Grabbing a Beer with a Pastor

Well, this will be my last post on the “Tuesdays with Morris” blog.

I’ll be transferring my blogging over to “Grabbing a Beer with a Pastor.”  Just as a warning, the “Grabbing a Beer with a Pastor” blog and podcast will be a lot more open/honest/authentic than what some are used to (some of you may be wondering if that’s possible)…In fact, in working with iTunes to set up the podcast, I’m going to have to have the “explicit content’ warning associated with the listing. So, to be honest, if you are easily offended, you might want to avoid the new site!

This will create a centralized venue for my blogging and podcasting ventures. The podcast will officially launch on March 1, 2016. I’m currently doing some testing/playing with this new format.

I’ll continue to blog about faith, ministry, life, culture, etc.  Check out the new site for more information.

It’s been a good run here at “Tuesdays with Morris”. But, it’s time for a change.

Thanks for being along for the ride!

I encourage my various readers to continue to follow me over at “Grabbing a Beer with a Pastor.”

Church Trends Often Induce Vomiting (and other unproven theories) .

Deep down, I must hate myself a little. You’re probably wondering why I might say such a thing. Well, it’s because I continually read articles on church trends. In doing so, I find myself sarcastically proclaiming, “Oh, this is just what the sweet baby Jesus needs! Finally, something that will fix every problem in every church. This author has done it! He/She has found the ‘Holy Grail’ of church growth! I can’t believe we haven’t been doing this for years.” Then, I throw up!

You see, every-single-freaking-day I receive an email, a mailer (seriously, who still sends things in the mail?), or see something on Facebook or twitter or whatever that proudly proclaims “THIS is how your church can reach THIS particular group of people.”

Too often, these articles are based on little, if any, research. The author will have visited one (or, at most, two) churches that embrace a particular “style” or “structure” and they decide that this “style” or “structure” is THE answer.

If you dig traditional worship, you can find numerous articles that say,  “high church liturgy will solve all of your problems.”

If you dig modern worship, you can find numerous articles that say, “Is that freedom rock? Well, turn it up!”

If you dig the more contemplative approach, you can find articles that say, “Use lectio divina or Taize-style worship to reach more people.”

If you are a trendy hipster, you can find articles that say, “Wear even skinnier jeans. Use more product to make your hair even taller. Buy weird eyeglass frames (whether you need glasses or not).”

You’ll find articles that proudly proclaim, “Want more families? Do this”. Or “Want to reach millennials? Put these 6 things into practice.” And, on and on and on and on it goes.

And, to be honest, too often we are fooled. We want to catch the wave of the next big thing. We want to be ahead of the curve. Of course, if we embrace something after Carey Nieuwhof or Thom Rainer (both great, very insightful guys) or Nadia Bolz-Weber or Rachel Held-Evans (both, great, very insightful women)  have blogged about it…we’ve probably already missed the wave.

What clergy and church leaders need to do is find an appropriate balance. Yes, it is important to be well-informed of church trends (even the ridiculously stupid ones- I’m looking at you skinny jean wearing, Starbucks drinking sinners!). However, it’s more important to be in-tune with God and your environment.

Rather than spending an appropriate amount of time in prayer, study, and out in the community, pastors are prone to turn to the latest book or blog and say, “Well, it worked there. I’m sure it will go over like gang busters here!” Sure, we can and should learn from others and pay attention to what’s working somewhere else. But, we need to be in tune with who God is calling us to be in our place and time.

To me, the overall key is being open, honest, authentic, and true to ourselves. If we are attempting to be someone we are not, it will show. If we are not fully sold out to a “style” or “structure”, we shouldn’t be surprised when it crashes.

But, if we are open and honest, if we are authentic and true, if we operate with a great sense of integrity, if we are following what God lays on our hearts, that will show. So, just be yourself!

And, for the love of God, if you are a pastor or worship leader who has embraced the skinny jean trend…just stop it! If you feel called to the skinny jeans, this is the one area where you should not be true to yourself. Seriously, God is not calling anyone to wear skinny jeans. They (skinny jeans), like Starbucks, are of the devil and should be completely avoided!

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes…

Change can be difficult. Change can be overwhelming. Change can be confusing. Change can be intimidating. Change can be scary. Change can be strange!

And, yet, there are times when we have to, as David Bowie sang, “turn and face the strange.” In life, change is often necessary.

Yet, too often, the Church is resistant to change. Because we embrace, honor, and celebrate our tradition, our history, our past (and, rightly so, I might add), we often resist anything “new” or “different”. There are times when we spend so much time in the past that we fail to address the present and the future. So, we use ministry models, programs, and structures that may have been effective 30, 40, or 50 years ago and expect them to produce the same results in a rapidly changing world.

