Thoughts On LeadNow

I had the chance to attend a ministry conference last weekend at the last minute. Turns out my friend/co-worker Mikey couldn’t attend because his plans changed at the last minute and I could juggle some things and make it happen.

The ticket was free.

The conference was 20 minutes from my house.

There were speakers I liked and had read their books.

So, I went…and here are scattered thoughts pulled from my notes:

On Irving Bible Church’s building: I’m a big fan of function driving building design, and they do it well there. Lots of comfortable places to sit. Lots of plugs near those comfortable places to sit. Classrooms were all multi-purpose. Not a lot spent on decor…but well done, and all the graphics/logos/posters were all done by and for a younger demographic. Free wi-fi throughout the building is a nice touch, too. You could tell a lot about their church by the “feel” of it when you walked in…and it felt comfortable, welcoming and they want people interacting. And learning. IBC was just simply the building used by the LeadNow group hosting the conference.

In case you want to check out the organization and what they’re trying to do, you can see it here, at RightNow.Org. It says that they were trying to “ignite a movement” to develop “a culture of service,” “launching small groups to action,” and “connecting your people to those in need.” If you’re wondering, they did their very best to hit all those targets during the three days. They knew what they were trying to accomplish with the time and it was evident that everything that went on had a reason for it.

Now, before I get into the various thought-provokers, I’d like to add one of my own. Each main session started out with a very hip and with-it worship band leading a worship set. The host church had an array of lighting & stage decor & video enhancement that set a mood. Here’s what I mean: The lead singer came out to full-lights and led the group in singing/clapping. Very high energy and contemporary worship. By the third song, the song was an old hymn with a new arrangement, the room darkened with scanning spotlights randomly scanning the crowd. A mixture of loud music interspersed with quiet a cappela. The words were about Jesus’ name, and, while they were black and white on the video screens, the various names of Jesus in Scripture were then scrolling in different fonts covering the entire back walls of the auditorium, about 50 feet high. Candles were lit, of course. My guess is that many churches follow this order of worship and similar use of media…

…and there’s no question in my mind that the worship leaders were sincere, the band was excellent, the songs were chosen to connect with every age-group represented, the singing was truly participatory…I thought it was a genuine worship experience. I just couldn’t shake the thought that most of our churches are pretty much doing what youth groups were doing 10 to 15 years ago. It looked like every youth group in America from the mid-1990’s.

Just so you know, the trends now are stripping all that down. Kind of like when grunge came along after the excess of Michael Jackson. Well, we’ve kept the candles.

I wonder if I go to a conference in 2020, if it’ll be a flannel-wearing, unshaven worship leader with a guitar and a djimbe drum with only candles as lighting…with little to no media in use at all.

Anyway, on to various quotes (and random commentary if applicable):

The first speaker spoke on what most speakers at conferences like this speak about: Some variation on the theme of the pastor’s spiritual life and how it needs to be authentic and growing. In this case, Tim Ross asked the question, “If they [your congregation] follow you, will they get to Christ?” Always an appropriate question. He said this that I thought was beautiful, “My fear is that the next generation will fall short of Christ because they settled for us.”

He also said that leaders need to be honest, open and transparent. He viewed this as a contrast to previous generations of pastors who always tried to be “perfect” before their people. I agree, but I often get concerned that when speakers say honest, open, and transparent, they always highlight the sins. The Christian life needs balance and we should also share our joys, triumphs, successes. Sometimes we don’t celebrate enough.

I then went to a breakout session where Tim said this, “You’re problem is that you’re trying to live right, when all Christ ever asked you to do was die right.” He’s on to something with that, don’t you think?

The next main session was led by George Barna, the Christian researcher. He gave us a lot of research on the state of the church right now in America, and he pretty much let us know we’re in big trouble. I won’t bore you with all those (even though he highlighted the importance of children and youth ministries), but here’s what he said that leapt out at me: “Success in church is usually measured by attendance, number of staffers, square footage, class/program offerings and, of course, finances. Jesus didn’t die for any of those things. YOU WILL GET WHAT YOU MEASURE.” (emphasis mine)

Now, my presumption is that we’re in this to see lives transformed. That the end result will be love. Fruit of the Spirit. Etc. If that’s the case, how do you measure that? If we get what we measure, how do we make accurate evaluations in individuals? I wish he’d spent some time telling us how to measure love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and all that jazz. It’ll be a good challenge to think that through.

Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love (which I recommend, as long as you skip chapters 4 & 5, which I think would lead to arrested spiritual development if followed through to their logical ends), started off with this little molotov cocktail: “Churches in Texas have a weird church/cultural thing. Nobody tells you what they really think. They say the right things, but they don’t line up their actions.” Interesting observation about the Bible Belt from someone not in it.

His basic premise was that if you decide to make your church servants for the next generation, you’ll experience various trials. A theme that ran through all the speakers was to embrace conflict and expect it. Chan’s take was that conflict requires us to be drawn to Christ, “Why would we need a Comforter if we’re pretty comfortable?” I was taken aback by Chan’s humility and loving spirit. I really enjoyed his time with us.

Then I got to hear Donald Miller–yes, the Blue Like Jazz guy–a couple of times. He spoke on how people make movies by developing the story. Naturally, it’s about us as characters trying to write our story better. It’s his new book A Million Miles in A Thousand Years. Like Chan, he talked about how conflict actually drives a story and how important it is. Interestingly, he used the example of Adam, in the garden, pre-Fall of humanity, having conflict because he was alone…there was not a helper suitable for him.

Interestingly, I learned more and was provoked more from the writers at this conference than I was by the theologians.

One speaker talked about the importance of dying to yourself. Talks like this to pastors always make me check-out mentally. It’s more or less in the job description. But it never hurts to be reminded of this fact.

At this point, one of the additions to the worship set was “spoken word/slam” poetry. In my mind, this is beautiful when it’s done well. It was.

Another theme was how we need to get out of our comfort zones…that we need to give up our lattes and cable television and such to help out the world. Guilt-motivation was a big player–and this always rings hollow to me. Kind of like when a parent says something about eating all your food because kids are starving in Africa.

Interestingly, the speakers saying this are wearing shoes that go for over $100. Jackets for $250. The speakers would mention that they had a date night or bikes for their kids. There seems to be a drive to bash affluence, whereas Scripture seems to talk about being content in whatever your circumstances happen to be (Paul knew what it was like to have plenty, right? He also knew poverty.) There are proverbs that talk about enjoying the fruit of your labor. Affluence isn’t a reason to be guilty, although at this conference it sure felt like it. There should be a balance between compassion and wealth…but it’s all about your attitude. Suburban folks have needs, too, speakers.

Finally, one last quote that another author, Susan Isaacs, said to the pastors (she got it from a 12-step program) that really provoked my thinking, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” Wow.

Well, there’s plenty to pour over the coffee today, kids. Have at it!