Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Is Your Church A Scoreboard?"

“If we only concentrate on the numbers, we’ll miss what is really happening.” -Organic Community by Joseph R. Myers

This is the fourth in a series by Michael Fleming

Prior Posts in this Series:

Is Your Church an Object?

Is Your Church a Clone?

Is Your Church a Body?

Many of us have been raised on an unhealthy dose of results-oriented, bottom-line measurement. The mechanical order approach to measurement is developing a program with a proposal that has a mission statement, a vision, values, and goals. It explains where we are headed and how to get there. This approach to measurement ushers all the attention to an end point. That end point acts as an invitation to do whatever it takes to reach it. Then, along the journey when the inevitable highs and lows related to the end point takes place, we think too highly of the highs and fall into panic and depression during the lows; both of which affect our decision-making. Decisions are then made out of these emotions rather than the life of the community in the present.

For example, Chris was placed in a position called “pastor of small groups.” His goal was to put everyone into a small group. His measurements for success were: number of active groups, number of people meeting per month, number of new groups birthed, how many leaders attended leader meetings, etc. He even drafted criteria to determine if a group was considered “active” or not. As the journey progressed, there were times where the reports weren’t looking so promising in relation to the plan. So, what did Chris do? He experimented with anything that had the promise of bringing up the numbers. His decisions weren’t based upon the life inside of the community; they were based upon his plan. Then, when he couldn’t steer the community into his master plan, he got fired by his superiors in favor of finding someone that could “take the small group program to the next level.” Of course, by “level” they meant attendance.

Because Chris and those around him used mechanical measurement, his effectiveness was not measured by what happened in the life of the people he was involved with. Rather, it was measured by how many people participated. They measured what they perceived to be important and this held dynamic power over the journey and the results of the life of the community.

This happens all over the place. So, don’t be fooled by numbers, catchy slogans and good intentions. Numbers can measure inanimate objects, but they cannot measure life and relationship. You can put a numerical value on the inanimate materials of a house, but you cannot put a numerical value on the life that was experienced inside of the house. That can only be measured by a story. Stories are what emerge from life, not numbers. How many times have you watched a sporting event where the final score doesn’t really tell the story of the game? It happens all the time. Try looking at the final score of a game you didn’t watch and telling someone the details of what happened in the game. You can't do it.

Story is the universal measurement of life. Numbers can be manipulated to say almost anything. A true story cannot. They measure the journey to explain the end. They measure the life of a community. They show us whether what we are hoping for is taking place.

Myers, Joseph R. "Organic Community"

If this post got you to thinking, please leave a comment and join the conversation

Monday, April 27, 2009

"Is Your Church A Body?"

Is Your Church a Body?

Continuing in the series by Michael Fleming

“Many church leaders have spent too much time on the art of getting people to participate and too little time trying to understand how people participate.” -Organic Community by Joseph R. Myers

Prior posts in this series:

Is Your Church an Object?

Is Your Church a Clone?

Churches that fall into the trap of manufacturing their environment engineer positions to be filled and then look to fill them. Those that have the gifts and abilities to fill the spots do and those that don’t . . . don’t fit in. This may be one reason why most churches are at about 20% participation and 80% consumption on average. In the mechanical model of church, the church leaders spend their time trying to get people to participate in the positions they’ve manufactured rather than creating an environment where they observe how people position themselves in participation. The way in which people participate is another example of the dichotomy between the church that is an object and the church that is a living organism.

