Archives For mission

While I wish my job were easier, that volunteers would be beating down my doors to be a part of Children’s Ministry, that curriculum would be less expensive and require less preparation or that Mary would just show up on time—at the end of the day I don’t really care about the cost, or if it’s easy on me or easy on our volunteers.  What I care about is whether or not our ministries, our programs and our materials effectively lead kids in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

I like the fun games, great crafts, hoppin’ music, and compelling videos.  But I like all of those things, not because they are fun, or great, or hoppin’, or compelling, I like them because I know that I must engage the heart of a child so I can help them take their first step in connecting with their Heavenly Father.

I like great materials.  But what I wish every curriculum publisher would know is that a curriculum is not as important as who is investing in my kids each Sunday. I’m not interested in easy, no prep, or no fun.  Most of all I want small group leaders and Sunday school teachers that will be there every week, developing relationships with kids and families and then layering God’s truth into their lives in a relevant way each Sunday.  I want to see lives changed and families transformed.

There is one thing that I know I have in common with every Children’s Ministry Leader, Pastor, Family Pastor, Sunday School teacher, Youth Pastor and children’s worker–that I am in ministry because I believe that there is nothing more important than a person’s relationship with Jesus Christ.

Back in the day, there was a famous preacher story that circulated amongst what were then known as “Christian Education Directors”–our modern day family pastors. It was said that D.L. Moody had come back from a tent revival meeting where he reported that 2 1/2 people were saved. Whoever he was talking to replied, “You mean, two adults and one child?” D.L. Moody responded, “No, two children and one adult.” Because when you save a child you save a life.

Sounds like philosophy 101. Imagine two people are tied to a railroad track. One is a 45-year-old adult. One is a 2-year-old child. You only have time to save one before they are killed by an oncoming train. Do you save the 45-year-old adult or the 2-year-old child? (It depends on if the adult is a choir member or a children’s small group leader ☺)

While I don’t think this is D.L. Moody’s commentary on innate human value, the point is pretty obvious: Children should be the center of the church because they have their whole lives ahead of them. As Gordon MacDonald said during the Orange Conference two weeks ago:

The most important person in a church is the baby.

I wish he had had the opportunity to elaborate on this thought. Since he didn’t, I will. The baby is forming their first impressions of the world and most importantly the first impressions of who God is. And, they are going to form this foundation largely upon their interactions with adults and more specifically the adults that spoon food into their mouths: Mom and Dad. It won’t be what is taught, but what is caught as they observe the behavior of the most important people in their lives. With a baby we are helping them form the foundation of their view of God. Someone really famous I can’t remember said, “The child is the father of the man.”

Research shows that children as early as age two are stitching together the big pieces of their worldview, beliefs and behavior and by age nine most children have settled upon the spiritual beliefs they will carry with them through adulthood. Which means, children are impressionable, adults are not. It means, with children we are partners in forming the foundation of their belief system; with adults we are only tinkering with the foundation that has already been laid. Try working on the foundation after the house is built.

However, we didn’t need modern research to tell us this. Around 400BC, Socrates in Plato’s Republic believed the best way to ensure the prosperity of the “polis” was to take all the boys away from their mothers at an early age and “educate” them. Thus, they could be sure that all of the foundational principles of the Republic would become part of a person’s identity at a young age. If it sounds a little like brainwashing, it kind of was. Just in case you are on Who Wants to Be a Millionare: this was what John Dewey—the Dewey decimal system guy—had in mind in his vision of the public school system; a place where the government would take children from their homes to ensure that they were being properly educated with only the “right thoughts” appropriate for a liberal citizen of the American Republic. BTW: Mortimer Adler fought against this and suggested that the answer was not teaching children only the “right thoughts,” but how to think critically. There are very few schools based upon his model. Maybe he should have come up with a library index system also.

So that is the historical and social science view. However, our own tradition goes back at least 1000 years earlier than Socrates to Moses at about 1400BC. So here I’m going to leave this post hanging—because I’d like to develop the historical view in a little more detail.

What are you doing at your church with the babies to give them a first impression of who God is?

About a year ago, I saw a guy on a street corner in our community holding a sign with the words: Marijuana is the Answer. At the time, I thought, “An answer to what?” Is it an answer to the AIDS pandemic in Africa? Ugandan orphans? Poverty in Ethiopia? Sex slaves in asia? The Middle East Crisis? I just don’t think you would see anyone holding a sign that read “Marijauna is the Answer” on a street corner in Rhodesia.

