The Purpose Driven Church

Purposedrivenchurch

The book I’m about to start reading and thinking about again is “The Purpose Driven Church” by Rick Warren. I first read this about six years ago after a long period of doing very little at church other than turning up, singing, listening and being polite before going home. God grabbed my attention with Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life”, and that catalysed a trip back into some proper following of Jesus.

At the same time, in my job I was looking to grow as a talent coach and leader. I love helping to develop people’s creative ability and their other gifts which they may or may not recognise as God-given. NLP was just starting to get fashionable in work circles, and I was a bit skeptical about its basis and effectiveness. But I was interested in finding out about it, as well as anything else which might help develop people.

I think God grabbed my attention at this point and wanted me to spend time learning how he develops people, and I made a link and a leap. The link was starting to realise that God’s principles are ingrained in us and our world, we might not credit them as his, and we might rebel against them, but we can recognise them and they are GOOD. That’s how God made the world. When we are creative, we are doing something God loves doing, and reflecting some of the character of the creator. Is everything we create good? No, because we’re not God and we are corrupt, but the good news is that God made us to be with him and makes that possible in Jesus. And there is something attractive about Jesus, something a lot of unchurched, irreligious, rebellious, normal people recognise and respond to.

The leap was to start testing a theory, which I’m still testing. What if God’s principles for how we grow and develop weren’t just attractive and useful in church, but also to the people I was trying to coach?

As I got into this, I wanted to find out about the very best church practices I could find. Rick Warren’s church seemed like a pretty good place to start, and “The Purpose Driven Church” was a welcome revelation. Here was someone who took craft seriously, had some proven methods and not just untested theories, and had a very sensible sounding challenge for the church. Why weren’t we “purpose driven” too?

I went on to read other books which had some useful criticism of Rick Warren’s approach, and I think there are lots of questions in my mind now about how useful “Purpose Driven Church” can be for bodies of post-modern minded people with few resources and little will to set up university-style training schemes or set up marketing plans.

But I’m re-reading this now as part of a project with our church interns who will come together to share insights learned from this book, a more post-modern “Emerging Church” book by Dan Kimball and the radical “Organic Church” thinking of Neil Cole. I’m going into it hoping to be reminded of the solid, practical stuff I first loved about Saddleback but, more importantly, I’m wanting to marvel again at what the Holy Spirit can do when very different groups of people, in very different cultures, decide that following Jesus is the most important thing.

What? Another blog? What’s this for?

I’m using this blog as a personal journal as I read things I’m going to discuss with other people. Generally that means factual, spiritual and business type books rather than the latest Maeve Binchy, but who knows?

Why a blog rather than just write stuff in a book? I lose books, blogs are free, I can email into this one, and, as you’ve made it here, I don’t mind you looking over my shoulder. In fact, it’s nice to meet you – hello!

Now excuse me, this book looks big and I’ve got to get on with reading it…

Can’t believe I’d never thought about this until today

While chatting about suitable music for the Dennis The Menace show on Fun Kids, how did I not realise before – Dennis is an emo kid waiting to happen. It’s just one heartbreak away…

Why our cats “get it” more than Microsoft

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I’ve been playing with the idea of drawing a model for how our cats seem to make decisions. I’m not sure why, it seems like it might be fun and, if not exactly useful, maybe an entertaining way into explaining something important one day.

It strikes me there are two major forces at work – comfort and curiosity. Our cats want comfort. They can take any amount of fuss and attention, up to the point where they become uncomfortable (e.g. discovering they didn’t really want a belly scratch after all) and then they will go off and make themselves comfortable elsewhere. The only thing which seems to stop them staying in one comfortable place all day is, I propose, the idea that they might find more comfort somewhere else, and curiosity is their internal drive which pushes them to take occasional risks. They will trade some short term comfort in search of more long term comfort. These cats are not stupid or lazy, but they love comfort a lot.

What’s interesting to me is how comfort and curiosity sometimes oppose each other (“stay here, it’s comfy” is the opposite of “don’t stay here, there might be something better outside”). But a cat makes decisions, judging between opposing options, and not in a random way. Each of our two cats has what we would call “character” or “personality”, its own way of making decisions which we recognise as consistent and different from the other cat. Character and personality are really interesting, and I guess the idea that we might learn something about these things by observing our cats might sound a bit weird. But it seems interesting enough to be worth a go, and I’m sure I’m not the only person to have thought about it.

So I searched online to see who else has explored this area, and found something I didn’t expect. Googling for “cat decision engine” (with quotes, so searching for the exact phrase) produced no results. No-one on the interwebs has ever used this phrase. Woo hoo, I’m a pioneer!

But what does come up when searching for a cat decision engine (without the quotes) is a lot of stuff about Microsoft designing Bing to be a “decision engine” rather than just a search engine. I’m back to asking a familiar question – does Microsoft still “get it”, or has all their cleverness evaporated somewhere along the way?

