Worth It

Kari and I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Colorado Springs to watch one of the students from our youth ministry graduate from the United States Air Force Academy. If you have never experienced a military academy graduation, it is a pretty cool experience. The military band plays, the cadets march into the stadium with perfect precision, and at the end of the ceremony at the very second the emcee says "you are dismissed," the graduating class hurls their caps in the air as the Thunderbirds buzz the stadium at about 200 feet. It was an awe inspiring event. 

Both Tuesday and Wednesday, through all the pomp and circumstance, I found myself a little jealous of Ben. He's graduating near the top of his class and headed to Shepherd Air Force Base to fly jets. He will forever be known as an "Academy Graduate," which is a distinction very few people are fortunate enough (and smart enough) to have. And there was a part deep inside of me that wished I had gone to the Air Force Academy; that I was flying jets and being heralded as one of the "future leaders of our great nation." 

Then I remembered the letters. 

Somewhere I still have letters Ben sent me his first year at the USAFA. They would arrive with tear stains on them, begging anyone who would read the letter to pick him up and take him home. He was exhausted, demoralized, emotionally ragged, and would have quit in a heartbeat if someone would have driven the 700 miles to get him. 

When we see the pomp and circumstance, it's easy to wish it was us being celebrated. But when we count the cost, we tend to be glad it was someone else.  

I asked Ben yesterday if it was all worth it, and he didn't even bat an eye. He would do it again in a heartbeat in order to experience what he got to experience this week and for the rest of his life. 

The prize was in accordance with the cost. 

I won't ever graduate from a prestigious military academy (I am a proud graduate of the "Princeton of the Plains"). I won't ever fly jets for a living. The Vice President of the United States won't ever laud me as the future of this great country. 

I'm anticipating something greater. 

Some days I'm exhausted, tired, sleep-deprived, and would quit if only someone would come pick me up. I've written some tear-stained letters myself. But I'm confident the prize will be worth the cost (1 Corinthians 9:24-25; Hebrews 12:11). 

Encouragement - Part 2

Yesterday I mentioned my view that encouragement is one of the most powerful tools in the leader's toolbox. In fact, the power of encouragement can cause some leaders to pervert it and use it as a manipulation tactic. When this happens,  it causes people to become cynical and suspect of any encouragement which actually discourages them.

In order for your encouragement to be as well-received as you intend it, it should have at least three characteristics: 

First it has to be specific. Nobody likes receiving the thank you note for a gift that simply says "Thanks for the gift. I enjoyed it a lot." Similarly, encouragement from a leader needs to be specific. Tell a person exactly what it is that you noticed, and what it was about that thing that was so significant to you. 

Second, encouragement should be spontaneous. It is one thing to send a thank you note after someone does something nice for you. Those notes are the obligation of a leader, and aren't extraordinarily encouraging. Encouragement that gets mileage is encouragement out of the blue, when someone doesn't realize you noticed or doesn't feel like their actions necessarily deserve a thank you note. 

Finally, encouragement has to be sincere. As important as it is, it should not come out of duty. This is tricky, but vital. If you lead off staff meeting "encouraging" someone, but everyone knows you don't mean it, you aren't helping anyone. People know how you really feel about them, and can generally sense your sincerety (or lack thereof) regardless of what form your encouragement takes. 

Anything you would add to the list? What was the most encouraging thing a leader ever did for you? 


Encouragement doesn't come naturally for me. In fact, I don't know many people who are "natural" encouragers; we tend to all be so wrapped up in our own stuff we miss the "stuff" of others. But, I'm convinced that being an encourager is one of the most important traits in a leader. It's one thing to cast a vision - another thing to notice and appreciate the things others do towards that vision. 

A hand-written note goes further than almost anything else I know of when it comes to encouraging others or saying "thanks." I try to write a note or two every day just to keep me in the habit. 

With that said, a quick email goes further than a forgotten hand-written note. If someone in your organization does something worth recognizing, sit down and write them a note immediately. If you can't write them a note immediately, fire off an email. If you're away from the computer, send a text message. It is too important a task to risk forgetting. 

Happy Memorial Day

We have a lot to be thankful for.

Hero - Becoming the Man She Desires

Waterbrook Press sent me "Hero, Becoming the Man She Desires" by Fred and Jasen Stoeker a few weeks ago to review. It's a book written with a younger audience in mind, and has good solid advice for what a true hero looks like. You may not agree with the intricasies of every point (Kari and I kissed before our wedding day, and don't regret that), but it is a great book challenging young men to lead in the area of sexual purity.

The book is not dumbed down like a lot of student material. In fact, in a couple of places the book may soar over a younger high schooler's head. However, it is a book worth reading.