Maybe because when you are struggling to put food on the table you just don’t have the luxury to discuss the merits of medicinal marijuana. Or the existence of Heaven or Hell, for that matter. (Sorry Rob Bell.) While I know that this is a rather provocative intro. I think it illustrates the fact that we are so far removed from pre-Christian paganism (the paganism of the 1st century and before) that we think democracy, freedom of speech, arm chair philosophy, equality of all people, male and female, young and old is the natural state of human beings and that unaided and unimpeded, people will just naturally organize themselves around the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. While we say that there are certain unalienable rights that are self-evident, history has proven that while they may be unalienable they are not self-evident and certainly not inviolate. We are entering an era of Post-Christian Paganism. And while many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence may have been deists, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” took 1700 years of Christian influence in the West to become self-evident. After you read Herodotus, it is very clear that such things were not self-evident in the pre-Christian pagan world.

In the first session at the Orange Conference, Andy Stanley made a simple statement: We are stewards of the message of eternal life, but we are also stewards of the message of a better life. (BTW if you are looking for a great summary of Andy’s talk check out these bloggers: Nick Blevins, or Steve Cullum or Dan Scott. ) I don’t think we often realize how important it is to communicate both messages. Of course it probably isn’t two messages. Both messages are communicated when a person comes to Jesus and then commits themselves to a life of service in His Kingdom.

It is our great heritage for wherever the church spire rises in the community, the culture of that community is changed, the status of womanhood is raised, hospitals are built, the aged are cared for, the orphans are ministered to. Education in all its phases follows quickly. Young people should understand what the church has done through the centuries. –Henrietta Mears

People don’t just need Jesus in order to get to heaven, people need Jesus for today.

5 Priorities

July 28, 2008 — Leave a comment

While our core team was in Georgia for n*Rich, we had an opportunity to list the top five priorities of each or our positions.

We have a unique staff structure at River Park Community Church. We are trying to pry off the lid for growth by separating the talker from the leader. Most churches expect the Senior Pastor to be an excellent weekly communicator and an excellent leader of people. We have all experienced senior pastors that are good talkers and poor leaders. We have experienced senior pastors who are great leaders but can’t keep an audience awake for thirty minutes in a row.

I think not only is this gift mix rare, the reality is that even where both gifts exist in one person, one person simply doesn’t have the time to do both. Something gets cheated–usually it isn’t weekly communication. We are prying the lid off of the church in this area–more on this later.

We have five staff members: Lead Pastor, Lead Communicator, Executive Pastor (Admin/Groups), Service Programming Director and Kidstuf Director.

As a team we defined the five priorities of each position. Maybe I will spend some time fleshing out each of the priorities later. Here is the short list though:

Lead Pastor:
1. Vision Casting
2. Staff Development
3. Fundraising
4. Key Leader Recruitment/Development
5. Strategic Planning

Lead Communicator:
1. Series Planning, Sermon Prep. and Delivery
2. Managing alternate communication channels
3. Fundraising
4. Communicating Vision and Strategy
5. Married Life Live/Parent Matters

Executive Pastor:
1. Dashboard
2. Groups vision and leader training
3. Group tracking
4. Records and Legal documents
5. Cultivate a culture of giving

Service Programming Director:
1. Guest Services
2. Recruitment and management of SPD team
3. Oversee, design and maintain Worship Experience environment/context
4. Pre-production, creative planning and evaluation
5. Implementing vision of worship experience/big picture

Kidstuf Director:
1. KS Stage production
2. Recruitment and training of cast and crew
3. Oversee, design, maintain KS environment/context
4. Pre-production, Creative planning & evaluation
5. Graphic design

More on the details later . . . Our next step is to fill in these priorities. I plan to assign a one line “win” to each position. Then we create an organizational chart for a church of 750 and put our names in each of the slots.

Stats: 16 Adults (14 children)

Today we visited Reality Church in Carpinteria, CA. We went to the 8:30am service. Drove all over to find parking, because it was so jammed. We ended up parking 3 blocks away. I don’t know how many people the auditorium held, but it appeared there were over 500 people at the morning service.

Just an Observation: Over 500 people bypassed the beach (located only a block or so away from Reality) to attend church at 8:30am today. Not a bunch of old-folks–but twenty to thirty-somethings. This happened in a beach community, on a day when the surf was great–at 8:30 in the morning. This was one service–there were two more services. Everything else aside: that’s a win.

For those of you who missed our first launch team meeting, here is the inside scoop.

We want church to be irresistible. We want church to be the first option on Sunday morning. We want children to shake their parents out of bed on Sunday mornings to go to church. We want outsiders, people who don’t consider themselves religious, to attend church this Sunday and look forward to next Sunday. We think church should be irresistible.

