Archives For dmingml

Is you church having services on Christmas Day? What do you think about that?

Albert O. Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty is an excellent book. Hirschman looks at decline in organizations and how members/customers react to decline. He merges theories from two fields, economics and politics, to explain the decisions that members/customers make regarding whether to stay or go.

It has long been thought that exit is the best barometer of the quality of a product. If the quality of a given product by a particular company declines too much, customers will stop purchasing it and move on to a competitor. Seems pretty straight forward, but as Hirschman points out, it is much more complicated than that. Customers don’t act in one unified way. Some have a greater tolerance for decline in quality than others. That is often linked to their mobility in the market, the availablity of alternatives, and the cost (perceived or real) of making a change. These factors combine to present a strata of customers, unequally distributed, that will react to decline in very different ways.  Continue Reading…


On December 3, I hosted a live chat to discuss whether or not brewing beer and spirituality had anything in common. Though I’d hoped for a large group of people, there ended up being only three of us who could make the chat. What we lacked in numbers, we made up for in depth of conversation, though. Using monastic brewing communities as a jumping off point, we talked about how brewing beer and the Christian spiritual journey have some common experiences. It was a rich conversation. Thanks to Russ and Brendan for sharing their time and insight with me. They also agreed to allow the transcript to be posted publicly. I’ve put it below. Perhaps we’ll do this again in the future… and you can join us!

Beer and Spirituality Chat.pdf
Download this file

For the past couple of years, the holidays have sent me into an uncomfortable examination of consumerism. My consumerism. Your consumerism. Our consumerism. This over-attention to “stuff-ness” starts with a bang on Black Friday and then backbuilds through Advent before exploding all over itself on Christmas morning. 

Each year brings some new stomach-turning twist. The advertisements are darker and darker–like the department store commercial that turns misfit shopping behavior into a cutesy musical number,

or the electronic goods chain who is running a series of “game on Santa” spots

and the behavior of the consumer follows suit. People pepper-spray their way through crowds of shoppers to get the best deal. They mob one another for discount waffle irons. 

A.J. Swoboda, in a message he gave at Theophilus Church on Sunday, Nov. 27, observed that “Black Friday has become our culture’s new Good Friday.” That’s a problem. And it is infecting our churches. Consumerism is alive and well in our faith communities and more often than not it, not the gospel, is in the driver’s seat.

In an email last weekend, prompted by my post on Jim Collins’ Good to Great, my father remarked, 

Church members want a pastor with charisma who energizes them rather than a pastor who teaches the word so the Holy Spirit can change their life. They want music with melodies pleasing to them rather than words which praise God. They see themselves as stockholders and the deacons as the board of directors which means everyone is accountable to the member and the church’s role to bring them an ROI – a return on THEIR investment.

I think he’s right on. We are good consumers and we expect our churches to provide a steady diet of things for our consumption. Tim Suttle wrote a wonderful piece for the Huffington Post in which he describes the “one-two punch” of consumerism as sentimentality and pragmatism. More and more, churches are looking to feel-good Sundays and corporate growth strategies to increase their bottom line–which is usually butts in the seats and dollars in the plates. And that makes me sad. 

But I am still hopeful. One of the reverberations from the market crash 2007-2008 is a growing distrust for large, faceless corporate organizations. In October 2011, around 650,000 people abandoned big banks for smaller, local credit unions. The Occupy Wall Street movement is one example of people expressing their feelings about large corporations. The rise of Etsy and the recent invention of “Small Business Saturday” are others. It is hard to know, and be known by, an organization. I think that people are moving progressively toward valuing that which is small and simple, over large and complex. 

That will necessarily impact how we “do” church. I think that the bell is tolling for megachurches. They’re not too big to fail, and many will. But what will step in to gather together those displaced by the collapse of these huge faith “communities?” Smaller churches, sure, but it won’t be enough to just be smaller.

Instead, we still have to deal with the way that consumerism shapes our desires and expectations. The gospel isn’t a product, the pastor isn’t a CEO, the elders are not a Board of Directors, and the congregants are not the customers. Christ is the head of the church. The gospel is his mission. We are his workforce.

