Church of the Week: St. Vivian's, Finneytown, Ohio

I had occasion to be in Finneytown (in Cincinnati) not long ago, to have lunch with my friend Tim. While there, I stopped to snap a few photos of a church I've attended a couple times...each time in the company of my brother-in-law Ron.

When the lovely Robin and I lived and ministered in Finneytown (1983-1987), Ron and his family came a couple times over one holiday or another. I think we attended a Christmas mass one year. And it was at this church that I heard my most memorable sermon (or "homily," if you prefer).

It was a sweltering summer day, probably sometime around the July 4 holiday. The air conditioning in the church had malfunctioned, and everyone in the church was dripping wet from sweat before the preacher even took the pulpit. The text for the day was Hebrews 12:6: "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth." The preacher said, and I quote:
If it is true that "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth," and if it can be said that heat is a form of chastening, then the Lord must love us very, very much.
And then he sat down. I coulda kissed the man. And I'm sure I wasn't alone.

St. Vivian's Church and School is located at 7600 Winton Rd. in Finneytown. It is named for St. Vivian, a woman who was martyred for her faith, possibly during the reign of Emperor Julian (circa 331-363).

Preaching Doesn't Change People

This excerpt from an interview with Francis Chan issues a challenge to preachers:

Once you pastor for a while, it dawns on you that nailing a sermon doesn't mean lives will change. Or you'll meet a person who's surrendered everything to Christ, and you'll realize that your sermon wasn't even good and nothing you did caused him to become a believer.

There was a guy who had been in our church for 15 years. One day he told me my preaching hadn't changed him. He said I spoke too much about the "narrow road" and how everyone needs to be radical for Christ. But he said there's also a "middle road" where people like him can do a lot of good things. I was floored by that. He's sat under my teaching for 15 years and he still believes there isn't only a wide easy road and a narrow difficult road, but also a middle road? I've been told many times that my teaching is really helpful, that I make things simple for people to understand. And then you hear something like that.

That's when I remember, I cannot make someone fall in love with Jesus.

So what's the point of all the work, sermon prep, and programs if the outcome is out of our hands?

Some of our toil is wasted, because we're toiling believing that these things change people.

I believe a lot more of our work needs to be put into prayer, study of the Word, and trusting God. I could spend an extra ten hours on every sermon, trying to get every word just right, but my time would be much better spent out sharing the gospel with people and praying.

Now, I do study hard, because the Scripture tells me to and because I want to be accurate in my teaching. We should work hard "as unto the Lord," but we have to let our theology guide what we work hard at. And you have to be led by the Spirit on how much time to spend crafting a sermon and how much time to spend praying for a movement of the Spirit.

I couldn't agree more.

Our Little Thimble Overflows

Nicholas Carr in an article in Wired, which I came across on Chris Bowler's blog:
On the Net, we face many information faucets, all going full blast. Our little thimble overflows as we rush from tap to tap. We transfer only a small jumble of drops from different faucets, not a continuous, coherent stream.
"A fascinating — and frightening — reinforcement," says Bowler, "of what we are all coming to know. The article focuses on web pages littered with links, images, and video, but I would assume that computers with a multitude of applications has a similar affect on our work."
And so we ask the Internet to keep interrupting us in ever more varied ways. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the fragmentation of our attention, and the thinning of our thoughts in return for the wealth of compelling, or at least diverting, information we receive. We rarely stop to think that it might actually make more sense just to tune it all out.
What does this do to ministry? What effect is it having on churches, on Christians, on me? On you?

It Matters How Pastors Spend Their Time

A borrowed blog post from Learnings@Leadership Network:

What would happen if you asked over 200 pastors to provide an hour-by-hour calendar of a typical week, and then you compared the schedules of those whose churches had a very high percentage of conversion growth, against those of everyone else?

Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, did just that, with some fascinating results. He calls the high-conversion-growth churches “effective”:

  • The effective church leaders spent ten hours each week in pastoral care (counseling, hospital visits, weddings, funerals) compared to thirty-three hours for the comparison group pastors.
  • Effective church leaders average five hours per week in sharing the gospel with others. Most of the comparison church pastors entered "0" for their weekly time in personal evangelism.
  • Comparison church leaders spend eight hours a week — more than an hour each day — performing custodial duties at the church. The typical custodial duties included opening and closing the facilities, turning on and off the lights, and general cleaning of the building.
  • Leaders of effective churches average 22 hours a week in family activities. The comparison church leaders weren't too far behind with 18 hours of family time each week.
  • Pastors of effective churches sleep slightly over six hours per day. Pastors of comparison churches sleep almost eight hours per day.
  • Pastors of effective churches spend twenty-two hours in sermon preparation each week versus four hours for pastors of comparison churches.

The time allocation of effective leaders seems to complement the way they describe their own leadership styles. In order to accomplish what they considered priority functions, they had to sacrifice in other areas. As htimer-stopwatch-in-hande concludes: “Thus the effective leaders cannot do many of the responsibilities often expected of them as pastors. They cannot make all the hospital visits. They cannot counsel everyone. And they cannot perform all of the custodial duties that may be expected of them. But as leaders they can see that those things get done.”

If his survey covered typical church sizes, then the majority of responses above will be from single staff churches (or maybe ones with 2 or 3 staff). Yet the underlying idea probably holds true for all sizes of churches: It seems to make a huge amount of difference how pastors spend their time, and what voices they listen to in making decisions about each 168-hour week.

Bird-Warren-jacketWarren Bird, Ph.D., is Research Director at Leadership Network, and co-author of 21 books on various aspects of church health and innovation. Recent blog posts include More Sociologists “Get” Religion, Report from “The Unthinkables,” Meet Some Amazing Leaders Reaching Hispanics in America, More Large Churches Are Bridging the Racial Divide, Why Is “Everyone” Interested in Leadership Development, What’s New in Young Adult Ministries, Questions Raised by Executive Pastors, Downtown Churches: How Visible?, What Is Your Church Learning about Outreach? andNigerian-Based Church Comes to North America.

