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Healthy Church = Healthy Organization

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Are you hearing the cry to re-vision and revitalize existing churches? If you think American churches are in trouble you are correct. Over 80% self-report that they are plateaued or in decline. Some key church leaders are calling for a movement to turn this around.

Can it be done?

Church leaders and consultants believe the remedy is an increase in visionary leadership. I’m all for visionary leadership. However, I’d like to see more interest in the organizational part of church revitalization.

Vision has to be implemented to be worthwhile and there is no implementation without organization.

As defined by experts…

All organizations, including businesses, hospitals, and churches have four characteristics in common. *
1. They are social entities.
2. They are goal directed.
3. They are designed as deliberately structured and coordinated activity systems.
4. They are linked to the external environment.
(* Richard L. Daft, Organization Theory and Design, 2007)

How this looks for the church…

Church is about people. When we forget this, the church becomes a piece of machinery that keeps doing what it has always done.
Church is purpose driven. As opposed to tradition or program driven. We have a clear mission and we work toward shared goals to achieve it.
Church is designed to function as an agent of transformation. There is structure to define ministry functions and systems to coordinate ministry activities.
Church is affected by outside factors. Our strategies have to be adaptable. We live in a changing world that calls for responsiveness in how the church performs its ministries.

Good tools help us do good work

Organization is a tool we use to accomplish ministry. The overall health of the church reflects the degree to which we understand how healthy organizations work.

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The church existed long before modern organizations and it will outlast them. That said, organization frameworks are powerful tools for fulfilling our calling.

Sadly, they are too often in the hands of leaders who understand little about them. Sad because these tools have the power to hurt as well as help.

Why are we not talking about this?

This is personal for me. I struggled through many years of ministry trying to understand the organizational side of church.

I believed that many church problems could be solved or pre-empted through sound organizational practices. But I had a hard time finding the help I sought.

In my quest, I found that a simple, basic understanding of the origins of modern organizations created a shift in my perspective.

A very brief history of modern organizations

Organizations as we know them are relatively new. They were birthed out of the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century.

The inventions of mechanical devices for making cloth and of steam engines for powering machinery started a wave of new businesses that were able to employ large numbers of people for the first time in history.

Organizational structures emerged as a way of managing large manufacturing plants to increase efficiency.

In a short time this approach became hugely popular, which created a need to study the more successful ones in order to describe their characteristics. Terms like division of labor, hierarchy, chain of command, and flow charts became associated with them.

Initially, organization structures were a business tool to improve working conditions and increase production for lowering costs to the customer. But as the advantages became obvious, other entities like government and educational systems started using them.

Churches also began adopting some of the ideas into ministry approaches.

The job is easier when you have the right tools

It’s important to understand that organization itself is not the essence of the church.

Organizational structures and systems are tools we use to fulfill our mission. They are like wineskins that serve a purpose for a time but eventually become useless and must be replaced with new ones.

In the spirit of St. Paul who said, “I become all things to all people so that by all means I might win some”, we utilize organization concepts to conduct ministries in the most effective way possible in our time and place.

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A Rare Opportunity

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Some days, life feels like a high-speed roller coaster ride with flips and turns that make us nauseous with excessive motion. We feel desperate to get our feet back on the ground and regain our equilibrium.

Could it be that God is doing a new thing in our day? That we have the rare privilege of welcoming a new expression of the Christian faith into our world?

The 500-Year Cycle

It doesn’t feel like it but we have been here before… historically speaking.

In her book The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why Phyllis Tickle explains a repetitive phenomenon that has marked massive transitions in the church about every 500 years for the past two millennia.

500 years ago – Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church initiating the Great Reformation.
1,000 years ago – the Great Schism in the 11th century.
1,500 years ago – the fall of Rome and the resulting feudal system was the catalyst for the church to decentralize into monasticism. This kept the faith alive in small communities during the Dark Ages.
2,000 years ago –in God’s perfect timing the Messiah, Jesus Christ started this thing we love to call the Church.

3 Amazing Outcomes

According to Tickle, in each of these seasons of culture-shattering upheaval, at least three consistent transformations resulted.

