Church Culture


I’ve been thinking about marriage a lot lately. Our first child to reach adulthood, our son, was married two years ago. Then this past year our eldest daughter married. Almost as close to home…almost…we will attend our nephew’s wedding next month. Weddings are an awesome time to see the beauty of marriage in all its glory. But weddings are just a snapshot. Is it possible for such marital bliss to remain?

It doesn’t seem like it, does it? With celebrity marriages lasting months now (rather than the short number of years we used to expect) and the divorce rate in the church not being much better than the world’s, one would think this is an institution to be avoided at all cost. I mean who signs up to fail?

If you haven’t checked out this video of Ian and Larissa yet, I’d encourage you to. While it may not represent the norm, it certainly gives us something to aspire to…an example of the beauty and the mystery of marriage…a picture of selflessness…and a story that illustrates the things that matter most about marriage and relationships in general.

My wife and I celebrated our 25th anniversary this year and I’ve gotta say that it just keeps getting better. We are SO looking forward to the next 25. Things haven’t always been perfect but they’ve always made us better and stronger. We decided a long time ago to stay together no matter what and to work through any difficulties or even tragedies…together. When we made that decision it was pollyanna at her best. We had no idea how many curveballs life could throw or just how much it could sometimes hurt…or how much we could hurt each other. Financial calamities, unsought career changes, the loss of children, dangerous health concerns, heck, even deportation by foreign governments. Life is a roller coaster…full of peaks and valleys. In the end though, there is nothing sweeter and no moment more restful to my soul than walking that path with my soulmate, holding hands, snuggling together, and smiling at each other. I see that same joy and peace in Ian and Larissa against even more stark circumstances.

Yep, marriage is beautiful…and mysterious. Ian and Larissa reminded me of that today. May the Lord continue to bless their marriage…and ours.

Sleeping Giant by Kenny Luck. Releases May 1.

Springtime is here! Unofficially of course since we have a couple of weeks before the equinox announces the official beginning of this time of year. LifeWay Small Groups has been very busy over the last few months producing some of the most dynamic and transformational resources we’ve released. Gospel Revolution, Stolen, Group Insights, and Rooms are all small-group Bible studies we that we encourage you to check out.

We’ve also been working to deliver an entire new strategy for men’s ministry for your church. It’s no secret that where men’s ministry is concerned, we’ve been in crisis mode for some time. In May we are releasing Sleeping Giant by Kenny Luck. This “men’s ministry in a box” provides everything a church needs to launch a men’s ministry or provide a greater, more effective, context for what you are already doing. We’ll post more on this later, but this is the first men’s ministry model that puts men on an intentional spiritual path that culminates with an “activated” man on mission for God and your church’s vision. Kenny’s model is not only church-tested over the last decade, but works for any size church. Nor does this approach require you to add staff or even additional ministry layers. The intent here is to wake the sleeping giant in your church. For more information click here.

And I’m pleased to announce that former editor of smallgroups.com and current LifeWay editor Sam O’Neal will be posting as a guest blogger every Thursday until the release of his new book The Field Guide for Small Group Leaders. Sam plans to dive into various principles of small group leadership with greater detail, but the book addresses several key for leading transformational group experiences, including:

•    How learning styles impact both group leaders and group members
•    How to craft discussion questions that actually spark discussion
•    The art of leading a group discussion
•    What to do when things don’t go as planned

Be sure to look for Sam’s posts beginning March 8. I have had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time with him over the last few months and can say with certainty that you’re  not going to want to miss what he has to say. (Unless you’ve got some time on your hands, just stay away from topics like the Chicago Bears or NFC North.) And stay tuned for more on Sleeping Giant by Kenny Luck as well. We need to rally the men of our culture with a fresh new message for greater godliness and more effective disciples.

One of the most refreshing projects I’ve worked on since coming to LifeWay is Gospel Revolution by J.D. Greear. J.D.’s small groups pastor Spence Shelton helped us develop the curriculum and it is definitely done with a local church focus in mind. While our Serendipity team has focused primarily on small-group curriculum in the past, this study has even broader appeal. More traditional discipleship groups would benefit greatly and find it easy to use also. Let me give you a little background on the project so that you can get a better feel for it.

Gospel Revolution is really about rediscovering the gospel. J.D. reminds the reader that the gospel is not the diving board off which we dive into the pool of Christianity but the gospel is the pool itself. Building off of the concepts in J.D.’s excellent book by Broadman and Holman called Gospel, the group study really meets many Christians where they are. The list of what “good Christians” should be doing never seems to end. Evangelism. Missions. Adoption. Radical generosity. Bold prayers. Audacious faith. Every time we turn around we’re learning about something else that good Christians are doing. The result is that many Christians find themselves more exhausted than inspired. Jesus’ revolutionary message is that at the center of Christianity is not a list of things we are to be doing for God, but an announcement of what He has done for us. As we stand in awe of what He has done for us, what we should do for Him will come naturally. J.D. incorporates a simple gospel prayer as he teaches and models how to live out the gospel in everyday life.