When I read the New Testament, Jesus was irresistible. People loved Him or hated Him, but they couldn’t ignore Him. He couldn’t be marginalized. People didn’t pass Him by on the way to the beach or the mall. They either found Him to be irresistible or irritating–irritating enough to have Him killed. He wasn’t boring.

In Ephesians 1:22, 23 the church is called the body of Christ. As a gathering we represent Jesus Christ. It actually says we are the fullness of Him. We can talk about all of the many ways that we should be like Christ as an organization, but we don’t often talk about being “irresistible” like Christ. I am all for embodying Christ in all Biblical dimensions; somehow, though, we miss this one. When we miss this one we lose the attention of the community–but most of all the people we are trying to reach.

The mission of River Park Community Church is to lead people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We believe that a growing relationship with Jesus Christ is not a certain amount of Bible classes or knowledge, but three life-long pursuits: Intimacy with God, Community with other believers and Influence with those outside the faith. We believe that when a person is pursuing these three things, wherever they are on the road, they are maturing–they are leading a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

They are Biblical pursuits, they are the right pursuits. These are relational pursuits. Because they are relational pursuits they are impossible to execute as a church. I can’t force anyone to be in community, much less force anyone to have a relationship with God. So, as a church, we realize the mission to lead people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ is an impossible mission. We can’t make it happen. It is the unique office of the Holy Spirit to make such relational pursuits happen. It is the Holy Spirit that initiates our relationship with God. It is the Holy Spirit that brings unity to the followers of Christ. It is by the power the Holy Spirit that we speak boldly. And . . . it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that a person is saved. So . . . we admit that we cannot engineer relationships and we cannot engineer life-transformation.

However, when I look back on what God used to transform my life, I realize that life-transformation happened in an environment. Whether it was a small group Bible study or missions trip, life-transformation happened in an environment. Most often it was an environment that fostered close personal relationships with other believers. It was a life on life environment where there was care, accountability and a sense of belonging. As a church we have concluded life-transformation happens best in close personal relationships. We are in the business of creating environments where that can happen.

If we get down to what churches really are, they are a cluster of environments. Hopefully they are environments designed to partner with the work of the Holy Spirit to lead us in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Hopefully they partner with the Holy Spirit rather than place obstacles in the way of those trying to get to know God (Acts 15).

We believe that leading people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ is an impossible mission. But . . . we can create environments that encourage and equip people to develop an intimate relationship with God, community with other believers, and influence with people outside the church. We believe this happens best in a small group environment where close personal relationships can be fostered and people can experience care, accountability and belonging–that is community. We call small groups our destination. We want everyone to arrive at this destination. Everything else we do as a church leads to this destination. Everything else is a step along the path toward small groups.

However, we know that people don’t just want to jump in and get naked. If the person across the counter at the dry cleaner started divulging all of his marital problems while you were trying to pick up your wool sweater, that would just be weird. We believe there has to be a place where people can enter as guests and become friends before they become family.

In fact we believe that most people think church is for church people not for them. So . . . they are most likely not interested in joining a small group in your church. So we create an environment that is designed specifically for guests: it’s called Sunday morning. It is designed to change people’s minds about church. The next step might be an environment designed to introduce people to small groups; a place designed to change a person’s mind about community. This is where a person moves from a guest to a friend. Once they have connected in a small group they are family. Our job is simple:

Our job is to create irresistible environments that lead to small groups.

Our task for the next five months:
1. to build a launch team of 75 members by September 14th
2. to build a resource pool of $250,000 by September 14th

We have 26 launch team members and have raised $153,000 (one time gifts, monthly commitments, staff tithes and GHC matching funds.)

Take-away: Invite people you know to become members of the River Park Community Church launch team.

Who’s in?

January 23, 2008 — Leave a comment

Inside/outside. Something is either in or out. You cannot be both completely inside and completely outside. It is a spacial impossibility. However, you can be on the outside looking in or on the inside looking out. But in order to do so, you have be in a certain place at a certain time. Place and time make inside and outside possible.




As a church planter, the most frequently asked question I get from church people is “Where is your building?” In church, we always say church is not a building, it is a people. But I am convinced, because of the frequency of questions like this, and more importantly the way we live our lives most church people believe that church is a place that we do things at more than it is anything else. In other words, if you ask people, “What is church?”, they will describe something they do at a place they go a few hours each week on Sunday.