Church of the Week: Marble Collegiate Church, New York

Marble Collegiate Church is the oldest place of worship of the Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of the City of New York, organized in 1628 under the Dutch West India Company and New York was called New Amsterdam. It is the oldest Protestant organization in North America with continuous service for 374 years, and the church where the renowned Norman Vincent Peale pastored and preached for 54 years.

The lovely Robin and I visited this church in 1979 on an "Observation Sunday" when we were cadets in training with The Salvation Army.

Part of the name of the church refers to the Collegium system of the seventeenth through nineteenth century, when ministry colleagues would rotate among the several Dutch Reformed Churches on Manhattan Island. Though the Collegium practice ceased in 1871, the name continues. The cornerstone of Marble Collegiate Church was laid in November 1851, and the church was dedicated on October 11, 1854. Designed by architect Samuel A. Warner, the church is also named for its construction out of solid blocks of marble, shipped down river from a quarry at Hastings-on-Hudson. As the city limit was then at 23rd Street, and Fifth Avenue was a dirt road, the surrounding cast iron fence (still standing) was erected to keep cattle out of the churchyard.

The church hosts a dizzying array of services and programs. Above is a labyrinth, available to the public in the basement of the church every Wednesday evening during Lent and the first Wednesday of every month after that (a labyrinth is a walking aid to meditation found in various forms in many cultural and religious traditions). This one is painted on canvas and is based on the design of a labyrinth inlaid in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France in the 1200s.

One of the delightful features of the church, added recently, is the Children's Chapel, created by award-winning interior designer Valerie Onor.

In their wedding invitations, Valerie and her husband, Dick Doll, asked their guests, if they wished to donate a gift, to put it towards the creation of the Childrens’ Chapel. In addition to these gifts, many of the artists and craftsmen employed by Valerie’s interior design firm contributed their time and skill. The result was the beautiful chapel pictured above.

Preaching in Oregon

Had a great weekend speaking at a men's retreat at Camp Kuratli this past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

I spoke four times in a series called "Jesus Loves You...But Everyone Else, Not So Much."

The men--from all over Oregon and Idaho--were awesome: friendly, responsive, studious.

Strike the Shepherd

by Ken Sande, President of Peacemaker Ministries

When an army loses its officers, disaster is just around the corner.

Even a madman like Adolph Hitler understood this. Just before he launched his attack against the Soviet Union in 1941, he arranged for Stalin to see forged documents that indicated his own officers were conspiring against him. Gripped by paranoia, Stalin executed or imprisoned 35,000 top officers—over half of the Russian officer corps.1When Germany launched its attack, the Russian army was headless and helpless, and suffered staggering casualties and defeats.

A similar disaster is occurring in the church. We too are engaged in a terrible war. We struggle "against the powers of this dark world and...spiritual forces of evil" (Eph. 6:12). How much more do we need our leaders, and how much more devastating is it when we lose them on the eve of battle? Yet this is happening at an alarming rate. Consider these sobering statistics:

  • 23 percent of all current pastors in the United States have been fired or forced to resign in the past.2
  • 45 percent of the pastors who were fired in one denomination left the ministry altogether.3
  • 34 percent of all pastors presently serve congregations that forced their previous pastor to resign.4
  • The average pastoral career lasts only fourteen years—less than half of what it was not long ago.5
  • 25 percent of the churches in one survey reported conflict in the previous five years that was serious enough to have a lasting impact on congregational life.6
  • 1,500 pastors leave their assignments every month in the United States because of conflict, burnout, or moral failure.7

Although there are times when it really is best for a pastor to step down, far too many good pastors are being driven out of ministry, leaving thousands of churches weak and vulnerable to spiritual attack. Without good leadership, factions multiply, evangelism declines, divorces proceed unrestrained, discipleship loses direction, and missionaries are forgotten on the field. As Scripture warns, "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered" (Matt. 26:31).

What is it that usually strikes pastors down? Surveys by Christianity Today8 and the LeaderCare ministry of LifeWay Christian Resources9 reveal that the most common causes for forced exits include:

  • The church already being conflicted when the pastor arrives
  • A lack of unity and the presence of factions in the church
  • Conflicting visions for the church
  • A church's resistance to change
  • Power and control struggles
  • Personality conflicts
  • Poor people skills on the part of the pastor
  • Conflict over leadership styles
  • Dissatisfaction with the pastor's performance
  • Theological differences

All of these reasons for forced exits can be summarized in one word: conflict. When a pastor is forced out of ministry, it is usually because he has been unsuccessful at resolving differences with other people in his church. As theChristianity Today survey further reveals:

  • 45 percent of ousted pastors think they could have done more to avoid being forced out.10
  • Resolving conflict is the primary action they wish they had taken sooner.11
  • They believe conflict management was the area of training most lacking in their seminary or Bible college education.12

Do you see the pattern? Pastors are not being adequately trained in conflict resolution; conflict brings down thousands of them every year; churches engage in spiritual battle without proper leadership. And then churches wonder why they have so little fruit and suffer so much defeat.

No secular business would accept such high leadership losses. Executive turnover in the business world typically costs employers from 12 to 18 months of the executive's annual salary.13 If this figure were applied to pastoral turnovers, we would see that they are costing the church over $684 million dollars a year! If you measured the cost in terms of seminary or Bible college expenses that go down the drain whenever a pastor leaves the ministry, you would come up with a similar appalling number.

