On Vacation!

Please don't forget: if you are in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and can at all swing it, this Sunday will be an extraordinary Sunday at McKinney Church. You really won't want to miss it. 

Shortly after the luncheon to follow the 10:30 service, Kari and I will hop in the car with Casen and drive to Hot Springs to meet our friends Drew and Dawn and Jason and Joy for a week of doing absolutely nothing, together. 

I'm going dark, and will be back sometime after our vacation and the Pastors Retreat on May 4th and 5th. 

See you then! 


A couple of things about measurement left over from yesterday

As you measure spiritual growth as a church, I think you're best off if you measure corporately as opposed to individually. Jesus' stinging rebuke to the church at Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-16) did not indicate there was nobody who was either hot or cold, but that the church as a whole had lukewarm. When we attempt to measure our effectiveness as a church we have to think in terms of the group as a whole rather than looking at specific individuals. There will always be outliers on both sides of the equation. 

Secondly, our criteria has to be biblical. We ski down the slippery slope to legalism if we manufacture a test for maturity that is not prescribed by Scripture. If we measure how many of our people have a 30 minute quiet time every day we measure the wrong thing. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). We have to flesh those out somehow, but need to leave enough room so as not to define "faithfulness," for example, too narrowly. 

Finally, we are measuring progress rather than static activities. I don't expect a person who is just growing in his faith to have completely mastered self-control, but I do expect him to have more self-control this year than he did last year. I don't expect my church to have arrived at goodness today, but I expect us  (as a whole) to be closer than we were yesterday.  

Measuring heart change is difficult because people are messy, and God does not complete a series of steps in the same order for each person when it comes to making us more like Him. It just doesn't work that way. 

How do you measure heart change?

I mentioned last week that our staff team did some brainstorming on how to measure heart change. We were realistic going in - many churches have attempted to measure their effectiveness, and to my knowledge nobody has stumbled on the magic bullet. 

In some senses, it is impossible to measure the heart because it is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) and only God truly knows it (Psalm 17:3; Acts 15:8). However, I'm convinced that there are ways we can measure our effectiveness. Paul knew the difference between a thriving church (Ephesians 1:15-16) and a dying church (Galatians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 4:21). So did Jesus (Revelation 3:7-13; Revelation 3:14-16). For them to evaluate various churches, there had to be some observable criteria. 

The danger is, observable criteria can almost always be replicated by religious people whose heart is not changed. 

Unbelievers have quiet times. Religious people show up to church, and small group, and Bible Study, and mission projects. An agnostic can pray, or give money. If we quantify our quantification too much, we run the risk of patting ourselves on the backs while we create religious people whose hearts are far from God. 

So I want to ask you the question we have been asking ourselves: Are there specific things we could measure in a person to see whether or not he or she is growing as a follower of Jesus Christ which could not be replicated by hypocrites.

I think I have an answer, but I'd like to hear yours first. What do you think? 

Small Things

Kari is out of town this week visiting her parents and dropping off the dog so the mutt doesn't have to stay at the vet's for several nights. We should all be as pampered as that dog...

Even so, her vacation gave me the opportunity to play golf yesterday evening with a buddy. Actually, after not having played in a month or so, I have played twice in the last four days.

Saturday, I played pretty well. Yesterday, not so much. 

While I was chasing balls all over the course, I had plenty of time to think about how golf is a great metaphor for life, ministry, and leadership in a lot of ways. The one most on my mind yesterday was the difference between greatness and desperation. 

The difference between a great golf shot and a terrible golf shot is about one centimeter, and a degree or two. If I hit the ball in the sweet spot of the club at the right angle, the ball goes where I want and I have a good day. If I miss by a centimeter or less, or leave the club face a degree or two too open, I have a day like I had yesterday. The problem is: I'm swinging the club at a pretty high rate of speed, and those details are hard to control.

Same thing in life, ministry and leadership. Life happens, ministry happens, and leadership happens at a high rate of speed; but the real difference between greatness and desperation is extraordinarily small. 

Choose a great leader. If you start looking for similarities between him/her and us, you'll find that at our core we have a lot in common. The difference is, most leaders do the small things exceptionally and consistently well.  


Not long ago I read this great quote by Phillip Yancey about a documentary he watched on WWII:

"The soldiers recalled how they spent a particular day. One sat in a foxhole all day; once or twice, a German tank drove by, and he shot at it. Others played cards and frittered away the time. A few got involved in furious firefights. Mostly, the day passed like any other day for an infantryman on the front. Later they learned they had just participated in one of the largest, most decisive engagements of the war, the Battle of the Bulge. It did not feel decisive to any of them at the time, because none had the big picture of what was happening elsewhere.   

