Archives For Culture Change

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” ~ Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

“Repentance” has gotten a very bad rap in recent decades. As far as my own experience goes, repentance got utterly ruined for me by the televangelists of the ‘70s and ‘80s. “REPENT! REPENT! REPENT!” They’d yell it at me through my TV screen, their faces all red and blotchy from being so worked up. They acted like they knew something about me that I didn’t, and what they knew was really, really horrible. So horrible they were screaming at me to do something about it.

“REPENT! REPENT! REPENT!”

Maybe those televangelists sincerely believed they were trying to save me. But that’s not at all the message I got from their spittle-spray tirades. The impact they had on me was something more like the Shame Nun on Game of Thrones…

Only worse than that. Much, much worse. If those men were trying to move me toward God, they failed utterly. Few things pushed me away from the possibility of a loving God more effectively than the presence of a screaming televangelist on the TV screen or a street preacher on the west mall of my university yelling at students to repent as they made their way to class.

In the shadow of those decades, the admonition to “repent” has become so viscerally associated with religious abuse and the self-righteous judgment of others that nowadays you almost never hear the word used at all. And when it is it’s mostly as a mockery, or a joke.

But I believe there’s something really valuable about this word that we need to reclaim. Especially now.

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Liminal (definition): of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition.

A friend of mine who works with people systems in the corporate world made a keen observation about the United States the other day. We were talking about how divisive and angry public discourse has become among U.S. citizens in the last few years, and she said, “It’s understandable. The whole country is demonstrating the qualities of what we call a ‘chronically anxious system.’ Everybody’s nerves are on end. We’re all exhausted from being on ‘high alert’ for dangers and threats for a long time now. But we don’t yet feel safe enough to stop and take a collective breath. So we just keep spinning ourselves up over every new threat that pops up on the newsfeed.”

That pretty much nails it, doesn’t it? When I hear this, I immediately notice feeling a surge of compassion for all of us, even those I struggle to understand. I know what’s it’s like to feel anxious and not know how to stop feeling that way. It’s exhausting. No matter where you fall on the political or religious spectrum, we’re all feeling chronically anxious about things right now. It’s a point of common human connection we can all relate to.

So how did we get here? Where has all this nationwide anxiety come from?

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Take Off the Leash

July 31, 2017 — Leave A Comment

I’m excited to invite Alan Briggs to the blog this week! Alan is the Director of Frontline Church Planting, the Multiplying Pastor at Vanguard Church and the Lead Creative at Stay Forth Designs where he equips leaders and teams for health and kingdom impact. He’s a proud dad of four and a missionary to his neighborhood and city. His books Staying is the New Going (2015), Guardrails (2016), and Everyone’s a Genius (releasing in September) help leaders catch a bigger vision for their life. Learn more at AlanBriggs.net.

“We want to do something big for God in our community!” I started to grin as this couple in their early sixties beamed with the passion of teenagers. John has been an elder in our church and Sue has blessed countless people with her hospitality. They had twenty ones years of connection to their community. I’m pretty sure they’ve had half the town around their dinner table.

They shared a Macedonian Call of sorts back to the town they inhabited. They were ready to make greater sacrifices than ever before to see the gospel wreck and rebuild the people right around them. Their passion made me want to do a Tiger Woods fist pump. But I felt a twinge of something else. “Oh no!”, I thought. “Have we NOT already allowed them to do big things for God?!?” The truth is they had already been doing big things, and we all saw it. They had fleshed out a contagious and winsome gospel. They had unintentionally shepherded their town. John and Sue’s story is exciting, but it’s not an anomaly. There are people right under our noses who want to do something big, to take the plunge in the name of Jesus.

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“Spiritual leadership starts with listening for the one true Voice and learning to distinguish it from all the other voices that clamor for our attention.” ~ Ruth Haley Barton

No leader is perfect. Even the best leaders I know (and I’m blessed to know several) regularly flub things up. Some even make huge blunders from time to time. Just like everybody else, really. In fact, the only real difference between a leader and a non-leader in this regard is that a leader’s mistakes get magnified 100-fold because of their position. Their missteps are more readily on display for all to see.

