Month: March 2009

Taking our place on the digital stage

Tuesday I head to Knoxville to participate in an unusual event for a Baptist preacher.  I’ll be a roundtable discussion leader at A Public Conversation on Web Journalism.  Other speakers include local newspaper editors, executives from the media giant Scripps (HGTV, Food Network, etc), and other online creators of advertising, and journalism sites.

How did I get involved?  My friend and University of Tennessee professor, Jim Stovall, asked me to talk to students about this blog and the other sites I edit, and  The student radio station has already scheduled an interview with me, and I’ll speak to a large journalism class on Thursday afternoon.

As part of this meeting, we’re also rolling out, an independent news site that will be written by college and university journalism students and invited guest authors. is up now, but with content that Jim and I created.  Eventually, the entire site will feature student writing, photographs, and videos.

Jeffrey Arnett’s book, Emerging Adulthood, pointed out that while 79% of emerging adults believe in a higher power guiding their lives, only 25% think attending religious services is Very Important or Quite Important; 42% said Not Important at all.

In other words, if we’re going to have a faith conversation with young, emerging adults, we are not going to have it within the church because young adults are not there.  Dan Kimball and Dave Kinnaman told us that in their books, too.

So, we’re taking the faith and culture conversation to the campus, asking students to write faith-and-culture news for their peers.  Should be an interesting experience, and I’m looking forward to what I’m going to learn from the students.

Church needs to do more of this — take the conversation where people really work and live.  And, the conversation can’t be all about us, it has to be a real conversation. will be an open forum for talking to one another about faith issues of all kinds, even unpopular ones including issues involving spiritualities other than Christian.

We who follow Jesus must take our place on the digital stage with others who feel just as passionately about their faith, or lack of it, as we do about ours.  Our ideas, our theologies, and our Christian points of view, must be able to hold their own in the online conversation.  If we’re afraid of that, then we have already lost our place in the public forum of ideas.

I’ll let you know how it goes.  I’ll be twittering and posting from the event, so stay tuned.  What do you think of this project?  What concerns do you have?  Let me hear from you because I value your input.  Thanks.

A blogging, twittering sabbath

Lots of conversation around the tubes on giving up cell phones, ipods, blogging, and other forms of social media  for Lent.  I have decided to do what the Dervaes in Pasadena do — I am taking a blogging sabbath from sundown Friday until Saturday sundown.

I have several reasons for doing this, not the least of which is I need a break from screens.  We turned our TV off again before Lent, but we really didn’t intend to give up TV for Lent.  We are just giving up TV, period.  We had done this once before for over a year, but I needed CNN for the election.  After that it took us several months to dial down (no pun intended). But even with TV out of the way, I still need a break.

Starting this week, I’ll maintain radio silence (internet silence) from Friday sundown until Saturday sundown.  I will use my cell phone, if necessary, because that’s how my congregation knows to reach me when I’m out of the office or house.  But no blogging, twittering, facebooking, or any of that other stuff that seems to be ever with us.  We’ll see how all this works out, but as of today that’s the plan.

Is anyone else doing something similar, whether for Lent or just for sanity?  Leave a comment and tell me what you’re doing and why.  Thanks.

Homeless in America’s tent cities

26sacramento2_600Photo courtesy New York Times

This is not a photo of a third world country.  This is the new America for some in California.  Tent cities are springing up from coast to coast as the unemployed lose their homes and apartments.

I have visited countries in Asia where whole families live in barns, or chicken coops, or cardboard boxes.  I have traveled in Mexico, and visited border towns, and tourist havens.  I rode through Mexico City where 26-million people eke out a living amid both splendor and poverty.  We expect to see grinding poverty, hunger, and homelessness in the two-thirds world.  But, in America?  In the most properous country in the world?  This is the new America for some.

Last month while at Fuller Seminary I walked the two blocks to class each day, passing two dumpsters positioned on a side street in Pasadena.  Every morning a man or woman was going through the contents of the dumpsters.  I encountered an old woman pushing two shopping carts on Colorado Boulevard, an affluent area of Pasadena filled with shops and restaurants.

At night I walked down Colorado in Pasadena for dinner.  On the way back to my room I passed several homeless people bedded down for the night in doorways of businesses fronting the street.  This is America.

