Prosperity Gospel Testimonies

If you've spent much time in an evangelical church, you have probably been trained on how to share your "story." We teach people how to tell their story of faith in a way that allows the Gospel to be clear so that someone else could hear about what Jesus Christ has done in our life and think about their own response to the Gospel. No question, it's an incredible way to share your faith.

But (and I include myself in this), we need to be more careful how we train people to share their story. 

The normal parameters for a person's story are these: 

1. Tell about your life before you trusted Christ.
2. Tell how you trusted Christ. 
3. Tell how your life has changed.

The problem I have as I think more about it is with the third step. Because we want people to be compelled to  trust Christ through our story, the temptation is to load-up the third part of our story with all the incredible things that happened after we put our faith in Jesus. After we trusted Christ, we stopped smoking cold turkey, stopped cussing on the golf course, stopped reacting in anger against our employees, and experienced peace and joy that we'd never experienced before. The sky started raining lemon drops and gumdrops, and our home life was instantly transformed into a 1950s television show. 

The problem is, in doing so we inadvertently preach a prosperity gospel to people, causing them to make assumptions that aren't true. Sometimes after you trust Christ, bad habits don't automatically go away. Sometimes after you trust Christ your family still falls apart. Sometimes after you trust Christ your friends abandon you, or you get sick, or you lose your life-savings in a bad investment you prayed hard about.  

Trusting Christ doesn't ensure that your life will instantly get better, or even that it will trend better (in purely experiential terms) over the long-haul. You don't have to read the New Testament very long to recognize that sometimes life gets harder.

We've got to go deeper in our stories and stop treating them like bad infomercials. 

We don't want to rock the boat in the other direction either. The doom-and-gloom gospel isn't any more honest than the prosperity gospel. The hope of the gospel isn't simply that it improves our day-to-day circumstances. It's that it recasts those circumstances whether good or bad in light of eternity so that our response to those experiences springs-up from hope that is found somewhere outside what happens to us (Colossians 1:5). 

The Gospel is compelling on its own. We don't have to spin a positive story to make it more compelling. In reality, when we do that we make the Gospel less compelling because we promise something that doesn't always deliver on the back-end. 

Funerals are Mandatory

Three years ago I made a post about how I believe funerals should be mandatory for leaders. It's something Rudy Giuliani talks about in his book on leadership.

Anyone can be there when times are good; it takes a leader to show up when times are rough. But as I continue to attend funerals, I'm increasingly convinced that the primary benefactor of a funeral is the leader; not the people he leads.

Maybe it's morbid and weird, but there's something about a funeral that re-calibrates you.

Sometimes funerals can be encouraging. Nobody remembers your small mistakes - the ones you stew about all day - after you're gone.

Sometimes funerals are stimulating. They help us think about what people will remember about us. Will we be remembered for a lasting contribution to the lives of others, or will people only tell funny stories about us? Will it be obvious that people are searching for anecdotal stories to fill the time, or will it be obvious that they've been forced to condense because of the legacy of a life-well-lived?

I know it's a morbid topic, but if you've got half a reason to go to a funeral you really should go.

Interconnected Systems

I just finished "Leading Change" by John Kotter. It's a fantastic book for leaders who are attempting to help their organizations be better in fundamental ways.

In the book, Kotter talks about the difference between leading change in unconnected and interconnected systems. His insight is brilliant.

Imagine walking into your office and deciding you're ready for some change. Probably, you'll do it on your own. Shift the desk from one side of the office to the other side, take down a picture and use a hammer to nail a new picture on a different wall, move the bookshelves from one place to another. And by the end of the day, you'll be able to look at your office and say, "Wow. That looks better."

That's an "unconnected system." And, it's the kind of change most leaders have led successfully throughout their leadership.

Now, imagine walking into the same office for the same project, only now the bookshelves are connected to the desk with steel cables. The pictures are tied to the books on the shelf. Tables and chairs have wires attaching them together, and they're connected to the desk and the bookshelves.

That's an "interconnected system." It's the kind of change that's extraordinarily difficult for leaders and for those he leads.

The leader thinks he's simply moving the desk. Everyone in the office knows the desk needs to move. But when he moves the desk, the books fall off the bookshelf and everyone (including the leader) is surprised. Everyone knows the picture needs to go but can't figure out why nobody can seem to get the picture to budge from the wall.

Leading change within an interconnected system is tough work. The end-result is this: You'll likely have to change things that aren't intuitive to everyone in order to keep the bookshelves from falling over; expend more energy than your team initially expected; and make more changes than you imagined at first. It's tough, but it's the only way to the office everyone dreams of.

Have you experienced this? What other insight would you add to Kotter's discussion of interconnected systems?

Bridge or Destination?

One of the conversations our staff is having a bunch these days: Is this program a bridge or a destination?

Churches are notorious for creating programs to meet specific needs at specific times but with very little long-term clarity about how the program fits within the overall purpose of the church. That kind of lack of clarity leads to bloated budgets, overwhelmed staff, confusion of purpose, untouchable sacred cows, and programs that no longer accomplish what they were designed to accomplish.

