Friday, October 26, 2007

Things we learn from Disaster Response and Starfish

Thanks to live news reporting and Hi-Def TV we are able to witness like never before the devastation of the Southern California fires. As many of us witnessed the massive destruction and panic from these raging sites we are intuitively moved with compassion and drawn to offer a helping hand. This is compassion DNA that exists in every person on the planet. I hear people say… “we need to do something”… or “how can we help?” and these are all the right thoughts… but I also want to challenge our thinking and refine our “emergency-response-reactions” to something more sustainable and hopefully helpful for those in need as well as those offering support on the front lines.

In the past few years we have all witnessed natural disasters (Fires, Hurricanes, Tsunamis, earthquakes), as well as acts of terrorism (9/11, Oklahoma City, etc) and hopefully we’ve learned a thing or two on response. Often times there is a season of immediate response that last about 2 weeks to a month depending on the severity of the disaster. News media keeps us riveted to the TV and webcasts that allows us to see things first hand. But in a entertainment driven society… where pop-culture is king, we become quickly bored or move onto our daily routines and the things that consume our own lives.* (* that is, of course, if you don’t live in the affected area).

This past year I read a book that deeply influenced how I work and what I do. It’s called "The Starfish and the Spider". I do not want to outline the entire book for you, but I will give you the main idea, which is… the nature and make up of a Starfish differs radically from a Spider. “Cut off the leg of a spider, and you have a seven-legged creature on your hands; cut off its head and you have a dead spider. But cut off the arm of a starfish and it will grow a new one. Not only that, but the severed arm can grow an entirely new body. Starfish can achieve this feat because, unlike spiders, they are decentralized; every major organ is replicated across each arm.”

With that being said… a Spider organization is centralized and has clear organs and structure. You know who is in charge. You see them coming. While Starfish organizations, on the other hand, are based on completely different principles. They tend to organize around a shared ideology or a simple platform for communication. They arise rapidly around the simplest ideas or platforms. Ideas or platforms that can be easily duplicated. Once they arrive they can be massively disruptive and are here to stay, for good or bad. And the Internet can help them flourish.

So in today's world Starfish organizations are starting to gain the upper hand.

In my understanding of this “Starfish/Spider organizational principle” is that churches are supposed to be like the Starfish… yet often act like Spiders. The whole idea of Kingdom is that we share the same principles, the same ideals… our “Starfish-like network” should spread from here to San Diego… to China, AND follow the same ideology… “Love God, love one another, love your neighbor”.

The truth is… in Western Culture, a Spider-like mentality often arises when things like disasters strike… we want to know who the leader is… we want to know who’s in charge… and for some, they become the self proclaimed leader. Churches too, can fall victim to Spider-mentality rather than letting its Starfish-like qualities take over.

(Note: I’m not suggesting a “no-leader” idea… I’m just pushing an idea out there… hang in with me a bit longer).

After personally visiting the 2003 Cedar fire, the gulf coast, and Tsunami-devastation, I’ve come to the conclusion that the church automatically defaults to it intended design… that is, of a Starfish-like organization. While government agencies and relief organizations work frantically to assess the situation and establish some control (some good, some bad)… churches already have the organic networks in place both locally and globally. No agency or government group can work with as much clarity and charity as the church… if it functions like it’s supposed to.

In the gulf coast… who is still there working on rebuilding and relief? … the church.
(For more information on trips to the gulf coast go to )

In the tsunami- devastated regions… who is working with orphans and micro businesses?... the church
(For more information on Tsunami Relief go to

The church finds itself doing the very thing it’s supposed to do (in Starfish-like fashion) when it’s responding to needs or being persecuted.

With that all being said… let me now say this…

-To the churches in the Bay Area and beyond… foster the growth of organic church networks. Champion the shared ideology “Love God, love others, you’re your neighbor” in your community groups, bible studies, and new church plants. Build relationships with other churches… and network together for a greater cause.

