June 2010

It’s day three of You Blew It Week.  Start the party here.

Sometimes I feel like a professional screw up.  It’s true.  As a guy who generally has his stuff together and is typically organized, there are times when I shove ten pounds of mistakes in a five pound sack.  (No, you can’t borrow my top secret scale for weighing your mistakes.  Patent pending.)

For example, I entered the week with this topic already lined up.  I was already going to talk about blowing it, because I felt like – for once – things were going well.  Then came Monday.  On Monday, everything that could go wrong did.  Everything that could be messed up was.  Every mistake that could be made was made.  Stuff had broken on Sunday.  Teams had fouled up on Sunday.  Systems had gone wrong on Sunday.  And the common denominator in every last one of them seemed to be…me.  It was almost as if God said, “Your writing material needs more examples.  More heart.  Maybe not so much cowbell.”

One of the first steps to fixing your life or ministry or whatever after you’ve blown it is to ask one question: “What went wrong?”  What caused what happened to happen?  What were the particular catalysts for disaster?

Sometimes your screw up is a one-time fluke.  To spend any energy whatsoever in fixing the fluke would be wasted.  You apologize and then you move on if the chances of a recurrence are next to nothing.

But if it’s an easily-identifiable problem, it’s typically going to be a people issue or a systems issue.

People issues tend to revolve around personality, personal errors, or simply a bad day.  On Sunday I had way more than my fair share of people issues.  Key volunteers didn’t show up and failed to let me know.  One team member got a little snippy with another.  3/4 of my leadership team happened to be out of town on the same day.  I over scheduled my morning and couldn’t be everywhere I needed to be.

People issues are tricky, and you should identify patterns before you call it a problem.  If one of my volunteer’s car wouldn’t start and her dog threw up on the carpet and her daughter got a Lego stuck in her nose before she left for church, then I’m going to overlook the fact that she showed up late, if she showed up at all.  If she shows up late every single Sunday, that’s a pattern that needs to be addressed.  And her daughter needs to stop snorting Legos.

Systems issues often involve people, and often occur when people make mistakes because the process makes no sense.  We’re smack in the middle of overhauling our First Impressions systems.  Our team and responsibilities have grown so large that individual teams don’t know where their job ends and another team’s job begins.  It’s not the people’s fault, it’s the system’s fault, so we’re going all out to fix the system.

Systems issues seem more cut-and-dried, but we have to remember that systems are there to serve the ministry, not the other way around.  Systems should make the job easier, not harder.  Systems should free us up to be better volunteers or pastors or friends on any given day instead of making us drown in details.

Here’s the difference between people and systems: you should be brutally ruthless with systems, but you must be mercifully kind with people.  We take no prisoners with our systems.  We scrutinize, study, tweak, kill, destroy, rebuild, you name it.  With people – and especially with volunteers – my goal is to assume the best.  Did I miscommunicate?  Did they misunderstand?  Is there a bigger story going on in their life?

The next time you blow it, ask what went wrong.  Identify the issue as people or systems.  Fix it.  And move on.

Psst: Hey you.  This is the 2nd part of a five part series.  Start here.

My Grandaddy Franks was the King of Snark before snark was cool.  He’d tell his employees, “You can show up without your pants, but don’t show up without your keys.”  He’d tell my sister, “You’re pretty two ways: pretty ugly and pretty likely to stay that way.” (I was always particularly fond of that one.)  And whenever a grandchild would get within ten feet of him, he’d say, “Glad to see you back!” and slap you on the back as hard as he could.  Usually on a sunburned shoulder.

What’s that?  Oh yes, our therapist says we’re making great progress, now that we’re in our 30’s and 40’s.  Thanks for asking.

One saying I can’t attribute to Grandaddy – but know he would have loved – is this: “I know you’re sorry, now apologize.”

In other words, “I think you’re a pretty big waste of skin.  Stop breathing my air.  You screwed up, and I’m not just mad at your mistake, I’m mad at you.

One of the biggest mistakes we make is not the mistake itself, but the mistake of not taking it personally.  Instead of recognizing that we blew it, we usually blow it off.  “It’s not a big deal,” we say. “That stuff just happens.”  People forget.  Balls get dropped.  Systems don’t always work.

And while that’s all true, the fact is it’s a very big deal to the person you’ve blown it with.  Or with which you’ve blown it.  Or whom you’ve blown it wherewithall.  Whatever.