Here are a couple of blogposts that also discuss this gospel message that God has given to the church through J.D. Greear:

Interview of J.D. by Trevin Wax http://trevinwax.com/2011/09/28/recovering-the-gospels-power-a-conversation-with-j-d-greear/

Overview of Gospel’s Generosity Matrix by J.D. http://www.churchleaders.com/outreach-missions/outreach-missions-blogs/154951-jd_greear_the_generosity_matrix.html

What I found most encouraging about J.D.’s teaching is that he is not only biblically sound but culturally relevant. J.D.’s authenticity really draws you in and his illustrations are things to which we can all easily relate. I was not only professionally challenged by this study but personally inspired. The old-time message of the gospel came alive for me and has resulted in the kind of spiritual fruit that God intended the gospel to bear in my life. Well, that’s my testimony. I hope you too will take part in this gospel revolution and rediscover the power of the Christian faith!

In 2005, precious baby Rebekah was born to my friends Dave and Teresa, two of the godliest people I know. The way they live their lives has always been an inspiration to me, but never as much as in the years since Rebekah’s birth. You see, Rebekah only lived for six days.

I will never truly know what the past six years have been like for my friends. And in totally honesty, I feel guilty that I haven’t been more involved in their lives during that time — especially since I’ve been a recipient of the blessings Dave and Teresa have experienced through their grief.

I never got to meet Rebekah, but the impact her life and death have had on me is indescribable. Her family has allowed her story to live on in a truly dynamic way.

Dave and Teresa, along with their daughter, Lydia, have taught me that God has a significant plan for us — no matter how long or short our lives. I have seen His strength and goodness in the midst of tragedy because this family had allowed me to. They have been open about their emotions — good and bad. They have shown their humanness without shame. I have witnessed them give God the glory through unbelievable sacrifice. I have been challenged and humbled. And I’m so thankful. Dave and Teresa’s message is one of not letting loss defeat us but instead allowing it to change us for the better.

Maybe you are grieving the loss of something or someone significant. Or perhaps you are walking that road with someone dear to you. What an incredible testimony your story can be. I encourage you to share your journey with others in your life—your small group, your community, your tribe. You never know what God will teach them through you.

Six days, one tiny baby, a God-honoring family, and my life will never by the same.

Until next time,
Signe

Bill Donahue at the Building Biblical Community video shoot

Former small-group pastor and small-group pioneer Bill Donahue recently addressed the notion of “story” at churchleaders.com. Bill has been involved—one way or another, as group member and leader, at smaller churches and Willow Creek alike—in small groups for a long time. The only conclusion we’re left to draw is that he’s managed to pick up a thing or two during his association with the more-than-20,000 groups with whom he has been in touch.

The post, Learn How People Are Shaped By Their Stories, describes the path to be taken from isolation to community that begins with a close examination of one’s story. This notion of my own “story” and how it continues to play itself out in my life was introduced to me early on in my tenure here. Admittedly, initially I was somewhat skeptical about what appeared to be a very self-centered approach to discipleship. In fact, in some ways it seemed to run counter to everything I thought I had been taught. But over the years I’ve come to understand the role my story plays in my life, the impact it has, and how God continues to reveal not only truth about who I am through a careful examination of my own story, but also the truth about who He is, through such as examination. Bill’s post calls attention to both of these by products.

As small-group leaders we should always been mindful of the many stories represented in the room. The cumulative effect of these stories contributes to our understanding of God, ourselves, the ways we relate to one another, the way we process external events and circumstances, and our own conclusions about the world around us. One of the reasons “The Question” is so significant in group life is because only through a great question can we begin to re-construct the story—the role the enemy has played, plot twists and turns, disorientation, the heroes and villains. Sure, discussion is great and keeps us engaged, but the ultimate goal of any group must be transformation. What Bill is describing in this post, most importantly, is a means to transformation through the story God is revealing through each of us.

For additional work in this regard check out Robert Mulholland’s Invitation to a Journey and The Deeper Journey. We also have several resources specifically created for drawing our stories out into the group space—certainly not for the timid, but perhaps the most redemptive exercise in small-group ministry—in the Canvas series we created with Pete Wilson and the MORE series inspired by Ron Keck. We also took great lengths to integrate this model for transformation in the God + the Arts series (Finding Jesus in the Movies, Finding Redemption in the Movies, Finding the Larger Story in Music).

I’ve heard it said that we are “always being spiritually formed.” It’s true, either we’re being spiritually “re-formed” or “de-formed” throughout our days and weeks and months. One of the seminal points in Syd Field’s book Screenplay is this: “know your story.” God as the ultimate and final teller of our stories knows this … and He is inviting us to join Him.

 

Aware of my fascination with Walt Disney mythology, my wife presented me with three DVDs that chronicle events that have been significant in the company’s history: Waking Sleeping Beauty, The Sherman Brothers’ Story, and Walt & El Grupo.

Over the holidays I was able to watch Waking Sleeping Beauty, a documentary that tells the story of how Disney’s animation studio rose the brink of collapse—can you imagine the Disney animation studio going out of business?— to go on an unprecedented run that began with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and continued with The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, The Lion King, and Aladdin.

