Mind The Gap

I’ve heard from several of you that I’m causing guilt in your life. “Your posts keep building up in my inbox and I want to read them, but I keep putting them off and then I feel guilty” is one comment I’ve received. Not that I’m totally above using guilt, but hopefully I have relieved some of this by taking a break from posting last week.

Everyone caught up? Good. Let’s get to this week’s idea; which I think you will find very helpful.

When you hear the word “gap,” what comes to mind? A clothing store? The space between the tube and the platform in London’s Underground subway system?

A gap can be a break, opening, empty space, interval, wide divergence, difference, disparity, among many other definitions; however, I was recently introduced to another concept of the gap—the gap between what is now and what can be. Taste is the cause of this gap. Vision is another concept that works alongside taste; the two of which go hand in hand.

This idea came to me through a video I received from one of our children’s worship directors here at Matthews UMC. She mentioned it in a hallway conversation and I was very interested so I asked her to send me the link. When I sat down to view the short clip and read the attached article, immediately I became incredibly grateful to hear someone explain this phenomenon in these terms. The video and a link to the article are below.

Honestly, I wish I could produce a high-quality photograph (with appropriate hipster filter applied, of course) of what I picture in my mind when it comes to the environments of 801South—worship experiences, small groups, serving opportunities. There are similar ministries out there to which we have directed people through websites, publications, and even site visits as we continue to develop this new ministry. Ultimately, it will continue to change shape and form as we move forward with more people coming onboard who add their own taste.

As opposed to the artistic mediums of paint or music, which are sometimes derived from an individual, the art of fashioning new environments for the church often include a team. Fortunately, I continue to be impressed by our 801South team. These servants are working hard to give us the best start possible; however, no matter how much time and effort our team applies to the launch, ultimately there will be a gap between my vision for these 801South environments and what actually materializes. I’m ok with this. I have to be. Knowing the gap is inevitable helps me understand that we have not failed just because the initial experience does not perfectly match the original picture. The full potential of 801South will not be realized at its inception.

I found this concept of the gap between taste/vision and the tangible work very encouraging as we near the launch. No matter what 801South looks like at launch, I still know my tastes are “killer” and our greatest impact is yet to be realized.

via PetaPixel

The Branding of a Beginning (801South Logo and Video)

How will people know about it???

This is one of the most asked questions I hear when telling groups of people about the 801South venue launching later this spring. My immediate answer is, “Well, you, mainly.” We want to see relationships drive through 801South so naturally, a face-to-face invitation extended to those who are currently disconnected is the best marketing we can encourage.

There are also some other plans in the works for getting the word out in the community—that there is a new space for new people—that fall under the category of “marketing.” But how exactly do we package that which we hope to market?

I recently read a response to an article written in the New Yorker Magazine about the concept of brands and branding. The blog was written by Brody Bond, who co-leads a brand development agency in Baltimore, MD. If you are at all interested in the concept of marketing, I highly recommend you read both the original article and Brody’s response. What I loved most from the response is how he defines the term brand. Brody writes, “A brand is a promise of an experience.” What a great and thought-provoking definition! For us, it begs the question, “What kind of experience do we hope people encounter from the time they enter the parking lot to the moment they drive away…and beyond?” This starts us down the path of preparation to best provide this pre-determined experience.

We recently rolled out some helpful relational tools for our launch team to use when explaining, as well as inviting others into, 801South. The first is a short video; which explains some of 801South’s genesis.

The second tool is a small, simple invite card; which features the logo (a small part of branding) and a picture of people in relationship on the other side. This is not the final product that the launch team will receive at our next event on Tuesday, March 4th, but it is a prototype.

801SOUTH_COLOR_GRADIENT

Invitation Card Final.Large

These relational tools aside, what is it that we want people to experience? This question guides so much of what we form as a worship experience for adults and for children. The worst thing we can do is to brand 801South with a promise that in no way matches a person’s actual experience. For example, if we promise that our band sounds exactly like Coldplay, but they actually sounds more like that band you started with your buddies back in middle school (mine was named Tempest) then we have lied about our brand.  Or if we promise that all people will be warmly welcomed and that our hospitality team will serve them from their very first time on campus, but no one even speaks to them (or even worse-ignores a clear need), then our brand is not particularly valuable. And further marketing within the community only exacerbates the problem when the experience does not match the promise.

