Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Learn from the Ant

ANTS!!! It seems that no matter what I do they become more. They are in the kitchen, the bathroom, the dining room, the living room, outside, inside, upstairs, downstairs…they’re omnipresent!

The Bible says that we should “Go to the ant, (Prov. 6:6)” but I don’t really have to–they keep coming to me! It seems to me that I have a lot more than just patience to learn from these little pests. 

Solomon tells us that we can learn a lot about hard work and diligence from the ant. This is true. I must have seen 10 billion ants in my life, but I have never seen one taking a coffee break (though I have seen them take coffee). I’ve never seen them throwing a Frisbee, watching a sitcom, or laying out getting a tan (though I once toasted a few with a magnifying glass). I suspect their life span reflects this workaholic attitude (and all that caffeine and sugar can’t be good for them)–but you got to admit they work hard and accomplish a lot. 

The ant is able to carry something ten times its weight, but nevertheless, “they are not a strong folk (Prov. 30:25).” It isn’t hard to beat an ant. One on one, I will always win! An ant is nothing. I have single-handedly swooped down, and, without mercy, wiped out an entire population of ants simply with a wave of a Black Flag. Pure, raw, power! For a moment, I feel omnipotent…until I take out the next day’s trash. In spite of my superior, high-tech, 20th century, rose-scented chemical warfare…their baaaacck! I may pay the rent, the bank may have the deed, but there is no mistaking the fact that the ants own the land! Scientists have even predicted that a nuclear holocaust big enough to destroy all mankind would not put an end to these insects. So don’t believe anything Raid tries to tell you. 

What is it that makes this huge little army so invincible? Are they smarter than us? No. Are they stronger than us? No. Do they have superior weapons? No. Do they have a more astute strategy than us? Well, maybe. They have a very simple (with the size of their brains it would have to be) yet unbeatable strategy. I see two things that make them invincible.

First, they multiply. “They prepare their food in the summer” (Prov. 30:25) and they multiply all year. For every two hundred I destroy, ten thousand are being hatched. 

Second, they cooperate. A single ant is nothing, but as a corporate, cooperating and communicating colony they are undefeated. 

We can learn a lot from the ant. If we cooperate we can accomplish more together than alone. If we multiply ourselves and our effort, we can also be undefeated. It seems to me this is God’s plan. We can each make a commitment this year to make one more reproducing disciple. Every pastor can have a Timothy. Each church can make plans to plant another church within the year. We can begin to prepare our missionaries now, in the nest, so that in the future we can unleash an army of disciples on an unsuspecting world. We can cooperate as a team, multiply our influence, and accomplish more together than we ever could as individuals. We too can infiltrate and influence this whole planet. If an ant can do it, why can’t we?
“Go to the ant…observe her ways and be wise.”
Proverbs 6:6

A Fresh Perspective on Paul: An Interview done on Ed Stetzer's Blog

Neil Cole's new book, Journeys to Significance: Charting a Leadership Course from the Life of Paul, is out and aims at helping us understand the Apostle Paul and what he learned on the field as a missionary. This is really a book about the process of leadership development, and it is worth your time if you are leading in any capacity. Neil is the author of numerous books (many of which you have probably read or heard of), and is serving a group of rapidly multiplying organic churches that meet in homes, campuses and places of business all over the world.
Neil was kind enough to answer a few questions about his new book for us on the blog.

Can you describe how this book is different than your other books?

My previous books were all written to do two things, expose some unhealthy patterns in the way the church does ministry and reveal a more organic and healthy manner. These books all focused upon four areas that are part of my mission statement: to reproduce healthy disciples (Search & Rescue, Cultivating a Life for God), leaders (Organic Leadership, TruthQuest), churches (Organic Church and Beyond Church Planting) and movements (Church 3.0).

Journeys to Significance, while also addressing leadership, is written in a narrative form following the life of one of the greatest leaders to shape history-the apostle Paul. It is easy to read because it tells a dramatic story. It is also a leadership book because it draws principles of how God matures a leader from the story. 

There are a lot of books written about Paul and leadership, why write another?

I found that in spite of the volumes written on Paul there wasn't a single one that brought to light some of the observations in this book. Most of the books on Paul's life view his missional strategies as being the same approach varied only by circumstance. What I found was that he is a great example to us of a missional leader who is willing to learn and improve with each venture. 

I also was able to offer some plausible explanations for some long standing questions regarding the book of Acts, such as: why would Paul and Silas receive a beating in Philippi when they were both Roman citizens? Why did the Holy Spirit forbid Paul and his team from preaching the gospel in Asia on the second journey? There are a lot of simple explanations that make sense within Luke's narrative. 

One thing that this book does as well is it gives a solid biblical framework for the expansion of apostolic mission-- and why it works. 

What was the process you went through to write this book?

I have this value that I can't write a book on a subject that I haven't experienced myself. This book is about how a leader matures through the various phases of life, so I had to learn the ideas of this book first hand. It literally took me 16 years to write it. There is evidence of this on the internet where you can find early editions of articles or sermons I would give that touch on these ideas. Even my first publication with Bob Logan in 1995 (Raising Leaders for the Harvest) has a fragment of this idea in it. Even though I had these ideas about Paul and the book of Acts, I needed to walk some of the paths of maturation that Paul went though before I could write this book with any authority. Not that I have arrived at maturity mind you. I still hope to have many more years of learning, but I have experienced enough to back up my observations and not sound like a kid who doesn't know what he is talking about. Over the last 16 years, not only did I learn more about how a leader matures, but I also gained experience in mentoring others through various phases of growth and all of that adds substance to the book.
I calculated that I have read Acts at least 100 times in those 16 years as well. I have studied other people's works on Paul and Acts and stand on the broad shoulders of some great scholarship as well.

