interview on social media church

2013 July 15
by j a n

Several weeks ago I was contacted by DJ Chuang about participating in his Social Media Church podcasts. If you’re somehow still unaware of this incredible resource, go and bookmark it now. DJ is curating interviews and thoughts about the use of social media within the Church, from all kinds of perspectives: communications, web, tech, marketing and more.

Our conversation is part of Episode 53: 4 Levels of Social Media Engagement. DJ and I go way back to “when blogging was big.” I remember meeting him at a conference and asking if he would be live-blogging the sessions. (Remember live-blogging? Who could listen and write coherent paragraphs at the same time? Uhh…not me.) He said he was trying a new thing called Twitter and would be “tweeting” the sessions. I made a mental note to find out what that meant.

So in Episode 53 we talk a little about blogging and social media, along with some of the how’s and why’s of what we’re doing at Eastside. I’m always happy to talk about my church.

Perhaps more importantly the podcast begins with thoughts about the 4 Levels of Social Media Engagement. DJ refers to some tech friends of mine, Van Metschke and Mike Sessler, who provide an amazing church resource called Church Tech Arts. The 4 levels provide some really good thinking on social media engagement.

Thanks DJ, for bringing it all together.

5 things to do when God is silent

2013 June 24
by j a n

There will come a time in the life of every believer when God is silent. Notice I didn’t say “when it seems God is silent,” though we might be more comfortable with that. It’s easier to blame ourselves than to point fingers at the Creator of the Universe. But the Bible is full of instances when people cried out to God with no answer (Psalm 22:2, 13, 77, and 88, just to name a few).

The truth is, times of spiritual dryness actually mean that God is paying attention to us – specifically working in us to help us grow and become more like Christ. You can read more explanation here about what’s actually happening during these times. But this post is about what you can do if you find yourself alone in the silence.

1. Pay attention to what God said to you before. The Bible is his words and they’re unchanging. Take time to review verses that connected with you before. And remind God of his promises. I call them “You Said” prayers, as in, “You Said you would never leave me or forsake me.” “You Said seek and I’ll find.”

2. Seek wise counsel. Don’t try to get through these difficult times alone. But you do have to be careful about who you choose to confide in. It’s possible for well-meaning friends to comment on your spiritual situation in a way that’s unintentionally hurtful. (Think Job’s famous friends.) Find a spiritually mature friend, advisor, or pastor who can encourage and pray with you through this season.

3. Try to discern what you need to learn. Where are you most uncomfortable or stressed? God may be trying to grow you in very specific areas of your life. Things like bitterness, a bad temper, impatience, guilt, or control might rise to the surface. When I was in this season, there were two long weeks when every time I had a mental complaint my very next thought was “that’s because you’re selfish.” Pray about relinquishing whatever that is to Him.

4. Rather than focus on what to do, focus on who to be. It may involve spending time on the quality from #3 above. And your temptation will be to do things like get busy and read the Bible more, buy and read books on this subject (that one might be just me), physically get on your knees to pray, and put worship music on auto repeat 24/7. None of these things are wrong, but be cautious about making noise just to fill the silence.

5. Check out a spiritual formation lecture. If you want to further study how and why God is working during this time, Biola University offers some lectures on spiritual formation online for free. Their Institute for Spiritual Formation is world class.

brands that create meaningful lives

2013 June 17
by j a n

Fast Company recently posted an article, A Successful 21st Century Brand Has to Help Create Meaningful Lives. An enormous study of how consumers around the world interact with brands finds that only the companies that make life better for consumers create impactful connections.

I’m always intrigued when culture begins to understand something the Church has been doing for centuries.

Understand that I’m not advocating for “consumer church.” In the above title, there’s a huge difference in my mind between “makes life better” and creating “impactful connections.” The first often takes the form of a prosperity or “name it and claim it” Gospel, in which God wants to improve your life and make you successful. The second – creating impactful connections – is what we’re focused on 52 weekends a year: to first create meaningful connections for guests with people in our church, and ultimately with Christ.

“It’s a simple question of philosophy. ‘CEOs are painstakingly trained to deliver outputs: stuff like slightly better sneakers, phones, or cars. And that’s exactly the problem, not the solution,’ says Haque. ‘Because what people are really looking for are outcomes: the real human benefits those outputs results in. … If you’re still seeing your business essentially as a giant factory producing outputs, instead of as a system that creates real, positive human outcomes–you’re still stuck in the industrial age, while the rest of the world, especially your customers, are beginning to take a quantum leap into what I call a human age–an era where a life meaningfully well lived is what really counts.’”

