Here is What is Creating a Disconnect in our Churches and Why So Many Leave (Leadership & Ministry Lessons Part 6)

I have been writing a series of posts on leadership in ministry based on the book Combat Leadership by Captain Adolf Von Schell. This sixth post is probably the most important one yet. So important, that I changed the title in hopes of getting more response out of this one. Please read the whole post, especially if you are in church leadership.

In chapter 6, Von Schell reminds the reader that training for war and real war are two different things. When you are training, everything goes just right but it is never like that in the real world. Here is how he put it,

“In our peacetime map problems, war games and field exercises, we have simple situations. There is no uncertainty, nothing goes wrong, units are always complete. Every company has its appropriate number of officers. Every battalion has its commander…Long written orders are published and in an unbelievably short time, reach the individual to whom they are addressed, who promptly carries them out. Every man has his map and compass. He knows that the attack will be pushed forward in the exact direction of the 179 1-2 degree magnetic azimuth.”

What he is saying here is that up to this point in history, combat training assumed ideal conditions where ideal orders are given, everyone is present, communication is perfect and everyone has their map and compass pointed the right way all the time, every time with more precision than you would be able to do with bullets going over your head. He goes on,

“In war it is quite otherwise. There is no situation that our imagination can conjure up which even remotely approaches reality. In peace we have only grammar school tactics. But let us never forget that war is far more advanced than a high school. Therefore, if you would train for the realities of war, take your men into unknown terrain, at night, without maps and give them difficult situations. In doing so use all the imagination you have. Let the commanders themselves make their decisions. Teach your men that war brings such surprises that often they will find themselves in apparently impossible situations…Every solider should know that war is kaleidoscopic, replete with constantly changing, unexpected, confusing situations. Its problems cannot be solved by mathematical formulae or set rules…All armies of the world learn, in peace time, how to write long, beautifully constructed orders. I believe that it is correct to learn to think of everything and to forget nothing, but we must never lose sight of the fact that, in a war of movement, our orders must be brief and simple.”

His point is that training must reflect the realities of what you are training people for. When you look at publications that tell you how to run a specific ministry, do evangelism, discipleship, or any of a number of things this is too often true. We are presented and trained for ideal circumstances where your staff has every gift imaginable and where life never seems to get in the way. How do we train people in ministry “in the trenches” rather than just sitting at desks in a classroom? How do we train Christians in ways that are real and relevant to the world they live in? Often Sunday seems too disconnected from Monday. We train for the ideal but the world will never be ideal. So why do we keep training like it is?

He continues,

“There is a tendency in peace time to conduct training by use of stereotyped situations which are solved by stereotyped solutions. In war, however, we cannot say, ‘This situation is so and so and according to the rules which I have learned, I must attack or defend.’ The situations that confront one in war are generally obscure, highly complicated and never conform to type. They must be met by an alert mind, untrammeled by set forms and fixed ideas.

In our peacetime tactical training we should use difficult, highly imaginative situations and require clear, concise and simple orders. The more difficult the situation, the more simple the orders must be. Above all let us kill everything stereotyped; otherwise it will kill us.” (p.63-64)

Kill the stereotype or it will kill us. What is he saying there? He is saying that in the classroom, there are perfect formulas that work every time but step away from your desk and onto the battlefield and those same formulas no longer look as relevant. Here it is, I am convinced that what Von Schell is saying here is one of the most important lessons we can learn in ministering in the 21st century. The culture we live in is no longer predominantly Christian. People are getting shot at all the time. Then they come in on Sunday or Wednesday and get trained for a world that exists only in the classroom and only in the mind. There may be application but not necessarily for the world they live in.

This is why there is such a disconnect today, especially with young people. What Von Schell is saying here is perfectly describing the disconnect young people especially feel in the assembly. In order to address it we have to change our tactics. We have to change our training. We have to understand the real world and understand how Christians can live in it and support one another through it, much like soldiers huddled together in a war zone. As I type that I am reminded of what Mike Breen wrote in Multiplying Missional Leaders,

“Sending people out to do mission is sending them out to a war zone. When we don’t disciple people the way Jesus and the New Testament talked about, we are sending them out without armor, weapons or training. This is mass carnage waiting to happen. How can we be surprised when people burn out, quit and never return to the missional life (or to the church for that matter?) How can we not expect that people will feel used and abused?” (p.12)

Have you all experienced this? How have we missed it?