From my perspective, programs need to be either bridges or destinations.

Bridges have the singular goal of helping a person span from one destination to another. You don't live on a bridge. They're utilitarian. As a result, you can tell whether or not a bridge is working by figuring out whether or not the people who get on the bridge exit the bridge in the place the bridge was designed to take them. If they get stuck on the bridge, fall off the bridge, or end up in the wrong place, you might want to examine your bridge.

Destinations are the places you land. You stick there and live for long periods of your life. You shouldn't need many destinations because destinations should sustain life fairly well. You can tell whether or not a destination is working by looking at how frequently someone has to hop on a bridge to get their legitimate needs met at another destination.

Would you build a house in a place where you had to drive long distances on a regular basis to get your basic needs met? Where you had to drive across one bridge to get groceries, cross another bridge to get to the doctor, cross two bridges to buy clothes, and another bridge to go to the restroom, and another two bridges to return to your home? Of course not - you would spend your whole life in the car.

Unfortunately, a lot of churches do this to people all the time. We create hundreds programs, each designed to provide a single basic discipleship need for people. We've got hundreds of bridges that go in hundreds of directions toward hundreds of destinations. Then we wonder why our churches aren't knocking the ball out of the park when it comes to disciple-making. People can't navigate our systems and don't want to live there anyway. So, they pick and choose the bridges and destinations that are closest and ignore the rest.

We've got to be more strategic at asking fundamental questions before we start a new program: If it's a bridge, is it the most strategic bridge to get people where they're going? If it's a destination, do we really want people to live here?


On my "to do" list for the last two weeks has been, "blog something." So here it is.

I've been completely under water with some classwork I'm finishing up and some neat things at church so the blog has suffered. I'm committed to getting back on the horse - blogging is too important to me for several reasons.

We've got a big Vision night for leaders this Saturday and then a neat Sunday - baptizing somewhere around 30 people this week. I'll be back in the saddle next Monday.

Small Improvement to a Big Overhaul

I read this quote the other day by Robert E. Kelly in "How to Be A Star at Work."

"Star performers do small day to day self improvements that add up over time. Roof raising impact seldom happen without a long string of smaller efforts preceding them."

It's not just true in work; it's true in life. Small changes every day add up, and often last much longer than grandiose overhauls. If you decide you want to be a Bible reader, your best bet is to commit to a small change in your routine today: get up 5 minutes earlier and read a chapter of the Bible before you get out of bed. Add 5 minutes and 1 chapter every month and by the end of the year you'll be reading your Bible for an hour every day and on track to read through the Bible somewhere around 3 1/2 times per year.

Decide tomorrow that you're going to start waking up an hour early every morning to read 12 chapters of the Bible, and you'll be lucky to make it a week.

If you're looking to grow in an area, small tweaks over a relatively short amount of time can really pay off.

Vision and Direction

One of the most difficult things for a leader is clarifying vision or direction for the group she leads.

The leader lives with the vision for a long time before he begins to go public. At that point, he sees all the interconnected parts and can be tempted to assume others will innately see those things as well. By that point, the vision is patently obvious to him - it's frustrating when it isn't patently obvious to everyone else.

If your team isn't "getting" your vision, it could be a problem with the way you are communicating the vision. It might be a problem with the vision itself. And it could be a problem with the person you are trying to lead.

Two-thirds of the problems with helping vision stick are the fault of the leader. Only one third is the problem of the people we lead. Yet in my experience, leaders tend to blame others the majority of the time.

"They weren't paying attention."
"They have different instincts."
"They aren't a team player."
"They are pulling in a different direction."

At least two-thirds of the time it's not "their" fault.  Assume first that it's a problem with your leadership. Assume they want to follow you if you'll lead them clearly. Rule out a flaw in your leadership before you bank on a problem with someone's followership. When you play the odds, it is usually to your benefit.

The Error of the "But"

As you might expect, I've had a few conversations about Rob Bell's recent book "Love Wins." Yes, I read it several months ago and will review it one of these days when my anger subsides.

However, in the meantime, I hear an opposite error from many people who want to critique Bell's theology that I think is also dangerous.

From time to time, while pointing out the fallacy of saying that if love "wins," hell can't exist, I hear people remind each other that "God is loving but He is also just."

It's a subtle error, but often subtle errors are sometimes just as catastrophic as the more obvious kind.

When we are talking about the perfections of God, Justice and love aren't opposites; they exist together.

If love is defined from a purely human standpoint, love and justice do contrast; but God doesn't define love by our romanticized, erotic, and selfish perspective. He defines love at the cross (1 John 4:10). The cross is the place where love and justice intersect. The Father loves us so much He sent His Son to die for us.The Father is so concerned about justice that He sent His Son to die for us.

If God is not just, He can not be loving. If God is not loving, He need not be just. If God's love doesn't demand His justice, Jesus' death goes down as the greatest overreaction in all of history.

When you set the two up as a contrast, you end up with the same heresy Bell does; you just come at it from a different side. When God's justice and love are separated from one another, you end up with neither justice or love... exactly where Bell ends up.

It isn't that God is just but also loving; it's that God is just and also loving.