Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Promise and Peril of Young Evangelicals: Passion, Politics, and Idolatry

Much is being written of late about the milennial generation (b. 1978-circa 2000) and the profound effect they are already having on our culture, including the western church.  Since two members of that generation live in the same house as me, I have a front-row seat to how their perceptions, choices, and preferences are driving everything from marketing and education to social policy and perceptions of right and wrong.

A decade ago, the oldest of this generation were students of mine.  And as I spoke to them from the perspective of a professor, I did so with great hope for their generation.  That hope hasn't changed.  I still believe this largest generation in American history has the propensity like no prior generation to eradicate a number of societal evils, and usher in a new age of prosperity and understanding.

In particular, I believe young followers of Jesus Christ are the greatest hope for the 21st century American church.

One example of why I have this hope is seen in my own son.  Several weeks ago, my 13-year old and I sat down to watch the phenomenal movie "42."  I wanted him to witness that period of history, and see how race relations were viewed at that time.  45 minutes into the movie, he excused himself.  Curious, I went to his room, thinking that perhaps some of the content had disturbed him emotionally.  Instead, he shrugged his shoulders and said "I'm fine Dad.  I just don't get it.  I don't understand that movie at all."

And why should he?  My son has spent most of his life in an area where English is but one of more than 60 languages spoken.  His best friend is African American, and his little sister is Asian.  He has grown up in a context where ethnicity is a subject that commands very little attention, and where diversity is an appreciated and assumed fact of life.  The cultural and generational disconnect was obvious, and understandable.

My son is representative of the vast majority of his generation--a group that has grown up in a diverse and multicultural nation.  As such, there are societal issues that never should have been issues in the first place that probably won't be anymore once this generation has fully taken their place in our society, and we can all thank God for that.

Still, with all the hope I have for this emerging group of young leaders, I'm seeing a trend among them that gives me pause--a trend which, if continued, will cause them to repeat the sins of their fathers in reverse.

For the prior generation of evangelicals, political zealotism may have been the greatest misstep of the century.  Initially, evangelicals mobilized themselves in this way for some great and God-honoring causes.  Unborn children were being murdered for profit and eugenics-based cultural superiority.  The nuclear family was threatened by a barrage of cultural forces.  Unfortunately, the "Moral Majority" and other groups like them made two mistakes.  First, many in this movement began to see political involvement as synonymous with God's mission.  And second, this mistaken assumption caused them to approach nearly every issue with political means.

So what started out as a way of prophetically speaking to issues that sometimes crossed wires with public policy domains ended up turning a group of Jesus' followers  into little more than a political voting bloc.  All of a sudden, God had a position on supply-side economics, the line item veto and gun control--and if you believed in Him and had any sense at all, you knew he stood with the Republicans on these issues!

Thankfully, young people we now identify as milennials began to see through some of the fog.  Rather than buy into the line of 1980s and 1990s culture warriors, they began to rightly differentiate between the desire to take over national power structures and God's mission, which both Testaments made clear was advanced through suffering and marginalization like that faced by Jesus Himself.  Slowly but surely, the methods of James Davison Hunter began to supplant those of James Dobson.  Issues like abortion didn't go away, but milennials began to rightly point to the fact that while saving the life of a baby, evangelicals should also recognize that there is a woman in a very hard place who needs our attention, respect and love as well.  

Yet somewhere along the line, a few vocal members of this generation began their own political crusade--and I'm guessing many don't even realize what they have done.  While prior generations wrongly jumped into bed with the Republican party, emerging generations seem to have a similar love for Democrats. 

My most recent experience with this move came last week.  The folks over at Al Jazeera America invited me to be part of an online conversation about church attendance trends in the United States and their relationship to the milennial generation, and social media.  (you can see the discussion here.)  All in all, it was a privilege to interact with some very, very sharp people from a variety of perspectives, including a number of younger evangelicals.  But my interaction with a couple of folks in that environment left me wondering if, instead of resting in Jesus, some of our younger brothers and sisters haven't merely swapped a conservative counterfeit Gospel for a liberal one.

There are two ways you can always tell if someone is more committed to a political ideology than Jesus.  First,  they ignore clear Biblical teaching in order to forward an agenda.  One young lady shared with me that milennials would come back to church in droves, but that we would keep bleeding numbers until we changed our position on gay marriage.  In short, switch from one political position to another--irrespective of what Scripture may say about the issue, and we will return!

