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.

4 Reoccurring Revelations After Stepping Out of Vocational Ministry

Over the past several weeks as Ruth and I have talked at length about future plans and opportunities, we have had several revelations. These revelations have come about through our regular gameplan talks getting ready for the week’s events (Yes, we do call our talks “gameplans”). Usually we will be discussing a plan we are trying to explore or a person we are trying to minister to, always having some presupposition about why that strategy or approach will not work. After talking through some ideas, we have that proverbial “Ah Ha” moment and lo and behold the Holy Spirit shows us something new. Some revelations have been small and some have been smack you in the face with a two by four; some we have needed to realize more than once. Nevertheless, they have all come because we have stepped out of vocational ministry.

We still haven’t taken advantage of this one yet, but we have actual weekends again–like Saturday and Sunday. Let’s face it. Being a Pastor means that you’re working on Saturday and Sunday, while the majority of people are “off.” Even with taking a Sabbath on a Friday or Monday and getting this one day off once a week, there were still very real challenges. Anyone who works a third shift or also works a Saturday or Sunday can agree that not having a traditional work week shortens your time, or so it feels that way. Whether it was the task of relationship building for ministry or simply visiting family, time was short and most likely they were working. Ruth and I were talking about this new found revelation and realized that we can take weekend trips to see my parents, her siblings, or get away without interrupting the mojo of preparing for Sunday. This new reality brought us excitement! However, that old rhythm of life seems to have kept us from taking advantage of trip taking because the options seem limitless. Thinking about taking a weekend trip or visiting family leads into our second revelation.

I am quicker to empathize than chastise. Personally, now when I show up to a Sunday morning worship service and I’m looking to connect with someone, I’ve realized my first thought is finally reverting back from “Why aren’t they here?” to “I wonder if everything is okay?” When I first began ministry my default setting was focused on the relationship building and gracious side of life when working with volunteers and families. Those two questions may not seem like much, but there is a vast difference of tone in my head. The first is of condemnation to their absence. Think, “why aren’t they here?” out of frustration and disrespect. The second has a tone of concern and empathy. While I may never outwardly become vocal about someones absence, judgment leading to condemnation mentally is still sin. I have had to repent and seek forgiveness. My prayer is that “why aren’t they here?” gives way to “I wonder if everything’s okay.” The revelation in probably the most haunting of my time in ministry. So much cynicism and narcissism is rooted in that first question and having this change of perspective challenges me to evaluate when things began to change. While these thoughts never gave way to bitterness, there is so much more God wants to do in and through a person besides showing up to my program. When I began in ministry the latter question was my only question, but that soon gave way to dissatisfaction to someones absence. Maybe it’s the investment in someones’s life or time spent caring about someone’s best interest, but that seems too rational. Using someones attendance at an event is something that I hope God prunes out of my life. I encourage all church people and current ministers to fight for the latter question, and there may even be better question than that. Nevertheless, don’t give in to condemnation and scrutiny. Choose grace. Choose love. Also, if you don’t see someone you wanted to connect with, reach out and let them know you missed them.

The challenge I’ve ushered to reach out has forced me to realize I have the ability to put my “money” where my mouth was. I have always been attempting to live with passion and mission, but I now have a more full opportunity to live out what I taught and attempted to live out while I was leading a ministry with little objection. Living with intention and acting with love cannot be countered by the reasoning “you’re a pastor and that’s what you’re supposed to do” anymore. The expectation has changed, which allows my true motivations to shine through the facade many people think ministers put up. My hope is that time put into love for God and love for people will not be misconstrued as obligation, rather show what God has done in me is the real reason I advocate a faith-filled passionate life. When it comes to an opportunity to serve in church, will I step up as I challenged so many others to do, or conform to my natural selfishness? Just yesterday my ability to lean into God was put to the test. I was asked to do the welcome at a church service and Ruth was asked to serve in the nursery. This was the first Easter in many years we weren’t going to have to take any responsibility; we could actually kick back and enjoy the program! I hate the reasoning. It’s terrible logic. The church is not a program. The church is a family. The worship service is serving worship to God, not watching performers on a stage, yet that’s what I was looking forward to doing. So, Ruth and I were faced essentially with one choice. Serve, or sit. It  is not an easy thing to decide when you know Easter Sunday the worship will sound good, the preacher brings his A game, and the place is packed. Maybe you are faced with this same dilemma every week when you are asked to serve, or even go above and beyond your current role. How do you choose? I won’t tell you what we decided, but putting my “money” where my mouth was prompts that fourth reoccurring revelation.

