November 2007


Those two words just don’t seem to go together. I’m not sure you’d call it an oxymoron but for me the words are definitely incompatible. Christmas is all about joy and peace and love, and there right at the center is giving. Something about the word obligation seems to go against the grain of the central message of Christmas, yet there seems to be an obligatory thread that is woven through the holiday season.

Do you ever feel like you have to buy gifts for some people? You don’t really want to but you have to, or so you feel. It’s either because they gave you something or because you’ve exchanged gifts for years and stopping doesn’t seem like much of an option. Whatever the case it feels like an obligation and it takes the joy out of the giving.

When I want to give a gift it makes all the difference. When my gift to someone comes out of love and is a response it shifts from obligation to joy. Like most married couples (at least I assume this to be true) my wife and I exchange gifts at Christmas. Last year we tried something different and gave smaller, stocking-stuffer type gifts. We decided the gifts should have special meaning to the other person and so any little thing just wouldn’t do. While we didn’t have to follow a theme Jacque decided that my entire stocking should have a cool and meaningful theme. It was great fun to give…and receive.

We’re doing the same thing this year and so in my spare moments I find myself trying to be creative about what I’m going to give Jacque. It’s got to be right. Not an obligatory right but the kind of right that says I love you, you’re special and I took the time to find things that would express that in just the right way.

I wonder at this time of year how often we do things out of obligation? I’m not naive enough to believe there won’t be those things but I’m idealistic enough to believe there shouldn’t be. Isn’t it mostly a matter of attitude and thought? What would happen if you decided to approach nothing this holiday season as an obligation? What kind of difference would it make for you to view everything through a lens of joy and love and celebration? 

Christmas shouldn’t be another obligation. The entire spirit and attitude of Christmas should flow freely from the thankfulness we just focused on last week. SO, let it flow freely because Christmas isn’t an obligation. Christmas is a response!

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A friend of mine who pastors a fairly young church has determined that the church’s original name isn’t reflective of who they’ve become. It sort of reflects their location but it doesn’t reflect their values, their vision or anything substantive about them. They’re really grappling with it, praying over it, talking with a lot of people. A name that reflects their identity has become a pretty big deal for them. They need a new name.

I remember struggling with what we’d name our third child. She was a surprise but somehow that name didn’t seem appropriate so we crossed it off our list. People around us told us she was going to be a very special child (tying this to the surprise element I suppose) so that put all kinds of new pressure on us as we combed the baby books looking for that special name. 

For a boy we finally landed on Geoffery. At this point I can’t remember why, but that was the name. The only problem was the spelling. My wife wanted Jeffery and I wanted Geoffery. I must have thought it looked more special that way. More unique. We were still discussing the spelling on the way to the hospital so fortunately we had a girl. And by the way, everyone was right. She’s very special, and her name is Aimee.

When I sit down to write a post like this I probably think about the title too much. But it’s what grabs people’s attention. It’s the first thing they see and it can form, or at least influence their opinion of the post. I suspect the more intriguing or outrageous the title the more inclined people will be to read what follows. 

We put a lot into titles and names. In marketing, a name can be critical to a product’s positioning. When preaching, a title usually sums up my big idea. Titles and names are more than just labels. They’re indicators of sorts. They tell stories. They give hints or clues. This morning I read Isaiah 43. The last part of the very first verse jumped off the page. 

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. 

 

As I read this passage it strikes me that God doesn’t seem too concerned with our names. Evidently He knows them but that’s not what strikes me. The words that follow are what strike me. My name is not the focus. My name is pretty immaterial in this context. My name is not what matters most to God. What matters most to Him, and to me are the words that follow. You’re mine!

I am by nature a pretty positive guy. I can’t help it, I just look on the bright side of life. There are other people whose natural tendency is to see things from more of a bleak perspective. Then there are those who just seem to be pissed off: they’re angry people. Many of those pissed off people have blogs and the thing they love to write about is how much the church has disappointed them, hurt them, or otherwise stifled them as they’ve gone through life. 

To get the full picture you need to understand that at the same time these pissed off at the church people are unleashing their wrath on the church, they also write about a God of love, forgiveness, grace, peace and how much they love this God. Interesting disconnect. I realize that most of the time the church they’re writing about is not so much the people of God but the organization. So, can we truly love God without being Christ-like, and can we truly be Christ-like and be so pissed off at the church? 

Here’s a great question (at least I think it’s great). How can the church — the people of God who are supposed to be a reflection of God — look so unlike God? Interesting disconnect. Several years ago a dear fried of mine introduced me to the concept of extending grace to others. I’m sure I’d heard this my entire life but for some reason it never connected until I approached 40. Up until that time I guess I thought that extending grace wasn’t my job but Christ’s. He kept talking about extending the grace of Christ to others through our actions, words, responses, etc. 

What if all of these pissed off people would extend some grace bak to this organization they’re angry with. They seem to understand the concept of grace and embrace the grace that Christ has extended to them, so why not let that grace come full circle? Why allow the disconnect to continue?

There may be more to come on this subject. What are your thoughts? 

