Categotry Archives: changing mindsets

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Fences and Wells

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Categories: changing mindsets, church, food for thought

Of all the studying I’ve done over the past two years, one of the most impacting books I’ve read is The Shaping of Things to Come by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost. Not a quick read by any means, but full of great information and ideas about how church and ministry can be reshaped to better serve this culture. It gave some cohesion to a lot of thoughts I’d already been processing. So I’d like to give credit here and tell you that I’m borrowing ideas from that book to write this post.

In the last two posts I talked about how we’ve come to use the “sinner’s prayer” as a sort of determining factor in deciding who is “saved.” We questioned whether this is really an accurate litmus test, since conversion really is a matter of the heart, not a prayer formula. And this also begs the question: why do we even feel this need to measure this? Why are we bent on deciding who is “in” and who is “out”?

The answer to this question hinges on how we view the church–or rather, how we have viewed it for many centuries now.

The institutional church functions as a “bounded set.” That is, it has a well-defined set of parameters and boundaries, and a specific set of criteria to determine its membership. Those who have met the criteria are “insiders”, and those who have not are considered “outsiders”. As such, the whole focus of growing the church is to try to get as many outsiders as possible to meet the criteria, at which point they come “in.” Outsiders might be treated well as visitors, but they are still considered outsiders until they meet the criteria–and the differentiation can definitely be felt. This is how it has been for centuries. But it is not necessarily a Biblical model; there are other ways to look at the church. And The Shaping of Things to Come uses a great analogy to describe the difference: the difference between fences and wells.

Here in America, when people keep livestock or do cattle ranching, we use fences to bound our property and keep our animals inside clear boundaries where they are supposed to be. The fences define and contain our property, and the whole purpose is to keep our livestock within the fences, and to keep intruders out. The emphasis is on the boundary between in and out. This is a “bounded set,” similar to the institutional church.

But in Australia, ranching is done differently. The wide-open spaces there are so, well, wide and open, that fences are ludicrous. To keep the animals from wandering off, they don’t use fences; they dig a well. The idea is that the well is life-giving in an arid climate, so although there is no fence to keep the animals contained, they never stray too far from the well because the well means life. In this case, the emphasis is not on the perimeter of the property, but on the well in the center. This is what is known as a “centered set”. And it can teach us a lot about another way to look at church.

What if, instead of focusing on the outer boundaries and perimeters of our faith, we put Jesus at the center and turn the focus on Him? What if we stopped worrying so much about who is “in” and who is “out”, and simply encourage people to draw near to the center? What would be the ramifications of this change?

First, I can see that this approach is far more welcoming to those who have not yet committed to Christ, because everyone is made to feel equally welcome to draw near. Some will be nearer to the center than others, but no one is made to feel excluded because of the level of their faith or their proximity to the center.

Second, there will obviously be a core of committed believers that hover near the center, but because they aren’t contained by a fence, the commitment and involvement level will naturally be high. After all, these people are near the center because they want to be–not because they feel they have to be.

The end result and benefit of this approach? There is a strong community of commited disciples near the center who are strongly bonded with one another and engaged in the mission of Christ; and there is also ongoing relationship with others who at various stages of interest and curiosity, and at various distances from the center. But because there is no “in” or “out”, the more distant ones do not feel excluded from the group nearest the center, and those nearest the center don’t feel their experience is being watered down by the presence of “outsiders.” All can coexist in the same system, because all are welcomed to partake of Jesus, the water of life.

Does this mean there is no call to repentance and conversion, no challenge to yield to Christ and His Lordship? In the words of Paul–God forbid. 🙂 In the course of relationship, as the Holy Spirit draws people toward the center of the circle, certainly there will be the constant invitation, and moments of decision. And decisions for Christ will be celebrated. It’s just that there is no longer a compelling need to measure people by whether they are “in” or “out”, because the focus is on the Center, not the outer edges.

I happen to think this is a great approach, and one that is very timely for a culture in which our current forms of church are having less and less influence. In a time when boundaries are being pushed, moved, and blurred constantly, perhaps it’s time to stop trying to protect our fences, and start digging some wells.

