Friday, August 20, 2010

#11. What's the magic number?

My church is made up of about 75 people on any given Sunday. We're 6 years old and we are located in the heart of the city of Atlanta. I often hear people at our church describe it by it's strength....NUMBERS. It's the inevitable first question when talking to someone new or catching up with an old friend about their place of worship..."How many people go there?"

According to people who care...we're a small church. Because we're small, people find our church to be more like a family. They are encouraged way more by the relationships and gathering that takes place on Monday through Saturday, than they are by the hour we worship together on Sunday. Although both are an important part of church life...there is something to be said for hanging out at your pastor's house on a consistent basis. Or always knowing that someone will be available to babysit or pick you up from the airport. Which leads me to my question...What's the Magic Number? How big can a church get before it goes from Family to Fancy? How big should it get before it sends some people to a new area of the city and starts a new church?

Atlanta just so happens to be one of the places where the mega, non-denominational, juggernaut church was born and has thrived over the past 2 decades. My friend is helping start one of those juggernauts that has been gathering thousands of people since it's first service around a year ago and there is no telling how big it could get. For the record...they seem like they are a seriously healthy church. That being said...nobody but the inner circle is going over to their pastor's house. You might live next door to another church member and never even know it. Not to mention you might live three hours away from another church member who drives in from out of state. Do you see the difference?

Dunbar, a brilliant European anthropologist, just put out a study that states our cognitive ambition is for 150 people. If you're a pastor, church member, or leader...what do you do with that? If 150 people is as big as our sphere of influence can get, how should we strategically structure the way we make disciples and teach people the way of Jesus in our churches? My "small" church just sent 4 of our 75 people to start a new church on the west side of town. I suspect if the Lord ever allows us to double in size we'll send 10 or 20 or 50 more. What's the magic number? What's your answer?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

#10. Who hid all the GOOD marriages?

HEllo there blogLAND....thanks for being patient with me! In April I got my real estate license and simultaneously stepped into some sort of inter-galactic entrepreneurial black hole that literally ate my soul. I have recently resurfaced and I hope you will have me back. A good friend of mine always says "The worst kind of blog is a dead one." Here's to grace and the Resurrection.

This is a timely question and I will dedicate it to my beautiful, brilliant, humble, unbelievably good looking wife who also happens to be the best mom I've ever met. Last Friday we celebrated 5 years of marriage and I gotta say, by the grace of God, they have been the best 5 I've known. Full of grace, trust, hoping in tommorrow, reminiscing in yesterday, and wrecklessly living the present. If I were to define the institution of marriage solely by my own experience I would say that it is the tangible representation of all things good. I have been made aware that this is not a popular perspective so naturally, I've been wondering who hid all the good marriages?

I mean seriously, western modernity clearly defines marriage as a dead end life full of pain killers and prozac. It's as if saying "I Do" is a synonym for prison, or suicide, or maybe suicide in prison. In movies and television, if marriage is even a part of the storyline, marriage is beautiful for about the 1st 24hours. They spend a million dollars on a fantastical wedding, and run off to a mystical carribean island, and then "real" life sets in. After the honeymoon it's straight to boring sex [if there is sex in marriage], daily shouting matches, regret, and a relationship that is fueled by self motivation. I understand that there might be a sliver of reality in those character sketches, but that's not the intention or framework of marriage.

And what about the real life examples of what marriage should look like? Think about some of the most popular marriages of the past few years... John and Kate Gosselin, Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren, the bachelorette and whoever she chose...ugh. No wonder the perception is skewed.

There is no doubt that a good marriage requires hard work, sacrifice, and the supernatural favor of God, but seriously, it's so much better than what we think it is. It's what we were meant for. I am convinced that being a Husband is one of the most important things I'll ever do. More important than a career, or an accomplishment, or even a ministry. It is the ministry.

So who hid all the good marriages? What's your answer?

Friday, March 26, 2010

#9. Why does the Church hate art?

