You have never tried to make your message irrelevant, boring, or incomprehensible. At least I hope not!
But you find yourself preaching while questioning your effectiveness. You walk up to deliver a sermon lacking confidence in your content. You question your ability. Your capacity. Even your calling. You feel your church more tolerates the message than engages in the content.
This might be the most important preaching principle I’ve learned.
Before I tell you the lesson, though, let me walk you through my process of discovery:
When I first began preaching, I took an entire manuscript on stage. It was a pastoral security blanket – except not pink and fuzzy. I tried not to read it directly, and in most cases, I was successful. But in my mind, it was good to know it was there… just in case I needed to snuggle.
On the first day of my first internship during college, my supervisor told us there was one important rule we needed to follow if we were going to have a great experience with the organization.
Interns are not allowed to make coffee.
While this “rule” became somewhat of a joke around the office, I think the underlying principle behind it is a valuable one. We knew from the onset that we were not there simply to be the office “gophers.” It demonstrated to us that we were valued as interns and brought on for the summer to do more than just make coffee and run errands.
Our cultural narrative says the pastor’s kids are the worst — sneaky, rebellious, and a bad influence on the rest of the youth.
I’ve heard most stereotypes germinate from a seed of truth. But in my life, I’ve met more PKs who blow up that stereotype than ones who fit it.
I recently finished The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. It’s been out a few years now, but I haven’t heard many church leaders mention it. The concepts, while very simple, fascinated me. They revolved around a simple discovery of neurology: the habit loop.
A habit = a cue + a routine + a reward
Whatever the cue is, routines you reward get repeated. And once a habit is formed, it leads a person — or an organization — on autopilot.
For example, in a church, it could play out like this:
First time guest shows up (cue) + church members stay huddled in conversation (routine) + church stays small and comfortable (reward)
Staff meetings create space for sharing ideas (cue) + staff members bring ideas and are encouraged to take risks (routine) + staff members feel valued and empowered (reward)
Pastor suggests a change (cue) + a group of people complain (routine) + pastor halts change (reward)
As you can see, habits can be leveraged for bad or good.
I found this book personally challenging, but also incredibly encouraging. Here are some observations and questions based on some of my favorite quotes from the book:
1. “Habits aren’t destiny….habits can be ignored, changed, or replaced. But the reason the discovery of the habit loop is so important is that it reveals a basic truth: When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit — unless you find new routines — the pattern will unfold automatically.”
Habits, in theory, save the brain time and energy. They can create positive outcomes just as much as negative ones. But often, we allow habits to take the reigns on things that should get more of our brain power.
2. “Habits emerge when patterns are predictable—when our brains learn to crave a specific reward at a specific moment. When rewards defy prediction, when we fall off the wagon in ways that confound expectations, we take some of the power out of a pattern. It’s a little bit harder for the habit loop to start.”
This is one good reason to fight predictability in church. Your predictable services are creating organizational habits that will become increasingly difficult to change over time.
3. “Some departments at NASA, for instance, were overhauling themselves by deliberately instituting organizational routines that encouraged engineers to take more risks. When unmanned rockets exploded on takeoff, department heads would applaud, so that everyone would know their division had tried and failed, but at least they had tried. Eventually, mission control filled with applause every time something expensive blew up. It became an organizational habit.”
This story was so interesting. NASA’s habit goal backfired here. They intended to encourage people to take risks. They ended up celebrating failure instead of success. Are you celebrating things that do not align with your vision, out of habit alone?
4. “Keystone habits offer what is known within academic literature as ‘small wins.’ They help other habits to flourish by creating new structures, and they establish cultures where change becomes contagious.”
Keystone habits are habits that set into motion a series of other behaviors. If you change a keystone habit for the better, you get a domino effect. Sometimes they are hard to identify, but they’re worth rooting out. What negative habits, if changed, would set off a chain reaction of other positive changes?
(Andy Stanley interviewed Charles Duhigg about keystone habits on his podcast a few years back. You can listen here.)
5. “Sometimes, a truce can create dangers that outweigh any peace.”
In the book, Duhigg describes “truces” inside organizations as unspoken agreements, or habits, between different people, teams or departments that “keep the peace,” even at the expense of what’s right for the organization as a whole. An organization full of these kinds of truces has a sick culture that will ultimately cause its demise.
Truces also create ministry silos.
6. “During turmoil, organizational habits become malleable enough to both assign responsibility and create a more equitable balance of power.”
