Many people believe the oft-quoted judgment, “The most segregated morning of the week is Sunday morning.” My personal belief is that while containing some truth, it is overstated. I do, however, believe churches are far more segregated than they should be.
I do not believe that all-black, or all-Hispanic, or Korean, or all-white churches are inherently evil nor a blemish on the complexion of Christianity. But there is something beautiful about an integrated church. I personally prefer to be part of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic community of believers. Multi-cultural, multi-ethnic churches are more interesting, messy, and culturally rich than all-whatever churches.
Honesty requires that I confess I was not, nor am I a Trekkie. I’ve watched a few episodes but that’s about it. But this past week, I heard a die-hard Trekkie tell about a particular episode and apply it to ministry. It got my creative juices flowing and I want to pass on some thoughts about Tribbles.
The segment was entitled, “The Trouble with Tribbles.” Tribbles, it seems resembled small balls of fur and had no other discernable outer characteristics. They were gentle animals whose only sound was similar to a kitten purring. The “trouble” with Tribbles, is the Starship Enterprise was overrun with them. No matter what strategy they employed to eradicate them, they just kept on multiplying. McCoy finally discovered the reason they multiplied so prolifically. Tribbles, you see, expended more than 50% of
their metabolism on reproduction and were born pregnant!
Periodically throughout the history of the Church, God brings about transformation in the form of renewal movements. These movements have changed the face of local congregations, seen throngs of people turn to Jesus in faith, changed communities and dramatically changed the culture. Each has been marked by seismic shifts resulting in conflict between the traditionalists and the change champions. Whether in a denomination or a local church, new movements of God generate intense conflict between the old and the new guard.
Paul Pierson is a Presbyterian Minister, Missionary to Brazil and Professor at Fuller Seminary. He contends in the renewal and expansion of the Church, the breakthroughs always occur on the fringe of ecclesiastical power—never at the center. In every generation, in some obscure place, using unknown people, God is beginning something new that will one day impact the center. The epicenters of these movements are never the denominational “headquarters,” seminaries, theological conclaves or church governing boards.
At times in my coaching of pastors and CEO’s of Christian organizations, my heart goes out to the person I’m coaching. People are attacking their leadership. That’s so common I consider it little more than “white noise.” But what breaks my heart is when pastors and other leaders believe the criticism.
Truth is, any and all of us can justly be criticized for our leadership. None of us is perfect. Truth is, often the one’s criticizing would make a mess of things if they were in leadership. Maybe they were and did! It’s also true that some people have more innate leadership skills than others. The fact there are natural-born leaders out there does not mean the rest of us are failures.
Over the years, I have seen people born with very little natural leadership ability still lead very effectively. What’s their secret? How do they do it? Simple. They study highly effective leaders and observe how they lead. And then they learn how to act like effective leaders act.
Okay, I’ll admit it; one of my all-time favorite bands is the Eagles. When Gwyn and I go to Cabo San Lucas, we drive to Todos Santos to have lunch at the Hotel California. There must be at least a dozen or so “Hotel Californias” all claiming to be THE Hotel California made famous by the Eagles. Now the Eagles themselves would be the first to admit their memories have been clouded by their use of certain substances and excessive libations. So even they don’t know for sure which one is the real Hotel California. But the one in Todos Santos works for me because about every thirty minutes or so the sound of the Eagles singing Hotel California escapes the bar and envelopes the dining area and lobby.
One of my favorite Eagles’ songs is Frail Grasp on the Big Picture. The recurring refrain is a series of variations on:
“Frail grasp on the big picture
Light fading and the fog is getting thicker
It's a frail grasp on the big picture”
Two recent experiences have caused me to reflect a bit on the coaching and mentoring phenomena. There’s no doubt that coaching and being coached has become so common that they are the “in thing” these days.
Coaching and Mentoring in North America
I just spent three days on retreat with the staff of a church dealing with a variety of ministry issues related to growing past their current plateau of 1,200 in worship attendance. At one point we were reviewing the hot trends in the church of North America over the past 70 years. Among other things we talked about the centralization of denominations, the Christian education (Big Sunday Schools) era, the Jesus movement, the rediscovery of worship, and the ensuing worship wars. We noted today’s trends of church planting, community engagement, multi-venue, multi-site, coaching, and mentoring.
We noted that each hot trend had a life span of about 30 years. We talked about how some of the hot trends were nothing more than fads while others have had a more lasting impact on the church even though they can no longer be considered one of today’s “in things.” One staff member asked me if I thought coaching and mentoring were just another fad. While answering I was recalling my recent experience in Latvia.
On any road, it’s always good to know where the potholes are. That pothole you didn’t see can ruin a perfectly good tire, knock you front end out of alignment or even damage your suspension. While potholes are bad, sink holes are worse. In February 2014, a sink hole opened up beneath the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky and eight Corvettes, including two highly prized ZR-1’s were swallowed up. You don’t even have to be a Corvette lover to know that’s really bad!
The highways of ministry are full of potholes. The journey is always smoother when we have friends, mentors and coaches who help us avoid them. Ministry leadership potholes are best avoided, but while painful and temporarily debilitating, they are seldom fatal. Ministry leadership sink holes are another thing. They often swallow up not only reputations but sometimes whole careers. From recent headlines, just two words: Ashley Madison.
On-line Coaching Cohorts
A cohort is a group of companions and supporters who share common interests and activities. A cohort might consist of people who fill the same or similar roles; like Lead Pastor, Executive Pastor, Staff Pastor, Denominational Executive, or Board member. A cohort might consist of people in similar situations or facing a common issue, transition, life situation or initiative. These cohorts might be dealing with declining attendance or giving, the need to align staff and ministries with the current Mission and Vision, or launching a new ministry initiative.
The Epidemic of Busyness
We live margin-less lives. Our personal, professional and church calendars are full to over-flowing. As a matter of fact, busyness for many is a badge of honor. The busier we are, the more important we feel. We take it as a compliment when people say about us, “They work all the time. They are just so busy!”
Our culture is fast-paced. People in many places around the world shake their heads in disbelief and maybe even disapproval as they note how we Americans cram our lives with activity. We Americans are spoiled by the sheer number of options that are available to us each and every day. If we can, it seems we feel we must.
Ministry and mission are not done in a vacuum. They are always carried out in specific context and affected by local, national and increasingly, global contextual factors. Understanding the context of ministry is not optional for 21st century leaders. While we know a great deal about the inside of congregations, church leaders often have limited understanding of the external factors that are reshaping mission and ministry. Trying to lead without both inside and outside information is like a bird trying to fly with only one wing.
Peter Drucker often spoke of “the futurity of present events.” That is, if you want to understand the future, look at the reality of events that have already happened. Here are eight “present reality” shifts in the U.S. culture that are affecting the context of ministry.