That's Quotable - Vision

"If you don't see it before you see it, you'll never see it."

Mike Buster, Executive Pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church

Vision, Need, and Teamwork

Vision is something of a buzz word for organizations, and rightly so. Without a clear picture of the future, organizations are destined to tread water instead of swimming toward a purpose.

Vision doesn't make any sense unless it's connected to need. There has to be a reason for the organization to move forward, or nobody will be motivated to take it in that direction.

Great visionary leaders are usually able to talk about how bad things are (need) and how things could be in the future (vision) but are almost always limited by an inability to describe the space in between. It's like a great fog to them.

Great visionary leaders have someone who can think inside the great fog and give it definition, before passing it along to people who can implement it. Otherwise, even great visions are dead in the water.

Kinds of Tired

For several years I've talked about the "Christian "F" Word." You know, when people ask you how you're doing it's always the response: "Fine."

Even when you're not fine, you say "fine," which really means "I heard your question and social constructs obligate me to give a response."

So, I try really hard not to say "fine," when people ask me how I'm doing. I still want to be polite, I just want to be unique.

Recently when people ask me how I'm doing I tell them "tired." I noticed myself doing it yesterday, and spent some time thinking about it while I drank my Chick-Fil-A peach milkshake last night (Lord Jesus, please let there be Chick-Fil-A peach milkshakes in heaven. Amen).

It occurs to me that there are two types of "tired."

The first kind of tired is when you're running in the area of your sweet-spot, using your giftedness to do what God put you on the earth to do. You're stretched, pushed and exhausted, but in a really good way. You're like the Super Bowl MVP who has just enough gas in your tank to finish strong and party hard, but you're running on sheer adrenaline. That's a good kind of tired. Most Sundays after I preach I come home really, really tired, but in a really, really good way.

The other kind of tired happens when you're operating in your own strength, with your own abilities, outside your area of giftedness. You're doing a lot of things that other people could do as well or better if your pride didn't get in the way of you empowering them to do it. This kind of tired makes everything feel forced, like the marathon runner who limps like a zombie across the finish line. Their bodies weren't created for that kind of beating and it takes a long time to recover. When you operate too long in areas outside what God has created you to do, it takes a toll. That's a bad kind of tired. It's okay to be there for a season, but those kinds of activities are not sustainable for long.

How am I? Honestly these days, I find myself vacillating between the two tireds. It's only for a season, but that's where I'm at. You didn't really want that information when you asked though. For fear of overwhelming you with a distinction that only seems important to me, I'll just tell you I'm "tired," and get back to the milkshake. It's really good.

Scary Stewardship

I'm out of my usual morning blog routine this week and last because of a class I'm taking that has me on the road during "normal blogging hours."

This morning during that class we had a neat side conversation about the stewardship of power. I'm interested in what you think.

The idea is this: God has given us four primary things to steward. Those things are (1) money, (2) power, (3) sexuality, and (4) fame.

All four things are a-moral. That is, there is nothing good or bad about any of those four things. They can be used for good or used for bad. All four things are also terrifying to most people.

When we're scared of things, we don't talk about them. And when we don't talk about things we can't "steward" them appropriately. Our failure to put emphasis on the area of money, power, sexuality and fame has caused us as Christians (by and large) to be bad stewards of all four.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Would you add to the list or take away from it? If you agree, how can we be better stewards of those things?

Shopping in Texas


You want to read a pathetic passage of Scripture?

Matthew 26:58a - "But Peter followed from a distance."

Just hours before, Peter promised he would keep following Jesus no matter what the other guys did; no matter the cost to himself (Matthew 26:35). But when his resolve was tested, he followed from a distance.

I've spent a lot of my life following Jesus, but doing it from a distance. Close enough to Jesus that I'm "technically" following Him, but far enough away that I blend in with everyone else.

Distance following is dangerous because distance puts us on a slippery slope to denial. At the end of verse 58, Peter stops following altogether. By verse 69, he is in active denial.

When the risk seems to high to follow closely, the potential cost will eventually be too great to follow at all. We think we're playing it safe by following at a distance, but the reality isn't safe at all.

Advice For Pastors

I'm currently reading The Curate's Awakening by George MacDonald. It fits nicely into the "Books I Would Never Read Unless Someone Forced me to Read Them" category; It's fiction, the cover is a cheesy pink color with characters who look like victorian seedy romance novel characters, and I don't know anyone who has read it except the person who recommended the book. Fortunately, that person was a professor who required the reading, so I'm reading the book.

