Changing your church: The difference between attractive and bizarre

 

photo credit: oddee.com

photo credit: oddee.com

Snark Meter Sorta Snarky.002

I had a great case of teenage acne. My doctor prescribed one tetraclycline tablet per day to clear up my skin. It worked; my skin began to clear up. A big dance was on the horizon, though, and I wanted to ask a girl that I found to be particularly fetching. In my internal dialogue I wished my face looked better before I stood before this beautiful thing to ask her out. I thought, “If some tetracycline is making my face better, a bunch of tetracycline would make it much better. What I didn’t realize was that too much of a good thing has some pretty ugly side effects – such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and my skin turning yellow.

In his old book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes the unintuitive fact that the difference between abject failure and runaway success is razor-thin. Gladwell powerful articulates that success is not additive but multiplicative-like a flu epidemic. He gives a dozen cases of small ideas that became iconic (like Sesame Street, Gore-Tex, and Hush Puppy shoes to name a few) when they “tipped.” He exposes the small tweaks that were key to getting diseases, social trends, events, and companies to “tip.” We have much to learn from Gladwell in the church – in particular his genius for mining data for what is actually there rather what we expect to see there.

Another area we could use Gladwell’s help with in the Episcopal Church: The razor thin difference between being attractive and being off-putting for the majority of seekers. Both involve change. But one change creates a fragrant aroma that draws you in. The other is a bridge too far. One is like cookies baking in the oven. The other like someone forgot to take out the trash. The first makes one interested in stepping further in. The other repulses.

Here is the principle that stands between the two: one standard deviation from the expected makes something attractive. Two standard deviations makes it bizarre. As an example, young men right now are really into big ol’ lumberjack beards and mustaches. But when one does what the fellow in the photo at the top of this post does with it, it is one standard deviation too far. It goes from attractive to bizarre.

You can see this in churches: A church that changes its music or preaching grows wildly. Change them both to something that runs counter to the expectations, and you become a bridge too far and are preaching to an empty room. You can become a socially engaged evangelical church (like Mission Community in Queen Creek, AZ) and explode, or liturgically evangelical (like New City in downtown Phoenix). Do both at the same time and it closes the front door rather than opening it.

You can see this in seminaries: A seminary that teaches the standard, expected evangelicalism starts an “Anglican Formation” program. These have become the fastest growing programs at more than a dozen evangelical seminaries across the country, while our seminaries continue to struggle for students. Why? One reason is that our seminaries tend to teach experimental theologies, community organizing, and a minimum of the expected biblical languages, scriptural foundations, and exegesis courses. We are two or three standard deviations past “attractive.” This makes our seminaries “scary” to gifted but unaffiliated students.

In another example, I started a church that had a difficult time generating momentum for a host of reasons. One significant issue was trying too many things at once. We were multi-ethnic and liturgical. Either one of those was attractive in our context. But being both liturgical and tri-ethnic in our leadership teams was a very difficult balance that kept many who were game for either/or but not both away from us. In addition, we had a third deviation from the norm: we were in a neighborhood of immigrants who had never heard of the Episcopal Church. And a fourth: We were a training ground for young adults in leadership, so our service quality was pretty uneven. Being “different” made people want to come. But we were often a too different for folks.

The church often gets lured into the fallacy that more of something successful is better. “Progressive politics helped us, so lets have progressive liturgies, and progressive theology.” (You could very easily substitute the word “conservative” here. Or most any other word, for that matter.) How do we avoid becoming bizarre?

Take aways:

-Ask good questions.

-Listen to both what those who are and those who are not visiting your church are saying.

-Know your culture.

-Ask the question, “What do we offer the body of Christ that is unique to this place and time?

-And don’t get lured into thinking that if a little of something works, a lot of that something is even better. More isn’t always better.

