Spiritually Amish

I am in the final edits of my next book Changing the Way We Do Church, which is a second edition of a book I first wrote in 2009. In this second edition, I include an entire section on the role of social media Screen Shot 2020-08-16 at 10.17.02 AM
and technology. I ran across this excerpt from chapter 15 as I was editing and thought I would share it with you. The book should be released in about two weeks. I realize that those who probably need to read this excerpt cannot because they do not utilize social media, but I thought I would still send it along to those who do.

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One of the statements I made in a magazine article I wrote in 1979 was the following: “In this age of highly technological media bombardment and of in- tense competition for the attention of people, Christians face a formidable, yet crucial task, both of hearing what God says and effectively communicating it to one another and to the world.” We had no idea in 1979 what “media bombardment” was when we compare communication then to what it is today.We had no Internet in 1979, no social media, no cell phones, no cable TV, no email.There were only a few channels available on our television. Because of today’s bombardment, some church folk and entire churches have opted out of the onslaught, choosing instead to barricade themselves behind a technological barrier and ignore the noise of the attack.

I liken it to the example of my dear grandmother who came to the United States as a young woman to marry my grandfather in the early 1900s. She taught herself to read English, gave birth to 13 children, and woke up every morn- ing to fire up the coal stove so she could cook for her brood. Later in life, two of her bachelor sons served 20 years in the military and came home after they retired to live in the house in which they were raised, making renovations that included installing a landline phone. Before that phone, if we needed to get in touch with my grandmother, we called her next-door neighbor who would go and fetch my grandmother, who would then walk from her home, stepping over the stream that came from the outhouse toilet, and walk about 25 yards to the neighbor’s house.

The image I have of believers who have checked out of the social media culture is of my grandmother who made do with what someone else had in order to stay in touch. She was cute and old fashioned, but out of touch. In fact, if we search for an example of people who are out of touch with cultural communication norms, we have only to look a few hours from where I live to find the Amish, who have rejected all technology, including vehicles, electricity, and other modern advancements.

The Amish are cultural freaks and people travel from far and wide to see them, buy food from their farm stands, and learn of and marvel at their out-of-touch ways. Yet no one wants to become an Amish. No child comes home to say, “Mom and Dad, I have decided to convert to Amish-ism so I can wear a straw hat, grow a beard, and be a farmer (or wear a head doily and dress modestly).”

My point is that the Amish are so out of touch with the reality of modern culture that their Christian witness is a private affair with no power to impact the world around them. That is how some churches and Christians will be if they continue to avoid social media and modern culture. Fortunately, the pandemic has awakened the church and believers to the power of social media, but time will tell if it is a permanent awakening or if we return to our old-fashioned ways when the all clear signal is given.

Let me say before we proceed that I am not insinuating that social media will replace the Church. Face-to-face contact is always the norm for worship and Christian assembly. I am saying, however, that there is much more the church can do to incorporate technology into its ministry work, not as an afterthought but as an important part. And in a time of crisis like we are currently experiencing, social media is the next best thing to being present with one another.


The Online Pastor

My revision and expansion of my 2009 book Changing the Way We Do Church is coming along. The expanded version will include an entire section on technology and social media, which was hardly Screen Shot 2020-06-12 at 7.14.28 PM
mentioned in the first edition. I won't go into all I will have to say there, but in light of my posts the last two weeks about creativity and innovation in the church, here is an excerpt from the new section I want to show you this week.

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In the earlier part of this book, I recommended that each church appoint a purpose pastor, someone who can help people recognize and then engage their life purpose through appropriate actions like publishing, starting a business or non-profit organization, or entering into full-time church or missions work. To go along with the purpose pastor, I also recommend that every church identify and empower a pastor of social media and technology. I will not get too specific as to their job duties, but in general, they will be to

take who we are as a people—what we teach, how we worship, what we believe, how we apply what we believe—and make it accessible not only to those in our closest proximity but also to those who live in other regions or countries.

This position will not allow a church’s presence online to be an afterthought or something that is done when the church gets around to it but will make it a top priority. They will have the full cooperation of all the staff and in a sense will co-pastor the church with the lead pastor, mutually submitting to one another. Due to the resistance and priority that lead pastors tend to give to the face-to-face church presence, this online pastor and his or her team must have unprecedented power to make decisions in the best interests of the online work, sometimes at the expense of the live worship experience. The online pastor will have the authority to involve any and all church staff and members in this endeavor.

For example, let’s say that the senior pastor shares a message that is well received by the people. The online pastor can decide to turn that series into a book, an online series with a study guide, or put it in any other format necessary to fulfill his or her mandate and the senior pastor cannot refuse. The online pastor can assign any staff member online duties and they cannot refuse or claim it’s not their strength or gift, or resort to the “I am too busy” excuse. As an example, the online pastor can decide the church is going to live broadcast the youth or children’s ministry and that’s that. There can be no protests from either department that they don’t want to do this.

