January 2009


That’s right, I just had an 80’s flashback and made a blog post title reference to a Tony Campolo book / sermon / and maybe a movie but I can’t confirm that.  You won’t see that kind of archived Christianity on the lead pastor’s blog, nosiree…only here at Connective Tissue.

So what’s up with the blockbuster title?  I’m so glad you asked.  If you’ve been around me for oh…say…the past 35 years (hi and happy birthday, sis!), you know that I used to be Chicken Little Church Announcements Guy (CLCAG).  When you’re a student pastor (as I was for nine years), you often get the job of doing announcements in Big Church, which means that you have to prove to your students’ parents that you’re (a) not clinically insane, which some of them are wondering about especially since you just hosted the First Annual Student Ministry Food Fight which included 75 kids and a wading pool full of strawberry Jell-O, and (b) able to be enthusiastic about something besides your own student ministry agenda, which consists mostly of Bible studies on the end times and using phrases like “da’ bomb” a lot (hello, 90’s).

So as CLCAG, I would often take the pulpit and attempt to wow people with completely irrational statements that would overwhelm them with guilt / excitement / curiosity and make them come to whatever event I was promoting.  I would say things like:

  • The senior adult potluck is this Friday at noon, and it is going to rock your face off.  I hear that the featured dessert is going to be Metamucil floats, and if you miss that you’ll regret it for the rest of your days!
  • Vacation Bible School is going to be absolutely amazing this year.  If you don’t get your kids here, you might as well go ahead and sign them up for a therapy session when they’re 30, because they’re going to blame their dysfunction on you and your irresponsibility this week.
  • Wednesday night prayer time is going to be da’ bomb.  You know that verse, “Jesus wept”?  You will too if you miss it.

I finally came to the realization that the sky would not fall, the world would not come to an end, and kids would not grow up with an emotional wound if someone missed a church event every now and then.  I also realized that I was being somewhat dishonest by pretending that every event was a can’t-miss issue.  I mean really…wouldn’t life have been better had they skipped the Metamucil floats?

So that’s why I feel so confident in saying what I’m about to say.  After all, I’ve been a recovering CLCAG for a while now and am no longer prone to irrational announcement outbursts.  So here it is:

If you miss this Sunday, your face will melt off, slide to the floor, and I will drive to wherever you are just so I can laugh maniacally at you.  And your children will be born naked.

Seriously, this Sunday we are embarking on a new chapter at the Summit, and I am absolutely thrilled over what God is doing and what you’re going to hear this weekend.  If you’ve been here the last few Sundays, you’ve heard bits and pieces about Believe…this Sunday you get the full scoop on what it is and how you can be involved.

Please…don’t miss this.  It’s better than all the Metamucil floats in the world, and you don’t have to schedule bathroom time afterwards. (Sorry…the potty humor is another leftover from student pastor days.)

If you’re not a part of the Summit, check back Monday for an inside look at Believe.

Believe.

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I didn’t mean for this to turn into a two-fer, but today is a follow-up to yesterday’s post.

There’s an old joke about a guy who went to prison and ended up in a row of cells with all of the “lifers” … those guys who had been in the place since the first bars clanged shut.  After a couple of days, he noticed that every few hours one of the prisoners would yell out a random number (“Number 42!”  “Number 6!”) and all of the other prisoners would double over laughing.

After witnessing this several times, he finally asked one of his fellow prisoners what the story behind the numbers was.  The prisoner responded: “For years, we told the same jokes over and over, and we finally decided the most efficient way to tell jokes was to give all of them a number.”

Editor’s note: I’m sure that was a lot funnier in your head than when you actually typed it just now.  Bummer.

Here’s the point: as the guest-services go-to guy in our church, I’ve realized that people typically only ask about six questions.  Oh, they might ask them forty different ways, but when you boil down all the different nuances, there are really just six or so: “How do I get plugged in?”  “What’s my next step?”  “What about my kids?”  etc.

