The Thing the Church Can Do Infinitely Better Than Society

Churches are always competing with society. We’re in a battle for the hearts and minds of the families around us. In many things, society will always have an edge:

  • The church can sing. But can it ever fully compete with American Idol and the Billboard Top 40? As good as the quality of church singing is, society will always be better.
  • The church can preach. Preachers like me fill a pulpit every week. As hard as we train, it’s hard to compete with the incredible storytellers of Hollywood that fill the airwaves every week.
  • The church can do children’s ministry. As fun and as exciting as we try and make children’s ministry, it can be a tough sell compared to a Wiggles concert or something as experiential as Chuck E. Cheese.
  • The church can worship corporately. We beg and cajole people to show up an hour a week, free of charge, to experience something together. We know we’re losing when people miss our free services to pay hundreds of dollars to enjoy the corporate experience of a NASCAR race, college football game, or music concert.

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I’m not saying the church shouldn’t do these things. All these things are good. I’m saying that in all these areas the church has stiff competition from society. But there’s one area where the church can do infinitely better than society: community. Sure, society will try to replicate online community through social media or telecommuting. But as hard as it tries, society will never be able to fully satisfy our innate need for belonging, for human interaction, for community.

That’s the modern church’s secret weapon, the one thing we offer that society can never fully replicate: community. A loving, welcoming family where you have a deep sense of belonging. That’s why small groups are so vital to a church’s long-term health. If people are connected to community in a church, the church has given them something that society can never fully reproduce. As a church, learn how to lean into building authentic and lasting community. That’s your ace in the hole.

“Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek in 10 Quotes

I recently read an incredible book, Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. There are tons of transferable principles in here for leadership and businesses. I pulled out ten quotes that have application for all of us. Here’s Leaders Eat Last in 10 Quotes:

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1. A close study of high-performing organizations, the ones in which the people feel safe when they come to work, reveals something astounding. Their cultures have an eerie resemblance to the conditions under which the human animal was designed to operate (Page 14). The premise of his book is that any organization (whether for-profit or non-profit) operates best when the conditions are optimal. These conditions are the same ones that allow the human body to thrive. Fascinating premise.

2. Our brains are wired to release oxytocin when in the presence of our tribe and cortisol, the chemical that produces the feeling of anxiety, when we feel vulnerable and alone (Page 50). When we’re in a healthy work or home environment, oxytocin is released, the chemical that makes us feel loved and appreciated. When we’re in a toxic environment, cortisol is released, which is harmful to our body over the long-term.

3. A 2011 study conducted by a team of social scientists at the University of Canberra in Australia concluded that having a job we hate is as bad for our health and sometimes worse than not having a job at all (Page 27). Long story short, being in a job you hate is bad for your health.

4. A study by two researchers at the Graduate School of Social Work at Boston College found that a child’s sense of well-being is affected less by the long hours their parents put in at work and more by the mood their parents are in when they come home. Children are better of having a parent who works into the night in a job they love than a parent who works shorter hours but comes home unhappy. This is the influence our jobs have on our families. Working late does not negatively affect our children, but rather, how we feel at work does (Page 31). Our jobs don’t just affect us. They affect our families.

5. There’s lots of evidence that children who are deprived of human contact, deprived of sufficient doses of oxytocin, have trouble building trusting relationships later in life (Page 51). Oxytocin, released through physical contact (as well as healthy emotional environments), are absolutely critical for the well-being of children. Hold a child.

6. There is another thing to add to that list of things that can hijack our dopamine reward system: social media (Page 43). Sinek is in the midst of a detailed explanation how addictions (like alcohol and tobacco) short-circuit our reward systems to trigger a release of dopamine, the high we feel in any addiction. Research is finding that social media does the exact same thing. Social media is addictive.

7. Abundance can be destructive because it abstracts the value of things. The more we have, the less we seem to value what we’ve got. And if the abstraction of stuff makes us value it less, imagine what it does to our relationships (Page 96). Abstraction is incredibly unhealthy, when people become numbers on a spreadsheet. Where relationships become less face-to-face and more about ‘likes’ and ‘retweets.’ Abstraction is dangerous.

8. Building trust requires nothing more than telling the truth. That’s it. No complicated formula (Page 154). I love this simple definition.
9. Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first (Page 180). Such a great truth! If you’ve ever walked into a restaurant where the employees didn’t buy into the mission of the company, then you totally understand this.
10. Good leadership is like exercise. We do not see any improvement to our bodies with day-to-day comparisons. In fact, if we only compare the way our bodies look on a given day to how they looked the previous day, we would think our efforts had been wasted. It’s only when we compare pictures of ourselves over a period of weeks or months that we can see a stark difference. The impact of leadership is best judged over time (Page 175). Good leadership takes time. It can never be rushed.
If this intrigues you and you’d like to read the book for yourself, you can find Leaders Eat Last here.

