Didn't Learn This in Seminary...

I'm going to do a series of posts here in the near term about things they never taught me in seminary. But it's on my mind today because I've got a counseling situation this afternoon that I'm really not looking forward to.

Counseling is the bane of my existence, mostly because I'm not a very good counselor. I heard Andy Stanley say one time that he's not a counselor - he's a consultant, and hearing him say that made me want to jump out of my chair and give him a hug because someone finally understood me.

I didn't hug him, but I wanted to.

A consultant goes into a situation, diagnoses the problem, tells people what they need to do to remedy the problem, and leaves them to implement his suggestions. A counselor gets down and dirty to try to work with a person (or couple) as they implement suggestions bit by bit. That frustrates the fool out of me. I'm way too ADD to deal with the same problem over and over when the solution is so clear.

But with that said, some counseling is a necessity in pastoral ministry, so I grit my teeth and try to bear it.

One of the things that makes counseling situations so difficult is the phone call that precedes them.

"Chris, I need to talk to someone about something. Are you free on Thursday?"

"Sure, I'd love to get together. How about Thursday afternoon?"

"Okay. Three o'clock okay?"

"That sounds great."

"Okay. See you then."

Not even a hint of what we're getting ready to talk about. Sometimes I can guess, but sometimes I miss like crazy. There are times when I've prepared myself to deal with relationship issues, only to find out the person wants to talk about how they can get plugged-in to ministry. Other times, I've prepared for a discussion about a ministry leadership challenge to have someone come out of the proverbial "closet."

They don't teach you how to do that in seminary. I guess it's part of what makes ministry exciting. It's definitely what causes James 1:5 to be near and dear to my heart.
"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."

Power of Influence

This weekend I'm preaching in the "Big House." On the spectrum of sermon philosophies, McKinney is toward the expository end rather than the topical end, which I love personally. But we rarely preach all the way through a book at a time - we take sections of each book and teach them in chunks over a few years. It allows us to keep each series fresh, and keeps us from becoming lopsided in our teaching - I'll likely post more on that someday.

But this Sunday, I drew Acts 18:18-28 as my section. At first, I was pretty bummed because it's largely a transitional passage used to describe the conclusion of Paul's 2nd missionary journey and the beginning of his 3rd, and to bring Apollos on the scene. So, it seemed like it was going to be an extraordinarily difficult passage to teach.

But, as it turns out, the transition in Acts (a transitional book) is vital to understanding the point of the book as a whole. And this passage is going to be pretty fun.

The big idea is this: never underestimate the power of your investment in someone else's life. Some of the people who have had the greatest impact on me have been people who took a relatively small amount of time, experience, and information - but poured everything the could into me. Even when it was a small investment to them, it made a profound difference in my life.

Never underestimate the power of the investment you can make on the life of another person. And you can begin that investment today - show up Sunday (or listen online) to find out how.

Serenity Now!

Don't know if you're a Seinfeld fan or not, but there's an episode where George's father takes anger management to the extreme. Someone tells him every time he gets angry that he needs to say "serenity now" to himself to calm himself down. By the end of the episode, he's screaming "SERENITY NOW" at the top of his lungs.

I don't have an anger problem, but I certainly have a serenity problem on some days. The way our offices are set up, the pastor's offices are around the outside wall of the office building, and the admins and support ministry staff office in cubicles in the middle. That means there is always a lot of activity going on right outside my door.

Our staff - particularly our admins - have a pretty good time most days, which is a good thing; laughter breeds a great work environment.

But fun times and laughter aren't great when you're coming down the stretch on preparing your sermon or studying a difficult passage.

I've tried listening to music, but music with words distracts me too. And I tried classical music on Accuradio which worked fine and dandy until Haydn's Surprise symphony came on and nearly made me jump through the roof.

But I've found a fix for those of you who are like me; and it will save you hours in your day. This year for Christmas my inlaws bought me a pair of noise cancellation headphones. Then, a couple of weeks ago I stumbled on a site called Iserenity that plays different types of white noise, and started playing them on my noise cancellation headphones at a pretty low level.

Now, the admins outside could have a luau complete with hula dancing and conga lines and I wouldn't know. It's glorious.

Check it out. My favorite two are "Airplane Aria" and "Library Lullaby."

Logos Training

We had a great end of last week at the software training in Oklahoma City.