Until a few days ago, my brother, beset by his own demons, was homeless in Atlanta.  I talked with him by cell phone made available to him by a program for the homeless.  I urged him to get off the street, to get help from somebody, anybody.  He said he would.  Apparently he did, and I’m waiting to hear from him when he’s out of the hospital, or rehab, or wherever he has landed.

This is the sin of a society where executives of a failed global enterprise take home millions in “bonus” earnings, passing the victims of corporate greed and criminality in their BMWs and Mercedes-Benzs.  This is America.  This cannot, must not, should not continue to be the only America.

We who still have jobs, homes, cars, checking accounts, cell phones, computers, warm meals, a bathtub, dry socks, a toothbrush, a clean toilet, and who sleep peacefully at night, unafraid of being robbed, beaten, or killed — we must not let this continue.  We must act, give, pray, cry, organize, open our churches, do whatever it takes to care for those kicked down by a system not of their making.

Our shame should stalk us like death until we repent, reach out, and restore those who have been displaced.  This is America.  We are God’s people.  This must not stand.

All Search Committees are Liars, But Not Intentionally

If you have ever dealt with a pastor or staff search committee, you perhaps noticed a significant gap in what the committee told you during the search process, and the reality at the church once you arrived.  This is known as Search Committee Syndrome — the tendency for search committees to overstate, underplay, hope-for-the-best, or be clueless about their own church.

Search Committee Syndrome affects 100% of search committees according to the latest study by The Search Committee Institute based in Nashville, Tennessee.  According to the executive director, Reverend Ben D. Seevd, “search committees can’t help themselves, but they really mean no harm.”

Try telling that to the pastor who was assured by the search committee “of course, we want to grow” followed by “we’ll do whatever it takes to reach people.”

This phenomenon seems to cut across all denominational lines, and even extends to non-denominational churches that are really cool and have their own baristas.

Indicators that Search Committee Syndrome might be present in a group are:

  1. The group is called a “Search Committee.”
  2. The group consists of men and/or women.
  3. The group wants to find the best person for the job, including the person God has chosen, (assuming that he or she is willing to accept the salary package they have chosen).
  4. The group conducts meetings.

So, there you have it.  By using these four surefire Search Committee Syndrome indicators, you can be prepared in advance when dealing with your next search committee.  Remember:  all search committees are liars, but not intentionally.  That will make the next five years of sorting out conflict much easier, according to Rev. Ben D. Seevd, who apparently speaks both from his extensive research, and a sad personal history.

Caution: there is no cure for Search Committee Syndrome.  Furthermore, it can be contagious, spilling over into Resume Inflation Syndrome, I’ve Got To Get Out of Here Syndrome, and I Hear God Calling Me Elsewhere Syndrome.  Be careful out there.

Small Churches Need a Brand Revival

Tim Avery at Christianity Today’s Off The Agenda asked me to write an article on the way small churches are viewed by others.  The result is Small Churches Need a Brand Revival, and I hope you read it.  Here’s how it starts:

After the presidential election, I read a lot about the Republican “brand.” Nearly every living pundit was talking about how the Republicans needed to repair the damage the election had done to it. The word “brand,” of course, is marketing jargon for reputation and public image. I’ll leave the politics to others, but I think a group in definite need of brand revival is small churches.

I proceed from there to lay out my case for why small churches get no respect, and for a small church brand revival.  Let me know what you think.

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Seminarians Opt Out of Church and What We Can Do To Change That

“Students don’t want to serve in the local church when they graduate; they want to do something more exciting.”Southern Baptist seminary administrator

A prominent seminary administrator made that comment to me several weeks ago.  I’ve been rolling it around in my head since then, disturbed and challenged by its implications.  If his comment had been the first I had heard, I might not be so concerned.  But several months ago, another seminary leader expressed the same sentiment — seminary students are not planning to serve local churches.

Of course, this might be their perception because they did not conduct a scientific survey.  But, let’s assume it’s true — that seminary students see themselves serving in more exciting settings than the local church.  If that is the case, then we have some serious work to do.

First, those of us in local churches have to ask ourselves, What signals are we sending that turn off seminarians? Some answers come to mind very quickly:

  • churches can be slow to change;
  • established congregations are typically older and certainly not cool;
  • most churches are single staff settings;
  • pastoral ministry isn’t viewed as cutting edge;
  • most church programs are inward-focused; and
  • denominational politics turns young adults off.

Those are the answers that popped in my head immediately.  I’m sure you and I could think of more if we really tried.