Perhaps it’s time to give people a reason to want to draw near. Just a thought… 🙂

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Over-marketing the Watered-Down Version

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Categories: changing mindsets, evangelism, food for thought

In times of “economic downturn”, there’s an annoying little trick that manufacturers like to do. Maybe you’ve noticed it when you go the grocery store. The prices of certain items go up, but the size or quantity of the same items go down.

That’s right–you are paying more money for less stuff.

I even heard that some olive oil manufacturers are planning to dilute the oil they sell you.

Now, I know the purpose behind this is usually to try and keep costs down so they don’t have to drive the prices way up. But when it happens, it’s still hard not to feel like you are being ripped off.

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The Stuff That Doesn’t Make It Through the Filter

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Categories: changing mindsets, Meanderings (look it up)

There are two things I still grapple with in my life. Actually there’s more, but I’m just going to talk about two. And they are interrelated, and they work in combination.

The first thing I grapple with is a desperate need to be understood. I hate to be misunderstood, to be wrongly judged, or falsely accused…whatever you want to call it. I’ve been told I’m a very good communicator, not only in writing, but in speaking. I’m good in mediation situations because I can often bridge the gap in communication breakdowns between two parties. Some might call it a gift, but I think most of my ability to communicate is an unintended byproduct of this obsession I have with explaining myself. I have spent countless hours replaying conversations in my head–especially when I felt the other person didn’t understand me–rehearsing what I wish I’d said, or what I would like to say if given the opportunity, anything to make that person understand. I think I was able to trace this once to something in my childhood, but right now I can’t place it. Obviously, this is something I’m still working on, although I’m a lot better about it than I used to be. 🙂

The second thing I grapple with is the mindsets, or filters, that people carry in their minds. We all have them, I think. For some reason, the way people look at the world affects how they interpret what they hear, what they see, or what they read. And the same word can mean many different things to many different people (like the word “church”, for example–or the word “Christian”). So because of the filters, whenever one person tries to communicate with others, the challenge isn’t just to get them to hear what you say, but to know what you mean by what you say. For some people, the filter is so strong that you can talk to them until you are blue in the face, and their response will tell you they didn’t hear anything you just said. They know you were saying words, and they might even think they know what you were saying…but the filters in their heads caused your words to paint a completely different picture for them than what you intended.

Can you see how these two things in combination could make a guy like me want to bang his head against a wall? 🙂 Not only do I feel this great need to be understood…but the filters we hear through guarantee that at some point misunderstanding is going to happen. Not just once, but over and over again.

Crap.

So think about how this plays out in the main subject matter on this blog: re-thinking church. Looking at Christ-following through a different lens; questioning certain practices of the church that we’ve taken for granted for centuries. Re-evaluating our methods without compromising our principles.

Talk about mindsets: hoo, boy. Christian and non-Christian alike, we’re loaded with mindsets about this stuff. Lots and lots of filters. So sometimes, no matter how long I labor over a post, no matter how much I edit and rewrite to make sure I said exactly what I intended to say…the law of averages says someone’s going to misunderstand the intention, and it will show up in the comments. And I’ll be going, “Wait; this was in writing. Didn’t you read what I wrote?” Of course they read it, and they are even sincerely trying to process it. But you can just tell that the filters got in the way, and some stuff didn’t get through. So the word picture I painted looks very different upon their canvas than it did on mine when I wrote it down.

Maybe if I tape a pillow to the wall, I can prevent head injury.

Now, I’m not really all that neurotic; my tongue is in my cheek here for comic effect. But you get what I’m saying, right??

The thing is…even Jesus dealt with this issue. How many times was He misunderstood during His earthly ministry? (For that matter, how often is He misunderstood today?) Jesus even went so far as to say that for all the amazing things He taught, and for all the miracles He did–no one could even come to Him unless the Holy Spirit was already drawing that person. He often taught in parables specifically because He knew He was dealing with people who would not understand. And over and over again, He’d finish off something He said with, “He who has ears to hear–let him hear.” Obviously, Jesus understood the power of filters.

