Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Have a “Nice” Thanksgiving

I discovered some years ago that being “nice” was not the same as being “loving”. We can be nice: avoiding arguments, telling people what they want to hear and being generally pleasant. Or, we can be loving: willing to confront, telling people what they need to hear without fear of any lash back. Sometimes, I believe, it’s impossible to avoid conflict and still show love.

I personally believe that “nice” is overrated, but still, it has its place. Just because “nice” isn’t always loving, doesn’t mean that “loving” can’t try to be nice. In the past, I have at times been far too willing to confront. Now, I have never entered into confrontation easily, but I rationalized that any confrontation was okay so long as it brought out the truth. After all, when we know the truth, we are set free, right? (See John 8:32) So I don’t doubt the motivation of people who, like my younger self, are willing to walk into the fire for the sake of someone else. However, I’ve discovered that an action motivated by love may not be received as such. And even more, it may have the appearance of love, yet be ultimately cold and self-serving.

I find it interesting that Scripture has two answers to the same situation:
Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
      or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
      or he will be wise in his own eyes.
~ Proverbs 26:4-5 NIV

The first time I read those back-to-back verses, I had to do a double-take… then a triple-take… then I finally gave up and said: “Okay, Lord, what does this mean? Do we rebuke the fool or not?” I was more interested in doing what was right than being right. So He showed me: It’s more about our motivation than anything else. Do we care about the person we’re rebuking, or are we more interested in showing what we know? Do we truly want to help, or are we looking to be a hero? I’m so grateful that God uses us in our brokenness!

This Thanksgiving and Christmas season, many American Christians will have an opportunity to speak the truth to family and friends. I pray we have the right motivation. We are called to speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

But what is love? Is it giving with the expectation of receiving something in return? Do we expect to have others extol our insight? Do we hope to be crowned a spiritual hero? Or do we seek to just love that person, speaking the truth in love. So before speaking the truth as each opportunity presents itself, we should ask the question: How does my expression of truth reflect the love of Scripture? 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
~ 1 Corinthians 13:3-5

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him Who is the head, that is, Christ.
~ Ephesians 4:15
copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Undifferentiated Church

Somewhere between my birth and the present day (a LOOONNNNGGGGGG time if you ask my kids), churches started to adopt marketing disciplines. Now, I have nothing against applying wisdom and truth to church administration, and I believe that all truth is God’s truth, whether it’s written in scripture or discerned through scientific method. Finally, to be completely honest, I tend to like marketing. It’s a powerful instrument, but like any tool: it can be misused; it can be applied to promote good; and it can be used for bad purposes. So having a little bit of knowledge, I’ve observed a few things over the years and have developed some opinions about what happens when churches apply marketing principals.

Now any organization that has not matured in its marketing practices tends to be internally focused, and when it’s a congregation, it can be rather cliquish. However, as an organization starts to understand marketing, it becomes “market driven”. The organization promotes activities and programs that will be attractive to the market, specifically reaching out to those demographics that are most desirable to develop the organization. As part of this process, successful businesses create plans to set themselves apart from the competition and then communicate the value of that difference to prospective clients. This is called “differentiation” and “positioning”.
Differentiation is the act of designing a set of meaningful differences to distinguish the company's offering from competitor's offerings.

Positioning is the result of differentiation decisions… The end result of positioning is the creation of a market-focused value proposition, a simple clear statement of why the target market should buy the product.
~ http://knol.google.com/k/marketing-strategy-differentiating-and-positioning-the-market-offering
So a powerful tool called Marketing becomes increasingly applied in business, and unsurprisingly it becomes more prevalent in the business of church. Progressive church leaders differentiated themselves with culturally relevant messages and offerings. Traditional churches started to observe a mass exodus of patrons, especially among the younger generation, and they began to apply techniques to retain or even increase the numbers of their congregations. Contemporary services became more common place to reflect the preferences of the church-shopping market place.

Ironically, rather than being differentiated, churches started to look alike, promoting contemporary Christian music and a variety of good coffee. Now, the most mature marketing organizations grow out of the “market driven” stage and ultimately find an ability to “drive the market”. This is no different in church. This church marketing machine, in an attempt to differentiate itself from its competitors in the religious services market, started becoming more and more program-centric. The organization with the better programs became more attractive to the church shoppers, but programs are expensive, requiring more of the time, talents and financial contributions of church members.

And then, in my opinion, a funny thing happened: the church forgot what it was marketing. It became so busy “doing” that it left its First Love (Jesus)… and its Second Love (People). People became a means to supplying a program rather than an end in themselves. The most tragic thing about this trend is that no one in the church thought it would lead to this. The church marketers wanted to reach people with life-saving messages. The church shoppers wanted to find a place that brought them life. But instead of streams of living water, they found themselves in a barren desert. Now I don’t think that every church is lifeless or barren, but Barna studies as well as personal experience have convinced me that the church in America is trending downward. It’s a trend that impacts pastors, lay leaders and even people outside the church.