Why the Persecuted Church Matters

3.16.15When I woke up yesterday morning, the headline screaming at me on CNN was a nun in her 70s that was gang raped by robbers in India. When I came home at lunch, the headline screaming at me on Fox News was multiple suicide bombers blowing themselves up outside of churches in Pakistan, killing 15 and injuring 70. In between those stories, I was at Mt Vernon Church, where we held a special 1Voice service to highlight and show solidarity with the persecuted church.

Why is it important to highlight the persecuted church? Because we’re all part of one universal body. As Paul says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26) When your arm breaks, your whole body takes notice. When the persecuted church hurts, we all hurt. Here’s a real life story of persecution:

Persecution is real. Although stories of persecution should cut us to the heart, they should never surprise us. The Bible is very clear that persecution is to be expected if you follow Christ:

  • Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:10
  • In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.  1 Timothy 3:12
  • Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 1 Peter 4:12-14
  •  Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. John 15:20

To understand why persecution happens and why it shouldn’t surprise us, we need to understand a deeper truth about persecution: Persecution is the price for Kingdom growth. We are in the midst of a war, a battle for the souls of every man and woman on this planet. In every battle there is a price to be paid for victory. Persecution is the price we pay.

The early church understood this, but we’ve gotten away from this as we’ve become more and more accustomed to living lives of leisure. Like going to the gym to work out but then being surprised when you have to break a sweat. We expect everything to be easy. We don’t want to sacrifice. We’d rather stay home and avoid the hard work then go to the gym and break a sweat. Some of us are surprised that persecution still happens today. Many of us have forgotten the truth that our brothers and sisters across the world have never forgotten: there is a price for following Jesus.

When we remember them, when we pray for them, we honor them and the sacrifices they’ve made for the faith.

To learn more about the persecuted church, please visit www.opendoorsusa.org.

Our Prayers Are All Wrong

Traveling mercies. Hedges of protection. Guardian angels. I invoked them all and they were all invoked over me growing up. Before every youth group trip we’d huddle outside the van and pray together. Not for mountains to move. Not for people to get saved. We’d pray for traveling safety. Safety. That’s what I remember praying for the most growing up (that and pleading with God to help me ace my school tests).

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Now as a parent, I want my own kids to be safe. Before they leave my sight my impulse is to tell them to be careful. My first inclination is to cry out to God that my He would keep my kids safe. Safety. That seems to be the number one thing Christians pray for. More than anything else, we ask God to keep us safe.

That is so opposite from how the early church prayed it’s not even funny. In Acts 4 we see the early church come right up against trials and persecution. Not scraped knees. Not a failed test. Not an awkward look or a wayward comment that might hurt our feelings. In Acts 4 the early church was faced with threats of violence by the very people who had executed their leader Jesus just weeks prior.

In Acts 4 we see the church gather to pray in response to intense persecution. This prayer was so important that the writer of Acts recorded it, preserving it now for almost 2000 years. It’s not a prayer for safety. Far from it. They ask for no hedge of protection or guardian angel. Here’s what they pray for: Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30)

The early church never prayed for safety. They prayed for boldness. When faced with difficulty, they didn’t shy away, they doubled down. Their own safety and comfort were secondary to the Kingdom task given to them by Jesus in Acts 1:8. They had a visceral understanding that this world was not their home and that they were merely passing through.

Have we forgotten that today? Have we gotten too comfortable here? What would happen if our prayers changed from prayers for safety to prayers for boldness? Who knows? We might see a movement of God like we did in the book of Acts. Either way, if the primary thing we pray for in our life is safety, then our prayers are all wrong.

Racism and Trampolines

I thought my views on race growing up were pretty normal. I grew up in California, a melting pot of race if there ever was one. Some of my best friends in high school were Hispanic and my best friend in college was black. That’s all I knew. I read in history books about racial struggles (particularly in the South) but didn’t experience them firsthand until I moved to the Deep South fourteen years ago.

Racism reared its ugly head again recently with a viral video of college frat kids chanting horribly racist words in Oklahoma. As I heard over and over yesterday from the talking heads in the national media: This is 2015. Why is this still happening? Racism, as indefensible as it may be, still exists today. But not at my house.

The interesting twist for me in this most recent national conversation is juxtaposing it against what’s happening at my house. I’m white. My wife is white. Our kids our white (our second son is adopted and is half Anglo, half Hispanic. That just means he has the skin tone that most people pay hundreds of dollars to try and achieve. He’s gorgeous.)

