mission.vs.metrics

I am copy/pasting a reply I originally wrote on another blog in response to a fellow reader’s reflection on church dysfunction.

Javipa – I hear your frustration, and I share it. However, I am not
willing to give up mission over metrics when pursuing the purpose,
values, and processes of the church I am pastoring. I am not saying
that metric are not important, but they need to be appropriately
applied, as tools to measure success at the goal – they should not be
goals unto themselves.

I have enjoyed a couple of books from people who are moving beyond
the church-growth paradigm to the kingdom-growth paradigm. These guys,
many of whom were growth-at-all-costs evangelists have taken a step
back to critically examine the fruit of their labors. I am talking
about guys like Reggie McNeal (Present Future) and Thom Rainer (Simple
Church, Essential Church). They are desperately trying to alter course,
a course they helped to set. Their clarion calls remind me of George
Whitefield’s self-reflecting lament of the “rope of sand” he created.

These guys present a solid case that “numbers” are not as
“principal” a metric as once understood. The “principal” metric is much
more abstract – changed lives – which resulted from intentional
laser-like focus on mission. According to them, numerical growth
typically follows such a path. But, they caution that the focus ought
to be on mission, not numbers – otherwise you may build a giant house –
but of cards.

As a church planter I tend to scrutinize ministry models. There are
a ton of “growing” churches in my area – but what kind of growth is it?
Typically, it is transfer (church hoppers) or biological (babies).
Rarely are these churches growing from actually changing people’s lives
– you know, new converts and renewed converts.

I pray that your pastor will find his way to forward-looking goals.
But I also pray that they are mission-centric because “growth” is not
enough – it needs to be the right kind of growth. I would rather have a
church of 10 people that reach out than 10,000 who occupy space.

Serious engagement in the mission that Christ sets for us will result in the fruit and resources appropriate to that mission, but may not come in the form or timing that you might expect – my two cents.

i.love.structures.part.3

Continued from the prior post.

Fox News did a piece about a couple spiders that were sent into space. They wanted to see what kind of web a spider would weave in zero gravity. The result was pretty sad. The spider certainly built a web, but it looked more like a wad of string than anything we were used to seeing from that species of spider. Then a few days later a follow-up piece was done to exclaim that the spider eventually learned how to weave a standard spider web. It was clean, with radiating “spokes” emanating from the center and eventually attaching to other objects. The spider strung intermediate “rings” around the center – several of them. The spider was happily sitting in the middle waiting for a meal to fly into its trap.

For some reason I was intrigued by this spider tale. First, it seemed as if the spider was in turmoil and discombobulated. But eventually its masterpiece was spun. Structurally I saw all kinds of hope for my “model” problem. The sweet-spot in the center could be God. The first ring could be vision (emanating from God). Then the next ring would be the ministry team. Then the various activities connecting that vision to the people would be next. The next ring would then be the people of the local body. The open spaces outside the final ring would be the world to which we want our people to connect. OK, so far it is just a glorified concentric circle thing – but wait. Here is where it gets cool.

What about the radial “spokes”? They emanate from the center, and they touch every “ring”. Eventually, they make contact with something to which they are anchored. These are are lines of influence. They serve four functions. First, they anchor the entire web in real space. Second, they provide a framework for the rings to be supported. Third, by connecting the rings, the spider can sense when something lands on the web and get there efficiently.

Are you seeing the ministry implications here? As anchors, these spokes keep a ministry grounded. Each point of attachment reminds us of exactly why we minister. They represent families, friends, societal injustices, moral deficiencies, pain and suffering, joy and hope. Ministry must be connected to real life – it must be relevant – it must have an impact on the lives of people. As supporting structure, they serve as a conduit for ideas, feedback and encouragement to flow between the different rings, for staff to mentor people, for people to hold staff accountable, for people to give input to the activities and even the vision, and for the pulse of the church to be monitored. As a ministry team we must strive to maintain these radials. Not only do they serve to connect us to the people and thus become partners int he mission, but they also serve as very efficient pathways for God (who lives at the sweet-spot) to maintain a grip on us – keeping us true to HIS vision, and connected to one another as a family of believers.

The coolest thing is that webs are temporary. Spiders build them and tear them down all the time. Why? Because the must always work to ensure that they are sitting in the right places, attached to the right things, and serving their intended purpose – to catch bugs of course! So yeah, I’m liking this web thing so far.

i.love.structures.part.2

Continued from the prior post.

There are a couple of really bright and refreshing college students that my wife and I took to lunch a couple of Sundays ago. One of them in particular was really curious about the philosophy of ministry at Thrive. It was cool to get to field the questions and pour forth about the whys and hows of Thrive’s ministry. One of the things that got me thinking was her assessment of our “structure”. She remarked that we were not a pyramid but more “circular-like”. Of course, that got me thinking about our structure, and I immediately dismissed the circular thing as inadequate. Since that time I have been really mulling it over. How would we graphically depict  Thrive’s ministry model?

Every time I thought that I had it down (at the expense of lots of wadded up paper) something else would come to mind that would kill that model. I began to seriously question what we had been doing. Were we going about things so haphazardly that we cannot define our model with a concise graphic? I seriously began to feel some frustration over it. Here are couple iterations of this process:

First, I started doing concentric circles. God in the middle, vision surrounding that, then staff, then programs then people. But that felt as if God was protected in some cloister only accessible to the staff. Additionally, it seemed like such a model would communicate that vision is “protected” by the staff. Yes, I agree that staff (especially the pastor) ought to be very close and very intimate with the vision. But, I also believe that, in an emergent church, vision is also the product of the Holy Spirit driven passions of the people as they “live” ministry in the “everyday” of life. Back to the drawing board.

Then it was a bird nest – I thought I was really cool as I messed with this one. The problem is that while a bird nest is certainly a planned undertaking (like the Chinese stadium), the truth is that a nest is really a product of reaction. Place a few things here. Then place a few things there to hold those things there. That looks a little weak, so let’s shore it up. Oh, and be careful because if you remove that part that whole side will come apart. Many things we do are reactionary – it’s part of life. However, we must endeavor to be as proactive as possible – to be as prepared as we can. Living life in a reactionary way is a rough way to live. Doing ministry in a reactive way is equally stress-laden. As cool an image as it is, a bird nest is hardly the picture I want people to imagine when they view Thrive’s structure. It certainly cannot be the model of a fluid church. Again, back to the drawing board.

More on this in the next post.