Advent Day 10: Why Are We Doing This Again?

I work as part of a Learning & Development team that is working to effect some culture change in my location and my manager sent me presentation on why companies’ attempts to change the behavior of their workforce often fail. The parallels to church are staggering. Read the original, then after that, my modified version. With commentary, of course.

Behavior change fails because organizations typically fall into one of these five traps:

1. Focus on learning as an event, not a process

2. Use “The Field of Dreams” approach – focus efforts solely on building an online place in which learners can share knowledge. Unlike “The Field of Dreams,” if you build it, they may not come

3. Focus on e-learning, which can be effective for knowledge acquisition, but not always for behavior change

4. Focus on the delivery and measurement part of a learning initiative to the exclusion of the communication and alignment pieces

5. Build tools without clarity about what the end state should look like, or means to measure it

Ok, now the church version (my changes are in bold italics):

1. Focus on conversion as an event, not a process.

This summer at their annual convention, the Southern Baptist spend days (DAYS) debating a resolution regarding the so-called “Sinner’s Prayer.” In my opinion, their time would have been better spent discussion how the Sinner’s Prayer has become a checklist for eternal life rather than the beginning of a life-long journey. I tend to pick on them more than anyone else because I know them best but that’s true of most churches. Say the prayer, make the public confession/commitment, and BOOM, you’re in. It’s just like saying your wedding vows and never speaking to your spouse again but always filing your taxes as “married”.

2. Use “The Field of Dreams” approach – focus efforts solely on building an place in which learners can share knowledge. Unlike “The Field of Dreams,” if you build it, they may not come

Self explanatory, yet here I am commenting anyway 🙂

Matthew 28:19-20, known as the Great Commission, reads, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” The original language, however, is different. It reads, “As you are going, make disciples of all nations…” A small difference yet it is entirely different. To “go” sounds like an event, like an assignment that you do outside of your normal life. It’s what we use to justify sending missionaries all over the world. They’ve been called to “go”. But “as you are going” is much more universal. This means that it’s a call to everyone, not to step out of your everyday life to make disciples, but rather to integrate disciple-making into your everyday activities.

What does this have to do with the “Field of Dreams”? We’ve built churches, set up websites, scheduled services and told the world, “You are welcome to join us.” That’s asking them to rearrange their life to hear our message. Kinda backwards. We should be making disciples as we are going. We should be living compelling lives. People should want to know Christ because of the little glimpses of him that we show them in our everyday lives. If they want to come to church, great, but that’s not the be all, end all.

3. Focus on Bible study & a good sermon, which can be effective for knowledge acquisition, but not always for behavior change

As a church, our focus isn’t always on long-term transformation. We want to fill people’s heads with knowledge about God but we don’t give them the tools to really know God, we don’t create space for meditation, prayer, or spiritual practices.

4. Focus on the delivery and measurement part of a sermon to the exclusion of the communication and alignment pieces

I’m one of the worst folks when it comes to visiting churches, as are most seminary grads. Seminary ruins you for hearing sermons. But, as a church lifer and a learning professional, there is a tendency to focus on the learning “event” rather than the follow up or the alignment before and after. The sermon shouldn’t be the sum total of anyone’s spiritual education. It should enhance one’s personal practice. We’ve put a lot of pressure on our pastors to deliver our spiritual diet. We only eat once a week, so it had better be good!

5. Build tools without clarity about what the end state should look like, or means to measure it

Our end state should be to look and act like Jesus. We do all kinds of programs or events that are designed to draw people in to our churches, but once we’ve done that, once we’ve gotten them in the door, we have very little to offer them about who we are and why we do what we do. We should provide programs and opportunities for people to become more fully devoted to Christ, ways for them to reach to the community, groups where they can focus on formation, and then we should be able to see growth and change in our communities and in our cities. We don’t have ways to measure our transformation because we don’t really expect it, and if it happens we’re surprised by it. Unfortunate, because that’s ostensibly the business we’re in.

The definition of learning is a change in behavior. Are we  seeing that? If not, we’re not doing our jobs, at work or at church. Now we’re in Advent, but once we get to Christmas, Jesus has come and everything has changed. What about us has changed in the last week, month, year?

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