The general situation and overall economic forecast for the Walt Disney Animation Studio in the early-to-mid 1980s was bleak. A string of box-office and critical failures combined with stiffer competition had culminated when the story begins. After bringing in Michael Eisner the next step was finding the right person to lead the animation studio out of the pits and into a new era of prosperity. That person was Jeffrey Katzenberg. Early in the movie Katzenberg makes this statement: “You’ve got 90 days to change culture before it starts changing  you.” So Katzenberg, Eisner, and a few other key figures took the reins and charged out into the vast and unpredictable future with the not-so-small goal of re-directing the course of one of the most storied companies in American business and popular culture history.

Because it’s January and many of you are beginning new groups or starting campaigns or even looking at beginning a small-group ministry in your church, I thought it would be a good time to reiterate the broad strokes of culture and organizational change that Waking Sleeping Beauty brings to light.

Sense of Urgency – A friend of mine used to say, “It always takes longer than it does.” I have no idea what that means, but somehow it makes sense in that we must be intentional and persistent. That is, nothing manages to “just get get done.” At least in the early stages, a leader must stay on top of the details and be sure that the process remains in motion. There’s a line in the movie Elizabethtown that I love: “All forward motion is progress.” Something to keep in mind when things aren’t moving as fast as you’d like.

Cast the Vision – Included in this aspect of culture change is building consensus. In order to cast the vision you, of course, need a vision. This is accomplished through prayer and careful, diligent planning. Invite a couple of people along for the journey. Remember that change begins and infects from from the center, but also from the edges. So work from the center, casting the vision from within the inner circle. But also be strategic in working from the periphery back to the middle. There’s a multiplying effect in using this strategy.

Permeate – To change a culture the vision must run throughout the community and permeate the DNA of the organization. “Of course,” you say, “but that’s easier said than done.” I won’t dispute that. A mentor of mine put it best on the subject: “You know the message is beginning to stick when it becomes a punch line at the water cooler, in the hallways, and during meetings.” I realize that the last thing anyone wants is to be a punch line, but the point is to have the new message so top-of-mind that it becomes like “It’s a Small World”—a message with a peculiar yet endearing staying power. Take every opportunity to drill a slogan, message, key word, or visual image deeper into the cultural ethos.

Push – According to Waking Sleeping Beauty, the studio had grown soft. They were a bunch of kids with a lot of talent but lacking a force—or motivation—sufficient enough to forge them into a cohesive team with a sense of purpose. The leadership team that came in included Eisner, Katzenberg, and John Lasseter. They combined with the already-present Roy E. Disney (imagine that) and Frank Wells. Where this team was putting out only a handful of films, most of them bad, every few years, the new leadership instituted a production pipeline of one animated feature per year—a demanding schedule. Changing culture means … wait for it … change. It means pushing people. What athlete doesn’t appreciate the coach that makes him the best he can be? What teachers do you tend to admire most? The truth is we like to see what we’re made of. Change leaders can’t shy away from expectation.

Inertia – It has always fun to watch how an event can take on a life on its own when I’ve been responsible for the planning, executing, and managing events. There’s so much going on in the days and weeks and even hours right before an event begins, but once it does it is almost like it becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The same thing is going to happen when you implement new groups or a new small-group ministry. At this point you’ll want to pay very close attention to the nuances of what is happening.

I don’t know if Katzenberg is accurate with his 90-day mandate, but at some point a leader endeavoring to change culture will be, as my grandmother would often say, “swallowed whole.” For sure this is an incomplete list. There are entire books on the subject. I would recommend the Waking Sleeping Beauty documentary for any leader, though. Not only is it entertaining, but there are some great lessons for changing culture. Being a change agent or change-leader certainly not for the feint of heart—but it always makes for a good story.

Books won’t stay banned.  They won’t burn.  Ideas won’t go to jail.  In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost.  The only weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.

~Alfred Whitney Griswold, New York Times, 24 February 1959

I found this quote interesting in light of the recent threat by a Florida pastor to burn some copies of the Koran. While my initial concerns with this plan involved the safety of my son who is soon to depart for Afghanistan and my former teammates who continue to labor in Muslim areas of Asia, my greater concerns are for the souls of men and women, boys and girls, who would be spiritually damaged by such an act of aggression. Not many people have ever been won to Christ by insulting them from a distance and with that which they hold so dear.  Far more important than our safety and national security anyway (even if this burning threat would somehow help with that) are the souls of those cut off from Christ.

As followers of Jesus (Asa/Isa/Yeshua) we have a Book that contains not only the best ideas but one that reflects the very heart of God.  Rather than trying to destroy some other book, let’s focus our attention on putting God’s Book into the language and the hands of every people, tongue, tribe, and nation so that God might receive the glory and His fame spread to every dark corner of this world.  After all, it is the Gospel that is “God’s power for salvation” (Romans 1:16).  Shouldn’t we focus our attention on what Griswold called “better ideas”?

Next Page »