When a mechanical plan is engineered, leaders then ask people to participate in the way that will serve the plan. The people are turned into commodities to accomplish a goal. In this environment, the health of the organization is put above the health of the individual. People are seen for what they can do for the master plan rather than for who they are. But, the church environment should be one where the individual feels free and is responsible to act uniquely as themselves for the good of the group as a whole. Organic order holds that what comes out of the group is what the individuals collectively bring to it. (I Corinthians 12:7, 18; Ephesians 4:15-16)

With this may come a feeling of being “out of control,” but this is exactly the environment you are supposed to be in as a Christian. It’s an environment where man gives up control and lets the life of God and the Head take it. “FROM HIM, the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph. 4:16) No man can be the Head; he is only a part of the Body that is controlled by the Head. Would God place a man to be the head of a church? Why would Jesus need someone to do His job? As soon as man takes control, he places himself in the position of the Head. This is what mechanical plans do. This doesn’t mean that we should fall into extreme thinking and suggest that there should be no leadership or control. But, it’s a matter of the Person (Jesus) doing the controlling.

Leaders can put their faith in mechanical plans because they have greater faith in mechanical plans than they do in Jesus Christ working in and through people. Plans are more predictable and easier to control. An environment where the life of God is animating the movements of the Church under the direction of the Head, Jesus Christ, is where healthy participation naturally emerges.

Myers, Joseph P. "Organic Community"

Friday, April 17, 2009

"Is Your Church A Clone?"

Here is the second installment of Michael Fleming's series

"We see or experience a pattern that "works," and then we assume that if we repeat the pattern exactly, we can manufacture the same result. This works almost well enough often enough to convince us that it could work all the time." - Organic Community by Joseph R. Myers

We're taking a look at nine organizational tools will help you discover whether you are a part of a mechanical order approach or an organic order approach. Then, hopefully you will start to shift to an organic order approach to create environments where people naturally connect and become an organic community.

Prior posts in this series:

Is Your Church an Object?

The first organizational tool is patterns. They can be prescriptive or descriptive. Prescriptive patterns are “prescribed.” They are specific, rigid and regular. Prescriptive patterns are good and necessary when used within the confines of the mechanical order of inanimate objects and systems, like traffic patterns and assembly lines. But, when dealing with life systems, prescriptive patterns are deadly. Forcing connections between people is awkward and uncomfortable.

Organic order is strengthened by descriptive patterns. Descriptive patterns describe reality. They don’t force it. A good parent will observe the patterns and behaviors of each child separately and relate to them based upon the uniqueness of each individual. But, we frequently reverse the process and force prescriptive patterns of living onto them.

We get into trouble when we take a descriptive pattern that worked and turn it into a prescriptive pattern. We treat the second child the same way we treated the first child because we think that since it worked the first time, it will work the second. Then children (or members, participants, etc.) start to feel like they are nameless soldiers marching in lockstep, turning right or left at the command of the officer.

Every person’s face follows a similar pattern, but none are exactly the same. Descriptive (organic) patterns do not produce clones. But, we see this happen all the time with churches. This is where movements (megachurch, seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven, house church) come from. People see “results” somewhere and they think it will work somewhere else. Well, this is true for mechanical systems, but not for life (organic) systems.

Churches will install programs in their prescriptive (mechanical) attempt to make the Christian life happen. They come up with a mechanical plan of what it will take to grow as an organization and for people to grow spiritually intimate with God and others. Then, with good intentions, they attempt to force that plan to happen. Then, if it doesn’t happen, it’s marked as a failure. There is a powerful word that is used to describe the forcing of an intimate connection. That word is rape. Now does it make sense why so many people are angry, bitter and rejecting our churches?

Myers, Joseph R. "Organic Community"

To read, and follow, Michael Fleming's blog, go to:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"Is Your Church An Object?"

This blog post, by Michael Fleming, was so good I asked him if I could post it here on this site too. Am so thankful that he said yes -- it is worth the read. If you would like to follow his continuing discussion on this and other topics, you will find him at:

"'People seem to be longing for a more organic approach to life -- even church life.'" -Organic Community by Joseph R. Myers

"Many churches have become objects by having the life manufactured right out of them. This happens when mechanical infrastructures are built with the intent to help it stay alive. This kind of manufacturing intends to control the future with a mechanical plan. It's an attempt to create a controlled-system environment. There is a part of humans that tends to like this because it makes the future seem safe and secure. But they are often disappointed because mechanical plans require that things be done today based upon predictions of what will happen in the future.