But the cost to the kingdom cannot be measured in terms of money. How precious is the gift of preaching the gospel, and what is the cost when a pastor loses his pulpit and his gift is silenced? How precious is the witness of a vibrant church to its community, and what is the cost when a forced exit splits a church and results in two hostile congregations? How precious is the privilege of being raised by both parents, and what is the cost when a pastor is not there to prevent a divorce and a child is torn between two warring parents?

Whatever the measure, the cost of losing thousands of pastors each year is astronomical. The church cannot afford to let these losses continue.

All of these facts came rushing through my mind recently when I sat in a conference with 1,200 pastors. As I overheard conversations around me and then listened to their glorious singing, I could tell these were deeply dedicated pastors. As I looked around the room, I thanked God for raising up so many gifted leaders for his church. And then the awful statistics came to mind: in just a few years, 23 percent of these men might be forced out of their churches. Choking on this thought, I tried to convince myself that these well-educated, highly committed men would beat the odds.

But during a break a pastor named Steve approached me for advice and demonstrated how little practical knowledge many pastors have when it comes to resolving conflict. Steve told me that he was planning to resign his pulpit. Shortly after he had come to his church, he discovered that one elder and his wife ran everything. Steve had wrestled against their control tactics for two years. He had learned in seminary that he should make peace, but now that he faced an actual career-threatening conflict, he realized that he had never been taught how to resolve conflict in practical, nuts-and-bolts ways. The other four elders knew less about conflict resolution than Steve did, so they failed to take decisive action. As a result, he and his wife were ready to quit.

As Steve and I prayed and talked, however, his attitude changed completely. I reminded him of God's concern for his situation, and the hope he has because of what Christ has done and is doing for him. Then I explained a few practical peacemaking principles he could apply. We developed a strategy to equip his four well-meaning elders to resolve the conflict. We also agreed on a backup plan for how the church could seek outside conciliation if the controlling elder refused to cooperate.

By the end of our twenty-minute talk, I was looking at a different man. The drooping shoulders and gloomy expression were gone. Steve was sitting erect in his chair and smiling. He was ready to go home and do everything in his power to fulfill his calling as a pastor and stay at the helm of his church. There is no guarantee he will succeed, but he was prepared and eager to give it another try.

Many of the men in that room were probably as discouraged as Steve was. Like thousands of other pastors, they are surrounded by conflict in their churches every week. Yet few of them are adequately trained to resolve conflict. They too have been told that they should make peace, but all too often they lack the practical training and tools to do so. This weakness is especially evident when it comes to handling hostile church factions or resolving conflicts with members that could turn into lawsuits against the church.

To make matters worse, most congregations have not been properly equipped to deal with conflict either. So when conflict arises, many members retreat into denial, some form defensive factions, and others launch all-out attacks on the pastor. When a pastor who is equally unprepared for peacemaking walks into such a church, the stage is set for agonizing conflict and a forced exit.

That is the bad news. The good news is that it is never too late for both pastors and congregations to learn how to respond to conflict biblically. And it can start with you.

Guiding People Through Conflict

Guiding People Through Conflict
A succinct summary and application of biblical conflict resolution principles for those trying to assist other people who are struggling with conflict.

more info

If you are a pastor,
you can start today to learn practical principles and skills that will enable you to lead your church through the worst of conflicts in an effective and biblically faithful manner:

  • Begin by browsing around Peacemaker Ministries' web site and reading about the foundational principles, heart issues, articles, and true stories that relate to your particular needs.
  • Read The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict and Guiding People through Conflict, which provide detailed, down-to-earth principles that have been used to resolve thousands of conflicts in the church.
  • Take your leaders through the Peacemaking Church Risk Management materials which provides detailed guidance on how you can prevent or safely handle conflicts that might otherwise turn into lawsuits or church divisions. (Among other things, this material shows how your church can re-establish the practice of redemptive and constructive church discipline, which can be a key to resolving serious conflict in the church.)
  • Pursue Peacemaker Training, which provides the opportunity to learn conflict coaching and mediation skills, and to practice them in role plays based on actual church conflicts.
  • To equip your entire congregation to respond to conflict biblically, lead your church through a carefully laid out process of developing a "culture of peace™" (see the Peacemaking Church section of this website).
  • If you are faced with a conflict that is beyond your present ability to handle, contact Peacemaker Ministries for advice or to arrange for a team of trained conciliators to assist your church.

The Peacemaker

The Peacemaker
In this foundational peacemaking resource, Ken Sande describes the powerful biblical principles you can use to resolve conflict. Download Chapter 1 for FREE!

more info

If you are a church leader or member,
you can encourage and support your pastor as he seeks to lead the way in learning and modeling biblical peacemaking.

  • Familiarize yourself with biblical peacemaking by browsing around our web site and reading The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict.
  • Then bring this article to your pastor's attention and encourage him to take advantage of the resources and training described above.
  • Support and pray for your pastor as he seeks to convince other church leaders and the congregation to invest time and resources in developing a culture of peace (see the Peacemaking Church section of this website).
  • To prevent your pastor from standing alone when serious conflict strikes, suggest that the church requires its other leaders to learn basic peacemaking or even go through higher levels of Peacemaker Training.
  • When conflict arises in the church, pray for your pastor, discourage gossip, and encourage members to respond to the conflict biblically (see the Peacemaker's Pledge).
  • If you see that your pastor may have failed to notice how he has offended someone, go to him privately, and respectfully encourage him to go to that person to seek reconciliation before the seeds of bitterness take root.
  • If your church seems to be entangled in a conflict it cannot resolve on its own, suggest that the leaders contact your denomination or Peacemaker Ministries for qualified advice or conciliation assistance before things grow worse.
  • If your church is searching for a new pastor, urge the search committee to inquire into the candidates' training in conflict resolution or their openness to getting training as a condition of coming to the church.

