Stop Treating Church Like The Olympics!

Ahh, the Olympics! That great quadrennial celebration of dedication, fortitude, drama, and patriotism!

I love the Olympics.

Unfortunately, I have not had much time to watch them this year. I did, however, get to have a conversation last night, though, that got me all caught up on what’s been going on.

But it also got me thinking, which is dangerous.

I began to think of the ways that members of the American church tend to treat church like we treat the Olympics. And, as much as I love the Games, I wish we’d stop using the same approach for our life as the Bride of Christ.

Viewing Worship As A Spectacle For Our Entertainment

The Olympics are entertaining. Most of us are mesmerized by the national pageantry, the dedication of the athletes, and the great human interest pieces the networks put together. We watch the Olympics because we are entertained by them.

And that’s ok.

But what about when we treat the church’s worship the same way? As a spectacle for our entertainment?

That’s a problem.

Don’t think we do it?

Have you ever gone out to eat with someone after a Sunday service? It seems that conversations over these meals inevitably includes at least one of the following statements:

“The atmosphere was so good today at church! When they did that spoken word breakdown in the middle of “My Chains Are Gone” I got goosebumps!”

“The music team was a little off today and I wish they wouldn’t do that one song.”

“Today’s message was so good! Pastor’s story about the fish and the donkey was hilarious!”

While there’s nothing wrong with talking about the service, the music, or the message over lunch on a Sunday, there’s a terrible temptation to evaluate those things on whether or not they “moved us” or whether or not we “got something” out of them.

But church worship isn’t supposed to entertain us: it’s supposed to glorify God and further his purposes in and through our lives. Reducing the worship service to something we evaluate on its capacity for amusing us is to imagine that it occupies the same space as the Olympic broadcast in our lives: something we watch rather than something we engage in.

Leave the Work to The Professionals

Which leads to a second way we treat church like the Olympics: we leave the work to the professionals.

Just like Joe the Plumber doesn’t compete as an Olympic figure skater, the average church-going person in the USA doesn’t serve in the church.

In the American church, we have predominantly accepted a model of ministry that draws a line between “normal” Christians (those who show up to events, throw a few dollars in the plate, and go home) and “professional” Christians (those who get paid to plan, advertise, and pull off church events).

But church is not defined in the Bible as a package of programs put on by professional pastors for the passive masses.

Just look at what Peter writes regarding the church:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10, CSB)

He’s talking about the church as a gathering of people redeemed by God, not as a group of plebes sitting on the one hand and watching a group of pastors work on the other. The church as a whole is to be engaged in the task of representing, praising, and declaring the glory of God in the Gospel.

In the same letter, he later writes:

“Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God.”

The assumption in Peter’s vision of the church is that everyone is engaged, everyone is serving, and that such service is stewardship of God’s grace.

Leaving the work to the professionals is poor stewardship. Every member of the church actively engaged in the ministry of the church is the biblical ideal.

Something That Has No Lasting Impact On Our Lives

Finally, it’s often tempting to treat church as something that, like the Olympics,  makes no lasting difference in our lives.

We’ve all been there: sitting there in front of the TV, munching on our potato chips, watching these lean, controlled, wired athletes accomplish seemingly superhuman feats. Then, it hits us: we’ve got to get in shape. We commit to sitting in front of the TV less, to eating fewer chips, to exercising more.

And then, four years later, we have the same thought as we sit in front of the TV again, eating our chips.

Too many Christians slog through their church years, listening to sermon after sermon, going to Bible study after Bible study, and yet there’s never a tangible difference in their lives. They still hate the same people they did when they started. They still have the same foul mouths they did before. It seems they never change.

Let’s be honest: sometimes “they” are “us.” Sure, we get inspired sometimes. Sure, we make promises of change. But, somehow, we never get around to it.

But church is supposed to be a radically transformative experience. As we interact with brothers and sisters and the Word and the Spirit, we’re supposed to start looking different.

Like the Olympics, so long as church is something that happens around us, in front of us, but not to us and never involving us, we’re never going to change.

The Solution

In all these ways, and more, we treat church like we treat the Olympics. But there’s a better way: get involved. Engage. Plug in. Do something.

Don’t view worship as a source of entertainment. Instead, view it as your joyous responsibility in Christ. Sing loudly, pray fervently, listen expectantly, give joyfully, and wait patiently.

Don’t see ministry as the exclusive domain of professionals. Rather, see it as an opportunity for you to showcase God’s glory through the gifts he has given you. Don’t know where to start? Just ask where you can serve. And even if it’s just by cleaning toilets or rocking babies, give it all you’ve got.

And don’t expect church to not make any difference in your life. Instead, expect your engagement with brothers and sisters to be continually transforming you to look more like Jesus. Expect change, help others change, and allow yourself to be changed.