For those who want to read more reflections on Combat Leadership, here are the other parts to date:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3
  4. Part 4
  5. Part 5
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Problems with Missional

There have been some posts addressing the problems with the missional movement. Here are a few you may want to read:

Scot McKnight’s post Test Your Church. Scot’s post is not so much a slam on missional as a whole, he endorses much of what is good about missional church. In the process he does offer some critique of those who talk more mission than are actually engaged in any form of mission.

Mike Breen’s Why the Missional Movement Will Fail (HT: Eric Brown). Breen says the problem with missional is that it is like a car without an engine. You are trying to spin the wheels without anything powerful pushing the process along. He says the engine that should turn the wheels is (as would be expected from Mike) none other than discipleship. He says this,

If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples…

If you’re good at making disciples, you’ll get more leaders than you’ll know what to do with. If you make disciples like Jesus made them, you’ll see people come to faith who didn’t know Him. If you disciple people well, you will always get the missional thing. Always.

We took 30 days and examined the Twitter conversations happening. We discovered there are between 100-150 times as many people talking about mission as there are discipleship (to be clear, that’s a 100:1). We are a group of people addicted to and obsessed with the work of the Kingdom, with little to no idea how to be with the King….

Look, I’m not criticizing the people who are passionate about mission…I am one of those people. I was one of the people pioneering Missional Communities in the 1980′s and have been doing it ever since. This is my camp, my tribe, my people. But it has to be said: God did not design us to do Kingdom mission outside of the scope of intentional, biblical discipleship and if we don’t see that, we’re fooling ourselves. Mission is under the umbrella of discipleship as it is one of the many things that Jesus taught his disciples to do well. But it wasn’t done in a vacuum outside of knowing God and being shaped by that relationship, where a constant refinement of their character was happening alongside of their continued skill development (which included mission).

The truth about discipleship is that it’s never hip and it’s never in style…it’s the call to come and die; a “long obedience in the same direction.” While the “missional” conversation is imbued with the energy and vitality that comes with kingdom work, it seems to be missing some of the hallmark reality that those of us who have lived it over time have come to expect: Mission is messy. It’s humbling. There’s often no glory in it. It’s for the long haul. And it’s completely unsustainable without discipleship.

This is the crux of it: The reason the missional movement may fail is because most people/communities in the Western church are pretty bad at making disciples. Without a plan for making disciples (and a plan that works), any missional thing you launch will be completely unsustainable.

I can’t think of any better way to say it. I had a hard time knowing when to cut off this quote because I just kept saying, “Yes, yes, yes” through his whole post.” Also see his followup post, “Why the missional movement will fail Part 2”.

Jason Coker’s “The Problem with Missional. He points to several problems in missional movements including: too much decentralization, too much branding and marketing of missional as a cookie cutter or overlay to put on top of existing churches (I would add without addressing the underlying issues that run counter to the very missional culture they are trying to foster).

Coker believes missional is “fading fast” due in part to a cultural shift in America that just isn’t interested in what new flavor is being taste tested at the local church. What is more Coker says that our approaches to discipleship appear weird to outsiders and that the solution is to speak to what “irreligious people” care about the most…

What regular, irreligious people care about passionately are their families and friends, their recreation and entertainment, and their dreams and goals for a better life. They also care about the local issues, institutions, and policies that make their lives more difficult. Beyond that, if there’s time to think about it, most people care about the turmoil in the world too – most just don’t know what to do about it.

Here are some specifics about how he sees that conversation taking place that includes a radical change in how we see “church”,

Here’s one idea: what if we stopped seeing our pet versions of church and the gospel as products to sell, and embraced “church” as a social strategy instead? The gospel would become the message about who we are and what we’re doing and the church would become the means of organizing. We wouldn’t be constantly strategizing about how to get people in to church and how to keep them in church – because the church becomes the strategy for affecting radical social change. This would allow for churches of all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of short-term and long-term of missions, full of people with all kinds of beliefs. Some of these church would intentionally end after a period of time, other would likely last a lifetime. Some might be locally rooted, others might transcend location.

