Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Our Episopal Default Future is a Racket

The reality is that we, like all denominational churches, face our default future. This reality isn't unique to us.

Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan authors of THE THREE LAWS OF PERFORMANCE argue - all humans typically face and receive the futures that they believe will pass. They argue that this reality illusion has more power of humans than actual facts or reasons.

It is like this, how a situation occurs to you goes hand in hand with your actions. This is amplified by the fact that what we see is all there is, and the world seemingly revolves around us as individuals. David Foster Wallace in his Kenyan College Graduation speech offered this understanding of our self-centeredness. He believed that we are deluded by the lens by which we experience the world – this is part of our problem and it hides the most obvious realities. He wrote, "A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded… [because] everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence... Think about it: There is no experience you've had that you were not at the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real” that it is difficult to hear the other voices. Wallace says, "As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head. In fact some of you are carrying on that conversation right now.”

Daniel Kahneman in his book THINKING FAST AND SLOW calls it "observation bias."

What these authors, economists, and business men are offering is the essential truth that we see the world as it occurs to us and therefore make actions that suit our observations.  We make our future - one way or the other.

The question that Bob Johansen, of Institute for the Future, is asking is what insights are you using to make your decisions.

So lets go back and think a bit about our Episcopal Church (or any denomination thinking about how to structure itself, judicatory, or congregation for that matter). This summer our Episcopal Church will meet in convention and ponder how to structure itself for mission.  It will ask the same questions it has been asking for two decades, and they are similar to all denominational churches in our time. In particular our church structure has spent enormous amounts of time and energy pondering what the future looks like - TREC. Now that TREC has returned with their version what structure could be the population of general convention is thinking - "no". There are other groups offering similar ideas as TREC. There are groups trying to amplify the work of all these people to convince the general-convention-going deputies that they need to vote positively to restructure the church.

But the deputies have not spent a lot of time on this. They have not spent three years reading and studying things, listening to consultants, dreaming about mission, and then attempting to build consensus in a wildly diverse group of people around common future scenarios of a mission church. This isn't to place a value on the lack of this work, but it is to point out that the deputy will vote based upon how the church occurs to them. And here is the rub.

The future is as it occurs and is already written by the deputies - and it isn't the future TREC or any other group is offering. The reason is that it is the default future. The deputies will vote, as all others have voted, and as of right now the vast majority of efforts towards restructuring will fail. The restructuring offers  a means to an end and that end is not how the deputies see the church; it isn't how it occurs to them. That is just the way it is.

70% of all change efforts fall short because those who are actually in charge of the change don't change but vote or act as the church has always occurred to them. 70% fall short despite our good intentions, sophisticated systems, we have put a great group of people in the room, we have a solid management plan, and good leaders who came up with TREC report (I am biased of course having been a member of the committee).

The reason is that what occurs to the vast numbers of deputies may be one of the following: a) all structure proposals fail b) I don't think our system is broken c) to change will remove power from me d) I like how things work e) our predecessors chose this system for a reason. Regardless of context, potential, crisis, problems, expressed concern about the continued loss of membership and money, or any other reason these 5 different ways in which the church occurs to the people will rule the day. The 5 different ways the church occurs to the deputies is not only a voting block to ensure no movement but it is an intimately strong web of occurrences that are not changed by reasonable argument, future forecast, power points, and graphs.

The traditional approach, Zaffron and Logan argue, is for us to make our case. Show our research. Offer a view of what is really happening. Look at the numbers. "See here it is," we might say, "it is clear." Current models for change management hold that people act based upon mental assets of skills, emotions, beliefs, values, attitudes, and knowledge. And the traditional approach is to use incentives, skill training, and motivation to manage the change. Zaffron and Logan point out that this is why the effort fails. None of this deals with how the actual church and future church occurs to the people who actually will be making a vote.

No matter how much money, resources, time we spend throwing at this problem we will fail because we have forgotten (as Simon Sinek points out) The Why.

The reality is that the unanimous vote in both houses to restructure was created by casting a vision of a future church that was involved in mission at all levels of the organization. People believed - even for a moment - that the possible was in fact, well, possible.

Over the last two decades the change efforts have failed at General Convention (not because they were bad ideas) because we never changed how the church occurred to those voting. Consequently, each effort that has failed has reinforced and strengthened the resistance to change. We are so focused on the what and the what has grown stronger and stronger and more resistant to change. Not only that - we benefit from keeping it this way.

We as a church, and General Convention (or any judicatory), have a racket. The first part of our racket is this: we have a complaint about how things work. Everyone is complaining. We heard it clearly at TREC, that everyone has problems with how things work - even if they denied publicly that this was true, we heard it privately over and over again. The second part of the racket is this: we write about it, talk about, speach-ify about it, call for change, we act hopeless and bewildered at how no one will change. The third element Zaffron and Logan offer is harder to see. We all see the above two behaviors of our Episcopal racket. The next behavior is the payoff. The payoff for our particular racket is that we get to be right, the depersonalized system is wrong, avoids the reality that we are part of the system, and we maintain control of our platform or place on the convention floor. The fourth behavior to our racket is the cost. The cost is that we remain hopeless to change anything, we continue to spend money and time with very little to show for it, we disenfranchise people across the church, and we harm the mission of Christ.

We have a default future and it is a racket that costs the mission of the church dearly and hurts the community and mission of Christ. We need to divest from this racket and this way that the church occurs to us. It is not what God intends.