Tony always live blogs from conferences, but I figured it probably wasn't as cool to liveblog from a software training as it is to track Ed Young's wardrobe changes. So, I held myself back.

The software we were learning is Logos (which is a part of the Libronix system). Logos is a pretty serious Bible study software that comes at different levels for different levels of study. (And with different price tags for different levels of committment).

We took the training from Morris Proctor Seminars on the recommendation of my cousin-in-law Rob who helped organize the thing (and then bailed on it so he could watch Ed Young's wardrobe changes).

To be honest, I was dreading the training, but was looking forward to the opportunity to get away from the office and connect with one of the young leaders in our singles ministry. But the seminar turned out to be excellent. I told the guy who went with me that if I had known what I know now about Logos, I could have graduated from seminary a semester earlier. And, I'd have a lot more hair.

This seminar put so much power at my fingertips, and completely opened up the usability of this software for me. I know shortcuts and study-helps today that will save me hours.

It was a good weekend.

Plus, we got to eat at Ted's Cafe Escondido on Thursday night. Hear me now and believe me later: no greater mexican food exists on the planet.

Reading List

At the end of December, I posted a list of my Top Ten books for 2007. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary recently posted his Top Ten for preachers in 2008. Here's his list (ht: Preach The Word):

1. Preach the Word: Essays on Expository Preaching: In Honor of R. Kent Hughes, edited by Leland Ryken and Todd Wilson

2. Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation, by Graeme Goldsworthy

3. Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception, by John MacArthur

4. A City Upon a Hill: How Sermons Changed the Course of American History, by Larry Witham

5. Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution, by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach

6. Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society Through Christian Higher Education, by David S. Dockery

7. After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion, by Robert Wuthnow

8. God’s Ambassadors: A History of the Christian Clergy in America, by E. Brooks Holifield

9. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, edited by D. A. Carson and G. K. Beale

10. Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters, edited by Donald K. McKim

I've read a few of these, and ordered a couple of the others. Two questions for comment: (1)What books should I be reading in 2008? And, (2) What do you think of the books on Dr. Mohler's list?

Never going it alone

I'm headed out this evening to Oklahoma City for a Logos/Libronix training seminar with Morris Proctor. I'm not very excited about the training, although I truly love the software and hear these seminars are incredible. (How excited can you get about sitting in a room with a bunch of other geeks talking about software?) I'm excited because one of our young singles leaders is going with me, and I can't wait to spend some time with him. (Kari's going with us to spend some time with her sister - an added bonus, I won't have to sleep by myself).

One of the helpful things my first pastor boss taught me was to never do anything alone. He took it to the extreme, which was cool. He never goes to the bank, coffee shop, or even the bathroom without taking one of his guys with him.

Okay, maybe not the last one.

He called it "rambling," and I learned some of my best pastoral/theological lessons on rambling trips to the bank with JB. Not only is the idea good to protect a pastor in moral areas, it's a great opportunity to develop leaders and sharpen yourself.

I've tried to continue what JB started in my life. I rarely do anything in ministry by myself (with the exception of playing golf). Why miss the opportunity to spend time with guys you are trying to build into, or the blessing of processing things with guys you respect? Honestly I plan to learn more from Erick on this trip than he'll learn from me, and I'm sure looking forward to it.

You just can't ever go wrong spending time investing in relationships.

Surviving Success

God has been good to Kari and I in our ministry. Although we've had some extremely difficult times - in one place inparticular - God has blessed us by allowing to see some significant fruit in a few different situations. But, we haven't had to fail a whole lot in ministry yet. And when we have, we've been surrounded by people who love us and have been able to help us rebound fairly quickly. God has been good to us.

As a result, I've never really worried about failure in ministry. Part of it is probably youthful naivete, and part of it is a belief in a big God. Maybe it's because I've never really sought out ministry opportunities; nearly every ministry opportunity I've had has been the result of something "falling in my lap." So, I've got a pretty real sense that God is involved in ministry with me, and can help me rebound from failure. I don't worry a whole lot about surviving failure.

I do worry a whole lot about surviving success. And I worry the same things for several of my friends in ministry.

In my limited experience, it's a lot easier to survive failure than to survive success. When you're failing, you have to trust in God. You don't have anything else. Nobody is asking you write books, or speak at their conferences. Nobody wants your advice or your help. In fact, people try pretty hard to distance themselves from you because nobody wants to be around a failure.

