Month: August 2012

Making Marriage Work

No, I am not an expert on marriage. No, my marriage isn’t perfect. We have our ups and downs like all couples. Yet, the following principles have served my wife and I in creating a 17 year marriage that is alive and well, having endured times of great adversity and success.

Marriage is a very personal subject, and lots of couple secretly wonder, “how can we make this thing work better, or work at all?” I pray these values will serve your marriage as they are serving ours.

Here’s what’s working for us… (in no particular order)

o.o1 Shared values– There is a difference between shared views and shared values.  No, Amy and I don’t see everything the same way. Yet, there are shared values with which we have unity and base our views. For example, we value a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our faith is a foundational value to our marriage. I can’t imagine not sharing this core value. We value the quality of our family and the giving of our best in the area of parenting. We have many shared values.

We have found that shared values, such as the ones I list in this post, are critical for a healthy marriage. Taking the time to understand and come to a place of unity upon core values is an absolute essential in our book. If marriage is like a house, then having shared, core values as a couple are integral parts of the foundation.  It’s certainly not necessary to see eye to eye on everything, that would be boring! But it is critical to see heart to heart on the essential values that make a marriage thrive. What are the essential values to a great marriage? I am sure there are many, perhaps the ones I share in this post are a good start.

Tip: As a couple, make separate lists of things you would see as critical values for the marriage. Then, come back together and discuss theses values and your views on each one. If there are areas of disagreement, take a couple days to think over that area and come back together to see if there is any room to come closer together towards a shared value.

o.o2 Prayer- For Amy and I, prayer brings us together and enables our burdens to be carried by God and not our relationship. Prayer in marriage can feel very vulnerable and even a bit awkward because you are connecting at the deepest levels. However, the reward of pushing through and taking time to pray together is invaluable. We are not very formal in our prayer life together, we pray together as a spontaneous, natural ebb and flow of our life and family. This way, our children can have glimpses into our prayer life and become a part of it. For us, prayer is not a religious obligation but a relational expression. It’s not governed by length, eloquence, or location, but rather by the heart. It doesn’t have to be long, well said, or formal… just pray.

Tip: Wives, many men are intimidated by praying and fear being shamed by their wives, who are often further along or more open spiritually then they are . Make sure you don’t push too hard, nor criticize his efforts. Applaud and encourage everything you can. 

o.o3 The last 2%- The last 2% is what needs to be said in a relationship but is often the most difficult to say. It’s the complete truth, not just a percentage of it, it’s how you really feel, not just a version of it. In my ministry, almost every couple that comes to me for counseling with serious marriage problems ready for divorce has a traceable path of relationship deterioration that starts with one or both persons not being open and honest about what they are really feeling or thinking. It’s the small, innocent looking crack in the ceiling that over times turns into the roof falling down. It seems at the moment, the best thing to do is to just brush your feelings aside, keep the peace, or hope it will go away, but the reality is, that unwillingness to deal with the last 2% will be what later costs you a 100% of your marriage. Openness and honesty is absolutely critical for a healthy, thriving marriage. Full disclosure, even if it makes things temporarily worse instead of better, is an essential value for a working marriage.

Tip: Ask your spouse, “What is the one thing you really want to say to me but are afraid it might hurt me or cause tension in our relationship.”  Once it is spoken, make a commitment to deal with whatever is shared with the goal of building the relationship.  If a very serious issue is revealed, push the pause button on the conversation and seek out a professional, Christian counselor to help you work through it. Any marriage can handle anything when you apply the counsel of God.

o.o4 Constant check ins- Valuing and monitoring the health of your marriage is vital. One of the things that serves our marriage and continues to be invaluable is the reality that we are constantly checking in with each other to make sure we are on the same page, we are connected with each others lives, and our marriage is going well. Someone needs to take the lead in monitoring the condition of your marriage. In our marriage, this has been a natural role for me as I have a strong gifting in discernment. If you were to look into our marriage, you would hear us on a consistent basis asking each other questions like, “How are we doing?” “Are you happy with us?” “So, what do you think of _______?” “Is there anything we need to talk about?” “How are we going to handle __________?” etc. Included in these check-ins are frequent conversations about our parenting, finances, future plans, hopes and dreams, expectations, and struggles. We want to make sure as much as possible we are on the same page on the front side of issues, not the back. Can’t tell you how much this pays off.