One of the unique things about "Hero" is that it is written by a father and son. The father's struggle with pornography was well covered in his best-selling book "Every Man's Battle," and a portion of the book is dedicated to talking about how he steered his son clear of the addiction. It also talks about the father's secret fears and doubts about encouraging his son toward purity as the son neared college without finding a bride.

This isn't the book to gift-wrap and hand to your son for Christmas. This is the book for a father to buy his son and read with him. Meet on a regular basis and have honest heart conversations about the stuff the book covers. What should he expect as a young man? How should he deal with temptation? What lies should he be on the lookout to avoid? How can he think appropriately about women and sex - not devaluing or obsessing over either? Read this book with him while he is young. Talk about it as honestly as you can. Sure it may be awkward, but his future wife will thank you.


Yesterday I read something really helpful by Wayne Cordiero (HT: Ben Arment). Cordiero encouraged pastors to strive for the consistent base hit rather than the home run. No preacher, regardless of how gifted he is, can truly knock it out of the park every time he's up to bat. In fact in baseball, the higher your home run total the higher your strikeout average.

As a "Teaching Pastor" I get to preach about once a month. A lot of times I feel a strong (self-imposed) pressure to hit a home run every time I preach. If I don't "go long" this week, I have to think about it for a whole month. The problem is: that isn't sustainable. 

Cordiero has a much better way to think about preaching. Both singles and home runs move people around the bases. Strikeouts and pop-ups do not. Try too hard, and you will leave more people on base than you want. Hit consistent singles and doubles and you will feel less pressure, strike out less, and score more runs. 

Know the Judge

I meet with one of our non-staff church leaders once a week to talk through some discipleship materials. He's an attorney in the area who is the kind of guy I would want on my side if I was a business going into the courtroom. He is sharp as a tack. I'm learning more about thinking from him as he is learning about the Bible from me. 

The other day he made a passing comment that struck me for some reason. We were talking about a group he's representing in a smaller town, and he made the comment that he wouldn't go near the courtroom in the case for fear of losing the case for the business. Now, he's a successful attorney who has tried cases in significant courts. You would think he could ride into a small town courtroom and win the case without thinking much about it. But, he said he wouldn't touch it. Here's why: 

He said, "A good attorney knows the law. A great attorney knows the judge." 

There just has to be a good spiritual application there somewhere... (Acts 10:42-43)


Kari and I spent last Wednesday through Sunday participating in the LEAD program with Dallas Seminary. It is a four-day intensive Leadership Evaluation And Development (hence the name) program to help ministry leaders and their spouses be even more effective. 

I'm sure I'll unpack more of what we learned once I have had time to process it, but I can tell you it was a really great experience for both Kari and I. If you really want to serve your pastor or a mission partner in your church, talk your elders into forking over the $3500 to allow he and his wife to participate. Or, pay for it yourself. It is worth the investment. 

One of my "coaches" this past week articulated something extremely well that I want to pass along. George Hillman worked with Kari and I in the area of developing a "Life Dream." As we talked about leadership and the necessity of adding continued depth and character to our leadership, George said "What you really want to do is descend into greatness.

Don't you love that image? 

The most majestic trees in the forest have the deepest roots. The most magnificent icebergs are even more majestic below the surface. And the greatest leaders are those who descend to get there. 

Most leadership books focus on characteristics and traits that are observable to others. Few focus on the traits and characteristics  which no one can see. But those are the ones that separate the influential leaders from the powerful leaders. Henri Nouwen says it this way: "The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross" (In the Name of Jesus, 81-82). 

A descent into greatness; that's what I'm after. How about you? 

Bible Idol

Quick question this morning:

If you had to do without either the Bible or the Holy Spirit, which one could you not do without?

For many people in my tradition (the Bible Church tradition), the tendency is to say "The Bible" first without thinking about that. After all, we're not the "Holy Spirit Church tradition." But that answer - even a tendency towards that answer - is idolatry. The Bible is not divine - it is divinely inspired. The Bible is not God, it is the revelation of God. It is not indwelling, it is something to be hidden in our hearts. The Holy Spirit, is Divine, is God, and resides within us.

The second question this morning is, "Why do you think evangelical Christians tend towards idolatry in this area?"

Systems Check

One of the important tasks of a leader is the creation and maintenance of various systems and processes that help make sure things get done in as efficient and productive way possible. Organizations have systems for almost everything, even if those systems are not clearly defined. 

The church is no different. We have systems for discipleship, mission, evangelism, teaching, stewardship, worship, and service. We also have internal systems for our staff: organizational charts, job descriptions, and communications processes are all systems designed to help our staff function as efficiently and clearly as possible. 