Another way you can detect Zealotism is if someone holds up one part of Scripture to the near total exclusion of others.  One young man, quoting Matthew 24 and 25, stated that the whole of the Gospel could be expressed by simply stating that Jesus came for the oppressed and marginalized, and that the central mission of the church is to fight for the rights and dignity of the poor.  While he is right to call the attention of the church back to these texts, focusing on these issues alone as the totality of Christian mission sounds less like Jesus, and just a tad more like Che Guevera.

This was not the first or only interaction I've had with those who call themselves "progressive evangelicals."  The group Red-Letter Christians, led by popular Christian leaders like Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis, represents the epitome of evangelicals who feel more comfortable among political progressives, and who wish all of evangelicalism was "less political," but also more like them.

Its a strange world in which we are told the church needs to be "less political" by those whose primary concerns seem to have distinctly political ends.

These and other experiences have me concerned that younger evangelicals are in danger of their own form of zealotism.  I'm thankful for the way they have seen through the "smoke" of Republican politics disguised as Gospel mission, but for some in this movement, it would appear they are in danger of becoming the very thing they claim to hate.  Now all of a sudden God has a consistent view of  rich people and constitutional conservatives.  He hates them both.  (Monetary profit is evil you know!)

To be sure, Jesus would walk with political progressives on a number of issues (or perhaps its better to say they would walk with HIM.)  Unjust immigration law, "red-lining" of certain businesses in minority communities by banks, and the unspeakable practice of slavery via human trafficking are but a few issues the church should care about and speak to with a prophetic voice, and none of these would have seen the light of day were it not for our progressive friends.  

At the same time, followers of Jesus should always keep in mind that during his earthly life, He angered and offended both the Pharisees (conservatives) and Saducees (liberals), and I'm pretty sure if He were walking the earth today, both Republicans and Democrats would be very ticked off by Him--for different reasons of course!

Ultimately, there is only one solution to this generational pendulum-swing:  we need to repent.   And when I say repent, I mean it in the fullest sense of the term.  We must "turn away from" our propensity to see everything in light of "conservative" or "liberal" and instead "turn toward" a regular practice of seeing everything in light of Jesus, as He is revealed in Scripture.  

Doing so means that when it comes to the sanctity of life or sexual ethics, some Democrats are going to despise us.  Conversely, when it comes to empowering the marginalized and treating human beings like, well, humans, some Republicans more interested in dollar signs are going to accuse us of not being "real Christians" (see my earlier post on Glen Beck and social justice here.  Strange day when a Mormon becomes the arbiter of who is a "real Christian.")  At the end of the day, we will be people without a party.  We will be people without power--a people who are following Jesus in exactly the way He wants us to--a way in which He receives all the glory for the eventual advent of a Kingdom not of this world.

So if you are a young evangelical, indulge this older guy for a moment while I utter a warning.  Please, please don't make the same mistake as prior generations.  Don't melt down the golden elephant just to recast it in the shape of a donkey.  Instead, repent.  Turn away from the "conservative-liberal" continuum altogether, and turn toward Jesus.  And when you have done so, go back to the political powers with whom you best align yourself, and preach to them more than you listen to them.  We need Christ-following Republicans speaking prophetically to Republicans, and we need Christian Democrats doing the same thing in their own party.

More than anything else, we need an entire generation more concerned about Jesus than power.  Such is the generation that will lead us into a God-honoring and bright future.  My great hope remains that the milennials are that generation.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Future of the Baptist Association: Spreading our Influence

There is much talk these days among organizations of all stripes about "de-centralization."  For most, this term simply means a spreading of a still-centralized bureaucracy to more than one location.  But the essence of whether an organization is truly de-centralized surrounds the location of three things:  power, personnel, and money.  It doesn't matter how many locations your organization finds itself in.  If these three things are all still fully controlled by your organization, your organization is not de-centralized!

When local Associations began their work more than three centuries ago, the term "de-centralized" didn't exist, but the concept was embodied in these loose networks of cooperating churches nonetheless.  If the Associations of the future are going to be effective, this same organizational culture must permeate our cooperation once again.  But what would this look like?

Well, here are a couple of examples from our recent work in Long Island, New York.  Find the article here, and the video here.  On this particular effort, three of our churches worked together, and you can be introduced to these great people around 2:30 into the film. 

This is simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what our churches are doing together, and we could never pull it off without the following:

Decentralized Strategy:  If every part of an Associational strategy is "funneled" through the office, then the reach and influence of the Association will always be limited.  Conversely, if a strategic framework is adopted by the Association at large, and contextual strategies are developed at the level of local churches--with the Association providing counsel and networking with other congregations to embolden the effort--then the mission potential of the Association becomes infinite!