Second, the more pressing question is, How can we help seminarians in their quest for meaningful ministry? Here the answers come more slowly, but I have a few thoughts:

  • Embrace the age of change. I’ve written before that church as we know it is going to change dramatically and soon.  Those of us in churches need to recognize that trend and dialogue with seminarians about where they see church heading. After all, whatever future the church has is in their hands.
  • Underwrite experiments in ministry. Most of us in mid-life are not going to start a coffee shop church, or an arts enclave, or a neomonastic order.  But seminarians might, and they could try out those ideas under the sponsorship of existing churches who have the funds and resources to help make those ministry experiments happen.
  • Participate in reverse-mentoring. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, had all his senior management reverse-mentored by younger employees.  The younger employees understood the value of the internet, mobile computing, and social networking and Welch wanted his senior managers to learn from them.  Churches and current church leaders need to do the same.  Seminaries could create space for reverse-mentoring workshops where local church pastors and denominational leaders could sit and listen and learn from the emerging generation of church leaders.
  • Provide seminarians opportunities for service. Seminarians need hands-on opportunities to minister at the local church level.  Most seminaries require field work, but I’m talking about a real position with real ministry responsibility.  The Lilly Endowment has offered grants for new seminary graduates to work full-time in a local church setting. While this is an encouraging approach, too few grants are available.  Churches and seminaries could figure out how to do this in a way that gives seminarians good church experiences, allowing them room for innovation in their area of responsibility.

Churches of all denominations are facing three converging crises — clergy shortage, declining church attendance, and aging congregations.  No wonder the current crop of seminary students wants to work any place but the local church.  Time will tell if current church leaders will engage with this new generation of church leaders to forge new expressions of church ministry.  That would be exciting.

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Sermon: We Are What He Has Made Us

Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow, Sunday, March 22, 2009, on this fourth Sunday of Lent.  I hope your day is a wonderful Lord’s Day!

We Are What He Has Made Us
Ephesians 2:1-10

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Zombies in A World of Disobedience

Do you remember the movie, Night of the Living Dead?  Made in 1968, it starred George Romero, and a bunch of zombies.  The rather thin plotline was that a satellite returning from space was contaminated with radiation.  Somehow, that caused the dead to rise from their graves and try to eat the living, thereby becoming “alive.”  Or at least a very poor version of being alive — a shuffling walk, very inarticulate speech, and an insatiable desire to eat real people.  It did not win the Academy Award…for anything.

But, my point in that is zombies are called “the living dead.”  They appear to be alive, but they’re not really.  They’re really dead, but they keep moving around.  And in the case of Night of the Living Dead, kept trying to eat real live people.

Well, that’s kind of the picture Paul paints of those in Ephesus before they came to Christ.  Now, we’ve talked about Ephesus before — home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the wonders of the world. Renown in all the Roman empire for the cult of Artemis.  Demetrius the silversmith who rails against Paul and accuses him of disrupting his souvenir business is a prime example.

Paul says to the Ephesians —

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,

Sounds very “night of the living dead,” doesn’t it?  But “dead in your transgressions and sins” doesn’t really say it.  Paul really is saying, “Your sins killed you, you’re dead in transgressions (little sins) and sins (big ones).  The Amplified Bibles says, You were slain in your sins.  In other words, your sins killed you.

Then Paul goes on to say –

in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.

So, you used to live in the sins that killed you.  Kind of a spiritual zombie thing.  And you did that because you were following the ways of this world, the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the demon now at work in those who are disobedient.

Not only are you dead men walking, but you lived (if you want to call that living) in “this world.”  This world, this present age, as contrasted with the world to come, the age to come, which is the kingdom of God.

Okay, with me so far.  Let me recap for you:

1.  The Ephesians were dead, killed by their own sin.
2.  But they walked around like zombies (lived in their sin) because they followed the way of this world, of this age.
3.  This world, this age, has a spirit who is behind it all.  We know him as Satan, diabolos, the devil.

Interestingly, ABC will host a debate between Deepak Chopra and Mark Driscoll this week, and the topic is — Is the devil real?  So, 2,000 years later, this idea of a personality of evil, the spirit of this age, is still being debated.

Then Paul says, But guess what?  We all did that.  We all of us – Jews, Romans, young, old, affluent, poor, slave, free — we all did that.  We were all spiritual zombies.  We looked alive, but we were really dead, killed by our own sins.  Killed by them because we followed the god of this world, not the God of the world to come.

