Bastards with Bibles, Part 4

August 1, 2008 by

This is the fourth and final post in a series about how our impending identity crisis is funking our souls. You can read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 to catch up.

Church as Soul Provider
If we are indeed living in an era where individual and collective identity is drawn from organizations, the church will continue to lose ground unless we get back on the soul train. If there is any organization that should be in the role of helping people find their soul, it’s the church.

We used to be a soul provider. Richard Halverson, former Chaplain of the United States Senate suggested that “In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.”

James Twitchell, in his book Shopping for God, points to research from Eva Hamberg and Thorleif Pettersson that shows how a competitive market spurs innovation and increases consumption. In other words, the reason the spiritual market continues to grow is because it feeds off itself. The U.S. has the highest weekly church attendance and the most diverse supply of religious pluralism in the world. The more we sell, the less we have to give. And the less we have to give, the more irrelevant we become.

Soul Searching
The church’s role in this identity crisis is to find its own identity and soul, and help others find theirs. It starts with knowing your roots. The late Daniel Boorstin, historian and Librarian of Congress, said that planning for the future without a sense of the past is like planting cut flowers and hoping for the best.

What are your roots? How does the DNA of your church come through today? Are the programs you offer a reflection of what you’re all about? Does the design of your building align with the design of your heart? How are you helping others find their identity?

Consider these four characteristics of what it looks like when you do know your identity and soul:

1. Loyalty: We’re committed. We’re working toward the same goals. Years ago Southwest Airlines and their unions made salary concessions to avoid the typical arm-twisting because everyone was committed to the same thing.

2. Identification: We belong. People are good together. We belong to humanity, not a brand. Everyone matters, not just me. W.L. Gore, the company behind GoreTex fabric, has no ad or branding budget. They score plenty of free publicity because they consistently rank at the top of the “Best Companies to Work For” in U.S. and Europe.

3. Trust: We lack fear. We know what matters—and we’re having fun together, not fearing each other. We’re reliable and predictable—people know what to expect.

4. Recognition: We’re noticed. We’re not fragmented and alone. We’re doing life with others and noticing their story. We want to be a part of the story with them. We create unique and memorable experiences.

If you’ve lost your soul, it’s possible to get it back. In 1985 Steve Jobs was forced to leave Apple. Over the next decade Apple’s board would attempt to sell out to IBM, Sun Microsystems and Philips, but there were no takers. It didn’t help that in 1997 sales were down nearly 50 percent and losses were over $1 billion. Steve Jobs is eventually invited back to the company he co-founded and in 1998, the headline of a Fortune magazine feature read, “Apple is becoming itself again.” Jobs would reconcile Apple to its innovation roots and align strategies with their historic identity. We see today that Apple’s return to their soul is obviously a winning strategy.

My prayer is for us to find our soul and identity, and to help others find theirs. May the church be a shining example of being defined not by the stuff we buy or what we belong to, but by a God who knows us intimately and intentionally.

Post By:

Brad Abare

Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it.
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8 Responses to “Bastards with Bibles, Part 4”

  • Paul Prins
    August 1, 2008

    Question would then be how does the church parallel apple? How do we regain our soul without iconic living figures as Jobs is for Apple?
    Are there any church leaders who are truly spur transformation nationally if/not globally? Not that I can think of (excluding pundits who write, I see their role as voices not as the strength). Lucky we have prayer and hope.

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  • Bob
    August 1, 2008

    Great article and Paul you bring up a good point – without depending on an iconic leader like the pope (for the catholic church) it is going to have to be something that we do ourselves – individually…

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  • Brad Abare
    August 1, 2008

    @Paul: Great point indeed. The thing with Apple is that Steve Jobs is obviously such an integral part of their roots as a company. This is actually the challenge Apple is having now because many say Apple’s value will greatly decrease if Jobs was out of the picture. It’s why his health records are so hotly contested right now. They’ve got to figure out how to get Apple taken off of the Steve Jobs life support.
    This is the challenge for churches/ministries too. So many are started with well-intentioned individuals and things get built around that one person. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be if not managed properly.
    Off the top of my head, here are some examples of churches/ministries that I think have done a decent job of weening themselves from the original founder/main personality:
    Christian Assembly (Eagle Rock, Calif.)
    Willow Creek
    Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
    Focus on the Family
    Here are some churches/ministries that I think are challenged in this area:
    Mosaic (Erwin McManus)
    The Church on the Way (Jack Hayford)
    Benny Hinn
    Joyce Meyer
    Mars Hill (Rob Bell)
    I think one of answers to regaining or finding our soul is to find it in partnership with the stakeholders of the organization. When a group of people care, the group will carry it together and pass it on together. This doesn’t mean we can’t have a key leader, we just can’t have things built around the key leader. Always a challenge, I know!

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  • Ken
    August 1, 2008

    There is a rendering for this problem, and there is a blueprint. Check it out at

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  • Heath
    August 1, 2008

    This was an excellent series (no hyperbole)…provocative, insightful, and timely.

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  • Nolan
    August 1, 2008

    Thanks Brad for your article. Definitely insightful and now its time to process all my thoughts. :)

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  • Ben Pettit
    August 2, 2008

    I wrote a follow up to this…
    apparently the track backs don’t work or I was censored.

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  • annabell
    September 15, 2008

    “Bob: This is the challenge for churches/ministries too. So many are started with well-intentioned individuals and things get built around that one person. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be if not managed properly.”
    If we could just keep our intentions centered on the LORD and not build programs around “one person” that would really be the difference maker.
    I think the Steve Jobs/Apple analogy is pretty good. Not that Jobs is any kind of god, but in the same way that the entire company’s identity is lost without it’s designer, that’s really how the church is. Our true identity as a church exists only in Jesus, and if we are losing our identity to commercialism, or institutionalism, or any other “-ism”, it is because we have neglected to remain in the Word to continue to discover His identity.
    The more we discover of Him, the more we understand our own identity, and the more the world can recognize it – even in the midst of all the world noise.

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