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

Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen: The Challenge

If you have your ear to the ground in Christianity today you hear one question being asked over and over again. The question is, “How do you disciple people in today’s world?” It may not always be asked just like that, but that is the gist of it. They key to answer that question is found in Jesus Christ. He is our model. There is no substitute for that. One voice that I have found very helpful in unpacking Jesus’ ministry for our culture today is Mike Breen. Mike has been discipling people in Europe for the past 25 years and has a knack for understanding how the eternally useful principles of Jesus’ ministry can be applied in contemporary Western society and churches. Mike Breen and Steve Cockram lay out their approach in their book Building a Discipling Culture (get it on kindle). I am going to spend a few posts unpacking their approach and share my own thoughts about how this might work out for some of us guys who are in more traditional ministry contexts (aka not church planters). In these posts I am just going to hit the highlights. I don’t want to take anything away from Breen’s book. I would recommend that you buy it as well as his other two books Multiplying Missional Leaders (one of my favorite ministry books of all time) and Launching Missional Communities.

Chapter 1: The Challenge
Jesus calls us to make disciples. The problem is, most of us who have gone to seminary have been trained to build and lead an organization rather than make disciples. Breen says it this way, “most of us have actually never been trained to make disciples. Seminary degrees, church classes and training seminars teach us to grow our volunteer base, form system and organizational structures or preach sermons on Sunday mornings and assimilate newcomers from the Sunday service…Most of us have been trained and educated for a world that no longer exists.” (p.11)

It isn’t that we are trained for a world that doesn’t exist. That world is alive and well. It is the corporate world. The problem is the church is not a corporation but we train leaders to manage it that way. We treat churches more like corporations to be managed than organisms to be nurtured, watered, and experience healthy growth. We adopt corporate methods and measures of evaluating success. We train people to run programs, not disciple people. Breen says, “If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church you rarely get disciples.” (p.12). He goes on to say, “Most of us have become quite good at the church thing. And yet, disciples are the only thing that Jesus cares about and it’s the only number Jesus is counting. Not our attendance or budget or buildings. He wants to know if we are ‘making disciples'”.

Now he has hit the nail on the head of what confounds many of us in ministry but we didn’t have the words to describe. We know what Jesus has called us to, we know what we have been trained to do, and we know what is actually happening. The problem is, these three things don’t often overlap very well and so we feel the void. It gets even tougher. When you are executing what you have been trained to do and what “church culture” encourages it would seem that you would feel fulfilled through those efforts but too often things feel flat. Have you been there? Does this make sense of why you have felt or are currently feeling that way?

Mike takes it a step further and in doing so he really describes what many ministers find frustrating painful today. “Effective discipleship builds the church, not the other way around. We need to understand the church as the effect of discipleship and not the cause. If you set out to build the church, there is no guarantee you will make disciples. It is more likely that you will create consumers who depend on the spiritual services that religious professional provide.” (p.12). Isn’t that what we are experiencing today? Isn’t that much of the byproduct or even directly results of much of our past work? Isn’t that part of the culture we have created that plagues the church today? The point is, we have challenges ahead that must be addressed. Some of them are the direct results of our past misdirection, mismanagement and poorly defined methods of calculating success. Jesus had only one measure for calculating success and it was the degree to which we are making disciples.

Lastly, Mike believes we have divorced mission from discipleship. In our efforts to be more mission minded we have looked out and placed the emphasis on shaping people outside the church to the neglect of discipling those inside the church. He says the result is we stopped investing in our people and directed our energy to outsiders. It is great that we have gotten more outward focused but if you follow the ministry of Jesus closely at all Jesus never neglected the discipling process of the insiders for the sake of time with the outsiders. There is so much more that could be discussed from chapter one but the main point is this – we have challenges ahead if we hope to embrace the call of Jesus to make disciples it is going to take a real investment of our time, energy, attention and resources. But what else would God have us do?

Thank you Mike Breen for writing this book and the rest of your work. It is a God send to me and my ministry. My prayer is that God will continue to use us here and many others abroad to join in the work of discipling others. It starts here and it starts now.

Two Free Resources From Mike Breen & 3DM

Free additional chapters to Building a Discipling Culture

Fivefold Gifts Survey

Spiritual Transformation: More Information is Not the Answer

The Jews had the Law for 1300 years before Christ came. There were all kinds of details in the Law about how to live, what to do in various situations, and how to maintain holiness and deal with sin. As we know today, the Law was not sufficient. What did God do in its place? He could have just handed down more legal code. God could have had people pen more and more words and bombard the world with oodles of information via text. God chose to do something else. Instead, God sent his son, Jesus Christ into the world to embody/show us how to live and what the kingdom of God is really like. John 1 tells us that the word became flesh and dwelt among us.

