Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl

N. D. Wilson, the managing editor of Credenda/Agenda, has created something unique with his aptly named book, Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl (Wide-Eyed Wonder in God's Spoken World).

The preface sets the stage with this disclaimer:
What excuses can I possibly make for this book?

Alcohol was not involved. I do not (to my knowledge) have a diseased brain. I've never used drugs. But that's not entirely true. Spring is a drug to me. So is Christmas. Love, poetry, wind, smells, lightning, children, ants, very small beetles--all drugs in their own way.
With those words (and a new entry in my collection of favorite first-lines, though he only gets half-credit since it's the first line of the preface), Wilson is off and running. And spinning. And leaping. With a sometimes dizzying stream-of-consciousness style and occasional apparent non-sequiturs that require a moment's pause ("Where did THAT come from?").

It is all entertaining, though, if sometimes a little uneven. And it is also thoroughly readable and reasonable, despite nearly back-to-back references to Nietschze, Sartre....and Wired Magazine. Some passages in the book delivered on the "wide-eyed wonder" promise of the subtitle, such as this one:
Tree, I say, and you know what I mean. You see one in your mind, or glance out your window and remember the much-needed pruning. Tree, God says, and there is one. But he doesn't say the word tree; He says the tree itself. He needs no shortcut. He's not merely calling one into existence, though his voice creates. His voice is its existence.
Throughout this book, the author says in his preface, "I was attempting to use [words] as paint, spreading them on a canvas rather than paper. I wanted to write to the body and to the senses as well as the mind. Did I?"

I think so.

Why Be a Pastor?

Something's in the air. I've had a fairly sudden flood of people approach me recently for counsel on starting a new church or entering seminary or becoming a pastor.

I've asked each of them at some point, "Why do you want to do this? Why do you want to plant and pastor a church?" The question is far from academic for me. It's all-important.

The answers I've gotten are all good, conventional enough. Lost people. Need. Passion. Check, check, check. But I sometimes sense (as with many others over the years) that there are many more reasons, sometimes buried deep, sometimes just under the surface, sometimes not.

Most of us who are pastors begin (at least) because we love people. Or because we want to be liked. Or because we want to be approved, either in God's eyes, people's eyes, or both. Or because we love God's Word. We want to preach. We love teaching people, seeing the lights come on in their eyes.

Some of us enter pastoral ministry because our family will be proud. Or our denomination will. Or because we've failed most everywhere else--we haven't been happy in any other jobs, haven't been able to hold any other jobs, whatever. Or because we've participated in churches where our pastors' standards of living were better than ours, and we figured that would be nice. Maybe even easy.

Don't look so horrified. It happens, believe me. Few of us, if any, are self-aware or honest or vulnerable enough to know or admit all the reasons. But chances are, none of them are good enough.

Because, you see, those of us who went into ministry because we love people have discovered over the years that loving people is a sure way to get yourself hurt. And wanting to be liked is a recipe for disaster. And craving approval from anyone but God is a dead end. And preaching is such a small part of what most of us do...and it usually ends up being something we squeeze in because of all the other demands on our time. And the pride of a family or denomination can be unsatisfying compared to the burdens and struggles of a conscientious pastor. And as far as standard of living and easy way of life go...don't make me laugh!

I think I've always known it, but I know it more and more with every passing year of ministry. I think most of us do, which is why no one wants to admit any other reason for entering ministry. The only good reason to be a pastor is because God has called you, unmistakably and unavoidably.

Pastoring is no way to live, unless you've been called. It will depress you, frustrate you, burden you, exhaust you, and possibly even crush you. People can be heartless, unresponsive, stubborn, and fickle. There is always way more work to do, and it's never done. For every sermon you preach, you've got it to do again next week. For every person who says, "Thank you!" there are ten who say, "Why did you....?" or "Why didn't you....?" or "How could you?" If your church is growing, so are your problems (Proverbs 14:4).

That's why I often tell people who express an interest in ministry, "If you can do anything else, do it!" Because as fun as it can be at times, it's also unspeakably hard. It'll break your heart. But if you are called, if you cannot escape, if it burns in your bones (Jeremiah 20:9), if you are compelled to the point that you say, "Woe is me if I do not" (1 Corinthians 9:16), then be a pastor.

That's not just the best reason, in my experience. It's the only one.

A Grandson's Dedication

My son-in-law Kevin took some video (on his iPhone 3GS!) of the dedication a week ago of Miles and Mia Hostetler, Abe Holzworth, and Eden Bishop.