Often, systems become complex and convoluted to the point that they're cumbersome and more trouble than they're worth. Leaders have to always be at work refining and re-evaluating systems and processes to make sure they aren't counterproductive. The easiest way to evaluate a system is to look at the primary leader's own response to a system. If he or she is working around the process, it probably isn't a good system. I'll give you an example: 

We are currently in the middle of re-evaluating our process for making communications requests (videos, bulletin announcements, artwork, etc...). We had a system in place that most people were working within. But it was a complex system that involved getting a rubber stamp by two or three people and working your way through several different lines of authority before a request could be processed. There were many benefits to the system, but I began to realize that I (and a couple of other key leaders) were regularly skipping the system and going directly to our communication department for our requests because the other process took too long. 

It was a bad system. Other people were working within it because we told them to and we sign their paycheck. However, if the system doesn't work for the key leaders, why would we think it would work for anyone else? 

If the system is too cumbersome for you to work within, it is too cumbersome for the people who work under you. Simplify your system, and your efficiency will go through the roof. 

Placebo Effect

I heard a great sermon by Tim Keller this past weekend as I was driving to Lake Texoma to do some fishing with a few buddies. The message was titled "Who is this Jesus?" and was originally preached on May 1, 1994. 

One of the things Keller addressed that I think is important has to do with the way we prove the validity of Jesus. He says that our defense validity of the Christian faith must demonstrate that it is both "intellectually credible and existentially satisfying." That is, it has to be True and it has to be relevant.

Modern society has a tendency to look at the second half - the relevant piece - before we examine the rational piece. For many of us, the sole proof we offer that Jesus is real comes from our experience: "Jesus changed my life." Pastors work hard to make sure their churches are full of people who live visibly different lives because "the most powerful evidence of the proof of Christianity is men and women whose lives are changed by the Gospel." I've preached that. 

Here's the problem: The Placebo Effect. 

If I'm dying of a terrible disease and take some "medicine" that I sincerely believe will make me better, some of my symptoms will go away. I will feel better, even if the "medicine" I take is not medicine designed to treat my disease at all. I change externally, leading others (and myself) to believe I am better even though the medicine has had no lasting effect at all. 

Every religion - even the most bizarre religion you can dream up - has adherents who can say "My life has meaning, I have true joy and peace that I never experienced before. It works for me." 

The thing that sets Christianity apart is not just that it works, it is that Christianity is True. It is intellectually credible and it changes lives because it is True. We have to point to both. 

Not Here To Win

One of the truly great things about McKinney is our current group of elders. We have a group of guys who "get" ministry and who exercise extraordinary wisdom as they lead our church. This morning I had breakfast with one of those guys who has been an Elder for 26 years and is still excited about what God is doing at McKinney. He has seen a lot change over the past 30 years, good and bad, but still gets fired up about seeing people trust Christ and engage in ministry. 

He made one comment in passing that stuck out to me, and was worth recording here because I think it is one of the things that sets McKinney apart as a unique church: 

"Chris," he said, "We aren't here to win. We're here to serve in such a way that Jesus wins." 

He's right. 

It sounds simple, but it isn't. We love to be winners. We love to receive credit. We love to be the best. But we're not called to be the best.  We're called to be servants who do everything we do to point to the Best. 

We're just working hard to be the best at that.

Heart Thinking

In Biblical times, the heart was spoken of as the processing center of the body. A man would "think" in his heart (Genesis 6:5; Proverbs 23:7; Luke 5:22), connect with God in His heart (Genesis 24:45; Deuteronomy 4:29), love a woman with his heart (Genesis 34:3), remember with his heart (Deuteronomy 4:9), and feel emotion in your heart (1 Samuel 4:13; 28:5; 2 Samuel 6:16; Luke 24:32; Acts 2:26; Acts 21:13)

A few hundred years ago as mankind gained more information about how the body functions, we made a distinction in our metaphors in order to be more precise. Now, we "think" with our heads, and "feel" with our hearts as if the two functions are radically different.

However, both science and life experience show that the Bible might have been onto something.

If you want to persuade people, you cannot just speak to their "heads;" nobody makes life-decisions based on facts and information alone. Neither can you just speak to a person's "heart;" people are way too rational for that.

Thinking and feeling are never divorced. Our most rational thoughts always contain an element of feeling, and our most impetuous decisions are connected to rational thought at some point down the line. If you want people to decide something, whether in a sermon, a sales pitch, or a discussion with your teenager, you will have to appeal to their head and their heart.