My assumption is that all the resources any church needs to fulfill its mission are already sitting right in its midst. The church only needs new eyes to see who is present and utilize those people in a more effective way. This is also where the purpose pastor can help the online pastor, for the purpose pastor should be close to who knows and does what in the church, and also whom God is speaking to about more involvement in the church’s ministry work.

The online pastor will be tasked with identifying a team that will provide an online presence during the live worship services. The members of that team will use their own social media presence, or the church’s, to publish and broadcast portions of the live service. That will include quotes from the sermon, perhaps a line from a song sung that impressed them, or their own insight as the service progresses: “Pastor Sam is preaching from 1 Samuel 1. I have never thought of Hannah as he is presenting her. Good stuff!”

Finally, the online pastor will then help each staff member with their own social media philosophy, helping them spell out exactly how and when they will personally engage social media, which media they will use, and what they will include in their online presence, which may be a weekly blog, a regular video update, a devotional, or a podcast. Where the technical savvy is lacking, the online pastor will provide training.

Then the online pastor will do the same for any in the church who are interested in doing the same. He or she will start by imparting a theology of social media, reinforced from the live pulpit, to help people overcome any latent bias. Then the online pastor will help people understand how to use technology in a way that is consistent with their personal ministry or purpose.

That's just a portion of my thinking where the online pastor is concerned. One more point I did not include is that this online pastor cannot report to who I am calling the Sunday meeting pastor, for the latter will always prioritize the face-to-face meetings, often at the expense of an online presence—just as they have done since social media came on the scene. It is time for the Church to be innovative and an online pastor is one position that is needed and relevant, as the recent pandemic has shown. It is no longer acceptable to use social media as a church bulletin in cyberspace but instead to make it an important part of ministry, equal in energy and commitment to the on site services.


Innovative or Creative?

There are many byproducts and interesting trends emerging from the pandemic. One of them is the Screen Shot 2020-05-30 at 9.24.37 AMstruggle for economies to re-open. Part of the problem is that we have learned to live with so much less that many are hesitant to spend cash on what they can live without. It has also caused us to step back and see where our economy has gone over the last decade. In my estimation, much of our creativity has gone into making what already exists a little better or a little different. For example, the first microbrewery was innovative, but do we need hundreds of them? Probably not. The same is true for yoghurt shops, health spas, and retail stores selling cheap junk from China.

My main focus, however, has not been the economy but the church during this season. Tomorrow, many churches will reopen, having done a "deep cleaning" with seats spaced for appropriate social distancing. During the pandemic, I saw a lot of creativity from the church but I did not see a lot of innovation—the creative use of something that changes culture and not just the expression of cultural values or norms. Let me give you an example of what I consider innovation and you will understand what I mean.

THE SYNAGOGUE

Did you ever give any thought to where the synagogue came from, or how or why it emerged? There is no mention of a synagogue in the Old Testament. The first mention is in the gospels and by then, it was an important part of Jewish life and worship. How did it become so popular and prominent? 

It seems that the Jews had a pandemic of their own in 586 BC when Nebuchadnezzar ransacked Jerusalem and the Temple along with it. The entire focus of Jewish life had revolved around the Temple and and the sacrificial system. Then suddenly, just like we experienced in the last few months, their worship focus was gone.

Some of the Jews stayed behind in Jerusalem but most who survived were carried off to Babylon, home to many temples devoted to idols that were off limits to Jews. What did the Jews do? They innovated. They adjusted from the Temple system with animal sacrifice to the synagogue with a reading and study of the Word as the main emphasis. When they returned to Judea 70 years later, they did eventually rebuild the Temple, but by then the synagogue was firmly established as an important part of their worship culture.

SO WHAT?

Where am I going with all this? Churches flocked to use social media during this pandemic, some who had been vocal opponents of its use prior to the lockdown. They had the attitude "social media and technology are an abomination to the Lord . . . and an ever-present help in time of trouble," but made it clear that this was only a concession to the unusual times. Many saw their "numbers" go up and their finances hold steady (those who still refused to engage it cannot wait to reopen for their lifeline to the people had been cut off). Some gave testimony that people were "watching" them from foreign lands and some had people surrender their lives to the Lord through the use of technology.

We saw churches conduct drive-in church services using their car radios in church parking lots. We had drive through prayer and hearing lines. There were many other examples of creativity, but now that the "pressure" is off, can we still be creative? We were creative in our deployment of technology but can we now also be innovative?

  • Can we take questions during our live services using Facebook or Twitter and use the last 10 minutes of our message time to answer some of those questions to ensure that the people "got" what we were preaching? Can we then answer the other questions after the service throughout the week?
  • Can we designate an online church team to monitor who is watching or listening via social media, to pray with any who have needs, or to "welcome" them as we would during a live service?
  • Can we not finish a Sunday message and direct people to "tune in" on Sunday evening to hear the conclusion?
  • How about we develop online devotions for parents to use with their children during the summer and even throughout the school year?
  • Would it be possible to continue our online Zoom Bible studies and small groups?

