Welcome to article 3 of a 6-part series titled “Leadership-Lessons From Blockbuster.”  Our goal in this series is to learn valuable lessons so that we can, as a church, avoid the mistakes that others have made.  If you are joining this conversation for the first time, you might want to follow the links to find part 1 & part 2 to catch up to speed.

In the last article we looked at two philosophies that are in our culture (and churches) today: 

‘The Craftsman Philosophy’ and the ‘Apple Philosophy.’  In short, the Craftsman Philosophy supposes the only reason something would need to be changed is if it were bad or flawed. It is not that people who adhere to this philosophy are absolutely against change, but they may view change as a last resort when all other options fail.  ‘The Apple Philosophy’ supposes that  change must happen to continue to make things better and prevent mediocrity. People who adhere to this philosophy are not always looking to ‘change-for-change-sake,’ but are generally looking to see how they can improve on an existing idea or context. 

We ended the last article with the idea that, as a body of Christ, we need each other.  And, while it can be difficult and even painful at times, we function best as a body of Christ when we are willing to function together.  So, what do we do in the church when we have ‘dueling philosophies?’ How do we get any traction? Who gets to make decisions? Whose voice gets to be louder?  The Craftsman camp? The Apple camp?  Before you answer that question, can I tell you a story?  

Was that a “Yes?” Great! It’s always more fun when you play along! 

Ok, to be honest, it’s not my story to tell.  The story comes from a Jewish Rabbi.  This is the story he told:

Which one of you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go look for the one that is lost until he finds it? Then when he has found it, he places it on his shoulders, rejoicing. Returning home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, telling them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost.’ I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent”  (LK. 15:4-7  NET). 

Ok, you caught me. The Jewish Rabbi was Jesus. I figured you would know that but I wanted you to read this section of scripture with fresh eyes, the way those who were surrounding Jesus heard them that day.  Oh, and who were those people surrounding him?  Luke records it as a very diverse crowd. On one side we had the sinners and tax collectors. Now, I’m not trying to be crude here, but think about what someone must be involved in to be a ‘known sinner’ in a community.  Seriously, everyone in the place knew that this was the crowd that was sitting near, listening to, and eating with Jesus.  Likely these people had fully embraced a lifestyle that everyone would label evil or against the moral code. Along with the sinners that were gathered around Jesus there were tax collectors.  This particular group of folks stood out because they weren’t just sinners, they were traitors.  They worked with the Roman Empire to collect taxes on the Jews. So, not only were they working for the enemy, but they usually inflated the taxed amount to help benefit themselves.  As you can see, this group would not only be looked down on, they were likely considered some of the most hated and disgusting people you could be around.

Also surrounding Jesus that day was a group people knew as the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.  The Pharisees were a group of people that formed around the time of the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.  This group started because the nation of Israel had a long track record of failing to follow the commands of God, thus leading to exile.  Therefore, this group was intent on helping all of Israel follow the commands of God as best as possible in order to avoid God’s discipline and another exile.  The teachers of the law were a lot like lawyers of the Torah. They knew the scriptures forward and backward. And, as this social and religious elite group shows up on the scene they are disgruntled by the idea that Jesus has lowered his standards and is  ‘welcoming’ of the motley crew of outcasts.  The disgust of the Pharisees and teachers of the law are what drives Jesus’ parable on the parable we just read. 

Jesus starts off with a comment that I think can be lost on you and I: “Which one of you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go look for the one that is lost until he finds it?”   I might be tempted to think to myself “I wouldn’t go after the one lost sheep. I would stay with the 99.  I mean, you still have 99 sheep, right? And, what am I going to risk going after one sheep?”

I would have thought that until a few years ago when we took our family of six kids to Disneyland.  At the time, our youngest two boys were four months and three years old… now that I think about it, we must have been crazy! The particular day we were there it was hot and crowded so we enjoyed a break from walking  by sitting and enjoying a Star Wars show where they ‘train’ young Jedi’s.  Our oldest son was selected from the audience to go on stage and learn the ‘way of the Jedi,’ which he was super excited about. After the end of the show, as a crowd of people were exiting the theater space and another crowd was rushing in, our oldest son was telling about his experience.  In the middle of the herd of people, distracted by listening to our oldest sons recent experience, we lost our 3 year old son.

That was the beginning of my gray hair!

We quickly instructed all of our children to stay perfectly still and stay behind with my mother, who also happened to join us on the trip, as we frantically made our way through the sea of people looking for our 3 year-old son.  I didn’t know where he went, or what I would need to do to find him… but I knew we would do whatever it took! Finding him was my first priority!  