"The problem is . . . we can’t predict the future. Mechanical plans are appropriate when it comes to manufacturing inanimate objects, which is what many churches have become. But developing something with life, such as community, requires the flexibility of organic order.

"For example, a megachurch lays out a master plan for the next ten years of growth and prosperity which inspires them to pay $20 million for a new building in the present. They acted in the present upon a mechanical plan that contains assumptions for the future; namely that their attendance will grow and those that attend will not only have the money, but voluntarily give it for the maintenance of the building and the paying off of its debt. If anything comes along to threaten their mechanical plan, they will act in a way as to protect and preserve that plan. They have a manufactured environment.

"Eliminating the manufactured environment is not a call for chaos. There still must be order, but that which contains life must be contained within organic order or it will die. There is a difference between being organic and organic order. It is the difference between an infant’s response to her body’s need to release waste and her father’s need to do the same. If her father were to respond to this need in a strictly organic way, he too would need diapers. Thankfully he has developed an order for an organic process.

"In the coming days, we'll be looking through the book Organic Community by Joseph R. Myers at nine organizational tools will help you discover whether you are a part of a mechanical order approach or an organic order approach. Then, hopefully you will start to shift to an organic order approach to create environments where people naturally connect and become an organic community. "

Monday, April 13, 2009

How Godly Is Teasing / Mocking?

(1) Aim Establishes a pecking order
Target Anyone who is different than the teaser
Result The teaser feels superior, the target feels inferior

(2) Aim To bond the group
Target Anyone who is different than the group
Result The group feels closer to each other, teasing / mocking becomes increasingly satisfying the larger the group is who sides with the teaser, the target feels excluded from the group

(3) Aim To belittle the target
Target Anyone
Result The teaser enjoys belittling, the target feels belittled [including humiliation, rejection, shame]

(4) Aim To appear superior, “fun,” humorous
Target Anyone
Result The teaser laughs, the group laughs, the target may laugh out of humility, may pretend to laugh out of a desire to protect self, or will exhibit emotions that reveal feelings of humiliation, etc.

(5) Aim To establish a sense of belonging
Target Anyone who is different than the group
Result The teaser establishes the boundaries for belonging to the group, members of the group determine to do what it takes to remain within the boundaries, the target is clearly excluded

(6) Aim To give vent to feelings of hostility
Target Any person towards whom the teaser has feelings of hostility [anger, fear, disgust, jealousy, superiority]
Result The teaser can hurt the target without taking responsibility for it, the target is hurt twice: first by the cut, second by being accused of having no sense of humor, by being too sensitive, by being exhorted to “grow up” and so on

If teasing is really fun and really loving, then there would be equal anticipation to be teased as well as to tease. But from my vantage, it appears that people who are in a teasing environment tend to try as hard as they can to conform to whatever the group is like so they won’t be exposed, and therefore teased or mocked. Better to be invisible than a target. When, in this kind of a teasing or mocking environment, do you hear someone say “Oh do me next, do me next!”?

The only time teasing can be of good is when the underlying foundation is built on love, and all are secure in the knowledge of loving and being loved by all the others.

Romans 15:1-5
The Example of Christ
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written,"The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me." For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Some Thoughts On Free will, Calvinism and Arminianism

Think about the concepts of God’s foreknowledge, His election and predestination. These concepts seem to be on the opposite side of the concept of free will, so how do we define each of these concepts, including the phrase “free will”? The Bible doesn’t offer a definition of what the phrase “free will” means and in fact says that even your faith and mine is a gift from God; not originating, in other words, in ourselves. Romans 8:28 makes it clear that our love for God is bonded to His calling, “...Those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”

This brings us to a series of experiments that in recent years have gotten physicists, neuro-scientists and computer scientists talking about what free will is, whether we have it, and if not, why we ever thought we did in the first place. These researchers now think that free will is more of a perception, or an experience than it is a driving force. In other words, “A person can choose to do what she wants, but she can’t make herself want something.”