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Our neighborhood is a mixed neighborhood. We have several white families living alongside several black families. There have been no riots or protests. The most recent family to move into our neighborhood is a black family with four young boys. Their youngest two are the same age as my oldest two boys. A match made in heaven. With Spring Break upon us, there have been kids running all over our neighborhood. Much of the time the brood of boys ends up at our house because we have the trampoline. Fine with me. The other day I looked outside into the backyard where all the boys were playing. I remarked to my wife, “there are eight kids on our trampoline, and Zeke (our oldest) is the only white kid out there.

I’m so glad Zeke doesn’t see color the way my generation sees color. I’m so glad he’s growing up in a neighborhood where friendship is based on shared interests, not the color of your skin. Racism may still be alive and well in Oklahoma just as it is in parts of Mississippi. But my little neighborhood is an oasis of interracial community. And I thank God every day for it.

The Corruption of the American Dream

In the year 1931, America was in the grips of the Great Depression. The Gross Domestic Product of the nation was cut in half and unemployment would reach a staggering 25%. One out of every four Americans were out of work. Hopelessness was rampant. It was out of the depths of this despair that historian James Truslow Adams coined a term that has come to define American life for the past century. In 1931 Adams created the term “American Dream.”

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It was meant as a beacon of hope in the midst of hopelessness. That even though circumstances were bad, we could make it through if we just worked hard enough. Here was his original definition: “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. . .It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable” James Truslow Adams

He was contrasting the American way of life with how life on planet earth had been conducted for thousands of years, where your position and success in life was largely dependent on whether you were born into the upper class or lower class. It was a dream where any person could work hard and achieve a life for themselves based on their own merit and imagination. It was a statement that in America everyone has the right to work hard and achieve a higher standard of living. His emphasis wasn’t on the higher standard of living (“motor cars and higher wages”), but the ability for each person to have the opportunity to achieve a better standard of living through hard work if they so chose.

But over the years this ideal of the American dream has been corrupted. It’s become less about the opportunity to work and more about the pursuit of stuff. James Truslow Adams defined the American Dream 84 years ago. Here’s how people define it today:

  • “I don’t dream football, I dream the American dream – two cars in a garage, be a happy father.” Barry Sanders, Hall of Fame NFL running back
  • “The American Dream is to reach a point in your life where you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do and can do everything that you want to do.” Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago Bulls NBA team
  • I’m in a weird band. We’ve done very well. The American Dream is alive and well. Gene Simmons, lead singer of rock band KISS
  • I think the American Dream used to be achieving one’s goals in your field of choice – and from that, all other things would follow. Now, I think the dream has morphed into the pursuit of money: Accumulate enough of it, and the rest will follow. Buzz Aldrin, second human to walk on the moon

Or to go back to the original definition, here’s how we’ve changed it: “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. . .It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capableJames Truslow Adams

More money, more possessions, more cars, more clothes, more vacations, more fame, more success, more acclaim, more beauty. For many of us, our definition of the American Dream has simply become the pursuit of more.

The MOST Important Step in Your Christian Faith

If you boiled it all down, stripped everything away, lost the church buildings, programs, Bible studies, choirs, lights, steeples, and every other comfort item from religion, what’s following Jesus really about? We like completing a task, crossing a finish line, an end goal to shoot for. Life would be so much simpler (and more manageable) if following Jesus was a short sprint, a 100 yard dash, something we could complete with a short burst of energy and then move onto other pursuits in our life.

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But following Jesus isn’t a 100 yard dash; it’s more like a marathon. And the goal line isn’t something we cross until we cross over into the next life. So if following Jesus really is a lifelong journey, then what’s the most important step? Finding a good church to attend? Getting baptized? Joining a small group? Going on a mission trip? The answer is “yes and.” Christianity is not a destination religion, where we tick off three or four accomplishments and sit back to enjoy the perks. It’s a lifelong, never ending pursuit of a man named Jesus. It doesn’t end until we see him face-to-face. We don’t arrive until we arrive on the other side. Until then, we can never become complacent in following him.

The MOST important step in your Christian faith is the ‘next step’. Jesus’ first command to “follow me” doesn’t have an expiration date to it. He’s never done with you. Our spiritual growth may come in spurts and seasons, but it takes a lifetime to finish. If you look around and realize you haven’t taken a step of faith in months or years, then you haven’t grown in months or years. Christianity is not merely attending a religious service a few times a month. It’s about following Jesus, one step at a time. Your steps may look different than those around you. But never stop taking those steps of faith. The most important step in your Christian faith is the next step.