Winds of Social Change

I am extremely thankful for these past several weeks. Already in my new position I have gathered much data and feedback from recent bible college graduates who are beginning a life in ministry or who have been in ministry now for several years. Sadly, some are struggling. Really struggling. Why? I’ve not dug deep into answers, but as we catch up, chat, and begin to discuss what we see God doing in the world around us, I’ve noticed something. The path they thought they would follow and discover is not what they found. Some have switched from several jobs. Some are out of ministry. Some cannot believe the dysfunction that exists within the churches they work in. Some are in great situations. Some are really seeing God move. Some are even experiencing what they had hoped for.

Wherever they are, or are not, it seems there is one constant. Ministry is changing. It looks different. It’s not as it once was. People are no longer showing up to the church. As it relates to my current position, churches are not seeing students to bible colleges any more. Honestly, this is confusing and a shocking to many who work in church and university leadership. They cannot fathom the disconnect. Often, blame is placed on the local churches for not sending. Or, churches blame the universities for not putting out ministers and preachers and abandoning the historic traditions. Sometimes churches blame culture or youth sports. The buck is always passed and blame is always shifted. History details that technology always improves and there is advancement. Progress is progress because it moves forward, not backward.

Here’s the reality: we live in a digital society. New media values are already ingrained into this new generation. It takes a minute for a three year old to figure out when they touch a tv why it won’t respond to their touch. Everything is a tap away on a computer, smartphone, or voice command. No one needs to show up to church to listen to a sermon anymore. It’s available via podcast. No one needs to attend bible college to get practical ministry tools and training. It’s available for free via YouTube. Available via the internet allows for innovation, experimentation, and participation. But, there is still need for churches and bible colleges even with all the present accessibility. However, because their is so much information, churches must transform and universities must transform. People want a church and university where they are participating members of a flexible community that has a deep abiding cause. In reality, isn’t that the hope and prayer of every human’s heart? Isn’t that why the church is so vitally important? It was originally designed as a flexible adapting loving transformative community with a deep cause and purpose.

Frank Underwood in House of Cards on Netflix is a captivating character. I find the show so riveting because he understands people; therefore, he knows how to manipulate them. Challenge them. Rule them. I don’t advocate for the methods or his reasoning. But, one thing I think his character understands more than anything is the culture, or at least he did. The new season specifically shows the tension between what was effective and what will be effective and how a digital age can either strengthen someone or cripple them. I suppose that’s what successful and effective politicians know how to do–take advantage of the cultural changes. They adapt. Look at today’s real life politicians. Trump is playing on people’s emotions. Sanders is playing on people’s dreams. Cruz is playing on people’s fears. Still, they are capturing the social winds and using them to their advantage. I have always found its easier to use sails to capture the power of the wind and harness the direction it blows, rather than row against it. Some politicians understand adapt and survive. Let’s hope the our churches and bible colleges start getting it too. Not for the sake of personal gain or as a result of fear. Instead, driven by a mission to effectively send transformed kingdom disciples into the world who can adapt to the winds of social and technological change for the sake of the gospel.

Practically speaking, missionaries adapt to their culture and context. They do not sacrifice the gospel. They simply indigenize, not compromise. They become one with their surrounding to communicate the most valuable truth to all–that the God of the universe is on a mission to rescue and renew all of creation, specifically mankind, through the person and work of Jesus. That’s the good news. Salvation. Restoration. Redemption. For individual people. For families. For communities. For this world.

“Good missionaries understand the culture they’re called to serve. If you’re reading this [blog post], you are called to serve a digital culture. This culture operates differently than the one you might have grown up in. It’s different from the one of just a few short years ago. This culture thinks, believes, buys, behaves, and speaks differently than any other culture you may be familiar with. This cannot be overstated. We need to rethink the way we interact with this digital culture. Sharing is a new way of life. There are no more one way streets. Everything is participatory. A new media culture is not content to sit idly by.” – Justin Wise, The Social Church

My hope and prayer is that the church no longer be reactionary, rather get ahead of the social change, or at least in stride. With no compromise of the gospel, but for its sake. Too much is at stake.

What’s Left?

If you take away a company’s product what do you have left?

It’s a critical question one needs to answer, especially if you’re part of that company. When you can pin-point a distinguishing factor, you’ve arrive at your differentiation, you’re God-given uniqueness. That’s the value potential partners want. That’s the vision current partners crave. When you look beyond what you are supposed to produce to the intangibles, the answers will cause you to establish a lasting impact.

