Sunday, May 18, 2014

"Renovate or Die" - A Review

As the time to move into my appointment continues to draw closer, I continue plowing through the books that were on the reading list for the Vibrant Church Initiative consultation program my new church and I will be engaged in.  The most recent book, "Renovate or Die" was written by Bob Farr with assistance from Kay Kotan, the forward by Adam Hamilton, and the Epilogue by Doug Anderson.  This is one of those situations where I was able to meet and spend a week with the author a little more than 3 years ago when I was at a training for new church starts.  This is extremely important because much of the information that was presented to us during that training has been formalized and re-organized into this book.  Simply put, this was not my first introduction to the material or the author and I feel that I might have gotten some different things out of the book than those reading it for the first time would.

After a 13 page introduction on why we need to renovate and an overview of his model of urgency, vision and reality with hope, Farr gives us 10 ways to renovate our churches.  These chapter titles include:
1 It All Starts with the Pastor
2 Understand Your Present Reality
3 Get the Basics Right
4 Create Momentum
5 Inspire through Experiential Worship and Life-Application Preaching
6 Think Strategies, Not Programs
7 Staffing for Leadership
8 Disciple with Clear Steps
9 Network, Network, Network, and Then Market
10 Dare to Simplify the Structure

In reading the chapter titles you might get a realistic sense of where each chapter is going.  If you have read Paul Borden, Bishop Schnase and Adam Hamilton much of what you will read here is a direct outpouring of Farr's experience relating to these other texts.  He utilizes references to them heavily in many areas of the book.  This is not a bad thing.  It just may mean that this book ought to be at the top of your reading list rather than the bottom because it summarized a great deal of what I had read in these other venues.  Beyond the recapping, however, there were real life examples in the Methodist realm (our conferences, churches, etc) that showed how putting these strategies to work could pay dividends in a denomination and I think that is extremely important when presenting this type of material. This simply eliminates the excuses one might think of when sourced out of other denominational affiliations.

The last four chapters in this section were the most impactful for me, but again, I longed for more to be said. 

In the Staffing for Leadership chapter, only 2 pages were given to the discussion of "Getting the Right Paid Staff."  This is an area that has plagued many of the churches that I have served as both laity and clergy.  Pages upon pages could be written about this topic alone and we would do well to have those pages written and shared with us.  Let's address the codependency that happens in most church staffs.  Let's look at what it means to be an employee and worship at the same organization.  Let's talk about how assessment tools and consultation systems can help us grow a healthier church staff.  And let's take a fresh look at family systems as they play out in our churches, because this affects not only the paid staff, but the volunteer staff and lay leadership as well. Finally, let's look at the added stresses of lay staff members with Pastoral Leadership changes in the itinerate system.  Don't get me wrong, Farr makes some great points, even in this small section of this chapter, there is just so much more that needs addressing.

In the chapter covering "Disciple with Clear Steps," I applaud Farr for bringing the obvious to our attention again, because apparently the obvious is not so obvious to many any more.  I would suggest additional study here as well.  There is a growing surge of material available from both inside and outside our conferences/churches relating to this topic.  I love the quote, "...the level of commitment with which people join your church is the level they most likely will remain for their whole time with your church."  That is a spiritual 2x4 regarding our intentional pathways of discipleship if I ever heard one!

"We have to move from a membership mentality to a missionary mentality," is one of the quotes that jumped out at me from the chapter on networking and marketing.  There is definitely so much more to a Christ centered church than marketing.  With marketing as the 12th of 12 steps in this chapter, Farr's work serves as a good reminder for us not to put the cart before the horse!

In the final chapter of this section of the book, Farr implores us to streamline and "Dare to Simplify the Structure."  I can feel the fear and angst that most Methodist churches must feel when they see these words.  The key here is something I have always said, but Farr put it more simply, "meetings are not ministry."  We need to stop filling committees and teams that meet with no action and calling it ministry.  In every ministry context I have been in during the last 15 years, the more streamlined the leadership was, the more fruitful the ministry was.  The key is that we must not sacrifice accountability and Farr does a great job of pointing this out.

The part of the book that causes me to want to jump up and down and give attaboys and kudos to Farr is the inclusion of the chapters involving Five Strategies for Judicatory Leaders from Bishop Schnase.  While all of the other information is great for us leading local congregations, it was affirming to see that leaders in our jurisdiction and denomination are desiring to have tough conversations at all levels of governance.  Systemic change will involve us all, so it makes sense that the conversations that Annual Conferences and bishops must navigate should be as public as the conversations and change that we as local church leaders navigate.

At the end of the day, Farr does a good job with Renovate or Die.  My only recommendation is that you perhaps read this one first before you read some of the other books that are on the VCI list or that his work references.  By doing that, you will get a glimpse of those authors/works that you want to read more about.

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