Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Interesting Church Statistics

The following is from my good friend and coworker
Felicity Dale's blog called Simply Church...

According to a good and informative 2013 year-end status report by Leadership Network providing statistics on the state of mega-churches in this country, almost 10 percent of Protestant churchgoers attend a mega-church.

According to a Pew Forum report in December 2009, (if there is a more recent report, I am not aware of it), 9 percent of Protestants “attend religious services in homes.”

Just saying…

I actually think that the numbers of people seeing a small gathering in the home as their main spiritual family is much larger (Felicity notes that the stat is four years old). Even many mega-churches today are working diligently to make sure that missional commuities in homes are people's primary source of spiritual relationships.

The public platform of the mega-church is viewed as a much bigger stage because of obvious marketing reasons, but I do suspect that the organic church movement is having more influence than is noted by some.

Scott McKnight has interesting observations about the marketing platform of the mega-church pastor on his blog that closely relates to some of my own thoughts that same week.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Pressures of Plagiarism, Part Five

Plagiarism is an especially a strange concept when we dive into the pool of Biblical interpretation. My theologian brothers and sisters in academia may not like to hear this, but at the end of the day it may be so. 

Is it really right to say that Professor Such&Such is responsible for an interpretation of Scripture when in fact the Holy Spirit had given that truth to us two thousand years ago through Paul, Peter, James or John?

This is especially a question when we approach Scripture with the belief that there is one true interpretation of most passages. To give one person the credit for the correct interpretation of a passage seems to grant them perhaps too much authority and comes close to ranking them next to the original author.

Is it really possible for any of us to claim ownership of ideas found in the Scripture? Or is it more likely that all of us should claim ownership of what is in the Bible? I’m in favor of citing sources and giving honor to those who went before, but in truth every good idea is built on thousands of years of good ideas...and several bad ones as well.

If we had to cite every one responsible for our own limited intelligence displayed in a single message it would sound like the listing of possible negative side-effects read off during a pharmaceutical commercial, and the sermons would be just as interesting.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Pressures of Plagiarism, Part Four

Perhaps the bigger problem in Church is not the amount of plagiarism, but the lack of creativity. I suspect that if we had an environment that was more innovative we might see better thinking and less rehashing of the same ideas.

Maybe we have become so placid in our canned routines and expectations that we are not producing people who are able to think outside the box. Perhaps our staid practices, perpetuated for centuries, draw only the kind of person who is uncreative and actually resists innovation.

Church has become sedentary in so many different ways that it is actually hostile to creativity and innovation. It is also boring. This pressures pastors to spice it up a bit just to stay “relevant” (read: compete with other churches) within the confines of inherited boundaries in both practices and beliefs. This pressure results in needing to find another message every week that is at least as good as the last. Plagiarism can be the byproduct.

Every time we do this we take more steps away from the beauty evidenced in our Creator. Reconciled to the Creator, we of all people, should be the most creative in this world. But alas, we are the least. Rather than innovate we end up copying the innovations of the world. We sanctify the lyrics of a popular rock song as best we can for our saintly audience to try and make church less boring this next week.
This lack of innovation is especially true in certain domains of the kingdom that emphasize liturgies, hymns, creeds and doctrinal systems developed centuries ago. It is as if nothing new can be learned since John Calvin, John Wesley or Martin Luther.

We dare not question the ideas of great men who died 300 years ago. Realize that these are people who executed other Christians for a baptizing differently, or sold tickets to buy seats in pews. These men couldn’t even imagine a world with mass communication, rapid transit, instant publications, smart phones and global news channels on our LED TVs. In my iPhone I have dozens of versions of the Bible at my finger tips (literally) carried around with me all day in my pocket. What would Gutenburg think of that? They are dead and buried– their brains are but dust–yet still they think for the rest of us. In such an environment, where every thought must be held up to the mentality of long dead theologians, plagiarism is not surprising––an original thought is scandalously shocking.

We haven’t reached the apex yet of learning from God’s word. Luther, Calvin, and Wesley were not the final word in our march of progressive revelation. Creeds written in the fourth century cannot possibly contain the whole of scriptural truth and define all there is to learn. There are insights and understandings that they missed, in spite of how sound and profound their observations were. If encouraged, our Spirit-led children will discover even more than we do in the Bible.

