Malcolm Gladwell, Soccer, and the Weakest [Church]

moneyIn Malcolm Gladwell ‘s recent podcast, he shared the story of Hank Rowan. Rowan was a philanthropist in the 1990’s who gave a $100 million donation to a small college in New Jersey. He gave this to a small, public school rather than his alma mater (MIT) or any other prestigious university. Rowan became a trendsetter with his gift, but not in the way one might imagine. Since then, other philanthropists have given gifts of $100 million or more to other schools. However, the majority of those donations went to wealthy, prestigious, private universities. Not small, struggling, public schools.

Gladwell highlights the difference between Rowan and other donors, such as Phil Knight of Nike Corporation. For many donors in the West, philanthropy is Superstar driven or strong link driven. In other words, they desire to give their money to the superstar universities, even though these schools already have multiple donors, because they believe that investing in the biggest and brightest is the best way to spend their money.

Rowan, however, is a weak link driven philanthropist. He believes that the secondary education system will benefit when we give to the weaker schools and build them up. In other words, when the weak link becomes stronger then all the schools become stronger.

the-ball-stadion-football-the-pitch-39562Gladwell uses the idea of soccer to make his point. In soccer, a team is only as strong as its weakest player. Since a weak player is more likely to miss a goal or make a mistake, the weakest player is the one most likely to cost them the game. Therefore, if the team wants to improve their winning average, they need to improve their weakest player, not their best player.

The idea of weakest link strategy vs. strong link strategy made me stop to think about how we function as local church bodies and denominations. In particular, the evangelical church in the West tends to favor the strong link strategy. We spend our time, money, and people resources on strengthening the superstar players.

I have seen this most often with “mature” Christians. They come to a place in their discipleship where they are “no longer being fed spiritually”. So they leave the small church to seek out the superstar players. They take their resources and give them away to the biggest and best; the large or even mega church.

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Now, if you are a new Christian…if you are still learning this whole follow Jesus thing, then I am not speaking to you. But if you can quote scripture like there’s no tomorrow and if you know who your pastor is talking about when they mention the name “Melchizedek”, then yes I am talking to you.

There are many small churches much like that small college that need your resources. They need you to teach a bible study, rock a baby, and help serve hot dogs at the next event. They need you to put your time in at the sound booth, hand out bulletins, and plan the next teen event. They need your resources.

As Believers, we love to throw around the bible verse that it is better to give than receive. But then we plant ourselves in a large church with lots of resources and hand our kids over to have someone else take care of them. When all the time there is a small church in your neighborhood struggling. They are not struggling because they are irrelevant or unwilling to change and grow. I know there are many out there in this category. But there are just as many who are reaching hurting, broken families. Yet they are slowly drying up in resources. Time, money, people….resources.

What would happen to the Church (with a big ‘C’), the Body of Christ, if we strengthened the weaker church? What would happen if we invested in the small, struggling church who is actually making a difference, but simply running on fumes? What would happen to the mission, the Great Commission, if we strengthened our weak link? Is it possible that we would ALL become stronger? Is it possible that we would ALL reach higher? Reach more broken, hurting people? What would happen if the “mature” Christians would give and not only receive?

I have this idea that in those small, weak “links” we would find people who God could use to change the world. I think if we invested in these weak links, we would be stronger together. Perhaps you are sitting in a larger church or mega church now and God is calling you to give more than you receive. Could it be that you are asleep in a recliner? Could it be time to wake up and answer the call of God? Could it be time?

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The Thing that Didn’t Happen

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For several months I had been sensing God speaking to me about pastoring a church. My current position as an associate pastor was fulfilling, but in my heart, I felt God wanted me to do more. There was a recurring desire to lead a group of people to reach out and be change agents in our community. But I didn’t know where to begin.

In the pastorate, searching for a “job” is very different from searching for a job in the traditional work sector. And there are rules, but no one really talks about what they are and how to go about it. So mostly new pastors stumble around a bit until someone takes pity on them and offers to help. I was in this stumbling phase.

Then someone took pity on me and offered to put my name before a church board who was looking for a new lead pastor. I was enthusiastically cautious. Our denomination has been ordaining women since its early inception; long before women even had the right to vote. But I had been around the church long enough to know that barriers still exist. So I was surprised how quickly they said yes to an interview with me.

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Doors were opening and God seemed to be directing my steps. My husband and I made arrangements for our children while we were out of town for the interview. We left early and arrived at the hotel while it was still daylight. Then we drove around town taking in the community and analysing how we might reach these people with the love of Christ. It was overwhelming!

At one point I looked at my husband and declared that this is “real ministry”. It was colorful and diverse with two distinct people groups. One group was more urban, living in townhouses that may have included some Section 8 housing. The other group was more rural; mostly white, blue-collar families. My brain was overloaded with the possibilities. And I was desperately trying to envision a way to bring these two groups together for the cause of Christ.

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The next day was a rich and complex experience. It will be burned in my memory for ages to come. We spent time with one of the board members who took us flying in his personal fighter plane. I’m not sure how many of my clergy friends can say they were interviewed while flying through the clouds…literally. At one point he let go of the controls and told me to fly the plane. We didn’t crash and I counted that as a good sign for the interview.

