It was always handy to have “Uncle Hank” next door. This was especially true if you were the “Denise the Menace” of the neighborhood like I was. You see, no matter what it was, I could break it! If I didn’t break it you could be assured that I would take it apart. However there was one BIG problem with that. It seemed that I could never get it back together again! I guess I would have made a great stand-in for one of those king’s horses or king’s men. You remember them, right? The guys who couldn’t put Humpty back together again.
Uncle Hank was more than my next door neighbor as I grew up. Uncle Hank was one of two men who had the greatest influence in my development as a youth. I would often see him crouched in a catcher’s position just gazing off into space. No matter what you may think, that was not odd behavior. All of us in the neighborhood knew it was the beginning of something magical. Sure enough a few days later there would be a pile of steel or wood in front of him. Uncle Hank would still be in that crouched position but this time he stared at the pile. A few days later carefully planned actions turned that pile into something magnificent. It may have been a new attachment for the garden tractor, a go-cart or something for in the house. It didn’t matter what it was, it would work. In fact, it would work better than anything you could go out and buy.
One day I found myself standing in front of Uncle Hank. I was probably seven or eight years old. A very special toy had mysteriously broke. I’m sure it wasn’t anything I did. It probably was one of those monsters who hide under my bed. Anyway I remember being in tears. I was sure no one, not even an expert “fixer-upper” like Uncle Hank, could bring my toy back to life. I will never forget what He said, “If you think long enough and work hard enough anything can be fixed.”
Today as an adult, I realize that there was nothing magical about Uncle Hank. He was simply a man who never gave up on the idea. His focus was on fixing and building things. He also had the wisdom to know the power of actions guided by a well thought out plan. But maybe there is something “magical” about that attitude and wisdom in our present day and age.
We live in a disposable society. Everything is obsolete in a few years. If it breaks, it is generally less expensive to go out and buy a new one than to repair it. We also live in a society of quick fixes and easy solutions. On any given evening problems like family disputes are resolved. On any given evening grief over the death of a loved one dissipates. On any given evening the world is saved from an alien invasion. All of this happens before our very eyes through the magic of video. Who takes the time to crouch down and think long enough or work hard enough to fix things these days?
I still have a great respect for men like Uncle Hank. In fact, I will always have a deep abiding respect for him. This is not so much for the magical things he could accomplish. My respect for him today comes from my respect of his character and his innate wisdom. When I got older it was not so much broken toys that I took to Uncle Hank. It was broken life situations—problems. He never spoke quickly. But when he did, he said more in a few words than I say in one thousand. His wisdom was always right on target.
Things began to change the deeper I got into Christian ministry. Part of it was probably because of my respect for Uncle Hank and the early wisdom he spoke to me. Remember it, “If you think long enough and work hard enough anything can be fixed.” Somehow that phrase worked its way deep down into my psyche. This affected me in one very positive way. It has given me a tenacity when working with troubled youth. No matter how much of a disposable society we live in—people, youth, even troubled youth are not disposable. I will never give up on them. It doesn’t matter how tough they are. It doesn’t matter what they have done. I am willing to stand by their side as a friend and as a coach. They may give up on me, but I never stop believing in their worth, greatness and potential. I mean, how can I give up on them? Father never gives up on me!
However, the deeper I got into Christian leadership, that same quote served me poorly. At first I did not think so. Everyone around me was studying leadership principles developed by well-meaning business and organizational professionals. We learned strategic planning (one of my favorites). We learned methods of motivating people to give their best. We learned basic and advanced management principles. We learned how to increase revenues and cut expenditures. I even spent five years honing my sales and sales training skills. All of this seemed to fit into the paradigm that evolved in my thinking from Uncle Hank’s quote. “If you think long enough and work hard enough anything can be fixed.” In fact, the first time I wrote about Uncle Hank, it was to introduce a team of ministers who gathered around me. We had thought out a great plan. We were willing to work long and hard. This was my answer to all the classes I had sat in. They were my “A-Team” and we were going to change the world of ministry to troubled youth. So what happened?
Oh don’t get me wrong. We impacted the lives of many disconnected troubled youth. But what was it that made the difference? Was it the great strategic plans we laid out? Was it the organizational strategies we developed, or the multi-colored charts?
Or was it something else?
When I talk to those now adults who were once “my kids,” they tell me what it was:
You and the others were always there.
We could always count on you guys to be available to us.
You spent time with us.
You did classes but you also helped each of us walkout the lessons you taught.
We knew we were always loved by you and the staff—even when you disciplined us.