Tip: Perhaps schedule a couple times each week where you “check in” with each other where the only rule of the conversation is, “anything can be discussed, anything can be asked”  Make sure the conversation deals with monitoring the health of the relationship. 

o.o5 Family first- I am amazed at how many couples want to either fix or improve their marriage, but want to spend very little if any time doing it.  Time is the oxygen of a marriage. If you don’t have enough of it, the marriage will choke and all your efforts to make it work.  Amy and I are both very busy people, but we are committed to making sure that our marriage and family have enough time together to thrive. The amount of time needed will be different for most couples and will vary depending on what season of your marriage you are in. However, many problems in a marriage start because there isn’t enough time for necessary aspects of the relationship to take place.  Romance takes time, talking through issues takes time, relaxing with each other takes time, planning the future takes time, saying what needs to be said takes time, enjoying each others company takes time.  For many couples, the issue behind the issues is time. We don’t talk because there isn’t enough time for conversations to ebb and flow, we don’t hang out together, because there isn’t enough time.  Our sex life isn’t healthy because there isn’t enough time for all the nuances that give it life.

For Amy and I, our family comes first… period. I believe a man’s resume’ is his home. As a pastor, my most important ministry is to my wife and kids. Marriage is defined by what you say “yes” and “no” to. What you say “yes” and “no” to is governed by your priorities and values. Everybody has a plan for your marriage and family, the question is, do you?

Tip: As a couple, evaluate how you are spending your time. Maybe even make a list of the things that get the majority of your time and attention. Then check to see how much time is being utilized exclusively  for your marriage. What you discover might be very telling. 

o.o6 Standing guard- Your marriage is a gift from God, and all gifts need to be protected. There are real forces at work in the world that want to divide you and your spouse. Don’t be nieve, you were married into a war, not a vacation.

Every couple should be on the lookout to identify things that are potentially eroding the relationship. The moment you think it can’t happen to you is the moment you are most vulnerable.  Success can be just as much of a threat as hardship. Good times can be just as much of a threat as bad. You children (how you handle them) can become a threat to your marriage. Money issues, stress, extended family, health, tragedy, careers, friendships, church, all can become threats to your marriage. Many things that can appear to be innocent can easily turn into things that compromise the health of your marriage.

Becoming an overreactive alarmist in your marriage is not going to be a positive things, but keeping watch with the health of your marriage as a top priority, will be.

Tip: Have a discussion as a couple asking three questions, 1) Where are you individually most vulnerable to temptation? 2) In what area is our marriage most vulnerable? 3) If Satan where going to attack our marriage, where in our marriage would he have the best chance at being successful.

o.o7 Integrity- Sometimes when you look under the hood of a marriage that isn’t working, you will find one or both of the persons in the relationship doing stupid things. Some of these things may be discovered to even be sinful in nature.  It’s hard to put bad things into a relationship and expect good to come out of it.

At times when I talk to couples, I become amazed at how many of them speak of secrets they have from their spouse, sketchy things they do that seem to them to be of no big deal, and habits that are sure to be eroding and not building the relationship.  Sometimes I just want to ask, “are you stupid?”  Unfortunately, when many people go to the well of how to act in a marriage, they draw from the negative or absent example of their parent’s relationship.  Often, instead of breaking unhealthy cycles, we end up repeating them.

Integrity in marriage means… taming your tongue, applying self control to your emotions, staying faithful to the relationship emotionally and physically (for men this means controlling your eyes, for women this means guarding your heart), not getting lazy, taking responsibility, saying what you mean and meaning what you say, keeping your promises, being open and honest, and being a trustable kind of person.

Tip: As a couple, make a list of things each are doing that is building the relationship, then make a list of things that are seen as not building the relationship. Discuss.

o.o8 Marriage Purpose- As a couple, we believe God has brought us together to serve each other and to serve God in a unique way together. We see our marriage as a ministry to each other and to the world. What we can accomplish together as a marriage and family is a vital part of our lives. I have my own personal ministry, Amy has her own, but we also have great things for God we are pursuing together that we couldn’t do a apart.

As a couple, you are either growing together, or you are growing apart, there is no in between. Discovering and pursuing the things God has for you to become and do as a couple goes a long way towards ensuring you will be growing together.  Take time to ask, “what has God called “us” to do “together” to change the world?” That will be one of the most powerful questions and conversations you will ever have in your marriage.

Tip: As the question of your marriage, “Other than for ourselves and for our children, why has God brought us together?” 

These are some of the values that have served our marriage, what values are serving your?

