When was the last time you bought a vinyl record? For some of you the answer is never. For a lot of you that remember when Carter and Reagan was president, do you remember what it was like to walk into a record store? There were rows and rows of racks containing everything from Beethoven to the Beatles, the latest top 40 hits blaring over the sound system, eavesdropping to see what music the cool kids were listening to, and easing next to that special someone to break the ice by talking about their favorite music selections.
Well, as musical trends go, cool never dies, so my son pulled a turntable out of his grandparents’ basement and speakers out of our attic so he could enjoy the pure sound of music as God intended. A few years ago, he was looking for a particular jazz album because cool obviously is genetic. I suggested we try one of the vintage record stores that are mere museums that pay homage to the golden era of music. We perused the racks and I shared stories about this album and that concert, but they didn’t have the album he wanted. So before we were even out of the parking lot, he had ordered it online and it was being shipped as we spoke. I realized that was his intention all along, I just appreciated his willingness to spend so time with his old man.
I lived through the eras of 8 tracks, cassettes, CD’s, and now with apps like Pandora and Spotify, I can listen to any song I want from a database of hundreds of thousands of selections literally at my fingertips. My story depicts the evolution of consumerism in our culture today. It’s called post-industrial consumer behavior which simply means we can buy music without going to a record store, do our banking without going inside a branch, or hear inspirational messages without stepping foot inside a church! Technology and a new culture have reversed the buying process; the store now comes to you via your laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
The church has seen the same reversal; the Barna Group tells us that over the past 20 years, the number of adults that say they have never been to church has grown from 1 in 7 to 1 in 5. So we need to stop asking the question “how do we get people to come to church” and instead turn the tables and ask “how are we going to take the church to new people?” This makes leading a church today harder than it has ever been, and every day going forward, it will get a little more difficult.
How do we stem the tide and engage more people with the Gospel? If we were in a second grade Sunday school class, the answer is always Jesus and I would agree. If we were in a class with second-year post-graduate students, the answer is always leadership which is a valid answer itself. But where do we start?
If you Google the word leadership, in six-tenths of a second you get 782 million entries. I would guess that half of them extoll the virtues of a particular style or theory of what it means to lead. But as leaders of God’s church, which one best fits our mission; do we lead from the front or from the rear or somewhere in the middle? I think before we invest any time adopting the newest leadership style, let’s ask ourselves two critical questions to get us started attacking our post-industrial and post-Christian culture.
The first question I suggest you ask yourself is, besides yourself and your family, “who are you leading?” What do they look like, where do they live, what do they value, and what makes them hurt? I believe that you have three, primary constituencies in your leadership influence: your staff and volunteers, the congregation, and your community.
Carey Nieuhoff reminded me recently in one of his blog posts that “too many church leaders are perfectly equipped to reach a world that no longer exists.” What kind of leadership then can we offer our staffs and volunteer leaders? Let’s give them the courage, confidence, and tools to create experiences and build relationships where people can engage with Jesus. Give them permission to break through the boundaries of church and reach out to people in their own circles of influence.
One of the great philosophers of the 21st century, Mike Tyson, once said, “Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face!” Our congregations have great intentions and we give them wonderful sermons of instruction on living like Jesus, but then they get punched in the face. We can lead our congregations by continually showing them how to take the next step, no matter how small or large, in their relationship with Jesus. And we can demonstrate for them that as followers of Jesus, we can make a difference by being different! Be different in how we treat our friends and strangers, be different in how we engage the hurting, and be different in how we respond to people we disagree.
The third constituency is your community, the people out there. How can we make our church a safe haven for fragile folks that are in pain and an oasis for people that are desperately seeking a change or a second chance? Just imagine the impact it would have if your entire church committed to taking Jesus out into your town or city. What if you partnered with other churches and other organizations with a like mission, positive change could really take hold in your community! Can you lead your people off the property and into relationships with your community?
After you have clearly identified who you are leading, the second question you should ask yourself becomes critical: “where are you taking them?” An academic approach to this question is to identify your vision, mission statement, and values. A better way to approach this question is to figure out how your church can live out the Great Commission. In my work I talk to a lot of churches and organizations about branding, which can simply be restated as “what is your church known for.” Be known for something because the other alternative is to be invisible and irrelevant. Be that place where the people don’t judge me when I come to get formula for my baby until my next paycheck and especially be known as the people that helped to save my life by introducing me to Jesus!
Jesus said to his followers “would anyone light a lamp and then put it under a basket or under the bed? Of course not! A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light will shine.” The Holy Spirit has gifted us with an extremely powerful light to shine into the darkness. And we shine that spotlight, but sometimes we shine the light from atop a high tower at a very safe distance into the darkness. To borrow an image from my off-roading friends, I think Jesus intended for us to strap our lights to the roll bar of a 440 horsepower, 4 wheel drive truck with a lift kit and go bursting into the darkness.
Are you willing to risk the safe confines of the church and go out into the world to find him? Have you prepared the people you have been given to lead to share a love with people that will save lives and families? I hope so… I pray so! Be the leader God has called you to be, know who you are leading intimately and bravely take them places where Jesus can change the world!