Improving the Church
Merely to suggest changing the church is to put your neck in a noose.
People are happy to window-dress. I could recommend we change the order of worship, or that the preaching be done a little differently. But to suggest that the church needs core change is just not acceptable.
And I doubt that the reasons are entirely spiritual.
Any, every, all change causes exactly the same chemical reaction in the brain as hitting your thumb with a hammer. Trust me. I see the faces of brilliant people contort as I tell them about a change that's coming. I may as well have walked around the room with a hammer and popped them all a good one.
When life is sailing along, you are running in "sip" mode, energy-wise. If you were a car, you would be a hybrid running on battery power at 75 mph. That portion of your brain is remarkably efficient. Then I come along, and I change something. Now you have to switch to mental "gulp" mode. Now you are more like an SUV loaded with 3 tons of rock going up the Donner summit at 85 mph. You might be burning 2 mental gallons per mile. And your brain reacts to that change as it does to any other pain.
Still, the church must change.
There's A Change Coming
I am a dreamer by trade. Sad to say, my dreams make people unhappy, but dreaming is what I'm paid to do.
I dream up red tape.
My job is to corral the most brilliant and creative group of people you could ever want to know: programmers. I tell programmers how and when they are allowed to unveil the fruits of their genius to their customers. Twice a year or so, I change their world.
They remind me repeatedly of the old, unpublished truth that all change is bad.
I present all my new ideas to my customers face to face. I have been booed. I have been cajolled. I have been complained about at every level of management. And, invariably, I go meet with my unhappy customers face-to-face, and we part company happy.
There are two reasons I succeed in delivering the awful news of change. The first is that I know what I do to them sucks, and I say so. I often use the line, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help," with irony dripping from my voice. They get it. I tell them up front that I'm sorry for what I'm forcing them to endure.
The second reason for my success is that I tell them why they are going to have to endure it. I won't bore you with the reasons, but they are good. In three years, our group has taken 400 programmers from 60% compliance and 71% success to 99% compliance and 93% success. I show them how their group has gotten better. I show them how 4 years ago (before I started) they did just as much paperwork, but it was random and pointless. The paperwork I ask of them always has a real reason, a reason they appreciate.
I change things in ways people hate every day, and when I'm done those people succeed.
There's a Change Coming
And I only know the half of it.
I dream big, but I only actually make small to medium-size changes.
I make changes for about 400 people at 3 levels. 15 or so of them work for me. 50 or so of them work with the 16 of us. The remainder think they work against me, but they don't. They work for their customers, and I am just an obstacle to them. They don't work against me. They work around me.
All 400 of those people are geniuses at what they do.
So when I push out the medium-sized change that came from my big sweeping idea I hear about everything wrong with it in about 3 minutes. And whatever they tell me is always right. And not because they are my customers. They're good at what they do.
I don't care how big, how beautiful, how perfectly balanced my idea was; there's always something wrong with it, and sometimes it's something big. When that happens, we modify the idea per request, or we back it out. We don't wait for management to force us to admit we were wrong. We jump up, send out a "we were wrong"-gram, and change whatever we gotta change to make sure everyone can do their jobs effectively.
By the time we are done making my big sweeping idea work for all 400 people, it has always evolved in ways that make it ugly to me.
That's a good thing.
Those 400 people know their jobs perfectly. They have them nailed, and anything I do that puts them out of their groove is a bad thing. When all is said and done, the thing that rolled out to everyone is a big improvement for all 401 of us.
I have rolled out 6 big changes over the last 3 years. They were universally feared when I introduced them, and now pulling them back out would be just as scary. Everyone is now happy with those changes, but they will still fear and hate the next one.
Bottom line: Complaints made when a change is introduced, but before it happens have very little credibility with me. Suggestions, on the other hand, are always highly valued.
Never Change a Winning Strategy
Always Change a Losing One.
There is a huge difference between surviving and winning. Just ask the three guys to whom Jesus gave talents in Matthew 25. All three of them still had everything they started with, but one of them added nothing to it. That last man, the one who buried his talent so he would know where to find it when the Master returned, was told that he should at least have taken his talent to the money changers - just before that lone talent he had was taken away.
Barna's reports state one thing clearly. The younger you are, the less likely you are to be attending church.
We all know that the interpretation of data is more important than the data itself. My interpretation of Barna's findings is that the present church is not going to work with the younger generation. I support that interpretation by refering to the workplace. The workplace has changed drastically in the last 30 years. Far beyond allowing more casual clothing and flexible work hours, the way work is assigned and tracked is changing with the generations. More responsibility is being devolved down to younger ranks, and it is working.
Hang onto that phrase, "It's working."
We know it's working, because the old codgers are going along the same way as the young kids. Everyone is looking at work as a short-term transactional contract, and asking for work that enhances their resume. We all know that this is what the kids are doing, but it's what the gray-hairs are doing, too.
Scripture, Scripture, Scripture
I hear the protests, of course.
God established the church the way He knew it needed to be. Only a fool would tinker with an eternal organization to conform to a fallen generation.
Pretty soon, I'm going to be hearing verses about a perverse generation surrounding themselves with teachers that tickle their ears.
All I can say is, "If you want to go down that road, lead the way." :-)
You will not find a single verse of scripture to support a denomination.
You will not find a single verse of scripture that requires a church building.
You will not find a single verse of scripture to support seminary.
You will not find a single verse of scripture advocating customer experience marketing.
You will not find a single verse of scripture forbidding 100% participation in ministry.
You will not find a single verse of scripture suggesting in the most oblique of ways that Christians who disagree on doctrine should separate to be more united.
You will not find a single verse of scripture that confounds consistency of belief with love the way our religion does.
We seem to believe that "they will know we are Christians" because we fellowship with a bunch of like-indoctrinated people 10 miles away "by our love."
Remember how I said change is working in the workplace?
Staying the same is not working in the church. We are surviving, but we are not thriving. The message is good, and the saints are good. The organization is what's left. It is the organization that's failing us.
It's painful, but only by changing can we get back to the way the Lord set the church up 1900 years ago.
Change is coming anyway. Let's get out ahead of it! Let's get there faster!