Do not be afraid to dive boldly into the Scriptures without the boundaries of your inherited theological restraints. Keep on learning. Keep on growing. Ask questions of sacred ideas that have been around for centuries! If you have the Spirit of God in your heart and the word of God in your hand (or pocket) get out of the box and start to think for yourself. Feel free to make a mistake or two, that’s how we learn. Is this dangerous? Perhaps, but maybe our Christianity could stand for a little more danger in the mix. In fact, those very creeds we have loved for a millennium and a half came to be because of dangerous thinking.

Am I anti-doctrine? No, but I am against closed doctrinal systems that don’t stimulate better thinking or advance in understanding and application. When all the possible categories are defined, and the walls well established, and all learning must be within their boundaries you have put your god in a box. I am against that.

I am devoted to the Scriptures as inspired revelatory truth that is alive and enduring. The Scriptures are a baseline of all truth, but they are also eternal and inexhaustible. We do them a disservice by making them submit to our theological categories, labels and systems, it should be the other way around. I do not think the creeds or writings of church fathers are equal to the authority of Scriptures––or as empowered to change lives. I'm weary of theologians judging another teacher's orthodoxy based upon how they line up within  the categories of a human designed system of doctrines, rather than simply how they square in the light of Scripture. Those two things are not the same thing and I believe to equate them is less than orthodox...heretical even. I am not against learning from great men, I am against seeing those men as having already learned all there is to learn. I suspect that if they truly are great men, they would agree.

What would Christendom look like if we all agreed, all the time, and no one ever raised a different point of view? Some may say that would be heaven, I think it would be hell. All learning and growing would stop. We'd be monochromatic robots with little beauty or diversity, and we would lack all creativity and surprise. Heaven will be like our Creator who made 10,000's of varieties of flowers and birds, and gave each person a one-of-a-kind DNA so that each one is unique in all of history. Personally, I am grateful for the diversity of opinion. I love people that disagree with me, and those who agree as well. We all can learn from each other. We can discover the rich depth each part of the body brings to the round table if we only humble ourselves and accept one another. Perhaps combinations of thought can produce entirely new realms of understanding.

Doctrine was not meant to be the glue of unity. A statement of faith does not bring people together, in fact, it's designed to keep people out! Humility induced love is the only way to have true unity. Knowledge induces pride and division, only love edifies. If you have to agree to love, than you do not know love. Love shines best when you do not agree. When we make agreement to doctrine what unites us we end up dividing...time and again. When will we learn this?

We need to aspire to be more attentive to the voice of Scripture without hearing the same old broken record of theological systems replaying over and over. Is it possible for the church to break free of this? It will take people that are free and innovative, and right now the church doesn’t seem to favor that kind of person. We’ll see. I have hope, but not in the religious system that exists but rather in the Creator who always has existed––both in the system and outside of it.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Pressure to Plagiarize, Part Three

Plagiarism is sometimes very obvious, at other times it is not. At the end of the day you really can’t always find the initial source of every quip, story or idea. My question is: Why are we so concerned with credit for everything we’ve said?

I have had more than a few of my words used by others without credit given. I’ve also seen where someone used my material and attributed its authorship to someone else that had “borrowed” my ideas earlier. Honestly, that makes me excited…most of the time. Sometimes I'm troubled because I sense a less then genuine person capitalizing on my work for his own financial benefit…and ego. But most of the time I am able to recognize the benefit of ideas spreading. 

We cannot catalyze a movement that spreads far if we have to be at the center of it all. We should want the ideas to be owned and spread willingly by each part of the movement.

I regularly preface some statements with: “We have a saying in our movement...” I do this for the very reason that I want others to own the idea and say it as their own rather than simply quote Neil Cole. I want the movement to own the idea. This actually fosters an environment where there isn't individual credit for an idea. Sometimes we must sacrifice individual ownership for the sake of mass ownership if we want a real movement. At the end of the day we want people talking about Jesus more than about their pastor or favorite author...don't we?

That is a very different value. It's a more apostolic (sending) approach to words and statements. You see, in a movement ideas must be owned by everyone so that they will get passed on by everyone. People must be so gripped by the idea that it becomes their own for all intents and purposes. That is how they go from consumers to communicators. Perhaps that is why Paul called the gospel "my gospel." If you are always worried about who gets the credit then you will not witness a movement. You will end up owning your own material and getting the credit, but you will not spread those ideas far and wide. There is still no guarantee that others wont plagiarize your idea anyway.

I’ll never forget the time I was at a restaurant and saw a couple guys using one of our Life Transformation Group (LTG) cards. I asked them about it and one of the men enthusiastically evangelized me with the concept of LTGs not knowing that I was the author of it. I reveled in that moment and did not bother telling them who I was. I simply said, “Wow, that’s great…I think I'll do that too.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be right for me to take full credit. The LTG concept was first inspired by John Wesley’s class meetings. But then Wesley got the idea from the Moravians.The early church was said to meet early in the morning to ask each other hard questions of how far back do we go with the credit?