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.

So, nobody gets off the hook.  Now this is particularly difficult in the first century.  Paul is a Jew, writing to Gentiles — the Ephesians.  The Jews believed they were God’s chosen people, therefore, they had special standing, didn’t come under the same rules as everybody else.

Paul says, Not so.  We all were spiritual zombies.  Jews, Gentiles, everybody, because we all did the same things wrong — followed the wrong path, lived by the rules of this world, not the world to come.  We all lined up at the trough of craving and dug right in to satisfy our desires and thoughts, and that’s not a good thing.

And, final point, by nature — naturally, as a consequence, the logical thing that follows — by nature we were objects of wrath.  Children of the God’s displeasure.  Off-spring of disobedience.  Heirs of obliteration.  That’s what we deserved from a righteous God who is in the process of reclaiming his creation from its off-track existence.

Now, I will tell you right now, I am not a big fan of the wrath of God.  I think we trot it out way too often.  “God’s gonna get you for that” runs through our heads way too often.

But the truth is, the wrath of God is a natural consequence.  It’s like taking out the garbage, or discarding the refuse you no longer want.

Yesterday, Debbie and I worked in the yard.  To do so, we had to open the garage door, and get the yard tools out, including the lawnmower.  The garage was built probably in the 1920s or ’30s.  It’s a dirt-floor, single car garage, which has now been completely overtaken by yard stuff — rakes, shovels, two lawn mowers, bags of compost, and so on.  You get the picture.

Well, to get the lawnmower out, I had to drag it over a bunch of cheap plastic plant containers — you know, the ones like plants come in when you buy them at the nursery.  They are pretty much one-time use pots because they are cheap, flimsy, and ugly.  But for some inexplicable reason we had kept everyone we ever bought since coming to Chatham.  Okay, that’s not true, but almost.  We had a bunch of them.

They were useless.  Not only were they useless, they were in the way of the tools that could be used.  I got really aggravated, backed my Ford Ranger up to the garage door, and threw the cheap, black, ugly plant pots into the back of the truck, and took off for the dump.  Well, not the dump, but the closest we have here, the transfer station off Depot St.  I backed up to the big steel sled, and threw all the useless, ugly, black pots into the abyss.  Or the dumpster, but it might as well have been the abyss.

That, my friends, is a picture of the wrath of God.  God isn’t just going around smiting people, and aren’t we glad, because we’d all be in big trouble.  But that which is useless, in the way, an obstacle to the coming of his kingdom, an impediment to God’s work and will — those become, naturally, objects of his wrath.  In other words, they get discarded.  Permanently, eternally, forever removed from interference with the coming kingdom.

So, that’s the state we, including the Ephesians, were all in.  Spiritual zombies, about to be discarded.

Squeaky Violins and a Change of Scene

Remember how in the science fiction or horror movies the music would change.  The ominous squeaky chorus of violins would begin to play — EE-EE-EE — and you knew something was going to happen.  Well, the Bible has it’s own version of squeaky violin musics.

One of the best phrases in scripture is when a verse begins, “But God…” because then you know something is about to happen.

All of a sudden, as Paul is writing, squeaky violin music begins to play.  Okay, not really, but Paul says, “But God…”

Now the NIV loses the punchline on this because of the way it translates the sentence, but the “But God” thing is still there —

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Read it this way:  “But parentheses (because of his great love for us) close parentheses God…

See what I mean — But God.  But God made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.

And there it is — God made dead people live.  This is the resurrection power of Christ.  This is Christmas and Easter all rolled into one.  This is the work of God, Paul says, because God loved us with this great, extravagant love, plus he was rich in mercy.  Love and mercy.  What a great combination.

So, let’s read it this way —

But God — because of his great love for us and his wealth of mercy toward us — brought us back from the dead!

No more spiritual zombies.  No more walking dead men.  No more pretending to be alive, when we’re really a hollow shell, a living deadman.

And, Paul adds — it is by grace you have been saved.  Grace — unmerited favor is the theological definition.  Graciousness.  What is grace or graciousness?  It’s acting differently from your circumstances, it’s rising above the fray, it’s setting a new standard for behavior when one isn’t even called for.  God was gracious to us.

We did not deserve it, we could not have earned it, nothing about us elicited that grace from God, it was just there and directed toward us.

But, Wait, There’s More!