What is the big idea of the book?

Most see Paul as an expert teacher. I see him first as a great learner, and that is why he is such a great teacher...and missionary. The idea of this book is that God brings all leaders through some similar phases and processes of development, and Paul is no exception. So the main idea of the book is examining how Paul was prepared by God to change the world, and how each time he learned something he got a person and as a leader. He is the one who challenges us to follow him as he follows Christ. Too often people immortalize Paul as a saint who can do no wrong, but when we do this we steal from him one of his greatest qualities-his ability to learn. We learn, along with Paul in this book, how to become a leader whose influence spreads further with each life-lesson until we finish well as he did. 

What are some of the missional lessons Paul learned that we may also need to learn?

There isn't the time or space in this venue to explain all of them, but one that is very interesting is how Paul learned to do more by doing less. On his first journeys he did the majority of the evangelism work and left behind weak and immature churches susceptible to error (such as the Galatians). Near the end of his second journey he was instructed by Christ to stay in a place longer and find future leaders in the harvest fields. After this lesson he stayed a year and a half in Corinth and then 3 years in Ephesus. While in Ephesus Luke tells us that every person in all of Asia heard the message. Wow! Paul stayed in one place, did less and less of the actual work, but empowered others to carry the work on where he could not. It meant he stayed in one place longer, but after he left the church was not just viable and indigenous, but had already proven it could do the work without him. They were not dependent upon him. That is a leadership lesson that we definitely need today where so much is done by our leaders while the vast majority of the congregation simply receive and do little. Paul learned to do less so that others could do more.
Be sure and pick up Neil's book, Journeys to Significance

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rediscovering a Child-like Outlook

When did bed time become a good thing? What ever happened to all those millions of excuses we used to offer for just five more minutes before we’d surrender to the sheets? When did a stick become just a stick rather than the shining saber that it used to be? When did it become blasphemous to walk on top of a wall instead of along side it? How come there are no more dragons to kill, or fair maidens to rescue?

When did the moon stop following our family car at night? Is it following somebody else now? Maybe we bored it too much. When did clouds stop forming circus animals and just start blocking the sun?

How come I don't get a prize when I order a Big Mac combo? When did a cup of coffee take preference over a mug of hot chocolate with mounds of whipped cream, sprinkles, and a cherry on top? How come I can't have my dessert first and eat the rest only if I have room for it? When was it that I began to like vegetables?

Why do I have to eat chicken with a fork and a knife when I go out to a restaurant? If God had meant that, do you think He would have ever made the drumstick? Do you think they would call it a drumstick if we weren’t supposed to pick it up with our hands. What would Roll Over Beethoven sound like if Ringo had to hold his drumsticks with a fork and knife?

How come there are no pictures in grown-up books? Who says the black lines in a coloring book are better art than the colorful scribbles that go outside?

How come they don't carry silly string in hardware stores? So when did couch cushions become just couch cushions, rather than the fortress they were always meant to be?

I wonder, which is more mature, an "adult bookstore", or Toys R Us? How come now that we can actually afford our own pony, we'd rather buy a Dodge Colt, Ford Mustang or Bronco instead of the real thing? Are we, in reality, still just pretending?

And one question I just can't seem to find an answer to: when did work become more important than playing? It used to be that messing up the room was more desirable than picking it up. I wonder what would happen if some day at work we all just decided to play kick-the-can instead of the ridiculous "grown-up"(?!?) games we play at the office.

I can’t tell when it was that I changed, but at some moment I stopped seeing the world through the eyes of a child and started to think like a grown up. At that moment I lost something that I want back, not just innocence or naiveté, something more. I lost a way of looking at things with curiosity and inventiveness. I began to know the answers so I stopped asking the questions. Lately I’ve discovered that asking good questions takes more wisdom than telling good answers.

The artist Henri Matisse said toward the end of his prolific career, “I spent the first thirty years of my life trying to paint like an adult, and the rest of my life trying to paint like a child again.” Perhaps we should rethink this whole grown up thing and try seeing the creation through the eyes of a child once again. In fact, that seems to be the only way that makes sense to me. I can’t even imagine what new things we would learn and create if we did.

A 3 year old will learn more lifelong and life-enhancing content in the next year than I have in the last ten. And I think she'll enjoy the year a whole lot more than I will as well. We can learn a lot from children, if we'd let them be the teachers more often and we became the students again.

“Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 18:4

Lessons Learned in the Fields

I was asked to describe what I would do differently if I were to start church planting again. Here was my response.

If I were to start over knowing what I know now, what would I do differently?

1. Begin in the Harvest and Start Small.
Don't start with a team of already saved Christians. We think that having a bigger and better team will accelerate the work, and it doesn't. In fact, it has the opposite effect. It is better to have a team of two, and the right two makes the work even better: and apostle and prophet together will lay the foundation of a movement. The churches birthed out of transformed lives are healthier, reproductive and growing faster. It is about this- a life changed, not about the model. Never forget that!

2. Allow God to Build Around Others
Don't start in your own home...find a person of peace and start in their home! Read Matt. 10/Luke 10...and do it!

3. Empower Others from the Start
Don't lead too much...let the new believers do the work of the ministry without your imposed control. Let the excitement of a new life carry the movement rather than your intelligence and persuasiveness.