Often, we find that we prefer the comfort of what we know. Therefore, our willingness to take risks and step out in faith is often non-existent. “New”, “different”, “change”, and “modern” can appear to be curse words within certain church circles.

In a time when 80% or more of churches are plateaued or declining, change is necessary. We can’t continue to “do things they way we’ve always done them” and expect different results. And, yet, that is what many churches do!

We want change, but we don’t want to change! change

We desire results without any effort.

We want transformation without transforming.

We want growth without growing pains.

We believe that the answer will be a new pastor. We say, “If we just get a new (or younger…or male…or white…or whatever) pastor (or youth/children’s/family/women’s/choir/worship director), all our problems will be solved.” We fool ourselves into believing that small tweaks to our staffing will be the solution. A newer, warmer body will fix everything! We won’t have to change our structure. We won’t have to conduct an honest audit on our ministries, programs, or traditions. We won’t need a new (or renewed) vision. We can continue to be comfortable.

Too often, churches are looking for hospice chaplains rather than visionary leaders. We aren’t looking for shepherds to lead us. We are looking for people to hold our hands and tell us how great we are as we slowly fade away.

We aren’t willing to step out of the safety of our boats. We aren’t willing to even dip our toes in the water to check the temperature.

However, the reality is, we are always changing. We are either growing or we’re dying! Choosing not to change is often a simple choice to die. And, in choosing to die, we are still changing. Our churches, whether they are growing or dying, look different today than they did 5, 10, 20, 30, 50 years ago. We are changing whether we like it or not!IMG_0745

Our churches need to learn how to say “yes” and embrace change. We need to say “yes” to new ideas. We need to say “yes” to stepping out in faith. We need to say “yes” in granting people permission to try, to fail, and even to succeed (some don’t embrace change simply because if the change works, well, it worked).

When we resist change, we are often just being proud. When change/new ideas are presented, the proud respond by saying:

  • We’ve never done it that way.
  • We’ve always done it this way.
  • I don’t care about the new vision.
  • I’m going to keep on doing what I’ve always done.
  • We tried that before and it didn’t work.
  • It’s my ball. It’s my rules. So, play by my rules or I’m going home.
  • If you don’t go back to the old ways, I’m leaving.
  • If you don’t go back to the way I like things, I’ll stop giving.

When Jesus said, “Go and make disciples”, he didn’t add in, “Oh, and never change because you’re perfect just the way you are!” He also didn’t say, “Wall yourselves up in the church building and just keep doing what you’ve always been doing.”

And, yet, from the outside looking it, it might appear as if that’s what we believe Jesus said.

So, our churches are confronted with some decisions:

  • to grow or to die
  • to say “yes” or “no”
  • to “turn and face the strange” or stay the same

The Bible Says…

In my line of work, I’m often in circles where I hear phrases like:

  • “The Bible says…”
  • “Jesus said…”
  • “The Word of God says…”

The problem is, generally what follows these statements is not really what “the Bible says”, “Jesus said”, or “the Word of God says.”

While whatever follows those statements sounds holy, righteous, and Biblical, if we’re going to be honest, it’s not really what the Bible, Jesus, or the Word of God (which, by the way, is Jesus) .

Generally, what follows those statements are really just our interpretations of what we believe or have been taught to believe the Bible or Jesus or the Word of God says.

For example, you get the theological conservative and the theological progressive in a room together. You give them the same passage of Scripture to read and study.  Let’s say the passage happens to be Romans 1:18-32.

After reading the passage, the theological conservative will say, “Well, the Bible says here that homosexuality is an abomination, a horrible, wretched sin. ”

After reading the exact same passage, the theological progressive will say, “Well, if we are to interpret Scripture honestly, we would understand that this particular passage is not talking about homosexuality. It’s really dealing with temple prostitution and the worship rituals involving various idols. Paul isn’t addressing homosexuals. He’s addressing the dirty old men who come to the shrines and have adulterous relationships with shrine prostitutes. And, some scholars would argue that this isn’t even Paul’s writing. Rather, Paul is simply quoting what someone else wrote and then responds to it in the following verses.”

Same passage. Different interpretations. Both fully convinced through prayerful reflection, the study of Scripture, culture, and tradition that they are “right.”

Both stand before their congregations and say, “The Bible says.” Both clearly have different interpretations that follow the phrase “the Bible says.”

Then, for years, the theological conservative and the theological progressive will focus on their differences. They will go back and forth, arguing about one or two verses that they are totally convinced support their ideology. They will most likely do more damage than good in regards to promoting the way of Jesus.

They will struggle to “agree to disagree”. They will struggle to focus on the One Thing (Jesus) that truly unites them. They will give themselves over to majoring on the minors.

And, they will probably continue to proclaim, “The Bible says…”