If you care about the next generation of pastors, contact any seminaries or Bible colleges you have a connection with and urge them to place a higher priority on equipping students to respond to conflict biblically. Point out that although many seminaries have general theoretical training in conflict resolution, pastors themselves are continually reporting that they did not receive the practical training they need to meet the conflicts of real church life (see, for example, "A Better Way to Handle Abuse"). Unless seminaries fill this gap, they will continue to send out pastors who may have mastered Greek and Hebrew, but are unprepared to deal with the conflicts that are likely to destroy their pastoral careers.14

Please take action today. An enemy is seeking to rob our churches of their leaders, so that congregations will be weakened when he attacks. Let's stand together in the Lord to defeat our enemy's plans, train and preserve our pastors and our congregations, and see the church go from victory to victory!


1 William Stevenson, A Man Called Intrepid (New York: Ballantine Books, 1976) 36.

2 John C. LaRue, "Forced Exits: A Too-Common Ministry Hazard," Your Church, Mar/Apr 1996, p. 72,

3 Charles Willis, "Forced Terminations of Pastors, Staff Leveling Off,"

4 John C. LaRue, Id.

5 George Barna, 1996 Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators.

6 Carl S. Dudley, "Conflict: Synonym for Congregation."

7 Focus on the Family, 1998.

8 John C. LaRue, Id.

9 Charles Willis, Id.

10 John C. LaRue, "Forced Exits: How to Avoid One," Your Church, Jan/Feb 1997, p. 88,

11 Id.

12 John C. LaRue, "Profile of Today's Pastor: Ministry Preparation," Your Church, Mar/Apr 1995, p. 56,

13 William Hendricks and Jim Cote, On the Road Again: Travel, Love and Marriage (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1998), p. 13.

14 See "Peacemaking Resources for Academic Training" for a list of practical resources and training, including custom MDiv programs that are available for Christian colleges and seminaries.

Ken Sande is an attorney, the author The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (Baker Books, Updated Ed. 2003), Peacemaking for Families (Tyndale, 2002), and president of Peacemaker Ministries (, an international ministry committed to equipping and assisting Christians and their churches to respond to conflict biblically.

Top Ten Signs Your Sermon Isn't Going Well

From the folks at Preaching Magazine comes this week's Top Ten list (the first sign is apparently the fact that your top ten list has thirteen items in it). Here are the Top Ten Signs Your Sermon Isn't Going Well:

13. Your associate pastor is warming up in the bullpen.

12. The praise band begins playing you off the stage.

11. The congregation is filling in the blanks of your outline before you get there.

10. You think the lyrics to a bluegrass song are really connecting with your audience.

9. When you pause for dramatic effect, several people giggle.

8. Your cell phone starts ringing, and you answer it.

7. The person signing for the deaf just pulled on mittens.

6. When the children are dismissed to junior church, most of their parents go, too.

5. Your sermon took shape over a glass of wine and volume three of Left Behind.

4. Your interpreter just rolled his eyes and put your last statement in quotation marks.

3. Desperate mothers are pinching their babies.

2. The ushers are handing out refunds.

1. You began your sermon with “Top 10 signs your sermon isn’t going well.”

I Am Hutterite

I love reading a well-written memoir. And I love reading about people's spiritual backgrounds and journeys. And I love delving into other cultures via the written word.

I Am Hutterite, by Mary-Ann Kirkby, delivered each of those pleasures. It is the story of a girl, born to Hutterite parents on a colony in southern Manitoba, Canada (the Hutterites are an Amish-like religious community, except more recent in development and communal in their way of life). Kirkby neither romanticizes nor denigrates the Hutterite way of life, but lets it speak for itself through her narrative. She weaves a charming tale of a little girl's friendships, experiences, and discoveries, until the time her parents made the cataclysmic decision to leave the colony when Mary-Ann was ten years old. Overnight, she and her six siblings were thrust into a world of hardship, loneliness, and even persecution. Could they make a life outside of the colony? Would they return? Could they ever experience wholeness and happiness again?

It is an entertaining and engaging personal story, but it is more than that. I Am Hutterite offers insight into a unique--and largely hidden--culture. It presents a thoughtful perspective on conflict and faith. And it reflects a needful message and model of freedom, forgiveness, and finding one's own way in spite of all the obstacles.

This book was provided for review by the publisher, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Conflict Coaching and Mediation Training

Last week Cobblestone hosted a three-day Conflict Coaching and Mediation Training seminar at The Loft, a conference designed and presented by our friends at Peacemaker Ministries. I continue to be impressed and blessed by these folks and their hearts--and effective and Biblical strategies--for Biblical peacemaking and Christian conciliation.

Eight folks from Cobblestone--all four staff members and four others--joined others (from Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and elsewhere) in the training, which was intense. Thursday focused on Conflict Coaching, in which we learned aspects of effective conflict coaching, including gathering data, assigning homework, and applying Scripture to the heart. We learned to provide encouragement, godly advice, and prayer support to an individual who is struggling with a conflict. (Conflict coaching differs from mediation in that it usually involves interaction with only one of the parties or one side of the conflict, while mediation is working with both parties together, to improve communication and understanding so that the parties can arrive at a voluntary agreement).

Friday and Saturday focused on mediation training, which brings to life the principles and concepts learned in Conflict Coaching (counseling one party) and develops the skills and introduces the processes for reconciling two or more people who cannot resolve conflict on their own. We worked through detailed case studies and role-plays based on actual conciliation cases. While I absolutely hate role-play (and I'm not alone), I'm sure the training wouldn't have been nearly as effective without it.

With this training as a crucial first step, our hope now is to form a peacemaking team at Cobblestone, to meet regularly, improve our skills, and help those in and out of the church who find themselves in conflict....once we recover.