4. Let Scripture Lead Not Your Assumptions
Question all your ministry assumptions in light of Scripture with courage and faith. There is nothing sacred but God's Word and Spirit in us...let them lead rather than your own experience, teachings, and tradition.

5. Rethink Leadership
The Christian life is a process. There is not a ceiling of maturity that people need to break through to lead. Set them loose immediately and walk with them through the process for a while. Leadership recruitment is a dead end. We are all recruiting from the same pond and it is getting shallower and shallower. Leadership farming is what is needed. Any leadership development system that doesn't start with the lost is starting in the wrong place. Start at the beginning and begin with the end in mind. Mentor life on life and walk with them through their growth in being, doing and knowing. The end is not an accumulated knowledge but a life of obedience that will be willing to die for Jesus. The process isn't over until there is a flat-line on the screen next to their bed.

6. Immediate Obedience in Baptism
Baptize quickly and publicly and let the one doing the evangelizing do the baptizing. The Bible doesn't command us to be baptized, but to be baptizers. It is absolutely foolish the way we hold the Great Commission over our people and then exclude them from obeying it at the same time! We need to let the new convert imprint upon the Lord for protection, provision, training and leading, rather than upon men.

7. Settle "Your" Ownership Issues
Stop being concerned about whether "Your" church plant will succeed or not. It isn't "yours" in the first place. Your reputation is not the one on the line...Jesus' is. He will do a good job if we let him. If we have our own identity and reputation at stake in the work we will tend to take command. Big mistake. Let Jesus get the glory and put his reputation on the line...He can take care of Himself without your help!"

This was originally from Organic Church, but has since been online in a few places, so I thought I'd post it on my own blog as well. Hope it helps.

My Foreword to Zens' The Pastor has No Clothes

James D.G. Dunn highlighted a very serious problem when he noted, “some of the early statements regarding industrial chaplaincies…seemed to imply that the Church was not present in industry unless and until an ordained clergyman became involved on the factory floor.” The idea that clergy must be present in order for the church to exist and function is one of the most debilitating assumptions in the body of Christ. Too many in both the church and world believe that you simply can’t have church without a clergy person present.

We allow this most distressing lie to creep into our ways, thus becoming sacred, unchangeable dogma reverently referred to as “the pastor’s call” and “ordination.” The reality is this: the New Testament says nothing about clergy being different from laity; we are all “inheritance” (Greek: kleros) and we are all God’s “people” (Greek: laos). We are all a holy priesthood, everyone of us. In other words: the laity are the clergy and the clergy are the laity. There should be no distinction and separation that we commonly see today among those purporting to be the body of Christ. Instead of a priesthood of all believers, we end up with a “pewhood” of the disengaged spectators masquerading as the body of Christ.

Early in y Christian life, I was spoon-fed this doctrine of the few who are specially called, ordained to lead others. I believed I was one of those special people and went of to seminary to ne taught how to serve the church in this “holy calling.” I went through the process of licensure and ordination to reinforce this sense of being special. I remember wanting to settle the doctrinal foundation of the positional authority for the pastor once and for all, but was gravely disappointed by the glaring lack of Biblical support. But that didn’t deter me for, like my leaders before me, I found support in places where it was not to be found. I assumed much and read my own bias into the text many times over…and no one ever openly questioned it.

This was my life’s pattern until one day God finally broke through the clutter in my head with clear and profound truth. When the lie was uprooted and replaced with a truly Biblical worldview it changed everything. The implications affect every part of life as a follower of the King.

In reality, we misplace our faith by believing we need a person in charge more than we need the Spirit of God. We doubt that the Spirit is enough to lead a meeting and, instead, place hope in one leader to hear from God as if he or she can tell us what we need to hear. Thus, we bypass any common interaction with the indwelling Spirit of God and with each other. How absurd is it when we trust more in flesh than in the Spirit. In the end, we actually have so little faith in the Great Shepherd to lead us that He has become an absentee king delegating his responsibility to a few. This, of course, is not true. But it is the way we function. Ours is a problem of faith. Plain and simple, we do not believe He is capable or motivated to lead us.

In this thoughtful resource book, Jon Zens hits this issue hard with the following question: “Just think with me for a moment. If the senior pastors of the 1000 largest churches in America resigned tomorrow, what kind of religious chaos would ensue?”

I am grateful for Jon’s mind and pen, a gift to the organic church and the kingdom at large. His What’s With Paul & Women is outstanding! This book is equally an intelligent and well-studied contribution to a serious by over-looked issue we need to address as a body. As Jon states, “ The point is, in organic meetings the leadership of the Spirit is fluid and over a period of time involves everyone. If a group looks to the same person time after time to get things rolling and provide the essential content of the gathering, then the living Christ blossoming through all the parts is soured.”
I have been teaching similar ideas for a while now. One of the greatest ironies I encounter is in hearing pastors object that if we actually did church this way they would not enjoy the fulfillment of using their gift in the church. I then ask, “Should everyone else table their gifts so that the pastor can feel good about his own usefulness?” This is why Jon comments that, “Those who have had leadership positions in the institutional church must take their ambitions and history of being “up front” to the cross. They must take their proper place of being just a brother or just a sister among other brothers and sisters. If not, then the group will inevitably revert back to an institutional form, which usurps Jesus’ leadership.”

Again, this is a faith issue. Trust that the Spirit of Christ wants all of His body being fulfilled and used, even pastors and teachers. Yes, it may be fulfilled in a manner far different than our expectations, but fulfillment is always satisfying. It may be different, but it will not be disappointing.