He sent me this clip of my dedication prayer for Miles:

Miles stole the show...I think it was after I prayed for Mia (next) and moved on to pray for Abe and Eden, his parents traded kids and Miles took that opportunity while in his mother's arms to smother her face with kisses. Inexpressibly charming.

Oh, and by the way, the final phrase of my prayer, I think, that got cut off of the video at the end, was "one who is always dancing with you."

Church of the Week: The Citadel, Cincinnati

This week's church of the week is no longer a church, but it was the first church I ever knew. Designed by renowned Cincinnati architect Samuel Hannaford (who also built Cincinnati's Music Hall, City Hall, and many other exceptional buildings, including the historic Shubert Theater, which was demolished in 1976), the Citadel, at 114 E. 8th Street, was built for the Salvation Army's main church (corps) in Cincinnati and as the home of the Ohio and Kentucky divisional headquarters. The upper floors also provided emergency housing at various times in its history. It was probably on the second floor of this building, in children's church led by Mrs. Reed, where I first knelt and prayed for salvation. I also remember the ground-floor entryway a little bit, and the main auditorium and its stage.

The wall behind the platform was graced by the "Gamble window," donated by the Gamble family of Procter & Gamble fame. When a new "citadel" was built on Central Parkway in 1967, the window was left behind, but later reclaimed and installed in the Cincinnati Temple Corps (now Center Hill Corps) in 1981 (it has since been returned to the Cincinnati Citadel and DHQ building on Central Parkway). I also remember that the auditorium (or "hall," in Salvation Army parlance) had a balcony (very cool; I was seldom allowed up there, as it was not used on a regular basis) that was supported by several large posts that obstructed the view of the platform.

Below is a photo of me (the youngest, the one who looks even unhappier than my older brothers, Larry and Don) and the family standing in front of the Citadel, probably on some Sunday sometime around 1965, I'm guessing.

Summer of Love, Part One

What a great day today at Cobblestone! Just a lot to rejoice in: the donut buffet and prayer of dedication to celebrate the completion of the deck at The Loft, the amazing job John Johnson did constructing--from scratch (and I hear the price of scratch has gone sky high these days)--a minibus to add a little punch to the stage for our Summer of Love series, being marvelously led in worship by Con Brio (with my son leading), a fun message to deliver, awesome response in the celebration of communion, getting to pray with half a dozen folks, a splendid car wash outreach, a good meeting with a fellow pastor, a visit and prayer with friends...all in all, a wonderful day. With all the goodness of the day, I'm not even feeling the sunburn from the car wash!

Study Less. Pray More.

Awesome blog post by Mark Batterson, pastor at National Community Church in Washington, DC:
Study Less. Pray More.

I know this is one of those statements that could be easily misinterpreted so I better say this: study to show yourself approved. I'm not suggesting that you study less. I'm simply suggesting that you pray more. And I'm talking specifically about sermon prep. I think we'd preach with more passion if we tweaked the amount of time we pray in proportion to the amount of time we study. So maybe I should say: study more and pray even more.

Right before an important message to the nation of Israel, it says the prophet Samuel "rehearsed it with God." He prayed through his message. I think this is the missing link in lots of messages. We prepare a message, but we don't pray through the message. We don't "rehearse it with God."

All I know is this: I preach with more conviction and more energy when I "rehearse it with God." In fact, I think it's the difference between a pastoral voice and a prophetic voice. It's the difference between timeless truth and timely truth. It's the difference between a convicting message and the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

Study more. Pray even more.

Summer of Love 09

Sooooo excited about our new series at Cobblestone, starting this weekend: Summer of Love. For the next four weeks, we're going to be re-emphasizing our mission to love each other and our community every which way we can.

In a Phone With a Book at a Crucial Time

The first book I downloaded and read on Amazon's Kindle application for the iPhone was Mark Batterson's In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. Batterson is a fellow pastor as well as a fellow author, and his excellent book couldn't have come at a better time for me. It renewed my soul, it challenged me, corrected me, and strengthened me. I couldn't recommend it more.

Batterson constructs the book on the story of the warrior Benaiah from 2 Samuel 23, in which Benaiah jumped into a pit with a lion on a snowy day...and won! He uses that slim account to write an entertaining and practical book on "How to survive and thrive when opportunity roars."

It's filled with tremendously quotable passages:

“Spiritual maturity is seeing and seizing God-ordained opportunities.”