Cleaning out the Relationship Closet

Are you a Relationship Hoarder or a careless Relationship Disposer?

So, have you heard of hoarding? It’s a term used to refer to people who have a hard time letting go of stuff while collecting more and more things or specific items. Instead of purposefully keeping some things and removing others, they keep everything. There are a variety of possible reasons including… they are afraid to be without it, they have a compulsive streak, or they have attached their identity or some emotionally pleasure to the possession of it. For whatever reason, they have serious difficulty discarding things that are actually working against the health and wholeness of their life. Some of the things they have are of great value, but they wouldn’t be able to distinguish it because of their obsession with everything else.

On the other side of the coin, there are those who soon after they acquire something, they are quick to despose of it and reengage on their quest to get something else. To them everything, even things of significant worth, are disposable. Once they have a new toy (so to speak) they quickly get bored with it and search for another.  Traveling from store to store, hobby to hobby, venture to venture, they pursue the next purchase fix while never prizing, maximizing, and nurturing what they already have.

Interestingly enough, we can have the same kind of extremes when it comes to our relationships.

For some, we hoard our relationships as we hold onto ones that work against the wholeness God desires to bring into our lives. We are actually afraid to be without some relationships in our lives either because of insecurity, we have a perfectionist streak in us (that concludes everyone should like us), or we have tied our identities to a certain person(s) or relationship(s), probably out of codependency and therefore depend on them for our sense of self to unhealthy levels. For whatever reason, relationships that we should have discarded or redefined long ago we keep as is.

For others of us, our relationships have become carelessly disposable. When the person no longer serves our purposes, meets our needs, or benefits us in some way, we are quick to move onto the next. Perhaps it’s out selfishness, inconvenience, or a fear of intimacy, but for whatever reason, true closeness with people eludes us and we never truly know what it is to love and be loved. Why? Because we move from one to the next, never nurturing and investing in the relationships we already have or the people who already desire to know us.  Relationships that we should have kept, drawn closer to, invested in, nurtured, and hung around for we prematurely distance ourselves from or totally throw away.

God wants us to have healthy relationships, we were created for such. From time to time, this means cleaning out the relationship closet. Cleaning out the relationship closet is much like our clothes closet. Though we don’t purchase or possess people like we would a pair of jeans, relationships are among the many things that God wants us to steward well, especially since our relationships have a certain amount of effect on our own wellbeing.  Not having room for healthy relationships or having too many unhealthy relationships isn’t God honoring, nor is disposing and distancing ourselves from relationships that God desire us to nurture and value.

With all of that in mind, there are likely several kinds of relationships in our Relationship Closet…

What’s in your Relationship Closet?

1) Nostalgia Suit – These relationships are mainly defined by what they meant to us in the past. At one time, these relationships fit perfectly in our life. They fit with time, place, and person we were. They gave us great memories and had a special impact on our lives. However, as time progressed, these relationships either grew distant or completely detached. Frequently the separation or distance that ensues isn’t clouded with negativity, but rather benign circumstances.  The power of these relationships can extend well beyond what they meant to us in the past.  Our affectionate memories and the positive impact of these relationships can be significant. When we think of these people, we often smile inwardly.

2) The Fashion Statement – These relationships are mainly defined by how they make us look or feel about ourselves. These are the people at the cool lunch table that we want to know for that sake of our egos and self-esteem.  Often times, we want these people in our lives because they seem to make us feel more important just by knowing them. When you hear people “dropping names” these relationships are probably “Fashion Statements” more than anything else.

3) Special Occasion Dress- These relationships are mainly defined by the purpose or role these persons serve in your life. Like a bridesmaid dress that is typically worn at most one or two times, these relationships are often short term. They may be a reoccurring relationship as there may be periodic times where interaction is needed, once again, to fulfill a special role or purpose.

4) The Adjustable Pants- These relationships are mainly defined by their ability to fit as you change as a person. These are the people who are “with you” no matter where or even who you become. They are typically long term relationships that ebb and flow over the years, developing overtime into deep levels of intimacy.  Relationships like this grow with us and find a way to fit well in every season of our life. These relationships last and compliment what God is doing in our lives

5) The Gifted Tie- These relationships are mainly defined by the guilt we feel for not desiring to be around, with, or in connection with them.  Perhaps they did something for you and now you feel obligated to give your attention or friendship.  In fact, they may be playing upon your guilt and not a healthy person to be around. Or, perhaps you are in a new season of your life and the relationship now feels awkward and superficial. Regardless, the conflicting emotions inside of you towards this relationship tend to weigh heavy with a sense of guilt that you aren’t as emotionally connected as you feel you should be.