Being a professional mistake-maker, I’ve learned that if I can place myself in the other person’s shoes I’m 87% closer to making things better.  I’m not advocating that we pander to people or fake sorrow so we get out of hot water.  I’m saying that we sincerely make an attempt to see the inconvenience from the other side of the fence.  How did that make them feel?  What did we inadvertently communicate?  Why was this such a disappointment to them?

I mediated a conversation not long ago where someone felt like they hadn’t been “heard.”  The offending party couldn’t understand what he’d done to contribute to that feeling.  He had perceived his response as efficient, but they heard it as brusque and rude.  Once both parties viewed the situation from the opposite set of shoes, it changed everything.

In our get-it-done world, it’s easy to mumble an “I’m sorry” just to get the situation over with and get on with the task at hand.  But if we’re truly committed to serving people, we won’t settle for that.  We’ll look at things from their side of the fence.  We’ll put ourselves in their shoes.  We’ll take it personally.  And when we truly see the grievance through their eyes, the apology will not simply calm them…it will change us.

You did, didn’t you?  You screwed up royally.

You forgot to return that phone call.  That leader’s surgery fell off your calendar.  A guest’s questions were never answered after repeated attempts and multiple handoffs.

You’re in the ministry to help people, except in this case you helped no one.

You blew it.

It happens to all of us.  It happens more often that we want to admit and frankly, more than we’re even aware.  Sometimes we get a second chance, and sometimes we lose our influence with that person for good.

So what happens when you blow it?  Ah…that, dear readers, is what we’re covering this week.  Here’s a little scheduling sumpin sumpin so you can see what’s coming up (feel free to skip a day if you think it’s lame).

  • Tuesday: I Know You’re Sorry, Now Apologize
  • Wednesday: What Went Wrong?
  • Thursday: Regaining Ground
  • Friday: It’s Not Me, It’s You

See you back here tomorrow, unless of course I blow it, in which case you won’t.

There’s a dirty little rumor going around that the Summit is launching a North Raleigh Campus later this fall.  That’s right, we’re heading down 540 to the capital city…the City of Oaks…the City That Hoards All of the Krispy Kreme and Zaxby Joints and Leaves Nothing for Durham.

Not that I’m bitter.  Or hungry.

This Sunday I’ll be leading a First Impressions Training for our North Raleigh Campus, but you can get in on it too, regardless of your campus affiliation. We’ll be meeting from 10:45 AM – 12 noon in the Bay at Brier Creek. This Sunday’s training will be a high-octane, streamlined version of our normal two hour training.

If you’re interested in being on the First Impressions Team at any campus, this is for you.  If you want to know how to deliver five star service to first time guests, you need to be there.  If you’re a single guy and want to meet some single ladies, go to Kroger and hang out in the produce section, weirdo.

RSVP’s are not required, but they’d sure be helpful.  Shoot an email to Campus Pastor Daniel Simmons and let him know you’re heading his way.

Whenever I revert to my middle-school self (roughly every 20 minutes), I’m tempted to do lots of things: make puns.  Lots and lots of puns, because puns are punny.  People want to hate them, but they can’t.  I’m also tempted to watch SpongeBob SquarePants.  I despise him when I’m being an adult, but my middle-school version digs him and his maniacal laughter.  I’m also tempted to use dumb jokes, like this one:

Is your face hurting you?  Because it’s killing me!

Editor’s Note: Feel free to nominate his wife for sainthood here.

Middle-school humor or not, anytime your face goes public, you run the risk that it’s hurting you.  For example: last weekend we had a snafu during communion.  Immediately after the service, I tracked down our deacon who heads up that ministry so we could correct the aforementioned snafu.  It was not a big deal and required one simple step to fix it and make everything right again.  But on my way to track him down I ran into his wife, who later told me that my face was killing her (not in so many words, but I know that’s what she felt in her heart).  In my pursuit to find him and fix the problem, I communicated that I was mad as all get-out and I wasn’t going to take it anymore.  We laughed about it and moved on, but that conversation reminded me of the power of our facial expressions:

What I perceive as intense, others interpret as angry.

What I intend as focused, others read as ticked off.

What I mean by task-oriented, others define as I hate people and want to throw their children off a bridge.

