December 29, 2006

First Vacation in a Long Time

For the past 13 years (notice this corresponds to my married life) all vacations have focused on one thing...returning to the home area to see family. We all know that going to see family is NOT a vacation. So now that we have moved back to Dayton, our hometown, we get to go on something of a vacation.

Right now, we are in Upstate New York (I know...not your usual vacation hot spot!) visiting with some good friends of ours. We are going to visit Niagara Falls, which is beautiful in the winter, and just hang out with some friends that are more like family (but in the good ways).

Therefore, blogging, if done at all, will be light!

December 25, 2006

My Own Bed!

For only the second time in 13 years, I was able to wake up in my OWN bed on Christmas morning. The last time was 7 years ago just before my daughter was born (my wife was too pregnant to travel).

Usually I am sleeping in an odd bed, with too many people in the house, and fighting for hot water for the morning shower.

This morning? None of that!

It meant I had to move back to my hometown, but I like my bed.

On another note, after a more than 15 hour day and 5 services, we saw more than 3500 people attend Christmas Eve services! It was awesome to see that many people and that many visitors. The band rocked with their version of the Goo Goo Dolls Better Days, and then closed it out with Feliz Navidad.

December 22, 2006

90% of Your Leadership

90% of your leadership is below the water level...like an iceberg. Things like character, values, beliefs, and self-confidence. I would also include in that 90% the disciplines that go on behind closed doors. These things make you who you are, but chances are no one will ever see them!

Here are some disciplines that I value as a leader:

1. Be a learner. The world is constantly changing. If you are not growing and learning, you are being left behind. I believe that leaders, especially pastors, must continue to challenge themselves. As a college student I started a discussion with my pastor about a theological issue and some of the developments that were taking place. I was shocked to learn that he had never heard of it. I was even more shocked to deduce that he probably hadn't read anything worthwhile for quite some time. In fact, when he retired he gave me much of his library. I discovered that there very few new books in it, and if there were the spine hadn't even been cracked. Keep learning and growing. This, I believe is the foundation for everything else. Read good books from different areas, write, think big thoughts...learner, grow, and stretch yourself.

2. Spend time with God. The disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, memorization, journaling, studying, silence and solitude, serving, and fasting are vital to my life as a leader and pastor. Without them I would wither up and die. Pastors are spiritual leaders...which means we must be spiritual! I have found that all the marketing, business-speak, and theological stuff that causes so many arguments seems to fall into perspective when I am keeping my eyes focused on God.

3. Take a Sabbath! Here is the point as simple as I can say it, "God can do it without me!" My day off is not just about resting and spending time with my family, it is about realizing that everything seems to carry on without me. If it doesn't then I haven't done my job of preparing people for the ministry of the Kingdom.

4. Invest in my family. There are times when the family will give way to the responsibilities. But as a general rule, my family is my first ministry responsibility. There are some who say that the family should never take second-chair to the ministry. I don't believe that is possible. The entire family, like it or not, is called into the ministry. But I do believe that we are to invest more into our family than in our ministry. God will make it clear when those times are necessary.

5. Have fun. Most people, especially driven people, need to loosen up and have a little fun. Laughter and distraction, while being..um..a distraction, can also increase productivity.

This post inspired by this article at Leading Blog.

December 21, 2006

December 19, 2006

Free Conference Video and Audio

Guy Kawasaki points to a link where you can find free conference video from Hawaiian Island Ministries Leadership Conference. Check Bill Hybels and others.

This is a great resource.

December 18, 2006

Laughter IS the Best Medicine...and More Advice for Being Productive

I am ADD. I work for concentrated segments of time, and then I HAVE to get up, wander around, and interact with other people. I have learned that if I am allowed to get up and wander around, I am better able to get things done with a higher quality.

I have also observed that I get more work done when I am occasionally allowed to work elsewhere. I don't know that I could work in a coffee shop all the time, but I would certainly be willing to try!

I believe that the typical, stodgy workplace does not help creativity, productivity, nor does it make for loyal employees.

Best Buy is trying this out. Many places are trying to change their work environment by adding more laughter. Some even suggest that people do less to accomplish more. (I blogged the Slacker article here.)

Here are some things I use to increase my creativity and productivity:

1. Take a break. When my Grandmother and I used to put puzzles together I learned a very valuable lesson...get up and do something else for awhile. It was almost magical! I would get stuck, so I would go do something else for awhile, and when I return the piece of puzzle I was looking for had almost magically appeared on the table. I think the solution to many of our problems and challenges are not solved by us wracking our brains out, but rather by doing something else. I think this is why the best ideas seem to come to people while they are taking a shower, sitting on the toilet, exercising, or any number of other things. They are able to think about more complex problems and find solutions because their brain is on autopilot with the mundane activity in which they are involved. These are also the only relatively isolated and quiet moments of the day.