6) The Uncomfortable Shoe- These relationships are defined by the uncomfortableness or pain they cause you. Deep down we don’t want these relationships, but we either conclude that this person is the best we are going to get, or we feel somehow obligated to grin and bare the relationship. Sometimes, we will have done everything we can to get the relationship repaired or make adjustments that relieve the stress, but to little or no success. Whether these persons are family members, coworkers, or friends, these relationships cause us chronic uncomfortableness or pain.

7) The Favorite Sweater- These relationships are defined by the comfort, security, and warmth they bring into our lives. Similar to the Adjustable Pants, these relationships are often long term and serve to give us a special kind of security, encouragement, and comfort that other relationships cannot.

8)  The Shrunken Jeans-  These relationships are mainly defined by the reality that they don’t fit anymore. There are potentially two primary reasons why 1) You shrunk the relationship  2) You grew out of the relationship.  Sometimes relationships don’t fit because we screw them up and injure the person and/or the relationship. We may try to force the relationship to fit into our lives by seeking to repair the damage, but in some instances it works, and in others it doesn’t. Other times, we grow out of the relationship and thus it not longer fits the things God is doing in our lives. We may try to bring the person along or fit back in with the crowd we once were in, but often neither result in much success.

9) The Suspenders- These relationships are mainly defined by the support they give us. Sometimes, these are mostly one-sided relationships as we turn to them for support, but the mutual need and care is not reciprocated by them.  Other times, there is a mutual need that is met within the relationship. Either way, the relationship is defined by the specific support the relationship brings.

10) The Wrinkled Shirt- These relationships are mainly defined by the high amount of maintenance they take. With some people you are always having to iron out some issue, either within the relationship or in their lives. Above and beyond the normal flaws and ups and downs of people and relationships, these relationships are filled with drama and often suck the life out of you. Every time you connect with these relationships, you realize there is a lot of ironing to do to make the relationship work. In fact, often times, if you take the drama, negativity, and conflict out of the relationship, there is actually no relationship left.

11) The Catalogue Display- These relationships are mainly defined by our desire to have them. These are the people we want in our relationship closet, but for whatever reason, they aren’t there and likely will never be. These are the people who you are trying to get into your life but aren’t able to without paying a cost. Sometimes that cost is begging them, appeasing them, flattering them, or always being the one to take the initiative.

No Hoarding, No Careless Disposing! Some thoughts about cleaning out the Relationship Closet…

Note: In my personal opinion, based on God’s Word, I do not believe marriage is a relationship that should be categorized as being in your Relationship Closet. Though it often needs cleaning, I do not believe it is a relationship that should be seen as one that should be “cleaned out” of your relationships closet. God allows for divorce under certain defined circumstances, but does not condone it nor require it. Therefore, do not misunderstand the content of this post as applying to marriage.

o.o1 – Be decisive and direct about the Uncomfortable Shoe – The good news about the Uncomfortable Shoe type of relationship is that sometimes things can be softened over and smoothed out. These are relationships that though they make us uncomfortable or even painful, instead of prematurely throwing them out, they may be repairable with some work. I am reminded of the passage in the Bible, “As far as depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” With uncomfortable relationships, we need to be willing to do our best at fixing them. Don’t just wait around hoping things will get better on their own, take initiative to remedy the relationship.

However, as the above passage in the Bible suggests, we can’t always fix relationships. If you have made every effort to revitalize or reconcile the relationship, but with no little or no success, it may just be time to redefine the relationship as you set healthy boundaries.  This can be difficult to do, but it’s critical. We can’t change people, but we can change how we relate to people.

o.o2 – Have realistic expectations about the Nostalgia Suit- It’s easy to want certain relationships and certain aspects of our relationships to last forever. It’s also natural to desire to reconnect with an old friend hoping that things will go back to or feel the ways things did in the past. There are some relationships in our past that can carry on forever, and some that we can reconnect with that pick up like time never passed. However, placing a high expectation that this will be the case is probably not going to serve you or the relationship very well. Let the Nostalgia Suit type of relationship be enjoyed for what it is, and if a new or continued relationship can be developed from it, great. Certainly don’t just discard it.  But don’t place a lot of pressure on the relationship to fit and feel like it used to.