Yesterday morning I led a meeting reminding some of our company’s leaders of how things get done. How projects get completed and the order in which they’re executed most effectively. Every now and then, even in a professional firm like ours people need to be refreshed on what’s central to what we do. Sure, the fun part about marketing, at least for most people is the look and feel of what we create. Whether it’s a print ad, a direct mail piece, a web site, a 30 second spot or any host of deliverables, the fun is in the design. But as marketers we have to concern ourselves with the message before the design, and the message can only flow from the strategy which is developed through in-depth research.  

While I was leading this discussion I reminded the group that in my former career as a pastor I applied the same principles each week. I didn’t consider what I did on Sundays to be marketing but I most definitely worked very hard at honing the central message of the entire service (I wrote about it several days ago in fact). It wasn’t something I did hastily, nor was it done haphazardly. Whether it was a sermon or an entire service the central message was what everything else grew out of. The message, or the Big Idea drove the design.

While I’m convinced that approach makes a significant impact I believe even more strongly in the “So What!” quality of a take away. When my wife and I were pastoring on a weekly basis one of us (whichever one of us didn’t deliver the sermon) would conclude with a take away that helped apply the central message or theme to real life. Instead of people leaving the service and saying “So what!” they could leave knowing how to respond. It was a call to action. So, how often do you leave a service saying, “So What”? What do you do with what you hear and experience each week? Is it working for you?

Last night we celebrated the birthday of our oldest daughter Jessica. As she and I walked toward the restaurant I put my arm around her shoulder and we both agreed how difficult it was to believe she was 25 years old. We laughed about her being a quarter century and how in a few months I would hit the half century mark in my life. Sitting at the table later, after enjoying great food and drink, we relaxed and talked about Jessica’s life. She commented on how old she was getting and Jacque and I laughed, silently understanding how much life and learning she still had in front of her.  

Also on my mind was the upcoming wedding of our son Ryan and how young he is. How can a 21 year old be ready for all that marriage is going to require of him? I’m not sure that matters at this point however. The simple fact is that he’s getting married, ready or not. I’m not sure I was ready at 22, but those were different times as I’ve frequently tried to convince myself — and our kids.

And then there’s our little baby Aimee who just turned 20 last week. How does this happen? I remember when all of them were so dependent on us for everything. Truth is they’re still dependent on us, just not as much as they once were. They still want our advice and more importantly our love. It seems like the older I get the more I want them close by. Not to protect them or rescue them, now I just want to enjoy life with them. I want to experience the routine with them. I want to enjoy a relationship with them that doesn’t include asking if they’ve done their homework or what time they got in last night. I want to be an adult with them. At their ages it now seems possible to be both friend and father. That’s what I want!

When I was a young kid people used to ask that question frequently. It was actually more like a catch phrase than a question. It was a regular part of the script on Leave it to Beaver (what parent would ever call their kid Beaver?), Andy Griffith (my all time favorite show) and others. You don’t hear the question much anymore, unless you’re in one of my seminars on designing worship service flow and theme. You might also hear me ask that as I leave a church’s worship service, because that’s what I’m wondering as I walk out the door and get into my car: “What was the big idea they wanted me to walk away with today?”

Seldom do speakers present an overarching Big Idea that I can hang onto. They present a few decent ideas, some not as decent and a bunch of other stuff. But hardly ever do I walk out the door thinking of the ONE big thing they wanted me to leave thinking about. They simply bombard me with various ideas. Why? I guess because it’s easier and requires less thought and planning to design an entire service, sermon included, with multiple messages as opposed to developing just one, singular, BIG Idea. It’s hard work to boil it all down to just one idea, and it usually requires a collaborative effort which adds to the challenge.

What’s so important about this singular focus? It’s what makes your message stick. If you’ve not read, Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath it’s worth your time (that is if you’re someone who wants to sharpen their skill of communicating ideas and thoughts). The main thesis of their book centers around presenting a singular big idea concept in a simple way. There’s not room here to articulate HOW to do that, but If you can do that regularly throughout the entire worship service people will leave with much more than they might otherwise. That’s much better than them asking, “Hey, what’s the big idea?”

So, are any of you doing something similar? What are the results. I’d love to hear from you.

Sitting across the lunch table from a pastor friend of mine as he shared with me his journey of the last several months was an interesting conversation to say the least. It was sort of like listening to a recording of several conversations my wife Jacque and I have had over the last few years. My friend pastors a 4 or 5 year old congregation that was planted out of another church in our city. When they began their intent was to be a church for the unchurched and therefore turned to some of the countries great mega churches as models. However, over the last few months he has felt a growing discomfort with that approach, and the consumer focused church in general.

There aren’t many churches, at least in Kansas City who are much more than a religious products warehouse store. Each week people come and get stocked up on supplies and then go back to their lives. If for some reason the church happens to be out of a product, or doesn’t carry what they want then it’s time to move on to a different church to check out their selection. Maybe their music will be more to our liking. Perhaps they really know how to worship God.

My friend recently preached a sermon series on being a SENT church. Since his people are used to coming to church for supplies the whole idea of the church being a sending station, a missional organization created for sending rather than consuming, was a foreign concept. He said that many weeks as he spoke he looked out at blank stares. For him this became more an indication of the need than a source of discouragement. I applaud his bold vision and his commitment to redefining church.

So what are your thoughts? Are most churches today religious products stores? Is this a legitimate approach to church? Where are you on your journey? 

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