2. Work on something else. This is similar to number 1 except this is more focused on doing something ELSE. Number 1 is about taking a break, this is about working on something different for awhile.

3. Develop a routine...and make breaking the routine a part of the routine. Discipline helps us become more productive and creative. That sounds likes an oxymoron, but being in the same place, at the same time, and making ourselves do the same things seems to free the mind to be creative and productive. Almost every writer I have ever read extols the concept of regularity. There is something about making yourself "show up" that lets your mind open up. If you make a commitment to write (or whatever) from 9am-Noon, don't get up and leave at 9:15 or 9:20 or even 9:45 if your mind won't let you write anything. Stick it out. It WILL happen.

4. Brainstorms and Mindmaps. Sometimes we need a little extra help. This happens when we brainstorm as a team or use Mindmaps to help us develop an idea or to look at it from a different angle.

5. Ask the Team. If you are fortunate enough to work with a team of people, ask them to help you out. Other people have different backgrounds, personalities, talents, and points-of-view that will help you see things differently. Use them and their opinions to help you develop an idea beyond what you could do alone. See my post on Creative Teams.

6. Challenge yourself and keep learning. To continually challenge yourself and to keep growing are vital to your success and productivity. Use word games, mind teaser, and other "games" to challenge your mind to look at things in different ways. Keep reading (broadly, not just from your area of expertise), and keep learning.

These are somethings that help me, what are somethings you do to increase your productivity and creativity?

December 15, 2006

Thoughts on Creative Teams

The early part of this week I spent in Kansas City. I went back (I lived there for 9 years) to do some freelance work for the company I used to work for. I was an editor and communications coordinator for a publishing house. I got to reconnect with friends (Thanks, Jeff), and I got to reminisce about some good times I had.

When I got to the office on Monday morning, I attended a brainstorming session in preparation for the work I would be doing. We had several of these brainstorm/evaluation session. For many, these meetings are inane and frustrating, but these creative session are probably the best part of what I used to do. I actually miss them.

Why?

Because these meetings represent creative, concerned people pushing to make the product better. We fight, push, concede, and change during these meetings. Meetings likes these help everyone in every field. Imagine what could happen to the Sunday morning service if a creative team helped develop it.

Here are some thoughts on Creative Team Meetings:

1. Trust is necessary. You have to be able to trust the other people around the table. These meetings can get heated. But people need to be able to be honest without hurting other people's feelings. The ability to do this means that each person has to trust that the other person says what they are saying because they are passionate about making the end product better.

2. Honesty is important. You can't hold something back in meetings like this. You have to be able to air all your concerns, reservations, and wacky ideas. Honesty does not, however, mean you have the right to disregard someone else's ideas because you don't like them. In fact, it means that you have to put your ego aside and realize that someone else might possibly have a better idea than you.

3. Meet regularly. These meeting require time, and they require multiple meetings. It takes time to develop an idea, and to rethink and rework things. You may have to revisit the idea several times in order to get something worthwhile.

4. Anything goes (well...almost). In the idea sessions, anything goes in terms of ideas. You are just brain-dumping to get something on paper. Over time, things must become more focused, but at the beginning just get things on paper.

5. Allow time to think about other things. Often the best ideas develop when the "team" (or more likely-one person) is on a rabbit trail. (Often that person is me!) I once heard a story about how they wrote some of the stuff on SNL. The writers would lock themselves in a white-walled room with a table, chairs, a wastbasket, paper, and pencils and pens. They would stay there till they went crazy with wacky ideas...that is when they knew they had something. Rabbit trails help people think about ideas in new ways. They also give the mind a break from concentrating so hard on one thing.

6. There must be a leader. By this I mean there must be an adult in the room. At some point something has to be accomplished, an idea must be developed, and other ideas must be rejected. The leader is the one who pushes the vision for the end product, and knows when to pull people back from the rabbit trails (but not too soon).

How do you lead your team meetings? What value do you find in them? What items would you add?

The Creative Think blog has a good post with an emphasis on personal creativity.

December 13, 2006

Funniest Product I've Seen in Awhile!


I think there is a theme for today!

Here is the Raw Bacon Wallet!

Conversations with a Future Church Planter pt. 10


Here is the final part of the series: Conversations with a Future Church Planter. This started as a discussion about a multi-site/Starbucks critique article, and turned into something deeper; I think. It has received some unforeseen controversy. To be honest, I never expected it. I guess I never saw this series as a "multi-site" discussion. I know my friend's heart, and I know he was REALLY wrestling with where God is going to put him in the future. He is wrestling with what vision God is giving him for the church he will pastor (or plant).