These are only a few of the ideas I can come up with that I consider both creative and innovative that will help us make the transition from Jerusalem to Babylon as the Jews had to do. I would suggest that social media should be our synagogue-like response to current events. As we rush back to church, and well we should if we can and it is safe, let us not forget the pandemic lesson that technology is the next best thing to being there and has shown us the possibilities for a whole new concept of the church's mission. 


Leadership Is a Sacred Trust

Recently I was teaching on The Price of Leadership at a conference in South Africa, and much of the Screen Shot 2019-08-02 at 9.16.46 AMmaterial is from my book by the same title. There is some new material, however, that I have introduced while teaching this in Kenya and I realized I have never written about it. Therefore, I will share in five parts what I call my current understanding of leadership, starting with the first point this week.

  1. Leadership is a sacred trust.

The Lord expressed His dissatisfaction with the leaders of His people in Jeremiah, and His words indicate what He expects from His leaders:

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!”declares the Lord. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 23:1-4).

Let's examine what these verses tell us about the Lord's expectations for shepherds and leaders:

  1. Leaders are to gather the people, not be a source of division.
  2. Leaders are to care for the people, which means attend to their needs and carry affection for their condition.
  3. Leaders are to contribute to the welfare of their followers.
  4. The Lord considered their behavior not just irresponsible but evil.

And what is it that leaders are to facilitate in the lives of those who follow His leaders?

  1. The people are to be fruitful.
  2. Their fear and terror should be lessened.
  3. They are to be present and accounted for.

While the terminology of shepherd and sheep is more common in a church setting, it is clear that God holds al leaders to the same standards, whether they are politicians, business people, civic leaders, pastors, or parents. This is obvious because the prophets addressed the leaders of the nations around His people on God's behalf, and it was clear that God had appointed them and held them accountable.

The psalmist made it clear that no one is in leadership by their own will or ambition: "No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another" (Psalm 75:6-7). That is why leadership is a sacred trust. God bestows the opportunity to lead but then judges every leader's performance, regardless of the field in which they lead.

Jesus was quite hard on the leaders of His day, who felt they were sufficient if not good leaders because they understood the Law and the things of God. They did not care for the people, and Jesus addressed them as the Lord had done through Jeremiah, expressing seven "woes" in Matthew 23:13-39. Here is just one of His seven woes: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." Notice the similarity to what is in Jeremiah 23, which is a subtle indication that Jesus was not speaking on behalf of the prophets, but He was speaking to the leaders as God Himself.

The church has historically not done a good job of training and equipping leaders for growth and increase. The thinking is that once God promotes leaders, they will then somehow receive everything they need to be effective. That is a flawed concept and the church is paying the price of lost opportunities and scattered sheep, but the same is true for almost every area of human endeavor. People have "checked out" because the leaders have not done their job. In the next essay, we will look at the second point, which is related to this matter of leadership development.


We Measure What We Value

I have written lately that we need to change the way we do church, which is the title of a book I am MeasurePicrevising to re-release this year. Part of the change is to stop measuring what we normally measure, which has been attendance and the offering total. I had an associate write and ask for clarification on this, and this is what I wrote him today:

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You had made a comment about more writing about what we should measure if not money and attendance. Here are today's thoughts from Seth Godin:

Don’t steal metrics

A thoughtful friend has a new project, and decided to integrate a podcast into it.

Talking to a producer, he said that his goal was to make it a “top 10 podcast on iTunes.”

Why is that the goal?

That’s a common goal, a popular goal, someone else’s goal.

The compromises necessary to make it that popular (in dumbing down the content, sensationalizing it, hunting down sort-of-famous guests and doing a ton of promo) all fly in the face of what the project is for.

It’s your project.

It’s worth finding your metrics.

A church will measure what is important to it, so the key is first to identify what is important and then find a way to measure it such as kids returning a second week after visiting once, number of "Amens" during a message (a form of feedback; the Cleveland Orchestra measures standing ovations), the number of givers instead of the offering amount, how many more people gave to missions this year over last year, etc. This is hard work, and sometimes almost impossible to measure, but we must try and then allow our metrics to shift and morph over time.

The old standard of behinds in the seats and dollars in the offering tells us something about what we value. When we change our values, God will then help us find ways to measure what is important to us instead of spinning results to convince ourselves things are not as bad as they really are. We need to change the way we do church!


Proverbs 12:21

Your daily dose of Proverbs:

"No harm befalls the righteous, but the wicked have their fill of trouble" - 12:21.

This verse does not mean the righteous never have any struggles, but their struggles are not due to their wicked deeds. God uses their struggles to build character and to teach them important life lessons, while the trouble of the wicked is often to confront sin and lead them to repentance. Are you rejoicing in your trials, knowing that God is in control of your life? Is God using your trouble to get your attention about some matter in your walk with Him or others? If you are going through tough times and wonder why the wicked are not, read Psalm 94 to be encouraged today.