Sometimes its just a Pig Article

Here’s a link to an excellent and thought provoking article on the church. Perhaps we’ve made it into something that it never should have been. Perhaps it was perfect without our meddling…

Posted on by neighborhoodliturgy

So I’m sitting in a coffee shop, located in Powells bookstore, on Hawthorne in Southeast Portland watching a barista concoct a soy chai latte… for those of you unaware, you don’t get much more authentically Portland than that.  Certainly not everyone would agree with me on this, but do you have any idea what it’s like to be in a place where people just are as they are … so many in fact that it threatens the very idea of authenticity.  It’s hard to be unique when so many are trying to be unique right alongside of you.  I love Portland because its so ….. well its so undeniably Portland.  People aren’t really into relevance … unless of course relevance is to seem totally irrelevant … and irreverent at the same time. For so many years my life in the pastoral arts has revolved around an illusion of relevance, authenticity and the pursuit at all costs to cover up anything that didn’t lend itself to that.  It’s a never ending and futile pursuit that makes these moments in Portland shine like a diamond on the backdrop of a velvet Elvis print.  It’s not everyone’s cup of Chai to be sure, but for me it’s fresh and welcome.

Are you familiar with the phrase “putting lipstick on a pig”,  It make not make any sense to you unless you witness it first hand.  According to Wikipedia, the source of all wisdom, the phrase  “is a rhetorical expression, used to convey the message that making superficial or cosmetic changes is a futile attempt to disguise the true nature of a product or person.”  I’ll give you an example … we’ve lived for the past two years next to a home owned by a slumlord and rented by 4 college guys.  For the two years of our proximity and countless year prior this property was allowed to deteriorate, complete with the mandatory blue tarp hopelessly tacked to the roof while water continues to pour through the ceiling in various places … a few months ago, without warning, work began on the house … or should I say around the house … as in some contractors were enclosing the yard with brand new wooden fence and gate … all the while the roof continues to act as the perfect catch all and conduit for every rainfall Seattle has experienced in recent years … yes this is Seattle.  I saw one of our college age neighbors outside while this was going on and asked him what was up … his response was, and I quote, “putting lipstick on a pig”.  In other words … a futile attempt to distract from the reality of what was going on inside the house.

I’ve been reflecting a great deal on this lately.  My wife and I have had numerous debrief sessions on our years in a culture where it wasn’t uncommon to go to great lengths to create an appearance that distracted from the reality of what was going on inside local congregations … including our own.  I can go back mentally through the years pursuing church growth and church planting … denying the real issues while putting lipstick on the places that we were trying to be relevant in … thinking that we needed to make it beautiful, not realizing that, as a pig, it was quite beautiful on its own. In fact, people like pigs … don’t believe me, just head over to your State Fair.  For years I was a slave to the lipstick. I was embarrassed by the flaws … I wanted us to look like we knew what we were doing.  I bought all of the latest in ministry related lipstick and went to all of the best conferences to learn how to apply it … so that no one would know our church for what it really was.  Freedom has finally come, I am hoping and praying, with the realization sometimes its just a pig … and there is indeed beauty in that.

So much energy is wasted on making sure that we have the coolest (fill in the blank).  Countless millions are spent on creating theme park environments that attract families with school age children because they provide stability and income and energy while volunteers flow through like the Niagara River over the precipice of exhaustion and discouragement and families are being crushed under the weight of expectation and over-commitment.  Sometimes its just a pig.  Brilliant sermon series are formulated on the 7 steps to successful and faithful living for people who come crawling in the doors, not sure if they can endure one more broken promise, relationship failure, or financial hurdle.  Sometimes its just a pig.  We recruit worship bands who look and dress a certain way “that reflects the culture” when many they are called to lead can’t even begin to imagine the glorious doubt free lives that their smiling faces convey.  Sometimes, it’s just a pig.   Discipleship is marketed as a Sunday attendance carrot without the cost of “sitting in the dust of the master”.  Sometimes its just a pig.  The irony here is that, in our sincere desire to follow Jesus, we seek to put lipstick on all of the broken and imperfect parts of the journey … all the while his mission is to relentlessly reveal the natural beauty in the pig,

If I thought that this was all some nefarious evil plot, I’d be angry.  If I thought it was all a devious ploy by the Christian marketing machine to gain market share in spiritual cosmetics I’d be angry.  I don’t believe that at all.  I think its a mix of Western marketing, honest yearning for the best, and Satan’s brilliant distraction.  I think this because it has been and still too often is me.  As it is, I’m just sad.  I’m sad for my part.  I’m sad when I fall into it.  I’m sad for those who are left behind on the makeup counter of “our best”.  I’m sad when I don’t always remember that, as embarrassing as it can be, and as counter intuitive to “success” as it may seem, underneath it all … the church was only ever really a pig… and that in fact as such, it’s quite beautiful.


