And to stop doing those things would be like going through withdrawal.
- REINVENTION – “Going back to the drawing board.” [which is listed last in the book but is put in between program and institution]
We walked through these stages and I asked, “Where do you think our church is in this lifecycle?” (I told them that I didn’t expect anyone to answer yet).
My opinion – we’re in the “reinvention” stage . . . at least we’re getting there!
There was more engagement during this meeting. I feel as if people are beginning to get used to this process (maybe even enjoy it a little). I need to work a little harder at facilitating conversation and stop monologuing. Either I trust these folks or I don’t and actions (like allowing them to guide the direction of the book discussion) speak louder than my words.
This isn’t easy. We’re inviting hard conversations into our church family. We’re asking dangerous questions to the status quo. A balance has to be consistently struck between respect for the past and innovation for the future. On top of this, people are involved. People with stories. People with history. People with opinions and preferences. People that I love and that love me. It’s difficult.
If you’re reading this and you don’t come to FLBC, would you pray for us in this process?
FOLLOW-UP – Intimidated
For me, there were three big takeaways from this third meeting.
- People are beginning to form opinions and presumptions about the book and this series of discussions. No one is sharing them yet, but you can feel it.
- I get the feeling that the more I talk the more people feel too ill-informed or inadequate to respond to what I’m saying. We’re talking a lot about the future, technology, and the implications of our rapidly changing world. These topics are intimidating. Somehow I need to ease this tension because we’ll never reach any answers if we don’t engage with each other. I need the voices of my family.
- Some of the excitement that was generated in the first meeting and growing in the second meeting are gone now. People sort of know what to expect and it’s becoming routine. It’s time to mix things up!
The biggest challenges lay ahead of us. I pray that we will collectively remain faithful and engaged in this process that, in my opinion, will yield some incredible fruit. As the leader, I guess a lot of that is on me.
Another good night. We’re taking a break to celebrate Thanksgiving as a family. I’m looking forward to that, but I can’t wait to get back into this book and discussion in 2 weeks (Chapters 9-12). See you there.