Saturday, July 20, 2002

incarnating truth

One of the reasons that I think God gave me three girls is that years before I had any kids thru an experience I had that I won't get into now God granted me some insight into how to raise girls: they must know that daddy absolutely adores them. You can always tell a woman who knows she's adored by her dad from a woman who does not have that gift. The former is quietly confident and acts and speaks from strength. The latter has to play catch up with their self-esteem and, sadly, some never do.

Because of this, I regularly go out on "dates" with Michaela Siobhan (6), Skye Teresa (4) and have just started this with Alia Noelle (2).

Today Skye-Baby and I were having what we call "special time" with ice cream, merry-go-round, pet store and a walk around the mall when we stumbled onto a wonderful store I'd never heard of: Build-a-Bear Workshop. It was a very cool place. I need to spend some time on their site to get the whole 411 but the gist seems to be you buy a fairly inexpensive bear-without-the-guts and then you work with an employee using a wonderful machine to add love-stuffing, kindness-stuffing, etc. until it becomes a bear. Then the child test hugs the bear and advises the employee as to the new toy's suitability. Absolutely fantastic concept. And then you can spend a zillion dollars on clothes for your bear, backpacks for your bear, skates for your bear, etc.

The store reminded me of the American Girl phenomenon (in fact, I bet Build-a-Bear girls graduate to be American Girl-girls) and Joseph Pine and James Gilmore's The Experience Economy (by the way, I don't recommend you read the book. I did read the book and, though their primary thesis is great, felt that it was a good article that they forced to book length. Instead, plop down your digital six bucks and download the Harvard Business Review article instead.

Pine and Gilmore talk about how the American economy has changed such that people today purchase experiences rather than commodities, goods or services. They give the compelling example of how for their kid's birthday in the 50's moms bought flour, sugar, eggs, etc to make a cake. Then in later years they paid more to buy a cake mix. Later they paid even more to pick up a cake from the grocery story. Today they purchase an experience at McDonalds or Chucky Cheese.

After seeing Build-a-Bear, it occurred to me that there is an analogy to how the church can be more of a change agent in lives of those it touches. Just as by providing experiences, businesses today can more compellingly capture their customers' imaginations and credit cards, so also by giving those around us (in and out of our faith communities) an experience of Jesus Christ thru us, the church can effect spiritual transformation. And this is not just some trendy application to the church of the newest rage in business thought; there is biblical warrant for this line of thinking. Peter writes,

"As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewarts of God's varied grace"

1 Peter 4:10 (English Standard Version)

And when we serve one another with our gifts, we are acting as Christ's body on earth (see 1 Corinthians 12:27.)

Jesus Himself was forever giving those around him an experience of God's grace and mercy as He also gave them life-changing information. In the modern church, as we've written before, we tend to rely on information transfer as the omnicompetent modality of spiritual transformation. But something else is needed as well.

The concept of presence has been helpful to me in this connection. When I first began working with all the small groups while on staff at Cedar Ridge Community Church I put a lot of focus on policies, procedures, infrastructure, strategy, etc. By the end of my time there I had come to the point where I felt that the most important thing I did was simply have lunch with one of my small group leader coaches. I came to the point where I felt that one of the best ways I could leverage my time was by modeling for my coaches what I wanted them to do for their leaders and what I wanted the group leaders to do with their participants. I was striving to model being present, listening, believing in them, and giving advice when it was requested. In this way, I was trying to give them an experience of God's love.

I think it was either in Safest Place on Earth or Connecting that Larry Crabb said that spiritual transformation does not occur outside of the context of relationship. When we model God's love for others, we provide them with a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, God loves them too and provide just such a context. When this relational context is combined with life-transforming biblical information and the work of the Holy Spirit, the stage is set for spiritual transformation.

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