“We tend to rank miracles. Almost like a judge at a gymnastics competition that ranks a routine based on degree of difficulty, we rank our prayer requests. We have big requests and little requests. We have easy requests and difficult requests. But that is a false construct. The truth is this: To the infinite all finites are equal. There is no big or small, easy or difficult, possible or impossible. When it comes to God, there are no degrees of difficulty.”

“Don’t accumulate possessions; accumulate experiences.”

“If you study the teachings of Jesus, you’ll realize that learning wasn’t his primary goal. His primary goal was unlearning. He was reverse engineering religious minds.”

“So here is my question: Are you living your life in a way that is worth telling stories about?”

“Too many of us pray as if God’s primary objective is to keep us from getting scared. But the goal of life is not the elimination of fear. The goal is to muster the moral courage to chase lions.”

“Don’t let what’s wrong with you keep you from worshiping what’s right with God.”

“Here is a novel thought: What if we actually did what they did in the Bible? What if we fasted and prayed for ten days? What if we sought God with some ancient intensity instead of spending all our time trying to eliminate His surprises? Maybe then we’d experience some ancient miracles. One of the spiritual highlights of the past year was putting this passage into practice at National Community Church. We fasted and prayed for ten days leading up to the Day of Pentecost. It was during that Pentecost fast that I identified seven miracles that I’m believing God for. You’re reading one of them.”

“Faith is embracing the uncertainties of life.”

“The genealogy of blessing always traces back to God-ordained risks.”

“Easy answers produce shallow convictions.”

“Is it just me or does it seem like some people act as if faith is the reduction of risk? They act as if the goal of faith is to eliminate risk so our lives are, in the worlds of the old hymn, ‘safe and secure from all alarm.’ Have you read the Bible lately? Faith is risky business. The goal of faith is not the elimination of risk. In fact, the greatest risk is taking no risks.”

“If you were to always act in your greatest self-interest, you would always obey God.”

“We need to stop criticizing culture and start creating it.”

“Most of us want our opportunities nicely packaged and presented to us as a gift we simply have to unwrap....But opportunities typically present themselves at the most inopportune time in the most inopportune place.”

“One of our greatest spiritual shortcomings is low expectations. We don’t expect much from God because we aren’t asking for much.”

“The Aramaic word for prayer, slotha, means 'to set a trap.' Prayer helps us catch the opportunities God throws our way.”

“In the business world, missed opportunities are called ‘opportunity costs’....Far too many people think of righteousness in terms of actual costs instead of opportunity costs....[But r]ighteousness isn’t just running away from sin. Righteousness is chasing lions.”

“Too many people in too many churches look too much alike.”

“David gives us a picture of pure worship. Worship is disrobing.”

In short (too late, I know), it's a really good book. And one I think God clearly intended for me to read at this point in my life and ministry. God, help me to be faithful to the vision of this book. Give us this day our daily lions.

A Pastor's Pastors

One of the greatest challenges I (and my fellow staff members) face, as a church planter and pastor in a non-denominational, unaffiliated church is that of self-care. Pastors must be there for people who are hurting and confused and struggling and under attack...but who is there for the pastor?

While I need to get better at this, I am grateful for the ministry of numerous pastors who, week after week, act as angels of God bringing bread and water (1 Kings 19:6) to this needy man. So I thought I'd take a few minutes to mention this pastor's pastors, with great gratitude:

My wife, the lovely Robin, who is of course not the most objective among my support network, but is nonetheless my most valued counselor and encourager. If it were not for her, only God knows where I'd be....and who I'd be.

My fellow staff members (John, Sharla, and Andrew), some of our church leadership (especially Cheryl, Ken, and Julie), and others have often come alongside me, encouraged me, reproved me, admonished, advised, and faithfully prayed for me, for which I'm tremendously grateful. For obvious reasons, a pastor needs pastors outside the church he or she serves, but I thank God that I have such fellow pastors within the flock as well.

My accountability partner, Ted Slye, though he is soon to be moving away, has been a sounding board, counselor, and fellow traveler these last few years.

My "shrink," Dr. Stephen Boyd, has been a great help. I'm not sure I would have made it through the stress and depression of 2008 without his careful and prayerful guidance, correction, and help.

The Reverend Dr. Chip Lee, of the Episcopal Church of Garrett County, MD, ministers to me several mornings a week by leading me in morning prayers via his podcast, from the Book of Common Prayer. Like Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours, which I use in most morning and evening prayers during the week, this podcast feeds my soul.