In the Hans Christian Andersen fable, once the boy speaks up everyone realizes how foolish they have been and the ridiculous parade ends. Jon, though not a child, has nonetheless shouted out very clearly–“the pastor has no clothes!” It is time to stop the parade of vain and self-congratulatory cheers stirred on by some lying scam artist that has come to steal the wealth of the King, and go back to normal life…fully clothed.

–Neil Cole
Long Beach CA

P.S. If you would like to read more of what my thoughts are on this very important subject check out my book Organic Leadership.

Humorous Church Names Reposted for Fun

“What’s in a name? A rose is a rose by any other name.”
—William Shakespeare

My friend and mentor, Bob Logan has an unusual collection. He collects church names he has come across in his travels over the years. Here are some actual names of churches he has encountered in his journey (with some commentary from yours truly):

  • Accident Baptist Church is obviously not Calvinist.
  • First Church of the Last Chance World on Fire Revival and Military Academy (in Dade City FL). These folks have the first and last word on just about any subject. I don’t even want to ask what sort of military they are training.
  • Greater Second Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN, stands in contrast, I guess, to the not so great second Baptist church around the corner?
  • For those who do not want to commit all the way, you can go to the Halfway Baptist Church. On the other hand, Hell Hole Swamp Baptist Church in South Carolina is not a seeker sensitive church by any stretch of the imagination. You have to be really committed to attend this church; none of those “Halfway Baptists” will be found here. Of course everyone is welcome at Faith Free Lutheran. Like “sugar free” this is a church that contains no calories, convictions…or miracles.
  • Little Hope Baptist Church sounds a tad better than another church called No Hope United Methodist Church. Kind of makes you sad just saying it.
  • My personal favorite church name: Original Church of God, Number 2. I really can’t think of anything to add that could possibly be funnier than the name itself…except for perhaps number 3.
  • Boring Seventh Day Adventist Church is another one of those “truth in advertising” names, but this church goes the extra mile because the name of their pastor is Elder Dull. Perhaps there are more exciting ways to spend your Saturday?
  • Harmony Baptist Church in East Texas is a name that doesn’t sound so bad. The funny thing is that it is only a half-mile away from Harmony Baptist Church #2. I guess they are not so harmonious after all.
  • Battle Ground Baptist Church…aren’t they all?
  • Waterproof Baptist Church in Louisiana begs the question: does the baptism count if you’re water repellant?
  • Country Club Christian Church is in Kansas City, but you’re actually likely to find some of these in every city. This may be the fastest growing model of church in America.
  • James Bond United Community Church in Toronto, is of course “shaken, not stirred.” St. Martini Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, WI, is also shaken, and not stirred and comes with an olive or a twist of lemon if you prefer. Of course the Lutherans can actually drink a Martini so I guess it isn’t such a stretch to name your church after one, or is it.
  • When Paul spoke of being all things to all people I doubt that he had this in mind: First United Separated Baptist Church. This church in Indiana needs to decide which it is, united or separated?
  • Hell For Certain is a church in Kentucky but for some reason they do not have too many visitors, no one wants to go there. Does their advertisement in the yellow pages read: Go to Hell For Certain, Sunday at 10 AM? There is also Hell Seventh Day Adventist Church, which is in Hell, MI. You could say: people are dying to go there!
  • Lover's Lane Episcopal Church is a very open church, but watch out if someone wants to show you the submarine races in the baptismal pool…their Episcopal, they sprinkle.