I can't more highly recommend this to every pastor, every church, every Christian organization. If you haven't experienced a Personal Peacemaking conference, register now for one...perhaps even invite Peacemaker Ministries to conduct one at your church. Their small group and leadership materials are tremendously beneficial, and have helped many in our church pursue peace instead of suffering from and creating conflict.

Church of the Week: Vineyard Community Church, Cincinnati, Ohio

Cincinnati's Vineyard Community Church in Springdale began in 1983 with my friend Steve Sjogren as founding pastor. Both Steve and the church have been major encouragements and coaches to me (and others at Cobblestone) and a huge example and inspiration to us and many churches with their outward focus and motto, "Small Things Done With Great Love Will Change the World."

In 1999, the church moved into a new, 2,400-seat facility in Springdale, and has since grown to host thousands of worshipers every weekend.

The lovely Robin and I have worshiped here on dozens of occasions, and attended leadership conferences and concerts there. When our original church plant team was praying about starting Cobblestone, Steve met with us for three hours in his home to give godly counsel. The Vineyard staff have always been sacrificial and generous; they've taught small group leader trainings, answered questions, provided resources, etc. In addition to Steve, who has spoken twice at Cobblestone, Vineyard pastors Dave Workman, Randy Bohlender, and Alan Fuller have also been guest speakers. For four or five years, Steve generously met every few weeks with me and my co-pastor for coaching and encouragement. And our daughter Aubrey was married in their wedding chapel in 2008:

No other church has had nearly the impact on me and the church I serve as this church and its people.

Sunday Night Rejoicings

Just a few quick thoughts on another lovely day at Cobblestone Community Church:
  • God was clearly in the house today. I honestly sensed a spiritual freedom while I was still walking to The Loft from my car! We were truly on holy ground.
  • I hope our first celebration crowd are learning to worship more freely! I mentioned when I took the stage to pray for the offering that it seemed that this crowd--which is always outdistanced by the worshipers in the late celebration--was ready to give that smaller crowd a run for their money, so to speak.
  • Today's message, "Free to Receive," from Galatians 3:26-4:7, was a blast for me! From Edward VI to "God has no second-class sons" to the significance of the word "redeemed" in verse 5, and more, this message meant a lot to me.
  • It's always a joy and a privilege to pray with people in and after each celebration. And to pray with people in the atrium...and in the parking lot...even BETTER!
  • There was a great outreach team meeting this morning, before first celebration. Those folks are awesome. God, bless our efforts. We're having a free family movie nite this Saturday at The Loft, and in June a grocery cart outreach in Brookville (June 12) and a $1 Car Wash outreach (June 26) ALSO in Brookville! These will be the first times we've taken it to Brookville. Why did it take us so long?
  • People were actually DANCING in the parking lot after this morning's worship. I kid you not. Love it.
  • New folks are coming to Cobblestone in such numbers these days that I can't keep up! Gave away a handful of welcome folders myself this morning, and keep welcoming folks that have been coming for weeks! It's a good thing that there are many, but I want to know them all!
  • I'm LOVING it that people are lingering in prayer after celebrations, and that folks are hanging around, laughing, talking, celebrating, too. I'm loving seeing God build relationships between his precious ones.


Steven Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church, must be a smart guy, because he's on the same page I'm on, the vision I've tried to cast since Day One at Cobblestone regarding our Sunday worship (which has the added advantage of actually being Biblical!):
A pastor was recently explaining to me his philosophy toward planning a worship experience. One of his guiding principles bothered me a little:

“I want to eliminate anything from the service that a totally un-churched person wouldn’t completely understand. I want to design the whole deal so that they’re 100% comfortable.”

I think he was missing the point.

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul sets the church straight about tongues, prophecy, and similar controversial issues. To do so, he frames up a hypothetical scenario in which an unbeliever shows up at church, and can’t figure out what in the world is going on because everyone is speaking in tongues. This extreme is confusing and unhelpful. Our language has to be crystal clear if it’s going to do anyone any good.

But, on the other hand, Paul suggests, if the unbeliever is confronted with the prophetic power of God in a way he can understand:
“…he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” (1 Cor. 14:25)
That’s the point. Not that the unbeliever would be comfortable. But that the presence of God would be palpable and undeniable.

Whether they completely get it or not at first, they should sense it…
Whether they completely agree with it or not, they should be drawn to it…

I don’t think that’s going to happen if we tone it down too much. Don’t get me wrong. At Elevation, we exist so that people far from God will be filled with life in Christ. That’s the whole purpose behind everything we do-especially our worship experience.

It’s just that I believe the best way for us to connect with people far from God-and the most attractive thing we can present to them-is the amped up, full throttle, passionate presentation of the Gospel of Jesus. You know what I’m saying?

Like, when a non-football loving college freshman goes to a Clemson game for the first time, they’re sure to encounter a lot of things that they don’t really identify with yet. The passion may be a little overwhelming. The volume may be unbearably loud. The mullets and shirtless rednecks might be a tad bit off-putting.

But there’s something about the atmosphere that sucks you in. Even if you don’t know what’s going on…you can tell that this is the place to be. Before you know it, you’re screaming your voice raw right along with the hardcore fans. Hopefully, without the need for any alcoholic beverage to assist in the process.

I guess I want the experience at Elevation to be so distinctive, unique, and high energy that even though you might not get it at first, you want some of it.