You connected with us and planted seeds that are developing in our lives even now.
But here is the kicker. The more of an organization we built—the further away we got from the kids. The further away from the kids we got the less change we could see. The bigger the organization got the less important time with the kids got. When this happened many of us spent more time pouring over strategic plans and financial charts than time with the “kids.” That is when things began to fall apart.
Today the church is in big trouble. That is not my assessment. It is the combined assessment of many social scientists both inside and outside the church. Groups like the Barna Group and people like Thom Rainer as well as Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research all are ringing the alarm. The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors That Will Crash the American Church . . . and How to Prepare, is a book by John S. Dickerson. In this book he brings together all the latest studies on the condition of the church in America. After discussing these findings, John describes the church in these terms:
Sputtering (declining numbers)
Bleeding (failing discipleship)
Bankrupt (depleted dollars)
Hated (antagonistic host culture)
Here is another fact I just recently learned. When do you think the church Jesus founded had its greatest growth spurt? It was in the first two hundred years after it was first established. In the year 100 A.D. it is estimated that there were approximately twenty-five thousand Christians in the world. By the year 300 A.D. that number had climbed to twenty million.
How did they do it? Individuals did not have their own Bibles. The church had no buildings. The leadership had no seminaries to attend or special conferences from which to learn. They had no radios, televisions, computers or internet. They had no S. M A. R. T. goals, no strategic plans, and no marketing budgets. We use all these “things” to get the word out—to spread the Kingdom of God. Yet, we are sputtering, bleeding, bankrupt and hated.
The early church spread like wildfire. How did they do it?
I have read, over this last week, a dozen articles on the growth of the early church. Here are my conclusions drawn from those articles and the writings of the New Testament.
The early church did not make allegiances with any political entity. They paid their dues to the one in which they lived. However they did not see themselves as citizens of any country or adheres to any one political faction. They only had one King and served one Kingdom through one set of ideas. The king was Jesus. The Kingdom was the Kingdom of God. The ideas were the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.
The early church did not let the values and processes of their culture permeate their lives individually or corporately. They focused on living the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Those teachings became their values. Those values became the basis of their new culture. They did this even when those teachings and values were not “culturally acceptable.”
They focused on teaching through living. They did not set up schools of theology. What they knew they lived. As they lived it, they shared it with others. I like to call this “Lifestyle Teaching” as compared to typical classroom teaching. The Bible calls it Discipleship.
They did not try to get people to come to them. They went to them. They emphasized the use of their “treasury” on feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, healing the sick and caring for the elderly. This emphasis did not just stay in the community of faith. It was as important in the surrounding community as well. It was their “outreach methodology.” This gave them great respect by those outside the community of faith.
The early church was not a movement of the high and mighty (though some of these became a part of it). It was focused on the poor and the needy.
The emphasis was not on the individual but on the community. Disciples gave to meet the needs of others even when they did not have enough for themselves. They were more concerned about the needs of others rather than focusing on their own need.
Sacrificial giving and sharing of all one had was not mandated by leaders. It came as an outward expression of an inward reality--their new life in Christ.
The early church was a movement empowered by the Holy Spirit. It was not an institution empowered by positions, modern day processes, tax exemptions or culturally acceptable practices. It was simple, not complex. The complexity came in when it became an institution—and the growth (real growth) died.
So what do we say of these things.
The church is broke. Many of us are caught up in our ecclesiastical traditions and ways of doing church. We are blinded by these things from seeing the brokenness. Our reliance on 20th century business practices is one road block that keeps us from our greatness. When these things take us away from people, we break even deeper. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot put humpty together again.
Oh don’t get me wrong.
There is hope.
There is a plan.
It is a simple plan.
Jesus told us what to do and showed us how to do it—go make disciples. Paul laid the framework—each disciple a minister with leaders equipping disciples for ministry.
We have added the buildings, committees, salaries, strategic plans and marketing processes and focus on them. We focus on events. We focus on enticing people to come to us. We focus on how many come and how much money comes with them. All of this takes us away from investing our lives in people—and that is killing us!
Uncle Hank was right about tenacity—never give up!
But Uncle Hank would never complicated the simplicity of a proven plan.
Click on the picture below to watch an important message from Jim Warren about the content of this weeks blog
An audio version of this blog has been added below for your convenience. You may also download this audio by clicking on the download button.
Jim Warren highly recommends these books to go along with this weeks blog. When you click on them and purchase them from Amazon a portion of the sales goes to help provide scholarships for the youth and young adults we serve. Thanks for considering this purchase.