So I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and I still don’t think that marketing practices are a bad thing, but I believe it’s important to understand where the church is different from a business to then grasp how marketing can be useful to advance Christ’s kingdom and reverse the current trend.

First, we need to understand that God’s economy is all about giving. Somehow, we receive more when we give. I don’t understand this principal, and even though I’ve walked through it many times, I confess it’s often a scary path. Still, I often wonder what would happen if businesses started operating from this principal instead of the profit-focus we have. Would God enter into that business with greater blessings than could ever be gained through conventional wisdom? So the fundamental question of conventional business (i.e. – “what’s in it for me?”) is in opposition to the fundamental question of authentic ministry: “How can I help?”

Second, churches need to stop competing with each other; we should be looking for opportunities to collaborate in kingdom work. We are supposed to be known for our love for each other. (John 13 and John 15) That love should reflect the sacrificial love of Jesus and not the self-seeking love of the world. I have been saddened to hear pastors express a concern about intermingling with other congregations for fear that their members would leave. I’ve also heard pastors echo the “what’s in it for me?” question far too often, and while I understand the motivation and concerns, it does not reflect a Christ-like perspective.

Again, there is a core difference between the way the business world thinks and the way we’re called to think. The world only understands a transactional love: giving with the expectation of something in return. Unfortunately, the program-centric church expects that ministry recipients will participate in or support the program, and therefore more effort is expended on reaching the people who will enable the ministry. The less attractive members are left by the wayside: the poor, the hurting, the ugly, the sinners, etc. But wasn’t this the demographic that Jesus spent His time ministering to?

Third, the church is called to influence the culture rather than allowing itself to become part of a corrupt world. My great concern for the Church in America is that we’ve gone native… we’ve adopted a belief system that is counter-kingdom, and then we are surprised when we don’t see God moving in our lives. So bottom line (no pun intended!) is that we need to skip the “Market Driven” stage and advance to “Driving the Market”.

It’s easy for us to understand how the world thinks: we are sinners by nature and the old man in us still fights the new creation we’ve become. But the wisdom of God doesn’t make sense to the world; Scripture says that a Christian world view seems like foolishness in the eyes of the world. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25) Understanding this difference is a key strength that every believer must draw upon. We aren’t called to deliberately make fools of ourselves, but we need to stand firm in our dedication to Christ, especially when it stands in opposition to conventional wisdom. (See 1 Corinthians 4:10) When the world repeatedly sees our “foolish dedication” followed by inexplicable consequences, it bears greater witness than any evangelization technique man can conceive.

So while so many churches have spent considerable energy trying to differentiate themselves, the authentic Body is differentiated by its very nature. The uniqueness of any congregation’s members combined with an authentic dedication to ministry sets it apart from all others. And when that body of believers is open to and intentionally intermingling with other Christ-centric congregations to love and serve each other as well as the world around them, the Kingdom of God is advanced. Those who are perishing will ridicule this approach, but it will be more attractive to the ones God has predestined for glory… more attractive than any program, not matter how excellent or praiseworthy it may be.

Make no mistake, we are reaching a point of division in the body of believers, and each individual is called to lead from where they are: speaking truth in love while worshipping in truth and spirit.

copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Right is Wrong and Wrong is right

Right is wrong and Wrong is right
   and all throughout the land is night.
The sweet-sick words of lying mouths-
   have taken hold of wandering moths
So off into the fire they fly;
   determined creatures, they flit to die.

My children, beloved, how far you have strayed,
   thus now as a Harlot, I cast you away!
Away with your stupid, your foolish delights!
   Away with you, creatures, and out to the night!

But yet to My Remnant do I still proclaim:
   Right is still right, and day is still day.
In you, My last Remnant, do I still delight.
   Continue to search Me and bathe in My Light.

copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Prayer for Strength

In Sympathy for the children who cry,
with tantrums and screams and yelling out, "Why?"
I simply shrug an indifferent shoulder
and allow my fires of warmth to smolder.

With empathy for the people who dream
while mothers with bloodied children scream,
I rationalize: "This has always been."
But realize my own great sin.

In anger against indulgence and waste,
which seems to penetrate the human race,
I urge the sluggish to quickly make haste
and sometimes wonder at my own disgrace.

My passion for the dignity of man
and my belief in God's majestic plan
Sometimes falls prey to that which's despised
and perceptions of Truth mingle with Lies.

I pray for my soul in this storm -- stand strong,
and my faith in the Light everlasting long,
and that compassion and passion, like tides in a day,
evolve into currents which never change.

copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)