And if you stick around long enough, we’ll make a fan out of you…

The Top Ten Worst Ways to Start a Spiritual Conversation with Someone

Here's another of the Top Ten lists we've shared in our Sunday messages at Cobblestone Community Church. This one comes from way back, in a series we did called "Sharing Your Faith Without Losing Your Mind." It's called The Top Ten Worst Ways to Start a Spiritual Conversation with Someone:

10. Hey, baby! You sure are hot! But hell is even hotter...

9. What’s your sign? Mine’s the sign of the fish.

8. While we’re waiting for the police to arrive, have you ever heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?

7. If you think it’s hot here, try burning in the fires of hell.

6. What a cute puppy--er, baby you have there!

5. I bet you’re wondering why each of my fingers is a different color.

4. You can’t get to heaven on a Harley, you know.

3. Would you like fries with that....and, by the way, if you died tonight, do you know where you’d spend eternity?

2. (shouted) REPENT!!!!!!

And the number one worst way to start a spiritual conversation with someone:

1. You look like a sinner; can we talk?

What's Going On?

Here's a short but dead-on post from Craig Groeschel the Swerve blog:
In some ways as a leader, what you don’t know matters as much as what you do know.

In ministry, many pastors want to know everything about what is going on. The problem with that concept should be obvious. To know everything means that you can’t have a lot going on.

It’s not uncommon for a pastor to delegate something to a trusted person, then expect to know all of the details about the progress. Although some communication is always valuable, the only thing the pastor really needs to know… is that the job is covered and will be done well.
One of the unrealistic expectations we seem to battle in our church is the expectation not only that the pastors should know everything, but that the leadership team (elder board) has to know everything, and approve everything. We all struggle to let go. And it seems there is a constant need for better communication. But we hurt ourselves, our growth, and our effectiveness when we consider it a bad thing that something was accomplished or is moving forward that we didn't know about in detail.

P.S. The next day, Craig followed up his post with this, which is likewise dead-on:
Instead of always knowing “what” is happening with a project, what we really need to know is “who” is covering the project. If we have the right “who,” we shouldn’t have to worry about the “what.”

If we have the wrong “who,” then we need to know the “what.” If you always need to know the “what,” you have one of two problems:
You are not an empowering leader.
You have the wrong “who.”
Either way, the problem needs to be fixed.

The Peacemaker

I agree with my friend and coworker in the Gospel, Kim Sterwerf, who says she wishes she had discovered The Peacemaker, by Ken Sande, decades ago. It's that important. It's that helpful.

It is a singularly thorough guide to Biblical peacemaking, and sort of the centerpiece of Peacemaker Ministries' message and work. It fleshes out the commands of Jesus and the inspired guidance of the Bible and constructs a practical, Biblical, and utterly transforming approach to conflict resolution.

Central to the book is the "4 Gs," a memorable process for peacemaking, based on Scripture: "Glorify God, "Get the log out of your own eye," "Gently restore," and "Go and be reconciled." A plethora of real-life examples and illustrations help to cement the principles in the reader's mind.

There is much more, however, to becoming a peacemaker than reading--and even applying--this excellent book. The church I pastor has been involved with Ken Sande's fine organization for more than a year now, and I can also personally and highly recommend the Biblical Peacemaking seminars, small group materials, and The Leadership Opportunity (for church leaders). In fact, later this week, I will be joining other leaders in my church for a further step in the process, intense training in conflict coaching and mediation skills.

I sincerely and passionately urge every Christ-follower to read this book. More than that: devour it, study it, and learn to live it. As I said, it's that important.

Church of the Week: Walker Chapel, Reily, Ohio

I had the honor of performing a lovely wedding in this church this past weekend. It is a picturesque country church located on Springfield Road in Reily Township (Butler County), near the Indiana border.

Walker Chapel dates back as far as 1819, to a class meeting led by a prominent farmer and miller in the area, George Allhands (apparently misprinted as Allands on the plaque below). Subsequently, the Church was given a lot on which to build, one mile northeast of the present church.

Until 1845 the society worshipped in the school-house adjacent to that lot, which was then sold, and the proceeds applied to the purchase of the lot on which the chapel now stands. The current church was built in 1895, and dedicated by the Rev. George W. Walker, for whom the chapel was named.

According to the current owners, Walker Chapel last functioned as a church six or so years ago. It was recently acquired by private owners, who have beautifully restored and renovated it for use as a wedding chapel and reception hall (last Saturday's wedding was the first to be performed there).

Adjacent to the church is also the Walker Chapel Cemetery. The inscriptions on the tombstones in the graveyard carry burial dates from 1839 to 1876. Among them is the strikingly specific: "Charles CONE born September 12, 1797, died October 12, 1847. He was killed by lightning on the above date about six o'clock in the morning."

Sunday Night Rejoicings

Wow, what a GREAT day today this was at Cobblestone…

  • I was a little stunned in both celebrations at HOW MANY MOTHERS we had when I asked moms to stand for prayer! Wow.
  • As always, great job today, Under Cover! I knew when I finished writing today's message a couple weeks ago that I wanted an extended worship set to follow the message, and WOW was it powerful today. I have a feeling I don't quite know how powerful, because I was immersed in worship and don't know how many people came forward to worship at the front or kneel or whatever, but I sensed the winds of the Spirit blowing all around me. Thanks, Cobblestone, for your heartfelt response today!
  • One of the most responsive worshipers this morning, I learned after the first celebration, was my one-year-old granddaughter Mia, who stood front and center with her mom during the second worship set, and lifted her hand like other worshipers around her! How I wish I had a photo of that!
  • Got to welcome a bunch of new folks today, and was thrilled to spend extended time in prayer with people after each celebration. Hallelujah!
  • Thanks so much to Bill, Ryan, Mike, and Steve for letting me use them as models this morning. Especially to Bill and Mike, who I mistreated royally!
  • God has been really visiting blessing on me in recent weeks, and I'm right now just going with the flow! What joy I'm finding in preaching, worshiping, greeting, serving, praying, learning names...all of it! Thank you, Lord!
  • I'm still learning how much of a challenge--and offense, even--grace is....even (maybe especially) to Christians. Throughout this series from Galatians, I've been hearing people struggle with the concept and application of grace (which I understand, since I struggle myself). I was even told this morning that someone has left the church because they were offended by my message last week on Galatians 2:11-21. It IS a struggle. It IS a challenge to understand. It IS unnatural to us. But it's us church folk who struggle most, more than people who are relatively new to the faith. And it seems the longer a person has been around the church, the more baggage of "ungrace" and sometimes outright legalism we have to deal with. I know this personally, because I've been in the church for 52 years now. But HOW I PRAISE GOD for the scandal of his grace...BOTH the grace that saves AND the grace that keeps and changes!
  • Also, yesterday's ShareFest outreach was wonderful! What a great way to serve the community, a way in which EVERYone wins and EVERYone benefits. Thanks to Gary, Denise, Zach, Amy, Gib, Sam, Mike, Michelle, Becky, and John for their support!
  • I'm already looking forward to NEXT week, when I get to speak on "Free to Receive."