Let’s leave spectating for the Olympics and jump into being the church with both feet!

Image by Roman Grac from Pixabay

Checking Up On Your New Year’s Resolutions

How are those New Year’s resolutions going?

If you’re like most people, they didn’t last long. Most people fail in their resolutions.

So, don’t feel too bad. After all, you can save paper by just making the same resolutions next year!

My dad shared a quote with me recently that I think he found on Facebook. “My New Year’s resolution was to lose 10 lbs and I’m doing great! Only 15 pounds to go!”

The Resolution Struggle

It seems that we struggle with making our lives match our resolutions. We’re just not very good resolvers.

Or maybe the problem lies with kind of resolutions we’re resolving. So many of our resolutions look good on paper, but when we try to put them into real life, they fail. Real life has a tendency to be a resolution-dissolver.

And, if you’re a Christian, that’s a problem. A resolution is a commitment. Jesus says honoring your commitments is important. So, if your resolutions keep failing, you’ve got to choose between two options: 1) Quit making resolutions, or, 2) make life-proof resolutions.

Life-Proof Resolutions

Kicking the resolution habit may be tempting, but I think that the second option is better for the Christian life: start making life-proof resolutions.

What I mean by “life-proof resolutions” are resolutions that can withstand all that life throws at you. Resolutions that have enough flexibility built in to sway with life’s ebbs and flows.

There’s a phrase that is used three times in the New Testament that can serve as the foundation for life-proof resolutions. It’s found in three different passages of Scripture. The phrase is “whatever you do.”

And each of these “whatever you do” passages adds a unique command (or resolution) on top of the foundational statement.

However you’re doing on your resolutions this year, consider making the following your life-proof resolutions (you don’t even have to wait for New Year’s Eve):

Resolution #1: Whatever you do, do it for God’s glory.

1 Corinthians 10:31-33

We have a tendency to make our resolutions about ourselves. Then, when life proves to not be about ourselves, our resolutions fail. A life-proof resolution recognizes our insufficiency by saying, “whatever I do, I’m going to seek to glorify God.” Then if you have to kind of take a step back, if life gets in the way, you are still on track: “whatever I do I’m going to glorify God.” Paul, who wrote this passage basically outlines a “how-to” on glorifying God after urging us to do whatever we do for the glory of God:

  1. Seek peace with those who think they know God, but don’t
  2. Seek peace with those who don’t think they need God, but do
  3. Seek peace with those in the church
  4. Seek to please others, not yourself
  5. Seek to save many

Sounds pretty straightforward. And those are things we can do no matter what happens in life.

Resolution #2: Whatever you do, do it in Jesus’ name.

Colossians 3:17

“In Jesus’ name” is not a magic formula. “In Jesus’ name” means doing everything under his authority. There’s an idea of ambassadorship here. An ambassador is somebody who’s commissioned to represent another person or a group to another group or person. As Christians, when we commit to doing whatever we do in Jesus’ name, we’re representing Jesus as his ambassadors. So how does that work? Simple:

  1. Do what Jesus would do if he were you.
  2. Don’t do what Jesus wouldn’t do if he were you.

It’s not as common anymore, but when I was growing up, W.W.J.D. was everywhere in the Christian sub-culture. And, for all its clichéd status, it’s really a good way to think about your life: What Would Jesus Do?

Then do it. See? It’s life-proof.

Resolution #3: Whatever you do, give it everything you’ve got.

Colossians 3:23

A life-proof resolution is not a workless resolution. Just because I’m encouraging you to build some flexibility into your resolutions doesn’t mean this is going to be easy. Trying to glorify God and represent Jesus is going to be difficult. And if you’re in it for the praise of others who see you, you’re on the wrong track. “Whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord.” I paraphrased it with “give it everything you’ve got.”

I was in 4-H growing up and they had a great pledge we said at every meeting. “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.” The pledge was based on the 4 H’s: Head, Heart, Hands, Health. Get it…4-H (clever, I know). But the idea is that the 4-Her is committing their whole self to the work.

I think that idea of committing the whole self aligns perfectly with the Christian life under Christ and for God. So a modified 4-H pledge works really well under this resolution: “I pledge my head to clearer thinking about Christ, my heart to greater loyalty to Christ, my hands to larger service for Christ, and my health to better living in Christ, for my church, my community, my country and my world.”

Commitment

So, again I ask: how are your resolutions going?

And, may I suggest that no matter the state of your resolutions thus far, commit to life-proof resolutions by seeking to glorify God, representing Jesus well, and giving everything you’ve got for those tasks.