o.o3 – Avoid over thinking the Gifted Tie – Letting the emotions of guilt rule our relationships is not going to result in good things. For sure, we are to be compassionate and caring to people as we give unconditional love. However, you can give unconditional love without granting unlimited access to your life, time, attention, and energy. Guilt does not produce love. When we extend ourselves to people out of guilt, we are not loving them, but in fact are selfishly trying to remove the pain of guilt from our lives so we feel better about ourselves. Genuine compassion leads to love, but guilt does not. If after honest evaluation, you find yourself giving your time and attention to a person out of guilt, ask God to help you deal with the source of your guilt while helping you know what to say “yes” and “no” to in the relationship.  In some instances, this will mean learning to love that person from a distance, other times it will mean admitting you aren’t the best person to care for them. Other times it may mean completely redefining the relationship or even removing yourself from it. Regardless, don’t over think the Gifted Tie type of relationship and become consumed by it, that is often what guilt seeks to do… control you.

o.o4 – Don’t spend your life on a Fashion Statement – Though it may seem otherwise, people can’t make you any more important and or valuable than what you already are.  For some of us, we subscribe our value to the kinds of people we have in our lives. Believe it or not, the cool-kids lunch table you wanted to sit at in middle school carries on into adulthood. There are cool coworker tables, cool parents tables, cool professionals tables, and on and on.  Yes, the Bible counsels us that the people we draw close to us can be defining in our lives. We need to be selective about the people we bring to the closest levels of our relationships. However, that is more of an issue of integrity and wholeness, not popularity, fame, or standing. Spending our lives trying to attach ourselves to the fame, success, and popularity of other people is a waste of time. Putting on someone else’s clothes often doesn’t look good at all. Furthermore, trying to be someone we aren’t isn’t a very attractive look either.  God’s counsel is to be the first you, not a copy of someone else. Make the most of who you are and the platform God has given you. Be a fashion setter, not fashion seeker.

o.o5 – Force fitting the Shrunken Jeans never works – Not every relationships fits us. The very same person who makes for a great acquaintance, may not make a very healthy close friend. Furthermore, the very person who made for a great friend in one season of your life, may not make for a very good friend during another season of your life.  God is in the business of life change. Sometimes, as God changes us, our relationships need to to change too.  With some relationships, as God grows us, the relationship grows too. This is an ideal situation that should be cherished. With other relationships, as God grows us, the relationship tries to reel us back into who we were before and what we did, keeping us from moving forward.  In some relationships, the glue of the relationship is the not so good behavior or activity you did with them.  Once you grow out of that behavior, the relationship is threatened.  This is where, at times, we need to clean out the relationships closet and throw those old pair of jeans away, they just don’t fit and will keep us from moving forward with God.

Other times, we are the ones who shrink the relationship. We screw up and damage things. When this occurs, we need to fes up, repent, and ask for forgiveness with a commitment to rebuild the person’s trust over time. If this is granted, you should be thankful. If it is not granted, trying to force your way back into the relationship will not likely work well. In fact, it may end up hurting you and the situation more.  If the person is willing to stretch out with forgiveness and reconciliation, then one day the relationship may just fit again, even better and stronger than before. But if they aren’t, force fitting yourself into the relationship is a hopeless pursuit, and it may be time to simply move on.

o.o6 – Never take for granted your Favorite Sweater- It’s amazing how often we work on relationships that aren’t working and forget to work on relationships that are working. To keep that Favorite Sweater being your Favorite Sweater, it’s going to take some effort and work. The problem we can have with the Favorite Sweater is we leave it in the closet and forget about taking care of it while we busily try to develop and maintain some of the other types of relationships. Then, when we go to put on that Favorite Sweater, it is stretched out, dusty, or even a bit moldy. In short, the relationship isn’t as warm and fuzzy because we have not taken care of it as much as we should. The reason why that person(s) is your Favorite Sweater is because of the comfort, warmth, and encouragement the relationship brings to both of you. But without care, we can’t expect that to always be the case.

