Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Here I go recommending another book that doesn’t have “church” or “Jesus” in the title. I think recent church history shows us swinging wildly between two poles: on one side acting like we are businesses and adopting business practices to run our churches and on the other distancing ourselves from anything at all secular. There is a fine balance in being in the world and not of the world. The late Albert Outler coined the term “Plundering the Egyptians” referencing the book of Exodus to make the talk about “the freedom that Christians have (by divine allowance) to explore, appraise, and appropriate all the insights and resources of any and all secular culture.” (Albert Outler, “Plundering the Egyptians” in, Evangelism & Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit, Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1996, 75-88) I like plundering the Egyptians.

I just finished Switch, How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Heath and Heath wrote another one of my favorite books, Made to Stick. (You can read a quick review of that on my old blog here: I think Switch is a must read for pastors. This is especially true for pastors who find themselves in the role of change agents, trying to help their church or organization grow and change in ways the help it to more effectively serve its mission. But it also true for pastors in any setting because, as this book helped me remember, all pastors are change agents. (This book didn’t talk about pastors at all but it still reminded me.) As pastors, we are involved in helping people to change. We help people lead to a radical change in life that comes with a relationship with Christ (justification). And we help people go through a lifelong metamorphosis of recreation in the image and likeness of Christ (sanctification.) It is God that makes this happen, individuals who submit themselves to it and pastors (and other ministers) who help convince people to enter into this process and facilitate their journey. In other words, part of the work of the church is to convince people to make a change and then help them to make a change.

Sometimes this involves systemic work in changing systems and structures and sometimes it is about the one-on-one work of individual discipleship. Switch helps us to see why such change is hard and how we can make is easier. Back under the heading of “plundering the Egyptians” deciding to follow Christ has some similarities to deciding to lose weight or eat better or keep your house neat. The similarities quickly break down but the initial steps of inspiration and motivation look a lot alike.

What breaks my heart the most as a pastor is that I truly believe that when people stand up front and profess their faith and take vows of membership they really mean it. They really want to change their focus from whatever led and motivated them in the past to following God. However, so many of them lose their way. And I think we can help them and I think the Heath brothers have some very simple ideas that can assist us. Switch made me consider exactly how much change we are throwing at people right up front when we ask them to become followers of Jesus. We expect them to change a lot of things (show up on Sunday, come to a class on Wednesday, start giving away some of your income, watch your language) and changing a lot of things takes self-control and “self-control is an exhaustible resource.” (p. 10) People do want to change and they are not lazy, nor do they lack discipline, but sometimes we are expecting them to do too much at once.

The authors offer some clear ways to think about approaching change. They use the analogy of psychologist Jonathan Haidt to explain that our brains have two sides, an emotional side and a rational side: an elephant and a rider. (p. 7) It may sound a bit crass to my church colleagues but the authors show us that it about directing the rider, motivating the elephant and shaping the path.

This is a fun and insightful book. I love the Heath brothers. Even if you never use anything in this book it is fun to read and you might learn a little something about yourself and what motivates you.



Thursday, May 20, 2010

Systematic Discipleship and the Small Membership Church

The U's Assistant Director of Discipleship, Michael Andres and I took at trip to Weimer, Texas yesterday to lead a module of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference Local Pastor Licensing School. This is a two week intensive retreat required for people who have been licensed by their District Committees to serve as licensed local pastors. Most of the people in this category have not started seminary or course of study yet so the school serves as a sort of "boot camp" to give the pastor everything she will need (hopefully) to get started in local church ministry.

As I understand it (and someone will certainly correct me if I am wrong) the majority of these new local pastors will serve, at first, in small, often rural congregations. Some could potentially be associates at larger churches and any of them may eventually move on to larger churches but most will start in fairly small membership churches. This made for an interesting transition and translation for Michael and I. We were invited to speak about systematic discipleship and discipleship pathways. We were invited by Rev. Bill Johnson after he saw us present at the Large Church Initiative. Although churches of all sizes were represented at that event (thanks to the Living Congregations Institute which made it easier for churches from the Southwest Texas Conference to attend) the focus was on large membership churches (around 250 in worship and up.)

So switching gears from sharing the material with large multi-pastor, multi-staff and even multi-location churches to sharing it with pastors of mostly small membership churches led us to think a lot about how what we are doing translates. We really think it does translate. While trying to overlay University's Pathway to Discipleship on a small membership church model would be overwhelming and overkill, the principles of focus and accountability are translatable from 5000 to 500 to 50 to 5.

It really comes down to the question, "do you have an intentional plan in place to help people grow as disciples of Jesus Christ?" If the answer is yes, it leads to other questions like,

Is the plan clear?
Can people understand it?
Does it account for phases or stages of spiritual growth?
Do you have a way of keeping track of people and holding them accountable?
Do you have ways to see if it is working?

If the answer if no, it leads to questions like.

What are we currently doing that helps people grow?
What have we done well in the past?
What unique gifts for disciple making has God given us as a congregation and how can we use them?

I am looking forward to working with more of the smaller churches in our conference over the next year. I am sure with a little focus on the process of discipleship, they will do some miraculous things.



Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Too Many Choices

There is a great article on the website for the Lewis Center for Church Leadership by Mark Waltz from Granger Community Church. It is adapted from his book Lasting Impressions: From Visiting to Belonging and it takes a look at something we talk about a lot around here: too much choice.

Too many options are overwhelming especially to people who are trying to gain their spiritual footing and begin a life of discipleship. In our Pathway to Discipleship, we don't eliminate choice, but we make the choices clearer and try to limit the upfront options. We don't do this to create control but to create clarity. Give the article a read and come back here to post some comments.

How Full is Your Menu? by Mark Waltz



Thursday, May 6, 2010

Something to Aim For

My apologies to my regular readers (both of you) I have been quite absent from the blog, facebook and twitter. I am trying to regain my bearings post LCI 2010. I told my staff that there would likely be a sort of low-grade depression in the building after hosting such a large conference. Our focus has been moving toward the event for a couple of years and we were intensely preparing for months. Now that it is over, a lot of us feel a little directionless. Let me be clear, we are not actually directionless at all. In fact, the work that we did getting ready for LCI gave us a lot more focus and clarity. We did a lot of presenting on and talking about our vision for discipleship. Presenting and dialoguing made us more aware of our strengths are weaknesses and gave us a lot of great ideas of where to focus next. So, after a few days of wandering, I am ready to get back at it and just in time. We are gearing up for pathway summer electives and our core offerings in the fall. Keep your eyes on the blog too. I will get back to regular posting next week.