We’ve talked about this before. Sometimes we focus more on “outputs” – our individual seeker-friendly, artsy, fun, hipster, social justice-focused styles – rather than outcomes. Instead our focus should be on the only reason any of us are in ministry in the first place: the outcomes of a life forever changed by Jesus: restored marriages, addicts set free, the lost found, broken hearts overflowing with love, disciples who in turn connect him with others.

I’m incredibly fortunate to work at a church where I regularly hear people say (tweet, post, instagram), “I love my church!” and “I feel at home here.” These are people finding Jesus. Discovering grace. And that is the key difference between the Church and a corporation: rather than devising ways to bring meaning to a consumer’s life with the sale of a product, all we really have to do is be who we are. A family. Living lives of meaning together as loved children of the King.

the way of confusion

2013 June 10
by j a n

I’m not all that comfortable with confusion. As an ENTJ I’m prone to over-analyzing, and attempting to really nail things down so everyone in my same time zone can also be perfectly clear, just to be on the safe side.

As Christians, in my experience, we tend to believe confusion is bad. It implies I may be out of God’s will, that somehow I misunderstood his clear direction and leading in my life. “God is not a God of confusion!” we quote warningly. We feel a vague suspicion we’ve done something wrong, a fear that somehow, somewhere along the line we got off track.

But what if confusion is the right track? In spite of my discomfort with confusion, I’ve frequently found myself in situations that weren’t what I expected. We all experience times when things don’t seem to be working out the way we’d anticipated, when we perhaps prayed and sought wise counsel and very clearly saw God’s direction in a specific situation that inexplicably turned out to be a dead end. We don’t understand. We are confused. So our “Help Me” prayers gradually turn into “Why, God?” prayers, which of course lead to the somewhat panicked “Show me what to do!” prayers. Aside from the omniscience thing, sometimes I think God must find us terribly predictable.

Oswald Chambers explains it this way:

“There are times in spiritual life when there is confusion, and it is no way out to say that there ought not to be confusion. It is not a question of right and wrong, but a question of God taking you by a way which in the meantime you do not understand, and it is only by going through the confusion that you will get at what God wants.”

God is not a God of confusion, but in this life it’s easy to misread people and situations and even our own intentions. And in our confusion we can turn to him as a God of Love, whom we can trust implicitly to get us where he wants us to be.

communication lessons from american airlines

2013 May 28
by j a n

I recently took a trip to the Midwest to visit family, and endured one of my worst travel experiences, stuck in O’Hare airport overnight on what should have been an otherwise routine journey – one I’ve taken many times. As a communications director, I watched and listened with interest as American Airlines failed to manage a customer service snag that literally grew by the hour.

A quick overview: The trip from southern California to Springfield, Missouri normally takes 6-8 hours, and includes a connection in Dallas or O’Hare. These airports are frequently impacted by weather. In fact, we left SoCal late, because flights were backed up at O’Hare because of thunderstorms.

I arrived at O’Hare in time to catch my 6:45pm connecting flight, now listed as departing at 8:10pm. Then for the next 5 hours, American bumped the flight back about one hour, every hour. People were generally patient. Sometime after midnight, we finally boarded the plane. When fully boarded, we were told the flight was cancelled and instructed to exit. Flights were rebooked for the following day and I reached my destination 27 hours after original departure.

Here are 5 ways communication in any customer-oriented industry can be more effective:

1. Proactively communicate the situation.
The first departure delays happened without any explanation. As people became more frustrated, AA finally announced they were scrambling to put together crews for multiple delayed flights. Waiting to respond until people are upset is never a good strategy.

2. Identify with the customer.
Beyond the obligatory “we’re sorry for the delay,” acknowledging the situation would have greatly helped. “We know your time is important,” or “We know you have someplace important to be, and we’re doing everything we can to get you there.” Empathy goes a long way.

3. Explain what happened.
While a good apology is a significant first step, a brief explanation of what caused the problem is also important. People are generally reasonable and understand malfunctions, human error, and system breakdowns. Identifying the problem means you can fix it (see number 4 below). When passengers were finally ordered off the cancelled flight, AA offered neither apology nor explanation. One gate agent said there was more bad weather between Chicago and Springfield. Another said one of the pilots had “timed out.” The agents were dealing with real people face-to-face, and trying to provide good customer service. But because there wasn’t one clear message, these differing explanations only made AA look inept at best, and uncaring/untrustworthy at worst.