My problem as a pastor is that I don’t let our guests get the question fully asked before my brain kicks in and yells, “Number four!”  And then my mouth says, “Oh yeah, here’s what you need to know…”  It’s incredibly efficient, yet incredibly mechanical.

Yesterday I introduced you to Bill Price, co-author of The Best Service is No Service.  In that book, Price says that if we only listen and don’t come up with solutions, or if we come up with solutions but don’t listen, we fail.  The goal is to listen and invent at the same time.

If you interact with guests at your church, do you do that?  Can you do that?  It’s one thing to follow a well-written manual that has all the canned answers that you’re supposed to give…it’s quite another to have discovered the “why” behind the “what,” and to deliver the answers organically, rather than mechanically.  It’s easy to be a robotic answer-machine based on what a pastor / leader / ministry trainer tells you, it’s difficult – yet fulfilling – to go through the heavy lifting of figuring out the answers and invent new ways of dealing with old issues.

Listen.  Invent.  And laugh, because I’m giving a shout-out to Number 36.  That one always cracks me up.

*****

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Not too long ago I heard an interview with Bill Price, co-author of The Best Service is No Service.  The basic thesis of the book is that as a business / church / whatever-we-are, we should design such an experience that customer service is really unnecessary.  Think about it: the reason for most businesses’ customer service department is that most businesses stink it up to begin with, and every business needs to factor in a do-over.  Never once have I called up the people who make my peanut butter just to say, “Hey, you guys rock!  Great job on this jar of chunky I just bought.  It sticks to the roof of my mouth just like I dreamed it would!”  

No, I’m more likely to call and say, “Hey, peanut people.  Your jar of death had salmonella in it, and I threw up for three days until I’m pretty sure I inverted my toes.” (That’s a made-up scenario.  Please…no get well cards.)

The bottom line: you call customer service when there is a problem, and Price’s very sensible idea is, don’t be a horrible company to begin with, and then you virtually eliminate the need for customer service.

Obviously, we can’t carry this idea too far for our churches.  After all, our First Impressions Team at the Summit exists to engage worshippers and build meaningful relationships.  We don’t want to work ourselves out of a job, but we do want to deliver the kind of service that virtually eliminates the need for damage control.  

How does that happen?  Well, you anticipate what they need.  Think about it: our first-time guests have no idea where they should park, where their kids go, or how they take their next step.  And I’ve found the majority of those guests don’t even know to ask the question.  That’s why it’s our job to be the architects of an environment where questions are anticipated and answered before a guest experiences a disconnect.  You do this the best by always looking at the Sunday experience through the eyes of a guest.  What are they seeing?  What are they feeling?  What is scaring them?  What would reassure them?

When we serve well, there’s rarely a need for a do-over.


On Sunday Pastor J.D. rock-n-rolled with the Cannonball series.  One of the key points to the message was the truth of Acts 1:8, where Jesus told the disciples that the kingdom of God would not come passively, but actively as they preached the gospel through the indwelling and influence of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday night in my SummitLIFE group, we talked about what this looks like personally.  (Spence’s awesome discussion guide sparked the conversation…holla!)  It was a defining moment of sorts for me, as I realized that I often get my role of pastor and Christian confused.

Here’s what I mean: as a pastor, it doesn’t take much to be involved in the kingdom of God.  All I have to do as a pastor at the Summit is answer my phone, open my inbox, or walk to the front lobby at just the right time, and there is more ministry than I can shake a stick at.  Sometimes the ministry opportunities are overwhelming, and I have to either be very selective or very invisible to keep from dealing with them all.

That almost makes me sound spiritual.  I mean, what pastor wouldn’t want ample ministry opportunities, ever-changing scenarios, and chances to see lives changed?

But even pastors have to be aware that when you allow ministry to only come to you, you’re taking a passive approach to the kingdom of God.  You’re actually borderline lazy.  After all, ministry is your job, you sorry sack of seminary knowledge.