This is the problem, when church is a place you do something at, it becomes a spacial reality. It has an inside and an outside. When you are on the inside you concern yourself with things that are inside. When I am in my house, I do household things. When I am inside, I militantly uphold the insideness of inside. I yell at my kids for playing with outdoor things inside. I talk about using “inside voices.” I have a whole cabinet full of bottles and spray cans filled with things especially designed to keep outside-dirt outside and outside-critters outside. Even within our very language—a castle becomes a ruin, when the outside has invaded the inside in the form of trees and bushes and lichen on the stairwells and in the banquet hall. I like the inside and I want to keep it that way. There is a whole regimen of things we do, unconsciously, to keep the outside outside and maintain the insideness of inside.



We have a whole regimen within the church of keeping what’s on the outside outside. Consequently, there is often a very strict and legal delineation of who and what is in and who and what is out. What is “in” is really spiritual, what is “out” is carnal and unspritiual. What is “in” is pure and what is “out” is corrupt. At its worst we divide reality between what is spiritual and what is not. Everything inside the church begins to appear to be the only thing that is spiritual and everything else–well . . . it is going to hell in a handbasket. So . . . we spend a great deal of time making sure that who and what we are attached to isn’t in that handbasket. The problem with this conception is that it isn’t true. Yes there are truths and there are lies. The “Truth” does exist. There are right things and wrong things. But . . . everything is spiritual. In the Bible, the author of Hebrews, writes “That in Him we move and have our being.” We worship the God of the heavens (The “heavens” is literally the very air around us. And it is in it that we live and move and breath. And it is from it that God speaks.)



There are really two streams of thought in the world: “Know thyself” and “Love they neighbor.” “Know thyself” epitomizes the inward quest. It assumes that in order to know the world, I must first know myself. Historically, Christianity stood for the concept that knowledge of self is not an inward pursuit but an outward pursuit. I.e. “I truly know myself when I know and love God—a personality outside myself.” Ironically, when I know God who is outside myself, He comes inside and makes me a sort of dwelling for himself. That is when I truly become me. In that instant outside is inside. It breaks all spacial rules.


To further complicate things, Jesus said that the pursuit of knowing and loving God is related to “loving thy neighbor.” In first John 4, the apostle makes the relationship between the two even clearer. Everyone who knows God, loves his neighbor(brother); one who doesn’t love his brother does not know or love God, because God is love. The two commandments are two sides of the same coin. Loving our neighbor is an expression of our love for God. It is a testimony of the character of God which is love.



If this is true for us individually, could it be true of us organizationally? When we know and love God, in some ways the inside/outside dichotomy breaks down. It really must, if we are to truly love our neighbor which according the Apostle John, is how the world will know that we are followers of Christ, could it be true that in order to fulfill our mission organizationally that the inside/outside dichotomy must break down?




Currently there is a raging debate over what church should and shouldn’t do. Largely it is a debate about what happens at a building for a few hours on Sunday. I think that this debate is based upon a huge assumption—that “church” is something we do a few hours on Sunday. This assumption is the fuel of the debate. What if church is something altogether different.


When Jesus says, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Is He talking about a few hours on Sunday? When He says of Peter’s faith, “Upon this rock, I will build a few hours on Sunday? When the Apostle Paul says the purpose of church “is to equip the saints for the work of service” is he referring to a few hours on Sunday? When the Apostle Paul says that the church is the hope of the world, are the things we do for a few hours on Sunday the hope of the world?

What if church really isn’t a place we go to a few hours on Sunday? What if we really believed and acted upon “We are the church.” At that point, it is not about about who is inside and who is outside. It is not about us against them. It is about us, a group of people, on mission to change “this.” “This” is everything else. It is every career, every invention, every musical composition, it is our relationship with ourselves, our relationship with our friends and family. “This” is everything. We are on mission to change it–to transform it according to vision of its creation.

Core values: We all have them. If I were “freudian,” I would say the part of the iceberg that is above the water line–the smallest part, the part that we can see–represents our actions. The bigger part–the part below the surface, the part we can’t see, the part capable of sinking the Titanic–represents our core ideology. According to Collins & Porras core ideology consists of an organizations core purpose and core values.