I am afraid that we haven’t taken this example very seriously. When we are presented with a problem or issue in the church our knee-jerk reaction is more teaching when the reality is people still need to see the biblical kingdom priorities lived out among them. We think somehow if people hear about something more that change will happen automatically. Mike Breen says it like this,

“This is my fundamental issue with the ‘go deep’ kind of people. If I can make  mass generalizations for a moment, I see them this way: They want to go into the endless minutiae of scripture, which can be a good thing, but they rarely want to do anything with it. They think that knowing about something is the same thing as knowing something. They have bought into the lie that knowing more scripture changes you.

It doesn’t.

Doing what scripture says and responding to God’s voice changes you…If you are not actively seeking to live in it, you don’t really believe it.” (Breen, Multiplying Missional Leaders, 23)

We have a whole generation of young people who sat in Bible class twice a week who are no longer with us. If information was the solution they should have been rock solid. Information is foundational but left to itself, non-incarnated in the Christian community it is not enough. If we followed Jesus’ example we would develop people through more than Bible class. We would take time with people to walk alongside them, teach them, train them, and send them. That takes time and investment and that is what makes it difficult. But let me ask you this, how well has the time we have invested in our current model made disciples? (I probably subconsciously stole that question from Breen’s book somewhere). Breen’s approach has been to use information as well as apprenticeship/imitation of a more mature disciple. That is huge. That is the missing piece in much of the work we try to do to make disciples. Many of us have bought into the lie that more information = greater disciples to the neglect of time in the trenches with those we are discipling with the intent of launching them out. Much of our discipling works fosters too much dependence on a sole leader rather than maturing people to be, as Breen would say, leaders rather than program/ministry managers.

If this is something you would like more specifics on or have struggle with this yourself, I cannot recommend enough these two books:
Multiplying Missional Leaders
Building a Discipling Culture

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!

Launching Missional Communities – Creating Effective Space for Ministry

“Missional” is one of the biggest buzz words in contemporary Christianity. There are a lot of books on theory but very few guides that actually lay out the nuts and bolts of how our faith can be lived out in missional communities that go beyond the Sunday morning experience. Mike Breen and Alex Absalom have provided us with such a guide that lays out the mission of the church, asks how it is being done via the institutional model of congregational life and then gives a strategy for how to get Christians more invested and involved in the mission of the church as laid out in scripture. Their book is called Launching Missional Communities: A Field Guide and it is a must read book if you work with small groups or oversee missions in your congregation.

Based on who they site and how often they bring in outside resources in making their points, these guys have really done their homework. This book is well researched from the theory side and that knowledge is balanced in practice as this book is the culmination of many years of work trying to construct a model that worked. But what is most important in all of this is their concern for scripture. Just because two or three scholars say the same thing doesn’t make it so. What I love about this book is that their conclusions as to what the very best model for congregational life should be like and what is most effective is the biblical one!

In section 2.3 Breen and Absalom talk about why they didn’t use the traditional small group model of the 6-12 personal ideal. While that model of small groups is often touted as biblical (and it is) it is not always mentioned that many house churches were actually quite a bit larger than that and could accommodate 50 people or more within one house church. Their model uses groups of 20-50 people to build missional communities. In doing so they avoid some of the common pitfalls that often plague the traditional small group model including (from p.42):

  1. “They often refused the call (to be more missional) and continued to stay inwardly focused, or
  2. There was never enough momentum due to the size, and burnout soon ensued.”
  3. Groups can typically only multiply 3 times and then they don’t want to go through it again. So the small group model, if done as effectively as possible, has a short lifespan before it naturally slows done and may lose part of its purpose of being out-focused.

They point out that the small group model that so many of us have been a part of focus on getting things more spiritually intimate. What I mean by that is having discussions on a deeper level so that we can really impact the lives of those in the group in a way that just can’t happen in an auditorium full of 500+ people on Sunday morning. They point out that just as a married couple needs to have more than private intimacy to have a healthy relationship, Christians also need more spaces together than just intimate environments to grow. We don’t always have to be talking about deep, heavy, or private matters in order to grow our relationships with each other.

They focus on four areas or spaces they believe are important in the life of a missional community with each space getting progressively closer in contact or distance than the last: public, social, personal and intimate space. They believe these four spaces are found in scripture and should be reflected in the life of the church. Each space serves a different purpose and each has a different outcome expected of it. When these four things work in unison the outcomes can be powerful. No one space is sufficient to meet all of our diverse needs as human beings. And yet, many churches get focused on one or two to the neglect of the rest.

Alex gives one example from his experience visiting a church where the values of the different levels of space were confused. He talks about walking into a church for the first time and getting hugged by all sorts of people in the lobby before he ever got into the auditorium. He says that was not a “wise course of action in a public space.” It would be perfectly appropriate in a more personal or intimate level of space with a smaller number of people who have already built relationships with each other on some level. The point is, we need to have room for all levels of interaction so that we can accomplish important aspects of our lives as Christians on a wide spectrum of depth with each other.

More on this book in several upcoming posts. If you would like to read more about Missional Communities have a look at Mike’s blog or Alex’s blog at the links above.

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 🙂