Same Patterns

A friend shared this thought on Facebook and I thought it worth sharing. I found this to pattern to be true in my own context as well as the context that I’ve heard from other pastors. Here’s the thought:

I see the same pattern happen over and over.

New pastor comes in to a struggling church. Makes necessary changes to reach the community. People get saved. People get baptized. Church starts to grow. Glory hallelujah!

But then a handful of church people start to get worried about the traditions that they’ve lost. Not worried about right theology. Not worried about actual holy living. Worried about the lights, the carpet color, the musical instruments, their favorite church program, and who’s on the platform. Not worried about people’s souls. Not worried about the task at hand. More worried about the tools being used.

So they start a talking campaign against the pastor. They recruit folks to their side. They make sure that folks are vocal enough the pastor and the other leadership hear about it. They snipe and they gripe.

The pastor fights it for a while, but eventually gives up, or starts to give in. And the cycle of decline starts all over again. It’s like the cycle in the Book of Judges. Cycle, cycle, cycle. Same, same, same.

“God help us to be different, but just do it without changing anything.”

The Great Commission is not about preserving church traditions. It’s about reaching (cliche alert) a “lost and dying world” while there’s still time.

Here’s how strongly I feel about this. I literally pray that if I was ever going to be one of those people who holds back the move of God led by a person or people God has chosen, commissioned, and anointed, that God would remove me from this earth rather than to let that happen.

No wonder the church is losing ground in America. We care about stuff more than we care about souls.


1950 or 2050

Recently, a friend challenged me to think about the church and ministry differently then how I’ve been trained in the past. My friend asked me to consider this thought, was what I dreaming about aligned more with 1950 or with 2050? Where is my focus?

I found this line of questioning profound. I am certainly not interested in going back to the 1950’s, but to think about 2050 requires a significant amount of time and processing. It also requires some heavy lifting in regards to simply retraining your brain to think this way.

Thinking about things from 1950 are relatively easy. You can look at the historical data and then craft a newer, updated version of what had success in the past and use that as a catalyst to determine success in the future. It’s not perfect, but most times doing the same things that were successful in the past, tend to work out okay in the present simply because there’s a pattern of understanding that everyone is used to.

But choosing to think about 2050 is much more dangerous and stressful. You have nothing to build off of so how do you do think about 2050 well? What is the criteria that you establish to know if the dream is on track? Where do you go when you find yourself sidetracked? What happens if there really is no dream and you’re just some mindless psychopath that is ranting and raving about something that is not grounded in reality? Who determines what the reality for the future is?

These are scary and intimidating thoughts. But perhaps, these are the thoughts that need to occur if you’re going to be focused on 2050 rather than 1950.

Somebody or Nobody?

Moses spent forty years thinking he was somebody; forty years learning he was nobody; and forty years discovering what God can do with a nobody.

Credentials or Character?

The Raiders/Antonio Brown drama is a perfect example of an organization hiring someone who had the credentials to perform, but not the character.

I see this as a significant reminder for anyone who is hiring for a position – you have to know that whoever you are hiring can be trusted – and trust only comes from character, not competency.

If you don’t hire for character, then the individual’s competency doesn’t matter. They might be a perfect fit from their resume, but if you can’t trust their character, you should walk away. You can always train and develop an individual’s competency, but rewiring their character is an almost impossible task.

You have to hire with this criteria and in this order:
Character – Can you trust the individual?
Competency – Do they have the skills or do they have a history of being able to learn the skills necessary for the position?
Culture – Do they fit in the organizational culture?

IF they have the Character, and IF they have the competency potential, and IF they can connect with the culture – that’s who you hire for the position.

The Servant Leader Paradox Poem

Strong enough to be weak, Successful enough to fail

Busy enough to make time, Wise enough to say “I don’t know”

Serious enough to laugh, Rich enough to be poor

Right enough to say “I’m wrong”, Compassionate enough to discipline

Mature enough to be childlike, Important enough to be last

Planned enough to be spontaneous, Controlled enough to be flexible

Free enough to endure captivity, Knowledgeable enough to ask questions

Loving enough to be angry, Great enough to be anonymous

Responsible enough to play, Assured enough to be rejected

Victorious enough to lose, Industrious enough to relax

Leading enough to serve

Poem by Brewer — as cited by Hansel, in Holy Sweat, Dallas Texas, Word, 1987. (p29)