Finally, to all Moms--and especially to those I didn't get to greet personally this morning--Happy Mother's Day! I hope your day was a HUGE blessing to you.

    Perfectionism Ain't So Perfect

    This is a long post, but a great one, from Lifehack:

    Are you a perfectionist? Do you spend a lot of time “perfecting” your work,so everything comes out the way you want it to?

    I believe all of us are perfectionists in our own right. I’m a perfectionist, too. We set high bars for ourselves and put our best foot forward to achieve them. We dedicate copious amounts of attention and time to our work to maintain our high personal standards. Our passion for excellence drives us to run the extra mile, never stopping, never relenting.

    And a dedication towards perfection undoubtedly helps us to achieve great results. Yet, there is a hidden flip side to being perfectionists that we may not be aware of. Sure, being perfectionists and having a keen eye for details help us become excellent. However, as ironic as it might sound, perfectionism at its extreme prevents us from being our best.

    How so? Here are some examples:

    1. We become less efficient. Even when we are done with a task, we linger on to find new things to improve on. This lingering process starts off as 10 minutes, then extends to 30 minutes, then to an hour, and more. We spend way more time on a task than required.
    2. We become less effective. We do little things because they seem like a “good addition”, without consciously thinking whether they’re really necessary. Sometimes, not only do the additions add no value, they might even ruin things. For example, overcluttering a presentation with unneeded details. Jam-packing a blog layout with too many things.
    3. We procrastinate, as we wait for a “perfect” moment. Our desire to “perfect” everything makes us overcomplicate a project. What’s actually a simple task may get blown out of proportion, to the extent it becomes subconsciously intimidating. This makes us procrastinate on it, waiting for the ever “perfect” moment before we get to it. This “perfect” moment never strikes until it is too late.
    4. We miss the bigger picture. We are too hung up over details that we forget about the bigger picture and the end vision. It’s not uncommon to see better jobs done in pruning the trees than growing for the forest.
    5. We fuss over unfounded problems. We anticipate problems before they crop up, and come up with solutions to address these problems. It becomes an obsession to pre-empt problems. As it turns out, most of these problems either never do surface or they don’t matter that much.

    However, the problem isn’t perfectionism. Well, not the normal form of perfectionism anyway. Perfectionism helps us to continuously aim for higher standards and become better. It’s a good thing.

    The problem is when the quest for perfectionism turns into an obsession – so much so that the perfectionist becomes neurotic over gaining “perfection” and refuses to accept anything less than perfect. In the process, he misses the whole point altogether. Such perfectionists can be known as “maladaptive perfectionists”.

    The answer isn’t to stop being a perfectionist. It’s to be conscious of our perfectionist tendencies and manage them accordingly. We want to be healthy perfectionists who are truly achieving personal excellence, not maladaptive perfectionists who are sabotaging our own personal growth efforts.

    Here are my 8 personal tips on how we can be healthy perfectionists.

    1. Draw a line. We have the 80/20 rule (see #6 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity)where 80% of output can be achieved in 20% of time spent. We can spend all our time getting the 100% in, or we can draw the line where we get majority of the output, and start on a new project. Obsessing over details is draining and tedious, and doesn’t help us accomplish much. I used to review a blog post 3-4 times before I publish. All the reviewing only amounted to nuance changes in phrasings and the occasional typos. It was extremely ineffective. Now I scan it once or twice and publish it.
    2. Be conscious of trade-offs. When we spend time and energy on something, we deny ourselves from spending the same time and energy on something else. There are tons of things we can do, and we need to be aware of the trade-offs involved, so we can better draw a line (#1). For example, if some unimportant blog admin work takes an hour, that’s an hour I could spend on content creation or blog promotion. Being conscious of this helps me make a better choice on how to spend my time.
    3. Get a view of the big picture. What is the end objective? What is the desired output? Is what you are doing leading you to the overall vision? To make sure my attention is set on the end point, I have a monthly and weekly goal sheet for The Personal Excellence Blog that keeps me on track. Every day, I refer to it to make sure what I’m doing contributes to the weekly goals, and ultimately the monthly goals. These help me stay on track.
    4. Focus on big rocks. Big rocks are the important, high impact activities. Ask yourself if what you are doing makes any real impact. If not, stop working on it. If it’s a small yes, deprioritize, delegate it to someone else or get it done quickly. Seek out high impact tasks and spend time on them instead.Knowing the big picture (#3) helps you know the big rocks that contribute to the end goal. I used to spend endless amount of time tweaking my blog layout, which is really insignificant to the reader. These days I focus more on writing articles and guest posting which are the big rock activities.
    5. Set a time limit. This is same as time boxing (see #5 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity). Parkinson’s Law tells us work will take however long we want it to take. If you give yourself 4 hours, you will finish it in 4 hours. If you give yourself 3 hours, you will finish within 3 hours. If you don’t give yourself any time limit, you will take forever to do it. Set the time limit and finish the task by then. There can be a million things you can do to improve it, but you have to draw the line somewhere.
    6. Be okay with making mistakes. Part of the reason why we obsess over our work is because we want it to be mistake-free. However, trying to achieve 100% perfection is highly ineffective. If we’re busy perfecting this thing, we can’t get to other important things. Realize that making mistakes is a trade off we have to embrace. The more we open ourselves to making mistakes, the faster we can get down to learning from them, and the quicker we can grow.
    7. Realize our concerns usually amount to nothing. It’s good to plan and prepare, but there comes a time when we should let things roll and deal with problems as they crop up. Being overly preemptive makes us live in an imaginary future vs. in the present. As I grow, I’m more inclined to adopt a “roll with the punches” attitude. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. What it means that most of the things that do crop up can always be controlled on the spot, without worrying about them before hand.
    8. Take breaks. If your productivity is waning, take a break. Resting and coming back to the same thing later on gives us a renewed perspective and fresh focus. Sometimes I run out of mental juice when writing my articles, and I don’t get anywhere by pressing on. I know it’s pointless to continue, so I take a break from work. Not surprisingly when I return later, I’m able to make progress again.