This is one area where Associations can complement churches, and do something with all of them together that a single congregation could never accomplish.  If every strategic decision has to come through my office, then ultimately the Association can do no more than a single congregation could do all by itself, and in that situation, why would you keep around an organization with no inherent Biblical warrant just to do something that another organization with Biblical warrant could do?

For example, we encourage most churches to "sink the shaft deep" in no more than two areas or people groups in the world.  A local church can make a significant difference if its mission is focused.  But if the mission of a single local church is spread too thin because of multiple emphases, "dabbling on the surface" becomes the norm, and meaningful cultural transformation is never realized.

At the same time, I lead a network of more than 60 congregations.  A network that large--even at the local level--should have a significant presence, and be making a significant impact on every part of the planet!  As a result, MMBA is working through our churches in partnership to spread the Gospel of Jesus and plant churches here in the Baltimore Washington region, and also all over the world.  We are at work together in places like the eastern Caribbean, Africa, East Asia, India, and more.  But the contextual strategies for each of these efforts was developed--with Associational help--at the level of a local church which said "we will take the lead in this particular effort" or "we will be the primary mover in engaging this particular people group."  There isn't a single new church in our region without a local church sponsor, and there isn't a single effort we do overseas that is without a local church driving the effort.

Decentralized Budgets:  When it comes to budgeting, some very good questions have recently been asked by churches relative to denominational entities.  However, there have also been some very shallow and surface-level assumptions in some of these questions.

For example, during the GCR discussions, one could often hear the question "how much of this budget is going to salaries?"  While the question is legitimate, there was unfortunately sometimes a premise behind that question--a premise based in the business world that sees all salaries as "liability" or "overhead."  Problem is, if an Associational staff are doing their job, they are far more than simply "overhead."  They are a central part of the mission!  I've never heard anyone look at the IMB's budget and ask "how much is going for missionary salaries?" We wouldn't think of doing that, because its the primary reason we give to the IMB and to Lottie Moon!  We have to start thinking of stateside mission endeavors in the same way.

To make this shift, we have to stop looking at Associational budgets like "pie slices."  And the best way to do this is to stop asking "how much goes to..." and begin asking a more important and all-encompassing question:  "What are they accomplishing with the money we are investing?"  Where local Associations are concerned, the lion's share of benefit doesn't come from money "going in" and then "coming back out" to the same churches who donated to the cause.  In fact, that leads to a phenomenon I describe as "ecclesiastical socialism."  Don't worry, I'll deal with that one in great detail in the next post!  :)

In MMBA, part of my role involves developing partnerships within, and without this network of churches.  As I write, our leadership teams are putting the final touches on our proposed 2014 budget, and we anticipate that next year we will receive nearly $200,000 in designated partnerships alone.  More than half of that amount comes from our own churches, who in addition to their giving to our general budget, have also agreed to partner with us in one or more of several initiatives we are at work on together.  Around 75% of general budget giving goes toward salaries and other administrative costs, but the people who earn those salaries have brokered efforts here and around the world in which churches and individuals will invest directly.  These include our work together planting churches in East Asia, our collaboration with eastern Indian pastors to develop theological education for rural pastors in southeast India, and local church planting projects.  When all is said and done (and pending affirmation of our suggested plans to the Association at large) we anticipate investing around $490,000 next year in our collective work, with around 40% of that amount going to pay staff salaries.  But only $258,000 of that amount is expected to come from our churches through "general budget giving."

If we simply took the general fund giving and played the "pie-slice" game, we would never be able to compensate properly (someone once well-said that if you pay your staff peanuts, you get monkeys working for you!).  But most importantly, we would never have been able to accomplish what I've described above and more!   Other Associations I'm aware of have only a small, 100% "administrative budget," meaning that none of their monies "go back to the churches," but they are being very effective nonetheless at bringing the churches together for potent mission.  

It takes money to effectively run an organization, but if we want to maximize our investment at the local level, we have to start thinking differently.

Decentralized Credit:  In his book "Good to Great," Jim Collins talks about "Level Five Leaders," individuals who are hardly ever in the spotlight, but do such an outstanding job directing the organization that he or she more greatly empowers those who are in the spotlight.  