1. Out of the distress emerged a new and more vital form of Christianity.
2. Previously dominant expressions of Christianity were “reconstituted into a more pure and less ossified expression of its former self.”
3. Most importantly, the faith spread more dramatically than ever before and the Church grew exponentially.

Cultural Characteristics of Hinge Times

Looking back, all of these seasons of cataclysmic change in the Church took place in a corresponding environment of disorder and instability.

Tickle has labeled them “hinge times” because they all share these common characteristics:
• widespread social upheaval
• political chaos
• economic collapse
• and, violent intercultural / inter-religious clashes.

Does this not sound like our world today? There is a cascading effect of change on multiple fronts forcing more change to everything in its path.

And the avalanche has only begun!

So, it’s our turn.

We are now living one of those 500-year cycles of turbulence – and we feel it.

Will we hunker down and go into survival mode? Or, will we embrace the opportunity to create new church models that will thrive in a destabilized world?

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Right. On. Time.

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It is unwise to persist in outdated models of doing church while fleeting opportunities to impact people for Christ pass us by.

We should be “…making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil”. (Eph. 5:16)

Language changes over time*

I don’t remember much of what was said in my seminary classes. First, that was a long time ago! Second, let’s just say… information overload. But one statement rocked me to my core. I remember it clear as a bell.

“Every generation should render its own translation of the Bible”. – Dr. Jerry Flora

And I especially remember his rationale. Biblical concepts deserve to be communicated in the language people best understand.

This is not license to rewrite God’s Word to satisfy our notions. Rather, it’s a challenge to increase the forcefulness of scripture by making its intended meaning unmistakably clear to the readers.

The intersection of timeless and understandable

I believe the same principle applies to how we “do church”.

Like God’s Word, the mission of the church is unchanging. However, the genius behind both is their capacity to be applied with equal power across generations and cultures, making them timeless.

My position is: the organizational side of church has to be designed to accomplish this.

To borrow a phrase from Carey Nieuwhof, we need to “match our model to our mission”. http://bit.ly/1t55ZU6 via ‪@cnieuwhof‬

Our challenge is to translate timeless truths into actionable strategies that are right…and on time for our own time and place. People deserve an understandable display of the hope Jesus offers them today.

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*(Check out the TED Talk “What Makes A Word Real?” t.ted.com/EpyZ06b)

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Master of Perspective

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In many churches today conventional thinking about the functions of the church is skewed. Over the decades we have gotten off track.

To make matters worse, there is sometimes an arrogant and defensive posture that insists we already have it right. That there is no need to mess things up with crazy new-fangled ideas.

Many churches need a shift in perspective

In my opinion, a healthy perspective is hard to get and easy to lose. We get into trouble when we lose perspective.

One of the greatest gifts a person can give is the gift of words that create a transforming shift in perspective.

A successful church modeler will be a master of perspective – seeing what others have missed and communicating a compelling new viewpoint.

Is that not what Jesus did? He was THE master of perspective. He brought heaven’s perspective to earth. He spoke of old and familiar things in new and unexpected ways.

Companion designer

The biblical word for perspective is wisdom, which is seeing things through God’s eyes.

Speaking of God’s creation of our universe, Wisdom says, “I was the architect at his side.” (Proverbs 8:30)

There is an inherent inseparability between creativity and wisdom. Church modelers need a companion, an inner architect that knows the thoughts of God.

Call it Holy Spirit imparted wisdom – or call it perspective – that enables us to see through the eyes of God.

The main thing

My underlying premise is that the church belongs to Jesus.

Church modeling is not about glorifying human efforts but rather a passion to honor our Lord by designing church to be what he wants it to be.

Unfortunately, there is a vacuum – an unfilled need – for humble but aggressive modelers who are seeking to know God and His Word in new ways and then translating that knowledge into perspective changing new models of church.

Question: If Jesus were designing a church today, what would he want it to be?

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A Call for Forward-Thinking Church Modelers

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People have always needed and wanted leaders who anticipate what is coming, prepare for it, and confidently execute well-laid plans. The church is no different.

In fact, the church can garner respect in its community by demonstrating bold forward-thinking leadership that addresses real needs right on time.

A need for people who get it

We all love the reference in the Bible to the “men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron. 12:32).