I know that God is at work here. I have incredible confidence in this vision. The people behind 801South will play a role in shaping lives for years to come. I can’t wait to see how lives are changed and futures are transformed through Jesus. Yes, we have a logo—I love it and we’re super excited about it. Yes, we have some promotional material. Yes, we have a plan for marketing the worship experience to the community. Yes, we have someone developing a website. But if there is a gap between our promise and the experience, then our brand will miss the mark. This is why the heart of the 801South servant is critical. The leaders are providing training, but without the servant’s heart striving for excellence in his or her ministry, the brand ultimately suffers. Those who serve through 801South have an opportunity to be a part of changing someones story forever. Yeah, it’s a big deal.

So maybe the question is not “How will they know about it?” But instead, “What will they tell of their experience?”

And in full disclosure, Brody Bond played lead guitar in Tempest.

Arriving At Simple

It seems like everywhere I go these days I hear about simplicity. The concept of simplicity is a buzzword, especially in the worlds of marketing and design. I see it in commercials for car dealers and read about it in articles written by branding professionals (marketing, not cattle). There are even whole books dedicated to the concept.

Simplicity is also one of the five key values that we use to filter decisions for 801South, but what does it mean? (The other four are Relationships, Reproducing, Unchurched, and Fun.)

There are several definitions and perspectives of simplicity, but perhaps the best definition for our context is the freedom from complexity, intricacy, or division into parts; which I pulled from dictionary.com. Notice how simplicity is not the opposite of complexity. I’ve heard it explained that simplicity is the other side of complexity. Simplicity is a destination at which you arrive only after driving through much complexity. And the drive is hard work.

The natural trend in any organization (and life itself) is toward complexity, because it is so much easier to add than replace. For example, in the context of the local church, when someone wants to add a policy, ministry, or staff person, we typically say, “Great, let’s do it!” But often times we don’t spend adequate time considering all the implications this addition brings to the overall organization. So how do we avoid and fight complexity?

What about life in general? How many of you would say that life is simpler than it was five years ago? Ten years? If so, I would guess that you put in the hard work driving through complexity and were intentional to arrive at a simpler life. But for the rest of us, life is most definitely more complicated, because we’ve added (children, responsibilities, bills, expectations, land, etc.) without much thought toward giving anything up to accommodate what is added. We want it all and we want to do it all. And many of us can…for a while.

There are lots of layers to peel back when it comes to simplicity, but one of those layers is mission. If we take an example from the early church, we see a great illustration of the hard work required to arrive at simple. In Acts 15, the decision makers convene to discuss an issue facing the church. There were some who wanted to add a requirement to those joining The Way (technically they want to remove something–painfully). Finally James stands up for the mission. After much discussion, he says, “I conclude that we shouldn’t create problems for Gentiles (non-Jews) who turn to God.” He then suggests a short list of essentials: avoiding what has been sacrificed to/associated with idols, avoiding sexual immorality, avoiding eating meat from animals that have been strangled, and avoid consuming blood. (Personally, I’ve got the last couple mastered. I’ve been very successful in NOT drinking animal blood.) Peter and James both used the mission of the church to navigate toward simplicity while working through the complexity.

The simplicity of 801South–worship, community (small groups), and service–is part of its beauty. We strive not to have competing systems or ministries. The 801South Coaches are meeting regularly to take the drive through complexity together. (Off-roading is always more fun with a vehicle full of friends anyway.) Our goal is to arrive at simple and always fight to stay there.

How much time do you spend thinking about how to drive through the complexity to arrive at a simpler business, home, life?

2014 Trends (801South Small Groups and Training)

Have you heard all the latest design trends for the new year? According to iStock photo  (which is where I was hunting a cool image to use for this post) some of the big trends this year are beards, multi-racial models and “lens flare;” which used to be seen as a photographic blemish but is apparently now an expression of authenticity.

People in our culture today seem to have a fascination and genuine hunger for real (and facial hair). People no longer want to be force-fed the picture perfect ideal. Instead, people want to see the blemishes. Perhaps because blemishes are inevitable. Therefore, I’m really doubling up this year, because my beard is far from perfect and I don’t spend much time trying to make it look like it is. (Actually, I started growing it assuming I’d be asked to replace Phil Robertson, but then A&E decided to kiss and make up.) I’m not sure, however, that I can take advantage of the whole “multi-racial model” trend. Any suggestions?