Friday, August 26, 2011

CMA is Leaving Our Offices & Going Underground

“Meeting Neil Cole is, well, anticlimactic…I don’t mean to say that Cole himself is anticlimactic, but his surroundings. You see, Cole–and everything he shapes–is ‘anti-slick.’”
~Ed Stetzer
In 1998 while training leaders in Australia, I read a book called Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman. The book looked at some of the businesses that changed their fields and consequently society in radical ways by thinking differently and producing something that had never been seen before.
In the book the authors compared several company starts and portrayed some common qualities. Some of the companies they looked at were: The Walt Disney Co., Apple Computers, Lockheed’s SkunkWorks and Hewlitt Packard. Most were started in a garage or an abandoned warehouse on a rarely used lot or airfield. Interesting, all of these were started in California. From those unsuspecting locales the world was changed forever. Feature animation was born. The personal computer and printer was created. The stealth flight technology was invented. While other companies with greater resources and state of the art facilities were trying to create something earth shaking, these small bands of highly committed, creative and selectively chosen people were meeting in ugly places without any luxury and for little or no money. They were working for something more than a job or a successful business; they were literally shifting the history of mankind. The authors speculated such humble locales allowed for greater creativity because they were less distracted and comfortable and were frankly more desperate. But I think it may be more than that. God always delights to use simple and weak things to confound the powerful and wise.
Having always been an artist that desired to be creative and help people to view things from new perspectives, I read the book with keen interest and learned what I could. When we set out to start CMA in the Long Beach area, influenced by this book, we moved into some very humble digs. The CMA offices in Signal Hill are completely forgettable. There is nothing shiny or pretty about them. Today five church plants, a publishing and resource ministry, two city transformation ministries and a house of 24/7 prayer all share this small and unattractive workspace throughout the week. That’s quite a contrast to the multi-million dollar, shiny state of the art facilities found in every city that house only one church and, in many cases, for only one day a week.
I remember when I had a surprise visit from Dave Travis and Linda Stanley of Leadership Network looking for true church multiplication ministries to invite into the Burning Bush project. I think they saw our office and wondered how anything good can come from such a “modest” place. Actually, I wonder how something world changing can actually be initiated from a swank place, but I “think differently” (as Steve Jobs says). Linda and Dave actually came to appreciate our movement and became great friends and supporters of CMA, but I still occasionally hear them laugh about that first unimpressive meeting (we’re still not impressive).
Church history has proven again and again that true revival is ignited from the ground up, and never the top down. "Can anything good come from Nazareth?"
Ed Stetzer and his co-authors Elmer Towns and Warren Bird made our offices famous in the first chapter of their book 11 Innovations in the Local Church. It reads:
“[CMA’s] massive operation without (much of) a parking lot has a grand total of 1.5 employees but trains 2,000 people in 12 states and around the world. Not bad for a guy with a nasty hole in his couch.” [pp. 26-27].
We’ve seen God do a whole lot more since that time. CMA has trained
close to 45,000 people to plant organic churches. There are organic church plants in all 50 states and probably as many nations of the world. There is more than one Organic Church Planter’s Greenhouse (our current training mechanism) happening every week somewhere in the world with over 100 experienced church planters trained to present the material. We’ve innovated, piloted and developed new wineskins for church planting, disciple-making, leadership development and multiplication movements from that same nasty couch. We still only have one full-time employee and two part-timers. Some of our castaway resources that we helped to develop here and now sit on our famous “shelf of shame” are still highly sought after by others, such as the profile assessment system for church planter assessment.
After 13 years of fruitful world impact from the humble, oft overlooked offices found at the corner of 21st and Cherry in Signal Hill CA, CMA and all the associated local ministries birthed in and around it, are vacating this familiar location. Due to the economy and leading of our Lord we are letting go of this birthplace. Following our own values of being decentralized we will function more virtually and virally.
CMAResources will continue. From most people’s perspective little or nothing will change. We simply will have a new address (still in Signal Hill). Our stock will ship from different locations but who will really notice that? It is our associate ministries that utilize this space that will really be more affected than CMAResources, and we are most sorry for that.
We leave with gratitude for what God accomplished with a handful of highly motivated people eager to be a part of something new and global in significance.
For any interested, we will have a “Bon Voyage” party for any who have been part of the work that came out of this place on Saturday evening September 17, 2011 starting at 6 PM. If you’ve been part of Awakening Chapels, CMA, Eternal Grace, Crossroads, Kingdom Causes (LB/Regional), MCTV, LoveHOP, Student Initiatives, Icthus, Passion Church, Campus Church Network, Student Church Ministries, the Light Christian Fellowship, TruthQuest or any of the other church planting networks and/or associated ministries that flowed from this place, you are invited to this event. We will have a barbeque in the parking lot and praise in the big room (I know, it's not that big). Bring your own meat and come with stories to tell and songs of praise to sing. All are welcome.
We leave with gratitude for what has been, anticipation for what will be, and a sense of sadness for leaving a very familiar place full of warm memories...and holy couches.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Influential Success is Not Always Measuring Positive Results

It's not how many walk an aisle on Sunday in church that measures success, but how many walk with Jesus in the world everyday. For far too long the church has been afraid of the world and the affect it would have on her. In contrast, missional-minded people choose to have an affect on the world, not the other way around.

In a real sense, it is not our attendance charts, year-end reports and newsletters that tell of our success—but often it is the voice of those who are not even in the church...and may never darken her doorway. Sometimes the indicator of success sounds more like an insult.

Look at how Luke describes Paul and his band of missional disciples in Acts through the eyes of those steeped in the world system:

“…and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, 'These men are throwing our city into confusion,'” (Acts 16:20)

“…they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.’” (Acts 17:6-7)

“…You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all.” (Acts 19:26)

These are entirely different measures of success for the church than what we usually tally. Granted, we Christians hardly need excuse to be more offensive in the world than we already are. That's not the point, but when we actually mobilize God's people into the thick of the market-place and world system the true enemy will not respond softly. When we keep people side-lined in comfy sanctuaries the devil is hardly threatened.

Lobbying congress for a more conservative political agenda is hardly what our true purpose is, yet that is what the world sees of us. Jesus never did that, even though the people He was serving would have preferred that he do so. Instead, He simply transformed people and empowered them to make a difference in their portion of the world. The people he really insulted and offended were the highly conservative religious leaders. Al and Deb Hirsch ask a profound couple questions in their book Untamed:

“What is it about the holiness of Jesus that caused “sinners” to flock to him like a magnet and yet manages to seriously antagonize the religious people? This question begs yet another, even more confronting question: why does our more churchy form of holiness seem to get it the other way around?”

Is it possible that we are too nice to the wrong people and too mean to to the right ones? The true Jesus is not a safe and sterile, milk toast wimp, conflicted by a mission and a passive kindness—which Hollywood typically portrays and Christians are comfortable believing in. He said things that offended others regularly. He never carried the party line. Jesus shocked his foes, his friends and his followers with equal doses. While it was the Romans that crucified Jesus it was the leaders of His own religious faith that instigated the persecution. That is fairly consistent with radical spiritual revolutionaries. Ask any soldier or radical change agent, friendly fire isn't so friendly.

I believe that an indicator of influential success is determined by who you anger and who you do not. I think this barometer does not indicate that the Church of America is doing very well at all with influential success. As a result we experience very little real persecution.

Perhaps we are so rarely truly persecuted because we so rarely threaten to shake things up out in the world where we are really needed. Jesus promised that if they persecuted Him they would also do so to us. Paul wrote that all who desire to live godly will be persecuted. Perhaps we are not persecuted because we are not being like Jesus and are not living the sort of godly lifestyles that would merit such. Why would Satan persecute a church that has voluntarily taken herself out of the action where she can actually do some good?