4. Fix the problem.
Let the customer know what steps you are taking to avoid the problem in the future. If the problem is of a potentially recurring nature, offer to make this occurrence right – a refund, a gift certificate, etc. AA did neither. With an overnight delay, there were no offers of drink or meal vouchers. Even worse, in a situation where hotel vouchers were required, AA announced their contracted hotel was an hour away. At 1:00 in the morning, with re-scheduled 9am flights, they don’t get many takers. And in a city consistently disrupted by bad weather, this clearly works only in their favor. Building a system that appears to stack the deck against your customer is just ugly. Sincerity, apologies and explanations go a long way, but don’t forget that actions speak much louder than words.

5. All the above apply to Social media.
Having a social media strategy in place to respond to online comments and complaints is essential. But merely responding isn’t enough. As an arm of marketing or customer service or public relations, your social media plan should be aligned and empowered to deliver on steps 1-4 above.

In my case, after spending the night at O’Hare, showing up to my 9:15am flight and finding it bumped to 9:45 (the 6th consecutive delay), I engaged AA’s corporate Twitter account, @AmericanAir. You can enjoy our conversation here. While trying to be sympathetic, notice the responses never actually engage with what I’m saying. Again, social media is one of the best ways to identify with a customer, empathize, explain, or outline corrective measures. Take advantage of the very specific information provided to measure and improve service.

In a technological world that provides more platforms for customers to voice their opinions, it’s more important than ever for organizations to influence and leverage those opinions positively.

modesty and men

2013 April 3
by j a n

Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) posts a timely article, “On Modesty and Male Privilege.” Of the many cultural shifts taking place in the 21st century, our concepts of sexuality are certainly some of the most significant.

The idea that “sex sells” has been around for decades. Yet in today’s world, a better description might be that “sexy women sell.” From soft-porn Victoria’s Secret ads to domain names, the objectification of women and its corresponding desensitization of men has become the new normal. This raises issues of modesty and responsibility within the Church.

I have had more than one friend say to me, “It’s more difficult for men. They can’t help themselves because God made them so visual.” Frankly, this is pretty much non-biblical, uninformed BS, and it is an indicator of how pervasive this cultural perspective is within people of faith. The CBE article calls it for what it is:

“If men are perverse, then that’s decidedly an issue for men to address.

Shifting the responsibility to women simply enables men to think and act like sexual predators, rather than demand that they do the hard work of being transformed by the renewing of their minds (Rom. 12:2). Men, we shouldn’t be saying, “Her skinny jeans and V-neck are making me lust.” No, you’re lusting because your God-given capacity for sexual attraction has morphed into a distorted view of women as objects that you need to control.”

I have to say I find the label of “rape culture” in this article a bit excessive. It feels like the same extremist language the world uses, (in which disagreeing becomes “hating”) and I think as Christ-followers our response should always take a position of least offense, not greatest. Even so, the writer is making a point and his conclusion is valid.

“Perhaps instead of focusing on the culturally ambiguous standard of “modest dress” for women, we should worry more about our attitudes toward, and our objectification of, women. Maybe instead of trying to place the blame on women for our own shortcomings, we should do the hard work of re-wiring our brains in order to remove the influences that continue to perpetuate our distorted view of women… We should focus on what it means for men to partner with God in bringing the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.”

ugliness & beauty

2013 March 29
by j a n

Today is Good Friday…arguably the most conflicting day in all of history. It’s the day Jesus – the promised Messiah – was crucified, and died. Instead of conquest and deliverance, there was scorn, grief, confusion, terror. Hope crushed.

There’s a beautiful post written by A Penitent Blogger some years ago about the ugliness of salvation. It is only in hindsight that we can see the beauty of that day’s terrible events.

And you begin to understand why Christianity is not a religion simply formed around a wise teacher. Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Lose your life to find it. None of these provide the catalyst to launch a world-changing faith. Take up your cross daily – who wants to rally around that? And perhaps more revealingly, Peter, following Pentecost doesn’t stand up and declare “I preach this Jesus, who spoke the Beatitudes!”

No, over and over again through the book of Acts, Peter proclaims, “this Jesus, whom you put to death, and who God raised from the dead!” The resurrection is the single most significant factor of the Christian faith. It’s the reason we come together this weekend, with millions of believers around the world everywhere, to celebrate our “ugly” salvation. Because it is “the Good News that saves you if you firmly believe it…that Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:2-4).