I guess I also posted it because it demonstrates the need to discuss things openly and to genuinely wrestle with issues. It takes time to develop maturity of thought on something of value. Good people, Christian people, can take completely opposite points of view on a given topic.

For the rest of the discussion go here.

My Friend wrote:

Seminarrogance… good word.

I suppose you’re right, the best opportunity for success is to try to plant the church I would want to attend. But it’s like a kid ordering whatever he wants for dinner. He might want mashed potatoes and gravy, a peanut butter cookie, and Sugar Pops in chocolate milk…eclectic and a potentially weird mix that people might or might not respond to. But deep down, I guess I believe we could make it work… given a little money, a lot of time, and patience.

The problem, as I see it, is that we don’t fit into any one category of church… so we’d borrow from each of the styles and come up with something… unusual. I also realize that involving and empowering a core team to brainstorm and add their input to the equation might change the look and feel (at least somewhat) as well.

One area in which I have great self-awareness is in understanding my weaknesses. I am NOT a worship leader… I am NOT an accountant… I am NOT an administrator… But I am an encourager, and realize that I will have to be a pastor like Ronald Reagan was a president; surrounded by people who knew their role and were empowered to accomplish it.

I am afraid of failure – there is no doubt about that. But part of me is also afraid of success. As I read Velvet Elvis, I thought to myself, what would I do if I started a church and in a short time it grew to the point that the dynamics changed drastically? I know that’s a “good” problem to have, but not really; not when you don’t know how you’re going to keep the whole thing together.

I guess my fear is one extreme or another. No growth and no influence in the community would be depressing… but rapid growth would bring headaches and added stress – and potentially slip into McChurch. I don’t yet know what the ideal size church is for me, but I KNOW it’s not 35 (my current church), nor is it 2500 (your church).

I believe I’m called to start a church that’s big enough to feel like a thriving body of Christ with sufficient resources to truly minister to the community, and yet small enough to maintain a sense of family and oneness. Where that magic number is, I don’t know…I’ve only attended/served at churches on the extremes.

I’ll start a list of what my dream church looks and feels like… What we do, how we do it, where we go, how we function in the community, etc. I think that will help me immensely as the reality of starting a church looms closer and closer. Even if we never plant a church, I think it’s a great exercise before taking an (existing) church too. That way, we have a much better inventory of questions to ask, and things to look for.

I responded:

You sound a lot like me. You are worrying about all the "ifs" that may or may not happen. I do that all the time. I absolutely fear failing again. This time I have no denomination, per se, as I did before. I have two religion degrees, which do not qualify me to flip burgers at the real McD's. All the “what ifs” of failures and success are not here yet. Deal with those problems when they get here (I am speaking as much to myself as to you at this point).

God's vision through you requires an eraser. You start with a goal in mind, but you also remain open to His leading. There are times where you press your leaders into following your vision because you know that it the way you are supposed to go and there are times when you recognize that changes God is giving through others.

In a church plant, you are the primary leader, and, this is a personal opinion, it is hard to bring others in to deciding the vision until you are sure they have bought in to the original vision. You will find that no one else is as committed to the vision as you are. I think the Reagonomics approach to church leadership is a good one---WHEN they buy into the main idea of the vision. You do have to be able to trust your leaders, but you, as the main pastor, will still be the primary vision carrier.

As a church planter your primary responsibility will be to share the vision, invite people along, and look for ground-level leaders to develop. Rarely do you get the well-developed people until much later in the process; if at all. Church planters are entrepreneurs. They start with a vision in mind and move toward that vision utilizing what they can to reach that vision. You will have plenty of people who try to hijack the vision and move it toward their own.

I thought I had a mixed up version of the Church. I wanted contemporary with a respect for the liturgical. I wanted outreach to the poor, but also evangelism and good discipleship. I don't like the artsy-fartsy-emergent-sit-in-a-circle-and-fingerpaint worship service, I don't like the liturgical service, nor do I like over-the-top contemporary. I like technology, but don't want it to dominate the service. You just have to follow the vision God gives you.

I think that no matter how mixed up, if you believe it is the path to take, it will work. Think of people like Steve Jobs, Bill Hybels, Starbucks, etc (sorry for all the business models) that started with an off-the-wall idea and turned it into something great. If you can dream it, and God is behind it, you can do it because God will prepare you for it.