Just one idea. Maybe it could work. After all, the Christian ecclesia – gathered in response to a herald of Christ’s new commonwealth and empowered by faith in the same – has been the single most dynamic and effective means of positive social change in history. Maybe it would be smart to get back to that.

Whatever the solution, if the American Church is going to thrive beyond the next generation, we’ll need a coherent translation of the gospel that captures people’s imaginations about what’s possible in and around the issues they care deeply about. But to do that, the gospel itself will have to be liberated from it’s own Modern cultural and sectarian moorings (and some of our Christian mores too).

Will that change come through the mission church? I hope so. Probably not. But one way or the other I suspect most of us will live to see the utter decimation of the American church in its old form and a breathtaking resurgence in a new one.

I think Coker is on to something here. The first is that our definition of “church” is changing and the definition you assign to that term will play a huge role in how you move forward. Do you view church as static or dynamic? Are we to be stuck in the 1st century or have the freedom to be Christ’s community in the 21st century? Is it about a facility and a specific hour each week or about a community? How we define church and what flows out of that definition is vitally important and it is imperative that we allow scripture to inform our definition. Second, I agree with Coker that “church” as past generations have understood it is being “decimated” and believe something more biblical and powerful is going to arise from the ashes. Young people today have a great zeal and will do some crazy things for God…they need to balance that boldness with wisdom and knowledge of God and His Word.

Where I have some disagreement with Coker what drives the content of our conversation. I agree that we have to be answering questions people are actually asking, I don’t believe that our talking points need to be based on what people in the world believe are most relevant to their lives. Now, I am all about relevance and think you have to be relevant but I am also keenly aware that non-Christians don’t know all the things that are most relevant or needed in their lives. The Gospel is entirely relevant but it often runs counter to the thoughts and ways of the world (appearing even as foolishness, Paul would say). My only point being, what is more relevant to lost people won’t always be received as relevant at first but that can’t keep us from talking about what they most need to hear. Words like sin, right/wrong, and moral absolutes are not always popular…but they are biblical.

Last, my fear for the missional conversation is that it will run the route of the emerging/emergent conversation (when was the last time you discussed that with anyone?). The nail in the coffin of that conversation was the lack of a unified definition. Everyone defined it however they wanted to such an extent that the conversation came to a screeching halt because there wasn’t a unified vision for what was even being discussed. Seems to me that is what is happening with missional to some degree.

For a third post on this see David Fitch’s Is Missional Doomed?

Multiplying Missional Leaders by Mike Breen

My favorite book on ministry just got knocked down to my second favorite book on ministry. Until this last week Andy Stanley’s Seven Practices of  Effective Ministry was my favorite. Mike Breen’s Multiplying Missional Leaders has taken the top spot. There are a lot of people who talk about things like discipleship, a few who know how to do it and still even fewer who can clearly communicate how others can do it, what it looks like, etc. This book does exactly that.

When I finished the Jesus 101 study I wanted to work on a followup study and I landed on the topic of discipleship. The more and more I have thought about it I keep coming back to the importance of discipleship over just involving people in the programs of the church. The problem is, in order to disciple people you can only really dig in with a few people at a time. That means in order to disciple the whole congregation it would take me the rest of my life and I still couldn’t get to everyone. Even if all the ministers and elders adopted the practice of discipling people it would still be impossible. This book tells you how to disciple leaders who are equipped to disciple others. That is the missing piece.

I am going to do a thorough review of this book in the next week until then, if you haven’t read this book please do. If you are a minister or an elder you need to read this book. Then when we get to discussing it we can have a more fruitful conversation!

This is Discipling – Video by Foursquare

This is Discipling from The Foursquare Church on Vimeo.

HT: Eric Brown

I wonder if we don’t make things too complicated.

Launching Missional Communities – Thinking UP, IN, OUT

In their book Launching Missional Communities, Breen and Absalom point out that

Jesus had three great loves and thus three distinct dimensions to his life.

UP: deep and connected relationship to his Father and attentiveness to the leading of the Holy Spirit

IN: constant investment in the relationships with those around him (his disciples)

OUT: entering the brokenness of the world, looking for a response individually (people coming into relationship with Jesus) and systemically (systems of injustice being transformed).