Faith leaders, in particular, face unique challenges because of the split nature of their role as both spiritual and organizational leaders. Because of this interesting dichotomy, some of the mistakes they make can have much more serious consequences not only to their leadership but to the world at large.

Here are three big mistakes that come with far-reaching costs for faith leaders:

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“It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?” ~ Galatians 5:13-15

The 4th of July (a.k.a. Independence Day!) happens this week in the United States. It’s the big day each year where we celebrate our country’s freedom. As a nation, we may not agree on as many things as we once did, but we do all still agree that our freedom as a nation is important. We know that freedom never comes free, and we value those who have laid down their lives so that we may live ours in freedom.

That said, you may have noticed in recent years that we don’t all actually agree about just what that freedom is supposed to look like — what it includes or ought to include. Nor do we agree about what’s it’s for — whether our freedom’s purpose is primarily to serve ourselves, or primarily to serve others who are not as free.

So for this week in which we celebrate our freedom as a nation, I thought I’d offer some questions to spark a little deeper thinking about this freedom of ours, what it actually is, and what you actually want to do with it. Feel free to copy the questions below and carry them with you this week. That way you can pull them out and think on them whenever you get a few minutes here and there. If you prefer, grab a group of friends and talk through the questions together. It could make for some very interesting and insightful conversation.

Happy 4th of July!

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“Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” ~ Rick Warren

Not too many days from now, billions of people around the world will gather with their families to celebrate the holidays. Even in the most ordinary of years, these gatherings can be stressful. In most families, not every member sees the world in the same way. Not everyone agrees on what’s to be done about the common challenges we face. Not everyone likes the leaders we’ve had or have now, or the decisions they’ve made, or plan to make.

In a year like the one we’ve just experienced, these tensions of difference are running particularly high for just about all of us. You’ve probably already wondered just how volatile things might get around the holiday table this year. Even in the calmest of families, the likelihood that somebody will say something that sets somebody else off are considerably higher than they may have been in previous years.

If this past election cycle has shown us anything, it’s that we need a better way of talking with each other. Attacking, judging, shaming, yelling, condescending, hating, breaking off relationship…these approaches may feel justified in the moment, but they’re very unlikely to produce any sort of lasting solution that honors us all.

Thankfully, there is an alternative approach. It’s called “Civil Conversation,” and it’s a skilled way of talking and listening that every one of us needs to learn for the sake of the common challenges we share and must find a way to resolve together.

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grandcentralstation

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” ~ Mother Teresa

I want to talk with you for a minute about the United States as a Relationship System.

When I say “Relationship System,” I mean something that’s in some ways quite similar to the nervous system in your body. For example, imagine you’re running a marathon. You’re determined to beat a certain time you’ve set in your head, and you’ve been training your body for months to achieve that goal. But on the day of the race, at about mile 14, your right heel begins to scream in pain. Now nothing else in your body is hurting, at least not yet. The vast majority of your body is signaling All Systems Go, except for this annoying heel, which is screaming at you that something isn’t right. So what do you do? How do you respond to that signal in your heel?

This is similar to how a Relationship System works. A Relationship System is a web of people who are linked together via a network of relationships. Such a system can be as small as two individuals (such a married couple) or as large as the entire population of the world. At whatever level you parse it out, however, every relationship system tends to function a bit like a living organism, like the body of the athlete running the marathon. No one part of the system has a complete picture of the Current Reality. Rather, each part of the system provides vital (but partial) information back to the whole, and the “whole” must collectively decide how to proceed based on that information.

Right now in our nation, we’ve all begun to recognize that there’s been a significant breakdown in this information loop within our National Relationship System. A large segment of the nation perceives the current reality in our country in a radically different way from another large segment of the nation. We’re all looking at the same picture, but perceiving very different realities. It’s like we’re the marathon runner, but the signal pathways between the major parts of our body have been cut off. Part of us is feeling one way, another part is feeling very differently. But the connection between the two has been severed, so neither part understands what the other part is experiencing. Thus the whole body suffers.

Now, I have some very good news about all this. In Relationship Systems Theory, which is a big part of the work I do every day, there is a simple solution to this system-wide breakdown. It’s so simple, in fact, it almost sounds too simplistic to be true. But my experience, and more importantly loads of research, have demonstrated that it works, time and again.

What is the solution?

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