Don't worry about the “what ifs” just do the next right thing; take the next right step. Church planting/pastoring/leading is a long-term growth process. You never arrive. You have plenty of GRACE to make mistakes (not the sinful kind; do whatever it takes to avoid these). Whatever God gives you, you will do well at, but don't worry about it until it gets here. You are destined to become a church planter because you feel absolutely unqualified. "In our weakness He is strong!" You can do whatever God calls you to do. Why? Because He has called you. And all those “what ifs” will work themselves out, and you will grow in the process. I believe that God is almost more concerned with growing you than with growing your church.

The Funniest Thing I've Heard in Awhile

Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert Cartoons, has the funniest description I have heard in awhile, "I go through life like Helen Keller in a room full of Rubic's Cubes." That is one of the best descriptives I have heard in a long time.

December 12, 2006

You Can't Go Home!

Whoever said, "You can't go home," was only partially right. Home is never what it used to be, but it was never meant to be. Life goes on even when you are not there.

I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and I swore I would never move back there. I lived in Kansas City for 9 years, and when my family moved 8 months ago I never thought I would return. We moved to Dayton, Ohio, and I am writing this from Kansas City.

God has a way of standing things on their head. I didn't go back to Dayton because I loved the town; although I do. As strange as that may sound to many who live or have lived in Dayton. I went back because a man I respected and trusted invited me to be part of something. He saw something in me, and wanted to encourage that.

I came back to Kansas City this week not because I wanted to earn a little extra money doing freelance, but because I have some very good friends here and because someone I respect asked me to help.

Servanthood, obedience, submission, taking a leap of faith is easier when we trust and respect the person asking. We will do things that we don't necessarily like or agree with if the person asking is someone we trust and respect. Often, we don't even hesitate.

That is why the Gospel of Matthew makes a point of demonstrating true obedience as immediately putting into action what God has asked. Joseph immediately took Mary as his wife following the dream-encounter with the angel. Peter, Andrew, James, and John left their nets and followed Jesus...immediately.

Why?

Because they trusted and respected the Rabbi Jesus. They felt humbled and important that such a man would take an interest in them, and invited them to be His disciples.

Obedience should be immediate for us as well. Why? Because we trust and respect the God who calls us to obey. Even if we are unsure of where our obedience will take us, we follow because we trust God.

That is why Abraham's decision to leave his homeland was a demonstration of faith and righteousness. He trusted that God would fulfill His promises. He left everything, and lived in utter dependence upon God.

What if we put this kind of obedience into practice? I am not talking about rushing God's process or running with reckless abandon after something. I am talking about immediately moving ahead in the obedience in which God calls us to live. Our world, our church, our family, our lives would be different.

December 9, 2006

The Customer is Always Right


I found this article on Fast Company. A man sued Dell Computers because they returned only his hard drive when he sent a whole computer in to be repaired. He won the law suit. I found it interesting that Dell spent 150 million improving their customer service, and yet we still can't understand them.

The Emerging Church


I found this post by Dan Kimball through Scot McKnight. It is a shame how we love to villainize those we disagree with. Shouldn't the church, of all places, be different in this respect?

I have found that if it seems to come naturally, is the first thing I think I should do in reaction to something, or looks like most other thoughts and responses found in the world, then I am probably not thinking or doing things the way Jesus would do them.

Looking Ahead

Each year I try to set a few goals for the next year. I usually begin the first part of December, and give myself plenty of time to think and re-think my goals. I usually divide them up into several divisions: personal, spiritual, physical, family, and work.

While I am not done, here are a few of my goals for 2007:

Spiritual:
Read through the Bible
Fast 2 days per month

Physical:
Begin exercising (again!)
Drink water (coffee has water in it, right?)

Personal Goals:
Read 10,000 pages on various topics (fiction, leadership, church life, theology, preaching, writing, etc.)
Write 5,000 words per week

Family Goals:
Take a vacation

Professional:
Write the church plant proposal
Start a small group
Learn Photoshop

What are some of the things you want to work on for the next year?

December 8, 2006

Flying to Kansas City

I leave on Sunday for Kansas City. I moved from there in April, and have not been back for about 8 months. It is a strange feeling to be away from a place where you lived for more than 9 years.

In preparing to fly, I found this article. I certainly hope I don't have to sit by her since she can't fly on American!

She was kicked off the plane because she lit a match to hide her farting problem! The truth really is stranger than fiction.

December 7, 2006

Conversations with a Future Church Planter pt. 9

Here is the next in our series: Conversations with a Future Church Planter. To read the rest of the series go here.