This is a serious question that I feel awkward even asking within the parameters of a one sided conversation spanning a few short paragraphs. However, in real life it seems I've been asking it about 4 or 5 times a week now for a month or two and so, to be consistent, it only seems natural to post it here. 1st let me try to establish some ideas about what art is and why the creative process matters, whether you consider yourself a creative (by hobby, trade, profession, etc.) or not. Then we'll try to have a conversation about the Church's approach or lack there of.

One of my best friends, Scott Erickson, is the only visual artist [painter] I know of in the world that has a full time job as a Pastor at his church. His job is, literally, to paint. A foreign concept to those of us churchgoers who grew up in modernity. But for students of History, it's easy to understand the principle that Ecclesia Church has adopted as a major value...Art Shapes Culture. For children of the industrial age this means that tv, movies, books & music create lifestyles, relationships, habits, and desires that we then adopt in an almost subconscious fashion. For history, that same methodology was calculated, but it used different variables including music (classical and mathematical), the visual arts, and the literary world (novels, poetry, short stories, and prose). There are a trillion examples to prove the principle. But one of my favorites has to do with American real estate. In the mid 1980's to mid 1990's America created, built, and moved to the suburbs. What Television shows were popular then? Family Ties, Mr. Belvedere, Growing Pains...all sitcoms about families living in the suburbs. In the mid to late 1990's America rediscovered it's love for urban living and the city. What shows were popular then? Seinfeld, Friends, Sex in the City, etc. Art shapes culture.

Now we could have a conversation about the validity of the art we consume in modernity and what's true art and what's manufactured art blah blah blah. No time for that...for the sake of this conversation we must assume that among the mess, true art and an honest approach to the creative process exists. We'll ask a question about pop-art garbage vs. honest creativity another day.

History tells us that in the Renaissance the Church really understood this idea that art is shaping culture. The church LOVED ART. In fact they believed in the creative process and it's importance in our lives SO MUCH that they gave a significant amount of time, energy, training, and money to make sure that they were making better art than everyone else. Think about the top five most influential and famous art pieces of all time. I bet atleast 2 of them were created by one guy...Michelangelo. I also bet that both of them ["David" the sculpture and "Adam" on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.] were payed for by...drumroll please.....the CHURCH! So I am wondering, OFTEN, what kind of art is the church paying for now?

If we can agree that art shapes culture and we can also agree that the Church should be in the business of doing the same...wouldn't it make sense to put creating, and sharing the created, at the top of our list of things to do?

From where I sit it seems like we don't really care much about art, if at all. We don't think about it, value it, pay for it, discuss it. The only thing even close to encouraging art that I can find happening currently in the American church, and it is happening ALOT, is we are sanctioning musicians to be really mediocre cover bands and sing each others songs. WE SPEND ALOT OF MONEY PAYING FOR CREATIVES TO SUFFOCATE THEIR CREATIVITY, PICK UP A NUETRAL COLORED CRAYON, AND COLOR INSIDE THE LINES. It's as if we flipped the call of Christ to be "IN the world, but not OF it." and we have decided to be "OF the world, but not IN it." We have got our own books, music, clothing, cartoons, television, radio, and movies. They all use language that we can understand and generate revenue validating our "OF"ness.

Derek Webb is very articulate on this subject and so I will end with a brilliant quote from a recent interview he did with the good people over at Mockingbird:

"As an artist, my job is to look at the world and tell you what I see. Every artist, regardless of their beliefs, has some way that they look at the world that helps them make sense of what they see. A grid through which they look at the world which makes order out of it. For me that’s following Jesus, for other artists it’s other things. It could be anything, but every artist has that grid. Most Christian art unfortunately is more focused on making art/writing songs about the grid itself. As opposed to writing songs about what you see when you look through the grid. I’m more interested in looking through the grid and telling you what I see."

Why does the church hate art? What's your answer?

"The job of the artist is to wake the viewer up." -Bo Bartlett

Monday, March 22, 2010

#8. When was the last time you were thirsty?