The traditional definition of free will says people are absolutely free, and our actions are not predetermined. Anything is possible. Whatever choice you make is unforced.

Remember that scientists examine, measure and define what they can actually observe. When a scientist is presented with an active and aware brain, he or she will define it as a conscious mind. If the brain is active, but not aware of its activity, that’s called the unconscious. You and I know there is a third influence from the spiritual realm which scientists would have a hard time examining, and that is God Himself. Keeping that in mind,

The following is condensed from an article that came out recently in the news entitled “Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t” (Dennis Overbye, New York Times)
After lots of research, scientists are now saying that free will is more limited than the traditional way of looking at it. Our unconscious brain decides something, and our conscious brain only has the power to agree with or veto that decision once it is aware that a decision has been made. Put another way, we become aware of feelings, desires, even decisions about things that have come from some part of ourselves that we are not consciously aware of, and then we either continue with what has already begun, or we stop.

People have the ability to look ahead and plan. As one scientist said, “That’s what gives us moral responsibility.”

People do have the ability to choose. Even if our choices are predetermined, you and I have to live our lives to find out what those choices will be.

Some people are afraid that this limited version of free will would mean that “people are no more responsible for their actions than asteroids or planets.” That’s an argument Paul’s listener’s brought up with him in Chapter 9.

But these scientists have concluded that even though it is now observably true that we are limited in our use of free choice, the little free choice we have is of great potential worth.

Now here's what the Arminian points have to say, that those who followed Calvin's theaching refuted:

400 AD Pelagius / Arminius / Wesley, 1700's
the fall of man was not total, there was enough good left in man for him to will to accept Jesus Christ unto salvation.

election was based on the foreknowledge of God as to who would believe. Man's "act of faith" was seen as the "condition" of his being elected to eternal life, since God foresaw him exercising his "free will" in response to Jesus Christ.

redemption is based on the fact that God loves everybody, that Christ died for everyone, and that the Father is not willing that any should perish. The death of Christ provided the grounds for God to save all men, but each must exercise his own "free will" in order to be saved.

since God wanted all men to be saved, He sent the Holy Spirit to "woo" all men to Christ, but since man has absolute "free will," he is able to resist God's will for his life. God's will to save all men can be frustrated by the finite will of man. Man exercises his own will first, and then is born again.

If man cannot be saved by God unless it is man's will to be saved, then man cannot continue in salvation unless he continues to will to be saved.

And here's what the Calvinists had to say:

400 AD Augustine / Calvin, Council of Dort, 1610
Man is in absolute bondage to sin and Satan, unable to exercise his own will to trust in Jesus Christ without the help of God.

God’s foreknowledge is based on the plan and purpose of God, election is not based on the decision of man, but the "free will" of the Creator alone.

Jesus Christ died to save those who were given to Him by the Father in eternity past. All for whom Jesus died (the elect) will be saved, and all for whom He did not die (the non elect) will be lost.

God’s grace that cannot be obstructed. The elect are regenerated (made spiritually alive) by God before expressing faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. If a totally depraved person wasn't made alive by the Holy Spirit, such a calling on God would be impossible.

Salvation is entirely the work of God, man has absolutely nothing to do with the process. The saints will persevere because God will see to it that He will finish the work He has begun.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Women Teaching

Reputable scholarship promotes a variety of views from the absolute silence of women in every way to the equal standing of men and women in this issue. This is not unique; there are several “doctrines that divide,” hence the wide variety of denominations today.

Even in the 1st Timothy passage, the Lord is not barring men from listening to women teach, nor is the Lord requiring men to subordinate women any more than was Paul’s exhortation to slaves to submit to their masters a mandate for men to own slaves. Paul is outlining the Lord’s overall pattern of leadership

The practice of ordination itself is a big part of the "problem" surrounding the ordination of women, and the disagreements about who women can teach. In the structure of institutional church, ordination is necessary, and in the heirarchy of institutional church, ordination of women is too different to be supportable.