“I get it!” came a remark from a pastor in one of Reggie McNeal’s D.Min. classes.

“I have been thinking all along about changing the church. You are talking about changing the world!

Reggie concludes, “He did get it! [McNeal, Missional Renaissance, p. 65]

We have got to set our sights on something much bigger than a church with thousands in weekly attendance. Contrary to what you thought, changing the church is not the idea of this blog. That is a small goal not worth fulfilling. We need to change the world. Anything less is demeaning of Christ’s sacrifice.

“Can the church stop its puny, hack dreams of trying to ‘make a difference in the world’ and start dreaming God-sized dreams of making the world different?”

―Leonard Sweet [Soul Tsunami, p. 16]

From Institutional Success to Influential Success in Acts

When it comes to measuring impact there is a the transition that occurs in Acts worth noting. In the early chapters success was measured in precise numbers that were added to the growing local church (Acts 2:41; 5:41). Later, the success was measured by how “the word (message/voice) of the Lord was being spread through the whole region (Acts 13:49).” Once the church transitioned to become a more organic decentralized movement success was measured by how many churches were growing stronger in faith and being added to the movement on a daily basis (Acts 16:5). Eventually, when it became a rapidly multiplying movement, success was measured by the fact that “all who were in Asia heard the word (message) of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks (Acts 19:20).”

Did you catch that? It doesn’t just say that the word could be found in every place of Asia, as if The Gideons were there and left a free Bible in the nightstand—as incredible as that would be. It says that every person who was in Asia–Jew or Greek, man, woman or child–had heard God’s message. The Lord's voice was heard by everyone! Talk about reaching a people group! It doesn't tell us how many responded positively to that message, only that they heard it. In fact, we know that many responded very negatively (1 Cor. 16:9).

What I want us to see is that in a rapid exponentially building movement, measurement takes on a whole different form. As my good friend and coworker, Ed Waken likes to say, It is not how many conversions that are made, but how many conversations that people have. It is connections with the people that are measured. The results of those conversations are not measured because, frankly, that is not our success...we cannot control that nor take credit for it.

Unfortunately, we tend to measure what is outside of our realm of success. Perhaps we also tend to take credit for things that are not ours to claim. We are not responsible for our own salvation let alone the salvation of others...we never have been and we never will be. Our responsibility is to bring the presence, power and voice–in other words, influence–of our King to places where He is not seen, heard or felt. We need to let Him do what only He can do and let Him get credit for the results. Frankly, Jesus can do a whole lot more than just getting people to show up for an hour-long event once a week. His influence is over every area of one's life, which makes measurement with precise numbers seem trite and minimal in the end.

Influential success measures the presence and resulting impact of our being in the world and bringing the voice of our King. In a sense, even the rejection of that influence is a sign of our success. Institutional success needs objective proof that we have reached our stated objective as an organization. This is usually marked and measured by a business mind-set that feels the bottom line is the mark of an organization's success or failure. The problem is the kingdom is not meant to be a business or an organization. It is the reign of the King that is carried by ordinary people who are transformed into agents of extraordinary influence and (I believe) builds into the momentum of a movement. The kingdom brings change, it transforms someone's entire life...for their entire life. Such transformation is obvious and easily noted, but not quantitatively measured with statistical analysis. AND it is never complete, so success is not arrived at until the end.

We can measure process, or even progress, but not true success until the end. Because we all have the potential to fail and disqualify ourselves at any moment, and the only exam that actually counts is the final exam. Likewise, the only applause that really counts is the applause at the finish line. Any applause before that is encouraging, but not truly satisfying.

As we say in our movement, You don't graduate until there is a flat line on the monitor next to your bed. Until then you keep learning, growing and moving forward toward that point. If you are resuscitated, you've been held back a grade and you better try even harder to learn for the next opportunity to graduate. In other words, we need to finish well or die trying.

So influential success is measured moment to moment and is more about stories than numbers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Measuring What's Important

It used to be so easy to determine who was successful and who was not. Bigger was assumed to be better. We simply counted those attending and the dollars given and we knew if we were successful…or not. I suggest that those days are quickly evaporating, and that those standards never were an accurate measure of real success.

In Church 3.0 I said,

“In Church 2.0 we evaluated a church’s success by how many people attended and how much money they left there. Because Church 3.0 is a movement, success is not measured by how many people come but by how many go! We want to measure the church’s sending capacity more than its seating capacity. We ask: Is the message, the method and the mission spreading from one person to the next and then on to the one after that?” [Cole, Church 3.0, p. 169]

Our mission is to find and develop Christ followers rather than church members. There is a big difference in these two outcomes. The difference is seen in transformed lives that bring change to neighborhoods and nations. Simply gathering a group of people who subscribe to a common set of beliefs is not worthy of Jesus and the sacrifice He made for us.