 

480226747

 

 

 

The Leadership Dilemma: Questions to ask before giving someone a position of influence.

ncf_g_winstonmariota_ms_576x324

 

Snark MeterrealMID.003

All spring we will hear sports personalities argue Florida State’s Jameis Winston versus Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in the upcoming NFL draft. It is a conversation that happens every few years: an incredibly gifted, NFL ready talent with character and maturity questions, versus a good talent with character and maturity. One young man is a freak: So physically gifted he became the youngest person to ever win a Heisman trophy. The other is very, very good – good enough to win the Heisman trophy this year. Two players who will be asked to play the most difficult position in all of professional sports. If you land one of the eight or nine humans who have freakish talent combined character and maturity your team will be relevant for the next decade. How big of an issue is landing one of the “right guys” for an NFL team? They become the face of your franchise. They might mean a billion dollars in revenue over the ten or twelve years they play.

A similar conversation happens in the church: Talent versus character. I had a friend (with character issues) telegraph those once when he said, “I was having a conversation with another pastor. We decided our tradition has all of the gifts and yours has all of the character.” I could have very easily told him of the people in our tradition who have not exhibited character. Instead I cut the conversation short and wondered how long until his indiscretion was revealed. (It took less than 60 days. Four years later I remain hopeful that he develop character and be restored to grace in his own heart.)

Maybe you are on the team searching for a senior pastor. Maybe you are a pastor looking for coveted leaders for your ministry teams – People of spiritual passion and the gifts necessary to reach your community. You know the temptation when the gifted, articulate, personally charismatic person shows up on your radar. They start coming to your church, or you meet them at a ministry conference or a coffee house. They have obvious talent and fill a need you have been praying for the right person to fill. And they have “the stuff.” You know, that intangible thing that makes others want to follow them. The big question: Can you trust them?

Here are a few questions to ask before putting someone in leadership:

  • Is what they have holy fire or arrogance?
  • Do they submit to authority
  • Do they complain about their previous leaders?
  • Do they follow through on tasks?
  • Do they have a teachable spirit?
  • Do they ask questions?
  • Do they have a past? (Do they flop churches when under accountability?)
  • What is their end-game? (What do they want to be doing in 10 years?)
  • Do they have a positive demeanor?
  • Do they have self-control under fire?
  • Are they a good fit? How does the rest of the team view them?
  • How much supervision do you want?

And for sure check their references!

When all of those questions are answered to your satisfaction, give them 6 months before you put them in charge of anything!

Make the process take a while. Make sure they know you like them and see their gifts, but that you want them to be part of your family before leading the family.

If you hire on character alone you end up with Tim Tebow: A great guy who could not get the job done. If you short circuit “due diligence” on talent you will wake up to find yourself in the position of the Cleveland Browns who got caught up in the hype last year and drafted “Johnny Football.” Now the Browns are stuck with a distraction who has shown little indication that he has the ability to turn into a dependable leader. In football that costs you wins and money. In the church it costs us the souls of those we have been charged with tending.

A Baby Announcement

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born this day of a pure virgin: Grant that we who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 213)

photocredit: tracitoddphotography.com

photocredit: tracitoddphotography.com

A Seuss-tacular Christmas Rhyme…

photo credit: news.onepoll.com

photo credit: news.onepoll.com

Snark Meter Sorta Snarky.002

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and as a big fan of the Grinch and his handler, Dr. Seuss, I present a Christmas Eve rhyme in meter and verse…

Christmas is here, we’ve all been a scheming,
and cooking and shopping and buying and dreaming.
We’ve rushed about town, in hustle and hurry,
to find Eli new shoes and Jan something furry.

For Eustice a gadget, an i-something no doubt
Biff gets a new rod to hook more brook trout,
But the gadgets were gone. They were sold – all sold out.
Poor Eustice will sputter, complain, and just pout.

The food is in the oven. The pies are a bakin’
Gifts under the tree. We’ve finished our makin.’
You’re thoroughly beat. Exhaustion sets in.
“Not again next year!” You say with chagrin.

And now we’re in church, to breath and take pause,
and ponder this evening, its’ meaning, its’ cause.
With the world all a mess, jacked-up, torn asunder,
we might expect God’s wrath, his burning, his thunder.