In scripture there is movement in some instructions, and there is stasis in others.

There is movement in the instructions concerning slavery, for example. God deals with slavery throughout the Bible. In the New Testament, slaves are asked to willingly submit to their masters, as is the law of the land. But Paul's letter to Philemon, it is abundantly clear that slaves and masters are brothers and equals, and masters really do better to to recognize this fact and welcome their spiritual brothers as brothers in every sense -- in other words, end slavery....

In an example of static command, there is no movement in Biblical instruction concerning adultery. Adultery was, is, and ever shall be totally unacceptable to God.

There is movement in Biblical instruction concerning male / female relationships. But just as liberty to slaves had to come willinngly from the masters, so liberty for women had to come willingly from men -- and this is, indeed, what we see today. Many men have been moved to give women more liberty.

But it can only be this way. In an assembly of men and women where the men do not see the women as free to teach, then they really are not free, and I believe it would be sin for the women to insist they did have this "right."

In an assembly where the men are interested in hearing what the women have to say, and invite them to speak, then it is good for the women to speak.... Read More

And, in fact, this is how it was in the Bible. There are several occasions where men invite women to teach them, and the women do teach, and it is good. Think of young anointed David, on the lam, being instructed on spiritual matters by Abigail. We all know about Priscilla and Aquila. There are more...

The power of the Bible is not to give us a rule book to live by, but to change one’s whole view of reality with the beauty, love, wisdom and perfection of God. In that process of being conformed to the image of Christ, we will love and live God’s law more and more.

When the Bible becomes a rule book in which the “rules” become a point of division, it is time to fall back on the scriptures below.

Romans 14
1Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

9For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. 11It is written: " 'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.' " 12So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. 14As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. 15If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. 16Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. 17For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.

19Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

22So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Philippians 3:15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Acts 15:39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus,

In other words, God calls us to continue to worship and serve with each other, pray for each other, to teach each other and in matters where disagreement is evident, to keep the peace in as far as it is up to us. If peace cannot be kept, if the disagreement is that sharp, then parting ways is a peaceable method to further the kingdom instead of dividing it, each as the Lord leads, into separate areas.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Agape: Is Love An Action Word....Or What?

The Bible makes it clear that Love is more than a choice. Real love comes from the heart, and is an emotional experience as well as an action and an intellectual understanding and a position of the will.

1 Timothy 1:5
The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

1 Peter 1:22
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.

Now it is true of people, we are very impressionable. If we act happy we are going to eventually feel happy. If we say thank you as often as we can, we are going to become more thankful people. If we fall into the habit of complaining, we are going to find ever more things to complain about, and if we indulge in crabbiness, we will become ever more irritable. It just is what it is. Everything we do has to be intentional.

But this is not the whole story.

What I'm saying is that the bar set for us is very high. Not only must we choose to do what is loving, the source of that choice is to flow frm the emotion of love as well.

If you really do have the Spirit of Christ living within you, then you have all the right feelings and right thinking already within you. You have the Mind of Christ. However, there is this struggle with the old nature, which constantly wrestles for control.

So you, for example, state with confidence: I have the Spirit of Christ, I have the Mind of Christ. I know that Christ loves this person. I will act lovingly towards this person, while praying that the Lord will release from deep within my heart (in which He dwells) the genuine flood of love He has for this person. I will pray that He will help me to own that love, so that the love will flow from Jesus and me. In the meantime, I will not continue to sin against this person by treating them in an unloving way, and I will not continue to grieve the Lord by sinning and treating someone He loves in an unloving manner.

How would it be, then, if God's agape towards you was one merely of choice, but not of genuine heart love? He really doesn't like you that much, but since being loving towards you is "the right thing to do," He does it? Exactly. Now you see my point.