MacDonald was a major influence on C.S. Lewis and Francis Shaeffer. In fact, Lewis wrote of MacDonald "I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself!" That's not a bad thing to put on your resume.

I'm only about halfway through this book, but it's tremendous. And early on through one of the characters, MacDonald offers some advice to pastors concerning their research in preparing for a sermon. The question is posed, "Should a pastor make up his sermons from the books he reads?" That is, should he rely on the insights of commentaries or just the insights which are original to him.

The answer MacDonald gives is, "Yes, [he should rely on books,] if he can do no better. But then I would have him read much, not with his sermon in his thoughts, but with the people in his heart.

I'm a young pastor but think that's great insight. If the only study we do is to help us develop great sermons, they'll be impotent sermons clearly delivered. If we study with the hearts in the mind we are much better positioned to develop Christ-centered people.


I'm taking a class the next two weeks in Dallas and plan to be pretty sporadic updating the blog. But I have to tell you about something my wife did for me yesterday.

For my birthday she got my a journal that she started writing in for me. The first several pages are filled with the things she loves about me. She left several pages blank so she can continue filling them in.

Ladies, if you want to give your husband one of the greatest gifts he'll ever receive, you should give this a try. It was a good birthday.

Why "Plain?"

Yesterday I talked briefly about a "plain" understanding of Scripture (hermeneutic). The day before that I made the claim that the way we understand Scripture is the most important theological question facing the Church today. Today, I want to give five quick reasons I think we must understand Scripture in a "plain" way - the way the original audience would have understood the same words.

1. It seems to have been Jesus' method.
Just one example: In Matthew 22:23-33, Jesus argues for the Truth of resurrection on the basis of verb tense. God says "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" rather than "I was." When Jesus interpreted Exodus 3, he believed God meant what He said in a plain sense.

2. The Fulfillment of Old Testament Prophecy
When prophecy was made in the Old Testament, it was specific. When prophecy was fulfilled in the New Testament it was fulfilled in light of a plain understanding of the prophecy. As readers hundreds of years before Christ read Micah 5:2, they would have had a specific village in mind when they heard "Bethlehem Ephrathah." Even the Magi from the East pointed Herod in the right direction (Matthew 2:3-6). Micah 5:2 is just one of hundreds of prophecies concerning Jesus which was fulfilled according to the plain sense of the original prophecy.

3. The Proper Use of Human Language in Relationship
If words do not have plain meaning, they are worthless. If I should not or cannot interpret your words in a specific way, you might as well not talk. God chose language to communicate to us and gave us language for us to communicate to each other. Any understanding of words other than a plain understanding makes the use of language pointless.

4. Objectivity Demands It
If words cannot be understood plainly, objectivity is impossible. If every word is up to individual interpretation, words mean whatever the audience wants them to mean.

5. Plain Interpretation is Core to the Gospel
If sin does not really equal literal death (Genesis 2:17), Jesus did not have to die on the cross. In fact, the temptation preceding the fall itself was a temptation from Satan to take God's words in a way that was something other than their plain meaning (Genesis 3:2-5). If a plain understanding of God's words with regard to the consequence of sin is not possible, we cannot be sure that we are understanding God's solution correctly.

Plain Understanding

Yesterday I mentioned that I think the question of how to understand Scripture is the most significant theological question that will have to be answered by the Church in the coming years. Although in a real sense our faith is in God, not the Bible, the Bible is one of the primary ways God reveals Himself to us. So, it's important that we understand it in the way God intended.

I believe in a "plain" hermeneutic (understanding of the Bible). That is, I believe our goal should be to understand the Bible in the way it would have been plainly understood by the original audience. This takes into account literary genre and figures of speech but tries to understand Scripture the way a carpenter in the first century would have understood it so that we can apply the principles to our lives.

I don't say I believe in a "literal" method because misinformed people take that claim literally. There are figures of speech, hyperbole, and poetry in Scripture that we should understand like we would understand any other figures of speech, hyperbole and poetry. The plain understanding of the poetry in Psalm 17:8 is not that God is a bird. The plain understanding of Jesus' use of hyperbole in Matthew 18:9 does not tell us all to become surgeons but does challenge us to take drastic action in avoiding sin. Jesus clarified Nicodemus' misunderstanding of his figure of speech in John 3:4 - "born again" does not mean we go back in our mother's womb.

When we interpret and apply Scripture our goal is to understand what the author intended us to understand.

The Bible doesn't contain some hidden secret code. It is not subjective. The Bible does not change with time, culture, or emotions. It is not primarily an allegory, illustration, or fable. It is God's revelation of Himself containing propositional Truth claims. We don't get to evaluate Scripture in light of our emotions, beliefs, and cultural trends. Scripture was written with a specific "plain" meaning for a specific "plain" purpose and our decisions, feelings, emotions and beliefs should be based on that.