Instead though he comes, in meekness not harm,
and joins us as us – born in a barn.
And now here we sit, not for long, just a while.
To think of God’s mercy, his love, and his smile…

…So take Christmases’ 12 days, take them one, take them all.
Like Mary, “treasure these things,” let peace replace the cabal.
And ponder this night: angels, stable, and glory.
Remember his grace and your place in God’s story.

Bishops vs. Bibles: Authority in the early church.

tug-o-war1

Snark MeterrealMID.003(Apostolic Succession for Newbies, episode 5)

The Development of authority: the role of bishop from 80-200CE

In the last installment I wrote about the rise of bishops in the New Testament church, a development that was occurring at the same time as false teachers were beginning to crop up.

In popular Christianity today a debate rages about authority in the church: the Bible (evangelicals) vs. Bishops (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, many Anglicans). In the early church there was no such debate. There was no tug of war. It was not an issue of either/or. In the second and third centuries as the church debated false teaching it was not a question, of bishops v. the Bible, because there was yet no “Bible” – no single book, but a collection of “God-breathed” or “inspired” (2 Timothy 3:16) “scriptures.” In the early church the question was about WHO gets to interpret those scriptures: individual Christians or the bishops.

“Heresy,” the word for “false teaching” comes from the Greek word, “to choose.” Today people feel free to pick and choose from religious beliefs as if they were walking down the food line in a cafeteria, “I prefer potato salad. I don’t like boiled okra.” That works well at Luby’s. It is a disaster as a test of truth. And it was decidedly un-bueno in the early church. Innovation and “choice” were not on the table: Paul repeatedly gives churches two thumbs up for “maintaining the tradition as I gave it to you” (1 Cor. 11:2, 2 Thes 2:15, 3:6).  Jude felt it necessary to write and appeal to Christians to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” Making up a religion of our own devising is something only the most arrogant and foolish would do.

Join me as the first-century turns and look the way the second generation of early Christian leaders known as the “Apostolic Fathers” maintained the message that had been given to them…

The question facing the church at the dawn of the second century: How would Christianity fare with the apostle’s successors-the first generation not led by those who walked with Jesus? This is more than an interesting question. It was a transition critical to giving us the faith and the understanding of the trinity that define the Christian faith to this day.

The Role of Bishop in the New Testament

“Bishops” (or sometimes “elders”) are sparsely mentioned in the New Testament. We have no record of Jesus speaking of the role. However, in the book of Acts, Paul appoints “overseers”* to leave behind in the churches he had started.[1] Paul, wrote and instructed two young pastors, Timothy and Titus, in what to look for in the selection of these bishops.[2] Paul, Peter, and John all greet church’s bishops in their epistles.[3] Bishops were the model of church leadership within twenty years of Jesus’ resurrection (c.50)…before much of the New Testament was written.

The Role of Bishop in the Church Age

The role of bishops expanded quickly. Their importance is seen in the writings of early church fathers…

The earliest Christian writings in existence after the close of the New Testament were from Clement, the second Bishop of Rome (after Peter’s death). Clement, in his First Letter to the Corinthians (c.95), confirmed the way apostles appointed the first bishops: “So preaching everywhere in country and town, they [the apostles] appointed their first fruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe.”[4] In Clement, we have a first-hand confirmation of what Luke told us in Acts and what we would intuitively suspect – that bishops were appointed in each town by the same apostles that introduced them to faith in Christ.

How did this second generation of Christians view bishops? Ignatius of Antioch (c100) in his Epistle to the Ephesians cues us in: He advised Christians in Ephesus to “look upon the bishop even as we would look upon the Lord Himself.[5] Don’t miss this: A disciple of John equated unity with the local bishop to unity with Jesus! In his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Ignatius advises that those who do “anything without the bishop” both destroy the Churches’ unity, and throw its order into confusion.[6] For Ignatius, and virtually every other early church source who speaks on the issues, the church’s source of unity and spiritual authority went through the bishops and the apostles to Jesus himself. Ignatius also wrote, the “bishops tell us how to interpret the Bible” for “without them, there is no sacrament[7]

Second century father, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, (c180) telegraphs his concerns in the title of his treatise: “Against Heresies” – specifically against Gnosticism. In it Irenaeus argued that the unbroken teaching of the bishops proved the truth of orthodox Christianity: His argument was simple-Jesus sent out the Apostles who passed down Jesus’ teaching to us.[8]

In response to the Gnostic idea that there was “secret information” necessary for salvation, Irenaeus wrote,

For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to ‘the perfect’ apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves. For they were desirous that these men should be very perfect and blameless in all things, whom also they were leaving behind as their successors.[9]

Irenaeus pointed out the obvious: Why would the apostles not tell the disciples the whole truth about Jesus?