Death isn’t the last word anymore. Death has become life. And ugliness becomes beautiful.

getting it backwards

2013 March 26
by j a n

There are lots of things in the world today that we just see backwards.

Like “trying it out” by living together is a good way to tell if you’re compatible for marriage, when study after study shows the opposite is true.

“We don’t need a piece of paper to validate our relationship.” When what you mean is, you’re not even committed enough to bother with a piece of paper that’s so “insignificant.”

And online friend Dan Johnson nailed one this week on his Facebook page:

“Whoever said, ‘Love is blind,’ was wrong. Love has 20/20 vision. It chooses to overlook some of the things it sees. Love, like friendship, accepts who we are trying to be and not who we always are. Lust is blind. Love has perfect vision.”

Lust is blind. It sees only its own needs and gratification, ignores responsibility and consequences, and frequently objectifies. Love sees us for who we really are, as well as who we can become.

buying a brand

2013 March 5
by j a n

Yesterday Jen Taylor Johnson posted a great article at the Christian Standard, calling out Bible publishers who keep creating repackaged versions so we’ll keep buying.

“…I see it as one more indicator of American Christianity’s consumer mind-set. A simple study Bible in a reliable translation is not enough? We need the ‘Personalized Promise Bible’ that inserts our name into the text, the ‘Holy Bible: Stock Car Racing Edition,’ a ‘Thomas Kinkade Lighting the Way Home Family Bible’?”

I had actually been thinking about this topic over the weekend, and here’s where I landed: Our culture has a consumer/branding mindset, combined with an obsession for individualization. And this combination is dangerous for believers.

For example, let’s say you used to buy Tide laundry detergent, and I used to buy Era, and someone else bought Gain. We identified with these respective brand preferences.

Today, there are 48 different versions of Tide. There’s Tide with “Acti-Lift” (vivid clean), Tide Vivid White+Bright (whitens & brightens), Tide plus Febreze Sport (work out odors from workout clothes), Tide plus Downy (softeness you can feel), Tide Free (gentle on your skin), Tide Coldwater, Tide Totalcare (keeps your clothes like new). Plus, liquid, powder, pacs and pod versions of all the above.

See what Tide did there? We can be as differentiated and individualized as we like, but we’re all still using the same brand (Tide).

So in Jen’s scenario, the brand is “Bible.” It used to be enough for a believer to carry a Bible – maybe the NIV or the NLT. But being the consumer individuals that we are, we’re compelled to differentiate ourselves from everyone else. So boom! – 200 versions of the Bible with which to demonstrate our individuality.

Here’s where my thoughts were this weekend: This is also why online dating sites have become so successful. It allows singles to shop our brand (Christian) but still differentiate our specific consumer preferences: tall and thin, blond with big boobs, athletic/outdoorsy – we can now shop for prospective spouses online based on any number of preferred criteria.

And it seems to me this happens because the Church has failed to understand the concept of being “in the world” but not of it. In fact, we’ve joined hands with the world, jumping on the bandwagon of differentiating brands: we’re culturally relevant, we’re seeker-friendly, we play secular music, we’re the hipster church, the fun church, the artsy church. And just like Tide, you can get podcasts, streaming, video and satellite campus versions of all the above. We’ve focused on marketing to consumers. And we compete with each other.

What we as churches may have misunderstood is what our brand really is: counter-cultural community, the body of Christ. This is what differentiates us – not from each other (who cares?) – but from the world. And it is only here – when we lay down our desperate need for individualization – that we find our true identity. Sinners saved by grace. Consumers, now contented. Takers, now generous givers. “High maintenance,” now serving others as more important than themselves. We’re Brand Jesus – and there’s no differentiating. “There’s neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free…”

why women talk more

2013 February 22
by j a n

Science claims to have found the reason women are more “talkative” than men. Apparently, the female brain has higher levels of a protein called FOXP2, which is linked with verbal communication. (It’s so cute how they managed to work the word “fox” into this biological protein. Who says scientists have no sense of humor?) Anyway, according to the experts, women speak an average of 20,000 words a day vs. 7,000 words for men.

Hmm. A biological protein? Maybe. Or perhaps there’s a different reason – clearly understood in the following story.

A husband attempted to prove to his wife that women talk more than men by showing her this very study, and explaining the 7,000 words men use per day versus the 20,000 women use. (What was he thinking?)

His wife considered the information for a moment, and then suggested that women use twice as many words as men because they have to repeat everything they say.

Looking stunned, her husband said, “What?”