Every Baptist Association should aspire to be a "Level Five Missions Organization."  For this to happen, we have to "spread the wealth around" when it comes to who gets the credit.  As I mentioned above, because of our work in Long Island, New York, more than 25 homes have been repaired or totally rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy.  At this point, we get local press coverage nearly every time we send a team up.  But the headline always contains information about the church leading the effort, with very little mention of the Association.  (See here and here if you missed the links above.  In case you can 't tell, I'm awfully proud of these folks!) 

Likewise, three years ago we started building a partnership between our churches, local businesses, and one of our county governments to raise money for a ministry to the homeless in our area.  That partnership resulted in an annual 5K race that has grown to nearly 300 runners.  Our Association staff still handles all the logistics, collects the money, and leads the coordination, but this event now belongs to the people of Howard County Maryland!  And the material we include in each runners' packet contains very little information about us, but does contain the website and contact info for every MMBA church in this county--and a clear presentation of the Gospel!

Conclusion: Its time for Associations to stop talking about what they are doing, and begin talking about what churches are doing together by using the Association as a resource.

To use a physics analogy, is your Association a centripetal or centrifugal organization?  For many decades now, most Associations are organized in a centripetal way--a way that forces movement back toward a fixed center.  But that's no way to build an effective and energized network of congregations, and its certainly no way to spread the impact of the Gospel widely.

Instead, work toward transforming your Association into a centrifugal organization--one that forces movement "away from center."  Associations should be about leveraging and spreading the influence of all our churches.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Future of the Baptist Association: Identity Crisis

If you try to do everything, you end up doing nothing well.  That principle is never more clearly observed than when examining the way so many denominational entities operate today.

Last week, I spoke briefly about a number of issues that need to be addressed in the modern Baptist Association for it to effectively serve the 21st century mission of the churches.  Today I want to cover the first of those issues in greater detail: determining the purpose of the Association.

Many Baptist entities are currently in the middle of an all-out identity crisis.  To a large extent, this is because all of our agencies--at every level--are products of the modern missions era--an era that is fast coming to an end on a global scale! Another subject for another day to be sure, although you can read more about it here.

For a local Association to thrive among thriving churches in the 21st century, each will need to define its purpose and mission as defined by the churches.  A few simple principles can get us started:

1. Know Why You Exist.  For example, Mid-Maryland Association exists as a network of more than 60 churches that seek together to extend the Kingdom of God here in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area and around the world.  We do this through evangelism, leadership development, and church planting that brings a glimpse of God's Kingdom here on earth.  In short, we are an organization that exists for the sole purpose of missions mobilization.  By and large, our churches know this, and this is what they use us for.

Under this "missions mobilization" umbrella, we have four primary emphases:  Prayer Strategy (Association prayer team, Prayerwalks around neighborhoods prior to revivals or new church launches), Ministry Projects (Disaster Relief in New York and Oklahoma, Prison and Truck-stop ministry, partnership with local governments to serve the homeless, etc.), Leadership and Church Development (Pastor and spouse support, administrative support to help churches with office operations, leadership training, etc.), and Missions and Multiplying Churches (direct evangelism and church planting here in the corridor, and around the world).  We pray because that's where it all begins.  We serve in ministry because we want to touch physical needs as we point to ultimate spiritual need.  We work with church leadership because there is no forward mission without leaders.  And we share the Gospel and plant churches all over the world because we want to multiply the aforementioned efforts of ministry, prayer, and leadership development.

There are ten other Associations in the Maryland/Delaware Convention.  Their structures and mission are different from ours, and each contributes to Kingdom advance in its own way.  So when I describe our structure above, I'm not saying that every Association should look like ours.  What you look like and what you exist to do should be decided by your churches (I'll get to this in a moment).  But I am saying that at the end of the day, if you don't know why you do what you do, your organization is in trouble!

2. Connect to the context of your churches and surrounding culture.  Too many Associational leaders are concerned that the churches don't even know they are there, or just don't know why they are there.  But if you get to know your churches--I mean really get to know them and put their well-being and ability to reach their communities before any Associational "program"-- I can promise that eventually, they will know who you are, and they will be glad you are there.

Additionally, connect to the culture[s] that surround the geographic proximity of your churches.  Associational missionaries have the ability to do this in a way that no one at state or national levels is able.  County officials, school district employees and teachers, prison wardens, transportation workers, and planning commission administrators should know you by name if you serve a network of churches in their back yard.  Much of the "why" of your existence as an Association should be determined by the realities you observe in your area.  

