Category Archives: Ministry

The Danger of Complacency

Author’s Note: This post concludes a 3-post set offered in companionship to a 3-part sermon series I preached in August titled “Distracted”. You can view the series here, as I preach from 3 of John’s 7 Letters to the Churches in Revelation 2 and 3 to talk about the distractions of busyness, the fear of missing out, and complacency. Thanks for reading.

There is an old fable about a frog who was put into a kettle of tepid or lukewarm water. He was quite comfortable in the water and so stayed there. Gradually, however, the water temperature was turned up until it came to a boil. The change was so incremental that the frog did not perceive the danger and he was cooked to death.

Perhaps that fable is an illustration of complacency and the dangers such a condition poses to our faith. The living Christ describes the Church at Laodicea, in Revelation 3:14-22, as “lukewarm”. He wishes they were either hot or cold, but because their spiritual condition is lukewarm, he threatens to spit them out of his mouth. As a coffee drinker I find I can relate to the illustration. I like my coffee hot or cold (iced coffee being a relatively new enjoyment). When it’s lukewarm? No thanks! Yuck! In fact, I think I have spit it back into the cup before.

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The FOMO Distraction

I was recently listening to a podcast (EntreLeadership: Simplify Your Life with Digital Minimalism) on which the presenter, Cal Newport, explained how Social Media apps are designed to promote greater and greater user interface. He used an example of a person who may spend up to six hours per day on their mobile device. Of course this six hours is spread out over a day’s time, built up over many check-ins, viewings and scrolling. But six hours, or even three hours, in one day devoted to one’s phone is a lot! To the point where such usage distracts us from other things in life. These distractions may include our work, our family, and even our faith.

There is a name for this kind of distraction: FOMO – fear of missing out. It’s the fear that keeps us checking FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram and SnapChat to see what our “friends” and “followers” may be doing. It’s the fear that they may be living a life that is much more interesting, or exciting than ours; and that they may be doing it without us!

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The Practice of Prayer Riding: How activities requiring longer duration in focus might retrain our prayer life.

I took up road cycling a few years ago and truly enjoy this form of exercise.  I try to work in two to three rides a week as my schedule permits.  Cycling gets me moving, and away from what can at times be a sedentary work life.  I find it physically challenging and mentally rewarding.  In addition to the cardio and muscular-skeletal benefits of cycling, it’s amazing what a 20 to 30-mile ride can do for one’s mental and spiritual health.  Which brings me to the topic of this blog post.  Prayer has become a companion practice to my routine of cycling.

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Living Beyond Limits in Change

I have been thinking about the theme of limits and the unlimited nature of God as I work through a summer sermon series. This has led me to consider how our perceived limits often hinder our work in leading and moving through change. Here are five common limits to change, and five ways we might overcome these self-imposed limits.

1. Viewing our Resources as Limited
When a group or individual is asked to pursue change, a common response is the assumption that there are not enough resources to face the change. Persons will often recite how they don’t have enough time or enough energy. And a group might say, “we don’t have the people, or financial resources to do that”. We easily put limits on resources. I learned a long time ago that I did not need to sit on anyone else’s wallet or calendar as a leader. (They were more than capable and willing to do that themselves!)

What if we did not limit how we view our God-given resources and believed that God offers “enough” to sufficiently guide us through change? What if we approached change, from a position of resource abundance or sufficiency, rather than a position of scarcity? How might this free up our thinking and imagination? What new resources might we uncover and release to the work? When we impose limits, we often shut down what might be.

2. Viewing Failure as a Limit
Every new leader dreads the words “we tried that once.” Those words are true indicators that an organization allowed a failure, or less than stellar outcome, to limit their next efforts at change. In contrast, when we see failure as an opportunity for learning, and not limiting, we are positioned to build on what we’ve learned even if the outcome was not all we had hoped. If you can create a culture of experimentation where learning comes from all attempts, you will succeed in viewing failure as a limit best put in the rear view mirror.

3. Limiting our Identity and Purpose
Congregations and other organizations that have a rich heritage and past will sometimes limit their identity and purpose to what has always been. If this occurs, nostalgia can become a threat that sidelines change efforts. Identity and purpose questions like “Who are we?” and “What do our neighbors need from us?” are important, but should not be asked or answered in the past tense. We can free the work of identity and purpose discernment from the past by asking: “Who are we now?” “What is our purpose today?”

4. Limiting ourselves by our Experience
The complex challenges facing most organizations today when met with responses that are limited to our prior experience, will only yield frustration. Trying harder at what we’ve done before is not the answer when we are facing change that is discontinuous with the past. Reaching beyond our experience to try new approaches, learn from others, and give permission for new edge ideas to enter could lead to new discoveries and expressions in our shared lives.

5. Limiting our Next Steps
Absent the full, proven answer to challenges that face us, we at times become paralyzed and take no steps into the future, afraid they will be the wrong steps. What if, instead, we simply took the next step in the pathway forward? Gil Rendle, in his book Quietly Courageous, tells the story of “a young boy living on a farm who was instructed by his mother to go out on a pitch-dark night to check if the barn door was closed and locked.” The boy soon returned, reporting that it was too dark to see the barn and he was afraid to go further. “His mother handed him a flashlight and told him to try again.” When he soon returned, saying the light was still too dim to make out the barn, she said, “You don’t need to see the barn. Just walk to the end of the light.”*

What if, as we lead and move through change, we just walked the next steps to the end of the light? Doing so would be taking us that much closer to our destination. Sometimes its as simple as being willing to take a next step.

*Rendle, Gil. Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in a Changing World, (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), 218.

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Filed under #change, Leadership, Ministry, Pastors

5 Ways to Overcome Common Obstacles to Change

Daniel M. Cash and William H. Griffith

The following article is an excerpt from our book The Changing Church. This article is soon to be published by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership in their online newsletter Leading Ideas.

Leading is a challenge in the most tranquil of circumstances within congregations today. When you add the layer of introducing or working toward change on top of the myriad of things already required, “challenging” may feel too soft a word. But there are ways to lead past the common internal and external obstacles to change.

  • Know that relationships are key.

Being a person of impeccable integrity is without question a need in any public leadership role, most especially in the church. Taking time to know and love the people whom you lead, including those who are at times hard to love is also important. In a word, it comes back to relationships. Good leaders, leaders who earn the right to lead change, know that relationships are key — building them and maintaining them. Mobilizing the right people to support the change initiative is far easier when one already has a solid relationship with those people.

  • Over-communicate.
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