Systems Thinking: Personal Prayer

prayer2I’ll admit it: I struggle with prayer.  I always have.  I understand how it works, I know lots of different ways to do it, and I believe in its power.  But I have always struggled to pray well because it has always been outside of my systems thinking.  I’ve always thought about prayer as needing to be “authentic” – and by authentic we normally really mean spontaneous.  And I don’t do spontaneous.

But this week I was challenged by a prayer warrior to have “established and formal” prayer.  That sounds like a System to me!  And that I can get my mind around.  So what does a Personal Prayer System look like?  Here are some aspects I think need to be in place:

An Appointment

A Prayer System starts with having a time designated to pray.  It is important to have the time blocked out or it will get used for something else.  Just like anything else, if we don’t make time to pray, we won’t do it!

A Direction

Once you have time set aside to pray, a Prayer System needs a direction for the prayer to go in.  There are lots of ways to pray, and lots of things to pray for.  So choose one!  Choose a way (or many ways) to pray, and what you are going to pray about regularly (family, self, sins, church, the lost, etc).  Then stick to the plan flexibly – there are times you may need to shift your plan.

A Team

A Personal Prayer System starts with you praying, but it also needs people praying for you!  Find 2-4 reliable, trustworthy people and ask them to pray for you – as part of your system.  Then work them into the system by creating a scheduled sharing of praises, needs, and answers to pray.  Make sure to include those answers as encouragement to them to keep praying!

An Evaluation

Finally, a Prayer System, like all systems, needs some way to evaluate success.  Define what success looks like for you (time in prayer, answers to prayer, daily impact on life, etc).  Then create the scorecard – what you are going to track and evaluate (days I prayed, number of prayers clearly answered, number of times God clearly moved, etc).  Now evaluate, redesigning the system as necessary.

When we have a Personal Prayer System, our prayer becomes “established and formal”, and our lives, families, and ministries will be covered continuously in prayer.

How can systematic prayer transform your personal prayer life?

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to the Center

English: A of . This church is situated in Sym...

None of these things is bad in itself.  We should belief the right things, act the right way, and have outer signs of our faith (faith without works is still dead).  But a church that is focused on the perimeter loses its focus on the center, which is Christ.

Rather than focus on the line between “us” and “them”, what would it look like if the church was focused instead of Jesus and Him Crucified?

A church focused on the Center will understand that we are all journeying toward Jesus – sinners and saints.  This journey then becomes a unifying thread between the found one and the lost one.  Both need to be moved in the same direction, just in different increments and ways.

A church focused on the Center will allow the lost to experience the community of the found, for there the lost experience Jesus.  This experience becomes a common experience between the lost and the found, a starting ground for conversation.

A church focused on the Center will view evangelism as discipleship, as it draws the lost toward Jesus and the found closer to Jesus.  They will see that discipleship begins before conversion, not just afterwards.

The Center focused church creates less distinction between the lost and the found, as it views both as travelers journeying in the same direction and moves to create commonality between the two.  When the lost and the found are together, the commonalities between them are readily apparent.

But the Center focused church will also create more distinction between the lost and the found, for the fruit of their lives will quickly display who is drawing close to Jesus and who is far from him.  When the lost and the found are together, the differences between them are readily apparent.

This is a church I want to be a part of – a church that takes seriously Jesus’ call to full discipleship of those found and those lost.

What do you think a center focused church might look like?

4 Obsessions of an Extra/Ordinary Pastor

I love Patrick Lencioni’s writing. His case study style fits my learning style, and he says simple, yet profound things. Randy Richards, one of my professors said “You know something is true when you hear it for the first time but think you’ve known it all along.” That is what Lencioni does. You are reading a new insight, but you could swear you knew it for years. The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive is like that.

But I find that pastors often have a hard time taking business insights and translating them to their realm. So here is my “church translation” of the Four Obsessions

1. Build and Maintain a Cohesive Leadership Team

The first obsession lead pastors must have is the obsession to build and maintain a cohesive leadership team. Obviously, this refers to the staff, but even more so to the leading board of the church. The pastor must have a Board that understands the vision and mission of the church and is sold out to making it a reality. To make this happen, the lead pastor must have a large part of (if not the only part of) choosing the members of the Board. Then, he has to take the time it takes to get them to the point where they trust each other and know each other personally. This might mean that some meetings are all about building the group and leave “mission critical” issues off the agenda. I recommend Larry Osbourne’s Sticky Teams as a guide to this area of your leadership.

2. Create Organizational Clarity

The second obsession of the lead pastor must be to create clarity about the church. This means that they do need to take the time to really seek God’s face on the mission of their church. Why is your church there as opposed to another? What is your church supposed to do that another could not? And how are you going to do it – what is your strategy? If the lead pastor is unsure of the purpose and strategy of the church, everyone else will be too. And a church with no direction is going to go nowhere fast.

