Strolling Through Gordon MacDonald’s “Who Stole My Church?”, Part 10: Chapter 8

Reminder: I’ve been working through this book with my old college roommate, Hollywood. His church is going through it, and I thought it’d be fun to go through this book about a fictitious New England church realizing that they’re “aging” and struggling through the aspects of what that is and what it looks like so it doesn’t die. Anyway, these are the thoughts this book provokes as I go through it…and it won’t hurt for you to read the earlier entries on this.

I read a book that was really popular among the business folks a few years back. One of the discussions was on something called “The Law of Competitive Balance.” In effect, what this means, is that strong teams/companies are drawn to becoming weaker, and weak teams/companies are drawn to becoming stronger.

For example, if your company sells widgets and is in direct competition with other companies that sell widgets, and your company was far and away the nation’s leader in widget sales, then you’d put up with some poor salespeople or bad support staff because, well, you’re at the top of the heap. No need to rock the boat because things are working.

If your company was a start-up or near the bottom in sales, you’d be pretty quick to get rid of salespeople that couldn’t do the job because, well, you have nothing to lose. You’re in last place. So why not bring in some new faces, right?

In sports, say if you’re the Yankees, you might put up with a 2nd baseman who was a poor hitter and average fielder because you just won a championship. If you’re the Senators and 34 games out of the playoffs, you give all sorts of minor leaguers the chance to come up and see what they can do. You have nowhere to go but up.

I think this theory applies in churches, too. And to specific ministries in churches as well.

For example, let’s say that you’re a megachurch and you have a nursery program that has large numbers of kids. In budget meetings and vision discussions that ministry might get whatever they want financially and very little discussion of their value in the church because lots of kids are coming, the staff is happy and they’re busy as beavers in that area. Things are going well, so no need to check up on ’em.

The dark side is that they might not be doing the ministry that they’re supposed to be doing. In other words, they may have started out with a goal to show love to little babies by caring attention by individual staff members. It’s possible that all the volunteers are now doing things like manning check-in stations, charging pagers, recording attendance, managing staff and volunteers, etc.

But, because things are “going well” there could be a tendency to just assume that things are hunky-dory. Everybody just hums along in budget and staff meetings because somebody says, “Man, we’re swamped. We need volunteers, more and more every week. We’ve got to purchase new toys. We’ve got to develop a new way to sanitize the toys between services.” It can be hard to say, “But are the children being held and read to? Are the children being show love by caring staffers? Are we making sure to calm crying kids? Are they being changed/fed and comfortable while they’re here?”

Why is this hard?

Because you have to have some sort of touchstone to evaluate programs.
Because you have to remember to revisit the touchstone.
Because if you revisit touchstone to evaluate programs, then you actually have to do it.
Because if you evaluate the programs, especially the successful ones, you might have to eliminate or significantly change, that program.
Because if you eliminate that program, or significantly change it, folks might be disappointed or frustrated or whatever else might come up due to the changes.
Because people will wonder why you’re “fixing something that’s not broken.”

Well, the reality is that it might not be broken…it just might not be your touchstone value.

A perfect example of this happened when we were building our 60,000 square foot facility. A group of people decided that we needed to begin and develop a “Christian” school underneath the umbrella of our church. Not a bad idea, right?

So, the elders discussed it. Honestly and prayerfully.

The answer was “no.”

The reason was “it’s not what WE do.”

There are a couple of VERY good Christian schools in our area. Both large and small, pricey and competitively priced.
We’re a church that doesn’t want to be the business of that kind of education.
Because it’s not where we want to spend our time, energy and resources right now…
…and likely not ever…

…UNLESS WE CHANGE WHAT WE VALUE.

So, we said “no” to something that is inherently a good thing. We could choose to do that thing. It would likely be done very well by us. It would have some benefits to not only our church, but also for our community. Why say “no?” Because it’s not what we valued.

(again, understand that we can choose to change what we value).

We’ve said “no” to some very good programs and ministries, too. Big name, successful ministries that lots of other churches have and do. Which is why we don’t have some of them: Their might be that same ministry at a church 2 miles from us. It might not be something that we agree with doctrinally. It might not be where we choose to put our money and priorities.

Because we should have that touchstone to make those decisions.

And we should constantly be fighting the law of competitive balance and evaluating not only what we want to do, but also what we’re already doing.

And that’s what MacDonald says with his fictitious characters in Chapter 8:

“I think it’s important to periodically revisit both the original need and the corresponding vision to see if they still form the basis of the present existence. Is there still faithfulness to the original dream, or has it been forgotten? And if forgotten, why?”

Let’s apply this to me, shall we? I mean, I was hired almost 14 years ago because I was in alignment with the values of my current church. Some of those I mentioned in an earlier entry, but things like…
…exegetical teaching of God’s Word is primary to me.
…this teaching is filtered from the idea that His grace is the primary motivation in the Spiritual life.
…that I believe that the spiritual life is best taught in the context of relationships.
…that I believe small groups are the best way to get a steady input of exegetical teaching and life-on-life discipleship going.
…that teenagers are part of the Body right now and should be using their gifts and talents to help our church grow in maturity (not some part of this vague “leaders of tomorrow” mindset).

So, here’s the deal: If the elders of my church changed their vision for ANY reason, they would maybe let me know that I don’t “fit” anymore. So, if they decided they wanted to have large, mid-week services at our building and wanted to commit to that and eliminate small groups at all levels, well, I hope they’d have the moxie to tell me how much they’ve appreciated my ministry over the long-haul, but that since the vision is different, they’d lovingly steer me towards another church that values my style of ministry.

I feel confident they would do that very thing, too.

But the most unloving thing they could do would be to keep me around because “he’s been here a long time and has a track record of excellence.” It sounds nice, but you gotta do what it is that you do. Not only corporately, but individually. Sports teams have to. Businesses have to. Schools have to. Churches have to. Countries have to (U.S. Constitution, anyone?). Nobody is exempt.

And, it’s Biblical: Without vision, the people perish. Proverbs 29:18.

But you gotta check up on your vision.

And evaluate if you’re still doing what you do, or if what you do needs to change.

Or the law of competitive balance rears it’s ugly head.

And sometimes you gotta make REALLY HARD and painful decisions. Or, sometimes you get to enjoy past decisions and it makes your job easier and everybody’s motivated and happy.

But ignore it and go with the flow at your peril.

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