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New Years Fireworks Resolutions
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bratislava_New_Year_Fireworks.jpg

Three Questions That Will Change Your Life

The title looks like clickbait, but it’s not. Seriously. These three questions will change your life (if you let them):

  1. What is the most important time?
  2. Who is the most important person?
  3. What is the most important thing to do?

Those questions, and how you answer them, will go a significant way towards determining the nature of your life.

Of course, I can’t claim credit for them – that belongs to this guy:

Leo Tolstoy - Three Questions That Will Change Your Life
Leo “The Beard” Tolstoy

In fact, you should stop reading this post and go read Tolstoy’s short story, “Three Questions.”

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

*unconsciously hums the Jeopardy Theme*

Ok, you’re back.

Or maybe you never left. Maybe you’re a rebel and don’t do what every random blog post tells you to. Or maybe you’ve already read it.

Whatever the case, I don’t want you to miss the significance of those questions. Let’s look at them one at a time:

1. What is the most important time? 

Most people would answer this one correctly: the most important time is right now. Pop psychology, YOLO, living in the moment, etc. etc. have taught most of us that much at least.

But verbalizing the right answer is not going to change your life.

In order for that to happen, you’ve got to live like you mean it.

We can all say that now is the most important time, but few of us live that way.

Some live in the past.

Some live in the future.

But you can’t control either of those.

The only time you can control is right now. So plan accordingly: is NOW really best spent binging another forgettable series on Netflix? Do you honestly believe that NOW is best given to mindlessly scrolling Facebook?

Instead of wasting it, do work NOW.

Instead of consuming it, start creating NOW.

The most important time is NOW, so changing your life starts with rethinking how you use NOW.

2. Who is the most important person?

Me. Myself. I.

Be honest, that’s how you’d really answer.

How do I know? Because that’s how I’d answer. That’s how every single human being on the face of Planet Earth would answer if they could be forced into a single moment of brutal honesty.

Tolstoy understood that because he saw it played out around him. A member of the Russian aristocracy who joined the army, he saw both the excesses of wealth and the depravity of war. These are both glaring symptoms of humanity’s self-obsession.

But Tolstoy found a better way when he started studying the teachings of Jesus, particularly the Sermon on the Mount. Central to Jesus’ teaching was the idea of self-denial.

Practically, that means forgetting about yourself and focusing on someone else.

The most important person is not you, it’s the person you are with right now.

Why? Because in a world of self-seekers, someone looking out for someone else is a major disruptor of the status quo. You don’t change your life by doing what everyone else is: you change it by doing what no one is.

That requires putting your little, self-curated, instant, digital, egocentric universe (your smartphone) down, maybe for more than five minutes (gasp). There’s lots of data on the impact of smartphones on real relationships: read some of it.

It takes intentional questions and actual listening. Most of what we call conversation is simply waiting for the other person to stop talking so we can start. That won’t fly in this new paradigm you’re establishing.

Deciding that the person you are with is the most important person in the world takes effort. It requires sacrifice. But it’s worth it.

Strangely enough, when you shift from a me-centered focus to an others-centered focus, you’ll find happiness, purpose, and meaning that you never had before.

But don’t take my word for it: try it.

It will change your life.

3. What is the most important thing to do?

“Ummm…”

(See, I told you that you should have gone and read the story.)

This question brings it all together.

Now is the most important time.

The person you are with right now is the most important person.

And the most important thing you can do is…(drumroll please)…

Do good for that person.

Obviously, that will look different depending on the moment and the person.

You don’t engage a gunshot victim in philosophical conversation.

You don’t bandage the mouth of a verbal sparring partner.

But you do in the moment for the person you are with what is going to be best for them. Sometimes that means being nice, sometimes that means being harsh, but it always means that your action is focused on benefiting them.

And it will change your life.

Two Paths To Success (And Why Accountability Makes All The Difference)

I want to tell you about the two paths to success. But, first, let me make a wild guess: you made one or more New Year’s resolutions.

You may have made them intentionally, writing them down, framing them, and hanging them where you’d see them every day.

Perhaps you’re not that serious. You just cobbled a couple ideas together before the New Year’s Eve party because you knew someone would ask.

Or, maybe, it was almost unconscious. Maybe you’re not one of “those people.” But even you couldn’t help thinking, “this year, I’ll…”

The New Year is a tantalizing opportunity for self-improvement and most of us can’t resist at least one or two stray thoughts in that direction.

But, wherever you fall on the resolution spectrum, I’ve got some bad news: you’ll probably fail. At least 8 out of 10 will, anyways.

Flip The Percentage

You read that right: approximately 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail.

And, because we humans are a notoriously proud species, I’d imagine that there are many resolutions and consequent failures that don’t get reported.

Those are long odds when it comes to your personal goals and achievements.

But what if you could flip that percentage? What if 80% or more of your resolutions could come to fruition?

That’d be a slightly more encouraging statistic, wouldn’t it?

