Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Present Future—New Reality #5—The Shift from Planning to Preparation.

While on a trip to Hawaii I encountered the surfing culture. Surfers pretty well view everything else in life as paying rent just to get to surf. They get up before God rises and hit the water. They surf before they go to work and toss the board in the back of the truck or in the backseat (hanging out the window or sticking out through the sunroof) so they can be back in the water during lunch and after work. In the weeks I observed surfers I never saw one surfer plan a single wave, but I did see them prepare to ride the waves when they came.

God is making waves all around the North American church. Some churches are going to get to ride them.

-McNeal, “The Present Future,” page. 92.

God does the planning; we do the preparing.

-McNeal, page 95.

The five elements of a spiritual preparation architecture are vision, values, results, strengths, and learnings.

-McNeal, page 94.

I cannot surf!

We have been to Hawaii several times. On one of our earlier trips our kids wanted to try surfing. We lined up lessons for them. Our daughter was a hard-working student at school. She gave the surfing her all. She was able to listen to the instructor and eventually get up on the board. Our son, on the other hand, was a VERY GOOD skateboarder. He spent all of his free time on his skateboard. He went to skate church twice a week – once as a worker and once as a participant. He could do tricks that most skateboarders only dream of doing. For him, the surf board was a no brainer. He could jump up, look around and ride the wave without even trying. I was smart enough to not even try surfing—I had had a bad experience many years earlier.

A few years ago we went to Hawaii to visit our daughter (she was attending the University of Hawaii). She wanted to try surfing again. Our son didn’t make the trip so I was selected to join her. The videos that my wife took are beyond embarrassing. She and Alyssa laughed and laughed and laughed.

I cannot surf! L

I can sail! J J

I can look at the waves and tell you how fast the wind is blowing. I can look at a sail and tell you if it is set for maximum efficiency. The lines (there are no “ropes” on a boat) are always ready for the next maneuver. All safety equipment is functional and ready to be used. My sailing bag has twice as much “stuff” in it than what most sailors take. Most never gets used—but I am always prepared. It has been said that whenever two sailboats are on the water they are racing. Absolutely true! This past summer I chartered a 38’ Lagoon catamaran sailboat in the British Virgin Islands. Twice there were larger (that means potentially fast—due to physics) boats in front of us, heading for the same destination. Each time we tried to catch them. Both times we gain on the “competition.” We tried to do quicker, more efficient turns. I constantly adjusted the sails. Our wives thought we were nuts! (Note: we probably were!) We had a great time.

I can sail!

Sailing is like surfing—you prepare, you can’t plan. You may have a destination but the wind direction, speed, current, type of boat, status of the sails, etc., all impact how and when you will arrive at your destination.

McNeal challenges churches to be in the preparation business, not in the planning business. He asserts that God is the one who plans; we have to be prepared to get on board with his plan.

This morning I drove to a church site in a part of the state unfamiliar to me. The church had no sign on the road or even on the church property. The only clue I had that I was at the right place was a church van in the parking lot with the church’s name on it. Before I got out of my car I knew the congregation was not expecting any nonclub members to show up. Sure enough, what I discovered inside was a group of people content to grow older and fewer in number as long as they could enjoy their religious club meetings and keep members services paid for (including the chaplain “pastor” they hired to look after them). The pastor told me that new people to the area didn’t feel welcome there. I never would have known!

-McNeal, “The Present Future,” pages 97-98.

How does a church (or an individual Christian) prepare to catch the “wave” of God? This will not be an easy thing to do. The next several postings will look at McNeal’s five elements of preparation: vision, values, results, strengths and learnings.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Present Future—New Reality #4—The Return to Spiritual Formation.

Christians (evangelicals especially) emphasize that our connectivity to God is through a relationship with Jesus. We talk about giving him our hearts or inviting him into our hearts. We use love language to talk about committing our lives to him. Then, as soon as the deal is done, we switch the language and go to head stuff. We pull out the notebooks. We go over what we believe, information about the church, and so on.

I have learned a few things about Cathy in our two-plus decades of marriage. I have discovered what she likes and doesn’t like. I have learned about her family. I don’t know about her. I know her!

-McNeal, “The Present Future,” page. 70.

A person who claims to be a follower of Jesus claims to have a relationship with him. This means they know him, not just about him (this was Paul’s claim in Philippians 3:10). Yet we have turned our churches into groups of people who are studying God as though they were taking a course at school or attending a business seminar. We aim at the head. We don’t deal in relationship. And we wonder why there is no passion for Jesus and his mission? [bold in original]

-McNeal, page 70.

Instead of dumping a packet of church club membership stuff on them, why not interview them about what they would like to see happen in their lives in terms of their spiritual development and personal growth? [bold in original]

-McNeal, page 76.

I stand (actually I am seated) convicted.

Evergreen Presbyterian Church’s next “new member” class is in a few weeks. It is really a very good seminar. We make no assumptions about a person’s spiritual development or knowledge. We are in the “unchurched” northwest. People have taken “ideas” from various religious paths that seem to appeal to them and try to synthesize them into a worldview, a belief system. Our seminar seeks to introduce people to Jesus, faith, and yes, the Presbyterian Church. We stress that faith is a journey and that we are making commitments to them and that we expect certain things from them (we DO NOT give them a pledge card) -- we expect spiritual growth.

A lot of what we seek to do is to help the newcomer build a lasting relationship with Jesus. At least that is the theory. The problem is that much of this happens in the follow-up seminar and too many people don’t take that seminar. After all, they have received their membership certificate. They are now a part of the club. They have arrived. They are “in.”

McNeal strongly advocates life coaching for spiritual growth. This approach to spiritual growth is tailored to the individual. Coaching requires commitment, close contact between the coach and the individual and accountability.

I join the local YMCA in January 2007. LOTS of people join the Y as a part of their New Year’s resolutions. 2007 was a typical year for that type of thing. I heard many regulars lament the crowded weight rooms. They knew that in just a few months the new crowds would disappear. In an effort to assist these hordes of new comers our Y has an offer that is too good to pass up. I met with Dana, a trainer. Dana helped me design a work out to meet my goals. She helped me find my range of motion for each machine. I worked out in a special room where all of the machines are linked to a computerize system. Dana knew what I was doing and when. Dana would check in on my progress every couple of weeks. I was sick for a couple of weeks and unable to work out. I received an e-mail from Dana to see why I wasn’t working out. Some time later, I pulled a muscle in my leg—it severely limited what I could do at the Y. Again, Dana contacted me. She held me accountable to my health and exercise goals.

What would happen if every newcomer to a congregation was expected to meet with a coach? The coach and newcomer would design an individualized spiritual development plan. There would be accountability. I suspect that spiritual growth would occur. We would also be communicating that we are interested in the newcomer as an individual.

Implementing this type of approach would be challenging. People who are vested in a church culture could be hesitant to accept such a change. Accountability?!? Can’t I just come and sit in the pew (or chair, in Evergreen’s case)?

It is easy for me to say that I stand convicted. The difficult thing is doing something about it. I am going to be praying about how I can adapt the coaching element into our next new member class. A small start. A step in the right direction?