Thursday, May 31, 2007

Fyte the Soundbyte

Earlier this Spring our esteemed worship pastor, Josh Hughes, went to a conference for ministry leaders. Of course he dutifully returned with a handful of rich nuggets of LCD (lowest common denominator) Christianity for me to delight in. One of the sessions at the conference was a discussion of leadership and vision led by a renowned evangelical pastor and ‘leadership’ guru. Right out of the gate it was said that for our leadership to be effective as pastors we must make vision ‘stick’. Ah, yes. You might have thought that effective spiritual leadership has to do with integrity and holiness. Or faithful biblical teaching, perhaps? No sir. You must make vision ‘stick’. This is the key. But, dear pastor, how can we get sticky with our vision?

Glad you asked.

[[sidebar:: I am not necessarily saying that these leaders don’t believe in integrity, holiness, or in faithful biblical teaching- it is just that these discussions of effectiveness, success, and growth are by and large the predominant emphasis in such mega and emerging movements.]]

The way to make vision ‘stick’ is to reduce your vision/goals/mission/purpose to an easy, quick, memorable sentence, phrase, or three word clause. This vision ‘byte’ must be drilled into your people, and should define everything you do and say as a church/organization. The question should always be, “How does this or that help us accomplish our vision”? If such and such can’t or doesn’t move us in that direction, then bag it.

This is part of the evangelical megachurch ethos. I call it ‘mission statement mania’. If you are going to succeed as a church, or as a pastor, you must have a ‘mission statement’ that summarizes and captures the essence of what you’re all about. If you are an effective leader, you have a handful of pithy catch phrases that can be handed out like business cards. And, of course, this can be helpful. If your selling cheeseburgers or boot cut jeans.

We need to remember that effective marketing has to do with selling a product. Getting your product into the market. What are people buying? What do they want? Pastors and leaders with any savvy at all will quickly understand that in order to reach this market, we must tailor our message, our mission, and our ‘soundbyte’ to meet them right where they are.

So, what's wrong with that? Well...

First, we must remember that the message of the cross is foolishness to the world. How do you market something that is foolishness and a stumbling block? Well, you need to eliminate that which is perceived as foolishness. You must remove the stumbling block. With the cross, this takes some serious market savvy. Sadly, this is exactly what is going on in our churches.

Secondly, we need to be careful of false and misleading reductions of the Christian faith. Someone recently told me that there is nothing wrong with mission statements because Jesus gave us one. I reminded him that Jesus’ mission statement for the church was actually an imperative, and it was three verses long with about 45 words (in the Greek)- not really pithy, catch phrasy, and most people mess it up when trying to recite it. Then I also asked him why we must come up with mission statements if Jesus already gave us one? It seems that first century Jewish messiahs need us to make their vision stick. And, yes, we are to be ambassadors. Yes, we are to be all things to all men that we might save some. But this is done for the purpose of ‘preaching the gospel’, not selling, curbing, marketing, or reducing it.

Is it possible for me to reduce who we are and what we are about as a church to a quick slogan? At Four Oaks we do in fact have a ‘mission statement’. It was here when I came as a pastor, and it is still buried in our website (‘to live and spread authentic Christianity’). I don’t disagree with it. I don’t think it is ‘wrong’ as a statement. The problem is, I believe there is so much more to be said about who we are as a church. Whenever we reduce our ‘mission’ to our own crafty statements, we run the serious risk of missing the depth and breadth of our true identity. When that happens we also run the risk of ‘selling’ something other than who we are (and who Christ is!) in the marketplace of the world.

Quick assignment: sum up the essence of who you are in a single sentence. You’ll discover immediately how difficult (if not impossible) and unhelpful this can be.

Lastly, consider the fact that we find no such sloganeering in the Scriptures. Unless we isolate out verses like, "For me, to live is Christ and die is gain." Ugh. That sucker won't sell these days, now will it? Paul sought to give the Ephesian church not a simple vision summed up with a catchy sentence but 'the whole counsel of God' (Acts 20:27). Consider the closest thing we get to a 'vision statement' for the church in Ephesians 4:12-16:

to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Go ahead. Slap that one on the church marquee.

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