Recently, our church team has intentionally taking extra time to reflect on what we are doing in our church. Action without reflection can have dire effects. Course correction is constantly needed. Daniel Patrick Forrester’s compelling book Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking In Your Organization is an alarm for organizations to take time for reflective thought. With the constant pressure to do more and do it better, time out to stop and reconsider what we are doing can seem counter productive. Its funny, I also have a book called Action: Trumps Everything by Charles F. Kiefer and Leonard A. Schlesinger.Which you would think has the opposite message. For me, these are a good balance to hold in tension. Both talk about the importance of giving thought to how an organization works. Both speak about taking intelligent action.
Kiefer and Schlesinger state, “without an overwhelming desire to make something happened. The odds are nothing will. You must truly want to being something into being.” (p.47) For Christian leaders, this is our calling. God has put within us an overwhelming desire to make a difference in our world. These authors call for acting our way into a new way of thinking. Their premise is that we are prone to inactivity. This may be presumptive because so often Evangelicals can act without much thought. But they do call for an inventory using key questions to assess actions. Since my tendency to over think decisions, I find it is a good course correction.
Forrester demonstrates the importance of intelligent reflection. Behind this reflection is an intention to act. He gives a great example of both inaction and unreflective thinking. On April 10th, 2012 the oilrig the Deep Water Horizon exploded causing eleven people to die and 4.9 million barrels of oil to be disseminated into the Gulf of Mexico. There was extensive damage to marine life and beaches. The devastation is ongoing. In 2012 dolphins were reported to be dying at six times their normal numbers. The tragedy was caused by the main seal breaking down. Evidence was ignored. Chunks of the main seal were seen breaking apart. But stopping the drilling process to evaluate was deemed too costly. If leadership would have taken time to investigate, the tragedy could have been avoided. Since then BP oil has been levied 4.25 billion in fine by U.S. Justice department. A costly mistake indeed.
How about the church? While it may be a stretch to compare a massive oil spill to what is going on with today’s church, some reflection could be in order. There is evidence of a breakdown at a deep level between the way church is running and the culture around it.
- The church is viewed increasingly more as judgmental, hypocritically and irrelevant according to Barna research. (Chunks one, two and three?)
- Church adherence is down. About 38% of people in the Northwest, U.S. have no religious preference. The trend in the U.S. is edging toward 25% according to a 2008 Pew Forum census.
- Many churches are in a sense of moratorium about what to do. They can be caught up in preservation instead of perpetuation.
Taking time out to reflect can be more productive than the incessant drive of activity. In our church setting we have been asking some hard questions about our specific calling and assessing everything we do. While much of what we do is conventional; we sit in pews, sing songs, have a message, and have children’s and youth programs; we are evaluating how we can be effective and innovative for our setting. The motivation to change is compelled by the love for Christ and sincerely demonstrating that love through us.
Jesus calls his church to be known for love of its members. Our best evangelism strategy is the quality of relationships of people who are called to live for Christ. Jesus prayer in John 13:35 states, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Back in 1970 Francis Schaeffer wrote a compelling book called The Mark of a Christian. He said we are to be known for how we love each other, but not to the exclusion of Christians. To exclude non-Christians is an “ugly” kind of love. Jesus included sinners. His invitation is wide open. Love compel us to include and care for all people.
Here is our take away. We are asking how we can demonstrate hospitality that encourages relationship, not just friendliness. Who are we called to include? What biases do we have? Will we let “sinners” serve? I believe Christians want to be inclusive, but live lives that put up barriers. Our leadership team no longer begins with discussions about programs and projects, but the people we are connecting with. We have raised the bar within the church for caring relationships. We still have a long way to go in identifying how to be inclusive to those that are not part of our church. To get over the insider/outsider dichotomy is a good first step.
Next we believe we need to be more conscious about how assessable our current services are for those who come as guests. So much is assumed. We are thinking through how much of what we currently do makes sense or is at least explained so anyone can know what is happening. But our most creative thinking is about creating a new venue that is conversational and interactive. If people are tired of being lectured to by Christians, why not include their voices in the discussion? We have not implemented this yet. But after Easter we will do an experimental once a month discussion-based “service”.
The Barna Group, “What people experience in Churches, “ January 9, 2012, https://www.barna.org/congregations-articles/556-what-people-experience-in-churches.html
Barry A. Kosmin & Ariela Keysar with Ryan Cragun & Juhem Navarro-Rivera, “American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population”, Hartford, CT: Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society & Culture, 2009. http://commons.trincoll.edu/aris/publications/american-nones-the-profile-of-the-no-religion-population.
Boston.com, September 19, 2010. “Blown-out BP well finally killed at bottom of Gulf”. http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2010/09/19/blown_out_bp_well_finally_killed_at_bottom_of_gulf/
Discovery News, April 2, 2013. “Record Dolphin, Sea Turtle Deaths Since Gulf Spill” http://news.discovery.com/animals/whales-dolphins/record-dolphin-sea-turtle-deaths-since-gulf-spill-130402.htm