This is where the blurring of the lines comes in.  It might even be okay for me to be passive as a pastor.  Again, I can minister all day long without even seeking to do so.  It just happens.  But as a Christian, my life cannot reflect passivity…it must reflect activity.  When I go home…when I’m at Target…when I meet someone in the line at Starbucks…am I too content to remove the pastor hat, because after all, I’ve been ministering all day?  Or am I actively pursuing what God is lining up for my off hours?

Interjecting myself into the kingdom of God is my job as a pastor.  But as a Christian, it’s my responsibility and my opportunity.  How about you?  Does your life reflect passivity or activity?

And do you love it when I use lots of italics?

*****

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It’s been a busy weekend at the Franks household.  So busy, in fact, that coming back to the Grand Central Station we call the Summit offices is looking pretty dang good.

This was the weekend that I’ve known was coming for several weeks now.  Back in December, my bride informed me that we would be doing “a little painting” after the first of the year.  No amount of pleading, cajoling, or trying to enroll myself in the witness protection program kept me from this most odious of tasks.  We have five rooms total that we will be tackling; this weekend was the first three: our master bedroom and bath, and the kids’ bathroom.

I’m convinced that home builders – when they are not sitting around talking about joists and vapor barriers – partner with Satan himself to figure out how to make the future homeowner the most miserable.  Take, for example, the painting of a bathroom.  Non-pagan, Christian homebuilders would have installed toilets that would lean forward at an angle, thereby allowing you to paint behind them without placing your head in a Very Unclean Space.  But no, the Lucifer Alliance that built our house installed a standard toilet, which means that there were several times this weekend that I was embracing the entry point to a sewage system.  Many times when I was painting, I had the very distinct, very disturbing thought: “My head is laying where my rear end was sitting just minutes ago.”

Editor’s note: Dude.  Seriously?

Gross, but true. 

And as much as I hate to write this next part, in the spirit of the weekend play-by-play I must.  I think that my wife might have a role in the Lucifer Alliance.  When we opened up the paint can for the bedroom, I couldn’t help but notice a striking resemblance between the color of the paint in the can and the color of the paint already on the walls.

Me: Um, honey?  This paint that I’m putting on the walls…the paint that I just spent an hour pulling every muscle in my body moving bedroom furniture and putting that blue tape on everything for…isn’t it exactly the same color as what we already have?

Merriem: No, sweetheart honey bunches. (At least I think that’s what she called me.) The old paint was South Asian Rainforest Bamboo.  This is very clearly Southeast Asian Dry Arid Tundra Bamboo.  Of course it’s a different color.

Me: But really…I’m looking at it right now, and with the naked eye I can’t tell where the old paint ends and the new paint begins.

Merriem: But sugarplum hot britches, (I’m almost positive those were her words.) The Dry Arid Tundra Bamboo brings out the brown in the new comforter.  You DO see that, don’t you?

…and on it went, until I realized if I ever wanted to sleep under the new comforter, I had better agree.

The most fun part of the weekend was painting over our bathroom.  A few years back we painted the bathroom red.  Not just red.  It was Torpedo Just Went Through Your Main Artery Red.  It was so red that as I was hunkered down with my head wedged behind the toilet, I found Bob the Tomato and his entire family had been hiding out in there for months, scavenging breath mints out of my sink drawer and occasionally wearing my warm up pants.  We had never seen him because – after all – he blended.

But it was time for the red to go.  Merriem had come to question the red.  She suspected the red. She was certain that the red was absolutely what has kept our house from selling.  It was what burned out the retinas of any potential buyer.  It was responsible for the collapse of the American real estate market.

So we painted over the red.  The bathroom is now a lovely Bolivian Winter Mellow Avocado, or something like that.  And as soon as the last coat was applied, my wife – the woman I love – said, “I miss the red.”

It’s a good thing she’s so cute, because otherwise, I think I could have stuffed her into the paint can.