The other big trends soon to catch on (which oddly were not on the iStock list) are 801South small groups and ministry training! The 801South ministry coaches are meeting regularly to plan for the next Launch Team event on the evening of January 23rd. Go ahead and add the date to your calendars–more details will be announced soon. At this event, we will focus on the next steps for our Launch Team as we move closer to the launch of our 801South worship experience in April.

Some of the next steps include equipping those on the Launch Team for serving in our areas of ministry: Hospitality, Band, Tech, Set-up, Creatives, Children, and Small Groups.

Along with the ministry training, participation in the intentional community of small groups is a key component and an expectation for all Launch Team peeps. Here is a sneak peek of the small group offerings prior to the April launch:

Screen Shot 2014-01-10 at 1.33.51 PM

We will be tweaking the details of these groups and adding more groups next week. The final list will be available at 801South.org. There will also be a form through which you can choose a group (if you have not already spoken to one of our trained small group leaders).

We are also putting together some relational marketing tools for our Launch Team and other Matthews UMC church peeps to use while inviting others to come alongside for this 801South journey. We are especially excited about a very short promo video; which will launch at our next event on January 23rd.

So what trends do you notice for 2014?

Are you reordering your priorities in 2014 to make space for intensely focusing on launching 801South this year?

If not you, do you know of someone who might be interested in participating?

Making Babies Breeds Change

Merry Christmas, everyone! As you celebrate this holiday with people you love, take a minute to consider this question: Do my traditions look the same every year?

Do I always go to the same relative’s home? Is there a routine that we follow year in and year out?

As I sit in expectation of the Holy Spirit’s work at tonight’s Christmas Eve worship experiences, I also think about how different my holiday season is today than when I was younger. For almost 25 years, my Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years celebrations were basically identical. And I loved it.

So why is it different now than for so many years in the past? Every year, I waited in great anticipation of the familiar routines that my stable family afforded us as children. Our plans allowed space to spend time with essentially every relative every year. It was awesome. But then something happened:

Babies started having babies.

My cousins and I reproduced—literally. We started convincing unsuspecting victims to spend the rest of their lives hitched to our clan and then we mated with them. Naturally, things got complicated. Grandmothers and grandfathers became great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers. Mothers and fathers became grandmothers and grandfathers. Sons and daughters became fathers and mothers. Brothers and sisters became uncles and aunts. With all of these people moving into new roles, the previous schedules and travel plans no longer met the needs of everyone involved. So we changed them to accommodate the new family.

Reproduction is a major value and driver in 801South. Some think we should change the term to “multiplication,” because people will think we value making actual babies. Personally, I think baby making is a lot of fun (fun also happens to be one of the key values). But we really want to make spiritual babies. Our apprenticeship model in every aspect of the ministry is an intentional pattern to provide a deep one-on-one discipling relationship through which people will learn to follow Jesus in new ways. They will also be developed as leaders.

When these new spiritual babies grows up, they will then be a part of leading the spiritual baby making process. With all of these spiritual children running around and people moving into new roles, our systems will be in constant flux, because we will always be reproducing. The result will be a culture of change. Hopefully the words, “we’ve always done it like that” will never have the chance to be uttered.

So if you want routines and patterns to stay exactly the same forever, then never reproduce. However, if you would prefer to operate within a culture of change, then never stop reproducing. When we reproduce, change is required. We outgrow the previous systems, procedures, and structures. It might be easier to always keep things the same. But baby making is way more fun.

Filters

What do you use to filter your decisions? How do you determine the “right” (or at least the best) idea from an abundance of really good ideas? The answer is values. Whether we acknowledge this phenomenon or not, we use our values to filter our ideas and determine what motivates action in all areas of life. As far as the local church goes, we tend to talk about vision, mission, and beliefs. Although all of these are beneficial and should be stated, none of them are as helpful as values when filtering ideas. Sometimes these values are stated and there is a formal process through which ideas are filtered. Many times, there are “ghost values;” which go undocumented and unspoken, but are fully understood by those who make decisions. For example, an organization can have a stated mission and vision, but everyone understands that “keeping the right people happy” is the ghost vision driving the way decisions are made.