But when you're seeing success, the temptation is always there to trust yourself - your talent, your resources, your skill, your intellect, and your abilities. When we're successful it's easy to forget that the only reason we're successful to begin with is the grace of God. So, we get proud, possessive, and protective of "our" ministry - afraid deep down that someone is going to recognize that we don't have a clue what the heck we're doing sometimes. And we end up sabatoging the work God is doing because we take it over for ourselves.

Yeah, it's a lot easier to survive failure than success.

Finishing Well...

I'm a young (really young) guy, so I don't usually spend much time thinking about "Finishing Well." I read the book "Finishing Well" by Bob Buford, and really enjoyed it. But, I read it thinking I would just file it away for 40 or 50 years until I'm ready to start finishing - I've just finished starting starting!

But last week, I was doing some preliminary study in 2 Peter for a sermon series we're doing this Summer, and realized that 2 Peter is all about finishing well - even if we're young.

I love how the basis for Peter's encouragement throughout the book is the imminent second coming of Jesus. And as Peter is winding down his life, he reminds his readers - whatever their age - to constantly have the mindset of finishing well, because none of us knows how much time we have.

We don't need to wait until we're in our sixties to start thinking about moving from "success to significance." We need to do significant things today. There's a sense of urgency throughout Peter's letter (and throughout the New Testament, for that matter) that I think the Church has lost these days to a certain degree. There's certainly a place for strategic initiatives and long-term planning, but what are you doing today to be finishing well?

Whether we're 27 or 67, we need to be in the business today of finishing well, even if we're just starting.

Avoiding Burnout

I've mentioned my Friday morning Bible study before. That time (on my day off) at 6:30am is the highlight of my week every week. There is almost nothing better than hanging out with guys who are interested in growing, sharpening each other, and sharing lives together. Fridays are one of those things that give me life, and help me avoid burnout.

A few people have tried to talk to me about moving that Bible study off my day off, or moving my day off so I'm not "working" on my day off. But honestly, the fact that my Friday morning group is on my day off is part of what I enjoy most about it. See, I would meet with those guys even if it wasn't a part of my job. So, I don't see it as a part of my job - I see it as a part of my ministry.

I'm pretty firmly convinced that every pastor needs to have one or two "ministry" things they do on a regular basis that they would still do if they didn't get paid by a church. We all need some guys that we meet with, or some projects that we're working on, or some things that we're studying that are completely independent of our paycheck. We have to have those things so we don't dry up.

For me, hanging out with that group of guys on my day of continually reinforces the fact in my mind, and in the minds of anyone who is observant, that my ministry is not always a function of my job - it's a function of my heart.


You hear it said from time to time that leadership is a lonely spot. That's true - especially as a pastor. Right or wrong, people view pastors differently from everyone else. They think we're closer to God than them, struggle with less sin than them, and are only interested in "churchy" things.

I truly think loneliness is one of the major reasons so many people drop out (or sin out) of ministry. Deep down inside all of us, we have a desire to know and be known. And we see ministry as an inhibitor of that, so we feel forced to make a choice: would I rather be employed by a church, or be loved by others?

Obviously, it's a false dilemma, but it's one a lot of my pastor friends face. They're constantly living in fear of being "found out." And it's not that they're living in high-handed rebellion against God. Those people generally want to be found out.

My friends are the ones who are afraid they'll lose their jobs if people find out they don't always love waking up at 6 in the morning for Bible study, or that their face doesn't always glow after their morning quiet times. They're the people who are afraid that people will lose respect for them if they realize their pastor's wife doesn't always like him, or that his kids don't always look like they just rolled out of a J. Crew catalog. My friends worry that they're not a good pastor if they don't put on the mask that says everything is okay.

I realized some time ago that I'm not a better Pastor when I wear my "everything's okay" mask; I'm a better Pharisee. And the challenge with the Pharisees, according to Matthew 23:13 is that they were actually keeping people away from Jesus by pretending to have it all together. If we pretend like we've got it all together when we don't, people think a relationship with God is only for perfect people.

I'm not saying the pastor has a license to commit sin, but that he does have a license to be human. I work really hard to stay touchable with the people I get to serve - not to show off my sin, but to show off my Savior. I think it's important for them to know that I'm not perfect, but that I'm trying as hard as I can through the power God gives me to be Christlike. It's not any easier for me than it is for them just because I get paid to do what I do. And although I try to make sure as a leader in the church my life is above reproach, I realize when it isn't, the worst possible thing I can do is hide it.