-To the churches in Southern California… stay the course, hang in there… we are part of you, and we’ve got your back!

Some helpful info...

The Rock Church ( ) has networks in and around the entire San Diego area. They have an infrastructure in place that allows your funds or specific supplies to be used where they are needed most. They have also communicated to us that they will offer long-tern help for those recovering from the fires and would welcome short-term teams in the future for clean-up and rebuilding (we will keep you posted).

Our best option through the Beautiful Day Network is to identify and support a church with an immediate and long-term plan. We are confident that The Rock has both.

To make financial contributions (individually or corporately) go to their Fire Relief site at
Hit the “contact Information” link, and send checks to the address given. Add “Fire Relief” in the memo section. For follow up information you can contact the church directly at (619) 226-7625 or email

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Walk for AIDS Silicon Valley review... and thoughts on "Compassion-Partiality"

Today almost 150 people from churches throughout the Silicon Valley participated in the Walk for AIDS Silicon Valley under the name Team Beautiful Day. This team was the largest team and raised the most money of groups participating.
While I secretly reveled in "largest" and "most" categories, there was something much more tangible for me and my fellow team-mates. Most evangelical churches have distanced themselves from the HIV/AIDS community. Some make the callous statements that "sinful people got what they deserved", while others ignore the problem locally yet send thousands of dollars globally for AIDS relief. While caring for those suffering globally is noble... ignoring this issue locally sends a mixed message to those already skeptical of the church, and points to what I call "compassion-partiality". Exactly one year and four months ago, we wrestled with our own "compassion-partiality" while we sent incredible sums of money to those suffering on the other side of the globe... and because of our own predjudices and indifferences ignored the local componant of a global pandemic.
We decided to walk in the San Francisco AIDS walk 2006. Shortly after that walk I made a cold call visit to the Billy DeFrank Center to ask for other areas where we could support. That connection lead us to the Living Center in San Jose... the only HIV/AIDS community center in Santa Clara County. One year later we have an ongoing relationship with the Living Center and are currently doing a make over at the Food distribution center next door (that does delievery for AIDS shut-ins and walk-ins), as well serve in numerous venues to those in that community. I must note that my reasons for writing this is not for self (or group) grandizing... but to make a point.
After todays walk, and a reflection of our growing re-connection with the gay community and care for the HIV/AIDS community, I feel compelled to call churches to re-engage in bringing compassion, hope, relief, and message of Jesus through our actions... and by showing up in areas of their community that need it most.
To shut up, and show up... and even cough up... for a cause!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Expired Prescriptions of the 21st Century Church

Most households have expired prescriptions in a bathroom medicine cabinet or the kitchen. These medications are prescribed by a doctor or specialist to heal or aid the body in one form or another. All medications have a shelf life with a date printed on the container indicating its expiration. In the cycle of ones sickness and health, prescriptions are made, used, and stored for another day. Many times one might draw from that same medication for recurring symptoms, but after a period of time that prescription expires. The problem arises when prescriptions are used for something long after the expiration date. When it comes to health there are some who do not read labels, follow instructions, or care all that much. Some expired prescriptions have the potential to turn toxic while most just lose their potency and are ineffective. Strangely enough, when a church goes through a cycle of sickness and health, many will draw upon prescriptions that have lost their shelf-life and have long since expired. Often times a church leader will go back and rummage through useless remedies that served their purpose in days long gone, rendering the effort useless (and sometimes toxic!).