We must shift from an institutional manner of measuring to an influential manner. Instead of the number question, we must look for the personal influence of the real church—the people. Many ask for benchmarks to measure success of the organization, as if that is measuring the church. It is not. The church is not the building, the organization, the programs or the event. You can measure all those things and still not measure the success or failure of the church, because the church is something else entirely. As Reggie McNeal likes to say, “Church is not a ‘what’ but a ‘who’.” The church is disciples in relation together on a mission—following Jesus into influence within the world. Once you factor that simple shift into the mix the entire equation changes. How do you measure influence of a person in relation to other people? That is a far better barometer of how we are doing as a church or a movement. As I said in Organic Church:

“Church attendance is not the barometer of how Christianity is doing. Ultimately, transformation is the product of the Gospel. It is not enough to fill our churches; we must transform our world. Society and culture should change if the church has been truly effective. Is the church reaching out and seeing lives changed by the Good News of the Kingdom of God? Surely the numbers of Christians will increase once this happens, but filling seats one day a week is not what the Kingdom is all about. We do Jesus an injustice by reducing His life and ministry to such a sad story as church attendance and membership roles. The measure of the church’s influence is found in society—on the streets, not in the pews.” [Cole, Organic Church, p. xxiii]

We lost count of the number of churches in our movement years ago. You cannot measure numbers of churches in a multiplication movement. Oh sure you can in the very early days where 2 become 4 and 4 becomes 8…and so on. Even with my mathematically challenged mind I can do that. But as the exponential growth curve rises suddenly old means of measurement are useless…impossible actually.

In The Starfish and the Spider, Ori Brafman and Red Beckstrom say,

“Counting the members of starfish organizations (decentralized organizations) is usually an impossible task. It’s not only that no one’s keeping track, but also that anyone can become a member of an open organization—or likewise withdraw their membership—at any time.” [Brafman, Beckstrom, The Starfish and the Spider, p.p. 50-51]

As we say at CMA: “if you are successful in a church multiplication movement than you can't count the number of churches. If you can count the churches than you are not a multiplication movement.” How’s that for a measuring stick? You’re success is determined by not counting. It reverses the whole conversation doesn’t it?

But we still want to know how we are doing. Success for the church is measured on the streets not in the seats. We measure human interaction and transformative stories. I am very proud of some of the work done by one of our associated ministries in my own hometown of Long Beach, CA. Due in large part to the efforts of Kingdom Causes LB homelessness has been reduced by upwards of 25%. That is success in anyone's book, but could that happen if we were content to merely count butts in seats and 10% of dollars in the wallets found in those butts?

What happens when we celebrate things that don’t matter and ignore the ones that do? I asked that very question on my Facebook page once and received a ton of interesting responses. Perhaps the saddest was the simple reply: “You get church.” Ouch.

We fuel what we celebrate. When we turn inward and hide in our own selfish bubble we lose a grasp of reality. We become deluded into a place of selfish consumerism and passive opinions that count for little more than the whining of a spoiled child. Our true north is lost and we spiral into a deeper and deeper level of deception as we invest more in what we think is success. We think we are doing well when in fact we long ago took the off ramp from God’s true missional agenda and are now lost in a maze of new programs for ourselves, for our organizational prosperity.

Jesus, of course would not be considered a success by our old standards, as he left behind only 120 disciples (Acts 1: 15). Apparently he neglected to attend the “How to Break the 200 Growth Barrier Seminar.” But he was never interested in large numbers of people coming, he was interested in a few that would go, be fruitful and multiply. This approach eventually rose to overcome the Roman Empire when no other strategy could.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Good Bye Dad: Cornelius "Corny" Cole III, October 12, 1930-August 8, 2011

My father, Corny Cole, past away Monday August 8th at 3:00 AM after a long battle with Multiple System Atrophy. He was 80 years old and is survived by his wife, Linda, four children (Neil, Ryan, Francesca and Dominique) and four grand-children (Heather, Erin, Zachary and Rowan). He also has left behind two beloved brothers, Peter and Lucky Cole and their families

Dad was always an artist, especially a draftsman. He could draw, like no one else I have ever known (check out his work done in this video). Much of his career was within the animation field. He was also a teacher that was beloved by all his students. He taught at Cal Arts and also at USC, but even as a small boy I remember him driving to South Central LA after the Watts riots to teach life drawing classes. I would love to tag along and have his students draw sketches of my favorite super heroes. To be honest, dad's superhero drawings were a little too artistic for my elementary school taste, but I wish I had them now.

He and his identical twin brother, Peter, were also surfing legends in Malibu. I've been told that dad helped teach the original Gidget (Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, whom the book, movie and TV show was based upon) how to surf. She traded him sandwiches for lessons (food was always persuasive to dad, but he was also very generous). Both Dad and Peter, as well as their younger brother Lucky were lifeguards on the beaches of Los Angeles, something I would later do as well. Here is my dad (left) at the beach in Malibu two years before I was born.

Peter went on to live in Hawaii and become a legendary big wave rider. My dad went to Hawaii briefly to surf the big waves as well, but couldn't leave his work in the art world which was based in LA. That's why I grew up in LA instead of Hawaii like all my cousins. The old photo to the left is Peter surfing at Waiameia Bay. Peter and Corny's younger brother Lucky (also a big wave rider) graduated from UCLA and started working at IBM before personal computers were even an idea plucked from Steve Jobs mind or Bill Gates was tall enough to look through a Window. Okay, maybe he's not that old, but he has always been ahead of the curve. Yes, I have always had good reason to be proud of my dad and uncles, they are pioneers.

This picture to the right is of my dad and Peter goofing off at Peter's home in Hawaii a few years ago when we were all out for my sister Dominique's wedding. "Womb-mates" is how they referred to each other. Born just 6 minutes apart, they were always competitive but also rejoiced in the other's if it was their own. When I heard Peter tell dad near the end that he felt like a part of him was dying I wept. Even now I have tears in my eyes at the thought.

Corny and Peter were not just surfer's but true water men–they studied the ocean. Every time we drove near the coast my dad would read the currents and see where the swells were coming from. He would know which surfing spots would have the best waves. I learned to love the ocean and followed in their footsteps, first as a surfer, then as a lifeguard on the same beaches. I also pursued art and received my Bachelors in fine arts at CSULB.