What strikes me in this passage is the contrasts in the numbers and role of the Issachar delegation in relation to all the others. All twelve of the Israeli tribes were represented by “brave warriors armed for battle” that numbered from 3,000 to 120,000…

…except the tribe of Issachar!

This family sent just 200 men but they had outstanding value and influence because they were found to be the best thinkers.

They were strategists with a reputation for getting it right.

They provided the needed direction so the others could effectively use their skills to accomplish something remarkable.

We few. We happy few. We band of brothers. – Shakespeare

Church modelers don’t need to show up in large numbers but they are needed.

Without them there may be a lot of activity with little progress. Energy is wasted because it is not properly directed.

The workforce is frustrated. They show up wanting to make a difference; they sacrifice for the good of others but find themselves disengaged when the assigned tasks don’t make sense.

They long for leadership that can connect the dots of what is going on in the real world with meaningful ministry.

Eyes to see what others miss

The challenge for church modelers is to sort through the cacophony of distracting activity in the world and isolate the critical needs that are emerging.

These needs vary according to time and place. Solutions from a past decade in another location are unlikely to suffice.

A church modeler is only as good as his or her perceptions of their own environment.

For that reason there is a need for a global network of church modelers each of whom is discontent to simply mimic the successes of others.

Rather, each brings an ongoing commitment to monitor changing conditions and prayerfully seek fresh ministry approaches to make the church the head and not the tail of their society.

What emerging critical need do you see that the church could tackle?

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Why Are So Many Pastors Dropping Out?

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The statistics are alarming. Pastors are dropping out or being forced out of ministry at such a high rate there is a looming shortage of clergy to fill existing positions.

Studies show that of seminary graduates who enter ministry as a profession, 85% quit within the first five years, leaving us with a disconcerting void of young church leaders.

All total, 90% of clergy bail out or are terminated from their job before reaching retirement years.

I have personally lived this…twice!

The first time occurred 22 years into fulltime pastoral ministry. I took a 20-month break and called it a self-funded sabbatical. The second was at year 32 and lasted over 5 years.

Burnout was a catalyst in both resignations. I had lost my way and was in despair that things could ever get better.

I figured I would rather have people ask me why I was leaving ministry than when.

Why is this happening?

A variety of reasons are consistently cited for this dropout trend:
• health problems related to poor self-care
• feeling disconnected from healthy relationships
• difficulty in managing conflict
• low pay
• lack of proper training
• and, mean sheep.

I propose that there is another factor that deserves more attention – exhaustion from having to maintain worn-out and broken church organizational functions.

This can consume so much time and energy there is little left for ministry that is effective and fulfilling.

You are not finished yet

I pray for the pastors who have recently given up or right now are thinking about doing so. You have reached a point of desperation. Your hopes and dreams for making a difference in the lives of people have crashed.

You feel your efforts are a waste of time. There is no fulfillment in what you are doing.

Your days and decisions are driven by the expectations of others who seem more concerned that you perpetuate the outdated machinery than actually impact lives for Christ.

For you, the transformation of your community or even a few individuals seems too lofty a goal to entertain. Your vision is dead.

My prayer is that you would realize that your despair is a healthy sign of dissatisfaction with something God is eager to change. Your realization that something is fundamentally wrong is a tiny green sprout that promises new life is possible.

I have a dream

I dream of leading an online community that provides encouragement and tools for church leaders who need help with the organizational side of church. We can all give something and we can all receive something. Friend, please don’t quit. You are needed!

Question: Do you or someone you know need to be part of this?

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Why Are People Leaving the Church?

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I just finished reading Dee Yoder’s novel The Miting. It’s a gripping story about a young woman’s struggle to leave her Old Order Amish family, faith, and community. And the shunning she endured.

Some Amish leave for the comforts and conveniences of the modern life. Others are fleeing the burden of a life dominated by rules. Rules they don’t always understand but are not allowed to question.

They seek freedom to think for themselves. To pursue personal fulfillment. To escape cookie-cutter conformity.

It got me to thinking about why people are leaving many of our churches. Let’s face it; there are a lot of empty seats in a lot of churches.

A look in the mirror

For me, the story was not just about the Amish. It’s about our human tendency to create and impose order in our lives. To gain control and to preserve what we like.