In short, I have to keep my face in check on Sunday morning.  I’m one of those guys who expresses his emotion like a 12 year old girl…if I’m feeling it, you know it.  If it’s funny, I’ll laugh out loud.  If it’s sad (hello, Toy Story 3), my chin will quiver and you’ll see my eyes get moist.  If it’s a televangelist, I’ll yell at the set rather than order the prayer cloth (our gift to you when you send your love gift today).

That’s okay when it’s just me and the joke-teller or me and the movie screen or me and the televangelist.  But when it’s me and the public, that’s when I have to watch my face.

And so do you.

Don’t let the activity of your mind dictate the direction of your appearance.  If you’re dealing with a guest at your church, do so with a smile on your face.  If you’re in a rush, consciously slow down and get on their pace.  If you’re having a bad morning, set it aside so they don’t have one, too.  If you’re trying to fix a programming snafu, remember that what you think of as a fix can come across as funk.

Watch your face, because I’ll guarantee you others already are.

We continue a several-week series called Topical Tuesdays, where you pick the topic and I make up answers.  You can add your topic / question to the list by commenting on this post.  Today’s question comes from Mike Gifford:

Church discipline has been one of the topics that I don’t know a lot about. What is the biblical process that a church uses to keep the body safe and restore those that may be disciplined?

Ah, church discipline: the topic that makes legalists cackle gleefully and everyone else think about…well, legalists cackling gleefully.  Those two words will make the typical unchurched person think of church as a place full of narrow-minded, finger-pointing, judgmental folks who are always looking for some funky sin to expose.  Sadly, many churches who practice discipline have a process that looks exactly like that.  Other churches, in an effort to avoid doing discipline wrongly, have chosen to avoid it altogether.

There are a few basic scriptural texts for church discipline: Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5, 2 Corinthians 13:1-11, and Galatians 6:1.  At the heart of all of these texts are a few principles…

  • The holiness of the church. Let’s be clear: the church is full of messed up people.  Everyone from the lead pastor to the first time guest are wicked sinners that deserve hell but are offered grace (be encouraged).  But each believing member of the church is to be on a continual journey towards Christlikeness.  We’re to encourage one another, teach one another, and when necessary, rebuke one another.  There are times when I need the guys  in my small group to get in my face, and times when I need to get in theirs.  It’s what Proverbs calls “iron sharpening iron” and it’s needed in order to keep the church as both a beacon of hope for those who are seeking and a viable greenhouse for growth for those who have found Christ.  In short, people need to see something different about the church.
  • The restoration of the fallen. Church discipline was never meant to be a nanny-nanny-boo-boo shame fest for grownups.  There is one primary impetus behind discipline, and that’s restoration.  The teachings of Jesus and Paul (see the verses cited above) had loving restoration as the goal, not public humiliation.  We restore the fallen when we help in broken marriages, when we intervene in someone’s addiction, and when we confront someone’s persistent life-wrecking issues.
  • The appropriate circle of confession. Just like discipleship, discipline happens best in relationships.  Jesus’ model in Matthew 18 kept the circle of confession small…just between the offender and the offendee (look at me, making up words).  Church discipline “goes public” only when absolutely necessary – i.e., when the one who sins refuses to turn away from their sin.
  • The matter of unrepentant sin.  We are not talking about an issue where someone is simply struggling with sin. In the examples throughout scripture, the final phases of public discipline only occurred in situations where people were willfully embracing their sin and turning their back on biblical accountability and authority.  There’s no need for discipline when sin is recognized, confessed, and worked through in accountable relationships. This is the example laid out for us in 1 John, chapters 1-2. In that passage, John reminds us that Christians still sin, but when we have a besetting sin (anger, lying, lust, etc.) we should have other believers in our lives that will walk through that process with us.

So how does this happen at the Summit?  On a practical level, you’ll very rarely hear about a case of church discipline, because it tends to fall to principle #3 above.  Our small group leaders are champs at shepherding and loving their people and helping guide them through areas of unrepentant sin.  We’ve had several cases which have come before the church’s directional elders, and in those cases we hold the principle of restoration as key.  Do we always get it 100% right? Absolutely not.  But our goal is to make sure that each situation is fully investigated, the truth is known, and people are lovingly restored to fellowship within the body.

Here are a couple of resources you might find helpful.  The first deals with a comprehensive treatment of discipline in the local church, and the second is a grace-based approach to how messed-up people help messed-up people.