My area is very "cause oriented," and has a soft heart when it comes to the disadvantaged.  So, we team up each year with County governnent offficials, local businesses, churches of other denominations, and ministries to the homeless to sponsor an annual 5K race.  That race has grown from 115 runners the first year to nearly 300 in subsequent years.  We have raised thousands of dollars since beginning this effort in 2011, and all of it has gone to a Day Center that serves more than 200 homeless families in the 3rd most affluent county in North America.

In short, the mission of the Association is to bring churches together to bless their region in the name of Jesus, and the role of the Associational Missionary is to help pastors and lay-leaders understand how best to get this done, and equip the churches to lead the effort.  You can't do that if you don't know the churches AND the communities in which they reside.

3. Learn to say "no."  One of the psychological effects of not knowing your purpose is the perceived need to accept any and all assignments that a church might want to give you.  I've seen this happen at multiple levels of our denomination--a staff member is charged with substantive response to any need, even if that need doesn't match the capabilities of the organization.  The end result of this approach to serving churches is a burned out staff and an organization that continues to bleed to death from ultimate irrelevancy.  

As an example, our Association simply doesn't do "conflict mediation."  We tried it many years ago, and it didn't work out so well--and probably because that isn't the reason the churches brought us into existence to begin with.  And since they hired me, they probably want to stay even further away from this particular approach to serving churches, since I tend to be more of an arbitrator than mediator, and as such would most likely just make the problems worse.

Saying "no" to providing mediation doesn't mean we don't think its important.  Actually, it means we think its important enough to get it right, and since its not within the scope of our mission, we are quite sure that we won't get it right (just ask a couple of churches where we attempted this.  I'm glad they are forgiving!)

Additionally, I don't hold meetings during "working hours" that have no purpose.  I love the people in our churches, but I can't do what they pay me to do if I'm always having lunch with a pastor with no aim for what we hope to accomplish together.  To be sure, I'd like to think I'm a friend to all our pastors, and many of them have become dear friends of mine.  But I'm not compensated to be a "friend." (and honestly, who has to pay someone to be their friend--really?)  I'm expected to move our collective mission efforts forward.

Saying "no" to what you can't do also frees up the time you need to do what you do well.  I want our churches to see us as their "first phone call" regardless of their need--not because we can meet every need, but because they have grown to trust us to serve them well--and will believe us, even if we say "that's not what we do, but the [state convention/NAMB et al ] have a great way of helping you with this......"

.4. Allow local churches to determine "all of the above."  If you are an Associational Missionary, you can lead them in this discussion, but the final decision should belong to the churches as a whole, who deserve the ability to determine their own collective identity through your Association.

At this point, I want to "push back" a bit against some allegations I've heard in recent years from church leaders--most notably pastors.  Too often, I've heard them speak about how "useless" the local Association is, how "entitled" they feel to receive continued support from churches, regardless of whether that support represents a good investment.

OK pastor, fair enough.  But let me ask this really simple question::  If the local Association is really in such bad shape (and I can certainly believe this is true of many of them) whose fault is it--really?

If you come to the Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore next year, and move from the floor to instruct or direct any national entity to do anything, you will immediately be ruled out of order and told to sit down.  That's because Southern Baptists believe that our national entities are best governed indirectly through elected trustees.  Most Associations (including ours) don't operate this way.  In many ways, the local Association is the only level of our denomination that is completely under the control of local churches.

So let me ask again, if your local association is a mess, who should we see about that?  It belongs to you, so if enough churches believe it needs to be revived, or direction needs to be corrected, then get together, talk about how best to do it, and then get it done!

At base, the Association is nothing more than churches leveraging their collective strength to multiply the growth of the Kingdom.  If seen in this light, I believe the brightest days are ahead--if strong, contextual identity and purpose is established.  But that identity should allow for a radically de-centralized approach to mission, which is what I'll talk about in the next post.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Future of the Baptist Association: A Prelude

Over the next few weeks, I want to narrow my focus here a bit.  Though I try to contribute to ministry and mission discussions that transcend my own denominational tribe, I'd like to speak specifically to what I believe to be the potential future of local entities within the Southern Baptist Convention; most notably the Baptist Association.   Full disclosure:  my mortgage is currently paid by a salary I receive as the Director of one of these roughly 1000 Associations scattered across North America, so that you know I have an obvious bias.  

A little more than 300 years ago, British Baptists created a localized entity for the purpose of greater cooperation in missionary work among churches of like faith and order.  Patterned largely after the English trade guilds that existed at the time, these organizations were effective at multiplying the efforts of local churches that desired to work together.  This success was mirrored when this model of missionary cooperation was exported to the American colonies.  And that, as they say, is where it all began!  Philadelphia, in 1707.