For leaders, this means a radical shift in how we view ourselves and our roles within the church. Gilbert Fairholm’s Perspectives on Leadership, a seminal and important work on the difference between leadership and management, is helpful here. He takes the reader through past paradigms (which he calls “virtual environments”) of understanding the role and task of leadership–Leadership as Management, Leadership as Excellence, Values Leadership, and Trust Leadership–before offering his proposal: Spritual Leadership. 

Fairholm asserts that we want–we need–leaders who are aware of the spiritual implications of their role and the work in which we are engaged. He discusses problems with applying spiritual leadership in a business context, namely that it can lead to a perception of the leader as lacking professionalism, it interferes with the ambition to succeed, and it forces a leader to deal with her shortcomings. But these obstacles are not nearly so great in a church leadership context.

When it comes to spiritual leadership, church leaders can take the lead, so to speak, on creating models and best practices. Let the businesses and corporations learn from us, for a change! People are still searching for meaning in their lives. More and more they are waking up to the reality that consuming the latest retail goods doesn’t satisfy their appetites. We have an opportunity to offer a wonderful counter to the buy-consume-buy cultural norm. But to do that, we have to imagine faith communities that engage in a counter-rhythm. I think that small, spiritually-led communities are key. What do you think? 

I just finished Jim Collins’ Good to Great and the subsequent monograph Good to Great and the Social Sectors

I’ve been around enough contemporary churches to know that many of their leaders are drunk on business leadership books. Collins is near the top of their list. And though he doesn’t talk much about his religious beliefs, he’s a perennial speaker at Christian leadership conferences like Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit and Northpoint’s Catalyst. This follows a general trend of churches looking to the private sector for models and advice on how to run their organizations.

I’ve written before about my own fascination with leadership texts. Collins does not disappoint. From a leadership standpoint, he has some of the best applied research out there. But just how far does it apply? That’s where a lot of my frustrations begin: the misappropriation of business principles into churches. 

Hear me loud and clear, I’m not saying that such principles can’t be applied in the governance of a church, I question whether or not they should be applied. I’ve no doubt that if a church were to conceive of itself as a bus with a well-reasoned hedgehog at the helm, it would see the kinds of flywheel revolutions Collins describes. Like I said, it’s good stuff.

Eyes to See? I Doubt It…

November 16, 2011 — 3 Comments

Have you ever been reading a novel and you come to a passage that is riveting? It seems like the protagonist is on the verge of connecting the dots, having the breakthrough that the reader had only a few pages before. Your eyes dart over the pages and you turn them with authority, compelling the narrative forward to see if the heroine will have that “A-HA!” moment. I have an experience like that when I read the eighth chapter of Mark’s Gospel. 

The passage opens with Jesus teaching to another large, hungry crowd. Just a couple chapters before, Mark recorded Jesus feeding 5,000 people. In both stories, the people become hungry and Jesus miraculously multiplies loaves of bread and fish, producing enough to feed everyone present, plus some leftovers for the disciples. In the chapter eight instance, the crowd is 4,000 and the number of leftover baskets of food is 7 instead of 12. 

After everyone was full, Jesus got into a boat with his disciples and went to Dalmanutha (scholars aren’t sure exactly where this is, but some guess it is close to Magada or Magdala). The Pharisees there wanted him to perform a sign so they could test to see if he was all he was cracked up to be. I can imagine Jesus rolling his eyes and sighing. I mean, he’d just miraculously fed a huge crowd of people on only a few loaves and a couple fish. Again. He gives them no “sign” and just gets back in the boat. As the reader, we feel like the insiders at this point, like his disciples. We’ve witnessed the miracles that the Pharisees demand to see. We’re feeling pretty good about this Jesus guy. Continue Reading…

Do You See What I See?

November 13, 2011 — 1 Comment

Last week I read William Dyrness’s Visual Faith. I found it to be an engaging and compelling case for recapturing visual forms of art as expressive modes of communal worship. But then, that’s nothing new to me. I only wish I’d had this book at my disposal seven or eight years ago. 

From 2004-2007 I was a campus minister to students at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA. A large part of my work was helping to bridge the gap between the church and the arts. Dyrness unpacks the formation of this gap in the first couple chapters of the book, tracing art and the church from the first few centuries through the middle ages, Reformation, and into the early twenty-first century.  Continue Reading…

I was checking out Fuller Seminary’s “Seminary of the Future” website to see what new content they’d posted and if there had been anymore discussion in the thread I was participating in, when I noticed a familiar face in the sidebar. 