My earliest memories are of dad hovering over a light board (funny, but the light was never "on") as he worked with mad genius on some animation–always flipping with his fingers between all the pages. Occasionally he would shout some expletive when he had drooled accidentally on the important work because he was breathing so intensely–lost with deep focus in an animated world within his creative mind.

For as long as I can remember he was an artist, a fine artist. Animation was a way to make a living and support his family so he did it, but he never saw himself as just an animator. He always refused to give in to the commercialization of the craft. What is very recognizable is that even the most mundane assignments became a creative challenge to him. He always did his work with excellence and passion, no matter what he was working on.

Dad's first animation job was at Disney as an "inbetweener" on Lady and the Tramp. This is an entry level job filling in the drawings "between" major character movements in animation with his primary role working on Tramp and the Siamese cats. He later worked for Warner Bros., Depatie-Freleng, UPA and many other production studios. He animated Coyote Road Runner, the Pink Panther, Mr. McGoo as well as Alvin and the Chipmunks. He worked on a few animated features: Gay Puree (with the voice talents of Judy Garland and Robert Goulet), The Phantom Tollbooth, Little Nemo, and Raggedy Ann and Andy (check out the scene with the Greedy) He did a spot for the animated film Heavy Metal, which was not included in the theatrical release but I believe it can be seen in a later DVD version. He also did a couple of TV specials for Flip Wilson. He did some titles for movies such as With Six you Get Egg Roll (staring Doris Day and Brian Keith) and even the notorious Flesh Gordon (Yikes, you probably want to avoid that one friends). He did a music video for the Beasty Boys but it never was shown to my knowledge. For many years he worked on his own project which has had a few different names and can be seen on YouTube as Heaven and Hell. Unfortunately the quality of the video online does not do the work justice. I always thought it was a very graphic representation of the fall and its effect on the world.

I was so proud when a short film he designed and animated that was narrated by Orson Wells won an Oscar in 1969, called Is It Always Right to be Right? That was also cool because he became a "member of the academy" and therefore received "thanks" every year by some very famous people. We would also get to see tapes of movies while they were still in theaters because dad had to vote on them. These were just a few of the perks of growing up in an animators home.

Some productions he worked on would go on to win Clio's (awards for advertising) and an Emmy. A few years ago he won the prestigious Windsor McCay life-time achievement award from the Annies (awards in the field animation). This picture is of dad, my brother (Ryan) and sister (Dominique) and my three kids at the Annies when he won the Windsor McCay award. He looked so dapper that day, which is not how he normally would be described (sorry dad, but true). He had a reputation for dressing, well, let's call it "creative casual."

Below is a video compilation put together by a long-time friend of our family and co-worker of Corny's, Bob Kurtz. Thanks Bob for compiling this.

My father was a softy in heart. When my brother and I were naughty kids (staying up way past our bedtime) he would stomp through the house with heavy steps to our bedroom and hollar at us. He would unfurl his belt and then proceed to forcefully whip...the foot of our beds. He could never really bring himself to spank us. We knew this was the way it was, so we were not really very scared, even though those impending footsteps would always get us to be quite and pretend we were sound asleep. Do not mistake his kindness with a lack of resolve, however. While I was in High School he realized he was drinking too much and he quit drinking cold turkey and never touched another glass of alcohol without the aid of any recovery support group or rehab. He quit smoking the same way. Both without a single relapse.

When the Cole family and all the relatives come together we have a tradition of telling Corny stories. He was a character and there are many stories to make us laugh. Some of his famous quotes are:
  • "Anarchy is better than no form of government at all."
  • "I'm so tired I could eat a horse."
  • It's a knife eat knife world out there."
  • While sending me to the market to buy something he called out before I left and said, "If they don't have any, don't buy any." I assured him I wouldn't.
These are just a few of the quotes. There are 80 years of stories that are far more elaborate and could easily fill a book. He never seemed to mind being the punchline at the party, because he never took himself too seriously...except when it came to art.

Art was the one great passion of Corny's life. He saw it as the ultimate purpose for his life. Many years ago my sister Francesca chose to drop her major in theater arts to pursue a pre-med degree (she's now a PhD in molecular biology). Dad, thought it best that she still take theater classes so she could have something to "fall back on" in case the other pursuit didn't work. Yes, he was a different sort of father than most people have. There will be a large retrospective show of my dad's work opening the second weekend of October in LA. We will also have a memorial at that time. Details will come closer to the event.

I always sort of felt like I disappointed my dad when I chose not to go into art but to follow my call in the Lord. Because my world-view varied from his I think he had a hard time swallowing what my life was about, but he always seemed proud of my family.

The truth is, however, that I have always seen myself as an artist. While I do not work with canvas or clay as much anymore, I try to approach leadership and church work with creativity and unique perspectives. I design new concepts and engineer new methods. I value reworking something until it is right. I try to write as an artist, by painting a picture with words, even when working in non-fiction. Perhaps, more than anything else, I have a driving sense to be authentic and not a hypocrite in what I do. At the end of the day, being real in what you pursue was important to dad, and that too has been passed down. It is more important to stay true to your art/convictions than to be successful or popular. That was my father's way in his art, my uncle's way in surfing, and I hope it is for me as well in my pursuit of Christ's kingdom. I think these qualities come from my father. I guess I inherited more than his name (I am Cornelius Cole IV) and love for the ocean.

Thanks Dad.