Blockbuster and The Future of Your Church

Back in 2000, Anitoco and the Blockbuster board located in Dallas had heard the ambitious Reed Hastings suggest that Blockbuster, the king of movie rentals, should merge with Hasting’s fledgling mail-order DVD company. The Blockbuster executives laughed at the proposal, viewing  on-demand rentals to about as certain as Biff’s casino empire. The executives sent Hastings packing.

With little fanfare, John Antioco resigned as the CEO of Blockbuster in June of 2008. Though the official reports said Antioco left Blockbuster because of disagreement over his salary, something far more problematic had occurred.

Sadly for Blockbuster, Hasting’s financial delorean wasn’t as crazy as it first seemed. The businessman would go on to establish a quite profitable little company that now flashes an N every time it loads up on our screens. Yep, Hastings offered to sell Netflix to Blockbuster. In turned out that Americans do like watching movies and T.V. shows on demand. 

Anitoco did not need twenty years to realize his mistake. By 2006, Anitoco knew he and not Hastings had been the fool. To keep his company from disappearing from Wall Street like Marty’s family which appeared head for oblivion, Anitoco began searching for ways to charge Blockbuster’s flux capacitor. He eliminated late fees and invested $200 million in developing an on demand video platform. 

Though things seemed promising, not all of the Blockbuster board and shareholders were happy. The company lost an estimated 400 million dollars in 2006 because of the new ventures. Though the company still turned a profit that year, many around Anitoco thought their CEO was making about as much sense as Doc Brown. Were their kids really in trouble?

Jim Keyes, one of the Blockbuster’s executives, and Carl Ichan, a prominent board member, believed Anitoco’s warning were a bunch of nonsense. After a few months of secret campaigning, the two men convinced the board to kick Anitoco to the curb and to install Keyes as the new CEO. Unlike Marty McFly, Anitoco never got the chance to slug Biff.

Keyes took Blockbuster back to its original timeline. Blockbuster killed its digital platform and reinstated late fees. Revenues boomed in 2008. In December of that year Keyes would boast that “Neither RedBox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition.” Six years later, Hastings and his competitors would land the fatal punch. 

As we already noted, people liked getting DVD’s in the mail, driving to the local Redbox, and opening up streaming services. They also hated late fees. In 2014, Blockbuster who had bullied the movie-rental business for decades went bankrupt and sold its remaining holdings to DISH. Anitoco wasn’t so nuts after all and Keyes wasn’t such a knowitall.

Before the last Blockbuster store closes, churches should rewind the Blockbuster story and watch it one more time, seeking to learn from the company’s collapse.

What Churches Can Learn

Blockbuster stores aren’t the only thing disappearing these days. Churches are closing at a rapid rate. To regain their lost market share, evangelicals have begun popping out church plants in every available community space. Mark Dever has noted that church plants abound because many established churches refuse to change. I concur with this assessment.

When the Hastings of the evangelical world stop by the traditional church for a Sunday visit, they posses hearts loyal to the gospel and passionate about missions. Though the established may church grant the evangelical entrepreneurs an audience with their deacon board, the board has little time for their ideas. They laugh at the new pastor’s plan to divert the recreation budget to missions. They mock the thirty something guy for not understanding the glories of 1955 hymnity. And, they refuse to change the church’s schedule for the purpose of reaching young families. The established church rejects the hopes of gospel growth, preferring the familiar comforts of now. Discouraged and rejected, the evangelical leaders of tomorrow often take their worn leather satchels down the street to the local gym and form a church plant.

Thankfully, some churches tentatively embrace the next generation of church leaders, knowing it is ok to move on from that black cup of decaf coffee. Theses congregations know the Hastings of the world are onto something. Cultures change over time; vest-jackets become a thing. These churches recognize that the unchanging gospel can be shared with new music styles and applied with the help of Facebook.

These congregations welcome the new pastor pastor to their slightly dysfunctional family meals. For the first time in years, the man shares the gospel afresh, preaching faithful expository sermons. Other changes begin to follow. The church changes its schedule to increase attendance. The congregation votes to reallocate money from trips to the buffet to trips to India. The deacons freshens up the nursery that looked about as organized as Doc Brown’s workshop.

The result prove positive. The singing becomes more passionate, new members trickle in, and the budget stabilizes. Involvement in outreach projects grows. Excitement returns.

But the old power players, the Keyes of the local church, still remain doubtful that the present changes will lead to sustainable future gains. Moreover, they dislike sharing their influence with the new members; mourn the loss of their social outings, and find the focus on doctrine to be about as helpful as Marty’s guitar solo.  They long for success but for the success of yesteryear. 

Their angst leads them to action. The Keyes scheme and plot, calling through the directory, holding secret deacon meetings, and sending covert Facebook messages. Once they get the needed votes, they shoot off down the road at breakneck speed only coming to a stop after they have removed the pastor and turned back all the changes. 

