Saturday, November 20, 2010

Are You an 8-Ball Leader?

Most Americans my age will remember the novelty toy called the 8-Ball. It was about three times the size of a normal billiard ball, and it was designed to answer questions. That’s right. Just ask it a question, turn it over and an answer floats to the top than can be read through a small, glass window. Sounds like the occult Ouija board, doesn’t it?

There is no way to predict how the mysterious 8-Ball will answer, the inner mechanism is concealed and the answers even contradict each other. For this reason we sometimes call people with strange, indecipherable personalities an 8-Ball.

There are also 8-Ball leaders. Their team must get all decisions through them, but they are unpredictable because they never bring their team into their thinking process; thus a very dependent team. This also demoralizes the team because their ideas and ways of thinking never receive healthy reinforcement. All they know about their leader is that there is some random force controlling decisions: the weather, hormones, digestion problems, self-preservation, etc. In the case of a spiritual leader it becomes more complex because they can always say that God told them. How do you argue against that?

Then there is the leader who brings their team into the decision-making process, and they impart the principles by which they should all make decisions. It might be a purpose statement, ethical standards, etc. The leader tries to model this so the team can understand it, then the team is allowed to take the wheel and ultimately take the whole car. Unfortunately, some leaders just like the driver’s seat, and 8-Ball leaders take unpredictable roads which make the team – in the back seat – rather car sick.

Even God is not an 8-Ball leader. Jesus constantly interacted with His disciples with the view in mind that He would soon leave, and they would continue the ministry. He reinforced their positive growth and corrected their mistakes. He consistently modeled and explained every aspect of a healthy spiritual life.

One of the greatest examples of leadership comes as a question from God Himself. Sodom and Gomorrah were ripe for judgment, and God asks Himself and us, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do…?” God then allows Abraham to enter into a debate with Him and to intercede for the righteous souls who still remain in these cities.

Why does God open up His plan to Abraham? For the sole reason which He also reveals within the same question. It is because Abraham is a great leader and will become a great nation. We need to also see the potential in those whom we lead and bring them into our council.

The LORD said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed?” Gen 18:17-18

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Church: Seeker-Friendly or Just Friendly?

In the realm of church planting and church growth, the phrase seeker-friendly has arisen as a way to make it easier for people to come to God, or at least to His house. In the best sense this phrase describes attempts to remove unnecessary barriers to people attending church such as formal attire, archaic music styles and “christianese” which is our inbred lingo that makes little sense to the outside world.

In the worst sense, seeker-friendly sometimes means just entertaining people and catering to their personal preferences. A few go so far as to remove from the gospel elements that might offend - you know, the cross, etc. I would not even call this seeker-oriented. It is just a way to attract or distract people from their Sunday morning golf game or a few extra hours of sleep.

However, the root problem in all of this is an oft-misunderstood idea of what people are actually seeking. I mean are they really seeking what we are trying to provide? Case-in-point:

This summer I attended two different churches in the US where I had never been before. I don’t play golf and didn’t want to sleep in that morning and since I am a Christian I thought it might be a good idea to meet with my God and with His people.

The first church was stylistically a perfect fit for me. It was nearby, and I had heard about it from a friend on Twitter. I arrived early so I could mingle and meet people, and I was confronted by a super facility and a continual line of greeters on each side of me. No kidding, there were at least 10 people on each side of me handing out welcome brochures. This corridor of humanity led to the welcome desk which I decided to skip.

I then proceeded to my seat in the main hall and enjoyed a wonderful contemporary service. After the meeting I tried to meet the pastor, but he was busy with another person so he handed me off to one of his leaders who was excited to meet me. He then led me away to what I thought would be a conversation. However, he dropped me off at the visitor desk where I was given a free coffee mug and was thanked for coming.

I did manage to fellowship with my God in this church, but not one person there seemed to know I was also seeking a connection with friendly people. Even with all the greeters no one actually took the time to genuinely greet me.

The second church I visited was a large Baptist church in my home town. I heard they had a contemporary service, and I had a few friends who went there so I decided to visit. I walked in to organ music and to a crowd where the average age was 65. This was not contemporary at all, and I did not see any of my friends there. Wrong address? However, the preaching was great, and I once again met with my God.

One more thing though, many of those older people came up to me and gave me very warm greetings. They were very FRIENDLY, and the elderly woman sitting in front of me told me later how much she liked my singing voice. This was not the style of service I was seeking, but the friendly nature of the members more than compensated and I had a great time. Later I found out that my friends had attended the earlier contemporary service which I did not know about.

Ultimately, the biggest attraction for the seeker is our love towards them and the hope and truth we display by our changed lives. Since we ourselves are the body of Christ then we personally need to be seeker friendly. Addressing stylistic questions and the shape of the roof on our building is secondary to this.