One of the biggest contributions of the purpose-driven movement has been the emphasis on articulating purpose statements for church organizations. As a result we have taken our staffs on 3 day retreats devoted to hammering out purpose statements. And like many other churches we have come up with purpose statements that look very similar. They are similar because the Bible is pretty clear on the purpose of the church. The Biblical church has a dual purpose: evangelize the lost and disciple the saints. Many churches have articulated this in different ways, but the purpose of the church is unchanging in whatever way it is worded. Whether we say the purpose of the church is “to lead people in a growing relationship with Christ,” or to “turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ” , or “reaching seekers; building believers” or “To bring people to Jesus and membership in his family, develop them to Christ-like maturity, and equip them for their ministry in the church and life mission in the world, in order to magnify God’s name” or “the purpose of the church is to glorify God (Ephesians 3;21) by building itself up in the faith (Ephesians 4:13-16), by instruction of the Word (2 Timothy 2:2, 15; 3:16-17), by fellowship (Acts 2;47; 1 John 1:3), by keeping the ordinances (Luke 22:19; Acts 2:38-42) and by advancing and communicating the gospel to the entire world (Matthew 28:19; Acts 1:8; 2:42)” or “Spreading a passion for the supremacy of GOD in all things, for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ” the Biblical church has a dual purpose: evangelize the lost & disciple the saints.

Church purpose statements are not that interesting. In fact, I am not convinced that purpose statements have been really effective in guiding what a church does and doesn’t do. You may have recognized some of the statements above. In order, they are the purpose statements of Northpoint Community Church; Willow Creek; Willow Creek Association Brand Logo; Saddleback Community Church Purpose; Grace Community Church, Sun Valley California—Pastor John MacArthur; Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minesota—Pastor John Piper. If you are somewhat familiar with what is happening on the church scene you are probably familiar enough with the above churches to know that while the purpose statements have all of the key ingredients the churches they represent have widely differing views on doing church If you look closely at the statements you will be able read between the lines enough to see that there are philosophy of ministry tidbits expressed in their word choice. However, the average person would be hard pressed to recreate Northpoint, or Grace Community Church with their purpose statements alone. The reason why is because the brevity of a purpose statement prevents the articulation of the core values of a church. And it is the core values that guide how the purpose of the church is carried out.

On a side note. It has become very popular to talk about Biblical worldview. I think that core values can be understood in a similar way. We all have a worldview, whether we think we have one or not. We don’t have a choice in not having one, only whether our worldview will be well thought out or not. Core values are the same way. We all have them as individuals. Core values shape the way we view the world and how we react to particular situations. Core values help us prioritize what we do. They also draw us to others and to other organizations that share our core values. I also believe that an individual’s core values don’t really change–they are discovered. An organization’s values, while more malleable than an individual’s, are also strongly resistant to change. They are only malleable in organizations because an organization’s values are lived out by the individuals that comprise it. Individuals can be replaced. However, for those who have tried, changing the core values of an organization is like rearranging a cemetery.

We have all seen dozens of value statements for businesses. What retail business, for example, doesn’t value customer service? We all know that businesses value customer service because they value making a profit. But when was the last time you saw a value statement that reads: we value integrity, raking in the dough and customer service? You probably won’t ever see one like that. Also, when did a value statement at MacDonald’s ever guarantee an experience marked by great customer service? Value statements are ineffective if the individuals that make up the organization value other things more. In such cases the value statements on the wall are only aspirational–they are dreams–that may often by trumped by the true core values of the individuals running the organization.

In church world we have also seen many value statements. Many of them look remarkably the same, and yet the churches look remarkably different. This happens when the individuals that comprise the church value other things more. Often what is written on the wall is not happening down the hall. In such cases there are obviously some values that are more core and assumably not expressed in the value statement. These values are guiding what the church does and doesn’t do. For example, what church doesn’t say they value evangelism? Yet, church attendance, conversions and baptisms have been declining nationally for the past 50 years. Last year the Southern Baptist Convention reported that 7000 churches in its own denomination didn’t baptize a single person. 3000 churches baptized only one person. What is happening in a denomination that has historically placed such a high value on evangelization? Because what is on the wall is not happening down the hall in this denomination, such realities beg the question. What do the people of the church value more? What are we going to do about it?

While the answer to that question is beyond the scope of this post, let me turn this back toward the direction of the discussion started in The Mighty Mouse Trap. I am not going to go into a lot of detail about what is really at the core of the “outreach” church’s values in this post. I want to dig into what the “teaching” church values. As we said before, both church models say they value discipleship and evangelism. Yet, they have very different ways of doing it. So what values are really shaping the way the “teaching ” church does church?

A friend of mine, John Turner, who has some great thoughts on church, posted something I believe is apropos in this discussion. You can visit his site at He writes:

Are you a minister (focused on “insiders”) or an evangelist (focused on “outsiders”)?

Every church has to make a decision about this. You can do a lot of work with both insiders and outsiders in mind, but eventually those two core values will come into conflict and one will have to win out. Which will it be?

In other words, you can have one of the following two goals:

  • We will reach as many new people as we can while our energy is primarily focused on keeping as many of the people we already have


  • We will keep as many of the people we already have while our energy is primarily focused on reaching as many new people as we can

One of these sees ministry (keeping insiders) as the end and mission (reaching outsiders) as the means. The other sees mission as the end and ministry as the means.