Great victories are won when ordinary people execute their assigned tasks - and a faithful person does not debate each day whether he or she is in the mood to follow the sergeant's orders or show up at a boring job. We exercise faith by responding to the task that lies before us, for we have control only over our actions in the present moment."

Gut Science

I just finished reading "Transformational Architecture" by Ron Martoia. I didn't love the book, but really loved this concept:

"Cultural historian Morris Berman has made a strong case that in eras gone by we had strong somatic knowledge; that is, our bodies registered when we sensed danger, had a "gut feeling," sensed that "something just wasn't right." These were types of knowing not associated with the mind but held in equally high regard in previous eras. He argues that our inability to pay attention to our quite literally, full-bodied knowledge transmitters has led us to being a culture that is impoverished and numb to the deep visceral wiring in our very design" (171).

Ignoring the evolutionary roots of Berman's point, I love that there is a science of the "gut."

So much of what I do as a young leader relies on "somatic knowledge." I think we move more toward rationalized thought as we get older and more mature in leadership because we are able to put a finger on the things that tipped off our gut initially, and evaluate our decisions in light of those circumstances.

Even still, the gut is an important tool. It is neat to know there is a science behind it.


Our ministry staff is heading out of town this morning to do some planning. When we do planning we stay on-site or go to someones house for a change of scenery, but we reserve our retreats for playtime. As a result, our "retreats" have been tremendously scaled back this year for perception reasons. Although our church is in a pretty good place financially thanks to some of the most generous people in Fort Worth, it just doesn't seem right to spend a bunch of money on pampering when everyone is tightening their belt. 

Although we've scaled back our retreats, we have ramped-up our planning. For months we have been working on the communication of our clear, common purpose as a church. We found that most people can get close to communicating what makes McKinney Church unique, but are working to help focus our communication in such a way that it makes it simple to communicate why we exist. 

Today, we will be drilling down into two huge topics: roll-out and metrics. How do we get the most momentum behind new verbage, and how do we measure our success? 

The last topic is the most tricky. It is extraordinarily difficult to measure spiritual growth and impact without becoming legalistic. People grow in different ways at different rates. Plus, some people do all the right things for all the wrong reasons while others do all the wrong things for all the right reasons. We recognize that God is more concerned with the heart, and want to be concerned about what God is concerned about. 

So today, we will try to answer the simple question: "How do you measure heart-change?" 

I can't wait. 

Leadership Models

If you have been a part of many churches (or corporations for that matter), you recognize pretty quickly that there are many different models for church leadership. I'm not even talking about church governance... I'm talking about church leadership. Churches have various ways of "getting things done," and most of them find at least some anecdotal support in Scripture. Here are some of the ones I think are most popular: 

The Hero Model:
There is a primary leader that everyone within the organization looks to. He is the gatekeeper for vision, direction, and change management. He is also the "face" of the organization. It works well when the Hero is a godly leader, but can be catastrophic when he falls, dies, or retires.  James seems to have been this kind of key leader in the Jerusalem Church (Acts 15:13-21). Moses was certainly this kind of leader, at least initially (Exodus 18). 

The Team Model: 
Two or more leaders share responsibility as the leader of the organization, something like Siamese twins. They lead together, and are seen as co-equals although they may serve different specific functions. Without one of them, the church/organization would lose its heartbeat. This works well as long as the team works in complete unity and humility, and as long as the leaders complement each other. However, errors in communication, challenges in perception, and confusion from subordinates can cause this leadership style to falter. Paul seems to have been involved in the Team Model a lot; with Barnabas (Acts 13-15), and Silas (Acts 16-17). 

Bottom-Up Leadership: 
The leadership is done by those involved in the organization at the bottom levels as much as the top levels. This is more than just servant leadership; it reflects a more congregational approach where everyone has a say in major decisions. This works best in small organizations where people are able to be intimately involved and are therefore able to make decisions with the big picture in mind. It fails when the vision leaks, or when the organization gets so big the "average" person is unable to know the big picture. Certainly the apostles worked this approach in the early days immediately following Christ's ascension into heaven (Acts 1:12-26).

Those are just three models, but they seem to be the most prevalent. Two questions: (1) Are you aware of others?  (2) Which do you feel is most effective in leading a church overall? They all have biblical precedent; which one is the most practical? Again, not in overall governance - that is a discussion for another day. Which model is best for managing the day-to-day operation and execution within an organization or church? 