This hit home for me personally because I’m pretty compliant by nature. Following rules is generally easy for me. However, over time I fell victim to a negative outcome of easily adapting to a rules-driven life.

I developed a tendency to withhold grace in order to get others to follow the rules I follow. This is my biggest regret in life and in my ministry.

What was intended to encourage good behavior resulted in self-righteousness and ultimately a loss of joy.

Why do they stay?

It’s much easier for people to leave our churches than it is for the Amish to leave their community. So, what motivates people to stay when they find church less than satisfying?

People stay for security (we find comfort in the familiar). They stay because they want to do what is right. Many stay for the relationships with people they love.

Why do they leave?

While people leave for a multitude of reasons, some reasons are a red flag that change is needed.

Something is wrong when people leave church because:
• They feel condemnation when they desperately need grace.
• They crave freedom to think for themselves. They are tired of constantly being told what they must do to be worthy of acceptance.
• They are starved for joy.
• The burden of rules and conformity is too heavy to carry any longer.

For another perspective see Ron Edmondson’s article, 7 Disappointing Reasons People Leave the Church. ‪http://bit.ly/1xc0JRf‬

Question: How can we encourage righteousness without becoming dominated by rules?

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The objective of strategic foresight is to enable leaders to shift their mental model from seeing the future as more of the same to developing awareness of their external environment and alertness to trends and emerging issues.

In his book Futurecast, George Barna quipped “There are three types of people when it comes to the future: those who will watch what happens, those who will make it happen, and those who will wonder what happened. Which will you be?”

Good question.

I’m convinced that foresight is a necessary element in designing churches and ministries that are effectively serving their communities.

Consider these four benefits of foresight:

1. Avoid potholes
The Bible says, “A prudent person foresees the danger ahead and takes precautions; the simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.” (Proverbs 22:3) It is the responsibility of church leaders to look forward and anticipate changes that could bend our ministry wheels and leave us sitting stranded alongside the road.

2. Seize opportunities
The church should not revert to survival mode. This is a day to thrive. I would love to see community leaders coming to church leaders asking, “how do you know what to do; how do you manage to excel when so many others are struggling?” There are always great opportunities in the midst of perplexing circumstances for those with foresight.

3. Make better decisions in the present
The intention of foresight is not to be futuristic or to impress others with outlandish new-fangled ideas. It’s more about the here and now. We want to be wise like the 200 leaders of the tribe of Issachar who “understood the temper of the times and knew the best course…to take” (1 Chronicles 12:32).

4. Shape the future
We don’t have to watch the future happen and wonder what’s going on. Forward thinking leaders can create a vision that will influence what the future will look like in their context.

Question: Do you think churches are affected by changes in the world around them?

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If I Were Running for Office

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With elections just around the corner and political ads taking over the airwaves, I had a crazy thought. What if a candidate used organization innovation as a platform?

The Florida governor’s race is the most negative campaign I have ever seen. Unbelievable mudslinging! On both sides! Completely unproductive.

I have no intention of ever running for a political office BUT, if I did…I would talk about creating a new model of government based on sound historic core values AND revamping outdated organizational practices that hinder effective service to constituents.

My message

Rather than criticize my opponents I would put my efforts into articulating my view of the driving mission behind government. Something like “of the people, by the people, for the people”. And explain what that should look like in today’s world.

I would carefully craft my vision for government functioning as a highly effective and efficient servant of the community.

I would focus heavily on a handful of core values – historically validated values – that I own personally. These are the things that will not change.

Then, I would outline my strategy for accomplishing these things.

These items (mission, vision, core values, and strategy) are the core of a good organization. They are foundational. And to have meaning, everything else must be in alignment with them.

Once the core is established, organization innovation can be applied to the structures and systems that make the organization work.

When was the last time you heard a political candidate mention any of these things?

An organizational solution

I am convinced that fixing the organization can solve and pre-empt a lot of problems.

Like many church leaders, some government leaders have no knowledge of what makes an organization healthy and effective.

That makes my point. While organization is not the whole or the essence of church, it is an important factor that can assist or obstruct us in serving those Jesus sent us to serve.

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