Following up on Friday night’s blog about 2x2 ministry, here are 2 questions that we need to ask if we are going to move into the next generation.
1. What values do we have that we know they will need when we are gone?
2. As we envision the future generation, where do we draw blanks and need to seek outside counsel in order to create new values to fill out that vision?
The fact is, my values that I have are personal and many of them are not just taught, they are learned through experience. Some of us can learn not to touch fire by watching others get burnt, while others of us have to experience the pain ourselves before we will truly value and respect fire. I cannot expect others to take our word at face value when I often have not taken things at face value.
Some of my values are important and need to be passed on. Others however, are more contextual and will matter less over time. I saw a statistic today that said 60% of people get there television programming through Internet resources rather than live TV programming. I imagine that the way people keep up with the news is a greater percent social media. In years past, it was important not to schedule events at 6pm or in the early mornings when people would watch the news on TV or listen to it on the radio. There was a very specific time-frame they could receive that in. Nowadays though, anyone can get the latest breaking news simply by clicking on their phone, so the value of those times has changed already. The value of keeping up with the news though has probably grown. So I need to keep a value for current events, but leave the values surrounding whatever method I myself rely on, as it may change again in the next 10-20 years.
The second question regards those blind spots I have… how things may change. Much of it will be speculation and probably should remain flexible, but those are areas I need to seek outside perspective, and in many situations, a specifically younger perspective. Those who are shaping the future are the ones who will be closest to understanding what will be of value down the road. No perspective is perfect, but it’s best to make the best attempt I can.
Those two questions may help us all weather the storm of time and the inevitable change it brings, helping us to reshape and discern which values are timeless and which are timely.
9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Two by two. It’s how the animals went into the ark in Genesis and it is how Jesus sent his disciples out in the Gospels. God’s plan of salvation spreading across the earth has never been one person at a time, it’s always involved us working together.
Now, obviously there are biological reasons for two of each animal on the ark. That is not the purpose of this writing. Nor is it the immediate practical purposes of survival outlined here in Ecclesiastes. No, there is a third and equally important purpose in the 2x2 rule, specifically related to ministry. Making disciples who make disciples.
That is some of the new terminology being used to describe the task given to us by Jesus in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). It is a catchy, shorthand way of describing the transition of that mission between generations of Christian leaders. Passing the torch of leadership, you say? That is a part of this, but it involves more than the perpetuity of an institution or organization. I’m thinking in much broader strokes. I’m thinking about the way that the number of Christians across denominations seems to be cut in half with each generation.
Some chalk this up to evidence of the approaching End Times, but most who do so do not acknowledge their own responsibility in bringing this result about. There is little point in laying blame. The damage is done and there is no punishment or payment that can be made to take back anything that brought us to where we are today. We react to the situations around us instead of being proactive, and the result is that we end up losing our values in the process.
There are many shocking similarities between our politics today and those around 1860 - just before the Civil War. Without getting into any of the specific candidates for election, let me focus instead on party platforms. In 1860, the Republicans in the north were pushing to end slavery in the U.S. They met at their convention in Chicago and Abraham Lincoln was their nominee for the presidency. The Democrats in the South were incredibly divided between North and South. The North wanted to let states decide for themselves about slavery, while the southern Democrats wanted to keep slavery as it was. There was also an Independant party of primarily older citizens who nominated a slaveholder from Tennessee for president. Their platform was to ignore the slavery issue altogether and keep our nation from tearing itself apart.
What strikes me as odd (and I’m no US history expert by any means) is that we had the Republicans pushing for stronger federal laws, while the Democrats were fighting for State sovereignty. This tells me that one of two things happened. Either both parties got really confused over the slavery issues and abandoned their foundational platforms of federal sovereignty vs state sovereignty, or the experience of the Civil War transformed the parties into switching roles in the twentieth century. Today, we have two divided parties and it is getting harder to tell how they differentiate in their political values. They spend a lot of time trash talking the other party and the competitors within their own party as well.