Tomorrow I'll try to give you 4 reasons I think we have to use a "plain" hermeneutic when we interpret Scripture.

Theological Issue?

I had coffee yesterday with one of McKinney's mission partners who is serving in Japan. During the course of the conversation he asked me what was in my opinion the biggest theological question we (as a Church) would need to answer in the coming months and years.

I think it's the question of hermeneutics - how we study and understand the Bible.

I could have said "postmodernism," but when it comes right down to it postmodernism within the Church is a belief about how we should understand and apply the Scripture. It's a hermeneutical question before it's a question about worship styles, extent of the atonement, or social justice.

The issue of homosexuality in the Church is a significant issue. The Church is going to have to figure out pretty quickly what it believes about homosexuality and learn to address it in a Christlike way. But that issue is an issue of how we understand the Bible. Homosexuality is not the issue at all - Scripture speaks clearly about homosexuality. Any question we have about homosexuality is a question about how we understand Scripture.

There are some big questions facing the Church this century, but most of them only mask the real question which is a hermeneutic question.

Tomorrow I'll try to talk a bit about how I'm trying to answer the question. But before then, I'm interested: do you agree? Are there other questions you think are bigger questions that the Church will need to answer in coming months and years?

Love to Win or Hate to Lose

I had a great time last night at a meeting of some of the leadership at our church to plan for the fall. It's fun to get a bunch of people together who love their church for the purpose of dreaming about the future.

About a year ago I heard Dan Reeves (a former NFL football coach) give some advice to leaders: "You have to have people on your team who want to win. If you can't find them, find people who really, really hate to lose."

At McKinney, "winning" means developing Christ-centered people who make a difference. Last night, we had a lot of people who love seeing that happen, and a few who just hate the alternative. Either way, it's fun to be a part of a team who is excited about keeping the ball moving forward.


I read a quote by Ben Arment the other day that I think is significant for leaders - especially pastors. In one sense, what he says is obvious. In another sense, it's profound.

He said: "In your mind, you probably spend 90% of your time leading. But to your congregation, you spend 100% of your time communicating."

His quote, of course, is a bit over-simplified. It insinuates that communicating and leading are mutually exclusive, and they aren't. But Arment has a point.

Perception is everything. If a leader feels like he can lead without communicating well, he is in trouble. The vast majority of the people you lead may not ever sit with you in a strategic meeting. They will never get lunch with you or be on a board with you. They will be affected by the ripples of your leadership, but will not see your leadership.They will only hear what you say.

How does what you preach connect with where you're going? Can people connect the dots, or are you just assuming they'll "get it?" Do they understand the importance of Mark 6 to what they're trying to becoming as a Christ-centered person, or do they just understand how Mark 6 fits in the context between Mark 5 and Mark 7?

There's a big difference.

The direction has to be rooted in the Truth of the Scripture. But the Truth of the Scripture has to be lived out in the life of the believer, or your leadership is sunk. And you have to help people connect the dots.

Beach Balls

One of the toughest challenges for leaders is what I call the "Beach Ball Mentality" (The idea isn't new to me, but I've forgotten who I stole it from).

Imagine your office, home, church, or wherever it is you serve as leader as a multi-colored beach ball. Each department/location/ministry/family member represents one of the colors.

When you live life in the blue section, you see everything through shades of blue with the exception of times you move to the edge of blue and can catch just a glimpse of another color. All your decisions, wants, and desires are colored by your understanding of reality, which is blue. In the beach ball to the left, someone who lives in blue will have a hard time ever even knowing that yellow or pink exist, much less be able to understand things from their point of view. This is an unavoidable reality; the leader cannot just command blue to see yellow or pink.

The challenge of the leader is making decisions that affect the whole ball while considering the effect of those decisions on each color on the beach ball. This is particularly hard because the larger the organization, the more likely it is that the leader's own reality is separate from the reality of others in his organization. Leadership begins to be its own color.

This is why communication is vital for the leader in any organization. Although he can't touch every color, he has to touch those who do. Every decision that he makes must be with the entire ball in mind and must be framed in such a way that the person who lives entirely each color can understand and hop on board.

I'm convinced the beach ball mentality is at fault for the majority of our problems with music in the church, morale in the marketplace, and conflict at home. It isn't a problem with the people first and foremost; it's a problem with the leader.