Erwin McManus (Mosaic Church), Rob Bell (Mars Hill), Craig Groeschel (LifeChurch), Ed Young (Fellowship Church), T. D. Jakes (The Potter's House), and Tom Nelson (Denton Bible Church) minister to me through their preaching podcasts, often seven days a week!

Around twenty-five ministry and pastor blogs also minister to me, through which I experience fellowship, humor, compassion, and a frequent antidote to the loneliness that would beset when I would otherwise start feeling as if I'm the only one who struggles, or stresses:

Though less frequent, I also count among my pastors Eugene Peterson, Henri Nouwen, and others, whose books feed my soul.

And last, but not least, I thank the Holy Spirit, my friend and counselor, who gives songs in the night and guides me, not so much by cloud or fire, but by nudges and hints and brainstorms and confluences of events that are no less real because they are subtle. He it is "that leadeth me."

Some Days Are Just Better Than Others

What a privilege it was this past Sunday to dedicate four beautiful children at Cobblestone--two of them being my grandchildren, Miles and Mia!

Miles stole the show...I think it was after I prayed for Mia (above) and moved on to pray for Abe and Eden, his parents traded kids and Miles took that opportunity while in his mother's arms to smother her face with kisses, right there on stage, in front of everyone! He and Mia (as well as Abe Holzworth and Eden Bishop) were absolute angels the whole time!

Add to that joy the fact that my son once again led me in worship, and the time spent after church at the Holzworths' home celebrating with the other families who participated, and I can't imagine a better Father's Day.

Just one more pic, as I can't resist including the moment when Miles leaned over to kiss his little sister's head.

(All pictures courtesy of Andrea Hughes)

It's Monday

Church of the Week: Wayfarers Chapel

This week's church is one we visited in California a few years ago, while visiting my brother and sister-in-law and father in Rancho Palos Verdes. It's Wayfarers Chapel, and it was this very cool chapel virtually around the corner from where they lived, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

It was designed by Lloyd Wright, the son of Frank Lloyd Wright. It was built in 1951.

I love how Wright designed it to incorporate the redwood trees as architectural elements, and the fusion of wood, glass, and stone the baptismal font (which was added in 1964):

Fifteen Things That Will Help Us Go Insane!

AGAIN, from Perry Noble's blog:

Fifteen Things That Will Help Us Go Insane!

#1 – Get a fresh, life changing, hell emptying vision from God

#2 – Expect everyone to be excited about it, and to provide you will nothing but affirmation and support.

#3 – Let people who haven’t heard from the Lord begin to alter your vision because you are scared of them.

#4 – Try to continually defend the vision to everyone who attacks it.

#5 – Care about everything that anyone says…whether they know you are not.

#6 – Spend more time focusing on what negative people say rather than what God says.

#7 – Try to do what God has told you to do all by yourself!

#8 – Neglect correction from those who love Jesus, the church and you.

#9 – Don’t hold people accountable because you are afraid they may get mad if you call them out.

#10 – Hold people accountable for unspoken and unrealistic expectations.

#11 – Use your vision as a means to judge the vision God has given someone else…and if they aren’t doing it just like you then attack them so much that the Lord’s voice grows faint.

#12 – Become impatient with God’s timing and “help Him” by doing things that He doesn’t lead you to do.

#13 – Try to be “fair” to everyone you serve with.

#14 – When it gets tough…QUIT!

#15 – Spend all of your life saying that “one day” you are going to do what God has called you to do…just not right now because it isn’t convenient.

Bonus: Refuse to answer the question, “What would I be willing to attempt for God if I knew I could not fail?”

Don't Give Up

It's not only amazing how many pastors need to hear this, but how OFTEN we need to hear this (from Perry Noble's blog):

I don’t know who I am writing to…heck…I may need to come back one day and read this myself…but I really feel like I am supposed to tell someone, “DON’T GIVE UP!!!”

Church work can be the most frustrating thing on the planet to deal with…but don’t stop now! What you are seeing as an obstacle God is using as an opportunity! Don’t give up!!! (Galatians 6:9)

People hate you just because of what you do…and if you begin to experience any aort of success they will despise you even more. Don’t give up…your calling is not to please them!!! (Galatians 1:10)

You feel like you are not successful because your church hasn’t exploded with growth. BUT…you’ve seen 10 people receive Christ in the past year! REJOICE IN THAT…THE ANGELS DID!!! Don’t give up because your church isn’t getting attention from men…it has the attention of the Almighty…and in the end THAT is all that will matter!

