When you use a word…

Missional…I can hear the groans. In church circles (does anyone else use that word?) the word missional is overused and ill-defined. That makes it practically useless. Yet, it seems church folks insist on using it.

It goes a step further. Often people use the word missional to communicate something important/distinct/etc. while actually complaining that the word they are using doesn’t mean anything – they do this without providing any clear definition of the word.

Missional is a good word. Please keep using it! At the same time, when you use the word missional, please define it so we know what you are talking about. That will help this poor, poor word gain some clarity – and traction – in the church.

Endangered denominations?

As the local church goes, so go the denominations and institutions that support her.

The local church can do without denominations. Denominations can’t do without the local church.

This reality calls for a radical shift in focus (or, perhaps, purpose) for denominations (and the institutions that support the church). We need to shift our focus from internal concerns rooted in fear (how do we survive?) to external concerns rooted in Jesus’ mission for the church (how do we help the church thrive?).

How are we supporting ministry on the ground, in the neighborhood, led by local church pastors and people?

After serving as a pastor in local churches for over 20 years, I’ve spent the last four years in denominational work. I believe we have a role to play. I also believe we need to shift the focus to the point of it all – Jesus at work in the world through the church by the Spirit.

It’s the local church…

It’s the economy, stupid!

James Carville

During Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, campaign director James Carville famously said, “It’s the economy, stupid!” Carville believed that the primary thing that mattered to voters was the economy. If you can’t see that, according to Carville, you’re stupid.

I work for a church denomination(MC USA). I’m often asked about the challenges of leading in a denomination at this moment. Churches are struggling. Budgets are shrinking. Struggles over the place of LGBTQ persons in the church remain. Seminary is expensive. Student debt is real. Churches don’t pay much, so how to you attract young leaders. And on and on.

If often think of the church version of Carville’s quip. If you are wondering how to lead in a denomination or church-supporting institution, I have one thing to say: It’s the local church…

If your denominational work and ministry doesn’t help the local church thrive, you’re doing it wrong or your doing the wrong things (or both).

Digital lives

We didn’t sign up for the digital lives we now lead. They were instead, to a large extent, crafted in boardrooms to serve the interests of a select group of technology investors.

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, p 24


“It might be that instead of spending more time looking for a louder platform, you could profit from digging in and doing the hard work of figuring out the change you seek to make. If you’re unable to influence one person in a face to face meeting, all the tech in the world isn’t going to help you change a million people.” Seth Godin


This is true in the church, too! As a follower of Jesus in the world, what change do you seek to make? Can you influence one person in a face to face meeting towards that change? If not, a bigger platform, larger church, more followers, will not do it either.

Leadership: The relationship between church and business

If I ran a business the way you run the church, it would be bankrupt

Raise your hand if you’re a pastor or church leader and you’ve ever heard that complaint!  I see that hand…and that one…and that one…

This is a common sentiment that gets expressed when poor leadership practices are clearly hurting the church. Dysfunctional boards. Loose process. Lack of professional standards. Poor communication and feedback loops. Lack of strategic planning. Meetings that last too long and accomplish too little.

The principle, behind the sentiment, underneath the quip is this: Any group, of any sort, that is trying to accomplish anything needs structures that function. This is true for the church.  The appeal of comparing the church to a business is that there are hard realities, rooted in economics, that are at work within businesses which make it hard for businesses that don’t function well to hide for too long. This isn’t necessarily true for churches.

So it is natural for some to think that running a church like a business can be helpful.  And, to some degree, it can.  There are some practices within businesses that can help churches function better. In business they call them best practices. Some of them can help the church.  So keep reading your Bible.  But every once in a while pick up FastCompany, too. You can learn  interesting things about innovation, management, human resources, design, and so on. If you find you’re reading FastCompany more than your Bible, repent. The Bible is still the primary source for church leaders.

The problem with this church is that it’s run too much like a business. 

This is the other side of the coin. This sentiment gets expressed when a church is run too much like a business. What that usually means is that people have  become less important.  Vision is executed by those at the top of the leadership structure. People’s voices are marginalized. Spiritual disciplines, like Scripture reading, prayer and discernment, are put on the back burner.  Too much FastCompany. Not enough Philippians 2.  1 and 2 Timothy. Not enough Jesus (that’s always a problem).

It’s natural for some to think that running a church like a business is the reason that relationships suffer, compassion is lacking and people become secondary to structure, process and management. Therefore it is important that leaders recognize that church is not a business. The bottom line for churches is people, connection, collaboration, participation, and….LOVE!

What is the proper relationship between church and business when it comes to leadership?

For me, when it comes to management, process, visioning, innovation, etc. there is a lot churches can learn from business. When it comes to people, church leaders need to take their cues from Jesus, as well as Paul and other Old and New Testament leaders. Joseph. Moses. Jeremiah. Peter. James. to name just a few.

In that way, both quips are right and wrong. The key is balance. The church is not a business. But that does not give churches permission to run poorly in ways that hurt the mission, vision and direction of the church. If learning from business can help the church run more effectively from a structural standpoint, I don’t see the harm. In the end, however, Bible trumps all else.  A good business practice that is inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture is a bad church practice.