Problems that arise in the church is nothing new. Churches have faced numerous difficulties through out the ages, (footnote the first centuries church problems Acts, Corinth… et al.) and have worked through active remedies to address these issues. However with the rise of the church-growth movement in the 70’s-80’s new measurements of church health required new prescriptions to be filled. (footnote from Hartford) Robert Logan’s book Beyond Church Growth typifies the church-growth mentality. He writes, “Beyond Church Growth will help your church become more effective in ministry. Effective churches are healthy churches; healthy churches are growing churches – they make more and better disciples. This is precisely the focus of the church-growth movement.” (Logan p. 17)

One of the main prescriptions that was essential for this church-growth movement was something called “needs based” ministry. Needs based ministry is the assessment of the essential needs of your demographic target audience and the development of ministry based around those identified needs. In his classic work entitled Life-Style Evangelism, Joseph Aldrich touches on this essential prescription for the church leader to address; “The responsible church leader must examine the programming of his church in light of his people’s need for vital fellowship.” (Aldrich p. 120) While this movement gave a fresh perspective to churches identifying with the needs of their cultural context, it also offered church-growth prescriptions that have expired for the emerging church. In hindsight, church leaders were enamored with what Hirsch calls “gather and amuse” church growth theory. He argues that “we grew in numbers – but something primal and indispensable was lost in the bargain. We got more transfers from other churches, but the flow of conversion slowed down to a trickle and then ran completely dry.” (Hirsch p. 220)

Pastor Brian Kay of Trinity Presbyterian Church in San Luis Obispo comments on some of these prescriptions. “Since the 1970’s, many American pastors began to turn to the experts of the church-growth movement who told them the best way to reach people who thought the Church was irrelevant was to appeal to something that is undeniably relevant to the mass culture: being entertained.” He goes on to comment on how these remedies have expired, he writes, “In a way the church-growth movement worked, because a lot more people started coming on Sunday. But, as its music and preaching became more trivial, many other sensible people stopped taking the Church seriously… The church life they had witnessed, even in cases where the doctrine was solid, was pure mayonnaise.” (Relevant p.5-6)

In the 21st century some churches are drawing on old prescriptions, remedies, and potions to face the challenge of desired ministry impact in an emerging culture, while many other churches are making desperate attempts to address the health issues of declining membership and possible extinction.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Toxic consumerism and the death of mission

In the National Capitol Poison Center published work Quick Facts on Poison Exposures in the United States they cite that “75% of poison exposures involve ingestion of a poisonous substance. 86.7 % of poison exposures are unintentional”. Toxins are most harmful when they are ingested into the system and a large percentage of them go undetected. The church of the 21st century has unknowingly ingested cultural toxins for many years that have wreaked havoc on the church in western culture. One of the main cultural toxins has been the rise of consumerism. In the aftermath of the Depression and two world wars, the United States government cultivated a new path for economic recovery that facilitated a snowballing consumer mindset into the post-war era. During his presidential campaign speech in 1932 Franklin Roosevelt said, “I believe that we are at the threshold of a fundamental change in our popular economic thought, that in the future we are going to think less about the producer and more about the consumer.” This mindset played into the developmental psyche and public duty of the early babyboomer generation in a context of a national post-war ideal. Lizabeth Cohen in her book A Consumer’s Republic develops this ideal more as she writes, “Out of the wartime conflict… emerged a new postwar ideal of the purchaser as citizen who simultaneously fulfilled personal desire and civic obligation by consuming.” (Cohen p. 119)

The consumer mentality has grown and matured with marketing, mass production, and technology into a virus that permeates every area of our current culture, including the church. In first century Palestine crowds gathered to hear Jesus address issues of consumerism. He said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25). The question is… would they have gathered and listened if the shopping malls existed and were open? Apparently not in 21st century. In a recent study done by two economists at MIT, church attendance and participation dropped with the repeal of Americana Blue Laws. As their research concludes that “the repeal of these laws in cities and states substantially increases the opportunity cost of religious attendance by offering alternatives for work, leisure, and consumption.” It seems as if Jesus could clearly see the affects of consumerism that would eventually hit his followers and the church. The toxic nature of consumerism on the church should alarm every leader in every church across the US. Alan Hirsch, in his book The Forgotten Way, writes, “I have come to believe that the major threat to the viability of our faith is that of consumerism. This is a far more heinous and insidious challenge to the gospel, because in so many ways it infects each and every one of us.” (Hirsch p. 106-7).