You feel like you aren’t a good leader…or a good speaker. You want to walk away and do something else because you just don’t feel qualified. Remember…Jesus took some very unqualified men and CHANGED THE WORLD!!! (Acts 4:13)

Someone doesn’t like something you did recently…and they are not afraid to tell you about it. Remember…they didn’t like Jesus healing on the Sabbath either…but He kept on doing it because He knew He was pleasing His Father!!!

Your past haunts you…the enemy constantly thtows it in your face. You want to walk away when you focus on who you WERE…STOP IT and see who YOU ARE in Christ! (I Corinthians 6:9-11 - REALLY focus on verse 11!) Don’t give up!

People close to you have abandoned you…and you are hearing the things they say. You feel betrayed…hurt…and wonder if it is all worth it. Demas betrayed Paul…Judas betrayed Jesus…yet they hung in there and refused to allow that type of betrayal to take their eyes off of the goal.

Don’t give up! Don’t quit! Stay in the fight!!! God called you to be a warrior…and sometimes warriors get wounded. BUT…wounds should not take the desire to fight out of us…but rather cause us to want to fight even more.

I heard about a guy who was going through a rough time once and asked Bill Hybels, “With all of this stuff I am going through…why shouldn’t I just quit right now?’

Bill replied, “because one day you and I will stand in front of One who had an assignment much tougher than ours and He didn’t quit…that’s why!”


Don’t quit…don’t give up…fight the good fight! (Galatians 6:9) Pray, fast, preach, witness, memorize Scripture…and give satan a swift kick in the cookies as often as possible!!

But whatever you do…don’t give up! He called you–He gifted you–He empowered you and He will sustain you! (II Corinthians 4) - the WHOLE THING!

Don’t give up!

Words We Ignore

Part of the Bible we love to ignore:

"Who are you to judge someone else's servant?" (Romans 14:4a, NIV).

Never Gets Old

A group of nearly sixty kids and adults from Cobblestone went to Ichthus Music Festival in Wilmore, Kentucky, last week (I'm an alum; I first went to Ichthus, let's see, around 1974?). The pic below is one of my favoritest people, Andrea Hughes, with one of the bands (Everyday Sunday) at Ichthus.

Anyway, the group bounced back into town Sunday morning in time for our 11:30 celebration Sunday, with the report that not only did they have an amazing time, but thirteen of our peeps made a commitment to Jesus Christ!

What a blessing! What a blessing to have such a great group of youth and volunteers go to the festival. What a blessing to have such a thriving youth ministry. What a blessing to have such a gifted, missional youth pastor. What a blessing to see fruit!

Church of the Week: Chapel of The Christ Hospital, Cincinnati

I visited dear friends yesterday afternoon at Christ Hospital in Cincinnati: Bob and Lynette Holzworth, two of the cofounders of Cobblestone Community Church. Bob had surgery Friday to remove cancerous nodules from his lungs, and while the surgery was successful, some cancer still remains behind, apparently. He is important to me, and to the church, and to the work of God in our area, I believe, so I would appreciate your prayers for him.

I stopped for a few moments and visited the hospital chapel on my way out. I pray for Bob (and others) in all sorts of places: in my prayer chair, of course, and in my car, in church, on walks, etc. But yesterday it was good to pray here. The tiny nook on the left of the chapel provides a one-person prayer bench (the nook on the right houses an organ).

LEGO Jesus!

It took 40 volunteers 18 months and 30,000 LEGO bricks to make LEGO Jesus. Now, THIS is a Jesus statue I'd put in my church.

Pride Goeth Before

An article about Jim Collins's latest book, "How the Mighty Fall," charts Collins's five stages of decline for a business (or denomination, church, or ministry, I would add):
Stage 1 is hubris born of success. The company's people become arrogant, regarding success as virtually an entitlement.

Stage 2 is the undisciplined pursuit of more -- more scale, more growth, more acclaim. Companies stray from the disciplined creativity that led them to greatness in the first place, making undisciplined leaps into areas where they cannot be great or growing faster than they can achieve with excellence, or both.

Stage 3 is denial of risk and peril. Leaders of the company discount negative data, amplify positive data and put a positive spin on ambiguous data. Those in power start to blame external factors for setbacks rather than accept responsibility.

Stage 4 is grasping for salvation. Common "saviors" include a charismatic visionary leader, a bold but untested strategy, a radical transformation, a "game changing" acquisition or any number of other silver-bullet solutions.