Now, imagine for a moment that as I tell my kids to stay still while we look for our 3 year-old that one of them responds that it is lunch time and they would like to eat before l started my search.  Or, what do you think my response would have been if one of my kids stated, “My shoe came untied. Can you tie it really quick before you look for our brother?” Or, what if one of them would have said, “You promised that we were going on a ride after the Star Wars show ended!  This is not fair!” 

How would I have responded? How would you have responded?

We probably would have responded about the same way: “I’m sorry, but finding your brother comes first!”  

In the same way, imagine if I had responded to our son walking away by saying, “Well, I don’t want all my other children to get mad if I leave them to go find our missing son. I better just stay here.” Or, “Kids these days! They have no respect for staying with their parents. It’s all his fault he’s lost. There’s nothing I can do about that.” Or, “I will look for him, but only in the way and form I am comfortable.” 

Sounds silly, right? And it is, because we understand the value of a lost child. But I wonder if  there are times when, as a church, when we don’t see the value in the lost. In fact, many times they are but faceless and nameless groups that can be easily dismissed. 

I know what you are thinking, “Not my church! We value the lost!”  But before I let you off the hook with that response, I want to challenge you by going back and answering a few of those questions posed earlier in the article: So, what do we do when we have ‘dueling philosophies?’ How do we get any traction? Who gets to make decisions? Whose voice gets to be louder?  The Craftsman camp? The Apple camp?

If your church values the lost, then the response to the questions of ‘Whose voice gets to be louder” or “Who makes the decisions” is: The lost.

Ok, before you completely dismiss me give me just a few more moments of your time. 

I am not saying that the non-Christians get to define what truth is (they don’t get any more say in God’s truth than Christians). What I am saying is that those who chase down the lost must be intentional about understanding the thought processes, value systems, and basic needs of those whom they are searching for. 

In Jesus’ parable, he states that the reasonable shepherd would go and look for the lost sheep until he finds it.  Put yourself in the place of the shepherd.  What would it look like to hunt down a lost sheep? What would you have to be willing to do?  Where would you have to be willing to go?  What would you need to be willing to give up? 

Can I be honest with you?  In my history with the Restoration Movement we are typically more concerned with the comfortability of those inside the walls than we are with running after those outside of the walls.  

Ouch, I know that hurt a little.  But we need to face this truth: 

Too often the ministries we accept, keep, and participate in are mostly geared towards what the sheep in the pen enjoy verses focusing our attention on how to best go after the sheep outside the pen.  

Too often our scheduling and programming is more focused on the needs of the sheep in the pen verses the effectiveness of how we reach the sheep out of the pen.  

Unfortunately, we often make decisions about what happens in the context of our worship services based on the comfortability and agreeability of the sheep in the pen and pay little-to-no attention on the effectiveness of how reaches those sheep outside the pen.

Now, before you think I am putting too much focus on outsiders, let me point you back to Jesus’ parable one more time.  In the parable Jesus says that the lost sheep is eventually found, the owner celebrates with his friends and neighbors, and then he says, “I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.” 

Did you catch that? Where is the attention of heaven? Was it on the sheep that was lost or the herd of sheep that were already safe? 

In your church, who gets the attention?  What group is the ‘squeaky wheel’ that gets the grease? Is it the group of people who have been there the longest and put in the most time? The people who give the most?  Or, do you really give attention and action to the methods that help you seek out and bring back the lost?

Let’s end with a few questions you can begin to ask yourself, and maybe your church leadership, to see where your attention is most directed:

  • How, or in what ways, do you get regular feedback from the non-churched in your community about your congregation?
  • What does your congregation generally get more upset about: When there is a change in the methods of your church, or, when it’s clear that your church is not accomplishing the mission of “going and making disciples?”
  • Do you regularly evaluate the effectiveness of your methods? If so, can you talk about them openly without defensiveness?
  • If your church were to close its doors tomorrow, would the community be negatively impacted?
  • When you talk about the ministries of your church, do you talk more about the number of years it has existed and amount of church people involved, or, the specific people you have been able to impact through that ministry?

I want to invite you to join me for part 4 in our 6-part series titled, “Leadership-Lessons from Blockbuster” that will be coming soon! In part 4 we will be talking about Blockbuster’s late-fees, the Council of Jerusalem, and how we can avoid making obstacles for those who are turning to God! I hope you will join me!