Well, let’s see how they came up with this “decision engine” idea. The foundation seems solid. My Google search pointed me to this article in which Bing director Stefan Weitz explains that search, in many ways that we currently use it, isn’t broken and doesn’t need fixing. This means there isn’t a big opening for a competitor to Google. So rather than try and do Google’s job 1% better, Microsoft looked to understand better how people use search, where it currently works well, and where it works less well. Sounds like a great start. So what did they find?

It seems that half of the time people search, their sessions are very short. They need an answer to a simple question, they find a fact listed which delivers that answer, job done. Current search engines seem to provide relevant answers quickly and efficiently. It’s the sort of job search engines seem to be designed for.

But the other half of a person’s search time is spent in “a few long sessions”. People are using the internet for more complex tasks than fact finding – booking a holiday, for example – and they may go straight to a specialist site (e.g. Expedia) to do that. However, people seem to use general purpose search engines a lot for this as well, and this takes a while. Weitz reflects on what he thinks this means for the average web user.

“Think of the futility they must be feeling when they are using an engine that’s looking at keywords and links and all of that when they’re trying to book travel. People’s expectations of what an engine should do are changing and they’re using them as a starting point for a lot of their tasks.”

I think I agree with the bit about using search engines a lot to start tasks, but I don’t agree that I must be feeling a lot of futility as I’m searching. 

Maybe I’m unusual, being the curious and investigative type, but I actually enjoy the process of looking around for places to go. I like reading unexpected things people are sharing about destinations and holiday providers, and stumbling over joyously ridiculous sites like www.airlinemeals.net. No, I did not go out of my way to look for pictures of in-flight meal trays, but seeing them makes me think of travel, it reminds me of what it’s like to be on the journey, and it fuels my appetite for the holiday (even if the food itself looks a bit dodgy). 

I’m also inclined to think that while it’s very convenient for Expedia (founded by Microsoft) if I go straight to their site, I’ll only be happy I’ve got the best price if I do some more looking around. Weirdly, even if I only save £5 (less than an hour’s minimum wage) I’ll still feel it was worth an hour’s search time if I can pay less to the holiday company and spend a bit more on food and beer in the sun.

And this is why I think our cats “get it” – I’m doing what they do. I want the comfort of a holiday. I’d like to get that in a convenient way, but I also enjoy employing curiosity in the search process. Time spent searching tends to get rewarded with comforts, sometimes the desired ones (lower price, more money for beer) and more often unexpected ones (a picture of some nice looking sushi-like fruit salad). At the end of all of this search process, my head is stuffed with more facts than I needed, but I get to choose what to hold onto, what to do, how to make a decision.

This is why Microsoft doesn’t “get it”. I don’t need Bing to be a decision engine – my decision engine is in my head. While I need to get a search engine to look for fragments of fact, making the decision is the bit I get to do, and I enjoy it. 

Of course you can pick fault and suggest to me that my process could be far more efficient. Why waste my time when Microsoft Decisionbot 2011 can tell me the best holiday for the best price, or at least lay out all my options on one convenient page for me? I’m sure there is a market which wants exactly that. I’m not sure as it’s as big as Microsoft think it is. Even if we trusted Microsoft and their decision engine 100% (which I doubt we will ever do), there’s a fundamental problem with their strategy.

Engineers look for efficiency. People enjoy the unexpected by-products of inefficiency. It’s how we discover things, meet people, start relationships and, when we reflect on what made us happy and what made us mad, form the character which helps us make our next decisions. Without that character, we would be boring, predictable machines, which our cats are not.

So in this roundabout and rather unexpected way, I’ve yet again come to the conclusion that Microsoft don’t get it while, surprisingly, our cats do.

 

Cambridge – I love you, but get stuffed

Clare

I just received some glossy cards from my old university college (Clare) asking for help to fund student bursaries for people who can’t afford £9,000 a year tuition fees. While this sounds very laudable, almost like a charitable response to natural disaster, the university can’t actually raise the fees to this level unless (a) it chooses to and (b) it succeeds in raising more money to help students who can’t afford the fees. So this request to help students in dire need is, in effect, the university’s permission slip for causing that need to come about.

Grrrrrrrr.

I respect Cambridge as a clever institution, but this is just mean and – I hope – self-defeating.

Here is the reply I sent to the development office. I’d welcome your comments and if you feel like copying any of it, please feel absolutely free to do so.

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Dear Sir or Madam,

Thank you for your recent brochure on the Student Bursary scheme. I’m sorry that I rarely reply to such requests for funding, but on this occasion it feels too important to avoid.