3. Over-Communicate Organizational Clarity

Thirdly, the lead pastor must over-communicate that clarity to the church. You have to tell the leadership, the staff, the congregation, and maybe even the community what your church is about until you are blue in the face. This means carving out time on Sunday mornings. It means using email, newsletters, thank you notes in giving statements, the church sign, the business meeting, staff meeting, board meeting, and personal conversations. As Lencioni says, when your people make jokes about how much you talk about it, you are starting to talk about it enough. Talk about it often, and in multiple media.

4. Reinforce Organizational Clarity through Human Systems

Last, the lead pastor must reinforce the purpose and strategy of the church through all of the human systems. You must choose leaders based on it. You must choose volunteers based on it. You must decide what programs to have based on it. You must “fire” volunteers when they don’t own it. You must reward people publicly who are getting it. You must create your budget around it (if you don’t think that creating a church budget is a human system, you must not have done it before). Every place that you have a system that touches leadership, staff, volunteers, donors, or congregants, you have to alter the system to support your purpose and strategy.

In sum, a pastor’s role is not just to preach and teach. It is to lead the church. Leadership requires having a direction, knowing that direction, communicating that direction, and making that direction strategically correlated to everything about the church.

I think this is hard for a pastor in our church culture because it will require him to say no to a lot of things people want him to do. What do you think? Is this doable, or will it require a paradigm shift for a lot of churches?

 

Did Moses Love the Egyptians?

Moses and Aaron (Photo Credit: Joe Alblas)

Moses and Aaron (Photo Credit: Joe Alblas)

There has been a lot said about the Bible Miniseries on the History Channel.  While there is much left to be desired (specifically the way the show depicts men and women acting in the name of God rather than God acting powerfully in history), one aspect of the depiction of Moses caught my attention.  I have read and heard and studied the Exodus multiple times, but I never wondered about Moses’ thoughts on the Egyptians.

Who are Moses’ People?

When I read the Exodus, I am caught up in the story of the Israelites.  They suffer, they groan, they are oppressed, they are remembered.  I am swept up in the mighty works of God.  He judges, he overwhelms Pharoah, he saves his people.  I rejoice with the Israelites when the death of the firstborn Egyptians results in their freedom.  I feel their pain and bewilderment when they are trapped at the Red Sea.  And I celebrate and worship with them as God destroys their enemies.

But what about Moses?  Unlike the other Israelites, his experience with the Egyptians is not simply one of pain and oppression, but also of love and family.  The Bible miniseries showed me a portrait of Moses I had not considered before.  In fact, in the miniseries, when the Angel of Death is drawing near to the Egyptian homes, Moses is not excited at the hope of freedom.  He declares of the now dying Egyptian children “I used to call them my people.”  He is a man torn.  He is working with God to free his people, the Israelites.  But in order to do so he must wreak havoc and destruction on his people, the Egyptians.

Then, as the Egyptians drown in the Red Sea, Moses appears downcast while the Israelites rejoice around him.  He has accomplished his mission, but at what cost?  The choices of his people, the Egyptians, have led to their own demise.  If they had allowed the Israelites to go there would have been no plagues.  If they had not chased them to the Red Sea there would be no drowning.  They have made their own bed, so to speak.  But still the people he grew up with have now drowned.  Sorrow mixed with Joy.

In short, the Bible miniseries depicts a Moses who loves his enemies because they are his people.  The book of Exodus does not give us any indication that Moses felt this way, but it does not give us any reason to think otherwise either.  Moses is an Israelite who grew up an Egyptian and so it is likely that he was both joyful at the rescue of the Israelites and saddened by the death of so many Egyptians.

Who are God’s People?

God was in the same position as Moses.  Who are his people?  The Israelites, obviously.  He has chosen them and rescued them from oppression.  But also the Egyptians.  In fact, in Isaiah 19:25, the Lord declares “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”  He worked mightily to free his people from oppression, but at the expense of his people who were oppressing them.  All people are God’s people.  He has made them, he sustains them, he loves them, and he is waiting for them to turn to him.  When they sin, he judges, but they remain his people.

Why have I taken so long to see that God does not delight in destroying the Egyptians?  And that he does not delight in seeing any perish, but desires that all might be saved?

What enemies do you need to love?  What people are you forgetting are God’s people?

What’s in a Name? Part Two

Part Two of a Three Part Series

Since many churches are changing their names or considering doing so, it is worth looking at why they do so and whether it is necessary or biblical.  Two assumptions lie behind most church re-branding: the idea that denominational affiliation is a detriment to evangelism and the idea that church attendance is somehow equivalent to evangelism.