Stage 5 is capitulation to irrelevance or death. Accumulative setbacks and expensive false starts erode financial strength and individual spirits to such an extent that leaders abandon all hope of building a great future. In some cases their leaders just sell out. In other cases the institution atrophies to utter insignificance.

Not coincidentally, the five stages bear out the Biblical proverb: "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18, ESV).

Four Stages of Leadership

A favorite author and blogger of mine, Tony Morgan, wrote this yesterday:
Yesterday while I was at Christ Fellowship in Miami, I did a leadership talk for their staff team. At the end of my talk, we took some time for Q&A. One of the questions that was asked was about leadership growth. Having worked in churches of various sizes between 1,400 and over 10,000, they wanted to know how leaders change to grow with organizations. Here’s what I summarized with a little bit more detail. Some of this reflects my own experiences in the churches I’ve served. Some of it reflects the conversations with leaders in other churches.

Lead by example. This is the type of leadership that is required when a new ministry launches. During this season, the leader has to do most of the work themselves. That happens out of necessity because no one else is around. It also happens to establish a foundation for the future. “Leading by doing” gives the leader the opportunity to shape the mission, vision, values and strategy of the church. These folks may not necessarily be gifted as leaders but they are in a positional leadership role. They are the “leaders of tens.” Ministries with this style of leadership can grow to about 100 people.

Lead other people. During this season, the leader recruits other people to join the ministry team. Rather than doing all the work on their own, the leader begins to delegate tasks and responsibilities to other people. The leader still owns the responsibility for making things happen, they’re just including other people in the effort. These are the “leaders of fifties.” Ministries can grow to several hundred people with this style of leadership.

Lead other leaders. This is when a transition happens where leaders begin to empower other leaders. Instead of a hands-on role where they’re on top of all the tasks, they shift to a role where they’re really more concerned about leading, caring for and raising up other leaders. They don’t give up responsibility for the outcome, but they begin to release team building and decisions of execution to other people. These are the “leaders of hundreds.” Ministries can grow to several thousand people with this style of leadership.

Lead by vision. At some point, there are leaders who may continue to embrace functional leadership of specific areas of ministry, but their focus is really on the overall health of the church. Rather than a ministry-specific focus, they have a global perspective that encompasses every aspect of the organization. These folks are leading other leaders, but they also have influence that reaches beyond their direct reports. They are coming alongside the senior leader to champion the vision that God has given the church. These are the “leaders of thousands.” Ministries can grow to tens of thousands of people with this style of leadership.

Read more:
I think he's generally right. However, the big problem is transitioning from one form of leadership to another. In the case of our church, I've rather ineffectually tried to lead a transition from a team structure that leads other people to a team structure that leads other leaders. It's been a painful process, and while I feel the need for the shift, I've done a poor job at leading the leaders who must buy into that change. I think we're in a time of regrouping right now...recovering from past mistakes, I hope, but not sure we're all ready to make that transition as a church.

Consider the Source

I read Mark Batterson's blog every day. One of his recent comments:

Consider the source.

That isn't just a sacred principle in journalistic integrity. It's one key to healthy leadership. An insult from a fool might actually be a compliment and a compliment from a fool might actually be an insult. Consider the source!

When you get feedback on a message, you need to consider the source. If someone shares something they shouldn't know or shouldn't share, consider the source. If someone has a complaint or a compliment, consider the source.

Let me give you a few examples.

If someone has a complaint about our weekend gatherings, the first thing I want to know is whether or not they are inviting their unchurched friends. If they aren't, there is a much greater likelihood that the complaint is selfish in nature. How vested is that person in NCC? If they haven't invested blood, sweat and tears into NCC then it doesn't carry as much weight. If they are a serious shareholder, I'm all ears. Is the person generally positive or negative? If they are generally negative, the complaint might just be a personal projection of their own issues. And finally, what is the spirit behind the compliment or criticism?

What I'm getting at is this: consider the source. It'll save you a ton of headaches and heartaches.

Church of the Week: Little Country Church

This week's church is the more-than-aptly named Little Country Church on Rt. 321 in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

We passed it several times during our May vacation in Gatlinburg, and eventually I just had to stop and snap this photo of one of the smallest churches you'll ever see. Not only that: it seems to be an actual, functioning church. The sign out front says there's service every Sunday at 9 a.m.

The interior (which I could see only through the windows in the door) looks like it could seat no more than 16 or so people:

It looks like I may just have found a church I can pastor effectively.

Pray for a Pastor

J. D. Greear writes on his blog:

Forgive me if this seems overly self-focused... as if wah-wah our lives as pastors are hard (cue soft violin music). I know everyone's job is hard. I just ask that when you think of me you pray for me...

Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, said that the four hardest jobs in America (and not necessarily in order, he added) are: president of the United States, a university chancellor, a hospital CEO, and a church pastor.

Jimmy Draper, former president of the Lifeway Research Group, notes that for every 20 people who go into the pastorate only one retires from the ministry. Can you name any other profession where there is a 95 percent drop-off rate? Most don’t make it to retirement in the ministry because they are either fired, have a moral failure or just burned out and give up.

Pastors have the second-highest divorce rate of any profession. 48% of them think their job is detrimental to their family’s well-being. Another 46% will experience a burnout or a depression that will make them leave the ministry. 70 % say their self-esteem is lower now than when they started their position.

So pray for a pastor. Pray for THIS pastor. Pray for all pastors!

Platform Announcements in Church

A great reminder from Frank Chiapperino's excellent blog:

Kem Meyer is on a whirlwind, one day, blog tour today answering tons of questions about communications in the church. For the full list of locations click here. So without further delay, here was my question for the oh so wise guru of communication:

Our church seems motivated most to attend events and activities when things are announced from the platform. When there’s no major push from the pulpit, using other forms of communication, how does one get the congregation excited and eager to participate in other things that are happening in the church?

Here is Kem’s Answer:

If people are responsive only to the events and activities announced from the platform it’s typically because it’s too hard to find out about the other events and opportunities that aren’t announced from the platform. Normal people always take the path of least resistance and if they have to work too hard to find something, they’ll just take what’s on top (like the platform announcements). The problem with the platform announcements being the only place to find out about individual growth and serving opportunities is that it limits church growth and community impact. My guess is that you “get this” and it’s why you asked this question in the first place. You’re a smart man, Frank. Smart man. [That's right, Kem thinks I'm a smart man! :)]

Here are a few tips to help raise awareness and energy for the things happening all around the life of the church without being solely dependent on the platform announcement.

Use the platform to reinforce and promote core values and macro steps from the platform, not individual events or teams. Practically, it might look like this:

Announced from the platform...
Join a Group
Read your Bible

Not announced from the platform....
Men’s breakfast
Book discussion
Community scrapbooking event

Then, reinforce everywhere (from the platform, the bulletin, pre-service slides, etc.) the one place to go to find everything. For us, it’s our web site. It’s the one place where information is always up to date and everyone has access to it-staff, volunteer, attendee, secret shopper, the information counter-they all have access to the web site. For you, the one place might not be the web. Whatever you choose, stick with that one place and drive everyone back to it. When you talk about volunteering, joining a group, etc., that one place lists all the individual opportunities, dates, times, directions, registration, etc.

Of course, there are always special events that warrant specific priority attention from the platform. Usually this makes sense for big deal events that affect the entire church like Baptism, Membership Classes, unique opportunities that directly apply to the topic you’re discussing in the sermon (i.e., Financial Freedom class when the message is about money.) But, even when you talk about specific events, remember to keep driving people back to that one place to find out the rest of the story.

There are so many benefits to this approach.

People in your church (on both sides of the message) are satisfied with a rewarding experience. They know where to easily find information when they want it.

People in your church take ownership of the invite and spread the word about different opportunities on their own when you empower them with direct access to the information. You eliminate the middle man and give them the tools to share it on their own.

You eliminate redundancy and extra work when you put everything in one place.

The most important benefit of all is this. You are able to diffuse the spirit of competition with ministry leaders jockeying for pole position on the platform. You’re reinforcing the message we are “one church” where ministry happens, not a bunch of individual ministries housed in the church.

People Amaze Me

People amaze me.

In a lot of good ways. But in silly ways, too.

One of the things that constantly amazes me is the gap between why people say they leave a church and what the evidence seems to indicate. People have left my church (the best one in the whole world, by far!) because the music was too loud; next thing I know, they're worshiping in a much larger church that plays 10db louder! Someone else left the church because the pastors didn't give them adequate care in a time of need; that person now attends a much larger church where the pastors don't know her name. Someone else left because our teaching wasn't "deep enough," and soon joined a church in a community far away that prevented them from frequent attendance on worship. Others left the church because in their view the staff in our church wasn't sharing power with the leadership body; they're currently worshiping in a fully staff-led church. Another left the church because we weren't "following the Spirit," and soon stopped worshiping anywhere. And so it goes.