Am I giving permission for people to steal ideas? No, I’m not saying that. This is more a giving away of ideas than stealing. We need a more generous learning environment, so we need more generous teachers who are actually wanting others to learn, implement and even teach their ideas. Perhaps if we had a more generous learning environment we would be less inclined to steal some one’s words and would be generous enough to honor others wherever possible.

Lets value everyone's learning more than one person's teaching.

Note: this post is copyrighted and usage of any part of this material is strictly forbidden without the author’s expressed written consent…just kidding. Use it. There’s my expressed written consent.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Pressure to Plagiarize, Part Two

Plagiarism is a problem. When you consider that committing intentional plagiarism could actually violate up to six of the seven things the Lord hates listed in Proverbs 6:16-19 it has serious implications. But is all plagiarism the same? Does the context make a difference in how it is treated?

As hard as it is for more "black and white" Christians to hear, there are certain environments where it is a worse sin than in others. The context and the reasons for the plagiarism do make a difference.

Plagiarism is a cardinal sin in the academic world where people trade in the commerce of original ideas and words. One's reputation, identity, life's work, position and salary are all on the line in this environment and as such the whole system is designed to police this activity. This is one reason why plagiarism is treated so harshly in universities and grad schools.

The same is true in literature, though it is more forgiven there as a whole, especially in the context of popular literary works. As self publishing emerges I suspect that plagiarism will also increase and that policing it will become harder, but in the literary world in general there are safe guards and boundaries in place and plagiarism is still taken seriously. As a published author I know that things can squeak by even after rounds of editing and proof reading, but there are still consequences and the public polices it more than in some other realms of communication. 

In the music industry we all remember the whole Milli Vanilli fiasco. While it is less plagiarism, it is still fraudulent to have actors lip sync some one's voice and pretend to be the true author and singer of the song. The public reaction to this "crime" was unforgiving and is still a punch line: She Milli Vanilli'ed it." Were those guys "ghost singing" rather than "ghost writing"? Is it really that different? Hmmm. In the music world, it is common to hear exact riffs from one song in another these days. Sometimes there are law suits for this and other times there is not. The music industry is extremely volatile right now as technology advances faster than the laws can. This is also happening now in the literary world, though the entertainment world is ahead of the literary one.

In the blogosphere we are writing words so we do have a higher level of responsibility, but we are also without the same levels of editing and proofreading that publishing a book would receive. So in this environment it is more likely that we will simply make mistakes, but unfortunately those mistakes remain floating in a very public cyber world for a long time, so we have to learn to be more forgiving and at the same time more responsible. Having open comments on a blog can allow for more accountability. 

In the world of public discourse, plagiarism is less volatile and less policed. It can have equally as serious implications in this context and stealing oral messages for personal gain is still not acceptable, but it does tend to be forgiven much easier and is caught less frequently. 

Mass media is a world of instantly published thoughts by anybody and everybody. Tweets and retweets are propagated several generations without any checking of sources. It is harder to cite sources when you are limited to 140 characters and sending it out while doing two or three other things (hopefully not driving!); so mistaken plagiarism has become a very common thing and should not be taken as seriously. We should strive always to be honest and give honor to whom it is due, but I wouldn’t stone anyone because they misrepresented someone’s words in 140 letters sans punctuation. I have been given credit for things I shouldn't and ripped off of credit on other things in the world of social media. We just need to read things with eyes that are less offended and more discerning.

The bottom line is that we will all be held accountable for our words, written or spoken. The tongue can set a large firestorm with words said casually and without thought. In fact, if we could just master our own tongue we would be close to perfection. Intentional deception and theft of others ideas for personal gain is far more serious than leaving out the phrase, "Someone once said..." before you say something. Nevertheless, we should still always strive to master our tongues and tapping fingers because there are some things that our Lord hates worse than others.

There are six things which the Lord hates,
Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him:
Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
And hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that run rapidly to evil,
A false witness who utters lies,
And one who spreads strife among brothers.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Pressure to Plagiarize, Part One

There is much talk about Mark Driscoll being involved in alleged plagiarism this week. Mark Driscoll involved in controversy? It must be Tuesday.