Here is my response:

I must say that you have reached a point that took me a few years of pastoral ministry to reach. I did have seminarrogance! It took awhile, but I became overwhelmed with all the "options" available. There are so many different ways to "do" church it can be overwhelming. I discovered that for me I had to do church in a way that allowed me to look at myself in the mirror every morning. Probably the best piece of advice I ever received, though I didn't know it at the time, was, "Plant the church that you would like to attend." While I failed at doing that in my first church plant, I did discover aspects of that dream-coffee, contemporary music, an outward focused church, casual, etc.

While I am not a big fan of homogeneous group development, I do believe that if a planter or pastor tries to import a style that is not them they actually do a disservice to themselves and their church. You have to do what you believe in. And, you seem to be on the right track...you have narrowed down a number of things that you ARE NOT. Now you need to spend some time figuring out what you ARE.

Every job I have ever taken I have felt over my head until I get there. Then I realize there is a learning curve, things don't move as fast as I thought, and, while I may be stretched, I do grow into the position.

I understand the fear of failure in a church plant...I have been there. But even failure is not final unless you let it be. You ought to look up the defeats and failures of some of the great men in history. They often failed more than they succeeded.

If you remove the mega-multi-church and the edgy-beer-drinking-house-church, the modern-trend consumed-liturgical-1950's church is not all that is left. I would suggest you take a notebook and brainstorm a list of things that you feel identify or characterize the "perfect" church in your mind. Describe what is seen, heard, how they heard about the church, what the church is doing in the community, etc. Dream big, and describe for yourself the "perfect" church. Is there a perfect church? No, but you can be a "Pretty Good" Church. You have a lot of concepts floating around your mind, but I am sure you have some concept of those things that are right for you. Take those and begin to list them. Divide them under headings if it helps: Worship, Discipleship, Service and Outreach, Small Groups, etc. What atmosphere/church culture do you want? (You obviously know that coffee in the sanctuary is okay!)

After several years of ministry, I began to boil it down. I wanted something simple. I wanted something that appealed to the unchurched but didn't compromise the message. I wanted to be part of a church that served the poor and hurting and reached out in practical ways. I wanted good coffee, a relaxed atmosphere, and contemporary music (people often noticed that even the contemporary music at our church had a particular edge and style to it that wasn't found in other contemporary services). I wanted a place that took into account the supernatural, but didn't go all Benny Hinn and stuff.

Maybe a starting point for you is to think about what kind of music you most like and what kind of place you feel most relaxed and comfortable. Then model the atmosphere of your church after these. I think this is the beginning of authentic ministry...not homogeneous groups, but being true to yourself.

Making the Jump


A few weeks ago I met Eric at a church planter's conference in Indianapolis. He described how Jackson, Michigan needed a church, how the church out to be an organic church developed in small groups, and how it ought to have a Vineyard philosophy of ministry. He described a vision for the church with the passion only a church planter has. He wasn't sure if church planting was his thing...BUT here he is making the leap!!!!

Keep Eric in your prayers as he begins this rough but rewarding journey we call church planting.

December 6, 2006

Conversations with a Future Church Planter pt. 8

This e-mail from my friend was the one that made me want to post this conversation. If you ignore the rant about multi-site churches, you will hear the desperation in his words (if you are distracted by his inclusion of a few off-color words you will miss the point as well). Here is someone desperately struggling with all the mixed messages swirling around the church world. Do it this way! Do it that way! You cannot have a growing church unless you...

All the while we are not called to "do" church like someone else. We are Called to be ourselves. We must plant the church out of who we are, and not out of who someone else is or out of their style of ministry. Do we use and value what we find? Yes, but we have to be honest about who we are, what we can do, and what fits our personality and calling.

I know the language and "babysitter" comment may be offensive to some, but please hear the wrestling and the searching that is taking place as he seeks to understand what he is seeing and learning and looks to the future when he will have to "do" what is only now an intellectual exercise.

Here is the rest of the series.

Here is my Friend's e-mail:

Yeah, you’re right, man. I can feel myself griping and know I shouldn’t be so negative, even in the midst of my responses. And seminary is a place of intellectual idealism in a vacuum of reality. Since most of us have never experienced pastoral ministry firsthand, it’s the perfect breeding ground for criticism and complaining. McChurch is evil, so it goes in our little world, and pastors ought to be more concerned about the kingdom than filling the church.

But real-life ministry is scary… the everyday challenge to make sure enough people come through the doors and donate in order to maintain the machinery of church… all the while the pastor must do it all without enough money, without support, under the microscope of the congregation. Then he reads denominational rags and sees how crappy his church is doing in comparison to the latest darling that’s experienced a big, measurable gain or the most influential mega-church that has five easy ways to do the impossible. It’s a tough biz.