We made sure to repeat our five key values this past Sunday at our second 801South Launch Team Party:

Values

As we make decisions, we ask ourselves questions, such as, “How does this connect people in relationships?” Or we might ask, “Is this too complicated? Is there a way we can make this simpler?” One of the more difficult questions we will ask is, “Does this program or event really just provide something to do for people who are already connected in church?” We will make some decisions that might cause tension within churched people, because we value reaching those who are currently disconnected above providing for those who are already connected. For example, we might sponsor an event at a local bar, rather than hosting it at a church. Will church people have an issue with this? Yes. Do I as a pastor struggle with the fact that it might look like we are promoting the use of alcohol? Yes. But we value being in an environment with those who are more likely to be disconnected more than we value the pastor being comfortable with every decision made. It’s a little dangerous and definitely messy.

We also shared the initial 801South leadership structure:

Structure

We believe this structure will give us the greatest opportunity to create a culture that continually reproduces leaders from the beginning. As we evaluate according to effectiveness moving forward, we will tweak the structure as needed. Notice that this is mostly a servant-led structure. There is very little room for paid staff in this initial model. The plan is for future staff to move up the structure organically-from servant to apprentice to leader to coach to staff.

Lastly, we shared what’s next as we near the public worship experience launch in April of 2014:

Next

Those who have been trained and equipped as small group leaders will be launching new small groups in January. Also, I am asking for a nine month commitment from the launch team. This allows for people who jump on board and focus intensely on getting 801South off the ground, but then desire to drift back toward their current environments and commitments to do so after nine months without any hard feelings.

So what questions do you have?

What are the stated and the “ghost” values that drive decision making within your organization?

Do you see yourself being led into the movement and structure of 801South?

Two Continuing Trends

Do you spend time wondering if you are on track with all your efforts in life? Are you moving forward and making a difference or just chugging along doing the same ol’ thing? Is it time for a course correction?

If you’re like me, then you spend lots of time on this train of thought. (That’s two train metaphors already; which is what happens when you’re the father of two young boys.) One way that I check my current thoughts and actions is to keep an eye on what others are doing–not everyone–but a chosen group of people who appear to be thriving.

As to my role as a leader in the local church, I follow a few organizations to see if there are any particular trends that might demonstrate how God is at work in our world today. Recently, I took advantage of the opportunity to quickly survey almost 100 churches and faith-based organizations through an event called The Nines. While listening to how these other leaders are working to advance the mission of the church, I was able to discern two continuing trends that have been around for awhile. (I suppose they’ve actually been around forever in one form or another.) These two continuing trends are “leadership development” and “missional living.”

The local mainline church in America has fallen into a routine of training (or begging) people to fill volunteer slots according to pre-determined programs. There is a recent course correction toward developing the individual person for a leadership role according to his or her own particular skill set and passions. This is really just an intentional form of small group, or even one-on-one, discipleship. Mike Breen of 3DM Ministries uses Jesus’ own words to remind us that we are commanded to grow people and then let him grow the church, rather than simply trying to grow the church. “If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you build the church, you will rarely get disciples,” he often says. “Leadership development” is the current buzzword language for more intentional, focused, and personal discipleship. Build the person as a follower of Jesus. Don’t build the organized institution.

The concept of “missional living” breaks down the classic model of mission as a program. Instead, every follower of Jesus is continually in mission within her or his own context. I am in mission in my own household. I am in mission in my own neighborhood. I am in mission in my own workplace. Always. What does that mean for how I speak and what actions I take toward others in those spheres of my influence? A missional disciple is always looking for opportunity to serve others and share his or her story. He or she is always inviting used-to-be-strangers into his or her life, house, etc. At the same time, we do not dismiss the more typical modes of mission; such as short term mission trips and community partnerships. This is very much a both/and scenario.

I am encouraged to see that these trends are continuing as an illustration of how God is at work in the world. I think we are on track with both of these trends. Actually, we will soon have the reverse problem than that of most ministries. Rather than a surplus of volunteer positions and a deficit of people to fill those roles, 801South will feature more trained and discipled leaders than there are opportunities for them to actually lead. What an awesome problem to have! As we continue to push the reproducing culture through apprenticing, this will be a longstanding problem for the ministry.

So how do you try to spot current trends in the world?

Do you agree that these are two current trends within the innovative local church today?

The Three I’s Of Launching

The launch team of 801South experienced a great event this week as we gathered to eat, pray, talk, and laugh (a lot!). The food was awesome and the energy was high. Special thanks to Beth Marshall and the Williamson family for their hard work to make the night such a big success!

