Tuesday, April 26, 2011

To boldly go... Personal Leadership from StarTrek!

We have all seen the typical scene where the the wife proclaims that her husband is not the man she married.  He has changed.  Blah, blah, blah!  I would hope there has been some change.  I expect it in myself and my spouse, and even in my children.  I sure dont want my kids to act like a preschooler at their high school graduation.  I want them to grow and mature.  I want them do develop new skills and master their native language.  I want them to develop healthy relationships and to seek out opportunities to become who they are created to be.

In a follow up to the last post, I wanted to address the issue of personal change in the leader as part of the overall revitalization of the church.  In fact, not only is personal change in the life of the leader necessary in the process, it should be the spark that ignites the flame of revitalization.

We tend to define most things in our culture by generations, and leadership is no different.  My parents never sat in a leadership conference and probably never had a leadership book handed to them from a mentor.  The top-down leadership model was implemented everywhere from the office to the military, with the church jumping on the bandwagon.  Rules and hierarchy were established and enforced, and learning outside of the task at hand was optional, if available.  It was incorrectly assumed that either you are born to lead or you were a follower, and development of a skill-set to lead was not encouraged, and definitely not valued.  Apprentices were only so the long term people would have someone to boss around.

A great example of this was in the boomer and buster generation cult hit, StarTrek.  Their captain was an egocentric Captain Kirk who was seemingly always looking for a fight.  Everyone had their role, and you did not speak unless spoken to.  Kirk wanted everyone to look to him because he was the CEO of the Enterprise, and he had a plan.  The power was concentrated in him.  He was goal driven and valued uniformity.  Position and role give the right to lead.  And we all know, Kirk...lead by...talking.  (pause for corny theatrical effect.)

Then came the Next Generation of StarTrek, and a whole new kind of Captain.  Picard was willing to take the lead, but the crew knew he wanted their help.  Picard was a fellow journeyer and the power was not all focused on him.  He was relationship driven and valued diversity.  He knew that trust and relationships would provide the right to lead.  Picard didn't pause for effect, he paused to listen.

Leadership evolved.  As leaders, especially in this generation, many are caught knowing the need for change but struggling with the models of hierarchy they were raised in.  I must confess, this has been quite a journey for me.  Looking back, it is embarrassing.  I thought volunteers and students should listen because I was speaking and I had a title.  I made demands and offered little in return.  I was arrogant and immature, and far from being the leader I needed to be.  Today, as I write, I can make a list of areas where I need to improve.  (you dont need to send me a list!)

Sometimes the process is painful.  There have been lots of lessons learned over 18 years of ministry, and many of them were uncomfortable.  However, from the vantage point of today, I can see clearer and further because of the steps climbed in the past.  It is now our mandate to train and mentor the emerging generations to avoid a leadership vacuum in the years to come.  Also, we need to continue to grow ourselves.  A great practice for older generations is reverse mentoring.  Find a leader from the younger emerging generation and allow them to share with you what is happening in their generation.  Our culture is constantly changing and we need to understand that change to know how to lead for the future.  We cannot continue to lead like Kirk in the Next Generation!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Death, Taxes, and Change

It is often said that the only certain things in life are death and taxes.  The older I get, the more that reality sets in.  However, there is another item that is certain, and that is change.  Our world is changing, like it or not.  The best political decisions of the 1930's would fail to be effective in todays culture of  global information, and the best laid plans of today will find themselves in need of overhaul before a single generation passes.  It is inevitable that we must change and adapt to survive, and substantial change is necessary if we wish to thrive!

Ed Stetzer tells of a doctor's study in which those researched were given a diagnosis to either "change or die."  It actually sounds grim.  My mind immediately went to hearing "Live like you are dying" for the first time, or some movie made for the lifetime network where a dad is making videos for a son he will not raise.  We think of what great motivation it would be, given a negative, pessimistic prognosis.  We would cram as much as possible into the time left.  However, the study showed a completely different response.  In fact, when given their "change or die" ultimatum, 90% were able to make no lasting change.  Really?  Your life is on the line and you cant put down the doughnut?  Is that salt really calling your name?  Can you really not put down the remote and get some exercise?

We have developed a consumer culture and made every decision about personal comfort.  Sadly, our churches have taken the same path.  In fact, maybe to a higher degree.  For generations churches have resisted change.  The largest demographic group, (typically the baby-busters) have made leadership decisions that made them comfortable.  For many churches, these decisions resulted in growth and success in the 1970's and 1980's.  That was when that generation was raising children and reaching their own generation.  However, as younger generations came along and didn't respond to ministry in the  "buster bottle", churches began to do one of two things.  Many made changes, realizing that for the Gospel to be propagated to future generations, it would have to be put in a context to their lifestyle.  These churches are continuing to change and develop new and creative methods and develop leaders for emerging generations.

Others, however, resisted change in return for comfort.  Pastors who instigated change were forced out.  Children in the "parsonage" became a burden, and finances were only given if "certain needs" of the congregation were met.  In other words, they chose to die.  So now we find ourselves in a unique place in church history.  We are closing close to 4000 churches a year.  Even the legendary Catholic church is closing parishes at an alarming rate.  We have created an atmosphere where we, like the physicians in the study, must either find a convincing method to bring the reality home, or allow for dignity in death.  The sad part is, either decision is just that;  a decision.  It is hard to imagine choosing death, but by resisting change in place of comfort we have done just that.

Revitalization is possible, and happens regularly, but it is a choice.  And not just the choice of a pastor.  The people must chose life.  They must choose change.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Too many called? Did God miscount?