But let me say this… in case you think I’m getting seminarian senior cockiness syndrome… The more I read (and yes, thoroughly critique who and what I read) the more I realize I have no idea what the hell I’m in for. I’m so screwed up at this point…mega-churches, multi-site churches, seeker-friendly churches, postmodern churches, ancient/future (emergent) churches… They all have much to offer, and much to praise… but dammit, I have no idea how to put the pieces together and build a successful church…I have no clue what I’m going to do once I get there.

The bottom line is… I’m as confused as it gets. Marketing, leadership, theology, technology, sacraments, core teams, discipline, spiritual formation, sermons, liturgy, management, empowerment, visitation, fiscal accountability… Holy crap! I’ll never, ever make it! I’ll be in way over my head!

I’m re-reading The Art of Pastoring by David Hansen… and he’s reminding me that it’s not about following trends or doing tasks… it’s about following Jesus. It’s about loving God and loving others.

Simple. Complex. Impossible for man, but anything is possible for God. Okay… then compare that with this statistic: 80% of all new churches fail within five years. That there is what we call lousy odds.

My brain is going to explode. I don’t know if my biggest fear is not getting a job when I graduate, or getting a job and falling on my face, or doing well for awhile then getting exposed through some terrible sin… or…?

The bottom line is this: In my idealistic over-seminary-ized mind, I simply don’t believe in mega-churches or multi-site churches. I’m not saying they’re wrong or sinful… I just don’t like what they represent. To me they represent the corporate side of church, they propagate the consumeristic values of American Christians, and they reduce the Christian life (intentionally or not) to something like a country club membership. That is not me… not anymore.

Nor am I the twenty-something, beer-drinking, in-your-face, against-the-establishment, liturgical, ancient/future, rock and roll, emergent church kind of person. Their brand of “small” house church, and desire to reach nightclubbers, and their distaste for “big” church… does not sound appealing to me whatsoever. I don’t want to live in the first century (with my laptop and ipod)… I want more than that. I want to see a church grow… (just not into a mega-church)! J

So what am I left with…? A modern, trend-consumed, denominational, purpose-driven, focused-on-attendance, mission-less (Lord help me) church? Hell no!

I am left in a state of confusion, that’s where I’m left! There is beauty in all of the above, but there’s a lot of crap too.

The reason I’m so torqued about multi-site is that instead of looking for risk-taking, passionate, entrepreneurial, roll-the-dice-and-see-what-happens people… they’re looking for freakin’ babysitters who pray for people when they have problems or questions. Instead of pouring their resources into church planting… you know, like REAL church planting, these ego-maniacs want to franchise their church services to the masses! They are so good, and so infallible, they actually think they can package up their slick sermons and “sell” their spiritual goods down the street… and the worst thing about the whole stupid mess is… MANY OF THEM ARE HAVING HUGE SUCCESS! Great, people by the thousands are filing into buildings all across America to watch a “real-time” sermon piped in from another location!

Deep down in my heart, I don’t believe for a minute this trend will last, or ultimately end well… but it’s working for now, so in the great American way, we’re milking this baby for all it’s worth! I wonder what it will all look like on the other side of ten years…? Then again, back in the early 80s, I thought rap was a stupid, short-lived sensation that would never last!

In the meanwhile, I have no clue what I want my church to look like, or how it will function, or if it will ever actually become a reality… nevertheless, I desperately want to give it a shot, and see what God might (or might not) want to do. I can’t imagine why I’m not getting offers from all corners of the country… can you?

December 5, 2006

Conversations with a Future Church Planter pt. 7

Here is another installment of Conversations with a Future Church Planter. If you need to catch up Here is the rest of the series.

My Friend responded:

...Whenever I get caught up taking a side, I need a balanced approach to some of these silly arguments. Multi-site is a reality of 21st century church whether or not I like it. To me it represents further erosion of the Church’s foremost strengths in the world… but I’m in the minority… and besides, undoubtedly, many good fruits are coming about due to this re-interpretation of the times. I’ll try to keep that in mind...


Then I responded:

I was just sitting here, reading Pour Your Heart into It by Howard Schultz and watching the Seattle vs. Green Bay game and thought about our conversation. (Maybe it's the whole Seattle/Starbucks theme.)

Anyway, I got to thinking about this conversation. When I left seminary, I left with a very bad habit. That habit was to critique everything. I would evaluate its theology, its liturgy, its whatever. Seminary seems to force us into the role of critic. This is not always good.

You know me well enough to know that I am very concerned with orthodoxy as well as orthopraxy. But too often, like many postmodernists, we define ourselves by what we are not. Everything has something of value to teach us; whether good or bad. And, not everything is completely good or completely bad.

I think there is a sense in which we need to critique something, but there is more of a need for us to evaluate and learn and then incorporate what we have learned into what we are called to do. If we waste energy criticizing something we are not spending that energy on accomplishing something.

