Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Weird Space

This moment--right now--is an example of the kind of weird space I'm in these last few weeks (or months). It's about 1.30 a.m.--I should be in bed, but I can't sleep, the thoughts are too thick in my head. So instead I'm eating cold spaghetti with meat sauce with sriracha sauce on top and blogging. Yes, blogging. Why blogging? I really don't know, something about a vague commitment I made to average one post a day.

The scene wasn't much better at 12:30a.m. I was in bed. Lights off. Spouse and two cats in bed with me. But with my phone I read a PDF a friend (Brian Bukowski) linked on "The Community" about church marketing. It was short but dense. Most it was content I already knew, but the form was novel and I think it's the sort of thing that could be a good seed for the church to do a better job of reaching people. So (with my phone) I saved the PDF to Dropbox and then sent the link to Meredith Gould via DM on Twitter. She had already announced that she was offline for the night, but she'll see the link in the morning. Meredith is a Church Marketing maven, so I expect she'll have strong opinions about the piece one way or another. Reading it gave me a few ideas of things I should do differently, and made me long for the Environics Data we are ordering for Messiah. Should've done this years ago.

Then I tossed and turned thinking about all the stuff I have to do to develop the "Messiah Commons" project. Lots and lots of leadership development work. That means meeting with people and getting them to talk to each other, basically, to discover their unique gifts and calls. It takes time, and I don't have a lot of that at the moment. Thursday's annual Wycliffe Institute of Evangelism Dinner will be an important opportunity for me to introduce a few key personalities to each other, and I was fretting over some additional work I should do before these members of the "crew" meet. So much of the project is undefined, at the moment, and definition only seems to come in the context of conversation.

Luckily, I think I'll be seeing one of those conversation partners tomorrow, so from my bed using my phone I sent him a Facebook message asking whether he would, indeed, be at our mutual event tomorrow and whether I could bend his ear for 20 minutes to talk some more about the Messiah Commons project. He's also probably asleep--hence no immediate response. The beauty of Twitter and Facebook messaging is that I won't be waking them up (unlike a phone call or text message). They'll find these messages in the morning and reply in due course.

Then I thought some more about my other major project in the works. It involves a lot of creative work, so I puzzled through some thinking about that, and even used a calculator on my phone to do some back-of-the-envelope style projections to assess the feasibility of some scenarios in my head. I must have spent 5 minutes then questioning my premises. The problem with grant proposals is that everything has to be future tense, it seems, and it is nearly impossible to predict people's future behavior. Yet ignorance is no excuse for inaction.

I remember one time reading a short article written for people considering becoming doctors. One piece of advice I remember was that to be a Doctor you have to be okay making life and death decisions based on partial, incomplete, or even contradictory information. The stakes are much lower (usually) in ministry, but it's still the case that you often have to make decisions (or at least representations) based on partial, incomplete, or even contradictory information. Do I know how much coffee people will buy in the next three years if Messiah starts selling it on the sidewalk? Of course not! But I can make an educated guess. I can tell you (really) which coffee shops in our area sell a shot of espresso for $3.35 and which sell it for $2.71. And at 12.45am I can calculate how many espressos we would have sell each year to support a full-time Batista-pioneer-minister. I even made the calculation using Reverse Polish Notation, just to get my geek on even more. Then I wish my friend with an MBA lived in town, because I would seriously put him to work on this puppy.

I don't think everyone in church-land thinks this kind of thinking is awesome. I got some push-back recently after talking about it that sounded to me like, "It is presumptuous to plan for mission; God will provide for us; we just need to surrender to His will." Ahh, hmm. In my head I thought of the flood-roof-top-rescue-Peter's-gate joke, but resisted telling it (kind of a cheesy and predictable joke, anyway). I also thought of the Arabic Proverb, "Trust In Allah But Tie Up Your Camel," but I didn't think that would be well received, either. So I said something about how God's unprecedented grace elicits a response in us--that we are invited to cooperate in God's work in the world.

To put in another way, we might throw ourselves down at the foot of the Throne and push our noses into the hard stone and pledge our eternal obedience to the God of all creation and hear his holy command echo through the Temple. Why would we scoff at "Count my sheep" or "Put up my sign" or "Make coffee and put out a few scones"? Would it be better if the Lord were asking us something really vague/koan-like: "Love your neighbour" or "If your right eye causes you to sin pluck it out?"

I had a parishioner challenge me after worship recently: "I don't understand what counting cars has to do with evangelism." It's a good question. Before I could answer she started talking about how she thought we needed a better sign on the street. "Ah," I asked, "What kind of sign? Should it be designed to be most readable on foot or in a car? How big do the letters need to be? How long can the message be?" She immediately grasped by point and nodded.

A pastor's prayer: "Lord, send me an accountant." Imagine the havoc one could unleash with a few deeply analytical thinkers puzzling through the problems of the church today... I don't think many of us would like their conclusions very much. But, then, we don't particularly care for prophets of any base methodology when they tell us to change.

So I'm just descending deeper in my rabbit hole of church-nerd weirdness. Studying my Google Analytics and Environics reports--confident that there is a Deus Machina somewhere down here. If you want to help, feel free to toss a few batteries down.

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