Let me pause here and mention knowing what you produce is vastly important. Without a solid answer to that question there will be little one can do to decipher the intangibles. To give an example about translating a company to a product, liken it Logos-quiz-game_2to the classic logo game. Take a look at the image below and you’ll see a logo. Naturally, you figure out the product that comes with the logo. For example, a picture posted of Budweiser. They produce beer. A picture of the Nike swoosh. Shoes. A picture of Krispy Cream hot light–doughnuts.

Now, what about a church? What does that produce? People? Disciples? Congregation? Programs? How about a Christian University? What does that produce? Disciples? Leaders? Future employees? Products, and the services that surround that product, are what get a you in the game of starting a movement.  You have to know what you’re supposed to produce. Great products and services are mandatory for lasting impact. However, they are only part of thUnknown.jpege equation. Many placees can produce what you produce, but what set’s you apart? That’s why I love what Will Mancini outlines in Church Unique. Discovering God’s unique design for a church’s ability to make disciples is paramount for it to be effective in its context and community.

In today’s world of complex social interaction and online comparison, by the time you’ve become shortlisted, your product will be the same as many others. Your claim about your product will not be unique. In fact, let’s hope your product is not unique when it comes to the church. But even when you market your features, functions, progress, feeds, and speeds, the “benefits” of your product are meaningless.  The “benefits” are only beneficial if the beneficiary is God.

What sets your company apart and causes a movement to be born is not your product.  It is the “stuff” that sits outside your product. Any good salesman knows this to be true and uses this to advance the company. So honestly in our churches and Christian Universities, this makes getting out in front by knowing and successfully doing what God is calling us to do difficult because it’s unique. It’s risky because if we’re being faithful to the transformation God is calling us to bring it’s never been done exactly like this before.

Resistance to this line of thinking becomes a huge problem.  Because people who stimulate growth know their products–yes they may know a little about their brand,  their programs, their instituion’s strengths and statistics. However, the eventual things most critical to the customer are not about the product they offer. Rather, it’s about the value created for the partner long before they decided to commit. It’s about the affection stirred in their heart for belonging. It’s about their transformational experience throughout the movement. It’s about the sense of purpose from difference in the lives of others. It’s about the larger story being told and lived out.

When you take away your product, it’s those intangibles that are left. Oddly, it’s those things that we can’t quite describe or put our finger on that are most important to the potential partner. Story, affection, transformation, and purpose transcend the product, and ultimately give the product its true value because it’s surpasses the natural elements. You can describe them, but they are difficult to quantify.

Any potential partner knows they can find some natural reason to choose from any number of other options.  But really they are looking for help in experiencing something outside the realm of human naturalness. They are interested in seeing something outlast them. They are looking to be educated or taught in the eternal. They are looking for help in organizing meaningful mission. They are looking for help in justifying their choice–connecting that to the critical priorities in communicating to their heart.  They are looking to produce results–to extract the value they expected in implementing the change and partnering with your unique vision–the solution to their problem.

What if you sat down right now and took a look at your most critical decisions?  Take your product out of it.  What was left over in the mind of the person who chose to step out and partner? To buy in?

If there’s nothing–probably the only strategy is to make what your offering significantly less than you competitors, make sure you are the lowest price.  Make sure you cater to convenience and the comfort of your consumers. And still that may not be the winning strategy, even if it is possible.

If there’s bitterness-probably the vision you casted was far from the reality of the culture you created. What you can do is invest in and empower those who are living out the reality in your vision. Bitterness takes time to heal.

Taking away your product to figure out what’s left can be movement making.  If you can’t answer that in terms relevant to your partners, then your ability to create a movement–and serve your potential partner is very limited. Your current partnerships will wane until they see a vision worth chasing after again. Product matters. If it was gone, what’s left?

Make sure you can answer that question.

CP Parents Taking Home the Word (8/23)

 The GATHERING

Last week, we talked about how Daniel resolved to not defile himself and how in a sin soaked world we can do the same. This week we continued with the second part our of a three week series, “YOU ARE HERE” –the you being God. The basis for this series is a look at Daniel in the Old Testament. Daniel was a young teenage boy who, along with his friends, was snatched from the comforts of Jerusalem to the pagan culture of Babylon. The Babylonians wanted to turn good Jewish young men into Babylonians. Yet when he was thrust into this culture that was much different from the Jewish culture and lifestyle of living for God, Daniel was still able to live a pure life. He was able to live a holy life because Daniel knew whose he was and he knew that God was with him. Daniel was not the only one who took a stand. He had three friends known by their Babylonian names, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego, who also took a stand in a prideful culture.