What Happens When You Take a Friend to Church?

I hope you had a great Easter yesterday. We had a great day. The church service was meaningful. We didn't have any technical nightmares or anything that would distract from worship, and that's an overall win. We also got to spend Easter with my parents, which was neat. 

One of the most exciting things for me was that our neighbors came to church with us yesterday morning. They're a really cool couple, and we get along extraordinarily well. Kari and I have talked with them about spiritual things on multiple occasions, but it is still difficult to tell where they are when it comes to their faith. Kari and I have been praying for them for around a year, so it was neat to have them show up at church yesterday. 

If you haven't ever invited someone you care about to your church, you really ought to try it; especially if you are on staff at the church. As soon as someone you care about shows up, especially when that person is far from God, you gain a heightened sensitivity to everything that goes on. 

As a pastor (or regular attender), it is almost impossible to see things with the eyes of a guest. Inviting a neighbor lets you experience your church with brand new eyes. The positive things that you normally would take for granted (the clarity of the Gospel, the friendliness of the people, the clarity of instruction to guests) get contrasted with the negative things you have repressed without realizing it (awkward service transitions, bathroom cleanliness,  weird door greeters), and allows you to see things about your church in a new light. 

Because I'm a pastor, I don't get to experience this real frequently because the majority of my world is lived in the Christian bubble. There are things that I do to intentionally get out of that bubble, but by and large the bubble is a reality for me. However, I need to take advantage of that opportunity every chance I get, because it gives me a glimpse into what the people in the seats are feeling every week. After all, I encourage them to be bringing friends and neighbors on a regular basis, right? 

My experience yesterday morning has given me a fire in my belly to send off a couple of notes of encouragement to people who were friendly to my friends. It has also given me some renewed passion to shore up a couple of areas that need help. That's a good thing. 


I'm on my 5th iPhone, and even this iPhone isn't working properly. I'm having significant sync issues that the "Mac Genius" told me was a result of the fact that "Steve and Bill don't play well together." Great.

Even still, I love the technology. The thousands of apps available to the iPhone are wicked cool, and worth a little bit of trouble. I love the YouVersion Bible app from the guys at Lifechurch.tv, and some of the other apps that allow you to do find your car in a parking lot, recognize a song and artist on the radio, or watch the weather radar in real time. Pretty cool.

Here's the deal: I'm looking for a flashcard app that will allow me to enter text on my computer, sync it with my iPhone, and have flashcards  on my iPhone. I want to use it for Bible memory, so it would be equally cool if it interfaced with YouVersion or another Bible app to copy verses onto flashcards on my iPhone. 

There are a couple of flashcard apps, but they require you to type the text onto the flashcard from the iPhone's typing pad, and that takes way too long. 

Any computer nerds out there who could help me out? 

One of my life goals is to memorize at least one verse from every chapter of the Bible. There are 1189 chapters, so if I do a verse a week I'm looking at around 22 years total to reach the goal. I'm already a few years into it, but am tired of keeping flashcards laying around. Flashcards are made out of paper, and I'm in the middle of a paper purge. Plus, I think the convenience would help me do more than a verse per week. 

Keep your eyes open. If you find something that would work, or can write an app that would work, I would be forever grateful. 


Churches everywhere walk a fine line on Easter Sunday. We're realistic and know that a lot of the people present on Easter Sunday will not be back for a year. So the temptation is to pull out all the stops on Sunday morning. The music is popping, the sermon is extra polished, the welcome team is extra friendly, and our people are dressed in their very best. We work hard for the extra level of excellence on Easter Sunday, because down deep (be honest) we think if we are extra polished on Easter Sunday, those once-a-yearers might come back. 

Maybe that's why they don't come back. 

Easter is a great chance to put hypocrisy on display. When we're over-polished for the sake of impressing people, we reinforce the stereotypes that keep them away the rest of the year. Most once-a-yearers think Christians are falsies who act differently on Sunday than we do the rest of the year. And let's be honest: if their experience is based on Easter Sunday, can you blame them? 

Obviously, Easter Sunday is the most significant holiday in the Christian calendar. We should celebrate. Easter Sunday should be special. We just have to be careful that we don't become hypocrites in the process. 

No Regrets

We had a great discussion this morning in a group I'm a part of about regrets. 

In 1 Corinthians 15:9, Paul remembers the dark time in his life, which could have caused him to be paralyzed by guilt and regret for the life he had lived. The very next paragraph in Paul's letter to the Corinthians is with regard to the resurrection. 