I realize that today is Monday, not Friday. However, it is my privilege to write this question [one that I have wanted to ask for quite some time] on World Water Day! About a year and a half ago my rock and roll band launched a project called "Buy a record, Save a life." The idea was that we would give all 10 dollars of a record sale away to an organization that was making a life-changing difference across the globe. That project evolved into a deep passion for the almost ONE BILLION people on this planet who do not have access to safe, clean drinking water. 1 out of every 8 humans wake up every day with the trivial task of trying to find a water source that won't kill them. I think that the best way to illuminate the problem is to share a few of the mind-boggling stats that frame it:

*Almost 4500 children die every single day due to illness related to dirty water.

*Dirty water is the number one cause of death in the world

*In sub-saharan Africa over 5% of the GDP is lost due to illness and death due to lack of safe drinking water.

*It would cost around 10 billion dollars (that's 1/75th of the latest U.S. stimulus package) to fix the problem...wells, resources, education, maintenance, clean water....for everyone.

You get the picture right? The Bible says that a love for mercy and a life of executing justice pleases the Lord [Micah 6:8] and Jesus once said that taking care of the desperate and needy [like the 1 billion who are thirsty] meant that you were LITERALLY taking care of Him [Matthew 25]. So why not celebrate World Water Day with a tall refreshing glass of Justice and Mercy? you can get started by checking out what our friends at charity: water are doing to solve the problem, as well as the buyarecordsavealife site. If those don't tickle your fancy find somebody that is doing something and join them. When was the last time you were thirsty? What's your answer?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

#7. Analog or Digital?

Our Family has been traveling at the speed of sound now for about 3 weeks and we're showing no signs of slowing down. We just started the adoption process [see question #1.], we're selling our house, & I'm in the middle of getting my real estate license (school, tests, new job, etc.). So I've been asking myself this question daily, if not hourly, for as long as I can remember. Analog or Digital?

Truth: Our generation is the busiest in history. Truth: Busy-ness kills. Truth: Nobody wants to talk about the relationship between truth #1 and truth #2. The reality is that our lives are accelerating at a wreckless speed and I am not sure anyone knows how to slow it down. But we should really try to at least start the conversation.

In the musical world there's been a war going on for quite some time between digital and analog....the best example I could give would be a drum set. If you've ever heard V-drums [an electric drum set with triggers that simulate real drum sounds] and then heard real drums in comparison there is a significant difference. The V drums try very hard, using all sorts of seriously impressive technological tricks, to mirror the authenticity of wood, design, and quality hardware. But when it is all said and done...there's a reason you'll never see V-drums on stage at a Coldplay or U2 concert. TO give a bit of definition and clarity to the question [especially for all the non-musicians out there] below are some ways that the metaphorical subjects of this question are different....

economical- not necessarily synonymous with "cheap," but it certainly is in a lot of examples
consistent- like a Cracker Barrel - it's always the same.
cold- despite advancements, digital is still a jagged "photograph" of sound and not an actual representation of a real soundwave.

expensive- analog gear is old, heavy, and has a lot of moving parts. These parts are made to wear out, they often need to be replaced frequently. They also require constant maintenance to keep working properly.
inconsistent- analog gear does not always sound the same, depending on a zillion factors like temperature, humidity, and the fact that moving parts are being used to record the sound
warm- despite digital's advances, nothing sounds more human than analog. See the continued life of vinyl as a medium as an example of analog's long lifespan.

The following thoughts are from a brilliant thinker and one of my best friends Jason Harwell. He has spent the last 2 years reflecting on how the war between digital and analog is creeping into our lives:

"I see, in analog, a picture of our relationships as people (and as believers in Jesus). Like the format itself, we as people require constant maintenance and attention, capable of incredible "warmth" and love towards each other but also wildly inconsistent and different depending on the day.

And it's in those inconsistencies that we remember we need each other.

Digital is always the same; it needs nothing. Nor can it do anything beyond what it's programmed to do. Analog is different; rock n' roll, for example, was made possible by that certain sound of having an analog tube amp overdiven and pushed past it's perceived limitations. But that's where the magic is. Tape saturation, distortion, rich harmonics, feedback - these are standard items in the musical toolkit these days, and they exist because they were pushed beyond what they were supposed to do.

Try pushing digital too far and "into the red" and what do you get? Static, and not a good kind. Horrible, unmusical noise.Digital has no margin, no room to be pushed and stretched.