Over the years, local Associations have experienced their own share of contextual change, and the 21st century is a context in which many local Associations have struggled to find their place.  I'm sometimes asked "do we need  Associations anymore?"  There are several ways to answer this question.  From a purely exegetical standpoint, we have never needed them--or the state conventions, or any of the national level SBC entities.  The only entity that has a purely Biblical warrant for its existence is the local church, and the legitimacy of all others is tied to how well they can serve the church as she accomplishes her mission.

Another way of answering this question then is to bluntly reply "it depends on which Association you are talking about."  I've had the honor for the past nine years of serving a great group of churches here in central Maryland known as the Mid-Maryland Baptist Association, and in that period, change has been the only constant.  Though our mission remains the same, our way of "doing business" has had to undergo some changes--some of them major--in order for us to remain true to our vision.  I'm sure I haven't led these shifts perfectly (and a few church leaders here would no doubt testify to that fact!), but I have noticed some common pitfalls that we have tried to avoid as we move into the future with our churches.  What follows are six things Associations must overcome to survive and thrive in the 21st century.  Over the next several weeks, I want to discuss each of these in greater detail:

1. An Unclear Purpose.  Simply put, if you don't know why you exist, sooner rather than later, you won't exist!  The problem with Associations is that, in the past, many tied their own identity exclusively to the larger SBC and simply adopted its larger purposes on a local level.  But in the day of the internet and globalization, churches don't need a local representative of a national entity any longer.  

Conversely, since each Association exists in a unique geographic and cultural context, each has an ability to define its own unique mission in ways that are impossible at state and national levels.  Next week, I hope to elaborate more on the necessity for churches to leverage their local Association to contextualize and execute the mission in their own context.

2. A Hyper-Centralized Mission. It's wrong to constantly talk about "what our Association is doing."  Instead, we should be talking about "what our churches are doing together through the Association."  If I control it all, there is a severe limit on what we can do, and eventually, log-jam prevents any further extension of our collective work.  

Our Association has planted more than 30 churches in the last 9 years.  We have seen hundreds come to Christ through local prison and trucking ministries.  We have worked with local governments to serve the urban poor and minister to the homeless, and we have shared Jesus and planted churches on every inhabited continent.  We have been able to do all this because our churches aren't "joining us."  Instead, they are using us as a resource for execution, and we are responding by advising them, training them, bringing other churches around them, providing limited funding, and releasing them!  I'll talk more about how to create this kind of environment as well.

3.  Ecclesiastical Socialism. Taking money and resources from big, rich churches, and redistributing them to smaller, poor churches isn't missionary work!  The Association's role is to empower, not enable, and the best way to serve small churches is not to give them money, but give them a vision and allow them to live it.  One of our most effective international efforts is led by a church of less than 75 people, but includes churches of over 400 people.  If we had simply taken from the latter and redistributed to the former, this would have never happened.  This, I'm convinced, is one of the greatest hindrances to effective Associational missions, so expect me to say much more about it in the coming days!

4. "Scorecard" Confusion.  The standard measurement for "success" in many churches has been the size of the crowd, the size of the offering bucket, and the size of the building.  None of these are unimportant, but neither should they be the primary measurements of success in a church.  If Associations are to change the environment on this issue, they can't use these at all when it comes to measuring Associational success.  The size of my Associational office has nothing to do with whether we are being truly obedient to our collective calling in central Maryland and around the world.  In later weeks, I'll speak about how I believe we should "define the win" at the Associational level.

5. Closed Systems that Prohibit Meaningful Cultural Engagement. Local Associations need  to be structured so that communication and collaboration with local school systems, county government offices, and chambers of commerce are more easily attained than collaboration with the North American Mission Board or one of our seminaries!  If an Association has mechanisms that even implicitly only allow for meaningful partnerships within our own tribe, we are in trouble!  More about this is coming as well.

6. A Focus on "Survival."  Someone once said that thousands of churches die every year in North America, and along with them are hundreds of others that probably should have died.  I believe the same can be said of any Association who is only looking to "pay the bills."  To be sure, I do enjoy getting a paycheck!  But the existence of Mid-Maryland Association is about far more than providing Joel Rainey with a job, and if its not, Joel Rainey should find another job!

So there you have it!  I believe the 21st century could be the most effective time in the history of local Associations, if they can reinvent themselves in a way that will best serve churches determined to meet that future.  I look forward to extending this conversation in the coming days.