Have we gotten this way in our church as well? There used to be much clearer distinctions between different denominations. On the positive side, I think we have all mellowed out a little from senseless competition and learned to work together. In some circumstances the trash-talking about other pastors or congregations still happens I’m sure, but in the light of our common struggles, it has been downplayed as of late. I think the real problem has been the values of our churches that have been lost in translation between the generations, and part of that can be seen in the lack of participation in younger people.
For instance, 100 years ago, you were expected to be in church every Sunday, somewhere, if at all possible, if you were going to call yourself a Christian. There was something about church attendance that was tied to salvation. Then, someone came along and told people that it wasn’t true, that attending church did not mean you were saved - which is true. But what some people heard from that criticism of the church attendance practice was that attending church was not valuable - so they stopped attending church and decided to worship God on their own, in their own way. That may well have been the start of the modern agnostic movement, though I doubt it was intended to be such.
Over the years, fewer and fewer of those values were passed down and new values were brought in by younger people who either inherited leadership without any real training or who left churches to start their own. Today there are very vocal acknowledgements made to being rooted in scripture, although that is often not articulated well, and the importance of our more recent church history is downplayed to a place of sentimentality about how parents and grandparents raised us, or the glory days of our time in church youth group. Either way, we can name the things we think we should do in church, but we cannot say why. We do not really understand, and thereby don’t truly value these aspects of church, so we are unable to pass them on… and the process continues.
The other concept that feeds this problem is our understanding of spiritual gifts. In our hyper-individualistic society it is now considered normal to believe that God created us all entirely unique and our spiritual gifts by which we serve God are different for every person. Again, there is some truth in this. We are unique people, uniquely gifted in many ways… yet the Apostle Paul felt compelled enough to write several lists of gifts that we have in his letters. These are not exhaustive lists, but they are fairly inclusive lists - in the sense that they represent broader categories that all of our uniqueness can find homes in. Or, in other words, they represent values in ministry. Teaching, preaching, administration, healing, encouragement, etc… these are all values that the early church had and that Paul sought to pass on to the next generation of Christians in all these churches he helped start.
So how does doing ministry 2 by 2 help with this concept of values? It ensures that the gifts I am using to carry out any given ministry are not limited to my own values, because there are two persons involved. The values are shared and the people being ministered to receive a double dose of those values to mix with their own. Perhaps most importantly is that the act of disciple-making goes on between the ministry partners as well as those with whom they are serving.
There is also a more practical reason to do ministry in partnership with others. Tomorrow is never guaranteed, and unexpected things happen everyday that mess up our well-intended ministry plans. If one person is removed from a ministry, there will always be the partner who can carry on the work, with the same consistent values in mind. If not, the transition is far rougher and often those important values are lost in these transitions.
If partnerships in ministry help ensure more consistent transitions of values in and through leadership, just imagine what ministry in the context of an entire team could bring!
Sometimes we just need to try something different.
One of the difficulties I face in church politics is trying to find the "right" answer to a problem. There are many methods to figuring out solutions. Most of them involve searching the Bible at some point or another. If the Bible does not specificy an answer, we often turn to bible teachers and interpreters for insight. If we still cannot find answers we usually try to figure it out based on our own logic and experience. That has more or less, been the traditional model of making decisions in the church.
Things are different today though. Today we have Google. Today we have Siri. Today we have so much information at our fingertips that we can get an answer to complicated questions within seconds while it may have taken years to find them just a decade ago. The game has changed, and so have some of the rules.
Twenty years ago there was greater trust in what was published. Today, anyone can publish anything and expertise is marked by sales and reviews rather than a long list of educational accomplishments. I don't think that is entirely bad either... There have been far too many years where those who went to the right schools and knew the right people made all the rules. The world has changed, and now everyone is grasping for a piece of it.