In Against Heresies 3:3, Irenaeus then went on to list the apostolic succession of bishops from the Apostles to both Clement in Rome and bishop Polycarp in Smyrna as two examples that would be well known in to all readers in 180AD. “We are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times.”[10] His argument in effect is “we can name names…there are no, and have been no secrets.” He finished the argument with a polemic: “This is the gateway of life [bishops]; all the rest are thieves and robbers.[11]

Coming on Irenaeus’ heals is Tertullian (c. 160-225). Tertullian was the first father to teach in Latin and coined the term “trinity” at the close of the second century. He followed on Irenaeus’ logic when arguing against the Monarchist heresy: “Your teaching may claim to be old. If it were, show us your apostle and the line of your bishops from him?[12]

So we see in the second century that the successors to the apostle’s, the bishops, were both the leaders of the churches and the interpreters of the scriptures. Where did they get that idea? From the apostles themselves, of course. Those outside of the touch and teaching of the bishops were “thieves and robbers.” In the debates with the heretics, it was the bishop, those who received and taught the unbroken message, who had the authority to interpret that message given to them by the apostles.

Next up: Game. Set. Match. Why the Bishop was the trump card in debates in the early church.

 

*“Bishop” is an English version of the untranslated Greek word “Episcopos.” We do the same thing with “baptism” which is the Greek word “baptizo” which means to “immerse.”

[1] Acts 14:23, Acts 20:28

[2] 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9

[3] Philippians 1:1, 1 Peter 5:1, 2 John 1, 3 John 1

[4] Clement. First Epistle to the Corinthians. 42:7 Retrieved from: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ii.html.

[5] Ignatius. Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 4. Retrieved from: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.v.ii.html.

[6] Ignatius. Letter to the Smyrnaeans. Chapter 6. Retrieved from: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.v.ii.html.

[7] Documents of the Christian Church. Vol. 1. 3rd ed., ed. Henry Bettenson & Chris Maunder. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 41.

[8] Ibid, 78.

[9] Ibid, 74-75.

[10] Irenaeus. 3:3. Retrieved from: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.ii.html

[11] Irenaeus. 3:4. Retrieved from:  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.ii.html

[12] Documents, 78.

 

 

 

 

Game. Set. Match. Why bishops were the trump card in early church disputes.

Source: http://phillipsandco.com/blog/2013/5/6/the-dividend-trump-card/

Source: phillipsandco.com

Snark MeterrealMID.003

(Apostolic Succession for Newbies, episode 4)

Christians have a fondness for communicating in threes. Paul told the Corinthians, “but now abide faith, hope, and love,[1] Anglicans approach theology as a three-legged stool: Scripture, tradition and reason. Baptists love a sermon with a three-point outline. And the early church answered the rise of heresies with a 3-part argument of canon, creeds, and apostolic succession. You might be surprised at which of these three sources of authority was the second century church’s trump card. This has taken three posts worth of setup, but now look with me at the method the early church used to answer heresy…

The first argument: Scripture.

The first argument that the early Christians would appeal to in any argument of belief is, and always has been, the writings of the apostles (2 Pet. 3:14-16). In the first three hundred years of the church, however, which books would make up the canon of the New Testament was still being decided. The earliest known list of New Testament scriptures, the Muratorian canon, is thought to date from around c.200. Although the canon would not officially be “set” until c.381, by the second century churches appear to have been reading the four-fold gospel and rejecting the Gnostic gospels.[1] Still, in the second century, an argument from canon could still be met with “whose canon”?