I think John is on the right track. I believe that the “teaching” church model largely sees the mission as a means to doing ministry (i.e. the teaching church expends most of its energy trying to keep as many people as it can while reaching as many people as it can.) The “outreach” church sees mission as the end and ministry as the means. (i.e. keeping as many people as they already have while focusing on reaching as many new people as they can.) To take this a step further, I believe that there are some other core values that create this sort of prioritization. Both of these–ministry & mission or discipleship & evangelism–are core–but what is it that prioritizes these for the respective models?

Let me end with a few quotes that I think summarize the value that makes mission serve ministry in the teaching church. In the introduction to the book Future Grace, John Piper writes: “. . . this book is driven by the conviction that right thinking shapes right living” (Piper 12). I might add that most teaching pastors believe teaching the right information is what shapes right thinking, that shapes right living. Another pastor has put it like this “Our capacity to praise and trust God is dependent upon our understanding of His essential nature. . . . the more you know about God, the more you understand his nature, the more you understand what He is trying to do in your life and mine, then the more we can praise Him and serve Him.” I.e. what you know shapes how you live. And what you know is shaped by what is taught.

The full implications of this value will require greater discussion, but I want to end with one thought. C.S. Lewis once said that he would rather play cards with a gentleman than with a philosopher. For, the gentleman would be bound by his honor not to cheat while the philosopher would only be bound by his knowledge.

A Little Detour

June 1, 2007 — Leave a comment

I am convinced that every path has a destination. I also believe that organizations, just like individuals can place themselves on a path that leads to a particular destination. This happens despite good intentions, despite how smart our leadership is, despite how relevant our programming is. Organizationally, the modern church has arrived at a destination. What it is facing is not a discipleship problem or an evangelism problem. It is not something we can fix by adding a program or ministry or hiring another ministry leader. The church has just arrived at a destination. It has simply arrived at the end of a path that it has been unknowingly walking for nearly 100-150 years. The church has arrived at a destination where church systems are in direct competition with God’s design for the family. One of the most troubling ramifications of this destination is that it has produced systems that short circuit our most powerful evangelism strategies and our most powerful form of discipleship. We have arrived at a destination where our church systems are not aligned with a fundamental principle of relationships—particularly family relationships.

I know that this is an audacious statement. What church doesn’t describe itself as “family-friendly”? We run children’s programs. Alongside every adult program we offer something for the kids. We preach 12 week series on family relationships. We have parenting classes, discipline classes, age-appropriate Sunday Schools. We have replaced education directors with family pastors and started family ministries. We invest lots of money and volunteers in VBS programs, summer camps, family camps, midweek discipleship programs, age graded Sunday school curriculum and colorful take-homes. We have experimented with intergenerational environments from small groups to large groups. Certainly by the shear number of resources and programs we offer we are living in an age when the church is the most “family friendly” it has ever been.

And yet . . . as I talk with children’s and family pastors there is a growing unease—a sense that things are just not right. We know that nearly 50% of those who say they are Christians tell us that they made the decision to follow Christ during their school years. We know this is true because we see kids coming to Christ in our programs; we have led some of them to Christ ourselves. But we also see 60-80% of them walking away from their faith in their first year of college. Some say they need a curriculum that has a more comprehensive Biblical Worldview. We know that they are right. Our children need a worldview that is based on the Bible. Some say they need the Bible to be taught in relevant and compelling ways. We know that they are right. Our children need to see that what the Bible has to say is relevant and compelling. Some say we need to make church irresistible. We know that they are right. Our children need to see church as the best hour of their week. And yet . . . when we arrive at the place where our curriculum teaches a comprehensive Biblical world view in compelling and relevant ways and church is irresistible will our children have arrived? Will we still feel uneasy? Do you notice the subtlety? What if the perfect curriculum, Sunday school class or church program is not enough? I think that the answer is that it is not enough.

C.S. Lewis said that once we discover that we have taken a wrong turn in our spiritual lives that we often assume we can just jump back on the right road where we left off. He insists that instead we must retrace our steps, go all of the way back to where we made the wrong turn, before we can begin moving in the right direction. I think that is exactly where the church is as it relates to the family. The problem is, that none of us were around when the church began taking this path. We don’t know what the detour looked like. Where is that fork in the road that led to the destination we are at? Worse, however, is many of our churches have traveled the path so long and are so far down the path that they don’t even realize that our churches are not family friendly. Jesus said “when the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness.”