Because she said I wouldn't...

Kara and her husband Cory have been good friends since my single college days. They were always such great encouragers, and a fine example to a young single guy of a godly married couple - even though they're not much older than me. Well, it seems Kara fell prey to one of those blogspam deals that comes around every once in a while - you know, the ones where you're supposed to bare your soul and then tag ten other people to do the same.

I hate those things, but I love Kara and Cory, so I'll oblige her just this once. (And only because she challenged me by saying I'd never do it). So enjoy it...

Here's what you have to do...1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages.)2. Open the book to page 123.3. Find the fifth sentence.4. Post the next three sentences.5. Link back to the person who tagged you.6. Tag five people.

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages.)
I'm just finishing a book called "I became a Christian and all I Got was this Lousy T-Shirt." To be honest, it's not very good. The guy has some really good ideas - even some genuinely great ideas... but spends so much of his time trying to be funny that you lose all the good ideas. (The joke about "taking on... handicapped kids" was so far over the top I can't believe the book ever made it through an editor... it's on page 91, I'm not making this up). But, it's the closest and those are the rules of Kara's little Spam game, so I'll play along.

2. Open the book to page 123.

3. Find the fifth sentence.
"Will we speed through life at 150 miles per hour with a disintegrating soul?"

4. Post the next three sentences.
Or we will [sic] walk with Jesus at 3 miles an hour with a soul that is continually restored? If we want to keep pace with God, we must change our speed. Koyaanisqatsi or vyinafeshing?

5. Link back to the person who tagged you.

6. Tag five people.
Hmm. I hate to do this to you guys, but Kara made me.
Let's hear from Drew, Lisa, Heath, Corey, and Graham.

Creativity Thieves

One of the people I'm privileged to worship with every Sunday is Tom Wilson. Tom is the president and CEO of Leadership Network, a ministry that is doing some really neat things with issue-specific church collaboration. If you haven't ever heard of them, listen more closely - they've got their fingers in a ton of things throughout the country.

Tom says smart things all the time, but I heard a quote from him about creativity this morning that is especially brilliant. He said "The definition of creativity is: forgetting where you stole something."

For a lot of years, I worried about the fact that all "my" creative ideas were stolen from other people. Sermon series, theological ideas, philosophies, and even practical thoughts about administration and execution of ministry initiatives are almost never mine. And almost every time I do have an original thought, someone approaches me after the service and recommends a book I've read in which someone else says that same exact thing.

I don't feel bad about stealing ideas anymore. Now, I only feel bad when I steal ideas and don't do the work to make them even better.

The idea of fellowship from Acts 2:44 can apply to church ministry too - "All the believers were together and had everything in common." I get queezy every time I notice that a church has trademarked an idea. Chances are, they stole it from someone else.

Tom's quote is good. The only question is, who did he steal it from?


Elements is a study we designed when I was at Chase Oaks Church to help give brand new believers a birds-eye view of the Bible. I brought it with me to McKinney, and started a new group last night.

Elements isn't ever a study that is a huge draw - there's some humility in signing up for a class designed to give you a 30,000 foot view of Christianity, so we're usually only good for about 10 people each time. But when you get the right 10 people, things get fun in a hurry.

Last night, we started a new Elements group at McKinney, and I think we've got 9 of "the right" people... to the point I couldn't sleep last night.

I honestly think I could be satisfied if the only thing I ever did was cycle people through this study. There's nothing like seeing people's eyes light up when they "get it" and understand how the Bible fits together for the first time.

Some of you yay-hoos have been on me to write a book. I've always said I don't have enough to say to write a book, but if I ever do - Elements might be the one. I really haven't found anything out there that I think does a great job of helping people understand the story of the Bible without getting them lost in the weeds. Then again... if I put Elements in book form, I wouldn't get to see the look in people's eyes, and I'd miss that.

Vote 2008

I'm glad nothing was decided yesterday on "super fat Tuesday" as far as the elections are concerned, because I've been mulling something over in my mind and am interested in some feedback.