We had our official interview that evening. It went well and all of the answers flowed freely from my soul. I remember sensing God’s Presence so clearly. One of the board members even tried to prematurely offer me the position. It was a victory for my spirit to sit and share my vision to reach lost and hurting people. The more I spoke, the more a sense of purpose welled up inside. A dream was born. A vision. Something I would never be able to shake.

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We left that interview and I was certain I knew what God had planned for our future. To my surprise, they voted against me. The reason they gave was they felt they were not ready for a female pastor at this time. In retrospect, even though it was a split vote, I saw it on their faces. My husband will tell you that it wasn’t because I was a woman, but it was because of the vision I presented to unite their community. But neither answer helped to ease my soul.

I was certain I knew what God had planned for our future. Did I hear Him incorrectly? And what was I going to do with this vision He birthed in my soul? I couldn’t go back. I had tasted something; purpose, passion, a desire to change my world. Now, what do I do with this persistent, nagging vision?

But when God closes one door, He really does open another. I look back now and believe God allowed me to experience that rejection to make me a better pastor. He knew they would turn me away and He knew it would fuel within me a desire to stand up and make a change. And He was right!

There are many factors that contributed to me eventually planting a church. Yet, I know without a doubt that God used this one experience to fan a flame within me.

You have a small flame burning in your soul too. I pray God will use whatever methods to fan that flame. May you discover a passion and a purpose that will drive you to be the person God desires for you to be! Wake up and rise from your recliner. The world needs you to make a change!

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Trust in the Lord? Confessions of an (Occasional) Worry Wart

confession; worry; fear

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.

Keep putting into practice all you learned…then the God of peace will be with you.

Millions of Americans struggle with fear and anxiety. Some of them struggle daily. Some of them struggle so severely that it affects their daily routines.

Fear and anxiety have been a struggle for me to varying degrees. Up until fifteen years ago, I rarely struggled with it. My stumbling block was depression. In my third trimester with both of my children, I experienced deep depression and slept quite a bit. But after the birth of my daughter, I experienced raging anxiety.

I have analyzed this season of my life. It was almost overnight that I experienced this change. There were many reasons for this season of my life. My hormones had changed with my second birth. I was taking medications that included anxiety as a side effect. And I was adjusting to being a mom of two children. I still don’t understand the math of how two children are more than twice the work load. But, take heart, it’s not your imagination!

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Some days my anxiety was so overwhelming that I felt like I could run down the street and keep running forever. It was like the scene from Forrest Gump.

One day I just felt like running.

I wanted to turn off my brain, but I couldn’t. I even longed for depression because at least then I would be able to sleep.

So, anxiety is a real thing. And it plagues many of us. Yet, as Christians, we often hear that we should not fear. Do not worry about anything. Cast your cares upon God because He cares for you. But how do you turn off your brain? How do you trust God when your amygdala and hippocampus have run amuck?

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I am not a doctor nor do I play one on TV. But I can share with you some of the things that helped me.

See a Doctor.

If you need immediate relief or if you find yourself wanting to take extreme measures to “make it stop”, then you need to see a doctor. Today. You can start with your family physician, but you may need to see a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Some of you (especially Christians) may feel like you have failed because you need a doctor. Write this down: God values you and your life. You are worthy of receiving help from God and others. Some times medication is needed even temporarily to re-program your brain. Also, a doctor can help determine if there are other factors contributing to the anxiety. In my case, I needed to stop taking one of my medications because it was “sending me over the edge”.

Find a Confidant.

Men, I’m talking to you! Women have typically reached out to others because that was how we survived in times when we were not permitted to be educated. Women taught each other how to cook, nurse their babies, sew, and take care of the garden. And when we hung out teaching one another, we shared our struggles and anxieties.

Men, however, tend to keep their struggles to themselves. We have affirmed men who are “emotionless” by telling them they are strong and brave. But brave men get the help they need so they can care for their families. If you cannot bring yourself to see a doctor, then find a friend and grab a coffee or burger.

God. Meditation. Prayer. Positive Thoughts.

Call it whatever you want, but you need to stop the thoughts in your head! St Paul wrote the words above to the Church in Philippi. Paul had lots of stuff to worry about; mostly like not being stoned to death. And the Church in Philippi also had lots of stuff to worry about. So do you. Sort of.

Someone once said that most of life is 90% in our heads. In others words, it never happens, is not actually happening, and if it happens will actually be no big deal. Some psychologists will tell you to take the thought to its absolute end and then ask yourself if it is really such a bad thing. Don’t try this is your are at your wit’s end. But for many of you and for many of your worries, it will help.

But Paul had it right when he told the Church to change the way it was thinking. New brain studies suggest we can actually change the structure of our brains (neuroplasticity) by changing what we meditate on. We can add or increase our own serotonin if we start thinking good thoughts. Maybe your grandmother was right after all.

One of the things that help me most was writing positive things down each day in a journal and then reciting them back to myself (aloud is best). What do you write? What do you need to hear?

I am a good parent and I am learning new parenting skills each day.
I am a hard worker and I am providing for my family.
God has given me skills and I am using them to the best of my ability.
My future is secure because God is teaching me to be all I can be in Christ.
I am getting healthier every day because of my good choices.

Tell yourself what you need to hear to become the person God has created you to be. Do this every day for 30 days. Record how you feel at the end of each day. I believe you will be stronger and healthier for it. You can do it! I believe in you and so does God!

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