Because of the resurrection, Paul realized, we are no longer identified by our sin (1 Corinthians 15:17; 15:20). We don't have to live with regret and guilt, because the cross of Jesus Christ has paid that penalty. When we trust Him as Savior, He removes our guilt. We can live with no regrets. 

The other piece to that great news is that God will not waste the years you wasted. Because of Paul's experience as a Pharisee persecuting the Church, he had the platform to talk to a group many of us would not have been able to reach (Philippians 3:1-11). 

Many of you have pain from your past. But because Jesus has risen from the dead, you can live without regret, and make yourself available to Him to be used so that your past is not wasted. God has a way of redeeming our mistakes in such a way that He receives the ultimate glory. People who have been divorced often make great marriage counselors, when they make themselves available to God. Recovering addicts who are available for God to use them make the best sponsors and friends to people struggling through addiction. People who have wasted entire periods of their life can step in and help others who are headed down a similar path in a way I may not be able to. 

Because of the resurrection God can (and will) redeem your past if you make yourself available to Him. 

While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks

For Christmas, my father-in-law gave me the book "While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks," by Timothy S. Laniak. His church staff was reading it and he thought it might be something I would enjoy.

The book is a 40 day devotional, so I was fairly sure I wouldn't enjoy it. I never have been one for the daily devotional guide, because I tend to lose interest in the book long before the book comes to an end. Just a part of my personality.

But, my father-in-law is a good guy so I started into the book, more than anything so he and I could talk about it when we get together. I started it as a daily devotional, but got so excited about it I just decided to finish it (I'm not much for delayed gratification).

I don't think I'm over-exaggerating when I say this may be the best book I read all year.

I loved it. Not as a daily devotional book, but as a straight up book. It was really, really good.

Dr. Laniak spent his sabbatical from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary living with shepherds in the middle-east, and wrote this book about his observations. Written mostly for those in Christian leadership, the book contains principles gleaned from shepherds that will help pastors, CEOs, and Sunday School teachers see leadership through a different lens.

This book is the 21st century equivalent of Phillip Keller's masterpiece on Psalm 23, though in some ways I would say it is even better. It contains just the right amounts of observation and application to be both informative and practical. The book is broken into three main sections: Provision, Protection, and Guidance - the three primary roles of a shepherd.

Please buy this book for your pastor. If you are a pastor, buy a copy for your elders and key staff. They will find it insightful, encouraging, and immensely helpful to their ministries.


If you haven't had a chance to look at some of the questions we received via text message on Sunday, look at the Living Hope blog. 

The text message experience was a great one, but I learned a couple of lessons:

1. Always have a back-up plan. The text messaging software we were using is web-based, and their server crashed about an hour before our first service. It didn't come back up until around 20 minutes before the service began, but our AV guys weren't sitting in a corner sucking their thumb. We were prepared for that kind of thing. 

2. You have to have someone screening the questions that wants to see the pastor succeed. Some of the questions we had come in were off topic, and obvious attempts to bait the "answerer" into a booby trap. I screened Ken's questions to make sure they were on-topic and answerable, without shielding him from the hard questions (question #1 was on Limited vs. Unlimited atonement). Unfortunately, I'm on the hot seat this weekend, and Ken is out of town. I'm not sure I trust anyone I can't pay back...

3. Promising to answer "all" the questions on a blog is not a good idea. We did that this week and when all is said and done I will have spent nearly 30 hours just answering questions. When you put something in writing, it needs to be abundantly clear and referenced because you can't get it back. So, I put a ton of work into answering about fifty questions, and that was way too much - especially when I have other responsibilities... like preaching on Sunday. This next week, I'll only promise to answer "a few" of the questions we don't get to in the service. If people don't get an answer in the service or on the blog, they can call me. 

All in all, this has been a really great experience for our church and a great exercise for me. I found I'm fairly good at coming up with answers to these questions, but need more work on remembering chapters and verses. "Somewhere in the Bible it says..." is not a sufficient answer! 

April 26th

If you live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, you need to be at McKinney Church in Fort Worth on April 26th. I'm not trying to steal you from your church - you don't ever have to come back to McKinney after the 26th if you are plugged-in somewhere else; but if you can swing it you need to be here on April 26th. Plan to be at one of the two morning services, and at a lunch that will be provided afterward.  

Here's the catch: you're just going to have to trust me. 

For security reasons, I can't publish who will be here, or why it is so important for you to be here. You just need to trust me, and make plans to show up. And no, this isn't an April Fools joke. 

Curious? See you the 26th.