A few weeks ago I was walking into a gas station because I heard the pitiful screams of a candy bar asking to be rescued and then eaten.  Just a few steps ahead of me was a woman in her early 50’s.  As she got to the door she stopped, turned around, and with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen said, “I’ll bet you’re a gentleman!”

Of course, that was my signal to catch up to her and grab the door and let her go in, which I was happy to do.  But that comment has stayed with me.  Why in the world did she label me as a gentleman?  Is it something she says to all the guys?  Is she a bigger germophobe than I am and wanted somebody else to touch the funky gas station door handle?  Was my deep south upbringing shining through and she just knew that I was a guy who says, “Yes ma’am,” “No sir,” and “Please pass the grits.”?

I know the truth: I’m not always a gentleman.  I interrupt people when they’re talking.  I believe a good burp should be shared.  Sometimes I slurp my coffee.  I don’t know why gentlemanly vibes were being spewed forth that particular day, but I know that this lady held that as an assumption.

She assumed that I was a gentleman, and therefore assumed I’d hold the door.  She assumed I was a gentleman, and therefore assumed I’d be happy to serve her.  She assumed I was a gentleman, and therefore assumed that I would accommodate her request with a smile rather than rolling my eyes and ignoring her.

The same things happen with guests at our churches.  Every single Sunday, our guests hold assumptions.  They assume we’re friendly or we’re cold.  They assume we’re happy to see them come or glad to see them go.  They assume they’ll be welcomed as family or shunned as a stranger.  Every guest comes with assumptions.

Every single guest.  Every single Sunday.

What assumptions do guests hold about your church?  Are they the right assumptions?  Do you constantly surprise and delight your guests by proving them wrong, or disappoint them by proving them right?

Look at your church through the eyes of your guests.  What do they assume?  What’s correct?  What’s incorrect?  And how can you make sure their assumptions are the right one?

We continue a several-week series called Topical Tuesdays, where you pick the topic and I make up answers.  You can add your topic / question to the list by commenting on this post.  Today’s question comes from Adam Hoffman, my buddy from the Left Coast:

What is your marriage advice for those newly married (under 2 years)?

Adam, I’m going to hijack your question and change it for my own purposes, like a televangelist with the Bible. (Ouch. That was harsh. True, but harsh.)

Nearly three years ago I wrote a letter to every guy whose wedding I’d ever officiated.  I’ve reprinted it below with just a few minor edits.  While this is advice strictly for husbands, I believe the principles will improve any marriage.  Buckle your seat belt, this is a long letter and a tough ride…

August 22, 2007

Hi [name],

It’s 11:00 PM as I begin this letter.  My mind is racing too fast to sleep, and I’m too burdened to put this off until tomorrow.  The letter you’re about to read is just one copy of many.  I’m sending it to every guy that I’ve had the privilege of walking with as they said their “I do’s” to their bride.  Whether I officiated your wedding four weeks ago (how was that honeymoon, Damon?) or nine years ago (long time, no see, Ken!), I can’t go to bed until I’ve put a few things in print.

In the past two months, Merriem and I have been on an emotional roller coaster.  We have had a front row seat to watch no fewer than four marriages hit rock bottom.  In two situations, we’ve spent hours on the phone and face-to-face with the couple, doing whatever we can to try to salvage what’s left.  In the other two, we are simply praying that God will give us the opportunity to speak into their lives.  It seems that not a week goes by that I don’t hear of yet another marriage in our church or our circle of friends that is not just struggling…but on the very brink of divorce.  I’ll be honest with you – we are weary.  We’re weary of talking and talking and talking and feeling like we’re not making a difference.  We’re weary of trying to get through thick skulls to get people to see what they are doing to themselves.  We’re weary of watching innocent kids caught in the crossfire and really smart people act really stupid.  We’re weary of seeing what this does to each couple’s testimony, and how Satan is using this as the perfect setup to destroy the faith of others.

A few weeks ago, I stormed into the office of our counselor on staff at our church.  Cynthia has been a good friend to me and Merriem, and we’ve worked with her as advocates for various couples, both before the wedding ceremony and after.  One thing you should know about Cynthia is that she counsels dozens of couples each year, and often by the time they get to her office they are already as far gone as they can be without being divorced.

So anyway, I stormed into her office after hearing of yet another marriage gone bad, and just unloaded my frustration.  I asked her, “What is it?  What is the deal with all of these marriages falling apart?  If you had to identify one common thread that is destroying these couples, what would it be?