The church is not immune from that change either. Many churches, coming from a place of desperation are willing to try anything, especially if they have seen it work somewhere else. We find ourselves in the precarious position of recognizing we cannot go back to 1950, but we don't like what the future seems to hold either. It can make us harder to get along with and less trusting of others. It pushes us into fight or flight modes.
You cannot really experience freedom when you are in fight or flight mode. Freedom and fear don't mix. When everything is up for the taking, it may be advertised as freedom, but what it truly becomes is might makes right. There is actually a political precedent for this that I will post tomorrow... But the main point is that, in a dog-eat-dog world, only the dead are free.
Our founding fathers really were some educated people - some through classical training, and others through hard living. All of them were willing to die for freedom. They understood that freedom is not about just getting what you want. It involves checks and balances, and they understood that even when the government does not have checks and balances, the people can become them... perhaps should become them for that government. But here's the catch. The story we are living continues to be filled with more and more violence and less actual innovation and creativity. We get pushed to act like animals and then justify oppressors who claim we act like them. We lean on our leaders to fix everything and miss out on the role we all have in teaching our leaders how to lead again. Anyone can boss and bully others around. Anyone can spin lies and charm others out of their worth. Anyone can use people. That's not what we need in politics.
It's time for something different. It's time for leaders who can live as examples that point to something greater than ourselves, call us to be greater than we are. It's time for politicians who bury 1000 years of what it meant to be a politician and make Saturday Night Live and all our late night talk show hosts find themselves without words. I think an experience of that could make us all experience a whole new kind of freedom, a freedom for which we all might be willing to give our lives.
The majority of people I have met believe they have the freedom to make at least some choices in life. Among those who disagree, most seem to live as if they do have choices on a practical level. Free will and the degree to which we may or may not enjoy it is a discussion for another day. At the moment I want to focus on the concept of discipline in the sense of intentionally shaping behavior in a positive manner.
Choices are sometimes the problem. Even the most strong-willed person will struggle more in the face of a multitude of distractions rather than one or two options. Distractions erode away at our will and desire is a fickle motivator that may be a help one day and a hindrance the next. Consider how many people set intentional goals and plans to exercise or diet as New Year's resolutions in January. Fast forward to Thanksgiving... how many of them even remember setting those goals? Things that are strong desires at one time are not guaranteed to continue over a variety of circumstances.
Mathematically, it pays to come from the perspective of choice control rather than simply boosting motivation. The bell curve on the chart above is the model that shows how often a choice is made across a variety of circumstances with the x (sideways) axis representing what percent of the choices available the action holds and the y (up and down) axis representing how often it is chosen. Notice it peaks when it holds 50% of the option, and the vast majority (95%) of any of it's actions take place when it holds between about 25% to 75% of the choice availability.
Perhaps this is easier to explain with an example. I get dehydrated easily and need to develop the discipline of drinking water regularly. Certainly there are some times that I will desire to drink water, but other times I prefer to drink coffee or soda. Still other times I don't feel like drinking anything at all. However, I am more likely to develop the discipline of drinking water if it is constantly an option for me to do - for instance if I am always carrying a water bottle with me. Some times I will drink water because I'm thirsty for water. Other times I will drink it because it will take more time or money to get something else to drink when the water is right there. Still other times I may be tired rather than thirsty, but drinking water may be a more feasible option to stay awake than taking a nap. Whatever the situation, if drinking water is continually a valid option, I am more likely to develop it into a discipline.
Eliminating other choices only works to a point. If I choose to rid my house of anything to drink but water, I will certainly be drinking more water than before, but my thoughts and desire will swiftly move towards the things I am missing. When I feel a choice has been taken away from me I tend to dwell on it more and as soon as those choices reappear, I will abandon the discipline of drinking water and fill my choices with other options. Not only will I lose the discipline, but it will be awhile before the desire for water returns.
This bell curve of behavioral choices has some profound effects upon our lives in our development of behaviors, our relationships, the choices we make in character development, and perhaps even in the history of our organizations and their growth and decline over time. More on this later...
Trying to hear the music in the din of many voices.
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