I've known Mark for several years now––as much as anyone can know Mark Driscoll that is not a male, hip, five-point, mega-church, Calvinist (actually I am male). I've always liked Mark and a couple times his preaching truly altered my own life in positive ways, so in spite of our obvious differences in how we see liturgy, ladies, leadership, and limited atonement, I hold a warm spot in my heart for him. I don't have to agree with everyone I like––I'm not sure the same can be said for Mark, but that's for him to decide.

I will not weigh in on Mark's guilt or innocence regarding plagiarism on this blog. I simply want to address the idea of using other people's ideas for one's own benefit and a Christian climate that encourages it. Whether Mark plagiarized or not, all I want to address is the pressure pastors face today to do so. Therefore as I address this pressure do not read that I am singling out Mark. I'm just using the current news as a launch pad to unpack some ideas about "advancing original thought." In later posts I want to look at the culture we have that sees plagiarism as the most grievous sin when it is not always as bad as that. I will have a few posts to cover the subject from more than one angle, so as you read one post, realize that there is more to the story in the next.

Plagiarism is stealing material from another that is not rightfully yours. It is also stealing confidence from the public that is not rightfully yours. Building fame based upon other people's ideas taken as your own is fraudulent, false and unfortunately far reaching. Fraud is a particularly ugly sin and one the world is eager to expose in the church. The world can smell it in us. They know its there and are waiting to pounce when it is exposed. The church in today's world cannot afford to be built upon false confidence and fraudulent ideas...but often it is.

We have a church celebrity culture that actually encourages plagiarism and often refuses to admit it. Entire books are written by ghostwriters who are never mentioned. While this is seemingly acceptable in our current Christian climate, one must ask if it should be. If your name is on the front cover (and often your smiling face), and you didn't write the book but someone else did, you have questionable integrity. Honesty is not possible when you take credit for a book someone else wrote. No matter how good the content, such a book should be held suspect. This has gone on for decades now and as long as the contract is clear and the check is written all is fine...or is it? I've heard of personal stories from a ghostwriter's childhood that have been used by an author who then changed names to fit his own background and published the story as if he had the experience. This is not merely plagiarism, it is straight up lying; even if the ghostwriter is paid what the contract stipulated. Can we buy a life story for publication? Is that what we have come to? Why are some pressured to this point?

To build one's success as a Christian celebrity on lies is folly and will not be fruitful in the end. In fact fame itself is fickle and can be gone in a moment. It demands all your attention immediately just to keep your Klout score up and your blog traffic coming. The race to collect twitter followers and Facebook friends is cruel and never satisfied. When your book sells well and is featured in Barnes and Noble there is always another book that sold better and is featured at Walmart or Costco...upping the ante. When you are invited to speak at a big conference, you feel good until you realize someone else is speaking in the prime slot and you're just the warm-up act. No matter how far up you climb the ladder of fame there is always somebody's backside you are looking up at. Fame is a race that doesn't have a finish line, it just has lots of people running and falling back––and eventually out––while younger energetic people jump onto the track...until they too fall behind. No one wins this race. That is a lot of pressure to put on someone who is already busy running a church, and many are trying to do just that.

Once you are a published author or a famous Christian speaker there is much pressure to continue producing material to keep the success and fame going for as long as you can. Some pastors of large churches who start work before the sun rises and stay busy until late into the night maintaining the success of the church. Every week another awesome sermon must be preached several times, another elder meeting must be led, another building project must be managed, another staff member recruited and another let go.  It is actually a well hidden secret that many mega church pastors have had to take a lengthy sabbatical for health reasons because they have been running on adrenaline for far too long. It is an unrealistic and unreasonable environment to endure. These celebrity pastors hardly have time to write a new book every year, but that is what is demanded by their success. On top of all that after the book is written the celebrity pastor must travel to conferences, do interviews and book signing gigs, to push the book increasing the pressure and the demand on his/her time and health.

In order to write the next book a staff is often hired to do the research and help write the sermons that eventually a ghostwriter turns into a book. This can be a time-wise usage of a famous pastor's resources, so I get it. I don't think I could do it, the artist in me would not be able to live with it, but I understand. This process can produce a bestseller, but it rarely produces a good book; and the two are not always the same. A pastor who is particularly postured to be an intelligent "thinker" has the added pressure of having to articulate something profound and not just practical. Unfortunately there are no shortcuts to creativity and innovation. There is no other path to originality beyond hard work, practice, failure and rewrites...but a busy pastor needing another book to follow up the last bestseller cannot afford that. Given today's celebrity climate the real shock today shouldn't be that a famous speaker/author used someone's idea. The real shock is when they come up with an original one.