The concern expressed for students facing tuition fees of £9,000 a year is gratifying – this is clearly a major and, in this country, an unprecedented burden which will prove offputting to many talented people. I greatly enjoyed my time at Clare and, while I came from an extremely cash-poor background, it was not only a privilege to be at the University, but also a character defining experience which has proven useful for life. I will always be inspired by the remarkable ingenuity of my fellow students and the system in general.

It is, therefore, somewhat surprising that you seem to have missed an obvious solution to this problem. If student welfare is really your “number one priority”, don’t raise the fees to £9,000 a year.

I note that the government will not, in fact, let you do this unless the University provides compelling evidence that you are doing more to make places accessible to poorer students. This scheme seems to be a step in that direction. Therefore, while contributing towards the fund will help the University to charge more for tuition, this seems counter-productive for anyone whose primary concern is student welfare.

On that basis, I won’t be contributing. Furthermore, I’d like to suggest that you can cut your costs further by not sending me any more brochures asking for money. Much as I will miss the pictures of trees and libraries, this small sacrifice seems the least I can do to help.

While I totally sympathise with students who cannot afford to pay the new fees, it seems to me that the cleverest among them will work out that they simply don’t have to – they can go elsewhere. I’m hoping the best will. After all, what kind of character building is going to happen among people who feel it’s right to demand £3,000 extra a year from each undergradute – because this is now possible – but call that inevitable while seeking charitable aid to help bring it about? This isn’t ingenuity to promote innovation, it’s disingenuity to defend an institution.

Yours faithfully,
Bern Leckie

Why I avoided TV for a week

I was asked to try a “media fast” – no TV, radio, press, internet news or even personal talk about the news – as part of an exploration of “holiness” with our church interns. It did my head in. But there were good things – including a chance to think about why I’m so into media production, what can be good about it, and what God’s been saying to us all for a long time about living a good, faith-filled life in a difficult world. More on my Amateur Theology blog.

Holiness and working in media

We had a really interesting week in our Pip n Jay intern programme, as we invited Hugh Pratt to share about how we can be holy and loving people. We think both holiness and love must go together, as they are both in God’s nature and his purpose for us, but it seems like we often struggle to live like this.

Hugh’s challenge to us was to engage in a ‘media fast’ for a week – no TV, radio, press, internet news or even personal talk about news and current events. This produced a range of reactions, with most of us finding some benefit in the way it made us reflect on how these media are so important to us. Some found more time for building relationships, which we want to carry on doing. Others (myself included) found that relationship building felt inhibited by these boundaries, and that conversations seemed a bit stunted and weird – I find myself looking things up a lot as part of getting thoughts and ideas together. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be part of a challenging culture, although it’s vital to know how to filter and interpret it, and make good choices about what to engage with and what to avoid.

As I’m not just a media consumer but also a producer, I have occasionally encountered Christians who go even further and demonise media as a whole, seeing it as a source of everything wrong with the world. I find it hard to contain all my disagreements with that in a sentence, not least because “the media” isn’t a person or even an organisation. You can’t blame “the media” for anything – blame people if you must, if you can decide whether producers or consumers or at fault. But media are merely containers for people’s ideas, and technology for sharing them. God gave us means of expression and the ability to choose how to do this. God wrote his ten commandments down and asked prophets to record what he said to them. That puts God in the media business. As far as I can tell, that means we can make it work for good.

Dominic Steele is an Australian pastor who founded “Christians in the Media” while working as a radio journalist. Helen and I have been to his church every time we have visited Sydney in the last few years, and we’ve been excited about what we have seen God doing there.

Today I found this talk from Dominic which sums up the difficulty lots of Christians face in lots of workplaces – not just media – and there’s a really important challenge. Who are we relying on, and being seen to rely on, for life? The story of Daniel is an amazing account of how God’s people can do life changing things in difficult circumstances if they are ready to rely on God and give him the credit for what he’s doing.

More proof that Microsoft no longer get it

Venn

For reasons you don’t want me to go into, I have to make a Venn diagram. Is Excel going to be any help?

According to Microsoft, yes! It’s easy to create overlapping circles and make them into pretty colours. The video tutorial is voiced by someone who sounds extremely proud of this, and finishes with a chipper “THAT’S how I want my Venn diagram to look!”

Except it’s extremely useless. I don’t know if anyone at Microsoft stopped to consider that Venn diagrams are supposed to mean something, not just look harmonious with your document theme.

For one thing, I need to crunch numbers and get areas and overlaps which are proportional to my data – none of that is mentioned. 

It’s not too surprising, given that the example Venn diagram is set up to show all the overlaps between birds and mammals (errr… there isn’t any) and… I’m sorry, I can’t even imagine an invertebrate amphibian mammal bird reptile even if one had ever existed. Which it didn’t.

Microsoft were the company which re-thought the world, brought the cleverest, most useful tools, and made billions in the process. When did it all become about style over function (**cough** Vista)? And if Microsoft no longer get it, who does?