6:00 AM or 6:14 AM?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009
6:00 AM or 6:14 AM? That is the question. Be careful how you answer because you don’t know where it will take you.

A few weeks ago I read a book entitled, “How I moved from Failure to Success in Selling” by Frank Bettger. The book basically tells the story how Bettger grabbed himself up by the boot straps and got to work. Essentially, all Bettger did to become successful in selling is to change his attitude, approach and perspective as he went about selling life insurance. By all accounts, Bettger was extremely successful in producing a vast clientele who were very affluent in all aspects of their lives. With this came notoriety and a large influx of cash for Bettger. One of the changes that Bettger shares that made him successful was to become part of the “6 o’clock club,” a club of salesman that start the day off right by waking up early to organize and prepare themselves for the day . Instead of sleeping in and approaching life with a lackadaisical attitude Bettger made the conscious decision to wake up early in the morning in order to start the day off in a positive manner. Bettger quickly realized he became more productive, started manufacturing more business, and generating more cash flow by waking up hours earlier.

I know that income, notoriety, success, and popularity are not inherently evil. If used in the right way and for the right purposes all of the above can be glorifying to God. However, if used in the wrong way, such as motivation, incentive, and inspiration one should think twice before considering such a path. This is one of the reasons why I was reluctant to adopt such an idea as I sought to improve some of my skills. Then I watched a movie….

Last night after putting the girls to bed Heather and I watched, Evan Almighty. We both found it to be funny, entertaining, and quite meaningful. I know some of you might find it corny and I want you to know that I agree with you on that, to some extent. If you have seen the movie then you know the importance of the number 614. Everywhere he looked, Evan encountered 614. Evan’s first encounter with 614 came when his alarm clock went off the morning after he prayed the prayer, “Lord, help me change the world.” Evan eventually discovers that 614 is a reference to Genesis 6:14. In the verse God directs Noah to build an ark. Evan finally connects the two and discovers that he too must build an ark in order to change the world. He also discovers that the ARK he is supposed to build is much more then just a large wooden boat, it is A Random act of Kindness.

I don’t know about you but a chance at a large income, notoriety, and success does not motivate or inspire me that much. Gone are the days of being compelled by money, prestige, and power. However, I draw great motivation and inspiration with the chance to change the world. This is why, when I crawled into bed last night, I reached over to my alarm clock and changed it from 6:00 AM to 6:14 AM. Now when I wake up at 6:14 I whisper the prayer, “Lord, help me change the world.”

What are you going to do to change the world?

The Buoyancy of Hope

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I know I am not alone when I say that sometimes I feel as if I am sinking. It is almost a whirlpool effect that takes place, like a piece of toilet paper being flushed down the toilet (hey, that is the only thing I could think of). Imagine for a moment, if you will, that you are treading water. It is easy at first, but then it becomes more difficult and you begin to struggle to stay afloat. You see, you can only tread water for so long before your head begins to bop in and out of the water, making a dire situation even worse, repeatedly taking in a mouth full of water. Without something or someone to embrace and keep you afloat you will eventually sink. Without a buoy of hope we will become like the piece of toilet paper drowning into a pile of… (well, you know).

I wish I could take credit for the phrase, the buoyancy of hope, but I can’t. I came across the analogy last night while reading, I Have A Dream: Writings & Speeches That Changed the World, by Martin Luther King Jr.. The editor of the book has done a fabulous job in compiling numerous writings and speeches throughout King’s life. In doing so, the reader receives a fluid, yet evolving perspective into King’s theology and philosophy of non-resistance; a perspective that is best summed up by the “Gandhian perspective of satyagraha (satya is truth which equals love, and graha is force;satyagraha thus means truth-force or love-force).”

Any reader of this blog is aware of Martin Luther King Jr. and the life he lived in the midst of such hatred and despair. In a time when racism was rampant and voices were silenced and rarely heard, his voice served as a rallying cry for those who were hushed and muted for far too long. From December of 1955 to his untimely death in April 1968 Dr. King paid the price for being the voice and leader to millions of men and women who sought equality for all. In his own words, written in an article entitled, “How my Mind Has Changed” in 1960, King tells us of the importance that hope played during this time in his life.

In the midst of outer dangers I have felt an inner calm and known resources of strength that only God could give. In many instances I have felt the power of God transforming the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope.
This would not be the only time King uses the phrase, buoyancy of hope. In September of 1963, Dr. King delivered a sermon at the funeral of three young girls who were killed by a bomb as they were attending Sunday school. Here is what King says to family, friends, and mourners at the service.
At times, life is hard, as hard as crucible steel. It has its bleak and painful moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of a river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. Like the ever-changing cycle of seasons, life has the soothing warmth of the summers and the piercing chill of its winters. But through it all, God walks with us. Never forget that God is able to lift you from fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.