And it’s possible. Maybe even a little low. Thomas Oppong writes that by taking one simple step, your odds of reaching your goal can increase by up to 95%.

So, what’s the one thing to do to help your resolution not end up on the wrong side of the statistical graveyard?

Don’t try to do it alone: invite someone to hold you accountable for results.

That’s it. Get somebody to check on your progress and your odds of success increase by approximately 175% (no, that math doesn’t work in real life, but you get the idea).

What Works For Resolutions Works For Life

It’s not just New Year’s resolutions. Most people want to succeed year-round.

So let’s broaden the point out a bit: the secret to success is to not seek it alone. Instead, get some accountability.

Unfortunately for most of us, the common narrative on success hamstrings us before we even start. Our fairy tales, our independence-obsessed culture, and our heroes whisper that success is the product of gritted teeth and gumption. The collective assumption is that the path to success is a lonely one, reserved for particularly special individuals.

The lone wolf, striving against all the forces of nature and against all odds.

The great man, shouldering great burdens that would crush anyone else.

In this view, what separates the successful individual from the failing one is intrinsic motivation. Success is ultimately self-centered, finding both its beginning and end in the individual. There is no need for others, really no consideration of them except as objects of usefulness to or beneficiaries of your success.

In this view, the path to success is simply a matter of getting up enough intestinal fortitude to get yourself where you want to be.

Trouble is, that won’t work for everyone. If New Year’s resolutions are any indication, it might work for about 20% of the population. But I’m guessing the actual number is much lower.

And that’s why accountability is such good news: it’s an alternative to our cultural assumptions. There’s a second path to success.

The Second Path To Success Is Just The First Path With Company

This second path requires every bit as much effort, but it’s much more likely to succeed. Accountability is no substitute for hard work. But not being alone on the journey makes it much easier to reach the destination.

Humanity has always known this, we just seem to always forget it. In the Book of Ecclesiastes, written hundreds of years before Jesus Christ’s birth flipped the calendar from B.C. to A.D., we read this:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!

Accountability is not weakness and it’s not the admission of an inability to take the individual path to success. It’s also not shirking hard work. With or without someone, you can’t succeed unless you put in the time and effort required for the goal. Accountability simply the wisest way to use your hard work. It’s optimizing your life by opening it up to another’s input, criticism, and assistance.

When you invite someone to hold you accountable for success, you’re radically improving your chances of actually reaching it.

And it gets even better.

Success-Stacking

A major problem with the self-centered path to success is that it is just so…self-centered. Sure, you might (20% chance) get ahead. But that doesn’t help the person next to, behind, or in front of you.

But we’re naturally selfish creatures. So, really, who cares if you help anyone else as long as you get where you were trying to go?

Let’s look at it another way, then. I’ve already told you that both paths require the same work. But, if you do it right, the path of accountability gives twice the return on investment. Because when you invite someone else to help you reach your goals, you can simultaneously help them reach theirs.

And that doubled success is a good deal. If you could double the return on every investment, why wouldn’t you?

But the results of accountability can be so much greater than that. Because doubled success can lead to success-stacking.

Let me show you:

When you both succeed at your goals by working together, you’re both incentivized to tackle your next goals together. And the next ones and the ones after that. Seeing the results that come from holding one another accountable, you both start moving quicker, reaching higher, hitting goals and setting new ones.

That’s success-stacking: continually piling successes on top of one another.

You might be able to beat the odds traveling the individual path to success once, twice, maybe three times. But you’ll never get to a place of stacking success after success together unless you’re traveling with someone else in an accountability relationship that benefits both of you.

So, How Do You Get On (And Stay On) The Right Path?

Because the cultural bias towards solo self-improvement is so strong, it’d be helpful to have a roadmap for the path of accountability. After all, if you’re heading to Seattle, WA you don’t want to follow a GPS giving you directions to Key West, FL.

Here are simple, turn-by-turn directions for walking the path of accountability to success:

1. Directed Discontentment: “I’m not satisfied with where I am because I want to be over there.”

2. Engage Someone Else: “You’re not satisfied with where you are and want to be over there.”

3. Mutual Agreement: “Let’s help one another achieve our goals.”

4. Move Intentionally: “Here’s how we’re going to do it.”

5. Real Consequences: “Here’s what happens if we don’t.”

6. Evaluate Continually: “Here’s how we’re doing so far.”

7. Celebrate Success: “We made it!”

8. Stack Successes: “Here’s what we do next.”

That’s it, in a nutshell. You identify where you want to be, engage someone else who’s trying to get somewhere, and hold each other accountable until you make it. Then you do it again.

And that simple path boosts your chance of success exponentially.

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Two Paths To Success
By Carsten Tolkmit from Kiel, Germany (crossroads) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons