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Every week I ask myself why one of my favorite columnists, George Will, is not reading my blog. Maybe I should use words like "obfuscate" or "bloviating" or toss in more references to baseball? It's pride. A growing family of reading friends cannot make up for my being so exiguous to George.
For anyone writing a blog there are a number of analytical tools available to tell you how many people open, click through and forward what you write. I'm not interested in that. I scroll through now to see who is reading - not how many.
I want to know if the right people are taking the time to read what I have to say. I know that sounds odd, but when you start writing you have an audience in mind. In my case, it was restricted to people engaged in Christian philanthropy. Instead, I have found myself writing for a much wider and more diverse group of readers. My first response was to become even more focused on philanthropy, but then I remembered something I read years ago.
Peter Drucker, the management writer, described something similar when he wrote in "Innovation and Entrepreneurship" about the "unexpected success" when a product or service finds a market it did not expect or even seek out. Some companies respond quickly and adapt themselves to the new opportunity while others actually resist and work even harder with diminishing results to reach the market they intended.
Macy's, the New York department store, did poorly for several years because it considered itself primarily a fashion store and was downplaying the growing positive effect of appliance sales. To the company's directors, these sales were an “embarrassing success.” It was only when they accepted the growth of appliance sales that they turned around financially.
Almost 80 percent of all antibiotics produced are used by animals. Yet, when veterinarians and the food industry tried to buy these drugs they met resistance from the pharmaceutical companies. Allowing the drugs to be sold for animal use was beneath them. When another firm bought the rights and marketed them directly to vets, they discovered the most profitable segment of the entire industry.
IBM "lowered itself" to sell to the business market while Univac resisted the shift from their preferred scientific sales. Univac was ultimately absorbed into a series of larger corporations.
I suspect the demise of the early church in Jerusalem was due, at least in part, to its inability to accept the unexpected success of the Gospel among the Gentiles. That was not their intended market. Paul discovered it and adapted immediately.
What happens when you resist "unexpected success" because it is not the way it is supposed to be? You not only miss opportunities but, worse, you go out of business.
Drucker also said, "Changing your whole direction to take account of an unexpected success requires humility. If you are a company that has staked its reputation on a particular quality product, but a cheaper, less grand product has booming sales, it is difficult not to view it as a threat, because “The unexpected success is a challenge to management’s judgment.”
I understand that. So, it's okay if George Will never reads my blog. Maybe that's even an unexpected success. Maybe even a home run.Comments
I'm not ordained so I cannot do weddings or funerals. But sometimes friends ask me to say a word that is not ordained and binding. It's just me talking. This was the case in the wedding of a former student...but permanent friend.
"The first wedding of the world was on a Saturday...just about this time of day. Five times it was morning and evening, and then it was the sixth day and somewhere around three o'clock in the afternoon the Lord God straightened up from his work...and declared that everything up to that point was very good...so good in fact that it could not have been better. Everything had gone without a hitch.
The sun went down, and the moon came up just like he designed. The lights came on and went off right on schedule. Fish circled in the iridescent seas. Horses raced in the pristine meadows, and last night the geese flew south over Santee into the sun.
But that morning had been special...like no other in the short memory of the universe. For early on the morning of the sixth day the Lord God created a man, a perfect place for him to live, and a perfect vocation for him. The new world was his, and the Lord God loved him more deeply than any of all he had created.
Everything the Lord God had was his...except one thing, and it was the one thing that troubled the Lord God - though the man knew nothing of it.
There was a crack in creation that needed patching. There was something missing and only he the Creator knew it.
It was then the Lord God realized he had created this man with a hunger for a relationship even God could not satisfy. Amazing!
But because God is God and knew that his work of creation was not finished - that there was something missing in this world of two - that perfect work and perfect place is not enough to satisfy the hunger of a soul and heart - the Lord God sighed, set himself aside and wordlessly finished his work of love.
There is a need in us - all of us - that goes so deep down that it can never be satisfied by the joy of our work, the sense of being in just the right place or even being one with the Father.
Over the years I want you to think back to this…your own sixth day, this day of God's finished work and remember what God discovered that morning and the time and place where you said before us all:
‘We are no longer alone. This is the one suited for me and I for them. This is the one God has created to complete me and to make me whole and with whom my life is to be lived. This is the one for whom even God sets himself aside and we affirm that the work of the Creator is done.’
I want to assure you that this is the great pleasure of the Father, and I want to welcome you to this sixth day of creation, the day you will remember as the time the Lord God patched the crack in creation, finished his work of love and declared it complete as you are now complete."Comments
The Juvenilization of American Christianity. That's a mouthful. It took me several times of practicing before I could use it this morning at church. It's both an article in a recent issue of Christianity Today and a new book by Thomas Bergler.