Here are some questions we should probably ponder: What does the success of the multi-site teach us? What are some things, even if we do no do multi-site ministry, we can use from multi-site in our own ministry?

I think it teaches us that people want quality, but they still want small. I think it teaches us that much of the problem with church is the "culture" of the church and not the "ministries" or maybe even style (although these have something to do with the culture of the church). I think we see that people want to actually learn something from the Bible that they can apply to their lives. While Northpoint and Andy Stanley seem to be the target of much criticism for their multi-site, Andy's books are invaluable ministry tools. I recommend 7 Practices of Effective Ministry, Communicating for a Change (one of the best books on preaching style I have read), and Visioneering.

Why is Starbucks so successful? It is because of the culture. Every other coffee shop, like it or not, is inspired by and owes much gratitude to Starbucks for bringing quality coffee to the United States. If it weren't for Starbucks most of us would still be drinking that swill they call Folger's.

What do you think?

December 3, 2006

Conversations with a Future Church Planter pt. 6

I am continuing the series: Conversations with a Future Church Planter. Here is the rest of the series. This conversation shows the development of thought that occurs during a discussion, and how people wrestle with various forms of ministry.

Here is my response:

I think he/she is right about those who complain and criticize. They are often not the ones doing "well." If they were doing "well" they would find their own ways to justify what they were doing and what they had previously criticized. We have to be careful about critiquing anything publicly and openly. In the presence of safe company is one thing-discussing the pros and cons of each aspect.

Personally I think you are right about reducing only the act of preaching to a video/non-live event from a "professional." I don't see much difference between a video sermon and sitting at home in my living room watching television. I believe in incarnational ministry.

But (and here I am perfectly postmodern in contradicting myself) I think there are many who pastor who should not be preachers because they were not called to preach...they simply preach because there are no non-preaching ministries available to them and their gifting. This is a systemic problem...they are trapped in a system that doesn't allow them to work in the fullness of their gifting and calling. I know someone pastoring a church who is not a preacher...He is a GREAT pastor. He loves people. He is great with leading and caring, but his preaching is not very good. It will get better with practice, but his true gifting is elsewhere. Multi-site are helpful for people called to minister but not preach...they don't have to preach, but they can pastor and lead.

Here is another contradicting-myself-illustration. I used to despise the idea of someone preaching the sermons from the back of preaching magazines and websites. I thought, and still really do think, it is irresponsible and lazy. BUT, I worked for a pastor who's preaching improved 100% when he started preaching the sermons word-for-word from the back of a magazine. I actually learned something from the preaching. Do I think it is wrong? Yes. Is it wrong in this case? Technically it would be best for the pastor to have put in his own work, but if he won't, I would prefer what he preach from the magazine.

Like the person said, “All man-made ministry models have their flaws.” I do, however, think some flaws are worse than others, and that we need to evaluate the entire system to make sure that the end product (business speak) is what we really want the end product to be. You will see this illustrated in most of the complaints lodged at a seminary...the current seminary system is set-up to create minister-scholars and has very little that relates to practical ministry (a few practicums don't count). What is needed is a seminary system that creates educated-practitioners. Every model has its problem. Once the new system is created, there will be other problems.

Business-speak used to bother me a lot. I resisted, but after pastoring for awhile and seeing that the church is also a business I don't mind it so much. I also don't mind it because sometimes people with the right motives are doing the same things (externally speaking) as those who don’t have the right motives. I hope this makes sense. I don't unequivocally accept all business-speak...because just, like political-language, the church is not of the political or the business realm. But we can learn from anything and everything.

I am passionate about reaching lost people. I will do my best to be BOTH supernatural and smart. I will use whatever works (as long as it doesn't contradict the Gospel) to advance the kingdom. We will never get it right. I have my issues with multi-site, but I also know that many people are doing it for the right reasons (again postmodern double-speak). I think each person has to seek God's face and His vision for what they are to do, trust God to lead him/her each step of the way, take into account the opinions of others, but, at the end of the day, go the way they feel God is leading despite all the critics and naysayers. As a pastor there will be MANY who critique and criticize what you do. You have to learn to listen to them, but not be discourage from the path God calls you to.

December 2, 2006

Conversations with a Future Church Planter pt. 5

Here is part 5 of the series: Conversations with a Future Church Planter. This conversation starts out discussing multi-site churches, but moves to wrestling with a call to church planting and the confusion/uncertainty of accepting that call. Here is the rest of the series. My friend sent the link to another person and got a response. Here is my friends e-mail and part of the person's response:

Not that I want to reinforce negative feelings, but this came back from someone in response to the link I sent…

He makes some good points… but the only problem (for me) is that I disagree with them. That said, however, I don’t just want to be a whiny, holier-than-thou seminary student.