o.o7 – Choose to limit your emotional energy on Wrinkled Shirts- There really is no such thing as a wrinkle free shirt. Every relationship takes time, energy, and effort. However, some relationships are defined by having to maintain them through a lot of drama and issues. These are the exhausting relationships. With every turn, there seems to be some crisis, conflict, or wrinkle that needs to ironed out.  The truth is, the Wrinkled Shirt type of relationships often have deeper issues going on than we could every possibly remedy.  Though these persons cry out for attention and display issues that need dire fixing, the reality is, you or I aren’t likely going to be able to fix them. Sometimes, the best thing to do is refer them to the cleaners (so to speak), that is, professionals who are trained to deal with their level of issues and problems. Trying to play the neighborhood psychiatrist may in fact do more harm than good. As Christians, we have Jesus who is the solution to all the problems of the world, but how that solution gets integrated into a person’s life often has a lot more to with the person themselves aided by the help of a professional Christian counselor. There is a lot we can do as Christians to bring healing to wrinkled lives and relationships, but there is also a lot we can’t. Having the wisdom to distinguish the difference is key.

o.o8 – Avoid chasing after Catalogue displays-   At times, I have found value  in the statement, “If people can walk away, let them walk away.” This phrase refers to those relationships where we try to keep people in our lives that really make little to no effort to be in our lives. Sometimes, they flat out turn the corner and walk away. Like a catalogue, we can picture them in our Relationship Closet, but the reality is, they aren’t there and paying the cost to get them there isn’t going to be worth it in the end. If you have to beg, appease, plead, flatter, or otherwise try to convince people to be or stay in your life, they probably aren’t worthy being in your Relationship Closet to begin with. When relationships sour, we need to be willing to admit mistakes, repent, and go through the process of reconciliation, but forever begging and pleading, appeasing and convincing those who clearly aren’t interested in being a part of your life is not what God does with us, nor intends for us. If they can walk away, let them walk away. God’s future for you isn’t tied to their presence in your life.

Closing Thoughts

God gives us the beautiful gift of relationships. As we steward our Relationship Closet, on one side of the coin we will likely find relationships in our closet that with a bit of nurturing and care can be transformed instead of discarded. Yet at the same time, we will likely find relationships that truly no longer fit, for whatever reason can’t be patched, or clearly work against what God is doing, and should be redefined or even completely removed.

Church Impossible

I love the television show, “Restaurant Impossible.”  This real life show is about how expert chef and restaurant entrepreneur Robert Irvine of Food Network spends two days trying to fix “failing” restaurants that have sought out his help. He and his team of designers diagnos and address the many layers of issues that have led to the failure of the restaurant.  Most restaurants have significant debt, management problems, poor service, bad food, and unsightly disrepair issues.

Every time I watch this show, I am astounded by the many crossovers that can be identified that directly compare to leading churches and seeking to minister to people.  There are a lot of successful and faithful churches out there, and there are a lot of successful and faithful Christians. However, there are also what could be called, “failing” churches and Christians as well.

Over the course of my ministry thus far, I have served as the Lead Pastor of two churches that could be considered, “failing” churches. The similarities between the issues that needed to be addressed in those churches and these restaurants are uncanny.

Here some of the many crossovers from Restaurant Impossible to Church Impossible…

1) Failing Churches and Restaurants don’t set out to fail

Most churches and restaurant are started by good-hearted people who want to succeed.  Many churches are started by people who have a passion to see the Gospel change people’s lives and the Kingdom of God built through their ministry. They love Jesus and want to see His Church be the redemptive hope of the world. Many existing Churches don’t have within their mindset the desire to fail, in fact most want to be faithful to God. In the same way, I have never seen an episode of Restaurant Impossible where the leaders of the restaurant ever desired it to fail.  They started it with good intentions and probably still have many good intentions.

2) Failing Churches and Restaurants are often led by people in a certain amount of denial

In one episode of Restaurant Impossible, a restaurant owner/chef was convinced that his “homemade” barbecue (which actually wasn’t completely homemade) was the best. It tasted great to him, but obviously the customers believed differently. Even his own staff thought is was lacking (though a few faithful customers liked it). Otherwise, they would be filling the place with more business and new business. The barbecue recipe’ had been past down through generations, but for whatever reason, it not only didn’t taste good, it wasn’t homemade, and the customers were not buying it.

Part of Robert Irvine’s challenge was to help the owner/chef come out of denial about his barbecue recipe and see that what may taste good to him and honor a family tradition is actually working against the purpose and success of the restaurant.

Obviously, the goal of a church isn’t to solely please the customer, but it is to present the Gospel in ways that people can digest and taste and see that the Lord is good. Churches should never change the meat of the Gospel, but the way we present it should always be changing.  The traditions of man have often become the enemy of church effectiveness.  Like the chef/owner, failing churches are often serving up traditions and ministries that taste good to themselves, but are not reaching people far from God with the Gospel. Churches that are merely keeping their members happy and maintaining their existence are in my mind, “failing” churches in the sense that they are failing to reach their redemptive potential and their calling by God to reach people far from God at all costs. In the Kingdom of God, maintenance does not equal success it equals failure.