We challenged your students this week to build upon the fact that we have to know God to live holy lives. The next step is to trust God and that His way is the way worth pursuing. Often times we think knowing something is enough. Many of your students shared how they know what is right or wrong, but don’t always choose what’s right. Knowledge doesn’t intrinsically You know this first hand as their parents. We challenged the students to ask “How do we get to a point to where we are actually trusting God moment by moment?” When the pressure mounts and we cognitively know God is there for us, do we believe and act upon the right path? In essence, do we take that step/stand of faith and trust God? Ultimately, students will have to resolve themselves to not be defiled by worldly and cultural pressures and instead live for God.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego were able to answer the question mentioned earlier by knowing who God is and what God is like. Through studying the Word from a very young age and communicating with God through prayer, they were able to not defile themselves by bowing. In order to live a Christ-centered life we too must know who God is and how He acts, so that we know whose we are. Because of this we can then live in response to our identity in the Father. We challenged the students to take a step to trust God more this week.

KEY TEXT: Daniel 3:16-18

CRITICAL QUESTIONS: How do we resolve to not defile ourselves in a sin soaked world as we live for God? How do we trust God? What’s your next step this week in trusting God more?

CP Students’ Next Step (3/29)

SUNDAY MORNING

This week we discussed how Jesus is our warrior who saves us from judgment. Zephaniah describes God as a mighty warrior for is fighting for us.

KEY TEXT: Zephaniah 3:9-17

CENTRAL TRUTH: Jesus is our warrior who saves us from judgment.

PERSONAL CHALLENGE:

  • Dwell: As believers, we must be diligent to live our lives for Christ in a world that is adamantly opposed to His name. We will suffer because of that and the Bible warns us of those days. When you find yourself suffering, never forget that you have a God who stands as a mighty Warrior who is among you and who is ready to save.
  • Memorize: Zephaniah 3:17
  • Pray: Thank the Lord for standing as your Warrior and for seeking you out. Thank Him for His love in sending Jesus and for the salvation we have in Christ. Ask God to help you trust Him as Warrior and King of your life.

KEEP ON DIGGING: 

Read the Book of Zephaniah this week. It is a short book, but reading it will give you a better understanding of what was going on that prompted the verses that you studied today.

SUNDAY NIGHT

Luke tells us that Jesus came to die for our sin, but also to form a people of God who, renewed by his Spirit, are able to serve him in righteousness and holiness all of their days. This good news is open to all and God wants the news of Jesus shared with all. As followers of Jesus, as Christians, we are to partner with God is carrying this good news of forgiveness and hope because of Jesus to those in our lives where God has placed us and is calling us.

KEY TEXT: Luke 6:27-36

CRITICAL QUESTION: What does it look like to love our enemies? How does loving of enemies show people the character of Jesus?

CP Parents Taking Home the Word (3/29)

SUNDAY MORNING

This week your student learned that Jesus is our warrior who saves us from judgment. The passage of Scripture used imagery that described God as a mighty warrior. Your student was asked to describe God based on the warrior language used in Scripture. Ask your student how the warrior language affected their view of God. Many times we view God as a father-figure sitting on a throne and not a might warrior who is fighting for us. Remind your student that God is both their Father and a Mighty Warrior who fights for them.

CENTRAL TRUTH: Jesus is our warrior who saves us from judgment.

PERSONAL PARENT CHALLENGE:

  • Dwell: As believers, we must be diligent to live our lives for Christ in a world that is adamantly opposed to His name. We will suffer because of that and the Bible warns us of those days. When you fins yourself suffering, never forget that you have a God who stands as a mighty Warrior who is among you and who is ready to save.
  • Memorize: Zephaniah 3:17
  • Pray: Thank the Lord for standing as you Warrior and for seeking you out. Thank Him for His love in sending Jesus and for the salvation we have in Christ. Ask God to help you trust Him as Warrior and King of your life.

SUNDAY NIGHT

Luke tells us that Jesus came to die for our sin, but also to form a people of God who, renewed by his Spirit, are able to serve him in righteousness and holiness all of their days. This good news is open to all and God wants the news of Jesus shared with all. As followers of Jesus, as Christians, we are to partner with God is carrying this good news of forgiveness and hope because of Jesus to those in our lives where God has placed us and is calling us.

KEY TEXT: Luke 6:27-36

CRITICAL QUESTION: What does it look like to love our enemies? How does loving of enemies show people the character of Jesus?