Her answer came quickly, and it was so obvious that I had completely missed it.  That’s where you come in, and that’s the purpose of this letter.  Cynthia’s answer was this: “The number one cause of marriages falling apart is because the husbands are not stepping up to the plate.” Simple as that.  When she said it, everything was clear.  I thought back to each marriage that I knew was having trouble, either currently or in the past.  In every single case, I could trace it to the fact that the husband displayed one of the following characteristics:  (a) he wasn’t leading his wife and kids spiritually; (b) he was physically or emotionally absent far more than he should be; (c) he was abdicating his leadership of the home and thereby forcing his wife to take the lead; or (d) he was putting something else ahead of his love for his wife.

Guys, the bottom line is that things have to change.  I’m writing this letter to encourage you (is “plead” too strong of a word?) to take an honest assessment of where you are in your relationship with your bride.  There’s one thing I know that is true of every guy: once we’ve won the woman of our dreams, we forget that we have to win her over and over again.  Here’s what I mean: when you were trying to catch the eye of your wife…back during the days you were dating…you had a “whatever it takes” mentality.  Flowers?  No problem.  Shower and shave?  You bet.  Vacuum the car before picking her up for a date?  Of course.  You changed habits and hang ups and got rid of addictions and relationships that would hold you back from winning her over…and it worked.

But now, a few weeks or almost a decade into your marriage, chances are you’ve forgotten what it means to win her.  You have taken for granted the fact that you “have her” and assume that your wedding vows were enough to get you through the rest of your life.  Maybe you’ve let your career or your hobby or your friends creep into the spot that only she should have.  If that’s the case, you may not notice the fallout right now, but I assure you: it is coming

I know that it’s coming, because here’s another common characteristic in each one of these marriages: by the time the guy realizes what’s happening, it’s usually too late for a “change” to mean anything. What I’ve witnessed in the last couple of months is one of the most incredible phenomenons I’ve ever seen.  It is almost as if each of these couples is following a script.  The wife declares to her husband that she doesn’t love him anymore, and hasn’t for several years.  In all cases, the wife has already emotionally detached herself from the marriage.  In most cases, an affair – either physical or emotional – is already well underway.  Any amount of pleading or begging from her husband only pushes her farther away, and she refuses to listen to counsel from godly people who only want the best for her.  (A very ugly side note to each of these situations is that the wife ends up in a spiritual tailspin that almost destroys her walk with God.)

It would be easy enough to pin the blame on the wife, but here’s what I see: way before the detachment or the affair began, the wife was crying out for her husband’s attention.  The problem is, he was too blind or too preoccupied or too lazy to realize it.  And now that she’s too tired to ask for his attention anymore, he’s willing to do “whatever it takes” to win her back.  Only now, it may very well be too late.

It does not have to be too late for you. Maybe this letter is hitting you at a God-ordained moment…you see these very circumstances playing out in your life right now.  Maybe things are just ducky in your marriage and this is just another piece of mail that ranks right up there with your cell phone bill.  Regardless, may I give you some practical advice?  (I’m going to anyway…)

Put your wife first. She should come before your kids, if you have them.  I don’t care what your job pays, she’s worth more than your paycheck and no amount of overtime is worth the time it takes away from her.  If you are in the ministry, you have my permission to tell your deacons to take a hike if they are demanding that you put in an extra two or three nights a week doing hospital visitation.  Your bride is infinitely more important than old lady Johnson’s infected toe.

Serve your wife regularly. I don’t care if she’s home all day, it’s not her responsibility to single-handedly manage the house!  You need to get your rear end off the couch and load the dishwasher.  Turn off Sports Center and change your kid’s diaper.  Put down that frikkin’ PlayStation (how old are you, anyway?) and vacuum the living room.

Romance your wife constantly. Here’s where we all mess up.  We’re great at romance when we’re expecting something later that night (yes, I just said that).  A real man knows how to romance his wife when he expects nothing in return.  Bring her flowers.  Wash her car.  Take her to the expensive restaurant.  Leave a note on her pillow.  And do it all with the full belief that you deserve nothing in return.

