Someone once told me, after a couple counseling appointments, he was “new and improved.” I knew what he meant. He was trying, growing, working on his “stuff.” However, I was a little skeptical. Besides, something
that’s “new” is, well, new. It’s not improved. Let me make three applications with New & Improved.
You see, something that’s brand new isn’t actually an
improvement on anything else. NEW means something created independent of the old stuff. Most people say they’re turning over a “new leaf,” when what they’re actually doing is trying to make a (relatively) minor improvement over their previous behavior. You’re not new. You’re an improvement over the old model. You’re trying some different behaviors (new to you) with the hope you’ll improve.
New isn’t, “I’m less of a liar now,” or “I don’t steal as much anymore,” or “It takes more to make me explode in anger.” You’re qualifying your old behavior by a comparison to improved behavior. You can feel better about yourself, but a liar is a liar. The degree of lying doesn’t indicate an improvement. The new behavior would be to NOT lie.
Consider Ephesians 4 – “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” - Ephesians 4:22-24 (NIV)
Do you want to allow Christ to rebuild you as someone entirely new or want to work on making yourself less of a jerk? The difference isn’t the behavior, it’s about who is doing the reconstruction work. If you work at it, you’ll always be striving and failing. If God does the work within you, and you give Him the freedom to do so, then you can become something (someone) new.
“Improved” has become such a flexible label it sometimes deceives us into thinking something is better, when it really isn’t. Remember the hoopla over New Coke a few years back? The adjustments made to improve the flavor were a flop with the public. Eventually, after 79 days of public uproar, Coke, changed their product back to the original “Classic Coke” formula. An interesting point from the story of Coke is that it should have succeeded. They had done marketing studies of over 200,000 people who strongly liked the new Coke better. What they hadn’t counted on was the emotional attachment consumers had to the “classic” product that had been declining in popularity (and sales) through the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Between April 23 and July 11 of 1985 they loudly voiced the cry for what their hearts desired over the flavor they preferred. Coke relented and went back to the original formula.
There are lots of leadership lessons to be learned from this moment in marketing history. Sure, you should probably be willing to be flexible in leadership to keep the customer. And, by all means, new is not always better. I think there’s an intriguing lesson for church leaders: People don’t always want what is better.
There are times church leaders make tough decisions to move ministry or purpose forward. Culture and people change. This means the church needs to change to they want to continue reaching new people. Style, format, methods need to be redeveloped for new generations. Not everyone in the church feels the same way. “I got saved in a Sunday School class while listening to a
flannelgraph story. If it was good enough for God to work it in me, then it’s good enough for kids today.”
Church leaders often meet great resistance when proposing change. The conflict that follows typically leads to a tweaking of existing ministry methods instead of a productive reevaluating and changing out-of-date ministries that aren’t working. When almost 100% of American schoolchildren have some access to computer or video teaching in school, doesn’t it seem
churches should consider finding ways to integrate those methods to reach children? Thank you AWANA for putting out new apps for sharing the Gospel with children. (Search iTunes for the Awana Gospel Message app and Sparky Shines His Light storybook app.)
*For those who will immediately make assumptions about what I’d change…reevaluating ministry methods does not mean adapting our unyielding stance on the Word of God or the truth of “Faith Alone in Christ Alone.”
My point? Changing the time of a ministry, bringing donuts to class, adding new paint to walls – these things are tweaks or improvements. It does not make your ministry new. Giving a program or ministry a new name does not make it new. Churches are dishonest to the public and themselves when they advertise minor improvements as new. Worse yet, leaders are delusional
when they think those improvements constitute “new.” Sadly, too many churches and organizations (and throw businesses in there too) blame loss of people (growth, business, etc.) on the “improvements” that didn’t work and go back to the “old ways”; when, in reality, they need to start from scratch and consider new ways of reaching new people.
When I lived in Illinois I had gravy. Then, I moved to Texas and had GRAVY! And sweet tea, real southern sweet tea. I’m hooked. Why don’t northern people realize how wonderful life can be with these things? I didn’t know you could dip your chicken in gravy. For 40 years I thought gravy was reserved for biscuits at breakfast and mashed potatoes at dinner. I’ve discovered gravy goes with anything. Something I’d known and had experience with has become transformed and taken a new priority in my life. How can
something I’ve known become all new to me?
In the last couple days I’ve spoken with several people who are facing the shortness of this life for a variety of reasons. It’s drawn my thinking toward eternity. What will it be like? We don’t really get as much information from the Bible about the experience of eternity as movies, art and literature like to portray. What I end up going back to is how John describes the experience of being with God. This, after all, is what matters more than the beauty of a heavenly “place.” Revelation 21 includes the mixed arrival of “New Jerusalem” along with the experience of being with God. Having read it in several versions the past few days, let me share with you how Rob Lacey wrote it in his paraphrase, The Word on the Street.
“Then everything changes. New. All of it brand new. All heaven, all earth – new. Nothing of the old heaven or the old earth left. Gone: all of it including the oceans. Woah! This pure, perfect city – The New Jerusalem – is floating down out of heaven direct from God. It’s like a bride, perfectly turned out for her loving groom. A loud shout, coming from the throne. ‘From now on, God’s living down here with them. They’ll be his kind of people; God’ll hang out with them and be God to them. He’ll collect all the tears they have ever cried, he’ll cancel death, there’ll be no more grieving, no crying, no pain – all that was in the previous system and that is history.” (Revelation 21:1-4 from The Word on the Street by Rob Lacey)
God uses images of the familiar to give John the ability to explain what this new experience with God will be like. However, it’s not just improved – it’s all new. That’s what God does. He takes who we are, what we know, how we operate, and even our view of eternity and says He’ll create something entirely new. There’s still the connection to the old ways – tears, grief and death, but He touches the familiar and remakes it into a new reality.
Don’t be afraid of what’s new. Know that new may be uncomfortable at time, but it can also lead to new paths that carry you to
heights you’ve never considered. Doing “new” just for the sake of being new is often fruitless. On the other hand, being open to new experiences as God leads can be an exciting adventure. Allowing Him to do the new, lead the new, and implement the new is a recipe for glorious renewal.
So, what’s new with you?
The Unexamined Life and All
Posted: February 1, 2012
Filed under: Deep Thoughts with Pastor Jeff, Leadership, Pastor Jeff, Spiritual
Tagged: gravy, improving ministries, Jeff Denton, New & Improved, new you, Pastor Jeff Denton, tweaking
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