Thursday, November 5, 2009

Focus Focus Focus

I recently finished Larry Osborne's Sticky Church. There are plenty of reviews out there so I am not going to give it a full treatment here. I am still wrestling with the book because it has some very specific recommendations for ministry that lead in a different direction from the vision we are currently following. However, the book is great and full of wisdom. While it may not fall in line with our current process for making disciples and taking disciples deeper, it is still a good process. Any church who does not currently have any process or has a process that is not working, should give it a read.

I do want to focus on one section of the book that does relate to some of the struggle that we face here at University. In chapter 12 "Overcoming the Time Crunch," Osborne writes a section on cutting the competition. The plan of ministry that has been effective at Osborne's church, North Coast, is sermon-based small groups. In order to create an environment for those groups to flourish, the church has had to work to eliminate ministries that compete with the core ministry. I can guess that for some readers of the book and, at this moment of this blog, that line of thinking in unnerving. We don't see ministries as being in competition with one another, right? All ministry in the name of Jesus is good ministry, right? Well, yes... but. It is a matter of focus. There is a great sentence in the chapter: "We also know that if given the choice, many people would pick the ministry they enjoyed the most, not the ministry they needed the most." (p. 93)

This line really fits in with our thinking on The Pathway to Discipleship. Under the old model of thinking the idea was to connect new people to anything you could because connected people would stick around. But that doesn't necessarily play in a society where people come to us often with no relationship with Jesus, no understanding of the most fundamental parts of what it means to follow Jesus, no familiarity with the Word of God in scripture, no skills in reading the Bible on their own, no prayer life and no instruction in the practice and discipline of prayer, etc. When that person comes to us, if we consider all ministries to be equal and they are invited to the cafeteria line, why would they not choose the ministry they enjoy the most? If someone likes to sing, why not join the choir? The choir is an amazing ministry of worship. The choir offers praise to God and leads the people in lifting their hearts to God. It is a great place to meet people. However, if new Christians jump right to the choir, where will they connect to the Gospel? Where will they learn to read the Bible? Where will they learn to pray?

My friend Cynthia very helpfully compared it to life in college. Colleges typically require some core courses and then allow for a certain number of electives. They do that for a reason. They know that many students, if given total freedom of choice, would just choose classes that sounded interesting or even fun. The students would likely miss out on some of the necessary fundamentals.

This is why we encourage our new members to jump into The Pathway to Discipleship a number of core courses that offer them the chance to have a Jesus meeting (to understand their own need for a relationship with Christ, the hear the Jesus message (understand the news about Jesus) and listen for their mission from Jesus (consider their own call to be in ministry.)

Whenever I go down this path, I get push back from folks who think this sounds way too authoritarian, as though we know what is best for you and are going to force you to do it. That is overstating it a bit. Although pastors and church leaders must humbly admit, we don't have all the answers, we are charged with leadership. Elders in the United Methodist Church are called from among the laity and ordained to a life of word, service, sacrament and order. We are charged with being spiritual guides to lead and facilitate in the lives of those seeking God. And while we are called to be bold in encouraging people, we are never forcing anyone to anything.



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