At first all goes well. A few old faces pop back in for a few weeks. They sing all the typical songs. They forget the mission projects and start going on those lunches they loved. Everyone feels happy. The angst is gone.

But within a few weeks, the new members also disappear. The budget begins to shrink. They church stops being able to pay its pastor. Within 3-5 years, the church ceases to exists, becoming one of Marty’s forgotten memories. The actions that promised success through a return to yesteryear produced bankruptcy shrouded in the despair of Biff’s casino empire.

What should we do when we experience the angst of change?

We should trust our pastors and elders and talk with them.

The author of Hebrews writes:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you – Hebrews 13:17.

This is not a blank check of trust. Elders and pastors are to be men of character and men above reproach (1 Tim 3:2). Christians should not follow elders and pastors who bully the church members like a bunch of outlaws in the Wild West. Pastors who deny the Scriptures by their words and deeds should be removed through church discipline. 

But Christians should extend elders and pastors who walk faithfully with the Lord the benefit of the doubt as they lead their church towards the future. When members have insights that could help their pastors lead well, they should share those thoughts with their leaders. Like Doc Brown, good elders will read the notes that their members stuff in their pockets, knowing that the Holy Spirit empowers the whole church. But at the end of the day, members should trust godly leaders and submit to their authority even when they make secondary decisions that go against the member’s preference. 

Blockbuster imploded because it refused to follow its duly appointed leader who was taking steps for future success.

That’s all folks; it’s time to pop the video of of the VRC’. No late fees here.

What will you do? Will you and your church cling to the familiar and die? Or will you trust your leaders and reach 88 miles an hour so that you can reach the future? Or will your congregation disappear into oblivion? The future is waiting!

Baby Dedications vs. Church Covenants: A Lesson From Baptist History

Who doesn’t love a baby dedication service? Cute babies wiggle, cry, and coo while their parents self-consciously attempt to maintain a level of decorum. After the parents utter a brief vow filled with biblical language, they all scurry back to the nursery. Though mom and dad appreciate the communal recognition, most parents would confess that the blue Bibles, pink flowers, and paper certificates that mark the day lacked transformational power. So why do Baptists do the dedications?

A Quick History of Baby Dedications

Baptists drifted into parent-child dedications to keep pace with their Presbyterian, Methodist, and Lutheran friends who practice infant baptism. Paedobaptists sprinkle their infants because they think the sacrament enables the children of believers to experiences “some benefit” of God’s blessing. The waters do not save or guarantee salvation, but they do make the salvation of the child more probable. John Calvin believed infant baptism placed a “tiny spark” into the heart of the young soul which could lead the child to “future repentance and faith.”

Baptists desire to grant their children access to their tradition’s deposit of spiritual blessing. But Baptist cannot baptize their infants. They believe that baptism has been reserved for souls who willingly and knowingly affirm that they have repented of their sins and believed on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for salvation. Though Baptists like Spurgeon may concur with Calvin’s and Martin Luther’s assessment that God can and does save children who die in infancy, Baptists cannot baptize these little ones because they cannot testify of their experiences.

To find alternative way to bless their children, Baptist churches embrace baby dedications, pulling from the Old Testament Law which required parents to dedicate their “firstborn” child to the Lord (Ex. 13:2). Despite this biblical justification, Baptist’s dedications still borrow both language and symbolism from the Reformed peodobaptist tradition. Following Calvin’s order of baptism, Baptists pastors ask the infant’s parents and then the congregation to affirm the child’s, the parents’, and the church’s commitment to the gospel, incorporating the ceremony into the church’s liturgical experience. In short, parent-baby dedications often amount to causal, waterless infant baptisms that fail to achieve the spiritual and emotional significance of paedobaptism.

Why Church Covenants?

Baptists pastors should not feel compelled to mimic their pedobaptist friends. According to the Scriptures, baptism and by extension baby dedications provide no saving benefit to the lost. Salvation comes not through church sacraments, sprinkling, or dedication certificates. Salvation comes through the preaching of the Word. Paul writes, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” The children of believers do not get fast tracked to heaven because they took part in a ceremony. Parents who desire to point their children towards Christ need to expose their children to the Bible. As the Word flows over young hearts, children gain the opportunity to repent and believe. The Holy Spirit saves souls through the Word. Baptists need to diligently teach their children that the Jesus saves sinners.

Sometimes parent-baby dedications facilitate the advancement of the gospel, encouraging parents to disciple their children. But pastors often commit pastoral malpractice when they attempt to remind parents of their duty to teach their children the gospel while the new moms and dads struggle to change diapers, follow bottle feeding schedules, and lose weeks of sleep. Pastors will better serve young parents when they locate their church’s family discipleship instructions in the church’s covenant and new members class.