I’m using a lot of video illustrations today, but here’s one more.  Remember the Ginsu knife commercials?  The announcer said something like —
“The amazing Ginsu knife will cut through cans, leather, even stainless steel.  And with your order today, you will receive this lovely Ginsu knife for only $19.95.”

Then came my favorite part:  “But Wait There’s More!!”

“You get not one, but two Ginsu knives, the special Ginsu knife first aid kit, and a trip to Tokyo.”  Or something like that.

Here’s where Paul does his, But Wait There’s More! routine —

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,

First Paul repeats what he just said (God raised us up), and then comes the More! — And seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus!

So, it’s not enough that God raised us from death to life, he them brings us into his presence and plots us down right next to Jesus.

Remember the mother of James and John asking to be seated at the right and left hand of Jesus.  If only she had waited.  That’s exactly what happens.  Now, I’m not sure exactly what it means for us right now.  I’m sure it has something to do with we have access to God, a loving relationship with God, a special place in God’s kingdom, and so on.  So, all of those are good things.  But it’s like an extra-added attraction —

  • God not only knows us (we’re dead sinners)
  • God loves us
  • God is merciful toward us
  • God is gracious to us as well
  • God saves us
  • God raises us up from death to life
  • God then seats us with him next to Jesus.
And why does God do this?  Well, it just keeps getting better — to have all eternity to show us how much he loves us.  Listen —

in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Now, “the coming ages” don’t just mean the future.  It is a contrast to “this age” or “this world.”  In other words, the kingdom of God.  And so, in the kingdom of God, in its full unfettered expression, God just shows us the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Jesus.

What gentle, sweet, simple images.  Grace, kindness, love, mercy — God loves us, shows mercy to us, does it with grace, seats us with him beside Jesus all so that he can show us more grace, like the kindness he showed to us when he sent Jesus.

Big Parenthesis

Now, the next two verses, verses 8 and 9, are usually the ones we pull out of context and quote all by themselves.  But do you know what? Verse 8 and 9 are really a big parenthesis.

Read verses 6,7 and 10 —

6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Reads perfectly fine.  Because verses 8 and 9 are a big parenthesis.  Now let’s read it again —

6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast.) 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

And The Point Is….

And the point of all this is — God made us twice.  He made us at creation, and He makes us again in his saving grace.  “For we are God’s workmanship (creation).”

In other words, God is remaking us, recreating us, in his image again.  Except this time, he creates us in Jesus.  What does that mean?

Okay, one last illustration, not from the movies.  Did you ever play with Playdough?  You know, that colored stuff for kids kind of like clay, but not so messy.  Playdough is a wonderful invention, and you can shape it, roll it, form it, pound it, into just about any shape you want.

But then Playdough got smart.  They started selling molds to go with the Playdough.  Some were like cookie cutters, others were molds you pressed Playdough into, then peeled out to see what you had made.

Well, Paul says, when God remade us, he used Jesus for a mold this time.  He created us in Jesus (molded us like Jesus) to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Well, how could we help it?  If we’re made like Jesus, we’d have to do good works.  But those good works aren’t just good works.  They are kingdom works.  So, when Jesus heals people he demonstrates that there is no sickness when the kingdom of God is fully come.  When Jesus feeds people he demonstrates there is no lack, no hunger, when God’s kingdom fully comes.  When Jesus forgives people, he shows there is no vengeance when God’s kingdom fully comes.  When Jesus dies of his own accord, he takes power over violence heralding a new age, a new era in peace.

So, here’s the recap one more time:

  1. We are all deadmen, living out of the desires of this world.
  2. God loves us.
  3. God shows mercy to us.
  4. God is gracious to us.
  5. God raises us from the dead through Christ’s resurrection power.
  6. God raises us from the dead and seats us in the throne room of heaven next to Jesus.
  7. God has made us like Jesus, so that we will do what Jesus did.
  8. God prepared in advance for us to live like we’re living in the kingdom.

Isn’t that amazing?  And isn’t it better than being a spiritual zombie — the appearance of life, but reeking of death.  We are what he has made us — just like Jesus.

We will all be connected forever

“People today are going to stay connected forever,” says Jeff Jarvis.  Jarvis, journalism professor and author of  What Would Google Do? made that observation in a talk to Google employees recently.