What happened 100-150 years ago that placed the church on this path? What is God’s design on the family? In what ways do church systems militate against the family? What do we need to do to fix it? What do we need to do to restore the family?

I promised someone quite a while ago that I would write something about church models. So I am going to deliver on my promise—even if it is slightly belated.

Generally when we think of church models we think of systems. When we think of Saddleback Community Church we think of seeker services and concentric circles, we think of the bases (101, 201, 301, 401) and moving around the baseball diamond. Spiritual growth is seen as moving through the bases. At Grace Community Church of which John MacArthur is the senior pastor we think of “unleashing God’s Truth one verse at a time.” While a slogan, it summarizes the model—large and small teaching environments. Preaching on Sunday Morning and Sunday Night, teaching in Sunday School classes for all ages. Spiritual growth is seen as right living stemming from comprehending right doctrine.

For many, these churches represent (but did not originate) opposing models. They have been commonly named the “outreach” church model and the “teaching” church model. If you stand in the “outreach church model” you may view the teaching church model as simply a different methodology. You see a difference between “the message” and the method. In fact the common view is that the message should never change, but the methods should always change so as to be relevant to the culture trying to be reached. If you stand in the “teaching church model” you see the preaching of God’s Word as the method and the message. Thus any tampering with the method is a tampering with the message. As Mark Dever has written in the Deliberate Church, he would rather see every other area of his personal ministry fail, than to see his ministry of the preaching of the Word to fail. In the teaching church the preaching of the Word is the primary ministry of the church and there is no close second.

I want to say that the discussion deteriorates from here to a lot of name calling. So, I am going to lay all my cards on the table and use a secular tool to guide what I think is the real issue underlying church models, why the debate is so fierce, why outreach vs. teaching church is a false dichotomy, why “balance” is a “sucky” term and should not be part of any well meaning Christian’s vocabulary and ultimately what I think is the real solution to the church model problem.

The secular tool I am referring to is what has been developed by Jim Collins & Jerry Porras in several articles on vision & leadership, among them the books Built to Last and Good to Great. So throughout the rest of this blog I will be referring to the way they have defined the terms: core ideology, core purpose and core values, envisioned future, tangible image and mission.

(For those who think that the secular market place (if you haven’t stopped reading already) has nothing to say to the church organization, I ask that you bear with me a little longer. I am not asking us to judge the church by worldly standards. I am just trying to establish a common vocabulary and define the terms in the clearest possible fashion. Collins and Porras have been the only ones who distinguish between all of the terms we commonly use in the church interchangeably.)

Collins and Porras see vision as an envisioned future that stems from core ideology. Core ideology consists of an organization’s core purpose (why it exists) and core values/philosophy (what it believes). These two things are so part of the culture of the organization they are virtually impossible to change. Out of the core ideology is birthed the envisioned future which consists of a tangible image (what do we want to become) and a mission (a time sensitive plan on how to get there.) The mission may be constantly changing as it is achieved or needs to be revised, but it should never be incompatible with the core ideology. (For further study see “Building the Vision” in Built to Last).

Most discussions on church models jump to systems and ignore the core ideology. We assume that the core values of Bible believing evangelical churches are the same. Sure we differ on some minor issues, like worship styles, baptism, communion etc . . . But we all acknowledge that many of the issues that divide are secondary. This we know is true because the statements of faith from the two example churches are virtually identical. Equally true however is the fact that churches can have the same beliefs and yet have very different core values and ministry philosophy. That would be the case for Saddleback and Grace Community Church. We can’t assume that agreement theologically means agreement philosophically. We muddy the issue because we like to point out how philosophical differences in others are mis-readings of the text or theological inconsistencies. I think that this confuses the issue. Well meaning traditional Calvinists are always trying to make Arminians of the Rick Warrens of the world. In the end, I think we are sidestepping the real debate; theological name calling is as old as time.

The best place to start is an understanding of core values and ministry philosophy in these two church models. In my next blog that is where we will begin. To be continued . . . .

I have learned over the years that teachers, especially the good ones, have several enigmatic sayings like, “There is no such thing as teaching, only learning.”
As a first year teacher, I asked a good friend of mine and master teacher to observe my junior literature class. After the observation her advice came in this form. “My mother, who taught for 40 years, said to me, ‘Talking is not teaching.’”