Regardless of my position, role, or job I’m still in full time gospel ministry. We are all commanded to make disciples. That does not change even when my job does. This commission forces  the “great commission” to be replaced with the “everyday commission.” Same text. Matthew 28:19-20. Same logic. As I go into every church, store, job, building, or home make disciples of all people baptizing them, teaching them to obey, remembering Jesus is with me until I die.  What does this look like? In a practical sequential sense, it means being a friend of sinners so that they repent and believe, building the believer, equipping the worker, and sending the discipler (for a full definition of these terms I encourage you to read 4 Chair Discipling). My new role and difference of location does not excuse me from the work of ministry. While the venue may change, the method and means do not change. I am excited for how this will take shape outside the context of church ministry and in the context of workplace and neighborhood ministry. My gut feeling is that it will look eerily the same. Doing what Jesus did makes disciples like Jesus commanded us to make.

God continues to show me what this looks like as things change and as new relationships form. Regardless, of your position or role wherever you are, my hope and prayer is that you seek to fulfill the everyday commission out of your love for God and love for people. If you’re not sure what making a disciple looks like in your context, then I suggest finding a few Christians, get on the same page with them, and together have a gameplan.

Our Next Step

Friends and Family,

Thank you for your prayers and support during this time of transition in our life! Words cannot describe how encouraging you have been to our family. We have some exciting news to share with you! After much time, patience, prayer, and seeking God’s direction and wise counsel, we have taken a next step in our journey.

I (Kyle) have accepted a position at Kentucky Christian University in the Admissions Department. The role that I have accepted is Church Admission Counselor. The goal of the position is to recruit students to come to KCU while connecting and networking directly with churches and youth ministers. I am very excited about this position: 1) because I deeply care about KCU and its success, 2) it is the best opportunity to sharpen skills outlined in our Stadia growth plan, and 3) this position taps deep into my passion for strategically equipping ministers and churches, while allowing me to create and build something new. For the past several months Ruth and I have asked for your prayers as we considered the next step in our faith journey. God has been faithful during this time, provided for us in many ways; know your prayers on behalf of us have been answered.

After leaving CenterPointe, we transitioned to Grayson, KY and resumed ministry, while seeking out avenues of church planting. We started out with a few options to quickly enter into church planting hoping one of those would easily pan out, which I’ve blogged about here. However, contrary to our call away from Lexington, the clarity of our next step has not gone so smoothly. Therefore we had to relearn a few lessons. Over the past couple months God has opened and closed many doors and possibilities, whether it was Las Vegas, Ashland, San Diego, or Chicago, it seemed none of those opportunities were what God had in mind. When we are able to connect in person I’d love to share more of the detailed story and the emotional ups and downs. Nevertheless, since Ruth and I have been married, we have continually said we will follow God’s direction “wherever and whenever,”attempting to not rule out anything.

Our next stop is KCU and for a period of time that will allow us to develop in areas directly related to church planting. I’ll outline a couple of growth areas below, but let me clarify that we still intend to be faithful and pursue church planting even though I am taking this position at KCU. In giving full credit to God, this was not something that was anticipated or that we could foresee, and we believe that this opportunity only arose because we stepped aside from church ministry to follow God’s leading. We still feel God’s direction long term West and to church planting, but as we continue to seek God, we see this as a step in the larger journey. We are not sure when we will become part of a church plant team or plant a church, however, we feel that this is the next step for us as a family. I just want to thank you again for your prayer and support!

In Christ,
Kyle, Ruth, X, and Mia

For those who have invested in our church plant journey here’s how this opportunity directly connects to our development as a church planting family.

  1. Because I will networking with churches and youth ministers, our relational connections will increase, thus potentially expanding our financial base when we do decide its time to plant.
  2. Ruth and I will continue to grow in our intentional disciple making capacity because of the people God has placed in our lives right here in Grayson.
  3. I will be regularly speaking in front of groups, which will improve my vision casting ability, sharpen my preaching skill, while growing my connecting ability.
  4. I will be attempting to persuade students to come to KCU by connecting with them quickly and passionately. These student may be interested in KCU, may be antagonistic to a bible college, or indifferent. Therefore, I see a direct connection to improving evangelistic skill—sharing the gospel with people who may not be interested, or simply willing to listen.

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?