We can talk about transformation and our greatest want until we are blue in the face, but if we can't connect the dots we are wasting our breath.
I've been to enough broken churches to see the biggest hinderance to positive transformation towards Christ, our greatest want. Imagine this with me: Every church (and person for that matter) has a metaphorical mirror. A healthy person, or group, has the capacity to self-reflect. Normally, we can tell someone to consider the situation and they will see themselves as they really are, and change their ways.
Well, there is a reason broken churches stay broken. At some point they look into that metaphorical mirror and decide to tape an old picture of themselves upon it, instead of taking in what they see. So when you ask them to reflect they are all ready to talk about the glory days as if their dwindling numbers really reflect something that can no longer exist. You can try to ask them to talk about now, but to them, the glory days are now. (Even when it is blatantly obvious to anyone on the outside the glory days were years before.)
As long as that false image continues to cover the mirror, there is no one who can help that person or group change. You might as well being trying to change a brick wall for the good it will do. You can tell them they are seeking the incorrect "greatest want" and tell them what you see physically happening at that moment. They will simply reply by sharing the image taped over the mirror. You can easily pinpoint taped over mirrors because the language will always be in the past tense. "We had this great event, where we did these wonderful things." "We loved this particular minister who served a decade ago." When things are talked about in the present tense, it's related to the needs to accomplish their new greatest want. "We earned enough money to pay our mortgage this month." We redesigned our our narthex to make it neater." Those kind of things.
What do you do? You show the false math in a Christian way. (I stress the word Christian. The false image is a safety blanket. You don't rip safety blankets away.) Last week I said X+Y=Z. Z is our greatest want. X and Y are the means to get to that want. Our in other words, our needs to get to it. For these churches that have lost their ability to self-reflect their math looks like this:
A and B don't equal Z. X and Y equals Z. To help a person, congregation or church see the light you have to show how A+B=C. Help them see that their greatest want has changed. (Or worse, they never had Z as their greatest want.) We all know this is easier said than done. There are reasons people live in their brokenness. Honesty is a tool, but it often fails. People tape over their ability to self-reflect because they don't want honesty.
In the end individuals are blessed with freewill. Change has to be a choice for it to have a lasting effect. Therefore, until the person chooses to change, nothing really changes. This brings us around full circle. Let me define our monthly sentence:
Our needs should focus on Christ as our greatest want, if we desire positive transformation.
Make this statement your mantra. Hold yourself accountable to it. Hold us accountable to it. Ask "why" more often to find the want behind the need. Ask "why" more often to seek Christ in the methods.
Next week we will discuss "X" and "Y". Today, let's talk about "Z", or the end result. Everyone and everything has a "Z". "Z" can best be described as our greatest want.
The world is full of needs and wants. I used to think what we need is greater than what we want. I realize this couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, needs are picked by what we want. Let me give you an example. Jane wants to live. The want is the prime point. For Jane to live she needs to eat, find shelter, and stay healthy. See? The want figures out what the needs are. Let's do it again. John wants to play in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. For John to have a chair in the orchestra he needs to purchase an instrument, learn to play it perfectly, audition, and have those doing the audition feel he is better than everyone else who auditioned.
We all have lesser and greater wants. Our greatest want is what drives all of our decisions. I think if many were to name what the most common greatest want is, many would name the desire to live. I don't know if that is really the case. I would say there is a struggle between wanting to live, and wanting to be comfortable or happy. When these two (life and happiness) are sold as a package, it can motivate people to do horrendous things. People will sacrifice the life and happiness of others, to maintain their own.
This is where I want to seriously look at scripture:
9 “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. 12 This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
John 15:9-14 CEB
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 25 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them. 26 Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives? 27 For the Human One is about to come with the majesty of his Father with his angels. And then he will repay each one for what that person has done. 28 I assure you that some standing here won’t die before they see the Human One coming in his kingdom.”
Matthew 16:24-28 CEB
Before I get into how this works within a church or organization, let me suggest something radical that Jesus was the founder of:
Jesus wanted us to make God, in the form of Jesus, as our greatest want. If we understand the two texts under the idea of wants and needs, "saying no to themselves" would be replacing our greatest want, with Jesus. This completely alters why and how we do things. Instead of doing something for happiness, we are doing it to keep the Body of Christ healthy and happy. The outcome, when the Body is functioning correctly is health and happiness.
Now it should be obvious that the great want a church should always have is Christ.
Z is our greatest want. X and Y are the needs to get what we want. Now here's where things get complicated. We could all agree a church exists to make Z equal Christ. We could also probably agree that all the congregants are there for the same purpose.
Here is the hard to hear truth.
Not every person is in church for Christ. People go to church for all different reasons. Perhaps they want to get their children in something they feel would be safe. Perhaps they go because it is what they have always done. Perhaps the church is offering something the person can only get if they are a member. Maybe being a congregant is advantageous to the person in some way. For example, a politician might gain poll points for being an active member at a church. Some politicians go to church for the polls, not for Christ. No matter what the reason, their Z is different than Christ.
Those people will (mostly unknowingly) try to replace Z with their greatest need. This will derail the healthy transformative process, and break the church. Always. If you are in a broken church it is your job to discover that new Z, why it happened, when it happened, and put the church back on the correct path again.
This is what I want you to do this week:
Discover if your faith institution has Christ as their greatest want.
Try to name your own greatest want. Is it Christ?
About 6-7 years ago Atlanta was flooded. When I say flooded, I mean flooded. Austell was mostly underwater. Six Flags over Georgia was just as bad. The highway next to the theme park had major sections just covered with the Chattahoochee. That much water changes the landscape a bit. Right in front of our townhome the road just washed away. There was only enough space to get our vehicles out of the driveway. In front of my husband's school the entire road was just obliterated. A huge chasm remained where a road used to be. Similar stories were being told all over the West Atlanta area. To remember the epic flood, I grabbed one of the exposed rocks. I keep it on my desk as a reminder of the fragility of it all.
When we consider transformation, we often think of the radical kind. It's easy to pinpoint those aching chasms, or new mounds that form overnight. What we don't consider is the ongoing transformation that naturally happens. We don't consider how the Rocky Mountains are slowly transforming into something that will someday look like the Smoky Mountains. Yes, it's going to take thousands upon thousands of years, but it's happening.
We don't consider the transformation that happens within the natural growth process. Baby becomes child. Child becomes young adult. Young adult becomes adult. It's only when we are looking at those old pictures we see the transformation. We don't consider it day to day. "Oh, child, you have grown one centimeter today!" Sounds silly, doesn't it?
This gets me to my point. Everything in life is in some sort of transformation. Speaking spiritually, every group and person you come in contact with is shaping the future you. You can't help it. Every interaction, even the small ones, are affecting you in at least a small way. All those small, and not so small changes add up to a transformation you might not realize until years later.
If we want to move the church towards healthy transformation, we must first understand the transformation that has already taken place. Follow these steps, and comment on Facebook or Reddit:
It is time to get super intentional. Over the next few months we are going to look deeply into new church planting. After all, this is a new church plant. Our first journey is to look at the deceptively loaded sentence: "It doesn't mean something unless it transforms you."
This is what I'd like you do do:
(I'd like to thank Rob Lester. He donated an older version of Illustrator. I used it, in conjunction with Photoshop for this image. I'd also like to thank "Just Some Weird Guy," "Duchess of Shoofly," "Anonymous," and Kimberly Russell for donating money for the domain name. I know who you are. :) I'd also like to thank Jessica Nettles and Amanda Bales for helping look into cheaper domains. Finally, thank you for all the support throughout the years from everyone. Everybody makes this possible.)