Friday, 17 February 2012

Good To Great Churches

What makes a church "good"? For veteran believers the answer is not going to be as simple as what happens on a Sunday. Church Consultants are amazingly in agreement over the answer to question unlike other fields where the aficionados differ wildly. Unwittingly unaware of this expert common knowledge is the average person who looks for a "good" church based on their own ideas. 

At the risk of asking another question before we've settled the original one: What makes a good church "great"? The answer to these sister questions are the "secrets" that many successful business people have used to build their empires but few care to admit are borrowed from what we know about good and great churches.

From my trainee-pastor experience I am learning that people looking for a church usually say they are looking for the same thing. Sure, they use different words to express it. Acceptance, mateship, caring, loving, new friends, community. Sometimes they don't even use these words although they mean them (French church goers realise this and use the expression 'Je ne sais qua' instead). People wrap them with such spiritual gift-paper as: Biblical, Anointed, Powerful, Free (+teaching/worship).

Church Consultants know this too. Perhaps to maintain the mystique of their profession they of course don't list "loving relationships" straight up. Pretending they know something the rest of us don't their list starts with such traits as "Empowering Leadership", "Holistic Small Groups", "Gift-Matched Ministry", and after a few more, eventually what most church-goers never need a Consultant to tell them about what constitutes a good church - "Loving Relationships".

We all know that a "good" church is at least a church where there is an accepting, caring, community where you feel wanted and needed. It doesn't take long to detect whether a church has this or not. It's intertwined in it's culture. And culture is obvious. You can see it in the way people worship together. If they don't "enter in" because they are self-conscious about what the others around them are thinking of them if they expressed their worship (resulting in cold, lifeless, inhibited, drab singing) it says more about that church's love culture than it does about its worship culture. Some clever churches have figured this out and more-or-less get the tail to wag the dog by working on having their music artificially geared toward being highly expressive so that it gives the impression they are "on fire" or "anointed". The same cultural observations can be made about doctrine when we see people within a church fighting between each other over such weighty matters as whose interpretation of the Bible about how many long it took God to create the universe is correct. It looks like a doctrinal issue when in fact it is a love issue. (Doctrinal disputes are rarely primarily about doctrine.)

It is universally acknowledged that good churches are loving. But that's not all they are. They do care about doctrine, direction, discipline and development. They take both the front and the back ends of the Great Commission very seriously. They don't just evangelise. They assemble. When good churches assemble something magical happens. The act of assembling brings a church to order. Assembling is like a Roll Call. It invites submission. Submission requires humility. Humility attracts God's grace. Good churches are drenched in God's grace but few believers realise the role that sacred assembling plays in receiving God's grace. The Apostle James tried to tell us this when they spoke of the assembling of a church in love, submission, order and care (James 2:2-9; 4:6-7). The Apostle Peter tried to tell us as well. He wants believers to realise that there is an almost undetected magical transaction of God's grace toward each other when believers assemble.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace [First Peter 4:10]

Good churches are easily detected by their love for the Lord and His Word. They talk about God. They draw on His Word. They pray passionately for Christ to have His way in them and through them. When it comes to obeying Jesus: they walk the talk. They clearly look like they fear and respect the Lord, because they do. Their leaders are leading because they are called and gifted to do so. When someone is struggling they offer help. When that help is abused or rejected they keep loving anyway although it may not look like it to their critics. And good churches have their critics. In fact, it is criticism that makes a good church great.

Good churches get criticised. They remain good if they misappropriate the criticism. They become great if they grow from the criticism. (Sometimes the greatest lessons come not from the criticism itself but from learning how to respond to it.) Good-to-Great churches do not shun criticism.

Good churches risk become mere churches if they lose the courage of their convictions when criticised (especially by those outside of their church community) and dilute their message or mission. Instead of citing the Bible, they summarise the Bible without being too true to the actual Text (" the Bible says..." but they never actually say what the Bible actually says or invite people to look with them at the Bible). The Bible gets reduced to a footnote in their message, rather their message.

Great churches not only love, not only match people to ministries they have God-given gifts for, not only have small-groups where discipleship and care happens, not only have leaders who are called and gifted to do so, not only work hard to provide an inspirational worship experience -- they stand up under the criticism from the Enemies of our Risen Lord, and persevere in doing the right thing. Great churches are not for the faint-hearted. They must possess the qualities of courage and faithfulness that Christ said was necessary for anyone who would truly follow Him. As a result of this costly way of being the church, great churches are not always large churches.