We played games and focused on the importance of hospitality and evangelical urgency through role playing a few potential “critical moments” that may occur in the ministry of 801South. Members of the launch team gave their best effort at winning the coveted Turkey (rather than Oscar) from the named Academy (made up of other launch team members who judged each role play for the most impressive actor or actress). We laughed hard and everyone gave a great effort to convey the importance of understanding the vision for 801South.

Brian Zehr, my personal coach and consultant to Matthews United Methodist Church, was in town and able to attend the launch team party. He shared the importance of the three I’s on which every launch team member must focus in order to see 801South be at its best: Invitational, Inclusive, and Intense.

Every person on the launch team must be intentionally Invitational. We all know people who are disconnected from God and from church. We work, we live, and we even participate in recreational activities with these people who are not at peace. Those of us who make up the launch team must model what it looks like to extend the invitation to these neighbors, coworkers, and other acquaintances. We have to make a shift in the way we think from floating through life to always having the question, “Who can I invite?” in the front of our minds. It is a transition from an internal focus to external focus.

We are Inclusive with exactly those people with whom we want to be inclusive. The shift we must make is to be inclusive with those who are not already a part of our clique. Ridiculous hospitality is one of the most important aspects to creating the culture of inclusion necessary to reach those who are currently disconnected.

Finally, the notion of Intensity centers around our ability to focus. As Brian said, we can only focus on a limited number of aspirations at one time. We can intensely focus on even fewer. The launch of 801South will require intense focus, therefore, how can we shift our limited focus onto this new initiative? Perhaps we will have to make some changes to our current commitments, schedule, and priorities.

In my opinion, the coolest concept that Brian shared with us is the idea that we will never grow more spiritually than in this season when we focus entirely on the growth of others. How counterintuitive is that?? We would assume that to grow, we have to focus on our own growth. But the truth is that when we focus on meeting the spiritual needs of others, serving people who are disconnected, and leading ministry in new ways, we actually grow exponentially more so than if we were focused on ourselves.

Who Cares?

First of all, Happy Halloween to all my ghost and goblin loving peeps! I have been so impressed (and also rather disturbed) by my neighbors’ love of halloween being displayed through their “decorations.” It has provided for some very interesting questions and conversations with every trip in and out of the neighborhood, especially as we pass the yard fully transformed into a graveyard complete with an impaled baby doll.

On to the point of this post:

One misconception that many of us hold while of serving on a large church staff is the assumption that people care. I came to the realization several years ago that no one outside of the room will care nearly as much as those around the table. So we sometimes get our feelings hurt, because we have poured so much of ourselves into planning only to have people we love reject the best laid plan (in our minds anyway).

Here’s the reason why sometimes people seem not to care: people actually have real lives. You know, as in spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, children, jobs, sports, hobbies, deadlines, etc.; all of which take precedence over my “great idea” for ministry. My biggest fear is that we will spend a disproportionate amount of our time and energy discussing the details of a service, program, or event about which no one else really cares.

So how do we plan as the local church in a way that does not compete with the real lives of those who we serve. Here are a few questions to consider:

Who else can be around the table? Those of us in “professional ministry” need to have as many people with real lives and real jobs around the table to make sure that what we are planning is helpful. We are not in ministry TO the rest of the church. We are in ministry WITH the rest of the church TO the world. When the only minds around the table are church staff, we can come up with some really wack ideas. (Of course we also develop some of the most beautiful ideas at the same time.)

Is what we are planning actually being helpful to everyone or causing more stress for the sake of just doing something? Many of the things we plan compete with the regular rhythms of life in our particular context and culture. (Sometimes they even compete with other ministries within the same church that target the same group of people!) This just adds unnecessary burden and stress on people who may feel guilty about not being able to participate.

Are we being cute, rather than competent? Our ideas are our babies and, although everybody thinks their baby is the cutest, not all babies are so adorable. Too often, we feel the need to come up with clever names and acronyms, but we end up just being confusing and adding a space that outsiders must traverse just to be involved.

As we continue to develop 801South (this post was meant to be an update on everything we have going on within the new ministry, but has devolved into a rant—a hopefully helpful rant) these are questions that we need to consider for the sake of simplicity and providing the most helpful use of time for everyone involved—those on the inside and on the outside.

In what ways do you sometimes see the church being more cute than competent and how can we work to plan ministry that is helpful to those outside of the room?