Personally, I’m not concerned about the new, “productive ministries” aspect of this argument. However, I am concerned about the theological implications of reducing the preaching role to that of a professional speaking engagement. What is being implicitly communicated is that, in terms of the whole live worship service – the one activity that is expendable enough that it’s only necessary in digital format – is preaching. Music, however, must be done live, so people can authentically worship in community.

Live music is essential, but live preaching is not? Apparently the pastoral prayer and giving the offering are essential too… or perhaps they’re throw-ins since the “campus pastor” is already on the scene. But what about the sacraments? Could the Lord’s Supper take place digitally in the worship service? After all, it’s more of a function of preaching than any other pastoral role in the worship service… right? Why be incarnational with the other Sacraments if not with bringing the Word of God to the people?

I’m also concerned with his business-speak to support the whole multi-site idea… especially his fifth paragraph.

Here is the e-mail:

Thanks for the link and question. I'm continually amazed how every good idea finds its critics, and I suppose the multi-site strategy should be no exception. Put out your sign, and somebody will throw rocks at it.

But the truth is, every man-made ministry strategy in this world will have its flaws. The day we become overly defensive about any ministry or new strategy, we're setting ourselves up for disappointment. Still my more cynical side thinks too many naysayers only delight in being critics, without ever making any real or eternal difference in others. They remind me of the elder brother in the prodigal parable.

My observation over the years has been the leaders who are doing the job are rarely critical of other productive ministries. Usually, they want to learn how they work and they celebrate all the progress. It seems the defensive, unproductive leaders want to criticize the fruitful ministries and strategies. Their negativity serves as a defense mechanism for their own lack of impact or influence.

I do agree if anyone wants to make a cookie cutter approach out of multi-sites, then this criticism is justified. But from my reviews of the multisite strategy, there's been no discussion of a Starbucks franchising of any kind of a cloned ministry model that's described in this website's criticism.

Usually, the multisite discussion is all about reaching new people in new ways, contextualizing ministry for greater impact and trying to better impact a community or particular group of people. As I've listened to the discussion, multi-sites are primarily about building a new genuine faith community, connecting new people to faith in Christ and extending the Kingdom by sharing capable leadership in multiple worship venues. For someone to criticize those objectives seems misplaced.

But to question only padding numbers, franchising the gospel or a McMinistry style, creating new mega-churches for a preacher's super ego - I'd agree with those concerns. But the only people I hear talking that way are the critics of the multi-site strategy.

To be honest, I don't like Starbucks' coffee. I do like the potentials of the multi-site strategy. I'm not sure where that leaves the two of us. Maybe I can meet you at Cracker Barrel or Denneys for a cup of coffee and we can talk more about this - when our schedules permit. Just don't make me go to Starbucks.

By the way, this analogy really breaks down in comparing Starbucks to multi-sites - they're two totally different operations with different objectives. But we can talk more about that later.

I'd be interested in your responses to these "from the hip" responses. Email me back when you can and let's get together to talk about it.

December 1, 2006

Conversations with a Future Church Planter pt. 4

Here is part 4 in our series: Conversations with a Future Church Planter. This is an e-mail conversation between me and a Friend. Here is the rest of the series. Here is my response:

The nice thing about "branding" is that it helps you know what you are in for. I know when I walk into Starbucks, that I can get a good cup of coffee.

I had an experience when I was planting where a girl attended our church when visiting her parents. She liked the music, the style, etc. When she returned to her college town, she visited the local church from the same denomination. The difference was they were one step away from pulling out snakes. She thought she was getting the same thing across the board (which is what a denomination should bring to the table). I don't mean to say we can't or shouldn't have variance. It would have been nice to not have to say, "Well, there are some very big differences..."

In relating this to our discussion, I think it is okay to brand a local church, to create an atmosphere and environment. The key, though, is to train up leaders from within that embody that style, message, etc and let them plant new churches. To be honest, I don't know what the difference between a multi-site campus and television/web viewing really is. It can reduce the Sunday morning gathering to "great" preaching.

A Philosophy of Blogging


Blogs make a person anonymous. Behind that anonymity, people can say some pretty mean things. Unfortunately, people who critique things and people who are filled with criticism can often be confused. I have added a section to describe my philosophy of blogging.

I often feel like I am looking through a blurry window. My descriptions are not always correct, but I learn best by writing and discussing, and I grow in my understanding as I discuss the blurry objects on the other side of the window. I do this because I believe I can learn from everything.