First of all, this is probably one of only two posts you'll find in all my archives that have anything to do with politics. Although I'm very politically involved, the purpose of this blog isn't to discuss politics. And, since I mention my church and position here a lot, I want to be careful to never give the idea that being a Christian/pastor or even a member at McKinney implies any kind of political leaning at all. We've got people on staff who run the political gamut, and I'm sure that's representative of our local church as a whole. We're okay with that.

With that said, according to surveys, the vast majority of evangelicals - especially in the South - lean towards the right. The "religious right," as it is called, is given credit for being a kingmaker for Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II. There is a large group of voting conservative Christians who vote Republican... few people would deny that.

So here's what will be interesting to me: The decision in 2008 could very well come down to a decision where that conservative evangelical right has to choose between a person with whom they vehemently disagree politically, and a person with whom they vehemently disagree spiritually.

If Mitt Romney wins the race and ends up the President of the United States, Mormon missionaries stateside and all over the world will have instant credibility. That will provide an instant obstacle for evangelical Christian missionaries stateside and overseas.

If Hillary or Obama wins the race and ends up the President of the United States, they will likely have the opportunity to nominate judges to the Supreme Court that have values many evangelical Christians do not support, as well as to represent a political agenda with which many Christians do not agree.

It seems like an interesting worldview test for conservative evangelical Christians. Are temporal ideologies and political issues more important in this time and place than theological differences? Or, is the collective "religious right" willing to fall on their ideological swords in order to prevent electing a president who will add instant credibility to a counterfeit Christian faith?

It will be interesting - if the opportunity presents itself - to see how those people react in the voting booth. What do you think?

Passing the baton

One of the most meaningful gifts I've ever recieved, I received from two of my former bosses. I showed up to Fellowship Bible Church North (ahem... Chase Oaks Church) as a burned out, disillusioned pastor who had been beaten up and spit out by a former boss. I took a "residency" position there, where I was rejuvenated and equipped, and where I rethought and sharpened my ministry philosophy.
At the end of my time at Chase Oaks, my two bosses Drew and Glen took Kari and I to dinner where they presented us with a baton... you know, the type runners use in a relay race.

The imagery comes from a book some of the pastors at Chase Oaks authored several years ago called "The Leadership Baton." The idea is pretty simple - as leaders we need to constantly be in the process of passing the baton to people who will come after us.
Today I've got a runners baton sitting on my desk, but it's not the one Drew and Glen gave me. When they gave me mine, they told me it wasn't for me - it was for the person who would come after me. So, when I showed up at McKinney, I started looking for someone who could take it, and passed it off as soon as I was able. And, I gave all of our ministry team leaders batons to start looking to pass off to someone else.

This weekend as we announced plans to plant a new Young Married group, each of those batons completed their first leg. The leaders of that class each signed their batons and dated them, put a note of encouragement inside them, and then passed them off to a new leadership team. This week, I'm giving the established leadership team brand new batons. They're not done running, just looking for new people to pour in to.

Building a healthy culture where leaders develop leaders is imperative to our ministry. If you play by the numbers, our ministry has twice as many developed, empowered, and commissioned leaders today. And if each of those leaders are looking for people to build into, the ministry will be in a much better place.

Really Great Day

Yesterday was a great day.

We announced plans for one of our young adult groups to plant a new group. God has raised up a group of rock solid leadership for the new class, and the class that is planting the new group is excited to see how God is expanding their influence. When you use the language of a "plant" rather than language of "division" or "splitting," I think it helps communicate the idea of expansion rather than subtraction.

We're going to take a core couple or two from the original young married class, as well as a mentor couple, and then use our six-week 2to1 premarital preparation class to feed into the new young married class. Yesterday, I got word that our 2to1 premarital group is going to be busting out of the room we had planned to use. Nothing like having to search for a bigger space!

In the young singles ministry yesterday, we got a glimpse of how God is still working today. One of the guys in our ministry taught Acts 4-8 in our Summit project. This is a guy who, just a couple of years ago, wasn't able to get out of his car to come inside because of such severe social anxiety. Yesterday he did a rock solid job teaching the class. There is nothing more fun than getting to watch God change lives over time.

Then, last night we spent the evening with the Union (young married ministry) watching the Giants beat the giants. Somehow I don't think the Patriots had seen several of the Giants' plays on surveilance video before this game!


I love my iPhone, and my iPod, and would have a MacBook if the IT guy in our offices would configure the network to where I could access email with it, by my cousin's recent post about a visit to the Apple Store is spot on.