Every teacher who is honest recognizes that grades don’t only reflect a student’s ability to learn; they also reflect a teacher’s ability to teach. As a teacher I had the accountability of frequent tests. Students demonstrated, at times weekly and daily, whether my talking was actually teaching. I saw it in their grades—whether they learned the lessons or not. A teacher has two options when it comes to teaching. They can learn the material and communicate it through talking. Or they can guide students through systems whereby the student arrives at the same destination as the teacher. I began to see teaching not as acquiring certain information, but arriving at a particular destination. In Communicating for a Change, Andy Stanley writes of the need for pastors to take people on a journey toward a particular destination rather than merely communicating information.

It is easy to stand on one side of the Grand Canyon and beckon to our students across the chasm, “Come on! You can do it!” Shouting out directions, “turn left there, go around that tree, no not that one.” It is another thing to walk back across the chasm and lead each student by the path we have come. Good teachers guide students down the path they have taken. The best teachers find short cuts and new paths based upon the student’s abilities—all the while with the goal at arriving on the other side. Some of our students may have a limp and have to take an alternate path. But it is our job to help them arrive at the same destination.

As pastors we are in the business of teaching. We want people to arrive at a particular destination. Let’s face it; we are sometimes called preachers, because we are seen primarily as talkers. With all of the talking, preachers are in the most danger of losing sight of what actually helps people get to the other side of the grand canyon. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that our processes/systems by and large trump what we say. Our processes and systems are our most powerful tools in helping people become spiritually mature.

At the 2006 Drive Conference the components of a system are defined as:
1. Expectations/rules

Example: Northpoint Community Church has a rule for its family production called “No Dropoffs” They expect for parents and children to attend Kidstuf together. They reinforce this expectation by not offering anything during the Kidstuf timeslot that would compete for a parent’s attention. There are no adult Sunday school classes on Sunday morning, no adult worship service occupying the same timeslot. Andy Stanley is rigorous about ending the service on time so that parents can pick up their children to attend together. There is a very important lesson here: Our stated expectations are meaningless if our systems reinforce different expectations.

Key Questions: What expectations do our systems reinforce? How can we align our systems with our expectations?

2. Rewards (or lack of) What is rewarded is repeated.

Example: We began a family production (a shared experience for children and parents) in our church in November of 2005. To see what we did, go to . Within a month we went from 15 children to 150 parents and children in the same room. Huge win if numbers was our win. It was extraordinarily tempting to advertise the success of our numbers. But a large crowd was not my goal—transformed lives was. I felt that I needed to make a conscious effort to redefine the win: from numbers to transformed lives. Shortly thereafter my team began to work on ways to gather stories of how the family production was impacting family’s lives. I intentionally began telling these stories rather than numbers to our production staff, small group leaders and church staff. I would retell the stories during the family production, while the team found creative ways to reward parents who were winning. I.e. teaching their children about faith and character during the week. We set up a discussion board on our website where parents and children could write about how they were interacting with the virtue of the month. The curriculum provided by was also very creative. We gave away a foot of duct tape for every story of resourcefulness written by the children. At the end of the month we taped our co-host to the wall. We had over 170 stories.

Key Questions: What do we reward? Do we reward the behaviors we want to see repeated? Are we currently rewarding things that we don’t want repeated?

3. Consequences (or lack of)

Example: over the summer we began enforcing small group leader/student ratios in our children’s small group program. This communicated several things. It communicated to our small group leaders that we did care about their sanity; it meant that we were serious about not slamming a single small group leader with a large group of 25 four year olds. It communicated to our parents that we cared about the safety of their children. There was an unforeseen positive consequence. In our laid back So. Cal beach climate we now have parents arriving early to ensure their child gets a spot in their small group. I think Jim Collins calls these policies with teeth.

Key Questions: Have you changed anything recently that resulted in inadvertent results? What were they? What about your system created them?

4. Communication (content and style)

According to David F. Wells, at the 2006 Desiring God Conference:
it becomes more and more imperative for preachers to make sure that the truth that they are preaching intersects with what is going on inside people’s minds so that the line is drawn so clearly, that people in their own lives know whether they are being obedient or not and what they should do with that truth when they have heard it. Now that is contextualization. And so it goes all the way through from people sitting in pews in American and missionaries preaching in Hindu contexts in India.

Our communication, its content must align with what we are trying to produce in our systems, and its style must intersect with what is going on inside people’s minds so they know what we are asking them to do.

Key Question: Am I spending time on Sunday communicating strategy to the church members? Does the content of my communication align with or contradict the created/established system?

5. Behavior (of those in charge)
Example: I think we can all come up with some examples of this one. The most compelling reason to change is seeing such change lived out in our own lives as leaders.

Key Question: Where does my own behavior not align with my expectations of those who follow me? What must I do to change that? (By the way, when you do change misaligned behavior in your own life you have great power in helping others make the same change. Plus your living illustration is preachable.)