The Problem and the Problem

A couple of weeks ago I got the chance to go fishing with my father and brother-in-law. We do that about once a year, and it's always a time I look forward to. Joe and Michael are guys I respect immensely for a lot of reasons, one of which is their business acuity. They've both run successful businesses and have an ability to think critically about complex business issues that I don't have. I don't have the experience or wisdom they do so one of my goals whenever we're together is to get them talking and try to remember as much as I can.

Last week Joe was telling some stories about hard times he had early in the banking industry. He had a staff member that was under-performing but who was trying as hard as she could. He didn't want to fire her because she was improving but he couldn't keep her around because she was under-performing and killing the bank. Then one day a business professor made this statement:

"The problem is not the problem. The problem is your inability or unwillingness to do something about the problem."

The big problem wasn't the lady, it was Joe. He was unable to help her get better at the pace she needed to improve in order to help the bank, so he had to let her go. But he bore the brunt of the responsibility.

A lot of times when we face problems with others that we can't put our finger on, it may be because we've failed to glance in the mirror.


From time to time I get to talk with people who try to convince me that all religions are equally valid. That is, all religions point in the same direction, and each has a different piece of the puzzle.

The parable most often used to illustrate the point is one of several blind men who encounter an elephant. One grabs its tail and describes something thin and flexible. A second man grabs the trunk and can't agree with the "thin" part, but also describes something flexible. Another grabs the elephant's leg and argues that the "something" isn't flexible at all.

The story goes on, but you get the point. The person sitting at Starbucks will argue that mankind's view of the supernatural is like trying to describe that elephant. Each religion describes a different piece.

I recently ran across a quote by Lesslie Newbigin that was new to me though after some more reading it seems to be a fairly popular critique. It's from his book "The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society."

"In the famous story of the blind men and the elephant. . . the real point of the story is constantly overlooked. The story is told from the point of view of the king and his courtiers, who are not blind but can see that the blind men are unable to grasp the full reality of the elephant and are only able to get hold of part of it. The story is constantly told in order to neutralize the affirmations of the great religions, to suggest that they learn humility and recognize that none of them can have more than one aspect of the truth. But, of course, the real point of the story is exactly the opposite. If the king were also blind, there would be no story."

In order to make any Truth claim (either for it, or against it), someone has to be able to see the whole elephant.

Strength/Bulk Training

I just had a conversation with our worship leader about muscle training. Neither of us is working out, mind you, we were just talking about it.

He was explaining that there's a difference between bulk training and strength training. Body Builders who are consumed with getting big muscles train one way; athletes who are concerned more with strength than physique train another way. As a result, some of the most scrawny baseball players could mop the floor with body builders in an arm-wrestling competition.

Strength training relies on tearing down the muscle - doing repetitions until you are physically exhausted and then letting the muscle rest. Bulk training is more concerned with the amount of weight a person lifts at one time than the endurance and actual strength of the muscle.

I meet a lot of bulky Christians. Their goal is to carry as much spiritual weight as they can - to put as many religious activities on their back as possible, and they're generally pretty proud of how they look. As a result, they're bulky, but they're not strong. When the "muscle" is tested, they cannot endure.

How is your fitness level? Are you strong, or just bulky?


We're doing a lot of talking these days as a church staff about what it looks like to develop Christ-centered people. It's actually a tough conversation because it's so easy to fall into legalism by prescribing things the Scripture doesn't require. When I think of a Christ-centered person, most of us naturally think of:

1. Someone who reads their Bible every day.
2. Someone who goes to church each week.
3. Someone who is involved in (perhaps leading) a small group.
4. Someone who gives 10 percent of their income to ministry.
5. Someone who goes on mission trips.

Those five things are good things to be sure, but reflect a limited (and probably legalistic) perspective on Christ-centeredness.

Could a person without access to a copy of the Scriptures in their language be Christ-centered? If so, #1 cannot be criteria for Christ-centerdness.

Could a person in a remote village in Zambia without a church in their village or adequate transportation be Christ-centered? If so, #2 and #5 cannot be criteria.

Could a person in the twelfth century, prior to the small group model of ministry, be Christ-centered? If so, we should not make #3 criteria for Christ-centeredness.

Could a person with zero monthly income be Christ-centered? If they could, we don't want to leave them out. #4 must not be a true criteria for distinguishing Christ-centeredness.

If Christ-centeredness is the goal, and the goal is realistic for all Christians in all places at all times, we might need to re-evaluate what that looks like in light of the Scriptures.

So what do you think? Are there biblical traits within a person we could examine to measure Christ-centeredness? When you think of your own desire to be Christ-centeredness, how do you measure your progress? Are you using a biblical or cultural standard?