"Juvenilization is the process by which the religious beliefs, practices, and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for adults." While ministry innovations began as an attempt to tailor worship and programs to attract a new generation of youth, the end result has been "fewer and fewer people outgrew the adolescent Christian spiritualities they had learned in youth groups...and although it may seem that the teenagers of the 21st century bear little resemblance to those of the 1950's, crucial similarities remain in the structure of adolescent life and its relationship to the church. And one of the most important traits is the aversion to growing up."
While there are some things I have enjoyed learning from my children over the years - like computers, iTunes, music and movies - it does concern me that we have a generation of adults who want to be Peter Pan. Even though the old dictum "values are caught and not taught" may be partially true, it is not enough. There has to be a certain amount of teaching and instruction about the basics. In musical terms, we have to learn to play the scales. Certainly, it's not always entertaining and exciting but without our own growing up we will be chasing after "forever young" and that's a disturbing thought.
The book of Judges describes what happens when the elders fail to teach their sons and daughters. "The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel...After that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel." We may have exciting worship experiences and meet the needs of hurting people who see faith as something to help them deal with their problems but we will not have mature believers who pass on something of substance to the next generation.Comments
Twenty years ago it was likely the missions pastor in a church would have been a retired missionary, older pastor or a member of the staff who had worked with seniors in the congregation. While missions overall was extremely important to the church and denomination, the decisions about missions and mission giving were fairly simple.
Supporting denominational programs or a group of missionaries with strong ties to the church was routine. There were a relative handful of churches whose mission programs were highly visible compared to the other ministries. The typical staffing budgets were focused on youth, music, education and periodic capital campaigns.
That has changed dramatically. Over the course of two decades, many congregations have shifted their support to their own programs. As well, they have increased the visibility, complexity, financial support and importance of missions as a core value. While attracting people to Sunday worship, discipleship, small groups, and family ministries are still near the top of the list of priorities, two categories of people are driving the change toward the growth in missions. First, younger people who value both international causes (trafficking, poverty alleviation, business creation, healthcare) as well as local issues like education, social justice, mentoring, and clinics have changed the qualifications for missions pastors. They now need to understand community development, finances, nonprofit governance, geopolitics, grantmaking and international aid as well as logistics for organizing multiple groups for short-term missions. The second group is major donors in the congregation who are increasingly interested in local and global missions but they are not content simply to give to a generic program or one without adequate management and results. I know as a former chair of my own congregation's foundation, there has been a change from merely subsidizing existing programs to becoming more intentional and engaged in ministries and organizations outside the church.
Lastly, I would predict that the source of Christian private foundation staff and leadership will come from those trained as mission pastors in the near future in addition to lawyers, accountants and development professionals. They have the experience, relationships and skills that are rare to find. If I were looking for staff, that is where I would start and if I were looking for a career that would lead to working for a foundation, I would spend five years as a missions pastor in a large church.Comments
I received a call today from a friend with whom I’ve not spoken in a couple of years. He has brain cancer and we were talking about the struggle. He told me about a time last year when he thought he was going to simply give up and die because of all the complications and stress on him and his family. I asked him why he didn’t give up and his response was a long pause and then, “The presence of God.” I heard the exact same response from another friend with cancer two days ago when I asked him what was keeping him afloat. Time and again I have heard similar responses. I admit that I have sometimes wondered if those kinds of statements are not just positive thinking or what people think they should say to keep from falling apart. However, I have heard enough people I trust say “this has been a gift to draw me closer to God” or something similar to begin to think it is true. It is terrible but it is true. I have heard more about the certainty of the “everlasting arms” and the promise that God will never leave or forsake us from people in treatment than any other relationship in my life.
Now for the hard part. I think we are more likely to see a spiritual renewal in this country as a result of people suffering and yet sensing the absolute presence of God than we are from patriotic rallies of people reciting 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” For some reason, much of what I hear reflected is a desire to return to a time in our nation (real or imagined) when we were strong and secure without all the complications and stresses we now face. That is, in some ways, just the opposite of the testimony I hear from my friends and those who surround them. They are experiencing the inexplicable sustaining power of God in their weakness and desperate dependence on Him. In my mind, that is the key to spiritual revival – not making a national effort to find favor with God.
I would not wish the terrible gift of suffering on anyone but the result may be far greater than we could ever imagine if thousands of people are forced to deal with things that are so overwhelming that only the presence of God will carry them (and us) through those waters.Comments