Clad in a red Oxford shirt with his trendy glasses sat Krish Kandiah, brilliant author, blogger, and all around fun Brit. I met Krish in Kenya in September. He joined the GML cohort as we interacted with evangelical leaders in Nairobi. 

I also ran with Krish and we shared some special moments as Kenyan marathoner and Olympic hopeful, Gladys, led us through some post-run stretching. Special moments… 

Anyway, watch this brief video of Krish talking about churches and church planting:

What do you think about the notion that what we need is not more, new churches, but renewal and reformation in the ones that exist? Is the “hard work of changing churches with a consumer mindset” the driving force behind “missional” church planting?

I think he’s partly correct. Sometimes it is just easier to “start from scratch.” We can’t escape the consumer mindset in our broader culture, but perhaps we can shape churches into environments that counter it. And often the amount of energy required to change directions is exponentially greater than the energy required to start something new.

I think of it like a flywheel. Imagine a gasoline powered lawnmower that has a pull-cord. When the engine is dead, you grab that cord and you yank hard, often several times, to get the flywheel turning. Then the engine kicks to life and a relatively small amount of gasoline and spark will keep it turning. 

Now, imagine that you want to take that running engine and reverse the direction that flywheel is spinning. How much energy is it going to take to counteract the momentum? And how much to get it moving in the opposite direction? It’s no wonder that the more attractive route is the one where the engine is not yet running.

When there are visionaries who decide to stay within their church or denominational context to work for renewal and reformation, they often end up squeezed out of roles of influence. It happened to me recently. I was working in a context with which I had some basic ecclesiological disagreements, but which was full of people who genuinely love God. I knew before I arrived in that consumer-minded organization that I was going to have to deal with those friction points.

Ultimately the friction created sparks and I was released from my role, telling me that I wasn’t a “good fit” for the organization. The disagreements were over the role of marketing and consumerism, of excitement and attraction. Now I’m working in a non-church context. Someone just asked me two days ago whether or not I’d ever plant a church. I still don’t know. 

Part of the tension is that I agree with Krish. Church plants are a dime a dozen. More than a few are filled with disillusioned church leaders who were either released (like me) or got fed up and decided to “take their ball and go home.” Both of those places of ressentiment are unhealthy reasons to plant a church. And I’m not convinced that right now I could plant a church without ressentiment. 

But what do you think? When should a church be planted? When should a leader try and stay to work for renewal and reformation?

The past few weeks, my doctoral cohort has been studying the use of visual ethnography as a qualitative research method. This was in preparation for work on a project that utilizes photo elicitation interviews to explore our different ministry contexts. Photo elicitation is, most basically, the use of photographs in conducting a research interview (see Douglas Harper’s “Talking about pictures: a case for photo elicitation” in Visual Studies Journal, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2002). The method falls within the larger field of visual ethnography, which looks at images and symbols as cultural texts and “sites of cultural production,” to use Sara Pink’s language (Doing Visual Ethnography, 1). 

But more specifically, the kind of photo elicitation we were asked to engage in is more appropriately termed photo self-elicitation. Instead of producing or selecting photographs around which to conduct research interviews, we solicited submissions from people within our ministry context and asked them to submit to us photos that represent some aspect of our respective ministry contexts. Now, if you know me or have been following this blog for the past few months, you know that my ministry context has changed dramatically since I began this doctoral program a year ago. I no longer work for the mega-church that previously employed me. I’m now part of the support staff for George Fox Evangelical Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry programs. Yup, the same place where I’m working on my own doctorate.

Continue Reading…

Future of Seminary?

October 7, 2011 — 1 Comment

Today Fuller Theological Seminary launched – a site that is to act as a place of discussion for for the future shape of theological education. It comes on the heels of a “report” they undertook via interviews with different focus groups of people over the course of 2010 (though perhaps calling the results the “Seminary of the Future” is a bit of a stretch. From the looks of the make up of the focus groups, they were largely people directly connected to Fuller. So, “Fuller of the Future” may be more apt).

The first discussion point, “The Ecosystem of Theological Education,” looks at the changes in the institutional, relational, and media systems that are impacting the shape and relevance of theological education. I posted comments directly on the discussion, but they were cut off and my subsequent continuation was rendered above instead of below part 1. So… I thought I’d repost my thoughts here, as they can stand on their own: Continue Reading…