Get a spine. All of you reading this letter know me well enough to know that I’m no tough dude.  I hate confrontation, I’ve been in one fist fight my entire life, and I’d rather eat shaved glass than inconvenience somebody in some way.  But dude, your wife deserves to have someone she can call her hero.  That may mean that you have to stand up for her.  It may mean that you have to make an executive decision.  It may mean that you have to adapt your personality so you can lead her the way Jesus intended for you to.

Guys, bottom line…I’m hurting.  I hurt for these eight friends that are flushing great marriages down the toilet.  I hurt for countless others who I see making the same mistakes.  I don’t have the right or authority to speak into every marriage, but since my name is on your marriage license, I’d like to think I have the right to speak into yours.  I may have to hurt for these other people, but I don’t want to find myself hurting for you.

I’m a reader, so I’d like to point you to three resources that have revolutionized my life.  The first one you already have access to, the last two you can purchase on Amazon or at your local bookstore:

Ephesians 5.  If I did your pre marital counseling, the chances are very good I used this passage extensively.  Verses 25-33 are especially applicable to you as the man.  If you can get your brain around the truth that you hold the key to the harmony of your entire marriage, you’ve already won.

Choosing to Cheat.  This short little book by Andy Stanley completely changed the way that I look at my marriage when I read it three years ago.  If you have a problem balancing your job and your family, this is a must read.

For Men Only.  Jeff & Shaunti Feldhahn’s best seller will give you a better insight into the female mind than you ever thought possible.  If you want extra points, pick up a copy of For Women Only and suggest to your wife that you go through the books together.

Gentlemen, I do not claim to have all the answers.  God Himself knows that I have made hundreds (thousands?!?) of ridiculously bone-headed mistakes in my almost fifteen years of marriage…some of which should have probably had Merriem packing her bags.  But what I do know is that God is graciously beginning to show me what it means to go all out in love for my wife.  I look at my marriage like this: for the first ten years, I was in it for myself.  Merriem was here to serve me, to love me, to take care of me.  That attitude almost destroyed both of us.  Somewhere around year ten, God had to drop me to my knees to get me to realize what Ephesians 5 was really saying…I had to put myself to death in order to bring my marriage to life.  I’m nowhere close to where I need to be, but I have to tell you that passage made all the difference.  I hope that something in this letter will be the catalyst to make that kind of difference in your marriage.  Your beautiful bride is worth it!

Thank you for reading what has become a 53 minute rant.  I am praying for you, for your marriage, and for whatever it will take to stop this hellish epidemic that I am seeing unfold around me.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about this letter and also just hear what’s going on in your life since we last talked!  You can e-mail me at [email address] anytime.

In Christ Free,

Danny Franks

This week the Southern Baptist Convention convenes in Orlando, a city we boycotted a few years ago because Mickey Mouse does heroin.  Or something like that.  (But now we’re back, which is why this year’s convention theme is “Psych!”)

People-loving, company-boycotting, Jesus-oriented moves like that are one of the reasons why folks get out of sorts when you start talking about denominations.  Let me be straight: I’m a life-long Southern Baptist.  I went to a Southern Baptist church, high school, college, and seminary.  My name isn’t just written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, but the Lamb’s Book of LifeWay.  In the words of my resident ecclesiologist, Southern Baptist is my genre.  And yet I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I treat the SBC like the odd uncle who wears flip flops and black tube socks at the beach.  (“Oh him?  Nah.  I don’t know him.  He was here when I got here.  Ha ha!  Look at his ear hair!”)

Our church doesn’t have the name “Baptist” in our moniker, even though we are one.  Although there are various reasons for that, one of the main benefits is that people are willing to give us a fair shake – something they may not do if they walked in with preconceived ideas of what we’re like (“Hey, no old hymnal smell?  Well, very nice.  Very nice indeed.”)  For us, one part of being Baptist means that we’re associated with a tremendous network of churches that partner together to send church planters all over the globe.

The SBC isn’t all bad.  Remember, Southern Baptists have given us great Vacation Bible School themes like Far Out Far East Rickshaw Rally: Racing to the Son.  Let’s see the Lutherans pull of something like that, especially after all the drinking.

But still, the SBC is facing a crisis.  Baptisms are off.  Missions giving is off.  Fashionable toupees are way off.  This week, delegates from many of our 40,000 churches will gather to take care of convention business, and the biggest buzz surrounds the report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (you can read their full report here.)