When pain comes, habits are easier to change. Crisis is never easy or desired, but it often creates the foundation for positive change that nothing else could.
7. “For an idea to grow beyond a community, it must become self-propelling.”
How are you empowering people to own the vision of your church? Is it replicable? Is it replicating?
8. “…every habit, no matter its complexity, is malleable.”
Have you given up hope that bad habits in your church or on your team can change?
9. “…once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom—and the responsibility—to remake them.”
Ask God to show you where the culture of your church or team is sick. Ask Him to show you which bad habits start with you.
In case you haven’t heard… The Unstuck Group has an internship program for college students who are passionate about the mission of Jesus and helping the Church get unstuck. We are now accepting applications for our Spring 2016 Marketing & Communications intern position.
ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE
The Unstuck Group is a team of high-capacity leaders located all across the country. Our internship requires remote work, but we are committed to making sure each intern has the mentorship and accountability necessary for an outstanding experience.
Interns will be paired with a staff leader for mentorship and ongoing project assignment and oversight. They will be invited to participate in video conference staff meetings, and as possible, may include in-person meetings with their mentor.
Responsibilities include things like drafting and editing blog posts, newsletters and social media copy; research to support content topics; analyzing metrics to inform adjustments to communications strategy; and much more.
Do you know someone who would be a great fit?
Send them to theunstuckgroup.com/internships to find out more details about qualifications and how to apply.
Deadline to apply: November 20, 2015
We know She’s not perfect, but She’s irreplaceable. Being part of the Church – the Bride of Christ – is an experience I can hardly put words to. We labor for Her. We try to make sure the Bride honors His name and draws people to Him. But a lot of times, we also complain about Her. The people She allows in. The old ways and new ways of doing things. The pain we’ve experienced. The faults we see.
The Apostle Paul gave some instruction to a local church – the Philippians – that has been on my mind as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.” Philippians 2:14-16
So, today, I’m focusing on why I’m thankful for the local church. Without it, I wouldn’t be who I am today. How about you?
1) Scripture-based songs I learned at church as a kid still pop into my head from time to time.
Ok, so I’m not always thankful when this happens! My thought here is that the Church helped me learn God’s Word as a child, and in times of need, those Scriptures still come to my mind — sometimes with a cheesy accompanying melody, but still…
2) I had a youth pastor and youth pastor’s wife (and countless other adults) who invested in me at a young age.
It wasn’t always spiritual – sometimes it was just watching a movie, or playing games or hanging out – but the things I learned from them shaped my growth as a teen.
3) It showed me God’s heart for family.
My dad was a pastor, and our Thanksgiving holidays usually included any single mothers in our church, as well families who were far from their relatives. I loved seeing that all were welcome in God’s family. I’ve also seen friends from broken homes figuratively adopted by families in the church, showing them the Father’s heart.
4) It taught me the peril of isolating yourself.
I’m a person who can learn from the mistakes of others. (I realize there are plenty of you who have to test the waters yourselves. Enjoy that–I’d rather skip the consequences!) I’ve seen firsthand the danger that comes with isolating yourself, as I saw friends pull away from the church and then pull away from God.
5) It gave me memorable experiences of grace.
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine just how complete the grace of God is. But each time someone shows you it becomes a little more real. God has used friends, teachers and leaders in the Church to show me grace when I didn’t deserve it. And at other times, when people in the church behaved in ways that didn’t bring Him glory, God has taught me to have grace for them.
6) It provided opportunities for me to be involved in ministry even when I was young.
My faith never grew so much as when I was given opportunities to minister, even as a teen and young adult. My faith grew in action alongside more mature Christians.
7) It keeps my eyes focused on the eternal.
No matter what is happening in life, the Church exists to draw people to Jesus. Just typing those words brings tears to my eyes. He is what matters. And I come back to that again and again – through trial and triumph – because of the Church.
It’s your turn. Why are you thankful for the Church?
Photo Credit: pixabay.com via pexels.com
In this series of posts, we’ve been introducing you to the individuals who make The Unstuck Group work. Today, meet Paul Alexander, a pastor, speaker, strategist, and ministry consultant on our team. He loves making vision real, and he believes in the Unstuck Process so much that he uses it at his church, Sun Valley Community Church in Arizona. He’s a great guy to have your side if you feel stuck and need help getting going in the right direction!
Read on to find out more about Paul and his insights on moving from vision to action.