That's not everyone of course. Some have left our church and found exactly what they claimed to be looking for elsewhere. And many have stayed though we're as utterly flawed as the rest (but still the best in the whole world, by far!). So why do I care? It hurts my feelings, that's why. It aggravates me. But it also makes me think, daggone, we're doing a crappy job in spiritual formation if such otherwise fine people can be so blind to their own rationalizations...or whatever. Of course, there's one more possibility: I'm a horse's rear end.

We won't be taking a poll.

Tough Decisions

Saw this awesome video on Dave Gibbons's blog ( There's GOT to be a way to use this in church....

A Word in the Winepress

On a drive home from Tennessee Saturday, the lovely Robin and I listened to a podcast by Craig Groeschel, part of his "Warrior" series, in which he referenced Gideon's story as that of a typical "Hesitant Warrior." So when I went to my prayer chair that night, I turned to Judges 6, and WOW! God spoke straight to my heart as a pastor....It seemed like the Holy Spirit highlighted (and I subsequently underlined) the three key things the Lord said to Gideon in the winepress, as if he was (and I think he WAS) saying those very same things to me:

"The LORD is with you, mighty warrior." What a gracious greeting for the Lord to give to Gideon, who was threshing wheat in a winepress, for fear of his enemies! And yet he says the same to me, I believe. The Lord is with me. The Lord is with us. Whatever our Enemy throws at us, however he may attack me, the Lord is with me....and by his grace, in that confidence, I am a mighty warrior.

"Go in the strength you have." I need to make this my ministry mantra. I don't always feel strong, and sometimes "I've little strength to call my own," as the hymnwriter says..."But on thy strength, O God, I lean/ And through the blood that makes me clean, Thou art my all in all." Go in the strength you have. Stop focusing on your weaknesses, on your mistakes, on others' fault-finding, and just go in the strength you have.

"I will be with you." I am a fragile, faulty leader. I don't have my act all together. I get discouraged way too easily. And I'm not nearly as good at this pastoring thing as I need to be, as I want to be. But, shoot, God is with me. He is with us. And it doesn't matter how poor or good I am or my church just matters if God shows up. And he does. And he will.

That's what I believe God said, not just to Gideon all those years ago, but to ME just last Saturday night. It was a very welcome word.

Future Preacher

This kid has a future....either as a preacher or an auctioneer:

Purrrrty Paper

Okay, so this has nothing to do with being a pastor, or even following Christ. But dude, German artist Simon Schubert creates these drawings on a single sheet of paper with folds and scores. Check out his work. It's beautiful.

Church of the Week: Cusco Cathedral

I've planned for some time to feature a weekly photo and description of some of my favorite churches from the many I've seen and visited, and so why not start with one of the most recent, the Cusco Cathedral in Cusco, Peru?

Cusco Cathedral is a Baroque-style cathedral built on the foundations of the palace of the Inca Wirachocha in Cusco. Construction began in 1550, using many stones looted from the site of the nearby Saqsayhuamán fortress, and was completed a century later. It is considered one of the most splendid Spanish colonial churches in the Americas.

Inside the cathedral are some examples of the Cusqueña school of painting, including a Marcos Zapata painting of the Last Supper with a local specialty, cuy (guinea pig), as the main dish. Among its most striking features are its massive, solid-silver altar, the cedar choir (with carved rows of saints, popes, and bishops, all in stunning detail down to their delicately articulated hands) and the "black Jesus," or Nuestro Señor de los Temblores (Our Lord of the Earthquakes) which tradition says minimized damage to the chapel during a 1650 earthquake. There's non-Christian imagery in Cusco Cathedral, too, created by the natives the Spaniards used as craftsmen, such as figures of pumas, the Inca representation of the earth, carved on the enormous main doors, and the Virgin Mary statue robed in the shape of a mountain.

The Right-Sized Church

On our recent trip to Peru, while eating breakfast in a Cuzco hotel frequented by Christian mission groups, I overheard a comment, in English: "My church is just the right size." To which I was dying to interject (but didn't), "NO SUCH THING! No church on earth is just the right size, because Jesus calls us--COMMANDS us--to enlarge it, to bring in one more, to go out even into the highways and byways and persuade at least ONE MORE to come in."

I had a friend say to me once, "I'm not sure what I think about megachurches." I knew what he meant, but I said something like, "I don't care what YOU think about megachurches. But it's hard for me to believe that Jesus would say to ANY church, 'Stop growing. Stop reaching. Stop before you get too big.'"

There's not a church in the world that is the right size...until all have been saved.