Basically, the GCR is a call for Southern Baptists to get back to their roots: share the gospel, increase missions giving, and send out more missionaries and church planters.  It’s a common sense, why-wouldn’t-we-do-this approach to the mission drift and vision leak our convention has faced over the last few years.

I’m not a denominational politics guy, but I believe that the GCR is a needed step to save what could be a dying denomination.  Ooops.  That was too strong.  It’s a needed step to save a geriatric, in-need-of-oxygen, hey-you-kids-get-off-my-lawn denomination.

If denominations (or any religious groups) hope to survive, here’s what must happen:

  1. The gospel must be elevated above familiar comfort. No longer can we hide behind our individual church by-laws, cultures, and quirks.  If we’re going to be a relevant presence in a spiritually anemic culture, we have to break way out of our comfort zones.  That means churches will have to be hospitals for sinners.  It means we’ll have to reach people on their terms, not on ours.  It means we have to go to the people and stop expecting the people to come to us.
  2. The gospel’s content must be protected while the context is expanded. The message of Jesus works the same in inner city Seattle as it does in rural Alabama, but the method of delivering that gospel has to fit.  In the same way, churches with an average age of 50-plus will have to adapt if they want to see their grandchildren reached for Christ.
  3. We have to have a Kingdom-focus, not an inward-focus. The reason so many SBC churches are shutting their doors is that they’ve gotten way too intimate with their navel.  It’s all about inward ministry and nothing to do with outside-the-walls ministry.  When churches can see beyond their stained glass windows and look at the needs of the community, great things happen.
  4. We have to build bridges and stop burning them. For too long we’ve allowed denominational polity and ecclesiological fences to get in the way of forward movement. I don’t have to plant a church with another denominational group, but I can certainly partner with them to reach a city.  We’ll always have doctrinal differences, and I believe some are significant.  However, differences don’t have to divide us completely.
  5. We have to give and go. One of the huge points of GCR is giving to missions.  But not only must we give, we must go…locally, nationally, globally.  I’ve seen first-hand that when a church goes, they’ll automatically give.  When the missions bug bites, the first symptom often shows in your feet, then your wallet.  No longer can we hide behind weak missions offerings.  If our people will go, our people will give.
  6. We have to stop the combovers. Not really.  Okay, really.  But this comes only after #1-5 are completed.

Again, I’m no denominational expert, and this is my own view from the pews opinion.  For a much more informed endorsement of GCR, check out our lead pastor’s blog post on the subject.  He’s a genuine, bona-fide, card-carrying member of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.  And that card is the size of a poster board, so that the title will fit.

But at least it hides his combover.

It’s summer time, which means that very soon I will die of hypothermia in my own home.  You see, my wife subscribes to the Arctic Fox School of Comfort: the colder the better, and if you can see your breath that’s a bonus.  Oh sure, the thermostat at the house always reads 73 degrees, but I’m convinced my bride paid off the HVAC guy because that’s what she wants me to think, kind of like when you buy an iPhone and the temperature on the weather app is always 71 and sunny, because you’re a moron and still looking at the cardboard photograph.

But I know the truth: I know that our house is always set at 22 below zero.  Maybe the sides of beef hanging from the living room curtain rods are a clue, or maybe the penguins that keep showing up wearing scarves should tip me off, but I’m convinced it’s cold in that joint.

The worst room is our bedroom.  It’s on the side of the house that the AC unit is on, which probably means that the little air molecules are saying, “I refuse to stay in this duct work ONE MORE MINUTE.  I’m getting off at the first exit…who’s with me?”  When I make a run into the bedroom, I suit up in full parka, scarf, and portable propane heater.  I tie a rope to my ankle and strap bells to my waist, reminiscent of Jewish high priests, so just in case the bells stop tinkling or the rope starts forming ice crystals, Merriem can pull me out before I freeze and stick to the carpet.

Believe me, I’ve asked to turn the air down just a little bit.  (Or turn it up.  Honestly, I can’t keep up with which one means “warmer.”)  But for frostbite’s sake, I need it warmer.

Merriem’s response?  She just piles on blankets.  I’ll see her sitting on the other side of the couch, a tiny lump under a cotton field’s worth of quilted warmth.  And I want to ask the question, “Why not just turn it up (or down)?  Then the blankets stay folded, I stay defrosted, and it’s a win win!”

But whatever her response, I can’t hear her under all that fabric.  And so, I plug in the meat saw and hack off some ribs.  Maybe I can warm up over the grill.

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