Unfortunately, the follow up to this episode of Restaurant Impossible found the chef/owner actually going back to the old barbecue recipe despite the overwhelming response from customers regarding their delight in the new recipe provided by chef Robert Irvine.  This same response is common among some churches as well. At the end of the day, they would rather hold onto traditions and what serves them then succeed at their ultimate calling and purpose as a church. In a sense, they have become comfortable with failing and blaming everyone else but themselves.  However, where when a restaurant fails, it costs the owners most of all. When a church fails, it costs lost people most of all.  Worst case senario for the church and its members, they have to close the door and find another club with a cross on top. Worst case senario for lost people, they spend eternity separated from God.

The cost of denial in church world is far greater than restaurant world.

3) Failing Churches and Restaurants are often led by discouraged people.

By the time a restaurant or church comes to the place where they are willing to admit that they need help, they are often discouraged. Some people/employees surely bolted long before they sounded the alarm, but those who remain are likely frustrated, burned out at some level, and scared. Which in some instances adds to their stubbornness against the very things that can make them well.  Some are so discouraged that they would rather just give up or resist change instead of taking a new path towards success and wholeness. Yet for those who have a flicker of passion remaining, a fresh sense of vision and hope can spark revitalization.

Unfortunately, the very discouragement than can press an owner or a group of leaders to get help and implement fresh ideas and strategies, can be the very discouragement that once removed by new success, can lead back into negative patterns.  Some people are attracted to conflict and drama, and success scares and intimidates them more than failure. For these types of leaders and groups, a deep change in their core mindset is needed to move into the potential of their restaurant or church.

4) Failing Churches and Restaurants are often resistant to change

It’s amazing for me to see how many restaurants ask for chef Robert’s help and then are blessed with the tremendous wisdom, fresh vision, new effective ideas and strategies that come from chef Robert and his team that prove to be successful in their context, only to weeks later go right back to the very behaviors and strategies that caused them to fail in the first place.

It reminds me of a scene where Jesus sees a man who said he wanted healing, had been sitting near a healing pool for years, and had all kinds of excuses why he never had gotten in and become healed.  Jesus senses the irony and asks him, “Do want to get well?”  Jesus knew, just because you say you want something doesn’t mean you are willing to do what it takes to get it.

So many churches, people, and apparently restaurants say they want to get well, but when the reality of it meets their life, they are resistant and even rebellious to make the necessary changes. Everybody wants change without changing anything, especially themselves.

Many churches and restaurants that are failing are led by the same people, in the same ways, doing the same things, with the same methods, but expecting new results. That is insanity and will prove to be unsuccessful.

5) Failing Churches and Restaurants often don’t see their irrelevance to the needs of people.

From having restaurants that have way too many items on their menu, to having outdated and tacky decor. From having food that is tasteless, processed, and flat out gross, to having items on the menu nobody is buying.  Many of the restaurants chef Robert seeks to revitalize don’t realize how irrelevant they are to the needs of their potential customers. Many owners, in fact, think their customers like the very things these same customers actually say they don’t. Furthermore, some restaurants even have a distasteful smell about them that the owners no longer recognize, but their customers certainly do.

In the same way, many failing churches don’t see the irrelevance of their ministry and the bad “smell” they are wafting, other than perhaps how it serves their own likings. For example…

Many failing churches try to serve too many items on their ministry menu.  Instead of accomplishing a few areas of ministry with excellence, they try to be all things to all people, and thus end up doing many things, but none of them very well.

Many failing churches are serving ministries that lost people could care less about.  A vision of reaching people far from God and maturing believers should be at the heart of every church.  Yet, typically, failing churches do much more to take care of believers than to reach people far from God. In fact, I have never seen a church “fail” because they cared too much about people far from God and adjusting their ministries and priorities accordingly.  Rather, I have seen just the opposite. When we begin to ask the question of each and every ministry within the church, “How does this effectively reach lost people or prepare believers to do so?” we begin to know best how to align our ministries and trim the ministry vine.

Many failing churches don’t realize how poorly they are doing ministry.  Unfortunately in the name of trying to be loving and friendly, many churches surrender to a mindset that believes being a spiritual organization of volunteers requires us to significantly lower our standards of excellence and effectiveness. Yet, God designed people to serve in areas of their passion, spiritual gifts, maturity level, and in line with the overall vision of the church so that ministry can be done skillfully, purposefully, and with excellence.