We - real, live human beings - are analog. We are not made of 1s and 0s. We call those things "robots." And while robots are good at building cars, they are not good at giving advice, wisdom, or a shoulder to cry on. I wouldn't want to share my life with one, and I don't really care about what happens after one breaks.

But we are also upping the digital parts of our lives. Increasingly, we are having more of our conversations behind our computer screens or while watching television or on our cell phones. We are forgetting the benefits of being together in real community, rubbing elbows and getting our hands dirty with tons of other cranky, inconsistent, and incredibly warm other live bodies.

I'm not trying to convince people to abandon technology but to encourage us all to actually think about the things we use and do every day. To consider how our relationships with each other are changing as we become more and more attached to our devices... and especially how this affects our most "analog" of relationships, our relationship to God, the Father.

For me, I'm trying to actually spend time with people in person. To maybe write some old-fashioned letters. To commit to find out what's going on with those I love by giving them a phone call or sitting in the same room with them rather than finding out about them on Facebook.

Digital is speeding our culture up, and we are developing new technologies and doing new things faster because we can without taking the time to think about whether we should or whether it's actually beneficial for us as people."

So there you have it. Slower, warmer, and more authentic? Or faster, more convenient, easier, and very, very, very, cold? Reminds me of the tortoise and the hare...remember who wins that one? Analog or Digital? What's your answer?

Friday, February 26, 2010

#6. How do you define success?

This question is for church people....Pastors, Leaders, Elders, Members. If you are not a church person, keep reading...I'd love to hear your thoughts on this discussion. I grew up in church and, since I can remember, the identity of my church was always attached directly to the amount of people in the building AND the size of that building. Now if I ask any evangelical American pastor, "How do you define success in your church?" the answers will probably be predictable. Any well intentioned church leader is going to blurt out a rote answer like "the transformation of lives" or "discipleship and the development of passionate Christ followers." Good answers [I hope they're true!], but let's be honest...the real answer is NUMBERS. As a pastor your life is wrapped around those empty spaces in the parking lot on Sunday morning, or the lack thereof. It's where encouragement comes from. As leaders you talk about how "Awesome the worship was last Sunday!" coincidentally, "last Sunday" just so happened to be the largest gathering of the year. Sound familiar?

It's happening all over the country, and sometimes even in my own church. We say we are about the things of God and his Kingdom in our community throughout the week, but we put the majority of our time and money into 1 hour on Sunday [see question #4].

One of my new favorite people is a guy named Dave Gibbons. He asked 1200 pastors this same question last Tuesday morning while he drew the above diagram. He wants to re-define success. So do I. Maybe success should be less about Sunday morning and more about Monday-Saturday. Maybe success should be less about the number of people in your pews and more about the number of foster children and orphans who still need families in your city. Maybe success should be defined by a shrinking crime rate or the elimination of poverty. How do you define success? What's your answer?

Friday, February 19, 2010

#5. Is technology for information, communication, or both?

The story of technology coming to earth and invading humanity is a passionate soapbox that I cannot step off of. I am concerned with the potential technology has to separate humanity from reality. I think that it is IMPERATIVE for us to discuss and be keenly aware of the rapid paradigm shift that we are all riding on thanks to the advance of technology in every second of our day and in every avenue of our lives. And I am amazed at how fast and without warrant it has become a necessity in our lives.

A friend of mine was at a parenting conference not too long ago and the keynote speaker was addressing the burgeoning issue of teenagers and even pre-teens and their accessibility to mobile devices (laptops, ipods, cell phones, etc.). The speaker was unpacking what is a healthy approach as a parent to monitoring the previously mentioned accessories and he made an interesting statement...

"Technology is for information, not communication."

Now I have a strong and definite opinion on that statement, but I want to save those thoughts for a later date and a different question. I will, however, say that I think this guy's point was an interesting one. It sounds like his position was that all of the good and safe aspects of technology sit underneath the banner of information. Meanwhile all of the evil, dangerous characteristics lurk in the shadows of a lifestyle that uses those same informational tools as our primary mode of communication. Interesting theory. Is technology for information, communication, or both? What's your answer?