The second argument: Creeds.

The second argument was the development of creeds (referred to as the “rule of faith” by Irenaeus and Tertullian). Early doctrinal creedal statements were apparently in use by c.150 (forerunners of Apostle’s Creed).[2] They formed a summary of the traditional teachings of the church. A creed is effectively a memorable, simplified statement of “here’s what we understand the Scriptures to teach.”

The trump argument: Bishops.

In response, the Gnostic cults argued that the reading of Scripture and traditional interpretation that led to the orthodox creeds were “flawed.” In a rebuttal to that argument, Irenaeus titles Against Heresies, 3:2: “The heretics follow neither Scripture nor tradition.” That led to the church’s final argument, the trump card that the heretics had no answer for: The succession of bishops from the first apostles. Bishops, as the successors given the teaching of the apostles, had determined the canon and developed the creeds. They alone were first, and they were always present throughout the history of the church. The argument for the succession of the teaching of the bishops was historical and inescapable. In effect, the argument against the Gnostics was, “If Jesus had taught some ‘secrets’ why did none of the apostles pass along this information? If they had heard something else, surely they would have passed it down. We know each and every bishop of the major cities by name and we know what they taught. Why have none of them taught these new things?” This formed the compelling and inescapable argument for orthodox theology and against these “new” ideas.

Conclusion

The early fathers, Ireneaus and Tertullian in particular, make the case against the Gnostics like a tennis player going deep on a combination of long, easy shots – and then, when the opponent shifts their position: Wham-o! An un-returnable drop shot just over the net. The early fathers built a compelling case for orthodoxy: In effect they said, “We start with the Scriptures…and you say you do too.” “We have creeds of our teachings…and you have yours.” And then the haymaker: “It is just that our teachings come from the ones that got them from the ones that got them from Jesus. We can name names. Names we all know.”

In the argument against the Gnostics, the three-point argument of canon, creeds and apostolic succession (bishops), it was the continuity of bishops that was the knockout shot. Game. Set. Match.

So when a church gives up Apostolic Succession to stand on the Bible Alone, rather than protecting itself, it actually opens itself to further theological problems.[3]

 

[1] Gonzalez, Justo. The Story of Christianity. (Peabody, Massachusetts: Prince Press, 2008), 62.

[2] Gonzalez, Justo. The Story of Christianity. (Peabody, Massachusetts: Prince Press, 2008), 63.

[3]which the first three articles in this series clearly show how unhistoric and poorly thought through this popular sentiment is

Yes, kiddos, there really is a Santa Claus.

St Nick Heretics.001Snark MeterHIGH.001

Parents: Tell the truth to your children: There really is a Santa Claus! 

Jolly Old St. Nick was the bishop of Myra in Turkey in the early 300’s. We give gifts because he gave gifts – dowries to three impoverished girls so that they could get married. He also built a lighthouse on a dangerous shore out of his own funds, making him the patron saint of sailors. He was also one of the brave ones who carried the scars of Roman persecutions for refusing to deny the resurrection of Christ. Then a priest named Arius showed up at a church council in Nicaea singing a catchy little tune he had written about Jesus that was taking the Roman world by storm. The good bishop listened to the words, “There was a time when he was not.” Realizing that if that if Arius’ idea stuck we would have Jehovah’s Witnesses teaching that on our doorsteps to this day he punched Arius in the face. 

So, parents, the next time your kids tell you they are too old to believe in Santa Claus, raise an eyebrow and tell them they better watch the content of the music on their Pandora, because “He knows if you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good…”

Ok, so I’m just kidding about the last paragraph, but Monday, December 6th is the traditional St. Nicholas’ Day (unless you are Orthodox, then it is the 19th). Put your kids’ shoes out on the step the night before and fill them up with unhealthy junk. Your kids will think you are even awesomer.

*And, as Anjel Ayrer Scarborough said: Arian smack down! And the reason Nicholas is never depicted in eastern iconography in bishops regalia. Tradition holds that he was disciplined for his outburst at Nicaea and forbidden to wear bishop’s vestments form that point forward.