So…is it all hopeless? Not in the least. I think the key can be found in Jesus’ approach. He went along, sharing, teaching, being who He was, knowing that people would misunderstand, but moving forward anyway. And when He said that no one comes to Him unless the Spirit draws him–this is very important. This suggests that dealing with the filters is the Holy Spirit’s territory–not ours. This is why Jesus could confidently say things He knew were going right over His disciples’ heads at the time, knowing that at some point the Holy Spirit would bring it back to them. He even told them once, “What I’m about to tell you, you won’t understand; but you will understand it later.”

This one revelation–that the Holy Spirit deals with our filters–is actually very freeing. This tells me, and really all of us, that while we should try to communicate the best we can about these things, we can’t be responsible for someone else’s filter. And we don’t have to take it personally when someone misunderstands. The Holy Spirit is the One who brings the understanding and removes the filter–in His own way, in His own time.

This also tells me…gulp…I have to learn to be okay with being misunderstood. Because it’s going to happen to all of us. And because pillows are for sleeping on, not for taping to the wall. And so, I am learning to put my head-banging ways aside. I am learning to rest in the fact that, just as the Spirit has removed so many filters from my own thinking, He can do for all of us. We can trust Him to do His job; He knows how to deal with the stuff that doesn’t make it through the filter.

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Why When I Say the Church Is an Organism, I’m Not Just Being Hip

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Categories: changing mindsets, food for thought

You ought to have seen me when I was in high school. Perhaps, someday when I’m healed up and less vain, I’ll post my graduation picture here (or maybe just when I stop being lazy and scan the dang photo).

Anyway, when I was in high school, my hair was styled 10 years out of date, shaped like a wavy sort of afro, and my nose was this huge thin triangle thing that was too big for my face. I was also skinny as a rail, so if I turned sideways, my protruding nose was approximately 80% of my profile. Oh, and starting my senior year, I wore a razor thin moustache that looked like I’d just drunk a glass of dirt. (Hey, it was the best I could do at the time.)

Today, a lot has changed. My moustache has morphed into a goatee, peppered with grey hair. I’m fighting to make sure I have enough hair on my head, rather than having too much. And my nose is the same shape, but actually fits my face now. But now, my body is too big for, um, my body. (Thankfully, I’m now finally starting to lose weight.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is that as an organic creature, I am constantly changing. My cells have a life cycle; they are dying and replenishing themselves over and over again, sometimes in places I wish they would not multiply. I’ve always been me, but I have completely different cells now than I did when I was seventeen. I have changed with time. I have been dynamic rather than static.

This is how organic creatures are: they grow, they change, they shift, they adapt to their surroundings. The object is not to remain the same forever, but to continue recycling throughout life.

So much of the discussion about organic versus institutional church these days hinges on the understanding that the church is an organism rather than an organization or an institution. The church is often referred to as the Body of Christ, and I think that is for a reason. Much of what I discuss here on this blog really boils down to how we view the church. At the same time, it’s become very chic to say, “The church isn’t an institution; the church is an organism.” Even people in the institutions are saying it. And it’s true, but when something is overstated, sometimes we underestimate the truth behind the statement and lose the meaning.

Think about what this means. Why is it soooo important that we see the church as an organism rather than an institution? Why make such a big deal about this?

Because organisms and institutions behave very differently from one another. And when we mistake one for the other, our priorities get screwed up. We start thinking certain things are important when they really aren’t.

Here’s the fundamental difference between the two. The goal of an institution is to remain structured, steadfast, fixed and unchanged for as long as possible. But the goal of an organism is to grow, multiply, and adapt–through a constant stream of changes and life cycles.

Here’s just one example of how this plays out. When we think like an institution, our priority in founding a church will be longevity. Sure, we want our church to grow, but even more than that–we want our church to last. Standing the test of time becomes the measure of success. Just like the post I wrote last year about the oldest church in Texas–even if our church winds up in the middle of a cemetery with more dead members than living ones, at least the institution is standing strong. An institution’s hallmark is the fact that it does not change over time.