Unfortunately, many failing churches tend to do whatever, with whomever, in basically any old way that seems to fit. A maintenance ministry mindset has caused them to conclude that it doesn’t have to be done well and with excellence, besides, “Jesus will understand,” and “we are all family anyways.”  Furthermore, “that will cost too much money.”

Often times, chef Robert has to convince the chef/owner of what should already by very obvious… the food stinks, their methods stink, and their organization is flawed. This if often a tough reality to hear, but an important one.

Many failing churches don’t realize how their outdated and tacky decor, image, and style is eclipsing their ministry effectiveness.  I am amazed how restaurants and churches try to attract 21st century people with 19th century architecture, design, music, imagery, and decor. More and more, we live in a visual culture that is influenced by visual communication.  Yet, somehow we think that when it comes to church, people will flip a switch and not care. This, is absolutely not true.

Jesus used the communication tools and languages of his day, we should too.

6) Failing Churches and Restaurants often have internal conflicts of power and control

With every episode of Restaurant Impossible, chef Robert has to deal with some kind of internal disfunction amongst the leadership of the restaurant. Usually, it has to do with issues of power, control, and a lack of centralized leadership. Either people who should be leading aren’t leading (for whatever reason), or people who shouldn’t be leading are trying to run the show. Whatever the case, the dysfunction is obvious.

Failing churches often have internal conflicts along with issues of power and control. In the same way as these failing restaurants, typically it stems from the reality that people who shouldn’t be leading are in fact the ones running the show. Perhaps they shouldn’t be leading because they lack the calling, maturity, skill, discipline, knowledge, vision, or heart, but nonetheless, they are leading.

In the same way that chef Robert’s seeks to remedy these issues, failing churches need to establish who the earthly God-called leader is, give them appropriate authority to lead, clarify roles, define goals and values, and align people around them.  Furthermore, once this has been established, the leader(s) must follow through with their responsibilities. Defining clear roles, establishing specific goals, organizing people and processes, and having good leadership is critical in both churches and restaurants.

7) Failing Churches and Restaurants want to be successful, but some aren’t willing to do what it takes

With every episode of Restaurant Impossible, chef Robert along with restaurant leaders are required to make tough calls. Whether it be in changing an entire menu, revamping the whole interior and look of the restaurant, firing employees, removing long held traditions or practices, or calling people into accountability, revitalizing a restaurant is difficult work.  And even though many of them play along while the show is being filmed and the romance of a “new” restaurant is still present, many of these failing restaurants go back to some if not all the very things that backed them into a corner to begin with. The opportunity was there to move forward, but when it mattered most, they weren’t willing to do what it takes.

Many “failing” churches say they want to grow, want to be relevant to culture, and want to reach people far from God, but when it matters most, they simply aren’t willing to do what it takes to see it happen. They aren’t willing to make the difficult decisions, take the needed risks, and face the necessary challenges.  Good intentions don’t make great restaurants, nor do they build the Kingdom of God and lead churches to reach their redemptive potential.

8) Failing churches and restaurants must be changed on the inside not just the outside

One of the highlights of Restaurant Impossible is the big reveal of the inside, physical renovations of the restaurant.  It’s amazing what changes can be made and an entire restaurant be visually turned around in a matter of a couple days. But, as chef Robert has often said on the show, the physical renovations don’t mean much if the other areas of needed renovation don’t occur.

One of the most important lessons I have learned about “failing” churches is that even though you may be able to renovate their style, ministry practices, and image, if you don’t renovate the hearts of the core people of the church it will eventually come crashing down. Unfortunately, as it is in restaurant world, so it is in church world. Renovating the heart of the core group in the church or restaurant can be challenging and sometimes (even often) impossible. Only God can change a heart and break through the deep seeded issues that are likely present in the hearts of the core people of a “failing” church. But with God, all things are possible. With Jesus, Church impossible becomes church possible.

9) Failing churches and restaurants are filled with great hope and potential

There has never been a Restaurant Impossible episode thus far of a restaurant that was beyond hope and potential for a great turn around. Every church is loved by God and filled with great potential. Whether a restaurant or church reaches this potential and comes into the hope they have is up to their willingness to receive and apply wise counsel. For churches this counsel is grounded in God’s Word, His purpose for His Church, and the faithful leadership of called pastors and leaders.

© 2024 Chris Kratzer

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