Jarvis’s point is that Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo, FriendFeed, Twitter, Flickr, and a host of other social networking platforms enable people to reconnect with old friends and stay connected forever.  As an example, he talks about reconnecting with his old high school girlfriend — with his wife’s knowledge, of course.  Apparently Jarvis did not break up with her well when he was 17, and reconnecting gave him a way to mend that relationship, and re-establish it on a new basis.

Think of the implications of connected forever for communities of faith — churches, small groups, ministries, mission projects, and so on.  Personal networks that transcend both time and location provide rich opportunities to engage with old friends, make new ones (I don’t know half the people who are my friends on FaceBook), and connect in meaningful ways.

Churches could extend their reach and ministry throughout member networks around the globe.  Projects that need help, resources, people, equipment, and expertise could tap members and their friends worldwide.  Shaun King has a request right now on his blog for help with a high-tech gospel presentation to college students.  We’ll see more and more of that as churches and organizations connect with members’ networks.

Do you know any churches that are tapping into wider networks now?  How are they doing it and what results do they see?  Watch this trend because it will become very important in the future.

What business is your church in?

A probing question companies ask themselves in planning is, “What business are we in?”  You might think it would be obvious that a newspaper, for instance, is in the print news business.  But, not so, according to a popular journalism blogger.

Steve Yelvington says that newspapers are in the business of helping other companies sell their products.  In other words, if it weren’t for advertisers (companies) placing ads in newspapers in order to sell more products, the newspaper wouldn’t have the financial support to stay in business — which is exactly what’s happening to newspapers.

Yelvington’s point is that newspapers either forgot or never understood that they were primarily in the business of helping others sell their products, and that’s why they’re in trouble.

Ask that question of churches, “What business is a church in?” and you’ll get several diffferent answers, as follows:

Churches are in the worship business. But, isn’t that getting the cart before the horse? Why do people worship? Who or what do people worship?  And even if you narrow it to the worship of God, then whose god and how should he/she be worshipped?

Churches are in the teaching business. If we could just get people to learn about God, Jesus, Christianity, doctrine, and so forth, we’d be successful.  Most discipleship programs are built on knowledge transfer.  Christian education is wonderful, but knowledge, even about God, is not the business we are in.

Churches are in the helping business. This has several variations, such as serving, caring, loving, and ministering.  But if that’s our business how are we different from the local charity, foodbank, or clothing drive?  Churches may help, but that’s not our core business.

Churches are in the salvation business. This also has several nuances such as eternity, soul, conversion, and transformation.  Of course, the big problem here is that the vast majority of people who live around the world are not looking for salvation, and don’t see the need to be saved from either hell, the devil, sin, separation from God or eternal punishment.  Nor do many see the need to be saved to heaven, eternity, unity with God, and so on.  So, if we’re in the salvation business, we’re in big trouble.

What’s the answer to the question “What business are churches in?”  Here it is:

I think churches are in the meaning business — the meaning of life, the meaning of my existence, the meaning of family, the meaning of love, the meaning of suffering, the meaning of  a thousand other experiences that can only be explained by God.

How do we stick to our business?  By focusing on the answers to the big and small questions of life like, Why am I here? Who is God? What am I supposed to do?  How can my life have significance (meaning) in a world where so much is meaningless?

Those are the questions we should be answering each week, each Sunday, in every worship service, in every small group, and with every person.

Churches are in the meaning business — because if we aren’t nobody is.  That really is the point of religion, isn’t it?  To help people find meaning in all of the confusing, conflicting, crazy stuff of life.  Of course, those of us who are followers of Christ have found meaning in Jesus.  For us, Jesus is the key that unlocks the mystery of meaning.  But our experience of Christ began with some kind of search for meaning.

What do you think?  Agree, disagree, or have another answer?  I think this is a really important question and we need to know the answer.  What business is church in?  What do you think?

What Would Google Do? author quotes me

Jeff JarvisJeff Jarvis, journalism guru and author of What Would Google Do? quoted from my post The Future of Churches: A Network of Niches.  Needless to say, I’m honored and thrilled.

Jarvis is one of the prophetic voices who warned of the decline of newspapers when everyone else was in denial.  His book, WWGD?, looks at culture through the best practices of “the google,” as one former president used to say.

Jarvis is primarily interested in how the new economy (read: digital age) is changing journalism, but extends his argument into the business world, and even the church world in this post, What Would God Do? Makes for interesting reading and translation of one concept into the domain of faith, which I think is valid.  After all, churches are part of the culture, too.