This three dimensional pattern for living a balanced life is evident throughout Scripture and needs to be expressed in community life as well. Because of this we believe missional communities need a balanced expression of UP-IN-OUT in order to be healthy, growing communities.

Now that’s some pretty good stuff. First of all, its biblical. Second of all its not properly balanced in many churches today. I asked that question in an earlier post when I asked what the balance in your congregation was between IN and OUT. It would have been better if I had included UP as well. Obviously some things have overlap but we do need to make sure that we are providing specific environments or activities that foster each of those three components of Jesus’ ministry within our churches.

I have to say that I am very excited about our young people and the prospects for the church over the next 20 years. Some things worry me just a bit but overall I think some really good things are underfoot. Much of this is happening because people are really seeking out God and to really make a difference in the world. That means more of our young people are getting focused on OUT and UP and less on IN. That is a good and healthy move as many churches today have been doing the IN thing very well for many, many years almost to the exclusion of the other two. My point is, I hope we are getting closer to achieving balance of the biblical principles of ministry and can really live out the mission that is outside the Sunday morning walls.

I appreciate the balance that this book tries to bring into the discussion to get people to start thinking more in terms of UP, IN and OUT.

Launching Missional Communities: A Field Guide

I received a free copy of Launching Missional Communities by Mike Breen and Alex Absalom. This is probably the most practical book I have seen since Willow Creek’s Leading Life Changing Small Groups which was their Small Group Leaders Manual. This book is all nuts and bolts of creating, maintaining and growing missional communities, even out of a traditional congregational model. I am going to be blogging about this book in the next few weeks but I wanted to go ahead and put the word out there that this is a solid and practical book. I can’t find a single page after the table of contents that doesn’t have practical and relevant information on it.

The reason I think this book is going to be so important (if people will become aware of it) is that many of us know what we grew up with or what we have inherited that doesn’t always address the world from a 21st century point of view and can be ineffective at outreach. The community we have known is what meets Sunday morning or at best in a small group. For most of us it is very hard to move beyond fellowship. It just doesn’t come naturally and we feel ill-prepared to come up with something different and effective. We know we are supposed to reach the lost but practically we don’t have anything in place to accomplish that. We know we are to reach out to the poor but it is usually little more than a line item in the budget. We know we are supposed to serve others and we hope members do that in their lives but the church doesn’t offer much structure or opportunity for that. This book can certainly give us some basics to change all of that and put wheels on our faith so we can back it out of the driveway that has typically been the Sunday morning assembly.

If you are in ministry or an elder please pick up a copy of this book. It is 29.99 available through the Missional Communities website. Click here to purchase. I get nothing out of your purchase other than knowing that you just made a good decision 🙂

Missional Church Video

Thanks to Brian Eberly for pointing this one out. It gets the point across…

A Couple Notes of Interest

  1. Jay Guin has a fabulous post on CENI with some great followup comments by Edward Fudge and John Mark Hicks. If you know what CENI is then you probably want to read it. If you don’t have a clue what CENI means then move on to the next link.
  2. Imonk, Michael Spenser, has highlighted Church of Christ minister Kirk Cowell as one of his seven “Evangelical Untouchables.” The topic of the post was how different evangelical church leaders view what membership is. I didn’t particularly agree with Kirk on his take on church membership as it was a little further than I would personally take things, it really surprised me to see Spenser highlight someone from the Church of Christ. I was also unfamiliar with Kirk and his blog, which is very well done and very insightful.
  3. Dan Kimball has a post about haircuts that is far more interesting that just talking about haircuts. See that post here.

A Couple of Books I Look Forward to Reading

The next two books on my reading list are Reggie McNeal’s Missional Renaissance and Brennan Manning’s Furious Longing of God. Any of you read either of these two books? Thanks to the Ooze for the copy of Manning’s book. I will post a review here and at their site in coming weeks. I was just skimming through McNeal’s book and it looks excellent. It is not all about theory. He devotes many pages to some very creative and practical ways of putting missional theology to work in a congregation or among individual Christians. This book is basically a “how to manual” for churches and church leadership to become more missional focused.

David Fitch’s List of Warnings for Those Wanting to Go Missional

This is a bit dated now, as things on the internet go…but still worth the read. Here is the link.