Here is where that old maxim about the sea comes in, attributed to Antoine de Saint Exupery, "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."

Jesus offered us a vision of nothing less than the reign of God. Jesus offered us plenteous redemption. Jesus offered us healing and forgiveness. Jesus offered us a share in his harvest ministry.  Jesus invited us to come along and to meet an intimate transformative God.  This vision held up against the way we do things today brings about change.

The solution to bringing about change will depend on Jesus' vision of the church and the following behaviors of its adherents. 
  • We need to focus on the hopeful future potential of our church and our church's mission.
  • We need to speak about the future (not the current state of affairs, not the problems, not the racket - for that we need to go to confession and seek amendment of life).
  • We must paint a compelling and vibrant future together, speaking and listening one another into a conversion that seeks to be the community that Jesus inspired.
The challenge as we enter this season of preparation and debate will must be a season of inspiration and imagination. So I invite you to lift up your eyes. Take a look towards the horizon. What does a vibrant, beautiful, living, healthy and powerful church look like as it undertakes mission through evangelism and the service of neighbor? What does the future church look like as it sails into the contextual sea that surrounds you? Leave behind the vision of the church that occurs to you, and take up the future church that you are willing to work towards?

It will be those who can cast a vision of this future church who will win the day regarding the future shape of our organization. I believe it will be the bishop who can inspire us to imagine this future church who will be the next Presiding Bishop. We should demand inspiration and vision from our leaders. We should hope together to discover the open sea that is before us. 

I think that Jesus' vision of community is worth working together to bring to light. I think that vision, the one you have in your head right now, that church is worth the labor of change.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Great Invasion of Multi-colored Lobsters and Pentecost

Sermon preached on Pentecost at Trinity Episcopal Church in Midtown Houston Texas, Pentecost, 2015.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015


On Saturday my new book CHURCH launched.

This first book is a sizable text of over 540 pages; over 30 of them footnotes. It is a historical and futuristic view of the potential God has in store for the denominational Church.

Regardless of denomination, if you are a thought leader, clergy, pastor, deacon, theologian, missionary, a social communicator,or lay leader working on God's mission - this is a book for you. If you are trying to understand the changing context in which we find ourselves undertaking ministry I think you should read this book. If you love the history of the denominational church and are interested in how that history prepares us for our future you will enjoy this book.

You can purchase CHURCH by clicking HERE.

This is the product of my sabbatical and an essential piece of understanding the bedrock research from which our strategic plan has emanated and to where we are leaning. I believe as a friend says - leaders make the future. We must step into our future by taking action today that will help us find our way in world that is volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous. With the Gospel in hand, and the Holy Spirit within us, we are to groan towards the future of creation intended by God.

Where the church is not making headway or does not reflect the kingdom we must be willing to change. I find that the denominational church has a tendency to want to be resurrected before it is willing to die. Truly this is the characteristic of human institutions at their worst. But God is calling us forward into a new something that resembles more the kingdom God has in store for all of creation.

My hope is that this text will offer leaven to feed the Church's imagination around the work before us. It is an offering to God and the Church. It is an offering to all those who have lost hope in their denominational church over the last two decades. Most of all, it is an offering for those who deeply desire to be part of what God is doing in the world around us. It is you, the imaginative lover of Jesus, passionate missionary, and worldly pilgrim, whom I hope to engage in a discussion about the future. 

I am ever grateful to my pre-readers across the country, my reviews who have been excited about the text, and Virginia Theological Seminary Press for supporting my efforts. I am also grateful to the Diocese of Texas for the space and support to write the book. 

I hope you, as a thought leader in your denomination, read CHURCH (from VTS Press) then gather a small group of friends together and read GENEROUS COMMUNITY together (from Church Publishing which publishes in October of 2015). 

Together these two books will help create a cadre of leaders, conversation partners, that can help transform your congregation, lead you to plant new missional communities, help you transform the community and context in which you find yourself.

A GENEROUS COMMUNITY: BEING THE CHURCH IN A  NEW MISSIONARY AGE is a brief book of stories and reflections to help create an imaginative synergy between leaders and people who wish to ponder and act upon God's invitation to be at work in the world on his behalf. The book goes deeper with a set of questions, further reading, and opportunities for action which can make a vision of who we are becoming come to life in the midst of the community in which you serve.

I am grateful to Church Publishing for seeing the value of this book as a partner text to CHURCH and for the resources they put behind the effort. I am especially grateful to the Rev. Canon John Newton for assisting me in writing the reflection questions. I am also especially indebted to my new friend and editor Richard Bass who dreamed this dream with me and who did the laborious work of editing down CHURCH. Eager to keep the history and technical information in the hands of denominational thought leaders, Richard saw immediately the gift that A GENEROUS COMMUNITY could have for the parishes across the denominational church. He quickly became an essential team member and I am so glad that Church Publishing saw fit to attach him to the project.

You can purchase A GENEROUS COMMUNITY by clicking HERE.

The Bishop Richardson Society Speech

The Bishop Richardson Society is a group of individuals who have placed the ministry of Christ Church Cathedral Houston in their wills to insure the mission of the Cathedral into the future. A few fun reflections and thoughts were shared thanking those present for making a planned gift.

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Diocese of Texas Vision Presentation at Santa Maria Del Virgen

Presentation of the Diocese of Texas 5 year strategic plan for shared ministry with members of Santa Maria, May 2015

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Blog Archive


  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball