Sunday, April 12, 2015

What Should You Study?

Recently I listened to a speech by Jay Abraham, a well known business consultant who charges corporations $50,000 a day to increase their sales and most importantly, their bottom line. He also serves as a personal coach to celebrity personal coaches such as Tony Robbins and Jack Canfield. The essence of his message is the paradox of success. In order to advance your own agenda, you must forget about yourself and your agenda. Instead, you must focus on the agenda of your employer or your customers who are ultimately, your employer.

When I lived in Montgomery County, MD my pastors and church leaders constantly complained and moaned about the large number of the unchurched people in our area.

“How bad was it?” the audience asks. Enquiring minds want to know.

It was pretty bad. Probably somewhere over 90% of my neighbors stayed at home or did something with their families other than attend Sunday morning church services. I have seen numbers that indicate only around half of that demographically important jurisdiction even identifies themselves as a member of any religious tradition. Montgomery County is home to many highly educated Government employees and contractors, as well powerful, wealthy, culturally and politically influential men. Today, over 1/3 of the residents of this county were born in another country. In many ways Montgomery County could be viewed as a harbinger of our nation’s cultural future. If true, it doesn’t appear that traditional American Christianity has any place in that future.

Shortly after I arrived in that area almost 30 years ago, I formulated this problem into a question for church leadership, “What can you offer the people of Montgomery County that is so valuable TO THEM that they would be willing to sacrifice half a day of their precious free time to get it?”

People in the Washington area typically work 50 hours or more a week. Two income families are the norm. Their one way commute times run around the forty minute mark. Throw in a trip or two to the grocery store and the kids’ soccer practice we are adding close to another working day spent on the road every week. Sunday morning with a cup of coffee, the family, and the Washington Post are precious moments of peace in a weekly whirlwind of activity. If our family decides to attend church, getting the kids fed and dressed, loading everybody into the car, driving halfway across town, sitting through an hour and a half service, chatting briefly with church friends before driving home and changing clothes can easily add half a day of stress to already stressed lives.

Churches, like their members, tend to be absorbed in their own agenda. Like you and me they believe that what they want is the most important question facing the planet. Humans are like that. We Christians cloak our desires in God talk, “It isn’t about me. No, it is all about the sovereignty of God,” which conveniently calls for the faithful to pray, pay, and obey the church leadership that stands watch over their souls.

If churches in cosmopolitan areas like Washington, D.C wish to increase their body count and the size of the weekly offering, I would suggest another approach. Instead of telling sinners what they need to do in order to get right with a God whom they do not believe exists, find ways to add value to their lives and solve their problems.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when church membership was a necessary component in a socially respectable life. That day is over.

A man I greatly respect while meditating on the future of the church in America and the role of the pastor observed, “His people are as much his study as Bible and theology.”

Amen to that. What should a shepherd study other than his sheep?

A businessman looking to grow his business or an individual looking for a job is no different. Complaining about the wages and benefits offered by a potential future employer or ungrateful customers who don’t understand your business is unlikely to get you to where you want to go. Instead make it a point to stand in your employer’s or your customers’ shoes. View the world through their eyes. What do they want? How can you add value to their lives? How can you solve their problems? When you are able to answer those questions, then you will achieve your ambitions.

I believe that when the day comes that you find a way to become a greater blessing to your employer, your customers, your investors, and hopefully, some day, your employees, you will no longer need to concern yourself with your own agenda.

Your cup will overflow.

1 comment:

  1. I really like this quote about the role of a pastor, “His people are as much his study as Bible and theology.” Working bi-vocationally for most of my 25+ years in ministry, I experienced firsthand the exhaustion of the 40+ hour work weeks, and I often exhorted some of my minister friends to quit planning so many events that take away from people's precious free time. I believe we should extend grace to those who simply need to sleep on a Sunday morning. And I really believe in the value of shared meal where God's people learn to live into one another's lives. In that mutuality of life, gathering at church or occasional events becomes a form of refreshing family time (be it in small groups or even meals with fellow believers). Out of that shared communion, a form of church could emerge that offers deep value for the weary and stressed souls of our culture.