All Great churches are "big" churches.  They have a big heart for God. They have a big heart for people. They have a big problem with the way the world is. They know that sin is a big problem. They know that God is a big God. They know that Bible addresses the big issues of life and they aren't afraid to make a big deal about it! They know that God has big plans for them. And they know that when they were a good church, they had their critics and problems. Now they are a great church they have bigger critics and bigger problems. And it is perhaps for this costly reason that too few churches go on to become great.

If you want to be part of good church becoming a great church you must become more critical. But unlike the criticism of the Sanballats of this world (Nehemiah 2:19) your criticism must be constructive, submissive and humble. And sorry to interrupt your Amening at this point but you must also learn to handle criticism positively as well as learning to positively criticise. Successful business leaders will now be wondering why I am hesitating to divulge this truth. In order to build and grow their businesses from good to great they have had to learn this church lesson. "It works!" they are telling us as they wonder why so few believers in good churches make the transition to "greatness". These successful business people, like successful husbands and wives within a marriage, all regard criticism as a gift to help the good become great. They almost welcome criticism and as a result they transform their critics into coaches, evaluators, testers, and advisers who then feel like they are contributors not merely customers.  

Curiously though, although they practice it a lot, Church Consultants never list "criticism" and its facets as one of the defining characteristics of either a good church or a great church. But maybe that just goes to show Consultants don't always know what trainee pastors have learned from successful marriages, businesses and churches.

Pastor Andrew Corbett
17th February 2012, Legana Tasmania

Friday, 10 February 2012

What Your Kitchen Sink Says About You

There is an ancient art used by the most sophisticated analysts of human behaviour that is not well known among the general public. You may have heard of "Divination" which is used by occultic practitioners to make proclamations. I am not advocating for this kind of witchery. However, the ancient art of discerning of which I am writing, is no less revealing in its pronouncements - indeed it is considered by those who know to be far more reliable.

Not Divination but Sinkination. Divination and Sinkination do have one thing in common though: they both use tea cups. The wizard-diviner uses the tea-leaves at the bottom of a enquirer's tea cup to 'divine', whereas the Sinkinater uses the whole cup (although, unlike the Diviner, the Sinkinator is not restricted to tea-cups though because they find coffee cups, mugs, and empty glasses of water just as useful).  The Sinkinater is able to form an amazingly accurate picture of a person without ever having met that person merely by examining their kitchen sink (it is not even necessary for the sink to be in their own home, it works equally well with work-place, or any, sink also).

What the trained Sinkinater is able to ascertain is uncanny. They can learn the most insightful things about their subject. It is believed, by those who know, that Sherlock Holmes was the first to develop this art. His manuscript was published under the pseudonym, Sir Kelvin Ater Caroma. MI-6 incorporated his research into its Agent Training program and the observant will readily recall that the second most famous MI-6 agent, Agent 007, was a deft Sinkinater in his pursuit of bad guys (take a close look at James in any of his movies and notice the subtle but deliberate fleeting glare he gives in the direction of a kitchen or bar sink). Many a villian to the Mother Country was unwittingly brought down ultimately by Bond's little known Sinkinater skills.

One of the immediate things that a trained and qualified Sinkinater can ascertain about a person is how they handle pressure. It's a little complicated to the uninitiated, and space prevents me from divulging all of the procedures that lead to these inerrant conclusions about a subject, but it goes something like this. If a subject drinks from their cup/mug/glass and places the said item into the sink to either be washed up by another, or to be washed by themselves at a later time, the Sinkinater can quickly employ their skills to analyse how the subject handles pressure. Drawing on ancient Egyptian wisdom which was also known during the times of the Babylonians and the Dynastic Chinese, the Sinkinater seeks to learn whether a person is someone who deals with things:
(i) themselves, when it is in their power to do so, or whether they expect others to their work for them;
 (ii) immediately, or whether they procrastinate and let little things like cups/mugs/glasses build up to be a sink full of such items. 
From our Primary and Elementary School days we well remember the Great Controversy of 1876 when the London Academy of Sciences was split down the middle over Sir Kelvin Ater Coroma's findings into Sinkology. This ugly and undignified scrap almost brought down the House of Lords, until Sherlock Holmes himself wrote to the London Times validating the findings of Sir Coroma. Those who had scoffed at the idea that people who left cups/mugs/glasses in their sinks were slightly irresponsible procrastinators were now publicly humiliated and removed from their position of public notoriety. The connection between those who treated the trivial mundane matters of life with the important consequential matters had now become undeniable.