    Are you a perfectionist? What are you doing to stay healthy and get things done?

    As a (slowly) recovering perfectionist, I must agree. I'm learning to sacrifice perfection...for effectiveness.

    The Top Ten Reasons People Don’t Go to Church

    From time to time in our Sunday messages at Cobblestone Community Church, we'll feature a Top Ten list. This one was featured in our Spring 2009 "RE:set" series... The Top Ten Reasons People Don’t Go to Church:

    10. The band and pastors don’t respond to my remote control.

    9. Two words: Sealy Posturepedic.

    8. The crossword puzzle in the Sunday paper takes me all morning to finish.

    7. Two words: Hung over.

    6. People that happy just give me the creeps.

    5. Last time I knelt to pray I couldn’t get up again.

    4. Two words: Joel Osteen.

    3. Prefer Doritos to those little crackers they pass out.

    2. When I want to feel guilty, I just call my mother.

    And, the number one reason people don’t go to church…

    1. They’re all hypocrites, especially that Bob Hostetler guy!

    Books That Make Me Want to Pray

    Books on prayer are too often like writer’s conferences.

    That is, the people who read them are not praying, but reading about praying (like those who attend writer’s conferences are often not writing, but merely learning about writing).

    For my money (and time), the only books on prayer worth reading are those that drive me to prayer. Here are some of my favorites:

    Prayer, by Richard Foster. This has become a classic, like much of what Foster has written. When, in the book’s first paragraph, the author referred to “the agony of prayerlessness,” I knew just what he meant.

    Living Prayer, by Robert Benson. I read this short book soon after God transformed my prayer life, with a little help from the Abbey of Gethsemani. It seems to me the most beautiful book on prayer I’ve ever read.

    The Divine Hours, by Phyllis Tickle. I will be indebted through eternity to Tickle for her highly usable aid to praying the hours. When I asked her to sign one of the three volumes in this set, I told her she had had a larger effect on my prayer life than anyone save the brothers of Gethsemani. She responded, “I am in good company, then.”

    A Diary of Private Prayer, by John Baillie. Arranged into morning and evening prayers for 31 days (with additional prayers on Sundays), the prayers in this slim volume are honest, poetic, insightful, beautiful.

    Lancelot Andrewes and His Private Devotions, tr. Alexander Whyte. There are several translations and versions of this Anglican bishop’s prayers. His prayers of confession alone suffice to show how weak and empty is our “modern” mode of prayer.

    Answering God, by Eugene Peterson. This book will make a person fall in love with the psalms…and with prayer…and with God.

    With Christ in the School of Prayer, by Andrew Murray. This is rightly considered a classic. The chapters are short and powerful. So powerful that if this book fails to turn you to prayer, nothing will.

    These are far from the only books on prayer that are worth reading (and re-reading). But they are the ones that have immeasurably enriched my prayer life…more than once.


    Radical, David Platt's new book (his first) is a challenge to the American church to take back our faith from the "American Dream." Platt, the pastor of four-thousand member The Church of Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, pulls no punches, and somehow manages to disturb without offending.

    In nine short and very readable chapters, he makes the case for a radical Christian faith--which SHOULD be the norm. He shows the shameful poverty of our faith amid the affluence of our lifestyles. He advocates a Great Commission mindset far beyond the tidy routines of our comfortable Christianity. He says, for example,
    If Jesus is who he said he is, and if his promises are as rewarding as the Bible claims they are, then we may discover that satisfaction in our lives and success in the church are not found in what our culture deems most important but in radical abandonment to Jesus.

    If people are dying and going to hell without ever even knowing there is a gospel, then we clearly have no time to waste our lives on an American dream.

    Why would we ever want to settle for Christianity according to our ability or settle for church according to our resources?
    After eight compelling chapters filled with writing like the above, Radical concludes with The Radical Experiment, a clarion call to "One year to a life lived upside down," in which the reader is urged to commit to:
    • Pray for the entire world
    • Read through the entire Word
    • Sacrifice your money for a specific purpose
    • Spend your time in another context
    • Commit your life to multiplying community
    One might expect those challenges to seem like asking too much, particularly in light of some examples he gives. On the contrary, however, it is far more likely that the reader will be champing at the bit to rise to the challenge and respond to the call. In other words, ready to be radical.

    This book was provided for review by the publisher, Multnomah Books. It can be ordered here and is also available as an ebook and in affordable ten-packs as well. You can even download the powerful first chapter here.