Baptist churches until the 1900’s typically required their members to sign a church covenant which touched upon many doctrinal issues including family discipleship. To join a local Baptist church, men and women had to promise to teach their families the gospel. One covenant from a 1783 North Carolina Church required members “To live orderly in our families in keeping up the worship of God.” Another covenant from 1790 reads, “We who are heads of families will maintain the duty of Worship of God in our houses, and endeavor to instruct those under our care, both by our words and actions.” The New Hampshire Convention of 1833 required its member to promise that, “we will not omit closet and family religion at home; nor to allow ourselves in the too common neglect of the great duty of religiously training up our children.” Historically, Baptist pastors and churches have used covenants to ensure that family discipleship became part of their church’s culture.

If Baptists want to expose their infants to the blessings of the gospel, they should follow the example their forefathers in the faith and make family discipleship part of their membership process. If pastors place family discipleship at the church’s front door, children will be more likely to be exposed to the Word. Every member from the teenager, to the senior adult, to the newlyweds, to the established parents will know they are called to teach the next generation the truth. They can freely discuss their failures and their successes. Moreover, they will be more likely to disciple, praying with their children, singing with their parents, and reading the Scriptures with their spouses. As discipleship moves forward through the church’s culture, children reap the benefits of gospel exposure. The great Baptist Benjamin Keach summed up the sentiment of his day which should also be the sentiment of our day writing, “O neglect not Prayer, Reading, and Meditation! Take care also to Educate and Catechize your Children.”

To bless our kids, we do not need to sprinkle them or dedicate them. We need to equip parents and church members with the tools they need to teach the gospel to the next generation. How are we doing?

Peter’s Favorite Books (2018)

I have been with the opportunity to interact with a several backpacks worth of books every year as I study of PhD. seminars, prepare for sermons, and enjoy the occasional relaxing read  Below, I listed short summaries three books I found that profoundly benefited my soul in 2018. If you are in the market for a new book I encourage you to read one or more of the following titles:

 

The Gospel Blimp: And Other Parables

–  Joe Bayley

gospel blimpHave you ever wondered the church is such a mess; why missions projects fail, and why some pastors have the backbone of milk-soaked piece of toast? Joe Bayly takes on these questions with a series of short-stories that strike the reader with parabolic power. If you are open to an easy read that tackles the uneasy problems of the modern church with page-turning humor and heart wrenching conviction, I encourage you to read The Gospel Blimp. This collection of short stories was written in the 1960s; it relevance has seemingly only increased with the passage of time.

Quick Peak:

“What repercussions there would be if he coupled these verses for tomorrow’s sermon! The fire would be kindled at eleven thirty a.m. and spread from church through the whole town shortly after noon.

‘‘A sermon against lynching! Why doesn’t he stick to the gospel?” – p.115

 

Don’t Fire Your Church Members: The Case For Congregationalism

–  Jonathan Leeman

dont-fire-yoruWe all love the church. But few of us have spent time reflecting on how creating a working definition of the church and thinking about how the church should be managed. Leeman’s book on church polity provides insightful looks into both these topics. He defines the local church and then lays out the doctrinal case of elder lead congregational polity. Though written at the popular level, Leeman’s short 200 page book contains many dense sections. But if you have a heart to know more about Christ’s bride and a heart to see your church become more like the churches of the NT, you will find Leeman’s book rewarding. I did. Leeman’s profoundly shaped my understanding of the local church. I trust you too will benefit from this book! If you want the cliff notes version, I encourage you to grab Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman.

Quick Peak:

Congregationalism, in other words, is not about voting on the color of the pew cushions or photocopier purchases. It is not a democracy in which members ask leaders to represent their views. It is, instead, the trust that Jesus has given to every Christian to take ownership of the gospel witness wherever they live. He authorizes them to do this through gathered assemblies. – p. 117

 

Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestantism Christianity

– Kevin J.  Vanhoozer.

bible-authorityThe reformation begun in 1517 by Martin Luther has dramatically reshaped Christianity. But change is not always good. Many scholars claim Luther and his fellow reformers undermined the pillars of the Christian faith, preparing the world for secularism and atheism. Kevin J. Vanhoozer devotes his book to answering this charge. He systematically discusses each of the Five Solas – Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone, Christ Alone, and Glory Alone – explaining how the five interrelated doctrines capture the heart of New Testament Christianity. If you desire to know more about the reformation, more about why the doctrines of grace remain essential, or more about why protestants no longer follow the leadership of Rome, grab a copy of Biblical Authority After Babel.

Quick Peak:

Grace is the gift of God’s beneficent presence and activity – that is, the communication of God’s own light, life, and love to those who have neither the right to them or claim on God. Grace is God giving what is not owed. Grace is God in communicative action ad extra. Grace is the economic Trinity, the means by which God extends himself towards others, first in creation and later in redemption. Put simply, grace is the Triune God – God sharing his Fatherly love for creation in the Son through the Spirit. – p.53.