In much the same way that Astrologers loosely base their craft-iness on the work of credible Astronomers, Leadership Experts soon realised the phenomenal benefits that Sinkology could deliver to their leadership clients. Leadership Experts, such as John Maxwell, Zig Ziglar, Bill Hybels, all now teach their clients (many who pay big money to attend their Seminars) to wash their cups/mugs/glasses up immediately - and don't just dump them in the sink! In the old days, they used to teach interpersonal skills, management techniques, vision-casting, goal setting, strategy implementation, to these CEOs - but with the discovery of Sinkology, they can now achieve all that and much more by simply training these leadership elites to wash up their cups immediately. We haven't got time here, and copyright restrictions prevent me from giving too much of the substance of these Seminars away for free, but I can say that these Leadership Trainers show the clear link between how a person handles the little things when there is no pressure with how they will handle the bigger things of life when there is pressure. One skeptical CEO said two weeks after attending one of these high-priced Seminars-
"I was very skeptical at first. In fact, I was a little outraged that I had taken 3 days out of my schedule and paid $23,000 to attend this training Seminar, and all he talked about was how I treated my coffee cup! I was outraged that he suggested he could tell how I generally handled pressure by looking at my sink! He didn't know the time pressures I am under. I haven't got time to wash up my cup! I was about to demand my money back when I said to myself- 'Self, why don't you try it first?' So I did. And I have to say that I'm now a believer. I've been washing up after myself straight away and it's changed the way I see other little time demands. I now reply quickly and immediately to emails. I now keep an up-to-date To Do List and constantly check off completed tasks. I view interruptions from people as mysterious opportunities. This sinkology stuff really works. Try it for yourself! I'll definitely be doing the $46,000 Teaspoon Leadership Seminar next month!"
How we treat the little things in times of relative ease says a lot about us but it also shapes us for how we handle times of pressure in life, at work, in the home. In Romans 5, there is a "Pressure Progression" that ultimately reveals that it is pressure which exposes who we really are.

Jer. 12:5 “If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?
If you want to handle pressure better, don't let little things build up. Deal with those things, within your power to do so, immediately. This new lifestyle may seemingly slow you down, after all, taking an extra 37.5 seconds to wash your cup up does slow you down. But looking at a sink piled with cups, plates, cutlery, and feeling overwhelmed may slow you down more.

Spiritually, the time-proven lessons from Sinkology can be readily applied to taking up our Bibles each day and reading them. Sure, starting your day with a little Bible reading can seem like a slow way to start your day. But when confronted with a pile of problems of varying magnitudes in which you desperately need to hear from God, changing your lifestyle to get still enough to hear from God's Word my also seem overwhelming. Sinkinaters have a lot to teach us about the correlation between how we view and treat the "little" things in life, like cups and children, with the apparent weightier things of life. Perhaps though, the problem for the pressured Christian is that what has become regarded as "little" things to be done later, were never really little things and certainly should never have been for later.

Ps. Andrew
10th February 2012

Friday, 3 February 2012

Mountain Goat Living

Mountain goats aren't very sociable. Who's ever heard of a flock of mountain goats? No. Mountain goats are rather solitary creatures. I guess they're also rather proud as well. They no doubt think they have good reason to be proud. After all, they can traverse steep terrain like nothing else. They are so sure-footed, they can ascend up a lofty mountain ridge that would almost certainly mean death for even the most experienced mountaineer. Mountain goats must consider themselves the king of their mountain domain. But mountain goats may be solitary, talented, and regally proud, yet even they know something many lesser-qualified humans know...

The high mountains are for the wild goats;
Psa. 104:18a

When a mountain goat is coming up a steep razor's ridge when he confronts another mountain goat coming down the same ridge - his pride tells him "Don't give an inch!" But his mountain-smarts says something else. Acting on his pride would mean certain death for him and his fellow ugly. But doing something that doesn't come naturally, will ensure that he can continue to lay claim to the title: King of the Mountain. He must lie down and let the other goat walk over him. This act more resembles what a dumb sheep would do rather than what a kingly bovid.

There are some situations in life that are like this. We can choose to not give an inch and die as a result. Or, we can lay down our pride and live on. Even the toughest goats must behave like sheep sometimes in order to live.

In describing the Final Day, Jesus said that He would separate sheep from goats. For someone, who all too often acts like a mountain goat, Christ's approbation of sheep on the day the counts like no other is a warning to the like of me that I cannot continue to act like a goat - especially when it comes to how I treat others on life's high ridge moments. I'm sure it's not comfortable to have another goat walk over you, but then I guess it's less comfortable to have six inch nails driven through your naked wrists and ankles as you give up - not just Your back - but Your whole life for undeserving and often ungrateful goats.

The next time you "butt" heads with someone, you might want to remember this little detour into the world of mountain goats.

Ps. Andrew Corbett
3rd February 2012 writing from Legana