But when we think like an organism, our priority in starting a fellowship will be to adapt to our environment, to grow and thrive and be the best we can be in that environment while retaining our uniqueness as an organism. Effectiveness and obedience to Christ our Head become the measures of our success. And because we know that organisms change over time and endure many life cycles without losing their identity, we won’t be so hung up on how long a particular expression of church will last. If we come to a place where we feel like that particular expression has run its course and is no longer effective–we will simply adapt, reinventing and retooling ourselves, as it were, for the next season.

Organisms don’t fear change; they thrive on it.

Can you see why it is so important that we make this shift in our thinking? Can you see why it’s so important that we not just say the church is an organism, but actually believe it, and live like it’s true?

The fact is, though we formed a lot of institutions over the centuries, the church never has been an institution. It’s just been an organism that thought it was an institution. In a day when change is happening faster and faster, it’s no wonder that our institutions are losing their clout in the world we live in. We will do much better in keeping pace, I think, if we begin to see ourselves again as an organism, thriving on change rather than resisting it.

That’s just my opinion, anyhow. All I can say is…I’m really glad I don’t still look like my graduation picture. I’m glad my nose fits my face now. Change is good.

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Dangerous Musings About Equality (part 2)

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Categories: changing mindsets, food for thought

In part 1 of this series, I began talking about the idea of equality, about the belief that people should be treated as equals without regard to race, gender, socio-economic standing, or other differentiating qualities–especially in the church. I mused that there really is not a strong emphasis on equality in the Scripture, but rather a mandate not to show favoritism in the church, and a mandate to prefer others above ourselves rather than treat them as equals. I referred to this as moving past equality into the celebration of uniqueness. And I suggested that “equality” is a mathematical term that we inadvertently use to draw comparisons on the value of people, and that this is why we need to move past it.

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Dangerous Musings About Equality (part 1)

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Categories: changing mindsets, food for thought

Kathy over at the carnival in my head has been doing a great series of posts called “what could be.” One of her recent entries was about “equality practiced,” in which she shares about how the church should intentionally practice equality with one another with regard to gender, race, socio-economic standing…in all things.

I’ve been mulling over this one for days, and finally decided to post my thoughts here rather than in her comments. And this post is in two parts so as not to overwhelm the reader. 🙂

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Why Deconstruct?

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Categories: changing mindsets, food for thought

**Note: For those of you who remember the phantom in my laptop…when I first typed the word “deconstruct” this morning, it came out “deconsuc”. 🙂

Among the lingo that surrounds me (and that I use frequently) is the word “deconstruction”. A lot of us are using this word to describe our spiritual walk as an attempt to get real about our faith. And what it usually means is that we are removing the institutional forms of Christianity from our lives, and/or leaving those institutions behind, without forsaking our faith.

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The Shape and the Substance

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Categories: changing mindsets, food for thought

Mark Main at The Untried has written two posts about “Assumptions”, reflecting on the flak he has taken in his departure from institutional church, and the assumptions those in his circle have made about his faith and his motives. The list was actually surprising to me, how many things have been said about him and his family–everything from how he’s a heretic to how he’s leading his own children away from God.

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Update on our Re-Thinking of Worship…

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Categories: changing mindsets, worship

A few weeks back, I began publishing a series of posts on “Re-Thinking Worship”, and talked about how my perspectives of worship were being expanded beyond the typical worship-leader sing-along format. (If you want to read the series–seven posts thus far–you can find them under the “worship” category in the right sidebar of my blog.)

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False Spiritual Benchmarks (part 2)

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Categories: changing mindsets, food for thought

Feeling a bit better today…thanks for all the prayers and well-wishes. 🙂

The comments generated from my earlier post on False Spiritual Benchmarks were good, and they have prompted some more thoughts on my part–now that my thinking is less muddled, that is. 🙂

I’ve gotten to pondering why we create these benchmarks in the first place. Why and how did we resort to measuring our spiritual health by how much we pray, or fast, or read the Bible, or any other specific activities we classify as spiritual? Again, not saying we shouldn’t do those things, but where did we get the idea that these practices are what make us more spiritual, “better” Christians, and so on?

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