I have intentionally taken a bit of time away from the blog, but not from writing.  I have been working on other projects, and hopefully, some of it will take a published form in the future.  However, with all of the traveling and speaking, I just cannot get to all the questions and details about church planting.  Hopefully, these blog posts will help answer some of those questions.  Also, If you have a question or issue you would like addressed, email me at pj@pjpro.org.  

My focus currently is on both planting churches and in developing a church planting culture in COGAF, the fellowship in which I serve.  If you are not familiar with them, check them out at www.cogaf.org.  I will also document my journey, both in church planting and in the process of learning and mentoring for church planting.

Let's address the "why" with one of the simple answers first.  I have heard so much about training, educating, and credentialing those called to ministry.  That is an admirable effort and is certainly filling a previous void for many fellowships.  However, it cannot stand alone.  Let me explain.

In one fellowship I served, they had a ratio of two credentialed ministers for every ministry position that they had available.  In fact, that was their ratio before they started a school of ministry.  I would estimate that number is now 3 or 4 to 1 after several years of churching out credentialed ministers.  My question is this:  where do we expect these called, trained, and credentialed ministers to serve?  Do we expect them to go back home and teach Sunday School?  If that is their call, then wonderful.  But I seriously doubt any individual would invest in education and credentialing processes in most fellowships to teach a curriculum designed for a 6th grade reading level.  

Credentialing new and younger leaders is necessary, but is ineffective if there are not ministry opportunities available for them to fulfill their calling.  New churches bring new areas of ministry that many existing churches do not wish to pursue and allow younger generations to do what they do best:  reach their peers.  When empowered and challenged to rise to the occasion, many will exceed the expectations.  

Along with the new church focus, and hopefully so interwoven they are indistinguishable, is a call for the existing church to invest in misions work.  New churches are the most cost effective method of evangelism in the US, and should be seen as an integral part of home missions.  It has been proven effective for years on the foreign field, and is now gaining momentum stateside.  The problem arises when there is a lack of focus from the existing churches to invest in missions, as this will reduce the effectiveness of the overall process.  Then again, churches without a missions program might want to consider a name change that does not include "church."  Religious social clubs are the enemy of missions and of the great commission.  We must refocus our efforts to put missions at the forefront, and not simply an offering.  Our churches must embrace missions, including their very own.  Usually, a church with no missions effort has no vision and no sense of evangelism.  Congregations wonder aimlessly through their lives and meet together twice a week without ever interacting with the mission field in which they live.

Simply put, we must plant churches for the current and future generations of leaders and for those they are called to reach.  The potential is there.  The resources are available.  Personnel are waiting.  But too often, the calling goes unanswered.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Making the Move

Over the last few weeks, the whole Varnell family has been in a whirlwind.  Since my last post, we have finished our tenure of ministry in Malvern, Arkansas, had a great time celebrating Rachael's birthday in Branson, then back for Christmas with the family.  As soon as the gifts were unwrapped, it was time to pack them...and the rest of the house up and put it in a truck.  The weather was awful for loading.  It poured rain right up till the moment we closed the door on the packed truck.  Then...it was clear for the trip to Owasso.  however, the bowel habits of my children extended the travel time a bit.  We crashed on the floor of our new home late that night and had the truck unloaded in less than three hours the next day with help from some of the guys from Merge college and my uncle, who drove ou to help.

We have been working odd jobs the last few weeks.  Rach has just landed a job with the school here in Owasso, and I am slowly booking some services (hint, hint...  oh, forget the hints...book me for a service at your church.)  Right now we are building relationships in the community and learning our way around.  Honestly, we are loving it here.  We have had neighbors come down and visit, and made several connections with people who are interested in our church plant.

Kendall is running in and out of the house as I write, playing with one of the neighborhood kids.  There are kids and young families everywhere.  Ill be writing more about all of the community and church plant stuff in future posts.  In fact, I am working with COGAF with a blog series about church planting and our experiences and dreams here.

Keep us in your prayers.  I'll do my best to keep you up to speed on all things Varnell family!

BTW:  Blaine is doing well, too.  He spends lots of time with ME!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

By the fire

Its over now. Im getting to sit by the fire alone for a few minutes and reflect. I think it went well. I made it through, and so did they. We shared communion together as a family around the campfire. The sky was clear and the stars are shining. What a great memory. Standing outside, around a fire, taking communion and singing "how He loves". There are some great leaders in this group. Now its their turn to step up and make a difference. Now its my turn to step out on faith and follow Christ into new territory. I think we are both ready.
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The Bonfire

Im actually posting from my phone. In a few minutes I will share with a great group of students a passion God has placed in my heart. A passion that will require me to not only leave the church, but transition into a whole new area of ministry. As we share communion tonight together, and talk about Jesus launching the start of the church from that room, I will share about the burden God has given me to step from the role of a student ministries pastor to church planter. My life will never be the same after tonight. There is this odd blend of anxiety and fear mixed with vision and passion. I pray I never let anxiety and fear direct my life.
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Monday, November 1, 2010

Community and Candy

This last week has been extremely busy. In fact, for my family, there were 6 church related events and three soccer games. There are just not enough hours in a day, honestly. However, last night, during a community outreach, something neat happened. We were handing out candy and people came by and would recognize staff members from different community involvement areas. "Hey, you are the guy who sells those tickets at the football games. Aren't you that lady who eats lunch at the elementary schools? Hey, thanks for feeding the team. Etc." Each staff member had connections to other outreaches and areas of community involvement, and people noticed. It would be nice to see instant growth in the ministries involved, but that is not the true heart of ministry. Our calling is to reach and love those in which God has entrusted to us. Our community. Great job guys!