All This Was New Once
The bricks in your church building were set there once for the first and last time. All the "Building Generation" did was once new.
There were the years before Sunday School. Sunday School orginated to teach reading and get gangs of children off the street so they did not disturb the Sabbath. Sunday School was new once.
I am not sure when pulpits were introduced or musical organs wafted into church life. They were new once.
New stuff means we move forward, make progress, look to meet the needs of the present with an eye on the future with an ancient message. Think about this; if you are running a mid-1950’s worship format in your church, you are actually doing something midly contemporary in comparison to those fearful catacomb meetings Christians once enjoyed. You change something the church "always did" to get to the "Box Church" model.
Innovation is survival in the 21st century. No? Try a computer-free life or a day unmarred by cell phones. You may be able to make it but you will absolutely lose touch with the communication age.
To do so is certain death.
"One of the great growth agents of the church today," Mike Milburn says, "is change."
Change for the sake of change, however, is poisonous when one only exchanges the far past for the near past.
So, it was, our constant roiling of the waters at BGCT generated the poorest possibile public relations for us, addled the staff, confounded our churches and emboldened our opposition. The guy at the top was good at starting things, terrible at networking during the process to build a consensus of approval and absolutely inept at staying the course.
We were changing and had to change. We just never knew how, or why, or when or if. Decisions taken in the morning were superseded in the afternoon.
"Don’t do anything about what Charles says in the morning meeting," EB Brooks told me one day during a staff week. "He is having lunch with some of us and we’ll change his mind."
We did not change the direction of the Titanic. We just backed ‘er up and rammed the iceberg again to see if it was still cold.
Oh, my, you should have seen the "pleasers" trying to figure out how to hit the moving target. Obsequity, syncophancy, empty smiles and brows furrowed in agreement met their doom when no one in the room knows just when to cry, "Amen."
The great Terry Austin, confined to his motorized chair, unable to lean over to whisper in my ear, would simply, fearlessly, look over at me and say, "This is the exact opposite of what they told us last time."
"Terry," I would say, "use your inside voice."
"This is my inside voice, you wimp," he would answer.
There are perfectly good reasons why we are floundering in the sea of white caps in our churches, fearful to stay but uncertain where to go. The fact we live so long these days in the west is one of reasons.
Robert Webber in his book The Younger Evangelicals offers the opinion there are three generations at work in Christendom today, for perhaps the first time in church history (because we live longer now). There are the Traditionalists, who led after WW II until the 1970’s, who loved mass meetings and Billy Graham. Then came the Modernists, who led from the 1970’s until recently, who wrote a business program for the church, made presentations from memory a part of church life, who could still gather in mass meetings but paid more attention to Bill Bright. After them came the Progressives/Emergents/Process/Post-Moderns.
Webber insists the Post-Moderns and Traditonalists have more in common than they may know. Post-mods don’t do so well in giant rallies, quickly lose touch with the "emotion" only appeals and see salvation as more a process than an instantaneous act. The Post-Mods convene around Brian McLaren and others, like the late Stan Grenz and the deeply intellecual Dallas Willard.
Do you have the Worship Wars in your church? You know, where the Traditionalists need two revivals a year, the Moderns need a four step salvation program and the Post-Mods need some candles, coffee and a casserole? Or, where you try to have one blended service so all can meet together, only to discover the Moderns are disturbed by the drums and the Post-Mods are bored with the hymns?
Welcome to the New World. Now, move over.
In denominational service in the 21st century, everything comes with a meeting and a meal. You start to grow into the shape of the table in front of you; narrow at the shoulders and wide at the hips. Denominational service is no place for the adult ADD, so I was doomed from the start.
The thing I ended up doing in the interminable, meaningless, repetitive meetings was to identify who was speaking for the Traditionalists, the Moderns and the Post-Moderns. I loved the intellectuals in the crowd, like Milfred Minatrea, who was smart enough to argue all three angles of the discussion.
Milfred went on sabbatical to write the book Shaped By God’s Heart. His work became a real beacon for Canadian churches and put the Post-Moderns into a Missional context previously unnoted in the literature. I enthusiastically supported Milfred’s work, put it on my blogsite, invited him into the planning stages for the final "Evangelism Conference" I put together and just generally held hands with him during the last year of our joint work at the convention.
This proved yet another error in judgement in my part. The other thing that comes with denominational service in the 21st century is turf management. Do not ever let anything you control get away from your control. You will not get it back and you will lose status as a result.
Milfred did not steal from me, malign me or despitefully use me. He is a gentleman and I count him as a friend still. I remember long talks in my office when he was being eased out just a bit later and no one would tell him why or what he could do better.
The saddest thing about Milfred’s abrupt departure was ironic. He was one of the fellows who could articulately point us to the future, pruned by persons who could not even articulate why they needed us to stay in the past. The "leadership" spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to put us into a thirty year old Modern Corporate model in a Post-Modern world. We moved from the far past to the near past with predictable results: anecdotal evidence about someone who appreciated a phone call from the new "service center" while actual support dwindled and churches left, bewildered.
Milfred was cut down just as he started to blossom. He could have been one of the touchstones to take us into a new way of thinking without losing touch with our far or near past.
His "Missional" language "did not test well."
Neither did "evangelism."
Words will be written in between my lines here and motives impugned but, read me, I did not and do not mind sharing. Also get this; shrinking resources and the receding jobs/programs distress people. In 21st century denominational service, workers may appear to be dogs fighting over bare, dry bones.
If you are silly enough to make yourself appear superfluous or lazy enough to make yourself seem redundant, you will get treated that way.
I was not lazy.
I did not spend much time around the old free yogurt machine in the break room. I spent my time on the phone, sending out email newsletters, hosting pastors and staff and traveling Texas.
Southwest Airlines started letting me do my own security check.
"He’s not bright enough to be a terrorist," they would say. "We see him all the time."
I used so much time moving around the state to see people my secretary quit, saying she did not have enough to do. I functioned without a secretary for the last year and a half I was in service, doing much the same work with a cell phone, a lap-top computer and some program codes.
I was warned about putting on twenty pounds in denominational service. I lost ten pounds in less than five years. I did watch some other guys grow more, how to say, stately.
Some got big enough to have their own area code.
You see, no one watches your time. There are staff weeks, there are endless meetings but, most of the time, a denominational employee makes his or her own schedule. I found I could indulge my penchant for work to a degree even I had never known. No one would say no or tell me to slow down a bit.
My personnel committee at FBC, Midlothian called me in sometime during the middle of my twelve years there. They had concerns.
"You have to slow down," the chairman told me.
"You work all the time," they continued.
"We are putting you on half days for awhile," they concluded.
You Freudians have had your day. Jungians, rev up and get running.
Texas is a huge, beautiful, sacred state for me. I could not see enough of it fast enough. I could not wait to see the rest of it. No one told me to stop.
Then, the headaches came.