“Having Non-Christians AtteA Different Church Buildingnd Our Church is Evangelism”

While I don’t think any pastor in America would say it this way, our actions speak louder than our words.  Long ago a shift occurred from encouraging our congregations to share their faith to encouraging our congregation to bring people to our worship services.  The message lines up with American culture: let the experts handle this.  If you want your kids to be educated, take them to the teacher (expert).  If you want to become proficient in dance, sign up for classes with an instructor (expert).  And if you want your friends to know Jesus, bring them to hear your pastor (expert).

This isn’t exactly wrong.  In fact, the experience of Christian community and worship is an experience of Christ, and is a major step on the path toward entering the Kingdom of God.  However, this is only part of the picture, not the entirety.  The problem is that this trend has led us to a point where Christians never share their faith, but instead focus on inviting their friends and family to a church service or event.  We have intentionally or unintentionally taught our congregations that their part of evangelism is to bring people into a church building.

When people think this way, then they think that we need to do whatever it takes to get people to come to our church building/service/event.  Our church has to be named something that will get people interested or at least that won’t keep them away.  (As I mentioned in Part One, our assumptions about how people view our denomination leads us to change our name just in case it will keep them away.)

What this leads to is a focus on targeted marketing.  We have to understand the people in our community so that we can market our brand successfully.  And the goal of that marketing is to get them to visit our church building/service/event.  There is nothing wrong with presenting ourselves to our community, and we want to make sure we have a positive image and voice in our community.  But we are entering a world where people do not wake up on Sunday morning and say “Let’s go to church!”  In fact, the majority of people will never darken the door of a church according to Alan Hirsch.

Instead of doing what we can to get people into our church building/service/event, we should be doing what we can to get our church (people) into our community!  We are worried about what we can do to get people in the door.  But if we would worry about what we can do to get into the community – schools, community groups, our neighbors’ homes – it won’t matter what our name is.

People will become a part of our church when they have a relationship with us.  And if they have a relationship with us, they won’t care what our name is!

Re-branding our church in order to get people in the door isn’t wrong, it just isn’t effective.  People just aren’t coming, and it isn’t because of our name, it’s because of the culture we live in.

To move our communities into our churches we are going to have to move our churches into our communities.  Any ideas how to do that?

What’s in a Name? Part One

Part One of a Three Part Series

Since many churches are changing their names or considering doing so, it is worth looking at why they do so and whether it is necessary or biblical.  Two assumptions lie behind most church re-branding: the idea that denominational affiliation is a detriment to evangelism and the idea that church attendance is somehow equivalent to evangelism.

“Our Denominational Affiliation is a Hindrance to Evangelism”Christian Denomination Logos

For whatever reason, many churches think that their denominational affiliation is a hindrance to evangelism.  That people in their community have such bad ideas about Baptists/Methodists/Episcopals/You Name It that they would never even consider attending a church with that brand association.  This has led to a rise in non-denominational churches and the use of the word community in many church names.  Churches with strong ties to their denomination take the name off but continue the affiliation.  I even spoke with a pastor who told me he didn’t tell anyone what denomination had funded their church plant because they might get the wrong idea about the church.

I think this is a misguided assumption.  In the early 2000’s, the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (or should I say the Southern Community Convention?) commissioned a study on the topic (information I obtained in correspondence with the Illinois Baptist Association, the study is no longer available in print).  What they found was that church goers had strong opinions about denominations.  So your denominational affiliation has a definite impact on Christians who are looking for a new church.  But those who did not attend church had no opinion whatsoever about denominations.  They did not care what denomination a church was affiliated with, because they didn’t know much about any of the denominations.

So, denominational affiliation may be a detriment to attracting Christians to your church, but that isn’t evangelism.  Denominational affiliation is not a significant factor for a non-Christian to attend a church.  The biggest factor for them is who invited them.  If you invite them to your church, they might show up.  If you don’t, they won’t.  And most new Christians choose a church based on who led them to the Lord.  They will attend church with that person, mostly regardless of denomination.

So why does this assumption stick around?

First, because people hear anecdotes from their family or friends about negative evaluations of denominations.  People are almost always more trusting of a story than a study, and so these hold a lot of power.  One negative anecdote can counter ten positives ones.  Second, because people have their own negative evaluations of denominations that they project onto others.  If I think it, then so must everyone else.  Third, because of the rise of post-denominationalism in American Christianity.  We are less committed to our denominations, so we hold them with less regard.

Let’s stop thinking that we need to change our name because of our denominational affiliation, and start focusing on living out our denominational distinctives so that people in our communities are drawn to Jesus.

What about you?  Let me know your thoughts on denominations and church names.