Don’t miss the transformation that Dr. King mentions here. By the power of God, the fatigue of despair can be transformed into the buoyancy of hope. I don’t know about you but, if given the choice, I would rather be supported by the buoyancy of hope than be flushed down the toilet, only to end up in a pile of dung.

Brand, Marketing, & the Church

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Awhile back, I enjoyed a nice long dinner with some old friends. It was one of those dinners that was full of conversation and laughter. You know the kind where you are so in to each other that you never leave the table unless you need to relieve yourself or fill an empty glass. It was the type of dinner where you sit down to eat at 6:00 and realize six hours later (the time of your first yawn) that you have to get up and go to work in the morning. Thus, you begin to contemplate another six hours of conversation over the remaining hours of sleep that are left. Needless to say, I reluctantly choose the latter and said my goodbyes. I enjoyed a peaceful ride home reflecting on the various topics of the night as I attempted to categorize and summarize the conversation knowing that I would have to retell it all to Heather the following morning.

It was at this time that I remembered a comment made by one of my dinner companions. The comment was made in passing as we were discussing churches, for they know that I am a pastor and will be starting a new church in the area. As we were discussing churches one of the couples began reminiscing on a few of the local churches they have attended as a family. A certain church name was spoken and immediately the conversation elevated to another gear. It was amongst this chaos that someone said, “(insert church name here), now that’s a brand.” Now, please know that the context of our “church” conversation immediately followed a “business” conversation in which the two accountants at the table discussed their jobs and their desire to be forward thinking (business strategies and the like) accountants compared to an accountant who dealt in the past (auditor). So, words and concepts like vision, brand, mission, market strategies, trademark, and product were common place in our conversation and it was easy for us to parlay such comments into the conversation that followed regarding the church.

My conversation that evening highlights that fact that there is a strong temptation in the American culture today to present the church as a vendor of religious goods and services. In other words, our culture today emphasizes the need for churches to present themselves as something that is to be consumed, used, and abused much like any other vendor in the business world today that is marketing their product. Does this mean that marketing (in culturally consuming terms) has a place in the church? Personally, I don’t think marketing, speaking in culturally consuming terms, has any place in the church.

“The difficulty with the pro-marketing arguments, however, is the failure to recognize that marketing is not a values-neutral language. Marketing unavoidably changes the message—as all media do. Why? Because marketing is the particular vernacular of a consumerist society in which everything has a price tag. To market something is therefore to effectively make it into a branded product to be consumed.”
To market something is to tweak the message so that it becomes appealing and attractive to your target audience. This is a problem. First of all, if we tweak the Gospel message we walk the fine line between truth and heresy. The Gospel message is not something to be picked apart and presented in bits and pieces because it makes you feel better, selecting only the parts that you agree with. Secondly, a life of sacrificial love enduring the brutality of the world is not appealing and attractive. Finally, the Gospel message is not be regulated to a chosen few or a privileged many. The saving grace, the message of Gospel, is for all mankind no matter what race, gender, or socioeconomic status.

Does this mean that the church should no longer pursue marketing? If this is the case then one might argue that we should shut down our web sites, take down church signs, stop publishing newsletters, end the radio ads, and tell the church members to quit inviting others to church. Such an approach does not leave us with much of an option does it?

“We need to recognize that no matter what we do, consumerism will unavoidably define the context for how people view the church in our consumerist age. All communication will be perceived as marketing. All self-presentation, even church advertising, will be perceived as branding. And all outreach will be viewed as sales. There is nothing we can do to change this context.”
With this being said, the church must recognize that that no matter what we do and what we say, as a church, the consumeristic perception of the culture will always be defining the reality of their opinion. No matter how we, as a church, change our message (via marketing), culture will always receive it in consumeristic terms. After all, consumerism is the dominant language of our culture. If we cannot change the perception of the culture, no matter what our marketing approach, we must concentrate, not on our marketing strategies, but on the message we are communicating.

The message of the Gospel is a message of love, hope, forgiveness, grace, and giving. It is not a message of consumption, use, and exploitation. Just because the culture perceives the message one way does not mean that we should change the message to make it more appealing. When a church changes it's message and markets it's product, in culturally consuming terms, it is simply conforming to the ways of the world. Such actions run contrary to the life the church has been called to live in the Bible.

“The church reveals the supremacy of Christ in a world that denies his power… We love the unlovable and forgive the unforgivable, reconcile seemingly intractable hatreds and rejoice even in sorrow, persevere in hardship and serve to the point of sacrifice, and baptize and teach instead of consume and discard.”