That’s right, Connective Tissue readers: break out your cyber-confetti and blow your celebratory interweb kazoo…it’s the 100th post.  I was going to wow you with some fancy-schmancy statistics on how many posts that breaks down to per week, per day, and per hour, but then I whipped out the calculator and realized that I started this blog exactly 200 days ago.  And as any idiot knows, if you divide 200 days by 100 posts, that means I’ve been cranking out a blog post every 3.4 days (give or take a decimal point).

So today, we look ahead into the next century of posts, and I am asking you for some readership leadership in making some decisions, namely, where to from here?  That’s right, I do care what you think.  Because when it comes down to it, this blog is about you, America.  And offhanded references to Anderson Cooper’s latte.  And pictures of the Wienermobile.

So here we go…the first poll of Connective Tissue, which probably means it won’t work because I didn’t do it right, and you’ll be frustrated and stop reading, and I’ll be drinking used A & W Root Beer out of a moldy Dixie cup while I’m living under the Guess Road overpass.  Bummer.

It works like this: you vote on each question, you vote once, and you vote seriously.  There shall be no smart alecky seventh grade boys trying to run up the numbers on these polls: that’ll get you slapped around.  (Oh yeah…and I’d really like for everyone to participate.  That means you, blog-stalker-admin-assistant.)

 

Whew…that wasn’t so hard, was it?  Okay, now for one final bonus all-skate question: What didn’t you say on the survey that you’d like to say now?  We’re talking subject material, I-wanna-see-this type stuff, you know…the whole nine yards.  And since I’d love to share your answers with everyone, leave a comment.

Believe it or not, this is not another post in homage to this week’s snowfall.  For that story – including my gratuitous use of the word “poo” on a ministry blog – click here.

Snowflakes are cute.  They adorn Christmas stationery, posters in Target, and your grandma’s festive winter sweater.  Everybody loves a snowflake.  I’ve never met anybody in my life that had an outright hatred for a single snowflake.  They’re adorable…harmless…kind of a kitten of the meteorological world.

But if you take a single snowflake and combine them with quite a few more of their ne’er-do-well friends, they turn into trouble.  Oh, not much trouble.  But when the street-cruising snowflake gang morphs into a snowball, it’s head lump time.

Take a few snowballs and pack ’em in tight, and you have the possibility for an avalanche.  Now instead of one meteorological kitten, you have a horde of wild tigers coming at you full-speed.

Editor’s note: I’m really confused.  Can you get to the point?

Misfires in our churches are like snowflakes.  Failure to return one e-mail or say hello to one guest, and on the grand scale of things it’s not a big deal.  Those isolated misfires can usually be identified and corrected pretty easily, and no one is worse for the wear.  On any given week, I can identify a half-dozen misfires in the ministries I oversee.  Most are harmless…a quick apology by e-mail or phone and everyone is happy again.  Some are a little bit more serious, and that’s when we have to re-evaluate systems and procedures.

But when a ministry consistently misfires and has no room for evaluation and correction, an avalanche is imminent.  An avalanche is bad news.  It wipes out everything in its path, it can’t be stopped, and more often than not, it kills.  Nobody likes an avalanche.  

Face the facts: every ministry model in every church is going to have a few misfires.  There’s no ministry that doesn’t have its share of flakes (ha ha, I crack me up).  A flake here and there?  Easily taken care of.  Bad flake gangs that are out to TP people’s yards and egg neighborhood windows?  Incorrigible, but you’ll probably overcome those, too.  But watch out…the rumbling of the avalanche isn’t too far off.

What flakes can you identify in your ministry?

By the way, my college roommate-in-law (definition: the relationship you have with the girl who eventually married your college roommate) is a kick-tail photographer.  And though I seriously wonder how she did it, yesterday’s post has some awesome photos of actual, real-live snowflakes.  You should check it out and then Snopes it to see if she’s a big fat liar.

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